The Beauty of Dark Souls

I’m a huge fan of the Souls series. Having finished all three Dark Souls, Demon’s Souls and Bloodborne, I am constantly amazed by the high quality bar set by these games. Whether it be with the tight controls, the precisely tuned encounters or the immersive atmosphere, these games never disappoint. I’d go so far as to call Dark Souls 1 my favorite single player game ever.

No conversation about the game can be had without some mention of it’s excruciatingly high difficulty. I can fully understand why. My first ever experience was with Demon’s Souls, where I died 24 times before reaching the first boss. Unfortunately, the brutal difficulty tends to dominate the discussion and create a very polarized reaction. People sometimes dismiss the game because they feel the high difficult curve is not for them. The issue isn’t helped by the veteran community that can treat the game as a sort of trial by fire, looking down on those who aren’t “hardcore” enough to undergo the challenge. Difficulty is so much a part of the stigma of Dark Souls that “Prepare to die” is an official marketing slogan for the game.

However, it’s important to note that Dark Souls isn’t a good game because it is difficult. It is a good game that happens to be difficult, and it utilizes that difficulty to help weave the player experience and create unique scenarios. If there was an “easy” setting to the game, it would still be impressive both mechanically and visually. However, there are certain feelings and emotions that would not be possible without the adversity the game puts you through. Just as a team forced to overcome obstacles together becomes united through hardship, Dark Souls uses difficulty to create different emotional responses.

For example, while this game isn’t a horror game in the traditional sense (e.g. Silent Hill), there have been multiple points where I have felt pure, unadulterated fear. This wasn’t from some cheap, jump scare or gruesome imagery, but simply because of the game mechanics. In Dark Souls, you gain experience (souls) from killing enemies, but if you die before you return to a checkpoint, you can potentially lose them all. As you make your way through a difficult area accumulating more and more souls, the thought of dying becomes increasingly traumatic. The fear of dying and losing all my progress built up so much tension that a random noise in the game would make me scream out loud in terror.

However, I’m not here to talk about horror, I’m here to talk about beauty. While I could show you screenshots of some awe inspiring scenery and landscapes, the beauty of Dark Souls extends beyond graphics. Just like the difficult game mechanics manifest as terror in the player, they also instill a sense of appreciation and reflection that would not be possible without them. Two events in particular have stuck with me to this very day.

The Real Dark Souls Begins

Let me paint you a picture. Dark Souls begins in a grim, desolate dungeon. You spend the majority of your time killing pitiful, miserable zombies on a quest to ring two bells. The atmosphere is drab and depressing, ranging from an undead parish, a corrupted forest and a diseased, makeshift town. You struggle through these dreary, bleak environments in an attempt to achieve your goal, and when you finally do, the gates to Sen’s Fortress open. This was a victorious moment for me. The ringing of the bell is accompanied with a triumphant cutscene, an appropriate reward for my toils. At this point I had spent many hours playing and felt like I had mastered the game.

As I approached the newly opened gates, I was immediately skewered by a giant, armored lizard wielding a butcher knife. It’s hard to explain in words just how ruthless Sen’s Fortress is. The enemies are relentless and unforgiving, punishing your every mistake. Traps lay in wait around every corner, with treacherous ledges that threaten to claim your life at the first misstep. Sen’s Fortress acts as a hard wall, forcing you to call upon every skill you’ve acquired since the beginning of the game. Traversing this nightmare was easily an order of magnitude more difficult than everything the game had presented beforehand.

Upon reflection, Sen’s Fortress was the hardest point in the entire game for me. Yet, I persevered through it. Little by little I learned to defeat the enemies and navigate through the numerous pitfalls. It took tremendous focus and determination, but eventually I made my way to the summit and defeated the towering Iron Giant who stood in my way. The glory I felt when ringing the bells was a drop in the ocean compared to jubilation from watching this final boss crumple before me.

As I prepared to rest on my laurels, I was presented with this cutscene:

When I first watched this, it blew my fucking mind. I had just overcome an enormous challenge and instead of letting me bask in the glory, the game reveals that this was only the beginning. The entire time I was playing Dark Souls, this looming mountain range has towered over the world. In most games, you would assume this wall of rock is simply background art, a boundary to the world that exists to keep the player on the right path. In reality, it’s been an ominous backdrop, hiding a entirely new civilization, ready to be explored.

The gorgeous horizon and awe inspiring architecture are a visual treat to behold, but the true impact comes from the emotional state of the player when they watch it. The fact that this comes immediately after the hardest point in the game so far is what gives it such a lasting impression. It’s as if the game is saying to you “You thought you were done? That was just the beginning. The real Dark Souls begins now.” This point, when you are first introduced to Anor Londo, is the most memorable moment I have ever had in any game, bar none.

Defying Expectations

Dark Souls is a game that utilizes vertical height very well. As you progress in the game, each subsequent goal has you climb higher and higher, culminating in a climax at the peak. Humans tend to equate ascension with progress, and simply placing the goal above the player creates incentive for them to continue forward. A great example is what you just saw with Anor Londo, a sprawling kingdom high in the mountains that you gain access to after defeating the strongest enemies in the valley below.

However, Dark Souls also has moments where you instead descend deep into the bowels of the world. These tend to be some of the most dark and depressing moments in the game, where you find nothing but more and more despair. Nothing exemplifies this more than Blighttown, a rickety village built on top of a toxic lake. The entire area is comprised of dilapidated wooden shacks, hastily lashed together with whatever makeshift tools the inhabitants could find. As you pass through, the miserable residents who have made this diseased world their home attempt to fend you off.

At the very bottom of Blighttown, after wading through the noxious swamp, you encounter a hidden wall. Behind this secret lies an enormous, dying tree and a treacherous path down through it’s hollowed trunk. Inside you encounter demonic basilisks that can curse you and bizarre, giant mushroom men that literally crush you with their bodies.

