Thursday, February 27, 2014

Steelheart Review

I'm a little late to the party (as in, this book was released way back in September of last year), but I recently finished Brandon Sanderson's book Steelheart, and thought I would take the chance to review the book today.

But first, a disclaimer - I have never read Sanderson's Alcatraz series, so for me this is my first foray into any of this author's non-fantasy, young adult genre writings.

If you had any doubts of Sanderson's ability to craft amazing and compelling stories outside of the epic fantasy genre, this book firmly puts those to rest. It is set in a post-apocalyptic future Earth, where the world has been taken over by the rise of Epics, which for all-intents and purposes are comic-book-style superheroes - but with one decidedly important twist: these humans with extraordinary gifts are all, technically, super-villains.

This one fact goes a long way from this feeling like some sort of Marvel ripoff. Not only are all of the Epics evil to one degree or another, but their powers don't seem to have direct Marvel or DC Comics counterparts. And even more interesting, each and every Epic has some sort of fatal weakness that, if exploited, allows him or her to be defeated.

Opposing these super-villains are a group called the Reckoners. This is a ragtag group of skilled individuals, who despite the lack of any super-powers, travel the world assassinating the Epics. And when the Reckoners travel to Chicago, which is ruled by an Epic named Steelheart, they stumble across a young man who has witnessed something extraordinary - the seemingly invulnerable Steelheart bleed.

The ensuing tale is very well done. The characters are memorable, the world-building is woven in expertly, and the plot is fast-paced. In typical Sanderson fashion, it ends with an epic (no pun intended) battle, topped off with a series of surprising-yet-inevitable reveals, and brings perfect closure to the central tale, even though the book is clearly the first of several more to come.

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I highly recommend this book. Even as someone who is not a major fan of the superhero genre (with several notable exceptions!), I thoroughly enjoyed this book. If you are a fan of any of Sanderson's work, of the superhero genre, or even just the science fiction and fantasy genre, you'll love this book. Pick up a copy at Amazon today. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Standard Pauper Gauntlet

I am always delighted when I see the Standard Pauper format getting attention from communities other than PDCMagic. In the past, I've mentioned Brennon's ongoing Standard Pauper article entitled Standard Deviations over at Today, I want to make sure everyone in the Standard Pauper community is aware of his current project: a Standard Pauper Gauntlet.

I've been hearing rumors about this for weeks, but today I finally saw that the details had been posted. You can check out the full article here, but here's the basic concept: Anyone is invited to submit a Standard Pauper legal deck. Those that are deemed "good enough" will then be run by Brennon in an ongoing Single Elimination Tournament until only one deck remains.

There will also be two prizes awarded: First, after the initial cut, anyone will have the opportunity to claim a deck; if that deck ends up winning, whoever picked it gets 10 tickets. Second, if you are the one who actually submitted the winning deck, you also win 10 tickets and get featured in an interview (and accompanying video) over at

Interested? Here's what it takes to submit a deck:
  • Your deck must be Standard Pauper legal, with exactly 60 cards in the maindeck and 15 cards in the Sideboard.
  • You must submit an explanation of how the deck works.
  • You must submit a (thorough) Sideboard Plan.
  • You must give the deck a reasonable name.
  • Once all that is complete, simply post it in the Comment section of the originating article.
Sounds like a pretty sweet opportunity. It's absolutely free, so what do you have to lose? I certainly intend to submit a deck. In fact, I'd love to hear what you, my readers, think I should submit. Let me know in the comments!

Thanks for reading. See you next time!

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Chapel Geist

After a long hiatus from writing, my friend and I recently decided to start meeting every week to encourage each other to write and give some feedback on our work. Of course, for that work, both of us have to actually be writing something during the week! So, for our first week, we decided to write a 1,000 word short story as a way of reestablishing some good writing habits.

So, for today's post, I thought I would share my short story for this week, inspired by this beautiful artwork from Innistrad's Chapel Geist.

Alwyn jerked back as the man screamed. He collapsed, writhing in pain, but the spirit suspended above him seemed oblivious to his pain. Then, in choking sobs he muttered words she couldn't understand. Heart pounding, she dared take another step, crouching in the long shadows. Holding her breath, only then could she make out his cries: "Thank you. Oh Piotyr thank you!"

