Friday, November 28, 2014

Sigh...the Washington Redskins

Note: This post has nothing to do with the Redskins' team nickname, other than its use of the nickname in discussion.

So the Redskins are pretty bad. I mean, they've been competitive in some games this year, and they've even won a couple, but overall, they're just not very good. Historically, I'd have a standard response to this issue, but the more I think about it, the more I believe that my old solutions are symptomatic of the overall problem with the Skins (and to a lesser extent, the Capitals).

A change in personnel will not improve this team.

In the past, I've constantly come up with trade ideas or exciting potential free agent acquisitions, always thinking of ways to "win the offseason" in order to become a better team. This very rarely works. Teams that are good tend to have gotten good over the course of time. The Seahawks didn't show up out of nowhere; they'd been building up for years.

Now, with the impending change from Robert Griffin III to Colt McCoy, there's a lot of frustration in the air, and with good reason. Some people think Griffin deserves to finish out the season on merit. Others believe McCoy doesn't have a future as a starting QB, so any game he starts is a waste of an opportunity to learn about other QBs like Griffin or Kirk Cousins. And a lot of people are just pissed off that we're in this situation less than two years after the Griffin-led Redskins beat the Cowboys in week 17 to get into the playoffs. They're all valid gripes, and par for the course in Washington...which is exactly the problem.

I didn't agree with signing Ryan Clark in the offseason. He's past his prime, and I never thought he was a great player to begin with; he benefited from one of the most consistently strong defenses in the league in Pittsburgh. But he did have a history of playing on good teams, and I think that's what this Redskins team lacks the most. So many of the Skins' players are longtime Redskins, which means they're longtime losers. The culture of failure and disappointment is I think what's most problematic in Washington. That doesn't get solved overnight, and it doesn't get solved by addressing a skill concern.

The way I would approach trying to fix the Redskins is a "five-point plan" overhaul (I'm still feeling political; Election Day wasn't that long ago):
  1. Refuse to accept losing. After a near lifetime of disappointment, we in Washington expect to fail. So, why not "fail big" in order to improve draft status? I would cite the 76ers, the Raiders, and the Jaguars. The players you acquire have to hate losing. Fighting tooth and nail for every win is a direct way to improving the team's culture. And that means giving Colt McCoy a chance.
  2. Stick with the same coach. Some people don't like Jay Gruden, but I think his tell-it-like-it-is nature is refreshing. And by the way, other than Marty Schottenheimer, the Redskins' fan base was on board with every coaching change the Redskins have made in recent years. Steve Spurrier was panned, Jim Zorn was despised, and Mike Shanahan was soured upon. Don't get pissed at Dan Snyder for changing coaches when you call for exactly the same moves.
  3. Draft people, not skillsets. The players who pay off the most are players who are driven to perform from within. JaMarcus Russell was an impressive physical specimen with great arm strength and size, but he seemed to coast along, expecting those skills to carry him. You want guys who have fight in their hearts, who strive to improve every day. Football is such an intense sport that guys who take plays off are going to cost you, on the field and in the locker room.
  4. Stop signing bad players to bad contracts. Albert Haynesworth was one of the worst signings in NFL history, but he's far from the only mistake Washington's made in recent years. Signing guys off their best seasons, signing accomplished veterans for starter money when they aren't worthy of starting any more, signing guys because of their names and not because of their skills. All bad. I don't know if it's a scouting issue, or an "owner-involvement" issue, but the Skins have had trouble using their funds appropriately of late. So, in the same vein...
  5. Sign the "right" guys. There are thousands of guys trying to play professional football, and hundreds more come in from college every year. But there are a few key components the Skins have been missing. This past offseason was the first time they'd spent any legitimate money on a punt/kickoff return guy, even though it's been a weakness for a decade. They still lack a LOT in the leadership department; when DeAngelo Hall went down, could anybody name a leader on this defense? Plenty of good players, but no leaders. If I could draw a blueprint for the perfect guy for the Skins to sign, he'd be a productive middle linebacker with pedigree, leadership skills, a clean bill of health, and experience winning in the playoffs. I know that's a narrow definition, but I'm not saying it's got to be Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis. Just someone who can play.
Look, I'm no GM. I'm no head coach. I'm no scout. I never played organized football, and I'm not particularly good at disorganized football. But I see how other teams perform, and I compare their actions to the actions of my favorite team, and I find differences. I want my team to be a team that wins regularly, that always feels like they're a couple good bounces away from a division title.

I'm just trying to get there.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Unsubscribing from Star Wars

So I recently allowed my subscription to lapse for Star Wars: The Old Republic. It wasn't a mistake; I had subscribed for a month and enjoyed it, but I knew going in that I'd be headed back to a free-to-play status. Well, not exactly that; SW:TOR has a middle tier called "preferred" players, giving a few extra bonuses for players who have spent any money in the Cartel Market, or have ever been subscribers. The middle tier has a few more character slots, quickbars (which really shouldn't be limited on any tier; they're part of gameplay), auction slots, etc. It's also got a credit limit of 350,000 credits for each character, and this factor has had an effect that I couldn't have anticipated:

I'm playing the game again.

