Thursday, May 20, 2010

Building your own Magic Card

Today I'm going to design my own magic card. Y'see, my brother is participating in a Elder Dragon Highlander tournament at his local store. First prize lets you design a magic card that'll be legal in EDH games at that store. Neat, huh? Actually, the tournament went down on Saturday, but I haven't yet heard the results.

First thing I said was "I suggest Stingscourger". To which he assigned new flavor text: Already Perfect. Mostly I suggested that because I really like Stingscourger, but really that's not the best suggestion. I mean, if you want more stingscourger effects there are several out there (Man of War, Sedraxis Alchemist). An opportunity like that isn't something you should squander doing something that you can already do.

So, assuming my brother takes my suggestion (and wins. I also suggest that.), what exactly will I be suggesting?

Let's take a look at previous invitational cards. The Magic Invitational was a tournament associated with the Magic World Championships where the main prize was getting to design your own magic card. Let's take a look at winners of ages past:

Meddling Mage
Dark Confidant
Ranger of Eos

Those are all significant tournament cards. And they've all got interesting, unique powerful abilities. I mean, there are plenty of things that let you tutor up creatures, but two to your hand? But what can you do with one mana creatures? Quite a lot, apparently.

Anyway, I'm going to be designing the card for Elder Dragon Highlander. That means I should be taking into account the various ways the format warps the game. The card should be designed fully cognizant of the fact that players start out with 40 life, and all that implies.

Take a look at Dark Confidant. You get a card every turn, but you pay it's mana cost in life. Great if you've got a land on the top (converted mana cost zero), but terrible if you turn up, say, Time Stretch. The thing is, the card was designed with a 20 point life total in mind, not 40. So the ability is roughly twice as good in EDH.

On the other hand, since I'm designing the card for a small group, not to be printed generally I can ignore some of the usual constraints on Magic design. Purple mana here I come! More seriously, I said "some" not "all" of the constraints. Specifically, I don't have to worry at all that this card is playable in limited, and I can use mechanics and flavor that would make it in another Unglued set, but not into the black bordered world we're used to.

So let's design some cards, alright?

Blatant rip off Mage [1WUB]
Creature--Human Wizard
When CARDNAME enters the battlefield, name a card. The named card can't be played.
At the beginning of your upkeep, you may reveal the top card of your library. If you do, lose life equal to it's converted mana cost and put it into your hand.
Siamese Mages, their powers combined... Bob Maher was willing to pay the cost, Christ Pikula wasn't so sure.

I bet you can guess where I got that inspiration from. I mean, Meddling Mage (Chris Pikula's invitational card) and Dark Confidant (Bob Maher's) are good, so why wouldn't they be better together? Well, the card is pretty obviously powerful. I mean, it's a 4/3 for 4 with two good abilities. And yet... putting it in three colors makes the card pretty restrictive as to the sorts of decks that can play it. Since EDH decks can't splash past their general's colors, this guy would only go in WUB or 5-color decks. Seems a shame to make a card that'll see that little play. Also, the simple rip-off idea doesn't appeal to me much. Moving along...

You know what else is an advantage of making a card for one single store? You get to make fun of people: Behold!

Margret's Call [BBBBB]
Remove Target Player from the Game
Sorry guys, I gotta go

See that? That's a dig at my brother who is happily married. To a wonderful woman, I hasten to add. Thing is though, if he's at the magic store and he gets the call, well, he wouldn't win that game. Might as well spread the effect to his friends. Of course, the problem with this card is that it's, well, unbalanced at any mana cost. Turn one Gilt-leaf palace. Turn two Overgrown Tomb. Turn three Bayou, Dark Ritual, you lose. Turn four Eternal witness sets you up for a turn 5 replay. At a small multiplayer table you could clear the table this way. Also, things don't get removed from the game anymore, they get "exiled". Hmmm....

M10? What M10? [3]
Damage goes on the frikken stack again.
Come back, Mogg Fanatic! We still love you!

Man, wouldn't that feel great to print? When wizards introduces changes I'm usually cautiously optimistic, but this one still rankles. I get it that it was a complication of the rules. I get it that the "tricks" aren't so clever. You're still reducing the power of a lot of my favorite cards, and I don't feel obligated to be happy over that. Ok, ok, less ranting. Anyway, I could see printing this card, but it's hard to tell how much play it'd see. I mean, even if you're building a deck with a lot of potential damage-on tricks, is it worth having a card to access them? How often would this actually make the final cut? Also, no idea if [3] is the right cost at all for this sort of effect.

What about cards that address the EDH metagame? I mean, there've got to be some good things to print there. Now, I don't play the format nearly as much as my brother, so I don't have the greatest idea of what the metagame is, or needs. But I have heard him ranting.

Elephant of the Now [1GG]
Players can't take extra turns
Hitler keeps one of these around to foil temporal assassins

So why an elephant? Well, it's a hate card, and you want to be able to let people deal with hate cards. Putting it on a creature means that everybody's got some option to deal with it. So once it's on a creature, why an elephant? Did you honestly think I was going to put it on yet another freaking elf? I did want to give it to green because 1) enemy color of blue and 2) green could use some more good cards. Hmm...

Futility [2GG]
Creatures you control become indestructible until end of turn.
The blastwave subsided. The fires burned low. The pyromancer stared at the devastation he had utterly failed to cause.

In a duel this wouldn't be that great. If they wrath the board, odds are they only have one or zero creatures out, so you don't get the benefit of clearing their board, only saving your own. Still it might make it on being an answer to their sweepers alone. (Extended zoo: turn one Wild Nacatl. Turn two Tarmogoyf. Turn three Knight of the reliquary. Turn four sit back on four mana and wait.) But that's beside the point. In a multiplayer game this is great. You can save your guys when they're just wiping the board to deal with the sliver kid two chairs over. Still, it's four mana, and you don't even get a creature out of it. Again with the "Hmm...".

Surprise Moose! [2GG]
When Surprise Moose! comes into play, creatures you control become indestructible until end of turn.
The elves he was expecting. The bear he could handle. The moose was a different story.

Why a Moose? Why do you ask me stupid questions? Anyway, in addition to all that from the last card, this also functions as a combat trick; surprise blocker or a one sided fog, allows you to get some natural two for ones, which is always a good time. Moving along.

You know what I really hate about EDH? Fixing my mana. Don't get me wrong, I'm as much a fan of acceleration as anybody, but it gets really annoying trying to make sure you tapped your mana right every single turn. Naturally I aggravate the problem with the sorts of decks I play. I'm flipping through my Reaper King deck, and the mana costs aren't exactly friendly. Two different Ultimatums, the full on five part Nephilimbo, Dominus of Fealty, Memory Plunder, Godsire, to say nothing of the stuff that's merely WUBRG to play. Anyway, despite the fact that I'm playing all sorts of great color fixing, I still have to pay attention to what lands I'm tapping for what every single turn of the game. Let's change that.

Scepter of Get on with it already [3]
T: Add one mana of any color to your mana pool
Lands you control are every basic land type in addition to their other types
Look, what if I just trust that you have all the right colors?

See that? I don't worry about tapping my dual land for the wrong color because they all make every color. Ok, I'm jamming Prismatic Omen onto Darksteel Ingot, without even upping the mana cost. In the end though, neither effect is that powerful. I mean, when's the last time you were seriously menaced by a domain deck? While I'm at it, let me throw this one out:

Barry's Land
Basic Land--Space
T: Add 1 to your mana pool.

Why space? Because I can think of at least two jokes based off of that. (It's the final frontier.) Why Barry's Land? Cause that's what they call it in Wizard's R&D. They tried to print this the last two times Domain was a mechanic, but the rules never worked. I suppose I could put on here "All previous domain cards except Last Stand are errataed to work with this card" and "The rules work damnit" but really, why bother? Anyway. If you don't get the purpose of this card, it's because of the domain mechanic, which works better the more different basic land types in play. Normally the maximum you can get up to is five, but if you could print this card you could make it six, which would be a real power boost to the domain cards. But really I'm digressing at this point.

Ok, what else do we know about EDH? Shuffling too much sucks. You see all those cards? Not a one of them searches your library. Too much of that already. Hmm...

Megalomania [UBB]
Indestructible, Shroud
No player may search their library.
When someone buys you a soda, sacrifice this enchantment.
Some lines are meant to be crossed, some madness is meant to be embraced.

That card would be real popular with the proprietor of the joint if it actually drove up soda sales. It'd be unpopular with everybody else, so I'm going to move on to something else. I haven't designed a general yet, let's see what I can do with that.

Krakthus, Power of War [B{W/U}{G/R}]
Creature--Demon Incarnation
Haste, Flying
All creatures attack each turn if able.
"Does it notice the lives it takes? Does a thunderstorm ask the water droplets if they would like to fall?" -Agra-zid, War Prophet

Do you follow that mana cost? It's B with two hybrid symbols, so you get a five color creature for converted mana cost three. A four four, evasive, hasting creature for three. In the 20 point world that'd be over the curve, but I've got different power level concerns with this guy. The "all creatures attack" line is to speed up multiplayer games, which in my experience tend to involve a lot of circling and probing for weakness before anyone actually does anything. I'm not saying I dislike multiplayer, or even jockeying for position like that, but it can get boring after a while. Not sure if I should also add the line "Whenever a creature uses an activated ability, it's controller sacrifices that creature."

