Thursday, 28 November 2013

Oracle Review - Legends Grab Bag Part One

I might go through a lot of Legends cards this way because there are a lot of cards that merit a minor comment.

Enchant creature

Whenever a player activates an ability of enchanted creature with Tap in its activation cost that isn't a mana ability, you may pay 1. If you do, counter that ability. If you don't, destroy Imprison.

Whenever enchanted creature attacks or blocks, you may pay 1. If you do, tap the creature, remove it from combat, and creatures it was blocking that had become blocked by only that creature this combat become unblocked. If you don't, destroy Imprison.

I strongly disapprove.  The idea of "preventing" and ability from being used is not the same as the idea of countering it after it has been used.  The effects of this card should be replacements abilities that make it so the attack or ability never happens at all.

Remove Enchantments
Return to your hand all enchantments you both own and control, all Auras you own attached to permanents you control, and all Auras you own attached to attacking creatures your opponents control. Then destroy all other enchantments you control, all other Auras attached to permanents you control, and all other Auras attached to attacking creatures your opponents control.

The Oracle text of this card is quite long at 58 words, but there are only 20 different words.  That means that words used in this text are used on average 2.9 times.  We can make fun of cards like Deflection and Reflecting Mirror for overusing the word "target" but this card uses the words "all", "you" and "control" six times each.  It's got four uses of "attached" and "Auras."  This wording is outlandish, and three stars for sure.

Pit Scorpion/Serpent Generator
Whenever Pit Scorpion deals damage to a player, that player gets a poison counter. (A player with ten or more poison counters loses the game.)
4, Tap: Put a 1/1 colorless Snake artifact creature token onto the battlefield. It has "Whenever this creature deals damage to a player, that player gets a poison counter." (A player with ten or more poison counters loses the game.)
702.69a Poisonous is a triggered ability. "Poisonous N" means "Whenever this creature deals combat damage to a player, that player gets N poison counters." (For information about poison counters, see rule 104.3d.)

These cards do not require that the damage be combat damage and are thus not Poisonous.

Sword of the Ages
Sword of the Ages enters the battlefield tapped.
Tap, Sacrifice Sword of the Ages and any number of creatures you control: Sword of the Ages deals X damage to target creature or player, where X is the total power of the creatures sacrificed this way, then exile Sword of the Ages and those creature cards.
400.7g A resolving spell or activated ability can perform actions on an object that moved from one zone to another while that spell was being cast or that ability was being activated, if that object moved to a public zone.
At a glance I didn't see how the sword's ability can find the sword to exile.  400.7g solves this problem.  If the sword or the creatures move from one zone to another after the activation but before the resolution the exile effect will not be able to find them but the sword will still deal damage for those creatures.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Castle Builder

Well, here is another browser game as it refers to itself, and this one is obtuse.

Sand Castle Builder, the self-proclaimed Dwarf Fortress of Idle Games, is unlike Cookie Clicker and Candy Box in that not only is progression very non-linear, but also how you are even progressing starts off as a mystery.

We're not talking about a "why would I want more cookies anyway?" type existential question.  More like, "What units is the game measuring time in?" and "How can I buy any of these things?" and "What just happened when that timer hit zero?"

I am not going to answer any of these questions.  If you are not the kind of person who wants to figure out what is going on in a game by yourself you probably won't like this game.  And I don't mean the sort of person who likes to explore a landscape and see what is hidden there, I mean the sort of person who likes to do tests on practice dummies to average out damage numbers to figure out if those two 5% bonuses add to 10% or multiply to 10.25%.  This is a game for spreadsheet makers.

Not that I can think of any meaningful way to make a spreadsheet for it, which is part of the allure.  In a game where sometimes it is wrong to generate more of your fundamental resource because it is the wrong time to do so, it is hard to imagine what my spreadsheet would look like.

Now, don't get me wrong, I think ultimately this game might suck really bad.  Just like in Cookie Clicker you accumulate resources and then buy things that make you accumulate more resources.  However, in this game the golden-cookie-equivalent dominates your production so massively that doing the other things might not really matter much.  At any rate, there is a huge amount more to this game than I have seen so far, so I'm not going to jump to criticize yet.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

My Hearthstone Recommendations

I'll be making a forum post on the Hearthstone Beta forums today with a round of recommendations. Generally I have a pretty good track record for recommendations on Blizzard games. In fact, they implement my recommendations in virtually every case. I take that to mean that I successfully catch the zeitgeist of Blizzard games, rather than that they actually listen to me, but given my track record, I think it's probably better to implement sooner rather than later. We don't want another Diablo 3 launch, do we?

Here's my recommendations for changes:

Change daily quests to reset at a particular time of day, rather than 23 hours after the last time you got a quest. Having a fixed time of day where your opportunity to get a quest is refreshed is a much more sensible system for the majority of players. I would like to log in once a day and get my quest but I do not want to have to pay attention to what time of day that log in must be, or gradually work my log in time back to 7-ish if I happen to log in at 10 one day. Managing getting my daily quest is not a fun game.

