I read banned books.

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This week is National Banned Books week, which is dedicated to raising awareness about censorship and celebrating the freedom to read.

Each year the American Library Association compiles a list of the most challenged books of the year. At the top of this year’s list is “Captain Underpants”, a graphic novel about a couple fourth graders who bring their favorite superhero to life by hypnotizing their principal. I read it a long time ago, and thought it was just entertaining. But apparently some parents think it’s inappropriate because of “offensive language” and it is “unsuitable for the age group”. REALLY? I read it and I turned out JUST FINE. Promise.

But seriously. There are a lot of books on the list over the years that really surprised me. I’ve only read “Captain Underpants” and “Kite Runner” from this year’s list, but looking back there are some of my favorite books that have been challenged by small-minded people. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is one of my absolute all-time favorite books, and it appears multiple times. Same with “Catcher in the Rye”, “My Sister’s Keeper”, “Of Mice and Men” and even the “Harry Potter” books.

Here’s this year’s list:

2012

Out of 464 challenges as reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom
  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey.
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.
    Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher.
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James.
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson.
    Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group
  6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
    Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green.
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group
  8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
    Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence
  9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit
  10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence

— American Library Association

I grew up reading every book I could get my hands on, and my parents encouraged it. Reading is one of the best ways to expand world views and introduce new ideas. Basically, reading is a great way to challenge your ideas of the world. And that scares people. But everyone should be able to read every book ever. ESPECIALLY in the US, where we have the First Amendment and the expectation of free speech and freedom of expression. Which means, to me, everyone should be able to read whatever they want and schools should support that.

Especially if it challenges your beliefs.

All for now,
Bale

What is your favorite banned book? Which banned book surprises you that it’s on the list? 

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Goodbye, M14. Hello, Theros.

I picked black as my prerelease color. The most harpies I got off my Abhorrent Overlord was seven, but I was so far behind it didn't even help me win the game. SADNESS.

I picked black as my prerelease color. The most harpies I got off my Abhorrent Overlord was seven, but I was so far behind it didn’t even help me win the game. SADNESS.

I’m getting to this a tad much later than I would have liked, but last weekend was full of Magic. I went to FNM like normal, and then I went to the noon prerelease at my LGS on Saturday. I’ve done the midnight thing, and while it’s very fun, I like my sleep too much. (I have a weird enough sleep schedule as it is!)

Friday was the last day of drafting M14, and I’m not sad to see it go. I did finally figure out the format, but that’s what keeps MTG so interesting: every time you think you’ve got a handle on things, it changes. Thankfully, Theros will be around a bit longer, though. So far it seems really fun and different.

I am not going to do a full recap of the prerelease or FNM… that’d be an absolutely massive post, and I’m late enough posting as it is. Instead, here’s a quick rundown of my MTG-filled weekend.

FRIDAY NIGHT MAGIC

THE DRAFT

There were only 19 people drafting, so even though it was still five rounds there were far fewer people than normal. I was at a table of six instead of eight, which was a bit awkward. I opened a Bonescyth Sliver pack one and decided to go the red/white sliver route almost immediately. Things got a little awkward when: 1) I realized green slivers were WIDE open — nobody was picking up those Predatory Slivers — so I started grabbing them, 2) I picked an Ogre Battledriver over a Battle Sliver and 3) the only fixing I had was a Manaweft Sliver, which was in my third color. So instead of the solid W/R sliver deck featuring the Battle Sliver, I had an awkward three color sliver deck with a random Battledriver and no Battle Sliver. Not bad, just not as synergistic as possible… I did have 12 slivers though, which is quite the feat in a six-person table, I’d say.  Oh, and I opened Ajani, so of course I was playing him. (I opened him pack two, right before getting the pack with the Battledriver/ Sliver decision.) I was way behind building my deck, so going into my first match I was still figuring out my mana, which was stressful, but I knew if it worked out my deck would be pretty solid.

THE MATCHES (final record: 3-2) 

My first opponent was the person who sat on my right in draft, which almost never happens at our store. I was only a little annoyed because I knew he was in red as well and had taken ALL my removal from me. (I only had one Shock.) Plus I knew I’d passed him some REALLY good red cards — I took my Ajani over a Shiv’s Embrace and I think an Chandra’s Outrage. It also turned out he was in white as well, which is why I didn’t see much. Sigh. I still put up a good fight, but I couldn’t quite beat the Shiv’s Embrace. I got him really close to dead, but he stabilized both games and then beat me. I did have one

Round two was another loss, this time to a really strong B/G beast deck with all the Advocates to back it up. I stabilized at two life game two with Ajani, but my opponent was able to Opportunity and play his Phantom Warrior. I didn’t quite have enough to kill him on my alpha strike, and I was dead to the unblockable creature. A close game, but frustrating.

I got the bye during round three, and was fairly certain there was NO WAY I would get top eight, but I kept playing.

