SOTG: Checking in on Old Friends

For Memorial Day weekend I ended up going to visit my Mother and as she lives in the same town as my best friend, I ended up paying him a visit as well. One game that we’ve been playing together for a very long time is Awesomenauts, but through the years we’ve picked up quite a few different titles that we’ve spent some time on. In that same vein, we’ve been picking up some of our old favorites, and I thought I’d use this fuel for a new round-up post. As I’ve only mentioned Awesomenauts to this point, I suppose that’s a good place to start.

Regular readers will probably recall my history with this game, but to briefly recap, I received the game for free via Playstation Plus when it first released in 2012. I played it with my friend and he loved it, picking up a copy for his Xbox 360. We’d play splitscreen when at each other’s houses, and eventually he got a PS3 and we’d play together online. I picked up the Steam version of the game at one point because I was frustrated that a bunch of new characters and features we being added to the game on PC and not the platform that it started on. Later, the game would get expansions and a new version called Awesomenauts Assemble was released for PS4. My friend and I came back to the game at this point, and though I already owned the expansions on PC, I had to pick them up again via a bundle purchase on Playstation. This was fine as I enjoyed the game and wanted to support it, but a little more frustration came my way when I learned that the title went Free 2 Play earlier this year on PC, and the console version has not followed suit. When we picked up to play this past weekend, there were a few more characters released and I had to drop $6 to get them. Apparently with the PC version being free to play means that there is an in-game currency that allows you to buy individual characters, while there are bundles to buy them all along with skins for real money. I suppose that makes it the same sort of deal but I think the virtual currency should make it’s way to console as well… going free to play will likely bring in new blood though I haven’t had trouble finding games anyway. Here’s the new additions since I last played (around the time Overdrive released).

I’ve managed to play a handful of games with some of the new characters and they seem about on par with what you’d come to expect from this 2D MOBA.

I’m not disappointed with the game all that much. Owning it on two platforms gives me options but honestly I play the game because my best friend loves it and we’ve put a lot of time in.

You remember H1Z1? Yeah I talked about it way back when, I was there when it first came out, playing what would later become Just Survive. I remember when they added the Battle Royale mode. It was fun and something new and different, but now BR clones are a dime a dozen and the most popular ones are PUBG and Fortnite. By the time H1Z1 was split into King of the Kill and Just Survive I had already uninstalled the game, and I haven’t really kept up except for hearing that JS is about dead and Battle Royale was coming to PS4. I never played PUBG but it seems like the same sort of shit, and Fortnite’s BR mode is garbage. It’s too light and kiddie for my tastes, and though I’m sure PUBG is great I don’t want to pay to play it. Enter the H1Z1 PS4 Beta. It’s free to play and it’s the same Battle Royale that I remember, but then it’s been clearly worked on for a long time. Much has changed to this point, but the game looks and plays pretty much the same as I remember.

I think if I am in the mode for some Battle Royale, this is the one I’d play just because I don’t have to think much and I don’t have to pay for it. So win/win.

The other Hi-Rez title that I used to play quite a bit has seen some changes as well. Paladins got a bad rep in recent months by trying to do some cash grabbing, but it appears that the UI and the character customization has changed a bit too. The card system isn’t anything like I remember, having set cards for champions and only the ability to raise points in your build which in turn makes the card’s rarity change. It’s a dumbed down version from what existed before, but perhaps the streamlining was good for newcomers.

That’s really my only complaint. It looks great and still runs perfectly. I still have the game down pretty good as well, as my score below will attest. There are a handful of new champions but I’m not sure about map changes. There are some different modes that I don’t recall, but as I said there have been many changes in the year or so since I last played. One thing that stuck out was the season pass sort of thing that the company does with Smite, where you have to essentially buy in to receive rewards for playing, but the rewards aren’t exactly guaranteed unless you grind out some games. So yeah, a bit cash grabby, but I’m not going to give it to them.

Still a fun shooter in short bursts.

