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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Fun with Core Set 2019 - Open House, Prereleases

Wizards of the Coasts brings back Core Sets and the first new redesigned one is Core Set 2019. It contains Modern staple reprints (hello Scapeshift and Crucible of Worlds currently at 2 tix) and new cards that should help new Magic players learn the game in not so difficult environment but one that shows the depth of the game. There are also 5 Planeswalker decks that are more balanced against each other than the expert sets' Planeswalker decks. In my opinion they are actually good. They cost less (10 USD) and contain only one booster pack. Each deck is different and there are some synergies between the cards for the players to explore. During Open House, an event held a week before the prerelease of the set, we could bring new players to the local game store and teach them how to play Magic (and get a nice Guttersnipe promo). We could also buy and play with the new Planeswalker decks which was actually a nice experience. I bought Liliana's deck because I just wanted that card (I'm obsessed with Liliana) even though that is the only Planeswalker out of the five that does exactly nothing. I got quickly crushed by red flying creatures but in the following games I played I found a little bit of love for the Liliana slow and life draining deck. We certainly had some fun, I even cast Demon of Catastrophes 5 times against one opponent which certainly counts as an achievement?

My opponent was down to 2 life and played Meteor Golem to deal with my flying creature. I had Abnormal Endurance to save my creature and drain my opponent for the remaining life though

Apart from joining Open House I did one more unusual thing right before the paper prerelease (I played with the set already on MODO). A fellow PureMTGO writer shared his initial M19 card evaluations for limited. When I was going through that I strongly disagreed with many choices but then many of the cards I would evaluate differently were also build around cards or they were the cards that effectively killed me already and I knew how good they were. I decided to give it a try myself but I was already biased by his evaluations and also by mine since I saw what certain decks could do. The first thing I realized is that I can't do this without writing an explanation to why I think the card is good or bad. For example Patient Rebuilding seemed to be as an all-star but I wasn't really sure if that card would be fine in draft since the format may end up being faster than I expected. From my initial impressions the format would be relatively slow but fast decks would exist in the form of Blue-White and Black-Red. Since I already played with several Boros decks I knew that Boros does not really happen to be the aggro deck in the format. Similarly I valued both 'Wands' highly but it was just some kind of a gut feeling and I could sometimes reasonably explain why the cards are good. Chaos Wand already hit several of my own removal killing my creatures and then my opponent finally played something, killing me with it. Transmogrifying Wand was very good at making 2/4s our of Omenspeakers which wasn't the use I expected at first (later on, at the paper prerelease it seemed that this tactic was actually the norm). In the end I tried to put the cards in several categories which could be described as bomb, good card, average card and then there was bunch of cards I'd rather stay away. Since I didn't have a good methodology I played some cards at odd groups but for next time I know that I should come with some kind of methodology for this first. Nonetheless I was trying to figure out if this kind of initial analysis would give me an edge when playing the prerelease or would help me draft the set. That was to be seen.

A week after the Open House people were ready to play in the prerelease events all over the world. My first experience comes from Magic Online where it was available before the actual paper prerelease. I played my first Sealed deck without actually looking at the spoiler. I put together a GW deck since I opened Resplendent Angel and I terrible died to UB Mill twice in the first two matches! That was a very crushing experience. I decided to try one more match to see if my deck can win a game or match. I actually won but lost the other one, so I dropped and entered another League to see if it can get better. Next pool didn't look any better but it contained to my surprise another Resplendent Angel. This time I build a Boros Aggro deck and in my first match I encountered an Esper deck that played Patient Rebuilding on turn 5. That didn't feel great but this time my League didn't go badly.

My following pool was either a Boros deck again or a Junk deck without any mana fixing. Honestly I haven't really seen much of that in M19 during the six events I played and I totally lost to not being able to draw the correct lands. I went 3-2 nonetheless so 120PP and a Booster Pack gave me enough for a draft at least.

When I came back to my flat (because who plays on MODO when at home, right) we exchanged some Magic stories from the games we played with my flatmate. I complained once again about how I lost to Jace's Erasure no.2 when I decided not to board in Naturalize and my opponent just slammed enchantment number 1 on turn 3 and I got punished. I needed one turn to win the game but unfortunately a timely Divination made me lose that game. After that I brought my computer and we went through the M19 cards on MODO. We found a very cute Dragon among the cards just to find out that the card is not actually in the set but is rather a Planeswalker deck exclusive.

