What Once Was Not (An MTG Underground “Spectral Chaos” Preview)

“It does not matter what is.

It only matters what can be.”

-Tuknir Deathlock

By now, you already know something about Spectral Chaos. Over the years, it has influenced so much of the magic we have played, even from the shadows. It has manifested in set after set, and we were experiencing it long before any of us heard even a whisper of its existence. I do not need to rave on about its history. Its legacy. Its impact.

If you are unfamiliar with the set that almost was, designed by Barry Reich in the infancy of magic, take some time to learn about it. I could ramble on about it, but I am confident someone, or many someones, have already done so, with more thoroughness and focus than I would allow myself during such an undertaking.

You may also be aware that it is receiving a masterful handling and presentation by Micah of the Sisters of the Flame, which can be read about as well as visually admired as we spoil it at Spectral Chaos. This is a fan art project, for educational purposes, that brings us the gift of a secret past in a way that we can see in familiar form. I am fortunate enough to share some of that with you today, as I have had a handful of cards prepared for me to present with a mix of commentary related and unrelated to them, as is the blood and butter of the MTG Underground.

For well over a month I have refrained from exposing myself to what we are about to share. I wanted to let it unfold together, in as close to real time as the written word will permit. Buy the ticket. Come inside and take your seats. Buckle in. The show is about to begin.

But first, before we travel this yellow brick road into the Abyss, before we sip the memories and smoke the nostalgia, we will spend some words on my first encounter with Spectral Chaos. In many ways, it shares its foundation with my foray into oldschool magic.

In 2012 I moved back from Los Angeles to the Detroit area. At that time I was playing mostly legacy, because it had an active and healthy scene where I was living. But the transition back to Michigan left me with less avenues, and in turn, less interest. I started to branch out into other formats, spiking events and managing to enjoy myself despite my surroundings. I also started to play with my brother again, who only had a handful of cards, primarily dual lands.

He was not interested in competitive magic, but he did want to play. I proposed that we explore the game from the beginning all over again. We would start where we started back in 94 with the release of legends (Though in reality we were playing a few months before that.) We would build decks and battle throughout the format until we got bored, and then we would release the Dark.

The advantage of the format was that the majority of the cards were cheap, and the ones that were not were either format staples for eternal formats, or strange outliers. The most notorious of which was Juzam Djinn, but even those were about ten percent of what they are now. If need be we could fix anything with Proxies, though to my memory it never came up.

Once I started talking to people about what we were doing, I got pointed in the direction of oldschool Magic, and since we had a few other people interested, we all adjusted to the existing rule sets. Which meant buying cards from the Dark, playing less Mana Drains, and learning to argue with people on the internet about strip mine.

One of those early weekends, picking up cards and hanging out with a friend, we started talking about Shandalar, and building the Shandalar Cube. It was easily encouraged because of the already strong interest in picking up oldschool staples, and the gameplay of the oldschool cube was the fatty inner essence of dreams. We built. We played. It was the reason to buy alpha cards instead of foils. Miscuts instead of promos. The cube needed the Shandalar feel, the oldschool feel. It became the primary topic of discussion for three years.

When the Spectral Chaos list became available.

The set that never was. The endless possibilities that stranger, complicated Magic Time Line. It seemed like the perfect thing to make a cube out of. It was one thing to see the text of some cards that were strangely similar to cards that came to be, but it would be another to actually use and experience how they might have been. For me, though the appeal existed, the undertaking held considerably little appeal.

But the same was not true for my friend, and exactly one time I was given the chance to draft and play the Set that Never Was.

I do not recall much of the experience. It was a steady mix of green mana and whiskey, trying to read, trying to remember, and trying to figure out how to cast spells for the proper amount of mana. I do not even know what colors I played let alone what cards. But I remember that it felt unique and familiar. Nostalgic and Fresh. It felt like it belonged to a distant dream of brighter days. Something tangible from the past. Something intimately experienced. But the closer I drew to those feelings, the hazier it became. It was Shell Beach.

shell beach

From that day I have kept Spectral Chaos tucked away in shadowy recesses of the Library, a rainy day fantasy of something that could have been. Something that would one day crawl out of the darkness, slowly and grotesquely reassembling itself. Bent on devouring the world that unfolded without it. It would find life in the forgotten hours and the spaces between. And it has.

It is not my task to breathe life into the lungs. I am only here to pack some meat on its stained and twisted rib cage. We will shine the Light of Leng on its fresh meat, upon the forming organs that we will see for the first time together. Previous exposure is not important. This project is giving shape, memorable identity to the beast. Even if you have obsessively examined the initial list, or if you have only heard about it on the fringe of the internet, like a modern day Throat Wolf, this should feel new and exciting.

Let us pull back the Veil.

In the modern era it is easy to take basic lands for granted. It is easy to look back over the history of the game and find something you love. But in the beginning, we were all playing with revised  basics, because those were what existed. We do not talk about it much now, but one of the most important contributions of Ice Age, even more than the snow lands, were the existence of new, black bordered, beautiful basic lands. Within a month of the set release, I replaced all of my lands with Ice Age lands.

One of the last things I purchased before we drifted away from magic in 1996 was a Starter Deck of Mirage. I fell in love with two things that day. The first, Shauku, the Endbringer. The second, The basic lands of Mirage. To this day some of them remain among my favorites. In this context, another set that stood alone, early on, would have given a hungry mob something to satiate them.

 

In my first magic deck, I was enamored with Unholy Strength. I was fascinated with the idea of using enchantments to build super monsters. But the first time I had my double enchanted Bog Wraith die to a poorly timed Swords to Plowshares, I immediately recoiled at the liability. As we moved heavier into optimized piles, with better cards and better mana, it became clear that the removal was far too good for the risk of most Auras.

