Monster Exploit(s) Available In M:tG Arena MMR

Not just the “concede a lot for easy pairings” idea detailed in Inside the MTG: Arena Rating System, which still works quite well, as another Ivana 49-1 cakewalk from Plat 4 to Mythic the past couple of days would attest, but this time exploits that can be used for the top-1200 race itself.

In Bo3, conceding on the sideboarding screen ends the match *and only considers previous games when rating the match*.  Conceding down 0-1 makes you lose half-K instead of full-K (Bo1 K-value is ~1/2 Bo3 K-value).  If the matchup is bad, you can use this to cut your losses.  Conceding at 1-1 treats the match as a (half-K) draw- literally adding a draw to your logfile stats as well as rating the match as a draw.  If game 3 is bad for you, you can lock in a draw this way instead of playing it.

If you win game 1 and concede, it gets rated as a half-K match WIN (despite showing a Defeat screen).  This means that you can always force a match to play exactly as Bo1 if you want to- half K, 1 game, win or lose- so you don’t have to worry about post-sideboard games, can safely play glass-cannon strategies that get crushed by a lot of decks post-board, etc.- and you still have the option to play on if you like the Game 2 matchup.

Draws from the draw bug (failure to connect, match instantly ending in a draw) are also rated as a draw.  I believe that’s a new bug from the big update (edit: apparently not, unless it got patched and unpatched since February- see the comment below).  It’s rated as a normal draw in Bo1 and a half-K draw in Bo3.

 

Inside the MTG: Arena Rating System

Note: If you’re playing in numbered Mythic Constructed during the rest of May, and/or you’d like to help me crowdsource enough logfiles to get a full picture of the Rank # – Rating relationship during the last week, please visit https://twitter.com/Hareeb_alSaq/status/1397022404363395079 and DM/share.  If I get enough data, I can make a rank-decay curve for every rank at once, among other things.

Brought to you by the all-time undisputed king of the percent gamers

Apologies for the writing- Some parts I’d written before, some I’m just writing now, but there’s a ton to get out, a couple of necessary experiments weren’t performed or finished yet, and I’m sure I’ll find things I could have explained more clearly.  The details are also seriously nerdy, so reading all of this definitely isn’t for everybody.  Or maybe anybody.

TL;DR

  1. There is rating-based pairing in ranked constructed below Mythic (as well as in Mythic).
  2. It’s just as exploitable as you should think it is
  3. There is no detectable Glicko-ness to Mythic constructed ratings in the second half of the month. It’s indistinguishable from base-Elo
    1. Expected win% is constrained to a ~25%-~75% range, regardless of rating difference, for both Bo1 and Bo3.  That comes out to around 11% Mythic later in the month.
    2. After convergence, the Bo1 K-value is ~20.5.  Bo3 K is ~45.
    3. The minimum change in rating is ~5 points in a Bo1 match and ~10 points in a Bo3 match.
  4. Early in the month, the system is more complicated.
  5. Performance before Mythic seems to have only slight impact on where you’re initially placed in Mythic.
  6. Giving everybody similar initial ratings when they make Mythic leads to issues at the end of the month.
  7. The change making Gold +2 per win/-1 per loss likely turbocharged the issues from #6

It’s well known that the rank decay near the end of the month in Mythic Constructed is incredibly severe.  These days, a top-600 rating with 24 hours left is insufficient to finish top-1200, and it’s not just a last-day effect.  There’s significant decay in the days leading up to the last day, just not at that level of crazy.  The canonical explanations were that people were grinding to mythic at the end of the month and that people were playing more in the last couple of days.  While both true, neither seemed sufficient to me to explain that level of decay.  Were clones of the top-600 all sitting around waiting until the last day to make Mythic and kick everybody else out?  If they were already Mythic and top-1200 talent level, why weren’t they mostly already rated as such?  The decay is also much, much worse than it was in late 2019, and those explanations give no real hint as to why.

The only two pieces of information we have been given are that 1) Mythic Percentile is the percentage (Int(Your Rating/#1500 rating)) of the actual internal rating of the #1500 player.  This is true. 2) Arena uses a modified Glicko system.  Glicko is a modification of the old Elo system.  This is, at best, highly misleading.  The actual system does multiple things that are not Glicko and does not do at least one thing that is in Glicko.

I suspected that WotC might be rigging the rating algorithm as the month progressed, either deliberately increasing variance by raising the K-value of matches or by making each match positive-sum instead of zero-sum (i.e. calculating the correct rating changes, then giving one or both players a small boost to reward playing).  Either of these would explain the massive collision of people outside the top-1200, who are playing, into the the people inside the top-1200 who are trying to camp on their rating.  As it turns out, neither of those appear to be directly true.  The rating system seems to be effectively the same throughout the last couple of weeks of the month, at least in Mythic.  The explanations for what’s actually going on are more technical, and the next couple of sections are going to be a bit dry.  Scroll down- way down- to the Problems section if you want to skip how I wasted too much of my time.

I’ve decided to structure this as a journal-of-my-exploration style post, so it’s clear why it was necessary to do what I was doing if I wanted to get the information that WotC has continually failed to provide for years.

Experiments:

Background

I hoped that the minimum win/loss would be quantized at a useful level once the rating difference got big enough, and if true, it would allow me to probe the algorithm.  Thankfully, this guess turned out to be correct.  Deranking to absurdly low levels let me run several experiments.

Under the assumption that the #1500 rating does not change wildly over a few hours in the middle of the month when there are well over 1500 players, it’s possible to benchmark a rating without seeing it directly.  For instance, a minimum value loss that knocks you from 33% to 32% at time T will leave you with a similar rating, within one minimum loss value, as a 33%-32% loss several hours later.  Also, if nothing else is going on, like a baseline drift, the rating value of 0 is equivalent over any timescale within the same season.  This sort of benchmarking was used throughout.

Relative win-loss values

Because at very low rating, every win would be a maximum value win and every loss would be a minimum value loss, the ratio I needed to maintain the same percentile would let me calculate the win% used to quantize the minimum loss.  As it turned out, it was very close to 3 losses for every 1 win, or a 25%-75% cap, no matter how big the rating difference (at Mythic).  This was true for both Bo1 and Bo3, although I didn’t measure Bo3 super-precisely because it’s a royal pain in the ass to win a lot of Bo3s compared to spamming Mono-R in Bo1 on my phone, but I’m not far off whatever it is.  My return benchmark was reached at 13 wins and 39 losses, which is 3:1, and I assumed it would be a nice round number. Unfortunately, as I discovered later, it was not *exactly* 3:1, or everybody’s life would have been much easier.

Relative Bo1-Bo3 K values

Bo3 has about 2.2 times the K value of Bo1.  By measuring how many min-loss matches I had to concede in each mode to drop the same percentage, it was clear that the Bo3 K-value was a little over double the Bo1 K-value.  In a separate experiment, losing 2-0 or 2-1 in Bo3 made no difference (as expected, but no reason not to test it).  Furthermore, being lower rated and having lost the last match (or N matches) had no effect on the coin toss in Bo3.  Again, it shouldn’t have, but that was an easy test.

Elo value of a percentage point

This is not a constant value throughout the month because the rating of the #1500 player increases through the month, but it’s possible to get an approximate snapshot value of it.  Measuring this, the first way I did it, was much more difficult because it required playing matches inside the 25%-75% range, and that comes with a repeated source of error.  If you go 1-1 against players with mirrored percentile differences, those matches appear to offset, except because the ratings are only reported as integers, it’s possible that you went 1-1 against players who were on average 0.7% below you (meaning that 1-1 is below expectation) or vice versa. The SD of the noise term from offsetting matches would keep growing and my benchmark would be less and less accurate the more that happened.

I avoided that by conceding every match that was plausibly in the 25-75% range and only playing to beat much higher rated players (or much lower rated, but I never got one, if one even existed).  Max-value wins have no error term, so the unavoidable aggregate uncertainty was kept as small as possible.  Using the standard Elo formula value of 400 (who knows what it is internally, but Elo is scale-invariant), the 25%-75% cap is reached at a 191-point difference, and by solving for how many points/% returned my variable-value losses to the benchmark where I started, I got a value of 17.3 pts/% on 2/16 for Bo1.

