Tuesday, July 29, 2014

On Tilt: Find New Habits

All last week, I explored the concept of tilt. First, I discussed the origin of the term tilt and how it moved from pinball to Poker to Magic the Gathering.  Next, I summarized some of my own struggles with tilt. Finally, I discussed some new ways of thinking about tilt that I found helpful. Today, I want to finish by examining some habits that can help address tilt.

I ended my last post with the statement that knowledge alone is rarely enough to change behavior. As human beings, we can recognize when certain behavior patterns are destructive or irrational, but this recognition alone is rarely sufficient to bring about change. What is needed is to develop new habits.

Imagine trying to change the course of a small creek. One simply cannot dig a new channel and hope for the best. You must dam up the water, create a new course for the water to run, and make sure the water will correctly transition to the newly dug channel. In the same way, when it comes to changing behavior, one must not only awkwardly practice new habits, but one must work hard to block the old patterns of behavior until the transition to the new behavior becomes habitual.

So here are some actions that I have found helpful in address tilt:

1. Recognize when you are tilting. Tilt is most dangerous when it is unrecognized. Learn to recognize your own body cues that signal this aggressive shift in your emotions. Maybe it's a rise in your internal temperature, an inability to focus your thoughts, or even a simmering rage like I typically experience. Whatever the symptom, if you have any chance of avoiding the pitfalls of tilt, you have to clearly identify when your mental balance is being pushed upon. Heed the warning, stop "nudging" the table, and take the next step.

2. Refocus your thoughts and emotions. Once your recognize the danger signs, you've got to stop what you're doing and refocus. Step away for a moment. Take several deep breaths. In between games, you can even get up, walk outside for a moment, listen to a song on the Internet, or almost anything that helps you relax, refocus, and push back against your rising emotions.

3. Come back to the game. At some point, you've got to come back to the game. In the middle of an event or a tournament, you may not have the freedom to simply walk away and take as much time as needed to get your emotions back in check. In the short term, force yourself to rethink your play without making snap decisions. Don't rely on your instincts, especially since what probably comes most naturally is to drift right back into tilt. Slow down, put what's already happened behind you, and focus on the reason why you're playing the game in the first place.

I still have a long way to go before I feel like I have mastered my own struggles with tilt. But with these actions slowly but surely becoming habitual in my life, I have seen progress.

What about you, my readers? Have you struggled with tilt? If so, what have you found helps? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Next time, I'll be back with an annoying Magic Online bug and what you can do to make sure it gets fixed.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

On Tilt: A New Perspective

For the next couple posts, I want to explore the concept of tilt. Earlier this week, I discussed the origin of the term tilt and how it moved from pinball to Poker to Magic the Gathering.  Then, last time, I summarized some of my own struggles with tilt. Today, I want to talk about a new way of thinking about this level of frustration.

Allow me to share with you two statements that stopped me in my tracks:

1. Everyone will eventually run worse than they ever thought was possible. Let that sink in for a moment. No matter how good you may be, no matter how successful you may become, at some point the bottom is going to drop out. You will experience a sequence of bad outcomes. And this sequence won't play itself out quickly. Instead, it will continue longer than you would ever have thought possible. And here's the clincher. 

2. The difference between a winner and a loser is that the latter thinks they don't deserve it. Allow me to restate that more clearly. You do not deserve to win a single game of Magic. Again, no matter how good you may be, no matter how successful you may become, you do not deserve to ever win another game of Magic. Nothing is given. The universe owes you nothing. Great skill and great success do not guarantee future results. And until you are ready to accept this, you don't belong among the ranks of winners.

