5e Gimmick Build – 1 – Best offense is a good defense

Over the course of the last year or so, my interest in Wizard of the Coast’s other major property, Dungeons and Dragons, has returned. The last edition I played was 3.5. One of the things I enjoyed the most out of 3.5 was how much I could build and optimize. There was a lot of material to work with, and therefore more builds than I could even come up with myself. 5th Edition, or 5e, does not have this same luxury. It is much more highly limited in the variety of builds. Truly optimized builds are somewhat easy and slightly boring. Sharpshooters do, in fact, do the most damage. What I’m more interested in is something less optimized, but maybe more specialized.

In this series, I’ll explore some of these specialized builds. These are not necessarily going to be the most effective builds, but builds that I find to be the most interesting. In Magic, they have what are called player psychographics. Timmy likes big effects. Spike likes to win at all costs. Johnny likes to do cool things. I’m kind of a Johnny. As much as I can, I want to do things in a way that is unexpected. This first build does that in spades.

The build I am highlighting today is a very special and gimmicky one, just the way I like it. Essentially, it’s about getting hit and dealing damage back that way. It’s a way of kind of tanking while still being a nuisance, damage-wise. The build revolves around casting Armor of Agathys and standing on the front lines. When you are hit, you cast things like Hellish Rebuke back at the enemy. Let me explain…

First, the stat array:

STR 13(5 points)

DEX 8 (0 points)

CON 13 (5 points)

INT 13 (5 points)

WIS 14 (7 points)

CHA 13(5 points)

Now, just looking at it, I know what you’re probably thinking. “God, what an abomination of a stat array. Is the gimmick just that this build sucks?” And the answer is, thankfully, no. I wasn’t sure what race I should go with until I started thinking about how Armor of Agathys worked. It deals damage to someone making a melee attack, not necessarily someone dealing damage. After thinking about it some more, I came upon the Goliath race from the Elemental Evil Player’s Guide. That was perfect. Reducing incoming damage(in this case, particularly melee attack damage) would cause the temporary hit points to last longer. So with that in mind, I decided to go with Goliath as my race for this build.

Stat Array Revised:

STR 15


CON 14

INT 13

WIS 14

CHA 13

I’m sure you’re still wondering why this stat array still looks awful. The reason is that I had to split the stats up in a different way to get the stats I needed for this build. 15 strength is in order to wear heavy armor. Though the build revolves around getting hit, the temporary hit points are limited and in order to not die immediately, some amount of armor is needed. There is an argument that could be made for medium armor, but since Goliath happens to give you +2 to strength anyway, you might as well take advantage of it and get heavy armor. Why 13 to INT and CHA? This is a pretty heavy multiclass build. In 5e, the requirements to take a class are at least 13 in their main stat.

This build takes 1 level in Warlock, purely for access to Armor of Agathys and Hellish Rebuke. Now, there are other ways to get these, but in particular for Armor of Agathys, there is no better way than just taking a level of Warlock. This build also takes 2 levels of Wizard. This is done for two reasons. First and most important, for the Abjuration school ability Arcane Ward. This ability creates a ward which absorbs damage, but is separate from temporary hit points. So if an incoming attack would do, say, 7 damage, and you have both a level 1 Armor of Agathys and a full Arcane Ward up, you would take only 2 temporary hit points worth of damage, the Armor of Agathys would stay up, and they would take 5 cold damage for their troubles. Using Stone’s Endurance to prevent some of that damage would even keep the Armor and Ward up for longer. Additionally, this Ward can be bolstered by casting Shield, Absorb Elements or even Armor of Agathys itself. The second reason to go Wizard is access to unique and useful Wizard spells. Primarily, Shield and Absorb Elements. These would be used differently in this build as opposed to others. Its primary use would not be to avoid damage entirely, but more to avoid the sorts of damage that would break your Armor without dealing damage back. That means area of effect spells, ranged attacks and the like. You can also cast Blade Ward if you have both Armor of Agathys and Spirit Guardians up already to lower the amount of damage you take from some of these attacks. Between that and Absorb Elements, you should essentially have resistance to all types of damage.

This build’s primary class would be Cleric. Spiritual Weapon is a decent tool which does not require concentration while still allowing you to do the rest of what your build wants to do. And going Tempest Cleric not only gives you a free-ish way to return damage in Wrath of the Storm, but also heavy armor proficiency. As a full caster the spell levels would stack with your Wizard spell levels, but eventually it would also give you access to Spirit Guardians, the ultimate aggro generator. And with that, you have your build.

Required level: 8

Classes: Warlock 1, Wizard 2, Cleric 5

AC 20 (Plate & shield)

HP 57

STR 15 DEX 8 CON 14 INT 13 WIS 14 CHA 13

Relevant Abilities

Dark One’s Own Blessing (2 max)

Arcane Ward (5 max)

Wrath of the Storm (2/day)

Destructive Wrath (1/SR)

Feat: Warcaster

Relevant Spells (4+1*+1*/3/3/1)

Cantrips – Eldritch Blast, Blade Ward, Frostbite, Sacred Flame, Resistance, Guidance

1st level – Armor of Agathys, Hellish Rebuke, Find Familiar, Shield, Absorb Elements, Magic Missile, Cure Wounds, Healing Word

2nd level – Spiritual Weapon, Aid, Warding Bond

3rd level – Spirit Guardians, Mass Healing Word

This build is pretty inelegant and certainly not optimized for anything but exactly what it’s doing. There are alternate builds possible to get Spirit Guardians and Armor of Agathys on a Bard, but then you’d be missing out on Hellish Rebuke and Wrath of the Storm. There is also no way of getting Stone’s Endurance on any caster with 16 in a primary casting stat to start. It’s not what I’d call good, but I’m not looking for good, I’m looking for a gimmick.

