Thursday, February 28, 2019

Wild Flailing

When I make a hard pivot on a deck, it's always challenging to see what will or won't work anymore. This is one such time.

Brawl vs UW Control
It's especially difficult because Brawl will win from out of nowhere: I lay the Pandemonium down, my opponent does things that don't kill me, passes and bam, I play a Saproling Burst and win. When Brawl doesn't do this, it's usually because I haven't been able to find the combo pieces.

So has the deck improved because of that hard pivot or not? Wins from out of nowhere do feel good.

One thing I finally noticed was: I am not running four copies of Saproling Burst. Why am I not doing that?? 

This is not a blue deck, so I do not have the luxury of sculpting every part of my hand or predicting my draws in order to maximize the odds that every turn four and five will work out the same way. Plus, I have fewer creatures to act as red shirts to give me time to get the combo.

I have to lean in to the numbers! So, let's get further into it and cut more deadwood out.

There's also been some good advice from friends: Herald of the Pantheon was recommended by two different people and is likely a way better choice than Centaur Safeguard and Venerable Monk.

Thraben Inspector has been a solid addition helping create a speedbump for my opponents while also giving me an extra card.

But it was Noah trying to come up with ways for me to tutor up the enchantments (while casting Counterspell on the Pandemonium or Saproling Burst I needed to win) that let me stumble upon what might be my best trick.


Now, I know that Replenish is the kind of card that one ideally wants in a self-mill deck; you run four copies of it and anything that dumps cards into your graveyard, cast it, and voila! you win the game because reasons.

But the card is just north of $40. However, I own two. How is this not a great backup plan? 

Let's find out, because there's no sense in letting good cards go to waste.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The New Mulligan

Patric Sullivan's take on the new mulligan rule that WotC is going to test out is one I'm pretty much on board with.

The part I'm most worried about is this:
it is a massive boost for decks that are already exploitative of the present mulligan system,
Namely, any combo deck and I am absolutely certain that players will now do their level best to create the most degenerate 4-5 card opening hands (or less if that's all the deck needs) that they can, while also spending games two and three ensuring their sideboard cards appear. Why wouldn't you? The system incentivizes it and it's looking like the math bears it out.

Now, I am not suggesting that trying new things is a bad notion. The 'Vancouver' mulligan rule was a good change, in my opinion. Maybe the path forward is to use the London rule for Limited formats and keep the Vancouver for Constructed, so that truly degenerate decks can't abuse the system.

But I have reservations that's for sure, and am interested to see what the results of the London experiment will be.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

The Remix

Resident Evil 2 gator
One of the most iconic moments in the Resident Evil series-and I would suggest even in videogaming history-is the gator sequence.

Essentially: You end up in a hallway, a giant mutated alligator appears, and you'd best defeat the gator before it eats you.

Because it will eat you.

The designers even gave players a little extra somethin'-somethin' during this sequence, allowing you to run away until the alligator caught a gas tank in its mouth. Shoot the gas tank and the gator explodes, a la Jaws. You didn't have to do that but it was possible.

It was a deliberate callback to film history, done because the designers thought that was cool and once players found out you could do this, well, why do anything else?

RE2RE does something a little different.

Resident Evil 2 remake gator
Sure, the end result is the same-as you can see-but the way I got there was a riff on the original while being very much it's own thing, informed by modern gameplay knowledge.

Cory Doctorow's Pirate Cinema is all about remix culture and a fun read to boot, and that book has come up often for me while playing RE2RE.

All the important elements are here, everything I expected from Resident Evil 2 to make it into the remake have appeared.

But modern sensibilities and culture have been injected into it. A trite love story in RE2 is replaced by an antagonistic-ish (and manipulative) relationship in RE2RE. A callback to Jaws is now a callback to Resident Evil 2.

I'm not sure how else one could've made this game and still executed well, without throwing the whole concept of a remake out the window and doing something new.

I don't want to suggest that RE2RE isn't excellent on its own merit. It gladly shucks all the stuff that doesn't work anymore because we have the technology to solve those problems, and solves those problems! Holding on to the spirit, not the letter, of things is what makes it wonderful.

I've now played through Leon's first campaign in both games but I'm only playing Claire's in RE2RE, at least for now.

Because Claire's run in RE2 is plagued by the dreaded escort mission. Again, RE2RE has solved this problem using modern gameplay techniques, notably storytelling elements that mean you don't have to be involved in an escort mission for long. Even RE2 used storytelling tricks to keep the escorting from going on too long, but what it also did was anchor you to the escort in an incredibly tedious way, making the player feel more like a yo-yo.

If you went too fast, your escort stopped and you had to go get her. If you just walking speed, Resident Evil 2 becomes tedious. Walking is for cautious approaches, but with an escort, this often wasn't an issue-you'd want to run through places until you realized that you'd left your anchor in a corner and have to double back.

So far, that hasn't been an issue in RE2RE and again, I'm all the happier for it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


First thing's first; as always, let's run this through the algo and see how structurally sound it is.

On the upside, the mana looks good.

On the downside, I can see the eight cards that are just flat out bad here, limited chaff that will not do what I need to be done.  Ancient Hydra, Teroh's Faithful and Sparkcaster all need to go-but admittedly, I knew that already.

What might be useful to work out is what the role of each color is here. That might help focus what it is that I should be doing here.

Red exists because Pandemonium is red. Green is there to help me get Saproling Burst out. White is there to extend my life total so I can last long enough to assemble the combo. So with that in mind, that's going be how I guide myself through picking new cards.

Along those lines, I'm starting to realize that if this is a combo deck (and it is) then why am I dinking around with things that don't help me get to or clear the way for my combo?