With Rancor, and eventually Armadillo Cloak, I once again began to experiment. Laws are not universal, and this is especially true with a game of endless variables. But the draw of Rancor and Armadillo Cloak was power creep. This card would be hard pressed to live in the shadow of that world.

Cards of this nature need to thrive or die in a limited environment. In an Ice Age Sealed deck format, you find yourself playing an assortment of cards you never would otherwise. In oldschool cubes, some terrible cards get their chance to shine. I have drafted and played worse cards than this in more nuanced sets. So while the static bonus is nothing exciting, and the secondary pumping of toughness is nothing I hunger to pay mana for, it could be worse. When your opponent casts this on his Wall of Brambles, you will think twice before sending your Mountain Giant crashing forward.

I am drawn to Black Magic. This card has the essence of Hellfire and the heart of Petilence. It has the attitude of Nevinyrral’s Disk. But it does not go away on its own. It sings and the song remains. This is not the powerhouse format defining card, but it drips with flavor and spirit. This card would have felt at home in any set from Mirage to Odyssey. It is the kind of spell I want to exist in an environment where it has a chance to play. One must imagine that Spectral Chaos, as a Cube, a draft, or a sealed format, would give this card numerous opportunities to scream against the light.

Zombie Token (#T3) - Reimagined by RagingRiver

Token Creatures were a strange part of early magic. Only a handful of cards made them, and most of those were overcosted or awkward at best, resigning them only to the most fringe play.

This did not keep me from having plastic dinosaurs and snakes to represent the aftermath of a Rukh Egg or the progeny of a Serpent Generator. Sometimes dice did the job, but there was always the hunger to personalize, to somehow better represent the token. When using Breeding Pit to feed Lord of the Pit or Ebon Praetor, it was important that the thrull was edible.

But it was not until Sengir Autocrat gave me an appropriate way to feed Hecatomb that I used cards to represent tokens. I found some old sports cards, and used bad players to represent serfs, though I eventually replaced them with a handful of Desert Storm Generals.

Upon taking up this method, my primary playgroup went wild in response. Previous to magic, they opted to buy Spellfire instead of Beta. The game was left dormant in a box in a closet, but proved to be excellent source material for making tokens with the assistance of some sharpies, probably stolen from school. We suddenly had community tokens for almost anything you could imagine.

Its hard to believe there was a time that a 2/2 Zombie token did not exist. But that time was real, and Spectral Chaos was not given the chance to end that reality. Another great tragedy of what became from the shunning of its weird and wondrous design.

This card feels like it fell straight out of Invasion. That block benefited heavily from Spectral Chaos, so it is no surprise. Now that the finishing touches have been put on my Odyssey Block Cube, there is a good chance Invasion will be the next one that I build.

Imagine this card in 1995.

It can be played off of a Workshop and acceleration on turn one. It can be buffed by a timely drawn Strip mine. At its worst it is probably no smaller than a Roc of Kher Ridges, and at its best it stands fearless against a Mahamoti Djinn. It can be disenchanted, but it can also stare down the Abyss.

In a way it is a reverse Nightmare. A flying threat that gets theoretically weaker over time instead of stronger. But it is far more efficient, and it is the kind of card I would have jammed into every deck trying to figure it out in the early days. Much like Su-Chi, I would be trying to make it work and find ways to ignore its drawback. It punishes the Mono decks harder than others, but in the context of Spectral Chaos, nothing should be mono colored.

Of the cards so far, this is the most exciting.

The first wall I remember is Wall of Brambles. The first Wall I remember playing against was Wall of Swords, which my brother was attacking with, until we read the rules a little closer and put an end to his crushing sky assembly of blades. I inevitably tried my hand at Wall of Heat to stop Juzam Djinn, Wall of Wonder to get some utility, Wall of Shadows because it is a bad motherfucker, and even Wall of Putrid Flesh for Flavor.

This would fall in with the walls of the time, and be swiftly disregarded. But since it has some interesting things going on, its worth addressing them. First, I like this style of Color Hate. The trigger is not overly powerful, it is helpful, and it creates better gameplay than protection from red. This would have been one of the first cards with an off color ability, something that I imagine is fairly common in Spectral Chaos and went on to exist in time, even if it was too soon at its completion.

A strange variation on Onulet, my favorite part of this card is that it does not have regeneration, just an ability that matters if he does. For most purposes, it is inferior to the strange little bastard from Antiquities (The first card I opened with both a black border and a white border, and on the same day.) But there can never be too many terrible cards, and this is better than many of them.

This is some rowdy magic. Probably worse than Fireball and Earthquake in many applications, it does a stylish alternative. This is the kind of card I would put in my sideboard and never bring in to my deck. But if I was drafting, I am going to cast this every time I draw it. This is a fun limited card, and a better design for removal due to its Hellfire style drawback. In an era where power creep has made overpowered cards unplayable, it is refreshing to see card design that incorporates sacrifice or danger. And an Orcish Flamethrower should be dangerous.

Meltdown is a fantastic card. If it had always cost an additional black, it still would have served its purpose for me. I love this kind of card, and I am glad that when it found its way into this world it came at a reduced cost. Its largest competition in its time would have been Shatterstorm. This is not universally better or worse. I am unaware of the full range of artifacts and removal in the full set design, but this sweeper style effect does not take much to find purpose in a world where mana rocks or efficient artifact creatures reign.

The upgrade on Wards makes them much more interesting. Would the original wards have been at least playable in this form? Perhaps, but such was never to come to be. I love that this spell, and those like it, have to make permission for themselves against Protection from White. It is fascinating to see cards that had to help sculpt rules or exceptions just by design. I like these further because Cloaks are more interesting than wards, but it is hard to say much more about it.