Maybe this sounds like bad news. But in fact, at least for me, it is surprisingly liberating. Part of what I believe fuels the frustration of tilt is this unspoken belief that this particular sequence of bad beats is some sort of cosmic injustice that must be righted if the world is to go on as before. It simply feels so unfair, so wrong, so staggeringly unlikely as to be almost unbelievable. And the natural response of most of us to injustice is a blazing passion to see the wrong made right, especially if we're the one who is perceived to be the victim. But there is no victim here. No matter how great the odds are against the sequence of outcomes that have dropped the bottom out of my game, I don't deserve anything better. I am owed nothing. And I shouldn't be surprised by these experiences. After all, at one point or another everyone is going to have a similar story.

Unfortunately, knowledge alone is rarely enough to change behavior, especially when behavior has become habitual. So if you struggle with tilt, what should you do about it? That's what I want to talk about next time.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

On Tilt: My Story

For the next couple posts, I want to explore the concept of tilt. Last time, I discussed the origin of the term tilt and how it moved from pinball to Poker to Magic the Gathering. Today, I want to explore some of my own experiences with tilt.

This series of tweets from a couple of years ago encapsulates my experience of tilt fairly well:

To say that I was frustrated was putting it mildly. It seemed every time I sat down to play Magic I left feeling angry, frustrated, out-of-control, and hopeless that I could ever get back to playing well, writing articles, and videocasting. In fact, I actually got so tilted after a poor match that I literally quit hosting in the middle of a tournament. Granted, I came to my senses minutes later and logged back in and apologized. But that's how bad things had gotten.

I wish I could say that I learned something from that experience and all was well from that point forward. But sadly that wasn't the case. In fact, just this year, I ended up taking a 40 day hiatus from Magic, realizing that my frustration had built up to the point where time away was the only solution.

But here's the thing: every time that I reach that level of frustration, I realize that I don't want to just give up and walk away. Not only would I be walking away from what has become my favorite hobby, but I would also be losing a wonderful creative outlet and letting down the community that has developed around the Standard Pauper format.

So what should I do? What's the solution? As with most things, the key is changing my pattern of thinking. What I need is to readjust my thoughts to a different perspective. Next time, I want to talk about what that perspective is.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

On Tilt: Origins

For the next couple posts, I want to explore the concept of tilt. And it all starts with the simple game of pinball, which I spent way too many hours playing. Not on a physical machine, unfortunately. But, I spent countless hours playing 3D Space Cadet Pinball on Windows XP. Granted, I was not the most skilled player, but it was still fun.

Of course, virtual physics don't quite match up to the real-world counterpart. Nowhere was this more apparent than in its "nudge" control, which would allow you to virtually "bump" the table in a particular direction, much as you can in a real arcade pinball machine. Rarely did this feature accomplish anything other than activating the game's tilt sensor. For those unfamiliar with pinball (virtual or otherwise), this tilt sensor immediately locks out all the controls and often cancels any bonuses or other earned advantages in the game. I distinctly remember watching that little silver ball bounce erratically around the course, powerless to do anything to affect its eventual trajectory down the drain. While occasionally I would heed the warnings from my frequent use of the "nudge" control and tone back my button mashing, usually I just ignored them.

Today, the term tilt has survived the near-extinction of the pinball machine and come into the world of Magic via poker. When confronted by a series of events in which the player experiences frustration, animosity, or bad luck, an emotional response is triggered. The player becomes more aggressive, more likely to make bad decisions, and often feels as if he or she is owed an optimal outcome due to the sequence of misfortune that has played itself out. Just like a poor bounce of the pinball would lead a player to pushing aggressively on the table to try and change the ball's trajectory, these events cause a player to aggressively push back against the game, giving up control and finesse and attempting to force good results through sheer effort. And in either case, this aggression ends with the player powerless to do anything except watch the silver ball, and his or her game, slide down the drain to yet another loss.

In poker, tilt results in players throwing away significant dollars by playing out too many hands, making unreasonable calls and raises, and stubbornly refusing to walk away until they win their money back. In Magic, while the stakes are certainly much lower, the same sequence can play itself out, leading to increasing frustration, a feeling of powerlessness, and the sense that one has lost the ability to compete. And in either case, tilt has no doubt been a major factor in the decision for that player to walk away from the game, never to return.

