Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why I Won't Boycott Magic Online

On Sunday, Twitter exploded with rage over a bug with Magic Online where the renown Luis Scott-Vargas had his win-condition shuffled away by Ponder even though he clearly clicked no on the client. Of course, this happened during an evening stream with hundreds of people watching, so it got immediate widespread attention. Lots of people were quite upset by this, and rightly so. But by far the most widespread comment I saw was that the best solution was simply to boycott Magic Online until things get better. Here's a small sampling of the tweets:


Despite all this rage, I don't believe that boycotting Magic Online is the right solution to the problem. Here's why:
  1. It offers what I can't get elsewhere. At the end of the day, Magic Online is really my only outlet to play Magic the Gathering in general, and Standard Pauper in particular. Magic Online allows me to do that on my own schedule and from the comfort of my home. And even though the client is plagued with bugs currently, it still offers me an experience I can't get anywhere else.
  2. I've invested too much. Interestingly enough, this isn't really a financial issue for me. In fact, I've probably spent less than $50 total on Magic Online; maybe less than $30. But I've devoted countless hours to hosting MPDC, writing articles, making videos, chatting with players, and enjoying Limited and Standard Pauper matches. Boycotting Magic Online essentially means throwing all that way.
  3. Having a voice requires keeping a seat at the table. Who is Wizards more likely to listen to? Someone who quit the games months ago and is still angry about the whole thing, or a current player who periodically gives feedback (both positive and negative)? If I want things to get better, I have to be willing to be part of the solution.
  4. I support vendors who depend on Magic Online revenue. So many of my positive experiences on Magic Online came because of sites like PureMTGO, ChannelFireball, MTGOAcademy, and MTGOTraders. These sites depend on Magic Online (at least in part) for their revenue. It's not their fault that the client is a mess. I want to do my part to support these great organizations and the people behind them.
And of course, as I've written about earlier this month, Magic Online is the best hope for Standard Pauper. There's no way I'm giving up on that!

So that's why I won't boycott Magic Online. I'm invested for the duration. And I think you should be too.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Writing for PureMTGO


If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am a semi-regular writer over at PureMTGO.com, an e-zine dedicated to Magic Online that specializes in casual formats. The site is sponsored by MTGOTraders.com, which in case you somehow missed it, is one of the premier online stores serving Magic Online. Why do I bring this up? I'm glad you asked!

A couple weeks back, I wrote about why Standard Pauper is worth saving and what you can do about it. One of the best ways to do just that is to create content for the format. In that post, I mentioned how PureMTGO is always open to unsolicited articles from new writers. While there are probably other sites that would be open to new writers about Standard Pauper, I believe PureMTGO is your best choice. It's not only easy, but they are also quite generous with their compensation. Here's what you do:

1. You need to create an account for their site. This feature is found on the right-hand side of their page under "Account." Fill in all the necessary information. Be sure and include a legitimate E-mail address, as this will be the means by which you are compensated for your article

2. Once you've created an account, you simply click on the "Write Article" located in the same place where you log in. This opens a handy editor that allows you to create online content with needing to know .html code. Of course, if you already know some coding basics, you can click on the "Source" button and edit the specific code. Here's what the editor looks like:


3. The editor allows you to save your progress, so you don't have to finish all at one point. You can even preview the article to double-check exactly what the end user will see.

4. Once you've finished, save the article, then click on the "Workflow" tab. From here, you select the "Submitted" button, and you're all set! Be sure you're happy with your content before you do this, as there's no way to make any additional changes without contact their staff.

5. Once you've submitted the article, it will usually be published within a few days of submission, depending on the total submissions they've received lately.  Unlike other sites, PureMTGO doesn't pay based on advertising or views or anything like that. While they don't advertise their specific formula, you can expect between $20-$30 in credits for a quality article in the 3,000 word range once the article has been published.

6. To redeem these credits, you simply login to your account, click on the "Redeem credits" link, select how much you want to redeem, and submit. Within 48 hours, you will receive a gift certificate to MTGOTraders.com in this amount. 

If you've got specific questions, feel free to ask in the comments below. You can also contact Joshua Claytor, who serves as the Content Manager for PureMTGO. There is also this informative video on their site geared for prospective writers that you should also check out here.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

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!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Shovel Knight Review

Recently, as I was browsing through IGN's Game of the Year nominees, I came across this great gem of a game called Shovel Knight. This indie game is a throwback to classic 8-bit video gaming, combining elements of Nintendo classics like the Adventure of Link, Mega Man, Castlevania, and Duck Tales while still creating a unique and fun experience all of its own.

Shovel Knight is a side-scrolling platformer, where you run, jump over obstacles, bash enemies, and even dig up the scenery to discover hidden treasures. The storyline concept is simple: you must travel to the mysterious tower to defeat the Enchantress who has kidnapped your friend Shield Knight. Along the way, you must overcome the nefarious Order of No Quarter, each of whom has their own themed stronghold. Along the way you gain the assistance of villagers and wandering NPCs, discover relics to aid you in your quest, and spend your hard-earned money on upgrades to your arms and armor.

While still being true to its 8-bit roots, Shovel Knight is beautifully rendered, with crisp and clear visuals and gorgeous backgrounds that bring the world to life. It also features a powerful soundtrack that evokes classic gaming while still sounding modern and enjoyable. The narrative of the game also has just the right touch of humor that keeps you from taking things too seriously. And like many classic games, the difficulty level of Shovel Knight ramps up quickly. This is not a game that most players will simply waltz through. Practice, and particular attention to patterns, will be necessary for you to overcome.

