Monday, July 28, 2014

kill reviews: mirage block

In our last installment, Alliances saved Magic from dumb mechanics, bad art, and whatever was going on in the storyline of Homelands. But one small set isn’t going to do that: we needed to get some Block Planning in the game.

At this point, people had gotten over their early reservations about Wizards printing more expansions to the game, and instead just looked forward to the next one. Magic’s second large expansion was also the last one to have been designed before the game was released (before it got the name Mirage, it was known as Menagerie, which would have been a fine set name in its own right).[1] Like Ice Age, it must have fallen into a development hell at some point; Memory Lapse was poached for Homelands when Bill Rose, Mirage’s head designer, interviewed at Wizards. This makes sense until one starts to think about the design of a Magic set occurring before the person in charge of it even got an interview at the company. After Alliances, the team inside Wizards came together to develop Mirage.

[1] What idiot called it Mirage Block instead of Menagerie Trois?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

the story of magic art in 89 cards

Monday, July 21, 2014

kill reviews: ice age block

So! Yeah. Ice Age block. It’s… certainly cool! Am I right guys? Is anyone still reading this?

Ice Age, the second set and first large expansion in the grey-bordered era (has this caught on since last week? I hope so), was not a good set. It was the first large set expansion in Magic’s history, and gave them the opportunity to reboot a good chunk of Magic design: because you could get everything you needed to play from Ice Age (unlike previous expansions), they could toss out all the dregs of previous design and really give players something to sink their teeth into. This is not what happened.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

magic online: 7/16/2014 never forget

Today is a magnificent day in the history of Magic. It is a day when a subset of Wizards revs their engine and zooms past the userbase of Magic Online, their grotesque yellowed middle fingers flubbering in the breeze as they plow straight into the nearest building and tell us it’ll be right back up in no time. Welcome to the Beta Era, shitbags.

For years now, we’ve read fake-cheery articles announcing More Sweet Features in the fabled Fourth Version of Magic: Online, and today, it was formally released with all the expectation and excitement normally associated with waiting for the vet to put your dog to sleep. It is beyond criticism, because every criticism is answered with “we’re aware and totally working on it” from a representative of both of its programmers with a combined $60,000 salary. It has become such a frequent punchline that it is the unstated end joke to anything that happens in the program.

A community of people so focused on the next new thing when it comes to Magic, the people lining up in front of their local Wal-Marts to get the latest Android phone the second it comes out, were so horrified at the idea of using the new client rather than the basically-eight-year-old-one that Wizards had to have weekends when it forced its players to use the new client, or they couldn’t log onto Magic Online. Magic players responded in droves by not logging on to Magic Online.

Wizards genuinely cannot seem to fathom why people would rather not use a client that, by default, has everything in the program as a separate window, shows the cards in hand as so big that they overlap unreadably, and presents a handy scroll button to reveal the entirety of one’s opening hand. Brian Kibler’s encounter with the Wide Beta should be enshrined as a classic piece of Magic history: presented with baby-sized cards in the most important zone, all he can do is laugh and ask why. When a monolith of a corporation makes a terrible product and throws fake-sympathetic community relations agents at us instead of fixing everything, laughter is the only response left.

Today, Magic Online called us drunk at let’s say 2:17AM. “HEY! Heyyyyy it’s our annivvversary and wewerereally greaaatt together aand I knoww you liked, like the uhh… the Modern Master… master-“ *giggle* “MASTERS and the vintage one aaaand holiday in cubeodia soooo yeah come on over?”

We gleefully give Magic Online another chance, try out this Holiday Cube again, and Magic Online is passed out face-down on the couch with vomit dribbling from his mouth before the draft is even over.

This was your special day, Magic Online. This was supposed to mean something.

7/16/2014: the day Version 3 is retired forever.
7/16/2014: the day someone forgot to hit the “phantom draft” checkbox next to the “launch Holday Cube” button.

Should we have expected any better from the program that couldn’t ban Æther Vial for an entire day because they didn’t know how to add a card with that little “Æ” to the banned list?

The logical conclusion to this isn’t that they gave people Black Lotuses they weren’t supposed to have, then shut down the Holiday Cube to fix the problem, then took them away. They’re not capable of that. First, they had to make everyone who had acquired illicit Cube cards on a No-Trade List while they figure out how to remove them from people’s accounts. The emails they sent to those people mention doing it for everyone manually. On the plus side, this wasn’t communicated via stone tablet thrown through their window.

