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May 142014
 

3dsxleu sony-playstation-vita-handheld-game-console-black

 

 

 

 

In what quickly became a heated debate here at The League of 42 Offices*, we discussed the merits of arguably the two best contenders in the handheld gaming market. Below you will find our thoughts: Ben and Mystie as 3DS owners and Cassi as the Vita owner.

Game Catalog

This is ultimately where I feel the 3DS is going to win out. Both the 3DS and Vita have a relatively close number of total games released for the system, with the Vita actually having a slight edge. However, the 3DS can take advantage of almost the entire original DS’s extensive library, while the Vita requires that last gen games be available digitally, which not all are. But even more important are the number of “Must-Have” titles on the 3DS. You’ve got Mario 3D Land, Ocarina of Time, Link Between Worlds, Mario Kart, Animal Crossing, Fire Emblem, Pokemon X/Y… and honestly that list goes on with quite a few other big hits. And some of these are not small games either, several could quite easily last you hundreds of hours if you so chose. And they have tons more on the horizon, with sure-blockbuster titles such as Smash Bros and new Pokemon remakes on the way.

The other thing is there is absolutely one thing that Nintendo has been king of for years, and that is portable gaming. Sure, this generation they are facing pressure, and they are no longer undisputed champion. But that experience has given them the ability to craft games that are perfect for on the go play. Almost all of their big hits are easy to pick up, play a level or an area, and quit (or continue for extended play). Almost every one of their top hits has a perfect balance allowing either extended play or quick bursts if you have limited time. Nintendo knows how to craft a game for portable play, and it really shows here.

–Ben

The Vita’s game catalog is far superior to the DS’s catalog. Sure it doesn’t have Zelda, but once you’re done with Zelda what do you have? Pokemon? Animal Crossing? While I don’t deny that Zelda and these other games are great titles – once I’m done with these games the DS doesn’t have that much else going for me.

Now the Vita, it may not have Zelda but it has a few other big names under it’s belt – Little Big Planet, Uncharted, Guacamelle, Sound Shapes, Gravity Rush, Hotline Miami, and more.In addition to that the Vita is set up to allow for indie developers to create great games for it. With Nintendo putting all its focus into the Wii U the 3Ds has nothing more to offer us than first-party games.

–Cass

The reason to have a 3DS is for the Nintendo DS-exclusive games. I’ll gloss over the ones that Ben has already mentioned (but seriously MARIO and LINK/ZELDA) and bring up one of my favorite series: Professor Layton! These delightful puzzle games are part of what pushed me over the edge to purchase the new 3DS. I thoroughly enjoy the beautiful ambiance of the game and the difficult to solve but fascinating puzzles. As far as I can find, there is not a comparable game for the PS Vita.

–Mystie

Online Features

The 3DS definitely does not have a strong showing in the Online Features department, but I did not expect it to. The first several generations of the DS did not even have an online component and, though it has gotten much better, it is still not a huge selling point for the game system.

You can still play with friends fairly easily, both nearby if not on Wi-Fi, and distantly if you are both connected to the internet. The 3DS has a “Street Pass” feature that allows you to receive gifts from other 3DS owners when you pass within a specified range of each other. However, this is not a feature I have used at all since owning the 3DS.

I’d have to give this category to the Vita, but it is not a star in this either.

–Mystie

While one might argue that online features in both these systems are lacking – the Vita’s still offers a greater offering in this. Although I’m not much of a multiplayer gamer – the Vita does provide online competitive play that you can hook into.

The Vita does only connect to WiFi – but when you have that it offers a lot. You can access the online Playstation Store making buying and getting downloadable games a breeze, you can access the internet and youtube if you need to pop over and look up a game tutorial or take a break from playing to watch a cat video.

Seriously. Ability to watch cat videos on your portable device should be it’s own category.

–Cass

This one is a bit tougher. Nintendo has never really had a solid track record for online play, but they don’t really want to either, and it has never been one of their stated goals, as they put focus on single-player and local multiplayer. As such, their purely multiplayer options (especially competitive) are very lacking. Compared with most other systems matchmaking/online capabilities, the 3DS absolutely falls a bit flat, and if what you are looking for is online competitive play, Vita will probably be a better answer.

