The treehouse thing is legit. You can look it up on Air BnB Portland.

And so the adventure comes full circle. I return home, but have I changed? Have I grown? I’m not just talking about my midsection here. Did I face trials and adapt to them, learning more about myself in the process? I mean, I discovered that PBR (while not the vanguard of quality) isn’t intolerable for $2 a pop. If nothing else, that’s something.

I woke up yesterday knowing that I wanted to get to Pok Pok. A vietnamese restaurant frequented by chefs, Pok Pok is the sister restaurant of Whiskey Soda Lounge, where I’d gotten those wings on my first night in town. I got in touch with my friend and asked him if he wanted to go there for a late lunch (thereby avoiding the absurd lines). We got there for 2pm and were seated immediately. I’m not a good enough writer to do the meal justice, but it was fantastic across the board. We had grilled chicken skewers, which had a tiny morsel of pork belly at the bottom of the skewer to add a little fatty flavour. There was a beautiful coconut milk based pork curry. It was so sweet and thick, with succulent chunks of pork. Then of course we ordered the wings, because if a dish is the best of its type you’ve ever tried, going for another round is hardly an imposition.

Stuffed and sanctified, we went for a walk in a nearby park. There was a great off-leash, some dude who sounded Johnny Cash-esque playing to himself and some spritely old woman walking her dog. She told us about the Air BnB she’d built. She’d taken the old frame of a tree house in her backyard and solidified everything. She’d created a cute little two person domicile that people could rent for $23 per night. She said it had her art over the walls “and I’m a good artist” and had been booked solidly since she’d opened. We walked around a bunch and talked to more dog owners/dogs. Then shuffled off for late afternoon coffee. I took my buddy to Tov, my favourite cafe in the city. It’s the transformed bus with a passionate barista doing all manner of delectable creations. My friend is lactose intolerant, so he ordered a chilled coconut milk vanilla/reduced rum latte. The barista measured each and every ingredient to ensure perfection. He went into his freezer and pulled out a block of frozen coconut milk. “This way the drink is chilled, but doesn’t dilute the flavour”. It’s the little touches, you know? I got a wine mocha because if this guy could nail such a bizarre high-wire act, he deserved all the acclaim I could give him. I took a sip, it was wonderful. I asked him how he managed to make everything work together so well. “It’s ratios, for sure. The other part is using the highest quality ingredients across the board. Fine chocolate, fine wine, fine coffee.” I couldn’t argue with success. We chatted about cafes in town and we both agreed on which places were great and which were overrated. He suggested a cafe downtown, which I might try to get to today.

I wanted to check out a Magic night at a local game store, so my friend gave me a ride. He told me that if I wasn’t busy later, he was going to a Burner meet up at a local. I figured I’d get a couple of games in then meet him there. It went exactly like that. The store was a friendly place open to all manner of games. A group next to us was playing Pathfinder, while a couple of tables played board games. There was a nice community focus. One wall had a sign that said “what would you tell someone being bullied?” Kids had given their answers, which were surprisingly mature. A noticeboard said that house rules were to be respectful, friendly, to watch your language and take care of your hygiene. I enjoyed a few games (the deck I brought has been on a hot streak. I’ve won maybe 8 of the 10 games I’ve played), then left for the burner meet up.

It was exactly what I’d wanted. Meeting and chatting with open, welcoming people. We talked about their burn experiences and travel they’d done. I got mistaken for some French UFC dude from Montreal and pulled into a group to hang out regardless. One of my friend’s camp-mates played Magic with her boyfriend, so we chatted about the game, long term relationships, etc. As always, anyone who found out I was from New Zealand and had visited wanted to talk about their experiences there. An adamant “I’m just passionate” Mexican woman ranted about what good Mexican food really was and accosted my friend into a future trip to her favourite restaurant in town. “You’ve gotta work for it” she said. “I’m not just giving you the address. You have to wear a blindfold and everything. I’m serious.” It was a great cap to my trip, my last night ending on a high note. My friend and I got late night tacos and he dropped me off at home. I told him sincerely that if he and his wife ever wanted to come to Toronto, we had a spare bed for them.