The fourth round was a sliver mirror match. The first game I just got luckier with my mana and draws than my opponent, so I finally won. He had a Megantic sliver, though, so I sided in my two Act of Treasons, hoping to pull off the epic steal. Game two I had a sick opening hand: Blur Sliver, Act of Treason, Bonescythe Sliver and the mana to cast it all. I was able to cast everything on curve, and then my opponent played a turn five Megantic Sliver as his only blocker. (He’d managed to stay alive by casting and sacrificing the Elixir of Immortality twice.) So, in my most epic play in a while, I cast my Act on his Sliver and swung in for 32 damage on turn five. It was beautiful.

My last opponent was playing a blue tempo deck. I actually forget what his second color was… maybe white? Anyway, he was beating me pretty bad, but I was able to stabilize with Ajani and pump up my fliers to fly over for the win. It was pretty fun. And game two was my ideal curve: Sentinel sliver, Blur sliver and predatory sliver. I had the right mana, and it was great. I attacked with my Predatory sliver the turn it came down, which could have been bad if my opponent had blocked correctly with his creature, but instead he chumped the Sentinel and basically gave me the game. Afterwards, he realized his mistake pretty quickly and was annoyed because he had lots of gas in his hand he could have played had the game gone a bit longer. Oh well. I’m not complaining.

My final record was 3-2, which is not my best, but also not terrible. And because there were so few people it ended up getting me sixth place! Only two packs, and with the prerelease that night we couldn’t play it out, but still. My last two weeks on M14 were successful, and it was great to end on a high note.

Hello, Theros

The prerelease was fun, but disappointing. I didn’t get any bomb rare in my pool except the Abhorrent Overlord that was guaranteed when I picked black. In fact, I played only two of my six rares. It was unfortunate, but I still ended up with what I thought would be a decent deck. I had a fairly good late game with my Nighthowler, two Erebos’s Emissaries and several other bestow creatures, but my early game was crappy and I didn’t really have many creatures to bestow onto besides other bestow creatures.

Deckbuilding was really challenging for me because I did get some good rares, but they were ALL off color. I had by far the most playables in black and the second most playables in red. My good rares were G/U, G/W and R/W. (I don’t have them with me and don’t know the names well enough yet to rattle them off from memory.) Still, I was pretty happy with my build going into the matches. I didn’t know how the set would play, and I had plenty of ramp to get to my late game, so I was hopeful.

Unfortunately my hopefulness was squashed out of my fairly quickly. My first match wasn’t even close — I thought I’d stabilized the second game and my U/W opponent finally played his Kraken. That, paired with some fliers, made it impossible for me to come back. My Lightening Strikes were not up to par, and it was too hard to reliably hit my Sip of Hemlock mana. Sigh.

I actually won match two, but it was because I drew my Abhorrent Overlord the turn after my opponent played his and my devotion to black was much higher. I got five harpies out of the deal and was able to overwhelm him with fliers.

Match three was against Steve, which is always annoying because both of us always want the other to have a great record, and being paired up against each other makes it harder. I got one game of the match by using my intimidate bestow guy, but the other ones weren’t close. Fliers, man. They get you.

My fourth match was frustrating because I won the first game easily and then games two and three he managed to get out his Nylea, her bow and the 10/10 Golem defender that becomes a 20/20 trample when it goes monstrous. It was bad.

By this point everyone I came with was doing poorly, so we opted to go out to eat instead of finish the last round.  I think it was the best decision for everyone’s sanity.

I am really looking forward to drafting Theros. I think there are some cool possibilities for deck archetypes and epic late game battles. We’ll see though.  I definitely don’t have a good read on the format yet, but I’ll be drafting at FNM and a team draft this weekend, so hopefully that helps.

Only a week and a half until my first Grand Prix! So excited.

All for now,
Bale

How did you fare at the prerelease?
Do you have any epic moves that you’ll remember for a long time? 

Addicted to Charmed.

Several years ago, one of my very good friends told me about Charmed. She said it was among her favorite shows ever, which meant it was almost as good as Gilmore Girls. This was high praise: She has most of the seasons of Gilmore Girls, and at the time we were working our way through them. But, since I was so engrossed in Lorlai and Rory’s world at the time, I didn’t give “Charmed” the chance it deserved.

Fast forward five or six years and I’ve just finished “Orange is the New Black” and am absently browsing Netflix. Up pops “Charmed” and, remembering my friend’s suggestion, I decide to give it ago.

Fast forward only a few weeks and I’m already mostly done with season two. Yeah. I’ve watched around forty episodes of “Charmed” in my spare time. Can you say addicted? At least my work (and MTG playing) hasn’t suffered! Although I have sacrificed a few trips to the gym. Oops.

Charmed is a fun show about witches, warlocks, demons and other supernatural beings. I love the idea that witches could live among us, so that’s probably what initially got me hooked. The three main characters, Prue, Piper and Phoebe, are sisters who came into their power after their grandmother died. They’re among the most powerful witches… ever. They’re “the charmed ones”, and they have “the power of three”.  And they’re pretty kick ass: Prue has the power to move things (telekinesis), Piper can freeze things/ people/ whatever she wants and Phoebe can see the future and the past. (She’s also pretty awesome at kick-boxing, since she didn’t want to be the only one without an ‘active’ power’.

