Van Dammed if you do…

Every now and again I’ll get some reference stuck in my head and want so badly to find it a home. Of course I’ve got a stable of references ready to saddle up at any time, but not all references are equal. Some are super niche, requiring either a certain unlikely scenario to come to fruition. Elsewise the reference itself might be from something esoteric or lost to the past. Quoting Captain America: The First Avenger isn’t tough, but pulling from the 1990 Captain America film takes some work for very little payoff.

The question is why any of this matters. Ultimately, like most of my content, it doesn’t. Of course I want my references to be out of control, but if I navigated my life without constant pop-cultural quotes, I’d be doing alright in my lil’ Maslow pyramid. I’d probably talk less though. Why I do chase the ‘rush’ of a solid reference is truthfully a matter of pride. It feels fantastic to toss out something obscure and have acknowledgement flow back. It’s like the full body hum of making a room erupt into laughter. There’s nothing quite like the idea that even for a second, you were capable of making people happy. Absolutely nailing a reference has that same sensation, but on a much smaller and more concentrated level. You feel in sync with someone else. There’s this communal feeling of goodwill that exists between you. You’ve called to something hidden in the depths of their memory and that discovery brings them involuntary joy. Then you get to feel special for putting them in touch with it. Like I said, it’s silly and ephemeral, but that doesn’t make it any less of a goddamn delight.

All of this is to say, for the last day or two I’ve been searching every single conversation to drop the “For me, it was Tuesday” bomb.

A friend once laid me low with that very quote and I felt tickled inside and out. It resonated in my heart and mind, both of which grew three sizes (as a side effect, I got smarter). In that moment I felt connection and a certain kind of bliss. I don’t know if I’d attain that same glorious sensation when I imparted it upon someone else, but until I know I’m gonna keep chasing that dragon.

There’s a documented moment of me experiencing this kind of euphoria. In episode 14 of the pawdcast I cast out my net with an “I am Queen’s Boulevard” pull (at least I got something from my love/hatewatch of Entourage) and catch a whale. You can hear the joy in my voice as I reel from a successful delve into the deep. Witnessing that, it’s no wonder that I chase that high any time I can.

Once again, it’s stupid, but I’d be a liar if I said it wasn’t one of my favourite little moments of rapture. Then again, this would be news to nobody who’s read at least one of these entries.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to return some videotapes.

Fingers crossed I get a hold of everything I’m looking for by Dune or July.

The usual disclaimer for Magic the Gathering related posts. I know that yesterday I said maybe come back tomorrow, but I’ve still got shit I want to talk about in Amonkhet, so slow your roll. With that out of the way…

Honoured Hydra – How great is Honoured Hydra? Back in the day I loved Penumbra Wurm to bits. It was 5GG for a 6/6 trample that came back as a black version of itself when it died. That felt pretty fucking gnarly. Honoured Hydra on the other hand feels like a fusion of Penumbra Wurm and Roar of the Wurm. If you want to get the full Penumbra Wurm treatment you get a one mana discount upfront for more mana on the back end. Unlike Penumbra Wurm, Honoured Hydra is flexible. Who doesn’t like self-mill or discard? With Noose Constrictor (and the new minotaur bro Bloodrage Brawler) in standard you can run it just like Roar of the Wurm and have a sweet curve. RG madness in standard? Why not?

Vizier of Remedies – This card is silly good, much better than it looks on first glance. You wouldn’t think it was a combo machine or the second coming of Melira, but it is. It works gangbusters with persist creatures (Aerie Ouphes mean your opponents have no more flying creatures. Glen Elendra Archmage means your opponents don’t get noncreature spells any more) but also goes infinite with my main mana man Devoted Druid (will I ever stop repping his flag?) which Melira can’t do (since the -1/-1 counter is the cost, which Melira prevents you from playing).

Slither Blade – Not super exciting, but it’s hard to get lower for an evasive creature for all your saboteur abilities. Ezuri? Ninja deck? Coastal Piracy? It’s your boa.

Trespasser’s Curse – A common curse you can use to hose that token swarm deck at your table. I mean, that will usually be me, but if I’m not running Aura Shards I probably deserve to get shat on by this.

