How I Won $20,000 and a Trip to Kuala Lumpur

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Sam Black rocked up to Worlds with the side events set firmly in his sights… and he never wavered from his task all weekend. When the dust settled, he walked out with a PTQ win, an iPhone, and a $20,000 car… a nice day at the office by anyone’s standards. Today he takes us through the ups and, well, more ups of his tournament experience. Enjoy!

The short answer is that I went to Worlds and won some side events. The long version follows.

I try to play in a PTQ every week that I possibly can. I’ll drive ten hours for a PTQ if I can get two others to go with me and there’s nothing closer. I’d just gone to Grand Prix: Daytona Beach though, and I hadn’t seen my girlfriend much, so I was on the fence about going to Worlds. Only three of us were going and when we were leaving, Misha, our driver, was talking to his dad who really didn’t want him to go because of the weather and because he’s the sort of protective parent from Wisconsin who’s afraid of New York City. If his dad didn’t cave right about when he did, I probably would have stayed home. Fortunately he did, and we were on our way to New York Thursday night.

The plan was to get there in time for the Two-Headed Giant Sealed car qualifier at 11:00am Friday if everything went well, and if we missed that there was an individual Sealed qualifier at 3:00pm. A quick detour though Pittsburgh (that added about 3 hours to the trip) and some other delays later we arrive at the site at 2:50, in time to find out that registration has closed for the 3:00pm event. At least Thursday didn’t have any really important events.

Without an event to play in we went to check on our friends in Worlds, and we were delighted to find that Hron had somehow posted a 4-1 in the Standard portion. He and Gerry Thompson had spent the previous week preparing together and settled on the Green/Red Snow deck, which they both said was very good. Since the Standard portion of Worlds was over, Gaudenis, my other traveling companion, suggested that we borrow Hron and Gerry’s deck for the Standard tournament at 5:00pm. This event had the worst prizes of any side event that weekend and didn’t qualify for the car tournament, but we didn’t have anything else to do.

I had absolutely no idea how to sideboard and I went 4-2. Gaudenis 6-0’d, which won the event as there was no Top 8. We left pretty happy with the deck, but the event meant that I had no time to figure out Extended for the PTQ the next morning, which I knew nothing about. I talked to Gaudenis about how I might want to skip it to play in the Sealed car qualifier, but he was pretty sure it wasn’t worth skipping a PTQ, and that if I scrubbed out I could always try to play in the Two-Headed Giant car qualifier.

His argument was compelling, and Friday morning I found myself trying to get cards together to play Goblins in Extended. I failed at that mission and the PTQ started without me. No real loss, since I didn’t want to play in that anyway, and I hopped into the Sealed iPhone car qualifier tournament.

I was disappointed with the deck I ended up with. This may surprise you when I explain that I had Wren’s Run Packmaster, Profane Command, and I was splashing White for Neck Snap, Oblivion Ring, and two Cloudgoat Rangers. I can only justify my disappointment by explaining that I mana screwed my way into a 1-2 drop performance in the PTQ at Daytona Beach with a Profane Command, Ajani, Incremental Growth deck and I was disappointed to be playing those colors (read “not playing Blue”) again. This event was 9 rounds with no cut to Top 8, where the top 2 qualify for the car tournament and win iPhones. What this meant is that at 5-0 I was feeling good until I remembered that I still had to win at least 3 more rounds with a deck I didn’t love. I lost one round before the last round, when I was paired up against undefeated Mike Krumb who conceded to me after some very careful tiebreaker analysis to lock us into first and second.

A quick aside on Lorwyn Sealed: It’s been my experience that it’s generally best to be pretty greedy with the manabase. The format usually isn’t too fast and you’ll need all the removal and bombs you can get most of the time. This is why I “splashed” two Cloudgoat Rangers. The best exception I’ve found is the pools that happen to be able to build Blue/Black Faerie decks instead. Those are the pools I really want to see.

