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….)
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.
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.
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.
Hello, everyone. Today is St. Patrick’s Day and also marks the release of Modern Masters 2017, but neither of those things are what I’m here to talk about. As you may or may not know, Nintendo just released a new video game console on March 3, the Switch. It’s more of a hybrid between a home console and a handheld, though, and I get the feeling they were kind of trying to make a “Wii U 2.0”, going for a similar idea to what they had with the Wii U but improving on it. Whether this counts as the first console of generation 9, a second entry into generation 8, some sort of “generation 8.5” (perhaps a bit like the PlayStation 4 Pro and that Scorpio thing with the Xbox One?), or something else entirely at a point when console generations are getting muddy remains a riddle for the ages, or at least for the time being. I imagine, though, that this is as good a time as any to discuss my feelings about this new console and what it means.
And quite frankly, I am not impressed. It’s really too early to say for sure (hey, this is a speculative post, not a “whole picture” one), and I know the majority of consoles don’t have much to offer at launch, but even if I had the money (which I don’t; I’d be surprised if I managed to save up enough for a single game these days), that Switch would be sitting there collecting dust for a while, because none of the games released or announced for it so far are ones that I care about. Sure, Breath of the Wild has been getting glowing praise from the critics, but that doesn’t mean much; unless I find a critic whose game tastes are nearly identical to mine, their opinions are all but worthless. I don’t play Zelda, I don’t play open-world games in general (even if they are Mario ones, so Super Mario Odyssey isn’t on the table either), most of the other series I like either don’t get releases on Nintendo consoles (Trails) or flat-out don’t get games anymore (Mega Man), and I’ve learned my lesson about spending more than $15 for a game that I might not like, mainly by way of a whole lot of Nintendo 64-related—and, to a lesser extent, 3DS-related—hype backlash. So right now, as with so many other modern consoles, while the Switch may have a few games to play, its stock of games that I actually want is like what Mega Man X’s partner would be if he ate a whole box of donuts every day: a big fat zero.
I’ll admit, though, that with the Switch being a Nintendo console, the situation isn’t as futile for it as it has been and still is for previous consoles (hellooooo, Microsoft), and it’s likely that it will eventually get something I won’t be able to resist…but on the other hand, Nintendo hasn’t exactly been treating all their different series well lately, nor subseries within them. Need I bring up what they did with Paper Mario and Metroid? Let’s count up the badges of shame: Releasing games generally considered to be too much of a deviation from the normal formula at the worst possible times, after already treading on thin ice with their predecessors; basically sticking their fingers in their ears and going “la la la, I can’t hear you” in response to fans telling what kinds of games they do want; and to add insult to injury, throwing huge copyright tantrums over fangames that were closer to what people would like and slapping them with DMCA takedowns (see: AM2R). And I’m not even that interested in Paper Mario or Metroid, so why do I care what happens to them? Well, when two or three of your neighbors’ houses have caught fire, you just might want to invest in a sprinkler system. If they can drag those series through the mud, what’s to say they won’t start doing the same for the ones I do like? How, after that, can I be sure to get another good Donkey Kong Country game, or another solid Yoshi game? (Actually, maybe let’s not use Yoshi as an example, since that subseries honestly has had more bad games than good. Boy, the pickings for good Nintendo series are slim these days…) I mean, there’s something to be said for empathy here.
