Hello, Reddit! This is Justin Gary CEO of Stone Blade Entertainment and designer of the Ascension Deckbuilding Game, Solforge Digital Trading Card Game, and upcoming bluffing card game, Bad Beets. Ask Me Anything! I'll be answering as many questions as possible - from 1-2pm PT


EDIT: OK, that's all the time I have for today! Thank you all so much for your questions and comments. Please check out Bad Beets at Gencon, on www.badbeets.com and in stores August 12th! If you have more questions you can find me on twitter @Justin_Gary !

Comments: 152 • Responses: 24  • Date: 

w25sg19 karma

Did it ever impress girls when you tell them that you were U.S. National Champion in Magic?

I'm not being sarcastic, either. I'm just wondering how far you can go with being the best at something/anything.

JustinGary19 karma

LOL. I often joked that i picked the worst possible thing to be world-class at when it came to impressing girls. In my next life, I hope I am better at sports ;)

In all seriousness, I do believe that the confidence that comes from competing at high levels along with the broader perspective one gets from travelling around the world really do help in conversations with the opposite sex.

selinker18 karma

Why is everything you do so awesome? Please reply in the form of a haiku.

JustinGary25 karma

Learn from Other Games

Iterate on Bad Ideas

Work with Great People

thepro92112 karma

A few weeks ago in Solforge, the alternate art scorchmane dragon went on sale, although it was promised to only ever be available to KS backers. Has there been any thought to this, in compensation or otherwise? And in a more general sense, do you have any plans to easier facilitate communication between the players and devs? Will the new client assist with this? Thanks!

JustinGary18 karma

This was a terrible mistake and was corrected within a few hours. Only a handful of purchases were made and we have put in checks to make sure this never happens again. We are a small team and we will make mistakes, but I apologize sincerely for this and it won't happen again.

As far as communication, we are regularly checking reddit, our forums, and the steam and solforgeladder.com chats. We also have several community members in our QA and testing groups who have a direct line to the devs when things go wrong.

Also, I'm here now! :)


How much consideration to power creep does the SolForge design team give? Do you think that the perceived cycle of "release super powerful cards, let them run amok, then nerf them just in time to release brand new super powerful cards" is a fair assessment?

JustinGary12 karma

This is a common concern among all trading card games, and we take it very seriously. We always try to balance between making sure old cards and strategies remain relevant, while still making new cards exciting and ensuring that the competitive landscape is constantly changing (the game would be pretty boring if the same cards were always dominant).

Sometimes we will miss (e.g. Malice Hermit) and when we do we will correct our mistakes to make sure the environment stays healthy.

If you look at the cards in the most recent set, Darkforge Uprising, you'll see that many of the most influential cards are not Legendary, and thus are easier to acquire. At the same time, many of the cards from our first few sets are still very influential in competitive play.

ironcub1411 karma

Thanks for doing the AMA and thanks to all the SB guys for all their hard work.

What do you see for Ascension in the next 5 years in terms of growth? How can Ascension Online grow while keeping its current players involved and interested as well?

I was the one tweeting from @AscensionTourns by the way, and I was wondering if you and the SB guys were aware of the Ascension tourneys happening at the Quarter to 3 and the official Ascension forums. The tourneys and leagues have been going on for about 3 years now, and has given us a lot of good laughs, thanks again for the great game you guys have made!

JustinGary4 karma

I love hearing about communities and tournaments built around our games. Thank you for organizing and supporting us! At the end of the day, the community and friendships developed around games are the most meaningful part of any game experience. Please check out our store support program for tournaments that comes with promo cards and bonus goodies to help incentivize exactly what you are doing!

As for the growth of Ascension, I think it is mostly about continuing to put out good game content and then having people share it with their friends. The community continues to grow every year and I am very excited about the path ahead.

AesopsHadAFox8 karma

A warning to anyone reading this, their store support program is broken. We as an LGS haven't received promos in about a year, have had no one respond to our emails, and have also helped a neighbor store attempt to sign up with no avail. They have missed their ship dates on both the June and July promos they announced through distributors as well, so if you're looking for support, you will not find it from Stone Blade Entertainment.

