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What Exalted Means to Me

On Saturday of Gen Con, I returned from my first True Dungeon experience with Rated-Hex friends, Chris Woods, and a few new friends who I had met over the weekend (including the Radiant Physician) and we trickled back in for the 5pm announcement of exalted. While gaining the title of exalted was certainly something I had hoped to achieve some day, I knew and know that there are several members of the community who do quite a bit for our game. I am more of a behind-the-scenes community member in much of my activities—far less public than many of our excellent streamers—and my calculation of becoming the third person to get this honor suggested that it was unlikely to be me. As Cory discussed the tradition of bestowing exaltation, discussed their change of focus from year to year (first Colin as he was an obvious choice, then a public streamer (Cirouss), then someone who did more the kind of work I do), combined with Colin’s camera intently focused on me the entire time, it became clear that Hex had selected me for the title. It was surreal to hear and I have been elated since gaining this amazing portrait, a future card, and an enduring title. For the last few days, as Gen Con has wound down, I knew I wanted to make a post to express my gratitude and I had a few different thoughts to convey—but the best way for me to convey my most important idea is to share my experience with Hex thus far.

 

Starting in May of 2013, I had learned of the Kickstarter the day Hex launched its campaign. While I did not back the game immediately, I had known a few of the people working on the proposal and the game spoke to me as to what I was looking for in a trading card game. I quickly went to Reddit and realized that there was no Hex subreddit (I expected the company to have squatted on the domain prior to launching the Kickstarter, but I was in luck), so I created it on that very first day of the campaign (May 5th, 2013) to try to make sure it was in good hands and planned on handing it over to the Hex team if they had asked for it early on. I mostly wanted to make sure it was in good hands. I had backed a digital card game a bit before Hex and thought that it was going to be “my game”, but it did not pan out quite the way I expected it to; it remains an okay game, but it did not do what I wanted and eventually opted out of the whole trading aspect entirely. For me, I was getting older, I knew my chances of playing regular hobby games weekly at a LGS were diminishing (We would have our first child a little over a year later), and I really wanted a game that I could play from my computer that was the TCG experience. Around day 3 I backed the game at the Pro Player tier level. I was very tempted to upgrade to the Dragonlord level, but $250 was already quite an investment for me, so I went with a Pro Player and King backer to split the difference. Of course, if I made the decision today, the higher tier would have been an easy investment.

In terms of Reddit, over time, I slowly added a few more moderators to the team; Dazaris was first as he had some CSS experience. Errantsquire was becoming an active community member, so I added him around February 2014. Later on, Deckofmanythings and KingGabriel would join the team as well, adding different kinds of expertise to the team (they both created Reddit side projects to add to the community and having them both administer their projects and properly situate those in the main subreddit was a good idea. KingGabriel eventually became the subreddit theme master and does a fantastic job of making the place seem less drab as Reddit became one of the primary hubs for Hex news, community information, and discussion.

Prior to Alpha, Hex Entertainment (HexEnt) began to leak several cards and a few of my friends who also backed the game—Grubar, Canathan, and Eljer—processed the cards and we all started playing a version of the game on Magic WorkStation so we could start testing ideas for decks and get a feel for the game. In June, Eljer was rocking a killer Blood/Diamond deck that emulated the control I liked to play and was becoming difficult to consistently beat with the set 1 cards we had available. When Alpha opened up to the players (in a few waves, I was in the second wave but had a few friends in the first), people started organizing some tournaments. There was a competitive streamers tournament that I did not follow so much, but my interest in competitive play increased and an important, early fansite (HexTCGPro—now defunct) took over the mantle of the early November/December tournament scene and started hosting an open series in the first few months of 2014. I participated in the first one of those using an Eljer deck, did okay in it, and kept refining our deck lists.

