Words and whispers rippled throughout the SS Mary, Queen of Steam at the speed only rifle bullets and gossip possess. Before long, curious onlookers appeared in the upper galleries of the Mary‘s luxuriant gambling parlor.

The two master card sharks who had been on the boat since the beginning of its river cruise had finally sat down to play a high-stakes game.

On one side sat E. Jubal Jackson, whippet-thin and resplendent in a starched white plantation suit and bow tie, lips pursed between carefully-groomed mustache and goatee, eyes shining behind pince-nez spectacles. On the other glowered Lee B. Bragg, his clothing roughspun but clean and in immaculate repair and his hair gathered into a great swept-back mane over his tanned and unshaven face. Both had brought their own decks rather than chancing the house decks provided by the Mary, and there were already cards on the table.

Jackson squinted over his hand, carefully considering his next move, before delicately withdrawing a card and placing it on the table. “I tap three black mana cards to play Onyx Minotaur,” he said in a Carolina drawl. ” Your Quicksilver Cavalier takes three hit points of damage and is destroyed.”

Soft gasps rippled through the viewing gallery. Bragg snorted and rummaged through is own deck. “I counter with Resurrection of the Ancient Scholar,” he snarled in a voice flecked with bayou Cajun. “My Quicksilver Cavalier returns to play and is immune to damage for one turn.”

This development perplexed Jackson for a moment, but after adjusting his tie he withdrew a card and laid it down with the utmost care. This time, the gasps and crowd noise were clearly audible: the blue-bordered card and its Dali-esque skeletal denizens were distinctive and instantly recognizable.

“It’s a Time Walk card!”

“One of the Power Nine!”

“The second-rarest Magic: The Gathering card in existence!”

“It’s banned in Legacy and Commander tournaments!”

But card games on the SS Mary, Queen of Steam were no-holds-barred Vintage games, and the card was fully legal. “I play Time Walk,” Jackson said with a lip-curling smirk. “I take an extra turn.”

Two turns in a row, especially with Jackson’s powerful Black mana deck, was enough to reduce most of Bragg’s landscapes, creatures, and enchantments to rubble. Surely, the famously cutthroat riverboat Magic gambler had met his match this time.

But Bragg was coolly confident. He added chips to the pot, and played a card of his own.

The crowd wend wild. “Timetwister! He played a Timetwister!”

Indeed, Bragg had laid down a Timetwister, which required both men to return their cards to their deck to re-shuffle and re-deal. In an instant, his extraordinarily rare card–rivaling Time Warp in rarity and price, and banned from most tournament play in the same way–had leveled the playing field. His next move, though, raised the crowd’s energy level to that of a frenzy.

“Black Lotus,” said Bragg. “La fleur noire. I add three White mana to my mana pool.”

That play, with the rarest and most valuable Magic card in existence, led to absolute pandemonium. In a fell swoop, Bragg had eliminated Jackson’s advantage and given it to himself.

Most players, staring down a Black Lotus, would have despaired. Jackson, though, was stony. “May I see that card?” he asked.

“Of course,” grinned Bragg. “You’ll find it’s authentic.”

Reaching across the table, Jackson appeared to move toward the card…and then fiercely seized Bragg’s wrist. A card tumbled out–another rare Power Nine, an Ancestral Recall.

“Cheater.” The word was hissed with malice and implied threat.

In a lightning movement, Bragg reversed the hold and shook out Jackson’s sleeve. An ultra-rare Power Nine Moxen, the Mox Sapphire, flitted to the table. “Look who’s talking, mon ami,” growled Bragg.

In seconds, the table had been upended, rare and common Magic cards flurrying about, as both men drew derringers from concealed inner pockets.

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