Friday, December 30, 2016

Mythos of the Maori

First off, I'm just going to concede that at least for the rest of the holiday season (including next week), my blog posts are going to be somewhat sporadic. I will do my best to post twice a week, but my schedule is all out of sorts, and my time in front of computer is somewhat limited. Enough said.

Currently, I am in the midst of writing a homebrew adventure for the Dungeons & Dragons campaign I am running. For this adventure, the players will be journeying to an isolated tropical island where they must unravel a mysterious threat against an ancient power that protects and rules over the islanders. I have been researching precolonial Hawaii specifically and Polynesian culture in general as inspiration for this adventure.

In the process of searching online for resources, I came across a very cool 'rules-light' roleplaying game system called Mythos of the Maori that is currently available for free from Mythopoetic Games. It started out as a non-fiction text on the mythology and folklore of the Polynesian people prior to their contact with Europe based on the author's childhood and early adulthood spent in New Zealand. Eventually though he deemed it unpublishable, but returned to it later and used it for the basis of a unique roleplaying game. The rules document itself is quite interesting, as most chapters the author intentionally blurs the distinctions between the rules and the setting, making it necessary for the reader to work through the entire book before having a good understanding of the system and how it all connects together. While he admits that this is both ludicrous and unfair to his readers, it is by design to deeply engage a potential GM in the setting.

For my adventure, I will certainly be referencing the third chapter extensively as a helpful resource for the language, cultural beliefs, folklore, and religious practices of the islands' inhabitants. As the characters will also need to eventually gain status among the islanders, the rules in the fourth and fifth chapters will also be quite helpful.

Anyway, this is a great resource if you're at all interested in ancient Polynesian culture. Hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

December Standard Pauper Snapshot

Better late than never right? Here, at last, is my much delayed metagame snapshot for the month of December in Standard Pauper. With the holiday season, this month only featured three weeks of events, and with our typical end of season slump, the final SPDC of the year failed to reach the minimum number of players to actually count. This left me with five events to consider as I put together this snapshot, each of which included a Top 4 playoff.

The finalists within this events accounted for 12 distinct archetypes, touching all five colors but centered around the Sultai colors of Blue,  Black, and Green. Interestingly enough though, all of these archetypes can really be grouped into four different categories: spell-based Control decks, "Big" creature decks (typically with a sacrifice sub-theme), Orzhov Aura-recursion decks, and Vehicle decks (which tended to be Red and/or Black, sometimes splashing Blue or White). Of special note is that December also included a full ban on Self-Assembler, leaving players free to innovate without having to worry about that card's dominance in the format. Let's take a closer look at each of these four categories.

1. Coming into the month, Izzet Control was the archetype to beat, but its popularity waned as the month progressed. In fact, this deck never finished better than second place (in SPDC 35.08 and 09), but a Grixis variation did take the trophy in SPDC 35.08, piloted by MisterMojoRising. Of course, it's arguable whether it even belongs in this same category, since it primarily relied upon card advantage and Black removal spells, rather than direct damage, as its primary win condition.

2. Sultai Control has been the other major archetype in the format for quite some time, primarily built around the Emerge sacrifice abilities of It of the Horrid Swarm and Wretched Gryff combined with the raw power of Pulse of Murasa. While most early builds were actually straight Simic, the ability to augment the deck with Black removal tended to make these decks much more successful in the long run. Some builds also were more sacrifice focused, primarily utilizing Altar's Reap, Bloodbriar, and/or Bone Splinters to good effect. Moromete captured the only 1st place trophy for this category in SPDC 35.09 with a somewhat different variation that played Byway Courier and Moldgraf Scavenger as additional ways of taking advantage of the Emerge theme of this archetype.

Interestingly enough, in this same event are two other decks that I also included in this category. These decks weren't built around the archetype-defining Emerge creatures at all, but instead went for a more aggressive stance with efficient beaters like Brazen Wolves, Kessig Dire Swine, and Riparian Tiger, or included creatures that had their own sacrifice synergies like Blisterpod, Gavony Unhallowed, and Voracious Null. Yet another build swapped White for Blue, giving the deck access to Ninth Bridge Patrol, Thraben Inspector, and Unruly Mob. However, none of these variations made more than a single appearance in the playoffs.

