Tag: Magic (page 1 of 11)

From the Vault: Theorycrafting

I am giving some serious thought to jumping back into the mix of tactical planning, visceral satisfaction, and utter frustration that is League of Legends. To that end, and since I’m not quite back on the review train yet, here’s a relevant post from back in the day that reflects what I’m doing now: planning builds and investigating new Champions. I am, once again, theorycrafting.

Courtesy Riot Games, Art by Akonstad

In this blogging space I’ve talked about writing and gaming in tandem. I’ve tried to give each a fair amount of time, but I’ve never really examined the connection between the two. Other than the overactive imagination, I think a big part of my inclination towards these activities is my tendency towards theorycrafting.

I haven’t been playing Magic: the Gathering that often in the last couple of weeks, mostly due to the hours I’m spending at the office lately. But I do love deck construction. I like seeing the cards available to a particular set or format and trying to find ways of putting an effective threat together, especially if it’s in a way that’s been unexplored. They don’t always work, of course, but that’s part of the appeal of experimentation: taking a chance to see what happens. I try to plan as many contingencies as I can before the game even starts.

The same could be said for the way I approach League of Legends. I spend some time looking over the abilities, statistics and build orders of various champions, toying with different sequences and combinations. When Nautilus was released a few weeks ago, I found his art, story and kit so appealing I picked him up and started toying with builds immediately. In fact, I’m still doing so, in order to find that balance between taking punishment and dishing it out. I may go more in-depth at another time as to why doing so in this game feels more satisfying to me than, say, StarCraft 2, but like my Magic decks, crafting and tweaking a champion’s progression long before I fire up the game is rewarding, especially when I manage to help the team win.

Part of this may be due to my experiences as a Dungeon Master. I delve into rulebooks and supplementary material, draw up maps, lay out stats and even stories for the NPCs and so on. I used to lay out elaborate and somewhat linear stories to lead my players down, but I realized quickly players want elbow room and freedom to choose for themselves. While this undermined my desire to tell a specific story somewhat, it also allowed me to plan more of those contingencies I like to ponder. DMs and players share these stories in equal measure, after all, there’s no reason for one side of the screen to hog all the fun.

This thread does carry through to my writing. It’s been said that writers are either ‘plotters’ who plan things out before pen hits papers (or fingers hit keyboard), ‘pantsers’ who fly by the seat of their pants, or a combination of the two. You can read more about the distinction here. For my part, I’m definitely more of a plotter than a pantser, with a great deal of time devoted to outlines, character sketches, expansion on background elements, and research relevant to the story. The problem with all of this theorycrafting, though, is that getting wrapped up in it can take time away from the actual writing that needs to happen. Then again, I know that if I don’t take the time to figure out where I’m going in the first place, I will hit a wall and sit looking at it for just as long.

Do you indulge in theorycrafting? Or do you jump right into things?

Tabletalk: The Variance Question

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
On top of everything, that hack Robert Wintermute killed Venser…

A quick note before we begin: the movie I’ve been asked to review isn’t available yet. It should be later in the day, but for now we’re going to swap the review with Tabletalk for this week. Okay? Okay.

Magic… it’s time we talked.

I’ve been playing you for years. Decades, even. And there is a lot that I like about you. Your planes are rich with game and story potential. You show interesting design choices at every turn. Memories of tournaments, drafts, and throwdowns with family are evocative of good or even excellent times, and I will never forget them.

But, to be honest, I’ve been seeing other card games.

I don’t want you to feel like you’ve done anything wrong. I don’t think it’s your fault. I am, in all honesty, just a little tired of some of the things that throw me off when it comes to you. I certainly don’t agree with all of your design choices, and I know that no cycle of cards lasts forever outside of Legacy. You may see me coming back to a local gaming store in the future. The big problem, though, is the irritation I have with variance.

