MWS: MTGO It Ain't

Legacy players don't have Friday Night Magic. We don't have Mike Flores keeping us up to date on what is hot. We don't have a Professional Tournament Qualifier season. Most of us don't even have a single play partner to practice with. We are sprinkled over the globe with a slim set of tools to get information from. There are some hot spots. Germany has quite a few large tournaments these days. France is catching up. All up the seaboard of the Northeastern United States has always been a hot spot. San Diego, Portland (Oregon), and Minnesota are all seeing a slow increase in activity. The only constant global stage is online, however, and it is a sad stage indeed. Where Block, Standard, and Extended get Magic Online, we get Magic Workstation (MWS). The only regular large-scale online tournaments are organized by Magic-League. The tournaments held there are notable only for the widespread disdain many of the participants have for the format, and the lack of useful data the tournaments produce. Magic-League is not to blame for this. Frankly, neither are the players. This is just the place Legacy is in.

Magic Workstation is a great program for what it does. It is a fast, free method to get a quick fix for your Magic yearnings. It is also a reliable way to see a new deck performing against a live opponent at any time of the day. It certainly has its limitations, though. The rules of the game are not hard-coded into the software. That means that the players must agree on the rules just like in a face-to-face match. But it is not face-to-face, and there is a mountain of circumstances that can arise to drive this fact home. Take this example to begin with. Here, you can see that language is a barrier exacerbated by no eye contact or hands to help communicate. One player seems to understand the wording quite well, but has no real way to communicate it to the player who speaks little English.
Quote from MWS log »
Player plays Lion's Eye Diamond from Hand
Player taps Island
Player sacrifices Lion's Eye Diamond
Player puts Squee, Goblin Nabob to Graveyard from Hand
Player plays Masticore from Hand
Discard your hand
I suppose the word "hand" could actually be a mystifier for a novice English speaker.
Lion's Eye Diamond
It's not discard a card
Player puts Squee, Goblin Nabob into play from Graveyard
Player puts Lion's Eye Diamond into play from Graveyard
It's discard your hand
Discard your HAND
not Discard a CARD.
squee is my hand
No. Squee is IN your hand.
So are four other cards
When you sac Lion's Eye Diamond for mana, you discard your hand as part of the activation cost.
Player puts Lion's Eye Diamond to Graveyard from Play
Player puts Squee, Goblin Nabob to Graveyard from Play
Are you even listening to me?
I'm trying to explain how the game works to you.
It's a very important lesson.
You should probably pay attention.
i dont speak english well...
Then just discard your hand
That's what happens
Player puts Lion's Eye Diamond into play from Graveyard
Player puts Squee, Goblin Nabob into play from Graveyard
No, not ok.
That's not how the card works.
You have to discard all the cards in your hand
Player Lost

If Player (the default title given to people who do not input a name) would have been sitting in front of Nameless, he would have surely been made to see the meaning of the card by way of gestures and elements of the card's text as Nameless explained. But he wasn't, so the game ended in the all too frequent "Player Lost" message. At the very least, Player could not have simply clicked a button. He would have had to scoop up his cards and leave the room. By the way, this message typically results in some level of exasperation in the person who reads it, and was brought about by exasperation in the person who clicked that "x" in the top, right corner of their screen. It has become one of the hallmarks of the game.

Another place MWS occasionally fails miserably is in the clear description of a player's intent. The game has tools to assist in this role. For example, you can create arrows that indicate targeting or similar actions. They help a lot. But again, it is not the same as in person, nor is it as computer perfect as Magic Online. In this example, there is a dispute concerning timing.
Quote from MWS log »
sean taps Mountain
sean taps Mountain
Umezawa's Jitte is equipping Goblin Piledriver now
sean taps Goblin Piledriver
It is now the Combat Phase, Declare Blockers Step
sean puts Goblin Piledriver to Graveyard from Play
Umezawa's Jitte now has 1 (+1) counters.
Umezawa's Jitte now has 2 (+1) counters.
put piledriver back in play
before damage
I ping the trisk
with itself
this is before damage
you just put your card in the grave
sean puts Goblin Piledriver into play from Graveyard
I ping the trisk
with itself
so it goes to the grave
and umezawa
does not get counters
Player Lost

Alfred is an experienced player. He almost certainly had a plan when it came to avoiding Jitte counters, but since MWS has a manual system for proceeding through phases, steps, and even priority, these occasions do arise. In this case, it seems likely that Alfred really did make a good play, but how can we be certain? He could just as easily have seen the good play after the fact (and perhaps a long pause), and hoped to convince sean that he simply did not have a chance to click before sean went to the combat damage step (which he never did officially anyway). If this had been an online tournament match, with just a log as evidence, both of these players could make a plausible case for their side if sean had not been so conciliatory.

