Magical Hack – I Would Drive 500 Miles: A PTQ Story

Read Sean McKeown every Friday... at StarCityGames.com!
Friday, March 27th – By now, it’s Friday and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d seen this past weekend’s results updated on the MagicTheGathering.com weekly update of Top 8 results. I certainly like to discuss them as part of my analysis of the metagame, and it never hurts to congratulate the people who turn up with interesting results that get you thinking about new and interesting card choices.

By now, it’s Friday and I wouldn’t be surprised if you’d seen this past weekend’s results updated on the MagicTheGathering.com weekly update of Top 8 results. I certainly like to discuss them as part of my analysis of the metagame, and it never hurts to congratulate the people who turn up with interesting results that get you thinking about new and interesting card choices. This past weekend seems to have been a pretty good weekend for StarCityGames.com columnists, with two appearances in the finals and one other Top 8 appearance. And one of those final-round appearances was mine… Patrick Chapin and I were both playing Faeries against Naya Zoo at more-or-less the same time with a plane ride to Hawaii on the line. This is my story.

Going into the StarCityGames.com double-PTQ weekend, I had a lot to think about. I’d been playing my Ponder Faeries deck for the past three PTQs, and doing quite well with it, having two solid cracks at a Top 8 turn into near misses, and one miserable 1-2 drop where I hadn’t slept well the night before and found I wasn’t making good play decisions and was making bad keeps, a tournament that frankly I shouldn’t have been playing in based on my overall desire to be back in bed or anywhere else rather than sticking around and playing still, even to just gain some rating points against the ‘easy’ field in the double-loss bracket. Slowly, usually about two cards at a time, I was tweaking and tuning it to make small fixes and improve it, and getting an interest in making more PTQs because when you have a good deck, it’s a good idea to chase success.

As an analyst, I’m usually pretty insightful about a format. I can mine information and deduce trends pretty accurately and pass the information along in my weekly column here on StarCityGames.com, as well as intuit what (if any) changes might need to be made based on results or a metagame that is changing over time. I’m also a reasonably decent deckbuilder, just one who happens to sometimes get a bone that I feel I have to worry at until I have ‘solved the problem’, which lets failure chase failure rather than success chase success. When I have something good I know how to build it correctly, as I’d like to think I showed last year when I stuck my fate with the Goblins for Extended and refused to let go, and this year it seems I have a mix of the two: success, and something I seem to know that I’ve held onto relentlessly as success chased success. That something, as most everyone might know by now, is playing Ponder in Faeries.

At the start of last week, I had to consider whether I could in fact consider the crazy option of driving from New York City to Roanoke, Virginia to hit up the double-PTQ weekend. As the week wore on, some of the answers turned my way: my boss was quite happy to give me the Friday off, which let me plan to leave in the middle of the afternoon rather than have to wait till after I got out of work, at which time the traffic conditions would turn the plan to patently miserable. Josh Jacobson and Chris Mascioli signed on for the ride early, firming their travel plans up with me instead of another local player who felt they should try and chase success, and all of Thursday was spent trying to figure out whether or not there was going to be yet another car going down, or if that car was going to be absorbed into mine… and by the end of the day on Thursday, I knew I was going to take Joshua McGhee and Miles Rodriguez for the trip as well, filling the car. This unfortunately left us with exactly one other driver, Josh Jacobson, which is to say that there was no other driver because the last time I was in a car with him I feared for my life, and I like my car too much to do that to it. Come Friday morning, the organizational details were all sorted and we had two hotel rooms booked for two nights, and a nine hour drive to Roanoke ahead of us.

Thursday night, I settled on my deck for the weekend, deciding from my analysis of the metagame trends that this might be the week for Affinity to try and rear its head again, and that TEPS would be a risky and generally poor choice for the weekend… and thus which between the two I should actually sideboard against.

This was the weekend I decided to main-deck a “Five” for the Faerie mirror, playing the card that I felt was best suited against a metagame where Elves would be noteworthy, Affinity would show up, and Faeries and Zoo would be the leading archetypes. I decided to move an Archmage to the sideboard for that Meloku, and cut Stifle from my 75 entirely in order to play four Hurkyl’s Recalls that I never had to sideboard in but frequently was glad were there, as Affinity was certainly present in reasonable numbers on both days.

