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About
I'm Brad Nicholson. I've been around, but Destructoid is where my dawgs at. You can see my work here, at MTV, at Giant Bomb or other great places around the Internet. I also run a podcast called The Electric Hydra and work out a lot in my spare time. Yeah. I keep busy.
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All right, so it’s been awhile. Blame Japanese RPGs, medieval women, Aztec sacrifice, and late Geometric authors. Seriously. Before I get into the real point of this post I first want to point out where I’m at in Magic: The Gathering. It’s been a crazy experience, learning and exploring my first real card-based game. One of my earliest articles at Destructoid was over the fact that I missed the boat on the card game phenomenon. I assumed games like Culdcept Saga were completely over my head. Now – after exploring Magic I have found new possibilities for entertainment.

I had a stunning amount of preconceived notions, both about card games and really board games in general. Obviously, I make my living writing about the digital kinds of games so I just assumed that tabletop stuff was just boring. I’ve had a hell of a good time thus far with Magic and I’m thankful the people at Wizards of the Coast for opening my eyes to it. There’s a great deal of thought that goes into every game. There are multiple, critical strategic ways to go about it, and there’s awesome a bunch of room to explore and create your own unique content. And that’s what making a deck is all about. Creating Magic on your own.

I’m not the greatest Magic player thus far. My girlfriend tosses me constantly and I almost got beat by a 7th grader. I’m not saying that they lack skill, but I’d like to think that I have an upper hand when it comes to games. It dawned on me that my losing wasn’t because of my skill (although, I’m sure it’s in question), it’s because the deck that I wanted needed to be created by me.



So – how do you make your own deck? Hell, that’s a question I’m still asking myself. But here’s what I did and perhaps it can shed some insight into the process of evaluation, research, and conversation that one needs to have when thinking about jumping to the tier after theme decks.

The first thing I did was go to my Magic shop. These guys don’t know my name quite yet, but they’re getting familiar with my beautiful mug at this point. My main goal was to create a deck that had significant control mechanisms, but also had the opportunity to churn out a bunch of low-level monsters to feed into my girlfriend’s Kitthkin deck of evil. I was advised about a bunch of cards that would be acceptable for this task. At this point I went home, drew up some plans and started on my journey.

From here I bought a base theme deck called “Evincar’s Tyranny.” I figured that I could still use the nudge, but the lower amount of cards gave me the opportunity to supplement the deck with the cards I wanted. I eventually settled with cards designed to make my opponent discard. I bought several “Unmakes,” “Raven’s Crime,” “Ravenous Rats,” “Terror” instants, and a few of the regenerating “Drudge Skeletons.” In the end, I had a deck that couldn’t necessarily withstand the wrath of the Kithkin deck of evil, but it could control the power of it by constantly making the player discard.



And that’s exactly what I did – game, after game, after game. In fact, I actually succeeded in making my girlfriend so mad that she decided to visit the Magic store to get her own deck to counter my shenanigans. For the longest time I didn’t think consistent victory against her unstoppable deck was possible. I didn’t really factor in my own ingenuity.

Of course – I cheated the process. Regardless, it still feels good. Victory eternally mine until she goes through the same steps that I did. Then I’ll have to change. And you know what, that’s pretty cool. Constant evolution.

Speaking of that – Magic is going through a change as well. The upcoming Shards of Alara decks are on the horizon. My next blog will be the last until I get my hands on all of the new stuff, but I thought I’d take a second to point out the features, etc.
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My last Magic article talked about how much a young person can learn from Magic: the Gathering. Someone who commented on that article talked about something that Wizards of the Coast is considering right now - the person that wants to play Magic, but doesn’t have the resources at hand to begin. It’s okay, Wizards has your back. Recently, Wizards of the Coast debuted their Two-Player Starter Game, the perfect package for those of you that have considered Magic, but turned away by the seemingly endless amounts of cards.

The Two-Player Starter Game is a small bundle, formulated to get you and a buddy playing the game nearly immediately. It comes with quite a few items, so I’ll walk you through one of the bundles that Wizards tossed me.



First of all, you have to pick up the package. It is available everywhere Magic cards are sold, including major retailers like Wal-Mart. As you can see, it has a fairly identifiable shape and the text makes its purpose fairly obvious. After grabbing the set, you’ll have to grab a partner. If you’re like me, dragging your loved one into it may be the easiest (and most rewarding) thing to do. After sitting them down, it’s time to crack open the set.

