Magically Brewing a Filth Casserole

Keep an eye out for this icon!

This post will be of particular interest if you are well/partially versed in the game that is Magic: The Gathering. Give it a try even if you’re unaware.

Mid-November, I read an article of Inkwell Looter’s on Gathering Magic about a new MTG format called Filth Casserole. Essentially, it’s a Constructed variant of 50 card Modern singleton; which means that you can use any card from Eight Edition onwards, although only once (with the exception of basic lands).

I’ve been a fan of restrictions for a long while, especially when connected to a game as open ended as Magic, and the restriction of deck-size and construction rules make it really interesting. What’s perhaps most appealing to me as a “Casual investor”, is that it allows me to build decks around one or two cards – especially choice rares that I happen to open. (The vampire deck below came into being because I opened a Stromkirk Noble.) The smaller deck size makes for further restriction of what can be included, but allows for an interesting amount of consistency.

How have I dealt with the restriction? Mostly, I’ve tended towards creating themed decks. I really like the concept of the format, and really enjoy building decks for it – at least have done so far. My favourite theme decks I share with you below – an aggressive RB vampire deck that allows you to repeatedly pummel opponents while calling out “I am a wampyr!”, and a slower, more controlling GU deck based around insects and themed heavily on a recurring character from my horror short stories called Gustav May.

These two decks are currently sleeved up and paired together – even if they haven’t been built as duel decks, they provide interesting foils to each other, and hopefully a good real-world introduction to the format to any MTG players I chance across.

What I like about the way I’ve been creating these decks is that I create a basic theme and allow a couple of subthemes to creep in – such as a vampire’s captivating and compelling nature. I’ve been designing these decks somewhat open ended in the hopes that they’d suit multiplayer games. Inkwell Looter has mostly focused the format on duels at the moment, as has Marcus Bastian in his post on the format, but I think that the format would lend itself brilliantly to multiplayer in all its glorious variety.

Either way, I tend to include a few what-ifs to help with whatever comes my way.

The paired decks I’ve created are as follows – and mostly based on what I can get my hands on. My favourite thing about singleton formats, though, is that if I can’t find one thing, there are several alternate versions that can take the deck in a different direction. Watch out for interesting synergies, such as Delver of Secrets plus Reclaim, or Traitorous Blood plus Altar’s Reap.

// Deck: Gustav May (50) // Lands 10 Forest 1 Inkmoth Nexus 9 Island // Creatures 1 Blightwidow 1 Delver of Secrets 1 Necropede 1 Phyrexian Swarmlord 1 Somberwald Spider 1 Tangle Mantis // Spells 1 Asceticism 1 Carrion Call 1 Contagion Engine 1 Dissipate 1 Fog 1 Frightful Delusion 1 Gitaxian Probe 1 Grasp of Phantoms 1 Hysterical Blindness 1 Leeching Bite 1 Lost in the Mist 1 Memory’s Journey 1 Overrun 1 Pistus Strike 1 Psychic Barrier 1 Rampant Growth 1 Reclaim 1 Shrine of Piercing Vision 1 Silent Departure 1 Spidery Grasp 1 Steady Progress 1 Tel-Jilad Defiance 1 Trigon of Infestation 1 Twisted Image

// Deck: Wampyr! (50) // Lands: 10 Mountain 10 Swamp // Creatures: 1 Anowon, the Ruin Sage 1 Bloodcrazed Neonate 1 Bloodlord of Vaasgoth 1 Bloodrage Vampire 1 Child of Night 1 Crossway Vampire 1 Falkenrath Noble 1 Markov Patrician 1 Night Revelers 1 Pulse Tracker 1 Rakish Heir 1 Ruthless Cullblade 1 Stromkirk Noble 1 Stromkirk Patrol 1 Vampire Interloper // Spells 1 Act of Aggression 1 Act of Treason 1 Altar’s Reap 1 Assault Strobe 1 Brainspoil 1 Enslave 1 Feast of Blood 1 Geth’s Verdict 1 Panic Spellbomb 1 Rally the Forces 1 Scepter of Empires 1 Tainted Strike 1 Traitorous Blood 1 Urge to Feed 1 Vampiric Fury

If you want to make your own Filth Casserole deck, here are the rules:

How to Make a Casserole

1. Your deck has a minimum of fifty cards.
2. You can only have a single copy of any card other than basic lands.
3. Legal card sets and banned cards are the same as for the Modern format.
4. No sideboards (so Glittering Wish is bad; sorry).
5. All the other usual stuff applies. 20 life, mulligans, blah, blah, blah.

If you want a game, either find me out in North London, or on Magic: Online as seanfsmith.

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Magically Brewing a Filth Casserole

//downtime

Considering the sheer overwhelming variance in my pressures at the moment, the above title is somewhat ironic!

