Emrakul is my backup plan

(Editor’s Note:  I cast Black Lotus.  I cast Elesh Norn.)

When’s the last time that you heard any of those previous statements in your game of Magic?  If you are Mr. Joe Average Casual like me, then answer is “Never.”  Until last night when I saw several Black Lotus plays and all three cards in at least one game.  Intrigued?  Let me explain.

The night started like any other.  I watched Guardsmannbob, one of my favorite streamers until about 9:00 when he signed off for the night.  There were no other enjoyable Hearthstone players, so I clicked on the only Magic stream that I currently follow.  He, too, was in the process of signing off.  As he did, though he mentioned the official Magic stream and something called the Vintage Super League.

With nothing else to watch because I was too lazy to move to the living room to watch Netflix, I followed his recommendation. Sure, I could have watched Netflix on my laptop, but I’m spoiled and only want to watch on the television.  I know very little about Magic’s pro scene or the various formats, so I had no idea what to expect.  Surprisingly, I recognized a couple of names of the players.  That was the last recognizable thing on the stream.  I saw decks that I never considered possible.  They played cards and combos that existed only in my dreams until that point.  Kai Budde, one of the names I knew got beat two in a row in very convincing fashion.  The first match that I watched ended one game on turn 2 and the other on turn 3.

After that match, I got so excited that I went to Facebook to tell Chris about my discovery.  He knew more about vintage than me.  He asked about legality of cards and that sent me on a search.  I learned that while there is a ban and restricted list, basically the whole of the history of Magic is available to the players to build a deck.  That got me even more excited about the prospects of the stream.  Suddenly, I started paying attention to the games instead of just having it on as background noise.  Holy cow, did he just play a Black Lotus.  What is that card in his hand?  Emrakul?  This is awesome.

Two players played a deck called Omnitell and the announcers kept talking about something called “Shops”.  Shops did not interest me much, but I went on a search to find the Omnitell list and some strategy.  I will most likely never be able to play the deck, but the blue control aspect spoke to me on a deep level.  Then, I saw the full deck and it is right in my wheelhouse.  The core deck has only one creature (the aforementioned Emrakul) and plenty of spells to make life miserable for the opponent.

I actually had a brainstorm while in the shower earlier (why is it always in the shower) that there might be a way that I’d get to play all of these cool vintage decks without having to drop tens of thousands of dollars on cardboard.  I’m not entirely sure that it is exactly legal, but when has that ever stopped me?  Because of the questionable legality, I’m not exactly going to advertise this method.  However, I will verify that it worked and I put together an initial list that I found for the Omnitell deck.   So far, I have only been able to test it against itself, but I hope to find some other decks to put together those lists and play around with them, too.

The stream had the added effect of renewing my interest in the game.  I had been a bit lukewarm about magic since the release of Fate Reforged.  I just wasn’t too impressed with a Fat Pack purchase that I made and put the cards away for a while.  Watching this stream made me excited again about the prospects of Magic and I can’t wait to try some of the deck ideas that I’ve been considering.  So, I say thanks to the Vintage Super League for my renewed interest and dedication to Magic and look forward to the next episode on Tuesday.

Boredom of Draenor?

(Editor’s Note:  Do I really want to pay 15 bucks a month to play Pokemon?)

I have played World of Warcraft since just after the release of the Burning Crusade expansion.  My journey began, as I suspect many did, with a free trial account.  I started a Night elf druid for potential role playing possibilities.  As I read the introduction paragraphs to each class and race, the druid’s connection to nature spoke to me.  Having no previous connection to Warcraft, I chose Night Elf because I saw the races of the Horde as evil and I wanted to fight on the side of good.  I’m not opposed to evil characters and I even admire many of them from books, TV shows, and movies.  I just enjoy games more when I am the hero.  I suspect that many others are like me because there are so few games that feature a villain or even an anti-hero as the main playable character.  Fewer still become major successes.

I enjoyed WoW greatly and became immersed in the expansive story that felt so much larger than my character, a helpful community that mostly treated noobs like me with respect and a world that was just as massive as the storyline and really pretty in spite of the cartoonish graphics.  I remember walking up to the gates of Ironforge for the first time and being awed by them.  It was like the AD&D stories of my youth were coming to life on my computer screen.  Keep in mind that I had not even experienced dungeons or raids yet.  I just wandered the countryside with my PvP flag on (I know this because I unwittingly became bait to catch a stealthed rogue causing havoc in Astranaar) happily completing quests and reading lore to fill in the huge gaps from never having played any of the games.

