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Thoughts on Hearthstone

I’d put off giving Hearthstone a real try for a long time. There were a few things I kept telling myself to keep myself from dipping my toe into the water of the most popular CCG:

  • Putting money into a CCG is a money pit, instead of an investment like a TCG
  • The game has to lack depth in order to fit onto a phone screen
  • The game has to have a lot of variance due to the word “random” on so many cards

Bickering with people over why the reserved list is bad for Magic / Legacy made me come around to the idea that my first point was kind of silly. The games I am playing for fun are not stocks – I do not need to treat them as such.

Putting some amount of money into something like Hearthstone every month is no different than going to see a movie or any other number of activities I spend money on just for enjoyment. Ultimately while Magic cards having cash value was nice sometimes, there were other times it was annoying when a card I really needed spiked in price or something else tanked in value before I could sell it.

The second point was a mix of what my gut told me had to be true, as well as second hand feedback from others who I knew had played Hearthstone in the past. Because of this going into trying Hearthstone, my expectations were low.

After having logged hundreds of games of Hearthstone in the last couple of weeks, I have to say this second point feels very wrong.

The best way I can describe what I found with playing Hearthstone is with a comparison to chess. It is a game that is extremely easy to understand the basics of, but leaves a lot of room for mastery.

I think the thing I have been enjoying the most about Hearthstone is how interactive the game play is. While Hearthstone does not allow you to play directly on your opponent’s turn like many Magic players are used to thinking of as interaction, the way the combat system is designed leads to many decision trees every game.

For those who are unfamiliar with the combat system – essentially every “minion” can attack other minions directly. This means every minion we play out can effectively be removal. Unlike Magic, the turn order in Hearthstone is fluid. This means you can attack, play cards, attack again, and so on until you have used all of your minions. All of this leads to lots of meaningful choices which I have been enjoying.

I feel this combat system really rewards you for proper “role” identification. Realizing when you are the beat down and when you should be trading your minions to clear the board is really important.

The final point about the game itself containing a lot of high variance cards, also feels like it was off base after playing the game a bunch. While it is true there are far more cards that contain the word “random” on them in Hearthstone than in Magic, many of these cards allow you to make choices to mitigate / reduce the variance associated with these cards.

When you combine the knowledge of being able to mitigate the variance of the random cards, along with the removal of resource variance, the ability to take partial mulligans and I honestly would not be surprised if the current Hearthstone standard format has less variance than most Magic formats.

Past the positive things I have to say about the game play itself, I also have to say the actual Hearthstone client is just A+ software. Blizzard is very good at what they do. Having a fun and interesting card game that plays well on my phone, tablet, and computer is great.

If you have been apprehensive about trying Hearthstone in the past and are looking for something fun to poke at on mobile like I was I’d encourage you to give it a try. Tempo Mage and Odd Rogue are both very powerful standard decks you can build for very minimal cost.

Upping my hours – Spring and Summer Stream Schedule

At the end of February I wrote a short post thanking the community for their support and talking about reinvesting that support into more streams. Time flies when you are 3-2ing Modern leagues with sweet decks so here I am writing another post about stream stuff two months later.

The support has continued to be generous, so today I would like to share that I am reinvesting into more and better content again.

Starting next week I will no longer be double dipping as streamer and nanny at the same time. This means when I am live, 100% of my focus will be able to be on creating the best content I can. For those who love the kids, because let’s face it they are cute, they will still be making cameo appearances on occasion.

I also intend to increase the number of hours I am streaming consistently from the 20~ I had been doing previously to 35 with the following schedule for the Spring / Summer:

As always, this is a rough outline and will change on occasion. For instance I still plan to do occasional “post event” streams on Saturday / Sunday nights here and there when I am home. You can always find my schedule for a given week updated live here.

You’ll also note that in addition to more Magic hours, I’ve added a few hours of Hearthstone to my schedule. I recently started playing Blizzard’s CCG and I’ve been enjoying it a lot. Had some folks asking if I would stream it on occasion so I am adding it into my regular schedule for the Summer to see how it goes.

As always, thanks for the support folks. My subscribers and my sponsors are the reason I am able to do what I do – so thank you for enabling me. See you live soon I am sure!

Stream Rules

Links are enabled. Feel free to share decklists and related things.

If you want to post a dissenting opinion in chat, articulate yourself as to why you feel differently. Consistent arguments presented with a logical basis are welcomed. Opinions backed by nothing but feelings will be removed.

If you see a play that is wrong / bad – explain why it is wrong / bad. Help me (and the rest of chat) learn why it was a mistake. Don’t just spam !punt and such without context.

Generate discussions. For example if you think we should be playing a card in a given deck list don’t just say “Card X is good in this deck.” Say “Card X is likely better than Card Y that you are already playing because it serves Z function”. The first is just stating your opinion. The second provides context to why you feel the way you do.

