Friday, 30 August 2013

Losing the Parenting Game

There are a lot of things to do wrong when you are parenting.  In theory it is a cooperative game where the goal is that everyone get the best outcome, but on any given turn the best outcome from the perspective of one player doesn't match that of another player so it can become quite competitive.  While there are many other aspects to parenting, a significant amount of the game take place in the "rules" phases where the "parent" player is able to make rules, rescind rules and enforce rules and the "toddler" player is allowed to shout what they want, or sometimes just, "No!"

It's important to have a long term strategy, but also to recognize that the strategy has to be flexible enough to accommodate randomness.  I know these things which makes it all the more embarrassing that I seem to repeatedly make the same type of mistake.

Take the following situation, Player A, a parent, and Player B, a toddler, are trying to accomplish Trip Home from Daycare.  Player A is running a stroller strategy while Player B is trying to attempt a walking strategy.  Here we enter a rules phase: Player B shouts "Walk! Walk! Walk!" and Player A has an opportunity to make rules.  In this example Player A decided that walking is a decent line and declines to make rules.

Now both players are employing a walking strategy, which is good, but suddenly we enter another rules phase.  Player B shouts "Shoulders! Shoulders!" and tries to get in front of Player A.  Here is where Player A misplays outright.  Player A decides that switching strategies so often is bad play, and so makes a rule "No shoulder rides."

The problem is that Player B decides to use that rule phase to shout "No!" and "Shoulders!" and to run ahead and to sit on the street.  So now we have to enter an enforcement phase and Player A has nothing but abject arbitrariness to use.

Basically this entire line of play was a mistake.  By wasting a rules phase by not making any progress on rulesmaking and not getting any short term benefit.  I had to go to stroller and run the, "If you want to walk you have to ask nicely."  I pretty much got blown out.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Oracle Review - Aladdin's Lamp and Library of Leng

Welcome to the first Oracle Review from Arabian Nights. I didn't review every card in limited and unlimited edition, but let's face it - the Oracle wording of Air Elemental is not particularly worth paying attention to. That's especially true when Magic's first expansion has some very ugly wording just waiting to be considered. I'm not totally sure I'm done with limited edition yet, but these two cards begged to be reviewed together.

Aladdin's Lamp
For a ten mana artifact, you may be confused about why you don't just get to keep all the cards.  At any rate, here is the Oracle wording:
{X}, {T}: The next time you would draw a card this turn, instead look at the top X cards of your library, put all but one of them on the bottom of your library in a random order, then draw a card. X can't be 0.
You're supposed to take
those out of the deck.
This wording is a significant functional change to the card that seems totally unjustified. The original text says you draw X cards. Merely looking at them is a pretty big difference. Imagine I play Aladdin's Lamp, untap, activate the lamp for 6 and activate my Words of War 5 times. Looking at the original wording it would appear I should get five uses of Words of War and then draw the top card of my deck. This new wording doesn't do that at all.

And what about miracles, they trigger only off the first card you draw in a turn. The Oracle text lets you miracle any card in the top X cards of your library. The original wording suggests you should only get to Miracle the top card.

But what can be done? Let's set Aladdin's Lamp aside for a second and think about Library of Leng.

Library of Leng
The icy desert plateau of Leng, which no healthy folk visit and whose evil fires are seen at night from afar, seems like an odd place to build a library. Surely the nitrous fumes rising from the black stairways guarded by winged diorite lions that lead to the lower gulfs would be bad for the books. Not to mention that Leng is surrounded by impassable mountains or that it is regularly visited by the formless abominations from the moon. There better be a really good reason to go to this library.

Oh, a one mana artifact that removes my maximum handsize!
You have no maximum hand size. 
If an effect causes you to discard a card, discard it, but you may put it on top of your library instead of into your graveyard.
Look at that replacement effect. If you would do X, do X, but do something different. It could simply say that if you would discard a card you can put it on top of your deck, but the original card implied you were still discarding it. If you put it on top of your deck, Megrim still triggers against you. Madness probably doesn't work so great but that's just a problem with casting spells from hidden zones.

Personally I would have worded this slightly differently, saying "If you would put a card into your graveyard as part of discarding that card you may put it on top of your deck instead." But I think their wording might be superior.

So decades after its printing the library is properly madness inducing, with an appropriate amount of method in that madness. I give this Oracle wording...

Aladdin's Lamp Again
Aladdin's Lamp needs to take a lesson from Library of Leng. There is nothing wrong with replacing an effect with another effect and also replacing that effect, or part of it, with another effect. If you can replace putting a card into your graveyard as part of discarding then you can replace putting a card or a group of cards into your hand as a result of drawing them.
{X}, {T}: The next time you would draw a card instead draw X cards but instead of putting them into your hand, choose one of the cards drawn in this way and put that card into your hand. Then put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order. X can't be 0.
That is a proper wording for Aladdin's Lamp. To be even more true to the original, I'd even prefer:
Whenever you draw a card, if Aladdin's Lamp is untapped, you may tap it and pay {X} where X cannot be 0. Effects that would reduce the cost of activated abilities of Aladdin's Lamp also reduce the cost paid in this way. If you do then instead draw X cards but instead of putting them into your hand, choose one of the cards drawn in this way and put that card into your hand. Then put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.
You may imagine that this will be snap zero-star rating, but frankly this just doesn't raise my ire the way some of the other wordings have. A card that no one should ever play is functionally different than it should be in a few narrow cases? It's bad, but I'm not angry about it.  I give this wording...

How generous!

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Might and Magic X Legacy

Sometimes "Early Access" means you are getting a relatively complete game experience and they just need to iron a few things out.  Sometimes it means you'd better save your game a lot.  Might and Magic X Legacy is the latter.

I was lured in by the promise of an oldschool style grid- and turn-based RPG.  The Might and Magic name is a powerful one since I played Might and Magics one through four, and two was one of my favourite games of all time.

I didn't really expect that a contemporary remake of Might and Magic by a major game studio would be much like Might and Magic two.  That game had a lot of disturbing weirdness in it and was way beyond the capabilities of the majority of RPG players today.  I think it was probably beyond the capabilities of many RPG players when it was made, but the pool of people who play computer RPGs had grown substantially since then and the sort of people who would find Might and Magic one and two manageable are largely the sorts of people who would be early adopters of computer RPGs.  If you are that sort of person and you missed that era of computer games, I'd strongly recommend Might and Magic two if you want to see what people used to contend with.  Before you do, buy a pad of graph paper.

Because my expectations were low I wasn't disappointed, I might even say I was pleasantly surprised.  The game has two difficulty settings, one normal and the other hard, and the hard one seems actually quite hard while the normal one seems not actually all that easy.  The early access version is missing several classes and so far it seems like the balance between the classes in nonsense since, like in many RPGs, by far the most important thing is your hit point total, and one race gets way more hit points.

This is reflected in the enemies as well where there are mage enemies who are stupidly weak and fighter enemies who are brutally dangerous.  The mages have a spell that gives 25% damage reduction and still I would rather fight one mage and one fighter, both with that spell pre-cast, than I would two fighters.

Probably the best part of it so far is that there was a cruelly difficult boss fight on top of a tower after which you are stuck on the tower until you solve a riddle.  If this were an earlier Might and Magic game the riddle would have been broken up into eight pieces and scattered around the dungeon, plus you probably wouldn't be able to find the solution through trial and error, but I suppose these are the concessions we make so that people don't complain that the game is senselessly mean.

