Aside

Dipping my toes into standard decks.

Deckbuilding is one of the most fundamental aspects of Magic. Whether you’re building a limited deck through drafting, or trying to build a standard deck, it’s basically the most important part of the game. But it’s also the hardest part, especially for new players. Everything from knowing how cards interact to knowing how much mana to put into a deck is hard, at least at first. I’ve only scratched the surface of standard deck building, but I’ve learned a lot already.

Opening my Christmas gift. Asto had cleverly disguised it as a Catan game.

Opening my Christmas gift. Asto had cleverly disguised it as a Catan game.

Back in December, Astro gave me a deck building kit for Christmas. (Yeah, she’s awesome.) I immediately opened all the packs, sorted them and decided to, well, build a deck. I’d opened Olivia in one of my packs and lots of other vampires, so I decided to make a black and red vampire deck. I was pretty confident it was going to be the best first-try deck ever. I picked what I thought were all my best vampire cards and stuck some solid instants and sorcery cards like Murder and Mind Rot in there. I basically tried to get all my most bad ass red and black cards into the deck. Looking back, I don’t think it was terrible, but it probably wasn’t as good as I thought.  And when I played against Astro’s white deck, I got beaten every single time.

I’ve learned a lot since then. Like, for example, that having a playset of cards (four of the same) in a deck is better than just having one because you’re more likely to draw it.  (I didn’t have any duplicates in my vampire deck.) I also know that even though it’s good to have a theme, like vampires, it’s also important to know how cards interact and that just because two cards are the same creature type doesn’t mean they both need to be in the deck.

My second attempt at a deck was an Izzet deck that I built up from one of my first draft decks. The key cards in the deck were Goblin Electromancers, Teleportal and Dynacharge. The idea was to survive and get enough creatures out so I could smash my opponent when I played the spells for their overload costs. It was a pretty fun deck when it worked, but it didn’t really run that smoothly. Probably because it only used Return to Ravnica cards and M13 — I didn’t even look at the Innistrad block because I didn’t know I could. I didn’t have a firm grasp on what cards were playable in standard, so  I just stuck with the cards I knew were legal.

Since then I’ve built a couple really strong mostly red decks with the help of some of the guys at my LGS. I had a really fast and strong red deck with a little black splashed in that was really fun. It had Reckless Waifs, Stromkirk Nobles, Ash Zealots, Pyreheart Wolves and lots of burn spells. I played with it a lot, and since it was a straightforward aggressive deck I won a fair amount of matches. It was actually pretty competitive.

my deck, from the mind of @TomoharuSaito. Click for a larger view!

For my latest deck, I changed that deck from splashing black to splashing green for a deck posted in my LGS’s Facebook group. It’s pretty bomb, and really fun to play. It incorporates some new Gatecrash cards, too, which is fun. I’m still getting used to playing it, and I don’t really know the art of side boarding yet, but I’m working on it. I might even try standard at FNM some day! I still have a lot to learn about standard deck building, though, so for now I’ll keep looking at the decks the pros play, and why they work and go from there. Obviously they know what they’re doing. I’ll also continue to bug my Magic friends for help. They’re really the ones who have taught me everything about deck building.

But even though I’m not the best at it, deck building is still my favorite part of Magic. That’s probably why I like drafting so much; you have to build a deck on the spot. I’d say I’m a lot better at building draft decks than I am at building standard decks. More on that later!

All for now,

Bale

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Fables Vol. 2: Animal Farm.

I recently got my tax return back from the government (yay monies!) and like a responsible adult I put most of the money into savings. However, I did allow myself to splurge and bought the next four volumes of the Fables comic series.

I’m going to give an overview of what I think of each volume as I read them. I hesitate to call it “reviewing” the comics, because I have no prior knowledge on which to base a comic book review. Just think of it as me, sharing my newb comic-book-readin’ thoughts as I start getting into my first series.

From what I can tell, each volume seems to have a very distinct focus. I’m not sure if this is common in comic books, but it seems like it makes sense. IT’S ALMOST AS IF THEY PLANNED IT.

Anywho, Volume 1 followed the story of Red Rose’s mysterious disappearance (for those that missed it, catch up here).

Volume 2 is all about the animals, and not in a way PETA would be happy about.

The cover art for Fables Vol. 2: Animal Farm. Red Rose looks preeetty badass. Image courtesy of http://thesleeplessreader.com/2011/01/25/fables-volume-2345-by-bill-willingham/

The cover art for Fables Vol. 2: Animal Farm. Red Rose looks preeetty badass. Image courtesy of thesleeplessreader.com.

