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Superficial Saturdays #14 – RUNAWAYS #2 by Jo Chen

Comic: RUNAWAYS #2 Artist: Jo Chen

Nothing too much to say here, other than I really like the composition of this cover. Not a huge surprise that Jo Chen did a good job on a comics cover (she is widely considered one of the best cover artists in the industry and a former Eisner nominee)… But this is a probably my favorite of her many detailed covers.

What I like in particular on this piece is the contrast of two styles that you rarely see side-by-side.

Victor Mancha in the foreground is depicted in the usual nuanced, almost photo-realistic, Chen cover style.

The background villains — Magneto, Dr. Octopus, Kingpin, Red Skull, and Dr. Doom — are depicted in a Kirby-reminiscent style with flat colors. I think they two harmonize well here, and make for something different,.

I hope you like it as well.


Unbelievably, the Answer is… Kitchen Finks?

Is it really possible that cutting longtime favorite Kitchen Finks leads us to the right build of Cascade Control?

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time you know that Kitchen Finks is one of my favorite cards. I loved it in Jund Mana Ramp, respected its ability to crush an opponent with Ajani Goldmane and Persist… Generally loved it in everything from G/W Little Kid to Reflecting Pool Control.

But apparently the right way to make Cascade Control is to cut Kitchen Finks!

A few months back I wouldn’t have easily accepted that cutting Borderland Ranger was right, but this current version of Cascade Control has been treating me pretty well, and its only three mana spells (main deck) are discard spells.

Cascade Control

1 Obelisk of Alara

4 Bituminous Blast
4 Blightning
4 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Captured Sunlight
1 Enigma Sphinx
4 Enlisted Wurm
4 Esper Charm

2 Primal Command

4 Baneslayer Angel

4 Exotic Orchard
1 Forest
1 Graven Cairns
1 Island
1 Mountain
2 Plains
4 Reflecting Pool
1 Swamp
4 Vivid Crag
4 Vivid Grove
4 Vivid Meadow
1 Wooded Bastion

3 Ajani Vengeant
4 Anathemancer
2 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Primal Command
4 Hallowed Burial

Obviously this deck has a bazillion lands–that is 28 lands. I have been asked online if it would still work without Vivid lands… and I am not sure. One of the things I like about this version is that a large chunk of it will translate to the new Standard… But that new format will not have Vivid lands. I think a combination of enemy fetch duals and Alara tri-lands will help make the mana viable.

Primal Command, though, is a card that I really don’t want to see disappearing from my deck lists.

The unique element of this deck–which is not actually unique because I stole it from GerryT–is that all the three mana spells are some kind of Stupor. Therefore you always know what you are going to get on a four mana Cascade, and you can play your Cascade spells in general without fearing you might accidentally turn over a Maelstrom Pulse.

Win percentage with this deck has been awesome. So far I have a legitimate loss to Merfolk, a couple of manascrews (how is that even possible with all these lands?), and one loss to my own B/R Blightning Beatdown deck (at least it looked like it with tri-lands, Tarfire, Goblin Outlander), when he drew three Blightnings in the deciding game; the vast majority of battles have been very favorable for the deck.

By far my favorite match so far was against the R/W Spanish Inquisition. The opponent got Ajani Vengeant going, but I had depleted most of his hand, and had lands back. I tried for Baneslayer Angel. He had Oblivion Ring; I answered with Enlisted Wurm. At this point I could flip almost any card in my deck and get out of the Ajani, which was at that point on five counters. Blightning would tear off three counters. Esper Charm would free the Baneslayer to attack. Captured Sunlight would be a proxy for one of those two, whereas Bloodbraid Elf might kill the Ajani outright in concert with Blightning (but still be just fine with “only” Esper Charm and its own three power). Primal Command would set up some kind of a disaster (probably involing setting up Bloodbraid Elf and forcing a re-cast).

And so on.

But despite having a Bituminous Blast in hand… Unfortunately that’s what I flipped.

So my world blew up two turns later.

Still, I came back!

I had a couple of Vivids in my hand, and used Esper Charm to draw up instead of attacking him or like his Goblin Assault.

I drew up to six, and ran out Baneslayer Angel and Enlisted Wurm (or more precisely, I ran out Enlisted Wurm, which ran out Baneslayer Angel).

With him dead on board and me commanding 2 5/5s… he pulled Martial Coup!

Back to zero.

I ran it back with my remaining Baneslayer Angel.

He responded with Obelisk of Alara to stay even.

I did a little trickery to get him to blow up a Bloodbraid Elf (no more threes in the in deck), which used his ability to gain five life that turn; I had been sandbagging a Blightning, which as a three point Fireball was just enough to finish it.

I know the new Zendikar cards are super fun to look at, but if you need a Standard deck–for now–you might consider this one. It’s a bit worse against creatures than the Rhox Meditant Deck (which couldn’t really lose to creatures) but the heavy discard options (and sometimes card drawing one) make for some more strategic Magic.


Currently Reading: Catwoman Vol. 4: Wild Ride (Batman)

Superficial Saturdays #6 – AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #692 by Marcos Martin

For the 50th anniversary of [arguably] Marvel Comics’s favorite character the House of Ideas commissioned superduperstar artist Marcos Martin to scribble up a number of variant covers, and man were they gorgeous. Jonathan Becker of “Tomfidence” fame brought these to my attention for Superficial Saturdays. Here is my favorite of the set “the 1970s variant”:

Artist: Marcos Martin

Anyone familiar with Spider-Man’s history knows about the Death of Gwen Stacy; Peter’s true love was murdered by his archenemy the Green Goblin in one of the most famous no-win situations in comics. Martin’s homage is just perfect in my estimation. Despite the dominance of negative space, I think this is a very well-composed image.

The use of color in this image is just… brave. I love flat color but this is just extreme. The red of the background is the same as the red of Spidey’s suit is the same as the red of Gwen’s outfit [and if memory serves she was wearing a green coat in the original]. I love how he uses the limited color palette to imply Gwen’s death. She is all white and gray… Like a ghost.

Goes without saying that the line work on this one is just outstanding. And versatile. You can tell that both images are Marcos Martin but he uses a completely different line than we saw in GREEN ARROW #40. Thanks to Becker; just love this one.


How Far We’ve Come (1/2): Teremko Griffin and Guerilla Tactics

This post is inspired by the Guerilla Tactics I found digging around my parents’ basement last week; you may have read about this expedition here.

Among other things, Guerilla Tactics.

And in case you were wondering, I sadly found only four regular Gaea’s Cradles upon returning to New York 🙁

Guerrilla Tactics returned to the playable conversation when Patrick Sullivan publicly bought a playset from Star City Games prior to Grand Prix Denver. He got to showcase them against the many Liliana of the Veil decks in matches like his successful feature against Former #1 Apprentice (and GP Denver Top 8 competitor) Joshua P. Ravitz.

This tale of Guerilla Tactics is a story, a lesson really, from my first Pro Tour. You may have read here, here, or elsewhere that I won an Ice Age/Alliances PTQ with a B/R Necropotence deck. In college in Philadelphia I had a great group of friends with whom I played as many as fifty hours of Magic with per week. We played draft, Standard, PTQ formats, and ground dozens of matches of Arena League. We played local Philadelphia tournaments together (though I was the only serious-serious one) and adventured to reasonably close PTQs within ~2 states, usually via public transportation. The most talented player in our group as Albert Tran (the only player other than myself to win multiple Blue Envelopes when we were in college) but unlike most of the rest of us, altran was wasting his college years on a string of cute Asian girls so was very off and on in terms of how seriously he took Magic at any given time. Ergo the effective best player in the group was, unfortunately, YT.

Being the best player in your community is mostly terrible. You play for more hours than most people have jobs, and consistently win no matter how badly you execute. If your only goal is to be king of the kitchen table this can make you the local Alpha Nerd; if you actually want to become a World Class Magic player you have little opportunity to tear up bad habits and build up myelin. When I was competing hard with The ‘Pile o’ Bitches the next year — my first standout deck design and when I first got serious about writing tournament reports — we were concurrently grinding Mirage/Visions Constructed in the store Arena League. The best deck at the Mirage/Visions Pro Tour was the proto-Storm Combo deck Prosperous Bloom; I was dominating our local league with my Teremko Griffin deck:

Like you, my 1997 opponents didn’t understand how Banding works.

