Down the Rabbit Hole: Underworld Dreams

rabindranath tagore

‘In the drowsy dark cave of the mind dreams build their nest with fragments dropped from day’s caravan”

-Rabindranath Tagore

 

Friday Night in Los Angeles. I am in the back seat of someone’s car. Misfits on the radio. Now David Bowie. Too drunk to know where we are going and too stoned to care. Another night, indistinguishable from the week before or the week to come. I sip from my flask and look out at the lights of the 405, thinking about nothing in particular.

The song changes again. Murder City Devils and we are somewhere on or near Laurel Canyon. My flask is empty when we pull up to some place I cannot make out in the darkness. There are cars parked all along the way up to the house and there are small groups of people collected about the front yard. We park on a narrow patch of yard and someone turns up the radio. Is it Mojo Nixon? This night is fucking weird.

Every night is fucking weird.

Someone sparks up a joint and passes it around. Everyone is talking but I cannot hear them over the static in my head. Listening to the song, I wonder if Elvis really is Everywhere. I scan the faces beyond the glass but he is elusive. I quietly hope to myself that he has gone inside. An hour from now we could be sharing a beer or a cheap bottle of wine.

elvis_Presley

Before long we are in the house. I am wandering from room to room, not quite mingling and not quite fading into the shadows. I am haunted by familiar faces. As I drift by, I wonder quietly if they see me in the same vague sense of recognition. They are all plugged in, wired, networked. Programmed.

I am disconnected.

Lost in the stale yellow light of a kitchen and then swimming blindly through a lamp-lit living room full of bodies. There is a circular flow to the house. As I keep moving in the same direction, seeming to chase something or run away from something at the same time. I am preoccupied with this sensation as I trace the pattern of my steps for what feels like hours.

There is a glitch in the system and I am standing in the kitchen, this time in a circle of distorted shadows with the impression of faces. Somewhere along the way I acquired a bottle of Don Julio, so I sip from it and pass it to the digital monsters about me. It tastes worse than I remember. But it grounds me. Forces me to touch the world in some way. As distant as I am from everything, as numb as I am both inside and out, there is some secret pilot at the controls and he has assumed command. He is bright, telling stories from my days in the East, and consuming the tequila without mercy.

Is he trying to kill me?

ben2

It does not matter.

My audience is oblivious to the fact that I am not really there.

Without memory of moving I am on a couch, seated uncomfortably between two girls I am supposed to know, sharing a bottle of wine and more tales of the destructive crusade that brought me to this forsaken city. Am I really there? No, I am back in the kitchen, but the Don Julio is long gone and I am choking down Sambuca from a mason jar.

What hell is this?

I am circling again. I stop seeing the rooms as I pass through them. One moment I am a vulture, the next a dizzy child. I am lost. Confused. Drifting through Oblivion. There is momentary solace in the darkness of a back hallway, and when I stop to bask in it I can hear myself breathing. I am not so far gone that I have stopped imitating life. That could be a glimmer of hope or a caricature of despair.

Stumbling forward, the bathroom door just ahead of me is cracked, and through the void I can see a couple of my friends cutting up lines and hovering like mad disciples around their soon to be vacant white messiah. I do not feel the call so I pass them by while averting my eyes, and in the process I trip over myself. I stumble forward and try to catch myself, desperate to stay on my feet.

I crash into a door that was not there before.

doors

With a burst of clamor and a series of creaks, it opens wide and I fall across the threshold.

Finding myself in a small, misshapen room painted in an anxious mix of pastels, my senses are assaulted by a Vulgar Display of Easter. The colors and strange patterns make it hard to discern the true dimensions of the chamber, which seem suffocating and infinite simultaneously. It feels lucid, almost hallucinatory, but there is something organic, perhaps symbiotic about it. The room is breathing.

If the chamber has a true center, it is occupied by a table that looks like a heap of animal bones.  On four sides of the mound are low set stools shaped like mushrooms, one of which is occupied. In awkward posture on the stool on the opposing side of the bone pile from where I was hunched sits a gaunt blonde girl in a blue dress. She is uncomfortably sipping tea and chattering incessantly with no one in particular.

