Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Bracing for the Standard Rotation

Getting into Magic the Gathering has been daunting. Not the actual playing of game, but figuring out all the different ways people play the game now! Back when I played MtG ~20 years ago you just made a deck from your card collection and had at it. Its not like that now.

Last post I talked about the Limited Draft format where you draft the card to make a deck from as part of the event and contrasted that with Constructed formats where you make a deck ahead of time and bring it to the game instead. There are many different types of Constructed formats and two of the biggest are Standard and Modern which are the same in how you play the game but differ in what cards you can use to make your deck.

Modern allows you to use any cards (except for a few banned ones) from the "modern era" of Magic:

That's a hell of a lot of cards. Magic the Gathering Arena does not have a large fraction of those sets so its not something I've been concerning myself with a lot.

Standard is much more restrictive and only allows you to use cards from the two most current "blocks" of releases:

That's still a fair number of cards to work with and there is a lot of variation of decks you will find on Arena and in the wild.

So you are asking "what's a block?" and I was too when I started. Basically, a block is a year's worth of releases give or take. In the above picture there is the "Ixalan" block consisting of Ixalan, Rivals of Ixalan, Dominaria, and Core Set 2019, followed by the "Ravnica" block consisting of Guidls of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, and Core Set 2020.

However, the standard format rotation is going to happen with the first expansion of the next block coming in early October, Throne of Eldraine. When it lands all four releases in the Ixalan block rotate out of Standard decks and are only allowed in Modern decks (and other formats I didn't cover here).

This is kind of bad news for me because my current Black Aggro deck leans heavily on a few key cards in that block. One of the biggest losses for me is the Ravenous Chupacabra. This card is an amazingly efficient two-for-one where it kills an opponent's creature and leaves behind a 2/2 creature for me. So far I have not found a suitable replacement. The Cavalier of Night is similar but requires a bodily sacrifice and costs more mana.

Speaking of cheap bodies, I'm also losing my best bud Reassmbling Skeleton. Another hyper-efficient card that can block and return to the battlefield for just two mana, or I can use him for a sacrifice for a spell and bring him right back! The options for replacing him are Gutterbones which requires one more mana to get back on the table and requires the opponent to have lost life, or Sanitarium Skeleton which requires 4(!) mana to get back on the table if he dies.

Another blow to efficiency is losing the awesome Vrasks's Contempt spell which is a two-for-one that kills a creature OR planeswalker and gives me two life. More costly than a plain Murder but can target annoying planeswalkers AND gives me a boost in life counters? Count me in.

Or rather count me out because in a few weeks you are rotating out, sweetheart.

All this loss of super-efficient cards is telling on my revised deck which is averaging about 50% win rate instead of the 65% win rate my original Ixalan-infused deck was doing on the ranked ladder.

I'm hoping that Throne of Eldraine brings in some new cards I can use to reinforce my fun little black aggro deck.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Magic the Gathering Arena - Limited Draft Woes and Wins

I've decided to blog more about Magic the Gathering since I'm really having fun with it and some content in this dusty corner of the web would be good.

One of my favourite things to do in MtG Arena is Limited Drafting mode. In this mode (which costs 5000 gold or 750 gems) you and 7 bots have 3 rounds in which you open a 14 card pack, pick a card, and pass along to the next player until all the cards in the packs are gone. After 3 rounds of this you have 42 cards to make a 40 card deck (with access to any basic lands you need).

Then you play against other human players with their own 40 card limited draft decks. You keep going until you win 7 games or have lost 3, and then you collect rewards (packs and gems) based on the number of wins. And you get to keep the 42 cards you drafted.

I like it a lot because in "regular" MtG games with 60 card pre-constructed decks people can make some really powerful combos and archetypes, especially if they play a lot and have access to a lot of rares and mythic rares in their collection in Arena, but in the Limited Draft mode the playing field is a lot more even as everyone only has access to at most three rares (or occasionally 4 if a bot passes one) and you have to work hard to make a good deck out of the cards available to you.

