Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Magic: the Gathering 101 - Basic Walkthrough

So you have seen these posts on my blog. You may have seen the odd mention of Magic on some of my Social Media and, if you have never touched the game before, you are probably wondering what the hell it actually is.

It is really hard to pick a single focal point to start this series of blog posts off with, but I think a basic walkthrough of how the game works as well as the various phases of play will hopefully make sense to new players.

What is Magic?
In a nutshell, Magic is a card game where you face-off against an opponent with a 60 card deck. You can have more cards, but 60 is the recommended amount to keep your deck as consistent as possible.

Each player starts with a life total of 20. The objective is to win by casting spells (cards) which cause them to lose all their life or to draw all their cards. One either of these things happen, you win the game.

A deck consists of creature cards, other spells which you can play at specific times and your lands (mana base), which allow you to cast limited spells per turn. I will go into more detail on these in a later post.

Starting a Game
Each player shuffles their deck and rolls a 20-sided die to determine who starts the game. The person with the highest roll can decide if they start or of their opponent starts. There are advantages to both options as you may want to get the extra card draw or have an extra land in play.

Players then cut each other's decks by dividing them in two or doing a shuffle and then the game starts.

The player who starts does not get to draw a card and they then follow the normal phases of a turn. The player going second does get to draw at the start of their turn.

Untap Phase
Before anything else happens, at the start of each player's turn, the player must untap all cards which had been tapped in the previous turn.

Cards are tapped for abilities and this then exhausts them, meaning the card is essentially out of play until the next turn. Untapping cards essentially replenishes them for use in your turn.

Upkeep Phase
Before a player draws a card, some of the cards may have abilities that kick off at the start of that turn. These abilities must be resolved before a card is drawn.

Draw Phase
This is where the top card from your deck or library is drawn and added to your existing hand.

This is not optional and each player must draw a card, regardless of hand size at that time. Sometimes, there are cards with abilities that allow an extra card to be drawn.

First Main Phase
This is the phase where you play a land card if possible. This is limited to one per turn unless an ability permits additional land to be played.

This is also the phase where you cast sorceries, play enchantments and bring your creature minions into play. Creature cards, unless they have the "haste" ability, cannot attack in the turn they have been summoned.

Combat Phase
This phase is optional as you might decide you would like to hold your creatures back to block your opponent in their next turn.

You declare which creatures will be attacking and then your opponent will have an opportunity to disrupt the attack with spells or designate creatures as blockers.

This then resolves and damage goes off the opponent's life total and any creatures who have died are removed from the game to the graveyard.

Second Main Phase
This gives you the chance to cast more cards if possible before closing your turn.

End Phase
If you hand size if over seven at this stage, you then have to discard as many cards as necessary to get it back to seven cards.

Players then pass turns until inevitable victory.

Obviously, Magic is a LOT more complicated than this and I will cover many more aspects of the game in weeks to come.

You can also check out an interview with one of South Africa's Pro players, Jason Ward, and get some advice from him on getting into the game.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Magic: Meet the Pros: Jason Ward

We will be interviewing a few of the more serious Magic players in the coming weeks to give an overview of the game and their journey into competitive Magic.

Today we feature a Q&A with top-ranked Magic: The Gathering player, Jason Ward. Jason had the honour of representing South Africa recently at the 2016 World Magic Cup.

Jason Ward (left) with the SA World Cup team.

1. What is your background with MTG? How did you get started playing the game?
As a kid, I saw a lot of people playing the game but I only started to play in high school casually with a friend for a few months. I first bought cards from Kamigawa (one of the sets of cards that get released a few times a year) and I had a blast playing for a few months.
I got back into Magic around 2012 and I started to buy cards and take the game seriously at this point.

2. How would you describe your particular playing style?
Quick and thoughtless. I play all the archetypes, control/aggro/combo/midrange and all their combinations. I'd say I play midrange the least of the bunch. I tend to gravitate towards the combo side of the spectrum (this requires getting specific cards out in a specific order, doing devasting things to your opponent).