For my first match of the day, I played against Matthew Meyer with Domain Zoo, starting the day off right by rolling a mighty 20 on my slightly oversized purple die that I was carrying in my pocket because it amused me. Despite playing first, and my opponent mulliganing once, I found myself losing the first game then sideboarding in two Threads of Dislolyalty and the fourth Engineered Explosives for the Meloku, a Vendilion Clique, and a Ponder to ‘make room’. My plan overall was to win the second game and tune my deck for the third game against him on the draw, not playing all my Threads for the second game to potentially mislead him into re-sideboarding for Game 3, and also gaining information such as whether he brought in artifact destruction, at which time I would sideboard out Umezawa’s Jitte for the decider. Matt mulliganed on the draw and had a somewhat slow draw, with more burn spells than creatures, followed by a Kitchen Finks. A slow and steady game of permission saw me choosing not to counter a Lightning Helix and a Tribal Flames that were pointed at my face and which I had counters for, simply because there was no creature damage to go with it and the second such burn spell put me at nine life still, plenty stable if I contained his threats. I win with a comfortable margin, and re-sideboard for the third game, sideboarding out one Ancestral Vision to put that Ponder back in, and (I believe) sideboarding out Umezawa’s Jitte to put in the third Threads of Disloyalty and the third Glen Elendra Archmage, as it can be too slow on the draw and too hard to protect, so I was focusing on creature theft and early-game tempo pretty exclusively. Matt leads with Kird Ape on the play and gets to hit me twice with it before I steal it, with my Breeding Pool out no less, as I spend the rest of my time countering his second-turn play (Tarmogoyf) and third-turn play (Kitchen Finks, if I recall). From there, I am able to wrest control of the board, and maintain parity as I slowly but surely beat him down two points at a time. It’s possible I didn’t board out Jitte but frankly I don’t remember, after an awful lot of matches in some of which I sideboarded out Jitte but others I didn’t, but I still was able to force the game to go long by stopping his first threats then stealing what was left, to claim the match 2-1.

Match Record: 1-0. Game Record: 2-1.

For the second round, I played against Mike Gallo with R/G/W Aggro-Loam, which uses cards like Countryside Crusher and Seismic Assault in a Loam shell to turn from controlling to aggressive when its engine starts to roar to life. For the first game, Mike wins the die roll and we both mulligan, and his draw is somewhat clunky due to the fact that he is holding control cards like Firespout and has drawn his two copies of Beseech the Queen, in to search up Loam and other combo pieces with a spell that was intended to be difficult to counter with Spellstutter Sprite. I’m able to contain the game with my countermagic and contain Life from the Loam with Vendilion Clique, putting me up a game. I sideboard in the one Archmage and two Extirpates for the two Umezawa’s Jitte and a Spell Snare, given that he did seem to have a low number of targets, but was still gaming with Tarmogoyf. For the second game, I got beaten down pretty readily by a fast draw of Tarmogoyf followed by Tarmogoyf, as he led with fetchland into Overgrown Tomb into Thoughtseize and that was enough to push him to resolve his spells; I didn’t see Engineered Explosives for the double-Goyf draw, and we were on to the third. For the third game, with me on the play he doesn’t land an aggressive draw all over me, and I am able to Ancestral Visions myself into Extirpate on Life from the Loam, forcing him to play fair, something I was not about to let turn into a winning proposition for him. My quote for the weekend when I Extirpated anyone’s Loams was “We do not negotiate with terrorists”, because as good as Relics are in this matchup, Extirpate is better: it never misses.

Match Record: 2-0. Game Record: 4-2.

Mike was a pretty awesome guy, as I would find out later in the day. After all, around Round 4 I actually had enough time after the round to try and get lunch between rounds, and then found out that my car wasn’t starting… and when I asked a friend coming up all the way from Florida to try and help me me fix my car, Mike was kind enough to lend us a set of jumper cables so that Pedro could try and fix the problem, then was kind enough to pull up next to us and offer his car to jump ours. Pretty classy considering I’d beaten him, but I’d like to think that’s sort of what you get for being a nice person during a match rather than a jerk.

For the third round, I was paired against Shawn Lemieux with Domain Zoo, and was able to stabilize in the first game by countering everything except his first Kird Ape and let that Kird Ape beat me down as Ancestral Visions ticked down for a restock on cards, which meant I took ten points from a Kird Ape, five from Tribal Flames, and either countered, killed or stole everything else, showing him the writing on the wall when a Jitte was called upon to stabilize the game and begin the crawl downward while Riptide Laboratory threatened to stop him from ever resolving another spell. The second game sees me double mulligan on the draw, staying in the game against a turn-one Wild Nacatl but ultimately succumbing against everything else, down too many cards and taking too much early damage. For the third game, I mulligan on the play and keep his successful early drops to just a Kird Ape, who attacks me five times before I have started to wear him out of cards and stabilize with recursion on Archmage, Sprite and Sower. I’m certain that I sideboarded Jitte out for game two, but am pretty sure that I was playing it for game three, even if I don’t think it came up.

Match Record: 3-0. Game Record: 6-3.

