Why don’t I slide? Astral Slide, in particular.

This post will probably not make a ton of sense to a lot of people, but given that I’ve got creative control about my topics here, that’s fine by me (the only person who should really be invested). I’m gonna blab on about Magic the Gathering and Shandalar, so if that’s not your thing, perhaps come back tomorrow?

So with all the normies gone, let’s talk about Shadalar once more.

Over the past two or so months I’ve been playing this game a bunch. They basically took the 90s game and added in thousands of new cards. This means you can do all sorts of unfair things, but the difficulty level has been cranked up accordingly. The AI isn’t human opponent intelligent, but it plays decently. It’s a whole ton of fun. Anyway.

On my first play through I thought I’d try making a Zoo deck. I’ve never had enough spare change to play tournament magic. When Tarmogoyfs go for $90-$100 a pop, the deck is basically unobtainable for me. In this game though, I’m free to waste as much meaningless digital currency as possible. MAKE IT RAIN GOFYS. In any case, I loaded the deck up with Tarmogoyfs, Swords to Plowshares, Lightning Helix, Voice of Resurgence, Rancor, Seal of Fire, Knight of the Reliquary and as many fetches/dual lands as I could. Seeing how Tarmogoyf actually runs in practice was awesome. Just how quickly it ticks up to a monster, throwing a turn three or four Berserk on that bad boy and crushing skulls. Having access to that experience was awesome, knowing it’d be out of reach in paper Magic. Getting an authentic feel for how these mechanics work has given me a greater appreciation of the tournament scene. I’m more engaged than I was in Modern, for instance, now that I understand a little better.

My second play through, I swung for a mono black devotion deck. I’ve always wanted an excuse to run Phyrexian Obliterator, because it’s such a ridiculous card (that unfortunately gets sidelined a bunch). Playing against AI was a chance to see just how unfair it could be. Especially turn one off a Black Lotus. After deciding that, I thought why not drain them out with Grey Merchant of Asphodel? Or do some nutty loop with Recurring Nightmare and Bitterblossom? Truthfully, I’d never tried out cheap, selective discard before. That was an eye-opening moment. Using a first turn Thoughtseize or Inquisition of Kozilek to help shape my overarching plan for the game was a whole new experience. A definite level-up moment.

In my most recent play through I thought I’d take Affinity for a spin. While some cards straight up weren’t in the program (Vault Skirge, Shrapnel Blast, etc) I had access to some truly insane stuff. Affinity with Moxen? It’s as dumb as it sounds. I always knew that affinity was a silly deck, but piloting it is something different. I don’t know if the build is optimal, but it can do some frightening things with artifact lands, Disciple of the Vault, Arcbound Ravager, Cranial Plating, Master of Etherium, Tolarian Academy (!) and, well, Contract from Below. A single black mana to draw seven cards is truly stupid. I’d never experienced that kind of power with my casual EDH decks. It brought back memories of an old friend’s Tolarian Academy/Metalworker/Phyrexian Colossus deck from when I first started playing.

The experience of this game has also made me realise how fun it’d be to have a rotation of tournament calibre proxy decks to swap around with friends. Playing tight, tuned decks in an environment where everyone is on equal footing sounds awesome. Or at that point, are we just cube drafting?

Or I could open thirty more Chrome tabs. Possibility is everywhere!

If I don’t start this now, I never will. Time for some straight up stream of consciousness bollocks. It’s been one of those days where I’ve had next to nothing to do. It’s not a bad thing per se, to have nowhere to be and zero obligations. Sometimes it’s downright luxurious. Today however it’s manifested in an almost paralytic listlessness. I can do almost anything I want (short of activities involving high level reality warping), all I need is direction and motivation. The two things I’ve lacked thus far. It’s so cold. SO GODDAMN COLD that even at home, my fingers are chilly. The tiny muscles surrounding my knuckles need to thaw before working. Right now my typing is clunky, blocky. It feels unnatural moving at a pace beyond lethargy but if I don’t, this will never get done. My one job today was to try and get the right handle for our shower. Ours falls off periodically. We have a hex key close by in case it needs to be tightened (which it does, all too often). By this point, the screw’s thread is damn near stripped right through. I’ll turn the hex key and it’ll just rotate in the hole, finding little in the way of purchase. My girlfriend and I got a replacement a month or so ago, which turned out to be the wrong type. I was to bring back the one we bought and get the right one. A mission.

