By Monique Garraud

6:15 a.m.—I snooze once and then shoot up and awake to prepare for a long day. I have just picked up Reid Duke’s latest Jund brew about two weeks prior, and 3-1-ed two FNMs with it—so I have a general idea of how it works, but I am nowhere near proficient. I’m hoping that these upcoming tournaments help me reach a better understanding of the deck’s interactions.

I get ready quickly and check my bag for the essentials: dice tin, Baneslayer Angel playmat, pad and pen. I check my phone for any last-minute cancellations, which tend to happen frequently, and am not surprised to see a cancellation text I was sent at 1 a.m. Well, at least there will be more room in the backseat now. I grab my deck box from the coffee table and add it to my bag along with a bottle of water and animal crackers for fuel, then rush to meet the guys.

7:10 a.m.—On my way to East Windsor, CT, for a PTQ organized by Ice Imports with Rob, George, and Lowry. With a 2.3-hour trip ahead of us, we pass the time chatting about Magic, listening to music, and focusing on not getting lost. There are a few match-ups that I’m not familiar with so we discuss some of the archetypes that are dominating the format in our area:

Reanimator— I haven’t had good luck winning this match-up. Game one is usually okay, with two maindeck Ground Seals doing a lot of work. Game two sideboarding usually looks something like this: +2 Slaughter Games, +1 Grafdigger’s Cage, -3 Liliana. I tend to watch my opponents sideboard—even more so when I play against this deck—because it gives so much away! Many reanimator players, who choose a mid-range sideboard plan against Jund, show it with their excessive sideboarding. If I see 5+ cards being switched out, I’ll change my own boarding around to include an extra Bonfire of the Damned or two.

Naya/American Midrange—Midrange decks have been popping up a lot at my local game store. We discussed the more popular color combinations, the latter of which Lowry is quite fond of. Liliana of the Veil and Rakdos’s Return do a good job at controlling their hand while Mizzium Mortars and Bonfire of the Damned takes care of the field, including that pesky Geist of Saint Traft, which has been popping up in a lot of brews. Game one is usually not bad, but game two can be tricky after they bring in difficult-to-deal-with threats such as Assemble the Legion. My sideboard plan is: +2 Duress, +2 Acidic Slime, +1 Rakdos’s Return, -1 Mizzium Mortars, -1 Ground Seal, -2 Tragic Slip, -1 Olivia Voldaren. I like the extra hand disruption to slow them down even further. I find that once this deck gets ahead, it’s very hard for my opponent to get back into the game. Acidic Slime is a good catch-all, dealing with opposing Kessig Wolf Runs, enchantments, and Witchbane Orbs.

Aristocrats—This is an interesting deck to play against. My version of Jund runs four Tragic Slips in its 75, so I’m more likely to have answers to threats such as any aristocrat or a Boros Reckoner. They can combo-kill with Blasphemous Act or Harvest Pyre pretty quickly so it’s important to keep an eye on your creature count and opponent’s graveyard when a Reckoner is on the field, or anytime a combo-kill window is open. Some versions also run Blood Artist and drain you with efficient creature sac outlets and token producers. I usually sideboard into this: +2 Bonfire of the Damned; +1 Mizzium Mortars; +2 Tragic Slip; -1 Garruk, Primal Hunter; -3 Liliana of the Veil; -1 Ground Seal. The sweepers are helpful for keeping good control of the board and the extra Slips are self-explanatory.

The trip is going quicker than expected. We take a bathroom break at a rest stop along I-95. The lines were pretty long due to hoards of students being released from their buses a few minutes earlier. I waited in line whilst listening to tweens compare leggings and giggle about cute boys.

We all meet in the lobby before heading back to the car, but we are still missing someone. After a few minutes, George comes sauntering out, donut in hand. I’m surprised it’s not a Pop-Tart; he loves his Pop-Tarts. He quickly apologizes for his tardiness and we continue on our journey.

9:28 a.m.—The venue is a converted barn, with lots of grass and trees all around; a nice contrast from the sparsely lined streets of Brooklyn. There’s a rusted metal dog named Pedro waiting to greet us at one of the best-run PTQs I’ve attended in a while. I enter the venue and am pleased by the ample space and baskets of candy on each table. There’s a section in the back that’s full of a large array of fruits including clementines and bananas, as well as a variety of juice and muffins for the players to enjoy gratis. Having been to over a dozen PTQs in the last year, I have to say that this is impressive.