With lots of different relics and upgrades, along with several different modes including Challenge Mode and New Game+ once you've beaten the game the first time, there's plenty to do on your second playthrough. And like most modern games, it even includes a whole host of special accomplishments for which you earn achievement badges. For most players, you should easily get 15-20 hours of gameplay before you've seen all there is to see.

Shovel Knight is available DRM-free on lots of different platforms, including Windows, Mac, Linux, Wii U, and 3DS for only $15.00. And for another $10.00, you can also get a deluxe version that includes digital game manual and artwork.

Shovel Knight is a great game, especially for anyone like me who grew up in the era of 8-bit gaming. It's a ton of fun, brilliant in design, and at times murderously difficult. If you're looking for a new game to enjoy this holiday season, you could do far worse than to pick up this game. Check out the trailer below, then go pick it up for yourself or for a friend. See you next time.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Blue Questions with No Answers

In Magic the Gathering, players often talk in terms of question and answer. Essentially, a powerful card asks a question of your opponent - Can you answer this? And if the answer is negative, then that card will typically take over the game, often leading to the win.

One of the trends that has been pointed out to me over the past few set releases is that while Commons continue to ask the same type of questions, more often that not the answers have been moved up to Uncommon rarity. The current Standard Pauper metagame has a perfect example of this:

The Hexproof mechanic asks a straight-forward question: Can you deal with this creature even if you can't target  it? In the past, the format has included "edict"-style effects that force an opponent to sacrifice a card. But currently, no such effects exist at Common. This means that the only way to deal with a Hexproof creature is to either block it in combat or counter it before it can resolve. Add in an Aura like Aqueous Form, and you've essentially got a win condition that your opponent has no means of interacting with.

We are fortunate that the current cardpool doesn't include cheap Green creatures with Hexproof like we have in the past, or Hexproof archetypes would probably be the dominant force in the metagame. As it is, the fact that both of these Blue creatures cost 5 and 6 mana respectively means that fast aggro decks don't actually have to worry much about them, since if they are going to win the game, they will do so long before these creatures become a threat. But for midrange and control strategies, you have to rely either on holding up counter magic or simply hoping your opponent never assembles the combo. So if you're looking for something unfair to abuse, this is probably one of your better options.


Perhaps we'll get back to some sacrifice effects in the next expansion. But until then, these two Blue cards ask a question that we simply do not have a good answer for.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hearthstone: Goblins vs. Gnomes Review

Goblins vs. Gnomes, the new expansion for Hearthstone, has been out for almost two weeks now. I've waited this long to post a review to make sure I had a chance to explore all that this expansion had to offer and see how the additional 120 cards would change the metagame of constructed play. Overall I have been very impressed with this expansion. Here's why:
  1. Giveaways: Blizzard celebrated the launch of the expansion with two major giveaways: first, they gave everyone a free Arena run that included the new Goblins vs. Gnomes cards before they were officially released; two, they gave everyone three free packs of the new expansion. This was a fantastic way to get people excited about the release and even let the "free-to-play" crowd get their hands on some cards right away.
  2. Little Touches: The "little" touches, such as artwork, sound effects, the new duel scene, and card animations are excellent. They fit in that perfect balance of being new and flashy while also being integrated so well with what came before that they fit seamlessly into the game.
  3. Card Balance: Some people had expressed the fear that the new cards would totally invalidate the decks that existed prior to their release. This has proved not to be the case. The strong cards that existed before the release have not been overshadowed by any means. As a result, most of the strong decks in the previous metagame still exist, with only a few tweaks.  At the same time, the new cards have also allowed several new decks to rise in power and popularity. And best of all, the weakest of the hero types now seem to be much closer in overall strength to the rest of the field. 
  4. Randomness Theme: In keeping with the theme of crazy inventions of the gnomes and goblins, the new expansion has a decided emphasis on randomness. A whole cycle of cards summon a random type of minion when they die, while others do a wide range of possible damage, and some minions even randomly choose to attack a different target than the one you selected. Rather than making the game less about skill, I would argue this actually creates more possibilities for good players to shine.
There were also a host of other small tweaks and changes to the game, including the addition of Spectator Mode, which allows you to watch the games of players you're friends with. This new mode, while not perfect yet, not only adds some new social possibilities to the game, but also is a great tool for the world of e-sports, making it easier to stream tournaments and the like.

With Goblins vs. Gnomes, Blizzard continues to deliver on their promise of a fun, high-value, online CCG that is both accessible to new players and engaging enough for veterans. If you haven't picked up Hearthstone in a while, this expansion should be more than enough to bring you back to the game.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Introducing Standard Pauper Sealed

Today, I am happy to officially introduce the next 'league-style' event sponsored by this blog: Standard Pauper Sealed. All this week I've been teasing videos and hints via Twitter, and today I introduced the format over at PureMTGO.com. But if you've somehow missed all that, here's the quick concept: a 90 card Sealed pool consisting of all Commons, generated from 9 packs in any combination of sets that are currently legal in Standard. You generate your pool, create a decklist, and battle it out over a several week Swiss-style Player Run Event. And like the old Sealed Leagues, you can even add additional packs as the event goes on!

