Sunday, 22 May 2016

Zombies, Run - A review? Maybe a story? @ZombiesRunGame

Before we go any further I should make it clear that I don't run. I can walk 30K in a day when I'm by myself, my pedometer knows this, and I do walk pretty fast. But I never run. Well for more than the 10m it takes to get to the bus.

There is a lot of fuss at the moment about VR headsets (that make you motion-sick and cook your face) and Augmented Reality (where you use your phone instead of your eyes) but I want to talk today about something I kind of bumped into that isn't really a game.  Well, in the same way that walking simulators are not games I guess.

I hadn't been feeling great for a while, but had changed my diet radically and cut out a lot of processed food and sugar and really reduced meat. Then one weekend while out working for a festival my body started to fight back. I just couldn't move my right shoulder at all without great pain. I presumed I'd dislocated it in my sleep so we went to the A&E tent.  They advised basic painkillers and rest. Luckily I'd worked all my shifts.  I put it down to the diet and switched back to calorific junk.

[Picked up a box of pain-killers]

Only this one requires real walking, preferably at speed.

My feet began to hurt. It wasn't a normal kind of ache from doing too much - or so I thought - because I'd not done much. Two consecutive weekends of standing on gates for Oxfam with a bit of walking in-between was fairly lightweight for me. Granted I wasn't wearing the best boots but it shouldn't have caused this.  Some days I could barely walk to the bus stop to work. I was rationing the trips away from my desk at work. Something was wrong.

[Picked up a mobile phone]

I first saw the Zombies, Run app ages ago.  The basic premise is you go for a run and the zombies chase you. I think it showed up when I was looking for something else and it was either free or cheap (it's free to start now) and it got buried on one of the many screens my phone has cluttered up with nonsense. Either way I downloaded it, signed up in July 2015, then completely forgot I had it. Interestingly as part of the activation process I'd given out my e-mail (which is why I know the date I signed up) and they'd send me a message every couple of months. I also joined their Twitter.

I got a stomach bug that took me off my feet for two days. My feet, glad of the rest, got better. It was like my healing abilities had been turned way, way down and I'd not spotted that - probably because everything else was too busy. Everything still ached, shoulders feet and now wrists, but I could walk again and this cheered me up a lot.

[picked up a pair of running shoes]

I'd wanted something to keep me a bit fit after I'd had to stop Wrestling Training (another long story) and had grabbed a few different motivational things to use as commitment bundling, mostly to go with the expensive running shoes I'd bought to train in as running barefoot in the wrestling dojo hurt my knees.  I started non of them past a cursory glance.

The word run in this app name put me off.  I wasn't fit enough to run - that's for well people without medical issues.  So it didn't get used.  I'll save it for when I'm well.

Everything got worse. I went for initial blood tests. These allowed me to go for the proper blood tests. These blood tests came back with results so off the chart that all the scientists in my lab were worryingly nice to me. The GP referred me to the clinic for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I'm 36. 

[Picked up Rheumatoid Arthritis]

Following the Zombies, Run Twitter account literally changed my life.  One day in December they sent out a tweet about a virtual race.  This was a 5K run - something that is way beyond anything I'd ever attempted. But there was loot.  Oh boy was there loot - zombie tops, promise of a medal - and nobody would know if I didn't actually do the run!

So I thought about it for a few weeks and signed up on Jan 4th (you know - when everyone thinks about making resolutions and commitments). Having never once used the app. Commitment bundling in action - "I can have this nice thing because I'm going to do something to earn it".  One of the things that inspired me to do this was a guy called Derek Mitchell who is a guy who struggles with his weight that so far this year has done 15 5K runs.  I've procrastinated writing this up for so long that he keeps adding more to the total.  He's going for 30 in the year.  Anyone can move 5k if you aren't worried about other peoples times, right?

The app was still sitting there and totally free. So the following day Jan 5th, on the way home from work, I thought I'd better have a go.

Here is how the first session with the app went.  I started it while I was still in the building (a large hospital) and was immediately treated to some story .  I hadn't expected this, I didn't know there were people to care about and reasons to want to keep going.  We were barely introduced to the world before my music kicked back in (you point it at a playlist on your phone).  Rufus Wainwright started to sing about love, and then the Zombies got me.

[Dropped a Bottle of Water]

I know this because the app keeps all the details.  It's like it knows that I'm a bit geeky.  What happened was this.  As you leave the site you have to cross two roads right next to each other.  Your pace is measured by the app, when the zombies attack you have to increase your pace to avoid them. The attack happened in between these crossings and I just couldn't run. If this was Dark Souls everything would be over - but the character dropped some items to distract the zombies. Rufus continued to serenade the horde, and I crossed the road and kept walking.  There is even a map of my route - I know I didn't go through the park and when I got home instead of walking straight home I looped round the block in the hope of finishing the story.  It didn't work.  It took 27:41 to do 3.31 Km and it still hadn't ended.

My feet still hurt from doing too much walking but their seems to be a 48 hr lag between over exertion and the pain.  I have to get to work somehow and I have a mission to finish. I want to know what happens next.

The following morning I decided to take a leisurely walk to work through the park.  I know this because the app knows this. I didn't start the app until I'd crossed all the roads and was ready.  1 min in the zombies caught me because I stopped and retied my laces. I did pause it (34 seconds) but I guess not soon enough due to fumbling my phone out of my pocket The arthritis is really affecting my hands now and I'd forgotten to double knot. Always double knot in a zombie apocalypse situation.

I reached the mission goal 6 mins in. This means at a slowish pace a mission would be doable with a detour home.  Nicely there are DJ skits for after you complete the run so you still feel like you are in the world of the game.

On the way you pick up [items] for an idle game, like a really simple city builder.  You run, you get supplies, you add to the town. In isolation it's just a distraction.  If you look at the above screen grab again you'll see how mundane these items are. I guess in an apocalypse an extra pair of shorts or any batteries at all would be a help. Occasionally you'll evade the zombies and it will say [picked up some clean underwear] - it's as if it knows...

One thing I'd need to fix was that I couldn't really hear the story over my rubbish free-with-the-iPhone headphones and that the songs on my phone (just the last few CDs I added to my computer) would need revising. It was all comedy songs by Mal Webb and really quiet stuff. Just not appropriate.

At first it's really jarring when the story butts in - you're off thinking of stuff and then Sam comes on the radio to tell Runner 5 about the world and send them into some danger.  It soon becomes second nature, flitting between rock music, thoughts about life and then the story about a small town besieged by zombies.

I officially started my RA treatment on 1st March 2016 - the tablets take 12 weeks to kick in meaning that my appointment this Tuesday 24th May is the point at which we should know if its working.  This feels like forever.

That said it was March 9th before I attempted mission 2. I was walking normally. I'd figured out a smart route home and I'd invested some HMV vouchers in some headphones that were amazing. Even better I discovered I could pause the app with the in-line controls. I would be unstoppable.  I've not been caught since! I did the 4km in 38m finishing the story in 33 mins and spending the rest of the time listening to the radio chatter.

My goodness I really needed to fix the music playlist though.  I set this up and resolved to wait a few weeks and go again.

Then something odd happened.

I was invited to come and spectate my partner's family on sports relief day  - in the UK this is a big charity thing where you walk a mile and get sponsored.  I hate sponsorship but agreed to show my support by watching.  It was far too early in the morning and it was really cloudy. I get cold really quickly at the moment and the prospect of standing around for two hours was miserable.  I already ached just getting there. I hit upon a great idea.  The set up was for 1 mile, 3 miles (what the family had been training for) and 5 miles.  3 miles is about 5K and out of the question.  If I walked a mile I'd go four times round the track, I'd warm up, I'd be *participating* and it would encourage the other family spectators we took to join in too.  After all - I'd already taken 4 painkillers that morning anyway.  At the table it was £7 to join in - all going to charity and the price didn't matter what distance you signed up to do.  I figured I'd sign up for the 5k and walk and drop out when the family finished.  I'd save my real 5k for the proper zombie run.

Abel Township however had other ideas.  As part of the Zombie Virtual Race package there were three missions.  Two 5k training missions and the race itself.  The first of these had become available about the time i did my last walk. I decided to play Race mission 1 and to just stop it when I stopped (the same as I'd done with the first normal mission) and then use the rest after I'd recovered.

The warm up turned out to be walking around the track twice - infuriating as this was half my distance, but doubly so as the 5 mile people started to right away after this, and we started a little later, cold again warm up negated.  Also everyone else had come dressed for the part - i was wearing my jeans and coat.  I took the coat and stashed it in my rucksack inside the track by the medical teams. I gravitated towards the back behind all the lycra and sports gear and began the countdown on the app after they all started.

I'd positioned myself right at the back expecting to be the slowest there. Everyone gradually started to walk.  I needed to loosen up, to relax and to get past the large clump of people who I'd let start in front of me. Most of all I just couldn't get warm with a gentle walk.  Unless I ran at least the first half a lap, just to clear a space and to get warm. And then I kept going.

I ran the first 6 laps.
I felt normal. 
I ran 2k. 
In 10:31.

Flow is very important. Sometimes the thing you are doing right now just feels right.  Running at a moderate pace felt right so I kept doing it.  I got a bit warm so undid my jacket and took off my gloves.  Oh yeah - I was also the only person wearing gloves.  Jeans did mean that I had space for my huge phone in my pocket though and the story and tunes were much more appropriate. Motivating but not pushing me too hard.

I'd lapped my friends by this point, but was sure that I'd burn out before they did - I wasn't too far off.

[Picked up a knee injury]

...I don't think my left knee liked all the turns...

It was a gradual shooting pain that started at about lap 5 and caused me to adjust my gait. I knew enough about movement to slow up a little and to stretch it out.  To be honest though I found it amusing.  It wasn't one of the normal daily pains and it was refreshing to hurt somewhere different.  My condition doesn't cause knee pain usually so I figured I'd just overdone it.  I resolved to walk for a lap (at usual turbo walking speeds) and my friends untapped themselves.

Then the panic came.  It wasn't an 'attack' in the game, but the story made sure I knew I had to run. Haim came on and played some breezy summer pop so I ran. Then I walked. Then I ran. I followed someone whose pace was similar to mine when I did the running at the start and made sure I stayed a similar distance to them, gradually catching them if anything. I finished the 5K in 28 mins. Beating the family members who had been training by a lap and a half, and deciding consciously not to sprint finish due to knee and not wanting to overtake the pace setter I'd credited for a lot of my success. 

[Picked up a medal and a bottle of water]

After the race my knee got worse.  The adrenalin had taken care of the excess pain but it was becoming very stiff and unmanageable.  The other family members walked causally up the steps to the car. I had to take each step one at a time with my full weight on the bannister.  I probably said a lot of swears.  I avoided getting up once in the pub, and really struggled for the rest of the day with basic movement tasks.

It took about a week to walk without any pain.  In that same week I did three more missions taking the total to 5.

I paid a year's subscription to the app before I did this allowing me to change the duration of the missions making them just a little shorter - 3km - and allowing me to use them to get home and still be able to pop into the shop [picked up a bottle of milk].  There is no limit to the number of [items] you can pick up on the paid version so the town evolves a lot faster.

The town became my town.  The runs became a reason to get items, and a reason to move the story forwards. The items became a reason to make the runs longer, and to not worry about the times.

I am Runner 5, and this is where I run/walk/run. It's a railway that is turned into a walkway for people and cyclists that connects two local areas and goes close enough to my house to be perfect.  I only found this due to a local walking scheme one year and I love it.

I happened to spend the weekend somewhere I had access to rough farmland/undergrowth and decided it would be perfect to do the 2nd 5k.  There was no way I could match a track based time when climbing fences - and as it turns out jumping puddles.  It is fairly apocalyptic, that's a single daffodil.  My jeans soaked up an awful lot of the morning's rain.

There were also real world pick up items. due to the neighbouring golf course

[Picked up 27 golf balls]

and more importantly I'd [picked up my zombie survival kit] in the post that week.

I completed the distance in 48 mins.  I had to dry my shoes out for three hours before I could go home on the bus.  I loved every minute - it was like being a kid again and having a reason to mess about in the fields.

I had 7 days left from that Monday to recover and run the real 5k.  I had settled on the running track next to where I first did my wrestling training and fantasised about various ways I could sneak in and use it, but it turns out you can just give them a fiver if you time it so there aren't any Sunday league matches on.

The footballers from the morning session were walking out as I lined up for the most appropriate lane which I kept for all of the run (except the bit where I had to shed layers).  I ran for the third 5K in a row in my jeans because it was now a tradition.

I probably started too fast again, but I was having fun, it was a nice day and the general wasn't going to get his way if I had anything to say about it!

I ran the wrong way around the track, putting the corner pressure on my right knee instead and it worked.  Whether it was all psychological or not it still worked.  I was not only able to walk home afterwards, but I suffered no ill effects.  I even managed some stairs.

My leaderboard time was in the top 10% (I think it was about 300 out of 3,600 in the end) and I didn't injure myself - win!

[Picked up a second medal]

Zombies, Run! is a very hard piece of software to review.  It's like a radio play box set that only makes sense when you are moving. And you really don't have to move that far or fast to take advantage of it.  Instead of setting the distance for a mission you can just set a time (on the paid version). A year of the app is £12.99 which is a lot less than most gyms charge for 1 month.

To me it's the birth of a new genre - games that take place in real space, but absolutely any real space.  You don't have to have a £700 VR set up - just a smart-phone and headphones.  If it could mark out objectives based on previous routes and get a bit smarter it'd be amazing - for instance it could spot that my road route and my forest route link up and tell me that the zombies were in the way and I'd have to go around instead of direct.  I know that wouldn't be beyond the realms of the technology, but in some ways I think that would ruin the simple meditative purity so it'd be a hard call to make.

It's helped make a time in my life when it's been very hard to look positive that little bit easier and it's given me motivation to do exercise and to get better. Today is the first day that I haven't taken painkillers in the morning in a long, long time.  It aches to type and it'll ache a lot more to type tomorrow, but I needed to document these things that are for me intrinsically linked. (note: I've since gone back to single pain killers morning and night instead of 4 at each). As mentioned this Tuesday is the date at which the meds officially take over, and they are certainly helping.  I get really tired, really easily but it's been a lot worse than this and it's easy to believe it'll be a lot better.

Some graffiti appeared in one of the tunnels on my walk home recently.  It cheers me up to see it as it marks the end of the woodland path and the ramp back up to the roads and normality.  Whether it's a zombie horde or a hidden illness that's getting you down there is always hope.

We can all be our own Runner 5.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

SolForge: Thundergale Invoker, bonus art

Continuing on from my Games & Tea Guest Article on my vanity card for SolForge here are all the remaining bonus arts that I got.  The story behind how we got to this point is on the other article.

Here is an early storyboard style of the card with a completely different level 2/3.  maybe at one point this could have been a 4 level card, but the two middle arts are similar enough that i suspect they were just variations on a theme.  You can already see the key features are in place.

This appears to be one of the final 'faceless' versions of the level 1 card.  I suspect a lot of the vanity cards started out in a similar way.  As Anton was working remotely with us I suspect that was the hardest part - using reference pictures at angles that were different to the required poses.

Here is the reworked level 2 in various stages.  Oddly the far left picture looks more like my dad! The colorised far right one still underwent some positional changes before the more final version below.

This early level 3 is a lot more abstract due to the shading, focusing on the figure himself and the wind gauntlets.  I quite like this one and may swap to using it as my forum avatar.  The ethereal qualities are probably too serene for the final battle ready level 3 and the chaos of the wind on the final version is more in keeping with the theme.

And thats it! There are other pictures of me and slight variations on these, but I think that you get the overall process.  As StoneBlade have been known to give away vanity cards as prizes I can't wait for the tournaments to start! :D

Thanks again to Anton & Eric for their hard work and to StoneBlade for sharing these sketches with me and allowing me to share them with you.

SolForge - The Making of "Nesh, Wind Giant"

On August the 2nd 2012 while watching the SolForge live-stream for the final count down I decided that the game and the community were interesting enough to increase my investment from one of the low tiers to one of the high ones.  I wanted the prize on offer (At Club1980 drafts are free...) and couldn't make use of the GenCon tickets on the layer above so it seemed perfect.

I resolved to forget about the game for a year and when the new Magic core set came out that summer I'd begin to wind down my activity and spending on that and reap the savings.  I'd looked at the lower tiers when signing up but come the e-mail asking for pictures on March 13 I'd pretty much forgotten about the 'Your likeness on a card' tier.  At the time I'd joked i'd give the honour to someone else, or that I'd try to get one of my cats on the card.  When it came up though I thought it would actually be cool to see this through.

My first contact was Eric - the concept writer for SolForge - and he laid out what we'd need to provide.  Over the next few messages I stated that i didn't really care which faction, but gave two real ideas.  The first was job based, I work in infection control so how about a Nekrium guy whose job it is to do the reverse.  The second was based on my partner and I going on long walks in the British countryside.  It was from one of these walks in Wales that we got our source pictures.  I created a Tempys shamenesque character called Nesh (a northern dialect word I picked up at uni) who is more at home on remote ridges than the battlefield.

I sent over 4 pictures with some fully body and close ups that I'll spare you but these two capture the essence.  A guy who is more of a tactician than a solider.  I mentioned that I'd prefer equipment more than weapons to that end, and I mentioned that I'd love scale birds.

Time passed.  Many more hikes were done (including Norway - I think my card would have been a little different with those pictures used!) and it became Jan 2014.  Eric got back in touch saying that Anton (the artist) required some more close up shots at varied angles so that he could get the faces right.  Naturally I panicked about this and eventually managed to get some I was reasonably happy with, for example this one.

This is my deliberate attempt at an enigmatic face.  This is harder than you'd expect when home alone and having to resort to selfies.  Many digital photographs were deleted that day...

It was in response to this that I received my first idea of what the card would be like.  Pleasingly this sketch had the file name of "Nesh - example", which was the name I'd given to the write-up in the original e-mail discussion.  For me it helped to visualise the character, but I'd no hope of becoming a unique named character as that was a much higher tier.

I did as instructed and copied the pose (long arms come in handy for these selfies I tell you!) and sent it off.  Note the cereals in the background - FoodStuffFinds till I die yo!

At this point I was getting excited.  I showed the initial pic to a few fellow players and they agreed it looked pretty cool.  Eric mentioned he's seen the final versions and that he thought they looked cool too so all was good.

Time passed.

Set 2 was announced as being "in March" and the end of the month rapidly approached.  As the preview cards came up I wondered at each time whether I would recognise myself.  On the morning of March 18th I had to be at work early for a conference and didn't check anything digital until I was in the car on the way there (being driven I might add).  There was the usual tournament stats post up which had been linked from the forum, and I just happened to notice a new card had been previewed below...

Thundergale Invoker appeared to be a Tempys card like mine was from first glance, and it involved wind...  I had a zoom in and then a rather large smile on my face!  I couldn't explain out loud in a car with work people, but tweets and messages were sent to those in the know.  Much was said about me sending naked pictures to StoneBlade (I didn't :p) but everyone agreed it was indeed a good likeness.

The article here detailed the cards abilities and it seemed to fit in with the kind of play style that I have.   Essentially it allows you to move your pieces around with the power of the wind if you played them in the right slots.

I immediately messaged Eric after work to say thanks to both him and Anton and to ask permission to write this experience up for posterity and to beg for some of the art that went into the process.  So I've included a few of the more exclusive key pieces here but to save on the Games & Tea internet I'll host the majority back on my regular blog.

 Here we see three of the original pictures I sent in, alongside what I guess is the very first concept sketches for the card.  This includes the original idea of looking out at the action from afar, suiting up, and entering the fray.  The wind gauntlets are particularly cool, looking decidedly like something from the Dynasty warriors series.  While this makes the CosPlay harder, I think that it's a great idea.

Before I finish up here I'd like to thank StoneBlade in general but specifically Eric and Anton for taking the time to make something that I am very happy with.  If this much effort went into all the players vanity cards then that's a lot of extra work.  I look forwards to discovering who all the people behind the faces are over the next few weeks and continuing to aggressively draft 'me' and then getting sad when the creature dies.

But hey - there are plenty more copies to draft and play, and we'll always have those scale birds, right?

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Modern Masters - Fairies40

A while back we did a normal Modern Masters draft (non-phantom) and I ended up in Fairies.  Turned out to be a decent deck as I went 3-0 winning the draft (yay) and then beat a few non-draft modern decks afterwards.

As I'd like to keep the deck list for posterity before I convert it to fairies 60 I'm putting it here.

Land (17)
9 Island
7 Swamp
1 Vivid Marsh

I & S (12)
1 Spell snare
2 Erratic Mutation
1 Echoing Truth
2 Traumatic Visions (counter or land cycle)
1 cryptic command (first pick!)
1 warren weirding
3 peppersmoke
1 drag down (-2, -2 is fine)

Guys (10)
1 Meloku the clouded Mirror
1 Pestermite
2 Latchkey Faerie
2 Spellstutter Sprite (counter faerie!)
2 Dreamspoiler Witches
1 Thieving Sprite
1 Festering Goblin

Toys (1)
Aether Spellbomb

I did have other playables, but this was the version that seemed to work the best.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Magic The Gathering - Deck Builder's Toolkit 2014 Core Set

It's that time of year again! The one MTG product that I bother to write up and open because frankly it's very useful for new players and overlooked by the majority.  It has always been a pain to find a full card list and as I'm making one for my reference it seems worth putting online.

A quick note before we begin - there is no such thing as the Deck builders Toolkit 2013 - they have moved this years in line with the core set numbering and as such skipped a year in name alone.  This makes a lot of sense.

The booster packs included in this year's offering are:

Return To Ravnica

While the inclusion of a core-set booster that will be rotating almost immediately is a little confusing I'm guessing they didn't want to include too many 'gold' coloured cards that would make new players confused.  It seems like a step back from last year's product  but is reasonable for casual play.

While the contents of these boosters are entirely random I do seem to have reasonable luck with them as I got a Deathrite Shaman (which I traded for $15 worth of Modern cards) and the new Garruck card which has a $25 value at the moment.  As the box retails for £18 here (and boosters are £3.50) I pretty much already have my money back and doubled.  That said - boosters are a lottery and I'd say we are looking to get £6 of value from the rest of the cards.

As ever there are four sealed packs in the box, White, Red, Gold and Gold Stripe.

The non-random (white banded pack) cards are :

White (M14 unless stated)

Pacifism x2
Hive Stirrings
Seller of Songbirds      RTR
Master of Diversion
Assault Griffin             GTC
Dawnstrike Paladin
Avenging Arrow         RTR
Capashen Knight
Sunspire Griffin           RTR
Angelic Wall
Griffin Sentinel
Suntail Hawk

Serra Angel

Blue (M14 unless stated)


Paralysing Grasp         RTR
Frost Breath
Archaeomancer x2    
Wind Drake                DGM
Voidwielder                RTR
Stealer of Secrets        RTR
Messenger Drake
Seacoast Drake
Doorkeeper                 RTR
Tome Scour

Skyline Predator         RTR

Black (M14 unless stated)

Wring Flesh
Mind Rot
Festering Newt
Stab Wound             RTR
Liturgy of Blood x2
Child of Night
Nightwing Shade
Accursed Spirit
Corpse Hauler
Deathgaze Cockatrice
Drainpipe Vermin     RTR
Minotaur Abomination

Doom Blade

Red (M14 unless stated)

Shock x2
Act of Treason
Chandra's Outrage
Annihilating Fire     RTR
Seismic Stomp
Goblin Shortcutter
Regathan Firecat
Pitchburn Devils
Viashino Racketeer   RTR
Blur Sliver
Dragon Hatchling

(now in red banded pack)

Tenement Crasher     RTR
Riot Piker                  DGM

Guttersnipe             RTR
Flames of the Firebrand

Green (M14 unless stated)

Centaur's Herald      RTR
Predatory Sliver
Kraul Warrior          DGM
Aerial Predation       RTR
Elvish Mystic x2    
Deadly Recluse
Brindle Boar
Rumbling Baloth
Giant Growth
Hunt the Weak
Axebane Stag         RTR

Briarpack Alpha
Howl of the Night Pack

Colourless (M14 unless stated)

Sliver Construct

Then you get 5 copies of each of the 4 basic land arts across each of the 5 colours in the set meaning
20 Plains
20 Island
20 Swamp
20 Mountain
20 Forest

This covers the rest of the red banded pack and the entirety of the gold banded pack.

There are also
4 Transguild Promenade
used to split up the gold stripe pack.

The remainder is the Semi-random deck seeds which I got the following for:

Syncopate        RTR    UC
Guttersnipe      RTR    UC
Izzet Charm     RTR    UC
Blast of Genius  DGM    UC
Goblin Electromancer x2   RTR
Essence Backlash        RTR
Nivix Cyclops             DGM
Explosive Impact         RTR
Chandra's Outrage       M14  

(an excellent start to an Izzet deck! Also the first gold cards in the fixed cards from the box. The art on the poster adds in Divination from the fixed cards)

Slivers - all M14
Steelform Sliver  UC
Battle Sliver  x2 UC
Manaweft Sliver  UC
Predatory Sliver x2
Sentinel Sliver
Striking Sliver
Blur Sliver
Groundshaker Sliver
(wow - a three colour shard! They have included lots of multiples when you include the fixed cards, and the poster hints that you need a Pacify or two to clear the way for attacks)

Sacrifice - Mostly M14
Gnawing Zombie  UC
Barrage of Expendables  UC
Tenacious Dead  UC
Goblin Rally  UC  RTR
Act of Treason
Blood Bairn
Pitchburn Devils
Festering Newt
Drainpipe Vermin  RTR
Altar's Reap

(this is a new and odd archetype - cheap guys that die for profit and harm to the opponent.  Without the Blood Artist this seems less viable, but there is certainly support in the kit for this - and maybe in M14 draft!)

Library Depletion (or Mill)
Psychic Spiral  UC  RTR
Codex Shredder  UC  RTR
Millstone UC M14
Coerced Confession  UC GTC
Tome Scour x2  M14
Doorkeeper  RTR
Psychic Strike  GTC
Paranoid Delusions  GTC
Pilfered Plans   DGM

(Mill decks are nothing new for the toolkit, but a hybrid card and a lot of Dimir gold cards from the block means this is a touch more powerful than usual.  That said it's unlikely to be more than a casual strategy)

Missing Shards

These are on the poster, but I haven't located the full decklists yet.

Voracious Wurm
Angelic Accord
Unflinching Courage
Centaur Healer
Soul Mender
Brindle Boar
Dawnstrike Paladin
Predator's Rapport
Divine Favor

(notes that merely gaining life cannot win you the game, but with these key enchantments and such out it certainly helps!)

Red-Green Aggression
Gruul War Chant DGM UC
Slaughterhorn (x2?) GTC C
Marauding Maulhorn M14 C
Advocate of the Beast M14 C

(Notably no Burning Tree on the poster, but it'd certainly make sense in the deck)

Lyev Skyknight
Air Servant
Warden of Evos Isle
Frost Breath

(detain and fly deck - basically blue white evasion renamed)

Seller of Songbirds
Trostani's Judgement
Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage
Eyes in the Skies

(while I noted the fixed cards avoided guild mechanics this introduces and excels around the populate mechanic.  Nice)

Red-White Swarm
Sunhome Guildmage
Truefire Paladin
Righteous Charge
Firefist Striker
Show of Valor
Viashino Firstblade
Master of Diversion
Riot Piker
Skyknight Legionnaire
Wojek Halberdiers

(wide decks with lots of small guys attacking? That will be the battalion deck then!)

Mana Ramp
Nimbus Swimmer
Seek the Horizon
Urban Evolution
Woodborn Behemoth
Verdant Haven
Gatecreeper Vine
Axebane Stag
Axebane Guardian

(apparently there is no ramp in standard according to the internet - this proves them wrong)

Black Control
Doom Blade
Diabolic Tutor
Sengir Vampire
2x Quag Sickness
Mind Rot
Child of Night
Perilous Shadow
Deathgaze Cockatrice

(A good old traditional deck where you kill everything, and win through card advantage - and big vampires)

Well that's the lot!  Again I think this is an improvement on last year, and while I think that M13 booster docks it a lot of value in the eyes of established players it will certainly help the pre-rotation players out with a few more staples to build with.

If you have a massive spares box then print off the poster and give a new player free choice of a few commons and uncommons to build their own shards.  If you don't have that but do have a player that owns intro decks or sample decks and nothing else then this is still the next best step in MTG.

I do like bridging products and this seems to have been the catalyst that took our playgroup from owning cards to building and competing so it certainly works.  Also - the DBT boxes are much better than a FatPack for storing cards!

(Updated shards with the odd fonted text comes from the great people at MTG Salvation's combined efforts to find all the shards in this thread)

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Why are we playing bad iPhone & FaceBook games and not Magic?

The WOTC Head Designer Mark Rosewater is on Tumblr and mentioned the fact that MTGO is not available on Macs (although I have Windows 7 on mine so I can use it if I really wanted), and this reminded me of a more fundamental question - so I asked it:

"Why can't I play Magic in more social ways digitally? Paper MTG is the market leader, but all digital versions a generational step behind competitors. I too have a Mac, Family & iPhone and basic Magic available during my down-time would be perfect. The question is - why no FaceBook playable sociable MTG based on precon sample decks? The same as LGS get to give out free, but as free to play iPhone/FaceBook app. It's the next logical step after Duels in acquisitions. Is there a Digital 7 yr plan?"

I realise this is a little mixed up due to the character limit so I figured I'd vent here to avoid submitting further embarrassing questions.

Why can't I play Magic in more social ways digitally?

I have Go, Ascension, various drawing and word games on my phone.  I can play them against friends as live.  We take it in turns as and when we have a sec.  It's fun as the games are more frequent than I can manage face-to-face.  We'd love to play MTG like this (it's the main game in our social circles) - we'd love it so much we would pay money.  Plug in daily MTG and MTG related adverts for new sets and events into the app and you have an acquisition & retention strategy that makes Duels of the Planeswalkers look like nothing.

Paper MTG is the market leader, but all digital versions a generational step behind competitors.