It seems to me that generals usually come in three flavors: Guys who let me play the colors I want to play (basically anything from legends), guys who work as combo pieces (Zur the Enchanter, Arcum Dagsson, etc), and guys that you wouldn't mind hitting someone with. Trouble is, most of the cards that end up in the third category aren't really that great of cards. Sure, they're big, but they tend be hard to cast and die quickly, which makes them not the greatest aggro creatures. Let me try another general:

We who are Many [{W/G}{W/G}{G/R}{G/R}]
Legendary Creature--Human Insect
Shroud, Nonbasic Landwalk
When CARDNAME attacks, it attacks each opponent and planeswalker as if it were attacking that player or planeswalker alone.
"It's the old mirror image illusion. Only one can actually hurt you." -Hamsa the warrior, last words

I think I'm gonna have to clarify a bit here. When this guy attacks, it acts as if it's attacking everybody. Each person would take the four damage, it wouldn't be split. If someone blocked it, only that particular instance would be blocked, nobody else would be protected. Also, I have no idea what "Human Insect" implies, but it sounds awesome. Again, gives you the option of playing three colors while still being relatively easy to cast. Shroud is there to deflect the occasional swords to plowshares, and Nonbasic Landwalk is to make it really hard to block. Also to punish those jerks with a more expensive manabase. Hm...

Ok, ok, last card.

Forty Acres 1GB
Destroy target permanent that costs more than $10. Search your library for a basic land and put it into play, then shuffle your library.
You'll have to get your own mule.

Hating on the expensive? Yeah, I'd play it. Hating on the expensive while playing it in an enemy color deck that'll require you to run expensive enemy dual lands so you can actually play it on turn three? Well actually there's a lot of good mana fixing available for not too... A search and shuffle effect after complaining about it just above? Fine. the card's new name is Hypocrisy. Are you happy? Good. Cause I'm done here.

Write your own new flavor text.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Langston Field and Thermodynamics

Here I'm analyzing some further implications of the Langston Field. We're going to get into some thermodynamics and what that implies for spaceships and weapons in the Terrible Secret of Space.

I stated in the last post that the field radiates like a black body. The question is, what exactly does that mean? Black body radiation describes the way that stuff gives off light depending on how hot it is. The interesting thing about black body radiation is that it doesn't depend on what size, or shape, or color, or even if the object in question is a communist. It only depends on the temperature. An incandescent light bulb shines because that filament is really, really hot. You're emitting infra-red radiation right now, you can't tell because you eyes don't see at that wavelength. The SWAT team that just cut your power and battered down your door can see them, though. Their heat vision goggles sense the heat you're emitting, and can tell by the wavelength the difference between you (100 degrees) and your nightstand (70 degrees.)

So we said that the shields shift up the color spectrum as they take damage, taking in heat and emitting it like a black body. But since black body's don't care what's doing the emitting, we can figure out how hot the shield is. Let's say the ship blows up when it's emitting light at a wavelength of about 400 nanometers. That's in the deep purple region of colors. Just before it overloads, the shield is going to hit a temperature of about 7250 kelvin. That's plenty enough to melt and boil tungsten or what have you. There are some problems raised by that; how do you see out of one of these shields? I mean, it's black. It stops light. There's no way to get it to stop "dangerous" light like lasers but not "useful" light like, oh, the stuff that shows you where your opponent is. You could build cameras on metal poles and stick them through the shields (the shields will allow matter to pass, and electric signals should be able to get through). And then someone actually shoots you enough, your cameras melt off and you're blind again. Well before the explosion point.

I'm thinking the answer to that is that you can open holes in your own shield. This is suboptimal in combat because someone might try to shoot through your holes, but necessary. I mean, you've got to shoot your laser cannons out, right? Blasting it into your own shield seems counterproductive. Also, your fusion drive has to shoot materials out the back, if they get caught in the shield you won't go anywhere.

That's not the biggest problem, though. Remember how black bodies radiate solely based on their temperature? Exactly how much do they radiate? There's an equation for that (I won't post it, partly because you can't be bothered with it and partly because I can't be bothered with getting the Greek symbols and formatting equations in a text file). The amount of energy emitted is proportional to the fourth power of the temperature. Not just squared or cubed, raised to the fourth power. What's 7250 to the fourth? Roughly 2.7 quadrillion (thanks Windows Calculator!). Quadrillion, as in even the federal deficit hasn't gotten that large yet. The proportion factors are all pretty small decimals, but we end up with a huge number nonetheless. Let's say a spaceship has a spherical shield with a 100 meter radius. Now heat that ship up to the explosion point. Just before it's exploding that ship will be emitting a kiloton of energy in black body radiation every second.

A kiloton of energy every second. Remember Hiroshima? In one minute a spaceship like that could duplicate the effects.

Now let's go over the disturbing implications of that. And not just it's uses as a superweapon. (If you're gonna do that, why not just lob the atom bombs and cut out the middle man?) If the spaceship is radiating kilotons of energy, how much energy do you have to put in to keep pushing the shield temperature up? At some point you're lobbing atom bombs at it to make sure the damn thing doesn't cool down on you, let alone cook off. You can probably do it with H bombs, but your laser batteries might fall short. Weapons are going to have to be culled because we're gonna have to ask ourselves "neat as this is, is it really as destructive as an atom bomb?". Naturally this saddens me.

Now, if you're emitting that much energy, how close do I want to fly to you? Forget the explosion (for the moment) My shields will be heating up just going by. Probably not going to be a major concern for another ship. But let's say we're having a battle in orbit over the planet. You detonate enough atom bombs directly above the atmosphere and you'll pump in enough heat to affect the weather. I haven't done any calculations about this, but you might start fires or kill crops or some such.

For that matter, what about using a shield as a weapon? If you take a starship, nuke it profusely and then send it hurtling through someone's atmosphere, set so that the final collision will overload the shield you can create an explosion that makes your garden variety atomic bomb weep. You've got all the energy of those nukes plus the energy of a giant freaking meteor hitting stored in the shield. You could raze continents with those. Y'know, as if you couldn't with enough nukes already.

(There are also conservation of momentum problems here that I didn't consider. Particle hits shield makes sense. Shield hits planet makes less sense. Does it slow the planet enough to overload the shield? For collisions of any velocity?)

That brings up another question. How much energy exactly can one of these shields absorb? I'm gonna have to talk about Specific Heat here, and how it's totally inapplicable to the problem at hand but I'm going to use it nonetheless. Specific heat is a measure of how much energy something can hold. For a given mass, different materials will hold different amounts of heat. An experiment! Take a mass of iron, boil it in water. Take an equal mass of water. Dump them both out on a snowbank, and see which one melts more snow. You'll get more melting from the water because even though they're undergoing the same change in temperature the water can hold more heat than the iron. It has a higher specific heat.

Now drop an atom bomb on that snowbank. The snow will melt and vaporize. So will that chunk of iron. And anything else in the nearby area. You could build a chunk of iron large enough to not melt when you hit it with a nuke, but it'd take a lot of iron. (At least you could build one if the heat conducted at an infinite rate; as it stands the nuke is still going to leave a crater.) The question is, what specific heat do those fancy schmancy Langston fields have, what with the not cooking off with the first nuke that comes their way? Well, it's hard to say. Y'see, the shields are force field, and they don't exactly have a mass. (Ok, all energy has a mass, thanks Mr. Einstein, but I can't wrap my head around asking about the specific heat of a quantity of heat. The question makes even less sense than my twisted diction.) Specific heat depends on having a mass. So the question doesn't even apply.

But, as I stated earlier, I'm not going to let that stand in the way of Science! We can work out a volume for these shields (say a 3 meter shell on a 97 meter warship to get that 100 meter shield I was talking about). We can throw in a "density" factor so that we can work out an effective mass, and from there we can figure out exactly what sort of heat capacity the shields have to have. If some practical joker took away your Langston field and substituted water for it, it'd have a known density (1) and heat capacity (4 point something). We could calculate how much energy the water would absorb before it'd heat to the requisite 7250 kelvin. Assuming, of course, the wildly unphysical notion that the water would stick around to be heated and not boil off the very first chance it gets. But the heat, the heat could be provided by a single atom bomb, blasting through your shields and wrecking your ship.

This will not do. Fortunately, our shields aren't made out of water, but are pulled form the figurative aether. By fiddling with the heat capacity factor we can work out a shield that will not only survive the first nuke but several more, changing into pretty colors and radiating energy and doing all the other wonderful things I'm counting on the Langston field to do. Roughly, I expect this handwaved heat capacity to be a hundred million times larger than that of water.

I doubt this is the last I have to say about Langston fields. But it's good enough for now.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Rebuilding Five Color II: Electric Boogaloo

OK! When last we spoke I was rebuilding my five color reveillark deck. If you haven't, go back and read it. Seriously, I'm not going to waste the better part of a blog post describing the deck again.

Let's talk decks. In particular order:


From that list at the end of the previous post, take note of Venser, Shaper Savant and Mystic Snake. If I add Spellstutter Sprite I've got three creatures that act as counterspells. Add in Momentary Blink to allow you to reset those counterspells and you've got the basis for a worrysome aggro-control deck. Load up with some more countermagic, some instant speed card drawing and you can hopefully play counterslivers. Keep them off balance by countering everything they do, with the added benefit that some of your counterspells kill them over time. The trouble with this idea though, is that I really don't want to make a counterslivers deck. I want to play my deck, and I don't want to annoy my opponents so much that they don't want to play against it anymore. Also, the entire deck has to operate at instant speed. What do I need reveillark for? I guess to momentary blink to bring back a mystic snake if it died, but that's sort of not going to happen. In the end the deck doesn't need Reveillark, or Redcap, or Mulldrifter or Kitchen Finks, which means it wouldn't at all like the deck I'm trying to rebuild.

