A Return To Magic

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I have a long and varied history with Magic: The Gathering. Having mistakenly (or perhaps just out of curiosity) purchased packs back in the early 90’s during my Comic Book/Card collecting days, I hadn’t heard of collectible card games just yet. I was probably ten or eleven years old when the game was first released, and I know during that time I was probably buying Beta or Unlimited cards (which could potentially be worth some money at this point). Having no knowledge of this game, these cards were fairly useless. Eventually I would buy something other than a booster pack (probably some sort of starter deck) and find the tiny rule book enclosed within. Learning the game wasn’t something I was all that interested in doing though, so I remember playing the game with a few friends using our own rules, and then the cards were tucked away for a few years.

boosterbox_iceageFast forward to high school, where by chance I happened upon other nerds who were playing the game, and actually following the rules. I watched in awe as some pretty amazing things happened on those lunch breaks. It reminded me that I had cards lurking in a box somewhere, patiently awaiting my return to the game. Those cards were promptly found, and after much pleading with the parents I made special trips to a nearby hobby shop to purchase more on the rare occasions that I had money to spend. Many moons later, after pulling the boosters and singles together along with making trades with my cohorts, I had some pretty respectable decks, during the Ice Age and Mirage blocks. Towards the end of high school though, I cared less about the game, fell out of touch with people I played with and my interests shifted in other directions. Most of my cards were sold off. I didn’t think I’d play it anymore.

96343Jumping ahead once more, to a year or two outside of high school. A few friends of mine expressed some interest in the game. I mentioned my past knowledge and experience and offered to take them to that same hobby store I visited years earlier. Watching them buy up cards in a frenzy was too much of a temptation, and I found myself buying cards again as well. There had been several different sets that had released in the interim years, and a recently released 7th edition saw reprints of many cards I was familiar with. The boosters from recent blocks helped me flesh out several new decks and my collection swelled past its prior limits, mainly due to having more disposable income. I played rather casually for another couple of years, during the Odyssey and Onslaught blocks. But again, the time came when friends were less interested in playing, and perhaps we didn’t know that the game would continue to thrive for years. We didn’t know about various rule sets that could have potentially shaken things up and though it would have been wise to just hold onto these cards for my eventual return, I once again sold them off and wiped the game from my mind.

the_current_magic_online_logoI was aware of the existence of Magic Online around that timeframe, but it felt silly to me to purchase virtual cards. Of course I hadn’t fully moved over into the digital world, due to things being quite a bit different 15 years ago. Magic Online and the thought of “owning” virtual cards doesn’t seem quite so silly anymore, but I wasn’t willing to do it back in the day. It would have been a nice way to play the game with new people but my shortsightedness got the best of me once again.

In the early 2010’s there were several iterations of a Magic video game version released on the PS3 (and probably elsewhere). I almost bought a copy a few times, and then finally pulled the trigger on Magic 2013. These Duels of the Planeswalkers games had some shining moments, but I found that the AI was annoying to play against, and I never felt like I had total control over my decks. The loss of tactile sensation was also a problem. There’s nothing like opening up booster packs to find a super rare and awesome card. There’s nothing like sitting across from your opponent and beating them face to face. The video game couldn’t replicate these feelings in such a way that I found it enjoyable. Despite the fact that I played Hearthstone rather voraciously just a couple of years later and enjoyed my time with it, I just couldn’t play digital Magic. Perhaps my prior feelings about Magic Online weren’t unfounded after all.

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A competitor to Hearthstone emerged most recently from the granddaddy of CCGs. Magic Duels was Wizard’s answer to the F2P digital CCG model, and in some respects it was a fine game. It felt much like the earlier Duels games, but was essentially played just like Hearthstone. It failed to hold my attention, despite knowing that Magic is a better game than Hearthstone in many ways, I just need to hold those cards for it to have the same appeal.

