The week behind me has left little time for writing. It has provided the opportunity to play some magic, as I just returned from the Team Serious Vintage Invitational, where some poor decisions left me playing a deck with the poorest assembly of mana I have ever concocted and the inability to cast many spells. Still, in spite of my finishing 20th out of 21 (only because the other guy dropped) I still have a rather interesting adventure to share.
But that will have to wait until next week.
Today I bring you a piece that I wrote last year. It was my tournament report for Grand Prix New Jersey, where I piloted Goblin Charbelcher to 187th out of over 4000 players. It is a tale unlike any other, and though some of you may have seen it before, many have not, and it would be a shame not to fix that. In addition, it is being presented here in its entirety for the first time, and though it was not edited for content at all, I did take the time to copy and paste some images to enhance your reading experience.
With no further ado, I present My Grand Prix New Jersey Report:
Part One: The Shaman’s Path
“The adversary that refuses to die is not nearly as dangerous as the one who refuses to stay dead.” –William Henry Harrison
It began on a rainy Halloween night in Detroit. I was oblivious at the time, but the die was cast. The threads of fate were stitched in that cold, callous darkness. I was perched in the branches of a tree in the distant suburbs, celebrating the holiday in my usual way—dressed studiously as King Arthur, drinking Kraken Rum from a gas can, and shouting at passing children as they plundered the residents for candy. The weather should have kept me from partaking, but the fuel of my lifestyle urged me on, and the storm fell into the background. The utter joy of watching mask-clad heathens plummet face first into the ditch below as I frightened the last trace of religion from their fragile bones was greater than most tangible things in this world.
The haze of the night evolved into a foggy blur. As it wound on it condensed around me and made the air heavy. The more it constricted, the less I could focus. As I at last lost myself, it gave way, and when it parted I welcomed the waiting blackout and the absence of memory it brought as a gift. I can hardly imagine the horror it spared me, and I have no intimation of how I came to be sleeping in the basement of an abandoned house.
I did not let that keep me down. I rose with the sun and shook off the fetters of the night. I crept from the dwelling and made my way to my car, which I was relieved to find parked discreetly nearby. I set about seeking nourishment to quiet the demands of my physical form. It came in the form of fruit and bread from a nondescript market, and I gorged myself on it as I traveled through the dreary morning sunshine. Rote memory carried me home, and before I realized it I was in my driveway.
Something was awry.
My front gate was open. It is a burdensome and rusty contraption made of wrought iron that is difficult to move with intent. There was no way the prior night’s storm could have been the cause. I made my way through it and found muddy footprints leading up and back down the concrete steps. The prints were small and animal in nature, but a closer glance revealed them to be bipedal. A pit of despair grew in my gut. I rushed onto the porch and found my front door ajar with visible signs of forced entry.
I wanted to scream. I looked out to the street and to the abandoned or torched out houses beyond. There was no hope of a witness in this neighborhood, but there was also no safe place to hide. I knew immediately that the descending steps were those of final departure, that I would find no one inside. I listened at the opening and the sterile silence confirmed it. Somewhere in the distance I could hear the echo of sirens and the barking of dogs, but nothing emanated from within.
I crossed the threshold and cringed as the door creaked on its hinges. I left it open and made my way through the main floor of the house. The muddy prints soiled every room, but for the most part things remained undisturbed. The basement door was tampered with but still secure, the lock being too high or too complex to bother with. It was in the kitchen that I found the first evidence of larceny.
A quick survey revealed the absence of a large wooden spoon, two apples, and a pot holder. Scrambling further I discovered the picture of Elvis Presley that had been taped to the refrigerator was gone, as was a liter of single-malt scotch and a jar of honey. I choked back my disgust as I imagined the kind of savage that would steal these things. I pushed it from my mind, and headed upstairs.
The steps creaked beneath my determination, and I found pieces of my bedroom door strewn about the top few. It was forced open violently, and I stopped to shake my head in wonder at the vandalism applied to an unlocked door. I pushed it open and stepped into the room with my eyes closed, needing a moment before the ugly truth punched me in the chest.
There was a small pedestal on the mantle above the stone fireplace. Upon it was the missing wooden spoon and a half-eaten apple. Missing from it was a badly damaged copy of the Necronomicon that I had spent the prior month diligently restoring. My work was not complete, but most of the passages were once again intact and legible. Or they had been when I placed it there before I left the prior morning. The book was the most valuable thing in my home, as well as the most dangerous, and whomever the fiend was that took it came specifically to do so.
A half-hearted look around the room took away any hope the book had been cast aside. There was mud leading into the ritual chamber and the door was open. Fear surged through me, but I choked it down and made my way inside. Trying to prepare for a second wave of horror and violation, I flipped on the light and looked about in panic.
The other apple was at my feet, a few bites missing and haplessly discarded. The floor was also home to the empty whiskey bottle and the pot holder, the latter of which was lathered in some putrid yellowish residue. Against the wall, the large ebony cabinet that housed many secrets and supplies was marred with claw marks around the edges of the door, but it remained closed and secure. Taped to its face was the picture of Elvis, altered with a red crayon to look like some kind of devil with a stain or smudge on his forehead. I reached out and pulled it down, and upon the back I found a crudely scribbled message:
Shaman, I took your fancy book. I need its secrets. Now that you fixed it I can read them. I will use them to win the Grand Prix in New Jersey. Don’t be mad. I promise not to show anyone or set it on fire or lose it or use it as a plate or draw pictures on it. You can have it back when I am done. Thank you for the food and the potion. -Squee
Two days prior, when I should have been out setting fires, I completed the translation of the most powerful and dangerous passage contained in the Necronomicon. The very words I worked so hard to bring back to life would now cause only death. There was no way he could control the power he possessed, and his determination to use the book put everyone in danger. Not only would the other competitors risk glory in each battle, but they would risk their very existence just by being there.