Now I am not quite ready to reveal all the exact parameters for this event. But I wanted to get this information out early, both to reach as many people as possible and to give the community time to test out the format and start experimenting with Sealed Pools. Here's what you need to know:
  • The event will start in early January, probably the week of January 4th.
  • Your initial pool of cards will consist of 9 packs in any combination of sets that are Standard legal (Khans of Tarkir, Magic 2015, Theros, Born of the Gods, and Journey Into Nyx). These pools will be generated by the host to guarantee that there is no cheating.
  • Decks are 40 card minimum, with any card in your pool available during Sideboarding.
  • The event will be free to play, with prizes sponsored by this blog. Additional donations from the community would be welcome! The exact payout will be determined by the number of players - the more participants, the better the prizes!
  • The matches will play out 'league-style,' which means you play one match against your assigned opponent each week. There may also be the option of playing additional matches that would count towards tiebreakers.
  • The number of Swiss rounds will be determined by the number of players. After week one, each player can choose an additional pack each week to add to their pool.
I am very excited about this format! What about you? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Why Standard Pauper Is Worth Saving

All this week I've been talking about the problems with Magic Online, how it relates to Standard Pauper, and what we as a community can do about it. Tuesday, I wrote that while there is no doubt Magic Online is a mess, it's worth putting up with it to keep Standard Pauper alive. Thursday, I wrote about different options we have as a community to help bridge the gap while Magic Online goes through its growing pains. Finally, today I want to remind everyone about why Standard Pauper is worth saving.

Back in April 2013, a petition was started asking Wizards of the Coast to support Standard Pauper. It ended up with just under 350 signatures on it. Around that same time, Chris Baker, who is affiliated with ChannelFireball, also wrote a blog post talking about what a great format Standard Pauper is.  I myself have written several different articles discussing why Standard Pauper is good both for the community and for Wizards of the Coast. So what's so special about it?
  • It's cheap to play.
  • It uses the most popular and relevant format.
  • It has an interesting and varied metagame
  • A more 'flat' power-level rewards better skill over time
  • It is supported by multiple Player Run Events
  • It has a Magic Online clan devoted to it
It's a great format. Let's do whatever it takes to keep it alive.

A couple postscripts for this week:
  1. I wrote an article on Common Design and its implications for Standard Pauper. Check it out here.
  2. I am working on a new league format called Standard Pauper Sealed. You can find out more about what this means and how it's possible here. More about that next week.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What To Do About Magic Online, Part Two

Last time, I wrote a plea to the Standard Pauper community not to give up on Magic Online. My rationale is simple - to give up on Magic Online is (probably) to give up on Standard Pauper as a format.

Now there's no doubt things are pretty bad. The new client is buggy, crashes often, and has alienated a lot of players. Wizards is big on promises, but so far pretty short on deliver. So what should we be doing in the midst of all this turmoil? Here are my thoughts, starting with the simplest and moving up the scale of difficulty.
  1. Keep showing up. This one's pretty simple. Keep participating in the Standard Pauper Player Run Events. MPDC and SPDC both run at 2pm / 7pm GMT on Monday and Sunday respectively. If you doing nothing else, just showing up and playing goes a long way to keeping the format alive.
  2. Play casual games. With the online filter, there are lots of casual Standard Pauper players who for whatever reason aren't participating in our PREs. Make a point to get online every few days, look for Standard Pauper games in the Just For Fun room, and play a couple matches. Be polite to your opponent, and maybe even strike up a conversation afterwards. In this way, you can be a great ambassador for the format.
  3. Submit feedback to Wizards of the Coast. At anytime you can submit comments or technical issues to WotC by using this form. Believe it or not, they do listen to their customers, even if they don't always do a great job of delivering. You can also contact Mike Turian, who serves as the Digital Product Manager. Click here to E-mail him directly.
  4. Leverage social media. Seems like everybody is involved in some form of social media, so why not use it to support Standard Pauper? Whether it's Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, or something else entirely, let your friends know about this format that you enjoy so much. 
  5. Create content. If you have decent tech skills, there's no reason you can't create your own Standard Pauper content. PureMTGO will allow anyone to submit articles for publication, and is always open to new authors. Write up a deck-tech, talk about your experience during a PRE, or even just promote the format in general. You could even earn some credits on MTGOTraders for your hard work!
I will finish off this series with a post about why Standard Pauper is worth saving. More on that next time.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What To Do About Magic Online, Part One

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you're probably familiar with my thoughts regarding the current state of affairs on Magic Online. I've discussed my own frustrations with the game in general, and even talked about how the transition to the new client, while very painful, is necessary to arrive at a better product in the end.

It's clear that things are not good at the moment. Every week I hear from different players in the community complaining about various bugs, crashes, and disconnects that make their experience difficult at best and impossible at worst. Then yesterday, for only the second time since I became the host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, I had to cancel an event due to a server crash.

Now there's no doubt that these issues have hurt the Standard Pauper community. Not that long ago, our weekly Player Run Event was drawing as many as 40 players every week; now we're lucky if we reach the upper teens in attendance. Not all of this can be blamed on the new client or its associated difficulties. But all the data I've seen points to a mass exodus from Magic Online from the casual crowd, which is certainly a major part of the Standard Pauper community.

So what should be done? In the midst of this mess, what should the Standard Pauper community do?

