Yesterday’s Strixhaven Esper review marked a triumphant return to the page for me. Today, we look at the Strixhaven Gruul cards. Traditionally, as you all know, these colors have been my strong suit. Nevertheless, I soldier on and do my duty to pick the cards for this article.
If you read yesterday’s article, you know that many of the cards I picked fit right in with nonexistent, as of today, commander decks. I suppose that it’s time to brush off the old, “I’m a Commander player that has never played a single game of Commander.” Sooner or later, I’m going to have to stop saying that. But, not today, true believers!
Today, I pick the best cards from my worst colors. Red and Green are Chris’s thing. Maybe I should get his input for this article. Too bad he swore off this set completely in one of our last text chains. Oh well, I guess you’re stuck with my Strixhaven Gruul cards.
Red (Play a better color like black or blue)
Honorable Mention (Draoconic Intervention/Retriever Phoenix): The requisite phoenix in the set dies to all removal. However, it gives us another use for our Learn mechanic as long as it isn’t exiled. Being a blue player, I don’t know why you wouldn’t use Learn to cycle, but that is between you and your god. The other is just mass removal because, if I’m forced to play red, I’m playing it like black.
Conspiracy Theorist: This card is simply amazing. I honestly have no idea why this card is not blue. It does blue things. Everything it does is blue. I get that WotC switched up the color wheel and moved some things into new colors. It adds much needed diversity to the strategy of the game. Even so, I operate under the assumption that this card is blue.
Green (Some Johnny, Some Timmy, Some Spike?)
Honorable Mention (Accomplished Alchemist/Bayou Groff): That plant dog looks like he’s not a good boi. However, he hits the board pretty quickly in a token deck. If you get it out there and give it trample, it does some serious damage. Meanwhile, the elf shows up because the Johnny Combo that lives deep in the recesses of my brain wants it to be there.
Leyline Invocation: Admittedly, few universes exist where this card excites Spike. I wanted to complete the trilogy, but Spike avoids me. And so, I present a Timmy/Johnny bastard child that ultimately does nothing. What can I say? I like the Fractal token.
The Verdict (I warned you)
I told you from the beginning. I despise red and green. Okay, that’s not entirely true. However, I treated red like blue or black and basically memed all over green. If you want red or green picks this time, I guess we wait to see if Chris responds with his picks. Since he already said he wants nothing to do with this set, don’t hold your breaths.
Note: Spoilers courtesy of Mythic Spoiler. Check them out for all your spoiler needs!
Welcome to our Strixhaven Esper review. I tried something different with my most recent Hearthstone reviews. Unfortunately, that format isn’t conducive to Magic the Gathering reviews simply because of the number of cards in the average MTG set. Therefore, MTG reviews remain a single card (with two honorable mention) for each color, mult-colored, and colorless (plus land, if applicable). Chris chose to pass on Strixhaven. I ordered my usual box/bundle combo. However, I have yet to even open my Zendikar Rising product. Granted, I am on vacation this week. Even so, I have no motivation.
I promised to put up at least one YouTube video this week to try to build some momentum there. I noticed that my Shadowlands reaction video got 190 views. It gave me the idea to post some gameplay from the new Atari 2600 game, Circus Convoy. I ordered two copies because the cartridges don’t work with my emulator. I was going to give the non-collector copy away in an attempt to drive traffic/subscribers.
Chris agrees that the idea has both merit and potential. I still have time during the vacation. I just have to hope that the motivation loads before vacation ends. But, that’s a discussion for another time. Let’s take a look at these Strixhaven Esper cards.
White (Fun Police and Invisible Decks)
Honorable Mention (Study Break/Expel): The two honorable mention cards work well together in a fun police deck. We all know those are my favorite decks to play. Even alone they have some utility. Plus, Study Break gives me the opportunity to talk about a new mechanic, Learn. I like the flexibility of Learn.
Secret Rendezvous: This card combos quite nicely with Narset, Parter of Veils in my nonexistent Dragonlord Ojutai EDH deck. One of these day, surprise! Deck built and used to terrorize opponents on MTGO. More likely, look for the deck on xMage since I’m already invested in physical cards and MTGA. Who knows? Maybe if FNM in person ever returns, the deck makes an appearance there.
Blue (Draw Cards, then Draw More Cards)
Honorable Mention (Ingenious Mastery/Teachings of the Archaics): I like drawing cards. I know. We all like drawing cards. Drawing cards gives us more cards to draw more cards. But, me, I really like drawing cards. I like drawing cards so much that if they gave an award for drawing cards, I wouldn’t win the award because I’d be too busy drawing more cards.
Multiple Choice: This card is hilarious. From the ridiculous design to the apt name, this card is going into every single deck I run that’s blue. Those of you who visit the page often know that’s every single one of my decks. Especially that Dragonlord Ojutai deck. Maybe if I say it enough, I can manifest the deck from thin air.
Black (Show Some Love for Liliana)
Honorable Mention (Go Blank/Plumb the Forbidden): Go Blank is Mind Rot with upside! Plumb the Forbidden might actually overtake Ms. Liliana as my choice card. I just came up with an idea for another nonexistent EDH deck. This one builds around an as of now unknown Esper commander, but uses Bastion of Remembrance and possibly Jace, Wielder of Mysteries. Is there an Esper commander that creates tokens? Did I mention that I like drawing cards?
