Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Restaurant Style Salsa

It's New Year's Eve, and after a long day of work, I am about to head out the door for some fun and festivities with friends. Sadly, I lack the time for a full blog post today. So instead, I want to share with you one of my favorite recipes.

Hands down, my favorite snack food is chips and salsa. But the salsa that you buy in a jar at the grocery store just doesn't cut it. I absolutely adore a homemade chunky salsa with fresh tomatoes and vegetables. I've tasted lots of salsa in my life. And this recipe has got to be my favorite. It's easy, it's spicy, and it's delicious. In fact, I've got a batch setting in the fridge right now.

Here's the original recipe, which I found here.

I make a few simple changes:
  1. I found this recipe to be way too juicy. So I discard the juice from the whole tomatoes.
  2. I also found the recipe to be too much for my mixer. So I only use a single can of Rotel tomatoes. This also helps cut down on the spice a little bit.
  3. I double the amount of onion as well as the sugar, salt, and cumin.
And that's it!

Hope you have a fun celebration of the New Year, wherever you are. Be safe, play some games, and dream of a great year ahead. See you in 2014!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Understanding the Color Pie

Way back in March, I discussed what is termed the color pie for Magic the Gatherling, which essentially is an underlying philosophy and theme that unites cards of a particular color. There is an excellent article on the color pie and its philosophy over on the MTG Salvation Wiki, as well as an excellent podcast by Mark Rosewater on the subject. In fact, it was this podcast that sparked the idea for the original post.

While an in-depth understanding of the color pie philosophy behind Magic is hardly necessary to enjoy the game, I find that the better I understand the design behind it, the better Magic player I become. And, as I mentioned previously, this color pie is also an excellent tool one can use to characterize different personality types or even archetypal characters, thus making it an excellent tool for a fantasy fiction writer to have in their toolbox.

Since I wrote that post in March, Mark Rosewater has also completed his podcast series on color philosophy. Because he tends to jump around from topic to topic, it took over 50 episodes to finally complete this series. Thus, today I want to link you to each of the podcasts on each color. They are interesting and well-done, and if you're reading this blog, it's a good bet you'll enjoy them:
  1. White
  2. Blue
  3. Black
  4. Red
  5. Green
And, in case you can't get enough of his podcasts, you can check out the full archive of Drive to Work.

See you next time.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas

Maybe there should be a Christmas-themed Magic set? One with giant snow-men
wielding deadly presents wrapped in bows?

Around the world, however you celebrate this time of year, from Writer Adept I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

An Open Letter to Mike Turian

Last week, I had a quick conversation with joekewwl, a former Community Cup champion, advocate of Standard Pauper, and unofficial liaison for beta-testing on Magic Online. At the time, he was chatting with one Mike Turian, who is the new Digital Product Manager for Magic Online at Wizards of the Coast. Joe later posted the gist of his conversation on the Standard forums of PDCMagic.com. You can read it for yourself, but the big takeaway is that Wizards Online has a positive outlook on the Standard Pauper format, and once the new client has been officially launched, is something they would like to move forward on at some point in the future.

Joekewwl encouraged all of us to continue to make our voice heard. So, with that in mind, I will be sending the following E-mail to Mike.

Dear Mike Turian,

My name is George Leonard, known as gwyned on Magic Online. For the past four years, I have been a major proponent of the Standard Pauper format. I am also a good friend with Joe Dillard, known as joekewwl online, whom you met during the 2011 Community Cup. I have over 70 published articles on the Standard Pauper format, and currently host Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, which is one of the most popular Player Run Events dedicated to this format and is now in its 23rd Season.

First off, on behalf of the community let me extend my gratitude for the addition of the Standard Pauper game filter on Magic Online. This has been a tremendous boon to the format, allowing us to much more easily find opponents and reducing confusion about what was and was not legal in the format. 

Second, it is my understanding that there has been some positive discussion regarding future sanctioned events for Standard Pauper. This is great to hear. I believe this will benefit both the Standard Pauper community and Wizards of the Coast. Here's why:
  •  Standard Pauper is the perfect format for new players. It uses the most popular format (Standard), yet allows them to play in a less complex environment while learning the ropes of online play. It also has a much lower cost of entry compared to any other format online.
  • Success in Standard Pauper very naturally transitions players to both Standard and Limited. As these are the most popular (and thus must lucrative) formats, growth in these formats would lead to increased revenues.
  • While less complex than other formats, Standard Pauper still boasts a rich and varied metagame, with competitive decklists that in many ways mirror the major archetypes found in Standard and Limited.
While I understand that most of your development assets are tied up in completing the new client, I strongly believe that sanctioned events for Standard Pauper would be a wise use of your resources for the future of Magic Online.

But don't just take my word for it. Earlier this year, a petition circled online regarding full support for this format. To date it has over 300 signatures. There are also a growing number of clans on Magic Online devoted to the format, with the largest - Standard Pauper Players - boasting almost 70 members from around the globe, with more added each week.

Thanks for all you do for making Magic Online such a great product for so many like myself to enjoy. I look forward eagerly to what's in store for the future.


George Leonard

If you've got suggestions on how I might improve this letter, I'd love to hear them. And I'd also encourage you to send your own E-mail to Mike Turian and make your voice heard. Wizards has said in the past that they want to support any format that the community rallies around. Let's hold them to their word. Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Two More Screen Capture Options

Last Friday, I blogged about Camtasia, an excellent commercial screen capture and video editor package that I use for all of my videos (which you can always find on my YouTube channel). Today, as promised, I want to bring you two other options. While these are not as polished as Camtasia, and lack built-in video editing software, they do have one major advantage over Camtasia - they are 100% open source and thus 100% free.

