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Clayton Lin: Weighing In

Adventures in Cardboard: State Championships and Beyond.

Andrew Ryan

For the past last fortnight or so, I’ve been on a Magic grind, having won an invitation to the Good Games State Championships. With the plan on winning the main prize of going to Melbourne to represent the state, so I played a few events to get warmed up for the real thing.

11th September- Stratagem Store Championships- Core M19

Idebated the pros and cons of doing this event, as it began at 6:00 pm, and most likely end at close to 11-12 if I did really well, and I had work the next morning, with a 5:00am wake up call. In the end I chose to give myself the opportunity of practice, bringing a Black-Red Aggro/Midrange with all the best cards in the format in one very aggressive yet grindy package that can either go for a quick kill or a slow one.

All I faced on the night was various approaches of Blue/White control decks based around the Teferi, Hero of Dominaria planeswalker- who provided a win condition and an endless stream of card draw, and one Blue-Red-Black midrange deck- and of those I took 3 wins out of the 4.

However at final hurdle, I faced the Black-Red Aggro/Midrange mirror, with a list that was very much tuned to win the mirror matches, and whilst I took the first game and lost the second. In the deciding finale, I drew a land card when I needed a removal for his sole blocker, and then proceeded to see it slip out under me, and kicked out of the Top 8 cut.

Well at the very least I get a good night’s sleep for work tomorrow.

15th September- Good Games Joondalup Store Championships- Core M19

 The Top 8 of that event. I regret this expression.

The Top 8 of that event. I regret this expression.


So I decided to give the list that knocked me out on the 11th a whirl.

In any case, I slaughtered the Standard portion, easily qualifying for the top 8, utilizing Black-Red Aggro/Midrange to a 4-1-0 finish, with two of those wins against the mirror match, making me feel a little confident (if a bit too much) on the list.

In the top 8, I first dispatched an Esper God Pharaoh Gift list that I had dispatched with ease before, with the decider being largely decided when my opponent stumbled on lands and I got to curve out in the best possible way. Then my journey ended in the top 4, as going for a more midrange build meant I couldn’t clock Blue-White Approach fast enough to win the game. No playmat for me this time round.

22nd September- Good Games State Championships

I recall spending much of the time leading up to this event trying to decide if I wanted to stick to the traditional stock builds, or play the version of the deck that was in theory tuned towards beating the mirrors in game 1. In the event, I ran into the mirror thrice, and duelled compatriots from the Joondalup team, which consisted of me, Jack Walker, Matt Veale and Matt Stpehen.

In the end, theory failed in practice- the three Vraska’s Contempt I mainboarded as a hedge against the mirror, did little to dent the opponent’s assault whilst the fact that having to hold up open mana to cast Contempt ensured I couldn’t be on the offensive all the time. The only win I had all day against Mono-Blue Reservoir Storm, a fun and wacky combo deck that can on occasional win on the spot. At the very least I got to watch two of my friends make it half-way before bowing out themselves.

In hindsight, I should have just sleeved up what professionals were doing at the Magic World Championships- a good portion of which I got to catch before making breakfast and heading out southwards.

29-30 September / 5-6 October- Guilds of Ravnica Pre-Release + Draft Weekend

It was time to say goodbye to Kaladesh and Amonkhet blocks which had oppressed so much of Standard, and welcomed Guilds of Ravnica, and learn to love a fair and diverse format once again (and this time hoping the promise rings true) The set introduces five of the aforementioned guilds- represented by 5 different two-color pairings each with their own corresponding mechanic.

 The Boros Legion exemplified.

The Boros Legion exemplified.

The Limited format is a godsend compared to previous sets, though it didn’t quite measure up to Dominaria- the guilds are heavily balanced, though there is quite a scale from strongest to weakest. I loved representing the Boros Legion (Red/White) the most, who are built around the Mentor mechanic, which provides permanent stat increases to other friendly creatures that have less power than the Mentor, which rewards being fast and aggressive- to which I piloted to a 3-1 finish (still not my best). I got to play a little bit of House Dimir (Blue/Black), who are built around Surveil mechanic, which everytime that keyword triggers you get to look at the top card of your deck, and if you don’t like you can just ditch them into the graveyard, which can power up certain synergies or simply filter away cards that are irrelevant in any given turn. It is quite powerful, but its worth being careful as you can aggressively mill yourself out of cards (and thus losing the game).