I like games that are different every time you play them. They add variety and make me want to play more. The thing is, though, that a deck of Magic has a level of variance that tends to be rather high. While this can be mitigated with good deck construction choices, the bottom line is that the resources you need to play the game – your land – are dispensed to you entirely at random. You could have everything necessary in your hand to make a clutch play or escape a tight situation, but you can’t do anything because your land has not deigned to show up yet. It sucks for me when it happens, and it sucks for my opponent, too. When my opponent gets screwed on their mana, I feel bad on their behalf, since it doesn’t feel like we’re playing the game on equal terms, and that’s not fun for anybody who wants to have fun playing. I mean, if you care only about winning, then yes, you want your opponent to have every disadvantage possible, but that to me is not very sporting. Call me old-fashioned.

Some people like this. They like the extra challenge it presents, and the fact that games are not predictable. That’s fine. I can understand that. I personally feel, however, that games like Hearthstone and Netrunner are spoiling me, since my resources are not tied to random chance.

We’ll talk more about that next week. For now… I don’t hate you, Magic, but to be honest, I don’t think you’re my favorite anymore. It’s not you, it’s me.

Derevi & the Bouncing Souls

Art by Michael Komarck

The new year has brought some new products with it, of course, and Wizards of the Coast has presented five new pre-constructed decks for the Commander imprint within Magic: the Gathering. These decks make bringing new people into the format long-called EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander) a lot easier. Each deck provides reprints of old favorite cards as well as new and exciting selections that work just fine outside of the format, while others feel exclusive to the unique situations presented by a singleton deck of 100 cards with one set aside.

Case in point: [mtg_card]Derevi, Empyrial Tactician[/mtg_card]. Her ability is tied directly to the ‘command zone’, an area of play within the game that is neither the graveyard nor ‘exile’. Your Commander, or general or whatever you call them, begins play in this zone rather than your hand or deck, and is cast from this zone. Each time you cast the card, you must pay 2 extra mana for every circumstance that’s returned it to the zone. So, if an opponent kills it, or you sacrifice it, or if an ability would exile it, you send it to the command zone, and can bring it back, albeit needing to pay more for it. It creates a very real drawback to bringing your Commander into play every turn.

Derevi has a way around that drawback.

Printed on her card is an ability that allows you to bring her directly from the command zone into play. Her base mana cost is cheaper than this ability, but I don’t think most players will be casting her as they normally would. Not only does the cost of her ability not increase every time she is killed or exiled, the ability can be used on an opponent’s turn. And, whenever she enters the battlefield, or one of your creatures does combat damage to a player, she taps or untaps another permanent card. This could be a land or artifact you need to produce mana, or a pesky thing on your opponent’s battlefield you need out of the way.

I really, really enjoy playing with enter the battlefield effects. There’s a very nasty trick you can play with [mtg_card]Fiend Hunter[/mtg_card] that allows you to exile opposing creatures permanently. The synergy between [mtg_card]Sun Titan[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Eternal Witness[/mtg_card] is incredibly impressive. The deck comes off the shelf with a few cards to enable these things, such as [mtg_card]Conjurer’s Closet[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Mistmeadow Witch[/mtg_card], but being a pre-constructed “jack of all trades” deck, needed some tweaking to really make the most of the mechanic.

For example, the deck did not have Sun Titan or Eternal Witness. When it come to ‘bouncing’ or ‘flickering’ cards to make the most of them, my old friend [mtg_card]Venser, the Sojourner[/mtg_card] comes immediately to mind. [mtg_card]Deadeye Navigator[/mtg_card] felt like a must-include, as its ability is cheaper than that of the Mistmeadow Witch and can be used to either trigger its partner or flicker itself to bond with something new. [mtg_card]Acidic Slime[/mtg_card] and Fiend Hunter not quite enough recurring removal for the deck, so [mtg_card]Terastodon[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Sunblast Angel[/mtg_card] needed to go in. So it went until I had a deck I was comfortable with. You can see the complete deck list here.

