I was fortunate enough to be able to make the midnight pre-release of the latest MTG set, Dragons of Tarkir, on Friday of last week. Its the first time I’ve played competitive MTG in a very long time. Its one of the games that I really enjoy both the theory and execution of, especially in its Limited Formats. I also play cube,  commander and Tiny Leaders, but Limited is definitely my favorite by a strong margin.

This set is fairly interesting, as its the end of a time travel storyline. In the first set, the Khans of Tarkir, we were in a wold that was void of dragons, having been killed out thousands of years ago. The world was ruled by three-color tribes and their Khans.The second set is Fate Reforged, and is set thousands of years earlier, prior to the dragons being destroyed. The main characters prevent the dragons from dying. The Third set, Dragons of Tarkir, is one in which the dragons now rules in two color pairs, their broods and progeny commanding the tribes.

It was a pretty basic storyline that everyone guessed as soon as the main character (Sarkahn Vol) and the plot concept (time travel) were announced. While I really liked Khans, I couldn’t get really riled up for Fate Reforged, but I was stoked for dragons, once I knew what they were going to do. This set had just piles of them, and I wanted in.

The Pre-release has been the same format since I’ve been  re-introduced to the game. You ally yourself with some faction or another, you get a faction-pack, chock full of cards for your colors or factions in order to enable playing your chosen faction, and then your other packs are split between whatever sets your playing. For Dragons, that meant 1 Fate reforged and 4 Dragons of Tarkir packs.

I had no idea what I was doing going in, outside from reading a single article from a friend. Red Green had traditionally been my favorite color pair, so I jumped in with them. I pulled a fair number of solid cards, with a significant quantity of creatures that I didn’t feel handicapped. This has a lot to do with me not going with blue this time, as I feel that I tend to undervalue their creatures. They aren’t big and bruisy, and they aren’t cheap, so I don’t get the instant thrill I do from the red and green creatures. I built a deck that was moderatly fast, topping out at 7 CMC and containing two big bomb dragons: Foe-Razer Regent and Destructor Dragon. I felt there was little need to splash in for the other dragon I pulled, Enduring Scalelord, as he needed +1/+1 counters, and I just wasn’t going to have any other than the Foe-Razer. I had some good black and white rares, but not enough to support them, I felt.

Rares:
Kolaghan’s Command
Dragonlord’s Prerogative
Mastery of the Unseen
Citadel Siege
Silumgar Assassin (x2)

With the green and red I had, I was able to feel pretty good with the curve of the cards I had. I didn’t have a ton of 1-drops but the 2’s and 3’s were plentiful, with the deck based around 4’s and 5’s. I had a couple 6’s and my one big nasty 7.

The First match I was supposed to have a bye, which is a terrible way to start your first MTG tournament in 3 months. Instead, one of the players dropped, and I was able to get in an actual match. I was paired up with a guy running B/R. This was an insane match. The first one I got ahead early but wasn’t really able to push my luck, he had just enough guys on board that I couldn’t push through his deathtouch dude without giving up board presence. Instead, the game stalled and stalled until I was finally able to grind him down and pull those last few life points off.

The second game went fairly similar, though he got the advantage early on and was able to punch through the early damage before we both stabilized the boards. His king of the game was his Rakshasa Gravecaller, was was fatter than anything I had at the time, and brought along buddies. Able to pop enough of my creatures to get his guys through, we moved on to game three.

Surprise, we grind to a halt here again. I manage to get a ton of damage through early on, before he can once again drop the Gravelord and start a terrifying cycle of card draw, pulling back his Palace Familar, and sacrificing it to his Vulturous Aven. Eventually, he’s sitting at 7, and I am at 19 when time is called, and our five turns just aren’t enough to decide the game. I put down a pair of creatures, but I still coudn’t hit the tipping point to win the game. I start the tournament 0-0-1.

Next up I face off against a very cheerfull fellow who was also playing G/R, and who seemed pretty knowledgeable about the game overall. Pleasant to play against, he had built a very similar deck to me. Big fattys dropped all throughout the match. This is where I learned that a 5/1, while hexproof, isn’t very good for attacking. He’s amazing for defending and stabilizing a board, as his ability to trade up is just.. phenomenal. His deck was bulit around Tormenting voice, which he seemed to have three of, and included at least two Dragon Fodders. These games Dash really showed its strength, with my Goblin Heelcutter and Sprinting Warbrute turning game one end over end, and his Zurgo Bellstriker making his name known on game 2. Once again, I took over game one, out fattying him and putting him on the back foot. He stabilized after killing my goblin heelcutter, but I was lucky enough to get back to back dragons on the board, forcing him to take 10 through the air each turn. Its hard to come back from that.

Game 2 he just ran through me, as my hand and cards refused to cooperate. Early Zurgo along with taking some of my creatures with Loose Calm enabled him to just drub me for game 2.

Game three once again hit time as we smashed our faces into each other once again. Thankfully, I was able to once again find both of my dragons, and on turn 2 of overtime, take him out through the air.

The last match of the night was against a 1-1 player who was playing Blue-White, and had a fairly aggravating set of cards: Battle Mastery, Glaring Aegis, and Graceblade Artisan. These cards were dropped over and over again with the likes of Pacifism and Encased in Ice. The first game I was able to eek through with a win once again on the back of Ainok Survivalist blowing up his enchantments, and the Dragon-Scarred Bear being able to Regenerate. I am extremely thankful that he wasn’t able to give the Artisan flying. I dropped the Foe-Razer and was able just to go over the top, something I am not really used to in green.

