Archive | February 2013

A Storm of Words

Every copy should have been printed with this art

Every copy should have been printed with this art

I love (lovelovelove) hearing my girlfriend talk about the “A Song of Ice and Fire” books as she reads them. I read things quickly and absorb information into some sort of brain wiki that organizes people, places, and events very well for my instant recall. She’s a slower, more methodical reader who grabs the nuances and unspoken plot development more easily than I do. I really enjoy our conversations when we read the same books. She’s been reading A Storm of Swords for the last……14 hours now. It’s very entertaining to hear her side comments as she delves deeper into George R.R. Martin’s epic. These are side comments I’d like to share with you.

WARNING! Some slight ASOS SPOILERS ahead.

Recent gems from her:

“I think Cersei is putting smallpox in Sansa’s dress.”

“Ugh. Another Catelyn chapter.”

“The only character I care about right now is Tyrion.”

“Catelyn needs to be put in a place where she can’t do any more harm.”

“Ooo, Danaerys is dirty…   ”

“Come on, Ser Jorah! That was a mistake.”

“I love Mance Rayder. That story about the red thread almost made me cry.”

“Who’s the wormy guy again, Theon? I hate him. I’m secretly hoping he’s dead, but I know he can’t be.”

“Ugh, no place is safe for Arya.”

“I want to punch Tywin in the face. I mean, I like him for being the smartest person in the room, but I want to see his downfall.”

“I love this book!” she said. “What’s happening?” I asked. “Nothing, just foreshadowing,” she answered.

And then her reading about the Unsullied and puppies, “UGH. Thanks, George Martin.”

She’s reminding me of how much I want to see the next Game of Thrones season. A Storm of Swords is clearly the best book of the series. one of my best mates calls the book, “Four Weddings and a Hot Pie.” The story crafted within its pages are sublime. Twisting story-arcs and dagger-to-the-gut drama are where Mister Martin excel, but as one of my gf’s comments above say, he’s the master of foreshadowing.

It’s this one area of story-telling that I struggle the most with: how to reveal or suggest the future actions within your story without giving the broad strokes away. If we look back to the first hundred pages of the first ASOIAF series in Game of Thrones, there’s an ominous beginning with the Night’s Watch and the White Walkers, Eddard Stark administering the King’s justice before his son, the direwolf slain by a stag’s horn, Ned and Robert’s moment in the Stark catacombs, Jon and Tyrion’s conversation on fathers and bastards, Lysa Arryn’s letter to her sister casting doubts upon the Lannisters, Bran’s fall from the tower, and Jon’s gift of a sword to Arya. THAT is a packed 100 pages. And the amazing thing? You can find all sorts of aspersions and insinuations through these initial meetings and twists that affect the whole series, all 4600+ pages. And we’re still two books short of the finale.

The sheer amount of planning and creativity that goes into an epic like this is astounding. He shows off everyone, tells whom agrees or disagrees with whom, alludes to rises and falls through symbols, and uses his characters to influence others like none other I have read.

Although there is a flow of acts and rising action in each book, I consider A Storm of Swords to be the rising action of the series as a whole. The three act story arc can be summed up as “Get your characters up a tree, throw stones at  them, then get them out of the tree.” A Storm of Swords is the first volley of stones. I won’t spoil anything further, but this book has some of the largest twists and some of the most wrenching moments, no matter to who’s side you back. The end of A Game of Thrones might have been the first shock to the system, but it was the opening act for a much bolder showcase.

I did reviews for A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons awhile ago and I won’t be submitting one for Storm as of yet, but it would receive some of my highest praise. Listening in to my girlfriend, it receives some of hers, too.  🙂

Why I Suck at League of Legends

Love It or Leave It - LOL

Love It or Leave It – LOL

This all depends on how well you know your memes, but on any given day Riot Games’ League of Legends can either be Good Guy Greg or a Scumbag Steve.

The free to play online battle game is both good and bad because of what it is: free and an online game. Its so simple that kids play it while actually in high school, but complex enough it has a pro circuit. Sounds exactly like Magic: the Gathering, but free. Who could ever be so cleverly evil as to mix those two concepts?