Only time will tell whether they sort out the bugs that make the game really frustrating, and if the game really lives up to its oldschool billing.  The fact that it is divided into acts instead of just being a big world to explore makes me think it will not.  I should do a quick check to see if indie developers have made any real oldschool RPGs in recent years.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Magic 2014 is Even Slower Than I Thought

A common 4/4 for four mana may look like a real hitter but all it takes is a 2/2 and a 2/3 to shut it down.  Accursed Spirit feels like it should be ending games once it comes down but Sliver Construct is seeing a lot of play.

Good slivers draws and Ronson Red aside, this format is very slow.

So does that change my analysis of certain cards in the set?  If we are willing to consider the impact of a card by turn nine, or even turn twelve instead of turn six, how much better would Strionic Resonator, Angelic Accord and Dismiss into Dream get?

Angelic Accord still has the problem that you have to get the cards to play with it.  As I noted in my original analysis, part of the problem is getting an Accord and a Cauldron into your deck in the first place, especially if other people think the card is playable.  Even if we extend the game to turn twelve, having only one accord and one cauldron would mean only a 17% chance that the combo gets assembled, but things get a lot better when you add a few more cards.  Put in two copies of Mark of the Vampire and now you have a 35% chance of getting an angel out of the deal - assuming your opponent doesn't have a Disperse ready when you go for it.

Of course things are much better than that because most of the time that you don't get to activate accord it is because you didn't draw accord at all.  As long as you can make cauldron and mark good cards in your deck without the accord, the payoff for playing accord is very high.  I still wouldn't be picking it first over a strong common, but if games are going longer then my estimate of it rises a bit - ironically making it harder to play.

Dismiss into Dream is a big winner from long games.  I have now witnessed five games won with dismiss, though I have also seen eight games lost by decks with dismiss and Zephyr Charge in them, three of which featured Dismiss in play during the loss and in one even topdecking a Zephyr Charge would not have been enough to save the dismiss player.  Two of the wins were about as close as you can come to losses despite having assembled the combo.

No matter how longer games affect the odds, the idea of sleeving up a seven drop that has little effect unless you have a two drop that has little effect unless you have the seven drop just doesn't seem like a winning formula to me.  On the other hand, in longer games the potential to bring dismiss in against equipment, auras and pump seems a little more realistic.

Resonator loves a long game, and your ability to use it goes up and up.  I would be significantly quicker on the trigger with the resonator, reducing the number of good resonator effects I feel I need to six or even five.

I don't think that Door of Destinies gets much help from longer games.  If you have the sliver deck then door is probably even better for you, but if you don't then it doesn't improve much.  If you are playing four copies of a few different creature types and plan on dooring whichever you have two of, the percentages for door don't go up that much, and because you have to make the decision on door early in the game, you have a very good chance at simply guessing wrong.

Another interesting note is that because the format is slower, Diabolic Tutor is much better than it would otherwise be.  A tutor to complement your combo approximately doubles your chances of drawing it.

And then there's a card I never examined that I'd like to give an honourable mention to.  I could easily have written, "Can You Draft Sanguine Bond?" but it was going to come out too much like the Angelic Accord article.  I've seen Sanguine Bond in play a couple of times now, and it is no joke.  The long games make it downright terrifying when combined with a cauldron.

I really like Magic 2014 as a set and I've seen lots of great games play out in it.  To me it has far more play and interest than Magic 2013 which was far too much about hitting a curve with overpowered low drops.  I'm glad to see some of these more esoteric cards outperform my expectations, because for me, Magic is much more a game of Anglic Accords and Strionic Resonators than it is a game of Flinthoof Boars and Crimson Muckwaders.  If I wanted to just push all my guys into the middle and see who wins I could play chess.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Exciting SolForge Outcomes

I've been taking screenshots of final board states, mostly those with remarkably large creatures involved.  Here's an example from before the set was released:

I put them into an album on imgur, so you can see the rest of the stunning results.  There are a few things I didn't screenshot that I wish I had, but the ones up there are pretty good.

Friday, 23 August 2013

My Hot SolForge Picks

There are two SolForge cards I'm really big on right now.

The first is Marrow Fiend.  This is a top common in my mind.  Now, if my deck was lousy I probably wouldn't want to include it, but when the rest of your cards are good this thing punches way above its weight.  By that, I mean quite literally that he is pretty much the best card in the entire game at trading for a creature a level above himself.  He will also trade for very powerful creatures of his own level, including fighting Steelforged Avatars at level one.  I don't like his level two stats as much, but at level three he's actually a very solid body, trading with almost all level threes and not getting traded up by level twos.  Of course I mostly play him at level one when I am level two or three and rarely actually get the higher level versions.

The second is Heart Tree.  I put this card in one of my decks just because I liked it in an aesthetic way, but I greatly underestimated how powerful an ability Defender is on it.  The regeneration is very powerful, and the fact that your opponent has to wait so long to even start taking it down is really great.  Playing a level one and then two tree restricts you to three attacking lanes but it makes it so hard for your opponent to trade with your guys that it is worth it.  The deck I am playing it in has a full playset of Grimgaunt Predators, and those guys love regeneration.

I'm really impressed with the depth of SolForge, even if right now an inordinate number of my online games still boil down to someone getting blown out by Echowisp.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Oracle Review - Time Twister, Time Vault, Time Walk

Despite doing three cards today, I expect this review to be one of my shorter ones. Here are all the limited edition "Time" cards. Each of them has an Oracle wording that is simple and yet remarkable.

Time Twister
That they put "leaving all cards in play where they are" in the original text suggests that they thought this card was going to be really confusing. Let's take a look at the Oracle:
Each player shuffles his or her hand and graveyard into his or her library, then draws seven cards. (Then put Timetwister into its owner's graveyard.)
This is all pretty simple, right? But what happened to that bit about starting a new graveyard  and a new library from the original card? Shouldn't this wording be something more like:
Create an additional library and graveyard zone for each player. Each player shuffles all cards in his or her hand, old graveyard and old library into his or her new library. For the rest of the game, players use their new libraries and graveyards in place of the old ones. Each player draws seven cards.
No, it should not be like that at all.

I would easily hand this wording two stars for being perfect-but-uninteresting if it weren't for that reminder text. It's a little odd to add reminder text to a card that pre-dates reminder text for a wording that will only appear in an online database, and I can only think they did it as a nod to the words on the original card that reminded you that Timetwister became the first card in your new graveyard. Because of this flourish, I give this wording...

Time Vault
Time Vault somehow became the biggest rules nightmares of all time. The question of when you actually untap Time Vault plagued rules team after rules team. At one point the timing rules for Time Vault essentially won a tournament in which Time Vault itself was not legal - it is probably the only card that can claim that.
Time Vault enters the battlefield tapped.
Time Vault doesn't untap during your untap step.
If you would begin your turn while Time Vault is tapped, you may skip that turn instead. If you do, untap Time Vault.
{T}: Take an extra turn after this one.
But none of that is really all that complicated at all. A replacement effect for beginning a turn may be unusual but it isn't complex. What is really remarkable is the number of Oracle wordings that this card has been through. To finally hit upon something so nice to look at is a feat.

Time Vault was also at one time a recipient of a "power level erratum." It was a dark period where they altered the wording of some cards to avoid powerful interactions with other cards. So it's also a delight to see Time Vault restored to it's proper glory. I give this wording...

Time Walk
Before reading the Oracle wording, go back up and read the original Alpha wording again.
Take an extra turn after this one.
Time Walk isn't the only card that was perfectly wording in Alpha, but it is impressive that it is among them. Even Stone Rain has needed a wording update from the Oracle.

For getting it perfect, Time Walk gets...

What a glorious day!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Paying for Less

There are five ways to spend money on Plants vs. Zombies two that I can see.

The first is to buy coins to obviate the need to collect them.  Coins appear to do nothing but buy in-level powerups.  The second is to buy permanent power-ups.  Both of these are basically buying the ability to play the game on an easy setting.

