I hustled up five flights of stairs and pushed the unlocked door that opens into Keith’s Williamsburg apartment where a small group of guys had congregated for testing. I had my BUG control deck sleeved up, half proxied, lightly goldfished, and ready to test its strength. Mostly, I wanted to run it against UR Delver. I wanted to make sure the matchup was winnable before I borrowed what I needed from my testing group. This was last Wednesday night, just two and a half days before the third largest Grand Prix in the game’s history. I was still unsettled, still unsure what I was running was powerful enough to handle a faster Legacy format.

Sitting under the kitchen lights I unrolled my playmat and started pile shuffling. Around the corner, hunched over his deck, a guy I had never met perked up as I joked with the other guys, some deep in their games, some looking on. There weren’t many of us. I think I made the sixth in the group. The guy around the corner rose and walked over to saddle into the seat across from me. He asked me which deck i’d like to play against.

“Whadaya got?”

“I’ve got UR Delver and BUG Delver.”

“Let’s do UR Delver.”

I explained to him how I wanted to discover whether the deck was capable of matching up well against UR, to play a bunch of games pre and post sideboard and see how we do. It turns out, we didn’t have to play that many games. UR Delver was unwinnable. I shook my head, staring down lethal again and again. This deck, like the others, just wasn’t working.

“David, let me look at the BUG deck.”

He showed me a Delver list, similar to Canadian Threshold, but with Abrupt Decay and Deathrite Shaman over Lightning Bolt and Nimble Mongoose. And, of course, four copies of Treasure Cruise.

“I used to play BUG Delver before Khans. I really miss it, and didn’t think it was viable. But I really want to play Abrupt Decay at the GP.”

I quickly threw out the control deck and sleeved up a proxied version of Kaplan’s list. Shuffling up, we got to know each other a bit. It turns out David and I went to the same college — Boston University — and shared similar memories of the old New England city even though we graduated four years apart. It warmed me to him in the strange way tenuous pasts bond us together. We buckled down and focused on running the matchup.

Not only did the deck play better, but it had a game plan against the boogeyman deck. A resolved Tarmogoyf was very difficult for the deck to deal with, and post-board, BUG could effectively protect its creatures and keep pace with Treasure Cruise.

We went about 50% on games.

“How does the deck feel?”

Inwardly, I glowed.

“I like it.”

Soon it was late and most of us went home. I walked back to Greenpoint and my apartment, just north of Williamsburg, but instead of going to sleep I stayed up, goldfishing the deck to feel out its interactions; its pace, individual cards, and mulligans. It was the first time I’d ever played with Stifle. I opened up a notebook and started writing down all the possible relevant targets for Stifle, Dimir Charm, and the sideboard applications, card by card.  The deck just felt right. I was comfortable, confident, and excited to play it. I had only two days to test, but I knew I had found my list.

Team America

Creatures (12)
Delver of Secrets
Deathrite Shaman

Spells (29)
Treasure Cruise
Abrupt Decay
Force of Will
Dimir Charm
Lands (19)
Verdant Catacombs
Polluted Delta
Misty Rainforest
Underground Sea
Tropical Island

Sideboard (15)
Force of Will
Spell Pierce
Vendilion Clique
True-Name Nemesis
Golgari Charm
Grafdigger’s Cage
Null Rod

Anticipation bred restlessness. My gut tightened implacably with each passing hour to Saturday morning. On the way home from work Friday evening I stopped at the grocer to stock up on sundries for the long day ahead of me: electrolyte water, nuts, fruit, and raw energy bars all made their way into my backpack. I wanted to make sure I never had to think about eating or drinking. I needed to keep my mind elevated, razor-honed on the games ahead. Legacy is a terribly vast format and I knew people would be running unfamiliar strategies; perhaps going all-in on hate for the new delve cards from Khans of Tarkir. I had to keep an open, flexible mind. I had to be ready for a wide array. But mostly, I had to be prepared to go up against the boogeyman over and over again. It was, after all, the deck to beat.

One last errand on Friday night was to stop by the home of fellow Hipster Tim Akpinar to pick up some pieces for my decklist as well as some cards for a few friends. Tim was still undecided on what deck to play, and was running modo games in an attempt to land on something. I think it was between Miracles and UW Golddigger. Both control decks, one fairly new and one — Miracles, of course — being his solid go-to deck he had a wealth of experience playing. I suggested he go with what he knows best and play Miracles. I left him after a few games still unsure, but I hoped he would stick to his guns and run the deck I believe is well positioned against most of the field in the hands of such a competent pilot. And having two byes definitely eases the strain of a long day playing control. We said goodnight. See you tomorrow.

The cab home was cold and fast, my mind racing with the speed of the streetlights passing overhead.

I rose out of bed on Saturday before my alarm clock and quickly started my bulletproof coffee and scrambled eggs. Double and triple checking my deck. Stretching, breathing. Keeping my mind relaxed. The car was due at 8 o clock. Being a morning person pays off on days like this, when you are used to an early rise that has time enough to indulge in the quiet sunrise. I sipped my coffee slowly and softly, and watched the light warm the tops of buildings.


The car ride was helmed by none other than Roland Chang, vintage Shops master and one hell of a gentleman. John Grudzina and Hank Zhong filled the seats alongside myself and the drive was short and smooth to the convention center. We talked a little about our decks but mostly just shot the shit and the anticipation had grown malignant and soon expanded to my lungs and my throat and covered my palms with oily sweat. I breathed, not allowing nerves to arrest me.