While I was a subscriber, I spent the majority of my time trying to make money. I was going to say "a good portion," but the truth is it was a majority of my time in the game. I would log in, send my crew on missions to pick up crafting materials, then peruse the auction house for this or that, then Alt+Tab to work on whatever else I had going on, or just watch Orange Is the New Black.

Sometimes I'd swap into another character while I was waiting for my crew to get back, so that I could send another companion on another crew mission. I was literally grinding out a job on days I had off from my real job. And not even with a goal in mind; there isn't really anything credit-wise I was saving up for. I was just acquiring credits so that I had them.

But now, with the 350,000 credit limit, there's no reason for me to wildly accumulate. As a result, instead of wallowing on the Imperial Fleet, I'm pushing forward with my class missions. I'm a bit over-leveled because I have a habit of doing every single mission I get, so I only get experience on like half of the missions, but the story is moving along, and I'm enjoying that.

Additionally, I'm less concerned about spending money on the Galactic Trade Network (I called it the auction house earlier, but GTN is the official name). The one thing I'd spent money on before was mounts, but I was always reticent to shell out the cash, because I didn't know if I was getting a good deal. Now I don't care much; I have a credit limit, so if I don't spend the money, it gets locked away in "escrow" until I pay to have it transferred or re-subscribe. So if I see a mount I don't already have, I buy it. No researching the prices, no wondering if it was for sale somewhere from a vendor, just nom nom nom.

I still send my guys on crew missions, of course. I'm not going to change who I am at my core. But the credit limit has helped to change my play habits, I think for the better. I'm getting a lot closer to that "experiential gaming" I mentioned in a post last week.

And I am pleased.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Pie Tuesday

Today is Pie Tuesday.

I know some of you recognize March 14 (or 3-14) as Pi Day, and bully for you. But Pie Tuesday has a storied history that goes back like seven or eight years.

Alright, I'm being a little facetious, but I like that Pie Tuesday is our own. The original Pie Tuesday sprung from my friend Mark and I visiting my cousin Michael at his late night job as a desk clerk in College Park. The plan was to surprise him with snacks and company. We went to a few different spots searching for pies (on a whim), but each place we went to was closed. Perkins, Target, even the Wal-Mart we visited was shut down for the night. We were all set to give up hope when we remembered that there was a Shoppers Food Warehouse in College Park. So we scooted on down the highway and made our way to CP.

We grabbed a case of Little Hugs fruit drinks, a tray of cinnamon rolls, a half gallon of ice cream, and a pair of pies that would become our standard: apple and pumpkin. We surprised Michael, fun times were had, snacks were eaten, and a tradition was born.

These days, Pie Tuesday has evolved into a general guy-time hangout, with an emphasis on pies (unsurprisingly). It's no longer a surprise for anyone, but we sit around and play board games, watch sports, stuff our faces, and be loud and obnoxious. It's great.

If you're not celebrating Pie Tuesday, you should. And if you are, save me a slice.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Gambler's Secret CS:GO Fun: The Trade-Up Contract

Note: Prices from this article were retrieved in November, 2014. CS:GO market fluctuations may result in jumps and dips, but the relative prices between tiers should be consistent.
 
If, like me, you're new-ish to CS:GO, you may only have a cursory knowledge of the Trade-Up Contract. And that's okay; it's not like you're missing out on a key game feature, like grenades or deathmatch. It's a sideways way of getting new weapon skins when you've got a lot of junkers. But if you like gambling, it can be a slightly less risky way to wet your whistle than opening cases.

The Basics

First, let's go over how it works. Weapon skins have multiple grades, progressing in the following order from least rare to most rare:
  • Consumer
  • Industrial
  • Mil-Spec
  • Restricted
  • Classified
  • Covert
  • Contraband*
*Contraband is a designation given to only one weapon thus far, the M4A4 Howl, which was redesigned and discontinued due to art theft by the submitter. For our purposes in this article, Contraband Grade weapons are irrelevant.

In order to "trade up," you select ten weapons of all the same grade, and you will receive one weapon of the next grade up. For example, If you trade up ten industrial grade weapons, you get one mil-spec weapon. If you trade up ten mil-spec weapons, you'll get a restricted weapon, and so on. So, if you wanted to trade from only consumer grade weapons and get a covert weapon, you'd need 100,000 consumer grade weapons. There are certainly that many consumer grade weapons out there, but at a nickel apiece, you'd be spending five grand to get to that point; not exactly a great strategy.