The community was not a small consideration.  There are several reasons that I have not played League of Legends.  Gameplay, which I wasn’t sure about, certainly wasn’t one of them.  I have since started to play Heroes of the Storm and I rather like the concept of those games.  Primary among the reasons is that the only legendary part of the game is the toxicity of the community.  I experienced this first hand.  In three games (my entire LoL career), I played with exactly one helpful person out of twelve teammates.  More than half of them (7 or 8) insulted, bickered, flexed internet muscle, and lamented that none of them were LoL pros because of all the noobs holding them back.

World of Warcraft never felt like that.  Sure, there were unhelpful (and downright rude) people in the game, but those willing to answer even the most basic question outnumbered them at least two to one.  I vividly remember stumbling upon a hunter during my early days of adventuring.  The poor soul was being ravaged by a wild beast and completely unable to defend himself.  I did what any honorable hero would.  I killed that dirty animal and saved his life…or so I thought.  He whispered to me “What the hell?” before explaining that he was trying to tame it as a pet.  I apologized and we both had a good laugh about it.

I have run the gamut of noob to semi-obsessed raider before settling on my usual role of filthy casual.  My original character, the druid, is still active.  He has gone through a name change, several server moves, and a brief consideration of a faction change to be able to play with a friend.  Instead, I created a new character (a shaman) who has become a second main.  That character is now in the guild that was started by Scott Johnson, the host of The Instance.  My account was compromised once and all of my gear got sold or disenchanted.  I know that it is often a joke, even among gamers, that WoW is for no-lifers, but I really have experienced so much in game that it sometimes feels like a second life.

After taking another break for a couple of months, the Warlords of Draenor hype got me.  I heard about the game getting a graphics update on character models, getting to go back to Outland (sort of) to meet many of the legends of the game, and an overhaul on the game that some were calling WoW 2.0.  Once classes let out for winter break, I came back to the game.  I enjoyed it for about a month as I leveled to 100 and chased after a core hound mount that I honestly had no chance of obtaining.  Ever since, though, I have been in one of my WoW funks and I generally only log into the game to immediately log back out  This is the earliest into an expansion that I have felt this way.

I even said to my wife, “I might finally be done with World of Warcraft.”  That is a loaded statement because you aren’t ever truly done.  Another expansion will get me interested again and I might repeat the process, but what if it is just another month or so and then I’m putting it back on the shelf.  I can’t keep justifying the cost for so little entertainment value.  There’s nothing wrong with moving on.  People and circumstances change and it might just be time.  I’d be lying if it didn’t make me sad.  I have a history with this game that goes back almost a decade.  Even if it is “only a game”, that’s not an ending that you take lightly.

So, you could say that quite a bit is depending on Patch 6.1 of the game.  The main problem is that I don’t actually know what I want from the game.  In the past, I have fallen back on other pursuits.  Most recently, I really started to enjoy pet battling.  For some reason, not that has me excited and I haven’t collected a single pet from Draenor other than two crafted Engineering pets.  I have also traditionally leveled alts to keep busy, but the story this time wasn’t interesting enough to do again and there aren’t enough dungeons to keep me entertained through another 10 levels.

So, let’s see if 6.1 has anything to entice someone like me to keep playing.  Some “no news” is that flying isn’t still prohibited in Draenor.  I, personally, don’t mind that flying has been disallowed and flying isn’t something that would make the game any more enjoyable for me.  A new raid is being released to some fanfare, but I’m not even geared enough for the current tier of raid content.  No, not even LFR.  Maybe if I stick around, I will get around to it at the end of the expansion like I did in Pandaria.  Raiding just isn’t my thing anymore.

Initially in the expansion, I kept busy with garrisons, but I’ve maxed all that I wanted there.  Is there anything new for garrisons on the horizon?  Actually, yes.  First, and maybe not overwhelming, is customizable music in your garrison.  I may not be an obsessive raider anymore, but I do like collecting things in the game and this gives me one more thing to collect.  It probably won’t be my first priority, but I will get around to doing it eventually.  Actually, now that I read that, I realize that I haven’t even opened my pet building in the garrison.

I once dreamed of being Azeroth’s greatest Pokemon (er, battle pet) trainer.  Maybe it is time to put on the old Safari Hat and tackle  the tiny beasts of Draenor, especially those bastards that have infiltrated my garrison.  After that, I think that I will level my skinning toon to make some gear that might get my shaman closer to LFR ready.  So, there are some things that I can do in game.  None of them are directly related to the new patch.

This is the first patch of Warlords, so you can’t expect the best content.  Still, it is quite underwhelming.  The only “new” stuff is for raiders with a few added features for the filthy casual collectors like me.  If you left the game before Warlords released, come back to experience some cool new stuff.  If Warlords wasn’t quite what you hoped, patch 6.1 doesn’t add enough new to make it worth returning.  Maybe the next patch will have more.  Otherwise, I might drop out for a break the earliest into an expansion since Cataclysm.

Lightning Bolt! Lightning Bolt!

