Recapturing the Magic

Introduction

I did an article a few weeks ago about the Nicol Bolas Archenemy set after playing it with Aiden and Quinn.A� While we still haven’t had a chance to play all four of us, we did simulate the experience recently.A� I played as both Bolas and one of the Gatewatch decks.A� What I found is that the encounter is tuned for 3 players to face the dragon.A� Not a huge surprise, but fun to see how precise Wizards has gotten in tuning the game.A� There are still powerful cards and decks in all formats, but they have come a long way since the overpowered Tarkir block and Standard is the most open that I’ve seen in the 3 or 4 years that I’ve been watching.A� In either case, once we get a chance to play the game as it is intended with all four of us, I will give another impression.A� This article is about the latest expansion, Ixalan.

The Good

Chris and I have been texting a bit back and forth about the recent sets.A� Nothing really jumped out at us from Kaladesh or Amonkhet, even if he was excited about the theme of Amonkhet.A� I think I might have mentioned it in my last article, but it didn’t even look like Ixalan would get me back into the game.A� Then, a few things happened.A� One, I stopped collecting comic books again.A� I enjoyed the stories and the community that I was starting to build, but I just couldn’t justify the cover prices anymore, especially at the rate I was buying the books.A� That freed up some money for other nerd pursuits.A� Then, I ran the idea of the set by Liam and he said, “Cool!”

Pirates and dinosaurs?! What more do you need?!

So, I took that saved comic book money and I blew it on a booster box and Fat Pack (now called a “bundle”, I think) for Ixalan because that’s how I roll.A� Primarily, I’ve been a collector and that usually gives me the most bang for my buck.A� I get a majority of the cards from the set for my binder and usually enough to add some cards to the couple of decks that I still have.

Granted, I still have to open the product.A� Some of that is neglect on my part.A� It took me forever to open my Amonkhet packs.A� I might even have half of a box that wasn’t opened.A� I know for a fact that we have Dicemasters left to open from the box that I purchased for the draft that we did a few months ago.A� Most of it, though, is that Liam was so excited for the cards that I wanted to open them when he had a chance to help us.A� He’s been in play, which has been intense over the last two weeks because it was showtime, but now that’s all over.A� In addition, I’d like to capture some content for a YouTube channel that has been criminally ignored for the better part of 2 years.

Actual footage from our YouTube channel. Actually, this would get more views.

So, this whole review is a bit disingenuous.A� When has that ever stopped us?A� I can definitely say that it is a good thing that I’m back into the game of Magic, even if I haven’t actually played against Chris in several months.A� A�He, too, has seen his interest in the game grow through his online business selling cards, so it might only be a matter of time before we get together for one of our infamous nerd nights and bust out the Magic cards.

The Bad

Knowing very little about the set, I can’t really give much in the ways of honest impressions, as I said earlier.A� However, I will say that no matter my chosen nerd hobby of the moment, I tend to go overboard.A� I was spending almost 200 dollars a month in comics for most of the year.A� I bought a box of Dicemasters and Heroclix to prepare for a podcast episode that was supposed to be made several months ago (and finally hopefully will this weekend).A� I always buy a booster box and fat pack of every Magic set (including going back in history to the first Mirrodin set when I started getting back into gaming all those years ago) and I’m now trying to resist purchasing an XBox One, even though it would make for good gaming partners with Kevin, maybe Chris, and the boys.

Tom gets me.

So, it is bad that I’m back into Magic. A�It isn’t as bad as if I decided to start buying comics again. A�I think I might have even said as much to Chris during one of our conversations. A�Something along the lines of Magic might have been expensive, but at least it was only 200 dollars every couple of months instead of every month and the cards have more utility than the comic books. A�The comic books are easier to display, but who the hell do I have coming to my house to look at my comic book collection? A�At least with the cards, I can play the game against my kids even if Chris and I are too busy to hang out.

