Tobold's Blog
Friday, November 16, 2018
Magic Arena solves a hardcore problem

While I am not playing the game, I keep up with the news on Magic Arena, hoping that one day game modes that would actually interest me could be added to the game. But the latest news doesn't suggest that this is a focus of the developers. Instead they announced that they will solve a problem which is seriously affecting people who have spent hundreds of dollars on the game: The Vault. The problem is what is known as the "5th card problem": You can only have 4 copies of any card in Magic Arena. And in case you didn't know, Magic Arena is a trading card game in which you can't trade cards, so pulling a 5th copy of anything doesn't enable you to trade it with somebody who has the card you want. Instead the 5th card in Magic Arena just vaporizes and adds to your "Vault" score, which then gives you wildcards which you can exchange for the cards you want. However vault progress is extremely slow, so that getting a 5th copy of a mythic card gains you just 1.1% progress for a card that in physical form might be worth $20. Changing the Vault system to a system where you get a card you didn't have yet instead of a 5th copy is obviously much better for players.

But it only solves a problem that very few people have. If you really want all the (current) cards in Magic Arena with the vault system, a guy tested that you need to buy 1260 packs, for $1,400. Even if the news system cuts that down to half (the new system is in planning, so we don't know the details yet), this would still be some serious money to be competitive.

And there is the *real* problem of Magic Arena: You *need* to be competitive. If you are a new player and get just some theme decks, the thing you can do without paying money is losing every game you play, while fulfilling some quest conditions like "play X red cards". You get a few free theme decks, but there is no way to get paired against other people who also use themed decks. There is no mode in which you play an AI of various difficulty levels. You can only play competitive modes in which you will lose to people having far more cards than you do. Magic the Gathering has been Pay2Win since before mobile games were even invented, but people invented game modes that allowed new or poor players with small card pools to have fun. Magic Arena has none of those game modes.

I see a lot of advertising for Magic Arena lately. I think the open beta isn't as successful as Wizards of the Coast had hoped. And I don't think the Vault changes will improve that. The people who spent hundreds of dollars on Magic Arena will like it, but with their sunk cost they weren't the most likely to quit anyway. The problem of Magic Arena is somebody downloading the free client, playing a few games, and being mercilessly crushed every single time, until he just uninstalls the game. A free game that doesn't succeed to convert free players into paying players fails. I feel worst of all for people who after failing on free spend $20 on the game for some packs and find out that this doesn't really improve their chances of winning by a measurable amount. Magic Arena only works for the people who spend hundreds of dollars, and I don't think there are enough of them out there to make this game viable. If anything the Vault changes decreases the chance of financial success of Magic Arena, because it further caps the maximum amount a "whale" can spend on the game. We end up with a game that has neither mega whales nor small time spenders, how could that ever work out financially?

Yes, the vault is a problem, but it is not a paying customer problem. It is a problem for any player of the game. I'm a F2P player, and even as a F2P player it is just not fun to open a booster to find that you get a 5th duplicate.

You say that you need $1400 to have all the cards and that it's a lot of money to be competitive.

Again, this is false: you don't need all the cards to be competitive. To be competitive you need only one 'Tier 1' deck. Which means not event 50 cards. Yes you would get bored of playing the same deck over and over, but 50 specific cards is not difficult to obtain.

Second, you don't even need a really good deck, you can have a winrate bigger than 50% with a very sub optimal deck. Of course, playing badly will not get you that winrate.

In addition to this, owning all the cards would not even be fun, at least for me: If I had all the cards of the game, I don't think I would play as much as now. Part of the is the journey, not the destination.

- "but people invented game modes that allowed new or poor players with small card pools to have fun. Magic Arena has none of those game modes"

Again, false information. It is possible to play singleton and pauper alternatively.
It is also possible to play limited, which doesn't require any collection.

- "And there is the *real* problem of Magic Arena: You *need* to be competitive."

The match making matches players with similar deck's quality.

The following document ( shows that almost all events have a, quite big, positive expected value assuming that you have a 50% winrate.