Forget the fact that MTGO looks a bit dated and only works on one platform. The interface itself is very dated and based on past assumptions about interface design that have been superseded (see Interface Culture by Steven Johnson - which is itself now out of date...), but more importantly it has a massive barrier to entry.  It's not free to sign-up.  It contains no tutorials to my knowledge (personally I'd put them on YouTube so the Tutorials act as an advert for the product).  An experienced MTG paper player is easily put off and confused by the way it unfolds.  It took me several attempts to make a deck and to jump into even the beginner rooms.

Compare this to a new player experience for League of Legends, or Happy Wars.  I have no doubt the product suits the existing players (so much so that they will struggle to drag people onto the new client even though it's technically better), but I love MTG and have no desire to play.

Duels is great - it's what got me playing - but it's also one of my biggest concerns.  It's a lovely sealed style environment - playing set restricted card pools against each other is what I love most in paper - but each year it gets dumped and you start again.  Also the cards (older versions anyway) were so badly explained in terms of their real world legality that when I transitioned to paper I bought things that were not 'standard legal' and thus had to scrap a lot of ideas once I made it to FNM.  Now I Tournament Organise at a small store the main question from Duels players is where they can buy that deck they love. And we have to break their hearts.  Stick Duels to standard base decks, with Modern as the unlocks or bought decks and this problem vanishes and you get new players that PREFER Modern coming in. Bonus!

I too have a Mac, Family & iPhone and basic Magic available during my down-time would be perfect.

Why are we playing bad iPhone & FaceBook games and not Magic?

I know GP winners who play terrible, grindy card games on their phones - those ones where the cards are just a means to an end with no real mechanics or structure.  They have pretty art and the more time you put in the better you are due to the time based advancement mechanics. The thing is they are available on our phones and iPads and we can play them with our friends asychnronously.  MTG didn't even keep their iPhone card gatherer application up to date and deleted it within a few months.  This was a YEAR ago.  I can't build decks on my phone officially. I have to use 3rd party apps (some of which WOTC tried to remove or change when theirs came out) to look up prices or store collections.

Playdek have been brought in to do a D&D game. Their Ascension game is the most use thing on my phone next to texting. Something basic like that would be fine - something free and accessible to those who watch Day9 on the ProTour and want to figure out the basics.

The question is - why no FaceBook playable sociable MTG based on precon sample decks? The same as LGS get to give out free, but as free to play iPhone/FaceBook app. It's the next logical step after Duels in acquisitions. 

If I had an MTG app on FaceBook I could go ahead and delete most of the other games.  All it would need to be is the preconstructed single colour basic decks that we get given to hand to new players.  They ask how to play, we break out two of these decks and they get to take them home.  Do that digitally.  Allow us to play our friends using it and record our win losses.  Allow us to combine these to make 2 colour 60 card decks and there are 20 different decks to be played - 25 if you can double colours up. That is more than enough content to keep people interested and again - you link to Duels from this (The Next Step...) and DailyMTG and Twitch Coverage and so on.  To me this would be a nightmare to program, but FaceBook isn't going anywhere (and you could probably do it on the actual MTG site using Forum ID as a log in too for those that fear it) so it'd be worth the investment.

Is there a Digital 7 yr plan?

Mark talks about the 7 year plan for paper Magic. I don't think digital has one.  Tablet DOTP is a nice step, but it should be Tablet MTGO & iPhone links (build decks on phone - play on tablet or Computer).  I realise this is all things that would take a lot of investment, but I can't see how it wouldn't be worth it in the long run.

Complexity creep is frequently cited as the number 1 thing most likely to 'kill Magic', I think that the new wave of Digital products outclassing MTG from every angle is more probable and by the end of this year the blue ocean of digital TCGs will be a hotly fought arena.  I do hope paper Magic survives.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Combo season

Seeing as I have the wireless keyboard/iPhone set up on the bus for the main Blog I figured I might as well add a few words here.

Gatecrash has gone well, the front loaded costs mean that I've spent much less on extra cards (I bought 4 Zegana for $26 and a week later the price doubled) and I've traded aggressively for things I need for decks only.

Unexpected Results into Boborygmous is a lot of fun, and can do well at FNM. It can also go 1-X...

Probably taking Burn At The Stake combo deck tomorrow if I go. I have the latest version of 'counters matter' and haven't got round to sleeving the almost mono Black gu that is the denial ramp deck. That looks to be the most fun of all, but the hardest to tune.

Solforge promises to be around the corner, and I have two new Ascension expansions (one in hand, one on way) to contend with too. As new players get into it I find myself playing the original more and more - is the new stuff just too complicated?

It's looking good for gaming, and MTG has a combo viable standard environment. Things are good.