What’s Wrong with College Basketball?

Yesterday’s Final Four games have motivated me to write a post concerning my perception of the state of college basketball in general. I stray from the beaten path a bit in that I’m both white and unabashedly pro-NBA. I love the National Basketball Association with all my heart, and I will defend it to the day I die. I understand (and disagree with) all the reasons why people hate it and why many prefer the NCAA; however, after watching a heavy amount of college basketball for the greater part of the past decade, I feel reasonably qualified to make the claim that college basketball is in a pretty bad spot. The game itself is regressing, despite its immense popularity. I think that the college rulebook is fatally flawed. There are easily eight to ten rules that need heavy reform, if not elimination, and in this post, I’m going to highlight the most egregious of these.

  • The replay rules really grind things to a screeching halt. Essentially every possible replay scenario has occured within the last two minutes of nearly every televised tournament game. Ironically, the instance in which replay is most needed (out-of-bounds calls) isn’t even replay-eligible. The integrity of the game is compromised when replays interrupt the flow of the game so often; teams that have run out of timeouts get free 20-seconds, and teams that want to push the pace of play are forced to allow their opponents to set up defenses.
  • Please, can we get rid of the after-basket timeout? If you’ve just made a shot, you no longer have possession of the basketball. Why in the world are we allowing coaches to snap off a timeout in the two-second span between the swish of the net and the inbounds pass? Do you really need to talk your defense over that frequently? This is totally counter-intuitive, and again, it interrupts the flow of the game.
  • College basketball is wayyy too defensive-minded. I love me some solid fundamentals on defense, but the rules favor defenses to a laughable extent. Charges and blocks are fairly difficult to judge on the fly, and I think the officials are doing a decent job on their end, but again, the rulebook is to blame here. In tonight’s Syracuse-Michigan game, Brandon Triche was whistled for a charge with nineteen seconds remaining in the game. He carried the ball over halfcourt, beat his man, and dove straight to the basket, where a Michigan defender was sliding out of the restricted arc to establish position in between Triche and the basket. Triche met him in the air, and despite the fact that the Michigan player’s upper body was initiating contact, the referee saw that his feet were set and promptly rewarded him for it. Triche had made a perfectly acceptable basketball play, under complete control, but because officials are forced to watch the players’ feet in these scenarios, they’re unable to sufficiently assess the situation. Sliding under another player to establish lower-body position is dangerous to the guy soaring through the air to lay the ball in, much moreso than any potential danger to the defender himself, and the offense should get the benefit of the doubt here. We’re seeing unprecedented levels of charging calls over the past few years, and a change needs to be made.
  • Shorten the shot clock. Thirty-five seconds is forever. Players aren’t as talented at the collegiate level, so they need more time to run their offenses, but I’d be much more interested in the gameplay itself if the clock were cut to thirty seconds. It would make an enormous difference. Tangentially, the backcourt rule could be changed to eight seconds, mirroring the NBA. (Another one that bugs me is the fact that coaches can call timeouts in the backcourt at nine seconds, and they get the ball back afterwards in the backcourt with a fresh clock. What??)
  • Eliminate as many TV timeouts as possible. They are currently taken at the first dead ball after the 16, 12, 8, and 4 minute-marks in the second half. Coaches take their own timeouts within close proximities to the media timeouts, everyone falls asleep waiting for basketball to happen again, blowouts become even more insufferable, and close games lose their pulse, all casualties of the moneygrubbing networks. Zero media stoppages after the ten-minute mark and I’d be satisfied.

To recap: fewer timeouts of all flavors, fewer charges, shorter shot clock. You’re welcome.

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2/23 PTQ – Green Bay, WI *4th*

Modern season is nearly at a close, with only another week of PTQs, including one at Games & Stuff’s new location. Unfortunately, stuck as I am up here in lovely Wisconsin, I’ll be absent for the grand occasion. Hope somebody local takes it down!

I was able to make it out to two semi-local tournaments this season, finishing 4th in Green Bay and an always-depressing 9th in Madison two days ago. I decided to invest in a set of Daybreak Coronets after the Hexproof Auras (Bogles) deck had a string of good finishes in online dailies. The MODO metagame is typically quite different from IRL, and although people on the Internet have been packing Back to Natures and Tempests of Light into their sideboards for Bogles, I was confident that paper Magicians would either dismiss the deck or under-prepare for it.

I played the same list in both PTQs, and I’m pretty satisfied with it.

