Monday, January 19, 2015

A New Beginning

I want to take a moment to thank everyone who has ever read my blog, used Twitter to talk about it, or offered constructive criticism.  I believe each and every one of you have helped to make me a better writer about Magic.

When I started this blog, I had no expectations.  I just simply wanted to write about experiences with Magic that I thought were interesting.  I felt a need (every once in a while) to complain openly.  I wanted to talk about my son and our relationship through this wonderfully complex game.  And sometimes I just wanted to have some fun.

The funny thing was, it did not take long for some of my stories to gain attention of people I think are important to the industry.  A few pros, a smattering of people at Wizards, and others all made me feel like my voice was important - even when I made missteps.  I had a very early offer to explore writing with a group that I looked up to, but I knew then that I wasn't ready.  Thank you, Heather.

If you were to ask me who I wanted to write for if I could choose anyone, the answer would always be the same.  But that company doesn't offer content...yet.  Maybe one day they will.  I still like to think about what it would be like to work with the person who (aside from my younger son) got me started in Magic.  Nick, I'm always available to you.

Just last week though, I heard about a search for new writers that one of the more exciting content sites was sponsoring.  I was intrigued, as I have reached the point that I want to find a way to grow further as a writer and thought that this would be a great chance to do so.  So I sent in some samples and a link to my blog.  I also did my best to make sure they knew I wasn't the type of person that would write all the time, week in and week out.  I told them some of my story ideas may not always work for them.  I even told them that I was old, had a kid, and liked to collect super-sized pottery sculptures of garden gnomes painted pink to blend in with my collection of flamingos.  Ok, that first and second bit just aren't true.

Try as I might to make myself appear to be someone they may not want, I received an email from their editor last night.  Someone, somewhere, wants me to submit stories to them on a contributory basis.  If I wasn't so tired from drafting triple Fate Reforged (and yes, it's as bad as it sounds), I would have done a little dance.

So I'm leaving this blog to gather dust as I go to work for The Meadery.  Some of you may have already heard about them, either for their great content, moderated forums, or for their unique take on Social Networking.  I'm very excited to have a chance to reach a new audience.  I hope that I'll keep all of you with me as I go.

I promise, I'll still write here as well.  It just won't be as often.  I'll save this space for stories that don't fit with The Meadery's vision.  As I have time, I'll continue to use this space explore the reasons I want to develop a strong relationship with my sons - as most of that I fear would be of little interest to their readers (but we'll see).

This isn't farewell.  I'll continue to use Twitter to post about articles I write wherever they land.  I will expect to see many of you stop by and see me over at my new home.  I'm working on another article as we speak, so I'm hopeful it won't be long before you can read it there.  Until then, play smart and turn your creatures sideways.

Oh, and love your kids.


Charles 'Magic Dad' Featherer


[I already mentioned a few names, but I want to touch on them again along with a few others that have really helped me.  So wherever you are, I want to thank Nick, Heather, Jim, Erin, Tifa, Trevor, Riki, Helene, Mike, Michael, and Ian.  Most importantly, I need to thank Jacob.  Thanks bud, you're the reason I do this.]

Monday, January 5, 2015

A New Magic Player Category

I'm a person who tends to employ logic in my answers.  Which means I do rely on quantifiable explanations - probably to an annoying degree.  That's probably why I love this statement so much, "There are 10 kinds of people in this world, those who understand binary and those who don't."  I won't explain why the previous statement is funny.  I hate explaining jokes.  But I will share with you a link at the bottom to help explain it if you're curious.

While I intellectually dislike (yes, I'm complex, I do it but I still don't want to be 'that' person) putting people into a box labelled as either X or Y, I must admit it is sometimes helpful.  Mark Rosewater and Mark Cavotta have defined players using psychographic profiles.  Motivations, the actual psychographics, are defined using the names Timmy, Johnny, and Spike.  Appreciation of the flavor of the game is defined by the names Melvin, Melthos, and Vorthos.  I don't want to explain it here, but the Melvin/Vorthos scale isn't actually psychographics (although most players refer to them in this manner).  If you're interested, one of the better articles on this topic is by Mark Rosewater and can be found HERE.

So you could be a Timmy/Vorthos - someone who plays overall less skillfully but still believes that you shouldn't allow elves and goblins to be in the same deck without a good reason.  Or I could be a Spike/Melvin - someone who wants to win at all costs and has no problem playing both Xenagos the god and Xenagos the planeswalker on my battlefield at the same time.  These categories for players are not absolutes.  Nor are they permanent.  Over time, I've personally become less of a Timmy and more of a Johnny.  Jacob, my son, is much more of a Spike than I'll ever be.

There is a problem though with the existing categories.  I feel these profiles don't fully allow for classifying players as much as I would like to.  Neither sets of categories address how to describe a player's level of preparedness.  Given how often this is the first thing we note when facing another player across the table, I think it's an area that should be explored.

I submit the following concept for review.

New Category: Preparedness
The new player category I am proposing will be used to define how prepared a player is for a match or an event, whether a game at the kitchen table or a something as grand as the Pro Tour.  It covers several different benchmarks, all of which are important I feel for the player's enjoyment of Magic as well as the enjoyment of playing against or with said player.

Consider this new category as a way to define a player's level of consideration.  This new scale can be used to measure how considerate a player is to their opponent(s) and to the game.  It's no more a psychographic profile than the Melvin/Vorthos scale and I believe it to be a great deal more important.  Is that Johnny/Melvin someone who takes seriously the prep that goes into making the game a clean experience?  Or is that person someone who approaches Magic slovenly, with little respect for fellow players?