But it was much worse than that. The danger would not be confined to the Grand Prix. I had translated rituals that could undo the fabric of time. He could unwittingly lay waste to everything that was, is, and shall come to be. With the wrong utterance Squee could unleash an Evil greater than anything that has walked the Earth during mortal times. He could bring the darkness of the past or the merciless light of the future to smother out the climate of the present. He had to be stopped at all costs.
This was too much for my sober mind. The pressure grew with the realization of what I had inevitably set into motion. I reached for the chain around my neck and tugged it until the small silver key attached fell loose and into my grasp. There was no visible lock on the cabinet, just the carved doors and the suggestiveness of where a lock should be. I inserted the key not into the doors but into the space between. The key vanished and I pulled back my hand. An unnatural silence constricted the air before giving way to a cosmic rumble as the cabinet slowly opened.
It occurred to me as I watched the ritual cabinet open that the Necronomicon would have been far safer inside than it was displayed on the mantle. I wondered for a moment if I had been foolish to leave it out but decided there must have been a reason for my haphazardness and cast the notion aside. When the doors completely unfolded I reached into the spinning darkness and wrapped my fingers around something cold. I lifted the device from the astral shelf upon which it rested and pulled it into the room. It was the most sacred and glorious of all ritual devices. I stepped back and held it up to the light, taking in the beauty of my most cherished possession:
The Goblin Charbelcher.
With an ample supply of green mana, I activated it and let it burn the world around me into nothing. When only my mind and my spirit remained, they drifted tranquilly in the Void. It was here that I could collect the shards of this shattered reality to make sense of them. I could fondle each piece individually, and when I understood them fully I could arrange them into my likeness. I would stare at them as a whole and they would stare back until we were one and the same: my mind and its reflection in the Abyss. When I did I found the understanding I sought.
I had taken a long hiatus from my work as a vigilante, retiring to a quiet and rather passive life as a Shaman, but I still knew how to blaze a trail in the name of justice. The rust of solitude would not keep me from rising to the challenge. I could not let this worldgorging dragon of a threat tear asunder all that was sacred and free. If I sat idly by and let it swallow the world I once fought so hard to protect, I would be just as much to blame as the villain who sought to unleash it.
I would go to New Jersey. I would find Squee. I would recover the Necronomicon. I would save the world.
Part Two: The Shaman’s Journey (Narrated by Vaevictus Asmadi)
“What cannot be persuaded with reason can be persuaded with a cannon.” –Commodore Matthew Calbraith Perry
When the Shaman returned to the physical world he was possessed by his cause. He wasted no time communing with his animal spirit guide, Griselbrand, about getting him to the site, but the demon was deeply preoccupied with an online scrabble competition and would not commit. This did not deter the Shaman. He booked his flight with glassy eyes and grinning lips. He had two weeks before he set out, but there was not a moment of that time when he was not thinking about the war he was hungry to fight.
It was around this time that I found the Shaman practicing his villain-slaying ways at a local card shop. He was in a trance when he walked through the door, and there was no question that both his fire and his skill had returned. He dispatched the assembly of local villains with relative ease, never missing a beat or dropping a game during battle. He piloted his cannon with such skill that even his fallen enemies admired his work.
But this battle was not just practice. It was a precursory trial for the true battle in Jersey, and winning granted him a prestigious position of privilege. It would spare two helpless glory seekers from feeling his wrath at the start of the Grand Prix, and it would give him time to find his true enemy deep in the crowd. The war had begun. Much blood would be shed before it was over.
I caught up with him after the event and was fortunate enough to get an up close and personal look at his weapon. He had it tuned to perfection and sleeved for the Grand Prix. It looked like this:
The People’s Cannon (1 Land Charbelcher) by Shaman Benjermin Perry
We drank our share of mead as we discussed old battles and ancient ways. The Shaman was furious, but somehow his anger seemed laced with passion and a tinge of pleasure. He was plundering his own mind in search of answers to questions only he knew, and though the weight of the End of the World bore down on his shoulders, he stood taller and stronger than ever. There was no doubt that he needed this battle as much as it needed him.
The time passed with a flurry of worldly activity that felt trivial in the shadow of evil cast by the upcoming fight. He made it through the days with little idea of his presence within them, spending much of the time in the Void staring into the Abyss and memorizing the way it stared back. He insisted that this was the best way to prepare for what lurked ahead, on the threshold of fate itself, and my own penchant for impenetrable darkness made it hard to leave his side.
The morning of his flight was ushered in by the pounding of war drums echoing through the still air. I listened to them intently, vaguely recognizing their song, as I escorted the Shaman through the burning city to the distant Detroit Metro Airport. As we arrived at the terminal and parted ways, I watched the Shaman vanish into the desolation of early morning and realized the drums I thought I heard was his heartbeat and the echo of the blood flowing through his veins. He was a man possessed, and I admired his pursuit of justice.
Clad in black and carrying his lone travel bag, he slinked through the hallway, an unassuming hero amidst the drudgery of mankind. I felt confident that he was prepared and properly armed, knowing well that the arena where he would battle would be so obsessed with the newest and most ostentatious technology—as well as the tools to destroy it—that few would be prepared for the powerful relic of the old ways he brought to the fight. His cannon shared his hunger for freedom, and it knew nothing of the fear that keeps most mortals chained to their world of filth. They were headed into a foreign land together, a drunken vigilante and his cannon. They would save the world or perish in the flames that were set trying to do so.
