From a Mind of Eternal Chaos

A place where I post whatever happens to strike my fancy

Magic: The Gathering discussion #5: Dominaria — Where it all began — September 22, 2018

Magic: The Gathering discussion #5: Dominaria — Where it all began

It’s that time again, time to discuss another Magic: The Gathering set! Or several, actually, because in addition to Dominaria, I’ll also be covering the 2019 core set, Masters 25, Battlebond, and Commander 2018.

So, let’s start with Dominaria. It’s a fitting place to start, because the entire game started with Dominaria; it was the setting for a lot of the early sets and is sort of a nexus or “hub world” for the multiverse. Apparently, messing with Dominaria would mess up all the other planes as well, which just seems like it would make the multiverse way too unstable (and I don’t mean in the fun Bablovian way). It also didn’t have a specific theme or gimmick, unlike most other planes: they try to give each plane its own recognizable theme, like how Innistrad is the horror world, Amonkhet is the Egyptian world, and Kaladesh is the steampunk-esque world. I say “didn’t” because even with all the diversity that Dominaria has, they eventually did manage to fit it into one of those boxes that humanity likes so much; Dominaria is apparently “the history world” now. That manifests in the set mechanics, or at least the new ones. Sagas are the big new set gimmick and by far the most interesting one; they’re a new kind of enchantment with a new card frame, with the division between the art and rules text running vertically instead of horizontally, and a number of “chapter” markers in Roman numerals on the left side. (Roman numerals still have no purpose in life, by the way.) Each chapter (usually) triggers once per turn, the first one when it enters the battlefield and the rest on successive turns after that, then the enchantment goes away after the last chapter. All Sagas in the set have 3 chapters, so you’d get the effect listed for chapter 1 on the turn you get it out, chapter 2 on the next turn, then the chapter 3 effect would happen on the turn after that and the Saga would be sacrificed. I assume that if they’re liked enough, they could show up in future sets as well, possibly with chapter counts other than 3. There is also historic, which is just an adjective that describes anything that’s an artifact, a Saga, or legendary. Kind of a weird combination, but I suppose it makes sense. There is also a returning mechanic, kicker, which first appeared in I-don’t-know-what-set-but-it-was-probably-old-as-heck and whose return I actually guessed even before the set was out. For anyone unfamiliar with kicker, it’s an open-ended mechanic that allows you to pay an additional cost for a spell to get an additional effect. It has nothing to do with history, except in a meta sense because it’s been around for a while. The set also has a distinct “legendary matters” theme; historic is one part of it, but there are many more legendary creatures than most sets, even at uncommon. They also introduced legendary sorceries, which…sound a lot cooler than they actually are, to put it one way. They don’t work how one would expect legendary sorceries to work; rather than, say, only being able to cast them once per game, or if a card with the same name isn’t in your graveyard, you can only cast them if you control a legendary creature or planeswalker. Now, outside of the set, that can be a pretty tight hoop to jump through if you don’t specifically build with it in mind, and their effects aren’t that much better than similar nonlegendary sorceries. As a result, I didn’t really like the legendary sorceries.

Of course, one can’t talk about Dominaria without talking about the story and lore. And the story this time was actually kind of weird. It involves some old fan favorite characters showing up again; Jhoira, Teferi, Karn, and Jaya Ballard are here, as well as Radha, Jodah, Multani, and Squee. There are also new characters who are related to older ones, such as Danitha and Raff Capashen and Shanna Sisay. I do feel like the story might have gotten pulled in too many directions at once, though; they had a lot of characters to introduce and tell about, all of which probably could have gotten more attention, but the main plotline was more about Liliana’s last demon and the evil things he was doing, as well as her brother whom she accidentally cursed (which triggered her planeswalker spark) and who is now a monstrous lich. At least in this case, it makes sense to go after Belzenlok anyway, Liliana or no, because he’s the leader of the Cabal now (which I don’t know much about, but I guess they’re some sort of evil cult or something?) and is trying to rewrite historical records to make himself look much more accomplished than he actually is. They defeat Belzenlok, and Teferi gets his planeswalker spark back (he gave it up to fix a time rift back during the Time Spiral block, however the heck that works) and joins the Gatewatch. But we also have a fairly major spoiler here: as it turns out, killing all of Liliana’s demons didn’t release her from her contract, merely transfer ownership of it to Nicol Bolas, who brokered the contract in the first place, and now Bolas basically owns Liliana and she is forced to serve him. I am disappointed that the Gatewatch won’t find out what happened to Liliana until it’s too late and there’s a huge misunderstanding, though. Well, I guess if you look at all the cards in the set, it’s not much of a spoiler because it’s depicted right on the last story spotlight card. Speaking of story spotlight events, apparently Nissa is leaving the Gatewatch, at least for the time being: she finally decided that she’d had enough of Liliana’s crap (which, to be quite honest, I can’t fault her for) and made tracks back to Zendikar.

Dominaria has some pretty decent cards in it, too. It reprinted the other half of the dual land cycle that Ixalan had (nicknamed the “checklands”), for starters. Lyra Dawnbringer, Shalai, and Verix are good legendary creatures. Teferi and Karn are worthwhile as planeswalkers go, aside from Teferi making control decks even more obnoxious. Jaya Ballard’s planeswalker card is…okay. History of Benalia is another good one (and I actually got it as my prerelease promo, the first actually good prerelease promo I ever got). Belzenlok, Josu Vess, Multani, Jhoira, Steel Leaf Champion, and the Weatherlight weren’t bad either, and the set gave us a reprint of Gilded Lotus as well as Mox Amber, which is new. (They really need to find a way to make Mox cards good but neither overpowered nor restrictive. Come on, they’ve had 25 years to figure it out….) The Sagas, sadly, mostly weren’t all that amazing outside of dedicated decks aside from the aforementioned History of Benalia, not to mention they were kind of unbalanced: anyone at Wizards care to explain why we needed three, maybe even four board wipe variants, why there are as many black Sagas as red and green ones combined, or why an event as major as the Mending got such a middling card? Still, though, Dominaria had more good stuff than not, I think.

Next comes the 2019 core set, the first core set since either 2014 or 2015 (depending on if you count Magic Origins as a core set or not) and the first one I’ve talked about on here. This time, they didn’t have any non-evergreen mechanics, which I found rather disappointing (most of the previous core sets brought back one mechanic, such as scry for the 2011 core set, bloodthirst for the 2012 one, and exalted for the 2013 one). Core sets also don’t take place on a specific plane, so they can include reprints or new cards from any of them (there were ones from Kaladesh and Ixalan, among others). The story, on the other hand, is another matter, and kind of a weird one; it mostly takes place on Tarkir (a plane visited in 2014 and 2015), where a few figures in Tarkir’s past tell the story of Ugin and Nicol Bolas. Honestly, I don’t think the M19 story actually added that much to the larger picture; it seemed to be reasonably well-written, but I didn’t really care all that much about Icky Nicky’s start of darkness beforehand, and I care even less about it now. If you were expecting some complex or understandable reason for why he is the way he is, well, you won’t find it here. He felt powerless and weak in his earliest days, so now he wants nothing more than power over everyone else; that’s pretty much the extent of it, which is really childish for someone who’s had 65,000 years, give or take, to explore the multiverse. (Heck, just look at the flavor text on the M19 printing of Cinder Barrens.) Several dozen millennia of living and, effectively, all he’s managed to accomplish in terms of personal growth is becoming basically a draconic supervillain version of Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with a heaping helping of Donald Trump. Sheesh, I’m only 27 and I thought I was immature for my age and not doing as many meaningful things as I should have.

Icky Nicky, Dracomanchild (cropped)

Pictured: Dominaria’s most ancient evil.

Also, in a story only tangentially related to Bolas but considered part of the M19 story, we get introduced to Vivien Reid, a new mono-green planeswalker. I can only assume that she’s supposed to be an eventual replacement for Nissa, though her card reminds me a little more of Garruk (which is a good thing; Nissa always was one of those characters where I tended to like her as a character more than her cards). She’s a ranger who uses a magical bow to summon images of animals from her home plane, which was destroyed by Bolas. (Why? Who knows. Maybe he was just in a mood to nuke stuff that day, or he threw a tantrum because someone told him he couldn’t have an extra juice box.) It’s an interesting enough power set, I suppose. Her stories don’t do much to make her likable, though; basically, she’s on Ixalan in a vampire city and goes medieval on them after finding out that they’re cruel to animals, pretty much using her summoning magic (and some to enlarge existing animals as well) to destroy the city. Look, I know the vampires are hardly paragons of morality either, but I doubt everyone in that city was evil, so she probably condemned some innocent people to death by beast or collapsing building. Pitting one character or group of characters who’s a lunatic against another who’s a lunatic but in a different way doesn’t make the first one any less nuts; it just makes you want to see both of them get thrashed until they’ve gotten some sense knocked into them. It really does not do Vivien any favors, either, that she has a vendetta against civilization in general and is happy to see the city get reclaimed by nature, which is a very mono-green attitude but not a very sympathetic one, and it really makes me hope that she never planeswalks to Ravnica or Kaladesh (though if she did, maybe it would be a good opportunity to give her some much-needed character development). Furthermore, she is yet another human planeswalker in a lineup where humans are already severely overrepresented. Between that, her extremist beliefs, and the fact that the Gatewatch now has an open slot for a green character, I can only assume that this conversation took place at Wizards of the Coast at some point:

Wizards creative team: “Here are some nonhuman planeswalkers we’ve designed with interesting personalities and complex motives and thoughts. Could they be main characters?”
Marketing team: “What? Main characters who aren’t human? They’ll be totally unrelatable!”
Creative: “Okay, here are some one-dimensional monocolored human characters who subscribe to a very particular, narrow worldview and philosophy that would be unrealistic for any sane person in real life. What do you think?”
Marketing: “They seem good to me. Let’s get them some stories.”

Also, on a minor note, the writer never explained why Vivien couldn’t just planeswalk away after getting captured, then come back for the Arkbow. But I don’t know, maybe I’m overthinking this all. I feel like I spend way too much time talking about the story in these reviews.

I suppose that means we’re probably overdue for discussing the gameplay of the 2019 core set. Well, there are no set mechanics, so I can’t talk about them, so this will probably be a shorter paragraph than usual. Actually, for a core set, this really doesn’t have a bad selection of cards; my personal top picks are Ajani, Tezzeret, and Vivien’s planeswalker cards along with Resplendent Angel, but there’s more. Sai, Master Thopterist is good in the right deck (and I think it did make it into Standard play), Nightmare’s Thirst is an interesting take on a kill spell, Sovereign’s Bite is cheap but seems good for a common, I’m always up for another copy spell with Doublecast, Lathliss will make a nice addition to any of my decks with an above-average number of dragons in them, Sarkhan’s planeswalker card isn’t bad (Liliana’s, on the other hand, requires a very specific deck type, and even within that, it’s merely “pretty decent”), Sarkhan’s Unsealing is interesting, Goreclaw seems useful, Vine Mare is good for what it’s worth (the mare cycle is kind of neat), Chaos Wand is silly, and all of the elder dragons are at least interesting. Notable reprints are Banefire, Crucible of Worlds, Magistrate’s Scepter, Mentor of the Meek, Omniscience, Scapeshift, and maybe Windreader Sphinx (and Crucible of Worlds and Scapeshift were clearly designed for formats outside of the set). One thing I’m disappointed about with the M19 card pool is that there were no rare dual lands. I assume it’s because they don’t want to create feel-bad moments for new players, but…surely they could have at least reprinted the half-cycle from Ixalan or something?

I guess one thing that I should mention is the Buy-a-Box promos that they’re doing starting with Dominaria, where buying a booster box from participating game stores (or was it preordering?) would get you a special card not found in the regular set. It’s supposed to be an incentive to buy from the local stores instead of online or something like that, but as far as I’m concerned, saying it fell flat is an understatement. If I’m paying an extra $20-$30 to get a box from a LGS, that extra card had better be worth that price difference, but if it’s really good (and if it’s worth $20+, it probably is), then it drives up demand and people can just sell them on the secondary market. (Though apparently, the promos are actually less rare than any given mythic rare card from the main set, so they’re perceived to be rarer than they actually are.) Also, locking certain cards to buying from specific stores actually makes me less likely to want to buy from them, because doing so only encourages the stupid practice. Besides, the sets that I like enough to want to buy a whole booster box of are few and far between. (Currently, that is exactly Kaladesh and Unstable, though I get did an Aether Revolt box to draft and a Dominaria one to split with my brother, if you count those, and I kind of want to get a Battlebond one. We’ll talk about Battlebond in a bit.)

Now, let’s talk about the supplementary sets. Going by chronological order, we’ll start with Masters 25, and fair warning, this will be a long, blunt, probably passive-aggressive, and maybe even just plain aggressive one. I’ll cut to the chase: This set is not what we wanted, or at least not what I wanted (yes, my opinion doesn’t dictate everyone else, whatever). Oh, the idea was good: a set full of cards from every set in the 25 years of MTG’s history to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the game, something to send players on a nostalgia trip, even including set symbol watermarks for style points (which, honestly, is something I wouldn’t say no to for future Masters sets). The execution, however, I found to be lackluster at best and completely senseless at worst: while there were indeed cards from every set, the designers did not put nearly enough thought into making them cards that would actually be desired or worth the price of the packs.

For starters, there are many, many iconic cards that were absent. I understand that not all of them can logistically make the cut, but…where is Doubling Season? Where is Stoneforge Mystic? Baneslayer Angel? Birds of Paradise? The Mirrodin swords? Where are the Eldrazi, or the Urza’s lands? Why are there no extra turn spells? Not even the Lhurgoyf made it in. Mirrodin block barely got any of its famous artifacts (heck, I wouldn’t say no to another Isochron Scepter reprint, even), Urza block got darn near none of its famously powerful cards, Return to Ravnica block didn’t get anything special (certainly nothing that reminds me of the block)…and why are almost all the cards from current Standard sets commons and uncommons worth pennies? Of all the interesting dinosaurs from Ixalan that could be represented, they picked one of the most boring, mundane, and already overprinted ones? Given how popular planeswalkers are as a card type and how iconic some of them are, why the crap don’t they give us more of them in supplementary sets, too, instead of only two or, in this case, one? And how, in a set that’s all about famous cards from the game’s history, did we not get a single Lotus or Mox?