Round 4 was the start of a surprisingly comfortable stretch in the middle of the tournament, as I played Ashley Fields with Astral Slide. Astral Slide versus Faeries is hard when you’re playing against Osyp with Astral Slide, but not as difficult when playing against someone who is not the Pro Tour-winning master of All Things Astral Slide. This round ended with twenty minutes on the clock still and a 2-0 victory in my favor; in the first game, there was a lot of back-and-forth as one would have to expect is the trick when these two decks face, and I’m pretty sure Game 1 was resolved by a concession just prior to a decking, as he Dredged himself pretty extensively but I contained a fair chunk of his Loams and almost all of his threats, and was able to take out the last threat in game one by offering all four Mutavaults as a blocker against a Cloudthresher, clearing the table of things on his side of the board that could actually win the game. For the second game, I chose to not negotiate with terrorists and suddenly his deck didn’t work anymore.

Match Record: 4-0. Game Record: 8-3.

At this point, I find out that my car is not working, when I try to take advantage of the extra time to go find lunch in between rounds. With some help we manage to assemble jumper cables plus additional car plus someone who knows what they are doing, because that last person is certainly not me, and hook the car up for a jump and find out it will work if we’re jumping the battery… good news, because it means the problem is the battery, not the alternator. Bad news, I foolishly turn off the car after the first jump is successful, and it doesn’t want to work quite right when we try to jump it again. I figure the best plan is to push it off for a few hours, focus on the food problem, and try to continue playing the tournament, but things were not quite ideal here.

Round 5 sees me playing Thomas Leveille with Astral Slide (again), and it remains as before a pretty comfortable matchup. For the first game I contain his threatening enchantments and win pretty handily with an aerial squad, with Life from the Loam not having actually appeared in the game… an easy point in my favor, as without Loam he’s just not really playing very much of a deck. The second game, however, was awesome: I double-mulliganed and had a slightly weak hand, but had Ancestral Visions eventually working on my side… but I knew from pretty early on that I was going to have to try to both make every point matter and try to drag the game out longer if possible, to make up for my mulligan with an aggressive stance and also recoup it eventually with Ancestral Vision. I played an end-of-turn Spellstutter Sprite to start attacking on turn two, and slowly applied teensy tiny increments of pressure… then on turn four when he played a Wall of Roots then an untapped dual land to give him four mana to play an instant on my turn, I smelled a Boil coming and worked my butt off to not open the window for it. And then something interesting happened: Tom suspended Detritivore, to start picking off my non-Island lands like Mutavault and Secluded Glen, both putting me in a lot of trouble and confirming my belief that I was going to get Boiled if I walked into it, and I continued to apply as much pressure as possible to try and race the apparently-inevitable. Detritivore resolved, and then I got Boiled, but we’re trading swings of one Detritivore versus three 1/1 Spellstutter Sprites, and I attack him from four to one leaving no blockers for his Vore, with a nonbasic land as my only non-Sprite permanent and a Ghost Quarter on his side of the board. He Ghost Quarters me and is able to attack me back to one, but not zero, and since I elected to attack him to one instead of to two and leave a chumpblocker, he cannot actually kill all three Sprites to save himself for the extra turn neded, and with just three Sprites and a Snow-Covered Island in play, I took him down 2-0.

I may or may not have declared that I do not negotiate with terrorists for the second game, but do not honestly remember. My notes don’t include hand information from seeing his hand at any point for this round, but then neither do they say so for the round before and I’m certain I did in that round. Either my play notes are wrong or my recollection is, and given that my recollections are fuzzied by the horrific drive home Sunday night, I can’t say which I consider to be more reliable.

Match Record: 5-0. Game Record: 10-3.

Since I finished with a bit of time on the clock, I took a walk around to see what the food options were, and managed to get myself a rather disgusting chicken sandwich from the local Arby’s, about a five minute walk up the road. While far from ideal, it still counts as food in my stomach, allowing me to try to play well in the crucial late rounds that were coming up.

For Round 6 I got to play Josh Hakakian with R/G/W Aggro-Loam, who had a disturbing trend of always holding two copies of Lightning Helix every time I went and Cliqued his hand. I lose the first game to some pretty vicious Finks-and-Knight-and-Crusher beats, thanks to the fact that his grip of two Helix is going to stop me from effectively mounting a defense, and I can’t find an Engineered Explosives no matter how hard I try. I was in the game considerably for a while, but the critical momentum tipped his way and I was backpedaling, then I was dead. For the second game, there was some aggressive movement on his end as you’d only imagine, but I chose not to negotiate with terrorists and his tricks stopped working, allowing me to actually solidify the board this time and keep my life totals nice and high as I tried to beat him down with his own monsters.

