The MTG Data… Thing

If you know about this, you know what it’s about. If you don’t, boy howdy, trust me, it could scarcely matter less.

Here’s your rough outline: Wizards of the Coast have revised one of their web features, where they released ten decklists that had gone 5-0 at a League that week. Instead, they said, they’re now going to release five decklists, and instead of letting randomness pick them out, they’re going to let a people do it. A people!

Look, on the face of it, people who are unhappy about this, I am actually on your side: In this case, you had More Data, and now you have Less Data. That sucks! That is straight-up a bummer, and if you like Data, less of them is worse than more of them!

And then, the Magic Community had to go and be.

Alright, let’s talk about the goony-as-heck reaction to this, and by inference, the rolled-in reaction to the change of Friday Night Magic because these two things just run straight into one another in the worst hecking way. So! Wizards are now giving you Less Data, which means the correct course of action is to form in large, ridiculous, conspiratorial groups on Reddit and fume at one another about how it’s impossible that Wizards of the Coast functions as a company, because they’re clearly awful and stupid and bad, and let’s throw rocks at them. You should also pen large articles that refer to this as DATA HOARDING and also, while we’re at it, refer to it as INSANITY because that’s classy, especially when the article gets to sit alongside confessional stories of how Magic: The Gathering helped the writer overcome their suicidal depression. Good look.

The use of Hoarding is a fun one too, because Hoarding, we recognise, is a Bad Thing. We know Hoarding is bad and it’s a loaded word because it implies that someone is keeping more than their share, for a foolish reason, that really should be a right to everyone. This is like how America has a Health Hoarding problem, I guess. Point is: You don’t call it Data Hoarding if you’re not trying to imply Wizards of the Coast are sitting on a giant pile of Data like dragons on coinage.

The argument is that Wizards are terrible for this, that they’re witholding the data for nefarious purpose. Now, I’ve also heard that Wizards have asked Starcity Games and MTG Goldfish to stop publishing full tournament decklists, but also done so in the context of asking people. The notion is that Wizards feel an excessive array of decklists in an environment make it too solvable, and they’d rather people write about their decks rather than let people do amateur economics to a huge pile of data points. The people who benefit from huge swathes of decklists are Pro players, people with testing environments, as well. In essence, Wizards have said People in general don’t know what to do with data, and too much data benefits people who are already in position to win.

Next thing: Wizards have also decided to stop giving away FNM Standard Promo cards, and instead replace them with foil two-sided tokens at FNMs. FNM is Friday Night Magic, basically a store initiative to get you  to play the game and bring people together to enjoy the game together. FNM has broadened massively in the past few years – it used to be Standard, or Draft – and now it’s so varied that players can wind up playing Conspiracy or Commander or old formats or Pauper of all things. They’re still going to give away the FNM standard promo cards, but only for the Standard Showdown format they release. People asked for ways to get the tokens, they provided, and they moved the standard promos.

And how do these two things hit each other?

Wizards have said they chose to do this after checking data. And that means we get to watch the highest tier of internet intelligentsia arguing that they need more data to make decisions, but also Wizards doesn’t have data necessary to make this decision. Wizards were asked – via Mark Rosewater’s blog – how much data they were basing it off, and if it could possibly be statistically significant. Wizards’ response was all FNMs since the program started. If you wanted a better demonstration of the MTG community’s amateurish assumptions about how they could handle data vs how Wizards could handle data, you could scarcely ask for more proof.

Bonus: Then people demanded Wizards release that data. Because how else could they believe Wizards of the Coast, if they didn’t provide literally years of data about FNM attendance in every location, along with all the qualitative research and questionnaires they’d done.

In all this, one thing Wizards have said is the leading thing that encourages people to be and hang around FNMs is the environment being friendly and nice. That is, it’s not the incentive to play for the special cards that draws people in, it’s something else. It’s the social environment. And imagine, just imagine, and if you’re the kind of person who gets mad about Data and invents conspiracy stories about the company it might be you don’t make the environment friendly. I’m not saying this was targeted, but I am saying if you’re the kind of dickhead who brags about sharking the most casual FNMs you can find to scoop up the FNM standard promo cards, maybe you’re not good at recognising other people’s incentive systems for wanting to avoid playing with you.

I don’t know. Honestly, I do see the problem with giving people too few data. I do see the idea that trying to dissolve the cloud of decklists for raw data scrapers is a fool’s errand because the people who scrutinise that information aren’t, generally, going to necessarily actually notice that they’re not yielding useful results with their predictive models.

The main lesson though, the one thing we can really take away, however is Being kind and friendly helps your FNM.

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