And even among the cards that aren’t as famous but must be there to fill out the set, some of the choices were baffling. Surely there were better options then Blue Sun’s Zenith, Bident of Thassa, and Tree of Redemption, for example, given how many cards there are that haven’t seen print in quite some time. (To be fair, Tree of Redemption stood out enough even when the set was being previewed that it kind of became a minor meme.) We could have gotten Quicksilver Amulet again, or Wurmcoil Engine, Lava Spike, Privileged Position, Rings of Brighthearth (I rather like Rings of Brighthearth, it’s unique, it’s extremely low in supply, and it has eluded a veritable myriad of opportunities for a reprint), Asceticism, Khalni Hydra, Master Transmuter, Defense Grid, Collected Company…even among relatively inexpensive cards, there are things such as Sylvan Caryatid, Wall of Reverence, Reverberate, Invisible Stalker, Dramatic Entrance, Hunter’s Insight, Cloudpost (and Glimmerpost…and on that note, I’d consider the Locuses iconic enough to be in this set anyway), Seething Song, Prophet of Kruphix, Infiltration Lens, all sorts of stuff that would have been at least better than much of what we got. I would hope that future core sets could cover a few of those, but I’m not holding my breath. There were cards there that I was glad to see again, but they were greatly in the minority.

As a result, this set feels like lousy value for its cost. When booster packs are $10, they really need to be worth it, and Masters 25 does not seem worth it. I will say that it is at least better than Iconic Masters in that regard, mainly because IMA also had an imbalanced distribution of value, with the average being greatly skewed by most of the expensive cards being at higher rarities and most of the lower rarities consisting of cheap, barely-used bulk cards that absolutely didn’t need reprinting, making booster packs even more of a gamble than usual. (And remember, I didn’t think IMA stuck to its theme very well either.) At least one Wizards employee seems to think that IMA didn’t sell well because of the Hascon preview decreasing interest, while it seems evident to me that the set’s poor performance had nothing to do with the preview and everything to do with the fact that it simply did not feel like there was enough value there to justify buying booster packs.

On that note, the same person implied a push more toward designing future sets for drafting, which, quite frankly, seems like another harebrained idea to me. I realize now that they have always been designed for drafting, but—lest I reiterate what I said in my Iconic Masters review—you’d never guess it from the price point. If they want people to draft it, fine, but they need to go full-in on that and price them more reasonably. If they want to reprint things that people want for constructed, that’s also good and they can keep packs at $10, but then they need to go full-in on that and put more cards in the set that people want and less chaff. It seems to me that trying to design them for draft while still retaining the high price point (and sprinkling a few money cards into them in an attempt to justify the value) is merely Wizards trying to have their cake and eat it, and it seems to me that it will inevitably end up making both draft players and constructed players dissatisfied, especially if they’re casual. Besides, we already have a series of supplementary sets designed specifically for draft. It’s called Conspiracy. There is no similar product for reprinting stuff for constructed formats; they just have to be strewn around existing supplementary sets. If you ask me, rather than designing these sets specifically to be drafted, it is better simply to design them well; if a set is good, and especially if it clicks together nicely, people will want to draft it anyway.

In summary, Masters 25 feels extremely lackluster, especially for a big fancy 25th anniversary set. As widely disliked as Iconic Masters was, I think I’m actually even more disappointed in A25 because it seems like a huge missed opportunity for such a climactic set. Maybe the nostalgia is there for some people (I wouldn’t know; I started playing fairly recently, so Modern Masters 2017 was much more of a “nostalgia trip Masters set” for me), but nostalgia value isn’t enough to make something good. As with Iconic Masters, there weren’t enough noteworthy cards and there wasn’t enough value to justify the purchase of boosters. If it seems like I’m making a lot of comparisons between the two, it’s because Masters 25 essentially just feels like Iconic Masters 2: Anniversary Edition. Masters sets are supposed to provide one possible avenue to make cards that are well-liked or in high demand but hard to come by more accessible, but recently, they’ve been feeling more like games of Corrupt-a-Wish. Yes, Wizards is a business, not a charity, but businesses need customers, which in this case are the players. If those players are dissatisfied with the product, and if they feel like their complaints are not being listened to, they’ll feel alienated, and if they feel alienated, they will seek entertainment elsewhere, or at least not buy any more new product. Back during preview season, I’d heard many stories of people canceling their pre-orders because of the set being underwhelming (one person even said that every single person who made a preorder at their LGS canceled it for one reason or another), which is definitely not a sign of confidence. I suggest that whatever team is in charge of these Masters sets tries a different tack and actually pays attention to what people want, or they will continue to do poorly and leave people feeling displeased. You can make them based on a particular theme or a particular format, just as long as you make them actually worth buying.

*sigh* Anyway, on the subject of supplementary sets that actually do seem worth their price relative to their value, a new kind of multiplayer set came out back in June: Battlebond. It focuses on teams of two (formally known as “Two-Headed Giant”, but I more often just call it “team play”), so the set is designed around two people at a time working together, which is reflected in some of the cards and mechanics. The “partner” ability from Commander 2016 returns as a new variant, “partner with”, where the creatures with it—as well as one pair of planeswalkers—must be paired with a specific other card, but once you get one of them out, you can search your library for the other one and put it into your hand…or better yet, have your teammate do that. There is also assist, which allows another player to pay the generic portion of a card’s mana cost. Finally, we see the return of support from Oath of the Gatewatch, which…puts +1/+1 counters on stuff. Yeah. It’s even set on a new plane: Kylem, where the people really like sports and two-on-two battles. Sadly, we didn’t get any stories for Battlebond to explore the plane more. Notable new cards from the set include Bramble Sovereign, Arena Rector, Arcane Artisan, Najeela, and the dual lands, which depend on having two or more opponents to enter untapped (and they could be a good thing to reprint in Commander sets, hint hint). As for the reprints…let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way: Doubling Season finally got another reprint. Sadly, it’s mythic rare and Battlebond had a short print run, and as a result, it’s still 33 bucks, but hey, that’s better than 58, which is about what it was before. Beyond that, there are a couple of other expensive cards (though not as expensive as everyone’s favorite 5-mana green enchantment) that showed up: in the “high demand” corner, we have True-Name Nemesis, a rather infamous card from Commander 2013, and in the “low supply” corner, we have Vigor, originally from Lorwyn. Seedborn Muse is another low-supply one (though probably higher demand than Vigor), and it was one of the cards that I was going to complain about Masters 25 not including until it got reprinted here. Kor Spiritdancer and Chain Lightning are also good. I can’t speak for how the set actually plays, because I couldn’t convince anyone to go to any release events with me or get packs from it together.

Finally, there is Commander 2018. The themes this year are enchantments (green/white/blue), artifacts (blue/red), lands and possibly ramp (black/red/green), and “top of your library matters” (white/blue/black). More importantly, we get a new cycle of planeswalker commanders this time around: Estrid, the Masked; Saheeli, the Gifted; Lord Windgrace; and Aminatou, the Fateshifter. There’s not too much to say about the characters, since, again, we didn’t get any story. Furthermore, Aminatou seems to have been the only one of them who actually got a bio, and she’s…weird. She’s the youngest planeswalker so far, at 8 years old; she seems to be from a West African-inspired plane; and she is completely overpowered and it’s ridiculous (not that you’d ever guess it from her card, which is actually pretty weak). She has the ability to manipulate fate, which to me seems like it would allow her to do just about anything except change things that already happened, and to foresee the future, which allowed her to trigger her spark early. Saheeli is a character whom we already saw back on Kaladesh, and I’m pleased that she got another card, unless it makes her less likely to appear as a character again. Lord Windgrace is a character from the old stories and cards whom I don’t know much if anything about beyond the fact that he’s probably dead now. Estrid really should have gotten a bio as well, because we didn’t learn anything about her other than that she uses magical masks (and, funny enough, I could have guessed that from her title).

I must admit, though, the decks this year felt rather underwhelming. They weren’t as lame as the last two Masters sets, but they seemed noticeably weaker than usual, yet Wizards raised their price by $5. Also, Estrid’s deck is the only one that really felt coherent; the others seemed to be kind of disjointed. Still, though, there were at least some interesting new cards and a few decent reprints. Among the other new commanders, Kestia is kind of cool (first legendary nymph, for one) and her art is nice, Tuvasa is simplistic but decent, Tawnos seems good if you can build around him, Brudiclad is interesting (but more Phyrexian than I’d like), Gyrus is weird but could be decent (and dodges commander tax to boot), Thantis is one of those cards that I dislike both for gameplay and flavor reasons, Yennett is interesting and seems useful if you have the colors for her, and Varina seems like a decent tribal leader. For the other legendary creatures, Arixmethes is cute (and I really want to put it in a stompy/ramp deck), Varchild is weird, Xantcha is kind of silly but interesting (and hey, she finally got a card), and Yuriko could be pretty good. Other notable new cards include Heavenly Blademaster, Aminatou’s Augury, Estrid’s Invocation, Ever-Watching Threshold, Emissary of Grudges, Nesting Dragon, and Endless Atlas. Notable reprints include Bear Umbra (the other card that I was going to complain about Masters 25 not including until it got reprinted here), Enchantress’s Presence, Wild Growth (hey, that hasn’t shown up in the new border yet), Avenger of Zendikar, Mimic Vat, and Prototype Portal. I’ll admit I’m disappointed that they missed an opportunity for an Eldrazi Conscription reprint, though. Privileged Position would also have been a possibility, and maybe Darksteel Plate.

In summary: Dominaria was good, though Sagas were the only noteworthy set mechanic; the 2019 core set was actually quite decent for a core set, even if I was disappointed that there weren’t any returning mechanics (and that the story focused almost entirely on Icky Nicky); Masters 25 did the exact same things wrong that Iconic Masters did except for the name; Battlebond was an interesting new type of multiplayer-centric set and had some good reprints; and Commander 2018 was kind of weak but okay.

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Interviews for queer pride month — August 25, 2018

Interviews for queer pride month

Content warnings: Much discussion of gender and sexuality, romance, relationships, family and troubles with them, religion, mention of abuse and cultish behavior, self-harm, suicide, discrimination and ostracism, (censored) profanity…am I missing any?

Well, this post was supposed to come in June, but…better late than never? At least this time, the lateness mostly isn’t my fault. June happens to be queer pride month, so I had the idea late in the month to interview people of various queer identities, both in person and online, to discuss their feelings and experiences, which I present to you here (not in any particular order). Interviews are separated by person (or a couple in one case), and names have been changed for privacy. Also, there will occasionally be notes for terms that some people might be unfamiliar with (*like this).

1.

TheMartianGeek: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Whitney: I’m an asexual woman and I go by she/they.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Whitney: In my freshman year of college a group of friends and I were taking turns doing an online test that asked what our sexuality was, and asexual was one of the options. At the time I thought I was straight but ‘low interest’ because I thought that was the only option that didn’t include same-sex attraction, and just seeing the word made me start to question/realize things and look it up later. It took me another year from there to go from saying tentatively calling myself ‘maybe asexual’ to just calling myself asexual, but mainly just out of wanting to be sure.

TMG: How old are you?

Whitney: 23.

TMG: What would you tell a young queer (or asexual) person?

Whitney: I think my biggest priority would be to explain the different sexualities and that they exist, but after that I’d want to emphasize that there are a lot of different types of relationships and that it’s ok to take time and self reflection to find what works best for them.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life?

Whitney: There’s a lot of ways being queer has affected my life, outside of the obligatory difference from being straight. I definitely got teased for things that in retrospect were related to my asexuality in school, but there was also a big impact in my personal life and understanding my own feelings. Something that’s always stuck out to me was a time in high school when I was interested in a guy I knew. At some point I suddenly realized I’d never once thought about kissing him (let alone anything sexual) during the entire time I’d ‘liked’ him. I’d thought about going on dates, spending time together, and holding hands but kissing or ‘making out’ had never crossed my mind. At the time I thought this meant I had only wanted to be friends with him, since romantic relationships involve wanting to kiss each other. I think if I’d known I was asexual back then it would definitely have helped with the confusion, but even then this was a glaring example of how what I thought about for a relationship didn’t really match up with how relationships are portrayed in society.

TMG: How has it affected your relationship?

Whitney: My partner actually suggested that I might be asexual before we were romantically involved and before I was sure of my sexuality enough to be out. It’s never really put a strain on our relationship at all (my partner is not asexual), which I’m sure is helped by the amount we regularly communicate.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Whitney: Pride month to me is about the history of fighting for rights and recognition for queer people and within that for same-gender relationships, as well as more recently a celebration of how far we’ve come. I think in recent years there has been what’s been referred to as ‘rainbow capitalism,’ and I think that detracts from what Pride is supposed to be about. That said, I don’t think that takes from the importance of Pride month for queer individuals and think it’s something that can be overcome in favor of a focus on LGBT+ people themselves.

2.

TMG: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Alicia: Panromantic asexual, nonbinary/demigirl. I use they/them mostly, but I present femme so people assume she/her and I don’t typically correct them due to social awkwardness.

TMG: I’ve noticed that you do mostly present pretty feminine. Yet you don’t feel comfortable with being called a girl/woman/she?

Alicia: Not particularly. I’m AFAB (*assigned female at birth), and I like makeup and dresses, but that doesn’t make me a woman. When I finally took a look at myself, I realized that I’m not really a girl, I’m just a femme enby (*person of nonbinary gender).

TMG: What do you think the difference is between actually being female and being feminine but not female?

Alicia: Hm…well for me, being femme is more aesthetic, whereas being female is one’s gender.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Alicia: My gender identity I realized recently, within the last 6-9months. Sexual and romantic identities, somewhere around 4-5 years ago.

TMG: How old are you?

Alicia: 22 years old.

TMG: What would you tell a young queer person? Or specifically asexual, nonbinary, etc.

Alicia: You’re not broken and you aren’t “bandwagoning.” You’re you, you’re unique and you’re valid. Your identities may change over the years, so don’t be scared to change those labels as often as you see fit. You’re going to be okay and you are loved.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life?

