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Clayton Lin: Weighing In

Assassins @ State Theatre Centre

Andrew Ryan

 Cameron Steens, Will 0'Mahony, Brendan Hanson as Leon Czolgosz, Charles W. Guiteau and John Wilkes Booth respectively (Credit: Phillip Gostelow)

Cameron Steens, Will 0'Mahony, Brendan Hanson as Leon Czolgosz, Charles W. Guiteau and John Wilkes Booth respectively (Credit: Phillip Gostelow)

Director: Roger Hodgman

Musical Director: Jangoo Chapkhana


It’s a very strange time we live in, to be listening to a very grim idea delivered via a jovial, chirpy ditty.

To be fair, Assassins, one of the most iconic pieces from Stephen Sondheim’s oeuvre (which mind you includes the West Side Story, considered the musical of musicals- though Tim Minchin may want to have the final word)- was originally produced in 1990 and made its Broadway debut in 2004, so you couldn’t really say its a product of our highly charged, partisan times

Assassins imagines the interactions between the infamous assassins and would-be killers of American presidents meeting together and having a good ol’ Ay-merican shindig. This basic premise provides the structure in which the musical numbers are sang. Period appropriate costumes and exaggerated accents are par the course for this piece, which I must admit does have a 1900-1920s vaudevillean fair- and a large cast means the propensity of contemporary theatre to roll multiple persons into one body is left to a minimum.

However, the exuberance of Assassins is striking in contrast to other contemporary performances, which tend to be of an almost morose, reflective, navel-gazing about the human condition. Like a window to the more optimistic 1990s, when things like financial crisis and economic downturn were things of a distant past, never to occur ever again- the entire ensemble is a celebration of America in a way that feels like the best thing since hamburgers. Strains of American exceptionalism, manifest destiny, and the notion that you can pull yourself by the bootstraps (the notion that one highly skilled, tenacious superman can change his circumstances) serve as a tempering undercurrent to proceedings- your mileage may vary on this one.

Still, at least Assassins is happy, and joyous, and that might be the just reason to enjoy it- and not to mention getting an abridged history lesson to boot.


Assassins runs until 1 July @ State Theatre Centre

Singapore Diaries: Spike City

Andrew Ryan

There was another reason I was in the Lion City- a drill run for preparing for the Magic: The Gathering Grand Prix to be held in Singapore in June, and there happened to be two Premilinary Pro-Tour Qualifiers whilst I there, and I hoped to win one for the team back home.

Singaporean efficiency filters all the way down to its CCGs, with nearly the entirely playerbase always going for stable, unoriginal internet decklists that have proven to win results; though bearing in mind that the difference between wins, top 8s and not getting there at all are determined by extremely razor thin margins.

To prepare for the event, I snuck in a Friday Night Magic at Grey Ogre Games (in Club St, near Chinatown- the street is lined up with Western-style bars that hoovers up all the Anglophone expatriates) with my favourite deck- the not quite tier 1, Mardu Vehicles, which I have been piloting for one and a half years right now. The Vehicles deck did get some spicy new additions in Karn, Scion of Urza ($50 dollarydoos at the time of acquisition, now running at $65 per copy- this is why the game’s called cardboard crack) and History of Benalia ($25, now $32). The mana was still pretty terrible, though lately in actual play I’ve had mana issues but not of the usual kind (I.e mana flood all day). To begin my first ever FNM in a foreign country, it was two not-tier 1 brews- Mardu Vehicles vs Grixis Improvise- a very bad matchup for the latter, and it proved to be that way as I run roughshod for a 2-0 sweep. Good start to the evening. I followed it up with two extremely tight battles against real decks; Blue-White Control (the most popular) that featured the new Teferi, Hero of Dominaria card (started off at $15, now $50) that isn’t just insane in Standard- it also has proven to replace Jace, The Mind Sculptor in the Modern version of the Blue-White-X control decks- and then against B/W vehicles where games 1 and 2 were lopsided rushes on both ends of the aisle, with the final game devolving into a grindy midrange board stall that I finally broke through, with the clock nearly going to 11:30. I managed to catch the second last train back to Fort Canning.

So I was thoroughly impressed at my setup and was confident I could replicate it at the real thing- at Card Nation, in Marsiling. So a one-hour journey to Woodlands, in the heart of Singapore’s far north, via the MRT (the subway system that is 100% spotless and lacking the late-night yak smell that lingers in Transperth vehicles). The journey north was quite a depressing sea of apartment blocks, and the venue itself was an all too familiar sight in South East Asia- a small shopfront that also doubled up as an actual place of residence. I won the first game against Blue-White Control, but proceeded to spectacularly get slaughtered in the next four rounds, with my manabase either flooding or starving (coupled with a sideboard plan that was too high on the curve). 1-4 and drop.

1-4 is the kind of result that made me want to think about changing the deck entirely, So I went back to Grey Ogre Games to get a little help in building, and I decided to transition into a White-Black deck. The White-Black deck’s manabase was more stable, but on the day, after seeing what everyone else was playing, I should have been playing Black-Red Vehicles- Unlicensed Disintegration is an efficient killer of Lyra Dawnbringers as I found out. But nonetheless, leading into the 5th round, I had 3 wins and 1 loss, and all I needed was just one more win and I would lock Top 8 for sure. One final fucking hurdle. And then almighty RNGesus decides maybe I shouldn’t top 8 after flooding out against U/W control just as I was within striking distance of victory. Then I ran into the mirror for the final round, and got decimated in short order. 3-3.

Dreams of victory and triumph in ashes. That’s Magic for ya.

Singapore Diaries: In The Heart of the Lion

Andrew Ryan

1200px-Rear_view_of_the_Merlion_statue_at_Merlion_Park,_Singapore,_with_Marina_Bay_Sands_in_the_distance_-_20140307.jpg

I have a soft spot for the island nation of Singapore.

I use the term island-nation loosely, but in de facto terms, one would use the term ‘city state’, a term that conjures images of Renaissance Florence and Venice. The entire island compasses one extremely large city, half the size of Rottnest Island, feeds, entertains, houses and educates 6 million people consisting of primarily 4 ethnicities- Chinese, Malay, Indian (accounting for all the sub-ethnicities). In addition to that, Singapore has also been home for expatriates from the United Kingdom, United States, and France. The resulting cultural mix is unique and fascinating- Australia merely experiences multiculturalism, but Singapore lives it daily, for all its blessings and faults (exemplified by a riot in the Little India District in 2013.).

Singapore had to rise to the challenges of nationalism at a very fast pace, and with a lot of reluctance. Most of modern Singapore’s history had been under British rule as part of British Malaya, starting with the founding of the trading post by Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles (usually referred to as Stamford, on account of his elder brother bearing the same first name), from whom the business district Raffles Place derives its name. During the Second World War, the Malayan peninsula stood in the way of rapid Japanese advance across South East Asia, and Singapore served as the last redoubt in which the British would make their last stand. After the war, Malaya was granted its independence, and became the Republic of Malaysia, and later on disagreements would see the island of Singapore be separated from the rest of Malaysia via a plebiscite.

