Posts concerning MTG

sfmagic.org Database Structure

15:24 11 May 2007

In the eight months since writing Some Plans for sfmagic.org, I’ve made little progress. This is mainly because of gating factors such as moving it into subversion and getting my database backups into subversion as well. Now that those things are in place, I need to review how it works right now to figure out how to proceed.

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Final Canvas Draft

23:19 26 Apr 2007. Updated: 21:36 26 Jun 2013

Last night was the last sfmagic draft at Canvas, which closes on Saturday. We had 23 people, three draft groups, and I took some photos of the occasion.

The sfmagic group has drafted there for years. I’ve gone there almost every Wednesday night since late 2003, so over three years, and the group apparently met there for months (possibly a year) before I joined. But it’s closing, so we have to find a new spot (tentatively, Milano’s Pizzeria about a block up on 9th Avenue).

We had two pods of eight and one of seven. This is a shot of (most of) the A and B pods:

Pods A and B
The guy on the right in the black hoodie is Ben Rubin, 1998 World Championships Finalist, who won pod B. In the far corner in the red jacket is Brett Allen, occasional PT player, who won Pod A.

Pod C was on the other side:

Pod C
The guy farthest on the left, who appears to be sitting on a stool or standing, is Nick Lynn who won the pod. I don’t know any links for him, unless he’s the Nick Lynn who won Ohio Regionals in 2003.

I played in Pod A, and left to right these are Andy and Standish, my third and first round opponents respectively:

Andy and Dish
I’m pretty sure that’s Will’s hand behind Andy.

Round 3 (the empty seat with the pen and results sheets is mine, as I’ve already lost at this point):

Pod B Round 3
Davey and Standish battling it out:

Davey and Standish
Davey would go on to win this match 1–0–1, securing a 2–1 record and 4th place in the process.

Seth and James, who like me ended up with 1–2 records for the evening, play a post–draft game of Constructed—likely the last game of MTG to be played at Canvas:

Seth and James play the final Canvas game
It’s all over, as Dralnu and Phyrexian Totem swing in to give James the last victory:

James Wins Final Game

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Future Sight: First Impressions

23:52 22 Apr 2007. Updated: 21:46 26 Jun 2013

The Prerelease tournaments for the next MTG set, Future Sight, were this weekend.

Future Sight is the third set in the Time Spiral block. Thematically, as the first two sets dealt with the past and with alternative presents, this set deals with cards from the (potential) future. Each of the three sets has “timeshifted” cards that look different from other cards—Time Spiral uses cards with the old card face, Planar Chaos with a kind of alternative currnet card face, and Future Sight with quite bizarre-looking “future” card face/layout. The casting cost for these cards is on the left, their card frame is quite different, and they use a lot more translucency in their design. They stand out from other cards more than the timeshifted cards from the first two sets. They’re also a lot hard for players to scan, given that the information on them is in quite different places.

It’s an interesting aesthetic experiment, both when considered for individual cards and for cards taken together. MTG shifted to the “new” card face around Mirrodin block, almost four years ago, and one of the biggest complaints was (and remains) how bad decks look when the old and new card faces are both present. The last three sets take this to extremes, and now there are four different card face styles mixed together in single block.

It’s interesting, but I really hope that that’s it, and that they’re going to stop screwing around with the card face and be consistent for the next decade at least.

As for the cards themselves, not that much stood out to me so far in Future Sight. There are lots of cards with bizarre abilities, such as the rather cool Seht’s Tiger, which gives players protection from a color, and a kind of “non-cycle cycle” of lands that are all different for the five allied color pairs. Perhaps Future Sight is meant to feel fractured and chaotic, but that feeling doesn’t make for a satisfying environment, especially in comparison to the Time Spiral set, which has a lot of craziness and a lot of new ideas in it too, but manages a certain coherence that the latter two sets, and especially Future Sight, lack.

