Ahhh. There’s nothing like the results of a Pro Tour that really defines what the top decks in the field will be for the coming Standard season. When I can bundle up all my renewed interests in the Standard format — my Temur monsters deck I had bent over for weeks — along with last months dirty laundry and shove it deep into the sour hamper of my Magic identity. Yes sir, it seems nothing takes the edge off a new, unsolved format still teething in the underground like the smooth scrolling pages of Top 8 Decklists. It is Friday morning and I am brushing my teeth to the trumpet blasts of Abzan, of Siege Rhino, of winning tonights FNM with not a poisonous or nagging presence that lurks within, telling me i’m wrong, that I chose unwisely.

And it was supposed to be so easy. I had already bought the tickets, assembled the device to its specifications, understood the beast and smote its ruin beneath my feverish punch-out from work shortly after six pm, just one hour until round one pairings go up. There I am, bowling over a tired crowd dead-set for the Friday subways of midtown manhattan. “It’ll be good to get some sleep tonight,” I murmured to myself as I slunk down into the seat on an express train narrowly caught, “This is gonna be fun.” I had the best deck, the one that won the Pro Tour in the hands of Ari Lax. A crisp 75 still charged, not two weeks old, still the deck to beat. The train screamed through its tunnels as it carried me to Brooklyn, a scream I freely and happily associated with my opponents death knell. I was going to win.

There had to be examples of similar men throughout history who had such emotional and spiritual states shortly before their monstrous defeat. If I was a student of such things I might easily rattle off a few, but instead I have only a vague sense of this concept ringing true. Now that I think on it for a moment, there was a French ruler, a Napoleon, who sent his army to the beach to combat ‘the enemy’ that was the ocean before them. Hm. Perhaps, if there was a comparison to draw, this Monty Python-esque moment of absurdity is close to what I crashed against that Friday night.

Had I followed the subsequent Standard environment engendered after the Pro Tour maybe I would have discovered the errors in my logic and made necessary changes to the list, but as I sat down to round one I was unexpectedly unprepared to face down the value train of Whip of Erebos, Hornet Queen, and Nyx Weaver. While my list contained measureable ways to manage these threats, I was gripped to the far edges of my abilities, doing whatever I could to stave off a seemingly insurmountable wall of flying deathtouch tokens, bestow creatures, and life gain, life gain, life gain. Whip of Erebos was a nightmare to play against, as my decklist has exactly two ways to remove it, in two copies of Utter End. After sideboarding, I gained a copy of Unravel the Aether, and that was it. My shortlist of answers. Often, either answer would simply be Thoughtseized away just before the Whip came down. I’d then be in ‘Ultimate Sorin’ mode, which really does little to mitigate what these graveyard decks were doing. But it was the best thing I could think to do. My third round opponent let me go for it, and in each game I unlocked Sorin’s emblem in hopes it would help me stabilize. Instead, I was facing down an instant speed sea of zombie creature tokens that had the way cleared when my Bile Blight was stripped from my hand.

I ended the night at 1-1-2, going into extra turns and drawing against my first two opponents. Empty the Pits guy easily overwhelmed my decks spot removal and crushed me. I won my last round against a guy who didn’t know what most of my cards did when I cast them. I tried to laugh it off, but it only made the embarassing lump inside sink further down and splash into my gut. I looked down at my deck. Where did it all go so poorly? Why did I let this happen to me, that I would show up so unprepared?

I went home and spread the deck out before me in the soft midnight of my apartment. “What was I thinking? I would never have played this deck, it’s not my style!” and so I moved everything around, switched up the sidebaord, and tried to attack my own metagame that just pulled me through the coals.


Creatures (21)
Fleecemane Lion
Sylvan Caryatid
Anafenza, the Foremost
Courser of Kruphix
Siege Rhino
Wingmate Roc

Spells (15)
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Abzan Charm
Hero’s Downfall
Utter End
Lands (24)
Windswept Heath
Mana Confluence
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
Sandsteppe Citadel
Caves of Koilos
Temple of Malady
Temple of Silence
Llanowar Wastes

Sideboard (15)
Agent of Erebos
Bile Blight
Murderous Cut
Drown in Sorrow
End Hostilities
Nissa, Worldwaker

Instantly I settled, my heart calm and my mind churning comfortably. I had taken the reins and contextualized what I had before me into something I could play, something I could be confident weilding. I remembered suddenly a similar experience with modern, where I began playing Melira Pod by ripping the deck off the internet and jamming games until I couldn’t handle the list anymore. But instead of throwing it away, I reworked it, taking cards in and out, adjusting it so it fit my pace and behavior. I made it an entirely different experience for myself and my opponent. I tried weird cards, removed some, changed the combo around and around. I played hundreds of games with it, watched it win and lose and kept track of every cards performance.

Finally, after two Grand Prix and a series of undefeated streaks at Modern Tuesday Night, I looked down at my list. It was almost identical to my original list I pulled off the net. I remember so vividly the feeling I was overwhelmed by at that moment, having strained and wheezed a 75 back to nearly its starting place, its initial and well defined assortment of cards. I remember it, because it was empirical: I had to justify each card in the list at my own pace. Only by understanding every card and its roll in the deck could I come to the conclusion how each card should be played. It’s not that I didn’t trust the thousands of games of experience someone put into Melira Pod, or in the case before me, Abzan Midrange. It’s because I have to build and play the deck myself in order to understand its purpose, it’s mechanisms. I have to have to courage to tear a deck apart if I was to discover the way it really won games, and the way it lost them.

Never before had I felt so empowered to make my own decisions about deckbuilding. Never before had I felt like such an idiot for taking this process for granted.

I got up, turned the light off, and went to sleep.

Derek Gallen sucks at Magic and thinks he can build good decks. To shame him, write him at [email protected]

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