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Magic Online League Play Still Down After 1 Year

Magic Online Software Opening Screen

Magic Online Software Opening Screen

I’ve been an avid Magic: The Gathering player almost the entire life of the game.  Over the years it has become harder and harder to find players for matches with physical cards. Enter Magic Online. In theory, it is a perfect solution. With thousands of people online at once you will almost always be able to find a match.

It is important to understand that the draw to Magic Online is the gameplay. For the physical card game you have the draw of collecting cards and meeting with friends, whereas MTGO simply can’t offer the same experience in this area. Collectors cannot realistically redeem digital cards with physical cards (it is possible, but not easy, cheap, or realistic). The digital cards also could potentially become completely worthless if the card collection system were to collapse, either through bankruptcy or software bugs.

So, now that we’ve established there is relatively little point to using Magic Online for collection purposes, we move onto the only other reason to spend your time and money with Magic Online… gameplay. There are basically two types of gameplay in Magic Online.

Casual or constructed matches where players use the cards they have purchased for their digital collection to build a deck then match up to play against other players who have done the same. However, since we have already determined the collection aspect of the digital only Magic Online is relatively pointless, spending hundreds of dollars to collect the cards to build a deck seems rather ridiculous for all but the most hardcore magic players. This also means newcomers to Magic Online must spend hundreds of dollars to collect cards to compete legitimately on the same level as other players in this gametype.

Sealed and draft gameplay offers a reasonable solution. Sealed and draft gameplay allows all players to be on an even playing field. All players open the same amount of booster packs and are locked into using only those cards during these events. For example one player will not have the advantage of having spent $100 for 4 of a new powerful card.

A casual match of Magic Online

A casual match of Magic Online

Unfortunately, currently the only options for sealed and draft gameplay are also quite expensive, especially when compared to entertainment via other computer games. A typical computer or console video game costs around $50. Most games offer roughly 40 or 50 hours of entertainment. Entering a single draft in Magic Online will cost you $15. This buys you 1 hour of entertainment, up to about 3 (only if you keep winning, which is not likely for newcomers). $15 for 1 hour. By these numbers it is over 10 times more expensive to play Magic Online.

League Play. In the past however, M:TG Online did offer an acceptable solution. League play. Basically, this was a sealed event (everyone entered with x amount of booster packs, then made a deck from only those cards). The difference here is that these leagues stayed active and kept rankings over a period of a full month. Typically you would have around 250 players in the league, all on an even playing field. For $25 you would have bought a full month of fair, fun gameplay.

In a baffling turn of events however, MTGO removed the League play feature over 1 year ago. Sometime in March 2008, during the process to upgrade the software from v2.5 to v3.0, League play was shut down. Ever since, players visiting the League section of the software are greeted with the message:

“We will be introducing leagues sometime in the near future. We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

So basically, the only affordable option for casual or new players to compete on an even playing field has been completely absent for over a year. The MTGO staff has been strangely quiet about the issue except to comment that they still plan to bring the feature back and that they are considering outsourcing the project.

This is what players have seen for the past year when attempting to play in an MTGO League

This is what players have seen for the past year when attempting to play in an MTGO League

According to data gathered by users of the Magic Online official forum, Wizards of the Coast–the parent company–had been raking in $200,000 per month from league play alone. This adds up to $2,400,000 annually (yes that is 2.4 million!) in lost revenue. Not only are they alienating potential new customers by offering little to no option to play for a reasonable amount, they seem to think $200,000 / month profit is not a priority project. Many have speculated the real reason leagues have not been re-introduced and possible answers have ranged from profits (not likely considering the above numbers) to the incompetence and inability of the programming team. Based on the constant bugs, crashes, and general poor functioning of the software and GUI, I lean toward the incompetence reason

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24 Comments

  1. I concur whole-heartedly! Not only are they losing the money that i used to spend on league, but i would occassionally draft too. Now i don’t even go on there to play casually.

    If i could find the Zendikar patch for NetDraft, i would be doing that right now. Anyone?

    Even worse, the only way you COULD afford to draft online was to sell your rares for tickets to buy new packs. But the MTGO economy is in the dumper since 3.0. I couldn’t even get 2 tickets for a Jace! ???

    Keep up the good work!

  2. I use to play 1 or more leagues a month. Now since 3.0+ I rarely login to play let alone spend any money on the game. Bottom line for me, if leagues never come back I most likely will not either.

  3. The same. I am a casual player and League was perfect (fair conditions, a lot of opponents of different level, a lot of time to think and build a deck) game type for me to learn new set and gaming process. I used to play like 2-3 legues in a month and now I play like 1 draft in 1-2 months and only Basic 10th edition as I do not know other sets.

