Reading improves writing, just ask Mr. King.

Before I took my blog hiatus I had a lot of issues actually finishing books. I would start one, get part way through, run low on time, set it aside, and repeat. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the books — I just never felt like I had the time to devote to reading one. But after I started my blogging hiatus, and before I started NaNoWriMo, I finished four books. FOUR. I was really proud of myself, and it felt good. And even through NaNo, I made sure to keep reading. Partly because of one of the books I read: “On Writing” by Stephen King.

Mr. King pointed out that people can’t be good writers without reading, and that every time you read, you were studying the craft of writing. After reading that, something clicked. I figured if I couldn’t make time for reading, my writing wouldn’t ever improve. (Remember, I was trying to write my novel at this point.) Since then, I’ve made a point to make time to read nearly every day. And I want to continue, so I decided to integrate my reading into the blog, instead of adding something extra to my to-do list. So every month, I’ll go through and comment on all the books I read and listened to. (I listen to audio books at work a lot to pass the time… it’s great!)

So without further ado, here are the books I finished in January.

The bookstore had just gotten it in when I asked for it — they hadn’t even put it on the shelves yet!

“The Shining” by Stephen King. I got “Doctor Sleep” for Christmas, so I decided I needed to actually read “The Shining” before reading its sequel. And I’m very glad I did. I’ve only seen the movie once, and even though it was enjoyable it wasn’t as scary or memorable as I expected, given the cult following the movie seems to have. Since reading “On Writing”, I’ve been on a Stephen King kick, so I was excited to read one of his most famous works. And it didn’t disappoint. It was significantly different from the movie in several ways. The biggest and most important were the differences in Jack, Danny and Wendy Torrance. The characters are much deeper and more developed, and King makes sure the reader understands exactly why the human characters make their decisions. And in the book I would also count the hotel as a character itself. The ghosts and creepy phenomenons are clearly controlled by the hotel, which is a much more sinister character in the book, and not just a creepy setting. But to be clear, I’m not saying the movie was a bad adaptation. It is not. But there is so much depth to the book, it would be almost impossible to have translate it to the screen. King’s detail is incredible, his writing is easy to follow, and the plot it ingenious. I found myself understanding and feeling sorry for the Torrences more so than I did watching the movie. And I also found myself getting more spooked than I did while watching the movie. Overall, “The Shining” was riveting, entertaining and very enjoyable. (Also, for those who have seen the movie: it even ends differently! And Wendy is supposed to be a hot blonde…)

I didn’t see the face at first…

“Doctor Sleep” by Stephen King. I started “Doctor Sleep” almost immediately after finishing “The Shining” and finished it in less than a week. I read it every spare moment I had, and stayed up much later than I should have multiple times. So you know I thought it was good. “The Shining” touched on little Danny Torrence’s ability to see ghosts, know what his parents were thinking, and other crazy things. But they weren’t really the focus of the book. They were important, yes, but not as important as they are in “Doctor Sleep”, where the powers are actually the center of the novel. I also particularly enjoyed that “Doctor Sleep” tied up some loose ends left by its prequel (what happened to Danny and his mom?), and showed the effects of Danny’s childhood had on his life. On some levels, it’s easy to tell the two books were written years and years apart, but I think it added to the story. King isn’t the same author he was when he wrote “The Shining”, and it adds to the story. After all, Danny isn’t the same boy he was. Both lived many years in between the novels. But anyways, as a story “Doctor Sleep” is very different than “The Shining”, and I think I liked it more. It was dramatic, entertaining and scary, but not because of ghosts. Instead, King created new human-like monsters who murder little children. Scary, but not in the same way the Overlook Hotel was. A more real scary, in my opinion. I don’t want to say much more because I don’t want to spoil it, but the little girl Danny helps, Abra, is spunky and likeable… even if she’s a little intense at times. And she’s even more powerful than Danny was as a kid, which is pretty incredible. Overall it was a quick read, fun and very good.