The big question, with three days left before the event. Have I learned enough about myself to write the greatest Beth/Bojack crossover erotic fanfic the world has ever seen? Stay tuned to find out.

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It was, in short, a magic gathering.

I think yesterday was the kind of day I’d come to Portland for. A day spent going with the flow and enjoying where it took me.

In a weird coincidence, The Smiths played at least once in every establishment I set foot into yesterday. Which is even weirder because last night I dreamed that somebody loved me.

The last day or two had me feeling a little lonely and isolated. I wasn’t getting a whole lot of social interaction and the connections I hoped I’d find didn’t eventuate. When travelling, connecting with strangers and interacting with people outside of my usual experience keeps me going. What you see when going from place to place makes for a great backdrop, but the characters you meet provide the flavour. Tinder has proven to be a dead end. Without any matches it’s more a time sink where I get to judge a portfolio of people and marvel at what a terrible human being I am. What did work out though, was Couchsurfing. I was terrified of ending up in another meet up where people said “schwag” on repeat for 20 minutes, but I downloaded the app to try the “hangout” function. Simple but effective, it lists people who are actively seeking others to hang out with. It’ll say what they’re looking for (coffee/tea, drinks, lunch), have a link to their bio and show approximately how far they are from you. I saw that some dude within a 3km radius was looking to grab coffee. He was an aspiring audiophile and well travelled guy. I figured I lost nothing by opting in for a hangout. I sent a message and within minutes he accepted. He said it’d take him about half an hour to get ready and suggested a cafe about half an hour from where I was. What could go wrong?

Nothing, apparently. He was a nice bloke in his late 30s. He’d been constantly on the move for the past nine years or so, periodically coming back to Portland between journeys. He’d taught English in Korea, Japan, backpacked around South America and Columbia. Used to work in PR for tech companies, but got wanderlust and had to sate his thirst. We talked about cultural differences in the places he’d visited and how his language acquisition had gradually increased. I mentioned how I’d had trouble pushing myself to meet people. How I’d felt that I’d be interrupting or forcing myself on others who were just looking for their own space. He said not to worry, that if you’re not being a dick the worst they’re gonna say is “no thanks”. He said that oftentimes he’ll just chat with the bartender if they’re not that busy, which creates the opportunity for others to join in on the dialogue if they’re feeling it. He mentioned the difference smartphones have made over the years. How on one hand they’d made it harder to spontaneously connect with the people around you, as everyone was plugged in. At the same time, they were infinitely useful when travelling alone in order to find your way around a new city, figure out events to check out or make online connections for meet ups. I asked him, with all his travelling, what was the first thing he’d do when arriving in a new place? He said that he wasn’t much of an insta-traveller, that he often stayed somewhere for a few weeks to a few months. He said that establishing a routine made him feel more comfortable, he’d check out coffee shops and local bars. Once he felt settled, he’d engage more with connecting to others. We chatted about music, how we sourced new artists and how our relationship with music had formed and changed over time. We talked podcasts, TV and films. He suggested a few places for me to check out around town, some particularly choice food cart pods. After our coffee he took me around the corner to a pod (that’s what they call clusters of food carts, if that wasn’t immediately obvious) and introduced me to a delicious korean pork belly lettuce wrap. It was the size of a burrito, with a delicious spicy sauce. Food carts are so good here. The quality and prices are both unbelievable. Social batteries recharge, I ventured out to Happy Hour with a renewed vigour.

