Four Views Of A PTQ

Ari Lax talks about the four decks he and his friends played at the PTQ on Saturday. Four different archetypes in one car and multiple Top 8 appearances.

Due to a combination of schoolwork and format preference, I opted out of spending the weekend in Orlando and instead drove down to a PTQ. I was completely lost at Standard, and I didn’t have the fire to build a new deck. Modern, however, was something that seemed awesome, and I was nostalgic for PTQ trips. Five-hour drives, waking up at 4 am, getting home around that same time, what’s not to like?

We started the four-hour drive Saturday morning with a bit of trepidation. The store, Gamerz, was a place none of us had ever been to, and given the notorious size of Midwest PTQs and the recent switch to store-based events, we had fears of size caps, fire-code violations, and terrible judge calls. Upon arrival, we discovered none of that was true. The store had a reasonable play area, a solid judge staff, a great TO, and most importantly clean restrooms. Considering we started an hour late due to technical issues and still finished before nine, I would call it an operational success. I’m still going to be wary of new locations for these events, and if an event breaks 200 people, I’m sure most stores are drawing dead, but this time it was all good. The size of the event felt a little suppressed without the advertising link from all the PTQs being listed together by a PTO’s website, but I think that is something that can easily be fixed.

All four of the people in the car ended up playing different archetypes I felt were perfectly reasonable choices. Here is how things broke down.

View 1: Myself with Red Robots

We all know what’s going on here by now:

I ended up losing round one to Splinter Twin when they boarded in Ancient Grudges then game three had the land, Twin, and Dispel to get there against my lethal Shrapnel Blast. I battled back through Storm, Esper Control, Grixis, and three Jund decks that boarded an average of eight cards with at least three Ancient Grudges to top eight. In top eight, I ended up defeating a Splinter Twin player before conceding to a friend of mine playing Splinter Twin. For those wondering who, it was Matt McCullough, aka mlmcc1 or the person whose list myself and others have been using as a reference the past few weeks.

In terms of the Jund matchup, I was previously overestimating how good Ancient Grudge was and underestimating Blood Moon there. Grudge still doesn’t let them beat Etched Champion, and all the lists I’ve seen only have one of each basic and four Verdant Catacombs. That means they have six lands that even let them come close to playing spells under Blood Moon and usually will be stuck on a two-color mana base after it resolves.

Ethersworn Canonist is probably completely unnecessary as a four-of. It’s a leftover of MODO three weeks ago when Storm was everywhere, and having a 100% matchup against it was more relevant than having four other sideboard slots and a still favorable but closer matchup. I could easily see going down to zero or even just two if you want a little something to be sure you can just cold them. There might be another card that has added utility elsewhere to take this slot as well.

Spellskite and Torpor Orb are definitely the wrong Twin hate. Both suffer from the fact they will be boarding in artifact hate anyway. Twin is very adept at dealing with permanent-based-solutions to their combo due to Flame Slash, Echoing Truth, and Ancient Grudge or Shattering Spree. Orb is still a really strong effect, as they have to deal with it, but Spellskite is easily beaten by Exarch plus Kiki-Jiki and often just eats a Flame Slash. My top eight opponent even had Twisted Image. I’m leaning towards some mix of Combusts and Torpor Orbs, with the latter only because you don’t have to leave mana up for it.

Some people have been cutting Arcbound Ravagers from the deck for Welding Jars and Steel Overseers, and there are some results to back it up. While I haven’t played without the fairy godmother and understand how mediocre it can be at times, I’m partial to how it handles against the fair decks of the format, most notably how the Delver strategies and Jund have a hard time with a resolved Ravager just growing and beating everything they can fight with. I’ve also been very unimpressed with Steel Overseer outside of the tokens and Merfolk matchups, where their lack of removal means he gets going, and their board-focused game means your long-term sized-up army is relevant. I’ve heard very good things about Welding Jar however, so I might try switching in a few. It seems almost like a zero-cost Spellskite, which isn’t unreasonable. If you are going to run this deck, I would try out both versions and see where your preferences fall.

The level of spite for this deck right now is going to be very high, but it deserves it. Even with Dredge levels of hate coming in, I was winning matches fairly easily.

