Friday, August 31, 2018

Magic 101: Tips for Getting into Magic: The Gathering



I imagine that for players looking to start playing an established game like Magic: The Gathering, it's kind of like standing on the edge of a pool, wanting to dive on. Only, when you do, you realize that the pool was a mirage hiding a stormy ocean filled with overwhelming waves, crosscurrents and hidden rocks.

This is literally when I felt like when I started playing again four or so years back. Magic is vastly complicated. Not only are there various kinds of formats to play, there are so many cards, products, and events to choose from, that finding an easy point of entry is challenging.

For this post, I am not going to be discussing any of the rules and other technicalities around actually playing Magic. This is simply going to focus on the best ways to get started with minimal confusion and wastage of money. This is based on my own experiences and observations and I am sure other players may disagree with some of these points. However, I feel that players who have been competitive for a long time can forget how confusing it can be as a beginner and sometimes give advice that can be either overly complex or impractical.

Let me shatter the first myth that a lot of new players believe. You cannot simply buy a preconstructed deck, learn the basic rules, and go play at your local game store (LGS) and expect to do well. Preconstructed decks are those sealed products many stores sell as an entry point into the game. The current incarnation of these are the Plainswalker decks, which include a 60 card deck and a single booster.


I am not being dismissive of this product at all, as I also maintain that this should be the first item any new player should buy.

A Plainswalker deck is only really enjoyable if you play against another Plainswalker deck as they are designed to be at a similar power level. To take this deck to an event, where you will be playing against people who have spent thousands on building finely tuned decks, is just madness and would be a soul-crushing experience for any new player. However, if you attend events purely with the intention of gaining experience and seeing other decks in action, then you will not be disappointed in your final standings and will hopefully remain encouraged keep playing the game.

Also, new players should be misled into buying boosters. This is the biggest waste of money as you would be better off looking for specific cards you need instead of relying on chance. Each booster only contains one rare card, which might not even be of any monetary value. Boosters are good for a format of Magic called Draft and as prizes. That's about it.

Magic has a very complex rules system, so one should master the basics first. Practice as often as possible so they become second nature and you are able to put more focus on what your opponent is doing and your potential interactions with him/her. You will never stop progressing and developing as a player, so you should treat every person you meet and play with as an opportunity to expand your skills and knowledge. There are a plethora of resources online and, if you are unsure about anything, rather look it up right away before assumptions breed incorrect habits.

Pick a local store that has regular events and get to know the people there, as these will be your best resources to not only learn from but also to trade with when you are ready to build your first deck. Even if you are not playing in an event that day, hang around and watch others play. Most Magic players are in the habit of talking through their turns to assist their opponent in understanding what they are doing and to give the opportunity to respond. This is a great way to pick up information and learn how various cards and decks work.

You will also notice that Magic has several formats to chose from. The one you pick will depend on your goals as a player and is also influenced by funds. I will only detail the more popular ones here for simplicity's sake.
  • Standard: This is the most popular entry point for new players, as it can only be played with cards from the most recent card sets. It can get expensive as older cards are no longer legal to play and new decks are required to be built. Also, this format tends to inflate the secondary market card value if certain cards see a lot of play, making it even more pricey to stay competitive in.
  • Modern: This format has a larger base of cards to work from, dating back to 8th Edition (2003) upwards. This means that, in theory, one would have a wide choice of decks to chose from. However, there are very popular decks that do well and will continue to dominate the format. However, it is still possible to put together a cheaper deck and still do well in Modern. I always suggest Elves or Goblins, as these decks only use one colour and are straightforward to learn to play well.
  • Commander - This is a fun, multiplayer format that has some great preconstructed decks available on the market. It's casual and a good pick for those wanting to play social Magic. It can also be as inexpensive or expensive as your tastes allow. However, you do need to understand the fundamentals of Magic before diving into this format, as it can get very complex, especially when you need to keep track of and understand what 3 other players are doing.
When you are comfortable, you can then start collecting cards for the deck you would like to build. I reccomend checking out various decklists online so that you can get an idea if you 


As mentioned, the internet offers a host of resources to learn from. Here are some of my top choices for new players:

I hope this has been of some help! Please let me know if you have any questions?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

5 YA Books With Kick-Ass Female Leads

Because it's Women's Month here in South Africa and I needed a good excuse to do another list, I thought I would recommend some underrated YA novels with memorable, independent female leads.

I didn't want to point out the obvious books that most people have read already, so hopefully, there is something here you haven't tried yet.

1. Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers


"It is this kindness of his that unsettles me most. I can dodge a blow or block a knife. I am impervious to poison and know a dozen ways to escape a chokehold or garrote wire. But kindness? I do not know how to defend against that.” 

Grave Mercy is the first book in His Fair Assasin trilogy. This series has always been a bit of a mystery to me because, frankly, more people should be reading it and talking about it.

The first book focuses on Ismae, one of a select group of assassin nuns, trained to do the bidding of Death himself.

Ismae is awesome and 100% fierce and capable. This reads more like a Historical novel than a Fantasy and, if you enjoy books with an atmospheric setting, then this is the book for you.


2. Sabriel by Garth Nix


“Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker?”

Perhaps more well-known, Sabriel is the first installment of an exciting fantasy series by Australian author, Garth Nix.

