Comments and Ratings Are Still Broken, According to Gatherer
Recently, a reader of According to Gatherer sent me this message:
“I was under the impression that gatherer ratings were unavailable for many of the newer cards, or at least not to the same degree as they used to be. I know for certain that I personally have not been able to rate cards. How are you still doing your series accurately?”
What he’s referring to is this response on the Gatherer Help page:
This isn’t quite right. Comments and ratings previously added to Gatherer aren’t ‘disabled’. We can’t, however, add new comments or ratings. While Wizards continues to work on this problem, some windows opened up and the occasional comments or rating slipped through. For example, the highest rated card for Fates Restored is Valorous Stance, since it rocks a five star with one vote, compared to 179 other cards with no votes. In 1999, players settled in for Urza Block’s ‘Combo Winter’. If I’m to believe Gatherer, the Winter of 2015 is when the game broke with every environment dominated by Valorous Stance. Or maybe Fates Restored is a Super-Homelands, with only one reasonable card (Valorous Stance/Merchant Scroll) while the rest are mind-bogglingly worse than Sea Troll?
The comment/rating problem isn’t new. It’s been a problem since before Conspiracy’s release. But many players didn’t notice until Magic 2015 hit and players couldn’t rate the cards they enjoyed from Duels of the Planeswalker. If you look at the highest rated card on Journey Into Nyx, Mana Confluence (top of the heap since the Best and Worst of Theros Block), you can see the card was rated 105 times. The highest rated card in Magic 2015? Chandra, Pyromaster with 9 votes. Consipracy and Khans is about the same, struggling against the cape tides. The whale beached with Fates Reforged.
What does this mean for According to Gatherer?
Lately, my content dropped off, but this isn’t why. I started classes full time six months ago and immediately regretted the decision. When I went to college in the 90s, a typical term consisted of five classes and two labs. And I still found plenty of time to screw around. So three classes per term seemed simple for a security guard/writer. My content would suffer a little but… no, no, no, none of that. The content suffered a lot. I guess it’s because I care more and want to get As. It shouldn’t surprise me that college was easier when I was skipping classes and putting more effort into those elite Dungeon Master skills that would serve me so well throughout the rest of my life. I’ll let that stand as a warning: Whatever you spend the most time on, that is what you will be an expert at. If only I spent more time training to be a galactic bounty hunter… you realize how many Twi’lek dancers would be hanging off me right now?
So these two events are not related. I’m in the middle of my ‘school year’. When I’m done, I plan to increase content. For now, though, I’m lucky if I can write an article per month, and not every month is an According to Gatherer month. Sorry about that. I promise to make it up later.
This does, however, restrict the type of articles I plan to write. I was slated to do a Top Ten White Cards article, but that’s no longer reasonable. It’s not that I think cards printed in the last year couldn’t end up on that list (not impossible, but not likely.) But Vintage, Legacy and Modern are living formats that tend to warp the way we view the very top Magic offers. Is Swords to Plowshares one of the best cards in the game? It depends. Is there a dominant aggressive creature decks in the current environment? Is Blightsteel Colossus a tier one card? Do people like the shiny new reprint? Minor changes mean big upsets in the fight for the top. I can’t do the article justice until the rating system is fixed and enough time passes so there’s at least some chance for reality to catch up.
But an article about the Ten Worst White Cards? Few people will be upset if Takeno’s Cavalry came in third as opposed to fourth. Samurai Flamenco won’t suddenly be relevant by the presence of Forbidden Orchard in the Vintage metagame. These articles are meant to be a fun exploration of bad cards, and there are plenty of bad cards to go around.
In other words, I need to be smart and provide content that entertains but doesn’t upset readers while we wait for the authorities to lead this whale back into the ocean. Fair enough. I got a few tricks hidden up my sleeve anyway.
What does this mean for Wizards, and the greater Magic community?
Very bad things. This won’t sink the game, Silly Billy. But this problem is ongoing for over half a year. And the longer the problem persists, the more questions like this pop up…
“Since gatherer has had it’s comments disabled for a while and I haven’t heard of any news of it’s return. Are there any other sites where I can read different peoples comments on specific magic cards?”
