Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Heroic Modes

Naxxramas' second wing was launched yesterday. I beat all three heroic bosses with a total of about 12 attempts between them. Last week I started posting my decks because I thought my Maexxna deck was interesting and the fight was interesting. This week, though, I don't think my decks are really much to look at.

Noth has a passive ability that gives him a 5/5 every time one of your creatures dies so I built a Mage deck with virtually no creatures and only played creatures on my last turn to kill him with battlecry abilities and haste. This was one turn before I died of fatigue. The only interesting thing about the fight was that because I don't have Pyroblasts the only way I could get the 45 damage in was do get some fatigue damage in, so I use his acolytes of pain to make sure he drew lots of extra cards.

Heigan does 3 damage to your creature on the left for just one mana. Well that means you get to choose which creatures it happens to, so you can drop Nerubian Eggs and Haunted Creepers in the way. I used a Priest so that I could benefit from the regular damage to draw cards off of a Northshire Cleric, and so that I could keep a Gurubashi Berserker alive a long time. The game I won I had a berserker up to 14 attack.

Loatheb is really dumb. He has this gimmick where he has 99 health. He even has 75 on normal. To allow you to counteract this, he has spells that summon a Spore on his side. The spore is a 0/1 with a deathrattle that gives all of your creatures +8 attack. Pop a spore onto three or four creatures and 75 health doesn't last long.

But the health gimmick isn't really the issue. On heroic his hero power deals three damage to you for zero mana. He starts with a Fen Creeper in play. His deck is full of quick attackers including a 2/3 charge creature for one. So he can easily do eight to you on his first turn with the promise of another eight or more the turn after.

Basically this fight is usually over in the first two turns. If things go badly then you are just dead. I built a Druid deck with lots of very cheap creatures, Moonfire, Naturalize and Healing Touch. I played a few times and finally got a lucky start where I cleared his board with 9 life left. A Healing Touch bought me a few turns and then he played two Faceless Manipulators to copy his own spores for some reason. With four spores on his side I Inervated out a Razor Fen Hunter and a Soul of the Forest then when to work killing one spore a turn with my hero power and hitting his face for large amounts. He managed to kill the hunter and boar but that left me with two treant and he was killing my creatures with more spore-creating spells, so I finally got him with a 34/1 treant and 3 life left. It wasn't actually a razor thin win because I had a Healing Touch in hand and 1 armor, but still, if he hadn't inexplicably clones spores I certainly would have lost.

I think this fight was basically moronic. I'm sure I would have won without rotten play on his part but it would have taken me more tries. I can't imagine that a deck could possibly exist that would avoid being overwhelmed almost immediately most of the time in this match so it's always going to be a slog to wait for a perfect draw.

I could post these decks but honestly my versions just weren't that great. Unlike Maexxna and Faerlina where I felt like it was mostly having the right strategy, with these bosses I felt it was more about having the right cards and hoping more if you didn't. If I had all the cards I would try to build a reliable Loatheb deck to use as a guide, but I don't have them.

For me, though, Naxxramas got a special extra boss. Last January I wrote about setting parenting to hardmode. Well, you can't do that on the fly and right about the same time the Plague Wing was coming out, my difficulty change finally came through.

Monday, 28 July 2014

Can You Draft These Terrible Cards?

I'll take on a few cards today that don't really have enough analysis to be looked at by themselves.

Chief Engineer
How good is giving all of your artifacts convoke, exactly? Magic 2015 is not loaded down with artifacts and one of the common ones already has convoke. Getting out a Haunted Plate Mail a turn early or one of the 6/6s one or two turns early might be a big deal but those card are pretty good at winning games without the Chief's help. Dropping a Meteorite a turn or two early might be nice.

But often what makes rare creatures good isn't their insane ability but their body. Kurkesh, Onakke Ancient's ability might not come up every game, but you were going to put that 4/3 for four in your deck anyway. In core set drafts, there is a very good chance you were putting that 1/3 for two in your deck anyway. So pick this as a 1/3 for two and play it as one, but don't expect anything else out of it.

Aggressive Mining
I just honestly don't know. If you are going to play this on turn six, for example, then you are going to draw four or six extra cards off of it, but those are going to be just sitting in your hand if you can't play more than one of them a turn on three or four mana. This is one of those exceedingly rare cards that you might actually plan to destroy yourself - put it down, draw six cards, get rid of it with Reclamation Sage or Solemn Offering. That's powerful if you can do it but a little too cute to go for in my opinion.

I would not pick this high, I'd see if I could get a cheap deck to come together first. Much like my advice on Angelic Accord last year, I'd pass it and see if it comes back. If it doesn't then I was probably never going to get the deck that wanted to use it anyway.

On a hilarious note, there is an enemy deck that contains this card in Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015. It should have been fairly obvious why you should not give this card to a computer player, or at the very least it should have come out in playtesting.

Crucible of Fire
There are two dragons - both rares - and one uncommon that can make dragons when it is enchanted with an aura. In a set with common Dragon Hatchling I'd almost be tempted to go for it, but clearly this card was just not meant to be played. It's just another kick at the Crucible of Fire can for people who want it for their fun casual decks. Of course if you wanted a Crucible you could just buy one for about $1.50, so I'm not sure I get the point of this reprint at all.

Waste Not
Waste Not is the fourth "You Make the Card" card. Since the first You Make the Card was held more than twelve years ago, this represents a rare opportunity for the community. The first was the constructed playable, limited bomb Forgotten Ancient. Next was the eternal format staple Crucible of Worlds. Third came the aptly named Vanish into Memory. Finally we have extremely un-aptly named Waste Not.

I guess this card is supposed to fill some kind of niche in constructed, or maybe it's supposed to be good in Commander, I don't know. Magic 2015 there are three ways to make your opponent discard cards: Black Cat, Mind Rot and Liliana Vess. If you have Lily out this card is a bit of a side-show, so let's talk about living the dream: turn two Waste Not into turn three Mind Rot. It even rhymes!

But the reality is that you are paying two mana and a card on turn two for, quite likely, either two mana and a card or two mana and a 2/2 on turn three. You might get four mana on turn three but this isn't a storm deck and you aren't going off. That second Mind Rot is value, but you are still probably only profiting a couple of mana that may or may not be useful to you at the time and some combination of cards and zombies that on average won't quite rival a divination. This card is a loser and unless there is a really major cycling theme in Khans it's hard for me to believe it will ever be anything but a loser in any format. I realize this commentary goes a little beyond draft, but really, I just don't get how people voted in such a mediocre to worthless effect.

The Chain Veil
Honestly, what is this? Does it really need the drawback? They took the North Star approach to make sure this card was perfectly safe and perfectly unplayable. We can all look forward to this effect showing up on as a continuous ability on an artifact for three or four mana a few years from now, or on a 5/5 creature for four or something like that.

Friday, 25 July 2014

The Curse of Naxxramas - Heroic Grand Widow Faerlina and Anub'Rekhan

Grand Widow Faerlina's hero power isn't changed between normal and heroic modes - it is still basically an arcane missiles for a number equal to the number of cards in your hand - but the cost is reduced from two to one. That means that most games you'll go first, pass the turn, and her turn will be four damage to your face.

But that's not a huge threat. Letting a computer opponent get a life total lead is almost always going to be the way to get ahead. Ultimately you can empty your hand and turn off her power, so it seemed like she would be a lot easier than Maexxna. It turns out, though, what makes her powerful is not the hero power, it's the Worshippers.

In normal, Faerlina has a special minion called a Worshipper. It costs three mana, it is 1/4 and it gives her +1 attack on her turn. That's actually a pretty good card that I imagine people would find a spot for in some top tier decks. In heroic the Worshippers are 2/4 and give her +3 attack. They still cost three mana. This card would be a problem if she was capped at only two in her deck. But she is not capped at two. In one game I counted five and she was only 13 cards deep at the time.

