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.

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.

In Big Willie World, is marriage outlawed in favour of getting Hitched?

I wonder if there’s an alternate reality where The Willenium happened instead. A reality where, on that dark morning of September Willeventh 200w, the world was reeling from the premiere of Wild Wild West 2. If instead of picking fights with major news outlets and condoning sexual harassment, the Will House’s POTUS spent his time angling for the Rubik’s Cube to become a major plot point of The Pursuit of Happyness. Imagine a world where Suicide Squad never happened. Political rallies where cries of “WOO. HAHA HAHA” fill the air. It’s there and I like it.

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I get distracted easily. While my brain is most certainly tethered to this reality, that has no bearing on how freely it wanders. I’m constantly thinking about all kinds of inane or absurd ephemera. Thoughts come and go. It can appear that I’m concentrating intently, but I could be a world away. I remember one of the many times I took my driver’s licensing test, paying attention but also not being able to shake thoughts of Slith Predator. It’s a Magic the Gathering card. It’s not (and never was) particularly good. I liked the art and, as a green player, wanted it to be as good as Slith Firewalker. I was paying attention to the road, certainly. I was also trying to think of how the card could be utilised if I so wished. What if it had haste? What if I had a whole deck of green beaters who had haste? Some kind of mono green beatdown deck that leveraged Concordant Crossroads for the advantage. Was my indicator on? I could throw in cards with heavy green costs like Fangren Firstborn. Oh, and maybe that would’ve been a good opportunity to turn onto the main road, but that car was coming on my right pretty quickly. What about a beast synergy with Ravenous Baloth? How do I handle issues of redundancy. Okay, time to turn. But if I throw in the Baloth, is there any point in using the Slith Predator at all? The licensing tester doesn’t look pleased. Shit, did I just fail? Also wasn’t getting to play the Slith Predator the whole point of the deck?

I did fail, by the way. That’s not the point. The point is that weirdly now when I’m driving I think of Slith Predator. Still. I made that deck, by the way. The Predator was great in there. The deck probably sucks now. I still get distracted by something from years ago. I also get distracted by things that don’t exist and other things that will happen in the future. With a brain that’s obsessed with being anywhere else, presence is kind of difficult to cultivate. Of course I can concentrate when I need to. I don’t suffer from leaving tasks undone. It’s just that I’m not giving my everything at all times.

Yesterday was my three year anniversary with my girlfriend. We’d planned out a big day of spending time with one another. I’ve also been recently preoccupied with something big on the horizon. It’s hard not to be constantly turning it over in my head. It’s a breeding ground for anxiety and a lot of hard work, but it could turn out to be a very positive step. I’m not ready to talk about it yet. That didn’t stop it from creeping into every waking (and attempted sleeping) moment. I realised that while this future endeavour was important to me, if I didn’t push it out of my mind, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy our anniversary.

Presence.

Presence is so important. To live in the moment and enjoy experiences as they come, not to spend time stressing about things outside your control.  I’m not saying to ignore the future, but there’s a balance. If you’re not authentically within your experiences, why are you doing them? Why half ass something you’re doing for pleasure? Why rob yourself of that joy? Why, on a day devoted to something my partner and I have created and nurtured together, would I be anywhere else? It wouldn’t be fair to her or me. So I focused on investing in the moment, spending time well and truly finding fulfilment in her company. It was the best decision I could’ve made. We had an amazing day together, reminding me just how lucky I am to be able to spend my life with her.

Good thing the Willenium never happened. If, by government mandate, we’d been forced to spend the day watching Hancock on repeat, my brain would’ve been a universe away.

We all knew that was coming, right?

A while back a friend told me of a Vonnegut quote that I think of constantly. I’ve definitely mentioned it on here before, but if my worst case scenario is reminding you, I’m willing to take the consequences. It reads:

“And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.”

I wrote earlier that I think of it constantly, when really I should’ve instead admitted that I couldn’t think of it often enough. It’s easy to get bogged down by anything that irks you. Every day is a series of microaggressions and interactions that could’ve gone better. Living is anxiety, in that if we had to stop and consider every infraction, we’d find the nearest bridge and a pair of concrete boots.

Conversely, we don’t give enough credit to moments that lift us. Negativity is far easier to feed than the alternative and feeling petty is exponentially more satisfying than contentment. I wonder though, if that’s a function of how much energy we give to that which doesn’t go our way. If we spent more time acknowledging pleasant moments, to carve out those few seconds each time, if we’d notice the difference in our lives.

Take today for instance. Today wasn’t remarkable in any way, but it hasn’t given me anything to complain about. If someone tomorow were to ask me how my weekend was, today would’ve likely factor into my recount. Still, when I think harder about it, I’d almost say it was a perfect Sunday.

