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Board Games in the time of Coronavirus

Life under quarantine can be difficult. Trying to stay safe while working from home or traveling as an ‘essential’ worker, worrying about friends and family members, parents home schooling kids, and a constant influx of confusing and often contradicting information. Stress is constantly rising, and many of our ways of dealing with it have been stripped from us.

What’s a gamer to do when the FLGS is closed, your local gaming club is not meeting, and you can’t head over to your friends house to play? Take to the internet of course!

Now, as many people will tell you, these solutions aren’t quite as good as what we’re giving up. When they are what you’ve got though, you make do and accept that it helps take the edge off being trapped at home.

For the avid TCG players out there, most of you know there is ususally an online version. Pok√©mon has an online version. Yu-Gi-Oh has one. Magic: The Gathering has two. And that doesn’t even count the unoffial sites players often use to overcome issues like building an online collection in addition to their paper one or having to pay tournament fees. Heck, there exist games like Hearthstone that exist solely online for additional options. Of course, these programs are often lacking some of the benefits of sitting down and playing with your friends (limited chat functions, having to navigate menus to do things like change or update decks, the lack of your favorite format, difficulty playing a specific person, etc.), but if you are looking to keep your skills sharp until the tournaments start back up, these are your best option.

Similarly, tabeltop RPG fans have options as well. There are the more video game-esque styles like DDO or the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 or Vampire: The Masquerade: Bloodlines 2. MMOs like World Of Warcraft or Eve Online have existed for years and usually have at least one heavy role play server. For those who perfer a more personal, less scripted game, there are countless forums and sites dedicated to running online campaigns with varying amounts of support. Google Hangouts and Discord are popular for people with dedicated groups who can’t meet in person but like to play at the same time, and of course Roll20 is a popular choice.

What about board games though? True, most board games have some sort of phone app, legitimate or copy-cat, that allows you to play said game against AI. Many of the good ones also allow you to play remotely, although even then it is often asynchronous and without any sort of in-game communication feature, meaning a single game can take days to play. You could try to stream play on something like Google Hangouts where one player sets up the board in their home with a dedicated camera on it and everyone plays remotely. That can be difficult though with games that have hidden information or require players to keep track of their own resources without them right in front of them.

Instead, more and more boardgamers are turning to Tabletop Simulator. TTS is a program designed to allow players to create and play boardgames online, with other players, in real time. Relying heavily on its online mod community, you can download game packs for many popular games and play them with your friends. Zombicide, Scythe, Arkham Horror, you name it, someone has likley made a mod for it. If you can’t find what you like, well with time and effort you can recreate it yourself. The program can handle hidden information, random effects, even automate game actions like moving monsters or restocking supplies.

Of course, it isn’t without its issues. Certain actions can be clunky, like placing your train on the right track in Ticket to Ride or accidently picking up a whole stack of cards when you try to draw one. Sometimes snap-to functions that are too close to each other can have undesired consequences (I can’t count the number of times our group had to dig through card piles in Catan to pull all the sheep out of the wheat pile for example). Sometimes a piece of imported art isn’t entirely clear at the provided resolution. And heavens forbid the server you’re using to host the images goes down. It can make the game unplayable.

Will any of these options replace in-person play once life returns to normal? Probably not. Even without their issues, there’s something different about sitting around a table with your friends to play a game that playing online just can’t replicate. Even so, it’s good to know these options are there when you need them. And sometimes, flipping the table online can be just as satisfying as in real life.

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mutate

Mutate is arguably one of the more complex abilities to be released in a Standard set. It has a lot of moving parts, and while the basics are pretty intuitive, the way it interacts with things is where the confusion can set in.

So let’s start at the beginning. How does mutate work? All mutate cards currently in print are creature cards. As such, you can cast them as normal and they will act as a normal creature in all respects. However, you could also cast them for their mutate cost. If you do, you will need to target a non-human creature you own (yes own, not just control). When the spell resolves, you will place the newly cast card either on top or on the bottom of the creature you targeted, and which position you place it decides the newly mutated creature’s stats. Your new creature will have the power, toughness, types, mana cost, and name of whichever creature is on top. It will have the abilities (basically everything in the text box) of all the permanents in the mutate pile.

