From a Mind of Eternal Chaos

A place where I post whatever happens to strike my fancy

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.

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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.

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.

Magic: The Gathering discussion #3: Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation — The eleventh plague of Egypt was elder dragons — October 7, 2017

Magic: The Gathering discussion #3: Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation — The eleventh plague of Egypt was elder dragons

It’s time to discuss another block of Magic: The Gathering sets. I was going to go with “Planeswalk like an Egyptian” for this one, but apparently, somebody else already made that reference. I will warn you right now that there may be a large amount of negativity and ranting, so if you’re not a fan of disgruntled criticism based pretty much entirely on personal opinion, you may want to skip this one. Because hoo boy, if you thought I was too hard on the Shadows over Innistrad block last year…well, after going through this one in the same time frame this year, I almost want to take back some of my criticism of the former.

But before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story. We’ll be discussing Amonkhet, Hour of Devastation, and Commander 2017 this time around. The Amonkhet block, with its two sets released in April and July 2017 respectively, is basically a block inspired by Egyptian mythology…at least, at first. Amonkhet (the first set) goes for the basic mythology feel, with some Egyptian-inspired deities, some trials for the supposed afterlife, and lots and lots of desert (surprisingly few sphinxes, though). Then in Hour of Devastation, just when everyone thinks that they have finally achieved glory and pleased their pharaoh upon his return, Nicol Bolas arrives and murders everything, then when the Gatewatch tries to fight him, he hands them their butts and they’re (mostly) forced to planeswalk away to escape.

Now, given that they did a set based on Greek mythology, it makes sense that they’d also do one for Egyptian mythology, but…I was really not a fan of this one. For starters, I feel like it might have been a bit on the weak side? I mean, not every set has to be mega-broken-over-9000-powerful for sure, but I definitely feel like there weren’t nearly as many cards in either of these sets—especially the second—that stood out to me as “oh hey, this is neat; I could use this”. Having a set that is slightly underpowered is all right if the flavor is good, though…and that’s where we get to the main reason I didn’t like this block. You know how I mentioned in the previous paragraph that Nicol Bolas, the ridiculously megalomaniacal but equally ridiculously powerful elder dragon planeswalker who wants to take over everything, returns in this block? Yeah, the multiverse’s resident number one evil overlord is back, all right, and he utterly wrecks this place, destroying the main city, turning everything into desert and ruins, corrupting three of the populace’s patron deities and killing the other five, and turning a bunch of people into an elite zombie army (though to be fair, the zombies were already dead). Five of the six main characters try to fight him (Ajani leaves for another plane to go get help because he’s fought Mr. Scary Durgon before and knows how OP he is), discover the hard way that they’re out of their league, and get stomped into the ground. There is an entire cycle of cards about each of the Gatewatch members getting their butts kicked, and they’re not even story spotlights. I mean, I was complaining before about how return sets always seem to involve ruining the plane, but I think this is the first time where the first visit to a plane involves ruining it. (Though maybe that’s a good thing? They wouldn’t wreck it even worse on a return trip, right?…)

I suppose I’m not as ticked off as I could be about the whole plane-wrecking thing, because I’d only just been introduced to Amonkhet as a setting, don’t particularly care that much about the plane compared to certain others, and knew in advance that it was going to suffer an unwanted visit from the Dastardly Dragon of Doom. But still, it does mean it’s yet another apocalyptic set, and we’ve certainly had our share of those; there would have been three in a row if Kaladesh didn’t exist. (At least one person actually wanted to see Kaladesh get devastated as well. About all I can say on that note is that I hope that person steps on Legos barefoot, bangs their shins on a coffee table, and/or gets stuck in traffic every day for the next two weeks.) Quite a few people did want to see the Gatewatch get beaten or even killed off, too, which I think is partly due to dislike of several of them for supposedly being one-note characters and partly due to feelings that they win too easily. I actually do agree with the assessment that they started too big; while I didn’t cover the Battle for Zendikar block because it came out before I started doing these, defeating plane-eating eldritch abominations may not have been the best way to start a new story/character arc. But really, the Gatewatch had exactly one definitive victory as a team; the second time around, the monster clearly let them win and equally clearly could have destroyed them had she wanted to; and the third time, while the entire Gatewatch was technically involved, I’d always thought of it as more of a victory for Chandra and the renegades, not to mention that they didn’t actually catch one of the villains. So I don’t know where people are getting the idea that the Gatewatch is invincible.

