Magic: The Gathering Online
|Magic: The Gathering Online|
Retail box art
|Developer(s)||Leaping Lizard Software (initial)
Wizards of the Coast (v2.0 and on)
|Publisher(s)||Wizards of the Coast|
|Release date(s)||June 2002|
|Genre(s)||Online collectible card game|
Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO) or Magic Online is a direct video game adaptation of Magic: The Gathering, utilizing the concept of a virtual economy in order to preserve the collectible aspect of the card game. It is played through an Internet service operated by Wizards of the Coast, which went "live" on 24 June 2002. Users can play the game or trade cards with other users. It is only officially available for the Microsoft Windows operating system.
As of February 2007, Magic Online has over 300,000 registered accounts; however this does not represent the true number of players, since people are allowed to register multiple accounts. At different times during the day and night, Magic Online hosts on average 2,000-4,000 simultaneously logged in accounts. According to Wizards of the Coast, Magic Online is "somewhere between 30% to 50% of the total Magic business."
- 1 Gameplay
- 2 Development
- 3 Reception
- 4 Parallels to paper Magic
- 5 In-game economy
- 6 Magic Online World Championship
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Magic Online is played as an electronic analogue to the physical card game. Digitized artwork reproduces the look of a card game, while users click on cards to play them on a virtual tabletop. Each game is hosted by the server, which applies a rules engine to enforce proper play. The logic for handling card interactions is provided by Perl scripts. Though the rules set as a whole is largely accurate and works well enough for production, it occasionally suffers from bugs. Similarly, built-in engine limitations frequently impose clumsy user interface characteristics such as having to click away a large number of pop-up windows that can be generated by certain cards. This is one of the issues being addressed by the revamped version 3 software.
Players are free to set up or join games of their choice. In addition, official events such as 8-man constructed, limited sealed deck and drafts, as well as larger tournaments take place according to a regular schedule. Entering events requires an investment of sealed packs and/or event tickets, but winners are also rewarded with additional product. Leagues were another method of play, that was not continued in version 3. These were sealed deck tournaments of 256 players that allowed for continuous play over a period of a month.
Leaping Lizard Software initially approached WotC with an offer to create an online version of Magic: The Gathering. WotC was skeptical about whether such a system could actually be implemented. LLS then created a tech demo to prove to WotC that an online collectible card game could work. WotC was sufficiently convinced and contracted LLS to develop the service, which was then known as Magic Online with Digital Objects (MODO). Initially, the idea of charging for virtual goods, as opposed to a subscription model with unlimited access, was greeted with skepticism. Additionally, concerns were floated over how solid the server and trading code would be; if exploits were found, the entire economy could easily be destroyed. After a period of beta-testing, the game became available to the general public in June 2002. The name was changed from MODO to its final commercial title, Magic: The Gathering Online (MTGO). The trading code has proven resilient so far; while the game engine has faltered several times, and ordinary fraud is a risk, there have been no mass-devaluations of cards. So far, no one has been able to give themselves free cards or exploit the server to damage other users' collections.
In 2003, the Magic: The Gathering Invitational was held online for the first time. It was played on Magic Online each year from then on until 2007, when the Invitational was moved back offline.
In 2003, Wizards of the Coast decided to relieve Leaping Lizard of the responsibility of maintaining Magic Online, and took on updating it themselves with in-house programmers. The first showing of the new team was to be the online release of 8th Edition in July 2003, which was ambitiously scheduled to coincide with the paper release. The goal was to release version 2 of the software with new functionality and implement the changes in rules that 8th Edition had brought. Version 2 was released on schedule, but the servers constantly crashed, and rules mistakes and other bugs were numerous. The game went into no-pay mode while temporary beta servers were opened to allow players to practice playing in for-pay formats. Eventually, normal service was restored.
As a concession for these issues, Wizards planned to throw "Chuck's Virtual Party," a weekend of free tournaments after the problems settled down. Unfortunately, it turned out that each user took up more memory in version 2 than the lightweight design of version 1. The result was that the servers crashed again under the strain.