Okay, so the game selection is cabbage. The console itself, though, it seems all right. I’ve heard conflicting information about how durable it is; some people have apparently scratched the thing just by putting it in the dock, while somebody else had to drop it 11 times onto concrete before it got put out of commission (and not even permanently), so I really can’t say much on that subject. I actually like the idea of a home console/handheld cross, though. Sure, it means it won’t be as powerful as a dedicated home console would be, but I feel like that really isn’t much of a drawback these days, even though it might be to some people. I actually almost feel sorry for the purists, being that picky…I grew up with video games on a 256×224 screen, on consoles with 5-bit color depth and as little as 128 KiB of RAM (yes, that’s kilobytes…or kibibytes, technically, but who’s counting?), as well as 64 KiB each for audio and graphics, and it was more than adequate to make some excellent games. So when I hear people throw a huge hissy fit over, say, a game only being in 720p instead of 1080p, it mostly just gives me the urge to either laugh, sigh, or start belting out Weird Al’s “First-World Problems”. You have to wonder how long it would take such people to go insane if you cut off all access to any consoles made before 2013. I guess there’s a little Cranky Kong in all of us, though. I assume that it will no longer support playing on the TV and using the handheld screen for something else like the Wii U did, which is a shame, since I thought that was also a decent idea, even if no Wii U games I ever played used in in a meaningful way. (No, touching blocks and blowing into the microphone in Super Mario 3D World doesn’t qualify as meaningful.) I’m also glad they decided to use cartridges this time around. I guess it was more pragmatic than anything else, since a disc drive wouldn’t be very feasible for a handheld, but I prefer cartridges to discs anyway; they’re much more durable and load faster. And with today’s technology, capacity isn’t nearly the concern that it was for the cartridges of the ’90s. Currently, the Switch cartridges come in sizes from 1 to 32 GB, though they could make them bigger if they used SDXC or something instead. And these things are tiny, too, only about as tall as a 3DS cart and maybe 65% as wide. They’re also apparently coated with a bitter chemical (a denatonium compound) to prevent children from attempting to eat them, though I wonder if that would be problematic for adults who might, say, touch one with a damp finger and then unconsciously lick it later. I’m actually kind of curious now how nasty they taste, and I don’t usually lick my game cartridges.
In any case, I reserve full judgement on the Switch until it’s had some time on the market for a few years, but I’m still not particularly excited about it. These days, pretty much every console and game manufacturer is guilty until proven innocent when it comes to making meaningful contributions or not (I guess Falcom and maybe Yacht Club Games might get a pass? Possibly Retro Studios, too.), and the Switch has done nothing to counter that. It’s a nice idea, but we shall see if it actually pans out. Nintendo should ensure that they’ll have a library that is reasonably high in quality, quantity, and variance; they should address any problems that crop up with hardware or software; and they should get that stick out of their butt about copyright. Not necessarily in that order of priority.
I’d say it’s about time for the first post of the new year, though it’s not that new anymore. Yes, it does happen to fall on Friday the 13th, but I’m not superstitious in the slightest, so it’s not a problem. I could have made it on New Year’s Day itself, but my birthday was 2 days ago, I thought I could post about that as well, and given the relative proximity of the two dates, I figured I might as well combine them. I should be way too young to feel old, but I feel old. So, do I have any New Year’s resolutions? Well…not really. I’ve never actually done them. I could at least come up with things to strive for this year, but I can do that anyway. I would like to be more productive than I was in 2016, though. Let’s get that YouTube channel at a better pace, do a few more posts on here (and vary them up a bit), and actually try to finish some projects for once this year, shall we?
I will say, however, that I’m not actually expecting this year to be any better than 2016. When it comes to my life, I figure unless a real windfall happens, my personal and social life probably won’t be any better (and might very well be worse, given that one of my best friends will most likely be moving away), the employment situation might only marginally improve, and I most likely won’t actually be any better at getting things done, considering I’m fairly sure my insurance doesn’t cover lobotomies. Moving outside of that…well, about all I can say is that if you thought 2016 was bad, hoo boy, you’d better start stocking up on prayer books/kitten pictures/antidepressants/hard liquor/cathartic outlets of your choice for 2017. It’s far too early to say if we’ll have more celebrity deaths, but as far as human rights are concerned, all signs are currently pointing to the situation getting a good deal worse before it gets better.
