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Nearly sixteen years ago, Wizards of the Coast unleashed the first set of Magic: The Gathering cards upon an unassuming public. Originally designed to be a portable and easily accessible game that could be played during downtime at gaming conventions, Magic's simple rules and intuitive, fantasy-inspired cards caught on with the general public and birthed the highly successful collectible card game genre. However, over the last decade and a half, thousands of new cards and two major rule revisions turned the previously simple card game into a complex and often unforgiving hobby.

Concerned with dwindling numbers of new Magic players as a result of ever-increasing barriers to entry, Wizards of the Coast announced that July 2009 would see the release of Magic 2010 -- the first major rewrite of Magic's core rules in nearly ten years and the first core set to introduce new cards since 1993's Alpha and Beta series. Not surprisingly, Xbox Live Arcade's Duels of the Planeswalkers is a significant piece of Wizard's efforts to recapture the imagination of the mass market and introduce both new and old players to the Magic 2010 rule set.

Ultimately, Duels of the Planeswalkers is an engaging, albeit flawed, implementation of the classic card game. Combining the changes of Magic 2010 with a few changes unique to the Live Arcade title -- no mana pooling, shared priority, and elimination of formal stack rules to name but a few, Duels of the Planeswalkers delivers a streamlined Magic experience that feels like a video game while still maintaining the deep strategic experience that players have come to expect.

Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers (Xbox 360 - XBLA)
Developer: Stainless Games
Publisher: Wizards of the Coast
Released: June 17, 2009
MSRP: 800 Microsoft Points ($10.00)

In order to help players become accustomed to playing Magic on a console with a new set of rules, Stainless Games packed Duels of the Planeswalkers with numerous modes targeted at teaching and reinforcing the core rules of the game. In addition to the standard tutorial mode, Duels of the Planeswalkers features two interesting and unexpected modes that greatly improve retention and understanding of how Magic is played.

The first of these modes is the Mentor mode, which allows experienced players to be matched up with new players in online mentoring sessions. While much can be learned from the tutorials, there is really nothing like learning Magic interactively with an experienced player. Stainless Games, obviously cognizant of this fact, was wise to include mentoring via Live in the final product.

Another unexpected and enjoyable aspect of Duels of the Planeswalkers is the Challenge mode. For those unfamiliar with the Duelist magazine challenge puzzles from the 1990s (upon which the Challenge mode is based), the game presents you with a number of scenarios and then asks you to figure out how to kill your opponent in a single turn. While enjoyable in their own right, the challenges are also an excellent tool for players that have just completed the tutorial to test their knowledge of the game's more complex rules. While none are insurmountable, there is one puzzle in particular that may initially prove challenging to even veteran players. Overall, the challenge mode is a really successful addition, although I would have liked to see more than eight puzzles. Hopefully we can expect more in future content packs.

Once the basics of Magic have been learned, players are most likely to turn to the campaign mode, which allows players to challenge computerized opponents before stepping into the wilds of online play. The campaign mode is surprisingly robust. While a mere 16 battles long, the campaign mode offers 130 unlockable cards, a wealth of customization options, and a more difficult campaign mode that keeps additional playthroughs fresh.

The game's AI is surprisingly good, if a bit quirky. With a game as complex as Magic, getting an AI to even feign competency is difficult; however, Patrick Buckland of Stainless Games seems to have crafted the best AI to ever appear in a Magic game, an admittedly minor accomplishment. The Duels AI can be set to three different difficulties -- Mage, Archmage, and Planeswalker -- and while the AI's skill is noticeably different at each level, the biggest change seems to come from the fact that the easier difficulties stack the bottom of the AI player's deck with the more annoying or game-changing cards. While competent and sometimes challenging, the game's AI also falls victim to a number of quirks. For instance, the AI is often so concerned with losing a creature that you can bring combat to an absolute standstill by casting Pariah on one of its creatures. As a test, I was able to use this technique and then pass through 26 turns without playing a card, eventually decking my opponent. Small quirks like this give you a look under the hood of the game's engine, but should be easily repairable in future updates.