The Prerelease was fun, but like the set itself a little bit of a letdown compared to the last two. And now the long wait for the next major set begins (major sets are released in the fall of each year)…

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MTG Worlds Reprints

23:40 12 Apr 2007. Updated: 22:22 06 Jul 2007

The World Championship deck reprints are some of my favorite MTG decks. They’re printed with different borders and backs, so they’re not tournament legal—but that means that you could get a deck worth about $400 in legal cards for between $10 and $15. I was extremely disappointed when they stopped printing these—2004 was the last World Championship to have four decks immortalized in reprint form.

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Venue Search

23:18 02 Apr 2007

As I mentioned in February, the Canvas Café is closing. It’s open until the end of this month. Apart from all the other sad things about this, it means that the Wednesday night sfmagic draft group will have to find a new home.

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MTG Posts">Writing Better MTG Posts

23:30 16 Mar 2007. Updated: 23:34 26 Jun 2013

I’m not very happy with my post from yesterday. I think it was uninspired, didn’t have any great insight in it, and lacked any stylistic qualities to make up for these shortcomings. In addition, I think it would be hard for someone who doesn’t play MTG to get much out of it, while simultaneously lacking detail or analysis that would interest an MTG player. Okay, so it was bad—how can I do better?

I’m talking specifically about MTG posts. I don’t write many, but I am considering writing about my Wednesday night draft each week. Partly because I think it might have a positive impact on my play, and partly because MTG is a big enough part of my life that I think I should write about it. (This holds true even though right now it’s a smaller part of my life than it has been in over five years, and I’m just not playing that much.) Another reason is that I think it’s a good challenge to try to write about it so that it’s interesting—without losing the plot altogether and writing something like Jonny Magic and the Card-Shark Kids (which you’ll note I’m not linking to).

Beyond all that, I’m going to write about just because I want to write about it.

But posts like yesterday’s are far too poor to be repeated weekly (or ever), and the first step towards improvement here is structure. Creating a structure that I’ll write in means that’s time and effort I don’t have to spend planning, and it should also push me to make sure that individual sections are interesting.

What’s important in a draft report?

Expression of my experience and feelings. The idea isn’t to have some kind of pseudo-objective transcript of the games, but rather to be a vehicle for self-expression. If I’m frustrated and whiny after a loss, either that should come through in the writing, or how I got past that should come through in the writing.

Analysis of the draft and games as empirical data about certain approaches. MTG is a very complicated game to play well, and theories about how to do so, particularly within specific card sets, vary significantly. Each theory is just that, a hypothesis awaiting testing. The testing is imperfect, and provides far too small a sample size, but it nevertheless represents more or less the only data available. At the very least I should have a theory which I am able to describe, and analysis of how that theory performed that night.

People and personality. These are the things that make descriptions of the game interesting in a non-technical sense. Players have distinct and interesting personalities, and who they are as people—or at least some part of that—should come across in my writing. This was conspicuously absent from my post last night, and all the players mentioned might as well have been ciphers. (Even as ciphers, they could have been a lot better, improved immeasurably just by linking to their statistical profiles on http://sfmagic.org/. ) Reading yesterday’s post did not inform the reader, for example, that Jim is a critical mainstay in our group and that he is one of the reasons for the group’s longevity; nor did it even hint at the fact that Seth is at heart a filthy combo player who offsets his thirst for lethal Rube Goldberg card interaction devices with an earnest eschewing of tournament-style play.

Accessibility. I would like people who are not MTG players to be able to understand and enjoy the posts. At the same time, I don’t want to clog up the narratives with explication that will bore those who have a firm grasp of the game.

Joie de jouer. I want to communicate not merely that I love the game, but at least some inkling of why I love the game, and what about it keeps bringing me back.

So, a structure to support that:

  • Introduction/Scene Setting. A brief overview of the atmosphere that evening, any notable changes inside or outside the game, my state of mind, and so on.
  • Overview of drafting. This will be marked out as distinct from the article, and I’ll probably incorporate ways for experienced players to hide it.
  • Discussion of my plan for the draft. (This does assume that I have a plan.)
  • Overview of the draft pod, complete with who was where, who played what, brief notes on each of the players (including stats links), and my feelings on the overall skill level.
  • Overview of my draft, with focus on any difficult decisions and on where things went right/wrong. This will be accompanied by longer explanations for non-players, that will be marked as distinct from the rest.
  • My decklist. Duh. With links to card descriptions, which will also be present when I mention cards in the rest of the post.
  • A discussion of each of my matches, possibly with photographs of tricky board positions, and definitely with at least some information about my opponents.
  • The overall results, possibly with some commentary on season standings, races, etc.

