30 Years of Magic: The Gathering

I wasn’t there for the very beginning of Magic. In 1993 I’d have been in 4th grade, and not yet into the swing of getting any sort of regular allowance to fuel such expenditures. I seem to recall Tempest being the first set that I got into, and I’m pretty sure I came in near the end of that, so I must have been a high school freshman at that point. The shelves of the various, rather small establishments that would eventually be “local game stores” were still well stocked with 4th edition, 5th edition, and Ice Age. For some reason in my neck of the woods, vaguely Nashville, TN, Chronicles through Weatherlight weren’t as well stocked as the, I assume more heavily printed, 4th/5th/Ice Age sets (though I did have a bit of Portal back then, which felt oddly fake due to the differences in font).

30 is a big number. It’s a multiple of both 5 and 10 so as a species we’re conditioned to expect some fanfare befitting a gorilla-brain “I can count that by flashing my hands a few times” number. Wizards/Hasbro has decided to reprint the old Collector’s edition, which was a set of older cards with an alternate card back, and therefore not tournament legal. This went for about $60 at the time, and came with a full set of cards and plenty of basic lands.

The 30th Anniversary version of this is… not $60. It’s $250 per pack of 15 random cards, sold only in sets of four. There’s no guarantee of what cards you’ll get in these packs, so if you weren’t around and playing magic back in ’93/’94 you can finally experience the thrill of maybe cracking a dual land or one of the power 9… for $250 a shot. What a nightmare.

Is this inhibiting your ability to “celebrate” the 30th Anniversary of Magic: the Gathering? Of course not. Is that even a thing you should care about? Probably not. It’s not up to the players to do that, anyway, or at least it shouldn’t be. If Wizards wants the 30th Anniversary to be a big deal for its players, it’s really on them to back that happen. This is not the product for making that happen. In pricing out the vast majority of players from being able to get at this product, they’re showing that they’ve put a lot of thought into how to best exploit a very specific type of financial speculator, and that feels like a dark path for a game that I would have otherwise hoped to try and get my kids into at some point.

What’s personally, perhaps uniquely depressing (or perhaps not so uniquely based on much of the other rambling on this topic), is that this is something I’ve wanted to see them do for awhile, but not like this. This year, in the midst of this presumed 30th anniversary “celebration” they’re releasing a set called “The Brother’s War,” a time-travel set going back to the beginning of Magic’s story. What more perfect place could there be to just straight up reprint all these older cards? Even if they felt the need to keep a special slot per pack for non-tournament-legal, alternate-back printings for the reserved list stuff it would have been celebrated by the whole of the player base as a wonderful move to push the set. Packs of that junk would be flying off the shelves for a chance at those, and everyone would be able to get a little piece of it. For more fun, make them legal for the draft where they get cracked, but illegal for constructed. Your precious original printings remain valuable because they’re still the only legal versions in their formats, but players get to, you know, have fun with the game? The “play” in “player” is supposed to be that thing you do for having fun, right?

$999 for 60 random proxies is just the worst kind of madness. Mechanically unique Secret Lair cards were bad enough in their work to exploit the FOMO feels, but this is a bridge too far. The way the company has presented it, a video stream where three people, possibly under duress, describe the product while trying to keep a straight face is one of the more unsettling things I’ve seen with this game’s products. This product is so cynical that the whole rest of the game, indeed the brand, suffers in my mind because of it. I had already hit a point where I wasn’t buying sealed product (though I had seriously considered getting a few boxes of Unfinity). Now I think I’m done looking for any of it.

What’s next? We’ve seen continuing absurd escalation. Where could it go from here? $999 for 60 proxies can’t be the end of this madness. I now expect, within 10 years, that we’ll see limited, tournament-legal printings of the reserved list, but it will be treated as an actual “reserve.” Every year a shortlist of Reserved List cards, marked with the year of this latest printing, serialized. These will go to a handful of favored LGSes and sold with the same sort of back-room financing as car sales. Get yourself a copy of the 2040 Black Lotus, complete with gold-leaf embossed foiling, for just $20,000 or $693/mo. at 4.69% APR.

