Yearly Archive: 2016

Some Important Twitter Threads

So here we are, living in the dark timeline that our complacency and flawed electoral process have created.

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Unlike in Morrowind, we can’t restore from a saved game. We’ve got four years of a doomed world to get through, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to take it lying down.

I won’t apologize that this post isn’t about games (though Gamergate eerily presaged it). This is a place to talk about things I love, and in light of recent events I can’t afford to be silent.

I’m still coming to grips with the reality reflected in America’s election results, and still figuring out how best to combat the perverse ideological underbelly that showed itself through them. In the process of gathering thoughts and marshaling resources, here are a few of the more eloquent voices I’ve come across over the past few weeks.

On the culpability of white liberals and the privilege of our self-isolation:

On the potential terrors of the Trump regime:

https://twitter.com/leahmcelrath/status/796871312002207744

On rejection of academic privilege, the importance of pragmatic action, and the radical philosophy of hope:

On interacting with your elected representatives:

On the Muslim registry:

On Democrats’ responsibilities, in and out of elected office:

There are any number of things we can do to make our voices heard. Call. Write. Be political. Donate to worthy institutions. Make it clear to friends and loved ones that we stand with them, against hate. I have a lot of learning and growing to do. I know I’m late to the fight. But it’s not over, it MUST be won, and every ally counts.

Here’s a place to get started.

12/01/16 Update:

The thread below adds another important angle to the discussion that would be remiss to leave out.

People Whose Work I’ve Been Enjoying Lately

Presented in no particular order:

  • Shivam Bhatt (Twitter, Tumblr) — He wrote a personal, important reaction to Wizards’ recent unveiling of the new plane of Kaladesh from the perspective of both a fan and a deeply passionate advocate for diversity and representation beyond a simple re-skinning of fantasy tropes. Since reading it I’ve begun to follow him on Twitter, and he strikes me as someone smart, authentic, and passionate, who is really good at being a fan of problematic things, and who wants to help make the things he’s passionate about even better.
  • Alexis Kennedy (Twitter, Website) — A writer whose work I’ve admired since I stumbled across Fallen London, a game that was instrumental in helping me move on from Warcraft addiction. He recently went freelance, and just announced that he landed a guest writer gig with BioWare and subsequently had this wonderful interview with PC Gamer and this succinct piece on games writing for Gama Sutra.

    Now all I want to do is hinge owls and play the Cultist Simulator.

    (Bonus round: Sunless Sea, the last game he worked on with the company he founded, has an expansion coming in October. This may be the kick in the pants I need to pick it up and explore.)

  • Mikey Neumann (Twitter, YouTube) — He’s a writer on Borderlands and the Chief Creative Champion at Gearbox, but where I’ve been enjoying him most lately is on Twitter and his Movies With Mikey series of YouTube video reviews. He’s someone who doesn’t find it worth his time to make content about things he doesn’t like, and that results in a funny, self-aware, yet ultimately affirming series of reviews. Not as “crunchy” on the technical side as some, but I almost always learn something from watching his stuff and his passion shines through in each piece. Entertaining, smart, and positive.
  • Sara Kipin (Art Portfolio) — I don’t know anything about this artist beyond what’s on her portfolio page, but this is an instance where a picture is worth a thousand words. Her work evokes an image of fantasy I had as a child, with a sense of whimsy and wonder that’s simultaneously grim and sedate, primal and proper. It reminds me of the original Evaline Ness cover illustrations for the Prydain Chronicles. Check it out.

Joy as Resistance

I had a moment recently where pieces of a puzzle that had been jumbled up in my mind finally turned and fit in just the right way. If you’d like to follow the same path I did, it starts with this tweet.

In the New York Times piece she links, Jo Chiang writes about how queer relationships are exploited for emotional effect in film and TV, often with tragic outcomes. The constant drumbeat of pain in the lives of fiction’s queer protagonists normalizes a narrative that’s reductive, pernicious, and untrue.