Historical trivia aside, the very first thing a modern traveller when he touches down on the Lion City, is that of the amazingly high-tech airport that is Changi Airport, which is almost like a microcosm of the city itself. Fully enclosed, and air-conditioned, with first world creature comforts, as well as a 24 hr Kopitiam food court that serves as an entry point to the nation’s culinary excellence. However at the time of arrival it was nearly 2 a.m in the morning and I far preferred the rest of a soft, fluffy pillow. I came with family, who wanted to take my nephew on his first holiday overseas- with the Universal Studios down in Sentosa Island (party island)

Eating in Singapore is cheap- I can proudly declare having tasted Michelin star quality meal for less than $4 SGD- a plate at Hawker Chan’s- across the road from the OG Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice Noodle hawker stall in Chinatown- an actual, proper Chinatown, with restaurants on both side of the high street and tables + stalls smack bang in the middle of aforementioned street. Beyond that I consumed copious amounts of the local Char Kway Teow, which is basically fried noodles in very sweet soy sauce that I find incredibly delicious as well as quaffing down a whole bottle of A&W Root Beer (don’t judge me). However things that you don’t eat are quite expensive (oddly this isn’t the case when it comes down to cardboard crack), or things that you would normally find in a fridge at home- milk, imported from Australia, costs $3 for a 1-litre bottle- go figure.

Singapore is very easy to get around, though the ticketing system is at times arcane and byzantine, thanks to the glorious wonder that is the MRT. The trains are very fast and its quite easy to miss your stop if you aren’t paying attention. One hard lesson I learned was always have $1.40 in coinage at all times, as buses don’t have change.

I did plenty of touristy stuff (and on occasions not-so-touristy), but a slight departure from the usual fare. The one I remember fondest was actually a half an hour sojourn to Bedok on a Wednesday evening (originally I had planned on playing M:TG that day, but Standard doesn’t fire at the store I visited) to watch the local soccer. The S-League is pretty bad by all accounts of objective standards- plenty of long ball, route one action that is the staple of English football outside of the Premier League, except transplanted to a country where the average height is the 160-170cm bend. A trip to Bedok is almost like a trip through a time machine, away from the high-tech city central into what seems like Jakarta on any given day. I couldn’t help but notice the local soccer had a very community feel- tickets on the door served by a door girl that wouldn’t be out of place of the Rosemount- a table with snacks and iced lemon tea for $2, which is just about right for lower league level, and the chants were devoid of any thoughts of abuse at the referee, and more closer to ones at your school’s lightning carnival. The game itself ended 1-1, with both sides scoring some pretty scrappy goals with a little help of shoddy goalkeeping.

For a little taste of high-brow, it was off to the National Gallery just across the road from the St. Andrew’s Cathedral (quite disappointing for a cathedral), an art gallery that used to be a Supreme Court building housing two very large exhibitions, showcasing artists from the South East Asian art world; past and present- that I spent a good day wandering, lost in a little maze for the entire day. However the admission fee is quite egregious for a foreign tourist (though contextually reasonable), but it was one hell of a gallery.

Further on the cultural exploration, I made the jaunt towards the Arab Quarter, the Kampong Glam district, which is centred around the Masjid Sultan (the Sultan's Mosque), and the Istana Kampong Glam heritage building- formerly this placed used to house the Rajas of Singapura back in the pre-colonial era, and now serves as a museum to educate Singaporeans of the Malay heritage of this country. 

Another thing off the beaten track was the Battle Box, which I only added to my (non-existent) travel itinerary. The Battle Box, situated in the Fort Canning Park, is the remnants of the old bunker in which the British huddled in, under the stress of constant aerial bombardment by the Japanese during World War II, and the place where the commander of the time, Arthur Percival, made the heartbreaking decision to surrender himself and 120,000 other soldiers of the Commonwealth, many of them belonging to the Australian Volunteer Force, into the dreaded Changi prison camp. Waxwork depictions of the officers, and the remnants of military phones and radios are assembled. Quite a little trip down the history lane for me, who really liked Year 12 History Class.

One week of tropical paradise, and all good things must pass as goes that Latin quote I like to use every now and then (sic transit di gloria mundi). There were a lot of things I thought about doing but didn’t get the chance to do.

Battletech

Andrew Ryan

BT01.jpg

Price: $45 AU (on GOG)
Developer: Harebrained Schemes
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy, Mecha




Robot-on-robot action never gets old.

Battletech, the video game by indie studio Harebrained Schemes (I love the name already), which revives the somewhat ancient Battletech setting.

Back in the 90s and the 2000s, Battletech was a thing. Inspired by Japanese mecha / real robot genre (think works such as Mobile Suit Gundam or Armoured Trooper Votoms), Battletech produced a huge amount of table top miniature games, to an entire line of novels and comics.

The Battletech setting is both highly futuristic and yet anachronistically modern. In this universe, the year is the 31st century and mankind rapidly colonized the stars using a means of faster-than-light propulsion known as Kearny-Fuchida Drives. As humanity goes forth and conquer the stars, so do they form of kingdoms and polities, and inevitably conflicts over resources and grand wars of conquest occur, with each side using BattleMechs, piloted by MechWarriors, causing untold damage and casualties that number towards the millions. The ceaseless, intermittent large-scale warfare has resulted in a technological stasis and regression- as all effort is put towards building the latest, state of the art death-machine and nothing to improve the living standards of the common people. As a result, many commoners are forced to make a harsh living either as indentured servants, labourers, or resort to crime, piracy and banditry, but a brave and ruthless few claw their way out to become highly skilled MechWarriors and then sell their skills for the highest bidder as mercenaries. The player-created protagonist is one such person.

The game plays out both as a tactical turn-based game, and what is best described as Mercenary Simulator / Robot Manager 3025. The tactical turn-based component is very similar to Firaxis’ XCOM games, though opting for a zone of control grid over the square grid of the aforementioned series, and accuracy determined by both range. However, some of the subtleties in the engine adds variety to tactical decisions- such as the use of armor facings (I.e - don’t get hit in the rear), turning speeds and angles, and minimum / optimum ranges.

battletech-game-620x330.jpg

The fun part is however the Mercenary Simulator aspect- your troops go into battle with the accountant’s advice in mind regarding staying in the black. Staying in the black is your objective in the game, as an outfit in the red is game over- to earn the fistfuls, your outfit takes up contracts across known space- randomly generated missions. Unlike other games of its kind, upkeep on equipment and wages for your personnel exists, and constantly presents its own kind of menace- battle damage and injuries to your personnel translates to time in the med bay, which then means having to call up the second-string side, or simply having to wait it out and lose hundreds of thousands in C-Bills, the universe’s currency.

Any game featuring giant robots must come complete with a suite of customization options, and Battletech does not disappoint in this department. Whilst you aren’t able to go to town mixing and matching parts like the Front Mission series of games (If you haven’t heard of this franchise- I don’t blame you- it wasn’t marketed towards the West), the next best thing you can do, however is load up on its weapons, or, uniquely, how much armor you want to put on the damn thing, at the expense of more dakka.

Battletech looks fun, plays fun, and the marriage of both its combat and backroom aspect is one that is always entertaining. It is a title that is worth adding to the collection of strategy afficionados.

Adventures in Cardboard: MTG: Dominaria- The Limited Experience

Andrew Ryan

So between Saturday and Sunday, I finally got to gather some legends from Dominaria into sometimes neatly arranged 40 card decks.

Dominaria, the set itself, introduces 2 mechanics into the Standard environment, one returning, and one new, as well and 2 new card subtypes. The old mechanic is named Kicker, which adds an additional kicking cost on spells with the associated keyword. The new mechanic is Historic, which triggers upon casting either a spell with the keywords legendary, artifact, or Saga (which is one of the new subtypes). Certain cards care about the keyword, such as the humble and fierce D’Avenant Trapper or the monstrous but somewhat wimpy Cabal Paladin. The other subtype is Legendary Sorceries, which are really powerful spells that require you to have a Legendary creature or planeswalker on the battlefield as a casting condition.

