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Summer Hex Schedule

Summer is almost here so I am pushing my schedule around a small bit to accommodate more time outside with the kids. Since I’ve expanded into doing some original YouTube content now as well, I am going to use some of that to supplement my schedule, with the goal being putting out some amount of new content every day.

My Summer schedule at a minimum will be the following:

  • Monday – New Hero Battle Video on YouTube
  • Tuesday – Live Stream on Twitch noon CST start time
  • Wednesday – New Hero Battle Video on YouTube
  • Thursday – Live Stream on Twitch noon CST start time
  • Friday – Live Stream on Twitch 9am CST start time
  • Saturday & Sunday – New Draft Videos with full commentary on YouTube

While I enjoy drafting like crazy, I think putting out videos every day was not only stretching myself a bit, but it was stretching how much content people had time to watch – especially on the days where I had stream archives posting as well. Only doing two pre-recorded drafts a week means I can make sure they all have full commentary for the draft and game play portions.

This schedule change will take place starting this weekend. Thanks everyone for watching and as always extra thanks to everyone who supports my content directly on Twitch and Patreon.

 

Draft a Day Week 3 Contest

I am posting a new HexTCG draft video every single day at midnight PST. To make the experience a bit more interactive I’ve added a small contest to the mix.

At the end of each week you can comment on a post like this with the record you think each draft deck performed at. The person who is closest to predicting the record of all 7 decks will earn a free draft set in client (3 packs + 100 plat). If multiple people are closest or exactly correct in a given week a winner will be chosen at random.

This week’s draft videos:

Free hints for this week:

  • Five of these decks went 3-0.
  • One was so bad I dropped after losing the first match.
    Leave a comment on this post with your predictions for the seven decks! All entries must be commented on this post before 10pm on Thursday the 6th PST time zone.

Updated: Pio correctly guessed all seven entries. Thanks for everyone who entered.

Modernizing the Grind, Digital is the Future

You could say I’ve played a lot of Magic the Gathering in the last few years. Just by the numbers I’ve played 1350~ sanctioned matches at competitive REL, across 102 weekends between the start of 2014 and the end of 2016. This year has been a bit different though. 2017 is a quarter over as I write this and so far I’ve played around 30 sanctioned matches of Magic this year.

So what changed this year to make me go from playing major Magic events every other weekend to barely playing at all? Well, if you have followed me for awhile you know I have been enjoying HexTCG a good deal for the last year. Their constructed formats have been consistently well designed – they have the diversity of Magic’s modern format, without ever having to worry about dying on turn 2 or 3.

Good game play and diverse formats are not enough for me as a competitive player, though. Even though I had been enjoying Hex’s constructed more than Magic for the better part of the last year, my competitive drive kept sending me back to Magic events for the chance to compete in large events.

At the end of last year though Hex started amping up their organized play by adding a $5000 cash event that happens every other month. While that total number pales in comparison to current Magic events, when you factor in the cost of travel and entries fees playing a $5000 cash event from my home is easily higher expected profit. Then this weekend Hex is rolling out the next big expansion to their competitive events I can play from home – weekly, open entry sealed events that pay out $1000 cash plus valuable in game items that are tradable.

I find it much easier to enjoy an event when I am not starting out the weekend down anywhere between $100-$500 due to travel costs. Flying across the country to 2-3 drop an event feels awful while going 2-3 drop from my home allows me to spend the rest of my day with my family or working on other things. TCGs have variance by design, so even though I have a fairly reasonable 65%~ win rate across those 1000+ matches of Magic, I can never expect a return on a given trip.

While I still plan to play local Magic events here and there (in fact, last weekend I won a team constructed event with some friends) I will not be traveling nearly as much this year with all Hex has to offer now. Personally I am excited for what the future of Hex can hold. While other digital card games have high prize events for their top 1% of players, no others that I have played offer consistent regular events that just anyone can play for cash prizes from home.

