Friday, October 28, 2016

Making Money on Rotation - RTR Edition

It was just over two years ago that we saw the release of Khans of Tarkir, the addition of Onslaught Fetches into modern, and the rotation of Return to Ravnica out of standard. This represented the rotation out of the second set in the Magic Boom era of the early 2010s which is generally considered to have begun with Innistrad. Historically there rotation has been considered the best time to pickup eternal playables for long term gains a couple of years after rotation. 

Innistrad stood as a fairly major aberration as far as the unprecedented growth of Magic colliding with a printrun that struggled to keep up with demand. The following sets saw a much greater print run and a generally more stable power level of cards. Return to Ravnica represents the first block in the Magic Boom era that was printed to meet the rising demand levels. Surprisingly, four years after release. Boxes of RTR still run at approximately the same price as they did while they were in print.

The question I want to address here is if there is still money to be made in purchasing cards at rotation. The current changes to Standard rotation matter only a little when looking at this overall perspective since cards will still be rotating out. Someone picking up Snapcaster Mage and Liliana of the Veil at rotation could have easily seen a 150% gain. I believe that the future sets will have far more in common with RTR than they had with Innistrad with regards to print quantity. For comparison we’ll be looking at three different groups of cards. Rotating standard staples, eternal staples not relevant in standard, and casual cards.

Rotating Standard Staples

While looking back to the end of 2014 may not be the joy of anyone who was involved in standard at that point. We have a pretty clear picture of the metagame throughout the Theros Block revolving around three colors, and three decks. Theros was the age of Mono-Black Devotion, Mono-Blue Devotion, and Esper Control. By the end of the block we actually did begin to see the growth of a few other archetypes that were a derivative of these decks (Azorious Control and Orzohov Midrange) there was only ever fringe decks that existed outside of these colors such as R/G Monsters.

Interestingly enough the majority of these decks were heavily based on devotion cards from Theros block and only somewhat reliant on cards from Return to Ravnica outside of the Esper Control deck. The key cards from RTR for these decks include standard wonders such as Packrat, Nightveil Specter, Desecration Demon and Underworld Connections which have all fallen to essentially worthless in the modern era as they had no application outside of standard.

The cards in the Esper Control build were somewhat more durable but have suffered a number of other setbacks. Jace, Architect of Thought received a duel deck printing and has only been a rare occurrence in the sideboard of Modern decks essentially killing it’s value. Sphinx’s Revelation dropped off sharply and sees occasional play in Legacy. Of the heavily played RTR cards it seems that only Supreme Verdict managed to maintain significant comparative value. It has managed to spike to match it’s standard high price of almost $7 dollars and is now worth around $5 compared to its rotation price of $3 making it a fair investment but not a particularly good one.


The Shock Land cycle in RTR block was a significant reprinting that likely pushed sales heavily throughout the print cycle. Not surprisingly these remain some of the most valuable cards from the block. Perhaps more surprising is the limited gains these cards have had. Near rotation the majority of the shock lands were available for between 7-10$. At peak supply they were between 4-7$. Comparing Steam Vents’ rotation price to the current price we see only about a $2 gain from 10$ to 12$. While there was a spike putting it into the $15 period, but even this 50% gain requiring perfect timing is pretty insignificant considering the price of the card and the time it would have to be held.
This same story plays out pretty similarly for the other lands with several not even receiving such significant gains. The land cycle still represents the best investment of standard cards for long term holds but the belief that they would become $20 within a year seem to have been largely unfounded. We see only moderate gains two years out and in several cases cards have trending downwards for the past few months, even though it has been modern PPTQ season. While I wouldn’t advise against picking up your playsets of lands like these around rotation. I have my doubts that it’s the best place to sit investment money.

Sideboard Cards

One other area to look at are the Standard sideboard cards, several of which have found a home in sideboards of eternal decks. Cards like Rest in Peace and Pithing Needle maintained fairly low prices throughout Standard being available for a dollar or less at rotation. Now these cards have seen a significant rise with Pithing Needle at around $2.5 and Rest in Peace around $5. Additionally, Cyclonic Rift has seen a bounce from around $3 to about $6 for a decent double up. Much like Stony Silence out of Innistrad, sideboard cards don’t tend to hold significant value in standard but have a lot more potential to grow outside of standard. To me this signifies that in the future I’d be interested in looking into sideboard cards with eternal playability as significant post rotation gainers.

Cards Not Relevant in Standard

There’s this weird issue in standard where there are some really powerful cards that don’t find a deck to slot into in the format. These cards often times make an immediate impact on Modern or Legacy without being relevant in the standard metagame. This isn’t for cards like Snapcaster Mage which have a broad impact on multiple formats. The best example of this kind of card is Abrupt Decay. While clearly a powerful card, the impact on Legacy has been much more significant than the impact ever was on standard. 