That seems like a structure that should work significantly better. It won’t guarantee good posts on the topic, but had I had it last night the post would have been better.

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sfmagic Draft Report, Wed 14 Mar 2007

23:50 15 Mar 2007. Updated: 22:00 26 Jun 2013

I drafted Red/Blue (again) last night, and managed to place 2nd out of 7 (losing to Seth in what was effectively the “final”).

In the pack I opened, I took Sulfurous Blast out of a pack that was spread across most of the colors. For my second pick I took Pardic Dragon over Crookclaw Transmuter and Riftwing Cloudskate. Red looked open… but it wasn’t really, with my upstream neighbor being James—Red was one of his four colors. Still, a fair amount of it showed up. I picked Blue as my second color mainly on the strength of some Fathom Seers, which are rather strong in my opinion. I also got a Wildfire Emissary, which I think is a rather strong card.

After two packs I was solidly in Blue/Red, with two Snapbacks for bounce, two Fathom Seers, and a couple of other morphs, plus the Sulfurous Blast and the Dragon and a single Empty the Warrens. For pack three, I wanted some Shaper Parasites, Stingscourgers, and Dead/Gone. Of those, I only saw Stingscourgers—but I picked up three of those. I also took some Aquamorph Entities, which didn’t turn out to be great. I thought I’d be able to use them as my main attack while bouncing things, but that didn’t work out.

Overall the deck was solid, with good tempo, reasonable card drawing, but not enough evasion.

My first round was against Quyen playing Black/White. I managed to win this despite playing terribly, completely spacing on the fact that Spirit and Vampiric Link do not protect players from lethal damage, and thereby leaving the win on the board for several turns against him. But I’ll take whatever wins I can get.

My second round was against Jim, playing Green/Red. He had some excellent green fat, including Timbermare, and I thought he was going to win those games. Timbermare is pretty damn good against me, especially since bouncing it just makes it a guaranteed hit the next turn. The critical mistake in this match might have been his forgetting to activate the Protection from Red on his Thick-Skinned Goblin, and losing the card to Wildfire Emissary for no gain. I think he might have recovered otherwise.

The final round against Seth was extremely close. He squeaked by in the first game, helped by Aven Riftwatcher, which gained him enough life to stay out of my range. He also needed to draw land, I’m pretty sure, to cast Ivory Giant to get in for one more than my life total… I think I could have survived by being more aggressive. In game two, he had a lot of 1-toughness creatures, and I had Flowstone Channeler. I also had lots of Stingscourgers, so it was rapid beatdown followed by game three.

Game three went to extra turns, and again Seth was able to gain ridiculous amounts of life with the Riftwatcher, life that kept him just out of range. I drew far too much land in this game, at one point in the midgame seven of my eight cards were land. That didn’t help. Nor did drawing Sulfurous Blast the turn after he dropped me to three life—a turn before and I would have wiped his board. In the end, I got him down to four—one away from the lethal Sulfurous Blast that would have made the game a draw. He won the group, and I placed second. Sadly, the difference in value between his first pick (Damnation, $16.30) and mine (Torchling, $2.97) was rather significant.

I’m pretty sure I could have won that match had I played better. I’m not really playing enough, and too many mistakes are creeping in. On the other hand, it’s still fun, and I don’t really have the time or inclination to make a big push towards improvement. So I’ll have to accept the mistakes (and losses) as they come.

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Vocabulary from Sartre

23:47 12 Mar 2007

Reading Sartre (specifically Essays in Existentialism) tends to be fairly frustrating, primarily because comprehending what he’s talking about isn’t easy (at least for me). One of the reasons that it’s not easy is vocabulary. I’m not even counting explicitly foreign words like ebschattungen, or explicit (foreign) neologisms like négatité.