It took me forever to descend through this misery known as the Great Hollow. The aforementioned Basilisks can apply a curse to you, probably the most frustrating mechanic in the entire game. This curse reduces your maximum HP, stacks multiple times and can only be removed by a limited item. Once you run out of that item, you cannot remove the curse, even by dying. As you can imagine, this creates a slippery slope where the more cursed you are, the less HP you have, the harder it is to continue. In addition, the mushroom men are unusually strong for this point in the game, harboring enormous health pools that took multiple minutes to take down.

The most depressing part of all of this is the decent. There is no known goal at the top of the mountain that you can use as motivation. Instead, you are descending forever, moving further and further from the safety of the surface. The layout makes it impossible to see the bottom, so you never know when the struggle will end. The entire atmosphere is a suffocating web of rotting roots and winding branches. Sen’s Fortress was punishingly hard, but this was a completely different type of despair.

After what seemed like an eternity, I finally made my way to the bottom. By this point, I was super depressed, confronted with the drab, dark atmosphere you would expect from being miles underground. Then I exited the base of the tree and saw Ash Lake.

Everything about Ash Lake defies expectations. Vertically, this is the lowest point in Dark Souls, so you would expect something appropriately dark and gloomy. Instead, you are greeted by a vast, open beach with an ocean as far as the eye can see. The non-existent music of the Great Hollow is replaced by a haunting choral arrangement. In the horizon you can glimpse the silhouettes of hundreds of other trees similar to the one you just descended. How is there even light? It’s an incredible juxtaposition from the claustrophobic environment you just exited. When I first saw Ash Lake, all the frustration that had been building up within me melted away into awe.

In a vacuum, the graphics don’t stand out as particularly visually impressive. What really makes it memorable is the path you take to reach it. The tremendous struggle immediately preceding Ash Lake is what amplifies the beauty beyond plain, good looking art. The ironic part of all of this is that Ash Lake is a completely optional part of the game and provides almost no in-game benefits. There’s a few minor crafting items and a huge dragon NPC to talk to, but otherwise there is nothing of significance. No amazing weapon or item to justify the brutal journey. Only a beautiful stretch of beach to sit and reflect upon.

Conclusion

Simply put, the beauty of Dark Souls goes far beyond the actual game. It resonates with you on a deep, emotional level, creating an immersive experience that sticks with you long after you’ve finished playing. It’s a truly fantastic game that anyone who loves games should definitely play.

tldr; If you haven’t played Dark Souls yet you are a noob and need to go play it.

Why Reno Jackson is a poorly designed card

Hearthstone’s online community is in a bit of a rut. There is a lot of discontent among players due to the strength of certain cards warping the meta so severely, and Blizzard’s unwillingness to change these cards. This is a recurring trend that has happened multiple times in the past, including Miracle Rogue, Undertaker Hunter and Patron Warrior. Each of these instances have resulted in massive nerfs, but often after the problem has been allowed to fester for months at a time.

While I 100% agree that Blizzard needs to make changes to cards more frequently, I want to discuss another issue in Hearthstone that is unrelated to the power level of the Pirates package or the oppressively strong nature of Shaman. Overpowered combinations of cards is an inevitability as it’s impossible to internally play test everything. However, something that can be better controlled is the actual mechanics of cards and what they actually mean. Enter Reno Jackson.

Why do people play Reno Jackson? The reason is that the card, when the effect triggers, is insane. A full heal is backbreaking against many aggro decks, while still having minimal value against control decks. They balance this extremely powerful effect by requiring you to only play one copy of every other card in your deck. Taken another way, this card actually reads:

What is the end result of this mechanic? Control decks are forced to build a less consistent, less powerful deck in order to enable a single card that is drastically more powerful than the other 29 cards. This means that games are often decided on whether or not you draw Reno. Aggro decks have no real way to “play around” Reno because if he hits the board, they typically cannot win. So the plan for Aggro becomes to ignore the fact that Reno exists, go all in and hope he’s on the bottom of the deck.

Card draw is not that random

Something I hear people say a lot is “This is a card game dependent on drawing random cards. It’s all luck anyway.” There is some truth there, but what’s important is to consider how luck manifests itself in the game. The best decks are very balanced in terms of early, mid and late game cards. Regardless of which cards you draw, you will generally end up with a very moderate set of results. There are times when you curve out perfectly and win turn five or times when you have no plays until turn five. However, these are more often exceptions to the norm. This is the reason that decks that rely on inconsistent combos or the perfect state generally are not competitive.

The best way to think about this is to consider a past examples: Face Hunter vs Control Warrior. In this matchup, the objective of Hunter is to play many low cost, aggressive minions and overwhelm the Warrior. The Warrior’s goal is to kill everything the Hunter plays until they can stabilize the board. In order to facilitate this, the Warrior plays 10-12+ good, low cost removal spells and weapons. As long as the Warrior draws a few of these cards in the first few turns, they stand a chance of surviving. If one or two of these cards are at the bottom of your deck, you still have 10 other options to potentially draw and utilize.

On the other hand, consider a common matchup from today: Aggro Shaman vs Reno anything. The Shaman plays the best aggressive minions and spells available and tries to kill the Reno player quickly. Like the Control Warrior, the Reno player includes as many low cost removal cards as possible. However, due to Reno’s restriction, they cannot run the same number or must substitute mediocre alternatives. As a result, it’s less likely that the Reno player will be able to draw the cards necessary to survive early and even if they do, they still might be dead because the quality of these cards are not comparable.

The one saving grace is that if you do manage to draw and play Reno, you often immediately win. Whereas if you don’t draw him, the rest of your deck is likely not strong enough to compete. With Control Warrior, depending on their draw, they might have between a 30-60% chance of winning a game, averaging out to 50%. On the other hand, you have a 10% chance of winning if you don’t draw Reno and a 90% chance of winning if you do draw him, averaging out to 50%.

