Friday, September 28, 2007

Geeking Out - RPG's, Magic, Superman, Robot Chicken, Heroes

All in one 24 hour period.

Geeking out.

My private boards have been quiet lately. They used to be used mainly for talking about whatever game it was we were playing. Organizing dungeon crawls, explaining the reasons why you want to start with a hundred wisdom when making a new character in Asheron’s Call, debating what we were going to do about Blood, why Thanes are the best class ever and everyone should make one, no no, why Paladins are the best class and if everyone made one we could do epic content solo, god damn it I’m sick of gaming and can’t wait for WOW to come out so we can all game together again.

Ah, good times, good times. Geek times.

The boards have been quiet lately as many of us have moved on to other things, like Spain or sailing around the world or having a child or going back to college or doing a triple tour of duty in Iraq. Sure, some people still play WoW and those discussions are cool, but not like the old days of a dozen posts a day discussing ad infinitum the details of classes, quests, in game politics and how much we hate cheaters.

The boards have been used for other things throughout the years. We have a Spam forum for geeking out and movie reviews and general day to day life reporting and a Flame bait forum for discussing politics and global warming.

Okay, this is getting way off topic and coming out like crap. I’d erase the whole thing and start over but then, what else would you have to read when you show up to work Friday morning?

The point of this long worthless diatribe was I’ve been geeking out a lot lately. Okay, yesterday I geeked out. And in similar fashion, my boards have come back to life in the past two weeks with one member needing discussion and reassurance on the choices he’s making in his life, and another needing advice on talking to women. Some good discussions brought on a feeling of nostalgia for the days when we wrote every day and were a close knit little community.

/face punch.

Yesterday was a pretty geeky day. I started off the day determined to get in a lot of Spanish lessons. Once my mind turned to mush from learning so much, I logged into Magic Online and found a tournament about to start. Not an 8 man. A tournament. Time to put all of my hard work to the test.

Magic still blows and is still wonderful. I’m a bitter old fart longing for the simpler days of crappy expensive counter spells, creatures that were busted just by being 4/4 fliers, and creature elimination wasn’t quite as insanely cheap, plentiful or flexible as it is today. Ah the early days of only 4 Wraths in the environment and when Giant Growth was used as a strategic spell to use after blockers were declared and kill three of your opponents gang blockers and watch him groan, or to save your elf from a lightning bolt. Remember those days?

Here’s what the past two tournaments top eights have looked like –

HiKiKomoRinGo plays Steam Vents
_Figar plays Shivan Reef
cwllc plays Hallowed Fountain
dosukoifait plays Plains
Ober plays Underground River
STARMINE plays Stomping Ground
Kengur plays Shivan Reef
wings for marie plays Shivan Reef

Lucindo plays Llanowar Wastes.
HumbertP plays Watery Grave.
Ace of Drafts plays Treetop Village.
Noll3n plays Island.
rastaf plays Island.
duotianshi203 plays Steam Vents.
jcuvelier plays Forest.
a.c.a.i_20006 plays Island.

Admittedly, one of those island plays is for the dredge deck and only uses a very few blue cards, but as you can see, blue and its evil Remanding ways is still a massive force in Standard.

There is almost no combat in the top eight decks. The decks that do focus on combat are in the loser’s bracket. You can see them in the replays during the tournament or if you play and end up in the losers bracket (like I frequently do).

The decks that are winning are combo and control. The top tier control decks appear to be the Lightning Angel decks, the Teferi, Vesuvan Shapeshifter “Pickles” deck, the Martyr of Sands, Crovax, Pegasus decks (all with major blue components) and the combo decks. The combo decks are Hatching Plans storm combo deck that kills you in one or possibly two big turns, the G/R goblin and saproling Overrun deck and the G/B/u dredge deck.

So, it’s not like there isn’t some diversity in the top tier decks, but it is all control or combo. And yes, I do consider emptying your hand on turn 4 and casting Overrun a combo. A combo I happen to love by the way.

That said, I’ve been working on a bunch of different decks myself. Since I hate two color decks and I love Overrun, this is the deck I was playing before I saw the G/R version of it with Greater Gargadon and Mogg Fanatic, which is so much better than mine.

19 Forest
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Overrun
4 Scatter the Seeds
4 Treetop Village
4 Baru, Fist of Krosa
4 Boreal Druid
4 Gaea's Anthem
4 Indrik Stomphowler
4 Scryb Ranger
4 Tarmogoyf
1 Verdant Embrace

Sideboard
1 Dodecapod
3 Hail Storm
4 Tormod's Crypt
4 Krosan Grip
3 Quagnoth

Its garbage but much more in my style. I like the ability main deck to kill a Loxodon Warhammer or a Teferi’s Moat. The Verdant embrace is there just because at times, it is just a monster and I had one slot left. I’ll be moving to the G/R version along with everyone else.

This next one is also fun and filled with great stuff but is really only about third tier because creatures are just too vulnerable and too slow.

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Creeping Mold
23 Forest
4 Llanowar Elves
3 Mirri, Cat Warrior
4 Troll Ascetic
2 Baru, Fist of Krosa
4 Boreal Druid
4 Gaea's Anthem
4 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
4 Ohran Viper

Sideboard
1 Dodecapod
4 Hail Storm
4 Tormod's Crypt
3 Krosan Grip
3 Quagnoth

Sometimes the Land Destruction just wins you the game. But then, the other cards don’t really matter when that happens, do they? I just love decks with 4 Moss and 4 Mold. I love decks with powerful second turn plays like Ohran Viper or Troll Ascetic. And God forgive me, I love Baru, Fist of Krosa. He’s not that good, he never works the way you want him to, but I still love him. But you know, those guys aren’t really all that fat. I remember thinking “It’s always the last fattie that kills you.” And I’ve been away from that theme for too long. Remember when you used to be able to cast a Verdant Force on the third turn thanks to Gaea’s Cradle? Well, Scryb Ranger isn’t that good, but it’s a close second.

2 Creeping Mold
20 Forest
4 Llanowar Elves
2 Serrated Arrows
4 Treetop Village
3 Verdant Force
3 Verdeloth the Ancient
4 Wall of Roots
4 Boreal Druid
4 Indrik Stomphowler
2 Jedit Ojanen of Efrava
4 Scryb Ranger
4 Spectral Force

Sideboard
4 Hail Storm
4 Tormod's Crypt
3 Essence Warden
4 Krosan Grip

See how you have Scryb Ranger, Llanowar Elves, Boreal Druid AND Wall of Roots? Just imagine how much mana you can get to in a short amount of time. Notice the massive, all by themselves game winning creatures that cost a lot of mana? Now just imagine what can happen when you draw a bunch of huge fatties and not enough creature mana sources. Or those creature mana sources get killed by Dark Blast over and over again. Yeah, it’s not good.

So, taking the current environment into consideration, this is what I chose to play in yesterday’s tournament. I had seen two of these types of decks make top eight in a tournament a few days ago so I thought would try my luck.

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Brushland
6 Forest
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Loxodon Hierarch
4 Overrun
5 Plains
4 Temple Garden
4 Treetop Village
4 Watchwolf
4 Wrath of God
4 Heartwood Storyteller
4 Indrik Stomphowler
1 Serra Avenger
4 Tarmogoyf

Sideboard
4 Essence Warden
3 Harmonic Sliver
4 Jotun Grunt
4 Quagnoth

You know what two cards are really powerful right now? Wrath of God and Overrun.

Here’s the failed logic of this deck.

If they’re playing lots of Counterspells, then a turn two Heartwood Storyteller is a beating.

If they’re playing Hatching Plans storm combo or goblin + saproling Overrun then Wrath of God is pretty damn good. (If hatching plans tries to win with the Goblin Warrens route that is.)

Indrik Stomphowler can take out those nasty enchantments and Loxodon Warhammers that are so prevalent and sometimes game ending (Teferi’s Moat.)

Tarmogoyf – heh. Like I need to explain this guy. Combine him with Watchwolf and you have early (and cheap!) beatings. Mmmmm beatings…

Notice the lots and lots of guys? Twenty-nine to be exact. That’s a combo with Overrun right there! And if they Wrath, I have Treetop Village and hopefully draw more creatures.

And check out that sideboard!

Jotun Grunt can be a beating against dredge. Quagnoth rocks against the Rack discard decks. Harmonic Sliver against the Pegasus decks and Essence Warden against the G/R and Storm Combo decks (because they’ll let her live so long…)

See, it is prepared for everything, has built in blue hate, some nice 4/4’s and possibly 5/6’s

What could go wrong?

Let’s take a look.

My first round opponent is playing black red. More burn than American Chili. You know why I say American chili and not Mexican? Because Americans are addicted to spices. You go down to Mexico and the food is blander than American food. They taste our chili and wonder “Why so spicy?” I saw it on Anthony Bourdain so it must be true. A Mexican in Mexico said it. I’m lyin I’m dyin.

One of the things America does well, and that I really like, is dressings and spices. In both Spain and France and Germany, sandwiches come with no dressings and no toppings. Sure, you might get some butter on your ham sandwich in France, but that’s it baby. Bread and meat. No lettuce, no tomato, no choice of mustard or ketchup, no salt, no pickles no olives no hot peppers. Just a naked sandwich of bread and meat. Sure, this is a generalization, I know it. You can find places that will make you an American style sandwich (Subway) but it’s not the norm. As for spices, you go to a restaurant and order a steak; you have to ask for salt. Or pepper. Or ketchup. Or A-1 sauce. Or horseradish. Ah who am I kidding, you ask for horseradish you’ll get “Que?”