I should know. Too many times, I've allowed tilt to detract from the fun of Magic. And worse, I've seriously considered walking away. Next time, I'll share more about my own experiences with tilt.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Pondering the Clan

In case you didn't know, there is a Magic Online clan dedicated to Standard Pauper called, appropriately enough, Standard Pauper Players. I am a member and enthusiast, although I have not been very active as of late. That probably needs to change, as I have been asked to take over the position of clan captain, at least for the interim while the previous captain is away.

Late last year, I wrote a special post for the Standard Pauper Players clan exploring a piece written by Patrick Chapin about what makes for a strong Magic the Gathering playgroup and explored how his concepts applied to this clan. I still believe that these tenets are the key to having a successful and influential clan, so if you haven't read that post, it would be helpful in regards to the rest of this post.

So here's the deal. I have been asked by the current captain to make my interim position permanent. In other words, I would become the clan captain  for the Standard Pauper Players clan on Magic Online. So the question is, should I? Specifically, there are several issues that I feel like I want to address before making that decision:
  1. Is it a conflict of interest for a host of a PRE to run a clan? This is probably the most important issue that I would love to get some feedback on.
  2. Is it even possible to fulfill the tenets of a good playgroup given the limitations of Magic Online? Again, if you haven't read my summary, please do so. I'd love to hear what you think.
  3. What kind of things would be valuable or useful to members of this clan? In other words, what do you hope to get from joining the clan? I have my opinions, but this is another area where feedback would be great.
  4. What responsibilities do you expect from a clan captain? Again, this is important to me. I don't want to commit to anything without at least some understanding of what I'm signing up for.
So this is where you come in. Please ponder the questions above and let me know what you think. Thanks!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Multicolor Mayhem Followup

Back at the end of May, I announced on this blog the start of a league-style Player Run Event called Multicolor Mayhem. In case you missed it, this was a special event featuring a mashup of the Shards of Alara Block and the Return to Ravnica Block.

Perhaps due to the short time span between the announcement and the start of the event, we ended up with only 17 participants, including myself. Nonetheless, the event was a lot of fun, and the winner walked away with one of the bigger prizes I've ever given out: 14 tickets!

This past week, the two remaining participants battled it out in the Finals, and Adner's Esper Mayhem was crowned the winner!

Esper was probably the most dominant archetype in Standard Pauper back when the Shards of Alara block was part of the format, and it's easy to see why. Using Sanctum Gargoyle, one can recur the excellent "spell-artifacts" Courier's Capsule and Executioner's Capsule, as well as looping multiples of the gargoyles themselves. That set also featured one of the best removal spells at Common: Oblivion Ring. To this solid core Adner added the excellent Gatekeepers from Dragon's Maze as well as additional recursion via Deputy of Acquittals. The result is a powerful Control deck capable of handling most any threat and equipped to generate tons of card advantage over the course of a game.

This event was a lot of fun, and there is already discussion about what format to do next. In the future, I would make two small changes:
  1. Advertise the event a few weeks in advance so as to generate maximum exposure. 
  2. Allow players to change their decklist each week rather than requiring them to keep it the same throughout the event.
For those of you who participated, I'd love to hear any comments or feedback you might have. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Farewell to Magic Online

No, I'm not selling out and uninstalling Magic Online, although some may be tempted to do just that in the days and weeks ahead. But today marks the last day of the version 3 client of Magic Online. Tomorrow, it will go down for the weekly downtime, and when the downtime is over, the former "beta" client will be the only client for Magic Online.

