Saturday, February 28, 2015

Standard Pauper Meetups

Last time, I posted a quick update on the Standard Pauper Sealed League and looked at a comment by JMason regarding the difficulty of finding playtest opportunities for the league. As it turns out, this isn't just an issue for the league. I spent several hours yesterday trying to find practice matches for Standard Pauper, with very little success.

Prior to the implementation of the Standard Pauper filter, finding matches was always a problem. You had to use the Pauper filter and hope that your opponent checked the "Standard Pauper only" comment field. But when the filter came online, I had hoped those days were over. But with all of the fallout of the new client, so much of the casual scene on Magic Online has disappeared, and with it the ability to easily play casual Standard Pauper games.

One solution that I would like to implement is the idea of Standard Pauper Meetups. This would be scheduled times during the week when whoever is available would agree to get online and pair off against each other with Standard Pauper decks. And as soon as your match is over, both players would put up a new table and pair off against new opponents, and so on, for the allotted time span. The emphasis wouldn't be on winning, per se, but on giving everyone lots of opportunities to practice and play against a variety of decks.

So here's what I need from you. In the comments below, please let me know:
  1. What times and days of the week would you be able to get online and play for a couple of hours?
  2. Would you be willing to "host" one of these gatherlings? This would mean being online for the whole duration and explaining to newcomers what was going on.
I think this has the potential to be great for our Standard Pauper community. What do you think?

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Standard Pauper Sealed League Update

Although I haven't been blogging much about it, we're already four weeks into the Standard Pauper Sealed League. We started out with 44 players, and as of this post, only 10 of those have already dropped out. 4 players remain undefeated currently, but of those only bava has played out his match for this week; at least one of the remaining three will also drop their match this week. And with one more week to play, no more than 2 players will emerge with a 5-0 record from the event.

After Week 5, the league will cut to Top 8, and while the exact probabilities aren't yet determined, it's likely that players will have to finish at least 4-1 in order to survive this cut. However, with prizes available down to Top 16, even those going into Round 5 with two losses still have something to play for!

For me, it's been an odd experience thus far. I've lost the only two matches I've gotten to play; while both of my wins have come from opponents dropping out of the event and thus conceding without a card played. While I felt like I made some big mistakes with my pool for Round 1, I feel like I actually have a decent decklist now, and so I am hopeful that I can scratch out a win next week and at least secure a spot in the Top 16. We will see.

Today on the Standard forums, JMason expressed something I thought was worth discussing:

I hate to say I'm not enjoying the league as much as I had hoped. The sad state of the client makes managing the pools and trying to use different decklists (transformative sideboard) a real chore. And playtesting is nigh-on impossible. I find I'm putting a ton of work in to set things up for not much payoff. My last 2 matches I had bad beats, and I'd love to be playing more matches a week to get back some of the investment and see the deck work the way it should do at least a few times. 

I can't help but wonder if others have had this same experience. While the inability to "playtest" your list is fairly consistent with the Sealed experience, the fact that the event is stretched out over five weeks definitely makes that lack more palpable. Perhaps the next time a league is put together that uses an "off-beat" format, it would makes sense to organize a couple different playtesting sessions where players could interact, share decklists, and play some practice matches without having it affect their official record. Heck, perhaps I could even organize some sort of mini-tournament, where the winner walks away with a ticket or two, just to encourage players to participate in these practice sessions. If you have some ideas on how we could make this experience better, I'd love to hear about it in the comments below.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mumm-Ra, the Ever-Living

Standard Pauper enthusiast rremedio1, who also serves as co-host of SPDC, has consistently placed in the top ranks of the last two Standard Pauper Player Run Events with an innovative decklist he calls Mumm-Ra, the Ever-Living (full props if you get the reference; if not, click the link). While at its core it remains fundamentally a Mono-Black Control build, rremedio1's tweaks to include both White and Blue have resulted in a very interesting and rewarding variant. Let's take a look:

As I mentioned last time, it's arguable that the two best cards in the format right now are Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Treasure Cruise, and this deck is well suited to take full advantage of both. Similar to the popular Izzet Control deck, this list plays a variety of cheap spells designed to quickly fill up the Graveyard to enable Delve on Treasure Cruise. Unlike the more popular Dimir variants, this deck packs 6 additional card draw spells, enabling it to reliably find a few 'silver-bullets' that are included as one-ofs: Scholar of Atheros, Servant of Tyramet, Peel from Reality, and Harsh Sustenance. Backing up this selection of spells are 6 copies of Pharika's Chosen (2 of which are of course actually Typhoid Rats), hand disruption in the form of Black Cat and Disciple of Phenax, and the more typical removal of Pharika's Cure and Voyage's End.

