My Favorite iOS Game: Ascension

My favorite iOS game – for several years now – is Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer. It’s a card game by Stone Blade, but it has an excellent iOS implementation by Playdek.

Unfortunately, it seems that the lifespan of Playdek’s version is coming to an end (more on that below), so I wanted to write a post about it before the end arrives.

Ascension is a “deck-building game”, which shares some things in common with “trading card games” (such as Magic), but has the key difference that it’s not “collectible”, which means that you can’t build better decks by spending more money on cards, and you don’t need to sink money into it to stay competitive. Rather, each game starts with each player having a pre-determined deck of cards, and there’s another set of cards which the players can acquire in the course of the game. “Acquiring” a card usually means spending some resources and putting the acquired card in their discard pile. Then when they finish going through their deck, they shuffle their discard pile into a new deck and draw from it, so they can use the cards they acquired on their last time through the deck. But the key is that players are on equal footing – everyone’s playing the game with the same pool of cards.

(By the way, probably the best-known deck-building game is Dominion, which does not have an official iOS version.)

In Ascension, each player starts with 8 Apprentice cards, which provide points (“Runes”) to acquire cards, and 2 Militia cards, which provide points (“Power”) to defeat Monsters. The rest of the cards in the set are shuffled into a draw pile, and six of them are laid out in the center row. These are the cards which can be acquired (if they’re Heroes or Constructs) or defeated (if they’re Monsters). Defeating Monsters gains the player Honor. The game starts with a pool of 60 Honor to be gained, and once the two players have gained at least 60 Honor between them, the game ends. Heroes and Constructs acquired also provide Honor (but Honor which is not counted against the pool of 60), and the winner is the player with the most Honor from defeating Monsters plus Honor from acquired cards.

Each turn a player draws 5 cards. Heroes are cards (including the Apprentice and Militia cards) which are played once that turn to provide an effect. The effect can be to provide Runes or Power, or to do things like draw more cards. Constructs are played and remain on the board, and have a continuous effect, for example to provide 1 Power each turn. Defeating Monsters can have effects besides producing Honor, they can also produce Runes, or they can have effects like making the opponent discard a card, letting you draw a card, or making them discard some of their played Constructs. When you acquire a card from the center row, or defeat a Monster in it, it gets replaced by a card from the draw pile. There are also four factions, which the Heroes and Constructs in the center row belong to, and some cards’ effects have an additional impact based on their faction.

A mid-game turn, with some of the more interesting cards from the original set in the center row. (click for larger image)
A mid-game turn, with some of the more interesting cards from the original set in the center row.
(click for larger image)

When I started playing the game I thought it was going to be a pretty simple game and I’d give up on it before long, but I soon found that it had surprising depth. It took me a little while to realize that acquired cards provide Honor – this is key because Constructs from the Mechana faction in particular provide much more Honor than other cards. But I quickly learned that the principle of acquiring better cards (basically, investing in future turns) tends to trump defeating Monsters early on, while when the pool of Honor is nearly gone you want to make a mad grab for the most valuable cards. Sometimes I’d take a balanced approach, other times I’d focus single-mindedly on building up my deck. Some cards allow you to get rid of the less-powerful cards in your deck permanently, which I tend to prioritize, even above (most) card-drawing cards.

Another turn from the same game, with the cards currently in my deck exposed.
Another turn from the same game, with the cards currently in my deck exposed.

On our trip to Hawaii in 2011 I spent a bunch of our free time playing Ascension, and got quite good at it. Then they started releasing expansions to it, available as in-app purchases. I was skeptical that there would be a lot they could do to make it more interesting, but they’ve actually come up with a lot: New effects you can trigger, new Monsters, and even just new permutations of earlier cards.

Even when I felt I had gotten as much as I could out of an expansion, I would sometimes notice a card or two which I’d rarely played with because it didn’t feel very useful, and I’d wonder whether I could craft a winning strategy around it. And usually I could – the card was there for a reason, but you had to figure out how best to use it.