In addition to a fairly competent AI, Duels of the Planeswalkers features a really gorgeous interface. The playing field is crisp and does not distract from what is going on in the game, while a number of visual cues -- translucent arrows, sparks, fogs, etc. -- clearly indicate how the cards in play interact with one another. Additionally, the cards look beautiful when fully zoomed in (simply highlight a card and push the right trigger) and remain easily distinguishable while on the playing field. Without a doubt, this is the prettiest of Magic's numerous digital translations and provides a wonderful look at the artwork that cannot even be fully appreciated on the standard playing cards. My only complaint about the user interface is that there is no indication of how many lands are on the table. While this is not a problem in the early stages of the game, it becomes cumbersome to try and count how many of each land type are in play during the late game.

Online play is much like the campaign mode, but conducted against a live opponent. While I did not have a chance to try vocal communication (my headset is currently broken), I did have the opportunity to unwittingly test the Vision camera functionality. I say unwittingly because I did not initially know that Duels of the Planeswalkers supported the Vision camera. As a result, it was not until I had completed 5 or 6 matches online that I realized I was broadcasting live video of me laying in bed next to my sleeping girlfriend playing Magic at 2 o'clock in the morning. Learn from my mistake: Remember to unplug your camera or head over to the options menu before playing this game online.

Online connectivity was good. I was able to quickly find matches and never experienced any lag or connection loss. However, I did have a few opponents quit the game right before I dealt the killing blow. While the game does not display a win/loss ratio, a quick message to a contact at Wizards of the Coast assured me that the game records a loss against players that quit early.

In addition to the standard 2-player online game, Duels of the Planeswalkers also includes both three and four player games as well as Two Headed Giant (known to non-nerds as 2 v. 2). My 3-player experiences were good. As any two players may choose to team up on the third, 3-player Magic has never been a highly competitive game, but it was a refreshing change from the standard fare. My Two Headed Giant experience, on the other hand, was abysmal. Two Headed Giant, like the Co-op Campaign, are the only two aspects of Duels of the Planeswalkers that I did not complete in my 35+ hours of playtime. The reason I was unable to enjoy these modes is that they do not support co-operative play over Xbox Live. If you wish to play co-op campaign or a 2 v. 2 multiplayer game, both you and your teammate must be playing on the same Xbox. I understand that strategy and communication are important aspects of team play in Magic, but with Xbox Live's integrated voice and video chat, there should be no need to restrict players from playing with friends online. While I am not hopeful that online co-op will ever be introduced, it would be a welcome addition.

Despite my general enjoyment of Duels of the Planeswalkers, the game also leaves quite a few things to complain about. For starters, the deck editing features are inexcusably restricted. I understand that Wizards wants Duels of the Planeswalkers to be accessible to players of all skill levels and that fully customized decks may ruin the experience for new players equipped with only the base cards. However, I cannot understand why Duels of the Planeswalkers does not allow you to at least remove cards from your deck.

For those unfamiliar, Magic requires players to build decks with a minimum of 60 cards. In order to prevent new players from having to learn deck building mechanics, Duels of the Planeswalkers starts each player off with several 60-card decks and allows players to unlock an additional 15-17 cards per deck (15 cards for multicolor decks and 17 cards for monochromatic decks), which can then be inserted into the original 60-card deck. However, while cards may be added to the decks, none may be removed from the core 60 cards. While this provides a basic level of customizability, it also makes the decks land-heavy at 60 cards and unreliable at 75-77 cards. As a result, numerous online games come down to holding off your opponent and taking turn after turn drawing land or other useless cards until one player finds a "kill card." While playing with preconstructed decks significantly lengthens the average game from the 4 and 5 turn maximums often imposed by fine-tuned decks, many veteran Magic players will be extremely disappointed with the lack of customizability.

My final complaint involves a number of technical bugs present in Duels of the Planeswalkers. While some players have reported occasional freezing (I have yet to experience this), the more annoying technical quirks result from cards not working quite right. For instance, the already powerful Dread (a 6/6 creature that automatically destroys any creature that deals damage to you) becomes downright ludicrous when the game misinterprets its ability and allows it to automatically destroy any card that deals damage to you. There are a number of other minor problems with card abilities, but Dread is undoubtedly the worst of the bunch. As of this morning, Stainless Games delivered the first update to Duels of the Planeswalkers in order to address some of these technical issues. While I have not yet had the chance to try to recreate the Dread glitch, Stainless Games's quick response leaves me optimistic about the game's long-term stability.