I recognize that for a global game the reset time is going to be in the middle of the day for some people, or may fall at other awkward times, but it essentially cannot be any more awkward than the current system is. Under the current system to actually get one quest a day you have to log in around the same time every day. If you are doing that then you will get your one quest a day under either system, no matter what that time of day is. This is also a loss for nutters who might actually get more than one quest a day by logging in nearly an hour earlier each day. I don't feel bad about that.

Add a "Random" button for selecting your opponent in practice mode. When I wanted to level up my Shaman to get a couple of basic cards to build a deck it would have made for a better experience. I understand that not many people will be spending a lot of time in practice mode, but this functionality isn't exactly a big ask, either.

Take Equality out of the paladin Expert practice deck. Wow does the AI not understand this card.

Split the Arena into a Beginner and an Expert section. The only difference between the two is the prize structure. In the Beginner section you get slghtly better prizes for bad performance (0 or 1), slightly worse prizes for average and good performance (3 to 5) and considerably worse prizes for very good performance (6 or more), with the overall being a slightly lower total payout.  Design the structure to make sure that a person who goes 50-50 does worse in Beginner regardless of the distribution of their wins over different entries.  It may also be a good idea to make it only 6 or 7 wins to a forced retirement instead of 9.

I feel that adding this mode would make for a healthier game as people would be able to self-select their reward structure. People who are timid about risking real money to play for rewards will prefer a structure where there is less riding on each game. This may raise any number of objections - no one wants to play for lower rewards so no one will play Beginner, Beginner will attract weaker players so ringers will go there and clean up, there will be an exodus from Expert because it will always make sense for the bottom players in Expert to make the switch to Beginner, etc. - but Magic two kinds of draft queues with precisely the same payout philosophy and both kinds fire.

I'm just going to assume that constructed tournaments, different characters to represent the same class, and balance changes are on the way and need no mention.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Mana Screwed

People don't like getting mana screwed.  They also don't like getting mana flooded.  When SolForge came out I saw various people saying that it was great that you couldn't get mana screwed because you could always play your cards.  In Hearthstone you always get one more mana a turn, so you never don't get mana.

I'm sure that VashtaNerada felt great about having seven cards in hand here
But you can draw no rank three cards on your third trip through the deck in SolForge.  You can get all threes in your Hearthstone hand and then draw twos later on and never manage to deal with your opponent's one, two, three, four, five.  You can trade card for card and then draw one and two drops while your opponent draws sevens and eights.

In card games your shuffle your deck.  There will never be a card game where you can't get frustrating draws that seem to lock you out of the game while your opponent runs all over you.

If there was - for example, if you played Magic with pre-ordered deck - then it wouldn't be much of a card game.  It would be more like paper, rock, scissors, and even that only if the metagame was very flexible.  More likely it would be like flipping coins to see who wins.

Any game with no element of chance and no element of hidden information is not much of a game.  Chess and other games of strategy might seem like counter examples, but in reality there is an element of chance in them.  If you knew the total implications of all of your moves then you would be playing tic-tac-toe, not chess.

So basically sometimes you are going to get screwed, like, for example, when you finally rip back to back big dudes and your opponent rips back to back Mind Control.  Tough.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Card Games that Start with H

I got an invite to play HEX on Wednesday.  Then I noticed that I'd received an invite to the Hearthstone beta on October 9.  It turns out that they give you no notification of that through your account, you have to check your email.  And gmail sent it to the "Promotions" tab when all the other stuff from Blizzard went to my normal inbox.

So I wen to both.  When I installed the new desktop app it would not let me download Hearthstone.  Then it wouldn't update itself.  Then I couldn't uninstall it.  Then I couldn't play Diablo anymore either.  I was very happy.  It turns out that I had to update Flash in Internet Explorer to fix the problem.  I'm sure that makes a lot of sense somehow.

Well I played some Hearthstone and I don't think I had as much fun with it as I thought I would have.  Having all those basic cards at the beginning gives you a lot of flexibility on how you build a deck, but that's not necessarily what you want when you just started playing.  I couldn't find a way to load the basic deck and modify it as a custom deck, which would have been nice since it would let you develop a deck from the basic deck by swapping out cards you don't like as much instead of building a deck from scratch when you've never played.

Unlocking the classes meant playing 8 games which was fine.  Getting all the basic class cards means playing 82 or so more, which feels like a lot.  I know, I just complained about having too many cards and having to do much to unlock more.

But it really is both.  When you start with a zillion cards to choose from opening a new pack of five cards isn't that exciting.  When you can only put two of a card in your deck and you start with two copies of everything, getting one of a new thing feels awkward.  The initial tutorial games weren't that fun because the enemies were using cheaty cards so it didn't feel like real games.

Well, I played again on Thursday and again tonight and I guess I like it, but it has all the frustrations of PvP games.  Opponents play desperately slow.  They make terrible plays, throwing cards away, and then you lose.  Even when you win someone still lost so sometimes it just feels like no one is winning.