This all started because my brother in law took pity on a n00b (me) and invited me to play some sessions with him and his friends. They were good, I was not. My “brolaw” usually carried the team to victory, while I fed the other team’s more opportunist players. I chose a handful of  champions and got to be passable in those games, but became wore out by being a constant drag on the team. So, I stopped playing for a long while.

The itch came back recently. The itch to farm a lane, the itch to take on the ravenous hordes of internet trolls and LOL junkies, the itch to take anonymous digital abuse. This phenomenon was just explored by a Penny Arcade comic.

I’ve returned to the game, fixed a few things, and got wise to some previous trends that made me suck before: I no longer tower-dive, I know how to last-hit now, and I’ve even upped my ganking skills (skizillz, to the unitiated).

But I still suck.

My chief problem is this: I believed the game had two specific modes: fun mode(Co-op vs. AI) and sodomy mode(PvP). The developers at Riot have created and designed their AI to be competitive and challenging without being ruthless and unrelenting (like human players). I can often pull out a line of 5 kills/5 deaths/15 assists in a game of Co-op. I’d compare that to my most recent foray into PvP which came out as a 1/8/4.

How to improve? I’ve taken a look at some beginner’s guides. This here on TopTierTactics was quite good. Also, the subreddit r/summonerschool has some great information.

I’ve come to some conclusions: I’m playing alone and losing out on the communication aspect that allows teams of players to coordinate their ganks and help. My bro-in-law and his teammates are in constant chatter when they play about where to go and what enemy is where. Communication is a key tool and I’m not using it.

I’m also not a tremendously competitive  person, clearly not in the way that the other LOL’ers are. If  I lose astronomically with a final line of 0/9/6, I’d much rather find a Co-op game where I can have some fun and get some bot kills than return to the PvP to try to correct any mistakes I had. That sort of scenario is hard, again, since a LOL game’s makeup is random and I’m taking a luck of the draw team that usually won’t provide constructive feedback, just harsh criticism. If I want to really improve, it’ll take some resolve and time to suck it up and play. It’s a Sun Tzu thing, “Know thy enemy but not yourself, wallow in defeat every time.” I’ll have to keep sucking to learn my mistakes before improvement begins.

I do want to emphasize that toxic players and rage-trolls that hate on players in the game are usually bringing their team down, most every article I’ve read has said that, too. The game is a game and no one gets where and what they want through belittling another player. Make sure you use the honor system Riot has in place as well as the Tribunal to report abusive jerks. They probably need some more structure in their lives, after all, give them some.

If I want to improve my LOL game, I’ll also need team mates. I’m more heavily invested in a number of games already, so I won’t be soliciting for teachers and advice just yet. I just broke level 17. I’ll keep going casually for fun, but I’m keeping track of mistakes and trying to learn from them. It’s something that most gamers should do if they want to play better, regardless of their chosen format.

Overall, I still suck, but I’m having fun.

Technology Review Blog

Hello all!

Just to let a few people know that I’m also blogging through Technology Review Blog on a few tech-y subjects.

Netflix's House of Cards

Netflix’s House of Cards

Netflix’s House of Cards is my latest effort. This show is great, its on par with any HBO or Showtime “premium” content and shows where television is heading. Some time in May, new episodes of Arrested Development will be released following this same model. I really like Netflix’s model over Hulu or Amazon Video and think there’s an amazing future here.

That’s all, thanks!

Gatecrash Event Deck – Simic Redux

Gatecrash's "Simic" Event Deck

Gatecrash’s “Simic” Event Deck

So Gatecrash is out and it’s great.

The guilds are superb, the interactions are fun, the limited play I’ve participated in was great.

One weekend in with this new Magic: the Gathering expansion and the Constructed play hasn’t changed much. Some adaptation of Boros with aggressive humans seems to be the meta-choice of the hour. Then came this announcement of the Gatecrash Event Decks, decks designed to be purchased at the store to allow someone to play in a Standard Constructed event with no previous preparation.

The Boros one is as expected – a lot of small, quick humans that top out at mana cost of four with a Spark Trooper. You can tweak this deck with a handful of cards and be ready for top tier play. The mana base isn’t top tier, correct, but you can reasonably get the Boros deck to where you want it with more Spark Troopers, Champion of the Parish, and other quick dudes.

The Simic deck, however, is a sick mess.

