Thursday, September 26, 2013

What Story Are You In?

Books. Although some may claim that in the digital age the power of the book to influence culture is waning, I would disagree. While the physical medium of the book may no longer be the primary means by which information is conveyed in our culture, the power of books to shape and influence culture has by no means disappeared.

What is true for cultures is true for individuals as well. All of us are shaped by the way we view the world around - the story that we believe we are a part of, in other words. Alasdair MacIntyre, in his book After Virtue, put it this way:
"[Man is…] essentially a story-telling animal. He is not essentially, but becomes through his history, a teller of stories that aspire to truth. But the key question for men is not about their own authorship; I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’"
This quote, naturally, reminded me of one of my favorite scenes from the cinema adaptation of The Lord of the Rings The Two Towers, a book which has had a profound effect as one of the defining stories of my life:

What story do you find yourself part of?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Terraria Dark Souls Super Hard Mode, Part Two


A couple weeks back, I blogged about how I started a Let's Play for the Super Hard Mode on the Dark Souls Mod of Terraria. I've been making steady progress, but my timeline for completing this playthrough was thrown out the window when this little gem was spoiled on Twitter early last week:

Naturally, this announcement accompanied the release of the brand new trailer for Terraria 1.2:

That means, as of today, I have exactly one week to finish this project before 1.2 is finally released. Time to shift into overdrive!

If you're subscribed to my YouTube channel, or follow me on Twitter, you should already have seen that I have now released the first 5 episodes. But in case you missed them, I've included them below.

Naturally, once Terraria 1.2 comes out next week, I will be sure and post an initial review as soon as I've had a chance to play it. Personally I can't wait!




That's it for today. Thanks as always for reading and commenting!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

In Case You've Forgotten

It's a good time to be a Standard Pauper player.

Once upon a time, this was just a fringe Pauper format - one of many variations of Classic Pauper - with a dedicated but small community of players. There was no Magic Online format filter, few if any articles, and very little exposure to the wider Magic the Gathering audience.

It's amazing how different things are today. In the four years I've been playing Standard Pauper, we've come a long way. There are three different weekly PREs in the format right now. There is a game filter on Magic Online, making it a far simpler task than before to find fellow Standard Pauper players. There is a growing number of writers covering the format. And proponents of the format have brought attention to the format not only a much wider audience than ever before, but even put it on the radar of Wizards of the Coast themselves. That is no small accomplishment.

Just for today's blog, I was able to pull together three different articles on Standard Pauper, none of which have anything to do with me. Each are worth checking out in their entirety:

1. A Farewell to Flickergate - Pauper enthusiast Dan Horning (known more commonly as MagicGatheringStrat) discusses the variations of the Flickergate deck and recounts his experiences with the excellent Standard Pauper PRE community.

2. Post Standard Pauper Rotation Grief Counseling - Another member of the MagicGatheringStrat website, Brennon looks at the current Standard Pauper cardpool and provides excellent analysis of what will change with the upcoming rotation. He also examines some of the new cards for Theros and what they will mean for the format.

3. Theros Spoilers for Standard Pauper - Jason Moore, a contributer for several Magic websites, examines the early spoilers for Theros and even submits a few sample decklists for consideration.

Don't miss these great articles. And don't forget just how far Standard Pauper has come.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

First Thoughts on Theros

Although the entire set of Theros has yet to be officially spoiled, images of the entire set were leaked to the web once the Magic Online beta testers were given early access to the set. Thus, like many others I already have taken the time to get an early look at the entire spoiler. Overall, I'm pleased with the set. It looks like this will be an interesting metagame once the set is released online. And a good thing too, since the Standard pool is about to shrink from its largest set (two Core sets plus two Expansion sets) down to its smallest set (one Core set plus one Expansion Set and one additional Block).

So, while I begin work on an official review for Standard Pauper for Theros, here are some of my early thoughts:
  1. I am quite pleased that the "Enchantment-Creature" theme was deemed simple enough to be included at Common. The Common cycle of "Nymphs," while not amazing, seem pretty good. They are all marginally playable even without their Bestow ability, and once that is taken into account, they range from fair to good, with my favorite being Nimbus Naiad.
  2. Similarly, the Heroic mechanic seems pretty strong, and seems like it will contribute to some of the best creatures in the new format. Wingsteed Rider, Wavecrash Titon, and Staunch-Hearted Warrior all seem well worth consideration.
  3. As I mentioned previously, Scry is quite good, and the addition of that keyword ability to so many different spells is going to add quite a bit of value to the set as a whole.
  4. Even the "Devotion" mechanic managed to make its way into Common, albeit only in Green and Black. But all three of these Commons look playable, particularly Gray Merchant of Asphodel. The fact that this mechanic is so minimal probably also means that the "mono-color matters" theme of Theros is pretty muted, at least for now.
Like I said, the set is shaping up pretty nicely. I can't wait to see what it means for the Standard Pauper metagame.

