Fear and Loathing at Grand Prix: Detroit

“The Blessing of a hometown Festival is that you know where the opium dens are. The Curse of a hometown Festival is that the opium dens know who you are.”

Boris Devilboon, Letters from the Unholy Citadel

festival

Friday Night Derailed

A simple plan.

Dress up nice. Drink the whiskey. Dance in the Fire. Disappear before Sunrise.

The rhythm was fucked from the start. Problems on a job site put me an hour behind schedule leaving work and traffic kept the freeways at a crawl. I could save time by abandoning the journey home to head straight to the venue, but without my supplies it would be a wasted trip. Reality was threatening my Friday Night at GP Detroit, and my blood was boiling with contempt as I forced my way onward.

I took a shower and shaved my head. I was already behind schedule, but I was not going to look like the savage bastard I intended to act like. I gathered the fresh batch of Green Mana Cookies™ I made the night prior and my binder of extra cards, mostly Oldschool stuff I have upgraded or the remnants of the last collection I inherited. On the other side of the Weekend a Bazaar of Baghdad would be waiting for me, but it would not be free and it would not come easy.

I poured a glass of bourbon and made food to appease the watchful eye of Princess Lucrezia, who upon closer inspection turned out to be my concerned yet supportive girlfriend Laura. I medicated my way through the confusion. If I were not a professional, I may have been alarmed by all of this, but I kept my mouth shut and my eyes averted. After the initial fear set in, the lines that define came into focus, and I found clarity before I gave myself over to panic.

princess lucrezia

I departed from home with a full stomach and a head full of reverie. I raced along I-75 towards downtown. It was clear of the plague of traffic from my drive home, and the sun was setting beyond my peripheral vision. Pantera was blasting through the speakers like it was 1994, holding me somewhere between time travel and nostalgia. I reflected on the hours to come.

I dressed up nice. Pinhead hoodie and a Top Hat. I drank the whiskey. The bourbon was smooth, and I wished I had more of it as I changed lanes. I danced in the fire, and the hallucinations wrapped around me but did not burn my flesh. Now, all that was left was to disappear before sunrise. I would move in swiftly, find the usual degenerates and distribute the cookies. Finding the best dealer to offload my excess might be a chore, but I had people already scouring the field to report back. If all went well, I would be out the door with a few hundred dollars long before they closed the hall. If I was lucky, I would have a few cohorts in tow as we made our way to a bar, one of the casinos, or City Club like we did in the old days.

Nothing complicated.

The absence of traffic was an appreciated luxury. The few automotive coffins that shared the road were a delight compared to the miasma of human filth that stifled my progress just an hour before. I changed lanes as I blew past I-94, gripping the wheel with white knuckles as my desire for my destination swelled. Hard Lines, Sunken Cheeks ended, and before Slaughtered erupted through the speakers I heard my phone ringing.

I fumbled with the dials and eventually muted the radio. I missed two calls and was receiving a third from the same number. Some unknown series of digits. A Chicago area code. Who was it? My curiosity was a precursor. I answered the phone. Suddenly, everything was complicated.

One Ticket, Two Shows

Grand Prix Detroit was not the only festival in town for the weekend.

Just a few miles away the Motor City Tattoo Expo was packing the Renaissance Center. Both events drew people from all over, including out of the murky depths of my personal history. Of the two, the Grand Prix promised more and threatened less, but the Tattoo Expo dredged up secrets and scars that could not be ignored. There is nothing as capable at catching up to you as your past.

never mind

 “Never Mind the Scenery”

 “Ben?”

Her voice was shaky. Familiar but unrecognized. Nervousness loosened her tongue, and she spoke rapidly. Name drops and memories scatter the conversation like landmarks. I remained quiet long enough to glean the truth and learn her identity without showing my cards.

Old friends. Old fiends. Back in Detroit for the weekend. Eager to dig up the bones of memory and indulge in nostalgia. A reunion designed in hell, stitched together with lies and deceptions and slathered in drugs like paper-mache. The head of a monster made from the wretchedness of humans. No good could come from this.

But I was not one to turn away from damnation at the first scent of fire. Love not Law. Just like I taught them. The stars were aligned. We were all back in the same place at the same time. A vulgar display of power. How could we restrain from igniting the night that was sprawled out ahead of us and already drenched in gasoline?

The Grand Prix could wait until tomorrow.

There was another circus train already off the tracks. I was on my way. I cranked the music as loud as I could and swore at myself. I lie about my evolution. I may be older but I show no signs of wisdom. I have not grown up. And if you drag me before the Gates, I will throw the horns and inhale the smoke. I am the same devil I have always been.

