That’s one way to put a bounce in your step.

 

I was thinking about this game Ricochet today. Despite the title of this clip, it was a piece of shit and I loved it in a weird way. A Half-Life mod, two friends and I tried it out to see how bad it could be. It was terrible. Bouncing from pod to pod in outer space, aiming to knock one another off balance. The controls were clunky and awkward. The gameplay was repetitive and stilted. It probably took longer to program than the entire time players spent in game. It’s questionable how gaming powerhouse Valve could’ve thought it had the potential to catch on, but life’s about taking chances. I remember this one afternoon where the three of us had nothing much to do. I mean, we were teenagers. There’s jerking off, video games, angst and little else. Anime, probably. So we spent this particular afternoon racing to try and be the first to 100 kills. We all had our particular gaming skills, and while I was likely the least competent FPS player, this was new territory. None of us had spent time on this game, because we were too busy doing things like trying to beat Final Fantasy 7 in a weekend. Y’know, trendy shit. We didn’t give a freak.

So we played this game. I don’t know how long it took. Hours, I’m guessing. We were learning as we went. At first we’d get killed rapidly. We’d catch each other unawares and knock one another off with these silly discs. Then power ups started to come into play. If you hit someone, instead of knocking them off, you’d decapitate them. Points had an ebb and flow. Someone would streak ahead, then the others would catch up and overtake. Kills were racked up. Then muscle memory kicked in. We’d learn how to anticipate attacks, read opponents strategies. Lives began to last longer. The slog from 70-100 was probably longer than 0-70. Because it wasn’t a well designed game, I don’t know if any of us were even enjoying it. Why would that matter though? We were in for the points. For bragging rights on something with no real stakes. The whole time we were yelling to each other “why are we doing this?” “Does anyone even care?” “Is anyone having fun?” Our cries were in vain. We didn’t stop.

I didn’t win, but I also didn’t take umbrage with that. In the end it was within 10 points. While it wasn’t that enjoyable, for some reason it created a kind of bond. Every once in a while we’d mention “hey, you guys wanna go for a Ricochet rematch so I can finally get my title?” The answer was a resounding “no” every time. Still, we talked about it far more often than you’d expect. From time to time the game still pops into my head and I wonder if anyone still plays it. Was there ever a Ricochet community? Is there some dude all lonely waiting out there in space in the hopes that someone will play with him? Did Ricochet actually mean a great deal to anyone, and if so, why? I’m not often 100% sincere, but I really hope there’s love for the game out there. Not everything has to be a success and Ricochet obviously wasn’t. At the end of the day though, it left me with a mostly positive memory that ties me to these two specific friends. I hope I’m not the only one.

I wonder if anyone’s done a 4K port…

I am somewhat driven towards a Mairsiélago deck through.

Magic the Gathering post. Here be dragons (literally. It’s one of the four tribal decks I’m gonna talk about today).

Commander 2017. The release which made me realise that I don’t own any tribal EDH decks. What gives? I’ve always loved tribal mechanics. Or at the very least, I’ve enjoyed making tribal decks with little to no synergy. Like that 60 card Insect highlander that vastly improved with the printing of Swarmyard. Or the plant deck I put together before Avenger of Zendikar actually made it viable. Forget that noise. My big hitters were Vineslasher Kudzu, Vulturous Zombie and… Lichenthrope. I’ve always wanted to build a tribal EDH deck, but it’s never happened. I’m too much of an edgelord that wants something non-standard. Maybe one day I’ll really commit and make all of my Camarid dreams come true.

Until then, let’s look at some neat stuff from Commander 2017!

