MTGO III and Shadowmoor's Mistakes
By Sean DeCoursey on April 29th, 2008 · Filed in MTGO, Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
I haven't written an article here in quite a while. There are a lot of reasons for that, mostly having to do with real-world things taking up much more of my time lately and my not playing very much recently. The complete and almost total unplayability of MTGO also had a lot to do with it. Now that v3 is up, I've been playing a bit more lately; and having not played the v3 beta at all, I figured I'd review it and share some thoughts on the state of Magic.
First of all, even before talking about v3, I'd like to discuss Shadowmoor. I've read several of the preview threads and I think there are a couple of cards and points that people are largely, but not completely, missing on.
#1) Wizards broke a rule they never have before. Everyone remember Ice Age? And how the cantrips in that set made you wait half a turn before drawing your card? Do you know why it was set up like that? Because of Urza's Bauble--a cc artifact that cantripped. Wizards initiated the delay to prevent every single deck in the universe from simply running four of these and being 56-card decks. With that fact in mind, and that they thought printing a completely free card was so bad that they changed (and worsened) the mechanic for an entire set to prevent it, WHY IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT'S HOLY DID THEY PRINT THIS?
Ph34r my 1337 skillz!
I know most people think that this card is just for storm combo. It's not. It's an automatic 4-of in every single deck in every format that includes either the color Red or the color Green. There is literally no downside whatsoever to this card. Does it cost you a card? No. Does it cost you mana? No. Does it have a positive effect on your game state? Yes. Does it influence an important part of the game? Yes (mana is the game's key #1 resource).
I honestly hope this card gets banned. Not because it's degenerate, but because it forces everyone to play four of it, and because it so strongly warps the game towards Red and Green. Smaller decks win more often. Red and Green now have smaller decks. There is even a chance that this will be banned, not for power level, but for being in EVERY SINGLE DECK once the competitive tournament scene realizes that yes, 56 cards decks with improved mana consistency are much better than 60 card decks with less consistent mana. Wizards has long known that completely costless cards are a bad idea. I have no idea whatsoever why they decided to print one now.
For those just warming up to this debate, there is an additional section on Manamorphose at the very end of the article.
#2) The environment is about to undergo the biggest sea/philosophical change since Armageddon got pulled from the Core Set. I'm talking, of course, about persist. Time was, Wrath of God cleared the board, bar nothing. Then came along Darksteel with Indestructible. Not the biggest deal however, because these creatures were so expensive that they only ever saw play off of a nine-mana sorcery. Persist creatures are not overcosted. At all. There is absolutely no way to kill them short of doing it twice. (StP and other "remove from game" friends aren't in Standard or Extended, Legacy is a different story, and no one plays creatures in Vintage). The printing of six very good manlands and giving an entire tribe in Lorwyn Flash pretty much neutered counter-based control. The advent of creatures that ignore Wrath, Damnation, and everything else pretty much invalidates board control strategies as well. Cards like Heartwarmer really, really invalidate the "Wrath the board" strategy. Combining persist with Blink effects has a similar effect as well. I don't think the mechanic is broken or unbalanced, but it does invalidate a large section of deck types that would otherwise be viable. I'm comparing the advent of persist with the demise of Armageddon because both events fundamentally altered what types of decks were stronger, weaker, and more or less viable to play. No-more-Armageddon heavily pushed control themes, while here we're seeing the opposite effect.
#3) Cards that aren't getting enough hype: Dragon's Claw: I know, I know. Look, its a two-mana artifact that kicks RDWs in the nuts. Hard. In a Red mirror it's an almost insurmountable advantage. Everyone and their brother expects Red to be huge. This is one heck of a cheap answer. Dusk Urchins: most of the time it'll just eat some removal and die. If it lives three turns, it's worth five damage and three cards. Most of the time it'll be worth one card and a removal spell. As far as I'm concerned, those are all good outcomes. Smash to Smithereens: maybe not so much in Standard, but in Extended? Wow, total beast for an aggressive Red deck, best Shatter ever. Augury Adept: it's Ophidian AND Hierarch (if it hits). Leechridden Swamp: plays very nicely with both Bitterblossom and Twisted Abomination.
