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.

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.

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.

Streaming Schedule and Content Updates

Just wanted to write a short post with my updated streaming schedule:

  • Monday       12pm-3pm CST – HexTCG
  • Monday       7pm-11pm CST – Paper Magic
  • Tuesday       12pm-3pm CST – HexTCG
  • Wednesday 12pm-3pm CST – Eternal
  • Thursday     12pm-3pm CST – HexTCG

Previous I was doing Tuesday / Thursday 12pm-4pm, so while this is less time on those specific days it is more stream time overall. I am also adding at least one day a week of Eternal Card Game which I have been enjoying playing both on my laptop and smart phone since it went into open beta.

Keep in mind these are minimum streaming goals, so there will still be impromptu streams as time allows. Be sure to follow me on Twitch / Twitter for notifications when extra streams happen.
As always if you ever miss a stream, you will be able to find the archives on my YouTube channel. I am also occasionally putting out non-archived content on my YouTube channel as well such as deck building tutorials and play testing sessions.

While I am taking this week and next week off of paper Magic content for the sake of secrecy before the Player’s Championship, I am recording a good deal of my play testing for the event. I will have both paper magic and Cockactrice videos posted for standard / modern prep after day one of the PC is over on December 17th.

You can help support my content with a donation, a subscription on twitch, or by checking out my sponsors.

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Thoughts on SCG Tour 2017

Late last month SCG President Pete Hoefling outlined changes to the SCG Tour for 2017. As someone who has played in a lot of SCG events over the last few years, I have had a number of people ask me what I think of these changes. After having some time to stew on them I wanted to share my thoughts in a short post.

I would like to start by highlighting the things I think make sense about these changes:

Classics are the same format as the Open and there is always Modern

Having a classic that is the same format as the main event just makes sense. It allows people who only play a particular format to bring a single deck with for the weekend and know they can play a full two days of Magic with that deck regardless of their main event performance.

Still, having a second choice is fine. Making that choice Modern makes sense as, according to the latest data, modern classics are typically the largest.

 

IQ’s have relevance, but not too much

In 2015, the leader board had a pile of people towards the top who got there without playing in major events. In 2016, IQs did not give you anything at all towards the leader board.

The 2017 changes are a nice balance of the two. The smallest IQ option is now a 1k, so they will (likely) not be run on week nights. This removes people in particular geographic locations to farming them for points. They also only award 3 SCG points to first which is less than you get for top 64 at an open – this seems like a fair amount to me.

 

More East Coast and Less Midwest Events

While this one is not great for myself personally – I understand that it has to be more cost effective for SCG to host events closer to them. Only three midwest opens in the first half of 2017 though will leave room for others to hopefully fill the gap like with the Nerd Rage Championship Series.

 

There are two changes I do not understand fully / care for though:

All the 2016 Points just Vanish

Hopefully I am going to spike the last invitational of this year or win the player’s championship so this will not effect me directly – but one thing that does not feel good as a grinder is that all of our 2016 points are getting wiped away at the end of the year. When the points got reset after 2015 it almost felt like it made sense – clearing out points people had farmed from IQs seemed reasonable.

I was not able to find where I read it, but I thought when they announced the 2016 season they said people would fall off one season at a time moving forward as opposed to a hard reset like this. Having your top players suddenly become unranked at the end of the year if they do not spike one of the first two events feels bad and does not make a ton of sense to me.

 

No 2017 POTY or Player’s Championship

It feels odd for the first time in three years that there is no “end goal” for playing a ton of SCG events aside from getting some free Magic cards. As someone who does not need more cardboard in my life – there really is just no incentive to play a bunch of SCG events.

Myself and a number of others flew / drove long distances to get to a lot of opens this year. People formed teams with the goal of competing in all the events with the goal of putting people into a special year end event.

Without a Player’s Championship in 2017 I will not be surprised when we see all of this dissolve or see these teams redirect their focus onto WOTC events. I know I have taken a look at the Grand Prix schedule for the first time in a long time.

