Tuesday, October 31, 2017

On Making A Better Place To Play

I liked this article I read about trying to make Magic a more welcoming place for people who aren't cis dudes.

I'm pretty fortunate that when I go to venues to play Magic-both Red Castle and Guardian Games, but even the Tonic lounge, which isn't even a gaming store-people are generally really good about making it a good place for anyone to play a game.

As always, though: Don't read the comments. That shit is straight fuckery.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Binder Check

Playing with the Gempalm Incinerators wasn't bad. It wasn't great either, though: while I had a game where they did kill a creature for me against Fuz, in the end I was underwhelmed.

That said, Bonecrusher did perform well against him: two of our three matches I was able to establish a strong board presence and overwhelm him. Against his B/W deck, his removal was able to remove enough of my creatures, coupled with the lifegain and evasion his creatures had, to beat me.

OK: so it's time to get some more Goblin Chieftains, right? Why should I continue to mess around with some of this removal when I can just give everything +1/+1 and beat face? I started looking around-Chieftains cost around $5 which isn't backbreaking but it I'd rather spend the money on beer. Still, my local store had one so I picked it up, one more to go.

"Hey, I should check my binder for another Goblin King," I thought. "Not quite the same but a lot of decks run Mountains or Mountain-like lands: maybe I can take advantage of the unblockability to make Bonecrusher stronger?

And there in the binder was two more Chieftains. I didn't need to buy one at all. Sigh. There goes a beer.

However, there's no point in living in the alternative timeline where I saved $5 on a Goblin Chieftain. Let's get going with the one where I stomp some faces with three Chieftains and two Kings in the deck!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Balanced Formats and Draw-Go

This article on the mothership appeared, about creating a balanced standard format.

The reactions, specifically here, in the Legacy sub of Reddit, were rather dismissive.

The problem is twofold:

First, they're looking at the problem wrong-that is, as players who love Legacy and think that Legacy Magic is best Magic, instead of Standard Magic as a format WotC needs to keep healthy.

Second, they're living off of the benefits of this philosophy-and the diversity to Legacy that this philosophy brings, mostly without having to deal with a time when this wasn't the case. These days, decks that want to create an overwhelming advantage of cards in Legacy actually have to compete with 'fair' strategies that involve playing good creatures that can help nullify your spells. That's good for the format!

However, the real issue is one that I think everyone overlooks. And it isn't the Go part of Draw-Go.

See, for me the issue isn't that control decks have to keep mana up on the opponent's turn in order to counter spells. That part is problematic, sure-WotC says that having your spell countered 'feels bad' and they want to reduce those-

Massive aside

Feeling bad isn't the only, or even, I think, the most important reason that Wizards doesn't want Magic to be about stack interactions, especially countermagic ones. It's useful for telling the audience an easily grokable reason for the way they want to structure the game but it's far from the only good reason. Other reasons, in my opinion, include:

1) Game complexity. If you've played long enough you've inevitably come up against the "massive stack" where a whole series of spells and triggers get set up and now players have to resolve them.

In the case of stack interactions-or a game with far more focus on stack interactions, this is a pretty big siphon on your brainpower.

A game where permanents are a greater focus means that they can reduce complexity because not everything is happening at once in a single stack and also:

2) Reducing of feel bad moments. Since permanents often don't end the game on the spot this gives players a chance to find a solution to them which feels better, as though you have more of a chance to come back. It also:

3) Increases the design possibilities. WotC doesn't do a lot with the stack and I think it's in no small part because there isn't a lot of design space to be mined there. There's split second and...what other mechanics really can work in that area? Whereas permanents allow for enter the battlefield and death triggers, just to start. But it also means that games generally won't devolve down to sheer speed of card draw, which takes me out of this aside because that's where we get to what really needs to be talked about:

Drawing cards at instant speed.

As I was saying, the Go part of the Draw-Go decks isn't the problem. The problem is the drawing cards at instant speed aspect, a feature that was mostly in blue with a little bit of bleed into black.

It created a huge imbalance in the game. Anyone who didn't want to play the countermagic wars was outmatched by those who did and it severely hampered what decks could be built. The blue player could wait to see if there were spells that needed countering and if there weren't, they could draw cards on their opponent's turn. Or if there were, they could draw cards on their opponent's turn and see if they could turn up countermagic if needed, and in the meantime, sculpt their main turns any way they wanted, with opponents being dead in the water in terms of interactivity.

Midrange decks didn't really exist: it was combo and control with goblins and stompy occasionally peeking from the cave before scuttling back.

Which meant that Wizards could do a few things, and ended up doing a little bit of the first two and a whoooole lot of the last:

Make countermagic cost more, nerf instant speed card draw, and improve creatures to make them a viable path to victory.

It's the instant speed card draw that does it. In the Modern era of Magic cards, we have zero cards that unconditionally allow you to draw more than one card for one mana at instant speed. Dream Salvage comes closest but no one plays that because it requires so much setup.

So instead, you get the next strongest spell, Sphinx's Revelation which people played because the lifegain aspect of the card allowed control players to actually use the cards they drew by giving them time. But, and this part is important: because SR cost 4 or more to use, players couldn't draw cards and use countermagic on the same turn! They had to pick and that decision is far more interesting for players and better for the game.

Similarly, Legacy is a better environment when players have to make decisions about how they will interact. That means color balancing and a real eye on combo decks that are overly consistent.

I'm not saying that Legacy should do something as ridiculous as ban Brainstorm but I don't think an honest conversation about what makes for a healthy format can be had unless we consider the impact of cheap card draw and I just don't see enough people mention this as being an issue.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Supplemental Hits

The initial changes looked good when I played against Noah. I wasn't winning games but I felt like I had a fighting chance most of the time. With the addition of a couple Chained to the Rocks to help the removal suite, I thought I was getting closer, or maybe even had it locked in, just bad beats. A different draw here or there and I could win.