There is another story that could be told of the day before the war and the adventures of the Shaman in the strange eastern sunshine. I have had the luxury of hearing many of those tales, but as they incriminate numerous parties, I will leave them untold. Perhaps they will be tales sung aloud in the distant future, or more likely they will remain locked away in the mind of those involved, something to cherish and be grateful no evidence exists to call them back from anywhere but hazy memory. The important part is that there were companions to the Shaman as he readied himself, enablers and co-conspirators of many faces and realms of origin, and they did more than they know to help ensure that the world survived the entropy that hinged on his actions.
Some would call the Shaman the villain of this tale, providing the Book of the Dead to the hands of those who would use it for greed, as well as disregarding the law on endless accounts on his journey to set things right. But translations and restorations are the work of creation, of artistic beauty, and just because a tool can be used as a weapon does not make the artisan the source of war. There is much in the triumph of Good over Evil that does not fall in favor of Law over Freedom. Rules are often the disguise of tyranny, and what is legal and what is right are often rather different. It is good for all who still live and breathe that the Shaman understands better than most of his kind. If not for his valor I may not be here to tell the tale, and you most certainly would not remain to read it.
Part Three: The Shaman’s War (Grand Prix New Jersey, Day One)
Round One: Bye
When the fight is this close, when the war heaves itself onto the landscape, when the cries of battle echo through your bones, it is difficult not to smash anything that steps inside your range. But when no evil presents itself, when you have only your will and your weapon and an hour for preparation, it is best to use that time to focus. I removed myself from the arena, in the company of a pair of gnomes, and we found a small grove with a sunny patch of grass beyond the industrial steeds of the competitors and removed from curious eyes. We drew power from the land and inspiration from our ancestors. The ritual of consumption was heavy and expensive, but when it was done, I felt confident that I had consumed enough green mana to fuel the cannon all day. With little exchange of words, I parted from my gnome companions and made my way back to the hall.
Round Two: Bye
The clamor of combat could not conquer the calm of my confidence. I walked between skirmishes of varying nature, glancing into the eyes of potential foes with such serenity that I sent chills through them, occasionally causing them to stumble and fall before their immediate rival. None of it mattered. I was scouring the crowd in search of the true enemy, in search of Squee, knowing well that he was present and suspecting that he was aware of my pursuit and remaining obscure. The war ahead would be the most difficult one I had ever fought, and it had more riding on it than any of these foolish members of my species could possibly understand. I was untouched by this severity, enveloped in the splendor granted by the ritual, and though I was unable to find my rival amongst the multitudes, I embraced my mission nontheless.
I was here to recover the book, but I was also here to triumph in the face of evil. There was little inside of me that was not engorged with purpose. I paraded around the fray, feeling my power flourish. I was ready to carve justice in the flesh of villains. I would not be stopped. I would burn the witches to warm the bewitched. The world was in need of the salvation my hand alone could provide. I would set it free by slaying its demons. A world unchained would prosper in the sunshine of the future.
Round Three: Gosta Dirk
Gosta Dirk is a champion of Law and Order. He mercilessly persecutes any that he deems unfit for the good of the Order he is trying to establish, and he wasted little time letting me know that I was rather unfit for his Utopian prison planet. He won the die roll.
It did not take more than his first turn to reveal the nature of his purpose. He opened with a Karakas and an Aether Vial. He swelled with pride as I acknowledged that he was wielding the oppression crudely disguised as law known as Death and Taxes. I have a low tolerance for this sort of tyranny, and I followed up his grotesque, banner-waving opening with a cry for freedom. I chained through my spells with a storm of conviction, calling forth an army of avenging goblins in great enough number to threaten instant demise. He retorted with a death moan. He made his land drop and summoned my most hated enemy: Thalia, Tyrant of Thraben. But it was far too little and much too late. The damage was done. The warrens were empty. We were bloodthirsty, and it was too late to tax us for our spells. After the first assault, Gosta was left clinging to his last shred of life from hiding behind the wretched Thalia, who stood strong against my onslaught yet stood alone amidst the massacre. He made one desperate attempt to stop the bleeding, but he found no love from his library, and with a heavy sigh he conceded.
Things would not get better.
Our second battle began with him settling on a hand of six as I dropped desperately to a grip of five. He began the game again, this time with a Plains and nothing to follow as he passed the turn. He was rather calm under the pressure, perhaps assuming that my situation was worse than his. I drew for the turn and took a moment to admire my hand: Gitaxian Probe, Lotus Petal, Land Grant, Desperate Ritual, Empty the Warrens, and a freshly drawn second Probe. I paid with blood to look at his hand and saw him clutching Thalia, Phyrexian Revoker, Stoneforge Mystic, Swords to Plowshares, and Flickerwisp. He was left with the desperate hope of drawing a land on the presumption that I would fail to bring justice before he did. I drew a Burning Wish from the Probe and cast the second one, this time looking once more at my hand before adding a Chrome Mox to it. I had all the tools I needed. I Emptied the Warrens once more, and passed the turn back to him as I rallied my army of 14 goblins. He drew, looked down at his toxic mix of too little and too late, dragged a deep breath through his clenched teeth, and decided not to wait for the inevitable. Gosta Dirk accepted defeat graciously, pulled the bone of a small child from his pocket, and placed it between his teeth. He began gnawing on it and wandered off to find a weaker enemy more suited for his type of enslavement.
The first of many battles was won, but it was too early to celebrate. Many villains wandered the road ahead, and I knew better than to let my guard down. The swift defeat of Gosta Dirk provided me with ample time to find the sustenance I craved in the aftermath of my heavy green mana consumption.