1 Dryad Arbor
1 Forest
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Horizon Canopy
4 Temple Garden
3 Misty Rainforest
3 Verdant Catacombs
4 Slippery Bogle
4 Gladecover Scout
2 Silhana Ledgewalker
2 Kor Spiritdancer
4 Ethereal Armor
4 Rancor
4 Daybreak Coronet
4 Hyena Umbra
3 Spider Umbra
4 Spirit Mantle
1 Keen Sense
1 Spirit Link
3 Path to Exile

SB
1 Gaddock Teeg
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Rest in Peace
1 Spirit Link
2 Spellskite
2 Suppression Field
2 Stony Silence
2 Nature’s Claim
3 Leyline of Sanctity

The only change I would make is -1 Suppression Field, +1 Gaddock Teeg from the ‘board as a nod to the large Tron presence around here. Both tournaments were comprised of something like 20% UWR decks, 15% Tron, 10% Monored/Zoo, 10% Pod, and all the rest. I find my creature matchups to be heavily favorable in any games involving lifelink, which probably goes without saying. Pod is also pretty good; if I have any reasonable sort of draw, they’re usually forced to chump at least once, which can disrupt their Pod chain and make the game way easier for me. RG Tron isn’t so great, since Pyroclasm gets me pretty hard and makes it tough to keep any hand without Ethereal Armor or an Umbra (totem armor). I typically cut the Spirit Link and two Spirit Mantles for the Stony Silences and Gaddock Teeg, but even that doesn’t feel like enough to swing the match in my favor. As odd as it sounds, I can usually just ignore a Karn; Oblivion Stone and Pyroclasm are the important cards.

I’m playing splits of Ledgewalker/Spiritdancer and Keen Sense/Spirit Link, both of which are fairly atypical. I don’t like 4x Spiritdancer because in the matchups where she’s bad, she’s REALLY bad, and I didn’t want to devote sideboard slots to Ledgewalkers. Keen Sense (Curiosity in green) is always pretty good, Spirit Link can be either awesome or mediocre, and I’m happy with one of each in the main.

I headed out for Green Bay with plenty of time to spare, since it inevitably snows whenever I try to get anywhere up here. I wasn’t disappointed, as it began dumping from the skies only ten minutes into my trip, but nevertheless I arrived safely and early. Gnome Games is a spacious store, and the turnout was far greater than I had anticipated for being so far north and relatively out of the way for commuters. We started with 170 players, and the TO stated that they only expected around 100, but Magic tournaments are exploding everywhere, which is pretty sweet. The venerable Pete Jahn was our head judge, always a good guy to have in your orbit. One of the two on-site dealers was giving away free donuts and bagels, so I grabbed some nourishment and prepared for battle.

The Swiss went quite well for me. I ran pretty hot, mulliganed sparingly, and faced an abundance of good matchups. I did find myself across from Pro Tour veteran and deck builder Brian Kowal in the third round, but I successfully dispatched him along with the rest of my Swiss opponents.

Round 1 v. Dredgevine: 2-0
Round 2 v. RG Tron: 2-1
Round 3 v. UWR Geist: 2-1
Round 4 v. Monored: 2-0
Round 5 v. UWR Midrange: 2-0
Round 6 v. Monored: 2-0
Rounds 7 & 8: ID

I was genuinely surprised by how many opponents were caught off-guard by my deck. Three of my last four opponents in played matches had to read Daybreak Coronet (and neither Monored player was particularly happy to learn about it), and I was able to get Dredgevine and Brian Kowal pretty good by fetching up Dryad Arbor at different points.

Against Dredgevine, I chose to play around Liliana after he led with Deathrite Shaman by casting a single enchantment on my one-drop and following up with another Bogle instead of double-suiting the one guy on my second turn. He had the Liliana, and I sacrificed the Bogle. I didn’t have another creature in hand or a fetch to find Dryad Arbor, so instead of attacking Liliana and risking his playing another and getting my only guy, I chose to attack him on turn three, which really surprised him. This gives me another draw step at finding another guy or a fetch; I ripped the latter on turn four, played it, and swung at him again. He quickly -2′d Liliana, I fetched for Arbor, and his face fell. He didn’t have the follow-up copy, and that was the match.

Brian was playing a more aggressive version of UWR than I was used to, since MODO has a bunch of Larry Swasey’s deck and not many decks like these, with Goblin Guides, Delvers, Geists, and Boros Charms. He had a slow start in game one with multiple Vendilion Cliques and no countermagic, and my Spirit Linked guy prompted a scoop. His curve of Goblin Guide into double-Delver was too fast in the next game. I probably should have lost the third. My keep was sweet (2x Thicket, fetch, Silhana Ledgewalker, 2x Ethereal Armor, Rancor), and when he went to six, I felt pretty good. However, he had a dagger Spell Snare for the Ledgewalker, and things got awkward. He didn’t play a guy on his second turn, and I didn’t draw one on my third, so I was sure his hand was full of burn and Dryad Arbor wouldn’t be long for the world. He again had no play on his third turn, so I crossed my fingers and fetched EOT for the Arbor… He let me untap, which was a great start, and when he announced Clique during my draw step, I knew the game was mine. I even drew a Coronet for the turn, which he had to ship to the bottom, and a Path to Exile replaced it, which locked things up pretty easily.

The Top 8 paired Splinter Twin v. Dark Zoo, RG Tron v. KikiPod, KikiPod (Matt Severa) v. Grixis Delver (Drew Levin), and myself battling Infect for the first time ever in Modern. I suspected that the matchup would not favor me. Game one, my only cards that matter are the three Paths, and after sideboarding, his Spellskites are way better than mine. As it turns out, sometimes you just draw multiple Paths both games.

