Tour on TO.

I heard from a friend today that she’s thinking of stopping off in Toronto for a couple of days. Naturally, this is fantastic news. It’s always excellent to see good friends from far and away. Even better when you have the home court advantage. If she does come, it’ll be over Easter weekend, which has its pros and cons. I didn’t have any big plans over the weekend, so spending quality time with a good mate trumps anything else. It’s also during a time where I naturally have time off. Another plus. On the other side, I’m worried that Toronto may slow down over Zombie Jesus’ Cave Time. What if nothing’s on? How am I supposed to show her the best that Toronto has going for it, if there’s nothing going on? She’s coming from London (the good one) for fuck’s sake. How am I supposed to one up that?

Let’s work on a wish list. What ideally would I love to show her about Toronto?

  • Weird movie screening: Maybe something at The Royal, The Carlton or The Revue. Local cinemas working together with niche community groups to give the public access to lesser known filmic works. If there’s anything by Exploding Zebra or The Midnight Society, The MUFF Society, etc. Perhaps some horror film fest or an interesting TIFF screening/Q&A session.
  • Food: Always food. Toronto has several cities’ fair share of brunch spots with a ton of options for all diets. She’s vegetarian and Toronto will provide. Failing anything, it’s another excuse to get Ethiopean, as if I ever need one. Spring will come with a ton of pop-ups. There are also the regular spots like Bang Bang/Bakerbots, Sweet Jesus (thematic) and everything Kensington has to offer. Oh wait, how could I forget poutine? It’s Canadian food incarnate.
  • Bars: So many theme bars here, and surprisingly few I’ve checked out. As a local, you rarely explore your own backyard much. Why not put paid to that idea and dig around? I’ve never been to Eat My Martini or Nightowl. The hubbub surrounding “Harry Potter Bar” The Lockhart has probably died down by now. Get Well is always the best and I haven’t been in aaaages. the Get Well owned bar Greater Good has opened up close to me and I’ve still not stopped in for a pint. Not to mention great local breweries like Blood Brothers and Bellwoods. There’s so much excellent alcohol on offer.
  • Shows: There’s always some type of performance going on in Toronto. There’s a vibrant art scene between the visual arts, theatre, dance and more abstract stuff. Could she be interested in a themed burlesque show? Comedy gigs, whether improv or sketch? An offering from one of the many talented local theatre companies? An exhibition or gallery? Art battles or cooking competitions?
  • Dance: The anachronistic charms of Chronologic? Disco vibes of Beam Me Up? Guilty pleasure pop? K-POP? Queer femme hip hop? MTV Throwback? Whatever she’s into, like good beer, it’s probably on tap.
  • Funtivities: Escape rooms? Axe throwing? The Rage Room? Archery Tag? An escape event at Casa Loma?
  • Oh the Places to go: Toronto Island/Hanlans, The Beaches, Trinity Bellwoods, The Distillery District, Evergreen Brick Works.

Really though, it’s not about what I want to show her, but what she’s into seeing. First and foremost, is she even coming? If not, nothing’s stopping me from doing any of this stuff.

Y’know, Toronto’s quite something when you think about it.

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?

It’s Go time again.

Am I gonna need to start packing a portable cell charger again? Pokémon Go is back! Bursting back onto the screens of former and present addicts alike, there are 80 new generation two pokémon to catch. It’d been a while since I’d loaded up the app for several reasons:

  • When I tried, I’d never get past the loading screen.
  • It’s the middle of winter, it’s been too cold to use a phone outside without those dorky smartphone gloves (and I lost mine).
  • The game kind of lost its appeal when it became endless grinding.
  • With work no longer 5km away, I couldn’t jog and play on the way.

Half of these excuses are still relatively relevant. Amazingly this morning, however, when I opened the app I actually got all the way to the play screen. Callooh callay! Within a couple of minutes I’d already found my first new pokémon; a Swinub. Pretty apt that a ground/ice pokémon is all over Toronto in the darkest heart of winter. It was almost emotional, getting reacquainted with this game that had totally absorbed me six months ago. Then I got reacquainted with all the bugs (glitches, not just Spinarak swarms). To be fair, the game only crashed 18 times today. I’m used to a 3-5 minute crash rate on average. I’ve written it off as part of the experience. Sometimes you’ve got to be diligent with things that are important to you. I get past the log screen in about a quarter of my attempts. Often a pokéstop will be enough to hang the game. Or trying to catch pokémon from a moving bus. Or rotating the screen too quickly. Or clicking basically any button. In short, playing the game isn’t too dissimilar from the dial-up porn experience. Once again, if you want something enough, you’ll wait. To be honest, the issues are probably either with my outmoded phone or slow mobile data plan. The price you pay for cheap, unlimited internet. Is it worth getting a new phone to run a mobile game better? Probably not. I’ll wait till this one dies.