She does not acknowledge my presence. Not as though she is ignoring me, but as if she is unaware that I am there. Maybe I am not there. In my uncertainty, I stand up and let the door close carelessly behind me. It practically vanishes into the vibrant splatter of the wall. Still nothing from her, I watch her with both curiosity and caution. She pours another glass of tea and sips at it.

I remain still for as long as I can. But the cabin fever washes over my skin like a colony of ants and I cannot restrain my restlessness. The first feeling all night is the need to be seen by this phantasm. I step towards her, wait, and when she does not even glance my way I crouch down and take a seat on the spongy mushroom stool.

As soon as I am seated, she looks up from her teacup and smiles. I smile back, awkward and forced, and she does not miss a beat as she pulls another teacup from underneath her dress and places it on the table. Her haunting grin never falters. She fills the glass and pushes it my way. I try to thank her as I reach to take it, but my voice is inaudible. I bring it to my trembling lips and take an unsteady sip.

It is not tea. It is bourbon.

“Do you like tea?” she asks, still smiling and staring into my eyes, yet seemingly through them as well. “My name is Alice.”

“This is not tea,” I respond. “And your name is not Alice.”

“Well this is not Wonderland either,” she retorts. Her smile now appears sinister.

la fire

The scotch is better than anything else I have consumed over the course of the evening, and I am grateful to share it with her. It coerces words from my lips, questions from my curiosity, and secrets from the depths of my subconsciousness. We converse over a few glasses and I realize that I have no idea how much time has passed or what either of us has said. But I have the vague notion that I have said too much, and she has told me something important.

I cannot remember. Or perhaps I refuse to remember.

My stomach growls loudly, and she snickers. I feel genuine distress, and my face becomes a scowl. It is washed away immediately when she reaches under her dress again to offer me an apple. I express gratitude as I put forth my hands to accept it.

As soon as she rolls it into my palms, it turns into a mushroom. I look into her eyes, but I can discern nothing. I am far less terrified of the metamorphosis than I am of rejecting her hospitality, so I smile and take a bite. I chew slowly, meticulously, taking the earthen flavor and the dense texture. I swallow and take another bite. She is watching me intently, her eyes full of unfathomable secrets. I shove the rest of the mushroom into my mouth with the third bite, and I remain quiet for a moment after I swallow the last of it.

I try to thank her but once again I cannot find my voice. I rise to my feet, and as soon as I do she resumes her tea party without me. She pours another glass from her empty pot, drinking merrily and resuming the conversation I witnessed when I entered. As far as she is concerned, I am back to no longer being there. This unsettles me and I feel panic flowing through my veins. I have to get out of this place.

I feel around the wallpaper for the door, and when I find it I fumble with the knob from a mix of fear and intoxication. When I am able to turn it, I hear it creak loudly, and I fling it open and step through with haste. I scurry down the hall and into the safety of the stale kitchen light.

alice mad

I look back down the hall and the door is gone. All I can see is the bathroom door, open wider now, with a new group of fiends huddled around a mirror while seeking salvation from the white lines of temptation. It was none of my people so I did not even consider joining them. I was mortified at the thought of stepping back into the hall.

I stare a little too long at the strangers and they take notice. I draw fear and ire from their eyes, and they slam the door shut. In the darkness beyond, I can see where the door should have been. But there is no space there. A room would not fit. It could not have been there at all.

I turn back to the kitchen and see some familiar faces passing a bottle of mead and sharing a tale that I cannot quite hear to follow. I step towards them and try to join in, but when I speak my words come out backwards. No one understands what I say, so I try again, slower, more deliberate, louder, but to no avail. Still inverted, my attempt for clarity only resonates with superstitious paranoia. Everyone backs away, staring, filling me with panic.

I make my way for the next room, hoping to find someone, anyone, who can help or understand me. I need to connect to something. Anything. A girl whom I have been on a few dates with is sitting in a chair in the corner, withdrawn from the party and half asleep. She is listlessly playing on her phone as I move towards her. I speak to her as I step closer, but the flow of my words is still in reverse and she is immediately terrified.

