Saturday, March 29, 2014

Schlock Mercenary

I don't read a lot of webcomics. However, the view I do read I follow quite closely. Not too long ago, I wrote about my favorite - Order of the Stick. Today I want to review my second favorite, Schlock Mercenary.

Schlock Mercenary derives its name from Sergeant Schlock, an intelligent amorphous creature with a strong penchant for violence. He serves in a mercenary group known as Taigon's Toughs whose illustrious career is set within the late 31st century of our world. While Schlock may be the title character, the comic is populated by a large cast of characters, whose importance to any particular story arc comes and goes as the comic progresses.

The series is aptly described as comic space opera, staying true to the tropes of space opera while ending each and every strip with a punch-line. Like the classic comics of old, the Sunday strip is always several panels long. Most remarkably, the author publishes a new comic each and every day, without fail, 365 days a year, as he has done for the past thirteen years. And for those who subscribe through his multi-platform app, you receive improved graphics and access to comics three days in advance of the website.

The series is divided into individual books, which of course are available for purchase. Fortunately, they are also arranged this way in the archives, which makes it easy to jump in to the last completed story arc to get your bearings on the series or help you decide whether or not this series is for you. There is also a wealth of background information available on the series' wiki page, but most of this is unnecessary to enjoy the comic. I confess until I wrote this blog post I had never even glanced at it!

With perhaps one caveat: if you're going to read Schlock Mercenary, you can't miss the infamous Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries.

Anyway, enough info-dump. I confess the major reason that I got into this series was the fact that there was something new each and every day. This is highly unusual for webcomics, and that alone makes it worth checking out. The characters are also varied and interesting, the story arcs involve a good mix of combat, exotic locations, political intrigue, and character development, and the humor - while not typically of the 'laugh out loud' variety - is quirky, sometimes subtle, and pretty good considering the demands of coming up with a new one every day that doesn't detract from the story the author is trying to tell.

If you're a fan of the space opera genre, webcomics in general, or just enjoy a good read, Schlock Mercenary may be just what you're looking for. Check it out today!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dominion Review

As I promised last week, one of the posts I have been working on for this week is another board game review - this time, of the classic card game Dominion. At first blush, Dominion appears to simply be another fantasy themed card game, where you play combinations of cards to score or amass points. But what makes this game so unique is its deck-building mechanic. Let me explain.

Each player begins the game with a predetermined deck of money and a few victory points. Each turn, one draws five cards from the top of his or her deck, plays any action cards, then purchases new cards, and then discards all played cards (including any newly purchased) into his or her discard pile. As soon as the deck is depleted, one shuffles all the cards in the discard pile to form a new deck. Thus, as the game progresses, you are constantly adding cards to your deck, increasing your buying power and giving you new ways to interact with your opponent. Eventually, the game ends either when all of the most expensive victory point cards have been purchased or when two complete sets of action cards have been purchased.

In many ways, this feels almost like a Magic the Gathering draft in which you constantly alternate between drafting new cards and playing several turns with your newly drafted cards. In any one game there are only 10 distinct action cards to be purchased, along with three denominations of money and three denominations of victory points, so obviously the variety is much smaller than in a Magic draft. However, while not particularly complex, certain sets of cards create synergy with each other, allowing you to more quickly draw through your deck or purchase cards more quickly. In the base game there are 20 different action cards available, but only 10 are selected for any given game. And when these become too familiar, there are 12 more expansions that are available for purchase.

Another factor that makes this deckbuilding mechanic so interesting is that none of the victory point cards have any function in the game until the game ends. So if you purchase too many too earlier, they tend to clog up your deck, slowing down your ability to purchase and play cards. 

The production values for this game are quite good. The artwork is vivid and strongly ties the game to the feel of managing a fantasy empire. The rulebook is easy to understand, comprehensive, and even suggest which cards to include for your first game. The box itself comes with interior plastic tray to keep all the cards organized while they're not in use. The cards themselves are solid cardstock, and feel remarkably similar to a Magic card. However, given the massive amount of shuffling that takes place in the game, one would be well advised to purchase sleeves to keep the cards in good shape.

Dominion is a great game, and one that I think will particularly appeal to those who enjoy Magic the Gathering. If you're interested, you can actually try the base game out for free at Give it a try - you won't be disappointed!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Issue from MPDC 24.04

Honestly, I didn't think I would be addressing this issue. Let me explain.

