TWR: Commander Collection Green

The year only has a few months left in it, but that’s enough time for Wizards of the Coast to squeeze in a ton of products — some we’ve known about for a while, like Commander Legends and some that were announced but little else was revealed. Today we’re able to advance our knowledge of one of these products a bit further. Introducing Commander Collection: Green.

A product that I feel most closely resembles the Signature Spellbook series, the Commander Collection series will assuredly provide needed reprints and fancy alternate art for powerful cards in the color, and more specifically, those that are legal in Commander. The spellbooks were awesome, and I have picked up the three that have released, while assuming that there will be at least two more, as Green and Black have yet to be represented. Ditto this product, I’ll assume going forward that we should get at least four more encompassing the game’s five colors. We now know that this product will release in the beginning of December, and while it is similar to the spellbooks, one key difference emerges: There is a “premium” version, which contains the same cards with the same artwork, but all of them are foil. Who knows what retail will run for that, but given the price gouging happening with all of the collector and VIP products over the course of the year, I assume the premium version will be a bit pricey. The regular version will hopefully retail in the ballpark of $30-40 which seems fair given the contents. Speaking of the contents, let’s get to that:

So I understand the inclusion of Command Tower and Sol Ring since those are staple cards that go in nearly every EDH build, but honestly I think they could have been other cards instead. Since the theme is green, they made a thematically green artwork for both of these cards that are cool (I’m all about the alternate art stuff to stand out from the crowd) but I still think a Nature’s Claim or a Song of the Dryads might have been the better cards to include. Otherwise we have some really great gems here. Worldly Tutor hasn’t been reprinted in ages, ditto that for Sylvan library and though I own them I’d like more copies that are guaranteed (rather than digging through packs or paying a lot for the singles). Bane of Progress is a great card, as is Seedborne Muse, and though I’m not huge on Omnath, he is a signature green commander. Freyalise is an interesting include, mainly because she’s only had 2 printings so I suppose she could use the reprint but I also don’t think she’s that important of a card in the color. Sure, my mono-green stompy mid deck uses her to throw out some dorks or for removal but she’s still sort of run of the mill. A mono Garuuk might have been more on point. Either way I’m not complaining, I love the new art and I think this is a solid product, I just hope it isn’t pushed out of my price range by the time it comes around.

Spoilers for Commander Legends have begun as well, so I’ll have more thoughts to share about that product soon. I also have a bunch of other drafts in the works, just needed some downtime as of late. Until then.

TWR: Double Masters Spoilers

The World of Magic: The Gathering is a strange place. Not only does Wizards of the Coast seemingly pull new product ideas out of their asses, but some of their newer offerings are beginning to feel a bit like a cash grab. The secondary market is making things worse to be fair, but creating products that appeal to a wide audience and then selling them at an already high MSRP (which technically doesn’t exist for them anymore, but they’re still selling to distributors at particular price points for particular products, while those distributors then mark up to sell to an LGS, who then marks up to sell to you) lends itself to that concept. We’ve seen a pattern of core sets and normal standard rotation sets along with supplemental products for years, but the inclusion of themes and collector’s boosters have artificially inflated the prices of some boxed products. They’ve even taken a chunk of the secondary market for themselves by releasing products like Secret Lair which are just new-art reprints of sought after cards which they sold for what typically ended up being more than the cards were worth. I occasionally splurge to get some bling for a favorite deck, but when said bling becomes prohibitively priced (packs and sealed products that are randomized are gambling, after all) with a risk attached, I’m probably out. I’ll save some coin and buy singles.