I did a similar experiment for Bo3 to see if the 25%-75% threshold kicked in at the same rating difference (basically if Bo3 used a number bigger than 400).  Gathering data was much more time-consuming this way, and I couldn’t measure with nearly the same precision, but I got enough data to where I could exclude much higher values.  It’s quite unlikely that the value could have been above 550, and it was exactly consistent with 400, and it’s unlikely that they would have bothered to make a change smaller than that, so the Bo3 value is presumably just 400 as well.

This came out to a difference of around 11% mythic being the 25-75% cap for Bo1 and Bo3, and combined with earlier deranking experiments, a K-value likely between 20-24 for Bo1 and 40-48 for Bo3.  Similar experiments on 2/24 gave similar numbers.  I thought I’d solved the puzzle in February.  Despite having the cutoffs incorrect, I still came pretty close to the right answer here.

Initial Mythic Rating/Rating-based pairing

My main account made Mythic on 3/1 with a 65-70% winrate in Diamond.  I made two burners for March, played them normally through Plat, and then diverged in Diamond.  Burner #1 played through diamond normally (42-22 in diamond, 65-9 before that).  Burner #2 conceded hundreds of matches at diamond 4 before trying to win, then went something like 27-3 playing against almost none of the same decks-almost entirely against labors of jank love, upgraded precons, and total nonsense.  The two burners made Mythic within minutes of each other.  Burner #1 started at 90%.  Burner #2 started at 86%.  My main account was 89% at that point (I’d accidentally played and lost one match in ranked because the dogshit client reverted preferences during an update and stuck me in ranked instead of the play queue when I was trying to get my 4 daily wins).  I have no idea what the Mythic seeding algorithm is, but there was minimal difference between solid performance and intentionally being as bad as possible.

It’s also difficult to overstate the difference in opponent difficulty that rating-based pairing presents.  A trash rating carries over from month to month, so being a horrendous Mythic means you get easy matches after the reset, and conceding a lot of matches at any level gives you an easy path to Mythic (conceding in Gold 4 still gets you easy matches in Diamond, etc)

Lack of Glicko-ness

In Glicko, rating deviation (a higher rating deviation leads to a higher “K-value”) is supposed to decrease with number of games played and increase with inactivity.  My main account and the two burners from above should have produced different behavior.  The main account had craploads of games played lifetime, a near-minimum to reach Mythic in the current season, and had been idle in ranked for over 3 weeks with the exception of that 1 mistake game.  Burner #1 had played a near-minimum number of games to reach Mythic (season and lifetime) and was currently active.  Burner #2 had played hundreds more games (like 3x as many as Burner #1) and was also currently active.

My plan was to concede bunches of matches on each account and see how much curvature there was in the graph of Mythic % vs. expected points lost (using the 25-75 cap and the 11% approximation) and how different it was between accounts.  Glicko-ness would manifest as a bigger drop in Mythic % earlier for the same number of expected points lost because the rating deviation would be higher early in the conceding session.  As it turned out, all three accounts  just produced straight lines with the same slope (~2.38%/K on 3/25).  Games played before Mythic didn’t matter.  Games played in Mythic didn’t matter.  Inactivity didn’t matter.  No Glicko-ness detected.

Lack of (explicit) inactivity penalty

I deranked two accounts to utterly absurd levels and benchmarked them at a 2:1 percentage ratio.  They stayed in 2:1 lockstep throughout the month (changes reflecting the increase in the #1500 rating, as expected). I also sat an account just above 0 (within 5 points), and it stayed there for like 2 weeks, and then I lost a game and it dropped below 0, meaning it hadn’t moved any meaningful amount.  Not playing appears to do absolutely nothing to rating during the month, and there doesn’t seem to be any kind of baseline drift.

At this point (late March), I believed that the system was probably just Elo (because the Glicko features I should have detected were clearly absent), and that the win:loss ratio was exactly 3:1, because why would it be so close to a round number without being a round number.  Assuming that, I’d come up with a way to measure the actual K-value to high precision.

Measuring K-Value more precisely

Given that the system literally never tells you your rating, it may sound impossible to determine a K-value directly, but assuming that we’re on the familiar 400-point scale that Arpad Elo published that’s in common usage (and that competitive MTG used to use when they had such a thing), it actually is, albeit barely.

Assume you control the #1500-rated player and the #1501 player, and that #1501 is rated much lower than #1500.  #1501 will be displayed as a percentile instead of a ranking.  If you call the first percentile displayed you see 1501-A, then lose a (minimum value) match with the #1500 player, you’ll get a new percentile displayed, 1501B.  Call the #1500’s initial rating X, and the #1501’s rating Y.  This gives a solvable system of equations.

Y/X = 1501A  and Y/(X-1 min loss) = 1501B.

This gives X and Y in terms of min-losses (e.g. X went from (+5.3 minlosses to +4.3 minlosses).

Because 1501A and 1501B are reported as integers, the only way to get that number reported to a useful precision is for Y to be very large in magnitude and X to be very small.  And of course getting Y large in magnitude means losing a crapload of matches.  Getting X to be very small was accomplished via the log files.  The game doesn’t tell you your mythic percentile when you’re top-1500, but the logfile stores your percentage of the lowest-rated Mythic.  So the lowest-rated Mythic is 100% in the logfile, but once the lowest-rated Mythic goes negative from losing a lot of matches, every normal Mythic will report a negative percentile.  By conceding until the exact match where the percentile flips from -1.0 to 0, that puts the account with a rating within 1 minloss of 0.  So you have a very big number divided by a very small number, and you get good precision.

Doing a similar thing controlling the #1499, #1500, and #1501 allows benchmarking all 3 accounts in terms of minloss, and then playing the 1499-1500 against each other creates a match where you know the initial rating and the final rating of each participant (as a multiple of minloss), and then, along with knowing that the win:loss ratio is 3:1, making K=4*minloss plugging into the Elo formula gives

RatingChange*minloss= 4*minloss/(1+ 10^(InitialRatingDifference*minloss/400))

and you can solve for minloss, and then for K.  As long as nobody randomly makes Mythic right when you’re trying to measure, which would screw everything up and make you wait another month to try again…  It also meant that I’d have multiple accounts whose rating in terms of minloss I knew exactly, and by playing them against each other and accounts nowhere close in rating (min losses and max wins), and logging exactly when each account went from positive to negative, I could make sure I had the right K-value.

That latter part didn’t work.  I got a reasonable value out of the first measured match- K of about 20.25- but it was clear that subsequent matches were not behaving exactly as expected, and there was no value of K, and no combination of K and minloss, that would fix things.  I couldn’t find a mistake in my match logging, (although I knew better than to completely rule it out), and the only other obvious simple source of error was the 3:1 assumption.

I’d only measured 13 wins offsetting 39 losses, which looked good, but certainly wasn’t a definitive 3.0000:1.  So, of course the only way to measure this more precisely was to lose a crapload of games and see exactly how many wins it took to offset them.  And that came out to a breakeven win% of 24.32%.  And I did it again on a bigger samples, and came out with 24.37% and 24.40%, and in absolutely wonderful news, there was no single value that was consistent with all measurements.  The breakeven win% in those samples really had slightly increased.  FML.

Now that the system clearly wasn’t just Elo, and the breakeven W:L ratio was somehow at least slightly dynamic, I went in for another round of measurements in May.  The first thing I noticed was that I got from my initial Mythic seed to a 0 rating MUCH faster than I had when deranking later in the month.  And by later in the month, I mean anything after the first day or 2 of the season, not just actually late in the month.

When deranking my reference account (the big negative number I need for precise measurements), the measured number of minlosses was about 1.6 times as high as expected from the number of matches conceded, and I had 4 other accounts hovering around a 0 rating who benchmarked and played each other in the short window of time when I controlled the #1500 player, and all of those measurements were consistent with each other.  The calculated reference ratings were different by 1 in the 6th significant digit, so I have confidence in that measurement.

