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Watching the MOCS Was Better than Watching a Live Event

Last weekend, I was glued to my computer screen watching the Magic Online Championship finals, a.k.a. the MOCS. If I went out, I was on my phone watching the MOCS. When I was in my living room with my family, I had my iPad loaded up with the MOCS. The event was truly special and it was genuinely the most fun I’ve had as a spectator of an event since I can’t remember when.

Everything about the event was spectacular—the style of commentary that closely resembled the Vintage Super League, the caliber of player, and the caliber of actual play. If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch, I highly recommend going back to take a look, and I’m certainly going to go back myself to watch anything I may have missed. This is coming from someone who doesn’t even go back and watch Worlds or the Pro Tour after the fact.

Watching the event got me thinking. Why can’t we have more tournaments like this on Magic Online? Now there are definitely a number of reasons why having major tournaments on Magic Online could have a downside, such as bugs, and the fact some people just don’t play Magic Online, but there are some huge upsides to having more major events on Magic Online.

They’re Easier to Follow

While watching the Magic Online Championships, I couldn’t help but notice how easy it was to figure out everything that was going on. The life totals were clear, the battlefield was easy to make out, and perhaps most importantly, the player’s hands were easy to distinguish.

Having all this information at the ready made it so much easier for me as a viewer to follow along, which got me more excited about the event. I almost always watch coverage of Grand Prix when I’m unable to attend them, but I just have them on in the background while I go about my day. It’s sometimes hard to determine what’s going on, which makes watching less appealing, not to mention all of the delays because of shuffling and judge calls.

During the MOCS, I could play along and not fall behind because I had every key piece of information in a decision. It reminded me of time I’d spend on Skype with my friends, screen sharing, watching each other play, draft, and do whatever we were interested in. I did this daily before my kids were born and it leveled up my game from someone who was occasionally on the Pro Tour to Platinum Pro and even Player of the Year.

Playing along with the best players in the world—while having some of the other best players in the world explain it—is definitely going to improve your game, and the more clear the information is the better we can understand decisions and learn from them.

Quite simply, visibility made the tournament much easier to follow.

Deck Lists and Sideboarding Are Readily Available

One of my favorite parts about watching the MOCS this weekend was having access to the player’s deck lists during the Swiss rounds of the tournament by simply watching them during sideboarding. I was able to play with their decks immediately after watching them play a match. Granted, there were only two decks that made up a huge portion of the metagame, but there were tons of different card choices and sideboards, and being able to play with each one of them in a Magic Online League to test out the decks I was watching was great. I got to decide which version of the deck I liked as the tournament progressed, got to watch how these decks played out, and how the different card choices were relevant both in my own games and during the event itself.

In addition, I got to see how these players sideboarded in different matchups. At one point during the MOCS I was playing Marcio Carvalho’s version of Mardu Vehicles on Magic Online and didn’t quite understand his sideboard. I simply watched him play his match, saw how he was sideboarding, and took a screenshot so that I could use his deck as he intended. I did this for all of the Top 4 competitors to refer back to later. I didn’t have to play a guessing game with their sideboard, and it helped me understand their card choices for the tournament. Generally we have to wait until the next week when players write a tournament report or deck guide—and with the MOCS I got access to this information immediately.

Now, I was motivated to play more Magic Online instead of taking a wait-and-see approach, which happens at Pro Tours where the deck lists aren’t readily available. There, you get to see the player’s archetypes, but not exact card choices. This kind of motivation is great for marketing Magic Online, and I think a good reason to have more major tournaments featured on Magic Online.

It Makes for Better Commentary

The commentary last weekend was fantastic. The Vintage Super League style is a huge upgrade for a couple of reasons.

First, the fact the players are on Magic Online make it easier for the commentators to make out what’s going on. All of the information is accurate, and everything is much more visible than it is when you’re trying to see what’s going on during a live match where cards are hidden or details of the match aren’t necessarily accurate. This made the commentary so much better because they were never speculating on a card in hand, or what was said between opponents—this information was all readily available. Even the chat pops up during the coverage.

The array of commentators did an incredible job talking out the lines of play, discussing options, and explaining the basics of what was going on for less knowledgeable viewers. When these commentators can work from the comfort of their own home, we may get to see Patrick Sullivan “in the booth” with Marshall Sutcliffe more often. Commentators such as Dave Williams, who did a standout job, would be able to participate more often because it’s much easier to get high level players from all over the world to participate remotely than it is to have them on site.

Now maybe this style of commentary could be done for live tournaments as well—after all, the commentators now just view the matches on a screen and discuss what’s happening on the screen, but the fact the matches were being played online contributed to the quality of the commentary.

There’s Less Need for Judges

Judges and rulings can sometimes be complex and unintuitive, like the notorious “announced ‘combat’ so it’s too late to crew” situation that happened at Pro Tour Aether Revolt. On Magic Online there’s no ambiguity as to what phase the players are in. It’s quite clear to both players, and there is no room for miscommunication, so there’s no need for complex judge rulings with feel-bad moments for anyone.