Wait, wasn’t I talking about Magic? Oh yeah, American Chili Burn Boy.

In game one I keep a one land, one bird, and one elf draw and pray for land. I draw three in a row, a nice mix of forests and plains and when he plays a Magus of the Moon it has no effect on me. I play a Loxodon and go up to 22. He Chars it. I play a Stomphowler he Chars it. You know what’s good in this situation of him filling his graveyard with Fanatics, Seal of Fire and Char? Tarmogoyf. Then Overrun.

Admittedly, he drew a lot of land. That my friends, is Magic. The random element of him drawing and playing a land every turn and me, luckily doing the same for only three turns, wins me the game, and I don’t care. I won. I must be a damn genius. My deck building skills rock. I don’t care that it’s a good pairing. I don’t care that I got awesome draws and his sucked donkey sweat, I won. I am the man.

This my friends, this is why we continue to play this totally random game. Because even awful players like you and me can score a win once in a while

I side out my Wraths since I want to keep my creatures and as soon as I can, I will win. I won’t need to Wrath because there’s never going to be a time when his creatures are bigger than mine. I add in Essence Warden thinking, he doesn’t have any enchantments I need to kill; does he? Nah, I can just leave out the Slivers.

I drop an Essence Warden which he dispatches with mafia like swiftness via Mogg Fanatic. I drop a Bird and he does the same thing again. I drop another Bird; he uses Seal of Fires on it. Then he drops a Rain of Gore. Wow. Never seen that before. I would imagine that would be good against those Martyr of Sands decks. I’m pretty happy he killed my Essence Warden now. I think I will play my Tarmogoyf now and hold onto this Loxodon Hierarch for later. Like, after I draw a Stomphowler or after he or I are dead.

He Chars it. I play a Stomphowler, he Chars it. Treetop village starts its inexorable beatdown. Magus of the Moon stops that but now he’s at two. Tarmogoyf comes online again and he concedes.

That was fun. What a perfect match up. I love Magic. My hard work has paid off. I am going to make top eight today.

Refreshed and happy with my good fortune, I return to my Spanish lessons for forty minutes and wait for the round to end.

The dice are rolling and once again I am playing this sixty card lottery ticket I love so much. Sure, it’s not a lottery ticket for Finkle and Budde, but for me, it’s a six dollar scratchy that rarely pays out.

Guess what I play round two?

That’s right. The same deck. Oh my God do I love good pairings. I love Magic.

Game one was just plain perfect for him. Rift Bolt x2, Dark Confidant x2, Seal of Fire x2 Giant Solifuge x2. I am dead before I have even stopped smiling at my good fortune. Blinking, I shake my head and mouth the words “What… the fuck…”

Admitedly, thinking back, I did make a mistake. I wrathed away a lone Dark Confidant on the board, not wanting him to draw extra cards. Then he played another one and then a Solifuge and another Solifuge. I look wistfully at my Wrath in the graveyard. I sure could have used that Wrath to better effect.

Okay, since Wrath could have been so good for me, I think I’ll keep them in this time when I sideboard, only pulling in a few Slivers.

Wow. That was a scary fluke. Oh well, it’s over now and I’m just going draw well, play well, and smash this deck that has no chance against Heartwood Storyteller, Loxodon Hierarch and Tarmogoyf. No chance.

Well the second game was mulligan to six, keep a five land and one elf draw then draw land and weenies while Rakdos Guildmages and Slaughter Pact, well, slaughtered everything I played and Giant Spiders (I’m sorry Evan, I can’t call him “Capt Tickles” that name just creeps me out) ate my face. The Cryoclasm on one land and the Slaughter Pact on a Treetop Village sure didn’t help either. Oh and not drawing a Wrath. Or a Loxodon Hierarch. Or a Storyteller. Or a Watchwolf. Or a Tarmogoyf until the turn I lost. So not fun. I hate Magic. This is a stupid game and I would do better to be flushing six dollars down the toilet. Not as much fun, but I don’t feel like smashing my fist through a wall after flushing. Who needs this stress? Who I ask you? Who?

I fume and try to go back to Spanish lessons since I’ve just be smashed in under ten minutes and have a long time to wait for the next round to start.

Round three.

My opponent is playing a deck I’ve never seen before and if it’s his design, then he has a pretty cool take on things. It’s Black white using Epochrasite, Teysa, Ghost Council, and just enough elimination to take out my blockers. Wrath just makes his Epochrasites into 4/4 guys with haste in three turns and his black creatures into 1/1 fliers It’s quite a puzzle as I can never get rid of the Epochrasites no matter what I do. He has enough elimination that I can’t keep enough guys on the board to Overrun and his slow but relentless army grows and my guys aren’t big enough to get through never dying 4/4’s. It is complete frustration for me from the word go.

Fuck! Fuck! I hate this fucking game! Fuck!

Oh well, it’s a small tournament, maybe a 3-2 can sneak in. I’ve done that before. And even if I don’t a couple more wins under my belt will improve my mood tremendously. Let’s get a beer, a shot of Jack, a tranquilizer, smoke a quick joint, a massage, a long lingering hot shower and see if I can calm down and get back to work. (Totally kidding, you know that right?)

Round four. The laughs continue.

Mono Green beatdown. You have to be kidding me. You have Moldervine Cloak, Giant Growth and Might of Old Krosa, I have Heartwood Storyteller. You have a bunch of untargetable guys, I have Wrath. You have early damage, I have Loxodon Hierarch.

You my friend, have no chance. I admire your courage though. Oh wait, but you are 1-2 and like me. Courage or something else? Hmm, I think I know the answer to that being a Mono Green kind of guy myself. Anyway, you are a fool and I am playing with Wrath and therefore, you will lose.

Ten minutes later I am attempting to uninstall Magic Online and nothing is happening. I don’t know why the uninstall isn’t working, but I give up after three attempts and think maybe it’s a sign. Lorwyn is coming and WOTC clearly doesn’t have enough of my money.

I am a moron.

I work the rest of the day and then Wendy makes us some Apricot Mustard Chicken which I gorge myself on. Supposed to be enough for two meals and I eat all but 5 little pieces, too small to even be called a hand full. While we eat, we watch Ultimate Fighter 6 episode 2.

This season is fantastic so far. The rivalry between the two coaches is fantastic. Two completely different personalities, different styles, both of them utter whack jobs. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. They are both very entertaining and mean well, but are inherently flawed and have no idea.

Matt Hughes actually brings his guys bibles and before practice has them read a passage from Isaiah and when they’re done, he wants them to explain who they thought he (Matt Hughes) resembled in the story. One of the fighters looks right at the camera and goes “um, God” to which we roared.

“Now, you don’t have to read it” says Matt Hughes to his fighters. “But it’s a good story.”

Wendy and I go ballistic Sure you don’t have to read it. The thing I, the coach, a guy you all look up to, is suggesting you do though. And while everyone else is reading, and you choose not to, showing your individuality and choice, I’ll come over and pressure you to read it again.

Are you fucking kidding me?

Matt Serra is no better. Embarrassing a friend of his on national TV, and telling everyone to keep training, he’s going to the house to kick a pussy off his team. All of which is totally justified actually, but not something you do when you’re the coach and the footage is going to be shown later and “your boy” is going to see it.

The cast is excellent so far this season with the exception of Matt Serra’s friend “Joe” who is so annoying and such a crybaby he makes me want to smack him. Of course, he could probably kill me, but hey, I’m in Spain and on the internet so I can say what I want.

After that we watch some “Camera CafĂ©” which is a comedy entirely shot in front of a coffee machine in an office building. It’s all in Spanish and I’m trying to learn from watching. The cast is excellent, the skits clever, and understand a bunch of what’s going on, but miss quite a bit as well. I’m told it’s a great way to learn.

After that, Heroes!

Flicking through the channels we find "Heroes" on Sci Fi. It’s season one, episode one and we can watch it in English with Spanish subtitles. Also helps my Spanish. Some good. The first episode last year I found to be so awful that I turned it off twenty minutes into it. Then I gave it another chance later in the season and found it to be interesting if not excellent. Then, I really started to enjoy it.

After that we find some Robot Chicken. Wendy watches it for a couple of minutes and looks at me “What… the… fuck…”

“It’s geek pop culture. That’s Mortal Kombat.”

“What’s that?”

“About the most popular video game of the 1990’s. That’s Karate Kid. That’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That’s Voltron. That’s Snake Eyes from G.I. Joe.”

Wendy looks at me like I have seven heads then turns back to the T.V.

“Brittany Spears” Wendy says. “Joey Fatone from N’Sync”

Ah, geeking out. I love it. It’s been a great day.

Friday morning I get up and Wendy has an important client meeting so I put on “Superman: Doomsday” and watch that.

While not as awful as it could have been, it isn’t anywhere near as good as it could have been either. Really, for a treatment on the comic that sold the most copies in comic history, it’s a pretty lame attempt to bring it to the screen.

Ready for the spoilers? They’re coming next so look away.