Drew, Tron, Zoo, and I advanced. In the semis, Drew beat the Tron deck 2-0, and I fell to Dark Zoo after a series of mulligans into terrible keeps. Dryad Arbor is basically never your plan, but sometimes you have to go for it, and if they have removal, well, game that is. Zoo beat Drew in the finals, but I didn’t stick around to watch. I wasn’t nearly as crushed as when I lost the finals in November, but I was bummed, hungry, and ready to get back to Watertown for intramural basketball.

Major props to MJ, Voltaire, Donnie, and Dan Glennon for the support and encouragement during the tournament, as well as to my girlfriend Liz for permitting me time to be a nerd every once in a while. I’m a lucky dood!

Next up: 9th place by 1.6%. Maybe not-so-lucky.

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Running Diary: The New Fast & Furious 6 Extended Trailer

YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS: time to break down the trailer for the sixth installment of the greatest action franchise of all time.

[The following article is sadly not my own work but that of sportswriter and fellow F&F aficionado Bill Simmons. The original can be found at his website, Grantland.com.]

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1QgNF6J1h0

0:02 “The following preview has been approved for APPROPRIATE AUDIENCES.” I’m woozy.

0:05 It’s sweeping-helicopter-shot time. IN!!! If there were a Sweeping Helicopter Shots Olympics for directors, I’d have Justin Lin as a -240 favorite over Ben Affleck in the finals.

0:08 Nobody pulls off the “being mounted by a hot blonde immediately followed by strutting outside and looking out to a panoramic ocean view while holding a beer” trailer montage combo better than Vin Diesel. I can’t tell you how much I missed Dom Toretto.

0:11 Send this exchange right to the Oscar committee.

The Rock: So this is what 100 million buys? [Dramatic pause.] Wasn’t that hard to find you, Toretto.
Dom: [Dramatic pause.] I wasn’t hiding.

0:25 Sweeping helicopter shot! SUCK IT, AFFLECK!

0:35 Our plot: So a team of highly coordinated drivers wiped out a military convoy, leaving the FBI with two choices: send either a team of Seal Team 6 dudes after them, or a top-10 most-wanted felon (Diesel) and a disgraced FBI agent who’s on the lam (Paul Walker) to find them. Obviously, you go with Plan B there.

0:44 Dom doesn’t want to help out — after all, he’s already rich, he’s living in a tropical location and he’s getting mounted by blondes. But wait! Rock drops a bombshell: Dom’s dead girlfriend Letty is alive … and, yup, she was one of the aforementioned “highly coordinated” drivers. She couldn’t be alive! In Fast 4, she perished in a car accident that Dom dissected by studying tire-tread marks for about 12 seconds, after which he somehow found the guy responsible just from the tread marks. She’s alive?

“It’s impossible,” Dom mumbles.

I agree. I mean, we saw the tread marks. Dom’s in.

0:53 Another Vin Diesel staple — he always looks like he’s angrily staring someone down in slow motion even though he’s doing it in real speed. Harder than it looks. I’m trying this every time someone at Grantland disagrees with me.

0:59 Sweeping helicopter shot!!! Affleck is so effing jealous right now. He’s gotta be going nuts.

1:05 I’ll be honest … this trailer has been a little light on Paul Walker, a.k.a. Keanu 2.0. Are they phasing him out? I’m worried. We need Keanu 2.0. Rock is stealing his lines. This is bullcrap. Paul Walker is getting Pau Gasol–ed.

1:10 Dom: “You got the best crew in the world standing right in front of you. Give ‘em a reason to stay.” I agree. This really is the best crew in the world. I mean that unironically.

1:15 Our target is Owen Shaw, former spec-op soldier. Got it. Can you show me some cars flipping over and things blowing up, please?

1:24 Thank you!

1:31 For the best crew in the world to help out, Paul Walker wants The Rock to guarantee full pardons all the way around. If he doesn’t think that’s getting a dramatic pause from The Rock, he’s nuts.

1:32 [Dramatic pause.]

1:33 Rock: “I can’t promise you that.”

1:35 Dom: [Mumbling, angry, intense, barely audible.] “That’s the deal … take it or leave it.” Dom Toretto’s character must drive Sly Stallone crazy. I guarantee he watches these movies while thinking, How did I not come up with an action movie franchise centered on a fugitive illegal race-car driver named Dom who mumbles his way through scenes while foiling complicated car-related crimes? I couldn’t have come up with Fast and Furious instead of Cobra????

1:48 Dom sets up our first street race by mumbling, “Ride or die.” Maybe that’s not as profound or inspirational as “I live my life a quarter mile at a time,” but then again, what is? Hey, you know what’s really sad? I’ve seen enough Fast & Furious trailers to know what’s coming next — we’re getting a hip-hop song, we’re getting an action montage, we’re going to see at least one person jump from one car to another at high speed, and if you don’t think a car is flipping over, you’re insane.

No franchise understands exactly what it is quite like Fast & Furious.

2:03 Yup.

2:08 Letty gets out of the car and drops this one on Dom: “Do you believe in ghosts?” How fast do you think Michelle Rodriguez said yes when they offered her a Letty comeback? 0.19 seconds? 0.75 seconds?

