The Kitchen Table #159: Obsessions

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People often marvel at my ability to talk deeply and significantly about many topics. What I don’t tell them is that I’m an obsessor. I like to obsess about things. Something new will pop into my life, and for the next however long I’ll obsess about said thing, and research it and learn it inside and out… and then I drop it and move on.

I’m an obsessor.

People often marvel at my ability to talk deeply and significantly about many topics. What I don’t tell them is that I’m an obsessor. I like to obsess about things. Something new will pop into my life, and for the next however long I’ll obsess about said thing, and research it and learn it inside and out… and then I drop it and move on.

I have a full-time job running two residence halls, I’ve been a featured writer for SCG for years plus Scrye freelancing, I’m an adjunct lecturer for political science. None of these are connected. I’ve taught classes in basketry, in woodcarving, in leather-crafting, and in metalwork. I’m an ordained Baptist minister. I’m a Level 3 judge in Heroclix, with a weekly Saturday tournament. I just finished hosting another two-week long Werewolf game.

I’m an obsessor.

Earlier in staff training I had my staff choose a country, and then asked a bunch of questions on that country’s history as a trivia game. They choose Ukraine and then Uzbekistan. I asked many questions in detail about each. I’m just weird like that.

This is why I love games. I can buy a new computer game, devour it for a few weeks, then set it aside again. My obsessive nature doesn’t stop me from revisiting a game over and over again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played a solid few weeks, or even months, of Football Manager (formally known as Championship Manager). That’s a game I recently claimed as the best electronic game ever devised. (Want to know the others in the top 30? Check out my gaming opus over here.)

With all of these obsessions, with loving and leaving being a habit in my life, why then has Magic been the one constant? New friends, new loves, new games, new jobs, new places to live are all in my life. But Magic is the one constant. Well, outside of my beliefs and whatnot… but I mean in my social life, not my views on things (which remain constant).

What is it about Magic that keeps me coming back for more? With a personality like mine, how can I keep writing article after article, build deck after deck, and keep playing the game? I keep waiting for boredom to set in. It’s been eleven years now, and I’m still waiting.

As mentioned previously, BattleTech has recently reclaimed its place on the throne in my heart, but how long before I move on to something else? A week? A month? Three months?

I recently picked up this independent game called Hollywood Mogul 3. I like independent games, indie music, indie movies and such. They are more pure, more raw, so yes, I would identify as a member of the Indie subculture (go Questionable Content!). Besides, every major game released today for the console is a FPS, RTS, simulator, or remake of ickiness.

In HM3, you play a Hollywood Mogul making decisions about who to cast, how much to fund films, picking up scripts, and such. It’s pretty cool from the management front. I liked it. And yet, as on obsession, it lasted maybe three weeks before I moved on to something else.

Once again, I played a recent game that was pretty good… and yet, I left it. The same is true of other games, like Star Chamber (an amazingly well-designed indie game that’s tons of fun, combining a CCG with a “Master of Orion lite” type board-game online against an opponent) or Front Office Football (an indie game where you are the GM of a football team and make all of the GM decisions).

Why do I keep coming back to Magic? What is here that soothes my wandering obsessive soul?

Is it the unfathomable depth? Is Magic such a rich and complex game that I feel like I haven’t finished it yet, but when I do I will move on? At first I contemplated this. It seemed plausible at first. Magic could easily be sufficiently complex that it continued to captivate me. It certainly is one of the most complex games ever designed. I do have a predisposition towards very complex games, like Crusader Kings.

However, I do have a fondness for elegance in game design. I love HeroScape, and that’s a well-designed game with a lot of simplicity in it. I love HeroClix, and it’s much simpler than, say, Warhammer. On the other hand, Blood Bowl was too easy for me for it to be anything other than another obsession.

I had to reject the idea of Magic’s complexity being the captivating element after due consideration. There are other things sufficiently rich that I ultimately leave. However, the real reason for my ultimate rejection of this idea was the flawed premise. I don’t leave when I become an expert but when I become proficient. I achieved proficiency a long time ago in Magic.

No, something else keeps me in Magic. Next I wondered if it was inertia. Was I still in Magic because I had been playing for long enough to create inertia? For this to be true, I would need to find myself slugging through the game time after time when I didn’t want too, but felt I had to. However, that’s rarely the case.

To be fair, sometimes I don’t feel like writing an article. Sometimes I have dreams about Prince Victor Ian Steiner-Davion and modifications made to the Whitworth mech design that I don’t like, and me getting the authority from the Federated Commonwealth Prince to modify the Whitworth further (last night’s BattleTech dream). When you wake up in the middle of a cool dream like that, you want to roll over and go back to sleep, not find olive pants and a bright orange Caribbean shirt and head to my office. This is after I put them on, of course.

