Tag Archives: Magic

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 theyA� 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 myA� 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”.

MtG Road Trip: Destination Dominaria

Introduction

Chris and I got together this weekend via Skype to record the podcast.A� We discussed many things current Magic the Gathering.A� Our two main topics were our thoughts about the Masters 25 set and a preview of Dominaria, the set coming out next month.A� I already talked about my thoughts on Masters 25 and the dilemma I was facing regarding the set.A�A�Spoiler Alert:A� I didn’t buy a box of Masters 25.A� I bought an XBox One instead.

Without stepping too much on our discussion, I did want to do a companion preview piece for Dominaria.A� One of the things that we didn’t touch on too much in the podcast is that the reason we can discuss the set is that there was a huge leak that came out of Wizards of the Coast.A� Initially, we thought that it was all of the cards from the set.A� Now, though, we realize that it is about 150.

If you’re thinking that we aren’t usually ones to speculate knowing only a bit more than half of the cards from the set, you are correct!A� So, what did we talk about for over half an hour?A� Guess you’ll just have to tune into the show to hear it all.

That, folks, it what we call a teaser.

New Format! (Brawl)

One of the most popular formats in the game is Commander.A� If you don’t know what commander is, you choose a legendary creature that becomes your commander.A� You then must build a deck with 99 additional cards.A� The stipulations are that you can have only one copy of each card and all cards must be the same color identity as your commander.

The format is fan created and not officially sanctioned as a competitive format by Wizards.A� Additionally, at least one off shot called Tiny Leaders had grown out of the format.A� These two statements have come to a head with the recent announcement that Wizards is sanctioning a commander type format that was inspired by this set.

The format is called Brawl.A� Similar to commander, you may choose a legendary, your deck can only contain one copy of each card, and the cards must follow your planeswalker color identity.A� Unlike Commander, the cards must be standard legal.A� That adds an interesting new angle to the format that will hopefully bring new players into the game.A� One of the problems with eternal formats is that they are expensive and intimidating for new players.A� By limiting the cards, Wizards is giving players a chance to try something without having to make a huge time and money commitment.

Mechanics

So far, there haven’t been any new mechanics introduced in the set.A� As with most sets, there are recycled mechanics.A� Also, there have been modifications to other keywords and card types that may change the game in new and interesting ways.A� Let’s take a look at both of these in turn.

Kicker – This is an old keyword that allows for an extra effect for more mana.A� Some of my favorite cards in the cube drafts that I’ve done have had kicker and I really enjoy this keyword.A� It makes your opponent have to think more and plan around the additional possibility presented by the kicker.A� In some cases, it is almost like being able to cast two cards but only having to use one card slot in your deck.

For one more mana, you get a more powerful Ball Lightning. For two more mana, you get a permanent Ball Lighting. Still dies to lightning bolt, though.

Hexproof (from quality):A� Normally, hexproof just gives your creature protection from all spells or abilities controlled by your opponent.A� This new variation simply gives your creature hexproof from a something specific.A� The two cards that I first noticed with this on them had Hexproof from a color, which I found interesting because in the past, it has been protection from color, which also prevented you from casting those spells on your creature.

Haha, your opponent can’t dismember him. You can. I mean, if killing your own creatures is your thing.

Legendary Sorceries:A� Legendary has been a keyword in the game since the beginning.A� Traditionally, it has been there to give creatures a special quality, namely that only one of them was allowed to be on the battlefield at one time.A� That birthed the EDH, or Commander, format in which players build decks that are made up of only one copy each card in their deck.A� Now, if you have a legendary creature on the board, you can cast a legendary sorcery, which could potentially have a profound effect.

Or, it could be a weird perversion of an older (and IMO much better) card.

 

Saga Enchantments:A�A�Another introduction to the Magic universe with this set is Saga enchantments.A� Like the old cards that leveled up with mana, the card becomes more powerful as the game progresses.A� Unlike those cards, these enchantments level up automatically during your turn.A� I’ve always liked the idea of being able to change a card during the game while it’s on the battlefield or in your hand.