The Ugly

You know, I put together this format early in my blogging career…wait, can you call it a career if you’ve never made a dime from it? A�Nevertheless, this format worked well for my Steelers page because there’s almost always at least one good thing, one bad thing, and one really terrible thing that you can take from a sporting event, if it is properly framed. A�However, being critical of creative projects is a much trickier proposition and I don’t always have something terrible to say about them. A�I understand that people often put their hearts and souls into the creative pursuits and therefore try to find the good in them. A�Usually I can stretch to find a bad, but “The Ugly” is usually just me explaining myself or making an awkward joke.

Worst. Critic. Ever.

Maybe I will try a little harder to find things that I don’t like for these reviews. A�Maybe I will better research a product before posting a review of it. A�After all, Googling “Ixalan spoilers” isn’t exactly the epitome of responsible journalism. A�Maybe I will tweak the format to more appropriately match my overall optimistic and sunny demeanor. A�After all, it is based on a 50 year old movie and probably not speaking to the demographic that we should be courting.

The Verdict

Pirates and dinosaurs were enough to get me interested in Magic again. A�I can’t speak personally on the overall quality of the set, but having watched a few Twitch streams recently, I do think that the Standard meta is healthy and that Wizards has recovered nicely from the stale experience that the overpowered Tarkir block brought. A�It’s a bit bad for my budget that I’m into Magic again, but not nearly as bad as comic books were. A�Overall, I’m excited about the game again and that’s a positive.

D”Ice” Cold Hard Cash?

Introduction

Later this week, we’re going to do another episode of Noob and Sons in celebration of the release of the new Thor movie last week.A� Coincidentally, Chris and I had a text conversation about how he has been unable to unload his Dicemasters.A� Regular readers of the page know that he and I had discussed if there might be a way to exploit inefficiencies in the Magic the Gathering market during Standard rotations mostly.A� Since new cards lead to new synergies and new decks, it would stand to reason that you could flip cards that gained value due to the rotation.

So far, he has found that the strategy works for the most part.A� This has inspired me to attempt the same.A� However, I’m probably already behind the curve for this set, so I’m going to wait until January and the release of that set to try my hand at the market.A� Since he was so successful with Magic and he doesn’t play Dicemasters as much because he doesn’t have a built in playgroup like we do here, he decided to unload the ones that he could on eBay, too.A� But, he has been finding little success in the Dicemasters market.

What am I going to do with all these dice?!

That got me thinking about the reasons behind the seeming lack of interest in Dicemasters and why he hasn’t been able to as readily turn them into a profit, even as he is attempting to unload what should be high value cards.A� They range from the good (I’m not completely tuned in to all of the competitive scenes, but I rarely see anything about Dicemasters tournaments except during releases of new sets), to the bad (Wizkids just tends to overproduce their product, so it doesn’t have much resale value), and always the ugly possibility that the game isn’t as popular anymore and will go the route of so many other promising games.

The Good

While I won’t necessarily say that any of these are good reasons for the lack of value of the cards, this is the best without question.A� Yes, it is true that games are mostly driven by their competitive scene these days.A� Therefore, it could be argued that a game that doesn’t have much of a competitive scene isn’t one that is worth following to begin with and could lead to a collapse similar to the one that I’m going to discuss in “The Ugly” section.A� It could be argued.A� Which, naturally, means that I’m going to argue in the counter.

Just when you think I’m going to zig…I zag!A� What a madman!

Bear in mind that I’m a fan of most competitive scenes.A� I watch more Twitch than anything else and split my time between Magic, Hearthstone, and Pokemon.A� I’ve never been able to get into RTS, FPS, or MOBA streams, but I have watched more than one Street Fighter match and today I was watching Yu Gi Oh with the boys.A� I am all in on watching other people play card games.

However, in the past, if I’m not careful, I find that getting involved in the competitive aspects of a game take away the fun of the game from me.A� A few times after watching Magic the Gathering GP or PT coverage, I’ve come away with the illusion that I might be able to build a competitive deck and “go pro”, so to speak.A� Luckily, reality is undefeated and has reminded me, in the most certain of terms, that I’m a father of 3 and a husband.A� Also, I have a “real” job.A� Sure, it’s one that offers me ridiculous amounts of time off, but during the school year (which has increasingly been more of the year) is busy beyond belief and I have no time to devote to a career in Magic.A� So, little to no competitive scene in Dicemasters removes all delusions before they have a chance to even form.