The Monuments – An uncommon cycle that’s great for EDH, varying in playability. The red one letting you cycle is fucking great. In fact, all the Naya ones are rad. Getting a 1/1 vigilance warrior for every creature you play will stack up. +2/+2 from the green one keep the beats/momentum coming and the trample makes sure it connects. Okay, so the black and blue ones are subpar, but they’re not dominant creature colours anyway.

Embalmer’s Tools – I’m sure this can enable some nifty shit. Reducing the cost of Unearth creatures is nice. Reassembling Skeleton and Bloodsoaked Champion get closer to Gravecrawler, which rocks. Glory and Genesis are way more affordable. I’m no doubt thinking small potatoes here. Also that second ability plays right into Undead Alchemist’s gameplan.

Cascading Cataracts – Failing anything, this means Bring to Light in a non-Experiment Kraj Simic deck can happen. Do with that what you will.

Shefet Monitor – I’m super interested to see how it plays. Krosan Tusker has always been close to an auto-include in a green deck. For one more mana you get the ability to put it straight into play untapped (though losing that one turn could be critical) and flexibility of searching up a Desert card. None of the new Deserts are making me lose my shit, but it could be fun to gain the ability to kill off x/1s with your land as a surprise ambush.

Combat Celebrant – It’s mega fragile, but holy shit will it wreck faces if it has the chance to go off. If you’re playing Naya with Ahn-Crop Champion and Samut, Voice of Dissent, then you’re bringing the pain every turn. From that point, I can only assume there won’t be many more. For the love of Fuck, please don’t do this with Aurelia on the table. Your opponents can only have so many dreams crushed.

Faith of the Devoted/Drake Haven – This is gonna be a neat deck. If you get New Perspectives rolling, you should probably just win. If Archfiend of Ifnir is in play, you’re a straight up nasty person.

Harsh Mentor – I always had a soft spot for Burning-Tree Shaman. I’m hoping this dude will pick up where BTS left off. Maybe I’m a mean person, but I plan on sowing as much salt as possible with Ruric Thar.

This set looks like a fun time for casual deckbuilding. That’s all I’m saying.

Well Nile-ism won’t be my problem any more.

The usual disclaimer for Magic the Gathering related posts. If this isn’t your thing, maybe come back tomorrow.

With that being said, now having seen the full Amonkhet spoiler, it looks like a bounty for the EDH/Commander crowd. There are a bunch of new legends that’re gonna be slung around kitchen tables soon. Zombies, an already popular archetype got a massive push (and potentially a nudge into Esper) and there are some spicy new mythics that’ll hopefully get some play in the format. Enough of that, let’s have a look at what’s got me excited.

Vizier of the Menagerie – Sweet, sweet value card. Future Sight was always busted in half. Have you ever played with one? It’s fucking absurd. God forbid you had a Sensei’s Divining Top or something of the like. Just gross. This Vizier isn’t quite as ridiculous, but chopping three mana off Garruk’s Horde and downsizing it would’ve been sweet enough. Having the ability to peak at your top card at any point is neat (just ask Sphinx of Jwar Isle) and a lot better than you’d imagine. The mana ability isn’t nothing, but it could also be handy from time to time.

Pull from Tomorrow – Seems like an improved Stroke of Genius, a card that was already decent. It’s instant speed draw x and while you discard one, that’s hardly a massive cost. How many EDH decks don’t have some cards they’d like in the graveyard? By the time you’ve drawn 4 or 5, you probably don’t mind tossing one or even filtering something you’d had in your hand already. Double thumbs up.

Heart-Piercer Manticore – Creature based removal is always something we want more of. Attaching a fling to a creature is sweet, but giving it embalm for double the fun gets even better. Plus it’s an optional ability, so if your floor is a 4cc 4/3 that’s not terrible. Not great in EDH, but you’re not crying either. Considering the number of times you’ll throw your otherwise chump blocked 15/15 at someone’s face, it’s probably worth the odds.

