Rogue One trailer

So this has hit today, and I’m once more feeling torn over the new direction of Star Wars films. The trailer alternately looks like it should be pretty great, but I also feel a little like we’re going over old ground once again.

While none of it is canon anymore of course, stealing the plans to the Death Star is still so vastly over-done as a story idea in the Star Wars universe, rather than being excited by it, I’m just yawning and feeling like we’ve been here before. So much. There were times when it was interesting, but whatever, we’ll get to see the “official” story now as a movie.

I’m somewhat saddened to see how new movies that use old stuff also manage to make that old stuff look kinda crappy. The AT-ATs we see look really cool, but that kinda makes me feel like the scene in Empire with those massive things trundling across the Hoth tundra are a bit meh by comparison. It’s something the prequel movies got horribly wrong, and I was hoping wouldn’t be an issue for any new movies, but Disney is obviously keen to milk the era of the Classic trilogy for as much as it’s worth, so I guess we aren’t over the hill yet.

Other than that, it looks like it could be really good. Although we don’t get as much of an ensemble feel from the trailer – seems like the focus is squarely on the character of Felicity Jones – I love the idea of an ensemble movie for Star Wars with a wider scope than just three main characters. Looks like it may even have something of a Suicide Squad feel to it, which I find funny given the timing and all.

Hopefully it’ll be really great, though I have to admit, I’m looking forward for the day when we might actually get an original new Star Wars movie…

Playing Magic: The Jeskai Way

Hey everybody!
I had so much fun writing about my House Dimir deck for Magic the Gathering a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d do a similar thing with another deck I’ve been trying to refine for a while now, my three-colour Jeskai deck from Tarkir block! Like last time, this will no doubt be very rambling, but I find those are the best kinds of blogs!

Tarkir block was the current block when I eventually made a serious effort to get into the game, so will forever hold a special place in my heart. The theme of the set was three-coloured clans, harkening back to the three-coloured shards from Alara block. Let’s take a look at this for a minute.

In Magic, there’s the concept of the colour-pie, which I’d never really much paid attention to beyond thinking it a way to organise the colours of the game. However, the theory runs that each colour has a specific personality, and they are each arranged in the pie according to how these personalities ally with each other. For instance, my go-to colour of black is situated between red and blue, which emphasises the direct-damage abilities of black (shared with red) along with the evasion-type abilities (shared with blue). In Alara, there were five shards that focused on one colour along with its two allies – the colours to either side of it in the pie. So my black example is named Grixis, for instance (the others being Bant, Esper, Jund and Naya, focusing on white, blue, red and green, respectively). Tarkir block takes this on a bit of a twist by focusing on two allied colours along with the colour opposite them in the pie which, if you connected them with straight lines, would form a wedge. Returning to black for a moment, one of its allies is blue, and the colour opposite them in the pie is green (the Sultai brood).

Jeskai

Tarkir block was produced between September 2014 and March 2015, and its theme was rooted in middle and far eastern culture and mythology. Central to this is the idea of dragons,  and the block focused on five clans (the colour pairings), each of which reveres a specific aspect of the dragon, which was brought out in keywords for each clan. This brings us to the subject of today’s blog, the Jeskai. Formed of the allied colours of white and blue, with their enemy red, the Jeskai are a cunning bunch, which is perhaps what you would expect out of white and blue, along with the martial prowess of red – indeed, their keyword for the block was Prowess, which allowed you to buff certain creatures with counters when you play non-creature spells. The storyline of Tarkir block was also pretty fascinating, though I want to devote a separate post to that. For now, suffice it to say that time-travel was a theme, where we got to see the clans and their leaders in different situations. To show this, the clans got new keywords with later releases, and for Jeskai (who became the Ojutai brood, named for the dragon they revered), this became Rebound, which allows you to exile a sorcery or instant card upon resolving it, then cast it for free from exile next turn. Powerful stuff, in the right situations!

Tri-coloured decks scared me. I was so nervous going into building this deck at first that I actually put it off for a long time – I basically didn’t know if I was getting the land base right. Khans of Tarkir thankfully printed taplands that made the process somewhat easier – playsets of all three types to ensure I had the colours I’d need, along with the triple tapland Mystic Monastery that was essentially the Jeskai home land.

The deck is actually super fun for a theme person such as myself, because it has a lot of emphasis on warrior-monks that I really adore. Of course, this meant that my first iteration of the deck featured a whole host of awesome creature cards that made Prowess almost impossible to benefit from, as I was casting creatures and not non-creatures (Prowess doesn’t count land unfortunately!) So that needed some alterations, right there! Another problem with the abundance of creatures was the fact I also included Narset Transcendant in the deck.

