Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Can You Draft Door of Destinies?

Another rare of questionable value.  In some sets, Door of Destinies would be a legitimate bomb, but is Magic 2014 one of those sets?


A quick look at the set shows quite a diversity of creature types.  There are actually 58 different creature types on only 111 creatures.  37 of those creature types appear at common.  But it doesn't matter how many creature types there are, it matters how many you can get of one type.

First, let's look at what you need for the door to be good.  Playing a turn two and three creature, followed by a door, followed by another creature of that type would be +1/+1 to all your creatures.  Not the best use of your fourth turn but maybe worth an include in your deck.  If you play two creatures of the chosen type after the door then it might be worth the card even if those are the only two creatures of that type you play.  A third seems like a slam dunk for the door, as does giving +2/+2 to four creatures.

So you want to draw about three or four creatures of the same type when you draw door.  Two creatures that cost four or five each would also be okay, but not ideal.  Typically your deck will have 15 to 18 creatures, so you'll draw four or five of them in your first eleven cards.  That says to me that you should be looking at having at the very least half of your creatures be one type.

I counted up the cards of each creature type at each commonality in each colour.  Adjusting each card for its rarity, I got the commonality of each creature type in the set.  Then for each creature type I added up the number of them in the two colours with the most of them.  This narrowed down the number of creature types you could realistically try to door with.

Other than Slivers, which are the obvious point of the card, this narrowed it down to one - Human.  And that's in one colour combination - white/black.  Not only is that the only creature type you could realistically hope to get a good density of, in order to get that density I was counting Soulmender and Shadowborn Apostle.

Is it really that bad?  Yes, it's really that bad.  White/blue birds has one common bird of each colour, and one uncommon in blue.  White/black clerics has one common in each colour and two white uncommons.  Black/red minotaurs at least has two commons in black and one in red, but there are none of any other rarities.  There are three common blue merfolk but one of them is terrible and no other colours have any.

But maybe the door is still good if you have a wide variety of creature types.  You could, for instance, simply name whatever creature type you have two of right now and use it to buff those creatures.

The fact that you have to play the creatures after the door makes this difficult.  Spending your entire fourth turn adding nothing to your board may be quite hazardous when your opponent is spending their fourth turn on a Rumbling Baloth, a Marauding Maulhorn, a Charging Griffin or an Afflicted Spirit.  But if we get that your next two plays being huge could make up for this, how likely is this to happen.

So let's talk about a reasonable spread of creatures with a number of several different types.  In our red/green deck we have five slivers, four beasts, three elves and two wolves.  We don't have any other overlapping types, but we have three other creatures and three other spells that we usually wouldn't mind playing on turns one through three.  We look at hands where we draw Door in our opener.  In order to maximize the effectiveness of the door we try to avoid playing our most frequently drawn creature type until we have the door out on turn four, but we do play them if we have no other reasonable plays since we can't just do nothing.  I simulated up to turn six.

The door was just brutally bad.  Sure there was a 43% chance of getting two charge counters on it, but only a 1% chance of doing so with four creatures benefiting and a 9% chance of getting three creatures.  Much more terribly there was about a 38% chance that it was either doing nothing or giving a single creature +1/+1.  The balance of the time when it is giving two or three creatures +1/+1 isn't that impressive.  This card involves way too much chance for the slim odds of a big payoff.  And that's all on the draw.  If you are on the play things just get worse, and the chance of doing nothing and affecting a single creature combine to over 50%.

I tried it again with a crazy sliver deck - twelve slivers including a one drop, four two drops and four three drops.  No other creature types were used for this test, and I was just ignoring that this deck was going to be at least three colours and assuming it could always play everything.  This looks a lot better, but it still makes you wonder if it's worth it.  The chance of getting two charge counters was high - 73% - with 57% of that being times it affected more than two creatures.  Another 6% were times when three creatures were getting +1/+1.  However, that still left 9% of the time that the door was having a very minor effect and 11% that it was having no effect by turn six if played on turn four.  That's about as extreme a deck as you are ever going to get.  Sure, giving most of the creatures in your deck +2/+2 is a pretty good effect for a four mana artifact - and it's only going to get more broken from there - but it's hard to consider a card a bomb when you can be at turn six of the game, having the mana to play it, and having it do nothing at all more than 10% of the time.

It should come as no surprise that Magic 2014 - a set that has only four beasts to go with a common that specifically boosts beasts - is not a tribal set.
Is one of those a rare seven drop?

Basically you can't draft Door of Destinies.  You can draft slivers and if you get a ridiculous sliver deck then you can use Door of Destinies when it gets passed to you.  One day someone might also take it for their white/black deck having noticed that have a dozen humans, but that's actually only going to happen one day.  Definitely do not pick the door early.  You are probably more likely to play it if you just take the best sliver in the pack than if you take the door itself.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Can You Draft Angelic Accord?



Angelic Accord is not nearly so exciting a card as Strionic Resonator, but if you can get it to work in a draft then you are likely winning that game.  Just one angel token is usually pretty good news.  Two makes it hard to win for your opponent.  Three pretty much ruins the game.

A quick review of how the card actually works.  It checks the amount of life you gained this turn, not the difference between your life at the start and end of the turn.  If you gain four life and lost four life in the same turn then you get an angel.  Also, the card triggers once and makes up to one angel - gaining twenty life in a single turn still only gets one.

We can do a similar calculation as we did with the resonator.  In order to make the accord worth playing you probably need at the very least seven cards that work with it.  Unlike the resonator, this is going to be very hard to do because there are very few commons that support it.  Also unlike the resonator, if you can get one trigger at any point in the game there is a good chance the card was worth playing.  Even using two cards to get one angel is usually going to be profitable in limited.

But how are you getting your four life?

Soulmender, Child of Night, Dawnstrike Paladin, Divine Favour and Verdant Haven all get you part of the way there, but combining two or more of these cards to add to four is not going to happen often.  I'd probably leave Soulmender on the sidelines in any event and I wouldn't want Verdant Haven unless I could actually use the accelerant and fixing.

I'm not going to say much about Brindle Boar.  It's not quite a Gray Ogre, but it's not a whole lot better unless the accord hits the table.  Obviously you'd rather not play these if you can avoid it, though if you manage to get multiple accords then it might be worth it.

Solemn Offering gets you four life without costing you a card, but only if your opponent has something to target with it.  There is only one common artifact in the set and half the uncommon artifacts are quite weak, so I wouldn't count on having one of those to destroy.  There are quite a few very nice enchantments, including both of blue's removal spells and pacifism.  Still, I don't think that main decking this card is a good idea because the last thing you want is having both and accord and an offering and having both be useless.

Mark of the Vampire is the real winner at common.  With a little bit of ris-+k you can turn your early drop into a turn five threat plus an angel.  This card can also be powerful when you don't have the accord down.  Unfortunately it is vulnerable to all the things auras are vulnerable to.

At Uncommon we have several cards that can get us an angel into play.

