Tuesday, August 28, 2012

MTGO v4 Preview (Part 1 of 2)

If you’re like me, you keep an eye on the trades your bots make.  If you’re like me, you’ve noticed that the number of trades is higher during the weekends than during the weekdays.  If you’re like me, you noticed when Magic Online trotted out their 4.0 Interface.  If you’re like me, you also noticed a substantial drop in the number of trades during that weekend.  Huh?

Why would this happen?  Why would a login interface interfere with trading over MTGO?

You can’t really say that all trading stopped, because it did not.  I had a precious few trades that weekend, but it was not zero.  If it was zero, you could make the argument that all trades stopped that weekend and no botter made any profit that weekend.

I corresponded with Albert and he confirmed my findings that trades were way down but not zero.  This is indeed odd behavior.  What was going on?
I recently wrote that when trying to diagnose life’s problems, that it helps to be articulate and if possible to reproduce the conditions.  Turns out that not only was I able to reproduce this, I was also able to figure out why this was happening in the first place.  It may have been a fluke discovery, but nonetheless, here is what happened:

Even though my bot army was all online and MTGO Library showed all the bots as operating normally. MTGO did not show my bots in each other’s buddy list.  The one bot which did show up in buddy lists was also the only bot that was making trades.  That particular bot is very new so I wasn’t able to make the distinction of why all but one bot was making trades.

So, the reason why trades were down that weekend was because that the bots were not showing up in people’s buddy lists.  If you are not in a buddy list, you are essentially offline.  If you appear offline, no one is going to trade with your bot.  If no one trades with your bot, you make no profits.  Simple, right?  And if you are like me, you noticed a huge increase in trades when the normal interface returned.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

From the Vault: Realms

From the Vault: Realms is a collection of fifteen premium foil lands from the history of Magic. It's got an extremely limited print run and features new art, cards that have never been in foil before and cards that have never been in the modern card frame. Here is the content of FtV in alphabetical order: Ancient Tomb, Boseiju, Who Shelters All, Cephalid Coliseum, Desert, Dryad Arbor, Forbidden Orchard, Glacial Chasm, Grove of the Burnwillows, High Market, Maze of Ith, Murmuring Bosk, Shivan Gorge, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Vesuva, Windbrisk Heights.

Release date for paper and either MtGO version is an August 31. The recommended retail price is 34.99 USD, but as I mentioned before it's extremly limited and in fact you won't be able to get FtV at this price (I'm talking about the paper version). As far as I checked right now on Ebay.com FtV is about 90 USD thanks to some Legacy format nuts, such as Maze of Ith which is quite popular in format, but really difficult to find. On the flip side, FtV for MtGO is not going to be limited and from my calculation it seems to be a good investment, of course merely if you need these cards for your deck. I have added the value of these 15 cards and it is 53.96 USD basing on mtgotraders.com

Friday, August 24, 2012

Greed (Part 3 of 3)

As we conclude the topic of greed, the question needs to be asked, are those who bot on Magic Online being greedy?  If you are trying to find a fourth copy of that highly desired Mythic Rare and seeing the few bots who have it charging 50+ tickets for it, you will definitely think so.  How can a few bits of virtual data be worth so much?  At least in paper Magic, you actually receive a piece of cardboard.

But as was mentioned in the comment forums, this is more than a supply and demand answer.

We botters have expenses as well.  First off, there is the hardware that needs to be purchased.  A full-time bot requires a computer to be run.  Even a second-hand computer will cost some money unless one was gifted to the bot owner.  Then there is the purchase of a bot name.  Then a successful bot needs a lot of tickets and/or a large inventory.  This expense is a large initial start up cost which deters many from getting into botting.

Then there is the bot fee itself.  Unless you have the proper programming skills and are willing to devote a lot of time to writing a trading bot, expect to pay for that privilege as well.  Whether you choose the 2.5%, 3.5% or fixed license fee, this too is part of the cost of dong business. 

Consider the following example: your bot purchases a highly desired card for 29 tickets.  Being nice, you sell it for 30 tickets, making a 1 ticket profit.  While this is certainly the case if you just choose to focus on this single transaction.  The licensing fee for this transaction will be around 1 ticket for getting the card, and another ticket for selling the card.  That’s two tickets right there, so now you’re down 1 ticket.  You would need to sell it for 31 tickets just to absorb the costs of the licensing fee.  And this would need to be even higher based on your other costs.

So the next time someone angrily terminates a trade and mutters about how these bots are just being greedy, know that they are simply showing their economic ignorance.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

MTGO Library Bot 5.17 is out

A new version of ML Bot is out, 5.17.

Version 5.17 fixes a bug with the detection of "crash" and "error" windows, causing the bot to continously restart Magic Online.