The third is to buy additional plants you can use.  These plants are mostly plants from the original game, and since you only get so many seed slots per level I don't feel that this would generate much advantage at all.  I guess this is for those who want to buy nostalgia and cosmetic improvements, though I will admit that the mime seed and the squash are both powerful tools.

The fourth is that you can buy keys.  Ordinarily you get keys at random from killing zombies.  You use keys to unlock gates that lead to plants and power ups as well as unlocking gimmick levels like playing a memory game.  If you want to play the game to completion, it seems like you will easily get enough keys to open all the doors without any extra grinding, so this option seems like it is there for people who want to play through the story of the game and get the powerups without playing through any of the challenges.

Finally, you can pay cash to unlock the next world.  Without paying cash you'll have to go back and win a certain number of the challenges to open the way.  Again, this is for people who want to play through the game without going back to redo levels with higher difficulty.

So, if you get this game and say to yourself, "I just want to play through the main levels, complete the story, get all the swag, and have a fairly easy time doing it," then I would expect the game has 4-5 hours of gameplay for you and it would cost you about $120.

If you get the game and say to yourself, "I want to complete absolutely everything, get every power up and plant, and beat every challenge there is to beat," then I would expect this game has 30+ hours of gameplay for you and it would cost you about $50.

And if you get the game and say to yourself, "I want to complete everything in the game using the bear minimum of tools and be challenged while doing so," then it probably has 40+ hours of gameplay and costs nothing.

Obviously there are mediums between these different ways to play, but generally it seems like the more you actually want to play the game the less you are expected to pay for it.

I think I understand why.  The idea is probably that there are different kinds of gamers out there and the amount of money you can expect to extract from each kind varies.  There are the people who treat video games like going out to movies - they don't play them much but they don't mind paying a lot when they do.  If you played this game only half an hour to an hour a week then maybe paying to unlock the doors so you can finish it in a month or two makes sense.  Still, it seems like a hell of an expensive movie.

There are also people who love shiny things and so it is important to put shiny things in the game to buy.  Buying all the plants and upgrades might not have a huge impact on your ability to win, but if you don't do it then you haven't done everything.

Finally there are the hardcore gamers who have strong opinions about games and how they spend their money on games.  If they like a game they are willing to put in a huge amount of time to beat it and they feel like spending money to get an advantage is cheating.

Group A - the game-as-movies crowd - are super easy to monetize.  Group B - the must-have-everything - crowd are super easy to monetize.  Group C - the game gourmet crowd - are super hard to monetize.  So the solution is just don't bother with Group C.

I think part of the reason this works is that once you've made a game for Group B it is really easy to make it fun for A and C as well.  For A just let them pay to skip most of the content.  For C just put in some endless level where things just get harder and faster until you die.  What's more, Group C is home to pretty much every game reviewer, so you letting them have the game they want to play for free is useful.

All that said, this is complete ass-backwards, pants-on-head stupid.  There is something wrong with our society.  I get to play a fun game for free because other people are willing to pay so that they don't have to play it.  There are apparently so many people out there who are willing to pay $100 to not to play a game for 20 hours that it is not worth charging the people who want to play the game for 50 hours anything for fear of scaring the not playing - but paying - off.

Do people put the four chapter version of a book that just goes over the key plot points on sale for $100 next to the 50 chapter version with all the detail for free?  Do they show the 30 minute condensed version of the movie for $100 and just give away the 24-hour director's cut?  Apparently they should, or at least they should if they can't come up with a payment scheme that hides what they are doing.

At least this game is not an auction-style facebook game where you can literally spend thousands.  I think the rational cap that can be spent on this game is far lower.  It doesn't feel like a scam or an attempt to manipulate people with mental health issues, but it sure does make me feel that capitalism can never work.  Of course I guess I thought that anyway.

You might want to play this game, apparently it's free.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

SolForge Creature Sizes

I mentioned last week that I wrote a program to fight creatures of different ranks to see how the ranks compared.  I modified that program to fight each creature against creatures of its own level and see how it fared.

From that I ranked the creatures and looked at those in the top and bottom half and third of each level.

Now none of this is going to get any interesting results in itself.  We know that Cavern Hydra has a very solid body at level one and is pretty poor at level three.  We know that Sparkblade Assassin is mediocre at levels one and three and is grossly oversized at level two.  The main reason I did this was to quantify some of the intuition I have about creatures.

I really like Metamind Adept.  That card draw actually increases your loe by 2.5 in a 12 turn game, which is a pretty significant increase, but that assumes that the adept itself is always getting its value.  Fortunately, it beats or trades for over 77% of the creatures at all levels, so getting value from the body is pretty believable.

How justified is my love of Darkheart Wanderer?  If you cast a spell the turn you play it and another spell the next turn it is really over the top.  It is very near the top of level one creatures, and even at level three it is still over 75% to trade.  But it's arguably a lot better than the metamind because it actually lives through the fight 36% of the time, which is pretty nice.  When you look at it over multiple battles it is in the 82nd percentile at level three because of the regeneration.

Forge Guardian Beta, which is clearly overpowered at a glance, really holds up under scrutiny.  Unlike other cards with powerful level three versions, the level one and two version are very solid, trading over 70% of the time and coming in middle of the pack for multiple battles.  The level three version is way over the line.

It's also nice to actually run the numbers on level two scrapforge titan, who has relatively low power for a level two but has such high armor that you wonder if it is actually a really solid creature.  It turns out it trades about 65% of the time, which is more than you can rightly ask for given that its level three version trumps nearly everything.

A card that I don't think of that often but which is very, very good is Ionic Warcharger.  It performs well at every level and mobility is very powerful ability.  Grove Matriarch is consistently at the top of the pack.  Hunting Pack is significantly better than I thought, trading for more than 30% of creatures since it turns out the mode health is three at level one.  Magma Hound is basically as awesome as advertised - though not so awesome as it was when it was 5/3 at level one on the beta.

The median attack and health are 4/5 at level one, 8/9 at level two and 14/15 at level three.  This is probably why Metamind Adept looks so nice.  Trading with the median and improving your draws is a one-two punch.  It also makes me even more impressed with Sparkblade Assassin.  Being the median isn't such a bad thing.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Plants vs. Zombies 2 is Here

A game that we've all been waiting years to play has finally hit... iOS.

Plants vs. Zombies 2 is Plants vs. Zombies so it's great.  Unfortunately for those without iPads it is also very small.  And worse yet, it is free.  I would be very, very happy to pay $12.99 or $19.99 or even more to simply purchase this game for my PC and play it without any prompts for me to spend cash and with everything unlockable by playing the game.

I don't know how many whales they are going to catch with their freemium pay model, but given the outrageous popularity and fame of the first game, it is hard for me to imagine that they couldn't make more charging by everyone who wants to play it $15 than hoping that people spend more than that on average on upgrades.

This isn't my only complaint.  Because they use real money to unlock things, the coins you collect in the game appear to be useful only for buying power-ups during levels.  Not buying things between levels is a real step down, since buying upgrades is tons of fun.

I'm not sure if I am going to give them any money or not.  For a while I figured that if I liked a free-to-play game then I would decide how much money the game was worth to me and buy exactly that amount of upgrades.  But the choice of upgrades I am faced with in this game is a little disheartening.  I really don't know which I would prefer to buy and because I'm only doing it once I don't want to make a mistake.  I feel like if someone's monetization scheme makes me feel uncomfortable that is a good reason for me not to buy into it.  Maybe they will learn to make better monetizations schemes in the future - like, I don't know, selling me the game.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Contagion Pulse

I got three copies of Contagion Pulse from my SolForge packs so I thought I'd give it a go.  When I played with it it seemed pretty awful.  I wanted to figure out just how awful it was.

