Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Amonkhet Draft

Amonkhet arrived and I decided to go to some Prerelease events because I will be heading to GP Bologna with some other Magic players. I'm a constructed player unlike them though so I don't expect to do good. I need some experience with the set though. I hoped I would have time to play with the set, but I will be attending different event the week before the GP and won't be here to play in Release events both Online and in paper. Yesterday though I got the possibility to draft Amonkhet. I was glad about it but did not expect to do well because my brain is 'turned off' lately and I haven't really slept much in the past days.

My first pick was a Zombie related card. I could pick either Stir the Sands or Wayward Servant. None of the other cards seemed good for a first pick to me. I wanted to stay open for something else (cycling deck for example) so I picked the 6 mana card. I passed Champion of Rhonas and hoped that the person next to me would end up in green. He did. The next pack wasn't really something I liked to see. I picked Fan Bearer, being the best card for a slower deck and passed the rest. Next I picked the Wayward Servant expecting the player next to me not being in that archetype thus. All the packs contained some common Zombies and I expected that cards like Miasmic Mummy would be in the packs when there would be just 1-3 cards left. The following picks were all white. There wasn't a single black card that would be relevant. Probably more people were drafting Black, the person sitting to my right seemed to be in that color for sure. I picked few Cartouches and removal but the creatures going my way weren't good except Trueheart Duelist. My deck seemed very bad. In the last picks I was picking Zombie creature cards and some Anointer Priests. I hoped for White or Black monument and hoped for cards like Binding Mummy. Among the last picks was also Approach of the Second Sun that I seriously considered as a win condition. But this card would be cool in a deck running some of the Blue Nagas and mill/cycling spells. Anyway against something very slow I could possibly board that in. But I hoped it wouldn't come to that. At this point my deck looked bad.

In the second pack my first picks were black. I picked Gravedigger, Wayward Servant and Final Reward. For the rest of the pack Black seemed to vanish once again. But I was given a little present in the form of Binding Mummy so things started to look better. Relatively late I was passed Black Monument so I picked it expecting that to be my win condition. I needed some Embalm creatures and bunch of Zombies. My last picks were Those Who Serve (3 copies) and 2 Miasmic Mummy. I wasn't really too happy about that card but then I realized that I had 2 copies of Anointer Priest that I could discard. I needed some creatures that could trade though so I was fine with that card.

In the third pack I first picked Zombie Lord and I was very happy about. My second pick was Start/Finish that I also welcomed. My third pick though was GIDEON of the Trials! Someone was out of their mind when passing that. I was in shock for the rest of the draft because of this. Even if my original plan with Zombies wouldn't work out I had a Gideon plan that would certainly work with all my 1/3, 2/4 and Embalm creatures. Next pick was White monument so I started to smile. My next two picks were Sacred Cat which I was happy about (because of its Embalm mana cost being 1) and Binding Mummy which made me smile even more. Next pack there were three Zombies I could pick from. Miasmic Mummy, 3/3 Zombie for 4 that untaps a creature when it comes into play (or something like that) and Blighted Bat. The latter seemed to be the best choice out of those so I picked that (I did not expect to attack much on the ground, otherwise I would have picked the 3/3 Zombie). Then I picked another Black Monument but having another copy did not seem correct (I did not expect to play it). There wasn't anything relevant for me though so I didn't care that much. The remaining cards are not worth mentioning but I was glad to see another Anointer Priest.

Round 1
I played against UB cycling deck deck. I started with Anointer Priest. My opponent started with Seeker of Insight so there wasn't a way I'd deal some damage with my creatures attacking. But I had Gideon in my opener and expected to just win if I coul avoid Final Reward or Lay Claim. I slammed Gideon on the table while my opponent was tapped out and hoped it would be just all it was needed. There was one more card that could deal with Gideon - Never/Return - which I didn't expect though. Since I played Gideon early I didn't expect it to die to an army of Flyers that the Blue-Black player could possible have in his deck. I attacked with Gideon while playing one or two creatures a turn while keeping mana for removal or tapping (since my opponent did have Flyers and Cartouche of Knowledge that certainly threatened my Gideon since this on 6/5 creature would be rather bad for me). Game 1 was over soon.

