Casually Infinite – About the MTGO Closed Beta with Chris Kiritz, MTGO Business Manager

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In early December, Wizards of the Coast posted that it will be moving forward with leagues on Magic Online and began testing them during December in the closed beta environment. Along with this, the company posted the link to sign up for the closed beta. If you haven’t applied for it yet, you should do so here. Personally, I have been greatly enjoying a month of free league play. I have found the closed beta to be a wonderful opportunity and something that everyone seeking to play casually infinite. In the past, the closed beta has offered an advance look at cards, free drafts, and one of the most advanced formats available, the BET limited.

My Experience in Closed Beta

While I can’t predict the future of the closed beta, I can explain some of the things WOTC has offered in the past, offers I can only assume are likely to continue. I contacted WOTC and had the chance to speak to Chris Kiritz, the Magic Online Business Manager, regarding the closed beta and the future of beta play. Here’s what he says about the chances of people who apply for the beta:

“Many players who take the effort to apply will get in, but we take steps to prevent disruptive players where appropriate. In addition, we trust our players to follow some conduct and confidentiality guidelines, and will take actions to remove players who cannot do so. Players who are interested can find the requirements and the application here.”

Because stability improvements are generally tested first on the closed beta, the stability changes seem to run a few weeks ahead of the main client. My experience on the beta has generally provided me with a more stable game than the release version. This may seem like a small issue, but with my aging computer, it is a pretty big deal. I generally feel that I’m more able to play queues to completion without disconnects than I am on the live servers. According to Kiritz, this is a pretty important area of focus:

“We’re continually looking for ways to improve how well Magic Online performs in each area, both in responsiveness and stability, and have some major adjustments in flight now to help address these issues. Our primary goal is to ensure that players can successfully play games of Magic whenever they want without crashing or experiencing major game-impacting issues.

For the most part, we’ve been making steady progress, though maybe not as quickly as we all would like. For stability, we recently released an update that fixed many of the deck submission errors that players had been encountering, which has been a big player frustration.”

Advantages in Closed Beta

Users of the closed beta often get the first look at digital cards, generally a few weeks before they release on MTGO. While cards are just coming out in paper, your closed beta account is likely to be filled up with a playset of the newest sets. Interestingly enough, playing with these cards is exactly what Wizards wants you to do. Got a random deck idea in Standard? Throw it together and give it a swing. There have even been times when playsets of Vintage cards have been made available in my beta account, allowing me to make some of those awesome crazy decks I remember playing with back in 1995. While Standard isn’t normally my thing, it can be fun to see what Black-White Warriors looks like for a couple games without having to pick up four Bloodsoaked Champions over release weekend.

My big thing is Limited, and it has come in two forms in the beta client. One of the things that show up occasionally in the closed beta are new set draft queues. These have generally shown up around paper release weekend for past sets. Beta testing is a quick way for WOTC to test numerous interactions of the new cards in the most common environment they’ll be played in: Limited. There have also been a few times that older formats have become available to play in both Sealed and Draft formats. I feel like I even remember drafting Seventh Edition at one point. When these drafts are available, you’ll see the numbers spike and queues firing much more quickly. Kiritz explained the things likely to come online to me:

“Since closed beta is used most often for testing card sets, you can expect to see a lot of beta drafts and Sealed Deck. When we are looking for targeted testing on a specific feature not specifically related to card sets, we’ll try and choose formats that we think either emphasizes what we are testing or are fun for our closed beta players. We’ve done everything from Core Set Constructed to Holiday Cube over the years, so you never know what you are going to get. The beta email that we send out prior to the start of every major closed beta will let players know what to expect.

Currently our focus is joining and playing through leagues. Next, it will be the Fate Reforged card set. Testing this focal area is important, but where the closed beta players can really provide benefit is with “halo” testing, essentially testing and experimenting with the systems that are related to the primary test area.”

When there isn’t any specific set that WOTC feels needs to be tested, there are always beta drafts available. I’ve found beta drafts to be among the most skill-testing of any format. The beta pool is usually available in either sealed heads up play or a four-man draft pod.