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Speed in/of Games

23:53 06 Mar 2007

I showed Seth how to play Set last week. He didn’t have much interest in it, and this made me curious as to why I liked it so much immediately whereas he just didn’t get into it.

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23:43 01 Mar 2007. Updated: 23:47 06 Mar 2007

My friend Brett read the post about Set last week, and last night presented me with 81 MTG cards that have the same set of 3x3x3x3 characteristics.

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23:26 21 Feb 2007. Updated: 09:03 23 Feb 2007

On Saturday night I was shown a new game, Set. Played with 81 specially-desigend cards, it’s a pattern-recognition game. It hurt my brain to play it, but I also found it rather addictive, and bought it on Monday.

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Canvas Café Closing

23:51 07 Feb 2007. Updated: 13:47 08 Feb 2007

I learned tonight that the Canvas Café and Gallery will be closing on 1 May 2007. This doesn’t make me happy.

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Reading, Gaming, Critical Thinking

20:08 21 Jan 2007. Updated: 21:47 21 Jan 2007

I tend to read a lot, and I tend to read very quickly. I’m wondering if I should alter my approach.

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Breathing and Prerelease Tournaments

23:27 20 Jan 2007. Updated: 12:33 27 Jun 2013

On Friday night, Brian and I were discussing MTG skill, in reference to my playing in the Planar Chaos prerelease tournament today.

I was thinking about possible steps to follow, along the lines of my “undistraction steps”, and commented that all of my sets of steps start with “take five deep breaths”. Brian then suggested that I try taking a deep breath at the start of every MTG turn, during my upkeep.

This seemed like an excellent idea, and I resolved to try it out, and also to take five deep breaths at the start of every game.

Also, I would take a deep breath, and try to relax, whenever I realized that I had made a mistake.

I tested these ideas out in practice today, at the prerelease. They seemed beneficial, but the sample size is probably too small to tell. I went seven–one, three–one in the individual flight and four–zero in team (although my team as a whole went three–one). Those results at the least make it unlikely that the breathing had any detrimental result.

The five deep breaths at the start of each game help to center me, and help me to concentrate. Not miraculously so, and sometimes I still had a struggle on my hands to get myself to pay attention.

The deep breath every upkeep felt like it had quite an impact. It forces me to pause, and to consider the situation. More than that, it stops me from getting into a hurried mental state. I don’t just mean a state in which I’m worried about the time, I mean a point where I think I have the next n turns planned out, and so don’t want to bother thinking through them. That’s a very dangerous state, and I definitely make a lot of mistakes in it. So forcing myself to breathe helps me force myself to think, to focus on the actual situation rather than the one I imagine will unfold.

I still lost my concentration in a number of games, sadly. And in both tournaments this occurred in the third round, which definitely makes sense—that’s when I’m beginning to get tired, and also when I’m less cognizant of the newness of my deck.

The breathing might have helped me avoid more egregious mistakes, but I still made mistakes in those rounds. I didn’t really go on tilt in either case. I lost in the individual rounds, while in team I managed to play the next two games calmly, ultimately defeating that opponent.

Recovering from mistakes (or bad situations) is just as important as not making them. Forcing myself to breathe when I realize that I’ve made mistakes helps ensure that I stay relatively calm and don’t fall apart.

It’s such a simple thing, but it’s so easy to forget, especially when doing an activity as complicated as MTG. I think it helps, and intend to keep trying this as I keep playing.

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Logistical/Organizational Difficulties

23:50 13 Dec 2006. Updated: 01:12 14 Dec 2006

Anything involving group organization tends to be tricky. Any kind of logistical enterprise needs improvement and will breed some kind of discontent with at least some people. Sometimes this discontent brings better ideas, sometimes not. It continually surprises me, though, just how tough it can be to get right even small-group logistics. The example I have in mind is how to organize the pods for sfmagic.org drafting each week. How complicated can it be to get some drafts together on a Wednesday night?

