Thursday, August 30, 2012

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pen and Paper

In my quest to improve the quality of my writing, I took a huge step backwards. You see, I started writing again.
When working on articles, I would keep files in two places- my Google Drive and my laptop at home. I would always have them open, writing in dribs and drabs, but my flow would always get disrupted. I learned a long time ago that I do not write well in long fell swoops, but rather in fits and spurts. However, without the help of an academic assignment, I would lose focus. This would lead to articles that would have half formed thoughts- ideas that were not fully fleshed out. I never like editing my work on a screen- I am too much a fan of the red pen.
When I was living at home, I would have my dad edit my papers. I would be so proud to have finished five pages of obvious awesomeness, and would present them with a smile on my face. Dad would take out the red felt tip pen and demolish my work. Five became four, or three, or sometimes two pages. I would be livid, and fix the paper, making it better. The pen would come out. Dad would always find something to fix, some way to make my work better. After five or so revisions, I would stop showing him my papers, because they were due. Eventually, I would only need one or two revisions from the Red Pen of Dad. I would find my own red pencil, and take the task upon myself.
Needless to say, I am not always happy with what I submit. Sure, I like it, but I always feel like I can do better. And then I decided to start physically writing again, with a pen, in a spiral notebook. Suddenly, everything was easier. I could pick up my notebook on the subway and write,  put it down for my work day, and pick it up on the ride home and not feel like I lost my train of thought. For me, writing is as much a physical act as it is a mental exercise, and this revelation has allowed me to do better. When I write something in ink, it is ingrained in my brain, and I can pick up right where I left off. I'm enjoying writing again. 
This is a shock to me.
I am left handed, and hated writing in grade school. I went to a New York City Public School, and got a stellar education. However, I was never taught the proper way to write  for a left handed person- the instruction all was geared towards righties. My hand writing is absolutely atrocious, to the point where sometimes if I write too quickly, I can't read my own notes. Teachers would always tell me how strong my work was, but how hard it was to read. learned how to type quickly at (what was then) a relatively young age. I would always ask if it was okay to type my assignments, because I grew to resent my handwriting. To some extent, I still do. 
The joy of writing, of putting pen to paper, has never left me, however. I could only deny it so long before I picked up something again, to put the thoughts on paper. I have a strong feeling that this will lead to better articles and more writing in general. Only time will tell.
Let's just hope I can read my notes when it comes time to transcribe.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Moving forward

Sexism exists in the gaming communities. This topic has been lingering in the back of my head a while, and rather than launching my thoughts sporadically at various friends, I am going to attempt to put them all down here. 
I play Magic. It is my main hobby, the thing into which I put a sizable about of my spare energy. I have been playing the game for 18 years, and plan on playing it for much longer. I would be lying to you if in my younger days I used terms to describe my game play, and my opponents, that would abhor the Alex of 2012. 

When I still lived at home, one day I called my younger sister a bitch in anger. My dad overheard this. My parents rarely yelled, and punished only when it mattered, but I had never seen my dad so angry. He took me aside and yelled in my face "Do you know what that means?" to which I nervously nodded. "You never call a woman that, especially your sister." I may not have gotten it that day, and maybe I still don't fully understand it, but I know I don't use the word "bitch" in the same way anymore. Sure, I have female friends who self identify as a bitch, and use it in an empowering way. I still say son-of-a-bitch when I get cut off in traffic. I probably shouldn't use the word that way either. But I'm not perfect- I'm learning, and I'm human.

Almost one year ago, Geordie Tait wrote what I feel is one of the most important Magic articles in history: To My Someday Daughter. If you have some time, please read it (it is long, but not unnecessarily so). The article was written in response to "FinkelDate", where Jon Finkel went on a date with a blogger, and she lambasts his Magic history. The response from the community was disturbing. They rallied against the woman, using all sorts of language and posting private information about her. It disgusted me. 

I wanted to understand where these people were coming from. They were the nerds who never got a date, and in their eyes it was because they were deficient...maybe they felt ashamed of their nerd-hood. I know for a long time I was. It wasn't until I became comfortable with folding the identity of gamer into my identity of male that I was able to date successfully. 

