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Careful Consideration – When PTQs go Digital

 

With Magic Online PTQs in full swing, Magic Online has become a little more “mainstream” than it ever has been before. I know people who have only a casual relationship with MODO trying to collect cards and tickets so that they can PTQ on a Sunday morning. Even Gerry Thompson found the allure of Magic Online PTQs too strong, pulling him out of retirement from his undisclosed, remote location, earning a slot in the process.

But the world of paper Magic and online Magic aren’t exactly the same, and there key differences.

Paper Magic is played with paper. Online Magic is played online.

Well, that’s it for me. I’ll see you next week!

Yours abruptly,
-Zaiem
zaiemb at gmail dot com
zbeg on Magic Online
zbeg on Twitter

Oh, fine. You want more than that?

Let’s look at the key differences:

There are no draws on Magic Online
This is the biggest one, in my opinion. A deck like Martyr of Sands gains a whole lot of value when you don’t have to worry about intentionally drawing.

For the first paper PTQ of the season on January 2nd, both Jon Loucks and I played Conley’s Martyr deck that Brad Nelson piloted to back to back online Top 4 finishes. We read the field correctly as being 65% Scapeshift, Burn, and Zoo, with the other 35% being a smattering of other known decks (like Dredge) and homebrews. Our deck was very well built to beat the top 65% (the Castigates Brad had ended up being Hide//Seek for us, which is much better against Scapeshift), but had a real hard time against random control decks.

I got a draw round one against a UWb Mystical Teachings deck, and that put me in the draw bracket, meaning the chances of me seeing a Lava Spike were essentially 0%. That’s about the worst possible position to be in, and my deck choice went from being amazing to being awful. Martyr feasts on the aggro decks, but there aren’t many (if any) in the draw bracket, and Martyr’s games run so long that draws are likely.

Even if the Martyr player is playing quickly, the opponent may not be. And at a Pro Tour, where the rounds are longer and there are more judges, you might be able to get them to play faster, but I’ve had a hard time at the PTQ level getting people to play at a reasonable pace, and that hurts me as well when I play a deck like Martyr.

All of this goes out the window online. If you told me that I could play a Martyr of Sands deck without ever getting a draw, the value of that deck goes way up. As long as you can play quickly (and there aren’t that many decisions to make with Martyr compared to other control decks), your opponent is going to have the pressure of the clock on him, and will be facing the dreaded timeout match loss.

I wouldn’t suggest a deck like Martyr for paper PTQs or paper events like a Grand Prix, but it’s just fine online.

On the opposite side, there are decks that aren’t good for Online, but are fine on paper. The infinite combo deck in Standard Body Double, Venser, Shaper Savant, Mirror Entity, and Reveillark was great on paper, but it takes a lot of clicking (and holding down the control key so you don’t pass priority) on Magic Online to go through the process, and that eats up valuable clock time. Even if you’re ahead, it takes a while to bounce your all of opponent’s permanents and then beat them down.

In the current Extended metagame, combo Elves is a deck that may not have an infinite combo, but there are a whole lot of triggers and there’s a whole lot of clicking. If you aren’t really familiar with a deck like Elves you’re going to spend time thinking and waste away clock, and you run a high risk of timing out even when you’re clearly going to win the game. There are no five additional turns on MODO. Know your deck, know it well, and play it quickly, otherwise it’s best to choose a different deck.

This also comes into play when you’re going to lose the game and are in a position to concede to go to game two. Unless you want to hide information (if they Extirpate you or something), you shouldn’t scoop if you’re ahead on time. F6 through your turns if you have to, but make them use as much clock as possible. Even if they have a hiccup with their Internet connection for a few minutes, it can be all you need to get them to time out. This is a Magic Online application of the “never give up, never surrender, take any edge you can” mindset that you should have at paper PTQs.

On the flip side, if you’re behind on time and you’re going to lose, then scoop and go on to the next game! You don’t have time to dilly or dally, and you certainly don’t have time to do both.

