Drawing and Conceding Matches Can Abuse the MTG Arena Ranking System – And It’s Causing Problems in Mythic
In this article: The outcome of best-of-three matches can apparently be manipulated by conceding during sideboarding; issues with the way Arena’s ranking system handles matches that fail to connect are causing some players in Mythic to lose rank.
Way back in May, we ran an article detailing an exploration into MTG Arena’s ranking system by player Hareeb al-Saq. In their published report, al-Saq described in extreme detail how the ranking system in Arena can be manipulated to artificially lower one’s Matchmaking Rating (MMR) – meaning that a player abusing the system can essentially guarantee matches that are below their skill level.
The original article is lengthy and quite dense, so for those interested in learning about how the MMR system works and how it’s being exploited, please see the article linked above for a proper explanation.
Now, al-Saq has published a new blog post which describes how the best-of-three ranked system can be manipulated by conceding a match before its conclusion. Not only that, but the recent major changes to MTG Arena’s backend have apparently changed the way that drawn matches, and specifically matches that are drawn automatically due to connection issues, affect a player’s ranking.
We’ll get to the specifics of how it all works and why it matters to the average player in a moment, but first there are a few things I wanted to quickly address.
Why Are We Publishing This Exploitable Information?
Back when we published our first article – which included an explanation of how the ranking system can be exploited – there were a number of comments that accused us (MTGA Zone) of popularizing the exploit and contributing to its spread. At the very least, I can understand where this feeling is coming from. Therefore, I wanted to briefly address why we feel it’s important to cover issues like these even though it is entirely possible that doing so might cause more players to use the exploits themselves.
If you aren’t concerned about this issue and want to get right to the meat of the article, feel free to skip ahead to the next bold heading.
Firstly, while al-Saq may have been the first (or among the first) to document and provide evidence for the exploitability of the ranked ladder in MTG Arena, he was hardly the first to notice the inherent flaws in the system. We received many comments from users saying that they were already aware of (or even using) the exploit prior to learning of al-Saq’s report.
Simply ignoring the exploits that exist within Arena’s ranking system will not fix the problem. There will always be a small percentage of the playerbase in any online game that wishes to manipulate the game in any way they can to gain an advantage, and no ranking system is perfect – especially not a relatively new system like MTGA’s. Exploits like the one described in this article will only be addressed by Wizards of the Coast if they are known problems that players are concerned and vocal about.
It’s only because these exploits have flown largely under the radar that those described in al-Saq’s first column are still present in the game. In the meantime, it only makes sense for the playerbase to be informed so that they understand what’s happening in the game they invest so much time (and often money) into.
If you really want to see the exploits in MTG Arena removed, the best way to help would be to either submit a ticket on the official MTGA support page, or report the issue on the official forums as a bug report or suggestion.
The Issue: Conceding During Sideboarding can Manipulate the Change in Rank
Hareeb al-Saq’s new article is mainly focused on best-of-three (Bo3) matches. His assertion is that conceding Bo3 matches during the sideboarding screen will affect the player’s ranking based on the current match record regardless of the concession. In other words, conceding between games will have a different impact on your rank depending on what the match record was at the time of concession.
As a quick technical explanation, the “K-value” refers to how much a player’s rank will be affected by a particular match. The larger the K-value for a particular match, the more rank that will be gained or lost. In MTG Arena, the player’s MMR and the amount that it changes match to match are normally hidden from the player; the only indication you have of your rank is the ladder pips and division that you’re in. The hidden MMR system (the existence of which has been confirmed by Wizards) is much more complicated. See our original article on al-Saq’s exploration of the ranking system for a detailed explanation.
According to al-Saq, conceding the match with a 0-1 record will only make you lose half the K-value of a regular Bo3 loss. Therefore, your rank will decrease less by conceding after the first match than it would if you played it out and lost. This could be used to cut one’s losses if it’s clear there isn’t much chance of winning the matchup.
With a 1-0 record, conceding the match will result in a half K-value change as though you have won the match, even though you actually conceded. al-Saq’s first analysis determined that a Bo1 match rewards roughly half the K-value of a Bo3 match. This means you can effectively force the same rank change as a Bo1 win by simply conceding the Bo3 match after a game one win instead of risking losing in games two or three.
If the match is conceded with a 1-1 record, the ranking system will treat the match exactly the same as a draw, marking it as such on your log records. There are issues with how the game handles drawn games as it is – more on that later – but the real issue is that this can be used to cheese matches where your matchup is not looking favorable for game three.
This new report by al-Saq is not nearly as detailed and elaborate concerning the methodology used to come to its conclusions, so judge it accordingly. However, few in the MTG Arena community doubted the findings of his first piece, and much of the methodology used is likely the same, or at least similar.
The Problem With Draws
Interestingly, within 24 hours of al-Saq’s new analysis, other players in the Reddit community r/MagicArena were also discussing separate, but related issues with how the game’s ranking systems now handles drawn matches. The original post from u/altheriax follows, and I’ll provide a brief summary of its ideas below.
In the above post, u/altheriax refers to the MMR system as ELO.
Drawing a match against a player with a lower MMR will result in some loss of rank, rather than simply no change. Normally, this makes some amount of sense and is almost certainly an intended feature of the system rather than a bug. The issue that has arisen concerns games that are automatically drawn because of connection issues.
Sometimes, the MTGA client will struggle to establish a connection between the two players and the server. You’ve probably seen this if you’re someone who plays much MTG Arena: you’ll sit waiting for a few minutes for the connection to be made, and then when it finally goes through to the game, the match instantly ends with “Draw” being displayed as the result.
Since the backend changes that were introduced to MTG Arena along with the recent set Jumpstart: Historic Horizons, players have been reporting that these server-side automatic draws still have an impact on their Mythic rank number even though no game was played. As a result, players with high MMRs that are being paired regularly against players with somewhat lower MMRs, as described by u/altheriax, are being punished for connection problems that are no fault of their own.
What Does it All Mean?
Realistically, most of this doesn’t affect the average player in MTG Arena much, especially those who are below Mythic ranking. However, for those who are in Mythic and compete monthly to be in the Top 1200, problems with the ranking system can be highly frustrating and have a real impact on their experience.
Rightfully or not, it’s hard for some to view the MTG Arena ranking system as a legitimate measure of skill when exploitation-related issues like this are present. Hopefully, spreading awareness about these exploits will help lead to their eventual resolution. In the meantime, being educated about these problems will only help all players better understand the game and the reasons why they may see opponents randomly conceding matches or applying other cheesy shortcuts.
Unless and until Wizards addresses the root of the problem, the only way we can really curb these kinds of behaviors is by not engaging in them ourselves.
Do the experiences of al-Saq and u/altheriax line up with your own? Have you noticed any other strange behavior from the ranking system? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.