#231: The Real Draft

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No, not using playing cards this time. Still playing Magic: the Gathering, just like normal. Playing Magic is a blast, but being able to draft in person is completely different from drafting elsewhere. It’s like night and day; on the one hand, drafting online is fast, easy, and you can pick up and stop whenever you want, but on the other hand, drafting in person allows you to counter each other’s strategies in a way that’s not possible online, while drafting against computers. There’s competition in drafting against each other, and although I don’t exactly have a set plan in drafting to make matters easy, I love being able to think through my picks in that way. Plus, you never know what cards people are going to play against you when you finally get to play against them. You might have a vague idea, but there’s no way to completely predict a person’s deck, given the randomness and complexity of drafting a limited set with 254 possible cards inside. It makes drafting so much more of a mental exercise.

Earlier today, while talking about something completely different, I referred to Magic: the Gathering as “mental exercise” to Alex (as a way to persuade her to let us play magic before going to the gym, which she wasn’t a fan of, unfortunately). I definitely think it’s like that; apparently, it’s one of the most complicated games ever created, and I can understand why. The sheer number of cards and mechanics and keywords and interlocking plays is maddening and frankly impossible to keep track of entirely. You have to memorize so much in order to truly call yourself a master of magic, or a judge, in other people’s cases. Being a judge would be an interesting job for someone to have, as a volunteer exercise of course.

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#186: The Infinite

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Infinity. Not about Infinity War, we’ll be talking about “going infinite”: a process in Magic: the Gathering and Hearthstone that involves getting enough rewards from each limited run that you are able to keep going without paying for more gems or other in-game currencies.

Allow me to explain. In a previous blog post, I discussed what “limited” runs are. Sealed, draft, and more. In Hearthstone, there’s a mode called “The Arena” which is very similar to drafting, except you don’t keep the cards you collect there and you draft from picks of 3 each time. In the arena, you can pay either 150 gold or $1.99 to enter, and every time you enter, the price stays the same. When you wrap up a run, after 3 losses or 12 wins, whichever happens first, you get rewards at the end, including gold and dust and packs. The gold you can use to then purchase another arena run, thus going infinite. If you’re the kind of person who’s talented enough to always have an arena run going, it’s because the gold you earn from your runs succeeds the gold spent to play arena.

In magic, while doing sealed runs, I went infinite for awhile. Probably about 5 runs in a row. Not very long, but my sealed runs would consistently reach around 6 to 7 wins, thus earning about 2,000 gems, the requirement to enter a sealed run. Again, it’s going infinite because you’re always earning enough currency to enter another time.

The reason I’m discussing “going infinite” here is because it’s a really cool process, and if you do well enough, you can really just continue playing as much as you like. You can always have a limited run going regardless, depending on how good you are and how good the cards were that you got. It’s up to chance, in some ways, but it’s also up to you. I like to think the impetus is on you more than anything else.

#183: The Playmat

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While playing Magic: the Gathering, it’s customary for Alex and I to set things up first. We take the magazines and plants off of the center table, and then we put pillows down on my side, by the TV, for me to sit on. Angus walks over and, as is custom, he brushes against us and the magazines and they spill over as we pet him vigorously, because he loves attention while we play magic. He always gets excited whenever we sit down together and start to prepare our things for card playing. His face perks up and he starts to pant, like he’s outside in the steaming heat.

Next, we unroll my massive Dark Confidant playmat, which I got in 2014 and which was signed by the artist, Scott Fishman, at a magic convention in Worcester-Boston. He signed it with a little fish next to his name, which is how I remember what his name is. It’s written in silver sharpie. When we went, Dan, Alex (different Alex this time), and I all got playmats from the same guy and for the same purpose, but I think I’m the only one who still uses his playmat. I think Alex sold his, and Dan uses a different one whenever he plays. I don’t even own a Dark Confidant card, but having the playmat makes me feel like I do, at least in some sense.

Alex (the first one, not the friend one) is looking to get a playmat for herself one of these days. We’re in the middle of researching the right one for her, and I think she’s looking for one with Deathpact Angel or Angel of Despair on the cover. I think either of those options would look amazing on a playmat, so to imagine them lighting up against my Dark Confidant playmat would be amazing. Darkness versus light, good versus evil, all that jazz. You know how it goes by this point.

#174: The Draft

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Today, I’ll be discussing drafting in Magic: the Gathering, a format that most of us are pretty unfamiliar with. Drafting is the process of looking at packs of cards, choosing cards from the pack to build a deck with, and using your deck against other players who have other decks.

The picture included at the top here is not emblematic of what drafting looks like, but it’s the only (appropriate) picture that appeared when I typed “draft” in the search box for pictures!

Let’s break this process down. There are two major types of drafts: limited and sealed. Limited involves three rounds of passing around packs, with one pack per round. People sit around a table, each person opens a pack, and then they choose one card to add to their “deck” and then pass the rest to their right. And so on and so forth. The process continues until there’s nothing left, and then you open another pack and continue doing it again. The cards you acquired during this process are enough to form a 40-card deck, which you then have to pit against other players. If you win games against them, you’re given sweet rewards to bring home with you. It’s a ton of fun to compete.