So this pattern has persisted as we’ve been seeing these supreme collector’s items with each new set, and though secret lairs have slowed down for a while, we then had a hubbub about shortages in printing of Jump Start, which was already in high demand before release. This is all old news, by the way, but I have yet to comment. So this set is considered an “unlimited print run” which means as long as there’s demand, they will continue to print. WotC has already said that there will be more of Jump Start coming down the pipeline, but that didn’t stop some eBay from grabbing up the product, and then marking up the boxes because of the shortage. Reportedly, some customers even had orders cancelled stating that they didn’t have enough product on hand (despite taking preorders) and then immediately relisted for more money. This set in particular is on par with a standard set though, so it’s not worth the $200+ that people are charging for a box, while you can grab a box of Core 2021 right now for $99. As such, people are stupid for falling for these price gougers, but also it’s sad that it’s happening. Enter the next elephant in the room:

We haven’t had a “masters” set in a couple of years. The last one was Ultimate Masters, and it was hailed as one of the best masters sets in years. I rather enjoyed the reprints I was able to get my hands on. Despite the fact that we have Commander Legends coming later on this year which is specifically made for EDH players, masters sets have always provided needed reprints for eternal formats. As such, I was excited for Double Masters despite the fact that it’s a terrible name. When we started getting promos, it became clear that there were a large number of needed reprints of cards that have become really expensive to buy singularly — this set has proved once again that the idea works, but they didn’t stop at simple reprints, instead there is something more for that collector with deep pockets (maybe you?).

Typical masters sets have more expensive packs than those in standard sets. This is presumably because there are more “chase cards” that are worth more money, despite the fact that reprinting cards costs exactly 0% more for WotC to produce compared printing new cards. There is usually something “premium” to draw you to one of these sets, and though it wasn’t a masters set, I’d argue that Mystery Boosters did this right. They reprinted OG art and added a foil in each pack and those foils were cards that were separate from the normal list of cards in the packs, along with being the first foil printing for those cards. That’s a cool little “gamble” while you’re really chasing the other cards in the set. Whatever the case, masters boxes are only 24 packs instead of the 36 packs that come in standard sets. So we’ve accepted paying more and getting less, and it’s probably too late to go back on that. But I remember sets back in around 2017 that were like $7 a pack instead of $4 a pack, while more recent sets were +/- $10 a pack. Typical box price of Ultimate Masters was between $200-250. This set, mainly because people know this is “limited print run” has already begun to spike, and boxes are over $300. The only real difference? Well, nothing really. There are two rare slots per pack, that’s something I guess. They have the box toppers, but I’m actually unsure if those are even part of buying a box of Double Masters due to another product that was also announced, which is this sets’ “collector booster.”

The VIP Edition is one pack of cards. It’s something like 33 cards, but you’re getting a chunk of full art lands (which are also reprints), still get foil commons and uncommons, and then you get box toppers. To be fair, the box toppers are awesome, and the ability to grab full art, showcase, or alternate art cards in regular packs in nearly every set this year has been pretty cool. But at the same time, the VIP booster costs like $100 for 33 cards while for $300 you get 360. Which is ridiculous to think you’re paying $1 per tiny piece of cardboard. Whatever the case, I’m really happy to see the reprints here. I need cards like Dark Confidant, Blightsteel Colossus, and a couple of the swords. I need a Mana Crypt and a Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I’m hoping the prices plummet enough to grab some singles, but with box prices what they are I can’t justify the gamble. Anyway, rant over. I do want to share the box toppers because they’re gorgeous, but otherwise that’s all I have for today.

Boxtoppers:

Mythics:

Rares:

Fancy Lands:

(Only in the VIP edition)

Izlain out.

Farcry 5: The First Region

Ubisoft, much like EA and some of the other big video game publisher/developers have had their fair share of mistakes made over the years. I don’t really purchase too many of their titles as a result, because quite simply their cookie-cutter game design that allows them to churn out titles year after year tends to lead to boring experiences. I’m talking about the Call of Duty‘s and Assassin’s Creed‘s of the world. However, I am not immune to their charms at times, having purchased a handful of Call of Duty titles, and though I don’t enjoy Assassin’s Creed, I’ve always been somewhat curious about the Farcry franchise. I recall people talking positively about it in the past, and I’ve seen a video or two that made it seem somewhat appealing, but until now I’ve not legitimately played a single one. That changed recently, due to a sale on the Playstation Store, where the fifth (and latest in the numbered series) game was on sale for only $15. There were options for complete DLC editions and whatnot, but not knowing if I’d even like the game, I managed my risk. I also have a little less disposable income as of late due to the purchase of my car, so I’m trying to play through some games I already own, and only pick up cheap options otherwise. Nonetheless, I’ve started the game and have played it pretty regularly over the last week, managing to complete one of the game’s three regions. I say complete loosely, due to the sheer number of things you can do in a given region, but I did a large portion of what was on offer, and I assume at some point later in the game I could go back and do some cleanup. So as I’ve pretty much gone into this experience blind, I’ll share what I’ve learned about the series, this game in particular, and my personal story with it.

