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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

Friday, June 8, 2018

Magic Arena - Kaladesh/Aether Revolt update

Even though I was very sleep deprived I decided to launch Arena and see how it looks like after it got updated with Kaladesh and Aether Revolt. I recap the changes, put together some Snek-y deck, and play the beginner rank placement matches. Visually Arena looks certainly better. Otherwise I'll yet have to see.

Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir Collected Stories

One of the readers of the Collected Stories, Jason Cheow, pointed out that Khans of Tarkir block stories do not have an ebooks available so I will bring them to you sooner or later. I'll start with Khans of Tarkir which I already finished. Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir will follow.

EDIT: I added both Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir.

If you encounter a problem or anything, just let me know in the comments and I will fix it as soon as I can.

It's available for download from the same place as before. Link below.

Enjoy!


Magic: The Gathering KTK, FRF, DTK, AER to DOM Collected Stories

*I'm not affiliated with, endorsed or sponsored by Wizards of the Coast.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Dominaria Collected Stories

Dominaria is out for some time and that also means that we have the story available. Again I bring you a digital version you can use use to read the story on your preferred reader.

If you encounter a problem or anything, just let me know in the comments and I will fix it as soon as I can.

It's available for download from the same place as before. Link below.

Enjoy!


Magic: The Gathering AER to DOM Collected Stories

*I'm not affiliated with, endorsed or sponsored by Wizards of the Coast.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Cat the Monarch

I tried to figure out how to draw fur...well, I will probably need to be more patient and see if doing a LOT of strokes is the way to go^_^.

I used Nick Packard's cat for reference.

If you are by a chance wondering what the monarch has to do with the cat...then you are probably not a Magic: The Gathering player. If that is a case, The Monarch is an ability in Magic and has a Monarch token and it looks like this.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Dominaria, first impression

I like to explore different kind of formats and that also means playing with each new set that comes out because each set has its unique environment. Magic is an amazing game and where it shines is its design, especially in limited. Seeing how new sets are designed and how we can play with them is something that always mesmerized me and it is also something that made me return to Magic after several breaks. Some sets are better than others. This is partly subjective because there are mechanics or themes I do not like but others may like. Some sets can be though marked as the players' favorites or in general unpopular.

One of the popular sets is certainly Ravnica block limited. An unpopular and not well accepted set by many is Ixalan.

Nowadays, in the digital era where many people are on social media and interact with each other there we can see certain trends. There was a big hype around Ixalan, a set where Dinosaurs would meet Pirates, Vampires and Merfolk. I didn't really like the idea of Pirates and Dinosaurs but flavor is something I don't really need in order to enjoy a set. I patiently waited for the set to be printed so I could play some limited. My prerelease events went quite fine but when I started to drafting I started to see that there was something wrong (I wrote a bit about that in my Iconic Masters article (I translated only the relevant part)). I always ended up very upset when playing with the set and I wondered if it was just me. Later, I learned that others shared the same feelings.

When Rivals of Ixalan came it made things a little bit better but thanks to a very similar nature to Ixalan it was still very frustrating. Limited GP with this block was my worst Magic experience ever. I hoped that Dominaria would come soon and finally fix everything - give me hope to play Magic again. My expectations were very low since Ixalan block was practically unplayable for me and other formats weren't that good either. I considered taking a break and partly I took it. I hardly participated in any events and I even delved into Modern (Modern being my least favorite format in Magic). Then Dominaria spoiler season came and we got a new hype. Everyone became excited like never before.

Dominaria has a special place in Magic. It is where it all began which also seems to be the perfect place to return to to celebrate 25 years of Magic. Richard Garfield was also on the set design and I suppose we all wondered how that would show in the set. I hoped that this set would be well designed and would be a success but I also had my doubts because Battle for Zendikar was a failure.