My first year of graduate school was tough. I was placed in an assistantship with a supervisor who I clashed with. There were many moments that made it tough- including having to hear her say "I dunno, they're [Jews] all named Abraham", but two of the biggest ones took place months apart. In the first week of work, my boss had a girls night at her house. The male members of our class weren't invited. I had no problem. However, come October I wanted to help set up for an event, and was told by my boss "I want the men to do it." To her, I wasn't a man and I wasn't a woman. I was nothing to her. It was a tough moment to have, and I took time, with the help of an advisor and my supervisor in year two, to quite literally define myself.

Recent events in the video game and online nerd community have brought the issue back to the forefront. When I ran drafts in my old apartment, the younger players would often use the words "gay" and "fag" in ways that are common. I told them not under my roof, and explained why; I saw a decline in the language at the game store from these players. Was it because I was there? Possibly. At a recent event, I told a player flat out not to use the word "rape" to describe a loss. "Rape is terrible. Do you realize what you're saying?" I don't know if what I do works, of if it's tilting at windmills, but I won't stop.

My second year supervisor was (and is) gay. He said something to me one day. "I used to call people 'fags.' That's the past. We all make mistakes. We learn, and we're better for it."

Some people view this as a systemic problem. They feel that we are all complicit, and often the people who try to help are doing more damage. They might call out people that, in my opinion, are trying to help, and chastised them for not doing enough. It is their way or the highway. They want to be heroes- Batman without Robin.

A movement takes all kinds. 

 Maybe some people are, or can be on their side. Sexism is a problem, but bullying people who agree will not make things better. I want to know if this group would find me abhorrent or one of the good guys. I fear I already know. 

Change does not happen overnight. It is going to take the entire community of gamers, and quite possibly the entire community humankind to make a change. So much of this goes beyond game stores and draft tables. It is on television and in advertising. It is in history books and imprinted into our thought patterns. We need a generation of parents to raise their kids to respect everyone, and then we need their children to do the same, and so on and so on. This does not absolve us- we should still stand up and fight against inequality, wherever it is seen. It takes all of us making a commitment to stoping the use of words like rape and bitch and fag as derogatory terms, and then explaining why in an educational way- not an accusatory one. Not everyone is aware of the power of words, be the person that educates them.
It takes all of us to support the people who are standing up against the words- it is important to know we are not alone. 

This is not to our someday daughters- this is to everyone that will come after us.  I am still going to do what I can, make what changes I can and be an entity of change, inclusion, and equality. 

Even if some people don't like how I do it.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Paper Pauper- guest post from Inkwell Looter

Twitter friend, Magic cartoonist and token artist, and all around good man Inkwell Looter played in a Paper Pauper tournament this weekend. Here is his write up (posted with permission):

Here's a quick report from the Pauper tournament I played in this past weekend, at a game shop called Eudemonia in Berkeley, California.

The deck construction rules for this tournament required cards to have common printings in paper sets. The banned list was Cranial Plating, Frantic Search and Hymn to Tourach. The paper stipulation meant that the card pool was mildly different than the pool available to the vibrant Magic Online Pauper scene. Certain paper commons haven't appeared at common online while certain paper non-commons have been printed at common in the online-only Masters Edition sets. A prominent example is Sinkhole, which appeared at common in the first paper core sets but has only appeared at rare online (in a Masters Edition). Despite its legality, I didn't see any Sinkholes in attendance.

Twenty players entered the event. Given that the minimal event promotion and unusual format, having that many players come out of the woodwork and pay an entry fee seems like a success. The crowd had good enthusiasm for their rare opportunity to leave rares on the bench.

Unfortunately there was some severe Pauper Shock too. Players fresh to the format (and to competitive Magic altogether) were thrust against the blood-encrusted spikes of MTGO Pauper machines. I suspect that half the players in the room had no idea that there's a Pauper meta-game or that there are known good decks. My estimate is that a third of the decks were upper-tier, well-tested Pauper staples, another third were functional (but not particularly powerful) and another third were hastily chucked-together piles of whatever commons were on hand.

