This week’s In Development…is happening next week

Just a quick heads up to all the In Development readers out there. This week’s column has been delayed due to ‘life.’ Hopefully, we’ll be back on track sometime next week, although this may be a two-week hiatus.
In the meantime, good luck to everyone at GP Columbus. I’m looking forward to seeing what Legacy has to offer this time around.

Yo! MTG Taps! Episode 30 – unofficial liner notes

Episode 30 of Yo! MTG Taps! is up – click here to listen to it. Topics this time around include M11 release events, EDH play, expensive decks, and more.
And namechecking me twice, which is always nice. 🙂 It also means I have a little bit to contribute.
Notes on casual play
Joey and Joe interviewed Adam Styborski, who writes about ‘casual’ play for both Daily MTG and Mananation. I generally find Adam a cogent, easy-to-follow writer and speaker, and I appreciated his take on the whole you’re doing it wrong discussion about Elder Dragon Highlander (EDH).
I thought Adam made a nice analogy this time around between the unspoken social contract that is often present in a casual game and the unspoken behavioral “rules” of competitive play. His main point was that as you enter a new environment, you’ll find that you need to figure out how to behave. Very true.
However, there are still significant differences between the two situations. I’d make an analogy that goes like this:
The accepted social rules in competitive play – such as the idea that you’re likely to concede to an opponent if a win keeps them in contention but a win does nothing for you – are similar to the “don’t eat food and touch my cards” social rules in casual play.
In contrast, the other social rules of casual play, such as “Don’t counter too many of my spells” or “Don’t play cards that let you take extra turns” are like an unspoken version of the Tournament Rules. In fact, running afoul of these invisible rules of casual play often has a first-blush similarity to running afoul of a tournament rule:
Player A – “Judge!”
Player B – “What?”
Player A – “My opponent missed her Dark Confidant trigger.”
Player A – “Dude! That’s so uncool. I didn’t know you were like that.”
Player B – “What?”
Player A – “We don’t do land destruction here, ’cause it sucks.”
The chief difference is that the Magic Tournament Rules are written down, so there’s a unified place everyone can go to learn about them before they ever go to a competitive event (and recall that you’re really talking about PTQs or higher before this will really, really be an issue).
Now, you may be thinking, “Well, we can communicate in casual play, too.” You sure could. In fact, if you do, I’m thrilled. But this doesn’t always happen, and the problem is twofold.
First, some people just don’t think to do it. They assume their idea of casual is everyone else’s idea of casual, so they don’t want to spell it out.
Second, and much more problematic, is the issue that people don’t know what their rules are.
In the interview, Joey brings up the idea of the social contract, and Adam seems to take it that “social contract” by default means “make sure everyone has fun.” Really, though, a social contract is any set of rules that a bunch of people operate by. The deal with it being a “social” contract is that you didn’t, you know, sign a legal contract. So, a social contract can be anything from the rules at the place where I used to train BJJ (i.e. no striking during practice, since that wasn’t what we were there to learn) to a general agreement that if you take a Coke out of the fridge, you grab another one from the closet and stick it in the fridge.
This doesn’t mean that “Try to make sure everyone has fun” can’t be a social contract, but it does mean that this tends to be a messy, hard-to-follow, hard-to-enforce social contract. I’ve written about this before, and the gist of it is that for a lot of gamers, casual seems to informally mean, “Keep the game close, and let me play the way I want to.” The problem with this is that it means that someone who is in a position to dramatically outperform you – say by being a more experienced player, or simply owning more cards – has to then choose to suck by some ill-defined amount to give you that experience.
Set aside whether that’s fun or not for the “better” player – it’s simply a hard thing to do. Wizards has developers who spend significant amounts of time balancing two decks against each other. For someone who’s just showing up for the weekly game, not knowing exactly what everyone else is bringing this time around…it’s nigh impossible. And this means that they’re stuck trying to figure out how to best “throw, but not quite throw” the game once it starts.
Without, of course, letting your friends know you’re throwing the game.
I’m certainly not telling anyone they’re doing it wrong. The number one rule remains “have fun,” so if you go each week and you and your friends all have fun, you’re gold and nothing else matters. What I am saying is that statements like, “It’s about making sure everyone gets to play” are content-free. They’re not actionable. They don’t help other gamers figure out how to achieve this goal.
This is why I like structure, no matter what that structure is. Although I do tend to cleave to the “competitive” formats, my casual play in the last year has included cube drafting and playing with Duel Decks, and they were both awesome. But you’ll note that they’re also both structured – get the cards, play the cards. I didn’t have to try and throw the game a bit to make stuff fair in the cube drafts; we just drafted and played.
Ban Jace!
Well, really don’t.
Joey and Joe talked for a bit about a commenter who wanted some serious discussion about banning Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The context as given was the idea that Jace is “everywhere,” and that decks that “have no business running Jace” are nonetheless using him.
But I think the subtext is pretty clear – the card is really expensive.
Cards don’t get banned for being expensive. They just don’t. That would murder the heck out of the game’s salability if they were, and it wouldn’t help, since beheading the format’s price list would simply drive new cards up to the top of that list.
Cards are banned for causing problems, whether these problems are procedural (e.g. Sensei’s Divining Top) or format-skewing (e.g. Skullclamp). Jace is neither. He is a good card, and good cards show up in decks. Once they show up in enough decks, they rise in price.
But as our two Js point out, Jace is not format-skewing. The solution to Jace? Play creatures and certain kinds of removal. If there were no Jace, what would many decks out there want to do? Play creatures and certain kinds of removal. One of the genius aspects of planeswalkers is that the solution to any (any!) planeswalker is to just do what you were going to do anyway. Summon monsters, attack. Cast burn spells. O-Ring some stuff. Deny it with a Mana Leak, take it with a Duress.
This is not 2007-era Extended Dredge, where you either dedicate half your sideboard to the matchup or cross your fingers really hard and hope for good pairings. The solutions are already in your deck anyway.
Sure, it can be frustrating to not have ready access to all the expensive cards. But cards shouldn’t (and won’t) be banned for financial reasons.
For the last year or more, the consensus best deck has never wanted to play Jace, and has been relatively budget, as J&J pointed out. And really, they hit the mark in addressing this issue – no matter what, having a competitive deck will cost you. It’ll either cost you money, as you pay increased secondary market prices to buy the cards for a proven design, or it will cost you time and effort, as you develop your own. There is no third option.
Anyway, enough of that. If you haven’t listened to this week’s Yo! MTG Taps!, go do so (right here). And then check out the Magic Effectiveness Project and fill out a survey, if you haven’t yet.