Narset Transcendant

Now, I’m not the biggest fan of Planeswalkers. I know a lot of people like them, and I’ve heard of people hinging a collection around them, but I dislike the over-complication they bring. I’ve mentioned before that I like Magic because it’s such a clear-cut game, where you’re summoning creatures and casting spells to beat down your opponent – with Planeswalkers in the mix, it’s almost like they’re a special character in this mix, and it just feels like an interloper rather than anything else (to me, at least). However, I’m also a huge fan of theme, so I simply had to include Narset in the deck for that reason alone. Her ultimate ability is also pretty amazing when it goes off. To get it off, of course, you have to reveal the top card of your deck and, if it’s a land or creature, you discard it. Given my concern over the mana base in a three-colour deck, this is often too much hassle for me to risk!

Monastery Siege

For the longest time, I didn’t see fit to include the Jeskai dragon, Ojutai, in the deck, not really wanting to have a lot of high-cost creatures in there. This, I feel, speaks to my inexperience with playing blue, where I guess you want to delay the game until you can win, so why not put a few in, right? The dragons from the Tarkir block come in two types, so each one has two cards. The Dragonlord version of Ojutai has a much better ability than his earlier incarnation, so I’ve recently changed things up a little so that I can include him, along with a couple of the other thematic cards that go along with him. I’ve been thinking of taking Planeswalker Narset out too, but so far haven’t pulled the trigger on her yet. The problem I’m having, though, is that I like the thematic cards too much to remove them, but maybe soon I will. I’m kinda lacking the imperative to do anything with the deck right now because so much of it will rotate out next week, so it’s hardly going to be Standard-playable. But as it stands, here’s my deck!

Creatures (19):
Narset, Enlightened Master
Dragonlord Ojutai
Elusive Spellfist
Student of Ojutai
Monastery Swiftspear
Jeskai Student (2)
Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest
Leaping Master
Mystic of the Hidden Way
Strongarm Monk
Dragon-Style Twins
Lotus Path Djinn
Ojutai Exemplars
Jeskai Barricade
Jeskai Sage
Master of Pearls
Soulfire Grand Master
Dragon’s Eye Sentry

Planeswalkers (1):
Narset, Transcendant

Spells (14):
Taigam’s Strike
Defiant Strike
Jeskai Charm (3)
Center Soul
Ojutai’s Command
Winterflame
Deflecting Palm (2)
Flying Crane Technique
Cunning Strike (3)

Artifacts (3):
Ojutai Monument
Jeskai Banner (2)

Enchantments (4):
Jeskai Ascendancy
Monastery Siege
Jeskai Runemark (2)

Land (19):
Mountain
Island
Plains
Mystic Monastery (4)
Wind-Scarred Crag (4)
Tranquil Cove (4)
Swiftwater Cliffs (4)

Hobby Progress, week 13

Here we are, folks, week 13 of my hobby progress! In the spirit of end of the month and end of the quarter, there’ll be a bit of evaluation coming up here for you all to enjoy. Let’s dive in to the progress!

Hobby Progress 13

I’d started some Novamarines last week, and felt a little dejected by them after the first blue base coat. Well, I’ve since done a little more work to them, and I do think they’re slowly coming together! Firstly, I’ve worked the blue up through Alaitoc blue to Hoeth blue, which was the plan last week of course, and that looks pretty good, I think. I sometimes think it might be a little too bright – the Novamarines art I’ve seen has more of a blue-grey, Space Wolf-ish look to it, which makes these guys look more like Sons of Guilliman. But in the absence of any official scheme, this is my Novamarines, so yeah! I’ve also painted the purity seals (having done that to all of the Space Marines I have on the go right now, as you’ll see) and base coated the aquilas and belts Abaddon black, shading with Nuln oil. While I had the wash paint out, I also shaded some other areas to help when I come to apply some darker paints, which I’ve noticed have a tendency to go on too brightly when painted over a white primer, hence why some of those bits might look a little weird. I’ve also done a second shade of the white armour, as the earlier shade had dried a bit too grey-ish for me. I’m going to drybrush or overbrush some white over this, so it looks a little messy right now, but won’t be a problem. Oh yeah, and I’ve painted the bases, as I feel it makes them look that much more complete!

Hobby Progress 13

Speaking of Novamarines, though, I bought a Dreadnought yesterday to support this three-man squad! This is the first time in a long time where I’ve bought something, built it up and primed it in the same day. It would be even better if I’d have started painting as well, but we can’t have it all. The Novamarines Dreadnought colour scheme is a lot simpler than the Marine scheme, anyway, so I think that’ll be fairly straightforward to get done. Of course, I say this now… I’m looking forward to it though, which is the main thing! I have to say, though, I was surprised at this kit. I’ve only built Venerable Dreadnoughts previously, and those kits are great to work with, but while this is broadly the same thing, it nevertheless feels a lot older and stuff. Not particularly impressed with the quality, unfortunately, so while I do have another one from the Demi Company box, I’m not all that enthused about building it.