The three of them fight various warlocks and demons in every episode, while dealing with day-to-day life. Each story is definitely entertaining, and usually I have no idea how the writers will be able to tie up all the loose ends by the end of the episode.  It’s just fun to watch. At least, everything I’ve seen so far has been.

I don’t know much about the show besides its characters and dramatic turns in the first couple seasons, so this post won’t be too detailed — I was going to look up more information about it, but Astro warned me that the wikipedia page was riddled with spoilers. And to be honest, I don’t even want to google Charmed because I don’t want anything ruined for me. (I really hate spoilers, and even finding the featured image for this post raised questions that didn’t need to be raised…) But considering the show started in the 90s, I’m amazed I don’t know more about it. Then again, I shouldn’t really be surprised… I’m pretty oblivious to pop culture, and was even more so back then.

But I can tell you my top five favorite things about Charmed, so far:

  1. Prue, Piper and Phoebe are all strong women who aren’t afraid to follow their dreams. Even though they have demons dogging their steps the three of them still find time to pursue their goals. They work hard, and they don’t give up… even when they really, really want to.
  2. They are really good people, but they have weaknesses too. The three of them are very human. As ‘the charmed ones’ they are supposed to protect the innocent and fight for the good side. But they aren’t perfect; they struggle with making the right decision as much as normal people would.
  3. The show is kind of an emotional roller coaster. Some might not view this as a perk, but I think it makes watching it more fun. I like it when I’m so attached to the characters I get emotional.
  4. The bad guys are creative. I’ll be the first to admit that each episode is pretty formulaic, but the foes the three of them need to vanquish are usually pretty interesting. One of my favorites so far was the demon of illusion — he was able to influence audiences of horror movies to make them rowdy and dangerous. And he figured out how to pull the killers from the screen to real life!
  5. It’s just fun. Charmed isn’t the most intellectual fantasy story, and it doesn’t take the much attention to detail to get the whole story, but it’s fun and enjoyable to watch. Which is what entertainment is for, right? 😉

Plus, it’s set in the 90s and early 2000s, so it is fun to look at the technology and fashion and see how much things have changed. I, for one, am glad the whole belly shirt fad is gone. I’m not sure I could pull that off as well as Prue, Piper and Phoebe can!

All for now,
Bale

What are some old shows you love? Have you discovered any recently?

A dramatic turnaround: From jinxing myself to success.

I took a week off posting because I was frustrated, worn out and annoyed with Magic. I even debated taking the week off of FNM, too. M14 has not been easy for me, and I have a couple theories about why.

The first is the logical explanation: I’m still a new player and I learned to draft in a super fast format (RTR block) and M14 is super slow. The pace of the format changes a lot of things, including card evaluation and knowing which decks will actually be successful. In RTR, I had the best success with really fast decks. In M14, the format is more geared toward the late game, and it’s taken me pretty much the whole time to figure out how to build a decent draft deck for that. M14 is also the first mono-colored block I’ve played in, so that changes things a bit, too. So, logically, being a new player made the transition to a new set of cards harder for me.

The second is more emotional. I’d had a bad time from the start of the set, which was hard because I had just tasted some amount of routine success. I’d top 8’d a few times and really understood how to draft RTR, and even pick a pack. And everyone told me that I wouldn’t have a problem with M14: Core sets are meant for beginners, so it will be easy. But it wasn’t, so I felt like I failed. And for several weeks I was really hard on myself. Because of that, I think I kind of jinxed myself. I had an expectation that I would do poorly, so I did. Even last week: I started out 2-0 and then lost every single other match. It sucked, and it made me realize I needed to change something.

So I took the week off from posting. I knew posting a recap would make me relive it, and frustrate me even more, so I just didn’t. And then I had a three days off from work so I treated myself to a few days of relaxing and regeneration. I watched a lot of “Charmed”, read a lot and didn’t watch any MTG streams or listen to any MTG podcasts. I hardly even looked at the Theros spoilers or Reddit. And so by Friday, while I wasn’t exactly STOKED to play M14, I felt ready for a fresh try.

And guess what?? I got FIRST PLACE!!!

That’s right, after weeks of sucking ass, I pulled it together, used my brain to draft well and play well and it paid off. And it felt AMAZING. Even better: I played it out for the foil, AND WON. So I have my first hard-earned FNM promo foil to show for a great night of MTG. It’s icing on the cake that it’s an Experiment One, which is one of my favorite cards.

So, without further ado, here’s my recap for September 13. (Apparently Friday the Thirteenth is lucky for me?)

YEAH FOIL! First time winning the match for the foil, and first time making legit first place.

YEAH FOIL! First time winning the match for the foil, and first time making legit first place.