Bubbling Cauldron plus accord is obviously what you are really hoping to get.  That combo turns all of your creatures into 4/4 angels, one turn at a time, and even let's you turn your angels into more angels if some nasty fate would otherwise befall them.  The angel production dries up a bit after that, though.  Congregate
The accord says angels are drawn to benevolence,
but it seems a lot more like they are drawn to live sacrifice.
and Elixir of Immortality would both make one angel, but are just plain lifegain when you don't have the accord.  Corrupt is a high quality card that you'd almost surely play in black/white but is not guaranteed to spit out the angel.  Stonehorn Chanter gets you at least one angel but at the cost of twelve mana.  Staffs could technically trigger the accord, but it would be very hard to do with one, and they are very terrible, so putting them in your deck is probably a mistake.

You can't start a draft by planning to get any particular rare, but you might choose to pick up an accord after getting a rare that will make it work.

Trading Post is even better than Bubbling Cauldron at turning Accord on.  Drawing a 4/4 angel every turn is hard to beat.  Syphon Sliver will generally be able to get you the four life you need, even if only once or twice.  Archangel of Thune will start sprouting angel friends on it's second hit, but that's almost certainly what we call "winning more."  Finally, Path of Bravery could get you four life in one turn, but it requires a lot of setup.

It's obvious that the Angelic Accord deck is going to be there in some draft and that if someone picks it up they are going to clean house with it.  But does chasing the deck make any sense when you start a draft and see it in your opening pack?

Well, let's say you see an accord and not a cauldron pick one.  Let's also say you can usually pick up cauldron sixth unless someone has a witch - and that the times when it goes seventh or eighth and the times when it goes fourth or fifth cancel out somehow.  That gives you right about a 50% chance to get a cauldron to go with your accord.  Once you have both in your deck you have about a 7% chance to draw them both by the eleventh card in your deck.  If you draw both you presumably have a high chance to win the game, but it's not a lock.  You can likely augment this with a Mark of the Vampire or two.  Even still, in games where you draw the accord you are looking at a very significant chance of it doing nothing.

Now if you could get two cauldrons and two accords then you would be much better off.  You have a 37% chance of getting the combo in those first eleven cards - and getting multiples of one certainly doesn't hurt, especially multiple accords.  There is also about a 13% chance that you'll draw two of one and none of the other.  That's not quite a bad as drawing both is good, but it's bad.

But the odds of those being in the draft and you getting them are small, probably around 16% if you open an accord or 22% if you open and aggressively pick a cauldron.  For the chance to put together a combo that will win you one in three games - and possibly lose you one in ten - it's a legitimate question as to whether that's worth giving up your first pick for a clear non-first-pick card.

Generally I think the accord deck is there on the fringe and could come together, but my hopes that it will work were severely stifled on the weekend while watching Louis Scott-Vargas and Greg Hatch stream an all pro Magic 2014 draft.  In the chat there was a discussion about the card and the consensus seemed to be that you could make it work.

One thing that is absolutely fatal to this strategy is if anyone else thinks it can work.

So I'd say until enthusiasm about the card is completely killed off by a string of failures on the part of those who like it, there is no point in even trying to go this route.  When you open an accord you should be able to draft your first eight cards keeping it open and then pick it up ninth if it looks like you are going to be able to use it.  If it is getting picked up on that trip around the table then there was no hope.  Someone else at your table thinks that card is good, which means it is bad, bad, bad.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Rogue Legacy - C'est Fini


Well, I did say that I thought the game was too small and short.  I'd seriously love to be playing it more right now, but I've now actually bought everything in the game and all there is left to do is keep racking up higher and higher new game plus numbers.  I'm at New Game +10 and I don't feel the need to get that a lot higher.

Would I still give it a whole-hearted recommendation?  Damn, you bet.  The whole reason I'm finished everything in it was because it was outrageously fun.  I have to imagine that a couple of days from now I am going to start up a new game of it from scratch playing only with the classes that I tended to avoid in my first playthroughs, or giving myself some other restriction.  In fact, I have a low level game on the go right now where I have almost completed a playthrough at level 6.

All I want out of this game is more of everything.  What's great is that I can only imagine that more will not be too hard for the designers to produce.  Based on the reaction I'm seeing online, this is likely to be a big money maker for them.  Hopefully they don't wait years and years to add to it.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Oracle Review - Lich and Word of Command

Magic was around before the internet had entered popular culture. There were no websites filled with the text of every card ever printed. As a result, when I began playing in 1995 the powerful rares of Alpha and Beta were just rumours. Black Lotus was worth hundreds of dollars, but why? What did it do?

While clearly the "Power Nine" occupied the spotlight in these rumours, there were other cards that were spoken of but never seen. We knew there was a card called "Lich" and we knew it was the centre of some kind of obscenely powerful strategy, but our ideas of what it might have done were pure speculation. And then there was Word of Command that we had heard allowed you to control your opponent somehow. If we'd actually seen either card our opinions of them would have been quite a bit lower.


Lich
O! Lich. One can only imagine how cool designing cards must have been back when there were no rules. Magic players are playing powerful wizards, so they should be able to turn themselves into liches. It is the ultimate expression of black magic. But what does it mean to be a lich? Naturally it means that your life is magical power instead of whatever that life total normally represents. So replace life gain with drawing cards and life loss with losing cards? We have a winner.
As Lich enters the battlefield, you lose life equal to your life total. 
You don't lose the game for having 0 or less life. 
If you would gain life, draw that many cards instead. 
Whenever you're dealt damage, sacrifice that many nontoken permanents. If you can't, you lose the game. 
When Lich is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, you lose the game.
This wording shows how they wanted to be really sure that if you weren't a lich anymore than you were dead but they didn't quite manage to get it right. In order to ensure this it sets your life to zero when it comes into play and it makes you lose outright if it leaves play. It seems like someone started the card off with an ability that usually make you die if it leaves play and someone else finished it with an ability that usually makes you die if it leaves play and they didn't actually talk to one another about edge cases covered by neither.

What's interesting about the Oracle wording is that there is a lot of ambiguity and room for templating decisions in the original card. Does "You lose all your life." mean, as it says in the Oracle wording, that you lose life equal to your life total, or does it mean that you set your life total to zero. These are actually exactly the same as far as the game is concerned, but they chose the wording they chose for some reason.

The fact that drawing cards replaces life gain while sacrificing cards only triggers on damage taken is a very true implementation of the original wording, as is the fact that you have to sacrifice nontoken permanents - that is, cards. It seems like they could have gone either way on these.

The really interesting choice is that they decided to replace destroying permanents you control with sacrificing them. We can all agree that this makes sense, but it wasn't strictly necessary. It could actually destroy permanents and prevent regeneration. Then depending on the exact wording, an indestructible permanent would either mean you never have to sacrifice cards to the Lich or that you just can't sacrifice that one card.

Finally, with three instances, Lich is the runaway winner for most uses of the phrase "lose the game" on a single card. The runner up, with two, is Phage, though technically one of hers is "loses the game."

The Lich was not a terribly challenging Oracle wording, but it does show how subtle the decisions made can be. I do like the Lich wording, but there isn't enough there to wow me. As a result I'm giving it...

Well done

Word of Command
I think this card caused a lot of confusion back in the day.  Let's look at it's Oracle wording:
Look at target opponent's hand and choose a card from it. You control that player until Word of Command finishes resolving. The player plays that card if able. While doing so, the player can activate mana abilities only if they're from lands he or she controls and only if mana they produce is spent to activate other mana abilities of lands he or she controls and/or play that card. If the chosen card is cast as a spell, you control the player while that spell is resolving.
That is quite a block of text, and it uses concepts that didn't enter the rules for many years after they started making Oracle wordings, which in turn was years after the card was actually printed.

