Friday, December 5, 2014

On Marcio Carvalho DQ

Wizards recap:

My note from facebook in a more public space:
For anyone who doesn't know, Marcio has done this cheat time and again, such as vs me AND Tom Martell in PT Amsterdam after he did it against Tom and I begged Toby Elliott to have a judge watch my match with Marcio the following round but he declined. I tried to watch him, I really did, but he had the life totals wrong and I go to score pad to correct it and there you go he topdecks a situationally perfect sideboard card (some falter effect) that wasn't good against me or Tom generally but was topdecked in the final turn against both of us after some distraction tactics. Tom had warned me Marcio cheated him but didn't say how so I didn't know EXACTLY what to look for, just to ask Toby for help. After that draft pod Tom and I compared notes and it was same cheat - card "topdecked" off sideboard or from hidden zone after distraction tactics. Fuck this guy.

Is it possible he really did legitimately topdeck all these cards against all these people over the years and is really bad at counting his deck, putting away his sideboard, keeping the life total, etc.?  Ya it's possible, but don't bet your tournament entry fee on it if they let Marcio ever play again.  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

MTG Digital Offerings: What Was YOUR Breaking Point?

(Conversation below between me and Magic: The Gathering Hall of Fame member elect Paul Rietzl discussing the website and Magic Online).  

Matt Sperling
So, I don't know whether to start this State of the Magic Technology Union exchange with the website or the MTGO software. What's on the top of your list at the moment?

Paul Rietzl
My Grandfather and the rest of my family. They like to follow my progress at the tournaments, but are so frustrated by the inanity of the Magic website that it makes it hard. They wish it was possible to find what they want to read about. My Grandfather has multiple advanced degrees, but this website is uncrackable.

Matt Sperling
Old people don't love change, and I'd be ready to blame your grandpa’s likely advanced age for some part of this except I myself also cannot find the coverage 9 times out of 10. used to redirect to the event coverage page, which had simple links. It can't be difficult to point to the new event page, can it? That doesn't seem like an intractable problem, but you also end up on the old website if you click the first Google result for many key searches. Wizards owns these formerly popular pages, why don't they redirect them? Maybe if their website just displayed cat pictures or something it wouldn't matter that they changed the layout and organization so much, but I need to LOOK THINGS UP. I need information. Maybe if I click this banner at the top 10 times it'll take me somewhere....

Paul Rietzl
This is not to mention all the broken links, bugs, and generally baffling UX/UI decisions. Similarly to MTGO, I sometimes feel the website is part of a large social experiment, like they are trying to determine the commitment level of the player base. Only the deeply enfranchised or clinically insane would continue to attempt to use magic.wizards.hasbro.screwyou.whatever it is these days. I took it off my bookmarks some time ago and hope all relevant information will be tweeted. It makes me feel really bad for the hard-working people in R&D that make this awesome game, only to be confronted daily with soul-crushing negativity.

Matt Sperling
I also feel bad for Wizards employees not involved in these decisions directly. At first I thought, "Someone should have stood up in a meeting at some point and yelled WE CAN'T SHIP THIS. The blame ultimately rests on the decision-makers' shoulders, but this thing is so bad that there needed to be some canaries flying out of that mine." But here is my best guess at why it didn't actually play out that way: when the design team handed this off internally and they said to the regular Magic teams "you guys can try it out now" they didn't have Google to help them out so they wouldn't go searching for obscure stuff, they would just probably click around and check it out - and they probably had "dummy" articles and/or static pages like "Learn How to Play!", not a bunch of live material. So early testers were (I am guessing) not clicking on banners with broken links, not trying to view top 8 decklists for recent events because decklists are not being automatically loaded in, etc. They're not trying to find coverage of the Grand Prix going on that day because that information isn't hosted on the dummy/sandbox website yet. I can see how this maybe slipped past them.

They probably decided to ship this atrocity because the layout feels more modern and the static pages mostly work. But the layout doesn't matter if you can't find the page you're looking for. And for those of us who use the site often, unless we're looking for a giant picture of Garruk against a black background, we end up very frustrated.

Paul Rietzl
Let’s hunt bigger game. Magic: The Gathering’s online game offering has some shortcomings.

Matt Sperling
Around the MTGO version 4 (v4) release, I was among the people beating the drum of "cmon guys, it's not THAT bad ... it's maybe only a few tweaks away from actually being better than v3, and now those tweaks can actually arrive." Is the blood now on my hands, too?

Paul Rietzl
I blame you, but only a little. I blame you, and everyone else who defended this atrocity, for making me so optimistic. Until now, I’ve taken the approach “What can I personally do to help WOTC get V4 to the point where it’s fun for me to use?” But all the positivity has been sucked out of me. Here’s a recent experience I had. I like to sell cards that I own >4 to bots, so that I have a supply of tickets. These tickets allow me to play basically at will, with the exception of during new set releases, when I’ll have to bust out the credit card. On V4, when I used any filters, it wouldn’t let me select all of my cards. So I tried adding all the cards I own more than 4 copies of. This crashed the program. I tried again, and it worked after freezing for a few minutes. However, now I had almost all my basic lands in my trade binder. To remove them, I had to go version by version, picture by picture. I gave up after a while, and tried to delete the trade binder (you can’t). So I created a new trade binder, deleted the old one. Now I filtered to just green, white, blue, black and red cards to avoid adding basic lands to my trade binder (I accepted that I’d have to add artifacts later). Well, MTGO V4 reads Basic Forest as a green card. I broke. I started angrily tweeting that I was going to take up Hearthstone. Then I got this response:

This is what I’m talking about. It's MY fault for not learning that forests are green? Forests are fucking colorless bro. So yea, I blame you [Matt] and all the V4 defenders a little.

