Friday, October 31, 2014

Top 5 Modern "Core Set" Cards - White and Black

Top Five White Core Cards
  1. Serra Angel (many sets, most recently M15) - I don't think there's any other card I could've picked at #1 for White in good conscience. Serra Angel is one of the most frequently reprinted cards in Magic's history, along with Giant Spider. It says something about the card that its power level has remained playable all this time. White has been defined by angel creatures over the years, as has the vigilance mechanic. It's no surprise that Serra Angel has found its way into countless sets over the years.
  2. Pacifism (many sets, most recently M14) - I personally prefer Arrest for it's total shutdown effect, but Pacifism is almost as effective. And at two mana, it's a cheap way to neuter most problem creatures. It's also a prime example of how White handles problem creatures: put them on lockdown. It's very Azorius of them.
  3. Captain of the Watch (M10, M13) - This is the card that came closest to violating my original rules, as it's in only two recent sets (my minimum). Spoiler alert: this card is why I set that as my minimum. Captain of the Watch is just so perfectly White, I had to make sure I could use it. She creates a bunch of weenies, then acts as a "lord" creature for them, similar to Daru Warchief or Field Marshal of the past. Captain of the Watch is as strongly "core" as cards come.
  4. Solemn Offering (M10, M11, M14, M15) - After a couple sets with Oblivion Ring, Wizards must have realized that giving White such a powerful, broadly useful removal card was a little much. So they brought back Solemn Offering, which fits more into their piece of the color pie. Artifact destruction has always felt a little more Green as far as flavor (destroying man-made "blights" upon the natural world), but White has had it since the old Alpha days of Disenchant, so clearly it's a fit. And lifegain fits White as well, so, bonus.
  5. Planar Cleansing (M10, M13, M14) - Wrath of God is the more recognizable card, but Planar Cleansing is a better representation of where Magic is today. It's a bit more expensive (a 4 mana wrath card would be exploited in today's Standard), and it also handles other problem cards like planeswalkers and artifacts. The flavor is right, too. White is all about cleansing and order; a planar "reset" is right in their wheelhouse.
I know, I know. How can there be a list of "best anything in White" that doesn't include first strike at all? Especially with how much I enjoy that mechanic, this must be a shocker. I thought about a few knights and lancers, but the truth is, if there's one tribe that defines White, it's soldiers. I'm happy with the list.

Top Five Black Core Cards
  1. Doom Blade (M10, M11, M12, M14) - At its heart, Black is about death, and Doom Blade provides that in spades. Wizards still seems to be feeling out Black's prime instant-speed removal slot; they've tried Terror (the first, slightly weaker), Dark Banishing (7th-9th Editions), and Murder (very strong, deeper into Black) over time. Doom Blade seems about right, especially now that they've put it at Uncommon; I remember Murder at Common being a house in limited.
  2. Corrupt (5 times, most recently M14) - Corrupt is a great card. It requires only a single black mana, but it rewards you for playing many swamps. I like that it's such a long-tenured card, too; its first printing was back in the mid-90s. The fact that it's still a solid card says a lot.
  3. Gravedigger (many times, most recently M15) - Gravedigger is a card I was glad to see return for M15, even though I'll probably never play the set. Raise Dead/Disentomb is the same effect, but really it's not that great of a value. The way you know that is that Ghoulcaller's Chant exists, which is strictly better. Gravedigger seems a better power level than Disentomb, probably about the same as Ghoulcaller's Chant. And purely, purely Black.
  4. Bloodthrone Vampire (ROE, M11, M13) - I prefer Vampire Aristocrat as far as cards go, but Bloodthrone is a bit more core Black. The ability to sacrifice other creatures for the "greater good" is exactly what Black is all about. In limited, Bloodthrone was a card that didn't get much love, but I found that in the right deck, it created all sorts of problems for opponents.
  5. Mind Rot (many times, most recently M15) - I thought temporarily about using Duress or Sign In Blood for this spot, but I think a straight up and down Mind Rot is the cleanest, purest way to approach this facet of Black. Discard is a featured aspect of this slice of the color pie, and Mind Rot almost always a card that your opponent doesn't want to see. There is the occasional bummer when you draw it later in games when you'd rather have some gas, but overall, it's a good choice.

There ought to be a shade on the list, but I just couldn't find one that felt right. Frozen Shade is the original, but it's underpowered, as is Looming Shade which followed it. Crypt Ripper and Nantuko Shade are very good, but don't have the broad-reaching print presence you need to justify calling it a "core set" card.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Top 5 Modern "Core Set" Cards - Green and Blue

A little bit of Kiora all night long. A little bit of Simic in the sun.