In retrospect, some have merely chalked the decision to remove Leaping Lizard up to hubris. Others, however, point to certain intractabilities in later maintenance that suggest that Leaping Lizard had not delivered a very extensible program that, by nature, was too monolithic and hard to improve. Wizards of the Coast has said that "[Leaping Lizard's] 2.5 interface and backend are not scalable like we need it to be. It wasn't written with the goal of ten thousand users in mind, it was written thinking a couple thousand." According to the developers, there was a hard limit of 4,400 players in version 2.5. Regardless, Wizards decided that version 2.0 was not worth supporting indefinitely. They decided to maintain version 2.0 in the background, but to start a new development team to rebuild Magic Online from the ground up. The labors of this new project would be called Magic Online version 3.
The version 2 platform was shut down on April 9, 2008, in preparation of the version 3 launch.
Magic Online version 3 was planned to feature an updated interface and expanded in-game guidance. It was also designed so it can run on multiple servers rather than one master server. The release date slipped several times; it was originally intended to be released in late 2006, and then "the first or second quarter of 2007." External beta testing began on February 19, 2007, with the Phase 2 beta opening on March 9. In this phase, MTGO 3.0 was offered for testing to members of the FilePlanet website. Also on that day, an official MTGO 3.0 Launch info page was opened, where MTGO developers can share their info in a blog which is updated two or three times a week. In August 2007, version 3 began open beta testing, and was released April 22, 2008.
"Magic Online" version 4 opened to the public in wide beta on September 4, 2012. Since this date, both version 3 and version 4 have been running simultaneously, with players having an option to play on either platform. While the long term plan is to discontinue support for version 3, due to various programming issues and a desire to let players "transition to the new client at their own pace" as of November 2013 no firm date has been set.
Card sets available
Most, but not all (~825 are not, as of March 2012), of the physical Magic cards ever printed are available for use in Magic Online. The earliest set available upon release was Invasion, which had been released in printed form in the fall of 2000; all sets moving forward were made available online as well, with the exception of the Unhinged self-parody expansion. For the first 10 years of "Magic Online" sets released online three or four week after they released in paper in an effort to appease "brick & mortar" retailers. However, a policy of shortening this delay (to about two weeks) was instituted to allow professional player (who often use "Magic Online" for testing) to prepare for Pro Tour events (which happen a few weeks after the release of a new set) and to "increase cohesion" between paper and online Magic 
Wizards of the Coast has since released more pre-Invasion cards online. In the autumn of 2005, Mirage was released online, nine years after its 1996 print release. This set was chosen as the earliest set usable on Magic Online because it was the first to be designed with both Limited and Constructed play in mind and the first to be intended as part of a three-set block. Additionally, Wizards unambiguously owns the rights to the artwork in Mirage block, and Mirage block contains no ante cards (unlike Ice Age and Homelands). It has been confirmed that the eventual goal of the developers was to have every expansion set from Mirage onward available online.
For cards released before Mirage, special MTGO-exclusive compilation sets called Masters Editions were created. These sets range in size from 195 to 269 cards. Most of the cards in a given set were previously unavailable on Magic Online. Exceptions are usually made to create enjoyable Masters Edition limited environments or to make specifically illustrated cards available online. The first Masters Edition was released on September 10, 2007, with Masters Edition II following in 2008, Masters Edition III in 2009, and Masters Edition IV in early 2011. As of January 2011, Magic Online is missing about 800 cards from the pre-Mirage and Portal sets. Most of the missing cards do not impact normal game play, as many older cards have become outclassed, or functional reprints have come out. While the Power Nine are still missing, nearly all other pre-Mirage cards usually considered tournament worthy have been released online. It has been announced that the Power Nine will be released in a set called "Vintage Masters" which will be available in June 2014. The release of "Vintage Masters" will allow for the Vintage format (the only major paper format that is currently unavailable on "Magic Online") to be played on "Magic Online."