Preparedness is a only a working title for the new category.  I find the word itself to be funny and slightly awkward, so I am open to suggestions.  I do believe the concept to be sound, so any help in finding a better name would be appreciated.

Let's take a look at the most prepared side first, then unprepared.  Before I wrap up, we'll also take a look at the middle of the spectrum.

Prepared Ernest
I'm basing this name on one of the better examples of preparation I can think of, albeit in a round
E. Seton, an obviously dapper fellow.
about way.  Lord Robert Baden-Powell is known as the founding father Boy Scouts, an organization with a motto of 'Be Prepared'.  'BP' as he is often referred to by Scouters today was not responsible for bringing Boy Scouting to America.  Rather, that honor falls upon Ernest Seton.  For that reason (and because I've known a couple of Roberts who I don't care for), we'll name the player who represents being prepared the best as an Ernest.  Better yet, the definition of 'ernest' is: showing sincere and intense conviction.  This sounds like our guy!

There are many players I've met who fall into the category.  These players are considerate.  They come to the table on time.  They bring necessary supplies to pilot their decks in a manner that is clear and concise.  But that's not all.  A player who is an Ernest takes time before an event to confirm they have the items they'll need at the tournament.  Their list may include, but are not limited to: pen, paper, dice, tokens, decks, extra sleeves and playmats.  Playmats are optional, but fun.  Sleeves are viewed as optional by some players that are in this category - but extra sleeves are not optional if they sleeve their decks.  An Ernest also makes sure to bring a pre-printed decklist to sanction, constructed events.  They have a few extra pens on hand, not just one.  Their trade binders and deckboxes have their DCI number hidden inside of them to help in their recovery in case of theft or misplacing them.  If any of this sounds a little 'too prepared' or even a bit odd, that's a telling indicator you aren't a true Ernest.

There's more to be an Ernest player though than just making sure you came prepared.  Ernest has checked in advance to see what places near a venue are good for lunch on the go.  An Ernest is the one who figures out travel arrangements in advance, making certain to allow for unexpected delays.  And an Ernest is the player who freshly showers the morning of the event and uses deodorant.  Ernest players may also spend a little bit more time than non-Ernest players in planning their wardrobe for the day, instead of just picking up something out of a pile of cloths and giving it the 'smell' test.  If you're not sure if you're an Ernest, ask yourself, "Did I plan at the last day long event I attended to bring some healthy snacks to curb hunger pangs when I can't get to food?"  Being Ernest isn't just about sitting down ready to game as you can see - it's about your whole approach to Magic.

Speaking of the 'whole' approach, you can spot a true Ernest player in the first minutes of a draft.  The Ernest players are the ones who take less than a minute on each pick.  They spent time before coming to the event, reviewing new cards and making a few loose theories about what they wanted to try to accomplish.  No player should ever come into a draft thinking, "I'm going to draft UG because that is the best strategy."  Ernest players though have at least done some homework.  They aren't the people that sit next to you that have to read 4-5 cards in detail, often re-reading several of them before making a decision.

There are other methods of defining if a player is defined as prepared.  Personally, I've thought recently about becoming more Ernest.  I haven't decided yet, but I am playing with the idea of making a cheap dice bag of leftover dice (almost 35 years of hard gaming I have quite the supply) for less-Ernest players to use.  I've waffled on doing so, only because the counter argument to being considerate in this way is that I'm enabling inconsiderate behavior.  Speaking of which, let's take a look at Ernest's nemesis.

Unprepared Bluto
When I tried to think of what name to use for the unprepared player, for some reason I immediately thought of my Christmas tree this year.  Why?  I have a bit of a collection of Hallmark ornaments.  This year, among the many new additions to the tree was one John "Bluto" Blutarsky of Animal
House fame, in all his glory.  Yes, there is a man in a toga on my Christmas tree.  Get over it.

Don't be this guy.
Even if it looks like fun.
Bluto strikes me as 'that' Magic player.  The guy who shows up to your match 2 minutes late, disheveled and unprepared.  I don't know if there is a better image to embody the spirit of someone just coasting through life than that of Belushi in his seminal role.  Plus, the name evokes a very visceral feel for me.  So what is Bluto like?

A Bluto is the polar opposite of an Ernest.  Bluto doesn't bring recommended, or even needed supplies to a match.  Bluto borrows everything, from a pen from a Judge to fill out a decklist to dice for counters from their opponent to place on their creatures.  Even worse, true Bluto players don't bother to worry overmuch about fixing their deficiencies.  Bluto could turn himself into a partial Ernest simply by purchasing a few very easy to obtain supplies from a vendor - but can't or won't be bothered.  Your average Bluto probably has one or two things needed, but they are often afterthoughts.  An example of this would be a sanctioned match at a GP, where the player across from you doesn't have pen and paper to record life totals.  Instead, the Bluto pulls out a spindown counter.  Mechanically, there is nothing wrong with recording a game that way.  At a very fundamental level though, it shows lack of foresight and consideration, as playing at any level higher than kitchen table magic should require players to use nearly any method in place of spindowns.