At level one, Contagion pulse gives a single creature -1/-1, which is obviously very weak.  This goes up to -2/-2 and -3/-3 at levels two and three, but also at level two and three the spell is Free - which means it doesn't cost you one of your two plays to use it.

Free spells seem sweet, but you do have to give up a level one play to turn it on.  And by giving up that level one play you are also giving up the opportunity to level whatever card you would have played.  Ordinarily the first player levels up with seven level two cards in their deck while the second player has eight.  If you were to draw all seven of your level two cards and play them all, then while you could have been playing seven level two creatures, you instead play six, plus a level one creature, plus give a creature -2/-2.  That's the catch - that free card you play is a level one card.

In order to figure out how good this is, I needed to know how good level two creatures were compared to level ones.  Glancing at cards it would appear the game designers think each level is about double the last, but that's just an estimate.

I did a test where I made random level two creatures fight random level 1 creatures to see how many it took to kill them.  I used just commons because they have far fewer abilities to confuse the issue.  I did the same with threes fighting twos and threes fighting level ones.

There are two commons that significantly skew the results: Forgeplate Sentinel and Cavern Hydra.  Armor and Regeneration are just so good at trading down that including those creatures significantly increased the average.  If you leave them out then it takes about 2.3 ones to kill a two and about 1.9 twos to kill a three.  With them in it's 2.5 and 2.

Anyway, these are pretty close to what I assumed that each level was about double the last one.  Of course the levels put together aren't quite multiplicative.  It takes only abut 3.6 ones to kill a three.  This was boosted to 4.1 by cavern hydra and forgeplate, and I think that was only because I cut each trial off at 20 creatures to make sure things weren't hanging - in reality you could throw ones at a level three Cavern Hydra all day.

Based on these numbers I decided to run a simplified simulation where each level is double the last.  I measured the value of draws in Level One Equivalents (loes) with a level one card being worth 1 loe, a level 2 card being 2 loe and a level three card being 4 loe.  Since there is a level one spell that gives -3/-3 to a creature, it is clear that even the level three version of Contagion Pulse is at best as good as a level one spell.  Since my intuition was that it is bad, I wanted to give it the best possible opportunity to shine, so I valued all ranks of Contagion Pulse at 1 loe even though it is debatable that you get a whole level one card out of them.

Deck P played 27 generic cards and 3 Contagion Pulse.  It would play a level one Contagion Pulse over another level one card if given the choice, but would not play it over a level two card.  It always played level two and three Contagion Pulses, of course, because they are free.  Deck NP played 30 generic cards and so always played two cards a turn, preferring to play higher level cards.

Well that's awfully close, isn't it?  And the very slight deviation is actually in favour of playing the Contagion Pulse.  Well, when your data don't match your intuition, it's time to massage your data!

While acknowledging that my test didn't come out the way I thought it would, let's look back at the assumptions I made that may have caused the difference between the simulation and my lived experience.  Obviously the simulation is very simple - in a real game it isn't always easy to simply use two level one plays to cancel an opponent's level two play but sometimes in a real game you can't use a level two play to cancel out a single level one play either.  But I think the more important assumption is the Contagion Pulse is always going to get you 1 loe of value - that's the assumption that really gave the pulse its kick in the simulation.  If anything, what the simulation shows is that Contagion Pulse is fine so long as you can always extract a loe of value, but that it gets bad if you can't.

Can you get a whole card out of -1/-1 in the first four turns of the game?  Sometimes you can and sometimes you can't.  Giving a Marrow Fiend -1/-1 obviously gets the job done, and I'd argue giving -1/-1 to the creature that was going to just barely kill a growing creature like a Necroslime or Grimgaunt Predator is probably good for a whole card as well.  Giving -1/-1 so that your five attack creature can just barely kill a Firefist Uranti is surely worth your while, especially since it means your creature doesn't take any damage.  But though I can name many of these situations, it seems like there are many others where it is not so easy.

The trick is, though, that you don't just have to get 1 loe out of -1/-1, you have to get it out of -2/-2 the next time through your deck and -3/-3 the time after that.  If you can't extract a full loe of value out of the pulse every time you draw it then you are falling behind.  This manifests itself very obviously on that second time through the deck.  When your opponent a very generic two, say a 9/9, and you, instead of having your own very generic two, have a very generic one plus a -2/-2.  The problem is that your very generic one does not beat a 7/7 so you are falling behind.  After all, if the entire valuation scheme is based on the idea that you can trade 2 ones for 1 two, having a one that is almost never going to pull its weight in that equation is a bit of a problem.

It is more likely that you can get a full card of value by giving -2/-2 to their two that is fighting your two.  That will often leave you with a two that is badly hurt, forcing them to finish it off with a one and getting you your loe.  But the problem is that because you didn't level up as many generic twos as them you are more likely to run into a situation where you can't match each of their twos with one of your own.

I want to get this post up without writing too much more code, but I'll try re-running the test with some different loe values in the near future and report back on how it works out.  I might actually test how much giving -2/-2 to a two affects how many ones it takes to beat it, but I think we all know that it won't reduce the loe by more than 0.3 to 0.5.

Hopefully this weekend I'll have time to run some tests of card drawing effects, which I have been extremely happy with in actual games.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Oracle Reviews - Raging River and Simulacrum

Here's a couple of odd cards that do things that cards shouldn't quite do.

Raging River
Like Lich, this is clearly an example of "Top Down" design. Except, instead of something thinking, "Oh, wouldn't it be cool if you could turn yourself into a Lich," someone thought, "Oh, wouldn't it be cool if there was a river on the battlefield."

Sure, that's cool.
Whenever one or more creatures you control attack, each defending player divides all creatures without flying he or she controls into a "left" pile and a "right" pile. Then, for each attacking creature you control, choose "left" or "right." That creature can't be blocked this combat except by creatures with flying and creatures in a pile with the chosen label.
That's really nice. It's nice how cleanly the old wording can be translated into a new one when it was so odd a thing to do. Just because it's so clean doesn't mean it isn't weird, though.

Under the current wording, the entire issue of being in piles and having labels of left and right does not extend at all past the end of the trigger. If you put Defender X on the Right and Defender Y on the left and I put Attackers A and B on the left then Raging River generates a continuous effect that says, "Attackers A and B cannot be blocked except by creatures with flying or by Defender Y," not one that says, "A and B are left and X is right and Y is left and only things on the left can block things on the lef."  If you Cloudshift Defender Y after the trigger resolves, it will not be able to block because the continuous effect will not recognize it as the same creature. If you flash in a blocker without flying, it will not be able to block anything, even if there are attackers on both sides of the river.

Also, interestingly, this is a case where the introduction of the Reach keyword changed the functionality of those cards. A card that "may block as though it had flying" could block creatures on either side of the river, but a creature with Reach cannot. Of course bizarre and confusing situations like this are a good reason they brought Reach into the picture in the first place.

But beyond the cleverness and cleanliness of the wording, were there interesting decisions to be made when this wording was crafted?  I would say there were two.

One was considering what happens when there are two Raging Rivers in play. If we imagine that Raging River is supposed to represent a river running down the middle of the battlefield then the Oracle text does something quite a-spatial when there are two.

Suppose I attack with A, B and C and you have X and Y to block. For the first trigger you put X right and Y left; I put all three creatures right. Now there is a continuous effect that says that my creatures can't be blocked except by X. The next river triggers and you put X right and Y left again. This time I put all my creatures left and generate a continuous effect that says that they can't be blocked except by Y. The result is that my creatures can't be blocked. In fact, if you have fewer than four defenders you cannot block any of my attackers no matter what choices you make. If you have four then the best you can do is let me choose a single one of your creatures that can block.

