Friday, December 1, 2017

Magic: The Commander Player's Toolkit




If you are new to Magic, or even new to the more casual format of Commander, it can be a little daunting picking which cards will work well in your particular deck.

Fortunately, Commander does have some pretty solid staples which will fit in, no matter who your choice of Commander is.

With this in mind, I have picked the list below as a good starting point for any Commander deck. These are all colorless and will either help you fixing mana, improving early game board state or just generally being annoying to your friends. The best part is that these are fairly cheap, although not always the easiest to come by due to their key place in Commander decks.

My advice is, if you see these in your buddy's trade file, grab them and ferret them away for future decks. Or let me know you have them!

Sol Ring

A one-cost artifact that you can immediately tap for two colorless mana is a bit crazy. If you are able to get this down on your first turn, it sets you up nicely for a four-cost drop in turn two. Which is, basically, insane in this format.

This is why pretty much all the pre-constructed commander decks will have one of these. It helps you and it will upset your buddies.

Lightning Greaves

Something you can equip for free and move around, keeping your most important guy protected, is always a good idea. No spells that say "target" will be able to touch him.

This is useful if you have a Commander that has both active and passive abilities, but you don't need to target with anything else.

It also sticks around if the creature it is equipped to dies, ready to help you out again.

Swiftfoot Boots

So you dropped a big, bad boy and you want to start hurting your opponents right away? Swiftfoot boots allows for just that, as well as protection from targeted removal.

Sure, you have to pay to equip it, but the payoff is a little better with having a creature on the battlefield ready to bring some pain.

Command Tower

This is a pointless card for mono-color decks, but should be standard with just about any other deck than runs two or more colors.

It will fix your mana issues and is free to use, without getting any pain for tapping it for a color. Good luck finding them, though, as they are scarcer than an honest politician.

Evolving Wilds

A waste for a mono-colored deck, but dead useful if you are screwed for mana of a particular color. Especially if you are one of those players who runs all five colors.

Can also be used with or replaced by Terramoprhic Expanse, which is literally the same card.

Reliquary Tower

It's a land that taps for one colorless and gives you an unlimited hand size. What's not to love?

It's also quite annoying for your opponents because it's not often they will have land-destruction and, if they do, they usually overlook the Tower.

Spellbook

A free artifact that gives you an unlimted handsize.

Perfect to back up Reliquary Tower and will also fly under the radar of most of your opponents.

Temple of the False God

A land that taps for two colorless mana once you control 5 or more lands, this is perfect for mid-game.

It will help you get your big boys out onto the field and also help you recover if you miss a land drop.

Solemn Simulacrum

If your deck allows you to constantly sacrifice creatures and retrieve them from the graveyard, this card is an obvious choice.

He lets you fetch a land when he enters the battlefield and lets you draw a card when he dies.

Chromatic Lantern

If your deck runs three or more colors, this is a great addition to help with mana fixing.

It allows any land you control to tap for any mana and it also has that same ability.

Commander's Sphere

A three cost artifact that taps for any color of your commander's colour identity. Basically, acts as the poor man's Command Tower.

Skullclamp

If you can produce tokens you are not really attached to, running Skullclamp lets you kill them off to draw two cards. If you don't have worthy tributes out on the battlefield, it can just sit there until you need the card draw.

Exotic Orchard

This useful land taps for any colour mana that lands your opponents control can produce.

I am sure you see the theme by now. Mana can be problematic in Commander and there are a lot of ways to help ease your woes.

Darksteel Ingot

This also helps you with mana issues and is indestructible. Plus, if someone wipes out your lands, this will help keep you in the game.

Gilded Lotus

Helping you with mana rap, this is an artifact that taps for three of any colour mana.

Nevinyrral's Disc

An artifact that comes into play tapped, but tap it and pay one and you basically reset the board by wiping all artifacts, creatures, and enchantments.

Your opponents will be either scrambling to get rid of it or waiting for the inevitable destruction.


And there you have it! I hope you find this little guide useful in kitting our your decks.