At my most recent organized play experience, GP Baltimore, I encountered an overwhelming number of Blutos.  "Can I borrow a die?" was the second most frequent thing I heard in matches after, "Do you have a morph token?"  Of my 6 matches of sealed, 4 opponents came to the table insufficiently prepared for the day.  This was very disconcerting, when you think of how many vendors were in the hall.  I'm sure nearly everyone who had a phone with them brought a charger.  Some thought went into what to bring.  So why did I run into so many Blutos?  The answer is probably simple variance.  To everyone else who attended GP Baltimore, you're welcome.  I was apparently the Bluto magnet, so I reduced your chances of running into one by .00031%.  It was the least I could do.

Whether you attend a Friday Night Magic event or a 1,200 GP event, you should come prepared with the supplies you need to play the format you'll be entering.  Failing that, you should come prepared to purchase a few supplies to make up for this.

Some may draw a conclusion that new players should be called Bluto.  I'd argue against that.  I don't believe this classification can be used with anyone that is at their first, or even third, organized event.  I think this classification, whether trying to define someone as Bluto or Ernest, should not be used on players that haven't been to at least 4-5 events at a game store or larger venue.  It takes a little bit of time for new players to have a chance to become self aware.  It also takes a small amount of time for players to figure out how they want to organize their supplies.

This is not meant to offend (especially since I'm not that much of a neat freak or germaphobe myself), but it is true that many Ernest players don't want to share their supplies with Bluto players because they don't know if they are harboring a cold or worse.  No one was with the Bluto when they recently used the bathroom to know if they washed up thoroughly or just ran their hands under some tepid water.  I'm not overly concerned by these things - but I know players who are.

The thing that amuses me most about Bluto players is this: most players will interact with them more than the other two types.  It would almost seem intuitive that the opposite would be true.  This is not to mitigate Bluto player's lack of contributions, but rather to point out that you can't help but interact more often with people who don't bring needed supplies to the game.  You will spend more time with them figuring out how many counters are on their creature or trying to puzzle out why they think they have 53 life when you have them at 46.  In a game when we are often kept to 50 minute slices of time to play three games, no one should be thankful for spending time on these issues.  Bluto players don't necessarily make games longer on purpose, but I would argue they don't finish them very fast either as they fumble with your dice bag or ask you for the fourth time in the match for a token.

One final word of caution.  I'm not suggesting it is intentional by any player, but I think that Bluto players have an increased chance of being involved in Judge calls.  In matches with Bluto players (particularly between a double Bluto), gamestate can become confused due to lack of proper supplies to maintain it clearly.  If both are playing no tokens, no counters, and no lifegain - then it should be fine.  But venture into any of these three areas and I can see increasing the chance for a Judge to be called.  Being prepared for play can help prevent this, yet another reason being a Bluto isn't desirable from a player standpoint.

Middle of the Road: Stan
Apologies in advance to anyone named Stan in the audience, but I wanted to go for a name that meant something to me.  I've known a few Stan's in my life, but the reason I'm locking onto it to
Average Stan.
describe the middle of the road player in our new category is in deference to a show I don't necessarily encourage people to watch - South Park.  I've only watched one episode in the past 10 years myself, but this is one thing that sticks with me (aside from weird images associated with 'magic'...*shudder*).  South Park's Stan is the average guy of the group.  He's not above occasionally exceeding expectations, but most of the time he just seems to get by.

A Stan will come to the table with some sleeves, a spindown counter, and maybe a few dice as well.  He's not well prepared for the match, but you don't have to lend him much for it to proceed smoothly.  He may have tokens but no dice, or the reverse could be true.  To paraphrase the great Douglas Adams, "Stan is mostly prepared."

Stan is also someone who, while not someone you can describe as a truly considerate player, is at least polite about the lack of preparedness in the face of your supply of 15 different token types.  Stan wants to be received warmly in spite of his or her shortcomings.  You'll find Stan to be likable, even when they ask you where they can get a soda or a bite to eat because they have no idea of the world outside the convention center.

Stan is generally clean.  Maybe they forgot deodorant, but at least they took a shower recently.  Stan isn't afraid to go out to a local convenience store to rectify the odoriferous oversight either.

Everybody generally likes Stan - but that doesn't mean Stan couldn't find areas to improve.  Stan may be an average player in this scale due to peer pressure.  Surely, even most Bluto's are capable of better preparation.  Stan is no different.  What may keep someone a Stan is a desire to not exceed expectations of friends and fellow gamers.  Some people are simply afraid they'll be thought of as a nerd or different if they become too much of an Ernest.

Who Are You?
I'll admit it.  I'm curious about people.  I like watching how people react to challenging situations.  I also enjoy seeing how people react to the mundane - something I think can be very telling about someone's personality.  There are few things about Magic as mundane as preparing to have the right supplies on hand for a match or for scheduling your wake up time such that you can get a shower before going to a venue.  Yet they are critical to how you are perceived.

When I look at the list of classifications, I'm somewhere between a Timmy and a Johnny.  I'd like to think I'm getting closer to the latter.  I am solidly in the Melthos camp.  And I'm very, very Ernest.  Jacob is more of a Spike (although he can act like a Timmy at times).  He's probably also much closer to being a base Melvin than I am.  I'm not sure why that is - perhaps it was my upbringing playing more fantasy games than him.  And despite my best efforts, Jacob can be a bit of a Stan with sparks of being an Ernest.

But what about you?  Are you a Johnny/Melthos/Ernest like me?  A Spike/Melvin/Stan like Jacob?  Or are you some other combination?  Please leave your particular player make up in the comments second as well as any thoughts you wish to share about the new category.