That being said, 3DS has some very cool features that are more designed to compliment solo playthroughs. It’s fairly easy to be online and maybe get a helping item or small boost from other players, or to get little bonuses from passing people on the street who are also carrying their 3DS. It’s much more subtle, but a fun way to interact with others, especially those who are nearby. The online store could also use a bit of work, as Nintendo rarely/never offers any sales on their items, and many of their old classics are a bit overpriced without them… But purchasing/downloading a new game is a relatively straight-forward process, and definitely isn’t a burden to go digital.

–Ben

Hardware

Again another spot that I have no problem admitting the Vita, on paper, certainly has advantage here. But again, it has never been Nintendo’s goal to be the most powerful system, but to instead fit the game to the hardware, which is why so many of their games are designed in house. So it tends to be when you get a hit (see above), it is designed perfectly to take advantage of what the system offers. So it’s hard for me to completely fault Nintendo here, because it simply isn’t their goal at all, they are focused on games only, and a platform that can play them, but do little else. So yea, Vita wins this one, but like the online features it just depends on the importance of that to you personally, because it isn’t Nintendo’s goal.

–Ben

The Vita has better hardware and, therefore, better graphics. It also can come with 3G, bluetooth and Wi-Fi to the 3DS’s Wi-Fi. This is definitely not to say that the 3DS is a bad-looking device, it just simply does not have the horsepower of the Vita.

–Mystie

The Vita hardware gives you all the enjoyment of playing on a console with the convenience of a hand-held. With two joysticks and a d-pad there is wide range of game play styles to choose from. It also offers a front and back touch screen which is capacitive vs. resistive so you don’t need to go looking for your stylus to play.

–Cass

Portability & Durability

Although you could make the argument that the DS technically is lighter coming in at 8 oz vs the vita’s 9 oz. However, with the announcement of the PS Vita Slim – coming in at 7.7 ounces, they’ve now got the DS beat. The Vita is also the ultimate in portable – you don’t have to open and close the screen whenever you need it – just throw it in your bag and go, grab it, turn it on and start playing.

–Cass

One strong bonus to the way that the DS is configured is that the screens are protected when the DS is closed and can be thrown into a bag or a very large pocket without worrying about your keys scratching the glass.

The weights are so close (8.3 oz for the 3DS XL and 9 oz for the Vita) that you’d be hard-pressed to tell a difference. Both systems are easily carried and great to travel with. Just don’t throw your keys in the same bag as your Vita.

–Mystie

First off, battery life. Playing 3DS games will last approximately 4-6 hours while DS games will last 6-8 hours. If you go with the 3DS XL (highly recommended), it will net you an hour to an hour and a half extra. The Vita is rated fairly similarly, but is a touch below. They are close enough though that I will call this a tie.

The 3DS (the larger XL version) is lighter than the Vita, by about an ounce. Not much, but it’s enough that any extended play should be noticeable in ease of use. Definitely an important bonus for a portable system.

The 3DS’s clamshell design also is fantastic for on the go gaming. There is very little worry about closing the lid, tossing the system in a pocket or bag, and continuing on your way. I don’t care what the screen is made of, I doubt this is something that Vita owners are as comfortable doing. Again, it may seem small, but for a portable system, this small feature can become a much bigger deal.

–Ben

Battery Life

The Vita can run for over 5 hours on a good charge and doesn’t take too much time to charge. The DS probably does have an advantage in this that if you let the Vita die you can’t start playing it once you plug it in. But honestly it takes so little time for the Vita to wake up once it starts charging I don’t find it that big of a deal.

–Cass

Kinda addressed this, but the measures I have seen puts the 3DS slightly ahead of the Vita (especially the 3ds XL), however they are so close that honestly it will come down to what settings you have on. The Vita does have a quicker listed charge time, to me this isn’t really that big of a deal.

–Ben

As both Cassi and Ben mentioned, the Vita and 3DS have similar battery lives (~5 hours) and charging times. There is no strong edge given to either competitor in this category.

–Mystie

DOES IT PLAY LEGEND OF ZELDA?

If you are a fan of the Zelda games and want to play the DS-exclusive games, I am not sure why you are still reading this article and not out purchasing your very own 3DS.

–Mystie

While it’s true, one big downfall of the Vita is that you’re not going to be able to play Zelda any time soon. However, my point above still stands – once you’ve finished that, what’s left? I see your Zelda and raise you both Little Big Planet and Uncharted.