The following day (or rather the morning on the same day, I didn't get much sleep) I wanted to go to a paper prerelease. I wasn't sure if I'd wake up but somehow I did. I came on time and opened a great pool. When I opened (a 3rd) Resplendent Angel I just put it on the pile with cards without even a blinking. Someone saw that and was like 'Hey, that's awesome, no?'. I just replied 'Sometimes' but I honestly hoped that my Angel would find a way to actually kill some of my opponents because it didn't on Magic Online. My next pull was Ajani's Last Stand and I started wondering if all my pools will contain these two cards. I put together a 3 color deck for round 1 but after my experience with three color decks on MODO I decided to change it to a two-color deck. My opponent was very sad facing my all flyer deck and lost to two 5/5 Dragons but it took a me while to assemble two Mountains that I needed to cast the Dragon. While going through my pool so I could cut a color a fellow player came and suggested that I should play just straight UW which I totally agreed, it actually looked like a very solid deck. It just top8ed our 57 player prerelease.

The prerelease was fun and the games were actually more difficult to win than I expected. When I was paired against our National Champion I knew that things would get really messy. We sat next to each other so I knew what was coming. His pool looked like it needed a great amount of luck to assemble all the 3 colors he needed but there was a fair amount of filtering the library and card draw in the form of (Dryad Greenseeker, Tormenting Voice, Blood Divination). The rares were Gigantosaur, Lathliss, Dragon Queen and Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire. I won the first game fast because I simply curved out and finished with Angel of the Dawn. In game 2 I kept an ok hand that could even survive one removal. I expected that Tomas didn't really have that many removal spells. I suspected Shock and I also knew that he might be running Act of Treason (since I even said that playing Act of Treason and than casting Blood Divination sounds like a more likely scenario than one would think). My Snapping Drake died to Shock and then I had to wait for another flyer that could possibly deal some damage. I had a hard time drawing something, meanwhile my opponent was filtering his library with Dryad Greenseeker and eventually landed the Dragon Queen. I scooped and mulled to 5. Again my opponent started with mana dork and Dryad Greenseeker and I knew things would get messy. That wasn't all though. He played Tormenting Voice discarding Talons of Wildwood. Later he played Elvish Rejuvenator hitting a dual land and then sacrificed it to Blood Divination. I started to feel very overwhelmed since my opponent was like 10 cards ahead and even I faced just a bunch of elves I also knew that any of his rares would kill. None arrived though. I finally drew a threat and played it. My opponent tapped three mana and I already suspected Act of Treason and awaited the worst punishment to follow in the form of Blood Divination. That's EXACTLY what happened. We had a good laugh, I conceded and wondered if I can win my last round. I wanted to ask Tomas for a picture of his deck but when I came he just lost the finals to a BW Lifegain opponent that played Hieromancer's Cage on his Gigantosaur and swung for lethal so I let it go. The deck though was awesome and I was glad I could see it in action.

After almost falling asleep during the last round I decided not to participate in the following prerelease and return to my flat to do the laundry and other stuff I usually do during the weekend because that's when I have the time. I managed some of it and then got stuck on MODO and I don't even remember what I was doing! I went to sleep late and woke up in the morning being totally exhausted. I ignored the alarm for a while until I realized that I set it to the last minute I should be getting up. So I grabbed my stuff and ran to the subway station. I missed the train by like 10 seconds but I knew that if I take the next one and run when changing the trains I'd arrive at the same time. I was also relatively calm because coming to a sealed deck late is not usually an issue.

When I saw my pool though I was glad I came on time because it seemed terrible. I spent most of the time staring into the cards trying to figure out what to play and I wasn't fairly sure if what I played with in the end was the best possible solution. Anyway we had some fun.

While I was staring at my pool I was also wondering if I actually used the information I got from when I trying to evaluate the cards or not. I found out that I used none of what came out of the evaluating - I was only evaluating my pool and the best options of what I can put together. When I wasn't sure about a card I was taking experience from the decks I played against because that gave me information about the format how others see it and the speed of it at least that weekend.

In the last event that day I put together a deck out of cards I could never really see working together unless I'd manage to get my hands on few more other cards. I spent a lot of time staring at my pool and trying to put something together. I had like 7 black cards but few were good and I considered splashing them without any mana fixation though I decided against it. I had tons of red cards which was strange. What was even stranger was that the color did not contain any removal and it hardly contained creatures. Green was unplayable so the choice of colors was rather easy. I put together a deck out of cards that seemed to make sense and during each match I usually was boarding in or out about 5 cards. I did not trust my deck and the games were very straining for me. I always expected my opponent to disrupt my plans and sometimes it happened but still I was able to take over. I went 4-1 with this and the loss I got was because of Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma into some Angel and very big attack that followed. In the deciding game I mulled to five but I was still able to deal 20 damage before I died to the Angel again. My opponent gained 2 life that won him the game. A pity I lost that match. In the end this deck was supposedly not as bad as I envisioned it, but without a good pilot it would have most probably been a failure. It was a big difference from the UW deck I had the day before but it got the job done too and it was a nice experience.

