One Step Ahead – A Shards PTQ Story *Top 8*

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Tuesday, October 7th – The Limited PTQ season is upon us, and Shards of Alara is proving a tricky nut to crack. Gerry Thompson, qualified for the Pro Tour but hunting down a plane ticket, attended a local PTQ and rocked himself into the Top 8 on the back of a great cardpool and some tasty play. He shares his story today, with some interesting tips and tricks on the new Shards of Alara Sealed format…

This past weekend there was a single Kyoto PTQ in Columbus, which I decided to attend. While I was already qualified (assuming I pick up two extra pro points during two PTs and two GPs), I could certainly use a free plane ticket to Japan. If it were any more than three hours away, I’m not sure if I would have gone, but I needed the practice for Grand Prix: Kansas City. Being able to ride with some awesome people cemented my decision.

I had barely looked at the spoiler, and even then only for Constructed playables. I predicted I would do no better than 2-2 in this tournament. However, of my six GP Top 8s, four of those are Limited, and all of them were shortly after a new set has been released. My track record shows that I happen to excel at new Limited formats.

I would like to think that this is for a few reasons. First of all, I can cut through the crap. I don’t try to mess around with cute combos, and I can normally gauge a card’s strength before having to play with it. For some reason, people can’t seem to evaluate cards just by reading them, despite playing Magic for years, and having played in similar formats with similar cards.

Guess what? Drawing cards is always going to be good, and Grey Ogres are always going to be mediocre.

With my keen deduction skills, I was able to determine that drawing is almost always correct in this Sealed format, although draft is completely different. Naya and sometimes Bant are about the only Shards that would ever want to play. Most people in Sealed play the full five colors, and (rightfully) don’t focus on aggression. My first two opponents were mostly Naya, so I had to play first against them, unless I wanted to risk getting run over.

Making manabases comes easy for me, possibly from practicing with Constructed. Both my sealed and Top 8 draft deck were the full five colors, and deciding which lands to run was probably my favorite part. All I had to do was figure out the puzzle. This is an especially potent ability to have in this format, since the manabases end up being off the wall. Cedric Phillips died to his own manabase… don’t let the same happen to you!

Possibly the most important thing to realize is what is important and what isn’t. Sometimes you should go for power over synergy (or vice versa), sometimes you should cut your only two drop because Grizzly Bears are outclassed quickly in this format. Maybe you should build your deck around Infest, because it’s your only realistic shot at victory.

If your card pool is really bad, you have to get extremely greedy. You need to get lucky to win, so take a shot at maximizing that luck by playing your best cards and hoping the mana works out. A synergetic deck with all bad cards won’t win, but a powerful but slow or awkward deck will. Another variant of this is simply making your deck aggressive as possible, which might be viable in this format. Play the bare minimum amount of mana sources so that you draw a ton of spells and just run your opponent over.

You’re building a deck here, not just putting in your 22 best cards.

A few things that are especially important in this format are being able to cast your spells, having a decent late game, and being able to deal with five-power animals.

Cedric Phillips, Chris Andersen, and Zach Wolff hit the road Friday night. Nintendo DS proves, yet again, that it was a solid purchase.

Notable players in attendance were Tim Aten (who was being his usual mopey self and not even playing in the tournament), Adam Yurchick (who either got 2nd or 4th, not sure which), and countless other local ringers who the average reader might not recognize.

The most notable player not in attendance was Patrick Chapin. He decided to get hopped up on the Amp instead. Come on, man, leave your palace once in a while and show us mere mortals how it’s done.

There were 125 people, which meant seven rounds; 6-1 was a lock, 5-1-1 would miss, and potentially, one of the 5-0-2s could miss. I registered what I thought was a nice pool, but got back an even better one.