2:13 She just shot at Dom!!! WTF!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!? What did he ever do to her? All he did was love her and avenge her death in Fast 4 by killing 245 people and causing $10 billion worth of damage! I can’t believe this. I’m rewinding.

2:13 Hmmmm. Dom’s wearing a leather jacket and a black shirt when he first sees Letty, but when he’s getting shot at, he’s wearing an aqua T-shirt. Maybe she didn’t shoot at him? More importantly, why the heck was Dom wearing an aqua T-shirt?

2:17 Paul Walker and Keanu Reeves are the Bird and Magic of enjoyably bad acting. The fact that the “tell me about your father” scene from Fast Five isn’t on YouTube is a collective Internet failure. We’ve all failed. I should be able to watch that twice a day. In Fast 6, it looks like their scene figuring out Letty’s comeback might be on that level. I don’t want to jinx it. Just saying it’s possible. But here’s a taste.

Paul: Maybe the lady you knew is gone.
Dom: [Pulling a bullet out of his own body.] You don’t turn your back on family … even when they do.

(Quick tangent: I’ve always loved and admired Dom’s sense of family. The Fast & Furious franchise, to me, really hinges on three things: an appreciation for driving recklessly while causing as much damage as possible, a genuine appreciation for family, and the suspension of disbelief that American law enforcement would never be able to find a bald fugitive who lives lavishly, owns lots of expensive cars, and fully admits to FBI agents that he’s not hiding. It’s totally realistic to me that he would forgive Letty.)

2:23 May 24. Got it. Already on my calendar.

2:30 We just went from two cars on fire that were flipping in midair right to a girl-on-girl fistfight. How many days away is May 24? (Checking.) Fewer than 100 days!

2:33 Ludacris [into a walkie-talkie]: “Ah, guys? They got a tank.” Tremendous.

2:37 I gotta admit, I’m pretty intrigued by this tank. Huge monkey wrench. I mean, it’s a tank. It’s just wreaking havoc right now.

2:45 Great montage here. Includes a car flipping over and going through a glass window, someone jumping forward from one speeding car to another (forward????), The Rock leaping through the air and punching someone at a 45-degree angle, Vin holding an assault rifle while looking intense and … wait, where was Paul Walker? I’m telling you, they’re phasing him out. I’m concerned. They better not replace him in Fast 7 with Chris Pine or something. I won’t handle it well.

3:09 Did we just see the world’s greatest crew drive under a plane that was about to take off, shoot something at it, then drag the plane back down so it crashed behind them? Yes. Yes we did.

3:14 Did Dom then somehow drive his car through the front of the plane? Of course he did.

3:30 I’m watching it again.

FINAL GRADE: 17 OUT OF 4 STARS.

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The Modern Man, by George Carlin

“I’m a modern man. A man for the millennium. Digital and smoke free. A diversified multicultural postmodern deconstructionist, politically, anatomically, and ecologically incorrect. I’ve been uplinked and downloaded, I’ve been inputted and outsourced. I know the upside of downsizing I know the downside of upgrading. I’m a high tech lo-life. A cutting-edge, state-of-the-art, bi-coastal multitasker and I can give you a gigabyte in a nanosecond. I’m new wave but I’m old school and my inner child is outward bound. I’m a hotwired, heatseaking, warmhearted cool customer, voice activated and biodegradable. I interface with my database and my database is in cyberspace, so I’m interactive, I’m hyperactive, and from time to time I’m radioactive. Behind the eight ball, ahead of the curve, riding the wave, dodging the bullet, and pushing the envelope. I’m on point, on task, on message, and off drugs. I got no need for coke and speed. I got no urge to binge and purge. I’m in the moment, on the edge, over the top, but under the radar. A high concept, low profile, medium range ballistic missionary. A streetwise smartbomb. A top-gun bottom feeder. I wear power ties; I tell power lies; I take power naps; I take victory laps. I’m a totally ongoing bigfoot, slamdunk rain maker with a pro-active outreach, a raging workaholic, a working rage-a-holic, out of rehab and in denial. I got a personal trainer, a personal shopper, a personal assistant, and a personal angenda. You can’t shut me up, you can’t dumb me down, cause I’m tireless and I’m wireless. I’m an alpha-male on beta-blockers. I’m a non-believer and an overacheiver, laid-back but fashion foward, up front, down home, low rent, high maintenance, supersize, long lasting, high definition, fast acting, oven ready, and built to last. I’m a hands on, footloose, knee-jerk headcase, prematurely postraumatic, and I have a love child who sends me hate mail. But I’m feeling; I’m caring; I’m healing; I’m sharing; a supportive, bonding, nurturing, primary caregiver. My output is down, but my income is up. I take a short position on the long bond and my revenue stream has its own cash flow. I read junk-mail; I eat junk food; I buy junk bonds; I watch trash sports. I’m gender specific, captial intensive, user friendly, and lactose intolerant… I bought a microwave at a minimall; I bought a minivan at a megastore. I eat fast food in the slow lane. I’m toll free, bite size, ready to wear, and I come in all sizes; a fully equipped, factory authorized, hospital tested, clinically proven, scientifically formulated medical miracle. I’ve been pre-washed, pre-cooked, pre-heated, pre-screened, pre-approved, pre-packaged, post-dated, freeze-dried, double wrapped, vacuum packed, and I have an unlimited broadband capacity. I’m a rude dude but I’m the real deal, lean and mean, cocked, locked, and ready to rock; rough, tough, and hard to bluff. I take it slow; I go with the flow; I ride with the tide; I got glide in my stride; driving and moving, sailing and spinning, jiving and grooving, wailing and winning. I don’t snooze, so I don’t lose. I keep the pedal to the metal and the rubber on the road. I party hardy and lunchtime is crunchtime. I’m hanging in, there ain’t no doubt, and I’m hanging tough, over and out.”