Despite a number of quirks, there is a lot to love about Duels of the Planeswalkers. For a mere 800 Microsoft points, Duels of the Planeswalkers offers up 8 preconstructed decks of 60 cards (with an additional 130 unlockable cards), a full tutorial, a campaign mode, 8 Duelist magazine-style challenges, an online Mentor mode, and numerous options for competitive online play. After 35+ hours of play, Duels of the Planeswalkers is still an engaging and rewarding experience and the prompt support being provided by both Wizards of the Coast and Stainless Games makes me very optimistic about the future of this game. As it stands now, Duels of the Planeswalkers is easily the cheapest and user friendliest way to get involved with Magic and provides a nearly perfect experience for those who want to relax and play Magic from their couch. For die hard Magic players that demand a more robust card catalog and deck editing options, Wizards of the Coast offers Magic The Gathering Online, which is significantly less accessible and far more expensive to play.

If you have any interest in trying Magic for the first time or if you're an old player that just wants an inexpensive way to jump back into the game, I cannot recommend Duels of the Planeswalkers highly enough. While the numerous glitches present at launch prevent me from giving this game a higher score, it remains an easy recommendation for anyone interested in the collectible card game genre or looking for a great value in their Live Arcade titles. At the very least, your $10 investment into Duels of the Planeswalkers will net you a promo code redeemable for a foil rare card and 30-card deck from wizards.com.

Score: 7.5 -- Good (7s are solid games that definitely have an audience. Might lack replay value, could be too short or there are some hard-to-ignore faults, but the experience is fun.)


For those that are slow to read the entire Internet, Destructoid's own Jim Sterling has caused quite a bit of chaos on the 'tubes. First, PLAYSTATION Universe was forced to rebut Mr. Sterling's crude generalizations and haughty misstatements regarding PS3's trophy system. Then, mere hours later, GamePolitics was forced to take Mr. Sterling to task for his libelous statements regarding the journalistic integrity of Mr. Dennis McCauley.

I could not just read these stories and allow Mr. Sterling's reign of terror to continue. So, in the next few paragraphs, I will attempt to explain why Jim Sterling is quite possibly the worst thing to ever happen to video game journalism.

1. Jim Sterling is Fat

And not just a little fat. Jim Sterling is fat to the point of mental infirmity.

Fat people are stupid. This is a scientific fact. As all physically fit people are aware, fat people are incapable of making any sort of positive contribution to society because they are infected with a severe brain fever that I refer to as "mental fatness." In its most mild forms, mental fatness leads to uncontrollable heavy breathing and perpetual jolliness. However, with individuals as large as Mr. Sterling, mental fatness often leads to extreme cynicism and the inability to publicly express any sort of valid opinion. For example, on November 4, 2008 Mr. Sterling made an absurdly sarcastic post trivializing the importance of electing our Lord and Savior, Barack Obama. Fortunately, within 10 comments, LordGloom was able to point out Jim's inability to appreciate the importance of American politics due to his mental fatness: "oh my fucking god jim you are such an arrogant hypocritical fat fucker it sickens me ... go back to being insignificant and get bent, douche[.]"

Thankfully, LordGloom realized that attacking Jim for being fat does not constitute a pointless ad hominem attack. Instead, it underscores the inherent flaw in all commentary offered by Mr. Fatty-Butt Sterling: He knows fuck all about everything because of an accumulation of fat in his meaty, Fils-Aime-like head. The Internet could use more heroes like LordGloom.

2. Jim Sterling Likes Dynasty Warriors

It's no secret that Jim Sterling enjoys anything emblazoned with the Dynasty Warriors logo. While his uniform praise for the series makes sense on one level--every game is identical, it is absurd on another--each game sucks nuts. As everyone on the Internet knows, enjoying a Dynasty Warriors game completely negates your ability to accurately form critical opinions of all other games, as observed by many illustrious community members:

"Everything is rubbish, isn't it Jim? Unless it's a dynasty warriors mash-a-thon . . . er, I mean, strategic action game." - The Stripe

"I love how he gave Dynasty Warriors 6 a better score [than Patapon]." - AlucardX24

Clearly, Jim's appointment to the position of Reviews Editor is the greatest sham in Internet history. His insufferably biased opinions are not only made available to the Destructoid audience, but are also allowed to influence the infinitely important and incredibly prestigious Metacritic scores. As everyone knows, Metacritic is serious business. Stop making it a mockery, Jim.