The granddaddy of Hi-Rez titles for me, and it’s been a year since I played this one as well. That’s one thing, playing MMOs or persistent account games like MOBAs/CCGs/BRs is that you have to spend a lot of time to keep up with the patch to patch changes, new characters, shifting metas, etc. I was shocked to see how much just the UI has changed in a year:

I didn’t take much in the way of screen shots, but my bff and I played a few rounds the other night and won them all. Between this game and Paladins I also had a shit ton of rewards given to me when I logged in, and the only reason I can think of is because I’ve played other Hi-Rez games in the meantime? I have been playing Hand of the Gods: Smite Tactics and even recently tried out Paladins Strike. I assume some cross promotion exists, and maybe there’s even some sort of welcome back rewards, I’m not sure but I had 100s of notifications between the two games. I’m not complaining by any means but it was a nice surprise. I’m looking forward to playing more of these games, as the itch still hasn’t been scratched.

Finally, I’ve been getting in some time with MTGA as well. Still not doing great at it though. My mind has been so wrapped up in EDH for the past year and a half that I don’t really look at other formats all that much. Since I’m going to GP Vegas during the middle of this month, much of the events going on are drafts. I have never drafted in MTG. As such, it seemed like a good time to try it out, as this past weekend there were Dominaria drafts going on. So I paid my entry fee and got down to business. Things did not go well.

I didn’t get a single win, but I did learn a lot about the format. Sealed and Constructed are so much different than a draft, and in this case I ended up building a trash BR deck that almost won me a single game before the draft was over. I know now what I should have been focusing on, and I might do another draft or two before the Vegas trip, but as of now I’m still not that big on this type of Magic. I know that the event will have a lot of drafting going on so I’m sure I’ll participate in a couple, but I also don’t want to spend a ton over the weekend so I’m limiting myself. I think I might end up doing Battlebond again, but I’m really hoping to just play some EDH with random people from around the country. Speaking of, if you’re a regular and happen to be going to Vegas that weekend, drop me a message and maybe we can meet up!

That’s all for this time.

TWR: Battlebond Preview Weekend

Battlebond releases this Friday, but this past weekend there was a “preview weekend” event at my LGS; my roommate and I took the opportunity to check out the new set early. Being a Two-Headed Giant format makes the sealed experience a bit different than what I’ve experienced in the past. Rather than getting a pre-release kit for $30 and building a deck from the packs included, then running through a few 1v1 rounds and possibly winning some extra packs, we were both awarded with 4 packs for $20 each. Technically that sounds like a sham, but the two of you build two decks from the pool, and in our case we just took pictures of the packs we opened so we could pull our cards back out after the event. Similar to pre-release events, you’ll run through rounds against rotating opponents, but 2v2 this time around. We also received promo cards at the beginning of the event, and I started the day off pretty good:

It seems that everyone got one of the new “partner with” pairs, my pull being one of the better options. This also helped steer us in a particular direction when it came to deck building. Unfortunately I didn’t end up with many other cards I wanted from the set, and none of the big money reprints or new additions. My roommate pulled a foil Greater Good, and the Najeela that I’d love to trade for but not much else. We ended up doing really well in the tournament though, and that made me proud. Our deck ended up centering around those two Planeswalkers above, along with a suite of removal in Black and Red, some good ramp in Green, and a splash of White. He ran RGW and I built UB. Though we were running the Kenriths and Najeela, we never played any of them. We primarily played Warriors though as we had good synergy in those colors, so I most slung the removal spells and he mostly made the creatures. We won the first two rounds, and only lost the third round due to a well timed Archon of Valor’s Reach, naming Sorcery. Our trump card ended up being Thrilling Encore, working exactly as planned in game 2, where we cast some removal spells, swung out with our board and killed/lost creatures, then played Encore to return all of the killed creatures to our side of the field. Game Over.

