Thursday, May 30, 2013

Class Is In Session

While I know from my post last Thursday that much of my audience is more interested in Magic the Gathering and other video games than they are in the fantasy genre, one of my founding purposes for this blog was to post about my own journey as a fledgling fantasy author. To that end, beginning on June 3rd, I will be participating in a creative writing class taught by none other than the illustrious Brandon Sanderson.

As I have mentioned before, Sanderson teaches just such a course at Brigham Young University in Utah. Last year, one of his students recorded an entire semester worth of lectures on video and posted them to YouTube for the world to partake of. Now, this summer, he's back with a new semester worth of lectures, as well as some additional content designed to complement the lectures. You can read all about it here.

This online content is hosted on the blog of one Scott Ashton, who is working on his Masters degree and utilizing this for his master's project. He is also providing all of this for free. Yes, that's right, absolutely free.

So if you ever wanted to take just such a class, I encourage you to browse over to the site, read all the details, and sign up to participate. It's going to be quite the experience, and one that I guarantee will make you a better writer. And if that's not enough, you can even listen to Sanderson introduce the class below:

Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment below. See you next time!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Is Ghostly Flicker Worth Banning in Standard Pauper?

Ghostly Flicker seemed innocent enough...

Released in Avacyn Restored, this card allows you to exile two permanents you control (excluding Enchantments and Planeswalkers), then immediately return them to the battlefield under your control. As an Instant for 2Blue, this seemed decent but not certainly not broken. With it, you could dodge an incoming removal spell, break free of a crippling Aura, or get additional value out of any 'enters-the-battlefield' type effects. Of course, at least in Standard Pauper, there was a dearth of strong permanents with these sorts of effects, and so the card was not deemed particularly powerful.

Then, with the release of Magic 2013, this card suddenly became part of a powerful combo, thanks to another seemingly insignificant card - Archaeomancer. Back in August, I dedicated an entire article to this particular combo, which you can read here. But essentially, when you cast Ghostly Flicker with Archaeomancer as one of the targets, you not only get to bounce Ghostly Flicker into your hand, you get any 'enters-the-battlefield' type effect of the other target.

Of course, this still wasn't enough to make anyone think Ghostly Flicker was worth banning. After all, while there were certainly some strong scenarios that made us of this combo, it was hardly game-breaking. And, although this archetype saw plenty of play in Standard Pauper, it never really became one of the dominant decks in the metagame.

But now, a new cycle of Commons has entered the metagame and changed everything:

Again, I dedicated an entire article to the Gatekeeper cycle, and discussed the pros and cons of these interesting creatures. But consider, for a moment, the type of effects one can produce at Instant speed by using Ghostly Flicker with one of these creatures:

* Draw a card.
* Gain 7 Life.
* Create a 2/2 Knight token.
* Give a target creature -2/-2 until end of turn.
* Gain control of target creature an opponent controls.

Think about that. Those last three are particularly potent, and something that has rarely ever been available at Instant speed.

Needless to say, it didn't take long for some players to call for the immediate banning of Ghostly Flicker. In fact, you can read the resulting discussion over on the Standard forums of Now at this point my plan is to write a feature-length article discussing this exact issue. But, in short, I think banning Ghostly Flicker is a poor idea, and here's why:
  1. The Flicker Combo has been around quite a while, and certainly has not proven itself broken in the past.
  2. There are multiple ways to interact with the combo, including graveyard removal, counterspells, and creature removal.
  3. It is too early in the new metagame to even know whether it's even an issue; on a related note, banning it now would prevent all sorts of exploration in the new metagame.
I would encourage you to read the discussion for yourself. And, if you come to some conclusions of your own, I'd love to hear about them. And as always, thanks for reading.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Roll Call

Ever wonder if anyone is listening? Me too!

My family and I are still in recovery mode after the EF-5 tornado that devastated our city of Moore, Oklahoma. I am happy to report though that we are safe and back in our home. I am extremely grateful of that fact, particular in light of the 12,000+ homes that have been damaged or destroyed in this storm.

But that's not what this post is about...

Instead, this is your chance to talk back to me. I know from looking at my statistics from Blogger that I am averaging over 50 views a day, and that this number is growing slowly but steady. I know I have readers from all over the world, including Russia, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Brazil. Take a look:

So, I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments. I'd love for you to make your voice heard.

Here's what I'd like you to tell me:
  1. What kind of topics do you most enjoy reading about?
  2. What do you like the most about this blog? What do you like the least?
  3. How can I better communicate with you, my readers?
I'm standing in the front of the class. I'm calling out your name. Are you listening? Will you respond?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

No Post Today

My family and I were affected by the F5 tornado in Moore, OK. We are all safe and sound but there will not be any updates today.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Return to Ravnica Block Pauper Event

This past Monday, the weekly Monday Pauper Deck Challenge was a special event. Rather than playing our typical Standard Pauper, the host instead ran a Return to Ravnica Block Pauper event. While turnout was lower due to the expense and/or difficulty of picking up the new cards, it was still a very fun event.