Alicia: It’s given me a community to be a part of and has allowed me to befriend people I never would have known existed otherwise. It’s also caused some hardships – always having to answer questions and knowing that more than likely I’m the odd one out in a group of strangers makes life a little difficult. I also live in an area where queers aren’t very accepted, so I have to deal with that as well, and when I go places with my girlfriend, we often get weird looks and faces.

TMG: Well, you and your girlfriend are adorable, and anyone who has a problem with it can eat a butt. Do you think being queer has affected your relationship in any way that wouldn’t be true if you weren’t so?

Alicia: Hmm… I don’t really think so! Except that… maybe I wouldn’t be dating Sally if she were, let’s say, a straight guy.

TMG: Despite being panromantic? I guess she would probably be significantly less cute…

Alicia: Hahaa I doubt that she’d be less cute, but I find myself being significantly less attracted to cis guys than trans guys, trans girls, cis girls, and enbies; maybe because most of the cis guys I’ve met are pretty jerkish.

TMG: I’m telling you…testosterone makes you angry, bald, and shorter-lived. It’s a trap. Actually, do you think asexual people who are in relationships tend to be more lovey-dovey than allosexual (*not asexual) people? I would assume that that’s not the case and they’re two separate and unrelated spectra, but it could be true that when you’re not sexually attracted to each other, other expressions of love might come out more.

Alicia: Hmm… I think we are tbh! But also because we usually aren’t just in a relationship for sex, but because we love our partners so we usually like to express that as often as possible! At least, that’s true for me! Some aces aren’t like that, and that’s okay too!

TMG: I’d say that you guys are almost sickening sometimes, but that’s not really true. Doesn’t mean I can’t lightly tease you about it, though. Besides, I’m happy for you. I think maybe more people need to appreciate the love shared between others as well?

Alicia: Lol, Jason would probably agree that we are sickening 😀 thank you!

TMG: So, what’s your family like? And your mental state (illness and such)?

Alicia: My family is pretty chill. The ones that I care about don’t really care about my identity (in a supportive “we love you regardless” way, not a dismissive one.) They’re kind of conservative, so they don’t really “get” it, so I don’t press the issue often. I’ve had some form of depression and anxiety since I was a child, and I still do. I’m in a pretty decent mental state these days though.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Alicia: It’s a month for celebrating who I am. It’s also remembrance for those who started the LGBT rights movement, specifically at Stonewall. They’re our predecessors, and it’s important to recognize that what they started is what got us where we are now. I appreciate that.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Alicia: Hmm… I don’t think so!

TMG: All right. Thank you for your time.

Alicia: Thank you for interviewing me!

TMG: My pleasure. I like to learn about other people’s experiences. (Well, actually, a lot of the time, they make me sad…but still…)

Alicia: Well I’m glad I could tell you mine!

3.

TMG: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Violet: I identify as a bisexual and biromantic person, and I use she/her pronouns even though I think I might be slightly nonbinary.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Violet: I really realized it for the first time when I was fifteen/sixteen, but it was the kind of deal where once I started to let myself accept it, a whole bunch of earlier experiences started to make sense. I think I always knew, I just pushed it back.

TMG: Ah. And you’re 19 now, right?

Violet: Indeed I am.

TMG: Okay. What would you tell a young queer person? Or bisexual/biromantic specifically, if you like.

Violet: It’s okay to be unsure and you don’t have to wholeheartedly dive into any particular identity. This kind of a thing is a journey, and the most important thing is accepting and understanding yourself. And if they come from a religious background, God doesn’t hate you and He didn’t make a mistake.

TMG: On that note, it seems like there’s been a lot of clashing of values when it comes to religion and queer people.

Violet: Yeah that’s a hot topic. Ultimately it usually comes down to religious people not truly understanding the nature of the God they claim to serve.

TMG: It’s all about love, no? Yet so many people choose to hate instead…

Violet: Hate and judgement are literally the opposite of what Christians are supposed to do.

TMG: Though even some well-meaning people might claim that being queer is considered a sin or something. I’ve heard that the actual meaning of the passage against “man lying with man” has been lost in translation.

Violet: Well even with that argument (which I don’t agree with), literally everyone sins. Everyone. And every sin is equal in the eyes of God—it’s like these people think being gay is a travesty and, like, lying is fine. And yeah, I’ve heard that floating around too.

TMG: One could argue that it’s unfair for your mere existence to count as a constant sin. But like you said, you don’t agree with that argument anyway, nor do I.

Violet: There’s a lot of hypocrisy at the core of it.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life? And your relationships.

Violet: It’s put a lot of strain on my relationship with my family at times and it means I have to hide a large part of my life from them indefinitely. Most of my friends have been really accepting of me, which is great, but it’s not so easy with my family due to religious prejudice and that kind of thing. It’s honestly put me in a place where I feel like I’m not queer enough to be considered a part of the community sometimes, because I can’t have a girlfriend and I’ve never been to Pride and that kind of thing. But ultimately, it’s also given me another huge community of people who love and support me even when my family might not.

TMG: Aw. I was going to ask about family acceptance and whatnot.

Violet: Honestly, my family is the biggest part of my life and has been for as long as I’ve been alive so those are the only relationships I’ve had with the potential to be affected.

TMG: Well, what’s your mental state like? Any history of illness or anything?

Violet: I have a history of self-harm, but I’m currently a year clean (go me), and I do consistently struggle with anxiety, but my coping skills are pretty good.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Violet: It means a beautiful celebration of acceptance and how far our community has come, but also a time to think about how far we have to go because we haven’t quite reached the goal yet. It’s a time for frequently rejected people to be open and proud of who they are and I think that’s awesome.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Violet: No I think that about covers everything. Wait, I’d also like to say that all queer people are beautiful and I love them.

TMG: Yay.

4.

TMG: What is your full identity?

Gabrielle: I am demi-hetero-romantic, sex-repulsed asexual.

TMG: She/her pronouns, I assume?

Gabrielle: Yes I am fine with she/her.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Gabrielle: I was 100% sure of being asexual after I dated a guy in person and I just felt that all those relationship stuff that sexual people do were too uncomfortable for me and I couldn’t just be attracted to someone without having a meaningful connection beforehand. I didn’t seek to date with heterosexual guys anymore after that and I went on researching deeper about asexuality. I already heard the term thanks to a friend of mine, but I wasn’t sure. So around 2016 I went fully out about my defined identity. The romantic part took me a bit longer to figure out and it wasn’t until late 2017 when I understood I am demi-hetero-romantic.

TMG: How old are you?

Gabrielle: 27.

TMG: What would you tell a young queer person?

Gabrielle: Please don’t force yourself to do things you are not comfortable with just to fit a normal. Please listen truly and deeply to your own feelings first. If romance and sex are not your thing, they are not your thing. We are different and we all have the same value as human beings.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life and relationships?

Gabrielle: Trying to put a long story short, being ace without knowing the name of it was really difficult. I was mostly alone, still am. I was bullied all day everyday for the entire 13 years of schooling and I didn’t know what it was to have a relationship. I lived in an extremely hypersexualised country and it always felt alien to me, I mean, their culture. The rest of the world is very sexual, I know it, but it doesn’t feel as horrible as it was for me during my years there. As I said, I tried to date a guy now that I live in another country. Nope, it still feels horrible just to think I might have f***ed him. I didn’t. But just the thought of a what if I did feels disgusting. It was very hard. I’m one of those members of the sexual minorities who experienced suicide tendencies from an early age. Knowing who I am has been truly a liberating and wonderful thing for my mental health.

TMG: What’s your family like? And your mental state?

Gabrielle: So, according to therapists, I have issues with anxiety and depressive symptoms but, I am neurotypical. Now that I posted on FB that I got my prescription for antidepressants nooow a family relative said that it is in the family and some of my relatives have been through this. So now I know, on my mom’s side, it is a thing to go through depression. My biological father is someone I have never known. He is somewhere in USA. I tried to establish a connection with him but I felt no genuine interest on his part so, I stopped trying. I’m not a beggar and I don’t believe a child has the duty to go and find a parent and put all the effort in a relationship that never existed in the first place. I was born and he was already gone and divorced. So…yeah, single mom’s child here. I do have a soul father. A friend of mine who is older than me, could easily pass for my dad. He is the father I never had and he has a golden heart. I know he is not my dad but, I call him so. He is in Finland. Friends, well, I’m trying, I think I can trust. I also have a soul mother by the way. My bio mom had so much in her plate you know, always at work just to be able to pay my schooling. It is one of those countries where the average wage is 500 bucks but the average living cost is 1000+ so a lot of single parents work extra. Mom’s best friend was the wise mother who always gave me the emotional support and wisdom that my bio mom didn’t have the mental strength to provide. Now that I’m older I finally understood and I genuinely appreciate both of them for what they did for me. I am lucky in that regard. I have 2 mothers. A very hard working one who gave me even beyond her capabilities and a very wise one, who never hesitated to stay on the phone with me during the years of abuse at school and even today. Not everyone has this fortune. My life isn’t perfect and it isn’t happy, and definitely it is not a “normal” life, bit I am finally starting to be genuinely thankful for the good things that have happened. The sweetest victory is not revenge, is not grudge and is not succeeding over those who hurt you. To me the sweetest victory is when you can start to feel at least satisfied with what you’ve lived through, when you gain mental and emotional peace, that’s the sweetest victory, then is when you truly start to live a little bit. I’m glad I have started to feel this way even before being 30, cause I know very well that a lot of s*** is coming my way and I need to be ready for it.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Gabrielle: Pride month arrives a little later in Budapest. We will have this year’s parade on July 7th. It is an important thing for me. It is a reminder that we are free to be who we are. It is also nice that we can go as proud asexuals and no one is excluding us from the event. It shouldn’t be exclusivist at all. It is an inclusion event where people gather to be free. It is quite symbolic that we also cross one of the city bridges during the march, at least, that happened last summer. Bridges hold a strong meaning to me and adding a pride march is simply beyond my words.

TMG: How do queer rights in your country compare to those in the U.S.?

Gabrielle: I can tell you about 2 countries. The unnameable and Hungary. Both are quite lacking when it comes to queer rights. In the other country there are no rights for nobody. Queer, disabled, elderly, foreigners, expats, nobody. Not even the locals have any form of safety net whatsoever. Son.. the other place is just irrelevant when discussing human rights. Simple as that. Hungary is quite a progressive country in its own weird way. The political system is mostly crappy. Here marriage is still only between a man and a woman. A lot of LGBT members are in the closet depending on where do they work. Some places are more open than others. But the people here are more of a live and let live mentality, and there are quite a bunch of people as activists in the LGBTQ+ community. The pride march grows bigger every year. So all in all, Hungary might be lagging behind, but it is not stagnant. It just goes at its own pace. Also I may add, the ace community in Hungary is the biggest in this region of Europe. We have been searching and there are no such asexual communities in neither Poland, Slovakia, Czechia and other neighbouring countries. We have the biggest and most active asexual group. I am definitely quite proud of this.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Gabrielle: I’m not sure.

TMG: Well, thanks for your time.

5.

TMG: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Luke: I’m male and biromantic though I lean more towards dating girls and a fair bit more towards sexual attraction with girls. Like I think I’d be primary sexual for girls on the red violet. But tertiary for guys.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Luke: I mostly discovered my identity one day, after kind of thinking about how I felt about a guy I knew since it wasn’t quite like, a platonic feeling but something else. After a while I sorta realized that it was a bit of a romantic feeling, and ever since then that’s happened a few more times. Hence, biromanticism. (Note that this applies a lot less to sexual feelings – re: sexual feelings and dudes: I’d mostly do it for their benefit, but I don’t think I’d either be uncomfortable with it or enjoy it a lot.)

TMG: Huh. And you’re 16, right?

Luke: Yep. Everything’s subject to change, maybe. But I like to think my grasp on me is not that shaky.

TMG: What would you tell a younger queer person? Or even another person your age.

Luke: I’d probably tell them that the first priority should honestly be to come to terms with themselves and figure out who they are, no matter what other people think about it. The second thing I’d tell them is that there’s no wrong orientation or identity to hold, because we’re born the way we are and there’s nothing we can do to change it. I don’t know if that advice is helpful, seeing that honestly I come from a pretty privileged position in this regard, but that’s my opinion.
Definitely the first though, since I think a lot of the times people settle in on an identity and try to stick to it when that’s realistically not happening on the first or even second try or even later.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life and relationships?

Luke: Honestly, compared to most people, not that much. It’s led to some moments where I’ve tried to cram the “are you into guys” question into conversation with guys I’ve crushed on, but like it’s not bad these days. I’ve told my parents and mercifully, they’re very accepting, as are my friends. I consider it just another part of me, really, although it does make me often think about how fortunate I am that I don’t grow up in a less accepting family.

TMG: How about mental state?

Luke: If I’m stressed and panicky, it’s because of school. I don’t think my orientation has a lot to do with my mental state these days.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you? (Actually, is there one in Canada?)

Luke: Yeah, it’s June. I mean, I think it’s nice to have recognition for the increase in right for LGBT people alongside as a symbol for additional steps that can and should be taken. It’s good to recognize, is my opinion on it basically

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Luke: No, not really.

TMG: Okay.

6.

TMG: What are your full identities?

Frances: Pansexual, Cis-female. Stephanie: Lesbian, Trans-Woman.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identities?

Frances: I, Frances, discovered mine as soon as I discovered that I could feel attraction to people, Freshman year of highschool. I didn’t know non-binary people, so I called myself bisexual until Stephanie transitioned, and proved to me that gender really wasn’t a factor in attraction for me. Stephanie passes on this question.

TMG: Yeah, aren’t you attracted to certain personalities, not certain genders?

Frances: Right. I’m attracted to people who are gentle, kind, talented, artistic, nerdy…though Stephanie’s elf-ears do also help. So, I’m actually attracted to very few people, and Stephanie fills that mold perfectly.

TMG: “What gender are you?” “Elf.” “No, I mean what’s in your pants?” “Archery skills and fabulous blond hair.”

Frances: lol!

TMG: I’d imagine that probably made Stephanie’s transition a lot easier, too. Of course, so did having someone who loves you. But then, what isn’t made easier by having someone who loves you? Also, you’re both 31 years old, right?

