Tag: mtg (page 2 of 3)

Re-Post: Tabletop as Brain Food

SmallWorld with the 'rents

Last night I was getting my foot looked at. I wanted to talk about tabletop games informing good thought patterns but ran out of time. So while I work on that, here’s my last really in-depth post on tabletop games as a means of comparison or something.

Also I’m actually running (or was before my injury) and lifting so you can kind of ignore the first paragraph.


I’ve put myself on a path to improve my physical well-being. Being more mindful of what and how much I eat, walking with the intent to start running, looking into a local gym, and so on. Mostly, I fear the atrophy that comes with a sedentary day job and an equally low-impact life at home, and if I’m honest, I’m unhappy with the amount of flab I currently have on my frame. However, making such a change is relatively easy. The body can adapt to adjustments in schedule and activity rather well, all things being equal, and it’s really a matter of establishing and sticking to habits than anything else.

But what about the brain? The most vital of organs also needs maintenance and attention as we age. It’s important to keep the mind engaged and not just feed it something distracting or shallow all of the time. I mean, I won’t begrudge people who really enjoy “Dancing With The Stars” or “Two And A Half Men”, some people do need to unwind with that kind of fare. I’m simply not one of them. As much as I like the occasional campy pleasure like Flash Gordon, more often than not I look to have my brain fed, to keep it trained, to present it with challenges it must overcome.

That, in part, is why I enjoy tabletop games so much.

It took me a while in my youth to really grasp how important it was to me to keep playing them. For a time, I simply enjoyed spending time with my dad, even if I would sometimes let myself get bored between moves rather than studying his strategy and planning my response. Nowadays I can’t imagine sitting entirely idle during an opponent’s turn, though I do occasionally get distracted. Not only is it necessary to pay attention in order to look for victory, it’s an exercise in putting yourself in another’s position, or imagining the other as a complex being instead of just someone to beat. That, to me, is just as important as winning.

I am quite fortunate to be in a place where I can spend time around other gamers who are engaging in this way almost constantly. My co-workers play and even design games on a daily basis. A fantastic store is within easy driving distance to present all sorts of challenges. My father lives a bit further up the road. When I get home, I have the option to play something like Civilization V, Magic: the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers, or Blood Bowl with other human beings. And on rare occasions, a game of Chez Geek or Cards Against Humanity might break out.

To me, the important factor in this is that other people are involved. No programmed response or solitaire experience really throws a wrench into your thought processes like another live human being. It makes the problem solving more complex, and thus more rewarding, even when you lose. On top of that, being in a situation with another person as your opponent builds character and social skills. Trite as it may sound, we learn more from losing than from winning, both about how we play and how we act. It’s one thing to gnash your teeth and swear at something like Super Meat Boy or Hotline Miami; doing so at a stranger or even a friend is quite another issue. Fun as it can be amongst people who know you to engage in name-calling for the sake of in-game banter, when it comes to playing with strangers or in a competition it’s important to know your limits and when and how to gracefully bow out of things, or the optimal way to accept and celebrate victory in front of those who’ve lost. You can only get that through this sort of play, and you learn it as your brain is trained.

Boring as it may seem to some outside observers, when I’m engaged in a game like this, I assure you, I’m never really bored.

Tabletop as Brain Food

SmallWorld with the 'rents

I’ve put myself on a path to improve my physical well-being. Being more mindful of what and how much I eat, walking with the intent to start running, looking into a local gym, and so on. Mostly, I fear the atrophy that comes with a sedentary day job and an equally low-impact life at home, and if I’m honest, I’m unhappy with the amount of flab I currently have on my frame. However, making such a change is relatively easy. The body can adapt to adjustments in schedule and activity rather well, all things being equal, and it’s really a matter of establishing and sticking to habits than anything else.

But what about the brain? The most vital of organs also needs maintenance and attention as we age. It’s important to keep the mind engaged and not just feed it something distracting or shallow all of the time. I mean, I won’t begrudge people who really enjoy “Dancing With The Stars” or “Two And A Half Men”, some people do need to unwind with that kind of fare. I’m simply not one of them. As much as I like the occasional campy pleasure like Flash Gordon, more often than not I look to have my brain fed, to keep it trained, to present it with challenges it must overcome.

That, in part, is why I enjoy tabletop games so much.

