Tuesday, April 30, 2013

More Great Standard Pauper Info

A couple months ago, I posted a quick list of all the sources of relevant Standard Pauper information that I was aware of at the time. I am happy to say that the format is continuing to grow, with more and more content being produced. So I thought I would take this opportunity to today to connect you to these new information sources. Let me extend a special thanks to Jason Moore of MTGOAcademy.com for the heads-up on these sources.

1. Speaking of whom, Jason Moore recently recorded his experience from Monday Pauper Deck Challenge 20.08, a weekly Player Run Event for Standard Pauper. While he primarily focuses on Classic Pauper, this new content is quite good, and definitely worth your time. You should check out the videos on YouTube, the accompanying article on Blackborder.com, and follow Jason on Twitter.

2. The next source I want to bring to your attention is Alex Ullman, a writer for StarCityGames and 2009 Community Cup Champion. Again, while much of his focus is on Classic Pauper, he is also an enthusiastic supporter of Standard Pauper as well, which he recently wrote about in this article over at StarCityGames. Judging from his Twitter feed, he is very involved in all things Magic-related, and definitely a great voice for this beloved format. Check him out, and be sure to follow him on Twitter as well.

3. The last source I recently discovered is Chris Baker, the official chiropractor for ChannelFireball. According to this blog entry from his blog The Draft Brewery, he recently discovered the Standard Pauper format and wrote a good primer on the topic. Apparently the ChannelFireball store recently hosted a real life tournament event for the format, with a very respectable turnout. Chris' passion to see the format blossom in real life play is very exciting to me. Chris also recently posted a full set review for Dragon's Maze for Standard Pauper, which is definitely worth reading. And of course, be sure to follow him on Twitter too.

Like I said, it's awesome to have so many new voices in the world of Standard Pauper. And if you haven't done so already, be sure and sign the online petition to make Standard Pauper an official sanctioned format for Magic Online.

What about you? Do you know of other new sources of information for Standard Pauper? Send them my way, please! And thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Standard Pauper in the Maze

It's that time again, as a new set enters into Standard and players eagerly discuss how the new cards will impact their favorite format. This time it's Dragon's Maze, and as is often the case, it seems to be a mixed bag for Pauper. On the one hand, it's great to see that at least some of these cards will see play in the coming months. On the other hand, it is also somewhat disappointing, as yet another set lacks much in the way of truly format-defining cards to be added to the Classic or Standard Pauper formats.While I hope to have a more detailed review of the cards forthcoming, today I wanted to use this post to discuss the highs and lows for this new set.

I. The Lows

In many ways this is an unusual set, and the design constraints I believe played a big role in producing what is a somewhat disappointing set. Dragon's Maze has to support all ten guilds, which means that only a single multi-colored Common is available for each of the guilds, as well as only a single Common be assigned to each guild's signature abilities. While the multi-colored cards themselves are decent to good, the cards representing these signature abilities are fairly lackluster, with the possible exception of Hidden Strings.

Furthermore, the decision to include ten mana-fixing Artifacts at Common further reduced the number of interesting Commons for the set, and while certainly playable in Limited, these Artifacts probably aren't good enough for Standard Pauper, much less Classic. Overall, I would argue that the space that was left for Commons after these design constraints were fulfilled is the biggest culprit in what I would call a lackluster set for Pauper.

II. The Highs

That said, there certainly are a few cards that stand out from the rest. Here's my list, sorted by color order:
  1. Sunspire Gatekeepers
  2. Hidden Strings
  3. Opal Lake Gatekeepers
  4. Crypt Incursion
  5. Rakdos Drake
  6. Ubul Sar Gatekeepers
  7. Deputy of Acquittals
  8. Tithe Drinker
  9. Nivix Cyclops
  10. Zhur-Taa Druid
  11. Viashino Firstblade
  12. Beetleform Mage
Of these, I still believe that the best Common in the set is probably Deputy of Acquittals, which I wrote about last week. Of the rest, several will be good to excellent in particular decks, and a few might even see play in Classic Pauper.