In February of 2014, John Tatta and Jeremy Crawley started the second Hex podcast, 2 Turns Ahead (the first podcast being the Threshold Podcast). I am an avid podcast listener, easily listening to hundreds of hours of content a month, and the first episode was rough. Wanting community content and Hex to succeed, I wrote a long list of things I thought the two could improve on their show to make it more professional which they mention on episode 2. After listening to a better second podcast, I contacted John and suggested that the podcast would be better with a third host (to prevent missing weeks and add some variety in the discussion), and suggested myself. He was more than happy to have a third on board and I contributed in some additional ways like suggesting that we had show-notes to work from and to have a consistent “draft from a pack” segment. Elysion also volunteered as the sound engineer and made the podcast a listenable endeavor by giving it his professional touch (and DeckofManyThings has subbed in a few times to help as well for producing the podcast). Within a few short weeks after I joined (I started on Episode 3), I went on to win the standard community tournament at that time (with an adapted version of Eljer’s deck) and my position on the podcast seemed a bit more justified as I was able to show some of my competitive chops. I also won a second King tier—which was a sweet prize—and quickly became friends with my finals opponent and Dragonborn member Strife who later tragically passed away. With success came more contacts and I started testing with a variety of people early on including non0ns3nse. non0ns3nse was one of the few regulars who watched my early streams (I used to stream a bit more) and we started talking and exchanging ideas/testing decks with each other and he quickly came to know the rest of the Ire members (Ire is the gaming group that contains friends I have known for around 17 years now). I also started playing with Pentachills and GPrime while non0ns3nse also played with several Russian players as his late hours in Switzerland put him at some odd testing times. Eventually, I suggested and we formed a supergroup with several others (Kroan, DeckofManyThings, Grimtrigger, Piecetinker, Saeijou, CoachFliperon and even more later) called “The Collective.” I wrote an article or two for HexTCGPro to express a few math-based ideas about maximizing expected value and had fun mostly being a competitive player that helped run Reddit and did a weekly podcast.

As The Collective was forming, we had some difficulty finding three people for the podcast every week. Around Episode 16 I suggested Pentachills as a last minute guest who became a weekly regular. About 6-7 months ago, he passed me for most appearances on the podcast as he became a force upon the podcast scene in addition to his stellar Twitch casts. He hosted the podcast several times in my absence and helped continue the show. We also had several guests on including: Wurtil, Jason Barnett (JadiimJedi), Matt Miller (DeckofManyThings), InfamousNeo, Will Gabriel (GPrime), Kroan, Tecnophi, Cory Jones, Future, Piecetinker, SaDOlution, Hacky, Errantsquire, Cabalpapa, Kindmime, Colin, Funktion, Cirouss, Veetor, ArmiesofMordor, MasterMattchu, Ryan Sutherland, Dylan Northrup with his interview of Ben Stoll, Ducklett, Jeff Hoogland, Kristi Hoogland, TheMotivation, Bekkir, and Gwaer.

That summer we also had the charity stream. My daughter was born in June and I did not have a ton of money to give away, but figured we could do an entertaining segment. Infam0usNe0 and I had become friends and we eventually agreed that a game show would be a great segment and I had to explain the American show Jeopardy to him. Hexpardy was born and, in addition to that segment, we did it several months afterwards on a monthly basis. We had a ton of great guests including Chris Woods and, later, Pentachills who crushed all competitors and was forced into early retirement by Ne0 and I.

In the Fall, we were seriously hurting in the competitive scene. HexTCGPro was gone. Pentachills had suggested starting a new series for competitive play, but I was reluctant as it was a ton of work and I wanted to develop a site for serious Hex articles so people had a place to go to read Hex content other than the forums. Eventually, we decided to create a new site and tournament series shortly afterwards. We went through hundreds of names with my favorites being more academic in nature like Hex Academy or Shardscribe (The copyright footer may still say Shardscribe somewhere on FiveShards). GPrime suggested fiveshards (in various kerning and capitalization) and I was not a huge fan. Eventually, Pentachills would just spam fiveshards over and over again in chat and, after a vote in The Collective, we adopted the name. The initial five-member administrator team was me (set up the site, maintain it, help lead, write articles, and work on tournament organization stuff, edit if no one else could), Pentachills (Tournament organization/casting and, later, recruitment), GPrime (Editor-in-chief), Kroan (store and, later, hexprice.com), and Future (backend configuration). Future eventually decided to move on to focus on competitive play and now Tecnophi is in his spot to focus more on organizational management aspects.