This concept does raise the interesting theoretical possibility of making a deck whose sole purpose is to win by timing out. When I played a bit of Jacerator in Standard before States, I won quite a few matches by my opponent just running out of time. I had no real decisions to make (play Fog and don’t die), while my opponents had to go into the tank and think about how they were going to approach this game and pull out a win. That’s fine. Take all the time you want.

You could take this concept to an extreme, and just play stall.dec, preferably with your opponent getting lots of triggers. You probably can’t do that in the current Extended environment because people have way too many ways to disrupt any strategy like that, but in some future Standard format or Block Constructed format, I could see a fringe deck like this being possible only on Magic Online.

The other big application of the “no draw” thing is that there are no intentional draws. So if you’re 7-1 in a nine round PTQ, you can’t draw into Top Eight. You have to play it out, running the risk of missing out. That also means that if you’re 6-2 heading into the final round, you still have a very realistic chance of making Top 8 (depending on your tiebreakers, which are posted every round), since all the 7-1s will have to play it out, letting you possibly sneak in at 7-2 on tiebreaks.

Everyone knows what you’re playing
There isn’t a lot of surprise factor on MODO, and that’s because of replays. After the match is over, people can watch the replays of any match, and they can see what you’re playing. If you get paired against someone in round two, you should always see what they did in round one, and you can make your mulligan decisions and adjust your game plan accordingly.

You just don’t get the situations on MODO where you say, “I had a really good hand against aggro decks, but I didn’t know what he was playing, so I kept and my hand was bad against his combo and I lost game one.” At least, not after round one. So a sweet rogue deck that might be a little less powerful but makes up for that by getting an edge on surprise factor (a Conley Woods trademark) doesn’t really exist on MODO.

There is no cheating
There’s no reason to call a judge because your opponent drew extra cards, or you suspect they shuffle cheated you, or they’re slow playing you. You get to just play Magic. When you’re paired against the local cheating scumbag at your PTQ, you have to watch them like a hawk and make sure they don’t do anything sketchy. On Magic Online, it’s not really an issue.

Judges provide a great service for the paper events, but it’s nice to be able to live in a world where they aren’t needed.

There are bugs
This is an unfortunate downside to the Magic Online interface. Programming a game as complex as Magic is a pretty big task, and sometimes things slip through the cracks. Recently there has been a bug where the promo Treetop Villages either turn into a Swamp, or a face down card that can’t be unmorphed. So if you entered a PTQ with that sweet Treetop Village it’s not going to be attacking at any point ever.

You can at least get a heads up on known issues by visiting the link here. It won’t save you once you’ve entered the event, but at least you’ll have a heads up and you’ll know what works and what doesn’t as you head into the tournament.

There are no big announcements for pairings
When the round finishes, even if it finishes early, there’s a two minute delay, and then the next round starts. So if you’re expecting that first round of the Top Eight to take 50 minutes, and it only takes 30, then you better be at your computer when the round starts.

After ten minutes of inactivity, you lose the match. This happened in the top four of a PTQ when someone just never showed up for their match, and someone got a free win into the finals. I’ve seen Swiss rounds end earlier, even with huge 220+ person PTQs. Even showing up four minutes late puts you behind four minutes on the clock, which can be a disaster if you’re playing against a deck like Martyr.

Those are most of the differences I’ve seen after a handful of huge events on Magic Online. I don’t think I’d ever skip a paper PTQ to play in an online. The online fields are much more difficult (you get the ringers from all over the world versus just the ringers in your local area), and I thrive on social interaction, seeing my friends, and so on. I don’t see online PTQs replacing paper PTQs, and it looks like the number of paper PTQs is staying about the same. The online ones are just extra PTQs that you can play in, and even better – you may do so even in your favorite pair of frilly underwear, if you’d like.

Yours daintily,
-Zaiem
zaiemb at gmail dot com
zbeg on Magic Online
zbeg on Twitter

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