Magic, Mayhem, and Metal: Ramblings from the Underground

“In matters of grave importance, style, not sincerity, is the vital thing.”

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of being Erhnam

point break

All of this began with a recounting of the second time I was mugged. But the more I wrote, the more complicated it became. The lines that define began to gray and fade. The story painted me in an unjust light. I was the victim, yet the words seem to suggest I was the villain. As I read it I cursed the writer for his slander, only to bite my tongue in realization that I was the recipient of the lashing.

So for now, it will remain shelved. And for a rare and capricious approach, I will begin with and primarily discuss Magic.

Last weekend I hosted my second Vintage tournament of the year at RIW Hobbies in Livonia, Michigan. The low attendance of nine players was overabundant with talent. We were missing a few of our regulars for various reasons, but we were graced with a new face and some old friends.

Continuing my dedication to the Master Artificer, I assembled a different Workshop build than last time. Instead of swarming with Tiny Robots, I opted for a true Combo approach, my favorite style of magic, and built 2 Card Monte. After revisiting my build from last year, I decided to address its shortcomings. I handled what I could, still begrudgingly leaning on Thirst for Knowledge. I once regarded the card as a gift, but now it was nothing more than a necessary evil.

Saturday night, shortly after sleeving the deck, I poured a glass of Scotch and turned on the computer to listen to Eyehategod’s Confederacy of Ruined Lives album. Two glasses later, as Self Medication Blues blared through the apartment to the chagrin of Laura, the keeper of sanity in my otherwise unorthodox existence, I was scrolling through my social media and found a list that just won a Vintage tournament on the east coast.

It was beautiful.

The deck ran Wheel of Fortune and Memory Jar. These were the obvious solutions to my problem. It also made room for Serum Powder, but I decided to improve my list instead of adapting fully. After cutting the Thirsts for Wheel, Jar, and a pair of Blasts, we were five cards different. I ran an Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, the fourth Grindstone, a Red Elemental Blast and a Pyroblast over the four Powder, and I ran a Mana Vault over a Mox Opal. The main deck was perfect, and the sideboard, while perhaps unfocused in my usual way, was at least in the right ideology.

2 Card Monte:

2 Card Monte.jpg

The Tournament:

We ran four rounds of Swiss. I would drag you through the muck of details, but the Shaman’s Trance was strong with me and I only made notes about the moments that interested me. Fortunately for you, there was something worthwhile in each round, and you have the luxury of indulging vicariously through this modern phenomenon called the internet.

Let us part the Pendrell Mists.

In Round One I faced Justin with Dredge. In our first game, I kept a hand that would have been delightful against anything else. He won the die roll and began with a Bazaar of Baghdad. My hand played a Painter’s Servant with Two Red Elemental Blasts, one of which I used to destroy his land. The plan was to play memory Jar on turn Two, but that suddenly seemed highly suspect. On his second turn he played another land and cast Cabal Therapy, missing but flashing it back to take the Jar after I blasted his second land and leaving me empty handed.

I drew Wheel of Fortune. It would win or lose the game. The flavor could not be more acute. I decided to embrace the moment and cast the spell, and let chance decide my fate. I drew the needed grindstone, but I was a mana short of casting it. I lost my fortune and we moved to sideboard games. I was victorious.


The second round brought my most feared opponent: My brother. I rarely lose a casual game to him and rarely win a tournament match across the table from him. It has always been this way. To make matters worse, I beat him the last time we played, so matters felt rather dire. But all hope was not lost.

I was on the play to start game three, and my opening hand was Broken.

2 card 4.jpg

My favorite thing to do in a game of magic is to kill my opponent on the first turn. No matter how many times I do it, the gratification never diminishes. It was something I gave up when I committed to playing Workshops exclusively in Vintage. But here I was, about to First turn Kill my brother.

Andy is notorious for countering Ancestral Recall, so I led with it, intent on bating him. He allowed it to resolve, but I could see the tension. He had the Force of Will, and he was showing a rare moment of restraint. Perhaps he was going to stop me yet.

I drew my 3 cards.

2 card 5

I nearly burst into laughter. Instead, I played my Workshop and Black Lotus. I played my Ruby. I looked him in the eye. He was calm. He had no idea what was coming. I cast the Painter’s Servant. It resolved. I followed up with the Grindstone. He played his Force. And I blasted it. He was dead.

