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Monday, September 11, 2017

Magic the Gathering Arena

Few days ago at 10pm of my time I joined many other people on Wizards of the Coast Twitch account to watch Magic the Gathering Arena - the new Magic game from Wizards of the Coast. Everyone expected something bad and I hoped that Wizards of the Coast can show us something really good and promising.

When I watched the game I was in awe. The game looks very well and is fast. It took me a while to figure out what is what, and what means what but soon I saw a game of Magic played in an Hearthstone-like arena where Dinosaurs were fighting Pirates.

Since there are many digital card games we as players already got used to certain things being present and we also expect how the game should look like in a way. Arena gives us all that.

Many people I talked to were telling me that this is just another Magic Duels. I tried to explain to them that this is totally different. While we can see animations and some things brought from Magic Duels this can be something much bigger and something that can evolve in a way we want if we let WotC know.

The first thing that Magic players didn't like about Duels is that it didn't use a full rule set. Arena has that and this is a huge difference. You can do anything you can possibly do in the paper version in the new rules engine of Arena. Yes, obviously there will always be the problem with loops and such.

This game also will allow us to play 'real formats'. With this I mean that there is no limit to cards in your deck based on rarity. Many of those players that think that Duels is not worth playing also do not even know about this. In paper we can play 4 copies of a card in a deck. In Magic Duels this applies only to commons. Uncommons are limited to 3 copies, rares to 2, mythics to 1. Also Magic Duels never got all cards from a set. It got a certain number of cards and usually the complex and strange cards weren't included (including Hangarback Walker). Some cards would simply be too powerful, some wouldn't be played and some may have been too complex. In Arena we will get the whole set as in paper or on Magic Online. We will be able to play Standard and that will also be the focus of this program.

Another thing that Arena does and neither MODO or Magic Duels can is that one can change the type of control one wants over the game. It seems that there is something like a full control mode which practically passes priority in every step and phase similarly to MODO with stops everywhere. Without full control one can cast spells and let Arena pay for them, pass priority in strange steps/phases etc and other things that we don't usually need to do. Those are things that can make the game more watchable, more approachable to new players and easier to learn. There are many benefits to this because it can bring also all the different players together. A more casual player may not know how everything works and probably won't need to have control over all those things. Players that are more technically skilled may want to use that (it will probably also require the other player to click more). Anyway this is something very unique and if done well, this can have a really huge impact on the player base. It will open doors to many new players that could be afraid of the rules.

What else Wizards of the Coast is planning? They plan to allow us to play limited formats. I doubt that we will be able to play a real draft or sealed deck because that would mean that we wouldn't need to draft on MODO or in paper. Something needs to be different and I can imagine drafting in a similar way to arena in Hearthstone. We don't know anything about this though so all we can do is talk about it, guess, be right or wrong but no one will tell us how close our guesses are.

The other thing that people want is Magic Online to be accessible on other platforms as well. Magic Duels is running on different platforms but no cross-platform play is possible. Arena is being developed on PC but it runs on Unity engine. This means that we may see Arena on other platforms. We will see it on other platforms with time, which can't probably be said about Magic Online. That hardly runs the same on two different PC configurations.

If you'd like to be part of the development of Arena, sign up for beta at playmtgarena.com. The beta access will be given in waves and if you have a Wizards Account and Duels linked, will participate in Ixalan prerelease online or paper, you might get a priority access. We will have a chance to give feedback and help Wizards of the Coast see what we want.

The game itself will be free-to-play. We should be able to acquire all cards through playing the game. There will be ranked for both constructed and limited. How limited will work in f2p game is a question since Duels of the Planeswalker sealed cost 2USD.

I also expect that playing Arena will be easy on a touchscreen. Playing Magic Online on a tablet for me was always very frustrating experience unlike playing Hearthstone, Magic Duels or any other new digital game.

I tried to take a video of me trying to play on a Lenovo yoga laptop

Arena also shouldn't mean the end of Magic Online. Magic Online should be more focused on other formats than Standard. It should also provide us with interesting formats to play like Cube, Throwback Constructed and Flashback Drafts. It should also become the place for casuals and pros. New sets will be normally added to Magic Online.

