SolForge has a fantastic screen for their tournaments, but their organized play structure is lacking several key components. Lets start with what they have implemented, which is great stuff.
The interface for joining tournaments is clean and simple. You can join a Constructed tournament or a “Draft” tournament. Constructed events cost 3 tickets, “draft” costs 7 tickets; both events have four rounds. A record of 3-1 will give you your entry fee back plus a prize, going 4-0 will give you even more tickets than you used to enter AND a larger prize. No matter what, you will win something — even a 0-4 record gets you a booster pack to keep. In a nifty innovation, you can play each round of the tournament whenever you like, and the system will generally pair you with players with the same win-loss record. All tournament games are played with a 20-minutes-per-player chess clock.
Constructed tournaments are relatively straightforward. Build a deck, play against other people, play four times, better record means better prizes. Unlike Magic Online, there is only one queue for Constructed tournaments, with one format, price structure, and prize structure. While this is easy to understand and lends itself to a fantastic-looking interface, it does cause problems for newer players in my experience.
There are no “low-level” Constructed event with low entry fees and low prizes. This means that it really is incorrect for players to even attempt Constructed tournaments unless they have a “high value” deck with many expensive cards. I think they game could add a “Common and Rares” only format (again, “Rares” in SolForge are uncommons and easy to get), charge silver to enter, and pay out in a booster pack. (This is one example — there are many prize structures one could generate for this format, of course.)
“Draft” tournaments are played with new cards that you get to keep, meaning you don’t need to have a collection of cards or a great deck to enter. I put the word “draft” in quotes because SolForge uses this word in a way no other TCG has ever used it before. Drafts have consisted of multiple people queuing to draft booster packs. Once you have (usually) eight players, they all open a booster pack, choosing one card and passing the others to the left and receiving unselected cards from the person on their right, and repeating this process until there aren’t any cards left in that booster. Some drafts featured three packs, some more, with players alternating direction between packs. For more than fifteen years, this has been what booster drafts have been.
In SolForge, you “draft” with yourself. Quoting their FAQ:
In a draft tournament, you use a new deck that you build as you go by picking cards from random selections. In SolForge draft, you will first see a pack of six heroic cards and will choose one of them. After that, you will see packs of progressively smaller size – five cards, then four, then three, then two, before again seeing a pack of six cards. You will pick one card from each selection until you have a deck of thirty cards. Once you pick cards from two separate factions, you will no longer see cards from the other factions. Once you have finished picking your draft deck of thirty cards, you will be able to start playing your matches.
Drafting in SolForge is a solo activity. You don’t have to wait on other players to make their picks, and you can draft at any time of day without waiting for an event to fill up. However, other players’ picks still influence what you see in a draft. Every pack in draft is generated with six cards, and then cards are removed from it based on an algorithm that takes into account how frequently players take those cards. If you identify an undervalued card amongst the community at large, you can benefit by knowing there is a good chance you will see that card late in a draft.
This process is similar to booster drafts with a new booster being opened, but it is important to note that these aren’t boosters being opened. Heroics and Legendaries generally only appear in the first group of cards, as opposed to “one rare per booster” in traditional drafts in other games. Their description of certain cards appearing later in the draft than others appears true — you will sometimes see low-power Heroics appear in packs four or five.
There are no “major events” in SolForge. There are no Pro Tour Qualifier-level events (from Magic Online) or any other large events for the community to build towards and look forward to. While there are events listed in a forum on their website, none of them are directly supported in the app. They are a fan-driven retrofit of what should be a Version One feature. This is a missed opportunity on several levels.
- Live-streaming of major events would drive awareness of the game
- Live-streaming of major events would also drive user retention (c.f. League of Legends pro play)
- By publishing winning decks, players can learn from existing decks (thus driving card sales)
- By rewarding champions, players can aspire to greatness (thus driving retention and conversion)
RATINGS AND RANKINGS
As far as a user can easily tell, there are no ratings and rankings for SolForge. Whatever rating you have is not displayed in the app at all. Again, from the FAQ:
How do random online matches work? Won’t I just lose to more experienced players if I just started playing?
SolForge uses a matchmaking algorithm to pair you against opponents of similar skill level. When you’re just starting out, you’ll usually get paired with other relatively new players.
This is, in all honesty, an unsatisfying experience. Even a thin rating ladder, similar to one seen in Hearthstone, would be better than “nothing.” There is no climb, no quest, and no goal to reach. You win, you lose, whatever. The games don’t have meaning beyond itself, and I view that to be a missed opportunity.
SWOT ANALYSIS FOR ORGANIZED PLAY
Tournaments are one click or tap away, and they are on the user’s schedule.
The on-demand, at-your-pace nature of these events were revolutionary when they launched and the industry is following up.
The prizes seem in-line with expectation.
Going 3-1 or 4-0 to get a free entry plus an additional prize is a pay rate above those found in Magic Online, for instance. The prizes are pretty nifty too.
“Draft” is fun.
I have clearly taken issue with the name of the format, but whatever they choose to call it the important thing is the fun. Drafting is fun, and you keep what you draft. Win and win.
There is no ongoing league format for Constructed play.
Because of this, players are trapped losing to high-value decks again and again, and those decks don’t ascend to a rating away from low-spending players. And since that is true, I would guess that the Constructed format is relatively unfun for the majority of players in the game.
There is no public-facing rating or ranking structure.
The lack of “level” for the player means there is no progression and there is no goal to achieve. This probably hurts player retention.
The lack of major events is confusing.
Given the number of Magic Pro Tour Champions involved with SolForge’s design or development, it is surprising to me that there is no competitive dream for players to chase.
None at this time, though in the future partnering with external groups for major events (Major League Gaming?) might help boost brand awareness.
Hearthstone has announced a $250,000 World Championship event.
If I was a competitive online TCG player and I was wondering where to put my time and effort, that amount of money would grab my attention. In fact, it has grabbed my attention, and I am not really competitive in Hearthstone. Yet.
QUESTIONS TO ASK:
What is the correlation, if any, between someone’s performance in the Draft format and how often they return?
What is the correlation, if any, between someone’s performance in the Constructed format and how often they return?
What is the median / mean number of cards a user must own before they go 3-1 in a Constructed tournament?
What is the median / mean amount of silver earned a user must own before they go 3-1 in a Constructed tournament?
What is the median / mean amount of money spent by a user before they go 3-1 in a Constructed tournament?
ORGANIZED PLAY SCORE: C+
The tournaments that have been implemented are outstanding. But there are so many other important aspects to organized play completely unimplemented that what begins as an A+ is dragged all the way down to a C+… and I might be generous.