That’s a recent question fom Reddit, and the answer the Reddit community provided was roughly, “Essentialmagic.com and Mythicspoiler.com, in theory. But Essential Magic’s page is janky, and Mythic Spoiler links to Facebook which is… bad? Somehow?” I can understand why players may not want to link up with Facebook to comment on a card. But the number of comments between Mythic Spoiler and Gatherer are comparable. The first card linked on Mythic Spoiler for Fates Reforged is Daghatar the Adamant. There are 143 comments associated with him. Compare that to the 37 comments the first rare from Theros, Abhorrent Overlord gets on Gatherer. As a rule though, the quality of the first page of comments are better on Gatherer, since Gatherer requires logging onto the Wizards page (instead of getting responses to comments like “Are you going to Becca’s on Thursday?” from Facebook.) And the comments themselves are rated, so the best comments rise to the top.
The two systems seem comparable, but built for different players. So what’s the problem? Because without the established community, Gatherer is becoming irrelevant. Sites like magic.tcgplayer.com not only provide a database of all Magic cards, but comes with a price guide and can usher you to a dealer in their network with the best offer. Mythic Spoiler is not only connected to Facebook, but includes a ‘Thesaurus’ displaying cards with similar abilities to the one you searched. Neither of these sites include a rating system, but it wouldn’t be hard to implement. And each month Gatherer waffles, the owners of these sites feel pressure to court those users.
Wizards is slowly losing the war on how we perceive their game. If the majority of the commenting is done in their forums and on Gatherer, Wizards can control the nature of the conversation. That flow of conversation ranges from simple things, like nixing obscene comments and banning egregious trolls, to more subtle things like focusing on fair play, exploration and encouraging fun. That’s why Gatherer is designed with the options it includes—why it gives high priority to oracle wording and rulings, why the advanced search features are so complete, and why the star rating is not a power level meter or a price index. One would think it would be ideal for players to take that power away from Wizards… and perhaps it could be. But if a site like Mythic Spoiler becomes the new database, then power wouldn’t be in the hands of the players. It would be in the hands of an online store. And Channel Fireball’s agenda isn’t to make a fun game and brand that will hopefully last for at least another fifty years. Their business model is to make as much money as possible, as quickly as reasonable. I’m not saying they don’t feature a great website, because they do. But I question the responsibility of making them the new gatekeepers.
Don’t worry? Gather won’t go anywhere? Take a look at this:
Those figures come from trafficestimate.com. Channel Fireball went gangbusters the past couple of months. One could make an argument for Christmas sales… if the traffic didn’t increase between December and January. Something is causing their business to spike. And I got a hunch what’s causing it…
What Can I Do?
If Wizards dragging their feet on this issue bothers you, tell them about it. They’re busy and understaffed, and can only prioritize so many projects. One way they prioritize is by remaining sensitive to customer complaints. If we complain loud and often enough, they will fix this problem. If we don’t. Well… when Magic Online 3.0 started in 2008, the active league environment was disabled ‘temporarily’ while they worked the kinks out of the system. It’s 2015, and it looks like league might be back, maybe. Seven years! Those aren’t kinks; Wizards suffered from an untreated case of muscular dystrophy!
You can contact Wizards of the Coast customer service at this page here. Unfortunately, you either need an account, or will need to make one. Sorry. I didn’t make the rule.
Alternatively, if you live in the United States, you can call customer service at 1-800-324-6496. If you don’t live in the United States, here’s a list of other websites and phone numbers you can use instead.
Please, don’t be rude to these people. They are working hard to make an excellent game, but can only do so much with the resources allotted. But be insistent. You don’t need to write or say much. A sentence or two will be fine. It’s much better to write less and hit them through multiple mediums.
While we wait for both Wizards and myself to get our collective asses back in gear, you might as well check to see if you missed any According to Gatherer articles. Don’t mind me. I’ve got an e-mail to write and a phone number to call.