Nevertheless, I wake up, because I know I need to for my job. In the same way, I write Magic sometimes when I don’t want to because it’s my job. Still, once I start an article, I usually enjoy churning it out. Plus, writing Magic is not the same as playing Magic, and I rarely have feelings about not wanting to play Magic.

What keeps me playing and writing about Magic? If it’s not the complexity nor the inertia, what is it? What could keep my ever-shifting interest tuned in to this one game? It has to be something in the game itself. I could associate with the people in activities outside of Magic. Therefore, it’s not the social interaction.

I suspect that I keep coming back to Magic as the life preserver in a sea of games both physical and electronic because it is constantly shifting, just like me. Every four months or so, a new set of cards gets released, and I get a bunch of new toys. There’s never time for the game to get stale while playing. It’s still new and fresh.

At first, I rejected this idea by thinking that other games were just as fresh, but then I noticed that they weren’t as much like Magic. Star Chamber has sets that came out less regularly, plus it was half board game, which never changed. Front Office Football or Football Manager (two different types of Football in those games) change slightly from release to release, but aren’t that different.

HeroClix puts out new sets, but they are the same powers and abilities with few additions over the years. Since I’ve started playing they’ve added just a handful of abilities. Even then, HeroClix is probably the game I’ve played the most in my recent life after Magic because it does the new thing better than most games (or similar games like Star Wars minis, MageKnight, Pirates of the Caribbean, HeroScape, etc.).

The only game that constantly revaluates itself is Magic. Time Spiral throws out one of the sacred cows of Magic, the Wheel of Colorness, to throw the game temporarily into a new direction. Time Spiral reprints bunches of old cards. New foil policies, new abilities, and cards that are unexpected in modern offerings make Time Spiral an amazing set.

That’s the beauty of Magic. Even blocks I don’t like that much (Kamigawa Block was poor, although I was and still am a huge fan of Champions. The rest of the block felt very blah to me, in terms of the cards and continued hammering of the same theme).

So I currently am of the opinion that I play and write on Magic because it is still new to me. The corollary to that premise is that I’ll probably leave the game the moment it begins to turn stale. Therefore, it is incumbent of the Magic designers to make sure the game never feels stale.

Okay, with that said and out of the way, let’s take a look at some Magic topics. Once in a while I have thoughts on various Magic related topics and I want to get them all out there, but none is sufficiently sizable on its own to sponsor an article. Therefore, I cram them into a “Musings” article. Today is such an article, and you can tell from the tone of the first piece that it is introspection time here at the Hacienda.

Of Airships and Bandits

Recently in my Daily Series I randomly selected Living Airship as a card to build around. The Airship resonated with me similarly to Scarwood Bandits, my favorite card. My guess is that around half of all Magic cards are Scarwood Bandits. (A card not played outside of Limited, ignored by tournament players and most casual players, neither remarkable for being good nor bad).

At first, I wondered at the fact that I hadn’t flipped over any Bandits in my Saily Series treks, but then as I pondered the issue more, I found lots of Scarwood Bandits in my daily history, I just never realized how many of them I had used before. Previous examples of Bandits in my dailies include Standing Troops, Lowland Tracker, Black Carriage, and Clockwork Swarm… and that’s just from the last few series of dailies (I’ve done 59 so far).

I just wanted to give Living Airship one more brief glimpse of the light before it fades away, back into obscurity.

On an aside, I do have one bone to pick with R&D. They did not reprint Scarwood Bandits when they did the Time Spiral shindig. Feh. How could you not print one of the coolest cards never to see the light of day? For shame, for shame.

Scarwood Bandits rule.

On the State of Red

This is a topic I’ve hit once before, and it’s still an issue I have with Wizards. As they discuss design and development, one of the common threads you hear is how hard it is to design common Red mechanics and cards – specifically spells – that are not redundant. Cards that do not destroy something or pump something or make temporary mana or deal damage are supposedly hard for them to develop.

I’ve made this recommendation once before, and I’ll make it again. They need to express chaos through means other than coin-flipping. The punisher mechanic (Browbeat for example) was interesting as a change of pace, but that was for one block. If you come up with an interesting way of representing chaos on a Magic card outside of coin-flipping, then you are good to go.

Here’s the rub: Red uses chaos, sure. But Red uses chaos. That’s an important point. Almost every Red coin-flipper is a bad card because it is purely random, with a good or bad effect depending on pure chance. Red should be better than that.

For these cards, note that I am not reading the Great Designer Search or anything. I was disappointed when grading my own test for stage 2 – I missed the cutoff by one question, so I’ll go back and read the whole thing in one great story later, but for now, I’m still a bit sore at missing a dream job opportunity.

