MTG Underground: The Legendary Journeys (Prelude to the First Oldschool Tournament at Card and Board)

“Always do Sober what you said you’d do Drunk. That will teach you to {Play Better Magic.} –Erhnam Hemingway

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Light stabbed in through the window like the shards of the past that were carving holes in my half-sleeping mind. Too much pain to ignore, not enough to make me move. I wondered to myself if this was how Sword of the Ages was designed, but then I realized my recollection of what it did was blotted out by the dull throbbing in my skull.

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The weight of life was pinning my face to the carpet. There was no relief. No mercy. I was awake, and nothing could change that. It was Sunday morning, but there was no Salvation in this temple.

There was, however, a birdbath.

I blinked a few times, expecting it to disappear. My vision focused through the agony, and disbelief could not change reality. There was supposed to be a coffee table, the one that was always there, in the center of my living room. The one my girlfriend was gifted from her mother that once belonged to her grandparents. But it was gone. No matter how many times I opened and closed my swollen eyes, it was not there. Just a birdbath standing where it once was.

Consciousness was a curse. There was no way I could keep laying there. I needed food. Water. Relief from the cerebral pressure. I would not find it laying helpless beside the stone abomination that would surely get me kicked out of my home. I forced myself to rise, hoping that somehow I would be somewhere else, anywhere else, but aside from the birdbath everything was mostly in order, and there was no mistaking my home from another.

Once I was standing, I could see the Skull of Orm sitting in the birdbath, and immediately moved to pick it up. With a sour taste of disappointment and relief I discovered it was an empty bottle of Crystal Head vodka, and not the strange relic from The Dark. This stuff was not cheap. Nor was it particularly good. Who spent money on this? Did he know that this bottle was as expensive as a revised plateau? Probably. No one in their right mind would buy a plateau. At least Vodka will get you drunk. Even if it tastes like watered down bleach.

I tried to come to terms with reality. My head was throbbing too much. When was the last time I felt this rough? The morning of GP San Diego 2013. I wanted to die, but Brian Demars spent his three byes vomiting in a convention center rest room, and I had to play. I loved my deck but even shuffling cards hurt my head. Was this that bad? Was it worse? What the hell would I tell Laura when she discovered the absence of her table? How would I explain the birdbath? I had no clue where it came from. She would never believe me.

I had to recall. What was the last thing I could remember?

Kevin Sorbo.

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Grand Prix San Diego again. Kevin Sorbo stole my toaster. That was also a Sunday. Saint Patrick’s Day. What did that have to do with anything? There was some connection, but I was still suffering in the haze of aftermath. Exploring the one I could remember may unlock the one that was eluding me.

It was March in Detroit, a snow-covered wasteland not unlike my emotional landscape at the time, and I was craving the sun. The callous grey mesh above me denied me of hope, so the past tugged at me with the recurring query of why I left Los Angeles to begin with. I was from Michigan, and that alone should have been enough to keep me from ever going back. But that was another story for another time.

I scheduled my vacation days across the week before and after GP San Diego, bought a ticket to Los Angeles, and began counting the days. My trip was primarily for the sake of bringing some light into the Nether Void that once housed my soul, but there were two secondary reasons. The first was the Modern Grand Prix, even though I did not have a modern deck. The second was the Toaster.

Three months earlier I attended my company Christmas Party. It was not something I would normally do, but I found the motivation (likely in the form of some girl) and drank just enough to keep from backing out. It was a terrible gathering full of horrible people made worse by alcohol. The girl that lured me lost all appeal when she was throwing up in the parking lot before midnight, and the only thing I had to show for the evening was a bad buzz and a wrapped present from some senseless auction. I refused to open it, much to the dismay of my co-workers, partially because I did not care what was inside and partially because it was so agitating to the crowd.

I somehow made it home, and the next day I took the still-wrapped present with me to work. I placed it above my desk with a sign, further taunting those who felt compelled to know what was inside, even though it would not impact their empty lives. Compulsion turned to Madness in the coming weeks. More than once I caught someone trying to unwrap the box. I would have none of that. It was far more valuable wrapped. It was a weapon against curiosity and the drab routine of day to day operations. The more they needed to know the less I wanted to. In a sense, it was the best present I could have hoped for.

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By the time my trip rolled around, I decided the box would have to go with me. Whatever mysterious object was inside would be released into the wild. The more I thought about it, the more I was certain that I would throw it into the ocean. It should be free. The days until it would become one with nature ticked away, until finally I was packing for the airport.

My brother picked me up the morning of my departure, and I loaded some bags and the box into his car. He laughed about it, baffled as to why I was bringing a Christmas present with me. I tried to explain, but he did not understand.

Me: “I am going to release it into the Ocean.”

Him: “What?”

Me: “I am going to set it free. Return it to nature.”

Him: “There are no presents in the Ocean.”

Me: “Yeah, not anymore. Humans are awful.”