I neglected to take any screenshots during the tutorial, but the set up is basically this: You’re a rookie in the Hope County Sheriff’s department in Montana, where a religious cult has been terrorizing the locals. You’re heading in with U.S. Marshals to take on this threat. Things go okay for a while, then shit hits the fan, and as you attempt to obscond with the cult’s leader, his people go crazy, climbing onto your helicopter and literally sacrificing themselves in the chopper’s blades to cause a crash landing. Some of your comrades are captured but you manage to escape. From here, this little island serves as a tutorial area, getting you used to the game’s mechanics. The above graphic describes the majority of activities that you’ll take part in through the rest of the game. I’m not sure if it’s really “emergent” AI, but things seem to happen randomly enough, and as you complete the above tasks enemies get even stronger, or more variety of enemies will appear. For example, you’ll start with roving bands of cultists that will attack if they see you, to then having actual hunters tracking you down, to then having airplanes gunning for you. It’s never to a point of being too hard, but it definitely can get annoying at times.

For the most part, if you’ve played any open world games, you’ll be familiar with what is on offer here. There is a character customization option, but you never see yourself unless you utilize photo mode — but there is the option to co-op through the game so I suppose there is a reason for all of the random skins and clothing articles. Everything can be bought with in game currency, some pieces can be found in the world, and of course there is a premium currency which seems unneeded but I suppose whales will be whales. The perk system has a lot to choose from, but some choices seem more obvious than others. Getting the grappling hook and parachute are great for getting around, while the lockpicking and extra holsters obviously make sense. Other options seem to be less useful and are just passive bonuses, but I suppose this depends on your playstyle. There is a limited crafting system that works pretty similarly to The Last of Us, and you’re really only making explosives with the materials you’ll collect. Weapons are varied enough, but the “customization” is the same set of scopes, silencers and larger magazines on every gun, and there are more pointless skins. It feels kind of hollow, but it works well enough.

You’ll spend a lot of time staring at this map, and this is zoomed out to the size of the region. There are two other regions that are equally sized, and it surely takes a while to get from point A to point B on foot. As you complete missions, rescue people and generally blow shit up, you’ll eventually get captured by a group of cultist hunters, which will introduce you to that region’s leader, in this case John Seed. The Seeds are the cult’s leaders, and they seem just unhinged enough to be “crazy” but are also composed enough to keep order over their people. After escaping the first time, you’ll eventually piss off John enough to get captured again, this time with a longer sequence carrying on to escape. Eventually you’ll fill up your “resistance points” bar and John will call you out for a confrontation.

The world feels big, and for the most part it feels lived in. There are some areas of wilderness, but there’s always someone wandering around nearby. As with most games of this type, there is a fast travel option, where you can open the map and instantly teleport to a previously visited location. I used this sort of option in games like Skyrim almost exclusively, as it eventually became tiresome to trudge about the map on foot. That feels the same way here, but fortunately there is a grand scope of vehicles that you can pilot to get around quickly enough. I do think that the inclusion of fast travel can be a sort of immersion breaking, but its necessary if you ever want to feel like you’ve accomplished something. I’m happy that the vehicles make it feel easier to get around without breaking that immersion… in fact there were points where I was in an intense firefight and the next thing I knew I was in a plane and facing off against aerial opponents. There are times when things feel mundane, and then others where the game gets its hooks into you. I’m not in love with it, but I haven’t grown tired of playing it either. So that’s something.