The Good – It’s rated PG-13 so they can do stuff in here they don’t do in many animated films. Like kill people. Like show Superman and Lois in full frontal nudity. Wait, strike that last part… Okay, they don’t have nudity but they do have Lois and Kal in robes in the Fortress of Solitude and it’s clear they have just done the super nasty. Doomsday is pretty vicious. He kills soldiers by twisting their heads off. He tries to kill a little girl. He kills a deer. Later in the film, an evil Superman starts killing villains. Honestly, I welcome the reality. Sorry people, but the fact is, bad people kill things. The storyline, while adapted from the original, is pretty good. Superman dies. Doomsday dies. Another Superman rises to take his place. Superman comes back. It’s a different story line but the bare essentials of the original, well, sort of happen.

It was also nice to see the reality of destruction that is two super beings fighting. I’ve addressed this before. The physics and morality of the DC and Marvel universe are ignored a lot of the time. If Doomsday throws Superman through an entire building, people are going to die. A lot of people. The movie does a good job of showing that hey, these are Gods living in a paper machete world. Humans are a bag of water to beings made of substances harder than diamond and stronger than a blue whale crossed with a crane.

In the DC and Marvel universe there are beings that cannot be stopped by any weapon we have. If Doomsday wasn’t stopped by Superman, he would have gone on a killing spree that nothing in humanity’s arsenal could have stopped. He could do whatever he wanted until he died of old age. Humanity would be extinguished.

I gotta get me a copy of "The Boys."

The Bad – Look, this is the most bought comic EVER. It’s too long to do the full treatment? Why? It’s a straight to video release! Have it come on two disks. Have it be a mini series. Release it in chapters like the Lord of the Rings. Making this less than 90 minutes does a disservice to the comic. There’s no excuse for this. DC and Marvel need to show more respect for their wares. For their art. For their product. The other bad is the writing. Some of the dialogue is painful, other times, not too bad. And, Doomsday is turned into a machine like the terminator instead of being an organic life form. Dumb. And Superman is drawn poorly. He has some jagged cheek lines that look retarded. Like he’s 90 years old.

The Ugly – No Justice League. COME ON! They were a major part of the original story and the denouement is when Superman shows up. The Justice League got their ASS KICKED fighting Doomsday and it was Superman’s shining moment that sometimes, only another unstoppable force could get it done. An unstoppable force willing to give his life for the cause. Also, some of the logic in the storyline broke down so badly that it pulled you out of the movie and made you think “Okay now that is just stupid.”

Doomsday can’t fly, he can only jump. At one point, Superman flies him into the upper reaches of the atmosphere and then rockets back to Earth with him and slams him into the ground.

Why not just throw him into outer space? Voila, problem solved.

Why bring him back into the city? Rocket him back to Earth in an empty field miles from the city and stop causing property damage and loss of human life.

Lex is smarter than that. He has one failsafe that the bad Superman discovers and neutralizes so Lex loses control over his creation. Lex is, um, Lex. Cure for Cancer, Aids and MS in the DC universe. Multibillionaire. Smartest guy on the PLANET. I think he knows better than to have one failsafe against an unstoppable Superman clone.

Bad Superman uses heat vision to perform brain surgery on himself. And there’s no blood, and it heals instantly. Pretty dumb.

Despite its flaws, I still give it a “C+” It wasn’t awful, it wasn’t great, but it was worth the rental.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

UFC 76 Predictions and Results

I forgot to put up my predictions for this last week's UFC. Well, not so much forgot as had my head buried in Spanish lessons. So, in a rather unorthodox entry, I’ll be telling you what I thought, and what really happened and why. There were only three fights that I was interested in on this card.

Jon Fitch vs. Diego Sanchez

Prediction – Sanchez is one of the most exciting, determined and aggressive fighters in the UFC today. Coming off the first loss (17-1) of his MMA career he’ll be looking to solidify his position as a man destined to hold the title. His first loss came while he was sick with a staph infection and shortly after the fight they removed a mass the size of a coffee cup from his thigh.

In the Jon Fitch fights I’ve seen (all one of them) he hasn’t impressed me. I didn’t see anything in his fight with Jeff Joslin that would indicate that he could hang with someone of Diego’s caliber.

I’m predicting Sanchez runs through Fitch like an 18 wheeler through an outhouse. It is not going to be pretty.

What happened – Fitch controlled the fight and won a decision. Sanchez got him into a few deep submissions but couldn’t get Fitch to tap out.

Why – Fitch was captain of the Purdue wrestling team. Purdue is world class. His nickname in training is “Mister Unsubmittable" and he certainly proved it, escaping from two very deep submissions that many fighters would have tapped or gone unconscious too. Diego pressed the action throwing a lot of submission attempts, but Fitch’s wrestling and submission defense was just too great. I think Diego came in with a bad plan, and never revised it. After the first round, Diego should have spent at least one round testing Fitch’s stand up, but he never did. Sanchez just continued to try and take him down, ground and pound, and when that failed, to try and submit from the bottom. He looked good trying, but Fitch couldn’t be caught, and held top position throughout the fight.

Forrest Griffin vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua

Prediction – I’m going to go against the grain and say that Forrest takes this one. Forrest is coming off a loss and has always been hungry. He trains very hard with Randy Couture and Randy always has a brilliant plan for the ring. Randy has also predicted some startling upsets this year and been right every time. He is predicting Forrest will win this fight. Further compounding the matter is top Pride fighters coming to the UFC and under performing. It’s been happening all year. Cro Cop is scarier than Shogun and he’s 0-2 since moving to the UFC. Add on the fact that Shogun has had problems with boxers in the past, and you have a good match up for Forrest’s style.

What happened – Shogun gassed in the first round and was dominated and eventually choked out in the third round by an ecstatic Forrest Griffin.

Why – Many reasons. The first could be, um, steroids? Possibly. Pride didn’t test for steroids and so far their fighters are exhibiting all the signs that they relied on them for their aggression and endurance. Pride’s first round used to be ten minutes long. UFC’s first round is five minutes. It doesn’t make any sense that Shogun was exhausted after one five minute round.

The second reason could be arrogance. Shogun has been touted as the number one light heavyweight in the world for months and possibly thought he was going to walk through Forrest and didn’t train properly. He may have mentally taken Forrest too lightly and was just shocked that Forrest brought it, escaped submissions and nearly knocked his head off a couple times.

The third could be style match up. Styles make fights. Forrest had the perfect game plan, style, and conditioning to beat Shogun. Forrest pressed the action and while getting tired in the second round, was no where near as gassed as Shogun and pressed the action well in the third round.

Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell vs. Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine

Prediction – In MMA fights are usually recorded or predicted using the following language – “Diego by arm bar round two.” Or “Hughes by ground and pound round four” or “Forrest by ref stoppage in round three.” As with most people, I’m going to predict “Chuck by murder in round one.”

Chuck Liddell is usually ranked near or at the top of the light heavyweight division and has been for years. He lost to a lucky punch from “Rampage” Jackson in May but I still consider him to be a force of nature. Before that, his last loss was in 2003 and every win was a knockout.

Jardine has shown some promise but his losses are suspect and he isn’t known for his knockout power. He’s primarily a striker and you really don’t want to stand with Chuck Liddell. He’ll tag you once and its lights out. In a battle of two strikers, the guy with A-bombs at the end of his arms usually wins.

What happened – “The Dean of Mean” had a great game plan, stuck to it, and won a split decision.

Why – Jardine is a striker who didn’t get sloppy. He was always moving, always working angles, always throwing brutal leg kicks to the body and legs of Liddell who seemed frustrated and off his game. It looked like Chuck was expecting to land one big punch and end the fight (which happens regularly in his fights) and that just never happened. Jardine went in with a great plan, stayed focus, unconventional, and held to the plan the entire fight.

Chuck may have been over confident in this fight. Everyone expected him to destroy Jardine and he probably expected it too. When it didn’t happen, I don’t think he knew what to do. I don’t think he expected such a good fight and was lost when he couldn’t land an A-Bomb.

Another thing to look at is Liddell’s last opponents. Since 2003 he’s primarily fought wrestlers. Chuck has insane takedown defense. Even if he is taken down, he has this super-natural ability to get out and stand back up and resume striking. If you’re a wrestler, looking to take Chuck down and ground and pound him, you’ve picked the wrong guy. That just doesn’t work with Chuck Liddell. Since Jardine never bothered to try and take it to the mat, and is a striker himself, he may have exposed a weakness of Chuck Liddell’s - other strikers.

An interesting night. I was depressed about Diego and Chuck losing, but happy for Keith Jardine and Forrest.

I’ll make a prediction right now for UFC 77.

Rich Franklin vs. Anderson Silva.

Franklin by complete destruction round three.

Ace will get his belt back.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Ignorance is Bliss

Ignorance is bliss. It really is true.

Wendy has a subscription to “Time” magazine and every Tuesday a new one comes in filled with enlightenment. I eagerly look forward to a new issue. I love the quotes, the statistics, the little vacation destination spot reviews, the politics and learning more about the world. Seriously, I think if you want to sound smart to anyone you meet, just read one “Time” magazine a week and you’ll be impressive.

This week's interesting story is how scientists/doctors are now using a small electrical current to calm Parkinson’s disease tremors, ease depression and awaken coma victims.

“We pinpoint the part that needs stimulus, and provide it.”