Round Four: Livonya Silone
Livonya had all the ferocity of a tiger and the grace of an antelope. She was prepared for just about anything, and unfortunately for her I was an unpredictable whirlwind of virtue ready to carve a path through any monstrosity that fell in my path. One cannot expect the sort of madness I brought to the table, but without madness the most well-intentioned of heroes often falls short of glory.
I won the die roll, putting her on her heel for only a moment. I kept a hand of six that could not quite get there, so instead of doing anything I passed the turn, silently lamenting my success at being on the play. I would have been filled to the brim with terror if I hadn’t properly stomped the capability from my bones, and my foolish beginning felt truly reckless when she played and tapped a Taiga. Fortunately for me she used it to cast a Kird Ape instead of pursuing grander paths. I drew my card, a Taiga of my own, and promptly played through my hand. I activated the Charbelcher and shot her for 53, well in excess of her remaining life total.
Bewildered by my method but battle-hardened and hungry for glory, she did not hesitate in the face of my brand of vigilante justice. She perused her options as she prepared for another round, and I made the slight adjustment of footing I needed to give another go. In moments we were facing off once again; this time she took the lead. She was left digging for a way to stop me, but at five cards she was out of options and settled on an opening Loam Lion off a Plateau. I had six cards to fuel a Burning Wish, and by the time I was done I had 16 goblins in play and nothing left in my grip. She drew for the turn, glanced about, saw that she could not overcome the Hand of Justice, and accepted defeat.
Livonya complimented my madness and power, or at least I perceived her words as such and wished her well as I parted ways with her, knowing she now fought against evil instead of beside it. I had made the world a more respectable place with my efforts, and though I was through another battle, I knew it was too early to feel pride. The quest to save the world was far from over.
I set out to check on my gnome friends, but I was unable to find them, a consequence of their short stature and inability to swiftly close games. I wandered the landscape in search of them for only a few moments before I distracted by the pursuit of liquid nourishment. I had all the green mana I needed to fire the cannon, but I need to ensure that it was properly maintained between fights. I found overpriced caffeine to be exactly the solution and consumed it without thought to the injustice I faced at the demand of a cash register.
Round Five: Dakkon Blackblade
Dakkon was quiet from the moment he took his position across from me. It was the silence of certainty: a calm, stoic, almost arrogant tone that came from within and had little to do with me. He looked into my eyes, but I was immediately aware he was not searching for anything within them. He was staring at his own reflection.
I matched his lack of words with a more awkward silence, as I was restraining a fit of gibbering laughter that sought to break free of the smirk on my lips. This also had nothing to do with my opponent, or with anything for that matter. I was intoxicated on the triumph over evil, and the more I tasted it the more inebriated I became. When Dakkon won the die roll he broke the silence to inform me that he would begin, but the remainder of our communication was left to gestures.
He pondered his hand, played a Tropical Island and passed to me. I had many options. I had the mana to play and activate Charbelcher. I had the Lion’s Eye Diamond and the Burning Wish. I had the safe plan of Empty the Warrens. I ramped to four mana. I played the Diamond. I looked at him, almost through him, and I heard my own voice inside my head, offering me guidance: “He is on Lands. He has no counter magic. Have no fear. Kill him.” I knew that I told myself the truth. In the distance I heard the voice of Squee cackling over some fiendish thing he has done. I hesitated and felt the sudden clutch of confusion. I made the safe play and put ten goblins onto the battlefield.
Dakkon casts Crop Rotation in my endstep, confirming what I knew. The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale came to charge a heavy price for my efforts, a tax I cannot pay. I lost my army to it and lamented my reserved decision. The words of my mentor, Genghis Khan, echoed through me: “Safe decisions lead to comfortable deaths. But they still lead to deaths.” Dakkon developed his board, preparing for the inevitable close, but I was not ready to give up.
Time was on my side.
He was in possession of five lands and a Zuran Orb. He had the ability to call forth the Sleeping God Trapped under Ice and kill me on his next turn. The stars were aligned. He was ready to steal my glory. My hand was forced. I drew for the turn, made as much mana as possible, and cast Burning Wish for Diminishing Returns. After the pomp and circumstance of my spell, I was able to power through my new hand, playing and activating a lethal Charbelcher. He sacrificed all his lands in response, bringing his life total to 29, but the Taiga was exiled and there were 41 cards left in my library. He was dead, but he did not pick up his cards until he was irrevocably executed.
The desperation of our next game was present in his trembling hands. Dakkon fumbled with his Blackblade, settled on five cards and hope for the best. He led with a land and passed the turn. I drew, Probed him, and saw that he was holding a Sphere of Resistance intent on placing a harsher tax than Thalia upon me beginning on my next turn. I had no desire to pay taxes. I proceeded to show him the Gospel of Freedom. I played through my hand and activated the Charbelcher with 51 cards remaining in my library and my Taiga on the field. He was dead. His Lord remained buried. I kept the world safe from yet another Ancient Evil and its willing servant. I truly felt relief with this serving of vigilante fate.
Round Six: Axelrod Gunnarson
Axelrod was enthusiastic as he watched me mulligan into oblivion. I kept a four-card hand that was unlikely to close a game. This was made worse when he began play by casting most of his hand, including a Vault Skirge and Stoneforge Mystic off two successive Mox Opals. He searched out Umezawa’s Jitte, unsure of what to expect of me, and I proceeded to do nothing for a series of turns. I added an eighth card to my hand, did the math, and conceded the game before showing him a single card. Axelrod emerged from our first game victorious, but in doing so he gained no information.
