Sunday, April 17, 2016

Trading across the Planes: PucaTrade

I don't know if many of you could tell, but I am quite the casual Magic: the Gathering player. I've never really been invested enough in the game to money dump into buying cards for specific decks, or even for the "best deck," which I think is an overall stupid mentality to have but that's a post for another time. I started making the transition from "tabletop" gameplay to Standard at the beginning of Theros block. Around that time I had been promoted at my job and was able to create my own schedule. College gal with now free Friday nights? You betcha I started attending every Friday Night Magic event with my friends!

One of the many perks of having a playgroup numbering close to ten planeswalkers is the shared card pool. After a pre-release, we'd have nearly a playset+ of every common and uncommon in a set. Enough of the players in our group would place and receive packs that we never really worried about opening the rares we needed. My friends are also the ones that purchase specific cards for competitive decks. I'm the one that sits in the corner going through what we have and seeing what I think would be a fun way to win by. Yeah... I was definitely the black sheep in our playgroup. At least half of the members of the playgroup have been playing MTG for years. It's been their hobby for the majority of their lives. The card pool we had access to was quite extensive and branched into multiple formats. I was never really one to want for cards. 

Another perk of being a member of a mostly competitive playgroup is there is always a MTG game going on at someone's place. There was a period in my life where I drafted a tabletop cube every day, multiple times a day for close to a year.  Once we started attending FNM on a regular basis and decided to start the competitive grind, we were always playtesting. One of the first competitive decks I built was a mono-green devotion Hydra deck during Theros block. It was tier two at best but damn was it fun to play! Hydra Broodmaster be bae. (On that note, let's just say I'm beyond excited for the most recent MTGSOI hydra!) The deck I am most proud of and consider to be my brain-child is the RW Purphoros Token deck I made for Standard last year. Another deck that was tier two at best, but was still a lot of fun to see succeed at FNM and a predecessor of the Purphoros/Impact Tremors that would pop up when Dragons of Tarkir entered Standard. Let me tell you, what a time it felt to be alive. All of my hobbies were becoming dragon-themed... I AM THE MOTHER OF DRAGONS! (I don't have issues, I swear!)

This past October was... not kind. I found myself unemployed, swamped in new found debts that needed to be paid. At present, I'm still licking these wounds and can't really do much else besides work and slowly pay them off, along with saving for school and a car. I needed to escape FL else I would lose my mind. The person I'm currently seeing lives in NY, so when he brought up the idea of my moving to his area... I had no reason holding me back. I flew the coop! Here I am in a neck of the woods completely unfamiliar to me with him my only friend. I'm not complaining, but it wasn't until recently I came to realize how much I under-appreciated being a part of a large, active playgroup. As the weeks progress, I miss the northeast FL MTG scene and them. I'm used to having a schedule that doesn't always allow for me to attend FNM regularly. The past five months are the first in about two years where I have only been able to attend pre-release or release events. I play on MTGO frequently, but it isn't the same. MTGO is meant to complement my real life gameplay. I'm more of a tactile learner, so playing solely on MTGO doesn't do much of anything for me. Once I determine the kind of deck I'd like to play on paper is when I commit to building it online. No playgroup, limited access to cards, not being able to attend events... Let's just say the creative juices for deck building have been dry.

On Twitter I had seen people tweet about their trades from PucaTrade. Before moving, I never saw a reason to join. I had access to all the cards I'd ever need. I never really had much of a collection to begin with, so I was never one to trade. That all changed when the Fire Nation... I mean when I moved. The few times I've visited the local game store (LGS) near me, I've seen flyers upon flyers advertising their Commander/EDH scene and Modern. I've been wanting to branch off into other formats, now seems like as good of a time as ever! But how would I acquire the cards? I'm not familiar with the format nor am I able to money dump into decks I've no clue would be playable. Then I remembered PucaTrade. One of the trends I gathered from tweets is foils are traded frequently on PucaTrade. I have a bunch I've acquired over the years but haven't been able to trade away. Why not make an account and see if I have any luck getting rid of them? It worked! The boyfriend has a bunch of bulk sitting around his place; he's been a collector for a long time. Once I found out he didn't plan to do anything with it, I asked if I could trade away the excess. I was ecstatic when he said "yes." So the grind to trade "up" began.

