Author Archives: AJ

Adventures In Magic the Gathering: Aether Revolt Banned & Restricted Update

For every major booster set release for Magic the Gathering, Wizards of the Coast releases a special news update called the Banned & Restricted Announcement that seeks to inform the larger playerbase community on whether or not the powers that be have decided to ban, unban or restrict certain cards for the major sanctionable formats. Usually these announcements come just a week before the official paper release of the respective sets and outline how these formats might change. However, this past Monday some of this got thrown out the window for something that’s a real shake-up.

Coming in a full week early, the Aether Revolt edition yesterday of the B&R announcement has seen three premier cards banned from the Standard format, and two cards banned from the Modern format, with the other formats receiving no changes. The Standard bannings have shaken up the community in significant ways, and that is mostly what I will be talking about here, and touching on the Modern bannings as well. Overall, while I feel that all the bannings are deserved, there’s much to unpack here and it is not a clear-cut scenario at all.

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Homeland Season 1 (TV Series Review)

In the last ten years or so, there has been a notable shift in the genre of American television series that are being put out. Following on from the terrible events of 9/11, many networks have greenlighted spy shows focused not on traditional spy antics, but on counter-terrorism and domestic terrorism. Covert Affairs, Burn Notice, Chuck, Nikita, 24, Quantico, State of Affairs, The Blacklist, and many others. Strangely enough, many of these also star female characters, which is an interesting change from the previous era of James Bond styled shows with male characters. Focusing on one of the many intelligence agencies of the American intelligence network, these shows follow the lives of intelligence officers and experts as they head off one threat after another.

One of these shows is Homeland, starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, which premiered on Showtime on October 2, 2011 just a little over five years ago and has recently announced its sixth season, which will begin next month. I recently started watching the show, and I’ve been very impressed with it, which is probably why I binge-watched the first season in a mere three days. Danes, Lewis and the rest of the cast and crew have turned in a fantastic political spy thriller with some extremely nuanced and conflicted characters.

Note: Spoilers from the first season will be mentioned so proceed at your own risk. Read the rest of this entry

News: Dawn of War III Tie-ins From Black Library and Titan Comics Announced

Remember the golden year of 2005 when Relic Entertainment unleashed the phenomenon that was Dawn of War? I do! As a fan of the comics and novels for several years, Dawn of War was the perfect game for me for a number of reasons: I love RTS games, I love Warhammer 40,000, and their love-child was definitely going to be great. That was my working theory when I started playing Dawn of War and I was floored. Everything about the game, whether cutscenes or story or mechanics or gameplay or design or whatever, it was all top-notch. One of the most cathartic gaming experiences of my life. The games that followed, especially Dawn of War II: Dark Crusade just improved on that and I couldn’t be happier really. If there was any sore spot at all however, the tie-in novels from writer C. S. Goto were the anomaly. Tortorous and convoluted stories that seemed to do strange things with the lore, they are among the most unpopular of novels published by Black Library to date. But that’s all going to change, and here’s why.

Exactly five months to the day, Relic Entertainment announced that it was working on Dawn of War III and released the above trailer to the masses, causing a storm in the video game circles everywhere. The previous games are regarded highly, are considered among the best of their genre, and are tied to a fairly well-liked setting. And just in the last couple days we have received some more news about the game, namely that Black Library has hired author Robbie MacNiven to write the tie-in novel, and that Titan Comics will be doing the same for the comics medium. Cue more excitement and gushing and fangasming. Check after the break for the official announcements.

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Women In Star Wars

The latest installment in the nearly 4 decades old Star Wars franchise, Rogue One, released last week and it has been generating a lot of very specific buzz. It is no secret that often times the franchise overall is seen as a sausage fest, i.e., just a collection of dudes doing some things while the women are relegated to the sidelines. And such a criticism is justified because while there are countless secondary media where the roles of women in Star Wars have been magnified and given center-stage, the movies have made no progressive decisions outside of the norm.

Today, while on Facebook, I came across a post from a female friend who saw the movie and was put off by the dismal representation of women in Rogue One. I cannot blame her for that. Despite having a strong female lead in Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, she really is the only woman who is doing anything significant. The post has generated a lot of feedback from both sides of the aisle on representation in the movie in specific and in Hollywood at large, and I wanted to take a different tactic here, talking about how what we did get was still a bold move, and why it all matters moving forward.