I look forward to our next match together - especially if you're as Ernest as I am.


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.

Shameless Plug - Help Make Un-set 3 a Reality!
Explanation - 10 Joke Explained.

Monday, December 29, 2014

No Safety Net #1

Sometimes, you have to take the net protecting you from falling from the high wire and put it away.

When I write, I'm very careful.  I choose my words with purpose.  The stories that I write about show what I'm comfortable with sharing, even in cases where I'm argumentative.  But what drives me to write about my son and Magic, is always hidden behind a veil.  After listening recently to a podcast though, I found myself wishing I could share what drives me to spend time with Jacob and find time to share his interests.  The idea for this post (and probably a few more after it) is to try to put into words things about me that I feel are worth sharing.  This will be hard.  Very, very hard.  It will also undergo a bare minimum of editing - I want it to be as raw and visceral as I can be.  No safety net, in theory and practice.

All of what I'll share today has impacted how I look at my responsibilities as a parent and ultimately led me here.  I'm sorry if you came for an article on Magic the Gathering today.  In fact, you'll find very little Magic here at all.

To understand who I am know and why I write, I have to take you back in time.  Everything I'll write in this series of posts is true.  I owe that much to myself.

Broken Promises
The first thing that I need to share won't surprise some people.  My parents divorced when I was three, and my sister was one.  My father left.

I have no memory of this.  Likely I've blocked it out.  I remember the two story house we lived in.  I remember the tire swing in the backyard and the weird, crappy porch off the back of the house.  I remember the winter a blizzard piled snowdrifts taller than me while I still lived there.  But I don't remember my father and mother in that house together.

Why did my father leave?  I only found out when I was nearly an adult that he had had enough.  It was never 'my fault' or my sister's.  Rather, my dad left because he couldn't get along with my mom.  He moved back to his parents' house, about two hours away.   My parents' separation and eventual divorce was ground zero for what would be many changes for me.

I have images in my mind, brief vignettes of events that happened to me at a young age.  I don't have a clear sequence to many of them.  Most of them are negative.  Some I wish were not mine at all.

My first clearest memory was painful.  I was about 5.

Mom's New Friend
The sequence of events following the divorce is history that I have to state for the record.  I do so with no real personal memory or direct knowledge.  With the divorce came the selling of the house.  Custody was decided to be given to my mom (New Jersey courts forty years ago would always side with the mother so long as she had a pulse and wasn't on a ventilator).  My father fought for my sister and I - and would continue to fight for years, but he just couldn't win.  Dad was also introduced to a nice new lady friend - and he appeared to be very interested in her.

This is where I have to delve a bit into conjecture, but everything fits fairly well as far as timing and personalities involved.  Mom saw my dad's new friend as competition.  Not from the standpoint of affection, but as a threat in the courts.  If my dad remarried and sued again for custody - which he did - then mom would be worried that dad's status may be looked upon more favorably than hers.  The house she had us living in at the time was...well, it wasn't very nice.  No angry notes please - I recognize she likely did the best she could manage.  So there was likely a fear maintained by my mother that my dad would find a way to win custody.

Mom has never liked losing.  So she finally started dating again.  I don't know how many dates she had or with how many different men, but eventually she found someone that she could bring home to introduce to my sister and I.  To this day, I still wish that I had never met the man that would become my stepfather.

Introducing the Jerk
This history is all necessary to understand my first real memory.  It was one in which I knew the time, place, and players involved.  I don't remember the exact conversation, but I do remember the emotions.

My mother's new friend had spent the night.  They were back in her room when I got up in the morning.  Not being allowed to bother them, I went to the living room/dining room at the front of the house.  I remember the vinyl footing of my pajamas feet scraping against the large heating grate in the middle of the doorway between the kitchen and the front room.  I remember going to the television and turning it on, trying to find something to watch.  I spied, during programming breaks, something new and interesting on the coffee table.  I had no idea what it was, but it had these interesting screw caps and large letters.  One said 'L' and the other said 'R'.

As an intuitive reader, I'm sure you've guessed that I had stumbled upon a contact lens case.  I had never seen one before.  Being five, I investigate the only way I knew how to.  I opened it.  I wasn't paying close attention to it, but I must have tilted it.  I was shocked to find my fingers had become wet.  I quickly closed the cap.

It wasn't long before my mother's new friend came out of the bedroom and went looking for his contact lenses.  Unfortunately, one seemed to be missing.  He was at first concerned.  But when he put two and two together (math was never his strong suit so it took a few moments), the Spanish Inquisition started.  It only lasted a few minutes at most before he was screaming at me.  How could I be so stupid?  How could I be so careless?  Didn't I know not to touch things that weren't mine?  Why doesn't your mother teach you to leave other people's things alone?

I don't remember being hit (I'm sure it was there).  I do remember running to my room, deeply afraid, crying and upset.  I was inconsolable.  It wasn't until I fell asleep completely exhausted that I found any relief at all.

Here's the one thought that I held onto that day and you'll find as a common theme as I write about who I am now.  My mother did nothing.  She didn't intervene on my behalf.  She didn't step in and say, "Oy, that's my kid, back the hell off."  I don't even remember her being there.  She was in the house, and given the size of it there is no possibility she would not have heard and had plenty of time to intervene.

Mom failed me.

So why is it I spend what is likely a stupid amount of money on a game?  Why do I write?  What drives 'MTGDad'?