HEX, on the other hand, just plain doesn't work.  Thanks for the invite.  To their credit, they did say the point of this round of invites was to stress test, so it makes sense that it lags out really badly.  But I don't think I'll go back to it until release or near release.  My interest in that is mostly to play PvE and that doesn't even really exist yet.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Oracle Review - Creature Types - Limited Edition

In addition to rewording card text, the Oracle is the official repository for creature types for the creatures of yore.  At some point Wizards had to make the difficulty decision of what to do with old, unsupported creature types.  First they decided every word was its own type, so they had to hyphenate old types like "Goblin King" into "Goblin-King."  But when they decided that creatures should generally have both a "race" type in addition to their "class" type, they had to address the issue that in older sets there were no "Humans" despite them being obviously full of humans.

Because of this, you can't use the creature type printed on the card from sets before Mirrodin.  That's a lot of Magic's history of creature types that was rewritten.  During this process some of it went well and some didn't go as well.  Today, let's look at the creature types from limited edition.

Artifact Creatures
Something I didn't mention above is that Mirrodin was also when they started putting creature types on artifact creatures.  All artifact creatures before then, with the exception of those that had special text on them giving them a type, were typeless.

Limited Edition had only four artifact creatures, plus an artifact that could turn into a creature.  Of these I thought the types were pretty obvious.  Obsianus Golem and Jade Statue are Golems, Living Wall is a Wall, Juggernaut is a Juggernaut.  These are straightforward, so I give them all two stars.

The only one that I don't like that much is Clockwork Beast.  While it makes sense that it got the creature type Beast, I feel like as a clockwork creature it need another creature type to distinguish it from flesh-and-blood beasts.  I would have made it a Beast Construct.  I think this oversight means only one star for the beast.

Adding Human
As noted above, there were no humans before Mirrodin, but a quick look at the art shows that a lot of things were human.  Generally, if something didn't specify what race it was, it was human.  So Royal Assassin went from an Assassin to a Human Assassin.  Other cards that got this same treatment were Samite Healer, Black Knight, White Knight and Prodigal Sorcerer.  This relatively simple change gets the two star treatment from me.

There were also cards that were made human and had other type changes as well.  Most of these I'll talk about in the next section about getting rid of unsupported types, but one I will talk about two here instead.  Ley Druid changed from being a Cleric to a Human Druid.  I don't have strong feelings about them doing this.  It is certainly easy to see why they did it.  The card says "Druid" and "Druid" is a supported creature type, so why not?  I don't note this to criticize or to praise it, just to observe that in the creature type remodelling, everything was up for grabs.  There was no effort to make only minimal changes or to preserve what was written on cards for the sake of maintaining their integrity.  If a new creature type made sense, that's the creature type you got.  Ley Druid, therefore, gets two stars like most of the new humans.

And then there is Veteran Bodyguard who was changed from a "Bodyguard" to a "Human."  That's all, he's just some guy, not any particular kind of guy.  You didn't get a knight, or a soldier, or a warrior to protect you.  Presumably you aren't even paying him since he isn't a mercenary.  Nope, he's just some guy.  He's just some one-star-rated-creature-type guy.

Sure, Why Not?
Ley Druid wasn't the only creature that got an unexpected new type for no apparent reason.  Personal Incarnation is now an "Avatar Incarnation," both maintaining its old type and getting a new one to match its name.  Nightmare is a Horse now in addition to being a Nightmare because, let's face it, it's a horse.  And Shanodin Dryad?  It was a "Nymph" rather than a Dryad originally.  Now it's a "Nymph Dryad."  I can't say I care for that - it seems like it should just be a plain old Dryad.  But I don't dislike it enough to rate it down.  Two stars for everyone with a new unwarranted type.

This is the part that really gets me.  There were a lot of creatures that used to just have a race that got a class as well, and a lot that didn't.  Dwarven Demolition Team is still just a Dwarf while Dwarven Warriors is a Dwarf Warrior.  Mons's Goblin Raiders are just Goblins while the Goblin Balloon Brigade is a Goblin Warrior.  The elves all got classes, though, the Llanowar Elves are druids and Elvish Archer is an archer.

Probably the weirdest of the bunch, though, are Wall of Bone - now a Skeleton Wall - and Wall of Brambles - now a Plant Wall.  Wall of Fire is not an Elemental Wall.  Giving some walls extra types and not others seems pretty ridiculous to me, especially when it comes to Wall of Wood which didn't join its thornier brother in becoming a plant.  I don't even really see how this could have happened - these cards must have been considered together.  For this rather egregious inconsistency, I'm forced to give all the walls no stars at all.  This is a situation that should be repaired.

Unsupported Types
Finally let's quickly go over all of those cards that had types no longer supported by the game.  Some of these were done quite well and others are duds.  Unlike above, I'm going to start from the bad and move ot the good.

I'm kind of disappointed that Roc of Kher Ridges lost the type "Roc" in favour of the type "Bird."  I get why this happened, but a Roc is a very iconic monster.  If Wolf is a type supported separately from Beast then I think we can have a special place in the world for Rocs.  Similarly, I would have held onto "Enchantress" for Verduran Enchantress.  I probably would have also made her an elf instead of a human.  Barring that, it seems like she should be a Wizard since she's all about casting enchantments.  I think "Human Druid" is a real miss here.