I flee before she can call out for help, pushing through a crowded living room and out on to a balcony. An arrangement of old furniture made a comfortable safe haven for smokers. The natural place to catch my breath. Under the endless expanse of the night sky, I feel small, unimportant, safe against its vastness. I draw in a breath and hold it until I can no longer, and as I exhale I begin to look around.

No one was looking my way. For the moment I was just a shadow. And I was consumed by a desire for something different. I was desperate for Salvation. Redemption. Escape. How would I ever get out of this place? At the end of the balcony, curled up in a decrepit recliner and engrossed in her cellular device, I found hope in the form of an old friend.

She was somewhere else. Completely oblivious to the world around her. It was a world to which she did not belong, and if the sight of her had not ushered in such celebratory catharsis I may have stopped to question both how and why she was there. But I feel only elation. Her wine glass is knocked over at her feet, and I know that she has not noticed it, so she could not have yet noticed me. I am terrified to approach, to get the revulsion I have conjured from the minds of all the others, but I need her to see me. To hear me. To reach me.

To save me.

I softly speak her name. As she lifts her eyes to mine, her face lights up like the sun bursting over the horizon after a moonless night. She rises unsteadily, as if she doubts her eyes, but as she wraps her arms around my neck she squeals with delight. In the warmth of her embrace, the noise around us tunes out and fades away. I am overwhelmed with feelings and I cannot find my words. But she prates on endlessly, her excitement manifesting in her voice, and there is no room for my backwards language anyway.

Our union is a glitch in the program. The endless sea of people becomes and endless swarm of death, decay, and de-evolution. Where there was once a myriad of mindless, empty humans, there was now a writhing mob of ghouls and zombies. They began eating each other without regard, and the need to escape reached its zenith. Moments before I feared they would hunt me and kill me for my display of madness. Now I am afraid they would hunt and eat me as a display of theirs.

vc

It was horror incarnate.

I came to the party in a hot air balloon, in spite of the memory of arriving in a car with friends. Perhaps I am wrong, but the balloon suggested otherwise. As much as I am certain it is mine, I also know that I have never seen one up close, and I have no idea how it operates. But there was no time to allow that to hinder me. We climbed inside, and somehow my hands did what my brain could not.

A moment later we drifted into the sky. We were leaving the chaos of the world below for the uncertainty of the world above. We remained quiet, looking out in wonder and trying to keep the night from encompassing our minds. In time she asked me to take her somewhere, to a place that no longer existed. As I explained to her that it was lost forever, no longer part of the world where we were, she refuted by explaining that we just needed to go back to when it was, and it would be there.

The absence of logic in her words gave me clarity. It was simple. I was dreaming. Realization is a motherfucker. I wake up in a cold sweat, gasping for air. I shake off the tendrils of my subconscious. My mind is a scary place to spend the night.

 

uwproject

Do you have a moment to talk about your inevitable demise?

My first encounter with Underworld Dreams reminded me of the poem about the Jabberwocky in Alice in Wonderland. It was a terrifying and majestic beast, filling me with a confusing mix of reverence and dread. It is a game that has stuck with me through the years, and it comes from a time when I still did not know the entire card pool (there were three expansions and a core set after all.)

We were playing for Ante. One of my precious Sengir Vampires was up against his equally cool but ultimately less impressive Howling Mine. I won the die roll and I was off to a great start. I had my Sol Ring and my single copy of Badlands. I was going to be able to play my Sedge Troll and turn two and leave up mana to regenerate. It did not get much better.

Dan led with a badlands of his own and cast Dark Ritual. I expected a Hypnotic Specter, which would die to the Lightning Bolt I was happy to have in hand. He hesitated, and then slowly showed me an unfamiliar card. I picked it up, read it, read it again, and shrugged. It was a slow clock. I would kill him long before it killed me.

But I started to think about it. I read it again. Was this card real? If he could make me draw extra cards (like with the Howling Mine in the Ante pool) how fast could it kill me? But more impressive was the strange art. It was potent, like something from my dreams. The flavor was haunting. I was in love with the card already, but I had no idea what was coming.

