Recently, I’ve been thinking. It’s a thing I do often because I’m left with myself for prolonged periods of time, and I still don’t own a smartphone. But specifically, I’ve been thinking that I’ve been having a great year. In past years, I’ve worried a lot about money and my future and I oftentimes, I didn’t let myself have the things I wanted because of it. But a coalescence of events this year broke through that for me. It had little to do with personal growth or introspection, it almost felt like I was forced into it. And it was good for me.
But what it meant was that I was having a great year. I started the year off with a trip with my brother and sister to LA, where we had great food and just a great time in general. I went to Big Wow and met Monika Lee, Jessica Nigri and Riddle. I went to see Kina Grannis, Dia Frampton and Lindsey Stirling in concert. I bought my computer this year and had a lot of good experiences on that. Later on this year, I’m going back to LA and then after that, to Japan. This has already been and continues to be a great year for me. One of the best ever. But that got me thinking, “what IS the best year of my life?” Multiple times, I’ve told people that my college years, collectively, were the best years of my life. If I had to choose one as the best, it would probably be the 2005-2006 school year. But I felt like that couldn’t really count as a proper “year.” So I decided I’d choose the year 2005.
The problem with that choice is that in the first half of 2005, I’d had some of the toughest times in my life. Like the title says, that Summer, I found out my mom had cancer. It was already at a pretty advanced stage. Not beyond help, but the prognosis wasn’t good. Also that Summer, my uncle died. My dad’s side of the family went on a camping trip without the five of us, and so a little watery mishap which could have been prevented by my brother, who was a lifeguard, ended in tragedy. Earlier that year, I had also experienced one of the most painful rejections I had ever been faced with. It was the one that took my hopes of ever finding someone who cared about me and then threw it into a tree shredder. It was so bad that I acted out, lost a lot of friends and burned bridges I probably shouldn’t have.
But the next school year, which was comprised of the second half of that calendar year, was great. I met a lot of people that year who meant a lot to me. A lot of whom still mean a lot to me. I got my first ever job that year. One I still can’t quite let go. I joined the Anime club. I discovered fencing. Our Sabre team won a second place trophy. It was the year when I played my first ever game of Dungeons and Dragons. If it hadn’t been for the second half of that year, I would have been a mess.
The lows of my 2005 were certainly among the lowest in my life. I had lost family members before, but not ones I knew well at all. Not ones that had ever given me more than a passing patronizing comment every once in a while. I wasn’t exactly close with my uncle, but I had known him. We had done stuff together. And he was gone. And that same year, I knew that I was going to lose my mother. Not one quick swipe of the reaper’s scythe, but the kind of slow, agonizing death that cancer provides. I was in a bad place going back to school that year. And I had very few friends left over from the previous school year. But ultimately, I think that might have been for the best. If I hadn’t been so lonely, so angry, so down about everything, I might not have been in a place to need or even want new friends. The people that I met after all that understood me more. I understood me more. And I think that helped a lot.
There haven’t been as many disappointments this year as I had during the first half of 2005, but I can’t imagine anything happening this year that could possibly top what relief and happiness I felt in the second half of 2005. By the end of this year, I may be singing a much different tune, but while I’m sure this is going to be a year to remember, I don’t think it will be better than the year I found out my mom had cancer. But I can only hope.
For most of my life, I’ve played games. The first “gaming” contraption I sort of co-owned with my brother was something called a “Game and Watch.” I say it was called that because when I heard of Game and Watches later on in my life, I discovered they were not the weird little handheld contraptions we had been exposed to when we were young, but instead watch-like devices that also played crude games.
I don’t remember how old we were exactly at the time, but on one of my brother’s early birthdays, we were given the gift of a Nintendo by our parents. I say “we” because although he technically owned the Nintendo(and every subsequent gaming console after) we both spent nearly identical amounts of time ‘playing’ these games. We went from the Nintendo to the SNES to the Playstation to the PS2 and then the PS3. My brother now owns a PS4, but I barely even played any games on the PS3. At a certain point, I switched to other games.
Primarily, I switched to Magic and a few PC games. I’m not a “real” PC gamer by any stretch. I didn’t grow up playing a lot of PC games. My exposure before I moved to the US in the year 2000 consisted of a weird little adventure game where you collected keys and made your way past blocks that killed you and a weekend where I slept over at my friend’s house and he showed me Command and Conquer, Dune, Leisure Suit Larry and some game where if you solved a puzzle you were treated to a crude picture of a nude woman. I never played the games which the “real” PC gamers grew up on and shaped their experience of PC gaming. Stuff like Ultima, the Fallout games, Baldur’s Gate, Planescape: Torment, Starcraft, Warcraft and Diablo. I didn’t even play World of Warcraft during it’s extreme boom.