The main storyline is sort of drab and predictable, but some of the side quests were particularly interesting. One quest saw me hunting humping bulls for their testicles, which is a true to life delicacy in some parts of this country. Rocky Mountain Oysters as they are called, sound revolting to me, but apparently these people really wanted some balls in their mouth. Another mission I did for a kooky conspiracy theorist had me running around for these mysterious orbs that were supposed to be of alien origin, and in most cases made the animals around them aggro and strong. I was actually killed by a mob of turkeys and it was fairly entertaining. That same dude actually built some sort of teleportation machine using these parts, and I’m not sure if he actually went somewhere or was just vaporized, but either way I was able to grab a weird science weapon and his shoes after the fact.

There is a bit of force patriotism in the game, which I suppose would be okay if we weren’t quickly becoming the laughing stock of the world. The game also has its fair share of bugs, which I assume is par for the course when these types of games are churned out as quickly as they are. One bug in particular stuck with me, as I was supposed to destroy this cult truck that was causing havoc on the streets, and as I’m following it and shooting, it literally disappeared. After some searching I found it on the map, considerably further back from where it disappeared. Then as I waited for it to appear from around a bend, it was literally flickering in and out of existence. I just kept chucking explosives at it, and somehow it still exploded and credited me with the kill, but there was no physical evidence as it had flickered out of existence again. Not game breaking, but definitely not a great look. So far though, after defeating John seed and moving onto the next region, I’m ready to reload and check out more. I see myself finishing the game, but I doubt I’ll bother with DLC and the like. Farcry 6 is already on the horizon, set to release next February, so I don’t see myself needing more of this, when I could just jump into that. It’s likely it’s on next gen systems as well, so maybe that will be an improvement in more ways than one.

Thoughts on The Last of Us Part II

Somehow I’ve let the better part of a month go by without writing anything here, and I think I’m just in one of those creative dry spells. Whatever the case, I did spend some time playing through The Last of Us Part II and I thought I could at least put a post together about it. First of all, if you aren’t familiar with the developers of this series, Naughty Dog, you should look into their games. The Uncharted series has been long running and each game is definitely worth playing through. Somehow Naughty Dog has figured out how to push the systems their games run on to their maximum capabilities, along with pushing the boundaries of storytelling in video games. Adult themes, beautiful locations, graphic violence… it’s all here, but it elicits emotion in ways that only the best films of Hollywood can. I’ve never felt tears welling in my eyes from playing a video game until I indulged in their stories, and I cannot recommend these titles enough. The first game in this series was gut wrenching as well, but you grew to love Joel and Ellie and carrying them through to the end of the timeline was an amazing journey.

The sequel starts you off playing as Joel again, coming back home from some journey, and home being a settlement somewhere in the western portion of the United States. One thing I should notate now is that I plan to talk about various parts of the game including the finale, so spoilers will be present. You probably should skip the rest of this article until you’ve completed the game. But hey, if you want to see if the overall plot even interests you in the first place, read on! So this game puts you into the direct control of various characters, all of whom have a tale that directly intersects with the others. From what I remember about the first game, you only played as Joel save for a short bit playing as Ellie, but this game puts you in the shoes of Joel, Ellie and Abby, and at the same time jumps around on the timeline. There are flashbacks to where Ellie was a younger girl, ditto this for Abby. Joel is really the most limited character, because after playing him at the beginning, you’re given control of Ellie, and soon enough Joel is dead. That’s not entirely a spoiler I suppose as we all knew that was coming, but it was still sad and I’m glad there were some flash backs of him throughout the game because he was a really great character and I missed him after a time.

Joel’s death was fairly traumatic. This settlement where these folks live is still a part of this post apocalyptic setting, so there is still the ever present threat of the infected. We see plenty of examples of how they have evolved throughout the game as well, because various new forms exist in the sequel. Due to the need for supplies and the need for living people to protect themselves, this settlement has several outposts nearby, and groups of survivors head out to them regularly to keep the area infection free along with grabbing anything of use they might find. They are not the only bastion of society though, and soon enough it becomes apparent that some of the other humans in the area are not so friendly.