A couple caveats. One, of the two options. I've only personally used CamStudio, and major updates have been made since the last time I used it. Second, both of these options will require some time to tweak to your specific computer hardware. When I first started using CamStudio, I spent quite a bit of time on YouTube and in their forums, digging around for solutions to various issues. These are both great programs - when they are working properly - but your results may vary.

1. The first option is CamStudio. It's a simple, clean program that can record both the audio and the video on your screen, as well as allowing you to commentate on the video using either a microphone or captions. You can even create a picture-in-picture of yourself using an external webcam while your recording. CamStudio does require, in addition to the software itself, that you download an external codec, which is a piece of software that can encode and decode digital signals. They provide access to one designed directly for CamStudio, but you can also download other popular video and audio codecs instead.

If you're interested in learning more about how to use CamStudio, there is an excellent resource on YouTube that contains a playlist of 23 tutorials on how to use this software. Check it out below.

2. The second option is Open Broadcaster. Open Broadcaster is primarily designed for live streaming, but can be used as screen capture software as well. Due to this design, it gives you a lot more control over the various elements you record, allowing you to utilize a variety of images, text, audio, and video. Open Broadcaster also allows you to setup different profiles for different types of recording, use different codecs, and control your video resolution. Clearly this is a much more sophisticated program than CamStudio, but naturally that sophistication requires a higher learning curve to operate. Fortunately, there is a great tutorial on these features on the forums. Additionally, their website provides a helpful walkthrough to help determine your ideal settings.

You can also check out the video below for a quick guide on how to setup and use Open Broadcaster.

 I hope that you found this information helpful. If any of you have some experience using either CamStudio or Open Broadcaster, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. And let me extend a special thanks to Master Greystone on Twitter for the heads-up about Open Broadcaster. It looks like a fantastic piece of software!

Thanks, and see you next time,

Tuesday, December 17, 2013


It's the last full week before Christmas, and like many people at this time of year, I find my life full of an assortment of seemingly unrelated things demanding my attention. With that in mind, I have three unrelated items for today's post.

1. For the past few months, a new do-it-yourself, small, homemade heater has been circulating the web. I first encountered it through the video below, and decided to try it out.

Surprisingly, it works just as advertised. I spent less than $10 for both clay pots, a package of 30 tea light candles, and a metal bread tin. It produces a surprisingly large amount of heat, and burns for 4-6 hours at a time. On cold days, this is now my go-to heater while I am sitting at my computer desk. Go ahead - try it for yourself. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

2. Last time I wrote about the Camtasia, the screen-capture software and video editor that I use to make all of my videos. This was by far my biggest financial expense for creating content, but there certainly are other improvements I would like to make. However, all of these things cost money. And, like most Standard Pauper players, the amount of money I have to invest into this hobby is minimal.

I have periodically been asked how others can support what I do for Standard Pauper. I considered placing ads on my site, but decided against it. Instead, I decided to give, my readers, the ability to support me directly without having to annoy you with ads. So here's the deal.

On the right-hand column, there's a small entry entitled "Support This Blog." Underneath are two links. The first takes you to Paypal, where you have the option of donating directly to me. The second links you to the home page of Amazon. If you use this link before purchasing anything, a small portion of your sale comes back to me, without costing you a dime.

All proceeds earned this way will go into improving the quality and quantity of my content for my blog and for Standard Pauper.

3. Finally, I am happy to announce that Standard Pauper player milegyenanevem won my 100th Blog Post Giveaway! He will be receiving a Theros draft set compliments of Writer Adept. Congrats to him, and thanks to everyone who signed up to receive E-mail updates from this blog. If you haven't done so already, it's a great idea to go ahead and sign up under "Follow By E-mail," which is located on the right hand column.

That's it for today. Friday, I'll be back with some more content related to screen capture software. Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Camtasia Studio

I've recently had a few people ask me what software I use to record my matches from Magic Online. Previously, I've written about how Magic Online replays work and how you can create a replay for any game for which you have the appropriate game number. Today I want to talk a little bit about how you can then take those replays and turn them into a video that can be shared on the Internet.

Essentially what you need is some sort of screen-capture software, which takes whatever is displayed on your screen and renders it into a standard video file that you can then load into a video editor. Most screen-capture software will also allow you to record a voice-over while you're recording; if not, any decent video editor will allow you to do the same.

While there are probably several good options available, I currently use Camtasia Studio. Camtasia is a fantastic suite of software that allows you to record, edit, and distribute video from your computer. You can capture all or only a portion of your screen, capture any sound effects from what you're recording, add streaming video or audio of yourself while you're recording, and much more. Then, with the built-in video editor, you can import existing images, audio, or video to really make a fantastic end-product. Their website has a whole host of tutorials, which are short, easy-to-understand, and really show off what this editor can do. They even have a fully functional 30 day trial to let you decide if this is the right product for you.

Unfortunately, Camtasia Studio 8 is expensive, putting you back over $250. If you are a student, they do have an education discount available here, but be warned you will have to prove your credentials to get the discounted price.

However, there is a free alternative out there called CamStudio. While it has significantly less bells and whistles, and requires some work to get it operating properly, it is available absolutely free. Next Friday, I'll tell you more about this great alternative.