Now it is time for some drafts and new Standard.

Thank you for reading
S'Tsung (follow me @stsungjp on Twitter)

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Pump it Up

STsung and Pump it Up part 2

I started playing Pump it Up after I came back from GP Amsterdam (May 1, 2018).

I wondered if I can get better playing Pump it Up and here is the list of things that I had to discover. Years ago when I was playing four-panel dance games and occasionally played Pump it Up my stamina was good enough to pass very difficult songs (see 23). My technique may have been a bit strange, but I was always good at clearing technical charts. After a long break stepping on a Pump it Up platform was a shock. I literally had no idea how to move. I was good enough to play level 15 songs but I'm not entirely sure how I managed to clear them.

As you probably know, Pump it Up wasn't my first dance game and that is why I somehow missed the 'learning the basics' part. The first time I played I reached the level of Csikost Post CZ or Beethoven Virus CZ which is something around difficulty 13 I suppose. It took me about 2 hours to get used to the panels. I had troubles stepping where I should but when I managed that I could go from Normal to Crazy because I had the speed and stamina to play those songs. There were patterns that I had to decipher somehow though. I could clear songs with them but I didn't understand how. There was no one else playing Pump at my own level or better whom I could observe so I had to figure it myself. At some point I figured it out. That point came when I started playing doubles (note that I was playing no bar at the time). I learned soon that Pump charts are done in a way one can alternate feet and suddenly I saw patterns which I wasn't able to step through that way. I hit a ceiling and I had to do some learning. Mr. Larpus D17 and Love is a Danger Zone 2 D15 were the songs that helped me decipher what I needed in terms of crossovers and turns, Monkey Fingers D17 allowed me to develop speed, Bemera D18 taught me that one can have two ways of playing a chart (like moving backwards or forward while playing, in most charts there is one way to step so one needs to start with the right foot. Some songs can be stepped in both directions. Bemera also showed me that some jack hammer notes can be treated as gallops), Another Truth D16 taught me jump/hands, and CanCan taught me how to turn (like that you have 5 notes in one direction and then in another - I guess you know what I mean).

To see what I mean with jack hammers -> gallops, see this video

What I learned at the time, I forgot which I found out when playing Bemera (embarrassing story). I expected to write this post earlier but obviously playing on Pump it Up Pro didn't really teach me much which might have something to do with the fact that I wasn't playing difficult songs (I still don't). The current PIU Pro owner wanted to upgrade the machine and we could provide that possibility. We had PIU Pro 2 and Fiesta 2 in our possession so either was a possibility. While it seemed that people in the arcade bar would prefer Pro 2, I'd rather play Fiesta 2 and that is what we put in the machine in the end to see if people would be able to operate the machine then. After playing Fiesta 2 the first day I knew that I really want to play this over Pro. I finally had the feeling I could get better at this game and lose some weight - it suddenly became a challenge.

I set the machine to 5 hearts which I figured would be nice for more advanced players. There is not so many players coming to play that know how the game works so they usually just play 2 songs and leave. 5 hearts though meant that a player can play up to 4 songs and I learned that my body got used to playing 3. That fourth song was always very difficult for me to play. I found out that my not so awesome stamina is worse than I expected if I can't play 4 songs in a row. I looked forward to the time I could play four songs without feeling like my heart is somewhere in my neck. Thanks to the machine being set to 5 hearts I decided to venture into Quest World and see what the missions look like. I successfully failed many but I also managed to clear some. While trying to clear the "easy" missions I could recover a bit from the previous songs. Later I decided to just screw Mission Zone and play easy songs no bar instead.

Below, I'll comment on some of my findings that may also help you analyze the way how you play.

Bar
In 4 panel games I was practically no bar player, when it came to Pump it Up I realized that bar is almost necessary to pass higher difficult songs. I could still play up to 15-17 level songs no bar though.