Matt Sperling
And that's the problem with institutionalized incompetence on the scale we now understand we're dealing with; my assumption that Wizards will now be free to apply many fixes and will do so quickly was almost as stupid as the Hasbro executive saying on an earnings call that Hearthstone isn't a serious competitor to Magic.

If they had the talent, the organization, the leadership, the budget, and the vision to fix V4 relatively quickly, we'd never have V4 in the first place. So, mea culpa on being an apologist for V4. Please accept my apology and a free M15 prerelease sealed to make up for it.

From here, if I was in charge of Hasbro, I would acquire a third party game design studio, shout about the acquisition from the rooftops as loud as I could, and promise to release a new Magic Online client by Q3 2015. Is this an unrealistic solution because the cost would be so high? Well, whoever tells you that is exactly the person who needs to have their incentives realigned. If it comes from the out of touch leadership at Hasbro, then they deserve for Magic Online to be crushed into relative obscurity by Hearthstone and whatever else. Even though it would absolutely devastate me to see the game I love headed down the drain, if these people had this big of a golden goose and could only manage to try over and over to strangle it, why should I root for them?

They could invest a lot of money now to essentially start over in a new way (read: new people in charge and on the ground), or they can slowly start checking the golden goose for visible ligature marks and petechial hemorrhaging (I have more time to watch Law and Order SVU now that I don't play MTGO much).

Paul Rietzl
That’s the hidden rainbow in this whole storm. I used to double and triple queue MTGO all the time, and I could play fast enough on V3 that no one ever had to wait for me. Now I get to read interesting articles on the internet, I’m more productive at work, and we get to shoot the breeze about Obamacare. I’m a much more well-rounded person. I go to too many live Magic tournaments to quit MTGO entirely – I simply need it to prepare. And I hope one day the people will give us a product that I can enjoy again. But I agree with everything you just said, and I accept your apology.

Here are some specific issues I have with V4 that I could come up with off the top of my head:

1. Get rid of the Are You Sure You Want to Close Magic Online feature. When I’m done, I’m done. I’m not a child, and if I misclick I can log back on. It’s not like I’m deleting a file.
2. Why do triggered abilities require targeting require changing the size of the window before I can click a target?
3. Why can’t we see the top of both libraries at the same time?
4. Why does Courser of Kruphix cause the top card of my library to cover my entire battlefield?
5. Why is it so hard to move cards around in my hand? Why do they get stuck?
6. Why isn’t that chat permanently anchored to the right side of the screen for all formats at all times? How else can I tell what is going on?
7. Why are so many cards bugged?
8. Why is there a select all function during sealed deck building if it doesn’t work?
9. Why does the client think basic lands have a color?
10. Where are ratings?
11. Why is everything so slow and laggy? My computer is not old.
12. Why do none of the filters make any sense? I have 727 cards with Special rarity. What does that mean?
13. Why does the scroll function just stop working when perusing my collection? Why do the pictures take so long to load?
14. Why does a program that is so bad take up so much of my computer’s operating capability?
15. Why, after I click YES I want to close Magic Online, does it take 1 minute, 31 seconds (last time I timed it) for the program to actually close?

Now tell me about Leroy Jenkins…

Matt Sperling
The best thing about Leeroy Jenkins is that you can use him for a 10 minute game without setting aside 3 hours or waiting between games. You can use Leeroy Jenkins on a Mac or an iPad. You can learn how to attack with Leeroy Jenkins in a built-in tutorial mode. You can convert your extra Leeroy Jenkinses into other cards without dealing with robots or having to manually sort to find all your extra copies. You can use Leeroy Jenkins on a computer or tablet that doesn't have gigabytes of RAM waiting to be burned. When your friend sees you play a Leeroy Jenkins he or she is unlikely to ask why the game looks like it's from 1998. People are enabled and supported as they try to show Leeroy Jenkins to their friends and fans on Leeroy Jenkins, when he does appear on, has animation and sound that add to the viewing experience. You can get Leeroy Jenkins for free if you're willing to play enough and wait.

Most of those things could and/or should apply to Chandra or Jace, not just Leeroy or Ragnaros. But if Wizards keeps dropping the ball, you can be damn sure someone will eventually pick it up and run with it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Hearthstone Templating: Issues and Suggestions

The Hearthstone team needs to rethink some aspects of how they are templating (choosing the words for) the cards. 

The Problem

Some recently spoiled cards appear here: (I don’t know if the note about Random being added to text was officially announced somewhere, but I couldn’t find it.  In any event the templating issues are somewhat more fundamental than that one set of cases.)

