Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Goblin Flotilla: Suprising Tech.

"Exceptionally poor sailors, Goblins usually arrived at their destination retching and in no condition to fight."

"Row row row your boat, gently down the stream. 
Merrily Merrily Merrily Merrily 
Life is but a dream"

Easily one of my all time favorites, Goblin Flotilla is an exceptionally good Goblin in 93/94, if your opponent has Islands. I mean it's a goblin, it's doomed by default to be good in goblins, but no, it's even better, if your opponents have an Island.

"You can't block it"--Me, to my brother

Fallen Empires was the first expansion ever to have creatures that naturally had landwalk abilities outside of color requirements of its own (otherwise that would be Wurmwood Treefolk). These creatures are River Merfolk, and Goblin Flotilla. That in is where their latent power lie. Unblockability is a fairly rare mechanic in this format, and landwalk is rarely useful, but with the relevance of these tribes, it should be noted how useful it is (especially Islandwalk).

In a format where blue is often debated as the strongest color (with good merit), an unblockable, tribal relevant creature is exceptionally good. Given he falls into the 'Grey Ogre' scale of power, also makes him worth inclusion, and means you'll never have a reason to run Goblin Hero (not that you ever did).

Sure he does include a drawback, hes pay a red or die cost, but in reality, he shouldn't be blocked to begin with, since you'd only run him against blue.

Art: First the art. The art is actually really well done, by the master of boats Tom Wanerstrand. In it, we see some goblins rowing, while dropping some unmentionables (or some have argued it's water), out from the boat. The water is nice, and the atmosphere (and other boat) behind it, is a good touch. The Goblins are believable, not over exaggerated, or unusual. The best part is the contrast of strong and weak colors. I give the art a 4/5. It might be just nostalgia, but that's my opinion on that.

Playability: As stated above, Islandwalk is a powerful mechanic. While in the main, this cards drawback of R or enemy first strike is too risky, on the board, it can work nicely. I feel two of him would curve nicely with the king, to fill out that three drop spot (especially if you are a purest who don't want Ball Lightning). The gray ogre body doesn't hurt (nor help). It doesn't hurt that Goblin is an extremely relevant tribal type. I'm given it a 3/5, even in the main, because chances are, your opponent might have a blue dual.

Flavor: This card, like many of my favorites, oozes flavor. The idea of goblins being terrible sailors makes sense, but the Islandwalk does as well (who expects goblins on the water?). The idea of them being unable to actually perform in combat without a boost also helps, and makes the card that much more endearing. Plus, it's goblins, they didn't even know Merfolk could wield magic. Flavor 5/5.

In total, I'm given this little 12/15, which makes it a 4/5. If this card was literally any other creature type, I'd say trash it, but being a goblin is a big deal in the format, and for that, I recommend trying it in any goblin builds.

"Come back, cowards! Everyone knows Merfolk can't wield magic"--Pashadar Dirf, Goblin Flotilla Commander, last words

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The final Sin: The digitalization of Magic: the Gathering

"Insanity is defined as doing the same thing and expecting different results"

Did you know, Microprose or Shandalar, the first digital Magic the Gathering card game, was first announced in Duelists #3, back in fall of '94?

It's true, in the same magazine that gave a teaser for Fallen Empires, and spoiled The Dark, had the first announcement (complete with a FAQ) about the game. Released on Windows 95 and Dos in 97, the game featured 465 cards, largely from the Core, Arabian Nights, and the Dark. In the next year, two expansions were released, which included cards from Antiquities and Legends, and sealed deck mode, which allowed you to play against the AI. Speaking of which, the AI is amazing in it's unusual complexity at times to do simple things. Further more, while the Internet multiplayer never took off, you could play games across LAN, and the game included an interesting 1-player mode (where you won packs and played for ante), and had it's own unique set of Microprose exclusive 'astral' cards. These often had randomized effects that would be hard (if not impossible) to incorporate in real life.

Aswan Jaguar had the pleasure of making it into a RL jumbo promo card.
Despite its popularity, and Hasbro announcing in Duelist #40 a GOLD version of the game, the game never materialized and MicroProse went bottom up in 2001.