However, the title itself refers to the writing downtime I’ve accumulated since the completion of NaNoWriMo. Well, the termination at least. I reached half the target, handwritten, for which I’m happy enough. Rather than let it rot away and be forgotten, as it seemed that many people who I met at the Write-Ins* had chosen to do so, I have decided to let the novel lie fallow for a month, while Irgard hangs perilously from the World Tree, to pick up the story again in January. I hope to get the first draft finished by the end of Feb: two months for a further 25k words is perfectly acceptable.

As such, I’ve got a random urge to keep writing (which I suppose is a large point of the challenge), but I mean to (re)turn my hand to other things. Amongst the fold are these:

Sending off Not A Bedtime Story to some more publishers. I mean to try Black Static again with this one; it’s a little shy of one-thousand words, so not quite suitable for Nightjar.Tweak my latest short story, Phage, which is mostly set in St Pancras station and polish it beyond its current second draft.Return to my cyberpunk universe, Slick Thames. It’s set a little into the future in an imagined London, but the current early nightfalls and sleeting rain draw my mind back to the setting. I’ve a couple of pieces of flash grouped as my Short (Circuit) Stories that exist, and a few thousand words of a started novel somewhere.

Precisely what I try to do, I’ve yet to decide. However, I’ve opened a world of possibilities with writing on trains from my NaNoWriMo experiment, and there’s only so long I can control myself. I bought myself a new premium notebook today.

It’s already begun.

* Great sessions where many a writer on the NaNoWriMo would take over a large section of various London cafés and fill them with the sound of clicking keys and my own scribbling pen. There’s a great video here, which documents a session at Starbucks where I finally crested 10k words.

At a later Write-In, I wrote a ten page paragraph. Very pleased with that.

//downtime

Fearful Houses (and Authorial Meetings {3})

Last night, I joined the “cool kids of the London horror scene” (to paraphrase Will of Spooky Reads) in rubbing shoulders and exchanging idle chit-chat with some notable names in British horror at the lauch of Solaris’ new horror anthology, House of Fear. The anthology is editied by Jonathan Oliver, “the hottest new horror editor […] since Stephen Jones”*, who downplays the complexity of his role by saying that he “finds a lot of stories he likes and puts them together.”

He also chaired the release event, leading a panel of Christopher Priest (him that penned The Prestige), Sarah Pinborough and Paul Meloy. I hadn’t read any of these authors yet, despite all intentions, but I hadn’t heard of the last at all – however, I found myself most impressed by his thoughts and contributions.** Sarah was affable and only semi-coarse, relating her thoughts to a well received response from the audience – most notably to over-loud (and over-lustful?) laughter from the man seated beside me. Chris’ mike lay on the table, and his calm contributions*** had the audience leaning forward to catch his words, calm and rapt. He reminded me of when I saw Philip Pullman talk at a panel at the Oxford Literary Festival.

I’ve not read beyond one story in the collection yet, but the tales range across the wide realms of haunted house literature. It’s an interesting topic, and one that generated much interest, and much discussion, on the night.

I’ve a mind to recreate that here.

* So says Jonathan Strathan, who is quoted on the back of the book itself.

** Indeed, I read his story as soon as I got home, rather than waiting to reach it in the collection as otherwise I would.

*** Sorry I contribute that word too freely in this entry.

Fearful Houses (and Authorial Meetings {3})

Unquiet Thoughts – Simon Kurt Unsworth’s “Quiet Houses”

I first came across Simon’s writing in a copy of Best New Horror 19 and being impressed at the eerieness he was able to create in an otherwise idyllic setting. In fact, the bathroom at my girlfriends’ parents’ house has a picture that really reminds me of that story, which is quite unsettling when I would otherwise be happy cleaning my teeth.

As such, when Simon announced on Twitter that he’d happily send out copies of his newest collection, Quiet Houses to those interested in reviewing them, I jumped at the chance. (And was then terribly delayed in my ability to download and read it, considering my holidaying in the depths of Cornwall and its lack of etherial contact with the elsewheres.)

I had read much of the book in the late hours of the evening, when all else had gone to bed, and found myself suitably displaced by the descriptions and stories within. I haven’t jumped at the sounds of my home settling for a good many years – this was not the case while I read Quiet Houses! As the blurb states, “The houses are quiet. It is their residents who are screaming.” The concept lends a nice counterpoint to the idea of ‘unquiet places,’ which is pleasingly mentioned in some of the narrative too.

Quiet Houses is less of a clear-cut collection than I had first thought, but more of a (well-executed) attempt at a verbal portmanteau format. The stories of the houses (a loose catch-all within the book, but a word that suits the idea of memoried locations well) are unlinked, but connected by the studies of parapsychologist Richard Nakata; they are told in a variety of different manners, from an interview in a greasy spoon to documentation and Nakata’s personal experiences. His scientist’s drive is apparent in his search for “proof” (evident in the first few pages as he whittles down responses to a newspaper advert into a series of leads) and in the clear and open nature of the narrative. Nakata’s insistence on denying none of the occurrences and similarly in maintaining as objective a stance as possible only serves to make the book more terrifying, because in reading through the stories it is impossible to do the same as reader.