Once again the original wording of the card is very strictly adhered to in some senses. The player can only use mana abilities from lands because the card specifically said you could use mana from the opponent's mana pool and lands. It did not say you could use mana from artifacts.

What about that bit about not being countered at the end of the original wording - why is that ignored completely and why was that clause necessary in the first place? Originally it clarified that you can't use a spell from your opponent's hand to counter Word of Command itself.

Back in the original rules there were two kinds of "fast effects": Instants and Interrupts. Just look at the original printing of Counterspell. While instants used a first-in, last-out rule just like the instants of today, interrupts resolved immediately upon being cast with no chance to respond to them - aside, that is, from their own "interrupt window."

So it was possible at the time if you use Word of Command on someone and picked Counterspell from their hand, then you could cast the Counterspell targeting the Word of Command and countering it. Obviously this would lead people to say, "But if it was countered then it never happened so I shouldn't have had to cast my counterspell." They didn't want the rules of Magic to cause anyone to explode.

Of course this clause could have a modern day equivalent, it's just that it is very unlikely that Word of Command could be countered after its effects had started resolving, and according to the current rules I don't think that would do anything anyway. While the original wording may have suggested that if you saw a hand with a counter in it you could not cast it, a modern reading of those words - even using old interrupt rules - would say nothing of the kind. As we know, you can target a spell that says, "Can't be countered" with a spell that counters it, it's just that the countering never happens. With modern timing rules if you cast a Counterspell from the hand of your opponent targeting Word of Command then nothing at all confusing would happen. As the final step of resolving Word of Command you would put Word of Command in your graveyard, and the Counterspell, upon it's own resolution, would be countered for a lack of legal targets.

There is one more nagging issue with Word of Command, though. The text on the original card says you have to choose a card they can legally play. If you didn't want to cast a particular card from their hand, but that was the only card they had the mana to pay for, you had to make them cast that card. This wording is absent, perhaps because the rules team thought there was a problem with it. I'm not sure that there is. Surely if the next line of text in the Oracle wording says that they play that card if they are able then we are able to tell which cards they are able to play and which they are not. Further, very little can change between when you choose a card and when they are forced to play it since they are consecutive lines on the same spell.

Because one element - however small - of the original card is not preserved, I feel I can only give this wording...

Not really that great

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Magicka: The Stars are Left

I bought Magicka after watching Total Biscuit's review of it some time ago, I think I paid $5 for it.

Though I apparently only have about 36 hours of gameplay, I'd have to say it was a great game.  I was very eager to buy expansions for it and blow up yet more bad guys with my fatality-prone wizard.  The first couple of expansions, however, were not real campaigns for the game, they were multi-player maps.  They had no checkpoints so you had to clear the entire thing without dying to make it to the end if you played it as a single player.  This put me off a bit, so I stopped paying attention to the new releases.

My desire to acquire cards brought me back, and I purchased a real campaign expansion for the game called "The Stars are Left" where the world comes under siege by C'thulu cultists and you have to go to R'lyeh to defeat him.  Why play an old game when I can play a new one?

Well the game is certainly as fun as ever.  You move around my left clicking and then use combinations of keys and clicks to fire off all kinds of spells at your opponents.  Most of your spells are made by combining up to five of the eight elements, and then either right-clicking to cast the spell, shift-right clicking to cast it in an area around you, shift-left clicking to enchant your sword with it, or centre-clicking to cast it targeting yourself.  Since you can use the same element more than once and since there are two other elements you can create by combining the base elements, I'm quite confident that there are tens of thousands of ways to cast spells, though many would be nearly identical to one another.

The controls can be mildly awkward at times, and I had to train myself out of certain habits to avoid killing myself.  Ultimately success is based heavily on fast thinking and fast hands, just about the speed I can manage.

The Stars are Left is much harder than the original campaign.  Enemies attack in large waves right from the beginning and the first boss is very hard.  He would be easy if you were playing multi-player, but I am not.

And that's probably Magicka's greatest weakness.  Playing multi-player is so much easier than single-player and the game does nothing I'm aware of to compensate.  With one player to distract while the other kills, and with a player to revive you after your mistakes, there is almost no way lose other than incompetence or intentional murder by your fellow players.  When you first start incompetence will abound and you'll be killing yourself all the time, but it doesn't take a lot to get the point that you can breeze through the original campaign

The Stars are Left does a lot to address this problem by putting in puzzles with mirrors and moving platforms.  It's a little frustrating at times because they gave a particular kind of monster far to many hit points and your wizard improve does not over the course of the game.

If you haven't played Magicka I feel pretty safe to recommend it.  If you like it and think about buying more to add to, just be careful that the thing you add is actually an expansion to the game rather than a PvP arean.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Torchlight II

Steam is giving away cards.  When you collect all the cards associated with a certain game you get badges.  Badges put you up levels.  Being higher level makes it more likely you get more cards.  Obviously people like to collect things and go up levels.

But you can only get half a set of cards by simply playing a game.  After that you need to wait and get lucky or trade for the cards you want.  That will be hard because I only have two friends on Steam an in the end I don't know if I will get any card collections at all.  Even though that is the case, the motivation to at least collect the cards is there, and it is making me revisit the games I own that had cards added to them.

Last night it was Torchlight II.  Torchlight II is pretty fun.  It is so similar to Diablo 2 that if it were not made by the people who made Diablo 2 you would be almost offended.  Much like Diablo 2 it is mod-able, so there are lots of ways you can customize the game.  Before playing last night I downloaded mods to zoom out more and put an infinite dungeon in the game.  What's the point of going through the story again when I can just go down further and further and further?

Torchlight definitely has a certain charm to it. While Blizzard decided to take Diablo in a direction of being more slick and more streamlined, Runic decided that things needed to be more weird and more open for exploration.  There are tons of mods for equipment, gem sockets in nearly everything, and random enchantments to make gearing up very non-linear.  Each class has 27 different skills to choose from and each gets additional abilities as you put more points into them.

Torchlight also has actual difficulty settings - that is, you don't just play through the game more than once as it gets harder, you actually choose whether you want to smash through monsters easily by setting it to casual or to struggle to stay alive on elite difficulty.

On the other hand, Torchlight II is kind of boring in some ways.  While there are many item mods, extra health is so critical to success that you basically can't wear gear without it.  On high difficulties monsters have so much armour that you basically need to rely on damage-over-time effects or armour shredding to hurt them.  On easier difficulties you can just run into the middle of everything and auto-attack to victory.

When I say it's a little boring, of course, that might not line up with the over 300 hours that Steam says I've played it.  A little boring, not a lot boring.

What I really like about Torchlight II is that it highlights what went wrong in Diablo 3.  Games of advancement are more fun when you have tons of choices on how to advance.  Sure, some of those choices will be much better than others, but that's fine.  Balance is a fool's errand where you sacrifice fun and get whining in the forums in return.