Morph, flip cards, split cards, and kicker are always mechanics that get me excited about the possibilities.A� Leveling cards take all of this to a new, uh, level (sorry about that).A� It brings one of the things that I enjoy about playing role playing games and brings it into Magic the Gathering.A� It also gives me something to do in my cube drafts when I’m flooding out.A� Nothing but a Joraga Treespeaker and forests in my hand?A� Use that mana to make more mana!

May be wrong, but this seems like it could become a modern or legacy sideboard possibility. (Is that enough qualifiers?)

As a result, I like the idea of Saga cards.A� Just like the legendary sorceries, I have no idea how many (if any) of them are going to be good.A� But, and this is more important to me personally, it looks like some of them will be fun.A� Being mythic, I doubt I’ll pull them from a pack.A� If I do, though, Chris better watch out because I’m going to try to build a deck around it.

The Planeswalkers

Each new set also brings with it new planeswalkers.A� In keeping with the theme of history with this set, we are getting some names that are familiar but that we maybe haven’t thought about for a few years.A� One of them, in particular, is well known and loved.

Jaya Ballard

It’s a red planeswalker that does red things.A� It’s almost as if Wizards wanted to do a Chandra card for this set, but didn’t want to do a Chandra card for this set.A� So, they made this card, named it Jaya instead of Chandra, and called it a day.A� Honestly, though, I’m not the best judge of red cards.A� I just can’t get into that mindset at all.

Teferi, Hero of Dominaria

Now, this is more like it.A� As a blue mage through and through, this card speaks to me.A� It draws cards and untaps lands.A� It messes with the opponent’s tempo by removing things but not making it easy to recast them.A� I really like this card and I’d love to build a commander or Brawl deck based around him.

Karn, Scion of Urza

This is the name that I was talking about earlier that was well known and well loved.A� Karn is a modern staple in Tron.A� Personally, this is the first card after having gotten back into the game that I was truly impressed by seeing it played and the powerful effects that it can have on a game.A� Poor, poor Karn.A� As I said to Chris, they couldn’t just reprint the old card, but it feels like they nerfed this poor guy into the ground similar to how Blizzard deals with problematic cards.A� I mean, it’s not terrible.A� Compared with the old card, though, I’m starting to see now how old MtG mages feel when they see updates to older cards.

See You In April!

When Chris first sent me the link to the spoilers for the set, I was a bit underwhelmed.A� Similar to my reaction to M25, I had put big expectations into this set.A� We were going back to the beginning of Magic the Gathering.A� What could that possibly mean?A� Apparently, it means that we are going to be disappointed.A� At least at first glance.A� Then, when I looked at the set again and got to see it through Chris’s eyes, I started to see more potential from the set.A� I’m sufficiently excited.A� I want to draft this set.A� I want to build several Brawl decks.A� And, I want to buy and open some product.A� Come on April!

Impressions of Ixalan

Introduction

I was in Wal*Mart with Aiden a couple of weeks ago.A� That’s how most middle age dad stories start.A� Gone are the days of, “Oh, man, I was so drunk…” or “And that’s when the goat walked by!”A� I’m not saying that it is better or worse, just different.A� Oh, and much better.A� Getting drunk just leads to poor decisions and hangovers and goats stink.

So, Aiden and I were in Wal*Mart for some reason or another.A� Who the hell knows at this point?A� They put a Wal*Mart in town locally that then donned a cape to become a Super Wal*Mart (which are technically just regular Wal*Marts at this point and the regular Wal*Marts are K*Marts or Ames or some nonsense, I don’t exactly know) a few years ago.A� Ever since, because it is so convenient, I find myself at that store at least once a day on average.A� That’s not to say that I go there every day, but the days that I do go there, I go multiple times, so it probably totals at least 365.25 times in a year.

Okay, time to get serious about this.A� For whatever reason, a couple of weeks ago, I was walking through Wal*Mart with Aiden and I stumbled on the Explorers of Ixalan box set.A� With almost no hesitation, I bought it.A� We have played the Nicol Bolas Archenemy set (as mentioned in a few articles on the page) a few times and enjoyed it, so I thought it would be good to pick this one up, too.A� Due to the craziness of the holidays and end of semester, we haven’t been able to play it, but I have looked through it and will give my impressions of what I know about it so far.