Don’t hit me or you’re dead.

Fate Reforged Standard

I’ve been playing Magic for a while, and since one of the first stores I frequented was one with really competitive players, I played what the other players at the store played, which were mostly the competitive formats. Things like Standard, Block and Extended when those were real formats. More recently, even though I don’t go to stores much anymore, I’ve even played Modern. Over the years, I’ve played a lot of Standard formats. Some I’ve liked more than others. This current Standard is the one I’ve liked most in a very long time.

Khans Standard was actually a pretty good format. In the actual competitive metagame, there have been a lot of diverse decks. Sure, toward the end, Abzan and Sultai sort of ruled the roost, but along the way, there were a lot of very solid decks that were played at the competitive level. At the start of the format, there were Jeskai and RW decks. Then there were UB control decks, big-mana green decks and various heroic decks. Through all of that, I played Naya Planeswalkers on MODO. Mainly, Chandra, Xenagos, Sarkhan, Nissa and Elspeth. Also a couple of miser’s Ajanis. And even a Chain Veil. I was a bit worried the deck wouldn’t work after Fate Reforged came out, but with a few adjustments, I was able to have a bunch of success with it.

Naya Planeswalkers
//25 Land
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Temple of Abandon
3 Temple of Plenty
3 Battlefield Forge
3 Forest
2 Mountain
2 Plains
//14 Planeswalkers
3 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
3 Xenagos, the Reveler
2 Sarkhan Dragonspeaker
2 Nissa, Worldwaker
2 Chandra Pyromaster
1 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
1 Ajani Steadfast
//14 Creatures
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Elvish Mystic
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
2 Whisperwood Elemental
//6 Instants
3 Lightning Strike
3 Valorous Stance
//1 Enchantment
1 Outpost Siege

I feel like the main reason to play this deck is the relative high power level of planeswalkers in a vacuum. In that same way, Rabblemaster and Whisperwood are actually very similar to planeswalkers. A lot of the time, an unanswered Rabblemaster can win the game by itself. I even have Valorous Stances to protect it. But really, any of the threats can end the game on its own if unanswered. I have a great deal of threat diversity, as well. I have the ability to rebuild quickly after a wrath effect. I tried Ugin in the deck before, but honestly, it never really fit into any of the situations I was having trouble with. I used to have Courser and not Mystic, but we really want to get to 4 or 5 mana as quickly as possible. Also, the ability to go Rabblemaster on turn 2 is valuable enough that I wouldn’t want to give it up.

There are a few choices I’d like to talk about, which are the Lightning Strikes, Valorous Stances and Ajanis. In earlier versions, I had more Valorous Stances and no Lightning Strikes. However, I was losing quite a bit to the heroic decks that are popular on MODO, so I switched things around a bit. I have more concessions to the aggro decks in the sideboard as well. The Ajanis seem a bit random, but both of them are very good when they are good and not all that spectacular in the matchups they aren’t great in. The lifegain and Crusade abilities of Steadfast are both great situationally and Mentor of Heroes’ tutor ability can be pretty insane in the right situation. Ultimately, however, these are just there because I want them in there, not necessarily because this is the best configuration.

In fact, I wouldn’t say that this is likely the best configuration at all. I’m playing the deck primarily because I have an affinity for planeswalkers. I think a lot of people playing against planeswalkers tend to make more mistakes. And that helps me out quite a bit, since I’m prone to making mistakes as well. For now, I just want to put this out there in the world. It’s a deck that I’ve been playing for a while and like quite a bit. I’ve been having a pretty good amount of success with it on MODO(I rarely ever lost during Khans standard, actually) and I just don’t want to keep it to myself. So, world, ready or not, here’s FRF Naya Planeswalkers.

Watching people make music

Something interesting started last year. I started watching a series of movies and shows that involve people making music. It started with an anime called Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso(April is Your Lie), which is about a young man who is a pianist. In that anime, which is currently still running, he loses his mother, who happens to be his piano teacher and the most important person in his life. In losing his mother, he loses the piano, which happens to be another of his closest companion. They make up some excuse about him not being able to hear the notes he’s playing on the piano, but really, it’s probably closer to him not being able to be near the piano since it brings up so many bad memories of his other great loss. The two are so closely intertwined in his mind and his memories that losing one made him almost lose the other.

Now, I’m not a musician myself. I took classes for piano and guitar when I was a kid, as seems to be required by law when you have Asian parents. I never really paid any attention in those classes, since I took them when I was a kid. I say this because I don’t exactly have the same experience as Arima, the main character of Shigatsu. It wasn’t that I related to his experience. I was just fascinated with a view into what goes into making music that way.