I played an unoriginal mono-blue list:

4 Delver of Secrets
4 Spellstutter Sprites
4 Cloud of Faeries
4 Phantasmal Bear
3 Ninja of the Deep Hours
2 Spire Golem
4 Counterspell
4 Preordain
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Brainstorm
3 Snap
2 Daze
1 Echoing Truth
1 Gush
17 Island

3 Hydroblast
3 Steel Sabotage
2 Curse of Chains
2 Viridian Longbow
2 Dispel
2 Echoing Truth
1 Weatherseed Faeries

My summary: 4-1 in rounds, beating W/R landfall, W/B Pestilence, W/B Nightsky Mimic shenanigans, Mono-R aggro (heavy on AVR humans), and losing to Mono-W aggro. Won a tense Delver mirror in the quarterfinals then lost in the semis to a sturdy Tortured Existence deck with an extremely capable MTGO pauper vet at the helm.

My first-round opponent received a frustrating game loss for having Death Spark in his deck. Death Spark is an Alliances uncommon that was released as a common online in a Masters Edition. This guy had checked his rarities on Gatherer, was not aware of the online-only nature of Masters Editions and figured, hey, it's common. He was surprised and embarrassed when someone watching our game pointed this out (thankfully he was able to continue in the tournament with basic lands instead of the Death Sparks). If you are planning a pauper tournament I suggest you be particularly conscious of this issue and do all that you can to alert your players about it and/or reduce the discrepancy between the online/paper pools.

The Pauper Shock is a thornier issue. How do you gently warn the bright-eyed and uninitiated that "common" does not necessarily mean "chill" and that they might just get poisoned/Grapeshot to death by turn 3? Is it better to pre-crush their souls rather than let them play War Mammoth and be crushed on the battlefield? I'd at least provide links on my event info page to some basic Pauper resources.

But beyond those issues the day had a positive feel. New Pauper players were dazzled at this format with both deep history and easy entry and several Pauper vets expressed gratitude to be able to play their favored format in an event. Another nearby game store was having a pauper tournament the next day and many of the players at this event said they were going to that one as well. Representatives from both stores told me that they plan to continue having regular Pauper tournaments.  

Something everyone needs on a Monday

Sunday, August 12, 2012

A Grand Prix Trial

Grand Prix Boston-Wocester is happening in a few weeks, and I am unable to go due to work. However, that did not prevent me from attending the Twenty Sided Store Grand Prix Trial today. The original plan was to meet my friend Seth in the finals, then scoop to him so he could be the recipient of the byes. 
Things did not go according to this plan.
It all started last night. Seth had attended a GPT in Nanuet, and went 4-2. He was not able to pre-register for the Brooklyn event, and so had to opt out. Fine, I thought, I'll still make the finals and scoop someone else in
So I packed up my bag and headed to Williamsburg. I grabbed an iced coffee after parking, and made my way to the store front. After sitting down we were asked to leave, so we could walk back in to be check off the registration list. The packs were passed and we were tasked with registering pools for other lucky participants. The pool I registered was strong, featuring Nefarox, Magmaquake, and Volcanic Geyser, and enough cards in black and red to support a solid deck.
On a side note, it has been quite a while since I have played in a competitive level event. It was oddly reassuring to be marking down lists on paper again.
After a convoluted musical chairs with decks, this is the pool I was given with which I was going to battle:
Angelic Benediction
Battleflight Eagle
Divine Favor (x2)
Divine Verdict
Glorious Charge
Guardian Lions
Guardians of Akrasa (x2)
Planar Cleansing
Prized Elephant
Silvercoat Lion
Safe Passage
Touch of the Eternal
War Priest of Thune
Warclamp Mastiff

Archaeomancer (x2)
Essence Scatter
Faerie Invaders
Mind Sculpt
Scroll Thief
Veldalken Entrancer
Welkin Tern
Void Stalker