Frances: Yeah, I think that it made it easier for Stephanie, knowing that I wouldn’t reject her if she transitioned. And yes, we’re both 31.

TMG: What would you tell a young bi/pansexual, trans, gay, or just generally queer person?

Frances: Find queer friends who understand what you’re going through. Family, though they may be loving, may not understand and unintentionally be cruel. Or intentionally. So, having a safe place, safe people to confide in is important as you grow to accept and love yourself.

TMG: How has being queer affected your lives and relationships? That includes your marriage, though I guess you pretty much covered that already to some degree.

Frances: It’s hard to say, since we haven’t lived any other lives where we were straight.

TMG: You have a point.

Frances: My relationship with my in-laws would probably be better. That’s about all I can think of.

TMG: On that note, what are your respective families like, if I may ask?

Frances: Mine is very liberal, mostly atheist, a mix of Democrat and Libertarian. Stephanie’s is Christian of various flavors, conservative, and has a lot of Republicans.

TMG: No prizes for guessing which is more accepting, I assume (or rather, the readers would assume).

Frances: Yeah, lol.

TMG: You, at least, get along pretty well with your family, don’t you?

Frances: Yeah. They’ve really stepped up.

TMG: Nice. They’ve seemed cool from what little time I’ve been around them.

Frances: Yup. My family is really diverse, so we fit right in.

TMG: And you’re on the autism spectrum, too. Is Stephanie neurodivergent at all?

Frances: Not as far as we know.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Frances: It’s time to celebrate what queer people have survived and accomplished, and it helps us build community and connect with our communities.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Frances: I can’t think of anything.

TMG: All right then.

7.

TMG: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Nicole: I am bisexual and genderfluid, but I usually just say I’m queer because that’s easier. I don’t really care a lot about pronouns, personally, but they/them works. She/her is what usually happens, though. (He/him also sometimes happens; it was weird the first time but I’m used to it now. Still prefer they/them to he/him, though.)

TMG: Fair enough. I imagine you in particular aren’t all that strongly tied to any specific, narrow gender identity?

Nicole: Not especially, no. I often present as somewhat more feminine, but I still look pretty middle-of-the-road even then. Oh, actually, sorry, meant to say I identify as nonbinary, not genderfluid. Similar things, but I think nonbinary better encompasses me as a person. I mean, as a label, it works, but I’m not sure that I actually do move back and forth between the ends of the gender spectrum that much.

TMG: So not so much waking up and thinking “I am the beautiful queen of femininity! Give me all the makeup and dresses!” some days and “Gender? wat” others, but mostly the latter all the time?

Nicole: Yes, that’s a good way to put it. I used to have days when I’d want to wear dresses and be all feminine, but those days are becoming increasingly rare as I get older. I’m not sure if that’s because gender spectrum or just being old and tired, though. The main characteristic of genderfluid that I don’t so much experience like I used to is the hard shift between genders. I used to have Very Masculine days and Very Feminine days; now I’m just pretty solidly meh about it every day. It’s actually been several months since I’ve had a day (or other period of time) that was solidly one way or the other.

TMG: Okay. When and how did you discover your identity?

Nicole: PSA: This is going to be a bit of a novel. I grew up extremely religious, so there was no discussion whatsoever about gender, sex, sexuality, or any of that beyond “you were born female, you will get married to a man and make babies.” I’ve known pretty much since ever that being a “girl” or “female” felt weird and awkward and not quite right, and I also knew that I wanted none of this making babies business. However, I smushed all that down as much as I could because I was told it was evil and wrong to be anything other than a straight babymaker. So I didn’t really explicitly realize my identity until I was probably a senior in college. As a junior, I’d studied abroad in Morocco and been exposed to a lot of new information. A friend of mine was surprised that I’d never had a “bicurious” phase, and was also surprised at how vehemently I denied it. But her surprise and her questions made me start thinking more deeply. So then I realized at about age 21 that I was probably bi. Coincidentally, I also started dating my partner when I was 21. He was the first person I actually came out to. (Obviously, he’s very accepting; it probably helps that he’s not entirely straight himself.) I became fairly comfortable with identifying as bi, but I knew there was still something off. I was not comfortable being defined as a woman, but I didn’t really know what else was out there. So I started researching. And then the summer after I turned 23, I realized that nonbinary was a thing and that I was that thing. At first I identified as a demigirl, but it quickly became apparent to me that that didn’t encompass everything. So then I identified more as genderfluid, because I had pretty distinct days of feeling like different genders. In the past year or so (I’m 26 now), that particular pendulum has mostly come to rest and I’m just in a funky little nonbinary spot where gender is mostly a shrug.

TMG: Sounds like quite the journey of self-discovery.

Nicole: Ohhhh yeah. During that self-discovery time I also shifted from fundamentalist Christian to atheist to very lax pagan, so there was a LOT of moving about.

TMG: Well, you are valid and loved, and I’m glad you finally had everything fall into place.

Nicole: Aw, thank you ❤

TMG: So, what would you tell a young queer person? Perhaps someone who's only just realized that there is more than just "heterosexual and cisgender", or someone who's felt all along that there was something "not right" with the way everyone else was defining them?

Nicole: Well, first, take a deep breath. There's nothing wrong with you. You're valid. There are lots of other people like you so you are definitely not alone. You don't have to shoehorn yourself into some nonsense societal expectation. Be yourself, love yourself, and be nice to yourself. Understanding your identity can be a really long process, and it's okay if it changes over time. But on the other hand, be prepared for people to not like you because of who you are. A lot of people still have hateful and nasty little minds. If you catch heat for being who you are, try to just let it roll off you. Again, there is NOTHING WRONG WITH YOU. But there's a whole lot wrong with people who choose to hate! Keep your head up and try not to let other people's words get to you. (There will probably be days when words do hurt. A lot. But you'll get through them. You will survive—and not just survive, but thrive. You're your own beautiful rainbow self, and nothing anybody says to you can change that.)

TMG: That was beautiful.

Nicole: I mean, I try, lol.

TMG: Come to think of it, you mentioned being pagan, too. Do you that it's more common for people of non-mainstream religions (for lack of a better word) to be queer? Or for queer people to follow one of those religions, or none at all? Perhaps it's a case of correlation, but not causation?

Nicole: In my personal experience, absolutely. Most pagan traditions are very accepting of queer folk; in fact, many traditions have queer deities.

TMG: Like…someone who is cool with uncommon gender identities and such is probably more likely to be accepting of pagans, atheists, and such, but that doesn't mean it's a cause and effect. Like how people who watch anime are more likely to play Dungeons & Dragons, not because anime makes you interested in D&D but because they're both "nerdy" activities and tend to attract similar people.

Nicole: Yes, that. I'd say it's probably more correlation than causation in most cases; if any causative link exists, it's probably queer, then pagan, considering you can't exactly change whether you're queer. That's definitely how it went for me, though of course my evidence is only anecdotal.

TMG: Of course, that also means that anyone who is hostile to minority religions (or lack of one) is probably more likely to assume that being queer is also "evil" because of that correlation…

Nicole: Yeah, that also happens.

TMG: You know, I could probably make a similar argument about My Little Pony actually being satanic. It has unicorns, which bisexual people are compared to. Also, unicorns have horns, and the devil has horns. And since being bisexual is also evil, that means My Little Pony is a work of evil, trying to corrupt children with its eldritch messages of friendship.

Nicole: O nooooooes. How dare cute ponies spread a message of friendship and love using unicorns. Madness, I tell you. The downfall of society.

TMG: Anyway, we're getting rather off-track here. How has being queer affected your life, other than what we've discussed already?

Nicole: Mostly? I'm just a lot happier. I feel better about myself and about life in general. I'm not so annoyed at everything all the time. People do treat me differently sometimes, and my family definitely threw a hissy fit about it, but thanks to years of therapy and also a very thick skin, I no longer care.

TMG: You're happier than if you were a cishet (*cisgender and heterosexual) person?

Nicole: Ah, sorry. No, I meant I’m happier than I was when I tried to force myself to be cishet. In an objective way, being queer hasn’t affected my life that substantially. (Other than when I go to rural areas, where I get all of the stink eye. But again, I really can’t be bothered to care anymore.)

TMG: So being queer as an objective state hasn’t done much, but realizing it certainly did.

Nicole: Yes, exactly.

TMG: And you have a boyfriend, too. (Or is he a fiance at this point?) Do you think it’s affected your relationship in any way that would be atypical compared to any other relationship?

Nicole: I call him my partner. Somewhere between boyfriend and married. We’re not really set on the whole getting married thing so we’re just stuck at partner. Being queer has affected our relationship, I think. Mostly because we tend to have the same taste in women so we both tend to discreetly and politely check out the same women.

TMG: How exactly does one introduce a nonbinary significant other anyway? “Mom, Dad, this is my girl?friend.”

Nicole: Rick just introduces me as his partner. Though to be fair, I wasn’t out when I first met his parents, so…

TMG: For the purpose of our readers, what’s your family like?

Nicole: My parents are extremely religious. They brought my sister and me up in a cult and used homeschooling to try to force us to stay in it. (If they wanted us to stay in it, they probably should never have taught us to read. But I digress…) My parents are NOT accepting of anyone who is not a cishet white fundamentalist Christian. My extended family on my dad’s side doesn’t really care, although I think their brand of Christianity probably still says being queer is bad. My extended family on my mom’s side is p terrible so I don’t talk to them (hyper religious, very racist, mean, manipulative, physically and emotionally abusive… I can go on :P), well, with the exception of my aunt. She’s a lot like me (though presumably not queer) and she is also very estranged from that part of the family. My sister is the polar opposite of my family. Very open and accepting and super non-judgmental. She’s told me that this is partially because of the way my parents’ cult dealt with things when I came out.

TMG: And your mental state? Do you know if you have any mental conditions that would be classified as “abnormal”?

Nicole: I mean, anxiety and depression, but most of that is/was because of how I grew up. My therapist says I’m “cured” now, although I still have the odd trigger here and there. I’ve just gotten way better at dealing with them.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Nicole: I have kind of complicated feelings about that. Mostly it’s a celebration of being ourselves, which I love and enjoy. BUT the first pride event I went to (which was this month, actually) was overwhelmingly dominated by cis gay men, which is fine, but unfortunately there’s kind of a lot of misogyny and gatekeeping within certain portions of that community, so it added a different dynamic to the whole thing. That might just be a DC Pride issue, though. I hear several other cities have explicitly lesbian- and other queer folk-oriented events.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Nicole: I don’t think so. You’re very thorough.

TMG: All right. Cool. Thanks for doing this with me.

Nicole: Of course! And thank YOU for taking the time to do this also!

TMG: Sure. I hope it helps people. Friends are great~

Nicole: They are ❤

8.

TMG: What is your full identity? And what pronouns do you use?

Teresa: AFAB. Agender aromantic asexual. She/her.

TMG: When and how did you discover your identity?

Teresa: I knew as early as 10 that I didn’t experience the world in the same way as my peers. As far as actual terminology though I was 46. I was reading Sherlock Holmes fan fic and came across an unfamiliar term. Googled it and ended up on the AVEN website. Shocked to find out that what I was was actually a thing :). I’m currently 50 by the way.

TMG: What would you tell a young queer person?

Teresa: That there is an entire community out there waiting to offer you love and support… My spouse and I go out of our way to “adopt” young trans and ace kids in our city…we offer emotional support, buy them groceries…a lot of young queer people have families that have turned them out and for all of us community is vital.

TMG: How has being queer affected your life? And relationship, for that matter. Has being aro-ace (*aromantic asexual) ever been a problem for your husband or anything?

Teresa: When I publicly came out I lost a lot of friends….mostly Evangelical Christians that were angry that I was speaking up in defense of the queer community. As far as my spouse is concerning, discovering that I’m aro ace and not broken has improved my marriage. My spouse came home from work while I was sitting at the table on the laptop reading the AVEN site. I passed them the laptop and said “I think this is me.”. They looked it over and said, “First of all this explains a LOT. Secondly, we can work with this. “. Being allo, they thought that my lack of interest in sex and romance meant I didn’t love them but never said anything to me about it. Lol, when they proposed to me it went right over my head 🙂

TMG: So many people are worried about being in the friendzone. For you…the friendzone was in you all along! How long have you been married now?

Teresa: My marriage from my standpoint is a QPR (*queerplatonic relationship, a relationship with a stronger emotional bond than a friendship but still not romantic or sexual). I’ve been in other QPRs, all of them with women, usually more than one at a time. Currently just in the one because my last few have had massive issues with my spouse. Sorry….I’m married to that one…that one gets prioritized. I’m open to being in another one but will need to have a long talk with her first if and when that happens. 18 years.

TMG: I feel like people undervalue forms of love that aren’t romantic or sexual, honestly.

Teresa: Right. I want emotional closeness more than anything. I have that with my spouse. And it’s possible I think to be close to more than one person. I prefer women for that and they tend to be better at emotional intimacy and far less likely to decide they want to sleep with me although that isn’t always the case. I think that it’s easy for people to automatically drift into sexual or romantic attraction once that emotional intimacy is there.

TMG: I’m with you there. I still haven’t entirely figured out what my romantic attraction is like, but I do want emotional closeness even in friendships.

Teresa: Yeah….for me all of my relationships are categorized by how emotionally involved I am with the person. I’m also very demi when it comes to QPRs. I have to know the person first, but I do have a type….little, blonde, Irish ancestry, and some sort of mental health diagnosis….usually bipolar or BPD.

TMG: Huh. That’s interesting. You’re also a practicing Catholic, aren’t you? What do you have to say about the prevalent assumption that one cannot be both religious and queer, or that being queer is sinful?

Teresa: My parish is pretty queer-friendly. I personally manage to be both queer and Catholic pretty well. I believe that there is a biological component to why we are the way we are. I certainly didn’t choose this. My Evangelical Christian friends sometimes have issues with my gender presentation….I skew slightly masculine as far as they are concerned. Despite having a very female body (which I have no issues with) I get misgendered often as male if people don’t look closely. Whatever. I’m a person and my hair is human hair and my clothing is human clothing. I spent 4 years in Bible College and am entirely capable of going back to the original languages to have discussions about the topic with people who try to tell me I’m sinning.

TMG: What’s your family like? And your mental state?