If you are a TCG player looking for something to scratch that competitive itch for you without the risk / cost associated with traveling for paper TCG events then I would highly recommend giving Hex a try. If you want to read a bit more about Hex and all the events they currently offer check out my post on Hex Primal here.

Draft a Day Week 2 Contest

I am posting a new HexTCG draft video every single day at midnight PST. To make the experience a bit more interactive I’ve added a small contest to the mix.

At the end of each week you can comment on a post like this with the record you think each draft deck performed at. The person who is closest to predicting the record of all 7 decks will earn a free draft set in client (3 packs + 100 plat). If multiple people are closest or exactly correct in a given week a winner will be chosen at random.

This week’s draft videos:

Leave a comment on this post with your predictions for the seven decks! All entries must be commented on this post before 10pm on Thursday the 30th PST time zone.

Results:

#8 – https://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/11114907232042851337
#9 – https://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/8854043270689645746
#10 – https://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/16198934047949389771
#11 – https://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/10009447147288165861
#12 – https://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/5627992530974676405
#13 – https://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/7146170585232453737
#14 – https://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/5964500433559060225

Radbot correctly guessed six this week! Congrats.

Draft a Day Week 1 Contest

Howdy Folks! Seven days ago I started a new feature on my YouTube channel where I am posting a new HexTCG draft video every single day at midnight PST. To make the experience a bit more interactive I wanted to add a small contest to the mix.

At the end of each week you can comment on a post like this with the record you think each draft deck performed at. The person who is closest to predicting the record of all 7 decks will earn a free draft set in client (3 packs + 100 plat). If multiple people are closest or exactly correct in a given week a winner will be chosen at random.

This week’s draft videos:

Leave a comment on this post with your predictions for the seven decks! All entries must be commented on this post before 10pm on Thursday the 23rd PST time zone.

Update: 

The contest for this first week is now closed. Congrats to Nick Ingram for guessing 5 out of 7 record successfully.

If you would like to see the results of each of these decks and what they played against check the links below:

#1: 3-0 http://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/14832361040344954614
#2: 2-1 http://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/9381670620152385841
#3: 1-2 http://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/8625830553173812776
#4: 3-0 http://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/7559767893589314005
#5: 2-1 http://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/4591059468423724429
#6: 3-0 http://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/9052143227406061737
#7: 1-2 http://hexpvptools.net/draft/gauntlet_run/1324013380821767431

Five Things Hex does better than Magic

Ban / Watch List Transparency

Something that I would love to have in Magic is the level of transparency Hex has provided in their non-rotating format “Immortal”. Not only do they provide a reason for the things that they ban, but they let the players know which items are on a “Watch List” for potential bannings in the future. This way when new players are looking to invest in a non-rotating deck they have the knowledge up front if they should be worried about their purchase being banned in the near future.

Better Opening Hands

Hex leverages the fact that it is a digital game to allow everyone to mulligan less. Using a probability distribution Hex takes all of the possible opening hands a given deck can produce and eliminates the 10% most resource light hands and 5% most resource dense hands from being possibilities.

This means a large portion of your hands that would be automatic mulligans simply do not exist. Everyone mulligans less and more actual games are played.

 

Flooding Out Hurts Less

In Hex each player selects a champion when building their deck. Each champion has a power that you can activate after collecting enough “charges”. Each resource you play in Hex provides one of these charges in addition to providing a normal resource / color identity. These powers do everything from drawing cards to impacting the board directly:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Digital Design Space

Because Hex is a digital only card game it is not bound to using game mechanics that are easy to implement in paper / are necessary to ensure people are not cheating. Both of these cards would be difficult to resolve “honestly” in a competitive paper card game:


 

 

 

 

 

Because the computer is tracking things instead of people, cards that get modified can be tracked across zones in Hex. Cards you take control of from your opponent’s board can be put into your discard pile or even shuffled back into your deck. Cards that would create tokens in Magic create actual cards instead. These created cards can be discarded or returned to your hand – instead of just ceasing to exist like a token.