3. Perhaps the most successful archetype in the month of December was Orzhov Auras, which captured the trophy in MPDC 35.08 and 35.10, with two other Top 4 finishes. JackSlagel's build from 35.08 is pretty typical, utilizing Boon of Emrakul, Choking Restraints, and Dead Weight as removal spells that can be recurred with Ironclad Slayer while also getting additional use out of Prophetic Prism and Vessel of Ephemera with Aviary Mechanic.

4. Finally, our last category is all about Renegade Freighter and Sky Skiff, the Common Vehicles from Kaladesh that rely upon other creatures to activate them. As I mentioned above, there was a lot of variation on which colors supported this deck best, ranging from the single-colored MonoBlack all the way to the three color Mardu. But it was Bubalix's Rakdos build that took the only trophy for this category in MPDC 35.09, combining them with aggressive creatures like Makindi Sliderunner and Thriving Grubs and setting up a lethal combo of either Built to Smash or Rush of Adrenaline into Uncaged Fury for a surprise alpha strike.

Let me extend a special thanks to everyone who participated in these events in the month of December and especially all those who made their voice heard in regards to Self-Assembler. My hope is that the metagame continues to be relatively healthy and enjoyable for everyone as we move closer to the release of Aether Revolt. And if you've never joined us for one of our Standard Pauper events, I encourage you to browse over to for all the information and then come join us on Sunday at 12:00pm EST / 5:00pm GMT in the #SPDC channel or on Monday at 2:00pm EST / 7:00pm GMT in the #MPDC channel. Hope to see you then!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Ban of Self-Assembler

Back at the beginning of the month, the hosts of SPDC and MPDC (including myself), made the decision to test out banning Self-Assembler from Standard Pauper. While we never agreed upon a preset time frame, we certainly understood that it would take more than just a single tournament to gauge how this change impacted the metagame and the state of our events.

Since Self-Assembler was banned, the response has been positive. I personally have had several players thank me for this decision, and not a single player has expressed to me any desire to see the card return to our events. While I will wait until Friday to examine in depth how the metagame has shifted during that time, my initial conclusions is that the format doesn’t actually look that much different than it did prior to the banning. Additionally, banning the card doesn’t seem to have actually positively impacted the number of players participating in our events; in fact, just this past week SPDC didn’t even have the minimum number of players to actually hold an official event. Of course, this decline in attendance isn’t uncommon during this long stretch around the holidays. I suspect both the long interval between card releases and the general busyness of the holiday schedule both contribute to this decline.

But with all that said, I contend the banning of Self-Assembler was a good decision by the community. As such, I fully support leaving the card banned at least through the end of this season, leading up to the release of Aether Revolt. With that set released, it would probably make sense to allow the card back into the format and see how it interacts with the new cards in the pool.

According to our Season Schedule, we are now officially on our Holiday Break. Our events will resume on the week of January 8th, with two more events leading up to the season ending WORLDS event on January 23rd. And for all three of these events, Self-Assembler will be banned.

Monday, December 19, 2016

A Sanderson Christmas Gift

So last week was pretty miserable. I was sick, the weather was awful, and I neglected just about everything in my life, including this blog. Sorry about that. So to make up for it, I'll have three blog posts this week - today, Wednesday, and Friday. Enjoy!

As most you are probably aware by now, I am a huge fan of Brandon Sanderson. In fact, I'm one of those uncommon people who loved his work before he ever got chosen to finish off Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series. If you've never heard of him before, that's fine. What you need to know is he is a very successful fantasy author and a huge fan of Magic the Gathering.

In his recent blog post about what happened this year and what projects are upcoming, he mentioned at the end that many of his readers ask for some tangible way to show their appreciation. Brandon had a really cool suggestion (and of course it's Magic related), so I thought I would share it with all of you:

So, I’ve given it some thought. I maintain that I really do not need you to send me anything. But if you must, I figure you could do this. Dig out or buy a foil Magic card from the Kaladesh set or its sequel coming out in January. Try to pick one that strikes you, or matches you in some way.

