Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Magic Monday #5 (Explicit Warning)

Despite having the flu, 2 hours sleep the night before and feeling the effects of coming down from one brand of painkillers and starting on another I made it to my stores pre release.

Even though I felt like shit I still preferred the new/old/traditional dose of no seeded packs. I built a black/red deck I am hesitant to call aggro as it had an 8 drop in it. The corner stones were 3 Nettle Drones a 3/1 for 3 that can ping your opponent and untaps when you play a colourless spell. In a couple of games my opponents had mana problems and I started hitting them quite hard but most games were really me grinding them down and winning through having superior removal. In one game I played all 3 Nettle Drones which represented a lot of damage, sadly though one was promptly killed.
My semi comatose state managed 3-1 and getting away with swearing at an opponent. One of the regulars had been getting progressively more salty at missing out on the expensive FNM promo's and the losing streak that comes with that. If I think back he always was a bit of a grump when things weren't going his way but that was forgotten during the back end of Khans through to the middle of Dragon's of Tarkir because he did quite well.
He had become unpleasant to play with as soon as he was losing but not over the line and I had not gotten involved previously. Another player had brought it up it but we were on our way to eat and the conversation never really progressed

On Sunday he was upset at having mana problems even while sweeping my board leaving me with no non land permanents. I went to read the card that just swept my board and he got snappy with me that my creatures are dead. That's when I told him to "Calm the fuck down". I just wanted to read the card and he continued to protest but much less aggressively "don't you trust me" and "you have this card in your deck too". I didn't have the card in hand though so it's not like I was allowed to start rifling through my library. It was round one of my first and only pre release, being able to know what is going on is a core part of the game. If I'm not allowed to even look at my opponents cards something is seriously wrong.
And no, I don't exactly trust the guy who killed me by activating Rogues Passage on Gaea's Revenge without even apologising afterwards. I don't think this player is a cheat but he is highly strung and only has one year's experience of competitive Magic with no higher level event experience.
His excuse for his behavior is that no one likes having mana problems and it's really frustrating. Yes, but it happens to all of us and he is the only one that is ruining other peoples fun. I won the deciding game against my round 4 opponent while he sat with 5 plains on board and a hand full of red creatures. Apart from the "I had all these" at the death blow you wouldn't have known.
When I apologised for his bad luck he replied with the Korean equivalent of "shit happens".

I think the new format with colourless bombs that don't punish rare drafting and the viability of the slower mid range to control decks he prefers will  probably suit Mr Salty and his results should improve. If not then a line has been drawn in regards to my tolerance with his behavior. To his credit he seemed to improve from then on and I think Dan stepping in to back me up was a big factor.
I still consider Mr Salt a friend, because one negative is about 50 less negative personality traits than I possess. 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Magic Monday #4 (Warning:Explicit Language)

Pre release is upon us and it seems a lot of people are down on this set. It looks fine to me but once they announced enemy fetchlands were not going to be reprinted my anticipation levels hit zero. Since then the spoiling of new cards can't possibly reduce my excitement for the pre release and it has slowly ticked up.
The limited environment seems hard to gauge as there is so much (perhaps too much) going on and coupled with the death of seeded packs it feels like the mystery is back. Stepping into the great unknown is what used to make pre releases stand out as a special tournament. While the first time you play with cards is great fun, with seeded packs it means there is not a huge difference between your first sealed deck and your last one in a format. You know more about the cards and should hopefully be better at building a deck but that is cancelled out by your packs not being as stacked.

I understand and struggle to disagree with the argument that seeded packs make it easier for new players and pre release is supposed to be about them. There is zero reason to deny the former but the later? Pre releases are probably the best tournaments for new people but there aren't many alternatives and I can't think of any tournaments that are designed just with new players in mind. Pre releases have won the tag as best introductory tournament by default.
I think it's easily the enfranchised players who get the most excited about pre releases. We are the ones checking the spoilers' every day, put the release date in our calendar and debate cards weeks before you can play them. We certainly aren't going to "maybe" go to the pre release depending on the weather.
A strong reason the pre releases are so new player friendly is the enfranchised players are so excited it becomes contagious. We are bursting to talk about it and I knew many people who practically drag friends or partners along in order to get more of those new cards we can't acquire anywhere else yet. We can't wait that 5 or 6 days until release :)

Things like 2 headed giant are good tournaments for new players and they also hopefully make up for the lack of seeded packs if one of the heads is more experienced. So while I hope that new players can still enjoy the event I am glad us oldies and enfranchised players have got something back.

