Flow of Ideas – Of Cupcakes and Karma: A PTQ Report *Winner*

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Atlanta!
Monday, April 26th – This was my last chance. The numbers were clear: play Dark Depths and you are likely to qualify. Good players with Depths dominated the top 32 of Houston. People just didn’t respect the deck. Playing anything else was just irrational.

“Bring Cupcakes or die,” read the text message flashing on my phone. Okay, so maybe it didn’t say that exactly. But it’s a close approximation.

It was 10:30 the night before my hometown PTQ. Joe Timidaiski was my ride for the next day and, after what I could only imagine was a string of never getting paid for gas or parking, he demanded cupcakes as a tribute to his stomach in place of a five dollar bill.

I went over to the kitchen. I could use a couple minutes away from grinding Dark Depths games on the computer to think about my deck choice anyway. Gatekeeper of Malakirs maindeck? How many Jaces? What were my sideboard plans? I had been looking over the list Matt Costa used, as well as the identical list Martin Juza and Gabe Walls played, and the identical list David Ochoa and Josh Utter-Leyton played — all of them to a top 32 finish in Houston.

I bent down to the cake mix cupboard and looked over my options. Curses, I was out of chocolate cake mixes. It looked like it was lemon or funfetti. Hmm, lemon or funfetti? What I can only assume is the spot in the back of your cerebral cortex reserved for intuition came the answer: ninjas.

I shook my head to send the thought flying out my ear. This was my last chance. The numbers were clear: play Dark Depths and you are likely to qualify. Good players with Depths dominated the top 32 of Houston. People just didn’t respect the deck. Playing anything else was just irrational. Aha, here we go. I spotted a cherry chip cake mix behind the others. That sounded like a good one to use up.

I pulled out my mixing bowl and started putting ingredients in. First the mix, then water oil, then eggs. Hmm, two maindeck gatekeepers with a third in the sideboard? That could work. I also liked two maindeck Jaces. Are all the lumps out? Good. Okay, time to pour these into pans. I wonder how good Juza’s sideboard plan was for him?

I set the timer and sat back down, reading text messages from people whom I had requested Dark Depths help from. I had an array of answers, none of them meshing with each other. I loaded up a Zoo deck and began to play some games of sideboarded Dark Depths versus Zoo.

Bing! The timer went off. I pulled them out. Ah, crap. I forgot to spray anti-stick on the pans before putting them in. I grabbed a knife and begin to chisel them out, conveniently eating the ones that broke. Mmm, delicious. Man, these cupcakes were good, and I really missed my post-board matchup with Guess Who? against Zoo. It had been so favorable, but I just couldn’t get it to be where I wanted with Dark Depths. Boom/Bust Zoo was especially bad. Why couldn’t my Zoo matchup just be good, like these cupcakes?

I pulled all the cupcakes out and put them on plates, covering the tops up with foil, and yawned. It was getting late and I wanted to sleep well before the PTQ. I’d just set my alarm early and figure my deck out in the morning.

I woke up and took a shower, like all great PTQ champions, going over card choices in my mind. My mind started to drift toward Guess Who? again. If I didn’t have the best Dark Depths list, wouldn’t I rather just play a deck I had a ton of experience with and a list I knew was 75 cards correct? On the other hand, me and Conley’s records were honestly just okay; neither one would be equal to a PTQ top eight if cut down the middle. And look at all of those Dark Depths lists in the top 32! It was clearly the only logical choice.

I went into the room with my printer and printed off Juza’s list and Costa’s list, and then started editing in changes. Print off your ninja decklist too, said that intuitional piece of cortex again. I couldn’t resist.

Joe’s car picked me up. Apparently he hadn’t actually expected cupcakes, and I was the only one who followed through. The people in the car ate a few, but I still had two full plates left. Oh well, finding people who wanted free cupcakes at a Magic tournament couldn’t be that hard.