It took me a while in my youth to really grasp how important it was to me to keep playing them. For a time, I simply enjoyed spending time with my dad, even if I would sometimes let myself get bored between moves rather than studying his strategy and planning my response. Nowadays I can’t imagine sitting entirely idle during an opponent’s turn, though I do occasionally get distracted. Not only is it necessary to pay attention in order to look for victory, it’s an exercise in putting yourself in another’s position, or imagining the other as a complex being instead of just someone to beat. That, to me, is just as important as winning.

I am quite fortunate to be in a place where I can spend time around other gamers who are engaging in this way almost constantly. My co-workers play and even design games on a daily basis. A fantastic store is within easy driving distance to present all sorts of challenges. My father lives a bit further up the road. When I get home, I have the option to play something like Civilization V, Magic: the Gathering – Duels of the Planeswalkers, or Blood Bowl with other human beings. And on rare occasions, a game of Chez Geek or Cards Against Humanity might break out.

To me, the important factor in this is that other people are involved. No programmed response or solitaire experience really throws a wrench into your thought processes like another live human being. It makes the problem solving more complex, and thus more rewarding, even when you lose. On top of that, being in a situation with another person as your opponent builds character and social skills. Trite as it may sound, we learn more from losing than from winning, both about how we play and how we act. It’s one thing to gnash your teeth and swear at something like Super Meat Boy or Hotline Miami; doing so at a stranger or even a friend is quite another issue. Fun as it can be amongst people who know you to engage in name-calling for the sake of in-game banter, when it comes to playing with strangers or in a competition it’s important to know your limits and when and how to gracefully bow out of things, or the optimal way to accept and celebrate victory in front of those who’ve lost. You can only get that through this sort of play, and you learn it as your brain is trained.

Boring as it may seem to some outside observers, when I’m engaged in a game like this, I assure you, I’m never really bored.

Building a Legacy

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Art by Mike Bierek

Now that I have played an official Legacy event of Magic: the Gathering, I find myself even more interested in this robust format. Specifically, I’m curious about a number of the decks in the format. I saw quite a few at the event, running all sorts of strategies from naked flat-out aggression to well-paced control to insane combinations. I’m not sure which setup is best for me, and I’m looking into a few archtypes to try and determine what will be the most fun for me to play, as well as providing wins.

By no means does this mean I’m done with Light Up The Night. As a low-cost entry into this format, I think it’s still got teeth. It does an obscene amount of damage in a very short amount of time. It may remain my go-to aggro deck for a while, possibly growing into something like Delver or Storm. What follows are some of the other decks I’m looking into; you can click on their titles to read more from the MTG Salvation forums, one of the best resources for deck-building ideas out there.

Remember when I used to disparage net decks? Good times…

Death & Taxes

This is a control deck that I think would throw a lot of people. It’s a mono-white deck that lacks some of the punch of top-tier multi-colored decks, but what it does is rather insidious. It’s various means of battlefield and deck disruption mean it’s incredibly versatile against a great deal of opposing wizards’ tricks. The drawback, other than the obscene price of the Karakas land, is that you need to know both your deck and that of your opponent inside and out, anticipating incoming plays and being prepared for a variety of answers. As I’m still new to the format, it will take a while before I’m at that level of play.

Enchantress

I like decks that don’t necessarily rely on doing a ton of damage out of the gate. Like Death & Taxes, Enchantress seems indicative of versatility. Behind the card-drawing of the two main cards that give the deck its name ([mtg_card]Argothian Enchantress[/mtg_card] & [mtg_card]Enchantress’s Presence[/mtg_card]), any number of enchants can drop to manage the battleground. [mtg_card]Moat[/mtg_card] is the go-to long-term one, but it is expensive. It makes Karakas look like something from a yard sale. However, that may be the biggest hurdle to putting this one together, eventually. I really like the notion of building up a “wall” of shrouded enchantments (meaning my opponents cannot target them), rousing an army of angels thanks to [mtg_card]Sigil of the Empty Throne[/mtg_card] and [mtg_card]Luminarch Ascension[/mtg_card], and offering my opponent an honorable surrender before calling down the avenging wrath of the heavens.

Or something like that.