As for the mechanics of the set, they did what they did generally well enough. This time around, we have the return of cycling (last seen in the Alara block back in 2009), which allows you to pay a cost to discard a card with it and draw a new one, as well as the new embalm, allowing you to exile a creature card from your graveyard and make a token copy of it (basically turning it into a mummy); exert, allowing you to get an additional or more powerful effect from a creature with the drawback of it not untapping on your next turn; aftermath, a new variant of split cards that allows you to cast the second half from your graveyard; eternalize, which is basically a variant of embalm that gives the creature specific stats (embalm was only in the first set and eternalize in the second); and afflict, which is also only in the second set and causes opponents to lose life when blocking creatures that have it. Probably the most noteworthy of those for me was aftermath; the funky frame did take some getting used to (and it doesn’t help that I usually put my library and graveyard on my left side, so the aftermath part is upside-down), but I have kind of a soft spot for split cards, and basically combining fuse and flashback was an interesting idea. On the other hand, it did seem to be the obligatory “awesome but impractical” new mechanic of the block, where it’s an interesting enough concept, but only a few of the cards with it are actually worth the trouble, and all the rest generally cost too much mana to bother with. In the original Ravnica block, it was replicate; in Zendikar, it was level up; in Theros…actually, all the mechanics in Theros requiring a mana payment kind of fell into that category; and in Return to Ravnica, it was scavenge. This actually seems to be true for split cards in general much of the time, but I swear I didn’t notice it nearly as much with the fuse ones.

The cards themselves, as you might imagine, aren’t as noteworthy as the previous set’s either in my opinion, especially the ones from Hour of Devastation. There are still at least a few that I quite liked, though: Champion of Rhonas and As Foretold are nice because getting free stuff is good, Anointed Procession is a very welcome near-functional reprint of Parallel Lives (I do love my token decks), Harvest Season is potentially quite powerful, Oracle’s Vault could be good, and Nissa’s new card is interesting. From the second set, Neheb, the Eternal is noteworthy for its mana ability, while Wildfire Eternal, again, can give you free spells, and the black and green aftermath card seems decent. Though to elaborate on Nissa, she kind of falls into that “cool but not always practical” category a bit. She’s the first planeswalker with an X cost, but she suffers from the same issue as a lot of X-cost spells, that being scaling. If you cast her for the usual cost for planeswalkers, about 4 or 5, she’ll enter the battlefield with only 2 or 3 loyalty counters, whereas to get her to start with 4 loyalty counters, you need to cast her for 6. And despite being a +2, her first ability does not do enough for a planeswalker of that cost. Her middle ability can be pretty good, especially if you set it up (use it in conjunction with her first one, provided you’re not getting milled). Her last one is blech. I’m sure some people could get some good use out of it, but I’ve never been a fan of land animation nor planeswalker ultimates that your opponent can render completely moot with a simple kill spell, and this one is both. Still, though, it’s an interesting card, and a weird one, frankly, between the X cost and being the first multicolored card for a Gatewatch member.

While I’m here, I should bring up the Masterpieces. These are special reprints that have shown up in three blocks so far, starting with Battle for Zendikar, then Kaladesh, and now Amonkhet. Each of them is also based around a theme, with Battle for Zendikar’s (“Expeditions”) all being famous lands, Kaladesh’s (“Inventions”) being artifacts, and Amonkhet’s (“Invocations”) being…something? I’m not actually sure what the theme of the latest incarnation is supposed to be, quite honestly. Well, I never liked the idea of the Masterpieces; they were a stupid idea from the getgo, and they’re even stupider here. The reason they’re so stupid is that they are ridiculously rare. How rare? Well, by comparison, your chances of getting just a regular mythic rare card in a booster pack are usually about 1 in 8, so if you bought a full booster box, you could expect 4.5 mythics on average. The Masterpieces are 18 times rarer than that, so using the same principle for them, you’d have to buy four entire booster boxes before you’d get even one Masterpiece card. I’ve never gotten one. I don’t know anyone who has. Between me and my friends, we’ve gotten a pretty fair number of booster packs, and I’ve never even seen a Masterpiece in person. They seem intended as a cash grab, presumably to lure people into buying more booster packs in the hope of getting some of these rare and valuable collector’s items (as if this game didn’t flagrantly abuse the laws of supply and demand enough as it is), but personally, that’s the exact opposite of what it would take to convince me to buy more booster packs. Of course, you could always pick them up via the secondary market; at the time of this writing, a common Ornithopter as a Masterpiece will run you about, oh, $55 or so.