Harvest Season – YES. THIS IS WORT I’M TALKING ABOUT. In that it’s going straight into Wort the Raidmother. The floor on this (with conspire) is basically four basics for 2G. After you’ve already convoked another spell, you’re looking at eight lands for 2G. Anywhere up from that is straight up nuts and you should probably just go win.

Insult//Injury – While we’re talking Wort, how does quad damage for 2R sound? Follow that up with any x spell or alpha strike and you should probably win. If somehow you also Fork/Mirari/Reverberate it, then shit has gotten way past real.

Mouth//Feed – While we’re talking Aftermath cards, how rad is it that there’s now a card in magic called Mouth. That’s it, Mouth. Get your 3/3 hippo. It’s not a remarkable card, but it’s silly and fine, if it comes attached with a mini Collective Unconscious. It should get play in EDH.

Samut, Voice of Dissent – Flash, double strike, vigilance, haste, haste for the team. If that wasn’t enough, she has a rad untap effect (that’s also relevant with the haste, if you want to cast her as a six drop for a surprise ambush). Most players don’t realise how excellent it is to have a creature based haste enabler, but she does the job and then some. My only minor grip is that she’s not straight Gruul so I could slot her into Ruric Thar.

Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons – Okay, so the deck is super linear, but I’m making it. Shadowmoor/Eventide were fucking great and playing around with -1/-1 synergies was kick ass. I’m only too happy to dive back in, except now I get to double up on the Flourishing Defences with Scarab Nest. Swarms and sac fodder everywhere. Wickerbough Elder, perennial favourite mana dork Devoted Druid (ramp to 5 on turn 3. DOO IT), Grim Poppet and Mikaeus of the Unhallowed. Also I’m gonna throw in a Mazirek suite because I’ve always wanted to do those kind of dickish things.

Throne of the God-Pharaoh – Solid, solid card. Rewards you for turning your critters sideways. THE BEST PART OF MAGIC. Whether it’s getting more reach in your UW Merfolk deck, an elfball deck or some aggro concoction, this thing will routinely do three or four damage at the end of each of your turns. Sometimes a ton more.

Annointed Procession – It’s always great to double up on your doubling effects, and I’m sure Parallel Lives was due for some kind of reprint. If you’re running a GW token deck, you just got a big boost. There you go Trostani, Rhys, Ghave, etc. As if you needed new toys.

Shadow of the Grave – If anything in this set has seemed like it could enable truly busted shenanigans, I think it’s this card. At its worst it lets you double up on some kid of Wild Mongrel style creature for the kill. At best you play it post wheel and your opponents cry.

Ugh, I’ve gotta go pick a friend up from the airport, but I feel like I’m not even halfway done. This may not be the last you hear on this.

If I don’t emerge for a few weeks, does that make the game aptly named?

My teen years were filled to the brim with the obligatory angst and unrequited amorous desire. Time and time again I’d decide on the basis of one interaction that I’d found my soul mate. Confirmation bias would only affirm this belief. Then I’d find out she was into someone else and repeat the process all over. In all my time at high school, only one of my great loves ever gave back: Diablo 2.

I sunk hours into that game night by night. I was exceedingly more studious about it than French, without a doubt (c’est vrai). It took years of my life, until the expansion pack came out and that took the rest. I played the campaign again and again, trying out all of the characters, teaming up with friends late into school nights to crawl dungeons, hopeful for rare or unique treasures. It was a blast and, as with most games, way more fun before we got into any of that min/maxing shit.

After a conversation with some brunch ambushing friends (they keep turning up randomly at spots my girlfriend and I drop into), I remembered that Diablo 2‘s spiritual successor (which surprisingly wasn’t Diablo 3) existed. Path of Exile. It’s a hack and slash RPG made by an independent NZ game studio. It’s totally free to play, with optional micro-transactions that’re only cosmetic. Say you want a little dragon that walks behind you (but doesn’t influence the game state at all?) or your armour to glow bright pink? That can happen for a tiny fee, but none of this play to win shit.