Even if I am player of the year for 2016, I do not see myself going to almost every open in 2017 like I did this year and years previous. I will likely just show up to play some modern and skip the rest.

 

Wrapping Up

I would like to close this: I am glad the SCG events exist and will continue into 2017, even if all the changes do not make sense to me personally. Whenever I see people post comments on changes SCG makes, it feels like many think SCG is a charity organization and not a for profit business. They do not owe anything to us as players.

Magic the Savaging

Talking about the recent Kentroversy got me thinking about all the various times I watched someone “get got” at a competitive REL event because their opponent was clever / scummy / whatever you want to call it. Where would you rate each of the following on a scale of 1 to Kent in Peace?

 

The Pillar Punk Fake


Player A is dead on board regardless of how he blocks the following turn. If Player A attacks with everything, Player B will go to two life with optimal blocks. Player A attacks with everything, Player B makes optimal blocks and goes to two life. Player A verbally confirms life totals. After Player B confirms he is at two life, Player A reveals his hand and says “I have a Pillar of Flame”. Player B concedes.

Player A couldn’t produce red mana.

 

A less than Surgical Extraction

Player A casts Surgical Extraction targeting Life from the Loam in Player B’s graveyard. Player B reveals his hand and gives his deck to his opponent to search. Player A finishes resolving his Surgical Extraction and hands Player B his deck back to shuffle. After the deck is cut Player B confirms Player A is done resolving his Surgical Extraction. Player A passes the turn.

Player B starts his turn and dredges the Life from the Loam still in his graveyard that had been targeted by surgical, but not removed.

 

A Seven Mana Titan

Player A casts a Primeval Titan tapping a pile of lands all at once, leaving only two lands untapped. Player B casts Mana Leak targeting Primeval Titan. Player A counts out his lands, sees he has tapped one land too many and uses his two untapped lands to pay for the Mana Leak.

 

Force of Fake Out

Player A is playing Legacy Storm and is dead on board. He shrugs his shoulders and goes for a combo kill. Player A casts Infernal Tutor, cracks his Lion’s Eye Diamond, and asks “Do you have the Force of Will?” Player B immediately flips over one of the two cards in his hand which is Force of Will. Player A concedes.

Player B did not have a blue card to go along with the Force.

 

Not so humble Thalia

Player A has a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in play. Player B casts Show and Tell and Player A flips over a copy of Humility. Player B continues to pay 1 extra mana for his spells, so player A does the same. On a pivotal turn Player A needs all of his mana, so he does not pay extra mana for his spell.

Player B taps the Thalia, Player A taps the Humility.

 

Underworld Disconnections 

Player A picks up and reads his opponent’s Underworld Connections. Player A casts Pithing Needle and names Underworld Connections. Player B confirms he is naming Underworld Connections. Player A agrees.

Player B then activates his Swamp to draw a card and lose one life.

 

Angry Elementals

Player A has two Voice of Resurgence Elemental tokens that he attacks with. Player B examines the board and asks: “The voice tokens are 4/4s?” Player A responds with “They have power and toughness equal to the number of creatures I control”. Player B looks over the board again and declares no blocks. Player A confirms they are moving to damage and Player B agrees.

Player B was at 9 life and the tokens were 5/5s.

 

More Pithing Problems

Player A casts Pithing Needle and names “Borborygmos”. Player B confirms what he is naming and writes it down. Player B puts a Borborygmos Enraged into play and kills Player A with it’s activated ability.

 

Clique Myself

Player A casts Vendilion Clique. Player B immediately throws their hand on the table. Player A glances it over and says: “Clique trigger targeting myself”

 

Wrapping Up

An important thing to note is that situations 3 and 5 are against the current rules because you are required to announce floating mana. This means if you do either of these intentionally you are cheating.

Do you know of any interesting “gotcha” stories? Let me know in a comment below.