War of the Spark Pre-order Packs

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Today is a weird day as far as days go.  I took the day off in order to go see Avengers Endgame as an 11 am matinee in a hope of avoiding the majority of the crowds.  Past that I got up and around like a normal day but because of the lack of pressure it is meaning that I am doing everything a little big slower than normal since I am not actually required to get out the door and on my way to work by 7 am…   aka the time I am actually starting this blog today.  Yesterday was the beginning of War of the Spark on Magic the Gathering Arena and with that I finally got to open my 50 pre-order packs.  If you are playing Magic the Gathering Arena you too can also get three free packs by entering the new “PlayWarSpark” code.  On a whim I decided to stream opening the packs last night and I am super thankful to a bunch of people who tuned in to watch and comment on my pulls.  I love opening packs, and honestly so far I am really liking what I am seeing of this set.  If you are curious you can check out the full opening over on my YouTube channel or through the Twitch VOD.  Be warned however with the VOD there is a bunch of faffing about with sound levels early on that I cut out of the eventual upload to YouTube.  If you are simply curious about what I pulled I exported the list to Google Sheets including everything I currently have from War of the Spark including the 50 pre-order packs and the 3 free packs that you get from the “PlayWarSpark” code.

This morning I am going to talk about a few of my favorite cards so far from the expansion.  Please not that I have deep ties to green and black and as a result am mostly going to be talking about the cards that I know I will be playing.  I can already tell that I will be building an amass zombies deck sooner or later.

Leyline Prowler

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What is not to love about this card.  It is a 2/3 for 1BG with Deathtouch, Lifelink AND is a Bird of Paradise.  It allows you to be offensive with it when you need to…  but if for some reason you can’t be…  you can tap it for mana.  It is a weird card but man do I love it.  I think mostly I just love it because it is a standard legal bird of paradise that happens to be in my favorite Golgari colors.  Even if you take the tap effect off of it…  2/3 with deathtouch and lifelink for 3 seems really good.

Banehound

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This is another of what seems to be a stupidly good common card….  its a one drop black 1/1 with lifelink and haste.  Sure this probably does not matter at all if you are not getting this on turn one…  but still it seems like something worth playing and probably godly in sealed.  It is going to add a lot of turn one pressure I think.

Duskmantle Operative

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Another one of the really good commons I think is Duskmantle Operative.  You get a 2/2 for 2 that cannot be blocked by creatures with power 4 or greater…  which probably won’t come into play when you are actually dropping this on the board but later in the game it might be useful.  Definitely playable in sealed, potentially less so in constructed…  but I still like the card.

Eternal Taskmaster

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So the initial problem with Eternal Taskmaster is the fact that it enters the battlefield tapped, meaning you are going to get this a turn later than you probably want it.  However still a 2/3 for 2 seems pretty okay…  but why you would really play this is for its effect.  When it attacks you can play 2B and if you do so return target creature card from your graveyard to your hand.  What I like about this… is it is triggered on attack…  not dealing damage meaning just turning this card horizontal is going to allow you to bring back a creature regardless if your plan actually works.  I view it as a capable early game creature with an optional resurrection card built into the text.

Arboreal Grazer

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Another card that seems just stupidly good is Arboreal Grazer.  Firstly this is a one drop that gives you a 0/3 with reach…   so basically you are just going to use this as anti-air defense.  If it was just that I would probably play it…  but it also allows you to put a land card from your hand into play tapped, adding some mana ramp.  In a Standard format that already has Llanowar elves…  this might not be a first round choice depending on your draw but it would definitely be an alternative slightly slower mana fixing option.

Living Twister

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Now this card sorta falls in the stupid party trick category…  but it might be fun to build a land dredge deck around it.  Living Twister is a decent creature for RRG at 2/5 but then has the ability to plink any target for 2 by discarding a card and spending 1R.  Additionally you can pay G to return a tapped land you control to owners hand… giving you potential fodder for the first ability.  It has a lot of weird use cases, but I still think if you are running this you will want to build a deck around setting up a condition where you can keep pulling lands out of the graveyard and throwing them at your opponent for 2.

Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord

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I’m only calling this one out because at some point I will be building a Castlevania deck full of white/black vampires with Sorin as the focal point.  Vampires are already good but if you can dredge up a creature from your graveyard and turn it into a vampire along with the other types that seems interesting… and worthy of building a weird deck around that mechanic…  and then using the various Ixalan block cards that buff vampires to make it stupid.  I’m not entirely certain what I will be doing with it but it should be fun…  also Sorin is absolutely Alucard.

That was mostly just a first pass and some of the cards that I will probably be playing around with.  Again if you want to see everything that got opened I am embedding the youtube video.  So far I think War of the Spark looks like a fun set.  I might do some sealed later and see what it feels like in a more limited environment.  My big takeaway is that I think aggro decks are going to get a lot of fuel for early game with cheap powerful creatures.

Faking Sealed Magic

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This morning you are going to get a tutorial how to do something that likely no one has actually ever asked for.  One of the more poorly documented features of Magic the Gathering Arena is the ability to directly challenge your friends.  This is also one of the more poorly supported given that there is no construct for keeping a friends list or seeing who is actually online and available for dueling.  Regardless…  there technically is the functionality of being able to switch over to Direct Challenge mode and input your username + random digits BattleTag style handle in and purposefully link up to another human being that you actually known.   Recently Tam, Mor and Lyle have been dueling each other and having a good time building decks with the limited pool of cards that they had available to them.  This largely meant that the three of them were relatively on even footing, and playing some really fun and really janky magic that mimics a sealed environment.