However, this was just the start of MtG trying to get it's foot into the game market. Chris Cocks, current President of WotC,  has said he will expand the IP of Magic into every crevasse it could fit into. This includes Comics, movies, and yes, Video games, not all of them related to cards.

Insanity is defined as: Doing the same thing over again, expecting different results. If this is the case, Chris Cocks, is well, insane. Magic has attempted this numerous times, over the years, with mixed results. However, it's two most successful, Magic Online, and Magic Shandalar, are easily it's most well remembered, and it's most successful.

 In 1996/97 Akklaim released a short lived (and very rare) MtG coin-op game called Armaggedon, and a realtime strategy game called Battlemage for the Saturn/PsOne/and PC. The PC is the most well regarded, being able to support up to four players via LAN, and being able to use hotkeys that weren't available to the console version.

While it's game play was rather poor, it's famous for it's pre-revisionist lore. It's solo-player mode tells the events of the Planeswalker War, and for this, it has a soft spot in many players. Plus a wicked magazine ad. This would not be the last Magic RTS.

Sacrifice cow on upkeep.
From between this and 2002, Magic would get a number of video games. A game similar to early MTGO was released in Japan as an exclusive for the Dreamcast, Magic Interactive Encyclopedia had an deck builder/game tester mode, and for the X-Box, Magic's strangest video game, Battlegrounds was released on the XBOX.

However, all of these are small fries compared to Magic:$ the Gathering: Online. (MTG). Magic online's history is a sordid mess of strange blunders, unusual decisions, and playing Cube.

Magic: the Gathering: Online is a sordid, confusing mess, but I do know in certain detail how it started. In 1999, a small game stupid named Leaping Lizards Software approached WotC, wanting to make an online game for MtG. Wizards was intrigued, and after a single weekend, a small alpha product of four cards was made. Originally called Magic Online with Digital Objects (which is where MODO came from), the game went public in June 2002, and automatically with skepticism.

Leaping Lizard Software

It's hard to imagine in the day of micro-transactions, that there was a time when the idea of buying digital objects with real world money was met with skepticism. However, not only were you buying digital product with real money, you were buying it at the same price!.

There argument in all fairness, was that they were going to use this price to maintain the servers, as well as to not undercut the physical game. Which is actually fairly noble of them. Then Hubris struck!

One of the first things they did, was 'phase out' Leaping Lizards, and instead went to in house developers.

There is an entire history of mistakes and greivances about MTG online: but I will leave a few basics:

  • You own nothing on MTGO. It's in their terms of service. I could be banned until the next millenia, WotC couldn't keep me from playing with my cards. Most famous of this is none other then the Zack Jesse case, which since I'm avoiding politics, I won't get into.
  • It's system is buggy. Brian Kibler once lost a major event due to a crash glitch in the system.
  • It has come to no surprise, that WotC for sometime designed cards not on how well they play IRL, but how well they play (or to code) on MTGO. The most recent and famous incident is Assassin Trophy, which MaRo said they now design cards with 'opponent controls' so you don't accidentlly click your own card by mistake. Another one was a change on how a recently printed Planeswalker was printed named 'Teferi, Hero of Dominaria'. The word 'may' was added to his first ability, rendering any argument on drawback, simply because online (and arena) players wanted it.


However, despite all of this, Magic: the Gathering Online (MTGO) was and is extremely successful. Somehow, despite numerous crashes, long delays of lag, and several unofficial programs, Magic online was a huge success! Some could argue it was too successful.

This led into a number of other attempts at interactive Magic media.

The second most successful of these was a series of console games called 'Duels of the Planeswalkers'.

In it, you'd play against AI, win packs, and could soft customize decks to your preference. In addition, DLC Expansion packs allowed more cards and decks to be thrown into the fray. It even came with a mail in code to get one of three planeswalker promo cards. It was a success, so much so that the decks in the the 2009 version got real world counterparts, which could be bought at chain stores like Barnes and Nobles, as well as several sequals (2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015). This easy to pick up and play game made it perfect to access the basics of the game, and combined this with the recently announced modern format, made for an amazingly advertisement for the core game. The player based surged, LGS's were popping up all over the place. One local store owner who ran a business before this even said 'When  I opened I had two competitors, and one was a sports card store, now I have seven, how am I to compete?'. In risk of anidoctle evidence, I remember going to the Return to Ravnica pre-release. There wasn't even a place to sit for some. My store wasn't the only store like this in the area, and I imagine it was like that in other area's as well.

