Just how good do you have to be to qualify at a PTQ? How many horrendous mistakes can you make and still break into the Top 8? Do you have to know the format inside out?
According to my recent PTQ endeavor, the answers are: not very, a ludicrous amount, and barely at all. This is the story of Bad Player Rust at his best, or worst, battling down to the wire for that PTQ slot, and playing Kamigawa block for the first time.
Before getting to the actual report, though, we have to establish the setting, or metagame if you prefer. It’s the weekend of GP: Minneapolis, where Andy Stockinger takes 6th with Mono Blue Control of all things! Alex Lieberman wins the whole shebang piloting the latest version of Gifts Ungiven control after facing the mirror match in the finals. Another Gifts deck takes 7th! In other words, control decks are ascendant.
However, I escaped that more controlling future just barely, by a matter of hours actually. At the pre-Minneapolis metagame I encountered five aggressive decks and only two controlling ones.
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Time of Need
4 Kodama’s Reach
3 Heartbeat of Spring
3 Kodama of the North Tree
4 Final Judgment
3 Yosei, the Morning Star
2 Myojin of Cleansing Fire
1 Patron of the Kitsune
2 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror
1 Myojin of Seeing Winds
2 Sway of the Stars
4 Sensei’s Divining Top
4 Empty-Shrine Kannushi
4 Ghostly Prison
4 Hisoka’s Defiance
This deck has it all: fatties, library manipulation, removal, tutoring, and even a nasty combo. The credit for the list goes entirely to Michael Zaun, who took 7th at the Roanoke PTQ on July 10. You can find his exact list here. All I did was cut one Yosei for a Patron of the Kitsune. I only own two Yosei. I borrowed a third from Mark Young, and didn’t feel like forking out the cash on site for a 4th. The Patron worked out pretty well. While Yosei is more in the beatdown theme, the Patron shuts down infinite 1/1 attackers, can’t be destroyed by Kiku’s Shadow, and makes you more resistent to Cranial Extraction.
I get to the site a little early and when I open my deck box I realize that my sideboard decided to stay at home. In a moment of desperation, I buy cards on site. As I scramble to recreate my sideboard, Mark suggests that I run Reciprocate instead of Ghostly Prison in my board. He reasoned that Black Aggro decks can win by attacking with one fat creature, so the Prison wasn’t that great a deterrent. Seemed like a reasonable argument, so after forking over $16.50 later I ended up with:
Round One – Ben Cox with U/W Control
I look at the 1st round pairings and see that I’m facing Ben, a local player who is infamous for running bizarre control decks. As we are shuffling before the match begins, I see him flip over a Final Judgment, so I know he’s got a control deck.
Knowing that Ben is armed with control, I keep my six-land, Kodama of the North Tree hand. Ben starts off with a Top, and I draw some acceleration of the top and play the North Tree, but instead of coming into play it goes straight to the bottom of my library. When Ben plays Meloku around turn six or so. I answer with Myojin of Cleansing Fire. On his turn, he wipes everything away with Final Judgment.
I finally draw my own Top, but I’m still struggling to dig up good stuff. Things are looking very bad, since I’m supposed to be threatening this control deck and running him out of counters. As I’m struggling to find the goods, Ben plays Honden of Seeing Winds and follows up with Meishin, the Mind Cage.
Not familiar with that card? It basically reads: Your opponent cannot win the game by attacking.
I curse my luck at running into this deck that seems basically unbeatable with my clunky Legends. On my turn I play my 10th land and cast Sway of the Stars, hoping that Ben doesn’t have the counter…
It resolves and we start over.
Starting at 7 life is much better for me. Now I just need to win before that damn Cage hits play again.
Things go basically the same as before. Ben has an early Top. My first threat is Hindered. I build up tons of mana, only this time I have Heartbeat to go with two Sway of the Stars in hand. Without any threats to play, I decide to go for it and cast the Heartbeat. Ben doesn’t respond. I pass the turn to ensure that I can float plenty of mana. Ben Tops at the end of my turn, plays a land, and passes the turn back to me.
