Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Requiem for an Angel

My brothers and sisters of Magic the Gathering, thank you for joining me on this most solemn of

occasions.  We will be celebrating the life of one of the greatest of creature types in Magic, soon to be relegated to the role of 'Rarely, if ever, Appearing' instead of 'Beloved Mainstay'.

While many of you may not have known our friends angels well, we still welcome you to our service today.  Angels, the most heartwarming and beautiful of creatures, have been with us for many years.  The lives of Angels have touched many, from the LGS whipping boy to the tournament champion.  Angels have been around for so long that we really have no idea what our lives will be like with them.  Please, join with me in a moment of silence as we remember the many Angels that have joined with us to fight back the hoards over the years....

Yes my friends, Magic has all but killed Angels.  They are now on the endangered creatures list.

Death of the Core Set
Core Set 2016 will be the last of Magic the Gathering's Core Sets.  As of September 2017, Core Sets will no longer contribute to Standard, and no more will be made.  For some very good reasons (you can read about it here), Core Sets are going the way of the dodo.  Instead, Standard Format will rely on between 5-6 sets at a time built on a two set block format.  Any given Standard season will be comprised of three blocks and will rotate every 6 months.

This change has been met with a great deal of excitement.  Most people are very happy to see this change, as the advantages are pretty clear for gamers.  First, Standard will NOT become stale.  The faster cycle of rotations will prevent that from happening.  And secondly, it will mean greater excitement as we get twice as many new blocks over a year's time in a Large/Small development cycle.  What's not to like?

Gamers are thrilled.  Design and development at Wizards is thrilled.  This new format has the appearance of being a win-win for everyone.  But that's not the whole story.  There is a pretty large group of people that will be negatively affected by this change.

Constricting Design Space
Undoubtedly, this change will result in constricting design space within the blocks.  Current blocks are 3 sets, often in some configuration of 2 large sets and 1 small set.  Each block represents a world/story within the Magic Community.  And each of these worlds is fully fleshed out by the creative geniuses at Wizards.

Mark Rosewater has made the point that, "...the third set has always been the problem child," in his
article referenced above.  As he described some of the problems, I can see it.  Stretching a story over three sets has got to be a Herculean task.  But it does have one advantage.  Three sets gives the Design team plenty of space to be creative, offering new mechanics, spells, and creatures.

By limiting stories to two sets, one large and the other small, we'll see tighter, more efficient design.  Ideas that don't work in the first two sets can't be floated to the 'problem child'.  They'll be cut.  Reprints that some players come to love to see sneak into sets will no longer happen as often (with the likely exception of cantrips and removal spells), due to the tighter constraints placed on design by the limited card count and set size.

No longer will Design have a large bucket that it needs to fill.  Now, it will have a cup - and it will have to get the job done with that cup every six months.  Story and space will force Design to be very miserly with their set design.

This will be good for competitive players.  Arguably, it will be great for them.  But for casual players, collectors, and everyone else, this new design cycle has the potential to be disappointing.  Yes, as Mark has pointed out we will get to revisit beloved worlds more often.  The change in WotC's approach to design will have a negative affect though on things we've come to love the Core Sets for providing.

Goodbye Angels
So what does the loss of Core Sets really mean?  Aside from no more semi-regurgitated design, it means something pretty important to players.  Several creature types will be going on the endangered species list.  Of them all, I'm going to miss regular printings of angels the most.  Angels are one of the creature types that simply do not fit well into many block stories.  Yes, we saw a one in Gatecrash and a small host of them in Innistrad block - but aside from them they aren't commonly seen in blocks.

The flavor text still gives me chills.
Many angels that have been printed since Magic first started, with most of them in recent years having been consigned to Core Sets or special products (Commander products especially).  I will admit that some of my favorite cards are angels.  I loved playing Serra Angel in M14 draft and loading it up with completely unfair enchantments.  My first Commander deck (which was a very casual attempt) was based on a theme of Angels and Dragons.  Nothing was better than playing a Sunblast Angel after baiting an opponent into attacking me the previous turn.  And I can't forget what a beast Avacyn was for me in M15.  Angels have had some of the best abilities.  At face value, most were at least 4/4 fliers.  Their additional abilities though, whether an ETB pump for your side or a one time trick, always enchanted me as a gamer.

As we go forward, surely angels will make their presence known.  They'll sneak their way into the occasional Duel Deck or Intro Pack.  When angels make sense flavor-wise, we'll get them in blocks. Remember though, unless they find their way into a block they won't be Standard legal.

I know that there will be other creature types that end up relegated to the back of the filing cabinet following this change.  I'll be saddened by their loss as well.  Nothing will make me more sad though - even if I've only been playing for just under 3 years - than knowing that regular appearances by angels will be no more.  Core Set M16 will surely be a bittersweet experience for those of us that love angels in Magic.  I plan on drafting every single one I come across, as a tribute to their greatness in the game.

And if I you happen to spot me at a draft late next summer and I have a little tear in my eye, you'll know it's not allergies.

___________________________

Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.

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Friday, September 26, 2014

Prerelease, or How I Learned to Hate New Stuff

I just don't get it.

I don't even know who to blame anymore.

Here's the deal.  From my 'limited' perspective, prereleases still need more fine tuning - or maybe a great deal more.  I shelled out $120 so my son and I could do a sealed Swiss tournament and a round of Two Headed Giant together.  I left feeling slightly robbed, punch drunk, and unsatisfied.  For the amount of money I paid out, I would have thought things would have been...better.