Teresa: I’m not in contact with my immediate family because of abuse issues. I have a younger sister whom I’m in limited contact with. As far as my mental state, I went through decades of therapy to repair the damage that my parents inflicted. I worked very hard and have been stable and fine for years.

TMG: Aw…well, I’m glad that you’re doing better now.

Teresa: Cutting all contact with my parents in 2005 was a good decision. Toxic people don’t change and I married into a really lovely supportive family.

TMG: What does pride month mean to you?

Teresa: Pride month was being involved in my community. My ace group had their own tent this year at our festival and the LGBTQIA community in my city is very inclusive and went out of their way to include us and keep us safe and make us feel welcome. I feel that solidarity and protection everyday but at Pride it was more pronounced.

TMG: Do you have anything to say that I didn’t cover?

Teresa: No. You were really thorough.

TMG: Okay. Well, thank you for your time.

Video game review #2 – Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Where reality fades into dream and dream into nightmare — May 29, 2018

Video game review #2 – Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams – Where reality fades into dream and dream into nightmare

Well, it took me a sizable period of time to get through this game, but there you have it, and this time, we’re starting with a bit of history. Most people probably don’t know who the Giana Sisters are, but they were conceived as basically a copycat of Super Mario Bros., with their first game on the Commodore 64, “The Great Giana Sisters”. It was so much like Super Mario Bros., in fact (the tagline for the game was even “The brothers are history”), that it got the creators in a bit of legal trouble, and there were no Giana Sisters games for a while. Finally, Giana Sisters DS was made for (obviously) the DS, and then came this game, made by Black Forest Games and released cross-platform in 2012 for the PC, Wii U, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360. I have the PC version, for the record. In fact, I think this game was what convinced me to get Steam in the first place; it was, to my knowledge, the first game I ever owned on it, though I have no idea what the next few were. This one is noticeably different from any Mario game I know of, except maybe Mario & Luigi: Dream Team. It’s still a 2D platformer, but this time, there’s a twist: Giana can switch between a “cute” form and a “punk” form, and depending on which form she’s in, her abilities and elements of the level will be different. This is the main gimmick of the game, or really, the only gimmick of the game, and it will be used for everything from making platforms appear and disappear to determining which kind of ghosts chase you to activating or deactivating spike traps. It also changes the scenery; Cute Giana will be platforming through a spooky land of nightmares with piano and xylophone music, while Punk Giana romps through a colorful, idyllic world with rock music. (Clearly, Giana is in her edgy teenage phase, and she may be doing some psychoactive drugs as well.) Beyond that, it’s pretty basic in its layout; Giana’s sister Maria was kidnapped and eaten by a big fat dragon-like creature called the Gurglewocky, and Giana has to rescue her, going through 3 worlds and 23 levels to reach and defeat him.

The game is…okay. There are worse sidescrollers out there for sure, but the game makes a huge difficulty spike at 1-6 and never really lets up, and I’m not much of a fan of platform hell-style games (which, actually, most indie 2D platformers seem to be these days). The levels are also super long. I don’t mind long levels per se, but these are kind of ridiculous. The only reasons it’s bearable are because you have infinite lives and you get quite a few checkpoints during the levels. Unless, of course, you’re playing on Hardcore, or worse, Uber Hardcore mode, which might as well be named “For people who have no life/have gotten rid of every other video game they own” and “For people who are actively opposed to the idea of ever having a life/are trapped on a desert island with nothing to do but play this game”, respectively. The levels are full of instant-death spikes to an extent that even VVVVVV and the fortress stages in Mega Man X6 would raise an eyebrow at. And don’t even get me started on that horrible bubble gum powerup. I guess the levels that are relatively sane aren’t half bad, though, and the last two levels surprisingly aren’t that nasty.

Summary:

Gameplay: Decent to frustrating

When a game is as difficult as this one, it needs things to lessen the impact of that, to give the player something to enjoy besides just relentless challenge, like the occasional breather level, some story, good music, or at least nice scenery to look at. And I feel like the designers of this game might have spent a bit too much time making this game hard and not enough time on the other aspects of it. The world-switching gimmick, meanwhile, is one of those things that seems interesting and novel at first, but then they kind of run out of creative things to do with it before the game is half over, and then it kind of gets in the way at times. I will say that I think the castle levels tended to be among the better ones, with a slightly higher frequency of unique stuff and more interesting setups.

Story: Excuse plot of the ages

This game has about as much story as one would expect from a classic-style 2D platformer, which is to say, just about none. (Someday, if I ever get into game design, I will make a 2D platformer that actually has a decent story.) I’m only really bringing it up because even by those standards, I was actually kind of disappointed. Once you rescue Maria, you’re treated to a still silhouette image of the two sisters atop a pile of gems (at least, I think it’s a silhouette? I don’t remember for sure, but I’m certainly not replaying the final level to find out) with the credits rolling over it…and that’s it. I thought we’d at least get to see, like, an animation of them hugging each other and walking home or something. My goodness, even Mega Man 2 had more of an ending scene than that, and that game came out in flipping 1988.

Graphics: Well, the actual graphics are nice…

I quite like the graphical style and environments of this game, especially in Punk Giana mode. It has a kind of “modern 2D” aesthetic that actually reminds me a fair bit of Donkey Kong Country games, with some nice backgrounds to boot. The problem is that—and this kind of overlaps with gameplay—there isn’t enough variety. Every level in the game can pretty much be described simply as “outside” or “inside”. There are slight variations, like how a couple of the levels in world 3 are mostly up in the sky, the world 2 boss level is sort of a rocky beach-ish environment, and there’s at least one “castle” that’s actually outside, but for the most part, every level in one of those two categories pretty much looks like every other level in that category.

Music: Eh

The music is kind of subdued and mostly not all that memorable, even in punk mode. And while there is at least more variety in the music than there is in the environments, it still falls short; there are only five different tracks in the game for levels (or ten if you count the “cute” and “punk” versions separately, but I wouldn’t). The length of the levels doesn’t help; when I die for the fiftieth time in a level after having spent the last 45 minutes in it, that two-and-a-half-minute loop overstays its welcome by a long shot, and it might well do so even if it were actually catchy.

Positives: Pretty backgrounds, an interesting main gimmick (even if its novelty does wear off pretty quickly), and some decent, if tough, boss battles. Also, thank you, Black Forest Games, for having a lot of checkpoints and no lives.

Negatives: Homogenous scenery and music and some pretty crazy difficulty, often well past the point of being fun. And with how long the levels in this game are, the more annoying ones can become quite a slog.

Final score: 4

This is one of those games that I really wanted to like a lot more than I did. It’s my favorite genre, it’s an indie game, it’s a new entry in an obscure series…but I don’t know. I’m glad that I got to play it and maybe glad that I managed to finish it, but I don’t particularly want to play it again. There’s an expansion pack for it, Rise of the Owlverlord, as well as a possible sequel announced, and I’m not sure if I’ll be getting either of those either. The design is kind of a turn-off, mainly in respect to difficulty; I feel like other difficult games that I’ve played and enjoyed generally did a better job of keeping things fresh and interesting. Still, though, it’s not a bad game, and if you have the patience for it, it can be enjoyable.

Magic: The Gathering discussion #4: Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan — Welcome! This is Dinosaur Land. — April 14, 2018

Magic: The Gathering discussion #4: Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan — Welcome! This is Dinosaur Land.

Well, I can’t put it off any longer. It’s time for some discussion about another Magic: The Gathering set! The main feature this time is Ixalan (including Rivals of Ixalan), but I’ll also be covering Iconic Masters and a bit of Unstable. I guess it’s worth at least mentioning a couple other low-key supplementary sets, too, but I’ve never talked about the From the Vault or Duel Decks series before, and I’ve only played Explorers of Ixalan once. For once, I don’t have all that much to complain about; while there will definitely be some salt, oddly enough, most of it has nothing to do with the sets themselves this time around, or at least not the main one.

So…Ixalan, in addition to being dinosaur land, is also merfolk land, pirate land, and vampire land. The primary source of conflict, in fact, is clashes between the four different tribes. But before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story. After the end of the last block, the Gatewatch presumably went every which way and ended up on various different planes. The first member of it we see subsequently is Jace, who ends up on Ixalan with amnesia. The beginning of the story follows him as he desperately tries to cope after being stuck in an unfamiliar place with no idea what has happened to him, what’s going on, who he is, or what he should do next, kind of like me every time I try to be a functional adult. Eventually, he runs into Vraska, who was last seen in the Return to Ravnica block (well, there was one random story out in the middle of nowhere that involved her…what the heck was up with that, anyway?). Or more accurately, Vraska runs into him and, being one of his former nemeses, is all ready to petrify him before finding out about his amnesia and having him join her pirate crew. Yep, believe it or not, she’s a pirate now, but she’s still never been to Boston in the fall. She’s also on a mission from everyone’s least favorite draconic megalomaniac to retrieve a famous artifact from the golden city of Orazca and bring it to Tezzeret, not that she knows who Nicol Bolas is. (Fun fact: “Bolas” apparently means “balls” in Spanish, and yes, they do use it with the same vulgar slang meaning that English speakers do, so…he will henceforth be known as “Nick Balls” or some variation thereof.) The golden city in question is the other main source of conflict, as well as a major impetus for the first. Everyone wants to find it for one reason or another: ancestral ties, preventing power from falling into the wrong hands, or just being a big freakin’ mess o’ treasure. We also get introduced to Huatli, a warrior poet from another faction, who has an affinity for dinosaurs and often rides them into battle. She runs across Angrath, a minotaur planeswalker from an unknown plane, and the subsequent fight between them causes Huatli’s spark to ignite, though she can’t leave the plane because there is an enchantment preventing people from doing so, which also affected Jace early on. Being stuck on the plane is also a major reason why Angrath is so, well, angry and wrathful (seriously, they picked a name for him that’s about as on the nose as you can get short of calling him “Rageface McMurdermeister”, and neither his name nor his characterization do much to break the stereotypes of a black/red alignment), though he changes his tune a bit upon realizing that Huatli is a fellow planeswalker and ends up being, if not exactly friendly to her, at least not actively harmful. In the end, the golden city is uncovered, and within it, Jace and Vraska meet an old and somewhat insane sphinx (Azor, the founder of the Azorius guild on Ravnica), from whom they find out that the artifact they’re looking for, the Immortal Sun, is what’s getting planeswalkers stuck on the plane and was originally designed as a trap for you-know-who. As a result, Vraska finally realizes the truth of her employer, Jace wipes that and all memories of himself from her mind temporarily so that Nick Balls doesn’t catch on, Tezzeret takes the Immortal Sun back, and everyone else is left not quite sure what just happened. Then Huatli questions her role in life, and some loose ends get tied up.

The gameplay of Ixalan and Rivals of Ixalan seems fine to me, if formulaic. Apparently, there were some complaints about it having too many creatures relative to how many noncreature spells there were or something? If so, it didn’t bother me. For set mechanics, we have raid, which first showed up in Khans of Tarkir and does things if you attacked that turn; enrage, which goes on creatures and does things when that creature gets damaged; explore, which has you reveal the top card of your library and put it into your hand or put a +1/+1 counter on the creature depending on if it’s a land or not; and ascend, which gives some of your cards a permanent buff if you have 10 or more permanents and was specific to the second set. Actually, I thought the set mechanics this time were really lame. It’s better than them actively detracting from the experience, but honestly, this block might have some of the most boring mechanics I’ve seen since I started playing, and I was around for Battle for Zendikar. About the only one that wasn’t boring was explore, and that one incorporated randomness, which is something I tend to dislike in mechanics (and I doubt I’m alone in this as a player). They didn’t seem to push the envelope much on explore or ascend either, aside from a few select cards (Twilight Prophet comes to mind). I’ve also never been big on tribal sets, but that’s just me, and I guess they don’t come along that often. Also, while the double-faced cards were an odd inclusion, they were pretty cool overall, and I’m glad that they were there. (On a side note, my brother has opened a grand total of four Rivals of Ixalan booster packs that I know of, and between those, he got two Azor’s Gateways. The guy has amazing luck with boosters, I swear….) And I don’t think I’ve said it enough, but DINOSAURS. Yeah, I know there are three other tribes, but let’s be honest; I’m mainly here for the dinosaurs.

Noteworthy cards (in my opinion) include Sunbird’s Invocation, Carnage Tyrant, Ripjaw Raptor, both of Huatli’s cards (yes, she actually gets two; lucky her), probably all of the double-faced cards, the dual land reprints, Herald of Secret Streams, Vanquisher’s Banner, Twilight Prophet, all of the elder dinosaurs, Rekindling Phoenix, and probably the other planeswalker cards (except Jace’s; his kind of sucks). Sunbird’s Invocation and Etali, Primal Storm point to some interesting additions to red’s color pie, Huatli’s second card could go in quite a few of my decks, and Carnage Tyrant fills a hole that I’ve had for a while. In fact, I must call special attention to Carnage Tyrant for being a card that goes in almost any deck of its color but is too expensive to actually put in any deck of its color, like Primeval Titan from earlier sets. I was lucky enough to get one during the prerelease (actually, aside from getting an absolutely awful promo, I was overall reasonably pleased with my pulls from the prerelease, which usually doesn’t happen), but that only makes it too awesome to use: it hasn’t left my card boxes since I got it, because if it can go in so many decks, how can I possibly choose which is the most important? The green elder dinosaur (Ghalta, Primal Hunger) was one of my favorites of the cycle as well, along with Etali (the red one). Maybe bringing out huge stompy smashy T-rexes appeals too much to my Timmy side, or maybe they have useful combinations of potentially very powerful effects.