3. How do you recommend new players get involved and learn the game? 
The same stuff it takes to get good is the same stuff it takes to get involved and learn the game.
Ignore results, have fun. Keep learning. It's when we start thinking we know things that we run into trouble. Keep an open mind and don't become static.

4. What is your advice for putting a deck together? Should new players build from scratch or go with sealed product?
It depends on what your goals are in magic. If you want to do well at FNM, you should probably buy a sealed deck and keep building on it. That's how I began.
If your goals are to be the best you'll improve the learning curve by playing net decks. First figure the game out before you start trying to change things.
I often try to tweak existing net decks and often just go back to the original net build, people often know what they are doing.
Gaining understanding is the most important thing.

5. What is your favourite format and why? Tell us a little about the format and how if differs from the others.
Hard to say, so far I enjoy all the competitive formats. I enjoy grinding out an advantage in a standard game but sometimes you just want to combo people in modern.
Draft is great and it's really a tragedy how few draft events we have in SA (Draft involves building decks from a limited pool of cards on the day before competing).

6. If you have played MTG overseas, how does it compare to the local scene and what did you take away from the experience?
The players practice harder. They aren't hindered by an ego like we are. We're big fish in a small pond.  The overall experience was quite positive and the players were enjoyable to play against.
You can see the confidence in their plays based on their level of practice.

7. What is your greatest achievement in MTG to date?
Personally, it's getting the opportunity to test with Nic Chrysochou, a top local player, and becoming a stronger player as a result.

8. What role has Magic played in your life?
Amazing creative outlet, meeting great friends. Awesome hobby.

9. Where is your local Magic hangout and why do you enjoy going there?
Battle Wizards Centurion, great vibe and great people.

10. Do you think people need to put in a lot of money in order to be competitive in MTG? Any advice for players on a budget?

  • Generally yes. It depends what format you play.
  • Honestly, playing limited is ideal for new players:
  • You build up a card pool.
  • Aren't hindered by card availability.
  • Gain fundamental skills and get to play with creature combat and combat tricks.
  • More social experience than normal magic events
  • Entrance looks prohibitive but you always walk away with something, even if you're 8th in standings for a reverse draft you usually get decent cards. (8th best card out of 24 boosters, you could have had the worst rares in your original packs.)
Thank you so much for taking the time for this Q&A Jason! All the best for the 2017 season!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

50 YA Books to Read Before You Die

I think I need to make more lists! Lists are fun and also they hopefully help someone find the right book at the right time.

I put this some together with teens in mind. More specifically, to encourage teens to read more meaningfully and not just target books that are hyped.

I have given a brief reason under each title and have deliberately left off any pictures so that you can print this off and stick it on a wall. Please note these are all books I have personally read.

Happy reading!

1. Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
This is a given. It's Harry Potter and kids need to read the books instead of just seeing the films and thinking that is all there is to this world.

2. Twilight Saga - Stephenie Meyer
There are probably people shaking their heads at this, but this series got kids reading. And they should also be able to read something and make up their own minds about the content.

3. The Giver - Lois Lowry
The message in this book is powerful and thought-provoking. Plus, it can be read in a day.

4. The Hunger Games Trilogy - Suzanne Collins
Another series that offers far more than the films. Katniss is a strong heroine and a great role model.

5. Divergent Trilogy - Veronica Roth
This series is about the choices one makes and self-definition.

6. The Boof Thief - Markus Zusak
This historical novel is compelling and will perhaps make that History lesson more poignant.

7. Vampire Academy -Richelle Mead
I have included this because it is one of the best vampire series out there. And Rose is her own person, which girls need to realise is ok in today's society.

8. Thirteen Reasons Why - Jay Asher
Because it's tragic and heartbreaking. And so relevant.

9. Stargirl - Jerry Spinelli
A coming-of-age story that is easy to read and also pretty funny and sad all at the same time.

10.The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants - Ann Brashares
Another coming-of-age series that has great characters who will feel like your friends when you are done. There is a film, but read the books. As always.