The other two guilds that I got to chance to try out- Golgari (Green/Black), built around Undergrowth which rewarded you for having creatures in the graveyard to get the full benefit of the effects. The impact of Undergrowth is usually minimal, and most of the time, took a little too long to get going. Selesnya (Green/White) built around Convoke, which allowed you to cast cards with the keyword by using any creatures onboard as mana, is actually kinda nuts, and are perfectly suited to stall, and play a very defensive game and then win by having sheer numerical advantages.

I’ve had enough cardboard for a month me thinks...

Federal Government, What Is It Good For?

Andrew Ryan

1200px-Parliament_House_at_dusk,_Canberra_ACT.jpg

Another year, another leadership spill.

Who needs shows like The Rake, when the real one provides better viewing and an endless trough of material for comedians experienced and budding to work with?

Leadership spills have become commonplace in Australian politics, and crosses political boundaries, and when they happen at the Federal level, all sorts of policy doesn’t happen, and nothing gets done (not that they were working very hard at all to begin with). The Federal Government of late hasn’t been very effective at all doing things, and when they do things, it’s generally short-sighted and detrimental, though to be fair, bad decision making seems to be part of the national character rather than that exclusive to the political sphere.

Here’s a litany of some of those bad decisions- buying the F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighters (and additional FA-18/E, the lack of a firm agreement regarding energy policy, the pile of junk that is called the National Broadband Network (the end result being our gamers getting beaten by gamers from other countries), the lack of an economy plan that doesn’t extend beyond mining, the continual neglect of agriculture (which leads to the heavy investment by Chinese businesses due to lack of an alternative). And we're just talking tangibles here that are much more universal and understood, and ignoring for now other moral issues.

When the entire leadership dramas descends into something like that Red Wedding episode from a certain television series, no wonder Tom Ballard’s skit about a barista, a doctor, an actor dressed as a tradie, and an engineer chastising the government for not doing their f***king job and Richard Di Natale’s thunderous broadside in Parliament resonated so far and wide.

So I’ve begun thinking- what if the Federal Government was made smaller- in the sense where decision making on a lot of day to day administration and economic policy to State and Local governments, who are often better placed to make decisions that affect people on a day to day basis though this doesn’t translate to good decision making- see also Sydney’s congestion issues and Western Australia’s inability to plan for life after the resources boom. This also ameliorates the double bind of corporations and other wealthy donors being able to unduly influence our politicians through massive ‘donations’. The only things Federal should be doing is talking with other foreign heads of state and organizing the nation's defense.

In all likelihood- we’ll have to go out again, with one of those heavy, angry sighs, and vote in a snap election if the ruling Coalition cannot maintain a majority (and intervention via the Governor-General seems highly unlikely) and eat at least one democracy sausage (where’s Bunnings Warehouse when you need them?). Bill Shorten will probably win by default, though this one of those situations where you would pit an inanimate carbon rod against the Liberal party and the former would probably win.

If Labor manages to lose this one, we’re done for.

But then again, these are just the thoughts of an average Joe Citizen, and would do not an iota of change.

Skylab- Opening Night @ State Theatre Centre- 16/08

Andrew Ryan

Kw2GIVKA.jpeg

Directed by: Kyle J Morrison

Written by: Melodie Reynolds-Diarra

Adult Cast: Gary Cooper, Alan Little, Rayma McGrath Morrison,

Children Cast: Eva Bartlett, Donnathia Gentle, Jacob Narkle

 

In 1972, a piece of NASA’s Skylab hurtled towards the Earth, and scattered itself across the Australian south-west.

To get people into the theme of the story, an exhibition of some artifacts and news articles from that time were put on display.

Yirra Yaakin’s Skylab as an imaginative take on that forgotten slice of Australiana- that focuses on an Indigenous family that do their best to keep the household in order. The family on-stage is quite a nuclear unit, composing of a down on his luck father, a mother who holds it all together, an elderly relative of theirs who is obsessed with the stuff of conspiracy theories, and three children, who bicker amongst each other as children are wont to do.

This play is basically a game of two halves, with each half completely atonal from the other- the first is actually really good and is well composed- depicting the daily struggles of the aforementioned nuclear family, and the second abrogates the first as it heads towards a whimsical, slapstick direction (and where the story really falls off).

The children are the most endearing aspect the performance as their on stage antics- especially when they are fully dressed in their Monkey Magic get-up (and no doubt the references tickled to the nostalgia of the few who managed to stay up for those late nights on SBS back in the day), are quite the comic relief to the proceedings at hand.

