By the time you read this, the PTQs from this past weekend will have come and gone. For simplicity, I will speak from the perspective of them having not happened already.
For the first time in nine and a half years, I’m eligible to play in a Pro Tour qualifier. The last PTQ season I played in was the one in which I won some Extended tournaments with Scroll Rack/Land Tax decks ranging from W/r Jank to W/u Prison. Back then, pros were allowed to play in PTQs and they did not have Grand Prix tournaments, so pros like Brian Hacker and I who really wanted to win tournaments would play and “Dream Crush.” The policy was actually that any slot we won would pass down, but we would get the cash prize. The people whose dreams we were crushing were typically the people that we got paired up against in rounds other than the finals.
Those were the days! Although, I have to say, that policy was pretty bad for the game. More than a few players were discouraged by playing hard all day and then meeting Hacker or myself in the Top 8 and losing to us, only to have the slot we would have won randomly go to the person in the other bracket for no other reason than the fact that they didn’t get paired up against us.
I actually was given the title of honorary d*ckhead, after a few seasons of crushing dreams and continuing the traditions that Hacker, John Yoo, Truc Bui, and Jason Zila began on the West Coast. Their team by the same name was founded on the idea that they had to be the bad guys at tournaments, knocking people out despite already being qualified themselves.
Why did I continue to play in tournaments despite already being qualified if it was so disruptive to other competitors? First off, as I said, there were no GPs, so these were the next biggest tournaments behind Pro Tours, typically. I was winning several PTQs a season, so this was nice on the pocket book and the DCI number, and it was just plain fun. Besides, I was going to the PTQs anyway to hang out with the CMU guys, Eric Taylor, etc. Why not play?
Besides, you have to remember, it was completely legal. While most of the pros that played in PTQs only played in them once in a while, our practice was in no way frowned upon by the DCI. The rules are the rules. Once they changed the rules so that we could not play any more, we obviously stopped.
Anyhow, it has been nearly a decade, and I now find myself eligible to play in a PTQ for Valencia. The format for the PTQ is Constructed, so I am interested. It is highly unlikely I will actually be able to attend this Pro Tour, though. It is kind of complicated. Still, you never know. I might swing it. We’ll see.
There will be plenty of time to concern myself with such things if I win. For now, I have to actually play in the thing. To me, the biggest plus is that it will help warm me up for Nationals, which is less than a week later. I know that they are different formats, but playing under tournament conditions is different than playing in playtesting. I could stand a little bit of trial by fire. The only real tournaments I have played in these past five years have been Regionals and Pro Tour: San Diego. I need to get back in the groove.
This Block Constructed season seems to obviously revolve around the cards Damnation and Tarmogoyf. I am unsure as to which is the better way to go. Both offer numerous decks to choose from, and I have built around both quite a bit. At one point I was talking with the most underrated deck builder in North America, Mark Herberholz (Flores: Underrated? He is widely regarded as one of the Top 10 deck builders in the U.S… Chapin: Exactly. Okay, end obligatory love fest).
It’s 4am, and I’m talking with Heezy. We get to talking about breaking the U/B or G/W mirrors. The problem with the U/B mirror is that the better you make your deck for that matchup, the worse it is against decks like G/W. However, there is a way out if you play G/W. What would break open the G/W mirror but still be good versus U/B?
More specifically, tapping Amrou Scout to Bound in Silence opposing Tarmogoyfs or Mystic Enforcers or Serra Avengers. That is actually the stone blade versus other G/W decks. What in the world do they do about that? Their next four monsters are all Bound. Then you go get more rebels. They are actually just drawing dead to Amrou Scout.
To be fair, Amrou Scout is not always an auto-win. After all, you do have to stabilize enough that you can afford to tap four mana (and it) every turn. It is possible that opposing G/W was on the play with the:
Tarmogoyf + Flagstones + Edge + Griffin Guide + Serra Avenger + Tarmogoyf draw.
Still, it is really hard for G/W to beat an active Amrou Scout.
As far as the U/B match-up goes, just about all U/B decks play some sort of ultra-powerful creature, whether it is Johnny Magic, Korlash, or Tarmogoyf. Put the Bound in Silence on them. In addition, Amrou Scout is the perfect creature to fight Damnation with, as you can play it as your only creature before a Damnation, or use it as the perfect creature to follow a Damnation with. There is no shame in fetching more Scouts. That guy is busted. I must, I must, I must increase my bust!
For reference, here is what I am planning on playing at the PTQ.
The list is most comparable to the old Rebel/Blastoderm G/W decks from Masques Block. A short Rebel chain that accents powerful threats.
First of all, let’s look at some swaps I have made compared to traditional G/W. I have 4 Amrou Scout where most people have 4 Riftsweeper, Mire Boa, or Thornweald Archers. This seems like a clear upgrade to me, breaking open the mirror and giving me a better threat versus control.
