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Frisco Del Rosario writes about chess960, women's basketball, minor league baseball, unsupported collectible card games, lettering in comic books, and Golden Age movies

Expert opinions 07/25/2018

Three cases of expert opinion, of unequal value:

The most common piece of very bad chess advice given from good players to bad players is “you have to have an openings repertoire with which you feel comfortable”.

Three things — what the strong player said, what the strong player actually meant, and what the weak player thought it meant.

When a strong player talks about openings leading to a comfortable feeling, he means “playable”. What the weak player thinks is a comfortable opening is “whew, didn’t hang my queen that time”.

Good players feel comfortable in any playable middlegame, otherwise they’re not good players; they can play anything. When a good player says: “have a  comfortable openings repertoire”, it’s another way of saying “the real goal of the opening is to reach a playable middlegame”, though it *sounds like* actual advice.

The weak player thinks “I need a comfortable openings repertoire; I’d better study openings”. Like I’ve said many times before, bad players don’t lose games in the opening because they’re bad at openings, they lose them because they’re bad at tactics. The poor “comfortable repertoire” advice survives because it’s less painful to suggest than “do the endgame and tactics homework”. It’s the grandmaster equivalent of walking away from a dumb joke while laughing, because laughing makes it OK to walk away.

Sports station KNBR talked to an ESPN baseball expert Tuesday, who likes the Astros and Indians for the ALCS because “some teams are built for 162 games, some are built for seven-game series”. The implication is that the Red Sox might win 110 regular season games but not survive a short playoff.

At first glance, this looks ridiculous. The Red Sox win 70 percent of their games, which makes them a pretty good bet to win any one game, or any four games.

I thought I might simulate 1,000,000,000 World Series between teams modeled after: E) The 1971 Orioles, who won 100 games with four 20-win starters, but lost the World Series, and W) The 1995 Braves, with two stud starters in Smoltz and Glavine, and a superstud in Maddux, but besides their stud closer Wohlers, every other Braves pitcher was, relatively speaking, a loser. The Braves won just 90 games, but won the World Series.

These teams fit the ESPN expert’s model. The Orioles were built to win every regular season game behind their deep and excellent starters , while the Braves were designed to win a seven-game set by, say, letting the awesome #1 pitch games 4 and 7 on short rest.

The ’71 Orioles and ’95 Braves also fit that model based on their late-inning guys. The ’71 Orioles had Eddie Watt finish 35 games, of which they lost 18. The ’95 Braves had the modern definition of closer in Mark Wohlers, who appeared in 65 games, of which the Braves won 50.

Let’s say the imaginary Braves ace wins games 1 and 4. Let’s also say the the imaginary Braves and imaginary Orioles split games 2 and 5 (maybe because the Braves #2 guy was bad on short rest). And let’s suppose the imaginary Orioles won games 3 and 6, thanks to their depth.

So it comes down to Game 7, with the Maddux-like guy on very short rest, against their Orioles #4-like guy.  Well, the Orioles’ #4 guy in 1971 was Jim Palmer, who won three Cy Youngs.

The only thing we know about baseball and baseball simulations is that you never know.

However, let’s consider that the imaginary Wohlers-like reliever appears in all seven games sometimes (because we’re running the simulation a zillion times) and the imaginary Watt-like guy also appears more often than the Orioles would’ve preferred.

In the long run, over the course of a zillion Series, having the stronger late-inning guy will turn it in the Braves’ favor. And that’s a precept of modern baseball: If you have studs for innings 7, 8, and 9, you practically shorten a game to six innings. And shorter games in short playoff series means  greater variance, which means the ESPN guy has a point: The 2018 Astros with their super Verlander-Cole-Morton threesome could well be favored over the Red Sox 13 pitchers that won more games in a long season.

Expert opinion #3 was a doctor on KCBS this morning, whom KCBS asked about an increased incidence of salmonella among homes with chicken coops in their backyards.

The doctor said, reasonably, that the higher number of reported cases could be due to improved reporting technology and methods, and it could also be related to the overall decline in common sense. A larger number of people are keeping chickens for eggs and companionship, and a greater number of dumb people fail to wash their hands after playing with the chickens.