Bloodhunter Bat
Bloodthrone Vampire
Essence Drain
Giant Scorpion
Harbor Bandit
Liliana's Shade
Mark of the Vampire
Mind Rot
Ravenous Rats (x2 )
Rise from the Grave
Sign in Blood
Vampire Nighthawk
Veilborn Ghoul
Walking Corpse

Arms Dealer
Chandra, the Firebrand
Chandra's Fury (x2)
Craterize (x2)
Crimson Muckwader
Dragon Hatchling
Fire Elemental
Flames of the Firebrand
Kindled Fury
Krenko's Command
Mindclaw Shaman
Mogg Flunkies
Reckless Brute
Torch Fiend
Volcanic Strength

Arbor Elf (x2)
Bond Beetle
Boundless Realms
Flinthoof Boar
Prey Upon (x2)
Primal Huntbeast
Roaring Primadox
Sentinel Spider (x2)
Serpent's Gift
Silklash Spider
Titanic Growth
Vastwood Gorger

Primal Clay
Ring of Valkas
Tormod's Crypt

Evolving Wilds

How would you build it?
Obligatory blank space.

Blue was the first color I dismissed. While Double Archaeomancer makes any spell more valuable, the supporting cast was not there. White was next to go, being one, probably two cards shy of playable. I looked at Red Black aggro and Green Red aggro before settling.
This is what I came up with:

Bloodhunter Bat
Essence Drain
Giant Scorpion
Mark of the Vampire
Ravenous Rats (x2)
Rise from the Grave
Sign in Blood
Vampire Nighthawk
Arbor Elf (x2)
Prey Upon (x2)
Primal Huntbeast
Roaring Primadox
Sentinel Spider (x2)
Silklash Spider
Vastwood Gorger
Chandra, the Firebrand
Flames of the Firebrand
Evolving Wilds
8 Forest
7 Swamp
1 Mountain

Relevant Sideboard
War Priest of Thune
Mind Rot
Chandra's Fury
Mindclaw Shaman
Primal Clay
Tormod's Crypt

After the event, I showed my pool around. The general consensus was that I should have played Flinthoof Boar over Vastwood Gorger to help lower my curve and provide an additional 3/3 body. 
As for the tournament, one of the things I like best about playing at 20 is that know most of the regulars, so even if I lost, there is a very good chance I'm losing to someone I like. 

Round 1 was an example of the camaraderie. I was playing against Mike, another regular. Even though my pool was better than his, and I easily overpowered his deck, it was still a fun match, and there was no sense of animosity. I wished him luck, and he did the same.

Round 2 I played against Richard. He had been sitting across from me during registration, and knew he had an uphill battle. His UW deck could not muster anything and I was quickly at 2-0, feeling confident.

Round 3 was against Brian, with his incredibly strong UB deck. Brian is another likable regular, and will be missed when he moves for school. He has a levity about him, but never loses a competitive edge. Playing against him is always fun. Game one I was able to muster an offense, but when Brian asked the judge about the rules regarding Prey Upon, I knew things would not go my way. A removal spell dispatched my fighting Sentinel Spider, and I was never able to get back in the game.
Game two I made a mistake, walking into a Public Execution. I still managed to pull out the game thanks to a series of amazing top decks, including removal spells and Silklash Spider.
Game three Brian's deck came to play, providing a Staff of Nin I had not previous seen. I was holding on to the game by the skin of my teeth, but eventually, the combination of Staff of Nin and what felt like infinite removal spells did me in.

Round 4, I was paired against Alex with BG. Game one was over rather quickly, as he had a Walking Corpse with two Rancors. I managed to remove the Corpse, but could not deal with a Stuffy Doll wearing two pairs of angry pants. I sided in Pacifism in an attempt to hold off anything wearing Rancor. Game two was closer, with only one Rancor making an appearance. However, Sands of Delirium was what did me in- I had no way to deal with it and I lost, unable to push past a Stuffy Doll.

Round 5 I played against Zac with GW. Game one I messed up my sequencing of plays- the second mistake I remember all day. It cost me, and eventually his army overwhelmed me. Game two I could not deal with double Pacifism, and just like that, I was out of contention for prizes. 