I decided to join PucaTrade for two reasons. The first and primary reason being to acquire cards for new formats. The second being I love sending and receiving mail. I'm not one to just have cards sitting around doing a whole lot of nothin'. Our playgroup was well-known to give away cards to people who were just starting their experience with the game. Helping others and hoping to brighten up their day with cute cards? Sign me up! I've been told a few times that I'm "weird" for sending trades inside cute cards. I can't tell you how many times I've opened up my Puca messages with responses saying "thank you" and how the cards and short notes help cheer them up or make the trade feel more unique. Many people appreciate that little effort. Some tell me their deck ideas and experiences with formats. It's a nice "pen pal" like moment with someone else who shares my hobby.

The first Puca "challenge" I've given myself is to create and obtain all the cards for a Commander/EDH deck via PucaTrade. As of this morning, I am still only one card away from having all the cards I had posted on my "Wants" list. There are still a couple of slots open in the 99 for the deck, but I'll be hammering out those details soon. I want to playtest with the deck a bit to see if the brew I made even works. Knowing nothing about Commander/EDH. I just want to build a fun Elemental tribal deck! I have posted a few other cards for Standard. When Oath of the Gatewatch was released, I added a few Prowess deck staples onto my "Wants" list. I was surprised to learn that most of the cards I wanted were going to be sent from Singapore. That's right. You read that correctly. Singapore. As in the country in southeast Asia. My Stormchaser Mages are more traveled than I am. I already love the card, I don't need more reasons to show them off. I'll be telling everyone I can about them when they get played.

Overall, I've had a very positive experience with PucaTrade. The system is fairly easy to set up. I don't have too many rares or mythics to worry about, most of the collection I have up for trade are uncommons and bulk rares. I tend to upkeep and update often, I'm the weirdo that likes organizing cards, remember. I also frequently check the "send a card" tab. At the time of this post I've sent 326 cards with a total value of 22,345 PucaPoints (roughly $223). The grind has been slowly paying off! Since I'm working most of the time, I'm in no real rush to complete decks. The next time I go draft, I now have a way to trade away some of the cards I have in excess or plan on not playing. I don't have to hustle cards. I'm a sucker for stories and love the sense of community trading seems to have for me now. Most of my cards came with a little bit of a story or words of encouragement. A countless number of people are now going to be credited for my wins/losses.

The only complaint I have so far with PucaTrade is with trades going poorly. This hasn't happened often, but the few times it has were quite frustrating. The first issue I ever experienced involved multiple cards being sent to me and a Mulldrifter not being in near-mint condition, which all trades are supposed to be. I had wanted to send the card back, but the trader convinced me to keep it and only spend half of the points it is worth. Afterall, I don't plan on trading the card away, I just want to build a deck. A lot of the trading on the site requires both sender and receiver to be active. Trades aren't completed until the receiver hits "complete." There have been quite a few times where cards have been in limbo and I'm unsure if they were received. One user didn't hit "complete" for well over a month. The cards were just a playset of Halimar Tidecaller, but I knew I sent them. Thankfully, I had tried contacting the receiver multiple times through the trade-specific chat. I eventually filed a case and had the administrators finalize the trade. I've had a decent experience with the administrators. There have been a few times where I wish I had received feedback sooner than later, but the site is still growing. I've had too many positive experiences to worry much about the not so great ones. All I can say is that if there are issues, don't expect them to get done in the fastest way possible. I'm not sure if using PucaTrade is the fastest way to gather cards, but it definitely is enjoyable. The last bit of advice I have is to stay on top of your trade binder! I can't tell you how many times people have been the victims of cards spiking. Beware! Be vigilant!

I'll close with an example of my favorite moment(s). I love the MTG community and the Twitch stream community we've built. Finding new ways to interact with all of you is always a pleasure. I've been able to send cards to at least five viewers! Each time without realizing it! I couldn't believe it when someone asked me to send them signed sleeves because he and his sister are a fan of the stream. Whenever I check the "Send a Card" tab, I always look for familiar names and handles. If I can send you something, I will!