So what do you think of the set? Did I miss any particular card that you think will make a major impact? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts and feedback. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013


About a year ago, I first heard about the Writers of the Future contest after listening to a lecture by Eric James Stone. Given that so many authors have had earned their big break by being winning this contest, it seemed a no-brainer for me to try my hand at short stories and see if I could achieve a decent finish and improve my craft along the way.

My very first story idea actually came to me basically as this pitch: What if an orc came to Gondor to destroy the One Ring? Now, obviously I didn't actually write that story set in the Lord of the Rings universe. But a dark-skinned foreigner carrying a sentient silver talisman entered into the city seeking to destroy his burden by delivering it to a powerful artificer known as the Iron Mage. Upon entering the Iron's Mage forge, he meets up with a young child, and together they journey through the tower to destroy the talisman.

Unfortunately, the story did not do well, and was simply rejected without comment.

In retrospect, this should not have surprised me. While I still think the writing itself was good, the story is simply too cliched to do well in that sort of contest. Rather than being original, it plays too much with the original concepts from Lord of the Rings without really telling them in a totally fresh and unique way.

Still, I think it is an enjoyable story, and one that I would enjoy sharing with my readers. So feel free to download it right here. And after you read it, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. See you next time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Fantasy Worth Reading, Part Two

Last week, I started a new part post on 10 of my favorite authors in fantasy. At the time, I mentioned how important this was in light of how difficult it can be to separate the genuinely good works from all of the mediocre ones in the genre. But perhaps even more importantly, being familiar with the major works in the genre, and in particular with what has sold well in the past few years, is very important for any aspiring fantasy author.

So here is the second part of my post, again in no particular order:

6. Patrick Rothfuss

Rothfuss is probably one of the greatest success stories of the past few years in the fantasy genre. Having won the prestigious Writers of the Future contest, his debut novel The Name of the Wind went on to become a #1 New York Times bestseller. His work is unique in that it tells two separate tales - one the frame story and the other the retelling of the protagonist's life. Although Rothfuss makes use of several classic fantasy archetypes (coming of age, pupil in 'wizarding' school), he manages to breath fresh life into these elements. Highly recommended!

My Favorite Rothfuss Book: The Name of the Wind

7. Raymond Feist

In my experience, authors generally improve over time, with their latter works being stronger than their first. Sadly, this has not been the case with Feist, who I might otherwise list as one of my favorite fantasy authors. His original Riftwar Saga remains one of the best works of fantasy of that time, and that success spawned over two dozen works in that universe, spanning several generations of characters. But his later works have not been as strong, and it came as some relief to me that he will finally close off writing in that world with the forthcoming Magician's End. Despite these caveats, Feist is still an excellent author and definitely worth checking out.

My Favorite Feist Book: Daughter of the Empire

8. Tad Williams

I discovered Tad Williams after a friend in college bought me his Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn for my birthday. Williams' work includes adult science fiction and fantasy, young adult fantasy, graphic novels, and even DC comic books. His adult works are typically rich with detail and quite lengthy, to the point where often the third book in his trilogies has to be split into two volumes. While perhaps slower paced than other works, his unique take on the genre is well worth reading. He definitely deserves a place in your fantasy collection.

My Favorite Williams Book: To Green Angel Tower

9. David B. Coe

While typically I am disappointed with books I find by scanning the shelves at my local library, one of the rare exceptions to this is David B. Coe's Winds of the Forelands series. In many ways Coe's work is reminiscent of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice, but without the extremely graphic violence and sexuality that is such a hallmark of that series. Coe is also known for maintaining a blog at http://www.magicalwords.net, where he and others authors give publishing advice for aspiring authors. His writing is quite good, and comes recommended.

My Favorite Coe Book: Rules of Ascension

10. C.S. Friedman

Last but not least is C. S. Friedman, whose unique blend of fantasy and science fiction makes her stand out among so many other works. Her Coldfire Trilogy is perhaps the most well-known, which utilizes a science-fiction shell to create a fantasy- esque world with an intriguing exploration of religion, morality, and sacrifice. While I am not as familiar with her other works, this is a deficiency I hope to soon correct. Highly recommended.