The challenge is that both Kodra and I have spent a lot more of our time and by reference money on MTG Arena, which also means that we have a much wider pool of cards available for building decks.  This also means that in theory we can build way more efficient decks that are probably less fair than having to be forced to play with the cards available and not necessarily the cards you want to play with.  It got me to thinking…  Magic the Gathering is a community that has an amazing set of web based tools to simple Price Lists like MTG Goldfish or amazing search engines like Scryfall.  I thought surely someone had already come to the point of wanting to fake out a sealed pool of cards…  and if not I would potentially be trying to build one myself and at least needed to research the APIs that would be available to me.

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What I found was MTGen a website that allows you to replicate a lot of the common sealed formats and generate lists of cards replicating the experience of opening packs…  including as you can see above the various seeded boosters that occur in pre-release tournaments.  The site more or less gives me what I was wanting minus a few problems.  What I actually want is the ability to simply say I want X of this pack and X of this pack and X of this pack…  but for sake of this experience I deemed it good enough.  Now the challenge that we have in front of us, that I experienced last night is that the default sealed formats expect you to take the pool of cards and build a 40 card deck with them.  When you are doing direct duels in MTG Arena it requires both players to have a 60 card deck meaning we are going to have to increase the total number of packs opened.  So instead of 6 packs for a normal sealed deck you would in theory open 9 packs as Kodra suggested to me last night.  Again if doing the pre-release format you would be adding 3 more packs…  and thankfully the MTGen site supports this sort of functionality.

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The only NEGATIVE however is that MTGen does not support Magic The Gathering Arena as an export format…  and of course Wizards of the Coast had to be difficult and could not simply recycle Magic Online.  This again lead me to find a work around.  I figured MTGO would be the most common format for converting deck lists from that online tool to Arena.  So I rolled with that and found that ultimately I just needed a list of cards minus the Sideboard heading.  So when you copy the cards out from MTGen make sure to trip that first line.

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Now we move on to another website… MTGArena.Pro and more importantly their Deck Converter tool.  This allowed me to paste in that list of cards that I got from MTGen and it converted it to the more contorted MTGArena format.  You can assign a deck name if you so choose, because the default in Arena will simple by “Imported Deck” if you do not.  I personally left it alone given that I would not want to accidentally pick one of these “Jank in Progress” decks for playing proper magic with, and at least I would know if it was still named Imported Deck I should stay away.  The site provides you a handy copy output button, which will place it on the clipboard stack…  which is important because Magic the Gathering Arena works weird.

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Lastly you go over to your Decks section of Magic the Gathering Arena and click Import…  at which point it will automagically try and import anything you have put in the copy/paste buffer.  This is not the behavior I expected…  I would have instead expected to be presented a file dialog to go find a text file on my hard drive.  I guess in theory they have gone this route to eventually make mobile support easier?  I guess at this point all mobile devices pretty much have robust copy and paste functionality.

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I realize I said lastly on the step before…  but you are presented with a list of your cards that have been plugged into Arena.  Now you can simply weed out the cards you don’t want to play and build your own janky sealed deck.  There will of course be problems if you don’t actually own a copy of the card and as such will have to craft it using the proxies you have earned up to that point.  This is also why you might want to draft a larger pool of packs if you happen to have a smaller pool of cards available.  It also might steer you to certain colors, but while this is not a perfect solution it does at least allow you to manually replicate sealed environments and play directly against your friends in this manner without having to hope to get into the same draft or sealed event on Arena.

Fun Police

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Yesterday during the day I posted a list of Ravnica guilds in order of my likelihood to play them.  For the uninitiated the guilds themselves simply represent the various two color combinations that are available in Magic the Gathering.  So instead of saying you are playing Black and Green…  a lot of players simply say that they are playing Golgari as a not as short as saying GB sort of shorthand.  The truth is I think it goes deeper than that and is instead a sort of tribalism that allows players to indicate that they are in fact “in the know” and part of the community.  Whatever the case… they exist and I have certain proclivities.  Here is my ordered list of guilds in decreasing likelihood that I would play that color combination.

  1. Golgari – aka Green and Black
  2. Gruul – aka Green and Red
  3. Rakdos – aka Red and Black
  4. Orzhov – aka White and Black
  5. Selesnya – aka White and Green
  6. Boros – aka White and Red
  7. Simic – aka Blue and Green
  8. Dimir – aka Blue and Black
  9. Izzit – aka Blue and Red
  10. Azorius  – aka Blue and White

Later that night Kodra chimed in with a comment that I expected him to make at some point.

You notice that pretty much on my list every combination that includes the color blue is sorted to the very bottom as in general it is the color that I am least likely to play at any given time.  Also note that pretty much any combination of Black and Green gets sorted pretty high given that those are my favorite colors to play.  So why then do I hate one specific color of magic.  The truth is I hate what it stands for… which is control magic.  The challenge of the color pie is that in modern magic every color has specific themes that it excels at.  Black for example plays with dead things, and also things that are just as likely to backfire and harm the player as the opponent.  Green wants to go big and go fast and stomp stomp stomp stomp.  Red wants to burn you…  GIVE ME FUEL GIVE ME FIRE GIVE ME THAT WHICH I DESIRE!  White does a bunch of things… but mostly small creatures with tricks, flyers and ways to prevent damage from being dealt.  Blue on the other hand…  while it also has a bunch of flyers… it excels at the magic of denial.