Finally, don't forget about the giveaway I'm currently running. All you have to do is become an E-mail subscriber, and you are automatically entered into a drawing for either a Theros draft set or a $10 gift card. All the details can be found here.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

100th Post Giveaway

It's hard to believe, but yesterday I posted the 100th post for Writer Adept! Way back in January, I began this blog as part of a New Year's resolution, and I have been so encouraged and excited by the response from you, my loyal readers. Since that first post months ago, this site has logged over 30,000 pageviews, reaching an audience that spans North America, Europe, and Asia.

To celebrate this occasion, I want to give something back to this great community. Just to the right of this post is a widget that looks like this:
Not a real widget. Don't use this. Use the one in the right-hand column. Over there ---->
If you enter your E-mail address and submit, you will receive an E-mail each and every time this blog post is updated. This is a great way to keep up with what's going on here at Writer Adept. This also gives me the ability to communicate directly to you with any special announcements or a sneak preview of upcoming content.

At the end of this week, I will be randomly selecting one lucky E-mail follower to receive a Theros Draft set on Magic Online, or, if that person doesn't have a MTGO account, an online $10 gift certificate of his or her choice. All you have to do to be eligible to win is to enter a valid E-mail address into the "Follow By E-mail" widget and press Submit, and you're entered to win. It's that easy!

Thanks for reading, commenting, and supporting this blog. I appreciate each and every one of you!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

SPDC is Back, Thanks to Cabel

Standard Pauper Deck Challenge is back!

I am pleased to report that this week long time member of the Standard Pauper community Cabel announced that he will be taking over as host of the longtime Player Run Event, SPDC. You can check out the details of his post here. This is great news for the format, as this community will once again have two events for Standard Pauper - MPDC at a European-friendly time slot, and SPDC at a United States-friendly time slot.

Furthermore, the capstone event for SPDC is coming up on December 19th. Normally, this is an invitation-only event, capped at the top 32 players as determined by Season Points. But this Thursday, December 12th, any player who places in the Top 8 of SPDC will earn a priority-invitation to the capstone event, which in the past has featured some incredibly good prizes! So if you've never participated in this event, this Thursday is an excellent time to start!

Let me also extend a special thanks to Cabel for making all this happen. Cabel maintains his own blog on Standard Pauper, is a member of the Standard Pauper Players clan on Magic Online, and contributes articles on the format over at PureMTGO.com under the username Copperfield.

If you see him online, be sure and extend your gratitude to him for bringing back this great event. It's a great time to be part of the Standard Pauper community! See you next time.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Turtle Power vs Dimir Mill

As I mentioned earlier this week, I designed a new decklist I entitled "Turtle Power" to specifically combat Dimir Mill, which has emerged as the deck to beat in the current Standard Pauper metagame.

I spent quite a bit of time analyzing how to beat Dimir Mill. Of course, the resulting deck would need to be able to compete against the other decks in the metagame, but that was of secondary importance.

Fortunately, it wasn't long into my testing that I got a chance to put this to the test. Today I wanted to share with you a video from that match.

Needless to say, this match definitely confirmed I was on to something! Hope you enjoyed watching it. See you next time.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Turtle Power

So after a long streak of dismal performances at Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, yesterday I finally managed to fight my way back into the Top 8 of MPDC 23.07, actually finishing in 2nd place with my recent Izzet deck that I affectionately dubbed Turtle Power. The name is a nod to the perennial favorite Magic card Horned Turtle, which is a 1/4 Blue creature for 3.

While the archetype is nothing new, this build is closer to a pure Control/Burn list than the Izzet decks from earlier this year. Here's what my list consisted of:

Turtle Power
2nd place in MPDC 23.07 by gwyned
4 Minotaur Skullcleaver
4 Nivix Cyclops
8 cards

Other Spells
4 Annihilating Fire
4 Cancel
4 Essence Scatter
4 Inspiration
4 Lightning Strike
4 Razortip Whip
4 Shock
28 cards
9 Island
9 Mountain
4 Izzet Guildgate
2 Unknown Shores
24 cards

4 Dispel
3 Negate
3 Lava Axe
3 Frostburn Weird
2 Voyage's End
15 cards
Nivix Cyclops

Overall I was pretty happy with the deck. However, there are a couple quick changes I would make:
  • Drop to 23 lands. Even as a Control deck, with its low curve, 24 Lands is probably too much.
  • Replace some, if not all, of the Inspirations with Divination.
  • Take out 2 Dispels and a Negate from the Sideboard, and replace them with Archaeomancer to fight back against MonoBlack's hand disruption.
If you have other thoughts on how this deck could be improved, I'd love to hear them!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Crypt Incursion

Anyone who complains that Wizards of the Coast doesn't print powerful Commons anymore hasn't taken a good look at Crypt Incursion.

The first effect of this card is pretty typical stuff for a Black Common. Black typically has the means to interact with the Graveyard, particularly to return creatures to hand from there, and thus it makes good design sense to have an answer to that particular ability. Interestingly enough, the ability to remove multiple cards from a Graveyard has fallen from favor with the design team. One has to look all the way back to Scars of Mirrodin block to find such an ability - namely, Nihil Spellbomb.

So while the first effect is good, the second effect is potentially back-breaking. I was curious about what similar effects existed in the past, so I did a quick Gatherer search. In the past, cards that could gain a variable amount of life equal to some resource have (with 1 exception) been either White or Green, with the most common such spell using creatures on the battlefield as this resource. Gnaw to the Bone is the most recent example, providing a similar effect without exiling the creatures. On the one hand, it uses a 2x multiplier instead of 3x. But on the other hand, it does have Flashback, allowing it to be cast twice.