Treasures of the Study is a neat card to build around if you can acquire it early.
Treasures of the Study is a neat card to build around if you can acquire it early.

The iOS app is extremely smooth: It’s very clear in showing how much Honor is left to be gained, what Constructs each player has in play, what’s in their discard piles, whether a card has been modified in some way (e.g., having its faction changed), etc. And the online multiplayer support is excellent: You start a game where each player has a certain amount of time to play all their turns, and then you can either play a fast game (e.g., a 10- or 30-minute limit), or set up a game which lasts for days, if you want to play with someone over a long period of time. And you can set up a game for others to join, and then challenge them to a rematch after each game. You can also play 3- or 4-player games. It’s really well done. I’ve got some series of games against the same opponents going back months. I’ve even made a new friend who figured out my Facebook identity after befriending me on iOS Game Center (a trick which is harder to pull off now, since Playdek uses their own servers for player identity today). At my “peak”, I had over 30 games going at once. (These days I have about 10.)

It’s hard to imagine playing the physical card game – the app does so much bookkeeping for you, from tallying players’ Honor, to shuffling their decks, to making random selections where appropriate. Despite being a “card” game, it feels designed for computerized play.

Sometimes the board gets degenerate: Here the center row is all Monsters, but as usual I have no cards providing Power.
Sometimes the board gets degenerate: Here the center row is all Monsters, but as usual I have no cards providing Power.

Sadly, the number of people playing the iOS game seems to be dwindling – I often check new games and see very few or even none available to join, when a year or two ago there would have been dozens. I believe the reason is newer expansions of the print game have not been coming to iOS, probably because Stone Blade is pulling back the rights to the game from Playdek. Early last year Stone Blade ran a Kickstarter campaign to bring Ascension to Android and PC, and I bet they plan to eventually do an iOS client of their own, playable with the Android and PC versions. If that’s the case, then the real question is whether their implementation can be as smooth, easy to use, and bug-free as Playdek’s. It’s one of the best implementations of any game I’ve seen on iOS, and I am unsure whether iOS users would accept anything less.

(The comments on the Kickstarter from May and June of this year are not very encouraging – it sounds like development is behind schedule, the last update from Stone Blade is from March, and a number of backers seem unhappy.)

In any event, the iOS version of Ascension seems to be dying, and I think Stone Blade is missing out on the chance to keep people excited about the game by not letting Playdek bringing the newer expansions to it as they come out. If the environment dies out entirely, then by the time they bring out a new client for “Ascension Online“, players like me might look at it and think, “Yeah, that was fun to play, but I’ve moved on to other things.” It seems very shortsighted.

Anyway, I’ve been enjoying the game for about three years now, and it’s sad to see it dwindling like this. On the other hand, playing it less means more time for other things. Probably not what Stone Blade has in mind, but that’s the way it’s working out. If the end is nigh, well, it’s been a good run.

Magic Draft: JBT Green/White

I’ve been wanting to occasionally post about my Magic online drafts here, though I’ve been doing pretty poorly at them so there hasn’t been a lot to say. I did two drafts today, losing the first one 0-2 in the first round, and the second one in the second round. The second draft was interesting, though, so I’ve written it up behind the cut:

Continue reading “Magic Draft: JBT Green/White”

Journey Into Nyx Prerelease

Today I went to Illusive Comics for the prerelease for the latest Magic set, Journey Into Nyx. I haven’t been to one for a year, since the Dragon’s Maze prerelease, since I’ve been out of town for the last two prereleases.

In the primer they explained that we’d each choose a color, and get a pack seeded to encourage us to play that color, and that one of the cards therein might be one of the gods which had the color we chose, as well as a promotional card in our color. I looked at the promo cards and thought the White and Green ones were probably the best, and that the Red/White god (Iroas) and the White/Black god (Athreos) would be the most fun to play, so I picked White as my color.

Indeed, I opened Athreos in my seeded pack – and then also got Iroas in another pack! I had really wanted to play White/Black, but it turned out that Black was my weakest color. Red, Green and Blue were all pretty good, so since I wanted to play a god, I played White/Red. (One person was surprised I didn’t try to splash black for Athreos, but I felt it would hurt my deck’s consistency.)