The second game I was just completely unable to answer his 7/10 doublestrike artisan, and he was able to just run roughshod over the game. Thankfully, that lead to the second game not going to time, as I was able to once again pull a double-dragon on him and punch through the air for the victory. ending up going 2-0-1 over the night, a very respectable showing, I do say, for not playing in 3 months.

I nabbed two packs, one for each of my victorious matches, and took home a ton of cards. All in all, a good day was had. I look forward to the next midnight prerelease!

Now, to go play some dragon age!

I recently was introduced to a new and completely insane format of MTG this weekend, and I think I may have fallen in love.

Tiny Leaders is a format of MTG that seeks to mimic the Commander feel and gameplay while also enabling competitive, one on one gameplay.  As someone who has very little time to play commander, yet still loves the format, I completely applaud this venture.

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Since I last talked about the cube back in September, my brother and I have been hard at work trying to improve it. It has been an extremely enlightening experience into the world of both game development and MTG set design.

Due to the way my brothers cube is built, it exudes much more of a limited set draft flavor than it otherwise would if it was constructed in the standard method of a singleton set. The interactions of the conspiracies with multiple copies of a card have really defined the way the draft is played, and its been a main focus of the cube since the start. I was extremely interested in how building a cube worked, and was thrilled when he wanted my input here and there. It is always going to be his cube, but I was glad to be of help wherever I could.

After our first few drafts, including a Saturday where my brother and I tried out a number of two player draft formats, it became clear that there were some problems with the cube. There were some cards that were consistently being left behind in favor of others, and there were cards that were completely dominating the set.

My brother had built the cube around some pretty solid archetypes, but even that wasn’t enough to topple a set of very good decks that were dominating the format:  Allies and  Graveyard Goodstuff. Both of those decks were nasty to play against because red had a ton of burn and white had awesome value in addition to the fantastic tribal and on the other side black had some really good graveyard manipulation and some big, giant, value fatties in green.

In addition to the two really good decks, the rest of the set seemed to develop into stalemates. early game would see one or two people break get some early damage in with aggro creatures, but after that it devolved into a massive wall of creatures set to lay into each other, but with few ways to break the deadlock, and most of them were in the two strong decks to begin with. had both Typhoid Rats and Deadly Recluse. This would lead to people avoiding going after the player because the trades were unfavorable, giving the deck time to pull out nasty big dudes and pull away. In contrast, had enough cheap, solid dudes that with its allies bonus and its body count it could eventually overwhelm an opponent. This was (is) further buffered by the Ondu Cleric, which, if played right, could net tons of life. Vigilance, which white has in abundance, is also extremely good when it comes to creature showdowns, as it allows you to have both offense and defense.

We could have tried to tone down the power of the two big powerhouses, but my brother felt it was a better path to go down increasing the synergy and power of the other decks, and I agreed heartily. I love crazy, insane, absurd games. There also was a decision to focus on building themes among the cube, archetypes that would be fairly obvious, build around type of decks.

Thankfully, Mark Rosewater is a very lucid, clear and explanatory MTG designer and has put out tons of fantastic articles on design, development and color concept. These principles gave us a starting point to kinda kick off from.

One of the things that he explained was the concept of “as fan” which is the amount of cards with certain features that will, on average, appear in a pack. its a simple formula that is based on the quantity of type of theme and rarity of that theme within a set. The article is here if you need/want more information, its very interesting to me.

We looked at a number of different themes, but quickly settled on enemy color pairs. This was a fairly easy choice because it allowed us to keep both of the powerful decks and gave us only three themes to build from the ground up.

We wanted fun, powerful cards that allowed us to have the same type of insanity that both Allies and Graveyard pulled off, but also fit the flavor of the card colors. Being an Izzet fan, I gravitated immediately to . From here it gets a little sketchy because we tried a multitude of different concepts. Suspend, Flashback and Slivers made brief appearances but were eventually rejected for a fun, simple and very Izzet theme: Spells Matter. In the mix with the good, solid spells that were offered in the spectrum, we added creatures like Jeskai Windscout, Goblin Electromancer and Guttersnipe. Not only were you going to be able to play awesome limited spells like Lightning Bolt, Think Twice and Assault Strobe, but you were going to get rewarded for it.

False Orders

While Strange, I think this card is great. Can’t wait to play it.

While we rejected Slivers for Izzet, I really liked the concept in . It really felt like the type of synergistic, evolving, growing beast that would be represented by the Simic colors. The original problem that I’d posed with the slivers was that they have inherently low toughness. Both colors supporsed some fantastic slivers, but they were easy to kill and never would be able to break through the wall of creatures the other side would definitely be building up. Don’t get me wrong, Red has some Slivers that are just massive, but only on the power side. Green, though, was the Sliver beef machine, and I argued that it better fit the design. Thus, we tackled the Sliver deck. In addition to the slivers in the primary green and blue colors, there were also going to be Slivers of other colors, and even a 5 color sliver hiding in there for good measure. This did mean that Slivers were going to be highly prolific, but it felt right, and I couldn’t argue with it. As that guy who loved playing M14 slivers, I just had to back the concept. The big problem that we are facing now is that the blue slivers just seem like too much. They have some fantastic abilities and are game changers, but are they going to blow out the games, we don’t know. Its definitely a place for playtesting.

Dude....

Dude….

