This week’s In Development – Be strong, people!

It’s In Development time again, and this time around I’m talking about a novel concept – making an inventory of your strengths, and then building on those strengths.
We’ve all heard about how we’re supposed to patch up our weaknesses, but empirical studies tell us that what we really want to do – what we need to do – is make our strong points stronger.
Click here to read the article, and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.
Also, as a bonus, this ties into the late hubbub about “casual” and “competitive” play.

Naya Kill Team at the ChannelFireball Spring Series 5K

Congratulations to Phil Yam for winning the CFB Spring Series 5K this weekend. You can read the full coverage by clicking here – it includes a good deck tech by Phil about the Mythic build he piloted to victory.
I clocked in at 3-2 on the day before dropping, but since I won’t be talking about my tournament experience in this week’s In Development, I’m including a tournament report and deck list here.
Click through to the extended entry for both.

Continue reading

This week’s In Development – Abstraction tools, from science to you

It’s that time again!
That’s right, In Development time. This week, it’s all tools, as I touch on the idea of using abstraction to understand a deck’s spine and flow. Using a conceptual tool that I originally came up with to solve an experimental problem in my bio work, I talk about how you can put a little fuzz into your perspective to help you understand new decks, sideboard properly, and tinker without destroying.
Click here to read the article, and then find me on twitter to let me know what you think.

Introducing Favorite Critters – the 0 drops

So, I’m a fan of “top N” lists, and discussions about both “favorite” and “best” things, whether those are movies, comics, scientific discoveries or anything else. With that in mind, I wanted to run a neat little series about my favorite creatures, both because it’s fun to talk about and by way of hoping I inspire you all to comment and let me know what your favorite creatures are.
So, without further ado, click through to the extended entry for my favorite 0-mana creatures.

Continue reading

We all started with casual play, right?

In putting up a link to my last post on twitter, Lauren Lee wrote this:
Man this is 1 of the main reasons I hate casual
Which earned her this reply from clnolen:
You hate casual? Was your first game of Magic in a tournament? Did you learn to play at a PTQ?
This, in turn, prompted me to recall my first game of Magic.
It was for ante.
So I can’t say I really have “casual” beginnings in this game, can I? 🙂
More generally, I think that’s a serious straw man argument, in the sense that I parsed Lauren’s original meaning as:
“I hate most casual Magic because the people involved often have invisible rules and then try to punish you for breaking them.”
But the twitter reply attempted to rewrite it as:
“I hate casual Magic. All people learn about Magic via casual play. Therefore I don’t want anyone to learn to get into Magic.”
It’s actually a whole ball of straw man arguments rolled up together (into one big super straw man, I suppose).
For example, there’s the idea that casual means “not tournament play.” Well, it probably does for some people. But for me, well…it’s shorthand for “someone’s home expectations, and I wish they’d tell me what they were.” I jest a little, but my real point is that if Lauren and I are once more at the same event (we both attended GP Oakland and PT San Diego) and actually sit down and play a random fun game, we’re likely to both bust out our tournament-legal Standard or Extended decks and play a game where neither one of us fudges the rules or wants to do take-backs.
That’s just how we roll – but it’s also one of the nice aspects of playing in a known format like Standard, because neither one of us is about to unexpectedly ambush the other with some “rule” we didn’t mention in advance.
When I teach new players the game, I prefer to use two well-matched, tournament-viable, Standard decks. I will tend to try and avoid what I imagine are trickier interactions, but I find that a well-structured Standard deck that has a clear plan is actually a more effective pedagogical tool than some randomness from a bunch of different sets. “Here’s your deck. You want to play these little dudes early to make mana, and then the big dudes later to kill me.”
The games are “casual” in the sense that no one put money down to play them, but they aren’t “casual” in the sense of “people have brought unsaid expectations to the table,” and I appreciate that. I think that’s great for introducing new players to the game, since I can just say, “Here are the deckbuilding rules, here are the game rules” and they can go to any Standard event, or talk to any other player, and all they have to say is the magic word “Standard” and now everyone is automatically on the same page.
I admit, I kind of dread people having their first encounter with the game involve someone who calls them a jerk for countering a spell. It’s that face of “casual” that gets under my skin, and I think under Lauren’s as well.
Clear, stated expectations are king, for new and experienced players alike.

