“Hey. Will you sign my playmat?”

The kid’s fat pen already stuck out at me, the playmat rolled half-way and jammed into his armpit.

“What? Oh, no. Ha. I’m not anybody. I’m nobody.”

“I recognize that voice. It sounds very familiar.”

I laughed, super awkwardly.

“Mah-Tay Zat-uhl-Kai.”


“No, no, I’m not him. I’m not.”

“You serious? That voice sounds really familiar.”

“Nope. Not me, man. Sorry. I’m…I’m just nobody. I’m nobody.”

Still laughing, I tried to comfort him. His face was petrified. How could I sound like Matej, a European guy? Maybe I LOOK European. I’m nobody. I’m not anybody.

I turned from him. In my memory he doesn’t move at all, he just stands there, frozen in disbelief. For all I know, now he probably hates Matej. I shoulda just signed the fucking playmat.

Friday morning I had everything ready with my list after settling on 74/75 of Zvi’s Abzan Control list he posted on ChannelFireball.

Abzan Control

Creatures (10)
Courser of Kruphix
Siege Rhino
Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Planeswalkers (5)
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Ajani, Mentor of Heros
Garruk, Apex Predator

Spells (19)
Read the Bones
Abzan Charm
Bile Blight
Hero’s Downfall
Murderous Cut
Utter End
Lands (26)
Windswept Heath
Sandsteppe Citadel
Temple of Malady
Temple of Silence
Llanowar Wastes
Caves of Koilos
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Sideboard (15)
Fleecemane Lion
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Glare of Heresy
Drown in Sorrow
Back to Nature
End Hostilities

The deck seemed prepared to fight a metagame full of Sultai Control, Red/White, and the mirror. I had tested against Green Devotion a non-zero amount, but I knew the match was close. Moving End Hostilities to the board was a risky move, but I was hoping to not ever need them in game one.

Due to a massive fail at LaGuardia the day before, where a plane skidded along the runway after landing into a snowstorm and injured at least six people aboard the flight, a ton of rollover standby was in effect. I made for the airport early in order to jump on an earlier flight, and as luck would have it, my roomie for the weekend, fellow Hipster Tim Akpinar, would be boarding the same flight as I. A plan we had no intention of constructing had just serendipitously fallen into our laps.

The flight was the usual sequence of nervousness into anticipation into the explosive rush of joy and freedom that lifted me from all fear. The moon was full and undulated a bronze streak across the silent night of water.

You cant see it, but its pouring rain.

You cant see it, but its pouring rain.

After a simple meal of fish tacos during a torrential downpour, the rainwater diluting our glasses, we hurried back to the hotel and found sleep high above Brickell sealine. I tossed in bed with the day ahead of me bouncing around my skull like a billiard ball. My first Standard Grand Prix and I had no idea if I was thinking about it all correctly. I also had no byes, which came as a complete surprise to me. Honestly, though, I have no idea how to understand PWP until the yearly cycle is to begin this June. I’ll have one for the next year. But for now, I have to go whole hog across the first nine rounds.

The view from the patio.

The view from the patio.

And in the morning....

And in the morning….

I put on my besties and pack my backpack, then take the obligatory bathroom selfie.

No big tournament is complete....

No big tournament is complete….

I decided to wear a jacket to battle this weekend. I believe in the power of external to internal wardrobing. Put the doctors jacket on, be a better doctor. Put the business on, get right to business.

After deck regging I took a look around the event. This was significantly lighter than any other Grand Prix I had ever attended. I think the count was between 1300 and 1400 people. And my god, was it warm in here. I took the jacket off, and rolled up my sleeves for round one.

My first opponent admitted after game one it was his first Grand Prix. He played Temple of Silence, then Polluted Delta. It was Esper Control. I think he had twelve counterspells in his main deck. The rest of it was spot removal, sweepers, and a few planeswalkers in Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Sorin, Solemn Visitor. I take him down game one in, like, 20 minutes. He countered basically every spell I cast, or removed it, then tried to stick Elspeth. After board, the matchup got even worse. The guy was basically pre-built to destroy any chance I had of winning the match. He did it all: Erased my Courser, Dark Betrayaled my Tasigur, and Bile Blighted my sideboarded Fleecemane Lion. And held up a billion counterspells. Eventually he could cast Elspeth and hold up double protection. He won game two in 20 minutes. We went to time in game three, of course. I was furious, but I wished him well for the day.

To start in the draw bracket at a tournament with this metagame was a death sentence.