I stopped back into The Hungry Tiger and sat at the bar. Sipping on a whiskey & coke, I noticed someone looking at her phone and picking at a macaroni & cheese. I thought ‘here goes nothing’ and thought of what the Couchsurfing guy said. If the worst was gonna be “no thanks” I could always just go back to playing on my phone. “How’s the mac here?” I asked. She looked up. “It’s vegan and I’m vegan so it’s pretty good. They use better “cheese” than some other places.” That wasn’t so bad. We talked for a while. She’d been looking to move to this part of the country to do her masters in photography. She’d checked out San Fran and was leaving Portland in a few hours. The cost of living here was lower and she was strongly considering it. She asked me if I watched Game of Thrones and lit up once I said yes, so we talked the ins and outs of Westeros for an hour or so. She was 25 and not the sort that I’d usually hang out with, but that didn’t make her a bad person by any means. Frankly, it was just nice to talk about a mutual interest with someone and kill an hour. I guess the Couchsurfing dude was right.

The only thing I’d actually planned on doing yesterday was checking out Tonic Lounge. A bar on the North East side, it hosted a weekly Monday night Magic event. Given my lack of success with events over the past week, I expected to walk in and find the place empty. Instead there were around 20 or so players by the time I arrived. Everyone was playing, sipping on pints and eating bar snacks. The music was great and they had old episodes of Robotech playing on the projector. Since most of the staff were Magic players themselves, the bar extended the Happy Hour specials all night for anyone who was there to game. I had a great chocolatey stout and ordered a $6 plate of pulled pork nachos. I couldn’t believe how good they were. The pulled pork was sweet and tangy. Super cheesy, there was a dollop of sour cream in the middle, fresh bruschetta on the left and picked carrots/jalapenos on the right. Everyone was really friendly and, while experience levels varied, nobody seemed to be outright cutthroat. It was an amazing space to enjoy the game, see some great plays and have fun hanging out. I had such a fantastic time and only regretted not being able to become a regular.

With one and a half days left here, I haven’t got a lot left to cross off my list. How much debauchery can I get up to before I leave?

El Ess veE-Sports.

Another Magic the Gathering themed post. It’s been that kind of week.

What a day. I’ve basically become a caricature of myself. I’ve spent my entire workday watching replays of old Luis Scott-Vargas Magic the Gathering drafts. For years I pooh poohed the idea of watching others play Magic in the same way that I shat on sports viewing. Why watch something if you could play it instead? Discovering what everyone else has seemed to know for years, here’s why:

It’s not something I can just play. I don’t have the experience, the time or funds to play like LSV does. He’s a professional and as such gets paid to stream this kind of thing. I haven’t bought into MTGO and frankly, couldn’t afford to. I’ve spent long enough building up the collection that I do have to suddenly buy into digital. So to watch someone else put in the efforts and be led by his superior knowledge of the formats is a blast.

It hits on multiple fronts. Firstly, LSV really knows his shit. My mind Boggles at how quickly he’s able to assess and analyse a pack, formulating a draft path with solid potential outcomes. It means he can react appropriately when an otherwise shitty pack would pop up, creating contingencies. While I tend to find a strategy and stick it out, even if it’s drying up, LSV doesn’t. He knows when to pivot and signal. Better yet, his knowledge of the format and strong cards allows him to gauge when something could wheel the table and come back to him. It’s like watching magic (pun actually wasn’t intended) happen in front of your eyes.

Secondly there’s a nostalgic element to it as well. I’ve watched him draft a bunch of formats today. There was triple Ravnica, triple Mirrodin, triple Time Spiral, Invasion, Planeshift, Apocalypse and a few Holiday Cubes. I remember these formats, but at the time where my limited skill level was pretty… well, limited. I didn’t understand the wider archetypes nearly as well as LSV does, so I wasn’t able to as adroitly piece together a playable pile. Plus I tend to have a predilection for forcing green. Sue me. Getting to relive those old formats helps me recall where I was in my relation to the game during that time. I don’t know if I ever tried an IPA draft, for instance. I think I just went to pre-releases. Hell, the Invasion pre-release was my first taste of limited and sparked a lifetime love of sealed.

Mostly it’s a vicarious thing. I can’t afford to play these throwback sets, so the next best thing is to watch a master do it for me. I can cheer for his plans coming together and root for him as he’s playing the subsequent games. It’s interesting, but having seen the formation of the deck, it engenders this strange attachment to the pile. You want to see LSV win a) because you feel oddly involved in the process, b) because he’s a good player and c) because he makes a fuckton of puns. I don’t remotely begrudge him for getting to have this experience. He’s worked for it and creates a shitload of compelling, informative and funny content. As a humble viewer, I get to profit from it.

