Theros Block simple [almost] Pauper cube

Before Theros rotated out I bought a playset of all of the commons in Standard, from Theros to Dragons of Tarkir (I got them from MetaGamingNW through ebay if you’re interested: http://www.ebay.ca/usr/metagamingnw*com).

I like the idea of drafting, but I don’t like the idea of spending $20 to play a couple of games of Magic. Besides, with all of these cards in the house, don’t I already have enough to play?

So I made a Cube. Apparently most people have carefully constructed Cubes – they consider which cards have good synergy, they allow for a variety of specific archetypes, and they try to include some choice cards which are exciting to play with. This is very time-consuming, popular, and probably a lot of fun.

I did something a lot simpler.

Deciding on the cards

First, I wanted a Cube with 360 cards (24 packs times 15 cards each) so I can draft nicely. Here are the number of common cards in the sets in Theros block:

  • Theros: 101
  • Born of the Gods: 60
  • Journey Into Nyx: 60

This is a total of 221. Of course, I have 4 of each common card in each set, so I have:

  • Theros: 404
  • Born of the Gods: 240
  • Journey Into Nyx: 240

This is a total of 884. These are not nice numbers. That Theros 101/404 is the problem.

By colour, though, things are interesting:

 Set  White  Blue  Black  Red  Green  Other  Total
 THS  19  19  19  19  19  6  101
 BNG  12  12  12  12  12  0  60
 JOU  12  12  12  12  12  0  60

Those “other” cards in Theros are 5 artifacts and one gold land (Unknown Shores). These aren’t nice numbers either (it would have been sweet if Theros had 24 per colour), but I had an idea to round things out without having to pick just a few cards to have doubles of within a colour.

I decided to include 2 of each card from Born of the Gods and Journey Into Nyx, and 1 of each WUBRG card from Theros. I also added in Unknown Shores to round out the numbers:

 Set  White  Blue  Black  Red  Green  Other  Total
 THS  19  19  19  19  19  1  96
 BNG  24  24  24  24  24  0  120
 JOU  24  24  24  24  24  0  120

Add ’em up and it’s 336, exactly 24 short of the 360 I wanted.

I dug into my Uncommons and found 4 of each colour from Theros block (I tried to have a mixture of types – creatures, sorceries, etc.), adding 20 and bringing me to 356 cards.

Those 5 artifacts bothered me, though. I didn’t have a way to put them in without unbalancing the colours. In the end I decided to leave them out, and instead I put in 4 uncommon artifacts from the block. This had the advantage of giving me exactly 24 uncommons, too.

Making the Boosters

After reading this post on MTG Salvation (link), I decided to do something similar with my Theros stuff to organize the boosters.

I shuffled the three sets of commons together by colour (i.e. a pile of White, a pile of Blue, etc.). The uncommon cards I spread out as starters for my 24 boosters, one uncommon per pack. It’s sort of like having a rare to choose from in the pack. Then from the shuffled commons piles, I put two of each colour in each booster (10+1=11 cards each now). To help increase the variability a bit, I shuffled each booster separately and took out one card. It’s possible the I removed the uncommon card, so maybe next time I will add the uncommon at the end. Ah well.

I now had 24 boosters with 10 cards each. I shuffled the undistributed cards all together (which included the card I just removed from each booster, the other colour piles, and Unknown Shores), and then put 5 cards from that stack in each booster pile. This brings each booster up to 15 cards.

Distribution

Because I put 2 of each colour into each pack at the beginning, there will be a good mixture of colours. For example, you couldn’t get a booster with a colour missing entirely. This does reveal a little bit of information, rarely: if you get a pack for the second pick and a colour is absent, you know that the person before you took that colour of card. It’ll happen pretty rarely, though, so I’m not worried about it. This is supposed to be casual, remember?

Also, because I may have removed uncommons and redistributed them, it’s possible to get more than 1 uncommon in a pack (up to 6, I suppose).