Not only was a turn three combo deck available, Nekrataal was probably the most played creature… and, again, I won the Arena season with 2/2 Banding Weapon of Choice 🙁

Nevertheless, I was lucky enough to have contacts in a wider world. Worth Wollpert came down to Philadelphia from Penn State to test for the Pro Tour with me; Worth was training up to become a member of Team Deadguy after impressing Chris Pikula et al in the East Coast cash tournament series of that era with his “Demonic Consultation for Channel” gambles to set up the lethal Fireball.

I am sure that to Chris — who, among his immeasurable contributions to the game even then was a Top 8 coverage commentator and one of the faces on ESPN — I was at best a barnacle wannabe hanger-on at the time, but luckily Worth took care of me like his annoying kid brother. We came up from the same store in Ohio, and helped each other Q early on. As such, I got to play essentially the same Necropotence deck as Chris (Top 4) and Worth (Top 16) at Pro Tour V (139th if memory serves).

Our conception of sideboarding strategy was not then what it is now. Of the three of us, Chris was the only one to have Anarchy for Circle of Protection: Black, Circle of Protection: Red, or Karma (Matt Place destroyed me with the Place/Weissman U/W Control deck); Worth and I played a single Final Fortune; and of the three of us, only I had Demonic Consultation (tested with Erik Lauer the night before).

What sucks when you hit your second-turn Hymn to Tourach?

Guerilla Tactics!

So I am up in the Necropotence mirror in maybe my first ever match as a Pro; my opponent hits a fast Hypnotic Specter. I look at my hand gleefully… My sided-in Guerilla Tactics!

Cool things were dangerous even then.

Now I can make a pretty clean play on my turn: Just play my land and Guerilla Tactics the Hypnotic Specter, right?

However by drawing my sideboard card in the proscribed spot (against my opponent’s discard mechanism) I found myself in a serious The Danger of Cool Things moment. Do you see it? You probably don’t, thank God.

I am probably one of the top 100 players in the world at this point and this is what is going through my head:

If I let him hit me with that Hypnotic Specter, I might [randomly] discard it and hit the Specter for 4.

Can you even imagine fathoming this in 2013?

This was the first few turns of the game; There wasn’t even a positive likelihood he was going to randomly hit the Guerilla Tactics! Still, I passed.

Worse: I didn’t even make a turn two play! I mean it would be one thing if I stuck a Black Knight or something and lucked into the Tactics while tapped, right? Nope.

It wasn’t over. Maybe he was going to draw Hymn to Tourach or Stupor me prior to attacks. Maybe I would get to discard Guerilla Tactics and punish him as a freebie! Now that would be both cool and validating! Nope.

It still wasn’t over! I could have thrown banana peels at his Specter* prior to damage and saved myself two points. Still… Still nope.

This is what happened:

He attacks.

I discard [not Guerilla Tactics] — literally throw a card into the garbage can and give up two points.

He does something and / or passes.

I Guerilla Tactics the Hypnotic Specter.

Can you even imagine fathoming this in 2013?

So whenever I see a Guerilla Tactics; this is what I think about. Cool things; a game poorly played… And my first Pro Tour 🙂

But I can also see, in a world with a resurgent Guerilla Tactics, how far we’ve come. I think about myself, then such a strong player [relatively speaking]… with such a poor systematic understanding of the game; versus the baseline level that competitive players are all at today. The glory of this story is that few (if any) of you would have made the same kind of fumble, or even seen it as a possibility. Let’s list just a few of the reasons why:

  • Classical v. Romantic approaches to common situations… Perfection versus subjective or personal criteria in evaluating a play.
  • Appropriate pricing – How much does this effect cost? How much does this cost me? What is scarce here? Life / mana / cards / what? What do I actually need in this game?
  • Tight play – What play will give me the best result, on average, if I do it each and every time?
  • Philosophy of Fire – Would I ever give up a free Shock (let alone a Shock and a card) after 1999?
  • Removal on your own turn / when your opponent’s mana is tapped – Because the last thing you want is to eat a Giant Growth

To sum it all up, the idea of springing a Guerilla Tactics on the attacking Hypnotic Specter was exciting. I was excited, emotionally, by drawing the card I wanted to see against my opponent’s aggressive discard deck. I saw the possibilities in the card, perhaps remembered being spanked by its anti-discard ability to smack for four in my own testing. Perhaps that excitement confused me for a moment… Did I really want to hit the Specter, or did I just want to hit the opponent, punish him for his arrogance, his devotion to The Skull? Likely I had this combination of excitement, the exhilaration of playing on my first Pro Tour, and the stress of playing against my opponent’s best hand all at once. Certainly I didn’t have the modern ideas of focus yet; nor had Jon delivered either of his two famous edicts (nor did he have the reputation yet, that anyone would listen).

A Hypnotic Specter is just a 2/2. We only need two damage to deal with it. If we don’t deal with it, it is going to generate a ton of card advantage for the opponent while whittling away at our life points. This is really super bad for us! There is a reason that first turn Hypnotic Specter is the scariest play in the format!

How did I forget that, myself?

It can be tough comparing Magic in 2013, with all the things you already know, and the vast canon of Patrick Chapin, Zvi Mowshowitz, and Frank Karsten that has come before to draw upon… And try to imagine a world almost 20 years ago, when USENET was the pinnacle of the strategic universe, perhaps THE DUELIST, which came out once per month. Succeeding back then was easier in the sense that the “haves” had a lot more than the “have-nots”… But in another sense, getting to be a “have” took a heck of a lot more work.


* Sorry, wrong kind of “gorilla” [guerilla]. Very pun-ny.

8:59 on a Tuesday

Spurs in Six?
Big Three Basketball
Beloved Spurs?
The Story So Far
The Best Thing About Game Five
What Miami Has to Do Differently

Spurs in Six?

Tonight is Game Six of the NBA Finals, with the beloved San Antonio Spurs up against the Miami’s hated Heat. I called “Spurs in six” before the series started but I don’t know if I really believed it; or if I were just saying it at the time, hoping — like a prayer — it would come true. Surely smart money was betting on the Spurs, but that had more to do with dumb money over-valuing favorites than the Spurs’ actual likelihood of winning; Miami with LeBron James has posted a truly special brand of offense this year, and looked quite unstoppable relative to the rest of the Eastern Conference during the first 82 games. “Spurs in six” was borne mostly out of the surprising Indiana series… Miami lost more games in the Indiana series than the Spurs lost all through their Western Conference playoff run… and Miami didn’t even have to contend with Steph Curry throwing Red Shells.

The Spurs, for their part, were gorgeous last season; it looked in fact like they were going to win the entire playoffs without losing a game… Until they abruptly fell in four straight to Kevin Durant, James Harden and the OKC Thunder after going up two in the 2012 Western Conference Finals. It was understandable, even given the Spurs’ offensive brilliance going on 30 games… The Thunder last year were a kind of younger version of the Spurs, down to playing their most efficient scorer off the bench, and it looked like the old guys just petered out.

The Spurs were old and the Thunder sprightly. The Spurs’ magical 2012 offensive system gave way to the Thunder’s combination of youth and talent, and though OKC took the first game of the Finals… Evil reigned for at least one year while confetti rained in South Beach.

This year things seem different; though for my part as a fan and observer, as Timmy gets ever-closer to a fifth ring, I pang at the idea of his having won back-to-backs*; Manu Ginobli has traded off with Wade as the best shooting guard in the league for most of the last decade (the joke being that Kobe Bryant won MVP in 2008 and Manu won Sixth Man the same year… and Manu was even or better in every statistical area but minutes played / shots taken); and over the last season or two Tony Parker has stepped up from being a Kobe-junior sort of flashy scorer to a truly productive Stockton-esque penetrating PG, making his deadly quickness more unpredictable than ever for defenses.

The emergence of Parker as a legitimate stud (instead of “just” a scoring machine) combined with the quiet superstardom of Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green (both worth essentially two standard NBA players in their own rights) makes this Finals against the archenemy Heat not just a legitimate contest but a fleeting model-breaker.