I briefly toyed with GWR, but the Esper colors looked insane, with two Battlemages and a ton of synergy. I hastily started to build that, while leaving the Green cards on the side. Once I decided to play UBW, I needed to decide which color would be my main, and which would be my secondary. I had two UB two drops and a UW two drop, but I certainly didn’t want to something along the lines of a 6/6/6 manabase in order to be able to play them. I had more demand for White early with the Metallurgeons, so White became my second color. The Strix are still fine late game as they fly and trade with huge Green animals, so I wouldn’t mind not being able to cast them until turn 4 or so.

Once I got to around 26 playables, I had took a second look through the sideboard to figure out what I should splash, if anything. With four Obelisks, two Panoramas, and a Necropolis, I could definitely get away with some free splashes. Resounding Silence requires a Forest to cycle, so that was an auto include. Resounding Thunder would probably be a free splash on both sides (due to the fact that I would be playing some Obelisks, Necropolis, and some Panoramas, with one Mountain I would have six Red sources), so that was definitely in.

Branching Bolt was a card I probably should have played, but I expected my deck to be able to do the important stuff without the Bolt. I’m not keen on double splashing, even if the card is as amazing as Branching Bolt. Again, consistency is important, and I didn’t want to draw a bunch of uncastables. If my deck were much worse, I would get as greedy as possible, but I felt like I didn’t have any reason to be. Obviously I sided it in almost every match.

I could have really tried to stretch my manabase to play the two pingers, which would combo nicely with my two Battlemages. However, I didn’t see any need to risk having awkward draws.

I decided to run 2 Obelisks and 18 lands. My final two cuts were Excommunicate and Angel’s Song. The cycler seemed pretty good, and I wouldn’t feel bad at all about having it main deck.

My deck had 14 Blue mana symbols (15 if you count cycling the Silence), 9 White symbols (11 if you count Battlemages, although their ability doesn’t seem relevant until later), 5 Black mana symbols (8 if you count Battlemage and cycling Thunder), and one Red mana symbol.

With the two Panoramas, two Obelisks, and two tri-color lands, I had three Blue sources, three White sources, four Black sources, four Red sources, and four Green sources. That accounted for four lands. I would definitely run one Mountain and one Forest, which left me with 12 slots. I decided on two Swamps, four Plains, and six Islands.

Basically, just figure out how badly you need that mana of a certain color. For example, if I don’t draw a Blue source, my deck won’t function the majority of the time. While having nine Blue sources might seem fine, I prefer to err on the side of caution. In hindsight, perhaps I should have played another Island. My mana was fine almost every time though.

Here is what I registered:

2 Metallurgeon
2 Tidehollow Strix
Deft Duelist
2 Esper Battlemage
Master of Etherium
Kathari Screecher
Sanctum Gargoyle
Viscera Dragger
Knight-Captain of Eos
Yoked Plowbeast
Sphinx Sovereign

2 Courier’s Capsule
Agony Warp
Obelisk of Jund
Obelisk of Bant
Resounding Thunder
Resounding Silence

Arcane Sanctum
Crumbling Necropolis
Jund Panorama
Naya Panorama
2 Swamp
4 Plains
6 Island

During rounds, I tried to rebuild my deck as Green with a bunch of splashes, but never had enough time to figure it out for sure. It seemed like having more threats was more important than having stuff like Metallurgeons, and I certainly had enough GWR cards to make it work.

Round 1: Naya with some splashes

My opponent was blatantly shuffling towards me, but I made an effort to look away. At that point, I realized that my heart wasn’t really in it, and I would need to tighten up, focus, and do everything it took to win. Even though I was probably an underdog in the tournament, I still deserved to win.

I won the die roll, chose to draw, and instantly regretted it. He started with a pair of 2/1s on turns 2 and 3, while I was stuck on three lands despite cycling twice. Eventually, I Capsuled and started coming back after making some trades, while he deployed some fatties.

Knight-Captain of Eos made an appearance, which bought me enough time to drop big daddy Sphinx. My opponent had the Rockcaster Platoon to potentially burn me out, but the Sphinx kept me alive. The turn I untapped with Sphinx, he alpha struck, but a cycled Resounding Silence made his attack very poor. A cycled Resounding Thunder and an attack on my turn ended it.