I asked what everybody in the car was playing. Boom/Bust Zoo. Boom/Bust Zoo. Scapeshift Zoo.

“How good of a matchup do you think Dark Depths is?”

“I’d be happy playing against it every round.”

I arrived at the event, giving cupcakes to everyone who was loaning me cards. Andy Wilson came up to me, I offered him a cupcake, then between bites asked me if I had any cards for the Ninja deck. I reached for my bag to toss him my deckbox and paused. “I’ll tell you in ten minutes.”

Daniel Duterte arrived and handed me a box of cards I had asked him to bring. I looked through them, pulling out cards I needed. Thoughtseizes… check. I got to the back. Dark Depths. I paused.

Was I really about to do this?

“Thanks, Daniel.” I set the box back down. “Would you care for a cupcake?”

I was never really one for rationality anyway.

Whenever people tell me about the odds of something happening, or how one matchup is so favored and they lost, or anything relating to odds and numbers I can’t help but think, “that’s not how it turned out though, is it?” Magic is not just a game of numbers being crunched by computers. It’s a game of humans players making decisions.

Time to find a new batch of cards.

I walked around, offering cupcakes as I went. Joseph Bono, state champion, was giving away muffins the day he won states. I offered him a cupcake. He accepted. Zaiem Beg, who was nearby, was one of the people who ate Joe’s muffins at Champs. I offered him a cupcake. He hesitated.

“Remember what happened the last time you ate a pastry another person gave you the morning of the tournament?”

“Someone else won the event?”


Zaiem took a cupcake and I went onward. With about a half an hour left in registration, I sat down and began to think about what changes to make to my decklist. Conley and I had talked earlier in the week, and decided that, aside from definitely wanting another land, one more card for Scapeshift and combo in the sideboard would be nice. The Sower could probably go in favor of a Duress. I also wanted another basic land in case Blood Moon had become more popular because of Boom/Bust Zoo, and I had been thinking about the merits of a Creeping Tar Pit.

With all of that in mind, I changed my list only three cards. -1 Sower of Temptation, -1 Watery Grave from the maindeck for +1 Swamp +1 Creeping Tar Pit, and -1 Sower of Temptation +1 Duress in the sideboard. Conley and I were very happy with everything else about the deck.

With those changes in mind, this where my list ended up — and what I submitted for the event.

Time to battle.

Round 1 — Scapeshift

My opponent told me he was from Oregon and used dice to keep track of his life total. I didn’t let my guard down; it looked like he had at least an idea of what he was doing. He won the roll, and a turn 1 suspended Search for Tomorrow indicated to me what was going on.

Everyone had told us Scapeshift was a bad matchup. Conley also felt it probably wasn’t great, though it wasn’t unwinnable either. I was 0-1 lifetime against it after my feature match with Paulo, and hadn’t tested it any further after that. One of the compelling reasons to play Dark Depths is that it has a favorable — though not insane — Scapeshift matchup. At the first Seattle PTQ, the field was swarming with Scapeshift and I was worried about the same thing happening today. I was about to find out if my last minute switch had cost me.

I had a turn 2 Sprite into turn 3 Ninja, then Thoughtseized him and took his Scapeshift. Meanwhile, he ramped with an Elder and Peered Through Depths, finding a second Scapeshift. I went for a Jace next turn, but a fresh Cryptic Command countered it. He untapped, ramped, and Scapeshifted me out.


Game 2 I kept a hand with turn 2 Confidant, Cranial Extraction, and Vendilion Clique. I played Confidant, he cast Elder, and hoping for a Chrome Mox, I flipped to Confidant revealing… Chrome Mox! I played Mox, removed the Spellstutter Sprite I had drawn, and Extracted his Scapeshifts. Without another win condition, he conceded.