Sealed is a bit different. In sealed, you open six packs and everything is fair game for you. The cards are then yours. What you do with the contents of those packs is up to you. Sealed decks are usually a lot more competitive than limited decks, and the quality of cards is higher because you are given literally everything you need from the start. I generally prefer sealed to limited, because I like being able to have a stronger deck to compete with, but it’s also more expensive to start playing because of the six pack minimum.

#165: The Legion

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Originally, I was going to write about the Boros Legion, the overzealous crusading guild in Ravnica, but then I realized I could also write about the legion in another respect: the Burning Legion in World of Warcraft. There are so many legions! Legions upon legions to discuss.

The Burning Legion in World of Warcraft were the central antagonists of the second most recent expansion, World of Warcraft: Legion. They’re an endlessly respawning army of demonic forces, and they are practically unstoppable. The conflict in this expansion is that they were invading our home world again, and this time they were hell-bent on annihilation. This expansion solidified WoW as an absolute titan of the gaming industry and allowed them to reclaim some of their old glory. Legion propelled subscriber numbers and boosted player interest and hype, with the introduction of the Broken Isles, legendaries, artifacts, and the exclusively max-level Suramar questing experience (which, if you read my blog regularly, I wrote about a few weeks ago). Legion revitalized my interest in WoW and got me hooked again for practically the entire length of the expansion, minus a few spots. I remember focusing super heavily on completing the mage tower challenges at the end of the expansion, trying my best to unlock the hidden and exclusive artifact appearances before they went away for good.

The Boros Legion is interesting because they’re primarily “good” guys. I bought the Boros guild pack recently, and it’s absolutely crushed all the other decks when it curves well. I’ve enjoyed playing with it a lot. The idea of playing a “white weenies” deck (strong, small white-colored creature cards with exceptional synergy between each other) has always been fun for me, and I like blasting people’s faces in with flying angels. Thankfully, that’s what the Boros are all about: ruthless aggression and flying assaults.

#164: The Mythic

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I spoke about Magic: the Gathering in another post recently, but today I’ll be diving a bit deeper into another part of it that resonates with me.

Pulling packs in Magic: the Gathering is one of my favorite, small wonderful joys. It’s fun because of the randomness that comes from it, and it reminds me so much of the loot boxes I spoke about in another post on here recently. It’s a kind of gambling, in the sense that you are spending money without knowing exactly what cards you’re going to get from the pack. You spend $4 per pack, and then whatever you get has to equal $4 in value in order to be deemed worth it. But to me, as a simple card collector, I don’t care as much about the money as much as I care about the experience and the collecting of cards. Maybe it’s not as cost-effective as I would like, but it makes the experience interesting and less stressful. I’m not as concerned about getting even as I would be if I cared only about the price of cards.

This all being said, I do care about the money to some extent. For example, a couple days ago, I went into Gamestop while Alex got her eyebrows waxed next door, and I pulled an Arclight Phoenix in a pack. It’s a mythic rare, meaning it’s even harder to find than a regular rare from a pack. I don’t know the exact odds of pulling a mythic but they’re especially difficult to find. The card is worth about $20 currently, and I have no intentions of selling it at the moment. I plan on slotting it into the Izzet guild kit deck I get and improving it further. Right now, it’s pretty damn powerful, so improving it more will just make it even more oppressive. I’m looking forward to seeing what it can do.

#162: The Commander

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Not the commander of a ship, rather I am the commander of an elite, 100-card singleton deck of Magic: the Gathering cards. You guessed it, another blog post about Magic! It’s been on my mind so much lately, so I apologize for writing so much about it.

I recently ordered another commander deck, for the first time in a while. I haven’t played commander in ages, literally years and years ago. This past weekend, my friend Dan said that he held onto one of his old commander decks and that we can play together if I construct one. So naturally, I took that opportunity and decided to make one for myself. I bought a pre-constructed Lord Windgrace deck, which features landfall mechanics and a planeswalker as the commander. It’s kind of exciting to have a planeswalker commander, considering most commanders have to be legendary creatures, not planeswalkers. This one has a special rule allowing it to be used in the format.

So, here’s how the commander format works: you build a deck of 100 unique cards, with one of the cards being your commander. None of the cards are able to be copies; they have to be singleton. You can play the commander at any time and from any position. The format makes for unpredictable, awesome multi-player games because you know your cards won’t repeat themselves, and you have no idea what you’ll be drawing at any one time. There’s a concept called commander damage, which means if your commander deals a total of 21 damage to any one enemy player over the course of the game, then they are defeated. For reference, you start the game with 30 life, as opposed to the usual 20 life in standard games.

Commander is awesome, and probably my favorite casual format in magic. I highly recommend giving it a shot if you’ve never done it before.

