Luck and Mini Bosses

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At this point we are up to 41 blogs signed up for Blaugust in one form or another, with a significant number of folks hanging out in the Discord just for the sake of fun that we may be able to sway one way or another.  I am super happy with this early participation, and in side conversations there are a bunch of folks on the fence trying to determine just how much they can afford to participate themselves this year.  In that always be plugging style of conversation…  if you are at all interested in starting up a blog now is the time to do it.  Pop on by the sign up form and let us know your information and we will do our best to support you through that early blogging experience.  This is of course also an open offer as well to folks who are currently blogging and just want to up their frequency of posting…  or really want to help mentor the next crew of bloggers.

Since I last posted updates there have been a few new entries and you can see the entire list in an easy to use google sheet that I have been maintaining.

New Mentors

New Participants

The official pre-week starts on July 25th so there is still plenty of time to get a blog up and running before the official August 1st start.

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There are times where I have the sort of luck that pisses my friends off.  For example I have pulled a couple of those ultra rare chase cards from Battle for Zenndikar and Kaladesh, just buying random single packs here and there.  Magic the Gathering just released its return to core sets with M19 and there are a bunch of interesting cards in it… namely a much needed reprint of Crucible of Worlds and brand new version of the classic legends era dragons.  Ultimately I would like to have a copy of each for eventual EDH brewing purposes, and as a result I picked up a fat pack on Friday in my post funeral travels.  Now a fat pack has 10 packs and seems to be for lack of a better term a partial piece of what would have normally been a full box.

They tend to be feast or famine, either you get the good end of the rare/mythic sheet or you don’t.  In this case I managed to pull 4 mythics out of those ten packs.  I took the above photo to show off everything that came out of that box, with the last two on the left side being just a couple of cool looking common foils.  I found it weird that I got a duplicate rare out of the batch so maybe they are doing the fat packs different than they have done before.  I was extremely excited that I managed to pull a Crucible of Worlds and at least two of the three color dragons.  Unfortunately I did not pull the big daddy of them all…  Nicol Bolas, the Ravager.  I still consider this an insanely lucky box, and walked away mighty happy with it.

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As far as the rest of the weekend… it was largely spent hanging out and playing some Elder Scrolls Online.  I have now officially finished the Orsinium content and wow… I am exceedingly impressed with the quality.  If that is at all representative of what I have to expect from the follow up releases, then I am going to be a very happy boy.  I’ve since started on the Thieves Guild which is the next content release in order…  having largely skipped Imperial City due to its PvEvP nature.  I did however spent a chunk of last night running around and collecting Skyshards out in Cyrodil..  I am sure frustrating someone who was there to try and take keeps and mile forts.  The only actual PVP I got into was being found by a roaming murderball of Ebonheart Pact players…  at which point my screen froze and I crashed out of the game only to come back very dead.

The most fun however was prior to that when I was roaming around in Coldharbor with Ashgar and Tamrielo doing the public dungeon there.  It all started simple enough…  the three of us on Voice Chat when Ash mentioned mostly to himself that he was going to ignore the Public Dungeon for now until he could come back with a group.  I said that I had not done the public dungeon there for the same reason and Tam chimed in that he had largely been avoiding any group content.  Before long the three of us were converging upon Ash’s location and doing the public dungeon which had two quests inside of it.  Additionally we realized that there were a bunch of optional bosses in various corners of the place and we set forth to take each and every one down earning us a conqueror achievement.

I kinda love that this game does not care at all about where a player is in the progression, and that you can pretty much just group in for whatever happens to be going on.  I abused this power to help Void get some crafting materials by porting myself to Windhelm and then letting him piggy back in on that to get the shrine there.  I love that this game has decided that horizontal progression is the way to go because it has allowed me to invest resources in a really nice set of gear knowing I won’t be upgrading it anytime soon.  I love that I can just do whatever happens to cross my path and still feel like I am moving towards a goal in the form of Champion points…  knowing that I am also adding progression to every single character as I go.  I am very happy with the current state of Elder Scrolls Online.

