It is usually around this time of year where we all get to stop and reflect on our lives over the past year. While a year seems to come and go so quickly, it always amazes me to think about how much my life has changed from one year to the next. I have been very fortunate this year in many facets of my life and now I would like to express a little thankfulness. I won’t bore you with my personal life, but I did want to share the ten things MTG that I am thankful for as we leave 2015 and make way for 2016.
10- Prereleases: I love these things. I find the prerelease experience to be just about the most fun you can have and the two-headed giant variant is my personal fav. I make a point of attending these whenever possible and the one in January is already on my calendar. At its core a prerelease is a fun tournament that brings out all sorts of different players and not just your local game store grinders which can make it so much more fun. As a father of a young family with not a lot of time to spend haunting my LGS, the pre-release experience allows me to whet my competitive juices, meet new people, have tons of fun with my buddy, and just really enjoy Magic.
9- YouTube: YouTube has been a blessing because it allows me to find so many different content producers, videos, and general MTG news all in one spot. When you are a little limited in the amount you can actually play, watching another (usually more skilled) player can really help you to make up some of the gap that exists between those who play sparingly and those who play more frequently. My weekly consumption of YouTube videos is pretty high and I am very thankful that they exist.
8- Hearthstone: It seems strange to put the competition on this list, but I am thankful for the advent of Hearthstone from a number of perspectives. The first is that it gives MTG players an alternative to sinking a huge amount of time into a tournament on MTGO. With Hearthstone you always have the option to get in, jam a couple of games, and then get out without feeling like you are missing something. Yes, you can jam some games in one of the other play lobbies on MTGO, but that isn’t the same as being to be able to jam some games that matter in a fairly short time frame and feel like you accomplished something. Leagues are step in the right direction on MTGO, but there is likely still a little work to be done in this regard.
The second reason I’m thankful for Hearthstone is that it gives MTGO an honest competitor in lots of regards and that’s awesome. Competition is healthy for the average consumer because it means that companies need to be mindful of what their customers want and continue to improve their product. That means that WoTC needs to continue to improve their online products or risk losing customers to playing Hearthstone. We have seen a number of recent changes to how MTGO works and some improvements to play options as a response to the growing pressure that Hearthstone is putting on the market. Sure, MTGO is very different in many respects, but they can’t simply ignore Hearthstone and that will ultimately benefit players as MTGO will continue to evolve and improve thanks to the growing competition between the two products.
7- Pucatrade: Pucatrade has seen a real explosion over the last year and it is a real benefit to players. When I signed up Pucatrade had made less than a million trades. Today they are nearing 3 million and counting. With over a 100,000 users and more changes to the online trading features of the program magic players are going to continue to see more value from the site. Personally, it means I can continue to trade cards I no longer want or need and look to pick up cards I am interested in without trolling through online vendors and dropping yet more of my hard earned money on cards.
6- The Expeditions: These have a huge revelation for a number of reasons. First off, they are beautiful. Second, unless you are a hardened enfranchised collector they represent you opening up a rather large sum of money that you can trade/sell to further offset the cost of playing the game. Case in point, my friend Dave opened a Verdant Catacombs and turned that into a healthy chunk of change that he could use to buy the cards he wanted to play. The third side effect is that because so many people were looking for the expeditions that record amounts of boxes of BFZ have been opened this fall. As a result, the price of just about every other card in the set is way down meaning that it is cheaper for the rest of us to get the singles we want for that sweet deck we’re building. Anytime this game can be more affordable is a win for the average player and the Expeditions have been a big force in that regard this fall.
5- MTGO: now I did say I wouldn’t go too far into my personal circumstances, but I think it is relevant to mention that I have two young children, a beautiful wife, a full time career and am a busy person. I don’t have many opportunities to go to the local LGS and play Magic nearly as frequently as I would like. That would mean I forgo bedtime with my boys, don’t get to spend time with my wife or take care of any other chores that need to be finished up before the end of the day. However, MTGO mitigates this somewhat by making the playing of Magic more convenient because all I need to do is turn on my computer and I can access all sorts of tournaments and game experiences. It is that convenience that I appreciate more than anything. Is MTGO perfect? No. But given the alternative of not playing it is vastly preferable.
