Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Friday Night Magic and the Feminine Mystique

Over at Red Site Wins, there's a bit of a kerfuffle brewing over the gender imbalances present in the Magic: the Gathering organized play scene. There are more men than women. By a lot.

And since Magic uses none of the strength and dexterity requirements sport organizers have traditionally used to ostracize women and remove them from participation, there must be something else.

I don't go to Friday Night Magic, because it's a huge drain on money and time. But I never stopped to consider the other negatives…you are playing against complete strangers who many or many not even like you. If FNM is anything like the standard prerelease (which I try to attend), the social element of magic is almost completely absent.

Unless you are playing sealed 2-headed giant. Every single one of those folks get a free pass, because that format is just awesome.

I've never been propositioned to get into the back of someone's truck…but even in my limited play experience I have had interactions that were decidedly uncomfortable. Players who really did not feel they lost to me fairly, and players who took an unusual level of glee in beating me. Usually over a single pack of cards. And since I'm male, I have none of the bizarre situations dumped on me in addition to these struggles.

The article on Red Site Wins caused me to do a bit of research last night, and there are more than one blog (all much better than mine) focused on calling out misogyny in the broader gaming world.

There definitely needs to be more people talking about this because otherwise the problem will never go away.

It has made me all the more determined to shore up a gaming group among my friends and try to get together a little more often.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

1 Mana Super-Pingers

A good card, followed by its terrible cousin. Both of which I personally think are totally rockin'.


Background: was originally from the set Torment. Thematically, Lavamancers are both a) grim and b) iguana fanciers.

 Grim Lavamancer is ready to wallop your opponent for 2 damage starting on turn 2, provided you have a way to keep putting more cards into your graveyard. Luckily, this usually happens fast in a red deck, especially if it is populated by aggressively costed cards such as Grim Lavamancer.


Background: A Time Spiral re-imagining of the artifact Cursed Scroll. Nails your opponent for 2 damage starting on turn 3, provided you are willing the pay 3 mana for the privilege.

I assume most people don't (want to pay the 3), which is why it's viewed as a universally crappy card. Because the other requirement, showing a card in your hand, usually isn't  a pain come the 3rd or 4th turn. Again…provided you are playing an aggressively costed red deck, full of cards like Magus of the Scroll.

And what if your hand is full of Mountains? You STILL get do 2 damage!

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Tuck Rule

Saw the blog post over at Muse Vessel.

Here is the issue:

Spell Crumble, and many spells like it, provide a pseudo-permanent removal option against commanders.

An "exile" or "go to graveyard" type effect is covered by the Commander rules, and results in the option to have your commander go to the "command zone" instead. The command zone was concepted to essentially be the "penalty box," a temporary place to think about your actions before getting sprung a few turns later to wreck more havoc.

In contrast, there is no similar "tuck" rule and so the default option demands your commander end up back into your library.

The "tucking" process is sometimes unavoidably humiliating for both you and your commander.

1) Any oversized coverings or enhancements must be removed
2) Colorful and dazzling sleeves must be swapped out for the standard sleeve the rest of the deck uses
3) Oversized foil versions of the commander (like the cards that came with the commander sets) must be replaced with the standard (foil or non-foil) versions.

And after you've suffered all that, then the actual game play ramifications start to sink in. Unless you have a tutor in hand, it might be many, many turns before you see your commander again. Any synergy you've built into your deck between your esteemed commander and his troops are lost.

I was originally pretty hardened against the idea of changing the status quo.

My reasoning:
1) Tucking is just another form of removal, albeit a particularly good form for the commander format

2) Tucking punishes decks that rely too heavily on their commander

3) The multiplayer arena will balance out any unbalances created by a "tucked" commander. A player with a tucked commander will be seen as less of a threat, and will attract less trouble over the other players in the multiplayer game.

But then I had a couple of really bad tuck situations, culminating in a "fun" 2-player game to test out the pre-constructed Commander decks.

If you don't have any of the Commander decks, I will point out the issue.

Some of them are packed with tuck effects, and none of them have creature tutors.

I wonder if Wizards was trying to make some sort of statement.

Regardless, I had lots of tuck effects…my opponent did not. His commander went by-by without ever doing anything. When he drew land, he got to play a land. Whenever I drew land, I got to play my commander again. Didn't seem fair.

So for the future, I can definitely see trying things out with a change to the often-argued-about "tuck" rule.