Neither spirit nor girl moved until his sobs grew silent in death.

Then it did move, pale dirty robes rustling as if in an unseen wind. Long iron chains looped around its form clanked against one another. But the spirit merely retreated into the shadows, nearly vanishing into the darkest corner of the tower chamber.

Three times now Alwyn had slipped away from her prayers, creeping like her namesake cat through the shadowy corridors, and made her way up the long stairs into the tower. Each time she discovered another foreigner closeted inside. The dying man's sobs had been the only words she had ever heard. Then again, he was also the only one who hadn't walked out.
Which meant it was time to leave. If she was discovered, she would be whipped for sure.
You are curious, like your namesake.
Alwyn began to shake. There was no question. Though she hadn't heard any words, the spirit had spoken to her.
"Stay back," she said, standing to her feet. "I am a priestess of Piotyr."
You are no priest, little cat. Somehow, she heard its amusement.
Her first thought was to run. To flee down the stairs as fast as she could. But what if it chased her? Better to show no fear.
"What...what do you want from me?"
That is the wrong question. What do you want from me?
"Nothing. The...the priests sent me. To observe."
You do not lie well. I wish you no ill will. Tell me. Why have you come?
"I...I'm not sure. But I should go."
You came because you were curious. Why, in a chapel of Piotyr, do his servants play host to a spirit of Darkness? Don't you want to know?
This was a mistake. She should run. Flee. Call for the priests and curse the consequences...
"Yes. Yes tell me."
I am here to pay for my crimes. Great power and insight are mine. Travelers come from all Northland to speak with me. Whatever your wish, whatever your desire, if it is within my power, I will grant it.
"And what did he want? D..death?!" she asked, pointing to the corpse. The word made her shudder.
His tale is not mine to tell. We are speaking of yours. What of your parents who left their infant at the chapel door? The affections of the boy with whom you exchange glances? The disapproval of your sponsor? Yes, little cat, I see all that and more.
"Stop it! I don't care about any of that!"
Then speak. Tell me your heart's desire. But be quick. Even now the priests are coming to seal this chamber against the coming night.
Nervously she glanced back. Her mind still urged her to flee, but her heart overruled her. Well did her heart remember the long nights, whispering her prayer to the silent god, crying out for an answer that none could give. No! This was a creature of Darkness. Only a fool would trust it.
"I don't believe you."
This is your last chance. Speak your question and step into the light. And I will share the answer you've longed for.
Deepest darkness. She was going to do it. When else would she get this chance?
She stepped forward unsteadily. Her heart lurched like a wounded sparrow. Still, she focused her thoughts on one question: who am I?
But then footfalls echoed from the stairs. The spirit stirred, and she swore she heard a faint hiss in the air. Then Father Gerard rushed into the chamber. 
"Stay where you are, Alwyn!" He rushed over and gripped her shoulders tightly. "Piotyr be praised, you are unharmed. What were you thinking, girl?!"
Say nothing. I beg you.
"What is this? Why is this spirit imprisoned here?"
The high priest made no reply for a moment, but gazed into Alwyn's eyes. She blushed and looked away.
"You spoke with it." She shook her head, but hot tears burned in her eyes. He stepped towards it and withdrew the pendant hanging at his neck.
"What promises did you make to her, spirit? What price did you demand?"
No price. She will be my last.
Father Gerard turned to look at her, and by his eyes she knew he had heard the words too.
"Did you consent to this, Alwyn?" he asked gently.
Ask no questions. You must agree!
"I...I did."
The priest glanced at the floor, as if noticing the corpse for the first time. But he only shook his head, sighed, and spoke.
"Acolyte Alwyn, this is a geist. Two hundred years ago, a man betrayed this chapel. For a sack of gold, he opened these gates to enemies of the King. Only by the will of Piotyr was the chapel saved, but hundreds died in the fighting. And for his crimes, he was bound by the Chain of Remorse, one link forged for every life his betrayal ended.
But now my suffering can be at an end. Please.
"But for every life he blesses," the priest continued, "every question answered, one link is broken. Yet Piotyr demands justice, and so a price must also be paid."
Not this time, child. I will pay the price. And I will be free at last.
"Do you still want to do this, Alwyn?"
"I do. I must."
"Then step forward."
She did so. Her fear had vanished, replaced with longing. Once more, she whispered her deepest desire: who am I?
Then she felt the warm, fetid breath of the spirit. The chains burst into golden light, and with a crash fell to the floor, bearing the dirty, tattered robes with them. Just like that, the spirit was gone.
And Alwyn received her answer.

