Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease, Part 2 - Mindwrack Demon Math

My second Shadows over Innistrad prerelease event was on Sunday. This time my pool pushed me into Black and White, so there wasn't too much issue over what to play. I'll list my pool and final Sealed deck at the end, but this post is going to be about Mindwrack Demon interactions.

Mindwrack Demon

Mindwrack Demon was one of the bombs I opened on Sunday. As you can see, it is an extremely strong flier that comes with (potentially) two downsides. However, its first downside could be considered a Delirium enabler to mitigate its second actual downside.

Now I am going to present two scenarios involving Mindwrack Demon that I experienced on Sunday. The question is, what is the correct play?

Scenario 1: Your opponent's life total is 5. Your life total is 12. Your opponent has a 4/1 Bloodmad Vampire, 3/2 flying Olivia's Bloodsworn, 6/5 menace Gatstaf Ragers, and 1/1 lifelink Indulgent Aristocrat, all untapped. You have a 3/3 Inspiring Captain, 2/1 flying Olivia's Bloodsworn, 4/5 flying, trample Mindwrack Demon, all untapped, and the enchantment Always Awake, giving your creatures +1/+1 and vigilance. Your graveyard has Creature and Sorcery for Delirium. Your hand contains Humble the Brute, Murderous Compulsion, and Twins of Maurer Estate. It is your opponent's attack phase, and you have enough mana to cast Humble the Brute. Your opponent declares an attack with Olivia's Bloodsworn and Gatstaf Ragers, while holding two cards in hand and all mana open. What is your play?

Answer: I failed this scenario. I cast Humble the Brute to destroy his Gatstaf Ragers, giving me an Instant in my graveyard. However, I left the Olivia's Bloodsworn unblocked. My opponent then sacrificed his Indulgent Aristocrat to put a +1/+1 counter on both Olivia's Bloodsworn and Bloodmad Vampire and cast Grotesque Mutation on Olivia's Bloodsworn to give it +3/+1 and lifelink until end of turn. Just like that our life totals were reversed, and my life total dropped to 1 on my upkeep because of Mindwrack Demon's Delirium check.

The correct play would have been to recognize that I had no easy way to get Delirium and block the Bloodsworn with my Mindwrack Demon after casting Humble the Brute on Gatstaf Ragers. This way, one of three things occurs: a) my opponent doesn't play any combat tricks and lets Bloodsworn die, b) my opponent plays Grotesque Mutation to cause a trade and gain 6 life, or c) my opponent still plays exactly the same way as above to gain 7 life. In both scenarios b and c, the game would have gone on a few more turns, but I would have had my 3/2 flying Olivia's Bloodsworn to attack him unimpeded in the air. In scenario a, I would have lost 4 life at the beginning of my upkeep dropping me to 8 life, but I would have killed my opponent before losing to Mindwrack Demon since I could swing for lethal by attacking with everything on that turn.

To put this in context, this happened in game 2 of a round where I had already won game 1. Because of this misplay, we went to a game 3 that went to a draw because of time.

Scenario 2: Your opponent's life total is 6. Your life total is 10. Your opponent has a 2/1 Crow of Dark Tidings, a 2/4 Rottenheart Ghoul, and a 2/2 Ghoulcaller's Apprentice, all untapped. You have a 2/1 Crow of Dark Tidings and 4/5 flying, trample Mindwrack Demon, tapped after attacking. Your hand contains Murderous Compulsion, Silverstrike, and Twins of Maurer Estate. Your graveyard has Creature and Land for Delirium. It is your second main phase, and you have 3 Swamps and 3 Plains untapped. What is your play?

Answer: This particular interaction was probably the most inspired Magic I've played in a long time. The two key points to note about this scenario are that a) your opponent can drop you to 4 life with the current board, leaving you to die to Mindwrack Demon on your upkeep, and b) you have the Instant and Sorcery you need for Delirium in your hand and the mana to cast both of them.

Therefore, the correct play is to cast Murderous Compulsion targeting your own Crow of Dark Tidings. Unfortunately for you, the two cards it mills from your deck are both lands. Your opponent smiles, knowing that you still don't have Delirium, draws for his turn, plays a land, and attacks with everything. You then smile back and kill his Crow of Dark Tidings with Silverstrike, gaining 3 life (for a total life loss of 1) and, more importantly, getting Delirium. You then untap, don't lose life on upkeep, draw, attack with your Mindwrack Demon, play Twins of Maurer Estate to block the ground, and pass. On his draw, your opponent concedes.

This was actually another game 2, this time in the final round. Due to a computer error, I had actually been paired up with an opponent with a better record (I was 2-0-1 and he was 3-0-0) even though there was one other person with a 2-0-1 record (who had also been paired with someone who was 3-0). I had won the first game because he mulliganed to 5 and then didn't draw enough land/creatures to keep up with my early fliers.

Scenario 2.5: The question then becomes...what if your opponent didn't attack after you passed the turn? Let's assume that your next two card draws are non-flying creatures with 4+ converted mana cost (at 10 life, you'll die before you draw a 3rd card off your draw step unless you get Delirium. Also, drawing a land on your next turn gives you 7 total mana and leads to Madness shenanigans with Twins of Maurer Estate). On your upkeep, you lose 4 life, leaving you at 6 life as well. The correct play is still to swing in with Mindwrack Demon. Your opponent can choose to block with Crow of Dark Tidings. Since Mindwrack Demon has trample, blocking with Crow doesn't gain your opponent anything (he's still on a 2 turn clock). Most likely no blocks will be declared, leaving him at 2 life. (Note: if he blocks, you actually end up in a better position since he no longer has a flier on the board and is no longer threatening lethal.) On your second main phase, it is no longer correct to cast Twins of Maurer Estate. Instead, mana should be left open for Silverstrike, again.

The turn is then passed to your opponent. At this point, your opponent is forced to swing with everything to attempt to win the game before you do. From his perspective, he needs you either dead or at 4 life without Delirium. He expects either that he'll be attacking into a combat trick (in which case the game is already over for him) or that you're bluffing, but doing nothing will lose him the game. You hit one of his creatures with Silverstrike (recommend targeting Crow of Dark Tidings, unless you had the aforementioned 7 mana, in which case target Rottenheart Ghoul and cast Twins for their Madness cost when your opponent forces you to discard, then use Twins to block Ghoulcaller's Apprentice...Ouch!), netting -1 life after damage is dealt and gaining Delirium. Finally, untap, upkeep, draw, and attack to win the game. The key to this interaction is still playing Murderous Compulsion on your own Crow of Dark Tidings.

I hope you had fun working out these two scenarios. Mindwrack Demon was an amazing Limited bomb, and I had fun playing with him (even when he caused me to lose). Check out my Sealed pool and deck below (my prerelease promo was Bygone Bishop two days in a row!):

Colorless (4)
Haunted Cloak (Equipment, 3)
2x Harvest Hand (Artifact Creature, 3)
Murderer's Axe (Equipment, 4)

Green (15)
Loam Dryad (Creature, G)
Clip Wings (Instant, 1G)
Aim High (Instant, 1G)
Fork in the Road (Sorcery, 1G)
Cryptolith Rite (Enchantment, 1G)
Quilled Wolf (Creature, 1G)
Byway Courier (Creature, 2G)
Hermit of the Natterknolls (Creature, 2G)
Tireless Tracker (Creature, 2G)
Inexorable Blob (Creature, 2G)
Might Beyond Reason (Instant, 3G)
Pack Guardian (Creature, 2GG)
Cult of the Waxing Moon (Creature, 4G)
2x Watcher in the Web (Creature, 4G)

Red (14)
Dual Shot (Instant, R)
Tormenting Voice (Sorcery, 1R)
Sanguinary Mage (Creature, 1R)
Scourge Wolf (Creature, RR)
2x Uncaged Fury (Instant, 2R)
Stensia Masquerade (Enchantment, 2R)
Fiery Temper (Instant, 1RR)
Convicted Killer (Creature, 2R)
Breakneck Rider (Creature, 1RR)
Inner Struggle (Instant, 3R)
2x Structural Distortion (Sorcery, 3R)
Goldknight Castigator (Creature, 2RR)

Blue (13)
Invasive Surgery (Instant, U)
2x Jace's Scrutiny (Instant, 1U)
Ghostly Wings (Enchantment, 1U)
Fleeting Memories (Enchantment, 2U)
3x Stitched Mangler (Creature, 2U)
2x Drownyard Explorers (Creature, 3U)
Gone Missing (Sorcery, 4U)
Lamplighter of Selhoff (Creature, 4U)
Silburlind Snapper (Creature, 5U)

White (22)
Chaplain's Blessing (Sorcery, W)
Town Gossipmonger (Creature, W)
Thraben Inspector (Creature, W)
2x Topplegeist (Creature, W)
Expose Evil (Instant, 1W)
Moorland Drifter (Creature, 1W)
Survive the Night (Instant, 2W)
Ethereal Guidance (Sorcery, 2W)
Always Watching (Enchantment, 1WW)
2x Cathar's Companion (Creature, 2W)
2x Militant Inquisitor (Creature, 2W)
Dauntless Cathar (Creature, 2W)
Spectral Shepherd (Creature, 2W)
Bygone Bishop (Creature, 2W)
Tenacity (Instant, 3W)
Silverstrike (Instant, 3W)
Inspiring Captain (Creature, 3W)
Apothecary Geist (Creature, 3W)
Humble the Brute (Instant, 4W)

Black (15)
Shamble Back (Sorcery, B)
Sanitarium Skeleton (Creature, B)
Murderous Compulsion (Sorcery, 1B)
Grotesque Mutation (Instant, 1B)
2x Olivia's Bloodsworn (Creature, 1B)
Rancid Rats (Creature, 1B)
Pale Rider of Trostad (Creature, 1B)
Merciless Resolve (Instant, 2B)
2x Crow of Dark Tidings (2B)
Rottenheart Ghoul (Creature, 3B)
Mindwrack Demon (Creature, 2BB)
Hound of the Farbogs (Creature, 4B)
Twins of Maurer Estate (Creature, 4B)

Land (2)
Warped Landscape
Forsaken Sanctuary

BW Fliers

Creatures (17)
2x Topplegeist
Pale Rider of Trostad
Moorland Drifter
Rancid Rats
2x Olivia's Bloodsworn
Dauntless Cathar
Spectral Shepherd
2x Crow of Dark Tidings
Bygone Bishop
Inspiring Captain
Apothecary Geist
Mindwrack Demon
Twins of Maurer Estate
Hound of the Farbogs

Other (6)
Grotesque Mutation*
Murderous Compulsion
Ethereal Guidance
Always Watching
Humble the Brute

Land (17)
Warped Landscape
Forsaken Sanctuary
8x Plains
7x Swamp

*Note: In my first two rounds, I was using Merciless Resolve instead of Grotesque Mutation. This was to enable getting land into my graveyard to enable Delirium. However, I found that more often than not, Merciless Resolve ended up being a dead card in my hand. (Special thanks to Andrew Weiss for concurring when I commented that Merciless Resolve wasn't really doing anything for me.) The life swing that came with Grotesque Mutation fit with what the deck wanted to do much better.

I hope you're enjoying Shadows over Innistrad as much as I am! Please leave your comments below.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease, Part 1 - All is Sacrifice

This past weekend was the Shadows over Innistrad prerelease. I've always held fond memories of Innistrad: it was the first set to come out after I moved to Washington, and Avacyn Restored was the first time I went 4-0 at Uncle's Games. Needless to say, I was very excited to revisit Innistrad. And this set definitely didn't disappoint. But first, let's figure out what I did wrong.

Like my previous post about the Battle for Zendikar prerelease, I made some mistakes deciding on my 40 card deck. I got overly excited about some of the bombs I opened, and I'm pretty sure I got mind-controlled by a Frog Horror. Let's take a look at my Sealed pool (again, Mythics/Rares are in bold):

Colorless (5)
Explosive Apparatus (Artifact, 1)
True-Faith Censer (Equipment, 2)
2x Magnifying Glass (Artifact, 3)
Harvest Hand (Artifact Creature, 3)

Multicolored (2)
Arlinn Kord (Planeswalker, 2RG)
The Gitrog Monster (Creature, 3BG)

White (20)
2x Chaplain's Blessing (Sorcery, W)
Town Gossipmonger (Creature, W)
Thraben Inspector (Creature, W)
Moorland Drifter (Creature, 1W)
Unruly Mob (Creature, 1W)
Puncturing Light (Instant, 1W)
Declaration in Stone (Sorcery, 1W)
Bygone Bishop (Creature, 2W)
Pious Evangel (Creature, 2W)
Spectral Shepherd (Creature, 2W)
Ethereal Guidance (Sorcery, 2W)
Angelic Purge (Sorcery, 2W)
2x Tenacity (Instant, 3W)
2x Inquisitor's Ox (Creature, 3W)
Apothecary Geist (Creature, 3W)
Reaper of Flight Moonsilver (Creature, 3WW)
Emissary of the Sleepless (Creature, 4W)

Blue (12)
Vessel of Paramnesia (Enchantment, 1U)
2x Jace's Scrutiny (Instant, 1U)
Just the Wind (Instant, 1U)
Press for Answers (Sorcery, 1U)
Manic Scribe (Creature, 1U)
Trail of Evidence (Enchantment, 2U)
Niblis of Dusk (Creature, 2U)
Uninvited Geist (Creature, 2U)
Drownyard Explorers (Creature, 3U)
Sleep Paralysis (Enchantment, 3U)
Nephalia Moondrakes (Creature, 5UU)

Black (13)
Sinister Concoction (Enchantment, B)
Shamble Back (Sorcery, B)
Murderous Compulsion (Sorcery, B)
Vessel of Malignity (Enchantment, 1B)
Grotesque Mutation (Instant, 1B)
Macabre Waltz (Sorcery, 1B)
Olivia's Bloodsworn (Creature, 1B)
Ghoulcaller's Apprentice (Creature, 1B)
Rancid Rats (Creature, 1B)
Relentless Dead (Creature, BB)
Crow of Dark Tidings (Creature, 2B)
Elusive Tormentor (Creature, 2BB)
Ghoulsteed (Creature, 4B)

Green (16)
Vessel of Nascency (Enchantment, G)
Loam Dryad (Creature, G)
2x Groundskeeper (Creature, G)
Fork in the Road (Sorcery, 1G)
Duskwatch Recruiter (Creature, 1G)
Moldgraf Scavenger (Creature, 1G)
2x Byway Courier (Creature, 2G)
Graf Mole (Creature, 2G)
Might Beyond Reason (Instant, 3G)
Equestrian Skill (Enchantment, 3G)
Intrepid Provisioner (Creature, 3G)
Briarbridge Patrol (Creature, 3G)
Watcher in the Web (Creature, 4G)
Thornhide Wolves (Creature, 4G)

Red (12)
Skin Invasion (Enchantment, R)
Dual Shot (Instant, R)
Insolent Neonate (Creature, R)
Ember-Eye Wolf (Creature, 1R)
2x Sanguinary Mage (Creature, 1R)
Uncaged Fury (Instant, 2R)
Breakneck Rider (Creature, 1RR)
Structural Distortion (Sorcery, 3R)
Voldaren Duelist (Creature, 3R)
Pyre Hound (Creature, 3R)
Incorrigible Youths (Creature, 3RR)

Lands (5)
Warped Landscape
Game Trail
Drownyard Temple
2x Foul Orchard

My prerelease promo was Bygone Bishop and early on in the deckbuilding process I was still leaning towards playing White. I had noticed that I could build a strong Spirit-themed deck. Then I opened The Gitrog Monster. The Gitrog Monster is insanely good. As long as you're willing to feed him [land], he will kill things for you and let you draw cards! I'd been hoping to get The Gitrog Monster during the prerelease. But at the time my Black cards were really weak, so I set him aside.

The problem arose when I opened Arlinn Kord. She was worth more than I'd paid to participate in the tournament (at the time, she was ~$26). I guess I'm weak to Planeswalkers too, because at that moment I shifted gears to see if I could make a deck using her.

I came up with the following (splashing Black for removal and The Gitrog Monster):

Jund Bombs

Creatures (13)
Loam Dryad
2x Sanguinary Mage
Ember-Eye Wolf
Duskwatch Recruiter
2x Byway Courier
Breakneck Rider
Briarbridge Patrol
Voldaren Duelist
Watcher in the Web
The Gitrog Monster

Planeswalker (1)
Arlinn Kord

Other (9)
Dual Shot
Sinister Concoction
Vessel of Nascency
Skin Invasion
Explosive Apparatus
Murderous Compulsion
Fork in the Road
Uncaged Fury
Might Beyond Reason

Land (17)
Warped Landscape
2x Foul Orchard
Drownyard Temple
Game Trail
2x Swamp
5x Forest
5x Mountain

After sleeving this monstrosity, I predictably bombed the tournament with a record of 0-3 before I dropped (both to save time and because there was no way I could win even a single pack at that point). What went wrong? Well, this deck is extremely weak to fliers. And Innistrad is full of cheap fliers. Also, if an opponent managed to remove Gitrog Monster, nothing else in the deck could really win the game on its own. Arlinn performed below expectations. Most of the time I cast her to force an opponent to attack her (and kill her), basically using her as a way to regain tempo. She is definitely strong in the right deck, but this one wasn't it.

What deck should I have played? After dropping out of the tournament, I changed my deck to the one below and challenged the visiting WotC employee Mark Gottlieb (design manager at Wizards and lead designer for Shadows over Innistrad!) in hopes of winning a Magic Origins pack and salvaging my pride. This was the deck I originally had in mind (before opening Gitrog Monster and Arlinn):

UW Spirits and Humans

Creatures (15)
Thraben Inspector
Town Gossipmonger
Moorland Drifter
Manic Scribe
Unruly Mob
Uninvited Geist
Spectral Shepherd
Niblis of Dusk
Pious Evangel
Bygone Bishop
Apothecary Geist
Inquisitor's Ox
Emissary of the Sleepless
Reaper of Flight Moonsilver
Nephalia Moondrakes

Other (8)
Explosive Apparatus
Press for Answers
Just the Wind
Puncturing Light
Declaration in Stone
Angelic Purge
Ethereal Guidance
Sleep Paralysis

Land (17)
Warped Landscape
9x Plains
7x Island

Power-wise, nothing in this deck has the presence of Gitrog Monster or Arlinn Kord, but most of these creatures fly and synergize well. I have a strong Spirit theme with cards that have an upside when I control other Spirits. I also have much better removal with Puncturing Light, Declaration in Stone, and Angelic Purge. The only problem I had with this deck was turning on Delirium, but Warped Landscape, Angelic Purge, and Pious Evangel all helped put lands in the graveyard. I was able to beat Mark's Red-Black Madness deck even though most of his creatures were much larger than mine (lots of 4-power creatures) purely because I could fly over them and pressure his life total early.

What did I learn from this? In a thematically strong set like Shadows over Innistrad, synergy matters. The deck that I played in the tournament may have had individually decent cards, but they didn't work well together. Also, flyers are still very good in Limited.

Part 2 - Mindwrack Demon Math is coming soon! Please leave your comments below.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Having Hindsight is Better Than Not Seeing at All - Battle for Zendikar Sealed Deck Thoughts

This post is going to be all about Magic the Gathering. Readers have been warned.

I attended the Prerelease today for Battle for Zendikar. This post is mostly going to be me going through my sealed deck thought process and my realization of how I should have gone about my deck build. Comments, as always, are welcomed.

First, a little background: I play at Uncle's Games in Crossroads, and their prereleases are usually a great mix of young and old, new and veteran players. I like the atmosphere, and I also prefer the familiar faces. My win rate is usually 50%, which isn't bad but isn't great either. Going 2-2-0 nets you one prize pack at Uncle's, so that's basically the threshold for "winning."

I play Sealed Deck almost exclusively now, mostly because I don't want to spend the money to play Standard, and I like the idea of deck building. Also it's the format that lets you open the most packs, and that feeling never gets old ;)

My pool for today was as follows (broken down by casting color and sorted by CMC, rares/mythic bolded):

Colorless (4)
Titan's Presence, Instant (3)
Hedron Archive, Artifact (4)
Kozilek's Channeler, Creature 4/4 (5)
Ruin Processor, Creature 7/8 (7)

Multicolored (4)
Herald of Kozilek, Creature 2/4 (1UR)
Veteran Warleader, Creature */* (1GW)
Ulamog's Nullifier, Creature 2/3 (2UB)
Kiora, Master of the Depths, Planeswalker (2GU)

Non-basic land (9)
2x Mortuary Mire
2x Skyline Cascade
2x Evolving Wilds
Spawning Bed
Prairie Stream
Lumbering Falls

Red (9)
Lavastep Raider, Creature 1/2 (R)
Outnumber, Instant (R)
Kozilek's Sentinel, Creature 1/4 (1R)
Tunneling Geopede, Creature 3/2 (2R)
2x Nettle Drone, Creature 3/1 (2R)
Touch of the Void, Sorcery (2R)
Shatterskull Recruit, Creature 4/4 (3RR)
Stonefury, Instant (3RR)

Green (16)
Sylvan Scrying, Sorcery (1G)
Earthen Arms, Sorcery (1G)
Plummet, Instant (1G)
2x Tajuru Stalwart, Creature 0/1 (2G)
Void Attendant, Creature 2/3 (2G)
Unnatural Aggression, Instant (2G)
Retreat to Kazandu, Enchantment (2G)
2x Natural Connection, Instant (2G)
2x Eyeless Watcher, Creature 1/1 (3G)
Infuse with the Elements, Instant (3G)
2x Reclaiming Vines, Sorcery (2GG)
Tajuru Beastmaster, Creature 5/5 (5G)

Blue (16)
Clutch of Currents, Sorcery (U)
5x Rush of Ice, Sorcery (U)
Tide Drifter, Creature 0/5 (1U)
Mist Intruder, Creature 1/2 (1U)
Coralhelm Guide, Creature 2/1 (1U)
Tightening Coils, Enchantment (1U)
Retreat to Coralhelm, Enchantment (2U)
Adverse Conditions, Instant (3U)
Incubator Drone, Creature 2/3 (3U)
2x Oracle of Dust, Creature 3/5 (4U)
Wave-Wing Elemental, Creature 3/4 (5U)

White (11)
3x Cliffside Lookout, Creature 1/1 (W)
Kor Castigator, Creature 3/1 (1W)
Felidar Cub, Creature 2/2 (1W)
Fortified Rampart, Creature 0/6 (1W)
Ondu Rising, Sorcery (1W)
Lantern Scout, Creature 3/2 (2W)
Stasis Snare, Enchantment (1WW)
Smite the Monstrous, Instant (3W)
Hero of Goma Fada, Creature 4/3 (4W)

Black (16)
Altar's Reap, Instant (1B)
Kalastria Healer, Creature 1/2 (1B)
Complete Disregard, Instant (2B)
Malakir Familiar, Creature 2/1 (2B)
2x Voracious Null, Creature 2/2 (2B)
4x Silent Skimmer, Creature 0/4 (3B)
2x Mire's Malice, Sorcery (3B)
Mind Raker, Creature 3/3 (3B)
Skitterskin, Creature 4/3 (3B)
Grip of Desolation, Instant (4BB)
Defiant Bloodlord, Creature 4/5 (5BB)

I got really excited when I saw Kiora. This is the first planeswalker I've opened in a Sealed Deck tournament since Rise of the Eldrazi. Apparently the Eldrazi planeswalkers like me. What happened next though was that I became obsessed with fitting her into a deck, so naturally it would be UGB right? In my excitement I mentally dismissed Red and White as having too few cards to support a deck, and I saw that I did have the mana fixing necessary to run three colors, so I immediately jumped right in and built this:

Creatures (16)
Mist Intruder
Tide Drifter
Incubator Drone
Ulamog's Nullifier
Kozilek's Channeler
Ruin Processor
Kalastria Healer
Malakir Familiar
2x Silent Skimmer
2x Tajuru Stalwart
2x Eyeless Watcher
Void Attendant
Tajuru Beastmaster

Planeswalker (1)
Kiora, Master of the Depths

Other (6)
Infuse with the Elements
Unnatural Aggression
Complete Disregard
Rush of Ice
Clutch of Currents
Grip of Desolation

Lands (17)
2x Evolving Wilds
Spawning Bed
Prairie Stream
Lumbering Falls
2x Mortuary Mire
2x Skyline Cascade
3x Swamp
3x Forest
2x Island

Looking at my deck in this format, I'm pretty sure people can see a few issues immediately. Unfortunately, they were lost on me during the deck building phase, and I then went on to a 1-2-1 record. Needless to say, not happy with myself.

The question now is, was this really the best deck I could build with my pool? As I was dismantling my deck I noticed that I'd used three of my seven rares, which is a respectable number for Sealed Deck, but TWO OF THEM WERE LANDS. Now, lands are important, but most of the time, especially in Limited, they're not going to win the game.

I should have chosen a different 40 cards. I should have chosen these:

GW Allies and Friends

Creatures (16)
3x Cliffside Lookout
Kor Castigator
Felidar Cub
Lantern Scout
Hero of Goma Fada
Kozilek's Channeler
Ruin Processor
2x Tajuru Stalwart
2x Eyeless Watcher
Void Attendant
Tajuru Beastmaster
Veteran Warleader

Planeswalker (1)
Kiora, Master of the Depths

Other (6)
Earthen Arms
Infuse with the Elements
Unnatural Aggression
Retreat to Kazandu
Stasis Snare
Smite the Monstrous

Lands (17)
2x Evolving Wilds
Spawning Bed
Lumbering Falls
Prairie Stream
2x Island
5x Plains
5x Forests

With this deck, 25% of my deck is Allies, which means a lot of chances for lifelink, indestructible, and +1/+1 effects. I also use six of my seven rares, which is a minor indicator of inherent power in the deck. On top of that I am able to incorporate the Retreat into this mana curve, and both +1/+1 counters or gaining life on landfall are great choices. Stasis Snare and Smite the Monstrous are both extremely well-costed removal spells, and I even get enchantment removal on a stick in the form of Felidar Cub. I get four sources for blue mana (and two wild cards in Evolving Wilds), which is more than enough to support Kiora.

Would I have done better with this deck during the tournament? That is up in the air. However, I probably would have given myself an easier path to success (and those two wins) using the second deck instead of the first. In previous tournaments I wouldn't even have been able to see this though, so I'm definitely proud of myself for improving to the point where I am noticing things like this.

What would you have sleeved up given this pool? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The state of console games

Two posts in two days...what is the world coming to? I'd usually leave video game ranting to Angry Video Game Nerd, except I'm getting that feeling right now.

I love video games. I may not have the console history that rabid fans use to measure their e-peen, but I've always enjoyed console gaming (even though I'm a PC gamer at heart). And really, growing up it seemed like the good games never stopped. Even now, as a member of the 9-5 workforce, there's always time for games, or at least I make time for them (usually to the extreme ire of Cindy).

There's always something new to play...except when there...isn't...

I just completed a year working as a tester on the Xbox One. The "next-gen" consoles have been out for a while now, with the Wii U finally hitting its stride (supposedly), the Xbox One slightly making a comeback (maybe), and the PS4 still going strong (uhh sure?). My question is, where are the games?

I haven't bought an Xbox One or PS4 yet. In my opinion, neither console has a strong enough library of games already released or announced to justify a purchase. Dragon Age: Inquisition? That was a no-brainer buy for PC for me. Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare? Not a fan of the PvP and the campaign's like 10 hours long, if you're slow. Forza? Sure it's fun, but I still have my 360 racing setup. Bloodborne? Seriously? Mortal Kombat X? Sorry but that's a nostalgia buy at best...and the new and improved fatalities are a negative in my opinion. Destiny? Sure, if Bungie hadn't run that IP into the ground shortly after release... Evolve was the March of video games (in like a lion, out like a lamb). Halo MCC had sooooo many issues, but it was fun playing the Halo single player campaigns again...until you realize that wait, I'm just replaying the old Halo games, which were twitchy and had really terrible story-telling...and are still twitchy with terrible story-telling. Assassin's Creed Unity...what a mess that ended up being.

I seriously had more fun playing Powerstar Golf on the Xbox One than any of the games I just listed (excepting DA:I but I played that on PC). So then, Nintendo must be doing okay on the Wii U right?

Well, let's see...Mario Kart 8, Super Smash Bros. Those are the only two games mainstream fans care about. Me personally, I've never been a huge fan of SSB. Hyrule Warriors was fun for a while. But that makes...3 games? Bayonetta 2, but it still has the ridiculously unnecessary gratuitous nudity issue that the first one had, which they fixed with Nintendo costumes, but left in the sequel? Nintendo is still the king of poor design decisions...

This was supposed to have been Nintendo's year. Last year's E3, Nintendo completely blew Sony and Microsoft out of the water in terms of pure excitement concerning new games. Except now we're coming to E3 2015 and Zelda has been pushed back, Codename STEAM didn't actually generate any steam, Monster Hunter 4 still has the same crappy control system as the previous Nintendo ported Monster Hunters, and Xenoblade Chronicles X still doesn't have a Western release date despite releasing in Japan next Wednesday.

Come on, everyone. The heart has really dropped out of video games this year. Considering my top games of 2015 are Pillars of Eternity and Xenoblade Chronicles 3D, it seems a return to the basics is in order. Make me want to play games instead of writing blog posts!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

To freelance or not to freelance

I'm very bad at this writing thing. I always start writing projects thinking "this time I'll keep it going!" and it never happens. This is why my blogs (like this one) are always empty, and I'm not a writer. However, what I've realized is that I'm an extremely good editor. It's not just spelling and grammar; I can pick out tone and style as well. I have frequent issues with self-published books (usually picked up on my Kindle), but it happens quite often with major content providers as well (e.g. news, current events, pop culture sites).

I also find myself enjoying translation work in the only two languages I'm fluent in: Chinese (Mandarin for spoken, both Traditional and Simplified for written) and English (mostly American, of course). Japanese has been my next project for years now, but much like writing blogs, learning it is a stop-and-go affair.

That brings me to the subject of this post. For the past year, mostly due to financial concerns, I've been toying with the idea of doing freelance translation and editing work. I already do a lot of this on a pro bono basis (starting from high school actually) - mostly for family and friends but also for kindred souls on the internet. For examples of my latest work you can check out the Xenoblade Chronicles X video subs by 許為傑. I own the Google+ page darkshard45, and I've been helping 許為傑 with grammar and flow.

The major issue with making this into a side business is time. Translating and editing are typically very time-sensitive. Editing is something I can complete within an hour or two for most projects, but translation projects can take days or weeks with work and life competing for attention. I can always start with just editing, but translating is where I stand out and usually do my best work. I'm afraid that it will become too time-consuming, and I'll end up letting down customers who would actually be paying now.

I figure this is where I needed opinions from people who know me. Some of you know me well, and most of you don't. What do you think should be my course of action? Should I attempt to make this into a freelance business or just keep it as a hobby?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Destiny, Destiny, Destiny...

So a lot of people have been exposed to the Destiny beta. If you've been living under a rock, Destiny is Bungie's new IP, kind of like an MMO FPS. (I hope you know that Bungie previously worked on something called Halo, which was kind of popular. Just a little.)

Anyway, so I was playing in the beta for the past few days, realizing that I have very few friends on Xbox Live Gold for the 360 and even fewer friends on PS3. I'm quite sure that of all the people I know and have interacted with, probably 50% of them do have said accounts, but it's just not in my nature to "swap gamertags" unless we have a game in mind. Well, Destiny just might be that game.

Unfortunately, Destiny is only in the realm of possibility right now. The issue is this - after playing Destiny about 3 hours a day for about 6 days, I realized that it's very boring when you don't play with friends. The gameplay is still there, but you lose out on the social aspect.

Pause for dramatic effect.

I prefer single player games. If you look at my games library, it is full of single player titles, where multiplayer is either nonexistent or basically an afterthought. I even play MMOs as a single player, usually not for a prolonged period of time, but it happens. The problem though is that all of these games are RPGs. And an FPS is a different kind of beast.

FPSs scream out for the social aspect. They almost require you to be playing with a buddy on the couch or with friends over some sort of chat server. Frenetic gameplay coupled with a first person perspective means you're constantly looking for your next target and your friends are there to "help" you with that. These past few days I figured out just why I never thought I liked FPSs - I was playing them wrong.

But that brings me to the second issue with Destiny - it's coming out on too many platforms. At launch, Destiny is going to have four separate "servers," for Xbox 360, Xbox One, PS3, and PS4. In theory, this is great, because people won't have to upgrade to the new consoles to play this "next-gen" game. The problem comes when you actually think about the future of Destiny.

Destiny is an MMO that lives purely in the console world. Unlike the world of PC gaming, console gamers don't randomly upgrade bits and pieces of their hardware when they feel like it. You upgrade to the next console when you have the means or drive to do so. Personally, I don't feel the need to get an Xbox One or PS4 right now. Neither console has a critical mass of games that I want to play, and the absolute lack of backwards compatibility with my current games and accessories is a big letdown.

If I buy Destiny for Xbox 360, I'm getting an immediate "fix" for this game. However, it should be obvious that the 360 and PS3 don't have a place in Bungie's 10-year plan for Destiny. Microsoft and Sony aren't going to be supporting their older consoles for that many years. There won't be new updates coming for those consoles that far in the future. If you're planning for the long haul, buying for the older consoles is just not smart since you'll effectively be buying the same game twice.

However, as with most MMOs, if you don't get in at launch or near launch, you miss the wider sense of community. The amount of people that play a certain MMO 6 months or a year after launch is much, much different from the amount that log in for the first three months. So then the question is, are you willing to buy the new consoles to cash in on the benefits of playing at launch?

What I'm really hoping that Bungie will announce in the next month is the ability to "upgrade" from the 360 or PS3 game to the corresponding One or PS4 game for a minimal amount of money, say $10. This is what Gamestop and other retailers were offering buyers last year with the imminent release of the PS4 and Xbox One. It makes sense, shows a connection to your player-base, and still pushes people to buy the new consoles. Even limiting the amount of time the promotion would be valid is fine - I think having a year to take advantage of it should be about right.

We'll see what, if anything, Bungie has to say about this. My fingers are crossed.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What's Wrong With Microsoft

So hopefully everyone knows the big news that came out of E3. Sony literally gave Microsoft the finger with their official unveiling of the Playstation 4, and it'll be rough for Microsoft to dig themselves out of the hole they dug for themselves. Judging from the complete lack of any real response from Microsoft at this point, they have no idea what to do at this point in time.

Where did Microsoft go wrong? Considering that the Xbox 360 currently has higher market share than the Playstation 3, Microsoft could have just maintained the status quo, put the price point of the One at $400, and probably kept cruising along. Instead, they released confusing messages about used games and requiring an Internet connection and then announced a price point of $500, hoping that flashing pictures of a new Halo game and realistic Call of Duty dogs would pull the wool over gamers' eyes.

Forbes called this one entirely correct. There was no reason for Microsoft to do any of this. So what was the motivation? I call greed. These past few years have shown a new Microsoft trying to push the bar on how far they can go on pricing. By allowing all of their products to be linked through a Microsoft account, Microsoft has a truly unique ability to be a part of every aspect of a family's day. Think about the products Microsoft has released: Windows Phone, Xbox and Kinect, Surface, Bing, Zune (but more importantly Zune Pass), Outlook.com, and of course the ever ubiquitous Windows and Office. These products cover everything from work and school to entertainment and social life.

What happened then is Microsoft got too ahead of themselves. They made the assumption that everyone would buy into this connected life with little to no regard for price or ease of use. Everyone was shocked when the price of the Surface was announced, yet it's still selling and there probably won't be a price cut anytime soon. That set a dangerous precedent for the Xbox One. When Microsoft did their on-campus unveiling of the One, I predicted a price point of $500 based on the pricing of the Surface alone. My other friends weren't expecting it to be more than $300, to keep it in line with 360 pricing and facilitate the jump to a new console with no backwards compatibility. I wasn't happy to be proven right.

So what can Microsoft do now? To be honest, any move they make now is just conceding that Sony completely outplayed them. It's going to be hard for them to lose face like that. Microsoft's current "take it or leave it" stance on their Xbox One policies reinforce that they're unwilling to try to make any corrections now. Unfortunately, this will probably come back to bite them later on. This unwillingness to budge is most likely going to give Sony the upper hand for the next 5 years or so until the next "next gen" console is released.