Still, that would involve leaving the house and simply being helpful wasn’t quite enough motivation for me. I needed something else. By midday I still hadn’t eaten, showered or coffee’d (holding out hope for someone being keen for brunch/lunch somewhere). I realised that if I left the house I could get coffee, catch a pokémon or two and feel like I’d accomplished something today. I went back to the store with backup. Not only did I take photos of the shower set up sans handle, I brought the handle with me. The sales assistant took one look at it and noped out, handing it off to his manager. His manager said they’d possibly have what I was looking for, but more likely I’d have to go elsewhere. We looked, but couldn’t find anything that fit the particular set up. Trust my landlord to grab something difficult to replace. One refund later, I came home with no new handle, no new pokémon (it wouldn’t even log in) and a stomach merely containing caffeine. At least I tried, goddammit.

With nobody taking up my offer for lunch, I was forced to take matters into my own hands. Sandwich time. Hearty multi-grain bread. Mushrooms, cheese, sundried tomatoes, sliced turkey, shredded cabbage (for texture), mayo, sriracha and tabasco all grilled in the George Foreman. It feels peculiar to name a sandwich the high point of my day, but frankly it was a big bastard of a sandwich. I watched an episode of MBMBAM, played some Shandalar and flicked through my comics library in case anything caught my eye. No surprise, it didn’t.

Surely those can’t be helped moods are something that everyone experiences, right? Even with myriad options, it’s impossible to find something that really catches your fancy because you’re so conditioned to saying no to things. Nothing will work out because in your head, you’ve got this preconceived notion of being inconsolable. You’re not miserable or depressed, just indecisive to the extreme. Perhaps it’s loneliness or a desire for company in disguise. Maybe I was actually clinging onto hope that someone else would grab on to the olive branch I was putting out, then take all decisions off my hands. My indecisiveness would be solved out of a lack of needing to make plans. I could latch on for the ride and simply be a passenger. Go to a restaurant or bar, have the burden of cooking, mixing taken away. Really relax, letting my tired bones, muscles and frozen fingers hang back to thaw out.

Then again, the day isn’t over. There’s still time for hours of possibility. Even a second sandwich.

A goth damn delight.

Turns out social contact was the best remedy medical science had in its arsenal. For the first time in many moons, I left home after the cover of darkness in order to be conversational. My girlfriend’s mate was throwing a goth themed 28th birthday. It was foolproof. If at worst I ended up wallowing in a corner over social paralysis, at least I’d be on theme.

I pulled (literally) on some pleather pants I’d found at a costume sale and a black long sleeved shirt. Dabbed gel in my hair for the best imitation of an emo fringe I could manage (working with limited resources here) and got my girlfriend to apply some serious eye liner. She dolled up with all black finery, a grey cincher with purple highlights and pitch perfect makeup. Some, in her words, “skull contouring” was dead on brand. One Instagram later, we were ready to leave.

Arriving, it was obvious what a goofy application of theme it was. Marilyn Manson videos on the TV, tea light candles and black balloons everywhere. The catering was delightfully all kid’s party food: Cheetos, chips, faux marshmallow bananas, pretzels and taffy filled candy cones. I grabbed a beer and took a seat, squeaking as I did. I had a non-zero fear of self-combustion, the inner thighs of my pleather pants rubbing back and forth against each other loudly. Once again, dying at a goth party would only increase my street cred.

It was the kind of company you want at a party. Easy conversationalists, never strained or awkward. Everyone was friendly and seemed genuinely inquisitive. I chatted with a dude who’d just moved into the city about the struggles of getting settled. A gal educated me about the horrific treatment of the native population and how it hasn’t yet been put in the past. Did you know that medical professionals have been trying to coerce native women into forced sterilisation? Not 20 years ago, but as recent as 2013? I chatted about accents and cultural differences, the strange approach and almost blind acceptance of celebrity spokespeople. I leaned about demands placed on teachers these days, how smart phones in class not only hinder, but often aid learning. There was fluid back and forth and it was a total joy just to enjoy conversations with strangers.