If you break these rules you will be quickly timed out. Rules are subject to change and are managed at my and my moderator’s discretion.

Think before you type. Read your message back to yourself before you press enter.

MTG Arena looks great, but it isn’t Magic for Me

Since MTG Arena dropped its NDA and allowed people to start streaming it – I have had a lot of people ask me for my thoughts on it and if I plan to stream it. Today I just wanted to write a short note giving my early thoughts on it.

Before I say anything though I’d like to remind everyone of something very important:

As of my writing this Arena is only in a CLOSED BETA I am certain many of the details surrounding the game are subject to change before the final release

That said – let’s dive right in with my hot take on MTG Arena shall we? My sound bite opinion on Arena as it stands is the title of this post:

MTG Arena looks great, but it isn’t Magic for Me

I genuinely mean the first part. The interface on Arena looks really slick. The auto-tapping of lands when playing a spell, while currently a bit rough, is awesome and makes game play really smooth. I also love what they have done with the timers in arena to encourage people to play the game quickly.

The second part of my title is one that might confuse people – after all – Arena has a full Magic rules engine. The thing is though – Magic is more than just a set of rules. Magic to many, myself included, is the formats that we play within those rules.

To say I play a lot of Magic is an understatement. In fact – if you peek at my YouTube channel you’ll find 30+ hours a week of Magic for most of this year (and that is just counting on stream games). What you will not find on that channel though is standard matches of Magic.

In terms of constructed – Standard is all Arena is likely to support moving forward based on what WOTC has told us. This means that while Arena looks great, it is about as useful as Hearthstone to me when it comes to playing a game I am interested in playing. If I can’t play formats like Modern, Legacy, or Pauper on Arena – then Arena will not let me play Magic that I am interested in playing.

At the end of the day – I hope Arena is successful. More people playing Magic is good for the game. Eventually those people will likely get interested in playing all that Magic has to offer.

While Arena does not support sweet non-rotating formats though, it simply will not be Magic for me.

A Thank You to the Magic / Twitch Communities

Streaming is something I’ve always done just because it was something I enjoyed doing. Playing card games in general is a great time and streaming lets me be engaging and use some of my education background while gaming. It always made some money, but never enough to justify calling it a “real” job. As such I was still teaching / tutoring / doing free lance writing to supplement this.

At the start of December, as the school semester was coming to an end, I tweeted this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

The response to my spending more time streaming has been overwhelming to say the least. My Twitch “sub point” count, which was under 200 for the longest time, has ballooned to over 800 currently. Past just the subscribers, the donation decklists we’ve been doing on stream have been a huge success. Not only in letting me free roll MTGO leagues, but also for finding some really awesome and interesting decks to play.

I just wanted to make this note to say how incredibly grateful I am to the community for the support they have provided as I’ve produced more Magic content.

I have no idea if this will last long term, but while the support is here I plan to do my best to invest some of this money back into making more and better content.

My first step towards improving the content is going to be hiring a sitter a couple hours every afternoon I am streaming to help bridge that gap between when Declan wakes up from his nap and when my wife gets home from work. While my kids are awesome, cute, funny, and many other things – one thing they are often not is quiet!

For those who love seeing the kids – we will still have Declan and Jake cameos I am certain – I just want to reduce the number of moments where I have to mute myself due to a random toddler meltdown over YouTube buffering or a toy needing to be shared.

In closing – just again – thank you to everyone who has added their support as a Twitch subscriber in the last few months. You all are the reason I am able to do what I do, as often as I do it. I would also like to give a special shout out to Aner0nix who has single handily sponsored a bunch of extra stream time recently through some very generous bits.

Donation Deck List Details – AKA how to buy the stream for a while

This is a short post to lay out the details of how the donation decklists work on the stream. Continue reading to learn how to get me to shill your favorite deck for you!

How to Submit a Deck

The first step in submitting a donation decklist is DMing me on Twitter, Twitch, or Discord with the decklist you are interested in having me play. You should always get confirmation I am willing to play your deck before sending a donation for it. I am currently accepting Modern and Legacy decks for Magic and Standard decks for Hearthstone.

I reserve the right to refuse any list for any reason. In general I am willing to take a crack at any tier’d deck or anything especially sweet (read: turn 1-2 kills). Once I have confirmed I am willing to play a list you have sent me you should send a donation using this link. In the donation comment be sure to include a link to the decklist as well as your Twitch username.

How much it costs

If you are one of my Twitch subscribers you should send a $10 donation. If you are not one of my Twitch subscribers you should send a $20 donation. If you are bad at math this means it is cheaper for you to subscribe and donate $10 rather than $20, but who am I to tell you how to spend your money.

When your deck gets played

Once you send a donation the decklist you submitted gets added to the donation list queue. Decks generally get played in the order they are in the queue.

