Yorke on Games #35 – Side Quests

It’s the holidays: that time of year when the pace of life slows down considerably, as your peers go on vacation and family takes center stage. Because regular routines are thrown into disarray, drafts might not fire regularly (especially since players seem to have solved the Ixalan draft environment about three weeks in—thanks, One With the Wind). On top of that, 2017 has been a pretty rough year, so avenues of escapism are needed more than usual. And so you might find yourself desperately looking for something to fill the existential void between late December and early January.

Thus, today I’ll be discussing some new ways to play casual Magic that require fewer players, using some of WotC’s neglected supplementary products, some ingenuity, and a spirit of exploration.

Greetings, weary traveler. Could I interest you in a Side Quest?

Side Quest #1: Explorers of Ixalan

Requires: 4 players with around $15 each

Explorers of Ixalan is a board game plug-in for potentially enhancing any multiplayer game of Magic. It’s basically Planechase lite. And it was released last month to little if any fanfare, as the hype train was fully steaming toward the release of Unstable, a ‘fun’ set (and after being called in to arbitrate a particularly acrimonious rules debate involving Entirely Normal Armchair, I know just how ‘fun’ that set can be). Now, for around the price of a purely hypothetical draft, you and three friends can plant your scout tokens on that uncharted territory, experience a new variant, and come away with some guaranteed value from the precon decks (Time Warp, anyone?).

How to Play:

  1. Buy Explorers of Ixalan.
  2. Each player chooses, in random order, one of the 60-card preconstructed decks therein (it is theirs to keep).
  3. Play free-for-all multiplayer games using Explorers of Ixalan, starting at 20 life, until one player has 3 wins (i.e., all other players are eliminated).
  4. The first player to reach 3 wins gets to keep the game tiles, box, and other non-deck components therein (congratulations!).
  5. For extra spice: after each game allow players to add a booster pack to their deck to improve it, and add/remove any number of basic lands.

Side Quest #2: Planechase Anthology

Requires: 4 players with around $30 each

Planechase Anthology was another criminally under-advertised supplementary product released in the past year or so. It contains the Plane cards, which produce the best simulation of weaving through the multiverse like a drunken Planeswalker that has ever been created. These allow you to have a more random, casual game of multiplayer Magic than even the Commander format does. If that appeals to you, and if you’re attracted to the chase reprints contained in the precons (Bloodbraid Elf and Shardless Agent are always in high demand), then this might be the side quest for you.

How to Play:

  1. Buy Planechase Anthology.
  2. Each player chooses, in random order, one of the 60-card preconstructed decks therein (it is theirs to keep).
  3. Play free-for-all multiplayer games using the Plane deck, starting at 20 life, until one player has 3 wins (i.e., all other players are eliminated).
  4. The first player to reach 3 wins gets to keep the Plane deck, box, and dice therein (congratulations!).
  5. For extra spice: after each game allow players to add a booster pack to their deck to improve it, and add/remove any number of basic lands.

Side Quest #3: Secret Santa MegaDraft

Requires: 5+ players, $0 each

Sometimes—just sometimes—you want to take a break from throwing money at WotC’s endless line of products and just enjoy the cards you already have. Does putting a fun use to the bulk rares in your binder seem like fun to you? Would you like to express your personality by hand-crafting an all-Sliver pack, a pack consisting solely of removal spells, or a pack containing only cards with a casting cost of 1? Look no further! The Secret Santa MegaDraft has you covered.

How to Play:

  1. Each player makes 6 Secret Santa packs with their own cards, and wraps them in wrapping paper or tin foil.
  2. Secret Santa packs must contain 1 rare or mythic rare card, 3 uncommons, and 11 commons (any sets are okay, but no basic lands); there must be two cards of each color (WUBRG); all cards must be unique.
  3. Mix all Secret Santa packs, and randomly distribute 5 packs to each player for drafting; place the leftover packs in the prize pool.
  4. Players draft the packs, build 60-card decks, and play their matches as per a usual draft.
  5. The player who wins the draft gets to keep all the prize packs (congratulations?).

Once per year, I host one of these tournaments just to keep things fresh, and it consistently delivers amusement. This year, one guy showed up with 5 identical packs, a fact we only discovered mid-draft. Another made a pack of cards with one-word titles. Another jammed in as many Thallids as humanly possible in his draft set in order to force a terrible Saproling theme deck to be constructed.

Allow me to demonstrate with a little Pack 1 Pick 1 exercise. What do you choose here?

Breaking Point
Take Up Arms
Dark Deal
Mockery of Nature
Prickleboar
Book Burning
Rottenheart Ghoul
Wailing Ghoul
Aven Envoy
Matca Rioters
Workshop Assistant
Dedicated Martyr
Coastline Chimera
Vastwood Gorger
Dispel

Or here, in my Pack 2?

Second Harvest
Hewed Stone Retainers
Grizzled Angler
Angel of Renewal
Ambush Krotiq
Shambling Goblin
Mire’s Malice
Evolving Wilds
Divination
Boiling Earth
Hired Heist
Sabertooth Outrider
Reckless Imp
Lithomancer’s Focus
Shard of Broken Glass

Pack 3?

Skarrg Goliath
Dwarven Strike Force
Sinuous Striker
Stichwing Skaab
Patrol Hound
Rubblebelt Maaka
Evolving Wilds
Blaster Mage
Desert of the Mindful
Hekma Sentinels
Fa’adiyah Seer
Aven Trooper
Fledgling Imp
Zhur-Taa Swine
Faerie Macabre

Pack 4?

Guile
Cloudblazer
Juggernaut
Quicksand
Duress
Prickleboar
Arrest
Unburden
Archaeomancer
Murder
Crocanura
Boulderfall
Sandblast
Anticipate
Blisterpod

Pack 5?

Force of Nature
Resurrection
Sengir Vampire
Juggernaut
Dark Ritual
Fireball
Unsummon
Disenchant
Kird Ape
Craw Wurm
Giant Growth
Prodigal Sorcerer
Terror
Power Sink
Samite Healer

For this Secret Santa draft, I ended up going for Gruul tokens with a Bloodrush subtheme. I managed to get two copies of Second Harvest, to combo with my Slime Molding, Box of Free-Range Goblins, Dance with Devils, Blisterpod, Giantbaiting, and various assorted Thallids. I went 0-3, wearing novelty reindeer horns, and had an absolute blast doing it.

Laughter. Free time. Trying new things. Isn’t that the spirit of the holidays, after all?

Happy holidays, from all of us Yorkes on Games.

Now if you’ll excuse us, we’re about to go beat Santa down in a game of Archenemy.

Yorke on Games #34 – Iconic Masters: The Baller’s League

Tired of digging through the bulk rare bins, trying to edge out nickels and dimes of expected value over the house? Sick of sifting through piles of discarded commons and uncommons left on tables after drafts, hoping to fill holes in your collection? It’s time you took care of yourself. It’s time you joined the high rollers in the Iconic Masters sealed league, and treated yourself to guaranteed value.

Iconic Masters is a curated set of cards from throughout Magic’s history, meant to be played together in a limited environment. It is a conscientiously blended product, like a fine cognac, and ought to be experienced and savored, rather than merely collected. Face to Face Montreal’s upcoming IMA sealed league gives players over a month to use their cards in a relaxed fashion—to play what, who, where, when, and how they want—while vying for high-stakes prizes.

For just over the price of 6 boosters (your starting sealed pool), Face to Face Games is adding 2x Iconic Masters boosters per player to the prize pool, plus offering a Top 8 draft consisting of Eternal Masters (pack 1), Modern Masters 2017 (pack 2), and Iconic Masters (pack 3). This is outstanding support: the Top 8 are in for some very special experiences and prizes. And, even if you don’t Top 8: worst case scenario, you got good use out of your cards, and probably have some very nice stuff in your starting pool to put in your binder or trade in for store credit.

To make Top 8, you only need to survive elimination by not taking 11 match losses, and be one of the last eight players standing. To help you do this, after each loss you may add a pack from any expansion from Magic’s history to your league pool: there are no restrictions (outside of Un-set packs and From the Vault packs being off the menu). This is the first league where the standard-legal restriction on punishment packs has been lifted. Will this lead to unparalleled creativity and fun, or a degenerate arms race? Let’s find out!

If you’re like me, you’re already looking forward to ripping a full set of Mana Drains and going off in the league, so be sure to check out the ruleset below for all the details.

Hope to see you bright and early on November 17th for the IMA Baller’s League launch event!

