Hero of Bladehold by Austin Hsu
If you need to get up to speed on this contest, you can check out the previous installments:
Ready? Then let’s dive into the work of our third winner!
The first line of an e-mail—my introduction to the disarming writing style of grinder Lucas Paletta. It made me smile, and as soon as I read the beginning of his story, I knew he had nothing to worry about. Sometimes, you’re reading and are busy thinking, “Wow, this is really good,” the whole time. While not necessarily a bad thing, it does mean that you haven’t fully immersed in the story—you’re still sitting at your laptop, in your own body, acting as a critic rather than as a participant. Not the case here.
Rafiq of the Many by Michael Komarck
This is a Rafiq tale that reads like a good crawl—you know: You and your party are at an Inn . . . the feel of the writing is warm and buoyant, and even though it’s all about Rafiq, we can easily picture the colorful ensemble cast. And Lucas even found a way to make the stuffy and staid Bant dueling practices a little more modern and accessible—let’s just say I could picture this final confrontation on the pitch or on the ice. I was especially taken with Lucas’s practical but artfully drawn vision of just what a Runed Stalactite does.
I hope you enjoy Lucas’s interview answers and his interpretation of Rafiq in The Quest for the Holy Relic.
Lucas is a Magic player from Buenos Aires, Argentina with a few Top 8 finishes in local Opens and Pro Tour Qualifiers and is an occasional contributor to www.mtgmulligan.net. When he is not slinging cardboard or writing about cardboard-slinging theory, he works as a hunchbacked assistant in a geochemical lab, complains about the weather a lot, and writes heartfelt poems on people's faces when they fall asleep.
What moment with Magic first got you hooked?
I must've been nine or ten when I began buying this little TCG magazine every month, but it wasn't because of Magic. Since I have memory, I played some form of card game, from Pokémon to whatever. At that point, I played another game called Myths and Legends, a Chilean TCG based around ancient mythology from all over the world, a premise impossible for a kid to resist. I still read every Magic article in that magazine, though, and I was immediately in love. The mechanics of the game, the art, even the way the cards were redacted—everything about Magic was immensely better than anything I'd ever seen. But all my friends still played the other game, so it was impossible for me to quit that and start playing Magic, and it wasn't until I was fifteen when I changed schools and met new, arguably better, friends who taught me how to play. But it was in those little magazines where I learned all the basic theoretical stuff: what's a beatdown deck, what's a control deck, how to build them, how to play around certain cards, how to attack a format from a new angle, and all the good stuff that makes a competitive person irremediably hooked to the game.
What are a couple of your favorite Commander decks? How’d they come into being?
I began playing Commander when it was called EDH, and it was a judge's format. My first general was Numot, the Devastator, partly because I thought you could only play Dragons as generals and mostly because I love land destruction. I was later sat down by my fellow players and kindly informed that you're not supposed to blow up everyone's lands and take all the fun away from the game, and that cards like Armageddon, Cataclysm, and Wildfire are big NOs for the collective experience. I have since then played decks with Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind, Captain Sisay, Sliver Queen, and Karn Silver Golem, but none of them compares to the fun that was obliterating the board every turn.
Ajani Vengeant by Wayne Reynolds
If you could steal an item of clothing or an accessory off any planeswalker and it keep it for yourself,
what would you choose, and why?
I first thought about taking a giant weapon like Ajani's axe, for example, but then I realized how dangerous that would be when beer started flowing, so I'll have to go with Ashiok's vaporous head in order to prevent such nonsense, but I don't know if that counts as an accessory.
Forced into exile on New Phyrexia, which three Magical items do you take with you?
Whispersilk Cloak by Dan Bader
What’s your number-one suggestion for improving Magic in a Vorthos-cares area?
(Art, culture, social/community issues, books, comics, etc.)
Hire the Italian master vignettista Loris Z (http://vestidodecobras.blogspot.com.ar) and begin making the graphic novels the game deserves.
You can ask for (and be guaranteed to receive) one artifact as a holiday gift from Karn. What do you ask for?