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.

MTG Arena Beta

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Yesterday was of course the ninth anniversary of the Tales of the Aggronaut blog…  and Wizards of the Coast got me a present.  Roughly halfway through the day I checked my mail and noticed that I got an email from WotC inviting me to the closed beta of Arena…  their attempt at making a modern Magic the Gathering client.  The truth is Hearthstone has been eating their lunch for several years now due to its extreme accessibility.  It also does the dual whammy of giving both a nostalgia buzz for magic the gathering and collectible card games in general…  while delivering a fatal blow of world of warcraft nostalgia at the same time.  It’s a good game… and honestly lately I have been playing quite a bit of the warrior rush deck, but even that said…  it is no Magic the Gathering.  There is just something about this game that causes me to follow the community and buy cards… even though I don’t get to play that often.

The biggest problem for me is that I don’t really have a LGS or Local Gaming Store to be spending my time at.  I live out in the burbs and the closest thing to me is on the opposite end of Tulsa from where I live…  making it not exactly convenient to go to in the evenings and play cards.  Where a game like Hearthstone or Arena comes in is it allows me to get that fix…  without the need to actually get hands on other players.  That said I am working on fostering a little community at work for lunch time gaming and am building up some balanced decks to sort of make an easy drop in and play environment.  All of that said… it is just so much easier to get online at the end of a day and get my gaming fix rather than trying to coordinate with other human beings.

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When you start up the Arena client you are given a handful of packs to start crafting your own decks with.  This assortment essentially encompassed the last two blocks of play…  Rivals of Ixalan, Ixalan, Hour of Devastation and Amonkhet.  I got a handful of decent cards and could have probably crafted together a serviceable deck from them.  I personally like these two blocks of play theme wise and together they give quite a bit of reasonable synergy.  I believe the plan going forward is to largely limit Arena to standard sets by default…  which seems a little if that were the case why Kaladesh and Aether Revolt are not included.  It was my understanding that when the Kaladesh block cycles out the Amonkhet block will as well in Q4 2018.  Quite frankly I struggle keeping these things in my head as to which sets are in and which sets are out because it doesn’t seem anywhere near as clear as it used to be.  I apparently am not the only person to think this because there is literally a website called What is In Standard.

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One thing that is going to be a challenge to get used to is that the pack structure is vastly different from live paper magic.  When you open a pack you get a grand total of 8 cards instead of 15 cards…  which I hope means they are going to charge a reduced price for the packs when the whole buying packs for money thing is eventually introduced.  You get a single rare/mythic, two uncommons, and five commons.  If you already have more than a play set of a card they replace it instead with a token as you can see underneath Samut in the above picture.  These can then be spent to fill out missing holes in your collection trading a rare for a rare or a mythic for a mythic.  At first I could not understand why I kept getting them since at this point in my head… I had only opened a handful of packs.

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Also in your collection are a wide variety of deck archetypes built and ready to go.  Personally I have been shifting back and forth between Golgari Exploration for which Green/Black has always been my preferred color set, and Legion of Dusk which similarly is heavy black and vampire themed enough to ignore the fact that I am using white mana.  I love the exploration mechanic and when it compounds with cards that do stuff when any card explores.  This means you can get some really big critters on the board that escalate rapidly.  Ultimately in a perfect situation I want a foul orchard out on turn one, Wildgrowth Walker on turn two, and then some combination of creatures that explore like Seeker’s Squire or Ixalli’s Diviner to pump up the Walker and start my assault proper.  What that works it is beautiful… when it doesn’t there seem to be enough alternate paths to victory to hang in for a very long time.