I’m building a foil cube of that set—and though even the common foils look great, they only cost around $.25. (Don’t feel you have to give me rares or mythics—I’ll actually need five of each common, three of each uncommon, and fifty of each basic land—so commons and lands are totally needed.) Like I said, try to pick one that matches you somehow, not one that is famous, as this is better if they’re randomized so I get some of each.

Take the card, and sign or write your name on the back side (the side that says “Magic: the Gathering”) with a felt-tip pen or Sharpie, so you don’t dent the front. Tell me where you’re from, write me a message, or tell me something about yourself. Whatever you feel like saying.

Then, stick the card between two pieces of cardboard (or slip it in a card case) and send it to me to me at:

Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC
PO Box 698
American Fork, UT 84003

I’ll put them all together, protect them in protective sleeves, and then take them to conventions so we can play games with them—and everyone can glance at the backs of the cards and see what you wrote. That will make a pretty cool keepsake for the year for me, but won’t (hopefully) cost you more than a buck or two for the card and the postage.

What a cool opportunity to not only show your appreciation for his work, but also be immortalized as part of his own personal Magic cube. I'll definitely be looking through Kaladesh and Aether Revolt to find the perfect card (a Common, of course!) to send to him as thanks for the hundreds of hours I've spent engrossed in his books. And if you've never read of his stuff, I strongly encourage you to check it out!

See you next time.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Warcry in Eternal

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, by now you probably know about my enthusiasm for Eternal, a relatively new digital CCG by Direwolf Digital. Although I was a major Hearthstone fan for a while, I find that Eternal has all of the same elements that attracted me to that game, but does them better. And by better, I suppose I mean more like Magic.

So what makes Eternal special? Zachary Barash, of Hipsters of the Coast (whom I have quoted in this blog before), wrote an article this week highlighting on the key mechanics of Eternal called Warcry. Warcry is a relatively simple mechanic. Whenever a unit with Warcry attacks, the next unit or weapon in your deck gets +X / +X, where X is equal to the unit’s Warcry number. Unlike Magic, these changes persist even when the card is no longer in play, effectively permanently changing that card until the end of the game. Additionally, the top unit or weapon can get multiple Warcry triggers over the course of play, accumulating until you draw it.

Barash identifies four reasons why this is such a good mechanic:
  1. It’s simple. Warcry is easily understood. You attack, your next unit gets bigger. Since most units only have Warcry 1, each attack with that unit makes the next one have one additional power and health.
  2. It encourages attacking. All other things being equal, you want to be attacking. This mechanic gives new players the incentive to do just that. It rewards them for doing what they should be doing anyway, effectively teaching good playing habits.
  3. It provides advantage over the course of a game. Warcry is a great equalizer for aggressive strategies. Your units keep getting larger over the course of a game, making them relevant longer. And at times, this advantage is significant enough to even make it worth throwing away a unit on an ill-advised attack, simply because it will give a corresponding advantage later.
  4. It creates great moments. Often the fun in card games is the big, flashy moments. Warcry helps create those. There is something quite compelling about swinging in with a massive unit for a very cheap cost created by multiple Warcry triggers. It allows you to suddenly win out of nowhere, or win a game you were almost certainly going to lose.

Eternal is free on Steam right now. And while it’s still in closed beta, it’s quite polished, and well worth checking out.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Follow-Up on Self Assembler Ban

So as I announced last week, this week Self-Assembler was banned in both of our Standard Pauper tournaments. At least at MPDC, I had several players thank me for the decision and strongly urged me to continue the ban for next week. Now, it's important to remind my readers that this was not a decision to ban the card entirely. Instead, this was a fact-finding expedition, an experiment if you will, to see how the metagame would shift without having Self-Assembler appearing in every deck. So, what did the metagame look like this week?

By and large, it didn't really seem that different, at least accordingly to my quick examination. Blue, Black, and Green continue to be the dominant colors, split closely among Dimir, Simic, and Sultai. Izzet also made an appearance, in both a typical build and one splashing Black. There was also an Orzhov Artifact build and a Golgari build as well. I did see a few new cards among the decklists, including Dukhara Scavenger and Kessig Dire Swine, but overall I didn't really see anything that felt like it would have been bad had Self-Assembler still been a possibility.