The Mountains from Ice Age were a resounding gift, and the ones from Mirage improved yet again on the theme. All I can say is that another set of basics in those days would have added a great deal of style to an endless number of decks. Which is not to say that I fault any of the classic lands, they served an important role, but if it was not for the necessity of oldschool, I would find it unreasonable to default to them with so many other options available.

This card caught my attention. I remember the first enemy colored Gold card I saw. It was called Malignant Growth, also green and blue, from Mirage. This one is considerably more interesting. A strange and awkward board wipe in colors that do not lend themselves to it, it embodies the Chaotic Sorcery card type.

Is it good? Probably not It lacks the liability of being a permanent that plagues Nevinyrral’s Disk, as well as the reach of hitting all permanents. It becomes expensive quickly, struggling to destroy anything of value. It cannot hit two creatures with different costs. There is a niche role for a card like this, but it is probably too limited to invest in. As a draft removal spell it will do the job, and it is not forced to target its victims, but it becomes less attractive the closer we look at it.

These kind of cards, much like many of the terrible cards in the ranks of magic history, help set up and test for later success. Pernicious Deed will always be my favorite card in this style.

This is the Magic We Live for.

I love Lich. My attraction was immediate and unbreakable. I was at a tournament when I first saw it, in a baseball card showcase in 1994. It was $40. That was an insane amount of money for a magic card. That night I won $20 in store credit. I could not stop staring at the Lich. I could hear it calling my name. I did not have the money, but I had some cards. I quickly cut a deal with the shop owner for a couple of my plateaus and my store credit, and I went home that night with a Lich.

I had only a rudimentary grasp on the potential, trying everything from Healing Salve Ancestrals to Stream of Life Braingeysers. I tried Drain Life. I learned about Mirror Universe, and traded off some of my legends for one of those. The Dark came out and Dark Heart of the Wood had me trying again. In the end the problem was that I did not have enough Liches. But it was a problem without a solution.

It did not keep me from playing it alongside Necropotence and Illusions of Grandeur when Ice Age did its best to help feed my growing obsession. It was forever an unfulfilled fantasy, one that still lives inside of me to this day. A lifetime later, when I am high, sipping scotch, watching the groundhog that lives in my yard terrorize my neighbor, I think about how good it feels to cast Illusions of Grandeur with Lich in Play. I think about the beauty of Casting Eureka and playing both spells in proper sequence.

This card is not Lich. It does not offer the recurring draw, but it instead provides instant gratification in undead form. In Eureka, this would follow the Illusions instead of preceding it. All on its own, if offers Life from the Grave in exchange for swearing an oath. Perhaps more like Yawgmoth’s Bargain than Lich or Necropotence, at least in execution, this card would provide me no shortage of opportunity to play. This is what I want to be doing.

For all of the things that kept this set from coming to be, against them the only grudge I hold is that I never got the chance to cast this spell. This will live in the corridors of my mind that twist from possibility like tentacles bent on nihilism. I would take the Oath. I would find a way through the Mirror Universe into the Spectral Chaos, and become the Lich the Elric probably is, was, or could have been.

While I cannot imagine meeting the Mana requirements of this card, it drips with the kind of brutality I crave. I was a fan of Jokulhaups. I am a fanatic for Hellfire and Damnation. That magic could have been a game played out in such a way that eight restricted mana could secure the need for this kind of reset. That is a dream every multiplayer format chases. It was a force that compelled an early group that I played with, folk that were determined to make games go longer, bigger, make everything more epic. They had house rules like not attacking in the first five turns. This kind of card would have given more to those players than they could have hoped for. Much like when cards now so easily feed commander.

I am listening to Ritual Killer and the music feels like this card. Far too often we get lost in efficiency or structure, and we lose out on the real flavor of this game. This is Death Metal in 1995. This might not be remembered in the future, but for its moment, to its fans, it is exactly the way it is supposed to be.

We close out this menagerie with an early Equipment design. Moving on from the Prototype style of Ashnod’s Battle Gear, This still has the disadvantage of an aura with only a slight upside for a steep cost. It is more of a Runesword than a Feast of the Unicorn, and even fueled by Mishra’s Workshop it is too prohibitive to appeal to any reasonably minded swordsman. Like many relics of the time, it has only the rust from lack of use in its future.

“The Show is Over. Pavel Maliki has left the Building”

– Stangg’s Twin

With this I offer you all fifteen cards of my glimpse into the Spectral Chaos. The load lightened by the inclusion of two basics and a token, it provided me the time to focus on the glory that is Elric’s Oath. It is fantastic to be a part of presenting this information, in being able to share such a fascinating part of our history. I will remind you once again that this is Fan Made concept mock ups, not intended for sale or play. This is an educational endeavor, driven by love of history and nostalgia.

Does this mean the MTG Underground is back? After all of these years away? Maybe it does. There are many stories to tell.

The Q Stands for Evil: Adventures in Serious Country

 

“From ancient Yuggoth, Black Rays emit
Evil’s Narcotic Cyclopean Pits
In Dark Babelian Towers Await
Lie Dreaming Until the Time Will Awake”

-Electric Wizard 
"Weird Tales/Electric Frost/Golgotha/Altar of Melektaus"

Where are we?

There is a glass. Is it Ours? Take a swig.

It is gin. It is ours. Take another swig.

main deck

This is the Configuration…

 

Booze

…And this is the Key.

This is round two. We are seated across a table from Kurt Crane. We know him. In the old days, long before the Librarian took control, hell perhaps even before the good Doctor was running this circus, we faced Kurt in a Historic Battle in the darkness of Cincinnati. Against his ruthless and cunning magic, we were forced to be reckless. We were driven to madness. Against all odds, we prevailed.When the cannon smoke cleared, the light of a new day shone brightly on our triumph, promising a better future.