So the challenge is less about how to overcome her hero power and more about how to deal with ludicrously unfair minions. For the hero power I took a two part approach: play with Nerubian Eggs and Haunted Creepers to punish her for using her hero power early, and use ramp to justify putting in lots of expensive creatures since I know I will be playing from the top of my deck at some point so I need individual cards to have a large amount of raw power.

For the worshippers the plan was to put in as much kill for them as possible and just hope she didn't draw too many.

You see the winning deck here. Unlike my Maexxna deck, I would not call this a great deck for this boss. I won on about my third try with this iteration, but I had lost about three or four games with very similar iterations before. Still, I think I went through a lot fewer decks than I did with Maexxna because it's more about getting lucky in the game than getting the deck right. The basic plan of the deck is solid but it would be greatly improved by having real power creatures at the top end like Ragnaros, Gruul, Onyxia or even Deathwing. There is only one Nourish and one Starfall because I only own one of each, I think both are good for the match.

Anub'Rekhan, to me, seemed the most daunting of the lot. I think he only has one special card in his deck - the seven mana Locust Swarm that deals 3 damage to each of your creatures and heals him for 3 - but his hero power is something else. Instead of making 3/1's as it does on normal, it makes 4/4's, and it still costs two.

I was having a lot of trouble conceiving of a deck that could stand against turn one 4/4, turn two 4/4, turn three 4/4 and 2/3 charge, which is what I expected to see from him. I wasn't sure I'd be able to win without some legendaries and epics I am missing. As it turned out he goes all out on hero power some games, but a lot of games he passed his first turn with the coin still in hand. A lot of games he plays a two drop on turn two, or coins for a three drop. In general, if he has cards to play, he tends to play them instead of making 4/4s.

So I started to build a deck around the premise of him playing badly. But also, he has a bad card choice that can be abused. He plays with Deathlords which, when killed, put a random minion from your deck into play. If you play few small minions and plenty of big ones then killing a turn two or three Deathlord could catapult you into the lead. Plus, his removal is Frost bolt, Shadow Bolt and Mortal coil - nothing like a Sap or Vaporize or Assassinate to punish you for putting all your eggs in one basket.

I began with a druid deck so that I could play with Ironbark Protector and Naturalize. If he dropped a turn two Deathlord then I could get an 8/8 for one mana. Unfortunately after a few games I found it wasn't working out. 8/8 was simply not big enough to take over the game since it was only two hero powers or a hero power and a shadow bolt from death. Even if I got a mark of the wild on it it didn't seem big enough. I tried using healing touches to heal them up but that mostly worked out to trading a healing touch for one hero power activation.

So I needed to manufacture a bigger creature. Priests are good at making giant things because of Inner Fire and Divine Spirit so I went with that. Plus the priest hero power would let me keep a large thing that had to contend with 4/4s alive a lot longer.

My winning game didn't work out quite the way I thought it would. I didn't get a good Deathseeker creature into play but instead he just kept playing cards and I kept playing good cards. Maexxna was an all star, taking down four of his hero power minions with the help of heals from me. Finally I put out a war golem and doubled it with Inner Fire and Divine Spirit and that was more than he could handle.

Like my Faerlina deck, this deck seems fine for Heroic Anub'Rekhan but is hardly great. I won on my second try but I think I was actually pretty lucky.

If I had the full set of cards to play with, I would have a deck with no minions other than Ysera and Gruul and just concede every time he didn't play a turn two deathseeker opposite my Shadow Word: Pain. It would probably be faster than playing our long games that I might not win.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

The Curse of Naxxramas - Heroic Maexxna

Yesterday the spider wing opened and it was time to experience the first Hearthstone adventure. Adventure is a bit of a big word for a few AI opponents, but I'll give them a pass on that for the mean time. Overall I was pretty happy with the content they released. At the same time I'm not entirely convinced I'll buy the rest or ever play Hearthstone again. But I'll leave that for another day.

The bosses are certainly not ordinary matches. Anub'Rekhan's hero power puts a 3/1 into play, Grand Widow Faerlina's shoots one random missile at you or your minions for each card in your hand. At the same time they aren't hard. Ordinary decks I already had built took down all three.

Beating the bosses in the wing unlocked two class challenges - Druid and Rogue - as well as the heroic mode of each boss. The class challenges are played against a pre-selected boss with a deck built for the challenge. They are less "challenges" and more exposes for the new card. The Druid class challenge, for example, had a deck with Nerubian Eggs, Haunted Creepers and Poison Seeds. I got a very good draw and went off on turn five putting two 4/4s and three 2/2s into play opposite his lone 2/2.

The heroic boss fights are where the real game is. First of all they all have 45 life so it's a lot harder to just beat them up with a good draw. More importantly, they have cards and abilities that aren't remotely fair.

Looking over the three of them I decided to take on Maexxna first. She was the fight that had the greatest puzzle aspect to it. Her hero power costs 0 and returns two of your minions to your hand at random. She also starts with two Haunted Creepers in play.

Now it is fairly obvious that if you are going to have two minions return to your hand every turn you should play with lots of minions with Battlecry. I started with a Rogue deck to take advantage of Defias Cuthroat. I found this didn't work well because my token creatures kept getting returned to my hand, leaving me unable to reuse my battlecries, and eventually I got swarmed. Making matters worse was the fact that in addition to the small creatures, Maexxna also has King Krush, The Beast and at least two Sea Giants.

So I switched to warrior to get armor up to rebuild my effective life after the early rush. That way if I could stabilize I could get back above 8 health and not die to Krush. Plus, the warrior has Warsong Commander which seemed helpful. The warrior deck was better, but I still kept finding myself in a place where I had too many creatures in hand.

Finally I went with Mage. Mage meant I could have a ton of spells to kill minions in my deck. You can see the winning deck here.

The key to the battle is thinking of your minions more as hero powers than as things that can stay in play. Maexxna will always begin her turn with her hero power even when it is deeply unadvantageous to do so. So you can play an owl to silence a creature and Voodoo Doctor to gain 2 life knowing that you'll be able to spent three mana and do exactly the same thing next turn. Never put out a third minion unless your life depends on it.

The other thing to keep in mind is that you really need to save polymorph for Maexxna's big minions. Don't waste it on a Sludge Belcher.

This battle was very smooth and I won on my first try with this deck. It is quite draw-dependent, but all you really have to do is find an Owl, an Archer and a Doctor in the early going to maximize your use of the webs.

If I had to do it again I would cut Mirror Image and Kirin Tor Mage for sure.  The most obvious way to improve the deck if you have them is to add Big Game Hunter as another and a better way to deal with large creatures. I'd also consider adding Vaporize if I had it to fill in the missing slot. If you want to build the deck without the epics or even the rares rares you can fill up on creatures with Charge and probably do just fine.

I think this boss is definitely beatable with free spells and commons only.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Spreadsheet Shaming

There is a "viral" story going around the internet about a woman who's husband made a spreadsheet of her stated reasons for not wanting to have sex with him over a seven week period. He emailed this spreadsheet to her as she was leaving for a trip and then cut off contact.

Lots of people have weighed in on this to talk about subjects from relationship breakdowns, communication skills, the idea of feeling "entitled" to sex in a relationships, and so on. I notice, though, a common theme, and that theme seems to be that you aren't supposed to make spreadsheets about your sex life.

And that theme is awful.

I'll be first in line to say that you shouldn't email spreadsheets about your sex life to your partner as they are leaving on a trip as a way of expressing negative emotions. That really is poor communication and it isn't making things better.