She states that these portrayals don’t match her experience, and argues that it behooves the queer community to bring positivity to the media narrative of their lives. Joy as resistance. Triumph over tragedy.

The specific battle that is personal for her isn’t personal for me in the same way, but what really strikes me about it — her point in the piece, or at least my takeaway from it — is that one can celebrate happiness as an act of social justice.

Ever since I was a kid growing up against a background of good old-fashioned Protestant guilt in a family with VERY high expectations for the quality of my moral fibre, I felt deficient. As my awareness of world affairs grew the guilt grew with it. I continue to be cisgender, male, able, educated… how can I relate to real problems in the world? What is my duty to participate in solutions?

I’ve felt that I abdicate my responsibility as a member of a privileged class because I don’t know how to meaningfully exert an influence for good in the face of a shitty, fucked-up world that seems to hurt everyone more than it hurts me. I’ve used that privilege to turn away and ignore it, thinking it’s just too enormous and awful to bear, building a feedback loop of self-recrimination, willful ignorance, and inaction that I imagine is all too common among those in my situation.

What I realized in reading this article, though, is that there can be nobility in the pursuit of things I already care a great deal for. Most importantly in this context — that by focusing on the positive aspects of things I love, I’m not ignoring or diminishing the real struggles and pain that exist. I’m providing a critical counterpoint to them.

I’m a rather timid person. I’m not good at getting angry, or at being angry. Anger can be a potent force for change, and my ineptitude at building and shaping that emotion has left me feeling unsuited to the task of speaking on issues of social justice. I AM upset about what I see, but not only am I bad at converting anger to positive action, I’m also held back by doubts about the authenticity of my perspective or the validity of my speech as someone who’s not directly under attack. As someone who considers themself to be an ally, silence is not an option. How can I speak out in a way that is authentic to me while honoring the experiences of those I claim to support?

This is how. Joy as resistance. Anger isn’t my strong suit — but I am good at being excited, and explaining why I like the things I like, and why I think they’re important and significant and useful and valuable. And the things I like? Sure there’s a bunch of fluff and chrome in there, but there’s also the righteous, impassioned speech of others. Radical, queer, authentic creations across the spectrum of human experience and emotion. Things that are just and good and true. And those are things I can talk about.

So, more cards on the table. The speech I’m talking about here is often literally about cards. Games. Pastimes and diversions. Things WAY up the hierarchy of needs, that those in far more dire straits would find a luxury to even contemplate. I grapple with that every day, and I acknowledge that the space I’m operating in is completely removed from the biggest, most fundamental problems facing humanity right now.

But I believe that in its own way, creating and fostering a space where everyone feels comfortable and represented and invited to imagine a better future through play is a valuable pursuit. A place where otherness can be explored in safety. Where conflict can be writ small and solutions can be found that don’t involve buying guns or building walls. Where empowerment comes from self-actualization through modes of fantasy that while escapist, also point us to better versions of ourselves.

The world needs women in reasonable armor and men in elegant dresses. It needs black Iron Man and Muslim Ms. Marvel. It needs fanfic where the Avengers have happy, stable relationships and go out for coffee together. It needs balance, nuance, and normalcy in depictions of queer lives. Joy doesn’t have to be blind or sanctimonious, but in a world where tragedy sells and violence against marginalized groups is the grim status quo it needs constant, active representation.

And that’s a battlefield where I can feel at home.

The Quantum State of Fandom: a Triptych

Over the past couple of weeks a series of posts have emerged, initially sparked by the surprise change of allegiance in the latest Captain America comic reboot, that represent a spectrum of perspectives on the current state of fan culture.

Faraci’s initial polemic is useful as a springboard for discussion, but I think the pieces at The Daily Dot and The Mary Sue paint a more nuanced and hopeful picture of the way fandom is interacting with the creations that we adore. I agree that a sense of entitlement exists among some segments of the fan community (as Faraci rightly points out), and that it isn’t creators’ responsibility to cater to this in the least. But there’s a bright line between entitlement and valid criticism, and another between the creator’s canon and derivative fanworks.

