I look up.

Magmatic Chasm?”

Yeah, you got it. I smile. Good luck tomorrow.

Ultimate Price. Swing in with everything?”

Best of luck to you the rest of the day.

A handshake. Lotsa luck to ya.

“Attack step. Elite Scaleguard triggers. Tap down your creatures.”

Good games, man.

“Lose calm your guy. Attack step. Come at you for lethal.”

Thanks for the games.



“Outpost Siege. Draw. Swift Warkite. Trigger Boltwing. Return Hardened Berserker. Trigger Boltwing Maurader. Attack step —”

I scoop up my cards. There is an infinite moment of silence that thrusts itself against me. I mumble somthing like good luck, but I doubt I actually said anything at all.

It’s a little after six in the morning and i’m waiting for the elevator on the fourth floor of the hotel. There’s a window which reveals a washed out and sun dried motel Longo had later suggested dates back to the 1960’s. Sixties at least. It looks penetrated and vinegared, the short patios that faced the crumbling recreational pool, their rails like connect-four towers in deflated and familiar shades of psychadelic colors. The two concrete parking garage towers gleam with dewey cars. Beyond them, an Art Nouveau-style skyscraper fires from the ground into the sky and the low hanging cloud of water.

When we drive from the hotel to the convention center it’s only a mile. The way is festooned with street signs the names of American states steadfast above the flattened and craning necks of morning drifters. This barred and sunken roadway dissolves into an outdoor outlet mall as fine as Disneyworld; we pass it, pointing out the emblazoned and long forgotten brand names like exotic creatures on safari.

My Saturday pool is impressively mediocre. I can build a UB deck with Palace Siege and Damnable Pact, or I can build a janky RW deck with a Sandblast. I sleeve up both and register the UB deck. I had no way to deal with many resolved bombs across either deck, so I resigned to engineer my wins by nickel and diming until my few win conditions can close the games. Theres an argument I start with the RW deck, but I was confident my black rares were better than the entire RW pile.

After five rounds I am 4-1. A few hours later I am 4-5. There comes a point when you have to start facing decks with actual power levels. And when confronted, my deck couldn’t keep up. I was light on interaction, heavy on creatures. It was this imbalanced recipe I had mulled over  with my PPTQ pool a few weeks ago.

But I wasn’t frustrated. I wasn’t upset or angry. When my round 9 opponent ran over me with a beautiful curve bookended by Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and Elite Scaleguard, I just shrugged and picked up my cards and stuffed everything into my backpack and hurried to check in with the guys at the top tables. I was playing well, had some good games across the day, but ultimately my pool struggled to finish the games I was ahead in; my opponent could easily draw out of my lack of pressure.

Winning matches with a weak pool is a profound experience that combines a little luck with the maximization of unimpressive resources. I keep being asked by the Magic Gods to win with piles of cards I don’t want to play around a few cards I do want to play. Puzzles without a clear answer, like an unlocked door that reveals another door already locked. One of these days, I said to myself and maybe out loud too, one of these days i’ll get a strong enough pool and won’t have to work so hard for my wins. Funny words.

Atlantic City was enshrouded with mist as we neared her borders Friday afternoon, a mist that seemed to roll through the city temprementally all weekend.


These storms filled the city with an eerie darkness, as if the harbor sought to protect the cities inhabitants from the world by extending itself against the harsh and revealing sunlight. Pulled into the 21st century the whole circus was asked to balance itself on a few rotten wooden slats, a junkyard gaggle of deranged and rusted iron pipes. Except nothing was hidden from us as we traversed the back alley roadways. We saw instead the behemoths above and the fragility that kept it all miserably together with the same eye. It was a lot and it was all at once.


Sunday I arrived early enough to enter the Sunday Super Series. A handful of Team Draft Leaguers made day two and it would be exciting to root for them on the other side of the room while I battled again with a new sealed pool. This time, however, I was gifted a reasonable assortment of cards. In white I had Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit and Citadel Siege. In black I had Deathbringer Regent and Kolaghan’s Command. I had a solid six removal spells and decent creatures. I decided to force the Citadel Siege game one and play a slightly underpowered RW deck with a low curve. I also had a free splash of Torrent Elemental and Cunning Breezedancer with a Tranquil Cove and an Evolving Wilds. I could then board into the BR deck to go bigger than my opponent after game one. I registered the RW deck and sleeved everything up.

I had made an egregious mistake. The Citadel Siege was a trap. My BR deck was infinitely better and I knew it; I sided into BR every game two and I never won a single game one. Here are the two decks:


Creatures (16)
Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
Dromoka Warrior
Mardu Scout
Kolaghan Aspirant
Sandcrafter Mage
Hardened Berserker
Screamreach Brawler
Sabertooth Outrider
Sandstorm Charger
Aven Tactician
Strongarm Monk
Torrent Elemental
Cunning Breezedancer

Spells (7)
Kindled Fury
Wild Slash
Twin Bolt
Artful Maneuver
Citadel Siege
Lands (17)
Evolving Wilds
Tranquil Cove


Creatures (15)
Kolaghan Skirmisher
Mardu Scout
Kolaghan Aspirant
Reckless Imp
Minister of Pain
Hooded Assassin
Hardened Berserker
Screamreach Brawler
Vulturous Aven
Sabertooth Outrider
Noxious Dragon
Swift Warkite
Deathbringer Regent

Spells (8)
Kindled Fury
Wild Slash
Twin Bolt
Dragon Fodder
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Kolaghan’s Command
Reach of Shadows

Looking back, its clear which deck is better. But I was thwarted by the power of Citadel Siege and thought I could ‘get’ people with it game one. But that was the Best Case Scenario. If I drew my mediocre creatures and nothing else, the deck couldn’t punch through. I always went into BR and it was always the right choice. I had answers to bombs, a catch-all in Deathbringer Regent, and a solid aggressive plan with the Warbringers.

I fought and fought, but it seemed like most of my opponents got to nut-draw against me. I made a few bad plays that cost me games: I misasigned my role, dashed a creature instead of casting it, didn’t attack when I should have. It was a crash course in losing, but I never accepted defeat and kept pressing on. It was difficult to sit down at the tables of the dead and get smashed by an opponents ‘best draw of the day’ but I was there to get beaten, there to learn. The silence that confronted me as the final attack came across was the punctuating mark that reminded my exhausted mind how far I had yet to fight.

I ran out to grab food and choked it down back at the convention center next to the feature match area, my hands wet with grease and salt. Hugh Kramer was playing Jacob Wilson for his win-and-in into top 8. It was game three, and the moment I locked eyes on the game Jacob had curved out into Dragonlord Ojutai. An attack later and Hugh extended the hand. He finished 15th after going undefeated on day one. It was the strongest Grand Prix finish the league had ever made. I was proud to be his teammate, and his friend; to learn from a guy with so much skill will be one of the keys to my success.

We left the venue shortly thereafter and drove home watching the top 8 draft and then talking through the Modern Masters spoilers. We joked and laughed and bonded, the four of us, exhausted and strained to our limits. Exiting the clouds of Atlantic City we returned to the America we knew and remembered. It was heavy and humid, loud and dense with traffic. It was New York. It was home.

Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, NY.


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