After a quick look at the available options,  I ended up building a Grixis-colored Control build that utilized a solid suite of Instant and Sorcery spells to power out Nivix Cyclops. It had the typical Control elements - counterspells, removal, card draw, and defensive creatures. Here's what my build looked like:

I ended up with a respectable 2-1 record, but my tiebreakers were not sufficient to make Top 4. I still had a lot of fun, and actually had some very close games during Round 2. Unfortunately, the client failed to record most of my replays, and I didn't end up recording any of the game numbers, so most of the event was lost. But I did manage to recover a single game from Round 2 which I thought shows off the deck pretty well:


 Anyway, the event was lots of fun. I hope you enjoyed watching the video. Next week, MPDC will be back to my beloved Standard Pauper format, and I hope to be bringing you lots of great coverage of how the metagame has evolved with the release of Dragon's Maze. Thanks for reading. See you next time!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Changing Your Replays for Magic Online

Today I thought I would let you in on a little secret about Magic Online. Most of my audience probably already knows this, but Magic Online is a program where you collect digital copies of Magic the Gathering cards and compete with players around the world in a series of different game formats. It's available for a minimal startup fee of $10, and you can play an unlimited amount and need not ever invest another dollar in the game. Of course, just like in paper Magic, cards are acquired either through purchasing boosters or buying the individual cards; in both cases, you have to spend more money.

The way I have chosen to sidestep this financial necessity is: first, I almost exclusively play Standard Pauper, which is probably the cheapest Magic format ever; and second, I create online content and publish it through PureMTGO in exchange for credits on their Magic Online marketplace run by MTGOTraders. Both are excellent websites, and I strongly suggest you check them out.

One type of content I am working on this week involves video-casting the semi-finals and finals of the Monday Pauper Deck Challenge Season 20 Championships. One of the advantages of Magic Online is that it creates replays of all the games that you play, which you can watch at a later time. However, I didn't play in either of those matches, nor was I able to watch them live to record them. So how did I manage to create these videocasts?

As it turns out, the current Magic Online client uses a very simplistic text file to save which replays you have access to. This database file is found beneath a sub-folder called "AppData," which is normally a hidden folder, located in the same directory as the "My Document" folder. Within "AppData," you click on "Roaming," then "Wizards of the Coast," then "Magic Online", and finally "3.0." The text file starts with your Magic Online username with an extension . MYGAMES. Here's what it looks like on my system:

Double click on that, and open it with Notepad. It will look something like this:

Looks pretty scary, doesn't it? Truth is, most of it is irrelevant. But the very first set of numbers in each line - the first eight numbers before the hashtag to be exact - is actually the only thing that matters. If you change those either numbers to another valid entry, that particular replay on Magic Online changes to the corresponding game. Scroll to the last entry, copy and paste it below the last entry, change the first eight digits, and viola! - you have a new replay. So that begs the question: how do you get a valid game number? There are (at least) two ways.

First, you can see the game number from the virtual game table of any MTGO game:

Notice the circled number. This is displayed in each and every Magic Online game. 

Second, if you double-click on any completed match on Magic Online, the following will pop-up:

Either way, you simply record those numbers, then replace the first eight numbers before the hashtag on any line of the .MYGAMES document. Save it, and then when you next load up Magic Online, that particular replay has been changed to a new game.

You can use this is two ways:

First, Magic Online is notorious for not saving all your replays. If you note the number down of each game, even if Magic Online fails to record your replay, you can always go in and create it later.

Second, it allows you to watch replays even of games that you didn't play. While the games listed under the "Games" tab on Magic Online won't have the right info, when you start the replay, it will show both players who participated in that game. Neither player will display their hands, but otherwise you have full access to the game. You can rewind, fast forward, or play it in real time.

So that's how I create most of my videocasts. I just make sure to capture the relevant game numbers, input them into the .MYGAMES document later, and then make a videocast of the replay at a later date. This long post makes it sound much more complicated than it really is.

Want to try it? Feel free to use the above game numbers to edit your own .MYGAMES document. The replays are from the Finals of MPDC Season 20 Worlds. Enjoy!

Thanks for reading. Hope you found this information useful. See you next time!

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Planescape Torment

Ask most gamers what the best computer roleplaying game of all time is, and you'll probably get a variety of answers. But for those who have played it, the answer that you'll hear come up again and again is Planescape Torment. This is not your typical RPG with elves, dwarves, knights with swords, and fair damsels in need of rescue. Instead, it is the story of a single figure, known only as the Nameless One, who wakes up on a mortuary slab with no memory of who or what he is. Aided by a sentient floating skull with a penchant for wisecracks, they must travel the multiverse to discover the truth about the protagonist: who he is, what is his true nature, and why he cannot die.