Software

When you hear Magic compared to other digital card games you often hear the defense “Magic is more complicated than other games” for why MTGO is poor software. Hex is easily as complex as Magic is in terms of game play, and while Hex is not perfect, it looks and feels like a modern piece of software.

In addition to having a free to play ladder with competitive match making based on MMR, Hex has regular events that pay out cash prizes that you play from home.

If you want to learn more about how Hex works and the events they have you can check out my intro piece here. If you want to start playing Hex yourself for free you can go download it on Steam now.

Pokemon TCG – The Good, The Odd, The Frustrating

This past weekend I attended my first major Pokemon TCG event. As someone who has played in hundreds of sanctioned Magic events to date, it was an interesting experience for many reasons. Today I am going to write a bit about my experience which was composed of good, strange, and frustrating moments.

Let’s start with the good, shall we?

First of all, Pokemon is an incredibly interesting game. While gameplay is simple to learn the basics of, the average competitive game is fairly complex and most decks contain lots of sequencing decisions every game. The resource management in the game is fairly different coming from other card games like Magic and I am enjoying learning my way around. If you want to learn the basics of getting started check out this video from TCC here.

One of the things I really like about Pokemon’s organized play is that all of their events are broken up into age divisions. This means, unlike at a Magic Grand Prix or Open, you can never play against a small child at a competitive Pokemon event as an adult. Their age brackets are 11 and under, 12-15, and 16+.


The price point of the event was amazing compared to similar Magic events. As someone who was used to paying $50 for an SCG open and who skips Grand Prix that cost $80-100, the $30 entry fee that included a playmat, promo, and lanyard / badge was a great value.

The check-in process for the event was great. Instead of having a player meeting where decklists are collected, players wait in line to check in and turn in their decklists. Before the decklists are collected they are validated that they contain 60 cards that are all legal in the format. While it takes a bit more time, the event had more than adequate staffing and with 20~ people checking decklists everything moved along fairly quickly.


The video coverage of the event was very professional. It was high quality with hand cameras and even cameras under the table to show which cards each player had prized. Seeing it for yourself is better than my explaining it, so check out the archives on their twitch channel here.

Next, let’s talk about some of the oddities of the Pokemon Tournament rules.

First, they do not have a round timer at events. You also cannot find out how much time is remaining in a round by asking a judge. They feel that knowing the amount of time remaining encourages stalling as the round nears its end. The result of this strange rule is that players who know about this bring watches to events and note the time a round starts. This is effectively the same as having a round clock, but only for the players “in the know”.

After hearing the thought process for why there is not a round clock, I was fairly surprised by Pokemon’s slow play rules which allow for legal stalling. You are allowed 30 seconds for every game action in Pokemon before you can get a slow play warning. I watched multiple players over the course of the weekend go from lightning fast play at the start of a game, to taking 30 full seconds for every game action they took in a third game as they started losing to force a draw. Draw your card for the turn? Count to 30. Play a card that draws a few cards? Count to 30. Attach an energy to a Pokemon you control? Count to 30. If you have played Pokemon before you know that you often take many actions in a turn and this allowed for forced draws by taking 5+ minute turns where very little actually happened.

Unlike a priority based game like Magic where you have both players taking actions back and forth fairly quickly, because Pokemon largely has one person playing and then the other I am fairly surprised they do not use chess clocks instead of a single timer. It would be fairly practical and eliminate the idea of slow play all together.

The next thing I found kind of strange is that an event that pays out prizes to the top 64 players only invites the top 32 players back to play on the second day. This means people who could finish higher in the event are removed from play before they have a chance to improve their record. It also means half the people who collect prizes from the event did not even play the entire event.

Some cards in Pokemon involve coin flips. Many players, myself included, use a die roll instead of a coin flip because it is easier to control a die from going off the table than it is a coin. Pokemon has a rule that you are required to use clear dice for any coin flips because they feel it is harder to weight a clear die. No idea if this is true or not, but the rule felt strange.

