Thursday, March 24, 2016


I played a few games with Vortex against a couple of decks Noah had and I have come to one conclusion:

This deck isn't fast enough, nor slow enough. That is: It doesn't set up the combo quickly enough, nor does it have enough ways to halt my opponent to get set up so instead it becomes extremely reliant on lucky draws to either a) get that giant monster on board and swinging or b) draw a reset that allows me to get to a).

So I'm going to have to think on this. Fortunately, I'm going to take off tomorrow to help my Dad with an interstate move. So I won't have time for Magic but I will have time to think. I hope to resume posting April 5th. Cheers!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Oath of the Gatewatch Sealed

The success of the Battle for Zendikar events made the choice to do a Oath sealed event easy. Once again, my card pool rep'd two lands as rares: Ruins of Oran-Reif and Prairie Stream. What can I say, I seem to have a knack for getting rares that are useless in limited formats!


The sealed pool was pretty meh; solid enough blue, maybe black, white was out for sure. Green provided lots of mana fixing if I wanted it but not a lot else. Red was weak and I should-

uh oh

So there's that.

If there's one thing I've learned in Sealed, it's that you HAVE to play your bombs. I know Chandra can turn games around without any other help and maybe with the Green mana fixing, I can get a three color deck to work...

The only other rare I had to work with was Guardian of Tazeem and I started off with that card, but cut it because I didn't have enough Islands to make it worthwhile. I probably should've considered Black a bit more at that point but I felt good about what I had, which was this:

Comparative Analysis
Clutch of Currents
Rush of Ice
Thought Harvester
Containment Membrane
Jwar Isle Avenger

Embodiment of Insight
Natural State
2 Stalking Drone
Eyeless Watcher
Ruin in Their Wake
Stalking Drone
Retreat to Kazandu

Chandra, Flamecaller
Kazuul's Toll Collector
Eldrazi Aggressor
Goblin Freerunner
Valakut Predator
Kozilek's Sentinel
Reality Hemorrhage

Pilgrim's Eye
Warping Wail
Ruin Processor
Kozilek's Pathfinder
Hedron Crawler

Ruins of Oran-Reif
6 Forest
4 Island
6 Mountain

Upon reflection, Black should've replaced Blue:
Tar Snare
Unnatural Endurance
Oblivion Strike
Slaughter Drone
Silent Skimmer
Visions of Brutality

Removal, more colorless themed stuff and a solid flyer. Probably would've been a little better off.

My games were often close though and I was 1-1-1 for the evening. In the loss, I made one mistake and had one run of bad luck. In the latter case, I had to mulligan down to five and keep a one land, Hedron Crawler hand in game one. But just in case I thought I was getting good at the game, game three, I failed to use Natural State to take out Matt's Hedron Crawler, which he was using to activate his own Kozilek's Pathfinder multiple times to keep me from blocking.

So I feel mostly OK about this. My opponents also seemed to be fairly happy with their ability to construct a deck and that's a good sign too. Whatever mistakes Wizards may have made with Battle for Zendikar and Oath, their ability to put together a compelling sealed environment is definitely buttressed by my experience.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


After reading this piece by James Fazzolari on why he cheated, I definitely had a few thoughts and not all of them were comfortable.

I saw a similar evaluation of myself in one that he made:
I am clever enough to know how insignificant I am.
That's a difficult thing to swallow. Extending out from that notion, is my own understanding of what I am good at: It is not Magic.

Don't get me wrong: I love to play the game and after nineteen years, I've become fairly adept at it. I've even gotten better as I've been writing this blog: the written catalog of mistakes, the forceful evaluation of decks and card choices have shifted how I build decks and play Magic, all for the best.

Nonetheless, I'm not that good at the game. There is a limit to my intelligence and to my time, so I can only be so prepared, only so smart.

And people like being appreciated for things they feel (or wish) they are good at. I'm no different. Garrison Keillor said (I'm paraphrasing) "Every man likes to feel that he is the best at something." I rarely feel as though I am even good at anything. Best? Never. And it seems like that should matter quite a bit.