–Cass

Ah yes. We have come to the most important section for our competition. 3DS has it, but you will notice a very conspicuous absence of Zelda games on the Vita. That’s a dealbreaker.

–Ben

Connectivity to PS4/Wii U

Umm… Mii’s? Smash bros brawl will probably take greater advantage of this connection, and maybe future games… but seriously I don’t give a shit about some gimmicky connection between the Vita and PS4. Yea I said it Cassi. Boatload of Meh. But Vita definitely wins here…

—Ben

The connectivity to the Vita to the PS3 and PS4 is great. Many games, such as Guacamelle, offer crossover play in which you can start a game on your Vita and switch over to the console and pick up where you left off.

In addition to that it the PS4 offers remote play – you can connect your PS4 to your Vita and play your PS4 games on it. Which means you can play next gen games. Which means you can also use your Vita as an entertainment device – watching Netflix or Youtube. This really offers a whole package deal

Because let’s be honest. At the end of the day…if we’re going to talk about boatloads of meh – seriously I don’t give a shit about some gimmicky Mii character that I can customize and make friends with some other character someone has spent way too much time customizing and getting weird hats for. Yea I said it Ben.

–Cass

If you have a PS4, the Vita is definitely going to get your vote in this category. As Cassi mentioned, the stop-and-go play from one console to the other is a incredibly cool feature and remote play is fantastic (even if it does seem that your vita is just a fancy Wii U controller) and the 3DS has nothing that really compares in this category.

–Mystie

Fitness Potential

Umm… I’m a gamer? In all seriousness, 3DS does encourage you quite a bit to get out and move around, since you can both interact with other 3DS game owners for special rewards, as well as use the built-in pedometer which will give you special coins you can use in most games to purchase extras. So yea, walk for dat lootz!

–Ben

Nintendo had some pretty great success with the fitness aspects for the Wii and they strove to add something to their handheld unit. The 3DS has a built in pedometer and you can score bonuses and “game coins” for walking with your 3DS. These game coins can be used in the built-in “Find Mii” game where you must battle demons and ghosts in order to escape. This also uses the StreetPass feature mentioned earlier.

–Mystie

The Vita knows you. You’re a gamer and you don’t give a shit.
While the Vita doesn’t have a pedometer in it- however it has the option to download and store apps, giving you the option to get fitness games and apps on it.

–Cass

Tactile/Clever Features

The main tactile feature the Vita offers is the touchscreen and I’d say many of the games I’ve played have utilized it in an interesting way. Games like Little Big Planet and Tearaway work it into the gameplay seamlessly (in Tearaway you can use the touchscreen to customize your character). And it’s far less awkward than blowing on your device.

I will say in terms of extra stuff the DS probably has a bit more going for it (the 3D features, the dual screens). However, in the end I don’t feel like they utilize those enough or in a way that’s useful (apart from maybe the dual screens and maps) that I despite having more features – the DS and the Vita are still pretty evenly matched in this regard.

–Cass

Again not something I’m really all that concerned with, but I don’t see how you can deny that Nintendo is the king of weird ass tactile features. You’ve got the microphone to talk to your digital shit, or even to blow your digital shit. Touch-screen capabilities that are actually fairly helpful for a lot of games, and pretty well designed. 3D. 3D camera. Dual-Screens. 3D is a bit of a gimmick yea, but some of the big name games actually make good use of this, and absolutely improve gameplay (Mario 3D land is a biggie here). Dual-screens are kinda awesome too, as you can now manage inventory, maps, all sorts of shit on that bottom screen, and it’s fantastic.

–Ben

I have to admit, blowing or talking into my DS was a great novelty the first time that I did it, but it wasn’t something that I wanted to do with every game and I think Nintendo figured that out. The latest Zelda game did not have you blow into the microphone or yell at the screen.

However, one of the times I was most blown away by my DS was during a Professor Layton game I had to close my DS in order for something on the top screen to match with something on the bottom screen- I thought this was incredibly clever. Nintendo has been very creative with the interactive features on the 3DS and I have been duly impressed.

–Mystie

FINAL VERDICT

This is really going to come down to the games that you want to play. If you are constantly on your PS4 and want to expand that universe, you are gonna go with Vita. If you want those Nintendo-exclusives, you have to go with the 3DS.