#154: The City of Guilds

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Originally, when I wrote yesterday’s post, I had intended for it to be about Magic: the Gathering again, but instead I had the inclination to discuss the one WoW guild that still stays in my mind after all these years. Now, I’ll be discussing guilds in a different context, specifically the guilds of the city of Ravnica.

When Alex and I decided to play magic again, we did so by buying guild kits, these wonderful little packages for about $20 each that contained lots of modern format-legal cards. I bought the Golgari one, and Alex bought the Orzhov one. We’ve smashed the two decks against each other repeatedly over the past few nights, getting our nerd on with the help of Wizards of the Coast. I’ve taught Alex how to play the game with some tips and tricks as well as just general info about how phases work, what combat is like, et cetera.

When I first started playing magic, I liked the Boros Legion the most. That’s the red-white themed guild, full of chump blockers and flying angels with haste and vigilance. They swarm and descend upon the evils of the world, as they are a standing army of zealots. From a gameplay perspective, I enjoy playing Boros because they are aggressive, and games generally end quickly and easily. If you fail in being aggressive enough, you lose, but if you manage to make a stampede of guys at once, it’s unstoppable and enough to take over the game from then.

I enjoy playing the Golgari deck primarily nowadays, as they allow me to interact with the graveyard, and dredge up dead creatures for use later. It’s a blast to play because of that. Alex’s Orzhov is interesting too, though it’s very powerful and full of heavy-hitters that make playing against it an uphill battle.

#151: The Deck

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Not a beach deck, this time we’re talking about decks of cards. And not any normal type of cards; today, we’re discussing magic the gathering cards. Yes, I’ve discussed this topic before, and I’ve also made posts about collectible card games such as Hearthstone, but recently Alex and I decided to get into this particular card game again. We’ve had a lot of fun slinging spells at each other and moving through main phase to combat phase, playing planeswalkers and destroying each other’s graveyards. It’s been a blast so far.

Magic the Gathering is pretty complicated at first, and the amount of new information and words you need to be familiar with in order to play the game is pretty stressful and intimidating. I give props to Alex for sticking through that initial beginner’s phase and persevering despite the stress and complications. For example, in order to play the game correctly, you need to be familiar with the movement from phase to phase. Untap, upkeep, draw, main, combat, main 2, end phase. The progression from phase to phase is difficult to grasp at first, especially given all the complex triggers you need to be aware of for each of your cards.

In Boston, Alex and I went to a hobby shop in Quincy just to walk around. After looking at board games and other collectibles, I asked her if she wanted to maybe try to learn how to play magic. We both agreed that it would be fun, so we bought some starter decks with planeswalkers from the recent Ravnica set and played on the hotel bed when we got back home. It was a small guilty pleasure. It’s much better now that we’ve decided to play in our apartment, where there’s a solid surface to play on instead of playing it on the bed.

Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix Providence

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After days and weeks of long preparation and study, I can say that I am one day away from attending the Magic: the Gathering Grand Prix Providence event. Of course, my preparation has been minimal and my study nonexistent. But I’d like to think that, after all is said and done, I had an enjoyable experience playing a game that has occupied a good portion of my time in the past year and a half.

Magic: the Gathering (or Magic, as we call it for ease of use) is a Trading Card Game, playable in many different formats, and played with an unlimited amount of people. Generally, Magic players form small groups of fellow players, and trade, play, and draft together. Trading and playing seem like givens. Drafting, however, is an activity that probably requires explanation, as it is what I will be participating in this weekend at the Grand Prix. When I attend the convention center tomorrow, I’ll be drafting with two of my friends, on a team. Typically, I find strategizing as a team much more fulfilling than strategizing alone, as the chemistry that emerges from interacting with teammates who depend on your success makes for more anxiety, and ultimately more potential for unpredictable excitement.

“Drafting” involves opening booster packs, filled with Magic cards, which you use to make a deck. “Drafting” also tends to promote the “limited” format, in that players are limited to the cards they pull. It’s the most appealing structure to people who don’t want to spend tons of money on a structured, play-tested deck in one of the more eternal formats. Essentially, drafting is the most fun for me.

The Grand Prix takes place over two days, from Saturday to Sunday, with those who make it to Sunday having guaranteed to make money. We haven’t booked a hotel yet, but I imagine we’ll find a way to live…somewhere. I’ll be driving with two Eagle Scouts, so I don’t doubt we’ll end up somewhere in the woods camping between the days. How fun!

Tomorrow, I will be drafting with a team of two people, among hundreds of other teams of people. While I don’t expect to win money, I do think it will be a fun time with friends in a large, geeky setting. This will be my first GP, and hopefully the first of many more to come. I’ll hopefully be able to keep you guys updated amid the chaos and ruckus of thousands of people running around trying to trade each other cards and battling with them, too. In the mean time, that’s all for now!

I apologize for not writing often, even though I assume not many of you mind.