The Fine Print: Iconic Masters Sealed League Full Ruleset

  • Player registration. The start date for the Iconic Masters sealed league is 11am, Friday, November 17th, 2017 at Face To Face Games Montreal. The registration fee is $80, which includes prizes and the six packs of the starting card pool, payable at the store counter. No matches played before that date will count towards the final results. New players may join the league until November 26th (outstanding matches must be played by 5pm Sunday, Dec 3rd).
  • Deck construction. Upon joining the league, players will open 6 boosters of Iconic Masters to make their league card pool. Only cards in this pool, and basic lands, are legal for league play. No trading of league cards is allowed for the duration of the league. Players will construct a 60-card deck from their league pool. The maximum number of copies of any card in a league deck is 4 (not including basic lands). Card pools will be registered on a checklist, which will then need to be checked and signed by another league player before being deposited at the league drop-off box at the counter of Face To Face Games. If at any time a player is discovered to be using cards from outside their league pools in their league matches, they will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned.
  • Playing matches. Players are required to play a minimum of 3 matches per week, and are allowed a maximum of 3 additional matches above that number, but may never play more matches than the maximum allowed. This means that in Week 1, players can play between 3-6 matches; in Week 2, 6-9 matches; Week 3, 9-12 matches, and so on. Players are not permitted to play against the same opponent more than once per league week (even in multiplayer matches). Players who fail to reach the minimum number of matches per week will be penalized with automatic match losses for any missing matches (without punishment packs), starting at the end of Week 2. Players who break the rules by exceeding their maximum number of matches per week, or who play against the same opponent more than once in a week, will either be issued additional match losses or disqualified at the TO’s discretion. If a player is disqualified for overplaying matches or opponents, that player will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned. Similarly, bad sportspersonship or other abusive play will not be tolerated in the course of playing league matches, and a player engaging in such behavior will either be issued a warning, match loss, or disqualification, depending on the severity of the behavior. The loser of each match may add a ‘punishment pack’ to their league card pool: that is, the loser may open an unopened booster pack in the presence of the winner, which the winner records on a match report slip, and add those cards to their league pool. Before the loser’s next match, they may use these new cards to improve their deck. The maximum number of punishment packs that can be added to any player’s league pool is 10. Any 8-15 card Magic expansion pack can be added, with the exception of silver-bordered sets (e.g., Unglued) and sets with non-randomized contents (e.g., the From the Vault series). Individual cards must be legal for use in the Vintage format (e.g., no conspiracies).
  • Reporting matches. Winners must complete match report slips (available at the Face to Face store counter), indicating the winning and losing players’ names, the date, the match result (e.g.: 2-1 / 2-0), and the cards contained in the punishment pack opened by the loser, as witnessed by the winner. Misreporting on a match slip will result in a warning; subsequent misreports will result in additional match losses. Match report slips must be put in the league drop-off box at the store before the 5pm deadline on the Sunday of each week to count toward the current week’s minimum play requirement. Records of all league match results for each week of play will be published after via Facebook, along with current player standings.
  • Player elimination. When a players loses their 11th match, they are eliminated from the tournament (a match report slip must still be filled in by the winner, indicating the loser’s elimination) and can play no further matches. Players who do not play their minimum number of matches will automatically take losses (without punishment packs) until they reach that minimum: these auto-losses will count towards a player’s total number of match losses.
  • Optional formats. Optional formats (such as ‘Planechase’, ‘Two-Headed Giant’, ‘Star Format’, and ‘Best-of-Five Games’ and more) are supported for league matches, if agreed upon by all players in advance and use only cards from the players’ league pools. Players must indicate on their match report slip if they decide to play an optional format. Multiplayer matches require multiple slips because they result in multiple losses and thus multiple punishment packs being opened: a 5-player ‘Star’ game, for example, would count as 4 matches being played (the winning player would claim 4 match wins, and the other players would take 1 loss each).
  • Top 8. League winners are determined by elimination. At the end of any week of league play, if eight or fewer players remain in the tournament, we will move to the league finals event. In the event of multiple players being eliminated during the same week, resulting in less than 8 total players remaining, tie-breakers for Top 8 positions among players eliminated that week will be decided first by [A] total # of matches won, then in case of a tie, [B] total # of perfect 2-0 wins, and if these numbers are still a tie, [C] total # of matches played. The finals are typically on the Sunday morning following the last week of league play, though an alternate date may be arranged by the TO. In the finals, the Top 8 players will retire their league decks and receive a free draft. No seeding will occur; seating and pairings will be randomized. Players will build a new 40-card deck from their draft pool and play 3 best-of-three Swiss rounds to determine their ultimate ranking in the tournament. Each league finals match win will count for 3 points, and each pre-finals match win will count as 1 point towards determining final rankings for league players. Players unable to attend the finals can pick up their draft sets at the store at a later time; however they will be given auto-losses in their finals matches.
  • Final prizes. The Iconic Masters sealed league sponsor, Face To Face Games Montreal, has offered a prize pool of 2x IMA boosters for each player + 24 EMA/MM3/IMA packs for the league finals draft. These will be distributed among the Top 8 players based on performance.

Yorke on Games #33 – How to Evolve a Winning Deck in Ixalan League

League play is all about choice. After all, as a league player you can play your matches when you want (choose the day and time to play), where you want (choose the location: store / café / train), how you want (choose the format: best of 5 / multiplayer / 1v1 / planechase), with who you want (choose which opponents to challenge), and with what you want (build your deck in any style you like, then choose your punishment packs from any Standard legal set you like if you lose). All of those choices are important in their own ways, but the one I am going to focus on today is the last and most crucial: how to evolve your deck through multiple iterations to become a metagame-dominating beast, from the basics all the way up.

First, the Basics

Face to Face Games Presents

HOW TO LEAGUE:

Ixalan Edition!

Featuring:

Chris Yorke & Johnny Mariani

STEP 1

Open 6 packs of the latest set

STEP 2

Register all your bomb rares

STEP 3

Build your league deck

STEP 4

Play at least 3 matches a week

STEP 5

Open a pack when you lose

STEP 6

Winner completes match slip

STEP 7A

Get eliminated after 11 losses

or STEP 7B

Hang in there and make Top 8!

STEP 8

Free MegaDraft finals and prizes awarded at end of league!!


Ixalan Sealed League launches

10 am October 1st

Face To Face Games Montreal

$30 entry: join until October 8th


 
 
Advanced League Tips and Tricks

  • Keep a separate box for your league cards
  • Keep 10 punishment packs in your league box to help you keep track of how many losses you have left (or write your wins and losses directly on your league box)
  • Rebuild from scratch after every loss to ensure that your deck is as good as it can possibly be (prevents ‘deck-blindness’)
  • Play your minimum # of matches at least, and your maximum # if you possibly can, to ensure no unnecessary match losses result
  • Remember that the number of matches you can play is determined by the Week # of league play x3 +3 (for instance, Week 1 = 3-6 matches; Week 2 = 6-9 matches; Week 3 = 9-12 matches; Week 4 = 12-15 matches; Week 5 = 15-18 matches; and Week 6 = 18-21 matches)

Expert Level League Advice: Evolving Your Deck

For this section, we’re going to take a look back at Hour of Devastation League as a case study. As my deck ended up in the #1 position of the main portion of the tournament (I dropped to #2 after the MegaDraft finals: more on that below), I’m in an excellent position to share the nuts and bolts of a relatively successful league deck-building process. So that you can play along at home, I’ll start with my full pool, then show you what I built from it. Then, I’ll go through each subsequent addition of booster packs with each loss, and share with you the rebuild which resulted from it (if you want to see what you would have done, just take a moment to think before you browse down and see what I did).

Starting Pool

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Crypt of the Eternals
1 Desert of the Fervent
1 Desert of the Glorified
2 Desert of the Indomitable
1 Desert of the True
1 Dunes of the Dead
[/Lands]
[Multicolored]
1 Bloodwater Entity
[/Multicolored]
[Aftermath]
1 Farm // Market
1 Claim // Fame
1 Struggle // Survive
[/Aftermath]
[Artifact]
2 Graven Abomination
1 Manalith
2 Traveler’s Amulet
[/Artifact]
[White]
1 Angel of Condemnation
1 Angel of the God-Pharaoh
1 Dauntless Aven
1 Djeru’s Renunciation
2 God-Pharaoh’s Faithful
1 Mummy Paramount
3 Solitary Camel
1 Vizier of the True
[/White]
[Blue]
1 Aerial Guide
1 Aven Reedstalker
2 Seer of the Last Tomorrow
1 Sinuous Striker
1 Strategic Planning
1 Swarm Intelligence
1 Tragic Lesson
3 Unquenchable Thirst
1 Unsummon
1 Vizier of the Anointed
[/Blue]
[Black]
1 Banewhip Punisher
1 Khenra Eternal
1 Liliana’s Defeat
1 Lurching Rotbeast
1 Marauding Boneslasher
1 Merciless Eternal
1 Moaning Wall
2 Torment of Venom
2 Wretched Camel
[/Black]
[Red]
1 Blur of Blades
1 Chaos Maw
1 Crash Through
2 Earthshaker Khenra
1 Fervent Paincaster
1 Firebrand Archer
1 Frontline Devastator
2 Gilded Cerodon
1 Granitic Titan
1 Hour of Devastation
1 Khenra Scrapper
1 Neheb, the Eternal
2 Open Fire
1 Sand Strangler
1 Thorned Moloch
[/Red]
[Green]
1 Ambuscade
1 Beneath the Sands
1 Devotee of Strength
1 Feral Prowler
1 Frilled Sandwalla
1 Harrier Naga
1 Life Goes On
1 Oasis Ritualist
1 Overcome
1 Quarry Beetle
1 Rampaging Hippo
2 Sidewinder Naga
1 Sifter Wurm
[/Green]
[/deck]

Neheb, the Eternal? Hour of Devastation?? Chaos Maw??? TWO Earthshaker Khenras???? With Sand Strangler and TWO Open Fires supporting all those on-color rares, I couldn’t help but laugh maniacally when I cracked my opening pool. Whatever it was I was building, red was a no-brainer. But I still had to fill out a 60-card deck, and so in my first draft of the deck I chose green as the next-best color in a supporting role.