While I'd like to believe that Magic Online will be here with us forever I can also see that if Arena becomes the norm, it could slowly replace MODO. I can't imagine playing Vintage on this or any combo deck, but well who knows what will happen to Magic in few years time? Magic is evolving and after playing the game for over two decades I've seen it change a lot. I don't like this direction but this game is still the best designed trading card game in my opinion.

I'm looking forward to Arena. I really want to try it, play the beta and give my feedback to WotC. I expect that I won't like the game because I do not like flashy, animated stuff and 3d graphics, sound effects and music. I like to play Magic, the game I know from paper, and I'm not interested in all those nice things. There are probably not so many players like me and I understand that many people are not drawn to Magic Online just because of the way it looks like but they most probably will like Arena. I think Magic Digital can have a bright future and this could actually bring many more players to the paper game. It is up to Wizards of the Coast to figure out the economy and how they want to earn money from this so it wouldn't 'ruin' the other environments (Magic Online and paper).

Honestly I'm really afraid for the future of MODO but so far I've seen a lot of work done on the client. Everything is getting better. I am relatively new player, I've played Online just for few years. During that time though I had so much fun that you can't even imagine that. I could play the game I love. I could play any format, I could play competitive, casually. I could explore formats, build different decks, try anything I wanted. I could create content. Without it you'd probably never heard of me. I also met many people on Magic Online and spend a lot of time with them. Some I met then in real life, some I have yet to meet. I can't imagine living without Magic Online now and for that I am very grateful the software exists. I will hope it won't just cease to exist.

My thanks goes to WotC for making it, keeping it working and trying to make it work the way it should.

I will wish Wizards of the Coast luck with Arena, honestly it looks wonderful and if they managed to integrate all the rules in it, it can be truly awesome - something I doubted being possible.

S'Tsung

Magic: The Gathering Arena alpha game play

Nationals (Day 1)

This weekend for some Magic players meant that they would attend Nationals. Our country - Czech Republic - is one of those that had Nationals set for this date and that is why my weekend was rather busy.

My plan for Nationals was pretty similar to WMCQs. I would go there with a deck, see what the format looks like, have some fun, meet players I haven't seen in a while and go home happy full of experiences.My expectations were something like 2-3 drop, not wanting to draft.

When people started asking me for cards and decks (I loan them) I decided that my deck of choice would either be UW Monument or BG Delirium/Aggro. That is why I kept these cards and loaned the rest. A week before Nationals it was 100% clear that my deck wouldn't really do much at Nationals since it isn't well matched against Temur nor Ramp which obviously became very popular. I was reluctant to change a deck on last minute as that is something I do not like to do, but since my preparation for Nationals was rather brief, in the end I decided to change the deck. The question was what deck I could possibly put together after I loaned so many cards.

Someone suggested that I try to play UB Control, Temur Black or Ramunap Red. I was sure I didn't want to play the red deck but I could possibly play UB Control or Temur Black. So with a little bit of a friend's help I put both decks on Magic Online and started playing. I played against Temur Energy and it was a very frustrating experience with both decks. UB Control was good against Ramunap Red and Ramp, but these two decks would most probably be on the different ends of the tables at Nationals (because one preys on the other). I didn't really feel in control of the game. The deck runs some counterspells and removal but it can't draw the right cards in a way more traditional deck can. It is way more tempo based and requires knowledge of the format. It is a good deck and have won a GP but I would be a rather bad pilot of it since my knowledge of both the tempo and metagame wasn't great.

So I switched to Temur Black which seemed as a very strong deck. I asked a player to whom I loaned the cards I needed for the deck to give them back and then tried playing few matches. I decided to go for the Black version because I saw what the UB God was doing in the control deck. I expected people to come up with ways how to deal with it, but it seemed possible that many wouldn't be prepared for it and well I always had the possibility to board that out and I wasn't a big fan of Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. Also I learned what the card actually does and when. When I switched to Temur Black I actually had my own creatures in a graveyard so that did wonders with my own creatures that died earlier (4/4 Torrential Gearhulk is not that cool if all it can replay is Grasp of Darkness without a target or Censor also without a target, anyway it was still overpowered).

During these matches in the late night before Nationals I learned some things that I didn't know, one of which was that Rhonas is Indestructible and has Deathtouch. I made a fool of myself few more times in similarly silly situations (if you can imagine me trying to kill Rhonas and failing at that) but those were very important to me. I learned about those things before Nationals. They wouldn't happen again during Nationals.