Aside from the dinosaurs, though, I do feel like the gameplay stood out to me less than the story did. I liked Ixalan’s story just as well as Kaladesh’s, and the latter might only have an edge by having more quirky and likable characters (Yahenni, Shadowblayde, Oviya, etc.), some nice Gatewatch interaction, and a more interesting setting. I would have liked some of the supporting characters to get a bit more time (Elenda comes to mind), but Huatli came into her own as the story progressed, and Angrath was relatively likable for being the kind of guy who spends a lot of time attacking people and wrecking stuff with burning fury (hey, maybe Angrath is actually me after facing a control deck or one too many counter/steal/kill spells). And then there’s the big one: Jace and Vraska. If Ixalan’s story did one thing, it definitely endeared me to Vraska a lot more. And Jace, to a lesser extent, though I never really hated him anyway. (The player archetype he represents, on the other hand…) Jace and Vraska’s interactions were also really cute, especially since they were bitter enemies before Jace got amnesia and, after his memory returned (in a torrent that even caused Vraska to experience them as well), ended up understanding each other and even considering a date together. Man, why can’t we have Vraska as the black-aligned Gatewatch member instead of Liliana? In fact, between her and Angrath, that’s two black characters—planeswalkers, even—who are more likable than the necromancer (a list that seems to keep on growing), so…um, congratulations, Wizards, you’ve officially made serial killers and violent pirates better people than one of your main characters. Sadly, despite all four planeswalkers being major figures in the story, Jace and Vraska never met up with Huatli and Angrath to discuss planeswalker stuff; in fact, I don’t think Jace and Vraska even directly interacted with Huatli and Angrath. Also, the ending was actually good, actually tied up the loose ends (aside from those that lead into the next set or the overarching plotline), and most importantly, was freaking adorable. Angrath got to reunite with his daughters, and Huatli got to tell her family about her special planeswalker abilities and take a vacation to where else but Kaladesh, where she ran into Saheeli and, it would seem, became friends with her. Oh, and there was a bit at the end where the Sun Empire got the golden city back (which was actually one of multiple possible endings that the players voted on; alternatively, Orazca could have gone to one of the other three factions), but who cares about that when Huatli and Saheeli make such cute friends? I don’t know if platonic shipping is a thing, but if so, I am definitely doing that with those two. (Jace and Vraska, of course, get the romantic ship.) I would pay good money for a book series featuring Narset, Tamiyo, Saheeli, and Huatli just going on an adventure across the multiverse to tell stories, learn things, and experience other cultures.

In addition to the two Ixalan sets, we also have some supplementary sets to discuss. First up is Iconic Masters, and…well, I’m definitively less happy with it than I was with Ixalan, shall we say. This is the first of a series of Masters sets that are based around a theme rather than a format (as the three Modern Masters sets and Eternal Masters were), and the theme of this one is iconic creature types. That’s one thing that must be mentioned in any critique of Iconic Masters; the name isn’t supposed to mean it contains a lot of iconic, well-known cards, so no Lightning Bolt, Birds of Paradise, or Dark Ritual here. Each of the five colors of mana is considered to have an iconic creature type associated with it: angels for white, sphinxes for blue, demons for black, dragons for red, and hydras for green. And I actually would have been okay with that; angels, sphinxes, demons, dragons, and hydras are often pretty cool, even if the name was a miscommunication (I actually knew about the “iconic creature types” beforehand, and even I assumed initially that it referred to iconic cards). Unfortunately, it didn’t even do that well. There were at least a decent number of dragons in the set, coming in at 16 total, even if five of them consisted of the dragon spirit cycle from Kamigawa, but there were only 9 angels (and aside from Avacyn and Archangel of Thune, which I actually did want reprinted; most of them sucked; Restoration Angel was something, but it had just gotten reprinted in Modern Masters 2017), only 6 demons, and a measly 3 each of sphinxes and hydras. And of those, the only sphinx that needed the reprint was Consecrated Sphinx (it’s still obnoxiously expensive, but not quite as much so, which is also true for Avacyn and the archangel), and none of the hydras did. Would it have killed Wizards of the Coast to give us another printing of Kalonian Hydra (at least Commander 2016 helped with that one), Khalni Hydra (darn thing’s about 12 bucks and not terribly easy to find), or Primordial Hydra? Heck, Progenitus wouldn’t have been a bad reprint either. I guess the ones they did pick weren’t bad cards, but pardon me if I don’t leap in excitement about a reprint of a 25-cent card. I’m not sure what I would have picked for sphinxes; most of the options I can think of also aren’t terribly in need of another printing, though I at least wouldn’t mind seeing Medomai the Ageless in the M15 border. For angels, Aurelia, Baneslayer Angel, and Archangel of Tithes would have been decent options (I’m surprised Baneslayer Angel hasn’t shown up in a supplementary set yet, actually; it seemed to be pretty well-known), and I would have swapped out Firemane Angel with Firemane Avenger for sure. Maelstrom Archangel would have been neat, if hard to cast, and Sigarda, Host of Herons has been in need of a reprint for a while. I can’t complain much about the dragons (especially since we just got a bunch of decent dragon reprints and new cards in Commander 2017), though my most wanted of them (Thundermaw Hellkite) is still low in supply, and I wouldn’t have minded seeing Balefire Dragon, Furyborn Hellkite, Dragon Broodmother, Hellkite Overlord, Slumbering Dragon, Thunderbreak Regent, or a few of the dragonlords again.

The biggest problem with Iconic Masters, however, isn’t the selection of cards based on its theme…it’s all the other cards. To put it bluntly, the selection overall is severely inadequate. There are admittedly some cards unrelated to the theme that I was glad to see (Serra Ascendant, Ancestral Vision, Kiki-Jiki, Primeval Titan, Lightning Helix, and Aether Vial especially, and the dragon spirits, Monastery Swiftspear, Rift Bolt, Genesis Wave, Lotus Cobra, Glimpse the Unthinkable, Thran Dynamo, and Nimbus Maze weren’t bad either), but there are a lot more that were decidedly not in need of a reprint or worth the price of the set, or at worst, outright pointless. I know that Masters sets actually aren’t designed to be just a haven for reprints but rather to create a draft environment with cards from a variety of sets, but I only learned it recently. Keep in mind that Masters sets cost $10 per booster pack, whereas regular sets only cost $4 (and one of my local stores sells them 3 for $10), so they need to have appeal beyond just a good draft environment, or you’re just doing a draft that costs triple what it normally would (or alternatively, doing only a third as many drafts for the same price). But designing a set to be good for draft purposes and designing one to be good for constructed purposes are, if not entirely mutually exclusive, at least very difficult to pull off well simultaneously, and it’s much easier to make them merely fail at both. And Iconic Masters is exactly that sort of set: it’s too expensive to justify doing much to draft it, but it’s too low in value to justify buying packs for the individual cards (or use them after a draft). Sure, there are a few cards that are valuable, but the chances are greatly against having them show up; if anyone is honestly buying packs of this in hopes of getting a Mana Drain or Horizon Canopy or something, about all I can say is that they’d better not go to Las Vegas. Finally, why wasn’t there a single planeswalker in the set? Given that planeswalkers are supposedly the most liked card type, you’d think Wizards would be less goldarn stingy about putting them in supplementary sets. In summary, Iconic Masters did give us a few nice reprints, but overall, I found it extremely lackluster; it not only sucked as a general Masters set, but it even sucked at the theme it was named after (though I guess “Mana Drain, The Praetors, The Dragon Spirits, The Future Sight Dual Lands, and A Bunch of Random Crap Masters” didn’t roll off the tongue as well).

Finally, there is the matter of a much crazier supplementary set, that being Unstable, the long-awaited third “Un-set” of the game. These began with Unglued back in 1998, and Unhinged followed in 2004. For those not in the know, these are essentially parody sets with mechanics and flavor that are too off-the-wall or silly to be allowed in the normal game, things like high fives, caring about the artist of a card, and saying specific words to trigger effects. And I’m glad that Unstable finally came out, given how long it took between it and the previous one. Unfortunately, I’m reserved from making a full judgement on it until I actually get to play it, and I can’t do that without people to play it with. I’ve had a sealed booster box sitting in my basement since January, but somehow, the people I play MTG with still have not bothered to find time to open it with me at the time of this writing. So once that time finally comes, I’ll say more about what I thought of the set and what mechanics it has. For now, I guess I can at least say that it actually seems significantly less “wacky” than the last two Un-sets, which I know others have mentioned. It almost feels like more of a regular set that just happens to care about flavor text, cards with watermarks, and so on. Also, we only got one story for the set, and I really wish that there had been more than that, as well as more language-related cards, more balance between characters’ color identities (which is also commonly brought up…who thought it was a good idea to make the only WU legendary just an artifact, and a really annoying one at that, while there are lots of BR legendary creatures?), and more planeswalkers. This is the first Un-set to have a planeswalker card, but the word “a” is the problem there, and it has randomized effects and requires all 5 colors to boot. Why couldn’t we have gotten a planeswalker that makes use of the set mechanics, or one that does something else that the regular game couldn’t? Either way, I’m at least glad that it happened, and it seems to be doing well enough for there to be a fourth Un-set in the future.

While we’re here, I’d also like to discuss one MTG-related thing that isn’t a set: the Great Designer Search 3, or GDS3. This is a contest that people can enter to test their card design skills, and if they do well enough, they have the opportunity to design a card for the game, or even work at Wizards of the Coast for a while. The test consisted of a series of essay questions, a multiple-choice test, and a card design challenge, the last of which was only accessible to people who had finished the other two. I decided to enter because I thought it might be interesting, and I guess it was, but holy crap, were the requirements for moving on to round 3 strict. As it turned out, the contestants needed to get 73 out of 75 of the multiple-choice questions correct to advance, and a few of them were counterintuitive and very easy to get wrong. (I have no idea what my score was beyond it definitely being lower than 73, but I’m fairly sure that I at least got one of the commonly-missed ones right, the one about the creature with flying and vigilance.) And believe me, if I’d known ahead of time that I’d need to get 97% of the questions correct to advance, there’s a 97% chance I wouldn’t have even bothered to enter the wretched contest in the first place. To add insult to injury, the answers for round 1 were completely ignored for anyone who missed the threshold on round 2, so there were over a thousand people who wrote 10 short essays that didn’t even get read, including me. I know why they did it that way…it was because they wanted to eliminate the people who didn’t even finish the essays or didn’t follow the requirements for them, thereby having fewer people to take into account for round 2. Or something like that. I understand their reasoning, but it does precisely jack-all to make me less peeved that I wasted hours of my time and stayed up late writing essays that never even got acknowledged. Guess what? Multiple-choice tests can be graded by a computer now. Also, if you don’t feel like reading a couple thousand essay questions for a contest, then don’t freaking have essay questions in a contest that will have thousands of people enter it! I’d think that a person who only got 68 or 70 out of 75 questions right but sent in essays that were well-written and thoughtful would make a better employee or designer than someone who got a perfect score but couldn’t write worth crap, but apparently not. If I’m still playing this silly game by the time they do a fourth one, and they do essay questions again, maybe I should write mine using nothing but the word “chicken” and see if anyone actually notices.

*sigh* Anyway, in summary: GDS3 was a complete waste of time. Iconic Masters was underwhelming at best. Unstable was neat, but if you’re going to play it with friends, find some who aren’t flakes. And most importantly, Ixalan was a pretty decent block. It’s no Kaladesh or Return to Ravnica for sure, but I liked it a heck of a lot better than the previous one. I thought the mechanics were generally boring, but the world and story weren’t bad, nor were the cards.

Minor status update 16: The best-laid plans of mice and men… — February 27, 2018

Minor status update 16: The best-laid plans of mice and men…

Well, it seems that February has been a month of things not really going according to how I would have liked them. For starters, I had been intending to make two posts here this month. I was going to do something for Valentine’s Day, but I had kind of a friend breakup (or rather, “friend”) that day and, as a result, didn’t really feel like writing about love. The other post I had to push back because part of it involved getting together for a thing with friends, and they can’t seem to get their butts in gear enough for us to actually find a good time to do it. Beyond that, yesterday in particular wasn’t a great day for things actually turning out how they were supposed to, between having to reschedule a job interview and some MTG-related previews being, in my opinion, really underwhelming. Still, though, I did get to do the interview today, and I finally managed to continue my LP project, so that’s something. With any luck, the pushed-back post won’t be too long coming.

These are no ordinary times — January 30, 2018

These are no ordinary times

Well, it’s 2018, time for a new year and an opportunity for new things to happen. Not that that isn’t the case all year long. I don’t really believe in New Year’s resolutions, but I do at least have some goals and things to keep in mind for this year. It’s kind of amazing that 2020 is only 2 years away now…and on that note, is it supposed to be “two thousand eighteen” or “twenty eighteen”? I would assume it’s down to personal preference. Given that January is almost over, one would think that it would have been a better idea to do this earlier, but you know how I am with getting such things done at the proper time. (Why am I this way…) Actually, January has been kind of a weird month for me; it seems like it’s lasted a lot longer than other recent months (I swear New Year’s Day feels like about two months ago), and i’ve had some good times as well as some very frustrating things to deal with (mainly, getting sick twice and not being able to get a decent recording setup).

In any case, I’d like to be more productive with my various projects this year, from video game stuff to music to writing. (Hey, maybe this will be the year when I finally stop being stuck on the same chapter…) I’d like to find more social outlets, too, especially given my change in living situation from this time last year. I may try to learn more about programming, too; at the very least, I’d like to become more familiar with regular expressions, which come up more often than you’d think. I’m also planning on taking some online classes from one of my friends and learning a little Elvish, I’d like to do more non-LP videos if I can, and I’m planning on building a new computer for myself (one piece at a time, since I don’t have a lot of money to spare at once). I’ve also gotten a membership to the YMCA, since a friend of mine uses the gym there, and I thought it would motivate both of us more to actually do our exercises. I’m also planning on going to the local convention in spring this year (for the second time) and actually cosplaying for it this time.

Meanwhile, I hope that the world will start getting less terrible than it has been lately and the good guys can push back against all the crap going on. I also hope that Mega Man 11 is good, that all of the Magic: The Gathering sets released this year (or at least the majority of them) are good and are things I like, that more video games I want will be released and announced, that the remaining Trails games get translated (well, one step at a time), and that I’ll find more things to play, to watch, and to read. I also hope to gain more self-confidence and more of a sense of purpose, though I know that that’s a continual journey. I’ve been making some progress on that front, so we’ll see. Oh, and I hope that I’ll eventually find more friends to do things with. I do have some friends, but not all of them even live in my town, the ones who do tend not to have much free time, and the ones of those who do often don’t want to play what I’d like, especially if it’s best with more than two people. Still, though, there ought to be some lulls in people’s busy schedules.

