Monday, 20 November 2017

Kaiji - Ultimate Survivor S01E09 Review: Starscream

Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor, Episode 9: Resurrection


So, yeah, another single-episode review. It's a huge emotional moment for Kaiji, and I really do think that it deserves this relatively longer screentime. We get to see Ando's reasoning and... logically, it's honestly not that hard to understand why Furuhata gets seduced by Ando, even with his prior friendship with Kaiji. Ando talks about how they will still have debts to pay even if they waste their money to save Kaiji, whereas if they sell their stars they'll walk out of Espoir far, far richer and debt-free. And besides, they won't ever see Kaiji ever again, so why does it matter?

And honestly, Ando's a dude that Kaiji met like 2 hours ago, his treachery isn't completely out of the blue, and Kaiji's screaming in despair as Ando and Furuhata starts selling their stars for money is amazingly done and delivered by the voice actor. It's a cruel, cruel moment for Kaiji, because he's been campaigning the standard 'friendship and loyalty!' manga spiel throughout the Espoir arc, and, well, he gets backstabbed by them.

However, it's nice that Kaiji is actually formulating a plan in his desperation, observing Okabayashi and realizing the money he's clutching (and covering his junk with) is far too little to actually count for the risk of his friends not selling their stars. It's a bit odd why the showrunners wouldn't remove the patch on Okabayashi's back, but it's something I can look over. Kaiji assaults Okabayashi and bites and punches him, but it's all a feint in order to rip off the patch and get the jewels hidden inside.

And after a bit, Okabayashi and his allies realize that the patch is missing (I think if Kaiji didn't bite Okabayashi he'd be more inclined to realize that the precious thing taped onto his back is gone) and this ends up causing Okabayashi to have to pay to free Kaiji as well. It's a pretty cool plan, albeit one that has a crapton of contrived coincidence. I buy it, though.

And while Kaiji didn't quite punch Ando hard enough for my tastes, it's a neat bit of great karma as Kaiji rips off Ando and Furuhata's stars and money and uses them to save Ishida, the old man, as a big 'fuck you' to the two of them. It's... it's a bit hard to swallow, although I guess the story arc would be a bit too dark if Ishida just sits there in despair and gets taken away to his presumed torture and/or death after him being far more likable and relatable to the audience. It's... it's still pretty dumb for Kaiji to waste all the money, though (and for Ando to let him just take it without much of a fuss -- Furuhata's too much of a pushover to imagine fighting back) considering he walks away from Espoir with a crapton of debt nonetheless.

And I did like the bit at the end where Kaiji gives out this huge, huge rant about all the sick people taking pleasure in watching their suffering and panic. There's a bit of a meta bit where it seems he's talking about us, the viewers (and I did enjoy the story of Kaiji's despair), but it turns out that Kaiji's far more aware that all of this is designed in-universe by a group of, well, audience who has been watching them. It's a bit of a headscratcher why an organization would do all this, but I guess they just have that much money to throw around, and they just want to be entertained?

Cool stuff, regardless, and this marks the end of the Espoir arc, the first arc in Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor. It's thrilling as all hell, and definitely an anime I'll recommend from these 9 episodes I've reviewed. At this point I've actually finished nearly the entirety of the first season, so while I initially planned a bit of a hiatus in the episodic reviews, I don't think it'd be that long. Expect a break from anime reviews for around a week or two, though. 

The Gifted S01E7 Review: Drug Cartels

The Gifted, Season 1, Episode 7: eXtreme measures


I don't really have much to say about this episode, really. The Gifted started off pretty strong, but it's now in a string of pretty blah episodes, and episode seven, 'eXtreme measures', is not much different. A good chunk of the problem is because of the wooden scripting and dialogue that the actors are forced to say, which feel like they came from a first draft instead of something that they're ready to devote expensive actors and special effects to. Add that to the absolutely uninteresting subplot of Eclipse having to deal with his drug lord ex and that whole plotline for the episode is just amazingly bland and uninteresting.

I don't think the episode really gives us a proper reason why Eclipse immediately jumps through hoops to help Carmen -- I guess he's just afraid that Carmen will tell Sentinel Services about the mutants' base,  but does she really know? And why keep it a secret from Polaris? Beyond the absolutely asinine 'I don't know how to tell you' excuse he gives her at the end. There's still enough content in this episode to keep me watching, but a combination of cliched dialogue and a lack of care about the whole cartel subplot (Carmen's actress is decent, mind you) makes me not really give much of a shit about this episode.

At least we did get to see Polaris do some cool shit with her powers, swing around guns to whack Carmen's mansion guards, and we see her just job bricks at her students. She's a pretty fun actress with a great range, I have to be honest, it's just a shame we haven't actually see her do much on her own -- her storyline is so involved in 'break out of jail' or her romance with Marcos that I really wish there's more to her personality beyond that.

Agent Jace goes through a bit of a subplot where it's revealed that there's apparently some big conspiracy to place brainwashed mutants all over the world, and he gets to see some dude with stroke-causing abilities basically take out some random lady that's trying to investigate Sentinel Services's current warpath on mutantkind, only for the Doctor to show Jace an entire army of brainwashed mutants. Oh, and they're sponsored by X-Men big-name Trask Industries! Will we get Peter Dinklage to show up and have a cameo? Please do. The Gifted name-dropping the X-Men and the Brotherhood and all that stuff has been absolutely great at worldbuilding without being too obvious about it, and I'm definitely a big fan of these little touches.

There's also a B-plot of Thunderbird hunting Blink down, and together they find out that the orphanage that Blink came from has been wiped out and those inside killed or captured by Sentinel Services. It's... okay? It's something to get Blink back into the fold. I'd really appreciate that, if, like Polaris, Blink's character wasn't written to be so reactive... but that's some great emotion shown on Blink's part as she tries desperately to say maybe how the kids got out, or whatever, before crying and sobbing into Thunderbird's shoulder. Shame the dialogue she has to utter at this point is a very dumb-sounding "oh, man".