Seems simple enough to me. The brain runs on electric current, it stands to reason that maybe some of it isn’t getting enough. So, doctors open up the skull and stick a wire into places they think might need help and crank up the mild juice until they see results. Such as Scott Stipp who had the procedure done. On the operating table, his arm shakes violently enough to shake the table. Doctors insert an ultra thin wire into his subthalamic nucleus; give it some volts and the shaking stops. For the first time in years he can control his hand, even sign his name.

He’ll have to return once every couple years to get a new battery, but the operation should null his symptoms for ten years until the disease becomes too pronounced.

Fascinating right?

Too bad all the stories aren’t like that.

When I was little, I believed that humans were destined for great things among the stars. I didn’t just think we were a big thing here on Earth, I was sure that we were unique and amazing in a way that other life on other planets never could be. More intelligent, more determined, more heroic, more… everything. Just more. Special.

I lost that feeling as I got older and by the time I was thirty, I not only no longer held that belief, I wasn’t even sure I cared if the human race went extinct. The crimes, the abuse, man’s inhumanity to man, the selfishness.

All of that feeling was erased when Marilyn got cancer. The way people tried to help, showed there support, cared about me and us and were so understanding and wonderful brought back all that love and hope for humanity.

I guess its all perspective.

My love of “Time” has lessened in the last few weeks. While the stories are still informative, the world just has a lot of bad stuff happening in it right now. Every week is another story (or three) about how badly things are going in Iraq. How many people died. How selfish and childish the Iraqi parliament is. More American’s dead. More Democrats, somehow impotent to implement policy change. Impotent and unwilling to subpoena this administration which has caused so much damage to America and American soldiers. How big the deficit is. How low the America dollar is – which affects me greatly since I’m living off American dollars. Do you know how many Euros I get when I withdraw a thousand dollars out of my account? Less than seven hundred.

Ignorance is bliss. The knowledge I’m getting these days is largely negative. While Iraq is woefully depressing, Africa is a close second. When you think of Africa, I’m sure you think of Africa the way I do; of the barren lands, the dust, the heat, the starvation and the never ending poverty. Sadly, this doesn’t have to be the way, and could have been much different even today if I wasn’t for man’s inhumanity to man, and man’s desire to constantly be at war with his neighbors.

What many people don’t know is that Africa is rich in oil, diamonds, gold and natural gas. What they also don’t know is that usually, the money from these natural resources never goes to the populace of Africa for building infrastructure, providing jobs and lifting the country out of desolation, but rather to a select few corrupt African politicians who store billions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts while children starve not even a mile away.

Here’s a startling statistic – Less than one percent of medical aid to Africa actually made it to hospitals.

Here’s another - 11% of financial aid to Africa was illegally channeled into the military. Because when your population is starving some politicians think it is better to make war on your neighbor than feed your citizens.

To top things off, primary’s are coming up and the guy in the lead in the polls for the Republicans (Giuliani) has one message for his base –

Fear.

9/11.

Only I can protect you.

This is the guy in the lead?

Has America learned nothing?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

About Fucking Time.

Wait, er, that's rude and mean. What I meant to say is : "Thank you WOTC, THIS is exactly what I want to see for Green. EXACTLY. THANK YOU!"

An injured leg, a coat, a sword and a rampaging bull.

A little work this morning and then Wendy feels the need for protein so we head down to a restaurant 10 yards from our apartment that we haven't been to since my first day here last October.

I'm not too hungry so I plan on just having, essentially, scrambled eggs with shrimp and mushrooms. Wendy's looking over the menu and announces they have ostrich in a mushroom sauce.

"I'll have that."
"You're kidding?"
"Nah. New horizons and all that."

I've gotta tell ya, it tastes a whole hell of a lot more like beef than chicken. It even looks like beef with a rare pink center. It does have a little bit of a gamey, almost venison after taste to it that was also appealing and unique. I'd order it again and as a piece of advice, if you're ever in a strange place with strange food and don't know what to order, I can assure you, the ostrich tastes a lot like a steak. Go for that.

From there we walked up to Fnac to buy some more blank DVD's and "Clerks II." On the way in we saw a book called "Madrid Oculto" which explores some of the more obscure places to visit in Madrid as well as some bizarre and interesting things that happened in the past.

One of the coolest things I have ever heard was a story Wendy translated aloud to me as we walked back home.

A 600 kg bull (over 1400 lbs) destined for the ring, escaped from his corral and rampaged through the streets of Madrid, injuring a few and badly goring a 60 year old woman. However, as he rounded one corner, he met a matador - Diego "Fortuna" Mazquiaran walking with his wife. At the time, Fortuna was recovering emotionally and physically from a leg wound another bull had given him in the ring.

Fortuna assessed the situation immediately, got his wife to safety, took off his coat, and slowly approached the bull and started doing passes, distracting it from the crowds and further rampages. A sabre was brought to him, but the weapon proved insufficient for killing the bull. He ordered a young boy to run to his apartment and get his sword.

Fifteen minutes later the boy returns and had to fight his way through the large crowds that had gathered and were cheering Fortuna on in his attempts to occupy the bull. With no Picador, no Banderillero's, nothing to tire the bull out or to make him lower his head, he faced the bull alone. His first thrust only enraged the bull and he desperately had to flail his coat to get the bull's attention away from the crowd again. On the second attempt, he sunk the sword in deep, killing the bull.

The crowd began waving the customary white handkerchiefs signalling that he should be awarded an ear, then hoisted him on their shoulders and took him to a bar. Later, the populace insisted that he be awarded the highest medal Madrid had to offer and it was so.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Picture Pages, Picture Pages...

Because YOU demanded it!

Who are these mysterious people named "The Intern", "Lena & Stephan" and "Collette" and where are these mythical places like "The Lake" and "Brignoles?"






The Beautiful Wendy and our intern "Albina" from Albania (not kidding) pose on the terrace. We miss you Albina and think of you often. Good times, good times.




Lena and Stephan beat the heat this summer at Wendy's childhood home on the lake. (The cervezas helped a bit too.)







This is the horror of Brignoles. The pool. The view. The deck chairs. The sunset. It was Hell I tell you. Hell! Don't ask me to speak of it again.





The Beautiful Wendy with this evenings appetizer course. We had a feast before the feast every night while we watched the sun go down and discussed fascinating topics like "What do Americans really think of the French?" Ummm... Well... "And what's up with Freedom Fries? Do you know how funny we French thought that was?"





I don't have a good picture of Mathieu but this one of Colette dancing and singing with Wendy isn't bad.

General Rambles



The happy couple - Candy and Alfonso.

This weekend we went to a wedding two hours outside of Madrid. Get this. It was Candy Lee Laballe getting married in Candeleda. She got lots of candy gifts for her bridal shower. I don't know. I find it funny.

Candy is living the dream. American ex-pat marrying a Spanish man in his village. The wedding was a typical Spanish celebration, in that it started at 7:00 pm and lasted until 5:30 in the morning. I made it until just before two a.m. I would guess. Wendy made it until after the churros at 5:30 and I'm told she was one of the most energetic ones left. That was Sunday morning.

Sunday night was the end of another festival in Madrid (which I am too lazy to look up the name of, sorry) so that meant very loud music until 1 am and then fireworks until 2 am. I stood on our terrace naked and sipped a beer and watched them while Wendy failed to sleep and read her book in bed, exhausted.

Monday was no better. Wendy was sick starting at about 1 am and was up until 4 am fighting it. We must be wicked because we get no sleep.

Which brings us to today.

I got up early and played a little Magic and sipped some coffee. Wendy arose about an hour later and jumped in the shower while I made the bed, did dishes, put away my laundry and started Spanish lessons. Ninety minutes later I packed it in, showered and headed out to do errands.

First stop was the ATM to get some cash for both Wendy and I (I had her card) and second stop was the Farmacia to get some Magnesium for Wendy's upset stomach. From there, I knew where I wanted to get to, but decided to explore and take a new route to get there. I found myself by one of our favorite little tapas places and headed towards it to get some cod. Too bad they were shut up tight. Damn them! From there it was to a little chino to pick up some new cooking tongs since they broke at our last barbecue, and then to a little restaurant Wendy took me to on my first visit here. I walk in and start looking at a menu and this tiny, nearly bald little old man comes over and I ask him "Patas Bravas?" and he responds
"Si."
"Vale. Patatas Bravas y cafe con leche por favor."

The coffee with cream comes in a minute and about five minutes later my lightly fried potato wedges and hot sauce come as well. I drink my coffee and eat my potatoes and just as I'm finishing a big plate of something fried comes out of the kitchen to be sat at the bar. I peer over at it, trying to see what it consists of. The little old man sees me looking, takes nine of the things off and presents them to me on a plate. Ah, fried sardines. They taste a bit like cod. I eat seven of them and another bartender comes over and takes the last two away from me. Okay, there's a lesson for me. If someone gives you something at the bar, take it down to the little shelf below the bar or they'll think you're done. Apparently. I guess. anyway, I was stuffed anyway, but I was surprised to see it taken.

After that it is off to a little Spanish couples neighborhood corner store for a six pack of beer and a Magnum "White" for desert. Then a short waddle home.

I know it doesn't seem like much, but to me, I can only think "It is great to be alive."

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Just a great week.


Finally starting to get back into the swing of things here in Madrid.