I took damage and played the Troll off of a mountain, leaving the badlands up. I had nothing else so I passed. On his turn he cast a Mana Vault and played a Taiga, which was new to his collection. I took the opportunity to mention that I had one, and he grumpily reminded me that he wanted it. I offered it to him for his badlands, but he was not going to fall for such a skewed trade. He offered me a Volcanic Island instead, which I needed for my second deck, but I was unsure and I held out.

I was about to suggest we add both lands to the Ante pile when he cast Wheel of Fortune. Seven Damage. I cast my Lightning Bolt and became concerned. His new hand of seven gave him a Sol Ring to play off his floating mana, which he tapped to play Howling Mine. I was at Twelve and going to take two damage per turn. I was in trouble. There was no reason to up the Ante.

On my turn I dropped to ten, played my third land, and cast a Sengir Vampire. I hit him with the Troll and commented on how I took ten Damage in two turns from the Dreams. He dropped to thirteen from his Mana Vault and played another land. He cast regrowth and cast the Wheel of Fortune again. On my draw step I would drop to one life. This was insane.

On my turn I attacked and dropped him to six, following up with a Syphon Soul. It put him to four and brought me back to three, keeping me from dying for one more turn as long as he could not do damage. I might somehow win this game yet.

winds

Winds of Change was another unfamiliar card. As I read it, I learned of the harshness of my fate. With knowledge came only defeat and desire.

We talked about it at length after the game, but I was mostly focused on how to get my Sengir Vampire back. After a lot of trouble I agreed to trade my Taiga for his Volcanic Island as long as he threw in the vampire and told me how much he paid for Underworld Dreams. Two days later I spent my lunch money for the week on a copy, along with a Winds of Change and a Howling Mine.

October of 2002 brought the first rotation of the Extended format. We played it weekly for two years, and the format was everything the game should have been. We were able to play with our dual lands because of some configuration of the printing of the early editions in European Languages, and otherwise it was Ice Age forward. It was the kind of magic our collections were made of.

The rotation kicked the format forward to Tempest and Sixth edition. More importantly, our dual lands were no longer legal. This was the first time the DCI directly impacted our game play, and to say the least I was not happy about it. We tried to continue on for a while, and eventually convinced the shop owner, Old Don of Sports Card Mania, to make a provision for Dual Lands since we were not sanctioning events anyway.

old don

In some way or another, the MTG Underground has always been the pulse and principle of our relationship with the game.

We tried to pretend everything was fine, but with nearly half of the card pool removed just for being too old, it was hard to find the same fix that kept us enslaved for so long. We started talking about how this was the same feeling the old type one players used to express when we were younger and power was not allowed at the local events. That naturally led to discussing Type One in general, and even though none of us had power, all of our cards were legal.

When the first wave of bannings hit the new Extended, we discussed whether or not we needed to observe them. This once again led to a fixation on Type One. We were still missing a portion of our beloved format, and those cards would never come back. It was time to follow them out of the format. And in to Type One. We would be free to play our cards.

So we became Vintage Players in the wilderness of the Pre-Modern era. It suited us well, but it reminded us of everything that was out of reach when we were younger and how the Acquisition of Power was necessary to survive long term in this new and dangerous landscape. I made my first run at the format with my default Mono Black, complete with a play set of Underworld Dreams. I was amazed that it was unrestricted and I could not wait to jam four of them into my deck. I was ready to ride the Jabberwocky.

nether void

A week later I traded them for Nether Voids.I was learning to survive in the wilderness, and it was going to take a new breed of nightmare to overcome my enemies. The monsters of my childhood were but shadows of the those of my adulthood. It was not long before I was working at the Bazaar of Baghdad and animating Dragons.

When I discovered Oldschool Magic, the first thing I did was buy four copies of Underworld Dreams. It once again held all the wonder and peril of my youth, and this was reason enough to dive head first into the format. My first few compositions left a lot to be desired, but I was determined to build around it. But the more I worked at it, the more I felt like I was trying to force a card that was too easy to race.

So I built Mono Black.

And I have cast Underworld Dreams countless times. It has ranged from oppressive to lackluster. It has been disenchanted and fallen prey to a flipping Chaos Orb. The more I play it the less I am filled with wonder and the more I look at the old beast with a sad reverence. When dabbling with Eternal Central rules and experimenting with Fallen Empires, it made sense to move it to the sideboard (or cut it completely) to make room for Hymn to Tourach. The Old Gods are often become half remembered nightmares in the face of new Religion.

