Making a Battle Plan

Many of you have enjoyed reading the trials and trevails of one Richard Feldman and his attempts to qualify for the Pro Tour. We’ll spoil this one a bit for you and tell you that he once again made the Top 8, but did he qualify? You’ll have to check inside for details on that and the 4-1-1 on his suggestions for improving your game in future PTQ seasons.

I’m in this business for the deckbuilding. It’s what I do, and what I enjoy most about Magic. In every Constructed format I’ve ever played in, I’ve always tried to figure out what the top few decks are, and then to come up with a deck of my own that beats most or all of them.

Now as much fun as this is, I learned last summer that it’s not the optimal way to qualify for the Pro Tour, which is where a deck designer’s skills are really tested. At the end of last season, desperate for a slot, I jumped ship on my own deck and started playing whatever I thought would give me the best shot at winning a PTQ. It almost worked out for me, but sadly there’s no (Pro Tour-related) prize for second place.

I can at least console myself with the knowledge that my playtesting group for Extended was using Sacred Foundry to summon Isamaru alongside Grim Lavamancer in a deck we called Red/White Deck Wins, and casting Gifts Ungiven for Life from the Loam and cycling lands before day one of the Pro Tour began. I guess the next-best thing to actually playing at the PT has to be seeing all kinds of ideas you came up with swarming the top tables, right?

Anyway, I decided that for this season, in order to maximize my chances of qualifying, I’d need to alter my strategy. Trying to build a metagame deck for the beginning part of a PTQ season has proved itself an exercise in futility to me; no matter how clear the ranking of Tier One decks is to me at the season’s outset, other people will play all sorts of different decks until the internet fully distributes the top eighting netdecks that homogenize the environment. Until that happens, I decided, power is where it’s at.

So I tried something new this season. I came up with a battle plan. Here it is.

Stage 1 (Early part of the season): Run whatever I conclude is the most powerful deck in the format. There will probably be an understated amount of hate for it at this stage in the game, and it will have the lowest chance of getting randomed out by the non-Tier One decks that people like to try out at the beginning of a PTQ season.

Stage 2 (Middle part of the season): Once the format has settled into a more-or-less defined set of expected decks, estimate which decks will be most popular, then find a foil that beats all the most popular ones while still standing a chance against the less popular ones.

Stage 3 (Rest of the season): Modify my deck to accommodate metagame shifts, if possible-but if its strategy becomes inherently unviable because the expected decks have changed, then suck it up and switch decks.

I tried this strategy out first at a PTQ in Springfield, IL, on Oct. 28. That’s right-because of some scheduling weirdness, there was actually a PTQ on the day of the Pro Tour itself. I really liked Affinity in testing, and expected people to be ill-prepared for it (as the world tends to be for Arcbound Ravager and friends) so that was what I brought.

The tournament was mostly uneventful. (Though I’d like to take a quick second to thank Dayne-you know who you are-for being a class act in our match. It didn’t go unnoticed.) I got snagged by 9th place on tiebreakers, the only X-1-1 to miss the cut. It’s tough to conclude from that whether or not my battle plan was a success, since the proof of the pudding is in the Top 8, but it certainly gave me no reason to abandon the strategy.

As usual, once the winning lists from the PT went public, all sorts of new archetypes entered the field. JP took up Antoine Ruel Psychatog for playtesting, Troy adopted Boros Deck Wins, and I floated around between Affinity and a few other decks to crash against theirs.

Every time I watched JP play it, I kept being blown away by how strong Ruel’s deck was. It always seemed to have a lethal Tog when it needed it, it had card draw at all the best points in the curve, and its supporting package of Smother and Boomerang was pleasantly compact yet sufficient to answer the threats that slipped through the counter wall. The deck crushed skulls with ruthless efficiency against most of the non-Affinity decks we tried, and was even holding his own against the artifact menace itself.

For the PTQ the following weekend in Little Rock, AR, I decided to assemble a second copy of Ruel’s Tog so that JP and I could both play it. There was one snare in that Star City was actually sold out of Opts when we were ordering the necessary commons and uncommons, so we elected to run the comparable (or so we thought) Peek instead.