While Magic at this point was 20 years old, this, was a bubble, a fad, even a blessing, if WotC acknowledge it as such. However that might not be a wise move financially speaking.

At this time, WotC decided to go another route with this, a TBS game called Magic Tactics. Promo cards with codes for promo units came in packs (randomly), and while I downloaded the game, for one reason or another I couldn't play it. Being released in early 2011 (2012 for Steam), the game used digital assets for content, once again costing real world money. In just three years, the game was closed, on March 28 2014.

Here it is, so it may never be memory holed.

However, this flash in the pan failure wasn't a big deal, because Duals of the Planeswalker still was selling well, and the player base was still growing. Pre-releases were still going well, and even becoming flashier, and while the official forums may have closed so people could only talk through WotC through social media platforms, the game was going well.

However, people noticed something. I mentioned in the last part of this, NWO. Cards were getting simplier, and to boot, card quality was slowly going down hill. There was also a more and more focus on the Planeswalker card type. However, their were two other things going on in paper magic, that would make a digital card market make more sense.

Many of us made some stupid rules or variations of the game to spice things up. Fan formats are as old as Magic, with some classics including Highlander (only one unique name for each card allowed), Kangaroo Court (AD&D rules flexability meets MTG), Tower of Power, and so forth. One of these formats, played casually in judge circles, was called Elder Dragon Highlander. Combining the popularity of the Highlander format, with the rule building guides of the little known format Elder Dragon Wars, it was a challenging, and entertaining way to use unwanted and spare cards you found in your collection, all matching the color of a selected legend (originally called a General, and later changed to a Commander).

In the 2000's it slowly, but steadily picked up steam, and by 2011, had caught the eye of WotC, who made it an official format. Complete with preconstructed decks, it just happened to be released at the same time as the Magic boom, and thus, many people who would have otherwise gotten into casual 60 card, came to associate EDH with 'casual magic', and 60 card as 'competitive Magic'. Now you had a beloved format, as with anything, decks got better, and as such, certain reserve list cards became sought after, doubling their prices over night. Enter the Shark.

Sharks have always been around, resellers, hoarders, however, this became something else entirely, thanks to the easy access of the Internet, and the advent of Smartphones, it became a major commodity to go into a store and buy out certain cards, just to sell them at an inflated price at a later time. I won't say names, but thanks to the RL, this has gotten absurd, and has created another bubble in MTG, the price bubble. Even modern has had an issue, with prices fluxuation unpredictably. It's nearly killed the concept of trading cardboard for cardboard because people have become uncertain of a cards estimated value. While WotC has released numerous 'products' to reduce card prices a bit, it's more of lighting a match, than flushing the toilet. WotC hands seem to either be tied or busy.

The other is the cardboard itself, which is one of the complaints, with cards coming out warped, de-colored, or even miscut at an alarming gradual fashion. Overheard at the pre-release for Return to Return to Ravnica, was the simple comment 'why are all my cards bent?'.These two issues make for a good argument for digital printing of cards.

However, back to the topic at hand. This covers the first half of the last decade, as mobile gaming became popular, so does the sense that Magic should have a mobile counterpart. Enter 'Magic Duels'.

Magic Duels was the successor to Duels of the Planeswalker, instead of their being multiple releases, one every year, this would use a update system, so no need to continually release the game to support new releases. Released in 2015, it lasted two years, officially ending updates (but not support) in June of 2017. This is an interesting note. It's still online, still available for sale, and still with a market you can buy digital assets from, with no warning to the consumers itself. More than a few have picked it up after June 2017, just to find it's no longer supported, sometimes after the fact they spent money on it (with no refund). So why, after two years, was this abandoned. I mean, even tactics made it three.