Abrupt Decay represents one of the best opportunities from RTR block for significant profit after rotation, but there’s a difficult twist. From a standard low price of $5.5 the card had gone up to $12 at rotation with the birth of Abzan as a viable deck in Modern. While the card continued to spike to a price over $17 it has since cooled off significantly and finds itself back under the $10 range. Once again, a card seems to have dropped below its rotation price after a significant spike. Is there long term upside in Abrupt Decay? My feeling is probably not. It’s a card that is likely to be reprinted in Modern Masters 2017 which could put it around the $5 mark for the foreseeable future. While it is clearly a powerful card, the opportunity to cash in on it didn’t come at rotation and left fairly early. Most of the upside is gone at this point.

Another card with a somewhat similar trajectory is Voice of Resurgence. As the only notable card in Dragon’s Maze it has managed to hold its price despite being played very little in any format. Modern Zoo decks seem to be the main home for the card where it presents a certain level of protection against mass board clear but for the most part it is bolstered by being the only relevant card in a much maligned set. With a significant initial price of over $40 the price leveled out to around $18 for quite a while through rotation. It saw a significant spike back to the $40 price range as a response to the eldrazi menace and since has tapered off to around $27. Right now it’s not something I’d want to be holding long term as it is ripe for a reprint and it’s only real value comes from being the only decent mythic in bad small set. 

RTR block, overall didn’t add much to the overall Eternal metagame outside of these few cards. Unlike some sets where key commons or uncommons become eternal staples, there is very little attractive from this block to look at as long term holds. While some of the eternal playable cards offered the potential for a mid-term gain about a year out, none of them are places I’d currently want to have my money tied up. Other cards that see eternal play like Boros Charm, Experiment One,

Casual Cards

There hasn’t been huge casual appeal out of RTR. One card that looked poised to become huge was Sylvan Primordial which received a Commander ban insuring it would never hold significant value. Interestingly enough, it never actually held significant value. It sat under $1 for pretty much its entire life in standard. The one shining star of casual appeal has been Chromatic Lantern which is pretty much a staple of every multicolor commander deck. From a $4 rotation price to a $8 price today, this card pretty much emblematizes a perfect rotation investment.  There’s a couple other slow growth, casual cards that are approaching double up territory including Worldspine Worm couple Thespian Stage. But for the most part there isn’t a lot of appealing cards for casual play out of these sets.


Moving forward it looks like rotation is not the top time to pickup long term specs. The vast majority of cards from RTR with long term value experienced a significant drop in price during peak supply in the 6 months following release. For most of these cards, this was the ideal time to pick up these cards. It would have provided two different times to out them at a profit. First is during a spike in the new standard season, the second was during a spike about a year after rotation.
Overall, I have gained a fear of trying to pick up cards at rotation for near market price. The inevitable trajactory for the majority of these cards seems to be down rather than up. I’m especially not interested in cards that were standard staples at rotation as most of them have dried up into to nothing and the few that held value often times have ended up at below rotation price.
If I were going to invest in cards for the long term, I likely would be looking at powerful sideboard cards that see play in modern and I would be looking to pick them up at peak supply rather than rotation. I’d also be looking at incredibly cheap casual cards with long term appeal or playability in numerous decks.

Specs to Look At over the next couple of months

Ceremonious Rejection - Uncommon - Kaladesh
This is an incredibly powerful card with long term appeal. It’s also unlikely to see a reprint in a non artifact/eldrazi set. This makes it both an eternal playable as well as a difficult card to reprint. These will be left around after drafts, pick them up.

Thalia, Heretic Cathar - Rare - Eldrich Moon
At just over $2 for an eternal playable card that probably isn’t getting any cheaper, isn’t seeing major play in standard, this is a pretty good deal. Could this be $4 in four years, easily. Could it be $8 at rotation, definitely if there’s a deck. Seems like a good buy.

Out of Favor Man Lands - Rare - SOI
While these will probably drop as we move towards rotation, it turns out rotation is suddenly next fall instead of in spring. This gives these cards another chance to spike before rotation as well as being a decent hold long term. Lumbering Falls is a $1.

Kaladesh Fast Lands - Rare - Kaladesh
I wouldn’t look at picking up these cards just yet. I’d say after Aether Revolt and before Ahmonket spoilers is your ideal point, that should be peak supply.. I’m not in at $5 on these cards but I think that they’ll continue to work their way down and there’s likely to be one or two that are out of favor at any given point. At $2 I think you buy them all and at $3 you should be good for a few playsets.

Radiant Flames - Rare - BFZ
This card is essentially free at 50 cents. As a decent sideboard card it’s worth questioning whether this will ever take the place of Anger of the Gods as a sideboard card in Modern. The flexibility as well as the lack of double red in the casting cost means that it is a likely option. It can also wreak havoc against token strategies while not blowing up all your own creatures. With the number of three color decks in modern it feels like a home could exist for this card but it hasn’t proven itself yet.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

An overview of MTG Finance and Speculation

So, unlike many people. I'm going to actually answer the individual's rather reasonable question because he's asking something that is pretty obviously known and he'll figure out with a few months anyway.