That last  part is probably the most interesting feature of the game. In almost any other game like this, when your main character dies, it's game over. Instead, in Planescape Torment, you merely wake back up on that same mortuary slab and head back out into the world to resume your mission.

In addition to the sentient skull Morte, the Nameless One is joined by an amazingly diverse cast of characters: Annah-of-the-Shadows, a young and brash tiefling rogue; Dak'kon, a githzerai, who once made an oath to follow The Nameless One that bound him eternally;  Ignus, a pyromaniacal mage who was the apprentice of one of The Nameless One's past selves; Nordom, a modron disconnected from its species' hive mind; Fall-From-Grace, a succubus who acts as proprietress of a brothel in Sigil; and Vhailor, an animated suit of armor dedicated to serving merciless justice.

The game achieved widespread critical acclaim, and even won an impressive number of awards. Yet despite this, it earned only a small profit, and thus was not considered a major commercial success.

I recently came across this game as I was packing up for our upcoming move, and remembered that I had never completed it. Now, this game was released way back in 1997; I figured there was no way that I would be able to get it working on a modern computer. And even if I did, one of the few shortcomings of the game was its forced 640x480 resolution, which is absolutely terrible by today's standards. Fortunately for me, a little Google searching turned up some great resources.

By consulting this blog, I learned that a great deal of work had been done to not only correct some longstanding minor bugs and issues with the game that were never addressed, but also to create a program that would mod the graphics and UI to work on almost any resolution, including widescreen. In addition, a great deal of extra content had been restored from the original game that lay dormant and unused in the original code. I followed the step-by-step instructions, and within a short time, I was playing the game again - and it had never looked better!

So if you're a fan of RPG video games and have never played this, you truly have missed out on one of the best games in the genre. Find yourself a copy - on Ebay, on Amazon, or from, follow the instructions provided above, and treat yourself to an experience unlike any other. You won't regret it.

Have you ever played this great game? What did you think? Does it live up to the glowing review I gave it? Let me know. See you next time.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

More Terraria

As my wife will tell you, I've been playing an awful lot of Terraria lately. This is for several reasons. First, this is because of the amazing content I'm seeing for the soon-to-be-released update. Second, this is because of the new content that was released for the Dark Souls Mod, which I discussed in my previous post. Third, I have recently starting watching a whole host of different video for this great game. Like any popular game, there is a whole host of video on YouTube, but by far my favorite content provider is known by the handle Yrimir, who posts some amazing speed runs and challenges. If anyone deserves the title of undisputed master of Terraria, Yrimir would get all of my votes. Fourth, I have also been playing around with my own remastered Dark Souls map using the excellent mapping software TEdit to take some of the original Dark Souls levels and concepts and place them in a more typical Terraria experience. As of yet I don't know if I will actually release this to the public, but it's certainly an idea I'm enjoying testing.

And last but not least, I've got a great deal of joy in doing my own Let's Play video series highlighting some of the new content for the Dark Souls Mod. Last week I showed you the first half of those videos. Today, check out the second half, as I bring my Let's Play to an end.

Thanks for reading. As always, I'd love to your hear your thoughts and comments. Later!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Terraria, Meet Dark Souls

Several months ago, I wrote a quick review for one of my favorite indie games called Terraria. Like any game, one of the best things about it is that the community developed tools to allow players to mod the game, opening the door for a whole new world of monsters, items, weapons, armor, and even play restrictions. Of course, a lot of such content is often not worth playing, as it is badly presented, poorly balanced, or simply not worth your time.

But the Terraria mod "The Story of Red Cloud," more commonly known as the Dark Souls mod, is a rare gem of an exception, and by far the most downloaded mod for Terraria, with over 60,000 downloads according to creator Tim Hjersted. The simplest way to describe this mod is that it takes vanilla Terraria, adds in gameplay elements from the classic Legend of Zelda, and pairs it with the soul-crafting concept from Dark Souls. The level design is intricate, and is supported by a minimalistic story and a new musical soundtrack taken from other classic video games. Here's a quick run-down of its best features:
  • Dark Souls Crafting System
  • Over 15 Hours of Gameplay
  • 17 Bosses, including all seven vanilla bosses and ten modded bosses
  • 13 Unique and challenging dungeons
  • An extensive, immersive storyline.
  • Over 200+ Modded Items, Weapons, AND Armor.

Want to know more? Check out this fan-made trailer:

Now recently creator Tim Hjersted released some brand new content for the game and challenged the community to find it and make their way through these new challenges. Inspired, I decided to go ahead and create a mini "Let's Play" series of videos to cover the content. You can find the first three videos on my YouTube channel, or click on them below:

So what about you? Have you ever played this great game? What about the Story of Red Cloud mod? If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts about it. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!