Deviations from the Norm with John B. Turpish  



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1.08.01  Have you ever wondered what it would sound like if Britney Spears and Megadeath worked together on a song?  Well now we know! (The Way You Like It, by Adeama)

I was thinking of doing an article about Magic Online (MO), and a friend recommended I go ahead and do it, so I shall.  For those who aren't familiar, Magic Online is the new software Wizards plans to release this spring.  It allows for online play, drafting, and collecting.

I'm certainly not the first to discuss this software, by any means.  I read several, and they all seemed to talk about it as if playing Magic in this venue was some life-changing, mind-boggling experience.  So I became a beta tester, and to be honest, I'm unimpressed

MO is plagued by lag.  Often I stare at the screen frustrated as I wait for the computer to acknowledge that I have asked it to play the Island in my hand.  Folks, I have a cable modem.  There's no reason for this.  Sometimes it will operate speedily, and at those times I can actually act faster than I do in a conventional game, because I don't have to actually say the names of the cards.  At those times, if I already have planned out exactly what I want to do for that turn, it can even be exciting.  Often though, too often, I want to go downstairs and get myself another glass of water while I wait for my opponent's triggered effects to resolve.

There's a related issue.  Getting kicked off the service entirely, or being unable to connect in the first place, is rather common.  The other night I was kicked off during three different games.  I appreciate that reconnecting allows the resumption of the game, exactly where we left off, but waiting for the reconnect is incredibly frustrating.  And that's not to mention the times when I'd be kicked off and unable to reconnect.

I'm used to playing Apprentice, and not having the cards available for the deck I want to build is a great annoyance.  I understand that if all cards were available in unlimited amounts there would be no purpose for trading.  I don't even like trading, so I'd be more than willing to sacrifice that aspect of the software.  The trade window was done pretty well, though.  I think if you like trading odds are you'll like the way this software handles it.

In the limited casual room the games are rated.  In the constructed casual room they are not.  Sure, the constructed games are free and limited are not, but why do I have to join a tournament to have a constructed rating?  I most definitely prefer constructed, and I'd like the idea that my games were having some longer-lasting effect than the immediate win or loss.  My MO rating isn't very important to me, but it would still be nice.

The individual timers are a very clever idea and at first I liked them a lot.  It's a pretty complicated issue, though.  First, let me explain.  When one is playing in a draft or tournament, the games have a 40 minute time limit that is done the same way it is in conventional tournaments.  If the limit expires, there are 5 more turns in the game, then the match is over, and quite possibly a tie (unless it's the second game and the first had a winner).  However there are two additional timers, one for each player.  Whenever the game is waiting for a particular player to make a decision, that player's time is running.  If a player's individual clock expires, that player loses the match.  The amount of time remaining carries over from duel to duel.  This is good because it eliminates the strategic advantage to stalling, which is cheating.  There's a downside to this though.  There exists a feature in the game that most players use, that allow one to skip over many decisions if one is tapped out.  When that is combined with the fact that aggressive decks tend to play their spells during their turn, sometimes even their first main phase, and one sees that it the game will save you the time it takes to click the OK button every time you have priority, therefore disproportionately saving time on your clock, if you're playing an aggressive deck.  Also, control decks, particularly those heavy in permission, need to pay attention to what their opponent is doing before clicking OK and allowing the game to continue.  This also takes time off the clock.  But the worst part about it is that it penalizes those who stop to think.  Perhaps you've decided to try a new deck out.  You're not familiar with the deck so you'd like to consider how you play the deck carefully.  Well now you're in danger of losing to the clock, and I'd rather not punish people for trying new strategies.  Perhaps you're playing a deck that simply requires more thought.  You've filled it with cards that pose interesting decisions to be made.  This could be a new form of beatdown, it could be a control deck, or it could be a combo deck.  In any case, I don't like the idea of punishing people, even if only lightly, for playing thought-provoking decks.  After all, isn't complicated strategy what this game's all about?  What it will probably have the greatest impact on however, is not an individual deck but an individual.  Some players don't trust their own gut reactions so they stop to logically argue with themselves the virtues of a particular choice.  I don't see anything wrong with this, and believe that it tends to be something that improves players' abilities, and so should not be discouraged.

I do have something nice to say.  One of the greatest annoyances I have outside tournaments, on Apprentice in particular, is opponents who believe they understand the rules when in fact they do not.  I hate arguing about the rules, especially when I know I'm right and I know there's no way the opponent will believe me.  Somehow I thought that by becoming a level 2 judge my opinion on rules issues would somehow be a little more respected than what it was, but that is simply nowhere close to the truth.  On Magic Online, the computer handles the rules issues, and does it pretty well.  When my opponent doesn't understand the rules, my opponent is punished because they make the wrong decision, and what's more important to me, I'm not punished by having to switch to the rules as understood by Player X.

However, why is it that I cannot click on the card in hand to announce it, then play mana abilities to pay its mana cost?  If one clicks on the card while the appropriate mana is not yet in the pool, nothing happens.  Tap the lands, then click on the spell.  Either way is legal in Magic, but MO only allows for the old-fashioned way of doing it.

This next issue is rather minor.  As a Meddling Mage comes into play, it's controller sees a list of cards.  As a matter of fact, that player sees a list of every card considered to be a part of Magic: the Gathering.  One clicks on the card one wishes to name for Meddling Mage's ability, then clicks select.  Sounds simple enough, but it's far too cumbersome trying to find the appropriate card on the list.  I typically click on a card, then press the first letter of the card I'm looking for on my keyboard to jump to the first card that begins with that letter, then begin to scroll down.  This takes much longer than it would if it were set up like the "Find Card:" field of Apprentices Deck Editor.