Overall, I expect that, for the most part, 2018 will be a continuation of much of the same stuff that went on in 2017, just as 2017 followed up on a lot of what went on in 2016 (for me and the people around me as well as the world on the whole). It should be an exercise in maintaining innocence without naivete, skepticism without close-mindedness, idealism without false hope, cynicism without nihilism (beyond the “millennial humor” type, anyway), and realism without stagnation. I’ll just have to take things as they come, I guess.

Thankfulness and gratitude — December 31, 2017

Thankfulness and gratitude

Sometimes, the holiday season brings to light things that we sometimes need reminders of. One of those things is a reminder to be thankful and grateful. Christmas may have been a bit ago and Thanksgiving even longer (though I was originally planning to write this around then), but this is something that really should be kept in mind year-round anyway. Now, I’ll say straight off that I’ve never been much of a believer in “counting your blessings”; usually, when I’m feeling under the weather or lacking in some way and somebody says to be grateful, such as if I’m hungry and they say that there are 10 million people in the world who don’t even get food every day, my first thought generally isn’t that I’m at least glad for what I have, but rather that there are 10 million people who are freaking starving and there is almost nothing I can do to help them, which only makes me feel even worse. Similarly, I’ve never found “you shouldn’t be sad because it could always be worse” to be very good logic either because it could always be worse, no matter how bad your situation may be; there isn’t some finite level of badness that is the maximum possible limit. Conversely, one could just as easily say that there’s no point in being happy because it could always be better.

What I do believe in is making an effort to show gratitude. And not just tepidly say “thank you” every now and then but genuinely mean it. I know that it can be hard for people who are in a bad situation, and they might be peeved at me for trying to act like everything is fine when I’ve never had much adversity to deal with, or something like that, but that’s really not what I’m going for here. I think that we are given many opportunities to give thanks and acknowledge when someone has done something good for us, and even if that’s as much as some of us can do to make the world a better place, it’s still worth doing.

With that in mind, I’d like to close out the year by expressing my thanks for a number of things. My life isn’t perfect, of course (whose is?), but I still have a lot to be thankful for. I’m thankful that I have shelter, warmth, and a place to sleep, especially during these cold, dark winter days. I’m thankful that I have enough money to make ends meet and still have some left over for entertainment. On that note, I’m thankful that I have the time and resources to be able to entertain myself with things like card games, video games, the Internet, and other hobbies. Those hobbies have also gotten me into communities that I wouldn’t have been a part of otherwise, which I’m glad about. I’m certainly thankful to have enough to eat; I might not always have the food I would like, but I’m in no danger of starving and have still gotten to enjoy plenty of delicious things in my lifetime. I’m also thankful to be able to spend time outside taking in the sights and sounds of nature.

And most of all, I am thankful for my family and friends. They’ve been my lifelong companions, therapists, gaming buddies, teachers, spiritual guides, walking partners, fashion consultants, traveling buddies, job coaches, education consultants, cooks, barbers, and a whole lot more besides. Every person in my family and every friend I’ve had has made their own unique and wonderful contributions to my life, too, and I’m really glad to have so many good and fun people around. I’ve come to realize more and more in the last few years how much I appreciate positive social interaction; I’m still an introvert and definitely like my alone time as well, but it’s also really nice to have people to spend time with, and I’m very grateful to have people whom I feel comfortable with in that way. So…my deepest thanks to them for everything.

List #5: Favorite and least favorite Christmas songs — December 23, 2017

List #5: Favorite and least favorite Christmas songs

As Christmas draws near, I spend this week with a combination of excitement and anxiety, my family does our yearly Christmas caroling, we all try to get in our Christmas shopping while we can (and 2 days before the holiday doesn’t even qualify as last-minute by our standards), and the outdoors continually increases its resemblance to the second half of Snow Barrel Blast from Donkey Kong Country (but with fewer bottomless pits), one question among many must be asked: What about the music? Christmas is unique among holidays in having a lot of music written for it (one could argue that Valentine’s Day beats it by virtue of the sheer number of songs written about love, but I don’t think that counts), and with such a quantity, one should expect a lot of variety. Indeed, there is quite a spectrum when it comes to Christmas music in terms of style, subject matter, and quality, and not everyone has quite the same opinion about it. Some people love all Christmas music, one of my roommates hates all of it, and anyone working retail during the winter holiday season may eventually be implicated in a plot to brainwash the collective minds of humanity into forgetting that it ever existed. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to offer my opinion on what the best and worst Christmas songs are. I know, that will make two list articles in a row…sorry. And this one is a special “double feature” list, where it’s actually two lists in one. I should also mention that there is not much modern stuff on here; while people like Bianca Ryan might do a decent job, I’m definitely a lot more familiar with the “classic” Christmas songs. And, of course, it goes without saying that anything I’m not familiar with can’t be placed on either list.

Without further ado, I present to you my 10 least favorite Christmas songs, ranging from the “eh” to the truly awful or outright insulting.

10) Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer

Why I don’t like it: Okay, I was conflicted on this one. For a while, I seriously considered putting it on both lists, sense be darned. The thing about this song is that it’s not really the kind of thing you can sing together or play in the background, it’s not particularly noteworthy from a musical standpoint, and while the black comedy can be funny at first, the novelty wears off quickly. Besides, there are funnier “anti-Christmas songs” out there anyway.

Though it might be good for… Putting over a dramatic scene (original or otherwise) for bathos, or possibly as one song amidst a larger selection of comedic Christmas songs.

9) Jingle Bells

Why I don’t like it: This song isn’t terrible on its own, but it tends to have a habit of wearing out its welcome and being one of the most common examples of an overused Christmas song. It doesn’t help that it seems to give off more of a feeling of juvenileness than many Christmas songs, particularly if you leave out one or more verses.

Though it might be good for… Spicing up a bit. I don’t recall ever hearing any arrangements of this song, so perhaps the time is ripe for one. Or I guess you could always go the childish parody route, as with the old “Batman smells” version.

8) We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Why I don’t like it: It’s too repetitive and repetitive, and it’s also repetitive. This song could be improved substantially, I’d think, if most of the verses didn’t have the same line reiterated three times. Also, what’s the deal with verses 3 and 4 basically being “GIVE US FUD NAO”? That seems…not very much in the Christmas spirit. (And to quote Daffy Duck in the Looney Tunes Christmas album: “Just what the heck is a figgy pudding anyway?”)

Though it might be good for… I feel like this song works best either on Christmas or within a day or two of it, possibly even afterward since it does mention New Year’s Day as well. It isn’t great for playing on December 1. And as with Jingle Bells, I wouldn’t say no to some interesting new arrangements of it.

7) Silver and Gold

Why I don’t like it: This song is musically just fine, but the lyrics are frankly dumb. People like silver and gold? Well, no duh, Sherlock; where have you been for literally the entirety of human history since we started mining metals? Demanding the figgy pudding was bad enough, but this song just skips right past “it’s all about sweets” and “it’s all about toys” and goes right to “it’s all about freakin’ precious metals“. It didn’t make a good state motto, and it doesn’t make a good Christmas song.

Though it might be good for… I don’t know…some sort of Christmas-y alchemy lab? I could picture some mad scientist wizard type singing this as they’re trying to brew up some valuable concoction for their loved ones over the holidays.

6) The Sleigh

Why I don’t like it: Let’s get one thing out of the way: This is not the song that says it’s lovely weather for a sleigh ride together. That song (called “Sleigh Ride”) is decent enough. I’m talking about the much lesser-known one that goes “Lightly flying over the snow with a hey ha ha ha…”. This one…well, I’ll give it points for doing something different, at least, but it is heavily biased toward the melody. Singing “Zm…zm…zm…zm…” or “…ha…ha…ha…ha” over and over, punctuated with the occasional “Hey hey hey hey, ah ha ha” really isn’t that fun. I’d rather sing actual words, thank you. If you want a song with a similar feel that’s much more interesting, try Carol of the Bells.

Though it might be good for… Choir members with more patience than me, or ones who prefer simple parts. At least my sister likes it, though.

5) I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus

Why I don’t like it: This is one of those songs that I’ve been fortunate enough not to hear all that frequently, but the arrangements of it almost always seem to be sung by someone with an annoying voice, and even when it’s someone with a good voice, that’s not enough to save it because the lyrics are kind of annoying as well.

Though it might be good for… Maybe as a brief snippet in a show sung by an annoying kid who is acknowledged by the other characters in the show as being annoying (hopefully one who undergoes character development and matures). That seems fitting.

4) The Twelve Days of Christmas

Why I don’t like it: Hoo boy. If this song only made it to #4, you know we’ll be in for some real stinkers afterward. The lyrics are dumb and repetitive, and the music doesn’t lend it much aid. Who exactly was this alleged song even written for? Some bratty noble child from the 1500s? The repetitious format is akin to a lot of early children’s songs, yet the lyrics clearly aren’t intended to be interesting to children…and aside from the gold rings, what the heck kind of Christmas presents are these anyway? (“Mommy, can I have ten lords a-leaping for Christmas?” “No, we got you that last year, and they ran away because you forgot to feed them.”) Perhaps this was written during a simpler time, when all songs used such repetition in order to facilitate memorization through oral tradition?

Though it might be good for… About the only thing this song is any good for is parodies, and even those can become stale after a while, particularly if they follow the same format as the original song. In addition to varying up the music, perhaps the next aspiring parodist could shorten the song by combining multiple items into a single verse or something, a la the Sharon, Lois, and Bram version of “Ten in a Bed”. On an unrelated note, I should mention that the eponymous 12 days of Christmas are not the 12 days before or leading up to Christmas, as many may assume, but rather the 12 days beginning on Christmas and going through January 5. Hopefully, you’ve had an epiphany after this.

3) All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth

Why I don’t like it: Basically, take the childishness annoyance of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and make it even more childish and annoying, throw in the repetitiousness of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” for good measure, and you get this aberration. Need I say more?

Though it might be good for… I’m not sure on this one. Use it for comedy by having a big tough guy sing it after mentioning getting his teeth knocked out in a bar fight or something, maybe. I don’t know.

2) Santa Baby

Why I don’t like it: This may be the most anti-Christmas song ever, and presumably unintentionally so. Following on from earlier entries that demonstrate how songs about telling people to give you stuff are not good, this song takes the concept to its logical conclusion by having the entire bleeping thing be about all the expensive gifts the singer thinks she deserves. (If Santa Claus really existed and read this person’s Christmas list, he’d go “Oh ho ho ho ho…NO” and have all eight reindeer crap on her carpet in lieu of any presents.) Of course, this song adds insult to injury for anyone who happens to be working during the Christmas season (at a job that is most likely not making them rich); if they’re already not feeling particularly jolly, hearing somebody sing about how they really need a platinum mine won’t help in the slightest. If there’s a holiday song out there that is a more pure, unmitigated antithesis of everything that Christmas should be about, I’d like to see it!

Though it might be good for… Either using ironically as an anti-consumerist message, or representing a character who is wealthy enough to have anything they want, but no matter how many luxuries they buy, they can never fill the emptiness they feel inside by not having any friends or companions.

1) Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Why I don’t like it: Ah, yes, Baby, It’s Cold Outside…also known as the date rape song. I never liked this song even back when all my innocence was still intact; something about it just didn’t seem quite right to me. I mean, smooth jazz already tends to set off my “uncomfortably awkward moment” sensors, but then you listen to the lyrics and realize that they are actually pretty darn creepy. Funny enough, when this song was written in the 1930s or so, it was apparently supposed to be the opposite of that, where women couldn’t decide to stay at such an event and have fun without a man’s permission (because people of the past are still misogynistic turdnuggets, in case you had any doubt), so the singer makes it seem like the guy is making her stay when it was her idea all along. Naturally, that’s definitely not the message we get from it in the 2010s, and lines like “Say, what’s in this drink” only add to the creepiness. I’m not a fan of this style of music in the first place, but the lyrics make it cringey enough for it to be my least favorite Christmas song.

Though it might be good for… Again, about the only good way to use this song is ironically. It could potentially be used as a sort of leitmotif for a villainous character in a romantic drama if you wanted to invoke the creepiness factor.

Now that we’ve covered the songs that might be likely to make you lose your Christmas spirit, if temporarily, let’s talk about some that might help you regain it.

10) Do You Hear What I Hear?

Why I like it: One thing about this list is that it’s significantly more weighted toward the religious Christmas songs than the secular ones. In general, while my family plays a variety of both, we definitely tend to sing more about Jesus and angels than Santa Claus and elves. They do tend to sound prettier and be better suited for multiple singers, and this one is no exception.

Though the problem is… I never get to sing it! I don’t think anyone in my family has ever actually sung this one, only listened to it. I’m not even sure if we have the music.

9) Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree

Why I like it: On the secular side of things, I’d always thought this song was pretty decent. It’s reasonably catchy, and the lyrics don’t get old too fast.

Though the problem is… There’s no 4-part harmony for it, so it’s not great for singing a capella; it’s better with a guitar or something.

8) It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas

Why I like it: Among the Christmas songs of the “cheery little ditty” type, this one is probably one of the better ones. The lyrics aren’t repetitive, nor too focused on a particular topic, and the tune isn’t bad.

Though the problem is… This song always makes me think of the Brawl in the Family parody “It’s Beginning to Look Just Like an Ice World”. Every. Stinking. Time. And it doesn’t help that I know all the lyrics to that but hardly any of the real version.

7) Winter Wonderland

Why I like it: This might be my favorite non-comedic secular Christmas song. It’s upbeat, innocent, relatively timeless, and just…fun, I guess.

Though the problem is… In addition to being a bit on the short side, it’s not actually all that Christmas-y. Nothing in the song makes any specific references to Christmas, or any other winter holiday for that matter. For that reason, since there are plenty of actual Christmas songs, this one might be best to save for later in the winter when it’s still cold and miserable, Christmas is long past, and you have nothing to sing. If you live in the Southern Hemisphere, sing it 6 months or so away from Christmas.

6) Silent Night

Why I like it: It has a nice air of solemnity to it while not being too boring. And if you get sick of the English lyrics, you can always sing it in German instead.

Though the problem is… This is probably the most overdone song on this list; for me, at least, I’ve sung it while caroling, as part of the high school choir, and even at church, and every year to boot. There are songs designed to be sung simultaneously with it (“Peace, Peace” and “Night of Silence”), which is one way to vary things up a bit.

