Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Why I Won't Boycott Magic Online

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

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

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

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Writing for PureMTGO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Maybe there should be a Christmas-themed Magic set? One with giant snow-men
wielding deadly presents wrapped in bows?

Around the world, however you celebrate this time of year, from Writer Adept I want to wish you all a Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Shovel Knight Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Blue Questions with No Answers

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Hearthstone: Goblins vs. Gnomes Review

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

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

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Introducing Standard Pauper Sealed

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

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

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Why Standard Pauper Is Worth Saving

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

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

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

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What To Do About Magic Online, Part Two

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

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What To Do About Magic Online, Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Rakdos Midrange

It seems like the RDW deck is out of control.

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Goblins vs. Gnomes Next Week!

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

Blizzard also announced some additional balance changes:

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

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

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