Simple.  I want to do better.  I won't fail my sons.  With my older son, I had a very steep learning curve - for more reasons than a messed up childhood.  My younger son though, Jacob (who at thirteen is starting to fill out and seem less like a 'younger son' and more like his own person everyday), is my last real chance to get this perfect.

Being a perfect parent isn't attainable.  I'm have no illusions about that.  But I can't help working towards it.  I know I've made and will continue to make mistakes.  I promised myself though a very long time ago, that there are two people I'd never be mistaken for when I interact with my kids.  I see the same behaviors in my sister as well.

I write because I want to share small successes.  I want to show people that a game can be life affirming.  For what could be seen as selfish reasons, I need to prove that I can be a better parent than my stepjerk and mother.

Want to know something funny?  Currently neither of them are allowed in my house.  Both for different reasons.  I'll share at least one of those stories soon.  My mother's current story is one that is so raw right now that I'm not sure when I'll have the strength to write about it.

Part 1 of ??


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.

Shameless Plug - Help Make Un-set 3 a Reality!

[Special thanks and credit for the idea of this series should go to Erin Campbell and her interview of Brad Nelson on The Deck Tease podcast.]

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things...

It's a magical time of year (pun intended).

Presents are being wrapped.  The tree is going to be up soon - I PROMISE!  And I'm left thinking about what makes Magic the Gathering special to me.  I know that this time of year brings out the 'Top 10' lists in droves.  This isn't one of those articles.

Instead, I want to really highlight the parts of the community I enjoy the most.

I used to drive to work listening to a particular shock jock on Sirius.  Now I load up my smartphone with a few choice podcasts and listen to them during my drive to work.  Magic has obviously improved me for the better.  In no particular order, here are my favorite podcasts:
  • The Deck Tease - Erin Campbell is a little edgy, and seems to land just about every personality in Magic.  She makes me smile every time an episode comes out.  There is no better way to start a Monday.
  • Limited Resources - Marshall and current assorted company break down Limited play in a very accessible manner.  I truly miss Brian Wong, but I know that Marshall will find a new co-host soon.  If you like limited half as much as I do, this has to be on your rotation.
  • JudgeCast - There is only one bad thing about JudgeCast.  It's not the references to Bitty Kitty.  It's not the number of movie references they throw into every episode.  And it's never their special guests.  It's that there is only one episode every two weeks.  If Santa would leave one thing under my tree this year, I'd ask him for weekly episodes in 2015.
I don't think players fully realize how important Judges are to Magic the Gathering.  Next time you interact with one - even if you hate the outcome - say this: thank you.  It can be, "Thank you, but I'd like to appeal your ruling," or "Thank you for your explanation, even though I don't agree."  But it should always start with a thank you.  Judges are compensated for most events they are involved in, but the compensation isn't why they do it (if it was, most would either stay home or play themselves).  Judges are a breed apart who are on their feet all day - often on cement poured floors - simply because they want to help you have a better game.  They deserve your respect, if not your admiration.

I wouldn't play this game if it was 100% digital.  At least, I wouldn't still be playing it 3 years later.  I've made many friends through playing at LGSs and going to events.  The game is incredible, but the social part of it is what keeps me coming back.

Twitter.  Facebook.  Twitch.  Pinterest (or so I've heard).  Tumblr.  If you're reading this, you are already a part of the extended online community who take part in razzing Mark Rosewater about bananas or congratulating the most recent GP winner via Twitter.  And let's not forget the websites offering non-stop updates to their coverage.  I don't have one favorite here, other than to say that lately Matt Tabak's Tumblr feed has been particularly sardonic lately.  If you don't follow him, give it a try.

This past year I made it to several large events.  I love the feel of anticipation, the increased level of competition and the camaraderie.  I have hopes of getting to at least 3 next year.  I'd like to make it to Las Vegas, but I don't see me attending without Jacob.  I priced out flights and when I add in other expenses, I just don't see it happening.  I will be at GP Atlantic City and likely the Eternal Weekend in Philadelphia though, so that's two big events.

I'm a big supporter of local game stores.  I also buy from a few online stores, everything from singles to box product.  But I also started to get more into EDH this year.  Elder Dragon Highlander (or Commander for those so inclined) is not a format that rewards someone like me that has been collecting for 3 years. Let's face it, LGSs and sometimes online stores don't stock that $1 rare or penny common from Futuresight that you need.  I've found that PucaTrade is great for filling that gap.  If you're an EDH player and you're not on PucaTrade, you're doing it wrong.  That, or you have a way more impressive collection than I do.

If you didn't see it before, people in my area lost our local game store last month.  The only thing I have to say here is - support your LGS.  Go there, play, interact, and for the love of all things that is holy, buy some product.  Your LGS is the first stop in the greater, larger world community of Magic.  If you stop at that level, then fine.  But when you step up to play in larger tournaments, you'll be thankful for everything your LGS provided you.

Finding time to watch coverage on weekends can be difficult.  But when I do, I'm always thankful for the knowledge demonstrated by coverage team members.  They all make the game a little more accessible and for that they should be thanked (and this includes all the people who support the actual broadcasters).

Lastly, I have to thank my son, Jacob, for continuing to play and inspire me to do the same.  If he wasn't interested in the game, I'm sure I wouldn't play either.  It's his love for it that drives me to learn more, play better, and find a way to express myself creatively.

Thank you, son.  And thanks to all of you for reading.  See you in 2015!