Also last year, I had the chance to go see Whiplash, a movie about obsession and music. In it, a young man played by Miles Teller becomes obsessed with becoming the drummer in the studio band, led by JK Simmons. It’s a fascinating look into the lives of those musicians who strive to make the music that I think some of us take for granted. I know I did. I had no idea the kinds of sacrifices these folk make to become as good as they are. Interestingly, since like a lot of art, music is composed of technical ability as well as the intangible bit of artistry, there is a dichotomy between that technical ability and the ability to make truly great music. Whiplash is about jazz music, and there is a sort of inherently spontaneous quality to jazz which is what makes it compelling. However, in the movie, Miles Teller’s character becomes obsessed with technical perfection. As he is a drummer, it is perfect timing that he really needs. This struggle between spontaneity and technical perfection is an interesting one.

This is a theme also comes up in Shigatsu. The main character, Arima, was a piano prodigy long before the story starts. He slavishly followed the original arrangement and played perfectly, being called a human metronome. However, after he loses his taste for the piano, this is no longer the case. When he gets dragged back into the world of music, his play changes. He is no longer perfect, and is then considered to be better for it.

I’ve seen the stories of musicians more recently. It’s showed up in a few things that I’ve seen, but the last one I’ll mention is Amazon’s original series, Mozart in the Jungle. Mozart in the Jungle is about a conductor, an oboist and the New York Orchestra. It is a good show on many levels, but the great revelation I got from the show is the difficult path that is faced by these musicians. Classical music, which requires a great deal of technical ability(probably moreso than most other forms of music) is somewhat of a dying art. And the path seems long and the rewards don’t seem worth it. What kind of obsessed maniac would choose a life like that? Just judging based on what little I’ve seen recently about the path these folk face, I personally would never choose a life like that. And yet, I, like everyone else, wish that I could create such beautiful art. I feel jealous, even though I would never want that life. It’s a life of suffering and beauty. Of rejection and thrilling acceptance. Of sacrifice and practice, but of great and beautiful art. I wouldn’t choose it for myself, but I am now very grateful that there are those who do choose it.


“Live like there’s no tomorrow” isn’t very good advice unless there is no tomorrow. That’s the fundamental problem with the philosophy: there IS a tomorrow. Actions have consequences. That last bit is the most important of all.

The first time I woke up today, a lot had changed. I was in a place I had known, but was unfamiliar with. I woke up with memories of what I thought was a dream, but felt far more real than a dream ever could. With more detail than I believed I could just dream up. Dreams of a world where I lived a very different life. And yet, just as completely, I dreamed of the life I had before I woke up. I remembered them both equally.

The first time I woke up today, everything was wrong. Not only was I not working with Ed on our project, I hadn’t seen him in years. When I looked him up, he had become a lawyer. And though I still remembered her, I had never met Cat. I was living in the house I had grown up in in the States and was working in a very different sort of field than in the other life I had remembered. But I did have memories of the life I woke up in. I had the memories of losing touch with Ed, moving back home to my parents’ house, all of it. So I decided that the other life had just been a dream and that I would forget about it in a day. But the next time I woke up today, I hadn’t forgotten.

Instead, what I had been greeted with was the same day. For reference, today is February the first of 2015. The day of the superbowl. The day of the finals of Grand Prix San Jose. Week 2 of the LCS. But for me, it’s the last day of eternity. The second time I woke up today, things had changed again. Little details here and there. I could remember them. If you know me, that’s probably pretty surprising. I don’t remember a lot of details. But I could remember a lot more the second time I woke up today. More than I had ever remembered before. Three lives, the details of which had changed over the course of years. More than I really wanted or even needed to remember. The details clogged up space in my brain. The second time I woke up today, I lived the same day again.

The next few times, more details changed. I kept wondering how far it went. Different lives, different jobs. Sometimes, my parents were still alive. I had lives where I had met Cat and lost her. Where Ed and I were still friends. Every time I wake up, I hope for a new day, but inevitably I wake up on February the first of 2015. But more and more they keep blending together. New memories and old. And from what I can tell, which admittedly isn’t much, they keep trending toward something. I’m not sure what, but the more times I wake up, the more lives I remember living, the more they start to feel the same. Not just the blending. The details I still remember of my life before my life was just February the first, 2015, are very different than even the first time I woke up today.

I’ve been wondering what happened to me. I’ve keep wondering if it’s a curse or a dream or maybe a consequence of something I no longer remember doing. It’s kind of supernatural thinking to think that way, but I honestly have no explanation. All I know is that I want to fight back, but I don’t know how. I don’t want to keep living this day over and over. Everything I’ve tried has been erased by the next sunrise. I need a way to end it. And even though I know that by my own tomorrow this post will disappear, I’m going to do it anyway. I would just like another tomorrow.

Table for one

I go out alone a lot. And this probably won’t be news to you, but when I do go out alone, I’m often looked down upon. For some reason, there’s a stigma against going out and doing things for fun on your own. You’re the weird guy who can’t get other people to do something with you. And maybe there’s some truth to that. But as I said earlier, I go out alone a lot. I go see movies by myself. I’ve never understood the need to have an entourage with you to see a movie, and I guess that makes me weird. But I do plenty of things on my own. When I’m at home, I watch movies on my own. I play games mostly alone. I sit with my computer and experience a lot of stories all on my own. I feel like it’s a misconception that being alone is lonely. I’ve been lonely, certainly. But it’s happened just as often in the middle of a crowd as it is sitting alone at home.