Map Collections and Case Collections

Of course, there's more to it than that. How does the game decide what weapon to grant you? Each weapon is part of a specific "collection." There are two different kinds of collections. There are collections that drop at the end of matches. We'll call these "map collections," because each of these collections is named after a map in CS:GO. So you have the Dust Collection, the Mirage Collection, the Train Collection, etc. The other kind of collections are those that drop when you use a key to open a weapon case. We'll call these "case collections," for obvious reasons. Something to note is that case collections only drop mil-spec or higher weapons. Consumer and industrial grade weapons only exist in map collections, and only drop at the end of matches.

If you trade up ten items from within the same collection, you'll get an item from the next tier up in that collection. For example, take a look at the Arms Deal Collection, the first case collection in the game. If you were to trade up ten AUG | Wings, you would be guaranteed to get one of three items: Glock-18 | Dragon Tattoo, USP-S | Dark Water, or M4A1-S | Dark Water. So, your chances of getting any one of those three items would be about 33.3%. You could also trade up three AUG | Wings, three SG 553 | Ultraviolet, and four MP7 | Skulls, and have the same odds of the three restricted-grade weapon skins.

With the original Trade Up Contract, this was your only option. You were required to trade up within the same collection. Now, however, you have more options, which creates greater gambling possibilities.

Mix and Match

With the current Trade Up format, you can now trade up ten equal grade weapons from any collection and receive a random item from the next tier up among those collections. Each of the ten items contributes 10% of the odds of the resulting skin. So for example, using the AUG | Wings from above, each AUG | Wings you use in a contract would add a 3.33% chance to draw each of the Glock-18 | Dragon Tattoo, the USP-S | Dark Water, and the M4A1-S | Dark Water. If you were to add a PP-Bizon | Brass from the Dust 2 Collection, you would add a full 10% chance of drawing the P2000 | Amber Fade (one of my personal favorite skins). Each base item contributes ten percent to the total, so adding this list of guns to your Trade Up Contract...

AUG | Wings
AUG | Wings
AUG | Wings
PP-Bizon | Brass
PP-Bizon | Brass
PP-Bizon | Brass
PP-Bizon | Brass
PP-Bizon | Brass
PP-Bizon | Brass
PP-Bizon | Brass

...would result in the following odds:

Glock-18 | Dragon Tattoo = (3.33 + 3.33 + 3.33) = 10%
USP-S | Dark Water = 10%
M4A1-S | Dark Water = 10%
P2000 | Amber Fade = (10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10 + 10) = 70%

But Math Isn't Fun...

So what's the big deal, right? The Mil-Spec weapons from the Phoenix case (UMP-45 | Corporal, Negev | Terrain, etc) are about $0.05 apiece, and at the trade up level, the Restricted weapons from that case range from $0.25 to $0.45 apiece. So a trade up only loses you money...

...unless you mix and match sets. For example, look at the Assault Collection (which you'll find is everyone's favorite because of the Glock-18 | Fade). The only industrial grade skin is the Five-SeveN | Candy Apple, which is about $1.11 on the market right now. If you traded up with only consumer grade skins from the Assault Collection, you'd spend about $1.50. But, if you only included, say, two skins from the Assault Collection, and then put in eight skins from lower end collections (Dust 2 consumer grade skins are about $0.03 right now), you could roll the dice on a 20% chance at getting the Candy Apple. It's still mathematically a losing proposition, but now it at least boasts the possibility of a big win. That's gambling, folks.

So what you're looking for are skins whose values at various tiers are notably different from the same tiers in other collections. Some rough base values to use:
  • Consumer - $0.03 - $0.05
  • Industrial - $0.05 - $0.09
  • Mil-Spec - $0.09 - $0.14
  • Restricted - $0.34 - $0.45
  • Classified - $2.00 - $2.45
Covert weapons can't be traded up, only case collections go up to cover level, and covert weapon skins generally set the value for the whole collection. So, there's no reason to concern yourself with them on this chart.

An important note: there are some skins that are regularly below average market value for their grade that you should never, ever buy for trade ups. The reason is that some skins below Covert are still the top level weapon skin for their collection.

Which Collections Have Outliers?

All collections are going to have some variation in price from one tier to the next. It's a complicated result of a number of factors, most specifically the following:
  • Age/supply of collection
  • Demand for highest tier of weapon
That's really it. Other people will try to tell you there are more factors, like how much time is left in the current operation, or the value of lower tier weapons within the collection, and maybe they're right. But the impact of those factors is almost always negligible. I use CSGO Stash to get quick glances at various collections when I'm in the mood, or just to check up on a particular skin. The information is usually up-to-date, though it's almost always a couple cents off. Still, not enough to be a problem.

You can, of course, do your own research, but I wanted to provide a little information directly regarding which spots have some potential for gambling upside. These are skins that you can slide in as your "lotto ticket" for a reasonable price, and give yourself a chance at a big win. These are in no way guarantees, and I want to impress upon you that, even these adjusted tactics will still, more often than not, lead to a negative result, value-wise. It's just fun to give yourself that chance.

