Tuesday, April 6, 2021

MTGA: Lessons and Learn spells in Strixhaven.

 A new mechanic in the forthcoming new Magic set is the Learn/Lesson mechanic. Some cards have the keyword Learn which allows you to fetch a Lesson card from your sideboard. If you want you can rummage instead but generally you'll only do that if you're out of Lesson cards.

In Limited this means you need to have both some sources of Learn in your deck and a reasonable collection of Lesson cards to fetch.



Regarding Lessons there are three scenarios:

- you have really good stuff to fetch. Learn cards are a more valuable pick.

- you have stuff to pick that makes the combined value of the Learn card plus the Lesson card above baseline C grade, 20th-23rd pick cards.

- you didn't really get there. You have Learn cards without Lessons or your cards are weak or situational.


So here's the list of Lesson cards. There are 20 Lesson cards. All Lessons are Sorceries.

There is one mythic, Mascot Expedition (above), which is a strong 7 mana finisher. It's strong enough to consider main-decking but fetching it for free off a Lesson is a more attractive option. It's colourless.

There are 5 rares, one in each colour. The black and white ones are situational but the other three are well worth a card. So casting any Learn spell then getting one of the red, green or blue rare lessons is a fine play.

There are 5 uncommons, one in each colour. They are all situational but potentially quite powerful. They remove something usually in return for giving some minor advantage.

There are 9 commons. 5 are dual colour but where you can use either colour to cast. 4 are colourless. They range from clearly not being worth a card to worth a replacement level main deck card (eg a 4/4 creature for 5 mana).

So in deckbuilding you'll need a concept of "Lesson strength." Just how impactful is it when you play a Learn card (based on your pool of Lessons)? If you have an adequate C- grade card as a lesson plus a couple of situational but more powerful cards then Learn cards are ok, that's probably the starting point. If you have a better Lesson pool then you can run worse Learn cards as the Lesson half of the combo is so powerful.

If you do decide to collect Learn and Lesson cards you will probably need more Learn cards than Lesson cards. This is because if you draw 20 cards from a 40 card deck (a 13ish turn game) you will only see half of your Learn cards while having access to all your Lesson cards. The value of Learn goes down each time you use it as, presumably, you will take your best Lesson card leaving the remnants.

 Good fixing allows a wider variety of Lesson cards to be viable.

It seems clear that we will have some quite good cards to find if we draft for them or get lucky in our Sealed pools. So let's now look at the Learn cards.



Here is the list of the 21 Learn cards. They are a wide variety of spell types.

No mythics.

There are 5 rares, one in each colour. Each is solidly worth a card even if you have no Lessons to fetch.

There are 6 uncommons. Divide by zero, Igneous Inspiration, and Professor of Symbology are just about worth a card even if you didn't have any lessons to fetch. The other three are useful effects when they also draw a worthwhile Lesson card.

There are 10 commons with 2 blue, 3 black, 2 green, 2 red, 3 white. (That's more than 10 total because some have either/or dual mana costs). Generally they're not cards you would usually include in the deck if they didn't draw you a lesson. The exception is Rise of Extus which would make most black or white decks as 6 mana unconditional removal. Some are fairly bad so a card like Guiding Voice is only worth it if you really need Learn.


In general Learn/Lesson cards are a little below the power level of a typical card - the mechanic depends on the usefulness of drawing the Lesson card to create a situation where the two cards combined are more impactful than other options.

 Learn/Lesson is tempo negative as you have to find the mana to cast two spells, the second being a Sorcery.

There's a real risk of not drawing your Learn cards leaving all your Lessons sidelined. Obviously you can reduce the risk by picking more Learn cards to play or to draft but that risks going down in card quality and/or hitting a point where you've fetched your Lessons and your Learn cards are just mediocre cards with nothing more to fetch.

With Sealed check which Lessons you have then look at your Learn cards. Did you luck into a viable Learn/Lesson strategy?

Draft is much more interesting. You need to decide whether there's a Learn/Lesson subtheme to your deck and draft to support it. It's an element that you should try to keep open to. Eg if there's nothing you particularly want to play take the mediocre Learn card in case you draw a great lesson later in the draft.

Let's consider a difficult decision. Pack 1 pick 1 you have a decent rare Lesson and a really strong Uncommon. Do you take the Lesson? In truth the question can only be answered after format experience but I'm thinking yes, you would take the Lesson. With 21 Learn cards in the format it's reasonable to expect you'll find decent Learn spells as you navigate through the draft. So long as you think a mediocre Learn spell plus your good Lesson rare outpowers the strong Uncommon then it's probably correct to risk it. Another consideration is that you may not draw your Uncommon - it's one card in 40 - but if you end up with 4 Learn cards then any of those will either draw your rare Lesson or will fetch a situationally even better Lesson.

