Hearthstone Road Trip: Destination Witchwood

Introduction

It’s that time of year again. Blizzard has released a new expansion for Hearthstone. I did a quick preview of the set about a month ago when it was announced. Before that, I wrote a bit about the new things that we could expect with the new season. You don’t have to read either of those to understand what’s going on in this article, but it would be great if you did!

One of the rumors about the new set was that it would take place in Duskwood. I said at the time that I didn’t exactly get a Duskwood vibe from the design of the set teaser and that has proven true. However, I do give you some credit, internet. You did get the woods part right. Just the wrong bunch of trees. Also, whoever first posited that the “Year of the Raven” was going to involve dark and spooky themes, I say “Kudos to you!”

And a hearty high five on top!

I already talked about the new mechanics in my previous article. Echo is fun, but so far I don’t think there’s anything that is truly broken (yet, more on that later). Rush is much preferred to charge as that mechanic will hopefully become Wild only over time. Granted, there are classic cards with charge on them, but good old Blizzard could just send them to the Hall of Fame or easily change the wording on the cards. Even and Odd decks are cute and I think there might be something to Odd quest warrior. In addition, odd paladin makes that class even more annoying to play against. But, that’s not really our thing here, so on to what we do best. Playing games and having fun.

The Cards

Neutral

This isn’t necessarily a keyword, so it wasn’t covered in the preview. It also came as a bit of a surprise when I saw it as I hadn’t been watching the spoilers for this set very closely. But, I like the mechanic of this card. It isn’t the only one that swaps attack and health each turn that it is in your hand. It is just the one that I have seen used and used myself most effectively. It’s relatively cheap and can remove big stuff right away if it is in 6/2 mode. All in all, an interesting addition to the game.

Honorable Mention

A 3-mana removal spell in this meta? Only bad thing is that if you aren’t able to target it (with hero power or other cheap spell), the opponent can silence it. Still, playing it just to frustrate your opponent and make them check the history to see what was just played against them makes it all worth it.

Druid

Naturally, this card makes me think of Twilight Drake. For one more mana, it has taunt. Both of those points are relevant. As soon as I saw this card and a few of the other new cards, I started thinking about a druid odd taunt deck. I’ve heard rumblings about such a deck existing, but I have no idea if it is actually any good. Then again, I’ve never cared too much about winning. I just want to have fun with the game.

Honorable Mention

She’s five mana and can be played in my Odd Taunt Druid deck that I’m trying to make happen. Also, and this isn’t relevant to that deck. But,  if you can get her to stick, you could play Ultimate Infestation, then Kun, and then another Ultimate Infestation all in one turn. I don’t know how practical that is, but it sure would be fun to watch.

Hunter

This is the kind of card that I love. On first look, it looks great. Upon further inspection, it looks pretty terrible. Upon even further inspection, it settles into a decent situational card. You can use it to make an army of 4/4 minions with rush or even charge. You can use it to attempt to blow your opponent out of the water with a whole bunch of 9/8 lions that leave 2/2 hyenas in their wake (if they ever die). It’s just a potentially wacky card.

Honorable Mention

I know what you’re thinking. That’s a terrible card. And you’re right. It is an awful card. But, look at that! A 6/6 rat?! That thing’s huge!

Mage

I am bit biased towards this card because it is the gift legendary that I’ve gotten on two of my accounts so far. Moreover, I’ve been able to play it a few times. Once I got Aya Blackpaw and another time I got Stalagg (or was it Fuegen?). Stay tuned for more! I could steal this card with Rogue, play it, Shadowstep it, play it again, and get both of them for the meme Thaddius dream.

Honorable Mention

Similar to a few other cards on the list, this one invokes feelings of another card. It’s a slightly worse improvement on arcane missiles. However, in a meta where everyone is playing 1 and 2 mana cards with only 1 or 2 health, throwing around one mana fireballs seems like a decent thing to be doing.