That's a difficult thing to carry around the brain.

Now, I have made a decision to try and conduct myself as honorably as possible. Even with that, opponents have held their cards too low and I've seen them. Yes, I said something the first couple times but not every single time; it just becomes easier to look away, sometimes. It may seem penny-ante but I am trying to hold myself to an appropriate standard.

Because I get it. I get the notion that one derives self-worth from being good at a task. It is very, very difficult to believe that you have worth, just because you exist and are being a good person. We place a lot of emphasis on success and with that often comes a sneering at failure and at the people who fail.

So I understood why James cheated, better than I expected.

His conclusion, however, is important: The cost isn't worth the risk.

Because my truth is, your worth does come from that struggle to be a good person. Being a good person is something that takes forever to build, (or rebuild) and only a moment to destroy. When you've had everything built laid waste, life can seem pretty grim.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Swirling Around

I did some goldfishing with Vortex before taking it out on the road.

First, Eternal Witness was replaced with a Worldspine Wurm in an attempt to up my threat density.  

Then I realized that Raven's Crime wasn't doing what I wanted it to. Repeatable discard is really good but I'm only running 22 lands. I need to get to four lands, getting to five is certainly helpful and pitching those lands isn't helpful. Worse, now that I've added Hissing Quagmire, getting rid of lands is an even worse idea.

So, out they went. 4 Duress and 4 Cabal Therapy will have to do. As replacements, I tried to think of a few options, including Liliana Vess. It doesn't seem like a bad idea, since that card does much of what I want (discard, tutoring) and the cost is not out of this world. However, I wanted to keep the mana curve cheap and I discovered that I had two Worldly Tutors in the binder. Worldly Tutor in response to Gamekeeper's triggered ability is a pretty good idea.

With the last two slots, I added in a Swamp, as the evaluation said I needed more black mana, and a Garruk Wildspeaker because I had no Liliana. I'll have to fix that soon! But for now: Garruk fits in reasonably well and I can test Liliana Vess online for now. In the meantime, Garruk can perform some mana ramp, or just produce 3/3s for me to use.

My first test was in a four player chaos game against Matt, Caitlin and stonethorn. This is actually a really, really bad situation for Vortex, because the discard in the deck is not multiplayer-appropriate. That cuts off a portion of my control and the games played out along those lines.

The Pernicious Deed allowed me to play politics in the game, directing attacks away from me under threat of having everything blow up. However, my inability to properly disrupt my opponents coupled with my low threat density meant that I couldn't make a go of it in the two games. I wouldn't be the first player out but I couldn't be the last one standing.

That's OK: I cannot blame the hammer for failing to do the job of a chainsaw. I got some practice in with this deck and that's what matters.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Half a glass of whiskey

Three games of Doomtown on Tuesday...three losses.

Not just losses, though. I got into shootouts where I was crushed. Hand ranks of 10 or 11 that were legal, leaving me zero recourse to respond with cards that might have helped me. This happened multiple times in a row, luck absolutely coming against my favor.

It was something my third round opponent, Gerald, and I laughed about.

"You are getting a sign," he giggled.

"Absolutely. I'm going to go home, have a bit of whiskey, and crawl into bed," I chuckled.

At the same time, there was an innerspeak, howling at me about how goddamn unfair it all is.

That's something that isn't easy to shrug off, sometimes. Especially when you feel unhappy for other reasons. Maybe you haven't slept or eaten enough, maybe you're lonely, maybe you're worse than lonely. Difficult things come up in everybody's life.

For me, it was a rough end to a stupid day. It wasn't a bad day for any notable reason but nothing came together whatsoever. Not work and obviously, not play.

Gerald asked if I wanted to join in another game: I held my hands up in surrender. "Oh, no. I think I've learned my lesson." Everyone chuckled.

There's always a part of me that wants to hold onto these losses. I've learned I can't. I can't hold onto the wins, either; both conditions do something to my brain where it becomes easy to overload and fuck up my thinking processes. I have to let the loss sting for a moment and then square my shoulders and move on. The wins, OK, let's smile a little longer over that but...holding onto a past victory means that getting a future one becomes harder.