 If you have any feedback, I'd love to hear it. Thanks for reading, and see you next time!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Order of the Stick

Today I want to briefly talk about what long-ago became my favorite web-comic: The Order of the Stick. Named for the "stick-figure" artwork of the humanoid occupants of the world, this comic strip tells the tale of a stereotypical band of adventures out to save the world. However, what began as a light-hearted tale to poke fun at the popular 3rd edition of the Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying system quickly evolved into an epic tale of love, drama, triumph, and tragedy, all the while still retaining its comedic voice. Now, with seven story-arc books available for sale and an eighth story-arc that just wrapped up, Order of the Stick has become one of the premiere webcomics in existence, with nearly 1,000 individual strips available online and hundreds more in the print-only prequels.

But don't just take my word for it. About a year ago, the author created a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to reprint some of the older books. With an initial goal of less than $60,000, the campaign raised over $1.2 million dollars, with nearly 15,000 participants. If that's not success for a free webcomic, I don't know what is.

If you've never experienced this great series, I strongly encourage you to check it out. You can get a quick introduction to the characters here, then check out the beginning of the latest story arc here. And if you like what you see, you can't go wrong with going all the way to the beginning to see how this great comic got off the ground. You won't be disappointed. least not until you find out that the comic is on hiatus until March 31st. These sorts of breaks are typical when the current arc ends. So maybe this wasn't the best time to plug it. Deal with it.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Race for the Galaxy

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you should be familiar with my enjoyment of German-style board games such as Puerto Rico and Agricola. This last month I received several new board games, and today I want to talk about one of them - a great space-opera themed game called Race for the Galaxy.

Created by the same designer as Puerto Rico, this card strategy game essentially refines the essential mechanics of Puerto Rico into a much faster paced experience. At its essence, players develop their corner of the galaxy by playing cards that represent planets or developments. In each round of the game, each player secretly chooses a single action - such as settling a new planet, exploring the galaxy (for new cards), constructing a development, producing resources, or selling those resources.  All players play each of the chosen actions, but the one who chose it receives a significant bonus. Each planet and development gives the player certain advantages or abilities, and is also worth a certain number of victory points at the end of the game. Naturally, whoever has the most points at the end of the game wins.

One of my favorite things about this game is the simplicity of the components. Other than chips that represent victory points, every other element in the game is represented through cards. Cards in hand function as currency; cards played face up represent the planets and developments, and cards played face down represent resources to be consumed for additional points or cards.

Another great thing about the game is the replay value. There are essentially four different major paths to victory - military, development, production, or trading - and since the cards you draw each game is totally random, you can't simply stick to the same strategy each and every game. Additionally, with over 100 different cards in the base game, you'll see lots of variation over time in the cards that you have access to over the course of the game.

Race for the Galaxy is widely available now, and can be purchased at Amazon.

Intrigued? You can also try the game online for free. A talented programmer known simply as mrkeldon received permission to create and distribute a working version of the game with a very robust AI as well as multiplayer support. It's a great way to learn the game and develop your skills.

If you've ever played this game, I'd love to hear your thoughts on it. And if not, you definitely should check this out if you get the chance! Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Standard Pauper Singleton Thoughts

Don't forget that this coming Monday we will have a special edition of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, where our format will be Standard Pauper Singleton. You can get all the details here.

Today, I want to briefly discuss some thoughts I had while contemplating what to play for this upcoming event.