Don't get me wrong, I do love Khans and everyone was civil at my LGS.  The problem I think stems from the continued play by WotC to package items by Clan (or color groupings) and push them that way.

Here's the thing.  I don't think that they're wrong to do this.  But I'm increasing certain that they need to find a way to improve this system.

Pre-Prerelease
People have preferences.  I prefer Red or White (but I'm starting to learn to love the other colors as well).  Wizards will not change peoples deep seated color preferences except through a long process of nerfing a color maliciously.  So, it is a give that some people feel like a nut and some don't.  In a room of a 100 players who know nothing about an upcoming set, if you ask them what colors they would choose, there is no world in which the answer would split evenly between the 5 colors.  I'm sure you'll find that there are more Blue players in the room than White.  Or the other way around.  

It is a given that Magic players have preferences for a particular color or color pairing.  Let's file that away and remember it - because it is important to this conversation.

Another part of this conversation has to do with the sharing of information, or spoilers.   Wizards has a complicated engine in place to spoil cards from new sets three to one week prior to prerelease.  It is a systematic leaking of state secrets, designed to accomplish several goals.  Of importance is the education of gamers to the new mechanics, abilities, and odd-ball cards.  Just that sentence alone justifies spoiling a set.  But it also serves to put some blood in the water.  Fans start arguing the merits of one card, one color or one group of colors over another.  Spoilers are a necessary evil, but I think they go too far.

And this is where we start to really run into some problems.

Fans start to think, "Hey, that Mardu really looks strong compared to the other sets," or "Why would anyone pick Dimir to play, the mechanic is all wrong."  These pre-prerelease preferences predicting prevalent picks proves problematic (don't think about what just happened, just move on to the next sentence).  LGS's are put in a difficult position.  Gamers don't get what they want.  Product is delivered in (arguably) the wrong quantities.  It's exacerbated when the heavy weights start to weigh in.  When LSV or Marshall talk Limited, people listen.  It's like E.F. Hutton without the stiff suits.

And everyone feels bad.  All except for that one guy that rocked his prerelease.  He can go sit on a small geyser.  [It's all good, I love you, I'm not salty.  Much.]

Feel Bads at the Prerelease
I don't do the crazy midnight prerelease.  It's not that I'm a pansy - but hey, I don't make my best gaming decisions after working all day and sitting around for seven hours before playing.  So I show up at my LGS on Saturday.  First thing I learn is that there is VERY limited Mardu available for the remainder of the weekend - good thing I had made earlier arrangements.  Instead of getting to play as my clan of choice, I'd have to pick some also ran for the 2HG event.  Sure, no problem.  How about Abzan?  Oh wait, there is limited stock there too.

As I let that sink in, I realized that I could be any of the other three clans without a problem.  Judging by the amount of product, come Sunday night I could have a wading pool full of the other three clans.

Folks, something has to give.

When an LGS has to have dice rolls to resolve who gets to be Mardu or Abzan, something is broken in the system.  Let me be clear too - I don't think this is so much the fault of the LGS as it is the entire Prerelease system.  Both parties, WotC and my LGS, probably should own some of the fault in this scenario as described.

Established love for colors or old mechanics.  New hot cards/hot mechanics in particular colors.  A feeding frenzy of spoilers.   Limited product.  An informed gamer base.  All of these pieces come together to create a perfect storm that Wizards has not navigated in an outstanding fashion since I started playing.

Oh...and don't get me started on the stickers.  I'm sure others can say a host of unkind things.  Instead, I'll be objective.  It was cheaply produced and did not add to the value of the experience in any way.

Looking Forward
I have to identify what the problem is, in plain language, to offer recommendations.  So I do apologize for the previous section.  I have suggestions to improve Prerelease.  Here they are, in no particular order.

Packaging - Kill the box packaging.  Or, only do special/box packaging for one of the five/six prereleases a store offers.  It's cool (and I don't think Wizards will get rid of it) but it is an option.

Limit Spoilers - Cut down on the number of spoilers before the full set is discussed.  Yes, this is a 'bad thing', but give me a moment.  A little bit of mystery is fine.  Don't discuss more than half of the rares and uncommons.  If you must keep sending out the full number of spoilers, do more commons.  For WotC, spoilers serve as a reward of sorts for dedicated writers/websites.  I'm not suggesting that they stop this practice.  I'm merely suggesting that the practice be potentially revised.

Move Back the Full Set Reveal - I don't know when it happens compared to shipping and other concerns.  But I would bet the Full Set Reveal can be moved a few days closer to prerelease, giving everyone a little less wiggle room in figuring out their 'preferred' clan or colors.  Even a day or two would make a difference.

Packaging (Part 2) - Whitewash the box packaging.  This will make the color or clan a random choice.  I don't think this is a bad solution...in fact, players could simply trade immediately after opening if they desire a different color.

Test ALL Product - Those stickers this time?  Lame.  Test all product before including it.  Yes, it's a small gripe, but the Prerelease is a canvas that Wizards uses to paint the next 3-4 months.  Why put something out that I'm sure even they thought was sub-par?

Instructions - Simple, but effective.  Send an email to LGS's telling them what to expect and how to capitalize.  If this means you spell out that they will be receiving a limited amount of product that is expected to be in high demand, also spell out how to divide the limited product fairly.  First come, first serve on the day of?  First paid reservation, first served?  A lottery?  Remind LGS's because they are only getting X amount of product they must share it fairly across all of their 5 or 6 events.  Is this already happening and LGS's aren't doing it?  Then please excuse me, my LGS and I have something to talk about.

