Monday, 22 June 2015

A new gaming addiction

Morning all - so the best laid plans of me kinda fell apart last week, with just my regular painting post going live. I aim to rectify that this week, and we'll start today with a bit of a departure from the norm!

I'm going to talk about magic. Not the pseudo magic of the 40k psychic phase, or even the actual magic of Warhammer fantasy (soon to be referred to fondly as Warhammer: Dodo), no here I'm talking about Magic:The Gathering.

Some of you may remember that a couple of weeks ago I attended BlogWars 9, a great event run by Alex over at From the Fang. Well, there were four of us from my club who went along and stayed overnight opposite the tournament venue, and the other three are all avid players of the game. You can see where this is going can't you - the offer to teach me the game was made and I accepted. And got hooked. I've since played another 3 evenings worth and have just ordered my first deck(s).

So what does that all mean for my blog? Well, quite simply I thought I'd post about how I went about building my deck without splurging a fortune on a mass buy of card packs!

First, a 'very' brief introduction to Magic for those of you who may not be familiar.

The concept is, as defined by wikipedia - 'Each game represents a battle between wizards known as "planeswalkers", who employ spells, artifacts, and creatures depicted on individual Magic cards to defeat their opponents.'

What that means in laymans terms is that each player has a deck of 60 cards, taking it in turn to draw from the deck and play onto the 'battlefield'. In order to play a card, you need to have enough power (mana) to cast it, so each deck contains a proportion of 'land' cards (such as swamps, mountains etc) that grant you mana. The cards come in a bewildering array of types and effects, but I'll keep it simple by saying that there are two ways to win - either by reducing your opponent's life to 0 (usually starts at 20) or preventing them from drawing another card (ie they've played their whole deck).

Each card usually falls within one or more of five colours, red, white, black, blue and green, and you need the appropriate coloured land to power that spell. Decks can be either mono-coloured or multi coloured. The advantage of the first method clearly being that any land cards you draw will power your spells, but at the cost of mono-coloured decks having weaknesses.

Each colour has a style of its own, so my first few games were about figuring out which colour to use to start with.

Very bluntly, red is about dealing direct damage, blue is about trickery and stopping your opponent playing, green is about growth and creating very big creatures, white is about healing and gaining life, and black is about using death and disease to your advantage.

To this point, I've only played with red or black decks, but I was pretty convinced early on that I liked the black style of play, so that would be my first focus (I'm sure I'll build up other decks in time).

The next problem therefore was how to get started - I've never had any involvement in any kind of trading cards before (not even football stickers as a kid) so the concept was new to me and I'll admit I got highly confused by the fact that you couldn't just buy a pack of black cards and build a deck that way. I did find you could buy intro decks though - pre-built and with a particular strategy in mind, but usually two or three-coloured.

Undeterred, I found a website online where it broke down which cards you got in these intro decks, and after a long session poring over the details, and two spreadsheets setting out which cards came in which pack and what their effects were, I settled on two intro packs plus a few ebay buys to build my first deck. Those two intro packs of course have non-black cards in them too, so I'll actually have two decks, one mono-black and one red/white, which will be pretty poor and difficult to win with, but hey, I can add to them over time.

So what did I go for?

First Decision - how much land to include. Wisdom generally seems to be that depending on the casting cost of the cards in your hand, and if you've got more than one colour of cards, 19-26 land is a good place to start. I've got a mono coloured deck but with some reasonably costly cards so went with 24. That leaves me needing at least 36 other cards to fill the rest of the deck. THere are other reasons why I included quite a few land cards, but I'll explain that later.

So what strategy do I use?

Well, black specialises in the nasty stuff, and looking through the intro packs I noticed there were a few threads I could use.

Element 1 - Deathtouch
Cheap, small creatures with deathtouch. Deathtouch means that if I attack with a creature, no matter how big or powerful the opposition creatures are if they choose to defend then they will die, even if they kill mine in the process (the exception being if they strike first) so with four available from the two intro packs, in they went. The problem with these guys is they are all ground-based creatures, and can't defend against flying creatures, so i needed a way to protect against those. In came the 'archetype of finality' card, which means that all creatures I control have deathtouch. It's also a creature card in its own right so adds to my offensive/defensive abilities. It's quite expensive though and I can't rely on drawing it, so in came the 'aspect of Gorgon' card, which is cheaper to cast, and grants deathtouch to a single creature, also increasing its offensive and defensive abilities. That's plenty of that then, my opponents won't want to throw big and costly creatures into the fight for fear of them being killed outright by my cheap nasties.