Here's another idea: land destruction. Use Avalance Riders and Fulminator Mage to blow up their land, use Reveillark to get them back and keep blowing up lands. You know what's not fun though? Land destruction. Seriously there's very little that's worse to play against than a well built working land destruction deck. Skip this idea.

Next up: the Blown Mind:

4 Sakura-tribe Elder
4 Wall of Omens
3 Mulldrifter
4 Reveillark
4 Gifts Ungiven
1 each of:
Crypt Champion
Saffi Eriksdotter
Soul Warden
Body Double
Murderous Redcap
Greater Gargadon suspended
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Eternal Witness

Ok? Read the text on Gifts Ungiven. Turn four you can play it and search up Reveillark, Eternal Witness Kiki-Jiki and Pestermite. Any way they split the pile you can get your combo going. If they put both combo pieces in the yard you can get them back with the 'lark or the witness. Or you can go for one of the other combos. Now suppose you've got Saffi in hand and you want to get the Project X combo going. What do you search up in a gifts pile? You have to plan it so they react to what they think you are doing and therefore give you the pieces for what you're actually doing. It's a mind bender, let me tell you.

This one was suggested by my brother Caleb. We talk about Magic all the time. I mentioned to him that I was thinking about building an extended Reveillark deck and this is what he came back with. Insofar as I remember. I'm strongly tempted to build the deck this way. For one thing, it sounds fun to play. (I'm the sort of guy who thinks calculus is fun, so a string of chess puzzles as a deck doesn't exactly turn me away.) Also, I've got most of the cards, all I'd need to scrape up is a Saffi and a Kiki Jiki. Oh, and the walls of Omens, but those aren't essential. It's a combo deck though. Generally combo decks get boring because really well built combos are designed to do exactly one thing over and over again, without variance. Only in this case you've got any one of three combos you could be going for. It's more than a three fold increase, since the ability to switch horses mid stream allows you more relevant decisions to make.

Still, It's a combo deck, and I think I prefer the traditional Midrange build I had originally. So let's try to make something that approximates that.

3 Kitchen Finks
4 Murderous Redcap
4 Mulldrifter
2 Reveillark

Only three Finks, one got lifted to be put in Gibralter. I might fish it back out, but probably I'm going to leave it, 3 finks should be good for now. At least it'll cut down on the number of times that I feel compelled to use the "Another fink coming" pun. Which I am sad to say is above zero.

To that I'm going to add 4 Momentary Blink, because honestly it does exactly what I want it to do and then I get to do it again. I'm shooting for 25 lands, so 60-25-17 gets me 18 cards left to put in. Gonna include a package of 8 removal/utility spells; 4 Path to Exile 2 Oblivion Ring 1 Wrath of God 1 Damnation. Why the split there? partly because I only have one of each of those spells and partly because the even split is pretty awesome thematically.

10 creatures left. I need some stuff lower on the curve, right now I've got Finks and Evoke Mulldrifter. The first one to two turns will probably be taken up by taplands tapping. But if they aren't, I don't have much to do there except accelerate someone into their game with Path to Exile. I think I'm going to include Stingscourger. I mean, I include Stingscourger in pretty much every deck where I can but at least I should rationalize it. It comes down early, slows down their game plan to where my relentless grinding machine of card advantage can take over, and in the late game I can bring it back with Reveillark to punch a hole in their defenses or deal with a troublesome utility creature.

I want at least one Ninja of the Deep Hours. In general the Ninja works best when you've got cheap creatures to replay and lay more ninja with. Here I'm using it mostly to reset my comes into play triggers, or to bounce a reveillark without actually killing it. And honestly, every blue deck should have one Ninja in it, to remind people that they never know when a ninja is about to strike. Oh, and I'd really like to include my one Testigo Eterna in the deck. That leaves me room for one more playset. Lemme look at the curve momentarily

2: 4 Stingscourger,
3: 3 Finks, 1 Witness, 4 Mulldrifter Evoke,
4: 4 Murderous Redcap,
5: 2 Reveillark, 4 Mulldrifter

Those are just the creatures. I'm not putting the utility spells or the occasional ninja on the list because they fit in wherever they can. It's harder to predict exactly when you'll need to blink something, or remove a pesky creature from game. It looks like I can fit in another four drop or two, and then probably have to counterbalance it with lower costing creatures.

1 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Glen Elendra Archmage

Those are all I have available right now; I don't want to loot the Venser but this calls for it. Still need something at two or three mana. Wall of Omens? Carven Caryatid? Hmmm... I'm disinclined to include much in the way of Civic Wayfinder type creatures as I don't want many basics in the deck. Just enough to not lose out horribly to an opposing path to exile. There are any number of odd and interesting things I could toss in as a one of. Ok, here we go:

-2 Oblivion Rings
+3 Qasali Pridemage
+1 Lorescale Coatl.

I'd rather that this deck was all creatures for reasons which will come up when I'm building the manabase. O ring still offers more versitility than the Pridemages it's getting replaced by, but they'll make the deck run more smoothly. Here's hoping I won't lack for creature removal. The Coatl I don't want to take out of Snakes on a Plane, but I'd really like to see one in action here. It's something to do on turn three, it grows into a monster pretty easily and it's wrath insurance in the late game. (Reveillark brings back Mulldrifter and Coatl, I draw two cards and I've got six power of creatures on the table.) Not that the deck needs much in the way of Wrath insurance. We'll see how it does.

The list so far:
4 Path to Exile
4 Stingscourger
3 Qasali Pridemage
4 Momentary Blink
1 Lorescale Coatl
1 Eternal Witness
3 Kitchen Finks
4 Murderous Redcap
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Ninja of the Deep Hours
1 Wrath of God
1 Damnation
2 Reveillark
4 Mulldrifter
25 lands.

Ok? We want W open whenever possible in case we need to Path, we need a lot of white and green in the early game (Pridemage, Finks, Witness) and some to more blue later on (Mulldrifter, Venser, the Ninja, blink flashbacks). We don't need any black at all except for Damnation or maybe Redcap. Cutting Damnation in favor of Day of Judgment. Hmmm... Red just for Stingscourger and Redcap. Ok. We'll want to go heavy on green white, less so on blue and even less on Red. Let's start the manabase!

4 Ancient Ziggurat

See that? That's why I wanted mostly creatures. It makes all five colors, it doesn't come into play tapped, and the only cards I'll really miss the mana on are the Wrath effects. Which I expect can wait an extra turn; I've got Stingscourgers to slow him down with. A couple activated abilities are going to miss out, but the most expensive is Ninjitsu at 1U, so not much at all. It certainly will work better than when I was trying to run it with Cruel Ultimatum. Oh, and note this because I didn't at first glance. I can't use any of the Shadowmoor/Eventide filter lands because the activation can't be paid by the Ziggurat.

4 Reflecting Pool
3 Vivid Grove
3 Vivid Meadow
3 Vivid Creek

Oddly enough I can't find as many vivids as I thought I had. Or as many Stingscourgers. Unhappy about that. After quite a bit of searching I managed to locate some Stingscourgers in my box of surplus cards. Why oh why did I ever let them get there? But back to the subject at hand.

We've got eight slots for land left in the deck. I want dual lands, and dual lands that don't come into play tapped. Unfortunately, they cost money, and I only have a few of the appropriate kind. But even assuming that they didn't cost money, what kind of lands would I need? My main concern right now is getting RR UU WW or GG by turn four without having to dig too deeply into the vivid counters. As it currently stands to get RR I'd have to have two pools or ziggurats in play. I think I need more red lands. G and W and U do alright because of the default option on the vivids. Still, I think I want to boost G and W some. Looking at the lands I have I'm putting in:

1 Steam Vents
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Yavimaya Coast
2 Brushland
1 Plains
1 Island

Gives me the color mix and Path cards that I might need. One spot left, which I've been saving for a utility land: Oran-Reif, the Vastwood. Take a look at that next to Kitchen Finks. +1/+1 and -1/-1 counters cancel out. Which means that I can keep a kitchen finks alive indefinetly, if they do me the favor of only killing it once per turn. Even if I only get one extra finks iteration out of it, that does a whole lot for me. Enough that I'll include one extra tapland.

So let's put down a final list, see how it all adds up:
4 Path to Exile
4 Stingscourger
3 Qasali Pridemage
4 Momentary Blink
1 Lorescale Coatl
1 Eternal Witness
3 Kitchen Finks
4 Murderous Redcap
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
1 Venser, Shaper Savant
1 Ninja of the Deep Hours
1 Wrath of God
1 Day of Judgement
2 Reveillark
4 Mulldrifter
4 Reflecting Pool
4 Ancient Ziggurat
3 Vivid Grove
3 Vivid Meadow
3 Vivid Creek
1 Steam Vents
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Yavimaya Coast
2 Brushland
1 Island
1 Plains
1 Oran-Reif, the Vastwood

That's sixty cards. Now the only thing to do is to sleeve 'em up and play...

