Monday, July 29, 2013

Ascension: Rise of Vigil

Half a year later Europe finally got Rise of Vigil as well. I sold some Magic cards, tokens and foils to the LGS and got this game for it. It was time to try the game out.

If you are not familiar with Ascension the Game you can read my previews post about Ascension or rather the first one that describes how the game works.

The overall look of the cards is actually pretty dark which quite surprised me. The novelty in this game are Energy Shard cards and Energize mechanic. Few months ago when we were watching the spoiler for this set we disliked many of the cards. We thought that in this set it might be pretty difficult to build a deck we would want to play. But well still we would get the game and try it out. Without that we can't judge the game.

Energy Shards
So what are the Energy Shards? Energy Shard is a Treasure Card. A Treasure card when played produces 1 Energy and you draw a card. Each player starts with one Energy Shard in their Personal deck. Then there are Energy Shards in the 'center deck'. The recommended number of Energy Shards is 30 for a big set and 20 for a small set (meaning that if you have a cube and would want to put Shards in it, it would mean adding a lot of them! 130 for all sets put together). You acquire Treasure cards by acquiring or defeating a card under which there are some of the Energy Shards (as shown in the photo). I suppose you wonder what for the cards can be used apart from drawing a different card? Certain cards in the set have Energize X keyword. If Energy X is achieved the card's effect can be used. The effects are sometimes really INSANE. (reaching Energy X will allow you to use all cards' effects requiring Energy X and less)

One of the cards we hated the first moment we read it (when it showed up in the center row) was Loamspeaker Druid (Fate: When this enters the center row, for each treasure under this add 10 honor to the honor pool)/ Gain 3 runes). We are fine with cards that speed the game up but cards that can prolong it this way are simply too much for us. Building an aggressive deck in order to end the game sooner than a control deck can take over used to be a valid strategy. In this set it is a risk. We like the normal early/mid/late game stages and if something completely messes with those we don't like it since then it favors certain types of decks. For example if I'd want to play green aggro this card ruins my whole attempt at not allowing a Mechana control player to get to the late game. The card's effect when you play it would be awesome in the previous games but in this game the card is rather meh.

Some cards that are very powerful are for example Righteous Templar that can defeat anything when you have 3 energy and more. Oziah seems even overpowered. There are many cards that show in the center row and a race of who acquires them first begins. Often who acquires the card first wins the game. This is not always true. For example if you acquire such a card in the late game it won't have that kind of impact because you may not even be able to play the card even once. But if you manage to get the card on turn 3 it's often an auto-win for you.

There's not too much board control in general. There are not so many cards that can remove cards from the center row and there are only 4 cards that work as a Construct hate. The problem is that these cards do not shop up often enough to have the impact on the game one needs. There is only one card that destroys all Constructs your opponent controls. I really miss Mephit and Fettered Soul in this set. I will need to get used to that - playing without these cards.

We are still not sure if a person without enough Shards can win a game. Power strategy seems pretty viable if you are able to get energy up to 3 when beating the monsters. I managed to have a deck with three energy shards in total and I got about 83 honor points in the end while my opponent being able to get energize 11 got 89 in that particular game. The first games we played were really strange though. I usually got some cards I wanted to build the deck around and most of the time Starcaller Leotan and Nyxian Spiritcaster allowed me to end the game pretty quickly. The difference in points in our games the first day and majority of the second night were about 40 points in difference. Something seemed not right because when we play a game of anything older or cube the difference in points is usually about 1-5 points at most. There are games in which one of us simply conceded the game because we knew that there is no chance that we could catch up with our opponent. For the time being we wonder if this is because we play badly or the game is simply capable of this with higher probability. It certainly felt very swingy and often we knew the outcome of the game and didn't see a reason why to continue.

