State of Magic Online Events

Posted in Feature on November 12, 2015

By Lee Sharpe

Hello! I am Lee Sharpe, the Digital Product Manager for Magic Online events, and it's my job to plan the timing, structure, entry, prizes, and other details related to Magic Online events. I started this job at the beginning of the year. I'm excited by the challenges of this role, and I work really hard to make data-driven decisions that improve the event experiences for all Magic Online players.

In this article, I'm going to talk about the changes to Magic Online events made over the last year. We'll look at what went well over the past year, what that didn't go as well as we hoped and how we've reacted, and, finally, stuff we are continuing to examine into 2016.

Play Points

By far the largest change to Magic Online event structures this year was the introduction of Play Points, the conversion of most Constructed events to award Play Points as the primary prizes, and the acceptance of Play Points in most events (both Constructed and Limited). We made these changes to move away from awarding prizes entirely in boosters, which were mainly of interest to Limited players, primarily to allow Constructed players to more easily use their prizes to rejoin Constructed events.

With this change implemented, player feedback has been mostly positive. Since the launch of Play Points, entries into Constructed events have increased by over 60%. We're still going to continue to monitor this system, but overall the data indicates that Magic Online players would rather play Constructed under this system than the previous one.

Daily Events

Simultaneous with the Play Points announcement, we increased the cost of Daily Events from 6 to 12 event tickets in order to focus those events on more highly competitive play. This caused a lot of Standard and Modern players to move from Daily Events to eight-player queues. Some pointed to this as evidence that the change wasn't working, but when a goal involves narrowing the focus of an event, we expected and planned for players to change their behavior to play in other events instead. As noted above, Constructed play in the aggregate is doing well.

When developing the new structure, however, we underestimated the impact on those who play Pauper, Legacy, and Vintage formats—especially due to the lack of eight-player queues in these formats.

Since then, we've added eight-player queues for Pauper and Legacy, plus changed the Legacy and Vintage Daily Events to the same structure used for Standard and Modern, though with a lower minimum to help them fire. We're still analyzing these changes, and we'll make more adjustments as appropriate.

Iona, Shield of Emeria | Art by Jason Chan

Leagues

Constructed Leagues launched! Being able to play any time you want and spread out your play has been almost universally praised by players, who really enjoy the reduced waiting time between matches as well as the ability to play matches at their convenience.

Worth Wollpert and Chris Kiritz have already talked to you some about the future and deployment of Leagues in their articles earlier this week, so I'm going to focus on League event structures. The Leagues as they exist now have definitely brought in players who weren't playing in events before, as well as enabled a lot of repeat play, so we're quite happy with what we've seen so far.

But of course, we are looking for opportunities to improve. One thing that's tricky to perfect is matchmaking. We are investigating the right balance between how long someone waits for a match versus matching them with an opponent with a similar record. Not all players value these things equally, and balancing them is something we want to get right.

Another thing we are still interested in is competitive Leagues that concentrate prizes on players who have won their matches. Examining the matchmaking question and the role of queues and scheduled events in this world is something that is especially important for these types of Leagues, since most of these offerings are geared toward more competitive players.

Additionally, Pauper is the next format we plan to expand into. However, making sure that players in these leagues are able to get into a match quickly after joining the matchmaking system is an important part of this, and so we are examining the entire Pauper event suite in this conversation. Expect to hear more about this soon!

Long term, we hope that outside of premier play, constructed event play is mostly happening in leagues. Before this can happen, we need to expand our league offerings, and are working on making this happen.

We will have a survey coming out soon regarding what about Leagues is important to players. This will help guide us in terms of direction and properly looking into trade-offs, and we hope that if you care about these kinds of offerings you will take the time to fill out the survey!

Flashback Formats

To give players the opportunity to change up their play from time to time, we offer "flashback" drafts, where players can draft a Limited format from Magic's past. In the past, Magic Online has always timed the cube drafts and flashback drafts together so that cube drafts can have flashback boosters as part of their prize structure. We saw cube drafters increasingly prefer Play Point prizes that enabled them to enter the cube draft again over flashback booster prizes that forced them to either trade or split up their play between the cube drafts and the flashback drafts. We didn't want to force the two offerings to always compete with one another.

Liliana of the Veil | Art by Steve Argyle

As a result, this year we have started separating these so flashbacks operate on an independent schedule and cube drafts award prizes entirely in Play Points (as well as accepting them as an entry option, of course). We've seen growth in both flashback Draft and Cube Draft participation since this change, which makes sense as they are no longer competing with one another.

Another change we tried was offering more phantom flashbacks, as we felt in some cases for older sets players would not place much importance on keeping the cards. We tried them with a couple different entry and prize structures, but in general participation was much better when players got to keep their cards, so we are moving on from this experiment for now. If this is territory we explore in the future, we'll certainly consider what we learned from running them this time.

When players have been able to keep the cards in flashback drafts, we've focused on a three-round Swiss structure that awarded six boosters for three wins and two boosters for two wins. This was designed so only one queue could appeal to as broad an audience as possible. Competitive players want 3-0 to be well-rewarded, and other players want to play again if they lose in the first round.

This structure ("6-2-2-2 Swiss") has been well-received. In fact, it's done so well that several players have asked that we start offering it for the currently available Limited format as well. However, when a large amount of players want to play the format, as is always true for the most recent format, having different structures to target different groups of players is important so that people get to play against those more like themselves. Since 6-2-2-2 Swiss was designed to appeal to a large number of people, it does a poor job of segmenting.

Larger Events

We've been moving away from having large events with exciting prizes for top finishers. This is often because the large number of players in these events means the events will take a long time, because of both the larger number of rounds and the wait times required for rounds to end. Many players are unwilling or unable to play in these kinds of events.

However, we have experimented recently with the Power Nine Challenge (which was very successful!) after receiving a lot of feedback from many Vintage players that they really wanted to see an event like this. We have also run a couple of festivals focused on a single format for a week or two. Figuring out how to best use these style of events is definitely something we plan to examine more in 2016.

Magic Online Championship Series

I've saved the biggest stage for last! The Magic Online Championship Series has done a good job of promoting Magic Online play as well as bringing you the Magic Online Championship every year. That said, a team of us has taken a look at it and have found some opportunities to make changes we think will improve the experience for players and fans alike. What are they? Check out my article tomorrow for more information! (I've signed myself up to do a lot of writing recently...)

We Want Your Feedback !

As always, we'd love to hear your thoughts on what you want to see more of and where you think we can improve. You can direct feedback to the official Magic Online Twitter account, my personal Twitter account, the Magic Online Tumblr, or comment via email at MagicOnlineFeedback@wizards.com.

Thanks for reading!

Lee Sharpe

Digital Product Manager, Magic Online Events

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