I got a similar K-value as the first time, but I noticed something curious when I was setting up the accounts for measurements.  Whereas before, with the breakeven win% at 24.4%, 3 losses and 1 win (against much-higher rated players, i.e. everybody but me) was a slight increase in rating.  Early in May, it was a slight *decrease* in rating, so the breakeven win% against the opponents I played was slightly OVER 25%, the first time I’d seen that.  And as of a few days ago, it was back to being an increase in rating.  I still don’t have a clear explanation for that, although I do have an idea or two.

Once I’d done my measurements and calculations, I had a reference account with a rating equal to a known number of minlosses-at-that-time, and a few other accounts with nothing better to do than to lose games to see how or if the value of a minloss changed over a month.  If I started at 0, and took X minlosses, and my reference account was at -Y minlosses, then if the value of a minloss is constant, the Mythic Percentile ratio and X/Y ratio should be the same, which is what I was currently in the process of measuring.  And, obviously, measuring that precisely requires.. conceding craploads of games.  What I got was consistent with no change, but not to the precision I was aiming for before this all blew up.

So this meant that the rating change from a minloss was not stable throughout the month- it was much higher at the very beginning, as seen from my reference account, but that it probably had stabilized- at least for my accounts playing each other- by the time the 1500th Mythic arrived on May 7 or 8.  That’s quite strange.  Combined with the prior observation where approximately the bare minimum number of games to make mythic did NOT cause an increase in the minloss value, this wasn’t a function of my games played, which were already far above the games played on that account from deranking to 0.

In Glicko, the “K-value” of a match depends on the number of games you’ve played (more=lower, but we know that’s irrelevant after this many games), the inactivity period (more=higher, but also known to be irrelevant here), and the number of games your opponent has played (more=higher, which is EXACTLY BACKWARDS here).  So the only Glicko-relevant factor left is behaving strongly in the wrong direction (obviously opponents on May 1 have fewer games played, on average, than opponents on May 22).

So something else is spiking the minloss value at the beginning of the month, and I suspect it’s simply a quickly decaying function of time left/elapsed in the month.  Instead of an inactivity term, I suspect WotC just runs a super-high K value/change multiplier/whatever at the start of the month that calms down pretty fast over the first week or so.  I had planned to test that by speedrunning a couple of accounts to Mythic at the start of June, deranking them to 0 rating, and then having each account concede some number of games sequentially (Account A scoops a bunch of matches on 6/2, Account B scoops a bunch of matches on 6/3, etc) and then seeing what percentile they ended up at after we got 1500 mythics.  Even though they would have lost the same number of matches from 0, I expected to see A with a lower percentile than B, etc, because of that decaying function.  Again, something that can only be measured by conceding a bunch of matches, and something in the system completely unrelated to the Glicko they told us they were running.  If you’re wondering why it’s taking months to try to figure this stuff out, well, it’s annoying when every other test reveals some new “feature” that there was no reason to suspect existed.

Problems

Rating-based pairing below Mythic is absurdly exploitable and manifestly unfair

I’m not the first person to discover it.  I’ve seen a couple of random reddit posts suggesting conceding a bunch of matches at the start of the season, then coasting to Mythic.  This advice is clearly correct if you just want to make Mythic.  It’s not super-helpful trying to make Mythic on day 1, because there’s not that much nonsense (or really weak players) in Diamond that early, but later in the month, the Play button may as well say Click to Win if you’re decent and your rating is horrible.

When you see somebody post about their total jankfest making Mythic after going 60% in Diamond or something, it’s some amount of luck, but they probably played even worse decks, tanked their rating hard at Diamond 4, and then found something marginally playable and crushed the bottom of the barrel after switching decks.  Meanwhile, halfway decent players are preferentially paired against other decent players and don’t get anywhere.

Rating-based pairing might be appropriate at the bottom level of each rank (Diamond 4, Plat 4, etc), just so people can try nonsense in ranked and not get curbstomped all the time, but after that, it should be random same-rank pairing with no regard to rating (using ratings to pair in Draft, to some extent, has valid reasons that don’t exist in Constructed, and the Play Queue is an entirely different animal altogether).

Of course, my “should” is from the perspective of wanting a fairer and unexploitable ladder climb, and WotC’s “should” is from the perspective of making it artificially difficult for more invested players to rank up by giving them tougher pairings (in the same rank), presumably causing them to spend more time and money to make progress in the game.

Bo3 K is WAY too high

Several things should jump out at you if you’re familiar with either Magic or Elo.  First, given the same initial participant ratings, winning consecutive Bo1 games rewards fewer points (X + slightly fewer than X) than winning one Bo3 (~2.2X), even though going 2-0 is clearly a more convincing result.  There’s no rating-accuracy justification whatsoever for Bo3 being double the K value of Bo1.  1.25x or 1.33x might be reasonable, although the right multiplier could be even lower than that.  Second, while a K-value of 20.5 might be a bit on the aggressive side for Bo1 among well-established players (chess, sports), ~45 for a B03 is absolutely batshit.

Back when WotC used Elo for organized play, random events had K values of 16, PTQs used 32, and Worlds/Pro Tours used 48.  All for one B03.  The current implementation on Arena is using ~20.5 for  Bo1 and a near-pro-tour K-value for one random Bo3 ladder match.  Yeah.

The ~75%-25% cap is far too narrow

While not many people have overall 75% winrates in Mythic, it seems utterly implausible, both from personal experience and from things like the MtG Elo Project, that when strong players play weaker players, the aggregate matchup isn’t more lopsided than that.  After conceding bunches of games at Plat 4 to get a low rating, my last three accounts went 51-3, 49-1, 48-2 to reach Mythic from Plat 4.  When doing my massive “measure the W:L ratio” experiment last month, I was just over 87% winrate (in almost 750 matches) in Mythic when trying to win, and that’s in Bo1, mostly on my phone while multitasking, and I’m hardly the second coming of Finkel, Kai, or PVDDR (and I didn’t “cheat” and concede garbage and play good starting hands- I was either playing to win every game or to snap-concede every game).  Furthermore, having almost the same ~75%-25% cap for both Bo1 and Bo3 is self-evidently nonsense when the cap is possibly in play.

The Elo formula is supposed to ensure that any two swaths of players are going to be close to equilibrium at any given time, with minimal average point flow if they keep getting paired against each other, but with WotC’s truncated implementation, when one group actually beats another more than 75% of the time, and keeps getting rewarded as though they were only supposed to win 75%, the good players farm (expected) points off the weaker players every time they’re paired up.  I reached out to the makers of several trackers to try to get a large sample of the actual results when two mythic %s played each other, but the only one who responded didn’t have the data.  I can certainly believe that Magic needs something that declines in a less extreme fashion than the Elo curve for large rating differences, but a 75%-25% cap is nowhere close to the correct answer.

An Overlooked Change

With the Ikoria release in April 2020, Gold was changed to be 2 pips of progress per win instead of 1, making it like Silver.  This had the obvious effect of letting weak/new players make Platinum while before they got stuck in Gold.   I suspected that this may have allowed a bunch more weaker players to make it to Mythic late in the month, and this looks extremely likely to be correct.

I obviously don’t have population data for each rank, but since Mythic resets to Plat, I created a toy model of 30k Plats ~N(1600,85), 90k Golds ~N(1450,85), 150k Silvers ~N(1300,85) constant talent level, started each player at rating=talent, and simulated what happened as it got back to 30k people in Mythic.  In each “iteration”, people played random Bo1 K=22 matches in the same rank, and Diamonds played 4 matches, Plats 3, Golds/Silvers 2 per iteration.  None of these are going to be exact obviously, but the basic conclusions below are robust over huge ranges of possibly reasonable assumptions.

As anybody should expect, the players who make Mythic later in the month are much weaker on average than the ones who make it early.  In the toy model, the average Mythic talent was 1622, the first 20% to make Mythic are over 1700 talent on average (and almost nobody got stuck in Gold).  The last 20% are about 1560.  The cutoff for the top-10% talentwise (Rank 3000 out 30000) is about 1790.  You may be able to see where this is going.

I reran the simulation using two different parameters- first, I made Gold the way it used to be- 1 pip per win and per loss.  About 40% of people got stuck in Gold in this simulation, and the average Mythic player was MUCH stronger- 1695 vs 1622.  There were also under 1/3 as many, 8800 vs 30,000 (running for the same number of iterations).  The late-month Mythics are obviously still weaker here, but 1650 here on average instead of 1560.  That’s a huge difference.