–Mystie

At the end of the day, I am going to fall in line with Nintendo’s philosophy: It’s all about the games. I don’t give two shits about all those extra “features” that may exist on the Vita, all that matters to me is the games that you are putting out, and how many are a quality, must-play experience, and are easy to play on the go or for an extended period. Nintendo has been doing this for a long, long time. They know portable gaming, and they know how to design games to take advantage of their hardware and create a one-of-a-kind experience you truly cannot get on any other system. The vita may have it’s bonuses, but ultimately, I can get what it offers on other systems. If you want the 3DS experience, you have to have a 3DS, that’s all there is to it.

–Ben

After all this, the Vita offers a great gaming experience. I have a Wii and a Super Nintendo so if I need to get my Mario and Zelda fix I’m not too far off.

Don’t listen to those lies about not having a great library, because it’s certainly there with the potential to only get better. And being your Indie Corner gamer being able to see a device that will offer a great gaming experience that I can cross-play, get great games from indie developers and enjoy a cat video or two in between gaming, this system really does have it all.

–Cass

*Our “offices” are our computers. Those were some intense emails.

May 052014
 

The-Ocean-at-the-End-of-the-Lane-1

Ocean at the End of the Lane is a deeply engrossing tale from Neil Gaiman, very much in line with his previous works while also doing some new things. This really isn’t much of a novel, more of a novella/novel mix, but for that I was quite impressed at the depth he managed to achieve in such a short book. I definitely wish it could have been longer, so as to get a bit more on some of the secondary characters, but as it is a stylistic choice it’s pretty hard to fault that.

This story is told from the perspective of a child, and one of my favorite things about it is how well I think Gaiman managed to capture that and present events as a child might see them. After seeing and hearing some of the things he does through the course of the story, an adult very well would be inclined to try to find the trick, or dismiss it as false. He pretty blindly trusts in those he sees as authority figures (which , during the story, moves away from his parents and toward the Hempstocks). There is also the scene where his father sexes up the creepy Ursula. The narrator is attempting to escape her at the time, and witnesses the act, but very little thought is actually given to this act, which leaves of course a much greater significance with the reader.

Mystie brought this up as well, but one of the themes I found very interesting was the concept of the maiden, mother, and crone represented by the Hempstocks. Gaiman flipped this on itss head a bit, as generally this is a sad reference to the reproductive state of women. Gaiman takes this concept and makes it something more substantive and really centers his book around it. Gaiman is a master at this sort of mythology, as he loves to take what is a standard myth and twist it just enough to make it modern while still carrying the same meaning as it’s original. Mystie will probably expand a bit on this as well, but what happened to the “male” Hempstocks? Who are they?

This also ties in well with Lettie sacrificing herself for the narrator at the end, and how long she recovers, as he never “meets” her again in any corporeal form. The idea of “stealing” a death is pretty strong in many mythologies, and it’s a very interesting and strong concept here. What costs were truly incurred? Did she trade his life for her ability to manifest as a “human?” Will Letty only be able to return once the narrator has passed away? What kind of things might have been prevented if she was still alive?

This is a pretty important part to the ending, which while I loved most all of this book, the ending was my favorite (happens a lot with Gaiman’s books). Not only the intriguing ideas with Lettie saving his life, but with the fact that the narrator constantly returns to the farm through his life. His reason for coming back at the beginning was due to a funeral for a family member, but it’s never revealed who it is. Could be for a couple reasons, but I really think at this point that events just tend to align in his life to bring him back to the farm. The funeral at this point is secondary, even though it is obviously a major point in his life. Furthermore, it has happened several times, where some unknown event brings him back to the farm. Is Lettie’s control so great (and subtle)?

He forgets quite shortly about these events leading up to the end of his visit, as he has at each of his last meetings. Is this something the Hempstocks are doing to protect him? Is it due to his heart healing? How much does it point to events that we ourselves forget about our childhood experiences? It’s an interesting idea, and points out just how fleeting, and yet important, memories are.

For my review, I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

– Ben

 

Our latest choice in “The League of Books” was Neil Gaiman’s latest adult novel, “The Ocean at the End of the Lane”. I had heard a lot of positive commentary about the novel on the interwebs, but I knew very little of the actual story going in.

When the novel starts, our protagonist is a middle-aged man traveling between a funeral of someone close to him and the reception afterwards. He finds himself being drawn to this little farmhouse at the end of the lane that he grew up on. As he travels down the lane, he notes a few areas of events that were significant to him during his childhood, but he cannot seem to recall the importance of this farmhouse. It seems to be flitting around the edges of his brain, despite the fact that he is obviously drawn there. Once there, the memories flit closer and closer until he walks around back and is confronted by Lettie Hempstock’s “ocean”- then his brain opens up and dumps him into the year that he was 8.