Game 3, I mulliganned and found a hand with Duress, Cranial Extraction, Vendilion Clique, and three lands. It was going to have to do. I Duressed him turn 1, taking his Cryptic Command out of a double Scapeshift draw, and on turn 3 I drew Chrome Mox to his four untapped lands. I looked him in the eyes, inhaled, exhaled, then cast Mox, imprinted Clique, and Cranial Extracted him.

He didn’t have the Command.

There was a singleton Meloku left in his deck, but he never found it and I won shortly afterward off the back of Abyssal Persecutor.


Round 2 — Hive Mind

This opponent was from Oregon as well. However, he was wielding Hive Mind, a matchup I had no idea about. It felt like it was probably a good matchup in theory, but it’s hard to say for sure.

The games basically unraveled textbook style. Game 1 I disrupted him with Thoughtseize and Vendilion Clique, and he didn’t really do much of anything. Game two, he boarded in Lightning Bolts but kept a shaky hand. When he hit three mana to transmute for Hive Mind, I used Duress to take it, and all he had after that were a bunch of Spirit Guides and a Pact I had a Spellstutter Sprite for just in case.


Round 3 — G/W Aggro

My opponent this round was also from Oregon. I thought he was playing Zoo at first, but it turns out he was G/W with Troll/Worship, Swords, Jitte, and Stoneforge Mystics, as well as all of the usual suspects like Tarmogoyf, Noble Hierarch and Kitchen Finks.

He won the roll and mulliganned, leading with a turn two 0/1 Tarmogoyf off of a turn one Stirring Wildwood. I had turn one Mox, leaving Spellstutter Sprite up, then cast Sprite, untapped, and Ninja’d it back. He cast Sword of Fire and Ice and left his 0/1’s at home, then I sent in with Ninja and picked up a card.

I had a choice: I could either play Gatekeeper and kill one of his two Tarmogoyfs, then chump block when he attacked with his (presumably) Sworded ‘Goyf the next turn, or play Abyssal Persecutor. I was fairly certain he had at least one Path in his hand, as what cards would he have not cast instead of 0/1 Tarmogoyfs on turns two and three? I considered my options and, with a Jace also in my hand to demolish him with Gatekeeper, opted to cast Persecutor. That Path was going to be a problem for me either way, and I would rather make a line of play that wins me the game if he doesn’t have it than one which is mediocre if he doesn’t have it when in both cases a Path is going to be fairly bad.

He Pathed it on his turn, equipped, and sent in with his squad, killing off Ninja. I untapped, drawing another Gatekeeper, and Gatekeepered him. He sent in with his manland and Tarmogoyf. I blocked the sworded Tarmogoyf with Gatekeeper, then untapped and Gatekeepered his second Tarmogoyf away. He cast a Knight of the Reliquary on his turn and gave it a Sword. I cast Jace and, unable to bounce the Knight, brainstormed and passed the turn. He activated his manland and sent both at Jace. I smothered his manland and let Jace fall to the Knight, then untapped, cast a second Jace, picked up my Gatekeeper, replayed it, and began to lock him out. Several turns later, his library was exiled.

Game 2, he mulliganned and I had a great draw over the course of the game with quad Smother and double gatekeeper, alongside Jace. I activated Jaces ultimate before he dealt a point of damage to me.


Round 4 — R/G Scapeshift

This opponent is also from Oregon, and he tells me that he made top eight of the Oregon PTQ. Clearly he has some idea of what he is doing.

Game 1 is the classic Scapeshift thing. I disrupt him, take away two Scapeshifts, begin to stabilize past his assault of Bloodbraid Elves, and he draws the third Scapeshift to kill me. Happens.

Game 2 he mulligans, I have an awesome disruption draw with a Confidant he doesn’t kill, and I beat him in fairly short order.

Game 3 is the “interesting” one. I start out ahead with a Confidant and a Duress taking Blood Moon, then a Vendilion Clique. He Bloodbraid Elves into Jitte though and picks off my team. I eventually trade Elf with Persecutor and he lands Blood Moon to my zero colored sources. However, he’s out of relevant cards.

