TWR: Social Isolation via Virtual EDH

I first wrote about playing EDH over webcam last year, but since then have played more regularly and thought I’d touch on a few points. The initial discovery of the playEDH Discord channel came with learning to use my webcam along with the tools available at the time. I had seen plenty of discussions about people playing via Facebook Messenger, Skype along with Google Hangouts, all that seem like they’d probably function okay, but I never indulged. Instead, I went with what was more prevalent on the Discord server, which was using Discord for voice communication, and Whereby for video conferencing. Soon, I’d learn that other tools existed and/or were needed in order to make the process go smoothly. Sites like What’s That Do? could give critical information at a glance, and allow you to independently keep track of important cards on the battlefield. Players were left to their own devices for keeping track of life totals, poison counters and commander damage, with most opting for traditional methods like Spindowns or cell phone app life counters. Due to social distancing measures, a group of guys who were already developing a better alternative decided to push out a new platform. I only learned about this in the last few days, but man, it makes a huge difference!

Behold, Virtual EDH! What you see above was my browser view while in game. This view should look familiar to those of you who have watched EDH games on YouTube and such, as mats are typically displayed as such (though orientation might be off). What makes Virtual EDH stand out from the crowd of apps and websites that I’ve already mentioned, is that it combines everything you could want to play EDH remotely. Built in life counter, that updates for everyone in real time? Check. Built in trackers for commander damage and infect? Check. There’s even the ability to switch up your user name and picture, so you can match what’s on Discord to cause less confusion.

Another nice feature is the ability to set your commander, so that anyone can mouse over its picture in the bottom corner of each players’ window and see a blown up version of the card. This is what I used to use What’s That Do? for, so that I could always have my opponent’s commanders on hand for reference. You can also flip the orientation of your camera within the app, so it eliminates the need for 3rd party software like Xsplit, OBS or ManyCam which I was using. It automatically detects the camera and makes it easy to set the orientation as you like. Also, a handy feature from Whereby allowed you to drag and drop players into turn order. With Virtual EDH, only the host player needs to do so, using the settings to manage players and change the order; it will be reflected on each players screen. Simply eliminating the need for multiple open tabs and being able to focus more completely on the game is a huge boon for the remote format.

All in all, Virtual EDH packs a lot of punch into a sleek design. If everything I’ve already mentioned doesn’t make your remote games more fun and streamlined, then you’re probably doing it wrong. But wait, there’s more! The last feature I want to point out absolutely blew my mind. As you can see in the picture above, The card on my playmat is highlighted in green. Yes, I clicked on my card on my screen, and the card was pulled from their database and displayed so that I could clearly read it. Talk about a fucking amazing feature! Fun fact, the card above on my playmat was also a proxy, so as long as the artwork is recognized, you’ll be able to pull up the card. Probably doesn’t work with alters, but I was super impressed by this. Now you don’t really have to ask about shit, you can see for yourself and keep the game rolling. I played only a couple of rounds so far with this software, but it has already converted me. The other options still exist, but why bother?

The developers have already stated that they are working on audio implementation but recommend using Discord for now. Perhaps some sort of integration could happen, or perhaps we’ll start using this even more whole-heartedly. Whatever the case, this has been a big upgrade in my eyes and I’m considering supporting them on Patreon for their efforts.

TWR: Hot-Button Topic — Proxies

There’s a divide in the Magic: The Gathering community. As a collectible card game or CCG, the notion of having a collection that is worth something is important to many. We spend money on booster packs, which with their lottery system can sometimes be a thrilling experience when you pull a card worth more than the pack price, or sometimes even worth more than the whole box of packs. We also spend money on singles, so we know that some cards that are older and/or rarer can sometimes carry high price tags themselves. Some will play the economy of MTG like I have, in the sense of buying packs and then selling off high dollar cards that I don’t intend to play with in order to buy copies of other cards that I will use. Some take this a step further and “spec” the market, buying out low price copies of cards that are anticipated to spike due to an interaction from other cards in an upcoming set. This artificially brings up the price of the card due to high demand and low supply, and then those people will sell at the higher price to just do that again later, or perhaps to further their own collections with other cards. Whatever the case, buying low and selling high is always a good idea to snowball the hobby. It’s clear that people hold these cards in high regard, and as such they aren’t as keen on the use of proxies.

What is a proxy? There are several definitions for the word, but the most straightforward is “a fake card” that is used in place of the real version. People also alter their cards, whereas “altering” is taking an existing real card and then painting over the top. There are a number of ways to alter a card, from leaving nothing left of the original, to just extending the art beyond the borders, to painting over everything but the original text. Alters are still real cards, but they are treated as proxies when it comes to sanctioned play. Anything that is done at WPN stores or tournaments/conventions aren’t going to allow proxies. Casual play (kitchen table and anything that isn’t following tourney rules) tends to be more lax about their use.

