Friday, November 27, 2015

Izzet Overwhelming?

As I was pushing through my post-Thanksgiving sleepiness and pondering what to write about for my post for today, I decided to go browse the stats over at the Standard Pauper Mirror, a handy app I've mentioned before run by rremedio1 that compiles data from both of the weekly Standard Pauper PREs. As of this writing, it doesn't include the results from earlier this week, but it's still a very useful snapshot of what's going on in the Standard Pauper metagame right now.

As I was analyzing the data, two interesting facts stood out to me:
  1. There is a surprising difference in the metagame between the Sunday and Monday PREs. This is most clearly illustrated in the case of the Rakdos Delve deck, which by the numbers is the most popular choice of decks right now. Yet despite putting up some strong finishes, it is seeing almost no play in MPDC.
  2. More importantly, Izzet in its various iterations is posting some incredible numbers, with a match win rate somewhere between 60-70% when you average it out between the most popular versions. Rakdos may be the most popular deck, but Izzet is by and large the runaway powerhouse of the format right now. Earlier this week I complained a bit on Twitter about the fact that I literally have not played against any other archetype in the past two weeks, both in my matches for the Standard Pauper Double League and during MPDC.
So for all you players out there with experience with Rakdos Delve, tell me this: does it have a good matchup against Izzet Control? If so, maybe that's would explain why it's so popular.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Fate Core Character Creation

I am in the process of preparing a new Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition campaign for some of my college buddies, and wanted to do something special when it came to character creation. So I spent some time with my friend Google looking for some group character creation guidelines. In the process, I came across a Character Creation ruleset that is part of the Fate Core System, a  ruleset perhaps best known for being the engine that drives the Dresden Files RPG. After perusing the rules, I was quite impressed with how they helped players not only create interesting and unique characters, but also guided them through the process of linking those characters' stories to one another. Here's a quick summary of how that works:
  1. Each player comes up with a high concept and a trouble. The high concept is essentially a short phrase that stands in for the typical race and class in fantasy RPGs, while the trouble is something in that character's background or personality that consistently keeps him or her from living out this calling.
  2. Each player then comes up with a character background. This background includes their upbringing, an event that forced the character into his or her high concept, and that character's first adventure. Each of these steps turns into a short paragraph, and the first adventure is recorded on a separate index card.
  3. Each player then comes up with a secondary role in another character's background. The players pass around the index card with their first adventure summary to another player, and that player then connects their own character to that adventure in some sort of supporting or secondary role.
  4. Each player then passes the index card again, repeating the previous step. Afterwards, each character is organically connected to two other members of the group.
  5. Each player finalizes the rest of the details about their character. Only once these elements are complete does the player pick out the relevant stats and abilities of their character, based on the stories that have already been crafted.
I love the way that this makes characters that are primarily story-driven, rather than rules-driven. It also instantly creates camaraderie and connections among the group. So, with the above summary in hand, I incorporated those concepts into the standard character creation process for D&D 5th edition, and came up with an awesome first session to play out with my friends. If you're interested in my final document, let me know and I'd be happy to share it with you.

So what do you think?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Long Odds...

Today I sent the following E-mail to Mark Rosewater. Figured, what have I got to lose?


I figure my odds of you actually reading this are pretty slim. Nonetheless, here goes nothing:

I don't know if you're aware, but Magic Online recently killed a very fun format known as Standard Pauper. As you'd expect, it's identical to Standard, but using only Commons. There's a big online community that supports it, with free events every week that award prizes donated by online vendors.

It's mostly supported by people who love Magic but don't have the finances to compete in the sanctioned formats. Yet it's competitive, lots of fun, with a rich metagame. And if the hallmark of any set is its Commons, then it's also one of the quintessential ways to experience this great game.

I'm not expecting you to design or develop for it or anything like that. But I do want you to know that the format exists, and its existence was one of the great aspects of Magic Online. You should try it sometime with your team. I think you might be surprised by just how fun and accessible it is. And who knows? Maybe if it's something you and your team enjoy internally, the format might someday return to Magic Online.

If you're still reading this, thank you. Thanks for all you do to contribute to the Magic community. Thanks for all your efforts in keeping Magic going. Keep up the good work.


PS - I blog and publish articles on Standard Pauper regularly. My blog is, and I publish under the username gwyned at (where Ryan Spain used to publish his articles before he was hired).