Professor Onyx: Have I declared my love for Liliana on the page yet? If not, let this serve as that declaration. She and Jace repeatedly top my list of favorite Planeswalkers. Sure, there was that brief fling with Teferi (3,4, and 5 mana cost all) and Narset plays in my MTGA decks. But, I have an Instagram post from a couple of years ago with both Jace and Liliana on the field. Hell, I used this card as an example of why I was excited for the set in a text to Chris. Toss it into my imaginary Esper EDH deck as well.
The Strixhaven Esper cards I picked for the article look very fun. All of them give me ideas for decks. I’m currently texting Chris about some NFL news and I’ve considered telling him that I want to deck doctor, especially these imaginary EDH decks I keep talking about. Join us next time for the Gruul colors!
In my previous article, I came to the conclusion that my assessment of Kaldheim as a lackluster set was correct. Seeing as how those are my favorite colors in MTG, I don’t see anything changing in this article. Nevertheless, in the name of journalism and completionism, join me as I review Kaldheim Gruul Edition. Perhaps I will call it Christmas edition.
Red used to be a minor nuisance to me. Now, I actively hate the color and feel rage building behind my temples when I see a mountain played. I texted Chris about my irrational disdain for snow lands. He correctly chastised me for my irrationality. “They’re lands…covered in snow.” He replied.
While I can’t explain the snow lands thing, my hatred for red is organic. Being a blue mage, red is a natural enemy color. Furthermore, all the try hard kids on MTGA play red. Every now and then they slip by my defenses (or I draw a seemingly infinite number of lands and/or uncastable cards). Most of the time, I destroy them and feel great about it. With all of that being said, I promise to be unbiased and choose some great Kaldheim Gruul edition cards.
Red (Tuskeri, Treasures, and Trickeration!)
Mechanic Spotlight (Tuskeri Firewalker): I said in the last article that I try to highlight the keywords included in any set. Boast is sort of like Raid from Ixalan in that you have to attack with a creature to trigger it. Of the cards with Boast in red, this one is the best, which should give you an idea of how terrible the mechanic actually is.
Honorable Mention (Goldspan Dragon): Chris texted about this card during spoiler season. Not a surprise as he is our resident dragoon guy. I responded, “That’s a damn red questing beast!” While not quite on that power level, I have had it played against me in MTGA. It is a problem if you don’t remove it quickly.
Red Card I Love (Tibalt’s Trickery): I truly love this card. It does blue things by countering a spell. It also does black things by milling cards. Then, it cascades into potentially stupid and broken things. The first time someone played this card against me, I refused to read it, simply waiting to see if I had to concede against this stupid combo. My opponent bricked, I won the game, and then I went searching for the potential of the card.
Green (Praetor, Poison and Ptroll – the P is silent)
Honorable Mention (Old-Growth Troll): In keeping with the theme of this set, the writers of this card made their money. Okay, okay, I promise to stop beating that dead horse. Seriously, though, FNM (if they ever happen again) matches are all going to go to time because people need to read the cards. I like this card because it does just about everything that green wants to do.
Honorable Mention (Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider): I texted Chris when I saw this card, “Looks like Praetors are back.” Well, I was partially right. One praetor is back. One is enough to continue the conversation. “Thank goodness they decided Phyrexian mana was a mistake.” Granted, they walked back other decisions in an attempt to make them more “fair”. Eldrazi, Part 2 anyone?
Green Card I Love (Fynn, the Fangbearer): Speaking of Phyrexia and annoying old mechanics that I hoped never to see again, I actually hate this card. When someone first played it against me, I texted Chris (of course), poison is back in Kaldheim. He expressed surprise and I texted him a copy of the card. First time, I never drew removal. Congrats to that person on their well earned win. /s Ever since, I’ve had removal and this guy folds like a cheap card table. Once I even stole it and used it against my opponent.
The Verdict (Kaldheim Gruul edition plays out as you’d expect)
Red cards stink. Green cards have some utility and can be fun. I doubt I will actually play any of them. Right now my only deck with Red and Green is a Historic sacrifice Jund deck that I only use to complete quests on MTGA. But, I did my diligence and wrote the article. Don’t say I never did anything for you all.
Spoiler images courtesy of Mythic Spoiler. Check them out for all your MTG spoiler needs.
Do you want to say it? Or, should I? I guess I have the floor. I will say it. What’s this? Actual gaming content on this gaming web page? Yeah, I know. Cheap joke. I still chuckle every time I write it. Okay, with the silliness over, I can concentrate on Kaldheim: Esper edition preview.
Well, maybe just a little bit more of silliness. If you’re new here, don’t fret. I promise we offer more than terrible Dad jokes. Admittedly, not much more, but this article reviews white, black, and blue cards for the latest Magic the Gathering set, Kaldheim. It comes after the set already released for several reasons. I apologize for that.
Instead of rehashing those reasons in detail (mostly that school keeps kicking my butt on a weekly basis), let’s concentrate on the positive. Of the recent releases, Kaldheim grabbed my interest the least. I have not embraced the lore of Vikings as much as the average geek. You probably expect me to say, “Boy, was I wrong.” Usually when I set it up like that, I then respond with the opposite. However, the truth is that I’m basically holding out for the MTG/D&D set. In the meantime, join me as I take a look at Kaldheim Esper edition.