That brings me to why the Amonkhet Masterpieces are even worse than the first two rounds of them. They’re not any rarer or more expensive, but the seeming lack of cohesion makes the Invocations much less memorable than the Expeditions or Inventions. More importantly, rather than just using a special frame, they use completely different fonts as well, and ones that, frankly, clash with the rest of the cards in the game. The font used for the name and typeline is supposed to resemble hieroglyphics, though it’s not always the clearest thing to read at first glace, which causes things such as Hazoret the Fervent’s Masterpiece version looking like it says “Hazoret the Pervert”. Bonus points for anyone who happens to be at all dyslexic, which includes the friend who taught me the game. So I probably wouldn’t want to get him an Invocation as a gift, but I could get him a copy of Nicol Bolas, Dog-Pharaoh.

Anyway, I think I’ve about said my piece on the main set, so let’s discuss the Commander set. Commander 2017 seemed decent enough, I suppose. I’m not generally a fan of tribal sets because they’re so linear and tend to be less interesting than non-tribal stuff, but I suppose it worked. The creature types here are dragons (in all five colors), cats (in green and white), wizards (in blue, black, and red), and vampires (in white, black, and red). Yes, there’s not an even color distribution this time, and unfortunately, the two colors that only appear in two of the decks rather than three happen to be my favorites. I also feel like the selection of reprints in this set weren’t as good as the ones in Commander 2016, though there were still a few good ones. Mirari’s Wake was probably the best of those, but Utvara Hellkite, Door of Destinies, and Well of Lost Dreams were also nice, and there were a number of other decent ones as well (such as Lightning Greaves, Clone Legion, Dragonspeaker Shaman, and Fist of Suns). Among the new cards, I liked Scalelord Reckoner, Teferi’s Protection, Traverse the Outlands, and Izzet Chemister in particular.

Then there were the new legendary creatures, which I think they did a pretty good job on overall. All 15 of them seem reasonably powerful, interesting, or fun (not that I’ll personally be using all of them). The main commander of each deck obviously works best in a tribal deck based on that creature’s type, though Edgar Markov and The Ur-Dragon are at least usable on their own. (Why did Arahbo have to say “another” for both of its abilities?) The Ur-Dragon, incidentally, definitely appeals to the side of me as a Magic player that likes big, flashy things that mush people while getting you more big, flashy things, being an enormous flying dragon that lets you draw cards and cheat permanents out whenever it attacks. It using all 5 colors does limit what decks it can go into, though, even more than costing 9 mana already does. Probably the best of the new commanders for general use is Ramos, Dragon Engine, which doesn’t require any specific colors, gets bigger whenever you cast spells, and can get you lots of mana if you cast enough stuff. That could honestly go in almost any deck that still expects to be doing things after reaching 6 mana. Yes, I realize that Commander-specific cards are normally only legal in eternal formats (and Commander itself, of course), but I play casual, so we don’t have any sort of bans or restrictions beyond “using anything that’s clearly way too powerful for the rest of the play group is frowned on”. Nazahn is also tailor-made for an equipment deck, even if it has nothing to do with cats.