So what is it that makes this format different? Obviously, the difference is that you only have one of any given card, including any non-basic lands. This has several implications:
  1. Color-fixing will be more difficult than normal. Currently, Gates have been by far the most popular way to fix your mana. But for this event, you will only be able to play one of each type of Gate. Even for a two-color deck, you probably want to consider cards like Unknown Shores, Transguild Promenade, or Prophetic Prism.
  2. Removal will be reduced. The best removal in the set are cards like Pacifism, Lightning Strike, or Devour Flesh. With the restriction of only being able to play one of each card, players will need a diversity of different removal options, rather than relying only on the best ones. Overall this should lessen the effect of removal in general.
  3. Powerful combos are much less reliable. Any combination that requires an exact combination of two or more specific cards will be highly unlikely to happen in the game, especially since no tutor effects are in the cardpool. Basing your strategy around a particular set of interactions is probably a bad idea.
  4. Creature combat will be king. Given the above factors, almost every game will come down to which player is able to gain the most advantage through combat. While this is generally true in Standard Pauper already, it should be even more pronounced in Singleton.
  5. Mana curve should be your top priority. Since you can't rely nearly as much on the quality of your cards, you  need to maximize the quantity of your cards. Drawing expensive cards early, or cheap cards late, could be the difference between winning and losing. While you obviously can't control this, you can minimize variance by having a balanced distribution of mana costs in your deck.
Factor in these five considerations, and you'll have the best chance to finish well in the upcoming event.

What about you, readers? Any major considerations that I missed? What archetypes might fit best, given these factors? If you have some thoughts, I'd love to hear about it.

Hope to see you Monday!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why White Weenie, Revisted

Just a few days after starting this blog over a year ago, I wrote a post entitled "Why White Weenie?" Today, I want to revisit this same idea. Let me explain why.

Since becoming the host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, I have noticed that time and time again, Mono-White decks rise to be top contenders in our tournament metagame. And every season, the belief seems to go that the release of the latest card set will finally see this archetype dethroned. But, time and time again, it eventually rises back to the top.

This season was no exception. This archetype captured three of the fourteen title trophies this season, with all three wins in the last six events of the season. And while White Weenie didn't capture the trophy for Season 23 Worlds, versions of this build placed 2nd, Top 4, and twice in Top 8. In fact, White Weenie made up almost a third of the field.

Just a strange anomaly? I think not. I am more convinced than ever that White Weenie will always be a major force in the format, especially given the current constraints that govern Commons. It comes down to three factors:
  • White is fast and efficient. White gets access to cheap creatures, typically with good abilities, typically including the key mechanics of the set. Combined with the right spells, it can win very fast, or simply create enough tempo that an opponent can't keep up.
  • White has lots of options. There's very little that White can't do. It has good creatures, evasion, removal, enchantment destruction, combat tricks, creature protection, lifegain, and even some graveyard recursion. About the only thing it can't do is counter spells, destroy artifacts, or deal direct damage.
  • White has game against almost any archetype. There are very few ways to win in Standard Pauper that White doesn't have some answer to, even if that answer is simply being faster than an opponent.
If you had to pick one archetype that you had to play no matter what for the next season of Standard Pauper, historically your best choice would be White Weenie. And that says a ton about just how good it is.

If you're still reading, I have a few other items of note to point out:
  1. Part Two of my review of Born of the Gods for Standard Pauper has been published over at PureMTGO. Go check it out if you haven't already.
  2. This coming Monday we will have a special Standard Pauper Singleton event for Monday Pauper Deck Challenge. Get all the details here.
  3. As part of the weekly maintenance, Wizards removed 22 different format filters from Magic Online, including the very popular Legacy Tribal Wars. Considering that this format is still heavily supported by Player Run Events, this is a big deal. I encourage you to make your voice heard over at this link, and/or E-mail Mike Turian, the Organized Play Digital Manager.
Thanks for reading. See you next time.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Special Standard Pauper Singleton

Yesterday, we had the capstone event for MPDC Season 23, known as Worlds. This is a big deal, as it marks the end of the current metagame and the addition of a whole new batch of Commons to the format. If you're interested in the results, you can view them here.

The winner of the event was smawatts, who won with a fairly typical Mono Black build. He also did a video-cast of the entire event, which you can view here.

Anyway, the custom is to take a week off after Worlds to allow our players to get their hands on the new set of cards without having to pay the ridiculous mark-ups that are typical of release week for a new set on Magic Online. In fact, this season I intentionally built in this buffer, such that Born of the Gods doesn't even hit stores until Monday (although some will be available beforehand thanks to the pre-release events).