And Pirate Ship just feels totally wrong.  I get that they want to talk about the pirates and not the boat, but making it a human?  Wouldn't a crew of pirates be a place where miscreants of various races could all get together?  Would they turn away an orc who wants to sail the seas with them?  Ship, Roc and Enchantress all get one star from me, though I will admit that the roc suffers mostly from my personal bias.

On the more mediocre front, Gaea's Liege is an Avatar, Savannah Lions are a Cat, and Force of Nature is an Elemental.  War Mammoth is an Elephant, Goblin King is a Goblin, Keldon Warlord is a Human Barbarian, Northern Paladin is a Human Knight, and Benalish Hero is a Human Soldier.  Lord of Atlantis is a Merfolk, Clone and Vesuvan Doppelganger are both Shapeshifters, Nether Shadow and Will-o'-the-Wisp are both Spirits, and Scavenging Ghoul and Zombie Master are both Zombies.  This is all sensible, two-star stuff.

I have very mixed feelings about Phantom Monster and Phantasmal Forces becoming Illusions.  On on hand, this is the right place for them to be.  On the other hand, it is a shame.that the Phantasm type is not supported.  The three-star solution to this would be to make all Illusions into Phantasms instead of the other way around, but the way they've done it still merits two.

Creature type changes are not the stuff of wonder and it so it is no wonder that I've used almost entirely one and two star ratings.  There was one creature type, however, that really stood out.  Fungusaur was a Fungusaur, but they weren't going to support the creature type Fungusaur going forward.  So what is a fungusaur?  It's a Fungus Lizard, obviously.  What else could it be?  Fungusaur, your new creature type gets...

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Some More Diablo 3

I started working on my hellfire ring in Diablo and it's pretty fun but it's kind of annoying.  I can pretty easily cut through monster power 5 aside from the occasional enemy that's a big that will just kill me over and over.  I've tried the special boss fights on power 5 and power 3 but I had no chance at all so I'll have to dial that back to 2 or 1 which means a lot more runs to get it done.  I don't know if I'll actually have the patience.

What I've also been reminded of is how great it is to be playing a game where split second decisions matter and the information is being served to me over the internet.  I can't tell you how pleasing it is to mash the Diamond Skin key and see the button depress on my screen but have the ability not activate while I try to run away and keep appearing back where I was.  That's fun gameplay, and necessary for the Diablo 3 experience.

On the other hand, when it is not being terrible, Diablo 3 actually has very good gameplay.  I find the enemy special abilities matter a lot more than in Torchlight or Path of Exile, and my positioning decisions mean a lot against random uniques.  On the other hand, good game play buys you a lot less against bosses and fast melee enemies who do a lot more unavoidable damage to you as a gear check, which I find very lame.

Anyway, Diablo 3 is still fun, but probably just in small doses and I doubt I'll play enough to actually get a ring.

Monday, 18 November 2013

First Songs on First Albums

Josh Bennett put me on to an awesome real life game where you put together a list of the top ten first songs off of first albums.  So every band only has one song up for consideration, meaning your favourite bands don't necessarily have good songs to put on the list - especially if they released some lousy albums before they knew how to play.

Basically I went through every band I've ever liked a song by and see what their first song off their first album was.  I discovered albums and songs I didn't know about, none of which made the list.  But mostly what happened when I did it was I was surprised at how many possible songs there were for inclusion.  Some of them that I put on my list at first pass, like "Spanish Air" by Slowdive really got blown out later on when I realized how good some band's first albums are.  Even though it didn't make my list, I was quite surprised that "Break on Through" was the first song from the Doors' first album.  It's hard to imagine yourself living at that time and saying, "Hey, I heard this band was good" and putting on their first album to hear that.  I can see why they went on to be so famous.

Anyway, this game was quite a few hours of entertainment, and well worth doing.  I'm going to present the list of top ten, but first there is on honorable mention.  If you've never listened to Wesley Willis, he was a mentally ill homeless man living in New York who found that making rock music helped him deal with his negative emotions and the voices in his head.  His music consisted of putting on the demo track from a keyboard and speaking four line verses over it, separated by a chorus where he sang the name of the song over and over.  I give his Attempted Armed Robbery an honorable mention here because I realize that I can't really verify that it qualifies for the list - Wesley Willis could have albums that I can't find out about through internet research.  But also, if this was not his first song, I would easily swap in whatever song was his first regardless of what it was.  As such, this is more about the spirit of Wesley Willis than about any particular song.

So, on to the actual list, with the caveat that I am not actually recommending any of this music to you.  It's not a huge investment to listen to it so you don't have that much to lose, but I'd like to remind you that these are songs that I put on a top ten list, not songs that I think that you would like.  For one thing, I might not even know you, and for a second, if I do know you then I can pretty much promise you I know that you will really, really not like at least one of these.