When playing a game your deck is required to be facing you and your opponent. It cannot be on an angle or facing left / right. The spirit behind this has to do with preventing cheating also and it is not a big deal, but again just felt strange.

With all the rules in place to prevent potential abuse while playing, something that felt truly odd is that “open face” shuffling is something that was common place. Essentially, players shuffled their decks in a manner that allowed them to see which cards were going into which portions of their deck while doing so. When asking a judge about this I was informed it was acceptable since I was allowed to randomize their deck after. Very different from the culture of Magic where the competitive players mostly know to look in the opposite direction of any deck they are shuffling to avoid any abuse while shuffling.

The last rule that caught me by surprise was that you are not allowed to leave your discard pile displayed while playing. Like many TCGs, Pokemon has cards that allow the player to use their discard pile as a resource. When I play a deck like this in Magic, I always leave my discard pile neatly displayed so at a glance both players can see the name of every card in my discard pile. It generally saves time and it gives away less information when I draw a card that cares about my discard pile. Your discard pile needs to be in a single pile with just the top card visible when you are not holding it to look through it.

Finally, I would like to close this piece talking about an unfortunate situation during the last round I played in the event.

I was playing my Rainbow Road deck against an opponent playing M Gard After losing a fairly quick game one we settled for a longer game two. My opponent had a slow time setting up and I was able to put myself into a fairly commanding position. I had just two prizes remaining, meaning I just needed to knock out just one more of their Pokemon, while they still had five prizes.

My opponent played a card that allowed them to search their deck and pulled out a card called Karen that had no impact on the current board where they were going to lose the following turn. My opponent then said “I’ll play first” which is casual language implying a concession that is used on occasion, because the player who lost chooses who goes first in the following game. In fact, it was what I said when I conceded the first game.

Because the language was casual though, I always ask for a confirmation. I asked my opponent:  “That’s the game then?” to which he replied “Yea” and began picking up his cards. As I shuffled up for game three he picked up the match slip and began to fill it out, confused I said “We have a game three still” to which he responded with “No, you conceded.”

Not being a stranger to TCGs, I simply called a judge. The judge came over and my opponent explained what had happened accurately, but said he thought I was conceding the game at the end. He explained that he felt I was conceding to his card that did not impact the board, while he was losing the game on my following turn as the board state was. I felt pretty bad, the kid was, at-most, twenty and it seemed like we just had our communication crossed. I should have been more formal and gotten a full “I concede” from my opponent before moving on.

The judge goes to get the head judge. We both explain what happened again, only this time instead of explaining why I would concede with lethal on board, my opponent embellished his story and says “You said ‘I concede’”. At this point every bit of sympathy drains from my body. This kid likely knew exactly what he was doing. The judges did not care that his story changed from one instance to another.

The result was that since the best they could determine without taking sides was we both conceded, the result was a double game loss that meant the person who won the first game won the match. I was surprised and frustrated by this result. I thought at worst here I was simply going to have to win two more games in this match. In Magic when simultaneous game losses happen they simply cancel each other out as opposed to turning the match into a best of one.

The thing that shocked me the most about the process, though, was we were not informed an investigation was happening as a result of this match. My opponent had flat out lied to a judge and it was not going to be looked into. I wonder how many times my opponent had won the first game in a bad match up and then lied their way into a match win in a similar “miscommunication”.

It really made me appreciate how fair, thorough, and reasonable the Magic judge policies are in most instances.

Wrapping Up

The result of my interactions with the judges at the Pokemon event left me feeling not only frustrated, but more than a little bit disappointed. Pokemon is a truly interesting and fun card game that I was having a good time playing. I had invested not only a few hundred dollars in paper cards, but also another couple hundred dollars and two days of my time to play in this event. The fact that Pokemon’s system allows for such blatant abuse with no repercussion or investigation is truly terrible. While I plan to continue to play online when I want some amusement, the whole experience left me sour to Pokemon’s organized play. Allowing your players the ability to legally stall and lie without repercussion is not something I want from a game I am looking to play competitively.

