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Learning From Pauper – Rethinking A...

By: Grillo_Parlante When I woke up this morning I intended to do actually work, but instead found myself browsing pauper content, eventually stumbl...

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Vampires are Storm

By: CML Everyone knows Black aggro is terrible in conventional Cubes and the Legacy Cube is a conventional Cube. Moreover, it probably has to be at...

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The Quest: Part 1: The Quest

By James Stevenson “By God, when I get home… I’m gunna take that frozen fruit, put it in the bottom, cover it in cake mix, then pour on a can of s...

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Too Many Cooks

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QrGrOK8oZG8 ...

Learning From Pauper – Rethinking Archetype Design

By: Grillo_Parlante

When I woke up this morning I intended to do actually work, but instead found myself browsing pauper content, eventually stumbling across a series of articles by an Italian blogger who goes by the name Near. Pauper is an interesting format in the sense that even though it would be accurate to say that it’s a format defined by commons, it would be much more precise to say that it’s a format defined by pre-NWO commons, and by that I mean, Wizard’s mistakes. The end result is a format executing powerful interactions but fueled by the daintiest of engine pieces. If Vintage and Legacy are the wild guys at the party, Pauper is like their nephew whom you had such high hopes for, until the day you caught him generating infinite mana on turn four in the garage. There is a tremendous amount that Cube can learn from Pauper, as Pauper’s creature-based bizzaro take on a degenerate eternal format offers a unique perspective for cube—itself a creature based, bizzaro take on degenerate eternal formats. And this brings me back to this morning, and Near’s blog post.

In the post, he was discussing some of the common errors in pauper, and number three on his list was “Over valuing Midrange Decks.” The key excerpt, translated below, reads:

“[this is] A common error in almost every format, because Midrange cards appear very strong, given that they often represent the best cards in every color and seem able to handle any situation.”

I think every cube designer has, at one time or another, faced the “Junk Problem” aka the “Good Stuff Problem” aka the “my drafters only want to draft similar looking and playing midrange decks how do I stop this” problem, aka the “my format is ruined because aggro is hardly every drafted and what do I do now” problem. The traditional way of balancing out Magic archetypes is to broadly create “Roshambo” or “Rock, paper, scissors” categories for “aggro”, “midrange”, and “control.” Aggro beats control, control beats midrange, and midrange beats aggro. Unfortunately, even if you do a very nice job designing for control and aggro, if your players are biased towards drafting appealing looking midrange cards, your cube vision can never truly come to fruition, and the entire format is knocked off balance.

So what’s the solution? I’ve seen (and tried) the “nerf midrange to oblivion” plan—didn’t work, casual players just draft bad midrange decks. There is also the “give aggro a super buff” plan—doesn’t work, people just jam the best aggro cards into a midrange shell. Probably the most bizarre (and worst) approach is to just cut aggro completely from the format; the designer evidently resigning himself or herself to a world ruled by King Thragtusk and his Knights of Green Fat.

Pauper, however, poses to us an intriguing question—have we been, perhaps, narrow-minded in our attitudes towards aggro design? Pauper, as a very condensed format, where everything must operate at low CC amounts due to the power of its combo deck and aggro decks, has resulted in some truly bizarre deck adaptations. In this harsh, ultra-condensed world, at what point might a very low CC deck start to heavily bleed parts of the rock/paper/scissors formula to both survive and thrive? What would be the result?

Goblins/Mono Red Control (2014), by jsiri84

Creatures (31)
Goblin Arsonist
Goblin Bushwhacker
Goblin Cohort
Goblin Matron
Goblin Sledder
Mogg Conscripts
Mogg Raider
Mogg War Marshal
Sparksmith

Spells (11)
Death Spark
Flame Slash
Lightning Bolt
Sylvok Lifestaff

Lands (18)
18 Mountain
Sideboard (15)
Electrickery
Flame Slash
Flaring Pain
Gorilla Shaman
Pyroblast
Smash to Smithereens
Sylvok Lifestaff

I choose this list both because it’s an extreme example of this concept (red and creature based), and because of how successful it’s pilots have been in competitive pauper events. You can read more about the deck here or here if you wish, but as it ties into our conversation today, it represents the idea that even fairly extreme looking aggro archetypes can be tweaked to blur traditional archetype lines. Ultimately, it’s probably more correct to describe the above list as an aggro-control deck, and as we go further, let us partly frame the issues in terms of how we can better apply aggro-control principles to our format.

Now, clearly a direct port of this list into any cube would be a disaster. Some designers require a much greater amount of raw power from their cards, a number of these cards are too narrow (sparksmith/goblin matron) to make the conversion, and it’s also possible that certain cards might be too complicated for some play groups (death spark). So let’s focus instead on a few broad principles.