If you had asked me to name R.E.M.'s best song of all time this would have been in a list of three or four contenders, so I was pretty pleased to see it was the first song on Murmur.  I had recalled it coming later on for some reason.

I'm not going to say I'm a fan of the Fine Young Cannibals, but considering the restrictions for this game, this song is exactly where it needed to be to make the cut.

The Electric Eels formed because the opening band at a Captain Beefheart show sucked and they thought they could do better.  Apparently many times their live shows ended when they ceased being interested in playing and got into fights with the audience.  This song is basically as punk as it is possible to be.

Joy Division was a pretty significant influence on me as a teenager, which I suppose isn't saying great things about my teenage years, other than that I was listening to Joy Division.  Once again, a favourite band with one of my favourite songs as the first song on their first album, so pretty much a shoo-in.

Hymie's Basement is one of two side projects that got on this list.  Side projects are cheating a bit because you are talking about people who have already put out quite a few albums coming together to put a single album together.  Their wikipedia entry has about four sentences in it.  Still, this is the first song off the first album by this band, and "You put your life in the hands of the highway designers" is one of my favourite lines of all time.

You could argue a long time about whether this is the best recording of Roadrunner, but if a later recording or cover tops the original it hardly matters.  Few bands manage to open their career with a classic like this.

Stephen Merritt has a lot of bands with a lot of good songs.  "Scream and Run Away" by the Gothic Archies would probably be on this list if they hadn't had earlier albums.  But nothing he ever did is as good in my mind as the first two Magnetic Fields albums with Susan Anway on vocals.

This is Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse's side project album that sounds a lot like Modest Mouse but a little more country.  I like Modest Mouse a lot, but their first album was not their best work, so Brock sneaks this one in on a technicality.

This song might be in this same spot if this were just a list of my favourite songs of all time.  But while it stands on its own as a great song, it is also a critical piece of a fantastic album.  The lyrics to this song take on a great deal of additional meaning when you've heard the rest of it.

If Glenn Tipton might be on the list of my favourite songs ever at number two, it seems strange that this is not what I would call my favourite song of all time, an honour which would go to "Ever Rotating Sky" off of the same album.  I said earlier that many bands aren't very polished on their first album.  There are also those bands - or artists - whose first album is clearly the work of a lifetime leading up to it.  I don't even like much of David Thomas Broughton's later recordings, but this first album was insane.

I strongly recommend playing this game if like music.  Making top ten lists is a lot of fun and having restrictions make it more fun.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Mad Myth Friday - Words

Here is an example: chair, chair.  I have written the word twice and each time it is a tiny fragment of a hard drive, a signal down a wire or a pattern of light emanating from your screen.  Each time it was neural signals through your visual cortex.  There were similar, but not the same.  The same way that two chairs around a dinner table are similar but not the same.  They are the same but they are distinct chairs.
Now I have used the word "chair" two more times, but there were even more different.  It is not that I was using an alternate definition but it functioned differently.  If the first uses of the word chair were chairs around a table the latter uses might have been a recliner and a lawn chair, perhaps on sale at a furniture store.  Different in nearly every way except that each satisfies those requirements to be called a chair.  Those, of course, are the features we find most interesting about them as chairs.  Just he same, each use of the word was quite different but each had those relevant features so that we it is the word "chair."  We say they are the same word.
But this is a way of speaking of words that hinders our understanding.  We say a lawn chair is a chair and a dining room chair is a chair but we say that each use of "chair" is the word "chair."  There is no word that is unique or transcendent or magical. So what is the relationship between these utterances?
It does not matter that we don't or can't know the answer, it matters that we know what the answer would look like if we could know it.  We would answer where the word chair is in space, it's volume and mass, and what shape it takes that each utterance of the word hooks onto or passes through it.  That is what the word chair is, and that is what a word of type "chair" would do.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Oracle Review - Life Matrix and Comprehensive Rule 121

I recognize that Comprehensive Rule 121 is not a card in magic and that there is no Oracle entry for it today. I'm not really going to be reviewing it anyway. Maybe later I will review 704.5k, 608.2b and 703.4m, but we'll leave that for another day.

Life Matrix
I know that costing of things was a little wonky back in the day, but with Life Matrix this week and North Star last week, you really have to wonder what they were thinking. How could these effects cost so much?
4, Tap: Put a matrix counter on target creature and that creature gains "Remove a matrix counter from this creature: Regenerate this creature." Activate this ability only during your upkeep.
This wording mostly does what the card wants it to do, but it has big issues.

First, based on the original wording, shouldn't the removal of the counter be a special action rather than an activated ability that the creature gains? And why does the person who controls the creature get to activate it when the wording clearly says that "you" - as in the person who activated the Life Matrix ability - can remove the counter to regenerate the creature? I'm not sure where these decisions came from. Perhaps they were made at a time when special actions weren't clearly defined in the rules or they were clarifications on the original card at the time of printing.

That aside, let's talk about Fate Transfer.