The Good

I texted Chris to tell him that I bought the game.A� He responded with, “Never heard of it.”A� I explained it a bit to him and said, “I really like what they’re doing with casual Magic.”A� It has taken them a while, but it feels like they are finally embracing the casual player in more ways than just, “Hey, look, we have a semi-casual event every week called Friday Night Magic that plays exactly like the professional events, but worse because you haven’t committed your every waking moment to building meta decks.”A� Players like me who have absolutely no interest in Standard or Modern and only limited (ha, ha) interest in draft and sealed were left out in the cold.

Cold? Another Shining reference? Nah, the cold never bothered me anyway.

That started to change with some of the prerelease events.A� I think they might have listened to some of the players who started to wonder out loud what the audience for prereleases were.A� I took my kids a couple of times because I thought they would be less stress and more fun than a typical event (even FNM), but the competition was still fierce and the barrier for entry was still high.A� We haven’t been back since, but I’ve watched the events change and they’re making them a bit more varied and noob friendly from what I gather.A� Perhaps I’ll attend the next one to see if that’s true.

Aside from that, they have also started to run some new events that introduce players into the game.A� They give away a free deck, teach players the fundamentals of the game, and have a much more friendly atmosphere for newer players.A� I won’t go out as far as I have in the past to say that they were losing revenue, but both Chris and I (casual players, me much more so than him) were speaking like we’d never play another hand of Magic again.A� I doubt that we’re the barometer for that sort of thing, but I did start to wonder out loud if the game was suffering a little bit from ignoring that part of the player base.

What better way to hook ’em than with free? Even Heisenberg knows that.

Well, if recent history is to be believed, they aren’t ignoring us anymore.A� The Archenemy game put together 4 decent decks to play against an uber powerful deck in the same way that the WoW TCG had it’s raid decks.A� The price point was great for getting as many cards as you did and the game mode itself is fun enough for multiple plays.A� Looking at Explorers of Ixalan, it appears as if they were testing the waters with the Archenemy box and that they expanded it with this set.

In addition to the traditional card game, this one has a territory acquisition aspect in the form of cards.A� I haven’t looked closely at the cards, but they look to give bonuses like card draw or stats and keywords for your cards.A� So, in addition to fending off three other players (since it is a free for all not a 2 headed giant game), you also have to plan your strategy for how to approach the tiles in the game.A� Choose carefully and be the first to find the lost city!

The Bad

Personally, I think that this is a great addition and makes this game unique among Magic the Gathering.A� I hope that they plan on continuing to do this type of thing, but I’ve been wrong before.A� I really liked the Arena of the Planeswalkers game, too, even if the set up was a bit convoluted.A� They only made a couple of them and then stopped.A� I think it might have just been because the game played too differently from Magic, so Magic fans didn’t like it too much and it was a bit too complicated for non fans to get into the game.

So, while I worry that this might be a one off, I don’t foresee it falling into the same category as the board game.A� If that game “suffered” from not being close enough to Magic, this one doesn’t have that problem.A� It’s exactly a Magic game with this other piece grafted on top of it.A� Still, the possibility exists that this doesn’t sell and that Wizards will kill this arm of Magic before you know it.

I have no idea what the company’s thoughts are on games that don’t provide a return.A� I’m sure that Hasbro will be willing to let this division be a loss leader for a while similar to how Disney let Marvel comics division do the same.A� However, the mouse has come knocking and there’s a chance that this might end up just being a one off and I’ll have none of this to look forward to ever again.

The Verdict

This looks like a fun way to play Magic the Gathering.A� I will get the boys together next week over vacation to play it and then give my actual thoughts about the game.A� I don’t think it will happen next week as we are trying to get the podcast up and running again.A� If nothing else, it will be an annual tradition to talk about Star Wars.A� So, look for my review of Explorers of Ixalan in two weeks.

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.

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.

Deck List! Izzet Storm or Izzet Prowess?! (Modern)

Hiya gang! A�Today I’m going to share one of my personal favorite decks with you, Izzet Storm. A�I believe I first mentioned this deck way back in December of last year but have been constantly play-testing and tweaking it. A�I’ve brought it (in its current form) to a couple of modern nights at my LGS and have been happy with the results. A�This deck has a fairly simple strategy: play one mana cantrips, pump up your prowess creatures, or for faster victories, Nivix Cyclops, and swing for the fences. A�That’s not all though. A�You can also unlock Thing in Ice within the first or second turn of it hitting the battlefield for board-clearing shenanigans, or use Thermo-Alchemist like a Grapeshot. It’s a blast to play and even better, it’s fairly inexpensive to build.

