For those who missed our last installment (and what was your excuse? – go back and read it now, I won’t mind), I brought Flores Red to the Northwest Regionals in Seattle, Washington and had gotten off to a great start at 4-1, with the only loss being to the previous year’s Regionals champion.
But now things really start getting interesting…and a little ugly.
Round 6: David Blythe (Rat Ninja)
Another Rat Ninja deck. I like playing these, as I have a very good track record against them. David has driven all the way from Montana for this event… what, no Regionals in North Dakota?
I get my engine going pretty quickly, dropping a Top, Bauble and Fatbot in short order, while David is content to play the Rat game with the Chittering and Ravenous varieties. The only trouble with this strategy is that I don’t care if I don’t have a hand (thanks to Tops), and without a hand to disrupt, Rats are pretty unimpressive.
I Top into a Flamebreak, netting a three-for-one and getting a wide-eyed gasp from across the table? “You run those main?”
“That’s pretty good.”
Shortly thereafter, we’re staring at near empty hands playing the topdeck game. Dave has an Aether Vial set to five counters, but not six, which makes me think he’s not running Ink-Eyes (he isn’t, it’s Throat Slitter instead, which isn’t that great against my deck). Down to two life, I’m forced to spend a Beacon of Destruction on an overpriced Nekrataal to stay alive. For every threat David has, I’m able to answer him. Eventually, I get a Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], and we start taking mana burn, me trying to get double use out of the Pulse, David trying to prevent that. Holding a Pulse and only a Pulse, I’ve got David down to five life, while I’m clinging to one.
The Top nets me a Blinkmoth Nexus, and David does not rip an answer and the flying man-land proves the difference.
Sideboard: -2 Shatter, -3 Beacon of Destruction, -1 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author], +3 Unforge, +3 Oblivion Stone
Game two, the Unforge tech shines, and I draw two of the Equipment killers and they prove their value by killing two Rats equipped with Jittes, and the Oblivion Stone nets me another two for one. Unfortunately, I’m not finding too much burn and can’t put much pressure on David.
David finds his third Jitte and has a ground force of Skullsnatcher, Chittering Rats and a Nexus. I’ve got a lone Nexus holding the fort, and I’m forced to take a few Jitte hits, leading to the endgame, where I made a minor mistake that cost me the opportunity to win.
With four counters on the Jitte (equipped to Skullsnatcher), I’m at eight life and holding both Shrapnel Blast and Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] – if I can live to the untap phase, I can probably pull this out. But I’m looking at a lethal alpha strike.
David swings with his attackers; I activate the Nexus to block, intending to chump the Skullsnatcher and sacrifice it to Shrapnel Blast to avoid damage. David shoots it with a Jitte counter, and I sacrifice it in response, sending five to David’s dome.
My misplay was later explained: what I should have done was activate the Nexus in response, tapping it to give itself an extra +1/+1. If David shot it again, I could then Blast the Skullsnatcher in response, and there wouldn’t be enough Jitte counters left to keep it alive. If Dave went for the alpha strike, I could kill it between Jitte activations, then burn him out for the win with the Pulse.
That’s probably how it would have played out. As I did it, I gave him the opening he needed for the alpha strike, and lose the game. Amazingly, we’re out of time after that match (how does a Red deck run out of time?), and end up drawing the match.
Round 7: Matthew Heil (White Weenie)
I had been talking to Matthew earlier regarding the lack of quality game stores in the Lewiston/Pullman area. You know who you are!
I open with a Nexus, Matthew answers with a turn 2 Auriok Champion… main deck Champions? No worse than main deck Flamebreak, I suppose, but pro-Red and life gain is very, very bad for my deck. Then he drops a Sword of Fire and Ice on the Champion and I start to get nervous.
I take a few hits, then chump with a Fatbot and Nexus while I hoard burn spells and get a Slogger in play, but my math is screwed up by a Skyhunter Skirmisher, and I have to kill it with a rapidly dwindling library in response to switching the Sword over to it.
Still, if there’s one thing Flores Red does well, it’s pull victories out of nowhere. Down to three life, I Pulse twice at the end of turn, untap, Pulse, Slogger, Shrapnel Blast, good game.
Really, the deck should be called “Lucksack Red.” Or “Retarded Red,” because that’s how it feels when you just win by dealing 19 damage within the span of one untap step.