A rough timeline:

2002: Magic Online 1.0 by Leaping Lizard released for Windows.
2003: Magic Online 2.0 released by Wizards internal development, after wresting control from Leaping Lizard.
2003: MTGO 2.0 so unusably server-crashingly buggy that Wizards turns off the ability to give them money, reverts it to a beta.
2003: Wizards apologizes for the servers crashing by launching a free event called ‘Chuck’s Virtual Party.’ This crashes the servers.
2006: the rebuilt-from-the-ground up Magic Online 3.0 scheduled for release.
2006: it is not released.
2007: “
2008: Magic Online 3.0 released.
July 2012: Magic Online 4.0 (“Tha Beta”) gets first Wide Beta Spotlight.
7/16/2014: see above.
20XX: Macintosh client? Android? iPad?

Another timeline:

March 2013: Blizzard announces Hearthstone.
August 2013: Hearthstone enters closed beta.
March 2014: Hearthstone released for PC and Mac.
April 2014: Hearthstone released for iPad.

Magic Online turns to the camera and shrugs. Audience laughter. Applause. “That’s Our MODO!”

Monday, July 14, 2014

kill reviews: early sets

kill reviews: introduction

This review is available in audio format.

Five expansions to Magic came out from 1993-1994: Arabian Nights, Antiquities, Legends, The Dark, and Fallen Empires. These sets are by far the most difficult to write about from a modern perspective, because the processes of designing, playing, buying, and collecting Magic were so dramatically different. The best reading on the subject is Richard Garfield’s piece on the design of Arabian Nights, but the most enlightening, to me, was the second issue of Scrye Magazine, available as reading material in my workplace’s lunch room.

Magic was a runaway success, as any history of early Magic has to note. The philosophy of printing cards was way different: they’d print cards, those cards would sell out, and they’d use the money to print the next batch of cards. They didn’t give much thought to how you’d get cards from the last expansion, because that was a few levels of thought beyond “let’s design some cards and print them.” Card availability was a legitimate concern, rather than its current usage as a Hasbro Legal-sanctioned euphemism for card prices. Packs of Legends were selling for several times MSRP before disappearing entirely, and that’s when it was the newest set.

kill reviews: introduction

Magic players are focused on what’s new, and what’s about to be new. This is a wonderful aspect of the game: there’s always something new around the corner. Step away from the game for a couple years, and the new sets will completely transform the game. These sets are the backbone of playing Magic, just like new albums set the conversation for music fans.

But there’s no guide to going back and looking at old sets. Trying to read about things from even two years ago can be difficult, because people are so focused on creating with the new cards that they don’t step back to review what Wizards has given them.

I’m writing that guide. It’ll be comprehensive, starting with the very first Magic expansion, and going through every block through the present with an essay-length review of each block. Think of it as like the Rolling Stone Album Guide, but for Magic, and not written by Rolling Stone. (I’m writing it. I said that already.)

What this will tackle: what makes an expansion good? What gets people excited to sit down and play with fresh packs of Magic cards? What influences the future design in a positive way, or pushes people toward less frustrating hobbies, like clubbing themselves in the head with a baseball bat?

I’ll be covering everything about a set, from its design philosophies to its developmental decisions, as well as how everything looks and feels. The exact points of conversation will change from set to set, but things will always come back to how these (oftentimes very old) sets relate to the modern day. I’ll touch on some historical tidbits as they come up, but this is not an unbiased, encyclopedic project. These are reviews. They are opinions. No one who reads it will agree with everything. If this happens, I must have stated exclusively boring opinions.

What are my qualifications? I am not a pro player. I am not a game designer. I’m simply a fan who’s been playing since midway through Urza block, and I’ve written about the game a bunch: here, as well as my six-month stay at GatheringMagic.

I will be publishing all of them on this blog weekly. (The first one is up right now!) They are entirely free, and always will be. I’m going through Patreon so that, if people like the reviews and want to support my doing them, they can.

Why should people give me money for this? Well, that’s a pretty good question. I admit, I’ve paid no money to many creators I really like, even when their work was not free. By supporting this project, I can do things like record audio versions for people (like myself) who like listening rather than reading, because I currently have absolutely no way to record good audio. I’ll also write some short content exclusive to Patreon donors: for example, about Unglued.

I hope everyone enjoys these reviews. If you have any feedback, feel free to comment here or (preferably) hit me up on twitter: @KillGoldfish