7:45 a.m. Road trip! I’m very excited for today’s PTQ because I get to travel with my favorite road-tripping buddies. After a quick stop at the bagel spot for a freshly baked everything and a cup of coffee, Rob, Matt, Josh, and I embark on a 1.5-hour journey full of jokes and laughter and a little bit of Magic talk. I made a few changes to my deck since the last tournament:

Jund Midrange

Creatures (12)
Huntmaster of the Fells
Olivia Voldaren
Sire of Insanity

Spells (23)
Bonfire of the Damned
Pillar of Flame
Abrupt Decay
Tragic Slip
Ground Seal
Mizzium Mortars
Rakdos’s Return
Garruk, Primal Hunter
Liliana of the Veil
Rakdos Keyrune

Land (25)
Blood Crypt
Dragonskull Summit
Kessig Wolf Run
Overgrown Tomb
Rootbound Crag
Stomping Ground
Woodland Cemetery
Sideboard (15)
Vampire Nighthawk
Tragic Slip
Ground Seal
Mizzium Mortars
Rakdos’s Return
Liliana of the Veil
Slaughter Games
Vraska the Unseen
Deadbridge Chant
Sire of Insanity

I moved the Vampire Nighthawks to the board because they didn’t make any sense main. In a matchup where the early aggression is an issue, Abrupt Decay is cheaper and just does a better job at buying you time to drop your Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusks. It’s also a very efficient card, getting rid of common threats like Boros Reckoner, Advent of the Wurm tokens, and Liliana of the Veil.

I shifted my sideboard a bit since—although still prevalent—I’ve been seeing less Junk Reanimator decks floating around, so I felt that four Ground Seals in the 75 was just too many slots, shaving down one. I also cut one Duress, just as a local meta read as well as already having many answers to control: 2X Sire of Insanity, 2X Rakdos’s Return, 3X Liliana of the Veil, and 2X Slaughter Games.

9:30 a.m. We arrive at a National Guard Armory in Mt. Holly, NJ, with enough time to fill out our decklists and take a look around. The venue is a converted gym complete with basketball hoops and scales. The walls are lined with National Guard memorabilia and the card vendors in the back, accompanied by a lovely military-style Hummer as their backdrop.


I run into Richard, my final-round opponent from the Star City Open I attended a few weeks back. He can barely contain his excitement as he announces that he had bowled his first 300 this past weekend! I congratulate him and listen as he recounts the events of his league’s final tournament. He recalls a different feeling coming over him after he completes his ninth strike, lots of pressure coupled with an unbreakable innate sense of confidence. After hitting that last strike his team explodes with joy and rewards him with a night filled with Wild Turkey whiskey.

Squid playmat

10:25 a.m.—Round 1 vs. RG Aggro. My first-round opponent by far has the best playmat in this 150-player event. I walk over to greet Austin as he pile-shuffles on his school-bus-yellow mat, which prominently displays his self-drawn armored giant squid. He wins the die roll but ultimately cannot fight through two Thragtusks. I make a three-card swap heading into game two—+2 Vampire Nighthawk, +1 Mizzium Mortars, -1 Sire of Insanity, -1 Garruk, Primal Hunter, -1 Dreadbore—but my opponent never drew into a second land after a mull to five, so the round ends in my favor.

11:31 a.m.—Round 2 vs. WBR Zombie Aristocrats (1-0). Anthony was all smiles despite being dressed in all black (sunglasses included!)  This Albany native made a 3.5-hour drive down to NJ to test out his brew. We have a close three games where he ends up taking the match win at one life.


Round 3 vs. Four-Color Reanimator (1-1) also ends in defeat due to a miscalculated play by me. My board is Ground Seal, Thragtusk, and a 3/3 token, with a Slaughter Games in hand. Mike has six lands and three cards in hand, and is at three life. I name Angel of Serenity when I cast Slaughter Games, thinking I want to prevent him from clearing my board—but he instead top decks a Thragtusk the next turn, providing him with an efficient blocker and stabilizing his life total. After that I was unable to build a board presence greater than his and he eventually wins with an Olivia Voldaren.


1:35 p.m.—Round 4 vs. GB Control (1-2). Manohar is an aspiring veterinarian and recent Rutgers grad. We spend a little time chatting about science as he proudly displays his liquid nitrogen burns that happened during a recent experiment. We roll to get the match underway. He’s piloting an interesting list featuring Mutilate, Desecration Demon, Garruk Relentless, and Thragtusk. I was able to keep constant pressure on him and use all of my spot removal to maintain board control. After a few long games, I win the match in two and go in search of some food.

The organizers provide pizza, soda, and snacks for the players since the venue is fairly remote. I quickly finish up a cheese slice before beginning Round 5 vs. American Control (2-2). I don’t remember much from the match other than my opponent was using a cerulean notepad with little pink jellyfish on it to record our life totals, as he handily beats me with Boros Reckoner and Angel of Serenity.

Round 6 vs. Esper Control (2-3) goes very quickly when Chris’s two Nephalia Drownyard and one Glacial Fortress hand doesn’t draw the crucial lands it needs to deal with a flipping Huntmaster of the Fells.

armory bathroom

Gun magazines and porcupine stuffed animals adorn the bathroom storage shelf. As exciting as reading about the .45 M1911 pistol may be, with only two rounds left, I decide to take a quick walk with Rob around the Armory to clear my head. Round 7 vs. Naya Humans (3-3) was off to a fast start for my opponent Ben. This Baltimore native gave me a run for my money when he quickly dropped me down to one life by turn four with the help of Mayor of Avabruck and Frontline Medic. Señor Thragtsuk came down in the nick of time to stabilize me long enough to win the game. Game two is a little less exciting as my opponent floods and I stumble on a few land drops but luckily steal the game with Huntmaster of the Fells.

5:38 p.m.—Round 8 vs. Junk Midrange (4-3). Final round, not as focused as I can be—fatigue is starting to set in. Austin is a high-school senior from NJ who happened to play Matt the round before. Olivia Voldaren does a lot of work pinging off mana dorks and Lingering Souls tokens, eventually leading to a match win. We sign the match slip and I wish this future math major luck in college as I pack up my stuff, very ready to start heading home.

(5-3). Not a bad day overall. I think I plan on keeping my deck as-is for the next event—or, who knows, maybe I’ll try something completely different next time.

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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