Big Three Basketball

Commentary on contending NBA basketball teams in the current era focuses a lot on “Big Three” lineups; as a fan I think of this discourse coming out of the 2008 Boston Celtics team, which was designed around LeBron-light (and eventual MVP) Paul Pierce, sharpshooter Ray Allen, and PF Duncan-rival Kevin Garnett (who had spent some seasons as the legitimate best player in the game, albeit relegated to a non-contending team… kind of like his Kevin-inheritor Kevin Love today). The Big Three model has existed longer than that of course, but to my exposure it seems closely tied to the ’08 Celtics.

Basketball is a study in force multiplication, similar to the Landsraad units versus Fremen or Sardaukar in Dune. In Dune, the fundamental unit in an armed engagement is a Landsraad soldier. The Emperor’s stranglehold on military supremecy comes from a monopoly of fanatical soldiers (the Sardaukar) who are the equivalent of 10 Landsraad each.

[1 Sardaukar = 10 Landsraad]

The best of the Atreides soldiers — Duncan Idaho — is able to “trade with” and unheard-of 19 Saurdaukar in a key siege of the conflict:

[1 Duncan Idaho = 19 Sardaukar = 190 Landsraad]

… Implying that Idaho is essentially worth 190 common Landsraad.

Dune conflict is a combination of force fields, giant wurms, forbidden nuclear missles, surprise explosions, and most of all swordfighting. It is dazzling — given Frank Herbert’s universe — to imagine one hero slicing through 189 common soldiers before trading with the last one.

Force multiplication is key to the Atreides family eventually usurping the Empire; Paul Atreides acquires the harshly-trained Fremen, who are near-Sardaukar in per-unit military efficacy.

Basketball is much the same. You can’t go up against a Big Three (and two other guys) with five regular guys; or even one All-Star and four regular guys. Teams like Miami were built to contend with [other] three All-Star teams, essentially packing the efficacy of 10+ players into five bodies on the floor. For his part, LeBron James is worth about 3.5 men.

An average NBA basketball player produces at an average level. The common Landsraad soldier of the National Basketball Association, they take anaverage number of shots that produce an average number of points; they take care of they ball in an average fashion. Or not. Kyrie Irving is a good example. He is an absolute poet on offense… But possibly the worst NBA defender on any team. If you rated players only by their point production (as a deceptive mainstream media does), Kyrie would be perhaps the best of Guards… But he doesn’t excel at rebounding, doesn’t take great care of the ball, and doesn’t pass at an elite level… at least not when compared to [other] elite PGs. To date, Kyrie Irving is no Duncan Idaho.

Contributing to a basketball team’s wins comes in two flavors:

  1. Cultivation of possessions (steals, rebounds).
  2. Conversion of possessions to points [at a high rate]; generally you can score two-point shots at a high percentage (Tyson Chandler), get to the free throw line consistently (James Harden), or nail three pointers (Danny Green) to produce above par offensively. Taking a lot of shots at a low rate can rack up a point total… But doesn’t necessarily help your team win.

LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony are often spoken about in the same breath. One of these things is not like the others.

Both James and Durant take 22-23 shots per 48 minutes. James scores at a stunning 56.5% (1.5 PPS) and Durant 51% and 1.59 PPS.

Melo — now the NBA scoring “champion” — shoots a gaudy 29 times per 48 minutes… But shoots only 45%… Less than 80% of LeBron’s efficiency. He is quite simply not in the same category as James or Durant. He just shoots a lot! Melo scores 2-4 points more than LeBron and Durant per 48 minutes, but has to burn seven possessions to do so. That means Tyson Chandler (NYK’s elite rebounder) has to work that much harder to get his team scoring opportunities… That end up as misses.

Turnovers and missed shots are poison to the cultivation of possessions. Possessions lead to scoring opportunities; you want them, and want to restrict the opponent from having extra opportunities.

This season LeBron James is worth about three-and-a-half NBA players on the floor. James over-produces by scoring at an amazing rate when he has the ball, taking lots of shots (that he translates successfully), while standing out in many other areas, such as pulling down tons of rebounds, blocking shots, stealing the ball, and passing to his teammates.

Back to the Boston “Big Three” Championship year 2008, the Celtics posted a starting lineup of:

  • PG Rajon Rondo: 1.9 NBA players
  • SG Ray Allen: 1.8 NBA players
  • SF Paul Pierce: 2+ NBA players
  • PF Kevin Garnett: ~3 NBA players
  • C Kendrick Perkins: 1.5 NBA players

These Celtics essentially outnumbered their opponents two-to-one.

Today’s Spurs can field a similarly exceptional lineup:

  • PG Tony Parker: 1.8 NBA players
  • sWing Danny Green: 2 NBA players
  • sWing Manu Ginobili: 1.5 NBA players
  • sWing Kawhi Leonard: 2.5 NBA players
  • PF/C Tim Duncan: 2.5 NBA players

Pundits, commentators, and talking heads talk about fuzzy-around-the-edges things like “athleticism” or Ginobili’s “heart”; but basketball is about cultivation of possessions and conversion of possessions to points. The ancient Spurs of the last two years have perfected the art of ball movement to deepen the value of their possessions like almost no other team. Parker might be the wiliest, fastest, PG in the league but what makes the San An offense so great is the ability to counteract the athleticism of younger teams by passing Passing PASSING until they have found an open shooter. Then Bam!… Conversion at a great PPS.

Ginobili at his height has been close to 3 NBA players in efficacy (c.f. the Championship of 2007, or you know, just last year). Green and Leonard have both beeing playing at an HoF level in the finals… Into the 3-player range as well. But the most important lift is Parker who has always carried the ball for this team. His best season before this one was at a “mere” 1.5 NBA players (2007, when he won the Finals MVP) and he has languished at “average” production through most of his career. Yes, Parker has always been an unstoppable scorer but he’s also had years where he turned the ball over about as often as Russell Westbrook / he’s never been a truly elite passer or distance shooter / etc. Given the minutes Parker has to shoulder, increased production on his part is like spotting the Spurs an extra Mario Chalmers / Norris Cole for free.

Beloved Spurs?

In 2007 my beloved Cleveland Cavaliers, led by The Whore of Akron LeBron James (ironically?) made it to the NBA finals… Where they were summarily trounced by Duncan, Parker, Ginibili, and a different supporting cast.

Some people would have become anti-Spurs after this, but instead I studied this singular team and decided they represent all that is right and good, or at least what is possible about sports. San Antonio is a small market team. Unlike many teams including Cleveland itself that have lost superstars, San Antonio has convinced players like Duncan to take smaller salaries to continue a legacy.

And yet… We all probably talk too much about Duncan. Duncan is pretty fantastic, obviously; but you can’t reduce all four — and hopefully five — of their championships to one draft pick. Tony Parker went 28th in the draft. Kawhi Leonard — quietly San Antonio’s best player for the past two seasons — was passed up by nearly every NBA team. Danny Green was waived by my Cavaliers and picked up by San An, only emerging when Ginobili was injured. And Ginobili?

When arguably the deadliest shooting guard of the last decade was drafted, he was so unknown that the announcers couldn’t even pronounce his name! Taken 57th (!!!) Ginobili may have been the greatest steal in the history of the NBA.

San Antonio is a picture of turning lemons into lemonade.

Of their Big Three — none of Duncan, Parker, or Ginobili have ever donned another team’s jersey. Popp knows how to retain their stars.

But it goes beyond that.

San Antonio is like a case study of the best of the 1980s. San Antonio combines the transformation of Optimus Prime with the continual, successful, reinvention of Madonna.

After the 2007 win, San Antonio lost in the first round of the playoffs not once, but twice between 2008 and 2011. Popp realized that something had to change. He transformed his squad — which had been a relentless defensive team built around arguably the greatest PF of all time — to the magical offensive passing machine that we have witnessed last year and this. This has been utterly inspiring to me. Last year I had a rough patch at work where an eight-figure empire I built had to be torn down and reimagined not due to business results but — argh — industry compliance. It was a very difficult transition, but I realized that Popp did way more with the 2012 Spurs; and last month I had my best month ever.

Whenever I feel like I hit a dead end I just think of the 2012 Spurs… And all of a sudden I realize that We Can Do This.