I sided in Angelsong and Excommunicate, as he was very aggressive, and Time Ebb is pretty sick on a giant guy. I boarded out a Kathari Screecher and a Cancel. I figured that the random flier wouldn’t matter much, and I would be under the gun too quickly to be able to keep mana open for a counter spell.

I was behind almost immediately after my opponent curved out. Knight-Captain, Battlemage, and Metallurgeon stabilized the board, thanks to an awkward attack from my opponent.

He could have assigned lethal to both my Metallurgeon and Battlemage, when I would only be allowed to regenerate one of them, but he decided to assign damage to my token instead, assuming I would just regenerate my Metallurgeon. I regenerated my Battlemage, which resulted in him losing a 5/3 and a 2/2 while I only lost my two tokens.

I was at six life, and he had the Platoon again. Once I prevented the damage with Battlemage, he stopped using its ability, despite being able to Shock me every other turn if he wanted to. He declined for several turns, which allowed me to rip the Sphinx, bringing me back up to nine. He tapped down to five mana to play another giant animal, and passed the turn.

I was thinking that he had Resounding Silence in hand, but sitting wouldn’t really get me anywhere, except for a few more life. The more turns I gave him, the more likely he would be able to draw an answer to my Sphinx. Not only that, but he was going to have ten mana soon, so I could only assume he would be able to figure out how to kill me with his Platoon.

Naturally, he had it. On his turn, he alpha swung, not caring about me having Resounding Silence. We were both basically in the same situation. The more turns he gave me, the more chances I would have to draw into it. He let me block with a Strix before activating his Platoon. In the end, I go to five life and eat some of his guys.

On my turn, I could only Sanctum Gargoyle back a Strix, play two of them, and then attack him down to one life with Master of Etherium and company. I’m pretty sure he was actually dead here, as I probably had an unearth guy that I forgot about, but I didn’t see that play. Instead, I attacked him to four and was dead on his counterswing with a Platoon activation. I could have sat back, but was still dead to a double activation, so I had to hope that at a low life he would be cautious, but he played for the win.

We started game 3 with six minutes on the clock. Obviously, I got a sick beatdown draw that my deck is barely capable of. I started with Deft Duelist, Strix, and Viscera Dragger, while he only had some Grizzly Bears. I traded the first striker for a bear so that (hopefully) my 3/3 would be able to get in there. We started trading damage, he attacked with his bears, played a 5/3, and passed. Resounding Thunder allowed me to get in for a ton of damage.

His Qasali Ambusher traded with my Strix, but once again, the Sphinx showed up and that’s game.

1-0, 2-1 in games

Round 2: Naya

I won the roll and made him play first. He started with a 1/1 Exalted, fully powered Wild Nacatl, a Knight of the Skyward Eye, and then Battlegrace Angel. I couldn’t possibly compete, and I sided in the same anti aggro package of Excommunicate and Angelsong, this time also bringing in the Branching Bolt.

I played first second game and kept a weird hand of Obelisk, double Resounding spells, and four lands. It had all my colors and two removal spells, although those aren’t exactly spells I want to be blowing early. His first few turns were Mountain, Mountain, Panorama, so my hand ended up being really awesome against his. A topdecked Sphinx finished him quickly.

The final game was decided on my fourth turn. I had four lands, all of my colors, a Deft Duelist, and my hand was Sanctum Gargoyle, two Metallurgeon, and Resounding Thunder, with a Strix in my graveyard. He had four open mana, a vanilla 2/2, and a Druid of the Anima. I was at 16, he was at 20.

Do you attack here? It’s pretty obvious that best case scenario involves him having nothing, and I play a Gravedigger that also stops his team. Even if he has a trick, like Qasali Ambusher, I have a removal spell and end up trading two damage for three. While not the best scenario, at least I don’t get blown out. While my hand had a bunch of spells, they weren’t very impressive. They would allow me to prolong the game, but not necessarily win it. I also don’t have many heavy hitters in my deck, so the two damage will probably end up being relevant.