Those who played the first game might recall the main plot, where Joel who is a smuggler, was paid to smuggle a girl (Ellie) to a “Firefly” (one of the new world factions) outpost because it was determined she was immune to the virus as she had been bitten but never turned. It turns out that what the Fireflies needed from her to make a vaccine would kill her. When Joel found that out, he broke into their lab to rescue Ellie, and inadvertently killed some of the Fireflies. Well, turns out that one of the scientists he killed was the father of this girl Abby, and she has been looking for Joel for a long time. Rumors made it up to Seattle where she was staying, and her and some cohorts headed south to find Joel. They do find him while he is out with Ellie and his brother Tommy, and they seriously injure both Tommy and Ellie while Abby beats Joel to death. They let the other two live, as she felt she had her revenge, and they head back north while Ellie and Tommy decide that they need to avenge Joel in a similar way. Tommy ends up leaving without her though, and through some other story bullet points, Dina joins Ellie in her journey to Seattle. This is probably the point that many people took issue with, as the now main character enters into a lesbian relationship with another character, and I heard the SJW’s ruin everything cries from the mountaintop. Whatever your preference or orientation, this is still good storytelling and fucking get over it already.

There are some seriously intense moments throughout the game. As I said, there are a bunch of flashbacks and moments in time where you play the game through Ellie’s perspective and then Abby’s. First there’s the journey to Seattle with Ellie and Dina, but then as you progress you eventually play as Abby and see what she has been going through with her WLF companions and we’re also introduced to a local fanatical faction that are called the Scars. They are more tribal and less dependent on technology, while the WLF (Wolves) are militaristic. Conflicts are abound between humans and the infected. Eventually Ellie kills off a few of the people who were present when Joel was killed, and also follow’s Tommy’s trail, finding more dead. She eventually kills off a couple more and then finds Abby. Abby ends up shooting and killing some of Ellie’s friends, and nearly kills Dina, but shows mercy due to the Scar kid she’s been helping. She agrees to part ways and never wants to see them again, and you’d think that would be the end.

In what I first thought was the epilogue, we see Ellie and Dina in a farmstead along with an infant. We can presume that Dina managed to have the baby and they’ve started this new life. Presumably this is not far from the settlement they stayed at near the beginning of the game, because Tommy shows up and says that he’s found Abby again, this time in Santa Barbara. Dina chases him off saying they’re done with that, but soon enough you’re having visions of dead Joel and can’t help but want to track her down again. Dina warns you that she won’t wait around, but you head out anyway.

This final sequence sees you tracking down Abby, getting caught by some other faction that had already caught her, fighting your way free, and then sneaking into their base to rescue Abby. You find her put up on a stake in this harbor, a cruel death awaiting her. Letting her down, she then cuts down the Scar boy (Lin) and they head off for a boat to escape. It’s this point where you fight her again, and though you win the fight and could have drown her to death, for some reason you let her go, and she takes off. In a strange twist, each of these characters had someone kill their people, became obsessed, had the chance to kill each other for revenge multiple times, and then had a change of heart when it came down to it. I suppose we all are still human after all.

The true epilogue happens next. Ellie returns to the farmstead and finds it empty save for her stuff in one room. Dina and the baby are gone. You play Joel’s guitar one last time, and then head off into the wilderness, presumably to find Dina, or perhaps start yet another new life. It was a sad but fitting end. I hope that we are not done with this world, but perhaps there are new characters and stories to explore. Whatever the case I thoroughly enjoyed this title and I highly recommend picking it up.

TWR: Jumpstart Previews

It seems that 2020, despite being a pretty shit year by real life standards, has actually been a pretty great year for Magic: The Gathering. Not only did we get Theros: Beyond Death early on, we then got Commander 2020 and Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths released at the same time (which was planned, as some of the cards contained in the precons were also from the new set so that made sense. Those products’ release dates were pushed back, and because of that it’s not been long and we already had Core Set 2021 spoilers with a release this week, and another new set called Jump Start that is coming down the pipeline soon. We also still know about Commander Legends and Zendikar Rising coming later in the year, and that’s if they don’t spring any more surprises on us. Whatever the case, I realize I just went over the Core Set 2021 spoilers a couple of days ago, but since we have already seen the full set for Jump Start, let’s dive right in, shall we?