We prepared for the next game, and I refused to let the blow I had been dealt keep me back. We briefly discussed the misfortune of luck as we presented our weapons. It didn’t take long for me to drop to five cards, which were capable of casting the Charbelcher but which would have to pass the turn before winning. I led the game with a Gitaxian Probe and was horrified by what I saw. He held an Ancient Tomb, Seat of the Synod, Pithing Needle, Arcbound Ravager, Baleful Strix and a pair of Mox Opals. I drew my card but could go no further, so I passed the turn after playing a Lotus Petal. He verbally questioned my misfortune and put me on some kind of Reanimator build, much to my benefit. He began to play aggressively, the Needle remaining in his hand as I took damage from the Ravager. A few turns passed and I drew my Taiga.
Things had changed; I had everything I needed. I played the land and the Lion’s Eye Diamond. I cast two Tinder Walls, then sacrificed them to play the Charbelcher. I felt triumphant, but he tapped his Seat and set to stopping me. He played Flusterstorm. Things were quiet for a moment. I asked him to read his card. He did so and it slowly came together: Charbelcher was not a legal target. He was dead. My patience forced a game three.
This time he began, but it was his turn to mulligan. He kept a hand of four against my hand of seven. He led with a Vault Skirge from a Glimmervoid. My perseverance blinded him. I played through a barrage of spells, including casting a Simian Spirit Guide before I Emptied the Warrens and was joined by 18 Goblins. He drew his card, decided it was his last, and conceded to my superior presence.
I felt stronger after performing in the rending claws of despair. I endured the worst and came out victorious. Nothing could stop me. I was hungry for the fight with Squee. I needed to liberate the Necronomicon. There would be no mercy for those who stood in my way.
Round Seven: Angus Mackenzie
Angus was jovial from the start, laughing at every menacing thought that passed through his fiendish mind. We exchanged some words as we set up, and while he spoke politely he also made it clear that he understood his role as an enemy. I recall little of the substance of the conversation as many other substances were at work in my mind. The winner of this battle locked up their return the next day, and I needed that more than anything if I was ever going to catch Squee and steal back what belonged to me.
I won the die roll and Angus promptly swallowed the dice. I found this odd, but they were not my dice and I had bigger things to concern myself with. I kept my seven and he took six. We were ready, and I wasted no time employing the Phyrexian Method. My Probe revealed Phyrexian Revoker, Serra Avenger, Spirit of the Labyrinth, Flickerwisp, Swords to Plowshares, and Karakas. He was on Death and Taxes. He was a true monster.
So I killed him with the cannon.
We began a game two that was strange at best. I kept a risky six but still managed to fire the cannon. The land was not far from the top, and I dealt only four points of damage after revealing two Lion’s Eye Diamonds. In order to fire I used a main-phase Ancient Grudge to destroy a Revoker that had my Tinder Walls locked out, which in turn caused me to have to overspend my resources. Had I waited until his endstep, I would have been able to save a wall and fire twice instead of once. As a result of a faulty attack, I found myself defeated and immediately rallied for our final game.
At this point I found myself in the Void. Any numerous other entities may have entered my earthly vessel and piloted the battle, but I was pulled from myself and into the darkness beyond. As I drifted about in the thick absence of everything, I found myself aware that Squee was close, and I was closing in on him. The Void whispered secrets into my ears, made sure I understood, and dissipated slowly. When it was gone I was once again sitting across from Angus, attacking for lethal damage. He conceded in the face of the onslaught and quickly made away to prepare to slay some unfortunate victim the next round.
I was thus undefeated and a lock for day two. If Squee was battling (as I was certain he was) powered by the book and guided towards an apocalyptic destiny, I knew he would be performing equally well. We would come face to face soon, and with the proper level of madness this could all come to a close before the sun rose again. I slipped off to fuel myself further, to lift my mind from its haze and sharpen it with the tributes nature so kindly bestowed. Within a few minutes and after fearless consumption, I was ready to continue the war.
Round Eight: Squee
Fate had finally brought me face to face with my enemy. He looked me in the eye and asked if we had met before. The voice was not his. The body of Squee stood before me, but it was being piloted by an Ancient Evil that is Not Safe to Name. I had not considered this in my pursuit, and none of my actions prepared me for what I now had to do. I was ready to crush the life out of Squee, to punish him for the crimes he committed against me and the good people of New Jersey, but I had no idea how I would defeat a demon that I was not ready to fight.
In spite of this, I was determined. He presented three six sided dice, allowed me to roll first, then smiled fiendishly as he rolled three sixes. He wasted no time keeping a hand of seven as I was forced to settle on five. He played an Island and deferred to me. I Probed him to see two Stifles, a Snapcaster Mage, a Brainstorm, a Wooded Foothills, and a Volcanic Island. He was toying with me. I drew my card and ramped out my mana to cast the Charbelcher. He Brainstormed in response as there was no way for me to activate this turn, but he did not find what he was looking for and let my spell resolve. From there it was a game of cat and mouse. I kept trying to add mana to the board, and he countered it when he could. I activated the Charbelcher at every opportunity, and he Stifled it without mercy. After playing three Stifles and playing one of them again from the Snapcaster, I had fired four times without wounding my target. In the meantime he was bleeding my life away with a Faerie Conclave and the aforementioned Mage. One last Force of Will sealed the deal, and I picked up my cards in defeat.
Game two was far more savage. He kept seven once more, and I settled on five once more. I did nothing before turn three, when I attempted to cast Charbelcher. He cast his Force of Will, and I responded with a Pyroblast. He let it resolve and targeted it with a Surgical Extraction. This ripped the other Pyroblast from my hand, clearing the way for his Spell Pierce to counter my Charbelcher. He was resourceful, cunning, evil, and bent on victory. He left me with nothing as he picked me apart slowly, enjoying the torment as he attacked me with a Mishra’s Factory and a Faerie Conclave. I died again without casting another spell. I had suffered my first defeat at the hands of the one I came to vanquish.