Last Monday, during the Finals of MPDC 24.04, there was a conflict between the two remaining players. After the Top 4 matches ended, one of the players requested a 20 minute break to take care of something work-related. The other player was unwilling to do so and believed that he should have been awarded a free win since his opponent would be unavailable to start the match within 10 minutes of the previous round ending. When the first player returned from his break, the second player was still online but refused to play out the match at that time.

I was unavailable at the time of the conflict, and didn't find out about it until the incident was over. After mulling it over, I emailed the two parties and requested that they reschedule a time to play out the match. The second player was unwilling to do so. On that basis, I went ahead and declared the final match a tie and shared the prizes among them.

Yesterday, I learned that one of the players wrote about the incident over at his blog. You can read his account here. I went ahead and posted a brief summary of what happened over at PDCmagic in response, and decided that since it was being discussed in the community, it made sense to go ahead and address it here as well.

Just for clarity, the rules do state that if a player is not present to begin his or her match within 10 minutes of the pairing announcement, that player forfeits the match. Generally, this has only been enforced when a player is actually offline at that time. Even then, sometimes the first player decides to wait it out a bit longer to see if his or her opponent ever shows up. In other instances, when a player lets me or his opponent know that he or she will be delayed, this has not been an issue. Similarly, from what I've heard from other players, there seems to be a consensus that there is nothing wrong if two players agree beforehand to delay the start of their match, especially if it's during the Finals when no other players are affected.

Probably what needs to happen is that the rules be clarified and specifically spell out under what circumstances a player may request a delay and the maximum amount of time that delay may take. 

What do you think?

PS - Let me remind you that I am still in the midst of my 40 days without Magic, which means contacting me on Twitter or expecting me to know what's going on in the community may not be the best approach. That 40 days will end on Sunday, April 13th, which means I've got less than three weeks to go. Overall I'm feeling pretty good about the whole situation. But, I don't want to be that guy who stops taking his meds halfway through the prescription just because he's feeling better.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Espresso Week: Pulling the Perfect Shot

It's Espresso Week here at Writer Adept!

Last week, I discussed the financial implications of a daily (or even weekly) espresso habit and how it made sense to me to invest in my own equipment rather than paying the big bucks out to a local coffee shop. On Tuesday, I discussed some tips about buying the best espresso machine for your dollar and reviewed my top three choices. Then, on Thursday, I talked about about the other equipment and supplies you'll need to get started on your daily espresso habit. For the final entry this week, I want to discuss how to pull the perfect shot of espresso.

Essentially there are three variables that need to be just right in order to pull the perfect extraction of espresso:
  1. The grind of the espresso beans
  2. Amount of coffee in the portafilter
  3. The hardness of your tamp
The golden rule for a double-shot espresso is approximately 2.5 fluid ounces of water pulled through approximately 14 grams of ground coffee in about 20 to 25 seconds. This is achieved by setting your grinder to achieve a consistency similar to table sugar, filling up the portafilter about three-fourths of the way full, leveling it out, then applying approximately 15 pounds of pressure with the tamp.

While this may sound quite technical, it's pretty easy to tell when your technique is off. The end result will pour out either too fast or too slow, or will lack the layer of golden foam called crema that is characteristic of good espresso.

To help you practice and perfect the art of espresso, here are some helpful resources:
  1. By far my favorite all-around information about all things espresso is found in Alton Brown's Good Eats episode entitled Espress Yourself. Sadly, unless you are an Amazon Prime member, this episode is no longer available for free online. If you can get your hands on it, it's well worth watching.
  2. You can watch a great primer on tamping and how it effects your extraction from this video here, courtesy of Whole Latte Love.
  3. Another all-around solid but also brief video guide to good espresso technique can be found here.
  4. Finally, if you really want to become an expert, try this in-depth guide from Home Barista. It's quite lengthy, but is probably the best resource available online.
I hope you've enjoyed this deep dive into the world of espresso. Next week, I'll be back with a new book review, a board game review, and a quick look at another one of my favorite web comics. See you then.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Espresso Week: Other Supplies

It's Espresso Week here at Writer Adept!

Last week, I discussed the financial implications of a daily (or even weekly) espresso habit and how it made sense to me to invest in my own equipment rather than paying the big bucks out to a local coffee shop. Then, on Tuesday, I discussed some tips about buying the best espresso machine for your dollar and reviewed my top three choices. Today, I want to talk about about the other equipment and supplies you'll need to get started on your daily espresso habit.