White (A Wrath, Exile, and Big Butt Oxen, Oh My!)
Honorable Mention (Giant Ox): An ox with a giant butt that can pilot vehicles? How can I not pick this card as one of my favorites from the set? That answer, of course, is that I can’t not pick it. This card is so much fun that I just committed a double negative on its behalf.
Honorable Mention (Divine Gambit): Regular readers of the page know that I often speak out against the fun police. This represents a do as I say and not as I do situation. I absolutely love playing the fun police. Therefore, I allow nobody else to play this strategy.
White Card I Love (Doomskar): I usually try to highlight some of the new mechanics with my picks. This one has Fortell, which is probably my favorite new mechanic from this set. I won’t insult your intelligence by explaining it since they literally wrote it on the card. Chris and I both agree that the designers got paid by the word in this set.
Blue (Draw Cards, Punish Timmies, and Storm Crow?)
Honorable Mention (Alrund, God of the Cosmos and Hakka, Whispering Raven): Speaking of getting paid by the word. There’s eight words in the name of this card alone. Aside from that, you said, “You’re not usually one for god cards.” That’s true. Chris is our Spike/Timmy and he goes for the god and dragon cards. I just couldn’t resist having “Storm Crow” in my review article.
Honorable Mention (Icebind Pillar): I just said to Chris yesterday, “I don’t know why, but snow lands trigger me terribly.” I feel like he lost some respect for me after I said that. That’s neither here nor there, of course. I like this card because it messes with other people’s plans. It’s no Winter Orb. But it can make for a bad day for the occasional Timmy that sneaks one big creature by my counterspells and removal.
Blue Card I Love (Behold the Multiverse): This is probably my favorite card from the entire set. It fortells. Scries. Draws cards. In a standard where blue cards blue, this one probably blues the hardest. Granted, the requisite 1BB counterspell exists and that also fortells. However, that fortell is much less versatile in my opinion. Hence, this cards gets the edge.
Black (Can this be reduced? An enchantment? A good card?)
Honorable Mention (Blood on the Snow): I wish this card got mana reduced with devotion or something. I know that isn’t a mechanic in this set, but they have gods. They could easily break the rules. They have in more recent sets. Yes, I realize that would make this card extremely broken. That hasn’t stopped them. Oh well, it’s still a symmetric wrath that I want to see the animation on MTGA.
Honorable Mention (Draugr Necromancer): In keeping with my theme of “I wish”, I wish this card was an enchantment. Again, I know that makes it terribly broken. Isn’t it about time that black gets a completely broken card that they threaten to ban before it’s even released?
Black Card I Love (Withercrown): I really don’t love this card. I just hate it the least out of all of the black cards in this set. I mean, I’ve seen some stupid combos out of black in this set, but I’m not a combo player. I’d rather just kill you with a thousand cuts from a thousand pieces of paper. Yes, I’m sadistic when it comes to MTG. But, you already knew that.
The Verdict (Kaldheim Esper edition cards are mostly underwhelming)
I think the only Esper card I’ve played from the set with any regularity is Behold the Multiverse. As I just said, I have seen some combos with the Tergrid cards. Also, I got got by double vision and the card that makes 1/1s and gives you extra turns. I just don’t like playing combo decks. The point is that some of you out there might find some cards that you enjoy better. That’s the great thing about MTG and the reason it’s still going after over 25 years. There’s something there for every play style. Join me in a couple of days for the Gruul cards from the set.
Spoiler images courtesy of Mythic Spoiler. Check them out for all your MTG spoiler needs.
Last night, I finally received my official Pathfinder introduction. A few months ago, Humble Bundle ran a deal that included a coupon for the Pathfinder Core Rule Book. I forgot about it until nearly the expiration date, then finally ordered the book. Yesterday afternoon, I pulled into my driveway. Several packages waited on the porch.
I assumed they both belonged to my wife. I thought one of them might finally be the anime Loot Crate that we ordered for Aiden for Christmas. He didn’t receive the one for Christmas because they were back ordered. The box read Pazio.com and a slogan that had something to do with an ogre or orc. I could look it up, but the box is all the way downstairs in the pantry waiting for dump day. I don’t have the time or energy to walk down there right now.
That only strengthened my assumption that it belonged to Aiden. Then, as I carried in the groceries and put them away, a thought occurred. Oh, this must be my Pathfinder book. Sure enough, that’s exactly what was in the box. Admit it, you read it in Brad Pitt’s voice. And, so, during dinner I read through the book to get my Pathfinder introduction.
Additions: Spoiler Alert: I’m going to talk about how familiar Pathfinder feels to D&D in the next section. You will see that I consider that to be a strength. However, why would I play this in addition to D&D (as I plan) if it was just a complete clone? Answer: I would not.
The first thing I noticed about the difference between Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons was the player character classes. More or less, the races are the same in both games. Also, Dungeons and Dragons expanded their offering of character classes, especially with some of the new Magic the Gathering worlds. While reading through the book, the alchemist and champion classes both jumped out to me. I mean, the champion is basically just a paladin. Perhaps I’m grasping at straws with this one. What can I say? Sometimes I’m an easy mark.