There are, of course, advantages to being alone. Most notably, for me, is that getting a table at a nice restaurant is much easier to do by yourself. Making space at a bar or a small table is something a host is easily able to do. It’s not the case for bigger groups. Even a pair of seats can be difficult to get. Any place with a line and a waiting list will make you wait a half an hour to an hour with two or more people in your party. But for me, alone, without a reservation, I wait a maximum of about ten minutes.

For the most part, this is the case at ramen places. I love ramen. Ramen places tend to be the kinds of places that don’t take reservations and you’re meant to get there early and wait to get into. But for someone going in alone, there’s a hell of a shorter wait. But it extends beyond that. A lot of restaurants have seats set away for walk-ins. Some places have a bar where walk-ins can sit alone. But let me get to the real point. I went to a place that I definitely could not have gotten into if it hadn’t been for me walking in alone.

Somewhat recently, I saw something interesting on the show The Mind of a Chef. Chef Eddie Lee made some real interesting food with someone who ran a restaurant with a very interesting concept. It’s called State Bird Provisions. Turns out, this place is pretty well-known even outside of that. In fact, it has a Michelin star. I didn’t know any of that going in. The interesting concept is a dim sum style service where trays full of special dishes are brought out and shown to all the guests, and you can pick up different things that appeal to you. I walked in and there were plenty of people waiting around. Groups full of people standing there, waiting for tables. And yet, despite there being plenty of people ahead of me, I was seated pretty quickly after I arrived. In fact, they sat an old man who also came by himself alongside me. Mind you, there were plenty of parties of two ahead of us. And yet the two of us were seated at the same time, within ten minutes of at least my getting there.

The results were pretty amazing. Aside from one of the dishes I was served, everything was very tasty. The menu had four sections. The first section contained little bread-based bites. Things like steak tartare on a piece of toast, which both I and the man sitting next to me ordered. I also ordered a piece of beef tongue on a piece of bread, which was delicious, despite the juice from the tongue kind of making the bread disintegrate a little. The second part of the menu was what we would probably consider entrees. From that section, I ordered a bit of bone marrow served with some chanterelles and some toast points. It was also served with some extra salt, but I felt that it was tasty enough without the extra salt. The third section was a collection of desserts, from which I ordered a very interesting ice cream sandwich. I feel like I don’t fully understand fancy restaurant desserts. Instead of just serving the ice cream sandwich, it was topped with some sort of macerated berry and on top of a cardamom meringue which I felt overpowered the whole thing just a bit. I felt like it had potential, but I was a little overwhelmed by the meringue, even when I ate it separately. The final section was the most interesting.

The fourth and final section on the menu was just a table with numbers from 2 to 12. Each line corresponded to a different price of a dish. This is where the restaurant starts to resemble a dim sum restaurant and is a genius idea. I ordered three things off this part of the menu. I got a cold potato soup with some seafood served with some seaweed and sesame seeds. That was pretty much the only dish that I didn’t really like. It was very fishy, which I suppose was sort of the point, but in addition to that, the sesame seeds kind of reminded me of sand in my mouth whenever I’ve been swimming at the beach. I also had these little almond cakes served with a duck liver mousse, which was fantastic and a pork belly dish, which was extremely interesting and well worth the slightly higher price. In this case, the potato dish was $6, the mousse was $8 and the pork belly was $12.

I had a great experience at State Bird Provisions, despite the somewhat intimidating price afforded to them by their great food, location and Michelin star. But I never would have been able to try their food if I had not been looking for a table for one.


So let me admit something upfront: I haven’t been to a lot of conventions. I’ll also admit that despite my best efforts, I am at best only half-geek. I strive for more, but certain things don’t really click for me. I don’t collect stuff. Toys haven’t really had any appeal to me since I was a kid, and leaving them in their packaging on the off-chance that their value might appreciate sits somewhere outside my level of comprehension of fandom. I buy comics for the stories they contain and not the value they might attain someday. I don’t even take particularly good care of them. In many ways, I am a failure as a fan. One of those ways prior to this year was that I had only ever been to one convention. It was Fanime, what I have come to understand as a very big anime convention.

Comic book conventions are a beast of a different nature. I went to Big Wow earlier this year, and that one short experience was better than all the years I had gone to Fanime. The vibe was better, they had guests I actually cared about, and the lack of overwhelming crowds was something that I felt was a great boon to a convention. Comikaze’s vibe and scale was very different, but I still enjoyed it a lot. Here are some of the reasons why.


Comikaze takes place in Los Angeles. No, really. It takes place in the middle of downtown LA, just down the street from where I went to college. That meant that not only was I already familiar with the area, but it was in LA, which meant certain things were possible from that venue that wouldn’t have been true if it had been San Diego Comic Con instead. I actually tried to get tickets to SDCC, but that was a failed endeavor. I think that actually worked out in my favor, though. Part of why I wanted to go was to see some old friends and another(maybe proportionally too big a part) was to go eat at some nice restaurants in LA. Thankfully, Comikaze being in downtown LA meant that I could easily make it to those restaurants I really wanted to go to. I’ll save that discussion for another post, but let’s just say I had some really great meals there. The last part of why Comikaze being in LA was great is that the location attracted locals. And by that, I mean a lot of famous Youtubers were around. And I met my share of them.