The innovation of 'lightly' splashing for both White and Blue is what makes this deck so strong. Scholar of Atheros is particularly good in the late game, giving you a repeatable mana sink that can add up to a ton of damage and lifegain. Peel from Reality is also amazing value with Gray Merchant or Disciple of Phenax. All in all this looks like a very fun deck, and one that I will definitely have to experiment with going forward.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Post Fate Reforged Standard Pauper Metagame

The first week of Standard Pauper post Fate Reforged is in the books, and as I suspected, both of the PREs were won by archetypes that were already strong contenders from last season. The two winning decklists were Dimir Devotion by under_a and Izzet Control by beatnik bobby. Both of these cards take full advantage of two of the strongest cards in the format - Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Treasure Cruise - in a Control shell to eke out a late game win. Interestingly enough, only one card from Fate Reforged made it into these decks, and that was Whisk Away in the Izzet Control build. This is fairly typical in these initial events after the release of a new set, as players acquire cards and try to figure out how best to utilize them in the new metagame.

Outside of these two trophy-winning decks, the Top 8 of both events was split up between three additional Izzet Control builds, 3 other Dimir builds, 3 different Red Deck Wins builds, 2 Esper Control lists, and one entry each of Mono Blue, Orzhov Control, and Jeskai Control. Other than the Red Deck Wins lists, each of these others included either Gray Merchant or Treasure Cruise. The biggest surprise to me was the lack of Boros Heroic and White Weenie placing in either event, since these are two of the other top archetypes in the format right now.

This lends itself to a straightforward analysis: unless you're hyper aggressive, you probably should be playing Gray Merchant or Treasure Cruise, or perhaps both. Mid-range or Control archetypes that don't include either of these cards probably won't consistently win against those that do. Furthermore, with the increased number of -1 / -1 spells like Barrage of Boulders, Festergloom, and Scouring Sands in both the Sideboard and even maindeck, the metagame is leaning more and more towards Control.

On the other hand, I still want to see a decklist with Temur Battle Rage make Top 8!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

My Interview on the Standard Pauper Show

This week I had the distinct privilege of appearing on the Standard Pauper Show, a podcast by Sam, Brennon, and Dan over at the MagicGatheringStrat. This is the only podcast that I am aware of that covers information on the Standard Pauper format, and I was delighted to talk with them about the format and my own experiences with it.

I encourage you to watch the whole episode. But if you just want some highlights, here's what we talked about:
  • Our experiences so far with the Standard Pauper Sealed League.
  • The current state of the Standard Pauper metagame, with Boros Heroic and Izzet Control the favorites among a surprisingly diverse set of decks
  • How I got involved with Monday Pauper Deck Challenge and eventually became the host.
  • At what time period I started playing Magic the Gathering.
  • My least favorite Standard Pauper meta: post Magic 2013 release, with the advent of the Archeomancer / Ghostly Flicker combo.
  • My favorite Standard Pauper meta: Shards of Alara block + Zendikar.
  • Some personal anecdotes involving Black Lotus.
Intrigued? Check out the whole episode below:

See you next time!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Reevaluating Harsh Sustenance

So I've been testing out Harsh Sustenance since my last post, and while it hasn't been a total miss, it doesn't appear to  be as good as I thought it was. When I first saw this card, it immediately brought to mind the stellar Black Common Corrupt, which is absolutely back-breaking in Mono-Black Pauper builds where you can resolve it. And since Harsh Sustenance is half the cost for the same effect, it stood to reason that it would be pretty good.