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For the most part the client itself plays exactly like you would expect a magic client to play.  It does a lot of things for you, like if you have no plays it goes ahead and skips to the next turn which is likely going to throw you off at first.  There is a way to flip the client into a more granular level having you verify each and every trigger that happens…  which would be important for more technical decks.  I do feel like the timeout is maybe a little bit long given how many phases you have to get through…  there have been times that matches have taken forever because the other player was just slow at evaluating their options…  or potentially just doing something else at the same time.  Unlike the Duels of the Planeswalkers clients I never felt like it was rushing me through things and causing me to lose card play opportunities.  It seems to have some intelligence built into the client and stalls anytime it thinks you might have a play option, and so far it has not missed a time when I needed to play a card in response to something.

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After each victory you are awarded a single random card, and there are various quests that you can be working on while playing matches.  For example you can see in the bar that I am at 8 wins of 10 needed for  my next pack of Rivals of Ixalan.  The pack quests seem to come at 5 victories, 10 victories and 15 victories…  and not sure if that trend continues on every 5 victories or if you are limited to 3 packs per week.  Similarly there are quests that I had already completed like Kill 13 of your opponents creatures or cast 13 white or blue spells, each of those rewarding 250 gold.  The in game pack purchasing mechanism allows you to buy a pack every 1000 gold, so essentially after doing four of these quests you can get some more cards.  I am assuming this gold currency will also eventually be used for drafting which sadly is not in yet…  but I believe they have talked about wanting that game play mode exists.

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The only real thing you need to know is the fact that I set up my account around 6:30 last night and the next thing I knew…  it was 9:30.  The game is extremely good and brought back all of the right nostalgia beats for sitting around playing magic the gathering and trying to figure out how to dig yourself out of a card draw hole.  There are times when things go extremely well…  then there are other times like the above match when things go south really quickly.  I just could not get the exploration cards I needed to power up my front line and managed to keep the other player long enough to get a recursive combo on the ground.  As a result they manages to gain up 183 life before finally finishing me off in a single round.  I could have conceded at any point, but I wanted to see how big they could manage to get their health pool.  Even in a horrible loss condition… I was entertained.  I look forward to seeing how this product evolves over time and I am likely going to start streaming it on occasion so you can laugh at me as I make obvious mistakes.

Bizarre Obsession

This weekend we recorded somewhat of a mega show of AggroChat.  We originally sat down thinking we might not have a complete show…  and then recorded for two hours and wound up dropping a few topics to try and manage the show length.  There were a whole slew of topics but one of which is one that I did not expect to blow up to the level at which it did.  Kodra has been talking magic for a year or so in his adventures in doing drafts through Magic Online for each of the expansion releases that have happened.  Lately however I have found myself obsessing about the game even though I have not regularly played it since the tempest cycle.  Magic the Gathering will always have this nostalgic characteristic for me because I have had a lot of really good times playing it.  The problem is…  once I entered the adult world I stopped having a regular stream people to play with.  I’ve never really gotten involved with a local shop doing the Friday night magic thing, because in truth people just don’t play Magic the Gathering the way I want to play it.  The prevalence of NetDecking and combo magic turned things into a weird cold war…  where you either needed to be playing whatever the new hotness needed to be…  or at least come up with a way to counteract that new hotness.  When I last stopped playing… the format of choice was called “Type II” and I believe this translates to the “Standard” in the current naming of formats.  So when I left during the Tempest cycle it was all about the combo to beat… and either scrambling to get the cards…  or scrambling to get something to beat it.

The style of Magic the Gathering I enjoyed was back when you never quite knew what you might be encountering in a players deck.  Maybe it just took my area while to get super competitive, but in early tournament play I only ever once encountered the “power nine” but instead came up against a lot of seemingly fun to play themed decks.  For me a lot of my decks centered around some card that I wanted to play with… and then blunting the negative effects of that card.  So say I wanted to play with the Lord of the Pitt, I would run some token creatures that I could just keep churning out to feed to it rather than pay the 7 life upkeep.  If I wanted to play with Leviathan I would run Icy Manipulator and Twiddle to keep from having to pay the two island tax to untap it each round, then figure out some way to retrieve islands from the graveyard every so often.  It was fun trying to figure out a way to counteract what was not good about the cards and then figure out how to make them work well enough to be playable.  Some of the most fun I ever had was in college the magic store I used to hang out in had a deep common bin… and we would end up building these $5 decks out of the archives and then pit them against each other.  I guess the modern equivalent to this would be pauper, but even then…  that format takes itself way more seriously than I wish I could when it comes to MTG.  I’ve been trying to sort out a way to play the game how I want to play it…  but also find some people to play with.