1. Sligh Aggro is not fun for casual players. I want to bring this to the forefront, because we are not going to get very far without acknowledging this basic reality. Remember our quote from Near? Does playing a bunch of 2/1 creatures for 1 mana seem exciting, powerful, or able to handle any situation? The answer is a resounding no. Unfortunately, this one style of aggro defines what many cube designers will support (usually in only 1-3 color combinations), while at the same time providing a critical mass of attractive looking midrange cards in every other single color combination in their cube. Combining this with how sligh decks are very punishing of drafting and play mistakes, and their focus on technical play rather than flashy play, we shouldn’t be surprised when many such cubes finish midrange dominated.

2.Aggro can play the long game. It’s possible to bleed ideas of card advantage and removal into aggressive strategies. The above list has an engine of reusable removal and incremental advantage that can grind out an opponent if it must, or it can just curve out and kill like a normal aggro deck. This combination of removal, and incremental advantage, creates dynamic games that don’t feel like they are largely decided by turn four, while also providing a big flashy (and fun) way to end the game. This helps address the insecurity that drafters may feel about going into an aggro archetype in the first place, as well as the perception that it’s a fairly bland archetype.

3.Aggro-control decks do not need to be spell based or blue. Aggro decks featuring removal and sources of incremental gain can appear in even the most stereotypical of aggressive guises—in this case, little red men. This is good news, since most cube decks are defined more by their creatures than their spells, and also because any form of blue based aggro is notoriously difficult to support in cube.

So, than, the big question becomes how do we provide our aggro decks with:

  1. Sources of incremental gain that facilitate a presence in the long game
  2. Removal or other disruption, that supports an aggro strategy
  3. Variety

But let’s come back down to earth for a moment, and look at some examples of how this might look in practice, based on a few lists from my own budget cube.

R/W Heroic Goblins

grillorwheroic

Starting out safe. We have a pretty typical looking R/W goblins list. The format is a bit slower so having your pressure arrive on turn two is fine here. More relevant to our discussion, is the touch of control elements that work nicely with the aggro pieces: Blood Artist, Goblin Bombardment, Goblin Sharpshooter, Spikeshot Elder, Gods Willing, and Shelter. The latter two specifically can act as conditional counterspells (or conditional removal) protecting key threats, while the remaining four pieces variously serve as reusuable removal, or facilitate incremental gain by allowing the pilot to trade up with tokens. Recursive threats, such as a mogg war marshal, provide another source of incremental gain. Alternatingly, the deck can kill suddenly with fabled hero or the goblin bushwhackers, or go over the top with a heroic threat.

The variety of strategic axes, combined with the ability to confidently enter the mid and late game, helps make for a more appealing aggro package than a typical savannah lions based aggro deck.

Now, let’s take those ideas, and flow with them from the other direction—after all, our focus is on bleeding broad archetypal concepts, not just buffing our aggro decks:

G/W/r Hexproof Auras

grillogwhexproof

Here we have a midrange list, but its 2-3 CC focus brings it closer to the ground than a more traditional 4-6 CC midrange deck. While there are some faster draw sequences (generally revolving around Favored Hoplite, Ainok Bond-kin, Kor Skyfisher, and Fabled Hero) the list as a whole is much more focused around building an overwhelming board presence to go over-the-top with (though it does support an aggro-combo and horizontal aggro axes to much smaller degrees). The big payoff a drafter gets by going with this slimmer midrange approach, is that the 2-3 cc outlast cards mutually support one another, allowing the pilot to establish a somewhat earlier board presence, while still reserving the ability to horizontally grow dominate threats.

Ultimately, these two decks represent very different strategies, but due to our aggro deck’s potential to play a longer value game, and our midrange deck’s potential to assert early pressure, we’ve blurred those broad archetypal lines making it more difficult for a drafter to draw harsh strategic distinctions, and write off one part of the cube. Most importantly, by bleeding these broad archetypes into one another, we’ve made moving around the cube space a bit more appealing to that stubborn drafter stuck in the midrange comfort zone.

Now, let’s bring everything we’ve talked about thus far together.

Heroic Metalcraft Aggro

grillorwmetalcraft

There is a lot going on here, and I don’t want to divert too much into the very spikey mana base design, but this is a very powerful deck: strategically operating as an aggro deck, but with elements of midrange and control, and representing a lot of different aggro axes.

The heroic mechanic combined with combat tricks and protection effects, provides a source of disruption, as well as acting as conditional counterspells and removal—a form of incremental gain often generated through the combat step. Quite simply, you can trade a protection spell or a pump spell to control what is allowed to exist on the board, while also growing a threat that can later dominate the board through its size. This is a deck that is exerting pressure on turn one or turn two, but has enough control tools to play the long game (while also top decking better due to the wellsprings and low mana count), and can also eventually present a single high quality threat able to dominate the board in a manner not dissimilar to what a midrange deck might do.