One knock against C17, though, is that I feel like it really needed a new mechanic other than the one it had. It introduces eminence, which allows things with it to have an effect even while they’re in the command zone. I actually don’t mind eminence itself, but it’s only on four cards in the entire 309-card set, those being the commanders that are the face of each of the decks. I guess Commander sets don’t usually introduce all that much in the way of new things, though? I mean, I recall partner being the only new thing in C16, but at least that got 15 cards. Though some people apparently don’t like eminence as a mechanic in and of itself for whatever reason. Bad memories of Oloro, Ageless Ascetic from Commander 2013, perhaps? Or maybe their complaints with it are the old “it’s not interactive” drivel. I’ve never really bought into “it’s not interactive” as a good argument against most things, partly because in my experience, what people mean 99% of the time when they say “it’s not interactive” is “I might actually have to allow this thing to be useful to you” and partly because there already are things that lack interactivity that, for some reason, never seem to get called out for it. Board wipes, for instance, aren’t generally interactive unless you’re playing blue or have some way of protecting your stuff, and board wipes that exile or bounce are especially bad (I know of only three cards in the game that get around that, two of which don’t work on tokens and the third of which was only printed in this very set). Targeted discard isn’t interactive, unless you’re playing blue. Counterspells aren’t interactive (again, unless you’re playing blue, in which case you can counter them right back). So you might be able to understand why I’d be skeptical about anyone grumbling that an opponent’s choice of commander makes all their dragons 1 cheaper to cast or gives one of their cats a free temporary buff. But I digress. Overall, I thought Commander 2017 was pretty decent. It may not have been as interesting as Commander 2016, or as novel, or as rich in good reprints, or…okay, let’s just say C16 was probably better in every way. (Why I didn’t pick up any of the decks from it back when they were actually obtainable for a reasonable price, I don’t know.) But it set out to do a thing and, for the most part, delivered on it.

In general, I really wasn’t a fan of this block. I’ll admit that Kaladesh was a bit of a tough act to follow in the first place, but that only got compounded by following it with a set that both seemed a bit on the underpowered side and didn’t have a story I liked. It’s a similar situation to Shadows over Innistrad, but I actually dislike Hour of Devastation even more than I did Eldritch Moon, given that it had fewer cards that I liked and destroyed a plane that honestly didn’t seem all that bad before (at least Innistrad was already a sucky place and, being the horror plane, was specifically geared toward people who like the dark, macabre stuff), with the end result that I ended up almost completely uninterested in the whole thing. But it’s over and done with now, and I’m already liking the next set better (which I’ll probably discuss some time around February of next year), so whatever, I suppose.

Minor status update 15: I tried to write a book review, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt — August 31, 2017

Minor status update 15: I tried to write a book review, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt

Well, phooey. I had a book review well on the way, but it seems I won’t be able to finish it this month after all. So…hey, kids, it’s another anticlimactic end-of-the-month filler post. Maybe I should just make these a running gag at this point. One could argue that I should just post the review when I finish it and leave it at that, but darn it, I made a promise to myself to post something on here every month, at least for archive purposes. (The lack of anything in November 2015 still bugs me….) At least it’s close enough to completion that I can’t procrastinate too much more on it, so hopefully, I can get that up within the next couple days. Sorry about that, everyone. (Though on a side note, the T-shirt I’m wearing at the time of this writing actually happens to be one of my favorites….)

Minor status update 14: Neurochemistry, schedules, and other janky things — July 31, 2017

Minor status update 14: Neurochemistry, schedules, and other janky things

Okay, I’ll try to make this one brief, because yes, it’s the last day of the month and I’ve made no other posts, as so often happens. July was a bit tougher than usual for me as months go, between doing some housesitting, wiping out on my bike early in the month (the accident was nothing truly serious, but I still haven’t entirely healed from it), dealing with side effects from a couple new kinds of medicine, and most annoyingly, having recurring bouts of insomnia. I don’t know what’s up with my brain that it needs 2+ hours of thinking about sleeping before I actually make it there, or wakes me up in the middle of the night and stays that way until morning, but it’s really freaking obnoxious. Seriously, brain, if you actually did the neurotransmitter thing properly, my doctor and I wouldn’t have to attempt to pick up the slack. Oh yeah, and the fact that it’s been consistently above 90 degrees for most of the month, not to mention smoky lately because of all the fires around, does not help matters in the least. As a result, I haven’t made all that much progress on Worldbuilding June this month, or this site in general. Sorry. Better luck next month, I suppose? Still, though, I suppose things could be a lot worse.

Minor status update 13: Worldbuilding…all the months — June 7, 2017

Minor status update 13: Worldbuilding…all the months

It’s that time of year again, time for Worldbuilding June. (See my posts starting at the beginning of June 2016 for a refresher on what that is.) Unfortunately, I never managed to finish the prompts from the last one despite having potentially an entire year to do them, which says a lot about my life and productivity. However, quite a few of the prompts seem to be the same as the ones from last year, so I’ll probably just continue them this month (or should I say this “month”…). Stay tuned for a continuation of last year’s Worldbuilding June from day 13 onward, as well as some extra prompts for any days that may be different.