Monday, November 27, 2017

Review: Satellite by Nick Lake


Title: Satellite
Author: Nick Lake
Publisher: PanMacmillan (November 2017)

A teenage boy born in space makes his first trip to Earth. 
He’s going to a place he’s never been before: home. 
Moon 2 is a space station that orbits approximately 250 miles above Earth. It travels 17,500 miles an hour, making one full orbit every ninety minutes. It’s also the only home that fifteen-year-old Leo and two other teens have ever known. 
Born and raised on Moon 2, Leo and the twins, Orion and Libra, are finally old enough and strong enough to endure the dangerous trip to Earth. They’ve been “parented” by teams of astronauts since birth and have run countless drills to ready themselves for every conceivable difficulty they might face on the flight. 
But has anything really prepared them for life on terra firma? Because while the planet may be home to billions of people, living there is more treacherous than Leo and his friends could ever have imagined, and their very survival will mean defying impossible odds.
I was blessed with an advanced review copy of Satellite by the wonderful PanMacmillan SA. Thank you again for being so supportive of bloggers locally!

Satellite would have been an amazing read, but I am just one of those readers who gets super irritated by sms-speak. The whole novel is told in this way with ''u'' for "you" and the like. I honestly didn't see the point of this nor did I feel it added any value to the reading experience. If you are someone that would be irritated by this style of writing, perhaps read a sample first before purchasing the book.

The book did have some good points, though!

  • Leo is struggling with his sexuality, which adds to his character and the story.
  • The science felt pretty solid and I enjoyed reading about life in space, especially the struggle encountered with zero gravity.
  • Leo himself is a good, solid character. His growth in the novel is interesting to follow.
  • There is a lot of tension in the novel, and action sequences which would make for a great film.
  • It deals with relationships with family, which is not something a lot of YA oddly focuses on.
  • It's set in a believable future with feasible problems being experienced on Earth.

Satellite is also a very sad read at times and I think fans of more dramatic, character-driven YA will enjoy it.

To compare it to The Martian though is a bit of a stretch. But I don't really take any kind of comparisons seriously, as they are often just used to draw people into the novel. Sorry, but it's true.

The best part about this book is that it will be enjoyed by boys, who honestly drew the short end of the stick when it comes to choices on the YA shelf. So if you need something for your 15-17 year-old son to read, this is not a bad bet.


Sunday, November 5, 2017

Review: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu


Title:Moxie
Author: Jennifer Mathieu
Publisher: Hoddler Children's Books (September 2017)

Moxie girls fight back! 
Vivian Carter is fed up. Fed up with her small-town Texas high school that thinks the football team can do no wrong. Fed up with sexist dress codes and hallway harassment. But most of all, Viv Carter is fed up with always following the rules. 
Viv’s mom was a punk rock Riot Grrrl in the ’90s, so now Viv takes a page from her mother’s past and creates a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously to her classmates. She’s just blowing off steam, but other girls respond. Pretty soon Viv is forging friendships with other young women across the divides of cliques and popularity rankings, and she realizes that what she has started is nothing short of a girl revolution.

Firstly, a huge thank you to PanMacmillan SAfor providing me with a review copy of Moxie. I seriously appreciate the support you guys have given the blog over the years.

I really enjoyed this book. Moxie really pushes a strong feminist message and I think, in this day and age, that is really good for teens to have access to books like this.

There are a lot of other things to appreciate with this book, so it deserves bullets. I love bullets.

  • Vivian is no one special. She is just a regular teen who does something awesome.
  • All the teens in this book talk and behave like teens. 
  • It also deals with other issues like family and friendships.
  • Not all boys are bad.
  • Not all adults are perfect.
  • All relationships have issues. But it is up to us how we handle those issues.
I really don't want to go into detail, as it is so easy to give away elements of the novel which would add to the reading experience.

I will say this though. Read Moxie if:
  • You are tired of boys being the answers to girls' problems in YA.
  • You feel oppressed by the system and need a little motivation.
  • You want to engender some independence and self-worth in your own daughters.
  • You love books set in high schools.
  • You love realistic characters.
I hope this goes on recommended reading lists for schools. It probably won't because it will surely not be approved by all member of the faculty or even some conservative parents. But, I still hope it finds its way into the hands of teens, not just girls, but boys as well.