I think Skylab had an idea in mind about the powers of imagination, but somewhere the execution didn’t quite pan out the way it was intended.

Skylab runs until 2nd September.

Adventures in Cardboard: Top 8!

Andrew Ryan

 Stadium Vendors (Battlebond)- Sidharth Chaturvedi

Stadium Vendors (Battlebond)- Sidharth Chaturvedi

After so many attempts at hitting Top 8 of a Preliminary pro-tour qualifier, I finally manage to do it (again).

I know it sounds over-dramatic (for a card game rated 13+ up). Anyone on that day can probably say the same. Even the judge had an impromptu opportunity to entertain himself at my expense (and to be fair, I would have availed myself that opportunity).

Sealed formats are a different than the usual way of playing Magic: The Gathering. Most tournaments usually have you bring a deck for the event- which comes with the attendant problems of having to think a lot about the deck you’re bringing that weekend- which involves a lot of predicting what you think you’ll see a lot of and reading up on the latest metagame trends- I.e it involves a bit of work that can arguably be seen as sucking the fun out of the game. Sealed formats however let the random six packs do the thinking for you, and you just have to pick the best 23-24 out of the 90 cards.

*cue the highly asmr-esque sound of booster packs being opened en masse.

So after inspecting my packs, I found myself opening 2 Fraying Omnipotence- fun and useful in a casual, kitchen table setting. The day is going to go well. Then I saw I had a Murder, Lich’s Caress and Strangling Spore, putting me firmly in black. Then a Thorn Lieutenant, a Colossal Dreadmaw and a Vine Mare were some of the best offensive threats to me, putting me in green as my second colour.

I wish I could reproduce the exact setup here (with grainy camera shots), but in a rush to get home, I forgot to take a large supply donated by other players (on one hand- it would have been nice to take this so I can pass it to novices later down the track, on the other, I have two shoeboxes of this stuff).

The swiss rounds opened in the worst possible fashion for me- Black-Green vs Blue-Black good stuff, both games mull to 6 have the wrong set of lands. 0-1 down. Fortunately I was able to rescue the second round, going 2-1, which went a bit longer due to a judge call that I made in response to a Scholar of Stars being played for 3 rather than 4 (a mistake on my opponent’s part). The third round was a 2-0 finish against someone who I went to high school with, who found himself into a Red-White-Green deck because he had opened Palladia Mors, The Ruiner in his six packs and fell into temptation to use it. He at least got to see it once, have it deal damage, and then I had the answer in hand to deal with it immediately. Then I managed to win a closely-fought round against a Red-Green deck to make it 3-1.

3-1 up and I was feeling quite confident. Too confident, as I let it get the better of me and swung a 5/3 Vine Mare, a creature with Hexproof which meant it was an ideal creature to enchant with the Oakenform in hand, but it ran into two blockers, and then it died. I thought I could finish the rest of the battle with the rest of my threats, but that did not prove to be the case. That one moment costed me the series, as I lost the deciding third. 3-2 now and I was having some really bad memories of 9th place finishes.

Luckily enough, I was able to finish the final round in a straight sweep, bringing me up to 4-2 against a Green-White deck. But the nerves wasn’t over yet, as I could still be overtaken on tiebreakers. But luckily everyone that could overtake me either had significantly worse percentages, or I had beaten them already.

So here’s where Denby Adams, the judge for the event, does his drum roll of announcing who makes the Top 8. He begins with announcing everyone on the first to six spots- and then mentions 7, then 9, and all the others on equal points. And then announces the guy sneaking on 8th- me.

So now begins the draft portion. I’ve only done casual drafts without the restrictions, but timed drafts were a first for me. An MTG draft works like this- you have 3 packs and open one, pick that and pass to the left- you get a pack passed to you, you pick a card, pass it to your left until you get passed a last card. Then you repeat the process, passing to the right this time, and then same for the third. At the end of that you’ll have a 40 card deck.

*cue sound of packs opening

Eventually I drafted my way into a Red-Green deck with lots of creatures that can generate mana and ramp into a big threat much quicker than normal, not that it ever happened anyway as I crashed out of the first elimination round in a best of three- the first one ended with me flooding, and the second I simply never drew a land after the first two, and had all my green cards stuck in his hand. Climatic finish.

At the very least I got what I aimed for.

Lesson of the day? This draft format is annoying.