Snow White is again our leading lady, and we find her about to embark on her annual visit to “The Farm”. All the Fables who can’t live among the “mundies” (ie: mundanes, muggles, humans) agreed to reside on a large farm in upstate New York. Because White is Deputy Mayor of Fabletown, she makes these visits to make sure all is well up at the farm.

Since Rose Red has been causing so much trouble lately, White decides to force her sister to accompany her on this trip as part of her community service. Rose, being the hard-core rebel that she is, whines and complains the whole way there.

The car ends up breaking down just as the travelers get inside the boundaries of The Farm. As they figure out their car troubles, White finds something disturbing on the side of the road: shotgun shells. GASP. Why would anyone be using guns on Fable land, White ponders. SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT.

They finally arrive at the Farm, which basically looks like a bunch of fairy-tale settings, patched together. It definitely has that “cult-commune” feeling to it.

White ends up stumbling in on a suspicious meeting the farm-dwelling Fables are holding in the barn. She demands to know what’s going on. Why is are they holding an unsanctioned meeting, and where is the Farm’s leader?

The animals are able to placate White, and cover up their odd-behavior. For being a few hundred years old, and having seen the things she’s seen, you’d think Snow White would be a little harder to fool.

Basically Snow White ends up banging around with her eyes closed, whilst Red Rose secretly joins forces with the animal Fables who are planning an uprising! How exciting! The animals are sick of being trapped on the Farm, and want to return to the Homelands (their original fairy-tale lands).

But, as we come to find out, it’s not all fun and games. Things get a little … bacon-y when one of the Three Little Pigs doesn’t accomplish his mission for the revolution. And who knew Goldilocks would turn out to be such a good shot?

I had complicated feelings about this volume, because the Fables are pitted against each other (well, as complicated as feelings get about a comic). I didn’t really know who’s side I was on; weren’t they all the good guys in my childhood bed-time stories?

Also: I think Bill Willignham (writer) could have toned down the overt-references to the “literary symbol”. I couldn’t tell if he was trying to poke fun at it, or if he just thought comic-book readers just wouldn’t know a literary reference when they saw it. Either way, I was a little insulted as a reader. I don’t like when things are dumbed-down.

However, that really was the only thing I disliked about this volume. Overall, it was a fun read. It was interesting to meet new characters; see new settings; and uncover more mysteries of Fabletown! There were parts that were predictable and cheesy, but there were other parts that made me gasp (for real).

So far, I seem to like when Fables is focused on more serious moments and I just move along when it’s trying to be funny. One thing that is consistent: the art is very engaging. I love looking at the detailed drawings. If I keep enjoying the art, I’ll probably keep reading.

On a slightly different note: It’s hard to write my thoughts without giving a TON away — I would hate to take away the experience of reading it for the first time from you. So hopefully, I’ve found a happy medium. Leave me some comments on your thoughts if you’ve read it! We could have… like… an online comic book club! Like Oprah’s book club, except better. Cool. I’m glad we had this talk.

-Astro

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Magic girls have a new hero.

The face of the first girl to Top Eight at a Magic ProTour.

The face of the first girl to Top Eight at a Magic ProTour. (Photo from the Magic Facebook.)

The Gatecrash ProTour was this weekend in Montreal. Unfortunately, I couldn’t watch much because I had to work. But thanks to my buddies at my LGS I heard about this pretty cool girl, Melissa DeTora.

After the first day of the ProTour she was the only person with an 8-0 record. And the second day she made Magic history by being the first girl to make the Top Eight at a ProTour. On the final day she lost to the eventual champion in the quarterfinals. But being knocked out by the champ and making history is not too shabby. It’s actually really, really cool, especially to me.

Now, I am not going to pretend to know anything about Magic at the super competitive level, but I do know that I’m excited for Melissa.  I don’t really have any plans to attempt to “go pro” at Magic, but it’s still inspiring. Because sometimes the hardest thing I face at FNM is the gender gap, I mean let’s face it, it is a bit intimidating to be one of the only girls there. I’m more comfortable than I was before, but I still have moments when I look up and realize that everyone is watching me BECAUSE I’m a girl.

QF DeTora

Melissa doing her thing.