Magic: The Gathering discussion #2: Kaladesh and Aether Revolt — The inventors are revolting (and the engineers look a bit rank, too) — April 30, 2017

Magic: The Gathering discussion #2: Kaladesh and Aether Revolt — The inventors are revolting (and the engineers look a bit rank, too)

Yes, it’s time for another post about the latest MTG block. This time, we’ll be discussing Conspiracy 2, Kaladesh and Aether Revolt, Commander 2016, and Modern Masters 2017. I really should have posted this earlier, considering it’s been a good 3 months since the last main set and the next one has now been released, but I wanted to wait until the Modern Masters set was out, and after that, I guess I kind of let time slip away from me, plus there was Easter week to create busyness. Yes, I at least should have gotten it done before the next set was out, but…you know me.

Since we don’t need much of an introduction this time, I’ll start right off discussing the sets. Let’s actually do the supplementary products first, though, since we actually have such a thing to discuss. First up is Conspiracy: Take the Crown, and I really don’t have much to discuss about this one, since I’ve never played Conspiracy as a format nor do I know how you’re supposed to do so. It has some decent new cards, though (for casual play, anyway); Selvala’s new card seems good, there are at least a few decent reprints (Followed Footsteps, Forgotten Ancient, Serum Visions, Wild Pair…), and I guess the new mechanics aren’t bad, if not as relevant outside of a multiplayer game (in fact, goad does significantly less against only one person). I suppose I have more to say about the story this time around, and I’m kind of conflicted on the new characters. Leovold and Adriana didn’t really get enough story time to reveal much, and while Kaya is certainly interesting, she falls into that category of “clearly not a bad guy, but I’m not sure I quite agree with this person’s moral compass anyway…”. That seems to be a common theme with non-villainous black-aligned characters (with one notable exception, which we’ll actually discuss later on); I don’t like Sorin much either, though I do think Kaya’s at least better than him. Of course, since she’s only in a supplementary set anyway (so far), it’s kind of hard to fit her into the major story arc anyway. I wouldn’t mind seeing her show up again in a main set, though, as long as she’s still a reasonable person and doesn’t turn into a sociopath or something. Though my biggest complaint with the story is that it seemed like it ended way too abruptly, like the writers were rushed and just had to cut an installment or two from the end. As I said, though, it’s a supplementary set, and one for a format that I’ve never ever played, so…it’s okay, I guess?

Next, let us talk about Commander 2016. I at least know how to play Commander: 100-card deck where every card except basic lands must be unique, and you have a legendary creature (or one of 5 planeswalkers) who is your “commander” and exists separate from the deck. This Commander set brought us 4-color commanders for the first time (there are only 5 other 4-colored cards in the entire game), which I suppose was an interesting idea. Of course, 4-colored decks don’t tend to be very practical a lot of the time because having so many colors can easily put you in a position where you don’t have enough or any of the right colors to cast what you have in your hand, and I imagine it would be even worse in Commander because you can’t double up on multicolored lands and things. (Trust me, I know from experience. I have a couple 4-colored decks, and I’ve had one heck of a time trying to get them to be reasonably consistent.) It also means the colors don’t always seem to fit what the card does, though it does make more sense if you think of them as representing everything that the single missing color is not, such as altruism for the “everything but black” commander or artifacts for the “everything but green” one. (Incidentally, the decks themselves are built around the same concept.) And Atraxa is just disappointing. As much as I would have loved to have a card around that proliferates for free every turn (not to mention the swath of keyword abilities she has), she is both Phyrexian and prohibitively color-restricted, so I don’t see myself using her in a deck any time soon. Overall, the 4-color commanders are interesting, but I haven’t gotten much out of them, if I may be quite frank. (In fact, the one that’s in the color combination I usually use in my 4-color decks is actually harmful to its user if not built around.)

That said, though, that doesn’t mean that the set is a miss either. For one thing, it introduced the partner mechanic, where you can have two commanders if they can be partnered up. That seems like it could easily be brought back for just about any future set, which would also increase the number of available partnering options. For that matter, a 2-colored legendary creature is much easier to fit into a deck than a 4-colored one. Commander 2016 also has some pretty decent reprints; highlights include Kalonian Hydra, Master Biomancer, and Progenitor Mimic. So overall, I’d say it seems to be a pretty decent Commander set, even if I haven’t gotten a chance to try out the decks to see how the 4-colored, “everything antithetical to the missing color” setup plays.