These really feels like a watershed moment. I think I’m finally done with this. I still like playing Magic, but just seeing how apparently desperate Wizards has become to milk the hell out of every possible facet and tier of player, I think the game for me is going to live on in the set of Commander decks I’ve curated, and even those I’ll likely try to keep paring down, and probably I’ll put together a cube since that seems to be the true connoisseur’s version of Magic. Seems appropriate as I’ve already taken some other long-dead mid-90’s card games and boardgame-ified them. This insanity probably won’t kill Magic, but I’m not sure I want to bother with a game that survives by producing this type of gatekept, predatory, absolutely desperate money-grab of a product.

However I keep playing this game, there’s going to be a lot more proxies and they aren’t going to cost $250 per pack.

Prance Trance Restitution

Turns out playing Dance Dance Revolution for 90 minutes a day for nine days straight when you’re 39 is a good way to lose weight and just absolutely ruin your knees.

It’s been awhile since I’ve played a purposeful amount of DDR. After my last vacation, the tremendous amount of eating and drinking that took place forced my hand (or rather my feet) to get back into it, and I’ve gone further off the deep end than possibly ever before. Though I don’t tend to get into the more intense steps (my general level cap is 7, which might be 10 to 14 now, since apparently the scales were extended some years ago long after I stopped playing console versions), though I prefer 5s and 6s, since they’re still a reasonable amount of movement and you feel kinda like you’re actually dancing to either the lyrics or the beat, but without being so intense that every single blip, noise, and syllable needs to be its own 1/64th beat step.

Of course, I’m not really playing DDR proper. While I’m glad to see Konami is still producing new versions from time to time, I’m too much of a curmudgeon for most of the new music. I mean, look how they massacred my boy. (For some context, this is the original, and seems to widely be considered far superior.) Once PCs became powerful enough to deal with running it, Stepmania became the client of choice. While Project Outfox appears to be the functional successor, it seems to hate my cruddy soft USB pads (that are holding up unusually well) so I’m still comfortably using Stepmania 5. The real beauty of Stepmania is being able to create a whole new simfile (a file containing the step order and timing for a stage) from scratch, or to tweak/fix other files where something wasn’t set quite right. This has let me put some unexpected tracks in the list to entice my kids to give it a go, the oldest of whom only just last week finally passed his first song on Beginner.

The real trouble with gathering the exact tracks you want is, when there’s a version of something floating around the terrifying aether of the Internet, it might be A) not very well constructed or B) haphazardly chopped down to half-duration because of the old quarter-munching philosophy of making short tracks so players get through them faster. Personally if it’s a song I like I’d much rather the whole track be there, so for some songs you’ve got to take the steps already produced and figure out where to move them around and/or copy them to make the whole track work once you’ve replaced the media files. Another fun bit is needing to download a gigabyte or more to get a song pack that might only have a single song you’re looking for. This is less of an issue with modern bandwidth, but still feels a bit silly. Sometimes this is nice, however, as frequently this results in some additional inclusions for songs I wouldn’t have looked for otherwise. Indeed, the list below has quite a few tracks I probably wouldn’t bother with if I were just wanting something to listen to, but if the steps feel good for the beat then in the list it goes.

It’s also worth mentioning that most of the search engines for simfiles are sort of terrible, so I tend to find out about newer files via YouTube videos of people who record themselves playing the game at three angles for ones of viewers. Maybe there’s Discord channels out there that are better for this or something, but I haven’t stumbled onto them yet.

Once I get a few more things tweaked I’ll likely zip this up to share on Zenius as I can’t be the only 40-ish player who just wants to find a poppy list with some old intense staples mixed in to hop to until my fitness tracker tells me I’ve exhausted an appropriate amount of estimated calories for the day. For the most part it’s a collection of tracks converted from older DDR console games, plus a bunch of things from Ben Speirs, who appears to be a simfile-crafting savant.