The Greatest Show On Earth- Part Deux

Andrew Ryan

 Taking it on another holiday. (Source: Getty)

Taking it on another holiday. (Source: Getty)

Congratulations to France, on breaking their World Cup drought for nearly 20 years, with a team that is considerably even better than the generation that won in 1998. And speaking of Croatia, commiserations to them, for being unable to finish the job that the generation of Davor Suker started. But in the end, the party went on long past the night in Paris and Zagreb.

France may have won the trophy, but the real winner is…- The English Premier League (and the increasingly improving English Football Championship, which serves as the second tier) now cements itself as the undisputed best league in the world in every possible metric, with 129 players, (106 if you discount the English team that contained entirely domestic-based players) in the World Cup plying their trade in England, and for good reason- the wages are higher, the teams have more money than they can ever possibly spend (even after accounting for eye-watering transfer sums), and an increasing portion of this cash has been invested into scouting and development of the globe’s best and brightest. The gulf between the resources of say, Brighton & Hove Albion (based in the south coast of England) and that of some of the strongest sides on the continent is so wide that even they can poach some of the best talent that France, whose leagues have structural issues and an inability to attract broadcasting deals.

The Belgian side that so casually bossed England, is made up of mostly players- 11 in all- who were developed and found their feet at stellar clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City- this bodes well for the future of any nation that can export players to the Premier League often, and the big teams are always searching long and hard for the next big starlet.

The Euro 2020 silver lining- Whilst the Three Lions may have not brought the trophy home, they showed they can contend amongst the big boys and mount serious challenges, rather than perenially choking and disappointing at every major tourney.

The Three Lions side is extremely young, having the lowest average age (only France can claim second place), and Jordan Pickford looks set to man the sticks for the next 8 years, on the back of some really impressive goalkeeping (Belgium’s Thibaut Courtois took home the Golden Glove), in Harry Kane, now a newly minted Golden Boot winner (on account of playing fewer minutes) they have a complete forward that can both score goals and contribute to attacking moves further down the pitch, in the vein of players from the continent and finally Gareth Southgate is a manager who the nation can finally count on to deliver the results.

The biggest silver lining is that the team that competed in this year’s tournament, will be the same side that will be challenging for Euro 2020, hosted across the continent as a celebration of the competition’s 60th anniversary, whereas other sides in that final bracket could not say the same- Croatia’s side comes to mind. Maybe they can take that one home.

Never mind Messi, it’s Magic Mbappe!- Much of the pre-tournament conversation had revolved around Cristiano Ronaldo, and Lionel Messi- as if to settle who amongst them is the true greatest-of-all-time, and maybe who amongst the two gets to finally lift the trophy that has so eluded them. But as the dust settles, it was Mbappe who came out of nowhere and had the time of his life, as the French team blazed the competition in both attack and defence, and the 19 year old sensation from Bondy scored some mightily impressive goals that rightly graces highlight reels in YouTube-land. Mbappe even got to lift the World Cup (and the Golden Ball) in his first ever outing, which is one hell of a thing, and he’ll be around for at least 3 more.

It would be even wrong to say that he is the best young player in the world right now. He is already better than Cristiano Ronaldo when he was 19, and to be near his level at this tender age, is otherworldly.

Terror Nullius + You Were Never Here@ Revelation Film Festival

Andrew Ryan

 Pauline Hanson with Lord Hummungus of Mad Max fame.

Pauline Hanson with Lord Hummungus of Mad Max fame.

Director: Soda Jerk (Dominique & Dan Angeloro)

Cast: The entire panoply of Australian cinema, sampled.
 

Terror Nullius is both a cathartic, political revenge fantasy, as well as a smart, if at times tasteless re-contextualizing of our cultural produce to the current zeitgeist.

The title is a play on the term “Terra Nullius”- Latin for uninhabited land, was the phrase used by European settlers to describe what is now the island nation of Australia- on the basis that there was no settled civilization anywhere in sight. This notion would then be used to justify the conquest, settlement and consequent expulsion of the Indigenous inhabitants of this land, the legacy of which that still leaves scars today.

Terror Nullius is made entirely from splicing the samples of a range of Australian films and films involving Australians from the 70s to the current era, juxtaposing them with other culturally relevant images in an attempt to re-imagine and re-write the context in which it is seen- for example there is a scene with Lord Hummungus quoting a speech from Tony Abbott during his Prime Ministership (about asylum seekers coming from illegal boats), and where the Man From the Snowy River sends a sly wink towards the way of a comely young man. The content is no doubt designed to provoke controversy from the first minute onward (and deemed too un-Australian by one of its co-funders, the Ian Potter Board, who later disassociated it from its work) and doesn’t hold back at all with its various references to Aboriginal solidarity and sovereignty.