You prefer Magic Duels, don't like Magic's PvP and MTG:Arena doesn't match your expectations but I don't like that you convey fake informations about it.
I think you are conveying false information about Magic Arena. "You just need 50 cards" is a very misleading statement. You need the 50 cards of a top tournament deck. Which might very well contain a lot of rares and mythics. And as you need very specific cards for that deck, you would need to grind a lot or pay a lot to get to your first tier 1 deck. And then, as you said, you only have a single deck to play with until you grind enough for a second, and so on.

That might all sound very reasonable for a hardcore Magic tournament player. But for a new player who has never played the game competitively before, it is a very high barrier to entry. A new player by definition will play badly.

Are you working for Wizards of the Coast? I don't know anybody else who could say something like "The match making matches players with similar deck's quality" without choking on his words. You might want to do some research on what other people think about Magic Arena matchmaking.
No, I'm not working for WotC, I'm just an average player crushing others with a deck without any mythics.
And your link is like 6 months old.
The match making hasn't improved in the last 6 months, so it doesn't matter how old the link is.

Anyway, I have mathematical proof that you are wrong about the matchmaking. You claim that it is easy to get above 50% win rate with a suboptimal deck. So how can that be mathematically possible? If you and your friends have a win rate of already above 50% with a suboptimal deck, and thus a win rate of way above 50% with an optimal deck, it is mathematically necessary that there are a lot of players with a win rate way below 50%. There are no draws, the average win rate of all players together is 50%. A perfect matchmaking would mean you never reach above 50% win rate. By saying that you do, you confirm the fact that there are a lot of new players in perma-lose mode.
I'm not claiming that there are no losers. I'm saying that the game is fun, even for F2P players.

The F2P economy has been bad during the closed beta, but it is generally agreed that it is quite sane now.
Any economy that relies on new players being the "losers" that serve as content to be beaten up by the players who pay money is unsustainable in the long run. It might work now, temporarily, with ads all over the place and the open beta being relatively new. But if Magic Arena is giving the new players the experience that they are "losers", then they won't stick around.

And that is a death spiral. Because once the new player "losers" are gone, it is going to be the "okay" players that constantly lose. And then the "competent" players. And they'll all leave, until only the tournament players are left.

Magic Arena needs game modes for casual players that aren't limited to occasional events. Especially modes where new players can both get better at playing and get more cards by playing repeatedly against an AI opponent. You might have less "losers" to beat up in constructed for now, but at least the game would still be around in a few years. If Magic Arena is not a success with a wider audience, it'll just end up shut down like many of its predecessors, and the people who spent so much money on it are going to lose it.
I don't understand. Are you punished for losing games?
I don't know anybody else who could say something like "The match making matches players with similar deck's quality" without choking on his words.

This is actually true. In free play (the most casual matchmaking queue), the game assesses your deck strength. This is mixed with your player ranking and both factors are used to match you against a similar player with a similar rank.

In the more competitive queues, only a players rank is taken into account.

I couldn't immediately find an official post about this, but the MTGA forums are full of players commenting on this system, and for your information see this more recent reddit link

New players with simple decks usually stay on the lower end of the spectrum in the free play queue, so yes, you do get the opportunity to slowly learn the game without being crushed over and over.
Do blocks rotate out after a while, like in standard MtG? If it does, you can expect a few people, even paying customers, to peace out right after the first rotation. It's probably the No.1 reason people quit the paper variant (half your collection being made redundant after a few months), I expect this will be the case here as well.
FTP Arena casual here.

The game does a great job letting you be competitive with minimal investment IMO.

Your $1400 number is a sensationalized complaint that means absolutely nothing. Collecting all the cards isn't remotely required. 90% of the cards aren't competitive in a 1-on-1 constructed setting anyway (that's a problem with MTG itself, not Arena), so that means you actually need very few specific cards to have playable, competitive decks. The wild card system helps with this immensely.

I have not been "mercilessly crushed."

Try the game in its current state before you judge it. It's very enjoyable even for people like me. This post feels like hating just to hate.
90% of the cards aren't competitive in a 1-on-1 constructed setting anyway

Right there I new that you are not a "new player", not in the sense of new to Magic.

It's very enjoyable even for people like me.