Now I will admit that pretty much every color has some form of denial built into it.  Green is good at blowing up flyers and artifacts, Red can nuke stuff…  black has a lot of straight up death to a creature cards, and white can throw creatures into time out exceptionally well.  Blue however just has a lengthy library of ways to keep you from actually doing anything.  If a control player is doing what they are intending to do… they effectively shut you down from being able to cast anything.  This means that one player is having fun tormenting you… and the other player is frothing at the mouth and wanting to flip the damned table.  Blue players tend to couch this commentary as that they like doing tricky things, but those tricks are played at the expense of someone else’s fun.

Don’t get me wrong I have played control before and fiddled around constantly with my “Mill” deck for years.  For the uninitiated “Mill” is a deck style named after the card Millstone that forces the player to place the top two cards from their library into their graveyard.  One of the alternate win conditions in Magic the Gathering is that when one player cannot draw a card they lose the game.  So in Mill you are playing a constant stream of cards that force the player to discard over and over until they have nothing left.  Right now there is a card called Persistent Petitioners that if you have 4 of them in play…  can force the player to mill twelve cards at a time.  Sure it is weird and entertaining the first time you encounter it…  but if you keep encountering it the fun wears off for everyone but the person playing the deck.  Ultimately the reason why I do not enjoy Blue… is because too often the fun of a control player comes at the expense of everyone else.

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Of note this is also why I generally do not like broken combos like Krark-Clan Ironworks that if encountered you might as well just concede and move on with your life.  There was an unlimited combo in Amonkhet that involved players creating a bajillion cat token creatures.  The first time I encountered it…  I let it play out just to see how nonsense it could get.  Notice the opposing player has an army of token creatures…  and is at 183 life to my 15.  Once again this was entertaining the very first time I encountered it, but not at all from that point forward and if I even got the whiff on the wind of someone playing this combo…  I could concede out and move on to the next match hoping for something more manageable.  The players who love combos like this feel a sense of gratification for breaking the game…  and everyone else just feels like the game is dumb for allowing something like that.

The times I am happiest playing Magic the Gathering is when you have some random back and forth interactions, the type that you see often among brand new players.  I love two people sitting down with a bunch of random jank and hoping to succeed, and I guess that is why in general I prefer draft formats for the randomness.  I’m working on a pauper singleton league at work as I have said before, in part because those constraints do a lot of things to stamp down power combos.  If Arena had a format where they literally gave you a randomized deck that aligned to some basic color themes…  that would probably be my favorite format ever.  I think ultimately I am chasing the joy we felt first playing this game when we absolutely did not know any better and had six of us sitting around a table playing in a grand melee.

Charm Maintenance

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Last night I had to do some World of Warcraft maintenance, in that I had allowed my Emissary quest to stack up for three days and was about to start losing them.  I fairly joylessly burned through those, then decided to take a chance at a 370 piece of loot from the Warfront that is now open to Horde players.  I still find those pretty fun but ultimately wound up with disappointment in that I got a 370 item in a slot I already had one.  You would think they could factor in the gear that the player has when they give those extremely limited time rewards like that…  because since it is ultimately a shot at loot every three weeks…  please give us something we can use.

From there I popped into Monster Hunter World where I largely did some maintenance there as well.  I spent most of the night farming up zenny so that I could buy the Power Charm, which is an item that takes up a bag slot but gives you a pretty potent damage boost.  I had already purchased the Armor Charm which does the same thing, but for your defense stat.  These apparently open up once you have fought the Zorah Magdaros final form and cost 24,000 zenny for the Armor Charm and 36,000 zenny for the Power Charm.  Later through the magic of crafting you will be able to turn these into Talons…  and then re-buy the Charms again…  but for now I should be set for the early High Rank content.  I’m up to the Tickled Pink quest which is to hunt a High Rank Anjanath, which I simply was not ready to deal with mentally last night and wound up wandering off to do other things.

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Instead I popped over to burn through some quests in MTG Arena, where I seemed to have a ton that wanted me to cast White spells.  I had picked up the Eternal Thirst deck as one of my freebies, and I decided to start playing around with it.  I have to say… for a weird Cats and Vampires concept I am really digging it.  Unless you are also playing against a deck with stupid life gain powers…  you can do some come from behind nonsense with this one.  I feel like I need to tune it a bit and swap some cards, and could ultimately make a super powerful deck out of it.  For the purpose of questing though… it had plenty of white cards so it allowed me to whittle that down in a few turns.  This morning I noticed I had another freebie deck available and unlocked the Blue/Green Merfolk deck…  which included a single copy of one of my favorite cards…  Jadelight Ranger.  I am hoping that one of the decks they end up throwing my way is the Explore matters deck that we originally had in Alpha.  Mostly I don’t want to spend the proxies on rebuilding it if they are going to give me like 90% of the cards in a few weeks as we keep rotating through unlocking free decks.