I got my cards out of Torchlight and I think I'm moving on to something else.  It's hard to think of any definition by which I could say I didn't get my money's worth out of it, though, and maybe a couple of years from now there will be some truly spectacular fan mods that make it worth playing all over again.  If someone puts in the kind of work that was put into the Diablo 2 Eastern Sun mod, it could be like a whole new game.

Monday, 22 July 2013

"White is Unplayable"

It happens every time a new Magic set comes out, someone immediately announces that a colour or a combination of colours is unplayable in limited and the idea is widely parroted.

Every time I hear this nonsense I think of Scars of Mirrodin.  When that set came out the general wisdom among pros was that there were only two decks - metalcraft and infect - and that blue was virtually unplayable as a result.  Of course because of this people who actually drafted blue started cleaning up.  It turns out that a 3/3 flier for five is good is pretty much every limited format ever, and getting handed them 13th and 14th pick lets you make a pretty good deck.  And then everyone got turned onto just drafting giant things and smashing.  Even with metalcraft turned on it could be hard to fight an Alpha Tyrranax.

And what about Gatecrash?  Having read the cards everyone said that Dimir was very weak.  But I watched a fairly mediocre player stream draft after draft where he just ran people over by forcing Dimir.  His opponents must have been very confused as their supposedly powerful Boros decks were massacred by Gutter Skulks, having been told that this colour combination couldn't work.

So when I hear people saying White is unplayable, or even weak, in Magic 2014 I am quite skeptical.  One thing I know is that is everyone else avoids drafting white then somewhere between two cheap common removal spells and a common phantom monster you are going to be able to put together a pretty nice deck out of it.  Generally, the best deck to be in is the one that no one else is in.

Is White actually weaker than the other colours?  It's possible.  In core sets deck cohesiveness is usually less important than card quality.  Counting commons that I generally would be unhappy to be playing, white has four, blue has four, red has three, green has three, black has two.  But even then sometimes things surprise you as the format shapes up.  For example, I might not be giving Armored Cancrix enough credit for it's ability to stop ground attacks while your fliers win.  In white I sure don't like Divine Favor, but it doesn't fall into the deep unplayable category occupied by black's Shadowborn Apostle.

There is the flip side of that where black seems to have more commons that are very good as well as having fewer that are poor.  It's hardly enough to condemn white to the status of unplayability.

Now I understand that people are prone to hyperbole and that Magic players are no exception.  But these kinds of ideas really do take hold for a time.  You aren't going to roll people with mono-white the way that people got rolled by Dimir in early Gatecrash drafts, but if everyone else is shying away from it then there are opportunities to capitalize.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Can You Draft Strionic Resonator?



It's the question on every Magic player's mind.  Can you use this card in a draft, or is that just a pipe dream?

In order to use Strionic Resonator, obviously you need triggered abilities to copy.  In order to acquire these abilities you have to look primarily to common spells because those are the only cards you are going to get enough copies of to pull this off.  You need these triggered abilities to be good enough that not only do you get value for the two mana you pay to the resonator, but you also get a full card of value out of the resonator the vast majority of the time you draw it.

In order to analyse this, I've broken up the cards that have triggered abilities into a few categories.  I won't bother explaining them up front, I'll just talk about them as I go.  Most of them are self-explanatory, though.

Sure, You Could Do That
There are some cards that you would use your resonator on if you happened to have it and have the mana up, but that don't really make an impression.  These are cards you wouldn't hestitate to play without the two extra mana even if you have the resonator in play already.  While it is nice to resonate these triggers, essentially no number of these will make resonator worth playing.  Of course some of these cards aren't exactly allstars to begin with, and just as they don't make the resonator worth playing, the resonator doesn't do much to put a weak card on this list into your deck.

In commons you have Verdant Haven and Divine Favour which both give you a small amount of life.  At rare Into the Wilds can be copied but if the top card is a non-land then the second activation just shows you the same card again.  Scourge of Valkas has a triggered ability, but you aren't going to wait to play it until you have seven, and even if you do it's not terribly impressive for what you are paying - the Scourge itself is what you are going to be excited about.

Get Your Two Mana Worth
There are a number of cards you can get your two mana worth out of with the resonator.  If you have a lot of cards like this then resonator might do some work for you, but perhaps not more work than a serviceable creature.

Academy Raider lets you loot for two mana, which is fine.  Advocate of the Beast and the rare Oath of the Ancient Wood get you +1/+1 counters though the former is limited by the fact that there are only four beasts in the set and the latter might just be a lousy card.  Sporemound and Young Pyromancer get you 1/1's.  Charging Griffin, Master of Diversion, Trained Condor and Goblin Shortcutter all get you your mana's worth in terms of making an attack better.  Briarpack Alpha is quite powerful but you are just as likely to play it at four rather than wait for six.  A few rares - Thorncaster Sliver, Ogre Battledriver and Witchstalker - do similarly, getting you 1 damage, +2 power to a creature or a +1/+1 counter respectively.

It's Good But...
There are some triggers that are obviously great to copy with the resonator but that are death triggers, so you'd have to sit there with your two mana open at all times to make sure you make use of them.

In common you are Messenger Drake and Pitchburn Devils which are going to give your opponent at least one chance to deal with them without the resonator unless you draw them very late.  You aren't going to leave two mana up all the time for Festering Newt, so the real star in terms of leaving two mana up is Dragon Egg.  While that is good, leaving two mana up to stop your opponent from attacking on the ground varies from insane to not really mattering.

In rare there are some death triggers too.  Dark Prophecy is going to get you some extra cards.  Xathrid Necromancer should be able to hand you a zombie.  Vastwood Hydra, the turn after you play it, should put your opponent in a terrible position if you keep the resonator up.

Sometimes you need to concoct a moderately unlikely scenario or have a particular deck to make the resonator do work:  Scroll Thief is wonderful but the idea that you can repeatedly get resonator triggers off of one doesn't seem terribly plausible.  Blightcaster and Auramancer are only getting you triggers if you genuinely have a lot of enchantments.  Archaeomancer requires quite a number of instants and sorceries in your deck to have two in the graveyard reliably.  The rares Door of Destinites, Sanguine Blood and Ajani's Chosen all have triggers that aren't going to come up unless you have the right deck.

Finally there are a few cards that are powerful against certain colours.  Mindsparker, Tidebinder Mage and Lifebane Zombie would all love to have their triggers copied if that were to come up, but given the colour restriction and that all are rare, this isn't something you should count on when you put them in your deck.

It Gives You One Life
Staff triggers, and Path of Bravery give you one life, so resonating them is only worth it if you actually can't do something else with the mana.  You really can't consider resonating these when evaluating resonator, especially since I probably wouldn't put these in any deck anyway.

Not Really Going to Happen
It's not literally impossible, but it is pointless to plan around resonating your Fleshpulper Giant with your nine mana.  The idea that you'll wait until you have eight to play your Jace's Mindseeker seems unlikely.  I've almost never seen a Sengir Vampire actually grow, and your opponent is going to be extra mindful of this problem if you have a resonator out.  Finally, I don't really see the Angelic Accord - Resonator deck coming together.  If it's possible to even build an accord deck then you'll need too many cards supporting that to have enough cards to support resonator.