Anyone up for a game?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Rebuilding Five Color

In "Decks that I once loved" I mentioned the possibility of rebuilding my beloved 5-color Reveillark deck with Momentary Blink. I intend to do just that, right here and now. You can click back for the description, but I think I'd better post a longer description anyway, so don't bother.

This deck is a derivative of the five color control decks that populated Lorwyn Shadowmoor block and standard. The engine that makes all this possible is the lands.

Reflecting Pool
Vivid Creek
Vivid Marsh
Flooded Grove
Sunken Ruins
A first turn vivid followed by a reflecting pool allow you to produce any color of mana you want. If all you're playing is a Celestial Purge you don't even deplete counters from the vivid. Significantly less appreciated but probably almost as important are the filter lands, they provide enough monochromatic mana that you can comfortably play your spells without worrying about depleting your vivid counters. Your mana works fairly smoothly considering, you only really have to worry about the all taplands or all filterlands draws. Combined they form the sort of deck that will actually play Cryptic Command alongside Cloudthresher and Cruel Ultimatum.

Take a look at those cards. We've got UUU alongside GGGG alongside UUBBBRR. That's a lot of colored mana. But it's surprisingly easy to accomplish. Let's say you started with a Vivid Grove, into Reflecting Pool into Flooded Grove. Right away you can make GGG or GUU without removing a vivid counter. If you follow up with a Sunken Ruins you've got cryptic command mana up while being well on your way to a turn seven Cruel Ultimatum (you can filter G into UU into UBB without touching your reflecting pool or losing a vivid counter). I never had the filter lands that I would have needed to build the best version of the deck, but I was plenty able to muddle along on vivids and Reflecting Pools and whatever duals I could scrape together.

Once you have that manabase though, it's a call to put the most powerful cards you can find into the deck. Like Cryptic Command and Cruel Ultimatum. The consensus best versions of the deck went with a control strategy, stalling until they could hit ultimatum and basically win. I also didn't have the cryptic commands and I've been terrible at playing control whenever I try, so I went with a different strategy.

Magic has been printing a ton of creatures with excellent comes into play abilities recently. Ever since Wizard's R&D figured out that creatures were more fun that spells, so why don't we stick spells on creatures so people can do both? The other thing that happened was that in Shadowmoor they printed the keyword persist. Take a gander at these guys:

Kitchen Finks
Murderous Redcap
Glen Elendra Archmage

Those are all amazing cards. Look at Finks. He's a 3/2 for 3 that gets you two life. That'd be a draft card if not constructed playable. But then he comes back as a free 2/1 that gets you two more life. So for three mana you're getting a dude now, a dude later, four life, and a point of card advantage, since they have to kill it with something. Or take Murderous Redcap. Without he looks like a worse Nekrataal, but he gets to persist and hit something else. Lemme describe a bit of a tournament game I played with this deck.

[Edit: I told the story incorrectly the first time]
Him: turn 3 Jace Berelen, draw a card.
Me: Murderous Redcap, killing Jace.
Him: Turn 4 Garruk Wildspeaker, make a beast token. I attack Garruk with Redcap, he blocks, I use the one damage from the persisting redcap to finish off his 3/3 beast. Second main phase I play another redcap and kill Garruk.

At the end of that exchange I had a 1/1 and a 2/2 on the table and he had drawn one card. Planeswalkers are incredible card advantage engines. It's not often you can one up them so well.

Right away you can see the appeal of putting all those cards into one deck, never mind that they span the color wheel. And once you have them in that deck you start looking for ways to repeat the effect. I started by running such oddities as Turn to Mist and Makeshift Mannequin (and even odder ones) to repeat the effect. Watching a red deck fight past a Kitchen Finks only to have it revived to trouble them further is heartbreaking. Unless it's your Finks, in which case awesome.

And then I added Reveillark. At first I didn't want to, I had to be persuaded to. My brother Caleb rightfully stated "That card does everything your deck wants to do and more". Never mind the lack of combo with Kitchen Finks, he was entirely right. Once Reveillark hits play, your opponent has two choices, but they're all bad. He can kill it. If it leaves play though, the other player is gonna get something amazing back. Two Murderous Redcaps are better than Flametongue Kavu any way you slice it. Or Two Mulldrifters for an airforce and a full hand. Or he can ignore it. It's still a 4/3 flyer for 5 mana, he's on a clock. Reveillark immensely boosted the power level of the deck.

I still kept some Turn to Mists and Mannequins. Nothing says dream crush like telling your opponent that he's gonna eat both those options.

That's the soul of the deck. I've had numerous other cards in and out of the deck, some of them jankier than others. Wrath of God, Cruel Ultimatum and Broodmate Dragon jibed with the traditional forms of Five Color Control. Flickerwisp, Cauldron Haze and Sedraxis Alchemist did not. And those are just in the current version.

...Yeah, current version. Remember the part of this article where I intended to do more than just talk about what the deck was? Let's get to the part where I start building the future version. Might not even finish, the whole description thing took longer than I had expected. As the deck's core, I'm definitely going to include the following cards:

3 Kitchen Finks
4 Murderous Redcap
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Reveillark
4 Mulldrifter

I've got another Finks and another Archmage, but they got looted to go in other decks. I might loot them back, but let's see what other options I have first. Now I'm planning on extending the deck into, err, extended, so I've got other wonderful creatures of ages past to use. A quick list of potential candidates:

Venser, Shaper Savant
Eternal Witness
Mystic Snake
Hellhole Rats

Acidic Slime
Civic Wayfinder (or variants)
Siege-gang Commander
Whitemane Lion

And those are just cards that have a good comes into play ability. There are plenty more cards that merit consideration. (Sakura-tribe Elder, Dimir House Guard and Ninja of the Deep Hours leap to mind). Additionally, there are a number of infinite combos that I could include, notably:

Project X:
Crypt Champion
Saffi Eriksdotter
Soul Warden
(infinite life)

Body Double
Murderous Redcap
Greater Gargadon suspended
(infinite damage)

Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
(infinite combat damage)

Either the Reveillark is a piece itself of the combo or the elemental gets back pieces your opponent might have dealt with. Any one of those combos is enough to build a competitive deck around. But that's the problem. It's fine to build a casual combo deck around a combo you discovered, but stealing combos from tournament decks is hardly casual friendly. And in any case I tend to get bored with combo decks easily. Still, they're good to keep in mind.

Ok, that's enough for now. I'll get to actual deck lists tomorrow. I promise.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

More Thrift Store Archaeology

Right! You know the deal. Let's get started.

Game name: Chit Chat: The HUGH DOWNS game of Conversation
Acquisition: Discovered in my Grandpa's stack of aging board games
Description: Hold on a second while I google HUGH DOWNS. Basically, you get cards with words dealt to you. You have to make a statement using those cards. People are allowed to challenge those statements, which results in a mini debate. Points are scored by making the statements, and by successfully challenging them. Ignoring some mechanics, but that's the basics. One player plays the "controller" who keeps the game moving along. Not a true Game Master, just making sure the rules are followed, not actively making decisions about the game.
The Gimmick: Did I mention this game was made by HUGH DOWNS?
Interesting Mechanics: Probably the best way to make a board game fun is to encourage interactions between players. This game is entirely based around that. It gets people to say something silly and then argue about that. Seems like an excellent mechanic to me. Also, the spinner used to track turns comes attached to the rulebook, an admirable restraint in the use of materials.
Useful Parts: Well, there are two decks of cards with uniform backs and only a single letter printed on the front. Might be useful, but I think I'd rather collect scrabble tiles.
Other Notes: Guinness record for most hours on network commercial television? Shudder. Shudder I say.

There's an old, battered cigar box containing a hopefully complete set of chess, checkers pieces. Gonna hold onto those, might need to get a better box.

Game Name: Scrabble brand Sentence Cube Game
Description: The game is a set of 21 wooden dice with various words printed on them. You put them all in the leather shaker, roll them out and attempt to build sentences in a crossword pattern in the given time. Points are scored for using your words and the length of the sentences built.
The Gimmick: You can figure out how the game works from looking at the box. It's a word puzzle game, and if you're into that sort of thing, you're into this game.
Interesting Mechanics: Eh, I like word puzzle games. This one is playable, but there's not exactly a lot to export.
Usable parts: Pretty much everything but the box. A dice cup is always nice, and I'm pretty sure there's a gag for dice with words printed on them.
Other notes: None

Game Name: Probe, the Parker Brother's Game of words.
Description: Before I even open the box, there's a piece of masking tape on the front that reads "2.00; without instructions". Looks like grandpa got this one at a garage sale, and overpaid at that. Not that easy to learn a game with out the instructions. On the other hand, I've got google at my disposal. Hmm... It looks like glorified Go Fish. You set out the words letter by letter, and people get to ask you whether you have any Qs. They get points and more guesses based on guessing correctly.
Interesting Mechanics: Not really
The Gimmick: From the rules "The 384 cards in this game provide more combinations of letters than any other word game." Guess they're trying to out scrabble scrabble.
Usable Parts: Gonna keep this one mostly together. These decks of letter cards are in a lot better condition than the previous set.
Other notes: Made it this far without making any alien probe jokes.

A stack of assorted game boards, mostly chess and checkers boards in really beaten up condition.