Unfortunately, the most common answer has been to quit playing altogether. Now, I can understand this decision. If I were simply a casual player looking for some fun games, or just looking to win enough prizes to continue to purchase the new Commons as they come out, I probably would quit too. But here's the thing: those aren't my goals. No, the reason I play, the reason I write articles and blogposts, the reason I make videos, the reason I host MPDC is simple: I want to see Standard Pauper grow and thrive to the point where Wizards has no choice but to make it a sanctioned format on Magic Online. That's why I stick it out. Because I strongly believe in this great format we call Standard Pauper. So should you.

And so today I have a simple message for the Standard Pauper community: Don't quit. Don't give up. Don't sell out. Don't walk away. We've come too far, had too much success, simply to give up when things get tough. Thanks to the tireless efforts of this community, we've seen Standard Pauper become an official format on Magic Online. But if the community vanishes, that official support will evaporate. It's happened to other casual formats before.

So what should we do instead? Good question. Thursday, I'll share my thoughts on that subject.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Rakdos Midrange

It seems like the RDW deck is out of control.

Then again, maybe it's just me. While RDW and Boros have managed a few Top 8 finishes over the past few weeks, it appears that the decks simply aren't consistent enough to take home a trophy. On the other hand, they are consistently beating me. Between the MagicGatheringStrat Standard Pauper league and MPDC, I faced three of them almost back-to-back. Frankly, I'm tired of losing to it.

So I decided to see what it would look like to throw as many removal spells into a decklist as possible and see if maybe that could stem the bleeding. Surprisingly, the deck has actually performed fairly well in early testing. Here's the list I'm currently playing:


The list ended up having a pretty strong MonoBlack shell, but with a full complement of Debilitating Injury, Lightning Strike, Pharika's Cure, and Magma Spray. Against aggressive archetypes, it can also side in Forge Devil, Feast of Dreams, Scouring Sands, and a 2/2 split of Typhoid Rats and Baleful Eidolon. The concept here is relatively straightforward: remove everything your opponent throws at you and grind out on the back of low Power value creatures like Servant of Tyramet, Disowned Ancestor, Disciple of Phenax, and Gray Merchant. It can refill using Read the Bones, and eventually recycle its creatures using the single copy of Font of Return.

If you've got some suggestions for the deck, I'd love to hear them. I'm usually not the best at brewing decks, so I'm sure there's something obvious I missed. Still, I've enjoying my testing thus far, and I hope that this proves to be viable in the current metagame. We'll see.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Goblins vs. Gnomes Added to Arena Plus a Free Arena Run

Look what's waiting for you the next time you log into Hearthstone.


If people weren't already hyped for the release of the Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion for Hearthstone, this is sure to get them excited! Not only can you get a sweet sneak preview of some of the cards by playing in Arena over the next week, but you also get a free chance to do so just for logging in between now and Monday when the game releases!

I hate to sound like a broken record, but imagine if Wizards of the Coast did things this way for Magic Online. A new set is about to release, and they give everyone the opportunity to play in a prerelease free of charge. To be fair, Wizards actually did this once already as a small token of apology during the transition to the new client.

I won't argue that Hearthstone is a better game than Magic the Gathering. After all, they are two related but ultimately very different products. But compare Hearthstone to Magic Online - and there simply is no comparison. Wizards still has a lot to learn...

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Goblins vs. Gnomes Next Week!

It's official: Blizzard will release the new expansion Goblins vs. Gnomes for Hearthstone this coming Monday, December 8th. In addition to this announcement, Blizzard also spoiled the rest of the card set on its Facebook page. Prior to this expansion, there were 412 collectable cards; Goblins vs. Gnomes will be adding an additional 120 cards, so that's a major addition to the game. And by the looks of it, it will be shaking up the metagame considerably.

Blizzard also announced some additional balance changes:


Can you imagine a world in which Wizards of the Coast could tweak the mana costs of particular cards for balance reasons, or even change the card rules entirely?! In any case, these changes are nearly as drastic as the previous nerf to Hunter, so overall I don't think this will have a major effect; indeed, given the upheaval of the new set coming out, this will more-or-less get lost in the shuffle.

Anyway, I'm pretty excited about the release of this expansion! I've been saving up my in-game gold and can't wait to get my hands on some of these new cards.

What card(s) are you most excited about? Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

MtG Sealed Deck Card Generator

Although I rarely take the time to play anymore, I am a big proponent of the Limited format for Magic the Gathering. Indeed, one of the reasons I gravitated towards Standard Pauper in the first place was the similarities between that format and Limited.

With the return of Magic Online leagues in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future, I found myself wondering what options existed to create a Limited-like experience for Standard Pauper. An obvious first step would be the ability to generate sealed decks digitally without having to actually purchase any packs. After some searching, I came across a useful website that does just that.

From the main screen, you pick whatever card set you want to generate packs for. For each set, the site supports not just creating packs, but even generates card lists for prereleases, fat packs, gift boxes, and the like. Once you've selected your options, you click "Generate my sets!" and you get a full-size card output for each pack. Even better, you can then export your results to a text file, allowing you to not only easily save your results but also load the sealed pool right into Magic Online. Here's a sample showing me generating a 6 pack Khans of Tarkir Sealed Pool:


So, this got me thinking: wouldn't it be fun to create a special league where each player generates a sealed pool using whatever combination of Standard sets they want, then cut out all of the non-Commons, and run a Sealed League. Even better, just like previous Magic Online leagues, you could even add an additional pack each week, allowing you to change your deck as you wish. With the ability to generate packs without cost, this would be a completely free experience.

What would you think of such an event? Would you participate? What potential problems might arise? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving

Complaining is easy. Intentionally being thankful is much harder. What do you have to be thankful for?


