New Teaching Format Arrives in Magic Online

Posted in Feature on October 18, 2011

By Chris Kiritz

We’re happy to announce a new format that will be available in the New Player room after the downtime on October 19, 2011: the Mentor format. We wanted to provide a way for players to teach other players Magic and Magic Online in a way that replicates some of the experience of teaching a friend in real life. To this end, we created the Mentor format and the Jace Beleren avatar.

Here's how it works: A player with either a Standard format deck or a Planeswalker format deck selects Mentor format from the lower 'Type' dropdown in the New Game Options menu and creates a match. Alternately, a player could challenge one of his or her friends and select the Mentor format in the Challenge window.

Mentor Format

The joining player must also select a Standard or Planeswalker format legal deck, but it can be a different format than the game's creator. This means that you could have two Standard format decks, two Planeswalker format decks, or one Standard format deck and one Planeswalker format deck squaring off against each other. We wanted to make sure that it was as easy as possible for an established player to help a newer player, so we didn't want to limit matches to only Standard or only Planeswalker format matches.

After the match begins, players will notice that they each start with a Jace Beleren Vanguard avatar in their command zone. This avatar is part of the format, so neither player has to have it in his or her collection. The avatar is designed to replicate some of the behaviors players might use when teaching a player in person sitting around the kitchen table, and it has some very powerful abilities.

Jace Beleren Vanguard

Ability One: "Choose a player. That player reveals his or her hand."
Often new players encounter a situation where they do not know what play they should make next. At a kitchen table, it is easy for the teacher to ask to see the pupil's hand and help them choose a course of action. In Magic Online, the simple action of revealing a player's hand is not a standard option, so players would have to default to typing all the information in the chat window. Using Jace Beleren, either player can now reveal his or her hand to the other player quickly and easily.

Ability Two: "Choose a player. That player reveals his or her library. Choose any number of cards from that library. That player puts those cards into his or her hand."
The thinking behind this feature was twofold. First, since Magic Online automatically shuffles, this was a way for the Mentor player to ensure the pupil has the cards required to learn how to play in their hand. Want to make sure a player has enough land to cast his or her first creature? No problem, just open their library and give them the card. Want to demonstrate how Auras work but don't have any in your hand? No need to wait until one is drawn, just find the card and go!

Second, this feature also lets players discuss deck construction more easily near the end of a match. The Mentor player can look at the new player's deck, evaluate the deck's construction, and quickly make any suggestions based on what they see. Again, this eliminates the need for the pupil to type up the contents of his or her deck and lets players focus on teaching Magic.

Ability Three: "Choose a player. Untap all permanents that player controls."
We wanted to make sure that players had a way to "undo" plays. Magic Online, however, strictly enforces the structure of a turn and offers a very limited undo function. This ability lets players essentially reset the board by untapping everything that has already been tapped. While we could have let players choose exactly what permanents were untapped, we felt that it was both easier and faster to just untap everything and let the players get on with the match.

While we could not adjust the inherent turn structure of Magic Online (for example, rewinding to a completed phase or step), when combined with the Jace Beleren's fourth ability, this ability will let players undo a wider variety of actions.

Ability Four: "Choose a permanent, spell, or card not on the battlefield and return it to its owner's hand."
When playing casually at the kitchen table, it is common for players to make a play and then say something like, "Oh, I meant to cast my Relentless Rats instead of my Drudge Skeletons. Can I take that back?" At the table, it is easy. Just swap the two cards and move on. In Magic Online, once a spell is cast and on the stack, it is a done deal.

In keeping with the idea of broader undo powers, we wanted a way for players to be able to take back "mistakes". The combination of Jace's third and fourth abilities replicate that to a great degree. When I accidentally cast my Drudge Skeletons, I can use the fourth ability to return them to my hand, the third ability to untap my two lands, and then use them to correctly play my Relentless Rats.

There are, however, some limitations to this ability. If I have proceeded from one phase or step to the next--say from my first main phase into the combat phase--there is no way to go back to the previous phase or step. This means that the process of attacking and blocking will be largely irreversible, though it would be possible to return the battlefield to the state it was prior to the combat phase. In addition, damage dealt to creatures, players, or planeswalkers is not reversible, nor does the Jace Beleren avatar have any way to reset life totals. The card is already packed with text and we just didn't have the room to fit more abilities on the card without making it virtually unreadable.

Now that you know the basics about how the Jace avatar works, don't forget that it is just a tool to help players teach other players. The core to teaching Magic will always be communication. Taking the time to ask and answer questions, and then using the Jace avatar to help set the stage, will allow you to teach players how to play Magic Online like never before.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and teach a friend how to play today!

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