View 2: Matt McCullough with Splinter Twin

On his way to the finals, Matt didn’t drop a match, taking down two Affinity decks, a mirror match, a Grixis deck, Caw-Blade, and a wild Amulet of Vigor combo deck based on bouncelands and Summer Bloom. His loss in the finals came down to a point game three where he was about a 2:1 favorite to find a Splinter Twin before dying to an Etched Champion and couldn’t get there.

If you look at the list, you will notice there really isn’t anything cute or interactive here. No Snapcaster Mages, no Vendilion Cliques, just 55 cards dedicated 100% to killing them and five other cards that are just along for the ride because nothing else is better. At least Remand cycles or something. Sure, sometimes you just brick. Just accept that you are going into the event saying “75% of the time, it works every time” and go win.

The lists I played against all day had Firespout, Ancient Grudge, and a green land, but Spree and Slagstorm do all of that work and then some. Spree is marginally worse at stopping Cranial Plating from haste attacking you, but you have eight tappers for that. What Spree does better is let you kill a Spellskite or Torpor Orb and go off on the same turn or just let you kill everything they have at once.

On the play, it is fairly easy to just Obliterate them on turn three.

This is definitely the deck to beat, given the real life and Magic Online PTQ results from this past weekend. Be prepared.

View 3: Kurtis Droge with Grixis Value

Kurtis is well known around here for his less than standard card or deck choices and stalwart defense of them before events. In this case, the cards in question were Bituminous Blast, Sedraxis Specter, Rise / Fall, the lack of maindeck Dark Confidants or Delver of Secrets, and maindeck Electrolyze. He ended up beating Twin, Caw-Blade, Zoo, and Storm before losing to Matt and then a Zoo player to fall out of contention.

Sedraxis Specter was great. It gave you an engine and threat in fair matchups and prevented combo opponents from just sitting there and setting up. There were only good things to say about the card after the event was over. On the same note, the Dark Confidants should have been in the maindeck for obvious reasons. They just do the same thing as Specter by letting you just get to a hand of all answers.

Rise / Fall was pretty much the pure variance you would expect it to be. The Fall half is obvious, and the Rise half was very situational. It was a fine two- or three-of value spell, but easily could be cut. Electrolyze, on the other hand, was reasonably solid at gaining marginal value. Again, not something you want more of, but it took out Snapcasters, Squadron Hawks, and Steppe Lynxes to help you in your attempts to grind out a win.

Bituminous Blast was exactly as bad as everyone said it would be ahead of time. It ended up winning Kurtis a match against Caw-Blade after he cast it five times in a game with the help of Snapcaster Mage, but by the time we left, even he admitted it was terrible. Nice five-drop that doesn’t win the game and prevents you from playing Mana Leak or any other similar spell.

Delver is something we are still undecided on. It definitely makes it a much different deck, more focused on killing them than always having the answer and grinding out an advantage. All the MODO lists had Delver, but that might just be because it seems so obvious and was never questioned.

This is a very rough draft of a deck that is probably very good. At worst it is a bad Jund deck, but I think Cryptic Command and Snapcaster Mage are more than enough of an incentive to give it a try. This rings especially true given how bad Bloodbraid Elf seemed out of all the Jund decks I played against, leaving the green cards at Maelstrom Pulse, Tarmogoyf, Kitchen Finks, and Treetop Village. Pulse is fairly generic removal and is replaceable; Tarmogoyf is splashable into this deck; and Fink was another card that seemed disappointing at every turn. Too many unfair decks for a three-mana 3/2 to do real damage. Treetop Village is a legitimate incentive, but is that it?

View 4: Alex John with Gifts Ungiven

Alex John wanted to run with Twin based on his Standard performances with the deck, including a top eight at StarCityGames.com Open: Pittsburgh this summer, but he was a couple Kiki-Jiki away from a second copy of the deck. This list was something we had tested to good results against both Affinity and Twin, so we put it together. Alex ended the event at 4-3, but all the losses were very close or due to a deck registration game loss, and the deck put up wins across the field, including a round one win against Twin without him knowing how the actual combo worked. For those who still haven’t heard about it, you can Gifts Ungiven for two cards because the text specifies a specific type of cards (those with different names), and you can fail to find the others. Your opponent then has to put both of those into your graveyard, and if they happen to be Iona and Unburial Rites, this turns out to work very well for you.