 

Lost Highways

hank sr

When we reunited in the casino, there was tension in the air. Time changes things, and the wounds that were supposed to heal still scream through the scars. I am terrible with the trivial stuff. I was not interested in catching up. There was too much ahead of us to dwell on what was burning in our wake.

I demanded a drink before I answered a single question. With Jameson on my breath I remained secretive, callous, evasive. None of it mattered. This would likely be the last time we saw each other, and it was already one time too many. There was no turning back, so there was no reason to hold back.

The hours burned life and dollar alike, and when we were too far gone to remain among the absurd caricatures of our species, we escaped. From the casino floor we made our way through a series of halls and elevators. It was like a carnival ride. We passed so many rooms that could have sufficed, but they were hunting one in particular. I was not the captain of this whaling voyage, so I held on and waited. When we finally came to the door they sought, we stepped inside a room that was seemingly the same as the others.

But this one was a haven. It gave us shelter. It kept our secrets.

Once inside, the green mana burned freely and the drink flowed foolishly. Before long, the lines of reality were replaced with lines of Serum Powder. We were too close for comfort. Too fucked up for function. Too far gone for salvation. We were living this night like it was our last, and we were all afraid of what would happen when the hours disappeared.

But they did.

And slowly the ghosts began to fade. Each goodbye was overly emotional in the moment and a welcome sigh of relief in aftermath. I parted ways with my past one face at a time. I promised repeatedly to call or write or make time for people who knew I was lying. It was not about the reality, just the pomp and circumstance around it. None of us wanted to do this again. It is hard to say we wanted to be doing it in the moment. But it was the only way to endure each other. It was the only way to keep secrets in their graves.

When there were only three of us, I started listening to music on my phone to avoid the obvious. One of them wanted me to leave, and she wanted him to leave in turn. I would have preferred they both left, but it was not my room nor my place to have an opinion. I did not know the nature of the situation, but I could feel that it was unsatisfactory to both of them even through my naivete.

He was in love. Helpless. Stupid. Innocent. Pathetic. I would have felt bad for him, but as I cut out a few more lines I realized the Serum Powder left me far too numb to feel much of anything. All night he pandered to me, told me stories he heard about me, tried to befriend or impress me, needing me to like him for some reason unknown to me. Now, as he struggled to swim in the ocean of her presence, I started to get it.

She was snarling at him politely at first, but her patience was an ignited fuse. Clenched teeth. Lashing at him with a tongue dripping with venom. I watched from the distance of a drug stupor as he tried to ignore it. It was tragic and sad. She wanted nothing more than for him to leave, to be alone with me. He wanted nothing more than to keep that from manifesting, fearing the suppositions that would come to life in his mind in the dark hours of the night.

I did not want to get involved, but I did not want to witness the inevitable reckoning. I tried for a moment to curtail her wrath, but I gave up quickly. It was hopeless. He was working so hard to have what was offered at my feet without effort. But I could not give it to him, it was not mine to provide. So I rolled up the last of the green mana and took it with me into the bathroom.

I stared at my reflection in the mirror as I smoked the Primalcrux. Through the closed door, I could hear an argument. The words were empty. Meaningless. I did not allow them the luxury of contingency in my mind. I did not make sense of them because they were not for me. The joint was gone. I cut the lights and continued to stare at the space where my image lingered. I tried to remember it, to trace its details in the darkness. When I could no longer remember it clearly, I realized that silence was all that remained beyond. I drew in a deep breath, exhaled, and emerged from the bathroom as if nothing transpired.

psycho

 

I expected any number of scenarios in the room beyond. But my imagination proved pedestrian in contrast. I would not have been surprised it she was naked, crying, or even bleeding. I never could have dreamed she would be hooking a VCR to the television.

What?

I looked closer. It was true. She was hooking up a VCR. There was a small stack of tapes on the edge of the dresser. I could not make them out, but as I tried to look closer I saw something else. And before I could be sure, she saw me.

She stood up and grabbed the jar from beside the tapes. She stepped towards me, and in the soft light of the lamp I confirmed my fearful curiosity. It was Opium. The sweet, black tar oblivion was calling to me. It used her as its voice. It called my name, eager to consume me.

If I would have been sober, I might have wondered why anyone would do such an outdated and obsolete drug. If I had never smoked it before, if I had never smoked it with her, I might have felt some kind of hesitation. If my head was clearer, I might have reflected on the irony of smoking it from a baby food jar. Even now, part of me feels compelled to make some circle of life metaphor, or scribe some anecdote of nihilistic cleverness.