Element 2 - Life Drain/Gain
One of the things that came through in my learning games is that cards that have ongoing effects can be game-changing, particularly when they directly affect your opponent's life counter. First up was 'stab wound', a card that not only reduces an enemy creature's offensive and defensive stats, but also deducts 2 life from the life counter every turn. The only way to remove it is to either counter the spell when it's cast (not common) or kill/sacrifice the creature on which it is cast. Now of course it does have the drawback that if i attack then my opponent can use this creature to defend and potentially get killed, but for -2 life per turn, it's an alternative strategy that will put a time limit on my opponents actions. Second card in this category is an expensive one - 'caustic tar', which enchants one of my land cards. It means that by using the power the land generates, I can cause my opponent 3 life damage directly, and again I can use this every turn. Combined with the above card I doubt I'd need to attack at all, as 4 turns with them both in play would see my opponent dead. Next up was one of my favourite cards so far (unused, but it seems to be very good indeed), and that's 'Fate Unraveler'. This card causes my opponent(s) to lose 1 life every time they draw a card. Which is every turn basically. I then boosted this by including a couple of 'Grim Guardian' cards, who deduct 1 life from each opponent when they enter the battlefield, and also when another 'Enchantment Creature' (a type of card) is played. My deck has 8 such cards. Finally then for this element, 'Indulgent Tormentor' means that unless my opponent sacrifices a creature or pays 3 life, I can draw an extra card every turn. Granted, it won't force my opponent to lose life or sacrifice a creature, but it does either that, or grants me a better chance of getting cards into play. Along similar lines, 'Profane memento' is a cheap card to cast, and gives you a point of life every time an opponent's creature cards are put into their graveyard (killed or discarded essentially) This means that I'm not just cutting down my opponent's life, but gaining my own at the same time, and this card is as cheap to cast as they come.

Element 3 - Flying
Some of the most powerful creatures out there are flying creatures, as they can only be defended against by other flying creatures or those with the 'reach' ability. Now green decks can make some very big creatures indeed, and bypassing those (or at least having the option to) is therefore a key element of being able to win. On that basis I wanted to include plenty of flying options. I started with a pair of 'carrion crows', which are comparitively inexpensive at the cost of not being able to defend on the turn they arrive. The 'indulgent tormentor' card I've already mentioned is also a flying creature, and I included a pair of 'gargoyle sentinels', which are defenders (can't attack) but can be made flying creatures by paying a power cost in your turn (see why I included a few extra land now?). Next up were a pair of cards that weren't in the intro packs that I've bought from ebay, 2 'Sengir Vampires'. These are pretty strong flying creatures at the best of times, but increase both their attack and defense by 1 point every time a creature they damage is killed. With a potential 7 flying creatures (with a total attack power of 23+ combined) that's probably enough.

Element 4 - Resurrection
Something that black decks seem to specialise in, is bringing stuff back from the 'dead'. First up is a pair of 'Odunos River Trawlers'. When these are played, I can return another 'enchantment creature' (I mentioned I've got 8 of them) from my graveyard, and I can also then pay a power cost to sacrifice this card to repeat that ablility. Next up is the 'Gravedigger', who can bring a normal creature card back when he enters the battlefield. Finally then the 'font of return', which is an enchantment that can return up to 3 creatures from the graveyard for a power cost. These elements combined should give me a reasonable protection against an opponent killing off my best cards.

Element 5 - Discards
A neat trick is to force your opponent to discard part of their hand or deck. Blue specialise in this, and one game I played I had to throw away fully half my deck in one go, which was somewhat frustrating I can tell you. There are three cards I've included with this effect therefore, and whilst it won't win me the game, it will force some awkward decisions. The 'Brain Maggot' lets me choose a non-land card from an opponent's hand and remove it from play until the brain maggot is itself destroyed. Then I included 2 'Thoughtrender Lamia's', which force my opponents to discard a card when they, or any other enchantment creature, enter play.

Element 6 - Maledictions.
I'm calling them this because although it's a 40k term, it seems to apply well to the type of card. They are cards that reduce your opponent's cards effectiveness by reducing their offensive/defensive stats. We start with the doomwake giant, which applies a 1 point reduction to both offensive and defensive stats of all my opponent's creatures until the end of my turn. This also applies in any turn during which I introduce another enchantment creature to the battlefield. A pair of Nyx Infusion cards each apply a 2 point reduction to creature cards, (or a 2 point increase to the stats of enchantment creatures). Festergloom applies a 1 point reduction to all non-black creatures until the end of the turn, and enchant creature applies a 2 point reduction to offense whilst preventing the creature from blocking defensively. Stab wound also applies a 2 point penalty to offense and defence of a single creature.

Element 7 - Destructions
For a cheap cost each, I've also included 4 'Doom blade' cards, which simply destroy any non-black creature. They're mainly a means of last resort, but are highly effective against an opponent who's spent power and time building up a strong creature, and are less blockable than the deathtouch creatures.

The final card in the deck has no special rules whatsoever, but is just a tough defensive creature.

Hopefully the cards will arrive this week and I'll have a chance to feed back how the deck works in future posts, but in the meantime if any of you are experienced Magic players and can give me any advice on the above I'd be happy to hear what you have to say.