Much of this work is indeed rooted in the idea of catharsis against the frustration of the state of contemporary Australia (and a very understandable one, albeit)- as scenes of white and Asian men and women in formal dress are suddenly rushed by a cavalcade man-eating sheep. On a technical note, it would surprise that a montage of unrelated footage-Lantana juxtaposed with Picnic At Hanging Rock, with a little work in post-production can do a lot of wonders, and it flows almost seamlessly.

Terror Nullius only works as a purely art film that is strictly contextual, and with a working knowledge of Australian cinema, and contemporary politics, so it’s one of those films that is difficult to judge on its own merits because simply the admission is you having done the homework for history class.

That said, if you’re upset about the state of Australia and the world in general, then even then you can find a dose of therapeutic laughter at the absurd theatre being played out.

***

 

Director: Lynne Ramsay

Cast: Joaquin Phoenix, Ekaterina Samsonov

 

You Were Never Really Here is one of those exercises in really tight, concise storytelling, precise filmmaking, a deep character study, and the resulting product is one really good film that never lets up from minute one.


You Were Never Really Here subverts a lot of expectations in this kind of hard-boiled neo-noir-cum-western genre, where there is usually a veneer of redemption, and a touch of hope amidst the darkness of the world.

Not so here.

The film’s world is depicted, as cold, alienating and lonely and unremittingly brusque, and hopelessly venal where everyone is simply out for themselves, and the protagonist, named Joe, depicted by Joaquin Phoenix, is a former veteran and FBI agent who’s lived through and seen things he’d rather not have, and makes a living rescuing kidnapped children- as both a way to recapture the adrenaline of military service and to have a sense of purpose in his tortured existence- his post-traumatic stress disorder prevents him. He is contacted through middlemen by a Senator, Albert Votto who discreetly employs Joe, to rescue his daughter Nina from a group of wealthy and powerful men who have an inclination towards extremely young women.

The violence is on-screen is brief and crude, as we see after scene of anonymous suits being beaten with a ball peen hammer in a rather business-like manner- a subversive departure from an imagined America where the gun is mightier than all other weaponry, and violence is choreographed to an almost stylized and exciting manner.

Everything about this film is just sublime- the tension is expertly managed, with the drawn out build ups and then climax brief and hard-hitting like a hammer. This is the kind of movie that critics and cinephiles have been waiting to salivate over and pick apart the film scene by scene for every detail.

 

 

The Greatest Show On Earth…

Andrew Ryan

fifa-world-cup-2018-balon-oficial.jpg

The best thing is that it’s not even over yet, so the gift that has already given may keep on giving.

It rolls around every four years, and millions of hearts are won and broken each time, and the same millions willingly signing up for more of the same come the next four- no wonder the FIFA World Cup is often called “The Greatest Show On Earth”, and the 2018 edition hosted by Russia is mostly likely to go down in the ages as one of the most entertaining and memorable tournaments, both on the pitch and off it.

Never mind the odds, anything can happen- For the neutrals out there who don’t have a team to root for (Italy, Netherlands are the biggest absences) or already seen theirs knocked out of the group stage, there were plenty of shock wins and some incredible near-there performances, and already eliminated teams strutting about as unlikely kingmakers- South Korea somehow found the courage to convincingly defeat Germany 2-0, ensuring Mexico’s passage to the round of 16 (sadly Brazil was too strong for them) and Poland’s goal against Japan had so much impact in their group that Japan only got through by the virtue of having less yellow cards than Japan.

The duel between Spain and Russia was one of the most nail-biting, heart-racing finishes, and one could only imagine the euphoria when Akinfeev (RUS) bounced Iago Aspas’ (ESP) shot during the penalty shootout. The streets and pubs of England (and other places with high concentrations of Englanders) lost their minds when Eric Dier coolly slots the winning penalty, breaking England’s long running curse on the penalty shootout roulette.

The general takeaway- the gulf in quality between some of the top teams, and the ones that are just a touch out of reach has been reduced greatly to a point where anyone can beat one another.

