Saturday, August 30, 2014

WotC Changes Standard

Surprisingly, there are still players in our Standard Pauper community who don't pay any attention to what;s going on over at Wizards. While I will be the first to admit that most of the time what's trending over at WotC doesn't pertain much to the Standard Pauper format, this is still a mistake. After all, if Standard is the most popular format, it should go without saying that whatever Wizards decides to do to that format will definitely spill-over into Standard Pauper in one way or another.

So in case you missed it, last week Mark Rosewater announced a major change to the way that they are structuring Magic sets. Currently, Wizards releases two Expert blocks a year, each of which is three sets, as well as a Core block, for a combination of ten sets a year. This also means that Standard, at most, includes eight sets, since Standard doesn't rotate until the third Expert block is released (and thus includes two Core sets, just like it does now). But all that is going to change.

Starting in the fall of 2015, each Expert block will only be two sets instead of three. Furthermore, by the time the spring of 2016 rolls around, Wizards will be releasing three Expert blocks a year instead of two. Additionally, this means that something had to be eliminated, and that something is the Core set. Finally, Standard will now rotate after six sets, which works out to twice a year instead of just once. This also means that Standard will now always be either five or six sets, rather than ranging from five to eight as it does now.

If you want the full details, I strongly suggest you read the full article here, which is accompanied by some handy graphics. But my overall impression of this change is quite positive. Here's why:
  • With Standard rotating more often, the metagame will change more quickly. Format-warping cards will rotate faster, and established decks will have to adapt to this more rapid pace. While I maintain that the metagame is already fairly healthy, this change can only improve that.
  • With the Core Set gone, the overall complexity of the format will increase slightly, since the Core Set had more stringent restrictions on what could be printed at Common. While the total number of cards will be smaller, the overall quality of the cards we do have should be higher.
What about you? What do you think of this change? Let me know in the comments below.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

White Weenie Tokens

If I've said it before, I've said it a hundred times on this blog - when in doubt, White Weenie is the way to go in Standard Pauper. Back as the Magic 2015 set was being spoiled, I predicted that Triplicate Spirits would be one of the break-out Commons of the set. Surprisingly, I have yet to see much in the way of successful builds using this card or the Convoke mechanic in general. However, from the moment I got to play with this card in the prerelease, I have been trying to run a White Weenie tokens build to success in Monday Pauper Deck Challenge.

Over the last two weeks, I seemed to have found some decent success. I managed both a Top 8 and Top 4 finish, and I am now reasonably happy with my build. Here's the list I ran this past Monday:

The basis concept of the deck is to go "wide" rather than "high"; meaning, generate a lot of small creatures rather than trying to build and protect one or two large threats. This proved to be a great way to sidestep removal, as your opponent simply can't afford to trade one-for-one with all of the tokens this deck can generate. Additionally, Nyxborn Shieldmate, Hopeful Eidolon, and Selfless Cathar are practically tokens themselves, with the Cathar also have the ability to play around both Shrivel and the like, which is definitely the biggest threat your opponent can play.

Once you've assembled a large number of creatures, all it typically takes is one big swing with Fortify and/or the pump from Selfless Cathar to win you the game. Alternatively, using Ethereal Armor and the Bestow creatures to pump up any of your fliers can also prove to be a viable strategy.

The Sideboard mostly helps against other White or Red decks running powerful Enchantments, but also includes some additional removal, some anti-graveyard recursion, and the ability to lock down big creatures using Court Street Denizen. Given the way the metagame is shaping up, it's hard to have too much Enchantment hate at your disposal.

Hope you enjoyed this look at my current White Weenie Tokens deck. Now that you've seen both this list and my Boros Tokens list, which one do you think is stronger, and why? Let me know in the comments below.

Finally, it's not too late to get into Chris Baker's "M" Core League. But the window is closing rapidly. Don't miss out!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Hearthstone: The Hunter-taker

Last time, I discussed the power of the Undertaker in Hearthstone and how I was hoping to take advantage of its powerful synergies in a different Constructed deck. One day, as I was watching TrumpSC stream, he battled against a Hunter list I had never seen before that paired Undertaker with a bunch of solid Deathrattle minions and combined that with Mad Scientist to draw into the Hunter's Secrets. Intrigued, I took to Google to discover whether such a list had been published yet. It took a bit of searching, but I eventually came across this list.