Here’s a picture of the cards I opened:

Card Pool
(click to enlarge)

And here are the cards I decided to play:

Deck List

Definitely an aggressive deck – not much of a top-end, but several good answers to threats, and a lot of the strong components from the Theros set.

I had a shaky first match, against a White/Blue deck. We split the first two games, and then he decided to swap his Blue for Black, but it didn’t matter since my army got off to a good start. His Blue and Black looked very similar in power when we examined his deck afterwards, but in both cases he was struggling to have 23 playables. I think his Blue was a bit better because he had some good flyers, and I think that’s what he went with.

The second match was against White/Green, and felt almost unfair, because he got badly mana-flooded. In both games he played Font of Fertility late in the game, fetched a land – and then drew another land on his next turn. And he was playing 16 land! He was thinking of cutting a land, but he had a reasonable top end of 5-drops and I suggested he drop some mana acceleration for more creatures because he wasn’t really accelerating into anything great.

My third match was against Green/Blue, which was a couple of really close games, but I managed to jump out to an early lead and put the game away with flyers even as I ran out chump blockers against Heroes’ Bane. I was worried that his Sigiled Starfish would dig to find the answers he needed, but it didn’t come to pass. The second game was the only game where I played Iroas, and it made a difference.

In the fourth match I got to sit in the comfy chair at Table 1. Whee! My opponent was playing another Green/White deck, and said he was playing all five events this weekend. I feel tired just thinking about it. This was the closest match of the day with us trading off weenies and removal spells, and if they’d called time one minute earlier we would have drawn the match, but I managed to win on the final turn. Whew! He also had Ajani in the final game, but it wasn’t quite enough.

The fifth match was an anticlimax, against a Green/Black deck. He didn’t draw very well in the first game, and in the second game I curved out perfectly and just ran him over.

Almost five hours after I arrived, I’d 5-0’ed the prerelease! Definitely my best showing ever!

A few card notes:

  • Non-combo of the day: Iroas (which prevents damage to your attacking creatures) and Archetype of Courage (which gives your creatures First Strike). They don’t quite do the same thing, but pretty close.
  • Successfully mulliganed a sketchy hand (5 land, 2 Magma Spray) after having not mulliganed similar hands several times in the past – and won the game, which decided that match.
  • Armament of Nyx is a tricky card to play. I was constantly resisting putting it on one of my mediocre enchantment creatures, and was consistently rewarded with using it to shut down a much bigger threat.
  • There’s a little debate about the value of Skyspear Cavalry. My experience was that as a 3/5 flyer it’s a good card, but not a finisher. As a 2/4 flyer giving a +1/+1 counter to something else, it’s about the same. Probably will be playable in most White decks, but a bit of a skill-testing card in tricky situations.
  • Not sure what I think of Constellation yet. Harvestguard Alseids were just a 2/3 body for me, and I didn’t see anyone else get value out of a Constellation card, either, though I did insta-kill Eidolon of Blossoms twice.
  • I got to see first-hand how ineffectual Archetype of Finality is: I had him on the ropes, he spends 6 mana, and just gets a 2/3 body out of it? You’d think it would be something that could at least survive a burn spell, which is what I used on it. I think Cyclops of Eternal Fury has a similar problem – I had one and didn’t run it. But at least the Cyclops comes with 5 power attached.
  • Someone at the store described Colossus of Akros as a “trap card”, which I can see, although I have also heard of it taking over some games. I only smelled 7 land, never mind 8 or 10, in one game, so I was happy to have sized it up as not right for my deck.
  • The guys at Limited Resources are not believers in Dakra Mystic. It’s a weird card, but I have a feeling that it’s going to a find a home somewhere in limited. Probably in some sort of control deck.
  • Heliod’s Emissary: Still awesome. Whether you Bestow it or not.