There will be some very difficult, and perhaps risky choices where you have to decide between a card that will be fine if the Learn/Lesson element comes together but which will cost you a decent playable if it doesn't.

In Kaldheim the snow mechanic meant that we often collected cards outside the usual 23 non-land cards we assemble for a limited deck. The Learn/Lesson mechanic is more of the same - we need both a 23 card deck and some Lessons in the sideboard if we're building this type of deck. In Kaldheim (inspired by a Luis Scott-Vargas draft video early in the format) people began to much more aggressively draft snow covered lands. We may see a similar effect in this format with people aggressively drafting Learn/Lesson in pack 1 to make sure that they can operate this mechanic effectively.

Overall it's a fine mechanic that will see many of us deep in thought in the weeks to come.


Happy drafting everyone!

Afterword: I initially made some mistakes which should now be fixed. Thanks to /u/nepetalast and /u/itsdrewmiller from the LR Cast subreddit and to Scrappykid from the Lords of Limited discord.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

So disabled people? What do you want?

 - World peace. I'd like to see humanity move past war as a means of settling arguments through the creation of or perhaps the adaptation of the UN into a body that mediates international disputes making countries find a peaceful solution using persuasion, censure, cultural and economic sanctions supported by a world of nations working in concert.

- Reversing climate change.

- Curing pain. I'd like to see medicine advance so that no one should have to live in pain or with reduced capacity.

- Ending poverty. There's more than enough for everyone. No, Tarquin, you can't run your private jet while kids down the road are going without food.

- Build communities based on love. Friendship, tolerance, humour, compassion and romance. That's what we all should feel when we think of the place we live.

- Colonise space. Solve the FTL problem and find secure exciting frontier settlements for the adventurous to build new lives.

"Hold on," you say, "how can we possibly give you all that?"

Oh you misunderstand. We're not asking for you to give us all that. We're asking you to stop getting in our way while we work on giving you all that.

You're welcome.

Friday, January 29, 2021

DWP: Work Capability Assessments (WCAs)

 I want to explain how this important cog in our social security works.

It's completely kafkaesque.

You go in for a work capability assessment. You're met by a person working for an outsourced company who has a relevant health degree but who is not a doctor. When I did mine I was interviewed by a young woman, very charming, very anxious. They're keen to assure you that no decision will be taken today, it's just the collection of information for the computer system. And it was, bless her, she's just a young woman at the start of her career making a living by collecting information on behalf of the government.

You're sat down and they ask you to do various tasks like raising your arm above your shoulder. Irrespective of what's your medical issue is. Most people - most disabled people - score 0/15 on this test. "Customers" invariably tell the interviewer about their disability and she'll listen politely then record the results of the test. None of what we say gets passed up the chain.

"I get chronic anxiety attacks and haven't slept for three weeks."

"Oh, I'm so sorry to hear that. Can you touch your toes?"

The data is typed into a computer where it's reviewed by what they call a "Decision Maker." I don't even know if this is a human being. They almost invariably find you fit for work. Partly because of the testing but I think they sometimes cheat. They've found blind people fit for work based on the WCA. They've found dead people fit for work based on the WCA.

The "decision maker" is based in an office a long way from the claimant. Deliberately. There's an office in London that does this work but if you claim in London you won't deal with that office. It'll be handled a long way away. It used to be Makersfield, when I last claimed money it was Northern Ireland. We're governed remotely as if we were in a colony.

Then you have to go on to JSA/UC or sign off. On UC you are in the jobseeking kind of UC so they make you apply vigorously to a large quota of jobs.

This leads to a humiliating period of turning up for job interviews for jobs you obviously can't do. "Why have you applied for a job in our warehouse when you're in a wheelchair?" might be what the interviewer wants to say but can't because it could be deemed discriminatory. Instead this horrible potemkin interview happens where they interview you as if you were a real candidate while you pretend to be interested as if you were going to cart boxes around while on crutches. Then a few days later you get a polite rejection letter.

Slow polite crushing of the human spirit.

You can appeal against the "Decision" and the appeals usually succeed because as soon as the facts are reviewed by an impartial human being he/she spots that the person clearly isn't fit for work. Most of us don't appeal though and just kinda get run over by the system. Appeals are fraught and stressful, rather like a court case. There's no formal help, you have to use things like CAB.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

The Dumfries Disabled Debating Club (provisional sketch)

 I've recently been engaged with online discussion on the matter of trans rights. This is a spectacularly unhelpful dialogue where neither side is listening to what the other is actually saying and most contributions consist of calling people names, claiming to be victimised or insisting that their basic human rights are being trampled on.