  4. funny that 2 out of three comments above came recently this year. maybe some of us are itching to get back playing magic league, but couldn’t find whats the current status for online league. i heard its tentatively going to be up on 2011?

    anyways, magic league brings back the magic i used to know back during college days. a couple of friends, break open a couple of packs and have fun with the cards that we got. that was wonderful.

  5. I too am waiting for a league format before I return. I have a gaming group that would love it but thye don;t want to basically play in an enviorment where they only get to get stomped.

  6. Haven’t played MTGO since they got rid of leagues. Still waiting for two years. Sorta sucks, but have been finding other ways to spend my disposable income. Not on Wizards though. Fuck ’em.

  7. Agreed. I was never as much of an MTGO player as using the actual paper cards, but I liked leagues. They were a lot of fun. I also heard of their tentative return, and it only makes sense as the online version gains more and more sets of cards. Heck, Urza’s is releasing now, which is a massive blast from the past.

  8. I just downloaded and installed the new MTGO client. I haven’t done so since they first released 3.0. When they took away the leagues I played a few casual games and didn’t come back.
    I thought after what I thought was a reasonable wait (2+ years?) I’d give it another go, surely they have had plenty of time to get those leagues up and running since I checked it out so long ago?
    I just had a quick flick through the gui and couldn’t find the leagues. I thought I wasn’t doing it right so I googled it and found this page.
    WTF wizards?

  9. Well, mid 2010 and it appears leagues are still down. I’m still baffled as to how the software developers can be so incompetent. I can only imagine they have an extremely limited budget and just don’t have the resources or skilled programmers to get this working properly.

    I recently read a stat that said Magic Online was 30-50% of the total M:TG business. Why they can’t get such a simple and popular feature working I just can’t figure out.

  10. Agreed. Contrast Leagues with playing sealed deck tournaments/drafts, I usually don’t have 8 hours (or even three) to play MTGO in a block. For $20 I can play all the MTGO I want in the off hours I have.

    I log into the site every 2-3 months, hoping leagues are back. But I haven’t spent a nickel on the site in that time. I remember back when they promised leagues would be up in July 2009. Funny how that seemed so far in the future.

  11. We all know it has nothing to do with programming. They keep programming new cards, mechanics, effects, without any problems. Setting up a league would be a piece of cake.

    Here is my take. For sure they have very detailed stats on all the players. How much we spend per month, on what product, etc… They therefore know who were the players that were playing exclusevely on leagues. When they stopped it for a while, they then studied these league only players. I am sure that what they found out is that while a number of leaguers might have quit the game, the overwhelming majority went on to play to the other games, which bring A LOT more cash than leagues. One sealed or a couple of draft in a month and you have spent the same as a leaguer. Consider the addicts that now play many leagues and sealed in a given month, and these cash cow more than cover the few that stopped playing altogether.

    Basically a Finance issue. They know if they resume leagues, a whole bunch of players currently playing sealed and draft will go back to leagues once per month.

    On these assumptions, we are not ever going back our leagues. Better accept it and play or find a new hobby.

  12. Stopped playing when they got rid of leagues. I don’t have the money or skills to have any sort of fun in the other versions. I live in a rural area — no card shop. It was insanely helpful playing week after week just to learn the rules, timing, cards, etc…

    I took my $30 a month budget for gaming and put it towards anything not Wizards. Like that other guy said, MTGO is pure profit. They certainly could have left an option for geeks with a limited fund.

  13. djbob said:
    “Basically a Finance issue. They know if they resume leagues, a whole bunch of players currently playing sealed and draft will go back to leagues once per month.

    On these assumptions, we are not ever getting back our leagues. Better accept it and play or find a new hobby.”

    Depressing to read these words, but probably true. Leagues may have been a priority at one time, as Worth Wollpert’s long-ago blog post said, but I suspect once they crunched the numbers they realized they weren’t losing much money on the absence of leagues. Then, hey presto, the league launch date started getting pushed back by months and years.

    I’m not so pessimistic that I think we’ll NEVER get back leagues. But until Wizards, with the launch of the new Magic Online UI, finishes cleaning up the abysmal mess that was v3, leagues are a distant dream. It really is a shame that this is all a result of Wizards’ incompetence to begin with. You’d think the least they could do would be to level with us regarding the true future of leagues. Since they keep lying and pushing the date back, though, I guess they can’t even do us that small courtesy.

    I posted this under my old MOL username. If anyone from Wizards is reading this, look up my account. You’ll notice I haven’t played a single game since 2007, when we lost leagues. Maybe I’m in the minority, who knows. But know this: when leagues were available, I was entering at least two leagues a month, on top of drafting. Peanuts? Sure. But it’s still money that I’m choosing to spend on other things and that you’re not getting.