(As it turned out, Peek was infinitely superior to Opt. JP and I couldn’t stop talking about how ridiculous it had been for us after each round-knowing exactly what’s in your opponent’s hand when you’re a permission deck has way more benefits than +1 card selection, believe you me. If you happen to play Ruel’s list in the future, I’d make the swap without hesitation.)

I only played one Watery Grave because we only had three and didn’t want to shell out for more. JP played two; I played one. Here’s the full list.

–23 land–

4 Polluted Delta

8 Island

1 Watery Grave

2 Swamp

2 Seat of the Synod

1 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds

1 Vault of Whispers

2 Cephalid Coliseum

2 Stalking Stones

–5 Creatures–

4 Psychatog

1 Wonder

–14 Countermagic–

4 Force Spike

4 Counterspell

4 Circular Logic

2 Mana Leak

–5 Removal–

3 Boomerang

2 Smother

–13 Card Draw–

4 Mental Note

3 Fact or Fiction

2 Peek

2 Thirst for Knowledge

1 Deep Analysis

1 Gifts Ungiven

–15 Sideboard

4 Duress

2 Meloku the Clouded Mirror

2 Razormane Masticore

4 Ghastly Demise

1 Smother

1 Skeletal Scrying

1 Stalking Stones

We also removed the two Darkblasts from the sideboard, since this deck really just does not lose to Red. The fourth Ghastly Demise we put in instead of the first Darkblast was intended to help against Affinity, and the second Meloku was for the mirror. In hindsight, Skeletal Scrying probably should have been a Smother, since we never wanted to board it in anyway. I won’t go into too much detail about this list, because it’s a bit out of date now that the Tog decks from the GPs are out. (More on that later.)

Five of us made the trip from St. Louis to Little Rock: myself, Troy Rumans, JP Smee, Mike Donovan, and of course, Midnight Champion Tim “T-Galbs” Galbiati (who I can’t seem to stop namedropping for whatever reason).

On to the report.

Round 1 – Anthony (Affinity)

I lose the die roll. Anthony leads with a turn 2 Frogmite off a pair of artifact lands, and I Force Spike it. I Mana Leak his next threat, and he runs immediately out of gas. He Thoughtcasts a few times, tries an Enforcer (Counterspell), and finally gets a Frogmite to stick. I cast Thirst for Knowledge and Fact or Fiction, and am juiced up with plenty of counters and a Boomerang + Counter for the Frogmite, but I still have not found a Tog. I animate Stalking Stones and start beating down.

An end step Peek reveals a pair of Shrapnel Blasts and land. I am at 12 and I know he can burn me all the way out from there because he imprinted a Fire / Ice on a Chrome Mox earlier, so I make sure to keep countermagic mana open at all times while beating down with Stalking Stones. Eventually he goes for it; I let the first Blast resolve to lower his artifact count and then counter the second, so I end the game at 7 life as the Stones come across for the win.

Game two is uneventful. He again leads with a second-turn Frogmite, and again I Force Spike it. I counter another threat, play a Tog, Boomerang a blocker, and use Fact or Fiction to pump my Tog into the lethal range.


Round 2 – Brandon (Kiki Jiki/Intruder Alarm)

I start with a mulligan to five, and unhappily keep three lands and two Circular Logics. (None of the lands are fetches, so the Logics might as well be blanks unless I rip Mental Note or something.) Brandon runs out an Intruder Alarm and an Elvish Piper while I draw more land. Piper brings in Bringer of the Black Dawn on my end step, which fetches Kiki-Jiki on his upkeep. Kiki is Piped in, and I die immediately to infinite 5/5s.

Game two I don’t mulligan. He plays a few must-counters, and Intruder Alarm finally resolves when I run out of answers. I cast a Fact or Fiction to refill, and play a Tog. Hardast Bringer of the Blue Dawn (off of Forest, Birds of Paradise, Pentad Prism, and Forbidden Orchard, naturally) meets a Ghastly Demise, and I swing with my Tog. It is chumped by some Birds, but can no longer untap because of Intruder Alarm. This is fine, because I have the Smother for his remaining Birds on his end step and a second Tog to untap my first one through Intruder Alarm and swing for the win.