Sorry, I promise I'll never parody Lou Bega again.

Top Five Green Core Cards
  1. Llanowar Elves (many times, most recently M12) - My pick for the top of Green is a card that's actually been cycled out of play. It's been replaced by the functionally identical Elvish Mystic. Regardless, it's a great Green card for two reasons. First, it's ramp, which is obviously Green. But more subtly, it's a spell effect that got morphed into a creature. It's exactly how Green does business. I choose Llanowar Elves over Elvish Mystic because I appreciate history.
  2. Giant Growth (many times, most recently M14) - Another card that's been around since Alpha, Giant Growth is Green's style of removal. Combat tricks are the name of the game, and it's a big pump for a small price. I prefer it over Titanic Growth because all you need is the power of a single forest to wreck someone's day.
  3. Acidic Slime (4 times, most recently M13) - Acidic Slime is a creature I took a long time to appreciate. But when I realized I was often considering playing Bramblecrush as a supplementary card, Acidic Slime really shined out. The utility of its enter-the-battlefield effect can't be overstated, especially if you find a Roaring Primadox in your set. Adding a 2/2 deathtouch creature is just gravy. And again, it's a creature that does a spell effect.
  4. Overrun (10E, M10, M12) - I chose Overrun over Rancor or Duskdale Wurm as my representative for the "Trample" mechanic, but I wonder if Overrun is actually too powerful for today's Magic. Enlarge is a similar card, sorcery speed, pump and trample, and the same CMC, but often not as powerful. It'll be interesting to see if it gets printed again anytime soon. Regardless, great Green card.
  5. Giant Spider (almost every set, most recently M14) - Giant Spider has been a definitive Green card since Green started having cards. Green doesn't normally get flying creatures, but it's always got a couple ways to deal with flying creatures, and often that takes the form of spiders. Deadly Recluse is a stronger card because it's a low drop, but Giant Spider fits flavor perfectly. And its value is still pretty solid as a 2/4 with Reach for four mana.

Green sometimes seems "simplistic," but hey, somebody has to be the guy who leaves it all on the table and asks you to find a way to beat him.

Top Five Blue Core Cards
  1. Unsummon (many times, most recently M13) - If you know me at all, if you've read my previous posts or watched the stream, you know I love Unsummon. It also happens to be one of the definitively Blue cards. It's used as an answer to removal by bouncing your own creature, or to buy time by bouncing an opponent's creature. Additionally, you can use it to destroy auras or token creatures. Flexible, frustrating to play against, elegant. Yep, that's a Blue card.
  2. Essence Scatter (M10, M13, M14) - Speaking of Blue cards, counterspells are a calling card of any good blue deck. I could've put Cancel or Counterspell on this list, but I like Essence Scatter's character a little more. It's a card that specifically tells you one of the other ways blue handles problem creatures. Blue never relies on out-and-out battle; it's subversion that bring their opponents to their knees.
  3. Mind Control (M10, M11, M12) - Some form of a Mind Control card has been in play since well before M10. Control Magic was the original, but the casting cost of taking an opponent's best creature seems more suited to five mana than four. Domestication has a more limited effect. I debated for a while before deciding to use Mind Control over Clone. They're both a means of taking advantage of your opponents' best creature, but when I think about Jace, I don't think about cloning vats. I think about him dominating weaker minds.
  4. Inspiration (5 times, most recently RTR) - I know I'm going to get a lot of flack for choosing Inspiration over Divination, so let me explain. Divination is a great card. But, it's so simple. How many cards are there in all colors that have the effect of drawing a card at sorcery (aka creature summon) speed? I'll give you a clue: many. But a spell specifically for drawing cards at instant speed, so you can leave open mana for potential counter magic? That's Blue.
  5. Wind Drake (many times, most recently GTC) - There have been a few different iterations of this kind of card, but in the end, it always comes back to Wind Drake. Blue has always had access to flyers, whether it be a Storm Crow or an Air Elemental. James has always liked Wind Drake more than I have, but I have to admit, dropping a 2/2 flyer onto the battlefield does a lot of good things for you. Not a top 5 card, but very, very core.
One note I want to make is that I think much higher of Welkin Tern than I do of Wind Drake. That single lower mana cost is well worth the loss of a point of toughness and the ability to block non-flyers. But Wind Drake is more "core," so it got my pick.

