You know, being a part of the Magic: The Gathering community has been one of the more surprising aspects of my middle-aged life. The kindness. The generosity. The humor. The sheer creativity and intelligence. Recently, one of the writers on this site, Travis Norman, who’s also the one who inspired me to begin writing about Magic, heard I was into another Dr. Richard Garfield card game, KeyForge.

He’d had some unopened decks lying around, wasn’t going to do anything with them, and would happily pass them on if I wanted them. I surely did. He also asked, off-handedly, knowing I’m a student of black cards, if there was anything I needed. I said I was always up for the odd card, the older and more neglected, the better. I figured he’d toss in a few Coldsnap or Odyssey cards. Some fun but far from essential cards for a commander deck. I was wrong. Travis sent a stack–easily 100 cards, though I’ve not counted exactly–in an Ultra Pro tin. I opened it like a treasure hunter stumbling onto a secret pirate cave.

The tin was insane. Not only was it full of killer cards and some excellent pieces, it had cards that I’d never gotten around to getting and needed. Cards that I’d wanted to own but never bothered to buy, order, or trade for. Travis’s tin of black cards was like a care package for a swamp-hearted fool.

A tiny sampling of the cards that were inside: Bog Initiate, Demonic Tutor, Underworld Connections, the beautiful Swamp art from Lorwyn (my favorite), Sidisi, Undead Vizier, Peat Bog, Balustrade Spy, Annihilate, Undertaker, and a goold ole Unholy Strength. There are just too many to list.

For me, as someone who’s still sorting through the immense backcatalog of cards–not just black, but all colors–this magical tin was that type of trove one always hears younger brothers receiving from older brothers or the kind one dreams of stumbling upon in a thrift store or inheriting from a friend.

But the cards weren’t a random assortment. I started to notice a pattern. (As is normal for an all black deck.) There were lots of cards that put creatures into the graveyard. Cards that bring creatures out of the graveyard and into the hand. Lots of buffs from sacrificing creatures. It’s sort of a  reanimation deck in the making. All these cards. They almost have to make a commander deck. But who’s the commander?

And as I sorted through them, I realized what I had to do. What I was going to do. I was going to take the bulk of them and turn it into a Volrath-themed commander deck. Travis had already laid the blueprint. Unknowingly or not. After my past few articles on my obsession with the Volrath lore and cards like Unmask, I felt it made sense to have Volrath, the Fallen as my commander. Then I could chuck the deck full of huge black creatures and discard them to Volrath’s ability. So I threw in a Spirit of the Night and hope to discard it to the ability that lets me add the mana cost as +X/+X. That turns Volrath from 6/4 to 15/13. That’s a heck of a buff.

Yes, black’s main character is one of sacrifice for power. But Volrath’s story is also a tragic one. The sacrifice of everything he cared for and turning to that which would at last accept him. Or the version of him it wanted.

Finally, Travis also sent me a Yargle playmat. And I love it because I do run a Yargle and Multani deck now. And one of the last cards he included was an off-color one: Rancor. Guess I should get around to adding it in that Yargle deck.

Just kidding. I already added it last week. Wanna play?

Kyle Winkler (he/him) is a teacher and fiction writer. While he was pre-teen when Magic: The Gathering was released, he didn’t start playing until recently. He’s the author of the cosmic horror novella (The Nothing That Is), a collection of short stories (OH PAIN), and a novel (Boris Says the Words). His favorite card is a toss up between Crypt Rats and Oubliette

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