“When there is no more Toast in Hell the Bread shall walk the Earth.” — Hell’s Caretaker
Have you ever woke up to find a birdbath in your living room?
If you did, and had no recollection of where it came from or how it got there, would you struggle to cope?
I immediately accepted that it would not be the weirdest moment of my day. Waking up in strange places, with strange possessions, or in strange situations, these were things that disturbed me when I was a younger shade of myself. I am a professional now, and I did not get my doctorate in superstition by reacting to reality on its own terms.
Maybe the birdbath came over for drinks last night. Maybe it flew in the window when somebody was leaning out to look at the freeway horizon. Maybe it grew there. Hell, maybe it was the coffee table. Did I eat a Spore Frog again?
The Fog was Thick.
But it was not the fog that bothered me. The birdbath did not matter.
The only thing that mattered was toast.
I do not have a toaster.
I once did, but Kevin Sorbo stole it.
Let it sink in. I wrote a whole blog update about it. Go back, read it, chew on it like a soggy mass of white bread that you wish was toast.
Kevin Sorbo stole my toaster.
That is the sort of thing that can really fuck up your morning.
I took you with me through the hangover. But now I will show you things from the spaces between. The unspoken fragments that can be collected between the moments that weave together an ordinary day. The pieces that can be brought together to form my face. The pieces that, while staring out at you from the world you can only find in glimpses, will tell you the real story. The pieces that are the man behind the curtain.
You know about the skull-shaped vodka bottle. You know about my scornful opinion of overpriced vodka. But do you know what was under the bottle?
A Chronicles edition of Hell’s Caretaker.
Do you know what I see when I look at the art on Hell’s Caretaker? Do you know how much, in that moment, he resembled a piece of toast? That simple deception, his toast-like visage, his mocking cheapness and lack of flavor, only served to make an insatiable hunger grow proportionately out of scale to the man possessed by it. I would gladly have been sacrificed at that moment, flung into an earthen hole in exchange to let a dead thing crawl again, if along with the swap that charnel beast was forced to take on my hunger. Perhaps if the beast was a denizen of Hell, it could turn my remains into a tasty piece of hardy toast, topping me with blackberry jam laced with damnation.
But I would not be spared of my hunger or my preoccupation.
In the kitchen, there was a story that was never told. It is open to debate whether or not Koala bears had actually been there, but there was no disputing that some savage beast had ransacked the cereal. All of the cinnamon toast crunch was gone. The only thing that remained was a stale box of corn flakes. If I had a soul, it would have learned despair at that moment.
Fortunately, in a rare moment of insight, my mother encouraged me to sell it when I was young. But I have told you that story as well. I am sucking you in. Before long, you will be a character in this blog. I will be writing your story into mine, or dressing mine up with threads of your tale. But this is not that moment.
I was forced to come to terms with the extinction of toast. It was a bitter mass to swallow, but tragic feelings would do nothing to wash it down. I turned to the closest thing I could find. Beer. Glorious 12 ounce cans of salvation. They were a flash of light in the darkness of a toastless world. There were seven in my refrigerator. I knew they were not from the same source as the pretentious vodka. Clearly my friends ranged the spectrum of bad taste. But at that moment, I ignored my genuine distaste for beer of any sort and set to consuming them. Beer had yeast, just like bread. Could I toast a beer?
I drank two while I tried to figure this out. The closest I came was finding a pint of fireball. I poured a shot for each remaining beer. Then I set to work, toasting the can with flavor text before taking the shot and slamming the can. Sometimes the best way to overcome the burdens of reality is to drown it in consumption.
More than before I needed to eat. In the process of searching for a nutritious and balanced breakfast, I found more fireball and two half empty bottles of tequila. I found a grapefruit, a melon, two oranges, and a lemon. Ice. Lots of ice. Blender. Let the magic happen. A splash of almond milk. A tablespoon of raw organic honey provided by Chris Chauvet (@cchauvet on twitter.) The fog would no doubt give way to a heavier blur soon enough.
I poured my first glass. As I did, my brother entered without knocking. Thankfully. I would not have let him in for a while. I took my first swig of the godlike nectar and turned to greet him. I watched him shove the last corner of a piece of toast into his maw and proceed to talk at me through it. I wanted to smash his head and replace it with the skull bottle. After that, I wanted to store my drink in his head.
I decided my belly was a better place and shouted obscenities at him. He asked about the birdbath and the pentagram on my forehead. It was going to be a rough day. I finished the first drink, poured the second, and made my way to the shower.
Brother Andrew was excited about the event as much for his love of oldschool as for his desire to get out and do something for the day. In the weeks leading up I had sent him deck after deck to try, but I assumed he was going to just play the RUG Genies deck again from our invitational.
