Saturday, February 18, 2017

Weaving my Own Lore

Last night I played two games of Commander. In it of itself that isn’t strange - it’s one of my favorite ways to play Magic with friends. I trekked up to the Upper West Side with Andrew to join one of his playgroups.

Here is where things start to veer from the normal course.

First off, I only brought one deck that featured Green and Black - my favorite color combination up to this point (and I didn’t even play it). Second, Andrew had warned me that this group was a little more cutthroat than my usual experience so I should come prepared. With that in mind I brought two decks that have the ability to go up against stronger opposition: Sek’Kuar, Deathkeeper and Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest.

Sek’Kuar is one of my many graveyard based decks but this one is focused on two card combos. Stitched together with Victimize, Ever After, and Birthing Pod, the deck wants to assemble Nath of the Gilt-Leaf and Sadistic Hypnotist, Triskelion and Mikaeus the Unhallowed or Mephidross Vampire. I recently added Winding Constrictor and Walking Ballista to the deck and was eager to give it a go. Shu Yun is a trinket based deck, using cost reducers like Etherium Sculptor and Herald of Kozilek to fuel massive Shu Yun swings, Nettle Drone pings, or Altar of the Brood triggers.

I didn’t play either of them. Instead I brought out two Mirage Legends in Zirilan of the Claw and Hakim, Loreweaver.

First up was Zirilan. I had been wanting to build a mono-Red deck for some time and finally got around to putting it together. I like the idea of setting rules for combat so the deck features cards like Angel’s Trumpet, Avatar of Slaughter, Bedlam, Dictate of the Twin Gods, and more. The deck also runs a nice suite of Dragons and ways to keep them around beyond the Zirilan exile trigger. Conjurer’s Closet and Sundial of the Infinite do the heavy lifting here. Finally the deck is an excuse to run Dragon Tempest which can deal a surprising amount of damage on its own.

The game set up with Andrew on Karona, the False God “Symmetry”, me on Zirilan, Tony on Diochan, Artful Beauty, Colin (our gracious host) on Dragonlord Atarka, and Mike on Narset, Enlightened Master. I was able to develop my mana early thanks to Myriad Landscape and Magnifying Glass and stuck an early Flameshadow Conjuring. I got my first taste of the Spikey nature of the table when Mike stuck Burning Sands and then played out a bunch of mana rocks.

Yeah, it was going to be one of those games.

Thankfully I had Hellkite Tyrant in hand and got it into play, copied it with the Conjuring, and stole all those rocks. When Mike inevitably cast a board wipe I was in fine shape to start recovering. A copy of Chandra, Pyromaster kept drawing me into lands so I was able to build up my board again all the way up to Avatar of Slaughter. Hoarding Dragon found me a Conjurer’s Closet to go with my Humble Defector - a combo I didn’t realize until everyone stared awkwardly at the two cards. With Mike at one I passed up the opportunity to Earthquake him out of the game only to lose that Earthquake to Incendiary Command. Andrew and Colin eventually fell to Tony stealing Andrew’s Hydra Omnivore, leaving the two Red mages squaring off. I was at 9 facing down a lethal attack next turn and ripped a Conquering Manticore. I could cast it and steal one of Tony’s creatures to put him to exactly one.
If only I had cast that Earthquake. Instead I offered up the hand. Still, a second place showing with a deck outside of my comfort zone and one built “for fun” was better than I expected.

Avatar of Slaughter
Bogardan Hellkite
Conquering Manticore
Crater Hellion
Crimson Hellkite
Hellkite Charger
Hellkite Tyrant
Hoard-Smelter Dragon
Hoarding Dragon
Humble Defector
Ire Shaman
Mindclaw Shaman
Molten Primordial
Skyline Despot
Utvara Hellkite
Viashino Heretic
Warmonger Hellkite
Zealous Conscripts
Kazuul, Tyrant of the Cliffs
Burnished Hart
Pilgrim’s Eye
Solemn Simulacrum
Steel Hellkite

Chandra, Pyromaster
Koth of the Hammer

Comet Storm
Into the Core

Blasphemous Act
Jaws of Stone
Slice and Dice
Volcanic Vision

Barrage of Expendables
Dictate of the Twin Gods
Dragon Tempest
Flameshadow Conjuring
Goblin Bombardment
Outpost Siege
Shivan Harvest
Vicious Shadows
Warstorm Surge