Much of the team’s philosophy on templating was articulated by Ben Brode here:

Things were brought back to the surface when they recently spoiled a card (Webspinner) that says “Deathrattle: Draw a random Beast card.”  Random is there, which I think is helpful, but the word Draw is at best ambiguous about from what pool of cards it is drawn and whether it will reduce the size of a player’s deck.  Blizzard had to clarify quickly, in several places, that “Draw” in this case means select at random from possible choices in the game (regardless of which Beasts you own or play in your deck) and add a copy to your hand (cards are not taken from or selected from your deck or collection). 

I’m not sure Blizzard would really defend this templating given the public reaction, but they might.  They need a game plan for better templating in my opinion.  

I should note that A) I’m a Magic player, B) Magic players have a special difficulty in learning not just a new way to comprehend the text of cards but also how to shut off what they’ve already learned in the Magic domain, C) Blizzard isn’t necessarily primarily concerned with Magic players’ understanding of the cards, D) my analysis is in no way intended to only address the Magic playing audience for the game (I understand there is a wider audience, and I’d like to serve them too). 

Ben Brode writes:
“'Feel' is really important to how we write cards. Consistency is important, but somewhat less so in a digital game where the computer handles the rules for you.” 

Feel and Consistency might well be at odds in many cases, but they each must serve the larger goal of comprehension.  Comprehension is the understanding the owners or browsers of these cards are left with after reading the cards – understanding of what the cards do and how they interact.  The designers of Hearthstone cards obviously understand that this is what is at stake. 

Where I think my comprehension analysis differs is in the balance between comprehension from handing a player one card and asking them what it does (the isolated comprehension – or focus group style - model) vs. handing someone ALL the cards they will be exposed to, asking them what they all do, and asking them to “get it” in a way that lets them predict novel interactions between the cards (the in-context comprehension model).  In-context comprehension will never be 100% - some interactions will prove difficult to predict, so much so they may even be bugged in the software.  But just because it won’t be 100% doesn’t mean 75% understanding is the same as 85%. 

‘Strict’ templating (as I’m choosing to define it here) means that the text of cards is not just a hint at how they function, but it actually governs how they function in an always predictable way (barring a bug, typo, or similar mistake).  Magic the Gathering has this, and it is a tremendous asset to that game (but don’t forget there are many reasons to try and do better than Magic does, I’ll get to that shortly). 

Ben Brode mentioned essentially the concept of what I'd call rules-engine-as-mediator which means that the players need far less in-context understanding when there is a digital rules engine to mediate disputes and clarify misunderstandings (well, at least up to a confidence level bounded by the frequency of bugs in the engine).  This is very much true and definitely aids a digital game, but I don’t think it gets you as far as the Hearthstone team thinks it gets you. 

Critically, as the game grows, the number of novel interactions (novel can mean either ones the player hasn’t seen yet, or new interactions generated by the release of one or more new cards) between the cards grows exponentially, hence in-context comprehension becomes more and more difficult as a game grows.  Isolated comprehension stays pretty much the same. 

Choosing a model that skews heavily towards isolated comprehension will become increasingly untenable.  The good news is you don’t have to sacrifice that much isolated comprehension (if any) to get to much higher levels of in-context comprehension. 

‘Strict’ templating is one way to make sure you skew in the scalable direction – towards in-context comprehension.  However, the downsides of ‘Strict’ templating can be large.  Cards can become more difficult to immediately parse.  As Ben Brode notes, “if you add the word ‘random’ to Lightwell, it becomes very hard to parse its text. ‘At the start of your turn, restore 3 Health to a random damaged friendly character.’”  Also, it can feel like you’re tying your hands when it comes to making really cool, really complex cards like Jaraxxus.  Imagine that card’s actual rules text (I will do just that in a bit).  If you set user expectations for text boxes at “This is roughly what the card does” then you can do something like Jaraxxus no questions asked (well, actually, a TON of questions asked :P ).  So not being able to just give an approximation is a cost.

Those costs are worth it.  The frustration experienced by so many players at unpredictable outcomes and confusing new cards because of the lack of in-context comprehension grows with every day and every new preview card.  Below is how I would try to strike a better balance.

My Proposal

The Hearthstone team should try harder to achieve ‘Strict’ templating that also has enough ‘Feel’ to satisfy the non-hardcore-rules-aficionado audience. 

Am I saying “Do what Magic designers do?”  No, not exactly.  You still have a huge advantage if you’re Hearthstone – the digital medium.  I’ve already mentioned its advantages in terms of rules-engine-as-mediator, but there’s also the advantage of potentially dynamic text boxes.  What I mean by that is you can have shorthand text, no text, reminder text, or whatever in the actual text box of a card, and then link to a “full text” hosted elsewhere (exactly where I don’t hold a meaningful opinion on). 

For most cards there is no need to link to “full text.”  Let’s start with some of the new cards from Naxxramas.

Spoiled text of Anub’ar Ambusher: “Deathrattle: Return a friendly minion to your hand.” 

Proposed new text of Anub’ar Ambusher: “Deathrattle: Return a friendly minion to your hand. (Chosen at random.)”  OR “Deathrattle: Return a [RANDOM SYMBOL] friendly minion to your hand.”

In this case the Rules of the Game can say Deathrattle choices are always random, but the card should be comprehensible as such not just by reference to that rule, but using actual words that appear on the card.  Reminder text is one way to accomplish this.  Since the reminder “(Chosen at random)” can be inserted even within a sentence if multiple things are going on, I think this solution scales properly and solves a ton of issues the random deathrattles had as spoiled.