We both draw into nothing for a few turns. I find a Mox, but don’t play it yet. I am at eight. He has Jitte on the table and Scapeshifts into a bunch of lands to thin his deck, including Treetop Village. I totally blank here and forget Blood Moon shuts down his Village, and consider my options. My only out is to draw Smother next turn, and then not die to burn — so I put Mox on black and Cranial Extraction him for Lightning Bolt.

Inadvertently, this mistake may have ended up winning me the game.

A thousand turns later, my opponent has drawn actual nothing but lands and spells that don’t do anything. He has Punishing Fired me down to 2 though, after drawing three in a row. I begin to find colored sources — notably a Mox on blue, an Island, and two Swamps. (One of which was the Swamp I added to my deck, which made me feel smart.) I begin Jacing him out with Persecutor and removal up, and, after a few turns, he finally succumbs. I didn’t feel like I really deserved to win that game as I misplayed and he drew in a terrible manner that defied all odds. But as I said earlier, Magic is a game with players, not number crunching computers — this stuff can happen.

Round 5 — Zoo

In round five, my opponent informs me he is not from Oregon. That was going to be a problem if I could only beat Oregon players today. I hoped that wasn’t the case.

He was playing Zoo, and neither game was even close. Game 1, I think he cast a Loam Lion and a Wild Nacatl, the latter of which was Spellstutter Sprited, before turn five or six hit and I was firmly in control. Game two, he actually had an okay draw, but after the standard routine of Deathmark this, Smother that, Gatekeeper you, and by the way Jitte him up, the game never really felt out of my control.


Round 6 — Grixis Control

I was playing against close friend Max McCall this round. The winner would make it in, but instead of playing I immediately offered him a draw. That way, we would each just have to win one of our next two matches for both of us to make top eight. I didn’t want to have to knock Max out. He refused my offer of a draw, preferring one of us locked top eight up. Alright, Max. If that’s the way you want to brawl, then so be it.

I win the roll and have an insane opener. Turn 1 Dark Confidant, turn two attack, Ninja, Thoughtseize you.

Max revealed his hand of expensive spells, Thirst for Knowledge, a Signets, no lands, a Mox, and a Gatekeeper. He tossed the Gatekeeper into his bin and I told him that’s a cute bush league trick, and to put the Gatekeeper back in his hand. Then I hit the tank. For some reason unbeknownst to me, I think letting him keep the Gatekeeper is more dangerous than letting him keep his second mana source. I don’t know why I made this play after thinking about it for two minutes, as looking back it was pretty incorrect to do so with how much gas I had in my hand. After the game, I even told him if I had just taken the Mox he has no chance of winning.

Of course, I obviously won the game despite letting him using that Mox to Thirst, draw lands, wrath me twice, and get a Jace in play. I Vendilion Cliqued him a few times and bashed him with a Persecutor. Who has the chips now, McCall?

Game 2 I had turn 1 Confidant again, which was snap-Smothered by McCall. The game is a grind, some of my guys die, we trade Jaces and so forth, and a thousand turns later he kills me with double Lavaclaw Reaches when I have him dead to Creeping Tar Pit the next turn.

Game 3 we both mulliganned, and tell him my hand isn’t good enough because it doesn’t have turn one Confidant. Lo and behold, turn one Confidant, go. I followed it up with a Thoughtseize, and despite an array of Smothers, won off the fiery back of Abyssal Persecutor


I draw the next round. Meanwhile, Max hits Mono Red Burn and loses. Rough.

I have given away all of my cupcakes at this point, and I’m hungry. Everyone who is out is eating Chinese food from the nearby food court, and I head over to the food court to grab some food. I head over toward the Chinese place when a fish place catches my attention. I didn’t really want the starch from rice anyway since traditionally starch turns me into a zombie while I’m trying to play. And all of the people who lost were eating Chinese food. I wasn’t going to be like them. I was a winner. Fish it was! They even let me substitute fries for a salad, which was awesome.

