Monday, August 21, 2017

Reflection on the Gen Con Mage Wars Academy tournament and Misconceptions About Mage Wars Academy

I won the Mage Wars Academy tournament at gen con, and while I played fairly and fought my hardest and overcame all the opposition, part of me still doesn't feel like I deserved my victory. Partly because there were only five other competitors in the tournament. Partly because I did not face a significant challenge until the finals.

First, a recap of the tournament for those who were not there to see it. There were six players in it including me. I fought in three matches: my first match was against a beastmaster which used a minor animal swarm, second match was against a Mana denial wizard using Mana worms. My final match was against a very aggressive warlock using Sanguine Hunter and Drakas, Imp Overlord.

First match I won because my opponent forgot that Aurora Lucere, Dawnbreaker's Chosen had an ability that let her treat his minor creatures as pests, and therefore could keep her guard marker if melee attacked by them as long as she didn't counterstrike.

The second match I won because my opponent wasn't prepared to deal with Aurora Lucere. We both agreed afterwards that he should have summoned a Sailfin Hydra and attacked my Dawnbreaker's Chosen with it, using disperses to get rid of any shrinks I would have enchanted his hydra with.

The final match was best 2/3. First game I won because I surprised my opponent by rushing him really fast and he wasn't prepared to deal with my strategy. Second game I lost because I forgot to crumble his armor before attacking with Dawnbreaker's Chosen and he was able to kill me before I could recover from that mistake. Third game I won because I landed a really lucky roll on a firestream dealing 8 damage which brought him to 17 damage, and then he illegally used exile on my Dawnbreaker's Chosen because he didn't realize it could only target minor creatures. And that was the end of the tournament.

To be honest, I was disappointed that I didn't get a real challenge until the final match of the tournament. I have some educated guesses as to why it happened like this. You see, I spoke to multiple Mage Wars players there about the Academy tournament beforehand, and nearly everyone I asked was either unsure if they wanted to participate or were unwilling or did not have spellbooks prepared for it.

Two or three people even expressed the view that Mage Wars Academy was merely watered down Mage Wars Arena. This is a common misconception perpetuated partly because of the unintentionally deceptive advertising of the game on Arcane Wonder's part, and partly because Arena players just starting out in Academy don't know how to build good Academy spellbooks but too easily think that they do, especially in the absence of a real public competitive academy metagame.

At least several people told me that they had not played Mage Wars Academy since the release of its core set, and this was something I had heard before from other mage wars players online. Mage Wars Academy has been available for online play on OCTGN for about two years, but it has been almost impossible to find anyone to play it with there.

Because most people likely have not tested their custom Academy spellbooks all that much if at all, or at least because there is very little public record of what kinds of spellbooks work in Academy and what don't, Arena players who start playing Academy with each other start out trying to make their spellbooks too much like Arena spellbooks.

Mage Wars Academy is not watered down Mage Wars Arena, as I hope will become clear to you after reading this post. Unfortunately, Arcane Wonders has advertised Mage Wars Academy in such a way that it made it look like Mage Wars Academy was really Mage Wars Arena jr. For one thing, they put a mini advertisement for Mage Wars Arena into the Mage Wars Academy commercial. They have also kept talking about how they designed it for the purpose of being a point of entry for Arena, and they did not do anything to correct any of the wild misconceptions Arena players had about Academy, except by writing the words "new, standalone game" on the core set box.

Mage Wars Arena players new to Academy likely won't notice how the lack of action accelerators like spawnpoints and familiars, combined with the 1x1 zone arena make putting on armor round 1 a better decision than in Arena. They'll just think that first initiative gives an unfair advantage because the first player gets to attack or target enemy objects first after the setup rounds end, while also doing a chain of four consecutive converted quick actions without the opponent being able to respond during that chain. In point of fact you do have the ability to respond to your opponent during this chain, it's called revealing enchantments (or using defenses or other abilities that don't cost actions to use). But Arena players new to Academy are likely to think this isn't enough because casting enchantments uses a quick action in the first place.

They dont notice that because of a lack of action accelerators in Academy, that the loss of actions is nowhere near as costly in Academy. Unlike in Arena, in Academy skipping your quickcast action to save mana is a perfectly viable tactic and does not mean that you made a mistake. It's ok to lose an action or two if you are devaluing the actions of your opponent. Arena players new to Academy think that introducing quickcast phases would be a good way to solve this supposed problem of consecutive actions, but it is entirely unnecessary. Consecutive actions would only be a problem in arena because of action accelerators and the existence of move actions. With two full actions and two quickcasts, you can cast two familiars and two spawnpoints and take two move actions in Arena, which increases your action generation per round exponentially. In Academy the only action generators are creatures, each creature can only use one action per round, and only mages can cast creatures and they must use their full action to do it. With two full actions and two quickcasts in Academy you just get at most two more actions generated per round, plus maybe another quick action or two for very specific things, like how the packleader's cloak or the priestess's ability let's you put a guard marker on a friendly creature as a "free" action (you still have to pay mana for it).