If you'd like to trade with me or check out my profile, here you go!
If you'd like to learn more about how PucaTrade works, here are some YouTube videos by Tolarian Community Collage and The Mana Source.

Happy trading everyone!

Friday, January 29, 2016

Geek Knitting: U Mana Pattern

Hello everyone!

     You've seen me tweet about it and talk about it on stream, my past time outside of gaming is knitting. This year I'm going to be trying to knit as often as I can, as creatively as I can. There's nothing quite as motivational as wanting to challenge oneself creatively. Most of the nerd-ier things I'll be making will be for the stream, whether it be as giveaway prizes or thank you gifts.

     Because of my rather lacking knitting skills, most of the items I can make are based on the different stitches utilizing combinations of the knit and purl stitch. These combinations allow for many different textual differences. What I learned when making the "thank you" hats for the Extra Life donors in late December/early January is the method used to knit influences how the various stitch combinations appear. This must sound weird - it did to me as well. For those of you who do not knit, there are different methods called "flat" and "circular." This pertains to the kinds of needles used to make a project. "Flat" is what most people imagine when thinking of knitting. It utilizes two separate needles while the person makes interlocking loops and transfers them to the opposite needle. "Circular," also called "in the round," is when a person uses needles that are connected to one another. As you knit you transfer stitches to the opposite needle, but these needles are connected so it is essentially knitting in a loop. The type of stitch I'm best at knitting is the knit stitch, which isn't the nice smooth pattern most people think of: stockinette. Stockinette, when flat knitting, is done by alternating knit and purl rows/stitches. The expression "knit the knits and purl the purls" comes from this. However, when "knitting in the round," just knitting the knit stitch creates the same pattern. I can make beautiful things with the stitch I know how to do best. Let's just say I'm in love with my circular needles. Expect to see a lot of beanies in the stream's future.

Knit jargon aside...

     Do you all notice anything in that there picture? No? Well let me tell you! The beanie pictured has a blue mana symbol from Magic: the Gathering. Can't distinguish it? That's okay - the pattern is based on textural differences. Here's an imgur album with more pictures of the beanie. This is my first attempt at creating a pattern myself. Boy, oh boy, it is a headache!

Create a Pattern? Huh?

I used this image to "pixelize" the blue mana symbol, thank you Google search. Now, as you can see, the image is smooth and not broken up into "pixels." I started researching online different sites and programs that would "pixelize" the symbol for me. Creating things with perler beads is becoming ever more popular, there has to be some way to do it. I eventually found the application "Bead Forge." It is predominantly for creating perler bead designs, definitely fulfilling my purposes. I uploaded the image into the app, set up my parameters as being 40x40, and then out popped this.

Well that's a start, but it is't exactly a pattern. Being a visual learner, I decided to grid out the pattern I would be using to create the beanie. I don't have large enough graph paper to fit it on one page, so I decided to reformat a Google Spreadsheet.

     The biggest hurdle I had in creating the pattern is flipping the original image so when the beanie is completed, the "right" side of the project has the symbol facing the way it's supposed to be. Even looking at this aid for the pattern, it took some time to get used to it since I read from left to right but knit from right to left, if that makes any sense to you. When I knit a project in the round, I'm starting from the bottom and working my way up going from right to left, essentially spiraling upward clockwise. The next hurdle I had to overcome was figuring out if I needed to start my row decreases before or after the pattern is complete. In the final product, I decided to complete the pattern instead of figuring out how to accommodate the changes. That is beyond my knitting level. In the picture above the blacked out squares represented the row decreases. Ignore those...

After I finished the beanie, I realized a few changes for next time. I prefer the mana symbol to face the wrong side correctly. I feel it is more distinguishable this way. The whole point of my creating a textural pattern design is for subtle nerdom, so either way the symbol faces is fine.

The Pattern

Using US size 8 circular needles...