#4) The return of land destruction. LD hasn't been a factor in Standard since Molten Rain left. With Fulminator Mage and Poison the Well joining Rain of Tears in Black or Mwonvuli Acid Moss and Creeping Mold in Green, it looks like you can finally blow up lands if you want to. Of course, in an extremely aggro meta this probably isn't the best idea, but at least it's an option again.
#5) Overhyped. Tattermunge Maniac. I'm sorry, but I'm just not that impressed with this guy in this environment. If he drops on turn one, he'll get in some hits. Anytime after that, he just mindlessly walks into something that kills him. Creatures are unbelievably better than they were the last time red had a 2/1 critter for one mana. Everlasting Torment: Sulfuric Vortex is good because in addition to stopping lifegain, it also deals damage. Anytime I'm playing against a red deck and they spend three mana on something that doesn't kill me, I consider it a good time.
On to Magic Online Version 3.0
He also has valid questions about v.3.
I didn't play the beta at all, so when 3.0 went live, that was my first look at/experience with the software. There were a couple of things I noticed immediately and some that have taken a bit more time.
Overall, I'm okay with the new interface setup. In many ways, it is a big improvement on the old one. That said, there are also many, many problems with it.
First, some good things I noticed:
#1) The deck editor now accepts the fact that my Mirrodin Troll Ascetics are Standard legal. This is a huge, huge issue for me. I was always incredibly frustated that a goodly number of my Standard cards simply refused to show up when I was building a deck unless I had the filter set to "everything." Once, this even led to my purchase of a spare set of Stupors by accident. Bad times.
#2) You can choose more than one interface design. I'd rate the three options in the order of Compact, Big Card, and finally Mana Wheel. I really don't like Mana Wheel. Everything is just way, way too small in that display.
#3) Chat logs can be saved. I got an iPhone this winter. The fact that my voicemails and text conversations are saved is just really, really, really nice. Before I had the option of doing that, I didn't realize how much I wanted it. I have the feeling many players will discover the same about chat logs.
#4) Profanity filter can be activated/deactivated. Look, I understand Wizards is a public company and there are many minors on MTGO and many other people who don't like to hear cursing. I'm not one of them. If someone calls me a #*#$&@!, I probably deserved it and would like to call them a *^%&$ in return.
#5) The card supersizer. If you hover the mouse over a card and hold down both buttons at the same time, the card blows up nice and big and readable. This really helps with the reading of counters and values. This works on the stack, in your hand, and in your graveyard.
#6) The store is in the client. This took way too long. Nice to not have to load up a web page then re-log in to my account.
#7) The little sections bar at the bottom. They let you jump around to different places far, far faster and more efficiently than you could navigate in the old client.
#8) The collapsible sidebar and "docking." These are both improvements over the continuous stream that used to exist along the bottom of the screen and the numerous pop-up windows that went with it.
#9) Better scans/foils. I could care less about foils personally, but it is nice that they've improved the effect for people that do. I also appreciate the better quality art.
#10) The Urborg effect is gone. I thought it was cool for about ten minutes until I realized that it made it impossible for me to tell what kind of Unhinged land I was tapping for mana.
That about sums it up. Notice anything about that list? Almost all of the positives have to do with appearance/interface. See if you can spot the trend in the complaints section.
Problems with the v3.x.
He was in charge of making the new interface user friendly.
#1) It's different. It's a new interface, and there is a learning curve associated with it. Wizards recently put up a little web video on their site explaining the new mechanics of Shadowmoor. WHERE THE HELL IS THE WALKTHROUGH FOR MAGIC ONLINE 3????
I mean seriously people, WTF? Are we just supposed to idiot savant this thing out for ourselves? One of the biggest complaints I had as a new player in v2.5 was that it took so long to figure out what the hell was happening and how to do stuff. Why are you repeating this mistake? WHY? It's not even like this would be a radical step. Buy almost any video game made in the last 10 years. The first level/beginning is almost always a story-heavy exposition that teaches you how to play. This should honestly be something that is included in the client. I know the Help button is there, but it's not very obvious and kicks you out of the client to a webpage. (I only found it after a lot more searching than I would want to do if I needed help.)
#2) What the hell is going on in my game? I mean seriously, it is very, very difficult to tell what exactly is happening in the game a lot of the time. You can't tell what creatures are attacking what because they got rid of the little arrows that used to tell you. Hmm, is that Tarmogoyf attacking my Garruk, or is it attacking me and the Elephant Token is attacking Garruk? I have no idea! Hey, my opponent played a Command! Or an entwine spell! Which effect is occuring? Beats me. (you can actually solve the command/entwine issue by using the "expand" function, but that doesn't work for attacking creatures).