  • Mairsil, the Pretender: Here’s a complicated card that no doubt has a million infinite combos. Yeah, of course you can blink him with Deadeye Navigator, but since when did that card need help being effective? More importantly, Mairsil gives you the opportunity to do downright silly things. Want to turn him into a vehicle? Go right ahead, get all John Malkovich on him. This guy might finally make Quicksilver Elemental worth something.
  • Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist: They did a hell of a job bringing back an old favourite (even if that old favourite wasn’t Baron Sengir) and making them formidable. Mirri lets you swing in with impunity, unworried about the backswing. More importantly, she finally legitimises the Centaur Omenreader/Glare of Subdual deck I’ve always wanted.
  • Edgar Markov: A new Baron Sengir he isn’t, but I do like how they’ve made going wide very much in reach. He may have benefited from shaving off one mana, but at least by the time you drop Edgar you should have four vampires already on the board. The first strike/haste combo pulls back on some of the feel bads of being a Cadillac general, but not entirely as he’s only swinging for five.
  • The Ur-Dragon: Big, dumb and goofy, but likely pretty effective. I can imagine just how fun it’d be loading your deck up with all the dragonlords and swinging. Hellkite Charger could give you double the pleasure and Utvara Hellkite could make things worse and worse for your opponents.
  • Path of Ancestry: A bonafide EDH staple. At absolute worst it can tap for your general’s identity and gives you a scry when you play them. In a dedicated tribal deck you’re most likely scrying every turn with no real cost. That’s fucking amazing. It’ll feel subtle, but your draws will be smoothed out for the remainder of the match. This card is big game.
  • Teferi’s Protection: It wouldn’t surprise me if this made waves in legacy. Does this work with Ad Nauseum? In any case, Sunforger packages cried out worldwide in exultation. How does my Shu Yun deck not yet have Mistveil Plains?
  • Vindictive Lich: Selfishly, I just put together Chainer, Dementia Master so I’m looking to jam this in there. Is this worth the extra mana than Merciless Executioner and Fleshbag Marauder? I think so. None of these are tiny effects (two cards and five life are a chunk) and if you’re more than 1v1, this card seems solid.
  • Mathas, Fiend Seeker: I’m far from the first to mention this, but it’s a spectacular flavour win how well this goes with Bounty Hunter. This dude seems like the basis of a neat political deck, with a commander who can get in for small digs here and there.
  • Ramos, Dragon Engine: These DARGONS were all spoiled months back, but Ramos seems like it’ll be heaps of fun. It’s a great pull of an old character and happens to produce the same amount as all of its Mercadian Masques body parts would. It also makes Increasing Savagery provide six mana first time around and 20 on the second cast.

To be honest, I probably won’t buy any of the product this year, but I might pick up some singles. They’ve done a good job of printing some truly neat and clever cards, but also evergreen tribal effects (one cycle in particular) that really work in this format. I may not want a vampire deck, but Mirri will most likely worm its way into some of my decks. Not just my heart.

You win some, you Cthulhu’s some.

I’m excited. Today we’re playing Arkham Horror for likely my first time in three years. It’s a tremendously complicated and difficult Lovecraftian board game with a strong overarching narrative. You play a group of investigators in 1920s Massachusetts looking into strange happenings around town. A disconnected bunch, there’s a drifter, scientist, professor, nun and all kinds of characters who’ve experienced the supernatural. This was a pre-Ghostbusters era, obviously, but this motley crew have tasked themselves with exploring otherworldly locations to prevent the rise of the horrifying Ancient Ones from destroying our world. It’s atmospheric and at times staggeringly oppressive, but with the odds stacked against you there’s no choice but to fight back against the rising tide of evil.

There was a period of about two years where I’d play multiple times per week most weeks. I loved this game to bits. My friends and I composed rigorous strategies to attain victory. We’d seek to understand the game better on a macro level, breaking down what really made it tick, working out lines of play and crunching statistics. One of my friends started putting together an excel spreadsheet tracking our win/loss percentage, whether we won by closing gates or defeating the Ancient One and which investigators we used. We’d add expansion packs one by one, which would drastically change how it played. To say that we were obsessive would be both fair and accurate. It was intoxicating to dive head first into something new with a core group, developing our own lingo and shortcuts. In jokes too, of course. I’ve got rosy memories of those late nights and I want to recapture that feeling.

When I got to Toronto, one of the first things I did was seek out an Arkham playgroup. In fact, at a concert on my second night in the city I met a guy who played. Serendipity on my side. A bunch of us would visit his friend who had stacks of board games and have these great days spent playing through them. We’d throw on atmospheric music and have a blast. Then Fantasy Flight games’ updated Eldritch Horror came out and we dove in, exploring all the nuances and updated mechanics. Being new to the city, it was a damn swell time. Sadly the main guy who owned all the games moved away to Vancouver and it kind of fell apart. Before he left, however, he sold me his base copy of Arkham Horror for dirt cheap so I could keep up with this game I loved so much.

