MTGOnline Responds: Why Apprentice Works, And Why You Can Play Safely For Free
I was reading Star City Games the other day, and noticed an article that needed responding to. Sonny (Smokestack) Jones listed a variety of problems with online Apprentice leagues that really no longer exist. I am the Policy Director for MTGOnline.org, and each of the problems that Sonny lists are problems that we have solved through technology advancements and more skilled staff.
But to wit:
To enter a tournament on mIRC, you have to send in security codes - and if this isn't done correctly, you are not in the tournament and nothing can really be done about it. To join a tournament in Magic Online, all you do is click Join. That's fairly easy I would say.
My, how times change. There are two ways of entering an MTGOnline tournament: For single-elimination challenges, you go to the website, enter your registered nickname and security code, and click Join. Then the website will display all your information on that tournament (i.e. your status, security code, etc.) and notify you if something went wrong. If you mis-enter your security code, you can change it at any time before the tournament begins with no hassles. The other way is for large Swiss-style tourneys. To enter an MTGOnline Qualifier tournament, you /msg your security code to #MTGCodes like this:
/msg #MTGCodes 123456
The TC's automated script will respond if you did it correctly, and the same script automatically enters all those codes into a .txt file for importing into DCI Reporter. Problems with either of these methods (which are exclusive to MTGOnline) are rare.
On mIRC/Apprentice, there are connection problems. The program requires the players to connect to each other using IP addresses in order to play. If both players have firewalls, they can't connect. This causes a problem for the tournament, because they you have to flip a coin to see who wins, which is something else that can also be rigged with the right script.
It is true that some players have connection problems due to being behind firewalls; however, many can get their network administrators to open a hole in those firewalls for one specific port. (Apprentice can use any port of your choosing.) In the instance that two players cannot connect and a coin must be flipped, MTGOnline's dedicated bot (named MTGOnline) will flip a coin. Any channel operator can command the bot to do so and we have never had any instances of flips being rigged.
To do a decent-sized tournament on mIRC/Apprentice the coordinator and judges are bombarded with rules questions, connection troubles, accusations of cheating, etc.
MTGOnline has a dedicated set of staff led by MartyN (President), T-Pup (Vice-President), Davey79 (Judge Director), BoBaLuEy (Events Director), CSieber (me, Policy Director), ShermiNbK (PR Director), and DrFaust (Orientations Director) who all help to make tournaments run smoothly. Our judging staff is well trained and we efficiently handle any problem that comes up. Its not perfect, but it is a lot better than things were with #TheSmokeStack.
On top of all this, there are always people who come into the channel randomly and try to sneak into the tournament by simply changing their nick to whatever round number you are on at the time.
This is a throwback problem from when challenges were tracked by putting your match points before your nick (like so: _0CSieber, _9MartyN, etc.) These problems are completely gone with the advent of MTGOnline's automated tournament systems and web-based challenges.
And then there are the people from other channels who are jealous because your tournament is a success and so they come in and flood your channel like crazy.
The staff of MTGOnline works closely with the administrators of InnerNET.org (our IRC network) to make sure that no disruptions occur in our channels. MartyN (the league president) is the Admin for the Oakland server, and I am the Admin for the Hub server. Many of our other staff are IRC Operators, and we rarely have any problems with flooding. In fact, the only problems we have ever had with flooding were generated by staff of #TheSmokeStack.
I always had ten to fifteen messages at once, trying to deal with all this and run the script that runs the tournament, it just gets to be one big hassle.
The people with the most "hassle" are our TCs for large Friday night Qualifiers. And to compensate, they are paid in packs for their efforts. Trust me, it's worth it.
With Magic Online, there are a number of things you don't have to deal with that are normal occurrences on Apprentice. The number one thing is BackWash. For those of you that don't know what this is, it's a cheat program that you download to cheat on mIRC Apprentice games. You can stack your and your opponent's decks with out them knowing it ever happened. You can draw what you want, when you want it. You can make your opponent draw what you want them to draw, when you want them to draw it... And this program is almost virtually undetectable. No matter who tells you that it is detectable, I say it's not. Port scans take hours, and you can't randomly accuse someone of cheating just because they got a good draw. So how can there ever be fair game play on mIRC?
This is the biggest problem for online Magic, and it is one that we have (thankfully) solved. MTGOnline has programs that actively detect the use of BackWash without endangering anyone's computer or Internet connection (contrary to popular belief). Upon request from the tournament staff, a player who has been selected for a cheat-scan downloads QuickScan.exe from the MTGOnline website. This program takes a snapshot of all open programs and ports on the person's computer without interfering at all. It creates a time-stamped and encrypted file, which the person then sends to us via DCC. We decrypt the file and it tells us if the person is cheating. If they decide to close BackWash to avoid detection, they will disconnect from Apprentice and be disqualified.
All of the problems that Sonny "SmokeStack" Jones lists are problems that we at MTGOnline have solved. I encourage those of you who want to try out a free online Magic league to visit www.MTGOnline.org and check out our chat room, #MTGOnline, on Irc.InnerNET.org. Feel free to e-mail me or catch me on IRC. I'm always willing to answer questions and dispel myths.
Thanks for reading,
CSieber on IRC
MTGOnline Policy Director