The bane of WotC

I have never played HearthStone: Heroes of Warcraft., my knowledge of it is relatively limited, but I know it's a digital only card game that took the world by storm in 2014. It has unlockables, but can also be 'paid to win', it has bright graphical interfaces and battles. I also know it's been called a Magic Clone, as well as a Magic predecessor. The argument being it's a game, since it's designed with digital in mind, works as a digital game. Now MTGO might be the first digital card game, but it's certainly not the last, and with physical limitation, their has been some strife about MTGO and cardboard Magic. Most notably effects like Scrambleverse and Grip of Chaos, which work (and even excel) on a digital medium become somewhat tedious in analog. This is similar to the Dreamcast and MicroProse games having exclusive 'randomly determined' effects.

Now, WotC isn't a stranger to competing online games. In 2014 they sued Cryptozoic over their digital TCG Hex: the shards of fate. The outcome concluded that Cryptozoic couldn't have any avatar start with 20 life, it's 'black cards' had to become a purple-black color, some art was changed, and a card named 'murder' was renamed. Around this time, WotC also killed a fan project for free online MtG called 'Cockatrice'. I sadly know little about this though.

Legend has this card was made as a celebration for winning against Cockatrice.

Then enter Arena. I will first let this video explain everything you need to know:

Magic Arena is a TCG designed similar in function to Hearthstone. It could be, in theory, called a Hearthstone clone even. However, that's not a terrible thing in it's own right, if it was separate. The problem is it's going along side not one, but two different platforms for M:tG, which means one needs to go.

On one hand, you have cardboard, which comes with a lot of overhead. If WotC stopped supporting cardboard in the next year (I suspect they will end the Bolas arc first), it's side effects on the market as a whole is literally unpredictable, but the game would eventually wither off.

On the other hand, you have MTGO, something that has been around for almost two decades. Some people have thrown in a small fortune into this platform, truly believing it to be the future of Magic.I understand it's been almost two decades, but these players have been supporting WotC, and WotC will just close it's servers, which I can only feel a little bit of pride in 'I told you so'.

The third and final thing is these three platforms will coexist, unable to make it big, because resources competing for each other will keep one from reaching it's full potential.

Now, finally, is the design. Cards currently are being designed, not for paper Magic, but Arena. While many who read my blog don't play outside of 93-95, there has been a growing trend of 'an opponent controls' on cards.


While I couldn't find this screen cap, it says here that Assassins trophy was designed so that you couldn't accidently click your own cards and destroy them by mistake. Similarly, Teferi received an errata because his EoT trigger required occasionally to untap opponents lands.

"It prevents you from accidentally destroyed your own permanents in digital."--Mark Rosewater

This guy now has 'up to' and his middle ability has been discussed to having the word 'another'.
Now Arena won't be played best out of three, but one game, for events, and cards have been designed to be more... modular, if you will, in design. Cards with two niche options at the same time, so you don't have to be stuck choosing it.

"I’m not likely to win, since I can’t meaningfully deal with it."--Joel "I scoop on turn two" Larsson

"I think so. The upsides trump the downsides. The great thing with Arena and best-of-ones comes down to one major advantage: accessibility. Games on Arena are smoother, faster, and only having to play best-of-one means that I don’t have to be so enfranchised into playing Magic for a long time every time I feel like playing. It also means that you get the urge to play just one more game when you barely have the time. And another one. And another one. An enormous barrier has been lifted. Make Standard what it has always meant to be. Accessible."--Joel Larsson, Best-of-one standard is the Future....

"I was really, really hoping that the pro community would be using their influence to push back against this unwelcome (to those of us that have kept this game funded and alive in the pre-Arena era) change, but instead we are getting an increasing number of articles like this one legitimizing this direction. I've seen articles like this from Brad Nelson, Todd Anderson and others in the last few weeks alone. This article is the most directly advocating for the change.
Frankly, it is beginning to feel like a coordinated effort to wear down the experienced player base and get them to accept this narrative as inevitable, so when it happens the protest will be muted. It's disappointing, man. You know for some us, BO3 magic isn't accessible through modern because that format is absurdly expensive. Standard is what we have.
I'm consistently seeing this appeal to accessibility. You know what? BO1 can exist for the person who wants to screw around in line at the grocery store. Why does the competitive mode, which should demand your complete concentration, be bent this hard for a casual audience? That's not what competitive, by it's very nature, is.
If you actually believe this is a good idea and aren't promoting some agenda I apologize, but please stop creating content that actively encourages Wizards to consider it. A lot of us who have been here, keeping the lights on, really don't want this and if they're going to do it anyway, they certainly don't need help doing so."--Anonymous