Monday was the usual morning of wake up, drink coffee, drink a liter of water and an hour later Wendy and I go running for three miles. Afterwards, Wendy jumped back into her work and I did a little writing and then got back into learning Spanish. There are eight lessons in section one and at the time we had head for the states, I had finished all eight and was starting section two. I did two lessons this morning, hoping to breeze through all 8 lessons again and get back to where I was as soon as possible. In the afternoon we went to pick up chicken for dinner. Tonight Lena and Stephan are coming over for a barbeque. Hopefully I won’t summon the bomberos (firemen) again.

Since I’m a steak guy, I’m not quite sure how to do chicken legs. I know they take longer, but how much longer? I think its like an hour but I better make sure and call my dad who gives me some good tips and lets me know its about 12-15 minutes a side for chicken legs.

Of course, if you can’t get a hold of your dad, or maybe you hate him and haven’t spoken to him for twenty years, there’s always the internets! Of course, you can look it up and read how to do it, but Wendy showed me something amazing and a little light went off. Wendy wanted to make sure she was cutting her basil right so she went to youtube and watched a video of it. It immediately dawned on me that I could probably learn anything I wanted to learn by watching it on youtube. Typing in “How to grill chicken” brought up a wealth of… well; I guess you could call it information.

How about this eerily weird and startlingly useless video called “How to grill chicken legs.”

Guy must have been high when he did that.

Or how about this useless video by a middle aged woman who’s really just wants to show you her breasts?

Or this one that is actually just a video of chicken grilling.

Of course there are some good videos out there. Like this one which I found very helpful called “How to Grill like a Pro.”

Of course, being the smart guy that I am, I didn't actually watch any of these videos until today when they might have been more holpful the day I was grilling... Wendy's not with me for my brains.

Tonight we’re having the pasta salad we had in Brignole and chicken which Wendy and I are providing. Since Lena and Stephan refuse to be freeloaders, they’re bringing a six pack of beer and red and white wine. They’re arriving at 8:00 and Stephan likes to play with fire as much as I do so I’m trying to calculate when to start the grill so it will be relatively hot and have the chicken on so when they get here we can have some drinks and talk and Stephan and I can kibitz about if the chicken is done or not.

I’ve recently moved from gas to charcoal and I’ve learned a lot this year and I’m still learning, as you’ll see. One of the things we picked up in the states this summer was a chimney starter.

I had heard these things were great, but I was a bit unprepared for just how fast this thing was going to start and turn my coals white hot. I was expecting the usual half an hour to forty minutes, but no, the coals were glowing brighter than I had ever seen coals glow before, and inside of 5-10 minutes. I poured them into the grill and added a couple more on top since they looked a little sparse.

By the time Lena and Stephan showed up (right on time) the charcoal was almost ash and I had to throw a bunch more shards on. Yes, shards. We don’t use any wimpy briquettes here, we go to a bent old man with bad fingers who has a large store so dark and sooty it looks like a cave. The charcoal we get there looks like it was just mined out of the back of the store and moved to the front in 20 kilo bags.

So, we have some wine and catch up while we wait for the charcoal to catch. And again, it catches very nicely and in thirty minutes the coals are too hot to grill with. Luckily, Wendy has a beautiful Weber grill with an ash collector and an air intake that can be controlled. So, in order to make the coals burn a little less hot, I turn the air intake down a notch or seven and in five minutes the charcoal is black and cold. Did I mention I had put the chicken on then turned it down? So we have limp squishy chicken covering the grill and no fire. There’s nothing else to do but get a couple pot holders, lift the grill off, and restart the fire. Stephan, Lena and I take turns holding the grill, building up the coal, splashing lighter fluid on it, and fanning the flames with last months Glamour while Wendy fights with her Ipod trying to get us some "Music to light fires to" and checks in every minute or two to see if there's anything she can do.

So embarrassing.

A man that can’t make fire isn’t a man! I knew I should have just made a towering inferno like last time and damn the Bomberos! Full fire ahead!

Inside of fifteen minutes the fire is going again and the chicken is happily dripping fat on the coals causing flames to lift up, singe the chicken and give them a nice smoky flavor. We’re using Nancy Tellier's chicken baste and I’m basting every five minutes and turning and rotating chicken around the grill to hot and warm spots depending on how done they are, something I learned from my executive chef brother in law Todd Flint at my birthday party this summer.

Soon, dinner is served and it is delicious. The momentary troubles with the grill forgotten we plow through 14 pieces of chicken, a quart of pasta salad and two bottles of wine. The evening is deemed a success!

Tuesday I got up and played some WOW for five minutes, logged off and realized it wasn’t doing it for me. I’m just not into MMORPG’s right now and logged into account management and canceled the account until I feel like playing again. Then was more blasting through Spanish, doing some writing, dinner and more “No Reservations” after we pack up work for the night.

The episode we watched tonight was Hilarious with a capital H. It was also biZZarre with capital double ZZ’s. Usually he is open to everything there is to eat, and not for the shock value to show “I can eat anything” sort of bravado, but because he really likes it. Brains, liver, kidneys, eyeball, he doesn’t care. He likes to see what people can do with food in countries where the people are so poor they have to use every part of the animal or risk starvation.

Today’s episode was on Africa. Namibia to be precise. He starts off in Walvis Bay but quickly moves outward to the Bushmen of the barren desert. This is where it gets bizzarre, baffling and disgusting. His guide and translator on this leg is Arnold Huber, a German immigrant that fell in love with a female of the tribe and married her. When it’s explained that the tribesman have huts but don’t live in them, they sleep outside and only go inside when it rains, Wendy and I both wonder if he sleeps outside with her or in a hut.

And then one of the tribesman comes back and says he has discovered an Ostrich nest but didn’t want to take the eggs, lest the ostrich return and kill him. So, the crew and a bunch of Bushmen go back out and raid the nest. Then they build a fire and wait until it gets down to coals, crack open an egg, and pour the inside into the coals.

Okay, there has to be a trick to this, right?

A half an hour later, they pull the egg out, brush some of the ash off, and eat the egg. Anthony, usually up for anything, takes 2-3 bites to be polite and then lets everyone know that it tastes just the way it looks.


Eggs. Dirt. Ash. It’s a dirt omelet!

So, at this point we’re asking – How come the German guy doesn’t get them a skillet?

Seriously. Does he have some prime directive where he’s not allowed to interfere with their lives at all? Jeezus buy them a 4 dollar pan and show them how to eat eggs without dirt and ash in it.

Next up is the big warthog hunt. A hunt which is successful. They bring the thing back to camp to clean it. Or, not clean it as the case may be. Since Anthony is a guest, he gets offered the best part, prized for it's high fat content -

The Anus!

Yay!

The best part of this is when they cut out the anus and some of the intestine then squeeze the feces out of the intestine, out the anus to land in the dirt, and then throw the whole thing into another pile of ash that used to be a fire. At this point Anthony looks at the camera and grimaces. This from the guy who has no problem eating raw seal eyeballs 6 hours after it was killed on a hunt he was a part of.

He takes two bites to be polite and then hands it off to someone else with a bad look on his face.

“Worst meals of my life. I seem to be eating just a lot of dirt and feces on this trip.”

Again, German guy, buy them a skillet for God’s sake!

We go to sleep with a smile on our face still chuckling.

“I seem to be eating just a lot of dirt and feces on this trip.”

Wednesday was coffee, water, running thirty more minutes, and then transcribing notes from Brignole. Holy cow was the forty bucks I spent on a digital recorder one of the smartest things I have ever done. So many memories come back that I would have forgotten to write down when I listen to the notes weeks later. I write four gloriously funny pages, take a break to watch some “No Reservations” with Wendy and then return to my desk and write another three pages and quit for the night feeling like a real writer. Seven single spaced pages is a lot.

We retire to the terrace for some white wine and books and when it starts to get too cold and windy, head back inside to lie in bed and watch some more Anthony.

I got up this morning and decide to play the Nationals top eight mono green deck and lose in the first round to a total tool. I decide I’m not enjoying playing because it’s not a deck of my own design and instead switch back to “I just like it, okay?” my Sprout Swarm, Wurmcalling, Overrun deck. I win the first round against a U/B Teferi deck thanks to a timely Overrun in the first game, and a timely Acid Moss + Creeping Mold in the second leaves him with one desert for land. God I love beating U/B Teferi decks with Sprout Swarm! AHAHAHHA!

Here’s the current version.

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Creeping Mold
21 Forest
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Overrun
1 Pendelhaven
3 Scatter the Seeds
2 Serrated Arrows
4 Boreal Druid
2 Gaea's Anthem
4 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
4 Sprout Swarm
3 Wurmcalling

Sideboard
4 Hunted Wumpus
4 Tormod's Crypt
4 Essence Warden
3 Krosan Grip

So far, its performing about 60% win rate in the eight mans.

And, so far today, I’ve written 5 pages and the day has barely started.

I so rock.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Army Magic

I wrote this a lifetime ago for Scrye magazine. Ah, good times working for them. Anyway, Zac Hill wrote a nice article on Star City today about "Type Four" his favorite variation on Magic.

This is my favorite variation.