This was not the end. The demon wounded me, but I was not finished. I would regroup and prepare, and we would battle again. Next time I would be ready for him instead of imprudently expecting the bug-eyed goblin king. As we parted ways, I beguiled the overconfident demon into sharing his True Name, and I tucked it into the depths of my Aether-soaked brain for our next encounter.
Round Nine: Adun Oakenshield
I was alive with the desire for vengeance. I wanted nothing more than to make the next villain suffer all the pain and despair I had just undergone seven times over. I would not rest until I had cleansed the world of one more source of evil. In the final battle of the day, I would be given that opportunity, and it was up to me to follow through with my burning want for retribution.
I was presented with another unfallen foe. We were both locked for the following day, and the Land Baron Adun Oakenshield was proud of his victories. He fueled his trip to this distant land with the blood of the serfs who worked his kingdom, and he showed no restraint in bragging up the glory given to him by those he willingly trampled underfoot.
This was precisely the sort of monster I needed to slay.
I lost the die roll but kept seven cards that would kill my opponent on my turn. He kept seven as well, played an Exploration off a Bayou, and followed up with a Mox Diamond and a Rishadan Port. A strong opening against the sort of vile company that filled the room, but it would do nothing against my fierce and precise justice. On my turn I chained through my spells, dealt him a deathblow, and let him review my library to ascertain that he had lost. We quickly prepared for our next game.
This one was far less in my favor. He opened with a Pithing Needle naming Goblin Charbelcher, an insurance plan against what I had done to him the prior game. My hand of five had little to do anyway, and when I Probed him I saw that he had a Sphere of Resistance and a Wasteland to lock me out of the game. I let him explore his position for a few turns while I considered all the ways I could knock this monster from his throne in the following one, and once I felt comfortable with my course of action I conceded to his oppressive devices and moved to the next game.
I mulled to six and stared at my hand for a moment. I had two Lion’s Eye Diamonds, my Taiga, a Burning Wish, a Tinder Wall, and a Gitaxian Probe. I kept, and I opened with the Probe. He had his church of taxation in his grip, beaming like a pinnacle of tyranny. I knew I could not unleash my army of goblins only to have them die under the harsh living conditions in the shadow of The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale. There would have to be another way. I drew an Elvish Spirit Guide, cast the tinder wall, played my land and my diamonds, and cast the burning wish off my wall while leaving my Taiga untapped. I broke both Diamonds, one for blue and one for red, and I searched for the help of my ancestors as I Wished for Diminishing Returns.
Once my enemy properly understood how things would play out, we went through all of the trappings of the spell till each possessed a new hand of seven. Mine was a favorable hand, and it didn’t take me long to cast the Charbelcher and shoot him. He was defenseless and mortified. He looked everything over to confirm my victory, congratulated me through the teeth of a Despot, and moved along as I closed out the day.
I was successful in defeating numerous villains but had fallen in the face of the one tribulation that was most important. With the fiercest competitors heading back to their dwellings to seek rest and recovery for the day that would follow, I found my company of gnomes with the intention of doing the same. When we united I discovered that their numbers had grown, and they had with them numerous ranks of oppressed and downtrodden wanderers from the far reaches of this mortal world. Instead of rest we departed to a place where we could eat, drink, and share stories of Good triumphing over Evil.
There are those who would tell you that chasing a dragon into oblivion is no way to prepare for a war, but it would be foolish to house an army in a palace of luxury the night before sending them into the mires of horror and the relentless battlefields. Instead of sleep I prepared for the next day by listening to the tales of the defeated while nourishing myself with Serum Powder, green mana, and the Everflowing Chalice of whiskey. The battle that was ahead of me was heavier than ever in light of the true power of my enemy. I would be ready when we met the next day.
Part Four: The Shaman’s Return (Grand Prix New Jersey, Day Two)
I awoke in an alley somewhere near the Arena. I did not try to remember how I got there, but I did immediately search for my weapon. I found it tucked safely in the bag beneath my head, so I rose, brushed off the dust, and shook the chill from my bones. I staggered from the alley, holding my head, wondering what sort of toxin could linger and cause so much throbbing.
I found the Arena by way of the sun and was aided by catching sight of the parade of warriors heading in the same direction. As I shuffled into the building, I was greeted by some of my new friends whom I vaguely remembered from the night before, and they assisted me in the acquisition of food and ritual supplies as I made proper use of the hour I had before battle.
When the time came I was ready. With my weapon in hand and my head full of the Ways of the Universe, I was sure that nothing could stop me. I recited the name of the fiend inside Squee silently to myself, knowing that it would be my trump against the vile thing that possessed my enemy as it gloated in its possession of the Necronomicon.
Round Ten: Boris Devilboon
The fiends present today were overt with their evil, and I was aware that I stood out amongst them. I was the last beacon of hope for the fearful masses, and I knew it would take a valiant effort to triumph in their name. Boris was the first of many who would try to stop me, and I did not make the mistake of doubting his prowess as we met on the field of battle.
He won the die roll and settled on a hand of six as I did the same. He led with a Mountain and summoned a Monastery Swiftspear to draw first blood. I proceeded to my turn and cast a Gitaxian Probe, looking up on his hand of two Fireblasts, a Price of Progress, a Skullcrack, and a Mountain. There was nothing to fear. I added 16 goblins to the board and let him take his next turn. It was the only other one he took. Whatever it was that he drew, he understood the situation and accepted it for what it was.