Second game looked similar even though I didn't have Gideon in my opener nor means how to play it. I had some creatures and Zombie Lord though that would save my 2/2s from dying to Rags/Riches. My opponent couldn't find a Swamp or another land for that matter and thus I had few turns before my creatures could die. Some of my key creatures for draining life died but the Lord itself was out of Ruthless Sniper's range. I later landed Gideon and finished my opponent with it. My opponent revealed his hand containing the rare card - Rags/Riches - and Lay Claim.

Round 2
I opened with a one drop followed by Trueheart Duelist with which I hoped to deal some damage. But the card was stopped by the looter I saw in previous round. My opponent continued with another Seeker of Insight some 2/4 Nagas and tried to find some lands and Embalm cards he could play. In the meantime I drew Gideon and played it, I was tapping my opponent's Flyers or 6/5 creature into which I didn't want to attack with Gideon. When one of the creatures got enchanted with Cartouche of Knowledge my Gideon was about to die, but my draining engine was already in play and it was easy for me to win from that spot.

In the second game my opponent was playing mono blue all the time and did not reach 7 mana for Lay Claim. I didn't see Gideon that game though so it was my army of Zombies that had to drain my opponent's life with some occasional attack. My 1/3s and 2/2s weren't good attackers since they faced 2/4s and 1/3s (and one 6/5). There were some 2/1s and 3/2 creatures into which I could attack. So with the help of two creatures being able to tap opposing creatures I managed to deal enough damage so I could then drain the remaining life relatively easily.

Round 3
I didn't know what I was facing because my opponent started with two Mountains and didn't play anything (except a burn spell). I played one drop, two drop and dealt some damage. Later I faced some Green and Red creatures through which I certainly couldn't go through. 4/3, 3/4 and 5/5 creatures seemed too much for me. I played Start/Finish to buy me some time. The burn spell also hit an Embalm creature that I returned with Gravedigger to my hand. My opponent wasn't certainly happy about that. I was able to tap one to two creatures each turn and the rest of my creatures I needed to gang block and kill (Finish certainly helped with reducing the numbers). I drew White Monument later which started to look good for me and started to clog my field. I also drew the Black one later so I was slowly draining my opponent. When I drew Binding Mummy I needed some Zombies to tap opposing creatures. I ran into my opponent's creatures letting my Embalm creatures die. That was a silly thing to do but I had abundance of Zombie creatures with which I could trigger Binding Mummies. It allowed me to create a bigger difference between my attackers, my opponent's blockers and the damage that would go through. I finally got in the position to attack somehow dealing the remaining 7 damage I needed to squeeze through. I won and was glad I did (Haze of Pollen wouldn't be nice even though it would win the game for my opponent). This could have gone very wrong since I'm very bad at situations in which I need to get some damage through via combat.

In the second game I tried to attack a bit from the beginning so I could drain the rest of my opponent's life later. He soon started playing bigger creatures than mine but I also had some creatures with the ability to tap creatures. Later (quite late) Gideon showed up and helped me deal even more damage. The card was bound to die though since I didn't have enough creatures to protect it. If my Trueheart Duelist would die, Gideon would just die almost immediately. But my opponent's life total was in draining range already. My opponent did not manage to punish me during the two turns where my position wasn't 'good' except the attacking Gideon. When my opponent finally managed to kill Gideon all I needed to do was let it die and swing back with my creatures to deal the remaining 2 damage.

This game could have gone awry for me but even without Gideon I had a way how to win the game. It would have taken more time though and I would have to Embalm my creatures. I was glad I didn't need that because it would have required me to think more about the damage I can squeeze in while draining my opponent and I was too tired for that (and facing 5/5s from Sandwurm Convergence did not look good at all).

At the prerelease one of my decks was BW Zombies. It did surprisingly well. Even though this opponent didn't put up much resistance he earned an achievement because he managed to attack with Kefnet the Mindful.