When the results of a game are dictated by a single card, this create extremely polarized situations that are frustrating for both sides. Nobody wants to play a game where they feel they had no chance of winning. When your opponent draws Reno, you curse how lucky they were and feel cheated. When you don’t draw Reno, you rant about how face decks are a cancer ruining Hearthstone and how you’re never lucky.

The ideal Aggro vs Control matchup should be both players drawing some of the cards they need to play the early game. The Control player may eventually stabilize with little health left, while the Aggro player is hoping to topdeck that last point of lethal. It should not be waiting until turn 6 to see if Reno has been drawn and one of the two players conceding. People complain about how much unnecessary randomness Hearthstone has and I would argue Reno is one of the worst offenders.

Reno did not create new deck archetypes

First of all, what is an archetype? I consider a deck archetype as a style of play that feels different from another deck archetype. At the most basic level, you have Aggro, Midrange, Combo and Control. At a finer grain level you have Aggro Shaman, Midrange Druid, Freeze Mage and Control Warrior. If you go even deeper you might have a Control Warrior that wins with Grommash and Alexstrasza and a Control Warrior that wins exclusively from fatigue. All of these decks have different strengths, weaknesses, strategies, priorities and win conditions. They FEEL different to play.

On the other hand, deciding to run one or two copies of Holy Nova does not change the archetype of a Control Priest. Swapping a Slam for a greedy Ysera does not change the archetype of Control Warrior. People look at Reno Jackson and say “It created new decks like Renolock or Renomage!” This is absolutely false. Renolock is not a new deck archetype. It is simply a sub-optimal Control Warlock with a super powerful neutral heal. Instead of running 2x Hellfire, you run 1x Hellfire and 1x Demonwrath (e.g. worse version of Hellfire).

In other words, imagine if instead of releasing Reno Jackson, Blizzard said that all decks require 60 cards instead of 30, but the two card limit remained. Obviously the meta would drastically change, but not because any new archetypes were created. It would change because many decks simply don’t have enough options to fill out a 60 card deck, so they would become terrible. This doesn’t create new deck archetypes, it just makes certain ones better or worse.

Deck building should be about discovering synergies between cards and trying to make them work. Deciding which mediocre removal spell to use instead of the second copy of Frostbolt isn’t interesting deck building. It’s boring and at the highest levels comes down to playing a ton of games, recording your win rate and picking the option that gave you that extra 1% edge. What’s exciting is discovering unique decks like Evolve Shaman, Confuse Priest and Egg Druid. Even decks that have traditionally been looked down upon like Patron Warrior and Freeze Mage offer players a drastically different experience from the norm. Blizzard should be releasing cards with mechanics that allow new types of play, rather than simply restricting the cards you can choose and calling that good game design.

What’s next?

The worst part about this is that Blizzard looked at Reno Jackson and how many decks included him and probably thought “You know what we need? More Reno mechanics.” Now we have three more of these terrible “if you deck has no duplicate” cards that create new decks by essentially restricting the card pool. I can’t wait until we get a card that says “If you deck does not have odd mana cards, win the game”.

If you’ve never heard of Timmy, Johnny and Spike, I highly recommend reading this article. It wouldn’t surprise me if Reno Jackson was meant as a Johnny/Timmy card like Yogg-Saron or Majordomo Executus. It has a flashy, big effect but will never be strong enough to be played competitively. However, similar to Yogg-Saron, this backfired when Spike did the math and realized the card is actually extremely powerful. Fortunately, Yogg was so blatantly overpowered and terrible for the game that it couldn’t escape the nerf hammer that erased it from competitive play. The Reno mechanic on the other hand, will remain with us forever, always ruining Hearthstone from the shadows.

Legend with Malygos Druid

Decklist

Class Win/Loss Win Rate
Shaman 14-9 60.9%
Druid 11-5 68.8%
Mage 9-4 69.2%
Warlock 5-4 55.6%
Hunter 5-2 71.4%
Paladin 6-1 85.7%
Rogue 2-3 40%
Warrior 3-2 60%
Priest 0-1 0%
Overall 55-31 64%

I played a little bit of Malygos Druid back when it still included Yogg-Saron, however I never got a lot of games in. After the Yogg nerf, I didn’t go back to the deck until I saw this list being streamed by LiquidSjow at 10 top legend. It felt super strong, so I decided to play all my games between 5 and legend using this exact deck list and the stats above are from that same period.

First of all, this deck is a lot harder to play than I thought. I can think of at least four instances where I lost because I missed lethal or a guaranteed 2 turn lethal. Recognizing when you have the ability to burst down with Malygos is much more difficult than I thought, because you are so often concerned with clearing the board and staying alive. It’s particularly tricky to identify when to use your Moonfires or Living Roots to clear board vs saving them for a Malygos combo. I know at least two games where I likely lost because I was greedy and saved a Moonfire and died before playing it. Finally, one of the other important decisions is knowing when to play Malygos without lethal and hope your opponent can’t deal with it. It’s scary to drop your main win condition naked onto the board, but sometimes it’s your best chance of winning because it sets up insane followup turns. Piloting this deck is way harder than when I played Midrange Druid to legend, where you basically just curve out into Force+Roar.

Mulligans

My opinion is that you toss everything that is not Wild Growth or Innervate. If I already have Wild Growth, I will keep Raven Idol if I know what type of spell I want, Living Roots if there is a 2 health target to kill and a 4-drop to curve into. I will also keep Mire Keeper+Innervate without Wild Growth. If I get Wild Growth+Innervate, I will mulligan aggressively for card draw like Azure Drake of Nourish. If I get 2x Wild Growth then I will toss one unless I also already have card draw. You have to be careful that you don’t end up with too much ramp and nothing to play.