But deep down, I regard most cleverness with disdain. Wit lost its charm centuries before I was born, back when smoking opium made more sense and everything there was to be written had not already been penned. Now, every clever thought, every artistic parallel between my personal pursuit of madness and the human condition, resonates as something already said or done. We are not unique. We are not precious. We are not snowflakes. We are the icy residue, the discarded remnants of what once was and what no longer matters.

These were the thoughts in my head as the smoke filled my lungs. They are the thoughts with me now as I suck down a bottle of whiskey and wonder if I should even be writing this. I would like to believe our absurdity held any uniqueness, that at least the act of smoking opium in this grotesque year was somehow rare or fascinating. But in truth, right now, as I am typing this, there area  couple of clever motherfuckers smoking opium out of a baby food jar and feeling elite, listening to John Lennon’s “Imagine” on vinyl (while I listen to Bedtime for Democracy from the Dead Kennedys,) reflecting on how profound their existence is, completely oblivious to not only its commonality but also its triviality.

opium flower

When the world around you melts away, you are left only with your thoughts. When those thoughts turn dark, you have no choice but to swim in the tenebrous sea of your mind. For a while, I was alone in the universe. Lost. I was staring in the mirror without knowing if I was the source or the reflection. Uneasy with fear, I wanted to smash the glass, but if I found that I was the just the image and not the man it would be a reckless suicide. Only the light knew the answer, and it was doing all it could to keep from touching me, from telling me the truth.

I was going mad.

She called me back out into the room. Onto the bed. I drifted through the fog and laid down. My head was spinning. My eyes focused as I watched her push the awkward black cassette into the VCR. Why the fuck did she have a VCR?

I was traveling through time. I marveled at the relic of the past. Do these still exist or did the opium carry me to a place I used to live? I basked in its glory as she sprawled out beside me. The tracking entranced me. Slowly the screen focused, rolling only momentarily, showing that it was a dub in spite of the fact that she pulled it from a factory sleeve. What was it? I saw the letters on the white label. They were written with a black marker like a clue from the Opium Gods.

What were they?

The mystery was silenced as the same letters appeared on the screen.

Lost Highway.

LOST-HIGHWAY

This movie changed my life once. It was threatening to do so again. Drugs are a merciless master. Time is a savage landscape.

“I like to remember things my own way.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“How I remembered them. Not necessarily the way they happened.”

With that, everything between us was laid to rest.

 

Blood Oaths

I watched the sunrise come up over the Detroit River through a hotel window. It was an Ill Omen. Still in the shroud of the excess of the night behind me, I was unsure if I slept or just drifted through my mind as the night unfurled. She was unconscious on the bed, a merciful symptom of an overwhelming state of being. I needed to leave before she woke. I needed to get to the GP. There would be no more rest in the hours ahead than those behind. I had a mission. I was unsure of what it was, but it meant that I needed to get moving. Lack of sleep and sobriety was no excuse. Life would not wait for me to get my shit together.

 blood oath

 “Blood Oath”

I staggered into the hall after a miserable adventure to the hall. In the chaos of the night I believed I was at the MGM Grand casino, but the brutal emphasis of the morning taught me that I was actually at Greektown. This would have been trivial if I was less familiar with the city or certain of my directions, but trying to drive from a place you are not to a place that is in a different direction than you are going is maddening.

I was greeted by a sea of faces as I waded into the crowd. As I began to converse with the miscellaneous bodies that greeted me, I wondered if I should have snorted the last of her Serum Powder before I departed. It was probably the only reason I was standing, but it also had me raving like a lunatic in response to a simple utterance of “Good Morning.”

The main event was underway. It was the reason all of this was happening, but it had nothing to do with my work. There would be plenty of people writing about it. There would be coverage streaming and catalogued for people to watch or ignore. There would be obsolete decklists to copy and purchase from any array of online vendors. None of that mattered to me. I was here for the deeper story.

All around the hall there were games being played that did not require a DCI number. Some of them had discreet bets placed on them. There were money drafts at one end of a table and illegal card sales at the other. These were my people. It was the unclean and unsanctioned magic that called to me. It was happening outside the safety net of the DCI and obfuscated from the scouring eyes of the judge staff. This was the MTG Underground.

I met with Christian and his merry band of Canadians. The initial plan was to cover his guerilla warfare approach to battling through the ranks of Organized Play on a head full of substances, but the cost of participation sobered him long enough to realize that prowling around in search of a good hustle and cheap beer was a better way to spend the day. I tagged along for a while before breaking away to conduct the business I disregarded the night before.