When I emerged he was smelling the blender with some doubt. I told him it was a nutritious and balanced breakfast, but I could see the doubt in his eyes. Heathen bastard. No faith in the essential decency of my ability to balance a breakfast without toast. I worked on a third glass and started yelling at him again. After demonstrating my relentlessness, he gave in and sleeved my deck.
As he did, he noted my most recent pick up: Old Man of the Sea.
Andrew: “Is this good?”
Me: “Its Old Man of the Sea.”
Andrew: “What the fuck is a Marid?”
Me: “Oracle says its a Djinn.”
Andrew: “King Suleiman probably hates him then.”
Me: “I will steal King Suleiman and sacrifice him to Lord of the Pit.
Andrew: (Quiet for a moment, looks through my deck for a Lord of the Pit, shakes his head) “You are not playing Lord of the Pit.”
Me: “I am the Lord of the Fucking Pit.”
Andrew could not get over how the deck had evolved. We were both more excited to play magic than we had been in years. After my short tour with Atog Smash (as detailed in the MTG Invitational) I wanted something different. Much like Eternal Weekend last year, the months leading up were composed of acquiring cards and virtually no effort was put in to building a deck. When it came down to the wire, I only had a rough idea of what I wanted to play. At some point in the hazy hours of the night before I made decisions.
I started out with the restricted cards. I backed them up with four counterspells and a mana drain. Next up: the burn package. All eight bolts, four psionic blasts, maybe some fireballs. The count was adding up quickly. A single Control Magic. Creatures: Four Serendib Efreet, One Shivan Dragon. My Beta Vesuvan Doppelganger. An Alpha Clone. The Old Man.
The sideboard was crude and simple. Very little thought was spent on it. Once sleeved, I laid the deck out to review, and I felt pretty good about it. I was weak to an early Juzam, and soft to Erhnam, but otherwise I had everything under control.
The Deck I Played:
I polished off the rest of the liquid in the blender and put my deck in my deck box:
We were off to Ohio.
The car ride did not agree with my heavy morning drinking. I am no impostor, I did not throw any of it up, but I did have to take the edge off by eating Gaea’s Liege and consulting the Fyndhorn. My brother has no love for Green Mana, so I was on my own, but it evened out the weight of the booze.
I needed food. There was no alternative.
We were already in Ohio, and while he promised to stop at the next option (all the while driving past farms that were stocked with an endless supply of food) there was no food until we hit Archbald. It was a little town that looked more like the set of a low budget movie than a place people actually lived, but I shook off the Outer Limits and kept my eyes peeled. There was nothing but desolation.
We went to the shop to ask about our options. They raved about a Mexican place but broke my heart by remembering at the last minute that it was closed on Sundays. That left two choices. McDonald’s was not an option for me, so our only choice was a local Diner that had a reputation for taking too long. We risked it, and before long we were scarfing down terrible midwest breakfast out of styrofoam containers with flimsy plastic forks and no napkins.
Ohio was not winning my favor.
I went back into the shop and tried to forget where I was. As players filtered in there was a clear buzz of enthusiasm in the room. I conversed with old friends and new faces alike, slowly trying to remember the story of the birdbath so I could tell it to a stranger before telling it to my girlfriend. I was going to need practice if I did not want to remain in exile in this forsaken land to the south.
Most conversation was about the format, but somehow things shifted and I found my chance to explain the birdbath scenario. But I started out by mentioning booze and toast, and moments later I was telling the Kevin Sorbo story. That one would stick with me. It was the first time I related it in full. The second time was the first half of this update. The birdbath was lost in the weeds of a world oppressed by toaster thieves.
The tournament started before too long, probably later than it was supposed to, but there was no feeling of disorder. Everything was fairly casual from the start, but it never kept things from running smoothly.
I could do a round by round and play by play breakdown, but this tournament was over six weeks ago, I was drunk, and my notes are poor. I would still do a better job than most magic writers, but the part I tend to skim the most (when I even bother reading an article) is the details of a tournament report. Instead, I will give a general breakdown of the swiss, in which I played against players who all made top 8. I will give a brief snapshot of the elimination rounds. I will sprinkle all of this with anything I can think of to keep it from losing a single reader. If I have not lost a reader by this point, it would be a shame for them to get eaten in the shallow water where there are not even sharks, let alone toasters.
I won the first round against Joel who was playing the Juzam Smash deck. I won games one and three, but I lost game two when he took me from twenty to zero with a single swing from Juzam backed with a pair of berserks. I went from unconcerned to dead in a split second.
I won round two against Rausch, only to go on and lose to him in the finals. We played five games over the course of the day, and I enjoyed every one of them, even the ones I lost. This is the best format.
I won round three against Mac. I took it in two games, mostly from drawing an obscene amount of cards. The focus was more on catching up, discussing allegedly shady activities, and our shared love of cards than it was on winning or losing, but that is much easier to say when you win.