Based on that research, this effect is not so far outside the boundaries of what is normally acceptable power-level at Common. However, the fact that Black gets access to such a large amount of Life seems to be a mistake. Sure, Black certainly gets access to lifegain, in the form of removal spells, drain-effects or the like. Black even gets the ability to gain a variable amount of Life. But this has always been tied to the number of Swamps in play, or more recently, the amount of Black mana symbols in play. And even then, such effects have been pushed back to Uncommon as of late - such as Corrupt.

Here's my main issue. Given its access to the best removal, Black lends itself well to Control archetypes. Such archetypes intrinsically play more powerful cards, but take longer to gain access to these effects. Thus the simplest way to beat them is to play an Aggro archetype, denying your opponent the time to take control of the game. But when Black has access to large amounts of Lifegain, this strategy is significantly weakened. And when this happens, you end up with a deck like Dimir Mill, which is well on its way to dominating the current Standard Pauper metagame. If you're interested in why I think this card has made this deck so overpowered, you can find some discussion here.

For this reason, I believe this card would have been better as a multicolor Golgari Common, with a casting cost of 1BlackGreen or even 2BlackGreen. Given its dual effect and power-level, such a casting cost would be more in line with what this card can do. Alternatively, one could also simply drop the variable lifegain, changing the card so that the caster simply gains 3 Life.

What do you think of my analysis? Am I overreacting? Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Thousand Names

While this blog has primarily become a source for much of my Magic the Gathering musings, I still am very much interested in the world of fantasy fiction. While I have taken the time to review some of my favorite fantasy authors, I have yet to ever write a book review for my blog. So what better time to start than now?

In particular, I am always interested to see what is selling in the fantasy market, particularly by a new author who hasn't made a name for him or herself yet. The Thousand Names, by Django Wexler, is just such a book. (As an aside - you know an author is new to the scene when he has yet to have an entry at Wikipedia).

The novel follows the story of two officers assigned to a colonial garrison in a remote part of an empire. One is a gentleman among rogues and scoundrels, the other a young girl masquerading as a soldier. Save for brief interludes between sections, the book alternates between these two perspectives. Their lives are forever changed when a new colonel arrives to take command. Under his military genius, they undertake an impossible campaign to recapture a rebellious city. But along the way, it soon becomes clear that this conflict is overshadowed by a struggle to take possession of a power to reshape the world and bring the empire to its knees.

The Thousand Names is unique in its setting, its historical period, and its attention to military detail. Rather than the typical medieval Europe, this reads more like a Napoleonic campaign in Africa, complete with cannon, cavalry, and muskets. It is decidedly low-magic, but tips off the reader very early that there is a supernatural element to what appears to be a mundane military conflict. The characters are vivid, unique, and interesting, each with secrets that are slowly revealed as the story progresses. The story itself is well-crafted, doesn't get bogged down in the middle, and balances action, intrigue, and character conflict.

The Thousand Names is highly recommended. If you enjoy a more historical, low-magic fantasy story rich with details about military campaigns of the Napoleonic era, this is the perfect book for you. But there is enough here that almost any avid fantasy reader will enjoy this book.

But don't take my word for it. Check out the excellent reviews posted on Amazon.com, and buy yourself a copy today! You won't regret it.

Finally, if you're still on the fence, you can check out for free a short story that serves as a prequel of sorts to The Thousand Names, although obviously it isn't required prior reading. Check it out here!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Mono Red-Blitz

So the other day, as I was browsing the latest content from ChannelFireball, I came across a video by Caleb Durward featuring a list he called Standard Mono-Red Blitz. While as a rule I don't follow much Standard, I still enjoy watching content on this format and sometimes even pick up ideas for Standard Pauper.

As the video began, I was intrigued by Durward's list. With only a few exceptions, the deck was mostly Commons. Take a look for yourself:

So immediately I wanted to find out whether this archetype would work in Standard Pauper. Obviously I had to remove the non-Commons, which included the playsets of Firedrinker Satyr, Legion Loyalist, Rakdos Cackler, and Ash Zealot. The only replacement one-drop worth playing is Bellows Lizard, but Rakdos Shred-Freak, Skinbrand Goblin, and Goblin Shortcutter seemed natural replacements, along with a full set of Gore-House Chainwalkers.

I tested and tweaked the deck, finally arriving at this list:

So what do you think of this list? How well do you think it would fare in the current metagame? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Azorius Control

The new Standard Pauper metagame is shaping up nicely, with a fairly wide variety of decks still in contention for top spots. While Dimir Mill seems to be the clear front-runner, Hexproof, Mono Black, Orzhov, and RDW are all producing good results.

None of these have really captured my attention though, despite their strengths. Instead, I've returned to my roots in Blue White, and testing out a build that I believe has the potential to carve out a place in the emerging metagame.

Here's the list I'm currently playing:

With 25 Instants (including creatures with Flash), this deck is about as close as one gets in Standard Pauper to 'draw-go,' firmly pushing the deck into the role of Control. It also has eight different Scry effects as well as 3 draw spells, giving the deck the ability to dig deep to search for answers. Furthermore, between Deputy of Acquittals and Voyage's End, this decklist can sidestep a surprising amount of removal, while also potentially ambushing attackers as well. Basilica Guards is also a cornerstone of the deck, allowing you to recover from early aggression and get extra value out of your spells. And, perhaps best of all, the deck has some solid options for playing against Dimir Mill, even to the point of being able to 'out-mill' your opponent.

I've spent quite a bit of time fine-tuning this list, but there certainly could be room for improvement. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this build.

Thanks for reading.