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Rolling Down the Old Main Drag, Part the Second (Plus a Section on Strong Drink!)

In between Magic tournaments, I spent the better part of a week in Pittsburgh with my family. This was the first major holiday since my grandfather’s passing in October, and since I missed the funeral, this would also be my first chance to see my extended family all year. My grandmother has not lacked for company; she has a very extensive network of church friends, and my aunts have been spending weekends with her to help around the house. She’s stayed mind-bogglingly positive throughout the winter, a testament to the grace of God, but she struggled through the first Christmas without her husband, as well as his birthday and what would have been their SIXTIETH anniversary, all within a two-week expanse.

Pop-Pop’s memorial service included a time of testimony, which was recorded for posterity, so I got the chance to listen to it alongside my parents, grandmother, Uncle Mark, and Aunt Mary. It was overwhelmingly encouraging to listen to members of his Bible studies throughout the years as well as my siblings, my dad and his three brothers, and several cousins all speak of how he impacted their lives. My dad had stated that during my grandfather’s final hours, as they shared a few last words with one another, Pop-Pop had told my dad how proud he was of the way Dad had raised his kids. Dad thanked him for showing him the way, and that was pretty much the last thing they said to one another. It was pretty hard to stay composed while listening to that. I couldn’t really ask for better role models than those two men, and it really shames me to think of their legacies, against which my life does not measure very favorably. I’m sure they are both quite proud of me, no matter what, but I have a ways to go before I’d warrant anywhere near the level of “well done, thou good and faithful servant” that they’re both a lock to hear in eternity.

Anyway, we spent a day at Uncle Jeff and Aunt Joyce’s new log cabin, which is pretty stellar as far as wooden structures go. Jeff the Chef came through yet again with an awesome dinner, and the guys curbstomped the girls in Taboo as I set yet another PR (and likely WR, let’s face it). We were scheduled to spend actual “family Christmas” at Uncle Tom and Aunt Judy’s the following day, but snow and ice forced us to postpone a day, so I watched a lot of NBA and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations in between shoveling and de-icing driveways. Tom and Judy’s was fun as always; we ate everything, joked about everything, pooped, and went home. Uncle Tom gave me the remnants of his old Magic collection from nearly two decades back. I had already picked it over a few years ago, nabbing the Force of Wills, Wastelands, Mox Diamonds, and Mazes of Ith, so when I got around to sorting it all at home, I ended up with a playset of Swords to Plowshares, 250 bulk rares from 3rd Edition to The Dark, and a few thousand bulk commons.

I’m trying to think of other fun things that happened over break, but I really think I spent all the rest of my unchronicled time eating, sleeping, and playing GTA IV at Jeff’s. Which is perfectly reasonable.

So, another recent development and monumental game-changer… I took the plunge, gave in to the pressure, and imbibed my very first alcoholic beverage last month. Also, my second, third, fourth, and fifth (not all at once, easy does it). I’ve taken a staunch position against alcohol for most of my life, not because I think it’s sinful to drink, but because I think it’s stupid to drink. Most of the people I knew in high school and college who hit the sauce on a regular basis were jerks and idiots, which didn’t exactly motivate me to join in. I’ve known too many people who nearly lost their lives as a result of their encounters with booze for the stuff to have much appeal, and since I tend to latch pretty hard onto things I enjoy, I decided at an early age that the risk just far outweighed any potential reward.

And just like that, I turned my back on everything I had stood for and succumbed to the devil’s drink.

Actually, what really happened is that I was conned into trying a shot of whatever my friends picked for me, which turned out to be James Beam, which turned out to be stone awful. How in the world does anyone drink that stuff?? I choked it all down in one go, but man, I’ve tasted kitchen cleaner that was more appealing.

Over the next few weeks, I shared a bottle of Arbor Mist Mango-Strawberry Moscato with Jeff and Rachel, which was pretty smooth and light-bodied, but I suspect that I’d enjoy a red a bit more. We also had a few Smirnoff Ices on New Years; that stuff is actually pretty delicious, but I wouldn’t want more than one in a blue moon. I’m going to be sure to handle any future drinks cautiously, and even though I’m sure my 260-pound frame can handle more than a few before experiencing any brain-addling, I’d rather not take that risk.