But gathering information itself is not a bad thing. I don't know anything about this particular relationship and about who might have been upset with who for what reason and how that manifested, so I'm not going to speculate. For the majority of people are who dealing with a mismatched interest in sex, however, I would tend to think that the two people's perception of the situation is something like:

"We never have sex"
"We have plenty of sex" or maybe "You are constantly pressuring me for sex"

The problem wasn't the gathering of information, it was the way the information was presented. It was also with the fact that the third column in his spreadsheet was titled, "Excuse" instead of the term I used above, "Stated Reason."

After all, if his wife feels he nags her overmuch about sex then having a record of how many times he asked is evidence in support of her thesis just as much as have a record of how many times they actually did have sex. If he feels like she never has sex with him then replacing "never" with "about every other week" is a much better place to start a conversation from.

Someone might rightly point out that the actual problem from his perspective is that they don't have sex as much as he would like and has nothing to do with the absolute number. Yes, the real issue is feelings. But we often skew facts to support our feelings. The actual facts will almost always be less useful than the invented facts in our heads to whatever emotional position we are taking. Without being able to rely on silly statements of fact, we are backed in to the corner of recognizing the problem is subjective.

If anything a big problem with his sheet is that he isn't collecting enough information. He's got a field where he fills in his wife's stated reason for not having sex but not a field about how that made him feel. He doesn't record any information about how it made him feel when they did have sex, it's all framed in a negative way. He records the date but not the time of day. He uses "Yes" and "No" instead of boolean values or 1 and 0.

If I were to ever begin a spreadsheet about something I was unhappy about in my relationship, it would be with an open mind to the fact that gathering data might prove to me that the problem is entirely with my perception. I'm rarely wrong about anything and I am a near perfect objective judge of facts, but I can't discount any possibility. The inherent idea that there is something wrong with making a spreadsheet is just bigotry.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Doing Marriage Right

There's a worthwhile read on boingboing today about the history of marriage. If you are actually familiar at all with history or the history of marriage it isn't going to be full of shocking revelations, but I felt like it gave me enough new information to be worth my time.

Sadly and predictably someone took to the forums to say that the problem with the piece is that it never argues with the central point of the anti-same-sex-marriage crowd which is that same-sex marriage is wrong.

I've never seen the basic case against same-sex marriage made so bluntly. No amount of argumentation about what marriage is or was or ought to be matters. No arguments about the role of sex in marriage matter. What matters is some kind of intrinsic badness of same-sexness that ruins the intrinsic goodness in marriageness. Everyone who I have ever heard argue against same-sex marriage was essentially making this exact point, but I've never seen anyone who was aware that this was the point they were making.

When you make a case in favour of same-sex marriage and someone responds by saying:
The problem with your argument is that being a bigot is more important to me than argumentation.
You have to admit that they have a point. That is a problem with the argument. The problem with the argument is that there is little point in arguing.

Right now people explaining why same-sex marriage is fine are still doing very important work. In the United States in 2009 national polls showed between 35% and 42% support for same-sex marriage. In 2014 it was up to 55%. The US is following the same model as other countries have for same-sex rights, just a few years behind. At some point society hits a tipping point and public opinion shifts massively over about five years, essentially ending any meaningful debate on the issue with a win for rights.

But in Canada, despite gay marriage being legal here since 2003, public opinion still sits at only about 64% in favour of same-sex marriage. It's been a decade, society hasn't collapsed, and people are holding onto their views. For those people, I don't think any amount of information or argumentation will make any difference.

The Authoritarians makes me think that these people are not entirely lost causes. The antidote for anti-gay sentiment in people who are immune to argument is befriending gay people. Meeting people and getting to know them makes a big difference and might change some minds. But I think the sort of people who would actually go out and try to meet people who want same-sex marriages to see what it's all about are probably not the sort of people who are still opposed to same-sex marriages.

So as a percentage we'll ultimately see support for same-sex marriage go up and up, but in Canada we've already hit our saturation point for persuasive arguments and information. Further rise in support is just people who don't support it dying and people who do support it becoming old enough to say so in an opinion poll.

The wave of not-awfulness on this issue has reached critical mass and its crushing all opposition.The war is won, and I don't think there are any more strategic victories to achieve. At the point, I think its time to walk away from battles that don't involve people getting hurt, and that's exactly what I'm going to do with the homophobic forum poster.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Can You Draft Obelisk of Urd?

In Magic 2014 there was Door of Destinies which was a pretty odd card to include in a set with no strong tribal theme. In Magic 2015 there is Obelisk of Urd which also requires you to have some creature types matching to be good, but which demands a lot less of you.

Sure the Obelisk costs six to the Door's four, but it has convoke, and you don't have to get it into play before you start playing your creatures.

So let's take a look at creature types in Magic 2015 to see if we can get anything done with the Obelisk.

Commonality Weighting
When I reviewed Door of Destinies I did some math on how common creatures of each type were. I counted the number of creatures of each type that were in each colour and commonality. Then I weighted the commonalities. There are 10 commons and only 3 uncommons in a pack, but there are also fewer uncommons in the set than there are commons, so any individual uncommon actually shows up about half as much as any given common, not less than a third as much.

This time I improved my approach. Instead of weighting based on how many different ones there are, I weighted based on how many would likely see play in a draft. I went through the list of Mythics, Rares and Uncommons counted the number that probably wouldn't be played in limited. I considered all lands "unplayable" not because they wouldn't be played but because the wouldn't count as one of the 23 non-land cards you put in your deck - that is, they wouldn't take up a slot that would otherwise be occupied by a common. I assumed that all playable Rares and Uncommons in a draft would be played.

I counted "unplayable" mythic rares in a special way. Since these often get taken for cash value, I counted all mythics would a double colour requirement as being 60% unplayable. I also counted big Garruk as 60% unplayable assuming you would splash him in a black or green deck.

So we know on average you get 30 commons, 9 uncommons, 2.525 rares and 0.375 mythic rares per draft. On average you aren't going to play 0.175 of those mythics, 0.764 of those rares, and 1.469 of those uncommons. When you put the rest into your 23, you will have 13.4 spots left for commons. So each card in your deck has abour a 58% chance of being common, 33% of being uncommon, 8% of being rare and a little under 1% of being mythic.

Divide that by the number of playable commons, uncommons, rares and mythics in each color and you get the approximate chance that a card is a given card of that type. We can multiply that by the number of times a creature type appears at that rarity and get the weighted value of that creature type in creatures per draft deck. I validated these numbers by adding them up to estimate how many total creatures you'd get in your draft deck based on them. They look a little lowish - estimating 12 to 15 creatures in a deck based on colour, so I increased all the numbers by about 20% to account for a bias towards creatures over spells.

One thing I noticed doing this analysis is the Walking Corpse isn't actually in packs. Its collector number is 278/269. So much for Necromancer's Stockpile.

Common Creature Types
Unlike Magic 2014, which had slivers, there are no stand-out common creature types in Magic 2015. The most common creature type by far is humans. A deck of 23 white cards would have 6.3 humans, blue would have 2.9 and red 3.6. Thus a two colour white/red and white/blue deck would average 4.6 and 5.0 humans. Mono red gets 5 goblins, mono black 4.8 zombies and mono white 3.1 soldiers and clerics a piece.

None of these are very high numbers. Four creatures of a type aren't going to make the obelisk very appealing. So let's look instead at combined creature types. Unfortunately there is very little intersection of creature types between colors. Not a single creature type other than human averages more than two appearances in a mono-color deck for two different colors. That means when you combine two colours you don't get any significant build up of creature types. A black/red deck will have two or three zombies and two or three goblins, but you also won't get much overlap of other types that might have been better shared like warrior.

So let's look at the case of a mono- or almost-mono- white deck. Such a deck might have 6 humans, 4 clerics and 5 soldiers. Is Obelisk good for that deck?