Since I gained a lot of weight during those ten years and I can't jump at high speed without support I decided to use the bar this time around pretty much all the time. This though meant that I lost mobility to which I was used to. Do you know the stepcharts of Will-o'-the Wisp CZ or even any Love is a Danger Zone stepchart? Well, these songs contain turns and some patterns that force the player to simply turn sideways and I couldn't do this while holding the bar with my two hands. I somehow had to figure out how to step through these patterns and be able to reach the 'upper' arrows. I terribly failed at first and I didn't know why.

A bit later when I felt like I can possibly play a song or two no bar I decided to replay Will-o'-the-Wisp Crazy. I passed it with ease no bar and my score got higher. I came to the conclusion that I have the technical ability to pass the song, I just didn't know how to use the bar. Then I realized that when I used to play holding the bar in the past I didn't really lean on it much, I usually just held it with one of my hands and this way I could turn sideways no problem - keeping my center of gravity somewhere above the yellow panel.

As for Doubles, I used to play with bar most of the time since the songs I played were very difficult. So I thought that I wouldn't encounter any kind of problem there but I did. I realized that I have a hard time reaching the outer panels (UR on P2 doesn't really work that well so sometimes it also doesn't register my step). When playing on Prime and Prime 2 LX cabinets I had no problems just clearing songs and I didn't have this problem. So I wonder why I have it on our FX cab. It probably doesn't have anything to do with brackets, but I didn't figure out if the bars are at the same height/distance or not. Anyway later when I was totally tired and my legs hardly followed the notes I used my arms to actually move across the platform. I literally pushed or pulled with my arms to move my body that was currently mid-air to another place. Moving 90kg at high speed is tough! While doing this though I realized that what I was doing during that song I could in theory do in less extreme way - it would give me more reach. When my hand holds the P1 bar at its rightmost end I can reach the upper-right P2 panel with my left foot which I can't do while holding it in the middle.

Next time I went to play I tried to move a bit and really push myself those 10cm to the right or left. I had no problems doing this with my left arm but when it came to my right one, it was tough! Anyway, with this technique I suddenly full comboed Passacaglia d12 which may not seem as an achievement or anything but it clearly showed that I can crossover from one platform to another one while reaching both outer panels and do this while walking backwards or while moving forward (meaning facing right and starting on p2, going to p1 backwards, or facing left and walking forward to p1).

First time playing Fiesta 2 (and this song as well)

Brackets
While browsing Reddit and other places around for some information about Pump it Up platforms I found several posts in which players were comparing bracket and bracketless platforms. The players used to playing on bracketless platforms couldn't understand why someone would want to play on a platform that has brackets. Since my experience on Prime cabs was very positive I wondered about that too. I even passed Canon D Full D23 on that platform and another level 20 songs while I just played D12-D13s that day because I had no idea what I could possibly clear. When I tried playing the same songs on our FX cab though I totally died, it didn't seem likely I'd clear that any time soon on the bracketed platform. I didn't mind that because I knew that I was able to clear those songs on the very same platform in the past so I should be able to do the same sooner or later.

It was a surprise to confirm a triple note and land on a flat surface...

When I went to Eternal Weekend, another Magic event, I also went to La Tete Dans Les Nuages to play some Pump. This time, I already played several sessions on our old platform and playing on the bracketless one was suddenly very strange. I realized that there were some habits I developed during the short period of time. For example I got used to tip-toe/heel and also stand on the metal panels and just using my toes or heel to hit a panel. I learned very soon that I can't do this on the bracketless platform because the panels are not recessed enough for me to do that.

It took me a while to stop doing that and just play flat footed. I suddenly developed a different technique which could be described as 'slipping'? Not entirely sure how to describe that but it is something you can do when there is a lot of bracket steps or even crossovers where it feels just wrong to do but it is a possibility.

I also didn't need to put that much effort in lifting my legs off the platform which made me save energy and allowed me to move way faster. This may have something to do with the fact that I was able to clear songs I couldn't pass on our platform with brackets where I have to lift my feet quite a lot. I didn't expect the different to be that great, but after I came back and played on our local machine I tripped several times over the said panels and brackets and I felt VERY silly about doing that - but it was just because I got used to the Prime platform.

As for jumps/hands. On the bracketless platform it is very easy to simply land on 3 or 4 panels at once without much effort, all you need to do is just jump and land. On the platform with brackets it's not that easy because of how recessed the panels are and also because the feet need to curl over the brackets. That takes some practice, it hurts to land badly on that and it also makes me hit each panel at a different time usually resulting in a Great. This is something I didn't have problems on bracketless platform. Obviously the step artists are aware of that because they use a lot of 'bracket' patters in the new stepcharts.