The Story So Far

I would summarize the Finals thus far thusly:

  • Game One – Either ball club could have won; Spurs steal thanks to a little momentum and some dynamic hero-ball by Parker; Spurs commit almost no turnovers.
  • Game Two – The Empire Strikes Back. Villains come in with a chip on their shoulders and bury the heroes in turnovers.
  • Game Three – Erik Spoelstra Has No Idea What Is Going On Part I: Spurs move the ball Spurs-style; get every open look they want. Spoelstra utterly fails to adjust, or as far as anyone can tell, guard Danny Green. The most egregious error is leaving James in for many minutes after the game has already been decided. Dude could have gotten hurt.
  • Game Four – Could have gone either way; tied at the half; in my (biased) opinion, first half was at part up to the refs. Chris Bosh being called for a $5,000 flop was just one play of about eight plays that would have had the Spurs up at the half… Which would have made for a different game **. Popp blamed the turnovers; basketball is about cultivation of possessions, after all.
  • Game Five – Erik Spoelstra Has No Idea What Is Going On Part II: Every media outlet in the world talks about Manu Ginobili starting and having a breakout game… But that is not even half the story. In Game Five Popp flipped the script on Spoelstra, switching from Spurs-style ball movement to Kobe-style Iso Hero-ball. Popp turned Manu back into 2007-2008 Kobe-plus and Parker back into a penetrating Kobe-junior. Every time one of those deadly offensive guards penetrated I was anticipating a kick-out to Green or another sharpshooter… But instead they just kept driving for layups! (You could tell the Heat were looking for passes too.) Both of the previous Spurs losses hinged on turnovers (Miami guarding the frequent Spurs passes) so Popp had his guards drive past the old Allen, and broken Wade and Miller. Fucking brilliant.

From a Magic perspective it is like a U/R Storm deck siding in the Exarch Twin combo. You are still facing a U/R combo deck but instead of a kill based on lacing movement and velocity on more movement and velocity, one creature / scorer is just given the ball / Aura and goes in for infinite. Your defense is set up to stop a chain of similar spells but those digging spells are now simply poised to set up the hero creature. All your Dismembers are now in the wrong 15/75. All your game are belong to us.

The Best Thing About Game Five

I actually stole that from ESPN, who were at the time talking about Roy Hibbert, not Green.

But the best thing?

The refs didn’t call blocking on the guy! On a handful of occasions Wade or James was on a breakaway “sure” layup, Green got back, defended, stopped the shot and didn’t get called for a foul. Unbelievable!

Green is playing at a historic level offensively, but if he never sinks another shot this series, he will still be contributing if he can keep James in “mortal” scoring territory, restricting his ability to perform like three-and-a-half NBA players to perhaps just two.

What Miami Has to Do Differently

In Game Six, Miami has to adjust to this or suffer some vicious headlines. For all the ire right-thinking men have for LeBron James, calling into question his legacy [again] over a Popp-over-Spoelstra defeat is simply not going to be his fault. He is the best player in the game and probably the best SF of all time [that actually plays PG and PF].

I would put much of the blame on a failed Miami campaign squarely on the coach. The coach’s job is minute allocation and Erik has been doing a loathesome, George Karl-esque job of it. George Karl, “Coach of the Year” lost his job at the Denver Nuggest this month following an unpredictable six-game rout by the unheralded Golden State Warriors… Who lost their All-Star PF in the first game to injury! Karl has one of the best bigs in the league at PF and numerous awesome Forwards… But elected to try to play a speedy “small ball” game with Golden State (who have superior small players). It was like Gerry Thompson handing you the Thepths deck he just built before anyone else knew what it was… but deciding to try to win with only one Thopter Foundry instead of Jace or the Hexmage combo.

Some suggestions for Spoelstra:

  • Play [even] more Allen. Dude was 4-4 from three in Game Five; 21 points on 10 shots. My God that line. Get Mike Miller open, too.
  • WTF Chris Bosh v. Chris Anderson?!? Bosh has been… average. Anderson was a greek god in the East, setting offensive efficiency records while playing awesome interior ball; on balance, San An has basically just played Duncan as their only big. Huge size opportunity here. Anderson’s minute allocation: 0 minutes Game Four; 0 minutes Game Five.
  • Put a man on Danny Green! In 2009 the heavily favored Cavs attempted to let the Orlando Magic have every long jump shot while putting two men on Superman Dwight Howard on the inside. I liked this strategy until I realized that the usual PPS / 3P% stats don’t assume that you leave sharpshooters wide open. The Cavs lost in six, principally to awesome three-point shooting by Orlando. Danny Green has already set the Finals record for three point makes while playing amazing defense on James and Dwayne Wade. Spoelstra seems completely uninterested in guarding him; I think Danny has proved up to the challenge by this point. By contrast the Spurs this year have given Wade and James free reign to take as many long two point shots as they want, turning two of the best players of this generation into essentially [max-contract All-Star] Carmelo Anthony (LOL).

Actually. Never mind. Erik — Don’t do any of these things. I would like it to be over tonight.

You will have to excuse me. It’s 8:59 and the game is about to start. I will be cheering for the good guys!


* As I’ve said quite a few times recently, the sharpest divide in this world is between those who see it as it is, and those who imagine it as they, you know, imagine it.

** Again, we live in this world, not the world of what could have been.

Thea Steele’s Five [with Flores] Favorite Lana Del Rey Songs

My bud Thea Steele (formerly of the Darksteele Cube over on Star City Games) recently shamed me into updating This Here Blog on multiple social media fronts.

Thea is a big fan of Lana Del Rey and suggested I review her five favorite Lana Del Rey songs.

Aside: Why Review Anything?

I can’t say that I am entirely sure. Any of you have a good idea?

I actually told my friend Mark Young not long ago that I thought reviews (Mark is the keeper of the Movie Klub blog, and hence our resident reviewer) tend not to be value-added.

I think reviews tend to be best when 1) you are going to buy / consume something anyway and just need to know which to buy / read / listen to (product reviews on Amazon, or movie reviews, many times) or 2) you actually just want to share something you love. I don’t know to what degree you would consider my gushing about Locke & Key, Young Justice, or Sons of Anarchy count as “reviews” but dozens of Top 8 Magic listeners have thanked me for recommending these.

This is kind of in diametric opposition to what I once thought I was going to do with my life. At age 23, full of stock options at The Dojo, I assumed I’d be a cash millionaire at 24, and would just kind of spend the rest of my career reviewing comic books (I founded PsyComic, which like The Dojo, was acquired by USA Networks back in 2000); neither of those things ended up being facts, BTW. I learned something from Randy Lander, the great comic reviewer (whom we brought in from Texas)… Randy saw our job as comics reviewers as being in service to comics readers. I mean who else is interested in reading a comics review? Or worse, what if a non-regular comics reader reads a negative review? All we can do by spreading frowns is shrink an industry and art form we ostensibly love.

So our best angels must be to lift up and point out the things that we love… You know, kind of like the top-left hand of this website.

/ end aside.

I. Video Games

This was the first Lana Del Rey song I listened to from Thea’s list. I tend not to like music the first time I listen to it (rare exceptions would be Jill Sobule’s Pink Pearl, Loreena McKennitt Live, [which are the only two albums I’ve ever bought, while browsing the store, that I had never heard before] or of course “anything” Rilo Kiley [my favorite band, introduced to me by Josh Ravitz]), so I listened to a bunch of these almost obsessively, and in a row, to see how they grew on me.

Which is kind of appropriate, as “Video Games” is itself a song of obsession.

I am not sure I would categorize it as a “love” song as I am not convinced the fella on the other side is particularly in love with Del Rey’s speaker, back.

“Video Games” depicts a character that is perhaps less cheery than Samantha in Samantha’s Perfect Saturday* if you take the reference. The instrumentation combined with Del Rey’s strained, almost monotone, vocals descend together into a kind of quiet 1950s madness. I don’t know about you, but to me church bells = “horror movie”.

Del Rey is certainly successful in creating a particular tone in this. I have a set of songs I listen to when I need to tap into my reservoir of madness. I can see this one fitting in there.

II. Dark Paradise

This was by far my favorite song of Thea’s picks.

I like pretty much everything: instrumental variation, singing, beat, switcheroo near the end.

Well, maybe not the grammar. Lana, you wish you “were” dead, not was.