The biggest problem right now is availability of people.  There are enough folks who have played MTG at one point in their lives to maybe create a lunch time group at work.  The problem there I am not not sure what sort of format would work best.  I am leaning towards something janky along the lines of Pauper Commander…  without the commanders.  Where you functionally construct a deck of common cards without the ability to repeat any cards.  I would functionally need to probably fund a lot of the commons given that there are simply not enough in any one set to make up a deck of entirely common cards.  I think a format like that however might bring back the random weirdness that I miss from playing Magic.  There were moments where you would sit down and encounter something you never expected to see…  and it would be interesting to figure out how to adjust to that and find a way to either defeat it or work around it.  In truth I love common cards,  because they tend to be the unappreciated workhorses of magic.  It always bugs me a bit when people just dismiss them and toss them aside like garbage…  when you cannot really make ANY deck without relying on a whole slew of them to serve as the glue between those higher dollar cards.  I have no clue how this will end but thusfar it has simply been a case of be re-familiarizing myself with Magic the Gathering and trying to figure out if this is really something I want to jump back into.

Hearthstone

Battle of Cards

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I am getting around super late this morning to make a blog post.  On a whim I decided to take Friday off, since for my wife it was her fall break.  I figured the two of us could hang out around the house or do whatever.  Then over night I noticed a rather frantic message from my boss.  It seems like after 5 his boss had requested something by noon today… that would involve a lot of feedback and information from us worker bees.  So as a result I got up around 8 am, got dressed, went out and grabbed breakfast and have been remote into work for the last hour working on the list of information.  As a result… my normal early morning post is delayed.

Yesterday I was extremely pumped to get home, because over night I seemed to have received an email from Blizzard saying that my account had finally been flagged for the Hearthstone beta process.  Since everyone and their brother is live streaming this on Twitch… I am assuming there is no actual NDA going on… or at least not one currently enforced.  So as a result I snapped multiple pictures last night as I played and will be weaving them in here and there.  I have to admit I went into this a bit skeptical… not really sure if I would like it or not.  From the video I had seen, everything about the game feels rushed much like a LFG dungeon group.  Even though you rarely think more than one round ahead… there is still a lot of strategy going on.

The Education

 

Day[9] has a really good series of videos walking through his first experience with the game, and I highly suggest you watch it if you are curious about how you get into the game.  Basically Blizzard has done an amazing job of user education, in that to get started in the game you HAVE to play through a tutorial.  Fortunately it does a really good job of slowly introducing you into the various mechanics, and as a result you can pick up the strategy of the game extremely quickly.  You play through a series of NPC card fights…starting with Hogger and finishing with an Azerothian Super Villain that I won’t spoil for now.

Once you have finished with the tutorial it has taught you basically everything there is to know about the Mage deck.  Essentially the decks are all themed after one of the World of Warcraft classes.  I notice that Deathknight is conspicuously absent… so they must be intending to add that in as an expansion opportunity.   For those who are familiar with the Duel of the Planeswalkers series of MTG games for consoles and steam… you will be used to the way you progress from here.  Now you can take your mage deck and challenge the other classes, by defeating them you unlock the ability to play as that class.

The Sticky-ness

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The biggest surprise for me is just how sticky this game was.  I got home around 5 pm and started playing around 5:30.  I ended up playing this game without pause until around 9:30.. and only then because some guild members needed me to tank a FFXIV dungeon run.  I have to say that is fairly unheard of for me, when it comes to card games.  I have copies of all of the Duel of the Planeswalker games that have been released, but have maybe logged 50 hours total among ALL of them.  There was just something about the physical card game experience that never quite translated to the online version.