In the event you care to peruse, here’s the list at the moment, which has gotten me nine lbs down from my post-vacation weight:

SongArtistSource
Abyssdj TAKADDR
Addicted To You (UP-IN-HEAVEN MIX)Utada HikaruThe Utada Hikaru Project
Afronova Primeval8 bitDDR
Against All Odds (Definitive MIX)DEJA VU ft. TASMINDDR
All StarSmash MouthSPEIRMIX GALAXY
B4U Glorious StyleNAOKIDDR
Bad HabitsEd SheeranGG Basics
Bad RomanceLady GagaDDR
BangarangSkrillexSPEIRMIX 2
Better Off AloneAlice DeejayZ-I-v Summer Contest 2015
BillsLunchmoney LewisSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Blame It On The PopDJ EarwormGTKashi
BREⱯK DOWN!Be For UDDR
Break FreeArianna Grande ft. ZeddSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Break My HeartDua LipaGG Basics
BRILLIANT 2UNAOKIDDR
Cake By The OceanDNCESPEIRMIX GALAXY
Call Me MaybeCarly Rae JepsenSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Can’t Feel My FaceThe WeekndSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Can’t Hold Us (ft. Ray Dalton)Macklemore & Ryan LewisZ-I-v Summer Contest 2015
Can’t Stop The Feeling!Justing TimberlakeSPEIRMIX GALAXY
CANDY♥Kosaka YuriDDR
Cheap ThrillsSiaSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Cheap Thrills (ft. Sean Paul)SiaSPEIRMIX GALAXY
ClassicMKTO500’s Simfiles
Cold HeartElton John & Dua LipaFloor Filler
Counting StarsOne RepublicSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Days Go By (Solstice Remix)Dirty VegasDDRei-TournaMix-04
DIVE (more deep & deeper style)Be For UDDR
DominoJessie JSPEIRMIX GALAXY
DROP THE BOMB (System S.F. Mix)Scotty D.DDR
DYNAMITE RAVE (Down Bird SOTA Mix)NAOKIDDR
DYNAMITE RAVE (Long ver.)NAOKIDDR
Get LuckyDaft Punk ft. Pharrell WilliamsSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Good FeelingFlo RidaSPEIRMIX 2
Goot TimeOwl City ft. Carly Rae JepsenSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Goodbye HappinessUtada HikaruThe Utaka Hikaru Project/GTKashi Fix
HappyPharrell WilliamsSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Hold My HandJess GlynneZ-I-v Summer Contest 2015
Hot n ColdKaty PerrySPEIRMIX GALAXY
I CryFlo Rida500’s Simfiles
ImmortalsFall Out BoySPEIRMIX GALAXY
LevitatingDua LipaGG Basics
LOOK AT US (Daddy DJ Remix)SARINA PARISDDR
Look To The Sky (True Color Mix)System SF ft. AnnaDDR
Makes Me WonderMaroon 5500’s Simfiles
Max 300ΩDDR
MOONLIGHT SHADOW (New Vocal Versian)MISSING HEARTDDR
MoveYourFeet!JunionSeniorDDRei-TournaMix-04
Movin’ on without youUtada HikaruThe Utada Hikaru Project
NEVER ENDING STORYDJ-AC-DCDDR
ORDINARY WORLDAURORA ft. NAIMEE COLEMANDDR
PARTY 4U -holy nite mix-CRANKYDDRei-TournaMix-05/GTKashi Fix
Raise Your GlassP!nkSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Rather BeClean Bandit ft. Jess GlynneSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Run Away With MeCarly Rae JepsenSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Safe and SoundCapital CitiesSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Shut Up and DanceWalk The MoonSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Something Just Like ThisThe Chainsmokers & ColdplaySPEIRMIX GALAXY
Stars in the SkyKid CudiGTKashi
Stomp to my beatJS16DDR
Stonger (What Doesn’t Kill You)Kelly ClarksonSPEIRMIX GALAXY
SugarMaroon 5SPEIRMIX GALAXY
The GreatestSia ft. Kendrik LamarSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Tik TokKe$haSPEIRMIX GALAXY
travelingUtada HikaruThe Utada Hikaru Project
TreasureBruno MarsSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Uptown Funk!Mark Ronson ft. Bruno MarsSPEIRMIX GALAXY
Wait & See -Risk-Utada HikaruThe Utada Hikaru Project/GTKashi Fix

Needless Rambling about Kingdom Hearts

Chase and I sat down a few weekends ago and recorded ourselves complaining about Kingdom Hearts 3. This went on far longer than expected, and even edited down ended up being about 3 hours of discussion split in to two parts.

So why not listen to all that excitement?

