The best thing about winning the PTQ I wrote about last month is that, since I recently married Mark Brezinski, I essentially won us a portion of a honeymoon. Or, a portion of a portion of a honeymoon, because really, I’d be playing Magic from Monday through Saturday, leaving precious few days to behold wild sea urchins the size of my head.
The Part of My Vacation Where I Did Work
As soon as I got off the plane, I became obsessed with photographing the birds on the street. Later, I learned they were the pinecone-like zebra quails common in Hawaii. Here is a photo of one looking very flat.
It looks like a pinecone, but it’s a bird!
After checking into our hotel (paid for by Mark’s gracious parents as a wedding gift), I spent two days feeling ill from jetlag and testing Standard. Of the next few days, I would spend more than one on Honolulu’s transit system, TheBus, learning about the dangers of meth as I made my way to Rob Dougherty beach house.
I tested a Jund Pod deck I’d been working on, but was left ultimately dissatisfied with the mana base. As an opposing colored deck splashing red for Kessig Wolf Run and Huntmaster of the Fells, Woodland Cemetery and Evolving Wilds couldn’t cut it. A Pro Tour didn’t seem like the ideal place for a shaky manabase, regardless of the strength of the cards.
Next, I tried a Reanimator deck that some of my friends were planning to run. While Faithless Looting provided Reanimator with the discard tool it had formerly been lacking in Standard, I worried that it would be too one-dimensional as a whole. I didn’t expect to outplay everyone at my first Pro Tour, but having more options is rarely a bad thing. I didn’t want to be limited to the first fatty that I happened to draw and hope that it came along with Unburial Rites and the appropriate lands.
For a couple days, we mostly drafted and I learned that Mark is much better at post-Dark Ascension draft than I am. I like drafting aggressively, and I think that Dark Ascension has made these archetypes much less viable. One good-looking B/R Vampire deck I drafted went 1-2 against a pair of blue decks. It seemed like any old 1/4 was way more of an issue than it should have been.
Finally, on Thursday morning, I looked towards my next two prospects, U/B Zombies and R/G Aggro. Tempo Zombies seemed to do decently in playtesting, but I was hesitant to pilot something so unproven. I decided to go with a G/R deck based on Todd Anderson mono-green list from Richmond’s SCG Open. It was more similar to decks I’ve historically done well with, like Goblins, Jund, and Boss Naya. It would also allow me to play with Strangleroot Geist and Huntmaster of the Fells, which are the Dark Ascension cards that most excited me. I swapped out Dungrove Elders for Huntmasters, replaced the Garruks with Brimstone Volleys, and then decided I was being crazy and played Galvanic Blasts instead.
We went over the most anticipated decks, and after concluding that Glissa, the Traitor was good against most of them, I decided to run her maindeck and just be cognizant of her requirement of either a Bird or a Green Sun’s Zenith.
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Glissa, the Traitor
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 3 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 2 Daybreak Ranger
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
Since the event, I’ve made some changes to the deck like cutting Glissa, who ended up to be a little too awkward, and adding some Titans. The Predator Ooze was a little too cute, as well.
Round 1: Tomoyuki Honnami
Game 1, on the play, I kept a weird hand with a Birds of Paradise and three Llanowar Elves. While he played a turn 1 Bird, I pretty much dropped my entire hand on the table. As it turned out, he was playing white Wolf Run. After crippling me with Day of Judgment, he slowed my progress further with Garruk. Later, he stabilized at five life with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. She and Thrun, the Last Troll took me from twenty to dead in short order.
In the second game, we both mulled to five though I was on the play. He cast Rampant Growth then Green Sun’s Zenithed for a Bird, which I took as a cue to Galvanic Blast it. When he Zenithed for a second Bird, I was sure to murder it with Garruk Relentless. The ensuing wolves and a Huntmaster killed him before he could get to Titan mana.
Game three wasn’t much of a game because he mulled to five on the play while I kept my seven. When he finally stabilized against my two Strangleroot Geist with an Acidic Slime and a Day of Judgment, he laid an Inferno Titan. I copied it then used my pseudo Titan to kill him.
Round 2: Tomaz Grabnar
Tomaz was from Slovenia, and he was playing a green/black deck similar to Conley Woods‘ GP Orlando deck. He cast Rampant Growth and Sphere of the Suns and kept wiping the board with Black Sun’s Zenith. I won the die roll but lost game one over many turns to a Massacre Wurm after I was out of gas.
In game three, I slowly beat him down while he ramped and killed my guys with Doom Blade and Go for the Throat. I started overrunning him with Beasts from Garruk, Primal Hunter. He cast Green Sun’s Zenith for a Primeval Titan, but he had to Black Sun’s Zenith for three to kill my planeswalker with it. Left with one creature, he would kill me with Inkmoth Nexuses the next turn. Luckily, I topdecked a Kessig Wolf Run which was good enough with him at two life. “The Black Sun’s Zenith was a topdeck, too,” he confessed as he shook my hand.