Instructions (Part 2) - Force LGS's to take an online training course in optimizing their Prerelease experience.  This online training can be expanded into other areas.  It's amazing what a little bit of training can do for people.

Test Before Producing - Surely, even internal testing must indicate what couple of colors or clans will be more popular at release.  Try it out.  If internal testing with the Future Future League figures out what color or clan will be more popular - and it matches what happens at the LGS's in a year, then for future sets produce product with an extra printing of the colors that will be in higher demand.  Or, give LGSs the option to purchase Mardue or Azban by the case for example to meet expected demand.

Your Ideas?
I'm sure that some of my ideas have been spoken about before.  If you've seen an idea that I didn't list, please add it below in the comments.  Or, if you have an original idea, please share it as well.

I'll continue to attend prereleases in the future.  But I don't expect I'll be doing $120 worth of events for my son and I unless the system changes to promote more parity between players.  Sure my son and I made some interesting pulls - but no Fetches or Planeswalkers.  That probably made me a little bitter as well.  But after spending almost nine hours playing, I can't but help think that there is a better way to make sure that everyone has an equal chance to enjoy themselves.

Thanks for listening.

Magic Dad
___________________________

Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

We, the Undersigned, Want a 3rd Un-set

I've thought long and hard about what is going to transpire here in this article.  I can no longer sit idly by as people ask, again and again, when will there be another Un-set.  Ladies and gentle-gamers, it's time for us to take a stand!

Origins
Some say the original idea for Unglued hatched like some evil little egg from from leftover cards in
 WotC R&D department.  Some say it was a concerted effort by the WotC Illuminati to subvert the masses.  Others believe it was the brainchild of Evil Maro or Marobot.  I personally prefer my pet theory, that one day goblins tunneled up into WotC's offices, poked around and decided everything in progress was rubbish.  The leader of the goblins, one King Gutbuster Gutbuster (this was during the dark period of goblin history when monarchs held double names for twice the respect - this affect was rumored to have lasted exactly 254 days) decided the most prudent course of action would be to find the shortest person (aka, most goblin-like in stature) and hold him or her hostage until a new set was produced to their specifications.  They grabbed Mark Rosewater - and the rest is history.

Whatever the true origin of Unglued, no one is talking (don't you dare go look for Mark Rosewater's Drive to Work Podcasts #13 & 38).  The community of Magic the Gathering was not prepared for that fateful August day in 1998 when 88 new cards were released.  They weren't just any 88 cards though - they were 88 silver bordered cards.  Just over 16 years ago the world was introduced to Unglued, and fans have been clamoring for more ever since.

Un-WHAT?
Just a few short years later, in November of 2004 Y.O.O.R.E. (the year of our rotten egg), WotC dropped another silver bordered gift on the unsuspecting masses.  We received 141 new silver bordered pieces of spectacular puns, witty jokes, and inside-inside cranks.  It must have been great opening that Un-set for the first time.  Can you imagine the feeling of ripping into your box and having a bunch of spring loaded snakes fly out?

[Editor: We have no idea what the author is talking about.  Snakes?  Please.]

After the festivities in 2004, the world waited patiently for another Un-set.  Yet here we are in 2014 (some of us anyway), and it appears that Hasbro/WotC has abandoned Un-sets as possibly Un-profitable.  Or maybe they are Un-appealing to the fans.  Or perhaps they are Un-appetizing to the small, but very vocal, sub-set of Magic aficionados that survive on a diet of Commons and Uncommons.

Some Un-Believable Facts
If we're going to get an Un-set before 2017, we have to act now.  It takes time to put together a set.
 Even an Un-set.  Those crayon drawings just don't throw themselves together, you know?

The last Un-set, Unhinged, was rumored to offer less than exciting sales performance.  Also, since silver bordered cards are only allowed in casual settings it can be argued that Un-sets are a waste of developers time.

Hogwash.

What is the most important thing in life?  Yes!  Money!  And after money?  Yes!  Fast cars!  (You guys sure are smart).  And what is the third most important thing in life?  Yes!  To have a sense of humor!

Un-sets are Hasbro/WotC's way of laughing at themselves.  Since WotC already has tons of money and Hasbro has cornered the market on fast ...err... toys (those Beyblade things could take a finger), it's only fair that they now turn their attention back to what really matters most.  Humor.

Un-Real Expectations
So what can we do as gamers?  Surely, we've asked Rosewater thousands of questions on his Blogatog regarding rules interactions.  We've begged him, time and time again to let those in power at Hasbro and WotC know we want a new Un-set.  Heck, it's even rumored that in his office there is a golden filing cabinet, filled with thousands of card ideas just waiting for the right moment.

We can petition Hasbro and WotC.  I know, I know, it's a trite and boring method to make stuff happen.  But it is a way to make them realize how important the concept of an Un-set is to us.  We want a fun, supplemental, silver-bordered product.  And we don't want any durdling small set either.  We deserve the full size, extra large, Un-set treatment.

When do we want it?  NOW!

How do we want it?  FUNNY!

Who do we want to design it?  MARK ROSEWATER!

Click this link to go to the petition that will change our gaming lives for the better!

___________________

Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.



Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Event Fees Mania

The original Judge Dredd
Step back folks, because MTG Dad is going to lay down the law, Isperia style.

The latest kerfluffle on social media is all about the $50 event fee being charged by Pastimes for their upcoming GP events.  You can read the open letter from the TO here.  Players are incensed over the $10 increase in main event entry fees.  They're even more upset given a number of statements and promises made, such as the $15 for side events credit being issued.