The KCBS hosts strained to push this guy toward “AUGH EVERYONE HEAD FOR THE HILLS!”, but he wouldn’t bite, which made the whole segment dull and boring, when dull and boring was really funny.

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Categories: baseball games media

Sandbagging: The capitalist way to compete 04/10/2018

In the late ’70s, while the US Chess Federation was sufferinscreenshot-from-2018-04-10-20-17-34g a sort of Fischer Boom hangover, the ratings system fell far behind, as much as six months. That meant if your performance was very good or very bad at the time, your rating wasn’t going to reflect that for a while.

The Fischer Boom also meant greater interest in chess, and a greater demand for larger-than-ever cash prizes.

It was an ideal situation for sandbaggers, who dropped games and rating points in cheap, small neighborhood events before taking that false rating to big cash tournaments (whose organizers hadn’t yet implemented anti-sandbagging measures that are still in place).

Here in the Bay Area, there was a string of strong Filipino players who got off the boat and won money in the unrated sections of chess tournaments. One of my favorite stories is about the pair of Filipino masters who allegedly showed up as unrated players at a big tournament, and noticed that the unrated section already had its share of sandbaggers. So they flipped a coin, and one entered the Under 1400 section as an unrated, while the other joined the Under 1600 section. They won.

One of my best friends in the Filipino-American Bay Area chess community told me that some of us didn’t have another way off the islands than playing chess, then treating open Swiss tournaments as seed money to start a life.

Sandbagging is a serious problem among South Park Phone Destroyer players.

I understand where they’re coming from: No matter where you are ranked, to climb more run on the ladder will be easier if your cards get stronger. Rather than grinding away with opponents who are equal or better, these SPPD players drop matches and ranks, then more easily win cards against a series of weaker opponents.

This happens at every level, because there are players at every level who witness this simpler way to better their cards, and adopt it themselves.

The sandbaggers don’t see the problem. Enjoy your free wins, they say.

Competitors don’t want free wins, they want to compete, against opponents who are virtually sitting therend for the minute it takes to lose a match — there’s a method that enables one to throw lots of matches in a jiffy.

This isn’t fun for the other players, who want to compete, but instead go through the motions until the other new kid goes down for the third time. This is tedium.

Then you have to play against them while they’re moving back up. Their losing on purpose in order to win more easily later results in two mismatches for the other players, and it is not fun.

The adventure-themed event last weekend encouraged sandbagging.

If you’re earning special event awards by earning some number of points per match won, you begin performing arithmetic in the last 12 hours. I had 55 event points left to earn the next award, and I had to ask myself if I wanted to try to win 11 matches at five points each, or 14 at four points each.

It didn’t matter. I reached that event threshold with hours to spare because every fourth opponent was losing on purpose. They performed the same calculation, and figured it was easier to win X number of matches against much weaker opponents than Y against equals or better.

There’s a slight variation for some. Considering that the player who wins the first bar wins 7 of 8 matches (in my experience), they went all out for the first bar by spamming everything they could in the first 10 or 15 seconds. If that succeeded in taking the first bar, they were well positioned to play to win event points. If that immediate rush didn’t succeed, they stopped playing and moved on.

South Park Phone Destroyer is in trouble. Some social media users are already talking about it in past tense.

They’ve made at least world-altering decision the worst possible time: ruining the green theme *days after* promoting the new green Cupid Cartman card, which prompted many players to make a bigger investment in the theme.

The upgrade system is horrible. It costs so much— with no method to recoup your bad investments if you’re wrong— to improve and acquire uncommon cards that we’re stuck playing with and against the same common cards in every match.

Imagine beginning this game at rank 0 with the starter set of blue cards, and your first matches are against assholes who sandbagged down from 10 or 15, who’ve acquired Mecha Timmys and Moon Stans along the way.

I’d say that if South Park Phone Destroyer fails, I’ll never play another Ubisoft/RedLynx game again, but the fact is I’ll never player another mobile game of the type again. I’m here for the South Park theme.

