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.

No man is an I LAN.

Are LAN parties dead? A relic of 56K modems? Left in the dust by Steam’s handy functionality? X-Box Live supplanting the need for proximity co-op gaming? Do we sound the keening bell in lament of fond memories? Of late nights and tired eyes? Of Red Bulls and caffeine pills? Of companionship born out of necessity? All laid to rest at the altar of a new age.

Without sarcasm, I can say that LAN parties were some of the highlights of my teen years. I’d pack my bulky desktop computer and CRT screen into a large rubbermaid and bug my parents for a lift to a friend’s place. Typically their parents would be out of town. While other kids would be conducting Risky Business, we’d get hopped up on sugar and play video games until our eyes bled.

It was the natural evolution of sleep overs, but with added ixnay on the sleeping. You’d maybe catch a couple of hours if you were lucky, optimal downtime to leech video games, movies, music and anime off others. If your computer was gonna be out of use for three hours, why not let yourself recover? Much like sleepovers, LANs offered the optimal outlet for a good D&M (Deep and Meaningful chat) about who you had the hots for, typical teenage gloating and all sorts of angsty shit. Unless a game was in progress, of course.

What games? Whatever was in the nerdcore zeitgeist, in as much as we could all run it. We tended to cater to whoever had the lower spec’d rig (usually me). Starcraft was a common favourite, making sure we evenly divided skill level across teams. A few years later Warcraft 3 was Le Jeu Du Jour. We’d mess around on Heroes 3, Counterstrike (NO FUCKING AWP CAMPERS) or if I begged enough we’d give the much maligned Ricochet a try (I mainly loved the death sound). Star Wars: Jedi Knight was awesome. While we began by tearing apart one another with guns, eventually we learned how much fun it was to go HAM at one another with lightsabers and force push/pull. You could deflect bullets and turn opponents’ attacks back on themselves. Who wouldn’t want to play a recurring game of stop hitting yourself?

Aliens vs Predator 2 was possibly one of the best multiplayer experiences I ever had, primarily because one of my friends Lost His Shit Constantly. We’d play survival mode, in which we started out with one xenomorph and everyone else was human. Whenever you died, you became a xenomorph and hunted down the humans in a pack. Our friend would constantly be in a palpable state of terror, literally screaming and borderline hyperventilating. I think he enjoyed it, though clearly not as much as we did.

As we aged, contraband got folded into the equation. Someone would always have an older brother or lax parent. LAN parties continued to help us unwind, while also resembling very real parties. We’d trade silly Newgrounds videos and obscure internet phenomena. If someone was temporarily absent, we’d go through their computers in search of their hidden porn stash. Or anything else equally incriminating. There was rarely any bullying, but friendly ribbing was a mainstay. Functionally it allowed a bunch of us to spend a large block of time together without having to part ways.

I don’t know what modern experience would emulate LAN parties. Do kids these days hang out with tablets? Does Nintendo Switch fill the void? Or do they get their kicks at their respective homes all playing Overwatch? As an adult, this seems like a hard sell. People enjoy going home to their beds and pets. Friendships seem emotionally closer, but less time intensive. Would people want to spend that long in a basement, huddled around computers? Or does that remind us too much of being at work?

Not as much of a cultural exchange as he’d hoped then?

In my post yesterday about getting back into Magic drafts, there was one element I left out. I forgot to mention the people. For better or (often) worse, they’re a big part of any local game store environment. Like any self respecting neighbourhood swill-hole, you get regulars. Given that it’s a staple of nerd culture, you get weird and wonderful people from across the geeky spectrum. I preface this by noting that the majority of patrons are very normal people who enjoy a hobby. Those who stand out, however, shine their stars so bright as to drown out the rest. Who did I encounter yesterday?

First up: The chatterbox. I sat down next to this guy to see if he had any trades. He didn’t, but he did have many things to share. He let me know that he was returning to the game after an absence. He told me the vast array of other card games he’s played. He let me know each and every one of his hiatuses from Magic over the years. He informed me about the scene, or lack thereof in Brampton. He said all of this in about a minute flat. I was groggy and this was a rude awakening. After a couple of minutes his friend showed up. His friend was just a normal, friendly dude and seemed aware of how much his mate blabbered. I kind of wanted to leave in search of trades while they hung out, but the draft was set to kick off at any minute. So I stayed and the chatterbox told me all about the draft he did the other day. When I say all about his draft, I mean that he said something about each of the cards he’d drafted while I stared into oblivion. The draft started soon after and he continued to pass commentary on every card he’d drafted. There were eight people in the pod. I heard from him, his friend (who quickly started tossing sass at all the dumb comments he was making) and one or two newbies who genuinely were asking for help.