III. Off to the Races

Two angles on this one:

  1. As a song “Off to the Races” is pretty listen-to-able. As in, I liked it musically, more or less. I think that Del Rey could probably use an editor on this one (to polish the best bits, but rub out the excesses), but that is kind of a flaccid criticism. Happy to listen to this again, especially the thirteen-year-old me that I hope I never lose. The speaker in this one is baaaaahd. She is a Bad. Girl. She kisses with an open mouth and talks about her bikini and stuff.
  2. I am both attracted to and repulsed Del Rey-slash-the character-she-is-trying-to-depict here. She is both a bad girl and bad news. I don’t know how many of you have spent your one scarce resource** chasing after girls (or whoever) that were just going to drive you nutso. I have. Cried. Wrote innumerable teenage (nineteen is still a teenager) journal entries about this kind of stuff. I mean none of those chicks has ever gotten me a knife in the gut, though. Attracted. Repulsed. More attracted than repulsed. Knife in the gut 🙁

IV. Ride

The Top 10 Assorted Things That Occurred to Me Watching the Official Music Video for “Ride”

  1. I am in the bubble.
  2. Shut up, you are not in the bubble. “The bubble” is for beautiful women who think that a handsome older man will appear to buy them a steak dinner if they somehow run out of Jimmy Choo money.
  3. On second thought… Definitely in the bubble on this one. Some kind of bubble for sheltered [honorary] White males, even those not as good looking as Jon Hamm.
  4. I think I know what Lana is going for at this point. Is she actively trying to drive me miserable? I HAVE VERY GOOD EMOTIONAL CONTROL YOU KNOW.
  5. Nope. Miserable. Full-on life tilt by her high note “fucking crazy” at 7:04.
  6. Pretty good high note, that one. Would listen again.
  7. Since I started watching Sons of Anarchy I have stopped being afraid of / actively avoiding bikers. For instance last year I was in a club in Cali and started chatting up this huge, silent biker bouncer. Is it super fun working here?
  8. (it’s pretty fun, apparently)
  9. On the subject of bikers, Clark has this Amelie-esque project to take home the class stuffed animal, and take pictures of him doing interesting stuff.
  10. This is by far the coolest one we took today:

Even though I am not-scared-of-bikers enough to chat one up in a strip club, I still was really nervous on this and made Katherine hustle up with the pic already. I also told Clark that if we got caught, the Harley owner would probably beat him up and steal his girlfriend. Well I would have if Katherine hadn’t stopped me.

V. Body Electric

One of my favorite ideas in all of literature is from Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell, where a skilled wizard learns to distill madness into a tincture that he can take a dropper of, every now and again, to connect to his crazy-style on demand. I admire that because, as a writer, there are certainly times when being able to turn the crazy on might be advantageous.

My crazy is different than Lana Del Rey’s crazy though. My crazy is like a million exploding shades of orange. It’s kinetic and moves at the speed of a car crash. Sometimes it’s fun. Things might break, but — maybe because of that handy bubble — there is little sense that they can’t be fixed. Here is one of my favorite bits of writing, from an old Planar Chaos set review:

My two-year-old daughter has a crazy hat. It is a knit cap woven out of multicolored orange, red, and yellow yarn. She gets this glint in her eye and will pull it on and suddenly go berserk. She will run in a five-foot circle until she falls down, or failing that, up and down the hallway, arms in the air. She screams and tumbles and does I don’t know what else. I’d try to describe it further but she is still bound by the physical laws that affect two-year-old girls and I wouldn’t be able to convey the manic energy that comes over her, Bruce Banner-like, when she puts on the hat, anyway. Just this morning I surprised her and pulled it down over her ears when she came up to me in the kitchen, just to see what would happen. I wish I had my video camera. My wife says she’s like a pinball, but you know, less metallic and shiny… which is ironic, because pulling on the crazy hat is like Bella’s Autobot Matrix of Leadership, transforming her into something pumped full of energon and impossible to injure.

Mire Boa is my crazy hat. When I look at it I just want to punch the screen to pieces and then drown my enemies in the blood running down my slashed knuckles. I want to hurl my arms into the air and cry to the moon… but I remember that I’m not physically very imposing and that I wouldn’t be scaring anyone. This card is just so exciting to me and you know why. It’s a bare half-degree off of my favorite two-drop ever. I played its predecessor over Wild Mongrel in U/G in Extended and won $250. Sol Malka used to play the River-style slitherer in The Rock, or The Rock’s great grandfather, whatever. I can’t wait to drop a Mire Boa on turn 2. I love a crazy hat. I hate Crovax even more than I want to play him.

Staring at YouTube videos and listening to Lana Del Rey nonstop over the past three or so hours, over and over again to try to understand what makes Thea like this music so much, I come away, more than anything else, with a sense of deep respect for this artist. On the one hand she has this veneer of “a painted porn star is singing this song to you” which I think is fairly intentional. My recession, thoughts of bubble-in-ness, even revulsion at the idea of a beautiful woman assaulting me with that aesthetic come down to essentially a sense of discomfort. One of my colleagues in my other life likes to remind me that all good advertising makes you uncomfortable.

I didn’t actually do any research into Lana Del Rey’s background before I listened to any of these, or started writing this up. Maybe some of you who are devotees of her oeuvre will see this as a critical weakness, but I come from a school that tries to analyze the content, experience, and tone of a work itself, rather than its relationship to its creator. But my experience of these songs leads me to feel that the work is more the snowball-character that the songs, linked to one another by their singer and collections, as much as the music, lyrics, and individual performances.

And my conclusion is this: Lana Del Rey has a tincture of madness in her pocket.

Not only does she have a tincture of madness, she has a special madness that she can wield like a can of mace. Del Rey can force her crazy hat onto listeners and pull it over their ears and eyes, even without the help of willow wands, sacred circles, or rings of power. Lana’s particular madness is a very different madness than a pinball Bella at age two. Her madness is the madness of isolation, neglect, abandon, despair, disuse… perhaps excess. It is a last gasp, exhaled four minutes at a time.

And for other people — probably other young women especially — who feel put through life’s wringer by lost love, substance abuse, or living on the wrong side of the law; I get it, she can create a connection, and a crystal route to a specific emotional response.

But did I like the songs?

Some. I liked “Dark Paradise” and “Off to the Races” the most; “Body Electric” the least among these five. But even that one I listened to twenty times or so trying to figure out what I felt about it. At this point, I don’t see Lana Del Rey as go-to playlist stuff for me (I became a Taylor Swift convert in essentially one sitting about two months ago on the other hand), but I can certainly see revisiting this position with future listens.


* “Samantha’s Perfect Saturday” is a bonus track on The Official Miser’s Guide, my 30-day audio course at Star City Games. It is an example of how to target a specific audience; as stated above, the character in “Samantha’s Perfect Saturday” resembles a less depressing version of some of Lana’s songs’ speakers.

** Time.

Justice League: Cry for Justice


In the introduction to Justice League: Cry for Justice, writer James Robinson claims that it is maybe the darkest Justice League story ever.

Can’t disagree.

I actually bought and read this comic after buying Robinson’s first regular old Justice League story (which read like a mish-mash of semi-related stories with an inconsistent lineup of superheroes, but referencing Cry for Justice somewhat)… and the two could not be more different (despite featuring some of the same characters).

This story is a combo of a “gathering of eagles”-type that brings together some seldom-seen heroes (the 1970s blue Starman, Congorilla) and an overall tone of “man, bad spit be happenin'”.

And boy, is it bad.

Grant Morrison JLA villain Prometheus gathers any number of villains to do some science-disaster stuff, and it is really bad. I don’t really want to say specifically what, as the unfolding of the threat and how heroes in geographically different areas uncover the elements to its mystery is the essential process and experience of Cry for Justice, but it is quite bad. 

The cast of characters includes big names like Green Lantern; “super pinups” like Starfire, Zatanna, and primarily Supergirl; and oddball heroes you have never heard of that James Robinson has a soft spot for, like a gigantic talking golden monkey. Per usual, he does a good job putting a story together. 

From the other side, the Big Bad is the aforementioned Prometheus, and a cast of villains (many of whom I had never heard of before) used as chess pieces to get the good guys, often with no regard for their own safety. It is cool seeing super-torture from the side of ultimately lilly white souls, and bad guys misleading heroes mid-combat only to ultimately throw their own lives away in explosion after fiery holocaust (I told you it was the darkest Justice League story ever, already).