Note: There are some spoilers from Rogue One here so if you wish to avoid those spoilers, please do not read the article. If you want to read my (spoiler) review of the movie, you can read it here.

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Star Wars: Rogue One (Movie Review)

In recent years, my relationship with the Star Wars franchise in its entirety has been in flux. Whether it be the disappointments of Episode VII: The Force Awakens or some of the recent novels like A New Dawn by John Jackson Miller or Honor Among Thieves by James S. A. Corey, I haven’t been enamoured of the franchise at all. There have been stand-outs such as Paul Kemp’s Lords of the Sith and James Luceno’s Tarkin, but there haven’t been many. And I won’t even get into the new comics from Marvel since most of them are retreading the area already covered extensively under Dark Horse and I don’t have much interest in them. However, when Rogue One was announced as a stand-alone movie in the franchise, and a prequel to the original Star Wars no less, I was excited because it was going to focus on almost entirely new characters and present us with something that we hadn’t really seen before on such a major platform.

Cue this past Thursday when the movie finally released. The trailers had built up a lot of hype for me, who was desperately looking for something to cheer for after the failings of The Force Awakens. Yes, the story would go over some material from Dark Horse and what some of the earlier video games had covered, but it was still mostly uncharted territory. Additionally, the period of the Galactic Empire’s dominance of the galaxy is one of the most fascinating periods in Star Wars lore, and I was totally ready for this movie. It looked to have a really awesome cast with some great promised cameos and I was all-in. And you know what, the movie didn’t disappoint. It was almost everything that I wanted from The Force Awakens but never got, and then some.

Note: This review contains some major spoilers from the movie, especially the ending, so read at your own risk.

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Warhammer 40,000: Will of Iron #1 (Comics Review)

The fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000 is extremely rich and complicated. Since its inception, this creation of Games Workshop has taken on a life of its own and has spanned a variety of media in the form of movies, comics, novels, audio-dramas, and so on. Some of the best fiction has come with the likes of the Bloodquest comics or the Horus Heresy multi-media series and so on. I’ve been a fan of this setting for almost 15 years or now, and it has certainly been a journey that has had its ups and downs. Will of Iron looks to chart a bold new path forward.

Recently, Titan Comics was granted the license to publish fresh new comics in the 40K universe, and Will of Iron #1 is the first of these new stories that brings the indomitable Space Marines and their various enemies back to comics forefront. Written by George Mann, the new series focuses on one of the most secretive and oldest factions of these space-faring warrior-monks as many of their secrets are about to be exposed and their efforts to contain the spread of such knowledge begin. The first issue is a bit predictable and dry, but it is also very promising and for that I give it a big thumps up.

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Adventures In Magic the Gathering: Kaladesh Previews Week 3

The second week (third week for Kaladesh because of PAX) of spoilers usually has very little exciting stuff to reveal. Most of the good stuff comes out in the first week, often on the first 2-3 days themselves, and then it is all mostly some promising rares and uncommons, maybe a spicy mythic or two. The first big wave of spoilers for Kaladesh certainly proved to be very interesting, and it is clear that there are some really powerful cards in store for us when the set releases next week.

The beginning of the final week of Kaladesh brought us the most surprising news of the year: the Masterpiece series and the Kaladesh Inventions. A range of 30 premium foil versions of artifacts from across Magic‘s history, it seems that these are the new norm for sets moving forward. And not only that, but we got tons of exciting cards that are sure to shake up not only Standard, but also make a splash in Modern and Legacy! So let’s see what’s all in store for us as the Kaladesh preview season ends.

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Ravnica: City of Guilds by Cory J. Herndon (Book Review)

My first substantial introduction to the world of Magic the Gathering was through the comics written by Matt Forbeck for IDW Publishing. They introduced me to the planeswalker thief Dack Fayden through some really fun adventures across the Multiverse. Since then, I’ve taken up the game itself, and now I play fairly regularly and follow tournament coverage as well. Naturally, my interests would also lead me to other Magic fiction, specifically the novels, and I’ve read a few of them in the last couple of years, the most recent being Cory J. Herndon’s Ravnica: City of Guilds.