Altar of Dementia
Angel’s Trumpet
Armillary Sphere
Carnage Altar
Conjurer’s Closet
Fire Diamond
Hedron Archive
Magewight’s Stone
Magnifying Glass
Mimic Vat
Nevinyrral’s Disk
Sol Ring
Sundial of the Infinite
Thousand-Year Elixir
Wayfarer’s Bauble
Illusionist’s Bracers
Lightning Greaves
Swiftfoot Boots

21 Mountain
Blasted Landscape
Dormant Volcano
Evolving Wilds
Forgotten Cave
Ghitu Encampment
High Market
Keldon Necropolis
Myriad Landscape
Mystifying Maze
Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
Opal Palace
Shivan Gorge
Smoldering Crater
Temple of the False God
Terramorphic Expanse

Next up was Hakim, Loreweaver. I had recently broken down my Bruna, Light of Alabaster deck and had planned to build a Aboshan, Cephalid Emperor “flying tribal” build. Hakim was always going to be a part of the deck but then I saw a post about how you could stack Hakim’s upkeep ability multiple times and I was  smitten. I put something together this week and decided to give it a go.
Game two started with Tony on Reyhan, Last of the Abzan/Ravos, Soultender, Colin on Iroas, God of Victory, Mike on Oloro, Ageless Ascetic, and Andrew on Sharuum the Hegemon. This time around I got off to a very slow start and didn’t hit my third land until turn 6 or 7. I managed to stick a Claws of Gix, Sword of the Animist, and Compulsion but was far behind everyone else. Colin had played Serra’s Ascendent which Mike stole and managed to buff his life total into the 70s. Andrew thinned his library with Solemn Simulacrum and Blade of Selves while Tony played out solid value creatures. I was at 20 life and barely a threat when I manage to stick a Nevinyrral’s Disk. Somehow I survived long enough to activate it and reset the board, leaving Tony with a massive Stonehoof Chieftan. Mike followed that up with Humility and Andrew with his own copy of Disk. I waited patiently, just playing lands, as the second Disk blew.
Then things got really crazy. Mike cast Magister Sphinx a number of times, targeting everyone else but me. Tony was the first to fall as the aggro he had thrown at Mike came back to bit him. Colin sat down building out a massive board with Avacyn, Angel of Hope, Iroas, Sun Titan, and Repercussion. Andrew fell to Repercussion triggers and Mike would have fallen a turn earlier if not for my Evacuation. He recast the Sphinx, sending Colin to ten. I played out Hakim and got Drake Umbra on there. Colin went crazy and cast a ton of stuff, attacked Mike for lethal, and fetched up a land with Arid Mesa. Going down to a single untapped Plains he passed the turn, leaving up Avacyn to block. I cycled a Lonely Sandbar and saw Zephid’s Embrace. I drew for my turn and saw Tricks of the Trade. I had plenty of mana at this point. I put Tricks on Hakim, then gave him a warm Embrace and swung in for exactly 9.
I had no business winning that game but boy did it feel good.
Hakim, Loreweaver turned itself into a surprisingly fun and competitive deck. I do not doubt that one of the reasons I survived the night was because I was an unknown quantity - if these guys knew how I played there’s a chance I would have been eliminated earlier both times. But  I played to my outs and managed to win a game. I also forced people to read old obscure cards which is probably my second favorite thing about Commander.

Academy Researchers
Advanced Stitchwing
Aura Thief
Dakra Mystic
Forgotten Creation
Iridescent Drake
Meletis Astronomer
Monastery Loremaster
Stitchwing Skaab
Archetype of Imagination
Hypnotic Siren
Thassa’s Emissary
Rayne, Academy Chancellor
Solemn Simulacrum
Steel Hellkite

Fact or Fiction
Frantic Search
Kiora’s Dismissal
Scour from Existence

Ancestral Memories

Copy Enchantment
Legacy’s Allure
Monastery Siege
Honden of Seeing Winds
Auramancer’s Guise
Corrupted Conscience
Drake Umbra
Fate Foretold
Flight of Fancy
Fool’s Demise
Ordeal of Thassa
Pemmin’s Aura
Sigil of Sleep
Spirit Away
Tricks of the Trade
Volition Reins
Zephid’s Embrace
Eldrazi Conscription