The current Limit Draft mode is using three packs of the M20 release cards and I've been enjoying it a lot after the craziness of the War of the Spark release earlier this year where there were so many bombs (i.e. great game winning cards). M20 has a few bombs too but also is loaded with lots of common removal spells of all colours.

Usually I am pretty average in Limited, Recently I had a run of terrible drafts in which I went 0-3, 1-3, and 0-3 again. Ugh. Usually I'm happy with going 3-4 wins, ecstatic with 5 or 6 wins, and have never strung together 7 wins in a draft. In M20 I was averaging about 3 wins per draft until I hit this bad streak of 1 win in 10 games over three drafts. So after a break I sat down, paid my gold for a new draft, and cracked open the first pack.

The rare in my first pack (each pack has 1 rare, 3 uncommon (or 4?), and the rest common) was Knight of the Ebon Legion. I love this guy! First off, he's black and that's my favourite of the 5 colours. Secondly, he's got a low casting cost but can bump himself up temporarily. And thirdly, he grows if you do damage to the opponent.

I continue drafting the first packs, picking up more black cards but also some decent white cards and a few red removal cards. I don't pick a definite direction for my deck until I've had a chance to see most of the cards available to me in the second and third packs.

My second pack pick 1 offered a terrible rare, a Leyline enchantment (I don't recall the colour, they are all bad) so I continued picking up red, white, and black cards.

Then I got to the third pack and opened... Cavalier of Gales, the blue version of the Cavalier cycle! This is horrible! Not the card, its great: 5/5 flying, drawing cards when it enters the battlefield, and when it dies it goes into the library instead of graveyard. Its one of the best of the 5 Cavaliers for sure. But horrible because I've not been drafting many blue cards and a spell that requires 3 blue mana is very hard to splash with mana fixing of which I had none of.

I took it anyways (always good for the collection) and tried to see what other good blue cards I could get from the last packs to see if I could main blue and black and splash white or red, but I had some really good white cards to go with my black ones, and the rest of the blue cards were meh at best.

In the end when I made my deck I reluctantly left the Cavalier of Gales on the sideboard and with a sigh worked on a black white deck.

Final Deck List. Sorry I didn't get a nice Arena screenshot of the deck.
I didn't feel great. I ended up with a deck with not a lot in the way of bombs to win the game, so I was going to have to sludge through with my smaller fliers and removal and hope the Knight can steal a game or two.

I started to play. I won the first game, and the second one too. "Well!" I thought, "that's a much better result than the last three drafts!" Then I played in a third and fourth game and those were wins as well. "What the heck?" I asked myself, "How is this happening?!"

What seemed to be happening is that my numerous removal would take care of my opponent's big creatures while my small fliers dealt the chip damage I needed to win. Occasionally the Ebon Order knight would get going and run away with the game, and sometimes the Herald of the Sun would show up and flip the table, but usually it was just trade bomb for bomb and then win on the wings of Gorging Vultures and Dawning Angels. The Dawning was especially helpful with the 4 life she gave when I cast her, meaning I could afford to get low early on and flight back when I had the mana and spells I needed.

With 4 wins under my belt, and no losses, I was doing better than average. Usually when I start a draft with 3-4 wins it means the game must punish me with 3 losses from mana floods or mana screws or opponents with ridiculous decks. But amazingly this time the stars aligned and I won games 5, 6, and 7! I went 7-0 for the first time with this fairly plain deck.

So it just goes to show that sometimes the best decks are the ones without a bunch of flashy bombs, but just solid creatures and spells to back it up.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Terraforming Mars Board Game

I got Terraforming Mars for my birthday back in February but since I was going through a rough time I didn't get the gumption to try it out, then summer hit and we were busy living life outside, but finally a lazy Labour Day weekend arrived and my son Wilmik and I broke it out and learned how to play.

It was a little intimidating at first with tons of cards, tiles, and cubes but the instructions were clear and the game mechanics were straight forward that we got the hang of it pretty fast.