Packaging

I flipped half of each booster around so only the brown cardbacks are showing on each side, then jammed them into penny sleeves. 24 boosters fit nicely into a BCW 1-BX-400 box:

Now I need to put some land cards in there too. It’s going to be tough to have enough lands to work with, since my supply is kind of low. I’ll have to pick up some more sometime when I see them offered cheaply somewhere. The best I can find online is about $20 for 500 land (100 of each) or $30 for 1000 (both including shipping within/to Canada). I have a pretty good stack, but I like to keep my basic land mixed into decks I build, so having more would be awfully nice. (If anyone knows of a cheaper source I’d be grateful).

Playing

I haven’t tried it out yet, but I figure I should be able to get some kids at school to play, right?

Standard Pauper Battle For Zendikar, and the loss of Theros-M15

I play Magic: The Gathering (MTG or Magic) with my wife, my kids, a few friends, some students at school (hey guys!) and online.

New Magic sets are released a couple of times a year, and they are legal for Standard play for a while. Eventually they “rotate out” as they are replaced by newer sets, and the cards are only legal for play in other formats (don’t worry, there are many formats to choose from).

I have a bunch of paper cards which are “Standard” at the moment (they are from recent sets). I bought playsets (4 each) of common cards from Theros, Born of the Gods, Journey into Nix, M15 Core, Khans of Tarkir, Fate Reforged, and Dragons of Tarkir. This lets me play Standard Pauper, a format in which you can only use common cards (i.e. no uncommon, rare, or mythic rare cards).

Until tomorrow, that is… then Theros through M15 Core rotate out and aren’t legal for Standard play anymore.

For me, that’s not really a big deal. I’m not playing in tournaments. They’re perfectly good cards for a perfectly good game, it just won’t be Standard Pauper (unless I stick with just Fate Reforged and Dragons of Tarkir). I don’t need to buy more paper cards.

The Online story is different.

I started playing MTGO (username: bgrasley) a week or so ago. I now have all of the common cards from Khans through Origins (the one right after Dragons). I didn’t bother with anything before Khans because of the upcoming rotation. Battle for Zendikar comes out tomorrow (I think it’s the same time online), so then I’ll wait a few days until the common price is in line with the rest of the sets. I wonder if I might even be able to pick up Theros through M15 cheaply (right now, the price is 0.002 tickets per card, which is slightly less than a dollar for an entire set… “cheaply” is relative).

I’m most interested in playing Standard Pauper so I’ll definitely need to pick up BFZ’s commons soon so I have more cards to work with. It should be interesting.

The two card I’ll really miss

Triplicate Spirits and Raise the Alarm. Both of these white spells generate foolish numbers of tokens very cheaply. The 1/1 White Flying Spirit Tokens have won me several games.

I haven’t played with the Theros block cards yet (they’re still wrapped up in the box), so I won’t miss anything from there yet. I understand people who play other colours have some painful losses to rotation as well.

I’m going to read some set reviews, especially those focused on Standard Pauper, and see what I might brew up for BFZ.

What are you going to miss?

MTG Pauper M15 Core-only Mono-Red deck

Round two… I modified my BW deck from yesterday a bit (took out Divine Favor and Unmake the Graves, replacing them with Selfless Cathar, Necrobite, and Crippling Blight) then spent just a few minutes putting together a Mono Red Pauper deck again using only M15 Core commons. Here’s the (as yet unplayed) deck:

Creatures (24)
4 Borderland Marauder
4 Foundry Street Denizen
4 Generator Servant
4 Thundering Giant
4 Torch Fiend
4 Wall of Fire

Instants (8)
4 Crowd’s Favor
4 Lightning Strike

Enchantments (8)
4 Hammerhand
4 Inferno Fist

Land (20)
20 Mountain

I don’t know if I should have that many Thundering Giants, but I figure I can trade up my Generator Servants for them in round 3 or so. There are a bunch of cards in here I’ve never used, so we’ll see what happens. Comments and concerns welcome :)

MTG Pauper M15 Core-only BW deck

I mentioned a while ago that I bought playsets of all common cards from Theros up to Dragons of Tarkir. I decided this weekend to make a Black-White Pauper deck using only cards from the M15 Core Set to try out against a couple of Fate Reforged Intro decks I have and some kids at school. So far it’s performing fairly well, if a little slowly. First the card list, and then I’ll give my thoughts on it so far.