Round 3: Arthur Halavais
Arthur was playing a W/U/B token control deck with Sorins, Elspeth, Liliana, and Day of Judgment. He drew out game one until he had gained plenty of life off of Vampires and Vault of the Archangel, then eventually killed me with emblemed-up Spirits.
In the second game, I managed to kill him despite a Timely Reinforcements and Curse of Death’s Hold. I used Surgical Extraction on the first Lingering Souls he cast, and then killed him before he could land a Sun Titan.
Game three, he mulled to six on the play while I went turn 2 Strangleroot Geist, turn 3 Metamorphed Strangleroot Geist. I used Garruk Relentless to eat a Vampire and let my Geists finish off the planeswalker. After that, a Huntmaster and Sword of War and Peace made short work of his unprotected life points.
At this point, I was pretty elated to be 3-0 at my first Pro Tour. I was pretty confident that I’d made a good deck choice, and I wanted to see how far I could take it.
Round 4: Andreas Ganz
Andy was playing Wolf Run Ramp with Whipflare. On the play, I Green Sun’s Zenithed for a Strangleroot Geist on turn 2, copied it on turn 3, made another copy on turn 4, then Zenithed for a fourth Geist. His Solemn Simulacrum and Whipflare didn’t do much to halt the onslaught.
In game 2, we got into a long Sword-and-Titan battle during which I killed a Bird with Huntmaster. He started poisoning me with Inkmoth Nexuses, but mostly remained on the defensive while I copied his Titans and won with them.
Round 5: Aldo Giuliani
Aldo, from Italy, was on the draw with mono-white Humans. It wasn’t a great place to be against turn 2 Daybreak Ranger, and I ended up killing a Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Grand Abolisher, then Blasted a Mirran Crusader before he could apply any pressure. He didn’t have any Crusaders, so I proceeded to kill a Leonin Relic-Warder, a Hero of Bladehold, and him.
Game 2 he led with a Champion of the Parish (which I Galvanic Blasted), Thalia, and two Honor the Pure. Even his Doomed Traveler was of considerable size and swinging, but as soon I equipped a Sword of War and Peace to my Huntmaster I had him dead in a couple turns.
I could not believe I’d 5-0’d the Standard portion of Pro Tour Dark Ascension! Nearly every match had been a tough fight, and I’d lost the first three game 1’s. I was ecstatic to have made day 2 and even happier to draft. Even though I can do decently (or even better) at Constructed when I put the work in, I have always enjoyed Limited more. However, Dark Ascension was something I found myself still learning.
Day 1 Draft
In an awkward turn of events after opening a Falkenrath Aristocrat I would never see during play, I ended up drafting Vampire Pitchforks deck. Red was wide open, but I didn’t notice how little black I had until I was building the deck. I decided to run Talons of Falkenrath over Death’s Caress, thinking that it would help me reduce my Swamp requirement and provide an interesting story for my friends. I regretted it, though, because the deck never performed as intended since I had trouble drawing my Fires of Undeath and Furor of the Bitten. I lacked the necessary removal to support my Bloodcrazed Neonates and Erdwal Rippers, and the Aristocrat was always conveniently absent. I had to board the Death’s Caress in most games.
2 Ashmouth Hound
2 Bloodcrazed Neonate
1 Vampire Interloper
1 Screeching Bat
2 Crossway Vampire
1 Erdwal Ripper
1 Chosen of Markov
1 Markov Blademaster
1 Kruin Outlaw
1 Falkenrath Aristocrat
2 Skirsdag Cultist
1 Rage Thrower
Round 6: Lucas Terrier
I managed to beat Lucas Terrier from France two games out of three because he kept a mono-white hand in game 1 and mono-green hand in game 3. I recalled that he had drafted Mayor of Avabruck and was irked to see it in game 2. He cast Travel Preparations and flashed it back on his sole Mayor and a couple turns later, I reluctantly pointed out that his Mayor had flipped. If I hadn’t stalled on four lands, I might have gotten that game; Lucas was obviously fatigued. In game three, however, he led with a Wolfbitten Captive, which he Prepared for Travel, and cast Ranger’s Guile to kill my Kruin Outlaw. I cast a Markov Blademaster, and he prepared his Werewolf for combat by passing the turn and letting it flip. I killed the monstrosity with Death’s Caress then swung into an empty board with the Blademaster. It rapidly grew out of control and won me the match.
After Round 6, a judge, Sean Catanese, pulled me aside.
“Please come over here,” he told me. “We’re about to have a difficult conversation about your deck list.”