The set packs quite a wallop for its ten dollar price point. Here’s what you get:

* Two 15-card Tenth Edition core set booster packs
* 20 assorted basic land cards
* A quick-start insert



Each booster pack has a FOIL in it, which is great – and the land is both diverse and plentiful as you can see. It’s a perfect way to get into the game. The quick-start insert is probably the most important thing in the set, as you’ll be experiencing the game for the first time. It’s a huge insert, with fairly concise directions. It spells out when to lay down cards, how cards work, what the different types of cards look like, how to gauge health, how to attack/block, and everything else a rookie is going to ask. Of course, learning Magic takes a small bit of dedication. To help with the transition, it may be best to check out PlayMagic.com and their videos. It was a huge help to me.

Let’s suppose you have already learned the rules, now it’s time to play. The great thing about the two-player starter set is that it allows for quick games while offering a variety of cards. It really exposes the new player to the majority of things that they would encounter with an upper-level theme deck. I just cracked open my black starter set. Let’s check out the highlights of what I got:

* Four of each type of Land (Swamp, Plains, Island, Mountain, and Forest)
* A Masashi Oiso card (He’s won $139,910 in tournaments!)
* Platinum Nekrataal Card (First strike, very cool)
* Gold Gaea’s Herald (1/1, your spells can’t be countered)
* FOIL Lava Axe (Sorcery, five damage to target player)
* FOIL March of Machines (Turns nonartifact creatures into artifacts with power and toughness equal to their mana cost)
* Grizzly Bears!



As you can see, that’s not that bad at all for a starter pack.

The thing about Magic is that it does take a little time, but the rewards are awesome. You get to make new friends, explore a community, and use your head. After a few hours of a game like Facebreaker, I’m more than happy to energize my brain cells with a bit of strategy.

The best thing about what Wizards of the Coast are doing right now is that they’re focusing on accessibility. It’s a parallel to what we’re seeing in the MMO market. While I was at Gen Con, this is what every developer and publisher was preaching. I think these guys are figuring out that the casual potential consumers feel as though they’re at a disadvantage and therefore probably won’t go for the product. Wizards worked with me and taught me that this game is pretty hip.

Give it a shot in you’re interested and tell me how it goes!
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There’s something great about Magic, and it isn’t talked about that much. Last week, I had the opportunity to play against my friend’s niece. She’s a 7th grader and is really into the game. I didn’t know that she played until a conversation with her grandmother revealed her interest. Initially, I found her interest into the game odd – but then I really started to think about it. Aside from the fun that can be had with the game, there is some especially valuable stuff for a young person to learn while playing a game.

Let me just say that our game went pretty well for me. Obviously, my goal wasn’t to crush her with my amazing Magic skills. While I have the competitive spirit, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings. She was utilizing a green deck that she built herself (a feat that I will try to accomplish soon) and I was utilizing a DarkSteel deck that I bought from my local Magic store. She couldn’t handle my flury of spells, so she crumpled pretty soon. As a consolation prize, I gave her a few of my cards anyway.



What’s more important is what this little girl is learning. First of all, she has to interpret the text on the body of the cards. Each card has a special ability, and even a bit of an explanation of what it does within the Magic universe. Not only does she have to read the card, but she also has to draw up the ideal scenario in which to use it. We take these things for granted as Magic players, but for her, it’s a higher order skill.

Of course, she has to know the rules of the game. While not wildly complex, there are certainly guidelines to uphold. She was aware of what counters did, how aerial creatures attack, blocking schemes, and even the proper times to toss down Instants and Sorceries. It was awesome to see her at work. Within the rules, comes strategy. She knew the proper strategic times of when to place down cards, etc. This is the real kicker, and it was a joy to see her exercising her brain in such a way. Magic is stimulating, and unlike the television, requires some extra thought. For us, it would be like Braid. Puzzles require logical thought and so does the placement of cards.

There’s also a bunch of little things that go into the game. Young players have to learn to evaluate the value of cards when they build their own decks. They also have to use their imaginations. The world of Magic is fairly vibrant in its visual depictions on the cards, but more goes into an attack for a young person. They’re visualizing the battle – you know, monsters popping out of the cards. I could see her constructing a wonderful fight between our opposing creatures, and I even bet that when she goes home she dreams of the fantasy worlds that the game has incorporated with it.



It also gives her the opportunity to learn about proper competition and follow some social norms. We all know that when we log onto Xbox Live, it’s a risky experience when it comes to the conduct of younger individuals. All to often, in popular titles like Halo, we’re assaulted with racial slurs and general name-calling throughout matches and after games. With Magic, everything is so personal. The person you’re playing against is literally in front of you. You have to learn some social norms in both defeat and victory. It’s a great experience. She took her loss like a champ and extended her hand. It was a great moment.