In any case, it’s about time I get going. I wanna see how he drafts Return to Ravnica next.

Hold on to your butts, we’ve got some probing to do.

Magic the Gathering related post. Some people won’t be into that, I’m sure. If so, come back tomorrow. If you’re sticking around, AutocardAnywhere would sure be handy.

ALL HAIL IXALAN, BRINGER OF DINOS TO THE WORLD OF MAGIC. Sure, dinosaurs have been around since Ice Age, but only because of soon to arrive errata. I’ve been waiting for dinosaurs in Magic the Gathering for years. I’ve always had a love of those big scaley/feathery lézards terribles and the notion of using them to smash face in one of my favourite games is too much to ignore. So I’m gonna start brewing already.

Let’s get some mood music.

Back when Ixalan spoilers were leaked, we got a glimpse of the lizard commander himself: Gishath, Sun’s Avatar. Gishath’s pretty neat, but everyone’s gonna be brewing that style of dinosaur deck. You know the one that clears the way, stacks the top of the library with something like Scroll Rack. Seems too easy. I wanna go for something that really lets me BE, AGGRESSIVE, BE, BE, AGGRESSIVE. Where’s my homeboy Marath at? It’s fight club time, baby.

Enrage is the new dinosaur keyword and it’s a doozy. [Whenever ~ is dealt damage, x] One of the prime examples is this fella here: Ripjaw Raptor. So you’ve got a stack of big lizards ready to rumble. They’re fine tanking a bunch of hits for profit, so let’s ring in some damage. Another (untranslated, as of the time I’m writing this) neat critter is this Ankylosaurus. It’s gonna pump the rest of the team when it takes a hit, which is handy because it lets our team take more hits, ya dig? Sun-Crowned Hunters lets us ping other players 3 damage at a time. I’m sure there are more Enrage creatures left to be revealed, but this is our rag tag starting line-up. We can round out the rest of the crew with perennial favourites like Boros Reckoner, Spitemare, Phytohydra and Stuffy Doll.

So how do we start dealing damage to our own creatures? Why not start thematically. Aether Flash (the 7th edition art in particular) starts the value train rolling in as soon as we play our pals. It also hoses opposing token strategies. To be honest, they’re gonna be having a bad time all over. Let’s throw in Powerstone Minefield and Lightmine Field to discourage opponents attacking, but also to let us clothesline any poor bastards with a field of weenies. To give us a bit more control over the board, lets harness the colour-shifted Pestilence, Pyrohemia. It means we can take into consideration our own creatures with lower toughness, making sure we’re only dealing a small amount each turn. Plus it’s pretty damn baller with the aforementioned Ankylosaurus and the enchantment Fungusaur: Rite of Passage. This means our dinos will be legit monsters by the time it gets back to our turn. I don’t think Subterranean Spirit has aged well, but I’m sure it can find a place in our little brew.

Let’s get some more brawlers in on this action. Gruul Ragebeast never says no to a fight. Triskelion likes getting frisky, as does its little cousin Walking Ballista. Foe-Razer Regent likes our creatures getting into boxing matches. Dromoka’s Command is super versatile, as is Boros Charm (that has the super valuable indestructibility we’re looking for. We should probably chuck in Heroic Intervention and Dauntless Escort while we’re there). Setessan Tactics can work as a one-sided board wipe, while Vicious Shadows can profit from the endless death happening all around us. Also Blasphemous Act, because we’re playing EDH, aren’t we?

The set isn’t even out and we’re already ahead of the curve. I knew life would find a way!

I am somewhat driven towards a Mairsiélago deck through.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AND A FUCKING STACK OF BOOSTER PACKS. YEAH BOI.

Do you think Natalie Imbruglia enters Tornaments?

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

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

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

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

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

Aside from the event, that is.