Most of the notes on this deck are very specific due to the nature of Gifts, so I’ll quickly bullet point them out here:

-Night of Soul’s Betrayal was an effect Alex noted would have won a lot of games. Twin actually can’t kill with it in play; it hits a lot of Affinity guys and shuts off the various token and Procession decks.

-Kataki was terrible now that Affinity doesn’t have artifact lands, and they can just pay every turn for a guy and Plating. The alternate Disenchants we had online were really nice however, as they hit Blood Moons. Things will be switched around appropriately.

Timely Reinforcements maindeck probably isn’t needed. It is only good against Zoo.

Slaughter Pact should be in the deck as another cheap removal spell to Gifts for.

Thirst for Knowledge was very good, and you probably want more. Alchemy flashback also came up, and you see an extra card off of it despite it not getting reanimation targets out of your hand, so this isn’t a one-sided argument.

-The deck may have wanted some Talismans. I would imagine the ideal configuration is three mana artifacts and twenty-five lands if you went that way, but I would also be worried about flooding out. It does give you some more game against Blood Moon, though with eight basics you don’t need that much. This is something that will be tested if we pursue this deck further.

-Common question: “How do you beat graveyard hate X?” Answer: “Cast Gifts the normal way and just win like a normal Esper control deck because they have blanks.”

Gifts is very strong. As Affinity and Twin hate starts to build up, expect this deck to take a fair portion of the metagame. It can beat both of those decks heads up without hate and still operates on the same level of brokenness and resilience.

View Five: The Zoo Deck That Wasn’t

This is the Zoo list I mentioned last week that no one actually ended up picking up here. I shipped it out to a couple people but haven’t received any results back. The deck started with a concept I learned from Legacy: Kird Ape and Loam Lion are actually terrible given the current state of creatures. They don’t do nearly enough damage early and don’t fight hard enough late game. If you take that and remove the Wild Nacatls, why are you green anymore? Tarmogoyf is good and all, but you don’t need the mana to focus around it. We were also part way there on a straight W/U/R aggro list, but it really needed one more beater and one more good burn spell. Some Goyfs and Tribal Flames later, and this was the result.

I will warn you of two things on this list. First of all, the mana is probably wrong. Test first, fix second, play in a PTQ later. Second, the sideboard is similarly loose. Try it out a couple matches, or just run with it. Your choice, I haven’t crunched any real numbers on it.

To wrap everything up into an easy-to-process package:

The Top Four Things You Should be Prepared For Next Weekend in PTQs

1. Robots and Twin are the top two decks.

These decks are where the raw power lies and are both very resilient. You aren’t beating either without a solid game plan and likely a significant amount of hate. Also, don’t just assume you have enough hate. I went 4-1 on the day against decks packing three or more Ancient Grudges. These aren’t Dredge, where you just slam Leyline and they don’t play Magic. Your deck needs to be able to do something functional on top of having hate. Also know which hate matters. Kataki is not going to beat Affinity, and Spellskite is likely very easy for Twin to get around.

2. Blood Moon is a thing and will kill you.

Both of the two big decks have a huge sideboard trump to a lot of decks that would otherwise run them over with hate. If your deck can’t cast spells with a Blood Moon in play, consider whether you can change that. The first two options I would consider are making a better manabase with basics or considering whether Signets are the place to be. If you can’t, it might be time to reconsider whether it is worth doing what you are doing.

3. Jund is the other thing you have to beat more than once per event.

I personally hate the deck, but people like to play Jund and are winning with it. The cards are all very good, and it will punish you for not having a stupidly good or focused deck. The issues I have with it are that it fails the point number two (nice two basics, four fetchlands) and just crumbles when your opponent does something powerful. Seriously, it needs eight hate spells to even come close to keeping up with Affinity, and even when whatever card in the deck is interactive with the combo, it is behind to Twin.

4. There is a lot of potential in Snapcaster creature decks.

The other deck that was everywhere was Delver variants. I assume most of them lost because they are still unrefined, but expect there to be just as many in the near future and for them to get better and better. Mono-Blue Faeries put up some results in the MODO PTQs this weekend as well, and it might be possible that the right way to play the decks is closer to Elves Extended Blue than current Legacy decks, with things like Vedalken Shackles potentially making a comeback.

I might have another brew up and ready for next week, but no promises. The deck is together, but I’m not sure how it will fare against the world. Who knows though, depending on how things go, you may or may not see me attacking with some Spaghetti Monsters at the Detroit PTQ this weekend.