I dropped, but I was not really upset. I played well, and only one of my errors hindered me. I built my deck well, and just ran into better decks (both Alex and Brian would make top 8). I had my fill of Magic for the day, and I was happy.

But I signed up for a draft anyway. After drawing too many lands in round 1, I realized my heart was no longer in playing, and I dropped at 0-1 to go home and eat some dinner.
So my plans went what? I went and played near my very best, and more than anything else, I enjoyed myself. I remember a time when going to play Magic and losing in this fashion would have aggravated me. Instead, today, I used it as a chance to examine exactly what happened. And it taught me: sometimes, it isn't anything you did. Sometimes, they're just better.
Sure, in Round 5, I might have been able to win game one if I had sequenced correctly, and maybe I would have won that match and earned myself some packs. 
I know now. I'll know for next time. 
And in the end, I had fun, and there isn't anything else I can really ask for from a game. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012


Writing is hard.
I have a folder full of half-finished articles to attest to this. It isn't because I don't have time- it's because I lose the drive. I get distracted. 
Look at the shiny car!
My brain does not work in a linear fashion- scatterbrained would be an apt description. I could easily find a link between bacon and just about anything through leaps and bounds of logic and connected ideas floating through my gray matter. This gets in the way.
Sometimes, in groups of friends, I will drop out of the conversation and continue it in my mind, going to a drastically different end point that those who stayed in the loop. Hilarity ensues when I rejoin the conversation talking about Burn Notice while they're discussing where to grab a drink.
With writing, I half ideas whizzing through my brain, and I'll start. I will work and get about halfway done with a piece...and then life will get in the way. The file will stay open, mocking me on my desk top, eventually discarded to the "almost" pile as another newer, and obviously better(!) idea for an article presents itself. 
This would not be a problem, except I forget the accumulated almosts. I leave them to gather digital dust, and rarely revisit. Google Drive has made this easier, since I can carry my entire collection of works-in-progress with me to any computer...but there's always that new shiny car catching my eye.
My own fault, I just have to focus. I have to remember the feeling of finishing something, because nothing feels so nice. 

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Masked Intruder- "Heart Shaped Guitar"

Public Education

This is pretty darn close to how I feel about education, only with far more energy than I can muster at the moment.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Big Wig- "Sore Losers"

It's impossible to listen to this song and not run faster.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Hey...New Orleans!

I really wanted to try some alligator this weekend. Instead, I settled for goat.
Rewind: My sister is attending medical school at Tulane. This past weekend was her White Coat ceremony- the culmination of orientation and the kick off to her med school career. Of course this meant a family trip to New Orleans, hence my resolution to enjoy some gator.
We departed on Friday. My parents were driving, so I was alleviated the horror of the Belt Parkway and Flatbush Avenue. Once we arrived at JFK, we made our way to the Jet Blue terminal and relaxed until boarding. And we waited.
And waited.
We taxied. The taxied back to the gate for more gas. 
All the while, it was made very clear to us that there was some dangerous weather forcing us to reroute, as if to fully absolve JetBlue from any wrongdoing. To make up for the almost two hour wait, we were all awarded free headphones and access to the pay-movies. I spent most of the flight watching the Avengers, which did not translate well to the index card sized screen on the seat in front of me. The flight was uneventful, aside from my dad giggling like a fan boy at the "Puny God" scene. 
We made our way off the plane and to the hotel, smack dab in the middle of the French Quarter. I was not ready for it. I graduated college in 2006, and left behind the bar crawls. Or so I thought until this past weekend. It was an odd experience, watching a frat party sprawl over city blocks and seeing a fully stocked bar in every eatery. 
The weekend itself was a whirlwind. My sister was busy with orientation events, and my parents wanted to explore. I did so as well, but also spent a decent amount of time sleeping in the hotel room. For whatever reason, travel makes me anxious, and sleep was fleeting last week. Saturday afternoon, after enjoying a nice lunch of jambalaya, I made my way back to a nice air conditioned room and slept. Hard. Dinner that night was at a style of place I would not find out of place in Williamsburg, and the only thing on the menu that looked interesting to me was the plate of goat tacos. I had never had goat before, but I enjoyed it immensely, So much so that I am now looking for places to purchase the meat.
Sunday I slept in and got some souvenir shopping in. Finally, the time came for ceremony itself. It was brief and nice, and it was wicked cool to see my little sister get the "uniform" of a doctor. After a brief recess to the hotel room, we made our way to John Besh's August, where we had an absolutely amazing meal. We all slept well.
Monday came, and a trip back home. This was also uneventful, except when the hot sauce and pepper jelly I bought for friends was deemed a threat to safety and I had to go check my carry on. I'm thankful the New Orleans airport had about 12 people in it, making my second trip through security a rather quick one.