A very long audio book…

“A Clash of Kings” by George R. R. Martin. I started listening to the audiobook version on Audible back in… November? I don’t remember when I started, but I finally finished it in January. I had tried to read it on multiple occassions, but I would always end up setting it aside for something else… or nothing else. I just couldn’t get through it. Probably because I’m completely caught up with HBO’s “A Game of Thrones”, so I knew mostly what happened in the book. And I’m not really a huge fan of George R. R. Martin’s writing style. But the audiobook turned out to be manageable, and a good way to pass time at work. Unfortunately, I still got bored listening to it, which is why it took me so long to finish. I’d often choose to listen to MTG podcasts and streams instead. I finished it, though, and so far the next one is far more entertaining. Not that I didn’t like the story in “A Clash of Kings” … I really enjoy HBO’s adaptation, and think that, for the most part, it’s a good story. I just also think it was longer than it really needed to be, and that Martin adds a lot of things I really don’t care about. Who knows, though, maybe they’re important later. But right now I think all of his books are much longer than they really need to be.

So that’s it. Those are the books I finished in January. Only three, but that’s definitely better than September, when I think I barely finished one. I’m obviously on a Stephen King kick at the moment (I’m currently reading “The Green Mile”), but it’s only cause he’s great.

What did you read this month? Any suggestions for February?

All for now,
Bale

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A healthier life.

There are a bunch of stereotypes when it comes to nerds, and they’re not all positive. We’re some of the nicest, coolest people you could ever meet, but unfortunately that’s not necessarily what people first think of when someone is described as a ‘gamer’. What often comes to mind is an overweight man, sitting in front of a game console or computer, with a bunch of soda and junk food surrounding him as he takes on the next level. And the stereotype isn’t that much different for MTG players or for girls, either.

I don’t like this. But stereotypes exist for a reason, and because a lot of nerdy hobbies are sedentary in nature it makes sense that we may not be as active or healthy as the athletes of the world. That doesn’t mean we can’t be, though; obesity is almost entirely preventable. In a wonderful article, “The Health of Magic”, level three judge Riki Hyayshi addressed this issue. Obesity is a huge issue in today’s society (according to the World Health Organization 35% of adults aged 20 and over were overweight in 2008, and 11% were obese, and being obese or overweight kills more people than being underweight), but it’s a difficult topic to breach with people, and an even harder one to fix.

In his article, Hyayshi points out that MTG is very sedentary in nature. Players spend hours sitting around play testing for tournaments, playing in tournaments, reading articles, playing MTGO or watching streams, etc. And the same can be said for people who love video games, reading, playing board games and a myriad of other nerdy activities. Despite being invigorating for the mind, they’re often very lazy for our bodies. Plus, let’s face it: reading the end of a good book is way more fun than going to the gym. I’m definitely guilty of prioritizing the former above the latter. And it’s not just our hobbies that are influencing our health. I have a full-time job where I have to sit in front of a computer screen all day. Definitely sedentary. So there goes 40 hours of my week devoted to sitting around. What happens to the rest of the time? Well, I try to write every day… that’s sedentary. I go to FNM every week… that’s pretty sedentary. And I play MTG outside of FNM and read. A lot. Most of my hobbies nowadays are not very physical. But I still try to go to the gym. It’s not always easy, but I learned my lesson my freshman year of college.

I was very active growing up. I played outside a lot, played soccer for while, and I took ballet from age 5 through high school. In high school I was at my studio nearly every day, and I loved it. Unfortunately, when I went off to college that stopped. I didn’t have enough open credits to enroll in the ballet classes offered at my school, and I didn’t have the time, or money, to find a local studio to dance at. I tried to go to the gym, but after they closed the pool I stopped going. I hated running, and I felt ridiculous. So I just stopped. And by the time I went home for the summer I noticed that I’d gained a lot of weight. Going from doing hours of physical activity every day to almost none was horrible. That, combined with the unhealthy habits of a college student, wreaked havoc on my body. But luckily, I had some great inspiration to help me get back on track: my mom. After my twin sister and I left for college, she had more time on her hands than she’d had in ages, and she worked hard all year to get in shape. When I arrived home, she looked great. The best she’d looked for almost as long as I could remember, in fact. She also felt great. And I felt terrible.

So even though I had a full-time internship that summer, I invested myself in the effort to get back in shape. My mom got me a membership to her gym, and she encouraged me and went with me. It was hard, but I slowly started to gain more confidence while at the gym. I lifted weights and did both the elliptical machine and the treadmill. At home, I made sure to eat healthy — something I hardly had to worry about in high school — and I always packed a healthy lunch for work. And everything worked, I gradually lost most of the weight I’d gained. I didn’t lose all of it, but that was OK. I was healthier, stronger and happier. And when I went back to school I continued to try to fit in gym time as much as I could. It was never easy, but it always felt good.