Read the original card and ask yourself what you think should happen if the counter is moved from the creature you put it on to another creature. There are two ways to read it. One is very literal, and according to the literal wording I would say that you should be able to remove the counter from whatever creature it was moved to, regenerating the creature it was originally put on. The other is that you can remove it, regenerating the creature it was moved to. It doesn't seem very likely that you are supposed to be left without the ability to remove the counter at all, since the ability to remove the counter appears to be a permanent consequence of having activated the ability.

So how could we word Life Matrix to improve it? One wording is easy - just follow the wording of the original card.
4, Tap: Put a matrix counter on target creature.  At any time you may remove that matrix counter to regenerate that creature.
That means that if the counter is moved to another permanent you can still regenerate the original creature by taking it away. But what about this alternative:
4. Tap: Put a Matrix counter on target creature with "Remove a Matrix counter from this permanent: Regenerate this permanent."
Comprehensive Rule 121
Well, we can't do that, because that doesn't mean anything in the current rules. But perhaps it should. What if we add rule 121.1.d:
121.1.d A counter with rules text adds that rules text to the permanent or card that it is on.
That's a pretty simple rule.  It's possible we would also have to add rule 613.2a:
613.2a Within layer 3 text-changing effects from counters are applied before other text changing effects.
This is because counters don't have timestamps - which is, as far as I can tell, why they have their own sub-layer in layer seven as well. The order that counters are applied doesn't matter because they would only be able to add text - not delete or alter is - so they can't have dependencies.

That's a lot of rule for a bad old card. But I've actually already reviewed a card that could be made simpler by using counters with abilities - Cyclopean Tomb. There are several more cards that would also be made simpler with counters with rules text. With a quick search I found Aquitect's Will, Aven Mimeomancer, Dread Wight, Glyph of Delusion, Liege of the Tangle, Mindbender Spores, Obsidian Fireheart, and Quicksilver Fountain. Two of those cards actually make the same kind of counter and that counter has the same effect in both cases which to me bolsters the idea of counters having rules effects. These aren't all archaic cards, Liege of the Tangle is only three years old.

I think that this is a good addition to the rules because it is also very easy for players to understand. A counter that grants text is less confusing than a counter accompanied by a permanent continuous effect that adds an activated ability to a permanent. Right now there are cards that put on special counters and also give the permanent a new ability as long as the counter is present, cards the put on counters and that make those counters do something while they are in play, and cards that put on counters and permanently modify the affected permanent regardless of whether the counter remains. The difference between these types of effects often comes down to where the line breaks are.

Of course the way I propose to do it here also has consequences. If the Flood counter itself carried the "This is an island" text then casting Aquitect's Will would not change the land type of a permanent that already had a Phantasmal Terrain on it. There may or may not be a better way to word it, but then again there may not and that is okay. Layers are complicated for a good reason and to have three or four cards ever printed that do something unintuitive to do with land types - when, let's face it, they already do - is an acceptable level of complexity. All of these cards combined wouldn't add up to the complexity of Volrath's Shapeshifter, Strionic Resonator or any card with Madness.

Even barring the revision of the comprehensive rules, Life Matrix still had a superior wording available, so it can't possibly deserve better than...

Monday, 11 November 2013

Mad Myth Monday? This is getting riciulous

In my defense, this is a long weekend for me even though it is very unlikely that it is for you.

It was the river that cut the bed from the earth.  It is the wagon that beat the dirt road.  The place where the paths bend are the place where the greatest pressure is exerted.  The paths are cut straight.
A powerful metaphor, but a metaphor for what?  The point is not that we are like rivers.  You imagine you would like to be a river because rivers are majestic and eternal.  No, there is nothing majestic or eternal in your spirit in your spirit, but neither is there in a river.  They flow and cut and become flowing and cutting.  Over thousands of years the pressure finally erodes a senseless turn on the river bed and it becomes straighter.  The river becomes just that tiny bit more intelligent, more rational in its course to the ocean.
The mind is a billions flows of pressure.  The river's centuries and eons are stopped by the mind-built dam in a fraction of the time it would take the unaided river to erode a few inches of its bank.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Oracle Review - Firestorm Phoenix and North Star

Where did those words come from... where did those words go?

Firestorm Phoenix
A very strange thing happened to Firestorm Phoenix between Legends and the present.
If Firestorm Phoenix would die, return Firestorm Phoenix to its owner's hand instead. Until that player's next turn, that player plays with that card revealed in his or her hand and can't play it.
I'm guessing by the date of the rulings that this change was made in 2004. Perhaps they were concerned about the fact that without revealing the phoenix there is no way to know if you are following the rules.

Well of course there isn't. Remember Jandor's Ring? The rulings say directly that there is no way to demonstrate you are actually doing what the card says you have to do. That's kind of a problem with a few old cards. It's a problem that we just have to live with.

Forcing you to reveal the phoenix has real consequences. If you cast a Brainstorm then your opponent would know whether or not you put that phoenix back on top of your library. Nothing in the original text suggests they should have access to that kind of information.