4- Limited: I am thankful for limited formats because I like the mental challenge of building a deck from a smaller pool of cards. I know many players enjoy playing constructed, but I relish the challenge and diverse game play limited offers. From Draft, to Sealed, to Cube it is that experience playing these ever changing formats that is super refreshing and helps keep Magic fresh and exciting for me.
3- Siege Rhino: Only the most omnipresent card in Standard since he dropped in Khans. Abzan is everywhere and this is in every Abzan deck. He’s not easy to cast but a 4/5 trample plus a 6 point life swing at 4 mana is worth the time and energy. Personally, I’ll be sad to see him rotate out in 2016 because he’s my boy, but he’s had a good run and is likely good enough to see play in modern going forward meaning he’ll get a renewed lease on life.
2- Fetch Lands: These have helped make casting tri-coloured spells like Siege Rhino, Crackling Doom, and Mantis Rider a thing and have now pushed mana to the point where 4 colour decks are the norm. The fetches have been hugely influential for Standard and have uses in every constructed format making them highly sought after. I have often stressed that good mana is paramount in any format you happen to play because if you get blanked on one type of land your game plan falls apart. The fetches have helped mitigate this substantially and have been extremely powerful and important cards for all of 2015 and I wouldn’t be doing my job if they weren’t on my list somewhere.
1- Double-Sided Planeswalkers: I was very thankful for these guys this summer when Origins was released because I like the flavor that each of them brought to the game. The way they changed from a Creature to a Planeswalker, and how they each did it, was a very interesting and fun dynamic to have as part of the game. Now, not all of them are equally good, but their abilities and the lore they each brought to the game was fun and exciting. I feel like these were excellent additions to the pantheon of Planeswalkers and I was happy to see them arrive on the scene. Let’s ignore the fact that Jace is silly expensive, the design was good, the flavor was a nice addition, and the cards have a been a fun addition.
Well, that’s it for me in 2015. Thank you to all of you who stop in and read my little corner of the internet. I’ve had plenty of fun and spoken to lots of interesting people this year thanks to Magic and I look forward to continuing with what I’ve started in 2016, So, until then, enjoy the time with your family and a friends and find a little MTG thankfulness in your life. See you all soon for another Casual Encounter!
By Bruce Gray – Casual Encounters
@bgray8791 on Twitter
by Bruce Gray -Casual encounters
Magic is an amazing game. I can think of very few games that allow you to do the sort of things Magic can do. No, I don’t mean cast spells and have minotaurs and dragons do battle. What I have in mind is that you can play a large number of different games, all with the same bunch of cards, and still have it be called Magic. That’s very unique. Think about it…how many different games can you play with Monopoly? Clue? Stratego? These games have 1 way of playing the game…but Magic has a number. In addition, the way to play Magic and what each player is seeking from the game experience differs greatly making the way for countless reasons and ways to play. That is what I love about Magic…every game is fresh, fun, and with a new outcome based on how and why you decide to play.
So, when someone says they play Casual Magic it can be very tricky to pin down how and why people play and this is why there can be a certain amount of disagreement over the cards that are acceptable to play. Recently I had a discussion with a friend of mine who was complaining that he didn’t feel that there was any place in our Casual Magic environment for Planeswalkers. I had heard a similar argument raised a couple of weeks ago on a podcast and paused. I looked at my friend and was really interested in hearing about his thoughts on Planeswalkers.
My friend started making the argument that initially, when Magic was created, there was no need for additional Planeswalkers because the players themselves were serving that role. In fact, he argued, there really isn’t any place for MORE Planeswalkers than the players themselves because they represent something that is not “created” by the player in terms of spells in his library. How can you cast a spell and summon an entirely different person? It doesn’t make sense and it spoils Magic. He continued on in his diatribe by saying that Planeswalkers represent the creep of competitive Magic into the Casual community because everyone wants to play to most powerful cards and many of the Planeswalkers are exactly that. They spoil the fun of the game because they are such powerful cards that they drain the fun from the game and warp the board state for all the other players. You need to either immediately eliminate the Planeswalker or cast one of your own…so fight it…or join it. Needless to say, my friend was clearly the sort of person who was not overly interested in seeing Planeswalkers in our decks.