I like playing at Illusive. Even though I don’t go often enough to really know folks there, everyone is really friendly and chatty. And although I was delighted to win, I tried not to take it too seriously. I enjoy breaking down decks with people after each match. I certainly don’t feel like I know more about selecting cards or constructing decks than other people, but I think I have a few insights.

After the event I was chatting with a group of folks who had been there (one was the fellow from my last match), and they asked me how long I’d been playing. I said I’d gotten into it during Ice Age, and I’m pretty sure I could see the wheels turning that none of them had been older than 10 when that set came out. Maybe I look younger than I think!

I got pretty lucky with a strong card pool, but I’m pretty happy with choices I made for me deck, and my play overall. I could have gone 3-2 or even 2-3 if things had broken differently, but I also gave myself some opportunities to win. Maybe I’m turning the corner on this limited format stuff.

Illusive Comics
Apparently it can be expensive to take down a “grand opening” banner – Illusive has been around for several years now

Draft Dodging

I ended Tuesday’s entry wondering how to keep my hand in playing Magic as I’ve wound down playing our weekly casual game.

Back in 2006 when I got back into Magic (having previously played from 1995-1998) I was also getting into poker, and my friends seemed to split into playing one game or the other. I decided to go the Magic route (though I still play poker from time to time – honestly I might have lost less money sticking with poker!). But while I enjoy casual constructed, I also really enjoy doing booster drafts.

The problem with booster drafts is that they’re hard to arrange:

  • They require you set aside a chunk of time, usually 2-3 hours, to do the draft and then play up to 3 best-of-3-games matches.
  • Gathering enough people in person (at least 4, usually 6-to-8) is difficult in casual games.
  • Playing at a store involves playing on the store’s schedule, and driving to and from the store.
  • Playing at either a store or on Magic Online usually means playing against a more serious, and often more skilled, class of player.

The most convenient way to draft is on Magic Online (MTGO), where there are usually drafts starting up every few minutes. Unfortunately, the MTGO client runs only under Windows, and I just find the Windows interface to be dreary (I’m a Mac guy). I do have a Windows partition on my Mac which I use using VMWare Fusion, so that helps a little. On top of that, though, MTGO’s own user interface is pretty terrible (I won’t go into details, but anything involving the stack tends to be presenting in a perplexing manner at best).

I think the real barrier for me, though, is that playing online is just such a solitary activity: It requires all of my attention for most of the time I’m playing, and while I haven’t had any bad experiences with other players online, it’s fair to say that I don’t really connect with anyone either. So telling myself that I’m going to spend 2-3 hours sitting in front of the computer playing a game by myself has been a difficult barrier to overcome. Throw in my feeling that I’m not really that good at drafting (after all, most of my competition has a lot more practice than I do) and it’s hard to convince myself to spend an hour or more doing a draft that might end up being crappy.

Since I always seem to have plenty of chores to do around the house, or things I feel I “ought to” be doing (like reading a book, or playing with the cats), I just never set aside the time.

One thing I do is listen to the excellent podcast on drafting and other “limited” Magic formats, Limited Resources. Listening to them talking about the theory and practice of drafting, and how much time they put into honing their draft skills, I sometimes think it would be cool to draft enough to become a genuinely skilled player. But then I think what else I could be spending that time doing.

I don’t know. I’d like to do more drafts, at least to the point where I’m good enough that I don’t feel intimidated by it. But it’s been a hard barrier to overcome.

The Magic Goes Away

(Note: This post has nothing to do with the book of the same name. In fact, it will probably be of little interest except to players of the Magic trading card game.)

Since I got back into Magic: The Gathering back in 2006, I’ve been playing in a weekly casual game. But a little over a year ago our regular host decided to move out of state, and we moved to a rotating hosting system. Our metagame had also been getting (to my mind) a bit stale, with people often playing the same types of decks (not quite the same exact decks, but the same basic frameworks used to trigger slightly different win conditions). And I’d been struggling to come up with interesting new decks of my own, which could work within our metagame.