A box of assorted game pieces. Let's see what it contains:

Game Name: Trail Drive: an original card game
Description: The game is supposed to simulate a cattle drive. You start a drive by playing a chuck wagon and two cowboys, then continue it with as many cattle as you can muster. Other players can play rustlers to stop you from laying more cattle. You can deal with that by either using a sheriff on the rustlers or start a new drive.
The Gimmick: It's a kids game about cowboys. Cowboys really don't get a lot of respect in the modern world of entertainment.
Interesting mechanics: Well, building something is always interesting. The rules are pretty simple though, don't expect too much.
Usable parts: Gonna keep this one together, maybe foist it off on unsuspecting friends with small children.

An old Cootie game board, a set of bingo cards and markers, some barrels from that Game I mentioned last time, a couple minor toys, a refrigerator magnet, half a pickup stick, three bills of play money, and a bunch of cards. They've got pictures of people with a country listed and what's supposed to be traditional garb. I think they're singing "it's a small world after all" but I can't be sure. All in all, one large heap of junk.

Other notes: I'm prejudiced against this box, I accidentally dumped it out on two different driveways and had to pick up all the fiddlin' little pieces.

Here's a parcheesi box with the board, the rules for clue and nothing else. Gonna keep the board.

A chess set with pieces and no board to go with the stacks of boards I've found.

Game name: The classic Space Tic Tac Toe game
Description: Yes, they're selling tic tac toe in a box. ONly in this version, instead of a 3x3 grid you get a 4x4x4 volume, with four plastic boards stacked on one another. The rules aren't with the box, but I presume that you're attempting to get a line of four in any of the three dimensions.
The Gimmick: What about this game doesn't scream gimmick?
Interesting mechanic: Well, the idea of a board game in three dimensions is interesting, but I've yet to see it done well enough to make up for the awkwardness of the board design. Hmm...
Usable pieces. A bunch of chips. The framework itself is suprisingly sturdy, I might keep the three levels of it I can assemble.
Other notes: None

Game name: Rock and Roll (?)
It's a dice cup with eight custom dice. No rules to be found. And a name like 'Rock and Roll' doesn't lend itself to easy googling. Gonna hold on to it for now, maybe I'll find something out.

Next we've got a whole stack of loose game boards, with nary a piece or rulebook to explain them.

Game name: Game of the States
Gah! shiny! Anyway, with just the board I've got a good looking map of the U.S. with state names, State Capitals and various products. I gather the original game was about trucking, but without any of the pieces or anything I'm free to use it as I wish. Gonna hold onto this board, colorful maps have held a fascination with me since I was at least three.

Game name: McHale's navy game:
Looks like a "run around the board" sort of game. It's a franchise game. With just the board, I dunno, I might hang it on my wall.

Game name: Easy Money
Looks like a ripoff of Monopoly. Gonna toss it. Although any board that includes a space with the instructions "Take Hospital Money" makes me smile. Someone's gotta oppress those widows and orphans.

Go to the head of the class. A game for young achievers apparently. I doubt I'd hold onto it even if the board was in better condition. Same with the Woody Woodpecker game.

An old time clue board. Neat. Two old monopoly boards, one is enough and I've got plenty already, a scrabble Junior board...

The buccaneers game. Looks like a race between pirates and non-pirates. looks pretty boring for anyone over six.

And lastly: Pirate and Traveller: a world geography game. Folded up in this board is the top of the box, which has been cut out and saved since they printed the rules on the reverse.
Description: The board is laid out with major cities and spaces between them on a world map. In the first part of the game you act as a traveller, moving from one destination to another. once someone completes ten destinations (chosen by cards) they get to yell "Pirates All" and suddenly everyone's a pirate. Pirates attempt to move their loot to greenland, apparently because they hope to retire in it's balmy weather.
The Gimmick: This game is marketed at parents, it does a plenty good job of teaching kids the relative placement of Leningrad and Peiping. Err.. most of the spaces are still accurate. I'm always suspicious with educational games, but this one looks pretty fun.
Interesting mechanics: Not really.
usable parts: none. the board and box top are in such bad condition that I'm not going to try to salvage anything from them.
Other notes: Any game where you can get eaten by cannibals can't be all that bad.

Would you believe I've still got bored games to go through? Gonna have to do more of this another time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Decks that I Once Loved Part II: This Time It's Personal

Same deal as the previous post, only this time I won't be also looking for my dentist appointment card. Right, let's get this show on the road.

First up: Boros Deck Wins
Short version: Red/white beatdown deck.
Long version: Actually, the short version doesn't say it all. The traditional boros deck wins is sligh, only with the best early white creatures as well. It ramps up the power a little, if you can get the proper mana consistently. One other advantage to combining the two colors is that "double strike" as a keyword mechanic is shared between the colors, and shows up on the cheaper multicolored creatures. So in addition to the usual efficient creatures and burn this deck sports a package to take advantage of double strike: Boros Swiftblade and Hearthfire Hobgoblin with the ability, Bonesplitters, Brute Force and Scourge of the Nobilis to ramp up the damage. It gives the deck some bigger threats to build up to than your standard Red Deck Wins. And none of those cards are exactly dead on their own, with the exception of Nobilis.
Why it doesn't work: Well, it works too well. It's on the higher end of power of casual decks, which means that it isn't exactly that fun to play against less powered decks. (I'm trying to maximize fun here, which means I'd prefer to go for more interesting games. If the decks are near in power level it makes for closer contests. Naturally if I was playing competitively I'd the power.) The other objection is that, well, it's an aggro deck, and every game with it tends to play out about the same. I can only do that so long.
Verdict: I think I'm going to keep this one around. When it's good to play it's great. Even if that isn't that often, well, I'm not using those battlefield forges anywhere else.
Other notes: Just got done playing a seven game series with this deck against my brother who's playing two-dollar zoo. (all commons, with which you can make a really solid zoo deck actually). Beat him 4-3. He just couldn't deal with the lifegain on scourge of the nobilis. We also intentionally drew twice. Because when you get to the later rounds you're supposed to do that, apparently.

Deck Name: Counterslivers
Short version: Blue White Fish. No slivers were harmed in the making of this deck.
Long version: The deck's named "counterslivers" not because it actually contains any slivers, but because that's the historic archetype that the deck fits into. Briefly, decks in the archetype are designed to slip a threat or two down in the first turns and then keep the opponent off balance long enough to win. The archetype preys on control decks, but usually gets the pants beaten off of it by a good aggro deck. This particular deck has a bunch of draft special creatures and some good countermagic.
Why it didn't work: As it turns out, counterslivers isn't the most fun archetype to play against. When you win, hey, it's great. When you lose it's excruciating. And playing the deck you tend to win easily or lose hard, which goes against the definition of casual fun I just established with the last deck. Still, I can hear it's siren call for me, just begging me to take it and really grind someone to dust.
Verdict: Take it apart, before I succumb to temptation.
Other notes: Part of the metagame project.

Speaking of which...

Deck name: Blue Black Control
Short version: Err... it's Blue Black Control
Long version: Another deck in the metagame project. Guess I should define it. A while back I foresaw the necessity of teaching other people to play Magic. To that end, I wanted to build a set of decks that I could use to teach with. They had to fulfill a bunch of goals, they needed to be simple enough to make a good enough teaching tool, but complicated enough that playing them didn't get boring after a number of games. They had to be cheap enough that I wouldn't mind shuffling them time and time again or giving them away as the situation warranted. And, this is the really interesting one, they had to play well together. That is, I wanted to create a stable metagame with half a dozen decks of my own design filling different slots. The ideal is that, while they are still learning to play, the neophytes are learning that there's more to building a deck than finding cards that work well together. Anyways, this deck was slotted for the control archetype. It tends to grind out card advantage through two for ones or traditional blue draw spells while controlling the board. Eventually it wins by beating down with a Ghastlord of Fugue or Dread.
Why it didn't work: Well, the deck tended to be rather boring to play. Additionally, it wasn't that great of a control deck. You always felt like you were hanging on until you got your trumps in play, not so much that you controlled the board at any particular point. It doesn't help that the deck is geared towards duels and I tried to use it in multiplayer. That's a recipie for suck.
Verdict: Gonna scrap it. Possibly start over.
Other Comments: Haven't done any work on the metagame project in a while. I should probably take that up again one of these days.

A stack of what I can only assume are unsorted green cards. Hmm... Carven Caryatid. They've been making other good walls lately...

A bunch of cards left over from a couple drafts I attended in Milwaukee. Good times.

A stack of early build rejects from my latest EDH deck (Blue Green).

About a third of an elf deck.

Deck name: That Elf deck.
Short version: Lorwyn/Morningtide elves.
Long version: Mostly covered by the short version, I pulled out a bunch of elves from Lorwyn and Morningtide and stuck them in a deck together. Works relatively well, actually. I mean, as far as stompy decks go.
Why it didn't work: I'm not exactly a fan of elf decks. Don't get me wrong, when I read the Lord of the Rings in Junior High I thought elves were the coolest thing ever too, but then again I thought quoting Monty Python was the height of wit. At this point in my life elves just annoy me. As far as this deck goes, I built it late one night because I was bored, I wasn't really that interested in playing it even then. You know that criticism of tribal decks, that they basically build themselves? Usually I dissent from that, building the best possible tribal deck requires all sorts of cleverness, but this isn't that case. I built a good enough deck, and it required almost no thought.
Verdict: Comin' apart.
Other thoughts: Man. Frikken elves.