Present day. I met a girl. We committed. She has a roommate who plays the game. He has a similar checkered past with it as I do. He hadn’t played in years, and was sucked back in by a friend. He’s already rebuilt his collection. Pouring over his cards brought back so many memories but also reminded me that I hadn’t touched it in nigh 15 years and so much had changed. It was much to take in, but in doing so I felt the urge to rebuild my own collection again. Thankfully he had already done so, because he was able to provide some insight to things that had changed. My first instinct would be to attempt to rebuild my collection from memory, as in trying to gather up all of those long gone cards that would probably cost me some money, but might also be impossible. Reprints happen, but I’m sure many of those cards are hard to find. Well, it turns out that there are different types of rules that apply to the game that I was unaware of, though they were probably implemented after my tenure so long ago.

You can read about Formats here, but I’ll give an abridged version. Basically the main types are Standard, Modern, Legacy and Vintage. Standard includes the last two blocks and the standard set. However, the core sets of the past — Alpha, Beta, Unlimited, Revised, and 4th-2015 editions — are no longer made. Some of the cards from those sets are reprinted each block though, so familiar faces still make their way into the format. Modern goes back quite a ways, I think ten years or something. Legacy is all the old stuff from my high school days, and Vintage allows most of the broken cards from the original version of the game. Each set of rules limits which card sets you can pull from, and gives a sort of focus that we didn’t have back in the day. I had old cards mixed with newer cards all of the time, and that probably would have been considered Modern at the time. It’s actually probably better to have a more limited pool just to have a meta of sorts, and as new mechanics are added it’s nice to have a couple of blocks to choose from for interesting interactions.

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I’ve already purchased a nice chunk of cards to start a new collection. My older and wiser self has also decided that I’ll never sell them off again. This time I’m going to hold onto them for that inevitable return. Anyhow, this time around there were several options to start off a collection. I chose to pick up a “Deck Builders Toolkit” from the prior block, which provided a bunch of lands, some randomized cards from the set and a couple of boosters. I also grabbed a starter box for the newest set Kaladesh, which came with 10 boosters and more land, plus a health counter. I grabbed a couple other boosters, and most recently picked up Planeswalker deck that also came with boosters. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-600 cards at my best guess, all for under $100. So yeah, it’s a pretty manageable hobby if you don’t go crazy like that all of the time. My new found nerdy friend also pointed me in the direction of Troll and Toad, which is an online marketplace where you can buy singles, and they’re actually pretty reasonable. My package of singles just arrived and that’s where I picked up this bad boy:

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I also picked up some Ultra Pro Matte sleeves for protecting the cards while playing, which isn’t something I had done in the past. Might as well protect the investment. Deck building is definitely still one of the more rewarding parts of the hobby, and I am very much looking forward to honing a few decks into winners. I have yet to actually play, as this is all fairly recent, but I will report back with how things go when I get to that point. Do any of you guys play Magic? Thoughts and suggestions are welcome!

The State of the Game #18

The biggest story for me this week was the one I described in my last post, formatting my computer and attempting to get back into an MMO. I won’t go into that again, but there may have been a temporary solution found, more on that later. Despite spending a bunch of time with that project, I still squeezed in some gaming when I had down time. This week the playlist was as follows: Hearthstone, Remember Me, Awesomenauts, and League of Legends. I also have a couple other games to touch on.

Hearthstone:
I have been playing the game pretty steadily, completing quests seems to come easy these days, and the gold has been flowing. I feel like I’m winning more games than I’m losing, no matter what deck I am playing, at least in normal mode. The great thing about the quest system is that it forces you to play some of the decks you maybe didn’t like all that much to begin with. But in being forced to play them, you may learn to love them. Every deck has its strengths and weaknesses; though some may cater more to your natural playstyle, you can find bits you enjoy throughout. My major weakness has been exposed in The Arena. When I have to randomly choose cards, I’m all about picking the one that seems the best out of the 3 you choose from. That leaves me with unbalanced decks most of the time, and it’s driving me crazy. It doesn’t matter how much I focus and try to get some synergy going, I still cannot get very far. At this point I believe I’ve entered the arena about 6-10 times, and the best I’ve done is 2 wins. That was good enough for a pack and 60g, which got me back into The Arena fairly quickly, just to lose 3 in a row. And I swear, despite a random champ select, EVERYONE is a Paladin. I hate Paladins. That is all.