Honestly, I didn’t even think that much about it. Maybe if I don’t have that Thunder, I wouldn’t have attacked, but I did, and I did. He had the Ambusher and couldn’t put it into play fast enough. My Thunder was effectively countered by Sigil’s Blessing, and his attack for five added insult to injury. I was now firmly behind.

He had a follow-up guy, and a removal spell for my Gargoyle. I held on for a while longer, but he refused to attack his Hissing Iguanar into my Resounding Silence, so eventually that guy just pinged me out.

If I just sat back with the Duelist, I’m pretty sure I can’t ever lose that game. While all of my above points are valid, it all comes down to risk versus reward. Maybe attacking on turn 4 is wrong, but attacking on turn 5 is right once I have more of a board position, and don’t get utterly crippled if he has the Ambusher and a way to trump my removal spell.

I think my decision came down to the fact that I had seen neither of those cards, but it might have just been greedy. While it’s true that my cards in hand don’t actually kill him, they probably will lock him out of the game.

1-1, 3-3 in games

Round 3: Five Color

I sat next to this guy last round, and was fairly certain he was GUW, with two Steward of Valeron, and two Kathari Screechers. He seemed like he was fairly aggressive, so I made it a point to play first. Our first few turns consisted of him killing off my threats with Naturalize, Executioner’s Capsule, and then a Branching Bolt which negated the card advantage from my Sanctum Gargoyle. A Vithian Stinger made my topdecked Strix look very awkward, but thankfully my next draw step was the Sphinx.

I made a huge mistake in the second game, when I played Crumbling Necropolis on turn 1 instead of Arcane Sanctum. Obviously, I drew the one card that made me look incredibly stupid: Deft Duelist. I don’t get to play it until turn 4 instead, which made me miss at least four points of damage, in addition to not being able have to Cancel mana open that turn.

He had an Esper Battlemage and tapped down to a single White to play a Carrion Thrash. When I fearlessly attacked into it with my Deft Duelist and Screecher, he was extremely confused. He blocked the Duelist with his Thrash and tried to prevent the damage with the Battlemage, but it’s only to target player. Branching Bolt plus some first strike damage took down one of the biggest threats against my deck.

I had him down to basically nothing while he I had three solid threats, and Canceled an Oblivion Ring to keep on the pressure. Sadly, a few turns later I attacked with two guys into a possible Resounding Silence, because I didn’t think that he had it. I was wrong again, and he stabilized at four life.

He had a Woolly Thoctar to my nothing, but I drew Courier’s Capsule into Sanctum Gargoyle and Metallurgeon. I played those guys, the Capsule, and passed, and he killed me with Titanic Ultimatum. Obviously if I played Duelist on turn 2, that game wasn’t very close. I probably win that game if I didn’t walk head on into the Resounding Silence. Lesson learned.

For the final game, I had him play first, as now I had seen more of his deck. I started with a second turn Thrix, which he had to Resounding Silence, as he clearly didn’t have an answer in hand and didn’t want to take a ton of damage. I played a Knight-Captain which Fogged his big guys for a while as I tried to get to eight mana. He only attacked with a single guy once I was threatening Resounding Silence, but I simply blocked it and killed it at the end of his turn with Agony Warp. At this point, he was convinced I didn’t have it, and sent the team next turn. I guess I tricked him good, and removed his squad from the game. His post combat Mycoloth made my Cancel look very awkward. I Courier Capsuled into the Sphinx, but decided to wait until I had Cancel mana available. I managed to hold off his tokens, but Esper Battlemage kept shooting down my guys. I Resounding Thundered away his Mycoloth, and played the Sphinx and passed. A few turns later he was dead. Afterwards, he went through his deck and pulled stuff out, saying, “I wish I would have drawn THIS! Or THIS! Or THIS!”