But as it turns out, being dependent on the number of creatures in play is worlds different than being dependent on the number of Lands in play. Even in a Tokens strategy, I often found myself in situations where it was little more than a Douse in Gloom that could also target my opponent. Yes, if you manage to fill the board with a crazy number of tokens, Harsh Sustenance can be quite the blow-out. But with the prevalence of cards like Festergloom, Barrage of Boulders, and Scouring Sands, it is often trivial for your opponent to keep your creature count from getting out of hand. Additionally, your opponent can also save a creature targeted by Harsh Sustenance simply by destroying one of your creatures in response.

Based on all this, I actually don't think the optimal strategy is to play this in a White Weenie build. Instead, it seems like it would find a better home in an Orzhov build, where it is utilized more as spot-removal rather than a massive damage swing. I also would revise my initial rating of this card, placing it more firmly in the "situational" category than in the "good" category.

If you've had some different experience with Harsh Sustenance, I'd love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments below.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

White Weenie in Post Fate Reforged Standard Pauper

A new season of Monday Pauper Deck Challenge is about to start. And while some players will be trying out new brews with Fate Reforged, typically the best decks in a new metagame are those that were already quite strong before with just a few tweaks from the new set. Additionally, all other things being equal, if you don't know what to play, White Weenie is almost always a good choice.

So I pulled out the list of new Commons in White, and on the whole there's not much to get excited about. But one gem stands out among the rest: Harsh Sustenance. While it requires splashing Black, White is already perfectly suited to take full advantage of this card. Raise the Alarm, Triplicate Spirits, Mardu Hordechief, and perhaps even Sandsteppe Outcast all help create a massive army of tokens, allowing you to maximize the effect from Harsh Sustenance. Throw in some additional cheap White creatures like Akroan Skyguard and Sungrace Pegasus, mix in some protection spells like Gods Willing and Feat of Resistance, add more token synergy with Selfless Cathar and Inspired Charge, and you've got a deck.

While I haven't settled yet on a complete list, something along these lines is probably what I will be playing this coming Monday for the first event of Season 28. Hope to see you then!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Hearthstone: Shaman Post Goblins vs. Gnomes

Way back in September, I posted a Shaman deck I had a lot of success with following the release of the Curse of Naxxramas expansion. However, since the release of the subsequent Goblins vs. Gnomes expansion, the Shaman hero class has taken a huge dive in popularity, leading some to even rank it as the worst of the hero classes now. Fortunately though, this is not the case.

Hearthstone World Champion Firebat recently achieved #1 Legend using an excellent Shaman deck that I want to share with you today. The list is a far-cry from the previous popular builds. Gone are such Shaman staples as Hex, Feral Spirit, and Lightning Storm. In their place, this deck runs 11 different Mech cards as well as Cogmaster, Powermace, and Tinkertown Technician. It is also surprisingly aggressive for a Shaman build, seeking to quickly gain board control early and push through with its late-game minions to push this advantage into a crushing victory. Here's the list:

One of the best things about this deck is how cheap it is to play. It runs only 1 Epics (Doomhammer) and 2 Legendaries (The Black Knight and Dr. Boom), with the bulk of the rest of the cards being Commons from Goblins vs. Gnomes. For those lacking these two Legendaries, you can substitute almost any big-finisher (another Legendary, or perhaps simply Piloted Sky Golem) for Dr. Boom, and either Hex or Earth Shock for The Black Knight.

The deck is also fairly straightforward to play. You have plenty of early action with 11 minions that cost 3 or less to cast, and plenty of direct damage to back them up with Rockbiter Weapon, Crackle, Lava Burst, and Powermace. Given how unpopular Shaman has been in the current metagame, this deck is poised to do quite well, at least until opponents learn how to best play against it. I personally have had great success with it, and I think if you give it a try, you will as well.

If you're interesting in learning more about the deck, or to watch some gameplay videos, check here for more great information.

What are playing in Hearthstone right now? Let me know in the comments below.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Playing Standard Pauper Sealed

We're a week into the inaugural Standard Pauper Sealed League. We ended up with 44 players total, which is a pretty respectable number for an almost completely unexplored format. Perhaps the fact that it is so unexplored is part of its appeal to many players. But, as I was painfully reminded this week, Sealed is a very different beast from Constructed, and even from Draft. So today I wanted to pass on few pointers about Sealed in general that I believe are particular relevant in Standard Pauper Sealed.