Let's all take a deep breath.  It's time to face some unfortunate facts.






growtH
Competitive Magic is growing at a scary pace.  From GP Vegas to GP Richmond, as gamers we're watching attendance figures jump to nearly ludicrous numbers.  As a trading card game, Magic has set new records in the past year for event attendance.  And it's not just 'special' events like GP Vegas that are seeing increases.  It's happening everywhere.  Records are being set locally by hosts of PTQs and GPs seemingly every other weekend.

Growth does come with a price.  Large events are not uncomplicated affairs to organize.  Judges and other critical staff, coverage teams (when warranted), giveaways, venue fees, and more all contribute to the overall cost of an event.  The larger the event, the more complicated all this becomes and the greater effect this will have on the basic entry fee.  Why?

Let's look at a simple example.  Tomorrow, I'm going to host a GP in my hometown.  I rent a space that will seat 1,500, but have provisions for jumps in attendance marked for every +500 that sign up.  From past experience and growth projections, I'm expecting between 1,400 and 1,800 players.  I plan that I'll need 30 total judges.  I also think I'll need 10 additional 'event staff' to handle everything from security to the 5 professional players I'm told will be attending and deserve extra attention.  I have 2 artists scheduled to sign cards and talk to fans.  I have a food vendor, but know that I can have the site open up to two more kiosks if needed.  I have ordered 900 playmats (700 for the first guests to register on site, 100 for compensation to VIPs and judges, and 100 extra as a cushion that I can sell later at a premium).

The above is an overly simplified example, there are many more variables.  People with their hands out and want to ride the GP gravy train.  And then it happens.

The local airlines are running some reduced fair garbage for my event weekend.  No other major events get scheduled within 200 miles.  People decide that yes, Southern NJ is lovely this time of year (every last one of them is nuts, but who am I to argue?).

All of a sudden, my little, manageable event goes from at most 1,800 expected to 2,700 expected attendees.  And somehow I have to smile and make it all happen.  I have to make special arrangements to get the additional space needed.  I have to scramble and find another 25 judges.  I need to arrange for 2 more artists to keep people happy.  On and on the list goes, scaling up the operation to meet demand.

Regardless of how well I prepared, my costs go up.  Agreed, the take at the door goes up as well.  I won't argue that fact.  But my frustration goes up as well.  The pressure to pull off a great event increases with each new revised estimate leading up to the event.  My personal investment of time and energy increases seemingly exponentially.

How can this be combated?  Different TO's take different strategies.  And I will admit, some of this is pure speculation on my part.  But I am willing to bet that TO's have started to plan for success by making some decisions early.  Instead of bringing in 2 artists, they decide to just go ahead and book 5.  Instead of having 30 Judges selected, they move to hire 40 with a strong contingency plan in place to have more attend.  Instead of 10 event staff, they hire 15.  It's practically self defense.

Which would you rather be known for?  Charging $10 more for the registration fee or being woefully under prepared for the masses when they all sign up in the last week before the event?  One or two bad events can kill a TO.  They don't make a tremendous amount of money on events - this is something I'm sure of.

So Let's Talk Greenbacks
An event with 2,000 people attending is becoming the norm for GPs.  Here is some quick math.  At $40 per entrant, that's $80,000.  Seems astonishing for one weekend, doesn't it?

Now, when that fee goes up to $50, we're talking $100,000 for the event.  Simply bonkers, right?

Granted, I know that there is more money involved when we start talking side events and more, but let's keep this simple for exploration purposes.

What if I told you that for all the effort of a TO for a large event, they may only personally make a few thousand dollars (this is based on a stupid amount of math, some research, and some educated guesses).  Any TO for a GP event, before it has started, has likely put in well over 100 hours of their time.  Let's say the average personal take is $4,000 for an event with 1,500 participants - but that is ONLY if they meet every projection from side events to sales on product at their booth to total attendance.  $4,000, divided by 100 hours...

It's not rocket science, but I'm pretty sure they earned that.  Phone calls.  Meetings.  Planning.  Contingency planning.  Emails.  More phone calls and meetings.  TO's put a great deal of time into events.

There is a flip side.  What if they don't plan well enough for an event and it fails to hit the target by a couple of hundred people?  Who takes the hit?  It isn't the Floor Judges, they get their compensation.  It isn't the artists, they have serious costs to consider.  It's not the event staff who gave up their day to work a door checking bags and wristbands.  The person who is ultimately responsible is the TO.  The TO is on the hook for all profit and loss with an event.

As event attendance grows (but is still difficult to predict) and when the difference between 1,800 attendees and 2,100 attendees can mean the difference between profit and loss, can we blame a TO for raising the rates of the event?

What about Free Stuff?
I felt I had to address this issue separately.  Free playmats have become and expectation.  GPs offer them as
Gold is never free...
a rule, other events offer them as special prizes.

So let's talk about these wonderful pieces of rubber artwork.

GP Richmond set a strange standard that players expect others to fulfill.  I take some exception to holding all TO's to the Star City model.  Why?

Let's look at cost and planning first.  Playmats aren't cheap.  Mass produced, yes, I'm sure they are considerably less expensive than the retail fee we pay for one at our local LGS.  Let's assume they cost $10 a unit (perhaps this is fair).  If I had to predict how many I needed for my GP that I was planning earlier and I figured I needed 2,000 to be safe, that is a commitment of $20,000 - before I've taken in dime one.