More recently, Modern Masters 2017 came out. This was actually after both Kaladesh sets, but I’m saving those for last. The Masters sets are pretty much just for reprinting highly requested and used cards, so there’s nothing new to see here. The reprint selection is decent enough, though. I don’t think the set is as good as some people have said, and it’s certainly not worth $10 per booster pack (booster packs are dumb and overpriced anyway, but the ones for regular sets are usually only $4), but I at least could get some use out of it. The cards seem to fall into four main categories: prohibitively expensive before the reprint and still prohibitively expensive afterward (Cavern of Souls, all of the fetchlands, Liliana of the Veil, Snapcaster Mage, Tarmogoyf), cheap before the reprint and either the same or slightly cheaper afterward (all of the populate cards, Coiling Oracle, Cackling Counterpart), annoyingly expensive beforehand but a bit more manageable afterward (Pyromancer Ascension, Voice of Resurgence, Craterhoof Behemoth), or mid-range-priced beforehand but fairly cheap afterward (Soul Warden, Wall of Denial, Niv-Mizzet, Lone Missionary). The last two categories are the most important ones. Some of the best reprints I thought came out of the set are Thragtusk, Entreat the Angels, Pyromancer Ascension (which deserves special mention because before the reprint, it was about 7 times the price it is now), Voice of Resurgence, and Boros Reckoner. And I guess the fact that it’s the first Masters set to cover the Return to Ravnica block (well, I guess Eternal Masters technically did) probably means something as well; even if most of what I could identify from it consisted of the Selesnya populate cards, those have a bit of nostalgia value for me because the first deck I ever really used was a populate-based one. Though I will admit that the set also has plenty of cards that didn’t really need reprinting (however useful a 10-cent card may be, I just can’t get excited if it gets reprinted), and there are a number of cards that I really wish had gotten reprinted that didn’t. Where’s my (additional) Doubling Season reprint, Wizards? (You might remember my last MTG-related post complaining about that card being around $37. Well, now it’s up to about $60.) Or Rings of Brighthearth, or pretty much any more of the dual lands or the Mirrodin sword cycle…or Genesis Wave, Khalni Hydra, Reflecting Pool, Archangel of Thune, Darksteel Plate, Kor Spiritdancer, Privileged Position…and I’d definitely add Parallel Lives to that list as well if it hadn’t gotten practically a functional reprint in the next set that’s currently quite reasonably priced (spoilers!). I’m also kind of surprised that Time Stretch and Slippery Bogle haven’t gotten any reprints yet, and Time Warp hasn’t shown up since the 2010 core set. Also, did Niv-Mizzet really need a reprint? I like his card, but it was only about a dollar or two even before MM3; if they were going to include more legendary creatures, why not, say, Mikaeus (the Lunarch), Thrun, Sigarda, or Rhys the Redeemed? And that’s still less odd than their choice of planeswalkers; Liliana makes sense, as an absurdly overpriced card from one of the two blocks new to MM3, but…why Domri? He wasn’t that expensive, and I haven’t heard much about him being played that frequently. Wouldn’t one of Elspeth’s cards have been a better choice, or one of Garruk’s perhaps? Or Tamiyo’s first card? In any case, I guess Modern Masters 2017 is pretty okay, provided you buy the singles and not the booster packs.

That leaves us with our main feature of this discussion: the Kaladesh block, which consists of Kaladesh and Aether Revolt. And unlike the previous block, this one I actually really liked. It was nice to have a more locally-focused threat to deal with (at least, until Tezzeret showed up) rather than some interplanar horror; the new characters were interesting, and the interaction between everyone was pretty good; the setting was cool, and it made for some good artwork to boot (seriously, I love the artwork on Kaladesh cards); and the selection of cards wasn’t bad at all.