I also ran a model where Silver/Gold populations were 1/4 of their starting size (representing lots of people making Plat since it’s easy and then quitting before they play against those in the higher ranks).  That’s 30k starting in Plat and 60k starting below Plat who continue to play in Plat, which seems like a quite conservative ratio to me. This came out roughly in the middle of the previous two.  The average Mythic was 1660 and the late-season Mythics were around 1607 on average.  It doesn’t require an overwhelming infusion into Plat to create a big effect on who makes it to Mythic late in the month.

Influx of Players and Overrated Players

The first part is obvious from the previous paragraph.  A lot more people in Mythic is going to push the #1500 rating higher by variance alone, even if the newbies mostly aren’t that good.

Because WotC doesn’t use anything like a provisional rating, where a Mythic rating is based on the first X number of games at Mythic, and instead seems to give everybody fairly similar ratings throughout the month when they first make Mythic, the players who make it late in the month are MASSIVELY overrated relative to the existing population, on the order of 100+ Elo or more.  Treating early-season Mythics and late-season Mythics as separate populations, when two players from the same group play each other, the group keeps the same average rating,  When cross-group play happens, the early-season Mythics farm the hell out of the late-season Mythics (because they’re weaker, but rated the same) until a new equilibrium is reached.  And with lots more (weaker) players making Mythic because of the change to Gold, there’s a lot of farming to be done.

This effectively makes playing late in the month positive-sum for good players because there are tons of new fish to farm showing up every day.  It also indirectly punishes people who camp at the end of the month because they can’t collect the free points if they aren’t playing.  This was likely always a significant cause of rank decay, but the easier path to Mythic gives a clear explanation of why rank decay is so much more severe now than it was pre-Ikoria: more players and lots more fish.  The influx of weak players also means more people in the queue for good players to 75-25 farm, even after equilibration, but I expect that effect is smaller than the direct point donation.

New-player ratings are a solved problem in chess and were implemented in a proper Glicko framework in the mid-90s.  WotC used the dumb implementation, “everybody starts at 1600”, for competitive paper magic back in the day, and that had the exact same problem then as their Mythic seeding procedure does now- people late to the party are weaker than average, by a lot, and while their MTG:A implementation added a fancy wrapper, it still appears to be making the same fundamental mistake that they made 25 years ago.

This is a graph of the #1500 rating in April as the month progressed.  I got it from my reference account’s percentile changing (with a constant actual rating) as the month progressed.

The part on the left is when there are barely more than 1500 people in Mythic at all, and on the right is the late-month rating inflation.  Top-1200 inflation was likely even worse (it was in January at least).  The middle section of approximately a straight line is more interesting than it seems.  In a normal-ish distribution, once you get out of the stupid area equivalent to the left of this graph, adding more people to the distribution increases the #1500 rating in a highly sub-linear way.  To keep a line going, and to actually go above linear near the end, requires some combination of beyond-exponential growth in the Mythic population through the whole month and/or lots of fish-farming by the top end.  I have no way to try to measure how much of each without bulk tracker data, but I expect both to matter.  And both would be tamped down if Gold were still +1/-1.

Conclusions

Cutting way back on rating-based pairing in Constructed would create a much fairer ladder climb before Mythic and take away the easy-mode exploit.  Bringing the Bo3 K way down would create a more talent-based distribution at the top of Mythic instead of a giant crapshoot.  A better Mythic seeding algorithm would offset the increase in weak players making it late in the month.  The ~75-25 cap.. I just don’t even.  I’ll leave it to the reader’s imagination as to why their algorithm does what it does and why the details have been kept obfuscated for years now.

 

P.S. Apologies to anybody who was annoyed by queueing into me.  I was hoping a quick free win wouldn’t be that bad.  At Bo3 K-values, the rating result of any match is 95% gone inside 50 matches, so conceding to somebody early in the month is completely irrelevant to the final positioning, and due to rating-based pairing, I didn’t get matched very often against real T-1200 contenders later on.  Going over 100 games without seeing a single 90% or higher was not strange.

A 16-person format that doesn’t suck

This is in response to the Magic: the Gathering World Championship that just finished, which featured some great Magic played in a highly questionable format.  It had three giant flaws:

  1. It buried players far too quickly.  Assuming every match was a coinflip, each of the 16 players started with a 6.25% chance to win.  Going 2-0 or 2-1 in draft meant you were just over 12% to win and going 0-2 or 1-2 in draft meant you were just under 0.5% (under 1 in 200) to win.  Ouch.  In turn, this meant we were watching a crapload of low-stakes games and the players involved were just zombies drawing to worse odds than a 1-outer even if they won.
  2. It treated 2-0 and 2-1 match record in pods identically.  That’s kind of silly.
  3. The upper bracket was Bo1 match, with each match worth >$100,000 in equity.  The lower bracket was Bo3 matches, with encounters worth 37k (lower round 1), 49k, 73k, and 97k (lower finals).  Why were the more important matches more luck-based?

y0x9fpq

and the generic flaw that the structure just didn’t have a whole lot of play to it.  92% of the equity was accounted for on day 1 by players who already made the upper semis with an average of only 4.75 matches played, and the remaining 12 players were capped at 9 pre-bracket matches with an average of only 6.75 played.

Whatever the format is, it needs to try to accomplish several things at the same time:

  1. Fit in the broadcast window
  2. Pair people with equal stakes in the match (avoid somebody on a bubble playing somebody who’s already locked or can’t make it, etc)
  3. Try not to look like a total luckbox format- it should take work to win AND work to get eliminated
  4. Keep players alive and playing awhile and not just by having them play a bunch of zombie magic with microscopic odds of winning the tournament in the end
  5. Have matches with clear stakes and minimize the number with super-low stakes, AKA be exciting
  6. Reward better records pre-bracket (2-0 is better than 2-1, etc)
  7. Minimize win-order variance, at least before an elimination bracket (4-2 in the M:tG Worlds format could be upper semis (>23% to win) or lower round 1 (<1% to win) depending on result ordering.  Yikes.
  8. Avoid tiebreakers
  9. Matches with more at stake shouldn’t be shorter (e.g. Bo1 vs Bo3) than matches with less at stake.
  10. Be comprehensible

 

To be clear, there’s no “simple” format that doesn’t fail one of the first 4 rules horribly. Swiss has huge problems with point 2 late in the event, as well as tiebreakers.  Round robin is even worse.  16-player double elimination, or structures isomorphic to that (which the M:tG format was), bury early losers far too quickly, plus most of the games are between zombies.  Triple elimination (or more) Swiss runs into a hell match that can turn the pairings into nonsense with a bye if it goes the wrong way.  Given that nobody could understand this format, even though it was just a dressed-up 16-player double-elim bracket, and any format that doesn’t suck is going to be legitimately more complicated than that, we’re just going to punt on point 10 and settle for anything simpler than the tax code if we can make the rest of it work well.  And I think we can.

Hareeb Format for 16 players:

Day 1:

Draft like the opening draft in Worlds (win-2-before-lose-2).  The players will be split into 4 four-player pods based on record (2-0, 2-1, 1-2, 0-2).

Each pod plays a win-2-before-lose-2 of constructed.  The 4-0 player makes top-8 as the 1-seed.  The 0-4 player is eliminated in 16th place.

The two 4-1 players play a qualification match of constructed.  The winner makes top-8 as the #2 seed.  The two 1-4 players play an elimination match of constructed.  The loser is eliminated in 15th place.

This leaves 4 players with a winning record (Group A tomorrow), 4 players with an even record (2-2 or 3-3) (Group B tomorrow), and 4 players with a losing record (Group C tomorrow).

Day 2:

Each group plays a win-2-before-lose-2 of constructed, and instead of wall-of-texting the results, it’s easier to see graphically and that something is at stake with every match in every group.

hareebworldsformat

 

with the loser of the first round of the lower play-in finishing 11th-12th and the losers of the second round finishing 9th-10th.  So now we have a top-8 bracket seeded.  The first round of the top-8 bracket should be played on day 2 as well, broadcast willing (2 of the matches are available after the upper play-in while the 7-8 seeds are still being decided, so it’s only extending by ~1 round for 7-8 “rounds” total).