The Deck (60 cards)

Creatures

4x Nivix Cyclops

4x Stormchaser Mage

2x Monastery Swiftspear

2x Thermo-Alchemist

2x Delver of Secrets

2x Thing in Ice

Spells

4x Expedite

4x Cerulean Wisps

2x Crimson Wisps

2x Faithless Looting

4x Serum Visions

4x Slip Through Space

2x Gitaxian Probe

4x Lightning Bolt

Lands

4x Steam Vents

4x Shivan Reef

4x Mountains

6x Islands

 

Little Soldiers follow Tiny Leaders

(Editor’s Note: A�Must be the end of the semester. A�Two articles with possibly two more by the end of the week!)

Even though Chris and I hare not recording the podcast together, we still try to find time to hang out and play games. A�Over the last few months, time has been at a premium, thus leading to the change in direction of the podcast, but we were able to get together this month. A�What’s funny is we actually had two gaming nights in December after having none in the previous months. A�During the first of those two nights, we played some Dicemasters, started a Heroclix game that had to end early because it conflicted with my bedtime, and we also played Magic.

I find that last part to be the most interesting. A�Chris and I have spent the better part of the year trying to justify our interest in the hobby. A�He has been more successful than I as he found another play group. A�It’s the same guys that we played DTK sealed against earlier in the year. A�I have not been able to play with them since, but Chris has about once or twice a month. A�Nevertheless, as a result of the sealed night, I had two tiny leaders decks that I build and no live testing of either deck.

Wait, what?

All aboard my train of thought! Wait, what's that over there?!
All aboard my train of thought! What’s that over there?!

I admit that train of thought might be a bit difficult to follow, so I’ll explain. A�While making plans to do the sealed, it came up that some of the guys played the Tiny Leaders format. A�I had heard of it, but never played. A�I had some time and a couple of 3 mana or less legendary cards, so I put together the decks. A�I then forgot all of my Magic stuff on the night in question and then Chris and I got away from Magic for a while and finally had no time for any gaming for a few months.

I think it was me who suggested that Chris and I try the Tiny Leaders format during our table top night this month. A�My main reason is that his new group has enhanced his “Spike” tendencies, which is great. A�It’s given him a new outlet and interest in the game. A�My absence from the game has been absolute and I’ve not even looked at any of my decks. A�He’d simply mop the floor with me and that’s no fun for either of us. A�I need to either tune my current decks or go back to the drawing board and build some new tech to compete. A�Well, long story short (too late!), we played a couple of games and I finally go to see my decks live.

Those of you familiar with the page know that sometimes my decks maybe don't deserve life, but like their monstrous counterparts, they just want a hug.
Those of you familiar with the page know that sometimes my decks maybe don’t deserve life, but like their monstrous counterparts, they just want a hug.

Both performed will and mostly according to the strategies in mind when I designed them. A�First up, I put my Alesha (the first deck I built and actually tuned some) against his green/red mini ramp deck. A�His deck wasn’t strictly legal as he used Burning Tree Emissary as his leader, but I let it go because that’s our agreement. A�We play for fun above all else and I’m not going to nit pick silly rules in a kitchen table game. A�We both employed aggro strategy that ultimately paid off for me on the turn before he had definite lethal.

He picked B/W Constellation for his second deck. A�It is a deck that he has used in various forms before and one of his ongoing projects. A�My other deck was mono green and picked because I only had one other legal leader at the time. A�In no way can it be interpreted or assumed that any one strategy went into the construction of this deck. A�It is a hodge pogde of green Magic things. A�A bit of ramp, a dash of stompy (or as much stompy as 3 or less mana allows), some devotion, and a whole lot of praying that the opponent has no removal. A�Chris did and used it on the correct target to prevent me from killing him at 26 life on the next turn.