11. Shiver Trilogy - Maggie Stiefvater
Lyrical and atmospheric. Worth the read for the romance and mythology.

12. Just Listen - Sarah Dessen
Romantic and deals with real issues. Just one of this author's range of titles that should be read.

13. Watership Down - Richard Adams
A story of survival and heroism. With an interesting style of writing interspersed with fables.

14. Sabriel - Garth Nix
An epic fantasy series that deals with good versus evil and mortality. Plus also has a great female lead.

15. The Lunar Chronicles - Marissa Meyer
There are just fun. Each book is based off a well-known fairy tale and it is fun to draw comparisons.

16. Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes
A classic that is still relevant today. There is a play and a full novel version available. Read both.

17. Daughter of Smoke and Bone - Laini Taylor
This is on her for the writing style and the fascinating world-building. Beautiful, lyrical novel.

18. Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell
Set in the 1980's, this is a story about not fitting in and acceptance.

19. Wonder - RJ Palacio
Another novel about not fitting in and being different. Told from various perspectives.

20. Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell
Romantic, funny and relevant. Cath, the protagonist, is easily relatable.

21. Elsewhere - Gabrielle Zevin
Deals with the question of what happens after we die. Touching and poignant.

22. The Mediator Series - Meg Cabot
Fun, frivolous. For the reluctant reader.

23. Crank by Ellen Hopkins
Told in the form of poetry. About the dangers of drug addiction and what it is like to be addicted.

24. The Raven Cycle - Maggie Stiefvater
Magic, amazing writing and a cast of characters you will want to call your own.

25. On the Jellicoe Road - Melina Marchetta
Set in Australia. Coming-of-age themes. Amazing writing.

26. East - Edith Pattou
A retelling of Beauty and the Beast. Lyrical and touching.

27. Stolen: A Letter to my Captor - Lucy Christopher
Set in Australia about a girl who is kidnapped and deals with the consequences of being confined in the Australian outback.

28. Cut by Patricia McCormack
An easy-to-get-into read dealing with mental health issues.

29. Skellig - David Almond
A moving tale that delves into mythology and death.

30. A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
This one is good for anyone coping with loss.

31.The Books of Pellinor - Allison Croggon
A great starter fantasy with a compelling world and magic system.

32. I'll Give You the Sun - Jandy Nelson
This one made me cry. It will make you cry. Deals with sexuality, family and loss.

33. The Dark Days Club - Alison Goodman
Regency / Steampunkish fun about a demon hunter!

34. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Classic, one of my favorite novels. Has so many themes and who wouldn't love Jane?

35. Grave Mercy - Robin LaFevers
Fantasy about an assassin who is also a strong female character.

36. Hate List - Jennifer Brown
This is so relevant with all the school shootings that have happened. Sad, yet inspiring.

37. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
WW2 novel focused on friendship and the hardships of war. And planes!

38. The Diviners - Libba Bray
Set in 1920's New York with supernatural elements and proper moments that will scare you.

39. The Black Magician Trilogy - Trudi Canavan
A great introduction to fantasy with enough action and character building to keep die-hard readers engaged.

40. Six of Crows - Leigh Bardugo
Six thieves and one impossible heist set in a fictionalised version of our world.

41. Pure - Julianna Baggott
Dystopian novel - probably one of the most unique I have read in this genre.

42. The Ear, The Eye and The Arm - Nancy Farmer
Set in Zimbabwe with fantasy elements.

43. The Bone Season - Samantha Shannon
A unique fantasy that is well-conceptualised with great characters.

44. Chasing Brooklyn - Lisa Schroeder
A novel told in verse. I have a soft spot for these and it shows not all poetry is outdated and boring.

45. Maus - Art Spiegelman
A graphic novel written by the son of a survivor of Auschwitz. It is harrowing and symbolic and so, so well done.

46. Watchmen - Alan Moore
This is one of the most recommended graphic novels. It is even on Times 100 books you must read! It deals with the concept of a superhero and their fallibility.