Hunts, Singletons and Dragalias

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I was all over the place this weekend as far as gaming time spent.  I would say that largely this was the weekend that I did not play World of Warcraft…  but that isn’t entirely true.  I logged in every day and did my Emissary quest, and then last night while watching Fear the Walking Dead season finale I was piddling around on my Draenei Paladin.  Past that however I didn’t end up doing much in the game I had until now been almost exclusively playing.  This weekend saw a major resurgence of Monster Hunter World, in part because they are just about to release the Wyvern Ignition blade quest to the PC crew and I want it.  In fact the Fall Festival event has a bunch of the quests all lumped together at once and I plan on trying to pick them up as well.  That means unfortunately I have to be able to get my way to High Rank, which also means I am going to need to play in a more focused manner than I am used to.

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Weirdly enough I have found myself lately favoring the Hammer instead of the Long Sword.  While I am still maintaining a collection of swords and effectively keeping both weapons up to date…  I am finding that there are just some monsters that become easy to farm with the hammer.  Namely Radobaan is nonsense easy with a hammer, and the stupid spin attack off of a surface is amazing in a whole lot of situations.  Right now I am largely sticking to the Iron line of hammers because it allows me to craft them fairly easily… and also sets me up for a Nergi hammer at some point.  I am up to the point in the quest chain where I need to hunt a Rathalos and a Diablos…  which will be challenging I am sure but also doable given I have beaten both of them multiple times.  Diablos should be considerably easier with a hammer than I am used to with Longsword.  The other weapon that I want to craft at some point in the switch axe, which is something I played with and enjoyed at high level but never really messed with at the lower levels.  If I am remembering correctly…  Zorah Magdaros is immediately following the quest chain I am on and then I will be moving into High Rank territory.  If I put my mind to it I should be able to wrap that up before the event starts I believe Thursday or Friday.

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The other game that I have been playing a shocking amount of lately is Magic the Gathering Arena.  On September 27th they launched the Open Beta and with it in theory the last of the card resets.  Since then I have started tinkering with decks and have a few reasonable options….  but honestly mostly find myself playing Stompy Green/Steel Leaf Champion or my Mono Black Burn deck.  The first I am still tuning but the Mono Black Burn is still performing like a champ, but since it was built before the advent of Guilds of Ravnica it could probably be greatly improved with a few cards that are now available and with splashing another color.  Assassin’s Trophy is still the champion of the new expansion so far, but I am also loving a bunch of cards like the Nullhide Feerox and as far as one drops go… I love Pelt Collector that increases in potency as you start summoning bigger creatures.

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They had a freebie event this weekend that allowed you to create a singleton deck and so long as you got a single win… you got an uncommon or better card.  This netted me several mythics and rares, but also served to keep me engaged and grinding.  Unfortunately they allowed Rat Colony decks…  which by rules can have any number of copies of the card rat colony…  so essentially when you get matched up with one of those you might as well concede out because there is no way your janky singleton mess can keep up with it.  I also had a large number of wins under questionable terms this weekend…  namely there were several times when I got an awful lot of damage out of Llanowar Elves.  I am not exactly proud of this moment when I enchanted one with Blanchwood Armor to ultimately win the game.  Guilds of Ravnica sealed was a heck of a lot of fun and I went 3/3 with my deck…  the prime problem being that my love of black and green keep me from drafting pretty much anything else.  It isn’t that I cannot see the good in other colors… its just that my brain values those colors over pretty much anything else.  I am in fact Golgari at heart.

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In the “Game I didn’t expect to play” category… I was somehow busy enough during the tail end of the week to completely miss Dragalia Lost becoming a thing.  As such on the podcast I was introduced to the game when all of the other members of the show were talking about it…  then was super slow getting the podcast out because I kept spacing out while playing it Sunday morning.  It is an awful lot of fun, but I am struggling with the same problem I have with other mobile games in thinking “this would be so much better if it were not a mobile game”.  I think I largely just hate touch screen interfaces, and while this game is an awful lot of fun… the clunky nature of having to drag your finger around the screen makes it feel extremely awkward.  If this were on the switch I would be completely hooked, but on a phone…  you still have that barrier that I don’t like playing on my phone.  The other problem I am encountering is it completely shreds my battery, so I guess I need to tweak down the settings to try and come up with a flavor that looks less pretty but doesn’t decimate my charge.

Lastly we have the podcast itself, that I named Gacha of Mana since Dragalia Lost reminded me so much of Secret of Mana.  You have a brash guy, a blond girl, and some sort of a sprite thing that provides a lot of the comic relief.  Anyways during the show we talk about Spiderman PS4, Magic the Gathering Arena Open Beta, Celeste, Dragalia Lost… and then a conversation about how the grind in Battle for Azeroth just feels lousy.  The last part is largely why I had a weekend without much Warcrafting, as I am trying to limit my exposure to maybe extend the amount of time it takes me to angrily quit.  I need to spend some time tonight doing Mythics, but in truth I have reached a point where that doesn’t even matter that much to me given it will be a box of disappointment on Tuesday.

Exploration and Magic

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Last night was one of those nights where I was driven by a purpose…  one that was over relatively quickly.  For the last month in Elder Scrolls Online there has been a Summerset expansion themed event where they have been challenging users to go out and get the Summerset Pathfinder achievement.  For doing this the community could earn rewards…  first a pet, then a mount and finally a nonsense house.  It was the nonsense house that really drew me out of the woodwork and while I feel bad that I did not participate until we had hit 100%…  I still wanted to get on and do the thing before the event expired which is I believe at some point today.  I have no clue when I will actually get my baubles but regardless I did the thing and saw the really pretty land mass known as Summerset in the process.