This went on for far longer than it should have when he finally decided to unravel my dreams. He cruelly pointed out that trying to go through airport security would be impossible. I did not package the box. I was unaware of its contents. I would be too drunk to explain. I would be lucky if I did not end up in some terrorist holding cell and eventually deported to a country that was not my native land.

I opened the box. There was a toaster inside.

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What the hell was I going to do with a toaster? I offered it to my brother. He said he had one already, but was glad I came to my senses. I made him explain. He tried to express the absurdity of throwing a toaster into the ocean. I watched it play out in my head. Standing at the end of the Santa Monica Pier. Hoisting it over my head. Shouting. Setting it free.

The world would be right once more.

Plus it would be fun to bring a toaster onto a plane as my carry on.

Much to my chagrin, the stoned TSA agent did not even question it as I carried it through security. The bustle of the airport kept anyone from noticing. I sat there waiting to board, holding it in my lap, and met the gaze of an old woman who was staring at me. She spoke to me, and I prepared to tell her about my plan. But she did not acknowledge the toaster. She wanted to talk about my tattoos.

Once I was on the plane the flight attendant suggested that I put my box in the overhead bin. I informed her it was a toaster. She smiled uncomfortably and asked if I needed assistance. I was happy I ate as much green mana as I did before security, and relieved to find it kicking in. I placed it in the compartment and seated myself. Before long I was in Los Angeles.

Ethan picked me up from the airport. A true friend for life, I met Ethan shortly after I moved to Los Angeles and started playing Magic in the Valley. I introduced Ethan to Eternal Formats and he introduced me to endless sources of the best food. We went on many adventures, and while this ride was much more tame than when he carted me to SCG LA, it was not without hilight. After the usual greetings, we got my bags and got in the car. As we made our way into the concrete hell of the California Highway system, Ethan asked about the toaster.

Me: “I am returning it to nature. I am going to release it into the ocean.”

Ethan: “What?”

Me: “I rescued it from a company party. I am going to set things right man. I am going to set it free.”

Ethan: “Dude, its a toaster.”

Me: “Yeah. Four Slice style. Chrome Finish.”

Ethan: “You know there are no toasters in nature don’t you?”

Me: “Yeah, the world has grown so fucking dark.”

Ethan: “That’s pretty crazy.”

Me: “Sure is. Next thing you know you will have to go to an appliance store to see them. Nature is vanishing.”

Ethan dropped me off in Echo Park after we had some excellent Thai Food somewhere off the 405. We got together a few times during my visit, but my adventures in Los Angeles could fill volumes. The point of all this was the Toaster. No, the point of all this was Kevin Sorbo. Or San Diego. I don’t know what the point was. Perhaps that was the point. Oh yes, we were trying to find it.

One afternoon I set to accomplish the task in Santa Monica. It would be just like my vision. But when I got there it was swarmed with tourists, and once it thinned out enough for me to give it a try I spotted a cop. He was already watching me, assessing my “gang attire” and studying my tattoos. I was drunk, but not drunk enough to cross the line. I was furious, but I swallowed it like a mouthful of smoke. I carried this damn toaster all the way to the pier, and I would not be able to carry out my mission. In Hindsight the cop could have been watching me because I was drunk and walking around with a toaster. Hindsight is always blurry.

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I would set it free in San Diego.

While arranging to ride down, I also set up for long time confidant and fellow Vintage lover Brian Demars to be picked up from the airport. We were met with endless hospitality from Danny Batterman, who was more than happy to provide transportation and house us for the weekend. I dropped off my things and made my way to the convention center Friday Night, partially to scope out the vendors and partially to scope out the landscape. My mission was permeating my thoughts.

After I found the bay behind the convention center and determined that I would have little trouble with my task, I went inside to find a deck to play. Just before I left Los Angeles I heard rumor of a Griselbrand deck from Jacob Kory (@MTGkoby on twitter) and picked up a large stack of Fury of the Horde. I found him inside and we hammered out the list, then I set about getting the cards. Most of them came from my good friends at MTG Deals, who were also happy to buy my extra copies of Fury, and helping absorb the cost of this monstrosity. I sleeved it up and went looking for booze.

I don’t remember exactly how it happened, but we ended up at a Judge’s dinner somewhere. Brian and I sat at the far end of the gathering and discussed life, literature, and libations. He told me he quit smoking a few months prior, on the exact day that I received the toaster, and in turn had quit drinking. He was not thrilled to give up drinking, but he could not separate his vices. I commended him on his efforts, and as soon as I could I ordered us drinks.

Two hours and numerous glasses of whiskey later, we were stopping off on the way back to Danny’s place so Brian could pick up a pack of smokes. Let no one say there is not a trace of Lord Henry Wotton in me. As one of the few people who has ever kept proper pace with me, remaining intellectual and increasing in volume as excess is mocked by our pursuit, I was delighted to help Brian find the pleasures of succumbing to temptation. Once we made it back to the pad Danny offered us his stash of booze, the leftovers from a former room mate or party, as he did not partake. A liter of Jack Daniels was no match for our thirst, nor was the half bottle of Patron.

