Friday, December 21, 2012

A Gathering

Quite the cast of characters has assembled in the basement of New England Comics on a Saturday afternoon in mid-November. And no, it’s not the Justice League. It’s a bunch of regular guys you would probably run into at any suburban mall.  Ari is in the second year of his residency at Beth Israel Hospital. Dillon runs tech support for one the leading law firms in Boston. Luke is working on his PHD in Physics at Boston College.  And Hunter scored a boatload of Tootsie Rolls to snack on for the afternoon.
Hunter is also in seventh grade.
“Got any trades?” he asked while jawing on his chocolate candy.
What could bring all these people together in a basement lined with boxes of back issue comic books? It’s Magic: The Gathering, a fantasy-based trading card game that has over 12 million players worldwide. Magic is a game where two people battle with trading cards that feature an array of mystical creatures, sorceries and enchantments. The game has been around since 1993 and most people associate it with pimply nerds who don’t get enough sunlight. That’s not quite the case. Magic attracts a variety of people from all age groups. People are playing at New England Comics for a variety of reasons. Some hope to sharpen their game skills. Others play for nostalgic value. Some love the community and camaraderie.
On weekends, the comic book store basement becomes part trading floor, part social club, and part battleground for cardboard creatures. Dillon Barfield is a thirty year old tech-support professional helps run the Saturday afternoon games. He’s got a slight blonde beard and is wearing a red t-shirt featuring a cheerleader wielding a chainsaw. He’s also one of the friendliest guys there. He helps explain some of the more complex cards to younger players and knows the real-life dollar value of most of the cards.  “Dillon’s House of Cards is open,” said another player as Dillon quoted a price for a rare creature card. “I check the website once or twice a day at work,” he said, referring to the Magic Price Guide.
“I’m real happy with the community we’re building here,” said Ryan Barr, a goateed law student wearing a backwards flat-brimmed Red Sox cap. Ryan helped set up the weekend games about a year ago and is proud of the fact that it has developed into a friendly community. Saturdays are reserved for booster draft tournaments, which are the equivalent of a pickup game. Other types of tournaments features decks that players have spent a lot of time and money building. Today players pay $15 and receive three packs of cards which have fifteen cards each.  The players build their deck during the draft.  Each player selects one card from their pack and passes it on. This process is repeated until all cards in all three packs are claimed. It’s an easy way for the casually interested player to get back in the game. Two law school students are playing for the first time in years and their excited to tap into their inner nerd again. “I saw my brother-in-law’s Amazon account and noticed that he bought a lot of cards,” said Evan, who goes to Boston University Law School. Evan thought he could get back into Magic as well. He’s stoked to play again.   ****
The object of Magic is to get your opponent's life total from twenty to zero. There are five different colors of Magic cards: red, blue, white, black, and green. Each color represents a different theme and subsequent strategy for playing the game. On the Magic online Wiki, Red magic is described as “filled with fire, frenzy, and storms of rock and lava.” Red has powerful cards that create a lot of damage. It’s up to the player’s taste, skill, and quick thinking to figure out what type of deck they want to build.
The main types of cards are lands, creatures, and sorceries.  Land creates “mana,” which is the cost for playing other cards.  Players take turns putting creatures and spells into the battlefield by paying their “mana cost.” A player “attacks” with the cards after they are in play. The opponent can defend with their creatures or play other spells in response.
Creature cards have two numbers on the bottom right corner that show their strength and toughness. If an attacking creature's strength outnumbers the defending creature’s toughness, the weaker creature is sent to the graveyard. For example, a 7/7 Axebane Stag, which looks like a pissed off Dr. Seuss character, would crush a 1/1 Bellows Lizard.  However, a player could play a card called Avenging Arrow, a spell that says, “Destroy target creature that dealt damage this turn.” That Axebane Stag would then die as well.  That is just one of literally thousands of battle scenarios that could take place in Magic. The set being used today, Return to Ravnica, has only 254 cards. However, there are over 11,000 Magic cards total. It requires an encyclopedic knowledge of the cards to put together the best battle plans.
Magic  players do not just use their imagination to fight dragons and wizards, like many kids do in their basements. They develop efficient and effective strategies to win battles. Mosby, a skinny seventeen year old with a blonde afro has been playing since he was 12. He now plays regularly in tournaments and comes to Magic games on Saturdays to stay sharp. “I’m just playing to get more experience,” he said. He’s giving his deck a test run by dealing out a hand of cards to himself. One can see that he’s thinking about this harder than he will about anything else for the rest of the weekend. To win in this fantasy world, you need to be well-rounded in the liberal arts. ****
Like with most things designed by adults, there are also adult issues that come with Magic. Money plays a big role in Magic. These cards aren’t cheap.  If you want to get good at Magic, you’ll have to pay up. Dillon, who regularly plays in tournaments, estimated that a good tournament deck in the “standard” format (the most popular) will cost between $300 to $600 dollars to build. The best players on the Magic pro tour can earn money in the five figures. This is a game that can be mastered by a teenager.
Some also try to make a return on the day. Luke, the physics PHD student,  views the afternoon as part fun and part investment, “If you go out drinking you’re not going to get your money back. With Magic, you’ll probably get your money back,” he said. Luke sold his cards at the end of the day. He haggled with some other players, but many of them said that they had spent too much money on cards already. Luke found and buyer and they settled for $15. “It’s like drugs,” he said. However, this transaction is small change. Black Lotus, one of the rarest and most sought after cards, can go for up to $100,000 on ebay Luke got sick the huge time and money commitment that is required of a serious Magic player. He sold all his cards last year -- a number in the thousands -- and got $2,500 for them. Now, he just plays in booster draft tournaments to have fun on the weekends for fun. He enjoys this style much more.
Magic: The Gathering gathers hyper-intelligent people who speak the same language and appreciate the same culture. It attracts a variety of people across age groups and incomes. The cardboard creatures and spell brings people together like few other things can.
In between matches, Hunter gets anxious. He wandered over to Dillon at the far end of the table.
“Got any trades?” Hunter asked.
“Yeah, take a look,” Dillon said as he opened up his binder.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Barack Obama: The Most Hilarious Photos of His Presidency