Stoneblade

This deck combines two things I really like: tokens and equipment. Tokens may not be the crux of the deck, but [mtg_card]Lingering Souls[/mtg_card] is one of my favorite cards. What I like about equipment cards is that they add my beloved versatility to any creature that wields them. Regardless of their role, be it a seeker of cards ([mtg_card]Stoneforge Mystic[/mtg_card]) or the shady voice in your ear ([mtg_card]Dark Confidant[/mtg_card]), they can become a powerhouse with the right equipment. With cards for discarding, enemy deck control, and even the support of the lovely but dangerous [mtg_card]Liliana of the Veil[/mtg_card], this deck gives me the flexibility, interesting plays, and flavor I’m looking for, and no one card is in excess of $100. Bonus!

If you play Legacy, I want to hear from you. What deck do you play? What’s your most difficult matchup? What would you recommend for a newbie like myself?

Limited Magic: BREW It Up

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Art by Zoltan Boros & Gabor Szikszai

I’ve written a great deal about Constructed play in Magic: the Gathering, but it isn’t the only format out there. While everything from Standard to Commander falls under the Constructed umbrella, there are other ways to play the game that don’t involve spending a great deal of time before an event putting a deck together. The other way to play is Limited, so called because you are given a limited number of cards to work with at the start and must build from there within a limited amount of time.

Back when I first started playing, you could get generic Starter Decks of Magic that contained semi-randomized decks of cards. In those days, Sealed events consisted of you getting one of these, plus a couple boosters, and building a deck from there based on what you opened. Nowadays, there are Intro and Event decks that all have pre-determined sets of cards within. This allows for too much foreknowledge, and takes away some of the appeal of the event, as the mystery of what you’ll open and how you can use it to win is part of the fun. So, if you play a Sealed event today, it’d be with six boosters.

However, you at least get to keep all of the cards you open in Sealed. This is not the case in Draft. You only get three boosters when you draft, and the nuances don’t stop there. You open your first pack with the rest of the people at your table, look at the cards you’ve opened, choose one, and pass the rest to your neighbor. You, in turn, get your other neighbor’s cards, choose one from them, and so on. You end up with the same amount of cards that you open – 45 – but you chose each and every one of them. Instead of being able to determine a theme or a course of action for the deck within the generous time allowed for Sealed, you do so in real time during Draft.

Either way, the only thing you can know before going into a Limited event is what to look for in your packs. You can have a favorite color combination, card type, or particular single to look for, sure, but you’re going to have to play with what you’ve got in front of you. So how do you make the most of it?

One answer is a simple acronym: BREW.

Basically, BREW is a system that prioritizes the cards you get and helps you keep in mind things to look for that will support whatever deck you end up building. It’s especially helpful in Draft, as your first card falling into one of these categories (usually the first two) will help narrow down your color choices. Sometimes. Anyway, let’s break this down.

Bombs

First and foremost you want to look for finishers. Every deck needs ways to win, and since you know you’re going to end up with at least a few low-cost creatures to hold off early aggression (or put some pressure on yourself!), finding the coup de grace is a higher priority. This is especially true since some (but not all) true finishers are rares. Also, not all of them are creatures: a well-timed [mtg_card]Rakdos’ Return[/mtg_card] or [mtg_card]Fireball[/mtg_card] can end your opponent’s game just as much as a titanic monster.

Removal

You want to keep an opponent’s threats from harming you. The best way to do this is to keep them off the table entirely, which is where removal comes in. A lot of this comes in the form of direct damage like [mtg_card]Annihilating Fire[/mtg_card] or focused destruction cards such as [mtg_card]Avenging Arrow[/mtg_card] but it’s also worth noting that some removal takes the form of enchantments like [mtg_card]Arrest[/mtg_card] and temporary states such as those caused by the Detain mechanic. You’ll tend to find more removal than bombs in a given Limited set, so they’re what we look for next.

Evasion

Remember those non-bomb creatures I mentioned? Most of them are going to be walking around on the ground. If you want to damage your opponent, you’re going to need to avoid them, go right through them, or use yours to hold off the bad guys while your guys remain safe. That, in a nutshell, is evasion. An evasive creature is one that either gets around the enemy or makes attacking unattractive. A good example is flight: a card that flies on its own such as [mtg_card]Tower Drake[/mtg_card] or a card that grants flight, [mtg_card]Pursuit of Flight[/mtg_card] for example, are both viable evasion tactics. Unblockable creatures such as [mtg_card]Invisible Stalker[/mtg_card] are a given, as is anything with a landwalking ability. Creatures with First Strike are also technically evasive: they do their damage without taking any themselves, provided they’re beefy enough to take out whatever they’re facing. I’m sure you can think of other examples.