So let’s look at an example. Say you have an Almighty Brushwagg in play and a Trumpeting Gnarr in your hand. You could just pay {1}{g}{u} to play it as a 3/3. It will give you a second creature and advance your board state. However, you may decide you’d like to mutate it instead. In this case, you pay {3}{g/u}{g/u} and target your Brushwagg. From here, you could choose to put the Gnarr below the Brushwagg, making a 1/1 trample with “Whenever this creature mutates, create a 3/3 green Beast creature token.” and “{3}{G}: ~ gets +3/+3 until end of turn.” Not much of an improvement here.

Your other option is to put the Gnarr on top of the Brushwagg. Now you end up with a 3/3 trample with “Whenever this creature mutates, create a 3/3 green Beast creature token.” and “{3}{G}: ~ gets +3/+3 until end of turn.” Much better. (Oh, and in either scenario you end up with a 3/3 green Beast creature token as well. This is a bonus for mutating with a Trumpeting Gnarr.) In both cases, your mutation will be able to attack if the Brushwagg was able to attack (i.e. started the turn under your control). Yay, psuedo-haste!

In nearly all respects for the rest of the game, your new creature acts as if it were a single creature on the field. When it attacks, your opponent your opponent can block it as one creature. If they use removal on it, the whole pile goes to the graveyard. If they attack with a menace creature, you will still need another creature to help out if you want to block with your mutate creature. So on and so forth.

However, as mentioned before there are some unusual interactions that can occur. Lets say your opponent Murders your Brushwagg from the above example with the Gnarr on the stack targeting it. Well, the Murder resolves as normal first, killing the Brushwagg. Your Gnarr no longer has a legal target, so does that mean it is countered due to lack of target? Luckily for you, no it doesn’t! Instead, your Gnarr resolves as if you had spent {1}{g}{u} to cast it. You do lose any mutate bonus (no 3/3 token for you), but you still have a creature. Some consolation at least.

Well, what if they try to Unsummon the mutated creature later? In this case both the Brushwagg and the Gnarr go back to your hand. You could spend the mana recasting and mutating them, or maybe it would be better to mutate the Gnarr onto a different target now. Your choice.

Similarly, if they choose to use Flicker of Fate to temporarily remove your creature, all creatures in the mutate pile are exiled, then returned to the battlefield. When the Gnarr comes back in, however, it comes in as its own creature and cannot mutate anything. After all, you didn’t cast it from your hand for its mutate cost, it is just being returned to the battlefield.

How about some less common (but still possible even in Standard) interactions? What if you use Nissa to animate a land and you later decide to mutate something on to it? Interestingly, no matter what creature you mutate onto the land or in what position, the newly formed creature will always be a 0/0 with 3 (or more if it get’s them elsewhere) +1/+1 counters on it. this is because the animated land has a Characteristic Defining Ability that will override any power/toughness written on the cards.

What if you mutate onto one of the Theros gods and lose devotion? Well, now you have a permanent on the battlefield that is not a creature, and if the mutate creature is on top of the god, it won’t be an enchantment either. In fact, it won’t have any permanent types at all! Yep, just your normal, everyday non-typed permanent hanging out on the battlefield. Oh, it still functions fine (abilities still trigger, if you gain devotion it becomes a creature again, etc.). Just… no types.

Well then, what if you decide you’d like to mutate Gideon Blackblade? Then, on your turn you have a creature with planeswalker abilities. At least, until your turn ends. Then, it matters which card is on top. If Gids is on top, then at end of turn it stops being a creature, as Gids normally does. It does retain all abilities of creatures mutated with it, but many of those will be less relevant once it is not longer a creature (and no, flying on a non-creature planeswalker doesn’t mean it can only be attacked by flyers). It can be attacked by your opponents creatures and will die if it has zero loyalty.

If a creature is on top, then it will remain a creature at end of turn. It will also retain the loyalty abilites, but since the restrictions are built in to the abilities, you can still only activate one of those a turn at a time when you could normally cast a sorcery. To make matters more complicated, if the creature is on top it does not lose loyalty counters from damage or have any adverse affects from have no loyalty. Oh, and by the way, make sure you are able to keep track of which counters are loyalty counters, which counters are +1/+1 counters, and which counters are ability counters from other cards in the set (flying, menace, trample, etc.). Easy, right?