Greed (Part 2 of 3)

Last time I brought up the touchy subject of greed and shared Merriam-Webster’s definition:
Greed: a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed

The problem with this definition is that it is very subjective.  What is considered excessive?  What is a need?  In other to run a bot, we need Internet access.  But is wireless access needed?  You would think not, but if you put your mind to it, you can device scenarios where wireless Internet access would be needed to run a bot.

The same thing can be said with excessive.  A bot with 10,000 cards may seem excessive to a new player, or a casual player.  But veteran bot owners will say that the minimum for a good bot can begin at 30,000 cards, and that is for each bot in your chain.

The other point is the elephant in the room: profitsMany people have an unrealistic view of what profits are.  Those who subscribe to the socialist and communistic economic theories also tend to think that those who seek profits are simply being greedy.  These people are simply showing their economic ignorance.

The farmer who grows the food that we eat everyday, do these farmers simply till the ground, invest in all that farming equipment and work those long hours simply because they want people who they’ll never meet to be able to have food on their plate, simply out of the goodness of his heart?  Or is it more likely that the farmer wants to get paid for all the effort that is put in?

This is just one example.  We can think of a myriad of others: the truckers who get that food from the fields to the market.  The bus drivers who take people all around town.  The teacher who teaches.  The programmers over at Wizards who make Magic Online.  While these people may love what they do, these people are also not all working out of the goodness of their hearts.  They want to be paid for their efforts.  Whether it is a wage, salary, or profits, it is compensation for work done.  As the famous axiom says, there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Determinants of being effective player, part 3

The human mind has the ability to tell us that something is impossible or unviable long before we even make a try. We mentally surrender. Thinking pessimisticly lead us to inevitable failure. How to convince our mind not to resist in the way of dreams? The real secret to success is what lies beneath the surface: all the time put in practicing before you sit down at the tournament. I have prepared a list of 7 habits that mark a good player, a few features fit to good botter as well.

4. Playtest sideboard games. This is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of successful playtesting. Sideboard is inseparable part of your deck and is crucial in tournament play, especially in those inevitable unfavorable matchups. You need a clear plan. During tournament it's not the time to think over what you are taking out/putting in. You should know all net decklist and how to sideboard against these decks before tournament. In game 2/3 act like a robot and put in/take out what you are suppoused to.

5. Work with others. Behind every successful tournament stands a crew of people who put in the hard work with him to get that. Surround yourself with people like you, willing to develop yourself. Share ideas with your group and discuss it over.

6. Bring to the tournament only deck that you are familiar with and you have playtested it. You need to spent a considerable amount of time learning your deck and how it interacts with other decks in the format.

7. Take some time away from testing. It may seems contrary to what I have written already, but it is important for your personal well being that you step back from the game from time to time. To free your mind.

Hopefully you learned a little something along the way.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Greed (Part 1 of 3)

President Obama has stated that corporate greed is the root of the economic collapse of 2008. 

The US Banking Regulatory agency has accused banks of causing the housing crisis by charging unfair interest rates and using insidious tactics of putting people into homes that they could never hope to pay back, all for reasons of greed.

Big Pharma has been accused of  using advertising to exploit illness for greedy profits.

Superstar athletes are accused of being greedy when holding out for a larger contract when the offered contract is tens of millions of dollars.

Big Tobacco is accused of addicting children to nicotine, all for greed.

Population control advocates accuse parents of being selfishly greedy if the parents have three (3) or more children.

US Taxpayers accuse those who are protesting the expiration of 99 weeks of unemployment benefits of being greedy.

Bot owners are considered a scourge on MTGO, all because they are greedy.

If one scours the news headlines on a regular basis, you’ll find stories in which one person or group will accuse another person or group of greed.

This is no trifle charge either.  Greed is listed in the Bible as one of the seven (7) deadly sins.  Most people will say that greed is bad.  But what is greed anyway?

According to Merriam-Webster:
Greed: a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed

So how does this affect us bot owners?  I’ll discuss that next time.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

MTGO Library Bot 5.16 is out

ML Bot version 5.16 features better screenshots. The screenshots are now taken and uploaded to the webserver every 5 minutes (instead of 10).

Version 5.16 fixes also a minor bug with the connection to the webserver, sometimes taking up to 20 seconds even for a simple request (request and server response happen now in real time)

Cherry Pickers (Final Thoughts)

This topic of cherry picking is somewhat a touchy subject.  If you are the victim of a cherry-picker, you get  upset and feel like you have been robbed.  Some can make the argument that we botters are in essence, cherry pickers.  We low-ball when we buy cards and we cherry pick the good ones to sell at a vast profit.  Arguments like this quickly degenerate into semantics.  It all boils down to definitions and perspectives.

So to answer the question of are we indeed cherry pickers, we need to ask the question whether or not we botters do actually serve a legitimate service.