Paladin

A card that makes Quest Paladin viable! Not really, but I did see someone on low level ranked playing the deck and it ran all over my pile of Mage cards that I’ve been using to try to finish the quest. I have packs upon packs of standard legal cards, but I’m trying to save them to open them for a YouTube video. See, guys I do care. As far as this card, this isn’t an example of a broken Echo card, but it does come pretty close.

Honorable Mention

Hearthstone has bulk rares, too! Just like their big brother Magic the Gathering. The difference here is that you get useful dust from the card in addition to the hollow empty feeling of what the card might have been after opening it from a pack.

Priest

In addition to the earlier “that’s busted, wait that’s terrible, no actually that’s a decent situationally” card that I mentioned above, this is my other favorite type of card. It’s a card that does new things that we’re not used to in the game. Like the other type of card, it might just be terrible. Then again, it just might be brilliant and it hasn’t found where it wants to be yet. I can’t wait to find out.

Honorable Mention

This was a toss up between Squashling (but I didn’t want to mention two Echo cards back to back like this), Quartz Elemental (which could be fun in an Inner Fire deck, but ultimately isn’t all that interesting), and this card. Other than those reasons above, I chose this card because I like the Priest theme of using your opponent’s cards against them. Sure, rogue has those cards, too, but rogues are thieves on the outside. This confirms my suspicions that any priest in any fantasy setting is secretly a thief.

Rogue

Not a good card, but it is a Legendary minion that you can play multiple times in a turn (at least 3 on turn 10 and maybe more given coins), and it gives you a body and a card every time. Hearthstone understands that if they can’t give us great cards every time, at least they can give us fun cards.

Honorable Mention

This was a tough one and for the opposite reason of the priest honorable mention section. That one had too many good cards to choose. Rogue got some really awful cards in this expansion. I suppose that’s to be expected since they got Kingsbane last time and that card bordered on completely busted. As far as Tess goes, she doesn’t make Thief Rogue viable, but she does make it fun, in that unnerving Yogg kind of way that we all love.

Shaman

In Knights of the Frozen Throne, we got new hero cards for all of the classes. This hearkened back to the old WoW TCG where you got to choose your hero for your deck. This time, we just get poor old Hagatha. She’s got a decent battlecry, and a passive battlecry (which is always cool), but it pales in comparison to Valeera’s DK power. I choose cards because they are unique, not because they’re good.

Honorable Mention

What if they had made this 1 mana and given it Echo? Would it have been the broken Echo card that I know is coming sooner or later? I don’t think so, but we are definitely getting closer to it. What if it is still the exact same, but with Echo? That’s pretty broken, but you do potentially sacrifice your next turn for it. These are the things that keep me up at night.

Warlock

A 7 mana almost guaranteed board clear and you get a 4/4 minion out of it, too? I don’t usually pick good cards (and I might not have here), but this card seems crazy to me. This card is almost guaranteed not to see play because Cubelock seems pretty stable as a deck right now. So, nobody will ever suspect when I play this card on them. Muahahahahaha!

Honorable Mention

Another echo card that exists only to annoy your opponent? I’m sensing a bit of a theme here. This is kind of a weird card because it feels more like a Priest card than a Warlock card, but I’ll allow it. It’s just such a stupid and fun card that I could see playing two turns in a row against some silly aggro face deck just to prolong their misery.

Warrior

This isn’t a good card. This isn’t even a fun card. I mean, it has rush and that interesting twist of gaining +3 attack on the turn it’s played. This is maybe a decent Arena card. What gives with this pick? Well, that just goes to show you how terribly Warrior was treated with this expansion. If Rogue was awful, Warrior is off the charts terrible.

Honorable Mention

I seriously cannot come up with another Warrior card for honorable mention. This is not me trying to be cute or provocative. The Warrior cards are that bad. If you haven’t seen them yet and don’t believe me, just go look. There’s nothing good, nor interesting, nor fun. It’s just a pile of frightening garbage.

Shudderwock

You may have been surprised to not have seen this card in the Shaman section. It’s a crazy card that does crazy things. Seems like it would be my kind of card and I’d have been able to find some place for it. Well, I did. As with any new Hearthstone expansion, there is a busted card with busted interaction that makes a deck that does ridiculous things. This one is no different.