THE DRAFT

Pack One — I first-picked a Sengir Vampire over my rare, a Grim Return. A 4/4 flier for five with upside is just too good to pass. Plus I like black in M14; I think it’s strong and has a lot of good cards. From there, I second-picked a Barrage of Expendables because there wasn’t much else in the pack and if I decided to draft the B/R sacrifice deck it’d be good. I third-picked an Ajani’s Chosen. I felt it was early enough to build around if I wanted and I already had one enchantment. But I wasn’t convinced — I didn’t want to start picking not-so-strong cards because of one strong one. So I spent the rest of the pack picking up the best red and black cards, with the occasional white card. But when I got a really late Divination, I started picking up some blue, too. I didn’t really have a solid game plan, but with cards like Sengir Vampire, Gnawing Zombie and Liturgy of Blood, I was pretty sure I wanted to be in black at least.

Pack Two — I was rewarded for sticking with black by opening a Lifebane Zombie, so I was pretty stoked for that. My second color was picked for me by the person to my left passing me an Ogre Battledriver for my second pick. I had some strong cards in red already, so it just solidified my plan. From there I picked up a fairly late Young Pyromancer, a Molten Birth, a couple Act of Treasons and an Academy Raider to help my red.

Pack Three — I don’t remember what I opened or took for my last first pick, but I think it might have been a Flames of the Firebrand because I needed more removal. I do remember that I finally was able to pick up a Corpse Hauler, got my Corrupt, a Marauding Maulhorn and my second Barrage of Expendables in that pack, though. I also picked up a Darksteel Ingot in case I wanted to splash some blue, a Child of Night and a Nightwing Shade. Nothing too spicy, but all things that were very helpful in my deck.

I ended up running just a straight-up R/B deck, and when Steve saw it he said there was no reason I shouldn’t get top 8 if I played well. He said something along the lines of ‘just don’t make stupid mistakes and you’ll get there’. So I was pretty happy going into the matches.

Check out the complete deck here.

THE MATCHES (Final record: 4-1)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t anticipating doing as well as I did, so I did not take notes, but I’ll do my best from my life totals and memory.

Match One (2-1) — I started off the night with a strong game in my first match. I kept a pretty fast hand and quickly started the race by playing Child of Night and immediately putting Lightening Talons on it. My opponent was playing a B/G deck though, and was able to put Troll Hide on his Rumbling Baloth to shut that down. It came down to an old fashioned race, but I was so far ahead it didn’t end up well for my opponent. His deck worked much better for him in game two — I kept a pretty slow hand, and he curved out very well. I got my Barrage out, which was the only way I dealt him damage the whole time. He was racing, and I didn’t get any good creatures to block, so I’d chump and then sacrifice my creatures, hoping to stay in the game long enough to pull something good. The next game was basically the same, but in reverse. I curved out well and he played two Dark Prophecies and only a couple creatures. After the match, my opponent

Match Two (0-2) — My only match loss of the night was to a U/W deck that was super tempo-y and had all the answers. I had a great start game one — I got my Battledriver out and everything — but eventually my opponent was able to deal with it and pretty much every other creature I tried to play, or even got on board. To top it off, her top end was complete with an Air Servant and a Serra Angel. Oh well. I had to mulligan game two, and I kept a hand that I thought could get there, but never did. It was unfortunate, but it happens. She ended up getting 9th place, so she obviously had a decent deck, too.

Match Three (2-1) — I actually started off the round by losing my first game. My opponent was running R/W slivers, but neither of us hit anything really nuts. He was able to kill me because the only creature I drew the whole time was my Maulhorn. I even Lightening Talon’d it up, but couldn’t win the race because by the time I got it out, he was too far ahead. But it was close — he ended the game at three life. Game two was also close. A well-timed Corrupt swung the race in my favor and I was able to win. Game three was kind of unfortunate for my opponent — he had to mulligan down to five, and didn’t really stand a chance against my hand if I drew a third land, which I immediately did. I had Barrage, a Blur Sliver and a couple Act of Treasons to start and I stole, attacked with and sacrificed everything he got out. It was hardly fair, but felt good anyway.

Match Four (2-0) — This match was fun. My opponent was playing a U/W deck with Jace in it, which I knew going in. I was only slightly intimidated, but knew if I got the cards I needed, I would be OK. In game one he managed to set up quite the defense — a Wall of Frost and an Angelic Wall — but my Academy Raider and Barrage were able to get through. He got Jace out and milled me twice, but because of that I was able to use my Corpse Hauler to get back my Sengir Vampire and kill Jace before he was able to mill me out completely. He shut down the Sengir with Pacifism before I was able to kill him outright, but I was able to sacrifice that and the other creatures he’d enchanted to my Barrage and killed him with three cards left in my library. Game two was a bit more grindy than game one. He set up another massive defense with two Wall of Frosts, but I had my Raider again and was able to get damage through slowly. I was able to two-for-one him with Flames, so that helped get some early damage through, but that was all reversed when he put Divine Favor on his Griffin Sentinel. I got my Sengir out eventually, and was able to make some headway — he didn’t block with his Sentinal once, and that put him in range of just pure burn range — I had Barrage and Gnawing Zombie out, so I was able to sac all my creatures to deal him four damage to end the game.