In case you didn't hear, President Barack Obama earned Time's Person of the Year once again. I'll be upfront and say that I love this president. I did some volunteering for his campaign in 2008. I voted for him, twice. I think he's done a lot with not much. With that being said, I don't want to discuss politics on this blog.

However, I think Barack Obama and his cabinet have had some hilarious photos during these past four years. Maybe it's just good PR, but I could care less. I don't remember as many hilarious photos during the Bush administration. (Maybe his handlers thought that funny photos wouldn't look good?) Here are some of my favorites

Obama Spiderman 
Pete Souza  
ht president barack obama playing spiderman thg 121219 wblog Obama Photo With Spider Man Shows Playful President
No one is safe from Spidey's web. Not even the Prez.

Obama is not impressed
Pete Souza

You could call Obama "the meme" president. I'm sure a lot of other senior politicians have no idea what a meme is.

Obama Guinness
Getty Images

There's nothing wrong with quaffing an adult beverage when your of age and had a heck of a difficult term of office.

Coach Joe

I think I would have enjoyed playing football a lot more if Joe Biden was my coach. Scratch that, if Joe Biden coached an intramural flag football squad, then I would love it.

Stealing a Kiss:

This kid's got it.

Joe Goes to Costco
via Gawker
Seven Scenes from Joe Biden's Big Adventure 'Looking for Pies' at Costco

"Jill, they've got pies up the sky here. To the sky!"

Seven Scenes from Joe Biden's Big Adventure 'Looking for Pies' at Costco

Said Pies.

Barack Gets a Hug:
Pablo Martinez Monsivais
ap barack obama scott van duzer jt 120909 main Pizza Man Bear Hugs Obama, Starts Yelp Troll War

Hugs are great.  Pizza store owner Scott Van Nuzer just had to give the prez one.


Probably my favorite Obama meme

Any ones I missed?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rockabilly Batman is the Most Poignant Dark Knight Fan Art Ever

Batman is a raw sort of superhero. We know that he's human. We know he can be broken. He didn't come from another galaxy. He doesn't rely on alien rings. He wasn't blessed by the Gods.

He's a man, who worked countless hours perfecting himself and believes in law and order. He's not afraid to enforce justice himself. There's an American essence to him. That's why I love the Rockabilly Batman by Italian artist Denis Medri. It resonates with what Batman is at his core, a hardcore, tough, hero who has a dark side. 

Here's why the Rockabilly theme works so well: 

Batman is the 50's and the 50's is Batman: 
Rockabilly is a predecessor to rock n' roll. Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and early Elvis all had a stripped down sort of sound. There's a guitar, upright bass, and drums, and a piano. No garish synthesizers or heavy editing.

An austere Batman is the best kind of Batman. Christopher Nolan's character showed that the man behind the cowl is better than the campy gadgets and goofy plot lines of Joel Schumacher's movies. I also love The Long Halloween. It's dark and simple. Nothing too fancy. Batman is at his best when he doesn't try too much, just like Elvis. 

It fits the characters:
I may be speaking from personal bias here, but I think Batman has the richest rouges gallery of any superhero. How many Superman villains can the casual Superman fan name? Maybe Spiderman or X-Men have some notable ones, but I would argue that Batman villains are the most notable. Two-Face, Penguin, the Joker, Catwoman...

Take a look at the characters. I can see them fitting right in our vision of 1950's America. The poodle skirts, hot rods, letter jackets, it fits well here. 

That's hard to do with any other cast of characters. Marvel's attempt at putting their characters in the 1930's with the Marvel Noir series got mixed reviews. Its tough, but I would like to see DC take a chance on this. 

Bruce Wayne can do the James Dean thing:
Bruce does his own thing. Just like Jim Stark, James Dean's character in Rebel Without a Cause. He doesn't listen to everyone else who says he should be content with being a rich playboy at the helm of Wayne enterprises. He protects Gotham and doesn't care who stands in his way.

Honestly DC, let's do this. 

