I Just Wanna Play Magic, Man

Chris is back on the PTQ grind, and shares his thoughts about Standard in time for #SCGPORT as well as the Modern format and PTQs in general.

Never rest, always grind.

This is pretty much how I have been living since the announcement of the Players’ Championship, and now that I’ve won my slot as the Season Two Points Leader, I’m not going to stop.

I had a lot of people ask me what I was doing in Knoxville this weekend when I showed up for a Super IQ with my good friend Stephen Horne, and my response to everyone was “Hey, I just want to play Magic, man.”

I had a bit of a multi-format, multi-state adventure planned for myself last weekend. While Brad, Todd, BBD, and Shrout were all making the drive to Chicago for the GP, I was planning on going to a Super IQ in Knoxville and then going to a PTQ in Greenville SC where I would have to rent a car to get back to Roanoke since no one from the area was planning on making the drive down (understandably).

Leading into the weekend, I had thought that Jund Monsters was possibly not the best call for me. The format seems like it will be shifting and I had to figure out if Jund was where I wanted to be when the shift actually happened.

With Mono-Red becoming more and more popular, I expected two possible things to happen:

First, I thought that it was possible that Mono-Blue Devotion would have a resurgence, much like I thought it would after Ross Merriam won the Providence Open. Mono-Blue Devotion is well-positioned against the old version of the red decks, but Tom Ross’s Blitz style of Mono-Red is a bit better suited to push through damage with Titan’s Strength and Rubblebelt Makka. Legion Loyalist also makes Master of Waves a bit less of the be-all and end-all that it usually is against red decks.

The problem with jumping on the Mono-Blue Devotion train is that I expected players on the other side of the spectrum to switch to Esper or UW control. Cards like Nyx-Fleece Ram and Fiendslayer Paladin are very difficult for the Mono-Red strategies to defeat, be it Tom’s build or a “slower” build with Chandra’s Phoenix.

These control decks that people may switch to in order to try and combat the red decks will also prey on the Mono-Blue Devotion decks if people make the swap to it with the same thing in mind.

Considering all of these things, I figured that I would be better off playing Jund Monsters with a list that was a little skewed towards beating aggressive decks as opposed to ignoring them basically like we did at the Invitational. I gave my list to a friend that lives in Vegas in hopes that he would do well too. He didn’t fare so well, but he also gave it to one of his friends who made the Top 8 after changing a card in the main and a card in the board, so that’s pretty cool.

Here is what I played:

With so many powerful cards already in the list there really isn’t much wiggle room in terms of slots in the deck, but I’m still finding ways to tweak the deck, and even changing a couple cards can give you an edge in any given tournament.

With our post-board configuration resembling more of a midrange deck against the other creature decks, I liked our cut of a Domri Rade from the Invitational so I stuck with it. I wanted the third Courser of Kruphix back in the main to hedge against the red decks. Xenagos, the Reveler is absurd whenever he’s good and pretty miserable against a large number of matchups otherwise. Outside of the Invitational, or anything where you think 40-50% of the field will be either Supreme Verdict, Mono-Black Devotion, or B/W Midrange, I would stick to three copies of Xenagos.

I also wanted the fourth Ghor-Clan Rampager back in the deck. Our gameplan against these aggressive decks is to stem the bleeding, stick a threat, and kill them as fast as possible. Sometimes, especially in the first game, we won’t have enough removal spells for their plethora of creatures, so getting them dead quickly is a priority. I even wanted to bring back the old Flesh // Blood for this weekend, but didn’t feel like the IQ was a field where I would need it and I would rather have a Golgari Charm, which is both good against the aggressive Red decks and also has utility against U/W and Esper.

I went back to the Nylea’s Disciple in the sideboard as I expected a bit more aggressive metagame for the IQ than I anticipated in the Invitational. I did keep the Chandra, Pyromaster as she is good against Lifebane Zombie and the control decks, but she also has some utility against Tom Ross’s one-drop-centric deck. Once we are able to get a window to land something, she is a very powerful way to control the board when we need it and generate more cards when we don’t need to pick off smaller creatures.

Ultimately I ended up 2-2 very quickly and dropped so that I could get to a friend’s place and get a good night’s sleep before we had to make the drive down to Greenville for the Modern PTQ.

My first loss was to the mirror, where our first two games had zero interaction where we just destroyed each other quickly and without opposition. In the third game, we were just back and forth constantly, eventually getting to a point where we both had zero cards in hand and no threats but I was at a very low life total. I had just used a Vraska the Unseen at three counters to destroy a Domri Rade on seven counters, so that felt good. He drew another Domri Rade and never missed on his +1 over the next couple turns, which just put the game out of reach as I drew land after land.

My second loss was against B/g Devotion where over the two games he cast six Desecration Demons and always had the second Hero’s Downfall for my second Xenagos, the Reveler after I killed a bunch of his Desecration Demons.