After your espresso machine, the next most important piece of equipment is your grinder. Like espresso machines, there are a host of options and price ranges for coffee grinders, and when you first start looking, it can seem pretty overwhelming. Fortunately, two pieces of simple advice go a long way. First, make sure you choose a burr grinder rather than a blade grinder, as the latter can't produce either the uniformity or size you'll need for espresso. Second, you don't need to pay the extra expense for a flat-burr grinder, for ceramic parts, fancy dosing attachments, or micro- grind adjustments. For your money, I highly recommend the Capresso 560.01 Infinity Burr Grinder, available for less than $100. It's relatively inexpensive, easy to use, and perfectly capable of grinding your espresso beans to the right size, shape, and consistency.

So what else do you need? Fortunately, once you have the espresso machine and grinder, all of the major expenses (as well as difficult choices) are out  of the way. However, you will need a few basic supplies to get you started.
  •  An espresso tamper - this is a barbel-shaped object, usually made of stainless steel or plastic, that you use to press down on the ground espresso in the portafilter before brewing.  Many espresso machines come with a plastic tamper, but I recommend tossing these away and purchasing one made of metal.
  • A frothing pitcher - this is a medium sized stainless steel vessel with a handle that is used to steam the milk up to temperature. The metal is essentially, as it allows a uniform temperature for the milk as it heats up.
  • A thermometer - while not strictly necessary, most baristas prefer to steam their milk to a particular temperature (140 - 160 degrees is typical). A simple candy thermometer is more than sufficient.
  • espresso cups - these are glass or plastic graduated cups that are small enough to sit below your portafilter and will hold the espresso as it is extracted.
With those things in hand, you've got everything you need to start making your daily espresso - well, everything except the coffee beans themselves, the milk, and whatever flavorings you wish!

But the very last thing you'll need to do is master all this great equipment you've invested in. While it's not difficult, it does take some practice before you're ready to produce a quality daily espresso. For my final post of the week, I'll point you towards some great resources that will help you become a great barista in no time!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Espresso Week: The Machine

Welcome to Espresso Week here at Writer Adept!

Last time, I discussed the financial implications of a daily (or even weekly) espresso habit and how it made sense to me to invest in my own equipment rather than paying the big bucks out to a local coffee shop. This week, I want to talk about some of the things you'll need to know before going down this road for yourself.

The most important purchase you will make for a daily espresso habit at home is your espresso machine. Surprisingly, there are a dizzying array of options out there for these two products, and no shortage of advice on what you should or should not purchase. So let me start with the principles I used to guide my decisions:
  1. I want to be able to brew a product equivalent to what I would receive at a coffee shop. This immediately weeds out low quality, steam-driven machines.
  2. To accomplish that, I need a reasonable amount of control over the brewing process. This means I want to avoid the automatic and super-automatic machines, as well as those designed to exclusively use espresso pods.
  3. My machine will primarily be used once or twice a day, typically only pulling a handful of shots in a day. This means I don't need the speed of a higher-end semi-commercial machine.
Based on these factors, then, I would recommend purchasing a semi-automatic, non-commercial espresso machine. In particular, I can recommend these three models: 
  1. De'Longhi EC155 - Although it's quite small, this machine is otherwise a great deal. It's pump driven, heats up quickly, and delivers a quality shot. Yet, you get all of this for under $100.  It's no wonder that this machine is the #1 best seller on Amazon for semi-automatic espresso machines. The only caveat is the low milk frother, which definitely limits the amount of milk you can froth at a time. But if you're on a tight budget, this is a great choice.
  2. Gaggia 14101 Classic - When choosing espresso machines, you can't go wrong with a Gaggia. While it's $300 price tag seems high compared to the previous entry, for your money you get a near commercial quality machine for a fraction of their price. It's sturdy, comes in elegant stainless steel, easy to work on, and even features a three-way solenoid valve, which allows a faster recovery time between shots. Some people have complained about issues with the steam wand, but I've never had an issue with it.
  3. Rancilio Silvia - If you survey serious espresso enthusiasts for their choice on home machines, more often than not this is the machine they name. This is truly a professional level machine, and will require some serious barista skills to get the most out of it. But for those who truly want to excel at their craft, and are willing to pay over $600 for the privilege, this is an excellent choice. The only complaint I've heard about it is that is can be slow to come up to temperature when it's turned on for the first time.
For those following along at home, my personal choice was the Gaggia Classic. It's reasonably priced, delivers a quality product, is easy to maintain (and even change out parts), and if taken care of properly will last for years. And like I said - it's hard to go wrong with a Gaggia - after all, the founder of the company invented the first espresso machine!