Guess who my first round opponent was? It became quickly evident that he wasn’t really a great player. He telegraphed this by complaining constantly about how the game was going, how unlucky he was at every juncture and so on. I offered to give him some advice on the conventions of the format if he wanted to rebuild his deck for our second game. He denied and said that he’d built his deck right. He clearly hadn’t. I let it slide and took the easy win.

Second round was a lovely dude who’d gotten back into the game after a massive absence. He played pretty well, though didn’t quite understand the format. After the game I gave him a little advice which he took to heart. He tracked me down later in the day to say thanks, that he was doing much better.

During my next draft, I faced a jovial fellow who resignedly admitted that he kept drafting the same deck. It looked pretty strong. There were some neat synergies and I was convinced I was getting outplayed. I had to mulligan to five cards (instead of seven) in the first game, but managed to squeak out a win. The second game I mulliganed down to four and was crushed as he drowned me in card advantage. We chatted as we played and he seemed really friendly. I failed to find enough lands but still brought him down to six life. In the last game I kept a grip of seven and trounced him. He admitted that while his deck looked great, it was actually horrible and had no removal.

My next opponent was eleven years old, the age I was when I started. I’d seen his mum drop him and a friend off. It took me back to my early days at my local game store. He was a smart kid and made some solid strategic decisions. I let him do a couple of take backs, but to be honest his threat assessment and understanding of board state was excellent. Him and his friend were so excited. They’d pulled some good cards and were really invested in getting as much as they could out of the experience. He was super polite and I made sure he knew he wasn’t under any pressure, that he could take time with the game to make the right calls. He asked me after each game if there were any decisions he could’ve made differently, so as to improve his play style. As someone who’s been hanging around these kind of environments for going on 20 years now, my heart grew several sizes seeing such a positive attitude in a young kid. I hope both him and his friend continue getting that much out of the game. Also the last game was a lot closer than you’d expect.

My final opponent had been in Toronto for a week. He was about to graduate with a law degree back home in Brazil, but he’d taken a special elective on exchange in Canada. He was studying scientific law in English, which he said was a specialised field on account of the dense legalese and technobabble. A skilled, but chilled player. Our games were down to the wire and, if not for some good ol’ fashioned mana screw in my last game, I could’ve probably just squeaked through the win. He told me a bit about the scene back home, how it varied. I asked him about the local players back home, if they ran the full gamut from socially astute to inept.

“Of course” he said “this is Magic we’re talking about, right?”

Oddly enough, it’s the one aspect of Magic I probably don’t need to explain to jocks.

Magic the Gathering post. Be aware, here be dragons, etc.

Unless you’re into that kind of thing.

It’s been a while since I’ve drafted. It used to be a sort of Sunday ritual. Like church, but in a game where you summon demons, hydras and fuzzy little agents of terror. Booster draft. It’s a format where eight people open boosters, pick a card and pass the pack to their left. Players continue to pick cards from each booster that comes their way until all of the packs have been picked clean. Then they each open a new pack and continue the process, passing to the right this time. They open one more booster, passing to the right and by that point they should have enough cards to put together a deck. It’s often referred to as “limited”, as the decks are usually temporary. Players take them apart after they’ve played a few rounds with them. When I used to play on Sundays at my local game store Vagabonds in Takapuna (R.I.P. Vagabonds), other players would pay for my entry and get the cards I won. It was a sweet deal. I usually did alright, I didn’t have to pay a cent and my “sponsor” got the prizes.

A store here in Toronto was doing $10 draft till you drop to celebrate the release of the new set. You got a nifty promo card just for playing, and a draft for $10 (which is pretty cheap). If you won the pod (single round elimination between eight players (so from one to three matches)), you got entry into another draft free. Drafting is fun, you get the chance to open flashy, expensive cards (the game’s half lottery) and create powerful/synergistic/goofy decks. With such a low buy-in, it was a super casual environment. Most players split in the finals, meaning that if you won two matches, you and your third round opponent could agree to halve the prize. Since a draft was $10 to start with, it meant that if you were halfway decent you could do draft after draft for $5, which is an insane deal (since packs are usually $3 each).

Starting things off with a bang, I opened an invocation version of Omniscience. Invocations are special foiled versions of often popular cards. They’re incredibly rare. The odds of pulling an invocation are around one in 144 packs. If you’re drafting, you get three packs. So chance odds to open one of the 20 invocations are once every 48 drafts. The 20 invocations in this set range from around $20-$100. I pulled one that’s worth $70-$80. It’s not the most expensive piece of cardboard in the game, but it’s pretty up there. So go me.