Cast on 84 stitches


Row 1: *knit 3, purl 3* repeat until end of row.
Repeat row 1 for another 15 rows
(Total of 16 rows of ribbing, roughly 2.5 inches)

Main Body

Row 1: Knit
Repeat for another 4 rows, totaling 5 rows of just knit stitch

Row 6: *knit 9, purl 9, knit 10* repeat to end of row
Row 7: *knit 7, purl 13, knit 8* repeat to end of row
Row 8: *knit 6, purl 15, knit 7* repeat to end of row
Row 9: *knit 5, purl 17, knit 6* repeat to end of row
Row 10: *knit 4, purl 19, knit 5* repeat to end of row
Row 11: repeat row 10
Row 12: *knit 3, purl 21, knit 4* repeat to end of row
Row 13: repeat row 12
Row 14: repeat row 12
Row 15: *knit 2, purl 4, knit 2, purl 17, knit3* repeat to end of row
Row 16: *knit 2, purl 4, knit 4, purl 16, knit 3* repeat to end of row
Row 17: repeat row 16
Row 18: repeat row 16
Row 20: *knit 3, purl 2, knit 3, purl 17, knit 3* repeat to end of row
Row 21: *knit 3, purl 3, knit 2, purl 17, knit 3* repeat to end of row
Row 22: *knit 3, purl 3, knit 1, purl 17, knit 4* repeat to end of row
Row 23: *knit 4, purl 20, knit 4* repeat to end of row
Row 24: *knit 5, purl 19, knit 4* repeat to end of row
Row 25: repeat row 24
Row 26: *knit 6, purl 17, knit 5*  repeat to end of row
Row 27: *knit 7, purl 16, knit 5* repeat to end of row
Row 28: *knit 8, purl 14, knit 6* repeat to end of row
Row 29: *knit 8, purl 13, knit 7* repeat to end of row
Row 30: *knit 9, purl 12, knit 7* repeat to end of row
Row 31: *knit 9, purl 11, knit 8* repeat to end of row
Row 32: *knit 10, purl 10, knit 8* repeat to end of row
Row 33: *knit 10, purl 9, knit 9* repeat to end of row
Row 34: *knit 11, purl 7, knit 10* repeat to end of row
Row 35: *knit 11, purl 6, knit 11* repeat to end of row
Row 36: repeat row 35
Row 37: *knit 11, purl 5, knit 12* repeat to end of row
Row 38: *knit 11, purl 4, knit 13* repeat to end of row
Row 39: *knit 11, purl 3, knit 14* repeat to end of row
Row 40: *knit 11, purl 2, knit 15* repeat to end of row
Row 41: *knit 11, purl 1, knit 16* repeat to end of row
Row 42: *knit 10, purl 1, knit 17*  repeat to end of row


Row 1: *knit 19, k2tog* repeat to end of row
Row 2: knit
Row 3: *knit 8, k2tog*  repeat to end of row
Row 4: knit
Row 5: *knit 7, k2tog* repeat to end of row
Row 6: knit
Row 7: *knit 6, k2tog* repeat to end of row
Row 8: knit
Row 9: *knit 5, k2tog* repeat to end of row 
Row 10: knit
Row 11: *knit 4, k2tog* repeat to end of row 
Row 12: knit
Row 13: *knit 3, k2tog* repeat to end of row 
Row 14: knit
Row 15: *knit 2, k2tog* repeat to end of row
Row 16: knit
Row 17: *knit 1, k2tog* repeat to end of row 
Row 18: knit

Finish the hat

If anyone feels I do not decreases properly, please let me know. I'm mostly self taught, so any advice is always appreciated.

I decided on the blue mana symbol as the first to test since it is the simplest. I enjoy the dimensions the symbol came out as since I essentially had one stitch represent a pixel. I'm looking forward to making a beanie of each mana symbol and then hopefully guilds. After completing a test run I plan on trying to make the beanies with a black base and then the representative mana color for the symbol. Definitely more geek knitting to look forward to. 

Happy knitting everyone!

Friday, January 15, 2016

The First Time...

Date: April 26, 2014
Event: Journey into Nyx Pre-Release
Location: Jackvonsille Game Center

     Rather than finding myself dressed in tattered clothing with pumpkin and mice at my feet, at midnight I found myself on an unknown plane surrounded by strangers speaking in tongues. I had been to Magic the Gathering events before; Ulric (one of my best friends) and I used to attend our small, local game store's Friday Night Magic events. When I say small... I mean SMALL! Looking back at my DCI history, we had attended the Born of the Gods pre-release...