Kicker is a solid, dependable mechanic. It mitigates those moments where you and the guy on the other end of the table is locked in a board stall with no trump card to break that deadlock, each of you racing one another hoping to topdeck the trump- Kicker spells have a base effect when cast for its base converted mana cost, but you can upgrade the effect upon paying the kicker cost (which must be paid during the cast itself), which can either give you the edge or straight up run away with the game from behind. Historic is functional, though when you cast a garden variety artifact, it apparently has enough value to be considered as a museum exhibit, which is slightly humorous.

So for my first pre-release, the pool was rather average, and from the six packs I opened- white and black were the most two powerful colours. Then with one Skittering Surveyor, I thought I would be fine with splashing blue, adding a single copy of Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage (a 4 mana flying 3/3 is a real bomb), a Time of Ice and a Cloudtreader Sphinx. I won the first round, through some cautious play on both ends of the pitch, but opted to cut the blue as I wasn’t too happy with the inconsistent third colour.

 Magic: The Gathering, as originally intended.

Magic: The Gathering, as originally intended.

Cut to simply white and black, and the second game produced Magic as it was originally intended- a board stall where my opponent and resident judge just created an endless amount of saprolings that caused joy to both of us and the audience that came to watch, who contributed by hoovering up as many Saproling tokens with the exact same art work.

I decided I want to add the green cards from my pool in order to replicate the last round, except with me doing that. I win the last two in rather safe and unexcited fashion to close out the night 3-1, with the green never really doing anything except being inconsistent. Then I found this format fun enough to do a casual sealed pool- open a ton of legendaries, go 0-2 and drop as it was getting late.

On a whim on a nice Sunday afternoon, I decided to do another one, rushing towards the bus stop with a few minutes to spare. It turned out to be a good decision as I opened the most insane pool- Shalai, Voice of Plenty, Zahid, Djinn of the Lamp, Raff Capashen, Ship’s Mage, Naru Meha, Master Wizard, Danitha Capashen and a Urza’s Ruinous Blast, Paragon formed the core of an unbeatable Blue/White pool focused on things that fly, in addition to a smattering of random artifacts to help trigger Zahid’s alternate casting cost (for the most part I was hard-casting the genie).

The entire ensemble went 4-0 with some really classy highlight reels to go with it. One such a highlight reel was flashing in a Raff at the end of my opponent’s turn and then casting an Urza’s Ruinous Blast to hose my opponent’s board and began the lethal counterattack.

 The Invincible Flyers- inexplicably missing one Danitha.

The Invincible Flyers- inexplicably missing one Danitha.

The format is weird, and prone to long, dragged out games and that legendaries really matter. I can’t wait to draft Dominaria as soon as it launches on Friday.

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering- Game Days, Wrap, and Forza Dominaria

Andrew Ryan

The end of the Rivals of Ixalan Standard format approaches- and hours and hours of testing clocked in order to find the best machine going into the Store Championships formerly known as Game Days.

Whilst many eyes are on the final major Standard event at Seattle, the rest of the world who couldn’t make it had to make do with their local event. Usually I do one of these, but two were available on each separate day, so I said to myself why not.

Night before the event, cue the usual anxiety about specific choices in my given seventy-five, and then feeling better and more prepared the next morning with a good night’s sleep and a hot spicy bowl of instant ramen.

The first round of the day was against a player who had just thrown a deck full of Dinosaurs together, who was no match for the fast aggression of multiple 3/2s and creatures that soared way above the prehistoric beasts. The second involved a duel with my good friend Dion, who boasted that his Red-Green Aggro deck could beat mine, despite me replying that I had a positive record against it. In the end, I was proven right, and I closed the final game in dramatic fashion, producing the exact amount of damage needed as I was on 1 life.

The third round was against a local grinder, reasonably competitive player- and this felt like a real match. Game 1 my aggression never got to fire off and I was steadily being outvalued and a stream of reanimated creatures shut the window. Game 2, my aggression did to get off whilst my opponent couldn’t assemble his God Pharaoh’s Gift combo (wasn’t able to find it.). Game 3 was a grindier affair in which either one of us could take it, but a resolved Chandra, Torch of Defiance into a resolved Rekindling Phoenix gradually got me through.

Fourth round was against a Blue-White control deck that I had forgot to pay a level respect to, and got punished for it in the first game where I simply got shoved off by tokens from the Drake Haven on his end. Then I equalized the second game by presenting enough threats combined with my opponent having no answer. The third one was so agonizingly close, with him on 1 life and having successfully casted an Approach of the Second Sun, and then all I needed was just a little bit more damage but props to my opponent for playing to his outs, finding the same Approach and then windmill slamming it for the win.

 The Top 8 (L-R): Michael (U/W Cycling), Matt (B Aggro), Clay (Mardu Vehicles), David (R/Gu Dinosaur), Josh (U/W Auras), Joe (U/W Auras), Dan (U/B Control), Sushi (Esper Gift)

The Top 8 (L-R): Michael (U/W Cycling), Matt (B Aggro), Clay (Mardu Vehicles), David (R/Gu Dinosaur), Josh (U/W Auras), Joe (U/W Auras), Dan (U/B Control), Sushi (Esper Gift)

I intentionally drew the fifth round with my good friend Dan, even though I was tempted to actually play out the round as I knew what he was on. Everyone in the top 8 did the same and locked our spots. We got our nice top 8 boxes depicting Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain from the upcoming set, Dominaria (which is a throwback to the game’s original setting- befitting the game’s 25th year of existence.), as well as the group photo.

First round of eliminations I was up against U/W Auras- the one matchup I dreaded and rightly- a combination of lifegain and quick aggro counteracted any ability for me to race, and it was no contest as I bowed out. My friend Dan’s U/B Scarab God control deck took home the playmat at the end of it all (and then enjoying a great weekend watching the Eagles win).

***

Second attempt was at Stratagem this time, but the turnout was much a smaller, but the player skill was without doubt higher, and more or less everyone brought a serious deck that would not be out of place at a professional level tournament.

My first round matchup was against U/B Scarab God midrange, which was simply a fair deck that revolved around its namesake creature surviving and then taking over the game, which was what happened in the first game as my aggression was stopped just as I was about to get there. I equalized the second by just having enough reach in the form of Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and then lost the third game very early on.

I won my second round with much ease, against a U/R spells deck that wasn’t all that good, but I took it anyway as I really wanted to get back into the game. In the third round, I tragically made so many play mistakes against UBR Midrange (same as round 1 except red splash for additional anti-aggression pieces) that could’ve actually swung the best of 3 in my favour, and despite winning the last two rounds, it did not matter as tiebreaks ensured that I would finish exactly mid-table.

***

With my season wrapped up, I got to sit back at home and watch Grand Prix Seattle unfold- and what a show it was- with the U/B Midrange deck, considered the best deck you could play, was nowhere to be seen as a combination of Mono-Red Aggro, B/R Vehicles and U/R God Pharaoh’s Gift decks colonized the top 16 places. In that tournament, a certain Gan Yan (Mono-Red) from China etched his name into the game’s history by being the first to win all 18 rounds from start to finish. And his opponent, Grayson Roberts (U/R God Pharaoh’s Gift), goes back to high school the next day, $5,000 richer.

