MTG Arena’s major bug has exploited games!

As we’ve covered many times before, MTG Arena is far from perfect. Whether it’s the complaints about Alchemy, the lack of campaigning, or the limited social options, it always feels like there’s something to complain about. Unfortunately for Wizards of the Coast, however, these are far from the end of MTG Arena’s problems.

Along with everything else, MTG Arena’s competitive matchmaking has also come under scrutiny recently. Matchmaking shouldn’t be a big issue using the Glicko-2 scoring system, which is also used in games such as Chess.com and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. Unfortunately, MTG Arena is plagued with a major bug that makes matchmaking easily exploitable.

How Arena Ranking Works

Virus Beetle | Kamigawa: The Neon Dynasty

Thanks to Arena player and Twitter user’s antics and analysis @Hareeb_AlSaq, we have a pretty good idea of ​​how Arena’s matchmaking system works. Match Making Rating (MMR) data isn’t displayed publicly, so Hareeb had to dig into the game’s files to uncover much of what we know now. Hareeb did this while making a name for himself on Arena in 2021 by conceding an excessive number of games.

Throughout their research, Hareeb determined that five distinct rankings in MTG Arena exist behind the scenes. They do not have official names. However, Hareeb calls them Mythic Constructed, Mythic Limited, Serious Constructed, Serious Limited, and Play.

For starters, all games played in ranked queues or paid events affect serious ratings. These ratings are maintained month to month and do not appear to degrade over time. Game rankings are determined via the more causal game and brawl queues. For both of these queues, players start with a rating of 1500, an RD of 350, and a volatility of 0.06.

As you might expect from the name, only games played in Mythic count towards the Mythic leaderboard. Unlike the other ranks, these are determined slightly differently, as the initial Mythic placement is set based on your Serious rank. For example, if you have a seriously high rank, you’ll likely enter mythic at a higher placement. If you’ve farmed the ladder or are new to the game, you’ll likely enter Mythic at the very limits of rank. Unlike other ranks, Mythic Ranks reset every month.

The insect

Treat the pests
Tend the Pests | strixhaven

As Hareeb notes in their analysis, Glicko-2 is not a zero-sum notation system. Typically, this ranking system allows players to play more MMR than the opponent has lost and vice versa. This isn’t always the case in MTG Arena, however. According to Hareeb, when you lose a match, the Glicko-2 system works fine, deducting you the correct MMR. When you win a game, however, the ranking system registers that you’ve beaten a clone of yourself instead of your real opponent. This causes higher rated players to earn more points than they should, making for positive-sum games.

Simply put, this is a significant issue for MTG Arena matchmaking. Since more points are gained than lost, the whole ranking system has bloated over time. This causes most players’ MMR to be around 4000, rather than the predicted median rating of around 1500. Hareeb notes that their game rating is 5032, and they haven’t tried too hard to accomplish this. feat. If the data were correct, Hareeb’s rating means they should “only lose to the median player once in tens of millions of games”. Obviously, something is wrong.

In a vacuum, this baffling bug wouldn’t be the most pressing issue; however, as we noted, new players in MTG Arena start with an MMR of 1500. This puts them well below the curve where they are supposed to be. This makes increasing MMR ranks incredibly difficult, as players are spread across a wacky range. Reaching the median rank of 4000 MMR as a new player will require winning an absurd number of games.

It gets so much worse

Distribution of Hareeb Ratings
Hareeb’s Hand Drawn in Paint MMR Rating Distribution Cart

New players being forced to work countless hours to reach median MMR is obviously wrong, but there’s an even bigger problem. Due to the wide range of player ranks, new players can make their way to Mythic with a functional but ultimately uncompetitive deck. This is thanks to new players only facing other new players when grinding to Mythic. This shouldn’t be possible, but in MTG Arena the gap between a new player’s MMR and the median is problematically large.

Again, in and of itself, new players tasting Mythic and getting smashed quickly isn’t the worst thing. Again, however, this is just the tip of the problematic iceberg. The real problem with MTG Arena’s MMR is that it’s mineable through rating floors and concessions. Although it takes a while, veteran players can easily concede many matches to drop their rank below the starting 1500 MMR threshold. This allows these players to do quite a mythical ascent, only playing against new and weaker players. This essentially guarantees the player exploiting the mythic rank.

This matchmaking quirk also seriously depreciates the otherwise enjoyable Bronze to Mythic challenges. Without spending months lowering your Season Rank with every reset, there’s no way to get back to bronze without creating a new account. This places veteran players in the group of new players at 1500 MMR. These adorable, fresh-faced players are much easier opponents, which seriously lowers the difficulty of the challenge.

What can wizards do?

Whether it’s a bug or a feature, Wizards of the Coast needs to fix it. It’s not bad to have new players playing against each other, but the system is ripe for exploitation.

While this is a step in the right direction, fixing this bug would not fully resolve MMR issues. Ultimately, WotC has to bite the bullet and reset everyone’s MMR rank. Although this is not an ideal solution, it should happen as soon as possible, because the situation will only get worse.

Wizards of the Coast may not have done anything to fix this bug yet, but we don’t recommend doing it yourself. There’s a non-zero chance Wizards will issue punishments to players who abused the game’s matchmaking, after all.

Read more: MTG Arena Anthologies Announced! Pioneer Staples is coming!


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