Late in the summer my heart had gone out of it, so I decided to take a month or two off (conveniently timed around our trip back east in September). When I got back, I learned that the weekly game had been moved from Mondays to Wednesdays, which reduced my likelihood of attending to near-zero, as Wednesday is of course comic book night. Consequently, I haven’t attended since last summer.

Since then I’ve been gradually filing my cards and generally tidying up my card collection. Perhaps I needed the time off from the game. For some years I’ve been buying boxes of the new expansions and opening them, but that was getting pretty old, too – a lot of bookkeeping. Not to mention that all the cards take up a lot of space. If I want to keep up with the new sets, maybe I’ll just buy some singles; heck, I could probably buy playlets (4 each) of the best new cards that come out and spend less than I have been on the boxes.

(In theory I guess the total value of cards on the aftermarket end up equalling the cost of buying the unopened product, with commons as a whole being worth close to nothing, while the valuable cards account for most of the cost. The market is probably not quite that efficient, but except for a few outliers it’s probably pretty close. And acquiring more commons gets less and less interesting over time, as the design philosophy of New World Order has generally made commons less interesting to collect for people who own many of the older cards.)

Anyway, I still enjoy Magic and would like to keep my hand in it, but I don’t know when (or if) I’ll want to spend the time on casual constructed games in the future. And I know I don’t have much interest in serious competitive Magic. So what’s left?

Dragon’s Maze Prerelease

Yesterday I spent the afternoon at Illusive Comics in Santa Clara at the Dragon’s Maze Magic prerelease event. I went to the Gatecrash prerelease in January (which I somehow forgot to write about), and had a lot of fun – I played a Simic deck and went 3-2 in 5 matches. I went to that with Andrew, Adam and Subrata and we all chose Simic as our guilds.

This time I was going on my own, but I wanted to go because I thought the structure would be really neat: You pick one guild from either Return to Ravnica or Gatecrash, and get randomly paired with one of four guilds from the other set which shared a color with it. You get a guild pack from each of those sets for those guilds, and then you get four Dragon’s Maze packs to build a deck out of the six packs. I’ve played a lot of Simic and Selesnya, and I wanted to pick a guild that looked like fun that I hadn’t played much. My guess was that Boros and Rakdos would be the guilds to pick to win a lot, but I don’t find either of those guilds to be a lot of fun to play. In the end I decided to go with Golgari. My “secret ally” guild was Orzhov, which as it turns out was my second choice.

The other gimmick in this prerelease was that each guild would advance on a chart for each match win by their guild during the afternoon; whoever got to the end first would get a special prize card, and each guild that reached the end at all would get another special prize card. The problem was that I was the only player who chose Golgari, so I’d have to win 4 of my 5 matches to reach the end.

I opened up my packs, and after some thought I ended up with this deck:

# Cost P/T Card Notes
1 black/green mana 1/2 Deathrite Shaman
1 green mana   Giant Growth
1 1 manawhite mana   Lyev Decree
1 1 manawhite mana 2/2 Syndic of Tithes Extort white/black mana
1 1 managreen mana 2/2 Drudge Beetle Scavenge 5 managreen mana
1 1 managreen mana 2/2 Kraul Warrior 5 managreen mana: +3/+3 until end of turn
1 1 managreen mana 2/2 Skylasher
1 white manablack mana 1/1 High Priest of Penance
1 2 manawhite mana 1/4 Basilica Guards Extort white/black mana
1 2 managreen mana 2/1 Battering Krasis Evolve
1 2 managreen mana 2/1 Stonefare Crocodile 2 manablack mana: Lifelink until end of turn
1 1 manawhite manablack mana 2/2 Kingpin’s Pet Extort white/black mana
1 X manablack manablack managreen mana   Gaze of Granite
1 3 manablack mana 3/2 Syndicate Enforcer Extort white/black mana
1 2 manablack manablack mana   Grisly Spectacle
1 2 manablack manablack mana 0/4 Perilous Shadow 1 manablack mana: +2/+2 until end of turn
1 2 manablack managreen mana 2/2 Sluiceway Scorpion Scavenge 1 manablack managreen mana
1 4 manawhite mana 3/3 Guardian of the Gateless
1 3 manablack/green manablack/green mana 5/4 Golgari Longlegs
1 3 manablack managreen mana 2/5 Korozda Gorgon
1 4 manablack managreen mana   Rites of Reaping
2 3 mana   Orzhov Cluestone
1     Golgari Guildgate
1     Orzhov Guildgate
4     Plains
5     Swamp
6     Forest