It’s a blast to play. With no counterspells and little direct damage, the deck is not overtly aggressive and thus can play it quiet for a few turns, avoiding confrontation as much as possible. There are a few political cards that can incentive your opponents to fight one another more, or lead to negotiations (“Is that creature giving you trouble? How about I take control of it with [mtg_card]Rubinia Soulsinger[/mtg_card] and you smash that guy’s face in?”). I think there are a couple cards I could cut but I’m not sure what it might be missing – perhaps a few more board clears like [mtg_card]Terminus[/mtg_card] or [mtg_card]Day of Judgment[/mtg_card].

How does the deck look to you? Would you be willing to play it?

A Return To Television

Courtesy Fox
“A ten percent levy on BAKED GOODS??”

Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, particularly Hulu and Netflix, I’ve been able to start getting some television back in my life. I was already using Hulu for Supernatural and Law & Order: SVU, but I’ve started using it to watch newer shows, as well.

Agents of SHIELD

The first new show I broke into was the one I was looking forward to the most. Clark Gregg the actor and Phil Coulson the character are both draws to the show, as well as its promised tie-ins with the cinematic arm of the Marvel Universe. Joss Whedon got his start with television, and knowing his penchant for balanced group dynamics and tightly-plotted stories. All of these things had me set to tune in week to week from the outset.

Unfortunately, it’s also the one that’s taken the most time to get up and running. I like the characters and the premise, but the pacing and quality of stories has been somewhat inconsistent during the first season. It’s taken a couple episodes for the actors to get comfortable with their characters. It’s got plenty of potential and it’s improving with every episode, so I’m still on board.

Sleepy Hollow

This is not the Disney version of the classic tale of the Headless Horseman and Ichabod Crane. Nor is it anything like Tim Burton’s sumptuous adaptation. This time around, Ichabod Crane is a soldier fighting in America’s war against the British. He meets a particularly nasty Hessian mercenary on the battlefield, and the two come to blows. The Hessian deals a mortal wound to Ichabod, who responds by cutting off the hired gun’s head. Both of them fall, and that would be the end of it… except 250 years later, the Hessian rises from the dead, as does Ichabod. He’s picked up by the local police, and meets Lieutenant Abbie Mills, who’s lost her mentor to a redcoat on horseback minus his head. The question is, can she trust this seemingly insane Englishman who claims to have been a soldier under George Washington?

I’ve heard the premise of this show called ‘a bit silly’. And it is. The whole thing is a bit silly. But it’s no sillier than your standard set-up for an episode of Supernatural, and I watch the hell out of that show. What Sleepy Hollow has going for it is smart writing, deliciously old-school production values with practical effects and some wicked monster designs, and an excellent cast. I also like that Tom Mison, who plays the intelligent and determined but somewhat hapless Ichabod, is the only white male in the hero cast. Nicole Beharie and Orlando Jones are both phenomenal, portraying strong, smart, and interesting characters that don’t get relegated to spouting colloquialisms or falling into stereotypes. The pilot hits the ground running and it’s kept up a good pace since then. It’s definitely a new favorite.

Almost Human

The year is 2048. Technology has kind of exploded, and lead to all sorts of open and black market nastiness. To keep up, police have started using military-grade androids to supplement their human detectives. During a raid, Detective John Kennex is seriously injured, and spends a couple years in a coma, waking up to find his leg has been replaced with an advanced prosthesis. He doesn’t acclimate to work too well after that, and he keeps going through synthetic partners. Rudy, the lab technician and local android guru, pairs Kennex up with a DRN model, instead of the usual MX one. While MX models are designed to be purely logical and coldly calculating, ‘Dorian’ was created to be as close to human as possible, with all of the emotional unpredictability that entails. Everybody’s just crossing their fingers that Kennex doesn’t push this one into traffic.