2-1, 5-3 in games

Round 4: local ringer Justin George with Five Color

Our first game went very long. JG started with three Obelisks, Drumhunter, and some fatties. He was able to peel some extras off of that guy and play a Feral Hydra. When he was confident I wouldn’t be able to kill it with my double Metallurgeon, Esper Battlemage, Viscera Dragger, and company, he sent it in. Sadly for him, I had a cycled Resounding Thunder to finish it off. The board mostly stalemated, although I finally got to kill of his Drumhunter with Agony Warp. I’m almost certain that I could have at least stopped him from drawing extras by shrinking his lone five power guy with my Esper Battlemage, but I just didn’t see that interaction I guess.

Despite all his extra cards, JG was now pretty flooded, whereas I was drawing out of my flood. A few Courier’s Capsules served up the Sphinx, but he didn’t last long. Finally, my Sanctum Gargoyle showed up and the Sphinx finished him off.

JG made me play first, but it was him who got the blazing fast start. I was forced to use my Resounding Spells early to stop his aggression, whereas he was able to cycle his late to gain a huge advantage. The turn I might have been able to cycle Resounding Silence on two giant guys, I drew an Obelisk instead of an eighth land.

I don’t remember the exact details of game 3, but I think I played Strix, Master of Etherium, and then finished him off with the Sphinx.

3-1, 7-4 in games

Round 5: semi local ringer Kyle Dembinski with Five Color

I know Cedric just lost to Kyle last round, so I blatantly asked Cedric what was in his deck, despite Kyle standing right by us. Cedric decided to be the bigger man and decline to tell me because Kyle had scooped to him in a previous tournament. Good deeds are in fact rewarded. However, Cedric did tell me that Kyle misbuilt his deck, but if I lost game 1 I would certainly lose the match.

Awkwardly enough, while we are shuffling, I noticed some discarded notepad paper at our table. I recognized Cedric’s handwriting and began listing off the contents of the paper.

Me: Two Blightning, Naturalize, Godsire, huh?
Kyle: Huh?
Me: What table were you at last round?
Kyle: Uhh, we were way over there (points in the opposite direction)…

Despite Kyle being all nonchalant, I wasn’t buying it. I won yet another die roll and made Kyle go first. That should’ve helped lessen the impact of his Blightnings, if those were indeed Cedric’s notes from the previous round. My second turn Courier’s Capsule got Naturalized, and my Master was killed by a Magma Spray. Meanwhile, Kyle was accelerating and fixing with three Obelisks and then had a Tidehollow Sculler to steal my Knight-Captain.

When he played a Godsire, emptying his hand, I was certain that those were Cedric’s notes. I peeled the Sphinx to make the race interesting. Kyle drew Waveskimmer Aven and attacked with his 9/9 vigilanced monster maker, putting me at ten. I attacked back, putting him at eleven, and passed the turn. Kyle predictably made another monster, untapped, and went into the tank. He was representing way more than lethal, and had to decide exactly what he could or couldn’t afford to play around.

Finally, he decided to send in just the token, which I cycled a Resounding Silence on. When I drew Esper Battlemage, and then Agony Warp, I knew I had just won the race. I attacked him down to five and passed the turn. He played a Blightning that he had just drawn, and now I realized how hard I had just punted. If only I had Agony Warped his Sculler and replayed my Knight-Captain, there was basically no way he could win. Instead, I gave him outs, and he got there.

I actually thought I was still alive, but we went back in time and realized that I probably missed the point of damage from the initial Exalted attack, which put me to exactly zero. Awkward. According to Cedric, I could no longer win the match.

Kyle played first, while I started with Metallurgeon and a Strix, while he played and Obelisk, and a raw Sanctum Gargoyle. An Infest (that interestingly wasn’t on Cedric’s notes) cleared my side. I rebuilt with my own Sanctum Gargoyle and Excommunicated his, as he had seven mana sources and one card in hand. I wanted to prevent him from getting to Godsire for as long as possible.