Now I am going to go back to not questing there until I managed to make it there organically.  I am really stubbon and weird about wanting to do content in the correct order… and even in systems that claim not to have a correct order…  I try and determine the optimal order.  For example in World of Warcraft Legion… the correct starting zone was Azsuna because that was the zone that had the first tier of profession quests (minus mining which was weirdly in Highmountain).  So I always started characters there in order to get them access to tradeskills as quickly as possible.  Similarly I could play the Star Wars the Old Republic content in any order I choose… yet I did the leg work to research the order in which it was released and have played through it in that fashion.  This is effectively what I am doing in Elder Scrolls Online as well… because I am odd.

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The other thing that I played a significant amount of last night was Magic Arena which as of yesterday went into Open Beta.  Now several of us have been playing the Alpha and Closed Beta for awhile now, and are sorta sad to see our stockpile of cards go away.  They did a big wipe of everything between the Alpha/Closed Beta phases and in theory will not do another wipe period (unless there is some catastrophic issue that comes up between now and release).  I had enough gems that I managed to purchase my way back into my favorite deck so far… which is Mono Black Creature Burn.  This is by no means my creation, but I do plan on spending some time tweaking it eventually, and maybe even trying to build in for paper magic as well.  It only has a value of about $15 in physical cards so it is a pretty great entry level option that can be pretty brutal.  I’ve never run up against anyone playing something similar, and I think the way it works catches a lot of players off guard because it does a lot of things that deal damage to the player but mean me in the process…  allowing me to break out a Chainer’s Torment pretty early for a massive creature in the process at a stage of the game that they can’t really handle a 12/12.

That said it is completely weak to any sort of creature removal and you can chump block it for days…  but the deck also has a bunch of flyers to get in and plink away at anyone with an army of ground creatures.  If you end up with a board stall…  there are cards like Fell Specter, Vampire Neonate and Vampire Sovereign that can hit the opponent directly without actually attacking.  It has a good deal of hard creature removal, so you can sort of selectively remove their big bruiser.  It doesn’t have any ramp to speak of with a bunch of one drops that deal significant damage quickly like Viscious Conquistador...  that deals a point of damage to the opponent just by tapping them regardless of how combat resolves…  it can add up fast.  However in the above game the opponent lost because they got mana screwed… not because of some skill I had.

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If you have ever played Magic the Gathering in the past, I highly suggest you check out Arena.  Hearthstone is cool…  but it isn’t Magic.  This is finally Magic the Gathering for the Hearthstone world and does an amazing job of delivering fast and fun gameplay.  You start off with a selection of Mono Color themed decks, and then each day there are quests allowing you to earn additional multi color decks… like today I picked up Chaos and Mayhem which is a themed Black/Red deck from the looks of it revolving around Rekindling Phoenix.  I am hoping this means I will also get back my beloved Explore matters deck… either that or I will get the tokens needed to build it.  One of the key differences between Magic Arena and Hearthstone is you get tokens that are good for one card of a specific rarity, instead of having a crafting system.  In some ways this is awesome, because you can swap a mythic placeholder for any mythic of your choice…  but there is no way to break down the cards you have no interest in to fuel the ones you do.  Basically it is a trade off but the placeholder tokens seem to still be pretty prevalent.  This makes getting a Mythic Placeholder feel awesome, because you know you can trade it for the card you actually wanted to pull from that pack.

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Lastly it was requested that I get pictures of outdoor cat…  this is from this morning when I went out to feed and he was so much more interested in nomming the food than getting his picture taken.

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This is from awhile back when you can actually see a little bit of face to go with the gratuitous munching.  It is a sweet baby, but unfortunately we are full up on cats… and another family has pseudo claimed him as theirs.  If they do not however let him come inside as it starts to get colder we may have to change that stance and at a bare minimum let him become garage cat…  since our girls likely would not take kindly to his presence.

Bad Magic

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Once again I did nonsense to finish out my weekly limited bounties in Monster Hunter World.  The problem is my currently play times seem to be diametrically opposed to the play times of my friends who are currently playing the game.  Most nights I start playing early in the evening… around 6 pm cst and am logging out around 9 pm when folks start to show up.  As a result I have gotten used to doing things is really silly ways involving a bunch of random players.  This weeks was weirdly harder than the 9 star quest in part because at the end of the day…  people will likely always be farming Xeno’jiiva for parts and that quest is really hard to fail.

The 8 Star quest however is more or less Nergigante, Vaal Hazak, Teostra, Kushala Daora, and Kirin.  All six of those have a pretty high threshold for failure so I feel like more often than not players are just doing them solo…  something that I weirdly don’t enjoy that much.  So instead I check the SoS Roulette and see what is available and ultimately managed to get all of them done with random players.  The easiest was weirdly enough Kirin…  which considering how big of a pain in the butt the tempered version was seemed like it would have been the hardest.  The most challenging is generally Nergigante because if you get players who legitimately need to fight him…  they are more often than not simply unprepared for how much harder he is going to hit them than what they are used to.