So will I pay to play the game?  Probably not.  I've decided that I will probably play if a point costs less than five cents, because it will be something fun to do in my spare time, better than watching television, and it will help to improve my Magic playing skills.  After all, practice makes perfect.  Any more than that and it's a waste of money.  I think Gary Wise said it best when he said Apprentice is a way to practice Magic while Magic Online is a way to put what you've learned into practice.  The fact of the matter is that there's no reason for that, because I already have a way to put it into practice.  That is, I can drive up to a local card shop, spend the money I would've spent on MO on physical cards, build a deck or draft, and play with people I've met there or friends of mine I brought along.  I can go to a PTQ and experience a level of competition MO will never compare to.  Sure, MO is more accessible, but when it comes right down to it, playing online just isn't as much fun.


Only three people have ever played in this format.  This is a format a friend of mine, Andy Chapman, and I created for playing on Apprentice.  The legal sets are Portal, Portal: Second Age, Portal: Three Kingdoms, Unglued, the cards from the Duelist Invitationals' Duplicate Limited (D1, D2 in Apprentice), those cards listed as promotional on Apprentice, and cards we created specifically for this format.

To handle Unglued we made two rulings.  First, when a card involves a player saying something, it's now involves the typing equivalent.  This means that if I play Censorship and choose "I" and then type this sentence in the text box Censorship will trigger three times and I will take 6 damage.  Second, if a spell or ability would require a player to do something that isn't easily represented by Apprentice, that spell or ability may not be played.  This means that while Soldier of Fortune's ability may be played (though I don't believe he's in the format one could still get a hold of him through a Chaos roll, getting to that in a minute) because Apprentice can easily do the equivalent of shuffling your deck, Blacker Lotus' ability may not be played since tearing a card cannot be represented on Apprentice. 

All games in A&J are played in Chaos mode, which means at the beginning of each turn except the first turn of the game, before the untap step, there is a "Chaos Phase".  At the beginning of the chaos phase, the active player rolls the Chaos die.  There is no stack in the Chaos Phase so spells and abilities may not be played unless the Chaos roll says so.  The Chaos die is a built-in feature of Apprentice, and it has 200 effects, from which it chooses randomly.  There is also a Persona Die, an EnchantWorldLand Die, and a Wackyland Die.  You roll on those only if you are instructed to do so.

Whenever a player wins a game in J&A he (no she has ever played J&A) designs a card and tells his opponent about it.  No player-designed card may be played against a player which did not know of that card at least 24 hours prior (this is to handle the occasional third player).


Bronze Calendar

We didn't want to have to deal with typing in a way that we do not normally type.  It's a very gray area, and neither of us really like the card much anyway.


Every player-created card.

This is to keep an accidentally overpowered card from getting too out of hand.

Watch list (for banning):

1996 World Champion


Notice I said cards listed as promotional, not necessarily cards that actually were promotional.

This format is a lot of fun but shouldn't be taken too seriously as the Chaos roll keeps it from being overly fair.  I recommend this format for any of those now geographically separated from an old Magic buddy, as Andy and I now are.  Although I think it would be more fun for you to create your own cards, here's the cards we've created just in case you were curious:

Cards I've created:

Price of Disgrace 2U
Whenever a player is dealt damage by a source he does not control, each of his opponents returns a permanent they control to their owners' hands.


Complex Charm U
When you play Complex Charm, each opponent chooses one: 
Counter all other spells and all activated abilities -OR-
Draw 3 cards -OR-
Return up to 3 target permanents to their owners' hands.


Schizzao, the Eternal 1GG
Summon Human Legend
Whenever an opponent plays a spell, put an Aura counter on Schizzao, the Eternal. 
Players may not play spells with converted mana cost less than the number of Aura counters on Schizzao, the Eternal. 
XX, T: Regenerate Schizzao, the Eternal. X is the number of Aura counters on Schizzao, the Eternal.



Flurry of Panic 4R
Flurry of Panic costs up to X less to play.
X is the number of creatures that are attacking you.
Deal X damage to each creature.
Each player sacrifices X lands and X artifacts.


Sheep Go to Heaven... W
Bury each creature that has power greater than or equal to its converted mana cost and toughness less than 5.
Draw a card unless any player pays 1.


Timid Potency B
Enchant Permanent
Timid Potency cannot enchant a permanent you do not control or a creature.
When enchanted permanent becomes the target of a spell or ability,
sacrifice it and return Timid Potency to your hand, then target player
discards his or her hand, sacrifices a creature, and loses 2 life.

Cards Andy created:

The Ultimate Knight 7
Summon Legend
First Strike, Flanking, Horsemanship
Prevent all damage dealt to The Ultimate Knight by a creature source that would become a lethal amount unless it was damaged by another source this turn.


Green With Envy 2GUU
Enchant Permanent
You control enchanted permanent.
UUUU: Return Green With Envy to its owner's hand.
X: Move Green With Envy unto another permanent.  The new permanent must have mana cost equal to X.


Personal Protection Plan 4WW
When Personal Protection Plan comes into play, choose a color.
You have protection from the chosen color.


Standing on Rock    U
Opponents play with their hands revealed.
UU, Sacrifice Standing on Rock: Counter target spell.
2UU, T: Draw a card.  

May you find what you seek.

John B. Turpish

Copyright 2001

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