Magic: The Gathering: Dominaria is the upcoming expansion, which I’m excited to open, and should shake up the tournament metagame heavily- even though my favourite aggressive decks didn’t seem to get any new toys to play with (which means some crucial dollars saved which I’ll need for a trip to Singapore, once for leisure/travel, the other for the Grand Prix in June.). I’ll do a pre-release for that one for sure, hoping to continue my winning streak in Limited.

Football Manager 2018- Back into the dugout.

Andrew Ryan

 A photoshop a friend made for me on one of my birthdays some time ago.

A photoshop a friend made for me on one of my birthdays some time ago.

The world of Football Manager- you can leave the game behind for, but you never truly quit with it, as many an Englishman who has spent many hours into it can attest.

So when the opportunity came on a Steam sportsball sale (Steam sales, that great butcher of wallets and bank accounts- and needing a game that could run on an integrated graphics card given I fried the last one I had in a terrible water-based accident, I took it and started to return to the world I had left sometime ago.

Football Manager 2018, like others in it series, is an incremental improvement over its predecessor. This time the game introduces an element called Dynamics, which basically presents a ton of information about the social and interpersonal hierarchies (to an extent that is relevant on the pitch), and who is considered by the team to be leaders (helpful when you’re trying to decide who to give the armband to. That’s the probably the most significant new feature. Oh, and the occasional snippet of some of your footballers coming out as homosexual to the football public at large.

Usually the sort of team that I go for is mid-table teams with a solid track record of developing talent from their youth academies (in real life), which in this case turns out to be FC Nantes, a team in France (well technically that western tip in a place called Brittany, which is partially Celtic / Gaelic than truly French), whose days at the top of the French game had long since waned, before being eclipsed by giants like Olympique Lyonnais, AS Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain, the latter of two which are backed by multi-billionaires. The team had historically produced many of the game’s greats, such as Claude Makelele and Marcel Desailly, who graced the ‘98 World Cup winning side, so the goal was self-explanatory to me from the very get go.

One of the joys of Football Manager is that success is determined by what you set out to do. For some it’s taking their beloved local small-town side to the heights of the European glory. That, or a formerly legendary team that had seen better days. For others it’s to finally smile when they roll out a first eleven nurtured from their club’s youth academy. For the very darn few- both.

The squad, is extremely mediocre in terms of technical skill, but neither their mental game, and their ability to run really fast was nothing to write home about, but at least better than their skill with the ball. With a team like this, my first idea was to play a counter-attacking, direct game, getting the ball up the front to minimize the time that they would be on the ball owing to their relative lack of talent.

The result turned out to be extremely lacklustre, as my players found themselves losing the ball, and lacking in either the speed nor the skill to be a goalscoring threat. Without being able to present that threat, the opponents could just sit back and play their natural game, grinding out for a single goal to close a boring 90 minute affair.

Sit, back, calm down, think, re-think. I tested the reverse strategy. Passing the ball, to one another and slowly, slowly just pass our way through, keeping possession of the ball as long possible- working on the logic that if the opposing team does not have the ball, they can’t score.

Voila! The possession stats on the metrics were through the roof in my favour. And with the ball on me all the time, we kept up the pressure on the opponent’s goalkeeper. Eventually the goals come in and in and in, whilst my backline, dependable, if remarkable, stemmed the tide and keep the occasional clean sheet. I do a small fist-pump. Shame I wasn't wearing a suit and tie or tracksuit at the time.

I then booted up a new game, and tried playing as a big team- Olympique Lyonnais, in the same league, applied the same strategy, with bigger finances and the best backroom staff that millions of simoleons can purchase. Sure watching the team dominate the opposition through sheer talent has its perks. But I didn’t get the same joy out of it as I was managing a mid-tier team.

Booted a new game and back on the FC Nantes train I go. It’s much more fun working to the top on your own terms than to inherit the good stuff already.

Mogwai @ Chevron Festival Gardens 2-3-18

Andrew Ryan

 Mogwai- Photo credit: Cam Campbell

Mogwai- Photo credit: Cam Campbell

One final send off to the Festival Gardens, for me at the very least, but being a one-man machine, going to the festivals can be quite tiring, even if you’re having a lot of fun along the way (and with a platter of Sauma’s butter chicken on fries). Mogwai is the perfect choice to say goodbye to.

Tobacco Rat was first to warm up the audience, and probably by far the least entertaining of the lot. The gimmick of being a second rate DeadMauS and reminding me of Twitch from League of Legends certainly doesn’t do any favours, and then being a purveyor of pretty average dubstep / grime. It was definitely more noise pollution than an aural delight, and I was glad that he was gone after a lousy 30 mins on stage.

Mogwai, a band that’s probably nearly around as long as I have been on this great, green Earth, return for a second serving at the. Post-rock music is a bit of an all or nothing experience, much like a high variance decks in a certain card game. You either hate it or love it, but a certain truth is universally acknowledged- this genre translates very well from continent to continent, and the aesthetics of sound transcends culture and borders.

The best place to listen is to be up close right to the front, a position that I got to enjoy twice during their hour-and-a-bit set, the first time due to fortune and happenstance, and the second having to work my way back to the front. Imagine a wave crashing over you, and your arms outstretched. A metaphor straight out of Frank Herbert’s Dune would be apt (‘Fear is the mind-killer’, the little death…).

I love a good post-rock band (Jambinai and Explosions In The Sky come to mind), and whilst they more or less have a similar sound, but Mogwai is a little bit more on the softer side of the spectrum. With bands like these, being there to purely enjoy sound in its most abstract form, is a pleasure one should enjoy at least once in a lifetime.

Mary Magdalene

Andrew Ryan

 Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene

Rooney Mara as Mary Magdalene

Cast: Rooney Mara, Joaquin Phoenix, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tahar Rahim

Runtime: a perfect 120 min.

 

Mary Magdalene is an interesting, but difficult movie to enjoy- you really need a good knowledge of the good book or else you’re not going to have a particularly a good time.

For those who aren’t religious- the story of Mary Magdalene (or sometimes alternatively referred to as Mary of Magdala/ Mary the Magdalene to differentiate from the Virgin Mary Immaculate) is a footnote in the Gospels (according to Mark and Matthew), in which she appears right near the end of the Passion, personally witnessing the crucifixion of the Christ, and then His rising from the dead.

This footnote isn’t exactly a lot of material to work with when you’re trying to create a screenplay- a lot of gaps have to be filled- the film gives the Magdalene an origin story- an unmarried village midwife who spends her days helping the other women in the fields and the shores catching fish, and in order to avoid an arranged marriage, flees her village and joins Jesus the Nazarene (Joaquin Phoenix), and the twelve apostles as they preach the Gospel across the land of the Israelites, but yet also coming to terms with the fact that the man she follows is destined to die upon the Cross.

For all it’s narrative faults, this movie is technically blessed- the score by the late Johann Johansson (who did Arrival and Sicario, which are also two brilliant films) is hauntingly gorgeous, and the way the film builds up to some of the key scenes, and yet cuts to the chase and doesn’t draw out these scenes- my most favourite section is the almost delirium like buildup as the Christ approaches the temple in Jerusalem to smash and upturn the tables of the traders and the moneychangers. Joaquin Phoenix isn’t bad as Jesus Christ, but neither is he a great one. Rooney Mara however, does lend a stoic, feminine dignity to the eponymous heroine.