I had heard rumbling about this deck and how stupid and noninteractive it was. I played against it once and it seemed weird, but not overpowered. Then, I decided to do something that I haven’t ever done. I took all of my dust and I crafted the cards necessary to create the deck. Playing it only once was enough for me to see that it is the special kind of stupid that Hearthstone can be known for. I misplayed the deck and I was still able to win because the card is so silly. It just becomes an almost infinite series of interactions that can’t be countered by the opponent, not even by conceding. I have a feeling that something might be done about this card soon.

The Verdict

There are some decent cards in this set. There are also some possibly fun cards that might inspire me to make a few decks to try out during the season. Other than that, there isn’t much here. Overall, the set is quite disappointing and while it might change the meta a bit and bring back some old deck archetypes, I don’t see there being huge changes overall.

The few streams that I’ve been able to watch this week verify that. Kingsbane Rogue is gone and Druid is more of a taunt variety. However, Cube and Control Warlock still seem to be a big part of the meta along with different varieties of aggro Paladin and I don’t see those going away any time soon.

First Impressions of MTG Arena

Introduction

I used to be invited early to beta tests for new games. I invested a couple of times in somewhat top of the line gaming laptop computers, so I had the specs that game designers coveted. Test the game in the highest resolution with the highest FPS, and really put it through the paces. Since all of those computers have met with tragic ends after only months of use, I’ve gotten smarter and gone with a budget laptop that will allow me to do the bare minimum as far as gaming goes and is more focused on work. I can get a better gaming desktop for cheaper and I won’t be carrying that everywhere I go, so less of a chance of it falling down the stairs or being run over.

Still, with the recent push to mobile gaming, for many games specs aren’t as important. Either that, or it is later in the beta invites for MTG: Arena. Because, somewhat surprising, I received a closed beta invite to the game sometime last week. I do know that they were attempting to do a stress test on their servers, so maybe they just did a flood of invites. Whatever the reason, and for better or worse, I’m in the game.

The Good

Regular readers of the page know that one of my saying that has become cliche is that I say “It’s….” followed by some game as explanation for why something is good or bad. I almost always follow it up with some explanation, but at this point I feel like it is expected, so at the risk of being hack writer guy, I’ll start there. MTG: Arena is good because, well, it’s Magic the Gathering. Sort of. That’s not to say that there are elements of the game missing.

Before you ask, no Force of Will and, especially no Storm Crow (yet)…

Everything that makes Magic unique among card games and separates it from Hearthstone, the main digital card competitor, is there. I worried when I first saw the game that they were trying to make it too much like Hearthstone. They did…sort of. More on that later. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve grown accustomed to Hearthstone. I wouldn’t say that I enjoy it (not all of the time), but it can be a fun diversion.

It’s just that Magic is different and it always has been. One of the things that I don’t like about Hearthstone is that there is no interaction between players, really. You interact with your opponent’s minions and occasionally throw a fireball or pyroblast at their face, but you can’t interact or interrupt their turn other than secret cards and those aren’t targeted.

I’m here to report that the turn structure is still there. There are still two main phases, a combat phase that allows you to choose attackers and defenders, and an upkeep and cleanup. Those last two aren’t defined by the game. They happen automatically. Through it all, the game still has instant spells that you can cast at any time, even during your opponents turn.

Glory, glory, say blue mages. Draw, go, is a viable strategy in this new Arena.

I saw someone on Twitter say that the game is barely Duels 2.0. Maybe it is because I never played that particular game other than against the AI, but I don’t have that same impression. Sure, Arena is similar in many ways to Duels, but Arena feels meatier. It felt more like playing Magic the Gathering than Duels ever did. That’s what I like about it and that’s what will keep me playing. It’s not perfect, though, not by any stretch.

The Bad

I mentioned earlier that when I first saw screenshots for the game, I worried that they were taking too many cues from Hearthstone. Once, during a conversation with Chris, I even confused him by calling it MTG: The Hearthstone Update. It’s virtually impossible to get into digital card games without being compared to Hearthstone in some form or fashion, even for a 25 year old game like Magic. Hearthstone is just king of the hill of digital card games.