Is this that future? What brings us here now?

No. This is something different.

We are in the Shaman’s Trance, and we are not alone.

shamanstrance

We close our eyes, and deep within the darkness we feel the shift. When we open them, we are no longer seated across from Kurt. Instead, we are face to face with an old Friend. Foe? Is there a difference? It is Griselbrand. We are back on Saturn. Right where we left him when we started snorting that Phyrexian Rust and left to work for Mishra.

Time is a strange substance.We spent years in the Workshop. Night after night, shift after soulless shift, we tinkered with new ways to turn the Void into a Weapon. Were those years Future or Past? Were we ever there at all? As we slaved away in an artificial Hell, in search of a way to bring the whole system to a grinding halt, all the while surrounded by a sea of unremembered faces trying to find a way to attach their name to some way of streamlining it, was any of it real? As they struggled to find importance by becoming part of the mechanism, were we passing time pursuing a way to manifest the end, or were we just hallucinating from the Rust?

Could we really have carved our way into the heart of the machine, and worked on a way to bring it down from the inside? As those countless days peeled away like skin blistered from exposure, like slag cracking away from new welds, was any of it real?

We assembled the machine. There is evidence that we  carried it out into the world and there is a new generation of children worshipping at the 2 Card Altar. The time may be a distortion, but the work was real. As we performed it, Griselbrand was here. Waiting for us to make a move. As if we were gone for no more than a blink of 20 Eyes.

Does he even know we were gone?

He is still waiting. His patience is strained. His teeth are grinding, reminiscent of the work we broke away from to return. His jaw cracks. He can restrain no longer. He demands that we make a move. Demands action. For him, every passing second has been spent inside the game. For us, it has been so long that we no longer remember what we are playing.

But that does not matter. The decision is not ours. The Librarian is in control now. He reaches across the Mushroom, but instead of advancing the board, he picks up Griselbrand’s Knight. With the flick of our wrist, he flings it into the amorphous landscape beyond. The fog is so thick we cannot see where it lands.

This Vulgar Display of Power does not amuse Griselbrand.

“So now that you have returned, you decide to throw the game?”

Maybe time has passed here after all.

“I did not throw the game,” the voice of the Librarian emanates from our lips, “I threw your piece.”

“We can no longer play.”

“We can if you stop conforming to needless rules.”

The Librarian is demonstrating his understanding and control of this arrangement. He will teach Griselbrand that he is bound, that his role is that of a servant rather than a confidant. The Doctor never would have dreamed of such Madness.

But the Librarian is playing a different game.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, there is a different display of unorthodox game play transpiring. While we were gone, the contest of mages has progressed in our favor. We managed to navigate with ease through our first game, and we were well on our way to stealing another. But things became hazy, time convulsed, and we are no longer clear about what is happening.

When the turn began, there was a clear path to victory. We had all the tools we needed. It was a matter of following simple steps. Kurt was hiding behind a Grafdigger’s Cage, meant to stop our sacred Oath of Druids. But we were holding the Nature’s Claim. We had the green mana. He had the token spirit. All we needed to do was unravel his security. It was a matter of going through the motions.

But something was awry.

When we returned from Saturn, we found ourselves flipping over cards to the Oath trigger, with the cage still on the table and the Nature’s Claim still in our hand. Everything was wrong. We were taking action out of order. We set down our deck in the middle of these Unorthodox Steps of Ritual and took another swig of freshly poured gin. In our absence the vessel replenished its drink. After letting it wash away our confusion, we slurred out an explanation to Kurt about what was going on. We explained our intention and showed him all of the components. He went from bewildered by our recklessness to annoyed by our disregard for etiquette, but Kurt is a gracious opponent and did not dissent.

After all, this is Serious Vintage, not the Pro Tour. We cleaned up the stack and let all the appropriate cards rest where they belonged before resolving the rest of the Oath trigger. There is no room for Competitive Rules Enforcement when our Glass is this close to our Lotus. This is about magic. This is about Love. Not Law.

Still upset about his first encounter with the Librarian, Griselbrand did not answer the call when the Oath was complete. This left the gate open for the return of Emrakul, and her tentacled return was as elegant and sultry as the last time we played together. Upon reflecting on the situation as we transitioned through our draw step, we recognized that our opponent would have been well within his right to protest this sloppy series of actions that would lead to his certain demise. But the result would have been the same. Instead of entering play, Emrakul would have remained on top and fulfilled the draw step. We still would have claimed the cage, and cast our Show and Tell to deliver the Queen to the table. We would have less cards in hand, but there is no reward for holding cards that we never play. The Stars were aligned, and the End was a matter of technicality.

yangtimes 2

There is nothing quite like a Team Serious Invitational.

On February Seventeenth, The third Annual Hazard invitational took place in Columbus, Ohio. It is a celebration of the legendary @winedope‘s birthday held inside Castle Hazard, one of the many secret strongholds of Team Serious. Just two and a half months after the yearly Invitational at the Citadel of Moes in Toledo, Ohio, the excitement around this event buzzed through all of the teams channels and veins from the moment the date was cemented.

Captain Hazard promised that this menagerie would eclipse his prior festivals, a challenge that came with relentless pressure. That was the kind of Hype that Team Serious does not take lightly. Failing to deliver was not an option. The first Hazard Invitational is often spoken of only in whispers, and while we were not present, the buzz of insects emanating from the mouths of those that were leave us aware of its grandeur. But we were present at the second event last year, wielding 2 Card Monte like Gospel from our roving pulpit.