Basically the story is this: you represent a corporation trying to terraform mars and get the highest score. You score points by raising the temperature, making greenry, founding cities, and for accomplishing milestones, awards, and large projects. The game is for 1-5 players.

A few turns in, we have got a decent amount of water and Wilmik has planted a lot of greenspace.

My player card. From top to bottom, left to right: Money (for projects), steel (for building), titanium (for space projects). Bottom: plants (for greenry), energy (for heat and projects), and heat (for raising temperature). I'm getting ready to green the surface of mars and raise the temperature soon.

Wilmik's zone.

Many turns later, oxygen has been maxed out, average temp is approaching zero, and only a few aquifers left to place.

Not enough cudes for traking titanium so started using my old warhammer dice. On the left we see some of my ongoing projects which either add victory points or allow me actions.

Wilmik has a lot of completed projects (green) but only a couple ongoing ones (blue).

The game ends once all 9 aquifers are placed, oxygen reaches 14%, and temperature is +8 degrees C.

Our final board.

I got VPs for importing animals including small animals, fish, and livestock.

Wilmik added a lot of microbes and brought in pets for the people.
We tallied the end score and Wilmik won 82 to 71 victory points. His early push to green the planet made the difference as he scored VPs both for upping the oxygen level and the green tiles themselves.

Next time we will try the more advanced corporations with unique rules and the milestones and awards.

Good game, would recommend.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Vacation Season is Over

August is the month of Vacations and I've completed them with my family and we're back to work.

On the gaming front I'm still playing Magic the Gathering Arena and having fun with my Black Dreadhorde Rising deck for climbing the ladder (I'm not very good FYI) and picked up the pickaxe in Minecraft again trying out all the new features since I last played.

I'm reluctantly giving up on PUBG mobile as the wait queues are terrible nowadays for the emulator, and I'm not sure my old S6 phone can hack it. Still debating giving the PC version a try again. Or maybe some other game? Still pondering, but need some money before I go new game route.

Either way, bring on the fall!

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Wait Queues of PUBG Mobile

I took a break from PUBG Mobile for a few weeks (fooling around in Civilization V again but that's another post) and this weekend I came back for some of that new season battleground goodness.

I had a few rounds but was disturbed by the wait times for what used to be the most common play modes on the mornings and afternoons. Wait times that used to be ~60 seconds were upwards of 5-6 minutes or more if I had the patience to sit around and wait.

To me this is a sign that the initial popularity of the game is waning. Most likely there are fewer players online filling up the matches so there is more wait for players to end matches and re-queue. The problem is that the longer wait time encourages more players like me with little patience for a long wait to quit and do something else (I only have so much free time people!)

I did not like Apex Legends too much but surely there is a popular game out there I could have fun at. It all has me wondering if I should try the PC version of PUBG again, or some other competitor now that the genre has had time to mature.

Too bad because PUBG Mobile is really well done and I had a lot of fun in it, but if wait times continue to climb I'll have to bail.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Great Ways For EVE Online To Branch Out

EVE Online has always had a unique place in the gaming ecosystem. Despite its huge player base and incredibly deep and detailed mechanics, however, it hasn't made a lot of impact on the wider gaming scene. You don’t hear its players clamoring for a film adaptation (outside a few diehards), nor do you see much merchandise relating to the game’s ships and iconography; there are very few gaming videos or internet personalities that hang their hats on the franchise (as there are for so many popular games today). This is all a shame, frankly. While EVE Online is extraordinary just the way it is, it has so much potential to expand further into gaming and surrounding entertainment circles.

With that in mind, we wanted to look at a few great ways the game could branch out.

  Mobile Spin-Offs

In recent years, we’ve seen mobile spin-offs of online and console gaming franchises explode in popularity. For example, Fire Emblem, not one of Nintendo’s best-known franchises, received an iteration in the mobile gaming space with Fire Emblem Heroes which went on to become far and away Nintendo's most successful app. It also bolstered the sales of the original IP. An EVE-based app, while lacking the heavyweight Nintendo brand, could achieve a similar result. CCP is working on EVE: Echoes supposedly (has anyone heard anything since October?) and transferring the basic mechanics of the original game to mobile, while simplifying things for newcomers and a broader audience could result in droves of new players getting on board. It could also lead to fans of the original falling in love with the concept all over again, through the mobile title. In other words, it's a win on all fronts and probably our preferred option for EVE Online expansion if CCP can pull it off.

