Tuesday, August 30, 2016

A First Look at Eternal

Not too long ago, I stopped playing Hearthstone. There was so much I liked about the game, but ultimately, it lacked that special spark that made Magic the Gathering so unique.

But about a month ago, I received a beta key from joekewwl for a new digital card game called Eternal. Although it's still in closed beta, already it shows a ton of promise. In fact, I would say it takes the best elements from both Magic the Gathering and Hearthstone and creates something reminiscent of both, but uniquely its own. And now that the Non Disclosure Agreement has been lifted, I'm free to tell you about it.

There were three elements that initially made Hearthstone so attractive to me. First, that it offered, at least in theory, a free-to-play model, where you could enjoy the game at least semi-competitively without investing a dime, essentially investing time rather than money to advance. Second, that it offered some single player experiences, pitting you against AI opponents. And third, that it offered a Limited experience that was asynchronous - i.e., one that didn't rely upon having all the players go through a Limited tournament at the same time. And it is in these three areas that Eternal already shines.

However, it also offers a level of complexity and opportunities for tight play that Hearthstone in the end seems to lack. Like Magic, you have lots of complex card interactions. Like Magic, you have a mana system that requires the right mix and number of different sources. Like Magic, you have the opportunity to interact with your opponent on his or her turn. And like Magic, you have a true Limited environment that involves opening packs, passing them around from player to player, and crafting a deck as you go.

It helps, of course, that Eternal is being designed and developed by some of the best Magic the Gathering pros, including Luis Scott-Vargas, Conley Woods, and Patrick Chapin, along with a few others that I believe have done consulting for the game.

Although the game is still in closed beta, new players are being added to the beta somewhat frequently. If you're interested, I encourage you to check out their website and sign up for a beta key. I would also encourage you to check out this recent vod of LSV playing Eternal on his Twitch channel. Check it out, and if you get into the game, I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Week of August 21st in Standard Pauper

It's been so great seeing so many new players showing up for Monday Pauper Deck Challenge over the past few weeks. We've seen attendance in the high teens, topping out this week at 20 players. While this is a long way from the 40-50 in attendance we've seen in the past, it still seems an encouraging sign that our community is starting to grow again. It also means we played out a Top 8 playoff again this week, giving us 12 decks to consider for this week's state of the metagame in Standard Pauper. Let's take a look at how things have changed since last time.

The Izzet Tempo list has risen to new heights, accounting for five of the eight decks that made Top 4 between our two Standard Pauper events. The deck also captured the trophy for both events, with AfroDwarf winning in SPDC and emerald000 winning in MPDC. The most notable innovation in the deck is the inclusion of more Madness effects, with olstyn's list in particular making use of both Mad Prophet and Reckless Scholar as enablers for Fiery Temper. Overall, nearly half the players in these two events were playing this archetype.

The GB and Sultai Control decks that dominated last season all but disappeared this week, with a lone entry by afreeAk in both events being not only such list to make the playoffs, but the only one that saw any play at all. I'm not sure whether to chalk this up to simple fatigue with the archetype, or a more fundamental shift in the metagame. This is definitely something to keep an eye out for.

Perhaps the most noteworthy entry is a RG Tremors deck played by Ravager1 that took 2nd place in MPDC. This deck is a tokens build looking to deal lots of damage via Impact Tremors. I actually played a very similar list at the end of last season, and overall I think it's definitely one worth exploring in this new metagame.

The rest of the top contenders this week includes a Dimir Control list by rremedio1 utilizing strong Graveyard recursion, a Jund sacrifice list played by cRUMMYdUMMY, and an "all-in" Rakdos Madness list piloted by Storm_blade.

So here are my observations on what I saw this week:
  1. It should go without saying, but you should definitely expect to come up against the Izzet Tempo deck early and often, so you're gameplan better include cards that are strong against it. Given its lack of creatures and high number of spells, I would expect permission and card draw to both be important elements of such a strategy.
  2. Thermo-Alchemist has probably eclipsed Pulse of Murasa as the most important card in the format right now. It's three Toughness makes it difficult to remove early, and when it goes unchecked it's not unreasonable for it to do 10 or more damage in a very short time in the Izzet decklist. And of course, Aura-based removal like Pacifism does very little to stop it.
  3. White has completely disappeared from the top decks this week, accounting for only two decks between the two events. While some sort of Selenya aggressive build or an Aura-based decklist could be very viable in the metagame right now, these lists have definitely been on the decline, despite the strong support for the latter in Eldritch Moon. 
  4. Finally, the Emerge deck has likewise faded away, although both Emerge creatures continue to be very important in the metagame. But with all the removal at your disposal, it simply isn't a viable strategy to build your entire strategy around these creatures.
That's it for this week. Also, if you've never checked out MPDC, why not give it a try this week? I encourage you to browse over to PDCMagic.com for all the information and then come join us at 2:00pm EST / 7:00pm GMT in the #MPDC channel.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Mistborn: House War

Like I mentioned in my GenCon posts, one of the games I got to playtest this year at the convention was this awesome new game called Mistborn: House War. Based on the characters and events of the series by Brandon Sanderson of the same name, in this semi-cooperative game you take the role of one of the nobles houses of the Final Empire, seeking to work together to solve the myriad social and political problems facing the empire while competing to become the most powerful and most loyal of the nobles houses.