Next time: White probably? And maybe black. Red's not ready though, I'm still torn on a couple points.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Balmorra World Boss Destroys My Hard Drive

My brother bought me Star Wars: The Old Republic (obligatory referral link if you're interested, or if you're already a subscriber and you've never designated anyone as a referral) when it came out a couple years ago, and I finally redeemed the code a week ago. It gave me a free month and some other bonuses, so I've been playing it on the regular. It's been pretty good so far; the storyline and quest interaction is miles better than other MMOs I've played, and it's Star Wars, so there's a lot of familiarity between the aliens, the music, the planets, etc. Plus, the space missions have been a lot of fun, and a great change of pace from the rest of the game.

But that's not what this post is about.

So, each world has a "World Boss" roaming somewhere in it. These World Bosses are gigantic creatures (at least they have been in my limited experience). They appear to be engorged versions of creatures that exist on the planet. Well, the other night, I saw in General chat that someone wanted to get a big group together and try to take down that world's boss. I was, of course, totally in on it. I found out later that the group had level 55 guys while I was level 25, so I probably didn't have too much of an impact on the battle, but it was a fun little experience all the same.

Anyways, I knew I had FRAPS running on my computer, and I said to myself, "This might be a fun thing to record." So I hit my little hotkey to start recording just before the battle, and away we went. For posterity, the video of the battle is below:

(Side note: holy crap, my microphone is loud as a mother. Do you guys have to deal with that when I'm streaming? This explains why everyone seemed to leave my streams after five minutes of watching.)

Not crazy exciting, but getting that little achievement pop-up is always a nice feeling. I went back to my side missions to wrap up the planet, and at the end of the night, hit the hay and shut down.

The next afternoon, I logged in to do a little resource gathering, but my machine was running noticeably slower than usual. I had a few Firefox windows open, so I assumed that was the trouble, but it continued to be jittery even after I closed them down. I sent my crew members on long missions and exited the game, then went to take a shower. When I got back into my room, I saw a little notification bubble on the screen. It said, "Low disk space." I checked and sure enough, I was down to a measly 33 MB of free space on my main hard drive. I thought that was odd, but I had recently installed a few games to get their card drops, and hadn't yet uninstalled them, so I assumed that was the trouble. I uninstalled a couple of other games I never play (Planetside 2 and Warframe), and had plenty of hard drive space.
Then I remembered the FRAPS video I'd made the night before, and I realized why I had so little disk space. I had never shut off the video recording after the battle. So, FRAPS just kept FRAPSing, recording as much content as it could until it ran out of room on my hard drive. I checked my videos directory, and sure enough, there were 76 gigs of videos there from the night before.

I'll go through them soon enough to check out what might be waiting for me. I assume it's more loud keyboards and boring gameplay, but you never know.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

My Favorite Core Cards Intro + Colorless

Recently I talked about Wizards of the Coast's impending departure from annual core sets. At the end of that post, I mentioned that I wasn't sure what I wanted to do as far as a follow-up to that post. I mentioned my longtime affection for core sets, and I enjoy discussing/investigating all Magic sets. So, naturally I would use this opportunity to do some mental exercises regarding core sets.

While I don't think this will be the only post I'll make in this vein, I wanted to talk about some of my favorite cards from core sets. Is there a better way to delve into recent history than to make a good old fashioned top 5 list?

Well, yeah: make a whole bunch of top 5 lists.

So I'll be posting my top five "core" cards from each color. A couple rules I gave myself:
  • Each card has to be a definitive card for that color. Part of what I'm thinking here is that you could look at these five cards and say, "I know what this color is all about." Knight of Glory is a fantastic card, but solo attackers isn't really white's style. So no deal.
  • Each card has to have been featured at least twice in any full set since M10, or three times in core sets of all time. If Wizards hasn't seen fit to print the card at least that much, I'm not comfortable designating the card as "core."
I was going to put them all into a single post, but as I started writing I realized that the post would've been insanely long. While I'm not totally against insanely long posts, I want to give people some quick hitter stuff as well. Variety, spice, etc.