The Strucker subplot is also particularly weak this episode. Basically it's a long-winded speech about second chances and whatnot, and while I thought we're heading to something interesting with Lauren's boyfriend Wes maybe being one of these sleeper agents, he's just... a kid who made some stupid decisions in the past. The actors go through their roles reasonably well, but I just can't really bring myself to care if Lauren and the undeveloped Wes ends up together or not. Mama Strucker's attempts to force their kids to learn arithmetic or bean plant genetics is also particularly dumb here. Sure, Polaris's brick-throwing isn't particularly elegant, but what're they going to do with those when they're literally on the run every day of their lives? The fact that Wes only, y'know, stole some shit and the Struckers react so insanely when only last episode they actually broke and entered into a government facility and knocked out a couple of guards -- and that's not to count everything else that has happened in the past 6 episodes... yeah. Hypocritical much?

Overall, definitely a pretty weak episode that seem to be more of a bunch of rejected subplots thrown together to be resolved (Blink's leaving, Marcos's drug cartel backstory, Lauren's boyfriend) in addition with some exposition for Sentinel Services. It doesn't make for a particularly thrilling 40 minutes for sure.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Supergirl S03E05 Review: Emotional Problems

Supergirl, Season 3, Episode 5: Damage


Okay, I'm not going to be particularly wordy with this episode. It's not terrible, it's just... there. It's an episode that probably is something that many others would appreciate more than me. It's not written terribly, it's just that both of the plotlines of this episode just don't appeal to me at all. I guess part of it is the fact that Maggie's actress has to leave the series, and a graceful exit is far better than abruptly killing her off for shock value, but at the same time I just never quite bought into the fact that "but I wanna have kids' excuse as something to utterly rip the two apart, especially after the past few episodes emphasizes so much to how they're happy and cute together and all that. Still, I guess it's somewhat of a bittersweet note that their breakup isn't anyone's fault, and they're otherwise super-compatible... but eh. I dunno. I've never been one to get super-duper invested in shipping, and while the two actresses have done an amazing job at making Maggie and Alex be likable, I've always thought that their storylines tend to kind of bog down episodes and transform the superhero show into a romance show. And it's a very well-executed one, don't get me wrong, but still, from a narrative standpoint I'm actually glad that it's pushed to the side? When it was Kara and Mon-El last season, at least the superhero plotlines do tend to revolve around those, instead of us having to break away from it specifically. 

The problem is that the A-plot isn't quite that interesting either. Sure, on paper, it's a pretty decent Superman/Supergirl plot. Their ally, Lena Luthor, is being framed for a crapton of sick kids who may or may not be having lead poisoning (lead poisoning does not, in real life, cause random life-threatening seizures, but this is a superhero show. So.) from Lena's detonation of the lead bomb that fucked over the Daxamites at the end of the second season. And Lena's played by a great actress that executes her role as a self-loathing person who's driven by both the guilt that she may be responsible as much as her own hate for her Luthor blood. What kind of didn't work out that well is the fact that Morgan Edge is so obviously behind it all (while at the same time completely being untraceable, all Lex Luthor-style), while Kara and Samantha's searching for the true culprit ends up being a pretty bland detective clue-hunt. I suppose Kara saving the plane and Lena is pretty cool, but honestly a lot of this episode just felt kinda flat to me. Particularly perhaps due to the fact that Lena rushing to Edge's factory, pulling a gun and trying to Luthor-execute Edge feels like such a strange sequence in my head.

There's a sub-sub-sub-plot about James and Lena's office relationship that has James take a bullet for Lena in the mid-episode cliffhanger, but that's honestly just so dry-cut that I have nothing to say about it other than to acknowledge it exists. Though the shooting thing did give us the cool moment with Samantha's invulnerability at the end of the episode, though, so that's cool. 

Of course, though, part of what makes the episode not quite be terrible is particularly strong performances from Lena and Alex's actresses. I also do acknowledge that dipping Supergirl's toes into other genres is definitely a great way to appeal to a larger audience, and while 'chick flicks' have never been my thing, I do know that it appeals to people and I'm fine with that. Overall, though, a combination of multiple factors in this episode that didn't just work quite right make this a pretty sub-par episode. 

Kaiji - Ultimate Survivor S01E08 Review: Kaiji vs Funai

Kaiji: Ultimate Survivor, Episode 8: The Iron Hammer


A single-episode review this time around -- not sure how often I'll do these sort of things. I guess when there's a lot to talk in the episode. It's a neat little episode that builds up to a final confrontation between Kaiji and Funai, and it's actually pretty neat in subverting that expectations, because the Kaiji-Funai battle only lasts until around the halfway mark.

But the Kaiji/Funai confrontation is pretty cool. Kaiji knows Funai's card, and Funai doesn't want to risk the 3 stars that Kaiji demands from him, convinced that he can at least get rid of his card and at the worst a star by battling 'X', the unknown quantity that holds the three scissors cards... and it's a pretty tense bit. X has been mentioned throughout the past few episodes, and it's honestly a clever, if slightly anticlimactic, plot twist to reveal to us that 'X' is actually a person we've seen before. The dude that flushed all his cards down the toilet. The destroyed cards are just not tabulated on the screen.

And Funai ends up being forced to agree to play against Kaiji and he ends up losing, which is definitely well-played, and displays Funai's fall from grace pretty amazingly. Funai definitely gets the biggest hate-sink at this moment for general douchebagginess, so it's definitely great to see him be forced to kowtow and give a bunch of stars to Kaiji and his group.