Part 1 can be found here. It’s been a fascinating journey, given that neither of us had tried podcasting in years, and probably hadn’t touched sound editing software in over a decade.

Part 1 is mostly us trying to get through talking about the journey to the end of the game, which was full of… well, things happened. If you didn’t watch the movies, don’t worry, Sora doesn’t know what’s going on either, and in the end you learn that it’s totally fine.

Ani-Mayhem: A Game of Things. Awful Things.

So this finally happened. Just a simple, one versus(?) one game that we didn’t actually finish. I subjected a friend to this, as he was oddly willing to participate. The rest of the group was caught up in a rousing conversation about anime, which was probably a better time than this.

I pulled out the rule cards and 10 themed decks. My friend picked the “A Team” Dragonball deck, probably the safest choice, though he had no reason to know it. Cards were shuffled, tokens placed, and the game began. It didn’t take long to realize this was a game built more like a task list. You needed to go scavenge things, then get items, rinse and repeat until some conditions were met. Unfortunately the utility of the cards and the basic rules don’t leave a lot of room for randomness, strategy, or decision making. Go to a location, grab a card, and resolve it, but none of the resolutions were particularly exciting.

There were two other times I played Ani-Mayhem on purpose. The first was long ago when I maintained an actual deck, using the rules of the old times, with a 99 card deck full of overpowered (to the point of being fully unnecessary) regular cards and severely under-powered disasters. The solitaire aspect of the game in combination with the freedom to customize the deck is really the core issue. You can make the game as easy on yourself as you want (there are plenty of extremely weak “major” disasters to choose from), and there’s no incentive to make it harder on yourself.

When I moved to Florida the “local” game store told legend of their own tournament of Ani-Mayhem players. I found the winner of that tournament and defeated them with a loop of Rescues and Angels of Mercy that allows an infinite loop of Wrath of the Eye of God destroying all disasters and other players’ things.

rescueangelofmercywrathoftheeyeofgod

The next time was far more fun. I had constructed a number of theme decks of standard size, and the number of players was such that the disasters on the board became overwhelming, and Everyone’s After Me inevitably led to all of us finally losing after two and a half hours of flailing.

everyonesafterme

That was probably 15 year ago. My most recent interaction with the game and any other player of it was about two years ago, when I found someone in the Seattle area who had piles of Ani-Mayhem cards, and we both had cards the other needed to complete some sort of arbitrary goal.

Today, I pulled out the decks (ten decks, one for each series featured except for Oh My Goddess, which only had like three cards in the whole print run, and an additional “B Team” DBZ deck [warning: sound]), with streamlined rules, and it felt much like watching a reunion concert for a band that was famous years ago, only to realize that they’ve only gotten worse over time, and that in fact you might have mistaken that band for something else in the first place.

There is so very much wrong with this game. It’s wonderful, in a historical sense. Ani-Mayhem, having come out in the mid 90’s in the height of the first wave of companies trying their hand at mimicking the success of Magic: the Gathering, seemed to have very little idea of what it wanted to be.

Game vocabulary is inconsistent. Character stat indicators show up in places they don’t need to be, like Global effects appearing to have movement scores, or flash effects where the wording of the effect has nothing to do with the icon displayed. Words on cards are randomly highlighted for importance, regardless of where they appear. Flavor text may or may not be relevant to the game rules depending on what is written.

recoom
“Recoom” or “Roooom”? You be the judge.

My personal favorite is the font. The font is horrible. Recoom is the prime example, as at first glance you might be convinced that his name is “Roooom.” The extremely loud backgrounds for them can make it painful just to read, and the white outline doesn’t do it many favors.

Oh, and health. Of all the character attributes, health is hidden. Imagine if in Magic: the Gathering Llanowar Elves (a 1/1) had 1 power, 1 toughness, and 1 of a hidden stat called “health” that was based on its printed toughness value, and the toughness value reduced the damage from incoming attacks. That’s how the Defense and Health scores interact in Ani-Mayhem, and it’s somehow both simple and frustratingly unnecessary.

Saiyan-Full-Spin-Kick
“Saiyan Full Spin Kick” is a physical combat card featuring a Saiyan shooting a laser from his finger. One word out of four ain’t bad?