I will, however, offer a little bonus in this post: my top 5 favorite core colorless cards. Artifacts and lands are a little harder fit into the rules, since there's not exactly a color identity for colorless cards, but a lack of color can be an identity. These cards fit the bill. I've always been a big fan of colorless cards as well, so I get a little extra pleasure out of reviewing all these grey-bordered cards.
  1. Evolving Wilds (4 times, most recently M15) - I love Evolving Wilds. I'm also a fan of Terramorphic Expanse, but Evolving Wilds has had a greater presence of late. I obviously enjoy that it allows players to do some mana-fixing, which is great in limited situations. But I also like how it's quietly a strong card in any Landfall-based deck. I love me some Landfall.
  2. Juggernaut (M11, M15) - I was initially worried that I'd have to look at Phyrexian Hulk when it comes to heavy artifact creatures, but Juggernaut was brought back for M15, and my life is complete. I love how heavy Juggernaut is, and I love its casting cost. I love how it attacks every turn, and the flavor of how it ignores Walls.
  3. Primal Clay (5 times, most recently M13) - Primal Clay is just another reason that M13 was so amazing. While none of its options are individually great, it's hard to put a price on the flexibility you get out of A) being able to choose when you cast, and B) being able to play any color mana for it. Well, no, actually, I guess it's not. It's worth about four colorless mana.
  4. Elixir of Immortality (4 times, most recently M14) - Elixir is another example of a card that doesn't fit one single category. The lifegain is generally not worth including the card, but the lifegain on top of protecting against decking yourself, particularly in limited formats, can be a life-saver. I should be clear here: I don't particularly love Elixir, definitely not nearly as much as the other cards on the list, but it's a very good core artifact.
  5. Howling Mine (many times, most recently M10) - Howling Mine is definitely a more valuable card than, well, than any of the others on this list. But that's what makes it #5 on my list rather than #1. A core set card isn't defined by its power; it's defined by its identity. Howling Mine is a good card with a fairly universal effect, so it makes my list, but just barely.

One card I think ought to find its way into regular rotation is Trusty Machete. It would've definitely made my list except that it's only been printed once. I also love Haunted Plate Mail, but it's so new, it feels wrong to call it a "core" card. However, perhaps these cards might find a use in another little project I'm working on. Stay tuned...but, like, for a while, because this is going to take some time.

Monday, October 20, 2014

What the Hell Happened to Baseball Reference?

I was a Baseball Reference advocate. No, more than that. I was a Baseball Reference ambassador. I loved their site. I loved the basic and complex statistics they offered. I loved the site's simplicity; it wasn't bogged down with videos or advertisements or video advertisements (I'm looking at you, Yahoo/ESPN/CBS/basically all other sports websites). It was my go-to site for looking up stats, coming up with trivia (I'm a huge nerd), doing research for blog posts and radio shows, everything. It was (and for now, still is) the site that I linked to when I wrote blog posts.

Recently, however, the site has torpedoed. It still offers the same statistics as before, as well as even more advanced metrics and bonus content like HOF predictors, ELO ratings, and more. But they've added three prominent ads to almost every non-home page: one big video ad in the middle, and two sometimes flash animation and sometimes regular banner ads on the sides.

They. Are. Awful.

When I was writing my recent post on Bret Saberhagen, I (as usual) wanted to link to any relevant pages in my article. That mostly includes direct player links, and they linked to the player's associated page on Simple enough, right? Well, no. Any time I opened more than one tab from Baseball Reference, the concurrent advertisement streams sent my Firefox into a tizzy. I opened Internet Explorer to test if it was just my browser, but encountered the same bogged down results.

This is a computer on which I've simultaneously run Skyrim and Just Cause 2, in case you were wondering if it might be a hardware issue. I would think opening a couple browser windows wouldn't make my machine fart out its brains.

I sent an email reporting this experience to the webmasters of the site, without any response. And I guess I don't necessarily need any sort of response...except that a site can't exist if people don't go there. Or it can (as this blog has proven time and time again), but it becomes irrelevant and loses any value, intrinsic or financial. I don't know how much traffic I drive to Baseball Reference, but I know it's more than zero. And I'm open to making another contribution to their cause (Joe and Joe Sports at one point sponsored a couple of pages on I'm always open to supporting people who make a great product.

But, in its current form, is not a great product. It's, inexplicably, a product that used to be great, but managed to manage its way out of greatness.

I've browsed the site, and I've found a subscription option for $20 that gives you an ad-free experience, which would be great if I didn't write a blog. I'm posting links here to pages that I'm encouraging people to click. I'm having conscience issues when I think about nudging my readers into that miserable browsing experience.

A little more recently, I posted an article comparing the Orioles and Royals player-by-player, and I still used links to I'm reticent to give up on them. They've been such a tremendous resource for me for so long that I want to believe that it'll get better. But it's been really, really bad for a couple weeks now. I'm not sure what to do.

So, I invite you to help me out. I've already sent a message explaining my experience, but if you've noticed the same, or if you listened to me rant and tested it out to see what I'm talking about, I'd ask you to let the site know about it. Their feedback form is here.

My hope would be that we can help this site find a different way to monetize that isn't so destructive for people trying to use the site. I'd be happy to shell out some money to that end, but only if I'm referring people to the great Baseball Reference of old.