Deck name: Black Ninjas
Short version: A mono black deck based around a ninja theme.
Long version: A while back I had a ninjas deck which had most of the ninjas in the game thrown together in one deck. The deck got crowded, so that I either had to either go above sixty cards or cut something that I really wanted in there. Naturally, when presented a choice I find a third option. in this case I split the deck down the middle, making a blue ninja deck and a black ninja deck. This is the black one. In addition to the ninjas I explored some of black's traditional abilities, like creature kill and discard. And, apparently, regenerating skeletons.
Why it didn't work: Well, just putting the black things in there and saying "look, it's a black deck!" didn't make it that fun of a deck. It tended to be boring to play. The signature matchup (warring ninja clans? Sign me up!) turned out to work... poorly. When one clan gets the advantage the other one can't really come back from it.
Verdict: Gonna tear this one apart.
Other notes: Although I might remake the two of them... warring ninja clans has a lot of thematic appeal.

Deck name: Sek'kuar, Deathkeeper EDH
Short Version: Red Green Black all Creatures midrange
Long Version: a while back I got annoyed at the tendency of EDH decks towards mass removal. I also got annoyed at water for being wet and at chimpanzees for not showing the sense one would expect from a Supreme Court Justice (long story). So I built an EDH deck to deal with that sort of thing. I filled it entirely with creatures. Or spells that made creatures (Din of the Fireherd for example). No matter how many times they kill your creatures you'll always be able to draw one more. And you get card advantage out of them, most of the creatures do something or another for you when you lay them. It even draws cards; there are a number of green and black creatures that'll cantrip. (Phyrexian Rager, Masked Admirers).
Why the deck didn't work: I can understand the judo principle of using your opponent's force against them. Still, throwing more creatures at someone who's out to kill creatures, well, there are problems with that. Aside from that, there's not that much cohesion between the many creatures. I mean hey, Sek'kuar Deathkeeper does great when he's standing next to Lyzolda the Bloodwitch, but neither of them work particularily well with Razormane Masticore or Skullmulcher, for example. Mostly though, when your entire deck is based on the idea of laying a creature each turn from now on, well, you don't do much else. It gets monotonous, and it's not exactly the most difficult strategy to counter.
Verdict: Gonna take this one apart. Could use the cards in other decks.
Other thoughts: Shame though.

Deck name: Elementals
Short version: Tribal Flamekin from Lorwyn
Long version: Built this deck mostly in the car ride home from the Lorwyn prerelease. Yet another variant on Red Deck wins, except this one never seemed to. Went through a couple variants, now it's got the Ashling the Pilgrims and Incadescent Soulstokes, but it still doesn't do that well. It's really good at doing 18 damage and then never manage that last two. Sort of annoying, I mean, when you see a Jackal Pups variant with an easy to work around drawback you want it to work. Well, I do.
Why it didn't work: Guess I covered that pretty well in the preceding paragraph. Splashing blue for Mulldrifter didn't work either. As awesome as a card as Mulldrifter is.
Verdict: Gonna take this one apart.
Other thoughts: This is probably one of my worst decks in terms of win percentage. I'd be surprised if it beat 10%.

Some parts of Sek'Kuar Deathkeeper EDH that got loose from the main deck, some rares from a draft forgotten (ooh, a Malakir Bloodwitch!), and... what's this?

Deck name: Metagame Zoo
Short version: White Red Green creatures backed by burn.
Long version: Another Metagame project deck, this one of the Zoo archetype. Now this deck was surprisingly powerful given the other restrictions I had on it. There are some pretty good creatures at common (wild nacatl comes to mind). In addition to that you get an amazing amount of reach with uncommon burn. Blaze, Flame Javelin. Together I would often just kill the opponent before they could manage to get their defense going. (Yeah, I realizing I'm just repeating "creatures and burn" a lot, but I don't have that much more to say.) Assault and Battery is a great card too.
Why it didn't work: The deck was actually pretty good. It got raided for parts at some indeterminate time in the past and never repaired.
Verdict: Gonna take it apart. Will rebuild it if I get back to the Metagame Project.
Other thoughts: Completely dominated my brother's Zoo deck, which caused him to rebuild it as the landfall zoo deck mentioned at the top. That new deck probably would have taken Metagame Zoo out.

Some more loose cards...

Deck name: Blue ninjas!
Short version: The blue counterpart to the previously mentioned Black ninja deck.
Long version: This one is based around bouncing their stuff. It works a lot better than the black version. I guess you can call it a counterslivers archetype deck, although it's not nearly as frustrating as the traditional types. Instead of countering their stuff I bounce it. And the deck has some truly neat interactions. (Ninja of the Deep hours and Thalakos Seer. Or Ornithopter and Familiar's Ruse.)
Why it doesn't work: Well, bouncing isn't really the most powerful of mechanics. The deck has a tendency not to win, but it's still fun to play. Probably going to rework this one too if I rebuild for warring ninja clans.
Verdict: Gonna keep it for now, rebuild it eventually.
Other thoughts: Ninjas. Always a good time.

Deck Name: Thallids
Short Version: Gbw thallids, built during Ravnica/Time Spiral standard
Long Version: A theme deck built out of mostly common thallids from Time Spiral block. Actually works pretty well. You think you're losing, you think you're losing, then you drop the Deathspore Thallid, take off a couple counters and wipe his board. Or you get into a stale mate, drop your Pallid Thallid and use it to overrun. The whole "Building an army" thing is really fun, especially when you get the sporesower thallid out. Oddly enough, the associated rares (Thelon of Havenwood, Thelonite Hermit) make the deck less fun to play as they involve less building up and more just overwhelming your opponents.
Why it didn't work. Actually, this one I mostly played to exhaustion. Once you've gotten to every possible play that a deck offers a couple times, well, the novelty sort of wears off. That, and in retrospect adding the rares was probably suboptimal. Also, I was annoyed that they made a tribal block right afterward that had nary a saproling or a fungus. Seriously?
Verdict: Gonna keep this one together. Probably repair it somewhat.
Other thoughts: Elf warriors? Piffle.

Deck name: Metagame Rock
Short version: Green Black Midrange.
Long version: You know what's fun? Rock decks. One of the things I really enjoy when playing this game are the long, difficult games where you're trying to grind out card advantage against your opponents. Rock decks are really good at that. Between Green and Black you get a lot of ways to answer whatever they're throwing at you, a bunch of natural two for ones and so forth. The deck was a blast to play. Unfortunately, it got raided for parts when I built Gibraltar.
Why it didn't work: Actually, the deck worked really well. I managed to take on two opponents at once in a series of games once. It fell into the problem I mentioned above, where I played the deck to exhaustion.
Verdict: Gonna finish scrapping it.
Other notes: ...cause I've got Gibraltar.

Deck name: Gibraltar:
Short version: Green black rock. Huge.
Long version: The deck is singleton, excepting basics. It still clocks in with over 600 cards in it. It has everything, and I mean everything. If the kitchen sink was on a card I'd put it in there. And you know, when you take out a deck box, put a huge stack of cards on the table, and then another one, and then another one, and then you've only got half your deck on the table, and they're eyes bug out? Yeah, you've already pretty much won.
Why it doesn't work: ...which is good, because the deck doesn't win that often otherwise. When one of your objectives is to maximize size, you tend to include cards that no self respecting draft deck would touch. Which doesn't do you that well when you're facing off against constructed decks. And when you limit yourself to single copies only, you're sort of stuck with the proportions you can find. I don't have as much mass removal as I could want, for example. Oh, and you pretty much can't stop shuffling.
Other thoughts: You get why it's called Gibraltar, right? Good.

Deck name: EDH Rosheen Meanderer
Short version: RG Mana Ramp
Long Version: What it says on the tin. Always wanted to find a use for Rosheen Meanderer, 4 mana for X spells seems like such an interesting thing. The deck is chock full of either interesting things that ramp my mana or are huge, expensive, powerful effects. It's fun and complicated to play. Really complicated. The one game my brother was playing it and he drops an Obliterate when he had upwelling in play. After using Channel to drop his life total precariously low in order to have mana available whilst I had to continue searching for lands. The right play, and a very interesting one at that. All in all I don't think I've explored all the potential that deck has to offer.
Why it doesn't work: Well, there's the whole "really complicated to play" thing. Also, y'know, I've never built an EDH deck that was truly competitive.
Verdict: Gonna keep this one together.
Other thoughts: With this deck I did the most damage I've ever done. That isn't an arbitrarily large amount, mind you. I had a doubling cube, a mana reflection, Rosheen Meanderer and some other stuff in play. I had Tribal Unity and Firecat Blitz in hand. The turn I was going to kill him I drew channel. After almost enough math to make him concede in boredom I finally swung in with 30 cat tokens granted +29/+29 for 900 damage.

Whew. That's enough decks for now. Got a couple left to describe, much less all the repairs, building I've been saying I'm gonna do.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Archaeology: Decks that I once loved

As I write this I"m slowly being crowded off my desk by stacks and stacks of Magic cards. Their piles are slowly tipping over, spreading out, encompassing more territory. It's time to do some cleaning. Today I'll be going through some of the old decks I built, got bored with and left stacked on my desk.

Let's start with: Ovinomancer!