Magic: The Gathering is based on a totally unregulated marked which is almost entirely at the mercy of the company that prints the cards, Wizards of the Coast, a division of Hasbro.

Cards are printed for play in four major formats, one which rotates every 18 months, one with every new card since 2003 (Modern), one with cards from the inception of the game with a firm list of restricted very powerful cards (Legacy), and one in which most every card ever is legal (Vintage).

Card prices fluctuate based on the release of new cards, the various power levels of cards in these formats, and their rarity. Such that a card worth $0.30 today could quickly rise to as much as $10 over a few years. But such a quick rise is based on it's play and availability.

The exception to this is cards placed on the Reserved List between 1996 and 2002. Wizards of the coast has repeatedly expressed that they are not going to reprint any of the cards on the reserve list. There is argument as to if there is any legal precedence for them violating this decree but it's been 20 years and it hasn't happened yet. Meanwhile, the prices of many cards on the reserve list continue to rise. These cards conceivably could be reprinted but it would cause a major disruption in the market and a loss of millions of dollars in value.

Even with reserve list cards the rise is based on power level and use in the Vintage and Legacy formats. Among these are the famed Power 9 cards which are generally held for collection purposes rather than plying purposes, though there are locations where events are played with these cards. It's unclear exactly what kind of price the market will bear for these cards. Black Lotus's have seen consistent increases as a collectors item and it is unclear of exactly what the plateau is. Meanwhile, lesser cards such as revised Dual Lands have seen fairly steady increases from the few dollars a piece in 1996 to ranging between $100-$300 today.

My basic advice in anyone looking at investing in Magic cards is that either you need a lot of understanding of the game to make sense of the waxing and waning of cheaper cards, or you need a lot of money to invest in reserve list staples. So far there hasn't been reserve list staples that have ever seen a significant loss in price with the exception of sudden price rebalancing where a card may spike to double it's current price then drop to settle around one and a half times once people decide to bring more copies to the table.

Currently it's fairly easy to spike the market on certain cards in which there's moderately low supply. A $300 card today could become a $900 card in a few weeks if all available copies are made unavailable. But also be aware, you can't just offload the new cards at $900 immediately. Your only reliable buyers are the vendors such as Channel Fireball and Star City Games may only end up offering you $400 on your $900 card. If you show up with 50 of them, they aren't likely to be buying.

The honest picture here is that you can work the Magic market to your favor and there's some old cards that you can directly effect the price on. I'm not sure what buying up fifty $15k Black Lotuses will do long term. It's likely to cause a spike to $20k but that doesn't mean you'll find fifty buyers at that price. If you do pick up a bunch and hold them for five years, history has shown that they will increase in price. But how much, how fast, and if you're better off sticking that into Tesla stock isn't totally clear.

If you have any other questions please feel free to contact me at casuallyinfinite at gmail dot com.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Broken Promise of SA 2.0

  I want to note that I wrote this over a year ago when I stepped down from the Rules Team at SA. I was asked to wait to publish it because of some of the details it contained. There were attempts to revise it into a conversation between two people regarding the subjects it presents. It's been over a year at this point; I feel I've waited enough. It hasn't been revised or updated from the point of view of approximately October of 2014. I know that some rules have been changed, revised, and updated. But I feel that the underlying issues are likely to remain.
  In full disclosure, I probably won't ever be returning to SA. I've taken a role on Plot at SPITE which provides a very similar factional town feel to SA. While some of the same issues are present in SPITE, I feel that the leadership of the game is much more willing to address these issues rather than try to sweep them under the rug.


There have been some outstanding successes and some dismal failures found within the rules set. From a designer/developer perspective, I want to walk through what worked and what didn't in order to really show where the system remains strong and where it needs to continue to be refined. As I step away from the Rules Team I want to note that I feel the rules are in no way complete, stable, or solid. But continued progress on the rules hasn't really been a priority for the organization.


Energy Economy
 The infinite energy complex is dead. This has radically altered the game and finally disconnected the close interaction between Shifters and Wraiths. Honestly, at this point, the two really don't have a whole lot to do with each other. This is as it should be and I think the game is better for it. This was really what the game needed. It was the biggest and probably the most shocking change to the game.
 The addition of nodes has also created several interesting zones in the game. In my original write up of the rules I had people spending 10 minutes regaining energy at a node rather than 1 minute. I'm still not sure of the right decision here, but the nodes are clearly the right idea to create a game zone with interesting areas as well as handle the external sources of energy for these PC groups.
 While I consider the nodes a success I'd probably start messing with the amount of energy they provide. My experiences indicate that the target of 40 energy is probably too high. A 20 energy character could blow their entire energy pool three times per game without having any problems. This ended up being an easier game of resource management than we had intended. I might go so far as to cut this number in half and only have 20 floating energy. I feel this would do a better job creating a higher level of threat. This would be easy to handle by giving sorcerers 10 energy at sunrise, dropping haunts to one of each type, and cutting four of the shifter glades.