1. Aggro is dead. Most of the time, you will not be able to put together a viable Aggro deck in Sealed. You simply won't have enough fast, aggressive creatures, and your opponent is much more likely to be playing more defensive creatures. While the tempo of Sealed is pretty slow, it is very difficult to take advantage of it.

2. Board stalls are likely. The average Power and Toughness of Common creatures is probably around 2/3. And with less removal at player's disposal, you're likely to find yourselves in a situation where neither player can attack profitably, at least without some help from multiple combat tricks. As such, cards that allow you to push through board stalls are more valuable than they might otherwise be.

3. Evasion and removal are quite strong. All other things being equal, you will want to play as much of your removal and your creatures with evasion as possible. Even expensive and/or sub-optimal choices are going to be surprisingly good in this format. Games will often be decided by who can answer their opponent's evasive creatures.

4. Late game cards and mana-sinks are also quite good. Since the speed of the format is so slow, expensive, late game cards will typically get to come out to good effect. Similarly, in these situations, you will often have quite a bit of mana at your disposal and very little to do with it. Cards that allow you to squeeze extra value by means of mana hungry activated abilities are not only playable, but can have a surprising effect on the game.

Like I said, I became reacquainted with these facts the hard way. I ran an aggressive Boros build with low cost creatures and some solid removal. But my opponent's deck, while slower, was defensive enough to keep me from gaining enough advantage in the early game, and eventually I lost both games to his superior but slower force. In fact, both games I lost to Shadowcloak Vampire, a card I have never seen play in Standard Pauper but one that proved to be quite strong.

Got interesting stories about how your experience has been with this format? I'd love to hear about it in the comments below. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Is Standard Pauper Casual?

This week I came across a relatively new article series on PureMTGO entitled "Casual Play" by author bdgp009. The article first caught my eye because he regularly discusses a Standard Pauper build in each of his articles. Then, in his most recent article, he weighed in on what has been a long-running discussion for online games in general and Magic Online (as well as Hearthstone) in particular: What is casual?

Here's what he had to say:

1. Casual is when you play "just for fun."
2. Casual is when it costs you nothing to play and you don't have any prizes on the line.
2. Casual is when you are playing a deck that you enjoy building.
3. Casual is when you are playing a deck that is untested or doesn't have much of a track-record.
4. Casual doesn't necessarily mean weak, but it shouldn't be unbeatable either.

So I was curious how this definition applied to Standard Pauper in general. Overall, I would say it fits pretty well. It costs very little to obtain the cards, there are no sanctioned events or results, it encourages testing and experimenting with new decks, and most of the time any given player can win any given game if the circumstances are right. 

But does this mean that Standard Pauper Player Run Events are also casual? Interestingly enough, it doesn't seem so, at least by this definition. While I hope that most players enjoy the format, there certainly is an emphasis on winning. With prizes on the line, players often go with decks that have performed well in previous events. Of course, even for all this preparation, it isn't unheard of for a complete newbie to end up making Top 8 or better the first time they play, so in Standard Pauper perhaps it is always anyone's game.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 5, 2015

My Current Thoughts on Treasure Cruise

Last week, I asked Standard Pauper player Zoltan to submit his best arguments for why Treasure Cruise should be banned. He had quite a bit to say on the topic, which you can read in full here and here. Let me say that I really appreciate his willingness to put his case out there and open himself up to comments from the rest of the community. I would love to see my blog serve in this function more in the future.

Now no one is questioning that Treasure Cruise is a strong card. The ability to draw three cards rarely sees print at Common anymore. Even so, without Delve, this card would probably not see any play. If you are so far ahead that on Turn 8 you can afford to spend all your mana and not affect the board, you're probably going to win that game anyway. But with Delve, you have the potential to reduce the casting cost all the way down to a single Blue. If you could always cast it for that cost (perhaps by paying life instead of exiling cards from your Graveyard), the card would be absurdly broken and probably would not have seen print at all, much less at Common. So the reality is that Treasure Cruise falls somewhere between those two extremes.