However this film’s biggest problem is that it doesn’t have a target audience in mind- Evangelicals won’t particularly like the portrayal of the Christ as a rather zealous, dishevelled, raving, semi-mad man of enlightened learning (more closer to Gnostic tradition), and Catholics might be miffed by the depiction of Peter the Apostle (Chiwetel Eijofor), the founder of the institution as a bit of a stiff-necked, parochial hardliner. I would probably say that this film’s best audience is for the budding theologians and others who just read a lot of esoteric stuff- a target audience that isn’t exactly packing the terraces in this day and age, if it has ever. A secondary problem is that Mary Magdalene doesn’t seem to have much of a character progression from start to end, so it doesn’t even really work as a functional film.

Mary Magdalene is a film I personally enjoyed a lot, being the rare example of aforementioned (sorry, not sorry), but I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t enjoy it. In the pantheon of Christian-themed films, it lacks the mass appeal of say Passion of the Christ or Noah’s Ark (Darren Aronofsky’s highest-grossing film, much to his chargrin).

Mama Kin Spender + Perfume Genius @ Chevron Festival Gardens- 28/02

Andrew Ryan

3rd show in at the Festival Gardens now- the mosh pit is starting to feel like a temporary second home (now with added astroturf to end the menace that is sticky floors), and of all the food options- the award for best value for $$$ goes to Sauma for their butter chicken on chips combo.)

For those who had come down early, local virtuoso Timothy Nelson serenaded us with his trademark folk-pop (and ranga 'fro) which makes for some easy listening and the ideal soundtrack to watching the sun set over the urban panorama (glass of wine optional).

 Mama Kin Spender + WA Gospel Choir. (Photo by Cam Campbell)

Mama Kin Spender + WA Gospel Choir. (Photo by Cam Campbell)

Mama Kin Spender was first to enter, bringing with them the WA Gospel Choir, who turns out to be the real star of the show, bringing what sounds like the voice of God onto an unsuspecting (and mostly heathen) audience, and combined with the folk stirrings and soulful, poetic words from Mama Kin, it really sounds like divine providence at work (and also props to the three of the fans who were just 100% fangirling it out there).

Perfume Genius then came on, with every step and beginning of a new track cheered on by different sections of the audience. As a Perfume Genius virgin surrounded by hundreds of hard core fans, the atmosphere was electric to say the least, with some of the fans out there who literally looked like they had shuffled off the mortal coil, found their way to paradise and back to earth again. Mike Hadrenas stole the show here with his own gymnast-like body being an instrument all on its own- in addition to showing a wide repertoire that ranged from vaporwave inspired synth-pop tunes, to intimate solo piano melodies. The fans loved him so much, that his encore lasted for four more tracks.

 Perfume Genius (Photo: Cam Campbell)

Perfume Genius (Photo: Cam Campbell)

Downsyde + A/B Original @ Chevron Festival Gardens - 24/02

Andrew Ryan

 A.B Original. Matsu Photography

A.B Original. Matsu Photography

I was down for another night at the Chevron Festival Gardens, its intimate yet spacious (enough) to see both Downsyde + A.B Original starting a huge party all on their own. It was the perfect way to

For those who came down early wanting to wind down, kick back and relax after a long week of work, they were serenaded by an Afro-inspired blend of soul and R & B, brought to you by Maia (from Kenya) and the Big Sky, who sang in both English and Swahili. Her songs reminded me of the Afro-Kreol musician Grace Barbe.

Warming up the audience's mood for rhymes- was Downsyde- a collective force made up of some of the best hip hop talent that WA has ever assembled- including stalwarts like Beni Bjah and Drapht and Optimus (Optimist?), and laid down some real bangers and it didn't take to long for the night to get heavy with the political barbs- to be fair Australian Hip Hop has always been rooted in the language of resistance, solidarity and the fight for recognition and justice for Indigenous Australians- with a song dedicated to Elijah Doughty, who died last year, and whose deaths sparked protests in the town of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. A few more beats later, and they departed the stage.

A.B Original then came on to the stage, to the cheers of big fans of both white and indigenous, and mild approval from the rest of the punters who came down to see what the fuss was all about. Whether you're a big fan of our hip hop or not, there's no denying that Briggs & Trials, both Indigenous Australians themselves, though from two different nations (the exact details I can't remember at time of writing). A.B Original's wordplay is unsurprisingly pokes at the  Though there was one moment when they asked the audience to hold up smartphones and other sources of lighting, which invariably meant some cigarette lighters that were one drop away from being a firestorm- this was nonetheless quite a picturesque image. As the show closed, A.B Original brought in some friends- Georgina from Camp Cope and the previously aforementioned Drapht.

It was a great night, that finished pretty early too.

Shigeto + Too Many Zooz @ Chevron Festival Gardens - 21/02

Andrew Ryan

 Too Many Zooz- Photo by Cam Campbell

Too Many Zooz- Photo by Cam Campbell

It was a night for all things rhythmic down at the Chevron Festival Gardens (hello arts-corporate complex), under the cold, monolithic gaze of nondescript office buildings.

Before the main event, The Brow entertained the revellers who came early as the sunset approached, bringing covers of hip-hop hits of yesteryear. The small stage was rather cramped for the large ensemble given the size of their instruments, but they made do with what they had, entertaining the small crowd who lounged on the grassy knoll.

Kicking off straight away with nary a word with brass all blaring, was Too Many Zooz, who started life as buskers on the New York metro’s famed subways, bringing the sounds of the subways of New York city straight to the ears. The saxophones and the drum beats rang for nearly an hour on end, and the band looked exhausted by the end of their set. Too Many Zooz didn’t do too much of the banter, much preferring to let the music do all the talking for them. The atmosphere was fun, if somewhat lacking in the crowds, who nevertheless got down to the boogie with a lot of enthusiasm.

 Shigeto- photo by Cam Campbell.

Shigeto- photo by Cam Campbell.

Shigeto then came on stage, introducing himself by getting straight into the action, and would close out and depart without even a single word from start to finish. Shigeto’s work is hard to pin down, as it musically moves fluidly between ambient, pop, post-rock and pure electronica, and sometimes more than one at the same time- and experimental music of this sort from East Asia has been largely making waves . Shigeto's music was just the right kind of decibel to be hypnotic- I can attest to nearly falling asleep in the middle of dance moves. That one man would be performing his entire set without a moment to rest is admirable in its own regard.

 

Fleabag @ Blue Room Theatre

Andrew Ryan

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Originally written by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Performed by: Maddie Rice


Fleabag is extremely gross, filthyy, rude, crass... who gives a s**t, it's a bloody f**king funny!

Fleabag is the story of a young, twenty something female Londoner living her sort of life- enjoying a sick, nihilistic joy trapped between meaningless sex, equally meaningless relationships, a dysfunctional family relationship.... all the whilst trying to desperately save a guinea pig themed cafe from liquidation.

This show is not for the faint hearted, as the sex-obsessed Fleabag bares all in one very risque, colorful, dirty and yet utterly glorious monologue, describing each and every one of her misadventures, referencing things that one shouldn't blurt out spontaneously in polite company. The delivery of this monologue, as performed by Maddie Rice, is up-front, expressive and aggressive, showing a side to the modern woman that we often forget exists (some of you may find this repulsive, others may find themeslves a little turned on). The presentation of the play is extremely is minimalist, but this allows the attention of the audience to focus on the eponymous anti-heroine.

Should you watch Fleabag? Only if you don't mind the language.

Fleabag runs until 24 February.

 

 

Barbershop Chronicles @ The Octagon Theatre (Perth Festival)

Andrew Ryan

Barbershop_content_2.jpg

Writer: Inua Ellams

Director: Bijan Sheibani

 

Peckham, London. Lagos, Nigeria. Kampala, Uganda. Johannesburg, South Africa. Accra, Ghana, Harare, Zimbabwe.