This drives me away from EDH

If you head over to twitter and check out the hashtag #youmightbeanedhdbif, you’ll see a list of suggestions about what acts mark you as an EDH DB – that is, an Elder Dragon Highlander douchebag.
The idea behind the topic is that EDH is fundamentally a “casual” format, therefore there are overly competitive or unfriendly things someone could do that makes them a bad person.
So, two things turn me off of EDH.
The first is deck design. I tend to get about thirty cards in and suddenly suffer from flashbacks to my first days in Magic, where I was basically throwing all my halfway-decent cards into my deck and hoping it would work out. I’m sure if I were sufficiently motivated I’d get over that one. However…
The second one is exactly the kind of sentiment that shows up in this twitter topic.
Here are some of the #youmightbeanedhdb suggestions from various folks across twitter:
you play Armageddon, Decree of Annihilation, Obliterate or Jokulhaups and you have no way to win the game shortly after
You insist on playing a UB Storm Combo deck in multiplayer and kill everyone on turn 4, taking a 20 min+ turn.
You cast Time Strech.
you’ve got more board resets and creature kill spells than creatures in your deck
you play Contamination, Ruination, Blood Moon, Quicksilver Fountain, Sunder, Stasis or other similar disruptive spells
you play Myojin of Night’s Reach when you have Nath of the Gilt-Leaf in play.
You play Shahrazad (Especially on Turn 2)
you never intend on actually casting your general
You snack on nachos and touch everyone else’s cards.
So, there are only two of these I’ve 100% agreed with so far – the comment above, and Ken Krouner’s, which I’ll include below:
you think your strategies are fun and other people’s are not
This. Absolutely this.
A while ago, I wrote about why I dislike unspoken rules. Essentially, it’s frustrating as hell to interact with anyone who keeps their social rules hidden until you accidentally violate one of them, and then suddenly you’re a douchebag.
This really struck me, in watching EDH-related traffic over the last few days, because there was some discussion of this guy as a “douchebag” general:
Really? That seemed like a great general to me. I mean, seriously. He’s a vampire bloodsage. He’s also a super-big rattlesnake card – a term I picked up from The Ferret, former Serious Fun author, which refers to a card that is likely to get you targeted for some punishing lickety-damn-split in multiplayer. He’s a flavorful, Legendary Creature that isn’t exactly competitive play material – I’d be happy to see him at my multiplayer table.
Continuing on this thought, let’s return to that sampling of “douchebag” plays above.
you play Myojin of Night’s Reach when you have Nath of the Gilt-Leaf in play.
…sounds awesome. I would love to see that happen in a multiplayer game.
More generally, Ken Krouner hits the problem in this line of thought, which also applies to basically every game in the casual, “anything goes” room on MTGO. “My fun” is fine, but “Your fun” is wrong. But no, I’m not going to tell you what’s okay or not in advance…it would be limiting if we just said you can’t play certain cards. Instead, we’re just going to complain like a petulant teenage girl when you don’t know ahead of time what’s going to be okay or not.
Heck, maybe we don’t even know you’re being a douchebag until you do it. We’ll let you know once it happens, when we’ll accuse you of being a bad person and treat you like crap until you either fix the problem or just go home.
And you know, I’d choose “go home” here, because that sucks.
I like going to a DCI-sanctioned event because I know all the rules ahead of time. I can build my deck to those rules.
Similarly, I have a great deal of fondness for people who make their own rules, whatever they are, explicit. I really appreciate groups that can (1) ban things they don’t like and (2) perhaps incentivize things they do like – for example, having a special points system like Sheldon Menery has talked about, which gives you points for the kinds of plays your group thinks are cool.
Waiting around to ambush people with your unwritten rules is the definition of uncool, and can’t help but turn people off the game so much faster than, say, calling a judge on them for a Game Rule Violation at a sanctioned event will. I really dislike the disservice this does to the community, and wish we could all knock it off, just come out and explicitly say the kind of game we want to play, and leave it at that.
I can see from the replies here and elsewhere that I didn’t make my point clearly. Here it is:
I want clear social contracts.
I’m not saying you need to let me play Kokusho as my general in your EDH game at your store. That would be a dumb argument.
I’m saying that if you are part of a group that hates counterspells, it would be the decent thing to do to tell new players, up front, “You know, we don’t play counterspells for our EDH games, so please don’t.” Then if the new player persists, well, that’s their problem.
The thing I’m concerned about is the idea that the right response to someone playing casual in a way you don’t like is to (1) give them the cold shoulder or (2) just kill them out of your games repeatedly, with no explanation.
Instead, why not just actually state your rules?
“Hey, dude, welcome to our weekly EDH game. Here’s a quick rundown — we use the Legacy Banned list, and we also don’t allow extra turns, and any ‘infinite’ combo is only allowed to go off five times in a row. Cool? Cool.”
The thing that rubbed me the wrong way about the “EDH douche” topic on twitter is that calling someone a “douche” for playing a casual game in a different way than you would play a casual game is, itself, a pretty damn “douchey” thing to do. Similarly, just thinking angry thoughts at someone for bringing a deck you dislike is a far, far more negative thing for the community than, say, having a chat with everyone at the beginning of the game about what kind of game you want to play.
Pauper on MTGO is an excellent example of a well-defined format that fits many of our intuitive ideas about “casual” gaming – they just bothered to actually spell their rules out.
It’s all about clarity. If you want to play a certain kind of casual game, why not have a nice chat about it in advance instead of sending punishing glares and bad vibes at folks who unknowingly violate your unwritten rules?

