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Tuesday. A bitter winters ice and snow has grafted to the city’s frozen streets. The sun, without any heat, simply shines. Bones and muscles stiffen and crack as I hurry between the shadows of houses. February is unrelenting in its bleakness; we have only each other to keep us warm.

Work goes later than expected. My ritualistic hurry to the LGS in Williamsburg for Modern is delayed, my night of running Splinter Twin is lost. Fellow Hipster Tim Akpinar comes through, though, rescuing my night from a replacement draft I didn’t feel excited about playing. After all, tomorrow I would be drafting Keith’s cube. Tonight I had only constructed inside me. So when a simple tweet rolled along my Twitter feed just before closing up at work, I invited myself over Tims place.

Yeah. That's right. Monastery effin Mentor.

Yeah. That’s right. Monastery effin Mentor.

Count me in. Off I went, out into the cold city night to the underground and to Brooklyn. I wrapped my coat around me like a robe and the collar turtled around my neck, then crossed my arms over my torso to keep in as much warmth as was possible. Faces that passed were dry, empty, and expressionless. Eyes stared on into a void no doubt thinly veiled by somewhere warmer they’d rather be. The steps descending into the 63rd street station were chalk white, a mess of pebbled salt rock and dried winter footsteps. I eased my way, shivering, for two transfers and forty-five minutes time to Bed-Stuy, beneath the river. I wondered what a Monastery Mentor Esper deck would look like in Legacy, and more specifically, one that Tim would bother brewing up. I imagined Counterbalance, Sensei’s Divining Top, and Cabal Therapy. Anticipation warmed me inwardly. I smiled, breathed out plumes of winter, and leaned a little further into my seat.

Back above ground, Bed-Stuy was blanketed by stillness. If the street lights held their positions, I’d have thought time had stopped. I made a quick trip to pick up beer and snacks, then let myself into his building and knocked on his door shortly after 7:30. When he didn’t immediately appear to let me in, I knew he was already playing, controlling, maybe even going off. The anticipation had bred excitement. I heard him run to the door, open it, let me in, and gimmie five. We cracked a beer and he resumed the match.

The deck was built around the interaction between Monastery Mentor and Sensei’s Divining Top. Get two Tops in play, untap with Mentor. How can you lose?

Well, we found out.

Not only was it a slow build, but it was light on interaction with resolved permanents. So when our opponent led with Forest, Llanowar Elves, it was to be big trouble for us. We talked it over as we played, performing for his audience, but next thing we knew we were 0-2 and dropping from the daily. Time to rework the strategy.

Jeskai was the next place to start brewing. Keep the Top/Balance package, but now we play with Lightning Bolt for more interaction. Here’s a rough sketch of what we ran for the rest of the night:

Jeskai Mentor

Creatures (6)
Monastery Mentor
 Snapcaster Mage

Planeswalkers (2)
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Spells (33)
Lightning Bolt
Swords to Plowshares
Gitaxian Probe
Spell Pierce
 Force of Will
Dig Through Time
Sensei’s Divining Top
Lands (20)
Flooded Strand
Scalding Tarn
Volcanic Island
Polluted Delta

I probably messed something up there, and don’t really remember the sideboard. But that’s the basic jist of it. We cracked another beer when our food arrived, chowed down, and then set out into the mire of Legacy 2-man queues during a daily event.

As it turns out, the combo is real. Furthermore, whenever we untapped with Monastery Mentor, we were favorited to win the game. 2 Tops is definitely going off, but it didn’t feel necessary, just focused. I took the reins at one point and beat Storm. Our sideboard came in handy with a billion counterspells and a trusty Legacy expert beside me signaling when to fire off my disruption. It was a blast to play, and that alone warrants more tuning. It could be competitive.

Tired, we said goodnight. I stood along a barren Myrtle Avenue waving down the nearest cab, instructed him on the route to Greenpoint, then fell asleep in the lonely warmth of my bed.

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Wednesday. I don’t leave the house until it was time to face the cold, about 5pm, in order to head to Keiths for a cube draft. The fifteen or so minutes door to door is a frozen terrain of sidewalks and streetcorners I had to navigate. Up the stairs to Keiths apartment, where he’s setting up a table and chairs for the 8-man pod due to arrive.
The last guy to show is Tim, who saddles up to my right, ready to pass me a non-blue deck. I know his preference in cube, and in Magic, so when I pack 1 pick 1 Sword of Feast and Famine I know to expect the color green to come flowing. He ships me a pack with Demonic Tutor and Joraga Treespeaker. I take green Sol Ring and move in. My deck was wide open, and I end up with this:

Where's Recurring Nightmare?