There’s also no cheating! No one is stacking anyone’s deck, no one is taking advantage of a miscommunication, and no one is palming seven-card hands. Magic Online makes cheating nearly impossible, so there is no need for speculation about how cleanly someone is playing. Marcio Carvalho may have a bit of a checkered past, but it didn’t cast a shadow on this event. Marcio played great Magic and got rewarded for doing just that with a Top 4 finish.

Card Availability Isn’t an Issue

For tournaments like Pro Tours, I’m anxious about getting the cards I need for a paper event. Sometimes a card is so popular that supply is low, or the price is extremely high. At Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, I was told that Liliana, the Last Hope cost something close to $100 at the vendors because of a shortage. My team was lucky enough to have been tricked into thinking a Zombies deck was good early, so we all ordered a copy of that deck a week before the Pro Tour, only to eventually play B/G Delirium—another Liliana deck. At least we got the Lilianas much cheaper. It’s not that these vendors are gouging the players either—they simply don’t have the stock and have to pay a high amount to get people to part with them so that players can have access to these cards for the event.

At the World Championships in 2014, Lars Dam had to play an alternate version of a deck because he could not find the card Fatestitcher to play his intended version of Jeskai Ascendancy combo. Vendors simply didn’t have the card so he couldn’t play the deck he wanted to play. A tournament of this caliber with so few competitors shouldn’t have this issue. At the MOCS, they don’t. Each player’s deck list is loaded into a “god” account and that player plays the cards they register without having to worry about where they are getting the cards. There is no stress about finding any specific cards for Magic Online events, just the general stress of which ones to register to begin with.

With fewer card availability issues, we could play more Legacy! That’s right, one of the major obstacles to support for Legacy is that the cards just aren’t readily available. The reserve list keeps cards from being reprinted and keeps the price tags on these cards high. I never plan to go to Legacy events because I just don’t want to track down the cards, and I don’t own them myself. On Magic Online, there is no reserve list. Some dual lands cost under 1 ticket! This means there could be an outlet for major competition in Legacy, something I think that the community of Legacy players would love, and deserves.

Magic Online does not have card availability issues even if you didn’t have a “god” account for these tournaments. There is such a huge supply of cards that it’s easy to find cards you need and not have to worry that you’re going to have to play only 3 Heart of Kiran in your Mardu Vehicles deck because the vendors ran out. Have a friend that can lend you those Gideon, Ally of Zendikar you need but they’re all the way across the country? Not a problem. Card availability is one of the biggest advantages to Magic Online tournaments.

My Proposal

I know that having the World Championship or a Pro Tour on Magic Online simply won’t work. Some players don’t play Magic Online that participate in these events—in fact, two of the best players in the world today, Alexander Hayne and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, who also happen to be part of my testing team, don’t care to play Magic Online. Keeping paper Magic and Magic Online separate is important so paper players aren’t forced to do something they’re not used to. For this same reason, I think those who play Magic Online should have more lucrative events to participate in within their own comfort zone.

We have truly phenomenal players, like Lucas Duchow, who rarely travels to events yet has the highest win percentage of the players on Magic Online. These players should have a platform to play at high levels in the way they enjoy playing the game.

Other championship events could be played on Magic Online. We have events now like the Limited Championships and Legacy Championships. These are cool events that are higher stakes than normal Magic Online Leagues, but I want to take this a step further. Let’s play for more.

I propose we make championship events higher-stakes events with a series of qualifiers, such as those for the MOCS. Each format has its own championship season, which feeds the main event. There could be 8 qualifiers that qualify two players each, or 4 that qualify four players for the championship event within each season.

At the end of the season, the 16 qualified players go to Wizards of the Coast and play the event just like the MOCS. These players compete for a cash prize and the winner earns a slot in the MOCS finals, replacing one of the leader board qualification slots. Each Grand Prix format: Legacy, Modern, Standard, and Limited would all have their own champion. Each Champion is represented at the MOCS, similar to the “Draft Master” slot at Worlds.

This allows players to play formats they love on Magic Online, with a chance to earn the title of “Limited Champion” or “Legacy Champion”—and something other than some booster packs or Magic Online cards. I think this would be an excellent way to highlight Magic Online, and reward those who spend a lot of time playing Magic Online with additional prestigious events they can look forward to.

If funding is an issue, we could reduce the number of total Grand Prix in a season and use that money to budget these events. There are currently plenty of events in North America and one or two of those could be sacrificed for the benefit of more high-level Magic Online events.

I really enjoy playing Magic Online and I know plenty of people who play primarily online and don’t have the time to travel as often for events like Grand Prix. I hope someday these players get the opportunity to battle in more tournaments for prizes and prestige in the comfort of their own home. How would you feel about battling for high stakes from your living room? Let me know what you think in the comments!

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