Match Five (2-1) — Going into this match, my opponent offered the intentional draw into top 8. I would probably have made it, but there was a chance I’d be knocked out if we didn’t, so I decided to play it out. My opponent was also nice enough to say that if things started going badly for me, he’d offer the draw again. (I think he knew how much of a big deal getting top 8 would be, and he usually gets it when he plays.) But I’m glad I played it out — it was an epic match against a really good player, and I’m proud I was able to win. Game one wasn’t looking too good for me — he was winning the race, and I didn’t have many answers for his fliers. He was playing blue, with Opportunity and a lot of counters. I saved my ass by killing one of his fliers with Corrupt while he was tapped out — that took me from two life to six. I had Barrage on Board, so I was really hoping to pull an Act of Treason to turn things around. I had a couple other removal spells that helped me stay alive, and he was at six life as well. When he played his Sengir Vampire, I thankfully top-decked my Act of Treason and was able to sacrifice it. I won by sacrificing three creatures to Barrage and killing him. It was awesome. Game two wasn’t so great. I started off OK, but he played Rod of Ruin, which just killed me. A lot of the creatures I played that game were 1-toughness, and everytime I got something out he was all NOPE, gonna kill that before it can even block. I sided in Demolish, just for that game three. I didn’t end up needing it, though, because I got out my Sengir on time and had other creatures to back him up. I even put Lightening Talons on it, so all my opponents fliers turned into chump blockers. (I forgot to put counters on my Sengir though… oops.) Apparently I could have killed him a turn earlier by taking advantage of my sacrifice outlets more, though: I’d played a Blur Sliver, but I could have sacrificed my creatures to my Barrage and Gnawing Zombie instead and killed him. I was at six life at the end, so my opponent said there could have been a way for him to get back in the game after I didn’t kill him when I had the chance. Luckily that didn’t happen though. It was a good match, and when I told the judge I won, his response was “Really? That’s awesome, [my opponent] is really good, this is a top 8 you should be proud of.”

And I was really proud. It was a really good feeling and when I played for the foil, I felt confident in myself and my deck. That match went well, too. It was slow and grindy, but I still won. Observers pointed out that I could have been more aggressive with my attacks because of my Barrage, which probably would have been smart. But I still won, so I’m not too worried. It’s definitely something to keep in mind though. Just because going slow is working, doesn’t mean it’s going to win the match — the more draw steps you give your opponent, the more chances you give them to get back in the game.

I got lucky that my opponents never did. But my success wasn’t due to luck, it was due to playing well, drafting well and trusting myself. I am a good Magic player, so I just have to remember that. Confidence — not cockiness — is key. Good luck is just a bonus. (And fun fact: I actually lost most of my die rolls all night, and only got Molten Birth back to my hand a couple times.)

All for now,
Bale

What are your biggest lessons from misplays? Have you ever thrown a game because you didn’t just win when you could?

Theros: the plane with all the flavor.

Theros is all about the flavor. Mark Rosewater (aka MaRo and the head of design for MTG) said at the SDCC panel that “…if you don’t like Theros block then there’s no hope, Vorthos players”, and I can see why. Maybe it’s because I’m paying more attention to it this time around, but there is a lot to be excited about for Vorthos players. The cards spoiled so far have some incredible flavor, and so do the set mechanics themselves! I’m stoked. And when I first saw the official set trailer for Theros, I got even more excited.

Theros is shaping up to be a great world with an awesome storyline.

Now, I could spend all of this week’s post talking about the second part to the “Planeswalker’s Guide to Theros”, but you guys should go read that for yourself. It’s all about the three poleis. If you want to know more specifics about Meletis, Akros and Setessa, it’s a great breakdown of the three communities. I’m sure I’ll talk about them more later, but right now I’m too excited about the spoiled set info!

THE MECHANICS

I am obviously not sure how these will be while actually playing, but flavor-wise, they’re pretty awesome.

Bestow — A mechanic found the new enchantment creatures that enables players to either cast the card as a creature for its normal mana cost, or as an enchantment for its bestow cost. The bonus is that unlike other enchantments, the spell doesn’t fizzle if the target it killed in response; it just enters the battlefield as a creature instead. I really like this mechanic’s flavor because the cards like a gift from the gods. And the enchantment creatures even have special borders and art elements to indicate they’re divine and from Nyx.

Some examples of the enchantment creatures: the cycle of common nymphs!

Heroic — As Heliod said in the trailer, Theros is full of heroes. So wizards created a mechanic just for them, and it seems pretty cool. The mechanic triggers abilities whenever the creature (or hero) with heroic is targeted by a spell you cast. My interpretation of the flavor behind this mechanic is that heroes are the leaders on the battlefield, so when you do something to help them it should influence the battlefield in more than one way.

go heroes!

