Sunday, May 31, 2015

Man-At-Arms in Darkest Dungeon

The long-awaited May update came out for Darkest Dungeon, bringing a bunch of new content is the form of character classes, bosses, and a bunch of smaller tweaks and polish. But probably the best part of the update is the Man-At-Arms, one of the two new playable classes. In fact, the class is so good, I expect that it will be nerfed in the next update.

All of the character classes in Darkest Dungeon have 7 different abilities, which are typically a mix of healing, support, mob control, and attack. For the Man-At-Arms, this includes a standard melee attack, a weaker attack that shuffles the enemy and has a chance to stun, a minor ailment that reduces all enemies dodge and speed, a buff that increases accuracy for all allies, and a similar buff that instead increase speed and dodge. These are fairly vanilla and about on par with other melee-type classes.

But where the Man-At-Arms shines is his other two abilities. First is his Defender ability, which increases his Protection by 20% and automatically takes all damage that targets the selected ally until his next action. The added protection means that many attacks will fail to do any damage against him, and allows him to easily protect your weakest ally. Given how often enemies seem to instinctively target your healers and other support characters, this is a major asset.

The Man-At-Arms' other ability is where he really shines, however. This ability is called Retribution. You still get to make a single target attack against a single foe, dealing about half damage. He then gets a 10% bonus to Protection, and inflicts the "Marked" status condition on himself, which makes enemies more likely to target him. From that point on, whenever he is attacked (either by a single target attack or even as part of your whole group), he gets a free attack against that enemy, and has a small chance to stun the attacker as well. This is, as they say, "stupid good." It's quite common for him to get three or four extra attacks over the course of a battle, and since most battles probably average four to six rounds, this can easily double his damage output.

At any rate, I've been having a ton of fun with the new content, and can't wait for the full game release sometime later this year. While Darkest Dungeon is technically still in Early Release, there's plenty of content here for your money. Be sure and check out my review from earlier this year, and pick up this game today. You won't regret it.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Standard Pauper Metagame Diversity

One of the criticisms often leveled against Standard Pauper is that with such a small cardpool the format will inevitably grow stale, with only one or two decklists outperforming everything else, making the format entirely too easy to "solve." And while there certainly have been times when a handful of decks have dominated the Standard Pauper metagame for a period of time, most of the time there is a very healthy amount of diversity in the format. And I am happy to report that right now is one of those times.

To illustrate this, just take a look at the last two weeks of Standard Pauper PRE data, taken from MPDC 29.07 and 29.06 as well as SPDC 29.07 and 29.06. In those four events, we had 3 different Top 8 playoffs as well as one Top 4 playoff. And out of those 28 slots, we had eleven distinct archetypes. Of those, three decks accounted for 12 of the Top 8 finishes, with Dimir Merchant, Stompy, and Izzet Control each with 4 appearances. Red variants also placed well, with Boros Tokens and RDW evenly splitting another 6 appearances between them. Rounding out the top spots were Golgari Delve, Esper, and Selesnya Heroes with 2 each, and single finishes by MonoBlue Control, GB Constellation, and Wintergreen.

I would call that a healthy amount of diversity! These decks touch upon all five colors, and represent Aggro, Control and Midrange (with only Combo being notably absent; although, such a deck does exist in the format right now). In fact, the closest thing to a common denominator is the inclusion of Treasure Cruise, which is included in 5 of the 11 archetypes.

Thus, I think it's fair to say now is a great time to be playing Standard Pauper. If you've never participated in one of our events, don't you think it's time to come check it out?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Mono Blue Control

Of late in the weekly Standard Pauper Deck Challenge event, DrChrisBakerDC has been quietly stacking up wins with a deck that seems to be somewhat under the radar: Mono Blue Control. In fact, he took first place with the deck in both SPDC 29.05 and 29.07, going undefeated in both events. This archetype has yet to make an appearance at MPDC, but with its recent success, I expect that will change very soon. So I thought today I would take a look at the decklist and point you towards the videos that Chris submitted a couple weeks ago covering the deck.

