Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Why I Quit Persona 5

Why am I bringing this up? Because it's a great way to direct you towards Film Critic Hulk's essay on Red Dead Redemption 2. It's a pretty deep dive into one very particular issue: why is that game so insistent on preventing you from enjoying it? What choices are being made that put up so many barriers to the player?

Which leads me to Persona 5, which I was nearly done with. On the trail to the last boss, the final twists and turns all exposed, my party leveled into the 60s...and then I quit. Months I spent playing this game were deleted by me; I burnt the bridge so I wouldn't even consider going back.

I quit after spending 48 hours trying to make it through from the starting point of the final dungeon to the next save room.

Because Persona 5 does some things that I haven't experienced before. First; the game ends if the player-protagonist dies in combat. Typically, these games end when your entire party goes down but not here. This makes sense narratively, but it is awful from a gameplay standpoint in an RPG. Everything now hinges on that one character-which means nobody else is worth protecting. They only have value insofar as they can protect the player-protagonist, or defeat enemies faster.

Second, the game has a time limit. I found my party and my character specifically going from level 65 to 68 within minutes during this final dungeon. That's bad: it means that I haven't had the opportunity to level my characters up sufficiently to prepare for this battle.

I didn't squander my time playing the game-and in every loading screen there is a helpful "Take Your Time" message. So...OK, let's proceed at the pace I want to proceed. That's the constant message.

Except you can't. There is a deadline and if you aren't ready when it comes, the gameplay experience suddenly becomes very, very frustrating. Multiple times, I had my entire party frozen, or worse, run away and there was nothing I could do about it.

Third, the game teaches you that every Persona you fight has an elemental weakness.

Except the boss characters. So all the time one might spend building up goes to waste. This isn't that unusual, given how RPGs play out, but what is weird is how infrequent status effects are, until the final dungeon, and how infrequent magic point replenishments are, ever. The game is outright stingy with magic refreshers.

So now I'm under leveled, under supplied, I have no way to grind my characters up and I can't find more supplies. Why is this the case? Why can't I find out where to get or how to make more items that I need, forward storylines I want to (and thus level up), grind for Personas or develop traits to help me? Why is this information being hidden or worse, presented in a contradictory manner?

Why am I putting myself through this again? Which brings me back to the essay I linked to at the beginning.

So I quit. And that never feels good, but neither does wasting my life on something I'm supposed to enjoy and currently hating. And unlike Film Critic Hulk, nobody's paying me to go through something I am not enjoying and write about it.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

War of the Spark Overview

The spoiler list is out! If we believe the hype machine,  this is the most exciting set that Wizards has produced in years and it represents the conclusion of the biggest storyline they've ever done.

Who could possibly match that?


Snark aside, this is a pretty big deal, especially since they're bringing Planeswalkers down to the uncommon rarity. And I do like how they solved that problem by, essentially, making them enchantments with vanishing.

The next mechanic that runs through this would be Amass and while it's generally executed as "creature stapled to a spell" that is different from the past years of "spell attached to a creature". It's also an effect that is probably long overdue.

The other big mechanical element that seems to run through the set is Proliferate, which makes sense: it was a popular mechanic from Scars of Mirrodin block and it fits perfectly with what players will want to do with the planeswalkers, especially ones with only minus abilities.

I think I prefer this, at least in this set: less broad sweeping mechanics and instead just a focus on a cool card type and a mechanic that really interacts well with it. So let's talk about the set, then.

God-Eternal Oketra looks absolutely insane. I suppose the argument could be made that if you make it to five mana, you're in a pretty good space anyway and certainly all of the gods in War are Commander format candy. But getting an extra 4/4 every time I cast a creature? Yike.

Parhelion II is weird, right? Just from a story perspective; it's a flying machine that gives angels rides. But angels can already fly...I don't have a walking machine to do walking for me.

Also, as much as I like Single Combat, I would like more to know who came out on top of that battle, which has been a subplot since Innistrad.

Here's where I point out that the uncommons seem to have a higher power level than I usually expect. This might be purely because of the existence of Planeswalkers at that rarity. Blue is also where Amass starts to show up and I think giving blue a bit more skin in the game by giving it creatures, as well as providing it with ways to deal with Planeswalkers, is a good thing.

I am not fond of what God-Eternal Kefnet does. Also, the more I look at these gods the less happy I am with them. The only way to prevent them from being a problem is to counter the spell-and Kefnet especially is extremely high value in a color that can both prevent that countermagic from being a problem and maximize the ability. On the other hand, using timely removal spells to maximize your chances is a highly strategic decision, so maybe I'm being a too pessimistic.