I did well in my games too. I kept a) drafting green, b) opening Overcome (a powered down Overrun is still pretty damn great) and c) doing better than I expected, especially since I wasn’t drafting well. Signals were weird, given a bunch of new players. It made it harder to understand how the colours were flowing at the table. First round I put together a GB deck that had consistent three drops, three or so bits of removal and a chunky high end on my curve. Turns out sometimes if you keep hitting your land drops, playing solid creatures and attacking, you can win games. Round two I had a super aggressive RG deck with standouts like Earthshaker Khenra, Ambuscade and other great removal. Once again, I got to the final round and split.

My last draft didn’t totally come together. I started out GB again, then pivoted into GU after seeing how free the colour pair was. I had a bunch of super solid creatures on the ground, two Aerial Guide, three Ambuscade, Ramunap Hydra and two Unquenchable Thirst. I figured that removal plus evasion would equal wins, but I got mana screwed a bunch of times and couldn’t beat my opponent’s aggressive RW deck.

Altogether, I got to play three rounds of draft, picking up a couple of rad cards along the way and an absurdly valuable rare. I technically made money on my investment, which is funny considering I was using store credit from a card I traded in last week. My habit is paying for itself. If Vegas has told me anything, it’s time to take the money and run.

The CRA just paid me $9. I’mma go hogwild!

Do you ever have those days almost entirely spent waiting to hear back from other people? Where you’ve made plans contingent on forces outside your control? You can’t make x move until y condition is met, etc? Friends of mine just sold their house, so I know they have explicit understanding of my situation. I finally got my confirmation, which is excellent. It would’ve been double-plus excellent if it came through before 5pm instead of spending the whole day stressing. I’ve unlocked the ability to move onto the next stages of my balancing act, at least for one of my many spinning plates. Enough about all that. Venting about stress is only fun for so long. On a long enough timeline, ranting about it’s gonna make me sound like a legit grown up. I don’t want to accidentally stress you all out in my stead.

Toronto Fringe has started, which means I’m girlfriendless for the next two weeks. No doubt the plot of every 90s bloke comedy has led to to believe it’ll be non-stop testosterone fuelled shenanigans from here to fortnight’s end. Since I’m not drinking right now, my guess is that rediscovering video games is about as lewd and raucous as it’s gonna get. Grab meals and catch up with my long neglected friends. I might even hang out and watch movies with friends. Not even porn, just gruesome horror (the line between is infinitely slim though), if I get my way. Possibly venture out of the house to see some theeeeuhtuuuuuh. No orgies, bar brawls, drug benders or world domination on the docket. How many nights in a row do you think hookers and blow stay fun? At some point you’re gonna want to watch Netflix and come down. Maybe eat some cheese.

The honest truth of my disinterest in rocking out with my proverbial (or literal) cock out is that I don’t feel like I’m being liberated from anything. I’m not stuck in some stifling relationship with a “ball and chain”. We’re a couple of individuals smushed together in a relationship. We have our own hobbies and friends. Given our already split schedules, it’s not like we’re seeing a ton of each other as it is. I love hanging out with her and adventuring together, but I’m also just as happy doing my own thing. I’ve got more than enough ways to kill time and frankly, not having to factor someone else into my plans makes it a lot easier to get shit done.

Plus it’s way easier going to sleep alone. Perhaps I can start catching up on my twenties’ worth of sleep that I skipped.

I’m a long way from Tipperary.

I miss how I used to listen to music. Anyone who knows my burning hatred of physical media should understand that I’m not directly talking about the little red My First Sony Walkman I got for my 6th birthday with a “Simpsons Sing the Blues” cassette (though that was several layers of bitchin’). The way I miss music listening is on a more abstract level. I miss how personal music listening used to feel.

Music hasn’t changed, I have. The distribution methods have. Perhaps it could simply be a case of scarcity. With the advent, nay proliferation, of streaming technology there’s no reason why you wouldn’t be listening to whatever you want whenever you desire it. The sheer quantity of music is limitless. Artists’ entire discographies within a few clicks. You can go from never having heard of a musician to devouring everything they ever produced in a number of hours. The framework now gives you more music than you have time to absorb. It’s easier than ever to explore new music, but if you’re anything like me, that brings with it guilt over repeated listens in order to know a new album inside and out. I’m willing to admit this is most likely a personal rather than widespread issue. I’m not even sure it’s an issue in the first place.

At age 14 I “discovered” music listening and it awakened something in me. Imagine one day discovering that eating was something humans did and becoming instantly famished. I was ravenous and desperate. These were the days of Napster, so I begun downloading tracks like crazy. I’d latch onto bands I liked and seek out others with a similar sound. I made mix CDs with pretentious names and had them on constant rotation. I knew track orders by heart. I experimented with sculpting  ebbs and flows. Making tracks together shape moods. I got into albums, enjoying the cohesion of tracks stacked in a deliberate fashion, as to curate a listening experience. Through rote, I knew every single track by heart in order, knew all the lyrics. I devoted so much of my brain to music archiving that I’m surprised I had any room left for school work.