League of Legends:
I really didn’t play League much at all, but there was a big change that I wanted to touch on. Vel’koz has been teased incessantly, yet I still haven’t seen him for purchase in the store, so no that isn’t the big deal. Heimerdinger is getting a visual rework, but no that isn’t it either. The big deal, is the next featured game mode went live. It was actually teased a while back but for one reason or another I didn’t get around to making any commentary. Now I’ve actually played it, and wow what a difference a single person makes. The first round that I played, I wasn’t really sure what the meta would play out as, so I just called support and ran Sona. Seemed like a relatively safe choice for me. The rest of my team made their picks, and when all was said and done we ended up with a duo top lane, duo bottom, solo mid, and jungle, and the enemy team went solo top and duo mid but otherwise the same. Not only that, but we didn’t have a marksman, so my lane was damned from the start. Sona and Cho’Gath bot for the win! Needless to say it started out ugly and didn’t get much better from there. We did hold on for quite some time, but it was basically over at champ select. The next game went a bit better, I said I didn’t care what lane I went to, but that I was going to be Teemo. Cause, Teemo. There was a Teemo every match I played. I was bot with a Tristana, and we had better lane setups this time. Our top lane was Leona and Aatrox, and holy hell they decimated. Leona had the most kills by end of game. I had an average score, mostly assists because of poison/shrooms. It was crazy as we could send 4 people bot to push and have a duo split push elsewhere, it really changes the dynamic of the game. Too bad it’s only for a limited time.

I played Awesomenauts a few times. I was actually going to retire that game and remove it from my system but my roommate still plays it fairly regularly so I got suckered in a few times. I have maxed my level though, so aside from jumping around on the Leaderboards I don’t really feel like I’m accomplishing anything. I did make a couple of new friends in the game, so perhaps I’ll keep it around for a while longer.

Remember Me:
So last week’s free game via PSPlus was Remember Me. If you recall, I mentioned that I had heard the name, but didn’t really know a thing about the game, and that persisted until I decided to give it a whirl. I never looked anything up, I just blindly gave it a try. Wow. This game combined so many different things from different games, all of which were features that I found appealing in their various forms. The game is the stereotypical over the shoulder 3rd person game, the protagonist is female (and sexy, as is also required), there’s a complex fighting system, there’s lots of adventure, a whole ‘nother world to explore (albeit very linear), and even an Inception-like memory-within-a-memory final sequence. It’s really so many things from so many other parts of popular culture that it doesn’t have a genre. It doesn’t have a niche. It’s really not even itself, it’s a combination of many other selves. Despite this lack of identity, it managed to pull me in right from the get-go, and noticing all the similarities between it and other games I’ve loved actually enhanced my experience. Maybe you would be irritated by one or more parts of this game, but they are some of the coolest features from other games that somehow work when slammed altogether with a Sci-Fi twist.

Parts of the game remind me of the Resident Evil Series (QTEs anyone?). Others of Uncharted (climbing around, cutscene integration). The combo fighting system felt like many of beat-em-ups I’ve played over the years. Maybe it was the story, maybe it was the fighting and cool special effects. I’m not really sure but I loved this game, it’s definitely worth a playthrough. I won’t spoil anything for you.

On The Horizon:
Because of Hearthstone, I’ve had a renewed interest in CCGs. I don’t have hundreds to throw around on trying to get into a physical game, nor do I know anyone who plays any. However, I did purchase another electronic version of a CCG a couple years ago. Magic Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013. For one reason or another I never really played it, removed it from my hard drive, and forgot I owned it. I remembered at some point this week, and downloaded it a couple of nights ago. I have yet to play it, so no further commentary at this time, but that’s something I intend to dive into. Apparently the 2014 edition dropped last year, so a 2015 edition theoretically is on its way. If I really get into the one I already have, perhaps those will make it into the rotation as well.

The free game this week is for the Vita (the collection I can’t play grows!), so I’ll fall back into playing Skyrim along with the session based games above. I splurged a little today with the PSN sale that started, I picked up The Wolf Among us season pass, and The Walking Dead season 2 season pass. The first one was a steal at $9 and two episodes are already out. With TWD, I bought only the first episode previously @ $5, so getting the pass for $10 still gives me a $10 discount overall on the remaining episodes (where’s episode 2 anyway?). So I’ll probably run through TWA’s 2 episodes this week as well.