I sat down and watched a dance performance unfold on the center stage, which was nice and relaxing. Meanwhile, I texted Conley and we synced up my sideboard plans for the top eight, including trying to figure out a way to beat the burn and dredge players who were locked in. I would be happy with any top eight matchup but either of those.

I headed back in time for the last round, where I analyzed pairings. I tried to figure out where I would end up if I conceded my last round instead of playing. I wanted to end up as far away from the burn and dredge players as possible. Ultimately, I figured I really couldn’t figure it out with accuracy since a lot of the breakers were close together, and just drew again.

The final standings went up, and I looked over the bracket. I would have to play Scapeshift in the first round. Not my favorite, but its doable. I saw my second round matchup and shook my head: it would either be Dredge or Burn. Neither matchup was one I wanted to face. But I couldn’t worry about that now. One thing at a time. I would have to win that match when it came to it. The other half of the bracket was Depths versus Scapeshift twice. Too bad I wasn’t over there! Hopefully drawing my match instead of conceding it hadn’t squelched my chances.

But there wasn’t any time to think about that. It was time for the Top 8!

Quarterfinals — Scapeshift

I had asked the head judge before the Top 8 if we were going to be exchanging decklists. He had said no, which was advantageous for me because I figured most people wouldn’t know what was going on with my sideboard — or deck, for that matter. But despite my opponent being a Scapeshift deck, I wondered what he had. I knew his version was different; I had seen some Halimar Depths in play. Hopefully nothing weird in his list would blow me out.

I lose the roll and he mulliganned. I saw a zero land hand. Mulligan. My six would be passable against any other deck. 3 lands, Gatekeeper, Gatekeeper, Persecutor. But it wasn’t going to be good enough here. Down to five! My hand was double Spellstutter Sprite, double Vendilion Clique, Sunken Ruins. Alright, I can live with that. I draw a land on my first turn and ran Sprite on turn two, followed by Clique. I took away his Scapeshift and began to beat down, then Ninja’d back my Vendilion Clique to do it all again. A Jace next turn put the game out of reach.

Game 2 I had a much better draw, with Duress into Confidant, and then Mutavault attacking, returning with Ninja. I Vendilion Cliqued away a Scapeshift and followed it up with Glen Elendra Archmage, leaving a blue up. I managed to take down the game from that position.

I looked over at the other matchup. I had expected Dredge to win. So had most of the other players. That wasn’t the case. Burn barely pulled the match out, and now I was going to have to face him. If I could win this match, I felt good about my chances of winning the PTQ. But it was going to be hard. Conley had beat it in Houston, but even he said it’s a terrible matchup. We had talked about how to sideboard against it during my break, and we were off.

Semifinals — Mono Red Burn

I won the roll, played a land, and Thoughtseized him. I took his Shrapnel Blast, and he drew Goblin Guide. He attacked, revealing Gatekeeper, and I played Confidant to block. He incinerated my Confidant and served in for two. I played Sunken Ruins to make triple black and Gatekeepered him, and he had Bolt for the Gatekeeper and another Goblin Guide. I drew and passed. He cast his last two cards, the two varieties of 3/1 elementals, and served in. I took it and drew Smother for his Guide, but died a few turns later to double Blinkmoth Nexus and a Shrapnel Blast.

Game 2 I was on the play and Thoughtseized him again, taking Shrapnel Blast again. He, of course, drew Goblin Guide again and sent in. I untapped and passed, Smothering his Guide on the attack but taking two from his second Goblin Guide plus three more from a Lava Spike. I Gatekeepered away his Guide and he untapped, thought, and, once again, ran both kinds of 3/1 haste elemental into play. I took them both, untapped, and equipped Jitte. He drew his card, told me he couldn’t beat Jitte if it was active for more than a turn, and conceded.

