Magic The Gathering

MTG Arena : Joy in Learning

The way rewards work in MTG:Arena is twofold – daily and weekly. The daily is a pretty easy to hit challenge by just playing the specified card colors, and the weekly grants you a pack of cards at 5, 10, and 15 wins. What is good about this in the early stage of the game (you can’t spend money yet) is that that 15 wins stays up all week – so it acts like a counter of sorts for how many wins you got for the week. I did over 40 wins last week and am quickly figuring things out.

I came back and won this match with my new favorite card drawn next turn (shown face up on the draw pile)

In this early stage there are no statistics (which would be interesting) and matchmaking at this early stage is clearly more interested in getting you playing quickly than evenly. I don’t even know if they are matchmaking by level at this point. It doesn’t matter because one thing I am learning quickly is that there are so many variables to a successful match that is out of your control – but enough that is IN your control – that you can clearly tell this game has been played and tested for years. However that doesn’t seem to set the learning curve.

Sometimes you just  have to fail and fail hard, and then head to google for the answers. I think that is the new, life metaphor we all live by. Yes that was mostly tongue in cheek.

As a noobie I tried a bunch of preset, 60 card decks. They seemed to all be interesting and have their own nuances, but I wasn’t getting better by swapping decks so quickly. I needed to grab a deck and focus on it and become good at it. The answer came to me in the form of a pack of cards. I drew a legendary Pathfinder – Vraska, Relic Seeker. Pathfinders are high(er) cost cards with a health pool based abilities. One that adds to the health, and two that take away from it. They can be directly attacked by creatures and spells in the game as well.

Love of my life! A little tentaclely, but I am not superficial.

The + health card gets you a nice 2/2 Pirate that  needs to blocked by 2 or more. The small, -3 health ability – destroy target artifact, creature, or enchantment is an amazing controlling benefit and the -10 power really changes the state of the game. Armed with my new girlfriend I had to pick a deck that she would fit in. Some comfortable digs. The base deck – The Golgari Exploration (which is a swamp/forest based deck, the same two land cards you need to play Vraska) had to be it. So it was.

It’s a fun deck based on cards and enchantments the have the “Explore” feature. Which allows you to find and play more land cards. From what I have learned it also has a good amount of control cards (clearing out enemy creatures) but I quickly found decks I was weak against. And this is how I started getting better at the game.

A very popular deck I see a lot is a “blue” deck – which has a lot of counter creature and counter spell cards. Frustrating when every time you try and play one of your cards the other player negates it. When you finally get your Pathfinder on the board only to have it negated by a 2 power card it feels like the tables turn. I needed a way to counter that. I found my own, two power card that allows you to retrieve a card from your graveyard (where dead creatures go) so I placed a couple of them in my deck – and have been able to use them successfully. The trouble there is that they have all sorts of “remove / negate” creature cards so I needed a way to look at my opponents deck before bringing a card back. I found one and placed a couple in my deck. Those cards have helped me compete against blue decks – even though I am still very much at the mercy of which of my (and my opponents) 60-70 cards are drawn at any time it is far more fun knowing you have counters to your counters in case it happens.

card images found at https://scryfall.com/

So now I could deal with those pesky “blue” (island) based decks. Then I kept running into issues with a card called The Scarab God. It was literally a “game over” card for me every time I played against it. It’s a strong 5/5 card that can grab any card from your (or your opponents) graveyard and make a 4/4 zombie of it. Terrifying when you face him, and when you kill him, he has the pesky effect of going right back into your opponents hand next turn. Like a cockroach, you can never really get rid of him.

Or can you? Magic has 2 discard piles. One, the graveyard, cards can be pulled back from with various cards. The other, is the “exile” pile – when a card goes to exile it is gone from the game. So how do I kill the Scarab God, and exile him, all in one turn? Is that possible? Yes it is! And thankfully there are great in game (and on web) resources to find cards to help you with your issues. Enter the low cost, Deadeye Tracker.