  14. Thanks for the post Harbring. That reflects my thoughts/predictions exactly.

    What I don’t think the business-types crunching those numbers understand is that without the cheap league play, they are going to lose what would have been new paying customers, casual players, and slowly the old paying customers will decide maybe $20 for 1-3 hours of time is not worth it. Short term may mean profits without league play, but without attracting new customers, they are going to see a slow decline. 1-2 years from now they will wonder why they are losing users while their profits slowly decline.

    I am quite sure there are plenty of hardcore players who don’t mind spending the money, but their current community won’t last forever without some new customers coming in.

  15. Yea wow, STILL no leagues and its half way through Feb 2011!

    A friend begged me to install the crappy disaster that is the v3 MTGO client to play with him again and it blew my mind that the idiots still haven’t brought back the damn leagues.

    Thx Wizards for saving me the money I would have been wasting on your game for the past few years. Doubt I’ll even play this atrocity ever again at this rate.

  16. Every 6 months or so I revisit this article. It really is frustrating that the possibility is there for a great experience, but the software is so incredibly outdated and the gameplay is so overpriced that it is only an option for the “hardcore” players.

    I truly hope that whoever is leading the project over there at Wizards realizes that there are a lot of casual players that would love to have an affordable and quality way to play Magic online. I’ll point to the somewhat recent Duels of the Planeswalkers game that is specifically targeted to casual players, but unfortunately misses the point. Most people play M:TG to build and customize decks, not play pre-built decks.

    I guess they have all the numbers there to back up their business decisions, but the way I see it they could be bringing in a lot of new consistent long-term players to M:TG Online by offering league play again…instead of just banking short-term off the minority of hardcore drafters willing to spend $25 a night. Not only that but new players mean exponential growth as they encourage their own friends to play, both online and the physical card game. I really wonder if whoever is in charge of the budget over there realizes this.

  17. I am now in League room and I want to post something bad in chat.

    Why Wizards keep that 3 years old crappy message and that room at all?

  18. I’m also waiting now years for the return of the leagues. Will it ever happen?
    I believe MTGO could be a much bigger success, if they only would change their mind.

  19. Same here. I basically quit MTGO when they got rid of leagues. I will start playing again when (if) leagues return. The casual room holds no interest for me. Too many crybabies who quit as soon as you use a strong deck. I don’t have the skills or the time to compete in the constructed tournaments, and I am not willing to invest the money to play in the sealed deck tourneys. Leagues were perfect. Bring them back.

  20. Completely agree. Used to love the fact that League games put you on a fairly even playing field with other people. As a very casual player I don’t get time or have the money for the other formats but enjoyed the flexibility that Leagues gave you. In the process of selling my cardboard collection as well so soon won’t be playing at all I guess. Oh well..

  21. I won’t claim to have been a huge spender on MTGO, but for a year or two I certainly had at least 1 if not 2 leagues going at a time. My time is also very limited and 1-3 hours per night a few times a week (maybe several hours on a weekend day) for a match was a perfect solution.

    At this point after 3+ years I would suspect that even the hardcore players are having trouble sustaining the current MTGO model as it is. Maybe there is enough new players and casual players still spending enough money to float the hardcore drafers and big spenders. Maybe. Just seems a shame to lose Leagues. All of my friends have quit playing as well, primarly because Leagues are gone and Drafts are just too expensive to feed the addiction. There really should be an inbetween option. It seems like money lost to me, but what do I know.

    Speaking of Duels of the Planeswalkers…. What a disappointment. They really missed the appeal of MTG.

    Anyway, I also check into this article about once or twice a year and I keep hoping for good news.

  22. It is amazing that league play is still not back!!! I am still waiting. I hope that there will be leagues in the new client, but I fear there will not.

  23. There will never be leagues again and even if there are they will be much more expensive…the game has turned into nothing more than a huge cash grab…the cost is way out of line with any other online game because of the illusion that they are giving you something (VIRTUAL cards) and they keep figuring out ways to make it even more expensive. The cards are virtually worthless now because there are so many floating around and less players. The only good thing is if you want to play pauper you can pretty much get 4 of every card for a few dollars. I wish they also had a version for just common and uncommon cards which would be reasonable as well, but really the whole constructed format is not much fun to me as there’s only a few deck types that have the best chance to win and everybody knows them very soon after a set release. Draft seems the most fun as everyone is even and you have an element of skill and luck in picking cards and building your deck. The decks are always different and unpredictable and that’s what makes it fun. I have to wonder if they’re using bots on there as the drafts seem to fill up quickly and even at the lower levels people seem to play perfectly…and even if you win 3 booster packs, most of the time the 45 cards you drafted won’t even be worth the 2 tickets to enter another draft. I’d rather just pay a monthly fee to play the damn game and they can keep all the cards, which they do anyway.

  24. Finally! After 7 years…

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