I am, however, going to include the following statement for my handful of cards as well. I’m copy-and-paste-ing Ben’s statement: *DISCLAIMER*: If you are a Wizards of the Coast employee, I give you full legal rights to use any of the cards, ideas or concepts contained within this article, without further obligation!

Okay, real quick, let’s take a look at the chaos mechanic as it could be fleshed out by Wizards.

Chaos Edict
Target player sacrifices a creature at random.

Why is this good to have? It will cause a creature to go away, no problem. Therefore it will always have a beneficial effect. However, it cannot be guided by Red. So it’s chaotic. It shows Red harnessing Chaos well. Okay, another example:

Discordant Warrior
When Discordant Warrior attacks, defending player chooses a creature he or she controls at random. Deal damage equal to Discordant Warrior’s power to the chosen creature.

Again, a great effect, but with some random aspect that still represents Chaos while also demonstrating Red’s ability to harness Chaos.

Chime of Chaos
If the number of creatures your opponent controls are even, creatures cannot block this turn. If they are odd, lands may not be tapped for mana.

Here’s an interesting disrupt spell that can be used either for one effect or the other. You do not get to choose, so the effect is still random, and the opponent can change the effect while the spell is still on the stack by creating or destroying one of their creatures. That still gives this spell the feel of randomness and chaos, but also shows Red guiding the chaos. There are other ways of doing it, too. You could check life total instead of creatures. For example:

Entropic Blast
If target opponent’s life total is above 5, deal three damage to him or her. Otherwise, deal three damage to target creature.

This spell will help to get opponent’s life total down, but will never be a finisher, turning into creature removal at the last minute. That’s very chaotic, and pretty interesting.

Now, obviously, these cards would probably never see print, and that’s okay. What I want to point out is that Red has a whole area of itself relatively unexplored, and they could tap it anytime.

However, chaos is not the only unexplored area of Red. This is a short rant that’s been building for a long time. Here goes…

Whatever happened to “Good ol’ rock, nothing beats rock?” Red used to be the color of fire and stone, rock and the earth. Its land type is Mountain, it has Stone Rain, Earthquake, Stone Giant, Volley of Boulders, Rock Slide, Goblin Rock Sled, Stone Spirits, Earth Elementals and so forth. Yet we’ve lost out way, giving Red every form of fire, lightning, lava, and plasma that we can, while shirking its stone nature. Red gets less and less oriented towards rock every year.

I’d like to see us get back to rock with Red. First of all, you could start concepting traditional Red abilities with a rocky flavor. Then you could work rock into your creatures. Now that 2/2 creature that doesn’t block isn’t afraid, it’s just too slow to block. Now that direct damage spell isn’t yet another variant of fire/lightning, it’s a Spear of Feldspar.

Let’s add more rock to the set. You could do this through several ways, including:

Lands cannot be tapped for mana this turn.

This reuses one of the abilities used above but does so in a basic, “We’ve got rock,” way. Let’s take a look at another such card, this one with an Un- feel just to show off the flavor:

Rock N’ Roll
Target creature gets hit with a big rock. It cannot block this turn. All creature cards adjacent to target creature on the playing surface also cannot block, since the rock was really big.

Okay, the card itself is more of an Un- card than a real one, but you get the concept, right? We could have rock people, rock conversations, rock damage spells, and more all from adding more rock to our Red.

Nothing beats rock.

A New Pantheon

There are some good Magic writers out there these days that I really enjoy reading. I’m glad to see some increase in the past few months with submission writers. People like Talen Lee, Evan Erwin, and maybe soon Rivien Swanson took the hard path to becoming Featured Writers. It’s not easy to become a Featured Writer when you are neither famous nor with an establish foundation of Magic success (no, local tournaments do not count). Sure, if you are a top Pro, you were probably recruited to write, and you certainly never began as a submission writer writing articles voluntarily.

Would you like to write an 8-12 page paper every week for free? If not every week, at least often enough to be noticed? It can take some writers eight, ten, twelve articles before they get hired. Imagine each article takes 3-5 hours to write. That’s a lot of extra time devoted to writing an article on the hope that someday you might get offered a Featured Writer gig and have your very own picture beside next week’s fare.

That’s why I really respect the columnists who made it the hard way. There are some fine writers who did not work their way up the system, but I find that those who have done so turn out work more frequently and appreciate it a little more. (Again, I’m not saying that there aren’t individual writers who didn’t work the system who don’t appreciate it, just that when you grow your own food in your own garden, it tastes better than when you go and buy the vegetables from someone else.) You’ll see these people really engaging all of the forum posters that respond and they’ll really get involved, all this in addition to the usually higher output of writing (and often higher quality of writing too).