Strategically, its capable of going with a fair beat down approach, taking a horizontal growth strategy supported by overrun effects, an over-the-top approach via a vertical growth strategy, or a more exotic aggro-combo approach supported by Fabled Hero, Assault Strobe, protection effects, or any other large vertical growth threat. By designing the cube in a way that blurs these broad archetypes, and by supporting a wide swath of viable aggro strategies beyond just sligh, we’ve created some very dynamic and complex aggro decks. Hopefully, our drafters will begin to understand that in our format, what a mistake it would be to overvalue midrange cards, and what a mistake it would be to dismiss those little red men as being simple idiots that must always effectively win by the midgame.

These ideas are also not so distant from what higher powered formats are capable of doing. The idea, for example, of using recursive threats to gain incremental value is already well represented in Gravecrawler-based black aggro. It may take some creativity to broaden those principles into other color combinations at various power levels, but the precedent for doing so exists.

Happy drafting!

Vampires are Storm

By: CML

Everyone knows Black aggro is terrible in conventional Cubes and the Legacy Cube is a conventional Cube. Moreover, it probably has to be at least a little conventional to satisfy people’s expectations of what an official Cube “should be,” which might limit the number of solutions the designers have at their disposal — it would be great if Randy and Gerry could speak to that, and understandable if they can’t.

At any rate, Carnophage et al. are too weak of cards to match up well against much of anything in the average 2015 Cube environment, which is undesirable from a design standpoint, nobody disagrees with that. One solution would be to weaken the overall power level of the Cube by cutting its strongest cards, but I tend to prefer higher-power environments and so do the Modo drafters, presumably. Another solution would be to just cut Diregraf Ghoul et al. and replace them with different Black spells — more finishers, more removal, or more viable yet more expensive creatures. This may have the desirable result of strengthening Black, the conventional worst color in conventional Cubes, to the point it doesn’t suck in general. This would promote deck diversity through balance. I will come back to this.

The argument for trying to keep Black aggro would also be one of diversity — if a color doesn’t have aggressive options, then there’s less you can do with it. So in order for Black aggro to be worth having around, what Black gains in versatility has to outweigh what it will lose in power level. This is an evaluation that every designer has to make for every “theme” they put in their Cube — should I have Academy Rector and a few goofy targets, or a Sublime Archangel and three more beaters? Aggro “themes” are bigger than other themes — they require a lot of slots — but we don’t think about it much because putting in beaters in Naya is what everyone does and everyone should do. However, the conventional Cube community, at large, has ruled against at least one aggro theme: Blue aggro. Check out http://www.gatheringmagic.com/enabling-blue-based-tempo-or-“blueggro”-in-your-cube/ and tell me that Lu Xun, Horizon Drake, and Mistblade Shinobi are worth three slots in your Cube. If they’re not worth it, the other bad support cards you need to make the theme big enough to be supported aren’t worth it, so then it’s time to get rid of the theme and allocate the slots to six Brainstorms, four Rune Snags, and a Dissolve or something.

I mention the multiples because in the case of Black aggro I could come up with no solution that did not involve breaking singleton. Jason Waddell’s excellent articles on CFB are not perfect, but they do have a lot of ideas worth borrowing, and the most successful one I’ve implemented in my own Cube (http://www.cubetutor.com/viewcube/114) is detailed here: http://www.channelfireball.com/articles/cube-design-remodeling-part-two/. The Cliffs are that Black aggro with Gravecrawlers, Carrion Feeders, Bloodghasts, and Blood Artists is lots of fun because the cards interact well with a number of other themes, can be reduced or increased in number to nerf or buff, and are viable and flexible enough to lead to interesting drafting and gameplay decisions. Some of the cards the Gravecrawler theme works well with are Vampires, and my Cube contains Blood Artist, Bloodghast, Bloodghast, Falkenrath Aristocrat, Guul Draz Assassin, and Stromkirk Noble, popular inclusions all, as well as DKA Sorin who makes little lifelinking Vampires.

Given that everyone likes these cards, and that Vampires, being an OK deck in a Standard format with Jace and Stoneforge, are among the most-pushed tribes in MTG history, a Cube Vampires theme is tempting. I tried it. It failed, but I learned something from it and some of what I learned I will type out below.

Start at my Vamps thread here: http://riptidelab.com/forum/threads/vamps.361/. To the typical lineup of Vampires, you could also add Bloodline Keeper, Olivia, Kalastria Highborn, Vampire Nighthawk, Gatekeeper of Malakir, Vampire Nocturnus, Blade of the Bloodchief, Bloodthrone Vampire, Anowon(?), and maybe another few that I’m missing, without making the theme too obtrusive. People who aren’t drafting “the Vampire deck” will want to play with most of these cards at least sometime, and that’s what you want.