Besides the aforementioned Planeswalkers that I’m thinking of throwing into either a Superfriends deck or my Jodah deck, these were the cards I pulled that I can see places for in my existing EDH decks. In some cases I’m not too sure where they will end up but I’d like to use them nonetheless. The Blaring Captain/Recruiter pair are good in a Najeela deck, as is the Mindblade Render, and I’m considering where I might put them. Sylvia and Khorvath are screaming to go into Kaalia, considering I added a handful of dragons to that deck recently and they’d love to have doublestrike. Khorvath’s Fury is a nice wheel that I’m going to put into Locust God. The Goblins will find a place in Krenko. The Wumpus and Searchlight are great for my group hug deck, and Seer’s Lantern will work for Grenzo. That leaves Gorm and Virtus, which really want to be in some sort of unblockable type deck. Not sure where to use Spellseeker either, though I’m sure she could go into Kess or Taigam, something that wants to grab a particular spell. It’s a tutor at least, and that will find a home.

Overall I’m happy with the outcome of the event. I wish I would have pulled a Doubling Season or a Land Tax… hell I would have loved a Diabolic Intent, but I can still grab a few more packs after Friday and pick up some singles. I’m not missing out on a cheaper Doubling Season, I’ll guarantee that. I’m hoping that Wizards can keep this sort of thing going, I really liked playing 2v2. I’ll definitely participate in some more Battlebond action in a couple of weeks at GP Vegas!

The War Report: WUBRG Warriors

Battlebond has been fully spoiled at this point, and there was one clear winner in my mind when it came to new legendary creatures to build a deck around: Najeela, the Blade-Blossom.

Najeela appears to be a mono red creature at first glance, and were that the case she wouldn’t be nearly as exciting of a prospective general. She, like General Tazri before her, is a mono-colored commander that has a 5-color activated ability, and it’s a good one. Being a WUBRG commander means we have access to all of the strengths of each color, along with the best warriors in each color. We want this to be a warriors matter deck, mainly because of her abilities. When Najeela is on the battlefield, any time a warrior attacks (including herself) you get to create a 1/1 warrior token that’s tapped and attacking. So basically you get an additional creature for each creature that attacks. To top this off, for WUBRG you get an additional combat phase with each creature getting trample, lifelink and haste. Even more busted, this activated ability doesn’t cause Najeela to tap, meaning it can be use more than once per turn as long as you have the mana. If you can swing with 5 warriors, you’ll actually be swinging with 10, then you pay WUBRG and swing with those 10 to get 20 and well, you get the picture. Being a 5-color deck, we’ll need to work on ramping and mana fixing, so here’s some tools to do that with:

Ramp:

Besides mana rocks and the usual green ramp spells, we have some other support here. Radha in both of her forms will provide green or red mana depending on some circumstances, but can be valuable mana for post combat main phases. Ditto Neheb, though you’ll want to keep some of the other colors open so that you can cast additional spells. Chromatic Lantern gives all of your lands all colors of mana, and Cryptolith Rite gives the same to your creatures (think about using the tokens you’re producing for additional mana). Lastly, Mirari’s Wake and Zendikar Resurgent will make your lands produce double mana, while also buffing creatures and drawing you cards. There are other great Warriors that do different things so let’s take a look at those now:

Warriors:

It seems that every color represents the warrior tribe fairly well, except for blue which is only present in multi-colored warriors and the lone Nimbus Champion. Still, there is a lot of good stuff here, most of these warriors being rare or mythic rarity means they tend to have pretty good effects on them. Some are better than others, but you can see the synergy. We’ll be creating tokens left and right, and we can use those tokens in various ways. Like I mentioned earlier, with Cryptolith Rite you’ll be able to tap those little 1/1’s for mana and that’s a boon for any 5-color deck. You can also sacrifice warriors to Brion Stoutarm (fling them at targets) or Blood-Chin Fanatic (extort effect), and as a bonus if you have Butcher of Malakir out at the same time enemies will have to do some sacrificing as well. There are far too mana effects to go over here, but you should look over the cards. There are many options out there that I didn’t use, but I found that these to be some of the best effects on Warrior bodies out there. The only two that I added from Battlebond are the Decorated Champion and Nimbus Champion, both who have warriors-matter effects. One of the main themes of the deck besides being tribal is extra combat steps, so let’s look at the support section of the deck:

Support:

From being able to take extra combat steps (Relentless Assault, Savage Beating, World at War), to buffing your creatures (Overwhelming Stampede, True Conviction, Cathars’ Crusade) to Warriors matter (Raiders’ Spoils, Secure the Wastes), to standard tribal includes (Kindred Discovery, Coat of Arms, Vanquisher’s Banner), you’ll find a ton of synergy and should be making a ton of tokens and buffing your creatures quickly — then take as many combats as you need in order to smash you opponents. I’m not sure where Najeela will fit on the tier list (probably around tier 3) but I think this deck will be fun to pilot nonetheless. You could also go a completely different route and still make use of her extra combat ability, but I think tribal warriors is the way to go! You can see the full deck list here.

TWR: Looking Forward to Battlebond

Battlebond is the newest product from Wizards to be a sort of filler set between blocks of standard sets. Think of sets like Conspiracy (and it’s sequel Conspiracy: Take the Crown), where the set is sort of stand alone, introduces some different mechanics, and is meant to be drafted. Where this set stands alone is that it’s the first (to my knowledge) set to embrace the Two-Headed Giant format. This means four players make up teams of two and go head to head to head to head. You get the idea.

I like the 2HG format. It’s fun to have a teammate and multiplayer formats are definitely more engaging than the traditional 1v1 style. What’s great about this set is that not only is it embracing 2HG, but it’s also providing some excellent Commander format cards. Also, many expensive cards are receiving a reprint, and that’s probably the most exciting part. A little disappointing too though, as I just bought a Seedborn Muse for $25 about a month ago and that’s now being reprinted, but I’ve said too much. This week is spoilers week for the set which releases on June 8th. It hasn’t been fully spoiled yet, but I’ll point you in the direction of the spoilers. There are a few cards that I’d like to talk about anyway, so let’s get to that.

Big Money Reprints:

I recently sold off nearly all of my Planeswalkers recently because I decided against a “Superfriends” build as the cornerstone of the deck is Doubling Season, a card that spiked to upwards of $75. This reprint should bring the price down a bit, or I might get lucky and open one. Some other noteables are Diabolic Intent (an equally expensive Diabolic Tutor), Land Tax (great ramp for white and about $25), Nirkana Revenant (cabal coffers on legs and also $25), True-Name Nemesis (a nice tool for merfolk decks, but kinda busted 1v1), and the aforementioned Seedborn Muse. These are staples for EDH, and I’ll be aiming for getting my hands on copies of each.

New Mechanics:

Partner itself isn’t a new keyword. There were partner commanders introduced in the Commander 2016 sets. Planeswalkers as commanders aren’t a new thing either, as that was done in 2014 I believe. However, Planeswalkers that can be your commander and have partner are a new thing. We’ve only seen the one pair so far, but I’m interested to see more of these. We also know that Commander 2018 sets will be led by Planeswalkers as well, so its likely there will be some good additions coming. “Partner with” is also something new, where the two legendary creatures will tutor the other out when one is played, which means they do double duty. There are several examples of these in the set, but I only wanted to highlight a couple. Another new keyword is Assist, which allows another player to pay a portion of a spell’s CMC, while the Support keyword has been revisited (this one distributes +1/+1 counters based on the number following the keyword).

Notables:

Archfiend of Despair is a reprint and is a nice card (might throw that one into Kaalia). Archon of Valor’s Reach is an interesting concept for a Commander. Arena Rector is great for superfriends or any deck playing a handful of Planeswalkers as PW specific tutors aren’t really out there. The new land cycle should be auto includes for EDH decks as you’ll always have more than one opponent. Najeela looks like a busted new general, and screams to be made into a Warrior tribal deck — best part is it’s 5-color, so you can pick the very best warriors and spells to support them. This will likely be a fresh brew for me coming soon! Lastly, Sentinel Tower feels like it can be busted, especially in spellslinger decks. Might have to try it out in Kess.