During the spoiler season one is pretty much needed to follow a certain site or social media to get the information about new cards. I mostly use Twitter for that which also means that I get to see people's reactions. As for the individual cards at first I saw a very big discrepancy in power level of cards and I also noticed that one would need to be very proactive in the set. Those were things that made me feel uncomfortable, but without the whole picture I couldn't judge. Judging the power level of cards in vacuum is something that can give us the wrong picture.

One bad thing also happened - Chinese Release Notes were leaked. My Twitter feed was suddenly full of posts about that and I tried to ignore that. Later when we could read the Release Notes in an actual English language I also peeked inside and found out what cards would be printed. I learned about the mechanics and wondered what to think about it. As usual when something new is introduced I'm not much of a fan of them until I get to experience it (there were exceptions like Flashback, Delve etc.). One of the things that struck me as odd was Llanowar Elves. That is a card I didn't expect to appear in Standard. It's been quite a while since 2-mana mana dorks became the standard. So why suddenly did we get a reprint of Llanowar Elves? Llanowar Elves is one of the iconic cards of the past though and this is the perfect set to reprint it in.

While going through the release notes I also stumbled upon a card named Damping Sphere. It immediately caught my interest and I started wondering if it could change Vintage and Modern. I was able to write down my thoughts about the card because I was given the trust to spoil this card for PureMTGO. It was a great honor and I can't express how happy it made me (if you wish to read the article it's here).

Dominaria brings many new things but also something we haven't really seen in quite a long while.

Dominaria has a theme. The theme is 'legendary permanents'. This is the second set that has many Legendary creatures (previous could be found in Kamigawa) but not only that, there are really legendary permanents like the famous Weatherlight (Artifact - Vehicle) or On Serra's Wings (that's an Enchantment). What is also new is that these Legendary permanents are also at Uncommon rarity which means we can really build around them (see Historic).

For example, as any other set, Dominaria has new mechanics. We have Sagas which are new types of enchantment. "Each Saga tells the story of a key event from the past as it unfolds during each of your turns" is what the release notes have to say about Sagas and it is true. Each Saga has a very beautiful depiction of the said event. For players that remember the old times, there are elements that are familiar. We can even make them out and that brings nostalgia.

Another new mechanic is Legendary Sorceries. Honestly I was looking at those rather skeptically. I wasn't really sure if one could actually cast them in limited or even constructed. During my first sealed deck I saw how it worked in practice - my opponent had no problems casting Yawgmoth's Vile Offering even though his deck didn't really seem to be full of Legendary cards. Then I saw several people try UW Legendary aggro on Magic Online. Later I saw H0lydiva's screenshots of UW Legends in action.

The last mechanic is actually a term - Historic. There are cards that trigger when a Historic spell is played, return a Historic card from graveyard, or search for Historic cards, etc.

If you look at this set's Saga cards, legendary cards, and artifact cards, you'll see a broad swath of Dominaria's extensive and mysterious history. Some cards celebrate the plane's storied past by rewarding you for playing these historic cards. Historic is a game term that refers to a card that has the legendary supertype, the artifact card type, or the Saga enchantment type.

Not only this theme and mechanics make Dominaria unique or make it something that reminds us of the old times. If we look at the art we can see that there was a different art direction for this set. Even though I suppose that majority of the art was done digitally we can feel the sword and sorcery fantasy breathing at us. When I look at some of the art from Dominaria I think of older sets, when they didn't have either of the new frames. It's the simplistic and fairytale like art that I liked. We also see Knights, Angels and Wizards fighting in a medieval setting which is something that the game seemed to forget about for few years. There is art that makes reference to older cards which is also very cool and I'm glad Wizards decided to do this. Even Basic Lands are beautiful. I have the urge to buy the Art of Magic: The Gathering Dominaria now.

Slimefoot, the Stowaway by Alex Konstad

There is great flavor, great art, characters we know from the past, tribes that we know and like but that doesn't say much about how it feels like to play with the set. When I looked at the spoiler I had the impression that there are very strong cards for even Standard and especially for limited. The set also seemed to be very proactive and I wasn't sure if that was a good thing. I wondered how the set's design would work and when I first got the chance to play with it I jumped in a sealed league to see for myself.