Apart from all of the above, what I realize now that the game really suffers from is something I really only realized tonight. Almost the entire library of cards were designed based on the image or event in the series, rather than what would make an interesting card or mechanic. By trying to keep close to the spirit of the shows they were featuring, they made a game that, once you really got into it, was really quite bland. I can’t think of another card game where the art inspired the card rules, rather than the other way around, but it’s the entire basis of the game and why any given deck, even when restricted to single series, end up hitting a power threshold as early as turn one that stops any future decisions from being at all difficult. But at least they didn’t go the Dragon Ball Z card game route of screenshot roulette for their cards.

So why do all this, and what now? I’m likely to sell all of these, save for a few favorites I want to keep around in my little display of old card games from days gone by. As awful as the game was, this was a fun little bit of nostalgia to share in the suffering of. Time to purge this from the house and move on to something new, and like a writer or director, sometimes the best inspiration for making something new is to see just how poorly it’s been done in the past.

Bonus: In digging for images for this post I rediscovered ani-mayhem.com. While this fan site seems to have frozen (I mean, there’s not a lot of actual updates happening), I cannot fully express my horror at a link on that site leading to アニメイヘム.com. Yeah, you’re reading that right. I have no idea how they did that, but they call it “Ani-Mayhem 2010” and it’s apparently still being updated. Someone out there other than me still cares, it seems, but I’m finding that out far too late (and pretty much every other fan-made cards I’ve seen have been kinda horrible. Whatever the case, I’m tossing in my hat. Go on an keep chasing that dream, whoever you are. Surely there’s an Ani-Mayhem 2020 just waiting to get… whatever it is you’re doing to that.

Streamlined Ani-Mayhem Rules Cards

Ani-Mayhem was a game that existed because of the MTG boom in the mid 90’s. Everyone wanted in on that cardboard cash. Pioneer, who had gotten into the business of licensing Japanese animation for the US, decided to slap everything they had the rights to into a game. This included some things probably dozens of people had watched, but also had a lot of what we would consider classic anime. Dragon Ball Z, in particular, is one addition that they tossed in as a last ditch effort for traction. They had just gotten the rights for some distributions of DBZ (thought I don’t believe for long), but while the DBZ set proved to be fairly popular, they ended up discontinuing the game. It probably didn’t help that the overall card power in the DBZ set was so much higher than the first two sets. A new DBZ card came came out the next year, and while it had horrible production value it was far more popular.

Ani-Mayhem was a mess, but for some reason I found it endearing, and ended up collecting most of the cards, including all but I think two of the promo cards. Once the game was discontinued I remember picking up some set one booster boxes for $15 each, which was certainly a good way to pad out the collection.

The rules changed with each set, though rarely being much better than the previous version. The rule book was like the old MTG rule books, but without all the flavor. Sixty pages of rules and examples for the complicated tracking of everything ever and all the options you had in any given situation. It was very much like they were trying to translate a video game RPG into a card game, but with the D&D annoyances of party splitting and characters actually getting killed.

Last year I took a look at all the cards I still had and decided to make probably-functional theme decks for each of the anime that were in the game, except for Ah My Goddess, which only had like three cards in the game. DBZ got two decks, one for the A-Team and one for the B-Team. Ten decks in all, with 67 cards total per deck (down from the DBZ minimum deck size rule of 99). So now I was left with the problem of boiling the rules down so that I could maybe someday get someone to play it.

So I’ve done just that, and got them compressed down to four standard card-size blocks of rules. I purposefully ignore a lot of the rules for options (like running away from combat and such) for the purpose of streamlining them. I’ve made a few decisions on keywords and such to make things make a bit more sense. Reducing deck locations from 7 to 5 also helps ensure that multiplayer games won’t take forever. The last time I played a multiplayer game was sometime between 2002 and 2004, and it took us 3 hours to finally, as a group, concede defeat to the disasters.

So I’ve finally managed to sit down long enough to do this, fiddling with phrasing and font sizes to make everything as short and compact as possible. I’ve made the assumption that most of the icons in the game don’t need explaining, and anything I’ve missed can be figured out on the fly. Here’s what I’ve managed to put together. In the really strange event that you’re one of the ones of people on the Internet who still look for things relating to Ani-Mayhem, you’re welcome to use these yourself.