Pay me no mind. Just a 1/1 sitting here minding my own business. Nothing to see. No need to remove. Oh, hey, what are you doing with that black spell there? No, no, no! I'm too young (and valuable to your ultimate destruction) to die!
Pay me no mind. Just a 1/1 sitting here minding my own business. Nothing to see. No need to remove. Oh, hey, what are you doing with that black spell there? No, no, no! I’m too young (and a key instrument to your ultimate destruction) to die!

The games went quickly and were fast paced. A�Because nothing cost more than 3, we were able to cast at least one card every turn. A�There wasn’t much land/go that can sometimes happen in our other games. A�Both games were close, too, with a kill coming one turn before the opponent lethal. A�Either we are getting better at building decks or the format lends itself to closer games.

In any case, we both did remark that the singleton nature of the decks provided a challenge in more than one way. A�That, and the limited number of cards in each deck really make you think about what cards to include and, more importantly, what can be cut. A�Unlike a traditional Magic deck that sometimes has to include do nothing cards because they might be strong in certain situations, you really can’t get away with that in these decks. A�All cards need to have a specific purpose and need to fit the overall theme. A�That might have been why my mono green deck ultimately fizzled. A�I thought that the color might hold things together. A�I now realize that I might have been too scattered with my strategies. A�Oh well, all part of the learning process.

Overall, I enjoyed the format and it seemed like Chris did, too. A�I don’t know if it will be our preferred format, as he has grown attached to Modern/Legacy and I like eternal formats better, too. A�Still, it was a nice introduction back into the game. A�I’ve been drafting again and am brewing some potentially crazy new decks for our next nerd night in January.

This card, especially, has been dancing in my heads like the sugar plums are supposed to these days. Maybe that'll be my big break. The Nutcracker staring Dragonlord Ojutai.
This card, especially, has been dancing in my head like the sugar plums are supposed to these days. Maybe that’ll be my big break. The Nutcracker staring Dragonlord Ojutai.

Is the Magic Gone?

(Editor’sA�Note: A�We’ve been AWOL here for about a month. A�I know that I said that wouldn’t happen again, but I misjudged the amount of work that this summer class has taken and it got in the way. A�I won’t promise that we’re all the way back, but two articles and the latest episode of the podcast should happen this week. A�Thanks, as always, for your patience.)

Do you want to build some standard?

No.

Oh…okay. A�I suppose you are right. A�The standard meta can be a bit stale, especially with such a small play group.

Do you want to build some Legacy? A�We always have fun with that.

Not really.

Proxy Vintage Decks?

Okay, how about Jace, the Mind Sculptor. A�Black Lotus, Mox Sapphire, maybe Time Vault and Voltaic Key to make it truly degenerate. A�What the hell. A�Let’s put in some storm effects for giggles, too. A�Okay, solitaire Magic deck built. A�Let’s play with ourselves.

You said it, Quagmire.
You said it, Quagmire.

In case that introduction wasn’t obvious enough, I’m in a bit of a paper Magic rut. A�I’m still playing the hell out of the game using the free client that I found, but I have few reasons and little desire to play the cards right now. A�I can see why Wizards would want the free client eradicated. A�I doubt there are many like me, but I get my fix there and it has absolutely turned me off to spending money on the game.

Guess I will just have to do this the old fashioned way.
Guess I will just have to do this the old fashioned way.

It isn’t solely the fault of free Magic. A�There are other factors, too. A�More on those momentarily. A�I mentioned earlier that I have only “few reasons and little desire” to buy or play Magic cards. A�You might have picked up on the fact that leaves an opening to get back into the hobby. A�You never truly leave Magic. A�Like any addiction, you find yourself falling back into the familiar embrace of those Kird Apes and Black Lotuses (Loti?). A�Still, this is as indifferent as I’ve been about paper Magic since before I started playing again a couple of years ago. A�The only thing that has me looking at the cards is that Chris met some guys through a Craigslist ad to liquidate his collection. A�They mentioned that they liked to play Tiny Leaders. A�I took a day or two and put together a couple of decks for the format, stacked the card boxes into the corner (new development: A�the card boxes have been moved to the play room, so out of sight and out of mind), and moved on to my newer obsessions.