The majority of the book is told from the perspective of our protagonist as a young child. I agree with Ben that Gaiman’s writing of a child protagonist is both believable and refreshing. There are certain truths that the child brain accepts that an adult brain would have trouble accepting and therefore be a very different type of protagonist. When confronted with a “magic” family that seems to be immortal, our narrator befriends them instantly. And when he asks Lettie, the youngest member of this family, how old she is and how long she has been that age, he accepts her answers readily, though they are not actual answers.

There is a lot of Ocean at the End of the Lane that is left unexplained, and though it is difficult when you wouldn’t mind a longer novel, Gaiman threads the line that enough is explained that the story is completely understandable and enough it left to your imagination that each person’s reading of the novel is slightly different. One of the main things left unexplained was the origin of the Hempstocks. When we meet them, there are three: a grandmother, a mother and a young girl. They mention that there were male Hempstocks, but they left to travel the world and there are members of their bloodline living all over. The imagery of the Hempstocks brought to mind The Fates to me: the old crone, the mother and the maiden. Therefore, for most the novel, I felt that the Hempstock’s were Gaiman’s version of the keepers of destiny and they worked to make sure that nothing from their “old world” bothered the humans in their new one. This theory fit with the climax that Lettie was able to change our narrator’s destiny, but had to replace it with her own and, I believe, that she will not be able to return until the death of our narrator.

The end of the novel raised almost more questions than it answered, which lends itself well to discussions among friends; Ben and I had a good time debating certain points. However, I agreed with a lot of what Gaiman did. The narrator had to forget to live a “normal” life but he can’t forget how important they were to him.

But, make sure to read this and discuss it with your friends. Why does the narrator forget every time he visits? How do you feel about Gaiman never mentioning whose funeral is it? Who do you think the Hempstocks really are? What exactly are the “fleas”?

Overall, I would give this book 4/5 stars.

–Mystie

Apr 012014
 

contact

For this edition of “The League of Books” we are trying a different format. After finishing the novel, Mystie posed questions for Ben to answer and Ben posed questions for Mystie to answer.

The responses are below: WARNING: SPOILERS.

Did you have any trouble or difficulty in identifying with Ellie as a main character due to her being a female? Did you feel she was well-written and/or realistic?

“No I didn’t have any difficulty identifying with Ellie as a main character. It’s actually a very refreshing change, and I thought Sagan did very well at making her a realistic character. I think there is a very real aspect of the book that addresses the fact that scientific fields tend to be male-dominated, and while obviously the reasons behind this are not really addressed, I think Sagan does a good job of showing Ellie as a positive example of why that is a problem. If not for that, I would think it’s kind of a shame that someone would have issues identifying with Ellie because of her sex. There are many other things that I think I had more trouble identifying with, based on her profession or maybe her relationship with her parents, both things that are pretty far from my sphere of experience. But those differences are some of the things I love about books, or video games, any sort of heavy-narrative driven plot. So getting a female perspective is an important part of that, but the more you see well-written female characters in both books and movies, and go away from some of the pre-conceived notions of what is “male” and what is “female,” the more you tend to see how small that particular difference actually is.”

—Ben

Contact is a very non-traditional science fiction book. What are some things you liked and disliked about this?

For a good portion of the book, it read like a realistic fiction novel; there was a lot of political intrigue and social commentary. A lot of this I really enjoyed, it made the more fantastical premise seem all that more attainable and brought a new credibility to the science that Sagan wrote about. However, I got bogged down in the middle of the book and found it hard to keep going as I was a little burned out on the realism of it all. When I read science fiction or fantasy, a lot of the reason that I am reading it is to get away from the normal- to enter a world that is full of wonder and might be a little less than realistic. When I finally got the to the science fiction section, I ate it up. But then it was over too fast. =(“

—Mystie

When you got to the end of the novel, did you remember that Ellie had driven herself to science with her self-teaching about pi? Did you like that everything sort of came full circle at the end?