... 7th out of a nine player event is quite disheartening when you only see the numbers. I wasn't the best or most competitive, but I loved that store. It was typical for there only to be 6 - 10 planeswalkers slinging spells. Ulric and I started going there earlier in 2013 for the occasional draft when we wanted to shake things up. Prior, I only had experience with a tabletop cube he and our buddy Matt had made from their extensive collection. Tabletop Magic with our small group of friends was the only thing I knew, especially since I am the baby planeswalker. I started playing in 2013. Matt and Ulric, on the other hand, have been playing for years. Matt is from Ossining, NY. On multiple occasions Matt's mentioned the competitive play group he had been a part of. Ulric has been playing since the start; we used to joke he's been playing Magic for almost as long as I have been alive! 

     As we continued to pop into Urban Anthropology, our trio grew to include Virgil, his brother Tristan, and Alex. The more frequently we played in sanctioned events, the more the guys wanted to up their competitive edge, the damn Spikes. Our motley bunch lived closer to Saint Augustine, where the Magic scene was and continues to be dying. Jacksonville, the metropolis that it is, has multiple game stores with better prize support and competition. We had heard through the grapevine that the Jacksonville Game Center offered a deal on FNM/Pre-release: do both and the next 10 FNM are free! Not only that but our entry fee includes pizza, soda, and product! Feed me. Please. Will work for food. (not joking - I have!) With the need for -at least in my case- food, competition, and prizes, we agreed to start carpooling to Jax Game Center events. 
So there I was. Scared. Nervous. New. Still oblivious to the competitive Magic community. I went from maybe 10 people competing to BAM! SIXTY!

Let's play a game... Where's EM?

*hyperventilating intensifies*

     Let's take a moment for some real talk, just so you can better understand the emotional, anxious wreck I had been for my first "large" competitive Magic event of a budding career. I had just turned 22. Instead of being self-confident with a sense of control and purpose in life, I was depressed, lost. discouraged.I had just withdrawn from college due to my IBS and depression. Aside from my Magic peeps, which I viewed more as Ulric's friends than mine, I was a recluse. In the past I have been taken advantage of, resulting in my propensity to avoid men and large, social gatherings. Don't get me wrong - I'm a social butterfly at heart, but I was still scared of people and the possibility of being hurt. Lo and behold I found myself in a "small" space with over 60 strangers. Mostly men. I was terrified of Ulric not being at my side. I didn't want to make friends or turn someone's flirtations into heartbreak. I just wanted to open packs, build a deck, and kick planeswalker ass!

Oh look... I DID!

     Now, remember I had only ever been to small events - never a midnight pre-release. I was only expecting a couple of rounds and heading home by 3am... Boy oh boy did I have a rude awakening! We were there until about 10am! Each round took a little over an hour. The group I had carpooled with had members that got into top 8... which at Jax Game Center it's common for those players to "play it out." I think around 4am I was ready to leave. The only thing that kept me going was my winning. The adrenaline! The exhilaration! The stupefied looks I'd get when I beat a stranger who thought I was a scrub! 

     Felt good. Real good. So my addiction to cardboard crack began. Since then our group has gone to every midnight pre-release. The small group that would carpool up from Saint Augustine became a "team." We called ourselves the "Auggie Bombers" since we'd show up and win. DROP THAT BOMB OHHHHHHHHHHH! Slowly but surely I came to know and love the other regulars. The Spikes I used to be afraid of? I'd approach them and ask for advice on home brews. Joke with everyone about Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire. Comics. All things nerd. I started to feel part of a community again. No matter what was troubling me in the real world, I could always turn to Magic.

     This weekend will be the first where I'm not with my fellow Auggie Bombers. Once again, I'll, find myself on a new plane having to interact with strangers. I won't be scared of them or in my abilities. I'll be reading up on strategy the night before to see if once again I can just show up and wreck decks. *cracks knuckles* I won't be hiding in the corner. The internet is a beautiful thing. Before I even arrive I know there'll be familiar faces. Once again, I will feel a part of a community.