My Zendikar Midnight Draft of the Damned

Posted on Sunday, October 4th, 2009 by Mobiusman
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Posted in mtg, ZEN contest entry

A strange thing happened at the Zendikar prerelease’s midnight draft.

It wasn’t my winning streak that was strange. I had been passed bomb after bomb, loading my deck with Celestial Mantle, Eternity Vessel and Grappling Hook for good measure. The monstrosity I concocted was a mono-Kor deck that played Steppe Lynxes, Kor Duelists, Explorer’s Scopes and Adventuring Gears. I was unstoppable. And what’s more, my store was running a very special promotion: the winner of the midnight draft would receive a priceless treasure.

The treasure was hanging above the counter for all to see — it was the Candelabra of Tawnos that Monty, the store owner, had called me up in the middle of the night over. He had ripped it from a Zendikar booster long before the internet considered the Priceless Treasures scheme kosher, and gibbered excitedly that he would use it to lure the most ferocious drafters from around the world into his very own shop. That had to be good for business.

So what had gone wrong? Somehow, all the good cards had fallen into my lap, and I had already ploughed through the likes of Budde, Maher, and Finkel (Could they really not afford their own Candelabras? Or was something more going on here?). The bell tower that Monty’s store was built under chimed six, and the huddled gamers turned in unison to see the sun begin to filter in through the windows.

“We cannot linger here long,” Monty hissed, his prominent canines edging out over his lower lip as he spoke. “The time has come, brethren, for the final round. Only two warriors are so far undefeated in their quests. Before the sun is up, one of them will be crowned the Master of the Night!”

The cheer that went up was shrill, and urgent, and somewhat unsettling. I caught the eye of my friend Jack and smiled nervously, but he only fixed me with an inhuman, steely stare and nodded slowly. I began the walk to the top table, alone.

As I passed between groups of players speaking in hushed tones, I saw those gamers that had been left by the wayside during the tournament. One was nursing a chest wound, desperately attempting to stem the flow of blood with a Welkin Tern. Another appeared to be intently manipulating a deck, but as I grew closer I saw that he was playing with a pile of ashes that had presumably once been an ill-advised three-colour sealed construction. As I drew nearer to the final table, one gamer fell to his knees in front of me, clawing at the hem of my jeans. “Don’t go on,” he implored, and I could see the tears streaming from his eyes. I tried to smile nonchalantly as I brushed on past.

I took a seat between the expectant onlookers, their bodies pressing in on mine with a tangible hunger. My opponent was late — “Perhaps a bye,” I joked quietly — so I took the opportunity to peek at the results slip and check his name. It read, however, only a string of X’s; the DCI number was given as three question marks. A glitch in printing the slip, I decided. Although no one had spoken, a bearded man across the table from me chuckled loudly.

After thirty seconds of uncomfortable silence, the crowd began to part and my opponent drew into sight. His hair was white as snow, and he wore a flowing robe that looked far too elegant for an eBayed costume. His skin was deathly pale, but his eyes were hard and shining, and, if you looked at them too long, appeared to be ringed in red. Needless to say, I did not recognise him from the drafting table, but did not trust myself to speak up against him. He smiled broadly, relaxedly, as he sat down, but there was nothing inviting about the smile; it reminded me more of a predator’s smile, perhaps that of a Ravenous Baloth. He extended a hand to shake, and I took it gladly, but came away with tiny pinpricks of blood welling up on my palm where his nails had touched my skin. Wiping the hand on my hoodie, I began to shuffle.

“This match will consist of one game.” Monty was behind me now, and he seemed to speak more to me than to the crowd. “There are no rules. Your goal is to survive. Good luck.”

He gripped my shoulder, as a delinquent child might grip an unwitting pet before sending it on a dangerous voyage into a river. I turned around to thank him, but when I looked he had vanished behind the wall of the crowd. I turned back to my opponent to see that he had patiently placed his deck in front of me, in plain black sleeves that seemed to divert light from their surroundings. “Cut,” he said, in a thick accent that I did not recognise, but was clearly unaccustomed to pronouncing English syllables. I obliged.

I remember the match clearly; I have played it over in my head dozens of times after the event. My opponent won the die roll with an oddly shaped, bone-textured die he himself supplied, and plaid a Magosi, the Waterveil (6CIH). This struck me as odd — my previous opponents would surely have played Islands over such jank — and it instilled me with some of the confidence of which my opponent’s dramatic entrance had robbed me. I played a Plains and an Adventuring Gear and passed the turn back. My opponent, his smile widening but his eyes still deathly focused, played a Forest and a Khalni Heart Expedition (5CIH) and passed.