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The truth is I need to start farming Nergi for parts because there are several weapons I would love to be able to make that require copious amounts of bits.  Last night I managed to craft the first version of the Nergi Sword and Shield, because in truth that is probably the weapon I am most comfortable with if I don’t have my longsword.  I spent some time earlier in the week playing with Gun Lance because also as part of the weeklies I needed to kill a bunch of Fanged Wyvern…  which mean’t I could kill that green punching bag Great Jagras over and over.  I think its a weapon I could get used to with time, and I managed to pick up a couple of reasonable options during the Kulve Taroth event.  Still very much in love with this game and hoping they give us some more surprise events soon…  because I can sorta see an end to what I actually deeply want to be farming.

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The rest of my evening last night was spent poking around with my Fauxlgari Exploratic deck which is a tweaked version of Golgari Exploration…  one of the stock decks that come with MTG Arena.  It is not the most successful thing in the world for me, but I enjoy playing it and if it is not going my way pretty early on I concede out to move on to the next battle.  If everything goes as planned you end up with a few really powerful creatures that keep growing each round, combined with Lurking Chupacabra that you can use to start taking out critters on your opponents side.  It isn’t perfect and I am sure I should tune it some more.  Right now I feel like I am playing with way too much land because I have had moments where all I am drawing is land for way too many rounds in a row.  Regardless I find the whole experience of playing it enjoyable and I can lose hours just plinking away at other players.

I think that ultimately is going to the role MTG Arena plays for me…  just letting me play magic when I want to play it.  For whatever reason MTG Duels and the year branded Planeswalker games always felt really limited in the types of magic I wanted to play.  They were shadowboxed in on a specific number of sets and as a result it felt more limited than what we already have in Arena.  I like just sitting down and playing, regardless of the win condition.  Sure it gets frustrating when you go on a losing streak when you are one win away from being done for the day…  but even then the simple playing of cards makes me happy.  It is something I have missed more than I realized…  simply because I don’t have access to a lot of MTG players right now.  I play to have fun and my version of fun is not exactly drift compatible with the meta.  I enjoy bad magic.

Fail Drafting with Bel

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The first I learned this weekend are that the Quick Draft format in Magic the Gathering Arena is extremely enjoyable.  The second thing I learned this weekend…  is that I am pretty horrifically bad at drafting a set I didn’t spend much time playing at all.  The third thing I learned is that even if you suck at drafting… it is still a pretty reasonable way to pick up cards for doing other interesting things with.  If I am doing my math correctly…  I walked away with 45 cards that I picked out during the draft and at least 8 cards that I got from the pack that I won just from participating in the draft.  Especially if you are trying to work towards something in particular this seems like a very efficient spending of your gems.  Ultimately you are getting over 1200 gems worth of cards for 750 gems if you want to think of it in those terms when you are talking about total number of cards gained through the process.

Granted by drafting you are not putting any points towards your next vault opening and there is no chance of getting wildcards other than through any of the 8 card normal packs you win in the process.  I drafted a grand total of three times this weekend and failed miserably in all of them with the best I managed to do ending up with a 3 and 3 before finally washing out.  There was one where I did not manage to win a single match but even then I walked away with a handful of gems and all of the cards that I managed to draft in the process.  The event however sadly ends in roughly three hours as of the time of making this post.  I am hoping that they might do this as a weekly thing and offer up a new set each week for drafting.  Surely they have enough information on Ixalan to make this work, or it would be a truly great way to introduce Kaladesh as they have already stated they are going to soon.

Ultimately Arena scratches the Magic itch for me especially if I can ever get reasonable at formats like Draft and be able to craft decent decks.  A large part of the issue I have is that I am not really playing a lot of magic, and have been more of a collector for the last several years than someone who actually sits down and plays on a regular basis.  I am trying to stoke a bit of a Magic culture at work, but it is really difficult for me to find a time or a place to sit down and play.  Sure there are shops I could go to Friday Night Magic at…  but I don’t even have a deck that I would feel really comfortable playing in such a location because it feels like I have been out of the game so long.  There was a time where I could look at a card and immediately think of all of the possible combos for it…  and that time has passed.  Largely I need to build back up that muscle memory and the only viable way for me to do it… is by playing lots and lots of Arena.  On the positive side…  each time I sit down to play it I seem to get completely engrossed in the game and completely lose track of how many matches I have ended up playing.

Watch Fail Drafting Hour of Devastation with Belghast! from Belghast on www.twitch.tv

If you are curious and want to see me fail-drafting you can check out the VOD over on Twitch as I streamed most of it.  I accidentally cut off towards the end…  but I had honestly forgot I was streaming at that point so you are not getting much in the way of commentary as the progression continued on.  Chestnut hung out with me for a bit but that was really the only person I had in the stream and even then I think she was mostly afk cleaning house as she said.  When I don’t have people interacting with me I sometimes forget I am actually streaming and you end up with me falling back into silence.  Anyways… if you want to see what the format is all about you can at least watch how the draft part works at the beginning.  I need to sort out why none of the music I had playing was coming through on the stream.  If you want to see someone significantly better at drafting…  you should also check out Kodra who was my inspiration to stream the draft (because he did it earlier in the day).

Watch Magic the Gathering: ARENA from Kodra22 on www.twitch.tv

MTG Arena Economy

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Last night I spent a tiny bit of time in Magic the Gathering Arena because they unleashed the new Dominaria expansion.  The funny thing is the digital version of Magic got Dominaria long before I actually got the box that I ordered.  If you currently have access to Arena just the act of logging in gets you three packs, and once again remember these packs have 1 rare/mythic, 2 uncommon and 5 commons…  and or a combination of wildcards.  Wildcards as always can be traded in for any card you are missing of that rarity and they do not appear to be set dependent.  This means that more or less you seem to be able to bank them and then turn in a bunch of them any time you want to build a deck.