However, X's missing cards does mean that there's an odd number of cards, and part of why Kaiji's so intense is because he knows that there's going to be one card left-over, so even after they get an adequate number of stars one of them still has to be dragged off to the room-of-doom, and Kaiji is very much ready to make the sacrifice. And it's this super-cocky 'well, I'm going to die anyway, I'll drag you with me' mentality that ends up causing Funai to eventually fold, because Kaiji literally has nothing else to lose. He expects that his allies can buy him back at the end of the proceedings, and puts trust in them. After all, hasn't Furuhata and Ando been steadfast allies through this all?

And we get this very humiliating scene as Kaiji is stripped down and thrown into a room with all the others who had been likewise striped. Nothing is erotic of fanservicey about all this, and really highlights their value -- or lack thereof. Kaiji ends up discovering that, yes, the white-suited dude with sunglasses (apparently named Sakai) is indeed cheating, and the one-way mirror that the prison room has allows those inside to basically signal their allies outside. Of course, Sakai, being an obvious douchebag, has fooled his partner, an uncle called Ishida, who ends up being a chump.

Sakai is a repeater, which is why he knows the ins and outs of the Espoir ship's system. And it's pretty cool how the scroundel-looking toothy dude in the room, Okabayashi, basically dissects Ishida and Kaiji's arguments. Okabayashi is a cocky bastard who rains all over Kaiji's confidence that his friends will save him, talking about how loyalty and friendship are pointless.

And, indeed, as Okabayashi and Kaiji expects, there's a buy-back moment at the end of the whole thing, and Sakai, of course, is nowhere to be seen, dooming Ishida to the room. Okabayashi, meanwhile, is bought back by his allies, because he's holding on to a crapton of money and that's his insurance to make sure his friends will get him out. Kaiji, on the other hand, trusts his allies so much that he entrusts them with all his money and stars... and as Furuhata gets ready to buy Kaiji back, it's honestly a bit of a 'eh, of course he will'. I mean, wasn't the whole point of the Kaiji-vs-Kitami fight to show how Kaiji's friendship with Furuhata and Ando is the real deal, and they trust each other?

Except it honestly wasn't. Kaiji hasn't been super-truthful or open with his allies, telling them to 'trust me!' and basically do things while the two of them are complaining and whining behind his backs. Furuhata and Ando has likewise gone and splurged their way through several impulsive moments of panic, and Furuhata himself was the reason Kaiji was in this situation. And thus while Furuhata's doormat tendencies means that I totally buy that he'll want to save Kaiji at first... Ando's betrayal was surprising but not at all something that doesn't make sense. And anyway, he's going to get a lot of money from it all, by selling the extra stars to the random people that need stars to get off the ship. It's definitely very interesting to see what's going to go on, and how Kaiji will get his way out of the pickle he's found himself in. 

Hearthstone: Knights of the Frozen Throne Post-expansion Review

Knights of the Frozen Throne banner.jpgSo, back when I was reviewing cards for Knights of the Frozen Throne, I did a final review bit with all the cards, rating them from 1 to 5, with 5 being super-OP and 1 being shit. And, of course, while rating cards can be best done when we have seen the entire set, it's a bit hard to really determine what cards are great before we actually play them. There are also some cards that are good, but the decks or the meta just didn't quite support it.

So I'll go through each class and revise my ratings for all the KOTFT cards. Considering we have had a nerf hammer drop in the middle of this expansion, it's going to be slightly wonky about where the cards fall currently. It's only for the current Standard meta, however, so keep in mind that a card like Forge of Souls would be absolutely powerful if the meta was a bit more friendlier to Warrior decks in general, or if they got a couple of greater weapons.

DRUID:

Malfurion the Pestilent(62904).pngDruid had a really, really good run in this expansion, so much that nearly half of the nerf hammer targeted druids. A combination of the Aggro-Token Druid and Jade Druid dominated (and I do mean dominated) the meta, especially in the pre-nerf decks, and while Aggro Druid has lost much of its bite, it's still a pretty viable deck. Jade Druid is still a powerhouse, it just shares the rank one spot with a bunch of other decks. And currently we even see the rise of other styles of druid like Big Druid. So if I had to rate the cards once more...
  • 5: Malfurion the Pestilent (up from 4), Ultimate Infestation (up from 4), Spreading Plague (up from 3)
  • 4: Druid of the Swarm (down from 5), Crypt Lord (up from 3)
  • 3: Strongshell Scavenger
  • 2: N/A
  • 1: Gnash, Webweave, Fatespinner (down from 2), Hadronox (down from 2)
I mostly guessed the best cards in the 4-5 rating pretty well, I just under-estimated just how overpowered Malfurion and Ultimate Infestation would be. The fact that such control cards were even legitimate tech cards in some aggro lists boggles my mind. Crypt Lord is just such a great card that's far better than I gave it credit for, and Spreading Plague was the one that I expect to be good... but not super-duper nerfable. Meanwhile, the crap cards are... well, still kinda crap. I really guessed Hadronox would at least be a little better, but oh well. Overall... Druids win this expansion. Hands down.

HUNTER:
Deathstalker Rexxar(58724).pngHunter's an interesting class right now. It alternates between aggro and midrange at this point, and while it's a bit hard for it to gasp for air early in the expansion, after the nerfs Hunter is a pretty fun deck to play although it never quite got out of the slums of tier 3. It's nowhere as unplayable as it was in Gadgetzan, and is probably the easiest meta deck to make on a free-to-play account... but I, for one, mis-guessed which cards were good in the Hunter list. Hunter's an interesting class this time around because the cards are either pretty damn good... or just straight-up shit.
  • 5: Bearshark (up from 4)
  • 4: Stitched Tracker (up from 3), Deathstalker Rexxar (up from 2)
  • 3: N/A
  • 2: Corpse Widow (down from 5)
  • 1: Call Pet, Toxic Arrow, Venomstrike Trap, Exploding Bloatbat (down from 2), Abominable Bowman (down from 2), Professor Putricide (down from 3)
So I got most of the shit-cards right, with Call Pet, Venomstrike Trap and Toxic Arrow. I more-or-less got Bearshark's potential right as well,  and it's an auto-include in most hunter decks now. What I didn't expect, however, was just how great Stitched Tracker and Deathstalker Rexxar are. Sure, they aren't auto-includes and more of tech choices, but they're still legitimately playable. Stitched Tracker is slightly on the wane now because it's so much more useful to play the beast synergy game, and Deathstalker Rexxar is more of a meta choice... But I was so surprised how much of the hunter's set didn't work. Corpse Widow being absolutely near-unplayable is a shock to me, and Professor Putricide is straight-up a legendary that never, ever really manages to set off despite being pretty good on paper. So yeah. Hunter didn't quite get a lot of good stuff this time around. 