Hobby Progress 13

My Ultramarines were going absolutely splendidly, until I decided to apply some transfers this morning. I’ve never done transfers on models before, but had the GW video on, so knew what I wanted to do, and went for it – and could have cried! It was awful. Some of them are passable – the ones in the above picture – but the other two are awful. Aside from the fact that each one is at a slightly different point of the shoulder pad, they’ve gone on too bumpy, even with slitting the middle to aid the curve. I’m really unhappy with these, and feel like I’ve ruined an otherwise nice tactical squad! Very sad. I asked for any tips on facebook, and so far all I’ve had suggested is using the sculpted pads from the Ultramarines upgrade kit – which would mean a lot of upgrade kits, given how many tacticals I have to do! Not sure what to do yet – though I’m fairly sure I’ll be attempting to freehand the arrow on the right pad… Stay tuned!

Hobby Progress 13

Speaking of Dreadnoughts, I’ve also resurrected this bad boy! I’m not quite sure when it was I built him up now, though this post on instagram would suggest around Christmas/Boxing Day. I’ve merely sprayed the armour Macragge blue, but already it’s looking a lot easier to work with, so looking forward to getting that one done!

Hobby Progress 13

And speaking of resurrecting models, I’ve once again returned to these guys! Again looking at instagram, I’m guessing it was about October when I last did anything to them, but have now got them on bases and done the purity seals. The bases are a bit of a nightmare – on reflection, I wish I hadn’t done scenic bases like this, but I’ve kinda shoe-horned them on, and while they look good, the agrellan earth has been really spooned on to help build up around the resin, which in turn makes the cracks too big and it literally cracks off. Might be re-thinking some of these soon, then. But in the meantime, I’ve got them now where I can start to work at getting them finished, so that’s exciting! The most exciting/worrying thing about this is that the sergeant of this little band, who you can see at the back in the above picture, is actually bare-headed – his head is currently stuck to a cork, having had some Reikland fleshshade over some Bugman’s glow. I’m really concerned about my ability to do a good job here, but I guess we’ll just have to see how it goes – practice makes perfect, and so forth! I’m hoping to really get into this faces-painting thing, though, as the other five tactical marines are awaiting paint, one of whom I modeled after Captain Ventris, so he’ll need to look pretty decent!

Hobby Progress 13

Finally, I’m about calling the Deathwing finished. There are still some bits and pieces left, such as the decapitated Chaos Marine on the base of that chap on the right, but otherwise, I feel that I’ve done all I can for these now, and I’ve reached the high-point of my skills for the time being. They’re most definitely playable right now, I’d say, so I can look at getting them into a game at some point (once I learn how to play, of course!) and when I come to do some more soon – both normal Deathwing terminators and the Deathwing Knights I build up over Christmas Eve! – I can always return to any bits that need finishing then.

I’m really happy with them, anyway, and have really enjoyed painting them, but this is getting on for three months of slowly chipping away at things now, and there comes a point where you just need to say, I’m done! So, I’m done!


 

So like I said, we’re at the three month mark here, Q1 of 2016 has now elapsed, and it’s time to take some stock, I think!

I’ve really enjoyed writing these posts for the past three months, because it has really helped to give me a focus in what I’m painting. I know it may not seem that way, because I’ve largely taken something of a scattergun approach and have been working away at a broad range of models, but I think that way is the best way for me, as it keeps me focused on the overall task of painting, rather than risking getting bored with one miniature/squad and just packing up the brushes. So I definitely think I’ll continue in this vein for the time being.

While I’ve not really finished a lot of miniatures in this time, I have managed to get the White Scars done, I’m calling the Deathwing done, and the first five Ultramarines are done except for the transfer mishap. Earlier, I’ve also managed to get a couple of Stormcast miniatures finished. I’ve also recently done a whole lot of basing, applying the finishing touches to several Necrons that had been languishing for an age.

Since looking at the waiting area at the end of February, I feel that it has also helped to focus me on only working on what I have. I only bought one kit in March – the Dracothian Guard; I’m not counting the Deathwatch game as ‘a kit’, really – and haven’t built anything new, but have been working away at the stuff that I’ve had built for weeks or months. Over the last couple of weeks, in fact, I’ve come around to thinking that I really ought to get some of the stuff finished that has been hanging around, such as the aforementioned Necrons.