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Basic Knightmare Chess Endings #1: The Princess 01/23/2018

Knightmare Chess, a 1998 offering from Steve Jackson Games, didn’t catch on, probably for reasons like:

1) Chessplayers hated insane card-based abilities that made Knightmare Chess too much unlike chess; and

2) Non-chessplayers figured they didn’t stand a chance against chessplayers (before giving the hugely unbalancing card-based abilities a glance).

Perhaps Knightmare Chess’ time has arrived. Chess variants are more popular than ever, especially since online chess servers began enabling enthusiasts of obscure variants to find and play with like-minded folk.

Card games are in again, after the glut of the 1990s — when a new card game appeared in game stores every week, and no one had the money or the time. Magic: The Gathering is still boss, my favorite old game NetRunner is a success in its new (lesser) incarnation, Dominion is a favorite at my brother’s house, and I’ve embraced South Park: Phone Destroyer.

The classic chess textbook Chess Fundamentals by world champion Capablanca said the first thing the new player should do is familiarize himself with the power of the pieces by learning to checkmate with them. Meet the princess (card text*).
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The princess moves like a queen, but is limited to one or two squares. This makes her value on the pawn scale about 6, when you think about it this way: The king and the knight each have eight choices while in the center of an empty chessboard; the princess’ one-square moves makes her like a king, and her two-square moves are the same range as a knight, but to the same-colored square rather than an opposite-colored square.

Since her pawn value is about 6, then the princess (more powerful than a rook) ought to be able to aid her king in checkmating the other.
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1. … Qe4+!
Played with the Princess card, placing her at f4.

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2. Kg1 Qxh1+ 3. Kxh1 Ke3 4. Kg2 Ph4

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5. Kg1 Kf3 6. Kh1

6. Kf1 Pf2#.

6…Ph3+ 7. Kg1 Pg2#

In fact, the procedure is exactly like the clunky “keep the queen a knight’s distance away from the enemy king, cutting off one  rank or file with each move” — the only difference between the queen and princess for the purposes of this checkmating routine is that the queen can make a long cutoff move.

* Play this card when your king and queen are on adjacent squares. A princess appears on an unoccupied square adjacent to the queen. A princess moves like a queen but only one or two squares at a time. A player may have only one princess in play at a time. Play this card immediately after your move.

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Categories: games Knightmare Chess

I want Shaman Token in a Roving Submarine 01/02/2018

I never played Magic: The Gathering to win, because doing so would’ve meant lots of time studying. I made decks to amuse myself — I once had a green assortment that didn’t do anything but grow a giant Uktabi Wildcat. I once built it up to 20/20, and my friend Joe, who knew what was coming, played a combination that seized control of the giant cat and turned it against me. I was killed by my own giant cat.
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At South Park: Phone Destroyer, Cyborg Kenny and Mine Control have been most troublesome lately for the same reason. One well-timed Cyborg Kenny swings the match, I think — the character under the enemy’s control and your other characters beat the crap out of each other, and after the Cyborg Kenny effect wears off, the enemy has a line of fresh attackers rushing two or more weakened allies.

My problem is that I have no idea when to play Shaman Token to remove the negative effects (not only the mind control cards, but Program Stan annoys me, too). Play him too soon, and he gets killed before he charges usefully. Play him too late, and he’s a 127-health, weakling fighter.

What I really want is to sink Shaman Token in a Roving Submarine
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There were some cards in the 1990s NetRunner game that said: “Opponent, you have to do something about this immediately, or I will maintain certain advantages for the rest of the game”. One of those cards was Roving Submarine. If Purple played a strong card on the Roving Submarine, Green had to blow the submarine away, else it would submerge and its strong accompanying card was invulnerable as long as it stayed underwater.

If I could submerge Shaman Token — really, almost every card with universal effects when charged — in a Roving Submarine, and call on him when needed, that would be helpful.

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Procyonn’s Folly applied to South Park: Phone Destroyer 12/24/2017

During the late ’80s, I worked as a room host in an AOL freeform roleplay area. It certainly was freeform — if you could type it, your character could do it — but there was a game called Duel of Swords that had rules.
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Two players roleplayed/described their action while messaging one of 10 possible moves to a trusted third party, who consulted a matrix for the result of move-vs.-move and reporting the result.