Now I needed to figure out a Standard deck to play on Sunday. I asked some friends what to play, and Bob Maher seemed very convinced that Dragonstorm was the best deck in Standard, but he thought people might react to its success in Worlds and have some hate for it on Sunday. Everyone agreed that Dragonstorm was a very reasonable choice. The Red/Green Snow deck, as mentioned, had also been performing well, so I was pretty sure I’d play one of those. Maher said that he could bring both decks for me on Saturday and I could play whichever I needed. Meanwhile, Gaudenis, who had scrubbed out of the PTQ with Dredge, was winning a Standard qualifier for the car tournament with the snow deck. We left the venue for the night discussing our options for Sunday and looking forward to doing some testing Saturday evening.

Saturday was the event I’d really bothered with the trip for, the PTQ for Kuala Lumpur, one of the last chances I’d have to qualify for the tournament. This is the year that I’ve decided to do everything I reasonably can to hit Level 3, so qualifying for the first Pro Tour of the season is really the most important step, since missing that makes the rest feel a bit hopeless. Limited is also what I consider my strength (I’ve played in 4 Pro Tours. I’ve 0-3 dropped in Standard and made three Day 2’s in Limited). I was extremely excited to get a pool with Guile, Cairn Wanderer, Cryptic Command, Final Revels, lots of counters and removal, excellent mana due to Wanderer’s Twig and two vivid lands to let me splash Tarfire and Lash Out, and a solid Blue/Black Faerie base. It was basically the exact deck I always hope for, and I easily made it through the swiss undefeated.

Going into the Top 8 I casually mentioned as much as possible that I intended to force Blue/Black Faeries no matter what. Unfortunately, some other players in the Top 8 answered, “me too.” I was willing to battle though, as I really think it’s the best archetype in Lorwyn Booster Draft by a long way. I’ll take Pestermite or even Spellstutter Sprite over many Red, Green, and White bombs first pick first pack. Despite this fact, I found myself with no creatures with “Faerie” in the type line after the first pack. I was Blue/Black though (splashing a first pick Wort that I took over a Warren Pilferers with the intent to end up Blue/Black splashing the Wort – I possibly should have just taken the Warren Pilferers), and I did have a number of Changelings. I picked up a 9th or 10th pick Silvergill Adept and my deck was looking like Blue/Black aggro Merfolk, which isn’t really an archetype I have a lot of experience with. Pack two went better and involved opening Mad Auntie and getting passed Liliana Vess and Mistbind Clique. I ended up with an interesting deck that had a really low curve with a lot of funky tricks going for it. It had some holes though. The only removal was one Weed Strangle and one Boggart Loggers, and my only creatures with more than two power were Wort and Mistbind Clique. My Top 8 matches featured a lot of close, interesting games and an extremely healthy number of gifts from my opponents. I probably should have lost the finals 0-3 and I probably shouldn’t have won the semi’s either. I’d like to think this was at least partially due to my opponents’ unfamiliarity with playing against the kinds of tricks I was using. I’m also very happy with how I played my Top 8 matches.

While I was playing in the PTQ I wasn’t worrying much about Standard the next day, or the fact that I hadn’t seen Bob Maher all day and hadn’t gotten the decks from him, so I didn’t have anything to play on Sunday. Saturday night I talked to Stasch, the dealer from Chicago, and confirmed that he could probably help me get a deck together Sunday morning, so I went out to dinner to celebrate my winning the PTQ and then back to Brooklyn, where my friend Ian Stickland had been putting us up all weekend to catch a few hours of sleep before the tournament Sunday. I should mention that transportation from the venue to his place wasn’t exactly fast and these tournaments were all very early. I was getting three hours of sleep every night this weekend. We had to wake up particularly early to have time to get decks together, and we still hadn’t even decided what to play.