First things first, let’s talk Jewel Staite. Long have I loved our beloved Kaylee and wished that someday, I would meet the woman behind her. That day was this past Saturday. As soon as the convention floor opened on Saturday, I rushed over to the autograph booth, and then ended up third in line to see her. I got to meet her handler, a former actress(who had apparently been on Star Trek: the Next Generation as well as Babylon Five) who had some pretty interesting stories to tell about acting and booking her clients for various conventions. Then, after what felt like a very short half hour wait, she arrived. We had a brief conversation about her show, The LA Complex, and how her friend wrote her character for her, then she signed the headshot. The experience was well worth it.

Besides Jewel Staite, I met quite a few people I thought were cool. I met the Rocket Jump crew who worked on VGHS. I met Michele Boyd formerly of Team Unicorn, who was also on the Guild and a few other web series. I also met a few of the Geek and Sundry vloggers, most notably Amy Dallen and Becca Canote. There was also Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Natalie Morales of The Middleman, a show I feel was extremely underrated. I’m sure there were plenty more, but those are the ones who stood out in my mind.


I think the biggest thing that makes comic conventions feel more worth it to me than Fanime ever did was how important comics are to them. I don’t just mean flying out rockstar comic celebrities, like Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee. I mean that there are small self-published comic book artists and writers who are trying their damnedest to make and sell their comics. Those are some of the most interesting stories I heard about. Don’t get me wrong. I love a good pew pew laserbeams and grimdark superheroes just like the next comic book reader. It’s just that there’s room in my brain for other stories. Some stories are a lot more fit to do in comic book form than in any other medium, and that’s what excited me. There are stories that are told in comic book form because that’s the only way they are going to be told, and those are actually interesting, too. I feel like Fanime never provided that for me. Sure there was artist’s alley, but I felt like a self-published comic artist or writer would have a much harder time selling in a space like that. It’s just something I feel like there’s a lot of potential in.


As I alluded to earlier, part of the reason I tried to book a ticket to SDCC was to go see old friends. A lot of my friends stayed in LA after they graduated. I did not. So the only way for us to see each other is to travel. And it’s quite a trip. But fortunately, I was able to see my friends. I somehow lucked my way to finding them in the middle of a crowded convention center. Well, actually, it was a little more than luck. I knew where to find them. But seeing them after at least six years of not having seen them was great. Talking to them again. I think that for me, it was the biggest part of what made this particular convention mean so much to me.

So overall, my first trip to Comikaze was great. It wasn’t without a few snags and disappointments, but I feel like in this case, the good far outweighed the bad. I have had a lot of fun times this year, but this is up there pretty close to the top. Thanks, Comikaze. Thanks, LA. I’ll see you again someday.

Preseason 5 beta jungle

So at the end of last week, Riot put a sneak peek into the new Summoner’s Rift of what the game is going to be like next year. I’ll put a little disclaimer here. I’ve only played two actual games of the preseason 5 beta. One of those was on the newly-buffed Quinn, whom I enjoyed very much. The added range(which has just be re-nerfed) and the ability to change forms more frequently(1 second at rank 3 of the ultimate) make her feel a lot more satisfying to play, but that’s a subject for another post. The second game was on Shyvana jungle, something I’ve played on and off since season 2.

My first time, I didn’t even know what times the camps spawned and I didn’t know the best order to clear. I was told at the last second by a teammate that the buff camps didn’t spawn at 1:55 like they did in season 4, so I quickly hurried over to the wolf camp and did that. Even with the new jungle item healing me somewhat, the wolves took more than half my hp and I had to pop my potion really early. Then, not knowing what to do and the blue buff having not spawned yet, I made my way over to the Gromp and killed it, nearly dying in the process. I was very low on HP despite my teammates helping me kill the wolf camp and I certainly did not have enough HP to kill the blue buff, so I went to the Razorbeak camp and killed it, barely surviving. I had to back without having taken any buffs. After upgrading my item, things went more smoothly, but make no mistake: the jungle hurts. It’s more like season 2 jungle in that way. In season 2 or so, before Machete was an item, I would have to back after 3 camps on Shyvana. I still jungled faster than a lot of other champions, but her early clear, without sustain, was pretty rough.

So after that experience, I decided to do some speed tests. Now, I wasn’t able to do as many as I had hoped. I was busy for the past few days and I left at a certain time today to go see a movie, and when I came home, hoping to do more tests, I found that they had pulled the preseason 5 beta stuff out of the new Summoner’s Rift. But here are some results that I found.

A few things to get out of the way first, just informationally. Machete can only be bought if you have the summoner spell Smite. That’s because all its upgrades change smite in different ways. I’m not going to go into it that much since I haven’t had a lot of time to experiment with it, but they all seem interesting. Smite itself has gone from the 40-second spell in season 4 to a 60-second version but still with the low damage of season 4. But, as I said, the spell can change in different ways when upgraded with the machete item. In addition, each camp grants a buff when the big creep is smited and killed. For instance, Gromp gives you a buff which deals poison damage to anything that hits you. The wolf camp creates a ghost wolf for about 60 seconds which acts like a visible ward in the intersection by the blue buff. The Razorbeak camp gives you a buff which alerts you when you’ve been spotted by a ward and gives you true sight temporarily. The Krugs give you execution damage on your autos. Blue gives you back mana and red gives you back health.

