Mornings are my favorite slice of the day. Especially early mornings, when the light breaks across the Brooklyn sky. It is a clear and lovely Sunday dawn after a very responsible night’s sleep; my bedroom window reveals the familiar canopy of Greenpoint trees and the unfamiliar PPTQ, off in Manhattan, in sight.

Calmly, I sleeve up my deck with fresh sleeves in silence. There is nothing close to the slow ritual of desleeving and resleeving a deck for me. After rejecting double-sleeving modern decks in favor of ‘feeling’ my cards, I have become increasingly sensitive to the maintenance of freshly sleeved decks. Even my draft decks of late have been largely raw dogged. Theres something anti-establishment and pure about it. Shuffling cards, feeling them slide and snap in your hands and on the battlefield. It awakens in me a beautiful nostalgia, this pleasurable and direct relationship to the cards in of themselves.

Having spent the majority of my nights testing online, I had played through enough of the field to feel comfortable knowing I would pilot my deck to the best of my ability. This of course didn’t make me any less nervous. The nerves are tough to shake, though. I usually need the first round over and done with to sufficiently calm them. At the end of it, I stuck to my guns and didn’t change the sideboard, against my hunch. I stood firmly that I should simply run what had been given to me, as there was a good reason for each sideboard slot and, really, what the hell did I know about an expected field of a format I barely kept pace with since Worlds?

Not that I think Abzan is the best deck or anything. It’s not. But it’s the kind of Magic I love to play. Grindy, big and powerful, with a ton of play. Decks like Abzan force me to step back and constantly process given board states. I also prefer to get ahead early and stay ahead; playing from behind ain’t my comfort zone, so leaning into that discomfort more often than not continues to expand and develop my game.

My list is here.

Out the door and a quick stop to pick up the necessary sundries for sustinance. And man, it was already elegant weather in New York. Great, I thought, the perfect days like this one could shape up to be are perfect days to be inside, playing a card game. But here I am, preregistered and buying energy bars, fresh fruit, and a bottle of water. I paid the cashier and hurried into the subway, which got me to my destination in the village far too quickly. I arrived at the shop shortly after 9am, when the party was scheduled to start at 10.

So I milled around, filled out my decklist and chatted up the arriving teammates from the Draft League. It was light and almost calmed me down. With all my friends around me, the time shifted forward without notice and suddenly it was round one.

I was pitted against U/R Thopters. I forgot this deck existed, and honestly hadn’t played it at all during testing. I knew what cards were in the deck, though, so I navigated my way through the games. My first big mistake decided to show up then, in my first game. I had my opponent at 3, and had just cast and flipped my Nissa, Vastwood Seer into the Sage Animist. My line from the beginning of the turn was to set up enough defense that I can attack for lethal damage on my next turn. I had to fade exactly Shrapnel Blast and Ensoul Artifact. I planned to -2 Nissa in order to set up additional defense/crack back power. Unfortunately I had become so blinded by the line that when I revealed Siege Rhino on top of my library (I had an active Courser) I completely missed that I could +1, draw the Rhino, and cast it for lethal. I -2’d Nissa and passed the turn. My opponent had exactly Shrapnel Blast and Ensoul Artifact.

We shuffle for game 2, which wasn’t much of a game. He had double Ghostfire Blade very early and it overwhelmed my removal far too easily.


Round two pitted me against fellow TDLer Richard Tan. I knew he was on Abzan, and felt confident I could win the mirror match. I have played the mirror many times, and know a lot of the little advantages that have to be made to maximize your chances of winning each game. For instance: hold on playing your Courser of Kruphix until you can play a land immediately after resolving it. Turn four is ideal. You want to be sure you’re going to get immediate value in the face of the insane amount of removal the opponent has available. Also, don’t play your Tasigur until you can activate him at least once in the same turn. Again, extracting value in the face of removal. It’s important to always continue to manage your card advantage in the slightest of ways. Unfortunately these games were quick, as game one I went off with Nissa going uncontested and game two we both were on the Ugin plan, except my Ugin killed his Ugin. So I won the Ugin war, and the match.


Round three and i’m playing a sweet guy on Hangarback Abzan. I keep a double Thoughtseize hand and see he is maindecking his own Thoughtseizes — something I can’t wrap my head around — and he runs me over after drawing out of my hand disruption. Just like an Abzan deck does. I board into more controlling elements and take the next two games relatively easily. At one point I had Nissa, Elspeth, and Ugin all out against him. Full throttle super friends. Games like that you’re unbeatable. I wished him well and continued on.


Round four is a local Brooklyn player who usually plays Legacy, but I don’t remember ever playing him in Standard. He’s on Mardu dragons. Uh-oh. Abzan has a rough time dealing with all those big boys. I keep a slow hand and get murdered by dashed Kolaghan, and game two I keep another slow hand and the same thing happens, but it takes longer as he boards into more Haymakers, like his own Elspeths. After the match I find out I got paired up, and my opponent is now 4-0. I tell him to double draw and go get lunch. He deserved it.


I have to win out, and even then, it’s not looking good.

My next round is against Goblins. Yeah, that’s right, Goblins. You know, Obelisk of Urd. Piledriver. It was fun to see him try to go off with fast tokens and Atarka’s Command. I just cast Elspeth and that was that. It’s a very favorable matchup and went by all too quickly.


Final round is against Charles, another local guy. I know he’s on Jeskai, so I try to withstand it game one and then board into better cards for the second game. His deck is better than usual against mine, as he is more burn focused. Game one I thoughtseize a hand with 9 points of burn and he simply draws into more of it. Game two I keep a loose hand and draw all my Den Protectors instead of my removal spells. He easily ran over me in two.


Another 3-3 finish. I’m 2 for 2 in that regard. I remember at one point stepping outside and feeling the air and the sun and seeing all my Magic friends enjoying it together and I thought, Man. Today is very beautiful. I shouldn’t be spending it inside playing a card game. But here we are, outside getting it wherever we can. Enjoying it in the little moments between rounds where the game doesn’t matter as much and the friendships swell to the forefront. The other half of Magic that means as much to me as winning. The circle here in New York has a long history that predates all of us knowing each other, groups no doubt that formed and had broken over the years. Groups of Pros and groups of grinders and would-be pros, each wanting something so badly and some of them even attaining it. Us here today, outside in the sunlight on this beautiful Sunday afternoon, we are the current iteration. We are the ones who look to succeed. And I am proud to know each of them.

Derek Gallen lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York.

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