The new one isn't worth it.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I'm mostly a Washington sports fan. I root my ass off for the Capitals, I'm lamentably a Redskins fan, and the first sports ticket I ever bought was to a Bullets game. We didn't have a baseball team in the DC area when I was younger, so I took on the Baltimore Orioles, and I was totally stoked for this postseason.

That said, being a fan of my teams has been trying over the years. I became an official baseball fan in 1988, the year the Orioles set the all-time AL record for losing streaks when they opened the season 0-21. The game I went to, they actually won, which I didn't realize was a rarity that season. After the Jeffrey Maier bullcrap in 1997, my O's suffered 14 straight losing seasons. This season has already been a success, but things aren't looking great for a title run.

When the Redskins won the Super Bowl after the 1991 season, I was too young to realize it wasn't the kind of thing that happens all the time. And I don't remember watching any football games in between that Super Bowl and the previous Super Bowl, so obviously I wasn't much into sports. I think I was all about Nintendo at that point in my life (and 90% of all moments in my life since then). Since then, and particularly since Daniel Snyder purchased the team, Washington has been a black hole for football.

As I said, I liked the Bullets a lot when I was younger. I went to a few games, and was stoked when they acquired Chris Webber. I figured the combination of he and Juwan Howard was so successful in college, how could it not bring them deep into the NBA playoffs? Of course, I was wrong, but I've kept tuned in, and I'm hoping to reap the benefits of some solid seasons with John Wall, Bradley Beal, and the lot. I watch almost every NBA draft, even though I don't really know anything about college basketball anymore, just because it's a tightly packed blast of offseason roster updates.

The Capitals were a regular participant in the wide-open NHL playoffs by the time I started paying attention to hockey at all. I remember my friends Mike and Sergio assigning me teams every few days, usually in the form of, "Joe Joe Joe, what happened to your Nordiques last night?" It was enough to encourage me to catch a few games here and there. I watched each game of the Stanley Cup in 1998, which is to say I watched the Caps get pummeled by a team that was insanely, insanely better than them.

I've enjoyed their recent moments of marginal success, but the Caps' limited success seems to have brought every Penguins fan out of the woodwork. I can't wear a Caps shirt or watch a Caps game without some jag off Pens fan making some sideways (or sometimes straight-up-and-down) comment about how the Penguins are so much better. Like I'm unaware of how these teams have performed recently.

Which brings us to the meat of what I actually wanted to talk about in this post. People are fans of teams for a million different reasons. The majority of people just pick their home teams, presumably due to some combination of convenience and inborn patriotism, that desire to be proud of where you're from, and to share that feeling with friends and family. Others choose their favorite teams because of that team's success in their childhood, or a favorite player, or something as simple as an attractive uniform.

Are any of these "wrong" reasons to root for a team? Nope. Are any of these "more right" than others?


It is more right to root for your hometown team than another team. Not insofar as you live a better life or you deserve praise, but because you're not abandoning a problem. Enduring the hardships together as a fan base gives you something to talk about with other people from your home town, and a sense of community is a good thing, even if you're a community with an experience mostly riddled with failure.

In my sports-watching adult life, I've endured as much disappointment as a fan of any city's teams, save perhaps Cleveland. While Cleveland has only three professional teams, they manage to pack a lot of despair into those three teams. And if you happen to like the Ohio hockey team (the Columbus Blue Jackets), you're not making up any ground.

Cleveland has sported a poorly run and poorly performing football team in the Browns, and since the mid-90s, the Cleveland Indians have wallowed in and around mediocrity. The Cavaliers have been to the NBA Finals, but The Decision, the departure, and the Heat winning a pair of titles have made that Finals trip ancient history. Cleveland is also noteworthy as the sporting home of "other Joe," my former partner in crime in the radio world. He's a guy who's known my pain for years and years, and while LeBron James' return means he's likely closer to ending his drought, we're mostly in the same boat.

Between Cleveland and Washington, we've got disappointment covered.

So why endure it? Obviously it's easier to pick individual teams with amazing players like the Pittsburgh Penguins or the Green Bay Packers, or a city with gobs of money and history like Boston or Chicago. You've got a better shot at a title, which means you won't have to deal with the shit that everyone else seems to enjoy throwing at people who choose to remain hometown fans. As a Capitals fan, I've not met a single Penguin fan in the DMV who resists the urge to twist the knife. And good luck finding a Cowboys fan in Maryland who doesn't exude glee whenever the Redskins falter.