So how do I feel about this personally?
  1. It's going to change how I host. While the new client mostly has the same functionality, it works quite differently in some regards. Some of the methods I use to host will have to change accordingly. As a result I will be trying different things until I figure out the best system moving forward.
  2. It's disappointing. When Wizards announced they were starting work on the new client, I was happy to hear it. Version 3 is far from perfect, especially in its visuals. Once Wizards had something usable, I equally supported their decision to run both the old and the new side-by-side. But now, with the new version far from perfect, Wizards is pulling the plug. I understand their decision, but ultimately it's disappointing that more progress wasn't made prior to this point.
  3. It's frustrating. I will be the first to admit that the new client is better in many ways to the old. But some things changed without any real improvement; it's not better, just different. Many players, including myself, have to adapt to new ways of doing things. This is inevitable, understandable, but at the end of the day, it's also frustrating.
  4. It's necessary. For months now, the word from development has been that any new features for Magic Online would have to wait until the old client was turned off. The only way that Magic Online will continue to improve is if Wizards only has to focus on one version of the client. No matter how bumpy the process, turning off the old is necessary if the new is ever going to live up to expectations.
Still, I am grateful for one thing: as bad as the transition from 3 to 4 might be, it can't be nearly as terrible as the transition from 2 to 3.

What do you think of the transition? How are you planning on dealing with the changes? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

How I Would "Fix" Mana Issues in MTG

I have the worst luck when it comes to Lands...

My biggest gripe and frustration with Magic the Gathering is the mana system. Now, that's not to say that it's broken. In fact, there are solid arguments for why the shortcomings of the mana system are actually a design feature of the game. But let's set all that aside.

I often complain that I just want to play a game of Magic. I don't want one player or the other to win because the other player drew too many lands, or too few lands, or couldn't cast most of his or her spells, despite a reasonable mana base.

So if you wanted to "fix" this problem, what would be the simplest way to do so? I've heard a lot of different suggestions. Here's my favorite:

I would add a simple rule, broken down into two parts: At any time, you can play a non-land spell as a land. Play it face down and add a color counter that corresponds to each mana type it can tap for. Until the card leaves play, it remains a land, but not as a Basic-type land. So how do you determine which mana types it taps for?
  • If the spell has only a single color in its mana cost, it taps for that color. As such, it comes into play untapped just like any other land.
  • If the spell has multiple colors in its mana cost, it taps for any of those colors (but only one at a time). To compensate, it comes into play tapped.
This not only solves the mana issues, it also adds a new layer of complexity to deck-building. While there would be much less incentive to play Basic lands or come-into-play-tapped duals, cards like Fetch lands or spells like Rampant Growth would still require you to do so.

For Magic Online, Wizards could even add a new Vanguard avatar that "turns on" this rule. I personally would love to see this.

So what do you think of that solution? How would it change the fundamentals of Magic? And would that change be positive or negative, and why? As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Magic 2015: Something Borrowed

Ever since the reboot of the Core sets with Magic 2010, these sets have been an interesting marriage between the old and the new. You see, prior to this, Core sets were always composed entirely of reprints. Now, although these sets always include a large number of reprints, they also include a reasonable number of new cards as well, albeit at lower complexity than those found in the Expert sets.

But as with any good marriage, Wizards of the Coast decided to include something borrowed. So with Magic 2015, they published this article on their website detailing the Sample Decks that they send to retailers to demo the game. This time around, these Sample Decks include cards at three different rarities that are NOT otherwise available in the set. In other words, even though these cards are not going to be included in any boosters, they are officially part of the set and legal for Constructed play.

These reprints included six Commons; one of each color, plus one extra for White:

Fortunately, none of these cards are format defining, although at least three of them have seen regular play in Standard Pauper when they have been in print. Cancel is an important inclusion, as otherwise once Return to Ravnica block rotates the format would lack a 3 mana Blue all-purpose counterspell. Centaur Courser has also seen play in some mono-Green builds, although it is current upstaged by the significantly better Centaur Healer. But it is Inspired Charge that is the most relevant of these six. This is a powerful effect for White Weenie, and one that was a cornerstone of that particular archetype back when it was in Standard with Magic 2011.

While White certainly doesn't need any more advantages, overall I am pleased to get six additional cards into the Standard Pauper pool. They will be invaluable post-rotation when the cardpool loses all of the cards from Magic 2014 and Return to Ravnica block. And hopefully they won't cause any issues regarding their legality in the format.