At first blush, therefore, the theme looks reasonable. Why didn’t it work? Most of why is captured by Waddell’s comment — “There’s not a lot of actual incentive cards. Maybe the captain and Kalastria Highborn? Like, Bloodghast just works better with Carrion Feeder than any of these dumb old vampires” — but I should go into further detail. You want the “filler” cards to be fought over by a bunch of different people, but not too much — so far, so good. You also want there to be the incentive of synergy if you get a lot of these cards; this is what did not happen. The payoff for assembling the tribe was just not that great, and the tribe didn’t come together often enough. For the week or two I tried the Vampire theme there were maybe 20 vampires in my Cube of 450 cards, or 4.4%. By comparison, there are 56 humans in my current build of 470 cards — 11.9% — and I still cut Mayor of Avabruck and worry about people not picking Champion of the Parish and Xathrid Necromancer until late.

Yet 4.4%, which is insufficient, is significantly higher than the proportion in the Legacy Cube — and my list did not include Guul Draz Vampire, Vampire Interloper, and other draft dreck I see here. It is always funny to me how Cube power-maxers say “Cube is about the good cards,” and then include Sangromancer and defend themselves. (Though Vampire Interloper does make our jokes about Greg’s including Stormfront Pegasus even funnier, if that’s even possible.)

But I digress. In the unlikely scenario someone assembles a decent Vampire deck in the Legacy Cube and gets an incentive card or two, they may win some matches. Far more likely are the scenarios where the deck only comes partially together (40 percent of cards aren’t “opened” in a 600-carder), or where all the cards go 13th pick. The Zombie theme, synergizing as it does with sac outlets and recursion, is only partially a tribal theme; by contrast, Vampires (minus Bloodghast) are just regular dudes. Pure tribal in Cube is fundamentally problematic unless it is Humans. Compare Mayor of Avabruck, a two-mana lord in a big tribe, with the possible Vampire reward cards:

Blade of the Bloodchief sucks, nobody else will ever want it.
Bloodlord of Vaasgoth also sucks.
Vampire Nocturnus looks like it should work, but it will not. 1BBB is a restrictive cost in my Cube, which has a lot of fixing — and no one who has ever played both triple KTK and full-RTR block should ever bemoan games decided by something other than color screw.
Stromkirk Captain will be drafted by nobody else and is two colors. In general, the lack of fixing in the Modo Cube engenders awful games and throttles options for multicolor aggro, which brings me to the next card.
Kalastria Highborn is an amazing card, but there’s only one of them, and it’s not worth it with such a small amount of Vampires.

The larger issue is that the Legacy Cube is too big — 600 cards is better than 720, but it’s still obese. With a 600-card singleton Cube, there will never be enough strong Vampires to make a worthwhile theme, yet the theme will be too large and will stoop to include weak cards to artificially support itself — Guul Draz Vampire isn’t better in the abstract than Sarcomancy. This will ensure Black aggro continues to suck, which will make Black continue to suck, which is undesirable for all the reasons I covered at the beginning that everyone agrees on.

There are certain problems that cannot be solved without drastically slimming down the Cube or breaking singleton, likely both, and one of them is the problem of Black aggro. That Black aggro is not seen as irreparable when Blue aggro is widely looked down upon is, I think, due only to inertia and accepted convention, yet for some reason there are Vampires in the Modo Cube and I am writing a polemic about it.

While we’re at it, I’ll articulate my thoughts on aggro in Cube: having it is absolutely vital, and most of my design choices in my own Cube — more fetches and duals to fix and fix untapped, a smaller size, a lower curve — flow from this axiom. Yet I think that singleton Cubes mainly support aggro through having control decks either draw too many 4-drops or color-screwing themselves. (It is also funny to me how Cube power-maxers claim that “the decks should do powerful things” when the average deck will just implode pretty often.) Anyway, this does technically balance the Cube by bridging the power gap between “Scorched Rusalka” and “JTMS,” but leads to rote drafting and lots of horrible games. I also think nobody would consider playing big singleton Cubes were the RiptideLab.com-style Cubes popularized first.

Yet it is easy to rip something apart without doing any better myself. I will propose several solutions:

— Actual redesign of the Legacy Cube with Gravecrawlers, Bloodghasts, and so on.
— Ideal: let everyone make their own Cubes on Modo and draft them free of charge.
— Decent: maybe offer multiple Cubes.
— If the constraints on my solution are what I think they are, I would cut all the weaker Vampires (maybe a dozen of them) and add the strongest Black spells, regardless of function, you can find. Demonic Tutor would be a good place to start.

