How Magic: The Gathering Lost its Magic for Me

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Jul 302017
Today in The Cube:

Please first of all understand I am no casual Magic: The Gathering fan.
I started playing in 2009 and was immediately hooked. I began amassing a collection that amounted to an estimated 20,000-plus cards. I played nearly every week, honing my skills at Standard, Modern and EDH. I completed viable Tron, WB Tokens, and BR 8Rack decks. I was a frequent quest on a popular Magic podcast, MTGYou. I played MODO for a while and was a constant card trader on Puca Trade and other services. When I could, I participated in pre-releases and other tournaments. I subscribed to monthly Magic mail-order services.
For the better part of a decade, Magic was my #1 hobby.
And then, it wasn’t.
Starting late last year, I began liquidating much of my collection, selling off my high-value cards, my bulk, keeping only about 10 percent of my collection.
Magic had just… lost its magic for me.
And here’s why:

1. Difficulty finding the time and the players.
In a job with an ever-shifting schedule, it’s hard to keep up a steady time to play, especially with increasing family demands on top of work. For a time I was able to play in the early afternoons, but my friend/opponent’s schedule changed and that scotched that opportunity after about a year or so. Those factors also generally preclude me from playing at pre-releases and FNMs.
Additionally, beyond organizing your cards and building a deck, there’s little that you can really do with Magic in a hobby sense when you’re not actually playing the game. And you can only re-organize your cards so often.

2. The Money Game.
In case you haven’t been paying attention, let me break it down for you: Magic is expensive. The game thrives on an ever-shifting Standard metagame, which requires players to keep buying packs and boxes of the cards “in rotation.” I would generally buy a new or “repack” box of a set once it came out, but at roughly $100 a pop, that’s a lot of money to shell out each year for pieces of pretty cardboard. And if you want to play Modern, those decks can easily run into the hundreds of dollars even for a low-level deck.
I’ve also long been discouraged by the focus on “value” in Magic. Too, too many players look at their cards like others look at stocks and commodities: as pieces of property that can be held to gain in value so they can either trade them or, more likely, sell them off at a later date. Card prices fluctuate wildly based on many factors, not least of which is whether a card does well in tournaments, which are increasingly streamed online.
Whether Wizards of the Coast likes to admit it or not, part of the driving popularity of Magic for many players is the prospect of opening a pack and getting a high-value card. The fact that more and more varieties of ultra-rare special cards are finding their way into sets seems to prove my point for me.

3. Competition.
The focus of Magic should be fun, but too often, it’s not. I’ve discussed this both on this blog and also on the digital airwaves, but the focus on “competition” in Magic, I feel, is largely responsible for a number of the ills people have complained about in the game’s culture (which I’ll get to below). The game’s chief cheerleader, Mark Rosewater, long ago defined three types of players: Timmy, who plays the game more for its aesthetic appeal; Johnny, who adds to that an interest in healthy competition; and Spike, the player with the killer instinct.
Too often, the game seems to attract “Spikes” into the ranks of players. Again, whether WotC will admit it or not, the game’s tenets tacitly take aim at players with the hope of becoming “power players”: if you have the right cards, and the right deck, you can rule your local scene. Maybe get into a PTQ. Maybe go on the Pro Tour.
I’ll admit I was caught up in the kind of thought. That’s what drew me into Modern, into the competitive play of that bouncing format. Until I realized I was building decks, full of expensive cards, that I’d likely only use a couple times a year, if that, in actual competitive play. I felt like a chump. And it’s difficult to keep up with the shifting metagame of any format - new deck lists, new strategies, new articles, are all continually being churned out by the Magic-industrial complex to keep players hungry for the next leg-up on their opponents.

4. Cultural Toxicity.
The competition I talked about above seems to bring a certain type of player into the scene. Magic has drawn criticism in recent years for being surrounded by a toxic gaming culture. How female players are treated; the infamous “crackgate” incident, which drew some mainstream media attention; and a number of high-profile cheating scandals have combined to make it seem to some that the game’s social aspect is broken.
I’ve encountered this aggressive Magic “bro-culture” on a number of occasions, and it’s one reason I don’t enjoy playing in tournaments. I always try to be courteous and engender a sense of collegiality when I play, so I dislike it intensely when, for instance, a player says not a word to me, proceeds to beat me soundly in three straight games, and then after a perfunctory “good game” walks off; when, after you win a match, your opponent, who’s been snickering with his friend the whole time you’ve played, acts as though you had no business even playing against him anyway (let alone beating him), picks up his deck, and leaves; or, when, after being beaten, my opponent decides to outline for me point by point all the mistakes I made. This kind of aggressive “Alpha”-type player isn’t a great ambassador for the game and, unfortunately, is one reason why Magic has the reputation it does in some quarters.
I still love Magic. I still get together with a group of my friends every once in a while and play EDH. And, to be totally honest, the positive interactions I’ve had resulting from this game outnumber the bad. But for the reasons outlined above, I had to step back. Step away. Put the value of my cards, my time, and my energy, to better use.

I had to find the magic somewhere else.
 Posted by at 1:32 pm

Still Alive

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Jul 292017
Hey guys, I'm still alive and doing things in the world. I have a few movie live-blogs pending still/always, but in the meantime, here are some updates!

I helped make this 48-Hour Film Project movie last month. I'm in it and it was so, so fun to make!

Here's some more of my character Whitney, who I could play all fucking day forever:

Also, the Beard and I are doing a podcast together! It's called Couple's Book Club. We read a book and then talk about it together and we are smart and funny and charming and whatnot. We've got two episodes so far. You can find us on SoundCloud and iTunes.