Anyways, these skins have trade-up potential that goes above and beyond the normal values for that tier. These are also only skins that have 100% trade up "win" potential; that is, if you "hit" on this skin, you're going to get a valuable skin as a result.

Assault Collection 
All consumer grade skins 
Five-SeveN | Candy Apple

Bank Collection
CZ75-Auto | Tuxedo
Galil AR | Tuxedo

Cobblestone Collection
All industrial grade skins
All mil-spec grade skins
All restricted grade skins

Italy Collection
Sawed-Off | Full Stop

Overpass Collection
All industrial grade skins

Vertigo Collection
All consumer grade skins

For giggles, and in case you were unsure of what this whole process looks like, I've prepared the videos below for your pleasure.






Thanks for reading all the way down, and good luck with your gambling!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Joe and Joe Sports

I got an email notification yesterday reminding me that www.joeandjoesports.com is going to expire soon. So you guys who've been coming here for a while, make sure that your bookmarks are all in order. You'll want to make sure that you keep coming to www.GoodPointJoe.com...daily.

Maybe many times a day.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Experiential Gaming

I was at a friends' house a couple weeks ago, and we were watching some random Twitch streams. He's got an Xbox One, so we were able to browse Twitch from the comfort of his living room couch. Anyways, the stream that we settled on was a guy playing the recently released Alien: Isolation on his PS4. He was very animated, and he did a great job of ramping up the tension in the stream. He was clearly nervous and scared (of the outcome of the game, not of streaming; he seemed perfectly comfortable sharing his gaming experience, and I wish I remembered his name). He was truly "experiencing" this game.

As I watched, I realized that this guy's gaming experience is almost completely opposite my own recent experience, and his experience is what I wish I was getting out of gaming.

I've been playing the following games of late:

PAYDAY 2

Payday 2 has a number of different heists, usually with both a stealth and "loud" approach. Each mission holds several different challenges, and some are multi-day affairs that change based on your actions on the first day. The game also offers a wide variety of moddable weapons and customizable masks, both of which are consistently supplemented through DLC (some of which I've bought, some I've not bought).

But I've really done everything I wanted to do in Payday 2. There are some achievements I don't have, some guns I haven't bought, and some missions I haven't completed on the highest difficulties, but I don't feel compelled to satisfy any of those "incomplete" aspects of the game. I've completed all I feel compelled to complete from this game, though I keep playing, because "levels" and "unlocks" I guess.

Star Wars: The Old Republic

About two months ago, I decided to finally check out the Star Wars MMO. I was a huge fan of Knights of the Old Republic, and I had actually played a little bit of the beta for SW:TOR. It was fun enough, and story-heavy, which is a nice change of pace from some of the other MMOs I've played. So I've been playing for a while now, and while the stories are interesting (and unique for each class!), I find that most of my time "playing" the game is simply spent on crafting while I do some other task outside of the game, like watch a TV show or work on a Magic deck. It's like I'm only seeking the regular validation of a successful crew mission, not actually caring about the time spent.

Pattern?

Counter-Strike:Global Offensive

I go through spurts of playing CS:GO a lot or very little. The game recently began a new "Operation," which involves a few new maps, some new weapon skins, and a revival of the mission system that was present in the last operation. The missions require you to complete some task in the game (get 20 kills in deathmatch, win a match on a particular map, etc), and after completing the mission, you receive a reward of some in-game item. These items can be worth anywhere from $0.03 (most often) up to a hundred dollars or more (pretty rare, obviously). So, naturally, I grind out some games here and there to feel like I'm "accomplishing" something.

What the shit, right?

Remember the old days of playing games just because you hadn't beaten them? Or damn, I mean, I've played Mega Man 2 a thousand times, and probably 900 of those times were after I'd beaten the game. I keep playing because the gameplay itself is fun. I don't get any achievements or register any points when I play. I just play.

So much of my gaming these days is in pursuit of small, artificial, unsatisfying goals. I'm not saying I don't like getting achievements; I'm saying I want to want to play the game, not solely want to pursue the achievements.

I have managed to get back to playing "the game" of Star Wars; I'm actually scheduled to regress from "subscriber" to "preferred user" in the next day or so, so actually I'll have fewer options with regards to crew skills and auction houses anyways. It's possible that this artificial barrier, designed to encourage users to re-subscribe, might actually help me play the game I want to play it again.

I have 846 games just on Steam. I've got a dozen more on Origin, maybe 40 on GOG.com, and probably another 30-40 on Xbox 360 (my one console that's set up). There's literally zero chance that there isn't a game in here that will get my blood pumping again. I just have to A) find it, and B) feel like I'm okay with adding a new game to my "rotation." I should feel that way, since as I said, my gaming isn't satisfying me in its current state. But I'm a complicated guy, so you never know.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Magic Decks for Review - Landfall & Fling Deck (RG)

As I mentioned last week, I was looking for the best way to open up my home-brewed casual decks for comments and suggestions. You spoke, and I basically ignored you. Well, not you. But you, I totally ignored you. Sorry bro.