Cayden crushed me in round four. We could have drawn in to top 8, but we both wanted to play. Even after the beating I took from his Scrubland Deck, I am happy we made that decision. It helped reaffirm something I have thought about often. I never want to intentionally draw a game or match of magic.
At some point in the near future I will write about this.
If you are unaware, I am the bastard with the tattoos in the back row. The rest of these fine people are upstanding and dignified. Their reputation should not be sullied by being associated with me.
My top 8 match was the mirror. I took it down in three close games. Afterwards we discussed what was good and bad about the deck. I had already decided I wanted Power Sink and less creatures. For the most part I liked the sideboard. It felt good to already be learning and developing what would surely be my primary deck for the format.
I played against Dominic with his impressive Land’s Edge/Land Tax deck in top 4. I won two games by being tight on lands, which inadvertently punished him even more than it did me. Instead of losing to an early Ivory Tower I burned him out quickly. The games may not have looked close to the unwary eye, but they were as narrow as I have played in a long time. I escaped victorious with little room to breathe.
In the finals I lost to Rausch in two games. Both were heavy mulligans, but I still came close to burning him out. He was better prepared for my countermagic this time and did not walk blindly into it. Even losing I still had a blast and wanted to keep playing my deck.
Second Place Mirror Universe. I have already used it to win a few games in a deck with Lich.
The plan was to grab beers with Mac afterwards, but the time ran late and I was exhausted from breakfast. My brother just wanted to get on the road, so we used our better judgment and decided getting out of Ohio was the more important task. So we made our exit and headed to the car.
Andrew: “Its locked.”
Me: “Yeah, you locked it.”
Andrew: “I don’t have the keys.”
Me: “Better find them. The car is not going to drive itself.”
A: “We would not be in it if it did.”
Me: “Speak for yourself. I would hitch a ride with your demon car.”
Me: “I am not the one that locked my keys in the trunk.”
A: “They are not in the trunk.”
Me: “Want to bet?”
He scoured the shop for his keys and I called home. It was time to face the birdhouse.
Laura was in a state of hysteria. She was being attacked by locusts.
I listened as she raved about evacuating the apartment, fascinated as her deeply suppressed catholic fears wrestled free of their forgotten place in her childhood, and I tried not to envision the madness that must surely be going on at that moment in our kitchen. Locusts were terrible, but in light of a biblical plague trading her coffee table for a birdbath seemed pretty minor. I was all but off the hook.
I checked on Andrew, and he still did not have his keys. We began engineering a plan for breaking into the car and popping the trunk so I could prove to him that he locked them in there. He went to round up supplies, assisted by a couple members of the community, because magic in general is awesome, but oldschool magic is the best. I had a few more phone calls to make.
After convincing my long time non magic cohort Miguel to go to my apartment and battle the insect apocalypse, I called Laura to reassure her that help was on the way. The chaos of things distracted her enough to keep the birdbath from coming up. I was overly helpful, considerate, and actually listened instead of waiting for the chance to say something insane. I was laying the groundwork to absolve myself of my crime.
Things were working themselves out at home, and I discovered that my brother was leading a scavenger hunt on some nearby train tracks. They were searching for metal rods or straps. I pretended to join in, but instead I was checking my social media accounts and providing mockery for my brother. I had locked my keys in the trunk many times, but every time I did it I was drinking. His sober status stripped him of that excuse.
In time I broke into the car, utilizing the rusty and jagged pieces of train metal to bypass the locks. Once inside, we popped the trunk. I was feeling smug. Sitting on top of the case of water that he kept raiding to hydrate me all day were the keys. I knew that I was at least a catalyst of the situation, but responsibility lives in the realm of reality, and I was in a different place all day. I was not about to return just to share the blame.
We were finally able to escape from Ohio.
We listened to Simon and GWARfunkel and drove through the emptiness as dusk set in. Andrew was fascinated with the Land’s Edge deck and determined to build one of his own. My thoughts were on the merits of splashing black for demonic tutor and mind twist. We were so excited for the next oldschool tournament that it seemed like the only magic format that existed. I began making a list of things to find in the weeks to come and started talking about hosting events near the end of summer, once life slowed down a bit.
Its getting a little closer to that time. Life is balancing out a little right now. There is no reason that another MTG Underground Invitational has not been scheduled.
When I arrived home, there was a note from Laura taped to the door. She fled to her mother’s on the other side of town. Miguel had battled the locusts, but the tone of her note suggested he did not prevail. I feared that I would open the door to find the corpse of my friend. Instead, I found the birdbath still in place, and a few flying carpenter ants in the kitchen. I took care of them and discovered their source, temporarily patched the hole, and made my way to bed.
The birdbath would go out the door with me on my way to work in the morning. The locusts were ants, and the building maintenance could handle them. Everything was right in the world.