The expeditions have been received a lot better than I thought they would. My initial reaction was "fuck that", I am not opening or ever owning one even though full art lands are the sweetest things since Korean Garlic Bread*. I never opened a planeswalker during the entire run of Magic Origins and have to go all the way back to Innistrad before remembering anything like a decent ratio of playable to bulk from packs I opened.
I didn't understand people who planned to buy more sealed product than they normally did. Even MTG Finance people I respect like Chaz V were talking about buying a case just to try and crack an expedition whereas he normally forgoes buying sealed product. Madness!

To me, huge variance is a turn off because I feel like I am unlucky. It seems I am in the minority amongst Magic players. Even I do enjoy gambling and one thing I have observed amongst the Korean player population is a good percentage of them are massive gamblers. Far more loose packs get opened than can be justified in order to play the "value game". The "value game" is where 2+ (usually 3 or 4) people open packs at the same time and whoever opens the pack with the lowest value pays for both of the packs. It's hash but pretty exciting.

This swathe of negative feelings towards the new set is probably just a correction from unjustified and illogical hype based on the expeditions. It seems a lot of people are still high on the expeditions though but are just taking their wrath out on the rest of the set.
Even if it is less powerful than normal we are losing 4 sets from standard so there are lots of opportunities for BFZ cards to find a home in standard. The headline cards Ob Nixilis, Gideon, Greenwardern, Drana and Ulamog all look the goods to me. Wizards could have thrown Standard a bone and seeded some allies in Magic Origins. Just enough for a tier 2 deck would have generated a lot more hype about each ally reveal. Instead we got most commentators saying "wait and see" and quickly moving on.

If standard really is less powerful it will give my Sphinx's Tutelage/Ulamog reanimator brew/pile a chance to shine at game day**. The first Star City event post release day, the Indianapolis Open is going to be fascinating.

* Involves sugar for those lucky enough to only have eaten regular garlic bread.

** A man can dream, and by the way can anyone lend me some Ulamogs'?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Monday, September 14, 2015

Magic Monday #3

This week rather than draft Magic Origins we had a chaos draft. This was put together at great expense and over a long period of time by Frank Silva with help from Andrew Carle. The draft was free and we only paid for prizes and the store donated an FNM serum Visions for the winner as well.

Opening a pack of Time Spiral first pack gave me a massive nostalgia rush. Time Spiral is my favourite set and I have very fond memories of it. My pack one pick one was between Errant Ephemeron or Greater Gargadon. I was sitting with Dan on my right who has quite aggro leanings when the format is crazy like this so I used that as the tiebreaker to go blue. That really paid off as he did indeed go red as did the player to his right. Blue, Green and Black were open and I went with Blue Green. I would have jumped all over black if I saw any removal first pack but it seemed lacking for the entire draft.
That Ephermeron was pretty much my only turn two play but the deck could still punish slow starts and had ridiculous late game. I had never seen rush of knowledge before in my life, had to read it a couple of times before putting it in my pile. Both times I drew it I cast it to draw seven cards. I also got to do my favourite thing in the world, Spellburst with buyback to win games two and three of my first match.
While there were plenty of sets I had never seen before thanks to Frank going really deep on what packs he included I think I probably had an advantage on most of the draft. It felt great to win the draft, get some packs, have fun and claim a Serum Visions promo for my collection.

Some real world troubles had me feeling sorry for myself and another player has to give up their beloved pet. Franks hard work at putting this together made for a great distraction for both of us. I don't think I showed my appreciation enough.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Magic Monday #2

It was another week of a disappointing 1-2 finish. I drafted a solid Blue Red deck but didn't get any finishers and flooded out a lot. I am pretty comfortable with how i drafted and I was in the right seat for my colours but there were an unusual amount of blue drafters and red is always very popular of late.

I enjoyed the games and received a promo and came second in the roll for the pity pack provided by the store. When rolling my dice fell on the floor so I just let the other guy have the booster. He opened a Nissa of course and my barren streak continues.
I finally opened a Planeswalker from Origins but it was on Duels of the Planeswalkers rather than in real life. It's Jace so that is still pretty cool and it came in the same pack as a Sphinx's Tutelage just to wet the appetite for new deck shenanigans.
I have dumped Elves for now as it just wasn't getting me any higher than rank 25. My new thopter deck has got me up and slightly over rank 30 all the while being a lot of fun.