I want a Goblin War Wagon so I can end illegal street racing by winning all the illegal street racing.
Say you got the dream job of writing a creative piece (like an e-book) for Magic.
Which plane would be your preferred setting, and what would you write into the plot given free reign?
Actually, that story about the Mirran revolution sounds pretty cool to me.
Life-or-death question; you have to choose: What’s your favorite card art ever?
Rob Alexander's Oboro, Palace in the Clouds, followed by every Rob Alexander land ever.
The Quest for the Holy Relic
I was the fifth member of Rafiq’s expedition, but I wouldn’t be the last. Since then, good and bad memories alike have become ghosts, and I am the place of their hauntings.
Rafiq was never a man of many words. Born the son of a baker, he powered through the ranks of the rigid society of his world by sheer might of cleverness and lance, until he wore as many sigils of honor on his chest as were wild beasts in the jungles of Jund.
“I heard by word of a friend that you know the ways of planeswalking,” he said to me when I met him. No greetings, no courtesies, straight to the point. He didn’t even lower his voice as to protect the confidentiality of his business.
But to his credit, it was impossible for him to go unnoticed. We were in the filthiest tavern in the so-called Buffoon Street, in the city of Akrasa. The sight of a knight like him in such a place, with his bulky, shining armor, flanked by his party—a squire, an artificer, a sorceress, and a sort of tiny homunculus two feet high with a huge eye—wasn’t exactly something one might overlook.
But here in Bant, the “most nefarious and sinister” were merely fellows who did not wish you good luck when it was your turn to roll. And I could live with that.
When Rafiq showed up and casually spoke to me about planeswalking, I almost fell off my chair in surprise. “Who told you such a thing?” I asked.
There weren’t many people who could know, really. I was just passing through Alara, and almost nobody knew me very well. But then, I remembered Elspeth and promptly accused her in my mind. I had met her, as so often happens with important people, by mere chance, during one of the many tournaments Bant likes to celebrate all the time.
She had won, and I, as always, had lost. However, it was nice to meet another Planeswalker, especially one who didn’t want to kill me, brainwash me, dissect me for further study, or feed me to his insane Dragon God. We had a good time drinking tea and chatting under the warm shadows of the palm trees.
Elspeth left the plane soon after the war started and the skies filled with battling angels, angry spirits, demons, and dragons of every color possible. The whole plane became the latest battleground of a struggle between cosmically powerful wizards, who, as rumor told, had been on each other’s throats for centuries. Elspeth just wanted peace, and she decided to seek it elsewhere, in a place called Theros—a world where heroes abound and the gods walk among mortals. Unfortunately for her, so do hydras. Poor fool.
“It does not matter,” said Rafiq. “Is it true?”
“Couldn’t we discuss this in private?”
“We are at war, Planeswalker; there is no time for quibbling. My friend told me of a weapon, a sacred relic, inside a cave in some distant place called Lorwyn, capable of saving this world from the mad mages who besiege it. Can you help us get there?”
I told him I couldn’t take anyone with me when I planeswalk, but apparently, Rafiq’s artificer had already crafted an etherium ship capable of traveling among worlds, and they only needed me to power its core. I decided to join them, even if it was just to see what would happen.
The journey through the æther while aboard this vessel was surprisingly like a pleasant stroll in the park. Soon, we were walking across the golden fields of Lorwyn to meet our merfolk guide, who agreed to take us in his raft and show us the way into this cave Rafiq had spoken about.
This isn’t a bad place to move in when I retire . . . I thought, enjoying the distant, galloping echoes of the great stags used as mounts in elvish hunts. I could even teach some manners to one of this boggarts and keep it as a pet.
Our trip didn’t last very long because, soon, the river began to ascend in a perfectly vertical fashion, like a reverse waterfall, and behind it, we found the grotto we were looking for.
“Caves of Velis Veil—here we are,” said the boatman.
“Wait here,” said Rafiq. “We will not take long”
“All right,” said the merfolk. “But I’m charging you for the wait.”