Character Creation
 We really opened up the options in character creation. Bringing in a handful of merits, lores, and clear rules on purchasing learned powers has given players the option to build more diverse characters at character creation. This comes at a significant cost but I feel it has helped experienced players enter the game with richer characters, ultimately making the game richer. Choices such as playing a Brujah that learned Valeren, while costing more XP, is a much richer addition to the game than just another Salubri.
 I've been excited to create and play new characters under this system and I've seen a number of people excited by the potential as well. I think this was a strength because it opened the box in a game that felt very boxed in at new character creation. There was fear that opening up BSD, Baali, and other “bad guys” as character creation would create a griefer issue. This fear has yet to be realized as I don’t think it really exists. The few PCs we’ve had in game that took these options have generally been clever, or devious. Overall I feel that new characters have become more exciting, which is why we’ve had so many of them.

Agg Damage
 This was one of the most heavily contested changes we brought in. It has created a very interesting level of depth into the game. I don't feel like this has really been explored as deeply as we had hoped but I feel that it is working. Someone throwing agg causes a big change in how PCs deal with a problem. From what I've seen the added math of agg hasn't been a problem and it has given ST a big tool for challenging players. While I think ST is yet to really make appropriate use of the ability to deal agg, I still think the concept has served to be quite a success.

Combat Feeding
 Vampires are still an incredibly powerful force in the game, especially when dealing with other vampires. Their power level drops drastically when dealing with Non Vampires and their ability to be an all game all-star has been seriously diminished. The new rules for feeding have allowed for successful feeding by vampires in social settings, the agg has made it undesirable, and has removed it as a combat technique. Feeding being removed from Wraiths has also had a significant effect on making damage the biggest way to deal with combat encounters rather than draining. It has also removed the parasitic relationship between wraiths and the living. Now, wraith are more able to be either friendly or not with the living based on their character concepts.

Sort of Successes

 I feel we clarified and fixed a number of broken powers but some still remain. We may have gone too far with obedience, making it a very weak power. Cloak seems more properly balanced and Presence has received a major functional upgrade. The removal of Regenerate and the old Majesty, as well as the burn out rules, has altered the survivability of certain PC groups while drastically increasing the survivability of certain NPC groups. Killing someone remains expensive but very feasible. I’m happy with the direction here but feel the continuous tweaks are required. Horrid Reality remains incredibly powerful, as does Venom Blood while Daze seems much weaker than previous incarnations.

 I think we started off on the right foot with rituals. The new requirements add a lot of direction to the game and removing the silly limitations from the previous version has made rituals a big part of the “end game” of SA. Unfortunately, many of the rituals aren’t really completed, balanced, or well honed. Rituals were the last thing completed by the Rules Team as the new rules went into effect but they weren’t as well reviewed as other sections of the rule book. Some of the potential of the rituals is fantastic but I don’t feel that ST has done a great job getting the new rules for rituals into the players hands. There’s rituals to make a caern, the process for hiving a caern has changed, there’s a ton of cool changes that players haven’t adapted to yet because they haven’t seen the rituals yet. The Rituals are good in concept but not really well written or balanced.

Spirit Rules
 You guys don’t know it yet but the spirit rules are awesome. They’ve been ratcheted up to 11 and can provide a great source of challenge for Shifters looking for a fight. Again, like rituals, much of this hasn’t been realized by the playership because of how ST has handled spirits. At some point there’ll be an ST that realizes the tools that are there and makes the game fantastic for shifters.

 While most of conversion went over pretty smooth, the tags at conversion proved a major debacle. I’m relatively sure there is items that are running around that should never have existed. The system was designed so that no fetish is capable of swinging Fire without paying energy, no weapon longer than a dagger could be both silvered and made into a fetish. I’m not sure where the communication broke down here but I don’t think that tags ended up converting into the same rules set we had created for them to exist in.

 I feel like the change to the reliance on willpower hasn’t worked as intended. Personally, I love being able to take every mental thrown at me, at least for a few seconds. The majority of the playership doesn’t do this. Willpower is still a default response to a mental attack. What really happened was that the majority of old players and staff made characters with 8+ willpower under the new rules system. Honestly, I think this was bad for the game. Keeping willpower at 6 xp made it to cheap not to buy. I think I would have liked to have seen a tiered system for purchasing willpower where your second point costs six XP and your 10th point costs 15 or so xp. Currently, the 2 willpower for the cost of a learned level 3 power isn’t balanced. Willpower is just too useful not to have lots and I don’t think the game is actually more fun when you have lots of willpower. My priest has one willpower, and I’ve never spent it.