General Stuff

  • It is often correct to ramp with Nourish, especially if your hand is already strong (Azure Drake, Curator, Ragnaros) or you missed a Wild Growth. This deck is heavily based on being ahead of the curve and it has a ton of card draw to refill your hand.
  • Jungle Moonkin is a surprising all-star for this deck. Moonkin+Swipe is an insane board clear and Moonkin+Spells can be a backup when Malygos is nowhere to be found.
  • Know what to save Mulch for. It can be correct to Mulch early for tempo or to prevent face damage, but remember that it is your only hard removal. Against certain decks, you absolutely have to save it.
  • The one card I was on the fence about was Savage Combatant. I wanted to replace it with a second Feral Rage because of how much aggro is on ladder. I often felt like I managed to stabilize the board but would get burned out shortly afterwards. In addition, sometimes I desperately needed Jungle Moonkin for the Moonkin+Swipe combo and my Curator would draw the wrong beast. On the other hand, it gives Curator more value, is another threat for control match ups and gives you an active turn 4 play which requires immediate removal. This deck will often Wild Growth into no 4-drop, which is a big tempo hit.

Vs Shaman (14-9, 60.9% winrate)

I think this deck is slightly favored vs Midrange Shaman. The overwhelming number of Shamans were Midrange, with a few Totem variants. The plan is the same for both. Ramp and clear as much of the board as possible until one of three things happen:

  1. You play a big guy ahead of the curve (Ragnaros, Arcane Giant, Curator) and hope they don’t have Hex. If they do, you play a second one and pray they don’t have the second Hex. If they do, you probably lose. Otherwise your big guy can often stabalize the board.
  2. You survive until you can Moonkin+Swipe+Moonfire with 8 mana. You can outright win the game if you can pull this off, as it almost always clears their entire board, including six health Thunder Bluff Valient and all totems. I think it is often correct to Nourish and just take a bunch of face damage in order to dig for this combo. It’s really important to save your Swipes for this combo. Using one early to clear a single target will likely cause you to struggle later on when Shaman floods board with 0 mana 5/5 taunts.
  3. The opponent plays too many things too quickly and you fail to find ramp. You die.

I can’t stress how strong #2 is. I think at the moment, most Shamans do not play around this because Druid historically has no way to clear a full board. There were many times I would Nourish to fish for the combo, my opponent would overextend and I would clear their entire board the following turn. I think if Shamans start playing around this more, it will be closer, but I still think this deck has a slight edge.

Vs Druid (11-5, 68.8% winrate)

Almost all the druids I faced were mirrors running the exact same list with Curator, with maybe two Token Druids. The mirror is very draw dependent and is basically decided by two major factors. First is who draws ramp. If you get a Wild Growth, you gain a huge advantage that is often insurmountable. Second is getting your card draw engines like Azure Drake or Nourish. You ramp so that you can be the one actively playing threats while your opponent has to respond. Sometimes you will ramp hard and either run out of cards or end up with a hand full of spells and nothing to play. Getting ways to replenish your hand usually defines the end game.

It’s important to save Mulch in this matchup, as every Druid list I’m aware of only runs one. You literally have no other answer to Malygos, so once you use it you have to resign yourself to losing if they ever draw it. On the other hand, if your opponent uses their Mulch early, you can slam Malygos early and expect it to live a turn so you can do crazy 9+6 Swipes the following turn. Be careful of them countering your Ragnaros with their own Ragnaros. It’s a 50/50 coin flip that will often decide games.

Vs Mage (9-4, 69.2% winrate)

I think you are very favored against Freeze Mage. Ramp as hard as you can and just start dropping threats. Ragnaros is the all star here, as they have no reliable removal for it and have to waste their direct damage on him. Try to save Nourish for turns when they Frost Nova+Doomsayer if you have no answer. Keep spell damage for when they try to stall out your board with freeze. Search for healing with Raven Idol and use it right after Alexstraza.

The two other variants I ran into were Aggro Mage (the one that tries to burn you out while stalling with Ice Block and Frost Nova) and Tempo Mage. Both of these are harder than Freeze Mage and you want to quickly identify which one it is, as it greatly impacts what you pick from Raven Idol. Obviously if it’s Aggro, healing is what’s most important. You basically just need to always clear board and survive, as their deck has a finite amount of damage.

With Tempo Mage you actually have to Raven Idol for more value cards. The scary part about Tempo Mage is that they generally have aggressive starts against you and you will feel like you need to use spells inefficiently to survive. Then you may get out-valued later on due to Cabalist Tome or Antonidas. I’ve actually gone into Fatigue against tempo mage and completely run out of cards while they still had cards in hand. Of course, if they have a slow start and you can efficiently use your removal, then you will eventually out value them.

Vs Warlock (5-4, 55.6% winrate)

The Zoo matchup feels very bad. It plays very similarly to the Midrange Shaman matchup except way faster. The only time I won was when I managed to ramp and draw into Moonkin+Swipe. Unfortunately, even if you pull it off you can still lose since their board is more sticky than Shaman and they finish you off with charging Doomguards.

Renolock feels very favorable though. Since you run the burst package of Malygos, you are basically just waiting to gather all the pieces and kill them from ~20 life. They will usually be around there from just life taps. You also run a lot of big threats, so they can sometimes struggle to find answers, especially if they don’t have Siphon Soul for your 8/8s. This lets you get in the rest of the chip damage to put them into combo range.

Vs Hunter (5-2, 71.4% winrate)

With the nerf to Call of the Wild, I think Hunter has fallen off the grid a bit. Secret hunter is generally the harder matchup, specifically because Cat Trick triggering off a Wild Growth is too much face damage and Freezing Trap is strong against your big minions. Otherwise, the hope is just to ramp and stabilize the board, which should eventually happen. Secret Hunter usually doesn’t run Deadly Shot or any hard removal, so an early Ragnaros is often game ending. Search for healing from Raven Idols and pay attention to when you can race and burst them with Malygos combo.