Besides, if I go pro, who will be teh Noob of All Trades?

In addition, the reason that cards generally become expensive is because they can be found in decks that are popular among the pro crowd.A� If there is not much of a competitive scene, then cards (or dice in this example) won’t be expensive and we can still afford to buy them.A� Keeping me from getting delusions of grandeur and keeping the game affordable are two very good reasons that I’m glad there is not much of a pro scene in Dicemasters, if any at all.A� Maybe it isn’t good for Chris’s pocketbook, but he’ll survive.

The Bad

Once again, I don’t agree with conventional wisdom here.A� Actually, I’m not sure if it is conventional wisdom or if it is just classic internet squeaky wheels squeaking for that grease.A� Chris and I have had more than one conversation about speculators in the past and I always argue that game makers should just drop all of this silliness like the reserve list in Magic and just release as much product as possible to kill the secondary market.A� Again, probably working against my interests what with my attempts in the future to figure out that market and make some extra money from it.

I also bought comics for the first time in a month because of the lenticular covers. I have become that which I hate most.

But, that just goes to show what a good guy I am.A� I am willing to risk potential future earnings so that everyone gets a chance at the cool cards that they want without having to pay the equivalent of the GDP of a small island nation for them.A� Alas, as it seems like Wizards of the Coast don’t care one way or the other about the secondary market, especially with recent reprints, they do care enough about rarity of cards to not completely overprint.

Their kids division seems to have no such respect for rarity.A� I noticed it first when we opened a box of the Pokemon throwback set to do a family draft/sealed event a few months ago.A� We opened what seemed like rare cards.A� When I went to check them on eBay to see if we could flip them for money for another box, I was surprised that none of them sold for over 15 bucks at the time.A� While that might seem like a hefty sum for a tiny piece of cardboard (and you might be right), having sold new Magic cards for upwards of 75 bucks, 15 is a drop in the bucket.A� I can’t be sure, but I think that a contributing factor is that lack of scarcity.

The Ugly

The worst of these possibilities is that Dicemasters is an idea that has run its course.A� Chris and I have discussed on more that one occasion that we enjoy the game, but it is quite limited in strategy and scope.A� I admit that I haven’t paid as much attention to the game as I should be, but they don’t release nearly as many expansions as other card games, which could cause things to get stale quite easily.A� Also, Magic uses the new sets to play with synergies between mechanics and cards in new and interesting ways.

Plus, dinosaurs eating pirates is always cool.

Maybe the lack of expansions in Dicemasters has caused interest to wane and people just don’t care about the game anymore.A� The tabletop graveyard is littered with the corpses of games that nobody cares about anymore.A� Heck, one game that I loved and was, by some accounts, still very popular, is dead and buried.A� All thanks to that abomination called Hearthstone.A� It isn’t out of the realm of possibility that Dicemasters may be suffering the same fate.

The Verdict

No competitive scene?A� Perhaps, but there might be a vibrant scene that doesn’t translate to streaming.A� Dying completely?A� Again, possible, but I highly doubt it.A� They have a new D&D set coming near the end of this month and I’m sure that they’ll try to cash in on the massive cash cow that the new Avengers movie is sure to be next year.A� Heck, they might even see what selling power there is in the Black Panther movie.A� If I had to hazard a guess, I would say that WizKids just prints tons of cards because their stuff is geared to kids and they don’t care if there’s any secondary market.A� Further, kids aren’t going to be able to shell out ridiculous amounts of money for cards in a secondary market, so there’s not even an incentive to push for one simply in the name of keeping the game fresh in people’s minds.A� So, they just flood the market with cards, hope for the best when it comes to people buying them, and why fix what ain’t broken.

Well, then…

Run Mario Run!

