11 March 2014

First Steps of a Planeswalker 2: Cubed

So I haven't had a chance to actually play yet since my recent post about buying new Magic: The Gathering cards. But Magic has been much on my mind, and I'm gradually preparing things for when I actually do get around to playing. Among those things is building some decks, of course. (For my first deck, the pool of cards I had led me to choose green-white. But I might write more about that if and when I actually play with it...) Today, however, I'm writing about something different...

As I've said before, one of the things I love about Magic is the variety of formats. Limited play is... interesting, but not something I'm necessarily very keen on, as such. I don't want to purchase new boosters every time I want to play. And I'm not that crazy about making decisions on the spot, like when drafting cards. (Drafting, for newbies, is when you open boosters and each player in turn picks cards to build their decks with.) However, cube draft is a whole other matter. Ever since I heard about it, it's been something I thought I might like to do some day.

What is a cube? Here's what WotC's page on casual Magic formats says: 'To prepare for this format, a player ... prepares a "cube"—a specifically selected set of at least 360 different Magic cards. ... Once the cube has been built, you can use it for any draft format. The most popular option is to build makeshift "booster packs" out of 15 randomly selected cards from the cube and then run a regular Booster Draft.'

One of the obvious pros of cube play is that everyone doesn't need to have their own decks, and it also places players more or less on the same level (although knowing the cards in the set will of course be an advantage when drafting).

I didn't imagine this would be something I'd do very soon, since obviously it's something that requires a reasonable number of cards to get started with, and creating a balanced set of hundreds of cards wouldn't exactly be easy. I toyed around with some ideas about what might make a fun, cheap, easy to make cube. But, as it happens, an opportunity presented itself. I took a little peek at what a local online auction website had in way of Magic cards, and one thing that caught my eye was a guy selling a complete set of four each of all the common cards from the Theros expansion (that's a total of 404 cards), for what I felt was a pretty reasonable price.

Initially I wasn't that interested in buying just common cards. But then it struck me: what I had here was basically an instant cube. Since it was a complete set of cards from a single expansion, it was bound to be pretty well balanced, and it would obviously be highly themed and flavourful. A playable set of cards with next to no work building it. Sure, it's not the most creative way to make a cube (a format that lends itself to almost limitless possibilities), but it was easy and affordable.

OK, so currently it's a pauper cube (i.e. it only has common cards), and has a somewhat limited number of individual cards (101 total). I might consider some day expanding it with uncommons from the same set, or even cards from the other Theros block expansions. But I think it should be fun to experiment with already as it currently stands.

That's it for now. Maybe next time I write about Magic, I'll have actually had a chance to play it...

3 March 2014

First Steps of a Planeswalker: Rediscovering Magic

Well, the last month was kinda slow, blogging-wise. But of course there's always something going on. The last week in particular was quite busy and interesting. I got to see Within Temptation live. It was a great experience. There was a BioShock Marathon, benefiting Child's Play Charity, by the g33kWatch team, which kept me glued to my computer for much of the weekend. It was a lot of fun, like previous g33kWatch events (and boy am I pretty tired after it).

But the thing that's probably most worthy of a blog post is my growing interest in Magic: The Gathering.

A month ago I blogged about trying out the video game version, Duels of the Planeswalkers. Since then, I found myself reading more about Magic—its history, lore, the variety of formats etc. I also started watching related material on YouTube. One of the first shows that hooked me was Friday Nights by LoadingReadyRun. This is a semi-fictional comedy series about the LRR team's experiences playing Magic. (Here's a YouTube playlist.) (The team also does a video podcast called TapTapConcede, where they open booster packs and discuss various aspects of the game—pretty entertaining.)

(I must admit I wasn't familiar with LoadingReadyRun before. I have since watched a lot of their other material as well, though. But that's an unrelated story.)

OK, so through all this, my interest in the game and its various formats was steadily growing. There's so much depth and variety to the game. I was approaching a point where buying some news cards was pretty much inevitable, even though I wasn't sure how much chance I would have to actually play, so I mentioned my interest to a few friends (some with past experience, some newcomers potentially interested—none of them currently active players, afaik), and last week me and a couple of them finally got around to visiting one of the local gaming stores.

I wanted a decent, but reasonably affordable, pool of cards to start with. What I ended up buying was a Deck Builder's Toolkit and a Fat Pack of the latest expansion set, Born of the Gods (I might've actually preferred a Theros Fat Pack, since it's the first set of the current expansion block, but the store didn't have them in stock). Let me walk you through these products briefly.

The Deck Builder's Toolkit is a pretty good product for novice players. It features 100 basic land cards, 125 'semi-randomized cards' and four booster packs. In the current (2014) version of the box, the cards appear to be drawn from the 2014 core set and the Return to Ravnica expansion block.

Fat Packs contain nine booster packs of the set in question, together with 80 basic lands, a custom d20 (for use as a life counter), a 'Player's Guide' booklet covering core concepts of the set (with a complete card list), and a decent looking cardboard card box.

Now, a Fat Pack is priced at almost twice the price of a Deck Builder's Toolkit, but actually contains a little less cards. There are reasons for this, I guess. Except for the boosters, the cards in the Toolkit are all commons and uncommons. You'll get more rares (and potentially mythic rares) in a Fat Pack. And even though the Toolkit states that 'no two toolkits are alike', the bulk of the cards are only 'semi-randomized'. I expect it's probably not really worthwhile buying multiple Deck Builder's Toolkits, unless you really need the land cards or a lot of commons for something (like, say, building a cube).

Even a Fat Pack is probably not something you'll be buying very often, since it costs a little more than just the boosters. Unless, again, you need the lands. The booklet is a neat thing to have, I'd like one for every expansion out there, but it alone doesn't quite justify the extra cost.

I haven't been through my cards very thoroughly yet. I did check what my rares where, of course, but alas, no really expensive cards there, I think. Should still be some interesting stuff in there for playing, of course. The art and design of the cards is quite high quality. The aesthetics, I think, have come a long way since the 90s, when I last bought Magic cards. I think I already have more cards in total here than I ever had back then. Like I've said before, I never really got into the game then. Of course I still have those old cards, too. There may be some in there that could be useful for some decks. But I think for my first decks I'll favour the new cards.

Speaking of different decks, one aspect that fascinates me about Magic is the variety of formats (that is, different rules variations for building decks, playing with different numbers of people, etc). I'd definitely like to try Commander, or building a cube for drafting. These types of play probably require a little more cards to get started with than I currently own, though. I would also be very interested in trying some kind of co-operative play.

So, next up, I should try to figure out some kind of sensible deck from the cards I have. Not exactly a small task, even with the fairly limited pool, when I'm hardly familiar with the cards. And hopefully some day I'll get a chance to actually play as well...