As for my decks usually beating Serpent Siren and Vault Sphinx helped me to have some really crazy turn at some point of the game. In which I usually got a LOT of points. Same goes to some cards like Tablet of the Dreamer (can defeat or acquire anything for 4 energy) or Righteous Templar (can defeat anything for 3 energy). There is also a Lifebound hero that can acquire anything for 2 energy but that card did not see much play in our case. My opponent after the 2 nights we played the game started going heavy pro-Mechana and that worked wonders and when all that you have in front of you triggers you can really feel good and it is pretty rewarding (it takes a while to set that up). This requires Energy 4 quite often in order to make the constructs work. Still acquiring Constructs is good as this does not really flood your deck unlike hero cards do.

Certainly high picks for us are Voidfeeder, Dark Walker and Monk of the Lidless Eye. You can see what we like. Anyway some cards get priority as those cards can get insane (and you really have to hate pick them). These cards help shape our decks. Many times playing the game hardly felt like deck-building compared to previous Ascensions even though we both had always some kind of strategy how to win. What I observed is also the fact that sometimes there is really nothing you want to buy and it is the viable option. With so low number of cards that can banish cards from your deck or draw cards it is really bad to buy a card that does nothing in your deck and just takes a slot of a card you would draw. It's really bad. It is better to get Mystic or Heavy Infantry instead but the number should also stay relatively low so you could still get some Energy Shards in your hand. The cards' values are also something that changes with Energy Shards and the cards you already have in your deck. That is very interesting but for the time being I'm not entirely sure if I like that or not. We'll see about that.

So far we spend two nights playing the game and we encountered many frustrating situations for us that we didn't like. Looking at your hand many times says completely nothing. You just have to draw the cards on your turn and then see what happens. Cards from the personal deck are always a pain to see. Anyway in majority of the games it still felt like playing a game of Ascension and that was actually pretty nice.

Maybe there is one more thing to address. I realized this when playing for the first time but it did not seem important to me. If you are not familiar with previous Ascension games you don't need to be afraid to buy this one. Even though that playing this game feels completely different in some ways than the previous games the game is not complex or more complex than the previous games. The card text is simple and even mechanics that are from previous games only do something with the new card type (Fate and Trophy).

Ascension the game is actually being released in blocks. There is always a base set + an expansion that form a block. The cards and mechanics work well and the environment of each block is relatively unique. This also means that the game does not get too complex and is still easy to grasp for new players. Rise of Vigil does not build up on previous games and will get its expansion later.

I can't rate this game yet because my thoughts on it are too chaotic right now. I need to explore the game more to see if I appreciate the change or not. It feels like solving a big puzzle. The primary problem I have is that the game is very swingy and often it doesn't seem like there is any kind of interaction between you and your opponent. That is something I do not like and for that I'd give this game a low rating (2.5/5).

Solitaire for the game is actually quite challenging compared to the previous games where it was really easy to win. Comboing off is not that easy as well so it can be quite rewarding when you manage it.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Dissipate ...

Yesterday was a really crazy day. I was upset the whole day and so I decided to start working on some alters. I decided to start with something simply and cheap so I wouldn't destroy an expensive card or I took Dissipate and started painting on it. My paints were not mixed enough (even though I tried shaking the bottles for quite some time) so the paint started doing wierd things on my card. Whatever I decided to go on even though I would just throw the card away in the end. When I was finished and it wasn't that bad as I expected the card managed to fall in my paints. Ok, I'm to blame as my left hand accidentally hit the card and sent it flying over to the paints...but well...argh..No more to say I guess. Time to start over I guess.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Secretist by Doug Beyer

Disclaimer: the whole story is written in this post...

When I was pre-ordering Duels of the Planeswalkers I could buy a Special Edition that contained a Return to Ravnica block books. I had no idea what it is even though I've seen some advertisement for it in booster packs. Two days ago I decided to actually read it. I put it into my Kindle. At first I did not know that it was written by Doug Beyer. When I found out I wasn't really sure if I want to even read it. After his previous book I did not expect anything good. That was actually good in the end because The Secretist is way better than Alara Unbroken. I read the first few pages and the story hooked me.