Since MODO helped me with my triggers I also had a fairly good idea what cards do something (like when they trigger and what the triggers do). I just didn't know how I'd be doing that in paper, I was a bit disordered at the event. My opponents were nice though and waited till I managed to put everything in order.

Having the deck online didn't help me much with having deck in paper so it came down to me looking for a long forgotten RGu Pummeler deck which shares a big amount of cards with Temur Energy. I made Temur Energy out of it and fetched a Swamp, Blooming Marsh, Tireless Tracker and Dispossess from my BG Constrictor deck. I wrote down my decklist and wondered if someone would provide me with Glorybringers and Chandras that I loaned to several other players so I couldn't play with mine. After asking several players switching from Temur to something else I got all the cards I needed and I'm very grateful that they brought the cards for me. During the night when I was trying to play with Temur Black online I was also looking for cards for other players. It was a total chaos in my room and I was looking for cards I hardly heard of.

In the morning we got to the site with Patrik who provided majority of the cards I needed. I loaned him bunch of cards as well for his totally awesome and funny deck (see screenshot above). We ordered breakfast, put our decks together and wrote decklist. I was glad I did it, because I realized that I forgot to include the Scarab Gods.

Round 1
I played against BR Midrange and easily won game 1.

In game two my opponent was on play and after he toasted my creatures landed Chandra, Torch of Defiance which didn't help matters better. I had no Glorybringer, no other means to deal with her and thought I'd die. At that time a coverage team decided to take a picture of me so that is how I look like when things go wrong.

I top decked a Chandra of my own though and with the collective help of the said planeswalker and my deck I managed to get rid of the opposing Chandra. Then we ended up in a top deck war. Glorybringer threatened to kill me but then I drew The Scarab God and things started to look good even though I was down to 1 life or something similar (and my opponent had like 18 life or something).

Round 2
I played against Temur Energy. I tried to destroy all the 'smaller' creatures like Longtusk Cub and make my Bristling Hydras bigger than my opponent's ones. I won easily most probably my opponent was somehow screwed. Well, dealing with creatures that can get Hexproof is tricky anyway.

In game 2 my opponent seemed to have me but then I produced Glorybringer which made it better for me. My opponent had his own but didn't realize that Glorybringer cannot kill another Glorybringer. Also he didn't realize that Rhonas has deathtouch which helped me get rid of a Bristling Hydra I couldn't deal with otherwise (I could just trample through it). Thanks to this I won the second game as well.

Round 3
I played the most awesome match of the event. I played against Tomas Langer who in the end became the National Champion. We were paired against each other at table one and I soon found out that he was on GW Ramp which wasn't something I wanted to play against. When my opponent didn't play a 3CMC ramp spell though things got better for me so I tried dealing as much damage as I could and keep enough attackers in my and after Fumigate would deal with my board. I wasn't particularly sure how to divide the damage and what amount of damage I need to get through. I won game 1 though after my opponent drew many cards but was unable to get to any Eldrazi or Fumigate in time. Actually it was Chandra's ultimate ability that won the game. I had two Harnessed Lightning cards in my hand and I really needed my opponent to play something. He did. He played World Breaker dealing with my Lumbering Falls that I wanted to target next turn so I was happy (I didn't have enough to animate my land and play the burn spells).

In game two everything seemed very similarly. All I needed was to find a land to be able to play Negate. Unfortunately for me...I didn't draw the land nor Attune and I lost the game.

In game 3 things were a bit better for my opponent (meaning that his deck was still laughing at him). Fumigate came a turn later, he couldn't produce a creature that mattered and I could win. I just needed one more blank on his side. He drew a creature. I didn't have any removal in my hand and didn't draw it either. I still could win though. I still needed either removal, Negate or a fifth land so I could play Glorybringer and win before my opponent would gain life. Unfortunately I didn't draw either of the cards, Fumigate killed my board and I died soon after to Ulamog, Ceaseless Hunger.

It was an awesome and memorable match and my opponent was very kind to me.