Now the fun parts. New pokémon are everywhere. Seriously. So many shadowy outlines showing up in the tracker. Oh, that’s another thing. The tracker function is fucking tight. They’ve finally fixed it up and it works exactly like it should. A screen pops up with nine pokémon and the landmarks they’re near. Then if you click on the footsteps underneath the pokémon’s entry it’ll show you where that landmark is. It leads you directly to them, what more could you want? Surely there’s no need for online trackers any more? I can’t wait to get out there once the snow melts and run around.

There seem to be new items too. Two new berries with different effects. The nanab berries (they look like little pink bananas) slow the pokémon you’re trying to catch down. They’ll do their animations less often (always a pain in the ass if it’s a tough catch and they keep swatting your balls away). Pinap berries (a cross between a pineapple and a pinecone) seem sweet as. They’ll double the candy output when you catch the pokémon. If you’re desperate to evolve something, you could seriously cut down your required catches. Maybe I’ll finally evolve my starters after all.

The big guess is what all these new pokémon will do to battle tiers. We’ve got two new eveelutions, which could hopefully unseat some of the dominant heavy hitters. Is there anything that can deal with dragons? Any new ice types? Tyranitar was always a beast in the original games. How about Blissey as a defender? It always had so much goddamn life. How does battling even work any more? Did they balance movesets? Have certain attacks been nerfed? Does any of this actually matter any more? I have no idea.

But I intend to find out.

Wait, I’m a “snowflake”? Have you looked outside?

With Toronto covered in a gentle blanket of snowfall, there’s very little that holds allure other than keeping cozied up inside. Retreat sounds like a fantastic word right now, seclusion from the world around. It’s a shitshow out there, but being holed up at home with central heating, food and internet is nothing of the sort. I’ve been thinking of the concept of retreat a lot lately, but divested of the notion of defeat. Retreat as a pre-emptive measure, taking time to reassess and recuperate. Seeking simple comforts, a luxury in this world where some people have so little. When comfort comes to my mind, however, there’s one sensation that rises to the top. Nostalgia.

As I’ve mentioned over the past few weeks, I’ve been falling back into old habits. Playing more Magic, listening to some of my more formative musical fixations. I’ve been thinking fondly of the video games/systems I so obsessed over as a kid. Sega Mega Drive, N64, old MAME style fighting games and side scrolling beat ’em ups. This regression feels symptomatic of a subconscious sense of loss, longing even. I’m casting my mind back to a time where I felt overwhelmed by the world around me, but excited rather than weary. Before cynicism kicked in. The future seemed so far away, but shiny and hopeful. Now that we’re in a future, it’s hard to look past how far the world has slipped. It’s hard to hold an unfettered hope for continual progress when the Netflix release of a Dear White People series prompts a #whitegenocide response. I guess nobody said we’d all evolve in the same direction.

My desire to reengage interests from when I last felt the world held nothing but promise makes sense, much as it disappoints me. I should be moving forwards instead of looking back. The answers aren’t gonna come from hiding away from the world. Still, this is why YA fiction has a massive adult fan base. It’s why we continue to watch shows with twentysomethings playing 16 year olds. A longing for a time when things were different, when responsibility meant that at the end of the day, your parents had your back. When the world was unfair because you might get roped into a family dinner instead of hanging out with friends. Seems leagues better than the potential of being refused entry to the U.S. because you won’t hand over your social media passwords.

I’ve been reading Max Landis’ leaked Power Rangers film script. It’s not perfect, but seems the natural evolution of the 90s franchise. It’s PG-13 material while still having an edge. It’s got humour and creativity while still paying homage to the goofy mess of camp that Power Rangers once was. It has unexpected twists and more characterisation than we’re likely to see from this solemn blockbuster treatment. I’m happy to be proven wrong (and they’ll still probably get my fucking money. Bastards), but outlook not so good. Reading the script of an IP I adored as a kid felt neat. I didn’t feel totally pandered to, more that I’d consumed a script written with deep enthusiasm for the subject matter. Landis may act a little entitled at times, but when he nails it he nails it.

I’m sure we could chalk this one up to SAD and leave it at that. At the same time there’s an obvious correlation between lack of direction and seeking out our anchors. What last made me happy? How do I bring that feeling back? How do I head towards it while still moving forwards? We live in that future now, surely we can bring the past along with us.

Still waiting for the kind-hearted pirate doctor film Eye Patch Adams.

In lieu of anything important going on right now, here are some short snippets.