That’s all for now. I may revisit the topic when the set is fully spoiled, or once I get a new brew done. Until then, happy gaming!

TWR: Thoughts on MTG Arena

A few months ago I was invited to the Magic: The Gathering Arena alpha test. There was an NDA and all at the time, but I found it a pleasant enough experience, with what little I tried. At that time, they launched with only the cards from Ixalan, and because at the time I had already played with and bought a bunch of packs of Ixalan in real life, I wasn’t too excited to play. Fast forward a few months and the NDA is dropped. They’ve finished the Ixalan block along with adding the Amonkhet block. Recently they added Dominaria, and I assume they will add the Kaladesh block before it rotates out to give the full standard experience. Or maybe they won’t. I have other thoughts as well.

I’ve played most of the digital versions of Magic in existence. The yearly Duels of the Planeswalkers series was interesting, but such a restrictive package. Magic Duels that was out a couple of years ago seemed like Wizards of the Coast’s answer to Hearthstone, but they didn’t get too far in before they stopped supporting it. Magic Online seems to be the only place where people get a near table top experience and it’s the only version I haven’t used. I’ve seen it in action though, and though it looks a bit archaic it still seems to be the best version of the game available in digital form. I think that with Arena, Wizards of the Coast are trying to revitalize their aging OG platform by bringing the graphics and gameplay up a notch.

I would be sharing screenshots but there is no built in screen shot button, and I was too lazy to use a work around. At the end of the day, Arena looks great and plays smoothly. The animations are well done, the sound effects are immersive and the cards look great. At this time it doesn’t support ultra wide 2k resolutions so my monitor has a lot of wasted real estate, but I’m sure that sort of support will be added in the future (along with a screen shot button). This is one of the first digital versions of Magic that I’ve played that actually feels intuitive. Some cards in this game require you to search your library or draw a set amount of cards and then put cards on the top or bottom of your library, etc. The interface with which these actions are completed is fast and makes sense. I feel like new players and old veterans who haven’t played in years will be able to pick up and go.

Now for the bad stuff. You’re given a few packs to get started with, and this means you’ll have random chances to either get something worthwhile or get a bunch of crap. The preconstructed decks work okay, but none seem competitive enough — particularly when playing against someone who has been playing for quite some time and is dropping Teferi’s on the board. Packs can sometimes come with a “wildcard” which will allow you to essentially craft a card of your choosing of the wildcard’s rarity. That’s a nice way to pick up a  Teferi of your own, but it isn’t necessarily going to win you the game. Getting packs takes forever. You’ll have to complete 2 quests a day to get a pack. At that rate, getting a decent deck together means grinding out with a bunch of draft chaff doing the daily quests for gold, and hey if you manage to get 5 wins you’ll get a pack, but if you just keep on losing, well you get the idea. There’s a missed opportunity here to be more like Magic Online, where there is a marketplace for singles and you can just create a deck and buy it outright. I’m a firm believer that it’s not the cards but the pilot who chooses their own destiny, but at the same time I’d much prefer to be able to throw down some cash to make a decent deck and be done with it. When I play the game in real life, I build decks using a combination of existing cards and singles purchased online. I want that same sort of experience. I’ll take the rewards slowly as they come, but I’d like to build a decent deck outright.

Some things I can see happening with the platform: I could see the above store option working well. The problem there is that it still won’t compete with Magic Online, because there’s still not the whole 25 years worth of cards available in Arena. One option I do see them having the ability to promote is Brawl — the new EDH variant that works with Standard-only cards. The problem there though is that like standard it is a rotating format, so how do they justify removing part of the cards from the program as they add new sets? What do people get for credit for the cards they already purchased? Unless they do go ahead and program this game to be the new version of Magic Online I think that I won’t be putting money into it. It’s an okay time waster, but I just don’t care about Standard enough to want to play this that often. I’d rather go to a store and play EDH with strangers face to face. If Brawl is added that might at least give me a reason to both play Brawl at all, and to play Arena as my go-to for Brawling.