It starts pretty quickly...out of a sudden. You'll find Jace Beleren on Ravnica plane researching some kind of ancient mystery. Doug tries to explain Jace's obsession with that (quite difficult for me to understand anyway). Then there is Ral Zarek - a really annoying and arrogant planeswalker who for some reason follows Niv-Mizzet's orders - doing some crazy experiments ... also researching the very same mystery Jace somehow uncovered. And there is Emmara Tandris, Jace's old friend (whom we already know from Agents of Artifice) who is trying to get some help from Jace unifying the guilds and restoring peace after the Guildpact was broken. Mirko Vosk a Dimir spy overhears the dialogue and goes back to his master (Lazav).

When Mirko Vosk was introduced I just couldn't hold back laughing when the author said something about Mirko being bare-chested even when it was cold and the following paragraph was even more fun 'Mirko Vosk stepped of the ledge of the building. Instead of falling, he floated into the night sky with a casual, upright elegance.'

Both Jace and Ral Zarek make progress in uncovering the mystery (of a certain Maze). Jace finds out even more and this knowledge can mean a great danger to him and his assistant Kavin. He decided to erase the memories of everything linked to the research and destroy all evidence of the research as well. For that he uses Ruric Thar. Jace sends a letter to Emmara telling him of his plans. When she gets it she immediately goes to see Jace. He proceeds no matter what with his plan. During working on his own mind Emmara is kidnapped and Kavin rushes out with some scribbled notes he made of the information he possessed. Jace wakes up, finds out what happened and wants to save Emmara. Lavinia of the Tenth stands in a way as she wants to detain him. With Ruric Thar's accidental help Jace escapes the Azorius lawmages and heads for Rakdos territory (as the only lead he got leads him there - a coin left there by the kidnappers). This is more or less where the first 'book' ends.

After the few pages I was wondering if the author is trying to make us feel like idiots but later I got used to the repetitions. The story is actually flowing and the writing style and level is way better than in Alara Unbroken. Some use of words is pretty awkward but well that's Doug Beyer I guess. I have to say that the dialogues are something that break the 'level' of the writing but it's ok. After pressing the 'next button' few times I realized that the book is quite short. More like a 50 pages story. At first I expected a real book of at least 200 pages...What I liked about the book is actually the fact that we can see what's happening from all the ten guilds points of view (character's POV we all know now from the RTR block like Exava, Ruric Thar, Ral Zarek etc.). The description of the guild territories and the people are quite ok actually even though sometimes I don't really need to be reminded that this golgari shaman is an ELF.

In the second book entitled Gatecrash: The Secretist part 2 Jace finds a way to where Emmara was kidnapped. Here he faces Varolz and later Mirko Vosk who wants to steal the information about the mystery (Implicit Maze) from him. He starts drinking Jace's mind and blood but soon finds out that Jace has no memory of the research. In the meantime Rakdos starts rioting, Lavinia is punished for not capturing Jace and Ral Zarek with his assistant recover the information Jace and Kavin found. Thus they know how to go through the Implicit Maze (by following leylines of mana).

In the meantime guilds clash (orchestrated by Lazav) and Jace tries to get back his memories or at least the information he possessed. He remembered that Ruric Thar might have some of the information and heads to find him (Lavinia had to help him a bit with that info). Some really funny scenes go on (oh yeah, ever played Esper control against an opponent who wassiding Ruric Thar?) and later Jace gets the information needed to go through the maze. Later Lazav shows up and imprisons Jace in a place only Dimir mage could enter. Oh yeah the time for Jace to planeswalk actually comes!

Jace escapes the prison and walks through the Blind Eternities to Zendikar. Here he ponders about his relationship to Emmara and his attachment to Ravnica. He also searches for some life forms and finds out that there is a Kor Mystic and her family living there somewhere underground. Jace sees the point of views of the Mystic and her children and he wishes that both sides would know what the other thinks, feels and sees. Thus he tries to make them see it using his mind magic - he links their minds together through his own. He succeeds more or less but it ends up in serious pain. Story goes on... Later on Jace finds out what the Implicit Maze is for. It is a test for the ten guilds unlike what Ral Zarek thinks (as he thinks that winning the race would give him great power bla bla bla). Each guild has to send a champion to run the maze. All of them have to get to the Maze's End which is located before the Forum of Azor. Here the assessment of the guilds would start and would end up in either re-enectment of the Guildpact or Supreme Verdict that would simply destroy everything.