Jason Waddell articulates the process by which a theme becomes not worthwhile in his excellent article “The Poison Principle,” though, for Vampires, a more pointed comparison might be to Storm. Nobody will argue that “Great, I get to pass this 14th-pick Empty the Warrens again” is a good drafting dynamic, yet here we are with Guul Draz Vampire. Anecdotally, this is what happens when I include a terrible, half-baked theme, which I have done dozens of times in the last three years since I assembled my Cube. There have been a lot of bad cards in my Cube and there are still a lot of bad cards. A few of the bad cards leave and come back and are adopted given time, but almost all do not.

I support experimentation in Cube — I’m on Riptide Lab all the time, I find maybe one idea in twenty worth trying and find that to be worth the time spent, and I have a lot of radical ideas for Cube, including lowering the power level to open up a wider variety of cards, a broader and less explored design space. I’m not arguing that no one should try Vampires — I have tried Vampires. Rather, I am arguing that, based on personal experience and heuristics, and in the context of a 600-card singleton Cube with a conventional power level, it is very likely Vampires will not fix the issue their inclusion is meant to fix, or will just fail to work out according to game-design principles we as MTG players largely agree upon.

The Quest: Part 1: The Quest

By James Stevenson

“By God, when I get home… I’m gunna take that frozen fruit, put it in the bottom, cover it in cake mix, then pour on a can of soda, then bake it.” I was having an excellent introduction to Canada, eavesdropping on a table of old ladies in a restaurant. An old man hobbled over to their table for a quick flirt, opening with “How are you fine looking ladies enjoying your meal?” and telling them how good the food was there.

I was in Peggy’s Cove, a world famous town I’d never heard of, home to 38 people, a lighthouse, and a beautiful coastline of exposed rock. It looks like a moonscape, except for the sea and the groups of tourists that get bussed out from Halifax every day to say “how quaint” for an hour. A local complained to me that one hour is not really enough to see the town, and I quite agree. An hour and a half would be perfect.

I’d only been in Nova Scotia for a few days and I was ready to stay forever. I was staying in Halifax, and after London I felt like I’d finally ascended from Purgatory to Heaven. Gone were the gray streets and gray people, replaced by green trees and blue waters. People seemed happy and unhurried here. I remember staring out of a café window, half asleep at 8am. A pretty girl jogged up to the crosswalk next to the window and looked at me. Instead of glancing away, she held my gaze and smiled. I was amazed! What was this place? Why hadn’t I been here years ago?

Peggy’s Cove was just a day trip for the sake of checking out Nova Scotia. The people who drove me were really down to earth and easy-going. I got given all kinds of advice about wild animals, people would talk about moose and coyotes and bears. One guy’s parting words as he drove away were “Buy bear repellent!”

I got two consecutive lifts from a couple middle-aged hippies who were spacing out happily and driving around with some young kid in the back seat. They loved Peggy’s Cove and were really happy I was going there. When I left one of them said “Thank you for bringing the medicine to Nova Scotia,” and wished me a meaningful, loving trip.

After a week in Halifax the real trip begun. I was heading north to Quebec, six hundred miles away. I’d travel along Nova Scotia and into New Brunswick, and for a little while I’d be in civilisation. Once I reached the TransCanada Highway there would be a long stretch of wilderness before reaching Quebec, hundreds of miles of forest. Towns were rare; there was only the woods, the animals, and the creeps who go out there to disappear. Or at least, so I was told.

Right in the beginning I had really good lift. I’d been dropped off after a ten minute ride and I was walking along the shoulder when this car swerved over and screeched to a stop ahead of me. It was a little two-door thing, low to the ground and looking kinda beat up. I ran over.

“Oh man I love picking up hitchhikers!” my driver exclaimed. He was a skinny guy with a mad grin and tattoos down his arms. I jumped in and he floored it. “I got a bit of a wet foot! I hope that’s ok!” he said.

He slouched back and smiled slyly while he talked. He had this kind of confidence that the world was his oyster. What he did for a living escapes me, but I do remember him telling me what a profit you can make transporting Canadian weed into America. He said they don’t let him through the border any more.

“Why not?” I asked, wondering if he’d been caught.

“Because I got a criminal record as long as my arm!”

He told me about a Russian girl he met on chatroulette.com that he’s kept in touch with for years. He almost went to Russia to meet her, but something about it didn’t work out. Maybe it was his massive criminal record, or maybe it was her stern, Putin-loving, west-hating father (Now that I think about it, how old is she?). He was still hoping she’d come to Canada one day. “I don’t know how I’d make that work with a wife and kids, but I’ll find a way!”

“You’re really lucky I picked you up,” he said. “I’m gunna take you to a big truck stop, you’ll get a ride in no time.”
The place he took me was completely dead, and I waited for three hours, getting slowly colder and adding layers of clothing until I was wearing everything I had. There was hardly any traffic, though one guy pulled over and handed me a bag of chips and a can of soda. “I’m not going that way, but here, have some pop and chips!”