The third game was a crucial one, with Pithing Needles involved and a Gaddock Teeg in play, and I found myself able to slowly contain the board and exhaust his resources with what I did have in my hand… but what I had included multiple now-dead Needles, thanks to the fact that Teeg made them uncastable and Needle stopped me from being able to activate one anyway. It took me too long to realize that I should be Cliquing myself rather than him, to start clearing the excess dead Needles from my draw and dig up a Sower of Temptation that would break the game wide open as I was chump-blocking a large Countryside Crusher every turn thanks to Riptide Laboratory. Since it took me so long to realize the line of play I should be taking, we run out of time, and after the last turn of extra turns I find I’ve got that Sower of Temptation that would have decimated this game sitting on top of my library. Actually collecting all four Explosives in my hand before I started to think about doing something about that dropped the match, for no good reason other than that I wasn’t paying as much attention as I should have been to the clock.

Match Record: 5-0-1. Game Record: 11-4-1.

For the seventh round, I was paired against John Mahon with TEPS, which is not exactly the best of matchups even back when I had Stifle in my sideboard and which sort of made me regret the fact that I decided I’d have to beat Affinity once today if I wanted to win the tournament, but could safely bank on not facing Storm Combo. Liar, liar, pants on fire. I wish I could say something insightful and interesting about this match, but I won the die roll and got to play first, then dropped a turn three Vendilion Clique that ate his Mind’s Desire out of his hand. After two attacks he started a first attempt at going off, which I thwarted with a Spellstutter Sprite, then attacked him down to ten life and played a Mutavault as my land for the turn. John waited to pick his moment again and took the second volley of hits, going down to six, i.e. lethal next turn thanks to Mutavault. He starts trying to go off but I have three counters for his spells and he is stuck dead in the water, since I chose to constrain his mana with my counterspells and he lost that fight.

After sideboarding, you can only imagine it gets worse… I’m sideboarding in relatively junky cards like Bitterblossom and Extirpate for my Sowers, Meloku and Jittes, with the one card I’m happy to be bringing in being the third Glen Elendra Archmage. In return, he can now play with Pacts and Gigadrowse… not exactly an improvement for me. For the second game, he suspends a Lotus Bloom on his second turn after manipulating his deck and I drop an Explosives for zero, then play several lands waiting for the Bloom to come in. John is stuck on mana with just a Steam Vents and a City of Brass to work with, and burns a Gigadrowse the turn before his Lotus comes in, but still leaves me with three mana to work with and a Leak and Snare in hand, so when his Lotus comes in he considers the board and decides to pass the turn, responding to my EOT sacrifice on Explosives with Ad Nausiem. Nausiem runs him from sixteen to six by revealing Desires and rituals, at which point he stops and discards one card before letting me go on with my turn. On my turn I play yet another land and pass, while he plays a land on his turn and prepares to go off next turn by setting things up with Gigadrowse again. I nix that plan by playing an end-of-turn Vendilion Clique, seeing two Desires, a Seething Song, a Rite, a Manamorphose, and a Remand but taking his Gigadrowse, then untapping and attacking him to “dead next turn” again. Again he is forced to go off and I have three counters, so he doesn’t actually get anywhere.

Match Record: 6-0-1. Game Record: 13-4-1.

For the seventh round, I happily accept an intentional draw, and actually try and put a plan into effect to get my car jumped and food in my belly. If by “make a plan” we actually mean “watch my car-mates Cube Draft to relax”, watching-slash-bullying Miles Rodriguez into drafting a Blue-Black cube deck with the Pickles lock, Upheaval/Psychatog, and some pretty ridiculous sequences of plays involving the Mana Drain he drafted if he ever countered something of relevance with it. Somewhere in there food is actually ordered, and a plan is made to call Triple-A thanks to Drew Levin willingness to go to bat to help me out in this particular bind, but there’s nothing to eat before the Top 8 starts besides for a pack of cookies from the vending machines and a soda to at least raise my blood sugar level some, and just like that after a bit less than an hour of de-stressing and decompressing, it was time to play the Top 8.

Match Record: 6-0-2. Game Record: 13-4-1.

In the quarterfinals, I got to play Josh Hakakian again and revisit my Round 6 pairing, this time with considerable more information about what was in my opponent’s deck, and the awareness that in the prior round he sided out Tarmogoyfs after the first game, so he actually probably wouldn’t for the second game of this match just to switch up plans and try to catch me blindsided. I again lose the first game despite being on the play, as again I Clique him and he has two Helixes after I take the best card out of his hand, so my survival plans evaporate in the face of first one and then two quick Tarmogoyfs. For the second I bring in two of my three Threads, to keep him honest, alongside two Extirpates and the third Glen Elendra Archmage; for the second, I’m able to Vendilion Clique and/or Extirpate to contain his Loams and don’t suffer any damage I don’t inflict on myself with sac-lands, then worry him to death while he has a dead Krosan Grip stuck in his hand. The third game is much more epic, as in the second I was able to beat him with Visions of my own while restraining his Loams in the early game, but for the third we were both firing on all cylinders till the middle of the game, and his Gaddock Teeg in play was as always causing grief and trouble. The first Visions helped me to stabilize the board some and drew into another Visions, so a lot of nothing was going on but my position was slipping away turn by turn, as he Loamed and built his position while eroding mine… a vicious, grinding game of positional advantage. And then my second Ancestral Visions resolved, I declared that I do not negotiate with terrorists, and suddenly Josh wasn’t able to keep up with the grinding advantage as before, turning instead to grist as his board position evaporated.