They are the main reasons for my greatly reduced interest in Magic cards. A�I’ve already written about both of them here on the page. A�We discussed one of them on the podcast that is due to be released this weekend. A�I did an opening video for the other. A�I’ve invested more in the two games than I have in Magic over the last few months. A�We started the podcast and web page in part to discover new games. A�As I’ve said numerous times in response to that is that there have been unintended consequences. A�I never dreamed that finding a game that would replace Magic, let alone two of them, would end up being one of those unintended consequences.

Perhaps you can guess what these new games have in common.
Perhaps you can guess what these new games have in common.

I am talking, of course, about Heroclix and Dicemasters. A�Heroclix is the super hero miniature game. A�It doesn’t surprise me that I have enjoyed this one. A�Initially, I had a somewhat indifferent impression of the game. A�It was interesting, but my kids couldn’t play it and I hadn’t mentioned it to Chris. A�Unlike Magic, which I saw as a collection more than a game, Heroclix didn’t register right away in the same way.

I’ve always been interested in miniature games. A�I have looked at them in the local gaming score, priced out various starter boxes, researched what other gamers thought of the two major offering, and even bough a learn to paint kit for the one that I decided would be the most interesting. A�For the record, it was the Privateer games, Hordes and Warmachine. A�I do have a friend who has Warhammer figures, so I might get some of those, too.

Therefore, when Chris and I played a game of Heroclix, it made sense that I enjoyed it quite a bit. A�It gave me my introduction into a genre of games that I’ve been wanting to try for some time. A�What surprised me was that Chris liked the game, too. A�He’s never been into the fantasy setting RPG games (like D&D) as far as I know, so maybe it was the Marvel connection. A�Who knows? A�He might not enjoy the other war mini games as much.

What really surprised me is that our interest in the game has overshadowed our interest in Magic. A�It’s not just me who has found my enjoyment of our favorite TCG wane. A�We didn’t even play Magic this month. A�We do have it on the schedule for the next two months, though, so maybe some of the Magic (pun fully intended) will return. A�I doubt it will next month, unless through nerd rage, because we’re discussing Origins on the podcast and we both are underwhelmed by the set. A�Perhaps the month after when we talk about Ice Age. A�That’s when I first started collecting and playing. A�Either way, I’m sure we’ll be back.

I mean, who's not excited for this reprint, amirite?
I mean, who’s not excited for this reprint, amirite?

Part of the reason, I’m sure, is that Heroclix is new and shiny. A�I’m always distracted by new and shiny things. A�I know for a fact that Dicemasters is new and shiny and that’s part of the reason for my interest there. A�I never even knew that these types of games existed until I saw it on the web. A�I thought I’d give it a chance. A�The other reason that I’ve enjoyed the game so much is because my kids enjoy it and we play it together at least three times a week. A�Sometimes we play it daily. A�Plus, it is actually surprisingly fun game.

I’m not above playing games where the primary act is rolling dice. A�I’ve played D&D since I was an awkward preteen boy. A�However, that game also involved role play and story telling. A�Other than the dice, Dicemasters only has some strategy elements to keep you engaged. A�Sure, the strategy isn’t much, but it brings a different element to the game so that it doesn’t just feel like Yahtzee.

Though, rolling 5 energy symbols to get that Captain America feels a lot like natural Yahtzee.
Though, rolling 5 energy symbols to get that Captain America feels a lot like natural Yahtzee.

Even though these games have taken us away from Magic, I’m sure that we will be back. A�Chris already said that receiving his order of Theros gods inspired him to build a new deck. A�I’ve used my access to digital Magic to brainstorm a few deck ideas myself. A�I’m still trying to come up with a good Vintage deck of my own and I’m trying to make a Dragonlord Ojutai EDH deck work. A�You are never truly free of the madness. A�This might be a tough an long climb back to the saddle. A�It also seems less likely to happen with each passing day. A�I, for one, hold out hope that Zendikar will ignite our spark (again, pun fully intended) again. A�I missed the first trip to the plane and boxes are too expensive now.

Who knows? A�Maybe the break will be good for us. A�We can see other games and our bond with Magic will be strengthened. A�If you love something set it free and all. A�Because, in spite of the current issues, I do enjoy the game. A�I’d hate to see it suffer the same fate as another long time companion, World of Warcraft. A�I finally kicked that habit with some conflicted emotions. A�Ultimately, it just wasn’t the same. A�It wasn’t as fun. A�Magic currently occupies the same space right now.