In round three I faced David with Ubastax. Instead of playing the Red List that I prefer, he was playing something similar to the one from the Vintage Super League. I took game one in just a couple turns, and we moved to Game two with me on the draw, but he mulliganed to five cards. I started with Leyline of the Void in play. He played Smokestack on turn one off of Black Lotus and Buried Ruin. On my turn, I played six permanents. I was happy to burst his dreams. He followed up with a Revoker on Helm, of which I had two, and it held me off for a few turns until he gave up his Smokestack to keep protecting himself from my Helm. I drew an ancient grudge and finished him off.

In the last round of the event I intentionally drew with Brian Demars. We played the match out, and he beat me in three close games. But in our second game, something beautiful transpired.

I began with Leyline of the Void in play. On the play, I opened with Mishra’s Workshop, Mox Emerald, and Helm of Obedience. Brian did not have Force of Will to stop me, and I was out of mana so I passed the turn. He played an Underground Sea and Mox Pearl, passing back to me. I drew my card and activated Helm for one, and in response he disenchanted the Leyline of the Void. I had a second in hand, and the card I drew was Mana Crypt. I played a Mana Confluence and was one black source from playing the next Leyline and killing him on the spot.

The game progressed and Brian played a Time Vault. He followed it up with Voltaic Key, and in response to the activation I destroyed it with Ancient Grudge. He was not done with me yet. He played Black Lotus and cast Yawgmoth’s Will to replay the Time Vault. He first cast his Disenchant again, this time targeting the Helm. I activated it in response.

And slowly, I realized the obvious interaction. It cut through the haze of green mana encapsulating my brain, and sunk in until it became clear.

His Yawgmoth’s Will functioned as a temporary Leyline of the Void.

His library was exiled.

It is not often that I discover new interactions during a game, especially with cards that I have played with excessively over the years. In Brian’s position I would have walked into the same situation. This is another thing that I love about Vintage. This interaction would not come about anywhere else.

Since I have taken the time to write about playing it, I may as well discuss the deck itself. It gives me the chance to show you some of my actual cards, which I love, and to talk about the specifics of why I played what I did. Or just bullshit about artifacts.


A closer look at the deck:

2 Card 1

Two simple combos, One complex deck. The obvious weakness is that the combos do nothing for each other, so if you have half of each it does nothing. It is bad synergy, but the power far outweighs the drawback.

The majority of my cards are German, but three of my Helms are Italian and my Painter’s Servants are Russian. I will probably work at unifying these in time, but if I never get around to it these ones will suffice.

2 Card 2

The meat of the deck is beautiful. I get to play all of the powerful cards, and somehow still have room for some protection. Welders make an excellent insurance policy. But above all, I get to cast Demonic Consultation.

2 Card 3

The lands in the deck handle casting its spells very well. The Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth works wonders when it comes to activating a Grindstone or not taking damage when its unnecessary.

2 Card SB

The sideboard was bit sloppy. I liked the Grudge but I wanted 3 Claims. I only owned two so I had to make due. The Leylines were a great choice, even though I did not face Storm. The Defense Grids were perfect. I would cut the Batterskull but keep the Sphinx as my Tinker Bot. Rest in Peace should be Containment Priest or Grafdigger’s Cage.



Grand Prix Detroit is just days away. In the past I would have played the main event, but those days are gone. I have no Modern cards and I have no desire to put forth the effort to borrow them. This has nothing to do with the Eldrazi Uprising. It has nothing to do with the steadily increasing price of large events.

It has everything to do with the MTG Underground.

I have heard many people address the problem of Eldrazi dominance in Modern, and express the lack of desire to play until the next cycle of bannings. I always encourage people to play the Magic they like, so it goes hand in hand that you should not play Magic that you despise. You are not obligated to play Magic. You are not your DCI number.

I actually like the Eldrazi decks, especially the Colorless build. The synergy and power of the deck is familiar enough to some builds of Vintage Workshop decks that it falls not only in my comfort zone but also my play style. For Modern to appeal to me, it would need more decks like this, not less. But Modern is a Police State format, and unchecked power is regarded as dangerous. It has no place inside these walls. Like all threats to the safety and predictability of establishment, it has to be suppressed and quickly eradicated. Order will be restored. The world of Tarmogoyf will be secure once more.