What happens when I miss my target and I only get 1,500 participants?  I'm stuck with $5,000 worth of stock I have to eventually find a way to move.  Depending on the artwork, the demand and valuation of playmats vary wildly.  I could get stuck for that $5,000.  Remember my estimate for my personal event profit?  Kiss it good-bye.

The model currently in use is that a TO plans to purchase upwards of 1,000 units for most GPs.  I already showed how that is distributed.  But what if I promise one playmat for participant?  How do I meet demand, especially when I have several hundred more people register than I planned for in the last week?

Star City Games stepped up.  They have the ability to do so.  They have the largest shipping department of any TO, and they can with little difficulty devote some of that department to sending out playmats to the additional registrants.  I doubt that in the end they made much money because of shipping fees, but at least they had the staff and the engine in place to do it.

That's not going to be the case with other TOs.  While most have shipping set up through their stores, none are the size of SCG.  In fact, many of them only have one or two store locations with 10 or fewer staff members.  We can't expect them to make the same promise made by SCG.  It's not going to happen, no matter how much we may all wish that signing up for an event meant we were guaranteed a playmat.

There is a model that would work - if players would be willing to admit something.  We, as players, are a bit lazy.  If we are willing to admit it, and furthermore willing to do something about it then TOs could change the model and everyone could benefit.

What if TO's change the model to one such as this: playmats guaranteed to any player that registers a minimum 21 days (or whatever the order window is to guarantee shipment) in advance, playmats for all VIP registrations, and playmats (or an equivalent bonus prize) for all winners of side-events costing at least $15 to register.  There isn't a TO out there that would lose in terms of having too much stock left over - the math from that point forward is simple.  Some conditions would have to apply to this new model.  None of them would be seen as a drawback by the average player.

This is a model that can be and should be adopted.  But will it?

The Hard Truth
It's inevitable.  Fees for entry into events will continue to rise.  The fact that Pastimes is the first to break the $50 barrier does not change this.  Before the end of the year, we'll likely see a few other TOs test the waters.  Players should instead of complaining should seek ways to engage TOs in conversations about what services they value most at events.  Perhaps having a help desk to refer players to local eateries?  Or maybe players would like to see more artists or a planned event 'after hours' they can attend.

I don't know what form event extras will take over the next year.  With constant growth though, it is impossible for events to remain stagnant.  The old model is no longer sustainable, so let's all find ways to participate in the discussion.

Anyone who reads this has homework.  Log into Twitter.  Find the following accounts: @misterorange, @PESman66, @sunmesaglenn, @ironchefnick, @pastimesonline, @timothypshields and YOUR TWITTER ACCOUNT HERE (just add it in the comments section and I'll update the article). Read, think, and engage these TOs in conversations about what you want to see as a player at events.  Only with your voices can we all see positive change.

Just don't complain to them about the price increases.  It's not worth your time or energy to complain, especially when you have between $400 and a few grand invested in the deck you plan to bring to the next GP.

And that, my friends, is that.

___________________

Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.

Spike by Proxy

I like to write about a variety of topics in the Magic Community.  As things strike my interest, I take to the keyboard to hash out my thoughts.  Sometimes it's easy.  The words flow and paint pictures for me.  Other times, it can feel impossible.  My mood poisons the well, making it difficult to function - let alone find time to write.  This occasion is not one of those times.  I'm thrilled today to recap some of my memories  following GP Philadelphia.

New Friends
We've spoken through email, message boards and Twitter.  But this was the first time to meet some very smart and wonderful ladies that represent Magic at its best.  I was honored to meet Kate (Deck Tease Unofficial Fan Club Co-President), Natalie (Cardboard Nirvana on Tumblr), Jennifer (if you haven't heard of Jennisodes, I'm sorry for your loss), and Erin for the first time.  From the moment I met Erin of The Deck Tease Podcast, I knew I was in good hands - even if I felt a little bit like a fifth wheel given how well they all knew each other already.  I ended my day thinking that all four ladies are just the best, and I can't say enough positive things about them without seeming like a fan boy (I know I came off that way when I asked Erin to sign several items).  I am looking forward to the chance to see them all again, and given that 3 of the 4 are reasonably local, I'm sure I'll see them at upcoming events.

Elmer signed by Marshall
I was also able to speak briefly with Marshal Sutcliffe, of Limited Resources fame.  I was really blown away
by how approachable and friendly he was.  For those that haven't had a chance to talk with him, I encourage you to do so if you get a chance.  Richard Hagon was also on-site doing some consulting.  He was also just as personable as you would imagine.

I did miss a chances to speak with a number of people, but that is one of the problems with only attending one day of a three day event.  At the very least I wanted to meet Adam Styborski (Gathering Magic).  I honestly was unaware Adam was there until after I made it home from the event.  One day I'll get my chance though.



Excellent Judges
Now that I've worked a few events as a Judge Candidate, I feel qualified to state the following.  The judges at the event were outstanding.  Every interaction taken by the Judge staff seemed to be calculated to minimize loss of time to the players and to heighten the experience.  I left the day both amazed and pleased at the quality of the staff hired to work the event.  High fives all around.

XX
It could be just me, but I think that women in general were represented amazingly well at GP Philly.  Yes, I spent some of my time talking with some women who I consider to be important to the Magic Community so I could have a skewed outlook, but I also had a sense that there was a much higher percentage of females in the room and playing then I saw at Eternal Weekend and GP Atlantic City - combined.  I don't know if it was just my imagination - I hope it wasn't.  If it is true, it shows how far the game has come over the past year.  Just on anecdotal evidence, I can state we had at least three women playing in a 2HG event I joined late in the day out of about 50 players.  Strong stuff.