Across countries and continents, Barbershop Chronicles are the intimate, interconnected stories between men, and each of them sharing their fears, their joys and their hopes- all in barbershops in the space of a day- which happens to the Champions League Final between Chelsea and Barcelona. The barbershop becomes a space where men are allowed to express their emotions to one another, and share jokes.

The performance in itself is full of what the French would say “joi de vivre”, with plenty of singing, chanting, dancing, and in-narrative laughing. The mood is, on overall happy and optimistic, which is a refreshing change from all that navel-gazing, inward looking and generally contemplative, yet shallow. The delivery of the lines and the language has a rhythmic, poetic texture to it, as befits the work of a poet (to be fair, this  is the first time I've experienced the works of Mr. Ellams so bear with me here.) and it feels refined, and is a joy to watch just on its own literary merits.

Barbershop Chronicles is strong and heavy-hitting on the social commentary, referencing colonialization, politics of Africa, and current race relations. Whatever your feelings on the matter, the commentary is on-point but never too heavy handed. Another theme that runs through is manhood and masculinity, and the characters navigate through these rough and heady waters- and the addition of references to the round ball game gives the performance a rather universal feel (though to be fair, I was also the only one in the room to understand them.) to proceedings.

As for the presentation, the scenery is colourful, doing its best to depict so many different locations, and the venue itself is spacious and elegant. Before the beginning of the play, the actors would dance, play and chatter to a score whilst inviting members of the audience to have pretend haircuts with them, which is a nice and friendly touch.

Barbershop Chronicles is a thoughtful and intimate piece of work and is definitely worth watching.

Barbershop Chronicles runs until the 18th of February.

 

Banned @ The Blue Room

Andrew Ryan

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Director: Helie Turner

Playwright: Barbara Hostalek

Production House: Mudskipper Productions

Cast: Della Rae-Morrison, Talei Howell-Price, Kingsley Judd

 

You’ve probably heard it before. It’s a sunny Sunday. The smell of snags on a barbie and baked meat pies wafting through the grounds (which usually bear the name of an honored local scion), the boys with the guernseys and the club song blasting through the jury-rigged loudspeakers. The sun is getting warmer and sweat is forming on the brows. The blows of whistles and the occasional thud of a heavy punt from outside the 50 metre mark. Crowds cheer, crowds boo and hiss, as the game begins to close towards the fourth quarter. A small argument in the stands, and in one moment, voices are raised, fists are swung, and the deed is done.

Banned takes this cultural touchstone as the basis of its narrative. In a kind of reverse (budget, low-key) depiction of that famous play, The Club. The story focuses on two women, Jane (Howell-Price), and Kaarla (Rae-Morrison who hold a grudge against each other for what happened on one day at the footy and the resulting aftermath, and a mediator with a tendency to go off-tangent (in a comical Scottish accent) who tries to work out a hopefully amicable solution.

The play’s narrative is simple, and straight forward- earnest, but nothing out of the ordinary, and delivered in the kind of brevity that can be appreciated on its own merit, and the underlying social commentary is thankfully in the background rather than made into a central point. The comical Scottish accent of the mediator provides many laughs and much needed comic relief. However, the dialogue at times seems to be more aimed directly at the audience, in a slight preaching, moralistic note, than it would make any sense in the context of the story.

Other than that, its a decent, humble and earnest piece, and thank (insert divine being) does not try to be pretentious (which in my opinion, is no mean feat of its own).

 

Banned runs until the 10th of February.

In-Fringe-ing: 19 Weeks @ Como- Treasury (Pool Area)

Andrew Ryan

 Tiffany Lyndall Knight portrays the playwright in this performance.

Tiffany Lyndall Knight portrays the playwright in this performance.

Director: Nescha Jelk

Playwright: Emily Steel

Performer: Tiffany Lyndall Knight


19 Weeks is one of the most brutal things you will see at Fringe World 2018.

It is brutal in its simplicity, and in its honesty. And on the opening night, some in the crowd had tears in their eyes by the end of it all.

19 Weeks is the story of the playwright, Emily Steel (performed by Tiffany Lyndall Knight), and her recounting all of her 19 weeks of her being pregnant with a baby diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, her decision to terminate the baby and dealing with the emotional aftershock of her decision.

The story’s narrative is framed in a way in which Emily recounts events of every week of the pregnancy, from inception, to the. The descriptions of the events recounted are so vivid, that they double up as a crash course on the abortion process, as well as being just a purely riveting human story that many in the crowd could relate to.

The choice of using an actual pool as a swimming pool as a stage was incredibly effective. Not only was the front row got to skinny deep their heels, but it was also nice for clean, fragrant and spotless space, a generally refreshing change from the usually sticky stages of other venues (props to the Como Treasury Hotel for opening up the pool for this performance) and Emily uses it to evoke the swirling, chaotic emotions of those nineteen weeks.

In a festive festival that brings out the weird, the laughs, the navel-gazing, it would seem that stark, unremitting, honesty might be competing in a tough space. 19 Weeks is well above pushing its weight in that department.

19 Weeks runs until 10 February (i.e 1 and 1/2 weeks)

Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Rivals of Ixalan: The Limited Experience

Andrew Ryan

rix-header.jpg

The lost, golden city of Orazca has been found, and the four factions have arrived, with swords and all the panoply of war, to stake their claim and fight one another for the treasures therein- and for the greatest treasure- the Immortal Sun that is gathered.

Rivals of Ixalan is the latest expansion which adds 196 cards to the existing metagame, and completes the Ixalan block as a whole, and contains no special collectible cards. The set introduces one new keyword- Ascend, which gives an irrevocable bonus to cards with the relevant keyword, if you control ten or more permanents; which is everything on your side of the board, from lands to creatures, artifacts, enchantments and planeswalkers.

The Ascend mechanic is very fun in Limited, where games go on for long enough (but not long enough to drag out to the never-never) for it to become relevant, and more often than not might just be enough to break a deadlock. For Standard however, the keyword becomes quite tasty for decks that want to go wide and flood the board, though in these formats, the merits of gaining a bonus late in the game when games are won and lost on early decisions seems rather questionable to me.

The Ixalan block was something that had a lot of appeal to casual and social players- a set with pirates and dinosaurs was always going to sell no matter what, and it was an opportunity for fans to dig/loot/rummage/draw through their wardrobe for their finest dinosaur or pirate costume (no love was ever given to vampire conquistadors, and costumes depicting fish folk are not easy to find), some of whom turned up at pre-releases all over.

This set primarily fleshes out the tribes that were previously established, and completes them to a point that they could function as decks, albeit at a casual level. Decks focused on tribes have the unfortunate side effect of being very linear, in that you either get to do your thing undisrupted and coast to victory, or fail to fire and simply get stomped by efficiency. Decks focused on dinosaurs now have some additional tools to ramp their mana faster, in the form of Thunderhead Migration (which lets you find a land and put it tapped, whilst Vampires and Merfolk function as a streamlined aggressive decks that synergise with a critical mass of their respective tribe. Pirates have gotten additional aggression at the lower end of the curve, but little for the long game, giving them a lot of potential to catch players off guard with speed and trickery.

***

Overall the set is a little unexciting for competitive players, with no pieces that catch the eye. But for players of the casual breed, especially Commander players (a very fun, random format where you have 100 cards, with the stipulation that you can only have one of each), there’s a ton of fun cards that have no impact but extremely wacky and polarizing payoffs, or requiring an entire deck to be built around it.