It wasn’t until 2012 or so when I started playing League of Legends that I even found a PC game that I really liked. But ever since then, the siren call of Steam has tugged on my desire centers. There seemed to be a lot of games on the service that I really wanted to try. Bastion. Braid. But I could usually just tell myself that my laptop couldn’t run them, and then talk myself out of the whole thing. But there was always that niggling thing in the back of my brain which kept telling me to buy up parts for a computer. And I resisted that. Until a couple of months ago, that is.
The main and actual reason I decided to buy a nice PC is because of the allure of the kickstarter games that have been coming out. I had given to the Skullgirls Indiegogo campaign and got into their beta, but my laptop wasn’t able to run the game. I had heard a lot of great things about Divinity: Original Sin. And of course, I had a copy of Transistor on my laptop which would cause it to make sounds like it was a smoker who had just run a marathon. I wanted to play these games and more, and I couldn’t do it with my laptop. “Gaming” laptops are expensive. They run about $1500-2000. I didn’t want to spend that much money on something I’d probably just have to replace in 2-3 years. But a desktop was different. I could upgrade that. I could do so much more with a much smaller budget. And so I took the dive.
I then proceeded to get a lot of games. More than I could possibly make the time to play. I started with Divinity: Original Sin. But to be honest, I was a little disappointed. The character creation reminded me a little of Dungeons and Dragons, but it was pretty limited in comparison. But what dissuaded me somewhat from playing it was that it’s too open. There’s too much to do. I don’t want to collect 50 seashells in case they might be useful down the road. I don’t want a completely open world. I had never played open world RPGs on the console like the Fallout or Elder Scrolls games, either. Mostly, it was because FPS games give me nausea, but also because the idea of a completely open world with no direction is kind of daunting. I want to be guided. Too much freedom feels restrictive to me.
One of the other things I discovered was that I don’t like the art style of a lot of isometric RPGs. Divnity’s is fine, but when I look at gameplay of things like Path of Exile and Wasteland 2, I can’t stand it. Like I said, I didn’t grow up playing the old isometric RPGs of the past. But there’s something that just looks ugly and low-res about them. They remind me of an era when game companies didn’t quite know how to do 3D. It’s the same style that turned me off from Infinite Crisis. It’s the same style from games like Diablo 2 and that era of games. I’m very picky about visuals. I love Vanillaware games. I like a lot of the 16-bit era graphics. I didn’t particularly like the Playstation era 3D graphics, either, but the PC games from around that same era just look ugly and dated to me.
But it’s not all bad news. I just about sunk two entire weeks into X-Com. As in, I completely disappeared for weeks, thinking about nothing but X-Com. I always tell people that I’m not really into sci-fi, but paradoxically I like a lot of sci-fi things. I like Doctor Who. I like Firefly and Serenity. Futurama is one of my all-time favorite shows. I like Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 is one of my favorite games of all time. I’m really into the Jedi parts of Star Wars. And now I have to put X-Com on that list.
There’s also Transistor, which is amazing. I haven’t had the chance to play it a ton, and I am terminally bad at it, but it’s a great game. Bastion is pretty good as well, but I haven’t had the chance to play it much, either.
What I’m playing right now, though, is Shadowrun Returns. Unlike some of the other kickstarter-era isometric RPGs, it has adopted a very different art style. I feel like that style is much more functional. But what’s better than what little of the game I’ve played is that it’s able to be customized, configured and modded to make new scenarios and campaigns. That is the very essence of roleplay. User-generated content(which I hear is a big part of Neverwinter as well) makes the possibilities of play really interesting. I personally plan on exploring this aspect of the game further after I make my way through the main campaign, which I am currently enjoying.
It’s really hard to make time for everything I want to do, especially with all the other distractions out there. But I intend to try.