I got fed up and went to warm up in the Schnitzel Haus, a weird roadside German restaurant that smelled like eggs. It was like being in a chalet, with chequered table cloths and a waitress in a dirndl She had a lovely Nova Scotia accent that was really out of place.

After twenty minutes enjoying this bizarre atmosphere I hit the road again, and it wasn’t long before I started getting lifts. I remember having a lift with a guy in a pickup truck who cracked open a couple beers for us as we drove. I just went with it. There was also a retired school teacher who wanted to write a book about teaching. People these days don’t know how to get respect from their students, he said.

I ended up somewhere in the south of New Brunswick, still four hundred miles from Quebec. I was surrounded by open green fields and rolling hills, crisscrossed with lines of little trees that led to the edge of dark woodland. The sky was huge here. The clouds which had kept the earth so cold all day started to drift away to the west and the sun, dipping towards the horizon now, threw great beams of light over their edge. I sat on my duffel bag, finally warming up in the sunlight. Whenever a car appeared I’d stick out my thumb, but for the moment I was perfectly content where I was.

I got one more lift that day, a long lift with a trucker who was on his way home to Woodstock, New Brunswick. He was another skinny tattooed guy, with a bandana wrapped around his forehead. He laughed a lot as he talked, and he would bounce around nervously in his seat when he did. He was in his sixties, but he was lean and wiry. He trained in mixed martial arts and kept a chrome baseball bat next to his seat, just in case.

The light of his life was his daughter, who could do all kinds of neat things like fix cars and hunt and whatnot. He called her the son he never had.

He told me all kind of stories about the women in his life. He had a “lot lizard” (that’s a euphemism for truckstop hooker) in New Jersey who was quite fond of him and would drop whatever she was doing and see him if he was in town. He assured me she was clean several times, and in one story about a three-way he assured me the other girl was clean too. I don’t know why I’m mentioning this; he just said it a lot. He also had a girl in Texas, who’d hitched a lift with him once. She given him weed and slept with him during the trip and would also drop whatever she was doing to see him if he turned up in Texas. And then there was his wife, who knew all about these women and didn’t mind.

I asked if he knew other truckers, what he did in truck stops. “Oh you know, I’ll pull in and go see what’s going on. See who’s telling the tallest stories.”

When we finally got to Woodstock I was let out in a truck stop. It was dark, but trucks were still moving, so I stood by the exit and held out a thumb whenever anyone passed. I didn’t get anywhere that night, but one Nova Scotian trucker did pull over and hand me five dollars. I spent the night on the sofa in the truckers lounge. I was nervous I’d get kicked out and tried to look awake whenever anyone walked by.

I gave this up and went back outside around 7am, and this is the day that things got weird.

I went back to the spot I’d been standing at the night before, and a guy in a pickup truck pulled over. He was 78 years old, nuts, and he talked like he was missing all his teeth. He was out that day to pick up potatoes from the fields and sell them. As he explained, the harvesters miss potatoes and leave them behind, and he would drive onto the fields after the farmers had left and fill up a couple of boxes.

We were driving past endless potato fields and he would stare around wildly, looking for farmers. “You cocksuckers!” He’d shout. “Where are you cocksuckers? All them potadas are gunna burn!” He must have spent a solid half hour gumming about potatoes, he knew everything there was to know about them. When we did finally pass a field being harvested he shouted triumphantly “There you are you cocksuckers! I’ll be back!”

As I slowly learned, Potato Man had had a hard life. “You got a girlfriend?” He asked me. I said no. He showed me a picture of a woman. “This is the lady I was taking care of,” he said. She had died earlier that year, and his son some time before that.

“I used to pick up bottles along this road.” In Canada many homeless people collect bottles and collect the deposits on them. “I used to jerk people off for fifty bucks. I’ve slept in boxes, abandoned cars, you name it, I’ve slept in it.”
We were off the highway so that he could scope out potato fields, and anyway he had some burning hatred for the TransCanada Highway that I didn’t understand. We passed a cornfield and he pointed into some trees at the edge. “That’s where I used to pull up my truck. I’d pull in there, go take some corn, and go sell it.”

More and more he would talk about jerking people off, and slowly the stories started to be about hitchhikers. He’d picked up eleven hitchhikers that summer, he told me. He said he’d been telling another hitchhiker about his sexual encounters, and that hitchhiker had told him to stop and jumped right out. “But I ain’t never attacked anyone!” he told me.

He also warned me several times not to go to Kitchener, Ontario because it was “full of queers up there”.

The closer we got to the end of the ride the more desperate and up front he became about what he wanted from me, though he never came out and said it. “I ain’t never attacked anyone,” he said, As we were pulling to a stop, “but if someone gets it out I’ll play with it!”