Monstrosity — You can’t have heroes without monsters, after all. And monsters are big, bad and powerful. The monstrosity mechanic is basically one that makes the monsters even more scary. The player can pay to make the monster “monstrous” and it gets a certain number of +1/+1 counters on it and triggers an effect that influences the battlefield for that turn. I think this is great because in battle monsters are scary, and in my mind they’re probably getting more and more pissed of as the fight progresses. Once they hit their breaking point, BAM they’re legit terrifying. 

ahhh scary monsters!

 

Devotion — Some cards, like the gods, only do certain things when the devotion its color is high enough. None of the gods are creatures until the devotion is high enough, for example. Devotion is determined by the number of colored mana symbols on the battlefield in mana costs. So if you play a triple black mana card, it would raise the devotion to black up three points. The idea is really cool, especially in regards to the god cards. The gods can fight for you, but only if you are devout enough… basically if you worship them enough. There are other cards with devotion, too, and they all reward you for playing a lot of a certain color.

Being devout can get you all sorts of things…

Scry — Scry is a returning mechanic, but it falls right into the Theros flavor. Scrying is the ability to look at the top few cards of your library, then deciding whether you actually want to draw them. If you don’t, you can put them at the bottom of your library. Pretty cool! It fits into Theros well because of Greek prophecies and oracles. In mythology, there is a lot of examples of predicting the future, and scry basically does that.

She looks like she’s making a prophecy, right?

 

As you can tell, I’m pretty excited about all the mechanics. They seem like they’ll be cool to play with, and they appeal to my Vorthos side!

All for now,
Bale

What do you think about Theros and its mechanics so far? 

Cards, strategy, trivia and more… Bale’s top five board games!

the picture I sent Astro as soon as I got home from my LGS. YEAH DOMINION!

The picture I sent Astro as soon as I got home from my LGS. YEAH DOMINION!

I’m a very competitive person; it runs in my family. Growing up we didn’t play many board games because they would all end in fights. Once, my sister got so mad she lost at Sequence she accidentally broke the board in half. She was folding it wrong, but was doing it so violently (because she lost) it just snapped. I think that convinced my parents that they shouldn’t get us any more board games. Well, except the board games based on “Lord of the Rings”, “The Hobbit” and, of course, Lord of the Rings Trivia. Because Tolkien. And before you all get the idea I never play games with my family, I’ll have you know that we’re all much more mature now; when my sister loses, she doesn’t break a board in half, she just sulks a little bit. ( And I’m definitely guilty of that, too.) Now that we’re older, my brother, sister and I can play games with our parents and it’s usually a good time. Especially if we’re playing Lord of the Rings Trivia or Risk. And drinking Vihno Verde or Belgian beer (aka the best beer). But as a family we still don’t play board games all that often, even when we’re all together.

So how did I become such a board game geek? Well, I had one really good friend in high school that would invite me over for board game nights with her family. (They were more civil when they lost.) They introduced me to all sorts of games beyond the classics. They’re who I first played Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Betrayal at the House on the HIll and many more games with. They are entirely to blame for my obsession board games. And as such, they’re the reason this list is even being written — so thanks! (You know who you are.) So without further ado, here are my favorite games, in no particular order. I couldn’t an absolute favorite pick among these.

BALE’S TOP FIVE BOARD GAMES

Dominion — Astro and her friends from college introduced me to Dominion when her friends visited last fall. It’s a deck-building game where you “buy” action cards and money cards to help you eventually buy victory cards, which are how you win. Astro’s friends brought along a million expansions, and after a quick explanation we started playing. It took me the first couple rounds to get the hang of it, but I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Once we got going (aka I was up to speed), it was fast-paced and very entertaining. Unfortunately, Astro’s friends took Dominion home with them, so it was a long time before I got to play it again. After a friend from my LGS brought it to a game night at the beginning of the summer, I knew I needed to get my own copy eventually. Cue the parents visiting in July and offering to buy a game for me. We headed to my LGS and they ended up buying me the Intrigue expansion. It’s one of the only expansions that stands on its own, and I was lucky it was there — my LGS happened to be out of the original. I’ve played my copy a LOT since then. I really enjoy finding different combinations of cards and building a deck that is fun, and efficient, to play. And hopefully win! 😉

Risk — A game that is a healthy combination of luck and strategy, Risk is actually somewhat of a family tradition. My dad, his siblings and cousins play it at every family reunion, and the winner even gets a trophy.  When Astro and I moved in together we both bought a board game (we’re allowed to buy ourselves housewarming gifts, right?), and I chose Risk. We’ve broken it out a couple times, and it’s been really fun. I even got my parents to play while they were here! My dad was happy I’d managed to find a set that has the original board, cards and wooden pieces. At my childhood home we have a version with plastic pieces that my dad really doesn’t like. I think we have a REALLY old version somewhere, too, but like I said above, we didn’t play many games for a long time. (BTW, in case you don’t know, the point of Risk is to take over the world. You win battles by rolling dice, which can be very frustrating.)