The other-other hand is that these cards are nasty in Commander. Is this a new Commander tax? Is this clever? I don't know but I think we're going to find out really, really fast.

I do like that Fblthp is a card, legendary at that, and Narset's Reversal is very cool...if not super useful.

Charity Extractor is probably the creepiest black card I've seen in awhile. Faceless debt collecting machines are a little too on point for modern times. Along those lines, the flavor text for Dreadmalkin is possibly the best representation of cats in Magic.

There isn't a lot else going on here that's interesting. Good, yes. Banehound, Massacre Girl, the art on Deliver Unto Evil. But I can't say I'm seeing any boundaries pushed.

Bolt Bend is a card I'm glad they printed. Big creature decks have needed ways to defend against an opponent's Path to Exile and now they have a pretty nice tool in the toolbox. I've always liked the 'redirection' element in Red so I'm happy to see a spell like this printed.

The rest of it, like much of this set, has cards with "Neat thing you remember" (Wild Guess) "It's back, but in [Amass] form". That doesn't make these cards bad (Honor the God-Pharoh), just the tiniest riff on a theme, instead of a new theme. Given the power level of this set that all the pros are going bonkers over, I suppose I can't fault it.

This is where I notice that at least a solid portion of mythic level rares (Hiya, Finale of Devastation) are meant to be for Commander and that even includes the Gods of the set. This fulfills the idea of what Mythics were initially pitched for and while I know that there aren't ever NOT going to be chase cards, the more accessible the chase cards, the more people who can play the game. Also, nice job naming the Finales after the Hours in Hour of Devastation; that's a great callback.

I'm pretty certain Vivian's Arkbow is going to become a staple of green mana decks.

In the Multicolored and Colorless realm, I'm just not seeing anything to get excited about. Plenty of good role players though, and the cycle of uncommon planeswalkers here will have a massive impact on the game, I think.

Of the Artifacts, I'm surprised to note that there is nothing to note here. Mana Geode will be stronger than people think, especially in Commander.

The Lands, though, these got a push I was not expecting. All of them have useful, interesting and strong-to-great abilities, save Gateway Plaza which does what you need it to do and no more, but works for limited environments. Mobilized District will become a boon for Planeswalkers that didn't have the obvious +1 defensive ability, or don't have a +1 ability at all, Emergence Zone repeats an effect that people have wanted to see again for years, and Karn's Bastion and Blast Zone open up options to decks and colors that wouldn't have access to those abilities.

All in all, my opinions on War of the Spark is that this is a set that wants to show of the power of its toys, not introduce something new and shiny to the mix. And that's just fine. I'm looking forward to seeing how I can improve my own decks with these new set of tools!

Tuesday, April 23, 2019


I bought all the Commander decks from last year, but I haven't really played them or done a deep dive into them. I attribute this to feeling pretty unenthusiastic about these Commander decks for the first time, to the point where I outright took one apart; Lord Windgrace.

Well, it's time to change that. I know more people who like playing Commander right now, so this is as good a time as any to practice with and improve those decks from last year!

Let's start with Saheeli, the Gifted. The deck starts off like this:

Chaos Warp
Into the Roil 
Thirst for Knowledge
Coveted Jewel
Endless Atlas
Retrofitter Foundry
Blinkmoth Urn
Mimic Vat
Prototype Portal
Unwinding Clock
Commander's Sphere
Dreamstone Hedron
Hedron Archive
Izzet Signet
Magnifying Glass
Mind Stone
Prismatic Lens
Scrabbling Claws
Sol Ring
Swiftfoot Boots
Unstable Obelisk
Vessel of Endless Rest
Worn Powerstone
Enchanter's Bane 
Thopter Spy Network
Saheeli's Artistry
Echo Storm
Saheeli's Directive
Aether Gale
Blasphemous Act
Reverse Engineer

15 Island
12 Mountain
Forge of Heroes
Buried Ruin
Command Tower
Foundry of the Consuls
Highland Lake
Izzet Boilerworks
Izzet Guildgate
Swiftwater Cliffs
Darksteel Citadel
Great Furnace
Seat of the Synod 
Maverick Thopterist
Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer
Tawnos, Urza's Apprentice
Vedalken Humiliator
Treasure Nabber
Varchild, Betrayer of Kjeldor
Ancient Stone Idol
Soul of New Phyrexia
Inkwell Leviathan
Sharding Sphinx
Hellkite Igniter
Bosh, Iron Golem
Darksteel Juggernaut
Myr Battlesphere
Psychosis Crawler
Scuttling Doom Engine
Steel Hellkite
Thopter Assembly
Loyal Drake
Loyal Apprentice
Geode Golem
Etherium Sculptor
Whirler Rogue
Chief of the Foundry
Pilgrim's Eye
Thopter Engineer

Red/Blue artifact decks are relatively new to the Magic landscape so I'll be engaged in a deck that I haven't got much experience with, and I'm looking forward to it. I don't expect to turn this into a monster, but something that is more effective will work just fine.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Wolf's Endeavor

We Bite vs UB Faeries
I feel alright about this. We Bite is in a good spot with enough synergies and fire to pull off games even against some challenging counterspell decks like blue/black faeries.