Creatures (16)
2 Carrion Crow
2 Child of Night
2 Heliod’s Pilgrim
2 Oreskos Swiftclaw
2 Soulmender
2 Sungrace Pegasus
4 Typhoid Rats

Spells (24)
2 Covenant of Blood
2 Divine Favor
4 Eternal Thirst
2 Oppressive Rays
4 Raise the Alarm
4 Sign in Blood
4 Triplicate Spirits
2 Unmake the Graves

Land (22)
4 Evolving Wilds
9 Plains
9 Swamp

Total cost was peanuts (this is Pauper, after all). If you paid $0.10 per card it would be $6, which is about what I paid for all the M15 Core commons together.

I have 8 cards which generate 1/1 tokens (Raise the Alarm and Triplicate Spirits). Those are nice, and I’ve been able to make them work each game.

I originally had 2 Festergloom in there, but I realized (belatedly) that they would kill off my own white tokens. Maybe it would fit into a Mono-Black deck. I swapped them out for Unmake the Graves. I have yet to draw that card, but I think it might not be helpful given the number of tokens I’m using versus creature spells.

Oppressive Rays works well to slow the pace and make sure my 1/1 wimps can chip away at the other player.

Divine Favor hasn’t helped too much. It might be good to boost Oreskos Swiftclaw‘s toughness, but how often will that happen?

I’ll tweak it some more. Suggestions always welcome!

Designing a Trading Card Game (#TCG)

My daughter and I worked together to make a card game. I have played around with the Chaotic TCG and found it a little complicated to play with the kids. So this one is simpler but still interesting, I hope.

I’m sure there are lots of fascinating books and articles about how to design fun, clever, fair, and complete TCGs. Having not even looked for that literature, we ventured into creating by trial and error. It’s a good learning experience, I suppose, to work through problems which someone else has already tackled but to not access any “hints”. Also, we’re not trying to develop a commercially viable game, so I’m okay with it being an imperfect game.

The game doesn’t have a name. There are currently 10 character cards and 10 location cards. We’ll add more soon, if it’s worth continuing. The basic premise is that each player has a party of characters and must attack the other player until someone is defeated entirely. Battles occur between pairs of characters, and each character heals completely between conflicts.

  1. Each player lays their character cards face up on the table.
  2. Location cards are shuffled and placed in a pile face down.
  3. Each player rolls a die until one player rolls a lower value than the other. The player with the lower roll is the first attacker.
  4. The attacker selects a character card from each player; these characters will battle.
  5. A location card is turned over.
  6. The location card determines which player strikes first (either the attacker or the defender) and whether the initial attack is a close attack or a distant attack.
  7. The location card determines the initial conditions; for example, a particular location may provide a certain character with additional HP or may reduce magical resistance.
  8. For each turn, the active player may (a) attack; (b) reposition; or (c) flee. After this action is completed, the other player becomes active and begins their turn.
  9. Attacking: If the current position is Close, use the attacker’s Close Attack formula. If the current position is Distant, use the attacker’s Distant Attack formula. The attacking player rolls a die and calculates the gross damage done. The value is then reduced by the defending character’s Resistance (Physical Resistance if the attacker has the Physical attack Type; Magical Resistance if the attacker has the Magical attack Type). If the value is below zero, no damage is done. The defender’s Hit Points are reduced by the net damage done. If the Hit Points remaining are zero or less, the character is defeated.
  10. Repositioning: The current attack position is either Close or Distant; the active player can use their turn to attempt to reposition. The player rolls a die; if the value rolled is 5 or 6 then the current attack position is changed. If the value rolled is not 5 or 6, there is no change.
  11. Fleeing: The active player may attempt to flee the conflict by rolling a die; if the value rolled is 6 then the battle is ended. It does not matter which player flees a battle. A player may only flee 3 battles in the course of an entire game.
  12. After  a battle is complete (either because of a character’s defeat or because one character has fled), control passes to the other player, who returns to step 4. If all of a player’s characters have been defeated, that player has lost.