Anyways, the way I decided to go is using TappedOut to build the decks. The links to all of them are on the sidebar to the right, or you can view them on my profile page on TappedOut. The one downside is that you have to create an free account on TappedOut in order to leave a comment. It's simple, but it is an extra step, and for that I apologize. But I'd definitely appreciate it if you guys would take the time when you have it to review the decks. Some of them need a lot of work; others just need some tweaking.

But, I'm not going to just sit around and hope people chime in on their own. I'll highlight decks over time, asking for pointed feedback at various times with regards to a particular deck. Today's deck is a deck that I think is pretty close to being ready, but has a single definitive weakness.

Deck: Landfall & Fling RG

This deck relies heavily on the Landfall mechanic and Fling (or Soul's Fire, which has a similar effect). The idea is usually to take out the opponent in one huge turn, using cards like Evolving Wilds, Harrow, and Khalni Heart Expedition to provide a bunch of extra land drops. It works a fair amount of the time, but the problem is that the deck, in its current form, only eleven of the sixty cards provide creatures, and that includes those 7/1 Elemental tokens that last only one turn.

So, I'm looking for potential insertions serving that purpose. I could definitely see letting go of the Adventuring Gear in favor of some creatures. And I'm open to any other input you've got.

Go!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

How to Frame Upcoming Magic Posts

I've got a series of Magic posts in the works that will (hopefully) provide you readers with the opportunity to share your opinions, correct me where I'm wrong, and help me to refine some personal decks I've created.

Let me backtrack a little.

Several years ago (back before The Good Point Bros were even a thing), I bought a big lot of random Magic cards on eBay. I used to collect baseball cards when I was little, and it was fun to sort through everything, looking for rares and interesting cards.

Since that first batch, I've bought several more, sometimes the same amalgamation of cards from random sets, sometimes repacks of one set or another, and sometimes something in between. One that was really fun was a box of 24 packs from the entire history of Magic. It was neat to see Fire Whip and Evil Twin in the same pack, and it made for a really interesting draft one summer when James was stateside.

Anyways, as I perused cards from throughout Magic's history, I became more and more interested in thinking about how cards from different eras worked together. A natural follow-up to that was that I started to build my own decks. I remember the first one was a tribal Merfolk & Wizard deck, and I remember the first two cards in it were Streambed Aquitects and Sage's Dousing. I thoroughly enjoyed the process of researching possible additions/swaps, checking mana curves, and assessing a deck's win conditions to build as strong a deck as I could.

And of course, through all this work, I'd come across some other card that begged to be highlighted. So I made a red equipment deck featuring Bloodshot Trainee, a green/white enchantments deck featuring Primal Huntbeast and Armadillo Cloak, and a black/white lifegain deck with cards like Suture Priest.

I love the whole process, but there are two hurdles that I have to deal with.

The first is a simple matter of availability. I don't have planeswalkers or Moxes; most of my cards are common or uncommon, and not terribly many of them are new. So a lot of my decks feature pedestrian cards from Zendikar or Lorwyn or 8th Edition. I actually have no problem with this limitation; I feel like it's the same level of challenge as building a deck with boss cards, and since I really only play my decks among the other decks, there's no concern about a wild advantage by one deck because of raw card power.

The second hurdle is what I'm hoping you'll be able to help me with. While I've done my share of research and discussion, I'm still a long way from being fluent in Magic's history. But between me, and James, and Nick, and talbott_matt, and PuresteelPally, and Kouseband, and 0utlier, and Rekanos, maybe we've got it all covered. So what I'd like to do is to provide you guys with decklists, and welcome your input on how to improve the decks, either by incorporating generally better cards, or refining the mana curve, or swapping in cards that better fit the particular intentions of the decks.

The problem I have is this: I don't know how best to share with you the current state of the decks. I have a couple of options, but I'm open to other ideas if you've got them.

First, the simplest option, though it'll probably take the most work: I can just list each card with the quantity in the deck, along with a link to its Gatherer page. This would be easiest for phone browsing, but isn't really intuitive at all, and doesn't take advantage of any particular resources available.

A second option would be to create the decks with the deck editor in Magic The Gathering Online, then upload the deck file and invite readers to download the file to view the deck. This would make for easy manipulation of the current deck and searches of potential alternatives. But it would require that you have MODO available; not exactly going to work for people browsing on their Samsung Galaxies.

A third option would be to create and save the decks using TappedOut.net. This would be similar to the first option, except that the list would be hosted on another site, forcing you to navigate back to the blog to comment on its related post. But, for decks that have several updates (which will probably be all of them), you'll be able to see the process as it evolves, and respond only to the most recent iteration of the deck.

So my question is, to those of you who think you might be up for helping me out, which method sounds the most appealing to you? Or is there something I haven't thought of/am unaware of that would fit the bill even better than what I've mentioned? Leave feedback in the comments, por favor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Top 5 "Sports-Watching Beers"

We're well into autumn now, and that means a few things:
  1. the holidays are coming up;
  2. it's time to put away the shorts for a little while; and
  3. football and hockey are in full swing.
While the holidays are important, and I know you'll all miss my exposed sexy legs, the third item on the list is what I want to talk about. There's something purely human about watching sports and drinking a beer. Men and women, young and old, rich and poor, everyone can get on board with cracking open a cold one while reclining and watching a sporting event.

Not every beer is built for this sort of event. There are a lot of brews out there that are built on pretentiousness and expectation and basically anything hipsters think is so rad. But there are a lot of beers that encourage you to relax and just enjoy the damn game. My favorites are below.

5. Bud Light - Does Bud Light make my socks roll up and down? No, it does not. But I like it well enough, I can drink pretty much as many as I want, and it's fairly cheap. Sometimes when you're watching sports (at a bar, for example), you just want a beer you can forget about. For me, Bud Light is that beer.

4. Molson Canadian - The best thing about Canadian beers is that, almost without fail, they're all twist-offs. Who wants to waste valuable drinking time looking for a bottle opener? Also, Molson tastes good.

3. Honey Brown - There are a lot of "sweet" beers out there. Leinenkugel makes a few that are good, and plenty of companies make ones that aren't so good. Honey Brown sounds like it would be a sweet beer, and it's got a hint of sweetness, but really it's more hearty than sweet. It's a great chilly outdoor beer; if you're tailgating or at one of the NHL's outdoor games, Honey Brown is a good fit.

2. Killian's Irish Red - I didn't know this for a while, but apparently Killian's is a "value" beer. A year or two ago, I was in a county liquor store and was browsing their beer selection, and I noticed that Killian's was a sight cheaper than most of the other selections. As it was already one of my favorite choices, the price is a constant tipping point when I'm planning ahead and have time to chill the brews (liquor stores here don't sell cold beer).

1. Blue Moon - At first, I didn't think of Blue Moon as a winter beer; the crispness and freshness of it would make you think it's a summer brew. But for my money, Blue Moon is a beer for all seasons. The Blue Moon beer stand is also right at the concourse entrance where my family's Caps tickets are located, so it's even convenient. Win-win.

Honorable mention: Busch Light. In the words of Dave Chappelle, it'll get you drunk.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets' NBA Championship Hopes - by Sam Smith

The following is a contribution by guest blogger Sam Smith.

Ever since Dwight Howard played out the end of his 1st part of his career with the Orlando Magic, he has been under a microscope. He was traded to the Los Angeles Lakers, and he had a subpar season for the one year he was there. Now, he is starting his 2nd season with the Houston Rockets. People in fantasy basketball love his start, and he is the major reason why this team looks like a legitimate NBA championship contender.

Howard struggled in the last few years mainly due to some nagging injuries. It is still very early in the year, but it looks as though Howard is finally healthy enough to play the minutes he wants to. He is a force on both sides of the floor, and he can make up for a lot of deficiencies the Rockets might have in general.

Other than Howard, this team is not particularly dominant on defense. He shuts down the paint, and that really gives the rest of the team a lot more confidence knowing that they have some security.

In the Western Conference, every contender looks slightly vulnerable. Oklahoma City is really hurting with injuries, San Antonio is a year older and the Los Angeles Clippers are pretty inconsistent. The door might be opening for a team like Houston to put their hat in the ring.

A few years ago, Howard led a pretty mediocre Orlando Magic team to the NBA Finals. This team is better than that Magic team, but they do know that the Western Conference is extremely loaded. With Howard playing like his former Defensive Player of the Year, Houston might just be ready to take the next step. He is certainly solidifying himself as the top center in the NBA once again with his strong start to the season.

2014 National League Awards


As usual, the National League is worse than the American League.

I'm joking mostly, but it brings up an interesting point. When I was young, and interleague play wasn't a thing, I didn't care for the NL. I didn't really like any of the teams, and when I watched the All-Star Game, I was rooting, legitimately rooting for the American League to win. Not forced rooting because MLB tied World Series home-field advantage to the game, but just deep-in-the-soul rooting. I'm sure more people watch more baseball live and on TV because of interleague play, and I'm sure some people like that the All-Star game "counts" now, but I miss those days.

Rookie of the Year
Jacob deGrom, Mets
Billy Hamilton, Reds
Kolten Wong, Cardinals

While it may have been a joke, there was a smack of truth when I said the AL was better than the NL. Our choices here are a 9-6 starting pitcher, a .250 hitter with 56 steals, and a guy who started 100 games at second base for the division-winning Cardinals.

Hamilton will probably win, but my pick is deGrom. In addition to his 9-6 record, he posted averages of 2.69/1.14 and over a strikeout an inning. His final two starts were great, notching 23 strikeouts in 13 innings. The Mets still need hitters (they batted just .239 last season), but if Matt Harvey can come back and return to his 2013 form, they might have a nice little pitching staff.