Although I lacked the Legendary Leeroy Jenkins, I had all the rest of the cards, and thus quickly assembled them into a deck I dubbed the Hunter-taker. I ended up also cutting Loatheb to make room for a pair of Sludge Belchers, which do a surprisingly good job of protecting the Hunter's more fragile minions in the mid- to late-game, enabling you to push through the last few points of damage.

The results surprised me. For the first time ever, I found myself rapidly climbing up the ranks in the Ranked Constructed queues, allowing me to push into single-digit rankings for the first time. I am currently Rank 8, and in the few days left for this season of Constructed play, I am hoping to make a serious push towards Legendary. But even if I don't make that goal, I have already accomplished more than I expected.

Interestingly enough, Hearthstone expert and well-known streamer Reynad popularized a similar list on his stream last week, which you can read all about here. Looks like I am definitely onto something good!

Next time, I'll take a look at what I've been playing in MPDC the past two Mondays - White Weenie tokens!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Hearthstone: The Undertaker

Over the past month or so, I've seen a fairly significant jump in my ability to compete in Constructed Hearthstone. Thanks to cracking a lucky Legendary, I was able to assemble my first Constructed-worthy deck, using the exact 30 cards that TrumpSC included in his Zoo deck. While I was fairly happy with that build and had some decent results, so many of my games were mirror-matches in the lower tiers of Ranked Constructed. Eventually, I decided I wanted to run something different.

I ended up choosing to try out a mid-range Hunter build based on the list that Reynad had popularized. I started with his exact build, save for a single copy of Eaglehorn Bow, which I did not own and lacked the dust to craft.I experimented with several variations of the deck, testing out various removal pieces to combat Zoo and playing fewer copies of the traps and Stonetusk Boar. But once again, while I was having some success, I wasn't satisfied with the results I was getting. In particular, the Zoo matchup seemed to be no better than fifty-fifty, and given how popular that deck has become, that just wasn't good enough.

About that time the Construct Quarter from Naxxramas was released, dropping Undertaker into the metagame for the first time. Three stat points at one mana with a minor ability is pretty standard for Hearthstone, but in this case the potential is there to slowly build this lowly one-drop into a formidable threat. Currently, there are a ton of strong neutral low-drops with relevant Deathrattle abilities, including Leper Gnome, Haunted Creeper, and Loot Hoarder. This creates the potential for a massive buff midgame, or even forcing your opponent to waste their removal on a lowly 1-drop. Intrigued, I started looking for a decklist that took advantage of this potential.

Then, while watching a Hearthstone stream, I came across a great deck that was tailor-built around the Undertaker, and was seeing great success in the Constructed queues. Next time, I'll talk about that list and my results with it thus far.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Boros Tokens, Part Two

Last time, I discussed my initial thoughts about a Boros Tokens build for Standard Pauper whose basis came from the successful Kuldotha Hawk deck from back when Scars of Mirrodin was legal in Standard Pauper. The concept was to create a deck that combines a large burn package with a lot of tokens and pump spells to go both big and wide to defeat your opponent, and to support that plan with some modest card advantage.

Here's my first attempt at the deck:

While I haven't done a lot of testing, thus far I've been pleased with the results. It relies on 16 burn spells, with Inferno Fist doing double-duty as an Enchantment. It's only got 8 Enchantments total for value with Heliod's Pilgrim, but the combination of Madcap Skills, Ethereal Armor, and Inferno Fist seem to be quite strong. Akroan Crusader gets tokens going fairly quickly, backed up with Raise the Alarm and Triplicate Spirits. Selfless Cathar and Fortify allow the tokens to get big for a massive swing, and Massive Raid can be a powerful finisher. The Sideboard is even less tuned, but gives the deck some more defensive options and answers against specific threats. Pacifism and Hopeful Eidolon are particularly nice, since they can be searched up with Heliod's Pilgrim.