Duel of Swords was great fun. For some, the roleplay aspect was key, while some also wanted to play the game as well as they could.

I got into that game years late, but I have this insane obligation to myself to find something new in the strategy or tactics of any game, even one as simple as compiling the results of a 10×10 matrix.

One of the fundamental aspects of Duel of Swords was that you couldn’t make the same move twice in a row (with one seemingly-insignificant exception), so players had to make this type of decision at every turn: My two highest-powered moves are A and B, but they’re both foiled by C. If I play A or B, and he goes C, not only am I losing a point (leader after 10 turns wins), he’s got a positional advantage on the next turn.

So what should one do on the first turn? All 10 moves are available to the opponent, so neither side wields the positional advantage of having more useful moves in store. I reasoned that the seemingly-insignificant move that could be repeated had to be a fair first shot.

The move — disengage — was seemingly insignificant because you were disengaging instead of fighting, and what’s the point of that, especially since the opponent could still whack you according to the matrix. But I figured even if I did lose a point at turn one, I had a slight positional edge — 10 possible moves to 9 — on move 2. (I called it Procyonn’s Folly, after the chess opening Santasiere’s Folly.)

This meant that my opponents had to play the he-knows-I-know-he-knows-I-know game at move one. Opponent knows I favor the move one disengage, which can be smacked by high cut or low cut. I know he knows that, and so on. The I-know-he-knows-I-know-he-knows thinking could drive one batty, but some people had a better intuition for anticipating an opponent’s move than others, and they were at the top of the game.

How does one apply this to South Park: Phone Destroyer, where any of five cards could be the best play against whichever five the opponent drew. Sometimes you get an obvious one — protective tank plus rugged fighter plus ranger in rear, or maybe a simple Hookhand Clyde. Otherwise it pays to see what the opponent lays down first, and then counterattack with the goal of stealing the initiative.

If you wanted to apply the logic “I’ll make the lowest-cost move fir, like Disengage, so if I get whacked, I lose less than if I’d lost with a higher-reward-higher-risk play”, then a good first move in South Park: Phone Destroyer is casting a low-energy character with a deathwish, because then there’s even a tiny gain after death.

Maybe Paladin Butters is the best of the Butterses for that. Among the Kennys, Princess Kenny could be ideal.

Again, this gambit is based on having zero information about what your opponent has in store, and having no concrete plan based on your initial draw. At South Park: Phone Destroyer, there might be a clue in the outfit the other new kid is wearing.

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Dogpoo is South Park: Phone Destroyer’s Tycho Extension

Days ago, I talked about the old NetRunner card Tycho Extension, which fueled a powerful deck so simple that a beginner could (and did) win a tournament with it.
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Tycho Extension took advantage of some NetRunner arithmetic. NetRunner was a race to seven points, while Tycho awarded four. That meant scoring the first Tycho enabled the player to sell one superfluous point in order to make the second, winning Tycho automatic.

Most of the good cards in the Tycho class had the same difficulty as Tycho, but were worth just three points. However, those cards conferred special abilities when scored, while Tycho had no special ability.

The joke was: “Tycho doesn’t need a special ability. Its fourth agenda point is its ‘special ability’.”

Dogpoo is the South Park: Phone Destroyer answer to Tycho Extension.

Dogpoo doesn’t have a special ability. It just deals huge damage, 80 points or more.

Dogpoo fits into SPPD decks the same way Tycho Extension fit in NR decks. Their special ability of having no special ability also makes them compact — if one wanted to play with 20 points in a NR deck, one could go with seven 3-pointers or five Tychos, and give the two free card slots to something else. Instead of two fighters that deal 40 damage, SPPD players play one Dogpoo and have another option.
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The top SPPD players sneer about Dogpoo the same way NR experts did Tycho. NR players used to say “live by the Tycho, die by the Tycho” (because while the Tycho player only had to score two Tychos, his opponent only had to steal two). SPPD experts believe Dogpoo moves too slowly to be useful at high levels —once I was in position to resign, but instead of standing still, I experimented by casting Dogpoo behind new kid, then Hyperdrive. Even a Hyperdriven Dogpoo stumbles along.