3. Jim Sterling Sucks at Video Games

As once pointed out by Magesx, Jim's opinions on individual games are typically skewed because he "just suck[s] at the game." I mean, honestly, he didn't even finish Halo Wars before reviewing it. Why? Because he sucks at games and doesn't understand them.

I'm surprised Jim is even able to peck out the tripe he calls journalism with the big, meaty sausage rods he calls fingers. You would think a guy who is both physically and mentally incapable of performing even the most simple in-game actions would know better than to try to operate hyper-sophisticated modern instruments like the keyboard. It is no wonder that he prefers the simplicity of Dynasty Warriors, as being able to mash a thumbstick and slam his giant ham-fist on the X button is all that is required.


The above post is merely a brief, non-exhaustive list of some of Jim's numerous character flaws. I encourage all Destructoid readers to view Jim's posts carefully and help me divine the numerous threats posed by this notoriously devious man.

Also, moronicle.

Click here for a higher resolution version of the first image.

Every so often, a game comes along that is so wet with manliness that it could impregnate your girlfriend. It's the type of game that can force you to grow hair on your palms just from touching the controller. Forget electricity, these games run on gasoline, whisky, and broken dreams. These games chew up glass, mix it with blood, and spit it straight into your eyes. So--put on some goggles--it's Manly Game Monday.

Game: Madden NFL Series
Platform: Anything with buttons
Release: 1988 - ?
Developer: EA

In 1988, development began on the first John Madden Football with a clear ultimatum from the Legend himself: "I'm not putting my name on it if it's not real." Ignoring the inherent contradiction of insisting that a simulation be "real," Madden NFL has become the closest thing to real football that a 400 lb man can play from the comfort of his couch, office or toilet. Honestly, what's manlier than that?

Sure, Madden NFL seems like a strange choice for Manly Game Mondays because it lacks the requisite substance abuse, blood geysers and/or gratuitous tit shots required for a 10/10 rating. Hell, with the jacked-up steroid fiends and late hits of the Blitz series, Madden is arguably not even the manliest football series to grace video game consoles. However, to dismiss Madden with nonchalance is to overlook it's manliest achievement: It appeals to every red-blooded man's base desire to conform with the men around him.

Men, truly manly men, have a subliminal need to be accepted by other manly men as one of "the group." Like our prehistoric ancestors, manly men move in packs, fight male "outsiders," and aren't afraid to club a bitch or two. It is no coincidence that fraternity houses--modern hotbeds of manly activity--are known for manly bonding, drunken brawls, rampant sexism, and Madden NFL. While one may argue that this relationship is merely coincidental, pseudo-scientific charts lend credibility to this assertion:

As you can clearly see, as the number of men in a group increase, the amount of Madden playing increases at a rate that outpaces manly bonding, drunken brawls, and date rape. Truly shocking results. However, if mere peer-reviewed statistical research is not enough for you, here is a personal anecdote:

As a child, my proclivity for competitive gaming was apparent. Notwithstanding the rather mundane rules of most single player games, I would constantly concoct elaborate competitive scenarios. Soon, my competitive rulesets extended beyond the mere walls of my home and became mainstays in the homes of neighbors and friends. Entire suburban blocks forwent ever conquering Dr. Wlly's castle and, instead, focused on challenging friends to obtain the highest score possible in Mega Man 2 using an elaborate scorecard of my own design.

Early competitions were heavily weighted in my favor, but the skill levels of neighboring children began to normalize and near my own. When this happened, it was not beyond me to design new rules that weighted play in my favor. As a result, I was able to establish NES dominance over my entire neighborhood.

As time went on, console games began to focus more on competitive play. My rulesets were no longer needed and we turned to games like Bomberman and Goldeneye with their built-in competitive play instead. While we never played any Madden games, Samit Sarkar did and he's a true man's man.

If that story doesn't convince you, I don't know what will. Verdict:

Every so often, a game comes along that is so wet with manliness that it could impregnate your girlfriend. It's the type of game that can force you to grow hair on your palms just from touching the controller. Forget electricity, these games run on gasoline, whisky, and broken dreams. These games chew up glass, mix it with blood, and spit it straight into your eyes. So--put on some goggles--it's Manly Game Monday.