After buying it, I haven’t played it once.

Today though, today I get to crack it open and relive those past experiences with a fresh perspective. Back to the mean streets of 20s Massachusettes. Sifting through the stacks at Miskatonic University, searching for treasure at the Curiositie Shoppe, canvassing for allies at Ma’s Boarding House. Or frankly, just trying to avoid getting devoured by The Hound of Tindalos. With so many ways to die or be driven insane, what’re the odds of survival without at least one major psychosis?

Where’s that damned excel spreadsheet when I need it?

If you took him to jail, would you be committing Scumocide?

When did you last walk into a room pulled straight from your heartfelt dreams and wishes? When were you last face to face with a tangible manifestation of hope? How did your mind react, knowing that the architects of your imagination had erected their monument within your arm’s reach?

Were you also at Tilt last night?

As a kid I adored arcade machines, or “Spacies” as we called them (the moniker derived from Space Invaders, of course). They’d sit in the entrance of takeaway shops or movie theatre lobbies. My parents would rarely give me money to play, so often I watched or pretended to play. On the odd occasions (a friend’s birthday or something) that I actually got to play, I lost my mind. Fighting games such as Street Fighter 2, King of the Monsters or Mortal Kombat 3, side scrollers like Captain Commando or puzzle games in the vein of Snow Bros or Bubble Bobble. I guess I wrote about it a bunch here.

I walked into the doors at Tilt, paid my $5 and had free rein on a collection of 40 or so machines, all set to free play. The aforementioned Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat 3, Captain Commando and Bubble Bobble all made an appearance. Live DJs played a cavalcade of cheesy 80s hits (including a chiptune cover of Haddaway’s “What is Love?”) and the bar was stocked with great beer. I couldn’t imagine anywhere I would’ve rather been.

Playing arcade games with an adult perspective is interesting. With their revenue stream dependent on players pumping in quarter after quarter, you can see how they’ve specifically engineered the games to feed the addiction. Captain Commando and other similar games featured unique and powerful character moves that would do area-of-effect damage at the cost of HP. Health items were few and far between, meaning that the more you used these moves, the more likely you’d have to keep paying the toll to stay in the game. NBA Jam was fucking great. A four player machine. In the years since childhood I’d forgotten that players had to pay per quarter (time period, not currency), with the winning team getting the next quarter free. For that genre of plane games like Raiden, so many bullets were flying through the air that it was nigh impossible to survive without repeated cash infusions. They knew what they were doing.

On free play however, none of that mattered. A friend and I fulfilled a childhood dream and clocked Captain Commando. I finally got to use Mack the Knife (instead of my older brother repeatedly hogging him), the purple alien mummy with twin blades. I’d like to believe that even as a child I would’ve cringed at least a little to learn that the final boss’ name was Scumocide. Let’s be real though, I sincerely thought Street Sharks were jawsome. I was no critic.

I also didn’t realise how physically demanding it was to toggle and mash repeatedly. Some of those beat ’em ups were a one way trip down a long carpal tunnel. If I needed yet another sign that my body is succumbing to the ravages of time, my mangled hands tell the truth.

OH WHAT A TIME TO BE ALIVE.

I did knot expect to tie that all together.

I’ve been procrastinating about starting this. The Internet has been far too alluring. So to make up for it, I’m gonna let you in on what I’ve been reading. Doesn’t that sound exciting? Sorry, messed up the word order there. Meant to say That doesn’t sound exciting!

Let’s begin.