I hop on the registration line and have a look around as I wait: Melissa DeTora, Reid Duke, Dave Shiels, Matt Costa, Christian Calcano, Max Tietze, Ari Lax… is this a PTQ or a GP day two? Instead of worrying about all the good players I may face, I pull out my playmat, make a few necessary changes and start registering my deck. It doesn’t seem like that long has passed when we’re called to the players meeting.

10:19 a.m.—I squeeze my way to the front of the line, locate my name and table, and head across the room. My decklist is complete yet I take it out to do a last-minute scan. I hear a hello and look up to see a familiar face sitting next to me. Mike kicked my butt at a Modern PTQ on Long Island in early January. He was piloting Kiki-Pod and I was on my favorite, Jund (pre-Bloodbraid Elf ban). We joke about how our initials are the same and I listen as he tells me how he helped his fiancé find her wedding dress. The competitive Magic community is small; you meet people from all over the country, sometimes the world. We are called to attention, the judge does his spiel, and, soon after, round one pairings are up.

10:36 a.m.—Round 1 vs. Naya Aggro. It’s Joshua’s first competitive tournament after playing casually for three years. Although he seems nervous playing in such a big event, he can’t contain his excitement at seeing some of the notable players in the room. Before we begin, his friend comes over to him and points out DeTora seated a few seats down from us. Joshua responds by pointing to the playmat he already has set aside for her to sign later. We get started with our two-game match. I mull to five game two but still manage to stabilize after drawing a lot of cards off of Garruk.

When the match is over, I look for Rob  so that we can go on our first coffee run of the day. The town is small with lots of fields. We drive about a quarter-mile up the road before hitting a Dunkin’ Donuts. I devour a breakfast sandwich while mulling over some of my round-one plays. Time passes quickly and soon after we return to the barn just in time for the start of the next round.

11:47 a.m.—Round 2 vs. four-color Peddler (1-0). My happy opponent is wearing a shirt which reads, “This is what awesome looks like.” Adam has an awesome hand-drawn playmat covered with a colony of gregarious monsters. We chat a bit about his love for drawing before our match gets underway. He is piloting an interesting list. Some core cards in his build include Thundermaw Hellkite, Huntmaster of the Fells, Evil Twin, Izzet Staticaster, Nightshade Peddler, and Farseek. I lose game one quickly to Thundermaw Hellkite. Game two was more interactive. I get a Garruk online on turn five, to his empty board. After a few turns, I have three beasts, I’m up three cards, Garruk is at three loyalty, and all my opponent has in play is a Peddler. EOT I lose all my beasts to a flashed Staticaster and then Thundermaw Hellkite comes down next turn. I Abrupt Decay the Staticaster and top-deck an Olivia Voldaren with ping mana to stabilize. Intent to trade with the Hellkite, he plays an Evil Twin copying his Hellkite and tapping my Olivia, spoiling my original plans. I take my first match loss but remain determined and mentally prepared for the next round.

12:59 p.m.—Round 3 vs. UB Zombies (1-1). I recognize Jared from previous tournaments. Earlier this year, we played at a PTQ in New Jersey. It was the end of round four and I was extremely hungry. Since the PTQ was in a mall, I figured it would be safe to run to the food court in the 20 minutes I had to spare. I ended up waiting in the food line for longer than expected, causing me to be late for round five; Jared had been my round-five opponent that day. After a judge issued me a game loss, I quickly lost the whole match to his well-played Melira Pod brew.

Now it’s time for my revenge. We shake hands cordially and prepare to duel. Our games are pretty lopsided. Game one he demolishes me quickly with one-drop’s. Game two I keep board control with multiple sweepers and my opponent concedes. Game three is very long, so Jund has the advantage. I take the victory on the back of a Thragtusk token and a Kessig Wolf Run which came down soon after. After our match, we sit and discuss the match-up, our sideboard choices, and his choice of playing blue instead of red. It’s an archetype I don’t encounter much with this particular build, including Duskmantle Seer, a card I’d love to see in action. I’ve always wondered if the card draw/life loss would help me or hurt me—but I’m betting on the former.