Like I said, it's a pretty rough list thus far, and definitely needs some refining. So I'd love to hear what changes you'd make to the deck. Let me know in the comments below. Thanks!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Boros Tokens, Part One

Last week, I posted my second Deck Flashback featuring the Kuldotha Hawk deck from Season 15 of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge. The goal of this particular series is to examine powerful Standard Pauper decks of the past, analyze what made them good, and discover whether a similar archetype is possible in the current metagame. For review, here's what I found particularly relevant about the Kuldotha Hawk decklist:
  1. It was blazing-fast, using cheap creatures and burn spells to quickly finish off an opponent.
  2. It used equipment to buff its smaller creatures for maximum value.
  3. It was capable of drawing lots of cards.
  4. Its low mana curve and card drawing engine allowed it to run very few lands.
Stripped to its core, Kuldotha Hawk relied on tokens, burn, pump effects, and card advantage. Boros seems the perfect color combination for these four elements, so to build something similar in the current metagame, that seems the ideal starting point. So what analogues exist in the current cardpool?
  • Tokens: Magic 2015 gave us two solid options that produce multiple tokens in Raise the Alarm and Triplicate Spirits. Other possibilities include Eyes in the Skies, Flurry of Horns, Hive Stirrings, and Knight Watch.
  • Burn: This is the easy part. The cardpool is chock full of cheap burn spells, including Annihilating Fire, Lightning Strike, Magma Spray, and Shock.
  • Pump Effects: For power-boosting equipment, our only choices are Riot Gear and Skyblinder Staff, neither of which are very effective. But Fortify and Inspired Charge are great for tokens, while Bestow creatures and/or Auras are also worth considering.
  • Card Advantage: This is the hardest element to replicate. The closest one can come in Boros colors currently are the token spells, which give you pseudo-card advantage by producing multiple creatures for only a single card. Auramancer and Heliod's Pilgrim can create additional advantage as well, assuming the deck includes relevant Enchantments to recur or search up.
 Next time, I will take a look at how one might combine these elements to create a viable decklist. In the mean time, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this archetype!

Finally, don't miss out on the new Standard Pauper league that Chris Baker is hosting: "M" Core All-Stars League. This will be run similarly to my Multicolor Mayhem league, and Writer Adept is donating 20 tickets to the prize pool! Get all the details in the link above, and I hope to see you soon on the other side of the virtual table.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Brief Gencon Report

The past four days I have been attending Gen Con, the largest gaming convention in the United States and probably among the largest such events of the year. I am still planning on the second part of post on the Kuldotha Hawk Deck Flashback, but that will have to wait until Tuesday. Today I want to briefly talk about my own experience at the conference and share a photo gallery that captures much of the spirit of the event.

As my regular readers might be aware, my wife and I are both aspiring fantasy authors, so we spent much of the conference attending the Writers Symposium, which is a series of panels and presentations by various successful authors in the speculative fiction market. I also took an entire day to play in a couple different Pathfinder modules through the Pathfinder Society. The rest of my time was spent crawling about the Exhibit Hall, playtesting games, gawking at all the 'geek-tastic' merchandise, and nearly being trampled by the sheer press of numbers that engulfed the hall. My wife and I purchased a couple new games which I will be reviewing in future posts. I did browse through some of the Magic the Gathering booths and tables, but since I have no experience playing in any sanctioned events in person, I never actually picked up a single Magic card the whole weekend.

Overall it was a lot of fun. Gen Con is an event like none other, and the sheer volume of games and resources at your fingertips is mind-boggling. Equally inspiring was sitting among at least several hundred roleplayers all playing the same game (although different modules) at the same time. And, of course, the sheer volume of cosplayers was staggering, ranging from the excellent to the funny to the vulgar. If you enjoy that sort of thing, our local newspaper already posted a fantastic photo gallery that I recommend you check out.

I am also exhausted, feeling under-the-weather, and behind on several projects, having gotten up for the last three mornings well before sunrise and going to bed way past my normal time. My kids haven't seen their parents except for brief snatches over that same span of time. Which means I need to finish off this post and get back to the tatters of the life I have been neglecting for Gen Con. It was a ton of fun, and I'm already looking forward to next year.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Deck Flashback: Kuldotha Hawk

Today I want to bring you the second installment of my blog series entitled Deck Flashback. Essentially, in these posts, I will be looking back to successful Standard Pauper decks of the past, breaking down what made them work, and discussing how those concepts might be applied in the current metagame.

