By Monique Garraud

9:17 a.m.—The alignment of my circadian rhythm is nice to experience during the week, but awful when I want to sleep in. It’s rare that I don’t have an alarm set on a Saturday morning—and, as much as I’d like to enjoy a few more hours of rest, trying to fall asleep now would be like a bright-eyed kid trying to go back to bed on Christmas morning.

The Dragon’s Maze prerelease is today and there’s no better way to describe the excitement felt by the prospect of opening up little gifts and playing with some new toys! After mulling over Hunter’s DGM commons review for some last-minute familiarization, I get ready for the day and head out to my favorite breakfast nook.

11:04 a.m.Scratch Bread is a local hole in the wall—literally. This walk-up bakery located on a bustling corner in Bedford–Stuyvesant is no stranger to long lines of a variety of people, from young hipsters to families alike. I enjoy an oatmeal chunky—a dense muffin packed full of oats, bananas, and currant—as Rob and I kill time before the 3 p.m. event.

We chat about the set and which guilds seem to be the strongest in a Limited sealed-deck format. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa has a comprehensive article on the guilds, which highlights their notable cards and potential synergies. Orzhov is my first choice, so although I hope for rares like Blood Baron of Vizkopa or Teysa, Envoy of Ghosts, I’d be happy with some solid commons such as Fatal Fumes, Tithe Drinker, and Ubul Sar Gatekeepers.

2:14 p.m.—The weather is beautiful, a high of 70ºF, clear and sunny. A group of kids whiz by on their scooters as we approach the ice-cream shop for a couple of milkshakes. Rob and I part ways and I head to my local game store excited to crack some packs! I hop off of the L train and identify a few familiar smiling faces as I approach Twenty Sided Store. We all line up outside and are handed a golden yellow, soft-wedge-shaped box as we enter the store. The clear-faced packaging displays my first-choice guild, Orzhov, on one side, with its allied guild, Azorius, occupying the other.

3:09 p.m.—David is across from me enjoying a refreshing Diet Coke and admiring his Selesnya/Gruul allied packs. Twenty Sided Store co-owner Lauren makes the necessary announcements and gives us the OK to proceed shortly thereafter. As excited as I am to see my pool, I can’t help looking around as others gleefully sort through their cards. The room is filled with the rustling of packs and excited oohs and ahhs as people open some pretty cool cards. To my right, Sean, in a fitting Dimir T-shirt, is eyeing a strong Dimir pool headed by a Stolen Identity and deciding his potential splash color(s). Neil and I give our advice but he eventually goes into straight blue-black. With time running out, I quickly turn my focus to my own pool. After about 20 minutes of sorting/building, I end up with this:

Creatures (17)
1 Gutter Skulk
1 Keening Apparition
1 Syndic of Tithes
2 Tithe Drinker
2 Haaza Snare Squad
2 Rakdos Drake
1 Sunspire Griffin
1 Viashino Firstblade
1 Azorius Justiciar
1 Carnage Gladiator
1 Syndicate Enforcer
1 Maw of the Obzedat
1 Steeple Roc
1 Boros Battleshaper

Spells (6)
1 Blind Obedience
1 Executioner’s Swing
1 Fatal Fumes
1 One Thousand Lashes
1 Warleader’s Helix
1 Punish the Enemy

Lands (17)
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Boros Guildgate
1 Orzhov Guildgate
6 Plains
6 Swamp
2 Mountain

I look over my Orzhov-splash-red build once more, admiring the somewhat low curve—but questioning whether the red is a strong enough splash. Excited to test it out, David and I play a quick game which he quickly takes over with a well-timed Advent of the Wurm.

Parings are up and I’m playing Palakalaka, its time to boogie!

3:47 p.m.—Round 1 vs. Phil. Phil sits in front of me and says, “I bet you called me Palakalaka when you saw my name.” This couldn’t be truer. I started playing Magic toward the end of 2011 and Phil was one of the first people to show me the basic mechanics of the game. Now, a year and a half later, I’m excited to show him how far I’ve come!

Phil proudly displays his Ral Zarek pull, which is unfortunately not in his colors, and we roll to begin. I’m on the play with an aggressive opening hand including Tithe Drinker and Haazda Snare Squad. They soon prove to be powerful creatures, allowing me to quickly take over game one. Game two was more dynamic: Supreme Verdict gave my opponent an early advantage while a Sin Collector + Dramatic Rescue combo steals some key removal spells from my hand. Nevertheless, I am able to land a Boros Battleshaper which, despite a major misplay, single-handedly wins me game two.

4:51 p.m.—Round 2 vs. Stuart (1-0). This Brooklyn native takes his time as he performs a special cutting ritual, making sure to put the top card of my deck on the bottom before presenting. He is base Rakdos with a white and green splash. I’m excited to see Tithe Drinker in my hand since it performed so well last round, draining my opponent at least five to six times and getting in for a bit of life-linked damage on top of that. Stuart must have known its power ahead of time because he casts Loss (al la Profit//Loss) to kill it immediately. I draw into another one and game one ends in victory for me soon thereafter. Game two is swift: I summon a tag team of an unleashed Rakdos Drake followed by an Assault Griffin which leads to an unstoppable air assault ending the round with my second win.

6:12 p.m.—Round 3 vs. Sean (2-0). I know Sean’s pool is good because he was seated next to me during deck construction. On top of the Stolen Identity, his sweet deck features a Grisly Spectacle, Stab Wound, Pontiff of Blight, Balustrade Spy, and his personal MVP, Haunter of Nightveil. He wins the match in three of the most exciting games of the day.

7:06 p.m.—Round 4 vs. Juan (2-1). My last-round opponent made the journey from the Bronx to Brooklyn to check out Dragon’s Maze. We agree on a prize split as he gears up to put his Naya build to the test. But on my side of the board, multiple extort creatures, One Thousand Lashes, and a Maw of the Obzedat to complicate combat math overcomes his early batallioned, Boros Mastiff–fueled aggression for the match win. I spend a few minutes watching other matches and getting a feel for the interactions and synergies Dragon’s Maze has too offer.

7:54 p.m.—(3-1). My bag is packed and I say a few goodbyes, high-five-ing a few buddies on the way out, and head back to my apartment. Upon my arrival, Mimi, perched atop her play post, rolls over and calls for a bit of attention. Her innocent green eyes do more than enough convincing to garner some affection.

I’m in high spirits with a final record of 3-1 and my magical Christmas is over after a long and satisfying day. Time to put away the new toys for now, but no worries—I’ll be playing with them again soon enough.

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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