Insane
Finally, there are those cards that are ludicrous when combined with the resonator, but even then I feel that these come in two types.  First, there are those that are legitimately insane:

Okay, so that's just one card

Second, there are those that are insane, but really, who are you fooling:

You actually can't use resonator in your Garruk Emblem - your opponent will not be playing anymore.
Next, let's think about what density of useful resonator cards you need before you can realistically play it.  Since Resonator does nothing on it's own you don't want to draw it and have nothing to use it with.  So given that you draw Resonator, what are the odds you can put it to use.  Since resonator isn't much good before turn five, we'll look at the cards you've drawn up to that point.  In the very simple analysis, we can compare the number of good resonator targets we have to the chance we draw a blank resonator.


That doesn't look that great, especially not when you consider how weak that analysis is.  If you get your Scroll Thief through on turn four with an unsummon and then your opponent drops two blockers then drawing a resonator the next turn doesn't help much.  Similarly, if you play your Goblin Shortcutter to get a blocker out of the way then a later resonator does nothing for that card.

So generally you should be looking to have seven or more useful resonator targets, at least some of which really get you your money's worth.  In addition to making sure the resonator is useful, you need the cards in your deck to be useful without it.  Fortunately Magic 2014 helps you a lot with this one.  The cards that Resonator makes good are generally cards I'd be happy to play anyway.

The way I see it, Resonator is probably draftable and playable, but it's the sort of thing you pick up pick four out of the third pack because you got the Auramancer, Blightcaster, Festering Newt, Quag Sickness deck with a Banisher Priest and a Master of Diversion, or you loaded up on Academy Raiders, Archaeomancers, Pitchburn Devils, Messenger Drakes and Dragon's Eggs along with lots of instants to justify keeping your mana up.


I would love to see this card get played in a draft some day and be awesome, but realistically most of the time it won't be awesome, and it isn't the sort of thing you can first pick and then hope to build around.  On the other hand, you could possibly pass it first, see if you can head towards a good resonator deck, and then pick it up on the wheel.  Here's hoping that you get to live the dream of Resonator plus Banisher Priest.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Oracle Review - Camouflage and Illusionary Mask

Oops, this was supposed to go up yesterday but apparently I didn't actually publish it. My apologies to the precisely zero people who were eagerly anticipating Thursday's Oracle review.

Two cards from the original Magic set had effects which caused creatures to be face down: Camouflage and Illusionary Mask. These cards have always been oddities, but with the introduction of the Morph ability in Onslaught block, being a face down magic card in play took on a specific meaning in the rules. This meant that Camouflage and Illusionary Mask both had to be changed - but how?



Illusionary Mask
Oh Illusionary Mask, what a sad day. The Oracle says:
{X}: You may choose a creature card in your hand whose mana cost could be paid by some amount of, or all of, the mana you spent on {X}. If you do, you may cast that card face down as a 2/2 creature spell without paying its mana cost. If the creature that spell becomes as it resolves has not been turned face up and would assign or deal damage, be dealt damage, or become tapped, instead it's turned face up and assigns or deals damage, is dealt damage, or becomes tapped. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.
The problem Illusionary Mask encountered is that face down magic cards in play mean a specific thing according to the rules: they are 2/2 creatures. The original text of Illusionary Mask seems to suggest something different: that the creature is actually still itself, but your opponent doesn't know what it is.

If I play Uncle Istvan with the mask and my opponent plays an Infect, that would give the face down uncle -2/-2, which, under the current Illusionary Mask rules, would mean it would be a 0/0 and go to the graveyard. The original card doesn't say anything of that kind. A reading of the card itself would suggest I would simply tell my opponent that the creature was still in play. But what if my opponent target's Uncle Istvan with their Ghitu Fire Eater? I should reveal Uncle Istvan if he is dealt damage, but Uncle Istvan prevents all damage from creatures, so he shouldn't be dealt damage at all, meaning I shouldn't reveal him. The current text is clear, I reveal him as part of a replacement effect and then his ability will be there to prevent the damage and he will take none. But does that match the intent of the card?

My answer is no. It also shouldn't be the case that Illusionary Mask cannot be used to hide the identity of a double-faced card or that a player can reveal a masked creature with Break Open. I realize that face-down cards have a specific game definition, but as we will soon see in Camouflage, the key in a good wording is to avoid using face-down cards. The idea of the card being face down was an early implementation of another idea - the idea that your opponent doesn't get to know what the card is. Instead of putting the creature into play face down, Illusionary Mask should say that you do not reveal the creature spell or the creature it becomes to your opponent. Sure, you may put it face down physically so they don't see it, but you could also put it in an opaque sleeve, or put a cloth over it. Add text that says if the creature moves from the battlefield to any other zone, if the creature card moves from the stack to any zone other than the battlefield, or if the game ends, you must reveal the card to all other players, just like with a face down card.

Enter the battlefield effects would still trigger, you'd still be responsible for maintaining the rules - if your opponent cast a Terror targeting the Uncle Istvan then you'd have to say, "Sorry, that's not a legal target for Terror." In a tournament you could always call a judge if something was fishy, and your opponent has to show you their cards at the end of the game so you can see if they cheated. This wording creates a terrible mess for players who are actually playing the game, but doesn't break any rules or create any unresolvable situations. Besides, making a confusing mess of things is exactly what Illusionary Mask is supposed to do.

Maybe my suggestion is naïve, but I just think that retroactively turning creatures hidden with the mask into 2/2's because the card happens to say "face down" isn't right. As a result, I give Illusionary mask's Oracle wording...


Boooo!

Camouflage
Now here is a wording done right.  The Oracle says:
Cast Camouflage only during your declare attackers step. 
This turn, instead of declaring blockers, each defending player chooses any number of creatures he or she controls and divides them into a number of piles equal to the number of attacking creatures for whom that player is the defending player. Creatures he or she controls that can block additional creatures may likewise be put into additional piles. Assign each pile to a different one of those attacking creatures at random. Each creature in a pile that can block the creature that pile is assigned to does so. (Piles can be empty.)
Wow, a complete change to the original wording. But this time, instead of looking at what the words said, "Place [attacking creatures] face down," the oracle wording is responsive to the intended effect of the card: your opponent doesn't know what they are blocking.

If you follow the process on the card, the result is that your opponent knows which creatures are attacking - because they saw them before they were turned face down - and they are allowed to decide how their blockers will go together, but they don't know which of the blockers will block which attacker. Not knowing which is which and assigning at random accomplish the same thing. This wording also sidesteps the question of how to turn a token face down or otherwise disguise it so that your opponent can't tell a token from a non-token.

Camouflage ran into a problem much like the one Illusionary Mask had, but it has a very clever solution. This oracle wording and whoever came up with the idea for it both deserve...


Way to go!

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Random Ability Wizard - Ability Damage

I haven't been playing much Diablo because Rogue Legacy is a much better game, but I do have more to say about the wizard.  The wizard has four Secondary abilities, but Ray of Frost is pretty different as a single target ability, so we won't talk about that right now.  Let's instead look at the history of the damage of Arcane Orb, Arcane Torrent and Disintegrate.