Match Record: 7-0-2. Game Record: 15-5-1.

For the semifinals, I got to play Zach Efland, whom I potentially made the mis-play of sharing my dinner with between the quarterfinals and semifinals as we waited for the other quarterfinals matches to finish, and I attacked the chicken lo mein that was supposed to have been chicken fried rice for my dinner and thanked Alex Bertoncini for being stuck with the job of riding herd on a bunch of cheap Magic players when I tasked them with ensuring I ate dinner… suddenly half a dozen people were involved, and I’m sure that approximately half a dozen people didn’t actually pay enough money for their food plus tax plus tip as is customary amongst our breed. When we actually got to play, Zach double-mulliganed on the play in the first game, which made it very simple for me to work with the plan of constraining his threats and keeping him to one resolved early play, and Zach turned it from a farce of a game to a laughingstock by mana-flooding out after his triple mulligan. I sideboarded out Ancestral Visions for the fourth Explosives and three Threads, and Meloku became the third Glen Elendra Archmage, all decisions made because I was going to be on the draw and thus facing the awkward problem of Visions not being quite good enough in a world where I want to play Spell Snare on turn one. Zach kept himself to just one mulligan for the second game and things were thus a great deal closer, but again I kept him to one resolved early play (Wild Nacatl) while dealing with everything else he tried to do, and after controlling his creature permanents I ate a Blightning and a Tribal Flames but had enough control of the game that Zach couldn’t deal the last four damage, and thus I was able to seal up the match from there.

Match Record: 8-0-2. Game Record: 17-5-1.

And then there were the finals. I was either going to be playing the mirror match against a player I suspected I had a significant advantage on, in the play-skills and experience department if not necessarily the deck-technology department, or against Naya Zoo with a reasonably competent pilot. As readily as I had dispatched my three Domain Zoo opponents so far, I was aware of the fact that Naya Zoo is a different animal entirely. I’d covered Naya Zoo by-the-numbers in my column last week, noting that by the numbers it tended to fail to close the deal at a PTQ, and while it is far better against Faeries than Domain Zoo is, it’s less good overall against the field. However, it wasn’t playing against the field… it was playing against me in the finals, and while I knew the matchup was far from unwinnable, it also didn’t particularly favor me.

I spent about a half an hour de-stressing before the final round, watching that cube draft play out to its finals and ensuring that someone was riding herd on getting my car fixed if possible so after the conclusion of the tournament, win or lose, at least we wouldn’t super-lose by not having a working car. Evan Erwin was doing coverage of the finals for the Magic Show and interviewed both myself and my opponent, Jimmy Rogers, and was able to tape the finals as it played out… so rather than attempt to cover the match after all the intervening things I’ve had since now and then, I’m going to direct you to the Magic Show to see how it unfolded. Evan tells me it should start up around the three-minute marker or so..

Here’s the link.

And just like that, it was over: my first loss of the tournament, at something of an inconvenient time.

Match Record: 8-1-2. Game Record: 18-7-1.

But on a brighter note, my car worked enough to get home, I was able to crack seventy-two booster packs of Conflux in an attempt to feel better about my loss in the finals, and was in generally high spirits all things considered as I readied myself for bed that evening. Karmic justice was in effect: Chris Mascioli kept his room-mates awake the night before because apparently he has sleep apnea and snores like a walrus, though I have to wonder as to Jacobson’s dating habits if he knows what a snoring walrus sounds like. But for Saturday night we stuck Nate Pease and three of his traveling companions from the Boston area in the room with him, and their snoring kept him awake. We capped off the night with a trip to the Waffle House for a late-night dinner, which was miserable all around and included a waitress whose attempts to overcome her unattractiveness made it rather hard for me not to giggle every time I saw her tongue-ring and glitter-sparkle eyeshadow and not think of Kyle Sanchez. To him, after all, this might have been heaven on earth; to me, it was hard to keep a straight face and harder still to down my nasty burger, but still an amusement to end the evening before we retired to the hotel rooms.