I see bad 'tings in your future.

Game three Brandon is on the play. He runs out a first-turn Birds for the third consecutive game, and lays a land on turn 2 so that I cannot Force Spike his Gaea’s Herald. I Peek on end step, and am displeased to see Elvish Piper and Darksteel Colossus in his hand.

(Aside: I’m not making this up. This is literally what happened during the match. Ask anyone who were there.)

I cast Mental Note in search of a Ghastly Demise to take out the Piper. I flip over Ghastly Demise and Boomerang, and then draw Polluted Delta. Sweet. I Mental Note again, flip over another two business spells, and draw a land.

Piper brings in Colossus, it swings twice, and I lose.


Round 3 – Jeff (Boros Deck Wins)

Peek is insane here, as it informs me on turn 2 that the only cards in Jeff’s hand to back up his Grim Lavamancer are two Pillages and two lands. I happily run out a Psychatog on turn three, with no fear of having to pitch cards to save it from getting burned out. However, this lets Jeff resolve a turn 4 topdecked (and maindecked!) Fledgling Dragon.

This is no good. My Ghastly Demises are in the sideboard, I have not drawn a Boomerang, and Jeff has four cards in his graveyard. I opt not to Smother the Lavamancer, because if Jeff reaches Threshold I am probably dead. (It’s a good thing he didn’t know I had no Boomerang in hand, or else he could have just Pillaged his own lands and killed me in short order with the dragon.)

I do a bunch of math and figure out that I can use Fact or Fiction to kill him in two turns as long as he doesn’t quite make it to Threshold. I say “go” without swinging my Tog into his Lavamancer. He thinks for awhile, and decides to try and burn me out since I am at less than ten life at this point. The Lavamancer shoots me, taking him back down to four cards in graveyard. I happily Smother the Red man now, as it will be difficult for him to get two cards into his graveyard from one topdeck when I am holding countermagic. He doesn’t reach Threshold, and I cast back-to-back Fact or Fictions to make my Tog lethal.

I don’t remember much of games two and three. Game two I think he was on the play with too many early 2-power guys when I didn’t have Force Spike, and I lost. Game three I’m pretty sure I countered stuff and played a really big 1/2.

That’s not very interesting. I’ll embellish these uneventful games later on.


Round 4 – Lafe (Boros Deck Wins)

Lafe is playing Akki Raider instead of Kataki, to combo with his own fetchlands and land destruction to make his two-mana guy a 3/1 on pretty much every attack step.

Quick secret about land destruction against Tog: it is not good. It’s so expensive, Tog will only let it resolve when it’s irrelevant, and otherwise it can easily be met with a Force Spike that leaves the Tog player mana open to cast Smother/Ghastly Demise/Boomerang on your end step, and sometimes even Thirst for Knowledge. Not to mention that such a Force Spike probably wouldn’t have countered anything else that late in the game otherwise.

Anyway, since much of Lafe’s game plan revolves around land destruction, I am pretty much in solid control of both games. Game one he gets me to 13, and game two I let him burn me down to 6 because at that point the only thing that can kill me is something silly like having no counters left for a Fledgling Dragon.


Round 5 – Brian (Ruel’s Psychatog)

Mirror match. Nice.

Aside on control mirrors: I’m always excited to play control mirrors, because-for a non-pro, at least-I’m quite good at them. I’ve only ever lost two sanctioned control mirrors, ever. The first was in the Top 8 of a Kamigawa Block PTQ, and our whole match of three games was over in less than ten minutes; each game was won or lost due to some ridiculous circumstance that made one player landslide the other before any complex decisions could be made. The other was at States, when I deliberately handicapped myself in game three by sideboarding into “Did I draw the nuts or not?” because if I played my deck normally there was literally no way I could have won the match before time expired, and as I already had one unintentional draw at this point, a second would have knocked me out of Top 8.

That said, I played like a complete donkey this match.

Game one I got too cute when he cast Thirst for Knowledge on my end step and I one-upped him by using his tapped-out-ness to resolve a Fact or Fiction. This was dumb, because it allowed him to untap and resolve a Psychatog with Circular Logic mana open. All I could muster was a Tog of my own, and a Mana Leak for his Logic, but that left me tapped out again. He played a second ‘Tog, and suddenly the math was very bad for me. (Things are very favorable for the player with two Togs out when his opponent only has one.) I fell rather quickly after that.