I go for it. Very deliberately, I announce Sway and tap the necessary mana, making sure that I’ll have the right colors when I float it. After choosing the optimal lands I look at Ben and ask the big question: “Counter?”
“No,” he says with a grin.
I look down at my lands and realize that I forgot to float mana, which probably means that I just threw the match. Now, I suppose I could be a jerk and claim that I hadn’t passed priority yet, but that would be a lie and tempering your huge mistakes with honesty is the best way to do things. We shuffle up to begin game three of game one. At least this time I get to play a land on the first turn.
That no player has the luxury of mulliganing after Sway only adds to the fun and excitement. My draw is impressive. I get out North Tree on turn 4 while Ben is stuck on one land.
We’re very low on time, so my plan is to draw game two. Hisoka’s Defiance seems like a good idea, but in retrospect it was probably a mistake since Ben’s deck featured few, if any, targets for it. The Splinters do make sense, since they wipe out Honor-Worn Shaku, giving me even greater mana superiority.
Ben taps out for Meloku on turn 5. I have Final Judgment or a Meloku of my own, though. Right before we go to the five-turn clock, I resolve Sway again, just for fun. Three Sways in two turns, damn casting that spell is fun.
Games 1-0-1, Matches 1-0
Round Two – William Dougherty with White Weenie
I recognize my opponent when he sits down. I played him at Mid-Atlantic Regionals, where my Ponza deck got the best of his Rats, so I assume that he’s probably playing aggro.
He plays first, but has to Paris down to six cards. His next six are looking pretty darn good when Isamaru and Hand of Honor come out to play. My Elder takes one for the team and I tap out for North Tree on turn 4, even though I know that I’m going to cast Final Judgment the turn after. I need to staunch the bleeding so I don’t fall into Shining Shoal range. I can handle my own play mistakes, but my pride can’t handle getting killed by a White Fireball.
Surprisingly, Will is afraid of North Tree and doesn’t attack me, but when I cast Final Judgment his Hand of Honor takes an Otherworldly Journey. The Hand is soon joined by Kami of the Ancient Law. When I cast Yosei and it looks like I’m back in control.
Cage of Hands locks up Yosei and I’m in trouble again. Will knocks me down to 3 life. All he needs is a Shoal and I’m finished. Another Final Judgment rescues me, and when Meloku hits the board I’m feeling good. I take Will from 18 to 10 to 4 and as long as he doesn’t have a Shoal, I win.
I throw back my first hand because it is a one-lander. My second hand looks the same, except there’s a Top and a Sakura-Tribe Elder, so I take the risk and keep. I rip the second land off the Top and play the Elder triumphantly, following up with Kodama’s Reach.
Will’s start isn’t as impressive as last time. He goes: Lantern Kami, Umezawa’s Jitte, then equips the Jitte. Splinter claims its first victim of the day, taking care of the Jitte in play, two in Will’s hand, and the final one in his library. That’s what I like to see.
The White army rebuilds itself with alarming speed with Isamaru and Tallowisp. When I clear the board with an expensive Wrath of God, Will has that damn Otherworldly Journey again, so a bigger, better Tallowisp returns to play at the end of my turn. The Spirit knocks me down to 12 and then a Celestial Kirin appears. Myojin of Cleansing Fire blasts away the opposition and Patron of the Kitsune ensures that my life total goes from 4 to 6 to keep me out of Shoal range.
Games: 3-0-1, Matches 2-0
Round Three – Thomas Chillemi with W/G Legends
This round, I have the pleasure of playing against one of the few players in the room with pro points. He’s playing a deck that abuses Day of Destiny and Reki, History of Kamigawa with tons of legendary creatures and a couple Final Judgments sprinkled in for good measure.
Tom plays first and goes down to six cards. His first play is Sensei, Golden-Tail, followed by Kataki,War’s Wage, which tips me off that he’s playing the Legend deck. An Elder staves off Sensei for a turn and accelerates me. Time of Need finds the North Tree while Tom seems a little mana flooded. I attack with the Tree and it trades with the two little Legends, another sign that Tom is mana flooded, since he decided that he can’t race me. Then Tom gets Patron of the Kitsune on the table and I’m not feeling so good about my own ability to race.