The answer to that is relatively easy to answer.  We are essentially middle-men, where we facilitate buyers and sellers.  Since the term “middle man” has a negative connotation, some have come up with different terms to essentially mean the same thing: finder’s fee, service fee, and transportation costs are some of the terms I have come across when dealing with these individuals and I too have complained that their costs are exceedingly high compared to the “service” they provide.

I was reminded when I looked into refinancing my mortgage.  All these little fees, which added up to over $2,500 and they “cheerfully” tried to make the point of “no closing costs”; a -$10 entry on the list of fees that would be charged to me.  All of this of coarse meant that my mortgage would be extended by 10 years.  And somehow, the bank didn’t mention all the profits aka interest they would be receiving.

Being in a position to walk away from this “deal”; I did.  As it concerns MTGO; WotC can do the same thing.  It would be trivial for Wizards to remove all bots from their servers.  But what would happen to the secondary marketWould drafters continue to draft if they were unable to sell off their 87 copies of Terramorphic Expanse? 

In fact, WotC actually welcomes us.  They have placed dedicated machines to offset the server load.  Wizards also does not have an individual card store.  Yes, WotC could make a boatload of money selling individual cards but that would also hurt MTGO in the long run.  Instead, the powers made a conscious decision to let us do what we do best; even if many players think that we are cherry pickers, rip off artists and greedy.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Determinants of being effective player, part 2

The human mind has the ability to tell us that something is impossible or unviable long before we even make a try. We mentally surrender. Thinking pessimisticly lead us to inevitable failure. How to convince our mind not to resist in the way of dreams? The real secret to success is what lies beneath the surface: all the time put in practicing before you sit down at the tournament. I have prepared a list of 7 habits that mark a good player, a few features fit to good botter as well.

2. The more cards you know in a format, the better it is for you. This tip is crucial for limited, but it suits well to constructed too. You must know your options or threats. Especially, when you are creating totally new deck. Knowing most cards in Magic history may help you indetify a new combo/interaction between cards much more earlier than normal players and have handsome profit from it. Cards such as Dark Depths when they were released were treated as a total bulk, but few years later with a release of Zendikar and Vampire Hexmage this card turned into breakout star. There are many other examples, but it's not the aim of this article to point them out. Rather it is to encourage you to broaden your mind-carddatabase. At least to know recent net decklists. I would like to share with you with my last experience. I regulary play Legacy format. Once I took tier 3 deck and played several games. Almost noone was familiar with this deck and had troubles, for instance naming card with Pithing Needle. Despite this deck has some flag cards and if you see one you would know the others. You must know that if someone runs for example Dark Depth it is very propably that there is Vampire Hexmage, Dark Confidant around.

3. Practise a lot. Keep on playtesting. Play, play...play......play.......play

 Did I mention to play? Play

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Cherry Pickers (Part 5)

In our series on cherry pickers and how to effectively deal with them, we’ve discussed a variety of methods which we can use to deal with them.  However, all the methods mentioned so far are either “after the fact” or require time and effort for limited results at bestX4dow hinted at one solution which we will discuss today: Let the bot to do this for you.

That’s right, why do something yourself when you can have a computer do it for you?

This feature is present in MTGO Library, although it is somewhat buried in the bowels of features.  You’ll also have to spend a little time configuring and tweaking the settings, but once done, it is set and forget.

So how does it work?  In the Administrator tab section of the bot, on the bottom half of the page, you’ll see a section to trade with other bots. See enclosed screenshot.  From here, it is relatively simple.  Select which bot/account you wish the bot to trade with; when to make these trades, and most importantly, what kind of trades you wish to make. 

There are a plethora of options here so you should familiarize yourself with these if you have not browsed this area in awhile. But for our purposes, we’ll just select the “give cards which cost more than X to the other account.”  (Just make certain that each bot is on the other bot’s buddy list.)

The prices and details are totally up to you and what you feel comfortable doing.  If you sell normally sell 10 rares for a ticket, you may make your threshold as tight as .1 or maybe you’re more forgiving and do not mind rares valued at .2 tickets being left behind.

The other point of consideration is when to actually make these trades.  Since MTGO is available 24/7 minus downtime, it is imperative to choose a time where there would as little of a hit as possible.  Going through your trade logs and charting when these trades occur should give you a nice idea of when would be the best time to do this transfer.

Finally, you’ll need to give this a few days so the initial batches can get transferred and to settle into a groove.  Of the options discussed so far, this one has the best balance of time involved (initially some time is needed, but after that, only maintenance) and a good reward (cards can still be cherry picked, but generally speaking, the good cards will be moved to another account without human intervention.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

What is the best license for me to pick? (Part 3)

 Previously on part 2 I explained how I've ended up with each of the four options available for bots licensing.
Today I will be revealing how my BestDeal bots chain works. The graph below shows how I set up the buy limits (quantities) and refilling schedule in a way that BestDeal4 regularly refills BestDeal's "bulky" card sales (BestDeal wont need to refill itself unless it sells 8 of the same card within 6 hours). This setup results in most trades happening on BestDeal and BestDeal4.
This is how BestDeal is set at the moment and I manage to please a wide range of customers, from the drafters that require a regular bulk bot to drop their "junk" to the player that has valuable cards and wishes the highest value. I've also do monthly/weekly deals like, for example, "10% cheaper boosters" "foil buy price +15%" etc..