That is exactly what I am saying. Magic Arena is very enjoyable for people like you. People who have been playing Magic for many years, know that "90% of the cards aren't competitive anyway", know exactly how the competitive decks look and how they play. Magic even has an official word for people like you, "Spike".

But there are two more types of Magic gamers, Timmy and Johnny. And most new players, really new players, not just players already good at competitive Magic that are just new to Arena, are of the Timmy or Johnny type. And it is them who play *all* of the cards, including the 90% Spike doesn't need.

Magic Arena has been exclusively designed for you, for Spike. It completely neglects the needs of Timmy and Johnny, and is a horrible game for them.

This week I got a reminder on what is really important in an online multiplayer game: Player retention, and thus ultimately money. I have beta tested Total War: Arena, and I received a mail that this game will be shut down in February. It's in open beta and it has failed to retain enough player and make enough money for this to be viable. I believe that a Free2Play Online Magic game that only serves a single player type will have the same future, because the money just isn't there.
You're quick to throw labels around. If I had to pick one, I'd call myself a kitchen table Johnny. How I play Magic IRL is creating wonky combos to play in large multiplayer games. I'm hardly a Spike.

Arena will never be able to recreate that experience. That's OK. I can play my wonky combos one on one against friends when I want to. That's enough for what Arena is.

If I want to be competitive, I can do that easily with wild cards. I have two competitive decks already, in completely different colors, after just a couple of months. At no point did I feel like I couldn't compete on ladder because I wasn't spending money. I find myself enjoying being able to dip my toes into "Standard" for the first time, even though it was never my focus in Magic before, because in Arena it's free.

Again, I suggest trying it before judging what it takes to be competitive.

This is your paragraph in the post:

"But it only solves a problem that very few people have. If you really want all the (current) cards in Magic Arena with the vault system, a guy tested that you need to buy 1260 packs, for $1,400. Even if the news system cuts that down to half (the new system is in planning, so we don't know the details yet), this would still be some serious money to be competitive."

So which is it? Do we need to spend $1400 to "be competitive" or to be a satisfied Timmy/Johnny? You changed your argument.

This paragraph from your post is extremely misleading and misinformed. If you can't see why, then you shouldn't post about Arena or Magic.
I'm linking to information other people reported. I hardly can open YouTube these days without seeing somebody complain about Magic Arena these days. How is that misinformed? I provide all the links. Sure, I don't know how much you need 4 copies of some mythical card for some tournament deck, but I've been playing MtG for a quarter of a century now, and you never could build tournament decks with just commons. The number to get all cards is just a quote, I don't say you need all cards to play competitively, but you need *some* good cards.

I played Arena, tried to build some fun decks, and found that Magic Arena can't be played that way. I know a lot of people who play Magic the way I do. The hardcore tournament crows always has been "elite" and thus smaller in number. I don't think you can succeed with a game that only caters to them and doesn't allow for fun Magic.
Now you're backtracking. Do you need to spend "serious money" to be competitive or not?

Arena's economic model isn't as good as other CCGs, but it's still pretty fair in my experience. You don't need to spend "serious money" to be competitive -- unless you want to be competitive on Day 1. That's true of every F2P CCG that exists.

How is the game stopping you from having fun? Find a community that likes the fun decks and play against them instead of taking your fun decks into a competitive ladder situation. You have to do the same thing with paper Magic. You wouldn't take your fun combo deck to a tournament. You'd find some friends to play it against.
I said "If you really want all the (current) cards in Magic Arena ... you need to buy 1260 packs, for $1,400". I never said you need all cards to be competitive. But competitive is a very wide range. I am sure you can Free2Play your way up to a deck that doesn't completely suck and call it "competitive" for argument's sake. But the tournament players I used to hang out with didn't work like that. They had different builds for *all* the current tournament decks. And usually there are some decks with a lot of rares. Some of the current tournament decks with real cards cost over $400.

What is your argument here? That the people on top of the rankings in Magic Arena didn't pay money to get there? I don't believe that.

In any case, the point of my original post was and has always been that the big flaw in Magic Arena is the *need* to be competitive, because it doesn't cover all the other aspects of Magic. With both "competitive" and "serious money" being very flexible terms, I don't think the question "Do you need to spend serious money to be competitive or not?" has a clear yes or no answer. Maybe you think $1400 isn't serious money to start with, and then the answer would be certainly no.