This didn't look like a deck to me at all. I opened Karn though thinking that at least I got my entry back. I was surprised when this 'deck' started winning games!

I played 3 sealed decks on Magic Online. My first pool seemed very strange and I was a bit lost. So I decided to ignore all the possible synergies and put together Boros Aggro. To my surprise I crushed my opponent game 1. Then it was their turn to terribly stop me. They played some saprolings, fungi and later Muldrotha, the Gravetide. When I finally found a way how to deal with Muldrotha and the little but pumped Saprolings my opponent cast Yawgmoth's Vile Offering. Not only did that destroy my only hope of winning the game but it also returned Muldrotha into play. I conceded. In those three minutes I was given to sideboard I decided to put together a similar deck since I also opened Muldrotha. I didn't have cool cards like Yawgmoth's Vile Offering (I didn't really have many Legendary creatures) but the cards I had didn't seem bad. I just wasn't really sure if playing a 3 color deck would work, my opponent's deck was slow though so there was no reason not to try. After a very long grindy match during which we stared at each other I finally won thanks to my Legendary BUG creature. It was a really good game and I was looking forward to play another match as soon as possible. I was hooked. I clicked on the Play button and it found me an opponent. To my disappointment a hand that stared at me was Boros Aggro. Facepalm followed. I hoped my Boros deck wouldn't utterly die. To my surprise that didn't happen. I lost the match but it was close. I played against BG Saprolings this time. I learned one thing though. My deck could be grindy too. I had Squee, the Immortal and Keldon Raiders in more copies and those actually helped me stay in game for quite a while. My red spells with Kicker cost proved to be good too (in creating value). Later I died to big fat creatures but I learned that missing land drops, not being able to answer something immediately, or not being aggressive as much as I'd like weren't things that would immediately punish me. I was putting up a huge resistance and thanks to my red part of the deck and I almost won, I didn't run out os steam and utterly die as that would be the case of many aggro decks. I spent my three minutes putting together my Muldrotha deck again and easily won 2-0 after losing the first game. After this I finally changed my deck, saved it and finished the League with the BUG deck which in the end proved to be quite good - the format seemed to be slow, or we just decided to play slow and grindy decks?

Sometimes one wins just thanks to pure luck...

In the next sealed deck I played BG fatties with two "splashed" Grand Warlord Radhas and Siege-Gang Commander. I didn't have enough red cards to play GR so I played BG and tried my luck with a certain amount of Mountains, mana filter dorks and the only mana mixation I had - a ramp spell that proved to be a very good card. It worked! My opponents didn't appreciate my non-kicked 5/5 Dinosaur on turn three or kicked on turn 5! This deck was way better and I totally crushed everyone but a mirror match.

The last event didn't go well and I don't even remember what I was playing. I learned though that Flying is better than in other limited sets and that my deck was really bad. I dropped after two matches and I decided to close Magic Online and head to the paper prerelease to see how it would look like in reality since I could in theory arrive on time (I was 5 minutes late).

In the paper prerelease I ended up playing Boros Aggro again. The first two rounds I played against UB Control based on Sagas which seemed to worked pretty well against aggressive decks like mine. I knew that I'd have to be lucky to win those matchups. I felt like playing an old school Magic for a while. Nothing was lost for me though, I could win the games but it was clear it would be close. After I moved to the top tables I played only against weenie decks. My deck seemingly not doing anything cool but having good creatures that attack well was good enough to win games. Sometimes I learned that some of my creatures actually had a relevant ability. Pegasus Coursers were great, Knight of Grace was actually a good beater, especially when it got Double Strike and Flying thanks to Courser and Kwende, Pride of Femeref. My red cards controlled the board and were creating some value while my white cards tried to find a way how to deal damage.

I was honestly surprised that the top tables were full of white weenie and there I was with...white weenie!