Today, I realize I have much to be thankful for: a beautiful wife; healthy and thriving kids; two cars; plenty of food, water, and clothes; a fulfilling job; and a great home to live in. I am also thankful for:
  • Magic Online - warts and all, I wouldn't be playing Magic without it.
  • the Standard Pauper community - without which, I couldn't play or write about the format that I enjoy the most.
  • Standard Pauper content providers like DrChrisBakerDC, MagicGatheringStrat, the Standard Pauper Players clan/blog, Mundisv, Brennon, Cabel, Adner, and others I'm sure I've forgotten.
  • Joekewwl and MTGOTraders, longtime sponsors of MPDC
  • My readers, that make my blogging, articles, and videos possible.
What do you have to be thankful for?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

7 Wonders Review

I was recently introduced to the fantastic board game 7 Wonders by Asmodee Games. In this game, you are the leader of one of the great cities of the ancient world charged with leading your city to fame and renown. Each player takes on the role of one of these cities, and through a combination of resources, commerce, civic engineering, and military, tries to amass the greatest number of victory points. While each city has an accompanying wonder (the completion of which is worth quite a bit of victory points as well as other advantages), this is only one of several viable paths to victory.

At its heart, 7 Wonders is a card development game. The game is played over three ages, with the cards becoming increasingly more expensive and complex as you move through the ages. During each age, each player is dealt seven cards. Each turn, you play a card, pay any associated costs, and then pass the remaining six cards to the next player. Some of these cards have immediate bonuses; others provide resources; others are used to increase your military might; and still others provide bonuses or special abilities that will help you on subsequent turns. After each player has played six cards, the final card is discarded, and that age ends. Your military then faces off against your two adjacent players (adjacent in real life, not in ancient world geography), with victory points given to the victors and lost by the defeated. Once all three ages are over, each player figures out the total number of victory points scored, and a winner is declared.

Since play is simultaneous for each player, each age goes surprisingly quickly. While your first game will probably take close to an hour, subsequently you should easily be able to complete a game within 30 minutes. Even with a full count of six or seven players, things still move at a fairly rapid pace. Being able to get through a whole game in such a short amount of time is definitely a rarity in these types of board games!

While fairly simple to learn, there is a surprising amount of depth and variation to the game. Each civilization is scored across a range of different accomplishments, including Military, Wealth, Wonder, Civic, Commerce, Science, and Guilds. It's generally impossible to excel at all these areas. Indeed, the game incentivizes you to focus your strategy by having different cards within the same family synergize well together, giving you bonuses or even allowing you to play certain cards for free.

The production quality is also great. Each civilization has a double sided Wonder card that serves as a visual reminder for the most important elements of the game. The artwork for the cards is evocative and well done. Most of the time the text on the cards is sufficient for you to understand exactly what the card does, although some of the more complex cards might require you to reference what some of the more obscure symbols mean. This is probably the only significant shortcoming of the game, as it isn't always immediate clear how some of the more advanced cards function.

7 Wonders is a fantastic game, and one that I highly recommend you pick up. It's fast, varied, and plays well for any number of players from 2-7. That alone makes it stand out from many other similar boardgames.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

MagicGatheringStrat League Week One

As was announced a couple weeks back, MagicGatheringStrat is hosting a Standard Pauper league. For those unfamiliar with this terminology, these leagues are very similar to the Player Run Events that take place on Magic Online. But instead of playing out all of the matches in one sitting, each round takes place over an entire week, giving players as much time as they need to finish off their match and report back their results. As of yesterday, week 1 is in the books, so I thought I would take this opportunity to share my decklist and post a video of my match.

So here's the exact 75 I played this week:


The Sideboard is definitely still a work in progress, but overall I am pretty happy with this list. If you'd like more information about it, check out my previous post on the subject.

And here is how my match went this week. Enjoy!




I was quite pleased to survive this pairing against a solid and quite aggressive Mono-Green Stompy deck. Having solid early-drops and quick removal seems to be a requirement for this metagame right now. But at the same time, I want to have enough control elements to be able to also "go-big" against MonoBlack Control and Izzet Control. Interestingly enough, a similar deck took first place this week in MPDC. Check it out here.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Leagues Delayed, but they Sound like Hearthstone

Yesterday, Chris Kiritz, the Digital Manager for Magic Online, announced that the return of leagues to Magic Online will not, in fact, happen this calendar year as had been projected. According to Kiritz:

As we expected, the design of the new version of Leagues required several major changes to Magic Online. One of these core requirements is to support a large number of players who are all playing in the same League. This change obviously requires extensive testing and refinement. To meet this need, we simply need more time to make sure the Leagues can support the number of players we want and that experience stays consistent under production load.

This announcement was no-doubt met with no little bit of cynicism, since to many it feels like Wizards has been promising to reinstate leagues ever since version 3 was released, and thus far they have failed to demonstrate any actual progress to that end. Fortunately, it appears that significant progress has actually been made, and in upcoming beta releases for Magic Online they will be testing leagues extensively. In fact, if you're interesting in being part of the beta testing process, they are accepting applications here.

But what really caught my eye as I was reading this article was the description of how leagues will work. Listen to this:

Putting this all together creates a system where players can participate in a League at any point and not be at a disadvantage. Players can join at any time, play their matches at any pace, and then earn prizes based on how well they perform. Once they have finished all their matches, they can rejoin the same League and do it all again. This allows players who cannot commit to more than one or two matches per week participate in the same League as a player who can play five matches per day. Couple that with a large player base, and you have a system that lets Magic Online players tailor their experience in a way that fits into their busy lives.