“I have mixed feelings on this one. I thought it was very cool when the aliens introduced it during their meeting, but after that in the last few chapters when she was searching for that pattern, I kinda thought it had become a bit much. I think it would have been a very cool thing to just leave it as something the aliens had found, and left it open-ended and mysterious, maybe still end with Ellie searching for it. I think this still would have brought things full closure, while being very intriguing as well. As it was, I thought it was still a cool plot-device, but it was then wrapped up in kinda an awkward and rushed way, and didn’t feel very satisfying to me.”

—Ben

What was your favorite part/passage of the book? Why?

“I think that this will probably be the same passage for a lot of people, but the traveling that The Five did when they entered The Machine would be my favorite part. I think that the idea of this “Subway Station” in the sky gave the chance for Sagan to write these extremely skeptical scientists staring around wide-eyed, like children at their first amusement park. And the feeling that humans are “children” in a galactic sense as this “Subway Station” that is easy for these races to manipulate is so far out of our range that humans could not understand it while they were building it.”

—Mystie

Did you enjoy the ending of the book? Did you feel fulfilled in the conclusion of the story or were you wanting more?

“In the actual conclusion I will say I was not completely satisfied with where it went. I liked that the travelers were not really believed, and that there was still work to be done to get there, slowly (would have been too easy for everyone to believe and change right away). But it just wrapped up too easily, and I was a little disappointed in that. The revelation concerning Ellie’s father in particular just was poorly done in my opinion, as it really seemed to carry little weight. However, the parts leading up to the conclusion, basically their entire voyage, I thought was excellent, and probably my favorite part of the book (maaybe the introduction beats it out). “

—Ben

What do you think Sagan had in mind by the “higher intelligence” implied at the ending of the book?

“To me, the message felt like “science and God are not all that different”. Which would fit with the rest of the theme of the book, which felt a lot like “we are all Earthlings”. We need to rid ourselves of bigotry and hate to rise above our differences and become the kind of human race we would be proud to show off to the rest of the Universe. The impression that I got from this book was that there was a moral message inside this incredibly interesting story: that humans are not that different from one another and we should be bound together by our belief in something larger than ourselves. And he does this in a realistic manner in the story; countries do not automatically drop arms and embrace one another but as they are bound together in their goal of building The Machine, the stockpiles of nuclear weapons diminishes and wars are not started as countries need each other to complete their goal.”

—Mystie

There aren’t too many relationships that Ellie has in the book. And the ones that she does have are fairly shallow. Did you believe her relationship with der Heer? Did you find it emotionally satisfying?

“I liked the idea of what (at least what I think) he was going for with this relationship. der Heer seems all politics, he is very concerned about his reputation and wants to basically become a successful politician. Ellie is all business, couldn’t care less about her reputation and is mostly trying to increase her and others understanding. For a brief time at the beginning of their relationship, these are aligned and they can get along and have a decent relationship, but it doesn’t last. I like that Sagan was not going for a “perfect romance,” and tried to show something that just wasn’t gonna work. But I don’t think he pulled that off very well, as there wasn’t really a clean break through the rest of the book. Ken just mostly ignores her, and even kinda looks the other way as others criticize her. There doesn’t seem to be much of a reaction from Ellie on a lot of this. I think some of that was Ellie was definitely emotionally distant from most of the characters, but I just think this was awkwardly done overall, he could have done a better job of showing it one way or another, instead of just coming across as indecisive.”

—Ben

Why do you think Sagan had the travelers return without any proof?

“This would agree with my answer above. The idea that “faith: believing in something you can’t prove” is necessary in both religion and scientific discovery. I felt that Sagan had/has great respect for religions and that he is simply offering the idea that maybe science and religion can exist together. There is also the feeling of “not yet”. Humans are not quite ready to be part of something larger than themselves until they can unite and become HUMAN rather than Chinese or American or Brazilian. I did not get the impression that the “aliens” were trying to cause the damage that they did by allowing The Five to come back without proof; they just made the decision that humanity was not ready to be a hub on the “Subway Station”; either the damage that they would cause or the damage that an alien nation could cause to the Earth without the ability to fight back.”

—Mystie

OVERALL, HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO THE MOVIE?

“Ha, this is an interesting one, and I’ll try to avoid any spoilers of the movie since you haven’t seen it. Maybe part of this was seeing movie before reading the book, but it was incredibly noticeable what they changed and why they did it to fit a movie. I’m not sure if thats a good or bad thing, but for the most part I think the changes were very transparent, in terms of the reasoning behind them. I actually really like the movie as well, it helps that I can understand what all they did, but I think they did a good job at getting some of the major themes of the novel itself. And one of those themes that the movie holds, and perhaps even highlights, is one that can’t have been a very popular “hollywood” move, and so I applaud them for that.”