That’s what I try to remind myself when I don’t want to go to the gym: it’s worth the time and the effort. Not just for my physical health, but my mental health, too. I’m always more confident and happier when I’ve been good at going to the gym. Unfortunately, working out is always the easiest thing to cross off of a busy to-do list. Life gets in the way a lot, but it’s important not to let it. (And as I edit this post months after I started it, I am very guilty of letting life, the holidays and everything in between get in my way.)

Even though I didn't go to the gym over the holidays, I did make some delicious (and fairly healthy) treats. I also made a lot of unhealthy treats... but it WAS the holidays.

Even though I didn’t go to the gym over the holidays, I did make some delicious (and fairly healthy) treats. 

Hyayshi and I share the opinion that we need to start promoting healthier lifestyles throughout the MTG and gamer communities. As I said above, nerds are some of the nicest, most caring and wonderful people in the world. The games we play enrich our lives, so why not make sure our lives last as long as possible? Of course, it’s hard to broach the topic with people without hurting their feelings or offending them, which is totally understandable. Nobody wants to hear they’re overweight, and often they already know it. The best thing to do, in my opinion, is take care of yourself. Promote a healthy lifestyle by living it. Going to a game night? Bring healthy snacks. Show the people around you what a positive change living a more active, healthier lifestyle can be. Share articles like Hyayshi’s for motivation. In the end, living a healthy lifestyle is up to the individual. But communities like MTG can encourage individuals through, as Hyayshi recommends, promoting a culture of fitness at home. Let’s shake those unhealthy stereotypes, and really take the time to treat our bodies well. After all, they’re what really get us through the marathon tournaments!

My plan to start living healthier is simple: get back into the routine of going to the gym three times a week, start cooking more meals at home, and pack healthy snacks for FNM. In an effort to try new meals, I am participating in Reddit’s r/52weeksofcooking, which gives a category each week for you to find and prepare a meal from. I’m going to blog about the challenge in an effort to hold myself accountable, share the experience, and encourage others.after all, the only way to get better at cooking is to practice, and practicing helps make healthy habits.

So here’s to being healthy and breaking stereotypes in 2014!

All for now,
Bale

2014: A new year, a new start, a better NerdMaids

New Year's fireworks above Pikes Peak.

New Year’s fireworks above Pikes Peak.

Alright guys, I admit, that break was much longer than I initially intended it to be. It’s been a busy few months, though, and I’ve gotten a lot of things done, and even more ideas written down.

November was actually filled with writing: I attempted NaNoWriMo for the first time, which was a fun and rewarding experience. I didn’t quite get to 50,000 words, but I got really close at 44,000. By the end I was worn out and writing crap (or what I remember thinking was crap, I haven’t actually gone back and reread it), which wasn’t what I wanted to do. I know, I know, the first draft of anything isn’t great… but I have standards people! I’m both excited and nervous to start reading the story I came up with, and hopefully editing it to something presentable.

December was my true break from writing. And with the holidays and a trip to my parents, it was really busy but rejuvenating. It was truly a break from real life, and it was wonderful.

January, so far, has been very eventful. Canceled flights, car accidents and an apartment flooding started of the year for me and Astro. But, I won’t go into that here. Everything is fine now, and we’re both happy to be getting back to normal.

That also means I’m very ready to start fresh and get back into the routine of writing. NaNo proved that I enjoy writing everyday and it really makes me happy. I think the pressure of publishing something three times a week was what was holding me back before. I’ve also been doing fantastic at FNM, so I don’t plan on continuing my FNM recaps every week, opting for more general MTG posts with a little self reflection because I think I was thinking more about the blog at FNM than my matches… not really that great.

So, my plan from here is to post twice a week: once about MTG or board games or whatever, and once about my 52 weeks of cooking challenge. (More on that later. It’s going to be awesome, though!) Then at the end of the month, in an effort to keep up my reading, I’m going to post about the books I’ve read that month. A total of nine posts a month, which seems more doable than 12. I’m not going to set a day of the week for the posts, I’m just going to write them naturally. And I even have a couple ready to go, like my initial plan said. I’ve stuck to my word on that point.

The biggest change will be the shifting emphasis from my FNM recaps, which were previously the backbone of the blog, to a more general blog about my passions, most of which are still very nerdy. I’m very excited for everything I will be writing, and I really hope you all will be there for the ride.

All for now,
Bale.

So. Much. Sealed.