The difference in the styles of telling the tales is good, and I have to say that my particular favourite was the letter detailing the evil that lurks in the Merry House. Personally I least enjoyed the section within the hotel; the strength of its story would perhaps stand better alone, for I feel it doesn’t link with Nakata’s narrative as well as the other tales. That being said, none of the stories within are wanting for quality of writing nor scares. Indeed, throughout I was very impressed by the descriptions of the happenings. If these are all ghost stories, I’ve never heard ghosts described in such different ways.

Quiet Houses is released on the first of October, at Brighton Fantasy Convention. If you are there, I endeavour that you seek out its release. If you are not, I implore you to read this.

I don’t want to be the only person with these fears in my head.

Unquiet Thoughts – Simon Kurt Unsworth’s “Quiet Houses”

Sentience

This tale is prompted by my near completion of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene and form my major worries that arise from it.

It was a Thursday when the Weft happened. The day was cool and humid and the wind hung in the air, waiting.

Unusually, the evolutionary biologists, or at least some, had been on the right track. Some of the theories about symbiosis and parasites technically explain what happen, and indeed match much of my research. What nobody knew was just how soon it could happen.

The Sentients pay me little attention now. They’ve not the limbs to caress, nor the sense to care. They hang in the air, wafting themselves about like giant jellyfish with their trailing, writhing knots of nerves.  The Sentients emit a low lilac light, a subtle glow that crackles with the pattern of the net. They are free of verbal speech, but I can only guess at their true intellect.

The human shells they left behind now stoop and slouch and drag their limbs. They recognise feeling near their legs, but most react aggressively like their lower lizard instincts would. In truth, that’s all they have.

It’s not uncommon to see a skitter of shells moving about as a clumsy group, tendrils from the hanging Sentient overseer high above rested slack across their heads. I try not to look that close – the way the tendrils grope about their ear canals sicken me.

The only thing more sickening is my memory of the Weft itself, and I hope you never have to see that yourselves. The sound of the brainstem parting skull will never leave me.

The buildings have mostly fallen into disrepair, but the weapons and intel systems are well attended.

I’m not sure what the trigger was. The symbiosis need never have ended. My research is slow and difficult, for they guard the net pretty closely now, but the rise of social networks seem to have helped. These are only my thoughts, but I hope you decode this tachyon timecapsule in time.

But who are you to trust me? I’m just a cat.

Sentience

What if?

A recent interview with Gary McMahon at the horror review site spooky-reads.com brought up something that I think is especially important in all creative enterprises:

To be honest, the hummingbirds came about as a personal dare. I always challenge myself to do difficult things in my novels – I wrote a 93,000-word zombie story without mentioning the Z Word; the ghosts Thomas Usher sees are never allowed to speak to him; and with The Concrete Grove I set myself the task of making a hummingbird, surely one of the most beautiful sights on the planet, scary.

I have to admit that I’ve yet to read McMahon, so I can’t judge his success.

However, the whole concept of restriction, of arbitrary rules, is of key importance to good storytelling.

Restriction breeds creativity.* Restriction forces originality,  it forces change. Rather than binding thought, restriction enlivens the final story – whatever the genre. It engages the writers’ craft.

It would be like encouraging new growth by cutting back dead wood, but I’ve restricted my use of plant metaphors in this post.

You can’t use them in the comments, either.

* As MaRo proclaims.

image

What if?

Size Matters

Those of you with a childish sense of humour* can stop chuckling now.

I have often thought about the importance of a story’s length, ever since reading the introduction to Michael Marshall Smith’s What You Make It. In fact, I hadn’t really read many short stories before then – that the National Curriculum prescribes so many novels and yet so few short stories, until only recently, is a matter for another post. I remember being amazed at the sheer power of the form, the succinctness and the viscerality. (Especially true of ‘Hell Hath Enlarged Herself’, which made me put the book down afterwards and just think.** Indeed, I have mentioned before that in fact, I think the greatest form for the horror story is the short.

Regarding short fiction – which seems to be undergoing a renaissance, at least amongst readers if not markets, as Nicholas Royle’s article today on the form suggests – I think that there is a lot to be said for the form in modern society. The short story is lauded for its ability / inclination to be read in an entire sitting.*** With so many distractions in today’s society, a story that is designed to be read in one fell swoop forces back the tedium of reality and its responsibilites. It doesn’t let you out – you are forced to maintain your suspension of disbelief until it is done.

There are a lot of fragmented stories these days. The way in which most people read novels. Television dramas – serialised and often interrupted by adverts. Even movies tend to be interrupted by people going to the toilet.

Do you prefer to read novels to short stories? What do you enjoy most about the short story form? What is your favourite short story and why?

Your turn.

* Thought clearly more than a child’s knowledge.

** Read it.

*** See Nick’s article/

Size Matters