Adoption and Enforcement
 I’ll be honest here, I don’t think the rules have been adopted yet. I feel that this problem is two fold but most of the issue falls on the problem of enforcement. SA is the only LARP I’ve ever played with such a low level of rules knowledge among its players. It’s also the only LARP without some level of in game rules enforcement. I’m pretty sure the two are linked. Every other LARP I’ve experienced handles this much more professionally than SA. Attempts to correct people on incorrect rule usage is met with hostility on pretty much every level. I would say that overall the majority of the players don’t have a passable grasp of the rules. I see so many rules broken every event that I’m not even sure where to start to fix this, but I will say the biggest transgressors are ST. ST violates so many rules and tenants of the game that in any responsible LARP the individual members would likely end up banned from play. This isn’t a new problem, it existed under the old rules set and was evident in the example of ST killing a PC by misusing a power, then informing the individual how a power worked incorrectly.
 When creating the rules, the rules team believed that having a clearer and more coherent rules set would encourage better rules knowledge. This clearly hasn’t been the case. Even though the rules are much more consistent than ever before, there has been little to no change in rules knowledge among the playership. In a LARP I don’t expect perfect rules usage. I’ve forgotten to do the 10 seconds of RP before Possession, gotten the stages of death incorrect, misread how a power works, miscounted energy usage, swung my weapons too fast, and used Gauntlet Walk too fast after attacking. Errors happen, it’s a part of the game, especially in the heat of battle, and I’m the person who knows the rules best. The game has lots of rules and it gets confusing. But what I don’t see is a community of people working together to enforce the rules. Instead there is an overall casual approach to the rules which causes a “rules optional” environment to develop.
 At the last game the number of rules violations by ST in the combat at the tree was amazing. Some of these were on issues they had been previously warned about. Some were on “secret ST” powers, but none were acceptable. At this point, due to my own experience, I have absolutely no faith in ST to follow the rules of the game as they have been written down.
 One thing I’ve been pushing for a number of years is the existence of some sort of Rules Marshall program at SA. Most other games have people that are responsible for rules oversight which may or may not be the same people as the ones that are coming up with the rules. Currently in SA it is impossible to give a rules correction to someone without it coming off as an attack. The lack of an impartial arbiter of the rules increases the difficulty of bring about any sort of expectation that the rules exist to be followed. I’ve seen instances of two people taking different interpretations of the rules and sticking to their own understanding regardless of what they are being told. With a small rules team, it simply isn’t possible that there will be a rules member there for every improperly used rule.
 The final piece of this is that people need to get off their high horse about not wanting to interrupt a scene when someone has broken a rule. Nothing is more jarring to people who know the rules than someone breaking them. Signature calls become part of the music of the game and someone randomly inserting illegal power usage or incorrect signature calls breaks that down immediately. It is better to have a game in which someone can instruct another player that their call is a flub, stop for a moment to explain a rule, or raise a flag when someone repeatedly breaks rules than to have a game where the immersion is so special that it is not worth following the rules of the game. I view the rules as the contract between all players and staff in a game. While you may occasionally make a mistake, the expectation needs to be that you aren’t allowed to break the contract. If you do, there needs to be people standing watch to make sure it’s followed.

ST Rules
 The blame on this particular issue doesn’t quite lie with any one person or group. The big issue here is that the ST rules were never completed. What ST has been using for the past year is a mashup of rules I wrote for Magic Items, Shifters, Vampires, and Spirits, and what Trevor put together for Mages, Fae and Demons. The rules I put together were never reviewed in a meaningful way and most of Trevors were just quickly glanced over. This means that the entire ST book isn’t really balanced in any meaningful way.
 However, this isn’t the greatest failure in my mind. The biggest failure lies in the hand off from the rules team to the ST team in creating guidelines that fit within the rules system we had created. My original desire was to put together a real Storyteller Guide which included how powers were intended to be used, taught, viewed by the world at large. Also instructions on how common certain subfactions should be in the game world. Instead of creating a basic set of instructions and guidelines, we gave the STs some pretty powerful tools and just trusted that they knew what we meant -- they didn’t.
 This issue first came apparent with the power Tainted which adds the Tainted meta call onto every attack. This was intended to be a power that indicated “this creature is just plain dirty” and that you really can’t get into any kind of altercation with it without coming out tainted. Though it was a level one power in a BSD tree, I had always envisioned it as fairly uncommon among NPCs. Being the big ball of ickyness is great for that one guy in the group or a decently beefy bad guy, but I had never thought that we’d see put out on every bane as happened in the first few games. To their credit, once we informed ST of this they toned it down significantly.
 Though the Tainted power was the first instance of this, the pattern of using powers as was not intended was repeated again and again by ST. This isn’t really their fault as we never gave them any direction, but it has created a number of issues that have been terrible for the game. Another example of this is the commonality of Gaultlet Walk on spirits. Gauntlet Walk is a fairly rare level three power. It isn’t something that lots of spirits should have, or want. In fact there is a power that is available to spirits that NEED to do things in the realm which is available to spirits, it is Appear, the wraith power. Even Appear I’d expect to be a very uncommon power among spirits. There’s no reason for spirits to be in the realm any more than there is reason for Vampires to be in the umbra. Unfortunately, seeking to create threats to the town, numerous spirits were given the Gauntlet Walk power. It only took two games before the veil in Seaton Carou was as shredded as Ushaw Moore. It was shredded by STs partially because of this oversight.