Thanks for reading. See you next time.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

More Standard Pauper Resources

Every once in a while, I enjoy taking a break from my blogging to instead bring you a selection of interesting articles or videos related to Standard Pauper. Today is going to be one of those posts.

Before I get to that though, I wanted to let you know that, at least at this time, Chris Baker and I are planning on co-hosting the return of Standard Pauper Deck Challenge this coming Sunday at 2pm EST / 6pm EST. Keep an eye on pdcmagic.com, Chris' blog, and Twitter for more information as it becomes available.

So here are my Standard Pauper resources for today:
  1.  MPDC player Forli managed to secure back-to-back 1st place finishes in MPDC with his Junk Gatekeepers deck. I recently published a Standard Pauper Deck Tech on it that you can check out here.
  2. Another regular MPDC player Mundisv recently had an article published over at PureMTGO detailing the current Standard Pauper metagame. If you haven't read it yet, definitely check it out.
  3. Cyrulean, of MagicGatheringStrat fame, recently published Episode 3 of his Standard Pauper Show, where he reviews many of the new Commons from Magic 2015. He also breaks down the potential abuses with Generator Servant and gives his own take on the current Standard Pauper metagame.
  4. Finally, Alex Ullman published the second installment on his series on how to write about Magic the Gathering. While not related to gameplay, this is highly recommended for anyone writing about this great game.
If you enjoy keeping up with these sorts of resources, be sure to follow me on Twitter, as I regularly repost them as I come across them. Or if you find anything new or interesting related to Standard Pauper, be sure and send it my way. Thanks and see you next time!

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Writer Adept Hits a Milestone

Bonus post! I'm happy to announce that Writer Adept has hit a significant milestone. At some point today, the site reached our 50,000th view. Thanks so much to everyone who reads and comments on this blog. This continues to be one of my favorite ways to contribute to the Standard Pauper community, and I can't wait to see what the future has in store.

...and apparently a ton of people wanted Ghostly Flicker banned, because that post is by far my most read post. Who knew?

The Return of Kor Skyfisher?

The full spoiler for the Magic 2015 Core Set has been revealed by Wizards of the Coast, which means that I am starting work on my set review for the new set. In the mean time though, I want to talk about a card that had already been spoiled earlier this week.

Back in Zendikar block, we got access to what proved to be one of the more broken cards for Standard Pauper: Kor Skyfisher. A 2/3 Flyer for 1W is amazing value for a Common, and thus the requirement that you had to return a card to hand was supposed to be a drawback. As it turned out, most of the time you could utilize this instead to your advantage, allowing you to recur powerful enters-the-battlefield abilities. Especially given the strong cards White has at its disposal, Kor Skyfisher was quite simply too powerful to be a Common. As a result, many players were grateful when it rotated out.

But here we are, a couple years later, and a similar card will enter the metagame with Magic 2015:

These two cards share the exact same drawback/ability, which creates the potential to be quite strong. However, I don't anticipate Invasive Species being quite as broken. First of all, it's otherwise a 3/3 vanilla for 2G, which is pretty average for Green. Second, we are seeing fewer good enters-the-battlefield type effects at Common, which limits the potential for broken combinations. Nonetheless, there are still plenty of these effects to go around, and this card will certainly see play in a variety of different decks. In fact, I would argue this has the potential to be the best Common for Standard Pauper in the set. We shall see.

What do you think? What are some of the best combinations that this card will allow? Let me know in the comments below. See you next time.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Two Red Commons in Magic 2015

We are now well into spoiler season for the Magic 2015 Core Set. I for one have been pretty pleased with the quality of Commons, particularly given that the power level tends to be lower in Core sets than Expert sets. While you can view the official Wizards of the Coast spoiler here, currently MTGSalvation has 223 of the 269 cards in the set, and that is where I am getting the information for this post.