Review: Turtles All the Way Down by John Green


Title: Turtles All the Way Down
Author: John Green
Publisher: Penguin (October 2017)

Sixteen-year-old Aza never intended to pursue the mystery of fugitive billionaire Russell Pickett, but there’s a hundred-thousand-dollar reward at stake and her Best and Most Fearless Friend, Daisy, is eager to investigate. So together, they navigate the short distance and broad divides that separate them from Russell Pickett’s son, Davis. 
Aza is trying. She is trying to be a good daughter, a good friend, a good student, and maybe even a good detective, while also living within the ever-tightening spiral of her own thoughts.
Those who have been following the blog for a while might have picked up that I am not the biggest fan of John Green. I was not excited for this book. I did not care that this was coming. But, I was also curious. I wanted to see if Green was capable of listening to criticism and if he was able to improve on the faults in his Stars.

I was also fortunate to have had R230 in Exclusive Books vouchers, so I basically paid R10 for Turtles. At least, even if the book was shit, I was going to get my money's worth.

When I picked the book up, I found I could not put it down again. I could relate to Asa on some weird level. While she is OCD and I am not, I am a chronic nailbiter, sometimes fiddling with my nails until I draw blood. Asa has a weird tick that she does with her finger and I found that so relatable. Just like I sometimes used my nails as an outlet for my stress, Asa treats her finger in much the way. And it is not something either of us has full control over.

I also found Green lost a lot of his eccentricities in his writing. His teens were a little more toned down, although Asa still felt like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl at times. I also enjoyed the simplicity of his writing. I felt he was simply getting the story out on the page with very little embellishment. This made me happy.

This book is about Asa and her struggles. The plot is secondary to that, so don't expect anything exciting to happen, but rather approach this book as one would getting to know a new acquaintance.

If you hated all the books Green wrote before Fault in our Stars, try this one anyway. And fans will enjoy it regardless.


Thursday, October 12, 2017

Coloring-In for Adults 101: A Guide for South Africans


So the adult coloring book craze may have died down a little, but that does not mean that it is gone forever. There are still amazing books being brought into the market and this certainly does not seem to be a hobby that will disappear anytime soon.

The Appeal

I can only talk from my own experiences, but I really love sitting down with my pencils and working on a detailed picture, making it come to life.

I lead a pretty busy life with a demanding day job and various hobbies I try to do along the way. Add in friends, family, and other relationships and it feels like I am on the go all the time. This coupled with the occasional feeling that the world had gone to hell in a handbasket just adds to the appeal of coloring in a pretty forest or ocean scene.

It is something you can easily put down and then start again and only takes up as much time as you want it to. Sometimes, I will put but stuff away for weeks before the urge to use them kicks in again.

Also, some of the books out there are just so beautifully done. I flip through them for hours and this is even before any color has been laid on the pages!

Coloring in is something anyone can do, but it is also a skill you can improve upon with practice. This makes it even more satisfying as you can track your progress as you go.


The Books


When the craze hit, the market was completely saturated with options of varying quality. Now, mostly the most popular books have weathered the post-craze apathy storm which means this is the ideal time to get into it. Less choice and more quality!

Your best bet is the Queen of Adult Coloring-In Books, Johanna Basford. She is not only a skilled illustrator, she also ensures that her books are made from only the best quality paper, which is easy to color and holds the vibrancy of the pencils. Her books are also perfect if you are a fan of fineliners, as they will not bleed through the pages easily.



Current titles available for purchase include:

  • Secret Garden
  • Enchanted Forest
  • Lost Ocean
  • Magical Jungle
  • Johanna's Christmas
  • Ivy and the Inky Butterfly

Another go-to illustrator is Millie Marotta. Her books have intense detail that will keep the more pedantic of fans busy for hours and hours. They are also really good quality, with thick paper and solid spines.


Millie's titles include:
  • Animal Kindom
  • Tropical Wonderland
  • Wild Savannah
  • Curious Creatures
  • Beautiful Birds

Of course, this is just a percent of the options out there. Some other notable mentions include:
  • Animorphia by Kirby Rosanes
  • The Magical City by Lizzie Mary Gullen
  • Fantastic Cities by Steve McDonald

Books range in price from R150 - 280 odd and can be found in all good bookstores.


The Tools

The pencils and other media you use make a HUGE impact on how much you enjoy your coloring experience.

Some pencils are a fight to get any of the color to transfer to the page or the colors themselves are so dull, you will never be pleased with the end result.

Fortunately, there are some great options available that will fit into most budgets!