Is one class strong enough to propel this section? I leave it too you to decide, but give you the following as evidence. “The alchemist throws alchemical bombs and drinks concoctions of their own making.” That sounds pretty sweet to me.
Additionally, I enjoyed reading about the various subraces in the game. Finally, skimming the spells excited me at the possibilities. Yes, Pathfinder is a D&D clone. However, there is enough new content in the game to make it feel less like and expansion and more like another game I want to introduce to the family to see if I can get them to become a regular RPG play group. Yes, I refuse to stop trying to make fetch happen.
Familiarity: Regular readers of the page know all about my history with Dungeons and Dragons. So, please, bear with me while I catch up the newbies. I received a novel from my mother as a gift, Firstborn. It is the first book of the Dragonlance trilogy, The Elven Nations. Fun fact: I originally, for weeks, read that title as The Eleven Nations. Imagine how much more sense it made when I figured out what it really said.
That book led to me discovering the game upon which it was based. As is my personality, I became obsessed. I purchased the 2nd edition Player’s Guide and Dungeon Master’s Guide. Then, I got several of the monster manuals and other supporting books. I branched out into Spelljammer and Dark Sun. A friend and I played several of the MS-DOS games released at the time.
As I experienced my Pathfinder introduction, it took me back to those simpler times. I often say that I’m above nostalgia, but it’s simply not true. While I don’t experience it often, when I do it is strong. Pathfinder triggered that nostalgia strongly. I don’t want to say that it is a rip off of D&D, because that has a negative connotation. But, the similarities are strong. I believe that to be a good thing in this case.
Complexity: Dungeons and Dragons simplified their rules over the years. They removed some things completely and tweaked others. I believe most of it is in the service of the player experience. At least, they explained most of the changes in that context.
I refuse to be one of those “things were better during D&D edition *fill in the blank*”. I grew up and played mostly 2nd edition, but I have dabbled in 3, 3.5, and most recently 5 when I played with the family. All I have to say is every edition feels like D&D, except for the d20 phase. I never could understand the reasoning behind that. Give me all the polyhedral dice.
The point of all this is that Pathfinder seems to have kept most of the complexity from D&D. I remember when I first learned of Pathfinder, via another Humble Bundle with adventures that I purchased, a friend told me that the game was more complex than current Dungeons and Dragons. Again, while not a deterrent to me, I found that even the minor bit of rules enforcing that I did during our family’s play group slowed the game down and made it feel like they weren’t having fun. Perhaps, it’s just something I needed to learn as a DM of a first time group. For now, Pathfinder will remain a game that I research until the family can put together an entire adventure in D&D.
It sounds like I already gave the verdict in the previous paragraph. So, what will I write here? That’s a good question. I honestly don’t know. My Pathfinder introduction was a positive one. Until we become more used to D&D and each other as a play group, I won’t try to play the game with the family. However, maybe I can use the game in the meantime to generate content for the page and try to extend reach.
Okay, this one is a lie, too. Sort of. Remember last time when I said that I would take this week to discuss games that we received for Christmas. Well, that’s not strictly true. I actually just pressed purchase on the D&D horror bundles from The Arcane Library about an hour ago. Since then, I’ve been looking at the adventures to see if they will, in fact, be good to try to get the family to play D&D again.
If this all seems to have come out of left field, you’re not entirely wrong. I mean, if you followed us on Twitter, you’d have seen that I was searching for an appropriate adventure to try to get the family hooked on Dungeons and Dragons. I want to get a weekly session going, if possible. This led me to purchase The Lost Mine of Phandelver on D&D Beyond before realizing that was the adventure we tried to play last year from the beginner’s set. Oh well, WotC can use the cash, I’m sure.
Well, Facebook ads finally got me this time. I saw an ad for The Arcane Library and visited it. Rarely does this ever result in me purchasing anything. However, this time it did. First, I downloaded the free adventure to see if the writing was any good. It’s very well designed. More on that in the review, obviously. Then, I bought the bundle meant to follow characters from 1 until level 20, I think. There may be some gaps needed to fill. Not entirely sure on that one. However, I then saw the D&D horror bundles. As the lone hold out from the first time, I think Aiden will get a kick out of some horror RPG. Let’s see if I’m right.
Writing: This doesn’t come as a surprise now that I’ve read the author’s biography on the web page. She’s a former journalist and English teacher. Nevertheless, and this will come as rich from someone who hasn’t edited a single post on this web page in several years, it is good to find web based content that isn’t riddled with spelling and grammar errors. Especially in a D&D adventure, that takes you right out of the fiction.
Well Organized: Along with the good writing, the adventures follow the well established outline for adventures set by the official versions. Each adventure starts with a synopsis and some background. This is followed by some nuts and bolts to further explain. Each encounter flows smoothly, building a rich tapestry of the story. As I read, I saw how the encounters worked and, more importantly, how they worked together.
Minimalist: Piggy backing off that last point, the books contain only the information needed to continue the story. I feel like part of the reason our play session last year got bogged down was all of the reading necessary to run the adventure. As a DM, I try not to be a rules extremist when playing D&D, but I think I might have just been nervous. I really wanted my family to enjoy playing D&D with me. It just felt like a natural play group.