How about you? What are your thoughts on the set?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Farewell to Innistrad

With the upcoming release of Theros, Innistrad Block will finally rotate out of Standard, taking with it some of the most powerful and popular Commons in Standard Pauper. So, to help commemorate this very successful set, this coming Monday will feature a special edition of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge. This event will be an Innistrad Block Pauper tournament, which obviously means that only Commons from Innistrad Block will be legal.

I don't know about you, but I think this is a great idea! So today, I thought I would highlight what I believe are the strongest archetypes for just such an event.

1. White Weenie

In my opinion, probably the deck to beat for this event will be White Weenie. The block features some of the best White creatures available, including Chapel Geist, Loyal Cathar, and Seraph of Dawn, just to name a few. Back these up with a mix of decent removal spells and combat tricks, and you have quite the potent combination. There's a reason that White Weenie has dominated the format for several months now, and the White Commons from Innistrad are a big part of that.

2. Black/White Sacrifice

On a similar note, one might instead add Black to the mix, netting a stronger suite of removal spells (such as Victim of Night) and utilizing cards such as Altar's Reap, Falkenrath Torturer, and Thraben Sentry to craft a game plan around sacrifice effects, taking advantage of Morbid triggers and the like for a more controlling approach, but one still capable of assembling a powerful advantage over your opponent. While such a build hasn't seen much play of late, this was once a popular and potent archetype.

3. The Rock

Another possibility is to take those same Black cards and instead pair them with Green to create a deck that overwhelms an opponent with a powerful army of fatties (such as Festerhide Boar), fueled by Undying creatures like Butcher Ghoul or Young Wolf and boosted with the very powerful Hunger of the Howlpack. Green and Black have traditionally paired quite well together in an archetype known as the Rock, and I personally think Innistrad Block could be quite good for just this sort of strategy.
4. MonoBlue Flyers

Another popular choice when Innistrad was first released was an early version of MonoBlue Flyers, that combined powerful Blue creatures like Delver of Secrets, Stitched Drake, and Stormbound Geist with classic Blue control elements like Think Twice and Silent Departure. Like its recent counterpart in Standard Pauper, this is a potent combination. While this version probably isn't as overwhelming as its current iteration, it should still serve as a strong choice for Innistrad Block.

5. Zombies!

And last but not least, this is the final chance to play with the excellent Zombies available in Innistrad, from the sole remaining Gravedigger in Standard to the excellent Stitched Drake to the fearful Highborn Ghoul. Throw in some cards that utilize the Graveyard like the aforementioned Think Twice or Forbidden Alchemy, and you have a controlling build that might just be able to stand up against any other deck in the format. I've played variations of this deck often, and more often than not this will be my deck of choice for next Monday!

So did I miss any strong archetypes? Does this inspire you to play in next's week MPDC, or are you just anxious to finally see these cards rotate out of the format. Let me know what you're thinking in the comments below. See you next time.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Terraria Dark Souls Super Hard Mode

It's been several months since I last posted anything about what has probably become the game I've logged the most hours on since high school - Terraria. Although the promised major update has still not been released, I've been contenting myself with additional content from my favorite Terraria mod - The Story of Red Cloud

Since my last post, mod author Tim Hjersted released a new sequence to this lengthy mod called Super Hard Mode, which provides several more hours of play (including new monsters, items, bosses, and NPCs) after the "final" boss of the mod. This is truly an epic experience, with amazingly powerful new challenges to overcome made possible only by equally powerful new equipment to craft and obtain. 

After quickly playing through all the new content, I decided to do a brand new playthrough of the entire mod, restricting myself to a purely melee build, which meant that I could only use weapons that had the melee damage type. Once I reached Super Hard Mode, I decided to go ahead and create a videocast of my entire experience to share with the world.

And so, for today, I present the first episode of this new Let's Play featuring Terraria Story of Red Cloud Super Hard Mode. Enjoy!


So what do you think? As always, I'd love to get your feedback. See you  next time!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Scrying Theros

It's spoiler season once again for the newest upcoming set - Theros! So far, it seems like this is going to be a great set for Standard Pauper, with several playable cards already spoiled. But for today, I wanted to talk about the returning mechanic for the set and how it applies to what's been spoiled so far: Scry

What exactly is Scry? Here's how the rules define it:

So, let's break this down a bit. Let's take a simple example: Scry 1, as seen on the following:

When you Scry for a single card, there are two possible outcomes:

  1. The top card is desirable, so you place it back on top. In this case, Scry did nothing more than let you look at the top card of your library. Such an effect is lackluster at best, but does give you a little bit of valuable information about what your next draw will be.
  2. The top card is not desirable, so you place it on the bottom of your library. Now, regardless of the next card you draw, this should always be to your benefit. Either the next card you draw will be better than the one you placed on bottom, or at worst you will be one draw closer to a desirable card. 
Of course, Scry gets even better as the number of cards you look at increases. Look at the next example:

Once again, it could be the case that Scry does nothing for you. You look at the top two cards, decide both are advantageous, and then simply draw them. But since you get to see multiple cards and potentially bottom those that are useful, the odds of you drawing better cards in the future goes up significantly.