Before continuing, I want to show the possible records of the various seeds.  The #1 seed is always 4-0 and the #2 seed is always 5-1.  The #3 seed will either be 6-2 or 5-2.  The #4 seed will either be 5-2, 6-3, or 7-3.  In the exact case of 7-3 vs 5-2, the #4 seed will have a marginally more impressive record, but since the only difference is being on the same side of the bracket as the 4-0 instead of the 5-1, it really doesn’t matter much.

The #5-6 seed will have a record of 7-4,6-4, 5-4, or 5-3, a clean break from the possible top 4 records.  The #7-8 seeds will have winning or even records and the 9th-10th place finishers will have losing or even records. This is the only meaningful “tiebreak” in the system.  Only the players in the last round of the lower play-in can finish pre-bracket play at .500.  Ideally, everybody at .500 will either all advance or all be eliminated, or there just won’t be anybody at .500.  Less ideally, but still fine, either 2 or 4 players will finish at .500, and the last round of the lower play-in can be paired so that somebody 1 match above .500 is paired against somebody one match below .500.  In that case, the player who advances at .500 will have just defeated the eliminated player in the last round.  This covers 98% of the possibilities.  2% of the time, exactly 3 players will finish at .500.  Two of them will have just played a win-and-in against each other, and the other .500 player will have advanced as a #7-8 seed with a last-round win or been eliminated 9th-10th with a last-round loss.

As far as the top-8 bracket itself, it can go a few ways.  It can’t be Bo1 single elim, or somebody could get knocked out of Worlds losing 1 match, which is total BS (point 3), plus the possibility of going 4-1 5th-8th place in a 16-player event is automatically a horseshit system.  Even 5-2 or 6-3 5th-8th place (Bo3 or Bo5 single elim) is crap, but if we got to 4-3 or 5-4 finishing 7th-8th place, that’s totally fine.  It also takes at least 5 losses pre-bracket (or an 0-4 start) to get eliminated there, so it should take some work here too.  And we still need to deal with the top-4 having better records than 5-8 without creating a bunch of zombie Magic.  There’s a solution that solves all of this reasonably well at the same time IMO.

Hareeb format top-8 Bracket:

  1. Double-elimination bracket
  2. All upper bracket matchups are Bo3 matches
  3. In the upper quarters, the higher-seeded player starts up 1 match
  4. Grand finals are Bo5 matches with the upper-bracket representative starting up 1-0 (same as we just did)
  5. Lower bracket matches before lower finals are Bo1 (necessary for timing unless we truly have all day)
  6. Lower bracket finals can be Bo1 match or Bo3 matches depending on broadcast needs.  (Bo1 lower finals is max 11 sequential matches on Sunday, which is the same max we had at Worlds.  If there’s time for a potential 13, lower finals should definitely be Bo3 because they’re actually close to as important as upper-bracket matches, unlike the rest of the lower bracket)
  7. The more impressive match record gets the play-draw choice in the first game 1, then if Bo3/5, the loser of the previous match gets the choice in the next game 1. (if tied, head to head record decides the first play, if that’s tied, random)

 

This keeps the equity a lot more reasonably dispersed (I didn’t try to calculate play advantage throughout the bracket, but it’s fairly minor).  This format is a game of accumulating equity throughout the two days instead of 4 players hoarding >92% of it after day 1 and 8 zombies searching for scraps. Making the top 8 as a 5-8 seed is a bit better than the pre-tournament win probability under this format, instead of the 1.95% in the Worlds format.

hareebtop8

As far as win% at previous stages goes,

  1. Day 2 qualification match: 11.60%
  2. Upper play-in: 5.42%
  3. Lower play-in round 2: 3.61%
  4. Lower play-in round 1: 1.81%
  5. Day 2 elimination match: 0.90%

  1. Day 2 Group A: 9.15%
  2. Day 2 Group B: 4.93%
  3. Day 2 Group C: 2.03%

  1. Day 1 qualification match: 13.46%
  2. Day 1 2-0 Pod: 11.32%
  3. Day 1 2-1 Pod: 7.39%
  4. Day 1 1-2 Pod: 4.28%
  5. Day 1 0-2 Pod: 2.00%
  6. Day 1 Elimination match: 1.02%

2-0 in the draft is almost as good as before, but 2-1 and 1-2 are much more modest changes, and going 0-2 preserves far more equity (2% vs <0.5%).  Even starting 1-4 in this format has twice as much equity as starting 1-2 in the Worlds format.  It’s not an absolutely perfect format or anything- given enough tries, somebody will Javier Dominguez it and win going 14-10 in matches- but the equity changes throughout the stages feel a lot more reasonable here while maintaining perfect stake-parity in matches, and players get to play longer before being eliminated, literally or virtually.

Furthermore, while there’s some zombie-ish Magic in the 0-2 pod and Group C (although still nowhere near as bad as the Worlds format), it’s simultaneous with important matches so coverage isn’t stuck showing it.  Saturday was the upper semis (good) and a whole bunch of nonsense zombie matches (bad), because that’s all that was available, but there’s always something meaningful to be showing in this format. It looks like it fits well enough with the broadcast parameters this weekend as well with 7 “rounds” of coverage the first day and 8 the second (or 6 and 9 if that sounds nicer), and a same/similar maximum number of matches on Sunday to what we had for Worlds

It’s definitely a little more complicated, but it’s massive gains in everything else that matters.

*** The draft can always be paired without rematches.  For a pod, group, upper play-in, lower play-in, or loser’s bracket round 1, look at the 3 possible first-round pairings, minimize total times those matchups have been seen, then minimize total times those matchups have been seen in constructed, then choose randomly from whatever’s tied.  For assigning 5-6 seeds or 7-8 seeds in the top-8 bracket or pairings in lower play-in round 2 or loser’s round 2, do the same considering the two possible pairings, except for the potential double .500 scenario in lower play-in round 2 which must be paired.

 

On the London Mulligan

Zvi says ban it, and the pros I’ve seen talking about it lean towards the ban camp, but there are dissenters like BenS.  People also almost universally like it in limited.  Are they right? Are they highly confused?  What’s really going on?

From the baseline of the Paris mulligan (draw 6, draw 5, etc), on a 6-card keep, the Vancouver mulligan adds scry 1 and the London mulligan adds Loot 1 (discard to bottom of library).  London is clearly better, but plenty of times you’ll scry an extra land away like you would have with a loot, or the top card will be the one you would loot away anyway and there’s no real difference.  Other times you’re stuck with a clearly worse card in hand.  It’s better on 6-card keeps, but it’s not OMFG better.

Except that’s not quite the actual procedure.. on the London, you (effectively) loot, THEN you decide whether or not to keep.  That lets you make much better decisions, seeing all 7 cards instead of just 6 before deciding, and the difference on a 5-card keep is that Vancouver still just adds scry 1, but London adds Loot 2.  That’ adds up to a HUGE difference in starting hand quality.  And you can still go to 4 if your top 7 cards are total ass again.  I’d argue that the London is fine at 6 but goes totally bonkers at 5 and lower.

If you have decks that rely on card quantity more than a couple of specific quality cards, going to 5 cards, even best-5-out-of-7, is still a big punishment.  That’s most limited decks, where a 90th percentile 5 is going to play out like a 40th percentile 7, or something like that depending on archetype.  Barring something absurd like Pack Rat, aggressive mulligans aren’t a strategy.  You mulligan dysfunctional hands, not to find great hands.  London just lets you be a bit more liberal with the “dysfunctional” label in limited, and it’s generally fine there.

For Eternal formats, where lots of decks are trying to do something powerful and plan B is go to the next game, London rewarded all-in-on-plan-A strategies like Tron, Amulet, and now Whirza (which also just got a decent Plan B-roko).  Before rotation, and for most of 2019, it looks to me like Standard was a lot closer to Limited, at least game 1 in the dark.  Aggro decks really don’t want to go to 5 (although they’re better at it than the rest of these).  Esper really doesn’t want to go to 5.  Scapeshift really doesn’t want to go to 5.  Jeskai really doesn’t want to go to 5.  Not that they won’t if their hands are garbage, but their hand quality is far more smoothly distributed compared to a Tron deck’s highly polarized Tron-or-not, nuts-or-garbage and that means keeping more OK hands because the odds of beating it (or beating it by a lot) with fewer cards isn’t as high.  Aggro decks need a density of cheap beaters and usually its other flavor (pump in white, burn in red, Obsession/counters in blue, etc).  Midrange needs lands and 4-5 drops and something to do before that.  Control needs enough answers.