Round 4
I faced a friend of mine playing the same deck who actually got prepared against opposing Scarab Gods. My opener was good and relied heavily on my mana dork surviving. The Servant of the Conduit survived so I just landed my rares and my opponent had a difficulty keeping up because he didn't have that mana dork available and was simply behind.

In game two things didn't really look good for me and I expected that game 3 was inevitable. My opener contained both Longtusk Cubs that I didn't board out (I kept two in). My hand wasn't particularly good but gave me the possibility to take the game into a different direction - one which the mirror player wouldn't expect. So I played the cats and hoped they could deal with bigger threats and gain some energy (didn't happen). When things didn't look good and I gave my opponent the chance to stomp me to death I drew The Scarab God. Since I was drawing lands and my opponent was mana screwed my God could actually do something if it would survive till my upkeep. It did. I eternalized one of the Cubs that died earlier, scried into land (put on bottom) and drew a land. Next turn I would keep a land on top because it would allow me to use the Gods ability twice and I could deal with the opposing God. My opponent indeed played his own God but unlike me he was still mana screwed. He had enough energy and enough mana to eat my God out of the graveyard though so I wasn't really glad about it. My creature survived though so I ate two more Longtusk Cubs. Later my God was targeted with Harnessed Lightning which surprised me. I won a bit later with my army of 3 Longtusk Cubs.

Since my opponent was upset about the outcome of the game and was unwilling to accept that he could have actually managed to keep tempo in game 1 and win game 2 I didn't ask him about the Harnessed Lightning nor told him that he may have made a mistake. I signed the result slip and waited for him to decide whether he wants to drop or not. It was time to eat something so I could survive few more rounds.

Round 5
I lost (mirror match, got mana screwed).

Round 6

I was quite high on the list of 3-2 players so my pod was quite good. I drafted a black-red aggro deck which unfortunately lacked some Manticores as my finishers (or the 3/3 Afflict 2 creatures that can pump themselves). Nevertheless I was content with my deck and was ready to play a game. I thought that 2-1 record with this was actually likely, but I knew that I was tired and that winning a single game might be a problem.

Pairings were posted with like 35 minutes delay due to players in a pod being originally seated next to each other. That waiting drained all the remaining energy from me...or rather what was in my system keeping me alert dissipated and I really wanted to sleep.

I faced a player that I know from Online and terribly died to his 1/3 Feral Prowlers and bunch of Walls that I just couldn't deal with. I was waiting for some of my higher CMC cards but they never showed. The match didn't go that badly, my draws were poor.

Round 7
In this round my brain decided to shut down and my opponent had to think I'm an idiot. He knows me though so I suppose he figured that I was just too tired to play Magic. I won game one even though I missed lethal twice and sacrificed few of my creatures in total nonsense way (my opponent flooded).

Game 2 my opponent got a better draw but was mana screwed. During the time though I did not manage to kill him and I missed a trigger on one of my creatures which meant I didn't deal additional damage I needed to get through. I think I don't need to mention that I lost the match because of this. I certainly made way more mistakes on the road but this one is the one that lost the game.

In game 3 I had the chance to win the game still in a relatively even game but In Oketra's Name wrecked my board. I think there was a way for me to win, it could have featured killing my own Earthshaker Khenra or just pinging my opponent all the time. No matter what my brain was unable to process information well and I lost the game later. I felt seriously embarrassed and ready to drop, but I needed that one more win not to feel totally badly.

Round 8

I won^_^.

After the event was over I went over to the Judge Booth to say 'hi' to the judge sitting there. I encountered there a group of players trying to figure out a rules question. I read the question and tried to figure out the answer too. I also asked if I can try to answer some questions and get some goodies. I got them right! My questions were easy though. Anyway I learned few things and I also learned that my understanding of some things actually got better, most probably thanks to MODO. When thinking about one question a MODO prompt showed up in my head 'Choose which replacement effect you want to use'. I realized that thanks to this I can answer the question and correctly even (I know MODO is sometimes wrong about stuff).

This is what I got as a reward! Sweet foil tokens from Eloneth, Ultimate Price that seemed to be the only playable promo among the cards I could choose from and Zur that looked the best out of the remaining Judge promo cards (guess I was the only one who picked a card based on how it looked like). I was very content with this and it was also a very nice change from trying to figure out how to attack or block with my RB aggro (at which I totally failed).

