The War Report: Overpopulation

After realizing I had already made a “go-tall” token style deck in Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun back when I first got into commander, I thought I should try my hand at this strategy again but in different colors. I was already interested in Ghired for some of the other cards that come in the box that I want to add to other existing EDH decks, but decided I should probably brew him up as well. He’s the only face-card commander I find appealing in any sense of the word, so let’s take a look at him (again):

Ghired is a 5 CMC 2/5 with an ETB trigger that creates a 4/4 Rhino token with trample. He also has the added bonus of triggering populate each time he attacks, and whatever token you choose to copy comes into play tapped and attacking. Give him haste, and you can slam 10 power on the board on turn 5 at the latest. Honestly I wish I could use Temmet in this deck, solely to give that unblockable bonus, but alas he contains blue and that wouldn’t be allowed. So given that populate only copies creature tokens, and it only does it one at a time, we’re going to want bigger creature tokens rather than little ones. We also don’t necessarily want to go wide, but the speed at which you should be able to populate, you will eventually go wide provided there aren’t a lot of board wipes being cast. Still, we want tokens in general to copy so I have included a few ways to make some smaller ones, but for the most part we’re focusing on those that are 4/4 or more. Let’s take a look at what I mean:

As you can see, there are a myriad of ways that we can make some big tokens, from creatures that ETB or otherwise trigger other tokens to be made, to spells that create tokens that you can later populate, or event enchantments that can churn out 4/4’s and 5/5’s like nobody’s business. For the most part, we’re looking for big tokens to target with our populate triggers, so I’ve tried to focus on this theme. If you can get a few populate triggers in a single turn, you could be looking at several 6/6’s or 8/8’s, particularly with the token support package we’ve included (populate and other bonuses).

This support package will make those populate triggers happen, but it will also benefit your population, in that you’ll get extra tokens with an Anointed Procession or Parallel Lives on the board, and then if you can double up on that with Song of the Worldsoul or Growing Ranks. We also have a few anthem effects to make those 4/4’s into 5/5’s or even 6/6’s. Intangible Virtue and Angel of Invention can help beef up the tokens already on the board.

As I said earlier, we really want our new token creatures and our commander in particular to have haste. As such I’ve included Fervor, Fires of Yavimaya and Rhythm of the Wild to give this to them. If we can use our commander immediately we get a bunch of power on the board quickly, and utilizing our populate triggers this can me explosive turns. But we also need to draw cards so enchantments like Colossal Majesty, Elemental Bond, Rishkar’s Expertise and Shamanic Revelation were included. Hour of Reckoning is an on-theme board wipe, while Second Harvest can make an already big board that much larger. In order to help keep up with mana production, I’ve also included Mirari’s Wake (doubles as an anthem) and Zendikar Resurgent (doubles as card draw). They’re pretty much staples in the colors, so I expect you know them by now.

I’m positive this deck will not be overly competitive, but it looks like fun. I hope to pick it up while I’m in Vegas and get some test runs in as it stands in the precon, but this version of the deck is ones I’d aspire to upgrade to.

Developer Appreciation Week: Gearbox Software

Developer Appreciation Week (or DAV) is technically coming to a close, but I thought I’d squeeze a post about the topic in nonetheless. I haven’t really been following any of the scheduled stuff this Blaugust, but as it is I haven’t really needed any help getting topics down. Having to rush and blow through several posts in a day has left me looking for inspiration though. I’m leaving to Vegas on Thursday morning, and won’t return until Sunday night. As such I’ve been writing ahead for those days to have scheduled posts, and well, here we are. From what I can recall I have written a DAV post in the past, and I believe I included a couple of developers in it. This time around I wanted to pick someone different, and with Borderlands 3 releasing just around the corner (and my own personal time spent with the series recently) I realized that I have rather enjoyed much of the content put out by Gearbox Software.

When doing some research to make sure I had my facts straight, it turns out that my relationship with the company goes much further back than Borderlands, thought that’s the IP that I’m most connected to at this point. Nevertheless, way back in 1999 Gearbox developed Half-Life: Opposing Force, the expansion to the original Half-Life. I loved that expansion and played it while still in high school. It appears that I may have touched on some other games that the company developed as well, but my relationship wouldn’t get as serious until early 2010 when I purchased my Playstation 3 and a copy of the original Borderlands. I would go on to buy all of the expansions, level up a couple of characters to maximum level along with beating the end game raids and things. I basically 100% that game before playing it over again with my best friend once he got a copy as well. By the time Borderlands 2 had released, I had it pre-ordered and also picked up the season pass. I bought most if not all of the DLC too, and in some cases it felt less than worth the money, but I didn’t care due to being obsessed with the gameplay and wanting every new experience I could get.

Games like Destiny or The Division couldn’t exist without Borderlands before it. By that note, I don’t think Borderlands would exist without RPGs like Diablo either. Nonetheless, Borderlands solidified the FPS-RPG hybrid as a viable model, something that can be monetized and of which a whole universe can expand. Unfortunately developers typically need publishers, and 2K being the evil corporation here might have something to do with some of the negative press around said monetization, though at this time it has become the norm of the games industry.