Which brings us back to the question: why endure such pain? Wouldn't it be easier to just switch over to a better team, or a better city? Wouldn't you feel less disappointment?


But the whole idea of sticking with your team is that one day, it'll be worth it. I've ridden the Bullets/Wizards since I was a little kid. If they're ever able to win the NBA title, I'll celebrate my butt off. If the Caps are ever able to overcome history and raise the Stanley Cup, I can't even begin to imagine the relief and joy I'll feel. We stick with our teams because we have faith and hope that one day, they'll win. And we want to be around for it.

We see all these cities hosting parades and we think, "God, that would be amazing." We watch other teams raise banners and we think, "Someday that'll be us." We see guys like Trent Dilfer and Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady talk about their trips to Disney World, and we think, "There's no reason Robert Griffin or Kirk Cousins couldn't take that trip, right?" Some of it is delusion (the 'Skins may never win another game). Some of it is playing the odds (hockey has a great deal of parity in its playoffs; almost any team has a shot). And some of it is wishful thinking (Kevin Durant hasn't said he wouldn't come to the Wiz). And part of it is simple stubbornness. But at this point, no way am I changing sides.

The O's are still just four wins from the World Series!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Baltimore Orioles vs. Kansas City Royals - Position By Position

I was watching SportsCenter yesterday, and I saw a segment in which Eduardo Perez went position-by-position among hitters and compared the two American League teams that will begin the Championship Series tonight: the upstart Kansas City Royals and my hometown Baltimore Orioles. I found myself interested in the results for obvious reasons; I like hearing what people think of the Orioles, and since we've had a little break here in between series, I'm frothing for baseball talk.

Well, Eduardo Perez seems to be stuck in his Cincinnati/St. Louis years, and can't get away from middle America, because his picks were mostly insane. Alright, not insane, but I disagreed with more than one. So, I decided to do my own comparison. It'll have to be quick, since the series starts today and I want this posted beforehand, so I can be accountable for my absurd claims. But I'll provide as much information as I can, and I'll definitely fly off at the handle on at least one of these.

Here we go. (Name preceded by * is my choice. WAR numbers, and most other statistics, retrieved from

*Kansas City - Salvador Perez (WAR 3.3) (Eduardo's pick)
Baltimore - Nick Hundley (0.1)/Caleb Joseph (1.2)

Can't really argue with Eduardo on this one. Perez is a solid hitter and has a good arm for throwing out base-stealers. That won't matter much against an Orioles team that doesn't run, but even if the Orioles never get caught stealing, Perez is a better catcher and better hitter than either of Baltimore's guys. If Matt Wieters were healthy this would be closer, but since he's not, Perez takes it easily.

First Base
Kansas City - Eric Hosmer (0.8) (Eduardo's pick)
*Baltimore - Steve Pearce (6.0)

Here we go, my first disagreement with Eduardo, but I can't really blame Eddie. He's fallen into the trap of recency. Eric Hosmer had an amazing Division series, hitting .500 and delivering a number of clutch hits for the Royals. But the reality is, there's no reason to expect Hosmer to continue to mash that way. His career slash line is .275/.328/.418. A .418 slugging percentage for your first baseman? Ask the Nationals how that turned out (sorry Adam LaRoche). I'll grant you that Pearce's performance this season has been somewhat out-of-nowhere, but so was Nelson Cruz's in 2009, and it turns out he can play.

Also of note is that Hosmer is actually a small minus as a defender, with a -0.3 dWAR. Maybe it comes into play, maybe it doesn't, but it's worth noting. Pearce, for what it's worth, posted a 1.5 dWAR.

Second Base
*Kansas City - Omar Infante (0.7) (Eduardo's pick)
Baltimore - Jonathan Schoop (1.5)

I would've liked to pick Schoop here, and obviously with their comparative WARs, I'd have had some justifications. Schoop was actually a really solid defender this year, and I like his pop, but I have a lot more faith in Infante. Infante is a veteran with some playoff experience. While he has been an abysmal batter in the playoffs, I don't buy into that as a characteristic. I think his experience will only prove to be a positive going forward.

And yes, I'm aware that Infante is 0/11 this postseason. I'm still leaning in his direction.

Third Base
*Kansas City - Mike Moustakas (0.4)
Baltimore - Ryan Flaherty (1.1)
(Eduardo called this a push)

While my pick is Moustakas by a hair, the reality is that neither guy figures to be a difference-maker in the series. Moustakas was a high draft pick who's shown very little hitting prowess outside of the occasional home run. Flaherty, meanwhile, is also a light-hitting marginal player. Moustakas showed some pop in the series against the California Angels (I'll never change), and he's got more pedigree, so he gets the nod. If Manny Machado were healthy, this would be a no-brainer pick for the O's though. Just another sad reminder of how injuries affect every season.