MAGE:
Frost Lich Jaina(61810).pngMage is interesting too this expansion. Early on, the big dominant Mage deck is the ever-damnable Quest Mage, but after the nerfs a more Secret/Tempo-style list have begun to emerge everywhere. Hell, even Control Mages are starting to pop up here and there, decks that truly rely on Frost Lich Jaina to carry them. The Elemental package didn't work out that well for Frost Lich Jaina decks, and while combos with Anomalus or Baron Geddon is cute Frost Lich Jaina turns out to be honestly powerful enough with the Water Elementals she summons without having to do cute combos. Overall, it's a surprisingly great expansion for mages, even though with the revised ranking they still don't actually get a lot of 5-star cards.
  • 5: N/A
  • 4: Ghastly Conjurer, Frost Lich Jaina (up from 3), Simulacrum (up from 1)
  • 3: Sindragosa
  • 2: Coldwraith, Breath of Sindragosa (up from 1)
  • 1: Doomed Apprentice, Glacial Mysteries, Ice Walker (down from 3), Frozen Clone (down from 2)
My guesswork for Mages is perhaps the most accurate. I don't think Frost Lich Jaina is a rank-5 card the way that Malfurion or Anduin's death knight cards are, but it's still a lot more powerful than I gave it credit for. The only one that I get horrendously wrong is just how powerful Simulacrum is in Quest Mage decks. I'm not really sure why I rated Ice Walker so high back then -- I guess I just thought the Elemental theme is what Frost Lich Jaina decks will be doing? Sindragosa is still a 3-star in my books. She tends to be cut out from decks, but is still a pretty decent tech choice for some control lists.  


PALADIN:
Uther of the Ebon Blade(62906).pngPaladin is an interesting bit. Early on in the expansion, Murloc aggro-midrange Paladin is probably one of the few decks to be able to stand up to the Jade Druid/Aggro Druid onslaught. There were many different variants of the Murloc list, and later on people start to throw in Corpsetaker synergy because, holy shit, Corpsetaker decks are great. After the nerfs, Paladins are somewhat less powerful with their murlocs with the nerf to Warleader, but a combination of Murloc Paladins and the new rise of Handbuff Paladin (actually the first legit Handbuff Paladin deck, because they were kinda shit even in Gadgetzan) near the tail-end of the expansion makes it one of the stronger decks in the meta currently. There's also the cute DK Uther/Auctionmaster Beardo combo deck that ran around for a while. However, a good chunk of Paladin's success came from older cards or neutral cards, whereas a lot of the Paladin cards this expansion actually didn't quite work out.
  • 5: Righteous Protector
  • 4: N/A
  • 3: Chillblade Champion (down from 4), Uther of the Ebon Blade (down from 4)
  • 2: Bolvar Fireblood
  • 1: Light's Sorrow, Desperate Stand, Blackguard (down from 4), Howling Commander (down from 3), Dark Conviction (down from 3), Arrogant Crusader (down from 2)
Every single card in this list other than Righteous Protector and Bolvar, Fireblood ends up being cards I over-estimated. Chillblade Champion and Uther of the Ebon Blade are legitimately good cards still, but even they get cut out of the Handbuff and Control Paladin lists respectively every now and then. I overestimated lots of cards as well, with Blackguard perhaps being a card that I thought was way too good than it is. So yeah. Perhaps the class I got the most wrong answers about.


PRIEST:
Shadowreaper Anduin(62889).pngPriest is currently dominating the meta, and that's due to Shadowreaper Anduin/Raza the Chained/Kazakus decks being immensely powerful. Easily the second-strongest deck during the Jade Druid era, and easily a contender for top dog spot after the nerfs, Highlander Priest is such an amazingly powerful combo deck. The other large presence of Priest in the metagame is caused by the surprising emergence of Big Priest, a deck I didn't see coming at all. Combining Barnes, Y'Shaarj and a bunch of other big minions with the new cards Eternal Servitude (discover a minion that died), Shadow Essence (Barnes-ing a 5/5 copy) and the new Obsidian Statue minion, Big Priest is a surprisingly legit deck in the meta. And you'll see that my Priest review is the exact opposite of the Paladin one above, where I underestimated so many cards so much here.
  • 5: Obsidian Statue, Shadowreaper Anduin (up from 4), Eternal Servitude (up from 3)
  • 4: Spirit Lash (up from 2), Shadow Essence (up from 2)
  • 3: Devour Mind 
  • 2: Acolyte of Agony, Shadow Ascendant, Archbishop Benedictus (up from 1)
  • 1: Embrace Darkness (down from 2)
So yeah. I knew Anduin was going to be good, I just never expected it to be the new Deck-to-Beat with Raza. Spirit Lash is the biggest card I underestimated, being an amazing AoE/recovery tool against aggro, and otherwise just a cheap card to activate Shadowreaper Anduin or Lyra's ability. Eternal Servitude is probably another card I underestimated a lot on this list, though, because it's not only a card I underestimated in Big Priest, but also pretty great in Highlander Priest as well. Shadow Essence doesn't get to be 5-star because it's only used by Big Priest. Archbishop Benedictus is a hilarious meme card, but it did see some legitimate experimentation in Raza Priest decks for a while.