First of all, there was the story, which I think they’ve been improving on lately. I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan of the Gatewatch at first, not because I disliked the concept of such a group in general but because I thought they picked some of the flattest and least interesting planeswalkers as representatives (this is what happens when your main characters are monocolored…), but it seems like they are fleshing them out a bit more. Jace is still kind of an enigma, but Gideon gets some heartfelt moments, Nissa opens up a bit, Liliana is…at least not acting like a horrible person, and Chandra is strangely cute and lovable for being so prone to social faux pas and setting things on fire (often one and the same). Honestly, I think Chandra is my favorite character out of the original five Gatewatch members, which I suppose is rather odd given that she’s mono-red and my own color alignment seems to lean toward white and blue. I’d like to think I’m “the actually fun white/blue mage”, though. (Though my third color is a lot harder to figure out and might well be red, and color alignments for real people are hard to pin down anyway…does anyone have an actually reliable test for that? My results seem to vacillate a lot, and when taking the Ravnica one, I actually managed to get 9 of the 10 guilds at least once [the only one I never hit was Rakdos].) I feel like she has the most personality of any of them, though I guess to balance things out, she has the least variety in magical powers. (Her method of doing anything usually comes down to “set it on fire, and if that doesn’t work, use more fire”.) And now that I think about it, she reminds me of my sister a bit, though Chandra probably has a more stable emotional state.

Now…I said “original five” Gatewatch members because Aether Revolt actually added a sixth: Ajani Goldmane, who has shown up in previous sets. He’s basically a huge humanoid albino lion who heals and protects people, and if one particular story is to be believed, he is pretty well loved by children too, so…he’d definitely be friend material. Big cuddly kitties who can still dish out a good butt-whooping if needed are good, right? Incidentally, that story was probably my favorite of the entire Kaladesh arc, despite mostly not even being set on Kaladesh (I think my second favorite one would be the last story in the arc, while my third favorite would be the first one.) I can take or leave the action scenes and dramatic confrontations, but I really do enjoy the ones that just focus on worldbuilding and character interaction. Honestly, they could write an entire book about the Gatewatch and other planeswalkers and such people they know just doing nothing but casual activities like going out for pizza, taking a walk in a park, going shopping for clothes, housecleaning, etc., and I’d read the heck out of that. It didn’t hurt that we got to see Tamiyo again in that one story, and she is one of my favorite planeswalkers. I think Narset still tops her (and she was actually mentioned in that story as well, though she didn’t appear in person), but still. Interestingly, my third favorite planeswalker is most likely a character who was introduced in this block: Saheeli Rai. I’ll admit she didn’t get nearly as much screen time or fleshing out as I would have liked, but she still seems like an interesting person, her personality is nice, her powers (metalworking and creating, essentially, robot replicas of creatures) are neat, and she’s probably the closest thing we have to an artist planeswalker. I hope we see her again, maybe even as a permanent Gatewatch member. I’d like to see Rashmi show up again as well, though it would be harder for her since she’s not a planeswalker. Some people do not like elves, but most elves aren’t brilliant but friendly inventors.

The rest of the supporting cast wasn’t half bad either. Oviya Pashiri was cool, Shadowblayde (yes, with a Y) at least provided some comic relief…and then there is Yahenni. Oh boy, Yahenni. Honestly, I actually quite liked Yahenni as a character, which is saying something considering they’re black and, as I mentioned above, I have a marked tendency to dislike black characters. (That’s black-aligned, not dark-skinned. And yes, it is way too easy to make jokes about that.) I’d even say that Yahenni is my favorite black-aligned character, especially for the monocolored ones. Why couldn’t we have gotten someone like them in the Gatewatch instead of Liliana, Stereotypical Vain Sorceress? Dovin Baan was all right too, I guess. He got more time in the story than Saheeli, which is a bit annoying (I guess I just found the artistic metalworker who makes pretty yet practical robots a more compelling character than the anal-retentive blue Vulcan), but I wouldn’t object to seeing him again either, especially since the Consulate is actually doing its job properly now that Tezzeret and Baral are out of the picture. Baral, incidentally, was honestly a pretty decent villain. I’m not saying I liked him…”love to hate” really does not exist for me; generally, either I feel sorry for an antagonistic character or at least ambivalent about them, or I just plain hate them. No, Baral was a corrupt, conniving, murderous, sadistic scumbag (and mono-blue to boot, which is never a good sign for someone who likes to power-trip…guy throws out countermagic like it’s going out of style), but he was at least a reasonable scumbag, and probably more complex in his motives than the game’s three major groups of bad guys to boot, which can be summed up as “planes are delicious”, “I deserve to be the merciless ruler of the universe”, and “brainwash everyone and everything”. I wish we’d get more characters like him, really, because I’d rather see more smaller-scale villains than more of the game’s huge interplanar threats. My biggest problem with the antagonistic forces in MTG lore is that they’re just too overpowered. I mean, when you have foes that are ostensibly more powerful than anyone else in the multiverse, or that cannot be entirely eradicated, how are you supposed to pit the protagonists against them without either a grim ending or a deus ex machina? That’s also one reason I haven’t been reading the stories for the next set.