Mono Blue Control
1st place by DrChrisBakerDC in SPDC 29.07
4 Jeskai Sage
4 Whirlwind Adept
1 Nimbus Naiad
1 Palace Familiar
10 cards

Other Spells
4 Divination
4 Griptide
4 Nullify
4 Treasure Cruise
3 Rise of Eagles
2 Anticipate
2 Negate
1 Cancel
1 Voyage's End
1 Whisk Away
26 cards
16 Island
4 Evolving Wilds
4 Radiant Fountain
24 cards

Sidisi's Faithful

This is a classic Control list for Standard Pauper, playing lots of permission spells and card draw and then winning off the back of a particular potent late game creature - in this case, the surprisingly effective Whirlwind Adept. The list is also optimized to power out Treasure Cruise as quickly as possible, utilizing the 'cantrip' creatures, lots of spells, and even Evolving Wilds to get a bunch of cards into the graveyard as quickly as possible. Other than the hard counters, the deck also dedicates several slots to bouncing an opponent's creatures with Griptide and the like, giving it the time it needs to eke out some major card advantage and transform that into a win.

If you'd like to go more in-depth into this deck, see some matches, and see how the deck has changed since its original form, check out Chris' videos below. This is definitely a great deck, and one that I will be digging into more in the days ahead. Thanks for reading!

Sunday, May 24, 2015

My Writing Plans for the Near Future

Last time, I talked about the state of this blog and looked back at my original intentions for starting it. I noted that while my readership has grown beyond my expectations, I have neglected to hone my writing craft over the past year or so. Given how powerful stories are, and given my own undeveloped gifts in the area of writing, today I want to briefly highlight my plans moving forward:

1. One of the highlights of living in the Indianapolis area is how easy it is to attend GenCon every year. This year, I have signed up to take a short story writing class from Mary Robinette Kowal, who has been nominated for multiple Hugos for both her short and long form fiction.

2. Last year, my friend and I worked on short fiction pieces each week, shared them with each other, and critiqued them. Then life got busy, and we more or less drifted away from this endeavor. This week I plan on discussing with him starting this back up again. And even if he is not able or willing, I plan to start writing short pieces each week, if for no other reason than to get back into the practice.

3. I would like to devote at least one blog post every week to the topic of fantasy writing or related topics. While I understand that this is probably the area that the least number of my readers are interested in, having that as a requirement will help me redevelop the disciple of writing. But, don't worry, I've still got lots of Standard Pauper to cover, sprinkled with a dash of gaming and other random musings.

Thanks for indulging me in this introspective look at this blog and my purpose for it. As always, comments are appreciated. In particular, this week I want to personally thank Aaron Brassard for his thoughtful email of encouragement. It's always great to hear from my readers!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

A Look Back (the Power of Stories)

I started this blog two and a half years ago, and it won't be much longer until I have as many posts as there are days in the year. My readership continues to grow, generating over 4000 views in April, and my lifetime views are rapidly approaching the 100,000 mark. In many ways I have seen more success here than I would have expected, and I am so grateful to my community of readers that has made it possible.

Yet as I look back at the reasons why I started this blog in the first place, I see that I have neglected one of my primary aims: to work towards publication in the fantasy genre. In fact, it's been nearly a year since I even sat down to write anything that wasn't related to my work or this blog. And I am not satisfied with that.

Stories are powerful things. They have the ability to sneak past our prejudice, our preconceived notions, and our preoccupation with trivial matters and impart meaningful truth about the world and our place in it. Yes, stories should be, and always must be, fun. But hidden beneath the surface, stories have an amazing ability to impact lives.

I believe I have a gift when it comes to writing. And I don't want to neglect it any longer. Next time, I'll talk what I am going to do differently go forward. But today, I leave you with this clip from one of my favorite movie series, The Lord of the Rings:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lean, Mean, & Green

For the first time in quite a while in Standard Pauper, Green is putting up some impressive wins as of late. An identical Mono-Green deck has taken the trophy for two successive weeks in MPDC (piloted by gonz and milegyenanevem respectively), and other variations are also very much in the mix, including my own version that splashes Blue. I suspect that as the metagame continues to shift more towards Control, the ability to quickly crank out a large mass of creatures is a big part of what's making this deck so successful. 