I think we'll guess that Obelisk is solid if it is hitting two of your creatures with the promise of possibly getting more. Since you can choose whichever type you drew the most of to Obelisk for, the question is how likely you are to draw a pair from that deck.

Well let's say you are hoping to put down the Obelisk on turn five with an assist from a creature. You might be able to put it down on turn three or four but tapping all your creatures to slam a card that buffs your creatures is typically a weak tempo play. On turn five you are looking at 11 or 12 cards.

This probability is very hard to calculate because in reality many of those clerics and soldiers are actually going to be your humans too. But let's pretend that wasn't the case. That gives at 87% chance to hit a pair. That's actually really high.

So lets imagine you get a deck that's a little bit more reasonable. You get 5 humans, goblins or zombies, and 3 of each of two other types. That still gives a 67% chance to buff two creatures.

Plus, unlike the Door of Destinies, Obelisk does something with only one creature. Six mana convoke may be a pretty high price for a +2/+2 aura for one of your creatures, but for a card that can have a high upside, it's nice that it isn't useless when the upside doesn't happen.

Token Generators
Something I've been ignoring up to those point is that Magic 2015 has token generators. I think we can rule out Sliver Hive/Obelisk as an untenable situation, given that it is two rares that then require you to find another combo piece to get going. But there are some other rares that if you happen to combine with Obelisk it is very nearly lights out.

Hornet Nest and Hornet Queen are both quite the dreams if you can ever live them. Chasm Skulker would do the trick and you might even have some other squids from Coral Barriers. Spirit Bonds on turn two with an Obelisk in hand is pretty much a game won. Goblin Rabblemaster is going to present a real challenge when the Obelisk is on his side.

But you aren't going to take Obelisk in your first three picks out of the first pack in the hopes of finding another rare. At uncommon we have Feral Incarnation, but that costs a lot and since there are virtually no other beasts in the set I don't see that as very realistic. First Response is potentially very powerful with an Obelisk, and has the advantage of being white so naming Soldier for Obelisk could be doing other work.

The real story, though, is the commons. One of those soldiers in white is actually two soldiers in Raise the Alarm. Much more shockingly, white has Triplicate Spirits. A first turn drop into raise the alarm would allow a third turn spirits and a fourth turn Obelisk giving three attacking 3/3 fliers. That's a very specific draw, but one that relies on a bunch of commons and the Obelisk. And if you don't pull it off until turn five, six, or even later, those three phantom monsters are still going to be good.

Obelisk of Urd looks is somewhere between fine and absurd, but the secret is that for the most part it is a white card. If I were going to draft Magic 2015 I would be very tempted to first pick an Obelisk if there were no other real stand-out cards. After that I'd be heavy into white hoping to get raise the alarms and spirits. I think the creature counts in white can totally support this card, particularly when you know that's what you are trying to do.

Triplicate Spirits is presumably just a great card anyway and I doubt it will be coming around late. Even so, as a common you can probably get one or two, and you can name human or soldier with the obelisk when the spirits don't show.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015

Magic 2015 came out on steam yesterday so dug into my annual Magic playing. Things have changed a lot this year and as the game now includes actual deck building.

Now it would be a pretty hard sell to call this a bad thing. Building decks is often more fun than playing them, so adding real deck building is nice. But it did come with a cost. The range of cards that you have available to you seems to be much smaller. While in previous incarnations of Duels of the Planeswalkers I got to play an Eldrazi ramp deck and a Howling Mine deck, in this version I get to play a white/black deck or a blue/black deck.

There's more to it than that. For example, both Sanguine Bond and Vizkopa Guildmage are in the cards, so you can build a deck that focuses around killing your opponent with life gain if you want. Raise the Alarm, Triplicate Spirits, Seraph of the Masses and Siege Wurm are all in so you can build a convoke deck. I'm sure there are cards in other colours that are neat too. Still, I feel like I can't quite get a deck to come together how I want it to. I think this game could borrow a bit from the old Shandalar game, giving some options for how to expand your collection that weren't quite just opening packs and seeing what you get.

There are some really direct and obvious improvements, though. The game now has dual lands in it, which is a huge relief since three colour decks in previous incarnations basically didn't work. It also lets you customize how many lands to put in your deck which means that aggressive decks with low curves are a lot more viable. The campaign mode gives much more freedom, with a few encounters that move through the plot and then an "explore" button that gets you to other optional encounters.

Against most of the strategies I've encountered so far Mentor of the Meek is by far the most powerful card I've got, so I'm sticking with token generation as my main strategy for now and for the most part I'm cleaning up for the most part because the computer is very bad at making attacks, but hyper aggressive decks give me problems because there is a lack of cheap removal.

So far I've pulled off a couple of fun Magic moments.

In one game I put an Ordeal of Heliod on a Child of Night and used a couple of dead weights to clear blockers and get two hits in. I could have made a third attack and basically forced him to block with three things to kill it, gaining my 15 life, but I had a Sanguine Bond in hand so I held back. It took me a long time to draw a second black, so by the turn I finally did I was able to cast the bond and a second Ordeal at the same time for 20 life loss.

In another game I got the dream draw of one drop into Raise the Alarm into Raise the Alarm plus Triplicate Spirits into Phantom General. Fifteen is a lot of attacking power on turn four.

And this is what really appeals to me about these games as opposed to real Magic. I can build a deck that does things that I want to do knowing that it costs me nothing to lose and that I don't have to be a jerk to anyone to win how I want to win. Not attacking for a turn so you can set your combo up is an awful thing to do to another human, but the computer doesn't care.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Signing Off

I've written before about my internet arguments. I have a pretty good record of taking on trolls - at least good considering the fact that it is generally regarded as strictly impossible to take on trolls. I was confounded a few months ago by someone who claimed that they simply couldn't understand what I was saying. Now I have a new defeat.

Discussing whether it was okay for the US government to maintain a secret extra-judicial kill list based on secret evidence, I was challenged to say what I would have done instead in the wake of the airplane attacks on the US in 2001.

I basically answered that I would have used diplomatic means to exert pressure where possible to bring those involved in planning the attacks to justice and that I would remind everyone that dismantling liberties in the name of anti-terrorism would be a huge victory for terrorism.

In reply, I got this:
With all due respect, in practical terms this is no guarantee of anything stronger than hand waving.
I sighed and said this:
This would be a strong and meaningful point if the current American tactics were guarantees that there would be no further terrorism.
And he came back with a really great line:
I see. So unless there is 100% efficacy against terrorism we might as well adopt a stance with virtually no efficacy.
Here's a lesson in how to win an argument:
  1. Use loaded language like "guarantee" that puts your opponent in an unreasonable place
  2. Hope they use that language back at you
  3. Complain about their loaded language
He and I have a reasonable disagreement about facts. He thinks that empowering the government to kill whoever it wants based on secret evidence is an effective way to reduce terrorism and is totally worth it. I think that when you have an international criminal syndicate who's funding model is, "Well, people hate the US so much that if we just kill American citizens they'll hand us cash," you have to reconsider the root of the problem instead of just using more violence to solve it. Obviously I'm right and he's wrong, but I would say that, wouldn't I?

But by telling me my approach couldn't "guarantee" a good outcome, he tried to put an unreasonable burden of proof on me. I wasn't having any of it, and somehow he decided that made me manifestly unreasonable.

This is why people say it is impossible to argue with internet trolls. But I want to say something right here: you should never assume or even believe that anyone is a "troll" in the sense that people use the word. If someone ever says that they were just trolling, the correct response is, "Hey, you acted like a stupid jerk and I think you are a stupid jerk, joke's on me, right?"

I don't think this guy is some kind of bad argument savant who is having a laugh at people who try to argue with him. I think he is someone who has been instructed by events in his life that what he did there in that argument was a reasonable thing to do - a good way to win arguments. Often people judge themselves the winner of an argument if the other party walks away frustrated.