On a side note, one funny coincidence I noticed about the way the story and release dates were set up is that Aether Revolt, a set that’s all about taking power back from a corrupt government that is too oppressive and uncaring of its people, happened to release on the date of the 2017 presidential inauguration. At least, I assume it was a coincidence and not intentional, but either way, it’s still kind of an amusing parallel. I suppose if you stretch it a bit, having Eldritch Moon release on that date also could have worked, when you think about it. I suppose it’s not fair for me to compare Republican politicians to the Eldrazi, though: one of them consists of a group of terrifying, hideous abominations that destroy, consume, or corrupt everything they touch with no higher cognitive ability spared for the countless people and parts of the environment ravaged in their path, while the other is just a bunch of monsters from a card game.

I suppose we’ve about covered the story, so how about the mechanics? There actually aren’t that many of them this time around, just three new ones in Kaladesh and an additional two in Aether Revolt, but of those five, two are a pretty big theme and archetype throughout, those being energy counters and vehicles. The former had apparently been in the works since the original Mirrodin block (which came out in late 2003, if you care to know), while the latter honestly seems like an obvious thing to have that would have shown up eventually. Maybe vehicles wouldn’t fit as many planes as equipment would, but still…it makes sense. You tap creatures with total power up to a certain value to make a vehicle act like a creature for a turn. Energy, meanwhile, is a new type of counter that players can get and that can be spent to do things. It requires some support to work (you can’t use energy counters if you have nothing to spend them on), but it makes a novel new resource that I could see returning. Beyond that, there was fabricate (first set only), improvise (second set only), and revolt (second set only). Fabricate gives you a choice of putting a certain number of +1/+1 counters on something or creating that many 1/1 tokens, and it’s kind of just…there, I guess. It’s fine, but it’s nothing really all that special aside from the modal nature of it, not to mention it’s pretty heavily tied to a specific plane. Improvise makes sense, being used to reduce the cost of spells that have it by tapping artifacts, and I suppose it might be good in something like an “affinity for artifacts” deck, though it’s a bit too archetype-specific for me. Revolt, which does things or adds additional affects if you’ve had a permanent leave the battlefield, is another one of those simple mechanics that’s kind of just there. I guess it could be thought of as a broader version of the “morbid” mechanic from the first Innistrad block. I don’t know. Kaladesh had some decent enough mechanics, a few pretty interesting ones, some fairly reusable, and none that stood out to me as either “bleh, I don’t like that mechanic” or “this mechanic would be so much better if it weren’t so overcosted” (and if you’re wondering why the second one needs to be specified, let’s just say we’ll get to that if I ever discuss previous sets, and in fact, it might well come up during the next block as well [spoilers!]).

I guess I couldn’t name all the interesting cards that came out of this block, but there was some good stuff. Chandra’s new planeswalker card is pretty great (I’d use that in almost every red deck I have if it were cheaper…), the gearhulk cycle was interesting (though I still think the white one is dumb), Heroic Intervention is frankly something I’ve wanted for a while, some of the artifacts were pretty unique (Panharmonicon comes to mind, as well as Paradox Engine, Aetherworks Marvel, and Planar Bridge), the “expertise” cycle was neat (even if I’d really only use two of them), more enemy-colored dual lands are always welcome, and Rashmi’s card is cool.

In summary, Kaladesh was a good block. I can’t decide if I liked it better than Return to Ravnica, but it’s up there. The mechanics were decent enough, the artwork was beautiful, the cards were overall quite good, the story was pretty entertaining, and the characters were interesting. (Shout-out to the new boy-girl duo of planeswalkers, Dovin Baan and Saheeli Rai, who disappears halfway through the story until the renegades start mobilizing.) Provided they don’t mess up the plane, I would gladly take a return to Kaladesh eventually.