Horror: Granted, it is mostly up to me to set the proper mood. However, if you’re going to advertise an adventure as horror, there should obviously be the seeds of that horror in the adventure. These accomplish that quite nicely. I already said that I saw the story grow as I read the notes. The same can be said for the horror setting. These stories have great creep factor.
Story: This may seem strange given all the nice things I’ve already said. However, even as a criticism, please understand that this is minor. To be fair, it’s said that there are only 7 types of stories that can be told anyway. This may even be more limited in science fiction and fantasy settings. Even the official adventures are limited in their scope. Just know that these stories aren’t terribly original. But, they are still very good.
Not beginner friendly: Look, I also understand that if you are considering a non paying career as a D&D DM, you probably aren’t a beginner. With that being said, everyone gets their start somewhere. But, if you are getting your start as a DM, I wouldn’t recommend these adventures as your first campaign. They’re just so sparse in their notes for DMs.
The D&D horror bundles from The Arcane Library are, overall, very good. The stories are compelling enough. They have a definite horror vibe, even just from reading through them. That can, obviously, be tuned to your individual play group. I don’t regret purchasing them or the other bundle one bit. Now, I just have to get my family to want to play them. Stay tuned for that.
The tabletop game of the year 2020 should not be a surprise. I don’t remember if I gave it away in the last article, but I suppose I did by omission. Chris and I have recently shown an interest in Commander. Those who frequent the page know by now that I play Magic the Gathering Arena nearly daily.
Heck, I even diligently posted notable card articles throughout the year. Continued to buy sets (including far too many cards of Zendikar Rising) in spite of the fact that I haven’t played paper Magic the Gathering in at least a year. So, yes, if you have read the page at all, it will come as no surprise that Magic the Gathering is our tabletop game of the year 2020.
Similar to the mobile game of the year article, I will present the top 5 reasons for the choice. While I could give 10 or even 20 reasons, I will keep it at 5 (7, tops!)
#5 – Commander
I’ve been saying for several months now that I’m a Commander player who never played Commander. Sure, I goldfished a deck here and there on xMage. But, I never got into a regular playgroup and Chris and I never really dabbled in the format all that much. The closest we got was a few games of Tiny Leaders a few years ago.
That all changed last month. Well, not all of it. I still haven’t played a game of paper Commander. I goldfished each one of my decks that I now own. How do I own decks, you might ask. I’m glad you did. I purchased a Commander gift box from Channel Fireball that contained two of the prebuilt decks and some other goodies.
Then, I bought a super epic mega bundle of Zendikar rising that contained two other decks. I’ve already told this story. For those of you who haven’t read that post, the short story is that I now own 3 Commander decks. Chris, perhaps inspired by my purchase and definitely inspired by the cool cards in the set, bought a box of Commander Legends. He’s built a couple of decks, too. Now, we wait the time that we can get together and play and record.
#4 – Nostalgia
Regular readers of the page know that I’m not much of a nostalgia guy in general. I often scoffed in my teenage years when they kept trying to make Woodstock work again. I cackled audibly when the last one flamed out in violence. Talk about missing the point.
Nerd nostalgia, on the other hand, always works on me. Chris said something the other day about Commander feeling like when he first started playing the game with his buddy. I don’t have that same feeling yet with Commander. However, there are times that I’ll see a card in Legacy or Vintage and it will take me back to my freshman year in college when I learned how to play the game by borrowing a friend’s deck. So, like comics, as long as there is that attachment, I’ll keep coming back for more.
#3 – Finally a Viable Digital Alternative
Chris adamantly fights against our digital overlords. I stood by his side for as long as I could before finally caving last year. I’m now all in with the next generation consoles. I mean, if I can get the latest tech for 400 or 500 bucks? I’m wiling to trade off the physical medium. They mostly just take up space in my closets at this point. I don’t have a room like Chris does to show off the artwork.
How does this relate to Magic the Gathering? Well, my longest holdout against digital was our favorite collectible card game. MTGO still required real currency to buy digital cards. The economy of the game was the exact same but you didn’t get to keep the cards if the servers ended up getting shut down. xMage costs nothing. However, you have access to all cards. It’s great for messing around with limited strategies, but feels stupid for any type of constructed since there’s rarely any jank.
MTGA fixed that with the wild card system. I can buy cards with gold that I gain by playing the game and finishing quests. Most cards that I can’t find, I can craft using wild cards. No actual money is needed to play the game. Best of all, there is plenty of jank. Disclaimer: I have spent money on the game, though. I told you I’m all in.
#2 – Kids
Kids are usually higher on my lists. However, similar to Dungeons and Dragons, I haven’t been able to hook the older boys on Magic the Gathering. Liam prefers Pokemon. Once upon a time, Aiden played Yu Gi Oh and as recently as a couple of months ago, he organized the cards again. So, while I don’t consider them completely lost causes, it has been a struggle to get them interested.
Quinn, on the other hand, loves Magic. Christine calls him my little buddy and it’s not far from the truth. He and I have even played the board games Arena of the Planeswalkers on more than one occasion. Every now and then, he takes out his dinosaur deck that he created to tinker with it a bit. Part of the reason I stay in the game is to keep his interest until he’s old enough to play with some strategery.