Then the night hit its peak with a rousing game of Pass the Parcel. If you somehow had a shit childhood and never played, Pass the Parcel involves some small token wrapped in 10+ layers of gift wrapping. À la Musical Chairs, music starts and you Pass the Parcel around until it stops. When it does, the person holding it unwraps a layer. If this sounds trite, sometimes there are trinkets or booby prizes between layers. It’s more fun than I’ve let on. In last night’s incarnation there were Kings style mini games. Make a Rule, Wink Murder, Categories, freestyle rap (wrap?) about death. With the right crowd, it was a blast. The lesson to learn is that we’d likely severely improve all of our parties by a factor of 12 if we included the party games of our childhood, yet adapted them for adults. Bobbing for vodka infused apples? Fluffy Bunnies with sips of coolers? I’m sure I’m not the first to think of a Pin the Tail variant with one of those horse hair butt plugs… Consent being the main ingredient of course.

Or does the last sentence prove that I probably have no place hanging around with proper adults?

Why do they keep making Oscars even though D2: The Mighty Ducks already exists?

In less than 24 hours, the movers and shakers of Hollywood’s cultural elite will come together to bestow the finest honours upon filmmakers and actors alike for their cinematic achievements over the past year. I ask you now, why? Why do we continue to celebrate the film industry’s output year after year, when the critically underrated 1994 masterpiece D2: The Mighty Ducks already exists?

The story of Team USA’s journey to the Junior Goodwill Games, D2, is a rich tapestry of overcoming adversity through the trials and tribulations of high level competitive sports. A film so emotionally compelling and well acted that Entertainment Weekly mentions it “now includes token members representing both sexes as well as major races, religions, and regions.” Wow!

Sure, Moonlight may have brought a tear to your eyes with its inspired use of Barbara Lewis’ “Hello Stranger” in the diner scene, but For Your Consideration, could anything match the raw emotional catharsis of Emilio et al singing Queen’s “We Are The Champions” around a campfire? I didn’t think so. And with all the hubbub about the Academy Awards’ lack of diversity (anyone remember #OscarsSoWhite?) what could’ve been more diverse than bringing together team members from as far away as Minnesota and Illinois? Heartwarming!

The Oscars have always been a forum for celebrating the truest love stories in cinematic history. Really though, while the budding romance between Jack and Rose in 1997’s indie darling Titanic may have captured our hearts (and The Oscars’ eponymous golden statue), does it really hold a candle to Coach Gordon Bombay rediscovering his enduring love of the game? Or his fiery romance with the steadfastly Icelandic Marria? Or his fatherly affection for star player Charlie Conway? When you actually think about it, it’s a downright travesty that The Academy never brought itself to gild what is unquestionably the greatest love story of our time.

At the end of the day, The Academy Awards were created to shine a light on the films that inspire passion, to make us aspire to reach for the stars. Sure, William Wallace’s “Freedom” speech was enough to lead the Scots against the English in the face of almost certain death, but could it have helped them defeat the juggernauts of ice hockey; Team Iceland? Not on your life, son! Just think, if Coach Bombay had been there to teach them that “ducks fly together”, maybe things would’ve turned out differently. Maybe Brexit never would’ve happened. That’s not only the power to change lives, but to change history! If that kind of time travel capability isn’t Oscar worthy, then maybe I just don’t know what is.

Look, I’m not trying to be controversial here. All I’m saying is that if The Oscars really cared about celebrating the best that cinema has to offer, they would’ve seen the futility of subsequent ceremonies from the moment the knuckle puck graced the silver screen.

So far away that a flock of seagulls couldn’t catch me.

A good day at work for once? How does that even happen? Most likely a decent sleep and great weather rubbed off on me. In truth, work has been unremarkable, but if the alternative is a clusterfuck, then unremarkable is excellent. It’s all relative. Like grandparents. Relatives.

The best part of the day was being able to get out and go for a run. “Whaaaaat?”, you might gasp and sputter. I ran. In Toronto. On my lunch break. Because today had a high of 14 fucking degrees. Fahrenheit? NO. CELSIUS, BITCHEZZZ.

*Ahem* Let’s try that again, but without the flagrant over-enthusiasm.