The first of the Ravnica Cycle trilogy, this novel follows a lieutenant of the League of Wojek, Agrus Kos, as he undertakes a murder investigation that draws him into a conspiracy that will shake up the entire world of Ravnica. As a fan of the setting, I really appreciated Herndon’s detailed descriptions of Ravnica and its many citizens, which really helped to bring the world alive in my mind. I’m not familiar with any of the characters here, but that’s the thing about Ravnica: City of Guilds, you don’t have to know anything about Magic the Gathering to enjoy it, though that does help.

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Black Wolves by Kate Elliott (Book Review)

It has been a while since I’ve done any reviews, largely due to the fact that I’ve barely read 10-12 novels in the last one year or so. Far cry from my regular 9-11 books a month before that. Just been a long period of “don’t really care, just want time off, too much work, ugh” and so on. Getting back into reading hasn’t exactly been easy since it is as if my reading mojo is gone. But thankfully, I’ve started to turn it around of late, and one of the books I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently is Kate Elliott’s Black Wolves.

Black Wolves is the first novel in the trilogy of the same name. It follows a multitude of characters in a (low) fantasy setting and deals with the ruthless politics of a kingdom forged by the sword and inherited by weaker successors where the loyalties of good men and women are commodities. It is a very different kind of novel than I usually read, but I have a fair amount of experience with Kate’s diverse works, and Black Wolves doesn’t disappoint. It is a fun and entertaining read, though it could have used some trimming here and there to be a bit more brief.

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Adventures In Magic the Gathering: Kaladesh Previews Week 2

Wizards of the Coast kicked off their previews for the upcoming set Kaladesh in great style at the PAX West convention, bringing us some fantastic new planeswalkers, new mechanics, and some really fantastic new cards that are sure to shake up the Standard format, and beyond. Against the backdrop of the Magic World Championship 2016, which was won by seasoned grinder Brian Braun-Duin (congrats, Brian!), the previews presentations were amazingly well-choreographed and it was certainly a unique experience as far as I’m concerned.

The second week of previews didn’t disappoint either, I must say. Not only did we get one more Planeswalker, we also got the planeswalkers for the Planeswalker Intro Packs, which have replaced the regular Intro Packs of old, and we saw some great new powerful cards that reintroduced characters who have been missing for some time. The world of Kaladesh looks as vibrant as the first round of previews suggested, if not better, and I certainly can’t wait to get my hands on some of these cards. So let’s get to it then!

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Adventures In Magic the Gathering: Kaladesh at PAX

Ever since about the end of May, it has been a rollercoaster few months. It is as if the spoiler season hasn’t really ended. First it was the spoilers for Eternal Masters. Then soon after that it was time for spoilers for Conspiracy: Take The Crown. And then, just a few days ago, it was time for Kaladesh, the upcoming set for the game, releasing by the end of the month. Taking place at the PAX convention over the weekend, we got a ton of spoilers for the new set, which is all set to shake up the Standard format, and even more.

Kaladesh is going to mark a very significant point in the history of the game since it will be the first set to bring us players firmly into the new era of two-set blocks which started with the Battle For Zendikar block last year, and progressed with the Shadows Over Innistrad block this year. Whether it be the planeswalker Saheeli Rai or vehicles or the new Energy resource, Kaladesh is chock-full of awesome cards and awesome mechanics and I can’t wait to get my hands on these cards and get on with some spell-slinging with friends. Read the rest of this entry

Adventures In Magic the Gathering: The Modern Metagame

More than any other year in the last several years, the Modern format was put under an especially harsh scrutiny, owing to the January Banned & Restricted Announcement from Wizards of the Coast. Coming out just before Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, this announcement decreed that two key format staples Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom were banned. Such is the price to pay for having a Modern PT. Unfortunately, during the PT, Eldrazi decks of various builds dominated the tournament, and in the months following, they were everywhere. It was a display of performance almost unmatched in the format’s history, necessitating a ban of the archetype staple Eye of Ugin in the next B&R update, as well as the announcement that Modern would no longer be a PT format.

Now, we are about five months from that day, and the modern meta has shifted considerably since then. There was the brief rise of Abzan CoCo as a powerful deck, but that phase too has passed. Now, the utter dominance of a single deck has given rise to a more diffuse dominance, where no one or two or even three decks are clearly at the top. Various new strategies have come up, challenging the top tier decks for their crown. And this diversity was highlighted this previous weekend in the Grand Prix tournaments held in Guangzho (China), Lille (France) and Indianapolis (USA). Here’s how the meta broke down.

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