Deck Name: That Ovinomancer deck.
Short version: Blue White Control.
Long version: This was a deck I built shortly after Lorwyn came out. The essential combo is thousand year elixir with a number of cards that tap to do stuff. If you have the elixir out you can drop Ovinomancer, tap it to sheep an opponent's creature (destroy it, replacing it with a 0/1 sheep token) and bounce back to your hand before they can do anything, and especially before you have to bounce three basics. That's the silly combo. More devastating is with Mangara of Corondor. Her ability reads (Tap; remove Target and CARDNAME from the game). Note that her removal happens when the ability resolves. With her and a couple untap effects (like on the elixir or the Rimewind taskmages which are also in the deck) you can stack several remove her from the game triggers and remove multiple permanents of your opponent's for only one of yours. Or you can save her with Momentary blink and do the same thing next turn. The deck also features Heidar, Rimewind Master who can be used to bounce multiple permanents of your opponent's if you've got the untap effects. The rimewind guys require snow permanents, so this is the deck that got all my snow lands, including the Scrying Sheets and the Mouths of Ronom.
Why this deck didn't work: Well, unless you get the combos together you're running a deck that just has suboptimal cards. Ovinomancer in particular is pretty terrible on it's own. The other problem is that it tries to be a control deck with very little in the way of control abilities. Very few counterspells, a couple of guys that tap your opponent's guys down, a couple pestermites to slow them down. It often becomes a race to get your combo down, and if you don't get it right away they'll run you over. Even with other casual decks.
Judgement: To be rendered into parts. Possibly build another, better deck along those lines.

Deck name: Soldiers
Short version: White weenie
Long version: Soldiers is one of the first decks I ever built. It's got a lot of speed and power, which is why I keep it around, even if I don't play it that often. The current version has a bunch of small guys (Elite Vanguard, raise the alarm tokens, goldmeadow harriers, Soltari Foot Soldiers) at 1 and 2 mana, then uses lords at 3 mana. (Field Marshal, Soltari Champion). It's also got the potential turn four insta-gib of Preeminent Captain and Mirror Entity. (Turn three lay the captain. Turn four attack, drop the Mirror Entity into play with the captain's ability and before damage pump all your creatures to 4/4.)
Why this deck didn't work: Actually, it works rather well. The only reason I don't play it that often is that white weenie isn't exactly the most exciting strategy, and that the deck is generally better than whatever casual deck my opponent is fielding. I like to keep it around for revenge beats when someone humiliates my latest "best deck ever".
Judgement: Gonna keep this one around. Could use some updating.

The next stack isn't actually a stack. It's stuff that should go in my binder, or at least my big box o' jank (where I keep my crappy rares). Moving along.

Deck name: Five color control
Short version: Actually, it'd probably be better described as five color reveillark.
Long version: Remember when Reflecting pool and vivid lands meant that you could jam any sort of spell you wanted into a deck and still have it work? This was my take on that general archetype. I went with a slightly different approach; 4 Murderous Redcap, 4 Mulldrifter, 4 Kitchen Finks, 2 reveillarks and a number of odder spells to accomplish the same think (Flickerwisp, turn to mist, makeshift mannequin). The upshot was a midrange deck with tremendous ability to grind out card advantage. Naturally, it was a blast to play. This is one of the few really competitive decks I've built, I live hours from the nearest tournaments so I usually make casual decks.
Why this deck didn't work: Well, when playing in actual tournaments I got knocked out my merfolk, and mana barbs. Still I think the deck was plenty competitive. Also, the manabase never really clicked the way I wanted it to; I had all the reflecting pools but I never had enough of the rare dual lands I would have needed.
Judgement: gonna refurbish this one. Too much fun to let go. Maybe with the momentary blinks I took out of that other deck...

Deck Name: Arcum Dagsson
Short version: Arcum Dagsson combo/control
Long version: Arcum Dagsson is one of my three favorite magic card names to say. (Seriously, try it. Pretend you're a motorcycle. ArcUMMMMM DAGsson. For the record, my other two are Gargadon and Crypts of Agadeem). But anyways. What the deck does is it tries to get Arcum Dagsson (admit it, you just did it) and March of the Machines in play. Arcum Dagsson taps to let me sac an artifact creature and search up a noncreature artifact. So if I just have Arcum himself out I can lose an ornithopter that I didn't pay for to begin with and get an icy manipulator. Or something. But with march of the machines out as well, every artifact becomes an artifact creature that let's you search something up. Like, say Akroma's Memorial. Which comes into play as a 7/7 flying first strike vigilance trample haste pro black and red angel. And it gives your icy manupulator and such those abilities too.
Why it didn't work: Well, it's at least a two part combo, both of whose parts cost 4 mana and neither of which can be searched for. The control elements are a lot better since I built that blue white deck about ten months earlier. Still, even when the deck does work it's a one trick pony, and they get boring after a while.
Judgement: Scrap it. I might make a Dagsson based EDH deck. Nobody playing EDH hates and fears Arcum Dagsson yet, right? Right?

Deck name: That mono green deck
Short version: Nissa Revane stompy before it was cool, dammit.
Long version: Tom LaPille once said that Nissa Revane was a lot more important in the development tournaments than it was in the real world. Since the real world hadn't seen Zendikar much at all yet, I figured it was the real world's fault, and started looking at the card. You know what? A dude every turn is actually a pretty good +1 ability, nevermind the possibility of huge repeated lifegain. Ignore the ultimate. So I tossed together a proxy deck with Nissas and Garruks and a bunch of standard aggressive green creatures (River Boa, Lotus Cobra, Great Stable Stag) and topped it off with Overrun. The deck performed pretty consistently.
Why it didn't work. ...then people started winning 5ks with it, and other people took notice and suddenly it wasn't my special metagame innovation anymore. This made me less interested in playing and tweaking the deck. Also, I played it to the point where just beating down with huge green creatures wasn't exciting anymore.
Judgement: Gonna scrap this one. Proxies aren't much fun anyway.

Next we've got a stack of sorted but not yet put away multicolor cards. Sorting multicolor cards is always annoying; if you want to quickly be able to find a card you've got to sort them into so many fiddling annoying categories. Moving along

Deck name: Snakes on a Plane!
Short Version: A blue green aggro deck, with a couple tricks.
If you can't guess from the name, it's a theme deck. For snakes I've got basically one of every kind I have. For the plane I've got Predator Flagship. For Samuel L. Jackson I've got Teferi, mage of Zhalfir. He's big, he's black, he's a beating and he's even got relevant flavor text: "To save this plane, he must forsake all others." Granted it's not an exact match but I defy you to find one closer.
Why this deck didn't work: Actually, this one works about as well as a theme deck ever does. it has a consistent curve and strategy, it's playable without sacrificing the theme. Because honestly, what was there to that movie besides snakes, a plane and Samuel L. Jackson?
Judgement: Gonna keep this one around. Need to tweak it so I can fit my Cobra Trap in.

Another stack of semi-sorted random cards...

Deck Name: Reaper King
Short version: Five color Elder Dragon Highlander.
This is my original EDH deck, updated numerous times. It started as a Nichol Bolas three color deck, but went to five when I got my hands on a reaper king. The scarecrow theme was cut not that long after when it became apparent that people were too afraid of my Reaper King to let it do anything. The deck featured numerous powerful cards and effects, but never had a strategy to unify them, which means I never actually got around to winning with the thing. I also spend an inordinate amount of time mana fixing and accelerating, which isn't all bad. I derive a positive pleasure from getting my mana to work well. Once I realized that I wasn't winning with it, I moved away from that as a goal and towards "Cards that make me happy when I see them."
Why it didn't work: You mean in addition to that whole paragraph? Well, playing a deck of "cards that make me happy" doesn't usually win you the game. A deck that sports the full on five part nephilimbo can't be accused of being too competitive. And as far as formats go, EDH tends to be very competitive.
Judgement: Gonna tear it apart. On the other hand, I still like most of the creatures. Maybe I'll build another EDH deck around dropping huge monsters on the table. I could use that Shiny progenitus as the general. That'd be something. Not a winning something, but something nonetheless.

Well, that's about all of my desk that I want to clear off right now. Still can't find that card with my dentist appointments on it, which was really what I was looking for. Judging from the contents of my desk you can expect at least one more blog post of this nature.

Saturday, May 8, 2010


I've been tossing the word "Mechanic" around a lot without ever giving it a proper definition. I plan to rectify that situation now.

A mechanic is any rule or set of rules that define the way a game is played.

Not at all vague, is it? While it's terribly easy to point to something that's a mechanic, it's much harder to make a general definition that encapsulates them all. So let's whip out a couple examples of mechanics.

The motion of rooks, bishops and queens in chess.
The motion of knights, or even just the fact that they can jump other pieces.
The fact that pawns can't go backwards, or pawn promotion at the other end of the board.

In fact, the motion of pawns gives us an excellent example. Y'ever hear of the en passant? Lemme tell you the story of it's origins, (as I heard it, and not necessarily true). Nowadays the first move a pawn can make is either one or two spaces forwards. It used to be that pawns could only move one space forward. (Ignoring capturing rules.) Trouble is, this mechanic was unnecessarily delaying the game; at the start of the game a number of turns would pass that progressed the game very little. So people instituted the first pawn movement double jump mechanic. Yeah, I did work to make that name that awkward. The trouble is, that mostly cosmetic (cosmetic here meaning that it makes the game smoother to play, it doesn't have much effect on the strategy) change had a significant effect on the strategy, if only to contradict my parenthetical definition. If you'll recall, pawns capture only in spaces one diagonally forward from it's current position. In the olden days you could park a pawn in the fifth row (that is to say, two spaces in front of your opponent's pawns) and be confident that the pawns on either side couldn't sneak past. But with the new rule, if the moved two spaces on the first turn they could effectively bypass your blockade. So they invented the en passant, a new mechanic that basically lets the fifth row pawns to capture regardless.