He replayed the Gargoyle and Blightninged away two of my lands. I simply untapped, Agony Warped his blocker, and continued applying the beats. When the top of his deck wasn’t a spell, he conceded.

I got to play for game 3 and had the nuts affinity draw. Turn 2 Capsule, turn 3 Master, turn 4 Obelisk and Strix. While Kyle did have a Naturalize in his deck, he didn’t draw it and quickly succumbed.

4-1, 9-5 in games

Round 6: Chris Andersen, Naya with some splashes

The Wolff beat Cedric, Chrandersen beat the Wolff, and now we had to battle. I chose to play first after winning yet another die roll, as I believed his deck was somewhat fast. I think the choice was correct, as he did in fact have two Wild Nacatls, plenty of fixing, and some Exalted guys. The first game was quickly became a stalemate, until he played a random flier and put Sigil of Destruction on it. He got in one attack until I stabilized with Metallurgeon and a Strix, one of my few ways to deal with giant guys.

After that, he stopped attacking while I continued to accumulate dudes. Once I had enough fliers to make sure I wouldn’t die on his counterswing, I started sending with a Master powered Strix. Not even Broodmate Dragon could stop the Strix.

Game 2 came down to him being at eight and me being at six. He has an attacking, Sigiled Vithian Stinger, which would put me at two if I let it hit me. While he had a few burn spells in his deck, he had used what I assumed to be most of them. None of us had anything else except for my tapped Esper Battlemage. I could bank on him having nothing, take the damage, and cycle a Resounding Thunder to kill him, but he had a few cards in hand. It seemed like the safer play was killing his Vithian and hoping my next two draw steps can deal with his next threats.

I had a bunch of lands at this point, so my odds of drawing spells were solid. Turns out he had a Tower Gargoyle, my two draws were blanks, and I died.

Third game I played first and went beatdown. Turn 2 Duelist and turn 3 Metallurgeon attacked on turn 4. His Resounding Thunder on my Metallurgeon was probably the best case scenario for me, as it gave me a target for Sanctum Gargoyle when I would have otherwise had no play. On turn 5 I simply attacked, replayed the Metallurgeon, and Canceled what would have otherwise been a backbreaking Branching Bolt. At this point, he was too far behind, and could only play one spell a turn because of his awkward mana.

5-1, 11-6 in games

The four 5-0s all drew this round, although it looked kind of sketchy. After round 6, there would be nine people with 5-1 records. If the person who got paired down won, after round 7 there would be five 6-1s, and four 5-0-2s, barring any draws. That meant that a 5-0-2 would miss.

I tried to warn Adam Yurchick of this possibility, instead of hoping he gets his 33% pairing and would be able to draw. Chances are, the 5-0-1s would have to play in the seventh round, which basically meant that they all just conceded round 6, as a draw was as good as a loss. If Yurchick (and all of the other 5-0s played round 6, then they would each get two chances to win a match to make Top 8, instead of having to win and be in for round 7).

In the end, the 5-1 who got paired down did win, and two of the 5-0-1s had to play it out. Yurchick is blessed and was able to draw in safely with his miracle pairing.

Round 7: Naya

These were probably the easiest games I played all tournament. My opponent played first both games, and mulliganed once in each. In the first game, I gave him a very solid thrashing by playing turbo Sphinx.

Second game I curved out, while he spent his turns pumping his Knight of the Skyward Eye. I Resounding Silenced it the turn I would have fallen to one, untapped and attacked him for six, putting him to two, and keeping a 1/1 soldier back against his empty board.

Honestly, I had no idea what he could have that would deal me six damage, but I knew that Bull Cerodon existed. He only had six mana, but could have had access to seven next turn. It would look extremely awkward if I simply lost to that guy plus a pump spell or Shock, if those even exist for one mana. My 1/1 didn’t cut his clock at all, and my Knight-Captain was long since dead. Obviously playing it safe is correct there. I have seen way too many people get overzealous and attack with one too many guys, only to lose to a few tricks on the counterswing.