It's sort of like winning a game of pick-up basketball by being a known pedophile who everyone else refuses to play with. It's a win by default.

This way of thinking is so absurdly predictable. He responded to me pointing out how he was behaving. I could have written his response myself. I should probably make a rule for myself that I won't talk to people if I know exactly what they are going to say back to me. I should just go grow slime mold instead.

This is the world, this is reality. We live in a system that exerts pressure on us to behave like this.

Once, in talking about me to a person who had never met me, someone said, "You can't win an argument against Humbabella, you can only make him smarter." If this guy has taught me never to read anything he writes again then I guess I'm a little bit smarter than I was, but it feels pretty Pyrrhic.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Investing in the Future

Imagine two countries, A and B. Neither has any kind of public education system, and neither has any money to spare to start one. The government of A decides to borrow $100M a year at 3% interest to fund free public education until the end of elementary school while the government of B decides to run a balanced budget and offer no public education.

Fifty years later A has $5B in debt and is paying $150M a year to finance it. They are actually paying more to service their debt than it would cost to simply run the education system that the debt was meant to run.

Which country do think is better off?

Having two generations of literate people with basic numeracy skills is probably going to mean that A is far more prosperous. Government revenues are going to be much higher, and they will probably be able to service that $5B debt without difficulty. B is probably stagnant and in about the same state it was fifty years earlier. Obviously there are more factors that go into the prosperity of a country than a public education system, but people seem to agree that public education is so massively productive that we should expect going into debt to run it is a good investment.

Similarly, it is probably uncontroversial that a government would be well advised to go into debt if necessary to build roads. Since humanity discovered how to make good bridges those are probably a good idea too. Since humanity discovered electricity, energy infrastructure is probably a good investment.

All of these things are insanely obvious. The return on investment is through the roof. We are asking whether it is wise to borrow at 3% to fund an investment that pays 10%, 15%, or even more. The right answer is to borrow as much as they will let you to invest as much as you can. What's more, if the investment continues to pay that much and the interest to finance it continues to be so low, you should never, ever pay back the debt. Just keep borrowing more.

So when people talk about high government debts and deficits I shake my head. The problem isn't debt or deficit, the problem is making investments that don't pay for themselves. If the government is borrowing to do things that aren't terribly wise things to do then a mistake is being made.

But if the government is cutting very useful services to pay down the debt, it's likely a bigger mistake is being made. Borrowing at 3% to invest at 1% is pretty dumb. Paying back debt at 3% by taking the money out of an investment at 10% is a lot dumber. Austerity is failing and increasing deficits all over Europe and the reason why is as simple as this: those services that are being cut to reduce deficits paid out more than the interest on the debt. They should continue to be run at a deficit forever. This isn't a complex or radical theory, it's just obvious.

The issue of not trusting governments to spend money wisely is a real one. Governments may be starting programs that have no measurable benefit at all or that actively do harm. So they should stop doing those things, not cut spending for the sake of balancing the budget.

A balanced budget is no promise of good decision making. Countries could cut education to pay for foreign wars or cut infrastructure spending to pay for subsidies to already profitable companies. In fact they do just that all the time. Governments don't have to worry about their finances in at all the same terms that people or even large corporations do. Good investments should be made, bad ones should not. Deficit and debt are vanity projects for very wealthy nations.

Monday, 14 July 2014

Twenty Random Songs

A game I came across by looking at a blog of someone I don't know at all: Put your music device of choice on shuffle and report the first twenty songs, no cheating.
  1. Raffi - Baby Beluga
  2. The Essex Green - Don't Know Why (You Say)
  3. Sufjan Stevens - Abraham
  4. Belle & Sebastian - Marx and Engels
  5. Belle & Sebastian - I Fought in a War
  6. Modest Mouse - Fly Trapped in a Jar
  7. Spiritualized - Drive (Instrumental)
  8. Spiritualized - Home of the Brave
  9. Sufjan Stevens - Riffs and Variations on a Single Note for Jelly Roll, Earl Hines, Louis Armstrong, Baby Dodds, and the King of Swing, to Name a Few
  10. Paul Simon - All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints
  11. Blink-182 - Adam's Song
  12. Bedhead - Withdraw
  13. Nirvana - Pennyroyal Tea [from MTV Unplugged in New York]
  14. Pet Shop Boys - Liberation
  15. Michael Jackson - Someone in the Dark
  16. Mogwai - I Am Not Batman
  17. Robert Preston, Shirley Jones and Chorus - Seventy-Six Trombones Finale
  18. Elliot Smith - Somebody that I Used To Know
  19. Smog - Be Hit
  20. Belle & Sebastian - Dog on Wheels
The preface to the game was: You can tell a lot about someone by what music they listen to. I'm interested in what this listen says about me, but I notice just how confounding the list is. This analysis isn't really part of the game, it's just what I thought about after getting what seemed like a pretty weird list to me

Baby Beluga would lead you to the obvious conclusion that I have children but that is one of a handful of children's songs I had in my collection before having children. You may never have heard of the Essex Green, I certainly hadn't though the song was familiar.

Three Belle & Sebastian songs on the list would probably make you think I like Belle & Sebastian, but basically I think they have as most two good songs from each of their albums. Even though I dislike upwards of 80% of the music I have by them, there was still only about a half percent chance that three or more of their songs would show up on the list as they did.  I would not have even recognized Marx and Engels or Dog on Wheels were it not for the name on the screen.

I don't think I'd ever heard numbers 3, 12, 14, 15, 18 or 19 from the list. I honestly couldn't tell you if I'd heard "I Am Not Batman" by Mogwai from the name of the song, though because it is off "Ten Rapid" I know I have listened to it many times. If it was from another one of their albums I wouldn't be able to say for sure if I'd ever heard it or not. I certainly know Adam's Song by Blink-182 but I have never listened to it on my iPod before - there is a listen count that confirms this.

So what can be deduced from the list? Probably you can safely deduce my approximate age. It appears I was a child when Raffi was popular and was in late highschool or university when Belle & Sebastian and Spiritualized were at their height. Michael Jackson, Paul Simon and the Pet Shop Boys tend to confirm this by suggesting I was listening to pop music in the 80s and limit how young I might otherwise be. Nirvana's MTV unplugged agrees with the timeline. Sufjan Stevens, and late Modest Moust suggest that I stayed interested in music after graduation or that I was a grad student for quite a while.

I suppose what the list really says about me is that I am a pack rat when it comes to music. It does very little to reveal my actual preferences, though. Using the iTunes system of four stars, there are only three of those songs I would rate four stars right now and none I would rate five. That's why I called the list "weird" earlier. It's not because a person who liked all that music would be weird, but rather because I like so little of that music. I bet it's very rare that a person would play this game and not know 30%-40% of the songs that show up.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Counting to 11

If you watch RTV then you know that Hearthstone is actually called Kidstone. It is the kids game that is down the block from Magic. It's checkers instead of chess, euchre instead of bridge.

I'm not saying it's bad. I've been playing quite a big of Hearthstone recently and I haven't really played Magic in a long time. Hearthstone requires less investment both in time and money to play. In Hearthstone you are constantly playing for something but rarely playing for very much. Blizzard did a good job on this game.

Yesterday I was watching a Hearthstone stream because there were no Magic players streaming Vintage Masters drafts. I haven't been watching much of it since Vintage Masters came out. I'll describe the board for you:

Your opponent has 11 life. They have four minions, none of which have taunt, but one of which is an Armorsmith - a minion that gives them an armor every time one of their minions takes damage.

It's your turn and you have ten mana. You have two minions in play, one with 4 and the other with 3 attack. You have a minion in your hand that costs 5 that deals two damage to a target when it comes into play. You also have a holy nova in your hand, which heals friendlies for two and hurts enemies - including the enemy player - for two. Holy nova also costs 5.