In case you missed it, here's the decklist that won the past two weeks:

In an ideal opener, Elvish Mystic helps you ramp up to an Alpine Grizzly or Nessian Courser on Turn 2, followed up with a swell of Life from Nylea's Disciple or simply an Aerie Bowmasters on the next turn, and dropping the Stampeding Elk Herd soon thereafter. You also can make use of two different 3 Power 2-drops in Glade Watcher and Swordwise Centaur. And once you've amassed a horde of creatures, just swinging in for a massive attack, enhanced with Trample thanks to the Formidable ability from the Elk Herd. Backed up with a powerful surge from Aspect of Hydra or Titanic Growth, can easily be enough to finish off your opponent quite quickly. Alternatively, the pump spell can instead be used to sidestep most forms of removal, or even go toe-to-toe with a beefy Heroic creature.

Will this deck continue to rise in the metagame, or will someone craft the perfect answer against it? What lists currently have the strongest matchups against this? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Revisting the Top Cards from Dragons of Tarkir, Part Two

In the final part of my Standard Pauper set review for Dragons of Tarkir, I listed 11 cards that I believed would make the biggest impact in the format. I thought it would be helpful to look back at these cards and compare my evaluations to how the metagame has turned out thus far. Last time, I discussed how 8 of my 11 picks were seeing consistent play. Today, I want to look at the other 3 cards and look at why I think they aren't seeing much play.

For reference, here are the eleven cards that I highlighted from Dragons of Tarkir:

So of these eleven, the current "stinkers" are Dromoka Dunecaster, Monastery Loremaster, and Student of Ojutai. Let's take a look at each of them.

1. In the past, White tappers such as Blinding Mage have traditionally been very good. As of late, Wizards has been making these more conditional, restricting the target by size or other characteristics, such as only non-flying creatures without flying, which is a fairly big restriction. Worse, having to pay two mana is surprisingly significant, choking the mana you have available each turn. But I think the biggest reason this isn't seeing much play is simply than the traditional White Weenie has been overshadowed by Boros Heroic, which plays a lot more combat tricks and protection rather than removal.

2. Both Mnemonic Wall and Archaeomancer saw quite a bit of play in previous formats, and Monastery Loremaster is arguably stronger than either of those cards. The flexibility of Megamorph shouldn't be overstated, giving you the ability to get it down early, then flip it over later and return a key spell back to your hand. However, with the Graveyard being used as a resource with Delve, it is much rarer to have desirable spells just sitting around waiting to be returned. At this point, it wouldn't surprise me if the presence of Treasure Cruise is sufficient to keep this from ever seeing play.
3. Student of Ojutai is probably also being pushed out of the metagame by the dominance of the Heroic decks, which aren't looking to go into the long game with defensive creatures and incidental Lifegain. Additionally, it doesn't quite fit in with a traditional White Weenie deck either, since those decks rarely play much in the way of spells. But a 2/4 for 3W that gives you 2 life whenever you cast a noncreature spell is quite good value for a Common, and once Heroic rotates out of Standard, I wouldn't be surprised if this found its way into a competitive deck.

So that's where things stand with what I recognized as the top cards from Dragons of Tarkir. We still have quite a bit to go before Magic Origins is released, and I wouldn't be surprised to see more innovation prior to that release.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Revisting the Top Cards from Dragons of Tarkir

In the final part of my Standard Pauper set review for Dragons of Tarkir, I listed 11 cards that I believed would make the biggest impact in the format. I thought it would be helpful to look back at these cards today and compare my evaluations to how the metagame has turned out thus far. Overall, of these 11 cards, 8 have seen play in decks that have placed in the Top 4 or higher in multiple events, which isn't too shabby. Here's my list:

Of these, four have been all-stars, appearing in virtually every deck that runs those colors: Anticipate, Duress, Epic Confrontation, and Evolving Wilds. Anticipate provides excellent card selection and has been an auto-include in Izzet Control, some versions of Dimir Control, and both Zephyr Scribe Combo and Mono Blue Control. Duress, while typically just in the Sideboard, is an excellent option against Control decks, and is seeing play in both Dimir Control and Mono Black Devotion. Epic Confrontation is one of the best Green removal spells, with every Green deck running 4 copies. And of course, Evolving Wilds is excellent in any deck that runs two or more colors, and is even worth considering in a mono-colored deck.

