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?

The knight time is the right time.

I guess the big question is, how was Medieval Times?

I almost wish it was terrible so I could’ve called it a knightmare, but that would’ve been a massive disservice to an absurdly fun and wholesome experience. My usual M.O. is to pump the gas on cynicism, but I figured with something like Medieval Times there was no point. I was actively looking to have a great time at nobody’s expense. I headed there with such an expectation of excitement that if it’d somehow literally rained on us in the venue, our parade would continue unabated.

Speaking of expectations, let’s lay out what I expected.

I thought there’d maybe be 50-100 people sort of thing. A couple of knights doing choreographed battles and there’d be some kind of goofy storyline. Maybe some flagons of ale, a couple of chicken wings/drumsticks and some dinky little merch. This probably would’ve been enough to leave me pretty stoked.

I vastly underestimated the scale.

My girlfriend and I had taken the chance to dress up. She had a flowing purple skirt and a corset/bustier type thing. I had some stage squire costume I’d bought from a theatre store (because why wouldn’t you need that lying around?). We walked into the entrance hall and were assigned a table/colour. Our knight was the blue knight and we received blue cardboard crowns. We took a photo with the falconer (!) and walked into a large hall. Holy sensory overload, Batman. People everywhere. Hundreds of them. There was a deis with a throne where some form of lord was making announcements and bringing up people for paid photo ops. There was a large bar in the centre of the room and several smaller alcohol kiosks spread throughout the room. Wall to wall merch, whether kid’s toys, cups and jugs, replica swords, those creepy fairy/dragon/crystal ball statues. There were horse stables and a holding area for the falcons. It was all bright, colourful and fancy lookin’. I’m sure there’s a minimum number of beers one has to drink before walking home with a huge replica Game of Thrones sword. We’d gotten a little buzz on beforehand, but it wasn’t the purchasing a 1.5m letter opener level of buzz. The VIP customers with lanyards around their necks got to be seated first and the rest of us peasants followed behind once we were invited.

The arena was like a casino. Tiered seating organised by bright fluorescent colourful lights. We were led to our section, right at the back, with a view straight toward the king’s throne. Once everyone was seated (they packed everyone in pretty damn efficiently), the show began. Some waffly preamble about the mystical link between horse and rider. The writing could’ve used some punch up, but there was a FUCKING HORSE DANCING. I’ll let it slide. They did a bunch of tricks (as waiters began serving tomato bisque and drinks) and left the arena. Then we were introduced to our champions: The knights.

One piece of advice I’d been given going in was to raise hell for our team and shit all over our opponents. There were two factions, with three colours in each. The Western team: Red, Black/White and Yellow, vs the Eastern team: Green, Yellow/Red and Blue. Children were everywhere, so I couldn’t be as abusive as I’d intended. In short, I needed to be creative with my insults. The blue knight had our undying love and affection and we whooped for him as loudly as possible. At one point I swear he tried to throw me a rose, but it landed in the row before me. We let the little girl who caught it think it was meant for her, but really I knew I was the prettiest lord in all the land.

The knights played a bunch of games in order to get more roses. Spearing hanging rings on their lances, trying not to drop staves hurled between riders, relay races. The better they did on their rounds, the more roses they had to throw to the crowd. At some stage a falcon flew all around the arena, it was awesome. Servers dropped off half a chicken, some corn, garlic bread and potatoes. We got to eat them all with our bare hands. Then came the duels. The choreography, though obviously staged, was great. Literal sparks flew when swords clashed. A variety of weapons surfaced, from swords and axes to halberds and flails. There was jousting and acrobatics, and we got to yell shit at people dressed in armour. What’s not to love?

Turns out our blue knight was kind of chumply, but we loved him all the same. The green knight (the one I’d hoped to be rallied behind) was a certifiable badass and emerged victorious, defeating the invading barbarian and everything. The plot was flimsy, but a shitton of fun to play along with. Little kids were having the time of their lives, swinging around coloured flags and flashing light up wands. The food was tasty and abundant. All the staff played into their roles, ren faire style. The rare moments not spent in utter bliss had me wishing I’d gotten a job at Medieval Times when I first came to the city. How cool would that be? I could’ve maybe been a squire, learning how to ride a horse, swinging weapons around, that kind of thing. Instead I taught children gymnastics. If I could turn back time…

Well, if I could turn back time, maybe I would’ve just gone back to actual medieval times. Failing that, shelling out $40 to watch other people do it was pretty damn sweet.

If I was a contender, I’d go by the name MeLeeon.

When I was around seven or eight years old, I thought medieval stuff was the coolest. I still loved super heroes and transformers, dinosaurs were right up there, but medieval anything was a newfound obsession. It started exactly where you’d expect: Reading King Arthur. Here was a person who came to rule through exceptional circumstance. He started with nothing and ended up a king. If that wasn’t enough, he surrounded himself with a bunch of badass knights who all had their unique skills and attributes. To an eight year old, Arthur was pretty rad, but Lancelot was where it was at. The greatest swordsman in the land, but not an infallible hero. Even at that age I was drawn to characters with flaws, anti-heroes or those whose moral compass veered slightly off due north. I thought the whole affair with Guinevere thing was a bit shit, but created an interesting conflict. Then along came Galahad, who seemed too righteous to be any fun.