-Please feel free to add what you enjoy the most about our community in the comments section.


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Sunday, December 7, 2014

Modern Masters 2: This Time, All the Monies!

Unless you live under a rock like my good friend, Patrick Starfish, by now you've heard the big announcement from Wizards of the Coast that has come out of the World Magic Championships.

Yes Virginia, there is going to be a Modern Masters 2.

Strap in, because I'm not a very happy camper today.

Mi$take$ Were Made
With the first printing of Modern Masters back in 2013, Wizards offered a format defining product.  To say that MMA was in high demand would be like like saying Bernie Madoff knew a little bit about how to make money.  From the first moment that the set was announced with its $6.99 per pack sell point, players speculated.  Who would pay that price per pack?  Would it be worth it?

Having opened a box myself, I can assure you that it was worth it to me.  Barely.  But there was that chance of opening a Tarmagoyf - a then $125 or so card.  I was nervous opening a box of the first edition of Modern Masters even given I was lucky enough to get it for MSRP.

This set?  Well, we do know that Emrakul is being reprinted.  A $50 card currently.  Surely, there will be other cool reprints to be announced during the month leading up to the set releasing.  It is almost entirely too early to jump on a band wagon decrying the MSRP of $6.99 a pack.

WHAT?  This set will list packs at an MSRP of $9.99?  A three dollar increase in 2 years?  Is someone up in Renton smoking the cards instead of printing them?

Ten dollars out of the gate per pack, for something that costs Wizards a fifth of that to produce (that's a fair and likely favorable estimate).  Most of the cards in any given pack are penny commons.  Literally no trade or collector value is assigned.

I'm sure gamers (better yet, collectors) will be lined up around the block for these boxes.  I won't be one.  At $240 for a box of product, Wizards has finally priced me out of the market.  That's even if I can find a seller with product for that price.  I look for a fair value.  Unless I have something of a chance of getting at least 65-70% that value back out of a box, I'm out.  For a product this expensive, I'd like to see that margin increase to 75%.  I stretched myself pretty thin over buying a box of product at $170 last time.  An increase to $240 means I simply can't imagine the circumstances by which I'd entertain purchasing a box - whether to save it, crack it, or share it with friends.

And I don't even want to think about what even participating in a draft will be like.  I would imagine that most drafts will run in the $45-50 and up range.  Yes, to open three packs, stores will charge us about $50 or more (once product dries up from the distribution chain, this price will go up).  Serious grinders with a lifetime of draft experience will eat up and spit out the competition.  I've got a better chance of buying lottery tickets at that price point.

A product, designed to be PLAYED, priced out of the range of a comfortable price point for many drafters.  I wonder how that will work out?

The Other $hoe
And then, the other shoe dropped from the World Magic Championship.  There will be three Grand Prixes held in May to celebrate the launch the product.  The one in the United States is going to be on the East Coast.


[Jumps away from keyboard for a moment to re-read something on his phone]...[mumbles]...[takes phone and throws it at wall]...

I'm sorry, my mistake.  The Grand Prix for Modern Masters 2015 will be held in Las Vegas.  Again.

Cue rejoicing for the city in the desert with the smallest population of players within 50 square miles. (All due respect to players who live there or within 3 hours as I continue - this is a call for parity).  There are about 10 places that come to mind in the US that right off would have had a significantly larger base of players to draw from.

No, that wasn't a problem last time as the event hit about 4,500 participants.  But I must ask, where is the parity?  Why not hold it on the East Coast?  Chicago?  Somewhere near an actual population center?  Why must 80% plus participants fly to get to your event?

In 2013, I consoled myself by thinking that if they did a second Modern Masters we'd get our due out here on the East Coast next time (Washington D.C. perhaps).  I thought there was no way it would be held in Las Vegas two times in a row.

$omeone$ Got to Win
So I raise my glass.

I raise it to game store owners, those who will sell this product as fast as it arrives at a higher price point than $240.

I raise it to Las Vegas, who landed another sweet event.

I raise it to the TO running Las Vegas.  Even base entry fee is likely going to run players into $80-90 a person (practically VIP money for other other events).  It hasn't been announced yet, but it won't be cheap.

I raise it to Wizards, who found a way to ring way too much money out of this product and have created a significant fervor over it.

I raise it to the gamers, as my only non-sarcastic tip of the hat.  You guys rock.

And I'll cry in my glass over the fact that if this is the trend - in any way - for Modern Masters, that Wizards just found a way to kill it.

Why?  Sales begets sales.  I have a stinking suspicion that at this price point, Wizards made a significant miscalculation for what gamers will pay for a pack of 15 cards that mostly have no value.  Want to kill a product line at Wizards?  Nothing does it faster than having underwhelming sales.

This may seem like a rant.  Well, it is.  But it's not directed at the game designers and creators.  Ultimately, it's directed at sales/marketing.  People who came up with the price point for the new product.  To be fair, it is a team that I have no knowledge of but likely includes representatives from Hasbro.  So I'd be remiss in not saying a big, "Thank You, Hasbro," before I sign off this time.


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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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Game Stores Aren't Forever

Today is a tough day for gamers in south eastern New Jersey.  The court clown will frolic no more.

Jester's Playhouse, a home away from home for many, shut the doors and turned out the lights for the final time today.  Jester's as it's more commonly known (or even the 'store' to many) was a survivor.  It had beat the long odds several times over its long history.