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


Yup, I am at it again.

As I've mentioned in the past, I certainly have a thing for indie games, particular ones that evoke a retro or old-school kind of vibe. It's almost to the point where I can log into Steam, search for indie games, and find something within a handful of minutes that I will probably like. At least this time, it's not in Early Release...

My latest find is a game known simply as Kingdom. Kingdom is a side-scrolling strategy game where you are tasked as the monarch of a new kingdom to establish a new outpost in the wilderness and fend off the increasing hordes of monsters that descend upon your fledgling civilization each night. But what sets this game apart from all others is the shocking simplicity of the gameplay. Your nameless sovereign literally can only do three things: ride his/her steed at a walk, ride at a run, or drop coins. Using only these three options, you must build a settlement, raise walls and guard towers, recruit and equip an army, fend off horrifying monsters, and somehow put an end to the monsters' once and for all. Fail to hold back the monsters, and eventually they will steal your sovereign's crown. And no crown means no kingdom; in other words, game over.

To accomplish all of this, you have a single resource at your disposal: gold. As the game opens, you find a couple handfuls of coins lying around, which you automatically pick up and drop into your coin purse (which is visually represented in the upper-left corner). Money can be acquired from a few different sources: taxes, which you receive on each new day; directly from the corpses of woodland creatures (but not, sadly, from monsters); crops, which are paid for by your farmer as they grow them; and the rare treasure chest found in the wilderness.

I hesitate to say more; in fact, I've already probably said too much, because at its heart Kingdom is about figuring out what you're supposed to do, then figuring out how to do it more efficiently, and then finally figuring out how to actually beat the game. The introduction gives you just enough instruction to get you started, then leaves you to figure out the rest on your own. And this is definitely one of those games that once you figure everything out, most of the challenge is gone.

The production values are good, with a beautiful pixel-art style, haunting music, and decent sound effects that all seem to fit well with the game's simplistic approach. You also have the ability to change the skin tone and gender of your sovereign at the game's start (although you'll have to discover exactly how on your own), or you can keep the randomly assigned characteristics you start with.

Intrigued? It's only $9.99 on Steam, so it's hard to beat that price. So check out the video below, and get your hands on Kingdom. I'm pretty sure you'll like it - I certainly do!

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The End of an Era

Many longtime users of Magic Online look back on previous iterations of the program with nostalgia, remembering the way things used to be before a decision by Wizards of the Coast changed things, often for the worse. Sadly, I now completely understand what that feels like. As of yesterday, the Standard Pauper filter is officially gone from Magic Online, bringing an end to an important era for the format.

On August 29, 2012, about a year after Standard Pauper enthusiast joekewwl visited Wizards of the Coast as part of the 2011 Community Cup team, it was officially announced that Standard Pauper was now available as an official format on Magic Online. Although it did not include any sanctioned events, for the first time Magic Online players could easily find an opponent in the casual room who was guaranteed to be playing the same format. But as of yesterday, November 11, 2015, all that has come to an end.

So where do we go from here? How can we continue to support this great format?
  • Whenever you are online, join the #StandardPauper channel. Going forward, this will be the most reliable way to find opponents to play against.
  • For Standard Pauper matches, just label your table as the Standard format, with an entry in the Comments field that it is a Standard Pauper game. As long as no Commons are banned in Standard (an event which would be a major failure for design and development), this will be the closest card legality match.
  • You might also consider joining the Standard Pauper Players Clan as another way to easily find opponents and discuss the metagame with other players. PM me in the client and let me know if you want to join.
  • Continue to let Wizards of the Coast hear your disappointment. Don't let the issue go away. Make your voice heard via Email, social media, and whatever other avenues are available to you. Take the Magic Online survey and don't mince words. Lee Sharpe in particular should hear from us regularly.
  • Finally, participate regularly in the weekly Standard Pauper events. These numbers matter!
 I can think of no better way to conclude this than the image that was used in last week's Diaries of the Apocalypse when faced with the elimination of their own Tribal Wars format:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