Sometimes, that’s how the cookie crumbles.

For the Modern PTQ I opted to play the Melira Pod list that BBD beat me with in our Versus video last week.

I’ve played in exactly two Modern events previously. I played in GP Richmond with the UR Delver deck, and then an IQ at the SCG Game Center where I won after getting lucky in the Top 4 against Todd with TarmoTwin.

I went into the tournament wanting to do well, but also trying to focus on learning the deck more and more with every round. I had played in a little three-round ditty on Thursday night at the SCG Game Center, our weekly Modern event, and while I went 3-0, I still learned something new every game. I definitely had a newfound appreciation for Reveillark after that event, where I did some pretty sick things with Viscera Seer, Eternal Witness and Reveillark.

I picked up an early loss against one of the guys who rode over with us who was on TarmoTwin. While getting beat down by three Pestermites in game one I had a chance to Chord of Calling for an Orzhov Pontiff to get rid of his attack force, but he had a Cryptic Command to really put the nail in the coffin. Game three went really long, but the one time I was able to find a Birthing Pod and try to get some action going, he drew an Ancient Grudge off Serum Visions and put the game away.

The matchup definitely feels real close, and much like in our VS video, I feel like the player who is more skilled with their deck will have an edge. Being able to play around everything and identify what the crucial cards and focal points are in the game give you a huge edge if your opponent can’t identify the same correctly.

I then rattled off a bunch of wins against various decks including Kiki Pod, B/W Tokens, Merfolk, and Junk Midrange. I had a real interesting one against Kiki Pod where we both mulliganed to five in the first game, but I played a Linvala, Keeper of Silence on turn three and just ran away with the game.

I received my second loss in the penultimate round against the Jund Life from the Loam/Seismic Assault deck featuring Tarmogoyf and Dark Confidant. With Raven’s Crime and Inquisition of Kozilek to empty my hand before I can get anything going and Life from the Loam fueling Seismic Assault and Flame Jab to kill all of my creatures, it really felt like a tough matchup. Granted, Scavenging Ooze seems very good against him, but Seismic Assault can help take out the Ooze and Abrupt Decay is also a card.

I ended up winning my last round against a G/W Hatebears deck in two absurd games 1-0-1. He never drew an Aven Mindcensor or Leonin Arbiter in the first game, and I was able to stave off his army of Golem tokens by generating absurd value from Birthing Pod every turn.

All in all, I loved the deck and plan on playing it again. What I didn’t love was the PTQ.

PTQs are miserable in general. Venues are never big enough. Attendance is usually undershot, so we all end up crammed in some crappy room that’s a billion degrees. The “winner take all” format for the tournaments are terrible and create so many “feel-bad” moments for people. I mean, who really enjoys playing in a tournament where you are disappointed with second place?

On top of all that, the prizes are usually terrible too. Some don’t pay out past Top 8, even when there are like 130 people, and even then the Top 8 prizes are usually terrible – some places even only give out store credit.

Because of the Open Series grind, I really haven’t put too much time or focus into PTQs because I had prioritized qualifying for the Players’ Championship over grinding to get back on the Pro Tour, but now that I have accomplished the latter it’s time to work on the former.

The last time I really grinded PTQ’s was during the Innistrad-only Sealed format. That season, I lost in the finals twice to go along with my three other Top 8s. I grinded GPTs and FNMs for Planeswalker points and ended up short about 100 points to qualify. To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

Without any standard across-the-board for these events, you really never know what to expect when you go play in a PTQ. Case in point, during the winter I went to some other random town in South Carolina and the PTQ was being held in an old run-down dojo. Literal mirrors on the walls and trophies and gloves and mats everywhere. It was also cramped, extremely hot, and smelled bad.

The reality of it is that it’s been this way forever, Wizards and the organizers who run these less-than-pleasant events know that people are still going to continue to come to these things regardless because they want to try and qualify for the Pro Tour, so: why try to fix anything when it’s not going to hamper your numbers?

I wish it wasn’t just about the numbers.

Wouldn’t it be cool for there to be some sort of system where you could earn points during a PTQ season based on your Top 8 finishes, and if you reached a certain number of points you would earn an invite without a flight to that PT? It would obviously have to be some number that would clearly reward consistent high finishes but not something that would flood the PT with a billion people.

Just food for thought.

The Open Series heads out to Portland this weekend, and I still like Jund Monsters. The deck has game against everything, and the sideboard can be tailored to whatever metagame you’re expecting. I would suggest starting with the lists from Las Vegas and going from there.

Last but not least, I need your help!

I’m going to be doing some Commander stuff and need a couple sweet Commander decks. I don’t really have much experience with the format, so please list out your decklist recommendation and THREE reasons why you think I should play your deck! Thanks!