Vs Paladin (6-1, 85.7% winrate)

Against aggro, you obviously just want to clear board as fast as possible and try to survive. Empty your hand to avoid Divine Favor value and if you can survive into the later turns, you automatically just win. Watch your life and Raven Idol for healing if needed. This matchup is very dependent on who curves out best.

N’zoth and Murloc paladin play out surprisingly the same and are both favored in my opinion. Your goal is to ramp and play threats, without ever over extending into Equality+Consecrate. Be very aware of how many equalities they’ve used, since it’s their only real way to deal with your big threats like Ragnaros or Malygos. Your goal is to draw your entire deck, continuously playing threats. You can generally do this faster than the Paladin, so occasionally you will get some  face damage against him. Then you kill him from near full health with a Malygos+spells combo. Save all your damage spells for this, as the Malygos+2xMoonfire+2xLiving Roots is 26 damage from hand. If you get a Thaurissan tick off with Innervate+Swipe, you can do the full 30 from hand.

Vs Rogue (2-3, 40% winrate)

Miracle Rogue is not a particularly fun matchup. You can’t really stop them from getting a good Gadgetzan turn off and you have no answers for Conceal except for Ragnaros. Occasionally you will ramp well and manage to take board. In that case, you can keep trading and eventually run them out of threats. Sometimes, you can get lucky and draw Malygos+spells to surprise kill them. Otherwise, you generally get overwhelmed by the card advantage of Gadgetzan.

Vs Warrior (3-2, 60% winrate)

Against any aggro Warrior like Pirate, the objective is just to try and survive. Prioritize your health and use your cheap spells as soon as possible to clear board. If you survive to late game you win.

I really liked the matchup against the different Control Warriors, whether it be traditional/fatigue, C’thun or N’Zoth. The plan is to out value the Warrior in the long game. You ramp and keep playing threat after threat until they run out of removal. Eventually a minion will stick on the board and he solos the warrior. Save Fandral and Raven Idol for later so that you can get both the minion and spell, which will add additional threats to your deck. At a certain point, you will get the warrior low enough that you can burst them with Malygos+spells. Never play more than two minions so you don’t over extend into Brawl. The biggest concern is actually Sylvanas, as she will almost always steal a minion from you since you have no answer. Obviously save Mulch for C’thun if it ever makes an appearance, but usually they don’t have time to play it since they have to answer your threats every turn. Similarly, they usually don’t have time to play N’Zoth since they have to answer your threats on board.

Vs Priest (0-1, 0% winrate)

Priest OP. Honestly, I think this is a bad matchup. You don’t have clean answers to a Resurrected Injured Blademaster and they have tons of answers for your big threats with SW: Death and Entomb. However, nobody plays this shitty class so who knows for sure.

 

 

Really Clear Ice Balls

Making cocktails has become a recent hobby of mine. I’ve been buying all sorts of spirits, bitters, syrups and fruits in order to try out every cocktail recipe I could find on the internet. When you make a drink at home, it’s generally very similar to what you’d expect to receive in a bar. However, while you can buy the same ingredients and follow the same recipes, there’s a certain element that professional bars have over your homemade concoction.

When you read a cocktail recipe, it generally ends with “shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass”. The variable in that sentence is the “ice”. The next time you visit a high end bar, take a look at the ice they use. It’s fucking amazing. They usually use extremely large cubes (at least 1 inch) that are crystal clear. Most bars probably have $1000+ industrial ice makers that pump out high quality cubes. Seriously, just look at the ice they use in this video.

I used to use the ice that my refrigerator spit out or if people were over, a bag of ice I bought at Safeway. But both of those options resulted in small, fragmented ice cubes that over diluted the drinks and look terrible in a glass. I bought some larger 1″ and 2″ ice cube trays and manually started stockpiling ice in my freezer. I even went so far as to buy a small cooler so I could freeze huge blocks of ice and then hand carve them with a knife and hammer.


However, the pinnacle of ice making has to be the ice ball. Nothing is as baller as an old fashioned with a crystal clear sphere of ice floating in it. Balls of ice are so interesting to look at because you grow up only knowing cubes of ice. When you see a sphere of ice for the first time, it’s a very intriguing sight because it’s so different looking.

For a while, I owned one of these standard ice ball molds. It does exactly what it was built to do: create a spherical ball of ice. However, these balls of ice generally end up extremely cloudy with large cracks throughout. Besides the poor visual aspect, cloudy ice melts faster and dilutes your drink.

That ice ball mold didn’t really cut it. I did a bunch of research about how to make clearer ice, but the general consensus is that the type of water you use (bottled, distilled, boiled, etc) has no impact and the only real way to get clear ice is to use directional freezing. There were a few other $60+ ice ball molds that promised clearer ice through directional freezing but it was kind of expensive. The other alternative was a ridiculous, several hundred dollar ice ball press that uses pressure to actually squeeze a cube of ice into a sphere. I say “ridiculous” now but I know one day in the future I will probably end up owning one of these.

Last year, Allison showed me a Kickstarter for a $25 clear ice ball mold that used directional freezing. The price was low enough that it didn’t make me feel too stupid so I pulled the trigger and bought it.

I was definitely a little bit disappointed when I first received it and started pumping out ice balls. They were definitely clearer than my original mold, but they still contained a lot of air bubble strands within the sphere.


Over the course of several months, I made 30+ ice balls using various techniques. Different types of water, different starting temperatures, tapping on the mold to dislodge air bubbles and everything you could possibly try. A bunch of people in the Kickstarter comments also mentioned that they were disappointed, so the creator sent out some additional tips and instructions on how to make better ice balls. After an unnecessarily long struggle, I finally ended up with what I think is pretty much a perfectly clear ice ball. The ultimate solution involved boiling filtered water and letting it cool for a short period. While the water is still hot but not burning hot, I pour it into the mold. Then I place the entire mold into another, insulated cooler. Then I have to wait over 24 hours for the entire thing to freeze.