But it's more complicated than that. Suppose I've enlarged A and you really want to protect X. That means that even if you have X, Y, Z and W then you have to make sure X is with on common partner in both splits or I will be able to force it to block the enlarged creature. But if you do that then you give me the option of not letting you block any of my creatures at all, which may be a problem if your life isn't high.

In situations without forced blocking restrictions other than the river, you can simplify the process by dividing defenders into a number of piles equal to two to the power of the number of rivers and then having attackers assigned to each box. This isn't so much Raging Rivers as Raging N-1 Dimensional Spaces in you N Dimensional attacking field where N = number of rivers plus one.

How does this compare with the original wording? Who knows! Honestly, I have no idea what the intent was for how this card should work when you had two or what any rules clarifications may have said at the time. It would seem that if we really wanted to represent a river in the battlefield then having two of them would mean that each creature be assigned to the left, centre or middle. And if that was how it was supposed to work then the Oracle text could say:
Whenever one or more creatures you control attack, if no other card named Raging River has already triggered this combat, each defending player divides all creatures without flying he or she controls into a number of piles equal to the number of Raging Rivers you control plus one. Then, for each attacking creature you choose one of those piles. That creature can't be blocked this combat except by creatures with flying and creatures the chosen pile.
But I'm not saying that's how it should be worded, just that it could be worded that way to better simulate the flavour of the card. That's not really what the card says and as we all know, flavour gets trumped by rules text all the time.

The second interesting question in wording this card was the issue of whether it should create an effect that says the attacker can't be blocked except by creatures that were put in the appropriate pile or whether the defender can't block except creature in the appropriate pile. They chose the wording that looks more like the wording on the original card, but because that wording was quite colloquial, it could be understood either way. Each has their own strange consequences. As noted above, a defender that is flashed in after the trigger doesn't get to block anything if the effect applies to the attacker, but also an attacker that enters after the river trigger can be blocked by any defender. Attaching the continuous effect the the defenders instead reverses this problem. A defender that get flashed in that can block more than one attacker could end up blocking creatures on both sides of the river while an attacker that joins after the trigger can't be blocked at all.

Since there is no clear winner there sticking with the one that looks more like the original is a fine choice. All in all, this wording does a fine job of implementing a very ugly effect while navigating some awkward decisions. I give it...

After all that, I better keep this short. The Oracle says:
You gain life equal to the damage dealt to you this turn. Simulacrum deals damage to target creature you control equal to the damage dealt to you this turn.
I don't like that, and there is a very simple reason: Infect. Until there was infect having you gain life equal to the damage dealt to you this turn was pretty much retroactively preventing it. It really isn't anymore.

This is very different than effects that trigger off of damage. If an effect triggers off of damage being done to me then that effect goes on the stack and resolves and I don't expect Simulacrum to rewind that as it may have done anything. However, the idea of retroactively preventing damage if that damage was done in the form of poison counters, should mean that poison counters get removed from me.

The last ruling on Simulacrum is from 2008, which makes me suspect that this wording predates Infect. Unfortunately Simulacrum falls into a rules hole much the same way as False Orders did. The current rules do not have the capacity to implement this effect. As a result, my proposed reword would include a new section of the comprehensive rules that defines what it means to retroactively redirect damage.
614.9.1 One card (Simulacrum) causes damage to be redirected retroactively. This means that all results of that damage taken within the specified period of time - loss of life, poison counters, etc. - are undone and instead results are applied to the new recipient of the damage as if the same sources had damaged it. This does not retroactively change anything from the intervening time such as abilities that triggered from the damage or abilities that checked life totals. This is not dealing damage and does not trigger any abilities that trigger from dealing damage.
That's probably a little sloppy. It would need another section stating that explained whether or not the damage could be prevented when it is retroactive reassigned, and probably some examples. I'm good with card wordings, but I've never attempted to write sections of the comprehensive rules before. The wording of Simulacrum would then simply be, "Retroactively redirect all damage dealt to you this turn to target creature you control."

Once again, I can't forgive a bad wording just because a good wording is currently impossible.  It is well within the power of the rules team to adjust the comprehensive rules. I am forced to give Simulacrum's Oracle text...

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Trading Cards and the SolForge Release

SolForge released the its first full set last night.  The servers were slammed and things were terrible.  One great thing about SolForge is that you can exit the game and come back in and things are right where you left them.  Last night, unfortunately, you had to do that pretty much every turn.

But I played anyway, and I had a good time doing so.  I acquired an Uterra "starter deck" right at the end of the closed beta so I have a full complement of Spring Dryads.  Those combined with plenty of new cards that let you put more than one creature into play at once gave me a deck I was happy to play.  I'm sure things will get better over the next couple of days anyway.

Right now SolForge has no trading.  They have plans to implement some kind of system of trading for the future, such as an auction house, but apparently that might be a ways off.  I'm not entirely sure how I feel about this.

In 1994 I started playing Magic.  My brother and I got a starter deck and a couple of booster packs and played games against each other drawing off a common deck.  It was months before any of my friends actually built a deck, and when we did we inevitably included cards that could be improved upon.  We just didn't have the cards to build the deck we wanted exactly so we had to substitute.  Every time we got new cards it was a new opportunity to add to our decks.  Trading was great because it let each of us improve our decks.

Improving decks in collectable trading card games isn't just about winning.  It is about being able to do new things.  Sometimes you are willing to lose over and over if it means that when you get around to winning you can win the way you wanted to.  Sometimes the crazy things you are trying to make happen don't even win you the game.

Things have changed a lot.  We are no longer in the "early game" of acquiring Magic cards.  You wouldn't consider going to a Magic tournament now if you didn't have the cards you wanted to play in your deck.  You wouldn't stick in a couple of cards that didn't fit as well and call it good enough.  You also wouldn't show up at a tournament where other people are playing moxes and try to win with grizzly bears.

Trading allows you to build the decks you want to build, but it also accelerates us towards the "end game" where the metagame is solved and you can't play unless you have the full play set of certain rare cards.  I'd like to get a few more copies of the some of the commons so I can try to build a fairly bad deck out of them, but I would also like to make a decent run at early tournaments with my hacked-together Spring Dryad deck.

When I joined Scrolls I was a little disappointed that the trade channel had, in the very short time before I started playing, already turned into nothing but buy and sell lists with prices in gold.  I couldn't find anyone to actually trade with, and if I did I'm sure they wouldn't have wanted to trade unless the prices were about equal.  Flipping through someone's trade binder to see if they have anything you want may just never happen again.  I've just been finding that there is something unhappy about efficiency, though, because working to get what you wanted was a big part of the fun.

Hearthstone is saying they are going to have a very different solution where you can recycle old cards and simply craft the cards you want.  I'll be interested to see how that works out.  In the meantime I will be opening a few SolForge packs a day according to the free currency alloted to me and hoping to find cards that I want to slide into a deck.

I'm Humbabella on SolForge so it's pretty easy to find me if you want to play a game, and one of the great things is that you don't actually have to be online at the same time to play, so challenge away.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

HEX Cards

HEX is a collectible card game that will be going into beta in the near future.  I backed it on the kickstarter and I believe that is going to get me a beta invite.  I'm pretty interested in how all of these card games turn out.

HEX is Magic: the Gathering.  It would be hard for it to be more precise a copy.  They take advantage of some features that you couldn't have in a paper game, but if you've played magic there are only two things you need to know to know everything about the game:
  1. Every time you play a land you get a charge counter that can be used to activate a power attached to your character
  2. Effects can permanents affix themselves to cards during the game - if a creature gets +1/+1 and then gets bounced, killed, shuffled back into your deck, or anything else it holds onto the bonus
Now just because you know the rules it doesn't mean that you know everything about the game.  After all, Magic, and HEX, are more about cards than about rules.  How much should a 3/3 cost?  You could make it cost one, two, three, or even eight.  The choice you make about how to cost very basic creatures and effects will have a lot of repercussions for the game.