Myojin of Cleansing Fire takes care of the Patron and drops Tom to 12. I basically have the game all locked up at this point, but I make another terrible misplay. For some strange reason I cast a second Myojin while the second one is still in play.
Pretty awesome, eh? I’ll bet you thought I wouldn’t top forgetting to float mana for the Heartbeat/Sway combo. Never underestimate me.
When you haven’t been actually playing Kamigawa block at all, you’re not as familiar with that odd rule about Legends trading with each other. In fact, I think this was the first game of Magic where the Legend rule ever was a factor for me. Yes, I know about how the “new” Legend rule works, but there’s a difference between knowing it in your head and actually experiencing it. Often in Magic, I find myself playing instinctively without thinking things through beforehand. Sometimes that can be very bad. I need to do a Dave Humpherys impression more often.
Anyway, Tom is thrilled by my play error and claims to his friends who are watching that he has “infinite outs.” That ends up not being quite true and I merely play more big creatures and turn them sideways.
I figure that he’s boarding in Hokori, so the Defiances come in. Beyond that, Splinter is there for Jittes and Reciprocate seems like the best answer to Yosei hitting me. Since his deck is actually pretty aggressive, I dropped a Top, but that was probably a mistake. Is one Reciprocate better than a Top? I doubt it.
Tom misses his third land drop for about three turns. When he does hit that land drop, he slams down Reki, History of Kamigawa. Tom spends the next few turns cantriping with Legends, but struggles for a fourth land. Before he finds it, Meloku comes down on my side, which should be game over if I don’t do anything stupid.
Eventually, Tom develops his mana base and casts Yosei. I’m so focused on the board at this point and the fact that I can make tokens with all my lands for lethal damage next turn that I say ok. Then I see my Hisoka’s Defiance in hand and attempt to counter Yosei.
It’s a cheap shot. I said ok, and I should have been honest. I broke my rule about making mistakes with honesty and grace. Tom tells me it’s too late, and he’s absolutely right, so I don’t push the point. It doesn’t even matter, because Meloku and his minions deliver victory on my turn.
Games: 5-0-1, Matches 3-0
Tom is really frustrated after the match, and understandably so. He tells me that he has a great matchup against my deck, flashing four Hokori that came in from the sideboard. I have to agree with him; that’s rough.
The weekend after, Tom and I meet again, this time in round one of the Starcity Richmond PTQ. This time I’m still playing the 12-shuffle/Top engine, but my deck is G/B/u aggro control with Heartbeat and Maga, Traitor to Mortals for the combo finish. Tom’s armed with Stockinger-style MUC and he annihilates me.
Round Four – Omid Najafpoor with Black Hand
There’s no rest for the weary. This is another guy with pro points.
He goes first and we both opt to start with six-card hands. His first creature costs three mana, so I’m happy that he gets off to a slow start, and I get the feeling that I can pull this off. It’s not meant to be. My deck insists on giving me an endless stream of land, and without shuffle effects the Top fails me.
I’m very happy after sideboarding. In fact, it seems like he’ll be hard-pressed to win. It seems like his chances depend on Hand of Cruelty, well-timed disruption, and me not having a timely Splinter.
I open with an Elder and it’s matched by exactly what I don’t want to see: Hand of Cruelty. I play my third land and pass the turn. Omid attacks with the Hand. I pause for a moment. Is there anything tricky here? Some reason why the Elder shouldn’t take one for the team?
I block. Omid plays O-Naginata in his second main phase and equips the Samurai. Wait a minute, you can’t do that with a 2/2. Omid explains that Bushido makes it a 3/3. Oh yeah, I know that. Since the O-Naginata counts its own +3/+0, it remains equipped even after the end of the turn. What a great play on Omid’s part. Something like that never even crossed my mind. Damn, I’m in some trouble too. That’s a four-turn clock.