At its heart is a fairly simple mechanic. Each turn you collect resources based on your house and other resources. These resources can then be used to solve one of the problems that besets the empire, each of which requires a certain combination of resources. If you solve the problem, you receive favor with the Lord Ruler. If you and your fellow players fail to solve the problem, someone will have to suffer the consequences - though that may not necessarily be you!

If you lack the necessary resources to solve any of the problems, you can also ask your fellow players for help. And that's where the game gets most interesting, as almost anything goes when it comes to negotiation. One player might ask for part of the rewards you'll receive, or a promise not to target them with an upcoming negative event, or even just make you go get them something out of the fridge! The only catch is that whatever terms you agree to, you must keep up your side of the bargain.

In addition to the normal resources, you also receive Personality Cards that can provide additional resources, redirect a negative effect, cancel another player's card, or secretly award you favor at the end of the game. These cards provide one of the best ways to interfere with your fellow players, keeping them from getting too far ahead.

So what happens if everyone decided to gang up on you, or you simply are too far behind to have any hope of winning? Simple - you join the rebellion! Rather than trying to solve the problems, you instead try to push as many of them through as possible, allowing the unrest to grow to the point where it ends the game prematurely. And should that happen, the player with the least favor, rather than the most, wins the game.

The game successful Kickstarted about a month ago, but you can still get in as a late backer.

Intrigued? Watch the video below, then go support this great game! I can't wait until next April to start playing this with my game group...

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Week of August 14th in Standard Pauper

We're two weeks into our new season of Standard Pauper tournaments, and I think it's fair to say that Eldritch Moon is having a big impact on the metagame. We're also continuing to see an uptick in attendance at Monday Pauper Deck Challenge. We had 16 players in attendance this week, which means once again we had a Top 8 playoff, with every player who went 2-1 in Swiss getting the opportunity to battle for the trophy! With 12 decks once again to consider, let's take a look at what archetypes came out on top this week in Standard Pauper.

Izzet Burn and Sultai Control were the big winners this week, accounting for five wins between them. The Izzet deck is a creature-like build based on maximizing the value of your spells and burning out your opponent, aided by the untap ability of Thermo-Alchemist. Sultai Control remains unchanged from its previous iterations, yet is still able to do well against a much more diverse field. Meanwhile, PauperRBust took the build he dubbed the Aristocrats from last week to another Top 4 win, using the GB Control shell and augmenting it with Bloodbriar, It of the Horrid Swarm, and Ulvenwald Captive. The standout accomplishment was probably Amnaremotoas' nearly mono-White Blood Mantle deck, which captured the first place trophy in SPDC with a mixture of Aura recursion and sacrifice synergy built around Bloodbriar and key interactions with Angelic Purge, Lunarch Mantle, and Vessel of Ephemera. Finally, the Top 8 of MPDC was noticeable diverse. It included a familiar BW Allies deck, a Dimir Tempo build by olstyn, a Rakdos Burn build from Paranoid_Android, and a Gruul Monsters deck by rremedio1.

Here's what I am seeing at this point in the season:
  1. While Green Control builds with Pulse of Murasa continue to do well, they no longer seem as dominant. In some ways it's surprising that burn archetypes did so well this week, given the power of Pulse to keep your Life total high. But with the diversity of Red burn and the availability of Blue card draw, Izzet is going to be a difficult combination to beat.
  2. There's still plenty of room for innovation and rogue archetypes to perform well, with four out of the twelve top decks making their first appearance this week. This also means that the metagame is harder to predict, complicating deckbuilding, especially for the Sideboard.
  3. On a related note, all five colors are making their presence felt, although White overall seems like the weakest of the five. This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, as White felt somewhat weak in Eldritch Moon.
  4. The inclusion of so much removal in both Red and Black hit the Emerge decks hard this week, making It of the Horrid Swarm and Wretched Gryff much less important. It's hard to invest lots of mana in creatures just to see them immediately go to the Graveyard.
That's it for this week. Hope to see you across the virtual table sometime soon!