Hymn_to_Tourach4

Many things have transpired since I last wrote. Lodestone Golem was restricted in Vintage and Fork was unrestricted in Oldschool (we still play with Old School MTG rules in my local group) and a myriad of community things, all of which I considered addressing but before I could carve words in the digital ether, they no longer seemed important.

I gave serious thought to writing at length about the Lodestone Golem restriction. I did not agree with the decision or the reasoning, and the fact that Gush remains free while three out of four Lodestone Golems have been put out of work is still absurd. But in truth, the card has been oppressive from the beginning, and before I sold my blue cards to devote my life to Mishra I was always eager to see the bastard persecuted. I understand that his time is over, and even restricting Gush will not change that.

Things change. Time preserves nothing, and memory only exaggerates the truth.

Fortunately, I was not even playing Lodestone Golem. I abandoned the safe and sane approach to Workshops as soon as I saw the opportunity to promote degeneracy and usher in a revival of the Old Ways. While there is joy to be found in crushing someone’s dreams with Lodestone Golem, it is nothing like the elation of exiling their library with Helm of Obedience.

I am many things, one of which is a Combo Player.

While this is not new, and I have been dabbling with this deck since Eternal Weekend last August, I have finally settled on a list, and after my last bit of tinkering I am confident that it is where I want it to be. I made top 4 of a few recent tournaments, but even that feels secondary to just playing it. This deck is everything I love about magic.

 

2 Card Monte

Mishra vs. Everybody.

I want to share a few experiences from recent play, if only to compel you to give this deck a try, especially if you own Workshops. And even if you do not, perhaps this will convince you that you should. Let go of your fear. Stop clinging to your mortal clay. Join us. Or at least share in my amusement.

In the last round of the Swiss of an event at RIW Hobbies in Livonia, Michigan, my home store no matter where I am in the universe, I was playing against Brian Demars who was playing an Esper Mentor deck, complete with Time Vault and Voltaic Key as well as Yawgmoth’s Will. I lost a close game one to a fast Mentor, and I opened game two aggressively.

I began the game with Leyline of the Void on the field, and after he kept a hand of six I played a Helm of Obedience on the first turn off of my Workshop and Mox Emerald. I could not kill him on the spot, so I passed. Brian played a Pearl and a Tundra, considered his options and passed back to me. On my turn I activated the helm, to which he responded by Disenchanting my Leyline. I drew another Leyline for the turn, played a Mana Confluence, and passed back to Brian. He played a Voltaic Key and a Black Lotus, along with a second land. He then cast Demonic Tutor for Time Vault and played it. I destroyed it with a Nature’s Claim in response to it being untapped and it was my turn once again. I played an ancient tomb, leaving me one black mana from attempting to win once more.

On Brian’s turn he was weighing his options when I inadvertently dropped the leyline onto the table. He saw it before I recovered, and after assessing the situation he decided he needed to act before I drew a land and won the game. So he cast Yawgmoth’s Will.

I was trying to assess the damage, namely whether he could replay the Time Vault and untap it, when the slow realization of what happened washed over me. I still had my Helm, untapped, and his Will acted as a temporary Leyline. In response to him casting his next spell, I exiled his library.

I won that game but eventually lost a long game three. And even though I took my first loss of the day, I could not help but feel victorious in light of how game two unfolded. I learned a lesson that will stay with me for life at his expense. Sometimes a single battle feels bigger than the Total War.

total war

 

Just over a week ago I traveled with @kevincron and @katdaddykatz to A Vintage Tournament in Berea, Ohio. It was a great event, a great venue, and a great crowd. What more could you ask for? In spite of being extremely hungover, the aftermath of drinking a liter of Tito’s Handmade Vodka, I had a blast. There were 17 players and I eventually lost in the top 4 to the guy who beat me in the Swiss with a Landstill Mentor deck.

But aside from doing well and getting to play a ton of magic, and better than winning a Scrubland for my efforts, there were two moments in the day that stand out above all the others.