  1. Giotto Stilnovo by Lyra - set of 36 for R149 on Takealot.
    • These are soft, easy to use and have an excellent range of colors.
  2. Colleen - set of 36 for R169 on Takealot.
    • Great waxy texture, bright colors and easy to blend.
  3. Lyra Rembrandt Polycolor - set of 36 for R389 on Takealot.
    • Quality pencils with good blending ability, though lack the vibrancy of the Colleens.

I hope this helps some of your start of continue your colouring journey!

Please comment below if you found pencils or books you can reccomend too. 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Film Review: Death Note (2017)



Title: Death Note
Director: Adam Wingard
Actors: Nat Wolff, Lakeith Stanfield, Willem Dafoe

The live-action remake of Death Note, based on popular Manga and Anime series of the same name, hit Netflix this past month.

I was pretty excited, in spite of fans complaining about the studio whitewashing the main character. This ended up being the least of the issues I had with Death Note.

The original story revolves around Light Yagami (Light Turner in the 2017 film) who finds a notebook that basically enables him to kill anyone he wishes simply by writing the name of that person in the book. There are rules, of course, which dictate how the book can be used. This notebook was placed for a human to find by the death god, Ryuk. The only reason why Ryuk did this is that he was bored.

The story then unfolds as Light goes on a mission to rid the world of people he sees as bad or unworthy. The police, stumped by the killings, bring in the help of L, a brilliantly-minded detective, to assist in tracking down Kira, the name the killer has become known by media.

The whole appeal of the original series for me was watching these two genius characters try to outwit each other as Light himself becomes further and further corrupted by the power of the Death Note.

And this was where the Netflix adoption fell short.

Here is what the film messed up when compared to the original story:

  • Light's character is so contorted, that he is an entirely different person with different motivations and reasons for doing what he does.
  • Ryuk is not even a character at all. He has zero relationship with Light in the film and played very little part in the unfolding of events.
  • The special effects used in creating Ryuk felt more like cheating. He was in shadow for almost all of the film and sometimes looked disproportionate. I was irritated the entire time because I could never see what he really looked like.
  • There was the introduction of a girlfriend, Mia, who played a greater role than she did in the books.
  • Everything was so rushed, that is was actually a little hard to follow at times.
All of the above points just seemed to move the plot further and further away from why I loved the Manga so much. The morals behind using the Death Note were never really addressed.

Also, Light was the golden boy who could do no wrong in the Manga.  He was a narcissist who thought the Death Note was the answer to the world's problems and he was the right person to make judgments. In the film, he was this bullied greaseball who constantly questioned the use of the Death Note.

I did like Lakeith Stanfield, though. He did a good job of bringing L's various quirks to screen. Even if I felt the choice to cast a black actor in this role was a misguided attempt to be more inclusive. 

Basically, the movie would probably be ok if you had no idea what the story was supposed to be about.

But if you actually want to have a proper experience, read the Manga or watch the original Animae series.




Monday, September 4, 2017

Giveaway: How We Found You by JT Lawrence


It is giveaway time again!

JT Lawrence, local author and playwright, is kindly giving us a copy of How We Found You, the second installment in her When Tomorrow Calls trilogy, to give away!

Here is the synopsis of the first book, Why You Were Taken to avoid spoilers:

There’s a reason Kirsten doesn’t have any childhood memories. 
Living in a futuristic city glittering with tension, Kirsten has an unusual gift and a fertility problem, but what overshadows these things is what she calls her ‘Black Hole’: A painful hollow feeling where her heart should be. 
Seth is a brilliant chemgineer and loyal member of Alba: an underground biopunk organization that exposes corporate bullies and black clinics. He has the hollow feeling too, but fills it with other things, like kink-club dancers and the high-tech drugs he designs. 
A troubled woman approaches Kirsten with a warning and a key and is later found dead. Was the woman just another victim of the Suicide Contagion, or is there something more sinister at play? The key leads Kirsten to the Doomsday Vault and a hit list of seven people — and her barcode is on it.  
Will the scarred assassin be able to stop them from discovering the truth about why they were taken?

If this excites you and you want your very own signed copy, here is what you need to do:


  • Comment on this post with the name of one of JT Lawerence's other books
  •  Share this post on any of your social media

Please note that, as always, this is open to SA Residents only.

I will be doing the draw via a random winner generator on the 30th September and will announce the winner on Twitter and Facebook.

Good luck!!!