I will say, though, that the turn of a year is a good time for self-reflection. Not that I really need more self-reflection; I tend to do a good bit of that already, and most of the time, I end up only making things worse for myself. I guess my brain is pretty weird, though. I’ve also noticed that I seem to attract people who aren’t entirely typical; I certainly wouldn’t say every one of my friends is a complete freak of nature (or family members, for that matter…most of my family seems to consist of incomplete freaks of nature), but quite a few of them are at least in a notable minority when it comes to neurophysiology, gender and sexuality expression, personality, hobbies, or whatever. But hey, a lot of the most interesting people are that way. I love you guys. And I’m not actually sure where I was going with this…my stream of consciousness sometimes meanders between boulders, over logs, through rapids, and over waterfalls and probably has some fish poop in it, but there it is.
With that, I think we are about done for now. This year, I plan to breathe, eat, drink, and sleep every day, and I shall do my best to make this goal come true.
Well, since I haven’t done one of these in a while, and I feel like I should at least post something in December 2016, here goes. I’m honestly not sure what to say right now, but…I hope everyone had a good Christmas. Or Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Saturnalia, whatever winter holiday you may celebrate. Some people apparently find just the generic “Happy Holidays” offensive and want to “keep Christ in Christmas”, which I can only assume means they want to help the needy, heal the sick, clothe the naked, and celebrate Christmas in March, which I think is when Jesus’s actual birthday was said to have been. Oh, that’s not what it means? Huh. It’s almost like people who yammer about the “war on Christmas” have no flipping clue what they’re talking about and just found a new excuse to be butthurt. I can’t speak for every world religion or lifestyle, but I’m pretty sure “There shall come a great leader who will serve as a role model to all. He will be known as ‘The Grinch’.” is not a tenet of any belief system ever.
Anyway, here’s hoping 2017 will be a good year…oh, what am I saying? I don’t “hope” anything, unless it’s something trivial that has no real bearing on my life. But I guess if nothing else, I am very slightly on track to getting a job; my depression apparently isn’t so bad that good food, nice conversation, and Studio Ghibli movies can’t mitigate a substantial portion of it; and I finally finished a YouTube project that I’ve been at for a while. So…yay? Off we go, across the arbitrary boundaries, into 2017. Now, does anyone know any New Year’s Day songs other than “Auld Lang Syne”? Are there even any? Would it be a breach of etiquette to go out “New Year’s Day caroling” and sing nothing but that for 3 hours straight? These are clearly important life questions.
“You shouldn’t make political posts on Facebook!” my sister says. “It’s embarrassing, awkward, and stupid!” All right, Miss Kvetchlord, I’ll make political posts on my own darn blog. Happy now? Besides, this post isn’t entirely about politics. And yes, the election was several days ago, but you know me: Neither rain nor snow nor Trump presidency will prevent me from procrastinating on projects that I should get done.
Now, about that election…well, about all I can say at this point is “yikes”. I didn’t really even pay attention to politics until a few years ago, and I’m kind of glad I didn’t. I already have enough anxiety and depression in my life as it is, not to mention lack of faith in humanity. I wouldn’t say Donald Trump himself is the biggest problem…I can’t stand the guy, though Hillary Clinton has a lot of detractors too. Personally, I would have liked Bernie Sanders, but he kind of got thrown under the bus. The real issue is what it indicates about our society. While half the people in the country probably aren’t racist, sexist, homophobic, prejudiced against disabled people, and the like, the fact that they didn’t consider all that a deal-breaker is suspect at best. So while my reaction to anyone who voted for Trump (I even know a few people) might not be “you’re an evil, hateful person full of prejudice”, it just might be “what the @#$%&!! were you thinking?!“. And then, of course, there are the people who actually do agree with all the hateful rhetoric and consider it perfectly acceptable to threaten and assault people for being different from themselves, who have been given a new surge of zeal now that the leader of the country at least appears to be validating their beliefs. I’d call it a sociopathic mentality, but that might be offensive to sociopaths, at least some of which are decent people despite their abnormal neuroanatomy. (And in the case of the people who are frightened of the changing times and would rather America be as it was in the ’50s, I’d call them a bunch of driveling old dinosaurs, but that might be offensive to the older folks I know, who are generally kind and open-minded.) I do still think understanding, solidarity, and a sense of why people would support such a slimeball is important, especially for the next 4 years, but…if your Glorious Leader has been happily endorsed by Kim Jong-Un and the KKK, and hate crimes in his name are already on the rise after his election, he just might not be your best spokesperson if you don’t want to come off as a psycho intolerant bigot. And to anyone who did vote for him despite not being a bigot, since you were the ones who had faith in his moral fiber, it’s mainly on you to let people, especially people in positions of power, know that that kind of garbage is unacceptable.
