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Sword of Truth and Justice

Modern Horizons–MTG’s first direct to Modern Set

Modern Horizons

Modern Horizons

This is an interesting set.  Sitting between a standard sets($3.99) and the carefully picked reprints of the Masters sets ($12.99-29.99 per pack), this is their first set that introduces new cards that go directly to the Modern format.    For those who don’t know, standard is basically the last couple of years of sets, (think equivalent to being the best in your high school).  Modern is like the last 12 years, so the cards that get used in Modern are the best from a much bigger pool of cards.  So for Wizards to make a set designed to go straight to Modern, it shouldn’t be surprising that the power of the cards needs to be big time. 

From the wizards web site about the mechanics used

Slivers – Slivers, the favorite creature type of at least one R&D member, are back! Each Sliver contributes something to the hive, giving every other Sliver you control some ability, a power/toughness boost, or a related bonus. Sometimes the bonus isn’t for Slivers on the battlefield but, rather, Sliver spells you cast. Older Slivers were even friendlier, also helping out your opponents’ Slivers, but they’ve learned that isn’t always the smoothest path to victory.

Snow – Snow, the third-favorite supertype of at least one R&D member, is back! Snow acts as a kind of marker. It doesn’t have any inherent rules meaning, but spells and abilities can refer to it for various effects. The snow mana symbol is represented by S in rules text (it looks like a snowflake). It’s a cost that can be paid for by any one mana produced by a snow permanent . . . like the gorgeous full-art snow basic lands!

Changeling – A creature with changeling is every creature type no matter where it is. Its type line may say Shapeshifter, but that’s decorative. It’s also a Human, a Merfolk, a Goat, a Warrior, a Coward, an Ooze, a Bear, a Sliver . . . it’s everything.

Cycling – Cycling is an activated ability, letting you pay a cost and discard the card with cycling from your hand to draw a new card. Don’t have what you need for the situation in front of you? Cycling gives you another shot to find the perfect card.

Battle cry – Battle cry was a favored tactic for the scrappy-but-still-kinda-doomed Mirran resistance. Maybe this new guy will have better luck. Whenever a creature with battle cry attacks, each other attacking creature gets +1/+0 until end of turn. Great for aggressive swarm attacks and people who like arithmetic.

Buyback – Buyback gives you an additional cost, paid as you cast the spell along with all its other costs. After you follow all the spell’s instructions, if the buyback cost was paid, you put the card back into your hand and not into your graveyard. Note that this works only if the spell actually resolves. If it’s countered or it doesn’t resolve because its targets became illegal, buyback won’t work, and the card will end up in the graveyard. Caveat emptor.

Cascade – Cascade gives you free spells! Who doesn’t love free spells? When you cast a spell with cascade, exile cards from the top of your library until you exile a nonland card with a lesser converted mana cost. Then, you may cast that spell without paying its mana cost. If you do, it goes on the stack on top of the original spell, meaning it will resolve first. Before anything resolves, put the other exiled cards on the bottom of your library in a random order. If the new spell also has cascade, you get to do it all over again.

Convoke – While casting a spell with convoke, you can tap untapped creatures you control to help pay for it. Tapping a creature this way covers one mana of any of that creature’s colors. Useful if you have some board presence but find yourself short on mana for your top-end threats.

Dash – Dash is an alternative cost. If you cast a creature spell for its dash cost, it gets haste. The catch is if the creature is still on the battlefield at the beginning of the next end step, it’s returned to its owner’s hand. But if you need a quick strike, dash is there for you.

Delve – Like convoke, delve gives you a way to help pay for the spell with the ability. Each card you exile from your graveyard while casting a spell with delve pays for one generic mana. However, unlike convoke, delve can’t help you with the colored mana requirements. Load up that graveyard and cast massive spells for little mana.

Devour – Who’s hungry? As a creature with devour enters the battlefield, it can eat (that is, you can sacrifice) any number of creatures. For each one it eats (that is, you sacrificed), it enters with some number of +1/+1 counters (that is, the devour number). Yum!

Dredge – A Golgari original, dredge lets you fish specific cards out of your graveyard. Any time you would draw a card, you can instead put the specified number of cards from the top of your library into your graveyard. If you do, return the card with dredge from your graveyard into your hand. Ideally, you fill your graveyard with even more dredge cards, giving you potent options as the game goes on.

Echo – Cards with echo usually cost a little less than they otherwise would, or with an added bonus. The catch is at the beginning of your next upkeep, you either have to pay the echo cost or sacrifice them. But if you’re willing to stretch out payments over two turns, you can quickly develop a strong battlefield.

Echo – Cards with echo usually cost a little less than they otherwise would, or with an added bonus. The catch is at the beginning of your next upkeep, you either have to pay the echo cost or sacrifice them. But if you’re willing to stretch out payments over two turns, you can quickly develop a strong battlefield.

Entwine – Modal cards give you a menu of choices in the form of a bulleted list. When you cast a modal spell, you choose which mode you’re using. For an additional cost, entwine gives you a better choice: all of them!

Evoke – Evoke is an alternative cost, usually one more affordable than the creature’s mana cost. Casting the creature for its evoke cost gives you faster access to its enters- or leaves-the-battlefield ability, but you must sacrifice the creature just after it shows up.

Evolve – Growing an extra tentacle or spleen out of nowhere can be surprisingly effective in battle. When a creature enters the battlefield under your control that has greater power or toughness than your creature with evolve, the creature with evolve gets a +1/+1 counter.

Exalted – Honored are those who charge into battle while we sit back here and just watch, thank you very much. Exalted is all about attacking with a single, hopefully unstoppable attacker. Whenever a creature you control attacks alone, it gets +1/+1 until end of turn for each instance of exalted among permanents you control. Suit up, and get in there!

Exploit – Whenever a creature with exploit enters the battlefield, you can sacrifice a creature. A fantastic deal, no? Of course, we gave each exploit creature another ability that gives you a bonus for doing this, so you’re not just offing your own creatures for fun.