Game two was interesting. I Duressed him early and saw Haunting Echoes and Force Spike as the only relevant spells after I took Smother. I wasn’t worried about the five-mana, Sorcery-speed Echoes resolving if I didn’t want it to, and Smother was much more difficult to fight a counter-war over. We each played a Psychatog and shot at the other guy’s 1/2 until both ended up dead. This took place on my end step, however, which allowed Brian to tap out and windmill slam Haunting Echoes onto the table on his own turn.

Did I mention I had Meloku in my hand this whole time? Oh. Well, I had Meloku in my hand. I was kinda grinning like an idiot (inwardly, of course) as he thinned out my deck, and was pleased with his expression when I calmly played the Clouded Mirror on my turn. He thought I had boarded in only one copy-Ruel only played one in the board, but JP and I played two-so it looked as though I had topdecked the one he had seen as he looked through my deck. (Unlike Cranial Extraction and Eradicate, Haunting Echoes doesn’t let you look at the opponent’s hand.)

I was confident at this point, because I assumed he had boarded out his Boomerangs as I had (and who would bring in Ghastly Demise against Psychatog?), meaning he would have no answer to my Meloku except randomly drawing his own singleton copy. This was why I had been so unconcerned about letting him resolve Echoes; I was already looking at my lands to figure out how many Illusions I could afford to make.

Then he Boomeranged Meloku. Great.

When he Counterspelled my Legend immediately after I replayed it, I started scooping up my lands-then stopped when I realized I had a Stalking Stones out. “Well, I guess I still technically have a win condition,” I said, and passed the turn instead of scooping.

Brian drew for his turn, shrugged, and passed it back. I animated my Stones, untapped, and attacked for 3. Then it got in there again. Then bam, another three. He Boomeranged it, but I replayed it and re-animated it with Counterspell backup. He Boomeranged it a third time, and once again I brought it back, expending my Counterspell on his attempted Smother.

Bam. Bam. Bam. And after the sixth hit, Brian was dead. Good thing I didn’t scoop then, huh?

In retrospect, I’d say it was a bit greedy for me to go all-in on Meloku like that under the assumption that he wouldn’t have an answer… but then again, I’m not sure how un-silly it was for him to keep in Boomerang. That card’s only good in the specific situation where the opponent goes all-in on one Psychatog attack instead of spacing it out over a couple of turns, and then only when you can win the counter war over it as well. Personally I’d prefer more elements that help me get in the winning position, so that I’m the guy representing lethal damage with my attacking Tog.

Then again, the first games of Psychatog I’d ever played in my life were the dozen or so practice games we did in the hotel room the night before. So what do I know?

Anyway, we had ten minutes for game three, which was just the best news I’d heard all day. I rushed one of my two Togs out on turn 3, hoping for the quick kill. Brian had no answer except for a Tog of his own with Logic backup. That’s bad times for him, because I had Smother on my next turn, with a Mana Leak for his Logic. His Tog took a dive, I bashed for one, and he untapped and did… something. I forget what. Then I did something semi-irrelevant on my turn, which I also can’t remember. The important part was that on turn 6 he cast Haunting Echoes.

I looked at my graveyard full of juicy targets, looked at the Counterspell in my hand, and frowned at my available mana of Swamp, Swamp, Island. See, JP and I only had three Watery Graves between us, so I was running one in my deck and he had the other two. In our ideal list, one of those two Swamps I had in play was a Watery Grave, and I could easily Counterspell the Echoes and win this game.

JP was standing beside me as Echoes was put on the stack, and I said something grumpy to the effect of, “If that Swamp is our third Watery Grave, I can’t lose this game.” I definitely had lethal damage next turn from my Fact or Fiction unless Echoes resolved and cleared out my ‘yard.

Hooow lucky. Just kidding, RF.

I made a bad play here by letting my lack of Blue mana get to me, and actually let Echoes resolve without remembering to RFG my graveyard with my Tog first. What’s the penalty for Mental Error-Major…Warning or Game Loss?