So I can’t even imagine how Melissa felt over the past weekend. And now probably every semi-serious Magic player knows her name, girls especially. She proved that we can do it; I mean, there’s no reason we couldn’t before, but it’s nice to have the proof. And I’m hoping it means that more girls will keep playing. (Or start playing!)

Oh and she writes, too! When I googled her, several articles she’s written for Magic sites popped up. I mean, could this girl be more awesome? Seriously. She’s written about how to draft Gatecrash, how to win a ProTour Qualifier, the updated trigger policy and more! (And yes, I read all of them while trying to write this post.) So even if not all magic girls view Melissa as their hero (which they should), I definitely do. Writing about and playing Magic all the time? Sounds like my kind of girl!

Here’s to hoping that the trend of awesome Magic girls continues.

All for now,
Bale

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P.S.: For those curious, here’s a link to the top 8 decks. Melissa’s is towards the bottom. It’s pretty awesome! 😉

I believe in Gurren Lagann.

Finally, I had a week that wasn’t jam-packed with plans, thus I was able to finish watching the anime I started before the holidays: Gurren Lagann.

I know, I know, I’m a little behind the times (as usual) — Gurren Lagann originally aired its 27 episodes in 2007. Each episode only runs about 25 minutes. Twenty-seven episodes at 25 minutes each is puny compared to other shows; it’s truly remarkable what the writers were able to cover in that short amount of time.

Gurren Lagann is a mecha anime, which means it involves a lot of robots/machines.

The story takes place on Earth, where all humans have been forced to live underground by creatures called “beastmen” and their ruler, the Spiral King. In the first episode we meet two of the main characters: Simon and Kamina. Simon is a digger in his subterranean village — drilling away at the earth for hours on end. Kamina is the village “bad boy” who always talks about escaping to the surface, to follow in the path of his father. If you imagine your average bro (which funnily enough is what Simon calls him in the show) that’s pretty much Kamina’s character.

Simon is just sad kid, with not much going for him at the beginning of the show. But his fate is changed when he finds a small, glowing drill pendant and Gunman buried deep in the Earth. Gunman are the machines that the beastmen have used to repress the humans.

Simon ends up using the Gunman and the drill pendant (which activates the Gunman) to defend his village against a giant Gunman that falls through the ceiling. Along with the giant Gunman, a girl named Yoko falls into their village as she too tries to take down the enemy. Simon and Kamina, along with Yoko, defeat the giant Gunman. At that point, Kamina names Simon’s Gunman “Lagann”.

Yoko tells Simon and Kamina about the war that’s been raging on the surface between humans that have escaped their underground villages and the Gunman controlled by the beastmen. Yoko is surprised a human could pilot a Gunman, as it was believed that only beastmen could control them. Kamina decides that the three of them should go to the surface with Lagann to help defend the humans.

Yoko, Kamina, and Simon with the flag for "Team Gurren". Photo courtesy of wallpapervortex.com.

Yoko, Kamina, and Simon with the flag for “Team Gurren”. Image courtesy of wallpapervortex.com.

All of that happens in the first one or two episodes. So you can imagine how fast-paced this show is. Rather than spoiling everything for you, I figured I just list the things I like/disliked about the show:

The Good

– It’s fast. I know I’ve already mentioned it, but it was nice to watch an entire show and not feel like I’ve wasted days of my life (Dawson’s Creek anyone?) I also liked that I didn’t have to wait very long to answer questions I had about the Gurren Lagann world.

– The story is interesting and I never knew where it was headed next.

– I found myself really caught up in the characters — you become very attached to them, and feel the pain when they suffer. They really encompass a large spectrum of human emotion including depression, love, hate, jealousy, and lust.

– The animation is very good. I enjoyed the well-done style of the show. The last few episodes were the best part in this aspect. I was wondering if they were going to show the “god-like” villain at the end — and if they did show him, how were they going to do it? Well, they did show him, and it was really cool!

The Bad

– The way they presented Yoko (the main female character). I know it’s a mecha anime, probably geared towards boys/men, but I was disappointed with the way they sexed- up Yoko ALL THE TIME. I mean, most animes do this, but I thought it was over-the-top in Gurren Lagann. There were SO many shots of Yoko’s bursting bust and butt. She was still a badass character — but she would have been better for me with less in-your-face boob-age.

– There was way too much yelling. I’m pretty sure the characters yelled at each other for about five minutes straight every episode. Every time they battled EVERYTHING WAS SAID AS IF IT WAS WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS (I think that’s how the voice actor’s scripts were written).