Valeera the Hollow(62876).pngROGUE:
Rogue is one of the biggest surprises for  me this expansion, mostly because I didn't expect them to be any good. And to be fair, they weren't really that great until the post-nerf, but Tempo Rogue is pretty much a tier 1 deck right now, and I'm still surprised at how stable the Tempo Rogue list is despite not honestly doing anything particularly special. Miracle Rogue decks are also around, as well as the absolutely disgusting Keleseth-Double-Shadowstep-overvalue deck. So yeah. Rogue didn't show its face a lot in the early parts of the expansion, but has proven to be possibly the third-most-powerful class after druid and priest. The thing is, though, like Paladin, a lot of Rogue's power came from the neutral cards, with the new class cards mostly acting as tech choices.
  • 5: N/A
  • 4: Valeera the Hollow (up from 3)
  • 3: Shadowblade (down from 4), Plague Scientist (up from 2)
  • 2: Lilian Voss (down from 3)
  • 1: Spectral Pillager, Leeching Poison, Doomerang (down from 2), Roll the Bones (down from 2), Bone Baron (down from 3), Runeforge Haunter (down from 3)
Oh man, I over-esetimated Lilian Voss and the deathrattle archetype so much. Plague Scientist is a card I kind of overlooked, although to be fair it's not in every tempo list either.  Perhaps my biggest surprise is just how many 1-star cards are in the list. Doomerang and Roll the Bones are far more unplayable than I thought they would, and I genuinely thought Bone Baron would be a good card... alas, it isn't. Again, though, a lot of Rogue's strength right now comes from older cards (Leeroy, Cold Blood, Vilespine Slayer, Edwin) or neutral cards (Keleseth, Bonemare) that I'm honestly not sure about even putting Valeera the Hollow as a 4-star card, because she's being teched in and out of decks even now. 


SHAMAN:
Thrall, Deathseer(62861).pngPoor, poor Shaman. I've predicted that the freeze Shaman archetype would fail, but I didn't expect Shaman to essentially just be reduced to variations of the Evolve Shaman deck. Evolve Shaman is hella fun to play, and due to the sheer value of a Doppelgangster-Thrall Deathseer turn, Evolve Shaman has a death grip on the tier 2/tier 3 list. But it's literally impossible to play any other types of Shaman right now, and believe me, I've tried Elemental and Midrange lists and they just can't manage to stand up against anything on the ladder.
  • 5: Thrall Deathseer
  • 4: N/A
  • 3: N/A
  • 2: Voodoo Hexxer (down from 3), Drakkari Defender (up from 1)
  • 1: Ice Breaker, Avalanche, Brrrloc (down from 2), Snowfury Giant (down from 3), Ice Fishing (down from 3), Moorabi (down from 2), Cryostasis (down from 2)

So, yeah. Thrall Deathseer is a great card, but I've literally never seen any of the other new Shaman cards outside of Arena. Be it Overload, Freeze or Murlocs, none of the synergies touted around in the expansion ended up working well, and if they do... you're better off playing any one of the eight other classes in this expansion. Evolve Shaman, like Rogue decks in this expansion, also works off neutral cards like Saronite Chain Gang or older cards like Primalfin Totem more than newer ones, so it's another class who ends up having a place in the ladder but nearly no good new cards.

Bloodreaver Gul'dan(62934).pngWARLOCK:
Warlock is perhaps the biggest surprise for me, due to how great it is in this meta. Zoo Warlock (with Keleseth's help) is a pretty scary deck near the time of the nerfs, and is a consistent tier 2 decks. There's a lot of flavours with Zoolock too (one where you put in the pirate package, or go all-in with the demon package with Crystalweaver and Bloodfury Potion), with Bloodreaver Gul'dan offering a stable controlling tool at the end. Control Warlocks also do relatively well in the meta, again, due to no small part thanks to Bloodreaver Gul'dan. Discard Warlock is... still shit, but at least it's fun to try and make work. There's enough good stuff in the Warlock card pool that honestly we're maybe 2 or 3 more good cards to make the archetype work. Right now, though? Zoo and Controlare king among the Warlocks.
  • 5: Despicable Dreadlord, Bloodreaver Gul'dan (up from 3)
  • 4: Defile (up from 3), Drain Soul (up from 2)
  • 3: N/A
  • 2: Blood-Queen Lana'thel, Gnomeferatu
  • 1: Treachery, Howlfiend, Sanguine Reveler (down from 2), Unwilling Sacrifice (down from 2)
I was tempted to move Lana'thel to 1, but Discard Warlock's a somewhat-okay deck that can sometimes get victories... and Lana'thel tends to be one of the more powerful cards in that deck if you can get her to work. Howlfiend is still crap, though. I guessed that Dreadlord would be powerful, but I severely underestimated how great Bloodreaver Gul'dan, Defile and Drain Soul are. Drain Soul's use in Control Warlock is just great, basically filling in the void of Darkbomb back in the day while still giving the Warlock some recovery. Defile's an amazingly powerful card to play around with to clear boards, and Bloodreaver Gul'dan is just easily one of the most powerful Death Knights ever, vying against Anduin and Malfurion for that best-DK spot.