Quick hit – revised Extended seems good

There’s been mostly positive responses among folks I know for the resizing of Extended, but naturally there have been complaints. Our Blackborder author calls the change “a horrid move and an outright slap in the face to all the players (new or veteran) that have spent time and money on Magic the Gathering.”
So, I really liked “old” Extended – it was a nice format with a lot of depth, but not quite the barrier of entry present in Legacy, with the advantage that keeping up with Standard meant that, after some initial setup time, I was keeping up with Extended as well.
That said, no one was playing it. Think about it this way:
I am a new player. I want to play Magic. I pick up cards via drafting, cracking packs, or buying singles, and eventually make a Standard-legal deck. Woohoo! Now there’s a tournament in the Extended format, and…wow, those cards are pretty expensive. In fact, they’re so expensive that maybe I Just want to add a little bit more of a premium on top and play Legacy instead. After all, once I’m in the Legacy ballpark, almost anything goes, so I don’t even need to think about set rotation.
I am a veteran player. I got into the Extended format a couple years ago, when Onslaught was legal. Then it rotated out. Now Mirrodin is rotating out. I have all these cards…but I still need to buy a lot to be able to play Legacy. Hm. Well, that sucks.
I am a veteran player. I have my one Legacy deck which I bring to Legacy tournaments, and otherwise I just keep up with Standard.
As I said, I really like Extended, so I played in a lot of PTQs in the last Extended season, and I know that they were really small. I was shocked at how “tiny” the PTQs at PT San Diego were. I was at PT Hollywood, and the Block PTQs there were enormous – roughly twice the size of the Extended deals at San Diego. Lauren Lee, who will be playing in the new Extended format at Amsterdam, played in Standard side events at PT San Diego and GP Oakland rather than trying to get into the not-quite-Legacy-yet-still-convoluted Extended format.
Outside of PTQs, the few attempts at Extended events locally have been busts.
Players simply don’t play Extended when they’re not forced to, and that’s a problem for what’s meant to be a mainstream format.
There’s some justification for being a little surprised by the change, inasmuch as Devon Low had this to say the last time they changed how Extended rotates:
We haven’t changed the Extended rotation policy since May 2002. I won’t say we’ll never change it again, but I would expect this rotation policy to last at least that long, which takes us up through 2014 and beyond. If anyone has early predictions about which Extended decks will be good in 2014, send them my way!
But then, that was 2008, and Extended hasn’t done well since then.
Overall, I’m happy to have a format that’s bigger than Standard, lets recently lapsed players come back into the fold, and that doesn’t require a high buy-in for new players. I’m hopeful that this will see an uptick in player participation in the new Extended over the old one. I’d like to see a steady stream of Standard, Extended, and Legacy tournaments out there.

As we bid farewell a little early

You know, I’d been looking forward to playing Gifts Ungiven in one more Extended qualifier season next year. Tsk.
You’ve seen the new Extended format right?
Short version – Extended is now four years of Magic instead of seven. This means that starting next month, Extended will be:
Time Spiral Block
Lorwyn Block
Alara Block
Zendikar Block
10th Edition
There was a mad rush immediately after the announcement to hit up buy lists and drop product. As I explained over at Quiet Speculation, I don’t sell cards, so I didn’t rush to get rid of anything – but I did preemptively pick up some Bitterblossoms and Mutavaults on the hunch that for the next two years of Extended, Faeries will be a good deck.
This may be especially likely in light of what’s happening to the mana in Extended. As of July first, here’s what we have by way of decent lands:
Time Spiral
Academy Ruins
Calciform Pools and the other storage lands
Flagstones of Trokair
Gemstone Mine
Grove of the Burnwillows
Horizon Canopy
Keldon Megaliths
Nimbus Maze
River of Tears
Terramorphic Expanse
Tolaria West
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Urza’s Factory
Auntie’s Hovel and the other Tribal duals
Mosswort Bridge and the other Hideaway lands
Murmuring Bosk
Rustic Clachan
Fetid Heath and the other Shadowmoor duals
Reflecting Pool
…and, of course, the Vivids
Ancient Ziggurat
Arcane Sanctum and the other tri-lands
Exotic Orchard
Akoum Refuge and the other “gain a life” duals
Arid Mesa and the other fetches
Celestial Colonnade and the other creature duals
Crypt of Agadeem
Eldrazi Temple
Emeria, the Sky Ruin
Evolving Wilds
Eye of Ugin
Halimar Depths and the other ETB-effect lands
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Tenth Edition
Adarkar Wastes and the other painlands
Faerie Conclave and the other mono-color creature lands
Dragonskull Summit and the other M10 duals
Gargoyle Castle
This is why my no-sell policy exists — I’d hate to have to buy all this stuff all over again at increased prices now that it’s suddenly viable.
Overall, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens in the new Extended. Hopefully, we’ll see either informal or Wizards-supported events in an intermediate “Traditional” format that is something on the order of the Masques+ environment that’s been discussed in the past year.
Still sad to see Gifts exit early, though.