However, FiveShards was bigger than the Collective and we actively sought ought other guilds for contributors. We got some of the old HexTCGPro contributors on board (Wurtil and Errantsquire) and also approached several people in the community including JadiimJedi, Funktion, Mokog, Infam0usNe0, and many others to contribute to our fan page. Through time, we gained more people to help in various capacities including KingGabriel, GaiusMarcus, and BossHoss—and others contributed guest posts. We started the Shard Cup shortly after that with me serving as head judge, record keeper for tournament points, and prize-master; and Pentachills as lead caster. We didn’t want Hhex contributors to refrain from participating in what we hoped was the elite tournament series for the game, so Pentachills and I insisted that we would be the only two barred from entry and others were free from obligations. Pentachills helped build the caster team and it now features Pentachills, JadiimJedi, and Hacky with Tecnophi (and Hacky) on the tech side of things. We also sought community support to run the tournaments as we wanted them to be free to enter with an amazing final tournament to cap things off. In the summer, HexTechs started a paid tournament which was great, but turnout was a bit lower than we had hoped (50-75 players) and so we really wanted large-scale tournaments to happen.

FiveShards, Tecnophi, the novel Rise of the Dead Prince, Colin, and the Dragonborn sponsored our regular season tournaments in the first run. Colin sponsored our final tournament to give out some dream prizes like a flight to Gen Con, and has gone on to sponsor every Fate Cup making it a fantastic cap to a great season of competitive play. Later seasons included other sponsors and HexEnt (especially Chark and Will Brinkman) agreed to send boosters our way to help the tournament scene grow.

FiveShards has expanded in numerous ways and has a ton of affiliated projects. 2 Turns Ahead is now under the FiveShards umbrella after transitioning from HexTCGPro, to its own website, to FiveShards. Kroan developed hexprice.com to take advantage of the auction house data and it continues to be a pivotal resource for the community. I created a record to keep track of tournaments to maintain some level of history for our community and Mokog (with help from Colin) pushed for us to create buttons for 2015’s Gen Con so we were able to give a piece of ourselves to the community. I loved seeing people wear them this year.

2015 was a stellar year. Our tournament season started its second season in June, our competitive team shrunk a bit as the Russian part split off, but then we merged with Hex-Rated to become about 20-people strong for testing and I got to know the minds of Infam0usne0, Colin, Funktion, BossHoss, Wurtil, Lonsdale, and Gwaer better. The fantastic Hex art director Tyler James sent us a new version of the never-printed Head Games art for use on the podcast. We interviewed Cory Jones on the podcast for our 50th episodes (Which we were able to repeat for #100). We started the FiveShards Weekly Series (our second tournament series) thanks to Chark working with us very closely. We started to run tournaments in-client for the first time with Hex’s help. All milestones we shared with the Hex community. Notably, Veetor started working on an internal project to pull decklists from Hex’s data dumps, but quickly came on-board as a FiveShards member and developed HexMeta.com.

2016 has been a year of new milesetones. We had the 100k Invitational in March which I was able to attend thanks to Colin. Wurtil, DeckofManyThings, Tecnophi, and I did coverage and generated well over a dozen different pieces on the event. Tecnophi designed and paid for FiveShards jerseys for all the FiveShards members attending including JadiimJedi and our first sponsored player, MasterMattchu. I was also able to meet many of the Hex Entertainment team in person and talked to the people who I have worked with, chatted with, or even interviewed online previously. There has since been a few changes in the Hex Team, but this has lead me to develop new ties to Kyle Heuer and Nathan Revere as we continue to collaborate on content for the community and build ideas. Kyle proposed giving us an alternate art card for our tournament series and asked up to draft a few proposes. While we could have attached the card to the Shard Cup or the FSWS, Pentachills, Colin, and I discussed and drafted up a new tournament series to highlight the Lixil Alternate Art and create another arena for people to play competitive constructed. Also, my testing group expanded to include two professional magic players: Jeff Hoogland and Chris van Meter, two great players who have brought Hex to many players from other competitive card games. The first seven months of Hex was capped for me when Colin suggested that I should attend Gen Con and, after figuring out a few things, was able to turn it into a family vacation that capped with the exalted title—something that a few people knew I would get, but that information had not leaked to me.

A bit over 2,000 words and I am now returning to the point of why I wanted to write this. There are a few important things I have learned from all of this:

First, my work for the community is not in isolation. Every activity I have worked on required the support of one, two, or a dozen different people from the community, from Hex, and from my family (of course!) for it to happen. I do not have the time nor the talent to make all the community work we have done together successful by myself. It would be cliché and damaging to say that my exalted is an exalted for everyone that I have worked with in the past three years. Clichés are fine, but I also wouldn’t want to rob anyone from the chance of earning the title in the future as there are many dedicated people in the community and in the game and I expect several of my collaborators will be contenders for the title in the future. What I do want to impress, however, is that the title for me is not an individual one and would not have been possible as an isolated individual. Each thing I have done in the community has been with other people. To borrow an important phrase from the sciences, I stand on the shoulders of giants.

