The Only Constant is Change

Another chapter in my life’s journey is coming to a close, with a new one being penned as we speak. My output here has been reduced a bit and I thought I would take the time to let you know why. A couple of months ago, I was presented with an opportunity to move to an area of California in which the cost of living is lower than my current location. I ran this idea past my woman and son, and after some deliberation they agreed that the change would be good for our family. Ironically, the place I am going to be moving back to is the same place that I left almost five years ago, and one in which I had said I would never return to. Life is funny that way, isn’t it?

In a “the grass is always greener on the other side” situation, I have come full circle. I have lived between a couple of locations my entire life due to having divorced parents, and as such have traveled between the two areas countless times. I’ve lived in both for stretches of time, and though I had no intentions on going back, my partner and I had decided that we didn’t necessarily want to live in this particular area forever. Cost of living is high and without top notch jobs we have been living paycheck to paycheck. We have been fairly comfortable in our time living together (about 1.5 years) but we would like for our money to go further, and this means leaving the Greater Los Angeles area. Our plan initially was to wait until we got our tax returns and then use that money to relocate to somewhere that still had a fair amount of industry but didn’t cost as much for rent and things. We have been paying $1500/month for over a year and have this new opportunity to pay less than half of that. So the move is happening, and it’s happening soon.

We’ve already put in our notices with our jobs and have already begun training our replacements. We’re due to move on the 29th, but in the meantime I have been travelling back and forth when given the opportunity, not only to help get the new place set up but also to look for work. I have put in countless applications and I’m pretty positive that I will be able to get something secured before we move, but in the worst case scenario, we have some money saved that should get us by for a couple of months. Ideally, I will be able to get her a full-time job and part-time work for myself so that I can get back to my education and finally finish off my Bachelor’s degree. Then I should be able to find something even better. Either way, I have an amazing partner and we are the penultimate team, so I don’t doubt we will pull out of this situation ahead.

As such, my posting around here will most likely be limited for the month. Oftentimes I was able to make blog posts at work during my down time, but since I’m training my replacement I can’t really get away with it anymore. Much of the time when I get home from work I either don’t have the time for blogging or don’t feel like it, so you can expect that I won’t be as active here. I do have some drafts in my folder that I’m working on though, so there will still be new content here, just not the 15+ posts I usually manage. You can expect a better output from me come January though.

Some things I’m working on for blog posts: CS:GO‘s new Battle Royale mode, The Council‘s final episode, and of course some new MTG brews that I’d like to share. I should be able to get out the once-a-week By The Numbers column as well. So bear with me for the duration of December, and expect more from me come the turn of 2019. Thank you all for your patience with me during this time.

As always, happy gaming, no matter where you find yourself!

Clash Royale December Update

I’ve been playing Clash Royale for a couple of years now, and each December brings a large update. Last year, it was the addition of a new arena along with new chest options (with the big Clan War update happening a couple of months later). This year, we have a few new features that change up the game pretty significantly. Supercell put together a couple of videos that break things down, and since the update is now live, I’ll provide some of my own feedback afterwards. Check out the videos:

I’ve checked out the new features, and can confirm that having been King level 13 for a while now, I did end up with quite a few star points with which I can upgrade max level cards. At this juncture, I only have a max level Balloon and Zap, and the points I had accrued I used for leveling up my Balloon twice. Zap will have to wait a bit.

Currently, if you upgrade a card one star level you get a gold border around it, but I leveled my Balloon twice so I’m not sure what the difference is between 1 and 2 star levels. In-game the star level 2 Balloon appears with gold colored patches and gold lettering. I have seen what I assume to be star level 1 cards, they have a different colored level marker above units’ heads; red as opposed to blue for my level 2 Balloon. These are simply cosmetic differences and nothing amazing.

The other major feature released with this update are “Global Tournaments.” These seem to be a tournament that you don’t have to organize (unlike the tournament system that existed prior, where you would have to sign people up to have it go off). On the main screen, the bar is listed near the middle and you can play at will. You’ll earn medals for wins, so crowns don’t really matter. You have 4 losses, and can compete until you hit that amount, but earn prizes based on the amount of wins you accrue. What’s a little strange though, is that you earn “free” rewards for hitting particular milestones on your way up the leaderboard, but then there are “bonus” rewards that you must pay 500 gems to unlock. Current pricing on that many gems is $5, so it’s not a huge investment to get some extra rewards but it’s probably not worth the money unless you are placing high enough on the leaderboard. To boot, there are “exclusive rewards” for those who place high, but that probably won’t be you or I.