It started 18 years ago in Cape May County.  Rich Gain, and his then wife Joanna started the store with the idea that would offer comics, games, and a place to meet.  I didn't step foot in the store until it moved to its second home in Northfield.  At that time, I was at a point in my life where I couldn't well afford to support my WH40K habit and I was still years away from finding nirvana in the form of MtG.  I stopped in that space no more than a few times, but I could tell that the community established by the store was vibrant.

Some years ago, they moved to their third location, easily doubling their space and dedicating over half of it to play.  It's there that I eventually found my own place in a community of like minded individuals.  I had been introduced to Magic formally some time before, after having picked up the game for my younger son's benefit.  If I had known what I was missing, I would have been there long before.

Friends like Larry and Sarah.  Austin, Mario, and Ryan.  Preston, Toby, Robbie, Brigette, and Ryan.  Josh and Steve and John.  Rich, Rich, and Zack. Wayne, Garret, Tyler, Tricky, Christian, and Mike.  John Paul.  A hundred more names and a few hundred faces.  Jim - probably one of the people I most closely bonded with over the simple act of playing Magic.  Jim was the one guy who figured out I was writing online under the guise of Magic Dad (only a couple of people at Jester's ever knew until now - as they are reading this article).  He talked to me about my blog, offering encouragement when I needed it and served as a sounding board for a few of my more 'out there' ideas.  I think I'll miss our occasional head to head games of Magic the most.

I'm an adult.  I know that I will see many of the people I met through Jester's at other events.  But life takes weird turns, and I know there are others I may not see again.  That thought leaves me with a profound sense of loss.  It's amazing how much you can fall into a world created by a game when played on plastic tables while seated in plastic chairs.  And how much you can miss it when it is gone.

A very rare breed...
The primary owner of Jester's, Rich Gain, through all of its successes and difficulties, loved his store.  He is a gamer at heart who enjoyed introducing people to new games.  People will argue for years to come as to what led Jester's to finally close.  That argument is now academic.  The bottom line is, no matter how much you love something, life takes its toll.  Unable to remain profitable and in order to pay bills owed, Rich made the painful decision to close the doors to Jester's.  Saturday and Sunday, gamers came to pay respects.  Some bought items on sale at ridiculous prices.  One came with Scotch older than the store.  Many more came with their eyes a little red and a boardgame in hand - hoping to roll the dice one more time.  Me?  I had an unopened box of Conspiracy that I was dying to try for the first time.  So Jacob and I made our final trek to Jester's yesterday for one last draft.

I did what I always did while there.  I spent some money.  I talked to some friends.  At one point I left, taking a friend of mine from another store out to lunch.  When we returned, Jacob and I found enough friends to draft Conspiracy twice (six man pods) and it was wonderful.

Jacob and I left the store that night after one more round of goodbyes.  We drove home, mostly in silence, thinking about what was and what could have been.

The greatest sadness for us about Jester's closing is the loss of meeting up with some friends and drafting Magic until we have to peel ourselves out of our seats and stumble homeward.  The nearest store to us that supports gamers is almost an hour away.  If we're willing to drive, we are practically spoiled for choice, with great stores to the south, west and north of us.  But I know that many of our friends will be in the same boat we are.  After working a hard day, many of us will elect to stay home more often than not.

Everyone displaced by the loss of Jester's will try different stores to see if one 'fits'.  We'll all try to find new stores that feel right, that have the best make-up of friends, product and support.

If there is one thing about this experience I can count upon, it's this final thought.

Nature abhors a vacuum.  This area can and will support a game store.  Maybe it won't carry the Jester's brand.  Hopefully, when it does come it will find success.  With a local state college and a devoted base of gamers, an LGS with a smart plan and strong execution can not only succeed, but flourish.  It's a matter of establishing brand and serving to the old clientele while developing new interests.  How long will it take?  We'll see.  Our particular area is one of the few that seems to be mired in an economy that won't fully bounce back.  We're fifteen minutes from Atlantic City - and the loss of jobs here as casinos continue to close has some people scared to try something as risky as starting a small business.

But it will happen.  It has to happen.  And when it does, we'll all be there to welcome the new store.  Jacob, me and a few hundred of the faithful.

Support your community.  Support your hobby.  Support your LGS.


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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Stolen Goods

I'm writing today about my favorite topic, my son Jacob.  Before I do though I'd like to share something from another family member.  During our phone calls, my father will tell me a hard luck story or another that features him prominently.  Dad will almost always close these stories with, "Well, if it weren't for bad luck I wouldn't have any," or with, "Well, if nothing else I can always serve as a bad example."

You see, the world has been dumping on my pops in epic fashion for the better part of his life.  His ability to maintain good humor through the worst roadside breakdown story anyone has ever heard or his fight against Verizon over basic service FOR CRYING OUT LOUD (sorry, I occasionally channel my pop) doesn't surprise me.  It's so much a part of who he is that I hardly notice anymore.

As to what my father's plague of bad luck has to do with my son, let me take you back to when Jacob had finally settled on a deck to play during the new Standard season (spoilers for an upcoming article, Jacob has made a commitment to play at a higher level after some talks with the parents).

Several Weeks Ago... a dining room far, far away, our young hero was seated at the family computer searching through net decks to find something he wanted to play.  This scene had repeated several times in recent days in our household.  No decision had been made yet, but it wouldn't be much longer.  It was September 29th, and in a week and a half States would be held.  It was time to pull the trigger.