We discussed music heavily. Brian was on a Detroit vs. the World kick, and I could not help but agree with the premise. I was happy to hear him rant and rave, educating Danny as we sucked down the bottle of Rum that was left when all else had been imbibed. For hours we carried on, and suddenly there was a trace of sun on the Horizon. With no more booze to consume and only an hour or two to try and sleep, Brian and I crashed at opposite ends of the room. We were awakened to make our way to the hall after what felt like only moments, both still drunk and slowly shifting towards sickness.

Once in the hall, as explained many lines ago, Brian took to heaving through his bye rounds while I managed to squeak out a few wins in spite of my condition. I had played in worse shape, but at the time I was not willing to admit it. I dropped before the last round at 5-2, still in line to make day two, because after endless hours and numerous attacks with Griselbrand I finally felt like I could keep food down and was inspired to eat. I have no idea how Brian fared.

Food led to exploration, which in turn led to drinking with strangers. I made it back to the convention center in time to ride back with Danny, and Saturday night was spent in a slumber that felt like eight turns in Tawnos’s Coffin. When I woke Sunday, I was laying on a couch in what seemed like an empty dwelling. I snorted away a small stash of Serum Powder and took a shower, got myself together, and with my toaster tucked under my arm I took a cab back to the site.

When I made it down to the center I decided I needed breakfast. I wandered alone through the streets in search of food, only to discover all the bars were open and hopping. It was Saint Patrick’s Day. I rejoiced in the understanding that breakfast would also include whiskey, but to my dismay I discovered that the natives of San Diego discriminate heavily against toasters and the first few places I stopped would not allow the poor beast inside. I eventually found a dead spot, a Mexican restaurant on an Irish holiday, and they were more than accepting of my companion. As a gesture of gratitude I drank Margaritas instead of Jameson (they were on special) and before long I was hammered.

After a hefty breakfast bar tab I stumbled back towards the hall. I decided to head inside before making my way to the waterfront. I drifted through the halls towards the tournament room, and on my way I encountered a line. It was not Magic. This was something else.

I made my way to the front of the line, staying far enough away not to seem like I was cutting in, and I found a giant sign explaining the assembly.
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Kevin Sorbo was signing autographs.

I was faced with a dilemma. I wanted to check up on the event, and I still needed to release the toaster. But how often do you get to meet Hercules and include him in your own Legendary Journeys? It did not take long for me to understand what I had to do. I returned to the end of the line, and I waited patiently while playing on my phone and thinking about how much better my trip would be as a result of getting to meet a man who pretended to have once killed a minotaur.

Time crawled by, and eventually someone asked me about the toaster. I tried to explain, but I lost my train of thought. The people around me were talking about me as the crazy guy who was getting his toaster signed, and I wondered how the thought had yet to cross my mind. My boredom grew into excitement and eventually uncomfortable anticipation. The line crawled on slowly, but like all things it eventually gave way.

I sat the toaster on the table and greeted Kevin Sorbo with enthusiasm, trying to mask my inebriation, acutely aware that I was failing. He was polite at first, but when I asked him to sign the toaster things got weird. Just about this time Magic players from all over were going apeshit over Brian Kibler calling a judge to take a bathroom break while his opponent executed the Eggs combo. Meanwhile, I was locked in gaze with television’s Hercules, trying to persuade him to sign my kitchen appliance. He was reluctant, and he eventually decided to outright refuse. He seemed to think I was pulling something, and he wanted no part of it.

Me: “Just sign the Toaster Hercules.”

Him: “I am sorry, but I cannot do that.”

Me: “Do you hate toast or something?”

Him: “You can purchase any of these prints and I will personalize an autograph…”

Me: “Who hates toast? Just sign the toaster man.”

At this point I felt a firm grip on my left shoulder, and then an equally persuading grip on my right. It was security. They helped me step back from the table and asked me to leave. My initial reaction was a little defensive, so they became more persuasive and created a barrier between me and the Toaster Hating Charlatan Hero. They escorted me out. I was upset, and as we passed other foolish mortals waiting in line for likely disillusionment, I chose some less than friendly words and expressed my distaste for the scenario. I was taken outside and asked to leave, so I pretended to do so as they went back inside.

That is when it dawned on me.

Kevin Sorbo stole my Toaster.

Dack Fayden may be the greatest thief in the Multiverse, but he never stole a Toaster from me at a Grand Prix.

And now I remembered what I was trying to recall.

I know now where the birdbath came from. And it was tournament day. We were heading to Archbald, Ohio (I had never heard of it either) to play the first Card and Board Oldschool Tournament. My brother was picking me up. Time to make breakfast. I was starving and wanted toast.

Fuck.

I do not have a toaster.

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