Arcane Orb and Torrent did the same damage while Disintegrate did a little less.  But apparently Arcane Torrent needs to do more damage because it is worse than Arcane Orb.  Also, Disintegrate should do about the same as Arcane Orb.  No wait, it shouldn't, Arcane Orb should be about the same as Arcane Torrent.  No wait, Arcane Torrent should do way more damage - even more than the single target Ray of Frost - and Disintegrate should actually do slightly more than Arcane Orb.  I'm looking for Arcane Orb to do 260%  in patch 1.0.9.

Let's reflect on the fact that during this time period none of the top wizard builds use any of these abilities at all.  These changes are not being made to make these abilities competitive for Monster Power 5 and greater.  So we have to assume that they are being made to make the abilities more reasonable for levelling and for a more casual playstyle.

Unfortunately, these changes suggest to me that the people making them don't actually play with the abilities extensively.  Going up levels as a wizard in patch 1.0.7, I can tell you that Arcane Orb levels were fine, Arcane Torrent levels were good and Disintegrate levels were a little tedious.  Why is this?  It's because Arcane Torrent did the most damage, Arcane Orb did less damage - and cost more arcane power - and Disintegrate did the least damage.  That is all.

These abilities should all do exactly the same damage.  All of them have usable areas of effect with different advantages and disadvantages.  Arcane Torrent has the smallest area but can be targeted at any location you like, including bypassing melee enemies to kill summoners and ranged units.  Arcane Orb has a large area but must target the nearest enemies.  Disintegrate is a bit of a hybrid of the two, hitting a large area and going through enemies but having trouble with enemies that are clustered in certain shapes.

I'm sure one of these is better than the others in an abstract sense, but when you actually play the game and you are forced to use all three in situations not of your choosing you realize that they all play just fine.  The only thing that makes one better than the others is the damage and the cost.  Even the cost wouldn't be much of an issue on a lower monster power setting.  I guarantee you that right now if you played the random ability challenge you would find Arcane Torrent to be by far the best, then Disintegrate, and you would feel frustrated with Arcane Orb levels by comparison.

Someone is thinking way too hard about these tweaks, and they smack of designer advocacy for favourite abilities.  Let's equalize the secondary abilities and let wizards play with whichever they prefer.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The Systematic Overvaluing of Critical Hits

People love critical hits, usually because a huge number pops up on the screen.  I think because people love critical hits so much, game designers have been fooled into dramatically overcosting abilities and equipment that add to them.  Much in the way that people would rather have a "no taxes" sale than a 20% off sale, people seem to prefer 10% more crit chance to 10% more damage - even when their critical hit multiplier is less than two.

What got me thinking about this is the Knave/Assassin class in Rogue Legacy.  The Assassin deals only 75% as much damage as the Paladin, but gets 15% more crit chance and 125% more crit damage.  That sounds like a lot, but since your base crit chance is zero, the average damage the Assassin does is actually only 95% of what the paladin does.

If you buy up the skills that give crit chance and damage and wear items that give you crit chance and damage then you might get the Assasin to average about 20% more damage than the paladin.  Of course this is with more variability, which is bad for players.

Let's look at two characters.  One does four damage per swing, the other does three but has a one-in-three chance to critical hit for double damage.  These two average the same damage.

If you are attacking an enemy with 12 health, which one would you rather be?  One of them kills the enemy in 3 hits every time.  The other one kills the enemy in two hits one in nine times, in three hits four out of nine times and in four hits every other time.  That's an average of three and a third hits.  Doing the same damage is less useful when the damage is more random.

This difference starts to disappear when we give the monster a lot more health.  If the enemy has 120 health instead of 12 then the average hits for the critical damage character is only 30 and three sixteenths, barely more than the 30 hits for the higher damage character.  All this confirms, though, is that randomness does not favour the player, it's just that more hits make the random criticals average out.

When criticals can help is when they can eliminate difficult enemies in a small number of hits.  But for this to be helpful you have to know you are only going to do it a small number of times.  If there is a boss that gives you are a lot of trouble and you can choose between taking 30 hits or kill it or having a one in thirty chance to kill it outright, the latter might be preferable if you know you will never live long enough to get the thirtieth hit in.  This is of no help, however, if you are traipsing through a dungeon killing enemy after enemy.  In most games you have to kill many enemies for every time you die in order to stay afloat.  To be successful at that you need to perform consistently, not have bursts where you do well and bursts where you do poorly.

Now the assassin would be fine were it not for the fact that they pay dearly for their high critical rate.  They have only 75% of the health and 65% of the mana of a paladin.  Less health and mana is a very large price to pay for something that may not be an advantage at all.

Of course none of this is even addressing the fact that on the skill tree you are choosing between 2 more damage or 2% more chance to critically hit.  When your base damage starts at 25, this isn't really a choice at all.  You probably have to invest about 50 points into the extra damage skill before the critical skills become worthwhile.

This same motif of criticals being overcosted appears in many games.  In Diablo 3 an item may have up to 200 of your primary stat or up to 10% critical chance as a modifier.  If your gear is already fantastically powerful, it is possible that the critical chance is the better pick between those two, but it would be very rare.

World of Warcraft had an even more extreme design, where in the Burning Crusade critical hit rating could be worth as little as a ninth of a spell power for some classes.  In Wrath of the Lich King there was rarely any meaningful choice in gear, but when it came to trinkets where you did have choice critical hit rating might be worth a fifth of an intelligence, strength, or dexterity at most.  That often meant using a much lower level trinket simply because the primary stat was available on that trinket, and it meant virtually never matching gem colours.

Generally, our desire to see big numbers pop up on the screen is fooling us into taking items of and skills of less value.  The problem with critical hits is that the chance they happen has to stop at 100% while player damage in many games scales to tens, hundreds or thousands of times the starting amount.  Under this model there is no way that a chance to do larger damage can compete with scaling the base amount until the critical multiplier becomes absurd.  There is certainly a problem with having a 10% chance to crit for 10,000 times your normal damage.  That is a lot more like having a 90% chance to miss.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy is a platformer with a fun twist, and that twist is getting killed a lot of times.

Death in Rogue Legacy is permanent in a sense but for a game with permanent death, death has surprisingly little impact on your progression.  Each time you die you immediately begin a new hero, one of the descendants of the previous hero.  You get to spend the gold you earned in the castle on upgrades which carry over from generation to generation, so your heroes are constantly getting stronger and you are making progress, but each time the castle is randomly generated again and you start from the beginning.

The story of the game is a simple veneer to put over the gameplay.  If there was no story and the game was simply about generations of adventurers going to die in the same inescapable castle I don't think the game would suffer.  That being said, I like the story, and the game actually does a good job of interrupting your flow of video game logic with the horror of what this would be like from an in-game perspective.

To make things more interesting your descendants have all kinds of problems.  These range from the relatively benign dyslexia - which scrambles the letters in words in in-game messages - to the nearly unplayable vertigo - which turns the screen upside down.  There are advantages too, like Peripheral Arterial Disease which makes it so you don't set off spike traps due to your lack of foot pulse.

The game feels extremely unforgiving at first, but just like any platformer things get a lot easier once you get a feel for the controls and an understanding of enemy patterns.  I personally found the difficulty just about right, with the bosses and mini-bosses feeling tough but fair.  One of the nice things is that the difficulty is self-correcting in a way.  If you are finding it hard you'll die and spend your gold on more damage and hit points to make it easier next time.  It's an RPG where you only go up levels when you need to - that is, after you have died and shown your current level isn't high enough.