My cool playmat with RK Post's sketch, my decks from the weekend and all eight of my match life total sheets.

My cool playmat with RK Post’s sketch, my decks from the weekend and all eight of my match life total sheets.

My first Grand Prix is over. I went to Oklahoma City hoping for day two, but came away satisfied anyway. Not everyone can be Steve, who made day two of his first GP. I didn’t achieve the 7-2 record needed, but I did end up 5-4, which is a solid showing for my first GP.

I don’t really know how to recap the event — there were too many rounds and too much Magic playing to go through it step by step without writing a novel — but it was definitely memorable. I saw Ben Stark, Marshall Sutcliffe and other big Magic names; I met a ton of neat people; I got RK Post, the artist of the playmat, to sketch on it and sign it; and, of course, I played ALL THE MAGIC.

It’s definitely neat to be part of such a big event. There were more than 1000 players at GP OKC, and it was my first time playing at a higher REL than just FNM. It was only a little intimidating…

It was also my first time having to register a sealed pool of cards. I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to sort, alphabetize and record all the cards in the thirty minutes provided, but I finished in plenty of time. Apparently I’m much better at alphabetizing things than I thought. I was also concerned I would have a hard time building, registering and sleeving my deck in the allotted time, but I finished just as the final calls were being made. At the end of the process, I was already proud of myself for getting everything done, and I was fairly certain I’d built the strongest deck in my pool. It was a tough pool to build, though,  but after my friends looked at it, they said they thought it was the right deck. A kind opponent later wasn’t as sure, but he said the deck I’d built was really strong anyways.

My pool had a couple really good cards that made me want to go B/W (Ashen Rider, Triad of Fates and Phalanx Leader) but not a lot of support for the white. And unfortunately, Ashen Rider and Phalanx Leader are not exactly splashable. My green was really strong, though. I got the Arbor Colossus, which is a bomb if you’re in green, Centaur Battlemaster and Nemesis of Mortals. My red was pretty weak besides a couple Titan’s Strengths and an Anax and Cymede, so I knew I probably wouldn’t be playing it. My blue had a few strong cards — Thassa’s Emissary, Nimbus Naiad and Triton Tactics — but again, not enough support to play it as a main color. My black was pretty strong — I had some removal and good bodies, including Nighthowler, which is awesome to bestow. I really debated playing B/W, but ended up concluding that I would probably never actually play Ashen Rider, and forcing B/W because of it would make me play mediocre cards over strong cards.  Plus,  I had too much solid green to justify not playing it. I ended up splashing for the blue cards mentioned above with the help of a couple Voyaging Satyrs and Traveler’s Amulets.

I was the only player in our group not to have any byes, so when the first pairings were posted, I headed off on my own. I’d checked the table, but not my opponent, so imagine my surprise when I sat down across one of the few other girls at the event. We both thought it was pretty awesome. She’d gone to the modern GP in Kansas City, so it wasn’t her first big tournament, but it was her first limited GP. We chatted a little and I ended up winning the match, so it was a pretty good start to the day.

The middle part of the day kinda stunk. I lost rounds two and three, and my round four opponent was a no-show. It was nice to get the win, but I didn’t really like that I hadn’t won by playing my deck — I wasn’t feeling too confident in it, all things considered. A few of the games had been really close, but I’d stumbled on mana and just been outplayed a couple times.  I was starting to let myself feel intimidated, and it showed in my playing.

My fifth round opponent beat me fast. In the first game he got out Daxos of Meletis and just stomped me — I was stuck on mana and found no answer. And when I finally did, he played MY Sip of Hemlock on it from my library. Tear. Game two was completely different because he sided into an entirely new deck that was even stronger. Throughout the match he was very, very nice though. He could tell I was nervous, and told me to relax. Afterwards he looked at my deck and my pool and said if he’d had the pool he probably would have built the B/W deck, and splashed a couple things. But he was also the guy who said he liked the deck I’d built myself, and had no problems with it.

In the time between rounds, I looked at my options again, but kept on coming up short on playables. I decided to stick with my deck, and I’m glad I did. I won the next three rounds!

I think after I lost the third match and couldn’t possibly make day two, I stopped putting an obnoxious amount of pressure on myself. I just focused on the matches I was in, and focused on having fun and playing well. As a result, I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon.

One of the best parts of the event was talking with my opponents. They reminded me why I was there — to play a game. Yes, my goal was to beat them, but it was also to have fun and enjoy myself. Maybe it’s because I was in the bracket that wasn’t going on to day two, but it was full of nice people who just wanted to play good games of Magic.