Army Magic: A Multi-Player Variant

Axelrod Gunnarson glared out over his barbarous and supernatural army. The foul smelling Karplusan Yeti’s; the Sengir Vampires flying high above; the myriad wizards, clerics and monsters that made up his forces. How the Angels and the Elves held out for so long against him was vexing and inconceivable. He had long ago crushed Palladia-Mors and his Goblins and Dragons. Soon after that, he had defeated the nigh unstoppable Lord of Tresserhorn and his army of Merfolk, Doppelgangers, and Zombies. But still Asmira and her Angels resisted him. If only he could lure them away from her accused Castle, he would have them! But as long as she and her followers remained behind the mystic walls there was little his army could do. For now he would have to wait, and plan.

There are many variations for how to play Magic: The Gathering. What makes this multi player variant (3-9 players is best) different is that you get to play with the most mana intensive cards in the game. Everyone’s binders are full of Legends and beasts that are too expensive for tournament play, or don’t have enough of an effect for fun play. Army Magic makes it necessary to have those rarely played cards in your deck; you’ll require them in order to win.

The idea of Army Magic is simple. You must build your deck as if you were recruiting an Army. You are recruiting an army full of grunts, monsters, spell casters, Legends, and a Supreme Commander. An army made up of the best cards in the game that will never see tournament play.

Normal Type One Magic: The Gathering Rules apply, with these additions.

1. Three color decks with a minimum deck size of 150 cards.

2. Everyone starts at 50 life and with three basic lands of their choice in play. There is no maximum hand size. In Army Magic you will often find yourself with twenty or more cards in your hand. For a creature to attack, its controller must control a creature with higher power. If you have 15 one-power creatures out, none of them can attack. The turn you cast a two-power creature, is the turn that all fifteen can attack. And the two-power creature cannot. The same rule applies for blockers.

3. Artifacts, Instants and Sorceries cannot be cast until you have a Wizard, Cleric, Druid or Shaman on the table. If you have a hand full of Fireballs and Counterspells they are useless until you draw and play a magic-user.

4. Legends allow Magic to be played as normal. As soon as you play a Legend, all requirements on Army Magic are fulfilled. Your 50/51 Lhurgoyf can now attack as long as it is not affected by summoning sickness, you can cast every spell you draw, and the Legend can attack as well. Legends are the driving force behind Army Magic.

5. You must have a Supreme Commander. When he appears on the scene, all of your troops get +2 +2. If your Supreme Commander is killed, you lose 10 life. Your Supreme Commander must be a Legend. Pick a Legend that fits your Army. Elder Dragons are good Supreme Commanders. Irini Sengir is not.

6. Banned cards – Black Vice, Ivory Tower, Shahrazad, and the type one banned and restricted list. Also, any card that punishes a player for playing a specific color, such as Gloom, Light of Day, Anarchy or Life Force. Note: Creatures with protection from a color are still legal.

Army Magic requires different deck building skills than normal Magic. While it’s important to have a flexible deck, sheer power will rarely win you the day. In order to cast spells, you have to use a wide variety of Legend, Cleric and Wizard cards. The game sometimes lasts for hours, with reusable effects becoming far more powerful than in a simple eight-turn game. Cards that are far too expensive or difficult to play in regular Magic can become insanely powerful in Army Magic. Misfortune from Alliances is one example. When you have 50 creatures (troops) in play, many of them 1/1 wizards, the effect of Misfortune can be devastating.

Xira Arien is one of the most powerful cards in Army Magic. It is a Legend so it allows you to play Magic normally, plus its special ability can get you an additional card every turn. While her casting cost is prohibitive in regular Magic, it is very affordable in Army Magic.

Cards that might have seemed worthless are now powerhouses. Reusable effects are key to winning. It is not uncommon in Army Magic to see Control Magic cast on a Thorn Thallid while the table is bristling with Frankenstein’s Monster, Llurgoyfs, and assorted Dragons. Choose what cards you make your Army out of carefully. Imagine the effects of such cards as Pyroclasm, Winter’s Blast and Shatterstorm.

Tactics also change with Army Magic. As with any multi-player game, diplomacy is important to survival. Staying in your opponent’s good graces is a necessary skill. Be careful about getting a fast start, and rarely play with discard. Abyssal Specters, Mind Warp, and Hymns to Tourach make you a target. The entire table will unite and defeat you in one turn. No one wants to lose all the shiny pretty cards in their hand. Especially since they are finally getting a chance to play them!

Army Magic turns regular Magic into a tactical war game. A very long tactical war game. The beginning of the game revolves around all players carefully casting non- – threatening spells and collecting powerful spells in hand. The middle of the game focuses around all players practicing diplomacy and forming alliances. Some players pointing out which opponent is in the best tactical position and perhaps others should take notice. The end game is a blasted landscape with many foes fallen, and waiting for a victor. Two powerful mages with immense armies and low life totals slugging it out until only one remains.

A nine-player game of Army Magic took thirteen hours to complete. I suggest you find a very large table. Call up as many people as you can and get a huge stockpile of snacks and soda. Pull out your favorite shiny cards that never see play, and make a day of it. Magic takes on an epic scale with this variant.

Special Thanks to Hilary Denault-Reynolts and Rodney Sheldon for inventing this variant. Special thanks also to Michelle Denault- Reynolds and Doug Shepardson for amazing games and countless hours fine-tuning the rules while we played.

Sample Army: Magic Deck

4x Wastelands
1x Strip Mine
1x Maze of Ith
2x Arena
15x Forest
15x Mountain
15x Swamp

2x Ihsan's Shade
2x Baron Sengir
4x Sengir Vampire
4x Skyshroud Vampire
4x Krovikan Vampire
4x Lhurgoyf
4x Keldon Warlord
4x Verdant Force
4x Barishi
2x Mirri
4x Elder Druid
4x Tracker
4x Dwarven Armory
4x Karplusan Yeti's
4x Marton Stromgald
4x Shivan Hellkite
2x Rock Hydra
2x Eron the Relentless
2x Xira Arien
2x Axelrod Gunnarson
2x Marhault Elsdragon
2x Tor Wauki
2x Stang
4x Autumn Willow (Supreme Commander)
2x Misfortune
1x Fork
1x Berserk
1x Regrowth
2x Mind Warp
2x Overrun
4x Fireballs
4x Disintegrate
4x Kaervek's Torch
2x Jokulhaups
2x Flame Wave
2x Simulacrum
2x Stream of Life
2x Nevinyrral's Disks
2x Aladdin’s Ring

Enjoy.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Various and sundry answers

Matt – Have not read that yet. I, and the people reading the comments, thank you for the recommendation. I always need something new to read.

Doug – I am. I’ve read a few of his books including "Guards! Guards!" And his collaboration with Neil Gaiman “Good Omens.”

Doug – Thanks for the update. I didn’t realize that Seething Song had rotated out. It always amazes me no one plays Dragonstorm in Extended. I remember buying all the cards for it long ago, played it two or three times and never again.

Chris – Wendy and I watched it just the other night. She was annoyed for hours at the judges giving the fight to Bisping. We like him and Hammil (well, we did anyway) from TUF and didn’t care who won as long as it was a good fight. Both of us were pissed at the judge’s decision.

None of the people I thought would win; won. I thought Hammill would destroy Bisping. I thought Henderson would maul Rampage and I would have bet on Crocop to hospitalize Kongo.

Houston Alexander? Yeah, he’s an animal all right. I saw him destroy Keith Jardine in the first round. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen someone hit that hard. It looked like a video game. The guy is ripped like the Hulk and seems to have a rough time stopping when the fight is over. Roid rage maybe? He can stop himself when the ref tells him to stop, but he always looks like it’s a supreme effort of will to do so then he stands over his opponent glaring for 2-3 seconds before moving off. I expect big things.

Nick – I don’t think I’m going to make it to PT Valencia. I was hoping to but it appears it’s not in the cards. Good luck there.

Steve Savage – Love you and Maria's blog. Bryson made me salivate to go scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef. Lena and Stephan and Wendy and I are coming to visit you and Maria in 2009 and do just that. The pool? Yeah, Wendy and her intern set that up. This year we have gone through three pools since the first two struck a leak. Helps escape Madrid summer heat though.

Mizu – Bite me. And update your blog more.

Collette – Thanks for going to bat for me. That was some good mutton!

PS – yes you are. :-0

Chris – I agree with your constructive criticism. I can spin a yarn but the spelling and grammar always trips me up. I try to catch as much of it as I can, but the skills aren’t there. I have two books I’m reading to try and fix that. If you would like to edit the manuscript for “Quest for the Pro Tour” I’d love that and would send it to you.

Dan – Strider was our color hoser? Holy God, that’s awful.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Rants, Rambles and Book Reviews.

Someone cursed me.

"May you live in interesting times."

Thank You!

We are finally back in Madrid and relatively settled. We even went for a run today. Our newest favorite toy is the Nike + Ipod Sports Kit. It keeps track of our distance, time running, best time, average X minute mile and a host of other things. My sister Molly turned us on to it and like most things Apple, it is simple and intuitive. Some of the more interesting things it can do is track your run to a certain global distance. Wendy and I are going to challenge Collette to a race. The first one to run from Madrid to Paris (us) or Paris to Madrid (her) wins. Right now Molly is training for an Internet and live half marathon. The Nike + Ipod thing will keep track of racers and when you finish tell you what place you finished in the marathon.

We live in magical times.