Speed Mod
My reading speed used to be 650 BPM. That is no longer true as it seems. My brain obviously needs to relearn patterns and for that it needs time. So while my accuracy is way better at this speed there are patterns I can't read at this speed. I started using speed mods like 2.5x and 3x which used to be unthinkable even on 160BPM song. After I lowered the scrolling speed I realized that my body suddenly figures out how to move, sometimes it just can't but it usually starts correctly. I learned one more thing - Pump it Up Pro made me very lazy. When I was playing on Pro I could double step through many songs. When I wasn't fast enough to clear a song I could just hit certain notes and still clear the song. For example I was told to pass I'll Give You All My Love which is a song I used to A normally. On Pro I usually got on the lower end of A grade. When I tried this time around I got a B grade but I hardly tried to confirm all the arrows, I just stepped on some keeping my life bar with some energy in it (it was set to stage break on so I often tried to survive). When I played it last time on Fiesta 2 I terribly died, getting C grade in the process. It felt like playing a totally different song even though the chart was exactly the same.

In the past when I played something very difficult it was a good idea to actually up the speed mod. This way I could concentrate on hitting an arrow one at a time and that allowed me to clear charts I couldn't really read. I was able to do this because my stamina was insanely good and legs were very fast. Which gets me to the following 2 points.

Leg Speed

Back to easy songs...but I'll get to those 20s once again!

When I started to play music games again this year I realized that my hands or fingers are slower when playing Pop'n Music or Beatmania IIDX. While I could play 40 level songs (old scale) on PNM in the past I could hardly clear level 31 when I tried 10 years later. The same happened with IIDX I went from 11s to 6s and that felt really badly. In Pump it Up the difference didn't feel that horrible. Well, considering I was able to play 20+ songs and started on 11s I could say it was the same. All I could do was try playing a harder song and I could possibly clear it. I mean I passed For You Nightmare somehow and I even survive Vook - Treme of the War. My primary concern when playing these songs was stamina. When I played, Bemera D18, Monkey Fingers S15 and D17 I realized that I really lack speed. I couldn't do jackhammers nor stand on a hold and confirm the notes around in Monkey Fingers. This also meant that I could no longer double step the way I used to. That might be a good thing because this way I'm forced to learn to alternate my feet and play the charts properly.

Anyway, I found out that my feet can move fast enough under two conditions - when I'm turned 45 degrees sideways or when I play on balls of my feet. When playing no bar I tried to save energy and be able to step through complex patterns. In order to achieve that and not die (stamina...not good enough) I started to turn 45 degrees sideways which allowed me to reach the panels faster. It also allowed me not to mess up up-right, center, down-left patterns which are a bit tricky when facing the screen (remember Sweet in Stepmania? Kind of the same thing). When keeping this in my mind I found out that 15 singles are not that difficult as they seemed to be. Being turned this way I also just can hold the bar with one hand. The other way how I can manage to be faster is to be using just balls of my feet to move around (the reason may be that this is more physically demanding and I use more energy to move around this way...which also adds some speed to the movement). This is a bit strange and illogical and I don't know why I achieve better results when playing like this...I also don't have problems reaching the outer panels this way, probably because I'm suddenly 'taller'.

First time playing Fiesta 2 (and this song as well). Includes little bit of gimmicky stuff that almost killed me!

Stepcharts
Not only the platform changed. The stepcharts are also different. Many of the songs I know had some really gimmicky stepcharts. Some of them are songs that I didn't really want to play because the charts weren't really flowing - it required a lot of effort to pass them. I preferred songs that 'flowed', songs during which I didn't really need to prepare myself to jump from one part of the platform to the other or try to figure out how to confirm this or that because it was very awkward to do. These kind of steps at least among the songs I played are not that common. The charts I had the opportunity to play probably contained more arrows but the stecharts were easier in terms of being able to alternate feet and just enjoy the song. Unfortunately someone at Andamiro decided that they would make up for it - songs on higher difficulties often have some gimmicky stuff in them, but not gimmicky steps but rather gimmicky modifications of how the notes scroll. I encountered notes that suddenly appeared out of nowhere, blinking, moving up and down etc. Sometimes I wondered if AM wanted the poor players playing this for the first time to simply lose their credit. See, I wouldn't mind when playing something in a Quest Zone, but for regular play I'd rather avoid this kind of stuff. Nevertheless, the new charts I played were all nice.

That's all folks for now^_~. More to come!

Thank you for reading
S'Tsung