As it turned out, losing my graveyard only reduced my main phase Fact or Fiction from “super lethal” to “exactly lethal.” I killed him just as time was called.

(Guess it was just a Warning, then.)


Round 6 – Troy Rumans (Boros Deck Wins)

Perfect. A teammate two rounds before Top 8, and we’re both X-1. We can’t both draw, because my tiebreakers are (as usual) the worst ever, so drawing here would only do Troy any good. Troy looks around and sees a bunch of other Red decks and Tog decks, which will be much easier for me to beat in the Top 8, so he concedes. Thanks, Troy!

(Also, for those who have moral qualms with the whole concession thing-just look at what deck he was playing and ask yourself who would have won this match had we played it out as normal.)


Round 7 – Javel (White Weenie)

This is the most bizarre round of Magic I have ever played. First off, Javel’s deck is unsleeved. Second, I saw him playing against Troy, earlier, and observed that he was playing what amounted to a Kamigawa Block White Weenie deck (with maindeck Celestial Kirin and Tallowisp) that also featured Paladin en-Vec main. I’d say it’s pretty remarkable that Troy was his only loss at this point, considering how underpowered KBC is compared to Extended.

Anyway, so not only is his deck de-sleeved, but a bunch of the cards are flipped different ways. This is quite noticeable when you’ve got a bare card back, so as I’m pile shuffling him, I flip them around the normal way.

We get deck checked, and as the judges are looking through our stuff I talk to Javel a bit. He says he’d already quit Magic several times, the first time as a casual player after someone tried to Jester’s Cap him, the second time because he didn’t like Phasing in Mirage, and so on. After a while he realized he’d spent several thousand dollars on Magic, and decided that Richard Garfield owed him some of that back. He said he hoped to win his money back on the Pro Tour, maybe make some profit if he actually won a PT, and then he’d just walk out-quit Magic forever. (I think he might have had the Pro Tour confused with the Invitational, because he also commented on how funny it would be if he “had a card made after me, and then I didn’t even play anymore! I’d still sign them, though.”)

So the head judge pulls me aside, and asks if my opponent’s cards were flipped different ways when he presented his deck. I tell him that they were, but that I righted them when I was shuffling. The judge says I should have called him over, as this is illegal and often a sign of the opponent trying to cheat. Oops. He asks if I had been watching my opponent while he shuffled (I hadn’t), and if he had been acting suspiciously during the match (no, and in fact he seemed like a nice guy). The judge told me to go back to the table while they checked over my deck, but told me not to say anything.

Our decks pass, and I start pile shuffling mine; after a deck check, the cards are all clumped together for counting purposes, so piling is definitely a must. Javel looks through his deck, observes aloud that the cards are clumped, and moves around some random cards in his deck to manually de-clump them. When he presents this slightly reordered deck to me, the judge (who was watching over his shoulder) reaches over and grabs it. “This isn’t randomized at all,” the judge says. “You just looked at the whole thing, and you didn’t even shuffle it; you can’t present an un-randomized deck.” Javel explains that he knew I was going to shuffle it anyway, and cites that at REL 3 your opponent is required to shuffle your deck. This is true, says the judge, but it is also a very serious offense to present an un-randomized deck to your opponent (who might very well just cut it).

Javel is disqualified without prize from the tournament.

I am stunned. I’m sitting there holding my cap in my hands, and a guy comes up behind me and says “Don’t feel bad. Basically, he was cheating like a motherf***er. I’ll tell you what he was doing afterwards.” (I couldn’t find the guy later on.)

We both have to fill out statements of what happened. I go back to my table and write out about half a page explaining the whole thing, and being sure to mention that I thought he was a very nice guy, and that it did not seem he was trying to cheat. (I’m pretty sure if he were that kind of player, he wouldn’t have brought a near-Kamigawa Block deck to an Extended tournament.)

After the ordeal, Javel asks to play a game “for gentlemans,” to see what would have happened. We play; there are no Black sources in the top half of my deck and I get run over.

Javel sighs. “I’m never playing this game again. Do me a favor and win the sum’bitch for me, okay?”

Quarterfinals – Zac Hill (Madness-Tog)

Awesome. Paired against a friend again.