A side effect of the new interface and its "cleared of annoying boxes playing area" is that you have a much smaller amount of information about what is actually happening in the game.
#3) No notepad. Why isn't there a little box on the screen that you can use to take notes during a game? Why? It would be, you know, useful and stuff; and if it was minimizable, it's pretty much guaranteed to only have a positive effect on one's gameplay. This is a simple feature that should have been implemented.
#4) No "removed from the game" zone. MWS has four little zone/boxes on the side--Library, Hand, Graveyard, and Removed from Game. Magic Online has three. This should really, really be fixed. Taking good ideas from one's competitors and incorporating them into one's own product is the sign of a company that is tuned into its customers and its market. Ignoring them is the sign of a company that is starting on the path to becoming Chrysler.
#5) I can't type in the name of Cabal Therapy/Pithing Needle/Meddling Mage/etc. Seriously? WTF. I only get one letter, then have to scroll for five minutes? The old version didn't understand the concept of spaces or dashes, so you still had to do some scrolling, but nowhere near the amount that is necessary now. Also, more scrolling leads to more misclicks, which leads to pissed-off players.
#6) The search functionality of the deck editor is the same. This really, really needed an upgrade. You can select by color, or card type, or set, mana cost, or ONE keyword. Why can't I search for more than one keyword joined by "and"? Like Red creatures with haste and first strike? Why can't I specify a range of ccs? Like all Green creatures between and that have the words "gain" and "life" on them? Why can't I search by power/toughness? Why can't I specify a return of multicolor cards only? There are also tons of issues with how the editor handles cards with multiple types, like artifact creatures or artifact lands or...well, ok, its mostly just those two, but c'mon, fix it already.
#7) The deck editor still hates planeswalkers. Why was it so hard to add another button to the card types for the 'walkers? I know there's only five right now, but we have to assume that that number will increase. Besides, I'm tired of seeing my boy Garruk listed as an instant. If the issue is that the two lines of colors/types will be unbalanced, just add a "multicolor" color button; it would solve part of the problem of #6 in one stroke.
#8) Not all cards have pictures. No tokens have pictures. Um, yeah. That's just kind of weak, Wizards. Total, epic fail.
#9) Foil cards don't produce foil tokens or "effects." Look, I don't personally care about or for foil; but really, if someone went to the cost and trouble of getting foil Bitterblossoms, would it be too much to ask to give them foily Faeries too?
#10) When you start a game in Tournament Practice, the thing sets the game automatically at Single Game and Untimed. If I'm in the casual room, that's what I want. In tourny practice, I want a game that's like a tournament. One of the things that separates good products from bad ones is attention to the little details. This is a little detail, but it's a really annoying one.
#11) When coming out of sideboarding, I have no idea when my game is starting. It seems like it takes forever to go back to the game even after both players have submitted decks. Usually during this time, I'll flip over to a webpage and read for 30 seconds or so. It would be nice if the minimized Magic icon would blink when it's ready for me again. This issue also comes up when playing against particularly slow players with bad connections.
#12) No "combo button." Playing with or against combo online sucks because they have to manually repeat every step of an infinite combo so, so many times. It takes forever; and, in addition to being really annoying, greatly inhibits people from playing combos online, which warps the meta.
#13) No storm counter. It's not like this is tough to implement; it should be part of the basic interface view. Where is it?
Apparently this is WOTC's take on v.3.
#14) You can't resize the cards. I really, really hate being forced to look at giant cards all day, especially in the deck editor. Re-activate this feature ASAP please.
#15) I can't get a DCI rating online. Yes, I understand there are issues with this and multiple accounts, but if Amazon.com can tell it's me when I go to buy a book, and Wizards can tell it's me when I go to their store and buy something, I am less than pleased to be told, "We can't implement it because of concerns about ID fraud." What, like I can't wear glasses and a fake mustache to a tournament with somebody else's ID in real life? You mean people under the age of 21 never buy alcohol because real life ID is 100%? Good to know. I was kind of worried about that whole "identity theft" thing happening in real life; but since wizards assures me that online rating can't be instituted because of fear of ID problems that absolutely don't exist in the real world, I guess I'll just stop worrying about it now.