Jacob and I had talked extensively over the past couple of weeks about this.  I had spent some time watching the SCG NJ coverage the previous weekend and felt I understood the current meta.

Ok, you've got me.  I didn't understand it all (this was prior to the Pro Tour).   Neither did anyone else...but I was pretty sure that I was figuring out the direction it will go in (hint, the same direction it's always gone in).  Jacob seems to like my logic.  Either that, or he's really thinks some of the cards are boss.  It wouldn't matter to me if he wanted to play U/W Control, I'd support him.  It's also possible I'd call him some names if that's what he wanted to do, but I'd support him.

Luckily, the kid seemed to be pretty smart and had picked a deck that would adjust well to the changing metagame.  Better yet, between our two collections he thought he had most of the cards necessary.

Great!  Let's build a deck.

Panic Sets In
Jacob started where he always seemed to.  He popped open his rare binder and started looking through it, pulling cards as he found them.  Just a few minutes into his search for the right cards, he started to grumble.  It's something he does while building.  I don't even pay attention to it anymore, it's just part of his process.

After a bit of time he finishes with our binders and moves into looking through his decks.  He's not a half hour into this process when I notice the tone of his grumbling has shifted into a new gear.  I start to hear what can only be described as low-level panic mixed with a hint of anxiety and a dash of, "Oh [expletive redacted because this is a family friendly article]!"  I could tell, even in another room and occupied with dinner prep, that something wasn't right.  I called out, asking if he needs any help.

"Yeah," he snaps, "Have you seen my commander deck?"  He only has three or four of them, but when he referred to it this way I knew immediately which one was missing.  He was talking about the one he was most proud of (and the one he built first).

I respond with the usual parental claptrap.  It wasn't particularly useful, but I got him moving towards looking instead of simply complaining.  He's 13.  In terms of parent/son relationships and missing items, this means he's got to solve his own problems with minimal parental oversight.  Plus, I was hungry. Since there was no blood was involved with his problem, I was going to finish cooking first.  A man must have his priorities.

Fast Forward
I'm going to spare you the details of the search.  Suffice it to say, he was more thorough than most boys his age.  I searched as well, once I had some free time and realized that he wasn't having any success.  As I mentioned before, this one wasn't just some random collection of cards that were the same color.  No, this was his baby.  His G/R Ruric Thar deck was not to be found anywhere.  This deck was the first one he had made and likely the one with the most card value, time invested, and favorable memories.

I don't know if either of us will know how valuable the deck was, but it wasn't peanuts.  The deck held cards he was going to put into a Standard Tier 1 deck which would have saved him at least $70 (lands included).  Beyond that, I won't hazard a guess.  It wasn't a thousand dollar deck by any definition.  There were no more than one or two cards that were signed and a few foils of various persuasions.  At least none were custom/altered art as far as I know.  Somewhere between two and four planeswalkers were in it as well.  Ultimately, a low value EDH deck.  But the sentimental value to him was pretty significant.

How did it disappear?  Did it fall out of his bag or did someone with nefarious purpose in mind liberate it from him?  I won't ever know how it happened.  I'm sure I know where it disappeared though, which doesn't sit well with me.

But me being upset at the financial loss, or sad for his loss of innocence (theft of personal property can be pretty jarring), or ticked off at a group of people I considered to be decent won't bring the deck back.  Me trying to teach Jacob more about personal responsibility won't do much either.  Because I was aware of some of the more publicized thefts in the past year so it shouldn't come as any surprise that I've been working with him to be more aware of what he's doing with his gear.  He acts more aware of his bag and decks than most adults carrying valuable legacy decks, so I know I'm getting through to him.

The worst part of all of this is?  Feeling more than a little helpless.

I can't watch Jacob's stuff for him.  And even the most aware individual will have moments where they are distracted, so I don't want him to become obsessed over this.  If someone wants something bad enough, as a rule they'll figure out how to take it.  Even if it is something a 13 year old treasured more than a little bit.

There is a moral for this story.  The family friendly version is this: some people are jerks, minimize your contact with them when you can, and pay attention to your gear.  Or we could always reference the wisdom of my father at the top of the page.

Be the Change
On matters of security, I have two final thoughts to share.  First, there are some interesting products out there that are worth investigating (links posted below).  Or you can do what Jacob and I will be doing in the future - only bringing the items we need to events and a guy named Biff.  Everyone needs a guy named Biff in their corner.

Secondly, if you can't beat them then I recommend finding a way to have the last laugh.  This Saturday, I'm doing just that.  I'll be one small cog in the machine that will be overseeing all of security for Eternal Weekend in Philadelphia.  I may not do more than check wristbands and bags, but for me it's an important step in combating theft in the community.  So if you see me on Saturday (I'll be one of the 'older' people helping), feel free to say hi.  Just don't come to Eternal Weekend and plan to steal somebody else's deck.  I wouldn't want to pull my security ninjitsu on you and call for the Philly PD.  After Jacob's loss, there is no way I want to see anyone else lose their deck.

[Full Disclosure: I'm 99.9% sure I know when and where Jacob's EDH deck disappeared.  Unfortunately, that doesn't help me track it down for several reasons I don't want to get into here.  If you care for your gear, then pay attention to it at all times.  Make sure your bags are zipped closed when not in use.  Keep your bag on your back or under your seat with your feet on it at all times.  Don't leave your gear lying around.  And for Pete's sake, make sure you only bring what you need for the event - leave the expensive stuff at home.]

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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