Matthew mulligans game two and gets stuck on two land, but White Weenie doesn’t need much land, now, does it? In short order, I’m facing Auriok Champion and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails. The Champion is bothersome, but 8.5 scares me more, so I find it worth wasting a Top and a Shrapnel Blast to do away with the wily Fox.
I’m getting into rarified air at 5-1-1. Heck, I was just hoping to win a few packs. This is far beyond my expectations. Why, by my math, if I win out, I should make the Top 8.
This presents a conundrum.
On my second date with the woman who I’m going to be marrying shortly, I made plans for a Saturday evening dinner-and-a-movie, but forgot that there was a Pro Tour Qualifier that day as well. No matter, I thought; the only way this will be an issue is if I somehow make Top 8.
Again, those familiar with the concept of irony can guess what ended up happening.
The Lovely Cheryl was remarkably understanding, however, and let me reschedule.
What does this interlude have to do with anything?
I ask the judging crew when Nationals is this year. August 12th – 14th.
I’m getting married on the 6th. Of August. With honeymoon to proceed immediately afterwards.
So, you can see my conundrum here.
Well, I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. I still have to win two more games, and I don’t think I’m going to be running into anymore 12-year-olds running block decks.
Game one is brutal and short. When Tooth and Nail keeps a one land hand with a Top and fails to get a second land until turn 6 or so, it’s pretty much game over right there.
Why take out the Flamebreaks, when the modus operandi for Tooth decks is to switch to the Man Plan and beatdown with Trolls? Just a hunch. But I’ve found it advantageous to follow my hunches. Was it the right choice? Read on.
Game two, Travis has the Urzatron in place by turn 3, thanks to Chromatic Sphere tech, but the sideboarded Molten Rain breaks that up in a hurry. Turn 5, I get an Arc-Slogger in play, while Travis answers with hard cast Sundering Titan and Iwamori of the Open Fist, all the while digging via a Top to find a Tooth and Nail.
By the time he finds one, it’s too late. He Tooths into second Titan and Duplicant, and feed all but five cards to Sloggy before he leaves play to take Travis down to eight, untap, then Beacon and Blast for the win. Travis correctly notes that if he’d left Kiki-Jiki in, he would have won, as I wouldn’t have had enough land left for my business spells.
No Trolls, either. Looks like I made the right call.
Round 9: Elliot Woo (Red Burn)
Elliot is the older brother of Travis, and I was informed that he is the “Greater” Woo. That seems apropos that I should have to face him after beating the “Lesser” Woo. His deck seems like a melding of Medium and Flores Red, built around setting up an opponent for a Hidetsugu’s Second Rite kill. We’re both at 19 points, him at 9th place, me at 10th – the winner should be in to the Top 8.
I can tell I’m starting to fade a bit and getting a bit loopy, and I make a few critical mistakes that cost me the first game. Such as having an Arc-Slogger on the table facing two Vulshok Sorcerers, then casting Flamebreak without killing them first. And a mighty “D’oh!” went up from the crowd.
Sideboarding: I’m not really sure what I did, in fact, I think I left the deck exactly as it was.
I take a minute to collect my thoughts. Focus, Dave, focus…take your time…don’t be stupid. Game two is short and anticlimactic. Elliot mulligans twice and I have a turn 4 Arc-Slogger and plenty of five-damage instants to deal with his.
So it all comes down to game three, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was a little nervous… but also confident. I had faith in my deck; I felt this matchup was in my favor and if I didn’t make any stupid mistakes, I’d win.
Elliot mulligans again, and is forced to hit me with Magma Jet to dig for land. I’m hitting a great draw, playing Arc-Slogger on turn 4 thanks to a Wayfarer’s Bauble, then finding more gas courtesy of Divining Top. The Slogger owns the board; my only fear is getting sent to ten life for the Second Rite kill.
With Elliot at eleven, I consult the Top and the end of his turn and find a Shrapnel Blast and Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] sitting there… while holding Magma Jet and Beacon of Destruction, with eight land in play.
Okay, calm down, Dave… deep breaths. Do the math… do the math… don’t leave yourself open.
I cast the Beacon at end of turn, untap, fearing only Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] plus Second Rite, then cast Shrapnel Blast and Magma Jet for the win, leaving a burn spell in hand to burn myself if need be.
Does Elliot have it? The game winning combo?
No. The dead-fish handshake is offered.
Victory is mine!
I anxiously hover around the judges’ station, waiting for the final printout, and bugging them mercilessly about concession rules – I make Top 8s at major events about as often as Democrats take the White House, so I admit I am very fuzzy regarding the rules involving these scenarios.