My Favorite Friedman Book: Black Sun Rising.


Now, I know what you might be thinking. I just completed a list of ten of my favorite fantasy authors, without even the slightest mention of names that appear on just about every list of this sort. Names like Robert Jordan, J.R.R. Tolkien, Margaret Weis, Terry Brooks, George R. R. Martin, J.K. Rowling, or numerous others. Let me be clear: these are all fantastic authors, and if you've read much in fantasy at all, I'm certain you are familiar with these works. And that's exactly why I didn't mention them. By intentionally excluding them, I hope that I've introduced you to at least one or two names you've never heard of before. Now it's time to get off the computer and go pick up one of these books! Seriously, you won't regret it.

So, who did I miss? What authors do you enjoy reading? As always, I'd love if you would share your thoughts and comments. See you next time.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Dragon's Maze Spoiler: Deputy of Acquittal

It's spoiler season again, this time for Dragon's Maze, the final set in the Return to Ravnica block. Later this week I should have a full length article up at PureMTGO about the recently spoiled Gatekeeper cycle at Common, but for today I wanted to take this chance to review another strong Common that was one of the first cards spoiled - Deputy of Acquittals.

Like I mentioned in my article, the best place to start when evaluating any card is with the vanilla test, which simply looks at the Power and Toughness of the creature relative to its casting cost. In this case, a 2/2 for 2 is pretty standard, although given that it has a multicolor casting cost, one would expect either a boost in its base stats or a pretty sweet ability to make up for the difficulty in casting it. Fortunately, the Deputy has not one but two relevant abilities.

The first, of course, is Flash, which means that this spell can be cast as an Instant. Cheap Flash creatures are typically pretty good, allowing you to ambush your opponent during his Combat step or hold up counter-magic for your turn and still get value by casting the Flash creature at the end of your opponent's turn if he or she failed to play anything relevant. Now with only 2 Toughness, the Deputy isn't as relevant for the first option, but is plenty good for the second one. Even just a 2/2 for 2 with Flash would probably be playable in a Control archetype.

And the second ability is even better. Whenever the Deputy enters the battlefield, you get the choice of returning a creature you control to your hand. This allows you to sidestep a negative enchantment like Pacifism or get extra value out of that creature's 'enters the battlefield' ability like Cathedral Sanctifier, or even reset a flipped Loyal Cathar.

Combine the two abilities together, and you have an Unsummon on a relevant 2/2 body, which is quite a powerful card. Since you can cast this spell as an Instant, you can use it to sidestep any removal spell that targets one of your creatures. Overall this is fantastic utility out of a simple 2/2, and one that should probably be an auto-include in almost any Standard Pauper deck that has early access to White and Blue. While not quite as good as Kor Skyfisher, I predict that this card will have a pronounced effect on the upcoming metagame.

So what do you think? Have I overstated how good this card really is? Are there relevant applications that I missed? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Fantasy Worth Reading, Part One

As any prolific reader knows, one of the biggest challenges of reading is finding the next good book among the thousands of mediocre to bad ones out there. Sadly, in the science fiction and fantasy market, things are no different. Walk into your local library or bookstore and venture into the science fiction/fantasy section, and without something to guide you, you are likely to be disappointed with whatever you walk out with.

So today, I want to offer you a glimpse of some of my favorite authors. Naturally, this is no guarantee that what you like in fantasy will be what I like. But I will say that the ones that I am highlighting today are ones that are beloved by many other fans, and most of them make multiple appearances on those numerous "Best Fantasy Authors" lists that can be found everywhere online. So here are ten of my favorite, in no particular order.