I watched the trailer for Ready Player One. I enjoyed the book. It was a silly wish fulfilment narrative. The lead characters weren’t terribly well carved out. The whole thing was pandering stacked upon pandering. It was also a lot of fun, and even if it felt like the evocation of something my friends and I used to play called The Anythink Game. The premise was simple, you could be anyone and do anything you could think of. We used to play it on a trampoline. We’d be Transformers one minute and Ninja Turtles the next. I don’t know if we ever played as everyone’s favourite female Street Shark, but that was obviously a missed opportunity. Ready Player One felt in the same spirit and as such, it was a neat world to slip into. If I’d read it at age 13, I can guarantee you it would’ve been my favourite book of all time. I have no idea how Spielberg’s team is legally gonna get a hold of all that copyrighted material, but they’re the real heroes of the film. The scale of the idea makes sense on the big screen and in watching the trailer you can already see how specifically tailored to 3D they’ve made it. A big dumb film perfectly fit for a cheap Tuesday.

I had forgotten how cringeworthy a bunch of it was though.

I bought a new keyboard. I’m so tired of having to write on my phone while in transit. The Swype keyboard sure speeds things up, but it also gets overworked pretty easily. My poor Moto G can’t keep up with my fingers. I’d been considering buying a tablet or laptop, but if a keyboard can fix all my issues, why not go with the simplest solution? I realised the other day how I still haven’t adjusted to Bluetooth as a technology that exists. I’m a curmudgeon who’s already been made technologically obsolete. I was at the park the other day, marvelling at my friend’s rugged and robust bluetooth speaker. In my head, if it’s not hard-wired, it won’t work. I guess I’ve acclimated to the understanding that I often buy technology that’s behind the curve. Since my gear’s never top of the line, I just assume that all technology is as shitty as mine. The last time I bought something cutting edge was my beloved Samsung Galaxy S2. Even when it was dated, it still worked great. Stupid different Canadian networks not working with my pride and joy.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to constantly carrying a heavy work-around everywhere I go.

Lastly, T.J. Miller. I always thought of him as a provocative performance artist in the vein of Father John Misty. If that’s what he’s going for, judging by this interview he overshot the moon and ended up in another galaxy. Ugh, he comes off as a totally snarky, condescending prick. Just an unrepentant asshole. It’s a pity, his live performance at JFL42 2015 stands as one of my all time favourite comedy experiences. Densely interwoven meta commentary that was both flashy and subtle. He’s always walked that line for me, but if he’s trying so hard to present an unlikable persona, I’m fine accepting him as thus. Bummer. I hope he gets hoisted on his own petard and comes back to earth.

By the time he does, I might even have my own Bluetooth keyboard on which to write about it.

Maybe it’ll be after seeing him in Ready Player One.

Now I feel bad for not knowing the right kind of card tricks.

Magic the Gathering post. If you’re not into that, come back tomorrow.

Well we’ve reached the end of my Magic Grand Prix adventure. Immersing myself in a game I’ve been playing for 17 years now. I knew that I enjoyed it, but I didn’t realise how entrenched I’ve become in the culture surrounding it. I have good friends who I’ve met through the game. I read daily articles on strategy and changes to the metagame. I follow Magic stocks, the fluctuation of how much cards are worth. I get the jokes rising from the endless online circle-jerks. I knew it was a hobby, but didn’t understand that it was really a part of my life.

Spending two days at the GP was great. I always had people to chat to, given the commonality of our hobby. It was exciting to hear how friends were faring in their matches and overall records. I had consistently skill-testing matches and played a ton of players who were far better than I was. I learned a ton about the format and drafted a bunch. My drafts started off a little bit dicey, but by the end I realised where I was erring. I’d remembered that Amonkhet was a hyper aggressive format and I was convinced that playing five drops or six drops was a dead man’s game. That was true. It was all cartouches, trials and fucking Slither Blade of all things. The addition of Hour of Devastation slowed things right down. It’s entirely possible to splash cards. You can get to late game and mount a comeback. In short, if there’s fun, splashy stuff you want to play, go ahead. Play it.

It’s hard, getting a couple of bad beats in a row. It really shits on your morale. After a rough morning of being outplayed, I started getting almost delirious. I was clearly losing my mind and decided I could either let the pressure drive me insane, or stop taking it so seriously. It was just a game. If I wasn’t doing it for enjoyment, why was I doing it at all? I chilled out a little and tried to draft what I felt like drafting rather than what I felt I should. I managed to eke out a win in my third draft and felt the upswing. Then tragedy. Common practice in drafting so far had been to split after the first round. In short, declaring that the top four players all came out even. It meant everyone could walk away with ten boosters and go off to draft again. Everybody barring this one confident dude was up for splitting. This guy wanted to play it out. So we were all forced to play, then that guy got totally crushed. I got destroyed by my opponent and walked away with six boosters rather than ten. Fuck that guy (a sentiment I heard repeated later by other players in other drafts).