I punted hard in my last match but I played very good games that day and was overall happy with how the set seemed to be. It was a really nice change from Ixalan/Rivals of Ixalan and I wondered how much biased initial opinion was because I was well aware that after Ixalan anything would seem to be a good set. I had to play few more events to finally settle on 'Dominaria is good and fun'. Dominaria lets us play with very powerful cards but it is a very well designed set where the powerful cards can be answered. The games are often grindy which allows for slower and more value-centered deck. Aggro has good creatures and can be little bit grindy too, tempo can work pretty well, and control is present too. Dominaria is a pretty good set so if by a chance you haven't played with it yet, do so! It's worth it. It's a really great experience on many levels.

Thanks for reading
S'Tsung (I'm stsung on MODO, you can follow me @stsungjp on Twitter)

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Vintage - Paradoxical Outcome

This post was written as a reaction to a debate under this article - Vintage Crash Course

PO decks can range from decks that want to win as fast as possible to those that are required to actually grind against blue decks for quite a while and then win. Because of that we can have many versions of a Paradoxical Outcome deck. First, Paradoxical Outcome is a draw engine. Similarly to decks that are/were powered by Gush, Thoughtcast, Thirst for Knowledge or also Gifts Ungiven. A PO deck can be anywhere on the spectrum of a deck archetype even though it will tend to be somewhere in the (all-in) combo part and combo-control part. Thus, the word 'better' should be used in context because neither card can be necessarily better than the other one (Timetwister may perform better in a Storm deck while it may not be better in a deck that resembles Grixis Thieves).

Note that the choice of drawing engine is not the only thing to consider when building a deck. Some decks fight wars on different kind of levels, some fight over cards, some mana, some counterspells. A deck whose primary resource is counterspells will be using them in a totally different way than another deck. When using PO we don't usually have counterspells as THE resource. We have a 'critical mass' deck that primarily needs mana and the cards over a certain period of a time and then when the mass is attained we can win. This is also something that can make seemingly similar decks function in a totally different way.

One needs to distinguish the plan and what the deck wants to do and depending on that configure the deck. This is something with what I struggled quite a lot when I was fooling around with PO. I had no idea what else apart from PO I want to actually play. I wanted to play pretty much everything and I had no idea what to cut. I settled on just some things - full Moxen, Black Lotus, Mana Crypt, Sol Ring, Gitaxian Probe, 2 Sensei's Divining Top, Voltaic Key, Time Vault, Hurkyl's Recall, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, 4 Paradoxical Outcome, Tendrils of Agony, 4 Force of Will, 1 Repeal. The rest I had no idea how it would look like...but I started somewhere and it gave me a great insight in these kind of decks. There were way more variants than I expected.

Library of Alexandria - as Justin (see the SCG article linked above) already said in certain versions this card is good. In a deck that is not running 9 lands and trying to go odd on turn 1 this card can be good. I mean we saw a low of it in DPS and it was winning games.

Ancient Tomb - is a card I used to run in the 9 land decks, as well in a more Storm oriented deck in the sideboard when I didn't have access to Oath of Druids, Time Vault/Key or Tinker/Bot. The reason was that I really needed to cast Hurkyl's Recall or something else to deal with a Sphere or Null Rod and I needed that 1 mana more to get there. The thing was that Shops (mostly) is a deck that tries to keep the player taxed in a fairly given tempo, usually one mana away from where the deck can normally function and that Ancient Tomb breaks that. A deck that can just wait and play its lands and eventually play its Hurkyl's Recall doesn't need Ancient Tomb since it can just draw the lands and needs more card draw to get where it needs to be.

Dig Through Time, Treasure Cruise - are the very first cards I cut from my decks. It may have not been the best idea but I needed some room for other spells and I hardly got to be casting these. This way I was cutting control cards more and more which led into a deck that wasn't really looking for inevitability and started to be more of a combo-control. More on the combo side. There were still cards to cut and that is why I tried playing without Gush and Brainstorm and while some cards came back to my deck or were replaced by Thoughtcast or Thirst for Knowledge it gave me an idea when and why the cards are bad. The problem with Gush was that I didn't really needed the mana tempo effect of the card but rather the card drawing one. Having two Islands in play wasn't that easy and most of the time I was playing Gush for 5 mana. Casting Thirst for Knowledge or Thoughtcast would have been in many cases better (mostly because I wouldn't need to crack a fetchland) so I was switching from draw engine to another one until I settled on some seemingly random configuration.