But rather than taking a week off, I decided this time we'd do something special. This coming Monday, February 17th, I will be hosting a special Standard Pauper Singleton event. If you're not familiar with Standard Singleton, it's an online-only format that makes all cards except Basic Lands Restricted - which means you can only play one copy of each. You can read all the details here.

Why Standard Singleton? Well...
  • It's new and different. Variety is a good thing. This alone would make it worth it.
  • It forces you to play cards that don't get played. 
  • It makes the metagame wide open, giving deckbuilders the chance to show off their skills.
  • It's also an existing format on Magic Online. We're just stipulating that you additionally have to play only Commons. Back before we had a Standard Pauper filter, every game of Standard Pauper was played this way.
So, I hope you'll join me next Monday for this special event. Later this week, I'll post some thoughts about what I think you should consider when building a deck for this event. See you next time!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Pair of Removal Spells

I've been blogging the past two weeks about how Born of the Gods will impact the current Standard Pauper metagame. Part 2 of my full review of the set should be up on Monday over at PureMTGO. But for today, I wanted to talk about two of the more unique removal spells.

It's been interesting to see over the past few years how the balance of removal spells has shifted, particularly when it comes to White and Black Commons. Not too long ago the bar was set pretty high with cards like Oblivion Ring and Doom Blade. It seems the Wizards has recognized just how powerful these two cards are, and has recently only reprinted these at Uncommon. So what kind of removal do we get?

Excoriate and Asphyxiate are what we get, at least in Born of the Gods. Let's talk about these two cards, starting with Excoriate.

Excoriate is yet another instance of a long line of conditional White removal spells. This is surprisingly similar to Divine Verdict, but for the most part is inferior. While it does exile the creature (which is particularly good against Bestow creatures as long Auramancer in the format), it does so at Sorcery speed. This is a big downside, and this means that you can never use Excoriate until after you've already taken damage from the creature you want to kill. What's worse, we already have several other stronger options in white, including Divine Verdict, Celestial Flare, Pacifism, and Last Breath. I don't see any reason why you want to run Excoriate over any of these three.

So, let's look at Asphyxiate. Gone are the days of cheap, Instant-speed, unconditional Black removal at Common. Instead, we now get spells like this. While this may be cheap (especially compared to other destruction spells at Common), the fact that it's Sorcery speed and requires the creature to be untapped is a painful combination of restrictions. Since you can only cast this on your turn, this can never target a non-Vigilance creature that's attacking you each turn. This is a pretty big downside, but I don't think it makes this unplayable. Given the scarcity of choices in the current format, I expect that this will still see some play.

Overall, given how powerful removal has been in Standard Pauper, perhaps this overall weakening of removal isn't such a bad thing.

What do you think of this new direction for removal? Is it good or bad for the format, and why? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


I've been diligently working on the second part of my review of Born of the Gods for Standard Pauper. Part One has already been published over at PureMTGO, and Part Two should be up by the end of the week. Anyway, as I was working through the remaining Blue Commons, the time came to review Crypsis, which is easily the most interesting Common in the set. In fact, this simple card does something that has never been done before at Common: give a creature unconditional protection from all of your opponent's creatures.

In my review, I likened this to a Blue Gods Willing, which is high praise considering just how good that card ended up being. Of course, while there is certainly overlap between the two cards, their actual function is quite different.

So what does Crypsis actually do, exactly?

In actuality, Crypsis could have read something like this:

Choose one or more - Target creature is unblockable until end of turn;
prevent all damage to target creature that would be dealt by creatures your
opponent controls; target creature cannot be targeted by creature
abilities your opponent controls; or untap this creature.