To the new breed of writers, I can only say welcome and pull up a chair. It’s a long and rewarding ride (not rewarding fiscally, because, frankly, no web site this side of Wizards pays enough to write columns, and maybe not even Wizards). Welcome, fellow submissionists! (Sub-mi-shun-ists: Featured Writers who began as submissions writers and worked their way up the system.)

More on Time Shifted Cards

In a follow-up to my article on Time Shifted cards, I just want to reiterate that I love Time Spiral. That is all.

More Self Reflection

Since I’m currently in an introspective mood anyway, may I suggest that if you have never read Revelations of a Magic Writer, that you do so after finishing today’s article? To this day I think most would agree that it’s my best article I’ve written. It’s a very self-reflective article as well.

On Equinaut

I’ve been recently experimenting with different formations of Equinaut. (Equinaut is a deck I created around Equilibrium and Fleetfoot Panther and has had numerous iterations during several of my articles). Here is the most recent published version of the deck:

I was hoping that I’d get goods from Ravnica block, and I did get things like Azorius Aethermage and Watchwolf and Drift of Phantasms, Voidslime, Momir Vig, and Tolsimir Wolfblood. Those are good cards all. Still, they just add more comboness or greater consistency. None truly change the deck and most will likely be phased out over time for replacements.

I was hoping for some goods in Time Spiral. Maybe a card or two that would work wonders in Equinaut. I went through the spoiler several times, and then my cards themselves a couple of times, looking for ideas.

What did I find?

Dream Stalker: Dream Stalker isn’t that bad in the deck. It’s no Fleetfoot Panther and it can’t be played as an instant. It is a nice blocker and with Equilibrium out, it becomes a sorcery buyback Unsummon for 1UU. All told, that’s pretty good.

However, it’s not bounce-able by the Fleetfoot Panther and not pumpable by Tolsimir. It also fails to have a real impact on the game beyond a mere blocker, whereas Fleetfoot Panther is amazing in every area, including surprise kill, saving creatures from removal, attacking, blocking, and reuse of your own creatures.

In other words, if you play Dream Stalker, I think you lose some efficiency and elegance that the deck has for a mere acceleration of the combo once you get the pieces. That’s not worthy enough to me, but I still think it’s a close call.

Another card to look at:

Saffi Eriksdotter: The good of Saffi is pretty good. She’s a cheap creature, and she could fill a slot that used to be held by Meddling Mage, which was another 2/2 for two mana in the deck. She also can sac to bring back any key creature that is killed. If your only Fleetfoot Panther is killed, you can bring it back. You can also bring back 187 creatures that die, like Civic Wayfinder, to get another trigger. Lastly, Saffi is Green and White. Not only can she be Fleetfoot Panthered, but she is also pumped twice by Tolsimir Wolfblood.

Saffi’s not bad, not bad at all. She brings creature protection to the deck, which is a very solid addition. However, the GW slot is currently given to Watchwolf. Are you going to replace the amazing Watchwolf with Saffi? Probably not. Do we have room for a couple of Saffi’s? The deck’s pretty chock full of good stuff already. She’s not bad for what she does, and I respect any Equinaut player who runs her, but I may have to experiment to see if she is really good enough to be played in Equinaut.

Serra AvengerSerra Avenger is thinking outside the box for Equinaut. One weakness of the deck is its need for more flyers. All is usually has is Birds of Paradise, although my most recent version tossed in Drift of Phantasms which you’d rather use than play. Serra Avenger meets that need. Another thing the deck needs is cheap creatures for Equilibrium triggers. Serra Avenger meets that need as well. Yet another thing the deck needs is creatures that are either Green or White, so that they can be Panthered. Serra Avenger is very White. Lastly, Serra Avenger can even be Tolsimir Wolfblooded, so that’s good too.

In other words, the Serra Avenger meets several criteria while also filling a hole in the deck. Now that’s pretty good. In fact, I like the Avenger enough that I’d pull the Aethermagi in any non-multiplayer environment and toss in a pair of Avengers. In fact, I might play the Avenger-not-Aethermage version in smaller multi groups too, where there are three or four players tops.

Teferi, Mage of ZhalfirLet’s suppose, hypothetically, that we could build a perfect manabase where Teferi’s trip-Blue casting cost was not a problem. In that case, I’d play Teferi in a heartbeat. The Fleetfoot Panther’s flash-ness is great, and making all of my creatures flashable is just sterling. Making opponent’s slow down to sorcery speed is just icing on the cake. In this perfect mana hypothetical, I might look at playing Mystical Teachings as well.

Of course, that manabase currently does not exist, not in my deck at least. Therefore, there is no Teferi on the horizon.

Well, there are the four cards from Time Spiral I thought were worth mentioning. If you want to edit your Equinaut decks, there are some ideas.

And with that, we come to the close of another happy article. I hope that you have enjoyed this trek through the random thoughts of an Abe.

Until later,

Abe Sargent