Today’s weather has been swell. Jolly. Righteous and filled to the brim with spiffiness. Being able to leave the building and go for a 5km jog was a highlight. Breathing in the air coming off the lake (except for the godawful smell of burning sugar from the refinery next door. How does a scent so innocuous sounding end up smelling like carrion?), feeling the sun soaking into my skin. My heart was thumping in my chest comfortably, a reassuring swell indicating that not only am I alive, but I’m really living. It’s like that primal sensation of having cut wood or the like. Calloused hands, worked muscles humming. You might be tired, but there’s an assurance that what you did was working towards a purpose. Going for a run made me feel lighter, like a gazelle leaping along the grizzled “urban jungle” of Toronto’s waterfront. Any lions dumb enough to chase me down would have to earn their meal. Dripping sweat in a light breeze gave me a sense of indomitably. Blame endorphins, but nothing was gonna bring me down.

Of course, nothing goes quite so hand in hand (or phone in hand, rather) with running as Pokémon Go. Continuing the theme of today being a great day, the app delivered with panache. Which is to say it still crashed every few minutes and immense tasks such as clicking on a pokestop was enough to throw the system into chaos and lag. Does everyone struggle like this? Maybe I need a new phone. Still, running along the waterfront was the perfect way to look out for rare pokémon, or at the very least trawl for Magikarp.

I found a super low cp one, but figured Magikarp candy is Magikarp candy. I threw pokeball after pokeball, but nothing was sticking. Maybe eight wasted pokeballs later, this was getting farcical. The thing had 49 cp for fucks sake. It was silly, more than anything. I figured why the hell not? It was giving me enough trouble that I wanted it all the more. I tossed a berry its way, then grabbed an ultraballs and tested the waters. One wobble. Two. Three. Settled. Finally. Then the screen darkened and the centre glowed white. What the hell was happening? I just wanted to get it appraised in case it was somehow special. As the screen came back to focus, I discovered it was special. In fact it wasn’t even a Magikarp. I’d finally caught the elusive Ditto. Surprise!

If that wasn’t neato enough, my 10k egg hatched me a Larvitar with decent stats. They’ve been pretty elusive so far, bring the initial component of 2nd gen’s rival to Dragonite. Speaking of which, I picked up a good Dratini today too. Maybe I’ll finally get that Dragonite I’ve been looking for. Do I really see myself getting competitive enough to start attacking gyms again? Who knows? I’ve got enough candy to evolve a Gyarados now, maybe I’m moving towards a workable team. Which in the end is silly, because if I really cared about decent battling I’d get the Game Boy game instead.

Who cares? The sun is setting on a brilliant day. I’ve got no responsibilities left before bed tonight. Hakuna Matata and all that jazz.

Not to be taken as an authority on anything ever.

Ugh. Getting back into Magic the Gathering Shandalar was as addictive as I’d feared. Starting around 10pm, I had to force myself to stop around 1.30am for fear of looking shaggy and embalmed at work this morning. Even then, getting into bed I couldn’t do anything but think about the game, potential decks I could build, cards I’d lost and won. It’s baaaaaaad, dude. I dreamt about the game. My work day has been time spent waiting to play the game again. After hours of staring at the screen, I saw images of the game floating in my mind’s eye. You know that phenomenon where you play a game so much that everything around you morphs into a weird augmented hyper-reality of the game? It’s like playing Bejeweled and seeing gems everywhere you look. Same thing, but with mana costs, old school card borders and overly antiquated graphics. It’s great to be enveloped by a rampant desire to play something again, but addiction is gonna get in the way of life, if I’m not careful. At least when I was playing Pokémon Go, I was getting out of the house.

Then again, I am still playing Pokémon Go. It’s less manic-obsessive this time around. Though there was the massive disappointment of my long awaited Victreebel having a terrible moveset (with zero grass type moves). Bummer. My workplace is handily close to the Jack Layton Ferry Terminal, the numero uno place to catch in the city. If I’ve got nothing to do during lunch (do I ever?), I can go for a wander and hoard Magikarp. It’s neat getting back into the game again. With fresh pokémon I’ve got a renewed interest. It’s still entertaining and less tedious than it had gotten. Once the weather warms up I can start going for jogs on my lunch break and play at the same time. No floating Magic cards, just actual air flowing in and out of my lungs.