Unfortunately, it seems that these misconceptions about Academy likely contributed to the quality of much of the competition in the Academy tournament, as well as to the extremely low turnout compared to the Arena tournament. At least one or two people I asked said that they were going to just cobble together an Academy spellbook right before the Academy tournament, without testing it.

I don't intend to slight any of my opponents. They all fought valiantly, despite two out of three of them coming unprepared. However, this was supposed to be a competitive level tournament. And yet from the way people were talking about it, it seemed to me a likely possibility that most of the other competitors were not expecting competitive levels of difficulty in the Academy tournament before they came to Gen Con, and that they did not think that they needed to prepare for it much if at all. I suspect they may only have started to believe otherwise after Arcane Wonders ambassador and mage wars tournament judge Silverclawgrizzly hypothized that I would just wipe the floor with everyone in the academy tournament because most other people hadn't practiced it at all since the core set's release.

This is the second mage wars tournament I have ever won, and both times there were only five other competitors, and both times the majority of the competition did not seem to be at a competitive level. I have two really cool mage wars trophies in my apartment now, and I find myself disappointed that I did not have to work harder to earn them.

Hopefully the next Mage Wars Academy tournament I attend will have a greater turnout of competitive-level players.

Note: I just looked on the forums, and there doesn't seem to be an event page for the Gen Con Mage Wars Academy tournament like there was for the Gen Con Mage Wars Arena tournament. I suspect this likely also contributed to the low turnout for the Academy tournament.

Special mention goes to my opponent in the final match, who did come prepared with a spellbook he had tested ahead of time, and he nearly beat me for the championship. That match included some of my most fun fights in Academy that I've had so far.

You can see the spellbook I used in the Gen Con Mage Wars Academy tournament here.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Did I make a mistake, or was I just unlucky?

If you're not familiar with Mage Wars Arena, this post will likely be hard to follow. If you're interested, I recommend checking out the game here, and then getting a demo either at your friendly local game store or at a convention.

I just played a game of Arena on OCTGN. I was playing a forcemaster of Salenia and my opponent was a Priest of Malakai. I had a forge, meditating monk, a mana crystal, enchanter's wardstone and a surging wave-thoughtspore. My opponent had a forge, mana crystal and guardian angel. I rolled a really unlikely bad roll on a surging wave against his battle forge which cost me the whole match, and the more I think about it the more it seems like there really was nothing I could have done to deal with that bad roll. After that bad roll I didnt have any surging waves left except for the one attached to my thoughtspore. Next round, in order to finish off the battle forge, I had to force pull the guardian angel so that it was no longer protecting the forge, then my spore attacked it again. But then guardian angel was able to attack my spore and bring it to the brink of death, and then finished it off the next round. If not for my using force pull on the angel, it would not have been in range to attack my spore. And I wouldn't have used force pull if I hadn't rolled such a unusually bad roll when I had attacked the forge the round prior. If I had rolled slightly better, the forge would have been gone sooner and I wouldn't have spent as much mana and actions to take it down, so I would have had more mana to cast certain expensive spells sooner. And my surging wave-spore would have still been alive to deal with guardian angel so that I could focus on attacking the priest. But none of that happened because I had one lousy roll against a battle forge. It seems that for the very first time EVER, I have just played an Arena match where I lost exclusively because of luck rather than skill. It was frustrating, but at least it's only happened to me once in the four years I've been playing the game.

...Then again maybe I should have used my force crush on the guardian angel instead of the priest. I already had dot on the priest in the form of magebane, ghoul rot and arcane corruption, and I had used one of my ghoul rots to finish off Cassiel, Maybe I didn't need more dot on the priest and I could have spared my force crush for the guardian angel. I'm not sure if it would work or not, but I'll try it. Next time I'm facing a mage that uses guardian angel to guard itself and my surging wave-thoughtspore dies, I will try putting force crush on the guardian angel. If that doesn't work, then I'll know that this match was decided exclusively by luck rather than skill. Considering that this is the only time that might have happened in the four years I've been playing the game, I don't think I should worry about this match too much. But I really should try using force crush on the guardian angel if I ever encounter this situation again, just to see if it would work.