Sabriel, at the age of 18, finds out her father is missing and is given the responsibilities of his job as the Abhorsen, a special kind of necromancer. She is forced to use her ingenuity and wits to survive and figure out what happened to her father.

I first read this novel in high school and it has remained a firm favorite. Sabriel is still one of my favorite characters along with her demon-feline companion, Mogget.


3. The Mediator by Meg Cabot


“Sometimes, the only way you can make someone listen is with your fist. This is not a technique espoused, I know by the diagnostic manuals on most therapists' shelves.Then again nobody ever said I was a therapist.” 
The Mediator series is probably my favorite of Meg Cabot's books, which is really saying something as I went through a serious Meg Cabot phase in my late teens. I mean, I have probably read over thirty of them.

This series features Suze Simon, a sassy teen with the ability to speak to and help the dead. This often ends up with her in some dangerous situations, throwing punches and saving her fellow classmates from the restless dead. This series was well before the days of Twilight and I think, had it been published a good decade later, it would have been even more popular.

I know it's been over 18 years since the first book came out, but I am still waiting for this series to be made into a CW series or something. Hope springs eternal.


4. The Magician's Guild by Trudi Canavan


“How am I going to make friends with these people if all I can think of is how easy it would be to rob them?” 
The first in The Black Magician trilogy, this novel introduces us to Sonea, a street urchin who suddenly discovers she has magical abilities and is thrust into the elite world of The Magicians' Guild, where she is the first from the slums to be considered to train.

I loved Sonea and her growth as a character throughout this series. In the early naughties, it was also unusual for a fantasy series to have a female lead, so that's why this series also stood out for me.



5. The Dark Days Club - Alison Goodman


"I am no warrior, sir, nor do I aspire to be. I have been taught to sew and sing and dance, and my duty is to marry, not fight demons. Look at me: I am an Earl's daughter, not a man versed in swords and fisticuffs.”
Set in Victorian England, The Dark Days Club follows Lady Helen as she discovers that demons lurk in the shadows and sets about to follow a destiny beyond society parties and finding a handsome Duke to marry.

Helen is an interesting character, as she has to deal with the gender oppression of the 1800's that demands women be meek and obedient. This creates a fun internal conflict to read as Helen learns more about herself and fights with her desire to be a true lady.


Have you read any of these? And have I left anyone off who deserves a mention? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Tips: How to Grow Your Own Seedlings this Spring

Thanks to Checkers and their Little Garden promotion earlier this year, I have become quite addicted to growing things.

Checkers Little Garden
The Little Garden promotion rewarded shoppers with a mystery seedling kit per R150 spent at Checkers. There were 24 different seedlings from flowers to veggies and herbs.

It was just unfortunate that this special was right in the middle of autumn. Even though Checkers promised that the seedlings would survive the mild South African winter, it is still not ideal for new gardeners. Mine mostly survived and I now have a flowering garden to look forward to and enjoy this spring. However, I did want more variety and investigated how to mimic the Little Gardens with my own seeds.

I had great success planting my own seeds and, because it's now a great time to plant them, decided to put together this post to help everyone else wanting to try their hand at growing their own.

It is lots of fun, super rewarding and also cheaper than getting punnets of seedlings from the nursery.

Here is what you will need to start off:

  • Palm peat
  • Seed packets of your choice
  • An old bucket
  • Seagro Organic Plant Food
  • Plenty of fresh water (5 liters to start)
  • small pots - 5cm in diameter

The palm peat comes in a brick and consists of coconut fiber. It is 100% organic and provides a soft, fine medium for the seedlings to grow in. Potting soil is simply too coarse and the seedlings will have to work harder to sprout. It also retains moisture well so you will have to water your seedlings less frequently. 


I have used Starke Ayres palm peat, which retails at around R35. 

You will need to prepare the palm peat first as this will take some time. Find a 10l bucket and fill it with 5l water. Unwrap your brick of palm peat and drop it in the water. Leave it to swell and go read a book or watch some tv. It will take 10-20 minutes for the peat to absorb all the water and soften. 

Because the peat can be lacking in nutrients, you will need to help your seedlings along. I recommend mixing some Seagro into your bucket before preparing your pots. Seagro is made from fish and provides the plants with nutrients for optimal growth. It is also 100% organic and can be used without the risk of burning the plants and overdoing it. It costs around R90 for a bottle that will last you all year.

Now it is time to prepare your pots. I have suggested 5cm plastic pots, as they are super cheap and can be reused for years to come. You can also use old seedling punnets, but make sure you rinse them in a weak dilution of bleach and water to kill any lingering harmful fungus or parasites.

Fill your pots three-quarters full with your peat mixture and compact well. then take your seeds and sprinkle some on the surface of the peat. Six seeds per pot should be sufficient, as some might not sprout at all.

Take some more peat and sprinkle a layer no more than 1cm deep over the seeds. press down gently, as you do not want to damage the seeds.

Now is the time to gently water them, to help the peat settle around the seeds and secure them.



Place your pots in a sunny, protected area and check on them every morning and evening. Water them only if the soil looks dry on the surface. This is easy to see with peat, as it will go a light brown. Your seeds should sprout according to the guide on their packet and will be ready to move to bigger pots when they have 4-6 leaves established.

Remember that sun is essential for growth and will prevent the stems being weak and long, what is termed as "leggy".

This method can be used for starting your flowering plants, herbs, and veggies.

Happy gardening!