Yep. I must have been tired, too, because I’d failed to register the total columns on my deck sheet. Well, it was a silly error, but I took it in stride. Sean obviously felt bad about having to give me a Game Loss, and it was far from the end of the Tour.
And that, my friends, is the moment everything went downhill.
I heard my name called for a feature match, and I rolled my eyes and laughed as I made my way to the stage. What an inopportune time for a game loss!
Round 7: Shouta Yasooka
My opponent was Shouta Yasooka, and he rolled me so hard that three people had to come over and take photos of how he’d crushed me. Turn 4 Undead Alchemist, turn 5 Spectral Flight, make three Zombies. Turn 6 second Undead Alchemist, mill four creatures, spawn eight Zombies. I could only shake my head in bemusement as my winning streak ended under the flashing lights of three cameras on ten dice.
“That is unreal,” one of the commentators commented.
“And yet, it’s real,” I noted.
Round 8: Daniel Frias
After ending the day 6-2, I went out to a Thai curry house with a few other players, where I ordered the “Evil Jungle Prince.”
After giving us the check, the waitress said, “I’m sorry, but I have to ask… were you all in the hospital together?” The five of us looked at each other in confusion before realizing that she had spotted our Pro Tour wristbands. I laughed and explained that the waterproof identifiers allowed us entry to the convention center.
Excited for Day 2, I slept fitfully. I didn’t think I had ever fallen asleep, but when I woke up I guessed I must have.
As I was getting ready to leave, I heard Mark say, “That’s funny. They gave me a knife.”
“Oh, for your food?”
“Yeah,” he said. “The tongs are gone.”
I guess the housekeeper had noticed that he’d been spreading peanut butter and jelly with the tongs from the ice bucket, like a savage. A savage who didn’t want to go downstairs and ask for proper cutlery. A savage with no time to spend on things other than eating, sleeping, and playing Magic.
We hastily grabbed something to eat and made our way back to the convention center.
Day 2 Draft
I knew what had gone wrong with my draft the day before. Actually, I knew what had gone wrong with all my Dark Ascension drafts.
I love drafting aggro, a tradition that began in Mirrodin-Mirrodin-Darksteel then blossomed in Champions-Champions-Betrayers. Drafting an aggressive deck that had more questions than the defending player had answers was the first way I’d learned to win. Even though it’s not the only one I know how to use, it’s certainly my favorite…well, up until Burning Vengeance, of which I went from enthusiast to addict.
But Burning Vengeance and many of the tight, synergistic decks that could be drafted in triple Innistrad are no longer viable in Dark Ascension. The changing of the guard has deprived us of 33% of possible Travel Preparations, Burning Vengeances, and other cards that have been key for certain archetypes. Now things are slow and muddled by walls. You just can’t draft the hyper-aggressive decks that Innistrad allowed.
With this in mind, I sought to draft a more controlling deck. I first-picked Vault of the Archangel, then took a Geralf’s Messenger and Diregraf Captain. In the next pack, I first-picked a Cackling Counterpart, then took all the Forbidden Alchemy a girl could want. (Since they’re forbidden, you want a lot of them.)
I ended up with this pile:
1 Highborn Ghoul
1 Deranged Assistant
1 Disciple of Griselbrand
1 Diregraf Captain
1 Geralf’s Messenger
1 Headless Skaab
1 Stitched Drake
1 Markov Patrician
1 Fortress Crab
1 Falkenrath Noble
1 Abbey Griffin
Round 9: Kyle Stoll
Ironically, an aggressive deck would be the first to beat me. Kyle had a fast deck with an early Gatstaf Shepherd each game. He got me with Wild Hunger in game 1, killing my Fortress Crab and soon enough me. In game 2, I copied my Stitched Drake to block his Kessig Wolf. He removed one, but I made another and by using the Vault to give them lifelink, I remained at a healthy life total while I beat him. Game 3 was fairly close, with me using Unburial Rites on a Stitched Drake I had put in my graveyard with Forbidden Alchemy. Unfortunately, just when I hoped to stabilize, he casted two Wild Hungers and flashed them both back. By far the most enticing reason to play green/red in Dark Ascension draft, one Wild Hunger is a beating. Two, I demonstrated, is a slaughter.
Round 10: Steffen Schmidt
Steffen played a green/black deck with Briarpack Alpha, Prey Upon, Galvanic Juggernaut, and a Bloodline Keeper I’d seen him draft. I don’t know how he failed to draw it game 1, because I won the game with two cards left in my library. Well, I guess that really says more about how many cards I had gone through, not him. We were both at Fateful Hour life totals, and it had gotten to the point where I needed to wait for my draw step each turn instead of flashing back Forbidden Alchemy, which would kill me almost instantly. Finally, I drew the Plains for my Vault of the Archangel, enabling me to swing in for the kill.