Finally, we come to , the colors we struggled with for the longest time and simply ignored. While the other two color combinations took a ton of time to has out what cards were desired, what direction the theme should go, and what cards should be at what rarity, Orzhov took the longest so simply come up with a theme. It would have been easy to try and use extort or outlast, but we really wanted to come up with something that was a slightly different take on the standard bent of the color pair. What my brother ended up striking on was an enchantment matters theme, which allowed for us to branch out in a number of different ways, much like spells mattering. Interestingly, it also allowed us to seep tendrils of overlap into as well, with cards like Nighthowler and Sadistic Glee. Constellation looked like it would be a natural fit, but there were only a pair of cards that looked good at the end of the day, and they easily slid into the cube: Underworld Coinsmith and Grim Guardian. One thing I really wanted to press into the mold here that my brother had come up with was the prevention of the 2 for 1 in the vast majority of cases. Cards like Necromancer’s Magemark were high on my list to posit for consideration.

Vigilance!

Vigilance!

Now, with all the color pairs we were considering up and built, all we had to do was re-vamp the cube and get playing. Last night was the first time we were able to sit down and start card swapping, and we even got a pair of rounds in. 2 player drafting is a little strange, but we’ve started to get used to it. Each draft felt different, and we each won a round. He took the cake with a mean stuff deck, and I took the round with a 5 color Worldknit

What was different this time around was that we felt that we were concerned about the cards the other person was getting, and that every choice felt valid. Instead of just getting what you wanted and passing whatever else you didn’t like, it was a massive undertaking to pass up some of those cards.

I will say, I am looking forward to getting more games in with this cube and testing it out. It feels shockingly fun.

 

If you feel like giving it a go, draft it on Cubetutor and leave me any suggestions about the setup, execution and design. I don’t promise to heed them, but I will read them!

 

Last week, Corvus Belli worked together with Beasts of War to provide a sneak peak at the Infinity N3 rules that are on their way. I was able to gather up a few of them , but Friday proved to be the lions share of rules, going over Close Combat, Hacking and Weapons and Ammo, along with a two part battle report using a pile of the new rules. I spent last week talking about Infinity itself, and today, prompted by my experiences over the last few years, I want to ramble for a bit on the subject of edition changes within games.

It feels like, back when I was playing games as a younger man, that they never changed unless I wanted them too. Board games rarely changed, and D&D, at the time, was fairly stable. The first real change that I’d encountered was in MTG. While the sets pushed forward and added new and interesting events and cards, there was’t really a philosophical design change. The story followed the same characters, the same locations and felt almost eternal. With the end of The Weatherlight Saga and the departure from Dominaria, I felt betrayed, I felt lost. I didn’t want any part of this new game that had forced itself into the world that I had created for it. Now, with a changed world, new characters, and an inevitable change in philosophy upcoming, I snapped. I played the game at friends houses fairly regularly for a little bit, but the love had died off. I sold almost all my cards, keeping just a few here and there, and left the game.

during and after high school, I was also playing pen and pencil RPG’s, most notably D&D. My experience in MTG Still colored my opinions, and the change from 2nd to 3rd edition was one we did not embrace readily. It wasn’t until our group was introduced to the new edition by a friend who loved it deeply that we even gave it a shot, right before 3.5 came out. Again, we were convinced that the game we’d come to enjoy and love was being replaced with this foreign object that has the name and face of the game we still played, but the soul of it had changed, and the body had morphed into something wholly unrecognizable.

Shortly after my break with MTG, I was introduced to Warhammer 40K, a game that filled a similar void, that allowed me to nerd out with my friends and flexed my brain meat in methods that didn’t really get exercised with board games. I felt that I was making tactical and strategic decisions about the game on a scale that I’d not been able to with games like D&D. I spent and unknown amount of money and time on Warhammer. I poured many hours of creativity, thought and artistry into the hobby, eventually even getting a job at the local store and suckering in masses of people. Then, My first edition change with the game came, and man it was a doozy. I’d heard of the long ago days of Rogue Trader, and how it was a vastly different game and again the legends of the fabled Second Edition of the game, with complex and strange rules interactions. Now, Living in the age of Third edition, I was experiencing a toned down version of the game, streamlined to a basic, no frills game that allowed me to simply play. I’d built armies using all sorts of obscure and insane lists. Now, with the coming of fourth edition, I experienced something I’d never known before. Obsolescence. The army I had grown to love and enjoy playing the most, with which I had put tons of time and labor into converting and collecting, had been discontinued. This army was so specific I could never even pretend it was something different. I, as a player, had been tossed aside. I played the Fourth edition for a short time before being fired for Poisonous Thinking. Between being fired and having a favorite army discontinued, I’d quit Games Workshop games completely.

While I was playing these two games, I was also playing pen and pencil RPG’s, most notably D&D. My experience in MTG Still colored my opinions, and the change from 2nd to 3rd edition was one we did not embrace readily. It wasn’t until our group was introduced to the new edition by a friend who loved it deeply that we even gave it a shot, right before 3.5 came out.

 

While I was working at Games Workshop, I was introduced to this amazing miniatures game with a very different style of play than the one I was selling. A number of us all got into it at once. The game was over-the-top crazy! It has robots and undead and this new theme called Steampunk, with tokens and gadgets and all sorts of effects all over the field of play. The experience was as different from any wargame I’d played before or sense.  I’d fallen in love with a game in its first edition.

I hadn’t quite learned. I thought that FAQ’s and Errata would be enough to stem the tide of a new edition forever. I never thought there would be a day when the game would need to be looked at in such glaringly harsh light that it would need to be upended, rewritten, and brought back into line with what the creators and designers of the game really wanted. Inevitably, though, it happened. This time, though, was different from all the others. This time, there was an open, public beta test that gave us insight into how and why the changes were coming. This was the first I had heard of such things happening, and dove in deeply, submitting feedback and trying to balance a game myself.

This was a turning point in my understanding of how and why games go through changes. What had once been assumed to be an ever stable landscape of games, founded on a bedrock of impenetrable rules and infallible game designers was now show to be what it was. These games I played were created by gamers like myself and my friends, who had a great idea and decided to run with it. They would play-test it and enjoy it and hone it, but inevitably, mistakes would be made, loopholes would be left open, and strategies would be missed. Game design, especially now, is a quick turn around affair, with internal testing and outside playtesters doing their damnedest to try and iron out all the kinks and make a spectacular game.

But, as more and more gamers get a hold of a product, these seemingly small portions of the game that were missed become magnified and extrapolated. It is especially obvious in the United States, where the culture of taking any edge to win is so ingrained that we don’t even find it problematic. In general, Americans enjoy pushing the boundaries to win and enjoy pushing themselves to discover new and unintended loopholes and kinks that they can exploit to their benefit. This comes not just from our culture, it is almost who we are as gamers, brought up on video games and sports, where anything that isn’t explicitly called out is fair game. To take that a step further we were even encouraged to find that way around that lead us to victory. Built into Super Mario Brothers are the warp pipes that let us cheat out whole levels!

Many times, it is this wide exposure and popularity that leads to a streamlining and changing of a rules system. To some, this is the worst of the worst, and evidence that the game designers are pandering to the masses by making the game more palatable, more understandable, and easier to sell. While this sometimes may be true, I would instead counter with the fact that it is under this new weight of players that the game must be rebalanced. A player base is a much greater testing ground than anyone could possibly hope to achieve prior to release, and many times this player base will find and exploit a system in the rules that allows for victory at a much lower cost than one is used to. This is countered by a tactic or seldom used loophole, and the rabbit hole continues. After years of these cycles, the game is often at a point that no one could have ever intended when they launched the game or wrote the rules, and the change of edition is a come back home moment.

The big problem with players is that they have very little of that frame of reference, and even less of a problem with the problems in a game. Between a lack of perspective into game design and Edition Fatigue starting to lay thick, many people rile against the changes in edition not even as a necessary evil, but as a betrayal of trusts.

These changes never get easier, but these companies will never stop making them. In the last 5 years, I’ve seen D&D, Warmachine, Infinity, Malifaux, and Descent each change editions and rulebooks. Each release I have looked at with enjoyment, trepidation, excitement and anticipation. These events are going to happen, and if you think your playing in the final edition of a game, I envy your ability to look at the here and now without looking towards the future. Each of these games changed, sometimes in significant ways, from the edition that preceded them. Some, Like Malifaux, Warmachine, and the Most recent D&D, have changed for the better, adding and subtracting complexity and rules where needed. Descent and Infinity are, currently, mixed bags, with Descent going to far, and maybe infinity not going far enough.

I’ve found its best not to look at the game you love, the one you currently play, with rose colored glasses proclaiming it to be the best ever, but once an edition change is announced, take a critical look at the game your playing and see how it varies from what seems to be the goal of the game in the first book, and how it contrasts with its image from the outside. Take your time and try to get inside the head of the developers. Remember, they don’t want any model, unit, or rule to be a stinker. They want every option to be good, competitive, and worth considering. Every bad model they make is simply another model that they have to pay development, design and production to make that will very likely never, ever sell.

Well, perhaps until a new edition comes out. Then some of those scrap models will have life breathed into it once again, as I very much hope some of the Haqq models are this year.

 

 

 

A while back, I mentioned that my brother was making a MTG: Conspiracy cube.  A cube, for those like me who barely know any MTG parlance, is a pre-selected batch of singleton cards that  the owner of the cube has selected to create the draft style that they enjoy. Most cubes are power cubes: ones that ratchet up the speed and power of the game to 11, combining staples from all the constructed formats and turning them into a super-powerful Frankenstein of a draft. Another popular cube is the pauper cube, using only the best commons in order to create a very different type of powerful experience, though again they only have a single copy of any given card. These cubes enable people to draft wherever they happen to be with whoever they happen to have around, and have those people experience what the cubes owner loves most about draft.

To that effect, recently MTG came out with Conspiracy, their summer set that is generally about fun and noncompetitive games for us casual players. Feeding off of last years highly successful Modern Masters, a power-draft oriented set that brought a lot of out of print cards back, this years set was all about draft. For the first time, they included cards that interacted directly with the draft itself. These cards create some great affects that make drafting extremely interesting. Some of the

The cards range in effect from the Cogwork Librarian which allows you to trade a pick in your current pack, by picking him, for a pick in a future pack, where you return him to the draft. There are also cards like the Æther Searcher and Lurking Automaton that not when you picked them during the draft to make the best of their abilities. There is also my personal favorite, though its one that is hard to get correct, which allows you to trade all your future picks this pack for all the cards left in a given pack.

They also came out with a completely new card type, the Conspiracy. This card is colorless, manaless and essentially not part of the game at all. It sits to the side of the game, in the Command Zone, where they lurk to wreak havoc on your opponents and their plans. The Conspiracies are great fun to draft because they are cards of pure hope and strategy. If you get enough of the same ones to stack up, you can really turn a draft on its head. I managed to pull Brago’s Favor, Immediate Action and Muzzio’s Preparations all on the humble Highland Berserker.

All of this enables each draft and each game to be different. cheap, weak cards can become powerful, and slow powerful cards can become cheap, and every iteration in between. Its was a very cool concept that I was going to be unable to participate in.

Thankfully, my brother wanted to build a cube of Conspiracy cards and bring the joy of the Conspiracy draft to others! This was fantastic news to me, and when asked for help, I did everything I could to assist. It probably amounted to nothing, because I don’t know many cards, but it was fun to talk about broad spectrum theories. One of the things that was going to differentiate this from most cubes was that this was not going to be singleton. This cube, due to the nature of many of the conspiracy cards, would need to have multiples of a number of cards just to get the desired flow of the draft.

It ended up being a ton of fun, as I’ve now drafted it four times, and each time felt like a success. The first time through felt a little complex,but the second time felt really smooth. I drafted it more for archetype, too, testing out whether each color pair feels unique. The deck I played was extremely aggressive and topped out at 5 cmc. It was the kind of deck I really liked, but I sabotaged it on my own by including cards that slowed down my aggression to try and temp. The second draft was a allies deck and man that thing shot out of the gate. I was able to build up a massive life total of something along the lines of 53 life and was able just to outlast almost everyone, including casting Rout at an opportune time to be able to capitalize and move into the endgame.

This Alternate draft experience has been extremely enjoyable, and its one I’d want to repeat as often as possible, and I think that the capabilities of the cube-like format is really awesome and worth exploring, including leading it towards my favorite type of MTG to play: Flavor-based.

I am a sucker for a good, fun theme, and the Ravnica theme is just fantastic. I love the flavor that it gives each pair of colors and the thought process that is used for each one in order to try and win, and I love building themed decks during draft.

I’ve thought about trying to make a Cubnica before, but I didn’t know how successful it could be. With the Conspiricube being a whole pot full of fun, I think that one based on the flavor and style of the Ravnican plane would just be a blast. It is going to be extremely hard, though, as there are more than 700 cards out there that are watermarked as guild cards, and that doesn’t count lands and artifacts. Most cubes hit 360 cards (the total of a cubes interior angles is 360, hence Cube) for that 8 player experience. 700 is just extremely large and could really dilute the flavor of the guilds.

Instead, I am going to have to focus on how to make the important cards in the guilds, the Guild Leaders, Champions, and Runners, work within the context of the draft. I also want each of the individual decks that were viable in both Return to Ravnica Block and the Original Ravnica Block to have their place to shine.

I am currently torn between wanting to have a non-singleton deck that is much more watered down but consistent or a singleton, traditional cube that is more flavorful but less consistent and able to carry each guild. I know I want to use the guild cycles, and that I want to include guildless, good cards, but I don’t really even know where to start. While I can’t put a ton of time into building it right now, the time will come soon where I’ll be talking about the epic failures of my first cube and how to make it better!

 

 

These last few weeks since NOVA have been killer. I’ve not had the motivation, opportunity or drive to really get into a whole lot of gaming, and I think its creating an even further slump that continues to drive downward.

What I have done, I’ve not really been doing in detail, so I’m just going to rattle over some high-view stuff on what I’ve been up to, and what I am considering doing.

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This weekend was the Khans of Tarkir Prerelease event, and I grabbed my playmat, dice and sleeves and made my way out to take part.

I’d really missed the midnight pre-releases from the Return to Ravnica block, and I was finally able to attend one again, which I plan on making a habit. I don’t get to play to often, and the prerelease events are fun and flavorful. I’m lucky to have started playing MTG again when I did, because starting with Return to Ravnica, they changed the format and made it much more engaging and dynamic, with choices of colors, Guilds and Factions making the games more immersive and building the excitement for the set to come.

As I had mentioned before, This set is all about the wedges of the game: Three color combinations involving a single color and its two enemy colors. During the Shards block, they had allied combinations: Grixis , Naya , Jund, Bant and Esper. These have now come to mean simply more than the shards from the set, and to encompass any deck of the same colors. We will see if Jeskai , Abzan , Sultai , Mardu ,  and Temur can take the place of the current naming conventions of decks of their shared colors.

I knew I was going to be playing Jeskai at the Two Headed Giant with my brother, so for the midnight pre-release I decided on Mardu. Sealed, which is what the pre-release games are, tends to be fairly slow, with each deck at the mercy of its pool and only able to get off to a quick start if the stars align correctly. Mardu, but the virtue of its colors, is an exceedingly fast deck. With the piles of 2 and 3 drop creatures I expected to get, I was going to be able to get into the guts of an opponent quick and beat them before they could drop their big bad monsters. I was really banking on a few or more creatures with the signature raid ability, though, when I built my deck. My seeded pack, one in which they give you some cards that are guaranteed to be in your colors to ensure you can build a reasonable deck with the colors you chose, contained an Utter End, four raid creatures and a raid spell.

The rest of the packs contained 0, as I had somehow managed not to get a single raid card in my 5 other packs. I did get a pretty solid deck in my colors though, with 7 removal and a stack of 17 swift creatures. I was extremely happy with my deck, though there was a singe card causing me contention. Ponyback Riders. My deck wanted to be fast, to be aggressive, and to come in low. Ponyback Riders was none of that. At a hard cost of 6, it was way above the curve of the casting costs I wanted. Its morph cost was  5, but it was still high for what I felt I needed in the deck. There was going to be so very few times I would be able to cast this spell, even if it did give me 3 1/1 tokens to go along with it. But, it is the Clans signature card. At common, its given a premium spot in limited, and making due with the commons you have is the difference between wins and losses. I hemmed and hawed about what to cut if I was to put it in. Eventually, I just gave in and tossed the damn thing in my deck, repercussions be damned. I did to a ton of smack talk about the card, though.

It proved me wrong.

The format was a three round tournament, where if you won in any given round, you won a booster pack. Fairly simple, exceedingly fun, and limited time. Good all around. I went into my first match, hoping to get a quick win and a pack. My opponent was playing Abzan, and he ground it out as well as Abzan could be expected to, but as the game was starting to stabalize towards him, I managed to pull out a Ponyback Riders, tip the balance in my favor, and put pressure on him. I managed to get him to 8 life, and attack with just a pair of creatures totaling three damage, he feels safe, takes the damage, hoping to push through the next turn for the kill, but I hit him with an Arrow Storm. Man, I love Lava Axe Effects. The second game went much better for me, with his deck short on mana and I managed to get out a pile of creatures quickly. It was a short brutal set, but I took home the win, and the pack.

The second player was someone I’d played before, maybe once or twice, and was a real good sport. He’d decided to take Jeskai, and I felt it was going to be one of those games where we dueled it out a bit, each of us built for aggro. It turns out, though, that he’d built a slower, more controlling Jeskai deck. Once again, the tables were slowly turning on me as he built up an army of dudes to combat mine, and I was left with a sinking board state. Once again, Ponyback riders come to my rescue, allowing me to turn the tide again and get him for game one. Game two I was able to get in and underneath him again, taking my second win for the night!

The last guy I played that night was also a Mardu player, having the same philosophy that if he went underneath the other players, he’d be able to get a fair number of wins in. Turns out, he was right. His deck, both times, had more removal and more creatures show up, and I was just thrumpped. Man, is BloodSoaked Champion good.

My brother also won two games with his Temur deck, and we both headed out of there with a pair of packs. Its so late, I don’t even remember what I pulled!

With that, I made my way home to get some rest, hang out with my family, and get back to business the next day for the main event. Two Headed Giant.

The Brothers Grimm made an appearance again, and if you’d forgotten, let me remind you: We were terrible last time. This time, though, we were prepared. We chose our styles and our guilds, and were ready to roll. We’d talked about both playing super-fast decks that would be able to take advantage of the slow buildup of the opponents again. I took Jeskai, because I love the color combinations, and my brother chose Mardu for the speed and violence. I was really, really looking to get some cool prowess combinations going off, but it just wasn’t to be, as between our two boxes: My seeded pack and the 10 extra packs we’d opened, we managed to pull just 7 Prowess cards. Man, I was bitter, especially because it felt that my brother got a huge pile of Raid cards. Still, I had enough cards to make a good Jeskai deck, and make it really aggressive. I had 9 removal and 10 creatures, most of which flew, and my brother had some 20 creatures, all of which were cheap and effective.

What I’d have given just for one…

Our first matchup was against, it seemed to me, another pair of brothers, though much younger. What is crucial here is that Two Headed Giant is not a best of three format, its a single game, with everything hinging on how that one game is able to progress. We’d learned last time and made sure that we had enough mana, and mulliganed anything that seemed even remotely fishy. There was no reason to keep a bad hand with only one game. I won’t say we beat the other team easily, but it wasn’t a particular challenge, either. Both decks they made were in the traditional “battlecruiser” style that just stalled the first couple turns until they had enough mana out to start firing off their big spells and fatty bombs. Thankfully, between the spells, flyers, and raid creatures were were able to set up a slew of really advantageous positions and make sure they stayed on the backfoot. We went up 1-0

Our second matchup brought us against a pair of players that knew what they were doing, and though I kept us in the game, my brother managed to flood out with lands. We put up a valiant fight, but with only one player, it was extremely hard to overcome their decks.

The third match was against a person I’d played a few times before, and his teammate, who I’d seen around but never played against. While they were fine to play against, they bickered like an old married couple over every action! I admit, my brother and I would confer about certain actions, but each game (except this one) took around half the time in the round. They’d mentioned that they had gone to time every single game so far, and ours was no different. Add to that, at least in my brain, that we made a single, terrible mistake in the game that sealed our fate, and it expanded the magnitude. we had 29 life, and they had 9. We were at a significant advantage, and we knew it. We had a large pile of creatures on the table, and though theirs were larger, we could get through with a few. I had 2 flyers, and they had one big one, who we’d let through the turn before. We could, we calculated, get some 7 points of damage through and really put our feet on their necks. We attacked with everything we had.

Into the arms of a firestorm. Three spells and the blocks we expected later, and our team was gutted. what little there was left was just sitting there, waiting to be crushed under the bootheels of the army that was coming across the table in but a single turn. at that point we could have scooped, but we figured we’d play it out to the end, and man it was aggravating. It happens, we took our second loss of the night, dropping to 1-2 and got ready to face our last opponents, hoping to at least break even.

Sadly, we knew the people playing, and they were exhausted. They both were running on lack of sleep, and we were able to overrun them extremely quickly both from awesome draws on our side and tiredness on theirs. We even had enough time to swap decks between games, and beat them with their own decks!

I enjoyed both experiences, and unsurprisingly the Mardu deck felt more powerful. It was fast, it was unrelenting, and it was able to slide in under most opponents guards. The colors work really well together as an aggressive style of play, building on blacks power for a price, reds headlong abandon, and whites simple weenies. They all three, as well, have very powerful removal, often the best in the game, and this was no exception. Arrow Storm, Throttle, Kill Shot and Murderous Cut all live side by side in the same deck. it was a pretty heady rush.

However, the games with my brother were much more fun that the games I ran earlier that day. Besides having someone to talk to and confer with, the Prowess deck was just much more fun to play. I love combat, combat tricks, flashy spells and cool creatures, and Jeskai allowed me to do that all day. I love to keep people guessing when they play me, and though I am undeniably aggressive, I do so much love to cast those interesting spells that are blowouts once every other time. I’m a risk taker, and I don’t like durdling around with my decks, especially draft and sealed. It was great to be playing a deck that really exemplified my style, and I think I am going to have to look at adding a little more white to my decks

Honestly, Prerelease sealed deck is one of my favorite versions of any game to play. Its right up there with Draft and Warmachine,easily above Infinity and Malifaux. If you get a chance, if you enjoyed MTG once before or haven’t played it in a long time give the next prerelease a shot! Its a time travel block, and I’ll be there, playing along!

 

Its been an extremely long time since I played magic, and longer than that since I drafted. Thankfully, this seems poised to change here soon, with the onset of Khans of Tarkir, the newest MTG set to be release in just a few weeks. It seems to be that October is the best time for me to be able to sit down and think about drafting and MTG in general.

one of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Magic is how the colors interact. From the very first set I picked up Blue and Red were enemies and White and Green were allies. It was an ingrained portion of the game, and I really don’t remember trying to force a pair of colors to work together if they were not allies. Fast forward to the first time I came back to Magic from hiatus with the invasion block, and this color-alliance was the focus of the game. Invasion and Planeshift worked within the standard confines and dealt in friendly pairs, but when Apocolypse dropped, it turned my world on its head. Cards like Suffocating Blast and Mystic Snake, Flowstone Charger and Consume strength encouraged building decks that I’d never conceived of before, and it stoked my love of enemy color pairs that has flourished since then. Getting back into the game for Return to Ravnica was icing on that cake, with enemy and ally pairs being put together to form the guilds I had missed the first time around.

What had also happened was that MTG design had gotten crisper and more focused. That which I had originally decried as a loss of storyline – the moving on from the Weatherlight Saga – had creates a greater canvas with which to create original and cool stories, like Ravnica. I had also missed the extremely insane Shards block, where the allied color “shards” were prominently featured: Shards being the allied colors of a central color, ie Black-Blue-Red is a shard centering on black. It had left open the design space, simply by existing, of “enemy shards” or wedges as they came to be known. Instead of the multicolor focus being on the allies of a given color, they would instead be on the enemy colors. This has given us Khans of Tarkir, a set that focuses on five tribes fighting against each other for the control of an entire world.

The Inevitable Azban

Abzan

The Brilliant Jaskai

Jeskai

The Inevitable Sultai

Sultai

The Relentless Mardu

Mardu

The Powerful Temur

Temur

Each of these clans evokes an aspect of the long dead dragons, killed by the clans a thousand years ago, as seen on their symbols: Endurance (scale), cunning (eye), ruthlessness (claw), speed (wings) and savagery (claw).

What I find most interesting about these color sets is that the design decided not to center each of the clans thematically around the off color, but around whatever seemed right, the first color in the clans list. This seems to be to get them around having to really design some strange cards, but it throws me off at first.

In addition to the interaction of the colors through the wedges, the set also has six mechanics, which is a hefty amount. One, morph, is carried across all the clans and is meant to, in a manner, portray the aspect of the dragons. This interesting, returning mechanic allows some very cool attacking and blocking games that will be extremely fun to use on the table.

 I originally really dug the Raid Mechanic, as it encourages an extremely aggressive play style to be well rewarded, and I am nothing if not aggressive. It also comes in my favorite three color wedge: Red-White-Black. It has the best removal, the swiftest of creatures and the sacrifice for power theme of Black, so whats not to love!

But Somewhere in Wizards deep, deep dungeons, someone knew that I was about to abandon my beloved Izzet(Blue-Red) so they made Prowess, and man, do I really like it. I’m not a typical drafter, because I enjoy playing spells and doing neat things instead of just turning creatures sideways and winning. Don’t get me wrong, its a fantastic way to win, but I enjoy casting spells way, way more. I’ll genenraly draft 10 spells and 14 creatures instead of the 18+ creatures many decks enjoy. Izzets Overload and the preponderance of Scry and Heroic in both blue and red in Theros really fueled that play style, and I feel that Prowess can do the same in Khans. Thankfully, it also opens me up to Temur and their giant, huge creatures, but they just aren’t the same feeling as casting crazy spells to pump my whole boat and send them flying at my enemy. I’d ideally like to pull something like Dragon Style Twins or Howl of the Horde out of red, Sage of the Inward Eye and Narset could just flat out enable bonkers size attacks. I just see a ton of cool ways to enable, boost and take a Jeskai deck to the top.

Hopefully, my brother and I will be able to play in the Two Headed Giant tournament out here and do decently well, unlike last time. while its always good fun to get to game with my brother its always going to be more fun if we crush the enemy beneath our boot heals. The Preview week is still carrying on over at DailyMTG, so there are plenty more cards to see yet before the Pre-release the weekend of the 19-21st.

Sometimes, its good to reflect on ones self and to look in a mirror and find out who you really are.

For me, it was a lesson I learned in high school, in a philosophy class where I was exposed to ideas and thoughts that had really never been shown to me. I took each part of me, my thought processes and my preconceptions and examined them. Those I embraced, I put back on the stack, rebuilding me. Those I disliked were tossed away like so many cracked and deformed bricks.

What I found out, through that ruthless process, was that I truly enjoyed competition. It doesn’t always have to be with others, sometimes I compete with myself, but often times it is. This is exponentially more so when you get to games. It gets bad when I am trying to best my own time while running, or make sure that I get home faster than I did yesterday, but with games it elevates itself to an entirely new level.

I love games because they are a competition, though there are three different versions of competition within games.

The first is the simplest, and is the competition of one person against either a single or multiple opponents. This is when you are trying to be the master of the game, and be better than your opponents at the game. I love these games because it lets me think in direct puzzle mode, engaging the parts of my brain that are trying to figure out whats the best path to victory against a similarly clever opponent. These games tend to give me the greatest pleasure because the opponent is a living, thinking, intelligent person like myself who is also out to get me down. Warmachine really hits this off for me, with Tabletop games filling in as well. Deckbuilding games and some board games come in here, but they also hit the second concept as well.

The second is harder to get good at, and also harder to get right. This is player against the designer. Many video games play this way to me – Its why I always play on hard. In this version of competition, you’re pitting your skills, knowledge and intelligence against a person who has play tested this game a hundred-hundred times and though that they came up with everything. They know every way to win, and every path to victory you’ll take and most often they know before you do. I enjoy video games in this manner because I can pass judgement on the game designer without knowing or ever encountering him or her based on their game. It is much harder to viciously drub a pleasant opponent and then call them terrible at the game when they are sitting across from you smiling and drinking a beer. This is also the way I view most deck building games. The creators of that type of game were definitely trying to balance the game around something, and I really take a perverse joy in trying to beat the balance to death within the rules of the game while also beating my opponents.

The final version is pretty much the most fun I can have playing games, and that’s cooperative. This version the competition is against the game itself. To me, this is significantly different from a developer competition because you have to work as a team to beat the game with your other players. You have to combine the good sportsman of the first game with the ruthlessness of the second. You have no rules arbiter or referee, and you surely don’t have someone who wants to interpret the rules any way other than for the benefit of the players, so its got to be a hard, hard game in order to be any fun, and hard games are the most fun.

With all that said, I know that while I am competitive, I still let the narrative and casual gamer out alongside the artistic one.  In MTG this means that while I want them to hum and work with brutal precision, I have an insane fixation on strange themes with my decks. This means that I don’t really like mercs in my faction armies in Warmachine, and it means that I love reading the fluff wording during board games. Knowing that I am competitive also helps me suppress it when I need to, though it is hard. It means that I can step back and try to just flow with the game as opposed to forcing, especially in multiplayer games, my style of games on the rest of my friends.

Its important to know where you stand on the spectrum of gamers, and why you stand there. It helps you decide what games you like, and why. It also helps you interact with the other players of a game in a manner that makes both of you feel comfortable, because you can just say what you are without having the opponent get through the vast majority of a game before figuring it out.

Finally, and most importantly, it lets you know how you’ll get the most fun out of a game that you own or play. For me, I have to look at the models and the rules. If the rules aren’t good enough to be competitive, its going to be a little hard for me to embrace, but if they seem clean and clear cut, I’ll be all over it.

So take a few minutes and determine for yourself what type of gamer you are and embrace it. Get all in it. Become it. But control it and turn it off when you interact with gamers who are different from you. Its always better to play games with others than never play a game again.

I’ve been playing a ton of Warmachine lately, but its not all I’ve been doing. Its been too hard to keep up with all my hobbies, but I still get in what I can, when I can. I’ve left a bunch of quick events unwritten, and I’d figure I’d try to put them in quick, Wednesday, digest I’m going to call Bitesize Nerd. I’m going to try to keep them under 500 words, just for brevitys sake and for my sanity. I am having trouble finding the time talking about everything I want to as it is – the last thing I need is to spend another few hours a week trying to write more long articles.

So, First off! Conspiracy!

The summer set of magic is generally one that is lighthearted and fun, something that is not tournament legal yet still has an impact on the players through reprints or some other expansion of the non-standard game. They do a similar thing in the fall, and I’ve really enjoyed them, in theory. A few weeks ago I was able to experience this event as I think it was always intended to be.

Last years Modern Masters showed that people love to draft one off and strange sets designed exactly for that purpose. This year, Conspiracy turned that concept on its head, bringing a set that messed with the drafting mechanic itself. My brother bought a box and quickly drafted it, but then he started constructing a cube out of the drafted box. A cube is a self made set of cards that is meant to be quickly drafted and played, and maintained by its owner. Cubes started out as a way to get the most powerful, absurd combos and cards into play that normally would not see play in a draft, and has blossomed and exploded since then.

The Conspiracube had input from friends, and we all kind of built the card list together. Its a non-standard cube in that it is not singleton, with only one of each card, but is a standard booster style draft with commons, uncommons and rares. When we finally sat down to draft, we had what we thought would be a pretty awesome set, and we weren’t to far off.

The first draft I ended up going with a Red – Blue burn/tempo deck that just wasn’t able to get off. All I needed was 5 mana, and I’d be able to drop a 6/6 Lurking Automaton, backed up by Secret Summoning. Alas, my deck only provided me 4 mana, and I was unable to contest with a pile of Ally tokens and my brothers giant wall of cards.

The second time, I was able to draft a pretty solid blue – something deck, but the other color never got on a roll. I ended up dropping 4  Marchesa’s Emissary on the board with three Muzzio’s Preparations, but was unable to get past that state and one of the guys came over to top to end me, first out of the game!

Whats really cool about Conspiracy, especially in cube, is that unlike normal drafts, it works extremely well when playing with just about any number of players. They mentioned in one of their articles that it works best with 4-5 players per game, which means that a drafting group of 3,4,5,6 and 8 all work extremely well. 7 is strange, but that’s OK – don’t have 6 other friends.

After the first test run of the draft, there was a ton of conversation and dissection of the cube into what was good, bad and terrible. I’;m really excited to play again with the new version we’ve all thrown in to create, and its likely to end up one of the most fun games, let alone cubes I ever play, and man has it got me excited to build my own Ravnica Cube.

Follow me on Twitter, @seethingginger, for even more nerdings and happening!