The Great Movie Ride: An Appreciation

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Jul 172017
Today in The Cube:

In the wake of the recent Disney Expo, it's being widely reported that The Mouse plans on closing the iconic Great Movie Ride, long a staple at Walt Disney World Resort's Hollywood Studios park, this August.

Honestly, I've got mixed feelings about it. I'll come right out and say I'm a big Disney fan, and I renewed my love of the parks four years ago when my wife and I took our honeymoon in Orlando. In the entertainment world, I get the fact that things need to chance as audiences change. The Great Movie Ride, as I've heard, hasn't been getting the attendance it has in decades past, and that's a lot of real estate to just not be used to its potential. The reports are that Disney plans to build a new Mickey & Minnie-themed ride in its place that is to be state-of-the-art.

On the other hand, Disney and Hollywood Studios (which was originally called MGM Studios - and that's how I'll always think of it) hold a special place in my childhood memory.

I first rode on The Great Movie Ride in the early 1990s, not long after park originally opened in 1989. It was my second-ever trip to Disney, and my brothers and I, already movie geeks, were also toy geeks. We read all the toy collecting magazines and through them came to be aware of the Alien series of films. One of the major segments of GMR (I'll abbreviate the name of the ride from here on out) of course features Sigourney Weaver's Ripley being menaced by H. R. Geiger's xenomorphs. The creatures appear twice in the ride, wreathed in steam. I read all about that part of the ride, and I loved it when it came - though I was creeped out also, and hid my eyes initially.

The entrance to the ride is a fantastic recreation of the Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, and once you're inside you're led past well-known parts of film history, and even through a room playing trailers of the films featured in the ride.

The ride itself is basically a tour of a number of vignettes and tableaux depicting well-known scenes from movies. The cars are kind of big and futuristic-looking and you're accompanied by a tour "guide" who goes along with you and narrates what's going on in each scene.

And there are plenty of scenes - audio-animatronic recreation of a lot of classic actors are there, from Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain" to John Wayne in "Red River," James Cagney, Wizard of Oz (the recreation of Munchkin Land is enormous and epic-looking), Mary Poppins, Tarzan and Jane, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Casablanca (on the backlot tour ride at Hollywood Studios, they used to tell riders that the plane used in the GMR vignette is the real one from the film), and others.

At some point in your tour, your guide would be hijacked, either by a gangster in the Cagney area, or a bank robber in the John Wayne area, and they'd take you for a while until they met an untimely end trying to steal a bauble from an idol near the Raiders of the Lost Ark area.

My favorite part of the ride comes next: Your tram travels into a tomb-like throne room, and there, in ruined splendor, is an Egyptian Pharaoh, his family and retinue, desiccated but still on their thrones. The scene is wonderfully atmospheric and feels like something that should have been in an Indiana Jones movie.

At the end, the tram takes you into a large room where you watch a montage of great film clips.

For all of that, the ride, while big on visual splendor, is short on other things. As a kid I remember the thrill of waiting for the alien, but as an adult, I found it lacking. I'm a big film buff, and it was neat to see great scenes recreated in real life, but something just seemed off about it. The big fire that takes place in the cowboy room, and the gunfight in the gangster area, felt lifted from Pirates of the Caribbean. The "tour guides" seemed hokey. And the Wicked Witch of the West - at the time of her premier, dubbed the most advanced animatronic Disney had created - just didn't "wow" me.

We were able to get on the ride after 10 minutes in line on our most recent, but when I got off, I wished I hadn't gotten on. Riding again did refresh my memory of things I'd forgotten about the ride in the intervening decades since I'd ridden it, but it also showed me that the wonder I'd had as a kid just wasn't there anymore at that ride I'd once been so excited for.

Next time I'm in Disney, it'll be sad to see it's not there anymore. I wonder if they'll keep the facade of the theatre to maintain the Hollywood backlot theme of the park.

But next time I'm down there, my kids will be a bit older, and I'll bet they'll love to ride that new Mickey ride they have planned.

So will I.

 Posted by at 1:36 pm

recording update

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Jul 132017

I have a hard deadline for finishing my album. There’s already an album release show set for August 26, so I need to have the recording sent to the printer by the end of July. Luckily, I am on track.I finished background vocals a week ago. Bass guitar …

My Onion horoscope

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Jul 112017

“There will be nothing you can do to avert the disaster of next week, although there will be plenty that a reasonably bright and competent person could do.”Thanks, guys.


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Jul 112017

Today, my child is at her summer care program (run by her school). She’s on a field trip to the zoo, so I have the day to work. You think that summer for a teacher would be a time of vacation, of international travel, of lazing about, but that’s not th…

another exchange

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Jul 072017

Me: “I wonder what it would be like to have a normal child.”Daughter: “It would be horrible. Normal is boring. Strange is much more fun.”Ah. My child.

on my inability to fool anyone

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Jul 072017

Hi. remember me? I’ve been buried in the album (it has to go to the printer by the end of the month), but I have a story that must be told in spite of the damage it will do to my ego.Me and my daughter we’re driving to the grocery store when we saw a b…

Music news

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May 272017

Quick music news!I play this Wednesday, 5/31 at 10pm at Stone’s Throw Tavern in BG for Hump Day Revue. This will be a rawk show,I play this Saturday, 6/3 at 3pm on the Old West End Festival in Toledo OH , on the Art Fair Stage. This will be a rawk show…

required viewing

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Apr 262017
required viewing

While I might have uncertain feelings on Google as a mega-corporation and the unreal amount of influence they have over people’s lives, one thing they really have working in their favor is their public applications of quirk. I particularly appreciate t…