Introduction

I don’t remember how I learned about the Mario Run mobile game.A� It might have been that I saw a beta invite (or whatever the mobile equivalent of aA� beta invite is) in the Google Play store.A� I do remember that I downloaded it as soon as I saw it was available since I signed up for that invite to get access to the game as soon as possible.

I mean, I am the guy who has said that all Nintendo has to do is release a Mario, Zelda, and Metroid game on a system to get me to buy it enough times that it is pretty much self parody at this point to repeat it.A� I played it the whole way through within a day or two.A� Then, I changed phones twice.A� As you all know, my luck with electronics breaking is legendarily bad.A� Some of it is my doing.A� Some of it is just bad luck like a computer falling down the stairs or a phone getting run over in a parking lot.A� In either case, when I downloaded the game again recently, I thought I had lost all progress and my purchase, too.A� So, I didn’t play it for a few weeks.

Only one save slot in Pokemon. No cloud save in their mobile game, either? What the hell, Nintendo?

I was willing to pay for the game again, especially since they were running a sale and only charging half price for the game.A� Then, I learned that there was a way to restore my purchase.A� It didn’t restore my progress, but that was fine.A� As I said earlier, the game can be finished in a short period of time.A� When I wasn’t distracted by the new mode, I tried to clear the game again to access Star World.A� More on that in the next section.

The Good

Even though I was excited about the game, I wondered and worried how Mario would translate to mobile.A� Look, I get that the heart of Mario is just run and jump.A� Those actions are pretty easy to replicate in the mobile format.A� Heck, if they can make a decent fighting game on mobile with a variety of moves in Injustice 2 (which is still broken for me and I’m sad about that), then they can make Mario run and jump.

Granted, the more recent Mario games have more to offer like 3D motion and teamwork, but the basics of the games are running and jumping on Goombas.A� So, while maybe I shouldn’t have been, I was surprised to see that the game works well.A� The controls are intuitive and it is Mario game play.A� That alone should be enough to get people into the game.A� But, wait, there’s more.

I mean, seriously. Is this screenshot from a phone or 3DS? I don’t know. Well, that’s not true. It’s a phone.

Another appeal of the game is that they have included multiple game modes.A� When I first started playing the game, there were only two.A� There was a “Tour” mode that played like a normal Mario game and you played through stages and worlds to advance to castles and eventually fight against Bowser to finish the game.A� Aside from that, there was also a “Rally” mode that was a “multiplayer” mode.A� In reality, you competed against a ghost of another player to collect more coins.A� The player that won got a collection of different colored Toads that they could use to buy buildings to improve their kingdom.

Speaking of the kingdom, when I came back to the game, they had introduced a new game mode.A� They call it Remix 10 and it is billed as some of the shortest Mario levels in history.A� That’s no lie.A� What they do is they take the various levels from the game and shrink them into bite size (and even less than bite size in some cases) portions and put 10 of them together.A�It’s a fun game mode and the one that I find myself playing over and over again.A� The goal is to collect 3 rainbow coins from each level.A� Then, at the end of the level is usually some decoration for the kingdom.

So, what is this kingdom?A� The kingdom is a collection of buildings.A� Some are decorative.A� Some offer small bonuses.A� Other than vanity, I’m not entirely sure what the point of the kingdom is in the game.A� It’s not my idea of good game design.A� Nor am I actively opposed to it and, if you are the type to enjoy that sort of thing, then that’s another potentially good aspect of the game.

The Bad

It’s not exactly Mario.A� Sure, there is running and jumping and it feels as much like Mario as they can make a simple mobile game where the character automatically runs and you make him jump by tapping the screen feel like Mario.A� It’s not just because the character looks like Mario and the enemies look like Mario enemies, either.A� You just get the feeling when you’re playing that you are almost playing a Mario game.A� It’s just not all the way Mario.A� You can’t go back on levels unless level design allows it via wall jumps or arrow jumps.A� Heck you can’t even stop to explore if there are hidden areas in the level.A� I don’t think there are any hidden levels as the game forces a very linear progression through the game.