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The other thing that went in yesterday was the ability to spend money and buy the intermediary currency of Arena…  Gems.  There are two currencies in the game…  Gold that you earn by completing quests and such and Gems that you plunk down hard earned cash.  The prices range from $4.99 for the first pack of 750 gems making it roughly 150 gems per dollar all the way to 20,000 gems for $99.99 making that 200 gems per dollar spent.  The thing that concerns me the most at this point is the fact that MTG Arena is a beta and I have yet to actually find any place that talks about whether or not there will be a wipe before launch…  and if there is one if money spent will be refunded.  This is the biggest hurdle for me personally against spending any money at all…  because I would really like assurances that I would at least keep the value of that purchase even if I don’t keep the cards.

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Now we get into the prime thing you can buy with your gems…  packs of cards.  At the 45 and 90 pack range you get what was the Dominaria buy the box promo card…  making me think that they consider 45 packs to be the equivalent of a 36 pack Magic the Gathering Booster Box.  I did some nonsense via spreadsheet before I actually noticed that there is a post on the forums with pretty much all of the economy elements outlined.  As it stands the only scaling is on gem purchases…  where the more money you spend the more gems you wind up getting per dollar.  At the high end of buying 750 gem packs that places the price per pack at $1.33 and if you are buying on the low end at 20,000 gems the price per pack drops down to $1.  That means 45 packs would be $59.88 buying 600 gems at a time and $45.00 buying 20,000 gems at a time…  similarly the gigantic 90 pack bundle comes out to $119.76 and $89.99 respectively.

For an economy reference… Hearthstone buying in the smallest package ends up being $1.49 per pack and in the largest package $1.16 per pack…  for 3 fewer cards each pack.  The biggest problem with each and every gem pack is they do not exactly sync up with the dollar amounts meaning you are going to have a remainder of gems that are not really usable for the purpose of buying packs.  Contrasted again with Hearthstone there is no intermediary currency so you always know what you are getting per dollar spent regardless of some nonsense exchange rate.  My friend Toadchild also did some math and figured out that the most efficient way to purchase cards if you wanted the maximum number of packs for your gems…  would be 1-45 card pack, 2-15 card packs and 4-6 card packs giving you a total of 99 packs for 19,800 gems.  This still gives you an annoying remainder of 200 gems though in the process.  If you are curious about the full range of nonsense here is the google sheet I was working things out in.

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Other than just the ability to purchase cards for cash…  they implemented the beginnings of a draft mode.  Quick Draft however is not the pod drafting you were expecting however and instead something significantly different.  Effectively when the event is going on you can enter the draft at will and be placed up against some AI that drafts with you.  This apparently gives you the ability to leave the screen and return to your matches later any time while the event is active.  The buy in is going to be 5000 gold or 750 gems… aka the $4.99 pack and rewards you a blend of cards and gems in prizes.  Essentially you keep anything you draft into your collection and have the possibility to win additional prizes if you get to 7 wins before you get to 3 losses.  Draft packs have the same distribution as tabletop giving you 1 rare/mythic, 3 uncommon and 10 commons making it a more familiar format for those who have drafted before.  The prize support breakout looks a little something like this…

  • 0 Wins: 50 gems, 1 to 3 eight-card boosters, and all the cards you drafted
  • 1 Win: 100 gems, 1 to 3 eight-card boosters, and all the cards you drafted
  • 2 Wins: 200 gems, 1 to 3 eight-card boosters, and all the cards you drafted
  • 3 Wins: 300 gems, 1 to 3 eight-card boosters, and all the cards you drafted
  • 4 Wins: 450 gems, 1 to 3 eight-card boosters, and all the cards you drafted
  • 5 Wins: 650 gems, 1 to 3 eight-card boosters, and all the cards you drafted
  • 6 Wins: 850 gems, 1 to 3 eight-card boosters, and all the cards you drafted
  • 7 Wins: 950 gems, 1 to 3 eight-card boosters, and all the cards you drafted

The boosters are all listed as a “Chance for Extra Boosters” but there really isn’t any particular information surrounding that…  maybe if you go 7 and 0 you get 3… or 7 and 2 you only get 1.  This isn’t really clarified that I saw.

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The other thing that went in is Quick Constructed which is effectively a tournament in a box allowing you to hop in and play in a competitive structure with prize support.  The buy in here is 500 gold or 95 gems and has significantly more meager rewards primarily allowing you to gamble your gold for the chance at winning your 7 and getting it doubled in the process with a few randomized cards in the process.  This would feel better were it not for the fact that they completely removed random card rewards at the end of winning a match, meaning this is now your way for getting that sort of thing.  I actually loved the whole get a random card after you win thing… because it sorta felt like an Ante card even though that concept is an element of a bygone era.  For those interested the prize support structure looks a little something like this…

  • 0 Wins: 100 gold and 3 individual Uncommon cards
  • 1 Win: 200 gold and 3 individual Uncommon cards
  • 2 Wins: 300 gold and 3 individual Uncommon cards
  • 3 Wins: 400 gold and 3 individual Uncommon cards
  • 4 Wins: 500 gold, 2 individual Uncommon cards, and 1 individual Rare card
  • 5 Wins: 600 gold, 2 individual Uncommon cards, and 1 individual Rare card
  • 6 Wins: 800 gold, 1 individual Uncommon card, and 2 individual Rare cards
  • 7 Wins: 1,000 gold, 1 individual Uncommon card, and 2 individual Rare cards

In a worst case scenario you spent 500 gold and got back 100 and 3 common cards.  In the best case scenario you spent 500 gold… doubled it and got back 2 rares and 1 common.  Unlike draft this is not an AI mode and you are playing against players.  They suggest that this is game mode primarily for players who have already completed their daily quests and are looking for a way to get more goodies.