So that got me thinking: what about a debating club where we talk about the contentious issues in a structured format where sticking to civility and making a good case will be enforced.

This is because I'm concerned that some people may never have to actually defend or think through their causes, nor to find out that debate with people who disagree with you makes your politics sharper, more defensible and better informed. On this issue particularly I'd like to help trans people and trans allies develop better arguments than what is normally expressed on social media.

The trans issue is just one - we could cover a wide range of topics including questions like Should Scotland become independent? UBI yes or no? Should we give up our cars? Immigration etc etc.

The format I have in mind is something like a zoom call with 2 speakers on each side. Priority will be given to disabled speakers. It is a disabled persons club. Priority will also be given to people who support a cause although devil's advocating will be allowed if we want to debate a topic and can't find anyone (cough, Scottish independence).

The Club would recruit people by sending out a form: are you willing to argue for X (from belief or as a devil's advocate)? Are you disabled? Name, Email.

Speakers will be given time to research the arguments, watch Youtube presentations, practice in front of the bedroom mirror or whatever.

The debates will be really structured so that a topic or argument will be proposed, the proposer speak in favour, then an opposing speaker speak against then the zoom call votes and it's scored to one of the sides.

Eg we're debating privatisation.

- Speaker 1 (pro) explains that in a nationalised industry workers inevitably end up just going through the motions because no one has any incentives.

- Speaker 2 (anti) argues that in nationalised industries this simply isn't true and points to many laudable examples of very hard-working public sector workers like our NHS.

- crowd votes.

- Speaker 4 (anti) proposes a new motion that privatisation inevitably leads to corruption of government and parliament by paid lobbyists

- Speaker 3 (pro) argues against but unfortunately gets cross and calls her opponent a rude name causing the convenor to automatically award the point to the anti side.

- crowd doesn't vote, pro side forfeited the point.

At the end the points are totted up for one way to assess the outcome (we won the arguments total) and also there's a general vote on the motion by the attendees on the zoom call (we won the room).

One thing I don't want to happen is for people to give bios. There can be a tendency in disability politics for people to start of with some long rambling justification of why they can be considered disabled. (When I was 13 I was in a car crash and.....). I hate that. It's enough that you state in sincerity that you believe yourself to be disabled and no one should feel they need to provide evidence.

There's an ulterior motive: to train disabled people to be able to argue their case with a view to engaging in politics and civics. Perhaps giving media interviews or entering politics. We're massively underrepresented in the ranks of professional politicians and if the Club can give some future politicians a start in defending their ideas and making their case then that would be a wonderful thing.

This is a sketch of an idea, it will no doubt change on contact with reality but I do very much want to see more disabled people and people in general get to doing politics the right way - by listening to the other person finding where they agree, making the case persuasively where they disagree and winning over people to their cause.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

It's a good time for career planning.

 It's a good time for career planning.

There are few things more empowering than being confident you can stroll into a new job whenever you like, daisy chaining your career through successively better paid and more interesting roles.

And we're really bad at doing it in this country.

In many sectors no one really job hunts. Once they have got a job they stop, hoping to never have to do a cv again. Understandable but a choice that truncates your potential in many circumstances.

IT can be a sector where the opposite is true. At a city firm I worked at our longest-serving IT staff member of 40 was about 2 years and he was head of department. A combination of narcissistic CEOs who rather liked poaching their rivals' best people and aggressive recruiters who would headhunt anyone who had been a year somewhere meant these people were always finding better offers.

Lorry drivers on the other hand - they have mediocre pay and conditions despite being a massive skill shortage profession because they put up with them rather than hopping to a firm paying £2 an hour more. (Big generalisation obviously).

Brexit plus the pandemic is a massive economic game-changer. There will be no return to normal. Some sectors are almost certainly toast (cruise ships perhaps) even in a covid-safe world if we ever get back to one.

However that means new opportunities, new ways of doing business.

My hot tip just now is Customs Agent. Most people hate filling out forms, there's going to be a ton of work for you if you don't mind work of that nature.

Otherwise I'm not going to make predictions because if you identify a sector and decide that's what I'm interested in and research it you will soon know much more than me.

So basics of career planning: talk to a wide range of amateurs then talk to at least one professional. Career planning is a profession now, has been for about 15 years and we're good at it. I watch people take career advice from a teacher or a parent or some bloke down the pub and think would you let them do brain surgery or build you a rocket? Amateurs will have bright ideas but they basically don't know shit about careers. They don't even know how to think about careers.