Whatever

If you can’t find any bombs, removal, or evaders at this point, just grab whatever supports the deck. Mana dorks, Defenders, cards that accelerate your drawing, etc. In Draft, it’s important to keep in mind you may not use everything you pick, so you can pick things you’ll never actually play just to keep an opponent from using them. This is called “hate drafting” and Evil Steve Sadin discusses it here.

Those are the basics of Limited construction, and I’ll give you a more concrete example soon, as well as giving you a run down on how to draft at 4 am on a Tuesday rather than waiting for your friendly local gaming store to hold an event.

The Legacy of Magic

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Art by Greg Staples

I’ve been playing Magic: the Gathering off and on since I was introduced to it in high school almost 20 years ago. Quite a few things have changed in the game since then, but nothing in the game has changed so dramatically that the old cards are strictly unplayable. In fact, there are some formats of Magic where incorporating older cards is encouraged. And rather than restrict myself to Standard and Limited for sanctioned play, I’ve decided to branch out into those formats.

This decision is based mostly on the potential for building new and interesting decks. With the entire length and breadth of Magic to choose from, the possibilities are astounding. I mean, sure, not every deck is going to be viable – there’s only so much one can do with, say, Lifelaces and banding creatures – but the potential is there. Unfortunately, to make the most of the format, some investments will have to be made, as many older cards are rather pricey. Dual lands, staples of the games early editions, are often priced at a hundred dollars or more per card.

Thankfully, not every deck requires these powerful cards. Sometimes, when you find yourself on a budget, the simplest ideas are the best.

[mtg_deck title=”Legacy Monored Burn”]
// Creatures
4 Goblin Guide
4 Keldon Marauders
2 Grim Lavamancer

// Spells
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Fireblast
4 Lava Spike
4 Magma Jet
4 Price of Progress
4 Chain Lightning
2 Sulfuric Vortex

// Lands
3 Arid Mesa
3 Scalding Tarn
14 Mountain

// Sideboard
3 Smash to Smithereens
2 Vexing Shusher
2 Pyrostatic Pillar
2 Pyroblast
2 Anarchy
2 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Ravenous Trap
1 Faerie Macabre
[/mtg_deck]

The deck is fairly straightforward: dishing out as much damage as possible in a short amount of time. However, ‘straightforward’ does not mean ‘simple’. You can’t simply cast all the spells in your hand as quickly as possible and be assured of a win. A key example of this is [mtg_card]Fireblast[/mtg_card]. Canny players wait until after other spells have been cast to play this powerful blow to the enemy’s face with its sacrifice cost. And doing so puts more cards in the graveyard for [mtg_card]Grim Lavamancer[/mtg_card] to use.

I’ve played the deck in one event so far, and it’s not only fun to play but viable against other Legacy decks. Its potential caught me somewhat off-guard, considering I was up against decks like Countertop and Affinity. It’s not perfect, though, as Maverick found ways to slow me down enough to secure a win. Hence the [mtg_card]Anarchy[/mtg_card] in the sideboard – that will take care of pesky Circles of Protection!

In addition to Legacy, the format called Modern provides similar opportunities but with a narrower range of cards to choose from. I had to poke around a bit, but I found a deck list that feels right up my alley, and utilizes some of my favorite cards from both the current and the previous Standard rotation.

[mtg_deck title=”Modern Tokens”]
// Creatures
4 Hero of Bladehold
4 Tidehollow Sculler

// Spells
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Lingering Souls
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Path to Exile
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Zealous Persecution
3 Spectral Procession
3 Midnight Haunting

// Land
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Marsh Flats
1 Mutavault
6 Plains
1 Swamp
3 Windbrisk Heights

// Sideboard
2 Disenchant
2 Kataki, War’s Wage
2 Kor Firewalker
2 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
2 Slaughter Pact
1 Stony Silence
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Torpor Orb
[/mtg_deck]

Which am I more excited to play? Token decks are always fun to play, but the straightforwardness of the burn deck is also appealing. The deck is somewhat underestimated and isn’t as flashy as decks with dual lands, [mtg_card]Force of Will[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Tarmogoyf[/mtg_card], or [mtg_card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/mtg_card], but it has definitely proved itself and, I feel, will continue to do so.

This doesn’t mean I’m done with more casual formats, though. Especially if there’s drinking involved…

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