Thanks to lots of sitting on a plane, sitting in a terminal and the lovely folks in Brignole we actually got some reading time in. I love both facts that Wendy is a voracious reader like me, and she reads the same things as I do.

I turned her on to John Varley's series called "Titan", "Wizard", "Demon" and then had to reread them again myself. So much goodness. After all these years, still in the top ten of my favorite books of all time. After that I thirsted for even more Varley. Sadly, a lot of his stuff I had read after the initial three listed above, I didn't like. I thought Steel Beaches sucked. Same for Golden Globe. Millennium was only fair. Since it had been years since I had looked into him, I checked at Barnes and Noble and used up a couple gift cards to pick up "Red Thunder" and "Mammoth."

"Red Thunder" was a page turner. I could not put this book down. I'm a sucker for stories with super smart guys in them especially when they're autistic. Its a pretty simple story. Super smart guy invents unlimited free energy and he, his cousin the former astronaut, and 4 early twenty misfits build a spaceship and race the Chinese to Mars. As with all Varley books the characters were vivid and distinct, likeable and flawed. It moved along at a good pace and while not in my top ten, was a very good light read.

Mammoth was also a page turner but for a different reason. I flipped right by a few pages. This was more of a novella with extra padding to make it long enough for a novel. Again, very distinct, likeable and flawed characters. Again, a super smart guy who this time around sort of invents a time machine. Sorta doesn't. It's a bit confusing but really, both statements are true in the book. He invents a time machine and he doesn't. Where it goes from there is entertaining, but not particularly deep. Varley tries to throw in some knowledge and impress the reader with what he knows about Sting Theory but it never really gels into an explanation that has anything to do with Time Travel. It was just sort of a way to fill a few pages and then sort of shrug and say "So what I'm saying is, I don't really know." All in all, another good light read that falls somewhere in my top fifty books. I'd buy Red Thunder first and see if you like it, then try Mammoth.

Since I'm doing a lot of travel writing and working on a book about my first year outside the states, I also picked up Bill Bryson's "In a Sunburned Country." I loved "A Brief History of Nearly Everything" and "A Walk in the Woods" but this was a little stale. The entire time I'm reading it I'm thinking "I can write better than this." Well researched and a few amusing anecdotes, but without a constant companion to bounce things off there's little witty dialogue. Unlike other Bryson books, this one read more like a history and geography book than an amusing exploration of Australia with a lot of laughs thrown in. The over-riding theme of the book that is repeated a few more times than necessary is "It's really big, it's really empty, and more things can kill you here than anywhere else on the planet." One of the things I found odd was no mention of kangaroos. No amusing stories about kangaroos, nothing that talked about how the Aussies felt about them, how many he saw, anything. There was a little print Kangaroo at the beginning of every chapter, but no mention of them in the book. I find that a little bit odd in a travel book about Australia, don't you? I finished it because even bad Bryson is still pretty good, but I wouldn't rank it in my top 100 and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone not going to Australia.

Magic?

I get up every morning and watch the latest Standard and Extended top 8 replays. I am loving Standard right now. A couple mono-green make top eight all the time. A lot of nice storm combo that kills with a dozen goblins as well as a few Project X decks and best of all, only about 50% of the decks have blue in them. Hah! No offense but Blue needs a little rest from being in the spotlight so long. Blue has a damn sunburn its been in the spotlight so long.

Yeah, yeah, I know, Tarmogoyf. Personally, I find the guy a little over rated. Seriously, even for 2 mana, and as large he can get, he's still a vanilla 5/6. How many ways are there to kill a Green creature in Standard? And after sideboarding you can throw in Deathmark? Terror? Seize the Soul? Spellsnare?

Seriously.

Speaking of Tarmogoyf, congratulations to Evan Erwin on winning the Storyteller spot to the Magic Invitational. Someday I hope to see my name on that ballet but this year, there's really no one more deserving than Evan. Bringing Magic writing into the twenty first century with lights, camera, humor and action.

I haven't played Magic in over a month, but it still fascinates me and now that we're back in Madrid maybe I can get some games in. I'll probably build a mono red storm combo deck, a green white all creature Heartwood Storyteller deck, maybe play Dragonstorm in a few tournaments since everyone seems to have forgotten it, and build or copy a mono green deck. Those seem to be doing great.

I gained 8-10 pounds thanks to our time in the states but it should melt right off. We walk long distances nearly every day, eat less and climb up and down 4 flights every time we leave the house. We've gotten more exercise in the four days that we've been home than our entire six weeks in the states.

Wendy and I are doing great. Last night we cracked open a bottle of wine, sat in the pool, read and talked for a couple of hours. Then we put some dry clothes on and went across the street and had my old favorite, paella. Paella is wondrous to me. Picture shrimp fried rice. Now add saffron, garlic, squid, red and green peppers, fish chunks, cigalla, muscles and scallops and you have a hint of what I'm talking about. Eating it was like a welcome home present.

A little over a year into it and Wendy and I still can't run out of things to talk about, discussing politics, Red Thunder, the future, life, the universe and everything the whole meal.

Life is good.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Extended Travel Log

I meant for this to be about the week in Brignole, but my brain wouldn't work that way. It insisted I start at the beginning. You've already seen the short version, this is the long version. There is a longer version because this is how those notes get transformed into the book "I'm not an alcoholic, I'm just European."

I could wait until the week in Brignole is done, but then you would be waiting another week for something to read and that would be bad.

Let me know if this makes you chuckle.

Wendy and I spend the last frantic day of “vacation” packing for our flight and mailing things back to Madrid. “Things shipped back to Madrid” would be items that you can’t find easily here. My prefered brand of Axe deodorant (“mmm you smell nice” is very important to me and helps lead the way to something else that’s even more important to me) toothpaste, horseradish (no, they don’t have horseradish here) the instant oatmeal and pudding we like, etc) Packing can be rough when you have two homes in completely different cultures and another vacation coming up.

Here’s a travel tip for you.

Never buy a gigantic suitcase.

In Florida, knowing that we would be, at times, going home for six weeks at a time, we bought two Samsonite “Megalosaur Giganticus” suitcases. We can pack our entire wardrobe, gifts, computers, books, espresso maker, porn and toys all in one bag! Won’t that be the best?

Well, we were correct. We could pack everything and the espresso maker into them. Now imagine how much they weigh and think about the fact that we live on the fifth floor. Now imagine a 42 year old metro sexual with his shirt off, sweating like a fat man in a jumpsuit running a marathon, as he carries a Megalosaur Giganticus suitcase down four flights of narrow spiral steps in ninety eight degree Madrid summer heat.

“Don’t fall. Don’t fall. Don’t fall.”
I keep muttering to myself as the bag sways back in forth against my chest. (Yes, against my chest. You try and lift one of those things with one hand and carry it down 230 steps.)

As the coup de grace now imagine going back up those steps, picking up Wendy’s bag and finding it a good twenty pounds heavier.

“Don’t die. Don’t die. Don’t die.”

Images of me tripping and hurling Wendy’s suitcase away from me in panic as I try to stop my fall fill my brain. Images of seventy five pounds of clothes, make up, electronics, books and gifts spewed violently down four flights of steps haunt my imagination. By the last flight I’m muttering a completely different mantra.

“Don’t have a heart attack. Don’t have a heart attack. Don’t die. Almost there.”

Of course, getting these two huge bags to fit into a standard size cab trunk presents another challenge. Two large suitcases will fit in the trunk of a cab. Two enormormous ones will not. Next time they come to pick us up I bet they bring a van.

And as the final icing on the coup de grace, imagine us getting to the airport and having them tell us the bags are too heavy to go on the plane.

Are we having fun yet?

Back to the present. Well, we’re smarter this time. The six week Vermont summer visit is over and now we’re packing shit up again. And this time, we know the weight limit for the airplane. (For most airlines it is two bags per person not weighing more than fifty pounds. One bag can’t weigh more than forty pounds. Unless you want to pay extra then you can go up to 70 pounds in two bags.)

Can you see how having one huge bag isn’t that great?

Packing today takes longer than it did in Madrid because we have to weigh the bags and juggle stuff so that they make the limit without additional fees. And we’re bringing back duffle bags that will contain the majority of the clothes and books we’re bringing to Provence. This will save on packing time later.

We finish the packing and I carry the last box over to the mail and Wendy does all the paperwork to get it shipped. When we return home, her father is sitting on the steps waiting to drive us to the airport. The drive is fine and uneventful.

We get checked in with no hassles. We go get a drink in the airport bar and compare feelings about leaving Vermont to heading back to Madrid and how we hope the flights are smooth. The schedule we have planned for the next 24 hours could range in the neighborhood of “slightly hard” to “mental breakdown insane” depending on how much security, airplanes, baggage handlers and delays decide to fuck with us. Usually with air travel, that is a lot.

Small airport security is almost always easy. We get through with no hassles and in very little time. We read a bit in the waiting area and the flight is also on time. Wonder of wonders, we also depart on time. The flight is smooth and easy and arrives on time as well. In Newark we don’t have to go through security again, don’t have to pick up our luggage, and get no hassle from anyone. We have an hour and a half for dinner and find a couple seats at the bar of our favorite steak house “Gallagher’s.”