The other Event Deck, titled “Thrive and Thrash”, is a blue-green ramp deck that wants you to get to five mana and then start dropping semi-decent bombs like the singular copies of Thragtusk, Wolfir Silverheart, Gruul Ragebeast, and Deadeye Navigator, who can blink these creatures for their ETB(Enter the Battlefield) effects.

This deck isn’t a Simic deck in the sense the other is a Boros deck. Yes, there are green and blue cards in it, but nothing Simic related besides the Simic Guildgates and the Urban Evolutions. In fact, I count only 17 cards of the 75 included are from Gatecrash. The Boros deck has Boros cards wielding the Boros mechanic. What’s going on here?

So clearly I must re-imagine the Simic Event Deck to include some more Simic flavor, possibly some of the Simic mechanic, and keep it Standard legal and more Gatecrash-ey. The previous few Event Decks (Magic 2013 Core Set & Return to Ravnica) have stuck to the rule of including only 7 rare cards, between 17 and 24 uncommon cards, about 24 lands, and ZERO mythic rares. They do include some Standard-of-the-era staples, usually throwing a chase-rare in a pack.

I want to involve cards with the new Evolve mechanic, since its the Simic thing. The best ones will be cheap evasive creatures like Cloudfin Raptor. I also want to eliminate the color red from this deck. For some reason, the best move for piloting this deck looked to be finding a source of red mana to activate some removal spells. I don’t think we’ll need that.

Gone are also the copies of Verdant Haven (don’t need the access to read mana),  the silly single of Bramblecrush, the copies of Borderland Ranger, and the 4 Farseeks (they’ll be problematic since they can’t find Forests).

The Simic Event Deck Redux (link to Tappedout.net)

2 Evolving Wilds
4 Simic Guildgate
10 Forest
7 Island

1 Acidic Slime
4 Arbor Elf
4 Cloudfin Raptor
1 Deadeye Navigator
2 Druid’s Familiar
1 Fathom Mage
2 Fog Bank
4 Gatecreeper Vine
3 Nimbus Swimmer
2 Slaughterhorn
1 Soul of the Harvest
1 Sylvan Primordial
1 Thragtusk
2 Wolfir Avenger
1 Wolfir Silverheart

3 Simic Charm
1 Unexpected Results
3 Urban Evolution

Sideboard

2 Mizzium Skin
2 Naturalize
4 Negate
3 Rancor
4 Strangleroot Geist

I kept the subtle green/blue ramp and added some interesting creatures to the mix. The bombs of Deadeye Navigator, Thragtusk, and Wolfir Silverheart were too powerful to overlook, especially interacting with one another. Sylvan Primordial is a near-unanimous favorite of all the primordials and can benefit from the Deadeye Navigator’s ability. Soul of the Harvest just wants you to cast creatures and you’ll draw cards, the same with Fathom Mage. Unexpected Results should grab you nearly anything useful if you can play it on turn 4, the only possible dead play is a Simi Charm, but you can still use that to pump a creature.

I originally wanted to throw a full set of both Cloudfin Raptor and Elusive Krasis in here, but the Krasis couldn’t stay as his power took too long to build up. I played a little and found that I always wanted a flyer instead, so in went the Nimbus Swimmers, which are useful whenever you draw them. Gatecreeper Vine does a better job of getting the lands I want over Farseek, since the Guildgate offers the best color options. Wolfir Avenger & Druid’s Familiar are nice boosters to the Evolve creatures, plus any of my creatures can use the boost or protection offered by the Simic Charm. If I played around a little more, I might have put in a full playset of Slaughterhorn, but I restrained myself to keep the Simic theme running.

There’s ramp, there’s creatures, there’s Deadeye Navigator uses, there’s plenty of card draw, and the deck won’t stall after hitting turn 6 since you can dump mana into more card draw like Urban Evolution, or Deadeye activations, or spend it all on a Nimbus Swimmer.

Please feel free to comment on how I did.

Overall, I feel that the Simic deck is still under-powered compared to the  Boros and generally poorly placed in the current meta, but this iteration at least boosts the Simic Guild’s profile in a deck named after them. As we progress into the post-Gatecrash era, perhaps things will creep into Standard as powerhouses from the Simic that might need to go into the deck. Experiment One is one potential card, and I may have been wrong about the Elusive Krasis. Only time will tell.

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