  • Dig Through Time, Thirst for Knowledge, Library of Alexandria were in one pile.
  • Treasure Cruise, Gush in another.
  • Thoughtcast, Yawgmoth's Will was another one. It's also here were I put Timetwister.
From these piles I put together 2 different decks - combo with Thoughtcast/Seat of the Synod, very little land and way more mana acceleration (including Grim Monolith, Mox Opals), and Tezzerator deck that contained Tendrils of Agony but its primary win condition was actually Time Vault/Key and post board Oath of Druids/Griselbrand.

Treasure Cruise and Gush was featured in some of my decks but these performed very strangely and in the end found their way into Esper Storm featuring Monastery Mentor, Fragmentize, and Kambal, Consul of Allocation. The deck was more of a Mentor deck but it could chain some spells thanks to PO and play lethal Tendrils. I kept the Tendrils in because at the time many players were on a Mentor deck. Mentor was simply everywhere and the first person to resolve Mentor usually won. Tendrils in my deck gave me an edge and that is how I was winning these matchups most of the time. Tendrils of Agony in this case was filling similar role as Oath of Druids in my other deck.

This was one of the games I actually won thanks to Mentor but I seriously was afraid of Time Vault entering play on the other side of the table!

Funny story. I once entered one tournament with a Esper PO deck and in one game it came down to me casting Demonic Tutor expecting to find Yawgmoth's Will for the win. Until that point I always won way faster and usually through a singleton Mentor rather than Will. When my library showed up I realized I forgot to put the card in my deck. I played the deck for quite a while without that Will and didn't have the need for it most of the time because I wasn't running into a blue grindy decks. I usually faced decks I could kill fast or decks that I managed to stomp over thanks to running more permission than other decks (that was usually 2 Mana Drain and 2 Flusterstorm that I ran to protect my POs). At that time I had to reevaluate Yawgmoth's Will - the card is strong and wins games but in some games it won't help, if you are taxed or playing against something that doesn't need to get to late game. It felt very similar to Sylvan Library. There are aggressively built decks that do need to keep the pressure on and don't have the time to be casting Sylvan Libraries unless they are playing against a hard control deck where it actually comes pretty handy. Both cards can be a sideboard material and others shouldn't laugh at that suggestion. There is nothing wrong about it, it may be a meta game call. It doesn't change anything on the fact that Yawgmoth's Will is a busted card.

Just my two cents...hope you get what I had in mind. I think we should be asking the right questions and then we can also get some right answers and more discussion. I noticed a similar debate about Tutors in a different community (100 card singleton one) and that is the reason I wrote this - On Tutors (read only the part about Tutors). For some reason I have the impression that sometimes people in the Vintage community talk about different things even when they are talking seemingly about the same topic. While having different point of views is good we also need to understand them and their context because that is very important. We can't look at cards as if they were cast in a vacuum but we need the context be it a format, deck, a game state. If we can see from where everyone comes (and that often leads to different kind of decks built) we will be able to understand each other and also evaluate the deckbuilding based on that.

I was totally new to the concept of a PO deck and I had no idea where to start so my initial builds were kind of going in all directions and lacked focus, later on I found what each of the decks I put together should focus on and depending on what I preferred I started going in that direction. This gave me enough insight into why certain cards can be better or worse and one card can be better in one build and another one in another. See if you can see why someone decides to play Steel Overseers+Hangarback Walkers and someone decides to run Fleetwheel Cruisers and Chief of the Foundry you should be able to see why some players decides to play Esper Storm or Esper Combo-Control including Tendrils of Agony.

Thank you for reading, take it easy
S'Tsung (stsung on MODO, stsungjp on Twitter)