The Doctor had lost control by then, but the Librarian was subtle as he explored his new vessel. We were in a sort of Stasis, and much of our time was spent drifting in the Void. We were not dead, merely dreaming. The Librarian was grappling with the foreignness of having a finite number of limbs, and our means of expressing ourselves was primarily limited to employing the weapons the Doctor crafted in Mishra’s Workshop. It was a crude and grotesque experiment, but with the proper amount of Green Mana, Serum Powder, and Jameson the machine managed to mimic human behavior close enough for Serious Company.

It was not until the Top 8 that the Librarian fully manifested. He was face to face with the seemingly innocuous Nam Q Tran, a foe that we bested in two prior Invitationals. The Shaman defeated him in his first Serious appearance, and the Doctor cast him down on his way to our first victory. We were there again, ready to strike the final blow, when Nam revealed that he was aspiring to be the Greatest Villain in the Multiverse.

For weeks he dreamed of that moment. We advanced to game two after taking down the first one. We quickly assembled the Painter’s Servant and Grindstone, but we could see in the darkness swimming in his eyes that something was wrong. We activated our weapon, and we were met with smugness in place of a concession. Nam Q Tran showed us the trap he set, waiting for us to foolishly stumble into it.

gb

There was madness and cruelty woven into his laughter.

The Doctor might have lost his mind, but the Librarian just smiled. The following turn, we casually cast our Memory Jar and passed the turn. There was more than one way to cleanse this game of evil, and three mana later, Nam was dead to a Memory Jar activation with a Blessing trigger on the stack. As we celebrated our triumph over evil, we watched as Nam erupted into an endless tirade of profanity, which echoed through the background of the stream and onward through the Aeons that followed.

Right now, somewhere in the world, innocence is being corrupted by the echoes of his vulgar curse.

We went on to lose to Kevin Cron in Top Four. We surrendered the dream of being the first Two Time Team Serious Invitational Champion, made all the more bittersweet as we watched Kevin fall prey to Frank Singel in a match we could not possibly have lost. It was a cruel end, but it was reconciled by the screams of the malevolent Nam. Frank took his first win, and the dream of wearing the medal around our neck would have to wait.

And as we kicked off the Third Hazard Birthday Bash, we drank our gin and considered that this could be the day for the first repeat winner. The stars were aligned, and all the known forces were in place. We were clearly the favorite among them, but it would not be an easy fight. But the medal was not all that we were fighting (and drinking) for. There was a Serious prize pool, true to form for such a glorious celebration.

the prizes

Hidden in the depths of this mess of cardboard luxury was a Russian Foil Khalni Hydra, sporting its plethora of Green Mana symbols like it was writing our true name in Smoke. The sight of it filled us with want, and we honored that moment with a cookie straight from Eladamri’s Vineyard that we had stashed in our bag. We washed it down with a shot of Malort that someone was kind enough to offer us, and at that moment we fell completely under the spell of moment.

I found myself sitting in a chair and petting an old friend, a Cat named Stash. He was the true master of the castle, the host to this Legion of Degenerates. Two drinks later we were still petting his chin as Jaco poured a round of YangTimes (the Team Serious Label for a Jager Bomb, in honor of our mentor Jerry Yang.) After two of those, there was no longer any reason to try and figure out how deep into substance we were. It was time to swim and let the universe find its way.

round 1 losing to rolko

Unfortunately, that way led to a loss in the first round to our old friend Rolko.

As we loudly repeated stories the majority of the room had heard numerous times, we continued to imbibe and accepted that this was not to be the day we triumphed again. It would be best that a new contender wore the medal, preserving the dream of being the first to wear it twice, but if anyone was to take that dream away from us, at least it would be one of our Serious brethren.

But that all changed a moment later. We wandered about watching games, and we encountered Nam Q Tran, the Walking Unholy Citadel, and the medal was draped around his neck. Our medal. His neck. This was blasphemy.

Rajah vs Nam

We recalled the Invitational in December, where we basked in the luxury of Chateau Moes, and how we met Nam in the finals. It was going to be the moment when we set the tone. All we had to do was behead the serpent that we had slain so many times before. But that time was different. As we reconnected with Griselbrand, and rode upon his wings towards victory, we found the fiend ready. He was bearing the Doctor’s Doomsday Weapon, the same 2 Card Monte that sent him over the edge. But during his downward spiral into the infernal coils of his core, he came to embrace and understand the weapon. He took the Machine that was designed to save the world, and used it to instead destroy everything that was sacred.

Including our hope to reclaim the medal.

Fate was on his side. We were carried to that match on a river of Green Mana, communing with Omnath to cope with the throbbing pain of an impending root canal that was scheduled for two days later but needed two days prior. The failings of the human form were frustrating to the Librarian and crippling to the rest of us, and they proved to be an overwhelming obstacle in the face of our cosmic adventure.

As we became one with the Pain, Nam overcame the odds (having lost to us in nearly every top 8 of any TSI we ever played in and wielding a weapon we knew more intimately than should be committed to text) and we found ourselves falling from Grace. In the end, we were left with only agony, the dull throbbing reminder of the life that lay ahead, and it was our nemesis who left with our most coveted treasure.

We watched as he callously dispatched Rajah, and we waited for him to rise so we could greet him, all the while casting a shadow over him as we plotted a way to crawl out of the grave of our round one loss and fight back against his iniquity.

Ben and Nam, Champs

“There are many layers to the intricate Evil that is Nam Q Tran. The first, and most important to understand, is the mask of seeming kindness and good nature that he wears.”

-Anonymous Member of Team Serious (Not Randall)

We toasted him with our freshly poured but already half consumed drink as we awaited another round of YangTimes. As he casually displayed the medal on the middle of his chest like the Q in the middle of his name, we toasted again and I began to formulate a plan. It was apparent what needed to be done. We needed to win this Invitational. Not just to halt the unadulterated depravity of Nam, but also to rescue the medal from him.