HEX held demos on a LAN at Gen Con, and they have posted the deck lists for those demos online, giving us a good picture of what the cards in HEX are like.  I'm not going to start putting up pictures of cards until they put up a gatherer-like database, since for now I think the cards are in flux and I don't want to step on any toes.

But looking down that list we see some pretty familiar faces.  A 2/1 for 1 that must attack; a 1/1 for 2 that draws you a card when you play it; 3 for an instant that kills a creature; a 2/2 for 2 that gets +1/+1 each time you gain life; 2 damage for one resource.  To be clear, I'm not calling plagiarism because it isn't for many reasons.  If you make a card game like this then Shock is pretty obvious. Also, I'm not really interested in discussing the ethics of copying a game so wholesale and I think it is actually somewhat unproblematic

But what it does tell us is that we can compare the cards they've made to Magic cards.  We could look at a 2/1 for two and say, "Well that's not great but you would play it in a limited card pool," and if there was a card that did 4 for one mana we could shake our heads and say, "That seems overpowered."

So looking down the list we can see some pretty exciting and some pretty questionable cards.  For example, four you can buy a 2/2.  When it comes into play each opponent reveals a random card and if they reveal a creature it gets -2/-2.  The fact that it's a bear for four that may do nothing else at all is not that encouraging, and when it does do something it may still not get you a card of value.  Not only does it not kill a large creature, but it lets your opponent choose not to play that creature and play other things instead.

Or for three you get a card that lets you pay two and two life to draw a card.  So at seven mana and four life you are breaking even with Divination, which is another card they are have exact copy of.

I felt that quite a few of the cards that are not Magic analogues were very weak, though I'll admit a few were fairly strong.  I guess it makes sense to be a little conservative when you are venturing out.  Better not to print a Black Lotus.  On the other hand, if caution is the watchword, then I wouldn't think we'd see Voltaic Key either.  Oh well, I'm sure the balance will be off, but certainly not like the early Magic sets.

Monday, 12 August 2013


They hooked me.

I kept looking at Spelunky on Steam, and I kept thinking the same thing, "This game is probably good, but I don't think it is the kind of thing I will really enjoy."  Well, for some reason I bought it anyway, and having played it for about eight hours, I was entirely right.  I knew exactly what I would and wouldn't like about it.

Spelunky is a procedurally generated platformer with permanent death and adorable graphics, so it was pretty hard not to chase the dragon of Rogue Legacy.  Unfortunately, Spelunky is not Rogue Legacy.

Save a damsel,
get a kiss
In Spelunky you are given a series of dungeons to go through.  Each time you start at the top and have to make your way to an exit at the bottom.  On the way you will encounter an assortment of enemies and traps, treasures and shops.  The levels are fully destructible and you walk in with a supply of bombs to make holes for you and ropes to get out when you fall into too deep a hole to jump.  There are also "damsels" to rescue - your choice of ladies, gentlemen, or pugs.

Spelunky is really, really unforgiving of mistakes.  You walk in with four health, so if you mess up a jump to whip a bat and you touch the bat, that's one quarter of the mistakes you'll be allowed to make.  Actually there are plenty of mistakes that will cost you more than one health, often killing you instantly.  So good news, getting hit by that bat didn't matter after all!

If you rescue a damsel you get one health at the end of the level.  I'm not sure if all levels have a damsel, but if they do then some of them require numerous bombs to tunnel to, so either way it means you have to average less than one damage a level.

Every four levels there is a checkpoint, but you have to reach the checkpoint multiple times to bring Tunnel Man various supplies so he can complete the shortcut.  The first checkpoint I basically just had to make it there three times, the second one required a somewhat difficult to acquire item so I made it there quite a few times before I managed to unlock the ability to start there.

You can play as a variety of characters but really they are just skins.  They all die the same.

So why don't I like this game all that much.  Well, basically you screw up and you die and you have to start from scratch.  Unlike Rogue Legacy you don't get to build up as you go.  This game has even less of a feeling of progression between games than the Binding of Isaac.  I think a huge amount of your progression is really just supposed to be increased skill and increased knowledge of how different things interact.

To be fair there are lots of interesting interactions.  Many of the traps work against the enemies as well as they work against you.  Some enemies kill each other and others ignore each other.  I don't want to include any spoilers, but I played for a few hours before discovering some very basic game mechanics.

Still, no matter how much you know there are always awkward jumps, and if you miss them you die, and frankly I'm just not that good.

Spelunky looks like a really solid game that just isn't quite a game for me.  I think I'll probably play a bunch more at least to win the game once, but then I'll watch the challenges - not that I know anything about any challenges in the game, but I am absolutely sure there are many - on youtube instead of trying to experience them myself.

Friday, 9 August 2013

SolForge Games

I've been having a lot of fun playing SolForge.  There are just enough different cards to be able to try to do different things with decks.  Being able to play against the computer means you can usually play out your plan pretty quickly as well.  The plans aren't as elaborate as the kinds of plans that are possible in Magic, but there are fun things to do like growing Spring Dryads or trying to get out a level three Chrogias.

If you build a deck intelligently then you will usually beat the computer more often than not.  Though the AI is decent, I've found there are a few things it does wrong consistently.  That being said, you are going to lose a reasonable number of games because of the way the cards come out.

"Moves into" not gets
played into
So I've been paying attention to the preview cards from the first set, which apparently will have about 200 cards in it.  So far I've been really impressed with how exciting and cool the preview cards are.  A lot of the cards in the demo version of the game have a power and a toughness and that gets bigger as they level up.  That's not all there is to all of them, but the abilities are, even when powerful, not very game bending.  Some of the preview cards are way more interesting, like a creature that can move and kills anything in a lane it moves into, or a card that transforms a creature of its level into a 4/4.

I'm looking forward to the release of the set, which I believe is coming soon.  Buying in is going to get me a bunch of random packs, so I'm looking forward to building the best deck I can out of the cards that I have and making it gradually better.  I also look forward to regaling you with stories about how I blew people out.  Like drawing Level 3 Echowisp and Level 3 Chrogias in my first level 3 hand.  You don't know what that means, but that's okay.  Believe me, it's awesome.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Oracle Review - Chaos Orb and Mana Vault

Obviously these cards are being reviewed together because a Mana Vault enables you to use your Chaos Orb on your first turn.

Chaos Orb
Chaos Orb is the stupidest Magic card ever printed. In my review of Lich I said that it must have been fun to make up cards when there were no rules at all, and this card is the most non-rules card ever printed. Turning Magic into a game of dexterity would later be done in Un-sets as a joke. Since Magic is not a game of dexterity, Chaos Orb is rightly banned in every format, but that doesn't excuse it's heinous Oracle text.
{1}, {T}: If Chaos Orb is on the battlefield, flip Chaos Orb onto the battlefield from a height of at least one foot. If Chaos Orb turns over completely at least once during the flip, destroy all nontoken permanents it touches. Then destroy Chaos Orb.
What does that even mean? Let's check the comprehensive rules to see what flipping a card onto the battlefield means. Okay... checking... nope, nothing.

I'd be in favour of reading the wording as part of the English language - after all, the rules don't define the word "a" or "the" either and yet they appears on many cards - except that the rules do tell us exactly what it means to flip a permanent. It means we change the status of that permanent from unflipped to flipped.