You could also address the Random vs. Choose problem with icons that note the difference instead of a parenthetical reminder.  A little red crosshairs could appear in front of “minion” when it means “a chosen minion” and a little d6 could appear in front of “minion” when it means “a random minion”.  That’s also a consistent, clear, and workable solution.  It requires a little bit of onboarding to get someone to learn the symbols, but it translates easily and the digital games can have a popup explanation or clear tutorial that paper games can’t, so use those advantages. 

Text of Thoughtsteal: “Copy 2 cards from your opponent’s deck and put them into your hand.”

Proposed new text of Thoughtsteal: “Copy 2 random cards from your opponent’s initial deck and put them into your hand.”

A few things have changed here.  First, I’m using random instead of just relying on a rule about things of this nature always being random.  Second, I’m using the term “initial deck” to disambiguate the initial deck LIST vs. the cards remaining in deck when this card is played. 

Spoiled text of Webspinner:  “Deathrattle: Draw a random Beast card”

Proposed new text of Webspinner:  “Deathrattle: Add a copy of a random Beast card to your hand. (Chosen from the list of all Beast cards)”

Here the text is designed to line up with Thoughtsteal (this is critical for new cards and has really hurt the Naxxramas spoiler effort), and also the text uses a parenthetical reminder once again to explain what is happening.  The rules can say “Beast card” references the list of all possible beasts unless otherwise indicated and “Beast” means Beast in play unless otherwise indicated, but even with that technical background in the rules, reminder text should light the reader’s path.  You end up with “clunkier” and longer text, but that’s the price of doing business in a clear and understandable way – it sometimes takes more words.  There is a spectrum from the full rules text on one end to cards that just say “SUMMON AN AWESOME INVENTION!” or have no text at all but do something nonetheless that you have to learn through trial and error.

Text of Shadowflame:  “Destroy a friendly minion and deal its Attack damage to all enemy minions.”  (It turns out if you’re destroying a minion with Spell Damage +1, Shadowflame will get that bonus. I assume we wish to preserve current functionality, just make it more predictable.)

Proposed new text of Shadowflame:  “Choose a friendly minion to sacrifice. Deal its Attack damage to all enemy minions and then destroy it.”

Preserving the ‘Feel’ here is tough, which is why I like this example.  I’ve even used a non-rules term “sacrifice” to describe what’s happening even though that word adds only clarity not actual functionality.  This is the kind of way I think you can bend “Strict” templating and end up in a better place for it. 

Text of Lord Jaraxxus:  “Battlecry: Destroy your Hero and replace him with Lord Jaraxxus.”

Proposed new text of Lord Jaraxxus:  “Battlecry: Destroy your Hero and replace him with Lord Jaraxxus. FULL TEXT.”  (FULL TEXT is hyperlinked to a popup or display in the blank space in the side of the window or something else containing the full rules text of what will happen.)  This article isn’t about gendered pronoun use so I’ll set that aside for someone more qualified on that topic.

I only pretend to be smarter than the entire Hearthstone team as a part-time hobby, so I fully understand that the issue is more complex than can be fully treated in this blog post, and that many conflicting concerns are in play.  I hope my analysis and the suggestions I am committing to the public domain here are helpful as the team re-evaluates its current templating philosophy and kicks around new approaches, which I do expect to happen as the game scales and the "wtf does this card do?" questions keep rolling in.  Even if they aren't at all helpful or the team never feels a need to re-evaluate, I hope you all enjoyed the discussion on HS templating that I have been participating in and will continue to participate in.

-Matt Sperling
Armchair Template QB

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Pro Tour Journey into Nyx (Atlanta) Report

This report was originally going to be in the "Props & Slops" format.  I'm in a good mood so I'll try for all "Props & backhanded Props."  Let's see how it goes.

Big huge props to Gabriel Nassif, Gabe Carlton-Barnes and Martin Goldman-Kirst who all conceded to me on day two once out of top 25 contention so that I could have a chance to make top 75, which I did, which qualifies me for the next two pro tours.  Not everyone is as unselfish and understanding about getting a couple points to someone who can really use them.  I appreciated it tremendously. 

The other big huge props have to go to Patrick Chapin for winning the Pro Tour.  Patrick and I have been friends for many years, and I've learned on several occasions that Patrick is the kind of friend who would give you the shirt off his back or the big piece of fried chicken if you were hungry (and he fucking loves fried chicken).  A man of truly grand vision, Patrick has put more sweat, passion, and hours of work behind his vision for the competitive Magic: The Gathering community than anyone I know. 

Patrick is a leader also in the way he balances that work with celebration of and appreciation for everything and everyone he has around him.  If someone's not having a good time, Patrick's work is not done.  I'm lucky to have Patrick as a teammate but far luckier to have him as a close friend.  

Props to Reid Duke and Jamie Parke for breaking through to top 8.  Everything you've heard about Reid is true, which is high praise.  Jamie is an old school background player like myself who just snatched the mic and starting singing a lead vocal.  You haven't heard the last from Reid or Jamie, and again I'm lucky to call them teammates and friends.

Props to Dan OMS for helping us with offsite logistics while the PT was going on.  Support via email is key as you scramble to figure out what is happening at the PT and compile the public information you gather.