Feel free to drop any questions or comments and I will answer ASAP.

Cherry Pickers (Part 4)

In our continuing series on cherry pickers, I thought I would take a moment and respond to a suggestion that Jon and others posted in the comments section: Do not let the bot make cards tradable; do that yourself.

This method absolutely makes certain that cherry pickers will not cherry pick anything you have; because you will have already dome that.  This will maximize profits as the good cards get sold for their real value, not the LITE bot’s bulk price.

There will be a lag before cards are made available for sale.  This is because the bot owner has deliberately set the bot not to make incoming cards tradable.  This normally is not a big concern.  However, whenever a new set is released, like M13 was this past update, this delay will hurt as customers wanting the cards will find them on other bots instead of your bots. 

Another minor disadvantage is that you will have a phantom-inventory.  Cards which are in the collection which are not marked for trade are literally just taking up space.  Should more of that card come in, the bot will not select them.  Since they are not marked for trade, they will never be sold.  Again, not a huge problem, but when a new set comes out or there is a sudden flurry of activity for certain cards, you will be missing out on the action.
Bottom Line:
This is an extremely time consuming task that will turn your bot business into a part time job.  Some on the comment section claim that if one isn’t willing to put this kind of work in, then maybe running a bot isn’t for them.  I would disagree.  I just do not believe that it is worth the effort.  Let’s assume that you devote one hour per day, on average, to making cards tradable, and moving gems to your more profitable bot.  If all of this work leads to an average of three (3) tickets of extra profit per day, then essentially you are working for $3 an hour.  Is this the best use for your time?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Determinants of being effective player, part 1

The human mind has the ability to tell us that something is impossible or unviable long before we even make a try. We mentally surrender. Thinking pessimisticly lead us to inevitable failure. How to convince our mind not to resist in the way of dreams? The real secret to success is what lies beneath the surface: all the time put in practicing before you sit down at the tournament. I have prepared a list of 7 habits that mark a good player, a few features fit to good botter as well.
  1. Read a lot. Nowadays, there is unprecedented access to information, and that applies to Magic just like everything else. Actually, we are flooded with all the news reaching us from every media source. The first great step you can make in preparing for a tournament is to learn about the format that you are going to be playing. It is essential to know possible threats and interaction between cards. If you are participating in format that you don't play regulary with the aid may come the large number of magic strategy sites where you can read articles (many of them free) about every subject in magic written by the top players in the game today. It is vital to get your finger on the pulse of the metagame. Find out what are the prevailing decks? What is the speed of the format? Is the metagame stable or is it still developing? Reading as much as you can about a format is the first step someone should take when they are looking to get results at the next tourney. This is as true for player as it is for botters. Reading is highly indicated for being a good botter too. You need to know what is going around. Which cards are played widely? Which ones only in one kind of deck? How many staples etc. It will definitely help you to maximize your profits or to manage with your stocks.
In next parts of this article series I'm going to present other habits. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Cherry Pickers (Part 3)

In this series, we are looking at the scourge of “cherry pickers” and looking at possible solutions to deal with this problem.  Last time I mentioned the idea of raising your prices to discourage these vultures.  Another solution is to simply ban the users.  (Add the user to your buddy list, and right-click, ignore.)

This totally eliminates the possibility that a cherry-picker, once identified, will ever cherry pick your account again.  Nothing like the ‘death penalty’ to make certain something never happens again.

Anyone who has been banned this way will be upset.  Understandably so.  If you ban a legitimate buyer, then you will really have negative consequencesWizards of the Coast customer service may decide to get involved if the consumer decides to create a fuss.  If you leave a contact email, expect to receive one for each account you’ve blocked.

Even blocking a parasite is tricky.  You have to wait until they are online before you can block them.  This requires a certain amount of vigilance and baby-sitting so you can time the block correctly. 

Bottom Line:
This is a tricky solution which will demand constant attentiveness with an outcome which will be difficult to gauge its effectiveness.  Someone who is going to go around and pilfer gems from bots, is probably going to have multiple accounts so you’d have to ban a user multiple times.

This also means you are going to have go through each and every trade you make and determine from that whether or not your customer is a vulture, an informed customer, or just plain lucky.  All this constant attention to detail sounds like more work than it should be and might make one a little paranoid; especially when you consider that your time is worth so much more than the relatively little amount you’d be saving by implementing this solution.