The cave smelled strangely sweet. As we ventured forward, several pairs of eyes began to glow in the darkness behind us. They soon came out of the shade and were all around us, forming a circle—weird blobs of creatures, mimicking awkwardly the shapes of turtles, birds, and other animals. Their faces were angry and menacing, but Rafiq was fearless. He rejected my proposal to bestow to him my trusty and fashionable armadillo cloak, and he unsheathed his giant blade instead.
We all prepared spells, but before anyone else could move an inch, our commander had already taken a swing. He wasn’t aiming for the creatures, though. Instead, he slashed a stalactite clean from the ceiling, caught it mid-air, and held it high for everyone to see.
The cave-creatures holding us at bay suddenly beheld Rafiq in awe, and soon, they were all bowing to him as though he were their long-lost king.
As we left the grotto, I could swear I saw Rafiq’s face change. His eyes didn’t seem quite right: big, yellow, with long black pupils like those of a snake. But that only lasted for a second, and then he was back to normal. The cave-dwelling mimics followed us as we exited the cave, and they were the first of many.
Everywhere we went, across Lorwyn and across the Multiverse, Rafiq gathered followers thanks to this stalactite (of friendship?) and became known by a different name in each new place we traveled.
When we visited Konda, Lord of Eiganjo Castle to shelter ourselves from a starstorm, he immediately offered us his sword and said Rafiq was the finest samurai he’d ever seen and he would gladly follow him into battle.
We returned to Alara, and the planeswalker war still raged. The land had suffered severely. The cities of Esper were almost completely leveled. Half of the Nayan forests lay in ashes, and even the dead land of Grixis had smoking craters where the crumbling necropoleis used to be . . . but at least that was an improvement.
We all gathered in the garden of the last standing temple in Akrasa to ponder our next move. Everyone soon turned to Rafiq, who was as quiet as always.
“What are your orders, commander?” asked the queen of the Joraga elves.
“Everyone will stay back, save me,” said Rafiq. “I shall strike right through the enemy’s heart.”
“What? Just you?” I said. “If we’re only going to send one, we might as well send the giant green colossus, right? After all, he is the one that can't be touched by dark magic.”
The giant green beast (made from smaller green beasts), nodded in agreement with all of his little faces.
“We are in Bant now,” said Rafiq,” and our long-standing combat traditions, the only thing that separates us from those savages, demand a single duelist. I will be the one swinging the sword, but every single being here will aid me, in any way they possibly can. That is the way of the sigiled knight.”
He began to walk toward the door, but he suddenly turned toward me, smiled—the only time I ever saw him smile—and then said, “Now would be a good time for you to let me borrow that armadillo cloak of yours.”
And then he was out, followed by local soldiers who, already used to champion-based warfare, stood in formation and began the customary cheering and chanting.
And it’s Rafiq! It’s Rafiq!
Rafiq of the people,
who puts everyone to shame.
When he swings his sword,
he takes down a foe,
and then he scores a goal.
With his left, with his right,
With his hand or with his knee.
He’s the best in the world.
And then we all sang together. With every verse and every enchantment we cast upon him, he seemed to grow bigger and bigger, as tall as a mountain, and, with the tiny homunculus sitting happily on his giant shoulder, he charged into battle with unflinching courage and his trusty stalactite in hand.
“’Protect the queen! Destroy the invader!’ That is what they’re saying.”
And even without the aid of those creatures, he was unstoppable, trampling over endless ranks of zombies and animated constructs. Knocking down huge dragons out of the sky with swings of his weapon. And the warring wizards didn’t stand idly as Rafiq crushed them—they hurled everything they could at him: fire, bolts of lightning, dark blades of doom, and even goblins. But it all went straight to his greaves, which acted like a lightning rod, and every one of their attempts was useless. Pathetically useless.
It was Rafiq’s finest hour, and then I knew I could sit down with the queen of the elves and drink a cup of tea—the world was definitely going to be all right.