Next time, I'll take about the rest of the equipment you'll need to get started. Don't worry - the espresso machine is by far the most complicated and most expensive purchase you'll make for your daily espresso habit.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Daily Espresso: Some Math

Last weekend we had a large gathering of family in our home. Most of them are coffee lovers; or, more precisely, lovers of espresso-based drinks like those that Starbucks has made famous. As the proud owner of my own home espresso machine, I got to play barista several times over the weekend. Without exception, each person commented how much better they enjoyed my home crafted brew than the similar product they usually got at Starbucks. Maybe they were just being nice to me - being family and all. Maybe it was just because it was free.

But inevitably this led me to ask them how often they purchase coffee at their favorite coffee shop. You see,  I figured out a long time ago, if you really love the daily espresso habit, the only sane thing to do is to purchase your own machine, grinder, syrups, and coffee, and make them yourself. Let me explain.

If you spend approximately $6.00 a day at your local coffee shop, that quickly adds up to around $180 a month, or over $2100 per year. I don't know what your budget looks like, but at least in my household, that's a pretty significant chunk of change. And God forbid you've got two or three people in on the habit.

While I didn't do the math myself, once you own your own equipment, you could support that same daily espresso habit for under $500 a year, even if you purchase your beans and syrups straight from your local coffee shop (which is hugely expensive when cheaper alternatives exist). Already, you've cut the cost of your habit by 75%.

Now here's the part that most people don't believe. Take out that $500 you will spend either way out of the $2100 you're spending now. With the money that's left, you could purchase a nice home espresso machine and grinder, and still have money left over for all of the other assorted items that make home espresso machine ownership easier. In a year, you've broken-even on your purchase of a very nice home espresso machine. You could even be more budget conscience, and cut those costs in half, spending as little as $500 to get yourself started.

Let that sink in. Even if you're only spending $20 or more per week on espresso right now, for the same price you could purchase your own machine and make an equivalent drink every day for the exact same price. And after the first year, you're saving almost $10 a week.

So why don't people make the switch, and what do you need to know to be successful in brewing your own daily espresso? That will be my topic for next week. See you then!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

More Terraria

Over a year ago, I reviewed what has become my most played video game of all time - a indie game known as Terraria. Terraria at its heart is a 2D hybrid of Minecraft and the Legend of Zelda, with a dash of sci-fi elements reminiscent of Metroid. While Terraria was released almost three years ago, development for the game is still ongoing, with a number of large content releases over that time, particularly in the last six months or so. 

Back in October, I reviewed the release of 1.2, which still stands as the biggest update since the game's release. But a ton of new content has been released since then, so I wanted to take the time today to document just how much has changed since then.

Essentially, there have been three major releases since then, with some smaller bugfix release in-between. The first was 1.2.1, which was a Halloween themed release. This included a whole host of costumes, pets, and items centered around Halloween, capped off with a massive end-game "invasion" event where the player battles wave after wave of some of the most difficult enemies in the game for the opportunity to walk away with some very powerful items. The update also added some cosmetic changes such that every year during the Halloween season (or anytime you change your computer's date to October), enemies dress in costumes, hearts change into candy apples, and pumpkins grow in abundance.

The second major release was 1.2.2, which was a Christmas themed release. This release actually augmented earlier content available only during the Christmas season, which included enemies dropping presents when killed, a Santa Claus NPC, holiday lights, and other festive decorations. The biggest change with this update was the addition of a second end-game "invasion" event, this time pitting the player against waves of Christmas enemies (like evil gingerbread men, angry Christmas trees, Santa-Claus mechs, and the Frost Queen). This event is even harder than the previous one, but once again gives the player access to some fantastic end-game content.

The most recent release was 1.2.3, which featured a change log over 5 pages long of new and updated content! It included two new NPCs, tons of new vanity items, increased stack-size for most blocks, tons of new home furnishings, more character customization options, a host of balance changes designed to make the early and mid game easier while increasing the difficulty of the end game, and even some optimizations to the game code that decreases it demand on lower-end computers. 

Development work is already underway for 1.2.4, and beyond that the long-awaited "Lunar" themed 1.3 release, which will probably be the last major content release for the game.

I'm not sure what I could say about this game that hasn't been said before. It's a fantastic game, and one that you owe it to yourself to play. You won't be disappointed.