Once inside the venue I found David—who had the last piece of my puzzle, the fourth copy of Stifle—poring over his sideboard. We went over our decklists and verified each others counts were correct, then confirmed sideboard slots and made a few last minute decisions. I had originally had the fourth Force of Will in the maindeck and kept all the Disfigures in the sideboard, but David convinced me to run the one main deck Disfigure. I gave him my thoughts on his sideboard plans.  We shook hands and I was off again, delivering others their borrows in the last minutes before pairings went up for round one.

the obligatory selfie

the obligatory selfie

This was the first Grand Prix I had earned a bye in round one. I kicked back to watch everyone file into their seats and attempted to calm my nerves with some snacks, water, and  then a little stroll between the vendor stands. But as it happens, round two came sooner than I realized, and I had to run and check my pairings then quickly settle down at my table assignment. The lump had not gone away, but suddenly flared up, and my hands were loose and quivered as I shuffled and drew my opening hand for round two.


My opponent led with Badlands. I was terrified my opponent was on Jund. But he threw me for a loop with this deck as I was unfamiliar with it. I made a few mistakes that cost me a game, but we ended up drawing after going into turns in game three. I just didn’t know what to do against him and I was a turn behind myself. I probably should have played a game or two with a friend before the round began to steady my thoughts. It was a weird way to start the tournament, with a draw. Nevertheless, we signed the slip and continued.


I relaxed and focused suddenly with incredible intensity. I kept telling myself to just enjoy each game and have fun, that that would keep me from losing my balance.


No one in my group plays this deck, but I know what it aims to get going. Moreover, I know it runs no basics and thus is weak to Stifle/Wasteland. It was the first match out of several over the long day where I got to execute the one-two punch. Open with a fetch. Let them crack theirs, and Stifle it. Then untap, play Deathrite Shaman, and Waste their next two land drops while countering their first spell. It’s a brutal sequence that won several games before they even started. The matchup was simple and quick.



My Stoneblade opponent had a gorgeous deck: all foreign foils and Beta dual lands. He was very proud of it and thanked me, even after I won the match. He was a great guy and a real pleasure to play against. The games went similarly to my Deathblade opponent. They lean too hard on Stoneforge Mystic into equipment and my deck has a solid gameplan against that strategy.



Okay, okay, so finally I get to play against this deck. My opponent played well and I enjoyed discussing the match afterwards, but the cards did not end up in his favor. I knew I had to resolve Tarmogoyf, keep up with his Treasure Cruise velocity, and hold Abrupt Decay for Blood Moon. I took him down in two games.



My opponent wins the die roll, then opens with Badlands, Thoughtseize.

Oh, fuck.

This was the deck I used to play and smash Delver decks with when I started playing Legacy. I knew how bad a matchup this would be for me. I knew it would be a rough and almost got flustered, but I buckled down and stayed calm. My opponent systematically annihilated me in two games. Every single card he cast was backbreaking. He had it all: two Bloodbraids in game one, and Punishing Fire / Chains of Mephistopheles in game two. No matter what I did, it was never enough to even dream of stabilizing. He even drew a miser’s Courser of Kruphix and hit three lands off the top with it. I shook his hand, and moved on. I didn’t so much mind losing to a deck I am the underdog against, but I didn’t expect to play against this deck at all.

“This is a terrible matchup for me.”


“Yeah, you’ll be beating up Delver all day with this deck.”

“Funny, yeah, that’s exactly what i’ve been doing!  It just seems so easy.”

That’s because it is! Good metagame call for him, sick beats for me.



My opponent was really sweet. He was the last one of his team that was still alive. His deck was a homebrew centered around midrange and control cards. Another Chains of Mephistolpheles came down against me. Come on, people, i’ll just Abrupt Decay it!


On a quick step outside at some point during dusk.

On a quick step outside at some point during dusk.


My opponent crashed down into the chair still on his cell phone. He had just gotten accepted into school, and he along with his wife would be moving away. To Hawaii, I think? Anyway, I congratulated him, and then buckled down. Miracles is one of my most feared Legacy decks to go up against, but I knew I had the tools to fight it. Abrupt Decay is a real card against them, and besides that I need to stave off Terminus, Jace, and Swords to Plowshares to keep pace. I got him with Stifle, up to the miracled Terminus that won me the match. I was officially in love with Stifle. It seemed to be the perfect tempo card, and not one opponent had respected it all day.


I run into Andy Boswell, who was drawing into day two.

“How you doing?”


The judge announces pairings have gone up for round nine.

“Good luck,” he says. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”


My win-and-in! My opponent was stoic and seemed very tired and slightly absent. I was still focused and more relaxed than I had been all day. I felt like I was just having fun. Playing magic and enjoying each challenge. I had not tilted all day; the fear and tension melted and flowed through the cards.

Game one he casts an early Expedition Map. I untap, Abrupt Decay it, and pass. He seems slightly shocked. He plays another Expedition Map and passes. I untap, Abrupt Decay it, and pass back.

“Wow, you really don’t want me to crack my maps.”

Inwardly, I smiled.

A few turns later, he had a couple of lands, one card in hand, and absolutely nothing going on. I was beating down. We went to game two.

I get an early Delver flipped and start coming across. He bounces it with Chain of Vapor, and I replay and reflip it. Suddenly, I have a Tarmogoyf and a flipped Delver on the board, and while he has been gaining life with his lands, he isn’t ramping much.

Show and Tell.”

“Show and Tell resolves.”

I flip Deathrite Shaman. He flips Kozilek, Butcher of Truth. I untap, and swing in with Delver. He’s at 4. I am at 18.

He untaps quickly and moves to attack with Kozilek.

“Annihilator,” he smiles.

“Stifle,” I smile back.

“Wow. That’s a good one.”

I go to 6. He crop rotates into Glacial Chasm and passses. I drain him twice with Deathrite, and he extends the hand.


I made it. I made day two.

Derek Gallen likes to leave you with cliffhangers.




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