So yeah, the moral of this story is that really clear ice balls are fucking hard to make.

Fatigue Warrior

Lately, I’ve been playing a lot of fatigue warrior. I found a list on LiquidHearth from a player called Eversiction that originally piqued my interest. Control Warrior is a deck I’ve always wanted to play but never could, due to my limited collection. The highlight of this deck is that it only requires two legendaries: Elise Starseeker and Justicar Trueheart.

This deck runs two win conditions. The first is playing Elise, turning your entire deck into legendaries, and slamming huge dudes every turn. The second is to remove every threat the opponent plays until they run out of cards and outlast them in fatigue by gaining 4 armor a turn. While the deck is extremely time inefficient, every game is full of very interesting decisions and mechanics. It’s also very computationally intense, as most games against other control decks come down to difficult fatigue math. This naturally results in the deck having a higher win percentage because other players are less likely to be familiar with the matchup.

Of course, I quickly realized that the math is too hard and decided to build a spreadsheet to calculate everything for me. I got a ton of use out of my original Patron Lethals spreadsheet which calculated damage from hand with varying numbers of Frothing Berserkers, Whirlwinds and Inner Rages. I figured I could try and reproduce a similar thing for fatigue.

Introducing the Fatigue Calculator. You can enter game state like health, healing, fatigue and damage on board for both you and your opponent. Then it displays your life totals at each turn until you eventually die. The purpose of this is to quickly calculate the result of the game if nobody does anything except hero power for the rest of the game. Why is this so important? In most games against aggro or midrange, if you survive long enough you automatically win, no math required. This spreadsheet becomes a lifesaver in heavy control matchups, such as Control Priest or the Control Warrior mirror.

Here’s a quick puzzle. You are playing this deck vs a control Priest. Both players have drawn their entire deck. You are holding the Golden Monkey and 5 other useless cards. The priest has 1-2 copies of Entomb and 4 other useless cards in hand. The priest has a 2/8 Deathlord in play. You have 24 armor and 21 health while the priest has 30 health. You just took 1 damage from fatigue and the priest has taken 0. What’s the correct play?

As the warrior, you have two choices: play Golden Monkey or do nothing. Playing Golden Monkey is tempting since transforming your dead hand into potentially powerful legendaries is great. However, you know it will definitely be Entombed, giving the Priest one less fatigue turn and the ability to also play the Golden Monkey. Every time I’ve done this I feel at a disadvantage and only win because I get better random legendaries. The correct play in this scenario is to actually do nothing. If both players do nothing but hero power for the rest of the game, the warrior will win.

Or, imagine this situation that occurred to me the other day.

It’s currently the beginning of my turn. I will take four fatigue damage on my next turn and my opponent is going to take five. During the game, I knew my opponent had Grom and I  incorrectly thought his last card was a worthless Shield Block (turned out to be Brawl). I have two choices: play Nozdormu followed by Golden Monkey or play Golden Monkey and hope I get a better or equal legendary from the effect. What’s the right play?

First of all, if neither of us does anything for the rest of the game, I am going to lose to fatigue first. This doesn’t even consider that he has an equipped Death’s Bite that can hit me for another 4-8 damage.

Now if I play Nozdormu, he will kill it with charge Grom + Death’s Bite. Then I play Monkey and he trades enraged 10/1 Grom into Monkey. He’s left with an Acolyte of Pain and a Death’s Bite with 1 charge. He can’t use the last charge of Death’s Bite since the deathrattle would cause him to fatigue more. The new scenario is the same as the last, except my opponent will take an extra 8 damage from face tanking Nozdormu. I still lose two turns early.

So the only way I can win is to play Golden Monkey and pray for a miracle. It just so happens I ripped a Deathwing off the top for the glorious win.

Lightning Helix anyone?

Limited Formats In Hearthstone

With Blizzard’s recent announcement of a standard format, I figured it would be interesting to bring up a completely unrelated subject that you’ll never see mentioned in pretty much any reddit post or youtube video: limited.

In my eyes, Hearthstone constructed is “good enough”. And by constructed I mean the thing you play on the ladder or in tournaments, where you make a deck from your collection. There is a lot of diversity in the decks you can choose to play at high levels and a lot of depth in the match ups. With the new standard format where you only allow newer cards, it will be even better. However, what I feel is a tremendously wasted opportunity for Blizzard and Hearthstone is how we treat Arena. And I don’t mean buffing Arena warrior.

Anything can happen in the arena.

If you’re not too familiar with Arena, it is Hearthstone’s take on Magic The Gathering’s sealed deck format. You are giving a set of random cards and you must choose a subset of those cards to make a deck. You are then pitted against other players who went through the same process but with a different set of random cards.

A limited format offers a few interesting aspects to the game that constructed formats cannot. First of all there is the deck building aspect. Since the pool of cards you choose from is random, you can’t just look up the most popular, optimized deck from the Tempostorm meta snapshot. You need to make complex decisions based on a limited set of resources. Most choices are based on intuition and practice, rather than playing a deck 100 times to finely tune whether to include one or two Fiery War Axe.

Since the pool of cards is limited, it makes a lot of “bad” cards playable and you will often see things that would never happen in constructed. Strange interactions between cards that have no business being in a deck together will crop up all the time and 7/7 minions are suddenly amazing since you don’t have to worry about Big Game Hunter being played in 100% of all decks.

I’ve got the beast in my sights. PEW!

There are a lot less pre-known choices in limited formats. In constructed, every deck list of every high tier deck is 100% known. In addition, every professional memorizes the “right” decisions to do in every combination of match ups. In Control Warrior vs Freeze Mage, I want to mulligan for these X cards and my plan is to hero power as often as possible and fatigue them. It’s incredibly skill based but also extremely tiresome to learn. It’s very similar to memorizing chess openings. The first 10-15+ moves of chess have been studied so thoroughly that the optimal choices are pretty well documented. Just memorize the thousands of possible outcomes and you can be a Grandmaster too! Limited formats are more like the mid game of chess. While a computer can in theory map out every possible outcome, it’s impossible for humans to do it. So you’re forced to think on your feet , improvise, and rely on intuition.