I got a few confidence boosters by talking to them too. When I told one opponent how long I’d been playing, he said he was impressed at how well I played and understood the game. And when my eight round opponent asked if I’d had any byes and found I didn’t, he responded with something to the extent of ‘wow, you must actually be good!’.

I lost the ninth round, but I was exhausted and ready for the day to be over, so I wasn’t too upset. My last opponent was also really nice, so that helped too. And at the end of the day, I was still really proud of myself for going 5-4 and having a winning record at my first GP.

But the Magic-playing didn’t stop there. Even though we all scrubbed out of the GP, we went back to play in side events on Sunday. I decided to do the standard sealed event, which was fun. Steve actually played Neal Oliver in it, who won GP Vegas and got second place at GP Oakland. Apparently his luck ran out for GP OKC, though. I played a couple good players and a couple not-so-good players, but had a good time overall.

I mean, I was playing Magic all weekend. That’s obviously a good time, no matter what. (Once I’ve gotten past the devastating losses, that is.)

I’m definitely ready for some FNM this week! I’m also working on a standard deck of my own creation, so I’m pretty excited to get that together and playtest it. Because even though limited is awesome, I should probably know how to do well in Constructed as well.

All for now,
Bale.

Do you remember your first big tournament? How did you do, and what did you take away from it? 

Nine confidence boosters.

My sealed spoils.

My sealed spoils.

This weekend was full of Magic: The Gathering. I drafted, I played sealed and I drafted some more. I participated in two sanctioned tournaments: FNM (as usual) and the Release Day Sealed for Theros. I also did a team draft with my play group, a few of which are joining me next weekend in Oklahoma City for the Grand Prix. That means I played a total of a whopping 15 rounds of MTG over the weekend. I’d love to go over them all in detail, but I don’t have the time or patience to write that many recaps. That, and because I played so many matches, a lot of them are blurring together.

Friday Night Magic

The Draft

Drafting Theros was a bit awkward because nobody really knew what they were doing. It took a lot longer than normal because we were all reading the cards and evaluating them for what could easily be the first time. Not only did we have to decide whether the card would be useful in our deck, we also had to decide whether the card was good in general.

My first pick was the Akroan Horse, which I had to read several times and ask the judge to make sure it did what I thought it did before picking it. And because it was an artifact, I didn’t have a clear idea of what colors I would be. Green seemed open, with LOTS of good cards in it, so the next couple picks were green, with a couple red cards sprinkled in. But when I saw a really late Nimbus Naiad, I decided to switch into blue. It had seemed fairly open, but there was usually a green card I wanted more, so I was happy to make the jump. I ended up drafting what seemed to be a really strong U/G deck. It had a good curve — things to do early AND things to do late — but it didn’t really have any crazy bombs. (For the record, I still haven’t opened a God or one of their equipments, but I’m not too torn up about it.) I had a couple monstrous creatures, a couple of great bestow cards and even two Staunch-Hearted Warriors that brought in the heroic mechanic. I was pretty confident going into the matches, but I really didn’t know how things would go.

The Matches (final record, 3-3) 

My first match was really fun. It was a mirror match, but I came out on top. The first game came down to one turn — if I didn’t finish the job on my turn, he was going to on his. Luckily, I top-decked my Nimbus Naiad and gave my guy flying for the alpha strike. Game two went to my opponent, but it was also a good game. The third game was pretty much an epic beat down. I played turn one scorpion, turn two Ordeal of Nylea and attack for two, turn three another Ordeal of Nylea and attack for four (which he blocked and traded) and put FOUR tapped lands into play. On turn four I untapped, played land for turn and had eight lands in play. I played my 5/5 Nemesis of Mortals, passed the turn and then triggered monstrous on my turn and had a 10/10 creature attacking on turn five. Hardly fair, but awesome.

The rest of my matches were not so memorable, although most of them were really close and went to game three. One of them went to time while I was playing an opponent with Elspeth and Triad of Fates. It went all the way to turn five, but he was able to kill me in the end. It was pretty sad, but at least I put up a good fight. My other two losses were to black decks running Mogis’ Marauder, which turns out to be pretty bomb-like at uncommon. It was frustrating, but at least I know to value that card highly if I’m drafting black!