What’s Great About Justice League: Cry for Justice:

IMO, Three [big] Things:

  1. Its Gorgeous.
  2. The Story
  3. The Significance

It’s gorgeous.

I don’t know what the exact process is, but Mauro Cascioli’s art comes across like fully-rendered oil paintings. For the most part, only Alex Ross does that kind of stuff well, and the also-rans come off looking stiff or traced (or both), or badly sacrifice rendering and storytelling for the perceived painterliness of an end result. None of that here; Cascioli’s art has the fluidity and grace of storytelling indicative of a well-rendered conventional comics page, but just happens to be finished by a richer and more varied box of colored pencils, china markers, and oils (or maybe just really, really exacting Photoshop… who knows?).

I know I just got done publishing a comics review where I said the book [Batwoman: Elegy] didn’t look like anything else on the stands, and I certainly don’t want to make visual uniqueness unintentionally trite, but this book doesn’t look like anything else on the stands, either. Cascioli doesn’t have the variety of different finishes that JH Williams III does in Batwoman, but the cross-section of “good art” and “looks like a painting” is just a few microns sub-Ross (I mean that in the best possible way).

The story:

As for the story, I don’t buy many books on the strength of the artist, and I wouldn’t have known that Justice League: Cry for Justice was beautiful anyway, because I had never previously heard of Mauro Cascioli. However James Robinson is one of my all-time favorite comics writers (mostly on the basis of his [primarily] 1990s run on Starman). Robinson has some Starman favorites like the Shade and the blue Starman Mikaal Tomas (characters he didn’t create but most people either have never heard of or don’t care much about but he made layered and absolutely great in his own stories) feature prominently in the story; you can really see his love for comics and old / forgotten / still cool or rich characters unfold on the page.

The significance:

I had heard about some of the crappy stuff that happened in this story from reading upcoming comics listings on various websites, and again, from the first Robinson Justice League trade (with Mark Bagley, that comes after Justice League: Cry for Justice), but rest assured, the bad things that happen are the kind that have a lasting effect on a character, like a bullet to the spine or a brutal beating at the hands of the Joker.

You would literally have to re-boot an entire universe to… 

Oh wait… Never mind.

What Gave Me Pause About Justice League: Cry for Justice

While the core cast of characters — Green Lantern and Green Arrow primarily, along with Starman and Congorilla separately — is pretty constant, there often seemed to be minor stuff going on that was disconnected to what was actually going on. Like why bother putting Mon-El into one panel in the whole book? Let’s just randomly put Starfire in a bikini scene and joke about her being naked poolside sometimes! I mean sure, that is good for a LOL, but I get the feeling there were tie-ins with other titles or something that I wasn’t 100% apprised of as a trade paperback reader. I don’t know if the story would have suffered much with no Mon-El, no Starfire, whatever. As long as we follow around GL, GA, Supergirl, Starman, and the big golden monkey (and I guess the Jay Garrick Flash and his onetime archenemy Shade), we get more-or-less everything we need to out of the main story.

I didn’t / don’t hate-hate the side stuff like that, but it is semi-annoying.

Also, Scott Clark takes over the illustration chores for an issue or so. His pictures are reasonably pretty, but not as pretty — and certainly not as unique — as Cascioli’s in the majority of the rest of the book; that makes for a semi-jarring twenty-odd pages, especially given the expectation set up for the preceding 100 or so.

None of this really bothered me that much; quality book overall.

Why would someone buy Justice League: Cry for Justice?

I think the majority of buyers are either JLA zombies or like James Robinson. He is certainly not guilty of plastering an excess of commercially overblown characters all over every page, though he does an artful job of casting the absent Batman’s long shadow across the story entire; Prometheus has a very distinct agenda: He sees how Batman, “just a guy,” can terrify into submission not just cowardly criminals but also his crimefighting teammates. Prometheus wants to be — bereft of any Kryptonian DNA, magic words, or power rings — the villainous equivalent of Batman, the master strategist who bosses other villains about.

To that end Prometheus can convincingly hold his own against the entire cadre of assembled heroes. In a scene borrowing from Deathstroke the Terminator against the whole JLA in Identity Crisis (how great was it when Deathstroke swung his sword at Green Arrow, with GA ducking and Deathstroke “missing”… only to reveal the ends of all of GA’s arrows had been de-feathered by the “missed” sword-stroke?), Prometheus has a silver bullet for every good guy, moves around, dodges expertly, predicts who is going to attack from what angle, and manages to tear off heroic arms, burn off faces, break legs, split bodies in half, and generally kick buttocks aplenty.

You also get a chance to see the good guy equivalent of water boarding (along with the requisite objections from the team’s resident bleeding heart). Still, something some readers will cheer for.

Buy / Don’t Buy:
This is a strong superhero story. It touches on a sort of Authority-esque notion of proactive super heroics (the opposite of the traditional X-Men stance of waiting around for someone to attack them), but beyond a couple of questions of superhero morality (do superheroes kill? under what circumstances? should superheroes use torture to extract information? even from known killers? does giving someone a sinus headache count as torture?), it is “just” a darker look at a superhero team book.

If you love superheroes, again, this is a strong superhero story.

The art is very beautiful (for the most part). 

The story is very engaging.

I personally adore James Robinson’s work.


(but not like “highest possible recommendation” buy, or anything)

Pennies, etc:


V. August 2, 2001

Various parties have asked that I flesh this story out, so I will tell the official King James version (more or less).

I was having a bad day, but was in the Barnes & Noble on Union Square, New York, NY. Across a long aisle looking for an Oscar Wilde collection of fairy stories I spied a frankly gorgeous woman flipping through the pages of a children’s picture book. As is generally the case with men in these situations, I stared.

Now usually in one of these situations, the target of our gazing desires in question will go hide behind the nearest book shelf, shuffle off avoiding eye contact, or, depending on how unkempt you are, move to summon the local constabulary.

Instead this one looked me straight in the eye and said, “Hi, my name is Katherine.”

I was like “huh”?

“Hi, I said,” she said. “Katherine. My name is Katherine.”

She — this Katherine apparently — stuck out her hand, as a fella might.

Was she talking to me?

I looked over one shoulder, then the other.

Did I mention “huh”?

“Look,” she continued / concluded / commanded, “You wanna get a Starbucks?”

I finally realized she was attempting conversation with YT and responded, “Starbucks is like my favorite place.”

“How lucky,” she responded. “You get to see your favorite place on every street corner.”

We ended up going to Starbucks, having a famous time over iced teas, and then attempting to dine at Sushi Samba. I was pretty shocked we didn’t get in, despite the fact that Sushi Samba was an it-destination popularized by Sex in the City at that point, because I had gotten in the previous Thursday with a WAY less good looking date. Like WAY. Katherine and I ended up going to a little Chinese / sushi place by West Fourth Street. At the end of a few plates of sashimi, we agreed to cancel our other dates.

She was like, “What about tomorrow?”

I was like “I have plans.” (I had plans to hang out with altran… We lived together but at this point hadn’t been very good at cultivating our once roaring bromance).

She was like, “Okay. How about Saturday?”

I didn’t tell her that I had a PTQ, but that was the reason I turned her down.

I was like “How about Sunday?”

Starting that Sunday, we have spent time apart from each other only due to work-related travel (which, in my case, can probably includes Magic: The Gathering tournaments and appearances).

How to Grow Taller:
Stand up for yourself. I had a date at 11am with Katherine that following Sunday, but called my Mommy before I left Brooklyn.

“So… I pretty much met the girl I am going to marry.”

My mother asked me if I had gotten her pregnant.

“You are a doctor, Mom! I met her three days ago, so even if I had gotten her pregnant, I wouldn’t know. Also I wouldn’t have told you.”

Talk to your father!

My Dad was pretty cool with it.

How to Grow Darker:
Go ahead and look.

Look. Stare even.

Is this terrible advice?

BDM recently told me I am maximally inappropriate during essentially all dealings with women. I was like “Yeah, name who,” and he was like “Lauren Lee.”

Lauren Lee?

“She doesn’t care,” ran BDM; “but you’re still inappropriate.”