That changed when I played Matt and couldn't find my way out of a paper bag. One thing I hadn't foreseen when I picked Shelter was that I needed to have a creature in play to use it. I had a couple instances of having Shelter and no target which, admittedly, was a failure on my behalf to mulligan enough so that I had a proper start.

I gave Matt the deck and told him about the general theory: that the goal was to draw cards and keep the pressure on and he took one look at Goblin Warchief and said: "Is this what you need, then?"

No. No it is not. Making my goblins cheaper isn't what's required. His immediate suggestion: Goblin Chieftain. "But if you don't have that, Gempalm Incinerator."

Hm. Gempalm Incinerator does help the removal suite but it also falls prey to the same issue with Shelter. It doesn't really work unless I have some creatures out. And goblins are awfully easy to kill.

On the other hand, I own some Gempalm Incinerators and I don't own Goblin Chieftain. So for further testing, at least at the moment, I'm invoking the My money > less of my money rule and testing the Incinerators.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Card Crushing

As I revised Bonecrusher, I was fortunate enough to find a couple Battlefield Forges to help shore up my red mana. While not the ideal land for this it contributes to the colorfixing I need. I'll take it.

I also was having trouble really replacing any goblins after Krenko, Mob Boss.

So I didn't. Instead, I asked: how do I keep the aggression going?

The answer comes via Renewed Faith. I run Renewed Faith for two reasons: first, it allows me to gain life to keep me above 10 so I don't die to my own Skirk Fire Marshal, and second, I get to draw a card.

Why not draw more cards, then?

Enter Shelter. This card has been so cool to run. First, I get to draw a card. But second, and most importantly, Shelter transforms a battlefield where my 1/1 Goblin Lackey or Warren Instigator would be stymied and makes them useful again. Where Krenko survives another day to make tokens. Basically, as a solid answer to the inherent problems Bonecrusher will face.

I'm really excited about this and how it will help smooth the deck out.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

In Praise of Shatterstorm

This year was the year I finally noticed: non-creature sweepers are remarkably barren in Wizards' Commander products.

What am I talking about?

I'm talking about something that I have been confronted with in every Commander game I have ever played, especially multiplayer ones: The presence of multiple artifacts and enchantments that need to be taken off the board in order to advance the game state. Not just one and not just a single player.

Quick anecdotal example: last night in a four player game, there was a Fireshrieker, Mana Crypt, Ghostly Prison, Mystic Remora, Armillary Sphere, Gilded Lotus, Burgeoning, Coldsteel Heart, Talisman of Dominance and two Sol Rings on the table. Those are just the artifacts and enchantments but that's 11 targets!

Yet, playing my Yidris deck, I had no answers for this many of these permanents. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Take a look at the Commander decklists: 2015, 2016, 2017. Lots of answers for mass removal of creatures and a few 'destroy all things' cards but where are the cards to wipe the board of problematic enchantments and artifacts?

Artifacts are especially grievous in this regard; their colorless utility means that Commander decks can get a lot out of them, either as a way to double down on an effect that a color gives them (think Black's graveyard removal and Tormod's Crypt) or as a way to ramp up in decks that wouldn't have access to those: Sol Ring, Skullclamp, etc. Artifacts are everywhere and while I cannot deny the necessary space that they take up in the format, the fact of the matter is that in a multiplayer game, multiple artifacts will appear.

Same with enchantments. Although not as ubiquitous as artifacts, enchantments are a part of every game and they certainly are part of almost every Commander deck that WotC has produced for the past three years.
In total, there are 231 artifacts and enchantments across those 14 decks. And this isn't counting artifact creatures, which would raise the total considerably.
In those three years: Merciless Eviction, Bane of Progress, and Vandalblast are the only sweepers for such permanents. Where is Tranquil Path or Hush?

I could understand Back to Nature being too strong but everything else? Not even Root Greevil or Nova Cleric?

Artifacts, as an even bigger problem, are more glaring for their lack of mass removal: Creeping Corrosion, Corrosion, Meltdown, Fracturing Gust, Hammer Mage, Pulverize, Purify, Seeds of Innocence, Shatterstorm: where are the reprints of these cards?

Commander is a multiplayer format: where are the multiplayer answers? Why aren't there more ways to sweep artifacts off the table? Even cards like Shattering Pulse or Allay (for enchantments) would help.

Now, there is objection to be raised here and I get it: WotC designed this product to work within its own 'ecosystem'. That is; the Commander 2017 ('16, '15, etc) decks are meant to be played against each other. In some years, a card like Hammer Mage would be so dominant against a deck like Breya, Etherium Shaper that it wouldn't be fun at all.

Not every set can cover every contingency-nor should it, especially when players can have more fun without such coverage. Interactive games are important to create, especially for a format like Commander! Balance matters.

Nonetheless, I am hard pressed to believe that there is no place for these kinds of board wipes and I'm hoping that Wizards starts to give players some of these reprints-or find new ways to provide said board wipes of non-creature permanents.

For example: they've done well with non-basic land destruction, I think! I want to point that out because I believe that non-basic land hate should be a part of the game and is, honestly, more necessary than ever across the Eternal formats.

I don't want to get off track though. I want to point out; how many games of Commander are heavily influenced by artifacts or enchantments and how many targets exist in any given multiplayer game.

Give us our Shatterstorms, Wizards. We need those just like we need the Wrath effects.

Also: this will be the last post until Oct 12, as I'm in NYC for a few days!