2:19 p.m.—Round 4 vs. Jund Aggro (2-1). New Hampshire native Trevor came to test out his own brew including Vampire Nighthawks. He tears apart my hand with Appetite for Brains and Duress game two but I come out victorious game three with the help of many board wipes.

3:31 p.m—Round 5 vs. BR Zombies (3-1). Mike is piloting BR Zombies featuring Thundermaw Hellkite and Hellrider. This deck is explosive and requires many instant-speed answers—which I can’t produce in a timely fashion. I die in two and am officially out of top 8 contention. I had a good ride but the results are as expected since I typically 3-1 FNMs with this list. I continue playing in hope of finding new plays and understanding different match-ups.

With the pressure off, I decide to say hello to Reid Duke and chat a bit about his brew. Since I last checked, he made a few changes including the addition of a Victim of Night over an Abrupt Decay main. I have to say, I’m usually not into idolizing other people due to a strong sense of knowing we are all merely human, but he is one of my favorite players, so meeting him in person was exciting. It was almost as exciting as randomly meeting Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa and David Ochoa outside of a McDonalds during the GP Atlantic City weekend!

4:46 p.m.—Round 6 vs. RG Aggro (3-2). This is an enjoyable match. Jake is running the usual Ghor-Clan Rampager, Domri Rade, and Strangleroot Geist list with the added tech of Scorned Villager over Gyre Sage as a two-drop accelerator.  Game one is pretty good for me: Abrupt Decay keeps his Domri and early aggression at bay while I set up a Garruk to take over the game. The 3/3s match or outclass most of his creatures and the card draw is very helpful midgame. I’m down a card game two and quickly get overrun by monsieur Wolfir Silverheart, a threat I have a low number of answers for. The game is good but his creatures edge out mine in power level by the end. Game three we both mull to five. Here’s my keep: Arbor Elf, 2X Farseek, Bonfire of the Damned, Kessig Wolf Run. In retrospect it’s a horrible keep, since it doesn’t do anything. His keep is—now get this—2x dual lands, 2x Flinthoof Boars, and Rampager. Guess who wins?

5:58 p.m.—Round 7 vs. Esper Control (3-3). This is Justin’s second PTQ and happens to be run by his LGS. He is a soft-spoken opponent with a calm demeanor. We play two medium-length games, the latter of which is taken over by the addition of five to six hand-disruption spells post-sideboard. I also board in Acidic Slimes, but I’m unsure if this is correct. Nephalia Drownyard is annoying but my opponent rarely activates it. If I was given the opportunity, I’d keep the Slimes in the board for this particular match.

6:55 p.m.—Round 8 vs. Junk Reanimator (4-3). Military veteran Trevor and I discuss his recent recovery from facial reconstructive surgery. He experienced a devastating injury overseas and is back in the States to recover. He points out a small scar and slight unilateral swelling, symptoms I would not have noticed if he didn’t mention it. But his face looks great; symmetrical and attractive, so I give kudos to Trevor’s plastic surgeon and thank him for his bravery.

When we begin our match, I put my opponent on BG aggro game one because all I see is Lotleth Troll, Predator Ooze, and Acidic Slime, before Olivia Voldaren handily takes over the game. It was a smart play by my opponent to hide his white mana, because I get punished by it in game two. I blindly play Liliana of the Veil into a Loxodon Smiter and get two-for-oned. The hand I kept was good against Golgari aggro but not against reanimator: Liliana of the Veil, Tragic Slip, Rakdos’s Return, Thragtusk. Game three, as much as I dig for a Ground Seal, a double-reanimated Angel of Serenity is too hard to overcome.

7:34p.m.—My day ends with a final record of 4-4. I gather up the guys and we prepare for our return trip. I learned many lessons today, played a few interesting match-ups, and enjoyed one of the best-run PTQs I’ve been to in a long time. Time for some rest before it all begins again tomorrow!

Monique Garraud is a Brooklyn native who started playing Magic in 2011. “Grinding It Out” is her weekly take on the trials, tribulations, and joys of being a competitive tournament player.

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