I did one last ditch effort draft. I started out picking Resilient Khenra, then got fed a number of solid red cards and began to question my green pick. Then the pendulum swung back and nearing the end of pack two I was solidly in RG, but with a bunch of fixing just in case. I noticed a super late Obelisk Spider coming around and decided what the hell, why not pick it and splash? The card is neat and I’d never been able to solidly get in that archetype. It was my last draft of the day. Fun was my motto. I opened pack three saw Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons staring me in the face. Time to commit. I was hoping to find a couple of those -1/-1 counter green creatures. Then Plague Belcher was passed and I knew I was set. I had fixing and three powerful themed splashes. ROCK AND ROLL MOTHERFUCKER.

The deck played out like a dream. It had a bunch of aggressive critters, but truly came alive in the mid-game. I didn’t see Hapatra, but hell that Obelisk Spider and Plague Belcher put in work. Both games they showed up and made things difficult for my opponent. I had a blast and did some tight aggressive manoeuvres. I felt like I was playing limited like it was meant to be played. I felt centred. Then our pod all decided to split because they weren’t assholes. I left the convention centre with a lightness in my heart.

AND A FUCKING STACK OF BOOSTER PACKS. YEAH BOI.

Do you think Natalie Imbruglia enters Tornaments?

I’ve played Magic the Gathering for years. 17 of them to be exact. During all that time I’ve never set foot in a big tournament. I’m strictly casual and a competitive environment doesn’t excite me. The idea of grinding away at opponents in the hopes of being able to make day two of a tourney seems like a great way to welcome disappointment in my life, which has no place in one of my prime leisure activities.

With that out of the way, Grand Prix Toronto starts tomorrow and I’m pretty chuffed. I think the majority of that chuff-ed-ness comes from the fact that I’m not grinding away. I’m planning to pop in and out of the event all weekend. Unlike the pro players assembled from across the globe, I’ve got nothing riding on the weekend. I’m purely going to have a great time, take part in some small side events, trade and get a bunch of EDH games in.

There are draft pods firing off all day, with the chance to finally try out a multiplayer Conspiracy draft. I can do some spectating and see just how degenerate the cEDH format is. Plus the prize payouts are insane, with something like six boosters for a third or fourth placed finish, ten boosters for second and eighteen boosters for first. There’ll also be a bunch of rare stuff for sale/trade and I’ll hopefully be able to pick up a shit ton of stuff for various EDH decks. I miss being able to trade stuff away all the time. In recent years I’ve accumulated a pile of cards I don’t need, but others might. I’m more than happy to offload a heap of rares for a couple of specific rares. Why stockpile tons of cards I’ll never need? There’ll be so many casual players in attendance that I can probably spend hours simply trading and not even playing.

Playing will be fucking great too though. One of the best parts of this game is seeing the variety of decks and strategies that players employ. Interesting, bold and tight lines of play, curious interactions and quick thinking are the bedrock of Magic. A Grand Prix is a world class event and you can bet your arse I’ll be able to find the kinds of players I enjoy facing. There’ll be players who’ve stopped taking the game so seriously, just looking to get in neat interactive games. There’s a higher chance of seeing hard to find commanders in a tuned shell, honed from years of use. I’m sure there are stock lists that people will be running. Your Merens, Nekusar, etc. But there might also be Rasputin Dreamweaver or Diao Chan, Artful Beauty, maybe one of the original Elder Dragons. Hell, it’s even been years since I faced a Norin the Wary deck.

I’m looking forward to spending the weekend in a Magic smorgasbord, picking and choosing how much I want to partake. It’ll be exciting exploring my hobby with others who’re passionate about it. Not to mention the fact that I’ll have friends there to hang out with anyway. Who knows, we might even enter a team event. What’ve we got to lose?

Aside from the event, that is.