What's good for Jandor's Ring is good for Firestorm Phoenix. And let's not forget Sylvan Library - a card that has precisely the same problem but that people actually play with. Functionally changing a card just so that other players in the game can know whether or not you are playing by the rules seems like a reasonable thing to do in a way, but it's either something you do or something you don't. Doing it on a few cards and not on others is a mess.

Firestorm Phoenix's ad hoc wording gets...

North Star
The Oracle wording is pretty similar to the original wording here, but there is a line that is noticeably absent.
4, Tap: For one spell this turn, you may spend mana as though it were mana of any color to pay that spell's mana cost. (Additional costs are still paid normally.)
North Star originally said that its ability was played as an interrupt. Things that were played as interrupts turned into things that were played as instants in sixth edition. Since the line "Play this ability whenever you could play an instant" would be a bit redundant on the activated ability of an artifact, it is understandable that it was left out.

At the same time, I'm not entirely comfortable with the situation. There were some major changes in the world of fast effects between fourth, fifth and sixth edition and I feel that North Star got lost in the mix. In fourth edition and before there were instants and interrupts. In fifth edition there were instants, interrupts and mana sources. In sixth edition there were only instants as far as spells go, and that category of mana sources became mana abilities.
North Star is Sad

I don't think anyone can reasonably argue that the modern rules aren't better than the previous ones. That category of interrupt just wasn't doing any work in the rules. Counterspells being instants works just as well, and there is no reason to have a category of ability that is faster than an instant but slower than tapping a land for mana.

Except there is a point in having such a category, and North Star is it. The point of it being an interrupt was that when I wanted to cast a heinously expensive Lightning Bolt I could do so. Tap my lands, tap North Star, cast spell. How different is this than putting the effect on the stack and waiting for it to resolve? Surely it isn't very different, but it is different.

Of course counters as instants is different too. North Star's special status went out with sixth edition rules and I don't think there is anything to salvage. It just feels sort of like it deserves to be an honorary mana ability to me. As if it should say something like:
Whenever you would add mana to your mana pool, if North Star is untapped, you may instead add that mana to your mana pool, pay 4 and tap North Star.  If you do then for one spell this turn you may pay mana as if it were mana of any color to pay that spell's cost.
But that's just notalgia for weird cards. The situations where such a weird wording would matter are extremely few, and this card is too terrible to even think of playing anyway. As a result, I'm giving North Star's Oracle wording...

Wednesday, 6 November 2013 and crack did a lot of advertising online a few months back, and after watching many of their ads I decided to go see how they worked.

Lumosity is a service that claims it will improve your brain by doing targeted exercises that "feel like games."  Of course the exercises feel like games because they are games.  If you wanted to get more physical exercise and joined a basketball league you wouldn't say that you are getting exercise but it "feels like a game."

As one might expect, there is a free account and a premium account.  The premium account gives you a wider range of games, a better ability to select between the kinds of games you want to play, and more games per day.  There are apparently other features to better benchmark your gains, but I can't really speak to those since there was no way I was ever paying.

First of all, let's talk about whether these were good games.  I think I played about ten different games, though its a little blurry in my head.  I played a memory game where you have to remember whether marks were in a grid; a game where you have to click the location that a bird appeared on the screen with distractions; a maze game where the maze and your controls rotate regularly; a game where you have limited time to come with up as many words as you can starting with certain letters.  If you've played a lot of small puzzle games or browser games or facebook games all the games on Lumosity will probably be familiar or at least follow familiar themes.

There is another question, though, and that is whether Lumosity really is serious training for your brain based on science.  I think the answer is yes and no.  The idea that we needed neurology to tell use that play word games keeps your mind active is pretty bogus.  The idea that it is a scientific breakthrough that practicing things makes you better at them is ridiculous.  Furthermore, the claim that these particular games will allow you transfer the game-skills to real-life-skills better than others seems dubious.  I would be very surprised if that was backed by any kind of science, especially since legitimate scientific proof of that would probably take a decade to produce.

So while I think their claims are outright deception, I also thing they are essentially true.  If you play hidden-object games on your computer your ability to spot things will probably improve.  If you play twitch-reflex games on your computer then your hand-eye coordination and response times will probably improve.  If you play memory video games on your computer your memory will probably improve.  One day the elevator I was on malfunctioned and forgot which floors everyone was going to.  I was able to press all of those buttons from memory simply because I had looked at the panel when they were lit up: thanks video games!

Lumosity has a benchmarking system where it tells you how well you've done.  For many games this system is rigged so that your performance must improve dramatically in the short term.  For example, a game will let you play eight levels a day.  You start at level one and continue where you left off from last time.  As a result even if you play perfectly on day one you only get to level eight which is a pretty weak result.  It's very hard to conceive you won't improve drastically quite quickly.

Other games effectively hard reset every day.  My benchmark on the game equivalent of remembering the elevator buttons was three standard devations up from day one - who knew?

I think I did enjoy playing the games, though they didn't have a huge amount of replayability - a bit of a minus for something you are expected to do every day.  If you are looking to play some pointless, quick games then you could go to worse places for them than Lumosity.  Having it choose the games for you can be seen as a plus as well.  It's like facing random encounters.  Still, it didn't hold my interest for two weeks, and I am sure there are better ways to practice thinking by playing games.

