In the canopy of New York City rests Sensei Longo’s dojo between the clouds. I arrived Tuesday after dark. There are eight in all: Longo, the poet laureate, and us, seven mages of the path who have gathered to do battle.

Above us, the dragons soar or sleep. Before they were only bones among the ashen delta, the metal-blood rank of the mire. The strand, the hills, the heath. Everywhere their bones have protruded and dried. Before it was a war fought on the ground and now, now they watch us with eyes interminable, bodies that cover the land with their torrential shadows.

I cracked the first pack like a gunshot and attempted my first wrangle with Dragons of Tarkir. My first pick was between Ojutai’s Summons and Collected Company. I didn’t beleive Collected Company would do much for me in a format full of morphs, so I took the Air Elemental and passed the rare. I was almost immediately cut from blue and moved into green shortly thereafter when I was passed three Aerie Bowmasters in a row from Mr. Huge Kramer.

My resulting deck was blaringly mediocre. I had a lot of solid Green/White midrange creatures but my pool was ultimately very light on interaction. The teams were then selected at random, and I was paired with Pro Tour Richard Tan, Hunter Rolex Slaton, and the master himself, Andy Longo. Our collective decks looked strong enough to take it all down, so we raised our standard and entered the fray. Even with the nimble and fortified hounds on my side, I fell repeatedly to a perfectly positioned Thunderbreak Regent, and then to the maddening ice-breath of Ojutai. Our team had fallen in the final match.

With the evenings training behind and a traverse home before us, forty-card Kramer, limited poet and student of Ojutai, saddled astride and accompanied me Brooklyn-bound on the L train.

“Evaluating cards is one thing, as is watching for what’s open at the table. But drafting a strategy, a conceptual deck with a clear plan to victory… I still can’t see it unless it’s too obvious.”

The subtle truths of limited still evaded me, as the deer in the forest had evaded Melville. The deer runs through the wood, barely breaking twigs with its hushed and graceful dance. It moves and the wood moves with it, as if shaping the direction of the wind. For me, the deer remains a blur. With Hugh, though, the deer is never caught or shot down; the deer is drawn to him as the wood will acquiese and bend to his control. They become one. He has the poets licensce to play.

“Don’t worry man. The season we are on the same team in TDL I’ll go over everything I know.”

But it was too late. I was already shaking his hand good-bye.

Friday. FNM. Time to put my teachings to good use.

I crack a mediocre pack and believed the most powerful card to be Stormcrag Elemental. Again, I am passed several Aerie Bowmasters in a row, so I move in on green. This result I was much happier with, as it had a sound and clear rung path to victory. One that I am all too familiar with.

Cue Epic Music

Creatures (15)
Kolaghan Stormsinger
Atarka Beastbreaker
Smoldering Efreet
Guardian Shield-Bearer
Qal Sisma Behemoth
Abzan Beastmaster
Dragon-Scarred Bear
Aerie Bowmasters
Summit Prowler
Stampeding Elk Herd
Feral Krushok
Stormcrag Elemental
Savage Ventmaw

Spells (8)
Temur Battle Rage
Twin Bolt
Tread Upon
Tormenting Voice
Epic Confrontation
Hunt the Weak
Press the Advantage
Lands (17)

My opponents were bound to my unrelenting savagery. I went 3-0 with this deck, and it felt good. I texted Hugh a deck picture and celebrated by glutting myself on korean fried chicken wings. I had found a joy already with this format I did not feel with Khans of Tarkir limited. Maybe the growing pains I dealt with while struggling with my first complex draft format were starting to resonate with me. It was very early to say with any certainty. But I was hungry to draft again, over and above the mere handling of new cards and a new format. All the nuances of limited were there, growing easier to see. I hovered over a plate streaked with chicken grease and felt empty, more than before I had even sat down to eat. I saw myself the dragon above the plate of bones, and licked my lips.

I ran back to the LGS after work on Saturday to fire another draft.

This time it was a ten man pod. Anyone who has been in one knows how high-power the decks can become with an inflated card pool. But again, another mediocre pack, offering me Dragon Hunter and Glade Watcher as the most interesting picks. Seeing as i’ve had my fill of green, I decided to take the Dragon Hunter and look for white cards. Red was wide open at the table, so I end up with a sweet Boros deck.

Road Runner

Creatures (15)
Aven Skirmisher
Dragon Hunter
Herald of Dromoka
Dromoka Warrior
Mardu Scout
Kolaghan Forerunners
Aven Sunstriker
Sandcrafter Mage
Misthoof Kirin
Screamreach Brawler
Sandsteppe Outcast
Atarka Efreet
Dragonscale General

Spells (8)
Dragon Fodder
Twin Bolt
Draconic Roar
Volcanic Rush
Bathe in Dragonfire
Lands (17)

Even with a low curve I wanted 17 lands. And the Dragonscale General was a gift. Again, an aggressive deck with a gameplan. The most curious picks for me were the two Kolaghan Forerunners. I didn’t know how strong they would be in the build, but I figured I had close to an ideal shell for the card, and if the average case was a 4/3 trample that could sometimes be cast with dash it should be good enough.

I ended up 2-1, losing a round to UB control, which buried me in defensive creatures and card advantage, and winning my final round against fellow Hipster Zach Barash. He was on a sweet Black/Red build. We went to three games and it was a close and hard fought match. Here’s Zach, afterwards, taking a picture of his deck.

Guess what? Zach's gonna talk about his side of the story this week!

Guess what? Zach’s gonna talk about his side of the story this week!

We had dinner together afterwards and shared a pitcher of beer. We piled our early impressions of the format onto the fire and engorged ourselves on the roasted food of our experience. There we were, bullshitting, a couple of eager pieces of dragon fodder. I gotta say, there ain’t nothing like a cold beer after a night of playing magic.

Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.

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