I woke next to my girlfriend and we snuggled for a bit. I got up, breezed through public transit and headed for the gym. Without immediate engagements, I didn’t feel remotely rushed. I took my time between sets and really considered which muscle groups I was hitting. While normally I’m bound by evening events or exhausted from work, today I got to spend as long as I wanted without trying to get in and out in about an hour. I left the gym and dawdled around a few shops, then checked out a new Japanese restaurant that opened in Koreatown. It was great, the yakiniku beef was incredibly flavourful, the salad was much more than the usual iceberg lettuce drenched in (admittedly delicious) salad dressing. There was some kind of dried vegetable on the side and the miso soup tasted unusually vibrant. I left satisfied, without a bulging stomach.

I did some fruit and vegetable shopping on my way home. Ten minutes after I arrived, friends came over to play some Magic. We played for hours, the games were interactive with shifting status and tensions. There weren’t huge stalemates, play was fluid and dynamic. We had discussions about the wider metagame and format, then they left and I had the house to myself.

I’ve got a bolognese sauce on the stove which is minutes away. I spent time prepping, listening to music and took advantage of the fresh ingredients I bought earlier. Having tasted it already, it’s gonna be piquant as fuck. Plus the satisfaction of having cooked it myself is an entirely salient taste.

I don’t know what else to say, If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.

So wrong, it’s Rite.

Disclaimer: This one’s gonna be big on Magic the Gathering speak. You’ve been warned. If that’s your thing, I’d strongly advise you download Autocard Anywhere.

I can’t be bothered turning off the MtG Grand Prix Omaha stream, so I’m gonna talk about it instead. Streaming pro MtG has been a great way to kill time on weekends. I’m starting to understand how Nascar fans feel. The format had been pretty stale for a while, but the bannings of Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai have opened things up a bit. The first few weeks were a lot of Mardu Vehicles vs Temur Marvel (a deck that spins Aetherworks Marvel to find Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on turn four). Then Zombies edged in and now BG Delirium is making a comeback. In short, the format is getting more interesting (with the exception of Aetherworks Marvel being the boogieman of the format).

Right now though, I’m totally in love with Sam Black’s Anointed Procession deck. It looks like a total pile, but in reality it’s a rogue deck stuffed full of synergies. It takes advantage of the format’s lack of preparation to deal with enchantments and really doubles down. The thing to keep in mind is that Anointed Procession doubles all tokens, which includes clue tokens too. To take advantage of this, not only has the surprising all star (hey now) Thraben Inspector earned a slot, but from out of nowhere he’s giving draft chaff Ulvenwald Mysteries a go. So Anointed Procession doubles the clue tokens that Thraben Inspector makes, but the Inspector also offers a corpse for Ulvenwald Mysteries to investigate. Upon cashing in the clue, Ulvenwald Mysteries adds two 1/1 tokens. God forbid two Ulvenwald Mysteries hit the board, because things get nuts.

There’s a ton of draft chaff, to be honest. As dumb as it sounds, Anointer Priest helps slow the bleeding against aggro decks. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with mine own two eyes. Blisterpod gets in there as a one drop who can trade in for a one shot accelerator. Oh, and Hidden Stockpile, if you were worried things were getting a bit too heated there. It’s not even all jank. There’s room for both Oketra the True and Bontu the Glorified, plus Gideon, Ally of Zendikar pulls double duty making 2/2 knights and an anthem emblem.

The glue holding everything together is Cryptolith Rite. I’ve always loved the card, but goddamn if it isn’t absurd in here. While it’s no Earthcraft, Cryptolith Rite allows the deck to go apeshit, sacrificing clue tokens (to make even more 1/1 dudes) and using the abilities of both Bontu and Oketra. Then if he needed another angle, he runs Westvale Abbey to pump out a hasty Ormendahl, Profane Prince from nowhere.

The deck doesn’t have a ton of resistance against an all out air assault, but on the ground it does an amazing job of gumming up the works. You’d think that it’d fold outright to wraths, but that isn’t the case. Between Ulvenwald Mysteries cashing in dudes for clues and clues for dudes, the indestructible gods, Hidden Stockpile, Gideon and Anointer Priest’s embalm ability, it can build back up without completely falling to shit.

I don’t see the deck winning the tourney (especially since as of now it’s going 5-2), but it’s nice to see innovation coming up against a field of Aetherworks Marvel and showing them how durdling gets done. C’mon Sam, bring this standard environment back into the Black.

Which reminds me, Canadian Mummy’s Day is in three weeks or so.

Magic the Gathering oriented post. If this isn’t up your alley, come back tomorrow when I’ll most likely visit a different laneway or boulevard.

After all that build up, Amonkhet is finally here! I unintentionally stayed out until just after 5am last night, had maybe three hours sleep then got back up for the 10am pre-release. Who’da thought I’d still be burning the candle at both ends after hitting 30? Most anyone who knows me, probably. In any case, I was shattered this morning and felt like I’d been embalmed. Fitting, given the Egyptian themed set I’d be playing. I prayed to whoever the Egyptian deity of Magic was to either have a solid pool or understanding opponents who wouldn’t mind me making terrible plays all day.

My prayers were answered. Praised be Heka and Isis, you did me a solid one.