(Editor’s Note:  NERDS!)

I haven’t written about Dungeons and Dragons yet for a couple of reasons that are closely related.  Mainly, because Chris doesn’t play, we haven’t made it a part of our monthly game nights.  More generally, I haven’t played D&D since AD&D 2nd edition and haven’t even though about the game since moving about a decade ago and putting all those books up in the attic.  For some reason, during the summer, I got interested in the state of the game again.   I went in search of the new editions, tried to find some free and relatively quick adventures, and tested out the game.

I went with 3.5 to make my characters and for the rule books.  4th editions seemed a like it simplified things a little too much for me and the 3.5 character sheets looked like what I remember as D&D.  I rolled a party of five (not the old TV show, but a half-elf fighter, eladrin ranger, human rogue, elven wizard, and a dwarven cleric), wrote some brief personalities and histories for them (just enough to get started), downloaded an adventure, and got to it.

As you may imagine, playing D&D solo was not nearly as much fun as getting together with some friends.  I started to wish that I had Wednesday nights off to be able to go to the Encounters nights at the local-ish game store.  I tried to think of ways that I could get some of the old crew together (maybe via Skype) to play some games.  Nothing came of either of those plans, but my brainstorming led to Roll20 and Meetup.  Roll20 is an online community that allows you to play roleplaying games with others.  Meetup is more general, but I joined a group of comic fans, gamers, and sci-fi enthusiasts.  These ventures haven’t led to anything yet, either, but I will hopefully have the time to dedicate to figuring out how to use either or both of them to my benefit.

One unexpected positive to come out of my resurgence of interest in the game is that I have rediscovered my Dragonlance books.  As of writing this article, I have only found the Annotated Chronicles from my collection, but they should be enough to get me started.  (Editor’s Note:  I have since visited a local used bookstore and picked up 3 more books for my birthday.)  I have plan to revisit Dragonlance in an article that I will post tomorrow on the main page, so that will be another hopefully entertaining and interesting trip back to the roots of my nerdiness.  For now, though, back to the topic.

A reason for this article is that the 5th edition of the game was released last year.  (Mostly self-promoted) hype on my Facebook feed proclaim the update as the perfect time to get back into the game.  Let’s inspect to see if it actually is, or we should take the advice of Public Enemy on this one.  First impression is that it is D&D.  I don’t see much difference in the core elements of the game.  All of the races, classes, attributes, spells, and saving throws are still there.  This is a good thing since the core of the game has always been strong and the basis of many copycats and clones.  To be honest, at first glance, I don’t see any reason to choose this over the others, but maybe I will find something to distinguish it as I take a closer look.

So, let’s start by making a character.  My go to first character has always been an elf (or usually a half-elf) magic-user of some sort.  I think to change it up, I’ll choose a druid this time.  the race and class combination could make for an interesting back story for the character.  Given up for adoption by an elven mother to a group of druids because the human father died (killed in war?), left (intentionally?  driven away?), he now looks over a spring used by local villagers.  Whatever, the beauty of the game is that I can fill in the details later.

More importantly, I posted something on my Facebook about the new edition and how I wanted to find a group again.  Because most of us work during the week, it would have to be a weekend group.  All of the local stores only run them during the week.  However, a friend mentioned that he has been looking for a group, too.  We got our families together for dinner the other day and I mentioned Roll20 to him.  We both explored the site more and decided that it more that does what we want.  He sent out some invites and I sent out a couple to old friends about joining.  So far, we have 5 or 6 that are willing to play, so we definitely have the makings of a group.

I probably won’t use my earlier character for that group.  I might incorporate him into a series of short stories that I can share on the web page.  I was going to do something like that when I first got back into the game and couldn’t find others to play.  As I am currently writing him, the druid seems like he would work better in stories than a campaign.  Since he is a loner and with little desire to change that status, it might take too long for him to enter civilization and find companions.  Admittedly, you can always accelerate time in these games, but I’d rather roll a different character for the campaign.  (Editor’s Note:  I am falling on the proverbial sword for the group and rolling a dwarven cleric again.)

Well, it appears that the new edition of D&D is not just all hype.  It has inspired me to write a little bit.  It got me together with new and old friends to plan a campaign.  It’s gotten me excited about the prospects of playing the game again.  If you’re like me and you used to play D&D, but haven’t looked at it in a while, I would definitely check out the 5th edition.  Admittedly, I have not tried any of the other rules for any extended period, but if they are as intuitive as the character creation, then we are going to have some fun with this and you probably will, too.

One final note.  As far as I know, we are up to 6 for our Roll20 campaign.  If you take a look at some of the materials from 5th edition and like what you see, give a thought to joining us.  We can always use more players for greater flexibility.  We are mostly born again noobs, but if that sounds like your speed, send an email or leave a comment.