To close on a good note, I would like to give a shout out to the TO of the event – Yeti Gaming. Their event was well run and they went the extra mile for customer service when I requested a refund of my entry due to my sour interaction with the judges.

Thoughts on Eternal Card Game

Eternal Card Game is a digital Collectible Card Game (CCG) that is being developed by Direwolf Digital. It follows the “traditional” CCG model that Hearthstone popularized of “dusting” and “crafting” cards. It is a collectible game only as there is no trading system. Eternal is currently in open beta at the time I am writing this, so you should take all my thoughts here with a grain of salt as I am sure anything I talk about here is very much subject to change between when I post this and when the game is marked as a finished product.

To date I have logged a few dozen hours playing the game in open beta and have spent probably an equal amount of time playing it during closed beta. I am going to focus on three areas when talking about the game today: Game Play, Software Quality, and Formats (Limited / Constructed / Single Player).

 

Game Play

The core of Eternal’s gameplay is similar to other modern card games today. There are five “factions” that require different “influences” to play cards from. The resource system Eternal utilizes is identical to that of Hex: Shards of Fate, which is a good thing in my opinion. It is a modern take on the resource system that Magic introduced two decades ago.

The game play in Eternal strikes a very interesting balance between the slightly clunky priority system Magic utilizes and the fast pace, little interaction, game play of something like Hearthstone. In general I am a fan of the pacing of the games in Eternal. I get some interaction on my opponent’s turn via “fast” spells, but I do not need to manually pass priority or configure different “stops” to play the game properly.

The fast game play does come slightly at the cost of strategic gameplay though. Eternal only pauses to give your opponent a chance to respond to things when they have the ability to actually respond. This means that if your opponent passes the turn with resources up you can often play a “test card” to see if there is a pause for them to respond before playing out the card you actually want to do something with.

The mulligan system in Eternal is worth commenting on a well. Each player is allowed exactly one mulligan per-game, but the mulligan you take is guaranteed to have between 2 and 5 resources in it. While I think this system does a good job of creating less non-games than something like Magic’s mulligan system does, you do still have some non-games where your second hand is nonfunctional due to the curve or types of influences it requires.

To prevent abuse of this mulligan system there is a deck building requirement that all of your decks must be at least ⅓ resources.

 

Software Quality

Direwolf Digital is a software company and the quality of their product shows it. The Eternal client is fairly slick in almost every aspect. It is fairly attractive and runs smoothly on everything from my Linux / Windows PCs to my Android phone. Even though the software comes with a beta tag it has been nothing but stable for me throughout my dozens of hours of game play.

My only two complaints about the current client are fairly minor and could easily change before the stable release. The first is that the “end turn” button is located in the same place as every other button in the game. This leads to accidently skipping turns when you do not intend to. The button for passing your turn should likely be in a different location or have a confirmation that you intended to press it.

The second is that it can often be hard to distinguish between cards that are “exhausted”, or used, and those that are not when looking at the game board. Cards that are used are simply a faded color as opposed to changing direction / size / something that makes them clearly used.

 

Formats

There are four primary methods of playing games of Eternal. Gauntlet (single player constructed), Forge (single player limited), Ranked (PvP constructed), and Draft (PvP limited).

The limited in Eternal is hands down the best I have played in any digital card game to date. Forge does a good job of introducing new people to limited. Each pick gives you three cards to choose from and once you have two different factions of cards you will only see cards from those factions for the remainder of your picks.

The draft format is where the innovation really is though. The draft is fully asynchronous, which means you can draft on your own without ever waiting for other players. You can always pause mid draft and pick back up later on. There is no timer on your picks so you have plenty of time to make important decisions. You draft from four, twelve card packs until you have 48 cards and you get to keep the cards you draft.  You then build a 45 card deck with 48 cards you have drafted plus resources.