I cast Kodama’s Reach and get slashed down to 15. Omid hits me with Distress and sees a really saucy hand that includes Final Judgment, North Tree, Time of Need, and some other good stuff. He plucks the 6/4 monster. I Reach again and Omid knocks me down to 10, committing another creature or two to the board, as well.
It’s the late game, the board is clear, and I have fatties, so I win anyway.
Omid sideboards after this game. I guess that he may be sideboarding out some Equipment to make Splinter less effective, so I debate dropping Splinter. There’s no way he can sideboard out all his Equipment, is there? What would I put in my deck instead of Splinter? Not being able to answer either of these questions to my satisfaction, I pretend to sideboard again, but don’t really change anything.
This one comes down to the wire. His offense starts again on turn 3, only this time my removal seems to be hiding. I muster a lone Reciprocate, but Omid still knocks me from 20 to 17 to 11 to 5 as I search for Final Judgment. I’m working the Top and shuffle effects. One last turn…
It’s not Final Judgment.
It’s even more expensive, and even better since I have plenty of land with just barely enough White mana thanks to an unused Tendo Ice Bridge.
Omid follows up with Hand of Cruelty and a Jitte. Then he equips the Hand and sends me to 3. I’m staring at Yosei in hand and almost cast it when I realize that the Hand is Yosei-proof. I think the only reason I make the right play with Meloku was that I had attempted to Reciprocate the Hand the previous turn. Fortunately, I dumped the mana into a Top.
I pass the turn with Meloku and three untapped lands. Omid casts O-Naginata, removes a Jitte counter, equips it, and attacks. I make my three tokens and block with all my Blue men. That’s seven toughness total.
Omid removes the second Jitte counter, and bushido kicks in too, making the black Samurai a 10/7 so that it trample through and kill me with exactly lethal damage. All I needed was one untap step with Meloku in play. Just one more turn.
I look helplessly at my second Myojin of Cleansing Fire in hand. With one more White source available, I could have cast it and won that game, but the first Myojin drained my Tendo.
Games: 6-2-1, Matches 3-1
Round Five: Seth Manfield with Black Hand
I don’t recognize Seth, but I do recognize the deck and I settle in for a good match, eager have my vengeance after the close loss the previous round.
I start off with the best opening in the format: land, Top. My opponent misses his second land drop twice (why did he keep his hand, anyway?) and then gets out the Black Hand. Recovering from land screw, I face a nasty offense and he drops me all the way down to 6.
Then suddenly, Seth’s life total goes from 20 to 14 to 4 to negative a lot. I guess I stabilized with Final Judgment and Meloku starting swinging with tons of friends.
-3 Heartbeat of Spring
-2 Sway of the Stars
-1 Myojin of Seeing Winds
Seth opens up with Manriki-Gusari. (Why he chose not to sideboard those out, I couldn’t tell you. Maybe he thought I was running Jittes). Then he follows up with Ogre Marauder and Jitte. The Ogre takes me to 17 then to 13. Splinter takes out all of Seth’s Jittes, leaving me mostly in control. After that I Final Judgment and shortly after that a timely Myojin seals the deal.
Games: 8-2-1, Matches: 4-1
Round Six – Tommy Ashton with U/R Arcane
Tommy is another local player and his version of this archetype is more controlling than combo-oriented. His unique touch is Blademane Baku, which becomes really threatening when Psychic Puppetry is at large.
I get the God draw, and cast Kodama of the North Tree on turn 4. Tommy has to go down to five cards before starting. Need I say more?
It’s obvious why the Blue cards come in. Splinter is there because I suspect that Tommy is playing Pithing Needle to stop the Top. Reciprocate provides an early answer so that Blademane Baku doesn’t get totally out of control.
Games: 10-2-1, Matches: 5-1
Round Seven – Sam Owens with Black Hand
I look at the tie-breakers and I’m in the upper third for the people who are 5-1, so I should be able to draw into the top 8. I’m not very good at figuring this sort of thing out, and I only manage to come to this approximation after a quick phone call to Mark.