—Ben

Feb 112014
 
FTVAnnihilation1

Yesterday, Wizards of the Coast announced From the Vault: Annihilation, an ultra-premium, extremely limited edition print run of Magic: the Gathering cards. FTV: Annihilation includes 15 cards printed with a foiling process unique to FTV products, a spindown D20 with the FTV: Annihilation logo in place of the number 20, and a collector’s guide. Six of the 15 cards have new art commissioned.

The From the Vault printings have become an annual offering, with the last product celebrating 20 years of Magic: the Gathering. That boxed set included Jace the Mind Sculptor, one of the most powerful and sought-after cards in all of Magic. With a set symbol appearing to be destruction of planetary proportions, we can expect to see some of the greatest and most powerful ‘sweepers’ ever printed. Nobody yet knows what the 15 cards are, but what fun would the announcement be without a little speculation?

Wizards included a single piece of teaser art in their press release, and of course they didn’t say what card it was. Magic players are notorious for spinning up rumor mills with their guesses; we were all proven wrong when what players thought was Mother of Runes turned out to be the not-nearly-as-exciting Impulse. So I’ll throw my hat in and say that it’s very likely to be Supreme Verdict, based purely on the similarities between the two arts (which is currently one of the enabling cards of Azorius Control in the Ravnica/Theros constructed environment).

FTVAnnihilation2

That we will see some kind of mass sweeper is basically a given. Wizards themselves stated, “These limited-edition, black-bordered superweapons are legal in many tournament formats. Sweep the battlefield clean with this powerful arsenal and blast the opposition into oblivion.” I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if the chase card this time around was ‘Emrakul, the Aeons Torn’. The card includes the keyword Annihilator, which in this case causes your opponent to sacrifice permanents. As if that wasn’t powerful enough, Emrakul also gave its caster an extra turn, regardless of whether or not it is countered.

I don’t know what else we’ll see, but I can tell you that I would love to see any of the following cards reprinted: Liliana of the Veil, Pox, Balance, Decree of Annihilation (And with a name like that, it sounds like virtually a shoo-in!), Pernicious Deed, Smokestack, Jokulhaups, Cataclysm, Armageddon (or Ravages of War, its functional reprint from Portal: Three Kingdoms), Bend or Break, Wildfire, Catastrophe, Damnation, Obliterate, Void, and Worldslayer, .

I would really like to see Maelstrom Pulse and Oblivion Stone reprinted as well, but considering the former was just in Modern Masters while the latter was just in Commander 2013, I don’t think it’s going to happen here. I feel the same way about Nevinyrral’s Disk, but it’s such an iconic card with such a powerful activated ability that I could see a reprint justified on those strengths alone. All Is Dust was just provided as a Grand Prix foil, so I also don’t think it will be reprinted here.

Akroma’s Vengeance will surely not be printed again, as it was just placed in FTV 20. Nothing on the reserved list can be printed either. Wizards tried that with FTV: Relics when they printed Masticore but immediately reversed that policy when they received a public walloping.

And unfortunately, nothing in the file names or meta data from the released images contained any worthwhile information, as far as I could tell.

Wizards’ suggested retail price is $34.99, but odds are you’re never going to actually get one at that price because the secondary market almost always inflates prices to whatever people are willing to pay. FTV: 20 had an MSRP of $39.99 and sold for upwards of $200, almost exclusively on the strength of Jace alone. Even now the FTV Jace, a single card, sells on the secondary market for over $100. Will we see prices similar to FTV 20? Magic’s popularity is growing by leaps and bounds, but the cards themselves will be the biggest indicator of demand. Without knowing what to expect, any speculation is just that: speculation.

From the Vault: Annihilation will be available for sale on August 22, 2014. The original press release can be found on the Mothership here.

For all FTV: Annihilation tweets, wizards suggests using the hashtag #FTVANH. My nerd brain sees: FTV: A New Hope. :/

Jan 072014
 

Wizards of the Coast releases a planeswalker that players have been begging for.