Game: The Combatribes
Platform: Arcade
Release: 1990
Developer: Technos Japan Corp.

If history has taught us anything, it's that there is nothing manlier than huge upper bodies and tiny legs. DuckTales had Launchpad, Beauty and the Beast had Gaston, and The Combatribes had Berserker (named after the Norse warriors for his balance of speed and strength), Bullova (named after an Indian battle ax, for his massive strength), and Blitz (short for blitzkrieg, or lightning war, for his super quick attacks). For those that didn't know, alliteration is also manly--consider yourself informed.

What lies behind this manly triple threat of pectorals and hair known simply as The Combatribes? Well, as is the case with any group of man's men, not a whole lot. Real men are all action, all the time and Technos Japan Corp. knew this, as evidenced by the opening cinema:

So, what do we know so far? Only that there is a group called Ground Zero, they have a leader, and we have to go where the action is--Act I: The Motorcycle Nuclear Warheads. Let that sink in for a minute: Motorcycle. Nuclear. Warheads. The.

Face Smash!If that isn't the manliest opening level you've every heard of, you're a fucking liar. But the manliness doesn't end there, as you're immediately dropped into the middle of a gang brawl where you have a multitude of attacks at your disposal. Aside from your standard kick and punch combos, our heroes can stomp on fallen opponents, swing opponents by their ankles, smash enemy heads together, jump on fallen enemy torsos, grab enemies by the hair and smash their face into the pavement, and straddle downed opponents' chests and bludgeon their face until they drown in their own blood. Fuck yes.

The action doesn't end with mere unarmed physical combat. With a developer pedigree that includes games like Renegade, Double Dragon, and River City Ransom, you don't limit yourself to brutal hand-to-hand violence--you let the environments deal some punishment too. To this end, players have a number of conveniently placed and absurdly huge items that can be picked up and launched at opponents. The best of these items include motorcycles, go-karts, and pinball machines.

The Combratribes finds you fighting through a total of six stages, each with its own unique gang and boss. You'll fight bikers, clowns, skate punks, Native Americans, and some sort of army general with two robot arms and a cannon that pops out of his chest. The final stage is essentially a "boss rush" mode and forces you to clear enemies and bosses from the first five stages until the game's final battle. And this is where The Combatribes truly shines.

As you approach the end of the game, you see the Ground Zero leader, a generic giant-guy-in-a-suit-standing-by-a-limo. At this point, you would be foolish not to tingle with anticipation--you've been waiting for this battle ever since you decided to "go where the action is." But, suddenly, just as you think you're about to fight the toughest dude alive--BOOM!!--glass explodes and the man's internals are sprayed all over the sidewalk. Out from the limo and behind the now-fading corpse walks the Ground Zero leader's lovely cyborg bodyguard, Martha Splatterhead, who, inexplicably, thought it appropriate to kill her boss before fending off his attackers.

And herein lies the genius of The Combatribes: It forces players to realize that the only way to be a man is to beat the femininity out of everything around you. The streets of future New York are tough, but every gang has its own leader and its own code of ethics. Then Ground Zero decides to admit a woman into its ranks and, next thing you know, the most powerful man in New York has his guts painting the pavement. The message is simple yet profound, making The Combatribes possibly the gaming medium's greatest argument for games as art.

Perhaps the greatest fault of The Combatribes is that most people will never see its profound ending. If you ever come across an arcade machine, it will likely bankrupt you before you reach the end. But, this game is unapologetically tough for a reason: That's how a man's game should be.

If you're too weak to play The Comabtribes, this obviously manly dude can show you how it's done:

So, how does The Combatribes stack up...

In 2007, FASA Interactive and Microsoft Game Studios released a largely ignored first person shooter named Shadowrun. Shadowrun was an ambitious title: It was to launch the Windows Live service--finally bringing PC and 360 gamers together--and introduce an entirely new generation of gamers to the Shadowrun universe. Unfortunately, the game was a commercial flop, FASA Studios closed their doors in September 2007, and the Shadowrun forums were shut down in early 2008.

So, why was the game such a commercial failure? Well, there were three main reasons: First, the market wasn't ready to pay $60 for a multiplayer-only title with a mere 9 maps. Second, fans of the Shadowrun franchise were pretty mad to see their beloved RPG series transformed into a first person shooter. Third, it takes a relatively open mind to appreciate the depth of the "Shadowrun experience."