At the end of the night I was slightly disappointed, but 3-3 isn’t a terrible record for the first draft of a set. I was annoyed that Theros seems to be dictated by bombs, and I didn’t have any, but as the set goes on I think that will change. People will figure out the archetypes and not rely on the rare they pulled to finish the game. But one thing is definitely certain: if your match goes long, you better have a good late-game plan or else you will probably lose.

The Release

Unlike the prerelease last week, we didn’t get any color-seeded packs, and nobody got guaranteed bombs due to promo cards. We all just got the normal six boosters to build with.

I was much luckier with my pulls on Saturday than I was at the prerelease. I got several of playable rares that were in colors that my pool was able to support. I knew I needed to play black — I had Hythonia the Cruel and Thoughseize as my rares and a lot of strong uncommons and commons. I also really wanted to play white because I had Celestial Archon. I had a two good multicolor rares, too: Anax and Cymede and Daxos of Meletis, and some fairly strong green cards.

Initially, I just wanted to go straight white black. Those were obviously my strongest colors, and I was confident I had a decent deck with just those. I did have some fixing, though, so I could splash for a third color if I wanted. A friend suggested I splash green because he saw a few strong cards he thought were playable. So for the first round I took his advice, but it didn’t really work out too well. My opponent beat me pretty easily. I was kind of annoyed, but my opponent was a really strong player — one of the guys at my LGS that just doesn’t seem to make mistakes. He asked if he could look at my pool (he didn’t see why I was playing green) and I let him.

Now, I know I’m going to have to build my own deck this weekend, but it was really helpful hearing his opinions. We ended up changing my deck to splash blue instead of green. We put in a Nimbus Naiad, Daxos and Horizon Scholar instead of my green cards and then swapped out a couple of my other not-so-strong cards for a couple Returned Phalax to help me get to my super awesome late game. The changes also smoothed out my curve a lot. (I realized I’d sorted my pool by color, creatures and non-creature spells, but had never actually laid it out to check my curve and it was pretty terrible.) The guy helping me explained exactly why he thought the changes were good, and I definitely agree. The blue was much, much stronger than the green. He did say that my pool was a tough one to build,  but I think what we ended up with was really great. So moving forward, I was really excited to test my deck.

And it ROCKED. I won the rest of my matches, and drew into the top eight. I played the guy I drew with for fun, and beat him, too. I beat a couple people playing the Bow of Nylea, one of whom also got Thassa out at the same time… but it didn’t really help him. In game three of round five my opponent had answers to almost everything I played, but I had so many strong creatures that eventually my deck just got there.

Throughout the day I was careful to keep my head in the game. I kept my focus because I knew that even though my deck was strong, I still needed to play well to back it up. I thought through my decisions, especially about bestow creatures, carefully to decide what needed to happen at that particular point in the game. Every game is different, and just because one thing worked against one opponent, doesn’t mean it will work the same way in all the matches.

The top eight decided not to play it out, but that was fine with me. I got NINE boosters, which is a full three playsets of packs for draft! I’ve never had that many in my stash at once, and I’m happy to be starting Theros off on an upswing. I needed the confidence boost. And as if those weren’t enough, cue the draft I did with my playgroup…

Draft for fun/ GP prep

I opened a Stormbreath Dragon in pack one, which sent me straight into red. Luckily, the only other red drafter was on the opposite side of the table. I picked blue as my second color pretty early and took all the fliers I saw and a lot of scry cards. I picked up two Spellheart Chimeras pretty late, which I almost cut during deck building, but ended up keeping in because of my high number of instants and sorceries. Plus I had other ways to beef them, too. The deck ended up being fairly aggressive — I had two Ordeals (Thassa and Purphorous) and a low curve, plus solid creatures. I wasn’t ever depending on Stormbreath to come out and save me; the times I played him I was already far enough ahead he was just a finisher.

The matched were awesome. My playgroup is full of really strong players — I’m definitely the one with the least MTG experience — but I didn’t lose a single game. We were all playing each other, and I “won” the draft after going 3-0. My fourth opponent chose not to play me — it was getting late and we all wanted to head out, but still, the draft left my overall record for the day at 8-1.

That would get me to day two of GP Oklahoma City!

I’m stoked for this coming weekend, and I plan to post lots of updates on Twitter and a few on Facebook, so follow me there if you want live-action reports!

All for now,
Bale

What do you do to prepare for big tournaments? Any tips?

I read banned books.

Most-Dangerous-Man-Image-2-800

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? 

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?