Build #1: Gruul

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Desert of the Fervent
2 Desert of the Indomitable
9 Forest
10 Mountain
[/Lands]
[Red]
1 Blur of Blades
1 Chaos Maw
1 Crash Through
2 Earthshaker Khenra
1 Fervent Paincaster
1 Firebrand Archer
1 Frontline Devastator
2 Gilded Cerodon
1 Granitic Titan
1 Hour of Devastation
1 Khenra Scrapper
1 Neheb, the Eternal
2 Open Fire
1 Sand Strangler
1 Thorned Moloch
[/Red]
[Green]
1 Ambuscade
1 Beneath the Sands
1 Devotee of Strength
1 Feral Prowler
1 Frilled Sandwalla
1 Harrier Naga
1 Life Goes On
1 Oasis Ritualist
1 Overcome
1 Quarry Beetle
1 Rampaging Hippo
2 Sidewinder Naga
1 Sifter Wurm
[/Green]
[Aftermath]
1 Struggle // Survive
[/Aftermath]
[Artifact]
2 Graven Abomination
1 Manalith
2 Traveler’s Amulet
[/Artifact]
[/deck]

Obviously, I just mashed all my red and green cards together with my artifacts in order to get down to two colors rather than three, as I valued being reliable over being powerful. I beat Ronan 2-1 on the first day of play, and noted some key synergies:

Quarry Beetle + Cycled Deserts

Thorned Moloch + Traveler’s Amulet

Firebrand Archer + Traveler’s Amulet

Deserts + Sand Strangler / Sidewinder Naga / Gilded Cerodon

22 Lands // 25 Creatures // 13 Spells (4 Red + 1 Green Removal)

In my next match, I lost to Michel A. who had opened well with Hour of Eternity. For no other reason than my happening to have one lying around, I added a pack of Battle for Zendikar to my pool:

[list]
1 Tandem Tactics
1 Brilliant Spectrum
1 Eldrazi Skyspawner
1 Bone Splinters
1 Nirkana Assassin
1 Goblin War Paint
1 Turn Against
1 Seek the Wilds
1 Unnatural Aggression
1 Catacomb Sifter
1 Hedron Blade
1 Pilgrim’s Eye
1 Sandstone Bridge
[/list]

The Gruul build felt a bit gutless to play (even when winning with it), so I decided to experiment with an aggro route early days by capitalizing on my low-to-the-ground suite of black cards. I thought that they’d be a more powerful complement to my unshakable red base. Was I right? You decide:

Build #2 Rakdos

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Crypt of the Eternals
1 Desert of the Fervent
1 Desert of the Glorified
1 Island
10 Mountain
8 Swamp
[/Lands]
[Red]
1 Chaos Maw
1 Crash Through
2 Earthshaker Khenra
1 Fervent Paincaster
1 Firebrand Archer
1 Frontline Devastator
1 Granitic Titan
1 Hour of Devastation
1 Khenra Scrapper
1 Neheb, the Eternal
2 Open Fire
1 Sand Strangler
1 Thorned Moloch
1 Turn Against
[/Red]
[Black]
1 Banewhip Punisher
1 Bone Splinters
1 Khenra Eternal
1 Lurching Rotbeast
1 Marauding Boneslasher
1 Merciless Eternal
1 Moaning Wall
1 Nirkana Assassin
2 Torment of Venom
2 Wretched Camel
[/Black]
[Aftermath]
1 Claim // Fame
1 Struggle // Survive
[/Aftermath]
[Multicolored]
1 Bloodwater Entity
[/Multicolored]
[Artifact]
2 Graven Abomination
1 Hedron Blade
1 Manalith
1 Pilgrim’s Eye
2 Traveler’s Amulet
[/Artifact]
[/deck]

22 Lands // 24 Creatures // 14 Spells (6 Red + 3 Black Removal)

Used 5/14 new cards

My second loss of the league came at the hands of Amir, who killed me in a most painful manner with his Wall of Forgotten Pharaohs: in game 3, when we were both at 1 life. When your deck is still in its infancy, without a fixed theme, you have a lot more freedom in what you can open in terms of punishment packs. So I opened Aether Revolt for my loss here simply because I wanted some tasty revolt triggers to go with my Traveler’s Amulets and Bone Splinters: plus, I figured that the artifact-heavy block could help pad out my deck regardless of which direction I went with it in the future. Again, you could argue here that there were more defensible standard-legal expansions I should have gone with:

[list]
1 Aethergeode Miner
1 Aether Poisoner
1 Aetherstream Leopard
1 Aeronaut Admiral
1 Caught in the Brights
1 Consulate Turret
1 Fen Hauler
1 Foundry Assembler
1 Hinterland Drake
1 Precise Strike
1 Renegade Wheelsmith
1 Silkweaver Elite
1 Skyship Plunderer
1 Welder Automaton
[/list]

Armed with these new cards I made some minor substitutions, then won vs. Chao Li, and Tim Min due to a rules blunder on his part (I was at 7 life when he copied his Unesh, Criosphinx Sovereign with Mirage Mirror hoping to fly in for lethal, but the legend rule forced him to sacrifice his Mirror and open himself to my lethal crackback). My good luck came to an end when Tim Martoni savaged me with The Locust God. For loss #3 I opened Amonkhet, hoping for more in-block synergistic goodies:

[list]
1 Brute Strength
1 Cartouche of Knowledge
1 Cartouche of Solidarity
1 Compelling Argument
1 Final Reward
1 Kefnet’s Monument
1 Ruthless Sniper
1 Shed Weakness
1 Soul Stinger
1 Throne of the God-Pharoah
1 Trespasser’s Curse
1 Unburden
1 Watchers of the Dead
1 Wings of Rebuke
[/list]

This open prompted me to make a fairly significant revision to my red-black build, replacing some underperforming cards with better removal.

Build #3 Rakdos v. 2

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Crypt of the Eternals
1 Desert of the Fervent
1 Desert of the Glorified
2 Desert of the Indomitable
1 Forest
9 Mountain
9 Swamp
[/Lands]
[Red]
1 Chaos Maw
1 Crash Through
2 Earthshaker Khenra
1 Fervent Paincaster
1 Firebrand Archer
1 Frontline Devastator
1 Granitic Titan
1 Hour of Devastation
1 Khenra Scrapper
1 Neheb, the Eternal
2 Open Fire
1 Sand Strangler
1 Thorned Moloch
1 Turn Against
[/Red]
[Black]
1 Aether Poisoner
1 Banewhip Punisher
1 Bone Splinters
1 Final Reward
1 Khenra Eternal
1 Lurching Rotbeast
1 Marauding Boneslasher
1 Merciless Eternal
1 Moaning Wall
1 Ruthless Sniper
1 Soulstinger
2 Torment of Venom
1 Unburden
2 Wretched Camel
[/Black]
[Aftermath]
1 Claim // Fame
1 Struggle // Survive
[/Aftermath]
[Artifact]
1 Pilgrim’s Eye
2 Traveler’s Amulet
1 Welder Automaton
[Artifact]
[/deck]

22 Lands // 24 Creatures // 14 Spells (6 Red + 3 Black Removal)

Used 5/14 new cards

This build bought me a very tight win against Cameron, and a landslide over Michel J., who had joined the league late. A close match against a refreshed Tim Min resulted in loss #4 for me, and I whimsically added a pack of Shadows Over Innistrad to my pool:

[list]
1 Always Watching
1 Angelic Purge
1 Apothecary Geist
1 Crow of Dark Tidings
1 Drownyard Explorers
1 Erdwal Illuminator
1 Inquisitor’s Ox
1 Kindly Stranger
1 Manic Scribe
1 Press for Answers
1 Stoic Builder
1 Uncaged Fury
1 Watcher in the Web
1 Weirding Wood
[/list]

One card in particular should stand out in that pack. The rare, Always Watching, is an outstanding combo with all exert cards, and I was incredibly fortunate to rip it. My white pool had been quietly accumulating strength in the background, and this booster was all it took to put it over the top and on a near-equal footing with my red cards. Angelic Purge is very nice against the God creature type, to boot…

Build #4: Boros

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Desert of the Fervent
2 Desert of the Indomitable
1 Desert of the True
1 Forest
1 Island
8 Mountain
7 Plains
1 Sandstone Bridge
[/Lands]
[Red]
1 Chaos Maw
1 Crash Through
2 Earthshaker Khenra
1 Fervent Paincaster
1 Firebrand Archer
1 Frontline Devastator
1 Hour of Devastation
1 Khenra Scrapper
1 Neheb, the Eternal
2 Open Fire
1 Sand Strangler
1 Thorned Moloch
1 Uncaged Fury
[/Red]
[White]
1 Aethergeode Miner
1 Always Watching
1 Angelic Purge
1 Angel of Condemnation
1 Angel of the God-Pharaoh
1 Cartouche of Solidarity
1 Caught in the Brights
1 Dauntless Aven
1 Djeru’s Renunciation
1 Mummy Paramount
3 Solitary Camel
1 Tandem Tactics
1 Vizier of the True
[/White]
[Aftermath]
1 Farm // Market
1 Struggle // Survive
[/Aftermath]
[Multicolor]
1 Renegade Wheelsmith
[/Multicolor]
[Artifact]
1 Hedron Blade
1 Pilgrim’s Eye
2 Traveler’s Amulet
1 Welder Automaton
[/Artifact]
[/deck]

24 Lands // 21 Creatures // 15 Spells (3 Red + 3 White Removal)

Used 3/14 new cards

For the remainder of the league, this deck never really lost again and needed no further alterations. It felt amazing to play, and had answers for nearly everything. Eventually I rose to the top of the league standings, dethroning Tim Martoni (did you know that Struggle // Survive is also excellent removal against The Locust God?). Tim’s 2nd place decklist is included below to share a different route to inclusion in the league’s Top 8.