That's quite a bit of value from one simple card, especially for only 1U. Let's break these four categories down a bit more:
  • Target creature is unblockable until end of turn - This is pretty self-explanatory. Your opponent cannot choose to block the creature with any of his or her creatures during the Declare Blockers step.
  • Prevent all damage to target creature that would be dealt by creatures your opponent controls - If this creature blocks an opponent's creature, or if Crypsis is cast after your opponent has already chosen to block this creature, any damage that would be dealt to this creature is prevented. However, this creature will still deal damage as normal.
  • Target creature cannot be targeted by creature abilities your opponent controls - This means that abilities like the tap-ability of Ephara's Warden cannot target this creature. Interesting enough, something like Pit Fight could still target this creature (since the spell, and not the creature, does the targeting), but your opponent's creature still wouldn't deal any damage.
  • Untap this creature - If the creature is tapped, then this will untap it. This will trigger Inspiration if the target creature has that ability.
Notice, of course, what Crypsis does NOT do. It has no effect on spells that your opponent casts on that creature. It can still be bounced with Disperse, or still destroyed with Grisly Spectacle.

So how good is this effect? Honestly, I'm still not sure. There is definitely some value to be had here. Most of the time, you can probably get a full card's worth of value out of this. However, the fact that it does nothing to prevent removal is a pretty big liability. I certainly think this is playable; I'm just not sure how effective it will end up being.

What do you think? Is Crypsis one of the best tricks in the format, or merely a decent card in some matchups? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. See you next time.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Tofu the Bot

Given the craziness of my week so far, with snowstorms and a crash with DCI Reporter that forced me to cancel MPDC 23.14 in the middle of the tournament, I decided to go with something a little off-the-wall.

For some of you, this is probably old news, as it's been around for a while now. But it's new to me, and quite amusing, so I thought I would pass it along.

Several months ago, a programmer named Joe Toscano created a Twitter account called Tofu the bot. Its name is inspired by the culinary characteristics of tofu: it has no flavor of its own but took on whatever seasoning it was given. In this case, it's actually a bot that mimics your tweets. It works quite simply. Whenever you tweet directly at @tofu_product, the bot's algorithm takes random snip-its of your tweets and returns them back to you in an amusing mishmash of humor, nonsense, and basic mimicry of your own style.

Naturally I had to test this out. I followed @tofu_product and sent it several direct tweets. Here's a couple examples of how it replied:


Apparently I tweet a lot about Standard Pauper, Hipsters of the Coast, my blog posts, and traveling.

If you're on Twitter and looking for a laugh, give it a try

Also, in case you missed it, Part One of my review of Born of the Gods for Standard Pauper is available over at PureMTGO. Part Two should be up later this week.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Are These Auras Born of the Gods?

The full spoiler for Born of the Gods was released late last week, and as a result I am hard at work on my full review of the set for Standard Pauper. In the mean time, all this week, I will be bringing you previews from my article, which should be up soon on

Today I want to talk about the other Common cycle of cards from Born of the Gods. The first, of course, was a new cycle of Bestow creatures, which I wrote about earlier this week. Interestingly enough, the second cycle are all Enchantments as well. However, in this case, they are Enchantment Auras specifically designed to enable the Inspired mechanic, which I also wrote about this week. In case you aren't familiar with them, here they are:

A quick scan should make it obvious why these are Inspired enablers, as each of them grants the enchanted creature the ability to tap to produce a certain effect. This gives you the ability to tap the creature without having to send it into combat, and hopefully allow it to survive to untap at the start of your next turn.

Unfortunately, I don't think any of them are good enough to see widespread play. Here's why:
  • All of these effects are slow, grindy effects that do nothing to impact the board. 
  • These Auras do nothing to prevent your opponent from simply destroying the creature, either before the Aura resolves or sometime afterwards. Either way, you've given your opponent a 2-for-1, and gotten very little gain out of the deal.
  • None of the Common Inspired effects are good enough to warrant building around them with what are otherwise weak cards.
  • These Auras also fail to do anything to mitigate the other weakness of the Inspired ability word, which is the fact that it takes almost 2 full turns after you cast the Inspired creature to get any value out of its ability.
I also mention in my article how the best way to account for these liabilities is to cast these Auras on a Hexproof creature and forget about Inspired creatures. Problem is, in a dedicated Hexproof deck, you typically have better things to do than tap them for a marginal effect.

Honestly, I like the idea of Auras that give creatures an activated ability. If these cards granted abilities like dealing 1 damage, or returning a card to its owner's hand, or untapping a creature, those might be worth the risk. But as is, there are few, if any, compelling reasons to cast these Auras.

What do you think?