Ever since the first digital Magic: the Gathering game was released, all the way back in 1997, MTG players haven’t been entirely trusting of them. As, unlike traditional paper games of MTG, when playing online, players aren’t really the ones in control. Instead, each turn, players are at the whims of a computer and its shuffling algorithms. While theoretically just as random as shuffling on paper, this lack of control has been causing complaints for literal decades. After all, it’s far easier to blame a computer for a game loss rather than your own deck-building ineptitude. For better or worse, however, it appears the days of using this easy excuse are over. Thanks to data, it appears the MTG Arena shuffler hasn’t been rigging games and personally screwing you over after all.
Wizards Admits the Mtg Arena Shuffler Is Rigged!!?!?!!!!!
At the tail end of last week, Magic: the Gathering’s Principal Designer, Gavin Verhey, engaged in a little bit of tomfoolery. Or rather, Gavinfoolery, if you will. Replying to a meme thread on Twitter that asked, “what’s a little-known fact about your profession that would make other people lose their shit,” Verhey dropped quite the bombshell. Completely out of the blue, and five days off from April 1st, Verhey stated the MTG Arena shuffler is rigged.
“We employ a team of people that sit downstairs at Wizards and watch all Arena games simultaneously to make sure the right people get mana screwed or flooded at just the right times. Well, it’s not so much a team as it is just a guy named George. We all respect George.”Gavin Verhey | Wizards of the Coast
As funny as it would be to blow this out of proportion, Verhey’s admission is pretty obviously just him joking around. Subsequently, after reading this dramatic reveal, many Twitter users decided to continue to memery. To do this, some users shared reaction gifs, while others, such as Scryfall’s Chief Hamster Wheel Operator, April King, stated this isn’t even new information. “Hard to believe that people didn’t know about George Shuffler, especially since he has been around since the start of MODO.”
Math to the Rescue
Despite Verhey’s joke, there have been plenty of genuine complaints against the evasive actions of the MTG Arena shuffler. After all, working behind closed doors, players couldn’t guarantee the card shuffler, which shall forevermore be known as George, wasn’t up to something. Thankfully, to put this constant complaining and speculation to bed, some Twitter users turned to the undisputable realm of math. The main voice for this was Twitter user MTG Arena Draft data analyzer Sierkovitz. Within a thread responding to Verhey’s Gavinfoolery, Sierkovitz showcased how, despite the complaints, “there is plenty of data showing that shuffler is just fine.”
After making this declarative statement, Sierkovitz went on to prove their point rather effectively using a variety of insightful graphs. The first of these showcased how, despite how it may seem, George isn’t always ruining your opening hand. According to Sierkovitz’s math, and data from 17Lands, George is actually incredibly close to the expected true random average. For instance, according to math, in a 17-land deck, your opening hand should include three lands basically every single time. According to Sierkovitz’s data, which comprises several hundred thousand games, that’s almost precisely what George deals out.
While this graph should hopefully resolve some of the complaints, as Sierkovitz’s notes, George supposedly has more problems. Namely that within multi-colored decks, George is more malicious, screwing you on color rather than simply land draws. Unfortunately for players looking to use this excuse, however, Sierkovitz states, “that is also not the case.” Ultimately, as the math previously proved, the chance of being color screwed depends on deck construction, not George’s whims. Subsequently, thanks to these statistics, George should never be blamed for a bad opening hand or draws again.
Despite the math seemingly proving George’s innocence, Sierkovitz knows it’s not that easy to convince players with facts and logic. One of the major reasons for this is that MTG players don’t want to accept defeat, as that puts them at fault. “Loads of Magic players religiously avoid saying ‘I made a mistake’. They will never become good players,” Sierkovitz claims. Alongside this major reason, Sierkovitz claimed that some players simply don’t understand how probability works. While this is something that hopefully concrete data will fix, the outliers players experience can still leave a bigger impact. Subsequently, this can skew perception, leading to players disagreeing with the numbers.
At the end of the day, as Sierkovitz proved, George appears to be a completely random shuffler, as they should be. According to Reddit user u/EmTeeEm, however, this is actually part of the problem, as people don’t trust true randomness. Within their comment, EmTeeEm highlighted how legendary game designer Sid Meier was well aware of this issue when creating Civilization. Reportedly, players would often submit bug reports throughout testing when losing unfavorable odds, despite the math holding up. To combat this, Meier introduced a system that would rig results toward players’ expectations rather than blindly following the math.
From EmTeeEm’s perspective, this is the major problem with MTG Arena, as math comes first. Subsequently, while it is unlikely, it’s possible to be screwed by your opening hand, as well as draws. That’s not the fault of George on purpose, however, as it’s instead just a true random chance happening. “So basically, the problem with Arena’s shuffle is it is too fair.”