After liquidating my excess, I found Christian once again and we set out in search of booze and food. In the condition I was in I really had no drive to drink, but I was not going to miss the chance to celebrate with my Magic Family. Unfortunately, we could not find beer to save our life, though I did acquire enough caffeine and food to keep me on my feet.

christ dragon

“I spend the night Chasing the Dragon and this fucker

wanders up on it with a Red Bull in hand”

When I returned to the hall sometime in the late afternoon I sought out the chance to actually play some magic. The Vintage side event did not fire and there was no way to lure me into sanctioned events for Carnival (Prize Wall) tickets, so any opportunity to play would have to be done in what used to be conventional form: by going out and engaging people.

I found my brother sitting with a few of the regular lurkers at a back table, playing some kind of 4th Edition 2 pack sealed battles for ante. I felt proud until I felt left out, and as soon as they were finished I pushed for some Oldschool games. Somehow, in spite of all of my inability to manage life in the 24 hours leading up that moment, I had my deck on me and I was eager to battle.

GPD Mono Black

 

I changed up my Mono Black build some time during the week before the event to try different things, and the most obvious omission to me was Demonic Hordes. I replaced them temporarily with Sengir Vampires, and while the change seemed to make the deck better, it made it less my style. The other difference was cutting a few of the random cards I usually main deck for a pair of Drain Life. This is a solid business plan. The card is very good. But I usually cut it for something a little more eccentric.

I remember winning quite a few games before taking a savage beating from a poor calculation. I was on the draw, and after two turns he had a Kird Ape, a Mountain, a Taiga, and an Emerald. I played my second swamp and had the choice of playing Black Knight or Sinkhole. I opted to blow up his Taiga.

On his turn, he played a mountain, Black Lotus, and Cast Ball Lightning. I looked at my Black Knight. But he was not done. He cast Blood Lust. I looked at the Black Knight again. He was grinning. He cast Berserk. I was dead.

I won a few more after that, but nothing nearly that flashy. I would go into further detail about the deck itself, but I have covered Mono Black before and I plan to talk about it at length in my next update (which will cover Card and Board’s Oldschool Tournament.) So to avoid losing focus, but still offer a bit of Oldschool Glory, I had the pleasure of getting a look at another deck that is a little different than anything else I have faced in the format.

I talked at length with my fellow Underground brethren Scotty about his unique take on a Mono White deck.

scotty white

Scotty’s Mono White

Though the primary purpose of our discussion was actually the evolution of this deck into one that splashes red, we did discuss it in depth and I am passionate about what he was doing with this, even if its not my style.

The easy thing to do would be to splash Blue, but my friend had no interest in doing so. Not because of card availability, but rather to explore things outside the established “best of the best.” For this reason he also avoided starting with a more traditional Mono White build, leaning towards control instead of Thunder Spirits and White Knights. He said more than once he would rather lose a few extra games playing what he loved than lock up some wins by eschewing his fun. This motherfucker gets it.

Somewhere down the Yellow Brick Road I will revisit this deck and show you what madness we concocted for its development, but it will be a labor of love as he sets out to find a fair share of expensive and majestic slices of cardboard.

 

Where the Rainbow Ends

One of the highlights of the event for me came in the form of a gesture of community and brotherly love from fellow degenerate and upstanding owner of All the MTG, the legendary Jamie. A few weeks prior he attended SCG Some Place in Ohio. While there, he visited Ken Meyer Jr and stumbled upon something that brought me to mind. After a few scrambled messages over Twitter he picked it up, and he kept it safe until he could deliver it to me at GP Detroit.

guardian beast mat

I fucking love this mat.

I showed it off to my crew and decided to make my way home. I said what departing words I could, but I was fading fast and in need of an escape. While my reporting yielded little of consequence, the underbelly of GP Detroit was fairly tame overall, it was far more impressive than the endless Eldrazi Mirror Matches going on in the main artery.

In the end, I had a drug hangover, some hazy recollection of some Oldschool games, and a Guardian Beast play mat. As I drove back North on I-75 towards my life and home, listening to Swans “White Light from the Mouth of Infinity”, I could not help but feel like the mission was a success, even if I had little to say about the weekend of Magic.

Now, reflecting further, I had a hell of a lot to say about the weekend, even though I never made it on Friday and I skipped Sunday completely to recover from my insanity and spend an afternoon with my girlfriend. And though I did not secure it until a week later, the effort of the GP in relation to selling cards to acquire others proved more successful than I could have hoped.

And now that the smoke has cleared, now that the event has come and gone and is just another in a long stream of corporate magic, now that most people have forgot what won (I never bothered to find out) I have something to show for it. While the drudgery marched on, I acquired a beautiful piece of real estate:

bazaar

Love Not Law,

Shaman Ben

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