I really don't see myself getting out of my drafting slump for a couple of weeks. I'm operating on very little sleep each day which hopefully a scheduled change in medication late this month will remedy. Until then I feel like I'm just surviving rather than really living.
This Sunday there will be a chaos draft featuring some really tasty packs, Champions of Kamigawa, Stronghold, Chronicles, Modern Masters etc. In my current state I can't even gather enthusiasm and anticipation for that.

There are new enemy man lands coming in the new set which are cool and would be great additions to my cube if only I already owned the friendly ones. Sigh.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Duels of the Planeswalkers

The latest version of Duels of the Planeswalkers is out for IOS, PC and Xbox. It's free to play and is supposedly the final version. Rather than make a new one each year they plan to update this one with new cards an d game modes. I imagine the card updates are a lot more frequent than anything else given Magic's digital past record.

It's designed for beginners and a lot of the initial game is painfully slow for experienced players but probably a little fast for real beginners. The use of the word "skill" when referring to "skill quests" is a real misnomer. They comprise of quests such as "Trample Skill Quest", your creature has trample, press attack and the A.I. will block and you still win. I literally just had to push attack and that was it. The intricacies of trample are described in a blob of text rather than in game play so I doubt anyone is left much the wiser but it is ok overall.
I know a lot of people tell new players interested in the game to just go and learn by playing Duels of the Planeswalkers but unless they are super keen they will probably need some additional help.

After getting through the initial campaign it gets more interesting for experienced players. There are some preset matches where you play a premade deck up against the A.I. with their decks in a scenario. Some of them are better than others. Nissa taking on Emrakul the third stage of Nissa’s campaign was pretty epic and the last stag of Liliana’s campaign where she fights all 4 demons in a row is very cool as well.

After the campaign you are left with the meat of the game. Playing the A.I. to win coins to purchase more packs of cards or playing a ranked game against other players and trying to climb the ladder while also pocketing coins.

The initial launch of the game didn’t go well with a lot of users experiencing bugs or not even being able to play the game. I myself could not play the game until I had to update Windows, fiddle with my graphics card, flick my screen and throw random items at the wall. Since then I haven’t had any problems but just saying that makes me worry I have jinxed it.
Apart from the archetype quests which often feel like a chore I have been pretty happy with this game and have been playing it a lot more than I thought I would. It’s a weird type of half pauper block constructed and the developers did a good job with the card pool.
I largely play the ladder system and have been enjoying it without spending a cent. It is truly free to play but only if you are patient. I think plenty of people will drop some dollars to play with the cards they want right now and that’s pretty understandable and defensible. I prefer to stay a “freebie” player because I actually enjoy the collection aspect. With moderate play you tend to open about one booster a day, that is only 6 cards so it can feel painfully slow a lot of the time but when you get something you have been wanting or even useful after a week of instantly forgettable cards it’s a great feeling. I have never been so excited to open an Elvish Visionary in paper Magic as I was when I got one last Monday on Duels.
That gotta catch em all aspect is definitely addictive but unlike most forms of Magic this feels like you can realistically do it without spending anything. That said this is only the first set and if the Hearthstone experience is a guide then it will get harder to keep up the larger the card pool gets.

The game has a pretty nice variety of decks and the meta seems in a good place right now. For a long time I hovered around rank 10 before going up to rank 30 with a burst. I now seem to hover around rank 25 and feel I need a couple of tasty unlocks (like a Nissa or Liliana) to give me the edge to go for rank 40 which is the highest in the game. In the initial ranks you will probably face another aggressive deck most of the time as they seem the easiest to put together with the starting card pool and are also the most effective against the A.I.
It gets more varied in the middle where mid range and synergy decks are more abundant and at the top you start to see 3 colour control decks which may or may not try and mill you out with Sphinx’s Tutelage.
Right now it feels like the green based ramp decks are the most popular but not to an overwhelming degree. On my recent losing streak from rank 30 to rank 25 I think I lost against 6 decks that were all very different from each other. Losing to Mage Ring Bullies with Faerie Miscreants one game and then Liliana going ultimate the next

Overall I feel this game does not get the respect it deserves from the more hard core Magic players but it’s a nice diversion and Magic is better for its existence. It certainly isn’t as slick as Hearthstone and requires a lot more patience but I think it’s a keeper.