Caged Sun
Claws of Gix
Nevinyrral’s Disk
Surveyor’s Scope
Wayfarer’s Bauble
Helm of the Gods
Swiftfoot Boots
Sword of the Animist

30 Island
Blighted Cataract
Evolving Wilds
Lonely Sandbar
Reliquary Tower
Remote Isle
Terramorphic Expanse
Warped Landscape

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Simple Pleasures in America

Hello friends.

I'd like you to listen to a song. 

I know there's some problematic language in it but I hope you can see past it and through to  the message.

We are entering uncertain times. Various outlets have reminded us not to forget who we are in the coming years. Me? I want to think about the simple pleasures.

For me it's finding a parking spot on my first try.

It's cooking a new recipe and having my wife enjoy it.

It's watching my cousin follow in my footsteps and work at the same summer camp I attended and worked at.

It's watching my students light up when I ask about their work.

If you listened to the song and read the post please reply to me on Twitter @nerdtothecore and tell me one of your simple pleasures.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Bad Cop/Bad Cop Matters

The election forced my hand. Writing has helped me come to terms with the maelstrom of feelings I experience on a daily basis. Which means I get to empty my vault of ideas. I had an outline of this post but I never put pen to paper.

I was in a quagmire. Not Sorry by Bad Cop/Bad Cop is an album that sank its teeth into my brain and shouted "Listen to me on repeat!" I've dutifully obeyed that command for almost three weeks now. The 2015 record is infectious with its tight rhythms and hooks. It's a perfect realization of pop-punk. But I gave up writing about it because all my takes came back to a key element: Bad Cop/Bad Cop is a band of women.

I gave up because it felt reductive. It should not matter in the grand scheme of things that this fucking fantastic record is written and recorded by four women as opposed to four men or a mixed group. It took the election for me to come to my senses and see that the composition matters but at the same time it doesn't.

Let's take the song "Cheers!". It's one of those perfect pop-punk tunes. At just over four minutes it is a quintessential "I am doing a shitty job of getting over you" song. As a former bartender the imagery is pitch perfect. But the artistry is just unbelievable. Watch the video:

There's a moment after the ladies launch into chorus for the first time. The brief rest of "this one's to chase" is such a technically savvy move that it gives me shivers every time. 

Of course then they launch into a second refrain where we just graced with the bass. In a moment evocative of the Mad Caddies Linh carries the song forward and we get to watch Stacey dance. Let me tell you something - when the band looks like they're having a good time it's hard not to smile right along with them. Of course the way Jennie goes into the lyric "cheap shots" is so heartbreakingly perfect that it makes me want to down some well bourbon just for the burn. And all the while Myra is keeping perfect time until we end the song with some shout along vocals. 

The song is perfection.

How about a contrast? Punk often prides itself on being progressive in its values. Equality is a hallmark and one that should be pushed to the forefront. That being said representation is lacking. Take a listen to the Have Nots' "Louisville Slugger": 

The song is important in its message against domestic violence and that of supporting women. However it still has a reductive stance of white male protectors coming to the rescue of white women. I still like the song but the more I listen to it the more problems I find. Because it says that the only answer to this is violence. 

It isn't about rescue it's about revenge.

Bad Cop/Bad Cop tackles the same subject in "Sugarcane" 

There are similar messages - "I'll use a fucking hammer on his face" is not subtle. What "Sugarcane" does that "Louisville Slugger" does not is that it emphasizes the self worth of the main character rather than focus on the revenge against the abuser. The shift in the focus makes this a story about a woman instead of one about her friend seeking retribution. 

Again the song is a four chord wonder played at not-quite-breakneck pace. At under three minutes "Sugarcane" has the blood of No Use for a Name and Teenage Bottlerocket running through its veins. 

There are other awesome tracks - "Joey Lawrence" instantly belongs in my "woah-oh" hall of fame while "The 'Wood" takes on gentrification in a neat package. However I want to close on the track that encouraged me to revisit the review. "Support" is a fist raising anthem designed to close out sets and leave the crowd wanting more. We need this song now more than ever.