He had still given me no reason to be afraid. I played another land, and a Kor Duelist hit the table before being suited up. My opponent’s next turn consisted of playing another Forest and a Greenweaver Druid (4CIH); evidently he was playing some kind of ramp deck. I pondered on how he could have got this far undefeated. Fearing a Harrow into Terra Stomper or similar, I played a land and a Kor Hookmaster to tap down the Druid, then attacked for 6. The game appeared to be in the books. My opponent, utterly unfazed, played a foil Lotus Cobra (without even pausing to comment on the fact that he had opened the set’s most expensive card), then played a fourth land (3CIH) and used the Cobra mana to put an eon counter on his Waterveil. I marvelled; how could anyone offer their opponent a Time Walk when they were so far behind on board position? The turn was passed with nothing more cast, so I gladly untapped and attacked — I made some offhand comment about missing my land drop, but he only continued to stare at me with the same single-mindedness that Jack had earlier. I brought his life down to 10, then played Bold Defense the next turn to deal another 7 damage. Maybe I didn’t need that land drop after all. I passed the turn to my opponent, who was on 3 life; even if he could ramp into double Terra Stomper with his turns, I had Nimbus Wings waiting. He untapped.

“A fine display of dust, if such were your intention.”

My opponent delivered the line with almost scripted calm, and I flinched visibly at the rebuttal. There was something absurd about it, but I intuited that my situation was far from comical. I looked around myself, appealing to the onlookers for some recognition of my success, but all eyes were on my opponent. Grimly, I turned to face him.

A Scalding Tarn entered and left the battlefield (2M, 3CIH), bringing my opponent down to 2 life. He tapped his four non-Waterveil lands and broke open the Expedition to find two more forests (8M, 3CIH). This was followed by — as I’d dreaded — a Harrow, trading an Island for two more Forests (9M, 2CIH). What came next, however, I could never had predicted: the revitalized Druid was tapped and my opponent announced a Sphinx of Lost Truths with kicker (4M, 4CIH). The crowd applauded, but I found I could not appreciate the play with them; I was gripped by an inexplicable fear for my very life. My opponent played a Khalni Gem and tapped it to pay for a Pyromancer Ascension (2,2CIH). Then, finally, terribly, he activated Magosi (3,2CIH) and began again.

For his next turn my opponent did not waste any time. He tapped his five Forests and played another Harrow for two more (6M, 3,2CIH). Then, incredibly, he cast a third harrow for a final pair of forests (7M, 3,1CIH) and tapped his Druid to play – brace yourself, reader – a Rite of Replication with kicker (3,0CIH). It slowly dawned on me that by playing three Harrow my opponent had activated his Pyromancer Ascension, and so had two copies of the Rite to play with. Some of the onlookers jumped out of their seats at this, yowling their delight, but not one of them seemed in the least surprised; nor did anyone congratulate my opponent personally.

The sun was nearly up, and if at this point I had wanted to concede I would have been unable to leave the table due to the throng of gamers pressing in on me, desperate to see their champion complete his game. The targets were Sphinx of Lost Truths and Greenweaver Druid. My opponent drew 15 cards – all but the last card of his library, I noted ominously – and then discarded 15, and to my shock I saw that in addition to the three lands that had been in his hand there were 12 copies of Mindless Null in the graveyard (3CIH). The cheers of the crowd grew in pitch and fervor, almost a song, a base, tribal chant. Khalni Gem was tapped and a Goblin Bushwhacker with kicker entered the battlefield, giving haste to the five Greenweaver Druids, every one of which was tapped (10M, 2CIH). My opponent revealed that one of the cards in his hands was a Primal Bellow, which targeted the Cobra and Goblin, giving each one +7/+7; the other, awfully, was Gigantiform. (0M, 0CIH). It came down enchanting the Cobra, and my opponent gleefully flipped over the last card of his library as a second copy to enchant the Goblin. He cracked his knuckles before announcing his attack with six different 4/5 flying Sphinxes and two 16/15 tramplers (curse you, power-toughness sublayers!).

Exhausted, I extended my hand to my opponent, and finally, his grin drew back, and he lunged at my exposed arm and sunk his teeth into my wrist. The crowd rose to a fever pitch, but my hearing began to fade as my opponent drank his fill. The last thing I heard was Monty’s dim shout that the sun had risen; after that I knew only darkness.

I awoke as a Child of the Night, petty trifles such as Candelabras of Tawnos no longer my concerns. I am no longer the hunted, but a hunter, fast and strong. And now, at last, I understand the glory of the man who defeated me, the Slaver, the Myth. Every night I sing his praises to the moon in the hope that one day he will return to bless me with his blood.

Maybe then, I can challenge him to a rematch.

In case you were wondering, the deck was:

40 cards – almost a believable deck. Try it out!