Proxies can be simply printed copies of cards, and in some cases can be purchased from vendors online. These vendors are not recognized by WotC, but they do exist and some do some amazing artwork including the most premium versions of cards and foils too. They’re considerably cheaper than their legitimate counterparts, so many people feel it’s okay to use these, especially because they only play Commander and only with friends who also proxy. If that’s your thing, I won’t hate on you, but I was always a purist in that I wouldn’t play with cards I didn’t own. That was until I spent a year building a tier 1 deck that is currently worth about $1400. After spending almost $100 on a single card, it feels bad to have to buy another copy to throw into a different deck. It also feels bad to swap a bunch of your best cards around from deck to deck. As such, the most common method of proxy use I’ve seen, is a proxy binder. In this binder, you put your original cards, and then use proxies in multiple decks, where you can prove you own the card, and if someone is a stickler you can swap it into the deck real quick.

Since joining the PlayEDH Discord channel, I’ve seen more proxies than ever, with many people using all of the above methods. I don’t think I’ve played a fully proxied deck, but people are definitely being generous with their use. I have seen far too many OG dual lands that I don’t think were legitimate. It is stated in the channel’s rules that proxy use is fine, with or without actually owning the cards. Seeing as how we can’t really see each other’s decks/cards, and seeing as how these can look legitimate on camera, I guess it’s fine to use these as Commander is the ultimate casual format. My opinion hasn’t fully changed, in that I am still more on board with playing with cards that I own and only proxying extra copies, but I am tempted by the fact that I can actually use those OG dual lands or even print out several mana crypts as just one costs $150+. Other factors have played into this as well, because COVID-19 has shut down most online retailers so buying copies of anything is nearly impossible at the moment. Whatever the case, I have bitten the bullet and ordered a printer in order to test out some proxy methods. I’ll share the results here with you now.

Canon Pixma TS5320 at your service.

Given I’ve purchased a printer in order to cut costs that fuel my MTG habit, I didn’t want to spend a ton of money. I had considered buying good-looking proxy copies of cards on my wishlist but even then I think over time I would have spent more than the initial investment of buying the printer and supplies. I found one of the cheapest options on Amazon, the Canon Pixma TS5320, for $50. It must have been on sale, because looking at that now it appears to be more money than I paid. Anyways, I wanted something that was compact in design, along with being wireless so I wasn’t forced to put it on my desk. We already had a little stand that my girlfriend suggested I use for it, and it fits in the office right next to the mini fridge, on the opposite wall from my PC; it’s excellent not being restricted by wires. A ream of paper was $7 so for $57 I am able to print proxies.

I found a free tool for setting up proxies to print. As you can see above, you simply plug in the card names and how many copies you want, hit build it and download a printable PDF file. To do a test run, I ended up only doing 9 cards which take up most of a single printed page. What’s really cool about this tool is you can select from multiple versions of card printings, so you can get the identical copy of the card you own, or you can have fun versions like judge promos despite the fact that you’ll never actually spend the money to get that alternate art.

Straight printing cash

As you can see, a regular sized paper holds 9 cards comfortably, but you wouldn’t be able to add more. I assume using MTG Press for a full deck, it would set up the PDF to print out as many pages as needed with 9 per page. To test this out I picked a few cards off of the top of my head that I knew I needed extra copies of, but also straight printed money with 6 Mana Crypts on the bottom. That’s like a grand right there! I’m still not sure if I’ll use any of those, but the option exists. Perhaps I could slot one into one of my more competitive builds but regardless the option exists. I feel like if I did print out a bunch of powerful cards and made a mostly proxied deck I’d feel a little dirty, but at the same time if everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I? I would like to know what it’s like to have the ultimate mana base. I’d like to know what it feels like to have a ridiculously expensive deck that works well. I have built some humble decks that took a lot of time and money and those are sources of pride, but just for the lols, perhaps I do print out some of those unattainable cards.

You put the land in the coconut…

So because these are being printed out on cheap paper, they’re obviously a bit thin compared to traditional cards. Despite the use of sleeves in my decks, you still wouldn’t be able to shuffle these up, nor would they feel thick enough in hand. As such, the method I have chosen to use, is to make use of the box full of basic land cards I own, and to simply turn them backwards in the sleeve, then putting the printed proxy on top of said card. The finished result is pretty good, and honestly on camera it’s not that easy to pick out the fakes.