I need mana, I need to survive, and I need two enchantments. I think I'll start fixating on those things.

That means a lot of slots are going to be freed up allowing for some helpful cards like Pyroclasm and Commune with the Gods, Farseek and Cathartic Reunion to assist with doing what Brawl wants to do; Turn 3 Pandemonium, Turn 4 Saproling Burst.

This is a pretty big shift from what Brawl was doing but I've been playing long enough now to recognize that I shouldn't hold on to mistakes of the past just because. This deck is a combo deck. Let's let it BE a combo deck.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Play for Loss

One nice thing about the internet is that you can be exposed to a lot of ideas that don't always correspond with your own. In this case, though, it's coming at me a little differently.

Most high profile articles on Magic are written by pros or people aspiring to be pros. That's understandable: They've put in the resources to understand the game at a higher level than most people. As a result, their view on Magic is often one where winning is the only thing that matters.

But I like to think that this article is the result, at least in part, of exposure to people who aren't playing to win but having a good time anyway.

Which is what it's all about, really.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Once upon a time, there was a deck called Blackjack, because with the combination of Pandemonium and Saproling Burst, you could do 21 damage to your opponent in one shot.

This was my take on it, named Brawl:
2 Venerable Monk
4 Spitemare
2 Ancient Hydra
4 Sparkcaster
4 Thornscape Familiar
3 Transluminant
2 Centaur Safeguard
2 Scuzzback Marauders
3 Skyshroud Elf
2 Teroh's Faithful

4 Pandemonium
3 Saproling Burst

2 Seed Spark

7 Mountain
3 Rith's Grove
4 Plains
8 Forest
1 Naya Panorama
As with a lot of my early deckbuilding efforts, I spend a lot of time trying to safeguard against my own downfall, in this case by adding in a bunch of lifegain, so that I don't die too quickly. I assumed I'd get a Pandemonium out and then have to endure a full turn without a Saproling Burst before winning.

There are also the obvious 'anti-Jason' countermeasures in Seed Spark, in order to keep me from dying to something as obnoxious as a Shared Fate.

There are a TON of cards that could be upgraded: Ancient Hydra and Teroh's Faithful to start but more as I dig in. It's been awhile since I took on a real combo deck, so I'm looking forward to it!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Doom Song

Dirge vs RB demons
Spawn of Mayhem is legit. Now that Ravnica Allegiance is out, I can test the card and tell you so.

I know that's not a huge surprise to anyone who has actually read the card, but replacing Scourge of Numai with this has been a big deal. It's giving me more potential options on turn three that opponents don't want to see, a la Ogre Marauder.

That's been the upside (and a great one) but what I've noticed is that I'm frequently flooding out. There's a lot of mana there and the deck wants it for the two high end threats that can turn games in my favor.

Conversely, Dirge also performs best when I curve out, and it has a pretty solid set of turn 2 and 3 plays. A land has frequently been the item I sacrifice to Merciless Resolve, but honestly I think I need more removal. I'm reluctant to add in more Merciless Resolves because I still need resources to play my cards.

Minus one Polluted Mire and plus one Grasp of Darkness (something a new pal suggested to me) I felt that the extra removal spell helped, but it had the same problem that a lot of my removal did being so conditional. I went with a single Disembowel instead: it scales nicely, it's still an instant and if an opponent gets out a huge cheap creature to rival my own, I won't be hampered by the the way my other removal works.

For now I think I'm going to set Dirge down. It's doing what I hoped it would and is a little sharper than it was in the past, so I'll take that as a win. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Safe Rooms

There's a saferoom in RE2 and geographically, it's located in the same space in RE2RE: second floor, first office on the east side. It even looks the same-with massive graphical upgrades of course:
technical saferoom

The layout is similar and while there isn't an item box, nearly everything else is the same from the original Resident Evil 2.

Which was how RE2 handled pacing: You run run run through various rooms, collect what you can, try not to die and then, 'whew' the save room theme music kicks in and you know you can stop.

There are no zombies in here, no weird mutations of creatures to eat your face. You are, effectively, in the clear. You can dip back into the hallways of fear whenever you've organized your stuff and are ready to go.

Part of this, of course, was about technology: when you need to stop and create save files, creating an unfun scenario to do so is detrimental to your game. When your character has to press an action button to climb stairs or go through doors, that means that the zombies become, effectively, old school Daleks. When rooms were cleared of enemies, returning to those rooms meant returning to rooms that were empty, which can be a little unnerving too, because it suggested someone was coming behind you can cleaning up after you.

It also meant that the designers didn't have to worry about what they threw at players, especially right after a save point, because you'd just gotten a break. The time was usually ripe to amp up the scares. The beats would be measured out in accordance to the doses you wanted.

RE2RE has the advantage of improved technology, so you don't have to create save files anymore. You can, of course (they even created theme music), but it also autosaves for you. As a result, enemies no longer have the same limitations as they did before.

Which means that pacing becomes very different. The first time a zombie came up the stairs after me, I vividly remember saying "Oh fuck this." Because they weren't supposed to do that-I had spent 20 years with games where they didn't do that.

It also meant that safe rooms weren't safe anymore. Which I didn't know...until it was horribly, terrifyingly clear that I wasn't safe there.

Now, instead of bursts of anxiety, dread infests RE2RE. Every corner is one where I might have to run away. Rooms that I've cleared still keep the downed enemies in them, and those enemies may not be dead.

Safe rooms are no longer places of respite.

And that is doing a number on my brain, I'll tell you. I'm worried about everything-the only rooms I am relatively certain do not have enemies in them are ones where I have to actively solve a puzzle.

But as soon as that puzzle is solved? Oooooooh boy....