Kansas City - Alcides Escobar (2.4)
*Baltimore - J.J. Hardy (3.4) (Eduardo's pick)

Alcides Escobar is a slap hitter with good speed but minimal power. He's also one of those players who gets a reputation for being a good fielder because of his speed, when in reality he's simply average. Hardy, on the other hand, has been a plus defender at shortstop for years, winning Gold Glove Awards in 2012 and 2013. He historically has had good power as well, though it disappeared for most of the year. He beat up on the Tigers in the Divisional series, and clubbed what looked like an important homer in Game 1 (though that was before the O's went for 8 in the bottom of the eighth). I like Hardy here.

Left Field
*Kansas City - Alex Gordon (6.6) (Eduardo's pick)
Baltimore - Alejandro De Aza (0.7)

The Orioles have gone with a couple different options in the outfield, but De Aza seems to be the weapon of choice right now. He's been fine, but obviously Gordon is vital to the Royals and a much better player. I know his WAR was 6.6 this year, but when I heard Eduardo Perez say that Gordon is going to be in the MVP discussion this year, I lost my head. Gordon is a plus-plus defensive player, and that's great. But his offensive statistics simply don't warrant consideration. He played in 156 games, but didn't break 90 runs or RBI. He hit .266 with 19 homers. He stole 12 bases. Let me know which of those numbers you want to point to as MVP caliber.

Gordon is my pick, but come on Eddie. Don't make a fool of yourself.

Center Field
Kansas City - Lorenzo Cain (5.0)
*Baltimore - Adam Jones (4.9) (Eduardo's pick)

Get serious. I love Lorenzo Cain as much as the next guy, but get serious.

Right Field
Kansas City - Nori Aoki (1.0) (Eduardo's pick)
*Baltimore - Nick Markakis (2.1)

I actually don't agree that Markakis is even 2 wins better than a replacement-level player, but he's still better than Aoki. Aoki is representative of the whole Royals team: he's a guy with speed, decent batting average, and minimal power. He apparently posted a -1.3 dWAR, which I suppose I have to trust since I haven't seen him play outside of some limited playoff time. Markakis is mostly an on-base guy with a little pop and the ability to get around the bases. He's actually really good at scoring from second or going first-to-third on a single, which helps keep the pressure on and threaten big innings. So he's got that going for him.

Designated Hitter
Kansas City - Billy Butler (-0.3)
Baltimore - Nelson Cruz (4.7)
(No pick by Eduardo)

I thought about just letting the two WARs speak for themselves, but I decided I wanted to mention Cruz's stats for posterity. Also, Eduardo Perez simply ignored the DH spot, which basically writes off the Orioles' best hitter. Cruz hit 40 home runs to lead the American League this season, and if possible, he's gotten even more deadly in the postseason. He hit .500 against the Tigers in the ALDS, but that's nothing new for Cruz. In his career, he's hit .297 with 16 HR in 37 postseason games, and he figures once again to be the lynchpin for the Orioles' offense.


These two teams actually have pretty similar pitching staffs. The best pitcher is a Royal (James Shields), but there's truthfully not much separating Shields from Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, or his teammate Yordano Ventura. Additionally, both bullpens are strong, though I'd give an edge to the Orioles, owing mostly to their trade deadline acquisition of Andrew Miller. He was an expensive addition, but that guy is as good as advertised.

Eduardo declared that the Royals had better pitching and defense.

Wrap-Up and Prediction

Listen, it's still baseball. I think the Orioles are the better hitting team, and the stats on Baseball Reference say that in fact they were the best fielding team in the majors this year. Their starters are okay, and their bullpen is excellent. But you still have to play the games. Just ask the Angels, Dodgers, and Nationals. I desperately want the Orioles to win, but everybody's going to have their day. Still, it's hard to go against all this data I managed to assemble, even if I did probably look at it with a biased point of view. So, what the heck.

Prediction: Baltimore Orioles over Kansas City Royals (4 games to 1)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The End of the Beauty That Was The "Core Set"

About a month and a half ago, Mark Rosewater made the most important Magic-based blog post in recent memory. In it, he revealed Wizards' plans for sets going forward. Instead of one core set and a three-part set each year, Magic will now offer two new two-part sets each year, basically one each season.

There are parts of this revelation that other people will find most interesting. A concurrent change involves the variety of sets available for use in Standard play; the lack of a core set means that three different sets of content will be in play, as opposed to the two sets plus core set previously active.

