On Friday, Hipsters of the Coast Senior Legacy Correspondent Katie Bates reported on the Pirate Stompy deck that has been taking the Legacy community by storm (pun intended). Because this community simply cannot have nice things, the publicizing of a deck that was considered “secret tech” by some led to a “serious but respectful” discussion about “deck rights” on Magic Reddit.

If you don’t want to read the Reddit post I’ll summarize the important facts for you. Who could blame you for not wanting to click that link since “serious” and “respectful” aren’t words that anyone really associates with Reddit, soon to be the focus of the FBI’s investigation into Russian manipulation of the 2016 US presidential election.

The short story is that rumors of this mythical deck began to circulate widely enough that Seth (better known as Saffron Olive) of MTG Goldfish put out a bounty for the deck list and the internet got to work. A small but vocal segment of the Magic community wasn’t happy about this, suggesting that it was somehow immoral for Seth to offer up compensation for someone else’s hard work.

We’ll start by getting the biggest point out of the way first: if you come up with some secret tech, and decide to test it out in public events on Magic Online, you need to accept the fact that you’ve basically released your secret sauce recipe into the public domain. Everything on MTGO is public. Even your private games can be monitored by Wizards of the Coast (check the terms of service).

So, the idea that the complete deck list was sacred and shouldn’t be proliferated for personal gain? That’s a noble sentiment and all, but welcome to the Magic community. To me, this entire non-controversy is rooted in two problematic aspects of our community: the lack of transparency on MTGO and the way people like Seth make their money.

MTGO transparency has been a hot topic for a while now, so there’s not much more to say on this topic. Wizards has continuously taken more and more information away from the public under the banner of wanting to prolong the “newness” of Limited and Standard (and to a lesser extent Modern) when new sets come out. Too much information, Wizards claims, leads to rapidly solved formats and less interesting tournament play with people getting bored of the metagame more quickly.

Legacy shouldn’t be impacted by that, so what’s the harm in making public Legacy events more transparent? Wizards has clearly invested a lot into trying to move Legacy and Vintage onto Magic Online, so why not improve the transparency there? It’s not like the metagame is going to be drastically shaken up by the release of some new pirate cards, right? And if it is, let’s see it happen, because Legacy is fundamentally a different world than Limited, Standard, or Modern.

Here’s my plea to Wizards. Let’s make Legacy public events completely transparent. Post every decklist. Post all the metagame information. Legacy has existed for years and years and the metagame is very well established. Would this lead to it being solved more quickly after a card like Sensei’s Divining Top is banned? Sure, but who cares? Legacy’s metagame exists in a near-perpetual state of “solved” in that the format is so diverse you can’t really solve it further. By publicizing all decklists, no one who plays in a Legacy event has the delusion that their secret recipe is going to remain secret.

Which is to say, people like Seth (better known as Saffron Olive) are going to spend every day poring over those lists looking for something interesting to talk about. Why? Because that’s how Seth makes money. Seth finds interesting decks, or makes them up himself, or polls the community for suggestions. Then he pilots them through MTGO, adds some snarky and (possibly intentionally) mispronounced commentary, adds a deck list with a button that says “buy this deck” and the cash comes rolling in (to MTG Goldfish at least).

Now, is that a problem? Maybe, maybe not. A lot of it depends on a lot of factors, and when it comes to Seth’s content I think it’s (mostly) fine. Seth plays interesting decks and sometimes they’re competitive, but the point of the content is to show something interesting. If you think it’s interesting and buy the deck, Seth gets kickbacks. No harm no foul, everyone’s up front about it.

So Bob Huang who created the deck is going to do a deck tech for Channel Fireball. Every card you hover over on Channel Fireball’s site has a “Shop Now” link and every deck has a “Buy This List” link and now we get into the meat and potatoes of the non-controversy. Seth (better known as Saffron Olive) was making money that Bon Huang could have been (and is now going to be) making for his own ideas.

[Ninja Edit: It turns out Bob’s article went up this morning, about an hour before this one goes to publish. It’s pretty much as expected. Here’s the list, here’s links to go buy it, sorry to everyone about the absurd price of Rishadan Brigand. Womp womp. Bob agrees that if you want to keep your deck a secret, test in private.]

I have serious problems with the moral implications of this kind of economic setup. I don’t know what Channel Fireball is paying Bob. I don’t know if he gets referral kickbacks. I don’t know what MTG Goldfish is paying Seth or if he is getting referral kickbacks. No one does. If they want to publicize that information good for them, but there’s still a moral gray area.

There’s a world of difference between Seth’s content which is usually, “this deck looks like fun, here’s my fun experience with it, and if you want to have a fun experience too here’s the link to buy it” and Channel Fireball’s content which is usually, “Hello, I’m a pro player and I’m endorsing this deck and I have a lot of experience playing winning decks and here’s a deck that I endorse that you can buy.”

I could write a lot more on this topic. There are a lot of layers to peel away and very likely a lot of folks who will deny that they’re ethically compromised when it comes to this topic but I’ll leave you on the fact that these sites make money off of you buying cards from them. Anytime they produce content with decklists, you need to think very carefully about what’s going on.

In the case of the Pirate Stompy deck last week, the issue of public information was a complete non-controversy because the deck was played in public matches on Magic Online. End of story. But the issue of Seth offering a bounty for a decklist so that he could produce content around it and bring money into MTG Goldfish via single sales kickbacks? And the news later in the week that CFB would post a deck tech so that they could bring in money via single sales? Well that’s an aspect of content creation in the MTG community that needs to be at the forefront of people’s minds in situations like these.

Rich Stein is a firm believer that two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead, and while MTG Arena is certainly looming on the horizon, MTGO is far from dead.

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