The Ugly

This guy:

Attenborough Cortitch

Attenborough Cortitch. That one button sure did make a lot happen! Image courtesy of DiviantArt.

This post is already huge, and I didn’t even really get into the story. So much happens, you really should just check it out for yourself. The show was great — and had some encouraging messages about believing in yourself.

“Don’t believe in the me that believes in you, believe in the you that believes in you.” – Kamina

Keep nerdin’ on.

– Astro

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Imagination > television.

When I was a kid my dad wouldn’t let me watch TV on school nights unless all my homework was done AND it was before dinner. He’d also limit my sister and me to an hour. But I didn’t mind; I was more of a reader anyway.

I often joke that I’m probably the only kid that got in trouble for reading TOO much. (Homework? Who does that? Once I actually hid my book inside my textbook, thinking my dad wouldn’t notice… I was wrong.)

But the reason I loved reading then is the same reason I love reading now: You get to disappear into another world, another person’s mind and lose yourself. Some of the best days of my life have been ones where I just sat and read a book (or two!) cover to cover, spending the whole day in that world.

My imagination didn’t stop when I closed my book though. My sister and our friends often play-acted our favorite stories, or came up with our own world. One of my favorites was “Narbithia”: A combination of the world in “The Bridge to Tarabithia” and “The Chronicles of Narnia”. At one point we even drew Narbithia out on my friend’s driveway with chalk. It was great! And in another (nameless) world, we were witches that owned a very popular restaurant. We came up with endless scenarios that took us as far as our imaginations could take us.

Mysteries about animals, what could be better?? Image from Goodreads.

I look back now and realize how much I loved playing outside, reading and basically everything but watching TV. Don’t get me wrong — I LOVED “The Rugrats” — but I loved my Nancy Drew and Animal Ark books more. And playing outside with my friends was always a blast. And when my friends and I were sitting in front of a TV we were playing video games like “Mario Party” and “Sonic the Hedgehog”… we hardly ever actually watched it.

But somewhere along the line we did start watching more TV. Probably when we thought we were too old to play act anymore. I don’t know when I started watching more TV than reading, but I think it was in high school or college; when reading meant work. And if I was reading, I should probably have  been reading for class. But over the past several months I realized I don’t have that excuse any more. I don’t have class. I don’t have assigned reading. And it’s great. I’ve read more books this year (still not that many) than I have in a long time because of my free time.

But what do I usually do with that time? I use Netflix or Hulu to watch TV shows. Maybe it’s because I’m tired from work. Or I don’t have enough time to get engrossed in a novel. I don’t really know. But it makes me sad.

So I’ve decided I’m going to stop watching Netflix and Hulu by myself. I’m going to do more imaginative things with my free time. I’m going to play Magic. I’m going to play video games. I’m going to write. But mostly, I’m going to read all the books I’ve been meaning to.

And I couldn’t be more excited.

All for now,
Bale

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Why my heart belongs to Harvest Moon.

What do you get when you combine agriculture, farm animals, friendly townsfolk, and video games?

If you guessed Harvest Moon, 10,000 Internet points for you!

The Harvest Moon series is one of my favorites; I love it and can’t seem to get enough! All in all there are about 25 Harvest Moon games and spin-offs, so chances are if you play video games you’ve maybe run into one or two at some point in your gaming career. If you are a weirdo like me, you own most of the games.

Astro's Harvest Moon collection.

My lovely Harvest Moon collection.

In all of the Harvest Moon games, you play a character that moves to a new town and has decided to start a farm. There are many different story lines, from your grandpa dying and wanting you to take over the farm, to you needing to save the town from extinction.

The original game, titled ‘Harvest Moon’, was released for SNES in 1997. Though I have played it, sadly this is one of the Harvest Moon games I don’t own (it’s pretty pricey and my dad won’t give me his SNES).

The next game, and the one many more people have actually played, was ‘Harvest Moon 64’ which came out for the Nintendo 64 in 1999. This version of the game is often a fan-favorite because it involved interesting townsfolk and dating! Your character (a male) could woo the girl of his dreams, marry her, and have a child.

Farming  and raising livestock has always been a major part of the game-play. Interacting with the townsfolk is another staple in the series. In some of the spin-offs, the ‘Rune Factory’ series, you can fight monsters, which you can also capture and raise on your farm!

My most recent acquisition was ‘Harvest Moon: A New Beginning for the 3DS’ (which I will probably do a review of once I’ve put in a few more hours of play-time, but so far I like it).