They definitely took clues from Hearthstone. There is an emote system that is set up almost exactly like Hearthstone’s. The backgrounds, while not yet interactive, have a similar feel and vibe to the tables that Hearthstone has. Aesthetically, my brain couldn’t figure out if I was playing Magic or Hearthstone because the look of the games is so similar.

See for yourself…

Additionally, the cards have animations and sounds. I understand that they need to separate this property from the more serious MTGO and that they’re trying to grab some money from players who only play Hearthstone. It’s a strange dynamic that MtG players will often cross over into Hearthstone, but there has yet to be many prominent Hearthstone players who have become competitive MtG players. So, I get it. They just seem to be trying a little bit too hard to emulate what they think makes Hearthstone different instead of highlighting what Magic does well.

The Ugly

Right now, the only mode that is offered is Standard. That’s it. I get that it is going to take them time to program all of the interactions of older cards and who knows how long something like that can take. However, there’s no draft mode, which is odd. There’s no commander and I don’t even see any indication that they’re going to update with the new Brawl mode that is being introduced with Dominaria. Come to think of it, I didn’t even see any mention of Dominaria in the game, either. Maybe I overlooked it. I will look again when I play.

First, if they want this to be viable as a Magic product, it has to update with or very close to new set releases. Nobody is going to play last year’s standard when this year’s standard will be available in paper and on MTGO. Secondly, as a fan of limited and eternal formats, standard only is not going to keep me entertained or engaged for very long. They could find themselves with another dead digital property on their hands.

…and not so shiny objects, and shiny non objects…let’s face it. I’m easily distracted by… well, easily distracted covers it.

The Verdict

This mish mash of Magic and Hearthstone is a little bit too much Hearthstone and not quite enough Magic the Gathering for me right now. As I said, I enjoy Hearthstone, but I don’t want it in my Magic. Those aren’t two great tastes that taste great together. Once upon a time, Chris and I experimented with a Hearthstone “rules” Magic the Gathering where you play from a mana deck each turn. It was supposed to remove mana flood and screw, which are two things that we (and many players) hate about the game. It did, but it wasn’t Magic, so we haven’t done it since.

Perhaps it will take some time and since it is closed beta, they aren’t at a finished product yet. Maybe with more games, more cards, more opponents the game will grow on me and it will become part of my regular rotation. After all, it took several years and many hundreds of games before I accepted Hearthstone as part of my daily gaming routine. MtG: Arena might just be on that trajectory.

I did say to Chris that this game seems to be their answer to Hearthstone. When I downloaded the client in anticipation of my beta invite, it was very small. So, not only have they  made it look and feel like Hearthstone, they have optimized it for mobile. So, I suppose that this parting statement sums up my feelings about the game. Again, to Chris, “If they do port it to mobile, I’d probably play it over Hearthstone.”

My 2 Cents on Penny Dreadful

(Editor’s Note: It’s been a while since I’ve done a terrible pun for a title and one of these editor’s notes. Just a little bit of nostalgia on this Friday morning.)

Introduction

I am always on the lookout for new ways to play Magic the Gathering. I’m not much of a competitive player, though I will join the occasional draft online and have even considered going to one of our LGS for actual human interaction while doing so. The thing keeping me from doing so now is that I’ve taken on another job and work 16 hours a day in addition to writing for the page and now releasing videos and podcasts. Don’t worry about me, dear reader, I do it all out of love.

When I first heard about Commander, right around the time I was opening my Return to Ravnica product, I pulled a Vorel of the Hull Clade. While not much of a Spike, this confluence of events opened part of my brain that I don’t often visit. This card, so cheap, 99 other cards, the evolve mechanic, blue mana, green creatures…oh my. You could probably abuse this card terribly in that format. I did stick to my not so Spikey roots because I didn’t go in search of Legacy and Vintage legal cards that would break it completely, but I did put in every evolve creature and proliferate card that I could find. I considered a doubling season, but they were too expensive. Chris and I played a game and I blew him out pretty convincingly.