There. Now I can kill and exile that card all in one. Building up defenses so at least I know I have the right cards to counter him if I face him. Keep in mind that any card I add has to be a swamp or forest cost card or I can’t play it. In MTG you CAN add more land based cards (tri color decks, etc.) but due to how many cards most people carry that’s a high risk on a card draw. So while I chose the above cards to deal with my issues based on the land cards my deck is based off of there are other cards for other lands (and even other cards for my lands). I tried to find ones that work with my style of deck – and the above card also “explores” on that use – and I have several cards that gain benefits / interact with the explore mechanic.

My last big challenge was enchantments. Often I’d get a strong hand and my opponent would play an enchantment card that would remove my card / creature from play until the enchantment was dealt with. The base Golgari Exploration deck has zero counters for this. I had one on my Pathfinder, but that is a high cost card AND often when I played my Pathfinder that was the card my opponent would enchant. Enter another easy and low cost counter.

And with that card I now have a deck I feel comfortable with countering anything that I have played against so far. This doesn’t mean I win every game of course, but it means there are far less “lose for sure” scenarios. I have the tools to counter my opponents. Each game I learn new ways and face better opponents. I am loving that losing is just another experience for me to consider how or what I could have done differently. And if the answer was “nothing”, then I can search for ways I don’t already know to help myself out in the future.

That part has been almost as fun as playing the cards to begin with.

 

 

As a note – I do have an extra code if you are interested in joining in the closed beta. There is zero monetization in the game currently so it’s for fun and testing.

MTG Arena : Hitting My Stride

I am still not “good” at the game, but I am becoming “effective”. Quotations used for loosely defined terms. What I mean is that I fully understand what is going on and have been able to create strategies on the fly with the two decks i am comfortable with. I am still not “good” because many of the cards I am seeing are cards I have never seen before – so the learning curve is Hearthstone times a bajillion. There may or may not be rounding errors in that last statement.

The glowing purple chest is the vault. I am excited.

I can’t comment on how the economy works (or will work) as you can’t buy anything in this beta (shocker, I know!) You earn gold, cards and packs from playing. There is a daily challenge (play 20 land cards, play X spells of Y color, etc.) and every win plateau grants you a deck. Turns out at 15 wins (for the week maybe?) that free deck pile stops. At least it did for me. There is in game gold, gems (which I am guessing is the currency converter) and the vault. One thing that is kind of fun is unlocking decks and cards gives you a percentage unlock of your “vault”. I finally unlocked my first.

OMG ITS LIKE A LOOTBOX

Clicking on the vault showed a whole cornucopia of goodies. Burning color cards! Wildcards! (Wildcards – the three on the right – are tokens you can turn in for rarity cards of the same color so you can customize your deck. I have no clue what kind of goodness this will unravel but of course, we are about to find out!

A Legendary Planeswalker HAS to be good, right?

Well that is my second Planeswalker. The decks I use are the Brazen Coalition which is a quick hitting, fun Pirate deck and the Golgari Expedition – which is an “explore” based deck – nature and death. Vraska – the legendary Planeswalker – fits in that deck perfectly. With excitement I added her to the base deck and began playing, and quickly got into a really fun match. The other player jumped out to a quick lead but I was able to get some explores in and with the help of some Chubacabra’s (low cost death cards) I was able to catch up.

Then the fun hit the fan. The other player played a Planeswalker – the second I have ever played against. The first time it didn’t go well. Then more fun hit the fan as I drew – and was able to play – MY Planeswalker the next turn. Things got crazy and fun, until my opponent started playing enchantment cards that took both my Planeswalker and a 7/7 card I had played out “until enchantment removed”. I haven’t seen a “remove enchantment” card in either of my decks and that was the turning point. I lost but it was close. My opponent only had three health left.

What is good about the way the game works is I was able to use a search function in game (and you can filter by color, rarity, keyword – etc.) and I have access to two types of enchant removal cards on the Nature side (cards I own). I forgot to filter “unowned” cards before they took the server down but that is where the wildcards will come in handy. Even if I haven’t drawn a remove enchantment card I have plenty of wildcards so will be able to build them myself.