Path of Exile has a monstrous amount of depth, even ignoring the “for a free to play game” addendum. It’s a mash up of game mechanics that’ve worked in the past, smooshed into an intuitive yet complex amalgam. You choose a character, which is basically picking a character skin and being placed at a certain point on the passive skills tree (which is basically the junction system from Final Fantasy X). So you’d have your Marauder (Strength), Ranger (Dexterity) and Witch (Intelligence), then hybrid classes that bridge the gaps. You can follow the passive tree any way you want, offering huge flexibility. Active skills are conferred by gems, that gain experience as you do. All items have coloured sockets that will hold corresponding gem colours. Sometimes sockets will link, allowing you to slot in support gems, that buff the active gems in the same item. It sounds very complicated, but makes a ton of sense as you play.

When you do start playing, it’s a shit ton of fun. Being made in New Zealand, the voice actors all have NZ accents (though varying in severity). Elements of Maori culture have been incorporated, which feels wicked to see represented onscreen. The game can be both serious and goofy as fuck. The character I put together, a summoner, runs around using necrotic magic. She raises zombies and skeletons. There’s a spell that summons Nic Cage as Ghost Rider style floating flaming heads and another that animates weapons to fight for me. A typical battle involves a couple of undead bros flanked by flying flaming heads and hovering dirks, clubs and polearms battering down my foes. I’m sure the game will get a lot harder soon, but for now it’s a riot.

Speaking of which, I’ve gotta go. In the spirit of Diablo 2, I’m gonna raise some hell.

If you prefer your recommendations a little against the grain.

As I kid, I used to abhor live action television. Believe me, it wasn’t that I lacked for things to watch, but with the exception of puppetry, live action shows seemed boring as fuck. Why would you be bound by the limitations of physical actors when cartoons could be anything? I wanted dinosaurs, super heroes and robots and I wanted them always & forever. These days I watch barely any animated content, but my abstinence from flesh and blood actors lasted waaaay into my teens. I feel like I was probably 16 or 17 before I started watching prime time TV and I have no idea what pulled me in. Still, as a teenage I watched way more TV than I do now. What was I watching? Anime. LOADS of anime. I watched so much anime that I started getting desperate and watched some weird stuff. The kinds of anime you’d never expect would exist. Here are two (of the many):

BECK (Mongolian Chop Squad)

The show has nothing to do with the American recording artist of the same name. I already listened to Beck before I started watching and to be honest, it was more out of a bizarre curiosity over licensing/copyright. What was the show even about? Because there’s now way it’d be an animated retelling of the creation of Odelay. What I found was a slice of life anime about a disillusioned Japanese 14 year old nerd slowly becoming obsessed with rock music. It caught me at a time where I’d been going through similar motions and found solace in the sense of community music could bring. This show chronicles his rise and rise, facing hardships but ultimately working his way up to the big time.

I suppose it worked on a similar model to Twilight: Create a central character who’s an empty but relatable shell and suck in lonely viewers to identify with them. I got sucked in hard and started to really cheer for this character. Once I was there, the series was abound with these huge moments of triumph where the stakes pay off. You’re driven to hope for the character’s success and seeing him overcome adversity delivers this huge emotional reward. It may have been a case of this show finding me at exactly the right moment to become a perfect viewing experience, but I absolutely adored it.

Yakitate!! Japan

I often balk at watching a show when I hear it has 24 episodes. It feels like a massive time commitment. Then I remember that I once watched a 69 episode anime series about a kid who bakes bread. The show starts out relatively innocently, but within a few episodes it leans hard on the farce pedal and floors it to the end. The premise is that the central character has this unnatural power where his hands are a few degrees warmer than most people’s. He uses this ability in his quest to become a master baker, since his breads begin to bake even while he’s kneading them. It has a league of increasingly ridiculous characters with all manner of special abilities that aid their bread baking prowess. It very quickly becomes an ode to dumb japanese puns, as the central character aims to create a national bread of Japan, the Ja-pan (“pan” being the Japanese word for bread). Whenever I talk of this show, I’m always quick to point out how utterly absurd it is, and how much goddamn fun too. Somehow it keeps you holding on right till the end without dragging, including a bunch of interesting baking knowledge in there too.  If you want something carefree and delightful to watch, bun appetite!

I hope at least one of you checks these out, because my next few days will inevitably be spent youtubing BECK songs. They’re where it’s at.

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.