I would be a hypocrite if I said that an entry fee was a barrier or a deterrent for me. I have hosted Ice Age sealed deck tournaments with buy ins that were double the entry of an average Grand Prix. In fact, I often long for the opportunity to play more high stakes Magic. It would be a rare day that I would not embrace the chance to play Legacy Charbelcher mirrors for cash.

In truth I find the disdain for the price tag for this tournament in particular somewhat curious. At $65 it is just below the $70 standard for a constructed Grand Prix. And it is Modern. The staples of the format are inflated, and the barrier of entry is high enough that once a player has a deck this entry fee should not only not prohibit play, but actually should encourage it.

You came all this way. You are standing at the gates. Buy the ticket. Take the fucking ride.

My disinterest in playing the Main Event this weekend stems from the reason I stepped away from Organized Play to focus on the MTG Underground. I have no love for the system. I have no use for the structure. I have no regard for the laws.

But I will be there.

I will have an Oldschool deck or two with me. I will be ready to play games all weekend. I will probably sign up for the Vintage event on Saturday as my only sanctioned event. If you see me and feel like a trip down a rabbit hole, ask me about the Spore Frog Battle Box. I will show you something beautiful. This will be a weekend of endless merriment.

I will be at the event all weekend. I intend to report back on the nature of the beast from inside the belly. Much of my passion for Magic is my love for the community. So I will drift through their ranks, supporting my friends, studying my enemies, and scouring the dealers for pieces of the past. But above all things I will be a Spectator. Through my eyes, through my words, I will bring you the blurred musings of an underground Prophet. Fear and Loathing in Detroit.




On March 13th, my good friends Rausch and McIntosh at Card and Board in Archbold, Ohio will be hosting a Liberation Event in which a Graded Library of Alexandria and a Graded Underworld Dreams will be the first and second place prize. In addition to the winners getting to take these gems home, they will also get to set them free in celebration, showing our continued dedication to releasing Oldschool cards from their plastic prisons.

How does the MTG Underground show love for this event? We set free a few cards to promote and further the cause. My brother sought out and purchased these beautiful cards, and the joy of cracking them open was complimented by the consumption of a bottle of Monkey Shoulder Scotch (its a blend, but its smooth and delicious.)

andy freedom

“In Torment in Hell”

andy freedom 2

“Remember with Pride what thou art,

Lest we forget in Awe of our terrible Past”

andy freedom 3

“Not Dead which Eternal Lie”

The local interest in Oldschool Magic is growing. I helped two more players with decks recently, and when I stopped off to pick up some cards for my vintage deck last week, I met a guy and jammed some games with my Mono Black deck against his Land Destruction deck that nearly killed me more than once with an Ankh of Mishra. The best part of the interaction was that he got into the format on his own, and the store told him to seek me out, proclaiming me some sort of Guru just because I am always taking up space at FNM with my archaic format.

On April 10th, I will be hosting my first Oldschool event of the Year at RIW Hobbies. To try and maintain some regional consistency, as with the events hosted by Card and Board I will also be using the Eternal Central rules, with the exception that Strip Mine will be restricted, as well as Hymn to Tourach. This is mostly at the behest of the local scene, as I will not include Fallen Empires cards in my deck. I prefer a more elegant magic, but I already regard my opponents as heathens, so I may as well permit them to demonstrate it.

ben whiskey

“Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.”

-Mark Twain

On Friday Night when I should have been finishing this piece, we took a break from the Oldschool at FNM movement and went to see Goatwhore at a local bar. The show was nothing short of divinity. You are never too old to Mosh, even if your body disagrees in the aftermath.


The next show I plan to catch is on April 2oth. Napalm Death. The Melvins. Melt Banana. It has been a long time since I was this excited to not remember a night of my life.

That is all the Mayhem, Magic, and Metal for the time being. The countdown to GP Fear and Loathing is on. Which means less downtime before the next update. Forcing my hand is sometimes the only way to siphon the proverbial ink into form. So until next time, Drink Whiskey, Listen to Music, and Sling some Cards. This is your life.

-Shaman Ben


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