I believe that on sum, active engagement of creators with fans (and vice versa) is enriching the medium and the cultural space we inhabit, and the more voices that are heard, the more we all benefit. Having a few strident bad apples caught up in the mix is a price worth paying if we must, because today’s most passionate fans are the ones who’ll be producing the transformative, genre-defining works of tomorrow.

(Also, slice-of-life fanfic where beloved characters get to lead normal, happy lives is pretty much the greatest.)

Tibor and Lumia Commander: Super Flying Wizard Tribal Beatdown

The following is an introduction to the Commander deck I’ve had the most fun brewing over the past couple of years, in the hope that you, too, may enjoy nuking your opponents from orbit with the power of the mighty Wizard tribe.

tiborandlumia

The story of this deck begins with an experience made possible in a game from long ago. Before Skyrim and Oblivion, there was The Elder Scrolls: Morrowind, which for my money is still the best in Bethseda’s series of Fantasy RPGs. Beyond its configurable UI, complex (and satisfyingly metagame-able) leveling system, and seamless open world travel, Morrowind included a spellcrafting system that allowed a practitioner with skill and knowledge of the proper effects to combine them in new and powerful ways.

By the end of the game, a wizard could build a 100-yard radius fireball that dealt enough damage over time to completely annihilate the residents of a small village, and could craft a spell of flight that brought her high above the town to rain destruction at her whim (followed, inevitably, by restoring from a save to revert the deaths of critical NPCs).

It’s this feeling of soaring high to unleash doom across the landscape that I had in mind when building with Tibor and Lumia, the capricious Izzet mages who “trace the horizon in a dance of wind and fire.” To get there, the deck requires several key card packages.

Commander (1)
Tibor and Lumia

As described above, the deck’s primary game plan is to:

  1. Make wizards.
  2. Make wizards fly.
  3. Cast a giant X damage spell and copy it as many times as possible to nuke everything from orbit (hopefully not dying ourselves in the process).

Beating our opponents senseless with an army of flying wizards is an acceptable Plan B. Tibor and Lumia help with both of these goals by granting flight (albeit to only a single creature at a time) and dealing damage to the pedestrian creatures left below.

Perhaps more critically, helming the deck with Tibor and Lumia presents a less threatening multiplayer profile in a color pair and tribe that are often seen as highly dangerous at a Commander table.

Flight Synergies (6)
Student of Elements
Archetype of Imagination
Paragon of Gathering Mists
Levitation
Diviner’s Wand
Mudslide

Giving our wizards flying isn’t just an aesthetic preference — it protects them from Tibor and Lumia’s wrath, and makes the majority of our Earthquake-style nukes asymmetrical. Wizards that grant flying themselves are perfect here, and Levitation is a shoe-in. Mudslide is a rediscovered Ice Age classic (?) that works as a pseudo-Prison effect (especially effective with Archetype of Imagination).

Spell Copy (7)
Nivix Guildmage
Echo Mage
Meletis Charlatan
Sigil Tracer
Melek, Izzet Paragon
Uyo, Silent Prophet
Dualcaster Mage

A self-imposed restriction in creating this deck was that it only contain creatures of type Wizard. In other contexts this could be seen as pretty threatening — wizard tribal allows for repeatable countermagic (Ertai, Wizard Adept, Patron Wizard) and insane card advantage (Azami, Lady of Scrolls as Commander). While we do include plenty of card draw, the role of wizards in this deck is balanced around ‘leveling up’ our combo with another core wizardly proficiency — the ability to copy instants and sorceries.