Creatures (13)
Joraga Treespeaker
Wild Mongrel
Lotleth Troll
Fauna Shaman
Nezumi Graverobber
Courser of Kruphix
Master of the Wild Hunt
Woodfall Primus
Sundering Titan

Spells (10)
Mind Twist
Green Sun’s Zenith
Hymn to Tourach
Animate Dead
Dance of the Dead
Pernicious Deed
Maelstrom Pulse
Diabolic Servitude
Living Death
Lands (17)
Overgrown Tomb
Treetop Village

Sideboard (7)
Ob Nixilis of the Black Oath
Vraska the Unseen
Eternal Witness
Hero’s Downfall
Sword of Feast and Famine

Round One I go against Tim. We joke about passing each other our favorite decks. I know to stay away from UW when Tim is passing to me. He knows I love BG decks. His deck was an Esperish build with the usual countermagic and planeswalkers. I think the black splash was for Vindicate and Pack Rat. I sideboard into my planeswalkers, Duress, and Hero’s Downfall. The beats were good.

Round two I go up against Adam, who drafted almost every signet, ramp spells, and big stuff like Emrakul. We have really grindy games. The best game had me quickly reanimate Sundering Titan, which he then copied with Phyrexian Metamorph. That’s two titan triggers. He then triple blocked mine when I attacked, which triggered again on dying. After I blow up his cloned Titan, which triggered a fourth time, I animated my Sundering Titan yet again. This brought the total Titan trigger to five over the course of the game. It was hilarious, and awesome, and why I love to draft cube.

Round three I go up against the man himself, Mr. Keith Blackwell. He is on Bant Ramp, with all the mana dorks and powerful payoff spells like Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Primeval Titan. I fumble around on hitting my land drops and he takes me down relatively easily. I did have one great play where I had a 4/5 Tarmogoyf in play to Keith’s freshly cast Elspeth and three tokens. He also had a few mana dorks hiding out with his mana. I draw Pernicious Deed. I Deed for one, wiping the dorks and tokens, growing the Goyf to 5/6, and swing in to kill Elspeth.

The final round pitted me against my Team Draft League cohort Dylan Heister, who drafted mono-black aggro. Dylan loves aggressive decks. His deck could easily get under mine and I was absolutely unfavored in game one of our matchup. But he flooded out after steamrolling through the first game, and I stole the post-board as soon as I stabilized.

Afterwards, I walked Tim back to the L train in the night and in the cold. We were shivering from a night of games and good hangs with the guys, talking about GP Miami and Modern and Legacy and Keiths cube. It all condenses miraculously into only a few minutes time before I leave him, grab the nearest cab, and direct the driver home.

Again, my bed offers me its lonely warmth from Winter.

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Thursday. Back to work, and then straight to our Team Draft League game. Dylan, Alex, and I were pitted against Kadar, Johnny, and Webb at Kadar’s art studio in Brooklyn. My team is 0-2 at this point, and we are all geared up for a real win to pull us from the winless quicksand. I open Wildcall and get passed Temur Sabretooth. I’m feeling alright about that. My deck ends up fine, can have good draws, but is ultimately incredibly mana hungry and can be very clunky.

U/G Manifest

Creatures (12)
Jeskai Sage
Kin-Tree Warden
Monastery Flock
Scion of Glaciers
Temur Sabretooth
Sagu Archer
Keru Spellsnatcher
 Snowhorn Rider
Hooting Mandrils
Wooly Loxodon

Spells (10)
Secret Plans
Write into Being
Savage Punch
Hunt the Weak
Awaken the Bear
Ethereal Ambush
Rite of Undoing
Dig Through Time
Lands (18)
Thornwood Falls
Swiftwater Cliffs

Sideboard (2)
Feed the Clan
Blinding Spray

Round one I go against Webb, who has a mediocre Abzan deck that outfatties me. This matchup was determined by interaction, of which I had little, and he had the black cards.

Round two I go against Johnny, who is always, it seems, on UR aggro. I curve out hard game one and he fumbles on land. I board into Blinding Spray and Feed the Clan. Game two he takes the racing bait and I get him with Blinding Spray.

Round three I was up against Silum-Kadar, the Drifting Deathtouch. He had a sweet UB control deck with Silumgar and Necropolis Fiend. Midway through game one the outcome of the evening was decided, as my team could not get there after we rallied from an 0-3 start to tie it up at 3-3. Things looked hopeful for a minute, but our final standing holds at 0-3. Probably dead last? Who knows. We are a motley crew of drafters. I love our team, and I hope we win at least one match this season.

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This Winter has pent me up, and while i’ve been content to stay at home and keep my outside time to a minimum, I am developing a restlessness for spring. I hunger for that budding energy we all long to warm us out of this wasteland. This feeling has driven me to get the fuck out of New York City, and I will be battling at Grand Prix Miami in just a few weeks from now. The format is Standard. It’s time to start testing. Maybe a few days in the sun will calm me until I can feel its warmth up north again. Until then, I continue to battle each day against this world of concrete and steel.

Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.

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