The San Diego Comic Con Magic panel – Scars! Duels! More!

This evening saw the first ever Magic panel at the San Diego Comic Con, featuring Mark Rosewater, Aaron Forsythe, Brian Tinsman, Paul Levy, and Christopher Moeller. It was well attended, with some folks needing to be turned away.
Marc Rosewater did a run through of upcoming products, which gave us some spoilerage that has already made the rounds thanks to twitter. Here’s a quick runthrough, including one tiny spoiler that I think hasn’t made it out yet. Here you go:
They kicked things off with a preview of some cards from From the Vaults: Relics.
Manticore from From the Vault: Relics
Yup, that’s Masticore.
Mox Diamond from From the Vault: Relics
…and that’s the Mox Diamond, which spurred the recent debate about work-arounds to the Reserve List. Later during the Q&A, Paul Levy indicated that they had, indeed, tightened the policy around the Reserve List so that the loophole allowing this kind of reprint was gone, but Mark Rosewater did say to remember that the members of R&D are gamers.
However, the big one from Relics was, of course:
Sword of Body and Mind from From the Vault: Relics
For more detail on the rules text, here’s a zoomed-in pic:
The rules text on Sword of Body and Mind
In introducing this card, Mark mentioned that players might notice that this is a blue and green sword, and recall that Mirrodin had a black and white sword as well as a blue and red sword, so if you “completed the pattern” (said with much hand waving) you might be able to figure out another card.
So who’s excited about Lightning Helix sword? (Well, just guessing. Boros Blade? Anyway…)
We then moved on to Duel Decks previews (for Elspeth versus Tezzeret)…
Duel Decks: Elspeth versus Tezzeret
Alternate Elspeth art from the Duel Decks set
Alternate art Elspeth, from Duels.
Alternate Elspeth art from Duel Decks
The same art in the card frame. Note the updated “Emblem” wording on Elspeth’s ultimate. Aaron Forsythe discussed the Emblem concept briefly. He noted that it was really designed to allow future cards, but they updated Elspeth’s ability to use the Emblem wording since it is appropriate for her as well.
Alternate Tezzeret art from Duel Decks
The alternate art Tezzeret from the same Duels set.
Alternate Tezzeret art from Duel Decks
The same, in its proper frame.
Some alternate card art from Duel Decks
Alternate art from an unnamed card to be included in the upcoming Duels set.
Some alternate card art from Duel Decks
Another alternate art for yet another unnamed card that will appear in Duels.
From there, we moved on to…
Scars of Mirrodin
Elspeth and Koth
Scars will feature a new Elspeth. The other person in this picture is a second planeswalker named Koth.
Elspeth and Koth
Here’s the tiny spoiler that I think hasn’t made it out so far: When an audience member asked what color Koth was, Mark Rosewater said that Koth would be “one of the colors” in the game. If he meant that literally, then Koth is a mono-colored planeswalker. Make of that what you will.
…and now, enjoy some Scars art that was delivered to us without comment:
A Scars of Mirrodin card
A Scars of Mirrodin card
Mark introduced the final piece with a discussion about how they’ve decided that “something” should come back in each set – for example, cycling in Alara and kicker in Zendikar. He said that something was definitely coming back in Scars, and then brought up the final piece of art:
A Scars of Mirrodin card
They followed the preview section with an extensive Q&A period, which was nice even as it had the tenor of a “Magic anonymous” meeting as each questioner introduced themself by saying their first name and then when they’d started Magic.
I have some fun quotes from that section, but I’ll save them for another time as they are funny, but not particularly spoilerrific.
As a closing note, I had a nice conversation with Randy Buehler after the panel where we talked about Mythics and pricing, and basically came down on the same spot – we like what they do for the game. They make staple rares dramatically cheaper, while making some of the more elective rares (now Mythics) more expensive. Someone came up and asked Mark Rosewater about Mythics after the panel, suggesting that they were making people unhappy, and Mark mentioned that they serve the fundamental purpose of making it more exciting to open packs, and that Magic sales have been up tremendously since the change.
Anyway, you’ll probably want to go back up and check out those pictures again. Do feel free to repost them, but do give me appropriate crediting and a link back to this post. Thanks, and enjoy. 🙂

This week’s In Development – understanding the texture of decks, and shedding nostalgia

This week’s In Development is a big comment grabber already. This time around, we’re looking at how we can use an understanding of the texture of a deck (thanks to Chris P for that term) to figure out whether an archetype is likely to fit into the current Standard environment.
Specifically, you’re gonna have a chance to check out graphs like this one:
As a brief primer, this is a graphical representation of a Jund deck, using the abstraction method I wrote about earlier. What you’re looking at is cards, as abstracted to roles, across the mana curve. Note that one card can equate to multiple roles – for example, I scored Bloodbraid Elf as “Threat” and “Card Advantage” in the Jund abstraction.
For reference, the categories are:
A – Acceleration
CA – Card Advantage
T – Threat
R – Removal
D – Disruption
Now, head on over to read the article, and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.
Also, if you’re attending the San Diego Comic Con, come on by the Magic Panel at 6:30pm tomorrow in room 26AB. I’ll be there, and the panel includes both Mark Rosewater and Aaron Forsythe.

This week’s In Development – Three months of two Standards, and a MEP update

Today’s In Development is up, and it’s one of my rare “hodgepodge” pieces, featuring the following three items:

  • First, a link to the completed Magic Effectiveness Project questionnaire, along with a request for all of you to help out
  • Second, a discussion of Jund and how it assuredly is not dead with the release of M11
  • Third, a use for Fauna Shaman that does not live in Magical Christmasland

So head on over to the article, and then, as always, find me on twitter and let me know what you think.

The next ‘last’ three months of Jund

Yeah, I’ll explain the images.
This has been a fascinating spoiler season from the perspective of a sometime Jund player. Although I’ve never empathized with the hate against Jund – it’s simultaneously effective and, for the format, budget. I do tend to believe that the biggest hate against Jund comes from players who incorrectly think the archetype is all about “getting lucky” on cascades, instead of, say, planning what your deck will cascade into.
Click through to the extended entry for (much, much) more, including deck lists.

Continue reading

This week’s In Development – Embarking on an examination of success

It’s In Development time again, and this time around I’m expanding on the popular topic of last week’s column – how to play to your strengths.
If we’re going to play to our strengths, we’re going to have to learn what they are, and that, well…that requires a scientific project! Head on over to the article to read about the project plan, and to learn how you are a critical part of successfully developing an understanding of what makes people good at Magic.
Click here to read the article, and then find me on twitter and let me know what you think.