Second, for those of you who are considering getting more involved in the community, the best thing I can say is for you is to just go for it. There is no need to ask permission or fear that you are taking away views from other sources. Our community has a long way to grow in terms of websites, streams, and podcasts and I would love to be at a point where websites are competing for views, there are twenty or a hundred streams occurring simultaneously, and there are too many Hex podcasts to listen to (in fact, a third one started not too long ago that you should listen to called Going Infinite). That is where we want to be. I had not planned on getting involved in the community in a big way when I started getting involved in Hex, but I saw gaps and figured I could make those gaps smaller and less frequent. If you enjoy doing it and it makes the community better, then go for it. Don’t be afraid to seek out collaborations either or ask for help. There is no shame in doing so and, at worst, someone will just ignore you or say no. Here, I will do it right now: I think we are a bit limited on our rotation for the third seat on the 2 Turns Ahead podcast. If you think you have a good voice to add and would like to come on to do an episode, send us an email at 2turnsahead@gmail.com. I just publicly asked for more help/collaboration to a few thousand readers. The amazing part is, people will email in and we will now get more guests on the podcast over the next few months. For the Gen Con episode we just released (Episode 118), I grabbed a few people we never had on and the 12 of us made a fantastic episode; I hope they come on again as a third panelist as well.

As a side note, do not be afraid of failure. We all have a bunch of ideas. A lot of them are bad. Several of them die due to poor planning, timing, or advertising. It is fine to fail as long as you are able to learn and move on from it. We have had a bunch of projects that did not pan out the way we wanted. That’s okay. It is how we grow and gather information about what the community needs and wants.

Third, most important for me, but I still wanted to share it though it is really a private thought. The title Hex bestows once a year should not be your own personal goal and it should certainly not be an end point. If you set it as a goal, you will come away disappointed as there are a lot of deserving people in our community and Hex makes a hard choice every year—well, except the year Colin got it. If your primary goal is exalted, then Gen Con can feel like a terrible time when it is one of the best times of the year to be a Hex player. The part that is most important to me, however, is that it is not an endpoint. It is recognition of what you have done—and HexEnt encouraging you to keep on doing what you are doing. Keep expanding, growing, evolving, and working on your community craft. A bachelor’s or a doctorate does not mean you are done learning; far from it! Instead, it means you have achieved recognition in your studies and research, and that you are proficient, but not done doing what you do. I am happy to report that, at this point after Gen Con, I feel invigorated to keep working on the projects we have and have coming and hope to keep seeing many of you and your projects in the future.

I have more to say and more to think about, but I want to finish with something simple.

Thank you to all those that have worked with me and thank you to all of those who have read our posts, liked our pictures, watched our videos and streams, and participated in our tournaments. I think we all reflect each other and make each other better off when we strive to do so. I am happy to be in this community because of the community and I have not been in this position in gaming before—that is, to be more than just a player, but an active member of the community. Additionally, we volunteer and work for the community of Hex because Hex is a game we love and Hex Entertainment is a team we trust and believe in. As long as they keep doing amazing work, we will try to create the community the game deserves.

Thank you.

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Michael Allen is a competitive HexTCG player, co-host of the 2 Turns Ahead podcast, and founder and moderator of the Hex Subreddit.

7 Comments on What Exalted Means to Me

  1. ^_^ Congrats, and thanks for sharing!

  2. Nice piece, great to read all of this.
    Thank you for all the effort you (guys) put in and congratulations! 🙂

  3. Very thoughtful write up. Glad you got exalted this year Michael.

    -chark

  4. As they say in Entrath, Mazel Tov Zubs!
    -DraftPunk

  5. Wonderful piece. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Thanks for all you do.

    Several things have kept me from participating in Hex as much as I would like as a player. But your projects have allows me to participate in a role that is a fairly new and exciting development across gaming and TCGs in general- as an esports fan and content consumer (truthfully almost to the exclusion of playing). Being able to watch a stream or listen to a podcast while multitasking has made this possible. Thank you.

  6. Grats Zubrin, Well deserved. Thanks for all you do, and all the collaboration you’ve influenced and/or initiated.

  7. Congratulations. Thanks for all you do.

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