Sitting in my break room at work Monday morning, my heads is in my hands. My organs are pulsing hard enough inside me its vibrating my head and neck against my palms.

“I played twenty hours of Magic. I slept in the same room as a snorer. I didn’t drink enough water and ate mostly dried food. I feel… terrible.”

I had a meeting and left work early. I spent the evening thumbing through cards acquired over the weekend, coughing and spitting until I slept. I called out sick in the morning and thought a lot about my limited game.

Come 3pm and I was at the LGS cracking Narset Transcendent after the exhaustion temporarily lifted. I still felt ill. Ill enough that I put the draft blinders back on and forced Red/Black when nobody at the table was in Blue/White. Hell, I coulda even tried to make Narset work. But no, in my delirium I second picked Rakshasa Gravecrawler third picked Atarka Pummeler and didn’t look back. The exhaustion and illness bred stubbornness, which opened a floodgate of poor decision making. More correctly, I wasn’t even capable of thinking about anything.

The missus met me after a bad beat in round one to eat lunch. There, in the backyard open air corner table, I again held my head in my hands. She rubbed my shoulders and I kept apologizing between bites of an Arepa. I told her the food made me better and I wanted to play again at 7. She wished me well, but no doubt was worred for me. It could have been right to head home and be taken care of. But Magic. Modern. I had to play.

I threw together an Abzan deck, even though I had been working on a Sultai midrange deck for the past few weeks. I wanted to play what I knew best and felt strong and good with my old besties Abrupt Decay and Bloodbraid Elf Siege Rhino. Round one and two I make bad plays and a greedy keep against Affinity — The Punisher — and Burn — The Reality Check. Suddenly I am 0-2. I look at the top card of my deck after my burn opponent topdecked his matchbook to kill me, and I slammed my fist on the table:


Which was followed instantly by an apology. I think he got a kick out of my frustration. Two rounds later and i’m 2-2. I went home and ripped the deck out of its sleeves and tossed it in my playables box. I hated this deck. Burnt out, overtired, and uninspired, I spun the sheets around me writhing in bed. There’s a point when you cross your previous threshold — the one that kept you in check when you were going too hard, too fast, too far from yourself — that plainly I had lapped without acknowledging the facts.

I visited my acupuncturist. She addressed me with needles and crystals and a bag to go over my eyes.

“What’s this for?”

“It’s for you to sleep. Now get some rest.”

The sound of ocean. A million thoughts tsunami’d against me, my body shivers on the table. But slowly, persistently, my muscles and mind melt and flow. I give her a hug, ete some lunch, and put a draft together.


The table is strong and the packs break strangely at the six-person table. I am calm. The throbbing of a body keeping itself going had dissipated. I read signals. I move in. My deck is sweet. I am one win condition short of a deck i’d love to put together at any table.


Creatures (15)
Jeskai Sage
Herald of Dromoka
Elusive Spellfist
Palace Familiar
Aven Sunstriker
Dragon Bell Monk
Misthoof Kirin
Silumgar Sorcerer
Zephyr Scribe
Lotus Path Djinn
Aven Skycaptain
Youthful Scholar

Spells (7)
Secure the Wastes
Whisk Away
Citadel Siege
Enduring Victory
Lands (17)

If I could be very picky, i’d cut Youthful Scholar for Ojutai Interceptor, Zephyr Scribe for Sandcrafter Mage, and Jeskai Sage for a 4/4 Flying Dragon. Our team, however, got smashed. While our decks were playable, they cracked all the good stuff.

While it has come to really sting when i’m on a losing team, I felt good about my ability to read the draft and build my deck. Confidence washed over me. TDL was Friday. Time to get busy.


Subs can change the chemistry of a draft, but the core of each team remains intact. Hunter’s team and our team needed someone, so we decided it would be best to double sub. They swapped out Jesse for Richard Tan. Hugh and I needed a spot for Abe.

You wanna raise the stakes, buddy?

So we hired Papa Andy Longo. The guns were red hot going into the room; when we cracked the first pack, the barrel smoke guided my hands. I first picked Flatten over Berserker’s Onslaught, sending Tanimal the signal to go for it. The draft was very strange, but black was definitely open. So much so I believed I could be the only person drafting it. After a nice Sidisi, Undead Vizier open in pack two and some solid wheels, I had an awesome deck.

No Man's Land

Creatures (19)
Shambling Goblin
Sultai Emissary
Sultai Skullkeeper
Marang River Skeleton
Frost Walker
Elusive Spellfist
Hooded Assassin
Dutiful Attendant
Vulturous Aven
Wandering Tombshell
Ojutai Interceptor
Gurmag Drowner
Silumgar Butcher
Sidisi, Undead Vizier
Noxious Dragon
Belltoll Dragon
Acid-Spewer Dragon
Gurmag Angler

Spells (3)
Reach of Shadows

Land (18)
10  Swamp

My teammates looked at me after the draft. They had awkward three-color piles of difficult decks. I was going to have to 3-0 this draft for us to have the best chance of winning.

A few hours later, and I was 2-0, ready to fight Hunters big Red/Green deck. But it was already over. Longo and Hugh went 0-5. It stung hard to take our first loss, but eventually variance turns away from you, and you keep on. And as good as it felt to have drafted good decks, to have the pieces of limited start to come together. As good as it was to have won, my team lost. When you’re getting better, that’s the last thing you want. It’s a reminder to never rest on your laurels, to always seek improvement and keep pushing ever forward.

The way home was a long walk and I slept like the dead.

Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY.

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