While I can say that Gideon won me the draft because the card is simply overpowered I felt that my deck worked well even without it. I was able to deal some damage with my creatures and then drain or create tokens. Binding Mummies were stellar. I had more removal that didn't end up in my deck because I needed creatures to trigger my Monuments and Wayward Servant, but that I could board in against decks running more highly annoying creatures (like 6/6 Trample Hydra or Sphinxes/Avens). Since I was also picking some Token generating cards I could have played more of that to be able to survive more aggressive decks (3 Priests and Tokens is good). It was difficult for me to put together a deck with all those cards. All of them seemed good in the deck (except cards like Winged Shepherd). Note to self - pick White Trial or In Oketra's Name.

After the draft I was exhausted and wanted to just go to sleep, but I couldn't. After trying to log in to Magic Online with ping 445ms and experiencing some fatal errors I was very glad I managed to play some Magic. When starting the draft I was rather tilted because of it and maybe my desperation I felt lured some luck my way. The draft was a very nice experience (and I ended up with Gideon o_O, I still can't believe it). I also very glad that I can play a Zombie tribal. I played it already at the Prerelease so I knew it was possible to build it and make it work somehow. I will have to explore other archetypes as well. But I like Blue-Black cycling deck for example. Red-Green Aggro will certainly work. This set provides the most efficient beaters I know of! Green-White Exert with some Spidery Grasps looks good too and this is also one of the sets where Blue-Green tempo should work. It has all the good cards for it and not just on rare slots. What I'd like to see in action is some kind of Black-Red Hellbent aggro because there are cards for it but I don't know how efficient the deck can be. Same goes to Black-Green counters. At one of the Prereleases I played that and it seemed to be good but unfortunately I wasn't able to deal with 3-4 rares my opponents were regularly throwing at me.

Thank you for reading
S'Tsung (@stsungjp on Twitter and stsung on MODO)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Alesha, Who Smiles at Death

(Movie) 君の名は (Your name)

While many people still try to convince others that Ghost in the Shell is a bad movie (it's not! just different), many people went to the cinema to see Kimi no na wa. No matter who saw the movie though, everyone feels like it's the best movie ever. While I can't say this is the best movie I've seen, I can see why and how the movie dazzled so many people...and if I could I'd just go to the cinema to watch the movie again.

Since the release of this movie I saw so many overly positive comments about the movie. I watched a trailer quite some time ago and I marked that movie as one of those I wanted to watch when it would be available. The movie is now in cinemas around the world so I read more and more comments about the movie. Everyone seems to be in love with it. It sparked my interest way more than the trailer and I really wanted to go see it. Our country is not obviously 'the world' though so the movie won't be available in our cinemas.

It is directed by Makoto Shinkai and that is also why I did not expect the movie to be a bad one. I expected something between a very good movie and a masterpiece that will give me something to think about. I wanted to know what people see in the movie so I've done something what one shouldn't and downloaded a Japanese cam version. On one of the days I felt like totally different person (because I felt like a woman unlike my normal self) I decided to watch the movie. We follow a story of two characters. Mitsuha and Taki who in their sleep end up in the body of the other. I actually get dreams like this quite often so this was no surprise to me. But we can see the identity crises of both characters, hear Mitsuha's dialect when being in Taki's body and her struggle with using proper pronouns. We also see the characters behave in a different way being seen as strange and it shows on the animation as well - something I did not expect to be visible. This is not what the movie is about but it shows something many people are afraid to talk, see or accept and seeing this on a screen in the cinema certainly help those people in our society that do not simply fit to binary roles the society set for us. It serves as an awareness movie even if it wasn't meant like it (maybe it was).

The two protagonists are looking for a way how to interact with each other, they leave each other messages, photos and notes and together experience something unique. Their relationship transcends time and space. While we watch these episodes that are light in nature the movie shifts into a more serious and depressive part of the movie. We learn that the comet that is being referenced in the movie is a vital part of the story and what it actually means for the two characters.

Many people say this is a major twist in the movie and unpredictable but it seemed totally obvious to me. I'm not sure if that is because I paid more attention to what was either shown or hidden/not commented in the movie or it just comes more naturally to me - not being new to all kinds of anime/manga, fantasy and science-fiction. This is one of the movies in which I have the impression that every detail counts. There is nothing that would be 'not necessary'. All those little things be it in class, TV screen or poster on the wall are things that add something to the story and give clues while not disrupting the viewer from the overall viewing experience. Some of those 'clues' are very depressive indeed (Itomori pictures in the museum).