Scourgelord Garrosh(62927).pngWARRIOR:
Warrior's... struggling. Whereas Hunter and Shaman at least have one good deck, Warrior's kind of all over the place. It used to be relatively safe to play Pirate Warrior in the pre-nerf decks, and many, many variations of Control Warrior are experimented upon... but they're all shot to hell by a combination of the large amount of Golakka Crawlers and Bloodsail Corsairs in the meta, as well as the fact that Fiery War Axe was one of the cards that were nerfed during the mid-expansion nerf. Right now I'm truly struggling to get my Warrior decks to do anything consistent at all. There's a fun little Dead Man's Hand control deck which I admit can actually work really well, but it's so slow and grindy and far less fun, in my opinion, compared to playing controlling Warlock or Druid decks.
  • 5: N/A
  • 4: Dead Man's Hand (up from 1)
  • 3: Scourgelord Garrosh (down from 4), Blood Razor (down from 5), Bring it On (up from 1)
  • 2: Mountainfire Armor (down from 3)
  • 1: Animated Berserker (down from 3), Rotface (down from 2), Val'kyr Soulclaimer (down from 2), Death Revenant (down from 2), Forge of Souls (down from 5)
So yeah. I'm honestly even struggling to justify to myself that Dead Man's Hand is a 4-star instead of a 3-star, but man, Warrior cards just aren't that powerful. Scourgelord Garrosh is the black sheep of the Death Knights this expansion, and while undoubtedly powerful he's not as deck-defining or archetype-defining as, say, Frost Lich Jaina or Thrall Deathseer. Whenever I see my enemy transform into a Death Knight I go 'oh man, I'm fucked, I need to step up my game to beat him before he gains more value' whereas with Garrosh I breath a sigh of relief -- all I have to do is weather the three weapon strikes, and then it's a matter of whether he can survive through it all. Dead Man's Hand is scarier than the Death Knight, honestly. And I severely over-estimated the Enrage mechanic, none of which end up working out. Forge of Souls and Blood Razor are cards I rated 5-star initially, and they're pretty... shit and m'eh respectively. Forge doesn't actually see any play at all, whereas Blood Razor is an okay card, but nowhere as powerful as I thought it'd be.


NEUTRAL:

Prince Keleseth(58723).png
  • 5: The Lich King, Saronite Chain Gang, Bonemare (up from 4), Cobalt Scalebane (up from 4), Prince Keleseth (up from 1), Corpsetaker (up from 3)
  • 4: Acherus Veteran (up from 3), Tainted Zealot (up from 3), Skulking Geist (up from 1)
  • 3: Bone Drake, Happy Ghoul (up from 2)
  • 2: Fallen Sun Cleric, Skelemancer, Mindbreaker, Nerubian Unraveler, Phantom Freebooter (down from 4), Rattling Rascal (down from 4), Deathspeaker (down from 3), Shallow Gravedigger (down from 3), Prince Valanar (up from 1)
  • 1: Snowflipper Penguin, Deadscale Knight, Wretched Tiller, Prince Taldaram, Deathaxe Punisher, Grave Shambler, Keening Banshee, Meat Wagon, Night Howler, Ticking Abomination, Wicked Skeleton, Venomancer, Spellweaver, Arfus (down from 3), Grim Necromancer (down from 3), Bloodworm (down from 3), Corpse Raiser (down from 3), Vryghoul (down from 2), Tuskarr Fisherman (down from 2), Drakkari Enchanter (down from 2), Hyldnir Frostrider (down from 2), Sunborne Val'kyr (down from 2), Tomb Lurker (down from 2), Furnacefire Colossus (down from 2), Necrotic Geist (down from 2)

The Lich King(62922).pngSo the biggest surprise for me is just how powerful the Neutral cards are. Lich King, Bonemare, Cobalt Scalebane and Saronite Chain Gang are all cards I expected to be powerful (I definitely slightly underestimated Bonemare and Scalebane, though) and amny of the currently powerful decks all use these four cards in one way or another. One of the best cards in the expansion, especially post-nerf, however, has to be the unexpected arrival of Prince Keleseth. Turns out that a Mistwalker effect on turn 2 that doesn't lose as much tempo as the Mistwalker? It's pretty fucking powerful. Keleseth is seen in great amounts in Paladin, Warlock and Rogue decks, and even some Warrior and Hunter lists try to use the Prince as well. He's just pretty fucking powerful. The Lich King also deserves mention as being a very great and balanced card. He's not the 'New Dr. 8' that's a near-auto-include the way Ragnaros was back in the day, but while he's immensely powerful, there's definitely a choice on whether he fits your deck better or, say, a card like Medivh would.

A bunch of notably powerful cards are those I ranked as 3-star cards. Corpsetaker is a powerful card in many Rogue and Paladin decks, Acherus Veteran is a powerful mainstay in zoo Warlock decks, and Tainted Zealot is pretty damn powerful in Control Warlock decks. Bone Drake remains at 3, I think, while Happy Ghoul is a far more interesting tech card in Control Warlock and Highlander Priest lists, although he's since been declining in popularity. Skulking Geist is a control card I didn't expect to work at all, and to see him have so much popularity early on in the expansion (he's since been cut out of many decks, but still a bane to Jade Druids) is amazing.

A notable flop from my part is Phantom Freebooter, who ends up being not good at all, surprisingly, being cut out even from Warrior decks. Skelemancer was popular for a bit in Paladin before being cut, and Nerubian Unraveler was likewise popular to counter Quest Mages and Jade Druids for a while before being cut. Prince Valanar saw far more play in Rogue decks than I thought he would, although he doesn't deserve more than 1 stars. Taldaram is still shit. Rattling Rascal was a card I thought was going to be great, but even in Evolve Shaman decks  he ends up being cut out due to Doppelgangsters and Saronite Chain Gangs being far more stable evolve targets. Deathspeaker, Arfus, Grim Necromancer and Bloodworm are all cards I over-estimated as well, seeing absolutely no play. Otherwise, though, it's just a matter of moving cards from the 1-star and 2-star categories in and out.