47. Far From You - Tess Sharpe
Mystery novel whuich also touches on sexuality and coming to terms with grief.

48. The Scorpio Races - Maggie Stiefvater
Full of action and a unique setting. There is also romance but this is more than just that.

49. Nimona - Noelle Stevenson
Graphic novel focused on relationships and the power of perception.

50. The Darkest Powers Trilogy - Kelley Armstrong
A paranormal series that is strongly focused on mental health issues.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Magic: The Gathering Series

I am diversifying a bit this year and will be doing regular features on my other hobby, Magic: The Gathering.

This will be split into two flavours:

  • Meet the Pros - Q&A Sessions with some of South Africa's established players.
  • Magic 101 - a fun, informative guide to the ins and outs of the game.
I hope this will raise more awareness and get more people playing what, in my opinion, is an excellent social game that develops creativity, strategy and lateral thinking skills.

Stay tuned for the first post in the next week!

GeekMeets: DeeTwenty Geeking Venue

Venue: DeeTwenty Geeking Venue
Address: 85 Jan K Marais Drive, Malanshof, Randburg
Hours: Weekday evenings from 4pm - 11 pm
            Weekends from 9am - 5pm (Sat) / 2pm (Sun)
URL: http://dee-twenty.com
Facebook Page

A little-known fact about me is that I am really into a competitive trading card game called Magic: the Gathering. One of the key things I love about being a Magic player is the opportunity to meet and make friends with other Magic players and compete in tournaments.

Of course, there are a few venues in Johannesburg where one can do these awesome things, but my regular spot, based in Randburg, is DeeTwenty, a place where geeks and just be geeks and do all sorts of geeky activities.

Thanks to DeeTwenty, geeks no longer need to struggle to find people to play boardgames with or having a space big enough to game at! DeeTwenty provides all these things for the cost of just R55 for a day pass. This also gets you bottomless coffee, tea, hot chocolate (with marshmallows!) and juice. This also includes access to their WiFi. DeeTwenty also has the PowerUp Bar, which supplies their visitors with a selection of sandwiches and other eats at reasonable prices.

For the uninitiated, DeeTwenty hosts themed events every week. A typical week will run as follows:

  • Monday - Star Trek Night - partake in various themed Trekkie games and roleplaying.
  • Wednesday - Board Games Session, Magic the Gathering (Commander format) and Dungeons and Dragons roleplaying
  • Friday - Magic: The Gathering Friday Night Magic (FNM) - a weekly tournament where one can win prizes and earn points
  • Saturday - Magic: The Gathering (Commander), Cardfight! Vanguard and roleplaying
  • Sunday - Roleplaying
The club is decked out with appropriate decor. From Marvel, to DC to Star Trek paraphernalia, it adds to the experience! The owner, Owen Swart, also runs music in the background from his extensive playlist of themes and other related tunes from all sorts of shows, films and games.

Owen started DeeTwenty in 2013, where it was originally based in Blairgowrie. Since it's inception, the club has grown and moved to a more accommodating venue and has cemented a diverse group of regulars. DeeTwenty is also home to Sad Robot, an online store that specialises in the sale of Magic: The Gathering cards.

So, if you are looking to get into games like Magic or get involved with a regular RPG group, this is the place to go! There are always folks around willing to help out and offer advice.

Stay tuned to the blog, as I will be doing a regular feature on Magic: The Gathering with posts on the game, how to play as well as interviews with prominent South African Magic players.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Top 5 Series I Plan to Finish in 2017

Any fan of YA fiction will know the struggle is real when it comes to keeping up with series. I had a look at my shelves this weekend and I realised I own a LOT of completed series that I have not actually gotten around to reading past the first book.

Here is a list of the top 5 series I really want to get to finishing this year! These are all series that I own already.

1. Snow Like Ashes Trilogy - Sara Raasch

2. Shatter Me Trilogy - Taherah Mafi

3. Sweet Evil Trilogy - Wendy Higgins

4. Mara Dyer Trilogy - Michelle Hodkin

5. Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy by Laini Taylor

I will keep you guys updated on how I do with finally getting to wrapping up these series! Some have been sitting on my shelves for ages now and it's about time I read them!