I managed to wake myself up in the middle of the night having a roleplaying-related nightmare, to do with the horror of having to deal with a trio of intractable jerks who have been doing their very best of late to make everything unpleasant for those around them, myself especially included as they try to use their high-school clique attacks to take down my credibility and relative authority within our local group as the person overseeing gameplay. At least it wasn’t a nightmare about losing in the finals again… I had a pleasant experience playing Jimmy and I tried my very best, and I can’t exactly regret the success I had just because it failed to go all the way. After half an hour of nervousness and sudden awakeness in the wee hours, I was able to make it back to sleep, noting in my mind that everything to do with that particular flavor of stupidity could be handled when I got back home. (It was, and it so far has been every bit as stupid as I feared… and they wonder why I find it so very hard to deal with them ‘because they’re crazy’.)

For the second day, I changed zero cards and bought a new set of sleeves, figuring success is success is success and there was no reason to change anything. By all appearances however I wasn’t quite as well-rested or awake as I’d hoped, as I found out during Round 1. I played against Black/Green Loam and lost the first game as I tried to wrest control against the dredge mechanic and failed, then won the second pretty handily by containing his creatures and bashing with mine pretty quickly as far as these Blue deck things are concerned. But for the third game, that pesky Dredge mechanic makes things difficult, because while I’ve chosen not to negotiate with terrorists, and taken out some Bitterblossoms besides as it seems my opponent is playing the Jacobs list from GP LA, I’m still down and getting attacked by a Tarmogoyf and one single Bitterblossom token, the former of which I am blocking every turn with a bought-back Mutavault and waiting for my Ancestral Visions to tick down. This constrains my mana to about seven, and I Extirpated his Loam at this point, only to have to deal with the Worm Harvest he’d turned up the turn before because that will blow the game open unless I topdeck Engineered Explosives. I failed to count my mana before doing normally reflexive actions, and leave myself one short of Mana Leak because I suspended another Visions without thinking first, and thus die to a swarm of tokens the next turn because I disconnected my brain for a crucial five seconds. (Turns out I disconnected it much longer than that, as I’d been activating a summoning-sick Mutavault and tapping it for mana for several turns failing to realize it doesn’t do that, and I’d have been one short either way after Extirpating, so it was just complicated all around. And it means as vital as Loams going away is, the correct play was to Extirpate on the Harvest, and leave the Loams alone.)

Match Record: 8-2-2. Game Record: 19-9-1.

For the second round, I am paired against Matthew Thornton with Domain Zoo, and I get the benefit of playing first and his mulliganing for the first game, which allows me to control the damage early enough in the game to keep my life total in the double digits for most of it, and start to turn onto the offensive. Riptide Lab recursion locks the game up entirely and places it firmly out of his reach, and we go on to the second with me bringing in Threads and the fourth Explosives as well as the third Archmage for Meloku, a Visions, a Clique, and two Jittes as I tend to take those out on the draw. (They go back in for game three, at which time I’d switch it up to have Threads out again to ‘enforce’ the Hedge-mages and no Tarmogoyfs from him, and put the last Vision back in as well.) For the second, he gets his Nacatl into second Nacatl draw, aiming to play around my Spell Snare, and when I answer them with Engineered Explosives I get to be tapped out for the second wave. For the third game I’m back on the play, and his opening is Mogg Fanatic and some spells I counter, and his Fanatic beats slowly and is ‘followed up’ with a Lightning Helix to the face to raise the temperature some, which I just allow since I’m at seventeen at that point. The Fanatic does not go all the way and the game wraps up from there with him out of options and me controlling the superior board position, so I’ve clawed back a win to try and rally every single round for the rest of the tournament to try and make it back to the finals. I’m joking that apparently I’m only allowed one loss for the day and I’ve already got it, rendering me indestructible, but it’s mostly something to laugh about, not some sort of overblown arrogance.

Match Record: 9-2-2. Game Record: 21-10-1.

For the third round I get paired against Bryan Laschon playing Elves, and again make my banter that yesterday proved I was indestructible at this point, it seemed a pretty good way to laugh off a round-one loss. Bryan confusingly gives me a turn-four match concession and drops, when it becomes apparent that he is playing Elves, I am playing Faeries, and I know what I am doing when it comes to stopping his deck. I offer to remember him with prize if I do in fact manage to repeat yesterday’s feat, to which he replies he will be long gone by then, and it goes to show that we long-driving sorts have a lot to keep in mind when far from home and the writing is on the wall. I’d every intention of taking his lesson if possible myself later, as I’d told my car we had a “suicide pact”, if it was clear we were out of contention we drop and go home… Bryan got to go home early, and by the end of the event, I was rather jealous of him.

Match Record: 10-2-2. Game Record: 22-10-1.

I didn’t waste the opportunity, though, and endeavoured to go get food… and once again, my car wouldn’t start. In the now-open 45 minutes I had available, I started walking up the street, looking for food or options or anything, knowing I had to replace my battery if anything was going to work out for us. Past the Arby’s I had adventured to the day before I found an auto parts store and was able to figure out what I needed to replace, which model of battery exactly for my car, and figure out what I could do to try and get it taken care of. Knowing I had about a hundred-dollar replacement cost to fix the car for the ride home, I had to figure out how to get my car to their location so they could install the battery, which meant I needed a jump first… suffice it to say given that this wasn’t working, I was very grateful for my last-round opponent’s unexpected kindness, and also very jealous that not only could he leave early but presumably his car actually worked.