  • I was really tired this morning, so for the first time since I returned to Canada I had coffee. It perked me up instantly and I was so confident that I peed in the middle urinal. If you weren’t sure already, that’s a ballsy move. I basically deserve a medal.
  • I haven’t been going out a ton. It’s been nice for a change. It’s also been a nice change for my wallet. My tuna/cracker lunches have been simple and cheap, saving a ton on lunchtime meals. I guess I’m paying for it in mercury poisoning. Next time everyone starts complaining about their mercury being in retrograde, it’ll be a very real concern for me.
  • Being a hermit has also meant I’m not shelling out for alcohol and meals. It’s a massive difference. Consequently my Magic the Gathering expenditure has gone way up. Suddenly it feels simple to be more blasé about spending money on something I want. It’s like wait, I can get all of these things I’ll use for ages and it’ll cost me less than the price of three beers? In short, I don’t know if I’m really saving any money. Net result zero.
  • I’ve done a few RPM classes at the gym lately as a way of getting in winter cardio. RPM people are different from normal gym people (though when have gym people ever been normal?). There are the hyper dudes who always pull their sleeves up and leave puddles on the ground beneath their bikes. Good on you for the effort, but if you’re that anti-sleeves, why not buy a tank top or something? I’m also unsure about the level of commitment required to buy those clip-in shoes. I guess if you’re a career RPMist you probably get more pull from them? How much do they help? Also what kind of disposable income do you have (that’s not already going to Magic cards)? Also what was with the woman who spent half the class looking at her phone? If something on your phone was that important, wouldn’t the lights, music and instructor be really distracting? Also how good was your subterranean reception? I need your plan.
  • Speaking of RPM, having heavily worked quads sure makes sex an uphill battle. It’s like a post-workout workout.
  • Apparently weather is so crummy today that we have freezing rain. I don’t know precisely what freezing rain is (though I could guess), but it sounds like a made up sci-fi concept. You know in Flash Gordon how Ming the Merciless is using his weather changing machine to plague planets with such nefarious ordeals as “hot hail”? Freezing rain sounds a lot like that.
  • The bathrooms at work have two toilet roll holders in each stall. While this sounds unremarkable, it’s actually amazing. No longer do we need to battle between over and under orientation. Instead, both sides are represented. Is this a recipe for world peace?
  • At work they have a TV on in the background screening Global TV. During the day it plays Days of our Lives, which isn’t notable. What is notable, is that there’s a long running character who looks like Snake Plissken. I guess he escaped from LA only to find himself in Salem. Today’s episode had a masquerade ball, which he attended. He wore his eye patch underneath his mask, which not only looked ridiculous, but also flew in the face (pun totally intended) of any kind of subterfuge.

I warned you nothing important was going on. This is what you get for not listening.

Though I did read a fun Trump/Shinra essay the other day…

With energy in short supply today, I’ve spent most of my waking hours watching more of the Pro Tour Aether Revolt stream. Given my current pendulum swing away from heavy socialising, it’s been the perfect way to pass the hours. I’m not overly familiar with an introverted framework, but I’m feeling it pretty heavily right now. Considering the sub zero temperatures outside, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing. I’ve finally got the opportunity I’ve been seeking to catch up on TV, play video games and, I dunno, read? Thing is, all of my big shows have finished for the season and I’m not sure what I want to start. I have a ton of video games downloaded, but rarely the patience to get invested in the kinds of games I used to play. I was always into role playing games, but to get really stuck into them can be a massive time investment. Put bluntly, it’s tough to make a dent in an 80+ hour game in one and a half hour chunks. If I started a new Final Fantasy game, it would likely be the final Final Fantasy game I’d ever play.

Indecision paralysis seems the best explanation for why I’ve gotten so stuck into these Magic the Gathering streams. They’re dynamic, in that they change each time. Because of sheer statistics, even when someone’s playing a deck I’ve seen played before, the games won’t necessarily turn out the same way. It’s commentated in a language I speak fluently, I don’t need to learn new terms or stretch my understanding of concepts. There’s also momentum to the games. Even when faced with difficult lines of play, they seem to keep the pace up. It’s getting to the point where I’ve started to become familiar with the different players and decks, I’m developing favourites, cheering certain contestants on in my heart. Because of this, stakes have been introduced and I innately ascribe a protagonist and antagonist personality to each competitor in a match. A few surprises, questionable ref calls and total come from behind victories that’ve had me literally cheering. As I said yesterday, I get this sports thing a bit more now. Guess I can watch the finals during Superbowl tomorrow.