The last book is about the race. Champions are chosen and they all follow the leylines to each guildgate. At the end when all champions are assembled Lazav tries to convince the champions to fight each other. Jace sees that there is no way how to stop this so he tries to do the same as with the Kor family. He links the minds of the ten champions through his own. He almost loses his own personality but achieves what he wanted. The Bailiff's verdict is not a Supreme Verdict but names Jace Beleren the new and Living Guildpact.

After finishing the book I wasn't really sure what to think about it. I'm glad I read it because I finally pieced some things together. I had no idea what the implicit maze is for and why the hell there are cards like Uncovered Clues or Destroy the Evidence. After reading this book I actually come to understand such cards. There are links to many cards from Return to Ravnica block. Also Jace's Archivist seems to be Kavin actually. I don't regret reading the books, I learned something about the story and design of RTR block and the story actually makes sense. There are many things I would question but it was nicely done and we can see that the world of Ravnica is well designed. The ending was quite a surprise. I did not expect Jace becoming the living guildpact.

Rating: 2.5/5

Monday, July 15, 2013

Magic 2014 Prerelease Sealed Deck

Magic 2014 prerelease was held this weekend. At first I wanted to take part in the midnight prerelease but after previous experience from the Dragon's Maze midnight prerelease I decided against it. I was up all night playing Magic anyway so getting to the local game store in the morning was quite difficult. At 8:50 I got on the tram heading in the direction of the LGS.

Some time later 37 players were seated and we received our product. I opened the booster packs and sorted them by color. Then I checked the cards in them... green and black seemed solid. Blue had pretty nice cards but I decided for BG combination that would be purely aggro. My deck looked like this:

Elvish Mystic
Wring Flesh
Child of Night
Kalonian Tusker
Voracious Wurm
Predatory Sliver
2x Undead Minotaur
Blood Bairn
2x Advocate of the Beast
Quaq Sickness
2x Mark of the Vampire
Hunt the Weak
Accursed Spirit
Rampaging Baloth
Woodhorn Behemoth
Vastwood Hydra
Sengir Vampire

Round 1
I kept a nice hand with a nice curve. But I got stuck on three lands for quite some time. In the meantime my opponent played Ogre Battledriver that I couldn't deal with without the 4th land. After he tossed few creatures at me that dealt roughly 13 damage I finally drew the fourth land so I could kill finally kill the creature. I decided against it though and played Mark of the Vampire instead on one of my creatures. The creature gained me four life. In the following turn I played Hunt the Weak and let the creature fight Battledriver. A turn later I equipped Accursed Spirit with Mark on it with Fireshrieker (still had to attack twice). In game two I managed to play both of my Marks and my opponent had no response to that. (my life totals when the games ended were 48 and 36 which also meant that I could check one of Ajani's achievements)

Round 2
In round two I played against GW Slivers that were getting quite annoying. Vigilance, pump and double strike can be deadly. Anyway I saved Hunt the Weak for Bonescythe Sliver and then it was quite easy...My creatures could attack and not die in the attack.

Round 3
UB Flyers. Cheap and fast flyers especially Trained Condors + some merfolks dealt damage quite quickly. Even with Mark of the Vampire on a 3/3 body I went down to 10 before I finally managed to win. Hopefully my Mark of the Vampire on Witchstalker was such a big threat that Sengir Vampire and some other creature blocked it and I could thus take care of the Vampire. In game two I sided in Shrivel (and Plumet) and I had it in my opener. My opponent once again started with Coral Merfolk followed by two Trained Condors. I played the Shrivel (with a 3/3 body in play already) and destroyed all the opposing creatures. I thought that this would mean a good game but my opponent still had other creatures to play and they were even more annoying (3 toughness creatures). He also Pacified one of my creatures and the creature that later got enchanted with Mark of the Vampire ended up under Claustrophobia. I had Blood Bairn in play though and I was attacking with it each turn sacrificing some of my creatures so I would kill the opposing ones. This worked out well even though not THAT well as I would expect as my opponent still had some tricks and it cost my whole hand to safe the Blood Bairn. Only Blood Bairn survived on the table after this. My opponent then played a 1/3 flyer followed by a 2/2. I drew a 2/3 creature and attacked with those two. Wring Flesh helped me kill one of the creatures. My opponent did not draw a blocker so he died a turn later.