This sounds remarkable like how Arena works in Hearthstone; it's an asynchronous experience where participants are matched up in real time, and can play as few or as many matches as they want in a sitting, with some upper and lower limits of what constitutes completing the event. If this is in fact the case, this may be one of the best things to happen to Magic Online since I joined. While I am certainly wary given Wizard's overall track record with Magic Online, I am cautiously optimistic about what leagues could mean to my own participation in Magic as a hobby.

What do you think of the announcement? Do you think this is the right course of action for leagues, or is this taking it in the wrong direction? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

David Farland on How to Win Writing Contests

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned that I had earned an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future Contest earlier this year. Currently, David Farland is serving as the Coordinating Judge for this contest, which means that he is primarily responsible for going through the "slush pile" of entries and separating out those that are worth further consideration. Given that this is one of the largest and most prestigious contests in genre fiction, Farland's advice on writing is well worth considering.

Last week, he sent out a long-winded E-mail to those on his mailing list entitled "How to Win Writing Contests - and Big Publishing Contracts." You can read the full document here (and sign up for said mailing list), but for those who'd rather just get the highlights, I thought I would summarize it for you here.

He starts off with this preamble:

Recently, several people have asked me to share my list. I no longer have that original document, but here is a list of things that I might consider in creating a story that I want to use as an entry to a contest—or for a novel that I want to submit to a publisher.

First, a word of warning. When I was very young, perhaps four, I remember seeing a little robot in a store, with flashing lights and wheels that made it move. To me it seemed magical, nearly alive. My parents bought it for me for at Christmas, and a few weeks later it malfunctioned, so I took a hammer to it and pulled out the pieces to see what made it work—a battery, a tiny motor, some small colored lights, cheap paint and stickers.

Your story should feel magical and alive. It should be more than the sum of its parts. So as I list these parts, be aware that a great story is more than any of these.

Farland then offers advice on four major story elements. Following each blurb, he offers an almost exhaustive checklist of questions to ponder for each of these elements.
  1. Setting - My goal with my settings is to transport the reader into my world—not just through the senses, but also emotionally and intellectually. I want to make them feel, keep them thinking. This can often be done by using settings that fascinate the reader, that call to them.
  2. Characters - I want my characters to feel like real people, fully developed. Many stories suffer because the characters are bland or cliché or are just underdeveloped. We want to move beyond stereotypes, create characters that our readers will feel for. At the same time, we don’t want to get stuck in the weeds. We don’t want so much detail that the character feels overburdened and the writing gets sluggish.
  3. Conflicts - One of the surest ways to engage our audience is through conflicts. When a conflict is unresolved, and when the audience is waiting breathlessly for its outcome, the reader’s interest will become keen. They’ll look forward to the resolution unconsciously, and may even be thinking, “Oh, this is going to be good!” That state of arousal is called “suspense,” and it’s perhaps the most potent element of a tale.
  4. Themes - Themes in the story might be called the underlying philosophical arguments in your tale. A story doesn’t need to have a theme in order for it to be engaging. Likeable protagonists undergoing engaging conflicts is all that you need in order to hold a reader. But a tale that tackles a powerful theme will tend to linger with you much longer. Indeed, such tales can even change the way that a reader thinks, persuade him in important arguments. Shakespeare made every story an argument, and the “theme” was the central question to his tale.
Finally, Farland offers a few thoughts on the more mechanical elements of writing, including style, prose, and structure.

If you're really looking to craft a great piece of writing, delving into all of these areas is guaranteed to make your final product much better.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

ArenaValue

Today I want to share with you a great freeware program for Hearthstone called ArenaValue. ArenaValue is a program designed to help you improve your results in Arena mode. It provides tools both to draft better cards and to track your results over time. Let's talk about both of these modes.

A. Drafting Better Cards
One of the best features of drafting in Hearthstone is the fact that it's asynchronous - meaning that it's not dependent on other people drafting at the same time. As a result, you have an unlimited time to make each draft pick. ArenaValue actually takes a screencap for each pick, and then assigns a numerical value to each card you could pick based upon not only overall power level, but also mana curve and whether or not the card is good in multiples. Even better, you can actually go into their database for every card and see how often winning players select a particular card over any other card. Further, the program also provides links to the pick-orders of three different Hearthstone pros to provide multiple opinions on your pick.


B. Tracking Your Results

Once you have finished your draft, you have the option of saving it to your online profile. This not only allows you to go back and analyze every pick you made in the draft, but also allows you to track exactly how the deck you drafted performed. As you play out your matches, you can record whether you went first or last, whether you won or lost, and which hero you played against. And when your draft is over, you can then record exactly which rewards you received (which varies somewhat even for the exact same results). Over time, you can analyze all sorts of information from your profile, like which hero type you do best with, your average return on investment, and even how many wins or gold you've accumulated over the life of your drafts.