Props to Wrapter from [that Other Team] on his top 8.  You could pick him as the best in the world and/or the most likely to win the next big event, and you would be at WORST only very slightly wrong. 

Props to Hall of Famers Finkel, Kai, Nassif, Bob, Karsten, Darwin, Rob, Jelger, PV, LSV et al for showing up and giving a shit even if past their prime.  Better to have had a prime and lost than never to have had a prime at all like me.  And I think everyone benefits from them using their invites and try to win.  So, joking aside, props for still giving a shit.

Props to the bartender at the Sheraton near the convention center.  This woman was more understaffed than the judges at a Bolivian limited Grand Prix but still kept the drinks coming with a smile.  No bar back, no cocktail server, no second bartender, just her and a hoard of thirsty gamers. 

Props to Atlanta for having Uber. 

Props to Waffle House for being better than Dennys and iHop (sounds easy but there were a million of these everywhere and when I went it was good). 

Props to Zac Hill for finally mentioning on camera that he used to work in R&D and had some role in the development of cards that were recently released.  You might have missed it if you took a break from the stream but trust me he said it at least once on the record. 

Props to R&D for not having a cheap wrath in the block.  If I wanted the same pieces available every game I'd play chess.

Props to Tom Martell and Paul Rietzl for hitting Platinum.  Tom is better than you think he is and almost as good as he thinks he is.  Paul is as good as you think he is and better than he thinks he is. 

Props to the PT coverage staff for getting a picture of me doing my Walt Jr. impression as Patrick drew a land he needed vs wrapter. 

Props to Andrew Cuneo for being the funniest person over age 60 to come along since George Carlin.

Props to Marshall Sutcliffe for the time he remembered which creature had been targeted by Kiora's +1 the turn prior.

Props to Paul Rietzl's opponent (Paul please tweet who it was) [edit: Marlon Gutierrez] that accidentally pointed to only one of his creatures with a Mogis' Maurader trigger and told the judge the absolute truth about his physical gesture when asked.  Easy to fudge or reinvent what happened; this guy went down with honor, integrity, and only one creature with intimidate. 

Props to WotC for not having Michele of Gaming Etc deal cards for the PT.  Who knows if I still would have made top 75 if others weren't scrambling looking for cards the night before the PT.  If it ain't broke, find a local supplier to fix it as the saying goes.

Props to Conley Woods and Brad Nelson for taking some high-profile split card criticism in stride and finishing top 50. 

Props to Sam Black for calling a judge on himself when he scryd into a card that wasn't in his deck in a game he was going to win.  Could have sent it to the bottom, sided it out, fixed it between rounds - no one finds out and no real harm done - but he did the right thing and played by the rules. 

Props to runner up Nam Sung Wook for playing well and being grateful to make the finals and willing to fully celebrate the 2nd place when he lost.  Oh and for playing fast even in top 8.  This kid gets it in my opinion.

Props to the members of R&D who gave a talk on the design of Journey to Nix cards and mechanics.  The members of the Hex design team that were present can't thank you enough. 

 -Matt Sperling

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Journey Into Nyx Policy Changes – For Players/Judges and /r/Spikes to complain about.

[Guest post by friend-of-the-blog Lucas Siow.  Send props to him, angry letters to me as usual. FYI - skim this post for context: JOU Policy Changes  -MJS]

Posted on April 28, 2014 by a level 5 commander player

With the latest policy update, there’s a major change to the Electronic Device policy for Competitive and Professional REL. We wanted to make it really hard for casual players to use their phones to keep track of life totals while minimally impacting the ability of serious scum bags to game and abuse the system.
It can be summed up easily: Don’t use them during matches or any other “official” times (drafts, deckbuilds, etc). Its only ok to use them while taking a fake bathroom break, while looking at the pairings board and when appropriately hidden under the table as you pretend to drop things a (aka you are Mike Long). Taking a brief personal call is OK in an emergency – as a competitive magic player you probably have a lot of an important things going on outside of the tournament and we believe that.  If you happen to be in the group of honest, non-emergency suffering magic players, we would appreciate if the 11 of you  could leave your devices in your pocket until the match is over.
We tried having a policy to define what could be done with devices, but like most things which involved computers it ended up having too much downtime. We are committed to Stability, Performance and integrity in all of our decisions. We swear. We were planning on going with the make the same promise year after year until nothing gets fixed route, but the current policy was really out of date with regards to the capabilities of devices. We wanted people to behave themselves, but gamers are finding needle in the haystack exploitable loopholes which is just an unlucky feature of how popular magic is. We had the choice of writing a complex and ever-changing policy and immediately enforcing it without soliciting any outside advice/feedback or taking the cleaner route of disallowing them entirely during matches. Based on our experience with previous: Rules Changes, Pro Player Club Changes, MTGO PTQ announcements, GP rules changes, Magic Coverage, PT invite alterations and prerelease statistics we have decided that mixing both strategies was the safest course. Devices may be used freely at Regular REL; because - seriously - who tryhards at FNM? Outside Assistance rules still apply to those who names don’t rhyme with vidiguris.
A few players have asked about using video cameras to record or stream matches. This is allowed as long as the device is passive, not consulted, and you have permission of the Head Judge and each opponent. In other words we are calling this the Classic invitational Player’s Championship exception. For reference, the following is a list of passive mobile computing devices:
Blackberry Anything.
One other clarification that is not a policy change: at the end of extra turns, players are not allowed to flip over the top cards of their decks to do comparisons or see “how things would have worked out” to determine the winner of a match. We really want to enforce the notion that collusion should only take place between  established players that are well versed in the tournament floor rules and magic culture. The rules do not allow players to look at those cards until the game has ended, and, once the game is over, it’s using an outside the game method to determine an outcome. Instead of that we would prefer if both players only colluded when using very specific legal language. We cant tell you what language to use. But if you propose something we might be able to tell you if you got it right. Unless you werent specific enough. Because that would be coaching. 

