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The Magic (Online) Invitational


I’m back from Pro Tour San Diego!  What a ride it has been. It was a long week, and full of some good times and horrible times, and not one for this article. This article, as you can guess from the title, is about the OTHER event that happened this weekend besides the Pro Tour.


Those of you that have read my articles know that I am dead against spoilers for new sets, and in general have not really enjoyed most Magic articles lately. What I do love is event coverage. Whenever a Pro Tour or Grand Prix comes along, I’m one of those faithful people hitting refresh every two minutes to see when the next feature match goes up, and of course whining when the coverage falls behind. I read the feature match coverage, chat about it on IRC, and read the character articles as they come up. I soak up every minute of it, even the draft reviews and deck lists.


So, with the Invitational on Magic Online, it seemed like a dream come true for me. I could pretty much watch the event live! I could talk to them in between rounds and see how their day was going! How amazing was this!


Not as amazing as I expected.


We couldn’t watch the drafts live. We couldn’t watch the matches live. While Scott Larabee and Ron Foster did an exceptional job of covering the matches, it was only one match at a time, and the coverage included some disconnect problems, interrupting our “live” coverage.


I understand that the reason the games were not live, nor the draft, was because Wizards was afraid that someone could message someone what someone else was drafting to cheat in some way, and a similar reason for watching games. The reality is this would be easily fixed by simply turning off the chat message for the invitational accounts completely. We know it is possible because our chat messages get turned off when we draft, so I can’t picture the code to make an account “un-chattable” being much harder to do.


Also, most of the Invitational Players did not chat very much with the players in any case, which is pretty understandable, the more I think about it. I can’t really blame them. I’m sure that going over their most recent loss with 300 people is not high on the list of “Good Times” things to do post round. Although it would be cool if there were some form of “online interview” where we can suggest questions. Imagine a situation where you could suggest questions to an interviewer, and each player had an interview time where they would answer selected questions.


It also became apparent quickly that, due to the limitations of Magic Online, some of the formats were just plain bad. I know Mark Rosewater did his best with what he could, and the Pack Draft idea was excellent, but there wasn’t a lot for him to work with.  The Auction of the People was unbelievably bad, somewhat because of the lack of balance of the decks, and somewhat because of the bad format of bidding for the decks. Most of the games were ended in five minutes because the life total/card bid made to get one deck versus the other was insurmountable, or because one deck so out classed the other that the game wasn’t even a game.  Magic Online may have been ok with a Bring Your Own Block format, but with Ravager Affinity possible in the format, it might be useless to even bother suggesting anything other Mirrodin Block.


Finally, there is the “misclick” issue. As most of you may have heard, Brian Kibler had a misclick which will haunt him for many a day. With a Seismic Assault in play, he needed only to draw a land to win the game. He did, and in his excitement (I guess), clicked on the land first, which in Magic Online puts it into play. This fatal click lost him the game, and it wasn’t even a misplay. He knew what the right play was, but misused Magic Online’s user interface for whatever reason, and lost a game because of it. I also heard there was a situation later on where someone cast Fireball for zero, also because of an inability to successfully navigate the user interface. I may be wrong, but to me this is not the type of  “story” we want to come out of the Magic Invitational, nor is it the way we want games decided at such a high exposure event.


In short, the benefits we get out of Magic Online being used to host the Magic Invitational seem to be outweighed by the bad parts. The formats are not as entertaining, the coverage has issues, games are decided by things other than play skill, and the “live” part of Magic Online is not as live as we would really want it to be to justify the loss of other benefits, such as the more exciting formats, and Mark’s ability to make up his own cards for the event, which is always interesting.


There are two options here. First, can we make Magic Online workable for the Invitational, or second, move the Invitational back to a “paper only” format that we hold at certain events instead.


To make it work, or at least what I would consider “worthwhile,” we would need to include the ability to see matches and drafts live. We’d also need more interaction with the players. We would need a way for there to be more interesting formats for the players. Finally, we would need the user interface to be at a level where a player cannot make a “user interface related mistake,” or at least if they do, that they have the ability to undo it. I have to admit that the last two parts of this solution simply do not seem feasible for Magic Online. I’m not saying that the task is impossible, far from it. What I am saying is that the task is probably more work than they are willing to put forth for a once a year event like the Invitational.


The Invitational is such a hard call to evaluate as a “professional Magic event.” It has no cash prize. It is advertised as an event that the players come to play for fun in. Wizards picks up the tab on it. But there is an edge of competition for the “glory,” if you want to call it that, of immortalizing yourself on a Magic Card. In many respects, it is kind of Wizards saying, “We own the game, and we think this is fun and cool to do, so we are doing it.” If that is the case, then its not really my business to say what is good or bad about it and why. But if it really is supposed to be a spectator-based event, then it seems to be missing its mark. Some of the players don’t seem to be enjoying it, so the spectators get that feeling transferred down, and when the formats aren’t interesting enough to hold the attention of the crowd, like the 8th edition draft, then some evaluation needs to be done if the event will continue to be successful.


This may seem like I hated the Invitational this year, but I didn’t. I actually had fun going back and watching the matches after they were over, and some of the games were pretty entertaining for several different reasons. But in my gut, it feels like it has lost some of its magic, by moving to Magic Online and away from the paper game. And this is what I want to see that return. I want the magic back in the Magic Invitational.


As always, feel free to e-mail me at rayp at primenet dot com if you have anything you want to me talk about in the column, or have any comments. I’ll talk to you next week!



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Have a great week!

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