"Onto the battlefield" appears to be a set of instructions we can't follow since it is already on the battlefield. The rules are silent on what it means for a card to "touch a permanent" so in this case we might actually use English words, but since the rules don't tell us what it means to turn over at least once while we are changing the orb's status from unflipped to flipped, the effect of destroying other permanents should never happen.

If you think I am being unfair, take a quick look at rule 705 and its subrules. The rules tell you what it means to flip a coin, so they had better tell you what it means to flip a card.

The Oracle wording of Chaos Orb is a jumble of nonsense. Either the comprehensive rules have to include a section on what it means to flip a card onto the battlefield; Chaos Orb has to be reprinted with a silver border and retroactively made an un-card; or the Oracle wording should say something like this:
{1}, {T}: Physically lift the physical thing that is Chaos Orb from whatever surface you are playing this game of Magic on to a height of at least 30.48cm.  Drop or throw that thing from that height or higher. If between the time you release that thing and the time is comes to rest on the surface or on cards other objects that rest on that surface that thing turns such that the side of it that was furthest from the surface becomes the side nearest to the surface and then again becomes the side further from the surface at least once then whatever physical things that are permanents on the battlefield that the thing is in physical contact with when it comes to rest are destroyed. Destroy Chaos Orb.
So my Chaos Orb triggers morbid because it was
a 2/2 creature when it died, right?
Finally, there are all kinds of nonsense rulings on Chaos Orb, from the fact that it has to be on the battlefield to work to the fact that sleeves count as cards for its purpose. But for some reason they put one of those rulings right into the Oracle text. Since the physical card that is Chaos Orb is the thing that is being flipped, what difference does it make which zone the game state thinks Chaos Orb is in? Zones are mathematical sets, not physical locations. That added text is manufactured from whole cloth.

It is hard to express my fury with Chaos Orb in language suitable for my blog, but even harder to express my fury for it's wording.

Chaos Orb's wording gets an emphatic...

Mana Vault
Mana Vault doesn't look very complicated to word, but there is a very particular reason I want to review it that we'll get to soon.
Mana Vault doesn't untap during your untap step. 
At the beginning of your upkeep, you may pay {4}. If you do, untap Mana Vault. 
At the beginning of your draw step, if Mana Vault is tapped, it deals 1 damage to you. 
{T}: Add {3} to your mana pool.
We don't trigger things at the end of phases and steps anymore so they changed the end of upkeep to the beginning of draw. I can't say I'm a huge fan of this change, but I can live with it. In case you are wondering, because triggers don't go on the stack until someone would get priority, triggering at the end of a phase is exactly the same as triggering at the beginning of the next phase. That is, unless you skip that next phase. If the trigger was at the end of the upkeep then if you skipped your draw step then it would go on the stack at the beginning of the main phase. The change in wording prevents this, and this is relevant considering there are actually cards that make you skip your draw step.

A decent third turn - except in any
format where it is legal.
But that is a pretty minor complaint about a templating change that will rarely affect a game. So why even review this wording when it is such a straightforward conversion of the original card? Sure, there is some room to interpret "To untap it you must spend 4 mana" as an activated rather than a triggered ability, or even to try to shoehorn it into the untap step, but I don't think what they did is controversial.

Let's look at the fifth edition printing of Mana Vault:

Look at that. It's a travesty. If you pay the four mana to untap mana vault then it doesn't untap until the end of your upkeep. Plus you can pay it as many times as you like.

If you'll recall, back when I reviewed Gaea's Liege was a little upset that they had used the more contemporary wording that removed the counters marking changed forests. I grudgingly accepted it, though, knowing that more contemporary printings take precedence. But if that's true, why does the more contemporary wording of mana vault not take precedence here, with confusing timing rules and all?

I don't know how to feel about this. Clearly this wording is far better than what it would be if they used the fifth edition version as their base. But at the same time, if this wording is acceptable then shouldn't I be angry about the liege?

What to do?  A good rating for doing things right or a bad rating for doing things incorrectly?

In the end, I have to side with all that is right and just in the world, and give what would otherwise be a one star wording...
Stick it to the fifth edition wording!

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Random Ability Demon Hunter - Final Thoughts

I finished leveling Friendly on the weekend.  The fifties were some very rough levels, as I discussed before, but none of them compared to level 54.  Basically there were no useful abilities at all and it was just left-click everything down.  On top of that I had just recently started Hell and the enemies had much more health.  Things were so bad that I got tired and crafted until I got a new bow that tripled my list dps and it was still a brutal slog.  It took about two hours to get through that level.

After that things stayed tolerable until level 60.  In particular level 56 had the Bombardment rune on Rapid Fire, which is pretty much exactly arcane missiles for 414%.  Why the Demon Hunter gets vastly superior version of a Wizard spell as a rune is a very good question, but not all good questions have good answers.

Demon Hunters have a lot of bad abilities.  It is hard to imagine anyone using Stafe or Multi-Shot.  Cluster Arrow was useful enough for leveling when the right click ability was very bad but there is little reason to use it if you have a choice in the matter.  Impale doesn't have enough punch for a single target damage skill.  Evasive fire seems pretty lame.

I went to look at the top demon hunter builds and confirmed that precisely the two skills I had pegged as overpowered were the most used skills - Ball Lightning and Echoing Blast.

Basically too much of the Demon Hunter is chaff.  A year into the game it's a pretty lousy state for the class to be in.  I will swear up and down that I think the quest for balance should be abandoned, but it should be abandoned in the name of fun.  Let us put sockets in our gear, give us gems with crazy effects, put in enchanting options to add to gear, give gear affixes that do weird things, and let people make crazy awesome builds.  All of that is fun.  An ability that does 265% to a single target next to a cheaper ability that does 438% is not fun, it's just a waste of space.

All that said, I'm not saying that Demon Hunter is a bad class.  If you just don't fill your bar with bad abilities they are probably fine.  But if you insist on using all the abilities they are crazy awful.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Toddler Time - The Stairs

Here's a fun game you can play. You need a toddler, a bag of things to support that toddlers existence, a stroller, a broken elevator, and a home quite a few floors off the ground.  The goal of the game is to survive. Not in an abstract way, you win by simply resisting the urge to give up and let yourself die.

If the game seems too easy, you can try using a heavier toddler.  Of course you may be restricted to whichever toddler you have available.  I have been playing with a 30 pound version.

If every time you get to the top of the stairs you get a point, then my score is 4, though I have more than a dozen points at the two player game.  I anticipate scoring up a few more points before I stop having a broken elevator to play with.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Living the Dream

Well, I said that you can't draft Dismiss into Dream, but obviously that does not mean you literally can't do it.  And it certainly doesn't mean you can't side it in when it's in your sealed deck.

To see what Magic is all about, check out Kenji Egashira having fun on twitch.  A quick warning, this is not a short game.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Can You Draft Dismiss into Dream?

This card, like Door of Destinies, could vary from unplayable to a bomb depending on the set it is in.  It's a seven drop, so what you are really hoping will happen if you cast this is that it will immediately blow your opponent out.  Even if it doesn't work as a Plague Wind, you'd hope that you could reliably immediately use it to remove their most powerful threat.  All you need to do that is some targeted effects.

If only it were easy to come by targeted effects in this set.  If you even had a single Samite Healer in play then Dismiss into Dream would justify it's cost.  But there is no such thing as a Samite Healer in Magic 2014.

Dismiss will upgrade a number of weaker cards into creature removal cards.  You can Ranger's Guile or Divine Favor your opponent's creature away, but turning other cards into one-for-one removal isn't much of a feat for a seven drop and it always leaves you one card behind.  At common, Master of Diversion gets quite good, but by the time dismiss hits play attacking with a master might be a suicide mission, so again it could just be a one-for-one.  Frost Breath is suddenly a two for one but playing the very slow dismiss and the very aggressive breath in the same deck seems iffy.  Goblin Shortcutter would be pretty sweet but the 2/1 body isn't worth a whole card that late in the game, so it's great but not insane.