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Sky Is (Not) Falling

Unless you've been disconnected from the virtual world for the last week or so (or don't follow what's going on in the world of Magic Online), by now you've no doubt heard about the horrific problems Wizards of the Coast had with Magic Online last weekend and the ensuing decision to shutdown most of the major events until further notice.

Problems with Magic Online resulting in cancelled events are nothing new, but in this particular case Pro Magic player Brian Kibler, understandable frustrated by his experience, called for the community to stop playing Magic Online until the problems were fixed. The post went viral, and while not officially confirmed, it seems likely that this firestorm of negative publicity was at the least a contributing factor to Wizards of the Coast's decision.

Twitter went crazy as this all went down. Just search under hashtag #mtgo or better yet #blamekibler to see just what I mean. You could also check out StarCityGame's The Magic Show, which in an entertaining ten-minute segment gives a decent overview of the whole situation.

Personally, the best response I've read so far comes from Pete Jahn's State of the Program for today. I encourage you to check it out for yourself. But here's the big takeaway: Don't panic. Yes, Magic Online has serious problems. Yes, it's going to take some time to fix it. Yes, some of the previous features won't be available for the foreseeable future, and may be dramatically different once they return. But this is familiar ground. It's happened before. Sadly, it will probably happen again. And in the end, Magic Online will survive, its audience will continue to grow, and we will continually find new things to frustrate us about the program. Because despite all its flaws, Magic Online gives us an experience that we can't find anywhere else.

And, for us casual players, there is a huge silver-living. Now is the time to really push Standard Pauper as a format. Let's double our attendance at the weekly PREs. Let's publish more on PDCMagic's Standard forums, on Twitter, and YouTube. Let's take this opportunity to really see Standard Pauper shine.

See you next time.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Clan Standard Pauper Players

The other day I was asked why I have never joined a clan.

Wait. Let me back up for a moment. On Magic Online, there exists something called Community Clans. Currently a clan can be any number of players, restricted only by whomever the current clan captain chooses to invite. Magic Online keeps track of the number of packs won within each clan, and gives each clan its own chat-room. By clicking on any other player, you can view what clan he or she belongs to. But otherwise, there is little difference between being in a clan and not.

While I have, in fact, been part of two different clans during my time on Magic Online, they have been brief memberships. I'm on at odd hours, really only play one format - and a casual one at that - and thus never really found a clan that suited me. Certainly not one that was worth some of the odd requirements or restrictions that exist among the various Magic Online clans.

But recently I was introduced to a clan called Standard Pauper Players that, for obvious reasons, immediately caught my attention.

I was amazed to discover that such a clan existed. It was centered around Standard Pauper, boasted over 50 members from all across the world, and was dedicated to seeing the format gain official sanction from Wizards of the Coast. They even had their own blog.

If ever there was a clan for me, this certainly seems to fit the bill.

But before I jump into anything, I have a question: As the host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, one of the most popular Player Run Events, does the fact that I belong to a particular host somehow disqualify me from membership in a clan? Do I run the risk of appearing to favor my fellow clan-members? I don't think so, but I'd love to hear what you guys think.

Don't forget that my second update of the week is now on Fridays instead of Thursdays. And thanks for reading.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Options for Dimir Mill

For this week, I decided to devote all three of my blog posts to the Dimir Mill deck that captured the trophy for MPDC 23.02. On Sunday, I wrote a brief introduction to this archetype. Then, on Wednesday, I wrote about some strategies that can successfully counter what this deck is trying to do. While these strategies go a long way to defeating this archetype, the determined Dimir Mill players is not without options. So today I want to briefly discuss some potential ways that Dimir Mill can emerge victorious:

1. The biggest weakness of the build that won MPDC 23.02 is its inability to successfully mill out an opponent who doesn't cast any spells. What is needed, then, are some cards that overcome this shortcoming. The most obvious answer is Tome Scour, which for a single blue mana mills an opponent for 5 cards. All other things being equal, if you manage to see most of your deck and thus cast all four copies, this should be enough to counter the additional cards in your opponent's library gained through Sideboarding and aggressive mulligans.

2. Of course, the reason Tome Scour wasn't included in the original list is that its essentially an "aggro" mill card, in that it doesn't convey any additional advantages. For that reason, one could argue that a better solution would be creature-based mill. This would not only help solve the original shortcoming, but would also force your opponent to deal with additional creature threats. This, in turn, forces him or her to cast more spells, and this in turn gives you a better chance to cast counterspells and removal. Let's look at three such possibilities.

A. Gatecrash unveiled a special "mill" mechanic where an opponent reveals cards until he or she reveals a land, and then all those cards get put in the Graveyard. Balustrade Spy is perfectly positioned to take full advantage of this ability. While the amount of cards it mills will obviously be somewhat random, in a typical deck it will average between 2 and 3 cards, with a much higher potential. Even better, a 2/3 flyer is a significant threat, which your opponent cannot simply ignore turn after turn.

B. The second option comes from Return to Ravnica in the form of Doorkeeper, a much more typical Blue creature with the ability to mill cards. Paying two a blue mana to mill a single card from your opponent's library is not very good, but in multiples this has the potential to mill quite a few cards over the course of a game. Of course, since this doesn't otherwise threaten your opponent, I would judge it weaker than Balustrade Spy, although it will probably mill more cards over the course of a game.

C. The final option is Returned Centaur. This is similar to Balustrade Spy, but with a guaranteed four cards mill when it comes into play. While it isn't quite as potent a threat as the Balustrade Spy, it consistently mills for almost as many cards as Tome Scour while still presenting a threat that your opponent cannot simply ignore. In my opinion, this is probably the most consistent creature-based milling option, and would be the first option I would want to test further.