We moved to game two and he began the play again. He attacked me with a Goblin Guide, which revealed a Land Grant on the top of my library. I drew it for my turn, played through my spells, and shot him for 52. I showed him no mercy, and the fiend accepted defeat as he drew back into the shadows from where he came, preparing to fare better against his next victim.
Round Eleven: Hazezon Tamar
I found my opponent waiting for me when I made my way to our field of battle. He sat quietly, a smirk on his lips, looking at me in a way that implied that he knew something I didn’t. I met his gaze with a viciousness that I feel only in the face of the greatest evil, and after staring into the Abyss as long as I have, I found nothing unsettling as I stared into his blackened soul. He possessed no knowledge. His posturing was intended to rattle me, to get me to give away my position, and I was not interested in such mind games.
I won the die roll and demonstrated my power to the monster. I played my hand, activated my Charbelcher, and began revealing cards with my Taiga still tucked somewhere inside my library. We both gazed upon it 27 cards later, and my opponent fell to a sum of damage that would have killed him twice over.
He was furious inside, but remained calm and composed outside. He never took a turn so I had no information. This made preparing for being on the draw much more difficult, but I was ready. He opened with a Mox Diamond, Grove of the Burnwillows, and a Sphere of resistance. He established a safety net with his harsh device, and he quickly began setting up his kill. It was my turn not to play a spell this game, and I shook it off as we moved on to our final duel.
This time I was going to help him understand the error of his ways. He would be baptized with fire. I was forced to take five cards and felt the pressure as the fiend smiled behind his seven. I kept, played my Land Grant, found and played my Taiga, cast my Rite of Flame, played my Lotus Petal and Lion’s Eye Diamond, and finished with my final card: Burning wish, making blue mana with my Diamond and going for Diminishing Returns. If I was going to lose, I would do it on my accord, but I was far too driven to settle. Once all was said and done I held a new hand of seven cards, of which I needed only five to kill him. I played my Lotus Petal, cast two Rite of Flames, played my Charbelcher, and followed with a Lion’s Eye Diamond. My opponent was dead, and he wouldn’t wait for grand display to resign to his fate. Another villain slain, another step closer to my true purpose. I was alive with the hunger for victory.
Round Twelve: The Return of Squee
Earlier than I even hoped for, I had fought my way back to face my nemesis. I was much better prepared this time, and I would not be driven down the same way as I had before. When I sat across the table and we began, I uttered the fiend’s True Name with confidence. The glassy eyed fool across the table just stared back blankly. I wondered if somehow Squee himself had returned, as the creature clearly showed no recognition to my utterance.
But it was not Squee. He had no knowledge of who I was, and no recognition of me from our past encounter. This was a new fiend, an empty fiend, and nothing I had done in preparation would help. I would have to battle an unknown enemy, and I knew that I could not afford to fail. I tried once more to reach my enemy, to draw any sign of recognition, but when I was met only by a callous stare and the buzzing of flies about his neck, I relented and shuffled up my cards.
He won the die roll without a word. He kept seven without looking at them, drawing great frustration from me as I once again took a hand of five. I did little before I cast a Charbelcher into a Force of Will, and our first game came to a lackluster close as the fiend defeated me with a pair of Mishra’s Factories.
The next game did not show him the same favor. I set to work immediately, and after a series of rituals I presented the Cannon. He had nothing in response, and this he died a fiery death and we moved quickly to our game three.
This time we both mulled to six. I kept a hand with a Xantid Swarm and a Charbelcher; if all went well I would be able to slay my opponent after my first few draws. He led with an Island, and when my turn came I cast the Insect. He Brainstormed, looking for something, and let the creature resolve. This was followed up by the playing of a Wasteland on his turn, giving me hope that I would close quickly. But such was not to be. Fate is a cruel master, and I drew dead for a few turns before he finally killed my protection. By the time I was able to attempt to kill him, he was armed with a Force of Will and attacking me with his lands. The fire I had was smothered, and I died a grisly death at the hands of my enemy.
Squee growled in mockery, and the voice of the Necronomicon mocked me through his lips. It warned me that I was foolish to try and stop it and bragged of the chaos it had already spread while promising a rather grand finale in the climax of the event. The tone implied that I had lost and life in this world would soon be a stain of the past. I had failed to save the world; as a result I would be forced to watch it burn.
Round Thirteen: Sol’kanar the Swamp King
Though my heart was no longer in the fight, there were still villains to slay and a desperate plan to concoct. I was down but not out, so I arrived to face the next fiend despite my distraction and despair. I felt like an empty vessel, but I performed my task anyway. I won the die roll, kept a hand of seven, and awaited my opponent. He dropped to five, settled, and I began by making an army of 16 goblins. He was in a bit of a panic, and the pressure I put on him was immense. But he was rescued by his draw step, and he opened with a Mana Confluence and a Lion’s Eye Diamond. He cast a Faithless Looting, breaking his Diamond in response and discarding a Stinkweed Imp and Golgari Thug accordingly. In the process of resolving the Looting and flashing it back, he had four Narcomoebas, four Bridges, a Dread Return and a Cabal Therapy. It didn’t take long for him to add 16 zombies and a large Golgari Grave Troll to the table. I had done what I came to do, and he managed to do more. I was defeated.
Game two was a far uglier atrocity. I had to drop to four cards, as I saw nothing I could play in my first three hands. For my efforts I had two of those cards taken from me with a session of Cabal Therapy. Within a few turns I was being crushed by zombies, and none of my weapons could save me. In a state of despondency I fell to a ruthless creature of the night, and any hope of facing Squee once more was long lost.