Now I was spooked. Maybe I should have jumped out too, but I wasn’t scared, just disgusted. I bought a doughnut from Tim Horton’s to feel better, but that didn’t really help. It was Tim Horton’s so I don’t really know what I’d expected.
In the next car I was wary. “What does this guy want from me?” I wondered. But he was just another nice guy. Thank God.
I caught a third ride, slowly making my way north, slowly feeling better. My driver was a salesman from Maine. He would visit Canadian companies and sell advertising slots on American TV.

We were getting along fine, talking about whatever, and then he asked me if I had a girlfriend. I said no, and he said something I didn’t quite hear. And then, after a pause, “You wanna make a little money?”

I knew what was going on, but thinking there was a chance all he meant was “Do you want to get a job while you’re travelling”, I answered “Maybe.”

“I’ll pay you to let me jerk ya off while we drive.” His voice kind of oozed and purred, oily. Every time I think back he sounds more like Heath Ledger as The Joker.

This time I said no. He nodded.

“Thought I’d ask.”

More afraid of an awkward silence than of him, I picked up the conversation again. “So you’re married, huh?”

“Yeah.”

“What’s that like?”

“Marriage? It’s alright.” There was a pause. “But I’ve been bi my whole life.” He still sounded like The Joker.

After that ride I was feeling terrible. I’d hitchhiked thousands of miles in Europe and never had anything like this at all! I was starting to think back to all the rides I gotten in my life. What were they after?

The Joker had told me he’d pick me up again if I was still there after he was done in the town, so I was really hoping I’d get picked up before I saw him again. Thankfully a couple French speaking guys let me into the back of their minivan and completely ignored me. I leaned against the window, nervous and exhausted. My eyelids were starting to droop. “What the hell,” I thought, “these guys are probably fine,” and I fell asleep.

They woke me up when they were turning off and I hopped out. I started walking and started to feel good again. The sky was clear and the sun was warm. For the first time in 24 hours I took off a layer of clothing. I wearing a rainbow patchwork jumper and a swagged out Turkish sunhat, and I thought to myself I must look like some kind of weird ginger hippie chinaman. I giggled a little, and a great euphoria welled up in me. I laughed and grinned and breathed in the fresh air. This was real hitchhiking! Out here in the middle of absolute nowhere, surrounded by a sea of trees, walking on highways and being picked up by repressed homosexuals. I was miles from home, miles from anywhere and I felt so alive!

At the top of a hill I could see for miles. All around me was green forest, dotted with blue lakes. It was just me, the land, the sky, and wind at my back, blowing north. Ahead of me I could see a big sign prohibiting anyone from walking further. That meant civilisation! I was getting close!

I got one last ride that day, with some kind of cultural minister from Quebec City. As we drove he told me all kinds of interesting things about Canada and about Quebec, and around us towns and houses started to appear again. The mighty Saint Laurence River appeared ahead of us and led us to the city. We crossed over a great bridge to the island and took the scenic route into the old town, my driver pointing out different buildings and interesting things.

He drove me right to the steps of Hostelling International. I booked a room for the night, went in, collapsed on the bed, and slept.

That night I took a long walk in the rain. I had a lot to think about. The last two days had been more interesting than whole months of boredom at home. Not only that, but the next day I knew I would be heading for Montreal, and I was excited. Montreal was my goal. I know I haven’t yet told you why I was in Canada in the first place, but you’ll just have to hold on. Things were about to get completely absurd, and I won’t say anything at all until part 2. Stay tuned!

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Too Many Cooks

Youtube Scavenger Hunt

by: Jason Waddell

Hannes had been bugging me.

Pestering really. Text messages linking to the most inane, random YouTube videos.

“I’m not even interested in golf”, Hannes added.

I responded each time with the only appropriate response.

“Not now Hannes, I’m at work.”

When this proved an ineffective deterrent, I was forced to change tactics. “Tell you what, I’ll make you dinner Friday, and we can watch YouTube videos to your heart’s content.”

Prelude

The dishes were cleared and the festivities began, aimlessly at first.

“Less than 5000 views! It’s a travesty!”

Hannes was nothing if not passionate. As we watched, he waxed poetic on the intricacies of the YouTube ecosystem.

“Every YouTube session diverges in one of two directions: you either get stuck in some obscure abyss, or you reach VEVO.”

“So there’s a tipping point? Could we intentionally cross from one to the other?”

We devised a game.

The Rules

At the end of each video, YouTube presents you with a 4 by 4 grid of suggested videos. The goal was to start at a completely random location and, by navigating the suggested video links, eventually reach VEVO territory. More specifically, the Nicki Minaj: Anaconda official video. Truth be told I didn’t actually know what Nicki Minaj looked like, and had only heard the name as some sort of negatively regarded pop sensation. But I wasn’t one to turn down Hannes’ anthropological offerings.

Our starting point? A click of the Wikipedia “Random Article” page.

gravityAssist

Perfect. We’d search YouTube for “gravity assist”, click the first link, and begin our journey there.