Kumohimo braid that represents the time in the movie is also something that caught my interest. For some reason people are fascinated by braiding/weaving and often give it magical powers and often it links to time. Maybe our world/universe is made of threads (strings).

The movie gives us room to think while we see what is in front of us and feel strong emotions. The colors are simply beautiful and even if I haven't seen a good quality of the movie I can tell you that it is awesome and very well done. The animation is awesome and it is not something I usually pay much attention to. But when it is done well or in a way that is unique I notice that too. It's not just about the story and style, the animation is something that can make the movie way more lively or full of emotions.

As for sound and soundtrack. Personally I'm not a fan but I can say that it was done in a way that is not normal in anime and maybe that is why it affected me more. It made me feel more mellow and more distracted at times. Someone tried very hard to achieve something and they did.

The name of the movie is something that you will understand later in the movie. Similarly to Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi title. I won't spoil the story, but you will hear it, feel it and maybe cry. Because it is sad, very sad.

I don't know what to say more because it is very difficult to express what I feel. But one thing is for sure. Go see the movie because it is a masterpiece. I wouldn't say that it is the best Makoto Shinkai's movies or best anime movie to watch, but it certainly is one of the best and is one of the most accessible to those that are not familiar with Japanese anime or Makoto Shinkai's movies. It is very faced paced (not usual) and written with decent humour.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Drawing exercise - Leovold, Emissary of Trest

Sometimes I have the urge to draw something but I do not know what and usually it stops there and I don't draw anything. At occasions like this I decided to pick a card I like (since there are usually many around me) and try to recreate it or part of it. My previous drawing exercises like that did not really end up well. Mostly I did not really care to make it look the way it was supposed to and just doodled. This time though, after Temporal Trespass drawing that went awry, I picked Leovold, Emissary of Trest and tried to draw it so it would actually look good. After staring at the illustration for quite a while I have to say that I admire the work of Magali Villeneuve. The illustration is so detailed and beautiful! I wanted to paint something at first but since I felt very badly I decided to just try to recreate Leovold with just a pencil. Maybe I learned something? I'll have to see when I draw something next...

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Drawing exercise - Mitsuha

I wanted to try using copic markers but didn't know what to draw. Few days ago I watched Kimi no na wa so I decided to draw Mitsuha. I learned that my hand isn't steady enough for this...^_^

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

(Movie) Ghost in the Shell

Last week we went to the cinema to see Ghost in the Shell. We saw a trailer few months ago and none of us liked it. Our expectations were very low and that was maybe a good thing. (We weren't fans of Scarlett Johansson). When I was leaving the cinema I felt like I saw a movie that could be considered a breakthrough in cinematography. It certainly felt unique in the sense of 'I've never seen anything like this' but since this is an adaptation of a anime adaptation of a manga from late 80s I can't decide if using 'unique' is the right word. If I were to rate this movie I'd give it 6.5/10 (it would be 3/5 on my scale).

Not knowing that the movie tries to follow Oshii's film I wasn't surprised by what is to come. There were scenes I did not really look forward to and there were scenes I looked forward to. This probably meant that I looked at the movie with different eyes than others. One of the scenes I was looking forward to was the first scene. Also I somehow expected chorus singing. I missed it in the scene. Also the 'tempo' of the scene was different and that is something that troubled me in the whole movie. The scenes often felt rushed for me and there wasn't enough momentum for me in this adaptation. But western cinematography is different than anime and today's people also want something different - action. The movie was more of an action movie for me but it was done with moderation which I appreciated.

As for the soundtrack. The music might be good (I will have to listen to it) but the way it was used in the movie felt wrong for me. But that also has something to do with the fact that I'm used to something different. If you watch an anime scene after a big build-up there is usual silence but in western movies it is also the music that graduates. I find this wrong in other movies but here it felt more wrong because I obviously had some expectations even though I thought I had none.