A little bit ago, the guys at Wizards sent me some pretty hip stuff to help with this learning experience. My next column will be about the two-player starter pack. I’ll dissect it for you and hopefully find out a few ways to convince others that Magic isn’t the leper collector that most think it is.
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Brad Nicholson
9:41 AM on 09.13.2008



Awhile back I mentioned that I needed some new Magic: the Gathering cards and that I was interested in checking out a sanctioned store in my area. Thanks to this list supplied by the guys at PlayMagic, I was able to find one and explore its shelves. First off, that list above was something new to me. Apparently every Friday, the guys at Wizards hold a casual tournament called Friday Night Magic. Aside from getting help and learning how to play, FNM gives players the opportunity to win cool prizes! Also, you don’t even have to win the game for some of them, which is vitally important to me at this stage in my Magic career.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the rules of the event that is probably run somewhere in your area as well:

* 1st and 2nd place receive one prize card each.
* Door prize – The tournament organizer will randomly award the remaining two prize cards to two players that did not place first or second.
* FNM events are 8k tournaments and have a Rules Enforcement Level (REL) of 1.
* Stores do not have to run FNM tournaments each week, so contact the store in advance be sure they are running FNM on the date you're planning on visiting.
* All 4 prize cards associated with each Friday Night Magic event must be awarded to the players.
* If fewer than 8 players participate, the event does not count toward player ratings, and prize cards must be returned.
* Friday Night Magic events can only be run on Fridays.

I’m mulling around the possibility of attending an FNM event next week, but for right now I’ll focus on my first trip to my Magic store. As I mentioned, my girlfriend has really been rocking me in the game. She’s good, I’ve got to admit – but I know I can be better. I just need some more cards that break the rules. So, the choice to check out my local store was an easy one.



First off, the majority of these stores aren’t massive. It’s not like walking into Wal-Mart and being under its florescent glow. Magic stores are often small, book brokers. I find this to be the perfect way to learn about the game and be in an environment conducive to the experience.

When I walked into the store I was surprised by the amount of stuff that they had. Booster packs lined the walls, and boxes upon boxes of theme decks were packed on the shelves. It’s like walking into a GameStop, but for cards. I didn’t even know this kind of thing existed.

I stopped to talk to the employee who took care of the Magic section, and he was thoroughly helpful. I asked him about my latest quandary, the +1/-1 counters, and even what the hell goats did. He answered my questions thoroughly, and a few other guys hanging around the store gave their few cents with the issue as well. While sticking my nose in a rulebook for a few minutes would have given me the same lesson, nothing beats being told what something does in person. It sticks better this way. I had to look up the rules for flying creatures a billion times, but it wasn’t until a side conversation at the shop that I really understood what they could do and when.



Because I’m a rookie, I decided to buy a couple of theme decks to settle the score with my girlfriend, the first of which is the black deck from DarkSteel. It’s all about control and the regeneration of your creatures. It sounds like the perfect counter to her hard-hitting and fast Kithkin deck. In addition to this, I was also able to buy a really hip life counter, and a few placeholder cards for her 1/1 knights and my 1/1 goats. Very cool and very helpful.

I took quite a bit from this experience. The first thing I latched onto is how social Magic: the Gathering really is. The majority of people (even myself at one point) argue that Magic is a closeted activity. It’s not. Sure, it’s niche, but it is a wonderfully expressive game that allows you to communicate, make new friends, and even play competitively. It’s like Xbox Live, minus the whole Internet thing. The second thing I’ve grabbed from this experience is how easy it is to get what you need at a Magic store. They have an awesome selection of boosters and singular cards. It’s perfect if you want to build your first deck.

Next up, I almost got beat by a little girl and a demo of the two-player starter pack.
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Brad Nicholson
9:50 AM on 09.01.2008



Too Human, Silicon Knights’ long-awaited action role-playing game is a schizophrenic offering. I was initially compelled by the ideas and traits of which the game is composed, but after a few hours of play, I was driven mad by its incoherent plot, action, and gameplay devices. The game is certainly flawed, but its flaws don’t arise from any one place. The plot is severely stunted by poor writing and especially dreadful dialogue. The gameplay is hindered by both poor response times and control. The visuals look dreadful, with clippings issues abound. The levels are uninspired and devoid of character. The camera positioning is terrible and the game is incredibly short.

And even though the game is a mess, I find myself drawn to it. There’s a specific charm to Too Human that not many games explore. The first thing that keeps me looking at the title is the Norse influence. While a game like Max Payne utilized Norse mythology as a way of defining tone and dramatic flair, it’s interesting to actually play the mythos out in a cybernetic alternate future.

Too Human is the story of Baldur and his quest to find out what actually happened to his dead wife. At least, this is what I surmise that Silicon Knights wanted me to think when playing the title. Like most things with Too Human, I was always confused as to what I was doing with Baldur. Was Baldur searching for reasons, grasping at the opportunity to find out the cause of her untimely death? Or is Baldur simply a god who works for the Aesir and obeys orders? The game tosses around both of these ideas freely, switching them without real conflict or confrontation. The cut-scenes past the first hour of the game lack flair and, at times, context. It seems as if Too Human was a large puzzle, with intermittent pieces thrown together in a loose collage of story elements. It’s a big turnoff, and really hurts what could have been an excellent retelling of lore.



And that’s the thing - Too Human’s world is brilliant. The scattered seconds that you get to experience the city from afar, or even notice the local wildlife and its cybernetic construction, are an awesome thing – but Too Human doesn’t hold you there. Instead of creating interest, it just breaks it by tossing you in another level with hordes of monsters running at you from every direction.

It’s the hordes of monsters that really start breaking the game, and it’s unfortunate considering that killing and collecting is what Too Human is all about. Rotating and pushing the right analog stick in the direction of an enemy initiates combat. When pushed, Baldur goes through a short animation that represents an attack. The animation doesn’t actually coincide with hitting the monster, as most attacks clip through the monster instead of making solid contact, but the creature’s HP bar will decrease regardless. By rotating the stick, or pushing both analog sticks toward the monster, combos are created. These “fury” attacks are often seconds long, but can quickly finish off a singular opponent. Also included with the fighting system are a few face button attacks that can be unlocked by using the tech tree provided by the game. One button activates an attack called a “ruiner” that does damage in a radius, and another gives Baldur an enchantment that strengthens his base attack. Although these skills are unlocked, a combo meter has to be filled before they can be used. That means it’s up to the player to fight and kill around five creatures in stunning fashion before gaining access to the powers that can actually help navigate the tons of monsters on the screen. Baldur even has access to a little device on his back called a “spider” which can deal damage or stop missiles for several seconds upon deployment.

In the first few hours of the game, players will be fooled by the ease of the combat system and its meddling combo meter. The enemies come cheap and easy to kill, and the game is an enjoyable experience. Later, when the auto-leveling monsters begin to get harder and faster, the player will find that achieving combos begins to get ridiculously challenging, especially with a weaker class like the gun-oriented Commando.



This is the oddest thing about Too Human, because the first few hours are wonderfully fun to play. The game really clicks when the monsters die quickly and easily, as you go between singular monster focuses amidst the torrents of enemies. The most dramatic and well-scripted cut-scene arises within the opening of the game, as a god watches a machine devour a patron and introduces the player to the world of the game. These nice feelings are quickly washed away as a direct result of stronger enemies and lackluster controls required to dismiss the bad guys to their shadowy, cybernetic gods.

In fact, past the first two hours, Too Human becomes one of the worst action/RPGs I have ever played. I would be willing to bet that I spent more time stuck in the Valkyrie death animation than I spent actually playing the game past the first portion. The cut-scenes begin to get scattered and incoherent. The narrative breaks completely as new things are introduced on the fly with little flow, and the new enemies pop up with little explanation, nonetheless any flair.

Combat is supposedly all about streaming together sliding attacks with dramatic air juggles, but really it’s all about watching your health plummet. There is no blocking mechanic and even while suspended above battle, giving a creature one of the game’s longer fury specials, enemies can still do melee damage to Baldur. The most infuriating thing is catching on fire or getting poisoned from one of the many exploding enemies in the game. If you aren’t a BioEngineer, you literally just have to watch yourself die. It’s sick, considering that most loot-based games like Diablo give players an opportunity to heal themselves regardless of class. Instead of just offering healing potions, the game expects you to kill enough enemies to be rewarded with health drops, but often they aren’t available when needed the most.



What Too Human does somewhat correctly is hand out loot to collect and assemble on Baldur. Unfortunately, the game dumps tons of loot with the most important drops completely random. Killing better monsters does not necessarily equate to earning better loot. A normal creature can spill decent things whenever the game decides it to be so. Also, there is a megaton of loot to navigate through, which makes assembling a complete armor set completely impossible since new loot constantly outstrips the old or what player’s may have been holding onto to create a better looking set of armor. I found myself playing the game for just the opportunity to create a cool suit of armor, and I never got that. Instead, my Baldur ended up looking like a Christmas tree with all his odd nuts and bolts attached to him.

It’s important to note that all of the armor and weapons dropped in the game can’t initially be equipped either. Some monsters drop “blueprints,” which can be assembled from the game’s equipment screen. The equipment screen is an annoyance during gameplay because of its slow load time and unintuitive way to apply skill points and assemble armor. Although always easy navigate, it draws players away from the experience of the game for minutes at a time as they search through the ridiculous amounts of loot and assign skill points that don’t feel like they make a difference.

The game has a cooperative play function, and while it can be a fun experience at times, it is still weighed down by the total package of Too Human. Going through menus to upgrade weapons or armor while a buddy is on standby gets boring, and the action goes too quickly at times as two guys hack and slash their way through the game. Also, the Valkyrie doesn’t disappear during this mode, which can be extremely aggravating. The long death animation makes the walks back to the other cooperative player epic and boring if they have already dispensed of the enemies in an area. All the beaten levels in the single-player are available in the cooperative mode, although all of the story elements have been stripped.



Visually, the game looks supremely dated. Textures are often unrefined, flat, and bland. Characters are uninspired and the cut-scenes look dreadful. The game looks woefully unpolished, especially when swords push through a character’s armor, or the Valkyrie’s feet dips down through the level. The game also has a few performance hiccups. There were a couple of times during my play of the game where I found sound and monsters stripped from certain sections of the level. The sound isn’t much better, although I really enjoyed the pounding of my subwoofer every time Baldur made contact with the ground. I was also disturbed by the terrible voice-acting, and equally poor timing of the delivery of lines.

I’m fairly certain that a person could write forever about Too Human, and I believe I almost did. Bottom line is that Too Human is a severely hindered game, despite its good ideas. Combat becomes terrible, the loot becomes too much, and the story takes a dramatic slide from the opening cut-scene. These three traits are things that should define an action/RPG hybrid, and they all fall flat to some degree. When the game is really clicking and you’re inputting the commands perfectly, it can be fun, but more often than not, you’ll be staring at the Valkyrie’s eyes and wishing you were playing something else.
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If you’ve been following me thus far (and you totally should) you know that I’ve learned a few things about Magic: The Gathering. The first thing that I learned is that the game is fun to play. The second thing is that it can be really hard to convince an unwilling partner to play. The third thing I learned is how disastrous your first few games of Magic can be when you’re not familiar with the jargon or the rules.

I want to change the narrative flow of this column to a degree. The last time I spoke Magic, I mentioned that my partner and I were moving up to 60-card Eventide themed decks after learning some rookie pointers at Magic’s official website. I’ll still talk about that experience, but I want to break this apart into individual experiences that will impact me to my eventual goal of understanding the game perfectly and competing well in Wizard’s Xbox Live Arcade offering.

Now, I shall digress. Over the last few nights, my partner and I cracked open two Eventide decks. I grabbed the “Death March” deck, which is a Black/Green hybrid. The point of the deck is to continually regenerate your lesser creatures while waiting for an opportunity to toss out Doomgape, a 10/10 behemoth with Trample equipped. My partner used “Life Drain,” which is a White/Black hybrid. The point of that deck is to control the life points of an opponent while buffering your own. Both decks are wildly different, and we had a few awesome matches.




In the end, I was consistently the victor. Our first match took roughly twenty minutes, because we kept stumbling over blocking and flying rules. I blame videogame role-playing games, but I wanted to attack the creatures as opposed to the player. Also, we were consistently unclear as to how counterspells worked. After a few stumbles and a few searches on the Internet, I believe we worked through the game well. Unfortunately, I was never able to draw Doomgape.



I have a few questions to ask of you guys that know the game better than I:

How long do matches last? Is it typical that a larger card like Doomgate doesn’t get drawn?

Is the cap 60 cards? How many do the professionals use?

Am I becoming a loser?

I wish I can say more about the experience, but it’s hard to describe. We both had fun and found the game to be a better experience on this larger scale. I think we’re both surprised that matches went so quickly and that we weren’t able to see the vast majority of the cards in our decks. I find the sorcery and enchantment cards to be incredibly useful and add that extra “zing” to the game.

Next time I talk Magic: The Gathering I will talk about my first experience at an official Magic card retailer in my hometown. Wish me luck guys, because I’m afraid.
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