That said I do not believe that Treasure Cruise should be banned. Here's why:
  1. I agree with both rremedio1 and DrChrisBakerDC that Treasure Cruise is helping, not hurting, the health of the metagame. The existence of this card gives players a strong incentive to play Control. Without it, the Aggro decks like White Weenie and Boros Heroic would pretty much dominate the entire metagame. Additionally, I do not believe that banning Treasure Cruise would make space in the metagame for decks that currently aren't seeing play.
  2. Based on the numbers crunched by rremedio1, decks including Treasure Cruise that place in the Top 4 in recent Standard Pauper events make up only approximately 40% of the metagame. Other powerful Commons from previous sets have seen numbers much higher than this without being banned.
  3. While I agree with Adner's comment that Treasure Cruise violates the New World Order philosophy of card design, Rosewater has always been clear that Commons that are pushed in a set due to being part of that set's theme often violate the design tenets of New World Order. New World Order doesn't prohibit such cards; it merely says there must be solid design reasons why those cards should see print at Common. Personally, I am thankful that cards like Treasure Cruise still see print from time to time. The existence of these cards excites players, and when players are excited, they play more Magic.
I do agree, however, that the lack of anti-Graveyard effects is hurting the metagame. I would love to see a Common come into the metagame that allows you to exile cards from your opponent's Graveyard. If I had to pick one way to "fix" Treasure Cruise, this is what I would do. Relic of Progenitus would be my pick, but even Tormod's Crypt would be fine.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to comment on these articles. And for everyone who didn't comment but took the time to read and think about the issues, thanks to you as well! See you next time.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Imperial Settlers Review

One of the hottest games from GenCon 2014 was Imperial Settlers, a card management game by Portal Games. In this game, you take on the role of one of four powers who are in a race to settle new lands and take advantage of new resources and opportunities. You play as one of four civilizations - Romans, Barbarians, Egyptians, and Japanese - each share a common deck of cards while also having their own separate deck with mechanics and themes unique to that culture. Over the course of five rounds, you explore new lands, build new structures, trade resources, and conquer your enemies. And at the end of five rounds, whomever has amassed the greatest number of victory points wins.

Each round, you take turns drafting cards from a common pile, then produce resources based on your faction and cards you've previously played, and then alternate taking actions until each player has exhausted their options. The mechanics are simple, but there's a good deal of strategic depth, since many cards can be used in multiple ways. You can choose to play it as a "deal" and gain a particular resource each round; you can instead "build" the card for its cost; or you can "raze" the card, discarding it to receive a one-time combination of resources. And in addition to resources like food, stone, wood, gold, and colonists, you also produce swords, which allow you to attack your opponent and "raze" his buildings instead.

The factions are noticeably different from one another. The Barbarians are themed around producing a lot of colonists and converting them into whatever resources you need. The Romans are themed around building a variety of civic structures. The Egyptians focus on acquiring gold, and the Japanese focus on protecting their empire with samurai while having the option of razing their own buildings for quick resources. The Barbarians are probably the easiest to play, while the Egyptians are arguably the most difficult.

The production values of the game are quite good. The card art is evocative and beautifully rendered, and the wooden "meeples" and resources are solid and clearly distinguishable by color and shape. The game comes with a faction board for each civilization, with clear reminders about your options each turn and a clever way to organize the different types of cards you play throughout the game. These faction boards also have an identical male and female side, which I thought was a nice touch. You also get a gorgeous, full-color rulebook that clearly and succinctly takes you through the game. And if you want to skip the rulebook entirely, it also links you via QRCode to a video tutorial to learn the game that way.

Finally, there is also an "attack" deck of cards that allows you play the game single player. The gameplay is very similar to the regular game, save that the actions of your "dummy" opponent are directed via the special deck. Winning the single player variant is fairly simple, but since you also still keep track of victory points, they include a handy reference guide that ranks your skill based on your total.

Imperial Settlers is a great game that I recommend highly. It's simple to play and quick to learn, but has a surprising amount of depth and replay value. Mastering all four factions takes quite a bit of gameplay, and even the same faction can play out quite differently from game to game depending on your initial hand of cards and which of the shared deck you end up having access to. The single player variant is also a great way to practice the game, since the tricks you learn there are very applicable to the regular game. If you're looking for a new strategy board game, you should certainly give it a try.