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it is exactly that makes these games so addicting and enjoyable for me (and, I’m assuming, other people like them too since they keep making them). I mean, basically you are doing chores the entire game and there’s a lot of repetition — what’s fun about that?

I had a friend once who told me he liked to play Harvest Moon because it was so relaxing. That idea really stuck with me and I’ve come to realize that I felt the same way. Harvest Moon games always take place in peaceful village where life is so simple. It definitely is a form of escapism.

There’s also a very strong feeling of gratification when you accomplish something in a Harvest Moon game. You spend two weeks (in-game time) to grow a crop, then you finally get to ship it and make a profit to buy a cow. Then you raise that cow, feeding and brushing it everyday, for at least a month (in-game time again) until one day you can milk it! These small accomplishments can make you feel happy for the rest of the day (IRL).

I also really enjoy the interactions with the townsfolk, bachelors, and bachelorettes! Again, it takes a lot of in-game time and dedication to get these people to like you, but it’s fun to unlock special cut-scenes, and conversations as you get to know different characters better.

Harvest Moon is a happy world, where happy thing happen (most of the time) and it makes you feel good when you play it.

But, perhaps I simply love Harvest Moon because I’ve been playing it for so long. When my brother and I were kids, he was helping me pick out a Gameboy Color game at Target one day. He pointed out ‘Harvest Moon 2 GB’ through the glass display case and said, “You’d probably love that game, there are cute animals in it.”

And boy, he was right on the mark.

-Astrobright

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Friday Night Master, and other nerdy achievements.

My proudest Magic accomplishment yet!

My proudest Magic accomplishment yet!

GUYS. It’s been quite the week for me.

Screen Shot 2013-02-10 at 9.13.46 PM

I have 68 of these, whatever they do!

The most exciting news: I went 4-2 at FNM this week. That is the best I’ve ever done, and I’m really proud. I faced some pretty tough opponents, too. (Especially my last one: the coolest 9-year-old girl I know, and “The Nerd Maids” biggest fan.) My deck was really strong because I’m pretty sure I was the only one drafting Gruul at my table. I got some really awesome cards including Clan Defiance, Act of Treason, Mugging, Slaughterhorn (which I mostly used for its bloodrush ability) and Gyre Sage. I got off a fun combo with Gyre Sage and Clan Defiance to win one game: I dealt six damage to two creatures and my opponent’s face for lethal. Act of Treason served me well against some nasty creatures for surprise wins or as removal for Firemane Avenger (which I saw a few times, actually). I am also proud of how I played. I used my cards together smartly (example: waiting to play Miming Slime until my second mainphase, after I bloodrushed one of my creatures to make it huge!), I worked on my poker face (which is really terrible) and I only forgot a few triggers. It was really fun, and it was the first time I’ve gotten any sort of prize, plus I got 15 planeswalker points! (I don’t really know what those do, but it’s cool!) And because I got four wins at a FNM even I got the “Friday Night Master” award. And I’m pretty sure I leveled up, so technically I’m a level 12 magic player. So basically I’m awesome. 😉

But that’s not all!

My first comic book. The artwork is pretty much amazing.

I finished my first comic book this week: “The Unwritten”. It was so good. Darker than I expected, and definitely unlike anything I’ve read before. It took elements from a lot of my favorite books and tied them into one story. When I was younger I had an incredibly active imagination (and I still do) and “The Unwritten” taps into one of my wildest dreams: What if all the characters from our most beloved books existed in some universe somewhere? And what if when you create a story, you create a world? And what would happen if our worlds intertwined? It’s crazy to think about. I loved “The Unwritten” because it sparked my imagination unlike anything I’ve read in a long time. (And since I read it before I went to sleep, it led to some WACKY dreams…) I can’t wait to read more — I got that excited just from the first part!

But that’s not all!

I got several books from a few friends, that I fully intend to read, and I read a bit of “The Silmarillion”. I didn’t watch ANY Netflix. I spent my free time reading, playing Magic or practicing playing “Civilazation V”, in case I ever decide to stream. I’ve been working on a standard Magic deck, too. Oh! And I started watching “Firefly” (on DVD, cough cough), which I’ve been told I’ll absolutely LOVE. It’s good so far, but I’ve just watched the pilot, so I haven’t gotten much of a feel for it yet.

NOW that is all. But I’d say that’s a pretty good week for a nerdmaid!

All for now,
Bale

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