Perhaps the strongest use of Scry in recent sets in this excellent card from Magic 2011:

Foresee was the ultimate example of how powerful Scry could be. By getting to filter up to four cards, you could all but guarantee that the two cards you drew would be good.

So with that said, how good is Scry? Well, let's start with this baseline: Would you ever play a card that simply read, "Scry 1." I hope it's obvious that the answer would be no in any format. The ability isn't remotely strong enough to warrant including that card in your deck. So what about "Scry 2?" Is that powerful enough? While it's not as clear to me, I still think the answer must be no. Scry, by itself, still isn't good enough on its own. At some point, Scry potentially could create enough synergy that it might be playing all by itself. But while I'm not going to try to pin down a number, I imagine it would have to be pretty high.

However, as a "free" effect on another playable card, Scry is quite good, even if it's just a single card. The ability to filter through your cards quickly to improve the quality of your draws is neutral at the worst and excellent at best. In a letter rating system, I feel confident that in most cases, Scry as an additional effect is strong enough to boost the card a third of a letter grade in value, changing a B to a B+ or a C- to a C. Given what we've already seen at Common, I am hopeful that we will see several more strong Scry cards at Common in Theros block.

So what do you think of my analysis? Anything I missed? As always, your comments are read and appreciated. See you next week!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


I recently purchased the Core Book to the new roleplaying game Numenera. While my opportunities to actually participate in these sorts of tabletop games has been fairly limited since my college days, I am a huge fan of the genre. I also have a great deal of respect for Monte Cook, who has been involved in numerous games that I respect and is well known for excellence in everything he puts his name to. Now, with my recent move, I once again may have the opportunity to participate in tabletop roleplaying games again. So it made perfect sense for me to check this intriguing game out.

Perhaps the element that most drew me to this game was its unique setting. Here's how Cook describes it, in his own words:

The Ninth World is the setting for my new Numenera roleplaying game. I’ve described it as a far future post-apocalyptic setting. Basically, it’s the backdrop of a young civilization that has grown up amid the ruins of very old, very advanced civilizations. A billion years from now, we are long gone, as are the civilizations that evolve and rise (and fall… or leave… or transcend) after us. And the one after them. A billion years is a long, long time...

In the time of the Ninth World, the land masses of the planet have returned to form a vast supercontinent surrounded by seemingly endless seas with extremely dangerous storms. ... “Impossible” landscapes are a normal part of the Ninth World’s topography. Islands of crystal float in the sky. Inverted mountains rise up above plains of broken glass. Abandoned structures the size of kingdoms stretch across distances so great that they affect the weather. Massive machines, some still active, churn and hum.

Along the southeastern coast lies The Steadfast, a collection of kingdoms and principalities with little in common except for a unifying religion. ... Outside the bounds of The Steadfast...lies The Beyond, a vast wilderness punctuated by very occasional, very isolated communities. Around these claves, small villages and communities known as aldeia have arisen. Each clave has discovered and mastered various bits of numenera, giving every aldeia a distinct identity. ... Because the villages are remote and separated by dangerous distances, trade of these discoveries is occasional and haphazard.

But not every village or tribe in The Beyond has a clave to help guide them amid the dangers of the past. Some of these have discovered the numenera to their peril, unleashing terrible horrors, plagues, or mysteries beyond comprehension. Travelers might find a village where all the residents have been transformed into flesh-eating monstrosities, or another whose populace works as slaves for some machine intelligence left over from an earlier era.

Outside the aldeia and other settlements, the dangers multiply. Amid the ruins of the past lie tribes of vicious abhumans, as likely to kill and eat an explorer as talk to her. Clouds of tiny invisible machines called the Iron Wind scour the wilderness, altering everything they touch. Monstrous predators, ancient death machines, and stranded extraterrestrial or transdimensional beings also all pose a threat in the uncharted reaches of The Beyond. But so too can a careful and capable explorer find awe-inspiring numenera that can accomplish anything one can imagine.

You can read more about this fantastic setting here.

While I certainly don't have space here to give this game a full review, here are some other highlights:
  •  The rules of Numenera are simple and straightforward, being oriented around story and discovery rather than combat and power growth. While perhaps not genre-breaking, they are certainly unique, easy to use, and adequately explained.
  • Character creation is quick and easy, facilitating unique and interesting characters without having to worry about min/maxing to squeeze out every possible advantage.
  • There is a massive section on solid general advice on how to run the game for the aspiring GameMaster, focusing not on memorizing rules but on how to cater to the system's strengths.
  • There are also detailed, locale-specific setting information along with four distinct adventure modules. These provide enough variety to easily satisfy all sorts of different groups or styles.
  • The production values are quite good. I especially appreciate the marginal information on each page, which includes links to specific terms as they are used as well as general advice from the author.
 There is certainly more to say, but that's all I have time and space for today. But definitely expect to hear more about my experiences with this game in the near future.

What about you? Have you heard anything about Numenera? Have you played it for yourself? What do you think of the setting? As always, your thoughts are appreciated. Thanks for reading.