Now, I admit, I paraphrased somewhat on behalf of my friend…in part for expediencies sake, and partly because he used some rather “colourful” language is his complain, but the crux of the matter is that he clearly feels that Casual Magic is not the place for Planeswalkers. Now, on my end, I feel slightly differently about the state of Planeswalkers and I wanted to share my thoughts with you today.
Fundamentally, I have no issue with playing Planeswalkers in Casual decks or in Casual games in general and I have a number of reasons why. My friend started his argument with the inception of the game back in 1993 to justify why there was no place for Planeswalkers. They didn’t start the game with Planeswalkers…so we don’t need them now. This is an argument founded on the reluctance to change. Human being don’t like change and the older we get the more reticent we are to changing. Think about it…why do you do certain things the way you do? Why do you follow a certain path when you’re out walking the dog? Why do have a “favorite” when you order pizza? Why do you buy the same model of shoes when you need a new pair? Your brain craves things that don’t change and change scares it…so when you change a game like Magic by adding Planeswalkers there are some players who are unwilling to accept this change. So, when I heard this argument from my friend it was clear to me that he didn’t like the change.
Now, some of you will say “Ummm…Planeswalkers have been around for ages…what gives?” but the truth is that they were released in 2007 in Lorwyn which is only 7 years ago. That means for 13 years there were exactly zero Planeswalker cards, so for the bulk of the existence of Magic Planeswalkers just weren’t cards to play with. That makes them, on the whole, relatively new to the scene. Also, add in the idea that many players leave the game and then return to it (much like myself). Now, these returning players, who may not be familiar with Planeswalkers because they didn’t exist when they last played, are suddenly facing this new card type that is a major force to be dealt with in the game. No, I get the argument and understand the feelings of my friend.
However, there is also a part of the brain that craves new experiences and craves to learn. Why do we travel to new places? Why do we try bungee jumping or para-gliding? Why do we try new foods? Our brain, which is scared of too much change craves a certain amount of change and innovation or else it goes stale. My feeling is that Planeswalkers are one of those changes to Casual magic which is healthy for the game and the players involved. Now, like anything, moderation is the key, so integrating some Planeswalkers into your Casual games can be fun and refreshing. Of course, you can always go back to playing games without them…that isn’t a issue…but trying something kind of new and different for you is positive, so I feel like Planeswalkers can survive that ordeal and still be played.
The second half of his argument is essentially that Planeswalkers are too powerful. Essentially in Casual Magic there is a “Social Contract” and that Planeswalkers violate this contract. Now, by “social contract” I mean there are a number of nebulous rules about how to play the game in order to make the game experience fun for everyone. You hear about this most often with EDH, but the same sort of thing applies to Casual Magic. In essence, you don’t want to play cards that are so powerful that they spoil the experience for others, or play in such a way as to spoil the game for others. This means no rough combos, no “broken” cards, and no Planeswalkers.
Ok, so that can work depending on your playgroup, but I always respond to this sort of argument like this: What’s fundamentally wrong with letting someone play with a busted combo once in a while? So long as he swaps the deck out after he Painter’s Servant/Grindstones you to death what’s the harm? I agree, it is no fun to play the same grossly over powered deck time and again, but once in a while there is nothing wrong with it. In fact, I WANT to see that combo…it’s how I learn! It is highly unlikely I will ever piece that combo together myself, so if I can see it once in a while that’s COOL. Sure, we all groan and scoop, but the fact is we just watched a premier combo slice and dice. That’s pretty neat to see…and it’s even MORE fun if you can beat it. So, in your playgroup, there is no reason you can’t play some busted combos, or absolutely degenerate cards, or Planeswalkers, so long as you are prepared to mix it up and play some different decks that give everyone the chance to play and have fun.