But we could not do it alone. Griselbrand was going to have to pull his weight.

It was time to return to Saturn.

When we descended upon the Plateau, we found him sitting with his back to us, staring out into the dust. He was ruminating on his betrayal, his refusal to answer the call. He was wearing his defiance like a broken crown, bitter at the ease with which his tentacled Bride so willingly replaced him in the moment of truth. He was wading through a quagmire of emotion, and did not hear our return. Nor would he have cared to in that moment.

Though the Librarian was in control, it was the Shaman’s voice that called out the demon. A tone long unheard by the winged monstrosity, it was a surprise to us as well. The Librarian knew all too well how to pull the strings of each player, crafting the most masterful performances on the stage of the present. It should have been no surprise. The scene was unfolding as he penned it. He was the author, and we were the words.

“Griselbrand,” the Shaman spoke.

“Are you hungry, my friend?” The Shaman pulled some baked green mana from his bag. “I have some cookies. They are some of my best work.”

“The last time I ate one of your cookies,” Griselbrand shared, “things did not unfold in my favor.”

It was true. In the early days of their friendship, Griselbrand and the Shaman were trying to form the slowest, heaviest, noise-crusted Doom metal project ever to sting the ears of mortals. Things would have gone better if the Shaman would have bothered to learn an instrument. Instead, he spent his time breaking things with power tools to capture the sound. He would mic it through distortion pedals and open amps to capture as much feedback as he did sound, and then spend hours altering the tempo during playback, trying to craft the perfect atmosphere for their soundscapes.

Griselbrand would have objected if he had taken the time to digest it. But he was so frustrated with his own problems that he did not pay much attention to his partner’s lack of talent or obsession with improper application of instruments. He was constantly snapping the strings on his Gibson Epiphone Bass Guitar. He liked to blame to strings, but it was primarily the result of having hooks for hands.

One afternoon, the Shaman came in with some freshly captured sounds he felt fortunate enough to have recorded while witnessing a traffic accident. When he burst through the door in a raving fit of excitement, he found his poorly equipped friend on the verge of tears with frustration. It nearly broke his heart to see Griselbrand suffer so needlessly, so he took a moment and decided there was only one way to cheer up his friend.

He pulled out his stash of Green Mana Cookies and offered to share. Griselbrand was quick to object, insisting that he was Straight Edge and proud, along with some other garbled nonsense that the Shaman did not hear, but his stomach was growling and his appetite did not share his philosophical stance. After some insistence from the Shaman, Griselbrand ate the best cookie he had ever tasted.

They put on a record and started discussing the future of their project. The heavier the sound, the more Griselbrand wanted another cookie. The Shaman obliged, and before long his whole stash had disappeared into Griselbrand’s maw. All of the frustration was gone. They were at one with the music, the moment, and the madness of the life they were trying to live.

What happened next is a little hazy. Griselbrand got the munchies and decided to go get some food. The Shaman remained behind, trying to sync the sound of his car crash to play in unison to the sound of him breaking a stolen wheelchair with a sledge hammer. Hours passed and his bass player did not return, so the Shaman took a nap on top of a pile of broken furniture in the center of the studio.

When he awoke, there were a bunch of messages on the answering machine, but he did not bother to listen to them. He was hungry for some of his finest green mana, but discovered once again that Griselbrand had left him dry. So he set out on an adventure to get all the necessary supplies to bake, and it was not until he returned that he realized that his friend was still not back from his quest for food.

Still, he did not play the messages. Instead, he baked. And as he was cooking, he had an epiphany. He would use recordings from his answering machine as the vocals for their album instead of hiring a singer. In the throes of excitement, he set up to capture his first sample.

When he played back the messages, he struggled to make sense of them. The first one was from Griselbrand. He was raving about meeting Mayhem, and how he was going to record vocals for an upcoming album they were working on. This was a terrible way to start. The last thing the Shaman wanted was for the first song on his album to be about his bass player singing vocals for some other band.

The second message was also from Griselbrand. He was on his way to Helvete to record with Mayhem. Once again, all this discussion of another band felt like a betrayal. Not just because it was a member of his project heading off to work for someone else, but also because it was ruining the genius of capturing vocals.

The third message was more promising. Griselbrand was in some kind of trouble, captured by police and being forced into some compromising situation. It felt perfect for the project, until he asked the Shaman to call someone in Mayhem and let them know he was detained and would be there as soon as possible. Ruined again.

The fourth message was from some woman explaining that she managed to lock up Griselbrand, who was high as a kite, and that he would not be home for dinner. Apparently, when he thought he was on his way to join Mayhem at Helvete, he as in fact being imprisoned by Thalia for his mayhem inside of the Helvault.

That high motherfucker could not tell the difference between Thalia and Euronymous. And that was how he got locked up. All that time in the Helvault could have been avoided if he would have been more loyal to the project. And maybe if he had not eaten all of the cookies. The Shaman would have felt bad for his friend, maybe even would have gone to save him, but his mess of messages caused him to burn the fresh batch of cookies.

helvete

That’s the truth.

Griselbrand got trapped in the Helvault because he was so fucking high he thought Mayhem wanted him to do vocals on De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. And in the process, he broke up the band. And worse, he caused the Shaman to burn a batch of cookies. All these years later, he never apologized.

But this was no time to pick that fight. There was a TSI to win. And a Nam Q Tran, Scourge of all Things Sacred, to defeat. We were wasting time.