My first run through was with Shyvana. My goal was to go Krugs(formerly double golems) to Razorbeaks(formerly wraiths) to red. I had seen that the Brambleback(formerly red buff) granted you health as the smite reward and wanted to make use of that. Unfortunately, the Razorbeaks seem to hurt a lot more than the wraiths used to. On my first run, I died to the Brambleback. I tried a different route, from Krugs to wolves and then to blue. I survived, but my HP was low. I was level 3 by ~3:15. I tried another route. From the Razorbeaks to the wolves to blue. That was faster, but I didn’t hit level 2 from the Razorbeaks. I finished the run by ~3:10 and had probably around 40% hp left. Then I tried something different completely. I went from Gromp(leveling Q) to wolves and then to blue. I still had a decent amount of HP. I finished by ~2:55. That seemed very good. I tried one last route, from Gromp(Q first) to wolves and then to the Brambleback. Slightly slower at ~3:05, but I had a good amount of HP left(remember that the smite reward for Brambleback is bonus HP back).

So for my next few champions, I only tried 3 routes. My original route of Krugs to Razorbeaks to Brambleback, another run through Krugs to wolves to blue and then Gromp to wolves to blue.

I tried Udyr next. He was actually able to clear Krugs to Razorbeaks to Brambleback with some decent HP left by ~3:05, at which point I was able to go to wolves and then Gromp and blue by about ~4:20. I did another run from Krugs to wolves to blue, clearing by ~3:10, then continuing onto Gromp to Brambleback and then to the Razorbeaks, by ~4:25. I did a couple of runs from Gromp to wolves and then blue. First, with tiger, I made it through blue by ~3:05 and then to the Razorbeaks, Krugs and then Brambleback by 4:25. Surprisingly, even though Gromp is a single creep camp, it went faster with phoenix than with tiger. I finished blue by ~2:55 and Brambleback by ~4:20.

Khazix was next. On my first run, like with Shyvana, I was unable to finish the run from Krugs to Razorbeaks to Brambleback. In fact, I died to the Razorbeaks. My next run, from Krugs to wolves to blue, went better. I finished by ~3:15, but barely had any HP left. Surprisingly for me, the Gromp route took the longest, finishing by ~3:25.

I did some Eve runs, but none of them panned out. Maybe my runes and masteries were incorrect for the new season(remember that on the PBE the runes and masteries are still from the current season), but I failed to complete any of the three jungle routes. I should also point out that I don’t really play Eve, so maybe my lack of skill had something to do with it.

Next up was Elise. To my surprise, she actually did very well. As always you need to juggle aggro between your spiderlings and taking damage, but she did pretty well. On the route from Krugs to Razorbeaks to Brambleback, she was able to finish by ~3:05, still having enough HP to go to wolves, blue and then Gromp by 4:20. I did a run of Krugs to wolves to blue, finishing by ~3:10, then still had enough HP to go Gromp, Razorbeaks then Brambleback by ~4:30. On my last run, from Gromp to wolves to blue, I actually finished by 3:00 without smite. By the time my smite came up, I was too close to killing the camp already, so I also had low HP. But I believe that if I had waited a few seconds or smited Gromp even earlier that my clear time would have been around ~2:55.

I was only able to squeeze in 2 jungle routes with Maokai. My first run was Krugs to wolves to blue, starting with 3 pre-emptive saplings on the krugs, and I finished by ~3:15. However, my HP was fairly low at that point. My second run as from Gromp to wolves to blue, with the 3 pre-emptive saplings on the Gromp. That run finished very quickly, at ~2:55, almost too fast for my smite to be back up again.

So aside from these numbers, what I’ve gathered from my few experiments in the preseason 5 jungle beta is that first of all, some sustain is required. I know that a lot of the current jungle meta does have sustain junglers already, but these camps do a good bit of damage. First clears are going to be rough. The ideal route seems to be to start with Gromp or Krugs, which is somewhat helpful since those camps are at the edges of the jungle. However, these camps do spawn fairly late, so there won’t be anyone to help you with clearing your buffs. It also has implications on early buff stealing. Smite has become more interesting. Everything old is new again, for at least the third consecutive season.

What does this mean for junglers? I don’t know yet. And with junglers leaving NALCS teams like NA has the plague, it could mean another interesting new season for junglers to flex their mechanics. But for now, things look pretty promising. I’ll need more reps in with actual games and testing to be sure of anything, but either way, it’s going to be one hell of a season. And I can’t wait.

Gillian Flynn is a monster

As I am writing this, I’ve just gotten back from seeing Gone Girl. I had a lot of high hopes for Gone Girl for a couple of reasons. A few months ago, I downloaded the audiobook an anthology of short stories written by a few writers I had heard of and a few I had not. It was put together by George R R Martin, most well known for his Song of Ice and Fire books, now adapted into the Game of Thrones HBO show. Mainly, it was to hear the story written by Pat Rothfuss called The Lightning Tree. But I decided to listen to the rest of the stories in the anthology just the same. Partly because I didn’t know where that particular story was located and partly just out of common curiosity.