Which brings me to learning…part of the interesting part of playing Magic is learning. You learn by watching other people play. The decks they build. The cards they value over others. How they decide to play and the interactions they create. To rob yourself of the chance to learn something just because you don’t like it or you feel it spoils the fun seems a little short sighted to me. Sure, you don’t want to play against the things you don’t like or the overpowered cards every game, and so moderation and variety needs to be mixed in, but there is nothing wrong with players running Planeswalkers in a Casual game. Just be sure you learn from the experience so you know how to interact with that situation in the future.
My last point in terms of allowing Planeswalkers into Casual play is much more “nuts and bolts” way in the sense that increasingly Wizards is printing cards that specifically target Planeswalkers so that you have more tools to manage them. Think about it, in the last 2 years they have printed things like Dreadbore, Abrupt Decay, Hero’s Downfall, Fated Retribution, and Fated Conflagration all of which can target Planeswalkers giving you a number of options to deal with Planeswalkers. So, if you don’t like them you at least now have an option with which to fight them.
No, I see no good reason to NOT allow Planeswalkers in Casual games of Magic, but they do require a little more careful consideration. You and the people in your playgroup need to have a discussion if there are players who are genuinely upset by Planeswalkers. Perhaps you can work out some sort of a compromise to allow everyone to play the decks they build. This is the beauty of the “social contract”…it can be amended and changed. However, maybe your playgroup is 100% okay with Planeswalkers, in which case keep calm and carry on.
At the end of the day the criticism of Planeswalkers in Casual Magic probably has far less to do with the actual cards and more to do with the fact that some players have stronger decks and win more frequently. If that is the case, limiting Planeswalkers is one potential way to even the playing field, but the more important factor is building decks that match the overall skill and power level in your playgroup. The complaints against Planeswalkers are likely more symptomatic of a problem than the actual cause. So, there is nothing wrong with having decks that emulate tier 1 decks in various constructed formats, but there is also a time and place for other fun and less powerful decks to keep you playgroup fun and fresh.
Thanks very much for reading guys and if you have any ideas or thoughts on Planeswalkers or Casual Magic in general, I’m all ears. Just shoot me off a tweet at @bgray8791 because I’d love to hear what you think.
Until next time, Keep it fun, Keep it safe…keep it Casual.
So finally after all the stories and all the lore we get the elusive and illustrious Dack Fayden as a card to be printed in the upcoming Conspiracy set. Now while this is not a Standard legal set and he won’t be legal for either Modern or Standard, he will be available for play in Legacy but most especially for the multiplayer formats the set is geared towards in EDH/Commander and Cube.
What’s Kraken Players and Playettes?
The first official spoiler from Born of the Gods, the second set of the Theros block, has finally been released. Players who’ve been playing Duels of the Planeswalkers on consoles or PC are already familiar with Kiora. Her decks are always blue and green to ramp, draw, tempo and drop big fatties. Keeping with the spirit let’s check out how her three abilities mesh with her Duels identity.
The +1 allows you to prevent an opponents permanent from dealing any damage but in return all damage dealt to it is reduced to zero. This can be used defensively as tempo against a faster aggro deck, turning one of your opponents creatures into basically an indestructible walls that can attack but deals no damage. The aggressive use is to target the most relevant of your opponents blockers. When you run out of targets you can always target a land.
The -1 ability is Explore, the best green sorcery from Worldwake in the Zendikar block. This card was very popular in decks based off Primeval Titan like RUG, Valikut RG or one of my personal favorites UG Turbo Land that let you ramp to Time Warps and Emrakul (what! what!). Anyways this ain’t no Prime Time, but Explore on a stick is relevant and ideas be brewing. Gives new meaning to “Two Explores…”
The -5 ability is an emblem that allows you to drop a 9/9 Kraken at the end of your end step. Seeing as you cannot remove emblems yet, this leaves your opponent having to deal with a 9/9 Kraken at your door every turn! Sign me up here!
Alright WOTC this Planeswalker is going to be fun to brew with over the holidays. Thanks for the Christmas present.