The Shaman decided the best approach to lure the sulking demon back into the fold was to give him a purpose.To show him the face of the enemy. To share with him accounts of the crimes against time and space so carelessly executed. He showed him pictures of the monster as he unfolded Tales that made Thalia seem polite in comparison, that made Gaddock Teeg seem more like a mosquito than a tyrant. In the end, he presented him with a complete understanding of the True Nature of Nam Q Tran, who flaunted our medal about his chest while bragging up the supremacy of Mishra and the Doctor’s Doomsday Machine.

Griselbrand was outraged. The knowledge of how the maleficent Nam had bragged of his victory just months before, mocking Griselbrand for being powerless once again when presented with unfortunate circumstances (bringing a fresh sting to the old Helvault Wound) was enough drive the demon berserk. The more he heard of the exaggerated and callous exploits of Nam Q Tran, the more he felt driven to set things right. He could not remain idle on Saturn and let this Agent of Diabolic Machinery continue his reign of mocking terror.

There was nothing Griselbrand wanted more than to crush another stream of unsolicited fucks from Nam’s sinister and smug lips. He wanted to see the pain of defeat on his face. While his master reclaimed the medal, he would reclaim his dignity. And in the process, the world would be safe once more from its most heinous aggressor.

So Griselbrand broke away from Saturn’s Haze and ventured back to the TSI. First they would drink, and then they would slay their next opponent. As they did, the Librarian quietly resumed control, ready to chart a course to the end they were all so desperate to find.

andy and nam playing oldschool 2

Brother Andrew shares his Braingeyser in an Oldschool battle against the fiend himself, Nam Q Tran.

The Fog of War is often too thick for memory to find clarity, and the details of the battles that followed their return are too obscure to reconstruct. Somewhere in the parade of bloodshed and revelry, we faced down our recently acquired and well loved friend, Rajah, who had already found himself victimized by the tyranny of Nam. It was unfortunate that he would have to suffer defeat again in our pursuit to right the wrongs of such an Infernal Denizen, but it was a door that had to be forced open.

While we planned to best him on the field of battle, we made peace by offering our opponent one of Eladamri’s baked goods and a few shots of whiskey. We gave him ample warning not to consume the whole thing. But, much like the unassuming victims of Nam Q Tran, he found its seemingly innocent presentation and palatable flavor too alluring, and it was only when he was too far gone, somewhere in the depths of our third game, that he understood our warning.

He fell to us in battle before falling to slumber. There would be many hours and the most glorious nap of his life between that moment and his return to normal. This was unlike those who befell a fate at the hands of Diabolic Nam, who would be little more than a heap of bones on the other side of his offerings, never to return to the world they know and love.

shamaned-rajah.jpg

“Rajah has fallen deep into a Shaman’s Trance after facing the Librarian in the thickest part of the smoke. It is a merciful slumber, and it will spare him the wrath of the beast known to mortals as Nam Q Tran”

-Rubinia Soulsinger

When the final round was paired up, we found ourselves face to face with the Baleful possessor of the Medal. But it was a battle that would serve no purpose this early in the day. No matter how strong the Librarian’s want for victory or Griselbrand’s hunger for the flesh of this foe,  it was necessary to defer the bloodshed for a more meaningful exchange in the hours ahead.

So they separated and spent the next hour doing what they do best. The Librarian kept us hydrated and danced about spreading Love and Merriment. Meanwhile, Nam Q Tran lurked among the people as he plotted his next odious scheme. The time passed as quickly as the booze, and after a blur of an afternoon the Top 8 contenders were determined.

standings.jpg

We would face Kevin Nelson, who was Dredging up an army of Zombies and punishing the unprepared all afternoon. This would be perhaps our greatest obstacle, but there was no reason to let it break our determination. He would have the luxury of playing first, so we would need to ensure that it was us that played last.

dredge

It took the proper alignment of Stars, but we emerged triumphant.

Nam spent so much of himself spreading evil that he had nothing left to fend off the justice Kevin Cron was dealing. Frank also emerged Victorious, along with the dreaded Rolko who defeated us at the start of our journey.

That left three of the four possible Serious Aficionados who could win a second Invitational, and only Rolko to spoil that feat. As it was written, we would face him again, and this time everything was on the line.

Our match can be viewed Here.

frank vs kevin top 4

Upon removing the last upset from the tournament, we ventured upstairs to replenish our drink, and in the process we found Kevin and Frank battling it out. We tried to watch, but no amount of substance could prepare us for what we found. In these months that have followed, Lands has become more common in Vintage, but on that day, we had no idea what was going on.

But we would soon have the luxury of facing one of these fiends to take the medal back to the Library.

In the end, Frank prevailed. He would take the stage before us. He would perform the King in Yellow. He would trade sanity for power, and call forth Marit Lage to tear us under. But such plans were destined for folly. Lage was an old friend, greatly indebted to us from the time before the ice. We would not fall to Frank. The medal would be ours again.

john-and-frank.jpg

But not until after copious amounts of alcohol and some of the most ridiculous magic went down. Spend a little time in the heart of Serious and watch as we stumble our way to Victory. You already bought the ticket. Its time to take the ride.

After a lot of nonsense the tournament was over. Somehow we emerged with our coveted treasure, and as we all gathered to divide up the donated spoils, I also took the only thing in the prize pool that held my interest.

khalni Malort

That’s right motherfuckers. We took the Foil Russian Khalni Hydra.

the box 2

Our contribution to the pool was the most coveted, and not without reason.

The high water mark of the Hazard Invitational was not winning the event. Instead, it was watching with delight as Kevin Cron selected our prize and let the secrets unfold before all of Team Serious. It was a moment within our tribe that will be remembered long after the medal has been lost gambling on spore frogs.