Manager of the Year
Bruce Bochy, Giants
Clint Hurdle, Pirates
Matt Williams, Nationals

Be honest. None of you thought the Pirates could do it again, especially with young slugger Pedro Alvarez taking a big step backwards. But somehow Clint Hurdle dragged this scrappy group to another wild card game, losing to the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Bochy and Williams did well, but those were both teams that you sort of expected to do well. Right or wrong, Hurdle gets a bump in my book for cooking with raw ingredients.

Cy Young
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Johnny Cueto, Reds
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

Kershaw led the NL in wins, ERA, WHIP, complete games, K/BB ratio, and basically every advanced metric you can think of, and he finished 3 strikeouts behind Cueto and Stephen Strasburg for the league lead. And he did it all while missing his first five starts of the season with a muscle strain in his back. Cueto and Wainwright were great, but Kershaw was a cut above.

Most Valuable Player
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins
Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

This is an interesting call. McCutchen was extremely productive, but without the eye-popping stats that draw people in. Stanton was the NL's most prolific masher, but he was on a bad team and struck out in 1/4 of his at-bats. Kershaw was phenomenal, but he only pitched 27 times, exactly 1/6 of a full season. On top of that, I'm just overall reticent to bestow the MVP award on a pitcher.

The way I approached it was this: if you took these players off of their respective teams, how would their seasons have been affected? A Stanton-less Marlins would probably drop from 4th in the NL East to 5th. Taking Kershaw off of the Dodgers would've been rough, but they're still a really good team (especially if they stop being ridiculous and play Matt Kemp every day).

But the Pirates' whole lineup is held together by McCutchen. He led the team in hits, runs, doubles, home runs, RBI, OBP, and slugging percentage, and finished second in just about everything else (batting average, triples, steals). I think Kershaw will probably actually win, in no small part because McCutchen won the MVP last year. And he's not a wrong pick. He's just not my pick.

Friday, November 7, 2014

2014 American League Awards


As usual, I'm here to offer my opinions on the baseball awards season. However, I wanted to say something first.

This year's awards seem way more predictable overall than they've been in years past. Some gambling websites aren't even offering odds on Mike Trout winning the MVP; it's such a sure bet that there are no odds that a bookmaker could offer and still expect profit. That said, there are a couple of ones that will be fun to talk about, as always. And probably my favorite argument is right here in this post. I'll give you a clue: it starts with American League, and ends with Cy Young.

I'd also like to point out that, at least for these two posts, I won't be using links to Baseball Reference. I continue to be frustrated by their bombardment of advertisements, and I refuse to link to them, as at this point, their usability is below even Yahoo or ESPN. It saddens me, but I can't in good faith link to such a problem website.

My choice in italics.

Rookie of the Year
Jose Abreu, White Sox
Dellin Betances, Yankees
Matt Shoemaker, Angels

Abreu holds a special place in my heart as one of my better draft picks in fantasy baseball history. Interestingly, I've traded almost all of my best picks: Abreu, Clayton Kershaw, Prince Fielder. Watch out Chris Sale, you're probably next.

Anyways, Abreu was a masher all year, and just his power numbers would've warranted a Rookie of the Year victory. But on top of that, he seemed to mature before our eyes over the course of the season, pushing his batting average up from a solid .292 in the first half to a stalwart .317 at the end of the season. Betances was a great short reliever, and Shoemaker had a great season (16-4, 3.04/1.07). But Abreu came onto the scene loudly and only got louder. He's my pick.

Manager of the Year
Mike Scioscia, Angels
Buck Showalter, Orioles
Ned Yost, Royals

I can't speak to this award much, because I'm biased towards Buck and because I think Manager of the Year is one of those awards that relies heavily on the eye test. Showalter is far and away the guy I saw the most of with regards to lineup adjustments and pitching decisions, and he managed to pull a patchwork pitching staff to a runaway win of the American League East. Good enough for me.

Cy Young
Felix Hernandez, Mariners
Cory Kluber, Indians
Chris Sale, White Sox

Sale had a great two-thirds of a season, but his injury took away his ability to earn the Cy Young award in my book. So it's really a two-man race between Felix and Kluber. Felix led the league in ERA and WHIP, while Kluber had more wins and strikeouts (total and per 9 innings) than Hernandez. Both guys finished strong, both guys played for teams that nearly played the playoffs.

It's six in one hand, half a dozen in the other, but I'm going with Kluber. I still don't like the idea of giving the Cy Young to someone who gets 15-16 wins, even if it's a flawed statistic. I also like that, while the Indians were gasping for air in September, Kluber registered at least 7 innings and 104 pitches in each of his final five starts, nabbing the win in all five. When the season was on the line, Kluber did his best work. Felix was good down the stretch, but not that good.