Alcohol is a reasonable social lubricant in moderation and can moderately benefit one’s health, but in my limited experience, it tastes pretty terrible. I’m down for trying virtually anything at least once, and I’ll probably quest for that one drink I can genuinely enjoy and order forever, but it’ll likely be something incredibly light. The people who consistently defend the taste of alcohol probably just experience a taste preference for ethanol as a consequence of drug reliance, or something. I came across an interesting article/study the other day on people’s taste aversion to alcohol; the results confirmed that test subjects who described alcohol as “sweet” instead of “bitter” drank considerably more on average. Additionally, ethanol seems to trigger a pathway that is also responsible for the burning sensation you get from eating spicy foods and, importantly, that ethanol reduces the temperature at which the pain gets triggered (ie., the more you drink, the more you can stomach). The article can be found here.

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Rolling Down the Old Main Drag, Part the First

Waited too long to write again, and now I’ve done and forgotten too much to write about. This semester is essentially nothing but writing for me anyway, which significantly lessens my desire to write for personal enrichment, but I can’t let too much time pass between entries.

I went home mid-December for break. I (very intentionally) didn’t get into anything too exciting; the fall semester was a rough one, and I wanted nothing more than to sit around, eat lots of terrible food, and burn as few calories as possible in the final weeks of the year. I even got to play a little Magic along the way, which was awesome on all counts.

The effervescent GoodGuy MikeWayne jumped at the chance to slap together a copy of Brian Kibler’s GB Aggro deck for the single FNM I could make on the month. I cruised through the first three rounds before mulliganing three times against Monored in Round 4 and getting stuck on land against Navid playing Esper Control in the final round. Hate to lose, but since it was only my second live tournament in four months, I wouldn’t lose much sleep.

I’m going to devote the rest of this post to the other tournament I played over break – a Modern PTQ in Philadelphia – and I’ll write another one later about the rest of Christmas break. So if you don’t enjoy reading about card games, road trips, or incredible foodstuffs, you can skip the rest of this.

MikeWayne, Mike Tomitz (who came out of “retirement” specifically for this trip), Parker Howard, James Rutherford, and I all met up at the shop on Wednesday the 19th to test the format for a few hours, and that was basically the extent of our testing before the tournament. Not much has changed on the Modern horizons since the Grand Prix and Pro Tour from September-November, and the archetypes we felt comfortable with were all still basically good, so we stuck with what we knew and just jammed bad matchups for a while. James wasn’t going on the trip, but he was happy to battle us with Tron. For the PTQ, MikeWayne settled on Scapeshift, while I decided to battle with MeliraPod, Tomitz with Splinter Twin, and Parker with Reid Duke’s Haunted Zoo deck.

For whatever reason, Mike&Mike were convinced that the plan should be to leave on Friday night, drive the two hours into Philly, get a hotel room and a good night’s sleep, then wake up refreshed for the tournament on Saturday. Actually, the reason turned out to be “we’re getting a half-inch of snow in the morning, and we couldn’t possibly make it up the highway in those conditions,” which seemed less than reasonable. Also, I knew that there was no way we’d be getting to sleep at a decent hour, so the time we saved by driving up that night would be negated in the end either way. Nevertheless, I consented to leaving Friday night, and after some delicious Thai (for which Nate H. paid, thanks, Nate!), we piled into Tomitz’s SUV and bumped our way up I-95.

Despite Mike’s best efforts, we arrived in Philthydelphia more or less in one piece and hustled into the Convention Center hotel. Mike had called ahead to confirm that they had at least one vacant room, but since we wanted to pay with cash, they couldn’t reserve the room for us, so we had to cross our fingers and hope for the best. Well, when we called from Glen Burnie, they had 24 vacancies; with twenty minutes to go, they were down to three, so we were pretty pumped to discover upon arrival that we had dodged all bullets… The very last room in the hotel was OURS. I’m a poor college boy, so I parlayed a Pact of Negation into my share of the rent. We drafted my C/Ube for the rights to the queen bed, and a few quick games later, MikeWayne and I were nestled between the sheetsmmmm, leaving Tomitz and Parker to enjoy the sofabed.

We arose in the bright and early, checked out, grabbed WaWa for breakfast since the Reading Terminal Market wasn’t open yet (but don’t worry, we’ll be running that back several times on the day), then walked across the street into the Convention Center. The TO had listed the entry fee on his website at $25, but upon arrival we found it to be $30, cash-only; I made sure to grumble about it within his earshot while I paid. You can charge what you want, I guess, but at least take the twelve seconds to get your story straight online. The guy next to me actually only brought $25 in cash, so it took a few begs from friends to get him inside.

I was expecting a lot of Jund, Tron, and UW Flash in the room, with a decent smattering of the mirror (both versions) and a bunch of randoms. The first few rounds confirmed my suspicions, although we saw considerably more Eggs players than we anticipated (probably 12-15 of the 160 players were on the deck). I’ve been playing Melira for a year, so I felt confident in pretty much any matchup.