What is a LOL to YT is that I was way worse when I was younger. Like unreal worse. At 18 I was coming off of four years at all-boys school, so I had essentially no frame of reference in dealing with any girls I didn’t already know. The only way I knew how to make them notice me was being mean to them in public and pouring salt all over their food.

The odd thing is that most of the women I have IRL interactions with basically love me. I am hilarious. Chats with me – enthusiastic chats, at least – are high value, especially when I am teaching something or I am talking about something I am interested in or at least have an opinion on (which is like everything).

I would suggest becoming hilarious, knowledgeable, or otherwise high value. Did you notice the first interplay between K and YT? She asked me for a Starbucks, and we engaged in a super duper post-modern moment of banter.

  • Her: You wanna get some Starbucks?
  • Me: Starbucks is like my favorite place.
  • Her again: How lucky. You get to see your favorite place on every street corner.

What can girls learn?

In a decidedly un-darker / rather counter-darker sense, I would suggest showing value of a different sort. Katherine’s quick wit immediately earned my respect, which colored the next ten years of dealings between the two of us. For instance:

Early in our dating I was doing something annoying (I don’t remember what, and it doesn’t matter) and she threatened to pour her drink on my head if I didn’t stop. I didn’t stop. 

And though I was sitting on her couch, watching her HBO, she calmly got up, poured her drink on my head, and walked to the kitchen for a refill.

She poured her drink on my head.

Katherine was ruthlessly awesome ten years ago and is even more so today.

How to Get More Handsome:
I gotta say: There is nothing more attractive, apparently, than already having someone.

As you know, I was out with altran that next night, and K wasn’t even my official girlfriend yet (but I knew in my heart she was). I was in the West Village, and inexplicably, I caught countless superhot hotties checking me out. I had spent quite a bit of my twenties trying to get superhot hotties to notice me at all, but my success was… Not that successful for the most part. But that night, over and over, had me wondering if I had been missing something all this time.

Via trickery, salesmanship, wordplay, sustained charisma, and a willingness to invest, I had by that point proven capable of making girls like me back… But that usually took work.

This, on balance, was unprecedented. I was pretty sure I could have cold opened on most of them and gotten a number or even instant date. Unfortunately (rather, fortunately) I was already in love, so I spent the evening arm-in-arm, in the West Village, skipping down the street (you read that right, “skipping”) with another dude (‘cause mise). 

… So of course I ran into one of my kid sister’s inner circle, from back home in Cleveland while skipping around a brownstone corner locked arms with fella. In the West Village. When I say “ran into” I mean “literally collided with,” like on a sitcom.

Charlie Brown… Will you never win?

Homework – I have never tried this, and to be fair, it has never occurred to me despite having seen the movies Can’t Buy Me Love and Easy A, but why don’t you try intersecting August 1994 and August 2001 superpowers and just declare yourself as having an HB10 girlfriend? If science is any indicator, your con-fusion of frame, reality control, and willpower will trick every girl in every direction into finding you “taken” and therefore increasingly attractive when they wouldn’t normally ever talk to you. Try it and report back!

Magical Aftermath:
Being with Katherine radically pruned my tournament attendance.

I used to game, like constantly.

Now if I get one PTQ a season that is probably above average. However, my overall contentedness in life, and how successful I am at being a human being has skyrocketed to such a degree that there has been more than enough of a tradeoff.

That said, I scored my best PT finish – 17th place – within one month of meeting her; and numerous PTQ wins and money finishes throughout 2001 and 2002. 

By 2004 I was about to have my first child.

Something, the first of many somethings, changed in me right before Bella appeared. I got serious about my writing, began my run on what would become DailyMTG, and forged what can only be considered almost any Magic writer’s finest run on a Website, over on with “Sullivan, Nimble Mongoose, and Sullivan”.

Not too long ago Teddy Card Game wrote me a series of scathing Tweets and emails – not to be mean, and they are none of your business – but they got me thinking. Ted has on a couple of occasions compared the now-me unfavorably to the 2004 or so version of me (when he was my editor). If anything I was much more motivated by money back then. I actually needed the money to pay for my apartment and take care of my family.

Now I care about the money only insofar as we are keeping score. We are all gamers and of course I am intent on winning. I approach writing like a job because the sites that pay me to write for them rely on me; I am what you call “a professional” … I do it for the money from that sense, but I do this for the love, bro; especially as detailed in section VII.


Young Justice – First Impressions


This review post pertains to the new Young Justice show on Cartoon Network rather than the comic book of the same name, and “Independence Day Part 1” in specific.

Commenting on last week’s post There is Nothing on TV, jmdjr — correctly drawing on previous posts where I had written about mostly watching Cartoon Network on Friday nights — pointed out the premiere of Young Justice. So you have jmdjr (at least in part) to thank for this review.

In the opening scene of “Independence Day Part 1” we see Mister Freeze attacking families a-picnic. Freeze is the first of four different cold-themed villains quashed by four different superhero duos… Flash and Kid Flash over Captain Cold, Batman and Robin over Mister Freeze, Green Arrow and Speedy  Red Arrow over Icicle, and Aquaman and a re-imagined Aqualad (see below) over Killer Frost. All four young heroes express the desire to end their fights quickly because “today’s the day”.

Everyone arrives at the Hall of Justice (very “Superfriends” if you grok), with Robin, Speedy, Aqualad, and Kid Flash being given access to the gym, kitchen, and library… but none of the real Justice League resources; in fact, there are tourists looking down into the library as the four kid heroes are supposedly given increased Justice League access. The conflict begins as Speedy expresses dissatisfaction and walks out. Then the stuff starts.

Nostalgia Alert: Flash and Kid Flash — the super speed duo — are the last to arrive at the Hall of Justice.

Poor Kid Flash: No one seems to know his name. Is it “Flash Boy”? At one point there is a hilarious moment where a civilian bystander asks if he is Speedy, remarking that “it makes no sense” that Speedy is Green Arrow’s sidekick.

Young Justice — at least based on the first episode — is simply awesome. I already like it more than Ben 10, and I like Ben 10 more than Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Batman: The Brave and the Bold. It is written by Greg Weisman, the genius behind Disney’s Gargoyles, and you can see Weisman’s able hand in the combination of attention to detail, humor, world building, and just plain good writing. While lots of the Cartoon Network shows are worth watching, Young Justice is both well written (again going from just the first episode), and absolutely gorgeous.

Often you will see superior character models on the animated versions of characters over the comics versions. Consider the model of Triplicate Girl from the too-short-lived Legion of Super-Heroes:

These two images show Triplicate Girl in “three bodies” form. Notice how — in addition to the cute miniskirt uniform — good the animated version’s model is in terms of carrying her three colors across the three bodies. The elements play effectively together when she is in unified “one body” form as well:

All three bodies’ colors are represented when she is all together; we even see elements of the different girls’ hair… But it all works and fits together, resulting in a superior superhero uniform!

Contrast that to the Zero Hour-era Triplicate Girl / Triad uniform (I think of the Zero Hour reboot as “my” Legion BTW):

Despite having Adam Hughes — the best of the “babe” artists — on this illustration, we see a distinct lack of playfulness and life to Triplicate Girl’s uniform, hair style, or overall model. It’s just not as fun and doesn’t work together as well. To be fair, Hughes shows a wicked emotional range here… But that has no bearing on Triplicate Girl’s model / uniform.

* Before we continue, I obviously stole those stills from a Triplicate Girl-themed YouTube video. If you want to watch the whole thing, here ya go:

As I said, it’s not uncommon. Barbara Gordon’s uniform on The Batman was better than either of her uniforms from the Batman: The Animated Series or Gotham Knights eras; certainly better than her actual DC Comics uniform pre-The Killing Joke. The reason I bring this up is that the re-imagined animated Aqualad from Young Justice is another great example. He is just great.

Check out Aqualad’s uniform design. His shirt is very reminiscent of a wakeboarder’s. He is an aquatic hero, so that makes sense. The thing that really got me, though, is the fact that he isn’t wearing any shoes. Taken as a still this fact might not be that striking, but believe me, in the context of the television show — especially when Aqualad was brawling — the absence of shoes served as a cool contrast to, say, Robin’s chunky boots… and just looked cool.