Some of the stories were good, some of the stories were less to my liking. But to my surprise, the most compelling of these was a story called “What would you do?” about a very interesting woman in a very interesting line of work. It’s a thriller and one with a few surprising twists. Immediately, I was enthralled and looked the writer of that story up. It was Gillian Flynn. I then grabbed the audiobook version of another story she had written. Gone Girl. Now, I haven’t had the time to listen to that audiobook, but I imagine that if it’s anything like the movie or her other story, then it’s probably fantastic.

The other reason why I wanted to see Gone Girl was because I had heard so much good about it. Word-of-mouth reviews do a lot more for me than reviews in print or scores on Metacritic or RottenTomatoes. And every single thing I had heard about Gone Girl was that it was great. A revelation. David Fincher’s best work yet. And so with such high praise I’m usually disappointed when I go to see a movie. But not this time.

Gone Girl was everything it sought out to be. The first third or so was everything you want it to be. A mystery, all tense and involved. You question everything. Or, at least, almost everything. But after the big twist, it becomes something else entirely. An exploration into motivations, lies, character. It’s fantastic. No, it’s amazing. And though people apparently don’t like the ending, I thought it was very appropriate.

The last thing I’ll leave you with is this: if something suspicious ever happens to Gillian Flynn, I’m going to question everything. Because Gillian Flynn is a monster.

Ramen, music and destiny

Most people love weekends. For a lot of people, it’s the time they have off work and can focus on the things they actually want to be doing. Hobbies, going out on dates and seeing their families. I like the weekends, too, but for a very different reason. I actually work most weekends, but those are really easy shifts where I have little supervision and can help people out without higher-ups finding out. But I didn’t work this past weekend. Well, that’s not true. I worked Saturday. But this past Sunday, I got to do what some people do with their weekends: I had fun.

My brother told me about a Ramen Festival happening in San Jose. He and I and our sister had gone to a previous Ramen Festival, hosted by those same folks, in San Francisco. The first one was actually a huge planning mess. A cluster of mistakes which hadn’t all been ironed out by the second day, which we were witness to. The stalls set up in the middle of the street, people were lined up hours beforehand and it seemed impossible to get what you went there to get unless you spent hours in line. But my family and I had a relatively positive experience there, and that’s where we found out about the travel agency which was offering a relatively cheap trip to Japan, so it all worked out pretty well.

I really like ramen. I’ve had it a lot over the past three or so years. I’ve been to every so-called “best ramen” place around. I found my favorite, which is Himawari in San Mateo. It’s not on many people’s lists, but I obviously have very different tastes than a lot of the people who wrote those lists. But I’m always on the lookout for good ramen. And at both festivals, the best by far was Tatsunoya. But quite appropriately, the lines at both festivals I went to were extremely long. I waited about two hours in San Fransisco and we would probably have waited for an hour or more if not for my brother running into a friend who let us ahead in line.

But this isn’t just about ramen. I’m not that much of an addict that I would write just about a festival I went to. It’s about an interesting set of circumstances which make for an interesting story. I was driving home on Saturday night after one hell of a shift and I was flipping through radio channels to catch or avoid certain songs. I settled on a channel playing the Echosmith song ‘Cool Kids.’ Now, I’m going to admit something here. I have the equivalent taste in music of a suburban teenage white girl. So, I listened to the song, and instead of changing the channel immediately like I always do to look for a different song, I listened for a little longer. Then I heard an announcement from the DJ that there were still tickets available to seem them in concert. I thought about going the next day. But when I got home, my brother told me about the Ramen Festival so I decided against it.

However, on the way to the Ramen Festival, we ran into a little trouble. There were several streets blocked off on the way to the convention center. Unbeknownst to us, there was a half marathon taking place in that area. So we found a parking spot a few blocks away and decided to try to cut through the half marathon venue. We were unsuccessful and had to walk all the way around. But in doing that, I heard a familiar sound. A voice like out of a dream. It was Echosmith. I looked over to see if it was some cover band, but nope, it was them. In the flesh. I had decided I wasn’t going to see them, and yet there they were. They played their last song as we approached the convention center. Then I had some ramen and my brother and I went home.

Except that isn’t the end of the story. I decided I was going to go see them after all. I drove for over an hour to the end of a familiar freeway and through the entirety of another freeway, but I found my way to the venue. It wasn’t really an Echosmith concert. Technically, they were the opening act. Them and the Mowglis. It was the “Honda Civic presents the American Authors tour.” But I wasn’t there to see the American Authors or any kind of Honda Civic. It was a pretty good concert, too. The drums were too loud during the first song, but they fixed that pretty quickly. And, they had the briefest of meet and greets, where I got my CD signed and my picture taken. Those were things that happened completely by chance. I don’t even own a camera, and now I have my picture with them.

