Tag: modern (page 1 of 2)

Making Magic More Metal

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast

It’s been a few months since I’ve even considered looking for more than a few minutes at truly competitive gameplay. There’s been a lot going on, and I haven’t really taken the time to consider how that could be helpful to me. Things like constructing a deck in Magic and building efficiently in a RTS game are good structural exercises for my mind. Taking those skills into a competitive environment keep my attention sharp and teach me how to be a more gracious loser. Because I know I won’t always win. But that doesn’t mean I won’t try, dammit.

For the better part of a year, I haven’t seriously tackled the Magic: The Gathering format of Legacy. I was considering a few potential decks a while ago, but most of those plans fell by the wayside. After the release of the Modern Masters set, and some prompting from a friend, I’ve come back to the notion of putting a deck together to take with me to official events and the occasional Saturday night at my friendly local gaming store.

Legacy isn’t the only format out there, though. Between it and the ever-changing Standard is a format known as Modern. There are a few decks out there that have cards that span both formats. The one that appeals to me the most is called ‘Affinity’. I’ve liked artifacts for a long time, because they’re not dependant on colors and can get around a lot of obstacles if played correctly.

I tried putting together a list that didn’t subscribe to most common color combinations for the deck. However, a few suggestions and lists introduced me to [mtg_card]Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas[/mtg_card]. An ambitious and cunning artificer, Tezzeret has always been friendly to metal decks. As an agent of resident big bad dragon daddy Nicol Bolas, he’s slightly more insidious. The deck takes some of the basics of other Affinity decks in terms of creatures and mana sources, which gives me a few options.

[mtg_deck title=”Tezzeret’s Affinity”]
// Creatures
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Ornithopter
4 Memnite
4 Vault Skirge
3 Etched Champion
3 Steel Overseer

// Spells
4 Thoughtcast

// Planeswalkers
4 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas

// Artifacts
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Mox Opal
4 Cranial Plating
3 Springleaf Drum

// Lands
4 Vault of Whispers
4 Seat of the Synod
4 Ancient Tomb
3 Glimmervoid

// Sideboard
3 Oblivion Ring
3 Perish
3 Ethersworn Canonist
3 Whipflare
3 Tormod’s Crypt
[/mtg_deck]

The deck can push damage past defenders with the [mtg_card]Etched Champion[/mtg_card] or fly over them with [mtg_card]Ornithopter[/mtg_card] or [mtg_card]Vault Skirge[/mtg_card], any one of them benefiting from carrying [mtg_card]Cranial Plating[/mtg_card]. However, the deck also has a win condition that has nothing to do with creatures. Tezzeret can drop very early in the game, and his ultimate ability syncs well with artifact lands, 0-cost cards, and other low-cost options. Remember, X is twice the number of artifacts. So, if I have 5 artifacts in play, I gain 10 life and my opponent loses 10 life. That’s a 20-point swing, which can be difficult to overcome.

The deck is, of course, not invulnerable. It has no counter means save for Chalice of the Void, creatures can trample over the Champion no matter how much protection he has, and faster decks like burn can probably beat me to the punch or take wind out of my sails. Still, I think it has a lot of potential, and that potential doesn’t stop with Legacy. In Modern, the Chalice goes to the sideboard and illegal cards like Perish and Tormod’s Crypt have to go. Still, the play of the deck will be largely unchanged. I’m looking forward to putting it together and seeing how it plays.

The Legacy of Magic

Courtesy Wizards of the Coast
Art by Greg Staples

I’ve been playing Magic: the Gathering off and on since I was introduced to it in high school almost 20 years ago. Quite a few things have changed in the game since then, but nothing in the game has changed so dramatically that the old cards are strictly unplayable. In fact, there are some formats of Magic where incorporating older cards is encouraged. And rather than restrict myself to Standard and Limited for sanctioned play, I’ve decided to branch out into those formats.

This decision is based mostly on the potential for building new and interesting decks. With the entire length and breadth of Magic to choose from, the possibilities are astounding. I mean, sure, not every deck is going to be viable – there’s only so much one can do with, say, Lifelaces and banding creatures – but the potential is there. Unfortunately, to make the most of the format, some investments will have to be made, as many older cards are rather pricey. Dual lands, staples of the games early editions, are often priced at a hundred dollars or more per card.

Thankfully, not every deck requires these powerful cards. Sometimes, when you find yourself on a budget, the simplest ideas are the best.

[mtg_deck title=”Legacy Monored Burn”]
// Creatures
4 Goblin Guide
4 Keldon Marauders
2 Grim Lavamancer

// Spells
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Rift Bolt
4 Fireblast
4 Lava Spike
4 Magma Jet
4 Price of Progress
4 Chain Lightning
2 Sulfuric Vortex

// Lands
3 Arid Mesa
3 Scalding Tarn
14 Mountain

// Sideboard
3 Smash to Smithereens
2 Vexing Shusher
2 Pyrostatic Pillar
2 Pyroblast
2 Anarchy
2 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Ravenous Trap
1 Faerie Macabre
[/mtg_deck]

The deck is fairly straightforward: dishing out as much damage as possible in a short amount of time. However, ‘straightforward’ does not mean ‘simple’. You can’t simply cast all the spells in your hand as quickly as possible and be assured of a win. A key example of this is [mtg_card]Fireblast[/mtg_card]. Canny players wait until after other spells have been cast to play this powerful blow to the enemy’s face with its sacrifice cost. And doing so puts more cards in the graveyard for [mtg_card]Grim Lavamancer[/mtg_card] to use.