Zac isn’t technically a St. Louis player, since he’s from Memphis, but he’s definitely in cahoots with us. He also knows what he’s doing, which is unfortunate for me because I haven’t tested a single game of this matchup, and JP (who brought an identical Tog list to mine) lost to this deck earlier on in the Swiss.

Game one, Zac keeps a spicy one-lander on the draw rather than mulligan to five. He misses his second land drop, and Peek tells me that if I don’t let Mongrel and Aquamoeba stick, his hand has no action-he will be stuck with a lot of Madness cards and no way to discard them. I counter the first outlet and Smother the second, and when I Fact or Fiction into a second and third Circular Logic, it’s all over but the details.

Game two, I mulligan to five and don’t make my second land drop until I’m good and wrecked.

I can’t remember what happened game three, so I’m going to make something up.

The table judges for our match and the one next to us decided to take simultaneous bathroom breaks as we entered game three, so we decided to pull a fast one on them and switch decks with the person sitting next to us. I had a strong opening with Seat of the Synod plus Chrome Mox imprinting Fire/Ice into Arcbound Ravager. Much to my chagrin, Zac played a Mountain and Firebolted it.

Just then our table judge came back. His eyes kinda bugged out at the game state, but he didn’t say anything; after all, he had seen Seat of the Synod in my Tog deck in the previous game. We kept playing until both of the fake matches were close to completion, at which point we realized we had to somehow switch the decks back without the judges noticing, so that we could finish the quarterfinals properly.

This meant we needed a distraction, so I flicked the brim of my cap twice and tapped my left shoulder to signal Zac that it was time for an impromptu breakdancing session. I could only hope that the guys next to us would figure out what we were trying to do and switch the decks back before the judges stopped being distracted.

I jumped up and got things rolling by providing some gnarly beatbox action for Zac to get down to. He got right in with some shuffles, steps, and sweeps, and immediately drew the attention of everyone in the room when he started spinning on his head while bicycle-kicking his deck up in the air, shuffling it with his feet after having just cracked a fetchland. I caught a glimpse of our opponents stealthily replacing the decks while the judges stared, awestruck, at Zac’s crazy moves.

Everyone applauded, Zac took a bow, and we sat down to shuffle up for the real third game. The judges’ minds had totally been blown at this point, and they conveniently forgot that they had already seen us play through five turns of our third game with different decks.

Anyway, I forget what happened after that, but somehow I won. Moral victory to Zac, though, for the breakdancing.

Semifinals – Jeff (Red Deck Wins with no White)

Jeff is playing straight-up Red Deck Wins without Isamaru or Savannah Lions, which are basically the only chances Boros has against Tog in the first place. He leads with irrelevant Firebolts and Slith Firewalkers that get countered or Smothered, and I’m never really in danger at any point in the match.

Finals – Michael (Affinity)

How fitting that I should start and end the tournament paired against Affinity. I immediately offer Michael all my prizes in exchange for the slot, but he says he’d rather play it out. I nod, and tell him I’ll offer it again if I win game one.

Erayo unfortunately resolves on turn 2, and I run out a turn 3 Tog so that I will not be completely destroyed if he plays out a must-counter like Cranial Plating and chases it with two free spells for the flip. Luckily all he has for action is a Shrapnel Blast aimed at the Tog, and I have enough juice in my ‘yard to save it thanks to a first-turn Mental Note. I rebuild with Fact or Fiction, play two redundant copies of Dr. Teeth, and bash in for the win.

We’re shuffling up for game two when the table judge reminds me that I said I’d repeat my offer if I won the first game. (I think we all wanted to go home at that point; it was well after midnight.) I say, “oh yeah!” and once again offer all my prizes in exchange for the slot. My opponent looks surprised and says, “Are you serious?”

Am I serious? Like a heart attack!

Michael extends the hand, and that’s the end of it.

On the way out to Troy’s car, Tim picks up a rock from the street and looks like he is about to toss it somewhere. JP says, “dollar if you can hit that stop sign,” and points to the one at the end of the street, about forty yards away in the darkness. Tim takes a few steps back, hurls the rock, and we hear this echoing metallic clank as the rock smacks the sign dead-on. The three of us were so dumbstruck we all gave him a dollar. “Outfielder for like twelve years, thanks,” says Tim.