One last thing to note is perhaps a 'honourary mentions' list -- cards that weren't actually seen in the meta until Frozen Throne made them viable. Wickerflame Burnbristle of Gadgetzan fame was never bad, but Corpsetaker decks made him shot up into one of the card's best enablers. Corpsetaker also made cards like Stormwatcher and Grook-Fu Master, previously unplayable cards, be cards included in many Corpsetaker decks. Likewise, Barnes from Karazhan was never a bad card, but the existence of the Big Priest archetype made Barnes a keystone. Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound, was known for very long as the Old God who never had his day in the sun, and holy crap he's actually pretty decent and particularly scary now with the existence of Big Priest. Dirty Rat of Gadgetzan also saw a surge in popularity thanks to being one of the counters towards Highlander Priest and Quest Mage.

The entire Doppelgangster/Evolve archetype also went from being a fun meme deck into a serious Tier 2/Tier 3 deck thanks to the existence of Thrall, Deathseer. Auctionmaster Beardo also saw some neat play thanks to the existence of Uther of the Ebon Blade, although that's a rare deck to really come up against it's still better than never seeing him at all back when Gadgetzan was the newest expansion. I guess Prophet Velen, Novice Engineer and Gnomish Inventor, too, considering they were never really seen after Classic, and now they're often teched in to Highlander Priest decks? And, of course, the best card that probably deserves this award is Raza the Chained, a card near and dear to my heart due to being one of the first Gadgetzan legendaries I cracked open and I tried to hard to make a Raza Reno deck work with Shadowform and Inspire minions. The fact that Raza's an actual lynchpin in one of the most powerful decks ever makes me all happy inside.

So yeah. That's about it for the Knights of the Frozen Throne, with the brand-new Kobolds and Catacombs expansion slated to be released in mid-December. It's a neat little look back through what I expected would happen, and just how cards end up proving powerful. I still enjoy KOTFT very much, due to its theme and due to the Death Knights -- Highlander Priest, Big Priest, Evolve Shaman and Deathstalker Rexxar are all amazingly fun to play, and I had a blast piloting and crushing people with Zoolock, Murloc Paladin and Jade Druid. It's the expansion that I probably put the most hours into, with me earning a fair amount of golden heroes during the process. So despite the huge negative press that 'Druidstone' gets, I honestly didn't think it was that terrible, especially post-nerf. It's perhaps not as good as the Old Gods meta, but very few can be as good as that particular expansion.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Stranger Things S02E03 Review: Abysms of Shrieking and Immemorial Lunacy

Stranger Things, Season 2, Episode 3: The Pollywog


One of the biggest weaknesses about this season, perhaps, is how the cast is divided and their storylines don't really come to a certain cohesion. Yes, the cast in Stranger Things' first season was also likewise divided, but every single plotline revolves around the lynchpin of Will's disappearance and abduction by the Demogorgon. Here, everyone's storyline feels more removed to each other. We've got Hopper and Eleven playing house. We've got Will's thing with meeting the giant Cthulhu creature (can we call it the Thessalhydra, after the second D&D monster at the end of season one?). We've got Dustin meeting the Pollywog. We've got Lucas and Max, plus Max herself and her dickwad of a big brother. We've got the love triangle between Jonathan, Nancy and Steve. We've got the whole deal with the Hawkins Lab, as well as Joyce's new boyfriend Bob the Brain, who himself is trying to become a good potential stepfather to the Myers kids. Everyone has their own problems, and for the most part they are all... detached from the main threat or plotline. While I'm a big fan of giving Dustin, Lucas and Will a greater focus considering them being just lumped together in the previous season, spreading them out a bit too thin ends up working against the show in my opinion/

The titular 'pollywog' is apparently a weird little slaad frog creature that Dustin finds in his trash can, and he's convinced that he's discovered a new species, despite the possibility (brought up by Lucas, Will and Mike on several occasions) that the little creepy toad might have arrived from Upside-Down. Nonetheless, Dustin is very much more concerned about the very childlike glory of discovering a new species, and straight-up is in denial about the true nature of his new buddy d'Artagnan. Also to note that this is Max's first dealing with the supernatural, even if to her eyes her buddies are just kind of freaking out over a particularly goopy little freaky frog.

I'm also not a big fan of how Max is sidelined for a good chunk of the season. I realize that it's an attempt to show how kids don't immediately integrate a new playmate into their ranks, but at the same time this does lead to a couple of clunky moments, like Lucas being the one to ask for explanation of what 'True Sight' is instead of, y'know, Max the newcomer. Which, by the way, is an ability they're sure that Will has after his visions. 

Max herself ends up being more of a caricature than perhaps is intended, with the show pushing the "I'm not like the other girls, I'm a cool one!" deal a bit too hard. There were also moments where she tries, again, a bit too hard, to try to integrate into 11's role in the group, something that was more of the writer's fault than the character herself. I didn't really think we actually need the monologue of "hey, I can be your zoomer and replace El!" to actually establish that, yes, Max is trying to integrate herself into the group. 

11 herself sneaks out of the jungle shack after a definitely well-done argument with Hopper. Hopper is way too pre-occupied with keeping El safe from the bad men that his treatment of 11 is not unfairly compared to Papa Brenner. Sure, Hopper is teaching 11 how to read and stuff, but at the same time, he is denying her contact with the outer world, especially in times when he has to deal with a crisis, shit like dying pumpkins or eldritch abominations. The man means well, of course, but it's definitely not unfair for Eleven to be frustrated with Hopper, and her rant as she counts the days since Hopper last promised that she'll see Mike 'soon', coupled with 11's own spirit-visions to see Mike, close enough to touch but unable to interact, is really well acted. 

I'm not particularly sure we needed the scenes of 11 and Hopper building the traps in the flashback, though, that seemed unnecessary. 