Also, it is short.A� I’ve already said that the main “campaign”, if you can call it that would take most gamers less than two hours.A� Less than one hour or even a half an hour if you are dedicated and better that the average noob.A� Sure, there are goodies to be collected and increasingly difficult coins to be found for each level.A� To be honest, that hasn’t been enough to keep me playing the main mode.A� Mostly, now, I play the Tour and Remix 10 modes.A� Remix 10, especially, is fun and it takes almost no time commitment to play.A� But, if you are the type who just wants to beat a game, you won’t find the infinite hamster wheel of Candy Crush.A� 30 to 120 minutes and you’re done.

The Ugly

The kingdom introduces some annoying mobile tropes like unlockable collectibles.A� In true Nintendo fashion they haven’t added real money microtransactions to the game, but that almost makes it even more annoying.A� The fact that I buy things with coins makes me think of the joke game “DLC Quest” where you are constantly using your coins to make the game complete.A� It’s all cosmetic and there’s no real money, but it’s still annoying to be reminded how icky mobile gaming can sometimes feel.

It’s pandemonium in the Mushroom Kingdom as money has lost all worth and Mario exists only for the pleasure of some sick old man.

If I know Nintendo, I know that they won’t change on the real money issue.A� However, as I was doing research for the article (Googling for images), I came across some news that the game has not been as profitable as they hoped.A� I mean, maybe that’s just the way that you can make money from these mobile games.A� They charged 10 bucks for the full version of the game.A� Once you bought it, you own it.A� I like that type of game, but so many others in the market are all too happy to take your money in exchange for (ultimately worthless) virtual goods.A� Is it only a matter of time before Nintendo caves?A� I doubt it, but if they do, it will not be pretty.

The Verdict

While the main game is short, it is fun.A� There is enough variety in the 3 game modes (maybe more added eventually?) to keep you coming back for more.A� There is the kingdom building aspect of the game for the collectors out there.A� Thankfully, for now, Nintendo has not instituted any real money shop (other than the one to buy the full version of the game) and hopefully they never will.A� I won’t stop playing the game if they do, but I might slow down just out of habit.A� If you haven’t already, please download and play the game.A� Maybe we can convince Nintendo to release Zelda or Metroid!

Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Bolas?

Introduction

Chris and I have been talking for a few months as if our time in Magic the Gathering is over.A� Regular readers of the page know that this is not unusual.A� Our interest in the game ebbs and flows as it does with most of you, I’m sure.A� However, this time felt different.

First, the Marvel Secret Empire event pulled me back into comics.A� I got to the point where I was spending almost $200 a month on them.A� That is not exactly conducive to having extra money for cards, too.A� Why do nerd hobbies have to be so damn expensive?

Back in my day, you could get a comic book, a loaf of bread, and a show at the nickelodeon (the TV network) for less than 4 dollars. Also, get the hell off my lawn.

Second, none of the recent sets have excited me.A� Usually when I’m going through a lull, I can point to a set that might have potential to get me interested.A� I still bought cards to collect, but going back to Innistrad and the return of the Eldrazi (even in their Annihilator-less form) left me flat.A� Amonkhet had some cool lore and Chris and I even did a Winchester draft with the set, but I never bought any product from the second set.A� That’s the first time that has happened since I got back into the game.A� It just looked like comics were going to be my hobby.

Then, some things happened and the tide turned.A� I’ve been writing for a couple of months now that I didn’t think 200 bucks per month was sustainable.A� Well, I finally discussed it with my wife and her opinion matched me and Chris.A� 3 out of 3 meant that I needed to reevaluate.A� Then, the kids asked me to play Magic a few weeks ago and we did.A� It’s the first time that they’ve all been old enough to understand and play by the rules.A� I’ve been looking for a reason to buy the Nicol Bolas Archenemy set and they finally gave me that reason.

I mean, other than the obvious reason of being able to play as a big ole dragon, of course.

Also, I have been listening to podcasts (as I do every day during my commute) and Planet Money has featured a couple of episodes on arbitrage.A� Coincidentally, Chris has decided to try his hand at exploiting inefficiencies in the MtG market after a conversation about how the release of a new set often sees old cards that were worth almost nothing gain value due to their inclusion in new decks.A� He keeps me updated on a semi-daily basis and he has inspired me to attempt the same.