I then played against ANOTHER Esper Control deck, against which I came out ahead when he flooded out like crazy in two games. Then against a wonderfully well-paced Sultai Control player. My deck played beautifully: I beat down with Courser, Garruked an Ugin, got ahead with Ajani, and closed the game with Rhinos and even an Elspeth ultimate. Zvi was right, it played like a dream against control decks.

All I wanted was to go up against Red/White or control for the rest of the day. That’s when I started hearing whispers of this Green/White Devotion deck that Sam Black had built.

Oh fuck. Green/White Devotion with Mastery of the Unseen? I can’t beat that deck, or have much game against any of these Green devotion decks. That’s why the wraths were in the board.

Whelp. Just keep going.

So what do I go against? Green/Red Devotion. Game one I Thoughtseize him, see triple Polukranos and a Genesis Hydra. I take the Hydra, and blow up each Polukranos. Every threat after that he plays is just terrible for me. Xenagos, the Reveler, Whisperwood Elemental, Genesis Hydra, Crater’s Claws. Over and over. I lose, convincingly.

I’m 2-1-1. My back is already against the wall.

Next round is against Abzan Aggro. He’s on Wingmate Roc, and he’s already tired and very sweet. I take him down in two quick games. Then, another Green/Red Devotion deck. Where the hell was all the Red/White? Not in the draw bracket, obviously. So, I get smashed by the Green/Red deck, again. He goes off with two lands game one and one land game two, which really rubs it in.

I’m dead. I play it out for points.

Round seven is against Jeskai. He goes Seeker into Rabblemaster and I whiff on my two Temple five spell hand. I scoop when he casts Hordeling Outburst turn four and I have two lands. We sideboard, and I rally in the next two games. I even beat an active Outpost Siege and multiple draw spells. Turns out he was on Jeskai tokens and I didn’t even see it game one.

Round eight I go against B.Y.E. so I relax and take a walk around to watch everyone play their games. I found myself staring at all the young guys who play for a living, who LIVE to PLAY Magic and can barely sustain themselves on what they make with sponsorship and streaming and good finishes. Guys who don’t even own four Siege Rhinos, who come to battle in cheap sweatpants and sleep on couches and eat crackers for dinner. Guys who have given up so much to focus on only bettering their ability to play the game. I watched them play and I wondered to myself what future they possibly hold for themselves, and for each other, by their continued incremental success. Will they become designers themselves like Kibler or Chapin or LSV? Will they win the Pro Tour and then maybe another and then fade out into society and the financial realities that come crashing down? Or will they continue this life, and if they do, what do they hope to gain?

It could be that I’m so far away from that piece of my life that I can no longer understand that sacrifice. “I cannot paint then what I was.”

Round nine is the mirror match. I’m so shaken from these spiraling thoughts i’m playing poorly and throw the match. We play three games and he very methodically outplays me. I was disappointed with myself I couldn’t put up a better fight like I know I can. But I couldn’t keep my mind off where it had gone.

Tim had finished 6-3; I had finished 5-3-1. It was not a good day at the races.

We went to dinner and had a drink with our burgers, then decided to maybe get another drink back in Brickell near the hotel. We found a place on Tim’s phone and hustled along and got excited as it was only a few blocks from the hotel. But turn a corner in Brickell and the dust can settle strangely and change the light. We took only one look at the bar before we decided it would be better to fall asleep early and save our strength for tomorrow. We didn’t have what it took to drink in there. Along the short way to the hotel lobby and even within the lobby the strange chaos of a Miami weekend was still on the rise.

The morning was beautiful and quiet. I drank cups of coffee and found myself poolside on the sixteenth floor. The weather was haunting and had spread across the jagged morning skyline.photo 4photo 3

This was the most sun I was ever to see over the weekend. Eventually Tim woke up and we made for brunch and then walked it off along Brickell. The night had shadowed dozens of construction sites in the looming horror of luxury hotels, high-end residential property, and other skyward architecture. It was a feat of mastery: the nighttime revelers, intoxicated by the illuminated oases that cater to their every move, travel in and out of cars adorned in the latest clothing, and never will they set their eyes on these sad, sad rubbles. They are each hidden perfectly in the harsh Miami daylight, along with the stricken and drifting lower classes that populate the darker corners and crevices of day.

Crossing the wide bridge over a low river, I was shivering at the sight of it. This place was caught between two worlds. Slowly, they would push the undesirables out, and if timed perfectly, the night would overtake the day and become endless. The whole damn place would sublimate to one immense fit of revelry. It was happening and it was going to happen. Wading through it all with my travel mate, I felt small, meaningless. A drifter, not so different from the scum slowly loosening their hardened stains on this polished and gleaming future. I was nobody. I am nobody.

Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY. 

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