One of the few times I’ve played competitive Magic against actual people, I learned about Tiny Leaders. While Vorel would make quite the Tiny Leader as well, I instead focused on the new hotness at the time, Khans of Tarkir and M15. I made two decks, a warrior focused deck with Alesha as my commander and a green “sort of” ramp style deck with Yisan, the wandering bard. Both decks are fun to play and given more time, money, and opportunity to play them against people, I might tune them a bit better.

More recently, I heard about a format called Penny Dreadful. It was sold as “not really dreadful, actually a lot of fun”. Easily persuaded by such salesmanship, I went on a search for this particular format. Magic the Gathering? With cards that only cost a penny? Less than a dollar for each deck? This sounds like my kind of format.

Wait, what? Only a penny?

Technically, it is all cards that are listed on MTGO for 0.01 tix at the release of a new set. The format isn’t standard, but the price list is determined using the release of a new set. While that might seem limiting because, it is by definition limiting, there are still a ton of cards available in the format. By the count on the following list, there are almost 10000 available cards.

There are old cards. Yes, as far back as alpha! There are new cards. As mentioned above, the list gets updated with the release of a new set and Rivals of Ixalan is in there. There are cards of all rarities, even Mythics. There are legendary creatures. There are Atogs. There are slivers. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like there are any planeswalkers. But, there is such a wide variety of cards that you’d be hard pressed not to find a deck that you would enjoy playing. And, at less than a dollar (really, less than 50 cents probably), who cares if you don’t like the deck.

There’s even fake delver!

Ashiok is only a penny?

As I quickly learned, you have to be careful with the search terms at the Scryfall page. I clicked the link that took me to the Penny Dreadful list and then proceeded to just press buttons, thinking that it would keep the format while searching for cards of those colors and type. This led to a confused, though brief, conversation with Chris because I looked for UB initially and Ashiok showed up as one of the cards. I know that Ashiok isn’t played very much, but only a penny? No, turns out ol’ Ash is 4 dollars and, alas, not legal in our poor man’s pauper.

As an aside, if you are searching for anything and want to verify if it is legal in Penny Dreadful, you need to include the f:pd search term in your search. Maybe you are more internet savvy than this old man, but if you aren’t, that’s just a little PSA for you.

Okay, back to the cards that are legal. As I was doing the searches and listing all of the cool card types that were legal, my brain started doing it’s thing where it combines two things that may not be completely related. With Legendaries, we could have Penny Commander. Since there is such a wide variety of cards, why not Penny cube? I’m sure all of these things have already been done, but my mind boggled with the possibilities.

Zombies Reincarnated?

One of the first decks I ever built after getting back into the game was one to counter a deck that Chris pounded my  face in with during our previous meeting. He had a life gain deck that outraced whatever I had played and I tried to think of a way to get to him without attacking his life total. As I researched ways to win the game, my devious plan began to take shape. Go ahead, Chris, gain all the life you want. I’m going to eat your library.

That deck is posted here. I won’t vouch for the competitiveness of the deck or even that it is any good at all. As I said, I built it several years ago. While my deck building prowess might not be that much more advanced now, it was almost nonexistent then. Still, for some reason, when faced with this new format, I searched blue/black first. Many of the cards that showed up in the search were those cards that I used way back when. This deck might not be viable in any actual format, but against other dollar store decks? Hmm, I wonder. Plus, as I mentioned before, it’s less than a dollar to build!

Stay Tuned…

I haven’t actually built or tested the deck yet. But, I have a vague idea and plenty of time over the weekend to search through cards, find potential combos, and attempt to make my fellow Magic the Gathering players miserable. Because, as we all know, Magic is terrible as a two player game, but solitaire, it can be a lot of fun. I should be back within a week or two to report whether the format, as promised, “isn’t dreadful at all”.