The sets from Mirage to were released every few months from 2006 to 2011. In April 2006, Visions, the second set of the Mirage Block, was released online. The third set, Weatherlight, was released on December 12, 2007. The Tempest block has been released in its entirety. Stronghold went on sale on April 13, 2009, and Exodus was released on December 7, 2009. Of the Urza's block Urza's Saga went on sale on March 29, 2010, Urza's Legacy followed in June, and Urza's Destiny was released on April 13, 2011. The Mercadian Masques block followed in December 2011. The Masques block was released in Booster Packs containing cards from all expansions of the block. After the release of the Mercadian Masques block all of the cards from Mirage forward are online, with the exception of several cards from the Portal sets.
The original Magic Online generally met favorable reviews, usually ranking in the high seventies on a 100 point scale. Version 2 of Magic Online was very similar to version 1 regarding the interface and functionality. Thus the problems of stability in the transition phase from version 1 to version 2 stood out in the perception of the public. Version 3 was released in April 2008. Community responses to the new client was largely negative in the beginning, due to reduced functionality of the new client, its perceived ugliness, and plenitude of bugs. Still, a large Magic Online community exists and grows due to the core functionality of the game working at replicating the paper Magic: The Gathering.
Parallels to paper Magic
All cards that enter circulation originate from sealed booster packs or other products; on Magic Online, these packs are represented as digital objects tied to a player's account. Virtual packs are purchased from within the client at MSRP. Once purchased, packs may be opened, traded, or used as entry materials for events.
Foil cards are available online. They are distinguished in their virtual form by a glossier appearance and an intermittent "shiny" animation.
"Deck Editor" and "Collection" interfaces exist to allow players to build Constructed decks or browse their collections.
Wizards of the Coast allows collectors who have assembled a full set of digital cards to exchange them for a factory set of printed cards for a $25 shipping and handling fee. Regular cards and foils cannot be mixed. Each set is eligible for a period of up to 4 years after the online release. This program was initially created in order to allay doubt and uncertainty over the investment into virtual cards.
The redemption policy offers a medium of exchange between the digital card market and the physical card market, though this is one-way only as there is no way to convert real cards to digital cards. However, during Pax Australia in summer 2013 Wizards of the Coast announced that "reverse redemption" (the ability to turn the digital cards of "Magic Online" to physical, paper cards) is a potential upcoming improvement to stay ahead of increased competition in the digital card game market.
The client software for Magic Online may be downloaded for free from Wizards of the Coast's website, but to play the game, it is necessary to register an account and purchase cards. Registration costs $9.99 and comes with a new account package. This package has 5 event tickets, 20 new player points (used to enter special, "phantom" events), 5 avatars, and over 650 common and uncommon cards.
Users may trade cards, sealed packs, event tickets, and in-game avatars (which are released for special events as promotions) with other players through the "Classifieds," which acts as a searchable bulletin board on which players post buy requests for certain cards, or notices of cards they own that are available for trade/sale.
There used to exist other suggested methods of trading, but they have been removed in favor of the Classifieds, as the other methods were inefficient and prone to spam. A large number of the users posting offers to buy or sell are entrepreneurs with large collections looking to make a profit by selling cards at their own websites or on eBay in addition to their in-game trades (though in practice the amount of money that can be made heavily trading in the game is not large). Technically any transfer of cards in the game is not considered a "sale" because, for legal reasons, the digital objects are not actually owned by the collector, but rather Wizards of the Coast themselves. This enormously simplifies transactions, as issues such as import/export laws, duties, and underage concerns are sidestepped. Wizards has currently shown "benign neglect" of players buying and selling digital objects for (legal) currency on the secondary market. Due to this neglect, however, there are problems with fraud, including non-delivery of paid-for product and false claims of non-delivery resulting in reversals of PayPal payments.
Event tickets act as a de facto unit of in-game currency; demand for them is sustained by the tens of thousands of tickets used up every day to pay for tournament entry. Every single ticket in the market was purchased from Wizards of the Coast for US$1, offering a baseline. Since tickets can be traded between players and they have a roughly fixed value in dollars, prices for cards in the trading rooms are usually quoted in tickets. When sold for money on the secondary market, a ticket is usually worth slightly less than US$1.
Magic Online allows players to use the same cards in multiple decks. Since the maximum number of copies of a card in a deck is usually 4 (the major exceptions being basic lands), any duplicates of a card beyond the fourth are unnecessary for deck building and can be traded off.