BW Warriors

Last time, I discussed the current state of the Standard Pauper metagame now that the full effects of the rotation of Standard and the release of Battle for Zendikar have worked their way into the format. I mentioned how four particular archetypes - Izzet Tempo, UB Control, Rakdos Aggro, and RG Landfall - have earned the top spots in the format. But I also mentioned that there is one other archetype that hasn't gotten as much attention, but is proving to be quite strong. And that's exactly the deck I piloted to a Top 8 finish in yesterday's MPDC 31.03. Let's take a look at the list:

My list is adapted from the original pilot of the archetype KyranOHyran, who earned the 2nd place spot in last week's MPDC with it. I made a few modifications from that list, mostly to add card draw and removal to push the deck more towards a mid-range strategy. Essentially, the deck relies upon creating a strong early game presence with lots of creatures, keeps its Life total high with some incidental lifegain, then powers through for a quick victory on the back of an evasive Kalastria Nightwatch or Rush of Battle, the latter of which synergizes with almost all of the creatures in the list. It's quite capable of stalling out against early aggression, or overwhelming a more controlling build, or simply winning out of nowhere with Rush of Battle (or just gaining a ton of Life in the process). The flexibility is one of the reasons why I thought the deck would perform well, and on the whole it didn't disappoint.

If you've played with or against this archetype, I'd love to hear what you thought of the deck. Let me know in the comments below.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Bonus: First They Came

Presented without further comments, courtesy of Tolarian Community on Twitter (and read from bottom to top):

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Battle for Zendikar Metagame Update

Despite all the discussion and angst surrounding the looming removal of the Standard Pauper filter, I am happy to report that the format is as strong as ever. With the release of Battle for Zendikar, we've moved into an entirely new metagame, and thus far it's proven to be quite interesting and diverse.

Standard Pauper enthusiast Cabel has recently created threads devoted to four of the major archetypes to emerge in this new metagame - Izzet Tempo, UB Control, Rakdos Aggro, and RG Landfall. Three of these archetypes -  Izzet Tempo, UB Control, and Rakdos Aggro - have all earned 1st place trophies since the season began, while RG Landfall most recently made Top 4. And thanks to some nifty programming magic by rremedio1, you can use his new app called the Standard Pauper Tracker to view compiled results of these decks from recent events as well as variations within the archetype. If you're participating in the Standard Pauper Double League or either of the weekly Standard Pauper events, this is valuable information you should be utilizing to maximize your chances of success!

Finally, a new archetype seems to be emerging, with a strong finish in the last MPDC as well as defeating me in my weekly league match. But I'll be writing more about that next time...

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Responding to the Rationale Behind the Removal of Standard Pauper

So in case you missed it, Robert Schuster posted a response on the official Magic Online Tumblr page regarding the decision to remove several casual formats from Magic Online. Today I wanted to post some quick thoughts about how I would respond to the line of arguments he develops. Feel free to use them in your own discussions. 

Furthermore, I will also be using this as an outline for an upcoming PureMTGO article on the topic. More on that soon.

Wizards has advanced five claims about why removing Standard Pauper is good for Magic Online. Here's how I respond to those claims.

Claim #1: Represents less than one percent of play on Magic Online.
Response: You get what you support. If a format isn’t sanctioned, is it any surprise that the vast majority of users don’t play it? Additionally, the format is an on-ramp for new players to transition into mainline formats, steadily feeding new players into them, As a result, these players eventually stop playing Standard Pauper in favor of other formats.

Claim #2: Fragments the player base.
Response: If only a small number of players are playing it, it clearly isn’t fragmenting the player base. Instead, removing the filter only disenfranchises the existing player base.

Claim #3: Players will wait too long to find a match in the format.
Response: Taking away the filter only guarantees that people who want to play in the format will actually have to wait LONGER to find a match.

Claim #4: Can’t afford to take the time to playtest and develop cards for the format.
Response: If the format isn’t sanctioned, and is based on Standard, there is no need for additional playtesting or development.

Claim #5: Frees up development time by...

a) not needing to test card interactions in the format.
Response: Standard Pauper has ZERO additional card interactions that aren’t already tested for, since all new cards in a set are automatically tested against the Standard format environment.
b) not needing to maintain legality lists.
Response: Standard Pauper has an identical legality list as Standard, except that it also excludes non-Commons. This should be trivial to program.

While some of these arguments might be valid for some of the other casual formats, they simply don't hold for Standard Pauper. And, for reasons I've stated previously, the argument could be made that removing it as an official format will, especially in the long run, do more harm than good.