1. Brandon Sanderson

For those who regularly read my blog, the fact that Brandon Sanderson is at the top of my list should come as no surprise. Sanderson is probably one of the more successful and prolific fantasy authors in the market right now. The fact that he gives back to the writing community through teaching creative writing classes and through his Hugo-nominated podcast Writing Excuses is just icing on the cake. Seriously, if you haven't read any of his work, stop reading this right now and go pick one up. You won't regret it.

My Favorite Sanderson Book: The Way of Kings

2. Guy Gavriel Kay

I only recently discovered Kay's work, but I was delighted when I did. Kay is perhaps best known for his historical fantasy, wherein he takes a real-world time and place, coverts it to a fantasy world, and then sets a compelling story there. Also of note is that Kay usually writes stand-alone works, rather than the multi-volume series that are so typical now in fantasy. If you're a fan of rich, detailed settings with a strong basis in reality, you'll love much of Kay's work.

My Favorite Kay Book: A Song for Arbonne

3. Robin Hobb

Another great author in the genre is Robin Hobb. While this author has also published under a different pseudonym, I am only familiar with those written under this particular pen name. What I love best about her work is the larger world-story that is going on through the progression of each series. While it certainly isn't blatant, by the time you've finished all the works of her The Realm of the Elderlings series, you realize the story is so much bigger than simply the character you are reading about. This is another author who you simply must read if you want to understand the fantasy genre.

My Favorite Hobb Book: Fool's Fate

4. Jim Butcher

I only recently discovered Jim Butcher, and have been pleasantly surprised by his work, much of which is urban fantasy, of which I am not typically a fan. But this work, known as The Dresden Files, is quite good, and even spawned a short-lived TV series on Sci-Fi of the same name. He also has a more traditional fantasy series known as Codex Alera, a series he wrote after being challenged to write a story combining the Lost Roman Legion with Pokemon. I'll let you be the judge, but I find his work quite enjoyable.

My Favorite Butcher Book: Ghost Story

5. Stephen Lawhead

Stephen Lawhead is probably the least well known on my list, but one whose work has probably had the biggest mark on me as a fantasy writer. It was through his book In the Hall of the Dragon King that I was first introduced to fantasy. In fact, my mom actually picked this book up at the grocery store and gave it to me! Lawhead is an expert in Celtic history, and this expertise is displayed throughout many of his works. Lawhead is also remarkable to me in that he writes from a noticeably Christian perspective yet still presents his ideas in a way that is consistent with the fantasy genre. Definitely check him out!

My Favorite Lawhead Book: Byzantium


So that's it for today. Next Thursday, I'll finish up my list of ten of my favorite fantasy authors. Thanks for reading. Now get off the Internet and go read a good book! See you next time.

You can find Part Two here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Beware of the Dream Killer

Get to know someone well enough, and you'll eventually hear about their dreams. I'm not talking about those bizarre images that play through your head while you're sleeping. I'm talking about those lifelong goals, those things that keep you up at night, those unfulfilled longings of your heart. Usually, though, most of us are not really pursuing our dreams. We have plenty of excuses why. It's too hard, we don't have enough money or talent or resources, or simply that we're too busy. Or maybe it's some event that happened that brought your dreams crashing down around you.

So here's the thing. It's easy to blame other things. It's easy to label them as dream killers. But the fact of the matter is, there is actually only one thing that can kill your dreams.

And it's you.

I haven't mentioned yet that I am a big fan of Jim Butcher, author of the Dresden Files and Codex Alera. Both are well worth your time and money if you are a fan of science fiction and fantasy. But today, I want to quote from Jim Butcher's Livejournal page where he talks about this particular issue of dream killers. He's specifically talking about the dream of becoming a published author, but it's applicable to just about anything:
YOU ARE THE ONLY ONE IN THE WORLD WHO CAN KILL YOUR DREAM. *NO ONE* can make you quit. *NO ONE* can take your dream away.

No one but you.

If you want it, you have to get it. You. An author can't help you. An editor can't help you. An agent can't help you. If you want to climb that hill, the only way to do it is to make yourself do it, one foot in front of another, one word after another. It will probably be the greatest challenge most of you have ever faced.