Images are from Metri's Facebook Page. Check it out here

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

12/12/12 Things to Read/Watch/Listen

It's December 12, 2012 or 12/12/12. A unique date that we won't ever see again. (But as a friend of mine pointed out on Facebook, aren't 12/11/12 and 12/13/12 unique dates as well?)

In honor of that day here are 12 things that I've recently read/watched/listened to and really enjoyed:

1. Back on the Ice by Bill Littlefield
The host of Only a Game on NPR wrote a wonderful profile on Boston Blades hockey coach Digit Murphy. She came and spoke in my sports seminar class earlier this fall. Murphy is quite a character and a trailblazer.

2. The Best-Kept Secret in American Journalism is Murray Kempton from Bronx Banter Blog
This 1982 profile of journalist Murray Kempton by David Owen is fantastic. Even though I just spent a semester taking journalism classes and doing assignments, I sometimes feel more inspired by profiles like this one.

3. @ModernSeinfeld 
I love Seinfeld because it talks about, to quote Elaine from the Bizarro Jerry episode, the "excruciating minutia" of everyday life. This account, which was created on Monday, has ballooned to over 150K followers. It tweets pitches for modern Seinfeld shows. Its hilarious. I love the idea of Kramer getting into Reddit.

4. Muswell Hillbillies by The Kinks
This 1971 album is extremely underrated. It's got a gutty, Americana sound that was way ahead of its time. I've listened to it multiple times all the way through.

5. Looking for Someone by Nick Paumgarten
This is a piece from last year, but it's still worthwhile. This piece from the New Yorker takes a look into the strange world into online dating. As someone who has signed up for such services in the past, I found it fascinating to see how much math goes into these types of things.

6. This Invisible Made Visible from This American Life
I'm rarely disappointed when I listen to TAL. They always have engaging stories. The Invisible Made Visible was their live visual show that they streamed into movie theaters a few weeks ago. It costs $5, but its well worth it. Tig Notaro is especially hilarious.

7. The Ikea Monkey Meme from Gawker
This cracked me up:

This website is all about the business of humor. It's not a humorous website, but a website devoted to talking about humorous people. It's constantly updated with new videos, podcasts, profiles, and a bunch of other cool historical stuff. It's a must-read for me every day.

9. SportsonEarth.Com
This is the new sports website from USA Today. I love its column driven approach (even though the name is kinda blegh.) It always has thoughtful insights into the sports world.

10. Tarkio
This is the Colin Meloy's old band. I'm upset I didn't hear about them sooner.

11. Fresh Air interview with Bill Haider
As much as I love comedy, I love listening to comedians talk about comedy even more. Terri Gross always does such poignant interviews. Haider is a smart guy.

12. Javale McGee
Javale McGee is such a goofball. I'm glad he still does stuff like this. It makes me feel less bad when I do similar things in the hallway of COM.

That's it. Enjoy your 12/12/12 parties.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

R.A. Dickey: Knuckleball + Persistence = Sportsman of the Year

Being described as "unconventional" can be a death knell for a professional athlete. In an era where athletes are being groomed from future athletic glory as young as middle school, outliers don't usually get much attention. The familiar is comfortable. 

Or they get the wrong kind of attention. Basketball players refuse to emulate Rick Barry's "granny shot" free-throw, even though he was an 89 % from the charity stripe for his career. If it looks different, it's weird. And weird doesn't equal success in today's sports world. 

That's why R.A. Dickey deserves to be the 2012 Sportsman of the year.He embraced an unconventional and often ostrcized method of pitching, the knuckleball. Dickey mastered that perplexing and bewildering pitch. Pittsburgh Pirate Willie Stargell described the pitch's oddness. "Throwing a knuckleball for a strike is like throwing a butterfly with hiccups across the street into your neighbor's mailbox," he said.

Yet, Dickey mastered it this season. He is the first pitcher to ever throw back-to-back one-hitters. He also pitched 44 1/3 innings without giving up an earned run. From May 27 to June 24, not a single runner scored on him. 

 Even though LeBron James, the SI's Sportsman of the year, had a fantastic 2012, people knew about his greatness. He seemed destined for success at a high level since he graced the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of seventeen.

Nobody knew what to make of R.A. Dickey. He was a ho-hum middle of the rotation starter  with the Texas Rangers for the first four years of his career. His career started to fizzle and it didn't look like he would be in the league much longer by 2005.

Then he transitioned to pitching the knuckleball. It wasn't easy. He gave up six home runs in his first start. He tied the MLB record for most wild pitches in an inning with four while he was pitching for the Twins. Those are earth shattering missteps for less confident pitchers. He stuck with it and became one of the best pitchers in baseball.

There is a scene in the documentary Knuckleball that shows Dickey meeting with fellow knuckleballers Phil Neikro, Charlie Hough, and Tim Wakefield. They are a guild of men who practice an unconventional craft. One that doesn't have much traction in the world of Major League Baseball. 

That's a great scene because it's something you don't see often enough in pro sports. There are lots of talented athletes, but not a lot of athletes who have succeed doing something so odd so successfully.