Honorable Mention: Tim Martoni’s Five Colour Good Stuff

[deck]
[Creatures]
1 Adorned Pouncer
2 Feral Prowler
1 Resilient Khenra
1 Ruin Rat
1 Aven Initiate
1 Oasis Ritualist
1 Tenacious Hunter
1 Ominous Sphinx
1 Scrounger of Souls
1 The Locust God
1 Rampaging Hippo
1 Sifter Wurm
[/Creatures]
[Enchantments]
1 Desert Hold
1 Trial of Zeal
1 Unquenchable Thirst
[/Enchantments]
[Artifacts]
1 God-Pharoah’s Gift
4 Manalith
1 Sunset Pyramid
1 Wall of the Forgotten Pharoahs
[/Artifacts]
[Sorceries]
1 Doomfall
1 Grind // Dust
1 Hour of Promise
1 Kefnet’s Last Word
2 Lethal Sting
[/Sorceries]
[Instants]
1 Abrade
2 Ambuscade
1 Consign // Oblivion
1 Open Fire
1 Struggle // Survive
1 Torment of Venom
[/Instants]
[Lands]
1 Crypt of the Eternals
1 Desert of the Glorified
2 Desert of the Fervent
2 Desert of the Mindful
1 Hashep Oasis
1 Survivors’ Encampment
7 Forest
4 Island
1 Plains
4 Swamp
[/Lands]
[/deck]

Pro Level League Tech: Spotlight on Top 8 MegaDraft

The final standings of the league’s Top 8 players are always decided by MegaDraft, which is to say an oversized draft (usually of one pack of each standard-legal set), resulting in a 60-card deck. Now, the size of standard changes from 5-8 legal expansions, which means the MegaDraft changes in size every league. Nevertheless a MegaDraft deck will always be more powerful than a regular draft. Here’s a breakdown of a regular draft:

3 pack draft = 24/42 cards used = 57%

You get to choose 42 cards, and usually use around 24 of those in your deck, which means you are forced to use 57% of your pool. Clearly, if you get to choose even more cards, and use an even lower percentile of them, your deck will be more powerful. Compare the stats on MegaDraft:

5 pack Megadraft = 36/70 cards used = 51%
6 pack Megadraft = 36/84 cards used = 43%
7 pack Megadraft = 36/98 cards used = 37%
8 pack Megadraft = 36/112 cards used = 32%

I’m assuming that you’ll use around 36 of your picks to make a 60-card deck. Each pack added will have a substantial effect on the projected power level of the decks. In short, these decks are no joke, and can convincingly be built to run the gamut from aggro to midrange to control to combo. This fact can sometimes take players who are new to MegaDraft by surprise.

But the league finals are, above all else, for fun. This time, due to summer-level attendance, prize support was such that we could only do a 5-pack MegaDraft. We decided that instead of going back to Eldritch Moon, we’d make the fifth pack Conspiracy: Take the Crown. Insanity ensued!

In the end, I came in second place running red-green aggro. Below, I have included all of the cards that I used in my final deck, in the pack order that I received them. It should give you a good idea of which packs were key (in terms of % used), which could be helpful to you as 4/5 of the packs will be the same in the Ixalan MegaDraft.

Come MegaDraft With Me

Pack 1: Conspiracy: Take the Crown [7/15]

[deck]
[Red]
Burn Away
Ember Beast
Fiery Fall
Havengul Vampire
Kiln Fiend
[/Red]
[Green]
Netcaster Spider
Prey Upon
[/Green]
[/deck]

Pack 2: Kaladesh [7/14]

[deck]
[Red]
Salivating Gremlins
Wayward Giant
[/Red]
[Green]
Nissa, Vital Force
[/Green]
[Artifact]
Bomat Bazaar Barge
Chief of the Foundry
Cultivator’s Caravan
Welfast Monitor
[/Artifact]
[/deck]

Pack 3: Aether Revolt [10/14]

[deck]
[Red]
Aether Chaser
Enraged Giant
Freejam Regent
Lathnu Sailback
Shock
[/Red]
[Green]
Aetherstream Leopard
Highspire Infusion
Lifecraft Cavalry
Narnam Renegade
[/Green]
[Artifact]
Welder Automaton
[/Artifact]
[/deck]

Pack 4: Amonkhet [7/14]

[deck]
[Red]
Nef-Crop Entangler
2 Thresher Lizard
[/Red]
[Green]
Manglehorn
Quarry Hauler
[/Green]
[Land]
Sheltered Thicket
Sunscorched Desert
[/Land]
[/deck]

Pack 5: Hour of Devastation [10/14]

[deck]
[Red]
2 Fervent Paincaster
Firebrand Archer
Frontline Devastator
Granitic Titan
Khenra Scrapper
[/Red]
[Green]
Bitterbow Sharpshooters
[/Green]
[Land]
Desert of the Indomitable
Scavenger Grounds
[/Lands]
[Multicolor]
Struggle // Survive
[/Multicolor]
[/deck]

The Monster at the End of This Book

There’s nothing I’d like better than to end this article on a triumphal note: to say that this is how I finally won my first league at Face To Face Games. That hard work and dedication to one’s craft inevitably pays off. That virtue is always rewarded. Instead…

Congratulations to Amir Hassan, HOU League Winner!

Amir cobbled together a deck of what looked to everyone else to be absolute garbage, and then proceeded to brutally crush the rest of us with it. There was one game where he Demonic Tutor’d for Immanent Doom, and then started ticking it up until it was doing 3-4-5 damage. There’s another where his Fate Foretold did most of the heavy lifting. I can’t bring myself to type any more on this subject—it’s too fresh and painful—but needless to say he’ll happily tell you all about this little slice of League Lore if you ask him. Congrats Amir… enjoy your victory… until Ixalan league (shakes fist in air)!!

Further Reading

For those who don’t know the basics about the series of leagues I’ve been running for Face To Face Games for the past two years, feel free to check out the following articles for more background:

Also, I’d like to recommend an excellent piece on the joy of playing league by Katie Roberts of Manaleak.com (although she’s talking about the 30-card variety, not our 60-card sealed league, a lot of what she says still applies): http://www.manaleak.com/mtguk/2017/08/everything-you-need-to-know-about-mtg-league-and-why-you-should-give-it-a-try