Cards in the beta draft boosters are about half cards from the most recent release or two, and half cards from the entire history of Magic. This is sort of like playing a chaos draft in which half the packs are Khans of Tarkir and the other half consist of one of every other pack ever made, which are then shuffled together and dealt back out. I’ve seen some truly crazy combos, I’ve seen some disgusting cards, I’ve passed tournament-playable Legacy cards in my color because I couldn’t figure out how they were good in my deck. It really teaches you everything about the new format because you know there’s a good chance of combat tricks from the most recent set, but it makes you think about how these cards interact with cards long-forgotten. These drafts include a very unique combination of cards. According to Chris, beta drafts are made up of the following:

“We essentially split each pack evenly between the newest card set and all of the cards ever printed in Magic Online. We then tweak the pack to have additional mana fixing, such as the vivid lands. If we know there is a combination of cards that could cause problems, we have the ability to adjust how frequently cards appear, but for the most part, our players are really good at uncovering obscure card interactions that could be problematic.”

Once You’re In

Once you’re in the beta, there is usually a specific area of focus that WOTC is looking for testing in. While there may be significant availability of cards in your beta account, most of players will be working in the focus area. But the most important thing you can do when you’re in is play. Play whatever there is to play. Contact your friends and play with them. A significant number of problems are caught by playtesters who were playing a fairly normal game of Magic until something strange happened. In my experience, this is fairly rare. It doesn’t feel like you’re alpha testing a game—the builds you’re on are really stable. To actively help out, Kiritz suggests doing the following:

“If a closed beta player encounters a bug, a crash, or even a design element that doesn’t seem correct and is not on the known issues list, the most important thing they can do is report it using the bug reporting system (we have a selection for Beta Bug Report). While an issue might appear so obviously broken we must already know about it, our players continually surprise us with all the different ways they use Magic Online, and reporting issues ensures that someone from our QA team will see them. In addition, how often players report an issue can help inform how often it is happening and increase the priority of getting it fixed.

We get metrics on when the client crashes automatically, so just getting a lot of play on the closed beta is useful for understanding how stable any given build is and where in the code an issue may be, but entering details into the crash dialog and submitting a bug report can help us narrow down what caused a crash by providing context we may not have otherwise.”

The final point here is that you shouldn’t just use the beta to fine tune your standard build. While Standard cards are available, what helps the system most is playing games with as many interactions as possible. Also be aware that at any point your account may get wiped, along with your beta decks. For me, this just means more time to build a new deck or jump into a BET draft. But it is important that you’re helping out the game by doing more than just trying to kill your opponent as quickly as possible. The philosophy for the beta is this:

“Essentially, we want players to do many of the things they might do when playing Magic Online on the regular production environment, but with a critical eye towards where something may go wrong. This philosophy also includes placing less emphasis on winning or finishing matches quickly and more on watching the outcomes of actions. A simplified example is the end of combat. While conceding when your opponent attacks for lethal damage and you have no blockers should be tested, as it is a common scenario, occasionally you should also let combat finish and damage resolve to ensure the game finishes correctly.”

Sweeten the Deal

Once or twice, the closed beta participants have been rewarded in their live MTGO accounts for participating in specific events. These rewards have been given out for playing a certain number of Draft and Standard events, making a number of trades, or testing whatever else needs to be tested. Rewards are usually MTGO cards in your account in thanks for helping WOTC out. Personally, I can’t think of anything more awesome that playing Magic for free and being rewarded with more Magic cards. The closed beta offers both free play and occasional real-world rewards. If you haven’t signed up, you should.

If you’d like to read the article on leagues by Chris Kiritz on the MTG website you can find it here.

To sign up for the MTGO Closed Beta click here.

Thanks for reading!

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Marc DeArmond

Math Teacher at Coupeville School District
@Masticon     -     Email     -     Articles
Marc DeArmond is a currently a Middle School Math Teacher and the host of the Casually Infinite podcast. He started playing Magic back in Unlimited during 1993. His interests are trading up in value and playing limited on MTGO. He is the author of Casually Infinite, which discusses how to continue to play Magic Online without spending money. He is currently a Level 2 Magic Judge.
Marc DeArmond

2 comments

  1. This is a pretty big deal. Great interview

    • Jordan on February 18, 2015 at 11:10 am
    • Reply

    Its unfortunate that Wizards own website doesnt even work when trying to sign up for the closed beta.

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