#1 – The Game is Just Healthy Right Now
Many, including myself, have decried the power level of the game. However, having played MTGA repeatedly over the last year and a half, I can say that the power level of Standard and Historic are right about where they want them. You get to play with powerful cards, but you don’t often get blown out in games.
I joked earlier that I swear at the game and that’s not entirely untrue. I do still get frustrated by the perpetual issues of mana screw or flood. But, those games are honestly few and far between. Plus, the developers have gone a long way to trying to fix them with new ideas like higher conditional fetches and flip lands.
Of course, oldbies will argue that the game is completely different from when they played. This always progresses to the game is not as much fun as when they played. I argue this is part of the health of a game that lasted over 25 years. You want to play old school? By all means, do it. Let us poorer nerds have our overpowered Standard so we can pretend we’re as cool as you.
Hopefully I’ve made my case for Magic the Gathering as our tabletop game of the year 2020. While there have been times that I thought I might stop collecting, I’ve always come back. I’m glad that I did. The game is fun. It has a vibrant and growing community. Next year, they are releasing a set based on Dungeons and Dragons. What more could I ask for?
This 2020 tabletop look back is going to be a bit one sided. As you will see, we branched out a bit from our traditional tabletop game of Magic the Gathering. However, in spite of our best efforts, my wife and I have not been able to get a board game night going for longer than a couple of weeks. The kids just have interests that are too varied right now.
Even so, we have been able to try some new games that became (temporarily and they might return) favorites for a time. Quinn, Aiden, and I went on an end of the summer camping trip and that led to us exploring two different games. I just have to be better about initiating. Then again, as I mentioned that doesn’t always work with our attempts at getting a board game night going. Okay, enough of the “woe is me” parenting. Let’s take a tabletop look back at 2020.
I will structure this article different from the mobile look back. The reason for this is two fold. One, there are only 3 games to discuss, so splitting them into categories doesn’t make sense. Also, I want to spend more time talking about each game.
Dungeons and Dragons
We tried to play Dungeons and Dragons as a family last year. It met with mixed results. Christine and Quinn said they had fun. Liam played along, but he could take it or leave it was my impression. Aiden, who I thought might enjoy the game the most, actually hated it. He complained that the game takes too long.
So, 3.5 out of 5 ain’t bad, right? Well, yes and no. I’m obviously glad that most of the family enjoyed the game. I grew up playing Dungeons and Dragons and have many great memories with my friends and even my brothers a few times. Being able to pass that on to my family is one of my dreams as a gaming dad. And, so, as we often do, I find myself obsessing over why Aiden didn’t enjoy himself. I downloaded some pictures and mood music on my laptop.
I even went so far as to develop my own adventure for the game. I wrote some dialogue, built the skeleton of a harbor city, and inhabited a village and abandoned mine with NPCs and monsters. Unfortunately, I’ve used none of it. We haven’t played a game since. Oh well, Christmas break is coming. Now that I wrote that, I’m furiously searching for the adventure that I wrote in order to have it for break.
Regular readers of the page probably remember when we played Dicemasters. I posted an article about the team that I built. I actually promised more Dicemasters content in that article. I have not delivered on that promise. We played once or twice after that. I even built a second team.
Then, and this is a familiar refrain around here, school started. We all got busy with school work, so many of our games fell to the side. I thought this one might persist because the games go quickly. Alas, it was not meant to be. Well, another game added to the revisit over Christmas break list.
Because I genuinely enjoy playing the game. Given the opportunity, I’d play once a week. I put it almost on par with Magic the Gathering and I play multiple games of MTGA every day. Both Quinn and Aiden played Dicemasters. Heck, Liam even put together a team in August. I’d much rather play a game with my children then against randos online.
Unlike the other games, I can’t remember how we ended up playing chess. I remember that I purchased a board for school because some of my students last year wanted to play during office hours. Unlike one of the other math teachers at the school, I’m no expert. I played some as a kid and a bit here and there as an adult.
I do enjoy the game, though. Therefore, when one of them expressed interest, I took advantage. Along with the Dicemasters, I brought the chess board with us camping. We played several games. I taught them some strategy about the game. Mainly, I showed them that you should be thinking several moves ahead and considering how your moves will impact future turns.
As with the others on the list, talking about chess has me wondering where I put the board. I will have to dig it out and play some games with the boys. Of the three, this is the most likely to hold their attention, followed by Dicemasters, and finally (unfortunately) Dungeons and Dragons. But, hey, a guy can dream.
I thought about doing an honorable mentions for our tabletop look back 2020, but I’ll just toss some names in here. We also played Ticket to Ride and the Europe(?) expansion that we just got for Christmas last year. Liam has this “flag game” that requires knowledge of geography. Quinn and I played Minecraft: Builders and Biomes a couple of times. Overall, it was a decent year of playing tabletop games. And, now, because it took me so long to write this article, I have negative one days to get the tabletop game of the year done. Well, join us tomorrow, hopefully, for that one.
Commander Legends? Aren’t all commanders legendary? I am the first to admit that I have not played Commander at all. But, even I know that much. Okay, requisite dorky dad joke out of the way, let’s get to the actual introduction.
As we often do, Chris and I texted about each new card that we found interesting or fun. I’m not sure who started the text chain this time, but I’ll be honest, I never expected it to persist for as long as it did. Mainly, we haven’t gotten together to play in almost a year (maybe even over a year) due to Covid.