Planetary Physics

Video 1: Gravity Assist or Stealing a Planet Angular Momentum and Getting Away With It 
Video 2: Gravity Assist
Video 3: Gravity Visualized
Video 4: David Blaine: How I held my breath for 17 min

Four clicks in and we’d made our first leap. We were moving on to greener pastures.

Youtube’s Got “Talent”

David Blaine led us to You’ve Got Talent territory, one step closer to music and one step closer to Nicki Minaj.

Video 5: Top 5 Magician auditions on Got Talent
Video 6: Top 5 acts EVER on World’s Got Talent 

Click six was undoubtedly a bad move. Before formalizing the challenge, Hannes and I had gotten stuck in an inescapable web of cyrillicly-titled Russian folk music videos. Cultural diversity was not our goal. We needed to toe closer to America’s Got Talent and steer clear of the World’s edition, multiculturality be damned.

Video 7: America’s Got Talent 2014 Top 10 (First Auditions)
Video 8: America’s Got Talent 2013 Episode 10
Video 9: Michael Jackson song sung by a 16 year old young man Must see AWESOME!!!

Okay, color me unimpressed, but performing a Michael Jackson piece at age sixteen is hardly noteworthy. The King of Pop himself started his recording career at a much younger age, so you’re not remotely in prodigy territory. And can we be clear on video naming etiquette? This video was hardly awe-inspiring, and certainly doesn’t classify as compulsory viewing.

But it did lead us to a deep place. A dark place. A swirling eddy we’d soon be desperate to escape. The Michael Jackson corner of YouTube. Neverland Ranch.

Michael Jackson Purgatory

Video 10: MICHAEL JACKSON BILLIE JEAN HD MUNICH BEST QUALITY
Video 11: Michael Jackson – Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough
Video 12: Michael Jackson – Black or White

There was no progress in sight.Every video ended with another wall of suggested Michael Jackson videos. We had to get out, by any means necessary. We devised a plan. Find Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal. Surely there we could take an Alien Ant Farm cover escape hatch.

Video 13: Michael Jackson – Scream
Video 14: Michael Jackson: Smooth Criminal – Moonwalker Version [Blueray]

We didn’t find a link to a cover. What we found was much, much worse.

Parody Hell

Video 15: Disney’s Frozen – Thriller by Michael Jackson

Video 16: Memorial Michael Jackson animation – MJJCN

Video 17: Michael Jackson VS Spongebob 2!!! Revenge of the Sponge

Ugh. The ’2′ in the title isn’t an errant character. It’s the second in a series of, from what we could see, at least four installments.

Video 18: Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” Tribute in LEGO
Video 19: Shrek – Thriller (Parody of Michael Jackson)

We thought it couldn’t get worse. But that was just wasted optimism.

The Seventh Circle

Video 20: Creeper – A Minecraft Parody of Michael Jackson’s Thriller (Music Video)
Video 21: Wrecking Mob – A Minecraft Parody of Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball
Video 22: Like An Enderman – Minecraft Parody Gangnam Style
Video 23: Minecraft Style – A Parody of PSY’s Gangnam Style 1 hour (With animations)

Insanity began to set in. But our path was clear. We had to reach the surface. Swim through the mire of parodies to each an official PSY video.

Video 24: Baby Gangnam Style – PSY babies dancing (Evian)
Video 25: “Walking Dead – Dancing Zombie” – Gangnam Style – Daniel Cloud Campos
Video 26: Psy – Gentleman Spiderman (SA Wardega)
Video 27: PSY – “Gentleman” (Hongtleman) Parody by Trend Factory
Video 28: Gentleman-Little PSY
Video 29: GUNMAN STYLE – GANGNAM STYLE (ASIAN WESTERN PARODY)
Video 30: PSY (ft. HYUNA) 오빤 딱 내 스타일-
Video 31: PSY – HANGOVER feat. Snoop Dogg M/V

Jackpot. Our destiny was just a few clicks away.

The Promise Land

Video 32: Nicki Minaj – Pills N Potions (Official)
Video 33: Nicki Minaj – Anaconda (Lyric Video)
Video 34: Nicki Minaj – Anaconda Video Reaction
Video 35: Nicki Minaj Anaconda Video: Behind the Scenes Vlog

Controversy

Something was wrong. Clicks that should lead to the official video didn’t. There was no way to get there organically.

“Are you sure it’s on YouTube Hannes?”

“I watched it yesterday. It’s got more than 200 million views. It’s on there. Keep trying.”

We tried a few more videos in vain, but the connection wasn’t there. Was YouTube silently directing traffic away from the video? Had they deemed it too raunchy to stumble upon by accident? What reasoning had caused this behavior?

As a final measure, we searched for Anaconda directly. And sure enough, it was there.

Maybe YouTube was on to something. Maybe we shouldn’t be watching this video after all.