People who follow me from other games know that constructed is my true passion. I enjoy tuning new ideas and working on things that are traditionally outside the box. It is fairly expensive to get all of the cards you need to be able to play a variety of decks in Eternal’s constructed due to many of the better cards being legendary and being four ofs in the better decks. While most card games come with a large price tag to own everything, Eternal’s lack of trading means any money you put in can never be cashed out.

I put $40 into Eternal to buy some packs and do some extra drafts, not only because I wanted to support Direwolf, but also so I could play some constructed. I was able to battle to Masters (the highest rank) with a budget deck that did not contain any legendaries, but my interest in the game started to wander when I realized I need to spend a good deal of time grinding or dump in a pile of money to get all of the cards I wanted to experiment with.

For reference if you want to craft a specific legendary card it would cost you approximately 8 USD worth of product to do so assuming you were not lucky enough to open that specific card.

 

Wrapping Up

All in all Eternal is a very reasonable digital offering. It does a good job of offering faster game play, while still having many of the tactical decisions generally only present in longer games like Magic. The technology support is there, so the main thing that will be the driving force to determine if Eternal can become and stay popular is the strength of their card design team. We currently only have one set released, so time will tell if they excel in this area or not.

You do not have to take my word for the game though – it is completely free to play so head on over to Steam and give it a try.

 

Cheers,

~Jeff Hoogland

Music While Streaming

Late last night after I had turned off the fourth Twitch stream in a row because the music the stream had playing was unpleasant to me, I tweeted this:

2016-12-12-081058

Due to the brevity Twitter requires I was unable to fully explain why I felt this way in this single tweet. I wanted to take a second and write why I feel the way I do about playing music while streaming.

First – lets assume everything is setup and balanced well. The music is loud enough for me to hear, but not so loud that it drowns out the content the streamer is creating. If I enjoy this music (or am neutral about it) I will not mind. If I dislike the music I will likely leave. In this case the streamer lost a viewer because they did not like the music, even if they wanted to watch the content otherwise.

Now – the common response to this is some people watch twitch streams explicitly for the music. In the digital age today, it is very easy to share playlists of music. Pandora, Spotify, and other services easily allow a stream to have a link that says “listen to my music” below their stream. This allows for people who want the streamer’s music to enjoy it, while not turning off people who dislike it. Even my smart phone can play music while watching Twitch at the same time.

The other defense of music on stream I heard from several people is that the streamer just wants to listen to music. Using modern streaming software, like OBS, a streamer can very easily select individual audio channels to send to their stream. They can very easily listen to their own music while streaming and not share it with the rest of the world directly.

Not playing music directly on the stream also has the added benefit that any archives you create will not be muted for copy right reasons. This means people who like the streamer’s content will be able to see more of it. Being able to archive things without audio disputes to a place like YouTube can also be an additional revenue source for streamers.

Finally – Yes I used to play music while streaming. I did it because most people I watched stream did it and it seemed like the norm. I realize now that it lost me viewers then for the reasons I list here and I am glad I stopped doing it.

Taste in music is subjective. Regardless of how many people are enjoying a stream’s music, it is always costing the content creator some viewers who dislike the music. There is a reason major sporting / eSports events do not play music as an underscores to their shows – it is a net positive not to.

Bad Modern Bracket Showdown

For my live paper Magic streams for the last two weeks of the year we are going to be trying out something a bit different. We are going to take 16 “tier 4” modern decks, throw them in a bracket, and then battle them out on camera to see which unknown deck comes out on top.

We are going to make this a bit interactive though! Once we know which 16 decks are being played, we are going to publish a bracket. People can then submit their own copies of the bracket predicting which decks will win where. At the end of the 2 nights of streaming, we will select the correct (and possibly most correct) brackets to send some Magic related goodies to.

So what is the point of this post you ask? Well – we need your help selecting which 16 deck are going to do battle! Please vote in this poll for the decks you would most like to see. Whichever 16 decks have the most votes come Monday December 12th will be slotted into the bracket.