Will is, by virtue of his condition as the only one interacting with the supernatural unknown, is perhaps the most interesting character in the show to some degree. Sure, I don't dislike the mysteries around the Pollywog or the 11/Hopper stuff, but Will's truesight and his constant lapses into the realm of the Upside-Down is absolutely chilling as he's met with the eldritch unknown. Of course, everyone, even Will himself, hopes that it's just PTSD. After all, Will's not the only one with PTSD among the cast -- Nancy, Joyce and Eleven are all showing signs of it in one way or another.

Bob, bless him, tries to be supportive in the way he can. He doesn't try to bullshit and pretend to understand Will's problems, but he does share his own anecdote of how he manages to get past his own traumatic experience with clowns -- by facing the imaginary clown in his dreams, and telling him to fuck off. Of course, if Will was dealing with mere PTSD and nightmares, this would work. When Will lapses back into the Upside Down when seeing Dart at school, he tries to do what Bob tells him to do -- after all, it makes sense. Something that reminds him of the slug he spat out after his trip in the Upside Down would trigger a PTSD episode. And besides, all the adults -- not just Bob, but also Hopper, Joyce and the nameless scientists, who went through the first season with him -- tells him that it's just that fancy 'post-traumatic' thing, so I really don't blame Will for accepting that it's his problem.

Except the gigantic eldritch abomination of shadows and tentacles, the thessalhydra (until the show gives it a name, that's what I'm sticking with) attacks Will with a gigantic tentacle. The CGI might be somewhat primitive, but it does capture the sinister... wrongness of the creature very well as it moves around in the realm, reaching down to Will with a tentacle and... sending its entire shadowy self into Will's mouth. That scene's pretty disturbing. And pretty exciting too, considering all the great soup of Lovecrafitan references that the show has -- dying crops, giant tentacled beings, nightmarish dreams... great stuff, without being too disturbing

What else? I don't really think that there's honestly much else that's particularly interesting to talk about. Joyce and Bob's relationships are well done. Nancy and Jonathan are apparently going off to try and expose the cover-up in one way or another, in the least interesting subplot in the episode. This seems to be one of the weaker parts of the season, for sure, and I do feel that they could've done better with pacing and tightening. Still, pretty neat stuff nonetheleess. 

Tokyo Ghoul:re 149 Review: Kanou Exit Stage Left

Tokyo Ghoul:re, Chapter 149: Splitting Bamboo


Bit of a slower chapter, if we're being honest. But part of it is a pretty decent one - even if I really think it probably could deserve better buildup and execution. The first chunk of the chapter is just Tsukiyama talking about wanting to see Kaneki happy, how Kaneki's goals has always been to protect everyone, as stupid and foolish as it is. I did think that the sudden whiplash of Tsukiyama ranting "he can't read the books he loves! He can't drink the coffee he loves! He can't cradle his child!" to the randomly black comedy of "I hope to get one bite of the parent-child combo set!" but I really thought that was hilarious, so. Nishiki, Banjou and Touka also speak a little, but not too much to make the chapter drag. 

(Tsukiyama also has prepared a list of stupid baby names, apparently, and that panel of him teary-eyed holding it up is funny as all get-out)

Itori apparently gets bored and leaves, which, once more, makes the Clown needlessly convoluted and enigmatic and honestly quite directionless, and that's a problem that others have evidently have a bit of a problem with, judging on comments on my last few Tokyo Ghoul reviews. 

The Goat stuff ends with Hide, Amon and Akira showing up, with Hide asking them to help him 'dig up some Kaneki'. Honestly, this whole thing ends up feeling a little muddled and convoluted, but oh well.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kanou visits his mother's grave and is confronted by Kuro, which is a character that I've forgotten once more. Apparently Kanou thinks his life goals is over, having accomplished the task of... what appears to simply be making Kaiju Kaneki? To expose the existence of Washuu ghouls to the world? Or some shit? It's not really made clear just how much of this plan is Kanou's doing and how much of it is Furuta's doing. In either case, though, Kanou then goes to a bit of a rant about how 'perhaps now ghoul research will now head to medicine instead of making quinques'...

Which is just a huge, huge problem I have with Kanou's motivation. Wouldn't unleashing a tentacle centipede Godzilla creature upon Tokyo be incentive to make even more powerful weaponry with ghoul research to take down Kaiju-Kaneki and any future creatures like him? And if it's ghoul medicine that Kanou's so interested in, he's the one who's responsible for a lot of the arms race with the creation of 'prototype' and 'nucleus' and all that stuff. And I'm genuinely not quite sure who came up with the whole 'my prototype will consume the nucleus and become a Kaiju', so Kanou's statement of how the Birdcage has broken ends up coming off more like insane rambling than the culmination of a series-long master plan. 

Add that to the whole fact that Kanou's woobie excuse of 'oh I did it to make medicine research' is honestly shoehorned in literally last chapter, and while it doesn't contradict anything else that Kanou has done in the past, it kind of tries to for a factor of nobility to the character that I don't think is well-deserved.

And, well, Kanou shoots himself in the head before it gets even more off-track, which I suppose is a bit of a mercy kill. His storyline ends up just being some tragic dude who's tunnel-visioned into kind of going through the most complex imaginable plan to get a completely different outcome than he probably wants... and I guess there's merit to showing that sort of insanity, of sorts? I personally am not a big fan of how Kanou ended, although it's not terrible. 

Oh, and because I completely forgot about Nishiki's girlfriend who was foreshadowed to be captured by Kanou and turned to an experiment or whatever? Apparently she's just... Kanou's assistant? Which makes Nishiki's whole anger and mysterious conversation and all the foreshadowing behind that particular sub-plot feel kind of redundant now.

It's despite it all kind of an okay chapter, because at least there's a sense of progression. I do think that Tokyo Ghoul needs some serious case of course correction, though, because this is the longest streak I've been in this manga where the huge plot twists ends up not feeling like they are enough of payoffs and end up being far more disappointing than 'oho, that's clever'.