Round 4
I played against Bant. I dealt some damage early. My opponent dealt with my creatures quite easily and even countered one. My opponent eventually tapped out fully so I played my hydra making it quite big. My opponent ran out of cards to deal with it and lost. In game two I mulled to 4 and I even managed to do some serious missplays otherwise it would not have been that bad. Still I played agaisnt a good player and a good deck so the chances of winning were low. In game three I started with Child of Night. Opponent played a bigger creature and tapped out. So I enchanted my Child with Trollhide and attacked. That was the last attack of the Child of Night. Later there were creatures on both our sides and I needed to draw something that could bypass those - a flyer or Accursed Spirit. I drew the spirit, played it. Later I enchanted it with Mark of the Vampire. My opponent drew Claustrophobia. My hand was full of cards requiring double green and I had 5 swamps and 1 forest in play. Eventually I drew the second forest so I played my bomb - Vastwood Hydra and won few turns later.

Round 5
This was the only round in which my hands seemed rather bad. I traded my 3/3 with Mark of the Vampire with two other creates hoping to draw some other creatures that could deal some damage. My opponents creatures were better though - they could fly and Charging Griffin with Lightning Talons was simply an overkill. In game two I kept yet once again hand that was discutable but wasn't bad. This time though I was overrun by slivers... Later though Bonescythe Sliver showed up and wrecked my whole army (I killed the three slivers as well).

After this my opponent played 2 Master of Diversion and one more creature. I couldn't deal with it and lost.

Round 6
UW Flyers with Angel of Thune this time. I won somehow even though I have to say that Fortify is a card that made me cry in this round. In the second game I was drawing lands since my fifth land drop. I was playing them so my Woodborn Behemoth could be 8/8 Trample. When I played the 8th land my opponent played Frost Breath on it and another creature so I couldn't attack with for 8. I played Sengir Vampire that ended up tapped by Claustrophobia. But then my Wurm could attack once again and won me that game and I could also get Garruk's Achievement card.

5:1 in the end. I won some booster packs. There was nothing in them as usual^_^. After that we went to play more Magic. I was really tired. At 4 am I went to sleep so I would be able to get up for that day's prerelease. After 30 minutes of trying to persuade myself to get up (8 am) I actually got up and went to play more Magic 2014^_^.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Photo of the Day - Jund in Top Deck Mode

Today I participated in local Legacy tournament. After a first round in which I was killed by Elves pretty fast I was matched against Enchantress player. My first hand did not have any lands. Second hand was similar. Third mulligan did not help I kept a hand with 2 Deathrite Shamans, Liliana of the Veil and Bayou. I played Bayou on turn 1 and Deathrite Shaman. On T2 I top decked Badlands so I played another Shaman and attacked. On T3 I drew Wasteland. So I played Liliana of the Veil and let my opponent discard. He played Sterling Grove and used it to find Oblivion Ring. Too bad^^. I drew a land but still could attack for 2. Later another Shaman followed. 3 damage per turn? Seemed quite ok. When my opponent was down to 6 he tutored Rest in Peace and played it rendering my Shamans useless. I cracked my fetch land and got some dual land. On my top deck? Hymn to Tourach (before shuffling there was Lightning Bolt). I played it to see if my opponent's last card was Helm of Obedience. It was it. I tapped my shamans and passed the turn. My opponent drew Argothian Enchantress - nice little blocker^^. I top decked Bloodbraid Elf that cascaded into Lightning Bolt^_^. Poor opponent.