In round two I played against the 5 Color Humans deck that has been seeing recent success. I won game one with little effort, but I lost game two when I kept 6 on the draw that would kill him on turn one unless he opened with a Thalia. Unfortunately for me that is exactly what he did. She kept me from playing spells and forced a third game. I adjusted my sideboard and shuffled up.

I began the Game with Leyline of the Void and was set up to kill him on turn two. But misfortune struck again, this time in the form of Stony Silence, which I forgot about and the dread of realization that my Nature’s Claims were still in the board left me with little hope. But all was not lost.

I played a Painter’s Servant to hold his Thalia off, but I was being aggressively beaten to death with a Mantis Rider. I held off as long as I could, having a grindstone on the table to kill him with if I could just draw an answer. I had Demonic Consultation in my hand, but there was only one Red Elemental Blast in the deck to save me, and it was a huge gamble. When I was at five he flashed in a Containment Priest at the end of my turn to threaten lethal. I was forced to act.

I cast the Consultation and named Red Elemental Blast. It was not in the first six. I flipped thirteen more cards, and found it. I destroyed the Stony Silence and exiled his library. I then passed to him, letting his draw step spare me from the lethal damage he had on board. If I lost every other match on the day, that moment made all of it worthwhile. Except the Vodka. That stuff was misery in a bottle.

dc

Demonic Consultation is my favorite Magic Card.

 

The second moment of magic perfection happened in the Top 8, another game three but this time against Splinter Twin. I was on the play, and I led with a Mox Emerald and a Grindstone, followed by a Mana Confluence. On his upkeep, I cast Ancestral Recall. He grinned like a Demon and cast Misdirection, then proceeded to draw three cards that should have been mine. He played a Volcanic Island and Mox Sapphire, discarded and passed back to me.

All was not lost. I followed up with a Demonic Tutor, but he Mana Drained it and left me once again with nothing. On his second turn of the game he used the mana to play Jace the Mindsculptor. This was not looking good for me. On my turn I drew once more, this time it was a Painter’s Servant. I already had a Red Elemental Blast in hand, so I played my third land and cast my creature. He countered with Force of Will, which I stopped with the blast. This forced him to use Jace to bounce the Painter on his turn, but the gesture was futile at best. He did not have a way of stopping him from coming back down on my fourth turn, and this time I was also able to activate the Grindstone.

I won.

As I wind to a close, my thoughts are on the Legacy Grand Prix in Columbus in just under two weeks. I have received numerous messages about my belcher list and sideboarding advice. It seems there are a lot of people who think this is a good time to be firing the cannon.

The truth is, it is always a good time to fire the cannon.

I wrote a decent primer before Eternal Weekend last year, but I am going to do my best to update it and get it posted by this weekend, a week ahead of the event. I will likely be sitting the Main Event out, as there are Vintage events scheduled every day as well as numerous Oldschool players planning on attending. I have been working on organizing an event with the Tournament Organizer, having recommended the rules of Eternal Central to best accommodate the regional community, most of whom follow those guidelines. If it cannot be organized on site, we can always find a liquor store to stock up and a local laundry mat to invade. Have you ever cast an Erhnam Djinn on top of a washing machine while drinking Kraken? This could be your chance.

I will have both of my Legacy decks with me, and I will likely loan them out to some crazy bastards seeking glory. The MTG Underground is a community after all. Both of my decks are The People’s Cannon, aka Goblin Charbelcher, and they are card for card the same. Why do I own two copies of the same deck? That is a story for another time, but it involves playing for decks and some questionable decisions. Here is my list in picture form to hold you over until my next update:

cannon

So until I return, Drink, Gamble, and Love. It is time to eat some green mana, listen to some Elvis, and watch the night creep on through the window. -Dr. S.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Down the Rabbit Hole: Underworld Dreams

  1. Cell phones are the worst. Sambuca is underrated. The only constructed format I play is 93/94, but your writing, sir, makes me feel like I could play Vintage.

    Like

    1. I love 93/94 more than anything else, but I have been able to find what I want in vintage, and it has been a great forates over the years to approach with unconventional wisdom (madness.) After I wrote this I went and bought some sambuca.

      Glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s