See you next time.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, it should come as no surprise that I love games. I have a particular soft-spot for complex board games, but I also enjoy a lot of different card games. Some family favorites include Euchre, Nertz (a variant of Dutch Blitz), and Rummy in all its various forms and iterations. But this past weekend I got introduced to a Rummy variant that I really enjoyed, so I thought I would pass it along to  my readers.

It’s called Joker Rummy (well okay, technically Jok-R-ummy, but I do not want to write that out every time!). Like most forms of Rummy, you divide out all the cards, draw and discard a card each turn, and attempt to lay down sets (cards of the same number) or runs (cards of the same suit in order) to score points. In this case, both Jokers and 2s are considered wild, meaning that they can be used to represent any other card. But unlike traditionally Rummy, every player isn’t going for the same goal. Instead, each round, you draw a card that describes your particular goal for that round.

Let me give you a few examples:
  • A set of 5 of a particular card (like 5 Jacks or 5 10s, for example)
  • Two three card sets and one four card run
  • A run of seven cards
  • A run of four cards in a particular suit
Once you achieve your goal for that round, you try to “go out” like in traditionally Rummy, by adding to either your own played cards or those of your opponent, until you discard your last card at the end of your turn. However, you don’t score any points this way. Instead, your only points are the number of goal cards you complete at the end of the game, which is typically played to seven. As soon as someone goes out, the round is over. Any player who completed their goal draws a new card, and the next round begins.

Luck is obviously a major factor in any card game, and the fact that there is so much variation among the goal cards just increases that variability. Worse still, if you don’t complete a particular hard goal, you’re stuck with it for every round until you finally do so. This can be quite punishing when you have a particularly difficult goal.

As a result, we tried two different variants to help mitigate this:
  1. If you get stuck on the same goal for two rounds in a row, you have the option to discard that card and take a new one before starting the next round.
  2. Rather than drawing one goal, you start with three goals in hand. You may attempt any of these three goals during a round, but you can only accomplish one per round. Additionally, in-between rounds, you always draw back up to three goal cards.
Overall, I found Joker Rummy to be an enjoyable game. It’s not particularly difficult or complex, but there’s just enough strategy to make it interesting. Seems like it would be a great game when you just want something to play while enjoying good conversation with friends. If you’re looking for something a bit different to play at your next game night – give it a try!

See you next time.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

40 Days Away From Magic, Part Three

As I announced on Twitter earlier this week, I will be taking  40 days away from Magic the Gathering. This means I will not play, write, or blog about Magic. This even includes staying away from my Twitter feed and the various websites that provide high quality articles and videos related to this great game. I will, however, continue to host Monday Pauper Deck Challenge.

This week, I will be exploring three reasons why I believe this is the right decision and the right time for me to take this time away from the hobby that I enjoy so much. I posted the first reason on Tuesday, as well as the second reason on Thursday. Today I want to talk about the third and final reason.

About a year ago, I was diagnosed with depression. While my case was relatively minor, it appears likely I had been struggling with it for years without any recognition or treatment. I started taking anti-depressants, and the results have been dramatic. Yet I still struggle from time to time. So, in addition to my medication, I have also been exploring what triggers my episodes and how to mitigate those situations.

Unfortunately, playing Magic the Gathering can be a trigger. While I get great enjoyment out of providing a great tournament and resources for Standard Pauper, when my personal gaming is in a rut, it is easy for it to begin to affect me emotionally. And this, in turn, takes its toll on my life, my friends, and my family. I have tried pushing through these episodes while continuing to play, but as of yet this has not been a successful strategy.

I am hopeful that the next few weeks without Magic will help in this area. Already, I can recognize patterns in my gaming that have been unhealthy. At the same time, I already miss a lot of the things I enjoy about the game, and it hasn't even been a full week yet. I sincerely believe that this 40 day period away from Magic will lead to breakthrough. But even if it doesn't, I do know that it will allow me to enjoy Magic the Gathering for a long time to come.

Next week, I will be back to my less personal posts here on my blog. I've got books and games to review, some more writing resources to discuss, and a few other surprises in the queue. And it won't be long before the 40 days will be at an end. I promise I will have lots of great Standard Pauper content forthcoming.

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

40 Days Away From Magic, Part Two

As I announced on Twitter earlier this week, I will be taking  40 days away from Magic the Gathering. This means I will not play, write, or blog about Magic. This even includes staying away from my Twitter feed and the various websites that provide high quality articles and videos related to this great game. I will, however, continue to host Monday Pauper Deck Challenge.