Next time I play NetRunner, I’ll stick to my opinion that Tycho Extension is crap, but call it dogshit instead.

I own the original art to Tycho Extension. Even if we hate the card for its training-wheel-simplicity, it’s a NR icon for the same reason, and moonscapes are just cool. When NetRunner the game was at death’s door, there wasn’t much to do as an enthusiast — I’d written every idea I ever had, and traveled to Virginia and The Netherlands just to play; buying original art was one of the last kicks to get from that game. The artist gave it to me for 1/5 his asking price — he could tell I was one of the few people who’d really like hanging it on a wall.

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Sorry to have judged a kid by his card art 12/16/2017

I’m binging on the 21st season of “Sputh Park”, and I learned today that the mustache I thought I saw on Marcus is a scowl, making him the opposite of what I sussed from his card.

I thought he looked like an adult drug dealer (and wondered why they’d put such a character in the game), but he’s an anti-opiate kid crusader.

I think Marcus is awesome — about to take on the whole prescription painkiller industry — and his card is back on the table.

Marcus is a pain to play against. I Bolt him if possible, and attempt to swarm him otherwise. I find myself surrounding Marcus with three fighters, and muttering: “C’m*on*, kill that fucker before he throws that shit.”

Players involved in the pirate weekend event surely used Barrel Dougie. Barrel Dougie is a great nuisane — an opposing leader might feel like he’s always got to keep an assassin and 2 or 3 energy in reserve, and then be quick enough to summon the assassin before Barrel Dougie arrives.

A well-placed ranger can pick off BDougie enroute. I watched Buccaneer Bebe stick BDougie while he was at top speed.

Buccaneer Bebe is the most fun to watch. After one or two kills, it looks like she’s shooting ducks in a gallery. I read some mathematical analysis jcdz2wasuggesting that Buccaneer Bebe is no bargain, but I love that card.

Pirate decks have great rangers, but there’s no themed tank to set in front of them. I’m employing Sheriff Cartman because he’s the cheapest tank — what the pirate player wants most is for Pirate Ship Timmy to be a tank instead of kid in a wheelchair.

I acquired Robin Tweek Saturday afternoon, who replaced Calamity Heidi, though it raised the average cost to 3.3, and the assortment felt clunkier. When the battlefield is bare, and your pirate choices are fragile assassin Smuggler Ike, plus back-line fighters Pirate Ship Timmy and Robin Tweek, immediate prospects are faint.

On the other hand, a pirate deck occasionally forms a wave of small fighters backed by a pirate ship and Buccaneer Bebe with a smoking gun.

The pirate event ends in a day, but I’ll continue to wield seafaring criminals.  Though I tossed the captain’s hat aside for the sleeker bandana.

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Powerful cards that are distasteful in the narrative sense 12/15/2017

layer-27Several cards in the ’90s NetRunner game put a bad taste in my mouth, like the Tycho Extension I mentioned a few days ago.

NetRunner was a race to 7 points, and while most players were aiming for three field goals or two safeties plus a field goal, Tycho was less interesting: a 4-point touchdown followed by a 4-point kick-after.

Tycho was boring, and some cards were even less charming, like Corporate War, which too easily afforded one player 3 points plus a pile of cash. Corporate War was tacky. In NetRunner’s narrative sense, Corporate War made it easy to tell who the evil corporations were.

In South Park: Phone Destroyer, it’s Marcus. I don’t remember Marcus’ introduction to the TV series — he’s a drug dealer in the  neighborhood with “friendly faces everywhere, humble folks without temptation”.

Marcus’ weapon of choice is a bag of drugs. He throws bags of drugs, and they very much hurt (if Marcus gets loose, and lets fly with no defenders to meet him, it’s near-fatal).  Marcus is a powerful card, but a South Park drug dealer is distasteful. Say the card wielded the same power, but the character were Towelie, and he was throwing a joint. I’d play with that, for sure.

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It’s like NetRunner’s purple and green, but without the purple 12/14/2017

layer-69As I acquire cards and gain experience by the coffee spoon,  I’m seeing more green.