This deck harkens back to when Scars of Mirrodin block was legal in Standard. Innistrad was the newest set, but it had yet to make a major impact on the metagame. Its derives its name from two of its most defining cards - Kuldotha Rebirth and Glint Hawk - which combined with Ichor Wellspring creates a synergistic mix of cheap creatures, artifacts, and burn spells. During Season 15 of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, variations of this deck won nearly half of the tournaments, and was considered the deck to beat as the season drew to a close.  So then, let's take a look at the decklist:

At its heart, Kuldotha Hawk is an Aggro deck, relying upon cheap creatures and a swath of burn spells to destroy an opponent before he or she can stabilize. It heavily emphasized spells, running 12 or fewer actual creatures in the main deck (of course, both Kuldotha Rebirth and Flayer Husk should be considered creature spells as well). These creatures were further augmented with Equipment in the form of Sylvok Lifestaff and Flayer Husk. These equipment also contribute to the total of 24 or more Artifact spells, allowing the deck to easily achieve Metalcraft, which this particular variant only utilizes for Galvanic Blast. Finally, burn spells such as Geistflame, Incinerate, the aforementioned Galvanic Blast, and Brimstone Volley made for a potent suite of burn spells, often serving as a powerful finisher for the deck. Finally, by utilizing the bounce "drawback" of Glint Hawk, the deck was capable of drawing a surprisingly high number of cards.

Summarizing then, here are the elements that made this deck so successful:
  1. It was blazing-fast, using cheap creatures and burn spells to quickly finish off an opponent.
  2. It used equipment to buff its smaller creatures for maximum value.
  3. It was capable of drawing lots of cards.
  4. Its low mana curve and card drawing engine allowed it to run very few lands.
So how can these concepts be used in the current metagame? That's what I want to look at next time!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

DCI Reporter vs Gatherling

With all the discussion of the new client, I have been taking another look at my system for running Player Run Events on Magic Online and trying to see if there is a better way.

For as long as I have been host of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge, I have been using DCI Reporter version 3, which is a now-defunct program designed by Wizards of the Coast for running large Magic the Gathering tournaments. It was recently replaced with Wizards Reporter, which I have also tested and found it pretty lackluster.

The other alternative is to using Gatherling, a program designed and coded by jamuraa, who maintains, which was once the premier site for all things Pauper online. Not too long ago, jamuraa updated the program to allow it to perform many of the functions of DCI Reporter while also taking advantage of its previous use as a database of events and decklists.

For yesterday's event, I decided to run both side-by-side and see what happened. Here are some of my observations, not only from yesterday but from my experience with both programs.
  • Gatherling is much simpler. Assuming a player can login to his or her Gatherling account, the entire process is essentially automated. Players submit their decklist, submit their results, and view standings all from within one program. 
  • However, Gatherling lacks a lot of the flexibility and advanced features of DCI Reporter. You can't change the spelling of a player's username once the event has started. There are no pretty tables you can export to a public forum for ease of reference. And if something goes wrong, there's no backup, no way to fix results from a previous round, and no way to create multiple byes in a round. While these features aren't something I use often, when I need them, I really need them.
  • DCI Reporter has these extras built in. It does everything Gatherling does and more. But it's a lot more work to use. You end up having to enter the data into Gatherling eventually anyway, although that process is sped-up by a handy feature that allows Gatherling to read DCI Reporter's backup files.
  • DCI Reporter also requires you to enter all the data manually. Players have to registered one at a time, results have to be entered table by table, and both pairings and standings have to exported to somewhere else in order for the players to see them.
  • Perhaps strangest of all, the two programs don't calculate standings the same way. In every round, the standings from Gatherer were different than those reported by DCI Reporter, based on some sort of difference in the way tiebreakers are calculated. In the end, both programs reported the same final standings after Swiss, so I suppose it all worked out in the end, but it's still strange.
So now the question is - which way is better, and why? What do you think?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Curse of Naxxramas Review

As I mentioned last time, I anticipate that I will be posting more about Hearthstone in this blog from time to time. Today, I want to post my thoughts about the Curse of Naxxramas Adventure.