Let's see, two minions with combined attack of 7, two spells that each deal 2 damage. That's eleven right?

The player paused. Holy nova would deal two damage to each opposing minion which would trigger the armorsmith four times, meaning the opponent would live. They chose to play the turn in a way that triggered armorsmith only once and cleared their opponent's entire board leaving them with both of their minions in play.

Now clearing your opponent's four minions and keeping your own two is a pretty good thing to do with your turn, but it is substantially worse than winning. And, of course, winning was pretty simple - just cast the Holy Nova last. The armorsmith doesn't heal your opponent, it just gives them armor. Zero life and four armor is a bad place for them to be, if the triggers ever even happen before the game ends.

When he realized he "couldn't win" the chat exploded with people saying variations of "Just cast Holy nova last." By the time he got those messages through the Twitch delay he had already made his play. He said he wasn't sure that would work, that they opponent might live through the holy nova thanks to the armor from the smith.

Someone in chat said, "This is why I love Hearthstone, even the top ranked players are still learning."

Someone else agreed, "Yeah, this game is really deep."

Counting to eleven is not deep. The idea that people who place highly in the Legendary rankings and have large followings on Twitch don't understand the basic timing mechanics of the game doesn't seem like a point of strength. The person might as well have said, "This is why I love Hearthstone, even someone as bad as me can make it to the top." The respondent could have agreed, "Yeah, this game is really luck-dependent."

There is nothing wrong with luck dependence. I wrote in November about how randomness is an essential part of card games that cannot be separated from what makes them fun. But the self-delusion just grates at me. Praising a game because even the best players in the world are still stretching themselves to master it seems great. Praising a game because even the best players in the world can't be bothered to learn the rules doesn't seem as great.

And it's a pretty basic understanding of the rules we are talking about here. Knowing whether or not the armorsmith triggers will even happen - will they die at 0 health and 0 armor or at 0 health and 4 armor - is a proper understanding of the trigger rules. Knowing that the armorsmith can't possibly trigger to give them armor before the holy nova deals damage is an understanding of the linearity of time.

Maybe one day we'll have some Hearthstone players at the top that are truly great at the game. I wonder, though, if the game just doesn't reward skill enough to make that happen.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Cost of Naxxramas

Blizzard announced the price of the Naxxramas expansion. There are five wings that will be released one week at a time. The first one is free, provided you play in the release event, which will take place over one month so there is lots of time to get your free wing. After that you can buy additional wings for 700 gold each or for real money.

The real money prices scale with the number of wings you buy. Buying one wing is $6.99, but buying four is only $19.99.

By contrast, you can buy any number of packs you want for 100 gold each. If you buy them for cash, two packs costs $2.99, seven packs for $9.99, fifteen packs for $19.99 or forty packs for $49.99.

So buying the expansion for gold costs the equivalent of 28 packs. Buying it for money costs the equivalent of 15 packs. Clearly if you have a plan to spent $20 on the game, you are better off spending it on the expansion and spending the gold on packs. Even if you bought the wings one at a time for money, that would still mean you were buying 28 packs of content for $28. The most efficient price of packs, buying 40 at a time, they still cost $1.25.

I've been trying to get my head around these numbers. My assumption is by making the expansion relatively expensive in gold is because they feel a need to put in a gold sink.

Hearthstone was released on March 11, 2014, though people have been playing for longer than that. But suppose a person played regularly since March. Let's imagine a person who has done a quest every day since then. Even if all quests were 40 gold quests, and the person won only two games per day to complete those quests, that would still be nearly 5700 gold. That's won't buy you enough packs to get all the cards, but that's not an extreme level of play.

It is completely feasible to play Hearthstone without ever giving Blizzard a penny. You'll have to invest several months of play to get to the point that you can build a high end deck, but you can certainly do it. And if you are good you can probably stay afloat playing arena with the help of quests.

Hearthstone streamers who play for hours every day have a lot of gold. From what I understand Massan have never payed for cards and Hafu has 15,000 gold in the bank. I believe at least one streamer has played to legendary in one season using only gold they earned in that season, though I may have misunderstood.

Any amount of gold that a typically player can afford will be free to people who play obsessively. Without a similar gold sink every few months there will be no reason for existing players to keep paying in. For the rest of us I guess they are trying to make the numbers loudly say, "Pay us money for this... money!"

Not that I think Hearthstone is doing badly. Apparently analysts think it will make between $100M and $200M this year, and to be honest I wouldn't be shocked if it was higher. That analysis might have been done before they announced that they were going to be asking their 10 million players for $20 each for the expansion.

Looking at the pricing, it makes me want to buy the expansion for cash and use my gold on packs. Now this has a lot to do with me wanting to open a large number of packs to get data on rarity distributions since I can't find it online, but if they can set a pricing structure that makes me instinctually want to give them money, then I think they have probably set the price right.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Efficient Administration of Justice Act

Yesterday I proposed a provincial solution to what is currently a federal problem. Establishing a self-regulating college of professional sex workers is something Ontario could do to improve the situation for sex workers in the province, but it doesn't do much good if the federal government makes sex work illegal.

Let me introduce you to my proposed Efficient Administration of Justice Act, a great idea I dreamed up when the Conservatives decided to increase the penalties for growing small numbers of marijuana plants.

The act would allow the creation of a regulation that designated certain criminal offenses as low-priority offenses. The act would require that if a police department, a crown attorney's office, or a court used resources to investigate, prosecute or communicate to the public about a low-priority offense that it's budget would be reduced the following year by the quantity of those resources expended. For clarity, if any investigations or communication regarding low-priority crimes occurs during a day then that day is assumed to be have been spent on low-priority crimes.

This is all about efficiency, you see. If our police are spending their time investigating low priority offenses then we don't really need so much money in the police budget. That money would be better spend improving roads.

But we may have to go further in order to ensure that everyone understands how seriously we take inefficient operation of the criminal justice system. Let's establish the Efficient Administration of Justice Board. In order to investigate any low-priority crime you must first get an order from the board. In order to do that you need to bring forward every single complaint and cold case you have and explain why solving the low priority crime would have a bigger impact than solving any of those. Note you have to argue is it more important to solve it, that has nothing to do with how likely it is to be solved.

Obtaining such an order doesn't protect you from the budget reduction detailed above - in fact, it makes it certain to happen - but if you don't get such an order then courts are not allowed to consider evidence you gathered during your investigation. To top it off, you must show the order to anyone who is connected to your investigation, including suspects.

Then the government could establish a tip line to report police who are inefficiently administering justice by investigating or reminding people of low-priority crimes.

Adding new items to the regulation is retroactive - that is, all investigation of low-priority crimes that were committed before being deemed low-priority must halt. But removing items is not retroactive and, in fact, triggers a five-year transition period - if a crime is removed from the list then any instance of that crime committed at least five-years after it's removal from the list is no longer subject to the act.

I'd want to make the possibility of being prosecuted under any low-priority crime so unfathomable that regular businesses could go ahead and set up shop committing these crimes. Obviously I would target drug laws but this new prostitution law is all the more reason to do this. I don't know if the federal government would take us to court over this law, but they would get trounced if they did.

I'm not sure if the province could find a way to legally let everyone already convicted of one of these crimes out of prison.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

A Better Sex Work Solution

The Conservatives are busy farcically debating their prostitution bill. I assume they are rather bored listening to dissenting opinions that they have no intention of incorporating in any way but they are keeping themselves entertained by chortling at the gang rape of a woman who came to speak in favour of their bill.

