Magic Online is an amazing opportunity. You can log in, on any day of the week*, at any time of day**, and draft, play competitive Modern***, brew, or really, do anything. If you want to improve, Magic Online allows you to play more Limited/Constructed in a single day (and spend more money) than you could possibly play (or spend) offline. If you’re like me, and enjoy the social aspect of Magic, you can broadcast your exploits live on websites like**** I credit playing and streaming Magic Online (alongside Twenty Sided Store, team draft league, and my exceptionally talented friends) as one of the biggest reasons for why I am the Magician I am. I’m delighted with Magic Online…

*Except for the Wednesday downtime

**Except when the server is down for emergency maintenance or crashes (a not-uncommon occurrence)

***Except when Daily Events are indefinitely canceled, as they were late last year.

****Except on the Beta, which is not stream-friendly.

…with some qualifications.


Magic Online is an amazing opportunity, but it isn’t a perfect platform. The current version, V3, has problems. It crashes. Its interface is clunky. It doesn’t let you know when you’ve been disconnected (and accordingly, causes you to time out of matches while you think that you’re waiting for your opponent to act). It takes almost three hours to download and install (as it apparently applies every patch since Shards of Alara). Large tournaments, such as the Magic Online Championship Series and Pro Tour Qualifiers remain hugely problematic… when they’re not indefinitely suspended.

Hopeful Eidolon

Despite these issues, I, along with almost all Magic streamers and the large Magic-playing organizations (like ChannelFireballSCG, and TCG) continue to use and spend money on V3. It’s not very resource-heavy, it works well enough, (and we know how to use it), and it’s easy to stream with.

I’ve got a long history with and appreciation for the V3; I was thoroughly familiar with it before I installed Magic Online. When I returned to the game in 2010, I religiously watched ChannelFireball’s recordings (which were all on the V3 client). Watching the pros not only taught me how to play Magic well, it was also a course in using Magic Online. When I downloaded MODO, I already knew the inerface, what F2, F3, and F6 mean, and that misclicks happen to everyone, even the pros. Magic Online has a learning curve, just like Magic does, and watching the best players use it helped me jump that curve.

Cultural Exchange

This past week, the new version of Magic Online, the Wide Beta, was the only usable client from Wednesday to Friday. In addition, it was announced that come this summer, the Wide Beta will replace the V3 client and become the only way to play Magic Online. Now, plenty of folks with far more reach than I have spoken critically about the Wide Beta.

I acknowledge that change (even positive change) is both scary and difficulty. In particular, learning a new interface is frustrating since you already know how to use what you use (I obstinately used Office 2003’s clunky menu system for years just because I didn’t want to learn a new Word interface). I also recognize that Wizards planned to phase out V3 around the same time last year only to indefinitely postpone the change—it’s reasonable to expect that the same will happen again this summer. I won’t go further in depth about the quality or future of the Wide Beta right now. Instead, I’d like to return to my beloved activity: streaming.

Quiet Disrepair

For the duration of the Wide Beta spotlight (which was also MODO’s Journey into Nyx prerelease), almost none of the big Magic streamers went live. Some went on and broadcasted Hearthstone or SolForge instead of Magic. Others went live, broadcasted a single event, and went offline until V3 came back (which is rather telling of their experience with the Wide Beta). I remind you that this time period was streamers’ first opportunity to broadcast Journey into Nyx. Normally, it’s the most active time to stream and get new viewers. This time, it was quiet.

This is both very telling and very, very bad.

Brand of Ill Omen

It appears that many (including most of the most popular) streamers don’t want to play with the new client. Given the choice between broadcasting prerelease events (which, to drive a point home, are huge draws) and not playing Magic, many streamers are choosing not to play. The big teams (like ChannelFireball) clearly don’t use the Beta, as they continue recording all of their videos with the V3 client*. Whatever the issue with the Wide Beta is (the quality of the Beta, human reluctance to change, difficulty in streaming the Beta), the situation is that many players don’t use it and that the top players aren’t broadcasting or recording with it.

*As of yesterday morning, Luis Scott-Vargas recorded a video during last week’s Wide Beta Spotlight.

Remember how I learned how to use Magic Online? From watching the pros use it. If I were starting today, I’d be learning from Michael Jacob, Kenji Egashira, Jan van der Vegt, and Paul Cheon’s streams, as well as from ChannelFireball’s videos. If the current trend persists and the Wide Beta replaces V3, I wouldn’t learn how to use the new client. Accordingly, it would be unlikely that I’d ever try out Magic Online or, if I did, have a positive experience in my fumbling first attempts and try again.

Wheel of Sun and Moon

For Magic (both online and off) to be a success, it has to both retain existing players and court new ones. The advent and popularity of streaming and recording present an amazing opportunity: the existing player-base helps acquire, teach, and retain players. For free. Wizards should utilize this free labor, advertising, and instruction for the Wide Beta.

Wizards of the Coast should contact the top ten (or fifteen, twenty) streamers and the recording teams. Players like Joe Losset, Marc König and groups like MTGOAcademy and ChannelFireball. If those elite few could be brought on board and have their concerns with the Wide Beta addressed and allayed, I bet that many players, streamers, and recorders will follow suit and use the new client.

What if the Wide Beta replacing V3 wasn’t a change that players were dreading, but an event that the average player wouldn’t notice? What if most players were already using the new client when it became the only option? I believe that this can happen, and would make for a far better transition that the one that may or may not happen in two months’ time. Let the most-watched players lead, and the rest will follow.

Followed Footsteps

It should come as no surprise that the implementation of the new V4 client and the state of streaming are substantial issues to me. If you’ve made it this far, that and my opinion on the subject should be apparent. I’d like to hear what you think. Have you used the Wide Beta? Are folks adopting it and this writer is simply being ignorant? Do you believe that there are other options to how V4 be implemented? Is there a question you’d like to be asked that I haven’t? Please let me know below.

And, as always, thanks for reading. I’ll be back next week in the middle of Vintage Masters and Conspiracy spoilers, which is sure to be an exciting way to kick off the middle of March.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and performer, improvising entire musicals every week with his team, Petting Zoo. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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