Finishing the book caused me to dive deep into fantasy novels. Courageous heroes wielding swords, shields and axes. Grizzly monsters and fire-breathing dragons. Magic and back-stabbery galore. I fucking ate it up. I fell hard for Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf series and its diverse skillsets of magika and mental abilities. I loved Diablo and Warcraft, tried Dungeons and Dragons. I devoured Song of Ice and Fire, which went on to become the biggest fucking thing in the world. To this day I still play Magic the Gathering heavily. As it stands though, there’s still one thing I have yet to do to really harness my love of fantasy. In three hours, there won’t be.

I’ve never visited Medieval Times.

I first saw it on the 1996 Jim Carrey film The Cable Guy. It looked amazing, but also didn’t seem real. I was convinced that it was just invented for the film. Keep in mind that this was pre-internet and I lived across the other side of the world where it certainly didn’t exist. A friend and I took a trip to Chicago once and found out they had one. Without a car though, it would’ve been way too far out of the way. Disappointed. We then did a road trip across America, but still didn’t come close enough to one. Then I moved to Toronto and discovered that not only was there a Medieval Times, but they did birthday discounts. HOLY SHIT.

Three years have passed since then and I still have yet to go. Tonight however, tonight is the knight. I get a 45% discount through work, which makes it pretty damn reasonable for a night out. I’m pumped. It’s not logical how stoked I am right now. Friends are coming over, we’re gonna have drinks then go out to see the fantasy world of my childhood come to life. You know those moments where you’re reduced to that state of youthful wonder? I feel like that already and I’m not even dressed yet. Thing is, I don’t even know what I’m in for. It sounds dumb, but I’m not actually sure what the show contains. I assume jousting and sword fights. People have said you get a crown. I know that one of my co-workers used to play the executioner as a part time job back in college. We’re gonna get a big meal and drink beer. I may go hoarse from cheering on our very own Lancelot. I’ll likely be amped up from a little pre-drink before we go.

Goddamn I’m excited and the more I talk about it, the more excited I’m getting. Is this how normal people feel about watching sports? Why don’t we go out to watch athletes joust and melee any more?

Who cares? I WILL TONIGHT!

Well if you can take anything from this Oscar rant, it’s that I’m a grouch.

Went on an unprovoked Facebook rant after seeing a bunch of everything is fucked if La La Land wins Best Picture articles. A friend of mine commented that she didn’t get why the film was being so hyped. I got very Ranty McRantface. Here we go:

To be honest, I really liked the film. From the opening scene right to the end I found myself captivated visually and audibly. The colour palette and shot composition was beautiful. I enjoyed the dialogue and structure. It was funny and stirring when it needed to be. I thought the two leads had great chemistry. It felt like a massive experience and when I’m spending time in a theatre, that means a lot to me.

I think La La Land is a great film. I think Moonlight is too. At the same time, I feel like most of the backlash is Tall Poppy Syndrome due to some bizarre idea that the whole Oscars Industrial Complex has anything to do with rewarding merit and not just a chance for Hollywood to alley-oop itself and get more promotion for its films.
Why the fuck did they expand the Best Picture nomination section to ten films? Because money. Because then ten films can put “Academy Award Nominated” on their posters in an attempt to make them more appealing to film goers.
Do people think that La La Land was actually a terrible film? If they do, cool. Movies appeal to different people in an assortment of ways. Really though, are they shitting on it because it was poorly made? Or because they have an issue with the fact that Moonlight (an excellent, beautiful film, you’ve got no argument from me. Except maybe about the shaky camera technique that meant I couldn’t physically watch most of the film without feeling nauseous. Not the film’s fault, my body is weird) isn’t getting the respect that it deserves *because* of La La Land? If the Oscars didn’t exist, would people even care? Or would they both be independently enjoyable films?
People can think piece all they like about how The Oscars are failing society by not rewarding diversity or shining a light on films that represent social inequalities and struggles ignored by the mainstream, but the truth is that The Oscars don’t give a shit about people or non-mainstream views. They always have and likely always will be about the (predominantly rich/white, let’s not kid ourselves here) “cultural elite” patting themselves on the back with one hand while jerking themselves off with the other. Not until their ratings (advertising dollars) or major cinematic attendance suffered would they start to care about championing diversity. Even then, they wouldn’t care about people, just their money and the impact it has on them. The whole ceremony is a big joke that people take very seriously.
TL;DR – I think Moonlight should win too, but that doesn’t make La La Land remotely terrible. The Oscars aren’t a true gauge of a film’s value, that’s something you create for yourself. Also Mia not using BCC is 2016’s Kelly Rowland texting Nelly in excel.

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.