Wizards feels very strongly that the game is moving in the right direction. Judges are not supposed to use rational subjectivity in making rulings. Instead we are one step closer to our ideal of irrational objectivity. 

[posted by Matt Sperling but authored by Lucas Siow as noted earlier. - clarifying the auto-author-tag that appears below]

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sperling on Sterling: Words, Actions, Consequences, and Overly Dramatic Blog Post Subtitles

The Donald Sterling controversy is kind of growing old and tiresome, but it also kind of isn't.  Take for example that the Clips haven't yet played at home, giving fans a chance to speak out, and also from this morning we have the contrast between the two viewpoints in the links below, both expressed by owners of NBA teams.  Leslie Alexander (Rockets owner) wants maximum league-level pressure applied to Sterling, someone he is associated with (and lumped in with) and has to run a collective business with, and who has tarnished the entire brand.  Meanwhile Mark Cuban (Mavs owner) says that forcing someone to sell (or trying to at least) based on thoughts and private conversations and not actions is a very, very, very slippery slope (his emphasis). 

Cuban is right generally, that personal views, e.g. something like donating to a certain political group, shouldn't be grounds to force someone out (as happened with Mozilla CEO who donated a small sum to anti-gay-marriage group See this OKCupid protest for an interesting treatment I enjoyed and I  endorse  Punishing Sterling's comments is made even more problematic by virtue of the comments having been made in a private conversation.  Cuban is right that one should be able to hold whatever views they wish so long as their public words and deeds are acceptable (...and now we can feel Sterling's less than sterling public record creep in, and it probably should).  Any other policy leaves open a massive door for injustice anyone applying/enforcing the policy will be tempted to step through.  If MLK secretly held racist beliefs and Nixon secretly loved the Vietnamese, so be it, the history of their public words and actions will stand.

So Cuban makes some compelling points, but, Cuban's case for tolerating intolerance is conveniently ignoring that Sterling’s actions did have business consequences, unexpected consequences (again, it was a private conversation), but not unforeseeable or intangible consequences. Comm. Silver and the NBAs other lawyers will likely emphasize clear harm to the NBA brand and the owners' legitimate interests being negatively impacted by what's happened.  Sterling's comments were private, but he took whatever risk of them leaking he was willing to take, and they did emerge into the public record.  That all makes a great deal of sense to me too.

I am personally torn here in terms of my "armchair commissioner" ruling.  This one’s really tough, and the stakes are high.  I'm curious as to A) How would you rule within the Commish’s powers (outlined here  B) What is the right outcome despite whatever procedural handcuffs or political considerations impact the Commish, if you were in charge of who got to keep their job or their sports team?

(UPDATE: After I wrote this piece, Comm. Silver came down with a lifetime ban and $2.5M fine for Sterling.  Only the other owners can vote to force a sale, so it seems we have Silver's/TheNBA's take on what the max they could do is).

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Drew Levin and Social Issues: A Letter to a Friend


I consider you a friend regardless of our disagreement on certain issues.  That's true now, and something unexpected would have to happen going forward for it to change.

My question is this: What would you do if your friends, who shared your approximate social values in the core-belief sense but had a very different way of expressing it, kept engaging in circle-jerk, echo-chamber type discussions where critical thinking took a backseat to getting applause and pats on the back?  If you'd call them out for it, then you're like me.

Now, from the friends' perspective - from inside the echo chamber - it would appear that someone interjecting was just being "disruptive" or "trolling", or worse yet, evidencing hidden beliefs in line with the "other side" conservative viewpoint.  See, for example:
"Drew Levin ‏@drewlevin [to me] @mtg_law_etc ... you are literally the biggest concern troll I've ever encountered."  
"Drew Levin ‏@drewlevin [to me] @mtg_law_etc You derail every conversation about [social justice] you participate in, claim liberal social views yet bat for the other side CONSTANTLY."  
Well, of course it looks disruptive, it's intended to disrupt.  When you, Drew, and others are doing things like attacking a straw-man argument or otherwise serving your like-minded audience at the expense of the persuasive arguments, then, upon being called out, falling back on "well, I wasn't intending to persuade anyone, just to offer support to those who are oppressed/struggling", you are engaging in a pattern of discourse that SHOULD be disrupted every time people try to pass it off as persuasive writing or discourse.  Being supportive is fine, but I constantly see an attacked persuasive piece being defended as "mere support for the victim(s)" when the arguments are scrutinized, in an attempt to shield the piece from criticism and critical analysis.

At the end of the day, bad arguments are written in sand.  Solid arguments are written in stone.  If you care about social issues, that should matter to you.

An example of an argument I've made (pulling pretty randomly, I just happened to make this one this morning) is "To depict is not to endorse."  How could they show violent rape on [TV Show X] or ambiguity about racial issues in [Movie Y]? Well, depicting events with either realism or exaggerated realism is one of the artist-as-social-commentator's most powerful tools. Victims of crime or people in other sensitive circumstances have to be the ones applying filters to content if they aren't ready to view certain material.  The only alternative to that (since we all agree expression should be legal - 1st amendment disclaimer, we aren't talking about that) is authors censoring themselves in anticipation of various sensitive groups of viewers, and nearly all interesting and forward thinking content will give a careful author pause. There are all kinds of viewers, sensitive to all kinds of content, it might not even be possible to filter at the author level for things that may trigger something in a particular audience member, wherever they may be.  Even if an author can filter, say, depictions of rape, the overall landscape of awareness of and discussion of rape will suffer.  It's too large a price to pay.

I rehash that argument here in an attempt to show, with a concrete example, that I do practice what I preach.  I get called a troll all the time by those on both sides of social issues who don't want to have to actually defend what they're saying, but where in the above paragraph do you find the name-calling, assertion of claims I don't honestly believe have value, or hiding the ball/distraction that is actually the work of trolls?  That's the great thing about an argument like the one above.  Now that I've written it, it stands alone, and nothing that can be said about me will take away its force when a rational person reads it.  I hope my friends, regardless of how they feel about offensive content, will point out whether they think the argument is persuasive or unpersuasive, and I hope they cite opposing viewpoints in doing so, even if they don't hold those viewpoints themselves.

Drew, join us as we write our arguments in stone and hope the next generation will find them.

Matt Sperling

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Announcing Grand Prix Magic Festival 2015 (Atlanta)!

Summer of 2015 means Grand Prix Magic Festival is back for its Atlanta stop!  Head to the greater Atlanta-ish area the weekend of June 19th, 2015 to join thousands of Magic fans and enjoy all that Magic has to offer.  

Format: Standard Masters block sealed deck day 1, draft day 2

  • One-Day Pass Friday only: $70
  • One-Day Pass Saturday or Sunday: $150
  • All-Access Weekend Pass: $340
VIP Packages (all packages include an All-Access Weekend Pass):
  • Side Event VIP (fixed side event seating, plus receive a pseudonym for when your name is called because you're late to a side event - never let your friends know you're drafting in round 4 again!  Also included: access to the Losers Lounge) - $450 
  • Bottle Service (3 litre "handle" of water and up to 10 glasses (ice included) every 3 rounds, plus enjoy the privacy of a roped off private match area. Includes one free Commander side event entry) - $750
  • Platinum Emperion (all benefits of bottle service and side event VIP packages, plus one Bic pen and Grand Prix life pad, PLUS VIP golf cart rides to the restroom located near the hall's northwest entrance.  Platinum Emperion members are guaranteed to receive a playmat while supplies and our desire to provide playmats last) - $1250
Prize Pool: $4,000 for first, $2,700 for 2nd, with cash prizes all the way down to 100th place!  The winner will also be driven to the airport following the event in the tournament organizer's own 2015 Lamborghini Aventador.

On behalf of FutureTimes Games we hope to see you there, and we hope you're one of the approximately 5 players expected to open an Ultra-Mythic Rare!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Conversation with Crackstyle Creator Sid Blair

Below is my brief conversation with Sidney Blair, the player who was recently suspended from competitive Magic for 18 months as a result of this post he made on Reddit, which went viral, receiving hundreds of thousands maybe millions of views: Grand Prix Richmond Crackstyle: (Original Reddit thread here:

That’s the post as it originally appeared, but you may have encountered it in a content regurgitator like Buzzfeed or TIME Magazine, and/or alongside commentary and speculation about Sid’s motivation, the impact of the post, and what the DCI (Magic's tournament rules enforcement body) should do about it. 

Amidst all that commentary and speculation, I didn’t see Sid’s own thoughts.  His post was made without much commentary or explanation.  I chatted with Sid not knowing whether he’d be pissed off, understanding, regretful, satisfied, or whatever else.  Here is my full conversation with Sid:

(Image via on Twitter - NSFW).

The Conversation:

Matt Sperling (MS): First of all, can you describe your goal or mindset when you were taking the pictures and then posting them? 

Sid Blair (SB): My goal was to make myself and my friends laugh. We have an odd sense of humor and find this sort of thing funny. I decided to post the pictures I took the day after I got back. I figured a few people would think it was funny, and the rest of the world would think I was really weird. I kept it anonymous and never intended to shame, bully or harass anyone.

MS: That was certainly my impression of it.  I've seen bullying, more to the point: I've been the bully, and I've been the victim.  Most of us have.  Your post just didn't come off that way to me, with faces and names hidden, and not even any commentary beyond the specific phenomenon (ass cracks) that you showed.

So you don't expect this thing to go viral, but it does.  My mind is focused now on the naysayers first and foremost since the DCI took action, but there were thousands and thousands of fans of the post too.  Did the tone of the reaction change over time or was it a pretty mixed bag from early on? 

SB: Within a few hours after I posted it, it had a ton of upvotes and most people thought it was funny. I posted it in r/funny and r/MagicTCG and then left to hang out with some friends. It wasn't until I was home later that night that I started noticing a lot of negative feedback.

MS: So you had your intentions when posting the pictures, and you saw the reaction, both positive and negative.  Did the public reaction change how you felt about the post?

SB: Well, from the start I understood why people felt the way they did. I didn't understand why people thought I was making fun of people for their appearance (other than the obvious part) or why they thought I was "fat-shaming" but I did get why people thought it was bad. It was crazy when I saw people start to call me a bully or accusing me of harassment. 

Another thing that I didn't expect was how the media made me look. A lot of the headlines on the popular websites called me a "rapper" instead of me clearly explaining in the thread that I played Magic. Making music is my creative outlet, but I never have called myself a rapper. They made me look like an outsider that came in to pick on people, which was obviously not the case. I think that that skewed a lot of the public opinion when it comes to the pictures I posted.. There was a lot of missing context that made me look like a bad dude.

MS: That does seem like an important distinction.  I saw a few people point out that you were a Magic player having fun at a tournament, not showing up just to take these pictures.  The response from the other side was that as a Magic player, you should want to portray the game in a positive way and make other players feel comfortable.  Is that a fair point?

SB: That's a very fair point. I didn't mean to portray the community in a bad way. On the other hand, people coming into events and seeing this type of thing isn't very inviting and comfortable either. The community of Magic is largely an amazing group of people. However, within every group of people is a much smaller group of people that present the community in a bad way as well. Whether it be the guys that make fun of new players for using Lava Axe which makes them not want to come back to a LGS, the guys who have naked anime characters on their sleeves/playmat that make women not want to play or the dudes that smell badly and make people not want to go to a certain store. I think that vilifying me is easier for a lot of people than realizing that they might have something to improve about themselves for the community. Not to take the blame away from myself, but that's how I feel. It's much easier to criticize someone else than yourself.

MS: I hear what you're saying about representing the community.  I think that's a valid way to approach how to avoid situations like this.  And yes, people tend to point the finger really quickly, but not so quickly when they're looking into the mirror.

Part of me wants to condemn the guy with anime tits on his deck box, and I have condemned those guys, but another part of me is like wait a minute, Magic has always made me feel like I could be myself and have fun the way I like having fun.  I wouldn't want to play if people couldn't express themselves, joke around, and take chances you maybe can't take at school or at the office.  If someone's 8 year old isn't ready to hang out in a diverse crowd of gamers, then they aren't ready to hang out among a diverse crowd of gamers.  I really detest the idea of all of us becoming overprotective-mom approved.

Wizards of the Coast, which would like everyone to play, probably feels differently. That leads us into our next topic.  But before we go there, I have to remind people that just because something aligns with the profit motive of the game producer, doesn't mean that thing is good for the game or a just outcome or serves the community of players.  

On the topic of Magic protecting its own interests, how did you react when you learned you had been suspended from participating in Magic tournaments for 18 months? 

SB: You bring up an interesting point. This theoretical dude with anime tits on his deck box, for example, gets a pass because he is expressing himself. I don't think it's okay for the community at large to be cool with this guy having pseudo-nudity on his MTG paraphernalia, but not cool with my controversial way of expressing myself. I'm not saying what I did was right; in retrospect, it wasn't. Just because these guys were exposing their ass doesn't make it okay for me to take pictures of them, in the same way that Anime Dude shouldn't be able to get away with having that shit because he's expressing himself. I think the line should be a bit more clearly drawn.

On the topic of WotC banning me for 18 months? At first, I was blown away. When I posted these pictures, I never would have guessed that it would end with me being "internet famous" and getting banned. I laughed when I read the email because I couldn't even believe it. A lot of people believe that it's a publicity move to ban me for as long as they did. A lot of people believe I should be banned for life. I was reading about players being banned for 6/12 months for intentionally cheating, and also another player who was also banned for the same time period for tweeting pictures of people and captioning them with really rude comments, as well as allegedly "trolling" everyone who tweeted back at him. I didn't caption these pictures with anything  derogatory, nor did I antagonize anyone when they replied to me on Reddit. A lot of people were making the comparison and I felt insulted. Furthermore, I understand the position that WotC keeps. I understand why they decided to make an example of me, even though I don't agree with it. At the time of this conversation, I have appealed my ban to WotC and am awaiting a reply.

MS: Did you have any prior history of discipline from the DCI?   I've seen people stating you had a discipline history, but at this point people have said all kinds of things.

I agree it's strange to see cheating get a 6-12 month ban and you get 18 months.  If anything it really underscores who the DCI serves.  Cheating terrifies players.  Your post terrified Wizards' marketing team.

When your 18 months is up, assuming your appeal is not successful, will you come back to sanctioned magic you think, or are you over it?   Any final thoughts you want people to know?

SB: I've never had any prior discipline with the DCI. I had read that the precedent set by Gerald Freas (the man I mentioned earlier) took into account his prior offenses of bullying/disrespectful conduct, of which I have none.

If my appeal is not successful, I'll have to wait it out. Magic is still going to be an important part of my life. I hope that I never see a reason to stop playing. Sanctioned Magic is only a part of the Magic I play, but it's significant to me. I have been disciplined in a political manner and I have to understand my role in the big picture. I look forward to the next 18 months, sanctioned Magic or not.