Here is another problem. MWS is an attractive place for newcomers to play Magic, but it is a terrible teaching ground since the more experienced players are usually there to test out ideas against equally good opponents and the best deck they can find.
Quote from Apprentice log »
You have to track storm counters manually on MWS and Apprentice. But the game does not supply a tool, so players get creative.
0:03:14 [Clavio] Clavio taps Taiga
0:03:14 [Clavio] Clavio taps Bayou
0:03:15 [Clavio] Clavio taps Darkwater Egg
0:03:16 [Clavio] Clavio puts Darkwater Egg to Graveyard from Play
0:03:17 [Clavio] Clavio draws a card
0:03:19 [Clavio] Clavio plays Chromatic Sphere from Hand
0:03:21 [Clavio] spells now has 3 (+1) counters.
0:03:25 [Clavio] Clavio plays Sleight of Hand from Hand
0:03:26 [Clavio] spells now has 4 (+1) counters.
0:03:29 [Clavio] Clavio is looking top 2 cards of its Library...
0:03:33 [DonDalton] DonDalton taps Swamp
0:03:33 [DonDalton] DonDalton taps Cabal Coffers
0:03:34 [DonDalton] DonDalton plays Terror from Hand
0:03:38 [Clavio] Clavio stops looking its Library...
0:03:40 [Clavio] uh
0:03:42 [Clavio] thats not a creature
0:03:46 [Clavio] its my spell counter

This log is from Apprentice, a program that is even more primitive than Magic Workstation. It seems likely that Clavio had a card "in play" to track storm count. What kills me about this is that DonDalton must have seen it come into play. If he thought it was a creature, how did it get there? Why was Clavio putting counters on it? And it what exactly is a creature called "Spells"? Like any good player, it was something he did not understand so he tried to kill it. The best part is that Clavio stopped resolving Sleight of Hand without drawing his card just to say something. Clavio might have been better off goldfishing his combo.

Taken to the extreme, rules disagreements can lead to protracted arguments with the two players both refusing to back down. However it is far more likely that one of them will leave in disgust with the familiar " Player Lost" message ending the argument.

Quote from MWS log »

It is now the Combat Phase, Declare Attackers Step
Le freak taps Soltari Priest
Le freak taps Soltari Priest
Finn taps Mangara of Corondor
Le freak puts Soltari Priest to RFG from Play
Activate him. Then before passing priority return him to hand using Karakas. The ability will resolve and Mangara will be safely moved to another zone.
Finn taps Karakas
Finn puts Mangara of Corondor to Hand from Play
dont be so sure
Finn plays Mangara of Corondor from Hand
Finn taps Mangara of Corondor
read the cost of the ability
thats the cost
and remove
tap and remove
just tap
tthats the costr
remove is a resolution
look at the colon
Player Lost

In all likelihood, this player does not have any understanding of this interaction to this day. I can't really blame him for his ignorance. The card seems like it should not be reusable. There are very few cards in the history of the game that can be manipulated this way. Nevinyrral's Disk is one. Carrionette is another. You just don't see anyone taking advantage of this particular corner of the rules.

Furthermore "removed from game" has a particularly permanent sound to it. Would the game let you cheat "removed from game"? In fact, I suspect that many of you are even wondering precisely how this can be. The simple explanation is that the effect remains on the stack even if the source is removed before resolution. It's the same idea as if someone taps your Icy Manipulator in response to you tapping their creature. It just seems weird because Mangara is not actually sacrificed, but rather removed upon resolution. The hard fact is that MWS can't teach any of us the way Magic Online does. You can just go on making the same erroneous assumptions indefinitely.

I would gladly pay for Magic Online if Wizards could find some way to let me use the few uber rares I have paid through the nose for without having to do so again. I would even buy packs to get them. In fact, I am sure that most of the Legacy players reading this article are thinking that it would be thrilling to open packs of Antiquities, Urza's Saga, and Unlimited. Yeah, yeah. Mox this and secondary market that. Hogwash. If you make all that stuff accessible to essentially everyone, won't it simply drive up demand for paper products when all those extra players show up for actual tournaments? So, is this future in the, ahem, cards?

Until then, if you are one of the people wishing you could find any opponent online to try out your new Parallax Wave-Eternal Witness-Mystic Snake-Claws of Gix infinite counterspell combo against, or if you are the person who desperately needs to see how to handle Threshold in a Landstill heavy metagame, be patient with your opponent. You may just end up having your match featured in an article about fools like me making due with MWS.


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