6-1, 13-6 in games

The Top 8 was myself, Adam Yurchick, Joseph “Bags” Gagliardi, Andres Miguel, Ari Lax, Kevin Boddy, and two dudes I didn’t recognize. All in all, it was a very solid Top 8.

Tim Aten was going around telling basically anyone that would listen that RG is best draft archetype by far, so now all of the Top 8 players were trying to metagame. What beats RG? What could we possibly draft if everyone is forcing it? In the end, I decided that it didn’t matter, and I would go with the flow. If I open a Red card, I’m probably taking it, as Red seems like the best color to be in.

I end up taking Resounding Thunder first over Fatestitcher, as I didn’t really want to be in Blue. Second pick was the very powerful Grixis Charm instead of basically nothing. Third pick I took a Gather Specimens, as it seemed like a card I would really want with the direction that I was going. After that, I selected a fourth pick Agony Warp and a late gift Covenant of Minds. My deck was truly shaping up.

Second pack I opened Ajani Vengeant, but nothing in UBR. I decided it would be an easy splash and was happy with my selection. Sadly, the rest of pack two didn’t go very well for me. Second pick there was another Grixis Charm, but I spent the rest of the pack taking one mediocre card after another. I had a decent amount of fixing, but I was in the neighborhood of being a solid four colors, and had basically no way to win.

Pack three was more the same. UBR cards were nowhere to be seen. I took an Esper Battlemage, a foil Knight-Captain of Eos, and then sixth or seventh, took an Empyrial Archangel that I desperately needed.

In the deck, my deck looked pretty awkward, as I was the full five. However, as long as my opponents didn’t come out blazing fast, I should have a shot.

Deck construction was kind of interesting, as I had to figure out which awful creatures to play, and which colors should I focus on. Normally, I would have had this all figured out during the draft, but with it being more or less a train wreck, I was simply trying to adapt to what was going on.

Here’s what I decided to run:

Jhessian Lookout
Tidehollow Strix
Esper Battlemage
Kederekt Creeper
Kathari Screecher
Incurable Ogre
Knight-Captain of Eos
Cloudheath Drake
Yoked Plowbeast
Empyrial Archangel

Agony Warp
2 Courier’s Capsule
2 Grixis Charm
Resounding Thunder
Ajani Vengeant
Covenant of Minds
Gather Specimens

Obelisk of Esper
Obelisk of Naya
Obelisk of Bant

Seaside Citadel
Grixis Panorama
Esper Panorama
Naya Panorama
3 Mountain
3 Swamp
7 Island

Shore Snapper
2 Banewasp Affliction
Dreg Reaver
Exuberant Firestoker
Bloodthorn Taunter
Invincible Hymn
Cradle of Vitality
2 Angelsong
Sphinx’s Herald
2 Steelclad Serpent
Goblin Deathraiders
Tidehollow Sculler
2 Swamp

I decided not to play a Forest main deck. I needed UBRW early way more than I needed to cast the Archangel or cycle the Thunder. Having those colors early would allow me to stabilize faster and therefore provide more draw steps to get to my four green sources.

Top 8: Kevin Boddy with Jund

I won the roll and played first. I wasn’t smiling when he played a turn 2 Rip-Clan Crasher, as I figured he was lucky enough to have drafted the supposedly amazing RG deck, but at least I had a Lookout to trade for it. After that, we both did nothing except play some mana sources. Finally he Blightninged away two of my good spells and played a creature, which I killed with a Lightning Helix from Ajani. I tapped down some of his lands and played a Kederekt Creeper.

Finally, he decided to pull the trigger and Violent Ultimatum took away my planeswalker, Obelisk, and Creeper. I continually passed the turn with UUUBRR open, lamenting the loss of my Obelisk of Bant. Kevin cast a Ridge Rannet, which I happily stole with Gather Specimens. After that I was on the offensive and got him to ten before Sprouting Thrinax slowed me down for a few turns. The two remaining tokens were devoured to make an 8/8 Predator Dragon, which put me to four and left him with zero blockers.