The storyline was altered which shouldn't surprise anyone. The story changes and dialogues aren't that great. The changes in the storyline are understandable if someone tries to create a main stream movie, something that is easily understandable. It comes with few surprises which makes it different from Oshii's GitS and breathes some life to Sanders's version. This though stripped the whole film of all the existential questions, ponderings a politics. The depth of the anime movie was lost. Some of the scenes are just reproduced, others new. Scenes that recreate the original scene have a different feel. There are scenes in GitS that left in me very strong emotion or a very uneasy feeling but the scenes in the movie for some reason did not. While the anime adaptation itself is thought provoking, this movie does not seem to have that effect much. We just look at something and we don't really know what that something is. Even when staring at Major in the anime it always sent my thoughts in all directions. Because it reminded me of everything that was discussed in the anime. Staring at Scarlett Johansson in this movie did not have the same effect. She seemed too human and full of expression and that is something the director should not have wanted. Major Kusanagi was totally cold with emotion showing from time to time or at least that is what I remember and that is what I expected as well. Major Scuba diving (being a very dangerous thing to do if you are a very heavy cyborg) is also something that can help understand how she feels and what she is trying to figure out. Scarlett Johansson as Major was acting strange for me (it wasn't naturally cold) but I can't say she was bad for this role. It didn't fit the story I remember and sometimes I just wondered what other people think about her strange acting because the way how Kusanagi behaved wasn't explained (if I skip the part about cyborg body and human brain). In general the cast was good though in my opinion. Pilou Asbæk did a great job portraying Batou.

In general dumbing down the storyline is something I wouldn't mind but it was twisted in a way to make it more 'American' and the whole meaning of Project 2051 was gone. The meaning of 'Ghost' in the shell was totally lost from the movie and it was more of a fight of good vs evil centered around Major Kusanagi, finding her past and possibly love. This is a pity from my point of view and I don't understand the need for things like that. Why not just concentrate on wondering if a cyborg can have a soul? Or if a program can become sentient in the digital world and 'propagate'? The Puppet Master is something/someone that was what probably tied me to Ghost in the Shell in the first place. I wasn't really a fan of what Sanders did in this movie but I wouldn't reflect this in the movie's rating. I think that Ghost in the Shell 2017 is a good movie and that it can open some of the people's eyes and be thought provoking. It lacks all the depth of Oshii's Ghost in the Shell though but still people can watch that later if they choose too, or read the manga which is even more complex. I wouldn't say that this movie deserves the name Ghost in the Shell since it has a story based on something else.

The atmosphere of the movie was good and I liked the visuals in general. In general I like Cyberpunk and I wondered if anyone today would produce a Cyperpunk movie. This is the reason why I was looking forward to seeing GitS because this can mean that there will be more movies like this in the future. The portrayal of futuristic Hong Kong was nice. I liked that even though I wasn't really fan of all the commercials and I wondered if companies like KONAMI and Adidas actually paid for being shown in the movie. As for other CGI I'm not entirely sure what to say. The quality was changing quite a lot throughout the whole movie. While many seemed to enjoy the action scenes I didn't. They even perturbed me. Something was off but I couldn't really tell what (of course when it is CGI). It perturbed me more than the dull dialogues, no character development and Puppet Master plot not being present. I think if they tried to recreate the original Puppet Master idea it could have been a total failure but this way it isn't. I'm glad they did not utterly destroy or undermine Ghost in the Shell. In that sense I consider it a 'success'.

What I was very disappointed about was the end (tank scene). When the scene was starting I realized that I forgot about the end of Oshii's movie. I recalled it with ease within milliseconds but it all came to my mind hitting me hard with emotions I felt when I saw the anime. Suddenly I didn't want to see Kusanagi's body destroyed. When the scene went rogue and what I expected didn't happen I was too surprised. I think the drastic end is something that would provoke way more thought (merging with project 2051) and would be more fitting than reuniting Motoko with her mother. I understand this since the whole movie's perspective shifted but than why call it 'Ghost in the Shell?'.

It was a good movie though and I would recommend watching it. You may not like it, but it is worth watching. Imdb shows a rating of 6.9 and I actually think that this is a higher rating it deserves but I wouldn't give it a bad rating because the movie was different or that it disappointed me in many ways. Unfortunately as someone who read the manga and saw the anime my point of view on the movie can be skewed. We are people with different tastes and ways how to rate a film.
Rating: 3/5