Finishers (9)
Comet Storm
Earthquake
Fall of the Titans
Fault Line
Magmaquake
Molten Disaster
Rolling Earthquake
Starstorm
Dark Sphere

Our deck deliberately avoids some of the standard finishers and board control cards in blue and red — no Insurrection, Rite of Replication or Cyclonic Rift here. Instead, we rely on a suite of red X spells to get rid of pesky opposing creatures and, ultimately, other players. The best ones are those that hit everything, since our goal on the turn we go off is to do enough damage simultaneously that it all gets burnt to a crisp.

Dark Sphere helps us not die to our own nukes, and may be the most important card in the deck if we want to actually win the game (though drawing cataclysmically is a satisfying alternative).

Ramp (18)
Basalt Monolith
Sol Ring
Grim Monolith
Pyromancer’s Goggles
Izzet Signet
Mana Vault
Worn Powerstone
Thran Dynamo
Everflowing Chalice
Gilded Lotus
Hedron Archive
Mana Crypt
Dreamstone Hedron
Thought Vessel
Trinket Mage
Goblin Electromancer
Apprentice Wizard
Aphetto Alchemist

To get there, in addition to our spell-copying wizards we need ramp: lots of ramp. Blue and red are challenged here, so we must resort to the best artifact mana available. In this context Trinket Mage is usually a tutor for Sol Ring or Mana Crypt, while Aphetto Alchemist acts as a Voltaic Key.

Card Advantage (18)
Braingeyser
Stroke of Genius
Blue Sun’s Zenith
Mind Spring
Invoke the Firemind
Azami, Lady of Scrolls
Mercurial Chemister
Jushi Apprentice
Sage of Fables
Magus of the Future
Nin, the Pain Artist
Jori En, Ruin Diver
Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius
Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind
Arcanis the Omnipotent
Vedalken Aethermage
Snapcaster Mage
Etherium-Horn Sorcerer

I’ve discovered in play that the deck often stalls after deploying its opening hand, so ways to refill and keep building for the finish are critical. Two types of card draw fit naturally with the themes of the deck: X spells (like Braingeyser) and wizards (like Mercurial Chemister). I’m still working on finding the right balance of these.

Combo Protection (5)
Force of Will
Pact of Negation
Venser, Shaper Savant
Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
Vandalblast

In the initial build of the deck I had a lot more countermagic in the form of wizards with built-in counterspells (Kheru Spellsnatcher, Voidmage Prodigy, etc). In keeping with my personal Commander philosophy I ended up winnowing these out. Force, Pact, Venser, and Teferi are still in, but only to help ensure our game plan of world annihilation can be safely executed.

Lands (38)
Mirrorpool
Tolaria West
12 Snow-Covered Island
Snow-Covered Mountain
Command Tower
Wandering Fumarole
Temple of Epiphany
High Market
Sulfur Falls
Steam Vents
Cavern of Souls
Reliquary Tower
Vivid Crag
Vivid Creek
Homeward Path
Shivan Reef
Temple of the False God
Izzet Boilerworks
Ancient Tomb
Swiftwater Cliffs
Riptide Laboratory
Cascade Bluffs
Izzet Guildgate

Our mana base is pretty standard Izzet, with a few notable on-theme inclusions such as Mirrorpool and Riptide Laboratory. Tolaria West is most often used to tutor for the protection of Dark Sphere when we go off.

As mentioned at the top, this is the Commander deck I’ve had the most fun brewing over the past couple of years. Thematically it’s a blast, and when it works it really evokes the “nuke everything from orbit” feeling. It fits my Commander criteria of doing something strong while not inhibiting the play of other decks at the table, and its big plays are always memorable.

I haven’t had enough experience with the deck to know whether it consistently performs the way I’d like, so I plan to update this when I’ve had the opportunity to get more reps in with the current version (last updated with cards from Battle for Zendikar). As a work of deck design it’s the concept I’m the most proud of, and I hope to prove that it stands up in the various metagames I’m a part of.

For my next Commander deck tech I’ll be tackling Horde of Notions Elemental Tribal, the deck I’ve consistently had the most fun playing since my Commander journey started four years ago.