There have also been some tweaks made to the trade token system, and this is one part of the update that I’m unhappy with. Prior to this update you were able to trade with clan members as long as the person offering the trade had a trade token. Trade tokens were introduced a while back, and come in common, rare, epic and legendary flavors. You can trade 250 commons, 50 rares, 10 epics or 1 legendary per token. Anyone who had the cards requested was able to trade with you. Now, they are requiring each party to have a trade token, so if you want rare cards, you have to wait for someone to earn a rare trade token and be willing to trade the particular card you want for whatever it is they want. Before you could basically blindly trade with people who wanted cards you cared nothing about, and only really pay attention to the trades you wanted to make. This benefited me in maxing out my Balloon and Zap, while getting rid of cards that didn’t matter as much. The trade off was supposed to be that you’ll earn more trade tokens since the update, but in a couple of days I haven’t noticed a difference. We’ve been earning the majority of our trade tokens via Clan Wars, and the only other way I’ve had them was by buying bundles that come with them, so I don’t see where we’re really getting an increase, unless you’re counting the “bonus” rewards that I have to pay gems for. I assume we’ll probably see further tweaks to this system after community feedback, because trades should be happening more often than they do, particularly when you’re requiring a token from each party to do so.

Some other minor features include Emotes being on sale for Gems, meaning those of you who have the patience to save up can grab some emotes if you haven’t already dumped some cash on them in the special offer bundles. Emotes are kind of a dumb idea, but I still use them nonetheless. You can also speed up some features for gems, like card requests and quest reset timers. This is nothing new to the mobile genre, but still a nice bonus if you have some banked gems and can’t stand a particular quest or want to speed up your card progression.

Overall I’m happy with the direction the game has taken. I may spend some time with other mobile games, but Clash Royale has definitely held my attention for the longest period of time. I’m also looking forward to Supercell’s newest game Brawl Stars, and will report on that once it’s released. I’m pre-registered, so I should be among the first to know when that happens.

By The Numbers: Week 14, 2018

I still had a slight bit of hope for the season going into this week’s matchup against the 2-9 Cardinals. Then, somehow or another, we lost yet another game. The Packers are pretty much guaranteed to be sitting at home come January, so the season has lost its appeal for me. After the loss, the team parted ways with long-time coach Mike McCarthy, and though I have my doubts that he is the problem, I also know that sometimes change brings greatness. Perhaps we end up with a damn fine coach and we finally get a few more rings with Rodgers at the helm before moving onto the next amazing quarterback. In reality I’ll take just one more and be happy, and I doubt we have another QB like Rodgers anytime soon.  Let’s check my picks for last week:

Saints 30, Cowboys 20
Ravens 27, Falcons 17 – Correct
Broncos 21, Bengals 20 – Correct
Rams 35, Lions 20 – Correct
Packers 27, Cardinals 13
Texans 28, Browns 21 – Correct
Colts 24, Jags 14
Dolphins 21, Bills 10 – Correct
Bears 23, Giants 16
Panthers 24, Buccs 19
Chiefs 40, Raiders 20 – Correct
Titans 20, Jets 13 – Correct
Patriots 28, Vikings 20 – Correct
Seahawks 27, 49ers 14 – Correct
Steelers 30, Chargers 27
Redskins 24, Eagles 16

This week’s scoreline: 9-7. Better than last week.
Season score: 108-93

I’m doing okay still for the season. At least I’ll finish over .500 — I wish I could say the same for my beloved Packers. Let’s make some picks for next week:

Titans 27, Jags 21
Bills 21, Jets 10
Panthers 28, Browns 7
Packers 21, Falcons 20
Texans 30, Colts 17
Chiefs 35, Ravens 24
Patriots 28, Dolphins 13
Saints 30, Buccs 21
Redskins 24, Giants 19
Chargers 27, Bengals 14
Broncos 28, 49ers 21
Cowboys 24, Eagles 20
Steelers 31, Raiders 3
Rams 35, Bears 24
Seahawks 21, Vikings 17

At this point I’m just pinning this column on having a better score overall than last year. I’ll try to keep my predictions hot, so that I can feel better about a dismal season for my team. Until next week, goodbye!

The War Report: Aminatou Blink

When new sets release in the Magic: The Gathering universe, I tend to focus on building some EDH decks around some of the new legendary creatures of the set, but sometimes (as with Guilds of Ravnica) there are only a handful of new legendary creatures and only some of them interest me as commanders. As such, there are times between set releases that I have to dig into the past for inspiration. There are still a ton of viable legendary creatures out there, and many of them deserve to see play even if they’ve been out for a long time. Many of these legendary creatures aren’t viable in any other format to boot. So for this edition of the column I’m looking at one of the Planeswalkers from Commander 2018 that I hadn’t yet built a deck around. I’m talking about Aminatou, the Fateshifter:

Of the Planeswalkers-as-Commanders introduced with this set, Aminatou was at first glance not something I was interested in building around. However, she came with Yuriko in her deck, so I picked it up anyway so I could build around a sweet ninja commander. Having this card on hand I decided that I should at least see if I could find something interesting to do with it, and decided that I wanted to focus on her blink ability and to find ways to exploit it. Her card selection ability is nice for setting up miracles as well, so I have included a light miracle sub theme. Let’s look at some of the cards we can have some fun with by blinking them:

Blink Targets:

All of these creatures have an enters the battlefield effect that are prime targets for blink effects. Not only will you get the original trigger off of the first cast, if this creature dies and is recurred from the graveyard you’ll get the trigger again. Or, if you use Aminatou’s ability you can then blink one creature per turn for instant value. As such, I’ve included additional ways to blink for when you don’t have your commander on the board or to blink groups of creatures at a time.