JustinGary2 karma

The program shifted at the beginning of this year to be controlled by distribution. Please reach out to your favorite distributor to order the organized play support from them. If you still have trouble, PM me directly here and I'll help you find a solution.

AutumnRoseV10 karma

Your name has received a lot of discussion for this year's Magic hall of fame induction, if you get voted into the HOF will you consider ending your MTG retirement and start playing pro tours again?

JustinGary16 karma

100% yes! I love magic and miss it so much! Its just hard to start back at square 1 and play in qualifiers when I have a company to run! If I got invited to Pro Tours I would definitely attend.

nickelleon9 karma

Certain features can really make this game more competitive and sociable. Are any of these features on the radar for the relaunch?:

  • Spectator Mode?: streaming is hard in this game because it requires an active player to stream, which is especially difficult on mobile
  • Championship Series?: we need more high-profile tournaments!
  • In-game Custom Tournaments?: an interface in the client to create tournaments, setup rewards, invite players, and moderate the tournament
  • Private Drafts?: my Solforge team would really like to have a private draft tournament, but thats impossible.
  • Chat?: whether its full chat, or a Hearthstone-like chat wheel

JustinGary5 karma

Hi there! These are all great ideas and things we have discussed internally. While they are great ideas and are things we are looking at in the long term, they are not going to be a part of the initial launch of the game.

Side Note: We are already doing championship tournaments like the Golden Gauntlet event and world championships. You can find info about them on solforgegame.com In addition, you can always find great competitive games and tournaments on solforgeladder.com

Djurre19809 karma

Have you ever thought of making a 5th faction in Solforge ?

JustinGary13 karma

no comment :)

mathemagicianDM8 karma

How do you feel about the current Solforge constructed and draft queues? The pricing changes caused a lot of commotion in the community, do you feel that it has stabilized to a healthy place for SBE? How do you feel about a pricing structure where players who enter with gold get rewards in the style of "smart packs" that they can choose which sets the packs contain?

JustinGary5 karma

We are always looking at the ways to optimize our structure for constructed and draft queues. Overall tournament attendance is healthy, and people seem to respond very well to our Weekend Warrior events along with our standard queues.

There is always room to improve, but we need to keep in mind all aspects of the player experience- new casual players, experienced competitive players, and everything in between. Complicated systems with modal costs/rewards are unlikely to be the best solution for all.


What is the most important thing that the SolForge release this fall will bring to the game?

JustinGary18 karma

That is a great question! It is hard to pick just one thing, but if I had to pick one it would be the completely overhauled User Interface to make things more intuitive, faster, and prettier. We are incredibly excited to be working with Free Range Games to update our code and make the game more beautiful and functional.

Stone Blade has always been about great game design, but we admittedly had a lot to learn about programming digital games and now we have a team with that expertise.

On the game design side, we will be rebalancing a lot of the cards in the game based on what we have learned over the last two years. We are also working on improvements to our timer, and a ranking / ladder system to help keep players engaged.


That's like... Four things. :)

JustinGary6 karma

I knew I was gonna have a hard time answering this one ;)

AlienError6 karma

How do you feel about Hearthstone? Personally I have a hard time taking it seriously because of its lack of depth compared to MTG.

JustinGary19 karma

Hearthstone is a gorgeous game and I am really glad it exists. Blizzard always does a great job of making things simple, pretty, and easy to access. Hearthstone has brought a whole new group of players into trading card games who may never have known about them otherwise.

One great thing abotu digital TCGs is that they are free to play and it is very easy for players to sample new games. When Hearthstone players are ready for a deeper experience, we will be here :)

Djurre19806 karma

Solforge has (only) two card types (spells and creatures) ?

Do you feel those are enough or could we see more types in the future ?

JustinGary7 karma

back in the original beta we had Structures, which modified a lane to give it new abilities or traits. In the end, we felt there was too much going on with the extra card type, so we removed it. It might make a return someday

skieblade5 karma

Also, when looking at all the Ascension decks as a whole, the first three decks seem to focus more on tactics/strategy, and less on random luck, while the decks after it (Immortal Heroes with soul gems, Rise of Vigil and Darkness Unleashed with Energy Shards, Realms Unravelled with multi-unite, and Dawn of Champions with rally and heroes) seem to definitely have a greater emphasis on luck of the draw. Given the increasing randomness of each deck, I'm guessing this was done with intent - why did Stoneblade decide to go down this path?

foxhull2 karma

For reference, Playdek has nothing to do with the actual game development of Ascension IIRC. They're the people in charge of the port to electronic media. StoneBlade Entertainment (of which Justin Gary is the CEO) is the group that actually made the game.