Control matchups become an exercise in patience, saving burn spells for the opponent's turn in order to draw out counterspells vs trying to advance my own board as quickly as possible.

The suggestion of Whispersilk Cloak has been a huge boon to the deck too, increasing the number of cards opponents have to deal with. As with any deck, the goal is to run the opponent out of answers and win with the one thing they can't handle anymore.

And We Bite definitely has the kind of threat density that I am hoping for.

Sure, sometimes I try and live the dream and use an unprotected War Elemental to win...and well, that usually ends the way one might suppose. However, the sense I get when I play this deck is that I have improved the odds, cleared out some deadwood and made a better build. Time to move on.

3 Whispersilk Cloak

2 Stigma Lasher
3 Kris Mage
3 War Elemental
2 Blood Knight
2 Mogg Fanatic
3 Hazoret the Fervent
3 Stromkirk Occultist

4 Seal of Fire

4 Chain of Plasma
4 Fiery Temper
4 Fireblast

2 Forgotten Cave
21 Mountain

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Basics, Again

Today I bring you another article that wants to emphasize a strategy card game concept: the fundamental turn.

It's a good time to revisit the basics-it almost always is-but in the case of the Transformers game, I think this concept is especially relevant.

The TFTCG is, I think, far more tempo based than other games. There aren't limiting factors like mana or life as restrictions, it's all about how many characters you have and how far you can go to maximize them/their abilities.

Hell, it's only been six months but someone has figured out a pretty solid deck that takes infinite turns. They did it by maxing out what happens whenever you give players a free thing-and then using that tempo boost from I Still Function and Peace Through Tyranny.

On the upside, WotC has said they're aware and know about this and I wouldn't be surprised if the card that fuels the deck, Swap Parts, is changed. But it just goes to show; when you have a game where the players don't have meaningful input on their opponent's decisions-that is, the pace of the game is that each player does things without interference from their opponent, and the tempo of the game belongs entirely to one player so long as it is their turn, learning how to maximize that can lead to some very powerful results!

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Siege I

Woo-hoo, there's a third Transformers set coming!

Initial thoughts;

1) The Battle Masters are a pretty cool trick. Their size is understandable, since they become equipment and while that does take away from the cards you get, making sealed deck a little more challenging, the versatility may make up for it.

2) The Micro Masters are silly. The ONE instantly cool gimmick about the game (big transforming cards!) and they've just said 'yeah, but we never had to do that'. The tap abilities aren't a revelation (so far) and they take up a lot of stars from decks that want to send giant robots in to smash each other.

3) There will finally be a Soundwave card and people can quit complaining. About that.

4) There is a new action type that will allow for players to (occasionally, at least) take actions on their opponent's turn. This was bound to happen, because the options for engaging gameplay by incorporating actions you can take on your opponent's turn is too deep to ignore.

But so far, so good!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Gore And Blood

A conversation I recently had with Jason regarding the Optimus Maximus deck we're trying to build.

Me: I especially think you don't want to run Roll Out: dead cards are bad news. Matrix of Leadership makes more sense in that slot.

J: Roll Out is not a dead card! I serves a big role. You can't play it but combat flips are huge, plan is huge, swapping for a green is huge. Give up a card you can play or Roll Out?

Me: >Roll Out is not a dead card!


>You can't play it


In multiple games with We Bite, I found myself with an extra Hazoret, the Feverent or War Elemental in hand I could not play. Either because I had no way to rid myself of the extra cards in time (Hazoret) or War Elemental was my only card in hand after my battlefield had been swept away.
This is the challenge of doing weird decks; there are dead cards sometimes: I can build around the War Elemental all I want and sometimes the deck just won't help me out. Still, I want to stick with it but what it's meant is that instead of running four of each of those Cutting one of each of them has allowed for me to run the copies of Whispersilk Cloak that I need.

Part of me doesn't like doing this, I hear a voice saying "You're diluting the concept! What's the point if you don't stick to it?" and that's not wrong. 

But what's the point of executing the concept if the result is perpetual fail states? 

