Watch this – ShipItHolla takes us through a PE

You may well have missed this, as ShipItHolla slid this content onto YouTube without much fanfare a couple days ago:

That’s the first video in a fifteen-video play list as ShipItHolla plays his way through a recent Standard PE, with commentary. He discusses his plays and thinks through them out loud as he goes through the event. Given his excellent online play record, this is a great resource, and I hope to see more videos from him in the future.

A Magical good stuff roundup – Flores, Elias, Looter

I imagine one or more of these may make it into ManaNation’s end-of-the-week review, but I wanted to highlight some articles I’ve really liked in my week so far. They are:
Attacking in Legacy, Part 2: Winning an SCG Open is Awesome!
Matt Elias won the Philly SCG Legacy open running Zoo, and this article gives us a window into both his deckbuilding choices and his play. I appreciate the detail and thoroughness with which he walks us through his thoughts:
Third, I was comfortable playing Zoo and confident I could play it close to optimally. This was going to be a long tournament if I was in contention, and playing a deck that was less mentally taxing, and one where I was less likely to agonize over misplays, would play to my strengths. When you misplay with Zoo (such as when I almost punted game 2 in the finals by playing around Daze at the wrong time), you can still win. When you misplay with ANT or Reanimator, often the result is an immediate loss. I also just really enjoy playing this deck, and that enjoyment helps keep me mentally focused on the game itself.
Seven Deadly Sins of Mediocre Magic
Mike’s most recent TCGPlayer article is less deck design, more general theory, and I love it. I think I appreciate his insights into paths that lead to “okay” play much more than many other writers’ discussions of optimal play. To wit:
Now as a general rule, you might have “tap all my mana” as a good in your brain. That is related to strategy. In fact it is typically good. However, just as with over-valuing card advantage, over-valuing mana optimization can lead to poor play.
TT and the Grunts
The Looter has made some fantastic tokens to go with his Siege-Gang Commanders. Love ’em.
“Have you seen them live? Halfway through the gig the lead guitarist disappears and comes back as some kinda freaky stone golem thing! Yes way, man!”

Rich Dad, Poor Game – trying out Cash Flow 101

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve indubitably been spammed at some point with ads for Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad, Poor Dad line of lectures and products. Starting with the release of its eponymous book in the 90s, the Rich Dad, Poor Dad empire has expanded to include a host of follow-up books, in-person events, recorded lectures, and, bringing us in line with the point of this site, games.
The back story behind the book is actually that Robert started out with a game. He’d designed the game to try and impart his ideas about the philosophy of wealth and how to achieve it in a palatable form that people would enjoy playing. An acquaintance who played the game then suggested that he write a book as well, and the book eventually took the lead in spawning the afore-mentioned empire.
I recently tried Kiyosaki’s game, Cash Flow 101. Click through to the extended entry for some commentary and a review.

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This week’s In Development – Scatter plots and planeswalkers, oh my!

This week’s In Development is up, and this time around we’re taking a look at planeswalkers in Standard. Is the secret answer to Rise Standard “more planeswalkers?”
Well, maybe, and maybe not so much.
I take a look at this issue through the power of my favorite research visualization tool, the scatter plot, as applied to the top 32s from five recent high-level events from both MTGO and paper Magic.
Click here to read the article, then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

Want to work at Cryptic?

Want to work at Cryptic Studios, makers of City of Heroes and City of Villains, as well as the upcoming Champions Online and Star Trek Online games?
A friend at Cryptic has passed on two job openings that recently opened up in his part of the company. They are:
Graphic Designer

  • You’ll be tasked with making visuals for their web sites and corporate communications
  • You’ll need a strong background in web design, both in skills and theory

Web Programmer

  • You’ll be developing social, community, and ecommerce tools to support Cryptic’s games
  • You’ll need skills and experience in developing large web sites

You also need to be willing to move, if you don’t already live in Northern California. Cryptic is in Los Gatos, which has the benefit of being just twelve miles from Superstars in San Jose, also known as the home base.
If you’re interested in either job, click through on the appropriate link and you’ll find all the info you need to apply.

This week’s In Development – Vengevine, Vengevine, Vengvine…and Student of Warfare

This week’s In Development features a return to the Junk archetype, updated and revised to fit in everyone’s favorite Rise of the Eldrazi card – Vengevine!
Also, we have some Ranger of Eos action and Student of Warfare. Yes!
Finally, this week’s column features an awesome illustration by Inkwell Looter.
Click here to read the column, and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

Modest Nissa

This is special promo card you receive for preordering the new Duels of the Planeswalkers expansion:
I’ve seen a fair amount of traffic on Facebook and twitter asking why the promo card doesn’t have new art. In fact, it does. Here’s Zendikar Nissa:
The difference? Less cleavage.
The promo card uses the art from the original Duels release, which features rather less cleavage on Ms. Revane, most likely to suit the request of the XBOX folks.
So if you like your planeswalkers modest, you’ll enjoy this alternate art.