Round 1 I sat across from Phil Napoli, a New-York based ringer who pals around with Gerard Fabiano and Osyp Lebedowicz. Not really the idea first-round opponent, but whatever. In game one, I kept a hand with multiple Birds of Paradise and Kitchen Finks, which is pretty good against most decks. He won the die roll and led off with a Steam Vents into a Stomping Ground, so I assumed he was on either KikiPod or a Tribal Flames deck. His first play was Izzet Staticaster on my third turn, zapping both of my Birds. Unfortunately, I then started flooding a bit, and he managed to assemble his combo over the next two or three turns.

The hardest part of playing this deck isn’t necessary knowing when to Pod or Chord into which creature; it’s definitely in sideboarding. I’ve lost or nearly lost more games to incorrect sideboarding than to poor play. I probably cost myself game two here by cutting the maindeck Orzhov Pontiff. My thinking was that their important guys are all two-drops or bigger, and I hadn’t seen any one-drops from him in the first game, so I didn’t know whether he was playing the standard 4x Birds, 1x Noble Hierarch or if he had more. Well, when he led with land, Bird into land, guy, guy, guy, then missed his third land drop, I kicked myself a bit. Eventually I played a Redcap into a Shriekmaw, leaving him without much but a Redcap of his own and one card in hand. Of course, he untapped and killed me: play Birthing Pod, Pod the Redcap into Zealous Conscripts, untap Pod, Pod the Redcap again into Kiki-Jiki, go nuts. That’s the power of this version of the deck.

Round 2 I faced an inexperienced Burn player. We split the first two games, after which I mulliganed to four on the draw. I felt pretty good about my chances when I looked down at three land and a Kitchen Finks, and things got way better when he played land and passed on his first two turns (?) and I spent mine drawing another Finks and an Obstinate Baloth. Got there! Turns out he kept a hand full of sideboard cards, none of which mattered much against my draw (something like 2x Smash to Smithereens and 2x Volcanic Fallout).

Round 3 gave me another Burn player, and this time he got me. His early Goblin Guides backed up with Bolts and Searing Blazes for all my guys was enough in the first game, and my mull to five was never winning the second. I was pretty bummed to be dead at this point, but I came to game, so I elected not to drop quite yet. After three rounds, Parker and I were dead, while the Mikes were both 2-1.

Round 4 was pretty insane. I sat across from my neighbor in Round 2, whom I knew was playing something pretty crazy, but I hadn’t paid too much attention at the time. I kept a hand that gained infinite life on turn three, and he didn’t do anything but play a Watery Grave tapped into Drowned Catacomb, Merfolk Looter before scooping to a million life.

At that point, I still wasn’t sure what he was on, but I suspected some sort of Gifts Reanimator deck using creatures as discard outlets. I brought in the Baloth and not much else. My opponent then played a second-turn Liliana’s Caress (!) and I started to figure things out.

O RLY?

O RLY?

He then followed that up with a Wistful Thinking, a card I was not familiar with:

Take eight.

Take eight?

His next turn presented a pair of Burning Inquiries:

You're dead, Dave.

You’re dead, Dave.

So that was fun. I boarded in the Harmonic Sliver and Baneslayer Angel, in case the next game went long, which it definitely didn’t. Basically, we both kept the nuts, and when I went for infinite lives on my third turn, he surprised me with a Surgical Extraction, then untapped and killed me with triple Burning Inquiry. Phil and Osyp watched that last game, and I gave them a weary look while packing up my cards, to which they responded with sympathetic chuckles.

I quickly dropped, then discovered that Mike&Mike had been paired up, so I watched them take their turns comboing despondently for a bit before hoofing it to the Market for some luncheon. The Reading Terminal Market is the main draw for me at these tournaments. It would be nice to do well in Philly, just once (I think my best finish in the city is 4-3-1), but as long as I get to hit the Market two or three times, I’m a satisfied customer. For the uninitiated, the Market is foodie heaven, all under one roof. It encompassed an enclosed city block, stuffed to the gills with food stalls and vendors peddling every sort of meat, vegetable, fruit, wine, and dessert item under the sun. From fan-favorites like DiNic’s Pork and Beef, Hershel’s East Side Deli, and Bassett’s Ice Cream to hidden treasures like Profit’s Creperie and By George! Pizza, the Market is everyone’s favorite end boss. “Everything you need, you can get it at the Market.” I started with the Amish Rib Stand, progressed to Hershel’s for pastrami, then concluded with three scoops of cookie dough at Bassett’s before heading back to the tournament.

By this point, I was near-comotose and everyone else had lost sufficient matches, so we packed up and rolled out. I had managed to flip a German foil Yosei, the Morning Star to a dealer for $50, so that helped recoup some of my losses. The drive home was fairly uneventful after the first few miles, which Tomitz drove with a large bottle of Powerade perched precariously on his roof before a guy in a Smartcar alerted him to the problem. Of course, Mike casually rolls down his window, blindly reaches across the roof and snags the bottle, sight unseen, then pops the cap and starts sipping Powerade. Well done, good lad.

Join us next time, when we write Part the Second!

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The Evildoers

On December 31, 2010, I made my first New Years resolution, one that I would actually keep, to my deep and pleasant surprise (a year devoid of any Mountain Dew, which I guzzled by the truckload in 2010). I know it’s a bit early, but the writing bug bites when it will, so I’m all ready to entrust the world with my resolution for the coming year.