The Top 8 are announced. There’s the printout. Where’s my name? Where is it? Oh, crap, it’s way down there on the page…
…all the way down to number eight.
I think my heart skipped a beat or six there.
All the 7-1-1s made it in, and I had the lowest tiebreakers of them.
For those interested, the breakdown was as follows:
1st: Chris Harper (Ponza)
2nd: Gavin Verhey (MGA)
3rd: Brad Ballard (Tooth and Nail)
4th: Chris Scudder (Sligh)
5th: Zech Maples (Sligh)
6th: Sameer Merchant (MGA)
7th: Kelly Nelson (?)
8th: Me (Flores Red)
Good thing I was scared of all those Green decks, eh?
Unfortunately, is where things got controversial.
This year, the Pacific Northwest region was split into two sections, the Columbia Valley (Portland) and (new) Pacific Northwest (Seattle). This means, since we didn’t get over 411 people (I believe the final number was 258), only four slots would be awarded, not eight, so the eight finalists would have to play one match in order to qualify.
I was seriously considering just dropping at that point, taking my product and going home – as much as I’d love to go to Nationals, I’ve got my priorities – and my wedding/honeymoon wins out here. I’d pretty much told everyone there – especially the lead judges, who’d been listening to my hypothetical questions all day now – that there was no way I could go to Nats even if I won this match.
But, after talking strategy with Sameer Merchant and considering the possibilities, I decide to play it out. Who knows? I might as well keep my options open.
Right before we sit down to play, Chris Harper, the #1 qualifier, approaches me and proposes a prize split; half his product for the slot. I told him that that wouldn’t be objectionable, but I wanted to consult with a judge first to make sure this was on the up-and-up (again, my knowledge of these rules is… well, I didn’t know for sure, and a wise man once said “better safe than sorry.”). Chris says sure, go ahead, that’s no problem.
I find the head judge and repeat what was told to me and he says, “Oh, that’s not good.”
I take that to mean that a prize split isn’t legal, and we’ll have to play it out. That’s okay by me.
Chris is running a Ponza variant with Adamaro, First to Desire, I believe, and Ponza is a horrible, horrible matchup for Flores Red. In the first game, even with a terrible draw where he’s begging for lands, he smokes me.
At this point, the head judge comes over and summons us both outside. My stomach sinks. Did I do something wrong here? I have a sneaking suspicion we’re going to get DQ’d here.
The judge doesn’t look happy. He explains that prize splits, as proposed, are only legal when in the finals of a tournament. This is not the finals, and what Chris proposed is considered bribery. According to the rules, the only recourse available to them is to disqualify the person who made the offer with no prizes.
I felt – and still feel – absolutely sick about this. I have no doubt that Chris made an honest mistake regarding an obscure and arcane rule, and I had absolutely no intention of trying to weasel into a slot for a major tournament I wouldn’t even be able to attend. But, as the head judge and tournament organizer explained, if word of this got back to the DCI, the entire event would be invalidated, as apparently his happened at another four-slot qualifier in the recent past, and this was the only option available to them.
Chris isn’t happy. I’m not happy. The judges and T.O. aren’t happy. This was a very sour ending to an otherwise awesome day.
So, yeah, after all that, I’ve achieved one of my greatest goals in a decade of Magic playing: qualifying for Nationals.
I just wish I did it in a more satisfying fashion. And I can’t even go.
My fiancée actually wants me to go to this event (as I’m typing this, I’m lying in bed next to her and asked, “You really do want me to go, right?” “Uh huh!”).
She has now just called me a dork. No arguments here.
The timing is such that she has to attend a conference between the wedding and honeymoon, and while we had planned to attend the conference together…
I do have a ton of frequent flier miles saved up…
Anybody got some tech they can hook me up with?
A final note: while I’m far too old to be using trendy hipster lingo, I do need to give major props to:
Chris Fox for convincing me of the power of Red (you can stop calling me stupid now – I mean that, seriously, you can stop).
Jeremy Virden for the place to crash (best dancing Magic player this side of Pierre Canali).
Mike Flores for designing one heckuva fun deck to play.
Everybody I played against at Regionals – sportsmanship was the watchword for the day.
The judges and tournament organizers in Seattle who had a smooth running (save for that glitch at the end) and well run tournament, as always.
See you in Baltimore…?