I think it's fairly clear what the best solution to the prostitution problem is. Which kind of country is safer for women who engage in sex work: One where sex workers have to work in secret to protect the people using their services, or one where a sex worker can successfully sue the owner of the brothel they work at for sexual harassment? Full legalization is the best way to reduce human trafficking and violence in sex work. To paraphrase Sky Roy, no one gets kidnapped and brought to Canada to cut hair.

Yesterday I saw a blog post - probably through huffington post but I can't find it now and only read the byline at the time - that was in favour of the new law. I recall a phrase to the effect of, "We have to stop pretending that prostitution is something that happens between consenting adults."

I'm not going to jump on that person for their hyperbole. I imagine they know that sometimes sex work does happen between consenting adults but that they are concerned about what they perceive as the majority of the time that it does not. They are wrong because making sex work illegal tends to run the people who have other options out of the business while it leaves those who have no other options in it. The results of the Nordic model tend to support me on that one, I think.

What we need instead is a regulatory tool that encourages people who actively choose sex work and discourages those that don't. Fortunately we have such a regulatory tool - a self-regulating professional college.

An appropriate minister would create a panel of industry experts who, with support from the civil service, would create a governance structure for the college as well as probably setting out some initial rules such as qualifications. The college would then govern itself setting industry practices. It wouldn't be an offense - criminal or otherwise - to exchange money for sex with for anyone, but it would be a non-criminal offense to use a title that suggests you are a member of the college when you are not. Likely the college would be given claim to the title "sex worker" but I'd give them "prostitute" and a few others for good measure. I'd want to make it so that if a newspaper reported on a story about non-registered sex work they would have to resort to phrases like, "Ms. Smith - who exchanges sex for money but is not registered with OCSW" rather than having a convenient term.

Because no one would be forced to register we'd still be modelling our system after New Zealand. But in addition to that we would have a way that a person could know they were using the services of a trustworthy professional who was not coerced into the business. Those adults who actually wish to exchange their currency for sex with another consenting adult there would have a clear way to do so, and the benefits of registering would grow over time. Would you hire an elevator mechanic to fix your elevator if they weren't registered with an appropriate trade organization?

As things stand in Canada sex work is very difficult to acquire in an ethical way. If we find that men who use the services of sex workers tend to be misogynists and tend to view the women who serve them as objects it is not because there is anything inherently misogynist about wanting to have sex and being willing to pay. It is probably, though, in significant part because men who do not view women as objects would feel extremely uncomfortable purchasing sex from someone who, for all they know, may have been coerced into the work.

There are people out there who couldn't possibly enjoy a sexual experience in which they suspected the other person was being dehumanized and at the moment those people largely wouldn't know where to go to find sex for money - just like many people I know wouldn't have any idea where to get cocaine or even pot. New laws should create a system that works for the consenting adults while working against coercion, trafficking and slavery. I'm pretty sure the bill currently on the table will do exactly the opposite.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Back to La-Mulana

La-Mulana 2 is on it's way sometime in the indefinite future and watching a playable demo of it made me really want to play La-Mulana again. I never actually finished La-Mulana the first time I played - I made it to the final boss and then didn't have a drive to continue. The game is really about exploring and solving puzzles, so practicing the last boss fight until I could beat it just didn't fit in with what I enjoyed about the game.

I've said it before, but this game is a masterpiece, and I think the remake might even be better than the original. The original had it's incredibly bizarre MSX ROM combination system, but honestly I would have had to look that up on the internet anyway. The remake took that away but replaced it with much harder boss fights, which is probably for the best. Having just admitted that I didn't find practicing bosses to be a really fun part of the game that might seem an odd thing to say, but one of the things that La-Mulana reminds you about games is that they are no fun unless they take work.

This is probably why I've never been big on books or movies - having been raised on video games they are just too easy.

The great thing about La-Mulana is that the puzzles are at the same time absurd and completely solvable. In the Mausoleum of Giants there are a large number of tablets telling you various parts of the story of the nine giants. The giants themselves, in statue form, also line the ruins. Part of solving the puzzle is reading the story of the giants and using it to figure out which giant is which and then connecting the cryptic stories about each to things that are in the environments in their rooms.

I like this kind of puzzle because it invites you to move your mind into the logic of the game rather than solving puzzles catered to you as a player. Today's games tend to have puzzles where you have a set number of different kinds of moves in a limited puzzle-specific playspace. You get to the door and go into a sliding tile puzzle to open it, you have three levers to operate the machine and have to figure out what order to hit them in, etc.

In La-Mulana the puzzle playspace and the running around with a whip playspace are the same and there are no rules. The solution to a puzzle could be literally anything - stepping on a pressure pad, placing a weight on a pedestal, whipping a wall, using the right item in the right place, walking off the correct ledge, breaking a pot, pausing the game, etc. This is pressing X in Brain Lord, but without the shocking incongruity. And when you do something that causes a statue to fall down, you don't get a quicktime event, you get out of the way or you die.

I was very happy to have the internet a couple of times when I played through because there were a few puzzles that might have otherwise stumped me and I might have given up on solving them. I'll be interested to see how my memory holds up for the later puzzles in the game. My suspicion is that I will vaguely remember how to do most things but that I won't remember how to do the ones that I didn't solve the first time because that's how memory works.

If you haven't played, this is definitely a game worth checking out, but only if you like awesome things. Otherwise stick with the vast majority of things in life that don't even come close to La-Mulana.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Can You Draft Necromancer's Stockpile?

This is a really tricky one. Let's take a look at the card:

One can faintly imagine this card playing a role in a deck in constructed. Just imagine some kind of Necromancer's Stockpile, Return to the Ranks, Undercity Informer deck. Just imagine!

But whether or not someone manages to make a deck that actually works with this in constructed is one thing, and whether or not you can find enough zombies to play it in limited is another. In M14 I looked at creature types and found that there weren't really any that you could acquire a large number of aside from slivers. In M15 there are four common and three uncommon Zombies in black. There are none outside of black, but Necromancer's Stockpile is black, so that's not such a big issue.

So let's look at a very basic good/bad situation. I'm going to assume that without discarding a zombie this is not a great card. Being able to cycle is good, but only being able to cycle your creatures is not that great. Whenever you cycle a creature you are effectively reducing the number of useful cards you will see. Sure, you see more cards from your deck, but a great proportion of those cards are lands.

If your deck had 17 lands, 16 creatures and 7 non-creature spells then by turn 8 you normally would have expected to see six creatures, a little over six lands and a little under three others. Let's say one of the others was a stockpile and you cycled through three lousy creatures to try to find good ones. That means you are now expecting just over 5 creatures and very nearly 7 lands. Your most likely result is to give up three creatures for two creatures and a probably superfluous land.

If you also got a 2/2 out of the deal then you are probably ahead on the bargain, provided that those creatures you were cycling were pretty much bears themselves. But you are ahead a seventh land and a mild upgrade in creature quality and you paid six mana for the deal.

So let's say that a Necromancer's Stockpile is a weak card when you don't cycle zombies. The next question is, how good is it when you are cycling zombies. Here are the zombies from M15:

Black Cat - It's arguable whether you would want a black cat or a 2/2 in play at any given time. For the most part, I think it's very fair to call them comparable. If you cycle a black cat, you are up a card. In previous sets, though, people haven't always wanted to put black cats in their decks at all. This set, however, has a common 3/1 for two mana, so black cat might look a little better a little more of the time.

Carrion Crow - Grizzly Bears are a lot worse than Wind Drakes in limited and I'm sure a situation will arise when it makes more sense to play out a crow than to cycle it for a bear. On the other hand, cards are also good in limited, and on many boards crows will go to the stockpile, especially since they come into play tapped and can't be emergency blockers.