Less impactful, but still seeing some play, are Pacifism, Twin Bolt, Vulturous Aven, and Zephyr Scribe. These are still fairly solid cards, but they are somewhat niche choices, relying on a deck that synergizes well with them or simply being borderline depending on the metagame.

Next time, I'll look at the remaining three cards and discuss why I don't think they have made as much of an impact as I expected.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Feeling Blue in Standard Pauper

After a seemingly endless domination by White in Standard Pauper, I think it's fair to say that Blue may have risen to take its place. It all started with Treasure Cruise, which is arguably one of the best Commons to see print in quite some time. Blue has been paired with every other color now to take advantage of this excellent card, results in decks like Azorius Heroic, Izzet Control, Dimir Devotion, and even my own Wintergreen.

But that isn't to say that Blue necessary even needs the support of another color to be good. With the release of Dragons of Tarkir, we've seen a MonoBlue Combo deck rise to competitive play as well as other Control decks rise to the forefront, driven by other value cards such as Anticipate, Rise of Eagles, and Weave Fate.

Indeed, DrChrisBakerDC earned himself a 1st place finish in the most recent SPDC with a powerful Mono Blue Control deck. If you're interested in the deck, checkout his Deck Tech video below, and if you like what you see, you can also view video from all of his matches with the deck. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Standard Pauper News

There's a surprising amount of recent news concerning Standard Pauper that I wanted to pass along to you today.

First of all, I am happy to report that the Standard Pauper format is now listed as a Magic Online format on the Wizards of the Coast website. There has been quite a bit of angst in the community when this oversight was discovered, so seeing it corrected should help reassure people that WotC is not trying to ignore or squelch the format.

Second, this week Pauper enthusiast Jason Moore published an article over at MTGOAcademy covering his matches from MPDC 29.04, where his Golgari Delve deck went undefeated in the Swiss rounds. This is the first time MTGOAcademy has covered the Standard Pauper format on their site, so this is a pretty big deal. Take a look at his build below, and be sure to check out the whole article.

Finally, the survey regarding the Standard Pauper Player Run Events is still going strong. We've had nearly 100 responses from over 22 different countries! If you haven't voted yet, the survey will be live through the end of May, so I encourage you make your voice heard. Here's the latest results as of this post:

Thanks again to everyone who voted! See you next time.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

More Offworld Trading Company

Last time, I wrote about the excellent Offworld Trading Company, now available through Steam Early Access, designed by Civilization IV lead designer Soren Johnson. Today, I want to share with you two great resources for this game that have helped me tremendously to understand the mechanics behind the game and improve my skills.

The first is the videos and streaming provided by Zultar, who regularly streams the game on his Twitch channel and posts many of his games from the stream to YouTube. He also serves as a beta tester for the game, with access to unreleased development builds to provide feedback and bring further exposure to the game. He also streams both Hearthstone and Darkest Dungeon, so there's quite a bit to watch if you share my enthusiasm for those games as well.

The second is the document provided by another Offworld pro who goes by the name of Cubit32. He also regularly posts games to YouTube, and it was his match with the developer and TrumpSC (streamed on Trump's Twitch channel), that first brought the game to my attention. In any case, Cubit32 produced an excellent written primer on the game, giving you everything you need to get started and some very useful tips and strategy regarding the game. If you're playing Offworld and haven't check it out yet, you're doing yourself a disservice.

I continue to play and watch a ton of this game right now, so I encourage you to check it out! But don't worry, I'll be back next time with more Standard Pauper content. See you then!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Offworld Trading Company (Early Access)

I seem to be playing more early access games than I ever expected. Back in March, I discovered Darkest Dungeon, an excellent fantasy/horror game RPG. Today, I want to tell you about another great find: Offworld Trading Company.