Today I want to look at two Red Commons from the set that are particularly interesting to me. According to the Red color pie philosophy, Red is a color that values immediate action over thoughtful strategy. And yet, these two Commons are designed to give you not only an immediate effect, but the option to do something better later. Additionally, both of these Commons have a complexity to them that I would deem on the upper-end of what is acceptable according to the design dictates of New World Order. Let's take a look.

1. Inferno Fist has not yet been officially confirmed, so it's possible that this is actually Uncommon. A +2/+0 Aura for 1R is fairly mediocre in Red. However, the ability to transform this into Shock at Instant speed is quite strong. This is a great example of what I would term "good now, good later" kind of card. In an aggressive deck, this Aura allows you to punch through for some extra damage. Then, when it is no longer relevant, you can sacrifice it as a combat trick or even in response to removal. The fact that it only requires you to keep up one red mana is what really makes this so good.

2. Generator Servant also subscribes to this "good now, good later" philosophy. A 2/1 for 1R is a typical but unexciting Red Common. Such creatures generally only see play in hyper-aggressive decks. However, the ability to sacrifice it and, in effect, gain back the mana you used earlier is quite relevant. Even better, this has the secondary ability of granting Haste to any creature summoned with that mana. Additionally, this also functions as mana ramp. Play this turn 2, and on turn 3 you could cast a 5 mana Haste creature. Once again, you keep the first effect around until it is no longer useful, then cash it in for a more significant effect.

While not outright powerful, both of these cards grant Red a level of complexity and strategy that it unusual these days at Common. I can't wait to see what kind of impact these two cards make in the post-Magic 2015 Standard Pauper metagame.

So what do you think of these two cards? Let me know in the comments below. See you next time with another spoiler from Magic 2015!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The History Of Mana

Have you ever wondered how the energy that spellcasters use in fantasy came to be called mana? Is mana just a another invented fantasy concept, or does it have some basis in reality?

As it turns out, it actually does have a real-world connection. Today, I came across a fascinating article on the subject entitled "The History of Mana." I encourage you to check it out for yourself. But if you just want a quick summary, here's how the term got to be where it is today.

Mana is an Austronesian (think Pacific Islands like Australia, New Zealand, Polynesia, Philippines, Taiwan) word that means power, effectiveness, or prestige. While originally referring to powerful weather phenomena, eventually the term shifted more to the idea of supernatural power. Interestingly enough, this is actually pretty close to how the term is understood in fantasy. So how did this idea come to be such a staple of Western fantasy?
  1. The Austronesian culture was first studied and later documented by Christian missionaries in the late 1800s. Their writings were picked up in the 1950s as part of a larger movement with religious studies to find parallels between religious beliefs in different ancient cultures.
  2. In the 1970s, Dungeons and Dragons emerged into the market, along with a host of fantasy variants in both gaming and literature. One particularly influential author was Larry Niven, who first used the concept of mana as a supernatural but limited resource tied to a particular geographic area.
  3. In the 1980s, there was rapid development of the fantasy genre from gaming and literature to electronic media, spawning popular games such as the Ultima series, Final Fantasy, and Dungeon Master, all of which made use of the concept of mana as a resource of magic.
  4. This concept was popular with one Richard Garfield, who utilized the concept of mana as a mystical energy force tied to a particular geographic area to create the mana system for Magic the Gathering, where it serves as the source of power for dueling wizards. In fact, Garfield pays homage to Larry Niven in several of his designed games, including through the Magic card Nevinyrral's Disk (which, in case you didn't catch it, is not only Larry Niven spelled backwards but also a reference to an actual magical artifact in Niven's writings).
In addition to its ubiquitous use in fantasy writing and gaming, mana has perhaps come to be best known by its frequent use by Blizzard in its gaming franchises, particularly Warcraft and Diablo.

Hope you enjoyed this fascinating history of how the term mana came to play such a significant role in fantasy gaming. See you next time.