3. It should also be mentioned that the Sideboarding trick works almost as well for you as it does for your opponent. Especially in Game 3 if you've already seen your opponent use this strategy, it makes sense to utilize it yourself. While weakening your overall plan, the game is all but guaranteed to go long anyway, and so you should be able to overcome the dilution of your library.

In closing, I confess that I have to test any of this. But if I were going to go down this route, these would be the options I would start with.

So what about you? Any solid options that I missed? Do you have any other tips, either for improving the Dimir Mill deck or defeating it more consistently? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Beating Dimir Mill

Earlier this week, I wrote about the Dimir Mill deck that won MPDC 23.02, piloted by the skilled player Adner. While the deck didn't perform as well in Monday's event, it is still a deck that you should be prepared to face. And, like I mentioned before, Dimir Mill can be a tough matchup, given its ability to easily keep pace with mid-range and control strategies. So today I will look at different strategies designed to help you overcome this archetype.

There are essentially two directions you can take.

First, you can try to power out a quick victory, overwhelming the deck's ability to keep the board under control. This means aggressive starts, dealing damage as quickly as possible, and casting multiple spells in a turn to push through the counterspells in the deck. Since this archetype is so reactive, if you can create more threats than your opponent can keep up with, you can secure a quick victory and essentially render all of the milling effects meaningless. Unfortunately, this requires a pretty aggressive build as well as a good opener, and such a start may not even be possible for many of the popular archetypes. Which is where the second strategy comes into play.

You see, you need to realize that any Mill archetype is playing an entirely different game. Rather than trying to reduce your life from 20 to 0, Dimir Mill is trying to reduce your library from 60 to 0. This means that anything you can do to keep more cards in your library is ultimately going to be good for you.

Furthermore, the strength of this deck is also its greatest weakness. Both Pilfered Plans and Thassa's Bounty take as many cards from your opponent's library as they do from yours. The only way the Dimir Mill deck has to get ahead in total cards remaining is to cast Psychic Strike and Grisly Spectacle. But your opponent can only cast these two spells if you allow them.

So the second strategy is this: refuse to play into Dimir Mill's strengths. Instead, play a different game entirely.
  • Take your entire Sideboard, dump it into your Library, and Submit. Viola! You just boosted your "life total" from 60 to 75.
  • Aggressively mulligan, even down to a single card, if that's what it takes to keep your library larger than your opponent.
  • Don't cast any draw spells. Anytime you do this, you are reducing your "life total" by the number of cards you draw.
  • Don't cast any creature spells either, and only cast other spells if you are certain your opponent can't counter it.
If you follow these simple tips, provided your start the match with more cards in your library than your opponent, the only way you can lose the game is from lethal damage from Archaeomancer. Deal with this one card, and you literally can't lose the match.

So, is there anything the Dimir Mill deck can do to counter this second strategy? That's what I'll cover on Friday. See you then.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Dimir Mill

Today I want to write about Dimir Mill, the Standard Pauper archetype that captured the trophy for MPDC 23.02.

But before we get to that, I have two quick points of interest:

1. I discovered today that I somehow neglected to write Thursday's post last week. No idea what happened, but clearly I dropped the ball. To make up for this, I will be publishing content three times this week.

2. From this point forward, I will be submitting new posts on Tuesdays and Fridays, instead of Tuesdays and Thursday. Frankly, my Thursdays have gotten hectic enough that it's no wonder I completely missed the fact until now that I didn't put up a post that day.

So with that out of the way...

I confess when I first got back into Magic, I loved the idea of a Mill deck. Back in a previous (and shortlived) blog, I even wrote a blog post exploring different options available at the time to try to make such an archetype work. Since that time, there have been a few viable Mill strategies that have come and gone, and in the mean time, I came to despise the archetype, much as I do almost any non-conventional win strategy. It isn't that such strategies are inherently weak or unfair or cheap. It's just that in an all-common format like Standard Pauper, dedicated answers simply don't exist for such archetypes.

It shouldn't surprise you then that I was somewhat distressed to see a new Mill deck not only emerge in the new metagame, but capture the trophy of the second event. In case you missed it, here's the decklist:

Dimir Mill*
1st place by Adner in MPDC 23.02
4 Archaeomancer
4 cards

Other Spells
4 Cancel
4 Devour Flesh
4 Essence Scatter
4 Grisly Spectacle
4 Psychic Strike
3 Pilfered Plans
2 Crypt Incursion
3 Read the Bones
2 Stymied Hopes
3 Thassa's Bounty
33 cards
10 Swamp
8 Island
4 Dimir Guildgate
1 Unknown Shores
23 cards

Psychic Strike
* Note that since Gatherling hasn't been updated for Magic 2014 or Theros yet, I had to make a best guess for the number of some of these cards included in the decklist.

Unlike almost every other Standard Pauper Mill deck I've seen, this one doesn't rely upon cards that only mill. In fact, it doesn't have a single dedicated Mill card in the decklist. Instead, this list runs permission spells, draw spells, and removal, and nearly every spell provides incidental milling. Furthermore, since the only creatures in the list are Archaeomancers, it blanks nearly all the removal spells from the opposing deck.

Having now played against this archetype, I can tell you that it's quite powerful. It has answers to just about every contender in the metagame. It can weather early aggression fairly well, can keep up with mid-range strategies, and plays fairly well in the end game. So the question is, how do you beat it? That's what I want to talk about on Wednesday...