C. Conclusion

I highly recommend this program if you spend any time at all playing Arena on Hearthstone. It's an invaluable teaching tool, tracker, and database. It's easy to use, reliable, and while not perfect, is very good. The author is also continuing to work and refine it, with new features coming down the pipe. Give it a try - you won't be disappointed!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Value of Randomness

For those of you who don't closely follow Blizzard, last weekend was BlizzCon, which featured a ton of tournaments and news regarding Blizzard's games, including the World Championships for Hearthstone and the announcement of the upcoming Hearthstone expansion Goblins vs. Gnomes. Another item of interest that came out of BlizzCon was a discussion by Hearthstone Senior Designer Ben Brode about the value of randomness in games. While he was clearly referencing Hearthstone, the concepts apply equally to Magic the Gathering, so I thought I would summarize what he had to say in his panel.
  1. Randomness does not mean that skill doesn't matter. Almost all games are a blend of randomness and skill, but it's not like all games fall along a spectrum with chess (which has no randomness) on one end and rolling dice (which is all randomness) on the other. Instead, randomness and skill are both independent factors in games, with different combinations appealing to different types of players.
  2. Randomness often increases how much skill is required. Games with a high degree of randomness, like Hearthstone or Magic the Gathering, present new situations almost every game. Unlike chess, you can't simply memorize exact patterns and just play out the same scenarios over and over again. Instead, randomness requires that you think on your feet as you adjust to novel situations.
  3. Randomness leads to more memorable outcomes. Since randomness is by definition unpredictable, it can lead to some unexpected outcomes, either where you win out of nowhere by drawing just the perfect card or where your opponent somehow pulls out a win with only 1 life remaining. Or maybe you find a use for a terrible card that in that one exact instance ends up winning you the game. In these sorts of situations, you leave the game with a remarkable story to share with others.
  4. Randomness leads to more fun. It turns out that most out that the most popular games are ones that combine randomness and skill. Tic-tac-toe, for example, has no randomness and requires very little skill. Chess, while it requires a ton of skill, is not very fun for most people, since the better player almost always wins. But the popularity of videos games in general, and specific games like Hearthstone, Magic the Gathering, and Texas Hold 'Em (just to name a few) show that just the right amount of randomness makes for more fun.
So the next time you lose to randomness, remember that such is the price you pay for enjoying these sorts of games. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Controlling Izzet Control

If you've been following what's being going on in Standard Pauper for the past couple weeks, Izzet Control has become one of the most dominant decks in the format, capturing the 1st place trophy in three of the past four Standard Pauper PREs. Like the Dimir Mill deck of the past, it attacks on a different axis than the other popular decks by drawing a ton of cards and relying exclusively on spells to win the game (albeit via creature tokens).

One way to defeat Izzet Control is to try to rapidly go over the top with aggression, knocking it out before it can get its powerful engine going. The other is to go even deeper along the Control axis, using counter magic and defensive cards to hold out against it.

So when I sat down to design a deck to beat Izzet Control, it was the latter option I chose. Here's what my list looked like yesterday:


I decided to start with a fairly typical Mono-Black shell, then cut it back enough to add a fairly sizable Blue suite of counterspells, card draw, bounce, and the excellent Hexproof Benthic Giants. The plan against Izzet Control is simple: get a few creatures down early, pick off their token spells through a combination of Negate and removal, and try not to fall too far behind in card advantage. Disowned Ancestor is particularly good, as it is cheap enough to attack with early and big enough that it is very difficult to remove.

I ended up going 5-2 in games against Izzet Control, beating it in two matches without dropping a game before losing the third match against it 1-2. My draws in the third match were pretty land light, forcing me to shuffle away too much value in order to find land, and at the end of long games I couldn't overcome my opponent's massive card advantage. Overall though I was fairly happy with how the deck performed, and placed in the Top 4 in Monday's MPDC 27.04.

If you've got some thoughts on how the deck could be improved, I'd love to hear it. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Seeing Red in Khans

With the new Standard Pauper metagame taking shape with the inclusion of Khans of Tarkir, it's been interesting to see how some of the new cards are seeing play. While Delve, and in particular Treasure Cruise, have received most of the attention, today I wanted to briefly highlight three Red cards that are seeing increasing play in the format. While I initially judged these three cards to be either borderline or unplayable, it seems my initial evaluation might have been off. Let's take a look at them.

1. Barrage of Boulders seemed pretty lackluster to me on first blush, especially in comparison to Electrickery, a staple from Return to Ravnica block. Dealing 1 damage to creatures you don't control at Sorcery speed for 3 mana seems expensive and too slow. But the ability to prevent all creatures from blocking is surprisingly strong, especially in the RDW or Boros strategies that are seeing widespread play in the Casual room on Magic Online. This is particular true with Prowess creatures, such as this next card.


2. Bloodfire Expert I likewise judged suboptimal, since with 3 mana but only 1 Toughness it would typically trade with less expensive creatures. However, what I failed to recognize is that any spell cast with this expert in play immediately activates Ferocious, activating the secondary ability of Force Away, Savage Punch, or the aforementioned Barrage of Boulders. It can also work defensively in a pinch, keeping most other creatures back until you're ready to swing in for a massive strike.
 

3. Tormenting Voice is a near reprint of Wild Guess, with the simple change of one R to one colorless mana making a major difference in its playability. While I predicted that this might be just the kind of effect a more mid-range Red deck was looking for, I never would have predicted its usefulness in the Izzet Control archetype, allowing you to pitch the excess Lands drawn from the crazy amounts of card draw that deck generates. While it might seem aggressive, it seems to have found its true home in a strong Control shell.