Final Note: Full Ruleset [Fine Print] for Ixalan League

  • Player registration. The start date for the Ixalan sealed league is 10am, Sunday, October 1st, 2017 at Face To Face Games Montreal. The registration fee is $30, which includes prizes and the six packs of the starting card pool, payable at the store counter. No matches played before that date will count towards the final results. New players may join the league until October 8th (outstanding matches not resolved by 5pm Sunday, October 15th will count as losses).
  • Deck construction. Upon joining the league, players will open 6 boosters of Ixalan to make their league card pool. Only cards in this pool, and basic lands, are legal for league play. No trading of league cards is allowed for the duration of the league. Players will construct a 60-card deck from their league pool. The maximum number of copies of any card in a league deck is 4 (not including basic lands). Card pools will be registered on a checklist, which will then need to be checked and signed by another league player before being deposited at the league drop-off box at the counter of Face To Face Games (this should also include a player’s email address in order to receive essential league updates). If at any time a player is discovered to be using cards from outside their league pools in their league matches, they will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned.
  • Playing matches. Players are required to play a minimum of 3 best-of-three game matches per week, and are allowed a maximum of 6 matches, but may never play more than 3 matches in excess of the current minimum required number. This means that in Week 1, players can play between 3-6 matches; in Week 2, 6-9 matches; Week 3, 9-12 matches, and so on. Players are not permitted to play against the same opponent more than once per league week (even in multiplayer matches). Players who fail to reach the minimum number of matches per week will be penalized with automatic match losses for any missing matches, starting at the end of Week 2. Players who exceed their maximum number of matches per week, or who play against the same opponent more than once in a week, will either be disqualified or issued a severe warning at the TO’s discretion. If a player is disqualified for overplaying matches or opponents, that player will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned. Similarly, bad sportspersonship or other abusive play will not be tolerated in the course of playing league matches, and a player engaging in such behavior will either be issued a warning or be disqualified, depending on the severity of the behavior. The loser of each match may take a ‘punishment pack’: that is, the loser may open an unopened standard-legal booster pack in the presence of the winner, and add the contents to their league card pool, which the winner records on a match report slip. Before the loser’s next match, they may use these new cards to improve their deck. The maximum number of punishment packs that can be added to any player’s league pool is 10.
  • Reporting matches. Winners must complete match report slips (available at the Face to Face store counter), indicating the winning and losing players’ names, the date, the match result (e.g.: 2-1 / 2-0), and the cards contained in the punishment pack opened by the loser, as witnessed by the winner. Match reports must be put in the league drop-off box at the store before the 5pm deadline on the Sunday of each week to count toward the current week’s minimum play requirement. Records of all league match results for each week of play will be published via Facebook, along with current player standings.
  • Player elimination. When a players loses their 11th match, they are eliminated from the tournament (a match report slip must still be filled in by the winner, indicating the loser’s elimination) and can play no further matches. Players who do not play their minimum number of matches will automatically take losses (without punishment packs) until they reach that minimum: these auto-losses will count towards a player’s total number of match losses.
  • Optional formats. Optional formats (such as ‘Planechase’, ‘Two-Headed Giant’, ‘Star Format’, and ‘Best-of-Five Games’ and more) are supported for league matches, if agreed upon by all players in advance and use only cards from the players’ league pools. Players must indicate on their match report slip if they decide to play an optional format. Multiplayer matches require multiple slips because they result in multiple losses and thus multiple punishment packs being opened: a 5-player ‘Star’ game, for example, would count as 4 matches being played (the winning player would claim 4 match wins, and the other players would take 1 loss each).
  • Top 8. League winners are determined by elimination. When only eight players remain in the tournament, we will move to the league finals event (in the event of multiple players being eliminated during the same week, resulting in less than 8 players remaining, tie-breakers for Top 8 will be decided first by [A] total # of matches won, then [B] total # of perfect 2-0 wins, and then [C] total # of matches played if necessary). The finals are always on the Sunday following the last week of league play, unless an alternate date is announced by the TO. In the finals, the Top 8 players will retire their league decks and receive a free MegaDraft, drafting one 1 booster from each standard-legal set (alternately passing packs left, then right; pack choice for draft may be altered if prize pool is insufficient). No seeding will occur; seating and pairings will be randomized. Players will build a new 60-card deck from their MegaDraft pool and play 3 best-of-three Swiss rounds to determine their ultimate ranking in the tournament. Each league finals match win will count for 3 points, and each pre-finals match win will count as 1 point towards determining final ranking. Players unable to attend the finals can pick up their draft sets at the store at a later time; however they will be given auto-losses in their finals matches.
  • Final prizes. The Ixalan sealed league sponsor, Face To Face Games Montreal, has offered a prize pool of 2x boosters for each participating player + 24 packs toward the final MegaDraft in the league finals. Most of these packs will be used as MegaDraft sets for all Top 8 players; the remainder will be distributed among the Top 4 players according to their final rankings [in a 4:3:2:1 ratio, or as close as possible].

Yorke on Games #32 – Deceit in Games: Feints, Bluffs, and Lies

The implicit consensus in gaming culture is that we should be proud when we are able to ‘trick’ our opponents into making suboptimal (or downright misguided) plays, and/or trick referees into making bad calls. This, in turn, valorizes our ability to successfully deceive others. Today I will put this assumption under scrutiny, by analyzing the underlying logic of this valuation, and studying its effects on our behavior inside the games we play.

We switched their regular morning coffee with Folger’s crystals

Defining Terms

Before we can make an informed judgement about whether deceit in games is a good or bad thing, we first have to delineate the different varieties of deceit that are most often manifested in games.

Deceit in games generally comes in three flavors: feints, bluffs, and lies.

A feint is a deceptive movement. For example: moving as if you were going to kick a soccer ball to the left, and then actually kicking it to the right, to confuse an opposing player moving to intercept the ball. The feint is also used as a tactic in boxing and fencing to manipulate an opponent’s reactions. A feint is always physical.

A bluff is a deceptive display (of intention or ability). For example: going ‘all in’ in poker when you know you have a weak hand, or making a minimal bet when you know you have a strong hand. The confusion to your opponent here stems from a mismatch between how you behave, and what you know to be true. A bluff can be a combination of physical and verbal elements.

A lie is a deceptive statement. For example: telling an opponent in Risk that you won’t attack them on your next turn, so that they attack someone else instead—and then going ahead and attacking them anyway on your next turn. A lie is always verbal.

What unifies all of these acts is the underlying intention to deceive or mislead another person that you are playing a game with. I’ll begin with what we generally take to be the most morally problematic instance of deceit in games, and then work backward to the most generally accepted practice. Finally, I will identify the analogues of all of these forms of deceit in the game of Magic.

Lying

There’s a running gag in the Peanuts comic strip, where Charlie Brown runs up to kick a football held by Lucy, and then at the last minute Lucy pulls away the ball, and Charlie Brown falls down. It’s one of the most straightforward and well-known fictional instances of lying in a game.

Some people just want to watch the world burn, Charlie Brown

We might say that Lucy is playing a game with Charlie Brown, although Charlie Brown himself might not know that he is playing it: after all, he thinks he is playing or practicing football. But the real game is called ‘Sucker’, and Lucy wins it whenever Charlie Brown believes that she is going to let him kick the ball, when in fact she has no intention to do so. It is a game of pure deceit, and the only way that Charlie Brown can win is by refusing to play with Lucy (though that would mean he has to sacrifice his underlying faith in the universal goodness of human nature, or his naivety, or become less stupid or gullible in another manner).

Sucker is an unambiguously immoral game. It is a game that is parasitic on the institution of trust. It exploits people for no other purpose than sadistic amusement. There is no human excellence that can be expressed in the course of playing it. Nor is it particularly interesting in terms of its game design.

Diplomacy, on the other hand, is an interesting and well-designed game, although it is very difficult if not impossible to win without lying at one point or another. If you’re not familiar with the game, here’s a primer:

http://nationalpost.com/opinion/jonathan-kay-on-diplomacy-the-boardgame-that-offers-a-window-into-mans-lying-soul/wcm/067089c7-fcaa-4d60-bc57-c447bb210467

The question is: does the goodness of a game’s design nullify the badness of having to lie in order to win it?

I think it counts as an achievement to win a game of Diplomacy, even though you have to behave immorally to do so. It is an ‘evil achievement’—like murdering someone and not getting caught. What makes lying an effective strategy in-game is that very few people would expect that you would do something immoral just to win at something trivial—like a game.

In other words, Diplomacy is just Sucker writ large. Every Diplomacy player aims to be the only Lucy at the end of the evening, standing atop a pile of disillusioned and disgraced Charlie Browns. And while that might be fun to some people—just as huffing glue might be fun to others—that’s not enough to make it good.

Bluffing

The bluff is only possible in games of hidden information, or games of concealment. Importantly, it is possible to conceal without bluffing—Hide and Go Seek is an excellent example of a game with hidden information where bluffing is impossible. Concealment is what enables a game of hidden information: it is not equivalent to having an intent to deceive, and is thus morally unproblematic. But what about bluffing?

While no one should be lied to outright—it’s morally wrong inside or outside a game, which is why friendships are endangered or dissolved entirely in most intense games of Diplomacy—it’s more difficult to say whether bluffing is an immoral practice or not. Player intentions are part of hidden information (in some games, like chess, they are the only items of hidden information), and thus no other player has a moral claim to have knowledge of them. However, bluffing is the intentional misrepresentation of intention or ability, and as such is at least a morally suspect practice.

“All in!” said both the disingenuous bluffer and the sincere idiot

Bluffing almost certainly yields an advantage in many games, but that in itself is not an argument in its favor. Cheating, too, will almost certainly yield an advantage if successfully executed, but that does not mean that cheating is thereby morally warranted. Perhaps there is something to be said for bluffing as the exercise of a skill—but being a ‘good’ cheater could also be parsed as the exercise of a skill.

So, by analogy: is there some value in being a ‘skilled’ cheater? In other words, between Cheater A and Cheater B, where Cheater A is more skilled (able to successfully execute the cheat without detection) than B, is A a better person than B if they are equivalent in all other regards?

If we say ‘yes’, then we believe that skill is morally relevant, regardless of what the skill in question is.

If we say ‘no’, then being good at cheating merely indicates a defect in character, rather than a temporary lapse in judgment. Some skills might actually make us morally worse through their possession, and the less of that skill we possess, the morally better we are for it. For example: I’d feel more at ease in the company of someone who is ‘bad’ at murder than someone who was really skilled at it, all other things being equal. That puts me in the ‘no’ camp. For me, it’s important to look at whether bluffing is the kind of skill we can morally recommend, before we can blindly praise its possession in a moral agent. The fact that you were able to deceive all your friends and family in order to win at a game of Werewolf doesn’t necessarily make you a good person, in my books.