Well, great news, everyone! The failure of Shadowrun has had two long-term benefits: The game is now absurdly cheap ($5-20 for the 360 or PC version) and is primarily played by a mature, douche-free audience. Unrelated to it's commercial failure, the game is really well balanced and extremely fun. For a taste of the Destructoid Legends™ playing Shadowrun, look no further than here:

Mxyzptlk (the leaderboard says it all)
Tino (Jersey scum)
Ronaldo Workmeng (destroyer of joy; cblog link conspicuously absent)
king3vbo (you may as well shoot him for that abortion he calls FAILcast)
HarassmentPanda (sweet, knowledgeable, and won't put his willy in your ear)
Hoygeit (hurts women)
Justin Villasenor (sexy contributor extraordinaire!)
PetiePal (fist-pumping Jersey guido scum)
BFeld13 (all around rad dude)
LostCrichton (I only understand him about 2% of the time)

"How can I join this list of god-men?" you ask. The answer is simple:

1. Buy Shadowrun
2. Post a comment or send a PM with your gamertag.
3. Play through the Shadowrun tutorial.
4. ?

The lot of us were talking outside of Destructoid and decided it would be a lot of fun to get the community involved with this game. I hope to be playing tonight and throughout the weekend, but with enough interest I would like to get a weekly game going.

"But, Panda, Team Fortress 2 is only $9.99 this week and it's still being supported by the developer!" you cry. Well, dear reader, does TF2 have MYTHICAL BEASTS? No! How about MAGIC? No! The ability to unite 360 and PC gamers? No!! Conclusion: You can take your "updates" and "stable community" and shove them straight up your ass! I'll be the rifle-toting, teleporting gay elf named "Phelta Mansreer" playing Shadowrun. Hope to see you soon.
Photo Photo Photo

12:36 AM on 01.12.2009

I love Destructoid. I've loved this place since it was first aborted onto the Internet as the go-to site for the latest news on Jaws: The Game. I came for the gaming news; I stayed for the community.

I am dismayed that a lot of the original community members who welcomed me to the then-hideous Red & Green House that Robots Built are now turning their backs on it. However, I understand your frustration: Destructoid is a unique website. While the site was originally founded by a shady Hispanic grifter with a box of air conditioning parts, somehow a really incredible group of gamers all converged on this site at the same time. These gamers worked their hearts out and -- through their stories, tips, artwork, videos, comments, and general love -- a new gaming website was literally born by the sweat of total strangers.

However, times change and Destructoid needs to grow in order to stay alive. And, as the site grows, a lot of the original members feel left behind as they watch the site they helped build transform in the hands of others. If any Dtoid members appear to feel "entitled," it is only because they have worked so hard to help this site grow.

With this in mind, I think it is important that these same community members look back at why they came to Destructoid in the first place. Try to remember why you loved it so much. I look around and I see a lot of the same people and a lot of the same writers -- our family has just grown exponentially. There is now an even greater group of gamers and writers with unique opinions and a common bond: we all discovered a place where we can leave the bullshit at the door and have a good time with other gamers.

Let's stop the ad hominem attacks and bromidic sermons about the "good old days." Instead of talking about the good old days, why don't we bring them back? Why don't we all reach out to new people like Ron did at the very beginning? Why don't we continue to contribute content to the site we love? I used to refresh this page constantly so I would be the first to see Butmac's latest video or read the newest piece of Internet miscellanea dug up by BlindsideDork, but I can't stand to refresh it one more time and see another divisive cblog title.

My personal life has been exceptionally busy for months now, but I still read this site every day. I will do my damnedest to make sure this site stays as great as it has always been. If there are individual grievances, let them be heard. But, please, do not just make this a battle of "old v. new." Don't like the type of stories on the front page? Suggest a filtering mechanism in a forum post or email Niero. Annoyed by new people coming in and clogging up the cblogs with trivial posts? Offer constructive criticism or suggest the addition of a "bury" button for cblogs appearing on the front page.

There are a million ways to improve Destructoid, but everyone seems focused on the only way to destroy it -- by breaking up the community. Now is not the time to be divisive; now is not the time to STFUAJPG; now is the time to get active and bring another 30,000 users into the fold.

I love you all.