So sound out amateurs, get free professional advice from somewhere like https://nationalcareers.service.gov.uk/about-us read up how career planning works, make a mind map of careers that appeal to you, inventory your professional strengths and transferable skills.

It's the perfect time to do this.

Or you can sleep on this, stumble into the first job that'll have you and hope you get really really lucky.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Gaming reddit to spread happiness

 Apes groom each other to make each other feel valued. It's a big factor in their health.

So do humans.

Even online.

The equivalent of grooming online is Likes, Upvotes and Awards.

This means we have the power to encourage and nurture people who post on reddit if we give out awards. It's grooming them. (In the primate sense not any other!).

If you post on reddit you will over time get reddit points which can only be spent on cosmetic "upgrades" and an increasing array of awards. These awards can be used to help make other posters feel valued.

I realised earlier on that I had 300 points to spend and no plan to spend them on anything. So I looked at the awards and the cheapest one was 20 points. So I gave 15 posters an award, mostly in the /rveganuk subreddit.

Picking the cheapest makes sense because no one knows what any of these awards signify and people probably can't differentiate between an expensive one and a cheap one. In fact the cheap ones look actually quite nice.

Here's how to spend your reddit points: 

- Find a post you like.

- Click Give Award.

- Pick the Premium tab.

- Pick a cheap one.

(At the time of writing Premium is where the cheapest ones are but if you're spending a load of points it's worth checking first if there are any cheaper).

So there you go: make some of the people whose posts you like feel appreciated and valued. Upvote them too.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Scottish independence idea (it's an idea of pure evel).

 So the issue of Scottish independence is currently stalled. Nicola Sturgeon has asked for a section 30 order of Boris Johnson to hold another independence referendum and Johnson has said no.

The Yes side is planning to put pressure on the Westminster government to say Yes.

So here's an idea.

Use our Members of the Westminster parliament to introduce a Bill instructing the Westminster government to grant a section 30 order. After all, parliament is sovereign. Then remind MPs of EVEL.

EVEL stands for English Votes for English Laws and is a convention that English MPs should have final say on matters that specifically relate to England.

Remind MPs of EVEL and point out that it is only fair that on matters that specifically relate to Scotland the same principal should apply. If this is refused ask why not. (I'll come back to this as this is key to why we would do this).

If accepted then the Scottish MPs at Westminster who are mostly SNP will simply pass the Bill through parliament and the UK government will be legally obliged to obey it.

If, as much more likely, it is refused and English Tory MPs vote down the Bill then we come back to the matters of principle.

EVEL is widely regarded as a counter-balance to the powers and the success of the devolved governments, particularly the Scottish government. There was Scotgov doing all those nice things for Scotland but with the power to block something that would level up part of England - not fair.

However the devolved governments only have powers in relation to specific sets of devolved matters.

Independence is not a devolved matter but it is quite clearly an issue that pertains to Scotland.

This means that English MPs will have been seen to decide a Scottish matter through the UK parliament where - because of EVEL - Scottish MPs are prevented by law from deciding matters that are specifically English. This is clearly unfair and possibly wrong in law.

That's why this is such a good thing for Ian Blackford's band of Westminster-based SNP MPs to do. It creates an incontrovertible example of the UK parliament denying the Scottish people rights that are available for English people.

This has value in three ways. 

- it shows the people of Scotland that we are being treated unfairly by the UK government. It's one rule for them and a different rule for us.

- it shows the people of England and the rest of the UK that we are being treated unfairly by the UK government. It's one rule for England and a different rule for everyone else. This is important because the Yes movement has been so Scotland-focused that it hasn't really done enough to win hearts and minds in England where it seems that most people support Johnson's decision not to grant us a section 30 order.

- it shows the Scottish diaspora and the international community that Scotland is being treated unfairly. There was a breathtaking moment in the Brexit saga when Joe Biden, a couple of months before being elected president, announced he would not allow a US-UK trade deal that didn't respect the Good Friday Agreement. This stunned people in England. This was a triumph of Irish diplomacy. It turns out that because of the diaspora, because Biden's ancestors were driven out of Ireland many years ago, that Ireland has a solid friend in the new American president. It was a historic moment and shows how small "weak" countries can use their diasporas, their connections throughout the world to exert diplomatic power. So this EVEL point can help us convince our diaspora that we are being held captive against our will and help mobilise them to help us. Wouldn't it be great if Biden added that not only must the GFA be respected but Scotland must be allowed to choose before a trade agreement could be signed?

MTGA: Lessons and Learn spells in Strixhaven.

 A new mechanic in the forthcoming new Magic set is the Learn/Lesson mechanic. Some cards have the keyword Learn which allows you to fetch a...