 One of the things we talked about commonly while working on the rules set was making sure the rules prevented ST from griefing the playerbase. It was commonly discussed and believed that the rules set needed to decrease the options for ST to play unfair with their NPCs. Powers like Stonehand Punch replacing Realm Strike existed solely because of the lack of trust the Rules Team had in making the game enjoyable if they were able to attack the realm from the umbra in a meaningful way in which their could not be an form of return fire. Even though this limitation exists, STs have been caught multiple times trying to break this rule and beat on PCs from the Umbra. It seems even when it’s against the rules, they still want to grief PCs.
 What I think is needed here is a ST book that actually gives directions on how to use the rules to tell a story. The ST rules should be more like a Dungeon Master’s Guide and less of a Monster Manual. The last edition I handed over while on rules team included restrictions on how many of various subfactions ST were permitted to send out in a given event or year. This is to prevent the issues we’ve seen like using mages and fae as bruisers in order to ramp up difficulty of an encounter. It should also prevent the extensive use of special NPC snowflakes (like Rokea) as a lazy plot devices. I have little faith that these changes will be used and implemented but I do feel they are incredibly necessary.
 The other part of the ST book needs to be a guide to inform STs on how to make meaningful and powerful characters, how to run a game that preserves the veil, and how NPCs should treat things like someone wanting to learn their gifts. Unfortunately, these things have previously been left up to ST discretion which creates massive inconsistencies ranging from totems demanding the death of someone for teaching tribal gifts to NPCs handing them out for free. While some feel that these world consistency points don’t really fall into the realm of the Rules Team, I feel it is necessary that those who put powers into trees have some say in what they mean being there.

 While there is clearly a lot of potential in the rules set, I can’t say that I’m really happy with the result. I feel that much of the potential has yet to be realized and that the game we’re currently seeing isn’t any better than it used to be under the old rules set. It feels newer and there’s a few shiny new toys but considering the damage done to old characters in the conversion, I don’t feel we came out very far ahead. The game can now be more meaningful, impactful, and contain sharper edged stories but only if ST pushes it in that direction. I’ll be honest, I feel the location reset did more for the game than the rules change at this point.
 Finally, I don’t feel that players can trust ST to follow the rules. This is huge, but their violations have been so consistent and egregious, working against both the letter and spirit of the rules set, that I don’t feel that they deserve the privilege of having hidden rules. Because of this I’ve linked the latest version of the ST rules as I’ve stopped working on them since leaving the rules team. These rules will surely change and be overruled, but based on progress on them over the past year, it likely won’t be anytime soon.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Magic Judges - The Things We Say

I want to say before anything else that I’ve received huge amounts of support within the judge community. Every judge I’ve met has been awesome, skilled, entertaining, and unique. I have honestly felt support from the judge program like few other groups I’ve ever been in. It resembles my cohort in my Masters Program in the way we all pull together, but even more supportive as we are working on a communal goal (running a strong event) rather than an individual goal (graduating).

In most communities disruptions come not from intentional malice, but from how people choose to act, unknowing of how it affects others. The hurtful things we do and say are most commonly not intentional.  I want to bring up two instances of significantly hurtful things that took place at a GP last year. These hurtful things were done by two awesome people. My intent isn’t to call these people out for their actions, but instead to help us notice how much little things can affect how people, especially newer judges, perceive the actions of others. I want to note that I’ve had other positive interactions with the judges in the following examples and I try not to let the interactions in these examples cloud my view of them as both people and as judges, but I’m not perfect either.
Just to set the scene here, I’ve been a L1 for about 6 months, I’ve worked four Comp REL events including PTQs, a SCG Open, TCG States but this is my first GP. I managed to squeeze in to work a couple of days on sides, I’m crashing with another judge and I’ve even managed to make a couple of the judge events before the GP.  I’m assigned to on demand events and registration for the event and just enjoying the scene.

As sides wind down one evening I get pulled from the on demand events and handed off to the team sealed single elimination “grinders”. As a get directed to the flight I’m on by the team lead I have approximately the following conversation:
Me: As far as matches going to time, let me make sure I’ve got this right. When a match goes to time, there’s five extra turns, but because this is single –
TL: Wait, what level are you?
Me: Level 1.
TL: Next time lead with that. The way the end of round works is… (Then proceeded to explain the entire thing to me)
I just want to point out two things in this back and forth. The first, and probably most important, is that I wanted confirm my understanding was correct (which it was). I wasn’t seeking someone to explain to me how it was supposed to work; I was looking for an opportunity to confirm that I had it right (which I did). As most school teachers know, if a student says they’ve got it but can’t explain it back to you, they don’t really have it.