I had to travel for work, so we haven’t had a chance to play yet. Also, we haven’t made any artwork for the cards, which should also be fun. Once we’ve tried out the game, we’ll refine and expand it (if we like it, that is).

Fantasy is really hard to write too

I know I just said SciFi is really hard to write, but Fantasy is too. Not quite as hard, I think, but still pretty difficult. The fact that you get to design a world can make it much harder than “regular” fiction.

The problem is that Fantasy stories still have to been internally consistent.

If you’re writing something that’s set in the “real” world, you already know all the rules: you’ve lived with them your whole life. The physics is determined. You have lots of reference materials for different cultures, governments, history, etc.

In a Fantasy world, you don’t have the reference materials. Or if you do, as in “Urban Fantasy” set in real-world cities, you mess it up by introducing a magical element. And those fantastic changes, even if small, have dramatic effects on the nature of the world.

For example, I once tried to design a “simple” magic system in which the magic user had telekinetic powers. That’s all. And nothing super-powerful, either: he or she couldn’t raise a sunken spaceship from a murky swamp or anything. But the effect was far-reaching: the person became instantly and exceptionally dangerous. If you can move anything nearby with your mind, it would be pretty simple to become a weapon (I’m reminded of the Coinshot in the Mistborn series). Or forget the makeshift bullets – just move a tiny part of a foe’s brain, without moving the rest of their body accordingly. Dead.

And that’s always bothered me about magic systems. There is almost always an easy way to use it in an extreme fashion to take over the whole world.

So my telekinetic sorcerer doesn’t exist. Maybe I should have started with the character and plot without thinking about the magic system, but the magic was the part I was most interested in.

I also wrote a short story in which the protagonist was learning about magic, and the boundaries were unclear. And as I introduced the effects of the magic (one person hadn’t aged in a long time, for example), I realized that I didn’t know how it worked, and that was a problem. What were the boundaries, and were they different for each magic user?

I also considered how prevalent the magic was – could anyone use it? Was it equally powerful for everyone? Did the magic have the same nature for every user, or did each person access it differently (as in the elemental styles we’ve all read about)?

And working through those questions, I recall how in many, many fantasy series, the magic-wielding character (of any experience level) becomes exponentially more proficient as time passes. Even the characters who are supposedly expert users at the beginning of the story make choices which seem quite novice in the context of the understanding the reader develops later. “Why didn’t he just do X at the beginning?” I often find myself asking later, once the nature of the magic is known. I fear it’s because the author wrote the beginning of the story before discovering all that the magic could do, before considering all of the ramifications of his or her choices.

So Fantasy is really hard to write also, and giant kudos to the authors who are good at it, because they are awesome.

Some free Kindle fantasy books today (2013 02 19)

I “bought” a couple of free books for my Kindle today. I don’t really need more to read, but I can’t resist them all. I did resist a couple of relatively long books; these ones are shorter. Nice cover art. Maybe someday I’ll even read them…

WICK (Wick Series) by Michael Bunker – “…A Mind-Bending Thriller…” – Listed under “Science Fiction – Adventure” and “Fantasy – Alternative History”. 197 pages.

Edgewood (Edgewood Series) by Karen McQuestion – “…a brand new, spellbinding novel…” – Listed under “Fantasy – Paranormal” and “Science Fiction – Adventure”. 325 pages.

Perhaps I’ll write a review, if I ever read them.