I’ve played the deck in one event so far, and it’s not only fun to play but viable against other Legacy decks. Its potential caught me somewhat off-guard, considering I was up against decks like Countertop and Affinity. It’s not perfect, though, as Maverick found ways to slow me down enough to secure a win. Hence the [mtg_card]Anarchy[/mtg_card] in the sideboard – that will take care of pesky Circles of Protection!

In addition to Legacy, the format called Modern provides similar opportunities but with a narrower range of cards to choose from. I had to poke around a bit, but I found a deck list that feels right up my alley, and utilizes some of my favorite cards from both the current and the previous Standard rotation.

[mtg_deck title=”Modern Tokens”]
// Creatures
4 Hero of Bladehold
4 Tidehollow Sculler

// Spells
4 Intangible Virtue
4 Lingering Souls
4 Honor of the Pure
4 Path to Exile
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Zealous Persecution
3 Spectral Procession
3 Midnight Haunting

// Land
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Marsh Flats
1 Mutavault
6 Plains
1 Swamp
3 Windbrisk Heights

// Sideboard
2 Disenchant
2 Kataki, War’s Wage
2 Kor Firewalker
2 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
2 Slaughter Pact
1 Stony Silence
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Torpor Orb
[/mtg_deck]

Which am I more excited to play? Token decks are always fun to play, but the straightforwardness of the burn deck is also appealing. The deck is somewhat underestimated and isn’t as flashy as decks with dual lands, [mtg_card]Force of Will[/mtg_card], [mtg_card]Tarmogoyf[/mtg_card], or [mtg_card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/mtg_card], but it has definitely proved itself and, I feel, will continue to do so.

This doesn’t mean I’m done with more casual formats, though. Especially if there’s drinking involved…

Meet the Amaranthine

Courtesy Machine Age Productions

Are we more than what we seem? We all walk around in similar skins, physical forms that are at once miracles of evolution and unremarkable slabs of gradually decaying meat. For ages man has posited that their existences reach beyond the ticking clock under which we all live. Man has sought gods, crafted timeless works, birthed and fathered the sciences, all in the name of creating something that lasts. Every individual knows on a basic level that our time in the world is fleeting, and at one point or another we wonder if there’s more than what we have before us.

Imagine, for a moment, that the answer is “yes”.

Amaranthine is an exploration of this answer.

The Game

Amaranthine is a tabletop role-playing game to be played with friends in a comfortable, conversational setting. It boasts no overt gimmickry, no miniatures or fancy dice. You just need a handful of six-siders. It’s the premise, mood and execution of Amaranthine that set it apart.

The premise is that the Amaranthine of the title are, in essence, immortal. Each is reincarnated over and over again throughout the ages, dying only to be born again with their knowledge intact, if tucked away in a mental steamer trunk for a few years. Contact with familiar places, lessons of the past and other Amaranthine draw out their true natures. By the time they reach young adulthood, an Amaranthine can already be operating with hundreds if not thousands of years of experience upon which to draw, yet they look no different from you or me.

Amaranthine’s mood is one of limitless potential, of destiny and the shadows. It’s an atmosphere any afficionado of the World of Darkness (old or new) will find quite familiar. Yet the Amaranthine are not monsters, and the point of the game is not to rail against one’s nature, but to embrace it. Being one of the Amaranthine means being excellent, living a life of epic proportions that mere mortals can only dream of.

The true crux of the game comes in its execution as a group-based experience. The lives of the Amaranthine, present and past, are mercurial and somewhat unpredictible. Those you consider friends now may have been rivals in a previous life, and those now your enemies may have been allies or even lovers in years gone by. These relationships and the decisions players make regarding them build a sense of scale into the game as well as helping it feel deeply personal.

The Book

A word on the quality of the printed version of Amaranthine before I get into the meat of the text. This book is, without question, gorgeous. It ranks with the best offerings of White Wolf or Wizards of the Coast. It boasts bold colors, fascinating choices in type and a comprehensive indexing system that makes information easy to find. But all that is sound and fury; the significance of the book is in what the text says, not how it looks.

The tales within the Amaranthine rulebook underscore the concepts and themes listed above. The early chapters draw players into this appealing world and give them the tools necessary to become a part of it. It concerns itself more with questions than with statistics, however: Who were you before? Who do you want to be now? Who mattered to you, and who still does? The stats systems, using the four humors as essential resources for the character, are at once familiar and unique.