5) The Night Santa Went Crazy

Why I like it: This is, so far, my favorite black comedy Christmas song. The lyrics are well-written by the standards of the genre, and the backing music is actually good.

Though the problem is… I’m not sure if this actually counts as a Christmas song beyond technicality. Also, it has the same issues that “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer” does.

4) What Child Is This?

Why I like it: I suppose for the same reasons I like Silent Night, and there’s more musical variety to be had here.

Though the problem is… Hm. I guess I’m not sure on this one. It is pretty formulaic, but that’s true of quite a few of these.

3) We Three Kings

Why I like it: Perhaps it’s fitting that the song with “three” in the name would be at #3. In any case, here is another dramatic religious song that seems to slip under the radar enough to retain a bit of novelty, and the bass part isn’t too simple but also isn’t too weird, which is a plus.

Though the problem is… What’s up with that fourth verse? Why are we singing about gloom, bleeding, and dying in a Christmas song? (Well, okay, I guess What Child Is This did mention getting pierced with nails and a spear…) The other two kings were fine with giving praise…was Balthasar going through his emo phase or something?

2) The Coventry Carol

Why I like it: This song has some very nice harmonies and parts, as well as a pattern of switching between major and minor chords that lends interesting contrast to it while still flowing well and maintaining the feel of the song.

Though the problem is… It seems to be rather obscure as Christmas songs go. Most people outside my family to whom I’ve mentioned it have never even heard of it, and I don’t recall ever hearing it on the radio or anything either.

1) O Holy Night

Why I like it: Ah, this song…what can I say? It has a beautiful melody and lyrics that work together to tell a story, with the feelings varying as the song progresses from lighter to darker and back again. As a result, it also does a very good job of not being repetitious.

Though the problem is… It’s not in the books we use for caroling, so every year, while I enjoy the experience, I must resign myself to my favorite song remaining absent from our repertoire.

With that, these are my top 10 favorite and least favorite Christmas songs, or at least close enough to them. My favorites and least favorites vary a bit depending on the phases of the moon, the position of Saturn, and whether the number of times I’ve gotten up for a drink of water today is a prime number or not. Are there any songs that you think should have been on one of these lists that weren’t, or ones that you don’t think deserved their position? In any case, a Merry Christmas to everyone who celebrates it, a Happy Holidays to anyone who doesn’t, and may this holiday season be delightfully musical.

List #4: 10 favorite video game music tracks with unusual time signatures — November 3, 2017

List #4: 10 favorite video game music tracks with unusual time signatures

Video game music is an interesting thing, mainly because of its diversity. In fact, there is so much diversity in it that just describing something as “video game music” says essentially nothing about what it actually sounds like. There is certainly plenty of chiptune-ish music that clearly sounds like it came from a game (such as the soundtracks of Shovel Knight and Undertale), but games also cover pretty much every other genre as well; in all my time playing video games, I’ve heard everything from techno to orchestral symphonies and everything from tracks that could double as lullabies to ones that rock hard enough to be a Dragonforce song. In fact, I’m sure I’ve spent significantly more time listening to music from video games than I have actually playing them. With all that variety, it stands to reason that there would be some variety in the time signatures as well. If you have more than a passing knowledge of music theory, you’re probably familiar with at least the most common time signatures: 4/4, 3/4, 6/8, maybe 2/4, 2/2, 12/8, and so on. You might even have noticed patterns to their use, especially where games are concerned; for instance, most tracks are in 4/4, underwater themes tend to be in 3/4 (and that isn’t always true; Super Mario Bros. 3’s underwater music is in 4/4, for instance), militaristic and dramatic tracks as well as ethnic-sounding ones can be in 6/8 or 12/8 (and those that bring to mind sailing or the sea, such as Jib Jig from Donkey Kong Country 2, which is in 12/8), and whatnot. But there are also those with time signatures or patterns of time signatures that are noticeably out of the ordinary (unless you’re a Rush fan), and that is exactly what I’m here to discuss right now. These are ranked roughly by both how much I like them and how “weird” their meter is.

Honorable mentions:

These are tracks that I felt were at least worth mentioning but not really putting on the list for various reasons.

Touhou 6 – U. N. Owen was her? – This is a good song, but most of it is in 4/4 time; only the intro is in 5/4.
Klonoa – The Windmill Song – This one is similar, where there are parts of it in 5/8, but most of it is in 6/8.
Touhou 11 – Hellfire Mantle – And again. This song is partly in 5/4 and partly in 3/4, but it’s mostly the latter.
Final Fantasy 8 – Don’t be Afraid – Okay, this one is in 5/4 all the way through, or at least mostly. Beyond its time signature, though, it’s not particularly remarkable, just another JRPG battle theme.
Tales of Symphonia – Keep Your Guard Up! – Another 5/4 track, and I’m leaving this one off merely due to lack of familiarity. I haven’t even played enough Tales of Symphonia to know where this plays.
Yoshi’s Island DS – Castle Boss – This is admittedly one of the better tracks in Yoshi’s Island DS, and in 6/4 all the way to boot, but I don’t think it’s quite as good as the ones on the list.
Mega Man X7 – Burning Water – Yet another one in 5/4 and yet another one that is decent but not as good as what I have.

Now, on to the real list.

10) Crash Bandicoot: The Wrath of Cortex – Coral Canyon

Time signature(s): 5/4
Link: Here.

I’ve always thought Crash Bandicoot 4’s soundtrack was rather underrated, and I also think more underwater themes should be in 5/4 time. This is the only one I can think of, and it’s pretty decent, though it seems a bit too subdued in parts. It also overuses those background synth noises, but that’s true of a lot of tracks from Crash 4 anyway.

9) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky the 3rd – Golden Road, Silver Road

Time signature(s): 5/4 (mostly)
Link: Here.

This is the third dungeon theme from the third Trails in the Sky game, and it’s also pretty decent. The unusual time signature is still the most memorable thing about it, but it’s a pretty okay theme in its own right, fitting for such a bright, shiny dungeon as this one.

8) Final Fantasy 6 – Dancing Mad, part 5

Time signature(s): 15/8, 4/4, possibly others
Link: Here.

This one might be higher on the list if I were more familiar with it, but I lost patience with Final Fantasy 6’s random encounters and battle system long before making it anywhere near the final boss, so I’ve never heard it in the actual game. In its own right, though, this is a delightfully chaotic boss theme (aside from that organ section in the middle, which also probably drops its ranking a bit), fitting for a maniac bent on destroying everything. In fact, I’m not even entirely sure what time signatures it has in all because it’s so syncopated.

7) Mickey’s Magical Quest – Pete’s Peak

Time signature(s): 6/4, 4/4, 3/4
Link: Here.

This track, which plays in stage 4 of the first The Magical Quest game, is in fairly syncopated 6/4 for most of it (not the last section or the intro). Uncommon time signatures are something of a rarity in the series (the first final boss theme from the second game is in 7/4, and it’s the only other one I can think of), but this one does a pretty good job with it while also being quite fitting for this airy mountain level. (It’s a shame the stage had to be so short…)

6) The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky – Tetracyclic Towers

Time signature(s): 6/4
Link: Here.

This plays in the gem-themed colored towers of the first (and second) Trails in the Sky games, as well as a few cutscenes. It’s another nice dungeon track, fitting for a feeling of exploring a colorful tower one floor at a time.

5) Touhou 12 – Provincial Makai City Esoteria

Time signature(s): 11/4
Link: Here.

I’m sure this isn’t the only Touhou theme that’s entirely in a time signature like this, but it’s certainly the first one I’d think of. Not that I’ve ever heard it play in the game; this is the theme for stage 5 of Touhou 12: Unidentified Fantastic Object, and I don’t get that far in most Touhou games (for good reason).

4) Donkey Kong Country – Bad Boss Boogie

Time signature(s): 29/8
Link: Here.

Donkey Kong Country games don’t do a whole lot of unusual time signatures, but then you have this. It’s rather different, but it’s a good boss theme. (Not that you’ll probably get to hear the whole thing given how easy most of this game’s bosses are…) I can practically picture getting attacked by a giant hopping beaver right now.

3) Mega Man X2 – Sinister Gleam

Time signature(s): 13/8, 6/4, 4/4
Link: Here.

Found in Crystal Snail’s stage in Mega Man X2, this track spends a good amount of time in 13/8, switches time signatures a few times, and sounds very unlike anything else in the game, or the rest of the series for that matter. Mega Man games, especially the older ones, tend to stick pretty closely to 4/4 time. Still, though, this sounds pretty cool, and despite its unusual rhythm, suitable for the stage it’s in. I especially like the vibraphone (as if there would be a crystal-themed piece of music without mallet percussion in it somewhere).

2) Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga – Bowser’s Castle

Time signature(s): 7/8
Link: Here. (Also here for the remixed version from the 3DS remake.)

This is from the final dungeon of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, and I’d say it’s suitably epic and dangerous-sounding for a final dungeon. The remix from Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions is even better, not being held back by the GBA’s audio quality. The irregular meter combined with the instrument choices make it sound frantic yet climactic, like you know that this is where you’ll finally face off with the major villain, but you still have a lot of deadly traps to get through first that should not be underestimated. I think the intro might be in a different time signature, but I can’t place it.

1) Super Mario RPG – Weapons Factory

Time signature(s): 13/8
Link: Here.

This is it: the best video game track with an unusual time signature ever, or at least the best out of the ones I’ve heard. And surprisingly enough, it’s another final dungeon theme from a Mario RPG, found in Smithy’s factory in Super Mario RPG (or at least the outside area of the factory). This chaotic yet ominous theme has it all…a haunting string melody and harmony, heavy synth backing, echoey mechanical clanks in the background, and a syncopated drum beat. As is appropriate for mechanical monsters invading from another world, this track sounds relentless, menacing, and otherworldly, which the unusual time signature also helps to convey.

Huh, I just noticed that both of my video game music-related lists were published in November. Anyway, what are some of your favorite music tracks from video games (or otherwise) with unusual time signatures? Feel free to mention them in the comments.

I’m coming out, so you’d better get this party started — October 11, 2017

I’m coming out, so you’d better get this party started

Content warning for discussion of sex, sexuality, and relationships

Well, apparently October 11 this year is National Coming-Out Day or something. So…guess what, everyone? I’m asexual. And apparently quite a few people don’t know what that entails, but asexuality is what the “A” in “LGBTQIA+” stands for (it’s not “ally”), it’s a sexual orientation just like hetero-, homo-, or bisexuality, and it’s just as valid as any other. It doesn’t mean that I’m simply choosing to live celibately. It doesn’t mean that I’m weird or just a straight person trying to be special, or that there is something wrong with me. About 1% of the population is asexual, give or take, which doesn’t sound like much until you think about how many people that actually is and/or compare it to other demographics that make up 1% of the population; that’s about how many people in the world have red hair, and it’s about how many live in the UK. It certainly doesn’t mean that I reproduce parthenogenically; while that would be interesting, I still don’t want to have kids even if they’re clones of me (more on that later). It doesn’t mean that I’m neither male nor female either; gender identity is a beast in and of itself, but it is completely separate from sexual orientation and is a story for another day. Technically, being asexual doesn’t necessarily even mean that I have no interest in sex; while that is true for me, it’s not the case for everyone.

The only thing that asexuality does mean is that a person doesn’t feel sexually attracted to anyone. And that, I suppose, gave me a different experience growing up; I’d just assumed that I didn’t believe in sex before marriage or something. I didn’t realize that people were serious about saying things like “I’d have sex with that person if I had the chance” (and in less polite terms to boot), and it’s something I can’t relate to at all. Like…you don’t even know that person; why in the world would you want to get that intimate with them? Frankly, I find the very idea rather creepy. People are way too obsessed with sex in general if you ask me, and they don’t spend enough time focusing on the emotional connections in relationships. And that’s another thing: asexuality also doesn’t prevent me from being able to love people. I think I love very much, in fact, and I find it one of the great tragedies of our society that love is so often associated with sex. After all, ancient Greek had at least four different words for different types of love, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t just mean “have sex with your significant other”, “have sex with your friends”, “have sex with your family”, and “have sex unconditionally”.

Mind you, that doesn’t mind I’d find love any easier than anyone else. The thing is, it’s quite possible for a person’s romantic orientation to be different from their sexual orientation, which seems to happen particularly frequently with asexual people. In my case, I am almost certainly completely asexual, but where I fall on the romantic spectrum is a bit more of an enigma. About all I can figure out beyond reasonable doubt is that it’s somewhere on the hetero side of things; there may be male people whom I would want to spend time around for the rest of my life, but I’m not into them in “that way”. It really doesn’t help that it’s hard for me to figure out where the boundaries of romantic attraction lie anyway; most of the things I’d do with a significant other if I had one—hugging them, having deep conversations about life, going for long walks in a park together, taking them out for lunch, getting them surprise presents, living together—I’d already do with my friends anyway. Pretty much the only differences between a girlfriend and just a plain friend for me would be cuddles, a possible marriage proposal, and (following that) maybe sleeping in the same bed. I would still like to find that special someone to spend the rest of my life with; while I could probably just live with a few close friends, it’s not really the same. But I still wouldn’t want to have sex with that person, either for pleasure or reproductive purposes. I’m just not sure in what capacity such a relationship would be. Alterous attraction is a thing that exists, as is being quoiromantic, so maybe one of those fits me, but I’m not sure. Love is a thing that has puzzled humanity for millennia, and if anyone were to figure it out at this point in history, it sure as heck wouldn’t be me.

So…that’s me. I’m pretty ace and proud of it. It’s not always easy (I did mention that it seems like everyone else is way too obsessed with sex, right?), but I think I’m glad that I am how I am. Not everyone can be that comfortable, though; asexuality isn’t very well known compared to homo- or even bisexuality, or being transgender for that matter, so not everyone even knows that it exists. And that is why awareness is so important; a person who never finds out that it is possible to be asexual (or, by the same token, any number of other identities that don’t fall under “heterosexual and cisgender”) might spend their entire lives thinking that they are broken in some way. If I remember correctly, the first time I found out was when a friend brought it up in passing. Ultimately, though, we’re all individuals, and I think most people want to be loved.