Part of this post’s title is “destiny,” and I actually don’t really believe in that stuff in the sense where things are predetermined. I do believe what we think of as destiny is this small window of stuff through which really interesting things happen. There were a lot of factors which brought me to that concert and the great stuff which happened after, but it was so unlikely. I could have been working. I almost decided not to go. If we hadn’t seen them at the half marathon, I probably wouldn’t have gone. If the lines had been anything like they were in San Francisco, I could have made it home too late to go. And yet, I ended up where I did with a picture of me with the band despite me not even owning a camera. And a great experience. And some great music. And that, to me, is destiny.

Judging the Boxtrolls

Today didn’t exactly go the way I planned it. I woke up this morning with a bit of an idea of how I was going to spend the day. But throughout the day I got pulled in a few different directions and it didn’t end up the way I had planned. One of the things I did today which I hadn’t planned on was that I went to see a movie. I saw the Boxtrolls.

But this isn’t really going to be a review of the Boxtrolls. For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the Boxtrolls. It’s a cute story about two very different worlds that live side by side and yet don’t understand each other. It’s about the consequences of rumor and fear and willful ignorance. It’s about the consequences of trying to be something you’re not. It never tries to be anything it’s not. There’s a lot to like about the storytelling, and it has some cute moments and interesting characters. But to be honest, I was expecting something more.

You see, the reason I went to see the Boxtrolls in the first place is because of how impressed I was with ParaNorman. When I first saw the trailer for ParaNorman, I dismissed it as every kid’s movie I had ever seen. It was going to be extremely predictable. There was a kid who could see ghosts, there were going to be zombies, and then the kid was going to somehow vanquish all these ghosts and zombies and everything would be right and they’d all accept him at the end. Except, that’s not the movie I got.

I kind of saw ParaNorman on a whim. It was part of this whole Anna Kendrick day I worked out in my head. I started off the day with Pitch Perfect, which I enjoyed immensely. Then I followed that up with End of Watch. A solid, if depressing movie. But Anna Kendrick was in another movie. An animated movie which I had already dismissed in my mind. I half wanted to leave the theater already because I had already sat through two movies, but I was determined to see my Anna Kendrick day through so I decided to see that third movie. I was the only person in that entire theater. No one else had gone to see ParaNorman on that day. I took that to be a poor sign. Oh, how wrong I was.

This isn’t going to be a review of ParaNorman, either. Nor is it really going to be a comparison between it and the Boxtrolls. In fact, I more had to compare it to Wreck it Ralph, which came out the same year, and I will admit I enjoyed more. See, Wreck it Ralph was a much more fun, enjoyable movie. But its message got a little muddled. For all its claims of “I’m bad and that’s good, I will never be good and that’s not bad,” a lot of what happened to him is in direct conflict with that message. The movie’s central message seemed to be accepting the role you’re given, whether it’s a glitch or being the ‘bad guy,’ but the characters end up much happier because they aspired to be something else.

Take Ralph himself, for example. He accepted being the ‘bad guy’ for years, and where did that get him? He lived on a pile of bricks and wasn’t invited to the game’s anniversary party. But just a short while of trying to be the ‘good guy’ and he improved his conditions immensely. He made friends, which he had never done before. He started a series of events which eventually led to him helping his newly-made friend out from a position where she was an outcast to one where she was accepted. So what was the point of the central message in the first place?

In contrast to that, ParaNorman takes a different approach. It never states its goal or message. And yet, it was clearer to me what that message was than with Wreck it Ralph. It was a message of acceptance of others. That these ‘others’ aren’t as scary as you might think. The zombies that the main characters spent their time running away from, and that the villagers were trying to fight off, were actually trying to help, in their own way. The little girl who talked to ghosts was not the scary witch the villagers were afraid of. It did its storytelling by showing you the message and what the results of blind fear can be. It did it in a way that was not patronizing and by putting you into the same state of fear as those falling victim to it. And while it showed those victims of fear the error of their ways, it tried to enlighten you, the viewer, as to why that is wrong. Why fear first is wrong. Why anger as a response to fear is wrong.

And yet, I enjoyed Wreck it Ralph more than I did ParaNorman. There were parts of ParaNorman which I thought were a little slow and parts which I felt weren’t necessary to the telling of the story. A lot of the parts played for comedy in the beginning and middle were a bit lackluster. Some of them were necessary to demonstrate the character development throughout the movie, but others seemed just put in to keep kids interested. But they just didn’t keep me interested. In Wreck it Ralph, the comedic and introductory moments were well-paced and just had this fun frenetic feeling. Like a roller coaster which didn’t stop. A lot of jokes played on multiple levels.

No movie is perfect. In fact, my favorite movie of all time, Beautiful Girls, is far from perfect. Most of it is very oddly-written and the pacing is also a bit weird. But the good moments in that movie are truly amazing. The acting in the bits of the movie I like still move me to this day. ParaNorman is also far from perfect. But the storytelling in the parts that I did like are, to me, a perfect example of the old adage of “show, don’t tell.” And that is the reason I was expecting so much more from the Boxtrolls.

I haven’t seen ParaNorman in a while, so it’s hard to say whether I enjoyed it or the Boxtrolls more. And the Boxtrolls does a pretty admirable job of telling the story it sets out to tell. Aside from the weird little quirks it has(like the White Hats caring so much about cheese) everything makes sense. I just wished it challenged me more. I wish it had more to say. Like the little girl expecting rivers of blood and mountains of bones, I was just a little disappointed in it.