There are any number of ways to process this: when I've been involved in Magic tournaments, I've gone for walks between rounds to clear my head. Tuesday, though, there wasn't such a luxury. I kept a good face up, I think but when I went home, I poured myself a half a shot of whiskey and moped at my desk for a little bit. Sometimes, you just gotta. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Haunting Past

The Shadows Over Innistrad previews have started and I'm actually more interested in this set than other Magic sets. I still don't like double-faced cards but hey, at least I know what I'm annoyed at going in!

There is one card I've seen, however, that made me worry.

Pore Over The Pages.

Back in Urza's Block there was a mechanic in Blue that allowed spells to essentially be played for "free" by untapping lands equal to the casting cost of the spell. If the CC of spell was 5, then untap 5 lands, for example. Some of these spells were fair, like Rewind, but others, Frantic Search and Cloud of Faeries, were overpowered. Rare was the sweet spot hit-I'd say Treachery probably comes close but even that card is absolutely brutal. This might have worked out OK, except this was also the block that printed Tolarian Academy.

The lesson-one that Magic has had to repeatedly learn-is that giving free anything is extremely risky to gameplay, and giving free things to Blue is Very Bad, if you're interested in providing players with a metagame that is varied and interesting. Uzra's Block taught us that. So did Mirrodin. And then New Phyrexia. Then Khan's block. You know, in case the lesson didn't stick.

Now, if we had environments where lands didn't ever give people two mana, that might be one thing. But both Modern and Legacy are currently being heavily impacted by the Eldrazi enabler cards; lands that tap for two to give players a huge jumpstart on mana, allowing for heavily lopsided board states early on. There have been combo decks made from the common land cycle in Ravnica block, decks that have resulted in bannings.

I realize that Pore Over The Pages is not the same thing as Frantic Search. There are some very significant differences that I have to take into consideration: POTP only untaps two lands and is sorcery speed. These are not small changes!

But it still provides Blue with the opportunity to filter three cards and then either lay a new threat for up to four mana, or protect the current one with up to four mana, and that is potentially very, very unbalancing.

In Standard, a card like this won't make a significant splash but in every other format? I'd be keeping my eyes on it.

Thursday, March 3, 2016


Let's get back to some sixty card madness. Sure, tonight I'll be playing Doomtown but it'll be thinking of...well, Doomtown. One thing at a time. I tried to streamline the cards in a couple decks and I'm looking forward to seeing how those play out. I'm also a couple expansions short so I'll probably try and pick those up...

But I'm getting distracted. Let's get to some decklistin'!

8 Swamp
4 Verdant Catacombs
7 Forest
3 Treetop Village

4 Pernicious Deed
4 Mirri's Guile

2 Darksteel Colossus
4 Dark Confidant
4 Gamekeeper

1 Eternal Witness
4 Cabal Therapy
4 Raven's Crime
4 Call of the Herd
4 Duress
3 Gaea's Blessing

The basic plan? Play Gamekeeper, sacrifice Gamekeeper, get Darksteel Colossus, win. To help me do that: Mirri's Guile and Dark Confidant as the card drawing engine. Discard and Pernicious Deed to protect the Colossus (and me), Gaea's Blessing in case I need to start over and Call of the Herd and Treetop Village provide some win conditions if for some reason nothing else is going on. Riding a Treetop Village to victory is a long standing tradition, so why not?

I just named this after a Transformer, probably because I wanted a deck that started with the letter V. I'm a little quirky like that.

Possible thoughts: Hissing Quagmire, and more copies of Darksteel Colossus. At the moment, that's all I got, so hopefully when I take this for a spin, some new ideas will pop up.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

100,000 Blood Souls

I came to Bloodborne very, very late. But here I am now, using YouTube to help guide my way. Because here's the dirty truth I've had to admit to myself often: I'm not very good at videogames.

Part of this is merely a function of time: Mine is limited, therefore my ability to explore as many options as I can to success is limited. Part of this is about who I am: I like to work with people on problems. Otherwise, I generally blunt force my way through an issue in a videogame-enough weapons, enough rankings, I'll make it through, right?

Bloodborne doesn't work like that. You either learn or you die. So I've been schooling at YouTube to get better. However, even that doesn't always work, sometimes I just have to grind my lessons into my fingers.

I was exploring a new area, getting some tips from the internet so I wouldn't miss anything and I was doing quite well. I had 100,000 Blood Souls-which is the name for currency in the game-the most I had ever had. I was feeling pretty confident about my progress but I knew I needed to find a checkpoint soon so I could translate my money into levels. In Bloodborne, if you die, you lose all your money and you have one chance to get it back. Miss that chance and it's gone forever.

Long story short: I died. And then I missed that chance. No reboot, no extra saves, no nothing. Everything I earned: gone. Sooooo, shit happens, right?

Right. The question is: Why do I keep going back to this game that is punishing me? Because the punishments are brutal. Yet I shrugged this failure off and started again, no problem.

The answer is twofold and I believe one relies on the other. First, the game feels fair. Mistakes that are made are inevitably the fault of the player-I can almost immediately identify, when I die, where I went wrong. (Where I went wrong is almost always the result of overconfidence).

Second, the design of the game is impeccable. As gloomy and foreboding as the atmosphere in Bloodborne is, they provide opportunities for players to solve problems. The design is there in service to the game, not the other way around. Once that basic design is there, all the additional flourishes that make the world one that looks lived in (or really, died in) become much easier to lego on. I've been able to figure out ways to handle enemies or explore areas on my own working out my own paths that when I read or watch other players' experiences, do not mirror theirs. Sometimes, sure. But not always.

The design of the game is such that it feels fair and it feeling fair all the time means that the design of the game allows it to have such a high bar of difficulty. I don't lose because the game tricked me, I lose because I didn't execute properly.

However, that's why I keep playing. The reason it works is because of the design of the game. Bloodborne's environment is one of Victorian Gothic inside a Chuthlu shell. The gameplay, however, could be dropped into any visual environment and still work. When I speak of the design here I'm talking about the mechanical structures that give people the tools to work in whatever world they are dropped in to as players.

Now, there are some real problems with Bloodborne, specifically the lack of an instruction manual. I know, there's a digital copy but navigating that via the PS4 interface is a massive pain in the ass that nobody should have to put up with just to play a game.

So, what does this have to do with Magic, really?

The same thing it might have to do with anything: Excellent fundamental mechanics show.

When Wizards produces really interesting mechanics, those allow players to explore the game and do things people aren't expecting.

When they adhere too closely to archetypes for draft, players are presented with solved problems and solved problems are boring. When they fail to provide interesting cards for Constructed formats at rarities that everyone can afford, they are channeling players into a mindset that says that A) Rares are always the best thing and B) you need to pay to play, which solves problems and solved problems are boring.

That isn't to say that Magic design is easy. Designing anything is difficult and when that design succeeds, most people don't even notice. "The Draft environment for Battle for Zendikar is great!" but why? That goes unnoticed. "Modern Constructed with Oath of the Gatewatch is screwed!" and why? Because there wasn't enough testing of the design of those cards with Modern in mind.

Now, WotC has repeatedly said that their focus is on having a dynamic Standard environment (which hasn't happened with the new block), so it's a little unfair to blame them for cards that perform much better when allowed to access a bigger card pool.

Except. This is possibly the biggest board game in the world. There are game stores that exist because of Magic and subsist on that game and nothing else. Design and testing of their product-the foundation upon which the game exists-should be the thing they are always, always doing.

Yet we get sets like Modern Masters 2, which was an awful draft environment. Or we get sets like Battle for Zendikar, which did nothing to change the Standard constructed environment.

Maybe the shift to two set blocks took more of a toll than the public realized? Perhaps things will stabilize out and we'll see some improved design with the new Innistrad block or the next Conspiracy set.

And, I'll probably talk about Bloodborne at least once more.