The second thing is that all asking my level did to me is reinforce the feeling that I was out of my depth here (which I wasn’t). This is a fear many L1s have at big events. I’m curious how differently the interaction might have gone if my response was “I’m a L2 but I’ve never worked a single elimination, timed, team sealed event.” In the end, my judge level shouldn’t dictate my ability to ask if what I know is correct. Nor should it dictate your answer to that question. If I’m right, then I should be confirmed, if I’m wrong I want to be taught. Instead I left the situation feeling like the kid who’s parents forced his older brother to drag him along to the bowling alley being told I need the bumpers put up.
The second instance was the following day and is in some ways less directly judge related but ended up with a very similar feeling for me. I was firing on demand events and an off duty judge approached for his event. I knew he was a judge because I’d seen him around over the course of the week but hadn’t ever been introduced I also knew, by the people he associated closely with, he was a notable fixture in the judging community. I had five of my eight players for the event so I had a one in three shot of getting his name right. I did what I always do when players walk up in this case and asked “Are you Brendan, or Jason, or…” My comment was met with a visible and audible sigh as the judge turned away from me and approached a judge that would recognize him. From their conversation I was able to pick up the judge’s name and mark him off on my list as present for my event.

Again, the message I received was here was loud and clear, “you don’t belong here.” I realize in perfect hindsight that the best way to handle this situation would have been for me to introduce myself noting that we hadn’t been introduced but that’s not normally how I proceed when I’m checking names to fire an event. It seems to me it would have been pretty easy to just tell me the correct name so I can get it checked off on my list.
I don’t believe the slight was intentional but these are two of the three moments I most clearly remember from judging the event several months later. Writing about this event still affects me emotionally. I was so excited to be judging my first GP, a goal I had set for myself at the beginning of the year and had spent countless hours working towards. To twice get the message from higher level judges that I didn’t belong or wasn’t part of the in crowd was incredibly hurtful.
I’m not entirely sure how my involvement in the judge program would have changed had it not been for the single comment of another judge that weekend. As I was packing up to leave after my shift a local judge told me “You’ve done a really good job this weekend and a lot of important people have noticed.” This is the moment of this GP that I run over and over in my head. This is the moment that drove me to go for level 2 and apply to the next GP. This is what locks people into the judge program.

It’s really important that we realize how impactful our comments and actions can be, especially when interacting with newer members of the judge community. From the outside the “GP Judges” appear as very elite and closed off group. I’ve been fortunate enough to learn that this isn’t the case, but I wonder how many judges we’ve lost because they got the message that they aren’t cool enough.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Understanding Audience Size

I'll take a stab at some number theory here for size of groups. As a school teacher in a very small school district I've had the experience of having class sizes ranging from 5 to 34. As a conference presenter I've worked with groups of up to 100. There are some very specific things to take into account at various sizes.

2-3 Accountability Groups
I use this term because groups of this size are fantastic at holding others to deadlines, getting people to open up about their own faults and issues, and are a great tool for growth. They are often times Mentor/Mentee relationships or a meeting of colleagues trying to work on a very particular project. If you're trying to get work done, groups this size are ideal

4-7 Dinner Party
Groups that are bigger than a small gathering don't have the intimacy for people to open up to the same level unless they have been taking place for quite a long time. At most a situation like this can end up breaking up into a couple of conversations. Most classroom techniques have a lot of trouble at this size. A single speaker with 4-5 people listening is awkward. Breaking up into roleplays is also odd because either you have everyone doing them while the rest of the group watches, or you have two or three roleplays going on at once. This size group is best for brainstorming and having open discussion of a topic.

8-12 Workshop
At this size you can easily have people break up into small groups for individual work or roleplay without things getting weird. Speaking to a group this size as a classroom doesn't work great but is feasible. Having something for people to do in groups of this size is necessary. At the very least taking detailed notes, writing down answers to questions, or having some form of team work helps a groups this size move forward. Discussions at this size tend to be dominated by a few key people unless you have some sort of system in place that gives everyone the chance to speak. Wraparounds, where everyone shares something in turn, works great at this size

13-40 Classroom
When you get much above twelve it can be difficult to keep everyone actively participating in whatever is taking place. The classroom structure often times includes breaking people into small groups in order to achieve meaningful discussion. Question and answer works at this size but don't mistake that kind of interaction for true discussion. Some form of presentation followed by individual or small group work is generally needed to make the best use of this size. Sharing work from the group works to some degree but is difficult to make meaningful without a group meeting more consistently.

40+ Conference Presentations
Once you break the 40 line you have no ability to monitor what people are doing. You can't really stop the show to get feedback and make adjustments. There's likely to be too many questions for you to ever answer them all. This is where conference presentations differ from the other setting sizes. You're goal is to inform and inspire your audience to take certain steps in the future. You're focused purely on the takeaway with full knowledge that nothing will be completed during the presentation. Audience participation is still important, but audience input generally won't shift the direction of anything. You ask questions that you already know the answer to in order to keep the audience involved, not to gain any specific information.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Letter Read at the Lopez Island School Board Meeting on 5/14

  I would first off like to thank those of you who have spoken out in support of the Technology Program here at Lopez Island School. Whether by email, in person, on Facebook, or hugs, I thank everyone who has taken a stand about the value of the technology education.