All in all I am mostly happy with the economy of the game so far.  It seems rather reasonable especially if you contrast it with paper magic.  For your dollar you are getting way more value out of Magic the Gathering Arena both in the sheer number of rares and uncommon you get per dollar and the fact that wildcards exist.  Wildcards and stockpiling them seems to be a really good way to prepare for the oncoming release of a new expansion.  As it stands right now…  I could sit on my stash of mythic and rare wildcards and then the moment the next expansion releases buy everything outright that i need to make a deck work.  Cracking packs is always going to be fun for me personally, but for players who would rather just buy what they need… cracking packs becomes a way to get those much needed tokens to finish their custom “brew”.  The only concern I have is that since this mode seems so much more equitable to the player…  what will it ultimately do to the physical hobby?

[UPDATE]

I got a response back from Wizard of the Coast support and the plan is to return the spent gems to your account when it goes live.

 

Unintended Night

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What I was supposed to be playing last night is World of Warcraft as Wednesday is our normal mythical nonsense night.  Unfortunately we were down two people already and I myself wasn’t really in the mood to do it either.  I’ve been dealing with some stuff and yesterday was a bit of a bad mental health day.  When those situations happen I tend to turtle up somewhere quiet and hang out by myself until whatever it is has passed.  World of Warcraft is such an inherently social game that even the act of logging in ends up prompting a bunch of people to poke me and say hello…  and it feels bad to ignore them when I need to ignore them.

Sure there is now “Appear Offline” mode but even then that is not a perfect scenario.  For me at least there are a handful of people that I am generally okay with interacting with, because they know the drill.  They understand deeply because they go through their own periods of turtle time, and as a result there is no need to attempt to keep up appearances as it were.  However if you are in Offline mode and you reach out to one of those people who are on the closest rings of your monkeysphere…  they cannot respond.  You will be able to send them messages all day long but they will always get the offline message when attempting to respond back to you.  As a result when I am feeling like this I just avoid WoW like the plague because it isn’t worth the hassle.

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What I wanted to be doing was to sit on the couch and play some Everquest while watching some more Mighty Boosh streamed through the television.  Unfortunately they seem to have had a rather traumatic maintenance yesterday.  The servers went down at 5:00 am EDT on the 18th and did not come back apparently until 2:30 am EDT on the 19th.  I have no clue at all what was going on…  but I kept trying to fire up the launcher and getting the maintenance message.  I have been enjoying myself a shocking amount in Everquest, but I realize that I am riding the drug that is nostalgia.  I am not sure how long that drug will last but for the moment I am riding its high.

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What I did instead was play a lot of MTG Arena as I got it set up on my laptop.  Yesterday Scopique wrote an interesting response to my post about Arena…  or at least one that mentioned it because it wasn’t exactly a direct response.  The funny thing is I wouldn’t necessarily call myself much of a competitive gamer.  I traditionally shy away from player versus player situations, but games like MTG Arena or the Crucible in Destiny don’t seem to bother me that much and I am not entirely certain why.  I stumbled across a post from Tobold who very much did not enjoy his time with Arena, but for the moment I don’t mind at all that it is largely just a stripped down 1v1 client.  I think ultimately if you are going into Arena expecting Duels of the Planeswalkers or MTG Duels either one… you are going to be sorely disappointed.

Arena is simply a Magic the Gathering Online that isn’t horrible.  Sure MTGO is serviceable but nothing about it is really intuitive and it feels like you are jumping through a lot of hoops to make anything work.  MTGO was absolutely less cludgy than the days of trying to arrange a game on IRC and then getting both parties to fire up and connect to each other through the Apprentice application.  However card gaming on a PC has changed drastically since then and Hearthstone more or less has led that charge.  Arena is that Hearthstone-esc interface for the far more seasons and complicated game of Magic the Gathering, and the thing is… it works amazingly well.

There have been a few times I have been bit by the game trying to move forward without me…  but in the grand scheme of things it seems to do 99.9% of the right things at the right time.  The other moments don’t bother me too much because I am not placing a lot of my personal ego into whether or not I am winning.  I am simply enjoying playing cards and occasionally I do really well.  I do feel like Tobold’s comment of not feeling like he could be competitive with the decks presented was a bit nonsense given that I have been entirely playing the stock Golgari Exploration deck.  I felt like I was able to pick it up and start winning matches almost immediately…  and sure as my rank has risen I am winning less matches but even that doesn’t bother me much.  I am still winning more than enough to complete daily quests getting me packs and gold…  to buy more packs.  All in all I feel like Arena is going to shape up to be a very solid version of Magic the Gathering Online…  but we need to stop the comparisons there for our own sanity.