And here’s the fine line. I think that dissembling (concealing, or saying nothing about) one’s intentions and abilities in a game (or even outside a game) is fair, and in fact improves a game. However, putting on an act, indicating that one intends to do the opposite of what one really intends to do, is unduly manipulative and interfering: this is why we generally view soccer players bluffing an injury (misrepresenting their physical state) to the referees as behaving shamefully. I want to see what my opponent can do to the best of their abilities in a game—not see the worst levels they will sink to in order to steal a win. I may be in the minority, but I believe that there is an important difference in experiencing defeat, between the good feeling of appreciating the excellent play of an opponent, and the bad feeling of having been tricked or manipulated by them.

Feinting

By extension, is a feint in soccer immoral? Or is it okay to intentionally trick your opponent in order to maintain possession of the ball? To answer this question, we have to step back a bit.

The reality is that in most competitive games, where the goal is to best an opponent or reach a certain objective before others do, some level of deception is strategically desirable (where possible), and in some cases (such as poker) is absolutely essential to the activity. Thus, in-game, deception is often valorized; and so mastering a good feint is part of every soccer player’s journey to competency. But, as we have said, today we are discussing the ideal case: what we should be doing (normatively) as opposed to what we actually do (descriptively).

This boils down to an underlying issue: is the intended point of a game a test or a contest?

If a game is meant to test for the presence of certain abilities, or qualities, in its players, then the ideal of the game is to reward the exhibition of those skills or powers by its players.

If a game is meant to be a contest between players to see who can secure a victory over their opponents, then the ideal of the game is winning by any means necessary.

Sometimes, these models overlap: we can have a competitive contest wherein players are tested against each other, and the player who passes the test with the highest score will be declared the winner. However, where these models come apart we need to choose between competing ideals: testing skill or achieving a win. My position is that focusing exclusively on winning deforms what makes winning valuable in the first place—namely, that it is typically associated by the possession of a desirable skill, attribute, or quality of character. To see what I mean, imagine a ‘Snakes & Ladders Grandmaster’: we could not respect such a figure (indeed, they would likely be held up to ridicule), because they would not have (and, more precisely, could not have) exhibited any skill in the process of being awarded their title.

So: what skills does the game of soccer want to reward the possession of? I’m projecting a bit here, but I think that the answer is: the speed and accuracy with which players can manipulate a soccer ball using only their feet. Deception does not enter the picture of being a core skill to be measured via playing a game of soccer, to my mind.

That being said, there is nothing in the rules of soccer that either necessitates or proscribes feinting: the rules are silent on the topic. The feint is simply a tactic for playing soccer more effectively. In that sense, feinting is analogous to ‘content’ in computer games: it is non-essential to the game’s ruleset, and the game could function just as well without it (although soccer might aesthetically look and play out very differently without it).

There are two way to demonstrate this: (1) imagine that soccer’s ruleset were identical to its current ruleset, with the exception that (the virtually unenforceable) ‘no feinting is permitted by players’ rule were added to it; or (2) imagine that soccer’s ruleset was the same, but that morally perfect players who considered feinting to be unethical were the only ones playing it. In either case, the game would become one of power, speed, and precision instead of tricky footwork: slower, less physically powerful players would be even more disadvantaged than they already are. Whether you think that is good or bad for the game is beside the point of what soccer, as we currently understand it, aims to test.

Deceit in Magic

Lying to an opponent or a judge in Magic—‘misrepresenting the game state’—gets you disqualified if caught. Both the game’s ruleset and its institutions are very clear about this. Honoring your agreements in multiplayer is a test of your character, regardless of how you rationalize it to yourself and others after breaking them. Lying is bad inside and out of the game: don’t do it, and so on, and so forth.

Bluffing, on the other hand, is part of the game’s culture, and is widely accepted and celebrated. But I believe that dissembling (concealing) does a lot of the work of what people think bluffing is does, and is actually more effective in the long run (as well as having the virtue of being more honest). It also makes a strategy game more genuinely interesting to watch when your eyes can rest on the pieces, rather than the players.

Feinting is less common in Magic, but is also used as a tactic by the professionals of the game: reaching to tap a land that produces a certain color of mana, and then making a show of untapping it without playing a spell; counting the cards in one’s graveyard at strategic times when none of one’s cards in hand refer to the graveyard; and loudly flicking one’s cards during an opponent’s key decision points in the hopes of distracting them or reducing their ability to make calculations, all count as feints. I would say that these moves, while not necessarily morally problematic, are out of line with what the game intends to measure or test, and thus count as a perversion of the game’s chief aims.

In summary: lying is bad and self-defeating; bluffing is (typically) redundant and prodigal behavior if hidden information remains well-dissembled; and feinting, while neither immoral nor redundant, is often out of line with the spirit of any game which is designed as a test.

Magic, as it is designed, wants to test whether you can make the correct strategic moves in choosing or building your deck, and the correct tactical moves in playing it in an actual match. Treating it like a contest where ‘psyching out’ your opponent is the chief focus of your efforts deforms the game, and turns it into something relatively petty, antagonistic, and trivial. To ignore this conclusion would only be to fool yourself into thinking that the game is something it is not.

Yorke on Games #31: In League: With Bolas

You might not know it, but I’ve just been through an eight-week journey through the burning sands of Amonkhet. The Face to Face Games Sealed League just came to a close last night with its Top 8 Megadraft finals, and boy was it a doozy: my face feels sunburnt; my tongue cracked. Today I’m going to tell you some of the more outstanding stories in terms of play experience, fun, and accomplishment that happened in the past two months… but first, I’m going to talk about what Sealed League is for our uninitiated readers.

What is ‘Sealed League’?

Sealed League is a style of play which defies traditional definitions by embracing these two apparent contradictions: it’s both a ‘Limited Constructed’ and ‘casual competitive’ format.

Sealed League is ‘Limited Constructed’ in that we have a 4-of rule for copies of any card in a deck (like Constructed play), but allow the use of non-Standard-legal Invocations that are opened (like Limited play). We have 60-card decks (like Constructed), but start out with a Sealed card pool of 6 booster packs (like Limited). So it’s a hybrid format.

On the other hand, Sealed League is ‘casual competitive’, since we have Top 8 Finals (like competitive play), but have no time limits on matches (like casual play). Also, we hold our opponents to a high standard of play, allowing few or no take-backs (like competitive), but use an honor system to help each other get our matches in (like casual). So it’s somewhere between kitchen table Magic and FNM levels of intensity.

If that sounds like something you’d be interested in trying, be sure to join us for the July 16th HOU league launch (details below)! We’ll be glad to show you the ropes. Now, back to material aimed towards our more enfranchised readership…

The League Lore

Naturally, I’ll start with some notable stories from my perspective (and, as I eventually came 2nd place in the tournament, I suppose my words carry a little more weight than usual).

I started off with a slow but strong Golgari build: [card]Sandwurm Convergence[/card] and [card]Cruel Reality[/card] were my main finishers in my opening pool, and pretty much everything else in the deck was a speedbump for my opponents to waste resources on, until I could drop one of my game-breaking enchantments.

However, as players take losses and add packs to their pool, the league starts to favor decks that can close out a game earlier than turn 10. In other words, I sorely needed some early defense in order for my deck to remain viable.

Since you obviously can’t control what you open, league play kind of pushes you toward cherishing each little in-color resource your boosters give you. In my case, upon taking a loss from Tim Martoni (who came in 6th), I cracked open an Eldritch Moon booster in his presence that yielded both a regular and foil version of this odd little guy:

My league deck put up a ‘spirited’ defense

 
After this addition, 1/30 of my deck was [card]Permeating Mass[/card]! That’s a whopping 3.3%! Opponents would often use removal on it just so they wouldn’t have to read the rules text to figure out what was going to happen post-combat. This was, of course, precisely what I wanted to occur.

Whenever it hit an opponent for 1, I would make highly amusing jokes such as: “I just got through for MASSive damage!” In short, I made sure that there were lots of reasons for wanting to get it off the table.

The mirror match that nobody asked for

 
But in the end, even Permie couldn’t save me when I faced off against Amir Hassan (7th place) in a decisive [card]Sandwurm Convergence[/card] vs. [card]Sandwurm Convergence[/card] matchup. He dropped his a turn before I dropped mine, but I had a slight edge on life totals, so it was essentially a standoff. I topdecked [card]Cruel Reality[/card], and felt like I had gained the edge, but there was so much meat on the board by that time its effect was imperceptible. Growing impatient, I went all-in with my Wurm token army against his Wurm token army, resulting in many (presumably slimy) deaths. However, Amir had some concealed lifegain and a fistful of removal, which meant that he could save enough of his offensive force to clean me out on the crackback.

After that, I went for a low-curve Selesnya build with tons of lifegain that snuck me into the finals. Not a very glorious path, but effective.

Best in Show: Deconstructing the Most Successful Deck

Before the finals, there was no question that Richard Koffler (4th place), with his ‘Knowledge is Power’ deck (list shown below), was the dominant performer in the league.

Richard won 16/23 [70%!] of his matches in the main (pre-Top 8) portion of the league tournament. It was a fearsome machine of extraordinary killing efficiency. As I commented to our Facebook discussion thread at the time: “It’s Richard’s league: the rest of us are just living in it.”