Jump Start is a set that is aimed at new players, much like the core sets are. What seems to be different here is a smaller selection of new cards, with a huge swathe of reprints, some being pretty juicy. There’s not a ton of new cards that are very exciting, and honestly there’s only some reprints that even affect me, but newer players can bolster their collection rather quickly with these two sets, and veterans can most likely pick up some reprints of things they need for a bit cheaper due to the extra printing. I’ve broken down the cards into colors, highlighting the new cards for each, along with some of the more important reprints (cards that have creeped up in price and should be looked for to grab for a discount).

White:

New Cards:

Honestly I can’t say that there is anything here that I am dying to have. Quite honestly, most of the new cards are pretty meh for me personally, but I know a handful of people who are excited by some of the new cards so I still thought it was worth sharing. You can check them out individually and see if there’s anything that appeals to you.

Reprints:

On the reprint side of things, I’ve actually wanted a copy of Linvala for a long time, and she was getting a bit expensive, so this probably means grabbing her as a single shouldn’t be too difficult. Otherwise there are some decent staples being reprinted, notably Path to Exile and Cathars’ Crusade.

Blue:

New Cards:

The new blue legendary Bruvac has mill players losing their minds. There’s already a two card combo with him that essentially allows you to mill one person out entirely, or perhaps that could be you if you’re going for the labman/Jace/Thassa’s finish. Otherwise there’s some jank here that I’m not entirely amazed by.

Reprints:

Rhystic Study has needed a reprint for a long time now, as it’s been increasing in price for a while and is basically a staple in any deck running blue. Get your copies while you can! The others are just some cards that were a few bucks and should probably come down in price a bit.

Black:

New Cards:

I rather like the Witch of the Moors. It’s kind of high CMC but the effect is worth it in decks that want these types of effects. Tinybones is the other new Legendary creature people have been going crazy for, but I don’t think it’s as great as its made out to be. We’ll see how people break him before we really judge.

Reprints:

A ton of good reprints here! I own most of them, but this is a great time to get a copy of Sheoldred which I’ve wanted for some time. Otherwise you’re looking at a ton of cards that are useful in many different black decks that had all seen an increase in price. This set, if nothing else, is bringing down singles prices for the masses.

Red:

New Cards:

I’m somewhat interested in the new Goblin, as I do like making adjustments to Krenko when I can. He’s not the most exciting, but he does buff the team and sometimes that’s good enough. I also like the Chaos Rider for my burn deck, but otherwise the rest is pretty ho hum.

Reprints:

Speak of the devil, Krenko himself got a reprint in the set, along with some other red staples for the EDH format. I own all of these cards already but sometimes having an extra copy or two is worth it. If I wasn’t already buying a box of Core 2021 I might consider a box of this set as well just for value.

Green:

New Cards:

Green seems to have gotten the least amount of love in this department, but there are some decent cards here. Green doesn’t seem to need much help these days, so there’s that.

Reprints:

Some great reprints to be had in the color though. Craterhoof has gotten really expensive, which some of these other cards aren’t too bad but should still come down in price a bit. I’d like a copy of Selvala, only because I don’t own her and she seems pretty good from what I’ve seen.

Colorless/Lands:

New Cards:

I skipped over multi-color because there was like five cards in the whole set and they were all reprints and not very good. When moving onto this category, we get a new cycle of lands that are essentially dual tap lands, but instead of being locked into two colors, they are locked into one and you get to choose the other color. It’s decent for fixing, and probably only really useful in a 5 color deck, but it’s still better than a straight up guildgate, in my opinion. I’ll have to see them in action to really make a determination on their worth.

Reprints:

A couple of decent artifact reprints that were becoming a bit of money. Then we get some reprints of some decent specialized lands, with Riptide Laboratory being of most interest to me simply because I don’t own it. Still, overall a good selection of reprints in this set, so if you are looking to expand your collection, this is probably a good place to do it.