This issue has less to do with the availability of music than it does an economy of scale. Let’s not pretend that I committed all 60GB of my first iPod to memory. You could just as easily tie it to shifting values with age too. At 30 the social capital of encyclopedic music knowledge has plummeted, especially when we all have pocket computers. I’d kill for that earnest enthusiasm though. The excitement that came with a new album release, dissecting and analysing the song composition, lyrics, track structure. These days there are several new bands each week, plus 2018 seems to be when all my favourite 2008-2010 acts are putting out new albums. It’s not possible to keep up and the thought of doing so is so daunting that it doesn’t feel worth trying. How did I have the time? I kept up with TV shows, video games and was always on top of the freshest music. What didn’t I have in my life then that I do now?

Oh, that’s right. I was single and barely slept for most of my early 20s. That’d do it.

Good things happen to those who… wait…

I need to start writing now, otherwise I know how the next half hour will play out. I’ll tab between Facebook, Reddit and Twitter, ostensibly looking for something to write about. Realistically, it’ll be procrastination by any other name. I’ll go to the toilet even if I have no need. Maybe stand there and shake it in case something comes out. I’ll refill my water bottle, even if I’m not thirsty. You can never be too sure. Plus if I have water to drink, that’d justify future procrastibatory toilet trips. I can’t forget the kitchen, because that’d be on the menu big time. There’s nothing like opening a fridge to forage for snacks, finding nothing, then checking the pantry to no avail. Lather, rinse, repeat. Maybe I’d be lucky and find a pickle or something. Cheese would also be a hot ticket item. Realistically I know I’m more likely to leave having consumed a spoon of some spread (be it peanut butter, cottage cheese, honey or marmite). Having completed that noble quest, I’d return to the keyboard and continue refreshing Facebook.

As always, it’s a challenge to put words on the page when there’s nothing urgent or exciting going on. It’s a Friday night and I’m at home with no immediate plans. I’d tried to set up hang out time with friends, but with that having fallen through, the amount of energy I want to put into shaping tonight is minimal. I’m helping friends move a ton of stuff into storage tomorrow, so a big night is less desirable. Plus I’m not drinking until Tough Mudder. Oh, and I’m cutting out bread-y things and most sweets too. Why? Because having fun clearly was overrated. It might seem overkill, but I’ve forever been dreadful at moderation. Saying no in an absolute sense makes it a lot easier than falling prey to my ability to justify eating delicious things purely because they’re delicious. I’m not demonising sugary or fatty foods, just my ability to consistently eat things that aren’t them. SUMMER OF NO FUN IT IS.

Alternatively I could put together a list of things I’d like to do in lieu of “anything fun”. Considering the money I’ll save by not drinking, I could do some rad stuff. A bucket list for the next two and a half months before Tough Mudder, eh? Let’s see what I could get up to…

  • Sleep in a tent. I’ve got a cottage weekend away with friends planned, which’d be a good chance to knock this one off.
  • Go for a long bike ride. I don’t own a bike, but I’d sure they’re easy enough to borrow or rent. I’ve always been interested in biking through the Don Valley parkway. It was a nice walk that looked way more enjoyable on wheels.
  • Flying trapeze. I used to love flying trapeze. The only place I know that offers drop in classes offers them on Fridays at 7pm. It’s a bit of a hike and with work finishing at 5pm, it’d be tight getting there in time. We’ve got summer hours at the moment, which means we can leave early on a Friday. Why not take advantage of it and give it a swing?
  • Improv classes. Well this one’s cheating, ’cause I signed up the other day. I’m taking a weekly class for two months in the hopes that it’ll help me brush up on my front-of-brain skills. I’ve got no illusions of becoming a performer, but there are myriad ways improv skills could help in my everyday life.
  • Cook something special. I have no idea what yet, but this summer is the perfect time to flex my culinary muscles and try a dish I’ve never done before. Something that intimidates me. I could try home made sushi, fresh laksa, make my own ice cream, some kind of extravagant mushroom pasta.
  • Get back into indoor Rock Climbing.
  • Try an epic hike with friends.
  • Rent a car and visit a small town with my girlfriend. Stay in a cute little B&B owned by lovely old people. Desecrate the room with filthy sex.
  • Finally get around to re-watching There Will Be Blood.

Endless opportunity abounds if only I put my mind to it. Or more accurately, if I can stop procrastinating for once.