That fact may, or may not, have had something to do with this little gem Richard opened at the beginning, and kept in his deck throughout:

Pact with value

Remember that format-defining card, [card]Sandwurm Convergence[/card]? Well, Amir joined the league later than Richard and hadn’t yet found out about his prized [card]Pact of Negation[/card]. Amir happily attempted to resolve his Convergence on a tapped out Richard. That match… didn’t go well for Amir.

In later weeks, in a different match, I witnessed Richard fight through a resolved [card]Sandwurm Convergence[/card] of Amir’s for the win, even while his [card]Archfiend of Ifnir[/card] and [card]Angler Drake[/card] were both essentially blanked by the card. Richard cycled all the Wurm tokens out of existence care of his idle Archfield, and then swung in with a Cartouche’d [card]Dune Beetle[/card] to finish Amir off. Crazy stuff.

The other league players were consistently impressed with Richard’s power to open in-color mythics and build them seamlessly into his deck. There was one absolutely brutal game where he eventually beat my turn 3 Rhonas with his unexpected turn 3 Kefnet (armed with [card]Cartouche of Ambition[/card]). Who brings a Cartouche to a god fight, seriously?

Anyway, here’s Richard’s decklist, a specimen of a league-dominating deck in its prime (in case you’re wondering what such a thing might look like):

[deck]
[Lands]
2 Evolving Wilds
11 Island
10 Swamp
[/Lands]
[Spells]
3 Cartouche of Ambition
1 Cartouche of Knowledge
1 Cruel Reality
2 Essence Scatter
2 Final Reward
1 Galestrike
2 Hieroglyphic Illumination
1 Pact of Negation
1 Pull from Tomorrow
1 Splendid Agony
2 Trial of Knowledge
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
2 Angler Drake
1 Archfiend of Ifnir
1 Baleful Ammit
1 Doomed Dissenter
1 Dune Beetle
2 Gravedigger
1 Hekma Sentinels
2 Horror of the Broken Lands
1 Kefnet the Mindful
2 Pitiless Vizier
2 River Serpent
1 Ruthless Sniper
1 Seeker of Insight
1 Shadowstorm Vizier
1 Vizier of Tumbling Sands
[/Creatures]
[/deck]

Not counting basic lands, Richard’s rarity count looks like this:

5/60 = rare / mythic rare [8%]

11/60 = uncommon [18%]

23/60 = common [38%]

This rarity pyramid is exactly what you’d expect in a well-designed league deck: there are about twice as many commons as uncommons, and about twice as many uncommons as there are rares and mythics.

In terms of mana cost, the average card in the deck is around 3.7 mana: but this is slightly inflated due to the fact that so many cards are intended to be cycled, rather than played outright. In reality, it’s probably a lot closer to 3, which isn’t completely aggro, but isn’t completely midrange either.

I will absolutely copy and paste this curve into my HOU Sealed League deck, and recommend that you do the same.

Amonkhet Sealed League: Wrapping Up (Pun Intended)

The Amonkhet league was a league of firsts. It was, for example, the first tournament where we needed to go to a third set of tie-breaking criteria to decide the Top 8. In Week 7, there were multiple eliminations, resulting in fewer than 8 players remaining for the finals. There were two players in particular who had won the same number of matches, and also had the same number of perfect 2-0 victories: so they elected to duel each other to determine which was worthy to enter the finals. In the future, we will have a further criterion, total number of matches actually played, which will help us break such (very rare) ties.

Of the multitude of people who was eliminated in the last week of play, one was this gentleman:

Michel Jutras, our AKH Sealed League Champ, with coveted ½ horse trophy

So congratulations go to Michel (1st place) for making his first Top 8, for sticking it out in a very competitive main tournament, and for winning the Megadraft finals 3-0 with his Izzet tempo-based deck.

Myself, I had to settle for 2nd place with my bizarre Orzhov artifacts matter build. In one notable match, my [card]Pale Rider of Trostad[/card] recklessly chucked my third land out of hand (I would never see another for the rest of the game), then galloped all the way to victory with a [card]Shard of Broken Glass[/card] in one hand and a [card]Honed Khopesh[/card] in the other. I had to be sedated after that one. Skulk FTW! Hey, that’s gotta be a first too, right?

For those who want to see the full set of league tournament results, and/or are curious about league history, I include the following table (yellow highlights indicate the now-defunct one-day league program). Who knows: maybe you’ll be seeing your name in lights there in a couple of months!

Hour of Devastation Sealed League: Looking Ahead

The full ruleset for the upcoming Hour of [card]Devastation[/card] league can be found below. It should answer any lingering questions new players might still have about the format. Hope you’ll join us: the new league launches at 10:00 AM on July 16th, 2017, at Face to Face Games Montreal!

  • Player registration. The start date for the Hour of Devastation league is 10am, Sunday, July 16th, 2017 at Face To Face Games Montreal. The registration fee is $30, which includes prizes and the six packs of the starting card pool, payable at the store counter. No matches played before that date will count towards the final results. New players may join the league until July 25th (however, outstanding matches not resolved by 5pm Sunday, July 30th will count as auto-losses).
  • Deck construction. Upon joining the league, players will open 6 boosters of Hour of Devastation to make their league card pool. Only cards in this pool, and basic lands, are legal for league play. No trading of league cards is allowed for the duration of the league. Players will construct a 60-card deck from their league pool. The maximum number of copies of any card in a league deck is 4 (not including basic lands). Card pools will be registered on a checklist, which will then need to be checked and signed by another league player before being deposited at the league drop-off box at the counter of Face To Face Games (this should also include a player’s email address in order to receive essential league updates). If at any time a player is discovered to be using cards from outside their league pools in their league matches, they will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned.
  • Playing matches. Players are required to play a minimum of 3 best-of-three game matches per week, and are allowed a maximum of 6 matches, but may never play more than 3 matches in excess of the current minimum required number. This means that in Week 1, players can play between 3-6 matches; in Week 2, 6-9 matches; Week 3, 9-12 matches, and so on. Players are not permitted to play against the same opponent more than once per league week. Players who fail to reach the minimum number of matches per week will be penalized with automatic match losses for any missing matches, starting at the end of Week 2. Players who exceed their maximum number of matches per week, or who play against the same opponent more than once in a week, will have those matches struck from their record, opened cards related to those matches deleted from their league card pool, and will be issued a warning. If a player’s overplaying behavior is not corrected after one warning that player will be considered eliminated from the league and forfeit any prizes they would have earned. Similarly, unsportsmanlike or other abusive play will not be tolerated in the course of playing league matches, and a player engaging in such behavior will either be issued a warning or be immediately eliminated, depending on the severity of the behavior.
  • Reporting matches. The winner must complete a match report slip (available at the Face to Face store counter), indicating the winning and losing players’ names, the date, the match result (e.g.: 2-1 / 2-0), and the cards contained in the pack opened by the loser, as witnessed by the winner. Match reports must be put in the league drop-off box at the store before the 5pm deadline on the Sunday of each week to count toward the current week’s minimum play requirement. The loser of each match may take a ‘punishment pack’: that is, the loser may open an unopened standard-legal booster pack in the presence of the winner, and add the contents to their league card pool, which the winner records. Before the loser’s next match, they may use these new cards to improve their deck. The maximum number of punishment packs that can be added to any player’s league pool is 10. Records of all league match results for each week of play will be published via the Facebook group and/or email list, along with a list of remaining players, and those players’ win percentiles to date.
  • Player elimination. When a players loses their 11th match, they are eliminated from the tournament (a match report slip must still be filled in by the winner, indicating the loser’s elimination) and can play no further matches. Players who do not play their minimum number of matches will automatically take losses (without punishment packs) until they reach that minimum: these auto-losses will count towards a player’s total number of permissible match losses [this is also known as the ‘Johnny Rule’].
  • Optional formats. Optional formats (such as ‘Two-Headed Giant’, ‘Star Format’, and ‘Best-of-Five Games’ and more) are supported for regular league matches, if agreed upon by all players in advance and use only cards from the players’ league pools. Players must indicate on their match report slip if they decided to play an optional format. Multiplayer matches require multiple slips: a 5-player Star game, for example, would count as 4 matches being played (the winning player would claim 4 match wins, and the other players would take 1 loss each).
  • Top 8. League winners are determined by elimination. When only eight players remain in the tournament, we will move to the league finals event as soon as possible (in the event of multiple players being eliminated during the same week, resulting in less than 8 players remaining, tie-breakers for Top 8 will be decided first by [A] total # of matches won, then [B] total # of perfect 2-0 wins, and then [C] total # of matches played if necessary). The precise date of the finals is decided when a consensus is reached or, if this is impossible, a date is approved by a 75% [6/8 player] supermajority of the Top 8 (any other urgent in-tournament alteration to the ruleset must be approved by the same percentage of players). In the finals, the Top 8 players will retire their league decks and receive a free MegaDraft, drafting one 1 booster from each standard-legal set (alternately passing packs left, then right; pack choice for draft may be altered if prize pool is insufficient). No seeding will occur; seating and pairings will be randomized. Players will build a new 60-card deck from their MegaDraft pool and play 3 best-of-three Swiss rounds to determine their ultimate ranking in the tournament. Players unable to attend the finals can pick up their draft sets at the store counter at a later time; however they will be given auto-losses in their finals matches and will not be eligible for additional prizes or higher ranking.
  • Final prizes. The Hour of Devastation league sponsor, Face To Face Games Montreal, has offered a prize pool of 2x boosters for each participating player + 24 packs toward the final MegaDraft in the league finals. Most of these packs will go to providing the cards for the MegaDraft; the remainder will be distributed among the Top 4 players according to their final rankings [in a 4:3:2:1 ratio, or as close as possible].