At uncommon, Flames of the Firebrand is a real winner, Rod of Ruin would be great, and Briarpack Alpha would do well as a Flametongue Kavu.  Still, all of these have the problem that you aren't going to be casting dismiss and then killing something in the same turn.  It's pretty sad to play a seven drop that doesn't affect the board.

One card I haven't mentioned that you will be able to pick up very easily is Zephyr Charge.  Obviously if you can untap with dismiss and charge you can win pretty handily.  But Zephyr Charge probably isn't a real winner - especially on defence - and putting in weak cards to support your seven drop makes it unlikely you live to play your seven drop.

Dismiss into Dream also has the potential be used to stop your opponent from using certain cards.  Obviously it stops your opponent from attaching equipment and auras once it is in play.  It severely limits the usefulness of your opponent's Ajani.  It turns your opponent's Advocate of the Beast into a potentially huge liability.

Unfortunately when your opponent has Ajani out, you probably don't have until turn seven to get your defence against him online.  There is no threat out there that dismiss shuts down that it will shut down in time to be worth even boarding in.

I don't think Dismiss into Dream is playable at all.  There just isn't enough to support it.  If you ever come across a deck that really wants to play two Zephyr Charges and you have a dismiss handy, then maybe you could put it in, but this is a circumstance is that is just too far-fetched.

It's really a shame, this is probably thematically one of the coolest cards ever.  The idea that you are such a powerful wizard that you can deem creatures to not really exist is awfully exciting.  I guess this was intended as a Commander card more than anything else.  It's too bad I'll never see anyone play it.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Oracle Review - Berserk, False Orders

These two fairly simple cards are linked by a common theme - a strange timing restriction. Each of them also has what I consider to be a defect in their wording, one because of a well-intentioned templating change, the other because it is trying to do something that you actually can't do in Magic. Let's have a look:

Berserk has the honor of being once restricted in Vintage. Of course so does Juggernaut. Here is the Oracle wording:
Cast Berserk only before the combat damage step.
Target creature gains trample and gets +X/+0 until end of turn, where X is its power. At the beginning of the next end step, destroy that creature if it attacked this turn.
Berserk is a card that has been updated to reflect changes in the rules. To some extent this is a good thing - we want to preserve the intent of cards - but to some extent we have to be careful of these changes.

Let's discuss the timing first. Berserk originally said you can't cast it after combat. But when it was printed there wasn't really a clear idea of when you could and couldn't use "fast effects". Instead, it was up to the intuition of players - as well as clarifications from Wizards - to figure out that the point of the restriction was that you weren't supposed to be able to use Berserk as a kill spell on a creature that attacked you earlier in the turn. If you want to use Berserk to kill your opponent's attacker, you need to double its power when it still has a chance to hit you. Of course you could Berserk away a creature with first strike after it dealt damage, but we accept that as just being tricky, not as a defect in Berserk.

Now there is a space to cast spells at the end of combat while creatures are still attacking and blocking but after they have dealt damage. If Berserk continued to say that it could only be cast before the end of combat then it could be used in exactly the way this phrase was meant to prevent.

I think this is a difficult case that walks the line between a good and a bad update. I'm not thrilled that the card has changed because the rules made part of its text obsolete, but on the other hand the change could be seen as preserving the text.

So we'll move on to the actual effect of Berserk and the replacement of "double" with +X/+0. If the difference is not apparent then I'll explain. When an effect has an X in it, the X is fixed by the time the effect has resolved. So when you Berserk your Raging Bull, after Berserk is resolved there is a continuous effect that says "This gets +2/+0" not one that says, "This gets +X/+0 where X is it's power." This makes a big difference because dependency trumps timestamps when determining which continuous effect to apply first.

What if you then Blood Lust after you Berserk? If the bull had a continuous effect that said, "Double this creature's power" then that effect would depend on the bull's power, meaning that it would be resolved after any effect that added or subtracted power, even if that second effect happened later in the turn. With the oracle wording, the bull that was berserked and then made bloodthirsty would be 8/1.  If instead Berserk said, "Double target creature's power," then the bull would be 12/1 - first the Blood Lust would be applied because Berserk depends on it, then Berserk would be applied.

So sad
Again we have to ask whether this is a good change or a bad one. In the original rules there was no concept of dependency to change the order continuous effects were applied in, and rules clarifications said that you doubled it at the time of resolution, not continuously for the rest of the turn. But should the oracle wording be true to the original rules or to the original card? Obviously lots of cards work differently now because the rules have changed. They didn't rewrite Power Surge when they took away mana burn.

I am okay with the timing restriction, but I disapprove of the updated "double power" templating being used on a card that meant it when it said double. As a result, Berserk's Oracle wording gets...

This is basically unfair
False Orders
False Orders is an easily forgotten card because it went away with Revised Edition and it just isn't that good. It's not bad either, I think it would see play in an M13 or M14 draft, but it will never see play in Vintage or Legacy, the only two formats it will ever be legal. Here's the Oracle text:
Cast False Orders only during the declare blockers step.
Remove target creature defending player controls from combat. Creatures it was blocking that had become blocked by only that creature this combat become unblocked. You may have it block an attacking creature of your choice.
That timing restriction is a bit of an odd one because it seems so purposeless. The whole point of the card is to let you reassign how a blocker is blocking, so casting it before blocking would be odd. Casting it after damage is dealt would be similarly odd.

Actually the timing restriction is a very meaningful one. It may not appear this way, but if you could cast False Orders during the declare attackers step then you could use it to allow one of your creatures to block two attackers. The rules for declaring blockers say that while you are declaring blockers you can only assign each blocker to one attacker, they make no mention of whether a creature that is already blocking can block - that really shouldn't ever happen.

Casting False Orders at the end of combat after damage is dealt may sound like an odd thing to do but there are circumstances where it would be useful. Suppose you are attacking with your Agent of Masks. You opponent has a freshly played Ramses Overdark in play but he is leery of putting it in front of your agent, figuring you've got some kind of pump spell. Instead, he chump blocks with his Spinal Villain. You could False Orders the Ramses to make it block and then use Celestial Flare, but your opponent will just sacrifice the Villain. You could False Orders, kill the Villain in combat and then Flare but Ramses will kill your agent. If you could cast False Orders after damage was dealt you could kill the villain then order Ramses to block the agent, and then Flare him away.

Whether this restriction is important for the card or not, it is clearly stated on the original card that you must play it after blockers and before combat damage, so this is the right thing to do.

Now, like with Berserk, we'll move on to the actual effect the card has. In this case, the effect is a mess. It looks okay when you read it, the blocking creature stops blocking what it was blocking, that thing becomes unblocked if nothing else is blocking it, and then you reassign the blocker. But what if your creature is blocked by two creatures and your False Orders them both? When the first one resolves, your creature had become blocked by the other creature this combat. When the second one resolves, your creature still doesn't become unblocked because it had become blocked by the first creature, even though that creature has since been removed from combat by False Orders.

Unfortunately in this case there just seems to be a hole in the Magic rules. You could change the text to say something like, "Creatures it was blocking become unblocked if all creatures blocking them have been removed from combat by cards named "False Orders" and if no other effects caused them to be blocked." but that isn't very forward compatible and it has its own set of problems.

In order to implement the card correctly there needs to be an improvement to the rules themselves that defines a term like "ceases to block." Or the card has to do the word by adding some kind of continuous effect to the creature that could be seen by other, similar effects.

I can't forgive the Oracle wording its faults merely because a proper wording may not exist, however. I am, therefore, forced to give the False Orders Oracle wording...