On the other hand, it's clear to me that, if nothing else, Self-Assembler has been having a psychological effect on our player base, making them feel like the format is stale or revolves around who can resolve the first Assembler the soonest in a game. If removing this card from the metagame, even if temporarily, makes people feel more encouraged or excited to play, then that alone is a pretty good reason to exclude it.

However, I would love to see some conclusive evidence that the format is able to grow and evolve without the presence of Self-Assembler. For now, my recommendation would be to continue to ban Self-Assembler, at least for the next two weeks, after which we go on our Holiday Break. That will give us more time to get a better sense of what's going on in the card's absence.

So how did this week feel differently to you? I'd love to hear about it below. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

What To Do With MTGO Traders Gift Certificates

As most of you are aware, prizes for Monday Pauper Deck Challenge are sponsored by MTGO Traders, a fantastic online store that sells cards and tickets for Magic Online. MTGO Traders has been a long time supporter of the format and is the premiere online seller for Magic Online. They have amazing customer service, competitive prices, and a great staff. Definitely use them for all your Magic Online needs!

After you place in the Top 4 in one of our events, you will receive an initial Email from me as host confirming that your information has been submitted to MTGO Traders. Within 48 hours (and often much faster), you will receive a second Email, this one containing a gift certificate code which can be redeemed just like cash on their site.

But you might be asking, what should I spend my gift certificates on? After all, since most cards in the format can be purchased for a couple of pennies, with even the chase cards being less than a quarter in almost every case, it won't take long at all for you to own a playset of every card in the Standard Pauper format and still have money to spend. So what can you do?
  1. Bling out your collection. Take your favorite archetype and then purchase foil copies of every card in the decklist. While this isn't for everyone, many players take great satisfaction in owning a premium copy of their favorite cards or deck.
  2. Invest in another casual format. While you would have to take home the trophy every week for our prizes to support playing most competitive Constructed formats, classic Pauper is much less expensive and thus well within reach. By dropping a few dollars here and there, it wouldn't take long at all to collect many of the staples of that format. Mormir also used to be a popular choice, but I am unaware if it is still officially supported.
  3. Fund a Limited habit.  Rather than investing in cards themselves, you can instead purchase credit on MTGO Trader's family of automated bots. While you can't directly buy tickets, you can purchase booster packs and then use those to play your favorite Limited formats. This can be a great way to reduce the cost of regularly drafting to be much more manageable.
  4. Convert them to cash. If you amass a significant amount of gift certificates, you can also actually convert them to cash, although the process is somewhat involved. First, once again you need to purchase credit on MTGO Traders' bots. Second, spend that credit on valuable singles. Third, sell those singles back for tickets. And finally, sell the tickets back to MTGO Traders for Paypal credit by messaging their online seller. While you do lose a percentage from these transactions, the fact that you can actually cash out your winnings is a pretty good deal.
So what do you spend your MTGO Traders gift certificates on? Let me know in the comments below. See you next time.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Weekly Metagame Updates Might Be Too Much...

So for about the last five months, I've been dedicated my Thursday blog post to a weekly update of the Standard Pauper metagame, analyzing the data from our weekly Player Run Events to create a snapshot of what's going on. But as I sat down tonight to write today's update, I realized that the whole process feel like it's become pretty stale.

Why I am feeling this way? Possibly, this is simply because this is one of the longer stretches between the release of new sets due to the holiday season. Similarly, while there are still some interesting innovations going on, for the most part the metagame has become pretty stable, with similar decks making the playoffs each week. I suppose it's even related to the whole debacle with Self-Assembler, which most people agree is having a negative effect on the metagame as a whole. But for whatever reason, I think the time to write these weekly updates may be at an end.

Now that's not to say I won't be writing future metagame updates. But I think that once a week is probably too often. So how often would be ideal? Honestly, I'm not sure. If you have an opinion on the matter, I'd love to hear it! For the moment, I would think a monthly snapshot would probably be sufficient.

Also, I will probably take a break as well from my weekly Standard Pauper Deck Tech videos over on PureMTGO, at least until after the holidays. It takes a lot of time and energy to create those, and I don't want to burn myself out keeping up with the need to publish one every week. Probably twice a month would be a more healthy frequency. But here again, if you have some thoughts on that, I'd enjoy hearing them. Let me know in the comments below.

Thanks for bearing with this somewhat introspective and rambling post today.