Kevin would take home the Beta Forest instead of the Jace the Mind Sculptor, along with his small trove of things found in the Library of Leng. It was a good day for all, individually and as the Team Serious Collective. The Shaman was reunited with Griselbrand. The Doctor was reunited his Superstitions. And the Librarian smiled upon all of it, for it happened just as he had penned it.

The Jace the Mind Sculptor was not lost or forgotten. In the month that followed, an opportunity presented itself to do the most possible good. When peddling cards to finish raising the capital for an undisclosed project, a card was sold to @VorthosMike who asked if I would throw in something for their upcoming Charity tournament to raise money for World Central Kitchen to feed people in Puerto Rico. This the sort of thing I love to be involved in, and since the Jace had already been donated once, it was with little consideration that it was donated again.

The end result of what came from the gesture means more than can properly be expressed in words. Watching Twitter over the weeks that followed became a joy unparalleled. Every day showed more drive and charity from the community. It was spreading like Phyrexian Oil, and when it finally coated everything, numerous decks were donated and the Tournament day was a smashing success. It was reward beyond measure to be a part of and witness it come to fruition.

The time has once again come for us to part ways. In less than Twelve Hours the Librarians will be heading west to meet the Knights TAPlar and numerous members of the Lords of the Pit to battle it out at Kumite, the first of an annual series hosted by the Knights in Jackson, Michigan. Having failed to drum up three underground seas this week, the test project for this tournament will be set aside and a streamlined build of Eureka will be piloted as intoxicated as possible.

Until Next Time

Love Not Law.

-The Librarian

 

Until You Call on The Dark in Detroit (An MTG Underground Tournament Overview)

On Sunday, November 26th, I hosted an Oldschool (93/94) Magic tournament at RIW Hobbies in Livonia, Michigan.

We had a set of The Dark in the back of the store, desperate for a purpose. When I stumbled foolishly upon this information, I set the gears in motion. We would hold a tournament. But not just any tournament, we would hold an Oldschool tournament. All we needed were a handful of Scarwood Bandits to show up to make it worthwhile.

I could make that happen.

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The Sum of Your Achievements: MTG Underground at Eternal Weekend

Part One: Guerillas

On March 8th, 1994, just four days after the release of Antiquities, Nailbomb’s “Point Blank” record debuted. They were similar in many ways. Stripped down. Aggressive. An expansion and a side project. Unpolished. Unapologetic. And I knew nothing about either of them when they were introduced to the world. But that would change. Did I hear the music first? Or shuffle the cards? Either way, it was not long before I discovered both. And my life was forever changed.

I was not new to metal. The year prior, in March of 1993, I attended my first concert. I was thirteen years old and my life lacked any meaningful adult supervision. I was supposed to be at a sleepover but instead I was at the State Theater in Downtown Detroit.

I saw Pantera.

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Create Your Own Heroes, A Guest Post from Dave Wojtkowski

time vault

Time is the poison of mortals. I have seen all that was, all that is, and all that shall come to be. I am the Librarian. As time passes, trees grow, they shed their leaves, they die. As time passes, you learn, you age, and you die. As time passes, I write into the fabric of existence all of the possibilities that it brings into being.

-The Librarian of Leng, “From the Aeons Torn”

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There and Back Again: Adventures in the Pit

Assemble the Coven Part One

hymn

The darkest hour of night is often poisoned by moonlight.

But as the wan radiance threatens to reveal my secrets, the fog drapes about me like a cloak. It wraps itself around my activity the way the forest wraps around the hill upon which I dig. The leering moon above is no adversary for the clandestine work of the Librarian. As it watches on, it does so alone. It cannot whisper to the aeons. It cannot reveal in the absence of Eyes to See.

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The Last Bike from Gothenburg

Welcome back to the MTG Underground.

Today we bring you a guest post from Magnus De Laval, the face and voice of Oldschool MTG. Though it has been too long since I brought you words from my fingers, a crime I will remedy soon, it is a pleasure to bring you something equally brilliant, if not superior on every level. I promise you will not be disappointed.

If you wandered in too early, you may have seen an alternate cut of this piece. I spent a little too much time with this piece in my possession before posting it, and became a little too enamored. As such, I began dressing it up in my clothes and shifting its pieces around, unintentionally sculpting it into my likeness. And while my face may be a beautiful sight for your heathen eyes, it should not deny you the true form of this masterpiece.

So I have set things right.

I give you the Last Bike from Gothenburg in its raw, unadulterated glory:

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Argothian Daydreams: Hailing the Leaf in the Oldschool Underground

Part One: The Primeval Forest

sylvan_library

“Things do not change. We change.” –Henry David Thoreau, Walden

My first encounter with green mana was an offering from a Verduran Enchantress. This taste of paradise was contrary to my nature, to my obsession with dark magic and rusted metal relics, but her emerald eyes captivated me. The temptation was too great not to succumb, and the floral sapidity was as sweet as salvation on my trembling lips.

As it filled my lungs, she filled my dreams. As it swam through my blood, she danced with my desires. I lost all correspondence with my gritty, jagged world of metal and violence, and let myself listen to the nuances of its song. She was teaching me of the serenity of nature. I was learning the savagery of the cosmos.

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Vintage Magic Made Me Do It

Part One: Vulgar Display of Power

vdop

“When you walk around wearing a crown you are likely rouse the ire of peasants.”

-King Suleiman

Welcome back to the MTG Underground.

In the beginning there was no magic. When Alpha and Beta came and went, few were fortunate to discover its beauty. Unlimited opened the door to more players, but the enchanting rarity of the early game lingered in relative obscurity. But the game continued to blossom. Arabian Nights explored a whole new world. Antiquities courted me into the multiverse. It mesmerized me, and my eternal obsession with artifacts came to life. Legends, in all of its overpriced and underprinted wonder, gave us new cards and card types.

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