The format strongly encourages three-color decks, which can lead to some shaky mana bases but which I enjoy (in theory) because I like a slower game so that things can develop and we have a chance to play our high-cost cards.

I was disappointed that I didn’t get a single Pestilence in my Dragon’s Maze packs (and yes, I recognize that since it’s an uncommon I probably had less than a 50% chance of getting one). I also did not get any Guildgates in my colors other than in my two guild packs, which meant not playing any Gatekeepers.

My pool had 4 of the 6-cost Maze Elementals, but none of them did much for my deck so I didn’t play any of them, deciding to go for efficiency instead. I wondered if I should have played an Armored Wolf-Rider instead of the Golgari Longlegs, since a 4/6 body might have been more useful than a 5/4 body, but on balance it probably didn’t make much difference.

I wasn’t going to put Guardian of the Gateless in my deck at first, but I overheard people at the table behind me talking about it and saying that it was a really good card, so I decided to run it, and it was quite useful when I was able to play it.

Anyway, other than worrying about my mana base I was pretty happy with my deck. Due to my mana base I generally elected to go second, figuring the extra card would let me smooth out my mana curve. Overall my strategy was to overrun anyone who stumbled with my cheap creatures, and otherwise try to stall them out and win through Extort and eventually-superior biomass on the ground.

My first match I played against an aggressive Boros deck, who stumbled in the first game, ran me over with a nifty attack combo in the second game (Riot Piker and Madcap Skills), but I dealt with his stuff in the third game and managed to pull out a win.

My second match was against a Selesnya deck piloted by a player who didn’t seem very experienced. I swept the board with Gift of Granite, but he reloaded and we stalled out. He made an ill-considered attack, I managed to Extort him down to near-death (with help from Deathrite Shaman), and then overran him with all my bodies. But the game took 35 minutes and we didn’t have time to finish the second game, which gave me the win.

This put me tied for first place, so I was matched up against a very good Selesnya/Orzhov deck. We split the first two games, and the third game came down to the time limit. But he played Tesya, Envoy of Ghosts (he apparently had two of them in his deck!), which I didn’t have a way to deal with, and I couldn’t stall him until time was called, so I ended up losing.

The fourth match put me up against another Boros deck, and this we stalled out in the first game again. Unfortunately although it was very close, I wasn’t able to win this one. In the second game he played a Desecration Demon, but I managed to topdeck Grisly Spectacle (using a Cluestone to get there). He reloaded, but I played Gift of Granite. I think I could have won this one, but we ran out of time, so I lost the match.

The fifth match I played a Rakdos deck run by one of the guys I’d sat with while doing deck construction. He got land-shorted the first game, and then I drew plenty of removal in the second game. We played the third game and I won again – my deck was just too fast for him, somehow.

So all-in-all I went 3-2 in my five matches, and was competitive in my other two. I did misplay from time to time, but I don’t think they were decisive in any of my matches; overall I was pretty happy with how I did. I finished in eighth place, winning three booster packs.

I’ve also been happy with the people I’ve played with at Illusive, as they’re not generally clearly better players than me (as has been the case when I’ve gone toChannel Fireball), and they’re all friendly to play with. The game space is a little cramped, but they run the events efficiently so we’re never sitting around waiting for things to begin. We actually finished the event over an hour earlier than projected! So I hung out and chatted with folks for a while afterwards. I should go there for Friday night drafting sometime.

So all things considered the prerelease was just as much fun as I’d expected, and I’m looking forward to drafting the block once it’s out, as I think it should be a very interesting experience with some nifty strategies to try out.

