The heat in my gut continued to swell as the day grew into night and still. Still no reply. I breathed, and refreshed the mailbox, pulling the screen downwards then letting go. A spiral appeared, winking at me like a child half-hidden behind a tree.

The wide shot. Me, neck craned into my phone under the bright light and marble atrium on Madison Avenue. All done up in a suit. My arc of slicked hair hung there, pulling the screen down to refresh, an exposed tentacle from a shivering brain. Music above like mist.

The child looks at me, winks, smiles, then hides. Back behind a tree she found to play a game behind. No new mail. Updated Just Now. I stuff the phone into my left inside jacket pocket and fix my hair in the colossal mirror that shoots to the ceiling of the atrium. Putting the tentacle back, saving it for better use later. Maybe for when somebody walks in between these snow storms.

The rest of Wednesday moved around me. I was the center and yet on the periphery of everything. Miami was just over a week away and I hadn’t done much testing. Most of my time in Standard since the Pro Tour had already been spent on making lists and thinking about how cards can impact the metagame. I got the one night playing at The Dojo last week, sure, but it merely cracked the surface to my comprehension of the post-Fate Reforged format.

Before Fate, I was all in on Abzan Aggro after trying Sidisi Whip. I love turning creatures sideways. It sure beats sitting back and playing control. Not like the glory days of control. Can’t get that back. Counterspell times twenty five. One win condition. Didn’t even need many removal spells. The creatures were really just that bad. And now, in Modern Magic, a creature’ll take over the entire game if left unchecked. A modern control deck, if it didn’t have a card like Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Sphinx’s Revelation, then…

Then, what? I thought about that and all the while, the heat pushed on my chest and had moved up into my throat. It had moved its way up my neck as the sun fell beneath the Manhattan skyline, and by the time I was navigating the streets to the subway home, the heat had begun to press and grab at my forehead. My jaw cracked as I refreshed, but the same answer came. No new mail, updated just now.


The train screamed as it made for downtown and underwater to Brooklyn, my thoughts moving to the flurry beyond the windows. I need help to prepare. I can’t do this on my own. I have to learn how to play control in Modern Magic. I wouldn’t be ready if I didn’t figure this out. I’d be fucked it I had to sit through a Grand Prix for two days thinking too much. I had to get some oil into that ageing machine upstairs. Lubricate the mechanics. No small deal, and its a jungle up there.

I climbed the steps slowly and breathed in the silent Brooklyn air. The child peeked out, little eyes swirling, and gave me an answer.

Yeah. I despaired. And then someone came to the rescue. I got my box of playables, threw a deck together, and met the guys for testing. Same place we tested for Pro Tour DC. Over two nights, I ran against Red/White aggro, then against the mirror and Blue/Black Control. Luis, the guy who owns TwentySidedStore, helped me with the control mirror. We talked it out after the games, and went through what we would need to do to ensure I could get the advantage. He outplayed me every game, and I was porous and took it all in. Do only what matters. Have patience. Stay ahead on cards. Hit every land drop you can.

I grew excited, the fledgeling performance I had with the deck improved with every game. I went home, my heart beating furiously in my brain, and couldn’t find sleep. I dreamed I was surrounded by woods, chasing a girl who escaped from behind her tree. The woods were thick and the sun had gone, so locking her down would prove impossible as I struggled to gain ground. She was found, but had eluded me.


I woke, the heat grabbing my forehead and pinched it into a frown. My brain felt too heavy to carry, swollen to the corners of my skull. Work went. All day I stared outside, looking for something. At the end of the day, I got stuck underground inside a dragging train. I watched minutes burn away. I wasn’t going to make FNM. I needed the reps. I spun, became dizzy, almost explosive. The train pulled on through the tunnels of the underground. It was a full fifteen minutes into round one I showed up for Standard. I asked for a loss and paid my entrance fee. I sat, and gathered myself.

I ended up going 2-2, losing to Temur Monsters and then beating two control decks. I thought a lot about why I lost to Temur, and adjusted my sideboard in my head. I asked to play more games against Zac’s deck, and saw the holes the more I played it.

The big victory was beating the control decks. I was unfamiliar with the playstyle I had needed until testing, and the adjustments had proved unbelievably potent. Patience. Card advantage. Resources. It all came down to incremental advantages and big turns. Soul reading. I left that night feeling electric in my zen-like state. A wave of calm nourished me.

Saturday I went back to the LGS for another go-round. I went 3-0 and split in the final round, beating Sultai Control, a five-color Soulflayer deck, and Red/White Aggro. That was it. I was sold.

Abzan Control

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

Planeswalkers (5)
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
Liliana Vess

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

Sideboard (15)
Fleecemane Lion
Sorin, Solemn Visitor
Nissa, Worldwaker
Bile Blight
Murderous Cut
Drown in Sorrow
Glare of Heresy
Read the Bones

This was what I played this past weekend. It needs to be reworked. Certain cards underperformed, certain cards overperformed. A lot of the skill in building this deck is how you react to the metagame. Most of my thoughts and planning will be about this very thing.

Running a control deck at a Grand Prix demands quick thinking and rote mechanics. There is nothing more alarming than playing a control deck too slowly and going to time, drawing over and over. Most of my opponents on control played much too slowly, too conservatively, and my patience allowed me to exploit the mistakes they inevitably made. I never understood why my opponents would just fire off a Thoughtseize against me, and then pass. It was incorrect every time, even when they nabbed a premier threat from my hand. Thoughtseize is so powerful, and so enticing to cast, that many players including myself often play the card incorrectly. Possessing patience, waiting for the window to open, is a skill I look forward to honing this weekend.

Play the decks you don’t know and get better at the decks you do know.

The heat inside had taken over my head, grabbed and singed my temples Sunday morning. Taking a moment to stop and look outside at the sun over the buildings, I found her. The little girl was right there before me. She had made herself known to me, but only once I stopped searching for her, stopped chasing what I couldn’t seize a hold of. Suddenly stillness washed over me, and inside that place I knew to stop, be silent, and let the heat flow through me. It was transcendent. Every particle in my body expanded and the sunlight silently warmed my place in the canopy. The girl laughed, handing me a flower freshly plucked from a bed of peace.


Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY.

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