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Junk Enchantments

So during the week between the rotation of Standard on Magic Online and the start of the new season of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, I was busy testing several new decks and decided what looked promising in the new metagame. I was testing various Boros and Orzhov builds, and had just about settled on a deck, when Zachary Barash (of Hipsters of the Coast fame), sent me this provocative tweet:

Needless to say I was intrigued. Next time we were both online, I got to face this "new best deck" across the virtual battlefield. I proceeded to get beaten by said deck - and hard. Granted, this is not an unusual experience for me. Still, I was impressed. I immediately set aside the decks I had been working on and began testing with this new one instead.

Although this isn't the version he initially showed me (or even the one I eventually played), I believe that this is probably the strongest version of this deck, now known as Junk Enchantments:

The deck's concept is simple and straightforward, yet remarkably powerful. It functions similar to a Hexproof archetype, save that instead of relying on Hexproof creatures, you instead make use of the special qualities of the Bestow mechanic that essentially prevent you from getting two-for-one'd if your opponent destroys the target of the Bestow Aura prior to it resolving. Ethereal Armor is clearly the most powerful card in the deck, followed by Auramancer, Read the Bones, and Hopeful Eidolon.

The strength of the deck is its flexibility. You can go slow and play the value game very well with Auramancer, Read the Bones, and Bestow, or you can explode with a Turn 1 Hopeful Eidolon, Turn 2 double Ethereal Armor. However, conserving your Ethereal Armors is probably the wiser course of action, as they just get better as the game goes on.

Anyway, despite my initial enthusiasm, I have had nothing but trouble with this deck in two weeks of tournament play in Monday Pauper Deck Challenge. I have a record of 2-5 with the deck, and have seen it lose just about every way possible. I suspect that this is, at least in part, a combination of bad play, bad luck, and some less-than-optimal builds, rather than a true reflection on the deck itself. Still, it's been brutal for me.

So what do you think? Is this archetype viable? Or was it just a gimmick whose initial success was more due to its novelty than any real strength? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Klatch Coffee

It's hard to believe that in almost eleven months of blogging, I've only submitted a single post related to what is probably my biggest hobby outside of Standard Pauper. What is that, you ask? If you've been paying attention at all, then this post is a not-so-subtle clue. I'm talking, of course, about coffee...or espresso, to be exact.

At some point, I should share more about my own history with espresso and why I find it to be such an amazing beverage to consume. But today, I instead want to promote what recently became my favorite distributor of espresso - Klatch Coffee.

These guys are SERIOUS about their coffee. Their "roastmaster" and owner travels all around the world, picking only the finest coffees, and roasts them in small batches at their company headquarters. In fact, when you place an order, your coffee isn't even roasted until then, so by the time it's delivered, you get a freshness that is unparalleled. They've won all kinds of awards, including a very prestigious "Best Espresso in the World" at the World Barista Championship in Tokyo. They feature four different espresso roasts year round, and seasonally offer single origin espresso roasts while supplies last.

Of course, none of that matters if the coffee isn't both delicious and affordable. Fortunately Klatch delivers on both counts. While certainly more expensive than buying a bag of Starbucks at your local grocery store, the quality you get is far above anything else I've ever tasted. And compared to other gourmet espresso roasts like Illy, Klatch is noticeably less expensive, particularly in bulk.

So if you're a coffee snob like I am, and you want to try one of the best coffees in the country, you can't go wrong with Klatch Coffee. Try them out; you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Return to Hosting

Yesterday I completed my very own March of the Returned as I resumed hosting Monday Pauper Deck Challenge. Although attendance was still a bit lower than I would like, overall I felt like the event was a big success. It honestly felt quite satisfying to back in my role as host, and I am so grateful to each of you who took the time to thank me for coming back.

While some of my hosting duties are quite familiar, this season I am challenging myself to continue to grow in my skills in terms of consistency, presentation, and the little flourishes. For example, for the first time ever, I created a trophy image for milegyenanevem, the winner of Monday's event, who piloted a very powerful Mono-Black deck. I probably spent about three hours altogether searching online for the right tool, playing with the various elements I could cobble together, and learning the ins and outs of the software. While I certainly have room to grow in my skills as a trophy designer, I felt like my initial design wasn't too shabby:

I ended up using a great free program called Paint.NET, which has many of the features of advance image editors like Photoshop while being much easier to use for a newcomer. While this program doesn't natively support the PSD Photoshop file-type, a quick add-on overcame that limitation with ease. From there, it was a simple task to download the old trophy elements still available over through the Artwork forums on PDCMagic.com. I also uncovered this post by user Polyjak that proved to be quite helpful.

Despite the several hours I had to devote to my first attempt, overall the process seems pretty easy, and in the future I should be able to create these within a much more reasonable time frame each week. 

If you missed your chance to participate this week, let me remind you that Monday Pauper Deck Challenge takes place every Monday at 2pm EST. All you need is a Standard Pauper deck, an account on Magic Online, and several hours to devote to playing one of the best formats Magic has to offer. Hope to see you next Monday!

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Changes for MPDC

As I mentioned in my previous post, I will be resuming my position as host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, which begins its 23rd season this coming Monday. I am excited about this opportunity to be more involved with the Standard Pauper community once again. As host, my goals are simple:

  • Make MPDC the premiere Player Run Event experience for Magic Online.
  • Grow participation in MPDC, particularly from new players or those new to Magic Online.
  • Increase awareness and exposure to the Standard Pauper format.

To that end, there will be some changes going forward to how Monday Pauper Deck Challenge will operate. I will freely admit that some of these are more experimental in nature, and will not necessarily apply after this season. But in each case, I believe these changes will support these goals.