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

My GenCon Report

Hard to believe it's already been almost two weeks since GenCon. In case you missed my previous post on the subject, I had a chance to once again take in one of the largest, best-attended gaming conventions in the world on August 5-7. It was an amazing three days (I had to skip Sunday due to other commitments). My wife and I demoed a bunch of new games, played in two different roleplaying adventures, attended lots of different seminars, and hung out with a lot of great people. Here are the highlights:
  1. Although my wife and I attended lots of great seminars put on by the GenCon Writer's Symposium, my two favorite seminars were a fantasy cooking class and one on mental health. In the fantasy cooking class, the presenter took us through an exercise designed to allow you to create a custom cuisine for any setting, based on the climate, the technology, the fauna and flora, and other cultural considerations. In the mental health seminar, we heard from several prominent authors who have struggled with mental illnesses, including best-selling author Patrick Rothfuss. The panel was very transparent about their own struggles and discussed some unique challenges associated with mental illness and the art of writing.
  2. As I mentioned above, my wife and I played in two different RPG sessions. The first was a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Adventure's League session, where we came to the aid of a city besieged by modrons and helped reestablish order in the city. We both played 1st level characters in a party with mostly 3rd and 4th level characters, so we spent far too much time hiding in the back and getting 'one-shotted' by the monsters, but it was still quite fun. The other session we played in was the Planet Mercenary RPG, where we joined a crack team of mercenaries to locate and bag a weapons-dealer who, as it turns out, had put out a major bounty of her own head hoping to fake her own death with a gigantic explosion. We managed to beat the other teams to the punch, ambush the weapons dealer, and collect the bounty without causing massive destruction in the process. Needless to say, that was also very fun.
  3. I also demoed lots of different games, including Tyrants of the Underdark, Mistborn House War, and Isle of Skye. Tyrants was a cool combination of Risk and Dominion, with some very interesting and thematic elements associated with dark elves. Mistborn was an absolute gem, with all sorts of conniving and bargaining between the players as well as the opportunity to try and totally change the win condition of the game and hose the rest of the players. Isle of Skye is a relatively simple tile-placement game, with lots of replay value thanks to the sheer number of tiles and the changing win conditions. All three are excellent games, and expect me to write fuller reviews of each once I get my hands on them.
  4. My wife and I also had the opportunity to hangout with Dan Wells and Howard Taylor, two of the four hosts of the Writing Excuses podcast, and we even got to go to dinner later with Dan and talk books, games, pop culture, and all sorts of hilarity. Once these episodes of Writing Excuses goes live, anyone with a discerning ear could easily pick out the sound of my wife laughing during some of the more funny bits. 
There is so much more to write about, so much more that I saw and experienced, but this post is already long enough. It was an amazing experience, and I can't wait to go back next year!

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Week of August 7th in Standard Pauper

A brand new season of Standard Pauper weekly events has begun, bringing Eldritch Moon into Standard and already shaking up the metagame considerably. And at least for MPDC, this also meant a small surge of interest in the format, bringing in 18 players for this week's event and giving us our first Top 8 playoff in quite some time. With that, of course, comes four more decks to evaluate for this week, bringing the total up to 12 decks that made the playoffs between SPDC and MPDC. Let's take a look at that first snapshot of the new Standard Pauper metagame:

First off, as should have been expected, several players chose simply to run the pre-Eldritch Moon favorite Sultai Control without making any changes, which accounted for three of the twelve winning decks. Similarly, both PauperRBust and cRUMMYdUMMY took the GB Control shell and tweaked it in slightly different ways, but both took advantage of the mana ramp from Ulvenwald Captive and the new powerful Emerge creatures.

Second, we also had one other returning deck in the case of AEFabricio, running the GW Fliers deck that enjoyed moderate success last season.

Third, both DrChrisBaker and littlefield went with Izzet instead, choosing to run few creatures (but including the new Thermo-Alchemist) and instead focus on powerful spells, including Galvanic Bombardment and Take Inventory.

Fourth, we saw two brand new archetypes from both rremedio1 and Paranoid_Android. Rremedio1 ran a four color Tokens build, combining synergies from Impact Tremors, a mass of Black removal, Pulse of Murasa, and the new Emerge creatures. Paranoid_Android's build was a much simpler Azorius Fliers utilizing Displace in order to gain some incremental advantage off of his creatures' enters-the-battlefield effects.

Finally, as I mentioned yesterday, the first place trophies both went to Simic Emerge decks run by amnaremotoas and JogandoPelado respectively. This new archetype looks to be quite strong, and will certainly be a force to be reckoned with going forward.

The biggest takeaway from this week is that Sultai colors look to continue their dominance in the format. This is perhaps not surprising given the relative weakness of both White and Red at Common in Eldritch Moon. While all five colors were represented in the finalists' decks, Blue, Black, and Green seem to by far have the most important cards in the format right now. Of course, there's still plenty of room for innovation and change in the metagame, so it will be interesting to see what next week brings!