During the day, we could also defeat Garruk (Roman Pivec cosplaying Garruk) and win a pack. So I took my Temur Black deck and tried winning against Modern Mono Green Stompy. I played creatures, Garruk played creatures. I kept removal for when my opponent would alpha strike and possibly kill me with Aspect of Hydra (and Rancor). I wouldn't be able to do anything with Vines of Vastwood but at least I could try. I was lucky to draw Rhonas in the meantime which meant I could start sending that card into that wall of green creatures and occasionally kill one of them. Later I drew Whirler Virtuoso which meant I could just fly over and pump my Thopter tokens for the win. I talked a bit with Garruk and the coverage team and then it was time to leave the site. Klara was doing the coverage with Lobo and with the help of Mirrari (a Hearthstone player you may actually know) and we should thank them for the good job they did!

The event was very well organized and I really have to give thumbs up to the TO. Everything was well done, I really enjoyed it and it far surpassed my expectations. So I hope more events will be like this and the players will appreciate it.

I headed then to the bus station and went home. There I unsleeved my draft deck so I coul use those sleeves for PPTQ the next day and eventually went to sleep. It was a good day. One I would have good memories of.

Here is our metagame breakdown for those interested.

Temur Energy 27 15,6%
Ramunap Red 18 10,4%
Black Temur 12 6,9%
Zombies 12 6,9%
Mardu Vehicles 12 6,9%
Jeskai Gift/UR/UW Gift 7 4%
RG Ramp 8 4,6%
UW Approach 7 4%
BG constrictor 6 3,5%
UB Control 5 2,9%
UR Control 4 2,3%
RG Pummeler 4 2,3%
GW ramp 4 2,3%
BG Energy 4 2,3%
UWR Approach 3 1,7%
White eldrazi 3 1,7%
WW/Humans 3 1,7%
UW monument 2 1,2%
Black Eldrazi 3 1,7%
Eldrazi vehicle 3 1,7%
Other 26 15%

Friday, August 25, 2017

Poromagia - Worldcon 75 Interlude

Ongoing Modern event, with some EDH players in the front. Arn (the player in the green t-shirt) is the one who helped me finding games (and not only that).

While attending Worldcon 75 I sometimes had to leave the convention center. There was simply too many people for me to handle and especially after I spent ages waiting in a line just to see the door closed in front of me I felt even worse. At first I thought I'd just go out of the building, sit down on a bench in the nearby park and chill. My curiosity about the Magic community was too great and I ventured to Poromagia - a local game store. I planned on going to the store for certain but I didn't expect to go there every single day. So what made me visit the place every single day?

I went there soon after the store opened and there were few EDH players. I walked around the store to check some games and other products, their prices (expensive) and the place in general. Then I went to ask the person behind the counter about events and the community. I was curious about eternal scene. I know that German Highlander is kind of big there but I don't understand how it came to be like that. He told me that the most played format is Modern and EDH. I also learned that they don't have that many events like we do for example, but they also have League play that obviously works there. Then he told me one more thing that surprised me - he said that normally the store is full most of the time. This is something that doesn't happen in our stores. People come there to either buy/sell cards but they don't usually stick to play a casual game of Magic or something. We come to LGSs to play in events and after an event ends the store becomes empty once again. That is also why League play doesn't really work well here. I didn't believe what he was saying but later I learned that it wasn't a hyperbole. It was reality! By 2 pm the store was full of people, playing Modern and EDH mostly. He also mentioned that the players would even loan me a deck if I would want to play few games. I didn't have the courage to talk to anyone, but he asked the players in my stead and I found myself having a deck in front of me and several opponents. That was certainly very unusual for me considering experiences from our stores. Note that those people never heard of me, knew that I am a foreigner and had no idea what my skill level is. They were willing to teach me Magic even, if I wouldn't be good enough at Magic.

I'll digress a bit to make one remark. The players had problems with figuring out my gender and age and I was too afraid to correct them or give them the right idea (this usually means even more hate for me, but I was silly not to try. The people were too nice there for this to happen...). Even though this was obviously confusing to some, they all treated me well no matter what they thought about me. I'm very grateful for this. I felt like a human being there. I really wish LGSs and the Magic community would be like that here too. This experience at Poromagia gave me hope that things can actually get better and if not that I can retreat to a different country and things would get better for me.