  Online Gambling

 A direct foray into paid gaming or online gambling could be another creative way for the franchise to branch out. Some may not realize it, but digital casino gaming has become extraordinarily popular in much of the world, and with the current growth of U.S. gambling, there's potential for the sizable American market to help make such games even more prevalent. The modern casino games you find online incorporate all sorts of existing franchises and themes and infuse them with gambling practices (Battlestar Galactica has its own digital slot game, for instance). This would seemingly be a fairly straightforward initiative for those behind the EVE Online franchise. It doesn't need to be a big new game or a foray into a new medium, so much as permission for licensed material to be used in a standard slot game. The benefit, though, would be putting EVE Online in front of millions of new players, as well as giving any existing fans who enjoy casino games a fun new way to enjoy the franchise.

  Film and TV Collaborations

 Another great way to expand the reach of EVE Online and attract new players is to aim for some kind of adaptation as a film or TV show. We've seen in the past that cross-promotion like this can result in a lot of interest in a foundation franchise: The Castlevania Netflix series drove up the sales of Castlevania games, for instance, so why couldn’t the same thing happen for EVE Online? While an animated action show probably wouldn’t be as good of a fit for EVE, there are plenty of other routes to go down. A live-action espionage thriller based on the game’s infamous Circle-of-Two heist would be incredible to see, for example. The various twists and turns the original events take certainly have all the makings of an incredibly popular show.

 Some purists undoubtedly prefer EVE Online right where it is, and that's perfectly understandable. These days though, there is limitless franchise expansion potential in gaming and entertainment, and it might just be fun to see this beloved game branch out in some of the ways discussed above.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Twilight Imperium: Rising Sol

Another Twilight Imperium game! 

This time, in order to cut the playtime down to a reasonable amount (i.e. 5-6 hours instead of 8-10) I arranged a game with only 4 players. This was a test to see if we could cut the playtime down and still have a fun game.

I was amping myself up to be Federation of Sol but Chad took it first so I picked the Emirates of Hacaan. Dave chose the Nekro Virus again in order to redeem himself from last game, while Twilight Imperium veteran Andrew joined as the Ghosts of Creuss.

The board setup. Hacaan blue, Ghosts purple, Sol black, and Nekro red. We debated using a smaller board by removing 8 tiles but decided to go rulebook setup this time. 

Trade kings.

The Ghosts in their wormhole waiting to pop out.

Will the Nekro Virus be a threat this game?

The extra large carriers of the Federation gear up for expansion.

Turn one and I score a victory point on a secret mission! Luck helped as supernova was right next to my home system.

After the first round, Sol and Hacaan had jumped out to an early lead in planets taking four each. Both Hacaan and Nekro eyeing Zohbat closely....

Round 2, Sol does a surprise move and buys their flagship, using it to take Mecatol Rex early! Nekro and Ghosts move in closer to the centre, meanwhile I took Zohbat and waited for the counter attack.

Worried that Sol will get an insurmountable foothold on Sol using their Orbital Drop abilities, I use warfare to free up my fleets and make an attack on Mectal Rex, destroying the Sol flagship and taking the planet. But on my right flank the Ghosts are on the move...

Ghosts making another fleet...

Nekro Virus moved in and took Zohbat while I was on Mecatol Rex, and then build Planetary Defense Systems (PDS) to make it more dangerous to come near.

With Mecatol in play, we had an agenda phase and despite me having the most influence thanks to Mecatol Rex, we ended up giving both elections to Andrew to prevent Nekro from getting a free tech. He predicted me to win the second one which I saved my votes for, and Sol had a political rider on the vote also picking me, so I went with Andrew to screw them both over.