Fateful hour – Fateful hour is an ability word that highlights cards that get better if you’re almost dead. Your life total is a resource after all, so being at 5 or less life isn’t the end of the world, and hopefully fateful hour cards give you what you need to hang on and stage a comeback.

Flashback – Casting instants and sorceries just once is so late 1990s. Flashback lets you cast an instant or sorcery from your graveyard, after which the card is exiled. Just pay the flashback cost rather than the mana cost and you’re ready to go retro.

Hellbent – Cards in hand are just cards you haven’t used to pulverize your opponent yet, so what’s the point of a full grip? Hellbent is an ability word used on abilities that care about you having no cards in hand.

Hideaway – A permanent with hideaway enters the battlefield tapped, but when it does, look at the top four cards of your library and exile one face down for safe keeping. The hideaway card will tell you what you can do with the card once it’s in exile. It’s a secret to everyone. Well, not you. You looked at the card. It’s a secret to everyone else.

Kicker – Kicker is the purest form of many additional cost mechanics that followed. Simply put, pay more to get more. Kicker gives you an optional additional cost and some sort of bonus for paying it, or “kicking” the spell. A workhorse mechanic that can give early-game cards additional punch in the late game.

Level up – Levelers have a distinctive partitioned card frame with three sets of stats. They start at level 0 (don’t we all?), and the level up ability gives you a cost you can pay as a sorcery to give the creature a level counter. Increased levels give these creatures better stats and new abilities.

Manifest – To manifest a card is to put it onto the battlefield face down as a 2/2 creature. If it’s a creature card, you can turn it face up by paying its mana cost. Turning it face up doesn’t use the stack and can’t be responded to. Surprise!

Modular – Modular is found on artifact creatures and means two things.

“Modular N” means it enters the battlefield with N +1/+1 counters on it, and when it dies, you can put all its +1/+1 counters on target artifact creature. They’re like building blocks, but instead of making a giant castle or a spaceship, you make a terrifying artifact to decimate your opponents.

Monstrosity – Bigger is better, and monstrosity is a one-time activated ability that gives the creature some +1/+1 counters and makes it monstrous. Sorry, MONSTROUS! Some creature with monstrosity abilities also have other bonuses for being monstrous. For example, it might pick up flying. Flying would be cool.

Morbid – Morbid abilities have various effects, but they all care in some way that a creature died earlier in the turn. It doesn’t matter who controlled the creature, so while taking out your opponent’s forces is usually a good thing, decks that rely on morbid abilities tend to include a few sacrifice outlets and good fodder for them.

Ninjutsu – If you’ve seen Ninjas before, you’ve probably seen ninjutsu. Impressive. Ninjutsu is an activated ability you can activate when the Ninja is in your hand. As a cost, you pay some mana and return an unblocked attacking creature you control to its owner’s hand. When the ninjutsu ability resolves, the Ninja enters the battlefield tapped and attacking whatever player or planeswalker the creature you returned was attacking. Plot twist! The creature was a Ninja all along. Hopefully your opponent doesn’t see it coming.

Outlast – Sometimes your battle plan is less “hit ’em quick, get out fast” and more “stay alive until this horror show has past.” Outlast is an activated ability you can activate as a sorcery to put a +1/+1 counter on the creature with outlast. You pay some mana, you tap the creature, and you play a waiting game. The creature ducks out of action for a while and trains, and when it’s big enough, you can go on the offensive.

Overload – Overload represents an alternative cost of some instants and sorceries. These spells all have an effect that includes the phrase “target [something].” If you cast a spell for its overload cost rather than its mana cost, you replace that phrase with “each [something],” increasing the spell’s effect. For example, “destroy target creature you don’t control” becomes “destroy each creature you don’t control.” Remarkable what a little less restraint can get you.

Persist – For a creature with persist, death is only the beginning. Specifically, when a creature with persist dies, if it had no -1/-1 counters on it, it returns to the battlefield with a -1/-1 counter on it. This may read like a one-time get-out-of-death-almost-free card, but if you can find a way to ditch that -1/-1 counter (say, by putting a +1/+1 counter on it and watching the counters annihilate each other), persist can . . . well, persist over and over again.

Pitch spells – “Pitch spells” isn’t a named mechanic, and you won’t see those words on the cards. It’s a nickname for the “Force” cycle, instants you can cast by exiling a card of a specified color from your hand rather than paying the mana cost if it’s not your turn. Of course, if you don’t want to exile a card, or if it’s your turn, you can cast these spells by paying the mana cost as normal.

Proliferate – Speaking of counters, proliferate is a very useful keyword action. When instructed to proliferate, you choose any players and/or permanents with counters on them, and then give each one another of each kind of counter it has. This can be an effective tool of decay, spreading -1/-1 counters or poison counters. It can also boost your own forces, adding +1/+1 counters to your creatures or loyalty counters to your planeswalkers.

Protection – Protection comes in many flavors, often protection from a color, but protection can be tailored to almost any quality. Say a creature has protection from red. That means it can’t be enchanted or equipped by any red Auras or red Equipment. If it’s a creature, it can’t be blocked by any red creatures (although it can happily block any incoming red attackers). It can’t be the target of any red spells or abilities whose sources are red. Finally, any damage that would be dealt to it from red sources will be prevented. Note that it doesn’t stop effects that don’t do any of those things. For example, a creature with protection from white can still be destroyed by a white spell that says “Destroy all creatures” because that spell neither targets nor tries to damage it.

Rebound – Continuing the theme of “casting spells once is boring,” we have rebound. If you cast a spell with rebound from your hand, instead of putting it into your graveyard as it resolves, you instead exile it. At the beginning of your next upkeep, you may cast it again, this time from exile (so it doesn’t rebound again) and without paying its mana cost. If the original spell doesn’t resolve—perhaps because it was countered or its targets went away—the card just goes to your graveyard and doesn’t rebound.

Replicate – Continuing the theme of “casting spells once is boring,” we have replicate. As you cast a spell with replicate, in addition to its mana cost, you may pay its replicate cost any number of times. For each time you do, you copy the spell, choosing a new target for it if you want.

Retrace – Continuing the theme of . . . you know . . . we have retrace. Retrace allows you to cast a spell from your graveyard by paying all its normal costs and discarding a land card from your hand. After the card with retrace resolves (and usually even if doesn’t), it goes back to your graveyard, where it can be cast again using retrace. As the game goes on, retrace gives you something good to do with excess lands.

Shroud – So, you think you’re untouchable? A player or permanent with shroud is pretty close, as shroud means it can’t be the target of any spell or ability, even ones you control.

Splice – Splice is an unusual ability that allows you to copy the effect of a splice card onto another spell. Older cards could only be spliced onto spells with the subtype Arcane. Modern Horizons expands that a bit with a new twist (or maybe de-twist) that allows you to splice the card onto any instant or sorcery. To splice a card, it must be in your hand. Reveal it and pay the specified splice cost as you’re casting another instant or sorcery. The effect of the splice card gets added to the effect of the spell you’re casting, while the card with splice remains in your hand.

Storm – When you cast a spell with storm, you copy it for each spell cast before it during the turn. This includes spells any player cast, not just you. This doesn’t include effects that copy a spell on the stack, like the copies storm itself creates. It’s a storm, not a hurricane. Calm down. Of course, if the spell with storm requires targets, you can choose new ones for each of the copies.

Suspend – What if you could cast spells not with mana, but with time? You can suspend a card any time you could cast that card. To do so, exile it from your hand and pay the specified suspend cost. This will give it a certain number of time counters. At the beginning of your upkeep, remove a time counter. When the last is removed, cast it without paying its mana cost. If it’s a creature, it will gain haste. People sometimes forget about that haste part. Don’t be those people.

Threshold – Threshold is an ability word that appears before abilities that get better if you have seven or more cards in your graveyard. Doesn’t particularly matter how they got there, either. Putting cards from the top of your library into your graveyard (aka “self-mill”) can be a fast way to some powerful bonuses.

Totem armor – Totem armor is an ability of some Auras that give the enchanted creature a measure of safety. If the enchanted permanent would be destroyed, the Aura with totem armor can take its place and be destroyed instead. This will clear all damage that was dealt to it during the turn, so you don’t have to worry about the creature immediately being re-destroyed. Auras with totem armor will also have an ability that makes the enchanted creature better while it’s still alive as well. It’s not all about defeating death.

Undying – Undying is all about defeating death. When a creature with undying dies—we know—if it didn’t have any +1/+1 counters on it, it returns to the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter. New and improved! The trick we learned with persist also works here. Losing the +1/+1 counter is a little sad, but it does let you save the creature again, so it very well may be worth it.

Untap symbol, the – Denoted as Q in rules documents, the untap symbol is the natural opposite of the tap symbol. They operate under similar rules: both represent costs that can’t be paid if found on a creature that came under your control during or since your most recent turn (unless the creature has haste). To activate an ability with Q in the cost, the permanent must already be tapped. You then untap it to pay that cost. For example, if you attack with a creature that has a Q ability, activating that ability can give you a potential blocker your opponent may not have expected.

Vanishing – We end our list with vanishing, an ability that reminds us all that life is fleeting. A permanent with vanishing enters the battlefield with some number of time counters on it. At the beginning of your upkeep, a time counter is removed. When the last time counter is removed, you sacrifice the permanent. Well that’s kind of sad. We’re ending on this? There are no more keywords in the set? We couldn’t think of any cute wither designs? Just time’s up, list over, now you’re dead? Well then.


A planeswalker in every Pack?!? Really? War of the Spark is a Firestarter

War of the Spark

War of the Spark

PLANESWALKERS

Although not a named mechanic, per se, Planeswalkers are clearly the stars of this show. There are an unprecedented number of planeswalkers in War of the Spark, and players will undoubtedly encounter them in more Booster Draft and Sealed Deck games than ever before. In recent history, planeswalkers have only appeared at mythic rare, so even if you’re a seasoned veteran, you might have run into them only sparingly.

The uncommon planeswalkers have only two abilities, and neither of them increases loyalty. Unless you find some other way to increase their loyalty (see “Proliferate,” below), these planeswalkers may have a small amount of time on the battlefield.

In fact, every planeswalker in this set has an ability that doesn’t involve loyalty at all. It could be a static ability. These abilities are always “on,” functioning no matter whose turn it is and no matter if you’ve activated any of that planeswalker’s loyalty abilities. Tibalt shuts down life gain as long as he’s on the battlefield.

Liliana, Dreadhorde General

It could also be a triggered ability. These abilities trigger whenever their condition is met, again no matter whose turn it is and no matter if you’ve activated any of that planeswalker’s loyalty abilities. Liliana is happy to convert your dead into new cards, day or night.

The rules governing planeswalkers haven’t changed in this set. If you can get an opposing planeswalker to 0 loyalty, it will be put into its owner’s graveyard. Damage dealt to planeswalkers causes them to lose loyalty. You can attack them with your creatures. If you do, your opponents can block as normal. Some spells that deal damage may be able to target or otherwise hit planeswalkers. If a spell or ability says “any target,” it can target a creature, player, or planeswalker.

AMASS

There’s one new keyword in War of the Spark, and it’s on the side of evil: amass. Remember Bolas’s little operation on Amonkhet? It was all designed to create an army of undead elite the likes of which Ravnica had never seen before. Known as the Dreadhorde, this army is now amassing on the streets of our fair city. Uh-oh.

Relentless Advance

Amass empowers you to creature your own Zombie horde. Here’s how it works. When instructed to amass, ask yourself one simple question: does annihilating this world spark joy? Then, another question: do you control an Army? If you don’t already control an Army creature, you create a 0/0 black Zombie Army creature token. Then put a number of +1/+1 counters on one of your Armies equal to the number after amass. So, on an empty battlefield, Relentless Advance will give you a 3/3.

Dreadhorde Invasion

The Dreadhorde invasion we started continues with Dreadhorde Invasion. If you do control an Army, you don’t create any new tokens. Rather, you’ll put those +1/+1 counters on an Army you control. If that 3/3 (technically, that 0/0 with three +1/+1 counters on it) is still around, Dreadhorde Invasion’s triggered ability will add one +1/+1 counter, and your horde has grown to 4/4.

Zombie Army Token 1

Amass was designed so you’d control one Army at most at any given time. But there are several ways around that. You could copy an Army you control, or maybe you control a creature with all creature types. If you happen to control more than one Army when you amass, you choose one of them to get all the +1/+1 counters. Although players can respond to the spell or ability that instructs you to amass, once you start to amass, no one can interrupt you. This is true even if you’re creating a new Army—no player can do anything while the Zombie Army creature token is still 0/0, before it gets the counters.

Even though the +1/+1 counters represent the growing numbers of Eternals joining your ranks, the Zombie Army creature token is still a single creature. It has two creature types: Zombie and Army. There are some great bonuses for Zombie tokens lurking in this set, including on Dreadhorde Invasion. Remember, they work with any Zombie token, not just ones created by amass.

PROLIFERATE

War of the Spark features one prominent returning keyword: proliferate. Some fans may recall proliferate as a tool that spread destruction and decay. It was a Phyrexian innovation, after all. With all the planeswalkers and +1/+1 counters bouncing around, proliferate stands ready to serve a slightly different role in this war.

Flux Channeler

To proliferate, choose any number of players or permanents that have one or more counters on them. This can be any kind of counters: +1/+1 counters on creatures, loyalty counters on planeswalkers, even unusual things like time, charge, or doom counters. Counters that players get—including energy, experience, and poison—are all fair game. For each of the chosen players or permanents, give it another counter of the same kind it already had.

Remember that when you proliferate, you only put counters on the players and/or permanents you want to. If a creature your opponent controls has a +1/+1 counter, you can proliferate without fear of pumping it up.

There has been one small tweak to the proliferate rules this time around. Previously, if a player or permanent had more than one kind of counter, you’d choose one to add. Now, you just get all of them. Although unusual, this is most likely to happen with players. Say one of your opponents has both an energy counter and a poison counter. If someone proliferates, they will get both counters (one of each) or they’ll get neither, depending if the player who proliferated chose to include them.


(April fools)Wizards adding unusual requirements for Magic Players to attend events

Earlier this year, Wizards introduced so changes for those of us scheduling events that actually made a lot of sense.  They let us start setting age limits for the events. (It used to be that if an event was sanctioned for Magic or D&D, that those events had to be open to all players.) Seems pretty inclusive, but what that meant was that we couldn’t do a kids only event and prevent an adult for attending, or if we wanted to do an after hours, grown-ups only event, stores wouldn’t be able to do that.

However, Wizards has been making some other decisions that have been somewhere between confusing us and, honestly, making us pretty upset. This latest on is clearly in the confusing category, with a little in the latter.  Apparently some internal research they have done has indicated that a better metric for determining appropriate levels of developmental maturity has to do with physical growth over chronological growth.   I guess it has been known for a while that girls are more mature at an early age then boys and that often is connected with early growth spurts.

As a result, we are waiting for a package coming from Wizards that is a 6 foot plus stand-up that includes a measuring tool for us to use to determine who is allowed in the adult/mature events vs. the less developed.  For those who come from groups that tend to shorter stature or who have genetic dispositions in that direction, there is a section on the Wizards site to apply for exempted status.  The cards will apparently take between 2-3 weeks to arrive, but we will be able to look it up on the Wizard website so it shouldn’t cause too much disruption to attending the events.

I want to make a personal comment on this.  It is not what I would choose and I could ignore the requirement I would.  I think it is utterly foolish, first to trust this kind thing, no mater how convincing the research seems, and then to create such an elaborate plan without testing it locally somewhere first.  It’s truly unbelievable.

Ravnica Allegiance Set overview..

Ravnica Allegiance

Ravnica Allegiance is the second set in our (re)return to the planet wide city of Ravnica.  This set brings the other 5 guilds back into the mix, each with their own color combination and special powers. (It also brings back the last five of the fetch lands…special lands that lets you go find one of two paired lands from your deck for the low, low cost of one life point) 

Emergency Powers

Azorius:  Blue and while combine with the Senate of the law.  The Azorius special new mechanic is Addendum.  These are Instants that have a special bonus surprise in the box if you cast them during the time you could cast a sorcery.

Frenzied ArynxThe Gruul (Red & Green) ‘s new mechanic reflects their aggressive ways.  Riot gives you the choice to either bring in a creature in with haste so they can attack right away, or a +1 counter. 

Zegana, Utopian SpeakerSimic (Blue & Green), the clan of growth has traditionally been all about tossing on the counters, and the new Adapt mechanic is all about adding on counters and once in a while throwing in an extra power or two for all creatures with counters on them. 

Imperious OligarchThe Orzov Syndicate (Black & White) brings in Afterlife, a mechanic that brings one (or more) 1/1 flying spirits when the creature dies.  

Rafter Demon

Finally, we have the Mad Clowns of Rakdos (Red & Black).  Their distributingly  named Spectacle.  When these spells are cast in a turn after an opponent has taken damage they get extra abilities.


Guilds of Ravnica Set

Back to the city word of Ravnica, with it’s 10 guilds (pairings of two colors).  This set is all about making the colors work together, so there is a ton of mana fixing, including the return of the shock lands.

Here’s what you need to get a head/catch up to the game.

The following is directly from the Wizards of the Coast description of the mechanics of the new set.

So why is Yugioh Banned at D20 Games, anyway?

I just got an email from someone looking for a place to have his 12 year old son to come and play Yugioh, and I was about to tell him the tale of why it is banned at the store, and why I recommend steering him away from Yugioh when I realized that it’s been a long time since I told the story and it was probably worth putting it where everybody could see.

Yugioh is one of the big collectible card games, and was a pretty big part of the store when I acquired it back in 2011.  We would get 40-60 people coming in on Sundays, and it represented about 1/3 the business of the store.  But I gave it a partial ban in 2012, followed by a complete ban after we had the big break in that almost killed the store.

The day D20 was broken into

So Why Ban Yugioh?

So with all due modesty, I’m a good guy, and have a firm but gentle touch with people, including tweens and teens. (I used to teach Karate to kids.)  I can pull people aside and talk to them about behaviors that are not ok without shaming them or making them feel angry or resentful. And I spent a lot of time getting to know the community, participating and getting to know the individual players.  But our Yugioh days contained 90% of the trouble we had at the store. It seemed any deck or cards left attended would be stolen the moment someone’s back was turned, we had a huge amount of issues with people taking advantage of others in trades, bad language and people getting really angry, sometimes to the point of fights over games.

After the break in, I went to a big conference of game store owners from around the country and was shocked to find out that the problems we had had were present at stores as far away as Philadelphia, and were only with Yugioh.  I spent a long time trying to figure out why this was…it was just a game, after all.  Finally I came to a theory, and the more I’ve thought about it, the more I became convinced it is correct.   There seems to be a fundamental design flaw in the game end’s up not only fostering, but training bad behaviors.  Those have become part of the tone/culture of poor behavior/ethics that riddles the Yugioh community.

Yugioh-Magic “fixed”?:  Yugioh was invented by a guy that was an old Magic player.  He hated the idea of what’s called set rotation. (Basically, only the last couple of years of cards are used in the most common competitive format.)  He wanted all the cards that were created in his game to be used all the time. The problem with that has to do with the nature of collectible card games.  See the cool part of these games is that there are basic rules, but the new cards get to introduce new rules that change the game.  That’s really great, but as you get more and more rules, if you aren’t careful, you get combos of the card that just came out with a card from 5 years ago that becomes powerful enough to break the game.   Games like Magic the Gathering and Pokemon spend a huge amount of time looking out for these kinds of combos, but Yugioh doesn’t do quite as good a job.  Add that by having all the cards available to play with, after a few years the game started to be defined by these game breaking combos.  What it meant was the best decks don’t just win, they utterly crush not so great decks.

Badly training the Young; So here is where things start to go wrong.  Imagine you are a 8 or 9 year-old, taking your first deck to go play with your buddies at school.  You don’t just lose, you get crushed.  You go home to your parents, tears in your eyes from the humiliation.  If your parents have means, they come to a store like we used to be and buy better cards so they don’t have to see that look again.  If not, the kid has several choices.

  • “This game is stupid, I’m not playing it anymore”.  Probably a good choice, but kids aren’t usually wired that way.
  • Trade for better cards.  This seems good on the surface, but the cards they need are worth many, many times what the cards they have are worth.  So they end up learning, at a pretty early age, to take advantage of less knowledgeable players.  This is something we deal with directly in all of the collectible card games, and when a kid gets taken advantage of, they can either decide to talk advantage of the next person or to never make anyone else feel as bad as they do now.  It is one of the fundamental building blocks to becoming an honest person or not.
  • Stealing: See the deck that beat them in the kids backpack….

This isn’t the majority of kids that end up down a bad path, but it is enough that starts to seriously influence the ethics of the community.   There are a couple of additional things about the game that complete the story.

  • Lotto Packs.  All collectible card games have the “oh, what’s in this one” aspect that has been part of collectible cards since baseball cards.  It’s true of Magic, Pokemon, etc. But Yugioh is an extreme with this.  It was well known that of a box of 24 packs had about 8 that were were worth anything at all.  It was totally common to watch people open packs, look for the ultra rare and throw the rest of the pack out if it wasn’t there.  With this level of gambling mentality, it affects how people view the ethics of trading.
  • Turn one win fury:  With all the combos that could win the game running around, it becomes almost a coin flip to see who finds their combo first.  If you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on your deck and your opponent gets his combo out first and locks you down, people tend to get, shall we say, cranky.  This is why we had so many near fights during tournaments.
  • “Dealing” trading cards:  Because the cards that make these auto win combos are so critical in playing, they become fairly valuable.  Add this to the culture of it being ok to take advantage of other people during trades, and you get people that are acting almost like the not so great version of dealers with the valuable cards.
  • Unclear Rules=different kind of players. The unspoken truth of the kids who really learn to play Pokemon and the Magic players is that it tends to attract fairly intelligent people.  Trying to figure out how to make different rules work together is a super interesting and challenging thing to do.  The rules on the Yugioh cards can be so difficult to understand and obscure that instead of people figuring out their own cool things, they hear from someone else how that new cool deck work.  That means that you get a fairly large percentage of the community that plays just for the chance to beat each other, or to try and make money off their wheeling and dealing for cards.   There is often a more aggressive group of players that joins then what you would imagine would be attracted to playing a non gambling card game.

Not all Yugioh Players are bad, but enough: I’m not saying that this affects everyone, or even the majority of players. But it does change the tone of the community, the ethics and how they treat each other.  I believe this enough that even though Yugioh was a full third of my business, I made the decision, as both a store owner and a father to ban the game utterly from the store.  This was not something I did lightly or without a great deal of thought and consideration. Not only no sales, but no Yugioh cards are allowed at the store, and I actively do my best to encourage kids away from playing the game. I’m sorry for the good folks who like the game, but after 5 years, I have never regretted it, and to answer a frequently asked question, will never bring it back to the store.  (I could use my access to sell it online and make a decent profit, but once I believed it was a bad influence, as a dad, I couldn’t do even that.)

But my kid wants to play Yugioh: For parents who’s kids (frequently Pokemon players who are looking to move on) are getting interested in Pokemon, I would strongly suggest gentle urging towards Magic instead. (You can bring them in and I’ll provide parental support.  I may be the Peanuts “wah, wah” parents to my own kids, but for other kids, I’m the guy behind the counter at D20.  I can use that bully pulpit to help with this so they don’t just end up seeing it as forbidden fruit.)   Magic was the first of the games, and has the good stuff of the collectible card games, (social interaction, really using your brain, etc.) without that level of negative side effects. Probably the best feature is they can do what is called limited play. (Basically show up and do events where they play with the cards from the packs they get as part of the event.  Everyone starts even, and it is a chance for them to play with the packs they collect.  There are even team events that can be played with a buddy or even parent.)  You still want to make sure they trade fair, and are get interested in the playing, not just opening packs, but it’s a good choice I have no problem recommending.  Tell you the truth, I hesitated talking publicly about my observations about Yugioh, because I didn’t want that to get generalized unfairly to the rest of the collectible card games.

So I’m addicted to phones too–An(other) open letter to D20 Kids & Parents

(Kids, don’t read this*.  It talks about some things being done in the mobile industry that are designed to manipulate people into doing things for the sake of advertising and in app purchases that are actually leading to medical level changes in the way our brains work, leading to some pretty bad stuff.)

There is an elephant in the room, and it is hard to get his attention because he has his trunk stuck in his smartphone.  There are a whole bunch of really smart people working really hard to use every psychological trick they can to get me to spend as much time as possible on our cell phones.

And they are winning.

Fun that makes me feel bad. I didn’t like it before when it just made me feel bad. And I now like it way less that I’ve come to understand it is affecting my sleep patterns,  how well I think, and acting like a drug, trading little moments of feeling good but leaving me sense of feeling depressed and out of control.  So I guess I fit into the classic definition of being addicted, knowing that something isn’t good for you, not wanting to do it, and doing it anyway.

Ain’t just me. The much bigger problem is that I talk to kids and parents everyday, so I know I’m not alone in this.  In fact it’s so universal that most of us have just thrown up our hands as the new way the world works.  But there is something about it that has felt more serious for a while, so I’ve started to look at it more carefully and what I found was a much bigger deal then I thought.  In a world where it seems like there is a crisis a day, it seems almost foolish to raise up a hand and try and point to a place where you think you see the damn starting to crack.  But I don’t raise my hand like this often, and I’m raising it here…raising the hand, waving the red flag, pulling the fire alarm.  I don’t even want to list the level of damage/danger here, because I don’t want to get written off as hysterical or overreacting…so I’m just going to ask that you trust me enough to read all the way through this over-sized tome, and if you end up feeling like I do, come and help me figure out what to do about it.

I’m a dad, and I spend a huge amount of time trying to get my kids to spend less time on their cell phones, and we get into a ton of fights about it.    “You don’t understand.  Your generation doesn’t get it.  I am being social, just with my friends on the phone and not with you.” etc, etc, The very process of trying to get my kids off the phone so we can have better time together generates fights that leave everyone mad in their corners, not being social at all.  (Does this sound familiar to any of you?)  As parents, its pretty obvious to see the difference in how our kids feel and behave when they are not on the phones so much, but trying to do something about it is way harder then it should be.  Besides, everybody is going through it so maybe it’s not really a thing, just us having to adjust to a different way of being in the world.  Or maybe there is something very serious going on and we in the middle of it so much that it’s hard to see what’s going on.

Hi, I’m Ben and I’m… I’m going to make two statements, one about me and one that is so outrageous that I’m either an utter fool, or it’s a very big and very real deal.

  1. I’ve been having real problems controlling myself with my phone too.  I’ve been trying not to says addiction, but if it looks like a duck and clicks like a duck…its probably an addicted duck. 
  2. In 10-20 years people will look back on this time as an actual health crisis, the way that we look back on the cigarette industry.
Digital Nicotine. So I’ll say that second part again, and try and explain what I mean.  When we look back in 10-20 years at this time, people are going to be looking back on this time the same way that we look back on the health crisis caused by smoking.  It’s almost impossible now to imagine there was a time when people didn’t recognize either the addictive power of cigarettes, or realize how much suffering/ death it was causing. And to imagine that there were people in that industry, who once they understood both the addictive nature of what they were doing and what it was doing to people, spend huge amounts of money, hiring the best people they could, to discredit the scientists, to increase the addictive properties of what they were selling and to focus the most sophisticated techniques possible to not only get people to smoke more, but to get to teens and pre-teens and get them to try smoking, knowing that once they did, they would likely have customers for their (admittedly shorter) lives.  (Smoker’s average lifespan is 10 years shorter then then those who never smoked.

We should have known better hall of fame: There have been a number of times in the past where we did mindbogglingly stupid stuff without realizing the effects.  It’s almost unimaginable that back in the 50’s people had no idea that smoking was actually bad for you.  There were dancing cigarette packs in the commercials of TV shows, and ads talking about the health benefits of one brand over another. Not to mention the X-ray shoe store boxes:  You know how when you get an x-ray, they drape your body with lead covering and step out of the room while they flash the x-ray for the shortest imaginable time, because they know that long exposure to x-rays has a high likelihood of caucusing cancer.
There was a period where you could go into a shoe store and put your foot in a machine.  To put that in context, the a dental x-ray would expose you to 0.005 mSv of radiation, 20 seconds in the foot box would expose you to ~48 mSv.  Oh, and did I mention the day my high school physic teacher brought in a nice blob of Mercury in a film canister for us to pass around and play with to show us metal that was in a liquid state at room temperature.  But hey, we didn’t know better and with the exception of the cigarette, when we figured out it was bad for us, we stopped.  
The cigarettes were a different story, for two reasons.  
  1. They were chemically addictive.
  2. There was enough money to be made that there was a whole industry dependent on, well people being dependent.   

I’m not addicted…what is addicted anyway? There are a lot of definitions for addictive, but the best one that I know if is something that you do, that you know is bad for you, can see the bad results, part of you is aware of it and knows you shouldn’t do it, and you do it anyway.  You can feel two voices warring inside of you, one that knows better, and the other that will use any tool at its disposal to have you not think about any negative consequences, and will rebel against anyone who might get in the way of doing it.  There’s a whole brain chemistry thing with the parts of the brain that are set up to reward us for doing things that are good for us, getting hijacked by things that provide the same sensations but without the benefits.

So how does this have anything to do with cellphones, or more specifically smartphones?  I’m going to do more writings about this in the year to come, but it turns out that when you hire a lot of the smartest people in the world to try and get people to spend as much time as possible with your apps, to basically figure out how their brains work and try and stimulate the parts of the brain that will get them to do something over and over again, that you are creating addictions.  That’s not quite digital nicotine yet, because what’s the harm being done?  It’s just people spending some of their free time on their phones…what the big deal?

Image result for addicted to cell phone

Getting Mad. Here’s where I start to go from nice guy, kindly store owner Ben, to quietly furious and determined to do everything I can to do something about this Ben. 
Here are a number of the affects that the wrong kind of/too much time on the smart phones has been having. ( Everything on this list makes sense from observation and has credible studies behind them.) One note before reading this list.  I think it’s really important for each of us to be able to be honest in our own observations in how we are being affected.  Really smart people have been working very hard to get us addicted to these devices, and it’s going to take a huge amount of effort and willpower to break that.  I don’t know what all the steps are, but the first is being strong enough to really look at what is going on with ourselves.   I will be adding more links/references to this list as time goes on.   
All the list contributes to and pales in comparison to the last item.
  1. Health5 Serious Side Effects of Using Smartphones Discover the dangerous consequences of your cell phone habitImage result for effects of cell phone addiction
    1. Sleep disruption
    2. Back and neck problems
    3. Hand/Finger problems
  2. Safety
    1. Distraction while driving is massively increasing…killing about 1/3 as many people as drunk driving.
  3. BI Graphics_Bluelight effectsCognition-changing the way our brain functions
    1. Significant reduction in ability to maintain attention and focus.
    2. Memory drops-Brain shifts to not store things that the phone has stored/access to
    3. Notifications cause shockingly high drops in productivity
    4. Neurological changes based on different stimulus creates same neurochemical addiction as most drugs. 
  4.  Homework/productivity
    1. Even just having the phone next to you—with the notifications off, reduces capacity to think/focus.
    2. Notifications lead to significant drop in focus/productivity
    3. “multi-tasking” consuming other media while working reduces how effectively you think.
  5. SocialImage result for effects of cell phone addiction
    1. Smart phone use is decreasing face to face time and skills, connected to depression and sense of isolation
    2. People withhold connection/trust from other people who are engaged with phones, even if they are just on the table
    3. Issues around smart phone use are causing stress and barriers between parents and children
  6. Depression and Suicide
  7. Smartphones becoming common among teens is the only significant/attributable change leading to a 25-30% increase in teen unhappiness, depression and Suicide that has been growing side by side with smart phone use from 2010 till the present.

 

And the last one is what has pushed me over the edge.  I can’t step back and do nothing anymore.  But I also know that there have been thousands of people who are extremely smart, who have gone through great efforts to make this problem much harder 

then just triumph of the will.  So I’m going to do my best trick in terms of solving hard problems…gonna get as many other brains (and hearts) as I can working on this.  And that includes the kids too… So look for more, comment, share and show up.  It’s too important not to.

*Of course I wanted you to read this.  See, I’m smart and a little manipulative too. (When you get addicted to something, one of the effects is a splitting of the voices inside you.  There is the voice that can see what is going on and wants control back.  And there is the voice that feels it needs that endorphin rush that comes from the behaviors, that will do everything your smart mind can think of to deflect anything that might give the first voice a chance to take control back. )

 

The Secret Life of Adults (and other kids)-The “right thing” if someone dies

[This article is part of a series where we reveal stuff that adults or kids don’t usually admit to each other.  Mostly it’s me fessing up to my secret thoughts or stuff I’ve done that maybe I shouldn’t have.]

One of the people at the store just lost their Dad, and my heart is kinda breaking for them as I write this.  I’m (like everyone else around him and his family) trying to figure out what the “right” thing is to say. And I want let him know that there are tons of ways that are normal to react to this, that there is no “right” way for him to feel, that whatever he’s feeling, it really is ok.  The truth is that everybody has a hard time figuring this out.

It feels like you should know the right thing to say or do when you find out about a loss that is just to big too imagine. If is a friend or someone we love, we tend fall back on “I’m so sorry for your loss” and “Is there anything I can do”.  And if it is you, you accept those words in a blur, unable to believe that the rest of the world is still going on as usual when everything has just completely changed.  Trying to figure out the right thing to do or feel makes a really tough time, much tougher.

If you are going through this, and this is intended for our friend, this stuff comes at you as it comes, and it’s all ok. All the cliche stuff has some basis in truth, but the order of what you are going through, and when or if you go through it is different for each person.

  • For some people, it hits them like a hammer to the gut right away.
  • For others, they feel bad that they don’t feel “enough” at the beginning.
  • Some people reach out to their friends and loved ones for support, others don’t want to talk about it.
  • Some take great comfort from the people who reach out, others snap back at them, because how can they understand?
  • Some put on a brave face to show that they are ok, and that no one needs to worry about them.
  • Some focus all their attention of taking care of the others in their family who are hurt.
  • Some just put all the feelings away to deal with later
  • Some just cry until they can’t cry anymore
  • Some write or draw or do anything else they can to either process or distract themselves
  • And a thousand other things…

Win with Grace, Lose with Style, Play for fun…The rules of the store and The Elections… (Or, don’t listen to them, listen to me…)

Win with Grace, Lose with Style, Play for fun…The rules of the store and The Elections… (Or, don’t listen to them, listen to me…)

I can’t believe I need to write this, but clearly I do.  The election is about to happen, and regardless of the outcome, it’s important to know that not only have the people running acted in ways that we shouldn’t emulate, that honestly, if they’d been in the store, we would have had a little private chat about the rules.
pic-of-d20-store-rules(I actually work hard to keep politics out of the store….there are certain issues, particularly those with deeply held personal beliefs, that once you start engaging in, it becomes hard to see someone who disagrees with you as anything beyond someone who is “other”, and this is a place for treating each other with respect so we can have (gasp) fun with each other.  I’m not going to change that policy now.  I have my own preferences, but I won’t push them on anybody.)
    • No Bad Language:   This rule extends beyond just swearing, but to smack talk in general.  Basically anything that is aimed at the purpose of making someone else feel uncomfortable, unwelcome or to attack their self-worth or self-confidence is just not ok. It doesn’t do anything besides make the other person like you less and poisons the ability to talk with each other and have fun.  Sure we compete and do our best to win, but none of that requires or is benefited by being mean.
Given that, I do feel like I need to say something about one aspect of all of this.  The idea of  elections is to choose people, in the case of the legislators (the law makers) who will act on our behalf to make the laws that will allow us to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. And in the case of the president, that person is the citizen that we choose to act on our behalf in making sure those laws are enforced, in being our face to the world, to act when disasters happen, and to protect us and those we feel need protecting on our behalf.  They are both part of the check and balance of power on each other, come up with by our founding fathers who saw just what went wrong when all the power was in the hands of one person with the kings that ignored the will of the people, or with the will of the people when the passions of a moment turned them from people to the mob, as happened in France, who’s persecuted turned to persecutors, filling baskets with the remnants of their vengeance.
    • No Roughhousing or unwanted physical contact:  Not a place for grabbing, hitting or physically hurting other people.  (And no, if another player says that they will pay to get you out of trouble if you go and hurt someone that is annoying them, you’ll both get kicked out.)  Hurting someone, or encouraging someone else to hurt someone is utterly unacceptable.
The law makers are supposed to be our avatars….working together on our behalf, and the President should be the best of us, the person who we most trust to do the right thing when the clock is ticking and to lead and inspire us.
    • Good sportsmanship:  If you win or you lose, reach across the table, shake hands and say good game.  Those who do will have fun every-time, not just when they win, and get a chance to learn and get better.  Nobody wants to play or even be around someone who comes up with excuses why they didn’t win, particularly before the match even begins.
There has been behavior that has happened, over and over again in this campaign that, far from inspiring us and giving us things to aspire to, is so bad that if it happened in the store, I’d have to pull someone aside and have a quiet talk about treating each other with respect and trying to work things out.    For my young players, who’ve done so well at bringing out the best in each other, at turning away from teasing, name-calling and bad sportsmanship, know that for many of us adults, we are also looking in disbelief at presidential candidates who act with the language of frustrated little kids.
In terms of our Senators and Congresspeople, if we just wanted to have you vote on party lines, not actually talk with each other about the merits of each law, we can do that.   You guys can sit on the side, writing petitions, and we’ll vote from home.  Or we can just send one of those pecking water bird toys that hits the same button over and over again.
There are a lot of things wrong with the system at this point. Hidden money making it so our representatives need to give access to those with bigger pockets, often over doing the right thing for those of us who elected them. Legislators living in such fear of being singled out and attacked by their own parties, that the idea of reaching out to the other side and talking things through puts them at real risk.  Would any of us act that way?  Do we want those who are acting for us doing that?  (Here is an amazing video about what has happened over the last 50+ years in congress)
https://youtu.be/tEczkhfLwqM
But what we have to do is remember that the system was set up by some pretty smart people, (people like us), who tried to figure out the best way to do things and to set up systems of checks and balances that would keep things stable while they were working, but allow for changes (amendments) if something was clearly not working the way that they intended.  If you get frustrated, remember that, and then work to understand why and make things better.
And one final thing.  Every one of you that comes to the store on a regular basis, behaves better then what we are seeing in front of us.  So if that little voice inside says, “this isn’t a good person to try and be like”, pay attention to it.  You’ve been part of creating a good an welcoming place at D20, so as far as I’m concerned. you are doing good so far.
Ben
P.S. For those of you who are voting, I won’t suggest who you vote for, but would ask one thing:  None of this is as simplistic as it is portrayed.  Don’t get stubborn in either direction because of what someone else tries to tell you to do.  Take the time to really look at the candidates and decide who you want to represent and act for you for the next 4 years once all the ads are done and it is just working at the highest pressure, most intense job in the country, and who you would least like to see in that role.  We’ve seen from previous elections that they are not all the same and who is there has real and lasting consequences for all of us. And go and vote….

  

So I shoplifted as a kid. An open letter to my D20 kids about shoplifting..

“I couldn’t understand how I went from feeling such a good feeling of being clever and getting away with being better then the system to having what felt like a physical pit in my stomach and a flush of shame that I was convinced would never, ever go away…”

The other day, we caught some kids figuring out how to scam the card machine at the store.  These weren’t bad kids, but it didn’t even occur to them that they were stealing, or if it did, they didn’t draw the line to the wrong of it.  So I decided to pull out a story that I’ve only told a few people about what happened with me when I shoplifted at about the same age that these kids did.

Stealing and shoplifting are a fact of life for a store like D20, and what you would only know if you actually did the books at the end of the month, is that while the stealing is a fairly small percentage of our sales, so is the profit that we end up with each month, and that little bit of stealing here and there, really hurts us a lot.

But that is never my first thought when we catch someone stealing, particularly a kid.  I know, from personal experience, that moment in time can be the point where someone chooses what kind of person they want to be.  This is the time when …

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