I sacrificed my Jund Panorama and started kicking myself for not playing a Forest. If I had one, I would only need to draw an untapped land to kill him with a cycled Resounding Thunder. However, I remembered the Kathari Screecher in my graveyard. The unearth, attack, and three damage from the Thunder killed him.

If he had only devoured one token, he would have had a 6/6 dragon that would have put me to six. The extra two damage didn’t cut my clock at all, although it did let him play around Resounding Thunder I suppose. That logic is flawed considering that the Thunder would just straight up kill him. If he had devoured one less token, I would have lost.

Second game, we did the same dance as before. He would play some dudes, and I killed them. I Ajani/Helixed away his last guy, but Blightning three-for-oned me, again getting two insane spells. His Thrinax (now backed up by Necrogenesis) once again gave me problems.

I made an Incurable Ogre (which is obviously terrible against his token makers, but great against his fatties) and passed the turn. He made another token and attacked me down to 15. I simply passed the turn. Pre combat, he played a Rip-Clan Crasher which I took with Gather Specimens. I played it off with a, “Well, I guess I’ll take that guy,” assuming he will still attack with his team that turn.

Sure enough, he attacked with his Thrinax, and I can’t put my Ogre in front of it fast enough. Thanks for the tokens!

I was firmly in control at this point, although Necrogenesis allowed him to trade with all of my guys. A top decked Empyrial Archangel was pretty insane. A Grixis Charm in Path of Anger’s Flame mode killed him a turn sooner than expected.

Top 4: Ari Lax with Bant/Exalted

I don’t know Ari very well, although I do know that he plays at RIW with some of the best players, so I didn’t expect him to be terrible. When he started with a turn 2 Sighted-Caste Sorcerer, I knew I was in trouble. He had probably drafted a lean beatdown machine. I still had a shot with Esper Battlemage, but Elspeth put me in a world of hurt. I did my best to fight it off with my own planeswalker, but a few mistakes and a third Exalted creature the turn before I would likely stabilize brought me to exactly zero.

After looking through my the cards I had played that game, I realized I drew six spells. Awkward.

Once again, our planeswalkers faced off. This time, with a few Grixis Charms, I was able to prevent his guys from killing my Ajani. I was able to use Ajani’s ultimate to kill all of his lands and leave me with an Esper Battlemage and Tidehollow Sculler versus his Fatestitcher and Elspeth. The position seemed to favor me. I even got his Elspeth down to a single counter before making a colossal punt.

Pre combat, he Fatestitchers my Kathari Screecher that I had cast the turn before. With him having GW untapped, I didn’t see a problem with me attacking with my Sculler and then trying to Battlemage his token. I suppose I was still in the “play around Niveous Wisp” mode or something, but it was inexcusable. Obviously he had the Sigiled Blessing, ambushed my guy, got his Waveskimmer Aven back, and then was able to untap with a firmly protected Elspeth.

Not all was lost. I still had Empyrial Archangel in my hand. I was just short a Green or White source to cast it. I even drew a Courier’s Capsule into another, but those only drew me lands. For literally the next five turns, I drew a basic land. In the end, my deck was barely over ten cards and it had my three remaining sources needed to cast the Angel and some very sick spells.

My opponent took action, and started hitting me a giant, Elspeth pumped, Exalted monster each turn and I died before drawing anything relevant.

If I was playing for an actual invite instead of just a plane ticket, I probably would have tried harder. Problem was, this was the first PTQ, the plane ticket doesn’t matter much, and I didn’t expect to do well in the first place. It showed through my plays, and I made a bunch of inexcusable mistakes.

I was more than fine with losing until Ari said, “Good games,” when it was quite clear I was extremely flooded both times.

Next week, back to your regularly scheduled program: Five-Color Control in Standard.

Thanks for reading!