Round 3 and thanks to Mecatol Rex and Imperial strategy card that I played early I pull even with Sol at 4 VPs. After that I abandoned Mecatol Rex.

Nekro takes Mecatol after I abandoned it. I need to rebuild this turn.

I mean, I really need to rebuild.

The Ghosts using the wormhole to sneak a planet for a victory point! While Nekro gets the "Ships in 2 systems adjacent to Mecatol Rex" point. Also note that the Nekro built their terrifying "All Nekro Ground Forces Fight In Space Battles" Flagship!

The Ghost's fleet continues to expand, adding their flagship!

Round 3, I've got a new fleet. Just in time as wormhole shennanigans meant a small Nekro expeditionary force appeared behind my lines.

By round 4 Hacaan and Sol are still neck and neck but Nekro has made a push to be only one point behind, and the Ghosts are climbing as well.

The second Sol flagship is on the board with backup, and aiming at Mecatol Rex...

...While the Ghosts are looking for weaknesses to exploit.

So here is where things get crazy. I was worried about getting double slammed by Nekro on one side and Ghosts on the other so I did some negotiations with Ghosts trying to get ceasefire, he countered he wanted my Trade Agreement and I said, I'd take his Support for the Throne for that. He agreed. Seeing that, Sol and Nekro felt that Ghosts and I had an alliance for all intents and purposes, so they exchanged Support for the Throne cards making a true alliance.

Sol having the Nekro Support.

But wait, there is more. I was scrambling for VPs at this point in the game so I bargained with Nekro to get a ship next to their home system for a secret objective, and he took my Support for the Throne. Since I was ahead of him, it felt like a fair trade of VPs to me, plus I could attack him and he could not attack me without losing the support.

To show their alliance, the war suns of Sol and Nekro showed combined colours. 

There is the carrier that allowed me to score a secret objective. Meanwhile, Nekro reinforced Mecatol Rex.

Fleet build ups on the other side of the map.

State of the board at the start of round 5.
Closer look at Nekro and Sol planets.
The scores heading into round 5.

So at the start of round 5 Andrew bowed out as it was getting late. Dave, Chad, and I evaluated the board and asked the question, what were the paths to victory? 

 The stage II objective that got flipped was "Own three unit upgrades" so Chad was within reach of ten. I could also do that objective but I had no more secret objectives so I had to take Mecatol Rex and score a point using Imperial which I picked first. Nekro picked next and took leadership so he could score first in the Status phase (and score three using the stage II as well as a secret objective) but Sol played a strategy card forcing him to pick a different strategy, allowing him to grab the leadership and scoring first in the status phase.

That put Nekro out of the running since tech was going to be picked (we each got two cards in a four player game) and Sol would win if the game got to the status phase. So the question remaining was could I:
- take Mecatol Rex from the Nekro fleet there
- hold on to the system despite a large Sol fleet counter attack
- hold on to the system until Tech was played so I could get the third unit upgrade
- and then have enough actions to avoid playing Imperial card before then.

I conceded that it was extremely unlikely I could do that all, or take Sol's home system to prevent him from scoring. If the Ghosts were still in the game they could have played King Maker by attacking Sol and preventing him from attacking Mecatol once I had it, but there was no guarantee that I could have held out on playing Imperial before Technology anyways.

So we agreed Sol won. Great game!


I am pleased how I did this game. My previous two games of TI4 ended up with me sitting out of contention both times. It feels like TI4 develops points faster than TI3 did and it took me two humiliating losses to learn that fact. After looking at TI3 objectives versus TI4 objectives I think that is a correct evaluation; the TI3 objectives are almost all harder.

That is not to say there weren't missteps. I feel I failed to leverage Hacaan's trading abilities enough, I think I failed to take Leadership ever, I failed to get more secret objectives, I failed to retake Zohbat which left me low on resources all game (I was only one to NOT get my flagship out).

But overall I did what you have to do: chase those VPs, try to get them every round, stay close to the leaders. I had a shot of winning, albeit a long shot. Had the Ghosts player been in the game still, things might have shaken out differently.

Looking forward to another game in a month or two!

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