As a point of contrast, this is what Aqualad is “supposed” to look like:

As you can see, the artists working on Young Justice were able to pay tribute to Aqualad’s original color scheme while updating the costume itself to seem more aquatic-appropriate… Simultaneously making the hero look not at all like a ridiculous water clown.

Overall, the art / animation was great; which I think was a big reason why I like it best amongst the Cartoon Network options right now. I don’t know that much about anime, but it had a very “good anime” feel and color palette, without making the heroes look Japanese (which would have been out of place for these characters).

I mentioned before that I admired Weisman’s attention to detail. There were all kinds of Easter Eggs and mini-puzzles in the episode that can enrich your viewing of it if you pay attention. Just one example: The name of the episode is Independence Day. The opening shot was of Mister Freeze attacking a picnic area where families were cooking hot dogs at (presumably) a public grill. Can we figure out what day it is?

Trivia Question: Can you figure out on what day Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” occurs?

Each Justice League member has a number; for example Batman is designated 02 and Red Tornado is designated 16. Is this indicative of their order in joining the League? Who is 01?

Neither of these points actually has to do with the plot of the episode, and neither deciding that the opener takes place on July 4, nor guessing that Superman is League member 01 is required to enjoy the 22 minutes of animated action… But thinking about these things was fun for me, and the opportunity to think about these things seems to indicate that Weisman was thinking about them while he wrote it.

Overall, I absolutely loved it and can’t wait for the next episode. I’ve actually already seen “Independence Day Part 1” three or four times, and I anticipate watching it again tomorrow.

This blog post has lots of images and videos already… so what’s one more? This is a vid I found on the WB where some of Young Justice’s creators talk about the show, characters, and development. Worth the watch IMO.


Giant Solifuge and Stuff I Wish I Did Better

I wrote another article on sideboarding this week, over at

The article was generally well-received but per usual with these kinds of examples-laden, detail-oriented articles I always end up with things that I wish I had added but forgot to, or didn’t think of until after I had submitted, or whatever.

Luckily I have a highly trafficked blog where I can add the odd DVD Extras (P.S. you’re reading it).

Osyp pointed out on Twitter…

Aside on Osyp on Twitter.

Basically I have been stealing everything worthwhile — ultimately including this blog post — from things Osyp said on Twitter. Examples include #FloresRewards (if you haven’t signed up for #FloresRewards yet… you should), and my most recent #FloresRewards video / Feat of Strength [chocolate peanut butter buckeyes]. By the way these went over quite well at Jonny Magic’s tonight.

If you’re not following Osyp on Twitter yet… you should.

End aside.

Anyway, what my man Osyp said was that I should have called out the URzaTron sideboard as a good example of what we were talking about in the sideboarding article. In case you don’t know, URzaTron was a deck that Osyp used to make Top 8 of Pro Tour Honolulu (Heezy’s). The main deck was mostly designed by me, with Osyp, Andrew Cuneo, Josh Ravitz, and Chris Pikula on the team. But the important part — the Giant Solifuges — were Osyp’s doing.

This is the deck list:

URzaTron – Osyp Lebedowicz

4 Izzet Signet

4 Compulsive Research
2 Confiscate
4 Keiga, the Tide Star
4 Mana Leak
4 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
4 Remand
2 Telling Time
1 Tidings

4 Electrolyze
1 Invoke the Firemind

1 Blaze
2 Pyroclasm

1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge

4 Shivan Reef
4 Steam Vents
2 Tendo Ice Bridge
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower

4 Annex
4 Giant Solifuge
2 Pyroclasm
2 Repeal
1 Ryusei, the Falling Star
2 Smash

The cool thing about the  main deck (in case you didn’t notice) is that there were no double mana requirements… Just the one Invoke the Firemind. The Giant Solifuge sideboarding swap actually broke that rule (but like I said, Osyp made that part… which was in all honesty the best part of the deck).

The philosophy of this deck was that it went Over The Top relative to the rest of the metagame. You play Keiga or Meloku… What is the other guy supposed to do, even?

The deck was typically the beatdown, even if it looks like a control deck. It used the Counterspells (as Eugene Harvey explained) simply for time management, but it was all about setting the tempo of the game with its superior threats. The Giant Solifuges allowed the deck to obtain greater speed when faced with decks that had comparable or more powerful end games. Really inspired, not-obvious work by Osyp.

The part of the article I wanted to address myself (that is, without Osyp’s prompting) was around enhancing the practicals section at the bottom. I’ll do so now.

Rebels – A modern example might be Pyromancer Ascension. People who are not really intimate with the deck might only think of it as a Pyromancer Ascension + Time Warp [functionally] infinite combo deck. LSV recently talked about siding out Time Warps in some matches. We have seen transformational decks around Polymorph (JVL actually had that in the very first version he showed me, before we even had Call to Mind). Even semi-transformation around Kiln Fiend might count here, but in any case we have examples where one or both of the core “combo pieces” (one of which is the namesake) might be removed in order to reposition the deck while sideboarding. While it is not purely a sideboarding execution, the genius of Gerry Thompson’s hybrid Thopter Foundry / Dark Depths deck was rooted very much in the flavor of this philosophy. His deck, while on its face was much more like a Vampire Hexmage / Dark Depths deck, exhibited exactly the flexibility of “I guess I can side out all my Rebels if you are just going to aim at them”, which allowed for the equally powerful Sword of the Meek combo to kill them to death while they stared at a hand full of Repeals and Ghost Quarters.

G/W – Something interesting here is the ability to create a corner case. Something that I have always been cognizant of when designing rogue decks is how to produce a corner case, push the opponent into it, and then win 100% of the time that this comes up. Most of these examples work around decking, actually, and the G/W one is no different. Despite the presence of extraordinarily card advantageous threats like Decree of Justice and Eternal Dragon, it is theoretically possible to deck the G/W deck. The deck did a lot of cycling, and the Eternal Dragons could be overcome by a combination of Pulse of the Fields and maybe Scrabbling Claws. In addition to facilitating the semi-transformation, Darksteel Colossus makes it almost impossible to deck the G/W deck… In fact, the G/W deck can play to deck the opponent, if it came down to it; but a more realistic position would probably be having tons of mana and playing and re-playing Darksteel Colossus over and over again.

Kuroda-style Red – Something to be wary of with these fancy sideboarding switches is the control of information. For example, in real life, we were out-thunk by Heezy and Neil. They had a different sideboard than the then-default, and moreover, Heezy was aware of our sideboarding strategy, which in turn, allowed them to apply a sweep-capable sidebaord switch in the face of our supposedly unbeatable anti-Blue sideboarding strategy. A recent example might be Little D over Ma in the Top 8 of Amsterdam. Ma theoretically had a 90% matchup v. Little D, but Little D executed the sweep with his Relic of Progenitus switch-in, which impaired the effectiveness of Ma’s Tarmogoyf and Kitchen Finks. In theory had Conley been looking over Ma’s shoulder, they could have executed a couner-Nassif sideboarding strategy that would have blunted the effectiveness of the Relic plan… But insted, Little D was in a position of liking the Relic so much he kept a mana light hand just because there were Relics present.

Critical Mass – The holy grail of Constructed Magic is to be the beatdown and the control simultaneously. That makes it impossible for the opponent to Execute on a Who’s the Beatdown equation. Generally speaking the optimal sideboarding strategy is to position yourself as both the beatdown and the control if possible. Both Brian Kibler’s Rubin Zoo deck and the Mythic Conscription deck exhibit qualities of seizing both beatdown and control capabilities. Talk to Kibler about Rubin Zoo. If you draw Wild Nacatl, you win on speed; if you don’t, you slow play and win on power. Play the Mythic Conscription deck. It is just like Critical Mass against control… It does the same thing they do, but faster due to Lotus Cobra and so on. Meanwhile, it is also the fastest, most powerful, attack deck thanks to the speed of Sovereigns of Lost Alara. While neither the Naya or the Bant decks discussed in this subsection rely on sideboarding, you can see how they can play either role, fluidly, and in some cases both simultaneously. For example against another Zoo deck, Kibler could go first, play a 3/3 on the first turn (beatdown), trumping a Goblin Guide or Kird Ape, attack the face, and then play lockdown with the Grove of the Burnwillows combo (control), until locking down the game entirely with Baneslayer Angel (a really controlling beatdown). Poor beatdown.

Well, that’s most of what I wanted to say about that.