Arn, the Jarad player, checking if anyone of us could deal with his Lord of Extinction that would kill us next turn...we lost

After we finished pregame procedures I was asked if I know how to play the game. I answered that I know how to play Magic. I had to reconfirm that few times (note that everything on me screamed Magic, but obviously a Magic player without a deck is kind of strange) and then we could play our first match. I'm not entirely sure what deck I had in my hand for the first time (but the deck wasn't really good). The other decks on the other hand were nice decks, not competitive or anything but built to win. That was another oddity because in our playgroups many players somehow forget that a game of Magic usually ends with a player winning. Often when that player is me, more often than not, I become always the number 1 target. In this case nothing like that was happening. The players were happily killing each other and no one really complained (well, sometimes a player or two got screwed which didn't make them happy, but that's normal) about it (At one point I was playing a combo deck and I had to ask if I can kill them with Bomberman or if the game should go on. Obviously no one had problem with dying immediately).

I was coming back each day and always played some cool games of EDH. I had a great time. I was asking the players about their community and formats they like and if they don't have problems in their EDH groups. Actually their community looked like one big group rather than many small groups which is the case here. I also wondered if the same people playing EDH play also Highlander but found out that is not the case. Also while these players liked winning they were far from being the competitive kind of players we have here. I was very happy to be among players that enjoy the game and accepted me without a problem right away.

My artifacts were useless because of Stony Silence somewhere on the table, so they were pretending a board presence. Later on I actually managed to get some creatures and I could find Craterhoof Behemoth and possibly swing for lethal. My attempt failed and I died to very big plants with trample instead...

Apart from meeting very nice people I was also surprised by other stuff. I already noticed that the people in Finland 'work on mutual respect basis' and that they reach higher levels of efficiency because of it. That is something that doesn't work here at all but ordinary people tend to be ok. In Magic community, respect is often gone completely and the players find ways how to insult others or how to do some harm or steal. While this got slightly better overtime you can still see that people pack all their belongings if they just want to go to the bathroom (and I highly recommend doing this in our country, not joking). It's not like someone would just leave while leaving stuff (a deck for example) on the table and a bag on the chair. That is why I was rather shocked when many of the players went to fetch food in the nearby restaurant leaving everything behind unattended.

The decks I played were combo Breya (finding out that this deck often can piece two cards together, but Breya is still a beating), Jarad (that could also kill everyone in one turn), Jhoira (that didn't want to suspend anything and by some accident got more board presence than midrange and ramp decks!), Kruphix (that wasn't that bad afterall), mono black zombies (Gisa? With this deck I terribly flooded so I didn't really see much of it). I also had the opportunity to see a Shapefshifter Tribal deck, Saskia aggro, Ambassador Laquatus mill deck and Neheb the Eternal (that killed everyone with a Comet Storm with the help of Neheb swinging for 19). All the decks were interesting and seemed lots of fun (while also doing a lot of mean stuff).

This was an epic game that was all about hidden information and how I and my opponent would read each other. I decided to go with the safest route in the end and lost because of that.

As for competitive play, the decks at the events I saw - Modern, Standard, Standard once again (Standard Showdown), HOU/AKH draft - were varied. It wasn't the very compact metagame of top 8 decks from latest big event. I've seen anything from Turbofog to RDW and the skill level was very varied as well. Everyone seemed to be nice to each other though and the events were going smoothly without too much delays (with an exception of one round where two people took 8 minutes to try to kill each other, ending up in a draw). There was no arguing about where people would sit, no one was going outside to smoke when the round already started, people talked to each other in friendly manner... Everyone was organized and even there wasn't too much space to move around they all calmly sat down and started playing. I was amazed. Here sometimes one feels like entering a zoo instead of a local game store.

Anyway, what I wanted to say is that their community is awesome. If I lived there I wouldn't have the need to play on Magic Online because I would have no problems finding players willing to play with/against me. And as I thought playing on Magic Online was rather looked down upon by many.

If you will show up in Helsinki, you love Magic or retro gaming, make sure to visit Poromagia (check their website). The address of the store is Opastinsilta 7B, 00520, Helsinki. It's close to Pasila train station which you'll most probably end up/pass through if you will travel around Helsinki.