Now, I’d imagine at least some people are wondering why I’m so fervent about all this, considering nothing that I’ve mentioned really affects me personally. First of all, yes it does, because I have friends and acquaintances who would be hurt. Do you think I want my black friend threatened, my Muslim professor deported, my female friends and family assaulted, or my LGBT+ friends to have their rights stripped away? (Heck, I almost fall into the LGBT spectrum myself, though you have to extend the acronym out a few letters for me.) Second and more importantly, not caring if someone or something is threatening the rights or livelihood of another group of people because it doesn’t affect you is an extremely self-centered way of looking at things and not a mentality that I would condone. It’s easy not to worry about drowning when you’re on dry land, until the flood comes. Honestly, I’m not sure why any of this is so difficult. In this day and age, we can talk to a person on the other side of the world instantly and for free, we can fit entire collections of literature and movies into a space the size of a fingernail, we have entire buildings floating in space, and we’re developing robots small enough to travel through a person’s bloodstream…and yet, we can’t seem to accept a person who is trying to enter the country to escape a warzone, has a higher level of melanin in their skin, worships a supernatural higher power in a different way or not at all, or wants to marry someone of the same gender. Congratulations, human race; you fail at everything forever, especially priorities. (Seriously, forget being American; I’m not even sure I want to be Homo sapiens right now.)
As for me, I’ll just have to see how it goes. I’d say that the situation has made me lose a lot of hope for the world, but that would imply that I had hope for the world to begin with. I’ll probably be dealing with this highly adverse situation the same way I deal with most things in life: Copious sarcasm and smart remarks, supporting my friends and family as much as possible while getting support from them in turn, a bit of Weird Al and video game music (and video games, for that matter), and some Chocolate Brownie Thunder ice cream. (What? Chocolate goes well with nihilism.) I’d also like to remind everyone that we are all unique, and while a person in a position of leadership might represent a group of people as a whole, they pointedly do not represent each person as an individual. Just because we elected Donald Trump as President (and mind you, he’s not president yet), that doesn’t mean we all have to agree with him. (To be honest, as much of a narcissistic jerkwad as Mr. Drumpf is, I almost feel a bit sorry for the guy; the position is a big burden to bear (look at all the stress it caused Obama), and he clearly has a narrow, twisted sense of reality if he believes half the reprehensible and preposterous things he’s said.) Now, I won’t even bother saying that we all need to come together (considering that that would mean, in at least some cases, that victims would have to accept their tormentors), but we are at least not alone. I doubt I’ll get involved in any sort of activism, because I am a self-admitted humongous wuss who wouldn’t have the courage to protest against a social studies teacher let alone an entire governmental organization, but I’ll be there for moral support. I will support the continuing diversity of our country (which, if you ask me, is really what makes America great, relatively speaking); I will support my LGBTQIA, female, non-white, non-Christian friends and family and anyone else who needs it; and you bet I will be wearing my safety pin. Giving up is not an option.
I probably could have come with a better title for this post, but hey, titles are hard. The point is, the daily flood of social media posts have been even more “how much faith in humanity can I possibly lose?” than usual today, which is an achievement, and I felt like saying something.