 Russia's Igor Akinfeev making that all important denial (Source: AFP)

Russia's Igor Akinfeev making that all important denial (Source: AFP)

Australia’s place in all of this- The Socceroos were to be honest, mediocre, and blunt up-front. However there was plenty of great points- the Australian midfield and defensive lines are the best parts of our team- and the combination of Mile Jedinak (our sole goalscorer in this WC), Aaron Mooy and Tom Rogic, with Irvine on the bench, is rock solid and will be the core of the team in years to come, whilst Super Tim leaves, having competed in four World Cups, a feat shared by only 5 others. Mathew Ryan has already cemented himself as the natural successor to the legend that was Mark Schwarzer.

However, the lack of a predatory goalscorer that takes names and makes the back pages day after day continues to haunt our nation. If the best forward up front we can name is Andrew Nabbout, who is hardly lighting up the A-League- then that’s a problem that may take a long time to fix- Daniel Arzani represents the next generation’s best hope, along with the likes of Awer Mabil, Chris Oikonomidis and Panos Armenakas. As for youth development- the closing of the FFA Centre of Excellence and relying on clubs to do the dirty work of developing the stars of the future, at a stage when at best only Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne City have a fully fledged and productive youth programme is mind-numbingly insane. That said we’ll probably continue to qualify for the World Cup for years to come.

Hi VAR, it’s very nice to meet you- The biggest talking point is a guy named VAR, full name Video Assist Referee. He’s pretty shy, and likes to sit in a room all day, looking at so many screens that would make Fortnite addicts look normal. On the record, VAR has been doing a lot of work, handing out penalties like candy that would have otherwise gone unnoticed, and calling out superstar/prima donna major Neymar’s bluff. Not convinced- the statistics may- Human referees without assistance make 95% correct decisions. With VAR- make that 99.3%.

The impeccable niceness of the 12th man- Football wouldn’t be like it is now, if it wasn’t for the fans- often called the 12th man of a team- and the fans have made moments of their own. Consider the surreal image of Mexican supporters on the stands… tuning into the South Korea v Germany game- then proceeding to bear hug and carry aloft every random Korean within vicinity- and then top it off by having such a huge impromptu party at the South Korean embassy in Mexico (where reportedly its ambassador knocked back a few Coronas’). Japan’s supporters have also captured hearts, by leaving stadiums more spotless than before the day’s proceedings- and Senegal, especially that tiny band who paint themselves white and leading the crowd with dancing. Notably also, the lack of violence and hooliganism that had painted the sport (your move, basketball) with a very black tar brush in recent years- despite the fearsome reputation of Russia’s own firms who have been recently subject to harsh violent crackdowns.

 The 12th men in action (Source 3x AFP photos- collage)

The 12th men in action (Source 3x AFP photos- collage)

And the modern game’s evolution- All it takes is four years of innovation and invention to bear fruition- the games from the 2014 World Cup feels like a relic of a bygone era (the tournament itself was largely forgettable, aside from that 7-1 travesty), and the way the best teams play now- it’s extremely breathtaking. Building teams around superstars is out, and coming in are teams that defend, attack, move and create space as one.

The fluidity of the Belgians, the English and the French in their respective 3-4-3, 3-5-2 and 4-3-3 setups is efficient as it is sublime. Three / two at the back to create a core defensive spine, two / three central midfielders that cover the large middle of the park on both defense and offense, two on each flank (France's wingers starts from the back, rathern further up the field) that run up and down the length to either provide an attacking outlet like a traditional winger or pursue opposition wingers when not having possession. Three forwards up-front that work together to unlock defences but also drop back into the midfield role to function as a passing outlet whilst on the build-up (in England's case, Dele Alli moving forward to assist Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling in the offensive movement)

This kind of system places immense demands on footballers- physically and mentally.

The modern footballer has to be tactically intelligent, inevitably with a level of education (gone are the days of stupid people only good with kicking a ball) that would surpass even university graduates, with an awareness of everyone’s approximate position every second, but also physically at their peak, capable of lasting 90 minutes running up and down the park. This goes for every one from the defence to the forwards- moving forward, the possibility of one day that fixed positions may disappear altogether- and old man Johan Cruyff’s dream of a ‘Total Football’ where each outfield player is capable of playing every role at any given time, will be a (beautiful) reality.

It’s not over yet though- The quarters, semis and then the final are yet to be decided. Years from now, the question will be asked- where were you when the 2018 FIFA World Cup was on?

Clay’s predictions for the quarter finals:

France – Uruguay

Russia – Croatia

Brazil – Belgium

Sweden – England

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

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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.

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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

scaled_FLEABAG_800px2.jpg

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.