My pool was actually pretty decent for most colours. My rares were Sandwurm Convergence, Channeler Initiate, Rags///Riches, Dispossess, Heaven///Earth, Regal Caracal, Plague Belcher and Nissa, Steward of Elements. Like I said, I did well all around. Looking at my blue, it was an easy disqualification. There were a ton of counterspells and good draw, but very few creatures. The red couldn’t muster enough to back up Heaven///Earth, so that went by the wayside too. I liked the look of my green. It had a bunch of early beaters, the Cartouche of Strength, the absurd Exemplar of Strength (that I’m pretty sure snowballs Longtusk Cub style if it gets dropped on curve), Rhonas’s Monument and some tricks. I matched it up with my black and had a look at its curve. I had very little in the way of mana fixing, but considered running Nissa as a small splash. To be honest, it looked marginal. The creatures were fine, but not consistent all the way up the curve. I didn’t have enough removal to make it worth it. Bummed, I cast another look at white. I had the Regal Caracal, which was a house. A couple of cheap conditional removal spells. Oh, and a ton of zombie synergies with black. The Binding Mummy could trigger a bunch with a combination of natural and embalmed zombies. Reluctantly, I put my green away (you’ll still be loved, my Channeler Initiate) and looked at the curve with white. It actually looked a little something like this:

Creatures (16)
1x Fan Bearer (z)
1x Gust Walker
1x Doomed Dissenter (z)
1x Binding Mummy (z)
2x Cursed Minotaur (z)
2x Unwavering Initiate (z)
1x Blighted Bat (z)
1x Plague Belcher (z)
1x Bone Picker
1x Tab-Crop Elite
1x Grim Strider
1x Regal Caracal
1x Oketra’s Attendant (z)
1x Winged Shepherd

Non-Creature (7)
1x Time to Reflect (z)
1x Impeccable Timing
1x Rhonas’s Monument
1x Forsake the Worldly
2x Final Reward
1x Stir the Sands (z)

Land (17)
8x Plains
8x Swamp
1x Grasping Dunes

*(z) indicates zombie or zombie synergy.

As you can see, I had a ton of zombies or zombie aligned cards, which were excellent with Binding Mummy, Plague Belcher and Time to Reflect. My curve was reasonably low and had a couple of removal spells to back up my solid creature base. Provided I drew lands, I tended to win games. In fact the only games that I lost were to mana screw (and poor choice of hands to keep, let’s be honest) and even then I managed to come back and stabilise after missing my land drops for several turns in a row. Fun interactions:

Plague Belcher and Doomed Dissenter was my dream curve that never happened. One time I killed the zombie token though. Worth it for a 3 mana 5/4 Menace, plus the Belcher drained my opponent for 1 when it sacrificed itself. I never got to play Plague Bearer and Bone Picker in one turn, but that would’ve been saucy as fuck. A couple of times I had an Unwavering Initiate and Rhonas’s Monument. I’d play the Belcher and pump the Initiate, then drop my counters on it. I’d get to attack for 3, then it’d die at the end of turn (leaving it in the graveyard to embalm later).

Binding Mummy did work. Between Fan Bearer and its bigger mummy, I could play an aggro control game. So often I’d curve out post Binding Mummy with a Cursed Minotaur or Blighted Bat and be the beatdown. If Rhonas’s Monument was in play, things went south quickly. My favourite play of the game was at a potential stall, I’d set up a whole table of lifelinking cats (via the Caracal), dudes and a Tab-Crop Elite ready to exert. The Binding Mummy triggers off zombies coming into play, not zombie spells or some kind of cast trigger. I played Stir the Sands and got my three zombies, tapping down the big threats on his board. I swung in with a pumped up team and took him from 15 to 4 in one barrage. Noting that I also had three zombies back on defence in the event of any counterattack.

Obviously Regal Caracal was a bomb, but I wasn’t expecting to get such a swing from it. Having the backup from Tab-Crop Elite or Rhonas’s Monument really pumped up the amount I gained back, letting me stabilise in dire times. I was constantly worried that my opponent would kill my main kitty, neutering my team in the process, but then I RTFC and realised the tokens naturally have lifelink anyway. Dumb card is dumb.

I never got to use my Winged Shepherd or Gust Walker. I played both of them, but they never had a chance to attack. Either I’d win before Winged Shepherd could do anything (or it was fodder for a Rhonas’s Monument pump), or my opponents would kill Gust Walker on sight. Happened three or so times today. Weird. Card’s good, but not backbreaking. Rhonas’s Monument though, Jeebus. It’s a dumb card, even off colour. +2/+2 and Trample is a huge boost every turn. The boost is one thing, but you disregard how easily it lets you punch through. Your beaters usually just end up bigger than theirs. Heka/Isis forbid I dropped two creatures in one turn. Which I did. Ain’t I a stinker?

All in all I came away with a 3-1 record (reminder: Two land hands are a trap no matter how good they look. Don’t get greedy) and 7 prize packs. I didn’t open anything truly amazing, but got the Prowling Serpopard and Pull from Tomorrow I’d been wanting for EDH. Day well spent.