The Ride Home
On our way home, I started a couple of different conversations with Jacob to keep me alert.  It had been a long day and I didn't want to fall asleep at the wheel.  Jacob is my younger son.  He's nearly a teenager so I find his observations to be entertaining.  On an hour long car ride late at night, there's nothing better than getting the opinion of a 12 year old.

When he was done complaining that I knew too many people (he can be a little cynical at times), he started to rib me a bit about my finish in the main event.  And in the last main event we played in, GP Atlantic City.  In fact, he went so far as to say he's won two or three more matches than I have in big events.  He was giving me some serious grief.  Jacob is funny though.  Compared to my older son, who as soon as he got out of diapers would peel paint off the walls with his observations about people's shortcomings, Jacob is almost always good-natured with his teasing.  This occasion was no different.

His teasing did give me a chance to reflect.  The event, travel, parking, food and more wasn't cheap.  For the two of us, my total bill for the day likely approached $200.  There are less expensive ways to spend a day.  I didn't have one regret though.  Even my finishing 2-3 - well, 1-3 if we want to be honest, the last win was because my opponent for my last round simply forgot to drop - didn't dampen my feelings.  I will admit a small amount of tilt over my pool for the main event which included Polukranos, Purphoros, and Nylea and with my final results.  And a small amount of upset was felt on my part over losing out in the 2HG round to a game I thought we had under control early.  And I did lose the last round I entered that day, a Mini-Masters I think I should have won....  

...Wait a second, what was my point?

Even after having a run of bad luck on the day, there was something that made it worthwhile.  Jacob did battle to a 2-3 finish on his own with a pool that was a little puzzling.  He did his best with it, and showed me his fortitude.  He was admittedly a little surly around Marshal Sutcliffe earlier in the day coming off of a loss.  I think most players in his shoes would have felt the same way at the time. His wanting to rub in his combined successes during the ride home told me two things I want to share with you all.

The first is that he wants to win.  Losing hurts, and he really doesn't like the feeling.  I don't view losing the same way he does.  To be honest, personally when I lose a Magic match I almost never tilt and I don't value it in the same way.  He sees it as a way to keep score.  It's obvious he wants the tally to favor him at the end of the day.

The other point, and the more important one for me was that I want to see him win.  There are few things to compare with seeing your child to succeed.  As much as he wants to win, I probably want to see him do so 100 times more.  I love to see him mix it up with an older player with years more experience and win.  I especially love it when he does so by demonstrating a deeper understanding of the game than I have.  When we play at home, I'm constantly trying to help him improve his game by showing him things that I've seen other players do.  Nothing makes me happier than to see him emerge triumphant following a tight match.

I shared my feelings with him on our ride home.  I'm not sure he believes me.  But one day, he'll be sitting in the Top 8 of a PTQ and I'll be strutting around like I just won the Super Bowl.  Maybe then he'll appreciate how much I care how he does.  I may never personally reach the point where I'm a Spike.  When Jacob is playing though, I'm a full-blooded Spike by proxy.

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Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Spring Spoilers - Quit Your Bitch'n

Can you feel it?

Spring is in the air.  The flowers are blooming.  Here in the Middle-Atlantic, it has finally stopped snowing (at least we think it has).   And new love can be seen everywhere we go.  I'm not referring to that sweet little thing in a skirt or shorts that just smiled at you for the first time.  No, I'm referring to something better.

The Journey into Nyx spoilers have begun!

Same Song, New Tune
As with all spoilers seasons, the first couple of announcements made Monday were calculated to wet our whistles. Wizards of the Coast wanted to tease us with fun new mechanics and show off just a little bit of the new art.  The marketing experts who figure out when and how to release information know that they need to start slowly and build to a crescendo.  Tuesday's releases brought out some heavy hitters.  New gods were spoiled, and the world wept.

Wizards wasn't done yet.  If Monday was a warm-up band and Tuesday was the prologue (think 'Ecstasy of Gold' before Metallica takes the stage), then Wednesday was going to be the main performance.  And what a performance!

Today they released the last piece of the great planeswalker puzzle.  A Green/White planeswalker, the last color pairing missing from every fanboy's set made its big debut.  Wizards of the Coast answered finally the promise made long ago.  In Born of the Gods, we were given the missing U/G planeswalker, Kiora.  And today we have Ajani, Mentor of Heroes.

Shouldn't everyone be happy?  Well, apparently not.  No, people are most decidedly unhappy.  That is if you listen to Facebook, Twitter, and your local clutch of teenagers.  People are complaining, again.  "It's not flavorful."  "It's not original."  "It has the weakest ultimate ever."  Normally I would join in with arguing.  I love a spirited discussion about one's parentage.  But this time though, I'm not.  And I'm here to share why.

Mechanics
I have a confession to make first.  I haven't read the actual article that accompanied the newest planeswalker.  I thought it would be best to evaluate it on my own, share my findings and then, and only then, read it.  I won't think less of you if you have read it already.  If you'd like to read the full story, you can find it here.  In the meantime, let's peel back the mask and see if this PW is playable.
A very tough looking Ajani

The first thing to check is the Casting vs. Loyalty test.  This is to Planewalkers as the Vanilla test is to
creatures.  Casting vs. Loyalty answers two questions: when the PW hits the battlefield will it survive an immediate attack and is the cost fair when you look at the starting loyalty.  Ajani, Mentor of Heroes stacks up fairly well in both tests.  First, it hits the ground running at 4 Loyalty (soon to be +1).  That will survive all but an outright 'kill the Planeswalker' type of response.  And starting at 4 Loyalty for a CMC of 5 isn't bad either.  It's not stellar, but it is more than fair.