Across the street from the auto place, however, I spied a Pizza Hut… I could solve the lunch problem some now while I was at it, and bring something back for my carmates while I was at it. I got myself an entire pizza to walk back with, only to find when I joined some of the group that Zach Efland, Joe Capalbi and some of his friends were perfectly willing to potentially barter “fixing my car” for “my pizza”, and faced with this unexpected opportunity I merrily traded my pizza for someone to go and purchase and install my battery during the next round. Some people call drawing the right card a ‘mise’. This, however, was a mise. I even still got a slice of the pizza, so as not to be entirely starving still.

For the fourth round I was paired agaisnt Chris Bourroughs playing TEPS, and no, I still didn’t have Stifles. Inexplicably, I manage to defeat him 2-0 as well, again thanks to little to do with my deck and perhaps a lot to do with his: he triple-mulligans for the first game and has little action when I Vendilion Clique him, and I sideboard as I did the previous day to put good cards in and take terrible ones out. For the second game I again constrain his ability to play his entire hand out on the turn he decides to go for it, and when it’s clear he won’t be able to cast Mind’s Desire but might be warming up for a Tendrils, I stop contributing to the storm count and eat a Tendrils that takes me from 19 to 3 in one fell swoop, two storm copies short of killing me… and pushing himself up to twenty in the process. I attack with creatures and swing ten at a time, then he tries to ‘go off’ again with the few rituals left only to see me sacrifice Glen Elendra Archmage to stop his progress, earning the concession.

Cutting Stifles and 4-0’ing TEPS in games is not the result I expected to correlate next to each other.

Match Record: 11-2-2. Game Record: 24-10-1.

And Round 5 ends the run. I get paired against the best player in the room, Dave Irvine, for my first Faeries mirror match of the weekend… and while I’m probably one of the ten best players in the room, I’m still pretty certain Dave is better than me, and it shows when we play out the match… I get mauled by a Shackles game one and a Future Sight game two, and my sideboard strategy of Bitterblossom for the mirror seems a laughable joke this time as opposed to a dangerous threat like it had been previously, showcasing to me the fact that my sideboard choices were acceptable because I was beating up on worse players in the mirror, not because the choices themselves were superior.

Match Record: 11-3-2. Game Record: 24-12-1.

I stay in because I like Dave well enough to try and help his tiebreakers, and because at least two of my car-mates are doing well, so the Suicide Pact doesn’t kick in yet… I get to stick in and try to earn some ratings points, as now that “winning the PTQ” is not an option, it occurs to me that if my rating soars high enough from the first day’s success, I might actually be playing in my Regionals right here, and end up qualified for Nationals on rating. So, I drop to the X/2 bracket somewhat excited to still play Magic, because hey, the game’s pretty fun, right?

For the sixth round, I face Erik Johnson playing a B/W Aggro deck, and I’m waiting to see all my favorites from testing like Ghost Council show up, but he’s gotten a poor draw both times and I’m able to stay comfortable the entire time, using Visions to draw cards and keeping his threat count low, stuck with just one Tidehollow Sculler for most of the game thanks to my countering Spectral Procession. I actually feel a bit guilty beating up on him because I’m sure his deck would do well against the Zoo-heavy metagame we started the day with, but I’m just dissecting him with Vendilion Clique and working him over, and his draws frankly haven’t helped as he floods out.

Match Record: 12-3-2. Game Record: 26-12-1.

For the seventh round, I get paired against Nate Pease from Boston, the ringleader of the group of four we let room with us and perform great vengeance upon our resident snorer.

I get paired against Nate for the Faerie mirror, and apprently at the start of the weekend he just needed to go 4-0 to probably qualify for the Pro Tour. By the time I played him I figure his rating was below 1900, so he’s had a pretty bad run of luck it seems between the two days, and I don’t change that streak… we look at whether either of us has an actual shot at making Top 8 with two losses (we don’t), then at whether either of us will be leaving early at the records of the rest of our friends (we both have someone in our car making Top 8). Then we look at whether I can concede to him for rating purposes, and frankly I’m not interested, since it occurs to me I might be playing my Regionals right here for all I know. So after much discussion and debate, we play some Magic. I win the first game on Visions advantage; he’s drawn a Ponder as his one-drop after deciding to copy my list some after his lack of success the day before, while I’d suspended two Ancestral Visions… the first is a clear card-advantage fight, and I’m far, far ahead. For the second, we’re more or less at card parity and Nate resolves Meloku, and I have a one-turn window to play Sower; I draw Ponder and don’t get there, choosing the mystery card option and still don’t get there, and get eaten by Meloku. For the third, I run out a turn two Bitterblossom and he has the Spell Snare, and I land an Umezawa’s Jitte which he meets with Vendilion Clique at end of turn, taking my Sower of Temptation if I recall correctly… leaving me with nothing to put that Jitte on and short on lands, by all appearances. I do however draw six straight lands and capitalize off all of them, activating my Mutavault and getting counters on Jitte, then doing so repeatedly over and over for the next turns while having Leak and Snare open, which lets me beat him down and push him out of the game.