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Last night over the course of the evening, I managed to unlock all of the different class decks.  At various points through the evening I was rewarded with either gold or actual packs of cards.  The game uses a quest like system to give you little goals to work towards.  If you look above you can see that in the screenshot I have 2 of the 3 wins needed to earn 10 gold.  There was another quest I had to level one of the classes to 10, and in doing so I unlocked a pack of cards.  Essentially it seems like there are two kinds of cards you can get… Basic cards that are unlocked through completing quests and scenarios and leveling… and Expert cards that are unlocked through either purchasing or winning packs of cards.

The Money

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Since this game is free to play, you have to be asking yourself… where do they make money.  Well like always with any card game it is in the packs.  I took a screenshot of the current store interface.  You will notice that the packs that be bought with either in game gold currency that you earn by completing achievements or be purchased with real world currency.  You can purchase a single pack with 100 gold, 2 packs for $2.99 ($1.49 each), 7 packs for $9.99 ($1.42 each), 15 packs for $19.99 ($1.32 each) or 40 packs for $49.99 ($1.24 each).  So as you can see in buying in bulk like you would expect you keep getting more and more of a discount on the per pack price.

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Through the course of play last night I earned 5 packs of cards either through a combination of gold or actually winning the packs outright.  I have to say the sound design and animation are amazing… and really capture the same excitement of opening a real pack of cards.  You can double click the pack to open it… or for a more tactile experience drag it open.  Similarly all five cards in a pack come flying out onto the screen… but do so face down.  This allows you to flip them over one by one similar to sifting through a physical pack of cards.  They know their audience well and have put in a number of tactile hooks to increase the sense of suspense to see if you have something good or not.

Versus Players

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Currently you have the option of playing progressively harder NPC decks, or setting out and playing some physical players.  Quite honestly I have found playing players a bit easier than playing the expert decks.  There are two PVP modes of play… the first of which is simply building a custom deck and then taking it on the road to fight against other players.  The second of which is the Arena, which serves as this games “draft” mode, giving both a more random experience but also potentially a more balanced one.

I am not sure if this regenerates but you get at least one free Arena token, after that it appears to either cost 150 in game gold or $1.99 to unlock additional tokens.  In the Arena you choose a class and then are presented with a series of three cards.  The card you keep goes into your arena deck, and the other two are discarded.  This continues on until you have chosen 30 cards for your deck.  An Arena deck lasts until you have lost three times.  At the end of the match you are rewarded based on how well you did.  For me I got 2 sacks of gold 2 packs of cards and a rare paladin card for playing.  I won three times and lost three times.

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The interesting thing about the Arena is the fact that you don’t have to play it all in one sitting.  So long as you have not lost your three matches you can continue playing arena.  There is some bar of gems that fills up each time you win, but I am not 100% certain how that works.  You might get punted out of the Arena if you win too often as well.  Last night I played through a single arena match and then was off playing custom games with players.  My little hunter deck seems to be doing pretty well, so I will likely return to doing some of that today.  I have to say I am very pleasantly surprised in just how good of a game Hearthstone is.

Party Like it’s 1995

Flashbacks

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I have been fairly oblivious to the world for the last few days, and as a result I had fallen behind on my news reader.  The thing that I found most interesting was this article on Massively talking about a potential League of Legends Universe online TCG.  I feel like I would love any game set in the League universe that is not League.  The world they have built up around the MOBA has some pretty awesome lore, and in part that is why I continue to play the game in spite of my problems with the control scheme.  My friends and I have talked about how successful we thought a single player game would be set in that world, but I could see an online TCG working as well.

Party Like It’s 1995

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A friend and I were talking about this news, and he made the comment that it is 1995 all over again.  In a way that is exactly what it seems like to me as well.  For those who were not part of that scene during the TCG boom during the mid 90s… suffice to say every potentially marketable property got made into a card game.  I like a sucker probably played most of them out of sheer love and nostalgia for Magic the Gathering the one that started it all.  Some of them stuck around and gained a life of their own like Pokémon or Yugioh because they were driven by external motivators… and some were really amazing and died on the vine like Rage and Vampire: The Eternal Struggle.

However during the 90s… you could find a card game for any property you wanted to play, and I think among my friends we at least bought a starter deck of most of them.  Magic the Gathering has had an online component for years, but for the most part it has never gained traction because it was arcane to get into, and Wizards of the Coast still very much favored the physical market.  In essence it was a cheap copy of a physical property and the company seemed fine with that.  What we are seeing now is a new crop of games conceived for online play, and that offer rule sets that would never really work in a physical card game.

The Next Boom

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Much like we have seen for MMOs and MOBA… we are going to see a lot of companies entering this marketplace, trying to TCG-ize their existing intellectual property.  Even though neither has released, it seems like the two leaders going into the marketplace are Hearthstone by Blizzard and Hex by their TCG business partner Cryptozoic.  While they will be competing in the same space, and have quite a bit of overlap… I feel like each of these games is going after a slightly different player.  Hearthstone is going after the “easy to learn, hard to master” demographic, with a deceptively simple mechanic that leads to extremely fast paced duels.

While I have not actually played it (hey Blizz flag my account already), I have watched more than a handful of youtube videos and live streams.  Essentially it seems like a really straight forward rage style duel mechanic.  The thing that I initially am not a huge fan of is the way that combat works.  It seems like there is no real defense mechanic, or at least not one in the way I have come to expect from Magic: The Gathering.  As a result the gameplay is extremely in your face and aggressive, but does not feel terribly nuanced.

Cryptic Gameplay

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On the other side of things you have Hex: Shards of Fate by Cryptozoic… which is a oddly fitting company name for their approach.  It feels like they are trying to be Magic: The Gathering 2.0 with an evolved rule set and extremely cryptic and nuanced gameplay.  This is the type of game you go into already at a massive debt of knowledge, but as you learn the rules and uncover strategies you are rewarded for your ability to assimilate the information.  It looks like it will support some extremely long running duels, much in the same way Magic did, with players coming back from the brink to snatch victory out of defeat.

Personally while I really want to play Hearthstone, Hex seems more my style.  It is less Pokémon and Yugioh and more Magic: The Gathering… the game that started the craze and still has a honored spot in my heart.  Currently I think there is more than enough market share for both of these games.  However all of the late comers that are creating online TCGs… are likely going to get left out in the cold the same way all the other boom economies have worked.  Mainly I don’t see anyone else bringing something truly unique to the table.  During the physical card game boom, we saw lots of different themed versions of M:TG, and to a lesser extent I figure we will see this again.

Been There Done That

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Currently both games are very fantasy oriented, so I expect the other genres to get on the act shortly.  Since DC is working on a MOBA… I fully expect to be seeing a DC themed online card game.  To be honest… the VS system that incorporated both DC and Marvel had a decent amount of success during the physical card game wars… so it might be a property worthy of resurrection in an online form.  Additionally I fully expect there to be a Star Wars themed product offering with the upcoming 7th movie entering production.  Then I am sure there will be other properties that jump on the bandwagon that we can’t even fathom being a card game…  just like last time.  The problem is… all of this has a feeling of “been there done that” for me.

I experienced this rush of excitement and crushing disappointment several times before during the 90s, as a property I cared about was turned into a truly un-inspired card game amalgam.  To some extent we are still living through this each time an MMO spins up only to sputter out a year or so later.  Another tidbit from my news feed yesterday was that Mummy Online was shutting down… I literally did not even know it existed in the first place.  So MMOs are currently coming and going without me even realizing it.  Basically I am bracing myself for a lot of shoddy card games to be released in a short period of time, trying to cash in on the “new” craze of digital collectible card games.  So as much as I look forward to Hearthstone and Hex… I am entering what I feel will be a new trend with quite a bit of trepidation.