Magic: The Gathering players got a treat this Christmas from the folks over at Wizards of the Coast. Kiora Atua, first seen in Duels of the Planeswalkers 2012, is now being printed as the first blue/green aligned planeswalker in Magic’s latest expansion, Born of the Gods, set to arrive in stores Feb 7, 2014. Let’s take a look at the card.

Kiora

Firstly, I want to talk about the art. She herself is a merfolk, perched on the tentacles of some great sea kraken poised to surface at any moment. The whole thing takes on a comic book style, while utilizing ukiyo-e as inspiration for the background. I’ve always been a fan of the ukiyo-e period (search the internet for the Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji for reference), and the water instantly reminded me of The Great Wave off Kanagawa. The water in the background also appears to take the shape of a nautilus much like the image she is conjuring in her hand. Lastly, there are humanoid bones floating in the water, possibly the remains of the kraken’s latest meal. I’m a fan. But what gets me really is how Kiora interacts with the game. It seems to me that Kiora would be played not by aggro decks, but by midrange (when playing against control) and by control decks.

Kiora costs 2UG to cast. 4 mana seems to be the standard for planeswalkers, which is actually a good thing when cards like Abrupt Decay are seeing competitive play. The problem is that the four-mana slot is rather full of options, and Kiora is going to compete with cards such as Jace, Architect of Thought and Supreme Verdict, both of which see 4-of play in competitive Azorius control decks. In truth, Kiora will probably not displace either of these cards. She actually synergizes rather will with them, but because space is so limited, I’m assuming Kiora will be played as less than a four-of.

Planeswalkers generally want to have three kinds of different abilities: 1) Protect themselves, 2) provide card advantage, 3) provide an ‘ultimate’ that allows you to win the game. Kiora hits all three of these requirements. Her first ability gives +1 to her loyalty while completely negating the damage a single permanent would deal and/or receive. The important verbiage here is ‘permanent’, not creature. This means that in the standard format she can’t be pinged to death by Chandra, or attacked outright by Mutavault, or lesser-played cards like Haunted Platemail, Ral Zarek, and Gideon. This will hopefully force aggressive players to overcommit their resources to the battlefield which opens up many opportunities for the control player to get n for 1 card advantage.

Kiora’s second ability is what really makes me giddy. Her -1 ability allows you to play an extra land on your turn and draw a card. This is Exploration on steroids. Green is the color of giant beatstick creatures. Blue, to a lesser extent, also gets behemoth monsters of the sea. This is straight up mana acceleration and card advantage in a single ability. There’s a tier two (or maybe even worse) deck out there that utilizes Maze’s End and the gate lands as an uncounterable win condition. Kiora accelerates their ability to have ten of the gate lands out. This could be an interesting way for the deck to speed up its ability to win, although I have doubts that it will be type-2 competitive.

Her third ability, considered her ‘ultimate’, gives you an unremovable and never-ending stream of 9/9 kraken token creatures. Considering that players start at 20 life, and also considering that the shocklands are in standard, it’s very conceivable that a player will hurt themselves at least a few points in the course of the game, meaning a 9/9 will end the game in 2 turns if unblocked. A player would have to win the game within the next turn or start losing creatures very quickly to chump blocks. It would be overkill but totally fun to run Selesnya’s populate ability alongside the ultimate and just amass an entire army of krakens. Alternatively, opponents playing cards like Assemble the Legion really don’t have to worry about the ultimate.

So, individually, the abilities seem strong. Kiora would be an amazing planeswalker if it wasn’t for just one thing – her starting loyalty. A starting loyalty of 2 is a challenge because it opens the door to all kinds of removal that would not ordinarily kill other planeswalkers like Jace and Gideon. But removal pointed at Kiora is still removal not pointed at you, and no matter what you’ll always be able to utilize her first ability to replace the card space she takes up, provided she is not countered. All in all, I think it’s a good card that will probably go on sale at around $25, but will probably settle in the $10-$12 dollar range until a deck comes along that can REALLY abuse her abilities. I personally can’t wait to put her in my Prime Speaker Zegana EDH deck, because I’ll be able to cast her on turn 2 utilizing artifact acceleration like Sol Ring. Because my EDH play group has a bit of a slow start, she’ll be able to ramp up my mana very quickly and let me start doing amazing things very early on. All in all, I am very excited for Kiora, the Crashing Wave  to see print, and I am much more excited for Born of the Gods. The prerelease is on Feb 1st and 2nd, and launches Feb 7th.