Match Record: 13-3-2. Game Record: 28-13-1.

Clearly out of contention, I have one last round to play for whatever reason suits me, and for the last round I get to play Zac Landis with Astral Slide. Anti-climactically for this story, I handle him just as readily as I handled the rest of my Astral Slide opponents on the weekend, winning in two games flat by containing his enchantments and shutting down his engine, mopping up the rest of what was in play with Sower and keeping things unfair with Riptide Laboratory. Astral Slide was probably an excellent choice against the Zoo-heavy metagame that we expected to start the day with, but not a great choice against Faeries, which was my weapon of choice.

Match Record: 14-3-2. Game Record: 30-13-1.

Joshua McGhee has at the end of Round 8 sewn up “shotgun” neatly, as we had a running pool: best record gets the front seat, worst record gets to sit in the middle on the way home, like Miles had to the entire trip down. I’d clearly earned a front seat on Saturday, not that I was going to get to sit anywhere else anyway, being the only driver for my car or at least the only driver whose driving I trusted not to get us killed… and Josh made Top 8 after going 6-2 the day before, while we had a three-way tie for worst record and it seemed to be decided mercifully that Miles was not ‘b*tch’ for the ride back, and Josh and Chris would share it and alternate. This unfortunately means we’re stuck here for a while, but on a brighter note Joshua has a quarterfinals pairing against TEPS so we figure, him playing Naya Zoo and all, we’ll be heading home early. Instead he somehow manages to win, or more accurately his opponent Lawrence Creech may very well have chosen that time to self-destruct, as The Creecher mulliganed into oblivion in Game 1 then kept a seven-card hand that could only cast one Remand out of all its possibilities, and subsequently died unable to combo off for want of a Mountain.

At this point it’s clear Josh will be playing against my quarterfinals opponent, Josh Hakakian, who has repeated in the Top 8 and this time won his quarterfinals match… so we’re going to be in for a long one, and Josh hooks us up to join Zach Efland for dinner, which I am not going to decline after he arranged for himself and others to fix my car in exchange for a pizza and our general friendliness from the night before as I got him in on my dinner before our semifinal round before I beat him. We end up going to TGI Friday’s and staying over an hour as we talk about the times and laugh either exhaustedly (myself) or drunkenly (see: rest of my car)… then watch the finals where Joshua loses to TEPS anyway and we become Team Loses In The Finals for the ride home, which is now going to be leaving Roanoke, Virginia at 10:30 at night for an approximately nine hour drive. With me as the only driver. As much as my quite-nice win ratio has been showing I am a little bit of an Iron Man lately for Magic, it’s good that I’m far more readily an Iron Man for driving, as with the benefit of frequent beverage breaks and snacks aplenty, I managed to get us back to the city in time for everyone to go to work if they had to, to drop the last two stragglers off at 8 AM so they could figure out whether they were going to bother going to class, and managed to drag myself to bed at 8:30 in the morning for a quick three-hour nap before waking up at noon to go to work.

So with two PTQs left on the schedule, I am left to ponder the fact that against an opponent who was actually playing Faeries at or above my level, my sideboard was more or less a joke… and against everything else in the format, I felt very well prepared. If my rating works out to place me high enough for a Nationals invite, then this will have been my Regionals; if it doesn’t, well, I have over a week still to figure out if any changes are warranted in my mind and to put them into place. My record so far with this deck is downright prodigious; 6-1-1, 6-2-1, 1-2, 8-1-2, 6-2. Twenty-seven wins and eight losses, or nearly an 80% match win percentage. I’ve clearly found the right deck for me for this season, and the Ponders suit it very well for what I am trying to do: rather than play ‘tricksy’ like Pat Chapin prefers to, I just want to play the same game over and over again and win it, which the filtering and early smoothing of Ponder helps me to do excellently. Maybe it’s that it perfectly meshes with my desired play style, and it doesn’t with others’… but the part of my deck that others seem to boggle at and scratch their head over seems to have at least proven itself somewhat to those who live outside of my own skull, finally with a result on the Top 8 page to say maybe, just maybe, there’s something to it besides my own stubborn insistence.

Two PTQs left. Maybe we’ll see something special out of these Ponders yet.

Sean McKeown
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com