For those of you unfamiliar with this expansion, Naxxramas is much more than simply a new set of cards for the game. True, it does add 30 new cards to the game, including one for each of the heroes. But instead of simply allowing you to buy booster packs or some such mechanic, instead the player must earn them by completing a series of AI battles and special class challenges themed around the Naxxramas dungeon raid from World of Warcraft. Additionally, the expansion is being released over a five week period, with players needing to purchase each week's worth of content separately (or all at once at a discount, although this does not gain you access to the content any faster).

In keeping with the 'free-to-play' concept, this expansion can be paid for either by cash or by the in-game gold currency. Each week's content, referred to as a wing, costs 700 gold or $7.00 (which means about $35.00 for the whole expansion, which is a fairly typical price for a video game expansion). On average, a decent player should be able to easily earn 350-400 gold a week just from daily quests, making this price fairly accessible even to a relatively new player. In fact, I ended up easily saving enough gold over the month prior to its release to be able to pay for the whole expansion with gold.

While some have complained about having to complete the various AI battles to receive the new cards, I enjoyed the new challenges quite a bit. While the first week's content was fairly easy to beat, the difficulty seems to be ramping up over time, although still nothing that someone with a decent collection of cards won't be able to overcome. The AI can seem fairly random at times, and even makes some pretty subpar play choices, but the various challenges give enough advantage to the AI that you at least have to work at it. Additionally, the specific hero challenges are each tied to a preconstructed deck, which makes for a nice change of pace. And finally, if the battles seem too simple, one can also try them on heroic difficulty, which makes them considerably harder.

The cards themselves range from mediocre to quite good, and several are seeing widespread play among the game's top players. While none of them have inspired any new deck archetypes as far as I know, they have changed up the metagame significantly, and given additional options to all the popular archetypes. In keeping with the theme, many of the new cards revolve around the Deathrattle mechanic, which triggers whenever a minion with that keyword dies. The new cards are interesting, unique, but certainly not broken.

Finally, the expansion matches the high production values of Hearthstone. The challenges do a great job of bringing the Naxxramas concept to life, especially the creepy background in which they are played. It also fits in with Hearthstone's humorous tone, particularly the antics of Kel'Thuzad, who mocks you, threatens you, complains when you win, and even intervenes when you try to 'cheese' your way to victory.

Curse of Naxxramas is an excellent expansion to Hearthstone, and one that I recommend wholeheartedly and without reservation.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

More Hearthstone

Over the past couple months as I've blogged and Tweeted about Hearthstone, I've noticed a small but significant uptick in the number of people commenting about the game. Couple this with the fact that I am playing the game just about every day now (even if it's just the 15-20 minutes needed to complete my daily quest), and you should expect to see more posts about this great game in the future. But don't worry! I will continue to be a major advocate for Standard Pauper via Magic Online, and bringing you a steady stream of content just as I have been doing for the past two years.

But for today, I wanted to point my readers to two great Hearthstone resources:
  1., one of the major Hearthstone content websites, today posted a podcast interview with Ben Brode, the Senior Game Designer for Hearthstone. He spends most of an hour talking about the recent Naxxramas expansion and gives some great teasers for what we can expect in the future. If you're at all interested in the design and development of this game, the interview is highly recommended.
  2. Chris Barna, a Pro-Tour caliber Magic the Gathering player is a recent "convert" to Hearthstone, and maintains an excellent blog entitled The CCG Corner about the game that he updates every Thursday. His post about his journey into Hearthstone is also particularly worth reading, since it in many ways mirrors my own.
Next time, I will post my review for the Naxxramas expansion for Hearthstone. See you then!

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Where Are the Replays on MTGO Version 4?

So here we are, several weeks past the release of the new client, and Magic Online goes on. If you didn't cash out after the transition, you're probably starting to get used to the new client. Sure, there are things that I wish were better. But overall the experience hasn't been nearly as bad as some predicted. In fact, the new client is a noticeable improvement in several areas. To that end, if you haven't read it already, I highly recommend Kumagoro42's recent article over on PureMTGO regarding the new client.