You're with us or against us
It's yes or no
You're silence is defense 
of the status quo
If you support me
Then come and join me
We're on our own

Monday, November 14, 2016

An Obstacle

It's Monday. A new week has started. I spent most of yesterday struggling to write an article. I write about the card game Magic and I never realized what a privilege it has been to do so. I do not just mean the fact that I can trade my words for some capital but rather the mindset required to be able to devote time and energy to a hobby.

To something in the grand scheme of thing does not matter.

It was not until yesterday, wracked by guilt and fear, that I realized that not only is it a privilege to write but it is precisely because I am privileged that I have shared my words.

My words have not been those of the oppressed or downtrodden. They were words of enjoyment and diversion. This week I had a hard time focusing on anything as I started to contemplate the next four years in America.

I somehow finished my work, realizing that maybe the article will provide a brief respite for others like me. 

My mind has been my greatest impediment these days. I try to focus on tasks but I fear the future. I hate where my mind goes but it always lands on those words:

"Never forget."

Has American forgotten? 

No; so many never knew.

As my mind is wont to do it wanders. I imagine a time eight years ago where those on the other side of the aisle had just lost an election. I stop myself - thinking of them as the "other side" will not help us move forward, but neither will ignoring their opposition.

Another obstacle.

What is different about these two times? Is our fear any more real?

This is the problem of focusing on feelings and not facts. Eight years ago a candidate some people did not like was elected but that same candidate did not overtly go after citizens and their way of life.

Today I choked up on the phone, calling organizations imploring them to never forget.

And again, hope. Maybe American won't forget. Maybe this time it will be different and the structure will protect us. It is this hope I cling to. It is with this hope that every day when I ask people "Is it time to leave?" that the answer will forever remain no.

Friday, November 11, 2016

My Grandfather, the Ass

I got married at the tail end of March 2015. My father's father was not able to attend as he was in failing health. He passed away a few weeks later and thankfully we were able to focus on the wedding as a salve. 

My grandfather was a veteran of two wars. He got a military funeral in a cold April rain. My family still has the flag and the plaque, proudly displayed with President Obama's signature.

In the following months I learned exactly what an unabashed asshole my grandfather was. He and my grandmother never planned to grow old and had no retirement. Instead of selling a home they simply defaulted on their mortgage and moved out. He promised to repay my father's student loans. It was a nice promise until the collection agents called my dad.

He was kind but acerbic. I loved him and thought he was progressive since he embraced my aunt when she came out and let my dad work as a bus boy in an illegal gay bar in the 60s. I later learned my aunt's relationship with my grandparents was terse and functional. 

My mom has said of my father's parents that they had kids because that's what you did, not because they wanted to raise a family.

Like I said, kind of an asshole.

But today I can't help but think he saved my sister's life and I wish he was around to save my cousin's.

My grandfather was a Corp Man in the Navy. I had no idea what that was until I asked. I learned he was a field medic. During World War II and Korea my grandfather was on the front lines and he saved men. He saw a lot of men die.

He never talked about it.

The stories he would share are the ones from his first tour of duty. His boat once had to rescue a provisions ship. The result was they all had to eat ice cream for a week. That's a great story to tell children, right?

He never talked about Korea. He felt swindled. He joined the Reserves to hang out with his drinking buddies when war broke out. He had a family and was not happy. He did his duty. He saved men.

He saw some shit. 

When my sister was contemplating how to pay for medical school she had considered the army. Grandpa heard and he was not having it. He talked her out of it.

My sister is now a doctor. I'm pretty sure Grandpa saved her life.

My cousin is getting close to graduating high school. He's being raised by my other aunt as a single mother. Later in life my grandparents moved in with them and our grandfather became a stabilizing force in my cousin's life. 

At my sister's wedding this past weekend I asked my aunt my cousin still wanted my help with the college process. She somberly replied he wanted to join the Navy.

I have to be an asshole now and I will do so gladly.

I love you Grandpa. I miss you.

But I'm really happy you died under Obama so that we didn't have to destroy the recognition of your service.