I offer the draw, but Sam doesn’t think we can both draw in, so we play it out. It’s round three versus the Black Hand, and I’m feeling pretty good after a narrow loss and easy win against this archetype.
Sam wins the roll and opens up with that annoying 2/2 Black Samurai. I start off with Elder, Reach, Final Judgment. That’s basically my God draw against aggressive decks, and from there it becomes a total blowout as I play a Myojin and Patron of the Kitsune, finishing the game at a very healthy 16 life.
I throw back my first hand and keep something that is passable. Nezumi Cutthroat gets things started. Then Psychic Spear rips away North Tree. The turn after that, Sam attacks and says “go ahead” without playing any other spells, which puzzles me. Almost in the same breath, he tries to back up to his second main phase. I call over the judge who rules that Sam’s turn is over, since this is REL 3. It’s a big error on Sam’s part, and I’m going to need a few more of those to win this game.
The next turn, Nezumi Cutthroat turns into Okiba-Gang Shinobi, prompting me to discard Meloku and a Tendo Ice Bridge. At 1 life, I attempt the miracle comeback with Patron of the Kitsune. It looks good, since the Legend survives Kiku’s Shadow and Sam can’t produce a -6/-6 Shoal with his current mana base. I pass the turn and keep my fingers crossed.
Hero’s Demise ruins my comeback plans.
This is it. Whoever wins this goes to the top 8. The pressure is on and we only have about 12 minutes for the match. I try to play fast, but at the same time I would rather play show and err on the side of a draw rather than a loss after rushing into foolish plays, and as demonstrated I’ve made plenty of those today. Hopefully, I most of the bad playing is out of my system.
Again, I start off facing the Cutthroat, but this time I have Reciprocate. Then I have to deal with Black Hand swinging a Jitte at me. I go to 16 and Splinter the Jitte on my turn, seeing that Sam’s hand looks like this:
I’m feeling good. I have to win this one. He’s short on threats, my life total is high, and I’ve got the Top, which gives me inevitability. There’s also Final Judgment in hand, but it probably won’t be there long. Sam taps four land on his turn and Extracts me, naming…
Some people have gathered around at this point. One of them comments that Sam just removed my only win condition. Obviously, this person doesn’t know what deck I’m playing. I cast Myojin of Cleansing Fire, and it looks like I have the game wrapped up.
Sam plays an unassuming Nezumi Graverobber. I answer on my turn with Kodama’s Reach, hoping to shuffle into something good. In response to the Reach, Sam cleans out my graveyard and the little Rat becomes Nighteyes the Desecrator. There still isn’t anything good on top of my library, so I cast Time of Need for my 2nd Myojin of Cleansing Fire.
Sam rips Psychic Spear off the top of his deck and grabs the Myojin from my hand, spoiling my plans. Fortunately, I manage to Top into Patron of the Kitsune. The Patron and Myojin wear Sam down to 6 life, but by then he has enough mana to reanimate two of his creatures each turn. My life total climbs steadily from 14 to 19, but I can’t punch through for the final points of damage.
Next turn, I swing with everything I have and Nighteyes finally has to jump in the way. This knocks Sam down to 1 life. I need one more turn to win.
I don’t have it. The five-turn clock is over.
Games: 11-3-2, Matches 5-1-1
Before I see standings after the round, Tommy Ashton passes me and says, “I’m sorry.” Confused, I rush over to that fateful list just posted on the wall.
I was robbed. Adding insult to injury, Sam squeaks into 8th place. My final round opponent edges me out, and he was one North Tree swing away from missing the Top 8 entirely.
I can’t complain, though. I entered this tournament on a whim. It was my first Kamigawa block experience, period. I hadn’t even playtested a single game with my deck. I showed up not having slept much the previous week and made myriad horrible play errors.
All that and I still almost made Top 8. Almost isn’t even strong enough. It’s hard to image how I could have come closer without actually making it.
So, the moral of the story is that if you don’t practice much and make tons of mistakes, you can still do very well at a PTQ. I love this game.
Take it easy,