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!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Missed Deadline, Again.

Missed my normal deadline for Thursday. Between real life and other writing deadlines, it just didn't happen today. Thursday's update will instead go up sometime tomorrow. Sorry for the delay.

In the mean time, check out my Twitter for links to some of the content I created today!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Future of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge

I really hope this doesn't sound arrogant...

As many of my longtime readers know, I spent over three years as the host for one of the most popular Player Run Events of the time known as Monday Pauper Deck Challenge. I stepped down at the end of Season 19, due to some major life changes I was dealing with. Today, living in a new state with a new job, it has become difficult for me even to participate in this great event.

I am very grateful for my fellow Standard Pauper enthusiast Malum who stepped in as host after me, eventually taking over for not only MPDC but the Thursday night SPDC event as well. But today, this same player announced that due to personal reasons, he is having to step away from hosting all 3 of the major PREs he has been overseeing. Malum has done a tremendous job, given the huge investment of time and energy it takes to successfully host 3 different major events, and I don't want anything I might write here to be taken as a criticism of him.

But I have noticed that participation in both of these events seems to be on the decline. Despite the fact that Standard Pauper is more popular than ever, it seems like the player base for these PREs is not growing. Where once we were debating how many rounds should be played with 40-50 players regularly participating, today the average event draws less than half that. As someone who invested a ton of energy into this event, it saddens me to see this happen.

As I mentioned a few months back, my current plan is to unveil a brand new Standard Pauper "league-style" event, where players compete for a month on their own time and schedule, then come together at the end of the month for a tournament with a suitably large prize pool and with byes dependent upon performance that month. With the great success of the Hipsters of the Coast event, I decided to wait until that event came to an end before trying to get this new endeavor off the ground. However, given the current situation with MPDC, I find myself wondering if taking back the reins of this event would be better for the Standard Pauper community, and thus a better use of my time and resources.

On the other hand, I also wonder if there simply is no longer the support for two separate Standard Pauper PREs. Could this declining participation simply be an indicator that what the community really needs is something different, rather than trying to recapture the past?

So here are the questions I would love to get some feedback on from my fellow Standard Pauper players:
  1. Are two weekly Standard Pauper PREs really viable given the recent trends?
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
Now more than ever, if you care about Standard Pauper, the PDCMagic.com PREs, and my participation with the format, please make your opinion known. Thanks.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Terraria 1.2: A Brief Review

So I've spent the last 72 hours or so soaking in all the new content that was released in the long-awaited 1.2 update for Terraria. One has only to glance at the four and a half page Changelog to see that this is a massive update. Since I decided to start with a fresh character and essentially explore all the next content blind, I have no doubt that there is quite a bit of content I have yet to uncover. But I wanted to take this chance today to review what I've seen so far based on the first few days of play.
  1. First off, there has been a major cosmetic facelift. Every biome has been updated with a new background and fauna. Waterfalls are now possible and can be found throughout the world. Weather is another added visual feature, with thunderstorms and blizzards. Once you have access to the Painter NPC, you can also literally change the color of any block in the game. Additionally, there are now color and texture variations among many of the common enemies, especially the ever-present Zombies. Even the sun and moon are different now! This breathes a breath of fresh air to every pixel of the game.
  2. Along those same lines, there are now 'palette-swap' versions of the original starting ores. For each of the Tier 1 ores, you either get the original version or the new one, but not both. While there doesn't seem to be much, if any, mechanical difference between the old and new versions, it does add some nice variation from world to world.
  3. The Biomes of the game have been radically expanded, especially the previously bland Snow biome, which now has its own unique monsters and items. The Desert now has a chance to spawn a large pyramid laden with treasures, while even the gentle Forest now has a chance for one or more gigantic trees. Deep within the underground Jungle can be found a giant beehive, while large nests of spiders inhabit underground areas. There is more to see and more to find than ever before.
  4. Speaking of which, there was been quite a bit of discussion about one of the new biomes which is a replacement for the Corruption. It has different enemies and different mechanics than the original Corruption, but serves much the same function as the old. And like the old and new ores, a world gets one or the other, but not both. While those who wish access to everything in a single world may find this unfortunate, it increases the variation from world to world.
  5. As far as the early game goes, travel and exploration is now easier than ever. Your character can walk up half- or single-block tiles without needing to jump. He or she can climb vertical walls with rope, or scale them with clawed shoes that seem to be a common early game loot. Your inventory space has 10 more slots, treasure chests have doubled their storage slots, and many common blocks now stack up to 999.
  6. There are also numerous ways to obtain some of the more desirable accessories, including the Grappling Hook and Cloud in a Bottle. The former can now be made with a large cache of gems (rather than having to grind Skeletons and Piranhas to finally find a Hook!), while the latter can be found in special loot areas of the Snow Biome and the Desert Biome in addition to in underground treasure chests.
  7. Enemies now have health-bars, and in addition to the visual variation among them, there are a host of new monsters to fight, including flying fish, umbrella carrying slimes, and spiders, just to name a few. None of the monsters seem overpowered, and seem to scale well with those that were already present in the game.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. Again, just look at the massive Changelog, and you can understand why it took so long for this to be released. It's an amazing glut of content, and what's even more amazing is that all of this is absolutely free if you own the original game. You can't get better value than that!

This update is everything an expansion pack should be, and much, MUCH more. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Puerto Rico (the Board Game)

Lately I've been playing a lot of Puerto Rico, which is rapidly becoming my favorite strategy board game. Board games have long been an important part of my life. Not only did I grow up in an isolated mountain community of less than 10,000 people, I also attended a small college surrounded on three sides by corn fields. Even today, when I get together with my good friends, card games or board games tend to be our chosen form of entertainment.

Puerto Rico is themed, not surprisingly, around the island of the same name during the Spanish colonial period, when survival depended on eking out a living from the land and ships were loaded with goods from the New World to send back to Europe.

The game shares a lot with the more popular The Settlers of Catan, in that you are developing a mix of infrastructure and resources that you use to convert your meager starting resources into a winning combination of points. However, Puerto Rico has a much lower reliance on random luck than Settlers does, and forgoes the use of dice entirely. Instead, players take turns picking one of a set of different roles during each round. While usually each player gets a chance to act whenever a particular role is chosen, the player who chose it not only gets the advantage of going first (and thus getting first choice of limited resources) but also gets a bonus for their action. In many ways it almost feels like running a business - growing crops and storing them efficiently, developing the island with useful buildings, deploying your workers to best effect, selling at the right time, and, most importantly, shipping your goods for maximum benefit. It's also a beautifully illustrated game, as you can see here:

Of course, one of the reasons I am enjoying it so much right now is that the game has been converted to an app on the Apple iOS, with an intuitive interface, clean presentation, and surprisingly good AI. It can be played against any variation of human and AI opponents, either on a single device or via its multiplayer mode. Here's what the main playing screen looks like:

Intrigued? Then check out the following:

1. Here's a great review from a user over at RPG.net.
2. Or, if you prefer, here is a 'How to Play' podcast covering the game.
3. The absolute best place for strategy tips is this post in the forums on Boardgamegeek.com.
4. Or, for something a bit easier to digest, check out this video with 5 tips on how to win.

If you can't tell, I highly recommend this game!

What about you? Have you ever played this game? What did you think?

Thanks for reading. See you Thursday with my initial review of Terraria 1.2!