#16) I can't Wish for split cards. Or any card that doesn't have its picture in the game yet. Lame. Also makes Glittering Wish exceptionally worse.
#17) Online releases of new sets still significantly lag paper releases. Yo, Wizards, I have to pay more to play online than I would to play offline (can't buy boxes in the store, just packs). Additionally Wiz, ya'll make quite a bit more profit off of Magic online because you get full retail for product straight to youp--no middle men, transportation costs, distributor or retail markup. And you never have inventory issues with online cards. Quit treating me like a second class citizen who's lucky you take the time to talk to me. And one more point? The marginal cost of selling an extra pack online approaches zero pretty dang fast. Discounting bulk orders would help the profitability of MTGO quite a bit by moving more product.
#18) This is the last, but it might be the biggest. Magic is called a CCG, and CCG is short for collectible card game. Currently, the trading system is 100% impossible to use. It's actually significantly worse than what was available in v2.5. You can't tell if someone is in a trade or not. Buyers and Sellers are all lumped together. It's chaos, its frustrating to even attempt to use, and it radically, radically hurts the game playing experience. So you want to build a new deck eh? Or improve your current one? Go buy some boosters and hope you pull the cards you want, 'cause that's by far the best chance you have to get them. Completely unacceptable performance on this issue.
Ok, figure out what the "problem" list has in common? Most of the problems have to do with actual gameplay, whereas most of the "attaboys" have to do with interface/pretty picture issues. So, basically v3 is prettier, and once you figure out how to use it, a more maneuverable interface; but it is worse in terms of actually, you know, playability. Which is like, the whole and only reason I have the program in the first place. I understand that a lot of these issues are temporary and will be fixed within the next month or two, but this is one hell of a buggy and disappointing launch for a product that's been in development for at least four years.
Bonus Manamorphose arguments!
Ok, I know that there are situations where Manamorphose is actually worse than whatever card it could have been. I will now list them all, regardless of how improbable they are. (Note that in all of these instances except one, a cc artifact that said ": or tap, sacrifice ~this~; draw a card" would have the exact same drawbacks, and there are other equally rare situations where it would be worse.)
1) There is some effect in play that automatically counters spells. (Decree of Silence, Chalice of the Void, Counterbalance, etc.)
2) There is some effect in play that automatically increases the cost of spells. (Nether Void, Trinisphere, Thorn of Amethyst, etc.)
3) You are in topdeck mode, have no permanents in play that can act as mana sinks, and Manamorphose into a basic land, taking two damage.
4) Some spell-limiting effect in play. (Rule of Law, Mana Breach, Pyrostatic Pillar, etc.)
In these very specific situations, 1) you're in a lot of trouble no matter what you're holding, to be quite honest; 2) you've essentially used a Terrarrion--not the best thing in the world, but far from the worst; 3) you've just used Street Wraith to help find good stuff sooner; and 4) well, here, yeah, it is totally worthless.
Look, I'll sum up my argument with two final points. If Wizards had printed a 0cc artifact that read: ": sacrifice ~this~; draw a card," most people would agree every deck should run four of it and build for 56 cards. Why? Because the resources you put into it (, 1 card) are immediately returned to you in the form of , 1 card. Manamorphose requires an investment of 1 semi-specific mana, 1 generic mana, and 1 card. It immediately returns to you 2 mana of any color, 1 card. You don't lose time like with the Baubles or life like with Street Wraith. In fact you GAIN from this in the form of more consistent mana.
The second argument I hear against this is "there's no room to take things out." If you really, really can't take out your three worst cards and one worst land, then rebuild your deck as a 56-card version of itself and then add four of these.
I don't expect everyone to agree with me on this point right away, and I suspect there will always be holdouts, but Manamorphose is the best card ever printed that does absolutely nothing.
By Sean DeCoursey on April 29th, 2008 · Filed in MTGO, Standard (Type 2) · Comments not available just now
About Sean DeCoursey
Sean Decoursey is a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom where he served with the 2/124th Infantry from 12/02 through 03/04. He attended Truman State University where he was a member of the rugby team which ranked in the top ten nationally three times. Sean graduated with a degree in Justice Systems and now lives in Kansas City, where he works as a Financial Advisor.