Ajani has three abilities.  Unlike most Planeswalkers, the first two abilities result in positive changes to Loyalty counters.  That's right, Ajani is all about net gain.   The first two abilities are important, flavorful, and helpful in most formats.

The first, distribute three +1/+1 counters as you choose to creatures you control is great.  In fact, it's better than that.  You get to do this (theoretically) every turn you want to.  Common Bond, a 3CMC G/W spell only did 2 counters each time you cast it.  Even if you only consider this a Common Bond for three counters that you'll get to fire twice in most cases, it seems pretty solid to me.

But wait (says the guy selling Ginsu), there's more!  The second +1 ability is not horribly awful.  In fact, when you compare it to the first ability, it is better than that.  It is downright perfect.  Boardstates generally evolve into one of two states - you could have creatures that would benefit from the counters and thus the first ability or you could have a boardstate with limited or no creatures.  While you don't get to search for and play a creature of a given CMC or less, you do get to go search for one and move it to your hand.  Or a planeswalker.  Or an enchantment.  And you get to do this card draw and selection in G/W, not the standard blue.  This is powerful juju, and I think people should step back from the cliff just based on this ability alone.

No Bitch'n?
Most people are upset at the ultimate.  I'm not, but here is their complaint in a nutshell: gaining 100 life is either the most useless or the most annoying ultimate ever.  I admit, as an ultimate it seems pretty ridiculous.  And not in the, 'Hey every turn you can make a 7/7 Flying Deathtouch Zombie Angel token,' ridiculous.  More of the, 'We have to get up to 8 Loyalty, wait one more turn and all we get is this stupid t-shirt ridiculous'.

I agree that it doesn't win games outright.  What it does do is it puts most games out of reach, which is almost the same thing.  But if you're worried about someone going ultimate with their Ajani, MoH, against you, you're doing something wrong.  I'm not upset though.  If I had this on the battlefield under my control, I wouldn't even look at the third ability.  Neither should anyone else.  Good players facing it will target and kill Ajani before it ever gets to the point.  Good players that have it on their side of the battlefield will likely never see greater benefit from going ultimate than they will from the first two abilities.

It's a -8 ability.  It's a negative 8, with no way of protecting itself (the last statement is not completely true, but it will stand up in court and I don't think it's important to explain further right now).  People who want this Ajani in their deck will want it for the +1/+1 effect.  They'll want it for the card smoothing effect.  They really won't care about the ultimate.  And neither will opponents.  Going ultimate with a PW is wonderful, but it's also not why they're played.

We play cards for the guaranteed payoff, not the perceived, best-case scenario.  Ajani's best case can be a nightmare for players in any format.  It's not to be feared though.  How often does a PW ultimate, on average?  Even the best ones?  I'll bet it's less than 20% of the time.  No one plays a PW for the ultimate ability alone.

Whether you're arguing about the 'value' of this newest planeswalker or if you're bemoaning the -8, do us all a favor.  Stop.  Your.  Bitch'n.

It's not the end of the world.  It's also way too early to determine how much of an impact this card will have on Standard or any of the other formats (I personally think it will be stupidly powerful in Limited).  People will want it and many, many will find success with it.  Until the meta changes in Standard, I think we can all sit back, grab a frosty beverage and relax.

Oh, and I have five bucks on it appearing in a Top 4 deck before the end of May....


___________________

Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.


Endnotes: Coming to GP Philadelphia this weekend - April 11-13?  Feel free to look me up on Twitter.  I'll be there Saturday, slinging spells with Jacob, my son and fellow lover of Limited/Sealed.  If you'd like to hit me up during the day, my Twitter handle is @mtgdad.  If you can't find me or I'm not answering, stop in at CardTitan and ask for Nick or Miles.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Drafting BotG & Theros: Mistakes Were Made

Limited drafting is my bread and butter.  I don't have time or patience to figure out what the meta-game is for Standard.  And the price tag for entry into Modern and other formats is basically beyond my reach.  So I pride myself on being a 'limited' player.  No pun intended.

I need to make a confession to you, though, about my lack of success in draft since October.  I haven't had much luck with Theros, and with the inclusion of Born of the Gods my Limited game has gone right out the window.  My last draft was a 1-2 drop and most have been similar.  I went home last night, dejected, dragging my 12 year-old home with me as well (he went 2-2 as well, so we were both out of the price support).

What's a guy got to do to win a draft?  Heck, I'd be happy finishing with a winning record.

Dad!
So as puttered around Saturday making breakfast, I was still smarting.  My youngest, being the perceptive gentleman I've raised him to be asked what was wrong.  I grumbled something about feeling off of my game.

"Dad...dad...DAD!"

"What?" I so eloquently replied when I finally answered him.

"Let me look at your deck.  It's still together, right?"

"Sure son, it's together.  Go ahead and look, but you won't find anything wrong with it.  It was a great deck, I don't understand how I did so poorly."  I went back to stirring my eggs, grumbling some more to myself.

Following breakfast came the wonderful chore of cleaning up the mess I had made in the kitchen.  As I did, I could hear him rustling in the other room.  No sooner had I finished than he came in, beaming.  "I know what you did wrong," he declared.