The point is, while there are no shortage of psychopaths within our dysfunctional species, I’d like to think I’m one of the relatively un-psycho ones. And while I won’t claim to be entirely free from prejudice nor lacking in bias (trust me, that will probably come up eventually if I keep writing reviews), there are a lot of things that people are being persecuted for that I quite simply do not consider important. In light of that, as well as National Coming Out Day yesterday (to be honest, until yesterday, I didn’t even realize that was a thing), I’d just like to say that as far as I’m concerned, you can be whatever gender you feel like, you can be in love with whomever you want or none at all, you can follow whatever religion you want or none at all, you can be interested in whatever you like, and whatever ethnicity you are, whatever country or region you’re from…quite simply, it just doesn’t matter to me, at least as far as assessing your “worth” or anything like that goes. At worst, I might ask you about yourself out of curiosity if you have a background that I don’t encounter very often (like, “So what does that religion teach? How is that sexuality defined? What was it like living there?”). But as far as whether I’d like you or not, the only thing that truly matters is whether or not you’re a good person, or at least have the potential to be one. If you’re a good person, I will first and foremost define you by that, whatever other positive, negative, or neutral traits you may have (in something like, I don’t know, “that Hispanic friend of mine who is good at kickball but has questionable taste in hats”, the operative word is still “friend”), and the same goes if you’re not so good. I try to avoid dividing and labeling people that way, but if we must divide them, let it at least simply be between “nice people” and “jerks”. I could scarcely care less if you’re a lesbian Belarusian Jew who is overly obsessed with Taylor Swift, as long as you’re not a jerk.
Well, now that the Shadows over Innistrad block of Magic: The Gathering is over with and Eldritch Moon—the second and last set—has been out for a few weeks, I suppose it’s a decent time to discuss my thoughts about the block. Before I can do that, though, I suppose it would be wise to talk about Magic in general, since it’s definitely not a game that everyone plays or is familiar with. I will discuss the latest couple of sets in this ongoing game, but before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story….
For anyone not in the know, Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game (think Pokemon cards but for an older audience), wherein you buy various assortments of cards in random packs or individually online or secondhand and use these cards to build your own deck to play with. You can also get pre-built base decks, which are usually assorted with a specific color or faction in the game. The game is divided up into blocks, which each consist of a self-contained story and theme and are generally based around a particular world (or “plane”), and sets, which are subdivisions of blocks and are essentially parts or stages of the block. Most blocks contain 3 sets, though one of them had 4 and the newest ones have switched to 2. Planes often have a certain theme to them; in the past, there have been ones based around such things as Japanese mythology, gothic horror, old-time fairytales, and an enormous city with conflicting guilds.
There are 5 different colors of mana, each associated with particular types of spells (for instance, things that prevent damage tend to be white, things that damage players directly tend to be red, and large creatures tend to be green), and you need a certain about of mana to cast these spells, which is usually obtained by activating, or “tapping”, land cards that you’ve played. Each player has 20 life, at least in the normal style of play, and anyone whose life count reaches 0 loses the game. (There are other ways of winning the game besides reducing everyone else to 0 life, but that’s the simplest and most common.) There are various types of spells; creatures, for instance, stay in play and can be used to attack other players (usually), instant and sorcery spells grant a one-time effect and then go to the discard pile, and enchantments grant a permanent effect either globally or for a particular thing that they’re enchanting. Some cards can also have certain keywords for an extra layer of functionality; for instance, there is one keyword that causes a creature to gain you life whenever it deals damage, one that prevents the thing it’s on from being targeted by your opponents’ spells, and one that lets you look at a certain number of cards from the top of your deck and move some of them to the bottom if you wish. There are also keywords that are specific to certain sets and blocks, such as one that lets you make a single-target spell hit everything by paying extra mana and one that causes something to happen whenever a land that you control enters play.