Except the digital-only promos, doing things like generating cards out of thin air. That might have been all PlayDek, I'm not sure we know either way.

foxhull1 karma

The card design itself is completely handled by SBE, that much I'm sure of.


Source? Those cards were created during SBE ignoring PlayDek and tryifailing to develop Ascension: Online.

(edit: Added comment.)

JustinGary10 karma

We design all the cards for Ascension, including the digital only expansion

skieblade5 karma

Also, as you were a magic player, you're familiar with some tournament concepts, such as "restricted" and "banned" (ie balance, lightning bolt, lotus, etc). I know it's harder to do with Ascension, but many players find some of the cards quite overpowered (ie Dreamer's glass, RU Adayu, Dhartha, etc). Would it be possible for players to "ban" cards from the iOS/android version of the game, or even have some of the cards modified by Stoneblade to try and make them more "fair"? Thanks!

JustinGary10 karma

Obviously, this is a lot easier to do with the physical game of Ascension- just take the cards out of the deck!

We do have a long-term plan to make the center deck customizable in the Playdek app (i.e. you can pick any cards from any sets to include) which will give people a lot of freedom to ban/restrict cards, but don't expect this anytime soon.

thepro9215 karma

About Solforge, do you guys have any plans to have a release event of sorts, more promotion for the game, a re-release on steam, or anything similar to that? In general, how do you plan to get the game to people who have either never heard of it, or maybe were turned off before for whatever reason?

JustinGary5 karma

Absolutely! Solforge coming out of early access / beta is a huge deal and we are planning a huge marketing campaign around it. We have done almost no marketing to date in order to save those resources for the full launch.

We also plan to reach out to all of our lapsed players and kickstarter backers directly to invite them back to try the game. But honestly, the thing that will matter the most is all of our players loving the game and telling their friends to play. That is what will make solforge a game that lasts for years to come.

skieblade5 karma

With regard to Dawn of Champions, I'm just wondering what the mindset was when creating the hero and rally mechanics. They definitely make the game a bit more random, and in some cases, the rally mechanic can break the game right from the outset. Is there a certain type of gamer this set is being catered to?

JustinGary5 karma

Our goal with Ascension is to always try something new with the game and to move the pendulum between more strategic, complicated sets/strategies and more random/wild mechanics. Ascension is 5 years old and to make sure it continues to grow for the next 5-10 years, we need to make sure it is constantly changing and pushing the boundaries of what the game engine can support.

There are a lot of Ascension players out there and our goal is to make something for all of them. Some sets (e.g. Storm of Souls and Immortal Heroes) are very much about complicated synergies and high-level strategy. Sets like Rise of Vigil and Dawn of Champions are more about "spinning the wheel" and giving players a more wide-ranging set of experiences and situations (while still of course having plenty of room for strategy and decisionmaking to affect the outcome of a game).

You can usually expect that after a very random set/mechanic, we will make a swing back to more calculated/strategic set. We've already finished work on the next Ascension set, and I can guarantee it will appeal a lot to the more strategic player.

andrewljohnson4 karma

where'd you get the idea for bad beets, is there a webpage about it?

JustinGary7 karma

Bad Beets is a game I'm really excited about. I've wanted to do a bluffing card micro-game since I played Love Letter and Coup. It takes only 10 minutes to play, so its great for a quick game whenever you have the time or for a longer game session of multiple rounds.

The theme came from hearing a story about a friend's daughter feeding vegetables to the dog and then lying about it. I thought this would be an awesome theme for a bluffing game and the amazing art by Liz Nugent really supports the family-friendly theme. Don't be fooled, though! The game has a lot of deep strategy and I'm sure many of my Magic playing friends are going to love it.

You can see more about the game and preorder it at www.badbeets.com and it will be in stores on August 12th!