So I did a few simulated pre-release packs and over the course of those simulations, the Limited format of this set looked actually rather entertaining. It was entertaining in the sense that you could build functional decks without having to rely on certain powerful cards. So I decided to do one for real.

To start off my day, I opened the worst possible pack, having to work with things that I would normally not even give a second thought to. All the rare cards that came in my set of six (4 of the new set, 2 of Ixalan) were dedicated to really useless situational stuff, such as a singular Raptor Companion and two Dusk Chargers that could never be played. I had to examine my pool nearly thrice over deciding that my only route to victory was through playing a ton of removal- I had seven in all, two in the form of Ravenous Chupacabra (who adds a body in addition to its extremely busted ability to destroy anything- pros of this game and other personalities rate it the best card in the entire set), and only rely on a single Shining Aerosaur as a genuine threat to close out the game.

 Sealed pool l'terrible (the same could be said for photo quality, as is my ability to present things in neat, orderly lines)

Sealed pool l'terrible (the same could be said for photo quality, as is my ability to present things in neat, orderly lines)

The most memorable game on that day was me staring down a lethal flying dinosaur on board and on a 35 life to 2 deficit. Needing to topdeck like mad, I drew the one exact thing I need- a Pious Interdiction, to stave off impending doom, played the removal in my hand to counter my opponent’s follow up play and then attack all the way to the end.

Turns out having that much removal was a lot more effective than I bargained for, as I managed to make it all the way to the winner’s corner and end the day undefeated, going 4-0.

(You're probably tired of my gaming adventures for now, and I want to take a break too, there won't be anymore for a while as Fringe / PIAF season rolls in.)

Adventures in Cardboard: A Heart of Kiran

Andrew Ryan

 Heart of Kiran (Aether Revolt), by. Jaime Jones

Heart of Kiran (Aether Revolt), by. Jaime Jones

As 2017 enters into end step, there’s one more tournament to cap off- Magic: The Gathering: Ixalan Store Championship (formerly known as game day).

The morning schedule of that day ended looked a little like this

 

8:30, Wake up, half-groggy from the humid sun.

8:35 check the internet for the latest metagame lists- sees one that I like.

8:36 re-build my deck’s mainboard and sideboard in that morning.

8:40-9:00 Breakfast, which consisted of a triple mix of cereal, coffee- caramel latte flavoured.

After that, it was time to roll down to my local card shop to actually play the game. Bringing an aggressive three-colour Vehicles deck into a metagame expected to be hostile to me was in most respects a bad idea to begin with.

So much for that, as the store was packed with a large turn out, with a couple of competitive players who made their way north from other parts of town, clashing with the locals who brought decks that were more likely to be fun than anything you saw at top tier tables.

The opening round I got matched with a guy who had just found out where this store was, but brought a decent second-tier control deck, called Blue-White-Black Approach, where his game plan was to cast Approach of the Second Sun twice and win the game on the spot. Let’s call him Jarrad, and he has a babyface like the kid from that movie Baby Driver. Aggressive vs control decks generally favour the aggressive player as the control player has to find an answer for even our smallest threat, never mind the top end of our decks. I get to bulldoze him in the first game, then losing the second game to being starved of one colour for the most part and him getting to resolve his win condition twice. Then for the decider, I got to attack for a lot, then resolving a Chandra, Torch of Defiance and using her ability to simply burn my opponent for the last few

Always good to start off the day with a win.

Next I was paired against Kim, who brought what was probably the best deck in the room- a four-colour Energy deck tuned to win the mirror match. This was a very bad matchup for me even if I did get to play the game normally, but it was over in less than five minutes, as I got bad hands in both games and didn’t even get to play. Not perturbing, given that this happens often enough that I accept it as a fact of life.

Round 3 was against Dion- a very Australian man, complete with akubra and motorsport-related collar shirt but with a love of true-blue spellslinging, who was playing the same deck as Kim, except he cut one of the colours for a more consistent manabase and a more aggressive strategy. I lose game 1 due to having keep a sub-optimal hand, and then virtually locked out of the game through a series of really good draws on his end. Then on the play, I do a real doozy sideboarding in a very cute, silly plan and got punished for it as I draw all of it in order.

At this point, I was like: “Okay my day’s pretty much over, let’s just have fun for the rest of the day.”

Round 4 was against Michael on Ramunap Red, but we never got to play as he was already out of contention and generally lets me have the win, and he pulls apart his other deck. Extremely fortunate, and perhaps it was a sign of things to come.

Now it was one of those dreadful matches- where if you win you’re in, you lose and it’s lights out. Thankfully it was against a good mate of mine, Rowan who was on a deck that won by generating an inordinate amount of tokens and stall forever, and the Rowan-Clayton Classic never fails to entertain, and entertain it did in the first game where both of us flood like no tomorrow, and I draw two Hazoret, The Fervents in the hope of racing him but it was met with two Cast Outs to remove it, and then I die to a single Marionette Master, who normally wins through sacrifing artifacts at you, but in this instance, simple beatdown proved a far more effective weapon. Second game, I directly attacked his tokens strategy by playing Rampaging Ferocidon, which burns for 1 everytime a creature comes into the field, turns off any attempt to gain life, and proceeded to die from his own tokens. To win the final one, I got to draw an extremely aggressive hand against a very slow one on his end.

 The top 8. I am the one in plain white with that grin.

The top 8. I am the one in plain white with that grin.

I sneak in into elimiantions and just. Eat a banana, and a snack bar. Keep nutrition up and mind laser-focused. The obligatory photo for top 8 was taken.

First elimination round was against Matt on a combo-aggro deck in the form of Blue-Green Pummeller, whose gameplan was to get the namesake card to a power above usually 30 and then smash it one in big attack for the kill. Since my opponent had gone undefeated for the entire day, he got to go first, but never got to assemble the combo kill as I stole his thunder and attacked turn after turn. In game 2, it was my erstwhile opponent that got to pummel me ‘til I was green and blue. The deciding match was very much like the first, and I was lucky to pull through after making what would have been a tournament-ending mistake.

With one down and one win closer to the beautiful playmat, I had to overcome Michael’s Blue-White Eternalize deck, which wins on the virtue that his creatures can return on the field again, much stronger than before. So I had to race it fast. I got to win the first game with a very fast aggressive draw, and losing the second because I drew land turn after turn. For the decider, it was very entertaining, as Michael decided to keep a very risky hand, which turned out to have no blue sources and 3 Authority of the Consuls, which would tap down my creatures and give him life. My hand was 3 Rampaging Ferocidons, and he never saw a third land as I munched for large amounts of damage each turn.

Down down the Temur river I go, I hum as I face the final hurdle- naturally the worst matchup, Red-Green-Blue Energy splashing black piloted by Josh with a very spicy sideboard card. In the first game I manage to draw the aggressive hands that my deck was known for, and despite having some removal thrown my way. Game 2, I managed to see my sideboard plan on the draw, which involved a board sweeper. But turns out the plan doesn’t work when there’s only few on board and your opponent still has a full hand. Game 3, I decide to do something unusual, and bringing back in some of the lower to the ground creatures I took out. That plan worked as I got to draw and pull off the perfect sequence of draws that was unstoppable.

A fitting and final hurrah for this deck of mine as I get to take home the playmat, and this time round, took the store credit as I was uninterested in opening more cardboard, and acknowledging that it could have easily gone south. Sometimes, it’s just the heart of the cards, so the saying goes.