The company isn’t without blemish though. Besides the games that I’ve mentioned, they had a fiasco over Aliens: Colonial Marines, but that has been better documented elsewhere. It could also be said that they lost the battle of the hero shooter, as their game Battleborn released near games like Blizzard’s Overwatch or Hi-Rez Studios’ Paladins, both of which seem to have seen the most success (Quake Champions is the last game of this nature that I can recall coming out, and even it seems to be more successful than Gearbox’s entry).

It’s likely that we’ll see a return to greatness with Borderlands 3 though, and I fully hope for that outcome. Borderlands does the looter shooter thing right, is easy to jump in and out of with friends, has a humourous and well put together storyline and I just hope for the best for the company’s return to the series. We’ll know soon enough, Borderlands 3 releases on September 13th, which is just a couple of weeks away. You know I’ll be there from the start to dive in head first.

The War Report: This Shirt is Not Black

This Friday the Commander 2019 precons release. By the time this post goes live I’ll already be in Vegas and it actually should already be Friday, but who knows if I’ll have gotten my hands on any of the new decks yet. I fully intend to try and pick up both the Naya Populate and the Jeskai Flashback decks, mostly likely by going to the LGS out there. Whatever the case, there weren’t initially any commanders from the new sets that I wanted to build, but after some careful consideration, I decided on building one that doesn’t even come in one of the decks I want to purchase. As such, I’ll likely grab him as a single and go from there, don’t believe I’m using any other cards from that particular box. The commander in question is from the Rakdos Madness deck, and it’s *drumroll*:

That’s right, it’s K’rrik, Son of Yawgmoth. I have brewed a mono black deck or two in the past, but I ended up never really being all that passionate about the commander. In this case, I absolutely love what K’rrik can do. A 7 CMC commander is not one you’d usually aim for, but because the 3 black pips are actually phyrexian mana, you can pay 2 life instead of 1 black mana, meaning you can play K’rrik without even having a swamp on the board, just need a couple of decent colorless mana rocks. Besides that, he gives this ability to all of you cards, where each black pip turns into phyrexian mana. On top of that, K’rrik gets +1/+1 counters fore every black spell you cast, and he has lifelink to keep the engine running. I don’t really think it’s necessary to make this into a Voltron deck, but I do think a Tainted Strike and Phyresis are in order to capitalize on big swings and then adding infect. One thing that I think black can do almost better than any color is both make some big time mana (without infinite combo) and make use of your life total as a resource. We’re going to aim to do both, with a splash of good stuff along with a few known but busted win conditions.

Big Mana:

I’ve been wanting to make a mono black deck for a long time, if for no other reason than using the Cabal Coffers/Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth combo, and it’s on flavor with K’rrik at the helm. Other lands that can help to make explosive turns are both Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Cabal Stronghold. If we can get a few of these out on the battlefield at once, look out. Not only can we capitalize on lands, but also utilizes creatures that do a similar thing: Nirkana Revenant, Magus of the Coffers and Crypt Ghast. The latter also feeds into one of our subthemes with extort (and it’s completely legal because the hybrid B/W symbol only appears in parenthesis and therefore is only reminder text, not part of color identity). Black Market will build up additional mana for you over time, and Bubbling Much can make a big mana turn even bigger by doubling up what our swamps produce. I imagine you can get to a point where you’re probably wasting mana, but without testing I don’t know just yet.

Ramp and Card Draw:

Here we have a selection of ramp and card draw spells, creatures and enchantments. Each card was included to either get you some land or draw cards. Having a ton of mana means we can cast too many spells and be low on cards all the time, so we need to refill that hand as often as possible! Next up, how we can use our life as a resource:

Playing with Life:

I’ve added a selection of creatures that will ping our opponents while give us life. Not pictured here, several creatures with Lifelink that will also help. We can use our life gained in various ways, for instance by casting spells in conjuction with Bolas’s Citadel. Use it for a big Toxic Deluge, or just trade up and down in combination with cards where you pay life and then get life back. In this deck, you’ll have a life total that fluctuates more than normal! I feel like I packed in enough ways to gain life back though, so you shouldn’t worry about using it to do stuff.

Win Conditions:

Outside of just whittling your opponents down with the cards we have already covered, you have a few ways to close games out. Bond of Agony can be used to drain out your opponents as long as you have the highest life total. Ditto Exsanguinate, though it will heal you instead of harm. A big Torment of Hailfire can help to close out a game, and you should be able to make some big mana with this deck. As such, if you can gain enough life, Aetherflux Reservoir is there to blow up your enemies one at a time. If you have K’rrik out and he’s starting to get big due to his counter ability, you can throw on Phyresis or Tainted Strike to eliminate a player. Finally, the cheesy Exquisite Blood/Sanguine Bond combo will close out those stubborn games.

All in all it looks like a really fun deck to pilot, is mid tier when it comes to budget (and I’m sure more expensive cards could be included to make it even better), and should still be semi competitive. You can see the full deck list here.