The 4 Bound in Silence replace 4 Temporal Isolation, which may be a downgrade in the abstract, but in contextually amazing. Aside from obviously being fetchable by my Scouts, Bound in Silence also doesn’t get hosed by things like the “Tendrils my Korlash with damage on the stack” trick and so on. Besides, Bound in Silence provides the oh so sexy seventh card type for Tarmogoyf…
The Defiant Vanguard is my final maindeck concession to the minor rebel chain. He is at times both the fifth Scout and the fifth Bound, depending on what you need. Plus, it is just nice to be able to go get a guy that can attack into Desert. He is definitely the weakest card in the deck, but he pulls his weight.
Until yesterday, I had a Blade of the Sixth Pride, dreaming of fetching up three power worth of beats. The thing is, there had been many times I had wished when I drew it and wished it was a third Saffi. Never, however, have I ever drawn a Saffi and wished it was a Blade of the Sixth Pride. I know the Blade has more value when I don’t draw it, but still, when you are searching, you are generally doing well anyway. What I need are more cards that are good when I’m not.
Finally, we come to Disenchant. This is the card that is either going to make me or break me. I built this deck to gun for both U/B and G/W. Disenchant hoses them both. Versus U/B it hits Coalition Relic and Take Possession, as well as Prismatic Lens, if need be. Disenchanting a Relic or a Take is typically backbreaking.
There is no question it is good in the U/B match-up, but what about G/W? Well, it is very powerful to Disenchant a Temporal Isolation, a Griffin Guide, or even a Bound in Silence. Disenchant adds another dimension of attack that can help swing the momentum of a G/W mirror by removing a Temporal Isolation or Griffin Guide mid-combat.
Just a second… I have to go get some more Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough.
Okay, I am back. Where was I? Oh yeah, Disenchant. Have you ever played the Wild Pair match-up with G/W? Have you ever played it with Disenchants in your deck…? When they ask you why you play Disenchants maindeck, just tell them, “I have the sickest reads.”
So if Disenchant is so good, why doesn’t everyone play it? Battle Pickles and Mono-Red a few times and you’ll see. Still, I am already fine against Mono-Red, and I’m willing to be a little softer game 1 versus Mono-Blue. I sideboard quite a bit versus both, beginning by swapping the Disenchants for Sunlances. Against Red, I also bring in Thrills, Honorable Passages, and often Serra Avenger and Serrated Arrows. I typically take out Griffin Guides (they’ll have Dead/Gone) and some mixture of Rebels. My new game plan is to establish a sort of control, where my fatties win it for me backed up by removal and combat tricks.
Versus Mono-Blue, I plan to bring in 4 Sunlance and 2 Serra Avenger, most likely for 4 Disenchants (assuming they don’t have artifacts) and 2 Thrill of the Hunt. This match-up is not what you want to face, but it is certainly not unwinnable. The key here is to play tempo orientated, take advantage of your rebels, and win before Teferi tears you apart. I may have to reconfigure the sideboard somewhat, as Griffin Guide is not an all-star versus decks with seven maindeck bounce spells and three more in the board. I could totally see keeping a couple Disenchants for Serrated Arrows, instead.
While I am on the sideboarding tip, I might as well cover some other plans. Versus G/W I bring in 3 Cloudchaser Kestrels, 2 Thrills, and possibly Serra Avenger or Serrated Arrows, depending on their build. I take out the Griffin Guides and some creatures depending on what I’m up against. Saffi, Serra Avenger, Chromatic Star (when on the draw), and more all need to be considered when personalizing your deck for games 2 and 3.
When battling a U/B mage (or Four-Color Blue, or whatever), it is again key to gain as much information as possible about their build to use when sideboarding. Sunlance usually has to come in to deal with Fortune Thief and/or Shadowmage Infiltrator. Cloudchaser Kestrel can help against someone who has many Takes, and Serrated Arrows is useful if they are committed to the Fortune Thief plan. You need to cut Thrill, Serra Avenger, and Defiant Vanguard. If you need the space, it is not out of the question to cut a Bound in Silence, or even two, depending on their build.
If you face Wild Pair, Disenchant will really shine. With 4 Relic, 4 Wild Pair, and some Takes, you will never be want for a target. Sideboard in 3 Kestrels for Defiant Vanguard and some number of Bound in Silence or Thrill of the Hunt. In addition, you may want extra Angels. If you are getting locked down by Telekinetic Sliver, you need to replace all the Bound in Silences (save one to fetch) with Sunlances. Also, cutting Amrou Scout is fine.
G/W/R decks playing Fiery Justice are treated as a hybrid of G/W and Mono-Red (surprising, I know). Just sideboard the best weapons to combat their particular choices, whether it’s Passage for burn, or Kestrel for Temporal Isolation.
Is my G/W deck better than Two-, Three-, Four-, or Five-Color Blue with Damnations? It is hard to say, but I will say this much: I am normally the type of Mage who would always play the Blue Damnation deck. Still, there is something about Rebelgoyf that has me using the Red Zone, this time around. I really think the short Rebel Chain is a huge technological step forward for G/W, and it’s what the mages of the Savannah-Mana need to catch up with the members of the Dimir Guild.
How will I do in my first PTQ in very nearly a decade? Only time will tell, but I am definitely psyched to be competing again. Man, this game is fun.