In 2013, I’m going to lose fifty pounds.

Fraggle Rock, this is going to be a tough one.

I’ve grown rather tired of being decidedly pear-shaped. I may have been a thick-headed snot in high school, in the same vein as most teenage boys, but I have the photos to prove that I was reasonably strapping, and I miss that life. I graduated from high school in May 2007, and I wish I could remember how I spent the following summer, because the next event in my memory still burns me to this day. There’s a great number of things about my life I wish went differently, but my freshman soccer tryout is a prominent one.

I showed up for preseason fully expecting to make the varsity team and spend every minute on the field. I was no great shakes with the ball on my foot, but I was strong, I was smart, and I knew how to play defense. Forwards struggled to get off clean shots against me from the ninth through twelth grades, and I was proud of that fact. I was also one of the better-conditioned players on my high school team, and I could outrun a lot of guys my size and smaller.

Well, imagine my disdain when I finished second-to-last in the inaugural two-mile run.

I struggled through every conditioning drill in that two-week stretch, and that revelation culminated in my meeting with Coach Caucutt. I hadn’t really expected to make the team at that point, but I still remember how embarrassed I felt after Coach shared his analysis:

“Matt, you’re a good soccer player. You have a great I.Q. for the game, better than many of our upperclassmen, and we could use your strength in the box. The fact of the matter, however, is that you’re just in horrible shape, and I can’t really use you because of that.”

Frankly, that sucked. That was the first time in my life I had ever failed at anything simply because I was physically unprepared, and it wasn’t a feeling I relished. I should have acted on that feeling and done something about my weight gain, but my school happened to serve incredible food, and as much of it as I wanted at virtually any time, so I indulged and indulged and indulged until four years later, when I had completed my transformation into an unattractive anthropomorphic mass.

I finished high school at a healthy, fit 215 pounds.

I weighed myself today. Two hundred and sixty-eight girth-units.

Isn’t that sickening?

No longer. I’m tired of looking, feeling, living like a self-indulgent calorie vacuum. I don’t want to travel the world and invoke strains of “typical American blob” from the nationals. I want to feel good about myself again, so I’m going to make that happen, Lord willing. And I’m pretty sure the Lord wills.

This first resolution segues perfectly into an auxiliary resolution.

In 2013, I will eat no fast food.

It’s fast food’s fault. Fast food has made me and my fellow Americans obese — if not morbidly obese. It’s changed the age-old equation that poor equals thin and rich equals fat so that now our working poor are huge and slow-moving and only the wealthy can afford the personal trainers, liposuction, and extended spa treatments, it seems, to be thin. It’s in their snail tracks that our thighs have expanded, our bellies pooched out over our groins, and our normally-proportioned generations developed into swollen masses.

Is fast food inherently evil? Is the convenient nature of the beast bad, in and of itself? Decidedly no. Fast food — which traditionally solves very real problems of the working families, families with kids, business people on the go, the casually hungry — can be good food. If you walk down a street in Istanbul or visit an open-air market in San Juan, you’ll see that a quick, easy meal, often enjoyed standing up, doesn’t have to be part of the hideous, generic sprawl of soul-destroying sameness that stretches from strip malls here in Madison across the U.S. and back again, looking the same and tasting the same. I’m tired of the paper-wrapped morsels of gray “beef” patties with all-purpose sauce. The unbelievably high-caloric horrors of beef-flavor-sprayed chicken nuggets, of “milkshakes” that contain no milk and have never been shaken, of “cheese” with no cheese.

I’m going rogue. Actually, I’m going small-ball. I don’t believe we should legislate these joints out of business. My position is going to be the Nancy Reagan position on drugs: “Just Say No.” I want to encourage you to do the same. Next time you find yourself standing slack-jawed and hungry in front of a fast-food counter, just turn on your heel and head for the lone-wolf, independent operator down the street: a pie shop, a chippie, a kebab joint, or anywhere that the proprietor has a name. At least you’re encouraging individual, local business, an entrepreneur who can react to neighborhood needs and wants, rather than a dictatorial system in which some focus group in an industrial park in Iowa decides for you what you will or should want. Deep-fried cod or plaice with vinegar, haggis with curry sauce; these may not be the apex of healthy eating, but at least they’re indigenous to somewhere, and they’re actually quite tasty.

That’s one thing that my limited travels have taught me — whenever possible, try to eat food that comes from somewhere, from somebody. And stop eating so friggin’ much. A little portion control would go a long way in slimming down our herds of heavyweights, myself included. We may as well stop snacking on crap while we’re at it. Nobody needs that bag of chips between meals. I don’t even enjoy them anymore. Save your appetite for something good! Take a little more time with it!

All this rage and frustration I feel with myself for getting to this point is going to be filled with something more than a soggy disk of ground-up excrement. I’m going to eat for nourishment, yes, but I’ll also eat for pleasure, which is something I’ve missed for a while. I’ll stop settling for less. That way, the next time I decide to write a blog post about booting the major chain evildoers out of their holes, at the very least, I’ll be able to squeeze in after them.

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