  While I’d naturally like to give a diatribe about the value of technology in education, I have little doubt that the members of the board already know and agree with the role technology should be playing in our schools. Instead, I’d like to tell you a story about a day in my job. During the evening previous to this day I had received an email from Bill informing me that Stephanie’s monitor had gone out and asking me to take a look at it first thing in the morning. As I entered school I went to Stephanie’s computer and solved the problem immediately. This was prior to taking my daughter down to kindergarten and before anyone was even in the district office.

  Upon reaching the kindergarten class and seeing my daughter off to school, I was pulled into the elementary office where they were having internet problems. After troubleshooting in the elementary office I headed down to the server room to restart the wifi controller which seemed to be the source of the problem. Once everything was settled and internet was restored, I got a call from the kitchen telling me that they were experiencing problems on the lunch counter computer. This computer is wired so the wifi controller couldn’t have been the cause. It turns out that somehow the wired connection on their computer had been disabled, so I simply re-enabled it and got the lunch counter going again. I then sat down with the kitchen computer which had been replicating several new kinds of adware and was unable to access any kind of internet browser. I solved this problem too, all before I got back to my classroom to turn on my computer.

  I tell you this not because I feel overworked or want to be appreciated for what I do. I tell you this because each one of these problems required a direct, hands on solution that could not have been handled by remote support. These kinds of problems are common everyday issues in any school. We cannot expect every teacher to be a technology expert and we cannot expect other teachers or administrators to step away from their job to provide technical support.

  Imagine the situation where our support was instead based in Anacortes and would have to arrive from the mainland the following day. We have a full day with Stephanie’s monitor not working, the kitchen doing all finances by hand and unable to make their daily reports, and no internet available in the elementary classrooms, offices, or principal’s office. The money saved by keeping these individuals up and running far outweighs the cost of my time. This was all done and I still taught my classes on this day. As a note, this isn’t a random mythical day. It was last Wednesday, shortly after I was informed by the Superintendant that the technology program was being gutted.

  I am here to ask that the current technology program be allowed to remain as it is. It provides much needed support for our staff and education for our students. This is the time to be growing our technology program, not decreasing it. The expectation of our students entering either college or the work place is that they are computer literate. The belief that our students will learn what they need on their own or at home simply isn’t true. Children today will be directly affected by the choices they make online for the rest of their lives. Failing to provide them with a suitable education with regards to their involvement in the internet is simply an unconscionable choice.

  I’d ask you to think back to something you did in your teenage years. Something, perhaps, that you are not proud of. The members of the school board have the luxury of this only being a memory in the minds of those present at the time. This is not the reality our students live in. Imagine instead that your friend with you took pictures, posted them online, and it became the top hit when someone searched your name, even today. The actions of our students online can be like tattoos or scars they carry for the rest of their lives. If we are giving each of our students access to a tattoo gun, we best be assured they know how to use it.

  The state and federal government have been very clear as to the direction of technology in education. The common core standards for Language Arts state that children in the 6th grade must be publishing their work online. We are facing the impending Smarter Balanced Assessments that will first test the digital competency of a student before it can accurately assess mathematics and literacy. Where do we expect our students to gain the skills necessary to navigate these assessments? How can we test students on machine they are entirely unfamiliar with and expect them to succeed?

  In the two years I’ve been here, we as a school have made great steps forward with regards to technology education. Our first through fifth graders are learning to type, creating presentations, word-processing thanks to the work of Lisa Shelby bringing technology to the forefront of the elementary school. Most of our secondary teachers are posting due dates, assignments, and lessons online for students who were absent or otherwise missed these important details. We have established a course in 6th grade in which students learn about cyberbullying, internet safety, 3D design, programming, email usage, typing, website creation, blogging, and digital citizenship through simulation. In the digital video class students have found a voice to air their opinions to the community as activists and artists. Our juniors and seniors have learned how to control their online image and prevent damaging information about them from becoming public. Finally, they produced an online portfolio presenting their crowning achievements from their high school career to be made available to parents, grandparents, college admissions officers, and future employers. By cutting the technology program, you are saying that this is not the kind of education our children need. By reducing technology education you are placing our students at a serious disadvantage compared to students graduating from other schools.

  My final point comes in the part of four questions. Without this position how can we make sure technical support is available to students and teachers at all times during the school day? Who will be responsible for making sure our school moves forward with 21st century technology? Who will make sure that our students are protecting themselves and their reputation online? Finally, if we don’t take the responsibility to make sure our students are computer literate aren’t we further punishing the students in our community who are already at the greatest economic disadvantage?