As a result, I’ve seen Chris’s passion for the game die. I’ve been able to keep mine mostly alive by playing a game against the boys. Also, xMage and Arena have kept me going. So, I was more than a little surprise that Chris said that he ordered a box of cards. I followed suit by buying a Commander gift box from Channel Fireball that included two Commander decks. So, after years of saying that I’m a Commander player who never played Commander, we are both suddenly Commander Legends.
Commanders I’d Play
Both of these have similar effects. Akroma is just straight stupid with a card like Zetalpa, Primal Dawn that is keyword soup. Prava has the added bonus of being a tiny leader in addition to a possible commander. You could build one heck of a nasty token deck around that card. If Chris gets a copy, I might just buy or trade for it.
Other Cards of Note
Austere Command is just a ridiculously versatile control card that I would run 2 of in pretty much any deck that had white. Sure, it is expensive. But, all of the effects are devastating. In addition to just learning Commander, I have also learned about the Monarch, which was introduced in the Conspiracy set a few years ago. It’s a cool mechanic that introduces new strategies to the game. Akroma’s will works well with Akroma. Not surprising, but my eyes bugged when I saw the card.
Commanders I’d Play
Turning scry into draw is a seemingly powerful effect. Heck, I just got tricked into picking this card because of that effect. Now that I think about it, though, I wish that the effect was “may” or “scry and then draw”. The second effect might be too powerful. I picked the second because of the partner effect. Unfortunately, I can’t partner the card with my Kira because the CMC has to be below 4 cumulatively. Nevertheless, if both are in play at the same time, good luck casting any removal.
Other Cards of Note
WotC is just trolling us at this point with blue cards that are 5 CMC and have “Force” in the title. Sakashima’s Will is just a cool card. I noticed a card with a similar “choose” effect when I was looking through white, but I wasn’t impressed with the card. This one is a lot of fun. I texted Chris about Body of Knowledge as soon as I saw it. Look at this dumb card, I said. Not sure it is good, but it certainly is dumb. Just my kind of card.
Commanders I’d Play
I have an “Empires” deck that I put together that was the throne, crown, and scepter of empires. Of course, I built a blue deck around them. I was thinking that I could adjust the deck to build around Armix. The only problem is that if I make it Tiny Leaders, I can’t run the crown because it is 4 CMC. Tevesh Szat is just a Commander that you run if you don’t ever want to play a game of Commander. He puts a huge target on you.
Other Cards of Note
Profane Transfusion reminds me of the card from one of the Phyrexia sets. Phyrexian Rebirth. Once upon a time I had the ridiculous idea to build a token deck around that card. Maybe with the Cat Leader from above, I finally can. As I was looking through the black cards, I noticed an elf theme. As elves are usually green, I found that interesting. Rakshasa Debaser is just one of those ridiculous cards that I get in my head will somehow work exactly the way I hope. Yet, it never does.
Commanders I’d Play
I texted Chris about Rograkh, too. I think my exact question was, “exactly how broken is this stupid card?” Actually, that wasn’t my exact question. I think I said something about “speaking of stupid” and he replied with something along the lines of “Dear God”. Looks like we can Alena, then the next turn cast Rograkh and a ton of cheap enhance spells, get a bunch of mana and then cast fireball. GG no re.
Other Cards of Note
Wheel of Misfortune and Explosion of Riches just seems like dumb Hearthstone cards. I simultaneously hate the RNG nature of that game and love the RNG nature of that game. These two cards just feel like they’d end up with half of the table laughing and the other half crying. I texted Chris about Blasphemous Act, “When you absolutely, positively don’t want any friends.”
Commanders I’d Play
(a) Did somebody say elves? I noticed an elf theme in black earlier. I surely would have been disappointed if green did not have a similar theme. Time to brew a GB elf deck of doom. (b) Cascade from hand?! That seems like crazy combo possibility with some of the green cards out there. I’m sure Chris has some ideas.
Other Cards of Note
We heard you like ramp, so we put some ramp in your ramp in Reshape the Earth. That’s crazy expensive and if you have 9 lands on the battlefield, I’m not sure what you’d do with twice that. Then again, I’m not a green mage. Court of Bounty is another interesting monarch card that gives some versatility. And not only does Apex Devastator cascade four times, but if combined with Kodama, you get a creature from hand.
There are only Legendary creatures in the multicolor pool for this set. Therefore, I’ll pick more than the two I had been picking for each color.
Commanders I’d Play
In my research about Commander, I learned about group hug strategy. I don’t entirely understand it. But, from what I gather, that bunny looks like a group hug type of guy. I picked the Boros guy simply for all you players out there who like to take notes. He tells you to do so in the text box. I texted Chris about Yurlok because he brings back mana burn. We joked about him scaring off the noobs with old school rules.
Averna let’s you ramp when you cascade. That’s a neat addition. That abomination is going in my mythical GB elves deck. And, that brings us to Nevinyrral. I texted Chris about this one because I recognized the name from the old disk card. This guy has the same effect with a sizeable body.
