State of Magic Online 2018

Posted in Magic Online on December 14, 2018

By Chris Kiritz

Greetings, Magic Online players!

It's that time where we look back at the year that was and then ahead at the year to be. Let's get to it!

Before we get started…

Since there's been some discussion recently, however, let's leap ahead to the elephant in the room: "What's going on with Magic Online now that MTG Arena is in the house?" Good question, internet, so glad you asked, though I don't think you'll find the answer all that exciting since we've been saying the same thing since MTG Arena was announced.

We think there is room for both games, as they offer different experiences. MTG Arena is fast and flashy, and the team is knocking it out of the park. What MTG Arena lacks, however, is what Magic Online does best: offer players a way to plumb the depths of Magic's 25-year history in a vast array of formats and styles.

The MTGO team is committed to providing a home for players who are looking for Magic experiences that MTG Arena can't provide. Whether it is a Constructed format, a Draft format, or a multiplayer format like Commander, we will continue to support the unparalleled depth of Magic digitally. We're going to continue to deliver the best possible experience while we make improvements to adjust to the ever-changing digital Magic environment.

Speaking of ways to play, by now you've seen Wizards' announcement about esports, and MTGO will continue to play its part by qualifying players for the tabletop Mythic Championships as well as hosting our own Magic Online Championship Series. As part of that support, we increased the prizes for Championships to $250,000 for the 2019 season. We've also expanded the ways you can qualify by expanding the Weekend Challenges to be part of the Championship Series. Now you can even qualify for the tabletop Mythic Championships by focusing on your favorite formats.

Now, back to our regularly scheduled article.

2018 in Review

Clearly releasing sets earlier than ever was our big win in 2018. Through a lot of hard work, the team spent the previous year slowly pulling in timelines and adjusting our processes to ensure that we could fit the work in, make sure the quality level was still high, and not inadvertently reveal any preview content the Marketing team had queued up.

As I discussed midyear, in addition to releasing earlier we have also reduced the number of downtimes we need while improving how quickly we can release fixes. Not only does this mean that Magic Online is available more often for players to get games in, this means when we have issues, such as the issue with Spell Queller during the Ultimate Masters release, we're able to get a fix out faster than ever before.

2018 also saw the release of a feature I and many other players have longed for, CHAOS DRAFT! While there is some similarity to a Cube draft, CHAOS DRAFT! flexes different deckbuilding skills, requiring you to contemplate meta-archetypes over the curated archetypes typically found in a cube. We only ran CHAOS DRAFT! once in 2018, but we expect it to appear a little more regularly in 2019.

Beyond just CHAOS DRAFT!, we've added additional cubes through the Cube Spotlight Series. We've seen an Uncommon Cube, a Pro Tour Cube, and a Core Set Cube. Each offered different challenges, and it's the kind of space we want to play around more in.

In client news, we've updated game chat to be opt in. Check out the announcements from December 4 to see how the feature works. We've also improved the stops and yields system, both to be more granular and allow you to set more recurring stops to speed up gameplay, such as saving targets for permanents you control. We also updated the targeting arrow system and the counters on MTGO to be more evocative and a bit easier to read at a glance.

Of course, alongside all the public-facing changes, we've made updates behind the scenes you are less likely to notice. We've improved our internal tools we use in both Game Support and with the Development team, refactored how card abilities work in the game server, updated our collation test tools, and improved performance in several areas in the infrastructure.

As occasionally happens, however, not everything went as well as we would have hoped. We ended tournament support for both 1v1 Commander and 1v1 Brawl as neither format captured the player base sufficient to support the formats at that level. We also started the year with a small bit of technical instability and dealt with another issue during Thanksgiving, all things we continue to learn from sixteen-plus years in.

When all is said and done, however, MTGO had one of its most successful years ever. MTGO was available for players for more time than any year previously in its history, all while setting our weekly population record and just missing our player concurrency record.

2019 in Preview

If you've been paying attention, you've noticed that we've been shifting our focus to include more experiences that leverage the enormous back catalog of Magic cards. As mentioned above, we're going continue to lean into that focus for Magic Online. This will come in the form of new cubes, more CHAOS DRAFT!, and more of a focus on Modern and the other non-rotating formats than we've previously seen.

We're still working on our update for the Play Lobby. We hoped we could release alongside Ravnica Allegiance, but we want to take the time to make sure the update is correct, so we're pushing the release a little further into 2019. The primary goal with the update is to make finding matches and events more intuitive by updating where and how you make your selections. We're putting choices like whether you're looking for Standard or Draft at the top level, and then showing you the play options available, whether it is a League, Tournament, or just an Open Play match against a friend. Hopefully we'll have something to show off soon.

In addition to the Play Lobby, we want to continue to improve the client. We want to learn from what our friends on the MTG Arena team are doing and see what we can apply, bearing in mind that our clients are very different. High-level investigations will revolve around visual updates (such as streamlining the main navigation) or experience changes (such as exploring how much of MTG Arena's autotapping system we can incorporate into MTGO).

Other projects on the horizon revolve around updating our server hardware (likely in Q1) and updating our account creation process (later in the year). When looking at account creation, we'll be exploring returning account creation to be part of downloading the client, exploring whether we can integrate with the greater Wizards account service, and whether we can update the system to allow players to create accounts without first paying $9.99 USD. These are all in the exploration phase at this point but are the kinds of changes we've wanted for a long time, and 2019 is looking like the year we might make some progress.

We'll also be on the lookout for even more quality of life improvements, like being able to hide your username during a match, fixing some of the issues from the targeting, and other smaller features. And, of course, we'll continue to deliver card sets using the same cadence we settled on in 2018.

As always, feel free to reach out on Twitter @MagicOnline or via email to magiconlinefeedback@wizards.com. Good luck and have fun!

Chris Kiritz
Senior Product Manager, Magic Online

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