Deeper in the book those brave enough to become Directors find the depiction of our world through the immortal eyes of the Amaranthine. From the ways they organize themselves to the threats they face, the book ensures a Director is well-equipped to tell a tale as sprawling or intimate as they wish. Threats to the Amarthine are describedin detail, and are not limited to creatures such as vampires, dragons and the fair folk. The Void is an ever-present aspect of the Amaranthine, to which they all must return and from which all draw strength… for a price.

The Company

I knew when I first heard David of Machine Age pitch Amaranthine that he was on to something. He and his wife Filamena have never been ones to sit idle working on gaming materials for others. They’re unafraid of the risks inherent in pursuing their own ideas and have the intestinal fortitude to see their dreams through in the face of adversity, mediocrity and doubt. They’re a couple of those troublemakers I go on about sometimes.

Their first game, Maschine Zeit, perfectly captured the dread and mystery of a quiet and horrible apocalypse of our own making. Guestbook makes playing a quick game with friends at a convention, train station or meeting so easy it seems almost shameful. Amaranthine encourages excellence, exalts in an epic scale and allows players to explore and answer questions about their own natures just as much as it pits them against creatures of the night and wonders from childhood myth.

Amaranthine is a high-quality, deep-concept gaming experience that I Would recommend to anybody even remotely interested in a modern setting for a tabletop role-playing group, and if it doesn’t put Machine Age firmly and permanently on the map of leading pen-and-paper game producers, it bloody well should.

Buy Amaranthine:

DriveThru RPG
Pre-Order the Book

Lighthouse, Day 1

Lighthouse Badge

I think I can finally get this serial off the ground.

Continue reading

Lions & Fortnights & Codes, Oh My!

Courtesy NatGeo

I really couldn’t think of an appropriate image for this little literary trip down memory lane, so here’s a picture of a mountain lion. It’s semi-appropriate, I suppose, since the first iteration of the first novel I ever wrote was entitled “Project: Lion,” and if that doesn’t betray the fact I wrote the thing in junior high, wait until I get into the particulars of what I’d at this point laughingly call the plot.

The premise of “Project: Lion” was that I basically wanted to create an American James Bond. This involved a personable and professional spy by the name of Morgan Radcliffe flying all over the world, shooting up bad guys and chatting up women. The charming, exotic female he encounters turns out to be a double agent, his school chum is killed and the friend’s hot sister leans on Morgan for support. Morgan shoots up dudes, drives really fast, shoots up more dudes, gets yelled at by a superior and manages to save the day anyway with nary a scratch or reprimand for being so flagrantly awesome.

Given the state of American reading audiences it might have been able to find a market and possibly even make some money, but neither of those notions detract from the fact that it was rubbish. Morgan was a Gary Stu of the highest order, and while he was capable of emotions other than smug self-assuredness, I realized after finishing the work that I was way too close to the character and projected too much of my own unattainable dreams onto him. I knew there were things about the character I liked, and others would as well, but the character needed to develop differently which meant I had to rethink the character from the ground up.

So I gave Morgan a sex change.

College did wonders for my social skills as well as my writing ability. I realized that having Morgan be female instead of male added an element of separation between us, allowing for more interesting plot points and deeper characterization. How different would it be for a woman instead of a man to stand out in the male-dominated genre of espionage fiction? Rather than having her be just a pretty face, or a cookie-cutter badass action grrrl, I added elements such as her expertise in cryptography, a relationship with her father who preceded her in the intelligence community, and an element of mystery concerning the evil mastermind against whom I pitted her. It made for a more interesting and involving narrative that got some very good feedback from people, and due to the fact I broke it up into a series of days rather than chapters, I renamed the endeavor Fortnight.

Unfortunately, of the two to three dozen queries I sent regarding the work, not a single one even requested sample chapters. Even talking to an agent in person at last year’s Philadelphia Writer’s Conference yielded only silence after what I felt was a positive experience in speaking with her. It could be that I came across as overly eager, but I’ll never know for sure. So Fortnight lingered, and given the decline of the genre in recent years, I began to feel that it was time for me to move on. I started working in earnest on my fantasy novel, and while that is still a positive experience, I’m struggling through some of the newer chapters.

When I established this blog, I knew I’d need consistent and interesting content to keep up interest. I turned to Fortnight and examined both the plot and the state of fiction at large. With the surge of supernatural fiction such as Twilight, the Anita Blake novels and the Southern Vampire Mysteries from which True Blood was born, two things occurred to me: There’s a thriving market for supernatural stories featuring female protagonists, and I have a female protagonist and a solid idea of how I’d want supernatural beings to be depicted.

This lead me to Shattered Code, but even after posting the first day of it I knew there were problems. The story starts to slowly, and I hadn’t developed the premise enough. With help from my fiancĂ©e, and more research as to what’s out there (a good excuse to watch the first season of True Blood if nothing else), I built a stronger foundation and began writing the story from scratch once again.

Day 1 of Lighthouse should be up tomorrow, provided I can polish things off tonight. I look forward to feedback from those of you still reading this stuff.

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