But the most relevant change to me is that 2015 will offer the final core set in Magic's (foreseeable) future. Rosewater makes a compelling case about the problems with the core set. It pursues two audiences, but only pursues each of them halfway. New players enjoy the simplicity of most of it, but each core set brings back a legacy mechanic to appease the experienced players. Neither group is wholly satisfied, so the set leaves each group with something to be desired.

That said, it was perfect for what I'd like to call the "intermediate player," aka myself. I know a bit of Magic throughout its history, but I haven't delved deeply into any one set. My fellow "Bros" were deep into Innistrad, and another friend of mine was all-in on Scars of Mirrodin, but I never got enveloped by a particular set such that I knew the ins and outs of its play at all levels (Limited, Standard, Block Play, etc). I could've seen myself getting into RTR if I had unlimited funds for it, but when you don't feel comfortable putting in the time to play tons of matches, you just don't get that level of immersion.

Core sets are easier to work with, because they draw on a lot of repeat cards from the past. When you see Serra Angel or Giant Growth or Mind Rot, you know what the card does, its general power level, and what kinds of cards you want to play it with (except Serra Angel, which you want to play with all cards). Being able to draw from a base of knowledge while incorporating a new concept (Scry, Exalted, Slivers, etc) was exactly my level of interest/expertise. So, it saddens me to know that I won't get annual core sets to look forward to.

Now, there is some cause for hope. Mark Rosewater has a quote in his blog post that makes me think we might be getting something interesting to "replace" the current core set model, while still appealing to new and casual players. The exact line is:
"This would mean we'd have to solve the problem of what to do with new players, but there had already been talk of creating a product line solely for them, anyway."
My imagination is taking me to a few different places. There's still one core set to be released, which presumably will fit into previous molds of supplementing the block sets with simple, highly functional cards. So that's something for which we can hold some excitement.

But, either for the 2015 core set, or going forward beyond that, I'm imagining something like "the core set to end all core sets." That is, a core set that will endure for the foreseeable future as the definitive set that Magic offers to new and casual players. It's the "getting to know you" greeting that can be easily picked up, difficult to master, and can stay the same over a longer period of time, so casual players who don't want to have to learn a hundred new cards every time they play can come and go with the game as they please.

I think something like this would welcome new players into the fold on a casual level. Maybe the "core set" doesn't have any particularly valuable cards, so maybe it's only a $30 investment to get the entire set (with a reasonable number of duplicates for deck-building). Thirty bucks isn't that large a price to pay for people to augment their board game collections with a known quantity that a lot of people play. I know I have several friends who might be more open to the game if it came in a box and had distinct features and components.

I haven't decided for sure how I want to move forward with this discussion. I know I want to go through some sort of exercise on it, but that's yet to be determined. If you have any suggestions or discussion points you want to make, feel free to do so in the comments. I read them all.

Friday, October 3, 2014

An Update On My Rock Band Project

I just wanted to give you guys a quick update on my Rock Band project.

As you may remember, I set out to play old Rock Band and Guitar Hero games to try to investigate what features worked, what features didn't, and what felt lacking in each iteration, to try to determine what the next Rock Band game (assuming there is one) ought to have in order to be successful. I've played Rock Band, Rock Band 2, and Lego Rock Band so far, and I've taken a good number of notes on each of them. None of them was perfect, but each brought a feature or features to the table that elevated the fun you can have in playing the game.

I've still got a ways to go, as I haven't delved into the Guitar Hero titles yet, and there are a lot of them. I also technically own Rock Revolution, which I've never played, as it was widely panned (I got it as part of a buy one, get one free offer along with Crackdown, which was fun). But, if I'm hoping to get a full picture of what works and what doesn't, I should probably at least play a little of RR to see what it's all about. You never know; it could have the one feature that ties everything together.

Initially I was going to make a separate post for each game I played, but there isn't enough different between all the games for that to be beneficial. You'd end up getting bored from reading a lot of the same stuff, and I don't want that. Instead, I'll combine all of my findings into one or two posts, and then at some point after that, offer up my complete plan for Rock Band 4...or maybe Rock B4nd, depending on how hip I want to go.

It'll be ready when it's ready.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

NHL Jerseys Morphed Into Soccer Kits

I'm a big hockey fan. My friend Chip is a big soccer fan. A couple days ago, a guy named Matt McElroy basically brought Chip and I together to make something great: soccer kits using color schemes, logos, and sponsors from each of the 30 NHL hockey teams. The results are fantastic. As a preview, here's the Capitals version: