Games, life, whatever: a blog from Steve Lawson


I got in a dumb exchange on Facebook yesterday with a friend-of-a-friend Trump supporter. They wanted to know “what people think Trump has done” for us to hate Trump so much.

I don’t think that’s a very good-faith question, so I just suggested “read a newspaper.” Any front page of a newspaper website should make it clear why people hate Trump.

Let’s see how that advice works out with the front page of the Washington Post right now. Here are headlines that are live as I type this:

That’s one arbitrarily-chosen day of a front page of the newspaper. None of those are opinion pieces.

That’s why I hate Trump.

Upholster the dog for that new-car smell!

I had that sentence come to me while dreaming or half asleep a few weeks ago and wrote it on an index card. I forgot about it until I found it again today. I made a few sketches and then this “finished” drawing. I’m not 100% happy with the lettering, but will keep at it.

Booksmart, dir. Olivia Wilde

I mean, I didn’t hate it. But I’m probably not the target audience for a graduating-from-high-school movie since I have a son who is a high school senior right now.


But who is the audience for semi-raunchy high school comedies? I’d think the kids would find them “cringy” while people my age probably should find them a bit uncomfortable (“ooh, I hope those two teen characters have sex by the end of the movie!”).

The actresses are very good, everyone looks like they are having fun, it’s cool to have a movie like this from the girls’ perspective, it’s cool that one of those girls is a lesbian. It just didn’t really do it for me. I’d assume that Fast Times at Ridgemont High doesn’t really hold up either. I’ll stick with Dazed and Confused which I re-watched year or two ago and thought it did hold up pretty well.

Also this is the second movie I have seen in less than a week where a character vomits on another character for comedic effect. I’m not a fan.

The Prone Gunman, by Jean-Patrick Manchette

I don’t think of myself as much of a crime fiction fan, but I did read Manchette’s Three to Kill years ago. I have also been reading a lot of comics by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, and their work on Criminal is reminiscent of Manchette’s novels.

prone gunman

In The Prone Gunman we follow hitman/assassin Martin Terrier as he tries to get out of the business. Predictably his old associates have different ideas and there’s considerable mayhem and bloodshed as Terrier’s situation goes from bad to worse (and worse and worse).

There’s not a lot of emotional depth in the characters, though I did enjoy Terrier’s long lost love who runs away with him and then seems to lose interest in him immediately. The book also has what felt like a pretty abrupt tone shift near the end where I felt it went from mostly straightforward and matter-of-fact to increasingly ironic and absurd. That made me wonder if I’d missed some of that irony all along, perhaps hinted at by the title.

Stray Dog by Akira Kurosawa

I think of myself as a Kurosawa fan, but I’ve only really seen Seven Samurai three or four times and Rashomon probably once. When I was grabbing DVDs to check out for winter break, I picked up his Stray Dog. I didn’t know anything about it, but it said it was a detective story, so I thought it sounded good.

Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura–both also in Seven Samurai–star as a younger and older cop who go in search of the criminal in possession of Mifune’s character’s pistol. It was one of Kuroswa’s earlier movies and is set in contemporary post-war Tokyo, rather than being one of the period pieces he’s more known for.

It feels a lot like a European Noir film to me. The style is mostly realism, but there are some scenes and effects that remind me of Fritz Lang.

The detective story is good and engrossing, but the more interesting parts to me are how it depicts the chaotic and desperate street life of Tokyo in the years immediately following WWII. Mifune’s detective takes to the streets disguised as a down-and-out soldier (a fate that the character evidently only narrowly avoided) and there is a long sequence of documentary footage edited together with footage of Mifune.

The other scene that I expect to remember for a long time is when Mifune’s detective finally catches the perpetrator that he’s come to identify with as a dark mirror to his own character. He chases the criminal into a field or high grasses and wildflowers. Throughout the film it has been unbearably hot in Tokyo and the men sweat and pant and slog through the grass until Mifune finally catches his man and they both collapse and pant and wheeze lying next to each other. Then the criminal begins to cry and moan and wail uncontrollably. Extremely affecting.


Killing Commendatore, Haruki Murakami

I first encountered Haruki Murakami shortly after I started working at the Tattered Cover in 1993. His current book at the time was Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, and I found the title and the cover interesting, and I also was interested in reading Japanese novels. And at the time, I considered anything published by Vintage International to be at least potentially interesting.

I loved that book and then read everything I could by Murakami as it was published in English, even using interlibrary loan to get my hands on books that had then been published in English only in Japan. I think my favorite Murakami books along with Wonderland are Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and 1Q84.


So I’m a bit sad that I have to say Killing Commendatore was a disappointment for me. I felt like it checked a lot of Murakami boxes (people down a well/hole, mysterious young women, connections to the past, supernatural stuff happening to bland male protagonists) but didn’t really go anywhere new. I enjoyed the description of the title painting and the role its subjects played in the book, and I enjoyed the painter’s description of his work. But a lot of it felt repetitive, either in the book itself or over Murakami’s body of work. And I found the story of what happened to the girl unsatisfactory.

Which brings me to the creepiest part of the book–the young teenage girl’s concerns about her flat chest. Bringing that up once would have been a fine believable character moment, but the fact that she brings it up again and again and again really reminds you that she’s being written by a 70 year old man and it goes beyond repetitive and unimaginative to just kinda icky.

Back to the game table

I was just the right age to be part of the first mass success of Dungeons and Dragons. I got the Holmes Basic Set probably for my birthday or Christmas at the end of 1980 when I was ten years old.


D&D consumed my imagination for several years, and I think of myself as having played the game constantly as a kid. But when I really think back, I moved at the end of 1982 across the country. I remember talking about D&D with some of the kids at my new school (with the predictable “oh yeah, I have a level 50 magic user / paladin / assassin, we killed Thor and Zeus” kind of talk) and a non-starter of a game of Traveler with a friend. I think I still read Dragon magazine, but really by November of 1982 I’d stopped playing.

And when I was “playing,” what was I doing? I had two friends who were also D&D players. I think I was always the DM. I was the one who first got the rules and actually enjoyed reading them, so I was kind of the natural DM. I read rules, I made characters, I drew maps and mazes. I bought and read and prepared modules. But I feel like we may have only played a handful of times. I frequently re-visit the blog post, what game were we playing? Like the author, a lot of my “play” time didn’t use any of the D&D rules at all.


But I do remember giving T1: Village of Hommlet a real try. I don’t remember much about the sessions, and I doubt I had much of a handle on the different factions in the town — you buried a lot of that information, Gary! — but I think my friends and I were taken with the idea that D&D didn’t have to be a dungeon crawl but could involve interacting with NPCs in a more natural way.

About 10 years ago — after more than 25 years away from the game — I started playing D&D and other role playing games with a group of friends. A week ago, I started a game with my wife and another friend of mine, neither of whom had played since they were kids themselves, and my friends’s 14 year old daughter. As one of our first adventures, I’ll be taking them through the Village of Hommlet, which I’ll be updating to 5th edition.

Minor Decks

I enjoy taking Nick to Friday Night Magic with me, but sometimes it’s a challenge to come up with the right deck for an eight-year-old to play. The major criteria are:

  1. Colors he wants to play (this week);
  2. Mechanics that are fun and not too complicated or various;
  3. Not a complete pile of unrelated cards; and, most importantly,
  4. Not using the cards that I want to use this week. (Kidding, kidding. Kind of.)

I try to interest Nick in linear, straightforward strategies, like Red Deck Wins or White Weenie. But somehow he ends up playing black/blue token/mill decks and five-color superfriends and other wacky decks. Of course he doesn’t win many games that way, so that means we have to try and balance playing what he wants with having at least a shot at winning a few games. When I first went to an SCG IQ event and came home complaining about losing every match, Nick said, “how do you think I feel every week?” How sad is that? So I’m trying to make more competitive decks for him.

This week he wants to play Izzet, so we bought the monstrous (in more ways than one) U/R Theros intro deck, and then stepped on it pretty hard. Here’s what he’ll be bringing to FNM this week:

4x Frostburn Weird
2x Water Servant
2x Wall of Frost
2x Stoneshock Giant
2x Ill-Tempered Cyclops
1x Shipbreaker Kraken
2x Hypersonic Dragon
1x Curse of the Swine
1x Magma Jet
2x Lightning Strike
3x Mizzium Mortars
3x Cyclonic Rift
2x Claustrophobia
2x Shock
1x Steam Augury
2x Jace, Architect of Thought
1x Volcanic Geyser

plus land.

I don’t think that’s a great deck by any measure, but I hope that he’ll be able to clog up the board and remove opponents’ threats early on and then make some big monsters in the late game. That should at least be fun, and perhaps steal a few games from less-prepared opponents. Luckily our metagame often includes some other young guys with janky decks, so there’s a chance Nick will have at least a few close matches. Next week, I think I’m going to try and get him to play U/W fliers or something similar.

Naya Doubts

I have been going around and around with decks. I hope to play in another IQ in Denver at the end of the month, and at first I was very concerned about the M14 set rotating in. I worried that Doom Blade would be too much for Naya Zoo to handle, or that other archetypes would just crowd Naya out. Plenty of pros have written about Naya midrange decks, but they haven’t been putting up really great finishes at top tournaments (with a few exceptions, like GP Guadalajara).

I also didn’t do very well at last week’s FNM with the Naya deck. Going 3-2 at the IQ tournament seemed good, but the same record at our FNM just seems weak and disappointing. I was looking for a different deck.

I have almost all the cards I’d need to make The Aristocrats, Act II deck. All I need are a creature or two and a set of Isolated Chapel. But a lot of the power of that deck comes from understanding all the different interactions that you can create between the cards. It’s the opposite of the Naya beats deck, in that many of the individual cards are unremarkable, but the way they work together is very powerful.

Another option that I have been looking into would be a zombie deck of some kind, most likely B/W or Junk. Zombies are pretty straightforward to play and are getting some help in the M14 set, mostly in the form of Lifebane Zombie. It didn’t seem unreasonable to think about playing zombies in an upcoming tournament.

As kind of a halfway point, I re-created a deck similar to the B/G zombies deck I was playing at the start of Return to Ravnica. Here’s the list:

4x Gravecrawler
4x Diregraf Ghoul
4x Lotleth Troll
4x Bloodthrone Vampire
4x Blood Artist
4x Dreg Mangler
4x Geralf’s Messenger
2x Immortal Servitude
2x Ghoulcaller’s Chant
2x Putrefy
2x Abrupt Decay
2x Golgari Charm

plus Overgrown Tomb, Woodland Cemetery, and Swamps.

I played against Other Steve at the Yellow King tonight, him playing my Naya deck, me playing the zombies. Zombies won our test match, 2-1. So again, I’m not feeling great about the Naya deck’s chances.

But really, it’s the deck I have been playing in one variation or another for weeks and weeks. Switching now would be fine for FNM, but if I’m going to go up to Denver and try and do well in a larger tournament, I think I have to stick with what I know, and I know zoo.

Tournament Report: Star City Games IQ, 30 June 2013

Tournament report for the 30 June 2013 Star City Games Invitational Qualifier at J&J Pac & Ship in Fountain.

Record: 3-2

Place: 10th

Deck: Naya Zoo

4x Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4x Voice of Resurgence
4x Loxodon Smiter
4x Boros Reckoner
2x Ghor-Clan Rampager
4x Restoration Angel
4x Thundermaw Hellkite
3x Selesnya Charm
3x Mizzium Mortars
4x Domri Rade
4x Stomping Ground
3x Rootbound Crag
4x Temple Garden
4x Sunpetal Grove
4x Sacred Foundry
3x Clifftop Retreat
1x Forest
1x Gavony Township

I wasn’t sure what to expect at J&J Pac & Ship. People at the Yellow King had joked about it being a Mailboxes Etc. with one box of Magic cards for sale, or about playing Magic in a garage. In reality, it’s a place where the gamers think it’s kind of weird to have to work around a row of UHaul dollies, and the customers there for shipping services or picking up a rental truck must wonder what all these nerds are doing here, and just why is there a big Warhammer display in the middle of everything?

Here is the round-by-round breakdown.

Round 1 vs. Aristocrats.

My opponent had come down from Denver for the tournament, which I think is enough to indicate that he’s a pretty serious competitor. He mulliganed to five on our first game and still made a good close game of it.

I think it was game two where I played a Thundermaw Hellkite and passed the turn before saying “oh crap, haste! Uh, can I just take that…oh no, I guess not.” He won game two and I went on a bit of an insecure tilt, feeling a bit paralyzed to make decisions, then rushing into poorly thought-out moves. Even at the very end of the game I neglected to tick up my Domri Rade to see if I could get a blocker that would have at least bought another turn; I think I’d gotten confused between the +1 and -2 abilities.

So it wasn’t a stellar start. But I found out that the other three guys at the tournament from Yellow King had also lost. I tried to stiffen my resolve to play slower and tighter in the following rounds.

Lost 1-2. Overall 0-1.

Round 2 vs. Gruul Aggro

This round was an exaggerated reversal of the previous round, where my opponent seemed much less experienced than I was, and where he kept missing triggers. He was a pleasant guy who reminded me of a shy (not psycho) Crispin Glover. I reminded him several times that he gained life from Huntmaster triggers and so on. He got a bit color screwed the first game, and I pretty much just ran over him the second game.

Win 2-0. Overall 1-1.

Round 3 vs. Red Deck Wins

This opponent was reasonably close to my age–he had three kids with him, anyway. He was playing an RDW variant with Hellrider, Ash Zealot, Vexing Devil, and so on, but also with Archwing Dragon. I sided in Unflinching Courage and drove myself nuts in forgetting the lifelink trigger. I lost game two, partly because of those forgotten lifelines, but rallied in game three where the lifeline helped me seal the win. As Kibler’s videos showed, Unflinching Courage is just a beating against red–at least when I remember the lifelink.

Win 2-1. Overall 2-1.

Round 4 vs. Junk Reanimator

This round brought my most publicly embarrassing mistake, and in some ways, my most costly mistake. We shuffled up for game one, drew, played, and on my first or second draw step I saw that I had a Boros Charm in hand, meaning that I hadn’t de-sideboarded. I immediately called a judge and had to explain to him in front of all the top-table guys how I’d screwed up. The judge gave me a game loss (which is what I expected).  I’m happy that I managed to shed that tilting feeling while shuffling for game two, which I won (think my opponent might have been mana- or color screwed), Game three was closer, but I still pulled out the win to go 3-1 over four rounds.

My opponent was a nice guy who called me “sir” the entire time. I told him, “I hope you are calling me ‘sir’ because you are excessively polite, not because I am excessively old.”

Win 2-1 (one GL). Overall 3-1.

To my surprise, 3-1 was a good enough record to be able to play in to the top 8 rounds. My Yellow King friends had opposite records (if not worse), but they were genuinely happy for me and very encouraging. I very much appreciated that.

Round 5 vs. Bant Control.

The winner of our game would become the number one seed in the top 8 due to all the intentional draws that the top players had made. I felt the pressure, but also felt a bit relieved when my opponent (who I’d played once before at Yellow King at a prerelease) got mana screwed in game one and I got a free win.

Game two I got to see the horrible things his deck really did, like using Clone on his  Restoration Angel to re-blink a Thragtusk. His life total on my pad goes 18, 23, 21, 26, 29 while mine went 14, 8, x_x.

Game three was interesting. I sided in Unflinching Courage since I believed that I had to race him; I could handle the Angels flickering the Tusks, but not the Clones, or his life total would just get out of sight. His life had gone up and down a little, and so had mine,  but then I stuck a Thundermaw Hellkite onto an empty board. He was able to tap it down with Feeling of Dread. Next turn I had another Thundermaw in hand. As I start tapping, he said, laughing, “if you have another one of those, I’m going to throw my hand at you.” I cast it, and he ended up throwing his hand, as in playing out the cards: he had another Feeling of Dread to nullify my combat phase, and on his turn he played a Supreme Verdict, wiping my board and ruining my chance to beat him with the Boros Charm in my hand (five damage from one dragon + ten damage from a charmed double-striking dragon would have finished him, even after the two turns I’d lost due to Feeling of Dread).

So I’m not sure what the lesson of that round is. Here are some possibilities:

  • When an opponent acts like he’s hoping you won’t do something, there’s a good chance that he’s bluffing and trying to goad you into doing it.
  • Don’t overextend into wrath. A three-turn clock can be better than a one-turn clock, if the difference is keeping a backup plan in hand.
  • Sometimes you just have to try and race, and make your opponent beat you with counter spells and removal. (He showed me his hand with Plasm Capture, so even had I held back on the second dragon, I think he would have still beaten me handily.)

Lost 1-2. Overall 3-2 for 10th place out of 30-ish.

Of course I was sad to miss top eight, but my goal for the day had been to go .500 or better, and I did that. I think I beat the guys I was supposed to beat, while losing to the guys I would most likely lose to. Mostly it just whetted my appetite for more competitive play, and I think I’ll be heading to a bigger tournament in Denver at the end of July.