Ziddletwix3 karma

Do you have any plans to improve the experience of players during their first few days on Solforge? My friends introduced me to Solforge, and I was quickly hooked. But nearly all of the progression is based on time, which was pretty frustrating for a new player. After playing through the first few campaign missions, I had nothing to do but wait. It's really hard to beat most of the later campaign missions without a solid deck built (and some understanding of the game), there's little point entering the online quene when you're using a starter deck (nor are there significant rewards), and I didn't have the event tickets to enter the first draft.

I think the daily rewards system is very reasonable once you get started with the game. I found those first couple of days very awkward, where I didn't yet have the cards to actually do any of the game content. I was interested enough in the game that I was willing to keep coming back to build up my collection, but I worry many interested new players would simply give up after completing those missions, and hitting that wall!

tl;dr: The initial start to progression in Solforge is very awkward, as most rewards are based on time. Do you have any plans to ease how it works to starting the game, so that more content is available for a first-day player.

Absolutely love the game. I'm very excited to hear about the card rebalance (especially with regards to later stage cards simply making early level cards totally obselete), I think a drastic change like that could seriously improve the game, even if it is awkward at first.

JustinGary5 karma

Free to play games have 3 axis to work with- time, money, and skill. We want all 3 to be a significant factor in account/collection growth for solforge.

Solforge is one of the most generous digital tcgs on the market with how quickly you can accumulate cards without spending money. A player can readily build a competitive account without spending a dollar in just a few months. A top level player could do it even faster.

Of course, we hope some players are happy to spend some money on the game too so we can stay in business :)

hive_angel3 karma

How long were you in the competitive envirnment till you became a US National Champion?

What was your training regime during the competitive time and not during the competitive time?

Do you feel competitive MTG is still a very open to all players or just players with wallets.

JustinGary8 karma

I started playing Magic when I was 16 and I won the US National Championships a year later. I don't think you need a lot of money to do well in magic- just dedication (though a good network of friends to play with is a huge help). I was just a kid in high school when I started playing and didn't have much money- in fact, I had to run a local tournament in order to get enough money to pay for my flight to nationals! I slept on the floor of a friend's hotel room so I could save as much money as possible.

As far as my testing regimine- when I was at my prime I played A LOT! As many hours as I could get in (2-3 a day at least). All of my high school and college notebooks have decklists scribbled in the margins :)

JiltWithKicker3 karma

Hi Justin,

Do you feel that the trade-offs of crowd funding have been worth it for SBE properties like SolForge and Ascension Online? Despite the obvious success in terms of garnering more than the funds needed and generating enthusiasm from backers, will this be something that you may shy away from the in future, possibly limiting the scope of projects the company may tackle in the future?

I am a huge fan of the games that you and your team produce, and contributed sizable sums to both campaigns, but have been disappointed with the followup on aspects like rewards disbursement and adherence to stated target dates/milestones. The SBE support team is always courteous and helpful when I contact them about problems that I have, but anything that is not a quick in-game fix seems to be like pulling teeth to get resolved. Please don't take my wanting to hold you to standards of excellence in line with the quality of the games that you produce as a lack of appreciation for all the good things that you do, though.

JustinGary3 karma

Thanks for your question. There is no doubt that we have failed to meet the timeline expectations from our kickstarters. Everything has taken far longer and been far harder than we imagined and we have not done a good enough job communicating with the community and backers during the process. Part of why I am doing this AMA (as well as more regular backer updates) is to help with that communication.

All the issues aside, it has been great having a passionate and dedicated fan base to help us produce our games. We are continuing to work to fulfill all of the promises made during the kickstarter and I believe that all our backers will be happy in the end even if it is taking far longer than anticipated.

I will definitely come back to crowdfunding in the future, but better armed with the lessons we have learned during these last two.

Djurre19803 karma

What is your favorite card/mechanic in Solforge ?

JustinGary11 karma

My favorite card is probably Iron Maiden- My play style in Magic and Solforge has always been to control the game and then win with big bombs in the late game.

Though I don't usually admit it, my favorite mechanic is the forge guardian summoning of Omega - my childhood love of Voltron is to blame :)

ISmileSexy0 karma

What's Stone Blade Entertainment about? Like a video game producing company or...

JustinGary2 karma

We make video games and card/board games.