And here's the kicker: THAT IS A VERY GOOD THING.

If you stay the course and break in, you are going to acquire a ton of absolutely necessary skills. You have to learn to motivate yourself to write even when you don't feel like it: Discipline. You're going to have to learn the ropes of the business, and how to work with an editor: Professionalism. You're going to face what might be years of adversity, facing a monumentally difficult task and you're going to overcome it: Confidence. You're going to do it with very little active support, and when you look back at this time in the future, you're going to know that it was something YOU did all by yourself: Strength.

There Ain't No Free Lunch.

I don't think there is anything I can add to that.

So what dreams have you given up? What excuses are you making? And what can you do, TODAY, to start pursuing that dream again? Thanks for reading.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Standard Pauper Petition

Last summer, I wrote a series of articles (found here and here) about why Wizards of the Coast should support Standard Pauper as an official format. Eventually, thanks to the tireless support of the Standard Pauper community, Wizards responded and the format became officially supported with an online filter for Magic Online. This was a major accomplishment for the community, and one that I still celebrate.

Just today, as I was browsing at PDCMagic.com, which hosts a variety of Player Run Events for various Pauper formats (including Standard Pauper, of course!) I came across this post by user underdog83, linking to an online petition asking Wizards of the Coast to fully support Standard Pauper by adding official sanctioned events for the format. I encourage you to check out the full petition and add your name to the signatures.

Here, in brief, is underdog83's rationale:
  • Standard Pauper has a low cost of entry and thus is available to the largest number of players.
  • Standard Pauper is uniquely suited for newcomers.
  • Standard Pauper is a fun and diverse format, and is unique in that cards that would never see play elsewhere are viable even in the best decks.
  • Standard Pauper already boasts a large number of players.
  • For these reasons, sanctioned Constructed events for Standard Pauper would generate new players and additional revenue for Wizards of the Coast that they would otherwise miss.
I wanted to take this opportunity right away to call attention to this petition. I will also be submitting a more full treatment in a forthcoming article on PureMTGO.com very soon to bring greater exposure to this issue. Please get the word out through social media and whatever other means you connect with Magic Online players.

So do you agree with underdog83's rationale? Should Standard Pauper receive officially sanctioned events? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Price of Failure

My brother owns a recording studio called Iconoclast Recording. Now I am not involved in any way in the music industry, and know next to nothing about the recording process. But I do understand ideas and philosophy. And I personally love what I see when it comes to this studio.

My favorite part though: my brother maintains a daily blog, condensed into 141 characters a day, with fresh and insightful tidbits about his art. But what masquerades as advice about music is really advice about life. So today, I thought I would share with you one of his recent blog posts:

The price of failure is virtually nill. At least if you’re just starting out, when few are paying attention. If you put something out there and it stinks, no one is going to send you hate mail. Chances are, no blog or print publication will burn you with a bad review. The world will simply ignore the song and move on. 

Yet we still step out with caution, expecting to be punished, laughed at, scorned for the ambition and hubris of putting art out into the world.
What if you’re tight-rope walk is just you on the ground walking funny? What if there is no net, because there isn’t even a fall? What if you lose your balance? You can immediately get back up and try again; failure costs you nothing.  

There has never been a better moment to take artistic risks. There has never been a worse time to play it safe. 

After reading this, I had to admit that I am guilty. I am afraid of failure. The biggest thing that keeps me from really diving deep back into Standard Pauper: the fear of failure; the reason I stopped submitting short stories to the Writers of the Future contest: the fear of failure; the reason I haven't finished my fantasy novel: the fear of failure.

But my brother is absolutely right. Especially when it comes to my writing endeavors, there is no tight-rope or long fall to the ground. Failure costs me nothing. In fact, it probably will make me better. It's time to stop playing it safe. It's time to stop making excuses. It's time to get to step out boldly, make my mistakes, get back up again, stop worrying about the consequences, and get to work.

What about you? Are you afraid of failure? I'd love to hear about it. Thanks for reading.