Return to Ravnica

Last night I got together with some people at work to play some Magic. What made this a little different is that I had never met any of these folks before. There’s been a mailing list for Magic around for a while, but it’s been long-dormant. A few newer folks joined it and organized a few games, and last night I went to join in.

Originally we were planning to do a booster draft, but one guy had not done a draft before, and another expressed a preference for sealed deck, so we decided to do sealed instead. We played Return to Ravnica, which I had already done one sealed deck game with my friend Subrata, and it was an underwhelming experience, mainly because our pool of cards was pretty lame. So I hoped that this would be a better one.

While we were opening our packs, I joked that I was opening rares that were useless in limited (like Grave Betrayal and Guild Feud, both of which I opened). Then I joked that it was time to choose the wrong colors for my deck.

I wasn’t too impressed with my deck when I built it, but it turned out to be an absolute powerhouse, winning all six games I played. Heck, arguably it was more my deck that won than me.

Here’s the 40-card deck I played:

# Cost P/T Card
1 2/1 Dryad Militant
2   Swift Justice
2 0/1 Centaur’s Herald
1   Giant Growth
1 2/2 Keening Apparition
1 2/2 Drudge Beetle
2   Sundering Growth
1 2/2 Precinct Captain
1 2/2 Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage
1   Avenging Arrow
1 3/2 Selesnya Sentry
1   Aerial Predation
1 2/3 Sunspire Griffin
1 2/2 Azorius Justicar
1 5/5 Deadbridge Goliath
1 3/3 Skymark Roc
1   Trostani’s Judgment
1 8/8 Risen Sanctuary
1 5/7 Angel of Serenity
1     Azorius Guildgate
1     Hallowed Fountain
1     Selesnya Guildgate
1     Transguild Promenade
7     Plains
6     Forest
1     Island

This might not be the very best deck I could have built – neither Aerial Predation nor Sundering Growth are great cards – but it still worked very well. Even those two cards served their role, killing a flyer and getting rid of a few pesky enchantments. I did not get much use out of either the Populate or the Scavenge mechanics on my cards (I think I Populated once in six games, and never Scavenged), but the Azorius Justicar’s Detain ability was handy multiple times.

This is an aggro deck with a wonderful curve: I’m usually laying down serious beatdown by turn 4, and I often have options to kill my opponent’s creatures, keep him from killing mine, or just to play my creatures in the right order so I end up with my best stuff on the table by the time he runs out of removal. Precinct Captain is a beast which runs away with the game if left unchecked, and Deadbridge Goliath is just ridiculous in limited. Inevitably I just overran my opponents with my sheer number of creatures.

I splashed blue for Skymark Roc only because I had filled 21 of my card slots and was hard-pressed for the last card. I decided the Roc was just so much better than my marginal white and green cards that I would try to shoehorn it in. It only showed up once, but it was the all-star of that game.

The only change I made to my deck was I removed a Plains and added a Forest after my first game; getting my small green creatures out on turns 1 and 2 was critical, so I think that helped.

I’ve been running 18 land in my 40-card limited decks since I read an article a few years ago about why this is a good idea. I wish I could find the article, but the basic argument is that you lose more games by being mana-short than by being mana-flooded. Ironically, for aggro decks like this one where the majority of the cards are cheap (16 of my 22 spells cost 3 mana or less), hitting your land drops can be even more important since you want to make sure you put the pressure on early and don’t miss an opportunity. But 18 land also gave me the flexibility to play 2 spells costing 7 (and the Angel of Serenity won a game for me singlehandedly; I drew the Risen Sanctuary once when I could have cast it, but it was superfluous by that point).

Anyway, the guys I was playing with were a lot of fun too. It’s been a while since I’ve met a bunch of new people at work, so this was a neat change of pace. And it reminded me how much I enjoy playing limited Magic, especially when everything comes together.

Inaugural Poker Night

Thursday I had people over for the inaugural poker night at the new house.