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

What Has Emerged in Standard Pauper

I am, at usual, running behind on my blog posts. I had a fantastic time at GenCon, and I will plan on recapping some of my experiences in a later post. But for today, I wanted to briefly write about how the Commons from Eldritch Moon fared in the first week of Standard Pauper events.

If you read Part One and Part Two of my Standard Pauper review of Eldritch Moon, you already know what I believe were the most important cards from the set. And the results from this first week were right in line with my expectations. While cards like Displace, Galvanic Bombardment, Take Inventory, and Thermo-Alchemist all made appearances in a variety of decks, the big winners of the set appear to be the two Emerge creatures It of the Horrid Swarm and Wretched Gryff.

These creatures not only immediately give you great value, but as it turns out their Emerge costs are actually cheap enough that you can get them into play fairly easily, sometimes as early as turn four or five. And provided you are running enough other creatures, it is also somewhat routine to be able to dump them into play back-to-back, quickly making the game revolve around who can keep the greatest number alive the longest. Based on all of that, it should come as no surprise that the 1st place trophy for both SPDC and MPDC was captured by a Simic colored deck built around these two creatures.

Even with all the removal in the format, I expect we'll see plenty of these two creatures for some time to come.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

My GenCon Schedule

So I'm writing this Wednesday night, preparing for my trip to GenCon over the next three days, which takes place right here in Indiana, about 45 minutes from my home. In case you somehow don't know, GenCon is "the original, longest-running, best-attended, gaming convention in the world." Last year's attendance was over 65,000, and they are expecting to easily break that number this year. With so much to see and so much to do, you'd best have a plan to prioritize what's most important. So today I thought I would share mine:

1. Most of my scheduled time are classes through the GenCon Writer's Symposium, which is a series of lectures and workshops given by some of the most successful genre artists in the business. This year's guest of honor is Robin Hobb, but many other notable authors will be there as well. I'm signed up for sixteen different classes (although I probably won't attend them all), which cover such diverse topics as short story markets, how magic affects worldbuilding, how to break characters down, and medieval fantasy cuisine.

2. I will also be attending at least two Q&A sessions: one by guest of honor Robin Hobb, the other by Critical Role.

3. My wife and I will be participating in two RPG sessions: one is a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Adventure's League session, while the other is playtesting Howard Taylor's Planet Mercenary RPG.

4. I am also planning on playing two specific board games: Tyrants of the Underdark, which I signed up for a guaranteed spot, and Mistborn House War, which I hope to demo in the exhibitor's hall.

5. Finally, my wife and I will also be present for 2 hours worth of Writing Excuses, the podcast about writing put on by Brandson Sanderson, Howard Taylor, Dan Wells, and Mary Robinette Kowal.

And of course, in addition to all of that, I plan to play a bunch of other board games, wander the exhibit hall, gawk at all the cosplayers, and generally have as much fun as possible. Maybe I'll even come home with a new game or two.

If you're reading this and will be at GenCon this weekend, let me know in the comments below. I'd love to meet you!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Displace in Eldritch Moon

I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that this little card has the potential to be one of the more powerful Commons in Eldritch Moon. It's a near reprint of Ghostly Flicker, which back in the day enabled some sick combos, including the ability to endlessly recur it with Archaeomancer and some other permanent with an advantageous 'enters the battlefield' effect. But even without such a combination, this card has the potential to be quite strong, allowing you to sidestep removal, escape from negative Auras, or just get double mileage out of any ability that activates upon summoning.

So just how many creatures are there in the format that have advantageous 'enters the battlefield' effects? Turns out, there's plenty - 81, to be exact. Looking to recur Auras? Try Auramancer or  Ironclad Slayer. Want to amass a bunch of tokens? Try Eyeless Watcher. Wanna get even more value out of your Allies? Now you can! Return multiple creatures from the Graveyard? Midnight Scavengers is the man for the job. Almost any strategy you're playing can be enhanced by successfully casting this card.

And while you can't actually pull off the same combo with it as you could with Archaeomancer, you can still use a 'turned face up' Monastery Loremaster to return Displace to your hand, allowing you to get even more value out of it.

However, it will be interesting to see if the Sultai Control deck which was so dominant last season will transform to make the best use out of Displace, since on the surface it doesn't have very many creatures that have a powerful ability when they enter the battlefield. Sure, you can draw another card off Elvish Visionary or another Land off of Pilgrim's Eye, but neither of those are particularly impressive. On the other hand, squeezing an additional Exploit off of Vulturous Aven seems quite strong, assuming you have the sacrifice outlet to support it.

In any case, there should be a great deal of strong combinations you can pull off with Displace, and I can't wait to see what some of our more innovative deckbuilders come up with!