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Points-based ‘Limited’ for MTGO

23:12 02 Dec 2006. Updated: 08:43 04 Dec 2006

A while ago I came up with a new format for competitive MTG, one which would be tough with real cards but rather easy online: points-based Limited.

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‘Flow Episode’

23:45 29 Nov 2006

I survey the board calmly, without needing to. I know what resides there. I know the available possibilities. I draw a card, and add its potential to what I hold already.

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A Bad MTG Year

21:06 28 Nov 2006. Updated: 08:42 04 Dec 2006

In the 2005 sfmagic Player of the Year race, I stayed in contention until the second-last week, and then only dropped out of contention because I had to miss the final draft. In this year’s race, I have very little hope of even making it into the top five.

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Enhanced Pricelist Bookmarklet

13:15 26 Nov 2006. Updated: 14:22 26 Nov 2006

As discussed in yesterday’s post about multiple AJAX requests, I wrote an enhanced version of my bookmarklet for improving the magictraders.com price lists.

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Power to the Users

23:50 23 Nov 2006. Updated: 22:03 25 Nov 2006

I spent some time today creating a bookmarklet (copy the contents of this page into Firefox or another Gecko-based browser) and greasemonkey script for enhancing the magictraders.com pricelists. This kind of thing exemplifies what I love about HTML, and why I distrust less open technologies.

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Why Don’t I Play MTGO?

23:38 21 Nov 2006

I’ve had trouble figuring this out. I love playing MTG. And when I first encountered MTGO I worried that I might spend too much money and time on it. Yet I haven’t logged on in more than a year.

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Some Plans for sfmagic.org

07:14 09 Aug 2006. Updated: 10:29 11 Aug 2006

I run a statistics-oriented site for the weekly Magic: The Gathering drafts I play in, sfmagic.org. I started it about two years ago and have been tinkering with it in small ways the whole time, but now plan to make some major changes, including:

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Ice Age/Alliances/Coldsnap Draft

21:56 03 Aug 2006. Updated: 12:47 27 Jun 2013

We played this somewhat bizarre format at draft last night, and overall people seemed to dislike it.

It’s a strange environment, as Ice Age and Alliances were printed over ten years ago, before draft was really a serious consideration for set design. Coldsnap was printed this summer, ostensibly to “complete” the Ice Age block. But since Ice Age and Alliances are long out of print, Coldsnap was designed to be drafted on its own. So the format consists of two very old sets that aren’t designed for draft at all, and a modern set that wasn’t designed to go with the first two. The snow theme is a key indicator of this: if draft had been a consideration for Ice Age, they would have printed snow lands in the boosters, not just in the starter packs.

We should have marked 16 lands as “snow”, and distributed them as the 16th and 13th cards in the Ice Age and Alliances boosters.

Most of the other players considered this the worst draft format ever. I’m not sure I agree, because I think I preferred it to triple-Coldsnap, which annoys me greatly. Probably because of the Ripple mechanic, which depends on luck in drafting it and luck in playing it.

It seems certain that we won’t be trying it again…

I actually enjoyed it, despite placing dead last in my draft. I thought I had a strong deck, with Ray of Command, Illusionary Forces, Rimescale Dragon, Balduvian Horde, 2x Storm Shaman, 2x Martyr of Ashes, Vexing Sphinx, Meteor Shower, and other cards that I thought were reasonable. Most of my games were close, and I won one game in all my matches, losing two and drawing one. I suspect that a big part of the reason I did poorly is that Red and Blue are both rather snow-dependent in Coldsnap, but there’s no way I could have gotten enough snow lands to support that theme. So while everyone else was picking up good removal, fatties, and swift beaters in Coldsnap, I didn’t get much that was helpful beyond the Dragon and Sphinx and Martyrs—all good, but not enough to compete with the 9+ cards other people brought in. A shame I didn’t think that through in advance…

That poor performance ended my recent good run at the Canvas drafts, and since I’ll miss a bunch in a row now, I’m going to drop well out of the seeding top eight. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish out the Ravnica/Guildpact/Dissension block with some strong results to get back to the top table before Time Spiral comes out.

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