It’s taken us a lo-o-ong time to get the dining room set up: Buying a big buffet to store my board games (and empty all the boxes of games that we lining the room), and getting a rug for the room to protect the hardwood floors. Then last weekend I bought a length of felt to use as a playing surface (I already knew the table cloth doesn’t really work – it bunches up whenever you try to pick up the cards). But finally we were ready.

The great thing about our dining table (which I inherited from a friend of mine) is that with both leaves in, it easily sits 8, and could probably sit 10 without too much trouble. We got 8 people – though we maxed out at 7 at once – for the game, and everything went smoothly. I even hauled out our glass mugs from the freezer for the people who wanted beer (“How unusually civilized” one of the players said). The cats briefly checked things out, but only Blackjack hung out with us for the evening. And Debbi said that after she went to bed, she could barely hear us still playing (and talking) downstairs.

The only casualty is that I managed to knock over my own chair right into an electrical outlet, chipping a piece off of its frame. But that should be easy to replace.

The game – our usual small-stakes 5¢/10¢ blind no-limit hold ’em – went well. I won some early pots, lost some late pots, and ended up a couple of bucks. Two players got it all in after a ridiculous flop betting line (several near-minimum-raises followed by an all-in overbet and a snap call), revealing a set-over-set situation. One player said, “I didn’t think you’d call me!” and the other replied, “I didn’t think you’d beat me!” A third player just shook his head at their (deliberately) silly line of play, even though the outcome was inevitable.

People started turning into pumpkins sometime after 11, so we called it a night. The next morning Debbi said she wondered how we ended up with more beer than we started with (since we don’t drink beer, and most of what we had was left over from my birthday party). I said that Adam left it to encourage me to host again.

I certainly will.

The Answer

Today marks another orbit around the sun for me, and this year I’ve turned the age of The Answer – a frivolous connection, but one I was happy to play up when talking about it.

I threw my annual birthday party last night. I’ve been doing less well as the years roll on at planning my party in advance, I think because I get back into the swing of work after New Year’s, then get distracted by things like my book discussion group, and then worry about inviting too many people, or too few, or something. Anyway, this year I didn’t send the invitation until last Wednesday night. On the other hand, a late invite does tend to polarize the responses – people are either available or not, and probably not going to have something else come up. Anyway, maybe I’ll do a little better next year.

We got a pretty good turnout this year, spread out over more than 8 hours: My cow-orker Joar and his wife arrived earlier with their infant daughter E. E was very well behaved, and was fascinated by the cats once she saw them. (The cats, of course, took one look at her and said, “Oh hell no.”) And our friends Lisa and Michel came by with their daughter I, who is now three, and who loves when she visits to spend the whole time playing with me. So I had to tell her every so often that I was going to go talk to other people for a while. She was very well behaved about it, too. She was full of energy, so I did play with her for a while.

We broke out the cake (from the Prolific Oven) and ice cream (from Rick’s) before the folks with young kids left. An eclectic group of folks from in and out of work showed up, which was nice since for a little while I wasn’t sure many would show up. But the usual fun time was had by all, and I’m grateful to everyone who came.

Today was my actual birthday, and I threw the party yesterday so that I could pretty much sit on my ass all day. Other than the Patriots utterly collapsing against the Jets (reminiscent of their “barely showed up to play” Super Bowl performance against the Giants a few years ago), it turned out to be a pretty good plan. Debbi took me out for brunch, we took a little walk to Starbucks, and otherwise just stayed home. I cooked dinner, did some reading, petted the cats, and hung out with Debbi.

I also did a Scars of Mirrodin draft on Magic Online, and my birthday gift to myself was that I won the draft, after never advancing past the second match in previous tries! It wasn’t even particularly close, as I had a decent bit of luck but also felt like I was generally playing better than my opponents, playing patiently much of the time and pressing my advantage when I had the chance. I only lost one game of the seven I played. Definitely a nice outcome – maybe I’m generally getting better.

Seems like the weekend has just flown by. Unlike some folks, I don’t have tomorrow off from work. Still, despite my worry about lining things up for my birthday each year, I always do enjoy celebrating it. It’s been a good time.