So why did I win?

Was I lucky? I think so, yeah. Was it all luck? I don’t think so, no.

First off, I picked the right deck. That’s critical at a Constructed event-just ask Pierre Canali. Second, while my play at the tournament was far from perfect, it’s not like I was making screwups on every other turn. For the most part, I felt (as did the spectators I talked to) that my play was spot-on; I just remember my mistakes more clearly than I do my correct plays.

So what’s the moral of this story?

If you really want to qualify, come up with a battle plan. Don’t just play your favorite deck the whole season through (and especially not at the beginning), because your favorite deck is much more likely to get randomed out than a deck you sit down and figure out is the be the best one to play. I still think the plan I mentioned at the beginning of the article holds water, even if I won’t be needing it anymore this season. Go back and take a look at it if you’re still trying to qualify and just need a little something extra to push you over the edge; it might be just what you’ve been looking for to turn those top eights into full-on victories.

As for me? I won’t be writing about Standard until after the PT now that I’m qualified for it, but I’ve still got teammates who need invites to Honolulu. As long as I’m playtesting with them (which will certainly continue at least until the Guildpact spoiler comes out), I’ll still be writing on the topic of Extended and the PTQ season just like normal.

Based on what I saw at Little Rock, I’d rank the most popular decks right now as follows.

1) Boros

2) Tog

3) Affinity

4) MadTog

5) Other

Now that’s just based on what I saw at one tournament, at an early stage in the PTQ season. As such, it’s difficult to say whether or not this is even true at present, or how it will change now that three Grand Prix have entered the books since this event.

Ruel’s Tog skeleton is definitely insane, and I’m quite convinced that Psychatog is the best deck in the format right now. Julien Nujiten’s Dredgeatog list from GP Copenhagen, which is basically Ruel’s list with worse mana and the infinitely more broken Gifts Ungiven/Dredge engine instead of the comparably “fair” Fact or Fiction/Thirst for Knowledge/Opt package, seems like it is the best candidate for “strongest Psychatog deck,” but I have no idea what the second-best or third-best archetype is once you get past Tog.

Troy ran Boros at Little Rock, played the mirror several times, and said it’s way less skill-intensive than it was with the old RDW. Almost all the burn spells do the same thing, and all the creatures but Goblin Legionnaire just die to burn and don’t do a whole lot else. In other words, even if you’re quite the adept Red mage, you can’t expect much more than 50% against the most popular deck in the format-yours. Nor can you expect to beat the best (and second-most popular) deck-Tog. Those numbers don’t exactly scream “play me!” from where I’m standing.

Affinity has the best shot at beating Tog, but it has some serious problems against Boros since Tsuyoshi Fujita opted to maindeck Kataki on his way to Top 8’ing the Pro Tour. If someone figures out an efficient maindeck way to deal with that guy that doesn’t hamper the Affinity strategy too much-hell, even Pyrite Spellbomb has to be considered at this point-or if Katakis start disappearing from maindecks as people stop playing Affinity and everyone else lets their guard down, then the artifacts might make a comeback later on in the season.

Billy Moreno deck, MadTog, is certainly powerful. Mike Flores openly loves it and thinks it is the best deck to come out of the PT, and Antoine Ruel himself is on record as saying that might very well be the case. However, I have very limited experience with the deck; I’m not really qualified to weigh in on whether or not it is the real deal. Its underperformance at the three GPs this weekend is what makes me confident that Tog, whose only non-favorable matchups as far as I know are Affinity and the mirror, is The Best Deck, despite the accolades that Billy’s deck has received from various pundits.

I’m going to side with Gadiel and say that if I were playing in a PTQ tomorrow, I’d play Dredgeatog-and more specifically Julien’s part-Ruel, part-Tsumura list. Tog is a tough deck to play, but playing complicated decks is the best way to learn how to play complicated decks-and the benefits of playing the most powerful deck in the format should be self-evident after my experience this weekend.

So until next time, good luck at those PTQs!

Richard Feldman

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Team Check Minus