What cards have you found to be better than expected in Khans of Tarkir? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Honorable Mention in Writers of the Future

It's been about a year and a half since I mentioned the Writers of the Future contest. This is an ongoing annual contest that seeks aspiring writers in the science fiction and fantasy genre to submit a short story up to 17,000 words in length. Four times a year cash prizes are awarded for the top three submissions in that quarter, and at the end of the year all twelve stories are considered for the grand prize of $5000. Winning 1st place in any of the four quarters also earns the author a publication deal in their annual Writers of the Future anthology. If you're interested in all the details, you can find out all about it here.

Why do I bring this up? Because I was recently awarded an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future contest for my short story "Geist in the Tower Chapel." In each quarter, out of all the submissions, only approximately 5-10% earn this distinction, so this is a pretty big deal for me, even if though my piece wasn't even a finalist, much less in the top three. Best of all, I got a beautiful certificate to honor this accomplishment:



While I will not be publishing the full story on my blog (at least not until I've exhausted other publishing opportunities), you can read the original short version from which this latest piece was crafted, which I published earlier this year right here on my blog.

If you are an aspiring writer in the fantasy or science fiction genre, I highly recommend entering this contest. Only writers without any major publications are allowed to enter, and almost every author who wins the contest goes on to secure a major publication deal. And best of all, it's completely free to enter. What do you have to lose?

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Two Links, Two Videos

One thing I love about Magic the Gathering is the high quality and quantity of content that is available for free. So today, as is my custom, I have four different resources that I want to share with my audience.

I. Links:

1. Standard Pauper League Starting UpA Standard Pauper league is starting on November 14th courtesy of MagicGatheringStrat. To signup, you need to post a comment in the post linked above. No prizes on the line for this one, but bragging rights should be good enough.

2. Interview with MPDC Winners - Every week, Standard Pauper enthusiast Mundisv posts an interview with the winner of that week's Monday Pauper Deck Challenge over on the Standard Pauper Players Clan blog. It's great to learn more about the awesome players that make up the Standard Pauper community, so I encourage you to check it out.

II. Videos:

1. Izzet Control Flawless Victory - DrChrisBakerDC, host of Standard Pauper Deck Challenge, posted a deck-tech and walkthrough of his matches from SPDC 27.03 with his Izzet Control build, which he piloted undefeated through five rounds to take 1st place in the event. Check out the full playlist below:
 


2.  LSV Draft Goblinslide in 3x KTK - It's not Standard Pauper, but LSV of ChannelFireball drafted an awesome Goblinslide deck in triple KTK Limited over on Twitch. It is one of the most unreal draft decks I have ever seen, and as always LSV makes it quite entertaining to watch. Check out the full experience below:

http://www.twitch.tv/lsv/c/5383179

















That's it for today. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Redflagging

Earlier this year, I took an entire series of blogposts to write about the design process for Commons as detailed by Mark Rosewater. In my initial article, I discussed a process called redflagging, in which Wizards Design and Development marks cards that violate the principles of New World Order, which is a design document adopted to govern all Commons going forward.

In episode #144 of Rosewater's popular Drive to Work podcast, he went into further detail about the factors that cause a Common to be redflagged. For today's post, I wanted to highlight these factors:
  1. Does it continuously affect other permanents? Rosewater uses Samite Healer as the poster-child for this kind of complexity. Since it can prevent 1 damage from any source at any time, it greater increased the mental math one has to do before attacking or blocking. However, not all cards that affect other permanents will be redflagged. A card like Akroan Mastiff, which taps another target creature, actually decreases complexity, as it reduces the decisions your opponent has to make. But in general, these type of cards will be flagged.
  2. Does it have four or more lines of rules text? Rosewater says that this is a sign that the card is either too wordy or too complex. If it's the former, that's fine. But if it's the latter, the card is judged to be too confusion to be at Common, and thus will be flagged.
  3. Does it create on-board card advantage by itself? Rosewater uses examples like killing two creatures, or killing another creature when it enters the battlefield, or creates the potential for repeatable damage. Cards like Flametongue Kavu or Prodigal Pyromancer are perfect examples of these type of effects.
  4. Does it create a loop? Rosewater stresses that having the same thing happen over and over again is not a desirable state, and thus wants to minimize the chances that this occurs. This is the factor that led Gravedigger to be moved to Uncommon, since you could often chain Gravediggers into one another, such that every time one died, you used another to bring it back into your hand.
  5. Does this card get more powerful in multiples? In Odyssey block, there was a cycle of cards at Common that gave you an additional effect if you already had a copy of that card in your graveyard. Accumulated Knowledge is another popular example of this type of effect. Such effects will always get a card redflagged now.
  6. Does this card cause confusing interactions? This is perhaps the most nebulous of the factors. But essentially, Rosewater explains it as any card that new players almost always misunderstand, especially in the context of a complicated rule or interaction. The example Rosewater uses is the combination of Deathtouch and Trample on the same creature. It is counter-intuitive that a creature with both abilities only has to deal a single point of damage to whatever creature blocks it, and the rest is applied to the player. Since the average player probably gets this interaction wrong, it shouldn't come up at Common, and thus is redflagged.
Now, it's important to remember that just because a Common is redflagged doesn't mean it can't see print at Common. But it does mean that the card has to have a strong reason to remain at Common in the set, and will require approval from both Design and Development. And in general, only about 20% of the Commons in a set can violate these principles.

Obviously, this has enormous impact  on the type of cards we will see in Standard Pauper. So what do you think of this list? Which one do you feel is too restrictive? How have these factors changed the landscape of cards at Common? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.