This is both extremely short sighted of them, since Arena's success isn't even proven yet. However, it should be noted that Arena has no intention of releasing older cards, and it's a 'ground zero' and forward for Magic. It doesn't hurt WotC has also relaunched a comic line (fourth time this has happened), has two mtg puzzle games using phone apps, as well as a planned MOBA and MMO coming out sometime within the next year. This overexpansion combined with the number of supplement products being released doesn't paint a good picture of MtG and it's direction. If I were you, I'd sell my MODO content, maybe even my cardboard content too, but I haven't yet, so I shouldn't talk.

Thank you so much for reading my articles. It's been a long series, and I'm glad I've written them, and gotten these grievances of my chest. Some aren't the best written articles, and some aren't the most cohesive, but they are my opinions and they are what they are. Thank you most of all Old School Community, without you, I wouldn't of even found the passion to start this. I promise sin 6 part 3 will be out eventually, and I'll have some 'old fashioned' card reviews here shortly, along with some theories and my winter derby deck. 

 http://web.archive.org/web/20030811172647/http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=magic/magiconline/news051603 (History of Leaping Lizards and their involvement with MTGO 1.0)



Sunday, January 6, 2019

Year One: A retrospective

It's been one year since I've decided to make a part time side project about OS MtG. While I had thrown the idea around before this, this time I decided to do this, and to much fan-fare. Numerous people on the Reddit, as well as in the various old school groups have encouraged me to go on, writing more card reviews, and talking about jank I have fond memories of. I've also gotten a lot of feed back from my series 'The Several Deadly sins of WotC', for better or worse.

I thank all of you for your words of encouragement. Now to the stats.

My most viewed article (card review): Uncle Istvan (Uncle Istvan: When is popularity worth being weird?), which I remember someone arguing that I oversold his popularity, and someone else saying they now hate Aaron Forscythe because of his opinion on the card.

Least viewed article (card review): Weakness (Weakness: the other 1 mana black aura). With just shy over 80 unique views, it's easily the least popular review I've done. It's also one of the least talked about, with it garnering no discussion on the Reddit or in OS Groups.

Most viewed article (7 Sins): Actually the 6th sin part 1: Art and lore. Closely followed by Power Creep and Losing one's Identity.

Ironically, the least viewed article is 'The Fifth Sin: The Jacetice league'. Perhaps that shouldn't of been a sin in on itself, since I covered a number of things I disliked about them in another post. (if you exclude the intro post).

Most viewed article (other): (Replacing Juzam, how do the other's add up?), easily my most viewed article, and the only one to reach over a thousand views. It also got the most fan fare and discussion, with numerous discussions taking place over the article and it validity.

Least viewed article (other):  While my short article about Mirage is pretty low, my theoretic on an old school expansion has garnered less then 50 views, making it the least red article on the entire blog.

My most controversial article: (The 6th Sin, the degrading and 'casualization' of MtG (Part 1: art and flavor)). Easily my most controversial article, which featured an infamous header. The article had gotten me banned from Magic 4 Good, which wasn't even read by the person who did it, and came with numerous discussion from people who didn't pass the header. Those that did, however, said the article was well written, and made some good arguments, so remember, never judge a book by its cover.

So what should you expect in the next year, loyal reader? I have more card reviews planned (an article about Giant Strength compared to other enchant creature spells, and an article about Goblin Flotalla have been sitting in development hell forever), I plan on finishing Seven Deadly Sins by the end of Febuary (the article on tournaments has been rather difficult to finish), inspired by the popularity of Juzam, I plan on making an article about replacing Erhnam, and Jaydmae Tome respectably, and finally, a series about Mechanics. Of coarse! More card reviews!

Thank you for the wonderful year!