Thoughts on Teppen

Seeing advertisements all over the Internet is a common thing. Be it while browsing websites, seeing adverts on social media, or even within the apps we are already using, these things are everywhere. I happened to catch wind of a new game called Teppen due to one of these advertisements, and initially ignored it. Licensed IPs or no, I won’t always fall for the usual trappings of these targeted ads. After seeing it several more times though, I found myself at the Google Play store page, and well, I downloaded the game.

Being a game featuring many of my favorite Capcom characters, I thought this might actually be a licensed game that could actually be good. It’s supposed to be a card game utilizing these symbolic characters, but it doesn’t play like the typical digital card games I’ve played previously.

So above is the battlefield. As you can see, there are familiar concepts here as you have your hand down below, a mana bar that is more similar to Hearthstone and a life total one either side of the characters who are fighting. What’s different, is that your character isn’t really fighting, more like just waiting for their special ability to charge (the AP meters in the corners) and then you can do some various things including direct damage to creatures or the enemy character. Otherwise, the combat is done via your cards, and are typically other characters from Capcom games that have various power and life points. When placed on the battlefield, an arrow will slowly travel towards the enemy from the unit you placed. If there is another card placed directly across from it, the cards will damage each other. If there is no blocker, then you damage the enemy general. That’s really all there is to it. I’m sure other depth might arise due to having different characters to play as, but overall it was very simplistic and not something I see holding my attention.

After a few battles  you’ll get to the main menu, which functions like most mobile game menus do. There are various currencies used to buy things, “Hero Stories” where you’ll play characters through several missions and learn more about them. Missions are like dailies. There are other various modes that allow for PvP and those that provide additional challenges. I can see that there’s plenty to do here, but with the core gameplay loop being so boring, I couldn’t be assed to go any further.

I just figured I’d share my thoughts about this one to hopefully prevent someone else from wasting their time.

Quote of the Day: Diversity is Important in Game Design

Game design is a tricky thing, and you can ask any developer and I’m sure they will agree. Usually when talk about game design crops up, I find it on other gaming blogs, bigger news outlets or rants on social media. Typically games are dividers, in that when something with more diversity is created, they are fans that rejoice and there is almost always some pushback. Whether it comes up in the form of the age old PVE vs PVP debate in MMOs, or how there are powerful black women taking center stage of the newest FPS, we’re never going to all agree. Finding a balance of “what already works” and what can be done to “increase diversity” can be tricky, but game developers at least, seem to be starting to “get it.” I was perusing the Magic: The Gathering page the other day and came across this article about the importance of diversity in game design, and the writer, Mark Rosewater, touched on some great points. I encourage you to read the whole article, but wanted to highlight a few passages:

The trick to getting everyone to love something is to have some breadth in what you offer. For example, I often talk about how often when designing Magic I’m thinking about all the different kinds of players there are. There are drafters and Standard players and Commander players and Modern players and Vintage players and Pauper players and a whole host of other formats. There are players who focus on two-player play and others who focus on multiplayer play. There are Timmies and Tammies, Johnnies and Jennies, and Spikes. There are the Vorthoses who live for the flavor of the game and the Mels who thrive on the mechanical artistry. There are collectors and traders. There are cosplayers. There are people who experience the game and/or express their feelings for the game through podcasts and videos and blogs and articles. And every time we make a set, we must be aware that all of those different kinds of players exist. We help each of those different types of players fall in love with something by making sure we provide things catered to them

Sounds like the exact way MMO design has turned out. I guess you could say that MTG is sort of an MMO as well, with millions of players across paper and digital platforms, but clearly this is an apples to oranges argument. Next, from the “DESIGN THE COMPONENT FOR THE AUDIENCE IT’S INTENDED FOR” segment:

This lesson talks about the dangers of designing to please too many audiences. To do your best game design, you have to understand what audience each component is aimed for and then maximize that component for that audience. Also, included in this idea is that it’s okay if a different audience doesn’t like that component. It’s not being made for them. (A quick aside that if that component is actively insulting to another group, for example, showing them in a bad light, that is a problem. You shouldn’t make one group happy by actively denigrating another group.)

The reason this lesson is key for understanding the importance of diversity is that the people who belong to the group in power probably are used to having a high percentage of representation. Lowering their representation to allow you to have an opportunity to showcase others is sometimes met with criticism because you’re lessening their representation. They’re taking the status quo as a baseline. Lowering that baseline can sometimes be seen as an attack because you’re taking something away from them.

My counter to that is that your game needs to be reflexive to the needs of everyone playing and not just the most dominant group. For example, Commander as a format didn’t exist for many years. As such, we didn’t design with it in mind, but as we started to see interest in the format, we began incorporating it into our designs (even making a product specifically for the format). By doing so, we increased awareness of Commander which, in turn, led to more people playing the format.

I’m a fan of this sentiment. Think about when the devs of Wildstar catered to that core vocal group and didn’t care about anyone else playing the game? Remind me where they are now? It goes to show that by being more diverse, you can create better worlds, better stories and overall better games. I hope this is the sort of philosophy developers adopt in the future, and we’ll see some awesome stuff as a result.