There just aren’t that many good 5-card combinations that cover the bases, even looking at 5-out-of-7, you’re quite reliant on the top of the deck to keep delivering whatever you’re light on.  There wasn’t any way for most of the decks to get powerful nut draws on 5 with any real consistency, even with London, so they couldn’t abuse the 5-card hand advantage because going to 5 really sucked.  Then came Eldraine.. Guess who doesn’t need a 7-card hand to do busted work?

 

 

Innkeeper doesn’t get to 5 that often, but any 5 or 6 with him is better than basically any 6 or 7 without, so the idea still applies.  Hands with these starts are MUCH stronger than hands without, and because of London and OUaT, they can be found with much more regularity.  If you take something like Torbran in mono-R on a 5-carder, WTF are you keeping that doesn’t have to draw near-perfectly to make T4 good?  Same with Embercleave in non-adventure Gruul, you can only keep pieces and hope to draw perfectly.

Oko not only has a self-contained nut draw on 5 cards, its backup of T3 Nissa is a hell of a lot easier to assemble on 5 than, say, a useful Torbran or Embercleave hand or a useful Fires or Reclamation hand.  Furthermore, thanks to OUaT (and Veil for indirectly keeping G1 interaction in check), it can actually assemble and play a great hand on 5 far too often.  Innkeeper can also start going off from a wide range of hands.  The ability to go bananas on a reasonable number of 5-card London hands certainly stretches things compared to where they were with Vancouver.

Maybe that will make for playable (albeit different) Eternal formats with a wide variety of decks trying to nut draw each other, kind of like Modern 1-2 years ago before Faithless Looting really broke out, with enough variance in the pairings lottery and sideboard cards that tier 2 and 3 decks can still put up regular results.  I have my doubts though- Modern was already collapsing away from that, and reducing the fail rates of the most powerful decks certainly doesn’t seem likely to foster diversity from where I sit- and if there is a direct gain, it’ll be something degenerate that’s now consistent enough to play.  Yippee.

It’s possible that some Standards will be okay, but even besides the obvious mistakes in Oko and Veil, this one has some issues.  You can’t ever have a cheap build-around unless it’s trivially dealt with by most of the meta (Innkeeper could be if Shock, Disfigure, Glass Casket, etc were big in the meta), in which case why even bother printing it?  You can’t have functionally more than 4x 1-cost acceleration without polarizing draws to 3-drop-on-turn-2 (or 5+ drop on turn 3) or garbage.  With only one card, and especially one card that might actually die, you can’t deckbuild all-in on it or mulligan to it.  With the 8x + OuAT available now, you can and likely should if you’re in that acceleration market at all.

I don’t trust Wizards to not print broken cheap stuff, and they probably don’t even trust themselves at this point, assuming it’s not actually on purpose, which it likely kind of is.  I barely mentioned postboard games where draws are naturally more polarized (and that polarization is known during mulligans), which leads to more mulligan death spiral games.  Nobody’s freaking out when a draft deck keeps 7 because it keeps plenty of average-ish hands as well as the good ones- you just have to mulligan slightly more aggressively.  When Tron or Oko keeps 7, you know damn well you’re in for something busted because they would have shipped all their mediocre hands and you have to mulligan to a hand that can play.. until we get a deck that can actually bluff keep a reasonable-but-not-broken plan B/C sometimes to get free equity off scared mulligans/fearless non-mulligans.

I wish I had a clean answer, but I don’t.  If all I were worried about were ladder-type things, I’d say you just get one mulligan, and have it be a London plus a scry, or even look at 8 and bottom 2, and you’re stuck with it.  If your hand is nonfunctional, then you just lose super-fast and go to the next game or match, no big deal.  That’s a lot of feels bad on a tournament schedule though where you lost and didn’t even get the illusion of playing a game and you’re doing nothing but moping for the next 30-40 minutes, and a lot of people aren’t even playing Magic in the way pros and grinders do.

To use a slightly crude analogy, they approach Magic like two guys who are too fat to reach their own cocks and agree to lay side-by-side and jerk each other off.  Some like to show off, a few like to watch, but it’s mainly about experiencing their dick, er, deck, doing what it’s built to do, and they can’t just play with themselves.  For those people, the London mulligan is like free Viagra making sure their deck is always ready to perform, so they absolutely love it, and that player type is approximately infinity times more common than the hardcore spikes who can enjoy a good struggle with a semi…functional hand.

For those reasons, I think we’re stuck with it, for better or for worse, and the best we can hope for is that WotC is cognizant of not allowing anything in Standard to do broken things on 5 with any frequency and banning ASAP when something gets through.

How Casting Spells Should Really Work

Warning: extreme MTG nerdery ahead.

Starting with the Magic Origins update bulletin, I’ve observed the rules manager/team trying to work out the process of casting a spell, trying to allow what should be legal (using Bestow when you can’t cast creatures), disallow what shouldn’t be legal (casting Squee out of Ixalan’s Binding), and not twist themselves into a pretzel of incoherent nonsense in the process… which is what happened with the latest update to 601.3e.  Well, actually it started in the previous update with Mystic Forge rulings, but they doubled down on that mistake here and made it really bad.

Assuming (as always) no other relevant cards/effects, and speaking normatively throughout, if you have a Mystic Forge out and a Deathmist Raptor on top, you shouldn’t be able to cast it.  You can’t normally cast the top card of your library.  It’s not an artifact or colorless nonland card, so Mystic Forge shouldn’t let you cast it.  Done.  Full stop.  Nothing lets you cast that object, so you can’t take the game action of starting to cast it.  This shouldn’t even be a question.***

With the new update, Cascade on a 3 mana spell, which reads “… until you exile a nonland card whose converted mana cost is less than this spell’s converted mana cost” still (correctly) doesn’t recognize Beck//Call as a card with CMC<3 because it’s CMC 2+6=8…. while at the same time, Kari Zev’s Expertise, which says “You may cast a card with converted mana cost 2 or less from your hand…” somehow DOESN’T even recognize that it’s an 8 CMC card.  And Brazen Borrower’s Petty Theft can be cast from the graveyard using Wrenn and Six’s emblem. What in the actual fuck.  Eli- C’mon man.

In the explanation, Eli said “if you’re allowed to cast a spell with a certain mana cost or color…” and I don’t know if that’s just a typo or an actual misunderstanding, but Kari Zev’s Expertise says CARD, not SPELL, and it has to SAY card and MEAN card for anything to make any sense, and the failure to properly separate thoughts about cards and thoughts about spells seems to be at the root of all of the issues.


The process of casting a spell can be reduced to

  1. Casting an object
  2. as a spell with certain characteristics/targets/etc
  3. at a particular time

The tricky part is that the properties of the spell are not known at the start of casting, and the allowable times (and other things) depend on those properties.  Furthermore, since the gamestate changes between 1 and 2 when the object goes on the stack, what’s allowed and prohibited can change in the middle of casting (e.g. Squee and Ixalan’s Binding).  None of this is a problem, or even particularly complicated, but the algorithm to process it all has to be correct or it can spit out some fantastic levels of nonsense.


 

Let’s start with part 1, casting an object.  Their original attempt was that you can literally cast anything- a card from your hand, from your opponent’s library, whatever, and it would be dealt with later if it was illegal.  This was.. not a good idea, although it had the seed of one.  Since we don’t know what the spell is going to look like at this point, ignoring spell prohibitions here is correct, but something has to control what cards can be cast.  As it turns out, the correct answer to that is the same as the answer to why you can’t just put your opponent’s entire hand into his graveyard whenever you feel like it- you can only take legal game actions, and that isn’t one.  The path they went down instead, trying to determine what objects can be put on the stack based on what their spells might end up looking like, is effectively a category error.  The beginning of casting is about CARDS, not SPELLS.