Two seats away from us a man is eating smoked salmon. Next to him a man has just received an appetizer that looks delicious. A thin, young, crisp professional kid named Eddie gives us some menus and I ask him what the dish is three seats over. This is something I heave learned from one of my new heroes “Anthony Bourdain.” In his travels, not able to speak the language, he will sit down next to someone that appears to be eating something appetizing. When the waiter comes over he’ll point and motion until he gets across the idea “I’ll have what she’s having.” While the language isn’t a problem, the idea remains the same.

We order a bottle of Rosemont Shiraz, the crab lump cocktail, a plate of fries and “what he’s having.”

“What he’s having” is not on the Gallagher’s menu that is posted online but could best be described as a Filet Mignon Tostada. Essentially, small pieces of toast with bleu cheese, rare filet mignon and caramelized onions on top.

“Seriously, you could add caramelized onions to cake and it would make it taste better.” – Collette Ballou

The steak is sublime. The crab is fresh and delicious. The wine, as Rosemont always is, is smooth and delectable.Wendy and I have a couple glasses of wine and glow at each other. Our waiter behind the bar, Eddie, is struggling to keep up with the mounting checks while simultaneously trying to flirt with an oddly attractive girl that has come in and is seated next to us. The girl looks a little bit hard. She has a cute face, a thin frame but nothing like a classic beauty.

When I can get his attention, I order us more Filet Mignon Tostada. I pour Wendy some more wine and then set my hand on her thigh and we gossip about Eddie and the oddly attractive girl. Flirting? Couple? Friends? We love to people watch and try not to get caught. Soon the girl leaves and Eddie turns back to us. “Where you folks heading?”

We make small talk for fifteen minutes and then head for our flight. Great kid. We leave him a nice tip.

The stars have aligned this day. We have had a wonderful meal with a nice waiter and the flight to Madrid is also on time. Boarding is simple and there is no long wait to take off. No queue like we’ve had before, waiting 45 minutes for our place in line to come up so the plane can be on it’s way. We read for an hour and Wendy finds out what the in-flight movies are going to be. Kid and dog movies. I like dogs. I like dogs a lot. Too bad dog movies suck. I’m 42 so I’m not that big a fan of kid’s movies either.

We eventually drift off for three hours and then wake up. I wake up to see a little fuzzy white dog genius saving kids from a fire while simultaneously catching the arsonist and getting a bottle for a hungry baby. God damn I hate dog movies.

I get another wine and try to get back to sleep. I fail. It’s four am our time why the hell are we both awake? Resigned to our fate we pull out our books and start to read some more all while trying to avoid looking at the screen as Rover solves the national debt and brings peace to the middle east.

We get to Madrid three sleepy hours later and land without crashing. Always a good sign. If we can get our luggage without bother, half this trip will have been hassle free. Well, except for that dog movie; that was painful.

We get into the terminal and find the screen that tells us what carousel our luggage is going to be coming out on. Around this carousel are a hundred people already from the flight that came in before us. There are a hundred bags on the carousel. No one is touching anything. I look around for familiar passengers and see plenty, so I know this is the right place. Another flight arrives and more people come streaming in and stand at our carousel, upping the number another hundred or more. It is now Times Square at Midnight around the baggage oval. People press and crowd seven deep peering over shoulders for a glimpse at the hundreds of bags jamming the long conveyor belt.

No one is picking up bags.

None of these bags belong to any of the people here.

Since ten minutes have gone by, I assume there’s been some kind of mix up and relinquish my spot to the hordes of people crowding me.

About fifty percent of the time in the past two months of our travels when there is a delay, it is due to the baggage jerk offs in the back not caring or not knowing what the fuck they are doing.

Wendy’s on the job. Wendy is always on the job. She starts questioning guys in jumpsuits and badges.

- “Everything is fine; your bags will be out soon.” Oblivious to the fact that two hundred plus people are watching a potpourri of bags rotate in an endless circle and no is picking up anything.
- “Don’t know. Screen says number two.”
- “Not my job.” Continues eating his sandwich and looks at her blankly until she goes away.
- Shrugs “Check with Continental.”

Wendy goes to the Continental desk and asks if they know anything. She is informed by a very nice woman that they didn’t know there was a problem and would look into it right away. She comes back five minutes later shaking her head. The guys handling the luggage had it all on carts and didn’t know which carousel to put it on so they just waited; not calling anyone; not guessing. Nothing. The nice Continental woman tells them to put it on three. Ten minutes later we have our luggage and are speeding towards Madrid with an English speaking taxi driver. He used to work in New York for a travel company but when 9/11 happened the travel company lost a lot of business and had to let him go. Now he’s back to Madrid with his wife and they do this and tours on the side. Nice guy.

We unload and once again face the daunting task of carrying a lot of weight up a lot of stairs. We have five hours to get everything up, unpack some of it, pack a bag for Provence, and get back to the airport thirty minutes away.

Thanks to our careful planning in Vermont, oh so many hours ago, the bags for Provence are mostly packed already. A bit of switching of toiletries and electronics and we’re ready to go. Sadly, the baggage jerk offs have fucked us again.

Three of our bags have been searched and a portable DVD player given to Wendy by her father has been stolen. The box and its packing materials are loose in the luggage and no sign of the player. We feel mildly violated and extremely pissed.

After unpacking far more than we had planned, looking to see what else they might have broken or stolen, we finally get to lie on the bed and catch some winks. An hour later the alarm goes off and we’re out the door again.

May you live in interesting times indeed.

Tonight we’re flying Ryanair. I can’t imagine a lower cost airline to fly. Our round trip flight is costing us less than a hundred and fifty dollars. But you have to know what you’re doing to get that fare. Bags are limited to 15 kg, so pack light and pack everything in duffle bags. There’s no free food. No in flight movie. No assigned seating. The seats don’t even recline.

Seeing as how we are Ryanair experts and not novices, we plan ahead. We pay the extra three Euros and get priority boarding for the flight there and back. As we watch people struggle to make weight or shell out extra cash for their hard, over weight suitcases, and stand in a line that will be ignored by 50% of the Europeans sitting down, Wendy and I are breezing through check in with bags under weight, board the plane first and with food.

Feeling mighty smart. Yup. Mighty smart indeed.

We point at laugh at the gigantic bags being loaded under our plane and wonder how much those people had to pay for their budget fair that was suddenly not so budget.

Once in the air Ryanair starts selling lottery tickets (not kidding), perfumes, stuffed dolls, knives (totally kidding), minor electronics and other sundry merchandise. It’s like a JC Penny catalog in the sky. Since the seats don’t recline, I can’t get to sleep. I buy a coffee and read some more “A Cooks Tour

It’s a short, uneventful flight. About 90 minutes into it I start to get jittery and keep looking at the stewardesses. They appear calm. That feeling like we’re falling out of the sky must just be our descent. Wendy sees my nervousness and gently takes ahold of my hand and assures me that’s all it is.

Landing and luggage is smooth as silk. I am so counting my blessings for this day. Some minor hiccups but so far – I am still not insane or breaking down in any way. All we have to do is pick up our rental car, drive an hour to Brignoles (pronounced BREEG-NO-LEES… okay I’m totally lying its pronounced BRIN-Yo) and find our way to the summer chateau (pronounced lying-by-the-pool-reading-and-drinking-fine-wine-in-the-french-countryside.)

The rental car is waiting for us and since we have great directions, this time we opt out of the Garmin “Neverlost.”

Within ten minutes we’re lost.

Luckily, Wendy gets Collette on the phone and she knows right where we are.

Not quite so luckily, when we go to turn around I discover the car has no reverse.

We get off the freeway to turn around. I head down a road I think will put us going in the opposite direction but quickly find out I’m wrong. I pull into what looks like a wagon trail and attempt to back out onto the road. Only… the car won’t go into reverse. I look at the diagram on top of the stick shift. Yup, all the way to the right and down. Again. Nothing. Again. A whir of gears signifying nothing. Again. Damn it! Damn it!

I’m going to have to push the car out of where we are and Wendy doesn’t drive a stick. I tell her to yank on the emergency brake when I push it far enough back onto the road. I get out and throw my back into it. Since the car weighs about two hundred pounds this works just fine and Wendy cranks on the emergency brake when I’ve pushed us 5 feet. I climb back in and maneuver us back onto the freeway.

Wendy and I debate about if we should return to the car rental and get a different car. I finally decide yes.

Collette calls us back wondering how we’re doing. We explain. She informs us that reverse is all the way to the right and down. At the same moment that she is whispering this in Wendy’s ear, a long dormant memory stirs to life.

I look closely at the stick shift. There is a ring on the stick shift.

I lift the ring up, move the stick all the way to the right and down and the car slides smoothly into reverse.

At fifty miles an hour.

Yeah.

I’m completely lying to you again. What is with me today?

From there, it is a relatively simple and painless matter of making our way to the summer house. They have some mutton in a variety of sauce, garnish, and some red wine. Joining me for dinner is our two hosts, a model, a CFO of a private aviation company, two spies and a former girlfriend who now owns her own PR firm in Paris. I try not to snort when I laugh, wipe food on my sleeve, spill wine or in any other way embarrass myself or Wendy among these amazing people. I even refrain from asking for some ketchup for my mutton.

It’s been a long long day.

Despite that, Wendy and I can’t sleep and read for another couple hours after dinner.

We awaken eleven hours later, dreadfully late for breakfast and slightly late for lunch.