I have somewhat mixed feelings about the game overall. It’s decently fun, I suppose, and some of the story and flavor is pretty neat, but the story can also get really freaking depressing and outright disturbing at times (we’re talking A Song of Ice and Fire-tier dark here, at least from what I’ve heard of the series). And even if you don’t follow the story (which is fair; there’s no reason you need to just to play the game), it’s one of those games where there are far too many ways to make your opponents absolutely miserable; as a corollary, it’s also one of those games where the amount of fun you’ll have depends greatly on the people you’re playing with. And since everyone makes their own decks, it also depends greatly on what kinds of decks you’re up against. (Tip: In a game with 3 or more players, if there is anyone playing a control deck or the “Manabarbs” enchantment, gang up on that person first.) On the other hand, the customizable nature of the game and the sheer number of available cards means that just about everyone will be able to find things they like and put together a deck or two for their play style. On the other other hand, most people would probably gravitate toward the cooler and more powerful cards if given a choice, and a lot of those tend to be quite expensive to buy individually (naturally, they also tend to be rare, so one could not easily find them in random packs). For instance, there’s a pretty neat card called Sword of Fire and Ice that I’d like to use. How much does it cost? Well, depending on where you get it and at the time of this writing, roughly 43 dollars. Yeah, no. And that’s not even considered all that bad compared to some high-tier cards…or quite a few infamously imbalanced ones from the oldest sets, some of which get up to the thousands. It’s not as bad when it’s a card that I could easily do without, one of those “this would be pretty cool, but it’s not super important for any decks I have planned” cards, but then you get some that would be really useful in a lot of things. The most infamous of those is Doubling Season; I’d use that card in all sorts of decks if I could, but how can I when I’d have to drop 37 bucks on one every time I needed it? I mean, I’m probably stupid for spending as much money as I do on this kind of nerd hobby, but I’m not quite that stupid. (There is the option of using proxies, which would only cost about 9 cents per card, maybe less depending on where you print them, but my playgroup doesn’t seem to be too willing to let me use those.)
On the other other hand, there are also plenty of cards that are pretty decent and much cheaper. Druids’ Repository, for instance, is also quite useful, and it’s only 24 cents. And let me just say—and I’m speaking from first-hand experience here—that even if they might not be as flashy, a hand-picked assortment of 200 15-cent cards for $30.00 will serve you much better than two $15.00 cards for the same price would. On the other other other hand (apparently, we’re borrowing Lakshmi Tatma‘s limbs to count on)…it’s possible to go a bit too far that way as well; you can buy large assortments of random cards on places like eBay, but in my experience, they tend to be mostly junk. I guess it’s okay if everyone is building their decks out of the same junk, but personally, I’d rather at least be able to get more of a plan together.
There’s also the issue of that story and flavor that I mentioned earlier. Now, generally, when a person talks about something being a work of the devil designed to corrupt innocent minds or something to that effect, my mental response is usually something like “Pffffftt…yeah, right, whatever you say. Hey, did you know they’ve now discovered that the world is round?”. In this case, however, I must admit that the puritanical types might actually have something of a point. No, I obviously don’t think Magic was inspired by Satan or anything like that, but it’s not exactly innocent either; simply put, the game might say it’s for ages 13 and up, but I don’t think it’s quite appropriate for 13-year-olds. It’s not because it encourages antisocial acts or anything, or even because it’s too complex for young people (a few rare edge cases of mechanic interaction might cause a bit of confusion, but a quick Google search ought to elucidate those reasonably well); it’s the imagery that’s the problem. I’ll be the first to admit that Magic: The Gathering does have some very nice artwork overall, and there are at least a few cards that I’d consider getting just for the artwork even if they weren’t that efficient in-game (providing they weren’t too expensive) because they’re just so gosh-darned pretty. But then you also get plenty of cards that are genuinely creepy and unsettling (yes, I can think of a few in particular; no, I’m not going to link them here). Some people might have a problem with the demon-related cards, but honestly, the cards that depict demons generally aren’t even that bad. So I suppose you just have to find the right cards, some reasonably innocent dryads, fairies, centaurs, or what have you.
tl;dr: Magic: The Gathering is a decent enough game, provided you have the right group of friends to play it with. But I wouldn’t give it to your 13-year-old if I were you, unless you’re prepared to go through the cards with him or her and filter out certain ones.