There are *no other prohibitions* on what objects can be cast.  The set of legal objects should be defined *constructively*- cards in your hand by rule and whatever other objects effects allow you to cast (cards in the graveyard with Flashback, cards CMC<=2 in hand while resolving Kari Zev’s Expertise, copies from Isochron Scepter, etc).  Combined with the rules on timing and priority, which needs a small (obvious) rewrite to 117.1 to comply, we get the proper result

“A player with priority can cast a castable card” with the set of castable cards defined constructively as above.  There’s no way to cast an object at a random time because the only times casting something is an allowed game action are when you have priority or when something is telling you to during its resolution.  There’s no way to cast a random object because it’s never a legal game action.  This *does* allow you to start casting a sorcery during your opponent’s turn, or even start casting a land from hand, but this is actually fine and no different than starting to cast a spell you can’t choose targets for, which has been CompRules-legal the whole time.  The rest of 117 needs to be updated to “normally”, etc. to fit with this paradigm.

There are no cards that prohibit casting *cards*, so there are no prohibitions to worry about here (there are a couple that prohibit playing lands based on characteristics, but playing lands uses a special action and they don’t change characteristics in the middle of that action, so it’s not a problem).  All affirmative prohibitions (e.g. “Players can’t play creature spells”) affect *spells*, not *cards*, so there’s nothing else to worry about here.


 

As far as dealing with the spell aspect, once the object is on the stack, there’s no reason at all to intervene before the legality check in 601.2e as long as the previous steps can be followed (immediate rewind if you can’t choose legal targets, etc). No other objects move, so no more information can be leaked, and 601.3 is basically completely wrong/useless as it currently exists.  The only necessary checks in 601.2e are

  1. Land spells are illegal to cast (regardless of other types)
  2. If the spell was cast while the player had priority, the casting is illegal unless it is an instant, has flash, or was cast during the player’s main phase when the stack was empty.  (“as though it had flash” gets by this, obviously)
  3. If an effect prohibits the spell’s casting, considering the spell’s properties at this time, the casting is illegal.

That’s it… almost.  Squee is still escaping from Ixalan’s Binding.  A Grafdigger’s Cage variant that functioned while in the graveyard could (conceivably) be successfully cast from the graveyard.  The fix for that is trivial though.  The set of spell prohibitions is locked in before the object is put on the stack, so prohibitions that depend somehow on the to-be-cast object itself still apply, and then that set of prohibitions is what’s checked in 601.2e.  Squee is stuck.  So is my cage.

And that’s it for real.  To summarize:

  1. The player picks a castable CARD (object), either a card in hand or an object an effect allows to be cast, completely ignoring any properties the resulting spell may or may not have, any spell-casting prohibitions, and the possibility/impossibility of completing announcement successfully.
  2. The set of spell-casting prohibitions is locked in.
  3. The object is put on the stack
  4. Announcement proceeds up to 601.2e (if possible, rewind if not)
  5. Legality vs. the prohibitions in step 2 is checked using the spell’s current properties
  6. If legal, proceed to 601.2f. If illegal, rewind.

 


***If you’re wondering how to verify a morph was properly cast with Mystic Forge, sure, it’s ugly, but verifying ANY morph was ever properly cast in any way is ugly, but we survived multiple formats with morph and manifest legal and played at the same time, and this is nothing in comparison.

MPL/Rivals qualification via Arena is rigged super-hard against outsiders compared to qualification via tabletop

WotC announced its long awaited roadmap for competitive play today, and it’s a mix of good and bad IMO.  The tabletop part of the announcement looks pretty good. We don’t have exact details, and there could be (and probably will be) some issues with balancing records needed to qualify for future invites, etc, but the path is clear.  Do well at a PTQ or GP, put up good (but not lottery-ticket-difficulty) results at the regional PTs, and you get to keep playing.  Do better than that and you qualify for the big PT finals. The regional PTs are like a Rivals league for the PT, and it’s a solution that allows more players into that ecosystem (meaning deserving ones are more likely to enter it and rise to the top) while also keeping travel costs more under control.  GPs matter again, and officially partnering with major tournament series (SCG, etc) is a no-brainer and better than the informal discretionary awards that WotC sometimes gave out to their high finishers in the past.

Tabletop

When it comes to qualifying for the next season’s Rivals via tabletop, it’s an advantage to start in the Rivals series as opposed to starting from scratch because Rivals players get automatic invites to all the regional PTs even if they bomb out in the season’s first event.  A random who bombs in the first event has to requalify from scratch, but given the unlikelihood of being a top-12 player anyway with a disaster finish in one of the season’s three events, it’s not that huge a handicap.  The much bigger handicaps are a random having to be qualified for the *first* event in a season to have the best chance of accumulating the requisite point total, as qualifying later than that basically only serves the purpose of trying to do well enough to auto-qualify for the first event of the next season.  Rivals members automatically get to play in the last PT of a season to try to auto-qualify for the first event of the next season.  I don’t see a trivial fix for that if the seasonal nature of MPL/Rivals is taken as a given, but these are handicaps that clearly can and will be overcome regularly.  Plenty of new players will make Rivals via tabletop.

Arena

The Arena qualification system has several serious flaws.  The first is that the tournaments are much smaller, so a random has to hit a lottery-ticket finish in one of two tournaments with a gigantic field (top-16 out of several thousand) to even qualify for an invitational. Compared to the tabletop system, where over 1000 people enter the ecosystem across bunches of tournaments, it’s absurdly more difficult. Second, even if you qualify and do well- or even win- the corresponding invitational, there’s *absolutely no mechanism* for auto-qualifying to the next invitational other than hoping WotC likes you and gives you a discretionary invite, and we already have precedent for the previous PT champion not getting invited.  This is in direct contrast to the tabletop system and doesn’t make any sense to me.

Because of this, starting in Rivals is a GIGANTIC advantage when it comes to qualifying for next season’s Rivals via Arena.  Rivals players *automatically* qualify for either 2 or 3 invitationals (depending on unreleased details), but even a random who qualifies and does well in the first event has to requalify from scratch to play another one or rely on WotC’s generosity.  Somebody might do that, but there are *twelve* spots up for grabs via Arena, and there’s no way in hell there are going to be 12 multi-time qualifiers across three 2x-16-spot-thousands-of-entrants qualifying events.  Rivals players effectively get to play one or two extra point-earning events, which is completely unfair and an advantage that doesn’t exist in tabletop.

That’s not even touching on the discretionary invite system.  I’m not going to bother talking about the 6 discretionary invites to the Rivals series, because I don’t have anything new to add to that conversation, but having extra discretionary invites to the invitationals on top of that is exactly the same problem as in the previous paragraph.  A discretionary invite to a regional PT isn’t that big a deal. Every random with a shot at top-12 is already playing in it.  A discretionary invite to an invitational is literally an extra point-earning event that some other people in contention don’t get to play in.. which is the kind of thing WotC just got roasted for, giving LSV a discretionary invite and an extra point-earning event in the race for Worlds.  This level of thumb on the scale is a *really* bad look for the supposedly merit/performance-based slots.

In conclusion, there needs to be a merit-based way for randoms who qualify for an invitational via Arena to stay qualified for the next invitational, and it has to be realistic, not “win” or “make top 4” or something crazy.  Discretionary invites to invitationals either need to go away completely or to award no points to the Rivals race (or towards Worlds, etc).

 

Be very, very skeptical of Judge Academy

For the non-Magic: the Gathering audience, some tournament judges filed a lawsuit alleging that they should have been classified as employees.  IANAL, and a lot of the issues are beyond the scope of what a non-expert can discuss at all with any confidence, but one aspect- that for-profit companies cannot accept volunteer labor- is one, that by a plain English reading (again, IANAL) they clearly violated thousands of times in the past, including with me personally.  Of course, I was “volunteering” with the implicit understanding that I was going to get “gifted” promotional cards and game product worth well into the hundreds of dollars afterwards, and I did.