Before game 3, he offered me a joking deal. “I won’t have turn 1 Goblin Guide if you don’t draw Jitte. Ever.” I weighed the options, never really responding. The deal quickly was off though when he attacked with Goblin Guide on the first turn, flipping over Jitte.

“So much for that offer.”

I Moxed and passed, taking another hit from his Guide but Spellstutter Spriting his Lava Spike. I attacked and Vendilion Cliqued him when he attacked, seeing no creature burn spells and blocking his Guide. I took 3 from a 3/1, then he Lava Spiked me and passed. I untapped, equipped Jitte, followed it up two turns later with an Archmage, and locked the difficult matchup up.

Good thing I didn’t accept that offer.

The semifinals is just finishing as my match ends. I watch the Dark Depths player win and have to face him in the finals. I feel pretty good about this matchup. Furthermore, the crowd is on my side. I feel like some anime superhero with the power of friendship empowering him, or something.

Finals — Dark Depths

Game 1 I maintained control and never really let go. Thoughtseize him, Vendilion Clique his Jace, cast my own Jace, and then exile his library after drafting his draws for so long.

Game 2 we both had turn 1 Dark Confidants. He played a second one, but I Smothered it after revealing a four to my Maher. I served in with Confidant, and he declined to block. He attacked with his Confidant and cast Thirst, leaving Urborg up. I flipped another four, then destroyed his Urborg with one of my own. He tried to tap it for mana in response, and I informed him he couldn’t do that. After judge clarification for the ruling, I activated Mutavault, and attacked with Confidant and Mutavault. He thirsted again, attacked, and passed. I flipped a four and a two, and I activated a Mutavault and crashed in for 6, bringing him to 6, then passed. I considered Ninjaing back a Confidant, but if I did that I couldn’t attack with Mutavault and put him to dead next turn if he didn’t block.

He makes a very strange play in attacking with Confidant and passing. I untap, and flip a four, putting me to 2, and… a 0! Finally. I activate Mutavault and attack for 6, figuring he has something.

He tanks, and eventually decided to Darkblast my Mutavault. I don’t know why he targeted the ‘Vault, as if he targets Confidant it just dies and then he kills me in his next turn. Instead, I instinctively reactivate Mutavault with my one untapped land after Darkblast resolves. My opponent, realized what just happened, and concedes

I picked up my cards and a spectator pointed out that with M10 rules they changed it so you can no longer reactivate Mutavault to make it a 2/2 again. I immediately realize he is correct, and I had just made that play instinctively because I had done it in so many times in Faeries mirrors with Peppersmoke. Fortunately, he hadn’t shuffled his cards in yet and we flipped over his library yet to see what would have happened. He would have flipped a Muddle the Mixture and died anyway, regardless of how the Darkblast interaction worked out.

Wait. I won that match… That means… I won the PTQ!


I did a little dance and then celebrated with some late-night Cheesecake Factory. Delicious. Any tournament that starts in cupcakes and ends in cheesecake is good in my book.

I’m very, very excited to be back on the Pro Tour. San Juan is going to be a great time, and I plan to stay there for a week. I really, really want to chain Pro Tours together so I won’t have to grind out PTQ’s anymore.

I’ll admit, going into this PTQ I didn’t think I’d write a report on it, since it’s about a format which is now out of season about a deck I have written about for the past two weeks. But winning a PTQ and not writing a report about it is just sacrilege. For those curious, I don’t think I would change a card — I was pretty happy with the whole 75.

As I gear up for San Juan and the upcoming Standard PTQ’s, I’ll have plenty more news and ideas to bring to you guys. If you have any questions, feel free to pose them in the forums or e-mail them to me at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com. Just because I’m back on the ‘Tour doesn’t mean I’m going to be slacking off during Standard season. I already have some exciting Rise of the Eldrazi ideas in the works.

Thanks for following along with my PTQ experience, and I’ll see you in the forums!

Gavin Verhey
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else