In almost every deck there’s an Angel Wendy. Gotta appreciate that Testaburger, who was the original significant visible girl at the beginning — is a rarefied and good card in blue and green.

Then there are Regeneration and Hallelujah. Throw in Zen Cartman, and that’ll win many games by attrition without serious handling charges.

I read that at PvP level 45 and higher, green makes up almost every deck, along with the typical arguments about overpower and sheer boredom because the green decks play themselves.

Decks playing themselves is a serious charge. If your card game truly has a build scheme that mostly wins without thinking, you’ve got to start talking about which cards to ban.

NetRunner — when I talk about NetRunner, I refer to the Wizards of the Coast game from the ’90s, which was brilliant and beautiful, not this decade’s NR game from Fantasy Flight, which sells — had such a deck. It was called Psycho Tycho.

The algorithm was simple:

1. Install Tycho Extension behind a Filter in a subsidiary fort. Don’t sweat the central forts. Advance it one time as your last action of your first turn.

2. Advance Tycho three times to score it.

3. Wait to draw another Tycho, ACME Savings and Loan, Project Consultants, Filtering the central forts when it’s convenient.

4. When those three cards are in hand, take these three actions: a) Install ACME, and accept the loan; b) install Tycho, c) Project Consult for the win.

I had a friend — he and his girlfriend were UC Berkeley grad students — who wrote some code to determine the best distribution of cards within that framework, and then he had his girlfriend play it in a tournament because he couldn’t make it that day. With experience limited to pitching batting practice to his decks, by following the script, she won all her Corporate games.

NetRunner gave its best players some meta difficulty that came down to an advanced case of rock-scissors-paper-lizard-Spock. If I know my opponents will play Psycho Tycho, I will build an opposing deck designed to beat it. But if he knows I know, and I know he knows I know, and so on.1405397321966

South Park: Phone Destroyer is still an infant, so while it’s been found what wins, it’s yet to be discovered what beats it. Of course, there are those who say they beat green decks all the time with their good idea that you can’t fathom, stupid newcomer.

The older I get, the more pejorative labels for inexperienced players I see. New players in a gaming community are like logical citizens in the state of Trump.

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Tall adults and other tanks in the South Park: Phone Destroyer neighborhood

layer-35I’ve been chasing the oremiering Buccaneer Bebe card in hopes of installing it by the end of the pirate event, but the only new gets were the Hercules Clyde (introduced the same day as Buccaneer Bebe) and Officer Barbrady.

Officer Barbrady is the same kind of pain in the neck as PC Principal (it’s fitting that PC and Barbrady deal very little damage, like you’d expect from authoritative adults in a kids’ game), a giant, sturdy slug diverting your new kid’s attention from smaller, deadlier enemies (diversion is Zen Cartman’s special ability).

It’s a common and effective tactic to combine three cards: one tank, one healer, and one ranger behind the blocker.  It also works in real life as shown in movies — in “Saving Private Ryan”, when the German troops arrive in Ramelle, infantry are seen crouched behind their tanks.

Some SPPD take it too far, maybe — if AWESOMO-4000, PC Principal, and Officer Barbrady are on the same team, that’s a huge lot of energy needed. I get the feeling that it’s Sheriff Cartman who instills a feeling of confidence in players — a rare card that seems to be in every starter pack, Sheriff Cartman is immediately found useful for his low center of gravity and hail of gunfire.

If the big unit itself is exceptionally dangerous, it often feels like a loss as soon  at it’s summoned — like Big Gay Al. At 335 health to start, he seems like a mountain to tackle, while he hurls headhunter glitter bombs in a fashion that reminds me of Curly Neal’s limited-animation “juggling basketballs through the hoop” in the early ’70s.

My answer to the tanks and Big Gay Al is Lightning Bolt plus a swarm of small, fast fighters. But this works for me because my deck is almost solid blue — is orange capable of swarming?

Even better than Lightning Bolt against the big guys, I think, is Pigeon Gang. Which makes sense in a real world way because it’ll take small flying critters to annoy someone who’s out of the reach of a pack of armed 4th-graders.

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