Got that? Only one space forward was a mechanic. Two spaces forward is another mechanic, designed to move the early game along. En passant is yet another mechanic, designed to neutralize the strategic implications of the two spaces forward mechanic.

Beyond specific rules and applications of the rules, the word "mechanic" can describe large parts of a game's structure. For example:

Going 'round the board, landing on spaces in monopoly is a mechanic.
So is the division of movement into combat and reinforcement in RISK
The differentiation of costs by unit type in Axis & Allies qualifies.
Experience and leveling up in Dungeons and Dragons also qualify.

So what use is it to define something that's so, well, universal? You have to note that whenever you're talking about a particular mechanic you're always making a statement about that mechanic. You're not just defining it, you're explaining why that mechanic exists, what it does, how it affects game play, or something about it.

Going 'round the board in monopoly works as a method of randomization of results. (chance cards, $200 for the railroad, that friggen hotel on boardwalk; what's this? Mediterranean avenue is still for sale? Probably cause it's a dump)
The zombie killing mechanic in ZOMBIES!!! allows players to kill zombies, so it's good they put it in. Said players wouldn't hang around very long if you sold 'em a game called ZOMBIES!!! that didn't allow them to kill zombies.
The mechanic of using play money to determine victory points tends to work out very well in financial games, not only does it make sense from a realism perspective but psychologically it's very easy to get players to care about those same piles of play money.

As a matter of fact, mechanics are introduced into games for one (or both) of two reasons. Either they make the game play better, or they increase realism.

In RISK, getting armies by turning in cards is a mechanic that's largely for game play reasons. If the mechanic didn't exist, players would exhaust their supplies of armies and be reduced to squabbling over borders, possibly with no end in sight. (I've never actually played the game sans cards to test this.) There's very little real world reason why it would work this way. (America enters the war! Oh wait, America was already part of the war? Nevermind.) The game solar quest had a strictly realism based mechanic. In it, you had to be moving quickly enough to get from one planet's orbit to another. While this might make sense from an astronomical perspective, in gameplay terms it usually meant you were stuck orbiting Jupiter using up your fuel and having to pay rent to the jerk who already owns the moons and you wouldn't believe his prices.

It's relatively common to find mechanics that both make sense from a realism perspective and work to improve the game play. For example, in Monopoly, the more you build up a property the more it costs people who land there. And owning a monopoly on a particular type of properties increases the amount you can charge. It makes sense from a real world understanding of what a monopoly does, and it also provides a valuable game function (It bankrupts your eight year old cousin so that, even though he's going off in tears you can at least declare this stupid game to be over.) Similarily, the different prices of units in Axis and Allies serves the realism goal because honestly, a submarine is more expensive than a tank. It also makes for a better play experience by forcing people to decide how much quality versus quality they want in their forces. (Mein Fuhrer! I have... unfortunate news about your plan to build an army solely out of land battleships.)

One last point. When I build a game from scratch, I make the framework out of mechanics that I think would be interesting together. It's a world war, set in Asia, only you have to buy your oil on the free market. Steal the war mechanic from Axis & Allies, steal the free market mechanic from Power Grid, see how well they work together. Or take the Terrible Secret of Space. The very first thing I thought of, even before I had "space war" as the creative framework, I knew I wanted a game that mimicked the in depth strategy of Chess by Mail. I'm also looking for ways to expand the Dungeon Master mechanic out of your classic RPGs. Put two and two together and you've got a new kind of internet gaming.

I hope you've got a better idea now of what the hell I'm talking about. Every little bit helps.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Langston Field

Been a bit since I last advanced the Terrible Secret of Space. If you'll recall, last time I was working out some necessary consequences of having spaceships that travel around the solar system. Basically, if you can get a ship up to speed, it makes a great rock to hurl at those who would oppose you. Or those who might think of opposing you. Or those who might think of looking at you funny. Or... I'd better get off this train of thought.

Specifically, at the close of my last post I didn't have a satisfactory reason for why the evil invading aliens couldn't strap a drive on just any old rock and blast capital ships out of the sky or selectively target important military installations. After duly considering the problem, I've got the solution: Cheat!

I'm stealing the Langston Field from the novel The Mote in God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. The aforementioned field drains energy from objects in motion, including such extremely high energy objects as plasma from fusion torpedoes or photons from laser cannons. Importantly though, the book also works out the restrictions. The field has to absorb that energy, which it disposes of by radiating outwards as a black body. If it can't radiate the energy faster than it takes it in, the shield heats up until it overloads, destroying the ship inside.

This has all sorts of useful applications for a boardgame. For starters, it neatly allows us to sidestep the issue of throwing rocks at capital ships; the shields will be able to survive that sort of attack. Doubly so for ground installations. It also provides a handy way to track damage done to ships; in the book the shields remained black until enough energy is absorbed that it starts changing color, from red on up the rainbow. Makes a pretty convenient way to define and measure hit points.

So what do we actually know about the shields?
1) The shields absorb energy. They reradiate it like blackbody radiation. The specific heat of the shields must be proportionally huge, they can absorb large amounts of energy.
2) They absorb momentum proportional to the cube of the incoming velocity. Which means they absorb a lot more energy from, say, an incoming particle beam than from an object moving at slow speeds.
3) They're generally spherical in shape. This probably works to our advantage otherwise, seeing as a sphere is best for radiating away excess energy.
4) Small holes can be punched through the shield. This allows useful things like laser batteries or the fusion reaction to get out.
5) Some energy gets through; there's a lot of talk in the book about how the ships get shaken about in major fleet actions, and about necessary repairs.
6) The shields dampen all motion. If you get stuck in one, it'll dampen the beating of your heart etc.
7) Absorbing energy is really useful if you want an ultra efficient sci-fi star drive. Say, the sort of thing that could stand .1g over extended periods of time. Not sure that I'm going to get into a detailed explanation of how the engines work, but it's nice to remember.
8) Shields have some thickness. They take up a volume of space. They are fields though, so they don't exclude matter from taking up the same space.
9) Until a shield overloads, it mostly radiates it's energy outward. I don't know why this is. Probably storytelling necessity. Possibly I'm screwing up my physics.
10) Not stated but implied by the logic, ground based shields will be more efficient than space based ones; they can lose energy by conduction with the ground rather than just radiation.
11) When a shield overloads the energy will The overloaded Langston field is enough to vaporize whatever steel bulkheads you've got inside it. Only about half of the energy will be going inwards (I'm assuming it's proportional to surface area), the other half will be expanding out. While it'll be a lot more diffuse, I wouldn't want to be too close to an exploding ship for fear of overloading my own shields.

After a perusal of the book, I've still got a couple questions. What happens if two shields interact?

Let's say you put one inside another. That way, if your first shield blows, you've got another ready and waiting. Trouble is, when a shield blows it'll release a lot of energy. If the amount of energy a shield can store is proportional to the volume of space it occupies then the outer shield will by necessity be able to hold more energy. Consequently, when it releases all that energy it might overload the shield on the inside in just that one action. You could design around this though; by engineering your inside shield to have at least 51% of the energy capacity of your outer shield. Even if it only buys you a couple seconds, well, a couple seconds are valuable. We could assume as a principle of the physics that you can't have one shield inside another. Only that spells doom for making the drive ultraefficient.

Or what happens if you throw one field at another? Let's say you built Langston Fields into your torpedoes to make them harder to shoot down mid flight. When you launched it at another ship, what would happen? Well, let's say the fields cancel each other. Then you'd have an effective way to toss a torpedo through a field barrier, which makes the Langston field much less useful. Ok, what if the fields simply ignore each other. Then the torpedo would crash into the other ship's field, and work like described. Unless the torpedo would have a larger field, in which case it'd appear that the ship crashed into the torpedo's field, causing massive damage to the ship without injuring the torpedo. Also not optimal.

Let's see. The shields act to absorb incoming velocities. But you can impart a velocity to a shield by moving the generator on the inside. The shields are a projection of energy, but they also block energy. So if we assume that two shields would attempt to block each other out if they collided, then the two of them would have to absorb energy equal to the collective momentum of the system. Except that would leave them both at rest, and there's no reference frame to tell us what "at rest" means in that context. I could cheat by using the board to define a reference frame, but I'd rather not. One of the things I'm trying to do with this game is to not mess up the physics unless I absolutely have to. I can think of ways to explain the interaction of two shields, but none where the math will check out when two ships collide, and therefore none that I'd be happy using.

Ok, so suppose that it works that way. Well, possibly that I'll have to use a vector based movement system to describe how pieces move about the board. Honestly though, that'd probably happen anyway. Anything else? That it'll be possible to ram ships with other ships, for whatever purpose. Why would someone do that? Well, if you just hit them with a fusion torpedo their shield heats up. But if you sent in a spaceship on automatic you might be able to change their motion, say nudging them out of orbit or into the path of an asteroid or something.

Well, that's all the physics. Well, not all. I haven't touched on the thermodynamics much at all. Before I finish though, I'm going to add a couple restrictions to Langston Field Generators. Either they're really expensive to build, or they won't cover very small areas, or both. I'm saying this to limit the unintended consequences. If you could make cheap, small field generators then you could do all sorts of things with them. Really top notch fireproofing is probably the most boring. To limit the spread of miracle gadgets that do X, Y, or Z and implies T, U, and V, I think I'm going to limit these to small star ships and up.