September 18, 2022
Magic: The Gathering
travelling, Team CFBUltimateGuard
It was always our habit to rent a place for the week preceding a Pro Tour. Since players scattered all across the world comprised our team, meeting in a central location near the tournament site made a lot of sense for effective practicing.
It’s not always easy - and not always affordable - to find an inner-city rental big enough for 12 or more people to live and game. Sometimes, we needed to get creative. Once we ended up with a cluster of AirBnB’s in New York City. Another time we rented a castle outside of Dublin, Ireland. Whatever the case, we tended to wind up in unique and interesting spaces. I’d usually start with what I termed the “Narnia check,” opening doors to all of the closets and furniture, you know... just in case.
Perhaps the most interesting of all of our rentals came prior to Pro Tour Brussels, Belgium. Utterly thwarted in our quest to find a rental in the city, we gradually expanded our search further and further until we finally found a big enough place an hour west of Brussels.
In the middle of nowhere
In time immemorial, the grounds had been the bustling home of an order of Norbertine monks. In the late middle ages, their ranks started to decline, and the monastery along with it. By 2015 what remained consisted of a central courtyard surrounded by half a dozen crumbling stone buildings, and beyond that, some streams and woodlands.
One building belonged to the groundskeeper, a kind-looking man with a big white dog, both of whom spoke little English. Another building was rented as our kitchen and dining space, and a third was where we all lived. Our home was heated by a wood burning stove. Each day, you’d hope to not be the first person awake, since the house would be freezing, and there’d be no hot water until someone was brave enough to get a fire going in the morning.
This is where our story takes place, after five days living in the ruins of this old monastery. Understandably suffering from a bit of cabin fever, most of the team jumped at the groundskeeper’s offer for a tour of the compound. My mind, however, was fixated on the Sultai Whip of Erebos deck I was working on, so I skipped the tour in order to continue my marathon set of games against Patrick. Eventually, he too became burnt out and retreated into his bedroom to do some writing, leaving me on my own.
Wanting to make the best of things, I decided that I’d go out for a jog through the surrounding woodlands. Maybe I’d get some inspiration, Magic-related or otherwise, and in any case, it couldn't hurt to clear my head. I put on my sneakers and headed out, past the stone buildings, across the stream, and onto the hilly, forest path.
A doorway into the dark
Sooner or later, I cut left off the path and found a clearing surrounded on three sides by trees, and on the fourth by a small hill. Carved into the hillside was an opening covered by a heavy iron door, rusted by years - centuries, surely - of exposure to the elements. Hanging from the door was a chain and a massive padlock - open. The door was ajar.
With some exertion, I pulled the door open and walked into a dark room with stone floor and walls. The sun shone in through the open door, but the light didn’t penetrate more than a few steps in. I flipped on my cell phone’s meager flashlight, which revealed an opening into another room a few paces ahead.
Stepping down into the second chamber, I became aware of new sensory experiences, very different from my pleasant April jog. The first thing I noticed was a dampness in the air; the second was a distinct smell of mold; the third was the unmistakable sound of countless bats fluttering from wall to wall.
At this point, my flashlight allowed me to see roughly a foot in front of my face, and everything else was pitch black. I felt my way carefully ahead until I could see the outline of an opening into a third chamber, which I approached before pausing.
My cell phone’s flashlight could not penetrate the darkness of this third chamber at all. I could see neither wall, nor floor, nor anything but deep blackness. Not usually one to shy away from the unknown, I stood for a moment thinking that something wasn’t quite right. Maybe it would be best to return later, with a stronger flashlight or with a second intrepid adventurer.
No. Unwilling to be daunted, I moved to enter the third chamber, but something froze me mid-step. A gust of wind came from inside the third chamber, blowing past me and through the doorway I stood in. Maybe it was only my nerves, but it seemed to carry with it a faint voice too, whose words I couldn’t quite make out, yet whose message was clear: go back.
Taking two steps backwards, I turned and half-ran towards the iron door and the beam of sunlight. I emerged, returned to the path, and continued my jog, having neither the stomach nor the desire to look back towards the iron door.
Cherishing the light of day like never before, I stayed out for more than an hour before returning home to the monastery. There I found my teammates returned, and several heated matches of Standard underway. I asked how their tour of the grounds had been and Huey, who was spectating rather than playing, answered me.
“The tour was pretty cool. The most interesting part was seeing the old ice house that they used to use in the 1700’s. Before there were refrigerators, they’d cut ice from lakes and rivers in the winter and store it there through the summer. The groundskeeper didn’t let us go inside, but it’s this crypt-looking place through a door on the side of a hill. One of the rooms has a 60 foot sheer drop, and that’s where they used to pack the ice. Craziest of all, there was a worker two years ago who fell in, broke both of his legs, and died before they found him four days later.”
No one asked where I’d been that day, and I didn’t care to mention it. I spent the rest of the night thinking about how I was a single step away from suffering the same dark, lonely fate as that unfortunate Belgian worker. But there’s something else that still causes me to lose sleep, even seven years later: How can a gust of wind come from a closed, stone room?
runs in the family for Reid. When Reid was five, his mom came home one
day with two Magic starter packs for him and his brother Ian. They both
hardly knew the rules but they muddled through as best they could with
the rules inserts. 26 years later, Reid’s now one of Magic’s most
successful and respected players in the world. Learn more about Reid.