If you can’t instantly recognize which deck this matchup chart is for, you are not good at Hearthstone.

Finally, the most important reason this format is great is that the random cards are not based on your collection. Everyone who enters into an Arena is given the same number of random cards and is essentially on a “level” playing field. Sure, sometimes one guy will get better random cards than you but we still started from the same point. This even creates a nice “powerball” effect that encourages bad players to keep playing, since you can always hope to get lucky and open the pack with the bomb legendary.

Ultimately, constructed formats have a hefty “competitive” price tag. To expect to get anywhere, you need to pay the money or time to grind all the cards. You also need to spend hours practicing and studying the same match ups. It’s NOT pay to win (don’t get me started on people who wrongly think that), but constructed Heathstone does cost at least a few hundred dollars, which is obfuscated behind buying random card packs. Limited formats let you circumvent a lot of that cost.

A few years ago I was really into Magic Online, but since I didn’t have a collection, I played drafts (a limited format where players take turns picking cards from random packs). I got to play competitively with other people without having to spend thousands of dollars on a constructed deck running 4 copies of Jace The Mind Sculpter. When Hearthstone came out I immediately started playing Arena non stop. It gave me the same type of enjoyment of playing Magic drafts but didn’t cost $15 per run. It was like a dream come true!

I’m not sure if I’m looking at the price history of a Magic card or Bitcoin.

However, as time progressed, arena started to feel more and more repetitive and stale. And it wasn’t just because I played too much. I played a lot of Magic drafts but never felt the same way. Thinking more about it, I realized the problem wasn’t the format. I actually love the way Arena is designed and I could go into a whole rant about the positives of how it’s built. The problem was something outside the game.

In my opinion, the best thing that could happen to Hearthstone is to make limited part of Blizzard’s World Hearthstone Championships. The reason Arena is stale is because Blizzard doesn’t care about it and so players don’t care about it. In Magic, limited formats like draft and sealed are part of all their tournaments, including the World Championships and Pro Tours. As a result, professionals have to practice and care about Arena. It makes us plebeians get excited and drives more people into the format.

Arena should be more prominent in the game’s UI. Give us public Arena rankings, just like how constructed has the ladder. Make Arena wins count towards golden portraits. It’s important that we have goals to work towards while playing and the 12 win key isn’t enough.

Blizzard needs to design their new card sets more for Arena. For months, there was a ton of feedback from players and data showing how terrible Warriors were in arena. When the new card set came out, there were a bunch of great Arena cards for Warrior that were totally unplayable for constructed. For some reason though, Blizzard decided to make all these cards at higher rarities, meaning they almost never appear as choices for Arena. There was literally no reason not to make the high quality Arena cards more common, because nobody crafted a single one for constructed.

Finally, Blizzard needs to rotate card sets for Arena just like what they proposed for constructed. The reason Arena feels so stale is that if you want to win, you have to always pick Flamestrike, always pick Truesilver Champion and always pick Fire Elemental. If these cards were removed from the format and replaced with new, interesting mechanics, Arena would feel vibrant and alive again.

Although you already have 4 Flamestrikes, I still recommend you pick Flamestrike here because it has the most value.

Blizzard’s choice of rotating card sets is a great decision which will help to make constructed Hearthstone a much more interesting landscape. However, it still doesn’t address the high barrier of entry, in terms of both money and time. More emphasis on limited formats provide new players a way to experience a highly competitive form of the game without that upfront cost. In my opinion, Arenas can also act as a gateway drug to constructed, because as you play more Arena your rewards include cards usable only for constructed. It’s a win-win situation for both Blizzard and players.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my little rant. I love constructed Hearthstone and I’ve played more than my fair share of it (three seasons of legend). But if you gave me a choice, I’d still rather play Arena in my spare time. If Blizzard would support Arena in the same way Wizards of the Coast supported draft or sealed, I believe it could be one of biggest and best improvements to the game.

The Martian by Andy Weir

Back when I was really bored at work at my last job I got into a personally productive phase, getting very motivated and excited working on personal projects and reading a lot of books. At one point I was structuring myself so that I would work on something specific each work day – it was something like Monday is technical project, Tuesday is crafts project, Wednesday is reading, Thursday is playing a game, Friday is hanging out with Jack… I can’t remember exactly what it was (I swear I wrote a post about it but I can’t find it and spent some time getting teary over this old post about Jokulhaups instead).

However work at this job is very fulfilling and fun, and when I come home I either want to work some more or just lay on the couch doing nothing until I go do some more work. It’s drastically reduced the number of console games I play too (though I get sucked into mobile games easily, which in my mind somehow fall under “do nothing”).

Since it’s holiday break and pretend-you’ll-fulfill-your-resolutions time, I decided to try something different. I’ve stopped really reading books for a long time so I want to get back into it. The last few books I read a while ago I still haven’t written about and probably never will because I procrastinated too long and don’t remember them that well. I also recently got this huge iPad Pro that I’ve mostly been using for games.

I’m going to try writing about the book I’m reading as I read it. So this will end up more of a log than a single post, I guess, that’s posted all at once. This way I’ll get down more of my impressions as I read and have less risk of not actually posting about the book. Writing this up on the iPad will also be interesting, as it’s proving to be rather difficult – I type very fast and this feels like less than half my normal speed, what with not being able to use normal keyboard hand positioning and all the strange auto-correcting I have to go back and fix. Maybe it will force me to think more before I write, as I tend to ramble a lot. Though it’s so big that I almost may as well have pulled out my laptop to write this up on.