Don’t like waiting? Me neither!

Thankfully money talks. You can throw a kicker donation on top of the base amount to push your deck’s democracy points up. For every $1 / 100 bits sent a deck gains an extra point towards how soon it gets played. So for example a deck that has been waiting 14 days would have the same points as a deck that had $14 extra dollars donated for it.

Free Donation list every month for $25 Subscribers

As a thank you to my $25 (tier 3) subscribers you get a free donation decklist on the house! Just message me on Twitch from your subscribed Twitch account each month to set up which deck you would like me to play.

As a bonus for being consistently awesome your monthly donation list choice will also come with a bonus $20 worth of democracy points.

Bonus every month for $10 subs

While $10 (tier 2) subs do not get to add a deck list every month – they still support me extra so I give you a little bit extra back! As a thank you to my $10 subs, every month when you resub you can add 10 bonus points to a deck you like in the queue so it comes up faster.

SKIPPING THE LINE

Are you really impatient? Do you like me? Do you hate your money? For a $50 donation your deck will get moved to the top of the queue for the start of the next time I stream.

If you really want to see something sooner rather than later, for a $100 donation I will change up the schedule for the current day and play your deck as soon as the current league I am in is finished.

F.A.Q.

Q: Are you a sellout for doing this?
A: Absolutely! But Declan is fat and expensive to feed, so here we are. (Disclaimer: Declan eats regardless of how many donation decklists we get, but he really is fat)

Q: How long does a deck get played for?
A: Magic decks are played for a minimum of three matches and a maximum of five. Hearthstone decks are played for a minimum of 45 minutes.

Q: Do I have to provide cards for the deck I donate to see?
A: No. MTGO Traders, one of my sponsors, hooks me up with whatever MTGO cards I need. They are great!

Q: Can you notify me when you are playing my deck?
A: Not likely. It is hard to predict when a deck will get played exactly because people donate to move different things up almost every stream.

Q: If I can’t watch my deck live will there be an archive of it being played?
A: Definitely. All of my streams get archived to my YouTube channel here.

Q: Can I donate to move someone else’s deck up the donation queue?
A: Yep! Who am I to refuse your money?

Q: What else can I pay you to do on stream?
A: I don’t know – How much money do you have?

MTG Arena and the CCG Shakedown

Wizards recently announced they are working on a new digital client for Magic the Gathering called MTG Arena. While a lot is up in the air about a lot of the details surrounding MTG Arena, what they have shown to start looks promising – especially for anything with an “alpha” status. That being said – the devil is in the details as the saying goes – and as The Professor recently pointed out there is plenty of room for Wizards to get those details wrong.

People have been asking me for my thoughts on Arena since it spoiled so today I would like to share my thoughts about the most important thing a lot of the digital card games today mess up for me: How I can acquire cards to play.

Almost every digital card game coming out in the last couple of years has been copying the Hearthstone model verbatim. For those unfamiliar this means there is no trading. The only way you can get cards is by buying booster packs or by “crafting” the specific cards you want.

The frustrating aspect of this system for someone like myself who just wants to play competitive cards games is that you can’t actually give me a specific price on how much it costs to build a deck at any given point. The cost is going to vary based on how many of the cards I actually need, I am lucky enough to open from packs.

Not only does this make the system you have to go through to acquire the cards you want convoluted, it also often makes it expensive. While it is true that paper Magic and MTGO are also expensive to acquire cards, in reality these games only have a high up front cost. The cards in games that offer trading hold value. This means if I spend $100 on tradable cards that I know I can get at least $70 back for later, I have ultimately spent less money than if I put $50 into building a deck in a CCG. Even though it was a cheaper upfront cost for the CCG, it cost me more in the long term. So not only did I have to jump through hoops to get the cards I wanted to play with, but it ends up costing me more money as well.

Past all of this – what if I do not like the deck I’ve crafted in a CCG? What if I built it early in a new format and it is no longer viable as the metagame becomes established? Many who have played CCGs in the past know the “dusting” conversion rate is generally not kind. Often it is a 1/4th ratio – meaning that if I want to change to a different deck I either have to invest more money or lose 75% of the investment I have in the cards for my current deck.

The biggest thing I have heard over and over again from some Magic players when saying I dislike the Hearthstone system is that they dislike how MTGO handles things. There is no free to play option on MTGO so many take this to mean that no middle ground can exist. They think that trading and free to play have to be mutually exclusive things. They are not mutually exclusive though.

You can have a system that allows free to play players to grind the game for endless hours as they enjoy, while also allowing trading to exist for someone like myself. We have two working examples of how a digital card game can implement systems that involve free to play and trading in Pokemon TCGO and Hex TCG.