Finally, I’ve take a look at Ixalan.A� My verdict?A� Pirates and dinosaurs are cool.A� Frankly, though, I came to that verdict after some discussion with the boys.A� I took my comic money, bought a box and a fat pack (bundle now, but it feels awkward to call it a bundle bundle) bundle and we’re going to open it as a family.A� There will be plenty of time to dissect Ixalan.A� This article is about our experience with the Nicol Bolas Archenemy set.

The Good

It is multiplayer Magic.A� When we played a few weeks ago, we played 2-headed giant with me and Quinn against the his two older brothers.A� It allowed everyone to play at the same time, whereas our “tournaments” often see one match end early, people get bored, and they eventually give up on ever finishing the tournament.A� Since we were all in the same match at the same time, nobody got the chance to get bored and walk away.

Nicol Bolas can be played as a four player game, but there were only three of us the night we played because Liam had play practice that night.A� Still, the three of us had fun even as Aiden complained about how OP the Nicol Bolas deck is.A� I was playing as the deck and I have to agree with him.A� Granted, you are playing against multiple players as the deck, but I feel like they might have overdone it a bit with some of the cards in the supplementary deck.

This is one of the milder cards. You cast them for free and some of them affect the remainder of the game.

But, this is the good section of the article.A� There is plenty of good to the set.A� The decks are each built around a planeswalker.A� In addition to that planeswalker, the decks contain some fun and interesting cards from the history of the game.A� Some of the cards are actually very good and with the right pilot and circumstances, the decks might even hold their own against the dragon.A� More testing is necessary to see if the decks should be tweaked a bit or if they will work right out of the box.

The Bad

As mentioned, we’ve only gotten a chance to play once.A� Aiden said that he’s played it with his friends at school during recess time, but that was the absolute first time that I’ve ever played it.A� As a result, my opinion might not be fully formed and there might be some bad that I’m overlooking.

Because, there isn’t much bad that I can say about the set.A� The decks seem to be fun.A� It is a different way to play Magic the Gathering with a larger group of players.A� Sure, Nicol Bolas is a powerful deck and made more powerful by his schemes, but that fits right into the lore of the character.A� He’s supposed to be one of the big bads and it wouldn’t feel right if any group of players could just get together and steamroll.

Hey, Buddy, show some respect. We’re not just “any group of players”!

This is so weird.A� I previewed the “bad” and “ugly” in my good section.A� I’m technically telling how good the game is in the bad section.A� This is pandemonium.A� What’s going to happen in the ugly section?

The Ugly

The only bad that I can say about the game is that the scheme deck for the dragon is overpowered, just as I said in “the good” previous section.A� It might be that the game really isn’t designed for less than 4 players, even though they have rules for less.A� The boys put up a decent fight, but my deck just steamrolled them with the free removal, card draw, mana, and everything else good about the game of Magic the Gathering.A� The one game that we played was just ugly for poor Aiden and Quinn.A� Bolas destroyed nearly all hope they had of ever gaining an edge, forget about even winning the game.

Aiden did say that he hadn’t seen the scheme deck before.A� I wonder if at school the kids don’t use the deck because it offers such a distinct advantage to a deck that maybe doesn’t need the help.A� In addition to trying to think of ways to improve the Gatewatch planeswalker decks, I might try to play a game without the scheme deck to see if it makes a difference and makes the game more even.

The Verdict

Even with the ugliness of the overpowered schemes, it seemed like the boys had fun with it.A� Just like 2 headed giant, all four of us can play at the same time.A� That makes it more likely that we will finish a game instead of losing players to complacency and boredom.A� Playing this has inspired me to get back into the game more.A� I have also inquired about Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh again and will be ready when Aiden goes through his phase again and wants to play those games.A� Right now, he and his brothers are all about some online Pokemon RPG that they are playing with friends.A� But, I’ll be looking forward to our games again, hopefully in the near future.