But New Orleans itself...that was the feature player this weekend. I had never been, and was honestly excited to see the city. Walking around, there was a persistent feeling of both history and destruction. Sure, there was fantastic architecture and a true sense of local culture. But for every rising structure I saw, I also so the ruin left by Katrina. It permeates the area, like a subtle prod, making sure everyone there does their very best to bring the city back. It was refreshing, in a way.
And as much as I am a fan of drinking, it was incredibly weird and jarring to see such drunkenness. At dinner on Sunday, a gaggle of lushes planted their faces on the window by our table and started taking pictures and generally being ass hats. Now, there's a time and place for everything, but interrupting our nice dinner? Well, my family was amused, but happy when they grew bored.

If I ever make it back (and I will) I will not stay on the main drag. And I'll have my gator.

And I won't be staying with my parents...that's for sure. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012


Last week, I rescued my old Super Nintendo from my parents' closet.
Technically, it belongs to me and my sister, but she's off learning how to save lives and go into debt in New Orleans, so I think her schedule is full.
Playing these old games has been a blast, and not just because they're awesome.
I was never a huge video gamer. I owned an N64, but only own 6 games for the system. In college I played pirated copies of Knights of the Old Republic and Counterstrike. I even tried World of Warcraft. Nothing really stuck. I never stopped playing Magic, but video games never called out to me the same way the cardboard did and does.
But Super Nintendo, they were doing things right. I put in Donkey Kong Country 2 (compressed air cleans these cartridges out so much better than lung power) and I am in awe of how great the game is. More than that, I am still impressed with the quality of the graphics and the music, and the timeless quality of the game. I remember everything- it's the ultimate sense memory. I am transported to my parents basement, the same place that has become my dad's office/Frankenstein guitar center, sitting in Ikea chairs playing this game with my friends for way too long. It's the same way I feel when I open a pack of Magic cards- the smell takes me back to opening starter decks in the car.

Today I found out Tony Sly of No Use For A Name died. I was never a huge fan of NUFAN, but I enjoyed the music when it came on and they are contemporaries of the bands that got me into punk. Hearing this news, it made me realize that same part of my past that I visit whenever I slide the power switch on the gray box, is gone. I felt the same way I did when Gary Carter passed- I have no memories of watching him play, but he is part of my cultural history as a Mets fan. 

I guess that's part of why I still play the SNES... it reminds me that the past might be gone, but it isn't dead. It's still there, in 16-bit graphics, the smell of cards, the music, the memories. It can never really go away, but then again, it is never quite here. 

House Boat Live

AVI's and a bowl in bed 
I'm trying to wipe out the sound in my head
Check the phone for the forty-ninth time 
You crawled out of the woodwork
and into my mind 
I guess that I don't mind 

And I don't think that you're telling lies
but I wasn't raised to believe in Julys
I'm turning the light off
and closing my eyes again

Stay awake for a few more days 
the sun's always rising 
the weeks melt away 
Get a message and I hit reply
I create my own problems
I'm hung out to dry 
and I know why 

The dog and I are gonna just stay home 
I blacked out the windows 
and blew up the phone 
I figure I'm just gonna end up alone again

So I guess I'm gonna stay at home 
locked in my bedroom 
one hand on the phone 
hoping that I won't end up alone again
Sunrise and I close my eyes 
I'm tired of drifting through everyone's lives
I don't think I ever believed in July
I don't think I ever believed in July
I don't think I ever believed in July...