For game two, I boarded in Lost in the Mist over the Abbey Griffin, hoping to stop his Vampire army before it started. And indeed it happened, because I cast Claustrophobia on an early Bloodline Keeper. Later in the game, Steffen killed it with Crushing Vines, then returned it, a Briarpack Alpha, a Hamlet Captain, and a Hollowhenge Scavenger to his hand with Creeping Renaissance. I was dead in a variety of ways.
Because game 1 had taken so long, we only had a few minutes left for the third one. Thankfully, my deck drew as aggressively as a control deck can, going Highborn Ghoul into Falkenrath Noble into Stitched Drake with Undying Evil backup. Thanks to the Falkenrath Noble, I had him dead in turns.
Round 11: Thomas Ashton
Tommy also had a Bloodline Keeper, but he Mulched it away at the first opportunity. And yet, I’m sure I would have done the same thing in his position. I landed a turn 4 Sturmgeist, but it traded with a Screeching Bat that had Deadly Allure. I returned it to play with Unburial Rites, then started copying it with Cackling Counterpart. Tommy had spawned four Spiders, but he had no permanent solution.
Again, I boarded into the slow counterspell. In this game, I was able to Cackling Counterpart my Stitched Drakes and save the original from a Tragic Slip with its Undying Evil. When he played the Bloodline Keeper, I was able to counter it with Lost in the Mist, returning a Boneyard Wurm to his hand. My life total had been halved, but a Vault of the Archangel soon fixed that. I felt lucky to have defeated a Bloodline Keeper in two games.
Round 12: Dan Jordan
This is where things really took a turn for the worst. Dan won the die roll playing Humans, and he got out a Hero of Bladehold before I could Green Sun’s Zenith for a Daybreak Ranger. When he resolved an Honor the Pure for which I had no answer, I was basically dead. He really didn’t need to play the second one.
After the first game, he told me he knew what I was playing, so he kept a slow hand that he otherwise wouldn’t have.
After mulling to six on the draw, he used a Fiend Hunter on my searched-out Daybreak Ranger. Although I Zenithed out another, he enchanted the Fiend Hunter with Angelic Destiny and started beating down. I Slimed the enchantment away, but he laid a Mirran Crusader with another Destiny. There was nothing I could do.
I could no longer make Top 8, and I was frustrated to have lost to a typically good matchup. I’m not sure if I was fatigued, demoralized, or unlucky, but I wouldn’t win another match for the rest of the day.
Round 13: Kai Burnett
In game 2, I lost to three Day of Judgment and Primeval Titan fetching out enough poisonous manlands to kill me.
Finally, in game 3, we agreed that we didn’t want to draw, but after he’d cast three Timely Reinforcements, we couldn’t agree on a winner for the game. We drew in turns.
Round 14: Tom Martell
Tom beat me in two games with Esper Delver with Lingering Souls and Dungeon Geists. As he Vapor Snagged my creatures and tokens and Snapcastered the Snags for incremental advantage, I slowly rolled over. The only satisfaction I had was in knowing that I was one of the only players who didn’t board in Ancient Grudges for his nonexistent equipment. He had to cut something for the Dungeon Geists, I reasoned.
Round 15 and 16: Adam Reiser and Elias Watsfeldt
I proceeded to lose to Adam playing the mirror with Garruk’s Companion and Increasing Savagery. He was also playing Brimstone Volleys, which he’d also come to agree were normally bad. However, they were great at doming me from five after I’d taken a bunch of damage from pre-undying Increasing Savagery on a Strangleroot Geist. To be fair, he probably also got a kick out of my Predator Ooze before he Brimstone Volleyed.
Elias beat me in game 3 of a very close match. He was playing Bant Pod, and I’d Slimed one of his Gavony Township. Afterwards, he made two copies of my Huntmaster of the Fells, stabilizing him until he could return the Gavony Township to play with Sun Titan. At that point, it was just enough to kill me.
I came in 119th, overall out of about 450 players. As it turned out, I would’ve needed to win two more matches to make money and one more for an additional pro point. My last round loss was not quite as painful after I realized this, but I still wanted revenge.
After the tournament is when we were finally able to enjoy Hawaii as intended. We hiked Diamond Head with some friends, both old and new, enjoyed some of the freshest sushi I’ve ever had, surfed, fished, and met the ambassador of the sea turtles. Finally, just before our flight, we snorkeled over the sharp, lacerating reef to witness many of nature’s beautiful and likely delicious majesties.
The essence of Hawaii.
It was amazing to come so close to a huge win at my first Pro Tour, and I’m eager to push myself even further and to actually achieve that goal. I’ll definitely be traveling to more Grand Prix and PTQs in an effort to qualify for Barcelona. Thanks to everyone who has expressed support, and I hope to see you soon at another event.
@JackieLeeAlters on Twitter
MissDemeanor on Magic Online