From the start, the show gave me a very pleasant Blade Runner/Deus Ex vibe. I’m a fan of Karl Urban in most of his roles, and casting him as a law enforcement officer keeps reminding me of how good he is as Judge Dredd. Pairing him with Michael Ealy’s Dorian works extremely well. Dorian reminds me a bit of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation, but where Data was perplexed by the concept of emotions, Dorian struggles to deal with his while making observations on Kennex’s condition and behavior. The two have fantastic chemistry and, like Sleepy Hollow, the show has hit the ground running. The concepts and visuals of the near future have almost an ‘uncanny valley’ feel to them, as it feels like our world and yet is totally different. It’s well-realized, well-shot, and I’m eager to see more of it.

What TV have you been tuning into lately? Will you check out these shows?

Making Magic More Metal

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast

It’s been a few months since I’ve even considered looking for more than a few minutes at truly competitive gameplay. There’s been a lot going on, and I haven’t really taken the time to consider how that could be helpful to me. Things like constructing a deck in Magic and building efficiently in a RTS game are good structural exercises for my mind. Taking those skills into a competitive environment keep my attention sharp and teach me how to be a more gracious loser. Because I know I won’t always win. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try, dammit.

For the better part of a year, I haven’t seriously tackled the Magic: The Gathering format of Legacy. I was considering a few potential decks a while ago, but most of those plans fell by the wayside. After the release of the Modern Masters set, and some prompting from a friend, I’ve come back to the notion of putting a deck together to take with me to official events and the occasional Saturday night at my friendly local gaming store.

Legacy isn’t the only format out there, though. Between it and the ever-changing Standard is a format known as Modern. There are a few decks out there that have cards that span both formats. The one that appeals to me the most is called ‘Affinity’. I’ve liked artifacts for a long time, because they’re not dependant on colors and can get around a lot of obstacles if played correctly.

I tried putting together a list that didn’t subscribe to most common color combinations for the deck. However, a few suggestions and lists introduced me to [mtg_card]Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas[/mtg_card]. An ambitious and cunning artificer, Tezzeret has always been friendly to metal decks. As an agent of resident big bad dragon daddy Nicol Bolas, he’s slightly more insidious. The deck takes some of the basics of other Affinity decks in terms of creatures and mana sources, which gives me a few options.

[mtg_deck title=”Tezzeret’s Affinity”]
// Creatures
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Ornithopter
4 Memnite
4 Vault Skirge
3 Etched Champion
3 Steel Overseer

// Spells
4 Thoughtcast

// Planeswalkers
4 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

// Artifacts
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Mox Opal
4 Cranial Plating
3 Springleaf Drum

// Lands
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Ancient Tomb
3 Glimmervoid

// Sideboard
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Perish
3 Ethersworn Canonist
3 Whipflare
3 Tormod’s Crypt

The deck can push damage past defenders with the [mtg_card]Etched Champion[/mtg_card] or fly over them with [mtg_card]Ornithopter[/mtg_card] or [mtg_card]Vault Skirge[/mtg_card], any one of them benefiting from carrying [mtg_card]Cranial Plating[/mtg_card]. However, the deck also has a win condition that has nothing to do with creatures. Tezzeret can drop very early in the game, and his ultimate ability syncs well with artifact lands, 0-cost cards, and other low-cost options. Remember, X is twice the number of artifacts. So, if I have 5 artifacts in play, I gain 10 life and my opponent loses 10 life. That’s a 20-point swing, which can be difficult to overcome.

The deck is, of course, not invulnerable. It has no counter means save for Chalice of the Void, creatures can trample over the Champion no matter how much protection he has, and faster decks like burn can probably beat me to the punch or take wind out of my sails. Still, I think it has a lot of potential, and that potential doesn’t stop with Legacy. In Modern, the Chalice goes to the sideboard and illegal cards like Perish and Tormod’s Crypt have to go. Still, the play of the deck will be largely unchanged. I’m looking forward to putting it together and seeing how it plays.

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