Posted in Art

On criticism and critiques

As part of my gig over at, I get the usual mix of positive and negative responses. The negatives come in what I’d like to call a mix of “criticism” and “critiques,” two terms whose intrinsic meanings and values hold a lot of significance for maintaining and growing the Magic community.
The art of the critique
The next time you’re at a premier-level event – say, a Grand Prix – watch what happens when someone walks up to one of the well-known “name” players and asks them a question, or shows that player their deck. If it’s, say, Luis, you’re going to see him take the time, if he has it, to review the deck, and then make some polite suggestions about how it might be improved. Cards to take out, cards to put in, and so forth.
To take this a step further, at Pro Tour San Diego, a lady from a neighboring Physical Therapy Association convention walked up to Luis with PT San Diego Gazeteer in hand and asked if he’d sign it for her son. It turns out he’d realized his mom was in the same convention center as the PT, and insisted that she go get Luis’s signature. He smiled, obliged, and was an all-around good sport.
This is the spirit of the critique mentality. It’s positive, building up on whatever foundation the other person has brought with them, and letting them know that you’re excited about them being there, and their contribution to the game. The critique mentality acknowledges that everyone has off days and off choices. In his article this week, Patrick Chapin refers to his PT deck as “my least favorite deck that I have used in a while” and goes on to discuss his own failings in testing for the PT. He nonetheless shares the list because (1) his audience will always ask and (2) he naturally has some thoughts on how one would want to improve it.
The habit of criticism
In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis devotes some time to the idea of creative versus destructive humor. He emphasizes a point with which I agree, that simply tearing people down is simultaneously the easiest and the weakest form of comedy.
I love watching the live streaming tournament coverage provided by the team at GGSlive, but I find I need to avoid looking over to the right at that UStream chat box (in fact, I tend to switch that to the “social” view that shows tweets just by way of avoiding the chat). While there’s a lot of constructive and genuinely enthusiastic conversation in there, it’s also rife with people ripping on the players the entire time.
There’s a sort of uncertainty principle at work here, where players are amazing until they’re actually observed on camera.
The habit of criticism comes from this kind of schadenfreude that feels like we improve when we take other people down a notch. It’s the same psychology that wants to be rich and famous but also wants all those rich, famous folks to fail.
This kind of pure, tear-down criticism is bad for the community.
I’ve heard one defense of the tear-down critic, that at least you can glean something from what they’re saying. This is strictly speaking true – if someone tells you your deck sucks because there’s no way you’re hard-casting Wrexial before the game ends in Vintage, well, that’s probably true. But if they do it by telling you that you suck and shouldn’t have shown up at the game store that day, that drains both of you.
I’ll say that again – this kind of destructive commentary drains both parties involves. Whereas giving a constructive critique builds your own enthusiasm as you become another party to a creative endeavor, the tear-down commentary requires that you focus on negative thoughts.
That’s not to say there isn’t a rush. There’s a rush from building up anger, and from straight-up hating things. But at the end of the day, there’s the fundamental issue that you haven’t made yourself more successful by dogging that poor bastard who thought Wrexial would make the cut in Vintage. No amount of telling him he sucks will make you a better Oath or Tezz player.
So, it’s bad for the community because it’s off-putting and drains the other players, and it’s bad because it drains you, too.
I’ve talked before about how many of us maintain shields of irony and snark. This is one reason I appreciate Paulo’s writing. As much as his approach to reviewing decks he might play is to say, “Well, these are all terrible,” he nonetheless is open in discussing his enthusiasm about the game itself. He’s genuinely excited to play Magic. He didn’t hide his feelings when he won at San Juan, and I think that kind of honesty in our enthusiasm is what genuinely grows the community.
And as the community grows, we have more venues for fun, competitive play. We get things like the robust Standard and Legacy Open events from Star City, which are awesome. We have giant Legacy and even Vintage events over in Europe.
Building up, bringing in
I’m toward the “older” end of the Magic demographic. I’m thirty-three, I have a doctorate, I have a career and other things in my life that take precedence over my hobby – even though I do adore the hobby. There are other gamers in our community living at this end of the demographic, such as the ever-enthusiastic Mike Flores, Patrick Chapin, Stephen Menendian, and others. At this end of the demographic, we’re pretty resilient to being told that we suck.
But the new players really aren’t. The new players need to know that it’s exciting to play the game, and it’s exciting to figure out that it works. They need to know that even at the Pro Tour level, twelve players might show up with a deck that turns out to be terrible, and that’s just another learning experience.
My concern is that we send new players the message that they’re welcome, we’re excited to have them onboard, and we’d like to help them learn how to play and play well. Rather than shrugging our shoulders and telling them to grow a thicker skin, I’d like to help them build legitimate resilience by teaching them more about the game, and letting them know that every event, from an FNM up through the PT, is a gathering of friends.

This week’s In Development – From ‘cute’ to ‘functional’

In Development is back, and this time I’m walking through the steps by which I admit I’ve delved too deep into the vaults of “cute” ideas and need to pull it back a little to generate a deck that will actually win.
Click here to read the article and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.
Also, kittens. Well, one kitten. Despite the article title.