That should about cover most of the interactions you will encounter with mutate. Not all of them of course. Magic, is a complex beast. You should be able to make your way through standard without too much issue though.

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A Companion Piece to Ikoria

As with most new sets, Ikoria comes with some new abilities and keywords. While Mutate has been getting the lions-share of the attention (and deservedly so, if for no other reason than complexity), Companion is attracting a few looks as well.

How does Companion work, anyway? Companion is a great way to lower the randomness of gameplay. Before the game starts, you can declare one creature with Companion in your sideboard as your designated Companion for the game. If you do, it starts face-up outside the game, similar to a Commander. Also, similar to a Commander, you may cast your companion from outside the game any time you could cast it from your hand (i.e when you can pay its mana cost and the stack is empty on your turn). Sounds great, right? Why wouldn’t you run a Companion every game?

Well, much like Commander, Companions come with deck building restrictions. Each companion has its own special restriction. While Keruga, the Macrosage won’t be your companion unless you only run things that cost 3 or more, Obosh, the Preypiercer can’t even. Some restrictions might seem like fun build arounds (Zirda, the Dawnwaker only wants to play with permanents with activated abilities), but others might seem overly stifling (Lutri, the Spellchaser will double all your instants and sorceries, but is it worth it if you can only run one of each nonland card in your deck?).

Unlike Commander, once you’ve cast your Companion, they act in all other respects exactly like a creature cast from your deck. When they die, they go to your graveyard. There is no way to continously replay them like a Commander (well, unless your deck is somehow built to continously replay a creature). They retain no special status to damage or prevent them from being shuffled into your deck or exiled. And you can always just run one in your maindeck if you don’t need to cast it on turn every game.

Ultimately, whether it is worth the cost to run a Companion is going to depend on the deck and what it gets out of it, but these creatures are sure to inspire some interesting decks. Personally, I can’t wait to see the look on Niv Mizzet Reborn’s face when he finally gets a look at Jegantha, the Wellspring!

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Godzilla on Ikoria?

Some of you may have noticed pictures floating around of Magic cards from the new set with pictures of the classic monsters from the Godzilla movie series. No, these aren’t fan-made alters, these are actual Magic cards. Does that mean that I can rip a Mothra from my Ikoria Draft Booster? Not quite.

These Godzilla cards are alternate art versions of various legendary monsters found in the set. There are two ways you can get these alternate art cards. The first way is to buy a booster box of Ikoria. Each booster box will contain one alternate art Godzilla Series Monster as a box topper. These cards will be sealed within the booster box and randomized. This is in addition to the Buy-A-Box promo card that is available (while supplies last) when you purchase a booster box from your Friendly Local Game Store. That Buy-A-Box promo? It’s also a Godzilla Series Monster (specifically Godzilla, King of the Monsters overlayed over the creature Zilortha, Strength Incarnate). The other way is through purchasing Collector Boosters. Each Collector Booster will have 1 foil or non-foil Godzilla Series Monster guaranteed.

The Godzilla Series Monsters are available in both foil and non-foil. But what if you aren’t a Godzilla fan, or just would rather not mix Magic with Godzilla? Are these powerful cards just unplayable for you? Not exactly. Each of these Godzilla Series Monsters is available in its non-Godzilla form as a card in the set. These are what you can get by opening Ikoria Draft Boosters. To make things easier to figure out, the Godzilla Series Monsters will have the name of the card they are overlaying in slightly smaller print underneath their Godzilla name. For all purposes of play, they are exactly the same: you can only have 4 of any combination of (for example) Godzilla, King of the Monsters and Zilortha, Strength Incarnate in a deck. If something requires you to name a card, naming Zilortha is the same as naming Godzilla, King of the Monsters (so Surgical Extraction will get both).

So now you can see for yourself what happens when Biollante clashes with Rodan. Or maybe just take out some aggresion by knocking Baby Godzilla around for a bit.