In any case, one of the features that I thought we had lost was the ability to view replays. If you recall, the previous version was notorious for losing replays, leading me to blog about a special method of retrieving them by writing down the game number(s) in question and then manually editing data files

As it turns out, replays are still available. They have just been buried in a strange sub-menu. Even better, the new client seems to be doing a much better job of capturing replays; indeed, as far as I can tell, I haven't lost a single one since the transition. So today I put together a quick video showing exactly how to get to them. Check it out below.


Thanks for watching!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Magic 2015 Prerelease

For the first time since Scars of Mirrodin, I actually played in a Prerelease.

Now, this is not something I would recommend. You end up paying a premium to participate in these events. And unlike in paper, there's not the same experience of playing with these new cards for the first time, since there's typically at least a three week gap between a set's release in paper and the release on Magic Online.

This time, of course, participation was free, courtesy of Wizards of the Coast as their way of saying thanks for putting up with the transition to the new version of the client. You can't beat free, and so I happily jump into the Casual Sealed queue not long after they were available.

Having heard that White tokens looked to be a thing in M15 Limited, I selected White for my "Hunt." Here's the pool I opened:

Not surprisingly, my White was quite solid, with a nice combination of creatures and removal, including the excellent Triplicate Spirits, two copies of Raise the Alarm, Constricting Sliver, and even the excellent Spirit Bonds and Paragon of New Dawns, both of which have amazing synergy with a token strategy. Sadly, none of the other colors were particularly deep. The inclusion of two Caves of Kolos made playing Black an appealing choice, but with the exception of two Flesh to Dust, there was little reason to do so. I ended up playing Red as my secondary color, primarily due to getting three copies of Lightning Strike. Here's the deck I submitted:

I wasn't thrilled about playing the Bronze Sable, Hammerhand, or Forge Devil, but I felt like they were the best of my available options. Hot Soup ended up being quite powerful, even when just equipped on a simple beater like Goblin Roughrider. I also considered including Resolute Archangel, but decided that seven mana was simply too much for what this deck was trying to do.

I ended up finishing 3-1, and sold the rares for another 7 tickets, so overall I was very happy with how I did in the prerelease.

So what did you think of my build? How did your own prerelease experience go? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Card Legality Bug for Standard Pauper

It's funny how the past seems to repeat itself.

Back in the day, prior to receiving an official filter for Standard Pauper on Magic Online, one issue that came up from time to time was that certain cards would appear as legal for the format even though they weren't. You see, since Wizards often shifts certain cards from Common to Uncommon, particularly in Core Sets, you end up with cards that were Common in a previous set but are now only Uncommons in the current Standard set. In fact, this was such an issue that I created a video detailing exactly how to use the old client to determine whether or not a card was Standard Pauper legal. Fortunately, with the creation of the Standard Pauper filter, this ceased to be a problem.

At least, until the new client came out.

Currently, if you use the Collection tab to only view cards that are Standard Pauper legal, Uncommons that were previously printed as Commons once again show up in the viewer. However, should you try to actually play a game with a decklist that includes those cards, you get the following error message:

"Sorry, we were unable to join you to this event. Please try again later. This is not a legal deck. Internal deck code: DECKY"

Sadly, there is no way to actually display which cards are causing the error. For reference, these are all of the offending cards:
  1. Accorder's Shield
  2. Arrest
  3. Congregate
  4. Corrupt
  5. Darksteel Citadel
  6. Darksteel Ingot
  7. Doom Blade
  8. Eternity Snare
  9. Frenzied Tilling
  10. Gather Courage
  11. Gravedigger
  12. Heat Ray
  13. Reprisal
  14. Riddle of Lightning
  15. Shimmering Grotto
  16. Spell Blast
  17. Springleaf Drum
  18. Stab Wound
  19. Syncopate
  20. Tormod's Crypt 
While Wizards of the Coast is aware of this bug, I would encourage all my readers to report it if you haven't done so already. Here's how to do that:

1. Go to
2. Log in using your Wizards community account name
3. Under the Products pull down menu, select "Magic: The Gathering"
4. Expand "Magic: The Gathering Online"
5. Expand "Magic reimbursement / Report a bug;" be sure and enter "0" as the event number. 

Hopefully this bug will get fixed soon. But the best way to make sure that happens is if we keep bugging them about it until they do so!