Fact is that Magic the Gathering is, and always has been, Pay2Win. You have a competitive game in which of two players with equal skill and time played, the one spending more money has a competitive advantage over the other. You may choose to overlook that, or you may say that a few hundred dollars aren't "serious". But even you admit that Magic Arena's business model isn't as good as other CCGs. And other CCGs have more alternative, less competitive game modes. I have played paper Magic, I have played MtGO, I have played several versions of Magic Duels of the Planeswalkers, I have played Magic Duels, and Magic Arena is the most exploitative digital version of the game ever. And you can argue here, but everywhere people are talking about the game they are saying the same thing, on YouTube, on Reddit, etc.

You ask, how is Magic Arena stopping me from having fun? I had a fun Magic program, in fact I'm still playing it, it is called Magic Duels. The day WotC announced Magic Arena, they ended support for Magic Duels, there haven't been any new cards since. WotC killed the game that allowed me to play fun decks online, and put up this competitive Pay2Win shit Magic Arena in its place. So with the latest patch Magic Arena now allows "challenging friends" which would theoretically allow people to organize themselves on a third-party platform to form a community that could then in a complicated way be used to play non-competitive decks? Excuse me if I'm not convinced.
Arena is the first time you have access to the full breadth of a Standard MTG environment, drafting, and so on, for FREE, and it's the most "exploitative version ever"? Really?

What's the difference if I F2P my way to a competitive Standard deck? That somehow makes it less competitive even though I have the same exact cards that someone else paid money for?

Also, your $1400 number is and always has been an outrageous misrepresentation. The fact that you're sticking to your guns with that number really makes me question your judgment as a blogger. I've been reading you since the early WoW days and this is the first time I've felt compelled to comment on one of your posts because it's completely out of whack with reality. No one needs to spend $1400 on this game for any reason. No one needs every single available card. I don't care what label you put on a player. No one needs that.
It is not a misrepresentation. It is clearly preceded with a qualifier that "if you want every card ...". I factually represents the upper limit of what one could spend now, although every new block will raise that limit. The limit of what you could possibly spend per block in Magic Duels was a lot lower. Of course you can always decide to grind more or spend a smaller percentage of the upper limit. But that doesn't give you the "full breadth" of the environment, because you won't have all the cards you'd want to build all the decks you want.

Your "full breadth of a Standard MtG environment for FREE" is far more of a misrepresentation. You didn't answer my question: Do you think the people at the top of the Magic Arena rankings got there for free? I don't believe that for a minute.
If that's the criterion that matters to you, then I expect you to judge every other game by the same standard. What's the maximum limit to spend on every single D&D book ever made? Well, I don't have thousands of dollars for those so I should just never play D&D.

Yes, I do think a small number of players who are very good at MTG are at the top rankings right now without spending a dime. You only need one good deck to do that and you don't even need a sideboard. I think the number of such players will increase more and more as time goes on, because the open beta released very recently.

Those who made it to the top first definitely spent money, because that's the way F2P games work: you spend money to skip the grind. But eventually the free players catch up.

Do you also believe that no one can make it to legend in Hearthstone without buying hundreds of dollars worth of packs?
Couple of quick points Tobold. For now, the current magic arena ranking system is pretty meaningless, with most people simply bouncing around bronze level. Moving up in rank doesn't reward you with anything currently, except perhaps tougher match ups.

I'm also going to concur with Scott, in that you don't have to spend a penny to play competitively. A brand new player who is just learning isn't losing because of his or her lack of cards, they are losing because of inexperience. As they continue to play and learn, they'll get better, understand the card mechanics better, and begin to win more often.

Personally, I've spend zero on the game, and have accumulated plenty of cards via the daily and weekly quests. I put together a very solid mono green deck that wins probably about 65% of the time, and will likely do even better once I gather enough wildcards to tweak it further.

Magic Arena's biggest advantage over any other form of magic, is the speed in which you can play, and the fact that you can play in a draft or sealed without having to set aside 4-8 hours in a single block to do so.
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