The controls are very responsive.  I have not once felt like the little hero on the screen didn't do just what I told them to - even though I've given some pretty poor instructions on occasion.  The art style is adorable and endearing.  I love to see my little knight high-stepping his or her way towards doom.

I have two complaints about this game.  One is that the New Game +2 ramped up way too much over New Game +.  After easily breezing through the second playthrough I was stopped cold by the third one and pretty much had to delete my save so I could start again and buy more skills before winning the second time.

The second complaint is that it is too small and too short with not enough things in it.  That is not to say it is small or short or that it doesn't have a lot of things in it.  Really what I'm saying is that I hope Cellar Door Games is already working on expansions or even on Rogue Legacy 2, which I would buy in a heartbeat.

This game is outright super-awesome.  It easily deserves my highest rating.


Friday, 12 July 2013

Aggressiveness in Magic 2014

One of the things that you need to know to draft a format well is how aggressive it is. This is something that people usually talk about in terms of how it feels to play, so it's something that they figure out over the course of playing the format. When I was trying to understand the difference between Gatecrash and Return to Ravnica, I did an interesting little bit of analysis that may be worthwhile or may be complete hogwash.

What I noticed in Gatecrash was that the format was considered very aggressive but the creatures people were being aggressive were weren't all especially high quality.  Obviously Wojek Halbrediers is heck of a two drop, but some of you'd see decks that were very aggressive where the backbone of the aggression was formed by cards like Gutter Skulk, Metropolis Sprite, and Basilica Screecher.  These are not the most potent attackers ever printed at two, but it felt like in Gatecrash if your opponent got an early advantage they could ride it to victory.

I think there are a number of reasons why this happened.  The most obvious and frequently cited is that the creature abilities were very offensively oriented, but I think there was more to it than that.  One factor was that two drop creatures had higher average power than in other sets.  Another was that three drops weren't very good at blocking two drops so it was easier to keep up early aggression when your opponent had plays.  How much of this applies to Magic 2014?

Can Three Drops Block Two Drops
Looks like you are taking two.
In Return To Ravnica if you look at just common creatures - and only at those that typically make the decks that draft them - and ask what happens when a two drop attacks into a three drop, things don't look great for the two drops.  The two drop can successfully attack through about 23% of the time, another 53% of the time it will either bounce off or trade with the three drop.  That leaves 24% of the time when the attack is just a suicide mission.  Gatecrash has starkly different numbers.  Two drops can attack past three drops 31% of the time, and are only forced to stay home 16% of the time.

In Magic 2014, a two drop get past a three drop unblocked about 29% of the time.  So you are more likely than Ravnica but less likely than Gatecrash to see 2014 situations like the one illustrated here.

Power of Two Drop Creatures
That's a big two drop.
Gatecrash had two common two drop creatures with three power, another that could be pumped to three power for mana, and another that would usually have three power when attacking on turn three.  The average power of two drops in Gatecrash was 1.9, or just over 2 if you count Oculus as a 3/5.  By comparison, Return to Ravnica had an average power of 1.8 for two drops.  Magic 2014, on the other hand, has a very low average power of 1.6.  Creature that get through are hitting for less.

Abilities that Encourage Attacking
You don't see a lot of abilities that encourage attacking on two drops in Magic 2014.  If you are spending your mana, Capashen Knight wants to be on the offence, but lower power, higher toughness creatures like Angelic Wall and Seacoast Drake as well as cheap creatures that can be effective later in the game like Deadly Recluse and Corpse Hauler make it seem like Magic 2014 is not about dangerous turn three and four attacks.  Even the most very aggressive Goblin Shortcutter may not encourage early attacking.  A turn two shortcutter likely wastes the trigger completely and doesn't attack well into many two or three drops.

Not Many Cheap Creatures
Magic 2014 has a very low number of two drops compared to other, similarly sized sets.  It has 249 cards compared to Return to Ravnica's 254, but it has only eight two drop common creatures while Ravnica had eleven.  One of those eight is Dragon Hatchling which usually doesn't help your board a lot on turn two, and which didn't see a lot of play it's previous incarnation.  If most two drop common creatures see play in the draft, that means each player at the table can score about two two-drops from their commons instead of the average of three in a more typical recent set.  This has the potential to make the format more capricious and aggressive - if one player gets a large share of the two-drops then others may have trouble keeping up.  But given the quality of three mana creatures in Magic 2014, even a player with no two drops should be able to defend themselves against many early assaults.

Conclusion
Overall I think we should expect to see Magic 2014 being a much less aggressive and more mid-range format than Magic 2013 was.  The two mana common creatures don't appear to be able to get a lot done, and even the most aggressive of the two mana uncommons is less dangerous than a Flinthoof Boar or a Crimson Muckwader.  The four mana common creatures, on the other hand, are very powerful.  Magic 2013 didn't have anything like a Rumbling Baloth or a Charging Griffin.  The difference between gatecrash and Magic 2014 might be illustrated thus:
Taking 1 is a lot better than taking 8
With the slower early game I think there is good reason to stock up on as many of those nasty four drops as you can get.

Since my participation in Magic is mostly restricted to watching it online, I probably won't get to see how this pans out until August.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Oracle Review - Cyclopean Tomb and Gaea's Liege

Back in alpha there were a couple of cards that you could use to change your opponent's lands into lands of a specific basic type. One was a green creature that - no surprise - made forests. The other was an artifact that made swamps. Today we'll see how each of these fared in the Oracle.


Cyclopean Tomb
This was a very famous magic card. The if you look at the Alpha printing you'll notice that there was no casting cost printed. This was simply an error, but it lead to some strange speculation among that first batch of players. For all it's fame it is a spectacularly clunky and at best marginally useful card. It's oracle wording says the following:
{2}, {T}: Put a mire counter on target non-Swamp land. That land is a Swamp for as long as it has a mire counter on it. Activate this ability only during your upkeep.
When Cyclopean Tomb is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, at the beginning of each of your upkeeps for the rest of the game, remove all mire counters from a land that a mire counter was put onto with Cyclopean Tomb but that a mire counter has not been removed from with Cyclopean Tomb.
That second clause is something; you almost feel as though it should give you an emblem for all of those words. But basically it does what the card says, each upkeep after it leaves play you remove the mire counter from one land but not one you've already removed it from. Remember that every time the text says "Cyclopean Tomb" it means "this card" so if a land had a mire counter but had never been given a counter by that particular tomb then you wouldn't have to remove that one, and if the same tomb were to come back into play later it's counters would not have to be removed either, assuming that the counters from the first tomb had already been removed.

But that's where the wording runs into problems - when there are multiple tombs. The wording on the original tomb isn't actually entirely clear. It says that each turn you remove one mire counter - not "all" as the oracle text says - but then adds "returning the land to it's original nature." If another tomb had targeted the same land, then removing one mire counter would not return the land to its original nature. In fact, the original wording is confusing even if the same tomb targets the same land twice. You are supposed to return the land to its original nature, but you are only removing one counter. How awkward.

Now my intuition is that one tomb's effect should not be overriding that of another tomb. If I use two tombs to put a pair of counters on every land you have and then you use Phyrexian Tribute to clear one of the tombs out, why would all of your lands turn back into forests? Shouldn't the other tomb keep them swamps?