Round Fourteen: Tetsuo Umezawa
Given over fully to my defeat, I hardly noticed when the samurai showed up for our fight. He was a caricature of something out of better times, but the darker side of those times, full of the same evil plaguing the world around me. He maintained a high level of formality as I hardly managed to acknowledge his presence. It did not matter to him. Even if the fight was gone from me, he was still bent on victory. He started with the die roll, and continued through a game one where I kept a hand of seven that did nothing. I never drew a win condition, and he beat me to death with an Insect Aberration and a chain of Lightning Bolts. It startled me back to reality, though perhaps too late, and I picked up my weapon and tried to recuperate.
Game two I started with some spells and Emptied the Warrens, placing 16 goblins on the battlefield. He did his best to stop me, but he was behind from the start and was unable to stave off the horde. The game was over in a few turns, as I lamented my lack of effort in the previous test. There was still one battle left against this monster of a man, and I began to devise a plan that might let me save the world just yet.
Winning this match was not meant to be. I threw away the first game and mulliganed to five and met a Force of Will on turn one of the third game. It was not a particularly exciting defeat; there was no suspense in it. I just died to the natural development of the Delver menace. Tetsuo was a lesser villain as things go, and I wished him well in the hopes that he would go on to crush some other monster of a more vulgar nature.
Round Fifteen: Rasputin Dreamweaver
Rasputin and I were set to face off, but there was nothing on the line for either of us. We conversed lightly, and I persuaded him to take on a life of fighting against evil instead of in its name. Once I was certain of his conversion, we agreed to a draw and parted ways. I wished him well and set about my final task, hoping against all odds that I would succeed.
I slipped up upon Squee’s final battle and watched him swallow the soul of his enemy without chewing. It was a vulgar display of power fueled by the Necronomicon, but it was clear that the demon had grown so confident in his newfound power that he was becoming careless. As he finished off the minion opposing him he launched into celebration, surrounded by an army of lackeys eager to be part of whatever it was that was driving Squee. As they celebrated around him, unaware that in less than an hour’s time he planned to sacrifice them all to open the gate that would secure his final victory and doom the world to non-existence, I inhaled my last taste of Serum Powder and slipped discreetly through their ranks.
I was standing just beside the body of Squee when they hoisted him into the air. It separated him from his satchel just long enough for me to grab the still intact copy of the Necronomicon and make my way back into the sea of bodies beyond. I escaped to the sanctity of the V.I.P. lounge, which was rather quiet at this time, and quickly flipped through the aged pages to the one passage that could set things right.
There, in the security of the quiet room away from the chaos, I began the ritual. I started with the low chant and let the vapors roll in from beyond, and as they did I could see Squee begin to writhe in torment. He looked around frantically and spotted me through the door. He desperately pushed through the crowd, but it was too late. I was through the first and second verses, and security stopped him at the door as I began the final one. Even if he had somehow broken through, I concluded my chanting and watched the mists roll out to consume him. They swallowed the demon inside him and dragged it back into the book. I closed it firmly and let the demon perish from everywhere but my memory. Squee was jolted back into his own body in the arms of security and instantly apologized before slipping back into crowd.
The world was safe again, and Squee went on to play in the top eight of the Grand Prix anyway. I did not stick around to find out how it went, as I was too exhausted from saving the world, but I did hear that I finished somewhere in the top 200 and had some money coming my way. I was happy and hungry, so I parted from the main crowd and found my legion of gnomes. We made our way to a dining establishment of ill repute and drank until the weekend was only a fuzzy memory. I quietly celebrated the accomplishment that I alone knew about.
I heard afterwards that Squee was felled in the first round that he was forced to play on his own and that after his defeat he was seen hitchhiking on the New Jersey Turnpike. I myself made my way to the airport early the following morning and was happy to have lunch in Detroit. I eventually made my way home and, once back in the confines of my ritual chamber, I decided it was time to place the Necronomicon into the safety of the Mysterious Cabinet that housed the Charbelcher. As soon as it was placed inside, it vanished from the world, never again to be seen by mortal eyes. Perhaps it was for the better, as the human race is clearly too bent on destruction to ever make use of such knowledge.
And here ends the tale of my journey to Grand Prix New Jersey, where I played Goblin Charbelcher to a top-200 finish in a field of more than 4,000, and in the process saved the world from complete annihilation.
This was a fairly ambitious piece of writing, ground out quickly for one unnamed website, who, upon reading it, found themselves at a loss for words. This was not the article they expected, and the profundity of the tale was perhaps too much for the plebeian audience to which they catered. As such, it sat unread for nearly a month, at which time the ever resourceful Nat Moes (@grandpappybelcher on twitter) put in some work, provided necessary editing, and before long the article appeared in a four part series on http://www.manadeprived.com and was first available to the eyes of mortals.
I considered just providing links to the original post, but I decided I wanted the entire piece presented in its entirety. It is a masterpiece of the Underground, and it belongs here, with us, for us, and about us. While this tale may be about one U.S. Legacy Grand Prix at the surface, deep down it is the tale of our struggle to overcome evil, and our position in the shadows in spite of our victories. This is a timeless tale meant for all of us, to be savored and revisited whenever we feel the drab of the rank and file magic oratories weighing us down. Because for every worthless word that has been written about the game, at least we know that somewhere, waiting for us, are a few thousand (or more) genuine words that elevate our will and embrace our passion.
With that, I leave you to the quiet of the night, where I have already eaten too much food and drank a healthy share of scotch. Slumber is coming, and with it dreams of things that were, things that are, and things that shall come to be.