 Eww, that lazy eye.

Eww, that lazy eye.

A Late Opinion About Star Wars- Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Andrew Ryan

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(This piece assumes you have seen Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Come on, it’s been a week. But fear not, no particularly major spoilers here.)

 

So I finally got a chance to sit down to the biggest sci-fi phenomenon (in terms of pure market value, given Disney’s recent acquisition of Fox Media’s entertainment properties) to a largely empty cinema.

Star Wars Episode VIII picks up some time after Episode VIII ended, with the Resistance on the run after a fierce, brutal counterattack by the First Order, which leaves the good guys on really dire straits, first losing their main base, then most of their fleet. Anyone familiar with real time strategy games would have just hit the concede button at this point on and move on to the next game.

First off, comparing Episode VIII to Empire Strikes Back, is way off. Like as much of a miss like the first proton torpedo shot. Whilst there are superficial trope similarities (and definitely a few scenes that evoke it) between both movies, VIII is less about the conflict but more about the whole Jedi/Sith thing and whether it needs to stick around. If I’m using any comparsion, it’s actually a whole lot closer to a classic video game, Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords (set thousands years before the events of the Battle of Yavin IV, which is used as an unofficial calendar), which is more talking about the concept of the Force as a whole, of Force Bonds between one Jedi to another (and sometimes Force Bonds doesn’t care which side of it either represents), and the whole ‘letting go’ theme that thankfully holds the film together. Speaking of action, the film gets better all the way to the end, combined with the incredibly loud (I.e awesome) battle sounds.

In regards to racial and gender representation behind the film- as far as I’m concerned, the Resistance and the First Order have completely subscribed to being Equal Opportunity Employers, although the First Order is still off limits for the universe’s non-human species. Chinese and Indian (casted) members of the First Order have had the honour of firing many a mega death laser, causing the untimely demise of billions of Rebel scum. At the very least Rose Tico, played by Kelly Marie Tran gets a lot of screen time and gets her own chance at personal heroics (but not sure if it's worth celebrating to the high heavens over it). Vice Admiral Holdo on the other hand, counts as a pretty poor admiral by any stretch of the imagination.

Star Wars Episode VIII is a good movie, even though the sheer power of the brand would make back its buck even if it was as bad as the prequels. (and that’s not much of a high ground, so to speak.)

Knightfall

Andrew Ryan

 I can't even a good enough image so this will have to do.

I can't even a good enough image so this will have to do.

The medieval setting has always been a treasure trove mined by movie producers all across the world, and the brave knights of the silver screen go off in search for the holy grail that is a good story, and more often than not, the object of their desire eludes them.

And speaking of holy grails, that is the focus on what Knightfall is all about. This History Channel production is set in the 13th century, and follows a small squadron of Knights Templar, led by Sir Landry, a knight of somewhat mixed virtue in their search for the Holy Grail (or the cup in which Jesus held as he broke the bread at the Last Supper) in which they lose at the siege of Acre (about 100 odd years after Richard The Lionheart took the damn city), thanks to the forces of the Sultan of Egypt. 15 years later, the Holy Grail somehow surfaces again, conveniently in the fair, beautiful country of France.

The premise is distinctly average, with as much appropriation of the Arthurian legend incorporated into a historical setting, that as far as the first episode goes, seems to be more window dressing than a central plot device. The main character, Ser Landry, played by the totally-not-French Tom Cullen, is almost as interesting as watching paint dry. The rest of his entourage are equally British in cast, and just as dull. But then again dull zealotry is probably something one ought to expect out of knightly orders anyway. As with every show set in this period, there’s the obligatory scandalous sex scenes, as well as the obligatory feasting, splendor and that scheming Littlefinger-wannabe.

Visually, it's pretty cringeworthy- ramping is used time after time for every quarrel, sword thrust, and couched lance. Then there’s the baffling choice of a shot of the character’s speaking inside their helmets. In addition to this, the CGI isn’t clean, and you can see it on the image.

If one thing the showrunners are ambitious, with plans to add novels and comic books into the franchise, in their words, to expand the rich world of the series. To give credit where credit is due- but the show is highly unlikely to be captivating enough for more than a few novelty comic issues and limited run paperbacks.

Knightfall isn’t even bad enough for it to be ‘so-bad-that-it’s-good’- it’s that its distinctly average; it fails to inspire any sympathy for its heroes and just feeling like an exercise in box-ticking. So far it seems like it is manning the battlements for a real series that never quite emerges. The only reason I had the chance to watch it, was that I was curious enough to see what sort of historical fiction shows were on offer (that isn’t the Vikings).

 

 


Historical Context: The Knights Templar

 

The Knights Templar's rise and fall and their legacy have been the staple of many books, games and movies from many writers and creators across the Western world. Their rise from humble and impoverished origins, to their glorying peaks of wealth and riches, and their swift and fiery fall thanks to the machinations of European politics makes for great drama.

The Knights Templar were initially founded under the name Poor-Fellow Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, but the use of the "Knights Templar" became common parlance for the many common soldiers and the occasional noble scion who would end up in its ranks- and those who joined swore monastic vows. 

Their initial duties were simply to serve as watchmen and safeguard the passage of Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, who were vulnerable to the highwaymen and bandits of the desert whilst they made the long overland journey from the port of Jaffa to the holy city of Jerusalem. 

However, their reputation as tireless and reliable defenders of Christendom grew back in the mainland Europe, and they had an influential advocate in the person of St. Bernard of Clairvaux (who is best known for his aphorism "the road to hell is paved with good intentions") and he praised these knights in the same way that music journalists today would at swoon and gush at emerging superstars. Soon they were inundated with donations and high-born volunteers who had their own cash. And tireless and reliable defenders they were, as they engaged in the Muslim Saracens in various battles, and scoring many a victory through the fearsome, heavily armored warriors who rode on equally armoured horses.

With this new-found wealth, they bought farms, vineyards, got involved in manufacturing and trade, whilst building great stone castles across the Outremer (the part of the Middle East that is now Israel). At one point in history, they even claimed ownership of the island of Cyprus. They would also accidentally become bankers as pilgrims would often deposit valuables in the treasury of the Templars, who would in turn issue promissory notes worth equal to the valuables stored. The Templars, thus can lay claim to being the world's first multinational corporation.

However, the riches, glory and praise were not to last long as the 12th century loomed. The Saracens, now united by a skilled and charismatic (and likely blonde, blue-eyed) leader in the form of Saladin whilst the Christian princes who held titles and lands in the area were engaged in behaviour they knew well back at home- fighting and bickering amongst each other. Meanwhile, the Knights Templar had to contend with new rivals, such as the Knights of St. John (or better known as the Knights Hospitaller) and the Teutonic Knights. In the end, at close of the 13th century, they would lose all of their holdings in the Middle East.

The wealth of the Templars was to bring their downfall. The King of France, Phillp the Fair (as depicted in Knightfall by Ed Stoppard, son of the famed playwright), who was in heavily debt to the Templars, and decided to find a way to get out of this prickly situation. An arrest warrant was issued towards the Templar's grandmasters, and several confessions (under duress) later, they were all charged with all sorts of trumped up charges and sentenced to burning at the stake. As for the property of the Templars, they were passed over to the Knights Hospitaller, who would go on to do a much better job at fighting, holding out until the 18th century as Napoleon, the famed French general, besieged Valletta on the island of Malta.

Today, the Templars are best known as fodder for conspiracy theories- not helped by their depiction as a secret New World Order organization in the Assassins' Creed video game series.