Do you have any series that you are dying to get to this year? Let me know in the comments!

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @UrbanisedGeek for more bookish and geeky ramblings!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

My January 2017 TBR Pile

I know it's cliche, but I really want to get this year started with a bang in terms of reading and blogging. So if I haven't posted anything in a while, please come find me and kick my ass into gear!

I am keeping my TBR piles narrowed down to 5 books per month to keep it manageable. I have also promised myself that unless I read all these books, I cannot get anything new. The reason for this is that I have too many books I want to read but haven't yet. The struggle is real!

I am keeping things diverse too, so I don't get bored with one genre and reach for other books.

I can do this!!!

My TBR pile for January looks like this:

1. Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

I first started listening to the audiobook of this and enjoyed it up until a point where I didn't anymore. This was no fault of the book itself. I blame the narrator and his tendency to be over-dramatic and irritating.

I was so happy to get a physical copy of the book so I can keep going on with the story without the urge to hit the narrator for being an annoying moron.

This novel is about Mia, an assassin-in-training, sets about on a personal vendetta to avenge the death of her father. I am currently busy with it and loving it!

2. A Court of Mist and Fury by Sarah J Maas

I loved the first in this series and even thought it was better than Throne of Glass, Sarah J Maas's debut series. For some reason, I have put off reading the sequel. It could be due to its size. I mean, at over 600 pages, this is pretty intimidating compared to my usual reads!

Apparently, there are some hot and steamy scenes which pushes this out of the YA bracket which is fine by me.

3. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

Three sisters are pitted against each other for the right to the throne. They literally have to battle to the death and only one can rule. How exciting is that premise?

This has also been getting really positive reviews from some of my favourite Booktubers, so I am really excited to give this a shot. I also enjoyed her other books and know the writing will be up to standard.

4. Refuse by Joanne Macgregor

This is the second in local author Joanne Macgregor's Recoil Trilogy. I had to reread this first one and am really looking forward to the other two.

In a near-future USA decimated by an incurable plague and tightly controlled by a repressive government, teenagers with special skills are recruited and trained to fight in the war against terror.

Jinxy is a badass heroine and I look forward to seeing what she gets up to next!

5. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

This is a departure from my usual fare and is based on the true events of 1945 involving the sinking of the MV Wilhelm Gustloff. This was one of the most tragic moments in history which resulted in the loss of 9 400 lives.

Salt to the Sea is an acclaimed novel set around this tragedy and has won a Goodreads Choice Award for best Young Adult Fiction of 2016.

I enjoy books set during World War Two as this period in history fascinates me.

If you want to read up on the MX Wilhelm Gustloff, you can find the Wikipedia article here.

I really hope to finish all of these before the month is up! What do you guys have lined up to read in January?

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Favorite Books of 2016

2016 was a bit of a slow year for me, reading-wise. I was only able to get to 52 books, To put things into perspective, I can usually read 100 within a year!

However, there were some fantastic books that I was able to get to!

I have listed the most memorable 5 in no particular order!

1. My Lady Jane - Brodi Ashton, Cynthia Hand and Jodi Meadows

I did chat about this before, but this is probably one of the most outstanding books of 2016 for me. It's fun, different and also romantic. It manages to shed a lot of the YA tropes and has some amazing characters!

2. Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

One of the more solid fantasies that the YA genre has to offer. It's got loads of action and a strong heroine!

3. Dumplin' by Junie Murphy

This is one of those books that read like a movie. It's fun, quirky and has a great message about owning who you are!

4. The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

This one was an awesome surprise for me. I got a copy to review and ended up loving it! It's a regency romance with demons! Come on, how cool does that sound?

5. Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta

This fantasy has gotten a lot of hype over the years and I can see why people love it so much. The characters are complicated and compelling and the story gripping. I really hope they make a Finnikin movie. Please?

What books did you guys love on 2016? If you have blogged about them, please feel free to post your link below!