Designed by Soren Johnson, lead developer of the massively popular Civilization IV, Offworld puts you in command of a near-future corporation operating on Mars to mine the valuable commodities found there, buy and trade them on the open market, and export them offworld, all for the purpose of buying out your competitors and earning the exclusive rights to the planet. While clearly a real time strategy game, what makes Offworld stand out is that you use money, and not armies, to conquer new territory, expand your holdings, and defeat your competitors. It isn't a game where your success is tied to how fast you can press hotkeys or micromanage your units; instead, the game is all about recognizing the best opportunities while reacting to a market that responds to what's going on in the game, but often not in a totally predictable manner.

Each game of Offworld is different. You start off by scanning the planet for resources, then pick which colony type seems most advantageous and found your colony, trying to beat your opponents to the best spots. Then, it's a land-rush to claim tiles and build infrastructure to pull some initial resources out of the ground. As you grow, you can upgrade your colony, giving you access to even more tiles and allowing you to start manufacturing goods from these raw materials, typically leading to greater profits (but, of course, subject to the whims of the market). At the same time, you also have to manage the black market, where both you and your opponent can take dramatic actions against your enemies by blowing up one of their buildings, shutting down their production with EMPs, or even temporarily taking over one of their claims. Of course, these actions cost you valuable money, that might have been better used expanding your own production.

Finally, once you've secured resources and production, it's time to use your wealth to buy up the stock of your opponent. Even here, the economics play a big role, as each person's stock price is based upon their cash in hand, the value of their assets, and the amount of debt they've accrued. Fall behind, and as your stock price drops, it makes all the easier for your opponents to buy you out. But gain a financial edge, and eventually you initiate a hostile take over of your opponent, taking over their corporation and getting access to everything they had.

Intrigued? While the game still is rough around the edges (it is in Early Access, after all), it is a very fun and engaging game, particularly in multiplayer. Check out the tutorial videos from the designer below, and if you like what you see, purchase it on Steam today. See you next time.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Blackrock Mountain Review

Throughout the month of April, Blizzard has been releasing the latest Hearthstone expansion Blackrock Mountain, giving access to a new wing each week. The final wing released on Thursday, and after finishing all of the content (minus the Heroic difficulty), I wanted to take some time to share my thoughts on this expansion, just like I did with the Curse of Naxxramas back in August of last year.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Hearthstone Adventure expansions, Blackrock Mountain is much more than simply a new set of cards for the game. True, it does add 31 new cards to the game, including two for each of the heroes. But instead of requiring you to buy booster packs, the player instead earns them by completing a series of AI battles and special class challenges themed around the Blackrock Mountain zone from World of Warcraft.

Like the previous adventure, I really enjoyed playing through the multiple boss encounters within each wing. Assuming you have access to most of the previous cards, the majority of these battles should prove to be more entertaining and interesting, rather than difficult. In fact, other than the boss battle against Nefarion (who you defeat during the 4th wing only to have to do so again at the end of the 5th), I was able to defeat them on my first or second try. But what makes these encounters so fun is the variety of effects that these bosses bring to bear - from summoning a random minion from each deck every turn, to punishing you for having unspent mana at the end of your turn, to giving you the ability to play any card you draw for a single mana, but only one card total per turn. The special class challenges revisit these same bosses, but present you with a unique deck (and in some cases, ones that are impossible in the actual game, like one containing 30 copies of the same card). Indeed, there's enough here to be worth replaying several times, if only to see what happens if you try something different.

The cards themselves range from excellent to mediocre, and this time seem to be intentionally focused on creating new archetypes among the different heroes rather than just giving you better neutral minions available to all classes. I would argue that the overall quality is a bit lower than in Curse of Naxxramas, but still well worth investing in for those who want to be competitive on the ladder. Interestingly enough, while the expansion is definitely themed around Dragons, those are not the cards that seem to be having the greatest impact in the metagame.

The expansion definitely is in keeping with the high values of Hearthstone, with a brand new beautifully rendered battleground, lots of great card art and sound effects, and a fun storyline that plays out as you battle through Blackrock Mountain. The same zany humor is carried throughout, helping to break up what otherwise might seem overly dramatic.

Overall I very much enjoyed the expansion and definitely recommend you pick it up.