This week, I will be exploring three reasons why I believe this is the right decision and the right time for me to take this time away from the hobby that I enjoy so much. I posted the first reason on Tuesday. Here's the second one.

The broken locks were a warning,
you got inside my head
I tried my best to be guarded,
I'm an open book instead
I still see your reflection
inside of my eyes
That are looking for a purpose,
they're still looking for life
                                                                                                - “Broken”

Several years ago, I was part of a conversation about how you know when something you enjoy has become unhealthy or destructive. My friend’s answer was: when it owns your heart.
That’s why I feel like I need some time away from Magic. I fear it’s gotten to the point that it owns my heart. So much of my leisure time has been devoted to it: reading articles, watching videos, testing out different decks, writing about it, blogging about it – the list goes on. Even worse, when my play experience goes badly - as it will for anyone from time to time – my reaction is way out of proportion. In fact, after a particularly frustrating match during MPDC this week, there was a moment when I just wanted to log off Magic Online and never open it again.
So if my diagnosis is right, the best cure is time away. Time to discover just enmeshed this game has become in my heart. Time to reflect on where this has become dehumanizing and unhealthy. And time away to miss what is good and fun about it and look forward to returning to it next month.
In the end, I believe this time away will restore my enjoyment of the game – and in the process, make me a better Magic player. See you next time.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

40 Days Away from Magic, Part One

As I announced on Twitter yesterday, I will be taking the next 40 days away from Magic the Gathering. This means I will not play, write, or blog about Magic. This even includes staying away from my Twitter feed and the various websites that provide high quality articles and videos related to this great game. I will, however, continue to host Monday Pauper Deck Challenge.

This week, I want to explore three reasons why I believe this is the right decision and the right time for me to take this time away from the hobby that I enjoy so much. Here's the first one.

Tomorrow marks the start of the observation of Lent, a Christian religious observance that marks a period of repentance and devotion to God in preparation for the celebration of Easter. In the past, I have misunderstood Lent to be a typical "anti-world" Christian activity, rejecting so called "worldly-things" in favor of "heavenly things." Or, even worse, as a shallow religious activity designed to convince an arbitrary God to overlook past mistakes and/or earn His blessings.

However, as I read more about this ancient tradition, I discovered that it is, in fact, about something very different. All of us have a limited ability to experience things in life. We only have so much brain-power, so much attention, and so many waking hours. Lent, then, is a time to set aside lesser things to make margin in one's life for something better. A time to recognize those things that are dehumanizing and hurtful, turn from them, and embrace something better.

So for the next 40 days, I will be setting aside the time I normally focus on Magic to instead pursue more important goals: spending time with friends and family, developing my writing skills, enjoying some good literature, and cultivating love, joy, and peace. I believe that by intentionally pursuing these things over the next 40 days, I will not only experience a better, richer life; in the end, it will also free me to have a greater enjoyment of Magic in the future. More on that next time.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

When a Host Plays, He Cheats

I was chatting with one of my fellow Standard Pauper players earlier today, and during a discussion about what happened to a previous Player Run Event, he mentioned that one of the issues involved was the accusation that the host was cheating. Apparently, some involved believed that it is always inappropriate for a host to play in any event he or she is running.

I thought this was an interesting perspective. For as long as I have been involved on Magic Online in various Player Run Events, the host has always been a participant. I also almost always play in the events that I run. And I have never even considered that this might be seen as cheating. Here's why:

There is actually surprisingly little a host can do to cheat. Sure, he or she can try to manipulate the pairings to get what might seem like a less-experienced opponent. The host could even make sure that he or she always received the bye whenever eligible to receive it. I suppose the host could even deliberately alter the pairings to try to improve his or her tiebreakers.

Here's the thing though. Those actions, dishonest as they are, are a very minor advantage. And they come with a huge cost. Player Run Events have always been about trust. The players trust that the host will provide the prizes advertised; all of the players assume that the other players won't change their deck or Sideboard in between rounds; the host trusts that none of the players are intentionally losing to another player to then split the prizes. Trust is fundamental to the success of a PRE. Without it, the event will lose players and eventually die out.

So for a host, it makes no sense to try to gain an edge by unfairly manipulating the pairings. The potential loss of trust is massive, and the potential gain from those actions is pretty minor. After all, the host still has to actually win most or all of his matches, and on Magic Online, there is very little you can do to cheat your way to a win.

But I'd love to hear what the community thinks. Is it improper for a host to play in an event he or she is running? Why or why not? Let me know in the comments.