Feeling a Draft (RIX, RIX, IXN – 4/1/2018)

Introduction

A couple of days ago, I got inspired to go online and do a Magic the Gathering draft. I wish that I had taken notes, because after I realized that it would have made a great article. I still think, even without notes, that I can make it into a decent article. Instead of getting into the weeds too much, I can just talk about some general “ideas” that came from the experience. Hopefully, in the future, I will keep better notes and I can refine my writing to more accurately reflect my thoughts during the draft.

One of the things I do remember is that early in the draft, I texted Chris and said, “I’m drafting and I’ve gotten all of the vampires and cleansing rays.” He asked if it was standard. I replied that it was and he said, “Well, you’ve already won.” I agreed and it turned out to be true. I won the first match, though it was closer than anticipated, took a bye match 2, and then had to drop because Easter plans with the in laws loomed. Therefore, we unfortunately don’t know the ultimate fate of this deck, but I’m just going to live in the fantasy that I went easy 3-0 and collected my “no prize”.

I’ve never actually won a no prize. By extension, does that mean that I’ve actually won?

P1P1 – Snap Pick Bishop of Rebirth

Oh man, how lucky am I? First pack, I opened a Bishop of Rebirth. When I did a two man draft against Chris, we opened this card. I hadn’t anticipated at the time that it could be a bomb. Having somehow drafted it and played it against him, I now see that it very much is and can change the tide of a game very quickly.  Of course I’m going to pick that one first and then worry about the rest later.

3-0, here I come. This Bishop of Rebirth is going to…wait, what is this? As you can see from the picture above, that’s not Bishop of Rebirth. That’s Bishop of Binding. It’s not a terrible card, but is definitely isn’t Bishop of Rebirth. Oh, crap.

Remainder of Pack One

So, what do you do when the bomb you thought you drafted turns out to just be Mentos and Coke? Well, if you are me, apparently, you just draft vampires. Seriously. I started down that route and realized about halfway through the pack that vampires were wide open. Not only that, but I did a test to see if anyone else was paying attention. I saw a Cleansing Ray early int the pack and thought about picking it to protect my vamps, but there was another card that I wanted, so I went with that.

Much to my surprise, the Cleansing Ray came back around. I definitely took it that time because now it was the end of the pack. What is going on with this draft, I wondered? Vampires are wide open and Cleansing Rays are not being drafted. Clearly, my opponents are not paying attention or they are focused on other strategies. I guess we’ll see.

Come to me, Ugly. You will not show up later on in these matches to destroy me.

Packs Two and Three

I just continued to draft vampires. I was also at the point where I just hate drafted every single Cleansing Ray that I saw (there were a total of five that I drafted). I think it was after the third ray that I texted Chris and we had our conversation. I ended up with 3 Conquistadors, a Legion Lieutenant, a couple of Oathsworn dudes, one or two Queen’s Commissions and other ways to make tokens for lifelink and a way to bring back the Oathsworn dudes, a Skymarcher Aspirant, and those are just the cards that I can remember 4 days out. Plus, I was able to get some removal. It really was a beautiful deck and I wish that I had been able to get a screenshot of it.

The Match

As I already mentioned, I was only able to play one match because I got a bye Round 2 and had to drop Round 3. The match wasn’t as much of a runaway as I anticipated. Game 1, I got the Legion Lieutenant to stick late in the game and finally ran him over. He was able to remove my only fliers in game 2 and stick one or two of his own for the win there.

He also removed my lieutenant early in game 3, but I was able to neuter his fliers effectively and control his ground game enough to hold on until I could give another one of my vampires flying and get through his blockers for the win. It was intense and I almost timed out, but felt good to get back into drafting.

The Verdict

Guess who’s back? Back again?

While I had a miserable experience drafting the latest Masters set, which Chris and I talked about on the podcast this past week, this draft went much better. I may be playing the results a bit here, but I think that I’m going to continue to draft in Ixalan for the next few weeks until Dominaria starts and then I can’t wait to see what experience that set provides in terms of drafting. It’s probably my favorite (and most accessible for me) way of playing the game and I’m glad that Wizards continues to support it in a big way.