Now, that brings me to Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon…
In Shadows over Innistrad, the first set of the block, we return to the plane of Innistrad, where mysterious mutations are afflicting people and creatures there. It turns out to be the work of Emrakul, an Eldrazi (basically, think H.P. Lovecraft-style monstrous otherworldly abominations) lured to the plane by a former friend of Sorin, a vampire from the plane, as revenge for leaving her own plane to be ravaged by the Eldrazi centuries ago. We don’t find that out until the second set, Eldritch Moon, though it’s pretty obvious to anyone who has been following the recent story, since the previous block also had a lot of Eldrazi involved and it was specifically brought to attention that one was missing (and the one who is most known for causing mutations of that nature). The main characters prevail, sort of, though there’s an odd plot twist at the end that might leave a lot of people wondering. The block introduces some new mechanics: investigate, which gives you an artifact that you can pay some mana and sacrifice to draw a card and only shows up in the first set; delirium, which allows cards that have it to grant an additional or more powerful effect if your discard pile contains four or more card types (there being seven card types in total, or eight in rare cases); skulk, which prevents a creature from being blocked by anything with higher power than itself; escalate, which allows you to choose multiple modes of modal spells by paying extra mana and only shows up in the second set; emerge, which allows you to cast certain creature spells cheaper by sacrificing an existing creature (also exclusive to the second set); and meld, which allows you to combine certain pairs of cards into one more powerful one should you have both of them out (ditto). There is also madness, a returning mechanic that allows you to cast cards as you discard them.
So, what do I think of this block? Eeehh…I’m not a fan, honestly. The main issue is definitely the story/setting/flavor; Innistrad was already a fairly dark, gruesome setting (it’s the “gothic horror” plane I mentioned in the second paragraph), and adding eldritch abominations to the mix just makes it that much worse. Granted, it’s still probably not as bad as the Scars of Mirrodin block from late 2010/early 2011 (though that level of dystopia is hard to top), but it’s a shoo-in for second place in most nightmarish block. Remember what I said about the game not really being appropriate for young people? Well, the Shadows over Innistrad block definitely isn’t, unless it’s a kid who has already seen enough fictional horror to be desensitized. I mean, some of the artwork for the corrupted creatures and stuff gives me the creeps, and I’m old enough to do basically anything lawful except run for president. (Okay, so I’m also rather sensitive to that kind of thing, but still…) Now, how about the mechanics? I mean, even Scars of Mirrodin had some pretty decent gameplay mechanics to play around with. Well, as far as that goes for Shadows and Moon…swing and a miss, I’m afraid. I’d imagine they’re fine within the set, but generally, the kinds of game mechanics I like tend to be ones that are open-ended enough to work well in a lot of different settings and with a lot of different cards. While meld was an interesting idea and escalate is one that I’m frankly surprised took this long to show up (at least as a keyword), the mechanics in Innistrad Part 2 generally aren’t things that seem particularly useful outside of the block, and they certainly don’t add anything to most of my existing decks. It really does not help that, with the exception of investigate (which, might I remind you, was only in one of the two sets), they only really care about the cards that they’re actually on; they can’t directly affect anything else. Big hairy deal.
It should, therefore, come as no surprise that the Shadows over Innistrad block is unquestionably one of my less-liked blocks in the game. I don’t know if it’s my outright least favorite, but it has to be close. I didn’t hate the story, setting, and flavor as much as Scars of Mirrodin’s, but Scars of Mirrodin at least had some interesting mechanics to play around with outside of the setting; Shadows over Innistrad didn’t even have that going for it. On a side note, what is with return blocks and turning the plane into a complete dunghole? Wizards of the Coast has done a total of four blocks (at least among the modern sets) that returned to a plane previously visited, and only one of them—Return to Ravnica—didn’t have all of the smelliest, grossest poop hit the biggest, fastest fan on that return trip. If it’s true that about every other set from here on out will be a returning one, I’m not looking forward to seeing what other planes they decide to ruin. (I really liked Ravnica in particular, so if they decide at some point to do “Ravnica 3: Now With 250% More Dark and Edgy”, it would be an understatement to say I’d be ticked off about it.) I’ve gotten a few particular cards from the Shadows over Innistrad block that I quite liked (Second Harvest was a particularly nice one), but…I think I’ll leave most of the rest of it to play in the septic tank. With any hope, I’ll like the next block much better.