When I got to the venue Sunday morning I suddenly decided to play an updated version of the goblin deck that I’d played to a 6-2 record (thanks to some terrible play by me that involved forgetting that Wrath of God is in standard) in Wisconsin States. I’d been doing decently with the deck in 8 man queues online, but I could never convince anyone who was preparing for Worlds to test the deck. I told them the main deck was awesome, but that I had yet to figure out the ideal sideboard. The sideboards I’d been playing with online were terrible. My results online told me that the deck almost never loses to creature decks, and that, rather unexpectedly, its worst matchups were the decks with a lot of counters, especially the Guile deck. Unlike Maher, I didn’t expect the tournament Sunday to have reacted much to Worlds. I figured it would look about like the other Standard side events of the weekend, which featured very little Blue. Every change that I’d seen in the metagame that weekend looked to have gone as well as possible for my goblin deck (except that the Mono-Red snow deck, a virtual bye for goblins, had fallen off the map). Blue did terribly in Worlds, and the Green/Black decks all looked great for me.

I borrowed most of my deck from Gaudenis, who had it together because he thought he might play it in sides that weekend, and got the cards he didn’t have from Stasch, except for some Graven Cairns which I had to buy. I threw the sideboard together that morning while getting cards together, and it was dramatically better than anything I’d had before. Thoughtseize and Magus of the Scroll were perfect.

For those who haven’t seen it, here is my decklist:

When the tournament was starting, Steve Port, the tournament organizer, told me that last night Scott Larabee had looked through the list of players qualified for the event and predicted that I’d win the tournament. Now I agree that the field could have been more difficult than it was, but I still found choosing me pretty surprising. The list did feature Level 6 Shingo Kurihara and some other pros like Gerry Thompson. As mentioned, my only constructed Pro Tour ended in an 0-3 finish. Scott Larabee knows me primarily from Dreamblade, which is, of course, an entirely different game.

I 3-0, 6-0’d the first three rounds, and since the tournament was capped at 32 players I was able to draw in from there. Going into the event I arranged a 5% split with Owen Turtenwald and Gaudenis. In the last round Owen, who had 2 losses, but excellent tiebreakers, told me that if I dream crushed for him he could make the Top 8 due to an extremely high number of matches needing to play out. I refused the draw and won the first game of my last round. He was playing Dragonstorm, which I’d never had a chance to play against before, and I wasn’t sure how that matchup was for me. In game 2 I got some pressure on and then Thoughseized him and took the only card that mattered. At this point I was sure I could win the game. I paused and thought about the Top 8. I felt good about beating this Dragonstorm deck. Owen was playing a reanimator deck that I didn’t think I could beat. If I won I’d be first seed and Owen would be 8th and I’d lose to him. If I drew, Dragonstorm would be in the Top 8, where it could beat some of the Blue decks that I was more worried about. I offered the draw, and he clearly accepted.

In the first round of the Top 8 involved beating a Blue/White Blink deck. I don’t particularly remember game 1, I assume it basically involved playing goblins and attacking, but it might have eventually involved him stabilizing at 1 or 2 while I had 3 Boggart Shenanigans in play and 20 life and just needed to resolve a goblin. Game 2 I drew multiple Greater Gargadons, which looked to be something of a liability when he cast Teferi, but I drew a second Magus of the Scroll, which was able to sneak under his Rune Snags, and proceeded to gun down everything he could do.

The coverage basically tells the rest of the story. My first and only game loss was the first game of the finals. That was a bit embarrassing, as I had just said that I definitely wasn’t splitting because I liked my matchup against him. After he was up a game I asked if he wanted to discuss splitting. The best he could offer was 15-5 him, which wasn’t even close to what I had in mind. My draws in the next two games were excellent.

Since then, I’ve been playing my deck in a lot of queues online. I’ve been amazed that I haven’t run into the mirror except once when I played my friend John Stolzmann who’d been playing the deck since before Worlds. The metagame is extremely kind to goblins at the moment, and I’m stunned that fewer people haven’t given it a try.

Overall, the weekend was a good one. I played, and won, a lot of matches. Hopefully my report on proceedings was entertaining, and I recommend the goblin deck to anyone looking for a powerful alternative to the metagame norm.

Sam Black