Yorke on Games #30 – Magic’s Color Wheel: Value Pluralism, Good Storytelling, and the Impossibility of Utopia

Why is conflict the central creative focus in every Magic story and set? Why is conflict also the main concern of the news, and often our personal lives as well? Why can’t we all just get along?

Today we’re going to discuss Magic’s color wheel, and how the central concepts behind it undergird actual societal and personal conflicts. I argue that the wheel tells us as much about life in this world as it does about fantasy battles taking place between armies on imaginary planes. And if you stick it out until the end, I’ll illustrate my theoretical points with a new game I’ve designed for you all to play: Four-Card Plot Summary.

Vorthos’ Favorite Pie

The Incompatibility of Goods

Let’s imagine you’re visiting a friend’s place, and that the blanket on their guest bed is too small for you, such that either your chest will be covered and your feet exposed, or your feet will be covered and your chest exposed. The options of cutting the blanket in two, or finding a better blanket, are off the menu for the sake of this example. The way the blanket is described here—the brute facts of the situation—forces us to choose between two incompatible goods, namely chest warmth or foot warmth.

In life, we are often similarly forced to choose between two mutually exclusive possibilities, each of which have some merit. We may want to feel free, have fun, and be spontaneous; but also crave the security and stability of a having a solid long-term plan for our lives—all while knowing that these goals and desires are in conflict with each other. Theoretically and practically, we can’t do much about that baseline fact.

And, just as we will often experience an inner conflict between competing values, our experiences with other people inevitably reveal that they have values different from our own. Some of these we can respect and integrate, and others would threaten our very identity if we adopted them. Zooming out even further, there are conflicts between different societies and cultures which operate on the same principle: that one value can only be promoted at the expense of its opposite.

By analogy, the world is like that crappy blanket that can’t let us have everything we want or need. Isaiah Berlin writes in The Crooked Timber of Humanity that: “Some among the Great Goods cannot live together. That is a conceptual truth. We are doomed to choose, and every choice may entail an irreparable loss.” Conflict, in other words, is inevitable.

At least we can agree in our choice of haberdashers

The Inevitability of Conflict

This is central to what makes Magic such a compelling game, both flavor-wise and mechanically. The dominant bases of conflict are pictorially represented in the color wheel, and justify the in-game action. Chaos is incompatible with social Order (but what about a festival?); Morality and Immorality cannot both be simultaneously embraced as guiding principles in the same mind (but what about a tortured conscience?). Just going around the color wheel inspires you to think up interesting stories, none of which would get off the ground if all people adhered to an identical set of values.

While tragedy can sometimes be the result of conflict, there is also the potential for growth and greater understanding to occur through the clash of ideas. So instead of lamenting this inevitable feature of life, it may be more productive to focus on the positive aspects of value pluralism, one of which is that the world is organically set up like a free market of values for you to pick and choose between. As adults, each of us get to metaphorically pick our favorite color, or combination of colors, to play with. Hopefully, we learn from the resulting conflicts we get ourselves into with other people, who naturally have different ideas than we do. Still, there is at least one regrettable outcome of this never-ending clash of values: there is no final resting place of human history; no ultimate peace or unity awaits us.

Feature Match

The Impossibility of Utopia

Indeed, if a ‘utopia’ were established which promoted and protected any one value over the others, some people would be bound to suffer. Certain people’s values would not find expression in the utopian state apparatuses or its culture, making it less than ideal for them; even positively hellish in the worst (dystopian) cases. With reference to my blanket analogy above, the marginalized minority would be the cold and exposed toes, opposite the blanket-covered chest of the utopian majority.

A utopia of leisure, for instance, would alienate those who value the exertion of effort; and a communitarian utopia would have nothing to offer adherents of individualism. As Robert Nozick notes in Anarchy, State, and Utopia: “there will be no way to satisfy all of the values of more than one person, if only one set of values can be satisfied.” More dramatically, there may not even be a utopia for one person that is possible, given that our internal set of values is probably inconsistent as well. So even if we could build a personal paradise for ourselves, we’d likely get restless and tear it all apart.

Dylan Glynn illustrates this point with a Split Sketch

Wheel in the Sky Keeps on Turning

One upshot of perpetual internecine conflict is that things stay interesting. Developments are inevitable. Stories can be told. Even in card form.

In fact, Magic is already attempting to systemically narrativize its in-game action via the ‘Story Spotlight’ card series. However, as Sam Keeper recently pointed out, Wizards Creative could be doing a better job of hitting their beats and telling coherent tales. But how, specifically, could they improve?

Wizards Creative needs to be simultaneously clever and concise. The team has limited space to work with, and much that needs to be accomplished in it. Luckily, there are plenty of good precedents in word economy: take, for example, the Four Word Film Review. AardBall’s perfect description of The Blair Witch Project on that site is the very essence of pithy humor: “Tense. Intense. In Tents.”

Inspired by the Four Word Film Review, and some rules of Dixit, I’ve created the following party game: Four-Card Plot Summary.

How to Play ‘Four-Card Plot Summary’

You’ll need at least three players, each of whom has an adequate knowledge of Magic, as well as pop culture.

Using any four existing Magic cards, outline the plot of a narrative (novel, movie, play, or song) that you’ve secretly chosen. You may identify the medium for the other players, but nothing else. Then, give the other players a chance to secretly write down one guess each of the title of the narrative you’re referring to (use Gatherer if you don’t have the physical cards on hand). Once everyone has written down their guesses, you reveal the narrative you were trying to describe with the cards. Scoring is as follows:

• If all or no other players guess the right answer, you get 0 points and all other players get 1 point each.
• If some (but not all) other players guess the right answer, you and those players get 2 points each, while players that guessed incorrectly get 0 points.

Games go to 20 points; the player who reaches that number first, wins.

Next, let’s try a few hands so you can see what I mean. Bear in mind, of course, that this is an art rather than a science, and that different people could choose to represent the same plot with different cards. To better connect with the rest of the article, each one of my examples below will illustrate a central conflict between incommensurable goods on the Magic color wheel.

Good luck with your guesses! The correct answers will be given at the end.

Sample Hands

#1: Medium = Novel (Conflict: Morality vs. Amorality)

#2: Medium = Play (Conflict: Logic vs. Impulse)

#3: Medium = Movie (Conflict: Order vs. Chaos)

#4: Medium = Novel (Conflict: Technology vs. Instinct)

#5: Medium = Movie (Conflict: Interdependence vs. Parasitism)

Answers // Conclusion

1. The Stranger by Albert Camus. After attending his mother’s funeral, the anti-hero Meursault shoots an Arab on the beach for no particular reason; he is pilloried and condemned in a court of law for the crime, and after a long isolation in prison, is finally executed.
2. Oedipus Rex by Sophocles. The oracle prophesies that a criminal in Thebes must be exposed to lift the plague on the city; shortly after, a blind prophet is the first to reveal to King Oedipus that he is in fact the one who accidentally murdered his own father, who was blocking his way at a crossroads; Oedipus pierces his own eyeballs and leaves the city, in the despair and inner struggle that ensues.
3. Hair by Milos Forman. Claude Hooper Bukowski is about to enlist as a soldier in the Viet Nam war when he encounters a group of freewheeling hippies, some of whom get arrested in their subsequent misadventures together; spontaneously, one of Claude’s new hippy friends impersonates him and takes his place on the troop transport plane headed for the war, thus saving him from death.
4. 1984 by George Orwell. Winston lives in a dystopian world wherein the population is controlled via continuous propaganda and thought control; and while he is keenly aware that he is always being watched by the government, he nonetheless indulges in an illicit affair, trades in contraband substances, and engages in seditious activities; this brings him to the attention of the sadistic agent O’Brien, who makes it his personal business to break Winston’s mind.
5. Avatar by James Cameron. Jake Sully is paralyzed, and the only way he can get the surgery he needs to repair his spine is to use an avatar to cultivate good relations with the alien Na’vi, for a nefarious corporation who want to mine their planet for its natural resources; Sully seemingly redeems himself by making genuine connections with a clan of the aliens who occupy a strategically-located Hometree, but in the end he is forced to choose sides in a mutually destructive confrontation between the corporation and the Na’vi.

Each of these movies, novels, and plays, is at least as creatively complex—if not more—than the backstory of the average Magic set. All the same, I was able to capture the essential elements of those complex plots with only four cards. I think that Wizards Creative should practice up by playing many, many rounds of my Four-Card Plot Summary game, getting used to matching up various cards with various story elements, before they choose // invent their next series of Story Spotlight cards. That way, their team might be better able express the nuanced and exciting conflicts already contained in their color wheel—resulting in (even) richer fictional settings for us players to explore.