Settlers of Catan — I LOVE Settlers of Catan. Like Risk, it depends on both strategy and luck. Unlike Risk, the board changes every game, and so do the odds. The goal of Settlers is to be the first player to 10 victory points. You get victory points by building settlements and cities, and you build those by getting resources. You get resources based on where you’re built on the board, what resources you’re next to and whether the dice decide to roll your numbers. It’s fun, strategic and there is a lot of table talk. At least there is when I play! It’s great because there is a ton of player interaction. Like Dominion, there are a lot of different expansions, but I prefer the original (so far).

Betrayal at the House on the Hill — Admittedly, I’ve only played this game a few times. It’s one of the ones my friend from high school introduced me to, and I love it because it showed me how creative board games can be. Betrayal has two parts; in the first you’re all working together to explore the house, and in the second (the “haunt”) one player becomes the traitor. Each game is very, very different because not only are you creating a whole new board as you go, the haunt changes depending on the circumstances in which its triggered. There are two booklets, one for the traitor and one for everyone else, that give the details of the various scenarios. What I particularly enjoy about Betrayal is how much you get to use your imagination. You also have to work together with the other players to survive, which is fun. Betrayal got a place on this list because of how extremely different it is than Monopoly, Sequence and other games that most people first think of when you say “board games”. And it’s just awesome.

Lord of the Rings Trivia — At one time this was the only game my family and I could play together. This is hands down the most-played game in my family. And I still don’t think we’ve gone through all the questions. It’s almost impossible to beat my dad, but it can be done if you get lucky with your questions. My dad is the original Tolkien-lover of my family, and he’s read the books more times than any of us. The LotR Trivia game is NOT based on the movies, but on the books. So if you’ve only seen the movies and you try to play, you’re gonna have a bad time. I mean, you can get the obvious questions like (and I’m not kidding here) “What is taters, precious?”, but the more obscure ones are ridiculously hard… even if you’ve read the books. My family and I think the people who wrote the questions must have had an absolute blast thinking up the most obscure, random facts to use, while at the same time sprinkling in the most obvious questions ever. It’s been known to cause a fair bit of anger if one person gets lucky with the potato question, and then the next gets something my dad doesn’t even know the answer to. Good times, good times.

And now I’ve just successfully made myself want to play every single one of these board games. Guess I’ll be planning a game night soon!

All for now,
Bale

What are some of your favorite board games?

I finally tried standard FNM, folks.

For my first standard FNM, I played a Selesnya token deck, with a black splash. (Mainly for the lingering souls.)

For my first standard FNM, I played a Selesnya token deck, with a black splash. (Mainly for the lingering souls.)

This won’t be a normal recap because I didn’t have my normal FNM draft experience. Despite top 8’ing July’s pick-a-pack, I decided to forgo August’s in favor of finally trying standard at FNM. I’d found a deck I liked online (Travis Woo’s Supertoken deck), and one of my friends at my LGS helped me build something similar. I only actually played with the deck for one quick game before the tournament started, so not only was it the first standard tournament I’d entered, I didn’t really have any practice playing with my deck. I felt very out of my element.

THE DECK 

I had a lot of fun playing my version of the token deck. I don’t have the full decklist, unfortunately, and I’m not so familiar with it I can rattle it off by heart, but I can tell you a few key players. Its power comes from Collective Blessing and Intangible Virtue, powerful enchantments to make my tokens more beefy. I ran Lingering Souls, Call of the Conclave, Midnight Haunting, Advent of the Wurm, Gather the Townsfolk and Increasing Devotion as my main token generators. I also had Selesnya Charms in there and other cards like Rootborn Defenses to help protect them. I only ran a few actual creatures: Sublime Archangel, Trostani and Mikaeus. I also had Gavony Townships to make my tokens stronger. I felt pretty good going into the matches because  in the one game I did play with the deck before the tournament I absolutely smashed the aristocrats deck. I got two Intangible Virtues on board with an Advent of the Wurm and then played Trostani and populated. It was awesome. Turns out two 7/7 tramplers can just win games.

I was excited because I thought my deck could do some really awesome things, but I was also nervous. I’m not a regular standard player, so I had no idea what to expect. Except that everyone would probably side in Ratchet Bomb against me, if possible.

THE TOURNAMENT (Overall record: 1-4) 

Round one (0-2) — I got stomped by a very talented player and an awesome Jund deck. I didn’t really have a chance. The first game he got out his Huntmaster, and it almost immediately flipped. I survived for a couple of turns, but not long. Game two, I started off a bit better. But when he played his Olivia on curve and I didn’t have a single answer, it was pretty much game over then, too. Like I said, I got STOMPED. But it wasn’t really a good matchup for my deck, and I learned that the sheer power of standard decks is higher than that of limited decks. I kind of knew that going in, but it didn’t really hit me until that match.