Which one is real?

Here they are side by side. You can see small variations but overall they are kind of hard to tell apart. I had my girlfriend look at these in person, and she initially picked the real card as the fake, but then did a double take and realized that she was wrong. I’m sure you can tell now because I’m asking you to scrutinize these, but on camera while playing the game, these will be further from the camera and harder to tell. So as I’ve said, I’m unsure how far I take this, but as of right now I’m feeling good about being able to make some decks better by virtue of extra copies of powerful cards that I already own. Perhaps I’ll also experiment with some deck building prior to buying cards so that I know if I actually like something I slapped together. If nothing else, I’m definitely saving some money during this economic downturn, and for that I am thankful.

A Ramble for Friday

I sat down at my computer this morning to write something, but upon inspection of my drafts folder, there are two articles that I have yet to work on and little else. One of those articles is about the launch of Season 4 for Apex Legends, but I really don’t have a lot to say given that I haven’t really played more than a handful of games this season. I didn’t buy the battle pass either, because I haven’t been playing so I don’t see the point in paying money for something I won’t get enjoyment out of. It’s not that I’m disillusioned with the game, I still think it’s the best battle royale game on the market and I still enjoy the world and character design. It’s still a great shooter at its core as well. I did have enough in-game currency to unlock the new character immediately, and I’ve played enough games to see the changes to the map. There are still rotating limited time game modes and apparently there will be a portion of time where we go back to King’s Canyon (the original map). I still have friends playing regularly, but with my interest shifting back towards League of Legends and Teamfight Tactics, I don’t have time to play both with any sort of regularity.

The other draft in my folder is a Magic: The Gathering EDH deck brew, one that I’ve been working on for quite some time. When Throne of Eldraine released, the preconstructed Brawl decks came out as well, and there was one character that I was interested in building around. I finally got my hands on the Chulane deck, and I brewed it up immediately. Thankfully many of the more expensive cards I want to put into the deck are already in my collection, but there are still several cards needed and I don’t think I can build it out just yet. Also, in the subsequent months there was the release of the next set, Theros: Beyond Death and that changed my brew a little bit. It seems at least for me that very few decks are ever “finished.” Instead, they are a more fluid evolving thing — new sets introduce new cards and new combos and new synergies and sometimes a deck that started out fairly focused on one theme ends up taking a completely different turn. As such, I’ve broken up decks to make new ones and as I play more I find that some of my decks just weren’t very good, or another project comes up where I want to pull good cards out of substandard decks to put into a new one.

For instance, I just built a deck around Klothys which is one of the new Gods from Theros, and initially it just didn’t perform the way I would have thought. I already know that there are some better cards I could buy that would replace some lesser versions but I didn’t want to spend a ton to finish the deck off, so it’s a budget build for now. Regardless, it has still yet to perform after a handful of games, and I’ve already gone through and swapped out about 20 cards. I guess it has something to do with matchups in that I have played against other decks that are doing the same sort of thing better, or just combo off faster (for reference, this deck doesn’t depend on combos, just value and big stuff to finish a game). Perhaps it will see a game where it shines, but for now I’m starting to focus on other decks I have and how I can improve them, along with looking ahead to new brews. We also know that the next set of commander decks comes out in the next couple of months, so I assume there will be new projects I’ll want to take on. Whatever the case, between the couple of games I’m playing and MTG, I haven’t had a bunch to write about.

There are new games on the horizon. DOOM Eternal releases soon. Final Fantasy VII Remake as well. Those are two I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. The latest Metro game is no longer an Epic Games Store exclusive, so being able to buy it on Steam has me tempted. I do still have a few games I bought within the last few months that I have yet to complete, so once I get around to those I’ll have more to write about. Whatever the case I’ve been in the mood to write more often, but then I sit and realize I don’t really have anything substantial to say and skip it. I honestly thought I would have gotten more posts in this month but as I said, when you play the same couple of games all month it’s not super exciting to write about nor great for readers. I can tell you that I started my ranked journey in TFT and after being placed in Iron III I’ve worked up to Iron I. Bronze to come. I have yet to play ranked in LoL, but I intend to give it a whirl again. Perhaps I’ll get back to the same level I used to be at. I’ll also be playing MTG as much as I can, and though I’ve had a ton of great experiences it’s hard to translate that into blog posts. Perhaps I’ll start streaming or recording so that I can share some epic games. It’s an idea I’ve been toying with, but I’ll make it official ahead of time if I decide to start doing that.

So yeah, I’m still around, just having trouble getting the words onto the page. I’ll try to do more posts like this if this persists, just to check in.