So, instead of insisting that either I keep the concept or ditch the whole thing, I'm going to fudge it a bit and water down the concept as little as possible, while opening up better windows to win.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

I'm Out To Get You

"So...it's a War Elemental deck," I tell Noah.

"It sure is."

"And that's the problem. You can just chump block it, no matter how big it gets."

"Well...maybe there's a way around that."

We Bite vs Mono g
"In red there aren't many effects that give me trample, so I'm not...wait a minute."

Archetype of Aggression.

So there it is! A problem solved, right?


First, Archetype isn't always useful whenever it shows up. That's a challenge, because again, as a less optimized deck, I can't really afford to add in cards that are only good occasionally.

Second, it's a creature and as such, to be really good it needs either a protective aspect to it, or an aggressive one, because otherwise it exists to be killed by removal. Archetype has neither haste, protection, or defensive stats that would keep it alive.

It was Caitlin who suggested Whispersilk Cloak to me.

The first time I rode a Stigma Lasher equipped with a Cloak to victory, I knew I had a winner. However, I cannot leave good enough alone, and after a few games with Noah-ones where I had either War Elemental or Hazoret in hand and no way to make them useful-he suggested Key To The City to me. Why not, right? It feeds into the Madness themes, it makes a creature unblockable and I can use any extra mana I have to draw cards.

Two problems quickly became apparent: First, 'extra mana' is a laughable concept in a deck using Fireblast. Every turn that We Bite is functioning even reasonably close to optimal, I'm using up all my mana on everything else to forward my gameplan of damaging my opponent to death.

Second: unblockability is not as useful as shroud. War Elemental and, as it turns out, Stromkirk Occultist, present serious threats when they cannot be targeted by removal. So Whispersilk Cloak gets the nod.

The other option would be Swiftfoot Boots, which I think I'll test next, to see if haste and the reduced mana cost help. While not making things unblockable, haste is a pretty sweet ability and the reduced cost might be very important in a deck that is so tight on mana use.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019


The designers of the Transformers TCG had a post on the design of the new Devastator pack that came out last Friday. There's some interesting detail that goes into how they approached making this pack and the challenges that it represented. It's a short post, so I don't feel the need to repeat anything said about that.

What I found really interesting though, was this tidbit:
We generally shoot for a game to conclude in 5-8 turns. Fast decks can make that more like 4, slower decks can push to 9 or 10.
Five to eight turns? That is not a lot of time! Having played just enough of the game, I think it's wise to conclude that this means in 5-8 turns per player. Still; that doesn't seem like much, does it? One of the things that the Transformers TCG does well is keep players involved even when it isn't their turn, so that engagement sticks around, so it feels like a longer game than maybe it is.

My takeaway from the Devastator article is that the Combiners themselves, at least for now, mine the 'glory of cool things' vein, more than they do winning strategies. I think that's why I've shied away from them so far.

Is it worth it to build the dedicated Predaking deck? It certainly doesn't look like it, so far. I think I should maybe spend some time trying to figure that out, mostly for the fun of it, but I haven't seen a large combiner team that will really be a force to reckon with. And I say that after having been beat down by an Aerialbots deck a couple weeks ago: I think that once I learn the matchup, it becomes one that is far more difficult for the combiner team than for me.

To that end, on Sunday I had a chance to play the Devastator deck, straight from the box, three times. It felt...clunky. Part of that was about my inexperience playing the deck but part of it had to do with the build.

The deck is action heavy (20 cards! That's half the deck.) and does not have a Brainstorm, which meant that my hand was clogged with cards I couldn't to anything with.

It also wants to reward slower play: Building your tower is a critical element of successful play and you want to hit 3 counters on it ASAP, so you can use Reclaim to get important upgrades and Heavy Landing to do extra damage.
Builder's Tools is vital to the deck, in much the same way that Height Advantage helps the Metroplex deck. It's also important to transform Scrapper first so KO'd characters add to your tower and this puts an automatic limit on your first turn; there is zero point in transforming any other character. That isn't a killer but it does restrict my options.

That might have been a deliberate choice in order to make the deck more accessible to new and younger players: Devastator does have bunch of stuff going on. It was certainly a deliberate choice-Wizards of the Coast has been doing this for far too long to make thoughtless choices. And since it's a small drawback, along with the one where five of the six Constructicons have the same alt mode ability, they probably decided that the cool factor outweighed anything else. More play will tell me if that cool factor works.

Finally, while a Pretty Big Deal was made out of the card Work Overtime, it seemed underwhelming. While a card like that is vital to the Constructicons' game plan, so they can build their tower and second, usually I was casting it as a Pep Talk. And while that isn't terrible, it isn't bonkers either.

You know what might change that? Brainstorm.