Other Blink Effects:

These cards allow us to blink one or more creatures under different circumstances. Brago is essentially a backup commander due to being a great blink enabler. With cards like Flickerwisp you can also blink enchantments, so Oath of Teferi can be blinked to blink again, or you can target Disinformation Campaign to draw cards and make opponents discard. There’s a ton of fun to be had here by blinking everything just to get a ton of ETB effects. One issue we might face though is ramping up to be effective, so I’ve included some special cards to help us out there:

Ramp

Nothing too out of the ordinary here, just some creatures that will get you land with their ETB, which can be targeted with blink effects, and one spell that is essentially Land Tax in sorcery form. I may add a Land Tax as well after I test if more is needed. Besides this there are plenty of mana rocks and a Panharmonicon to help us get extra triggers off of the ETBs.

Miracles:

These are simply the best miracles in these colors. We can pump out a bunch of Angels as a finisher, do a mass recursion to get a ton of ETB effects, bounce all non-land permanents to owner’s hands, grab an extra turn, or put all creatures on the bottom of libraries. These can be easily manipulated with Aminatou, as her +1 allows you to draw a card and then put a card on top of your library, guaranteeing that a miracle is the card you draw next turn, thereby allowing you to cast it for its miracle cost. Nice!

Otherwise I’ve included a pretty standard removal package, and enough lands to get things done on a budget. The deck is currently valued at about $190, and includes several cards from her precon as well, so consider this a budget upgrade to the base deck. You can see the full list here.

By The Numbers: Week 13, 2018

When looking at the Vikings rematch, I thought to myself, yeah if we win this game we have a pretty good looking schedule for the rest of the season and could easily end up in the playoffs still. After losing said rematch against the Vikings however, it appears that the season is close to being over. I haven’t gone into December thinking this in years, but after missing the playoffs last season, it seems like there’s a bit of a hangover there and I’m not exactly sure what it is. Our defense has been pretty good this year. Our offense hasn’t done too much though, despite having a decent receiving core and a pretty damn good running back. I don’t get it, outside of the shitty calls that have cost us too many games at this point, but even that is an excuse. Injuries aren’t something new, so I can’t use that excuse, as we’ve made it to playoffs even with Rodgers out with a broken collarbone for weeks, so why can’t we pull shit together now? I can’t remember the time when we couldn’t win a road game. People are calling for McCarthy’s head, but I’m not sure he’s the problem, given his record. Maybe not having a group of superstar receivers is a problem. Maybe we shouldn’t have given up on Jordy Nelson. I’m grasping at straws here. We have the same record as the Cleveland fucking Browns this isn’t possible. Theoretically if we were to win out we’d be like 9-6-1 and I just don’t see it happening, but magic happens in December. I still don’t see the playoffs meaning much besides a one and done if we managed to sneak in, but then it could happen and I’d be a true believer again. It’s a tricky spot that I haven’t been in much as a Packers fan. Let’s get on with the grades:

Bears 27, Lions 21 – Correct
Redskins 28, Cowboys 24
Saints 35, Falcons 21 – Correct
Ravens 30, Raiders 14 – Correct
Jags 21, Bills 10
Panthers 26, Seahawks 23
Bengals 28, Browns 7
Patriots 31, Jets 17 – Correct
Giants 20, Eagles 10
Buccs 24, 49ers 21 – Correct
Chargers 23, Cardinals 13 – Correct
Dolphins 28, Colts 21
Steelers 31, Broncos 30
Packers 27, Vikings 21
Texans 24, Titans 20 – Correct

I went 7-8 this week, and I don’t care. This was a fun way to talk shit about football and see how good I was at the guessing game and with my team floundering I find less enthusiasm for this column. I’m now 99-86 on the season for those of you keeping track. Here are my picks for next week:

Saints 30, Cowboys 20
Ravens 27, Falcons 17
Broncos 21, Bengals 20
Rams 35, Lions 20
Packers 27, Cardinals 13
Texans 28, Browns 21
Colts 24, Jags 14
Dolphins 21, Bills 10
Bears 23, Giants 16
Panthers 24, Buccs 19
Chiefs 40, Raiders 20
Titans 20, Jets 13
Patriots 28, Vikings 20
Seahawks 27, 49ers 14
Steelers 30, Chargers 27
Redskins 24, Eagles 16

All my whining aside, I do look forward to football each week and I’ll still watch the remaining Packers games. We should be able to get a couple more wins on the books at least. See you next week.