Round two (2-1) — My only match win! I was up against a fairly strong sliver deck. I won game one through careful defensive strategies and patience while I assembled a large token army. He had curved out really well and had the sliver that gave his guys flying, two Predatory Slivers, the Bonescythe Sliver and the one that gives all his slivers vigilance. I didn’t do much attacking — I had and Intangible Virtue out, and was slowly building an army of spirit tokens. I was able to whittle down his forces through mostly defensive plays and careful trades. I started sending in my centaur token after I played another Intangible Virtue, offering some good trades. And when I played my Advent of the Wurm, things swung in my favor. He’d locked up the air, but I forced him to deal with my Wurm token with trample, which knocked out enough of his slivers I was able to finally get through. Games two and three weren’t as good or as skill-intensive. I just wasn’t able to keep up with his slivers game two. I missed a couple land drops and he killed my enchanment, so my tokens were weenie. Plus all his slivers were flying, and I just wasn’t able to get enough spirit tokens to make a difference. Game three was great for me — I got plenty of tokens and a wurm right away, and he had no responses…. but that was because he kept a one-land hand and wasn’t able to draw the second in time to stabilize.

Round three (1-2) — I want to start by saying I’m really proud of how I played in this match, despite some misplays. But as many people pointed out to me, FNM is where you need to make those mistakes, so you can learn from them and not make them at bigger tournaments. That said, the first game was not close. I had a GREAT start, but was soon just crushed by Supreme Verdict and was never able to recover. He got out a Jace, Architect of Thought, and I couldn’t avoid it ultimating so my opponent was able to play my own Trostani and his Aetherling, and it was game over. Game two was much better. I started by making a few spirit tokens and then immediately following those with my Sublime Archangel. I also had Gavony Township on board, which I could have used to pump my guys. Instead, though, I just sent the Archangel in. I think I would have killed him faster had I used Township, but I still killed him before he found his Supreme Verdict or another answer. If I were in that situation again, though, I think I would opt for the faster method. I don’t want to give my opponents any more chances than necessary to find an answer! Game three was pretty epic. I had sided in Duress to try and get his board wipes out of his hand, and it worked. I got one Supreme Verdict out of his hand fairly early. I don’t remember the beginning of the game too well, but I did keep the pressure on him as much as possible despite knowing he had two Sphinx’s Revelations in hand. There are are a few key moments I remember, though. The first was when he cast Syncopate in response to my Advent of the Wurm at the end of his turn. I had Intangible Virtue on board, and he really didn’t want a 6/6 trample guy on board. I had another in hand and he was tapped out. On my turn I decided I didn’t want to main phase an instant, though, and instead cast Lingering Souls and passed. I think I should have played the Wurm there, but I don’t know if it would have made a difference. Fast forward several turns and I’m at 5 life and I’ve managed to finally play the Advent of the Wurm I’ve been holding and populate it. He’s at 16, but I’ve knocked him down to 4 with my two 6/6 trample Wurms. I notice he’s still tapped out and play Trostani and then Gathering Townsfolk, gaining 10 life because of Fateful Hour and Intagible Virtue on board. So basically he is super dead unless he can find an answer. Which he did. He played a whole bunch of card draw spells, including Sphinx’s Revelation, and he slammed the Supreme Verdict when he found it, and my army was dead. I was left at 15 life with no blockers, and didn’t find any in time to live. Overall, It was a good match against a very good player at my LGS, so I’m just proud I was able to avoid another blowout.

Round four (1-2) — My opponent was playing an awkward Dimir mill deck. I don’t think he played a single creature in any of the games, but he had TONS of black removal. Doom Blade, Tragic Slip, Mutilate, Murder, you name it and he probably had it. The first game I got really close to killing him, despite all the board wipes I suffered with Mutilate — he was at 5 when he finally milled me to death using four Nephalia Drownyards. It was frustrating. He got out Jace, Memory Adept the second game, but I managed to kill both Jace and my opponent before he was able to mill me out. Game three he also successfully milled me out, but I think I made a critical error that cost me the game. I had Collective Blessing on board with two spirit tokens. He played Ratchet Bomb, which I cast Abrupt Decay on. In response, he sacrificed it to destroy my tokens and I… I just let that happen. He milled me at his end step and my upkeep to kill me. But I had, IN MY HAND, Rootborn Defenses. Ratchet Bomb, unlike a lot of his other removal (like Mutilate), “destroys” the creatures. So it would have countered it and populated, giving me three  1/1 spirits with +3/+3 from the Blessing. Had I remembered, and he didn’t have a counter, I would have won the game. Oops.

Round five (0-2) — My opponents deck was just faster and stronger than mine. He ramped up using elves and played HUGE creatures early. His creatures also had enter the battlefield effects like “destroy target non-creature permanent”. I just couldn’t get past him. There might have been a way for my deck to win, but I didn’t find it. Maybe next time.

Overall, I think I did really well, considering it was my first time playing standard. I kind of set a self-fulfilling prophecy, though. I went in saying I’d be happy if I just won one match. And that’s what I did. But I wasn’t really happy. If I do play standard again, I think I will definitely go in with a more positive attitude. My matches were close, for the most part. I played some great players, but only felt outplayed a couple times. I know I have the skills to do better than 1-4, so next time I’ll hold myself to a higher standard.

All for now,
Bale

Do you remember your first standard FNM? What was it like? And do you think going into games with an expectation of losing/ winning influences the outcome?