So please WOTC – if you are out there reading this – give us trading in Arena. Not only would this make the digital game feel more like a paper game, but it would allow more people such as myself to justify investing time and resources into it. It will show us that you are invested in giving us a full Magic experience with Arena and it is not just another digital offering that you are going to use to suck money out of consumers and then ditch down the line.

Improving Tie Breakers in Events

Something that has always confused me in TCGs is how we run events today with hundreds or even thousands of people the same way we used to run events with just a couple dozen. We play some Swiss rounds based on the number of players and then cut to the top 8 players because it squares a bracket nicely.

Because of the way this is done we often have spots in these single elimination rounds being decided by tie breakers which are determined by the strength of opponents played in the event. Because no one has any control over who they play, this makes tie breakers random. Because TCGs have enough variance in them I personally would love to see some methods tried that could reduce this often frustrating variance Today I would like to talk about one possible alternative method.

We start by playing a number of Swiss rounds based on our event size. We would use the current round thresholds minus one. So, for example, with 65-128 players we would play six rounds of Swiss. At the end of swiss we do a single elimination cut with all the players who finished with an X-1 record or better.

Because we are cutting based on record, we will often not have a perfectly square amount of players. Now we use tie breakers from the event to square the bracket by handing out byes to the players with the best records. For example, if we had a 125 player event we would likely have 14 players who are 5-1 or better after six rounds. This means we would need to hand out two byes in the first round of single elimination, so the players who finished first and second after the swiss would get a bye.

Folks who are familiar with brackets will note this creates an additional round of single elimination when we have nine or more players who finish X-1 or better. This is fine though because we removed a round from the Swiss portion of the event. This means events are at most the same length as we are used to them being for the players who make the top cut, while also being shorter for a majority of the people playing.

While I think my suggested method here would likely be an improvement over the current system which we have been using for ages, I would not be surprised if there are even better solutions out there. I just find it surprising, and kind of annoying, that we have been using the same tournament format for decades without ever exploring other options.

Returning to Magic Online

A little over a year ago I wrote a short post on this same blog talking about how I was taking a hiatus from streaming / playing Magic Online. Those of you who follow my Twitch.tv page know that I picked the application up again in May of this year and I have had more than a few people ask why – today I am going to answer that question.

First – while Magic Online is far from a perfect piece of software – there is no doubting that it currently offers the best competitive experience out of any digital card game. People often talk about games like Hearthstone, Eternal, and others being “competitive”, but when you look for actual events to play in you find none. Sure, they have competitive ladders where you earn in-game rewards, but a “normal” person can never pay an entry and win something that they turn into something tangible.

On Magic Online you can. In addition to playing in on-demand leagues for prizes Magic Online has five challenge events in five different constructed formats you can play every weekend. The entry fee is $25 and the prizes break down as follows:

Place Prizes
1st 500 Play Points, 100 Treasure Chests, and 1 non-foil set of the most recent Standard-legal set
2nd 500 Play Points and 75 Treasure Chests
3rd-4th 400 Play Points and 50 Treasure Chests
5th-8th 400 Play Points and 25 Treasure Chests
9th-16th 300 Play Points and 10 Treasure Chests
17th-32nd 250 Play Points

For those who are unfamiliar with MTGO prizing:

  • “Play Points” are essentially MTGO event credit. They are worth about 10 cents each, so the 250 Play Points you get for 17th-32nd represent 25 USD worth of new event entries.
  • “Treasure Chests” are tradable items that you can also open. They contain random cards, play points, and event booster packs. The average sale price of a Treasure Chest generally ranges somewhere between just over 2 USD and 2.5 USD.
  • A 1x copy of the latest set of MTGO is generally worth at least 40 USD.

For those who would like a rough estimate – low balling chests at 2 USD each of these challenge events pays out 900~ USD in items you can resell for cash to a vendor such as MTGO Traders and another 1000~ USD in prizes you can use to enter more events (even other challenge events).

As someone who has spent many weekends in the last few years driving two or more hours to play in events that paid out a 1000 USD to the top 8 only while charging a 30 USD entry fee – playing from my home, with optional pants, in an event with a lower entry fee and higher prize pool is fantastic.

Because I have managed to win two different challenge events in the last month – I am probably a little bit biased when I say this – but these events are great. They allow me to play a competitive card event from my home, without giving up my entire weekend or even entire day to do so.

This past weekend I played seven rounds of swiss, plus three more rounds in the top 8 and was done by 6pm so I could take my kids to the park. On the days where I have a less than stellar performance I am not stuck rotting in a convention center or LGS waiting for the rest of my car to be done playing so I can move on with my day. I can simply go hang out with family and friends at home or just jump in some on demand events if I want to game some more.

Now that my kids are a bit older I do not really want to travel 30+ weekends a year to play in a bunch of large Magic events like I have in years past. While I still encounter some bugs on occasion, the convenience MTGO provides while still allowing Magic to be a competitive outlet is one I am grateful for.

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.