Let’s start at the top. He is monored and five mana. The previous two Sarkhans were red green and red black respectively. Neither was terribly good. Sarkhan Vol saw a lot of hype, mostly because I think players didn’t have a very good understanding of planeswalkers at the time. We still don’t have a great understanding of them. Sarkhan the Mad probably saw a little more play, but he came out during a time when the power level was super high, so I think he was a little overshadowed. He was also five mana, just like Sarkhan the Dragonspeaker. Five has traditionally been a tough level of cost for planeswalkers. You have to be pretty damn good to be successful at five mana. The most successful ones are probably Gideon Jura, Garruk Primal Hunter, Tamiyo and possibly now Nissa Revane. Each one of them has some sort of powerful protection ability and a huge impact on the game if you can manage to keep them alive. Does Sarkhan have what it takes to compete?
So let’s look at Sarkhan’s first ability. +1 to turn into a dragon. Specifically, a 4/4 dragon with flying, haste and indestructible(I guess because otherwise, a planeswalker turning into a creature would screw with damage math). For 5 mana, that seems to be pretty strong. It’s comparable to recent hits such as Stormbreath Dragon. And on your first turn, it takes you from 4 to 5 loyalty, putting you out of the range of burn such as Warleader’s Helix and Stoke the Flames. However, you do not have the option of hanging back to block with Sarkhan. Not that it was all that likely you’d be blocking with Stormbreath, either. The other thing you could compare it to is Koth. At 4 mana, Koth has the ability to turn a mountain into a 4/4 attacker. Not one that flies, like Sarkhan, and the mountain was susceptible to removal, but the ability to make an attacker on the turn it comes down is pretty powerful for an aggressive planeswalker. It does beg the question of whether you can be all that aggressive at 5 mana, though.
Sarkhan’s next ability is the version I see being used more than his first on the turn he comes down. -3 to deal 4 damage to a creature. If you paid 5 mana just to deal 4 damage to a creature, I think you’d be pretty upset. But it does leave him with a single loyalty point, so if you’re up against a green deck and they don’t have another creature, then I guess it’s possible that he could survive the next turn. Mostly, I think you’re going to -3 him and then basically gain some life from creatures attacking him instead of you. How good is this ability really, though? Well, you can compare him to Ajani Vengeant. For 4 mana, you get to -2 to Lightning Helix. That also leaves Ajani at 1 loyalty. And, it’s not restricted to creatures. Not such a favorable comparison so far. What about a more direct comparison to Chandra Nalaar? Both are 5-mana red planeswalkers. If Chandra wants to deal 4 damage, she can do that by -4ing, leaving her at 2 loyalty. And while Chandra Nalaar saw some play in the beginning, she didn’t see a tremendous amount of success. However, it is pretty clear that Chandra’s +1 ability is much weaker than Sarkhan’s.
So let’s talk about Sarkhan’s ultimate. First, how likely is it that you’ll be activating the ultimate in the first place? It takes 2 activations of his +1 ability to get it into range, meaning if you can protect him for 3 turns, then he can ultimate. However, his +1 ability doesn’t protect himself. More realistically, you’ll probably have to use his -3 ability at least once. That means you’ll probably need to have kept him alive for somewhere on the order of 6 turns for him to ultimate. That’s a lot of turns. But even if you do ultimate, does that win you the game? Well, +2 cards per turn is certainly a good way to go about trying to win the game. Discarding your hand at the end of the turn doesn’t seem all that appealing, so it’s likely it would only be good if your hand was already small and if you have a lot of mana to cast all the spells you should theoretically be drawing. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s the strongest ultimate of all time, but like a lot of the other ultimates on planeswalkers recently, it should get you pretty close.
So after all that discussion, the question still remains: is Sarkhan the Dragonspeaker good? Well, I really hope so. Both of his abilities are fairly solid, if imperfect. He can do a lot on his own, brings a little bit of protection for himself(kills Coursers) and can quickly end a game if left alone. At 5 mana, I’m not sure any aggressive strategies really want him(though red devotion could theoretically make a comeback), but he does seem fairly strong. The most likely spot for our dear Dragonspeaker is probably some kind of Jund Planeswalkers. I’ve been playing Jund Planeswalkers on MODO a bit recently, and while I’m not completely sold on it, I think it has potential. For the next couple of weeks, whenever I see Liliana or Vraska in my hand, I’m going to ask myself if a Sarkhan would be better in that spot. Ultimately, time will tell. We still need to see the rest of Khans. But I, for one, hope that he will be good enough. I’ve been wanting a planeswalker who turns into a dragon for a while now.
Also, in somewhat more exciting news than any planeswalker, Wizards is making fetch happen. The Onslaught fetches are back! They are being sold on preorder for like $20-25, but I think they’ll dip to at least about 10-15 and maybe even lower, if the Ravnica duals are any indication. Still, exciting news!