Anyway, on to The Martian…

We watched The Martian in 3D with D-BOX seats. It was the first time we’d tried D-BOX seats. It was interesting, but not something I’d feel like I was missing out on if I didn’t have. The best part was that they are reserved seats though, so you can come in later with a guaranteed seat (though you may need to kick out the non-D-BOX people sitting in your seat that don’t realize it’s reserved).

I liked the movie itself. Obviously at that point I hadn’t read the book (what with just having bought it today and all). It was a while ago, and I’m extremely terrible at remembering details about books or movies past a few days, so really my only impression of the movie now is that I liked it at the time. The only other strong impression I have is (not sure if spoiler) “China would never have helped!”

This will be interesting, to see differences with the movie.

Saturday, December 26th

I just bought the book today and only got 7 pages in before deciding to do a reading log (I specifically got the version that did not have a movie-inspired cover because I didn’t want to carry Matt Damon’s face around), so so far right now my only comment is that I like the tone of the writing. It feels very realistic and like how I imagine I may record the happenings if I was in that situation.

So yeah. I’m fucked. (page 7)

Got further and had some thoughts.

There are some details in the book that better explain some things from the movie, but are still a bit incredulous. For instance, the fact that each of the astronauts have two specialties… and his two specialties just happen to be the exact two that will keep him alive? The fact that he had vegetables he could plant that weren’t freeze-dried (not sure how spoiler-y I am being, so this is a bit hard to phrase), but it was only because of some very specific timing of when he would be on Mars?

Also, do real normal people say “edge case”? Because he just said “edge case”. I guess maybe because he is a scientist it may make sense? “Edge case” feels like a very programmer type of thing to say. Do other disciplines use that phrase?

I wonder if the way this is written as his daily logs was meant to be as if they are video logs like the movie, or written? I think if I had read this first I would imagine them as written logs.

Really? It’s oh-so-lucky these two things just happen to use the same voltage. Oh, this thing has a valve and I have no idea why it has a valve but thank god it has a valve because I really needed this valve! A lot of this is starting to feel very contrived.

Sunday, December 27th

I haven’t felt as skeptical about the circumstances in the book since I kept reading yesterday, so I’m feeling a bit better about the book. Perhaps it’s because it’s starting to get much more into what’s happening in Earth and not just his logs.

One thing I noticed yesterday that I thought was interesting was the use of “Ziploc” and “Hefty” as size references. I’ve been fascinated with brand names used as object names since I read a book a long time ago that capitalized “Dumpster”. It confused me because it’s just a dumpster, right? I looked it up and it turns out dumpster is what is called a generic trademark. These are brand names that have been used so much they’ve turned into the generic commonly used name for objects. Some other fascinating examples are heroin, escalator, dry ice, frisbee (auto-correct actually capitalized that for me at first), and popsicle (more here).

As a result, I tend to take note of how brand names are used. However in this book I noticed that rather than using Ziploc or Hefty to mean “bag”, they were actually used together as more familiar size references to give the reader a better sense of what Mark was doing with the bag.

One thing I have in abundance here are bags. … Some are smaller than a Ziploc, while others are as big as a Hefty lawn and leaf bag. (page 31-32)

I cut up a few Hefty-sized bags and taped them together to make a sort of tent. (page 32)

I got a Ziploc-sized sample bag and waved it around a bit. (page 36)

I’m enjoying the humor in this book. Some things are still kind of incredulous (you sent a hack half a byte at a time and he just entered it in and it just worked?) but overall enjoyable.

A career software engineer, mornings were never her forte. (page 132)

That line could be my life story.

I looked at the back cover and it says Andy Weir is a programmer – I guess that explains “edge case”.

Ah ha! They used “Popsicle” (capitalized) as a generic term! I was excited so I figured I’d stop to write a thought down.

I passed the part where China decides to help – to be honest I was a bit surprised it was in the book; I would not have been surprised if it had been added just to the movie purely for some sort of marketing purpose. In fact when we first saw the movie that was our theory on why China was in the movie at all, to appeal to Chinese audiences. The book only spends 3.5 pages talking about the Chinese space people making the decision to help. It felt kind of shallow – I still don’t believe China would ever help of its own accord, especially if no one even knew they had the ability to help.

So far it seems like the movie had stuck very closely to the book, but the scene with the Chinese space people talking actually was two men, where in the movie they had a man and a woman. I wonder if that was a ploy to get female Chinese audiences.

Monday, December 28th

I’ve continued reading, and didn’t have too much of note other than him referencing that he was typing his logs, so that answers my question of written vs. video logs.

It’s amusing to imagine all his rock morse code messages to NASA just hanging out there forever along the path he drove.

Just finished it! It was pretty good. I’m surprised how closely the movie stuck to the book (at least what I remember of the movie). I do feel like one life-threatening situation (Rover tipping over) was replaced by another (more drama when rescuing him from his makeshift rocket) though.

One thing I wish it went into more detail in was all the arguments and discussions that went into deciding to spend the time and resources on saving him. NASA is  government-funded; there would have been many arguments about the costs and benefits. I could totally see many people arguing that one life is not possibly worth the time, resources, and lost work for future missions. I could imagine it boiling down to public opinion which swayed the decision, though I’m sure many many people would disagree no matter what they did. I just wish it went into more of those practical details; it’s always the negotiations and arguments that no one plans for, even in projects at work.

Overall, it started kind of unbelievable (as in way too many lucky coincidences) then got much better. Still feel that it’s too unrealistic that China volunteered to help.

We’re going to watch the movie again tomorrow so I can compare it!

Also, not quite sure about this format of writing a log while I read. I guess this was a good book to try it on since he writes in log format. Maybe it would be easier if I had my laptop open to type it on instead of using the iPad Pro. Perhaps I’ll try it at least once more.

Tuesday, December 29th

Never mind, Jack couldn’t find a good version of the movie to download, not watching it again today.