It feels weird to withdraw as I have, but it makes a lot of sense. I came back from a holiday overwhelmingly stuffed with social time. I returned to Toronto also feeling overly stuffed. I ate and drank a lot and my body’s reeling from the after-effects. It’s like a long term hangover. I feel sluggish and tired, less capable of tapping into those energy reserves I usually stockpiled. Cutting coffee has drained my usual manic enthusiasm and letting go of alcohol for the time being has sapped my social vitality. Finding it hard to be snappy, witty and vibrant on cue. There’s a kind of comforting confidence I normally carry that feels just out of reach. Without it, the energy I’d normally expend has an emotional component too. Frankly, it doesn’t feel worth plunging into a party atmosphere when I’d be more likely to hug the wall, then navigate how long I’d need to stay before I could leave.

Until I’m back to my usual self, bingeing on these tournament streams is a kind of Magic.

Squash Bot for president!

In the interests of diversity and variety of holiday, I’ve made efforts to reconnect with as many different friends as I can. A group I’d been sorely missing was my gaming group. Brought together over the years, the core gaming group began with Magic the Gathering. We’d play at Vagabonds, our local game store, week after week. Eventually, after getting fed up with a bunch of the regulars, started bringing games home. This evolved into drinking Magic nights. We’d create our own subsections of forfeits based around our play styles and punish one another with drinks for not deviating from our norm.

Somewhere along the line, board games were introduced, along with new friends. I’m sure that more advanced board games have been around for a while, but there seemed to be a boom several years back. We tried a few; Dominion, Settlers of Catan, etc. This came to a head with the introduction of Arkham Horror. Suddenly we were playing every few weeks, several games in a row. We began having Arkham weekends where we’d pack out to a friend’s house in rural Auckland. He loved to cook so he’d put on these glorious themed meals. They were really fun nights where we could totally geek out and gorge.

Naturally while I was back in Canada, I checked in with my good friend to see if we could have a game day while I was back in town. It ended up being our first couple’s day, where it just so happened we had four couples all playing. This meant we could play games with full capacity, eight being the number where most tap out. We feasted on chips, cheese scones, barbecue lamb, beetroot salad and hummus, while getting through four separate games over a number of hours:

Tsuro (Dragon edition)

I feel like I’ve played a different iteration of this where you’re guiding stone idols around a track. Each player has three tiles at once with different paths on them. Tiles all connect to each other and you can choose which way to place them, changing the direction of the paths laid out in front of you. You can only put tiles down in front of your character, who will travel to the end of any track laid in front of them. If you get put on a path that leads all the way past the edge of the map, RAAAAR, there be dragons and you’re dead. Also when you roll, there’s a chance that a dragon will appear on the map. These dragons move around based on die rolls. They’ll travel the board eating paths, characters and other dragons. Last player standing wins. So the strategy of the game comes into keeping yourself on the board, untouched by dragons. You also want to steer clear of other players, who’re likely to put down tiles that could lead you off course. It sounds complicated, but it’s pretty easy to pick up, with deep strategy the more you get into it.

Robo Rally

I was Squash Bot and that’s all that matters. Each player gets an adorable little robot (none cooler than Squash Bot, just sayin’), who race around the course trying to get to all the checkpoints in order. Thing is, the other players and course itself conspire to stop you (and Squash Bot conspires to stomp you). Each player has a hand full of nine cards. Every round you’ll put down five cards face down in order that direct your robot where to move. Each card has a priority, so some robots will move before others. Robots can shunt each other out of the way, crash into one another and fire upon any robot they’re facing with their lasers. Damaged bots have a lower total hand size, restricting their options for future turns. Players can also upgrade their bots into lethal killing machines or efficient racers. It’s quirky, clunky and a lot of fun.

Betrayal at House on the Hill

I feel like everyone played this one before I did. You’re adventuring around a house that unfolds in front of you. Players seek items both arcane and ordinary. Unlocking omens as they travel through rooms. At some point an event will trigger and one of 50 odd scenarios will start. Each scenario is different and involves one or more players betraying the rest. Any characters on the smaller team will gain an advantage to give them a chance against the rest. Power ups galore, with a fun sense of humour and variety of play make this game a total winner. I’d love to dive back into the world again, here’s hoping someone back home has a copy.

Seven Wonders

A drafting/resource gathering game. Your objective is to build up one of seven ancient civilisations, watching out for your neighbours on both left and right. You can trade or war with them (or a combination thereof), but the idea is to come out on top after three escalating ages. A myriad of strategies relying on subterfuge and gradual build-up. It’s relatively conflict free, unless you really want to fuck others over (but there’s no assurance that’ll keep you on top). It’s pretty neat to see things progress as your empire expands and the reveal of who’s won at the game’s conclusion is rad. Not too hard a learning curve, with the potential for expanded strategy as skill develops.

With a trip like this, something will have to be a crushing disappointment. Nothing as of yet, but surely that means it’s just around the corner. I dunno, at the moment it all seems like fun and games.