I would propose that the correct wording for Cyclopean Tomb would be:
{2}, {T}: Put a mire counter on target non-Swamp land. If that land has not been given "This is a Swamp." by Cyclopean Tomb it gets "This is a Swamp." Activate this ability only during your upkeep.
When Cyclopean Tomb is put into a graveyard from the battlefield, at the beginning of each of your upkeeps for the rest of the game, choose a land that was given "This is a Swamp." by Cyclopean Tomb and that has not been chosen previously by Cyclopean Tomb. That land loses one instance of "This is a Swamp." Remove one mire counter from that land.
Now that is a wording. With this wording you get to remove a single counter and return the land to its previous state. This way if you put a mire counter on one of your lands and proliferate that counter you can still remove it to pay the upkeep of Chisei, Heart of Oceans, but the land would have already turned back into whatever it was.

Even though I don't think Cyclopean Tomb works quite the right way with the current oracle wording, I will admit there is ambiguity in the original printing. I am also very pleased by the second ability of the Tomb in the Oracle wording, particularly the phrase "at the beginning of each of your upkeeps for the rest of the game." As a result, I am going to give Cyclopean Tomb...

Not bad!
Gaea's Liege
Gaea's Liege is a bit of a sad story, even though it's only partly an Oracle story.  Take a look at these Gaea's Lieges:


And now let's read the Oracle text:
As long as Gaea's Liege isn't attacking, its power and toughness are each equal to the number of Forests you control. As long as Gaea's Liege is attacking, its power and toughness are each equal to the number of Forests defending player controls. 
{T}: Target land becomes a Forest until Gaea's Liege leaves the battlefield.
Do you see what happened there?  In Fourth Edition they dropped the bit where you mark changed lands with counters, and so it's not in the Oracle text either. Now, I understand why that is. Before the Oracle existed the official version of a card was always the most recent printing. That means that the Fourth Edition version overrides the earlier version that uses counters. Sadly, though, this removes any possible confusion that could occur with the liege the way it did with the tomb. Sorry about that, Chisei.

So in the end there is not much interesting about the Oracle text of Gaea's Liege. What is there is flawlessly written, but it's just the proper implementation of a card that was already stripped of all of its potential weirdness. As a result, I give Gaea's Liege...
A good but not excellent job!

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Desert Bus for iOS

I was going to post something about Magic 2014 today, but this morning I saw incredible news: Desert Bus has been released for iOS.  You can buy it from the app store.

For those who don't know, Desert Bus is the ultimate desert bus simulator.  Developed in 1995 this game went unreleased and almost vanished from the Earth.  Since being rediscovered in 2005 it has made big waves, most prominently in its use in the Desert Bus for Hope Desert Bus marathon which has raised over a million dollars for Child's Play.

If you decide that it is time for you to take on Desert Bus, make sure you give it a five star review so others will know that this is a game they should try.


Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Getting Worse and Worse

I was reasonably happy with the skills of a level 45 Demon Hunter.  The most recent variety of Hungering Arrow was much like all the others and did the work I required of it.  Rapid Fire (High Velocity) was excellent at killing elites and even did fairly well against packs of normals.  Discipline (Focused Mind) meant that in a tough situation I could hit Smoke Screen (Special Recipe) quite often.  By far the worst variant of Turret - Chain of Torment - was still a variant of Turret and thus still great.  And lastly, Rain of Vengeance (Beastly Bombs) was a button I was happy to hit every thirty seconds.  Things were going well and I was mowing through demons.

At level 46 a Ferret Companion replaced Discipline, which was a definite improvement but I lost Beastly Bombs for Multi-shot so it was a bit of a wash.  My turrets also went out for a rune of Spike Trap which appears to be a Spike Trap that is limited to hitting three targets instead of hitting all creatures within range.  I wasn't terribly impressed.

At level 47 I got the Stampede rune of Rain of Vengeance which didn't seem as good as Beastly Bombs but which was nice to have.  Hungering Arrow got swapped out for Entangling Shot which is bad news but the rune that gave extra hatred helped to make up for it since I was still killing most things with Rapid Fire.

Then at level 48 I got Stun Grenades which are incredibly powerful but still are grenades.  I got Chakra (Boomerang) to replace Rapid Fire, so I got to do 230% damage in an awkward shape instead of 438% in a direct line.  I also lost my ferrets for a Mark for Death rune that generates additional hatred - not something I needed badly once Rapid Fire was gone, and 12% more damage to one target isn't even as much damage as the ferrets were doing.

Level 49 brought Vault (Trail of Cinders) and Cluster Arrow (Cluster Bombs) in.  Having a vault rune that did damage seemed nice because I was low on damage dealers, and Cluster Bombs was a fairly high damage attack if I could get enemies to stay at just the right range.  I could rapidly take out ranged attackers with cluster bombs and then stun lock the melee attackers with grenades.  Things weren't ideal but they were still chugging along.

Level 50 was dismal.  One active skill replacement and it took away Cluster Bombs for a Strafe variant that is still Strafe and hence is still pretty much useless.  Most of the enemies I fight I just kill with grenades.  Vault adds some damage but with a discipline cost of 8 and a 3 second duration I can't exactly spam it.  Plus it can be difficult to use because Vaulting forward can attract more unwanted archers while going backwards doesn't get the enemies in the area fast enough to make it worthwhile.  I met a group of ordinary Hell Flyers on the Battlefield and it took me so long to kill them that I had to seriously consider backtracking to level up.

Last night I knuckled down and crossed the Bridge of Krossik.  It took an hour and twenty minutes and I got to level 51 right at the end of it.  This got me Bola Shot (Bitter Pill) and Shadow Power (Gloom).  The shadow power rune is great, and I'm glad that my primary attack does more damage, though the loss of stun means I spend more time running around.  I killed the Siegebreaker after a very long battle and made it through Arreat Crater 1.  I don't know what I'm going to do about Phase Beasts other than die repeatedly.

Wizards had a difficult level in the early fifties as well, but this is just level after level of slog.  The good news is, there are only 9 more levels to go, and they can't all be this bad.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Toddler Time - Water Ball

Here is a game I invented for myself: You'll need a shallow pool of water, a toddler, and a light-weight, air-filled ball.

Equipment needed to play
While standing near the toddler, push the ball under the water right down to the bottom of the pool.  Then, release the ball and see if you can get it to launch over the toddler's head to the other side of the toddler.  If you get one point for each time the ball clears the toddler then my current running score would be two.

It turns out that it is not terribly easy to aim.  I was getting the hang of it but I think the resulting water spouts looked like a lot of fun so the girl who owned the ball decided to take it back and the game of using the water pressure to launch the ball in the air was taken over by the children at the wading pool.  They weren't nearly proficient enough to even attempt scoring a goal, they also failed to bring their own toddlers with them.

Toddlers themselves lack the strength to play
If the object of the game was, instead, to try to make the toddler laugh, my score would be much higher.  That game would be too easy.

On the way home, I said to Humbabellella, "You see, the ball is much less dense than the water, so the Earth's gravity pulling down the water created a lot of upward force on the ball."

"Ya," she replied.  Very clever for her age.