Wednesday, October 21, 2009

An update.

Hi all! My apologies for not posting in the last week or so! I've been working on a new blog, which fingers crossed will go live very soon.

Watch this space!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Milling Deck (Zendikar Standard).

With the advent of a new Magic the Gathering set is the usual flurry of deck-building, and as always I find myself drawn towards building a mill deck in some shape or form.

Quick aside for those who don't know, Magic is a collectible card game where you are a powerful wizard called a 'planeswalker'. The objective is to beat other planeswalkers (players) in one-on-one or multiplayer duels. This is achieved primarily by either reducing an opponent's life to zero or running the opponent out of cards (although other less common ways to win do exist). This deck takes the latter option.

Here's the deck I played over the weekend at a local competition. It's pretty decent, going 3-2 against my opponents, and very fun to play! Not bad considering that I assembled it in about 15 minutes! There's still lots of room for improvement though, and I'll be tweaking the deck as time permits over the next few weeks.

Blue/White/Black Mill (Zendikar Standard)

Creatures (6)

Spells (24)

Artifacts (4)

Planeswalkers (3)

Land (23)
4 x Arcane Sanctum
3 x Island
2 x Plains
2 x Swamp

Sideboard (15)
4 x Twincast (more milling ammunition/"reflecting" a spell at the opponent)
4 x Safe Passage (damage prevention)
3 x Esper Charm (disruption and enchantment removal)
2 x Baneslayer Angel (alternative win condition)
2 x Telemin Performance (additional milling + good against creature-light control decks)
1 x Haunting Echoes (graveyard removal + additional milling)


One major stumbling block the deck faces is extremely fast and aggressive decks. My first loss piloting this build came to a Red/White aggressive deck. Basically it's hard to play and win when you're on the backfoot from start to finish. As they say, the best defense is a good offense, eh?

The other major stumbling block is any deck that happens to run Progenitus, Darksteel Colossus or the supremely annoying Quest for Ancient Secrets - cards which either put themselves back into the library or shuffles the graveyard into the library, thereby negating all the work that I've been doing. My second loss came when my opponent cast and later activated his Quest for Ancient Secrets TWICE during the game, necessitating me to mill his library all over again two more times! Needless to say, I lost. On the bright side, I now know that the deck can mill for over 150 cards if given a chance.

Deck changes

Early damage prevention or disruption out of the sideboard is essential versus fast aggressive decks, although I'm not sure what to add. Graveyard removal is another priority, especially to counter cards like Quest for Ancient Secrets or reanimation strategies - I'll be adding Relic of Progenitus to the sideboard for this.

Another possible sideboard inclusion is black removal spells to deal with frustrating irritants like Iona, Shield of Emeria which can stop my spell-casting dead it its tracks (set to Blue to prevent me milling, or set to White to prevent me disrupting their game plan).

Twincast and Telemin Performance were never utilised in any of my matches, nor did I ever have a need to cast either, so I'll probably be taking those cards out. Baneslayer Angel is a bit of a conundrum for me, because even though she never saw play, it's always good to have a backup alternative win condition just in case.

Any Magic players out there with any thoughts/comments/suggestions?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Snapshots from Margaret River.

As promised, more pictures from our Margaret River trip!

Lavender bee.
Bee on lavender, Cape Lavender, Margaret River.

Snapping this picture was quite challenging. I've never seriously tried to shoot this close up before, and my lens isn't exactly the fastest, so I'm surprised this turned out as well as it did. Did I happen to mention that the bee kept on moving (as bees are wont to do), making it a complete pain to track and shoot?

Took this at Cape Lavender, which is a rather nice place somewhere in between Margaret River and Dunsborough. Don't ask me exactly where it is because we just happened to chance across it while on our travels! True to the name, there's lavender of all sorts practically everywhere and they've got a little cafe and a shop front selling all sorts of lavender-related products. I picked up a bottle of white lavender-infused wine there - it's really interesting! Quite fruity with a slight floral bouquet, it sits well on the tongue and finishes with a slight lavender after taste - really refreshing and excellent chilled! Lord knows what I'll pair it with, but hey, at least it's interesting!

Bridge to noms.
Boardwalk to beach, outside Bunkers Beach Cafe, Bunker Bay.

There's a bit of a funny story regarding how we found this spot. Char was looking for the Bunker Bay resort for her work, and we chanced upon the very lovely Bunkers Beach Cafe while driving around. The cafe's location is as perfect as it gets, nestled smack in the centre of the bay with a 180 degree view of the entire beach from headland to headland... plus a little boardwalk leading to the white sand beach a literal stone's throw away. Talk about a perfect place to grab a lunch!

This shot was taken from our table outside on the verandah and leads straight to the beach just a little beyond. Seriously, how awesome is that?

Tasting plate.
Bunkers Beach Cafe, Bunker Bay.

And the food at the cafe doesn't disappoint! We shared a tasting plate and a bowl of chips with garlic aioli. Clockwise from top; venison chorizo; mango, chickpea and herb chutney; and warmed mixed olives. There's some rice crackers hidden behind the chorizo too.

Talk about a burst of flavour! The chutney was a surprisingly good blend of sweet and savoury with a hint of spice. It tasted almost like a sweet dhal that's quite refreshing and a perfect match for the other flavours on the plate. The venison chorizo was really interesting though. It was quite dry and lean, as expected from venison, and packed a whole lot of smoky spiced flavour.

And seriously, who can pass up warm mixed olives?

Margaret River Providore, Margaret River

Still on the subject of food, on one of the other days we had a late lunch at the Margaret River Providore, which is a really 'up-there' sort of place with all kinds of different local and international produce like French cheeses, Ceylon teas, and a whole range of local jams, fruit, wines and small goods. Ever the curious fellow, I bought some French porcini sea salt (literally sea salt blended with dried mushrooms) to season my steaks with (awesome!) and some cheese for Char's family.

Oh, by the way, that's a 12-hour braised beef shin with mashed potatoes that Char's having. Really great blended flavours with the flavour of the meat and wine really coming through. Just goes to show that the wine you use for cooking is so important for the flavour of the dish. Seriously if you're inclined to use a cheap wine for cooking, I'd advise against it. Always use a wine that you'll be happy to drink. Seriously, you'll thank me for it! The benefits flavour-wise are massive.

On the grapevine.
Grape leaf, Vasse Felix Estate, Cowaramup.

Back to close up photography, here's a random grape leaf on one of the vines at Vasse Felix. Now I'm guessing it might have been the season or something, but there was hardly any leaves on any of the vines! Is there some viticulture maxim that dictates that you have to prune the vines just so? It is spring, so I guess I expected to see at least a couple more leaves on each vine!

Running river.
River, Vasse Felix Estate, Cowaramup.

One thing I've noticed about a lot of the estates in the region is that each of the large estates has some form of landscaped water feature. I must say, it is quite pleasant to look at though! I do enjoy taking shots of running water and trying to get that sort of milky ethereal look on the water. Takes a lot of tries when you're running around without a tripod, but thankfully I've been getting better at taking 1-2 sec exposures hand held. (Although this was a 1/2 second exposure, so no worries there!)

Enter hyperspace!
Wallcliffe Road, en route from Prevelly to Margaret River.

Another one of those shots that I just enjoy doing, taking shots of street lights at night. It's a very different ballgame when you're snapping from the passenger seat of a moving car as compared to the side walk or an overhead bridge on the freeway. I like the effect though! You can really see the motion (and you can also really see my hands shake). Looks quite a bit like hitting hyperspace eh? Where's R2-D2 when you need him?

Postcard perfect.
Beach, Eagle Bay.

One of those postcard perfect shots that you get every so often. It's amazing how the colours just blend into this amazing feast of blue. That's something that you rarely get back home. Singapore's beaches are a far cry from the beauty that dots the Australian coastline. How do you compare? Beaches like this really make me wish I had a wide angle lens, which really should be be my next big purchase gear-wise.

I find it funny how sometimes when you take these shots, they come out looking almost fake. Almost like it's too nice a scene to be real, hey?

And there you have a selection of shots from our Margaret River trip. Honestly three days/two nights really is too short to explore the whole area, especially when you factor in the three-hour drive. Next time we go, we're definitely taking a week to chill out and explore to our heart's content... well... if we can find the time and the money!

Next stop come December, Singapore and Kuching!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Into the dark.

Caves are something I've always been fascinated with. The mind continually boggles at the sheer patient working of time as water forms wondrous limestone columns and carves its way through the unyielding rock. Caves also make me somewhat uneasy, especially since I did have a childhood fear of the dark and I do have the somewhat unreasoning fear of falling.

Nonetheless, the best way to see nature's patient work is up close and personal. Plus since Char has a great interest in caves, we took a trip to Mammoth Cave during our weekend in Margaret River.

Into the dark.
Into the dark.
Cave entrance, Mammoth Cave.

The river winds throughout the cave from entrance to exit, although we lose sight of it barely a hundred metres in as the river runs underground to places we can't reach. Naturally, I conveniently forget to bring my tripod along, so I was forced to do hand-held 2 sec exposures with the camera. Surprisingly they didn't turn out too bad, all things considered! What I would have given for a tripod or a much faster lens though!

The deep places.
Deep places of the earth.
Mammoth Cave.

I shot this glorious picture from one of the many platforms along the walkway through the cave. The lighting is just spectacular and really highlights the sheer scope and depth of the many different rock formations, stalactites and stalagmites.

Bit of trivia here, stalactites are the spikes that point downwards from the ceiling of limestone caves, and stalagmites are the ones that rice from the floor. When a stalactite and stalagmite meet, they form a column that stretches from the top to bottom of the cave. Both are formed by the dripping action of mineral-rich water that gets deposited on the top and bottom of the cave and slowly form the spikes you see over thousands of years.

Okay, trivia lesson over!

Highway to hell.
Highway to hell.
Mammoth Cave.

I must confess that I do still have a fear of heights and of falling, and the path through the cave didn't help it any! The walkways are about a metre wide with railings just over a metre high. Combine that with many upward and downward steps to negotiate through the cave, and you pretty much get a situation where Chris gets just a little on edge. I survived it fairly well though, so take that, fears!

Must say, I had the entire scene from the Fellowship of the Ring where the fellowship travels through Moria in my head when I was going through the cave. Complete with getting chased by orcs and the occasional balrog (You! Shall! Not! Pass!).

Yes I am random that way.

Incidentally, there are a couple fossils of ancient megafauna that walked the Australian continent millions of years ago. Sadly I was unable to take a decent photo of those fossils. But just seeing that old jawbone sticking out of the rock is a good reminder that we're just another one of many species who have called our world home, just as there'll probably be many species coming after us once we're gone.

River within.
River within.
Exit, Mammoth Cave.

All of a sudden you duck your head under a bit of low-lying rock and you find the river again. Equally slow, rusty brown coloured and a little more brackish-smelling than before. Not something I'd like to drink!

Escape to the surface.
Escape to the light.
Exit to the surface level, Mammoth Cave.

And just when you thought you got out of the cave, you find yourself at the bottom of a chasm and it's fifty-or-so metres straight up! It's interesting geography though! Truly very different when you're looking up at the blue sky overhead and you're surrounded by rock, earth and fallen trees. Again I started wishing that I had a wide angle lens (or even better, a fish eye lens!) to better capture the location.

Native flowers, near the Mammoth Cave exit.

Nothing like immersion in darkness to make you appreciate the vibrancy of colour! Shot this while climbing the stairs out of the cave. The native flora and fauna have a certain hardiness to them that bellies the often harsh and inhospitable land that they flourish in, and spring is the rare time where they blossom and bloom in a riot of colour.

Native flowers, near the Mammoth Cave exit.

My own personal misgivings aside, Mammoth Cave was quite the eye-opener for me. It's so different from the caves in Malaysia that I've visited. There were no bats and the cave floor was practically devoid of bat-droppings. The colours are also different, just a little more saturated than the caves I've visited previously (although it might just be an artefact of electric lighting).

It's also a bit of a victory for me because I made it through the cave with no lasting complaint, although Char might say otherwise! Char was talking about bringing me to the caves over in her neck of the woods when we go there at the end of the year. She's a little worried that I might not be able to cope, but I'm sure I'll manage. Plus if I can get a couple good shots in while I'm at it, why not?