The circle of life and learning in games is great. Enchantments whooped my ass and now I found a way to deal with them for next time. This part of gaming I a have always enjoyed. Discovery.

MTG : Arena

I finally got my closed beta invite to Magic The Gathering : Arena. I say that like I was always entitled to it and it was just a matter of time (I am, and it was, right?) but good old RNG worked in my favor in their last round of 100,000 invites.  I quickly loaded it up, logged in grabbed a nature themed preset deck (I like nature. In real life. I have no clue if Nature decks are good.) and of course completely was slaughtered and confused. It is a beta, there is no tutorial yet, and my whole experience with MTG is duel decks my son bought and I played three times.

opening screen – complete with daily challenges

Three times.

I did forget to add I enthusiastically read all of Izlain’s WAR REPORT posts but without historical reference I hadn’t understood a whole bunch about them. Safe – and happy – to say, after a few hours with MTG: Arena I already have a high level of comfort with how the game works. Yes, it’s completely intimidating and there are so many hundreds of cards and combinations that sorting through it all is extremely daunting. Thankfully I enjoy a new challenge, card games, and learning new things. All at once.

The preset decks are pretty good. I added a planeswalker to one of them (cloning it), making it a bit better.

The good of the game is that every card comes with an explanation. Some are challenging because without the context of the game phases, etc. it is hard to fully understand but what it is REALLY good at is highlighting a card you can play – whenever you can play it. Games ported to PC like this is a great training tool on how to play the game. It has things such as auto-tap land cards, auto-pass turn, etc. etc. The best part is you can turn any and all of these support features on or off depending on your comfort level. One – the auto-pass turn – actually tips off your opponent that you don’t have spell cards so that is the type of training well best to turn off.

Some tips – like using a mulligan if less than 2 or more than 4 land cards, is a “rule” I never would have known without reading tips

Like many games there are levels and ranks and similarly to Hearthstone the early levels you do not lose ranking for losing. In the second level (which I finally am at) you lose progress towards your next level but do not lose the level itself. Things aren’t entirely clear as I have been playing all ranges of levels (assuming that for the closed beta phase they are more interested in getting games and data in than much else) and I am quickly learning about some really freaking cool decks (that I don’t have a chance against) that are clearly custom made by really strong MTG players. I don’t mind losing if I am learning.

The interface is slick and clear. Little bit of lag sometimes, but it is beta after all!

I have received a lot of packs and opened them all – but I honestly have no clue (outside of Pathfinders, which the Duels deck my 12 year old taught me to play on explained all about) what a good card is or a bad card, or how to best build a deck from scratch. There is decades of information here and too much to learn in a few hours. Sticking to the base decks and trying all of them (based off of daily rewards / challenges ie: play 12 black or red spells means I pick the black and red deck to learn).

Most matches are done pretty quick, but the one above (which I only played to get some photos today) went the long run. He had a cycling deck and I misplayed my lands – I had good counter spell and creature cards but never enough land to tap them on his turn, meaning he was able to play spells and status cards and grind me down. From the above to the below:

It looks like I am winning. I am not.

He kept playing draw cards that took down my life 2 at a time and added 2 to him. I always played creature cards that used my land so I couldn’t counter them effectively. If I played it slower and smarter I could have won. This is part of the learning curve that I have to embark upon. The good news (for me) is that there seems to be a lot of other, new players in the beta as I am winning enough matches that I feel good about continuing to try. Assuming matchmaking has a part to do with this as well, as the true vets climb the ladder.

I have an extra key from a second email for the stress test next week, if you are interested – let me know. That will also get you into the next phase of beta after the stress test.

It’s fun. Wish it was on mobile, but probably too much important information to share on a small screen at this time. There is so much good complexity and nuance to the cards and sets I bet you could literally play this game for years before mastering it at all – but you can still get your wins along the way to feel good about the curve. Would be curious to hear about a seasoned MTG veteran’s take on the game.