Monday, May 27, 2013

Monday Magic - Varolz as EDH Commander

Despite playing tons of Magic over the last few years, I have never gotten into EDH.  EDH (Elder Dragon Highlander, so-named after a set of "Elder Dragon" cards printed way back when; also known as Commander) is primarily a multiplayer game format where each player's deck revolves around a single legendary creature (their "commander").  The basic gameplay is the same as a normal constructed free-for-all, with the one exception being the commander.

Instead of shuffling your commander into your deck, you keep it separate in what's called the "command zone."   You can cast your commander from the command zone as normal, and whenever it is killed or exiled, you can opt to throw it back into the command zone (if it goes into your hand or library, you don't get the choice).  From there, you can recast your commander, except that it costs an additional two colorless mana for each time it's died.

Other than that, the gameplay proceeds as normal.

The only other difference from standard constructed is that your deck must be built around your commander.    To enforce this restriction, you can only use cards that contain mana symbols corresponding to one of your commander's colors; no other mana symbols can appear anywhere in your deck, even in the text box.  For further craziness, your deck must be exactly 100 cards (including your commander), and you're only allowed to run one copy of each card that's not a basic land.

This format gets pretty insane, with super-powerful commanders granting nasty combos.  It's also a pretty slow format, as most commanders are rather expensive, so it gives players a chance to play those big brutal mythics that wouldn't ordinarily get a chance to hit the board.

It's a totally different Magic experience, and it makes use of parts of your collection that probably won't get much play otherwise, so it can be a ton of fun.

Anyway, in the last week I built my first-ever EDH deck.  My collection is rather lacking in epic legendary creatures with absurd abilities, so Varolz, the Scar-Striped stood out as the most appealing choice.  The deck evolved pretty naturally from there, including all the big green and black beasts I could find, as well as some board wipes and a little mana ramping.

Here's my Varolz deck:

Varolz, the Scar-Striped

Birds of Paradise
Boneyard Wurm
Chancellor of the Dross
Chancellor of the Tangle
Corpsejack Menace
Deathrite Shaman
Desecration Demon
Dungrove Elder
Engulfing Slagwurm
Fyndhorn Elves
Llanowar Elves
Lotleth Troll
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed
Myojin of Night's Reach
Pontiff of Blight
Predator Ooze
Reaper from the Abyss
Reassembling Skeleton
Renegade Krasis
Sepulchral Primordial
Skarrg Goliath
Sylvan Primordial
Thought Gorger
Vengeful Pharaoh
Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger
Wight of Precinct Six
Wurmcoil Engine

Dark Banishing
Dark Ritual
Doom Blade
Go for the Throat
Grisly Salvage
Ultimate Price

Diabolic Tutor
Gaze of Granite
Grim Flowering
Increasing Ambition
Life's Finale
Nature's Lore
Rampant Growth
Untamed Wilds
Virtue's Ruin

Elbrus, the Binding Blade
Golgari Cluestone
Golgari Signet
Nevinyrral's Disk
Strata Scythe

Deadbridge Chant
Sadistic Glee
Wild Growth

17 Forest
Golgari Guildgate
Grim Backwoods
19 Swamp

The basic strategy is to play some of these big creatures, sacrifice them to regenerate Varolz when needed, and then scavenge them back onto Varolz to make him even scarier.  Varolz can always survive my board wipes (Gaze of Granite and Life's Finale), as long as I can sacrifice a creature before the wipe resolves, making him a very resilient commander.  Give him Rancor and some allies that can defend against flying creatures, and he can be a really brutal presence on the board.

As for building the deck, I tried to focus primarily on choosing sexy creatures that generally had power equal to or greater than their converted mana cost for maximal Scavenging potential.  There are a few exceptions to that rule, but only in the case of some really powerful effect.  Following that, I included a number of spells that affect "each opponent," as those effects will be amplified in big multiplayer games.

I got a chance to play with a slightly different version yesterday.  In three full five-player games, Varolz only died on me twice, even though he was among the cheapest commanders being used (and thus would've been a valid target for more aggression).  I was also able to remain rather stable, winning one of the games, and coming in second and third in the others, so I'd say this deck archetype works pretty well.

The biggest problem I noticed was a little bit of mana flooding - despite having a third of the deck be creatures, I had only drawn four creatures after about ten turns, but I had twelve lands in play (which led to my third place finish).  In an attempt to remedy that problem, I took out a couple lands (both Swamps) and included Mulch and Grisly Salvage.  I figure Mulch works as mana acceleration if needed, but can also give me additional Scavenge targets, and Grisly Salvage could be used to grab a land if needed, but gives other options, too.

I have another idea for an EDH deck, if I ever get around to constructing it.  Either way, I hope to play some more EDH soon.  It really is a ton of fun, assuming you have the collection necessary to build a decent deck. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Game Review - Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City (PC, 2012)

As a big fan of the Resident Evil series, I’m always excited by new chances to explore the franchise’s world.  Of particular interest is the Raccoon City incident, the event that started one of the most iconic zombie infestations in gaming.  Operation Raccoon City presents an excellent opportunity to see a new angle on the original outbreak, but some imbalanced details make the game feel much more tedious than exciting.

Operation Raccoon City’s biggest strength is undoubtedly the plot that snaps into the narrative of the early portion of the Resident Evil timeline.  Set during the original outbreak in Raccoon City, this game follows an elite group of Umbrella agents (led by mysterious series regular HUNK) as they try to destroy any evidence linking Umbrella to the outbreak.

That premise isn’t surprising; you would certainly expect Umbrella Corp to cover up their involvement at all costs.  What’s interesting about this storyline is instead the subtle tone of it all – the way that the management treats its most trusted (human) killing machines is fascinating, even if it’s not really unexpected.  Similarly, Umbrella’s reaction to their own creations and the government Special Forces intervention shed light on the company’s attitudes.  We've never really gotten to see the Resident Evil universe from Umbrella’s eyes, so this perspective is titillating.

Of course, many of the plot points fill in some details about what was happening behind the scenes in Resident Evil 2 and 3.  Sadly, however, the whole story is only worth anything if you’re familiar with the Resident Evil mythos; otherwise it’s just a generic and random third-person shooter.  Fans of the series will find some part of it interesting, but others will probably not care at all.

This disappointment continues into the gameplay.  At its most basic, Operation Raccoon City is a decent third-person shooter.  You run through the various missions (seven in total, each 30-45 minutes or so long) looking over your chosen character’s shoulder, gunning down zombies, Special Forces, and bigger mutants without discretion.  Series icons like green herbs play their standard role (healing), but the gameplay is the natural next step following the last few installments of the main series (Resident Evils 4 and 5).

Shotguns are great for dispatching the zombie hordes.
Some additional depth comes from the fact that you must choose one of six character classes.  Although each class functions identically in direct combat, they each come with a unique selection of five skills to amplify their destructive or survival capabilities.  Your team of four must consist of different classes, and different compositions will play slightly differently.

And those basics are great – Operation Raccoon City is essentially a Left 4 Dead style game in the Resident Evil universe, which is solid.  On top of that, the ability to play the campaign with up to three other players online is great, allowing for complex tactics during difficult battles – if the online community wasn't completely dead.  In a little over ten hours of game time in the campaign, I've only been able to play with another person once, which tears out a major feature of this multiplayer-oriented game.

Furthermore, there are some awkward balancing issues.  Through most of the game, you’re slaughtering tons of zombies or taking cover during a firefight with Special Forces, and both those scenarios work quite nicely.  When you start mixing in aggressive, resilient mutants or end-of-level boss battles, you start to see how uncomfortable the game’s mechanics can be.

For example, hunters (big gorilla-like reptiles) will pounce on you without hesitation.  Hiding behind cover doesn't help, and the control scheme makes dodging their leaps difficult at best and totally ineffective at worst.  As a result, I would regularly get knocked down repeatedly by hunters so that I couldn't do anything to respond, even on the easiest difficulty setting.

The squad's medic staring down a hunter.
Boss battles can be quite frustrating as well, as they tend to last well beyond what’s entertaining.  Sure, it’s more realistic to have to unload hundreds of bullets into a monster to bring it down, but when it takes several minutes of continually circling and shooting at big beasts to end a fight (with no real indication that your attacks are actually dealing damage), the game gets to feel incredibly tedious.  Here, too, the difficulty settings don’t help much, as big battles still feel like a lot of work with minimal reward.

To make matters worse, the spectrum of character classes is a cool idea, but the way of unlocking skills and weapons discourages the player from experimenting with different classes.

At the end of a stage, you’ll be awarded some amount of experience points based on your performance.  You will then spend those XP on unlocking or upgrading class skills or unlocking new starting weapons to take into a stage.  That aspect of the system is fine; the problem lies in the fact that the rate of earning XP is much too low given the cost of those unlocks and upgrades.  After playing through the campaign one full time, I had enough XP to purchase several skills for one character class and upgrade them, but I couldn't afford upgrades for other classes and didn't purchase any weapons.

As a result, you’re faced with a choice: do you upgrade the skills for one class to make it more effective, do you spread the XP around and leave yourself a bit underpowered with weaker skills overall, or do you sacrifice skills to get better weapons?  It seems like you’re punished for experimenting with your XP spending, as you’ll have to replay a mission or two to make a change if you decide you’d prefer a different class/style.

Series protagonists Claire Redfield and Leon Kennedy make an appearance in this well-crafted cutscene.
All in all, it’s a very frustrating experience.  Killing waves of zombies is fun, and the occasional firefight isn't bad, but the overall difficulty, the balance of XP and boss fights, and the general spread of scenarios prevent the game from being really fun.

Perhaps you've noticed that I haven’t mentioned the Versus multiplayer modes.  The reason is simple: nobody’s playing it.  Over the course of a few weeks of searching, I was never able to get into a Versus match, so it’s impossible for me to comment on it at this time.  As mentioned earlier, the online community has already been buried.

Operation Raccoon City is an interesting game for Resident Evil veterans, but its gameplay presents a unique challenge due to questionable design and there’s generally not a whole lot of value within.  While it’s generic and tedious, there are some entertaining bits, but it’s not worth the investment unless you’re a seriously hardcore Resident Evil fan.

My Rating: 3/10 – bad.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Achievement Report - May 25, 2013

Oh boy, this has been an exciting week for gaming.

This week started a bit slowly for me, only nabbing a few achievements in Kinect Sports last weekend.  Slow and steady on that one...

As the week progressed, Team Lazy Eye was near the back of the pack, so I went into an unorganized rush to earn achievements.

For some quick Gamerscore, I grabbed a couple of downloadable games that were discounted this week: Matt Hazard: Blood Bath and Beyond and Rhythm Party.  Neither really blew me away, but they both allowed me to get several achievements pretty quickly, so I was happy to get a few extra points for the team.  I'll comment on these games in a bit more detail after I've spent more time on them.

I also revisited Microsoft's microtransation behemoth - Game Room.  I mostly worked on earning some additional Time Spender medals while trying to improve my Point Buster and Survivalist medals on a couple tricky games.  In the process, I reached level 11 and a total of 48 medals, adding a few hundred TA Score to my total.

I screwed around in Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City, too, starting to work towards the S+ ranks on each stage.  I have been running through the campaign on Professional getting that high rank, earning the achievement for getting an S rank in the process.

My collection contains a few games I've never played, so I took our team's perilous position as an excuse to delve into a few new titles for a few minutes.  The XBLA games All Zombies Must Die! and Home Run Stars and the retail Tomb Raider: Legend all seem like they'll be a lot of fun, while Zombie Wranglers seems like it'll just be tedious.  The real highlight was Pid, which seems like it'll be a charming, beautiful game.  I'll definitely be coming back to that one soon.

And, in desperation, I went back to a game that is covered in years of dust: Zuma (I don't know why I decided it was worth paying for that game...), although I was only able to pop one very easy achievement before I got too frustrated with it to continue.

Still, we survived another week.  Here's hoping we can keep that momentum going!

Kingdom of Loathing
As mentioned last week, my adventures through the Kingdom are going to be much more casual, at least until I hit level 30 with Avatar of Jarlsberg and descend into the Basement for another telescope piece.

That said, I am pretty disappointed with a big discovery this week.  I didn't realize that an Avatar of Jarlsberg is prohibited from adventuring in the Sea, where I thought I'd be exploring some new content while slowly leveling my character.  So instead of diving to the Sea Floor, I have focused my efforts on collecting filthy lucre and fat loot tokens, as well as little time-consuming trophies.  I've already knocked out two of those trophies (for adventuring in the bathroom with the autoplunger and for killing Dungeons of Doom monsters a bunch of times), so I'm well on my way.

Mmm, trophies...
It's very slow going, but that's the point.  KoL isn't taking up nearly as much of my time these days, but I'm still pushing forward, so it's all good.

StarCraft II
My StarCrafting this week was limited to a few vs. AI matches.  While I didn't earn any achievements in the process (working slowly towards 250 wins vs. Elite AI), I did finally hit level 30 with Terran.

About time!
I guess there's really not much more to say there.

Guild Wars
Unfortunately, I never got around to progressing my new roleplaying mesmer this week, so there aren't any new VODs.

I did, however, do a lot of work towards earning titles on my main character.  I primarily focused on the Guardian titles (completing all missions on Hard Mode), and have very nearly finished the Cantha guardian - all I have left to do are the Kurzik missions, which are easily my least favorite missions in the Factions campaign.

Also pictured: My Party Animal track. Woo-Hoo!

For this next week, I have some specific goals:
In Guild Wars, I want to complete those Factions missions and move my roleplaying character a bit further into the Prophecies campaign.
In StarCraft, I just want to get the achievement for 100 wins vs. Elite AI (less than 10 wins to go), and I might go after some of the remaining Mastery achievements in the Heart of the Swarm campaign.
In the Kingdom of Loathing, I hope to be able to hit level 30, but I probably won't be able to get a telescope piece before the end of the week.
As for my achievement hunting, I hope to be able to contribute at least 1,500 TA Score to the team (I gave a little over 1,200 this week), possibly more depending on our ranking as the week wears on.

There's a lot to do, so here's hoping I can get it all done.  Until then, tschüss.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday Magic - WG Token Generators

I spent a lot of time watching the Pro Tour Dragon's Maze broadcast, and I was generally inspired by a lot of the decks that I saw.  In particular are the two decks that survived to the final round: a white-blue-black control deck (that one lost the final pretty convincingly) and a white-green Selesnya deck.  Naturally, since the white-green deck won, I thought I'd throw one of those together.

Sadly, I don't have the collection or the cash required to use all the powerful stuff in that Pro Tour winner's deck (Voice of Resurgence and Advent of the Wurm were big players in his deck), but I have the benefit of not being restricted to the Return to Ravnica block (not exactly a great trade-off, but whatever; I'll make it work).

I don't have too many options for creating or maintaining tokens, and I'm not totally sure how powerful the Pro Tour decks are compared to our casual playgroup (obviously they're much, much better, but I don't know how badly a slow mana curve compared to the champion's really quick curve would hurt me in casual matches), so I'm going to throw one out there and hope to iron it out a bit with a few test games.

When looking through my collection, I noticed two pretty serious problems for the type of deck I wanted to build: I don't have any copies of Selesnya Charm, the utility of which is incredibly important, and I only have one copy of Call of the Conclave, which would be an awesome early creature spell for this deck.  I'd love to have four copies of both in this deck, so maybe I can pick some up at some point.

To balance my lack of cheap utility spells like those two, I'm including some higher-end stuff that synergizes with token generation - Emmara Tandris and my copy of the classic Verdant Force.  I don't know that I'll ever get to play either of those spells, but they could be pretty strong finishers if I can get them out.

Still, the goal of this deck is to generate tons of tokens (Parallel Lives can make some of the other spells quite silly, although I only have one copy of that) and then overwhelm my opponent with dudes for miles.  Druidic Satchel can both generate tokens and give me some mana ramp to get the big hitters out, Intangible Virtue and Phantom General make my tokens stronger, and various Populate cards can copy my strongest tokens while having other beneficial effects (like exiling something nasty with Trostani's Judgment).

Anyway, here's the current state of the thing:

Emmara Tandris
2 Experiment One
3 Geist-Honored Monk
Phantom General
1 Precinct Captain
2 Trostani's Summoner
Verdant Force
2 Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage
Voice of Resurgence
1 Wayfaring Temple

Advent of the Wurm
Druid's Deliverance
Eyes in the Skies
Rootborn Defenses
Trostani's Judgment

Call of the Conclave
1 Coursers' Accord
1 Increasing Devotion

Druidic Satchel

Intangible Virtue
Parallel Lives

2 Garruk, Primal Hunter

8 Forest
1 Grove of the Guardian
10 Plains
4 Selesnya Guildgate
1 Temple Garden

Clearly the archetype has serious promise, but I don't know if I have the collection to support it right now.  Hopefully a few games will indicate whether this deck is really worth pursuing given my limited resources.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Achievement Report - May 18, 2013

Another week down!

The first game I started playing in this scoring period was starting and completing Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon.  The full completion took less than six-and-a-half hours, so it's pretty quick and painless.  Check out my full review here.

Later in the week, I managed to find a few people willing to play a 2v2 in Might and Magic: Clash of Heroes, which allowed me to mop up the last remaining achievement in that game.  Clash of Heroes brings me up to 181 completed games, which I'd say is a decent feat.

After that, I noticed that the rest of my team had done amazingly well early in the week, putting us solidly in the middle of the pack for the GTASC.  I took that as an opportunity to focus my efforts elsewhere, as it seemed like we would be pretty safe this week.

Kingdom of Loathing
I decided this week to take KoL a bit more casually.  With the end of the Avatar of Jarlsberg challenge path, I've started a softcore AoJ run to work towards the level 30 trophy, which I'll use to transition into another basement run and possibly to explore the new Sea content.  This change in pace will mean that I won't get as many ascension rewards, but it'll also give me an opportunity to do some of the slower stuff, like bounties for the Hound and the Bounty-Hunting Rig, eating Black Puddings and drinking Around the Worlds for the related trophies, or maybe even my first excursions into Hobopolis in the clan dungeon.

I have a long way to go to level 30...
I guess I'll have to see how I feel once I drop the AoJ restrictions after hitting level 30.

StarCraft II
I diversified my StarCrafting this week, playing a number of Team and vs. AI games as usual, but also jumping back into the Heart of the Swarm campaign to grab some more of those achievements.  In the process, I got some achievements all around.  Here are the highlights:

In the HotS campaign, I earned all of the "regular" achievements, as well as a number of Mastery achievements.  I still have some Mastery achievements to go, but they aren't proving to be too difficult, so I might be able to complete the HotS campaign sometime in the next couple weeks.

I also played a fair number of multiplayer matches, making the most significant progress towards the vs. AI achievements.  I've gotten to the point where I just need to get a bunch (~100) Terran wins vs. AI, which gets terribly boring for a Zerg player, so I can't really stand to do too many of those matches at a time.

Guild Wars
I finally got around to finishing the Fort Ranik mission on my new roleplaying character, and I've continued grinding towards filling out my Hall of Monuments.  I've discovered a few more scenarios that overwhelm my 7-hero build, but it's generally working quite well.  I think that just means that for certain dungeons or elite missions I'll need to swap some heroes out for something more appropriate.  The VODs for those activities are available on twitch.

Some of my current title progress.
Still, I'm inching towards the Guild Wars 2 Rewards Points necessary for all the in-game unlocks.  My next goal is complete the Guardian titles, as that will both earn some gold (for buying elite armors and weapons) and get me four more titles to display.

And that's it for this week.  I'm going to try to hit the GTASC pretty hard for the remainder of the weekend, then I'd like to put some pressure on my StarCraft and Guild Wars achievement hunting.  I hope next week's report will be equally impressive.  Until then, tschüss.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Game Review - Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon (XBLA, 2013)

Disclaimer: I have never played any of the proper Far Cry games, so I cannot comment on any exciting improvements or disappointing failures in Blood Dragon when compared to the rest of the Far Cry franchise.

It’s rare that a good parody comes along these days.  Cheap laughs and overplayed jokes are commonly used to pad otherwise promising parody, and in the gaming industry, most parodies are conspicuously lacking in good gameplay.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon manages to beat both of those stereotypes, providing a gaming experience that is both funny and fun, albeit for only a few short hours.

Blood Dragon makes its intentions known in the opening sequence, where the audience is introduced to the player character through a series of heavily pixelated cutscenes.  Clearly channeling the storytelling techniques of NES games of the late 80’s (Ninja Gaiden comes to mind), the introductory scene sets the stage for a loving look back at many gamers’ roots.  That nostalgia influences just about everything in the game, from the over-the-top action to the soundtrack and even the collectible VHS tapes you can find scattered around.

Set in 2007, Blood Dragon is an alternate history tale following a cyborg commando created in the wake of a nuclear holocaust.  This commando, Rex, finds himself on an isolated island on a mission of revenge with world-altering consequences.  Also giant glow-in-the-dark lizards that shoot lasers from their eyes, but mostly saving the world.

Although the narrative is quite short (I was able to finish the game, including all optional objectives, in under six-and-a-half hours), it is fantastically written.  Most games that emphasize humor front-load their material, making the beginning funny and the later stages downright cringeworthy, but Blood Dragon distributed the laughs pretty evenly.  It was never overwhelmingly hilarious, but it consistently drew some chuckles from me throughout.  Put that story in a well-designed graphical package coupled with a powerful soundtrack, and you get a great overall presentation.

Supporting the entertaining script is a rather impressive first-person shooter.  As is standard these days, Blood Dragon has the usual FPS weaponry (pistol, shotgun, rifle, etc.) and several upgrades for each.  There are, however, a couple of unique features that set it apart from most FPS titles:

First, set in an open-world environment, the game has the general feel of a role-playing game.  You earn “Commando Points” (CP), which are essentially experience points, that will gradually give access to more abilities (sadly, however, you don’t have any choice in what order Rex obtains his skills – they automatically unlock at certain points), and there are a number of side quests you can pursue.  Granted, the side quests are awfully repetitive (they are all “go here, kill stuff, get rewarded”), but it does mix the gameplay up a bit.  You can also assault enemy-held garrisons and, once you’ve cleared all the opposition, use it as a base.  Again, there’s not a whole lot of depth here, and the garrisons weren’t integrated into the story at all, but it’s still nice to have secondary objectives with in-game rewards.

Second, Blood Dragon has a heavy emphasis on stealth (which I love).  Sneaking up on an enemy combatant and killing him silently gives advantages, both in terms of CP bonuses and by allowing you to quickly murder several nearby enemies in succession.  There’s also the obvious benefit of not alerting all baddies in the area to your presence, so there are plusses all around.  To make it even sweeter, Rex has the ability to track enemy soldiers, allowing him to slip through areas more easily.

Of course, it’s not all good.  The game thrusts an annoying escort mission on you in the introductory area (seriously?), but fortunately you don’t have to deal with anything like that again.  It’s also painfully short, begging for a longer story to flaunt its fabulous writing, and there’s nothing to do once you’ve completed all the quests.

All-in-all, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is pretty entertaining while it lasts, but the repetitiveness of side quests and relative lack of content make its 1200 MSP price tag a bit of a tough sell.  Still, as a cleverly written homage to the 80’s with solid gameplay, it makes good use of the time it has.  Fun and funny, Blood Dragon is a good romp through a retro-futuristic wasteland.

My Rating: 7/10 – good.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Monday Magic - Putting Possibility Storm to Use

Following last week's release of Dragon's Maze, I have acquired three copies of the bizarre Possibility Storm.  At first glance, the card seems downright terrible - it has the potential to transform a low-costing spell into a high-costing one, but it's random and could benefit your opponent, so it doesn't seem like a consistent or controllable win condition.

However, the card's nuances give some interesting possibilities.  First, Possibility Storm triggers off of casting a spell (which doesn't resolve), and then allows you to cast a second spell instead, so it plays very well with a card like Curse of Exhaustion - if your opponent can only cast one spell each turn, Possibility Storm will stop them from playing any spells ever.  It's a two-card combo for total shutdown.

Second, Possibility Storm only affects spells cast from your hand.  Alternatives like Flashback (casting from your graveyard), effects like Melek, Izzet Paragon's (casting from your library), or creature abilities can all be controlled to avoid the downside of random casting.  Melek is a particularly nice partner for the Storm because it could help you cast non-instants and sorceries predictably as well; if the revealed card at the top of your library is a creature, you can cast a different creature knowing what you're going to get.

The more I've thought about Possibility Storm, the more I think it's an awesome card - if you can control it

Building a deck around the Storm requires a number of features: early game aggression (or pure defense, although aggression helps win), expensive spells to Storm into (it is silly to cast a 3-drop creature and get a 1-drop instead), and some way to manipulate the Storm to remove the chance of it.  A card like Curse of Exhaustion is a huge plus, as it turns the random downside into a fatal condition for your opponent, but I don't think it's entirely necessary.

Anyway, I put together a Possibility Storm deck that showed some promise.  I unfortunately never really got to use the Storm (I only got it into play once in seven games, and I lost that game...), but I think this serves as a proof-of-concept.  Here's the current form of the deck:

3 Blistercoil Weird
4 Goblin Arsonist
1 Nivmagus Elemental
1 Somberwald Vigilante
1 Ashmouth Hound
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
1 Mercurial Chemister
2 Melek, Izzet Paragon
1 Chancellor of the Forge
1 Utvara Hellkite

2 Geistflame
2 Lightning Bolt
2 Battle Hymn
2 Annihilating Fire
2 Thunderous Wrath

2 Boros Signet
2 Boros Cluestone

1 Curse of Exhaustion
3 Possibility Storm

2 Boros Guildgate
5 Island
14 Mountain
2 Sulfur Falls

I tried to balance early aggression with the Possibility Storm finish, which, as it turns out, is rather difficult.  In most of the games I won, it was primarily due to the hardcore aggression in the early game.  The main goal of this deck is to pack the board with tons a creatures to overwhelm my opponent's defenses once Storm screws up their plans.

When Storm is in play, I can use Melek's ability to control it a bit or avoid it altogether, I can cheat some of the big creatures into play for much lower costs, and I can (hopefully) get the Curse out to stop my opponents entirely.

The biggest flaw I found is that this deck doesn't really ramp up very well.  All the power comes from relatively low-costing creatures, so the probability of Storm helping me play something expensive is pretty low.  As such, Storm's value is primarily in its ability to disrupt my opponent's plans, although it may benefit them, too, as they might end up casting Kozilek, Butcher of Truth.

Still, I think there's something to the Possibility Storm deck.  I'm hoping that it can become a beast with some more tweaking.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Achievement Report - May 11, 2013

This week was a lot more exciting for me, following up last week's Magic bender with a bunch of gaming and achievements across the board.

We had yet another week of Team Lazy Eye success, surviving elimination along with 61 other teams.

My Xboxing this week was limited to two games:

Initially, Kinect Sports struck me as everything a motion-controlled sports game should be.  After playing for a bit, some of the limitations of the Kinect sensor start to pop up, as precise controls are occasionally very difficult to pull off.  I cannot, for example, figure out how to consistently aim a corner kick shot in the soccer game.  Regardless, I've had a fair amount of fun with it.

The achievements, on the other hand, seem like they'll be a monster to take down.  Many are pretty straightforward (simply winning in each type of game will give you several achievements already), but many are going to be very hard (winning a table tennis match against a hard AI opponent without conceding a point sounds impossible), so it'll likely be a difficult completion.

The second game was another that I started this week: the PC version of Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City.  I had already played the Xbox version, but I found it to be a little lackluster; I was hoping the mouse/keyboard control scheme would make the game more fun (as I think it usually true for shooters).  Unfortunately, Operation Raccoon City really feels like a crappy port (it was released on PC a bit after the console release), so I'm kind of disappointed with it all around.

As for achievements, the PC version seems like it'll be as tough as the console version - the difficulty related achievements will certainly be a challenge, and the multiplayer is totally dead, so those achievements will require boosting of some sort.  It's overall a disappointing entry into the Resident Evil franchise...

Kingdom of Loathing
KoL has been taking a bit of a backseat for me lately.  Although I still love everything about the game, I'm not finding enough time to give it the proper attention each day (I'm also experiencing huge spikes of lag, which makes everything that much harder).

Even so, I managed to hit an unexpected milestone this week: I completed a 5-day, <1000 turn Hardcore Avatar of Jarlsberg ascension!  It's awesome that I was able pass that threshold before the end of the AoJ season (which will end next week) but a bit of a disappointment as I haven't really been able to capitalize on the extra karma for quicker ascensions.

Still one day behind my shortest ascension ever...
Either way, AoJ is coming to a close soon, so I'm really looking forward to what the next challenge path will bring.

StarCraft II
My biggest StarCraft news is that my regular 2v2 partner is available again, so we rocked some twos this week.  As a team, we're getting pretty good at holding off silly cheeses, successfully navigating bunker rushes, early pool pressure, and proxy gateways, so I think we're emerging from the cheese-dominated lower tier.  To push any higher, I think we're just going to develop better mechanics for longer macro games because the games we lose tend to be ones that seem close for a long while.

As I tend to play random in big team games and vs. AI, I've been getting a good amount of practice with each of the races.  I still can't quite settle on a comfortable Terran strategy, though - I tend to prefer being super aggressive, so lots of ling pressure into mutas or blink stalkers fit my playstyle quite nicely.  I've tried strong reaper openings, but I can't maintain that kind of aggressive pressure through the late game, mainly because reapers can't shoot up (so void rays or mutas will wreck my day).  I just can't get my mind around Terran play, it seems...

So... close...
Still, I'm drawing closer to the maximum level with all three races, needing only a few more levels with Terran to get there.  Huzzah!

Guild Wars
And to round out the week, I spent a number of hours chugging away at Guild Wars.  My new mesmer character made it up to Fort Ranik, but failed miserably in his first attempt to complete the mission (which you can watch in the twitch VODs).

I then tested and (slightly) refined a hero setup for solo + hero runs through late-game Guild Wars content.  Although I've been adapting a build designed for an elementalist, I have worked towards adapting it to my main character (dervish).  These VODs are also available on twitch.  I hope to be able to use this build to max out my Hall of Monuments (or at least build up enough Guild Wars 2 Rewards Points to get all the in-game rewards for Guild Wars 2), which I'll be slowly working out over the next months.

I've also launched a youtube channel.  Granted, I'm probably just going to upload videos from my stream, but it's another way to watch my gaming endeavors.  So that's pretty cool.

Anyhow, I have a lot on my gaming plate for the next week, so I'd better get to it.  Until then, tschüss.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Dragon's Maze Release - A Magic Bender of Epic Proportions

Last week brought the release of the newest Magic set, Dragon's Maze.  As has become tradition, our group of casual players had a 12-hour Magic release marathon this weekend.  It featured a bunch of events (several drafts, a couple sealed, and a number of pack wars), but I'll focus on the drafting as (a) that's different from the sealed event that I did last week and (b) the drafts were the highlights of the night anyway.

I was initially a little worried about the official drafting order of Dragon's Maze/Gatecrash/Return to Ravnica, thinking that the more general set (Dragon's Maze) would be more useful once you've already settled in a few colors.  My opinion shifted rapidly during the first draft, as I realized opening with the more general set allowed you to take the best card in each pack without committing to a color strategy, which ultimately gives even more flexibility in the other packs.

In the end, I really like drafting in that order.

At some point I'd still like to draft three packs of Dragon's Maze (I think that would be nuts), but that'll require a number of other players to be on board.  Maybe I'll get a chance sometime before the next block starts up...

Anyway, here's what happened:

First Draft
My drafting strategy tends to revolve around just accepting my rares and building around them as much as possible.  It's effectively rare drafting, but in our casual formats, that's not much of a problem.  In the first draft, this strategy was tested pretty severely; my first pack contained two rares: Sire of Insanity, a potentially brutal game-ender for a super aggressive Rakdos deck, and Stomping Ground, the incredibly useful (and valuable) Gruul shock land.  Because I like the idea of Gruul in a draft (not because of Gruul itself, although the Bloodrush mechanic has been growing on me, but because it can easily combo with Boros, Simic, Rakdos, and Golgari, all of which I love), I went with Stomping Ground to try to force some Red-Green action.

The guy to my right handed me a pack containing Blood Scrivener, which immediately made me regret my opening pack decision.  The Scrivener's effect combined with the Sire's would grant awesome card advantage, which could easily have dominated limited matches.  I took the Scrivener anyway, as I was excited about the possibilities of a Gruul/Rakdos/Golgari deck (and black removal would be very useful).

The remainder of the drafting portion went in my favor, allowing me to grab a nice number of Rakdos and Golgari cards, plus some other aggressive creatures (like Legion Loyalist).  The Return to Ravnica pack really sealed the deal, with both Desecration Demon and Jarad's Orders coming my way.  The only real disappointment was that I didn't have any really good Scavenge targets for Jarad's Orders, but using it as a tutor for the Demon was pretty solid.

Here was my first draft deck in all its glory:

1 Basilica Screecher
1 Blood Scrivener
1 Bomber Corps
1 Desecration Demon
1 Grim Roustabout
1 Legion Loyalist
1 Rakdos Shred-Freak
1 Riot Piker
1 Rix Maadi Guildmage
1 Ruination Wurm
1 Slaughterhorn
1 Slitherhead
2 Spire Tracer
1 Zhur-Taa Druid
1 Zhur-Taa Swine

1 Fatal Fumes
1 Punish the Enemy
1 Weapon Surge

1 Act of Treason
1 Jarad's Orders
1 Traitorous Instinct

1 Stab Wound

5 Forest
4 Mountain
Stomping Ground
7 Swamp

The main focus was obviously aggression - get a bunch of creatures out quickly and attack as often as possible.  Act of Treason and Traitorous Instinct support that cause, removing a blocker and giving me another attacker, and things like Weapon Surge and Rix Maadi Guildmage (whose first ability is bonkers) make my constant attacks that much more effective.  This incredibly aggressive draft was really effective, dropping only one game in four total matches played.

Second Draft
The second draft was even worse for my rare drafting approach.  My first rare was the very awkward-in-limited Possibility Storm.  Although I think the card has the potential to be really sexy (combined with something like Curse of Exhaustion you can shut your opponent down completely), and it definitely makes for some crazy games, I just couldn't justify taking it off the bat.  Instead, I tried to draft into another aggressive deck, grabbing Gruul War Chant and Rot Farm Skeleton.

When Possibility Storm made its way around the table, though, I took it anyway, openly vowing to play it if I ever got the opportunity (a totally crazy game now and then is good).

The next couple packs also fit with my plan pretty well.  I had established a Golgari direction, as I'd grabbed a couple copies of Drown in Filth, and I managed to get several nice Scavengers when Return to Ravnica rolled around.  I had a couple Battalion and Bloodrush dudes, too, so I was set to play another aggressive deck.

My second draft deck:

1 Bomber Corps
1 Drainpipe Vermin
1 Golgari Decoy
1 Maze Behemoth
1 Maze Rusher
1 Nivmagus Elemental
1 Rot Farm Skeleton
1 Rubblebelt Maaka
1 Scab-Clan Giant
1 Scorchwalker
2 Sluiceway Scorpion
1 Terrus Wurm
2 Zhur-Taa Druid

1 Annihilating Fire
1 Furious Resistance
1 Pit Fight
1 Showstopper

2 Drown in Filth
1 Mugging

1 Gruul War Chant
1 Possibility Storm

5 Forest
6 Mountain
5 Swamp

Gruul War Chant can't be underestimated - even with only a couple small creatures on the board, that enchantment can start dealing decent damage in the early game, and it can make it impossible for your opponent to respond in the late game.  Combine that with a little bit of removal and you have a pretty strong deck.

This deck won all the games where Possibility Storm didn't get played (winning two matches in the process).  I had promised myself that I'd play Possibility Storm whenever possible (heh), and each time I did I got slaughtered.  Those were some crazy fun games, though, and I'm absolutely planning to build a deck around Possibility Storm at some point.

Third Draft
Our third and final (serious) draft was a bit different; instead of playing with at least six people, we only had four for this draft, so it was a little goofy.  The Dragon's Maze pack gave me some serious Dimir options, though, which made it exciting despite the small size.

My opening rare was Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker, which set me on the milling path immediately.  I was then able to take all the Dimir cards that were floating around (Haunter of Nightveil and Pilfered Plans being the big ones).  I continued that strategy into the other two packs, coming away with a solidly mill-oriented control deck.

My mill deck:

1 Balustrade Spy
1 Crosstown Courier
1 Dinrova Horror
1 Haunter of Nightveil
1 Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker
1 Nivix Guildmage
1 Rakdos Drake

1 Essence Backlash
1 Mindstatic
1 Psychic Strike
1 Totally Lost
1 Ultimate Price

1 Blast of Genius
2 Mind Rot
2 Paranoid Delusions
2 Pilfered Plans
1 Toil // Trouble
1 Voidwalk

1 Way of the Thief

2 Prophetic Prism

1 Dimir Guildgate
6 Island
1 Izzet Guildgate
2 Mountain
6 Swamp

This deck also performed very well.  The combination of efficient milling and supreme card advantage (Mind Rot can be brutal when paired with card draw) allowed me to eke out a win in my first match.  I was then able to dominate my second opponent (although to be fair, we were all really tired at this point, so it's hard to say how much of that was due to mutual exhaustion), making me think that limited mill decks in Dragon's Maze are viable.

All-in-all, I'm really excited to see where the Maze takes me.  There are a bunch of awesome cards in the set, both to bolster existing decks (I'm definitely going to try to find a place for Mirko Vosk and Pilfered Plans in my mill deck), and there are some fun new cards that could be the basis for some silly decks (Possibility Storm).

I'll be doing lots of deck revisions in the next few weeks, always trying to find a good way to incorporate some nasty Dragon's Maze cards.  I can't wait to find out where I end up!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Achievement Report - May 4, 2013

Another very slow week, I wasn't able to game nearly as much as I would've liked.  Fortunately the rest of my team carried us in the GTASC, so we've survived to another week (only 64 teams left!).

I earned exactly one achievement this week: "Learner" in Dark Messiah: Might and Magic Elements, another game that's been in my library for about a year now.  It doesn't seem like a horrible game, but it's definitely on the bad side of average.  I still haven't played enough of it to get a feel for how difficult/annoying the achievement list is, so I'll hold off on those sorts of comments for now.

Kingdom of Loathing
I had a similarly lackluster week in the Kingdom because I wasn't able to play every day this week.  As a result, my only accomplishment was finishing another run several days behind schedule.

Moving forward: If I can get back on track and manage 6-day Avatar of Jarlsberg runs, I should be able to complete two more before the end of the challenge season.  That would give me enough bonus karma to be able to make the remaining primary class skills hardcore permanent (there are only four that I don't already have) plus the remaining sea skills and a couple others.  I'm drawing ever closer to marking all the game's skills hardcore permanent, although it'll still probably take another year to get enough karma for everything.  At least I'm almost done with everything except special skills.

Once the next challenge path is released, I think I'll go for one more AoJ run to grab the trophy for hitting level 30, which I'll also use as an excuse to get one of the other level 30 trophies and to complete another Basement run for my fifth telescope piece.  After that, giving the new challenge path a whirl should finish out the month.

StarCraft II
I actually spent the more time playing StarCraft than anything else this week.  The only major milestone was nabbing the 3v3 Versus AI Coverage: Elite, which means I can move on the 2v2 vs Elite AI achievements.  I'm getting close to finishing all the versus AI achievements, which I find really exciting as it means I'll be able to focus entirely on the competitive ladder.

And that's basically it.  I hope to get a lot more gaming done in the next week.  Until then, tschüss.