Also, I feel it is my time to inject a bit of commentary on my mayor who has drawn a bit of international attention because of a tape of him smoking crack and his denials of smoking crack and his admission to smoking crack.  Basically by the end of his first year of being mayor he had already revealed himself to be a buffoon and burned his allies on city council.  As a result council has been running the city despite him, rather than with him, for nearly two years now.  Recent revelations will give council reason to curb his powers and ignore him to an even greater extent.  Because of this, things will probably go fine in the city for the next year.  Then, because things went fine - and barring any murder or child sex related revelations - he will be re-elected.  I'm placing my bet now, this is democracy in action.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Desktop Dungeons

I recently remembered Desktop Dungeons.  The idea behind the game is that it is a rogue-like you can play in just a few minutes.  Each game takes place on a one-floor dungeon.  You begin at level one with 10 hp, 5 damage and 10 mana.  All the enemies are fixed in place and don't attack unless you attack them, in which case they strike back.  You recover health and mana by exploring new tiles of the dungeon.  Once you have explored the entire dungeon you cannot recover any further health and you have to try to get by on what you have.
Fight the bandit and you'l'l be cursed!
You get bonus experience for killing monsters above your level but it is typically resource-intensive to do so.  Because of the explore-to-heal system and the fact that you can always leave monsters to fight later the game has a real puzzley feel to it.  Once the dungeon is generated there are very few random factors in the game so you can mostly think out your best plays logically with the limited information you have.  You can also often see when you have no hope and abandon the game for a new one.

What made desktop dungeons lots of fun was having a huge array of races and classes to play, including special monster characters which were both a race and a class in one.  Different classes are really different and require you to think about the game in different ways.  The variety of classes was actually very extreme, with one class forcing you to keep track of pools of blood left behind by slain enemies and another requirin There were also lots of challenges, like maps that have two level 10 boss monsters instead of one and maps that had special enemy types that were hard to deal with.  In the end I pretty much won the entire game - I unlocked all the content and beat the hardest challenges with many, but not all, classes.

To be honest I think I like the old graphics better, but that's okay.
I definitely left the game because I felt like I had consumed all the fun it had to offer, but that was a lot of fun.

Apparently that was the alpha version.  At the time they had an option to pre-order the full game and get access to the beta version.  I figured that even if I never played the release version I'd more than gotten my money's worth out of the pre-order and I wanted to support the developers so I ordered the full game, determined that the software they were using to give me access to the beta wouldn't run on my machine and left the game behind with no regrets.

Well yesterday I wondered if I could play the beta and I could.  What a treat that was.  While the game had gotten stale after dozens and dozens of hours of clearing dungeon after dungeon, it felt quite fresh to play it again.  The beta is very different than the alpha.  It keeps the same basic gameplay but now you unlock classes and races by getting gold and spending it on your town.  It also adds a bunch of puzzle dungeons with fixed layouts and specific challenges for each class.  The beta also eases you in a bit with some tutorial dungeons while the alpha is just plain brutal right off the start and will generally kill you a bunch of times before you get the hang of it.

This game is a real winner, and the alpha version is available for free on their website, so I'd do it.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Mad Myth Sunday - Babies

Babies squirm.  Watch a newborn and you will see it make a whole host of senseless bodily movements.  A newborn cannot focus its eyes, it cannot consciously control its muscles.  As it wildly tries to make sense of the liquidless environment of vibrant sights and varied smells it has been cast into, its brain shoots impules down every nerve.  Without the ability to parse its surroundings into individuals sights, sounds and events, the baby has only one sense, a protovaluation of good and bad, the decision of whether the sum of its situation is satisfactory.  To go with its one sense, the baby has one action, it can scream.
What is the worth of screaming?  A screaming baby effects rapid change its environment; an environment dominated by its parents.  The new parents are flustered because they cannot tell what the baby wants.  They thing in adult words.  The baby wants to be fed or it wants to be changed.  The baby is cold or too warm.  The baby does not want to wear a hat or it wants to wear a hat.  The baby wants to be tightly swaddled or it wants to flail.  The baby wants to be rocked this way or it wants to be rocked that way.
But for all of its sound, the baby is silent on these issues.  It does not tell its parents which of these it wants - not because it cannot speak - but because it wants none of these things.  The baby, if it wants, wants the wrong it is experiencing to be righted.
So the parents try everything and anything.  Sometimes their actions are guided by reason - we have not fed the baby for a few hours, try feeding - sometimes by expediency - it is easier to rock the baby than to change it, try rocking first.  By persistence and luck the parents satisfy the baby's sense of right and wrong and there is quiet again.
The parents were once babies, and the baby may one day be a parent.  Each party has played or will play the opposite role.  So how does a thing that screams when it is bad become a thing that weighs reason and expediency to resolve a crisis?  We underestimate this difference so that we can continue to marvel at the difference between our children dumb, flat universe that they arose from.