Most Valuable Player
Michael Brantley, Indians
Victor Martinez, Tigers
Mike Trout, Angels

It's not really worth discussing this one very much. Trout is far and away the most prolific offensive player in baseball right now. Every simple or advanced statistic you want to look at, he's at the top. Martinez and Brantley are fine players who had great seasons, but Trout is a force of nature.

We'll get the baseball writers' picks next week. My National League picks will come out before that.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

2014 NFL Predictions - Midway Madness

After a few posts on Magic, I figured I'd better post about sports again so you guys don't think (/realize) I'm a total nerd. Football!

Every team has now played at least eight games, and the standings are looking very interesting. Coming into the season, I'd have never expected to see the Arizona Cardinals at the top of the NFC West. There's still plenty of football to be played, but the season is starting to take shape. So, given the information we've got to this point, here's where I think things will end up after week 17.

AFC


East: New England Patriots - It's hard to pick against Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, much as I might dislike them. Spoiler: it's a lot.
North: Pittsburgh Steelers - Don't look now, but the Steelers just scored 94 points against two teams above .500 over the past two weeks (Colts & Ravens). They're never down for long.

South: Indianapolis Colts - I don't think Andrew Luck is ready for the big time like everybody else does, but in the AFC's weakest division, he's far and away the best QB.
West: Denver Broncos - I'll be a Philip Rivers fan until the day I die, but there's no denying Peyton Manning's regular season domination. He's a force.

Wild Cards: Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs - Both defenses look legit, and I'm becoming a believer in Ryan Tannehill. Andy Reid can't help but put his teams in the playoffs.

NFC

East: Philadelphia Eagles - I don't think Dallas's perceived problems on defense were false; as the season goes on, I expect them to look worse, not better.
North: Green Bay Packers - The Lions have been good, but in today's NFL, I don't believe you can average fewer than 21 points a game and win long-term.
South: Carolina Panthers - Ron Rivera coached the cats out of a funk last year, I'm betting he can do it again. The Saints' run appears to be over.
West: Seattle Seahawks - I just can't bring myself to believe the Cardinals will finish as strong as they started. The defending champs will get back into form.

Wild Cards: Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers - Maybe I'm wrong about Detroit, but I just can't see things ending well in Motor City. And I expect the Cowboys to fall back to earth...and then some.

Super Bowl Prediction: Green Bay Packers over Pittsburgh Steelers - Because nothing new and fun ever happens.

I wanted to get this down on paper so you can hold me accountable for it down the road. So when the Super Bowl matches the Lions against the Dolphins, feel free to throw angry comments at me.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Top 5 Modern "Core Set" Cards - Red


Top Five Red Core Cards

  1. Fireball (many times, most recently M12) - There's value in Volcanic Geyser of course, but Fireball has such a history in Magic that it makes the top of my list. I also actually kind of like that it's a sorcery spell; the flavor of X mana spells feel like they ought to take full focus, rather than being instant speed. The massive burn available to Red is its calling card.
  2. Furnace Whelp (5DN, 10E, M13, M15) - I picked Furnace Whelp when I could have just as easily picked Shivan Dragon. I went with the Whelp because uncommon cards feel more "core" than rares. But either card in this "slot" fits two important roles: dragon, and firebreather. Firebreathing is like Fireball in creature form, and it's probably Red's most important creature characteristic.
  3. Lightning Elemental (many times, most recently M12) - Lightning Elemental captures two features of Red. The first is obvious: haste shows up in Red more than any other color. The other is the vast difference between power and toughness, usually with power being considerably higher. Fire Elemental is a classic Red card, but it's not particuarly, you know, Red. You could put the same stats on a card in any color and it'd make some sense.
  4. Fling (STH, M11, M12, DKA) - I had initially planned on including Shock or Lightning Bolt, but I came away with the opinion that Fling was perfectly suited to describing Red. It's instant-speed burn, and it depends on building up a creature's power (or, "enraging" them). It also has the added bonus of being exploitable; I've got a Landfall-based deck that's really all about Fling. One of my favorites.
  5. Siege-Gang Commander (SCG, 10E, M10) - Red has hundreds of goblins to choose from, so I tried to find one that helped explain a little more of Red. Goblin tokens are in fact a fair part of what Red can do, so that goes in there. Additionally, the sacrifice of any creature, but goblins in particular, for the greater good is a typically Red or Black feature. It came down to Siege-Gang, Goblin Arsonist, or Goblin Grenade. Grenade didn't fit my set rules (and has effect overlap with Fling), and Arsonist is too typically Joe. So Siege-Gang Commander and his goblinburn is the choice to round out this list.
I hemmed and hawed for a while before electing to leave a Threaten/Act of Treason type card off the list. It was a tough call because the effect is definitely Red, but in the end I had to go with the cards I chose above. Just know that #6 would've been one of those two.

So there it is, the last of my top 5 "Core Set" lists. It was a fun exercise, but it feels somehow incomplete. Like, talking about these cards in only the context of each other is insufficient, and there's some other way to take these lists to the next level...

...I'm working on it. Stay tuned.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...