Would I still use tuck effects even if they didn't get rid of the commander? You bet I would (and I will!). Because even completely separate from the "Commander" rule, recursion in Commander is insane. A particularly gruesome combo piece still needs a good tucking (if not exiling outright).

So perhaps for my next game I will have to try this. Consider me persuaded, Mr. Graveborn Muse.

Friday, August 5, 2011

The End of Force of Will

I've got a big problem with counterspells. Well, with not every counterspell but one in particular.

This guy…

Force of Will was printed as an uncommon during the Alliances set. What was I doing during the Alliances set? Pretty sure I was in my "no magic" phase, playing Warhammer 40k to my heart's content. Can you believe the kids are using laser pointers for this now? Back in my day we found our line of sight by looking over the shoulder of our miniatures then arguing about it for 15 minutes.

What did I miss out on? I just checked an the cheapest you can hope to pay for a single Force of Will is $50.00, for a heavily damaged copy in still good-enough shape to sneak into a sleeve.

Now in my world, I could probably write "Force of Will" on a post-it note and combine it with one of my other cards to make a serviceable proxy. Since I don't play any tournaments, the actual price of a tournament-legal copy is ultimately meaningless.

But the real reason my goat is getting got over this card is the near-UNIVERSAL use in any legacy or vintage magic deck featuring the color blue.

Force of Will is seen as absolutely essential in upper-tier competition because it is one of the few counterspells that can be cast for zero mana on any turn to beat the unexpected combo.

I don't play any tournaments, whatsoever. I've already established this. The closest I've come to the pro-circuit is getting my head caved-in by two separate pro-players using the same Volrath commander deck at my regional prerelease. And they aren't doing regional prereleases any more, so forget that!

But I do watch them on GoodGamesLive. And there's something I have noticed.

Sometimes, there is a first or second turn combo…all a player's cards align just right and the other player is screwed. More often than not, they don't. And then you have quite a few turns to get a least 1 blue mana untapped and ready for counters. Counters that aren't an instant 2-for-1 AGAINST you every time you whip them out.

Back in May, at the Legacy Grand Prix in Providence, Rhode Island, a guy named James Rynkiewicz played a 3 color Bant (white, blue, green) control deck to the 1st place position. His last opponent was Bryan Eleyet using…guess what…a combo deck (Hive Mind).

James won, even after losing the first game when Bryan's combo went off in the 3rd turn.

James used no Force of Wills. What counterspells does he use? Daze and Mental Misstep. He used these very-limited spells and combined them with the land-destruction and mana-denial of Wasteland to win anyway.

My hope is to see the relevance of Force slowly diminish into obscurity. Because it's obviously not a good card other than in these bizarre combo situations people keep talking about.

And with more situational counterspells…hello Flusterstorm…people will have more of what they really need instead of this 5 mana monstrosity.

Today is the U.S. Magic Nationals, of course, being televised (or internet-vised, I guess) live here. You won't see any Force of Wills, not a single one. Because it's Standard format.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Anti-Tutor

Back when Shards of Alara came out, I was really excited about Mindlock Orb. Here was some secret tech!

But there are certainly some problems with the card, which come to light the more you think about it. On its own, Mindlock Orb doesn't really do anything. And it costs 4 to get out!

Much later, I would find out the card I was hoping for was actually printed in an EARLIER set, right under my nose.

The card? Aven Mindcensor.

Aven Mindcensor gives your opponent a small chance (4 cards) of finding what they are looking for. In exchange, you get a slew of upgrades:

1) It costs 3 mana instead of 4.
2) It only stops your opponents from searching, you can still tutor all you want
3) It's a creature you can use for all of the normal creaturely things when you aren't hating people's tutors
4) One of those creaturely things is attacking, and Aven Mindcensor happens to be a 2/1 flyer
5) While the Censor is a creature, it also has FLASH. This means you can cast him in response to someone's Demonic Tutor or Fetchland and hose them right off the bat.

How much tutoring goes on in your typical game of magic? To be honest, not a huge amount in the games I've been playing. You'll have to look at your own metagame and count the Misty Rainforests.

I was reminded of the Mindcensor again after watching the GGS Live coverage of last year's World Vintage Championships. Round 4 Conley Woods casts Aven Mindcensor in response to Stanley Chen's Merchant Scroll. Then later in the game casts another Aven Mindcensor in response to Demonic Tutor.

This year, the annual Gen-Con Vintage Event is taking place at the exact same time as the U.S. Magic Nationals (also at Gen-Con), but hopefully someone covers this because each match is always highly entertaining.