I joked earlier that WotC likes trolling us with almost Force of Will cards. They have done the same with Lotus cards throughout the years. This one is the closest almost Lotus that we’ve ever had. It very well could see a banning in Commander and especially Tiny Leaders. I could put the Staff of Domination in my terrible Armix deck. And, there is a cycle of diamonds in this set. I just picked this one because it’s not Mox Diamond, it’s Moss Diamond. LOL. *ahem* Colorless sucks in this set. What do you want from me?
The Verdict (Commander Legends cards are fun)
Commander Legends offers some fun stuff for players of the format. Even someone like me who has only fancied himself a Commander player who doesn’t have a playgroup can find something in this set. I have to say that there might even be better cards in here than some of the other more recent standard sets. I mean, I have been having fun with MTGA, but the Zendikar Rising cards are mostly just annoying to play against. So, I commend Chris on his decision to grab a box of Commander Legends. He won’t be let down.
Well, we are finally getting around to our Zendikar Rising Notable Cards: Esper Edition. Apologies that it’s arriving a bit late. I’m back in school and the beginning of this school year has kicked my butt. You should be happy that I’m back to gaming after all that football the last two articles. Heck, I was only able to recently resume my workout routine and that’s just because we have remote Wednesdays at my school. We’ll see if it persists to Friday.
So, yesterday, I was outed to a colleague that I play Magic: the Gathering. I have installed it on my work laptop. I probably shouldn’t be saying that, but there you have it. Well, we had a Zoom meeting yesterday and I was playing some MTGA. Wow, this entire paragraph could get me reprimanded. Oh well, in too deep now. No going back. Long story short, she saw me playing the game and playfully acted shocked at my audacity. That has nothing to do with the set. I just thought it was a humorous story.
Before I get onto Zendikar Rising Notable Cards: Esper Edition, let me remind you that these aren’t necessarily the best cards. You might not even consider them good. Hell, some of the cards might offend you personally. But, it’s my page. I’m going to pick the cards the way that I want to pick them.
White (It’s my party and I’ll be the fun police if I want to)
Honorable Mention (Practiced Tactics): The new party mechanic is mostly here, I assume, to prepare for the Dungeons and Dragons crossover set that is coming next year. Whatever the reason, I think it is a neat idea with much utility. I’m just glad that I mostly play on MTGA and don’t have to manually keep track of my party.
Journey to Oblivion – I wish that they had given this flash. It’s still good if you can discount it, but I just love the imagined look on my opponent’s face when I cast a flash spell that exiles. Oh well, guess we can’t have it all.
Tazri, Beacon of Unity – Chris and I were texting the other day and I said something about fancying myself a Commander player. Now, mind you, I haven’t played a single game of Commander and only a few games against him of Tiny Leader. Still, I’m intrigued by the format and hope to get a playgroup together when this pandemic is over.
Blue (Tatsumaki Senpukyaku)
(Dis?)Honorable Mention – If you get the reference in the header, then you will understand the theme of my blue choices. This card intrigues me. I’m not sure if it is a misprint or they are just messing with us. If you don’t kick it, it does nothing. I mean, it adds to the number of enchantments you control for spells that rely on that. But, there’s better ways to achieve that. What a dumb card.
Into the Roil – This article is coming so late this time that I’ve actually had a chance to play and play against some of the cards. I haven’t played this one specifically. However I have it in the stupid ramp deck that I grabbed to complete a quest in MTGA. It’s just a “fun” effect and the kicker draws you a card!
Jace, Mirror Mage: Chris texted me this card early in the spoilers. I texted back, “That’s going to be broken af in Legacy”. I’m pretty sure I was wrong about that. Hey, I’ve never claimed to be a professional at any of this. If I’m right, though, I’ll take all the credit and this paragraph will disappear from the article faster than you can say, “SAD!”
Black (The Orzhov have taken over)
Zof Consumption – Chris and I were just texting. I noticed something over the last few expansions and I wanted to make sure it wasn’t just me. I won’t tell you how the conversation started. It is definitely not safe for work. Maybe not safe for any environment. In any case, lifelink is becoming more and more a part of black’s color identity. I first noticed it with Vito, the Rose Thorn or whatever. That’s only because it is an annoying card to play against.
Ghastly Gloomhunter – While the earlier card isn’t strictly lifelink, that’s where our conversation ended. That these cards don’t have lifelink, but they have an effect very much like it. This card has lifelink and more and more black cards are coming out with that keyword. I don’t know why that bothers me. I do know that this card has a stupid name. That’s really the main reason I picked it. I want a job naming cards.
Nighthawk Scavenger – Chris texted me this one, too with the message, “It’s kind of like Tarmogoyf.” I texted back, “But it dies to lightning bolt.” We both got a good laugh from that because his friend who is more competitive than we ever are said the same thing. I guess you had to be there.
The Verdict (Zendikar Rising Notable Cards: Esper Edition are underwhelming)
Other than Jace, there isn’t much to get excited about. And, Jace might not even be all that exciting. I mean, there are some neat drafting strategies. Maybe I’ll mess around on xMage some once the set releases there. Because I’m mostly trash at drafting and I’m not sure how popular sealed is on MTGA, that’s the place that I can do my trash drafting without losing much in the way of resources. I think Chris was right when he said that Zendikar just isn’t that exciting anymore. We’ve been back three (!) times now and maybe the setting is just getting old.
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