I’d say this has been an extremely positive few months, where I’ve been doing a little, often. I’ve forever been an up-and-down painter, sometimes going weeks without doing anything, then having a splurge on a dozen models or more, I think this regular thing is much better. I’m really pleased with the progress that has been made, anyway, and I’m especially pleased that I’m feeling confident enough as a painter to try something like the Novamarines scheme! That it currently seems to be working, as well, is even more exciting!

Let’s see how much I can do in the next quarter!

The Throne of Atlantis

Hey everybody,
I read an awesome comic book crossover yesterday, and have been pretty much buzzing about it since. Back in 2012, the Justice League and Aquaman titles from DC’s fresh New 52 series crossed over in an epic five-part awesome storyline that featured Aquaman facing off against his bother Orm (Ocean Master) as the East Coast of the USA was almost submerged.

It was pretty incredible, let’s just say that from the off. both the Justice League and Aquaman books were written by Geoff Johns at this time, so I guess a crossover was pretty easy to facilitate. Both pick up directly from where they left off, with some hints being dropped in Aquaman especially around the Trench in the previous arc, The Others. In fact, having read the second volume of Aquaman beforehand really helps here, as we see the evolution of the character into a team player, while also showing us Black Manta on the lookout for relics of Atlantis that will become important. His story in The Others echoes the opening of Justice League volume three, where Wonder Woman almost begrudgingly accepts the help of the League in hunting down the Cheetah.

Anyhow!

The story begins with the US Navy on exercises in the mid-Atlantic, and a missile test goes awry, targeting the submerged city of Atlantis. This causes Orm to bring his Atlantean warriors to the East Coast in retaliation – Aquaman guesses his brother is using the first King of Atlantis’ sceptre to cause one of the cities on the coast to sink beneath the waves. Metropolis and Gotham both see heavy casualties in the storms, but Boston is Orm’s true target.

Aquaman and Orm face off, Aquaman trying to show dominance over his brother in order to force the warriors to heed his commands. When Batman tries to intervene, Orm captures most of the League, leaving only Cyborg in the Watchtower to help. Cyborg goes to STAR labs to ask his father to perform an enhancement that will make him able to operate under water, at the cost of a little more of his humanity. Once he’s ready, he activates the JL reserve list of superheroes, including Hawkman and Green Arrow, to defend Boston against the Atlantean forces. Cyborg then travels to the deep waters to rescue his companions, whereupon they discover the Trench has opened, and the demon fish-people from the first Aquaman arc have returned to terrorise the coast as well!

Turns out that Orm was manipulated by a former Atlantis royal adviser called Vulko, who had hoped to engineer to the conflict to restore Aquaman to the throne of Atlantis. Aquaman goes ballistic, imprisons Orm and beats the crap out of Vulko, but ultimately decides he needs to take his place as the King of Atlantis to prevent any further conflict.

The story is just awesome in its scope and execution, and is very definitely worthwhile taking the time to read! The danger for big team stories like these is that some people will inevitably fall short in the course, and while this is certainly an Aquaman story as much as it is a Justice League story, the other members of the League have a lot to do here as well. Chief among them, Cyborg – I’ve always been vaguely interested in this guy, but he’s becoming a really cool character in this series, and it’s really interesting to see his story develop. We also continue the burgeoning romance between Superman and Wonder Woman that began in volume two. In the midst of all this, we still have time to see Black Manta offered a place on the Suicide Squad, and the book ends with Steve Trevor and Green Arrow discussing another of the Darkseid “mother boxes”.

In a storyline as packed to the gills (ha!) as this one, some things are bound to be left out. Green Lantern had already left the team as a pariah in the last book, so it’s no real surprise he’s not here, but we also don’t see Flash, as he’s explained to be dealing with a “primal problem” of his own – presumably, the Grodd storyline from the third volume of his series. Shame, that, as he’s my favourite DC hero, but some things have got to give.

We’re left with Aquaman leaving the surface world, and the final pages are a bit heart-rending as we see him part ways with Mera, but more problematic (for me) is the enlarged team. Another thing I often dislike in big team stories like these is how the make-up will often change; I loved the first volume of Justice League because of the characters it used – since that book, we’ve now lost two of the principal seven players! I’m intrigued as to where we’ll see this go next, of course, but I’m also a little wary of having the team I came to love mixed up too much.

Anyway – Throne of Atlantis was an amazing read, and I think I may delve into the world of DC’s animated movies to see how the storyline fares there shortly! I can highly recommend this book – however, as an aside, both the Aquaman and Justice League collections have the same issues, so you don’t really need to get both books to get the story. I’d recommend getting the Aquaman collection if you had to only get one, because of the additional storyline from his book, but you won’t be totally lost if you pick up just the Justice League book instead!