That’s shady enough domestically with US citizens, but when US citizens went abroad to “work as a volunteer”, and WotC brought foreigners to the US to “work as volunteers”, they were almost certainly running afoul of various labor laws, and on at least one occasion, a judge made the mistake of saying “work” at the border and despite further explanation still wasn’t allowed in the country.  So when there’s talk about WotC playing fast and loose with legal obligations around labor.. it’s because they clearly did.  And still might, I don’t know.

To avoid these headaches, WotC (purportedly) ditched its judge program and there is a new organization to replace it, Judge Academy.  JA held an AMA on Reddit and while it isn’t worth reading the whole thing, they were incredibly evasive on a large number of questions, said they couldn’t disclose financials (for no actual legal reason), and their responses included some gems like (in response to why they aren’t a non-profit), “We also felt it was import not to compete with organizations like the Red Cross for the charitable support being given by these companies.”  Really.  That happened.  So the whole thing looks.. uh.. shady AF.

Looking into the incentives of all those involved and the methods of leverage that can be exercised makes it look even worse than just a shady money grab. Going down the line of what each party wants:

WotC: be free from the legal headache, still effectively control the judge program, spend as little money as possible

Major tournament organizers: still have a competent potential staff pool without spending any new money to train it, keep judges from organizing to ask for more money

High-level judges: still have paying jobs, improve the pay-to-mentoring/training ratio, not have to spend infinite time on the logistics of certification

Now, JA provides certification testing and foils for $100.  Without the foils, effectively nobody- and certainly not enough people to bother running a business with staff- would pay $100 to certify.  Major tournament organizers would have to pick up the slack and do it at no cost to the trainees.  So JA’s business is *entirely* dependent on WotC providing foils that can be resold for over $100 on the secondary market, and they have *zero* recourse if WotC decides they don’t want to do that anymore, either by stopping the foil supply altogether or intentionally sending them garbage to distribute.  If WotC does, JA disappears instantly, and both sides are well aware of that.  There’s also no chance (for various reasons outside the scope of this post) that JA actually has a contract stipulating a minimum resale value of foils.

So JA *cannot cause trouble for WotC* or WotC just kills it.  JA *cannot disobey WotC* or WotC just kills it.  Despite being legally separate entities, JA is 100% WotC’s butt muppet.  JA has less wiggle room than if they were actually all WotC employees because at least then they’d have some workplace protections, which is kind of ironic given the whole context.

Big TOs will be happy with this for several reasons. The first is that they don’t have to put more of their own resources into maintaining a qualified staff pool around their regions. The second is that because JA is essentially existentially forbidden from causing any trouble, it’s not going to agitate for better working conditions/compensation, and any energy directed at lobbying JA, or any misunderstanding that JA might ever do that is less energy directed at anything that could affect TO bottom line.

There’s not going to be any elected representation for obvious reasons. JA cant cause trouble, so they’re going to vet staff carefully and only work with people who “get it”. And by “get it”, I mean understand that JA is not an organization for judges, it’s an organization that exists to be WotC’s butt muppet, keep big TOs staffed and happy, and get Tim and some high-level judges paid.

There’s no financial transparency- and some combination of incompetence/misrepresentations/blatant lies whenever financials are discussed- because the whole arrangement is shady AF on every level. There’s no way they’re going to go from “shady and opaque” to providing a line by line accounting of their revenue and expenditures that shows everybody exactly how messed up the whole situation is. If JA were an organization for judges, they’d be happy to prove it with financials- and if they were legally registered as one of several types of organizations for judges, they would HAVE TO prove it with financials- but again, they’re not an organization for judges and they’re simply choosing not to be transparent.

When an organization is de facto funded by somebody else (by foils laundered to cash through subscriptions), is incentivized to act in somebody else’s interests, has denied to enter into any obligation to act in your interests, has refused to allow you any ability to determine that it is acting in your interests, and has dodged/obfuscated/misrepresented/outright lied to you repeatedly when these issues are raised, you have to be an absolute fool to trust that it really is going to act in your interests and not somebody else’s.

 

Mythic Championship III Day 1-Blatant viewer manipulation and group breakdowns

First off, the level of view-count fraud was absolutely out of control today. The bullshit today (ht: darrenoc on reddit) isn’t particularly different than the bullshit they pulled with the Mythic Invitational, but the actual viewership today was anemic to begin with.  From the time I first checked, around the start of round 2, until the end of round 8, the number of people in chat (chat being sub-only is ~irrelevant to this) was between 9,000 and 11,500.  Since 70-75% of viewers in most large channels are logged in to chat, that’s a real viewership of 12k-16k. Going slightly above that isn’t impossible, but not by too much.

The nominal viewership I saw got as high as 65k, which means that literally 75-80%, or very close, of the reported viewer count was completely fake.  Once WotC stopped paying for new fake views, and the numbers started decaying as the day wound down, total views dropped from the 60-thousands to the 20-thousands while the actual people logged into chat- representative of real viewers- stayed in the same 9k-11.5k range.  It’s utterly and blatantly fraudulent. There’s a long section about WotC’s viewer fraud in this Kotaku article (open it and ctrl-f magic), and if it’s correct, WotC is spending *hundreds of thousands of dollars per event* for the sole purpose of creating transparently fraudulent viewer numbers.

That’s utterly disgusting.


On to the actual day 1 results.. I’m sure there will be several metagame breakdowns posted elsewhere, so I’m not bothering with that, especially since I had to go derive and input round 7 and 8 results by hand because the official page had this……………..

lolround7

and round 8 results still aren’t up, but I was mainly curious how the different kinds of players did.

I classified the players into 4 groups:  MPL members, pros/ex-pros, challengers, and invited personalities from the extra 16 invites (lists at the bottom of the post).  The only questionable classification was former PT champion Simon Görtzen, who does commentary now instead of playing.  I put him with the pros/ex-pros based on his pro history and that he wasn’t one of the extra invites.  These are the performances of each group vs. each other group.

left vs. top MPL Pro/ex-pro Challenger Personality
MPL 42-42 19-22 27-18 18-12
 Pro/ex-pro 22-19 11-11 7-6 6-3
Challenger 18-27 6-7 8-8 5-5
Personality 12-18 3-6 5-5 9-9

.

Combining the group performances and looking at day 2 conversion rates (not counting the 4 MPL players with byes into day 2) gives

vs. out of group out of group win% day 2 day 2 advance
MPL 64-52 55.2% 6/28 21.4%
Pro/ex-pro 35-28 55.6% 5/13 38.5%
Challenger 29-39 42.6% 1/13 7.7%
Personality 20-29 40.8% 0/10 0%

Looks like the pros crushed it, taking it to the MPL 22-19 while the MPL went 45-30 against the challengers and personalities.  There’s a marked difference between those who are/have been at the top of the game and those who’ve never come close.

 

————————————————————————————————————

Player lists (Bold = day 2)

MPL:

Alexander Hayne
Andrea Mengucci
Andrew Cuneo
Autumn Burchett
Ben Stark
Carlos Romao
Christian Hauck
Eric Froehlich
Grzegorz Kowalski
Janne Mikkonen
Javier Dominguez
Jean Emmanuel Depraz
Jessica Estephan
John Rolf
Lee Shi Tian
Lucas Esper Berthoud
Luis Salvatto
Marcio Carvalho
Martin Juza
Matthew Nass
Mike Sigrist
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa
Piotr Glogowski
Reid Duke
Seth Manfield
Shahar Shenhar
Shota Yasooka
William Jensen

Pros/ex-pros:

Allen Wu
Andrew Elenbogen
Ben Hull
Corey Burkhart
Greg Orange
Kai Budde
Kentaro Yamamoto

Luis Scott Vargas
Noah Walker
Ondrej Strasky
Raphaël Lévy
Simon Görtzen
Wyatt Darby

Challengers:

Alexey Shashov
André Santos
CJ Steele
Eric Oresick
Evan Gascoyne
Marcin Tokajuk
Matias Leveratto
Montserrat Ayensa
Nicholas Carlson
Patrick Fernandes
Takashi Iwasaki
Yuki Matsuda
Yuma Koizumi

Personalities:

Amy Demicco
Ashley Espinoza
Audrey Zoschak
Emma Handy
Giana Kaplan
Jason Chan
Jeffrey Brusi
Nhi Pham
Teresa Pho
Vanessa Hinostroza