Uppity kid.  How could he know what I did wrong?  I didn't even know what I did wrong, and he's going to tell me?  Kids, they think they know everything these days.

"Alright then, Mr. Super Draft.  Tell me, what did I do wrong?"

And tell me he did...

Old Dog
He dragged me out to the living room, where had commandeered one half of the card table.  On it, my deck was displayed in it's naked glory.  He had it sorted in a pretty standard formation.  The cards were organized from left to right with increasing CMC and was split in half with bottom row just being spells.

"Ok," he says, "Let me show you where you messed up." Allow me sum up how I felt at that moment.  First, I'm ticked I went 1-2 drop the night before.  Second, I'm not totally awake as my big Saturday morning breakfast was weighing a little heavy on me.  And thirdly, I was feeling a little ticked that he thought he knew something I didn't.

And then he started to talk...

The Deck
Shoot, there I go again.  Getting ahead of my story.  Before we go one step further, I need to lay out my deck for you in the same way he did for me.  Here it is in CMC and sorted:

Creatures

1x Battlewise Hoplite
1x Vaporkin
1x Phalanx Leader
1x Traveling Philosopher
   Match one, the Philosopher was a Coastline Chimera
1x Elite Skirmisher
1x Ghostblade Eidolon
1x Triton Fortune Hunter
2x Observant Alseid
1x Heliod's Emissary
1x Chorus of the Tides
1x Sealock Monster
1x Mnemonic Wall
1x Prescient Chimera
1x Horizon Scholar
1x Elspeth, Sun's Champion

Spells
2x Battlewise Valor
1x Stymied Hopes
1x Hold at Bay
1x Nullify
1x Dawn to Dusk
1x Griptide

Lands
1x Temple of Enlightenment
8x Plains
8x Islands

(Take that Nathan Holt, 40 cards)



Pretty strong W/U deck, right?  Not so fast there Sparky, my son has something to teach me (or is that us?).

New Tricks
"Your first mistake was playing Dawn to Dusk.  It's an awful card, and you've got Revoke Existence in your sideboard.  You should have played that instead."  I argued with him.  I told him about all the upside to Dawn to Dusk.  And then it hit me...not once did I capitalize on the full potential of the card in the 8 games I played the night before.  Could the kid be right?  Nah, there's no way he's right.  Dawn to Dusk would not only get rid of an enchantment, but I could get one out of my graveyard as well.  Surely it was better?

"The next thing you did wrong was you've got 9 playables with a CMC more than 3.  Look at my deck."  Having said this, I was immediately suspicious.  After looking and pulling cards out though, I was a little bewildered.  I was so confused at what I saw that I went through his deck from the night before again, but I found no proof of shenanigans.  He had 3 cards over 3 CMC.  Now, I'm not sure if he's 100% with his draft choices, but after shuffling through his deck a third time I could see it had more synergy and speed than mine.  In the current Limited format, he obviously made some great choices while picking cards.

"Jacob, I can see were I went wrong.  Thanks.  I'll try to be more aware of what I'm picking next time."

"Dad, I'm not done."  Really?  You found something else that I did wrong?  Well then, let's see about this.

"Go ahead buddy, show me what else I did wrong."

"Well, you don't have any 1 drops."  Again, I argued.  But it was futile.  He was right.  Sure, in my colors during my draft I didn't see any choice 1 drops that I could recall, but that didn't mean that I there weren't any.  He may have a point here.  Is it wrong not to be able to play a creature on the first turn?  Maybe it is, especially with how fast the format has become.

"Oh, and dad?  You also had a problem with 2 drops.  Two of your four playable creatures had restrictive casting costs."  I'll grant him that one.  With Battlewise Hoplite and Phalanx Leader in my deck, if my mana was off when I drew I could be in trouble.

Mostly Right
"It's not all bad, dad.  There are some things here that are great."  He went on to show me what he liked about the deck, from the choice of Hold at Bay (it did win a game for me, essentially Fog in white is pretty sweet and most players don't seem to realize its potential) to having both Horizon Scholar and Ghostblade Eidolon.  He also pointed out that swapping the Chimera for the Philosopher was a good idea, but I should have also taken out Sealock Monster.

"Why should I have gotten rid of Sealock?  He's awesome!"  My arguments are always more eloquent in my head.

"Dad, it's too slow and conditional in this format."  Yes, my 12 year old just used the conditional argument against me.  Stink of it was, he was right.

So we talked a little bit more.  As we did, I realized two things.  First, I really need to think a little bit more about my casting cost in this format.  I often rush a little bit too much when making picks.  Instead, I should think about where I am more and worry about how to make it all fit into the big picture.  I did recall an Omenspeaker being available at the same time as the Sealock, perhaps I should have taken it.

The other thing I realized is this kid is bright.  He knows his stuff.  No, he's not perfect.  But he does take his time to consider the big picture a lot more than I do.  He can frame it better than I can - what he needs to win.  He isn't as driven as I am by the big, bad creatures.  No doubt in mind, when he has another year or so of experience he's going to have other players begging for mercy.

Even if I keep drafting the big baddies, at least I know one of us will do well.

___________________

Reblogs, Retweets, & Mentions of all kinds are appreciated - as an independent writer I'm only read when others like what they see and share with their friends.


Endnotes
1. The joke about 40 cards is in good fun, I'm sure Nathan Holt actually runs the occasional 40 card draft deck...right?
2. This article is certified 100% #crackgate free.