  1. MPDC will return to using DCI Reporter to run the event, rather than the automated Gatherling tool. Not only does DCI Reporter give me as host more control of the event itself, it also creates a much more attractive product for Pairings and Standings that can be used to advertise the event.
  2. Speaking of which, each MPDC event will continue to be advertised in the Player Run Events channel of the Wizards forums. But once again, this advertisement will include the results of the event, rather than simply the announcement itself. I believe the quality of these posts goes a long way to attracting new players.
  3. MPDC will award the winner of each event a trophy, much as was done in the past. While I have some technical challenges to overcome to make this a reality, I will endeavor to get this done each and every week in a timely fashion. This is another nice way to advertise the event, and one that I would like to see resume.
  4. Worlds, the capstone event for each season, will now be open to everyone. It will be the same format as each other week - Swiss with Top 8 cutoff - but will still feature the improved prizes. The Top 8 players from the season, as determined by Season Points, will receive a free bye for Round 1 of this event. This will allow anyone who shows up to play, but still give our regulars an incentive to participate each week.
  5. Last but not least, I will be offering better prize support for Top 8. In the interest of full disclosure, my intent is to pay for these additional prizes out of the $5 credit normally awarded to the host of the event, rather than asking for additional prize support from our sponsor. While the details of this are not finalized, the prize payout will now resemble something like this: 
    • 1st: $7 gift certificate to MTGOTraders
    • 2nd: $4 gift certificate to MTGOTraders
    • Top 4: $2 gift certificate to MTGOTraders
    • Top 8: $1 credit at MTGOTraders bot
    • Door Prize: 4 cards from the MPDC Prize Pool

As always, your feedback is appreciated. Thanks for reading, and I hope to see many of you on Monday for a new season of MPDC!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Decision

Last week, I wrote about the future of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge (which I will refer to as MPDC from this point forward) and my own past and present involvement with this Player Run Event and the Standard Pauper format. I asked several questions, and received a fair bit of response from  my readers which I covered in my previous post. After surveying your responses, I took quite a bit of time over this weekend to think and reflect deeply upon what I believe is the best course of action.

Here's the short version: As of Season 23, I will return as the host of MPDC.

If that's all you wanted to know, feel free to stop reading now. But if you're interested in why I believe this is the best course of action, keep reading.

So here's the long version:
  • As much as I think a Standard Pauper league is a great idea, the response from the immediate community hasn't been that strong. For such a endeavor to succeed long-term, I feel like I would need buy-in from a majority of the community. I don't think we are there yet.
  • Furthermore, I don't believe a league is the best way to attract and retain new players. In a weekly event, all you have to do is show up with a Standard Pauper deck, and you're in. You don't have to sign up, find your opponent, coordinate schedules, or anything like that.
  • I also know exactly what it takes to run MPDC, and to do it well. I understand the time commitment, the need to advertise both the event and the results, and how best to keep all the players informed.
  • MPDC is probably the only reason I still play Magic today. Even though I knew about Magic Online for quite a while, it wasn't until I discovered this PRE that I decided to spend the money and start playing again. Based on that, I feel like I owe it to myself and to others like me to make this great event everything it can be.
  • The only real negative is the need to shift my real life schedule. Prior to my recent move, I had Mondays off, so hosting was rarely an issue. Today, I work a much more typical work-week. However, I was able to shift my office hours on Monday, allowing me to get off early enough to run this event each and every week.
  • Last but not least, I truly miss being so regularly involved in the Standard Pauper community. Hosting provides me with a great pulse on the format, which in turn fuels my writing and videos, which in turn brings greater exposure to the format. Until the day that Wizards of the Coast makes Standard Pauper a sanctioned format, my quest is not complete.
So there you have it: I'm back.

He drew a deep breath. "Well, I'm back," [Sam] said.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King.

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Future of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge: Your Response

Earlier this week, I asked my audience to respond to a set of four questions related to the future of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge and my involvement in the Standard Pauper format. I was happy to see that this was the most commented post on my blog, and I thought I would take some time today to look at what you guys had to say.

For clarity, let's take the questions one at a time:

I. Are two weekly Standard Pauper PREs really viable given the recent trends?

Overall there seems to be solid support for keeping both events. It doesn't seem like there is any agreement on why things are trending down. Suggestions for improvement included making sure we secure long-term prize support, do a better job of advertising, and re-brand the two events to make the distinction between them more clear. But if there are really distinct groups of players for European and American timezones, it makes sense to keep both.

II. Can we find a reliable and skilled host or hosts to run these two events for the long term? If not, do you feel like I should try and take back hosting MPDC?

The community seemed unanimous that there are enough players willing to do the hard work to provide reliable hosts for the future. There was some question as to whether or not I actually have the bandwidth to be one them, which I will address next week. There was also a suggestion of organizing a group of players together to run both events more as a business venture.

III. Is there sufficient interest for me to go ahead and get this "league-style" event off the ground, or is that simply muddying the waters further?

The "league-style" event I have been discussing got mixed responses, with an almost even split between positive and negative. There was some thought that the success of the recent Hipsters league event was due to the fabulous prize, and that this shouldn't be seen as a support for leagues overall. It was also suggested that this league event replace SPDC, which is the Thursday night Standard Pauper PRE. The question was also raised as to whether this is really the best thing for the community going forward.

Thanks again for all of you who took the time to respond. Please feel free to use the comments below to continue the discussion. I will mull over this information over the next few days and then let you know early next week what I think this all means.

Thanks for reading, and sorry that this is so late getting out!