Necromancer's Assistant - The difference between a 3/1 and a 2/2 is not generally so great as the difference between a 2/2 and a 2/2 flier. The ability of the assistant may be useful in your deck, but it's probably not stupendous since the stockpile lets you put creatures in your graveyard anyway. Unless you are using that stockpile to dig for Mind Sculpts, I would say these guys put you up a card when you cycle them through the stockpile.

Walking Dead - Do you want a 2/2 or a 2/2 that lets you draw a card? Cycling a Walking Dead is what the Stockpile is all about.

Gravedigger - If you play stockpile and cycle a Gravedigger there's a very good chance you are about as well off as if you'd just played Gravedigger. Given that Stockpile is already in play it certainly saves you two mana. It also gives you a choice of whether you want a creature from your graveyard or What's On Top Of Your Deck. That's value, but is a whole card of value? Maybe sometimes.

Nightfire Giant - Don't get me wrong, if you are stuck on land and need to cycle your awesome five drop to stay in the game you will be thrilled to get a 2/2 out of the deal. But if you are cycling this you probably weeping internally if not openly.

Wall of Limbs - Is this something you would even play? I feel like that an entirely different blog post. At any rate, if this is good and you have it early then you aren't going to stockpile it. If you have it late I'm sure you would.

How many copies of middle-of-the-line commons can you expect to get in a draft? Sometimes they'll go sooner in bad packs, sometimes later in good ones. Sometimes someone will be cutting you sometimes it will be more open. Let's just say that all evens out and about four or five of the eight packs in each round of the draft will give you a chance to take a mediocre common zombie if one existed in the pack in the first place. The uncommons are probably similar except the giant who you might only have a couple of cracks at, but maybe because he requires two colours he won't be as popular as he looks like he would be as an early pick.

I don't know what the common runs will be like, so let's estimate based on the idea that there's no such thing as a common run. Two common zombies in the same pack could benefit or hurt you anyway, depending on where other black drafters are sitting.

I count 101 commons in the set with 11 in each pack giving a 37% chance of each pack having a common zombie in it. With 89 uncommons in the set and 3 per pack there is a 10% chance of a zombie uncommon. So with the caveats above that you might not see so many giants, that's a 44% chance to get a zombie out of about 15 packs for a six and a half zombies. Let's round that down to six to account for playing carrion crows sometimes and the uncommons even more often times.

Now the question is whether you should include a card that is probably good if you draw a zombie but not good if you don't draw a zombie. After a couple of tries I got the math right. Here is the table of your likelihood to draw between 1 and 4 zombies in your first 4 through 10 turns:

The different lines are different numbers of zombies drawn, so the green line shows your chances of drawing at least 3 zombies. Of course this assumes you cycled the zombies you go, so by turn 7 to get that 40% chance of having 3 zombies it assumes you've looked through 12 cards, not 10.

But you'll note that the chances for getting at least one zombie at quite high. And the mana cost is reasonable. It's 1B to put down in the first place, but when you use it to cycle a Walking Dead it only costs as much as the dead would have cost anyway. Two mana for a bear is pretty standard, so the mana is really to buy those bears.

Two mana to draw two cards is godd but not excellent. Two mana to draw three is excellent. Two mana to draw one is fine because having a stockpile is better than not, but generally as discussed above, if you only use it once to cycle a zombie it isn't doing much to get you ahead.

The other issue to consider is whether that turn four to ten outlook is reasonable. We don't really know how fast the environment will be yet, but turn ten might be too long an outlook.

My guess is that the stockpile will be a reasonable thing to add to your deck if you happen to pick one up mid-pack in your black deck that was going to play a bunch of zombies anyway. This is not pick one, pack one material.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Our Aristocracy

Ontario's credit outlook has been downgraded by Moody's, one of the key players in the global economic meltdown. The agency, which gave over half of the toxic mortgage-backed securities that collapsed financial markets their highest "triple A" rating, thinks that Ontario isn't paying down its debt fast enough.

Moody's is considered one of the "big three" ratings agencies along with Standard & Poor and the Fitch Group, each of which played their own role in destroying the global economy so that a few already stupendous rich people could get even more rich. Various government have already launched lawsuits against these ratings agencies for essentially defrauding them and the public. The ratings agencies are based on a conflict of interest - they are paid by the same people whose securities they are supposed to rate. A whistleblower came forward in 2011 to say that not only does Moody's alter its ratings to suit the interest of these "clients" but that at least one senior executive of the company had lied under oath in the hearings into rating agency conduct during the meltdown.

So I'm extremely upset. Not upset that Moody's changed their outlook on Ontario's credit, but upset that I even know about it. If a schizeophrenic homeless man thought Ontario was in credit trouble I wouldn't hear about it, but we should probably value his opinion higher than the opinion of this rating agency. I am not exaggerating in any way. Anyone who puts even the slightest faith in the ratings given by rating agencies is at best delusional. If you think that ratings agencies give us useful information the only two possibly explanations are that you are irredeemably dogmatic or profoundly ignorant. If you really, really need to know whether to invest in something and your only source of information is Moody's, flip a coin.

If you hired a company to redo your roof and they removed the roof of your house, replacing it with nothing, would you hire them again and recommend them to your friends? If you got sick after eating at a bakery and an investigation showed that the baker was intentionally poisoning customers, would you continue to buy your bread there? If a financial advisor took money from a business to tell you to buy into that business's extremely risky assets, causing you to lose all your money, would you continue to rely on their advice?

Wait, that last one isn't even an analogy, it's just a precise description of what happened, and amazingly the answer for governments, banks and many businesses is, "Yes."

Normally I have to think about our drug laws to get into an apoplectic fit about how we are governed by complete morons, but this ratings agency stuff is even worse. We are running our financial system on the idea that if we are mugged we should kindly ask our muggers to do it again. What is the justification for this - are they are the right kind of people or something?

Now these self-serving aristocrats are trying to punish Ontarians for their choice of government. If I were running the province right now I'd be looking for a way to retaliate and quickly, even if it were just some choice words for the agency and anyone stupid enough to still listen to them. If I were president of the US I would strongly consider adding their boards to the extra-judicial kill list.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Better a Drunk Rob Ford than a Sober ...

Something you heard a lot of if you paid attention to Toronto politics was "I'd rather have Rob Ford drunk than candidate name sober."

As I said last week, having read The Authoritarians by Bob Altemeyer explained a lot to me about how Rob Ford got elected and continued to enjoy support. Well, maybe not explained a lot, but it certainly filled in some gaps. I also wrote a while back about how ultimately I think Rob Ford might be the best mayor the city can have so long as council continues to completely sideline him and ignore him.

It should come as no surprise that people who like Rob Ford would prefer him drunk over a sober candidate that they think of as being from an out-group. Rob Ford could commit essentially any sin and it would be forgiven. And for those who know me it probably shouldn't be surprising that I was untroubled by the idea of another Rob Ford win.

But the way things are going now makes me a little nervous. It turns out, I'm one of those people who would repeat the refrain from the beginning of this post: I'd rather have Rob Ford drunk than Rob Ford sober.

A sober Rob Ford as mayor is a mildly nauseating proposition. Imagine a Rob Ford that actually went to work, a Rob Ford that people felt they had to take seriously, a Rob Ford who was somewhat effective in implementing his agenda.

He still wouldn't be able to tell the difference between one and one-hundred. He would still be racist and homophobic and corrupt. Everything wrong with him would still be there, it's just that he would be there.

If Rob Ford does manage to win I hope he gets so high every morning that he doesn't even remember where city hall is. I hope that when he is found half-way across the globe in the third year of his term and asked why he shirked his mayoral duties he answers, "What? Am I still Mayor?"

I don't mind if the city has to pay a mayors salary for someone who doesn't show up. Rob Ford is rich and the public can't get out of paying him for nothing one way or another.

If only some of our other leaders, Canadian and abroad, could get hooked on crack or heroin. What a wonderful world it would be.