Went to Hogtown Vegan yesterday for lunch. After hearing nothing but glowing reviews, I was pretty excited to check it out. My girlfriend and I both left feeling like we’d had an unremarkable meal. Neither of us are vegan or vegetarian, but with how lauded it was, we thought that wouldn’t matter. It’s not that it was terrible by any means, but the concept of meat substitutes still feels odd. I enjoy vegetarian cuisine well enough, in that I don’t assume all meals need meat and there are endless flavours you can pull out of dishes without killing for them. Meat substitutes though, are pretty damn odd. Seitan has this bizarre texture and, in a “Reuben”, didn’t resemble bacon in the slightest. Dry, yet squishy was my best approximation. The “pulled pork” my girlfriend got wasn’t pulled at all, but squishy little bite sized pieces of tofu. The collard greens were delicious and the “cheese” sauce on the fries was great, albeit cheesy wouldn’t be the flavour I’d describe. I wonder what I would’ve thought of the meals had no comparison to meat been made.

It reminded me of how people try to say how tasty some protein powders are, when in fact they taste like chemicals with artificial flavouring. I’ve yet to try a chocolate protein shake that actually tastes like chocolate. Then again, I’m not sure how that’d be possible without masses of sugar, which negates the point of the whole exercise. I get it. I buy protein bars all the time. Some of them don’t taste awful, but they don’t also taste delicious. It’s the same as that phenomenon where, after purchasing something expensive that’s meant to be healthy or high quality, convincing yourself that it was an excellent purchase. As if by admitting disappointment, you’re admitting you made a poor choice. It’s okay to not be an expert every time. Your financial decisions don’t define you as a person.

Then again, what do I know? My life is spiralling out of control because I’m obsessed with an updated 90s video game.

It’s Magic how time vanishes like that.

It sure is great that I’ve got some downtime for the next couple of weeks, because I’m about to have no time for the next year. I just rediscovered an old Magic the Gathering video game that’s been modded and upgraded. The 1997 game affectionately known as Shandalar, stands as the best Magic game to date. Not only because of its spectacular graphics, but because it’s a genuinely amazing game. I’m not being sarcastic, not even close. I have no idea how many hours I’ve sunk into this game over the years, but it’s in the hundreds. Probably not quite a thousand. Maybe.

Wizards have made efforts to replicate its splendour over the years, and while I’m sure they’ve been exponentially more fiscally successful, they don’t hold up to the quality of gameplay. Magic Battlemage and Battlegrounds were bizarre arcade style mash ups that never quite got there. Magic Duels of the Planeswalkers and Magic Duels were newer shells with better graphics, but no real form of storyline or progression. Magic Online seems to be the flagship product where you pump money in for digital cards. I surprisingly have never played it, but I hear nothing but complaints online. I’m sure it’s fine, but it’s just the game without added aspects. It doesn’t shine as a standalone narrative like Shandalar does.

So why is Shandalar excellent? Because it feels like an adventure. A lot of the game is played in an isometric world map view. You’re a mage aiming to free the land from oppressive rulers from each colour of magic. They all have a series of minions, from grunts to lieutenants, all with successively more powerful decks. You roam the world, doing missions for small towns. Along the way you’re challenged by these minions, some of whom have surprisingly powerful decks. They all play for ante, meaning winning or losing a match could mean you forfeit or gain powerful cards. You start with a pile of junk cards that eventually you can build up to impressive decks. You also begin with a hideously low life total that grows over time. That’s one of the defining aspects of the game, progress and growth. Sometimes you’ll narrowly win a match and win a card that makes your deck hum. It’s rewarding and feels like you’ve worked towards something.

There are also untold treasures to find. The kinds of cards you’d never be able to own in real life (unless you felt like sinking thousands into your collection. Black Lotus, all the Moxen, Time Walk, Ancestral Recall, etc. They’re found in hidden dungeons across the map. There’s a hell of an allure to use and abuse these combinations, cobbling together what you can and working towards becoming a dominant force. Get the Power Nine, free the land, ????, profit.

With all the upgrades, the game has only gotten better. There are so many bloody cards and finding the ones you want got even more difficult. It’s challenging, especially because the AI seems to have been given a major bump. Your opponents’ decks are far more powerful than they ever were, with clever interactions and themes. When you start with ten life and your opponent has a 2/3, a 3/3 and a 4/4 by turn four, it’s not an easy run. The more you play though, the more likely you are to be able to do degenerate things right back. A little dungeon crawling and BAM! You’ve put together a brutal suicide black deck complete with powerful modern creatures. Or some insane pile like this. So fucking great.

I don’t know if I’ve sold it well enough, but if you’re into Magic and losing the next couple of weeks of your life, be my guest.