Due to the ease of trading away unwanted or extra cards, transaction costs on Magic Online are very low. While in real-life, the money gained by finding a better price at a different store might not make up for the expense in checking the other store (gas, time, effort, etc.), it's simple and quick to search for other values of a card you'd like to buy or sell online. This ensures competition where all prices move quickly towards the market price.
One inefficiency that the market does have is that since the ticket is the main unit of in-game currency, the bid/ask spread on cards is effectively fixed at one ticket. This makes buying and selling of cards quickly somewhat inefficient; other effects are that cards which cost less than a ticket must be offered in bulk (or else as standard barters). There are at any given time a large number of online 'bots', which are vendors who offer prices for buying and selling digital objects down to the hundredth of a ticket (maintaining a balance on account of fractional tickets for users where needed). Furthermore, in August 2009 the limit of cards allowed per trade was raised from 32 to 75, allowing much more flexibility. This limit was raised further in 2013 to allow for a maximum of 400 cards per trade.
Magic Online has accumulated a secondary market composed of automated traders, which have become the most common way to obtain cards. These traders, known as "bots", are accounts running programs designed to trade cards at variable prices and qualities. A simple bot might be one that will buy any three rares for one ticket, and offer any two rares it has for a ticket. More complicated bots can maintain detailed price lists and notice trends; for example, if many traders are selling one particular card, that is a clue that the bid price is too high, and it should either stop buying that card or automatically lower the price it bids for it. Lastly, some bots are designed to help advertise competing sellers prices and give users a general sense of the values of cards they have.
Tournament effects on the market
Drafters and their recently acquired cards represent a main source of singles to the market. Winners in any tournament usually get balanced amounts of the packs used to enter; for example, someone who won 3 packs in an Onslaught-Onslaught-Legions draft would receive 2 packs of Onslaught and 1 pack of Legions. Conveniently, this is exactly what would be required to do a similar event again, along with a two ticket entry cost. For those not so lucky, or those needing tickets, they can sell singles from their opened packs to help defray the costs of the next draft.
Some online tournament players fund their continued play by selling the packs they win as prizes and extra cards they open for tickets, which they then use to enter more tournaments. While there may be a very small number of successful players who are able to sustain their tournament play indefinitely this way (termed: "going infinite"), this amount of success is not the norm.
When Magic Online launched in the summer of 2002, the current set of the time was late Odyssey block. As a result, the preceding Invasion block was only sold for a very short time on Magic Online. This short supply, combined with rising demand as Magic Online's user base grew and the server became more stable, helped spike some early cards' prices. Chase cards from these early sets demand much higher prices than their paper counterparts; popular rares sell on eBay for 5 to 10 times as much as the physical version, and even commons can command a premium. Odyssey block and 7th Edition also had a shorter than normal "print run", though not as extreme.
To counteract the shortage of Invasion block cards, Wizards began offering Invasion block packs as prizes in special tournaments in lieu of normal prizes.
Magic Online World Championship
The Magic Online World Championship has been held each year in conjunction with the Magic: The Gathering World Championship since 2009.
The 2009 tournament contained only 8 players, the winners of seven end-of-season championships and the Magic Online Player of the Year. Since then the tournament has been expanded to include 12 players, the winners of ten end-of-season championships, the Magic Online Player of the Year and the winner of a last chance qualifier.
The structure of the tournament has altered over the years. The 2010 tournament consisted of rounds of Extended, followed by Masters Edition IV Booster Draft and ending with Standard. As of 2011, the structure is more similar to that of the World Championship itself with a Swiss portion of Standard, Innistrad Booster Draft, and Modern. The two most successful players after eleven rounds then determine the winner in a final match contested under the Modern format, with players allowed to change their deck for the finals.
The the winner of each of the twelve seasons (which align roughly with the start and end of each month), along with being awarded an invitation to the annual Magic Online Championship, win a variety of other prizes including a premium foil set of every card on Magic Online, booster packs, and an invitation to the next Magic the Gathering Pro Tour.  The annual championship event has a prize pool of $100,000. The winner of the event takes home as much as $40,000, but each of the twelve participants is guaranteed a portion of the prize pool. 
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