Pit Skulkin’ It — A Grand Prix and PTQ Report

Steve tells of his torrid time at Grand Prix Toronto, and his more profitable performance at a subsequent Pro Tour Qualifier. Plus, he shares an intriguing draft strategy that values Skarrgan Pit-Skulk above all else. Confused? Then read on…

Part 1:
Grand Prix Toronto, Never-ending Train Trips, and Lion Tattoos

I spent a decent amount of time waffling as to whether or not I would go to Toronto. By the time I was certain that I was going, the price of flights had ballooned to well over 300 bucks. Time to find a new mode of transportation: enter the Amtrak. Only a twelve-hour trip, each way, for the low price of 164 bucks. Now that I had figured out how I was getting there, all that I had to do was find someone to go on the never-ending trip with me. That person needed to have the following characteristics: a crippling procrastination problem, an unceasing love of Magic, an overabundance of free time and lastly, the person needed to live in New York and have their travel options limited by their expendable resources. The answer was pretty obvious: Billy Moreno.

I wake up at five in order to catch my 7am train, meet up with Billy at NYP sometime before the sun decides to make its appearance. I hop on the train and sleep for a number of hours. I had pretty ambitious plans to read my copy of Cryptonomicon over the course of the trip, a task that seemed somewhat doable as I would spend over twenty-five hours on trains. Instead, the majority of my traveling time was spent cracking jokes and chatting about Magic.

During the afternoon I’m able to do two drafts, and in both I get an above average amount of GW dropped into my lap. My first deck is pretty awesome, as I got shipped Tolsimir Wolfblood, two Selesnya Evangels, Watchwolf, Veteran Armorer, and Belfry Spirit to compliment the Savage Twister and Crime / Punishment that I opened. Needless to say this deck did quite well, providing me with a quick 2-0 and helping my team to end the draft before a third round needed to be played.

In my next draft I’m able to once again pick up two Evangels. However, this deck isn’t aided by multiple insane-o Wrath effects, instead I have three Skarrgan Pit-Skulks and three Thrives, along with two Aquastrand Spiders. This deck yielded an easy 3-0.

Why did this deck 3-0? Well, Pit-Skulks are really, really good.

My default RGD draft strategy is to force U/G, picking up the usual Blue suspects from Ravnica (Compulsive Research, Snapping Drake, Peel From Reality, etc.). However, the best card that you can pick up in the first pack is Scatter the Seeds. Scatter does everything. It’s not at all unreasonable to craft a game in which Scatter gives have three 3/3’s on turn 4, through the aid of Thrive and graft. Siege Wurm is another card that has extremely high value in this type of deck, as you have considerably more one- and two-mana creatures than normal strategies. Cheap, efficient creatures like Transluminant and Elvish Skysweeper are also at a premium.

In Guildpact I take Pit-Skulks over pretty much anything, with Ledgewalkers not far behind in value. It is unfortunately usually correct to take giants such as Streetbreaker Wurm over Pit-Skulks, as they are still very good compliments to the strategy, and offer you an alternative path should there be a limited amount of grafters to choose from in the third pack.

In Dissension, Assault Zeppelid is usually the best common, but after that Vigean Hydropon, Aquastrand Spider, and Thrive are your all-stars. An important thing to keep in mind if you’re drafting any style of G/U is that Ocular Halo goes way up in value if you have any number of Ledgewalkers.

One of the biggest benefits to drafting this type of deck is that you are likely to pick up all the most important cards late. But, by the same token, should two people at the same table go for the Pit-Skulk strategy, disaster is likely to strike.

Why are Pit-Skulks good?

It’s almost effortless to make a Pit-Skulk a 3/3, at which point he can swing a game almost single-handed. But, with just two complimentary cards, Pit-Skulks become 4/4s, which in most circumstances are only blockable by Green decks, and even then paying one for a card that can easily trade with their five-drop is a very profitable situation.

Even without any support cards, should you have a draw that is curving out well, as a one-mana 2/2 is a fine card with which to press an advantage.

Next week I will try to do a MTGO draft with DraftCap, to show exactly how I execute this strategy.

My Grand Prix deck was pretty unimpressive; yes, it had Flame Fusillade but it was also five colors with very little removal, no fliers, and no flier defense. Coming off of my second bye, I played against eventual Top 8er Mark Lovin, I was pretty excited when I drew my Flame Fusillade and was able to wipe his board… until he untapped and cast his own Fusillade, which he used to kill me. Game 2 I just got mashed by a quick Angel of Despair. I was able to pick up a win in Round 4 before getting mashed twice more, grabbing an early dinner at Kelsey’s. Kelsey’s is a chain restaurant much akin to Applebees or TGI Fridays. Throughout the course of my trip I had at least seven meals at Kelsey’s, with the rest of my eating split between the Canadian equivalent of BK, Dunkin Donuts, and this fantastic Japanese restaurant.

Saturday I played in the PTQ, and once again got absolutely destroyed. I was, however, able to win two matches (which, for those of you keeping track at home, is twice as many wins as I had picked up the day before) before losing my fourth round and having a quality lunch at the aforementioned awesome Japanese restaurant.

Yada, yada, yada, fourteen hour train trip home etc.

Part 2:
Neutral Ground PTQ

My cardpool…

My deck…

I’m very impressed with my deck as it contains not only Moldervine Cloak, Hex, Compulsive Research, and Dimir Guildmage, which are all utterly retarded cards, but also 4 – count em, 4 – double lands with which to cast them. My build was pretty easy. I briefly toyed with the idea of running White for Ghost Council and friends but I instead decided to go for the tamer manabase that was offered by UGB. Once I had my colors firmly decided upon, the only significant decision that I made was to leave my Pollenbright Wings on the sidelines. I did this not because I was concerned about being unable to cast it, but instead because I was worried about the card’s lack of coherence with my deck’s already primarily late game plans (barring an early Moldervine Cloak).

I drop my first match in spectacular blowout fashion, getting mauled by a collection of fliers and Demonfire. Fortunately, despite winning only a single game 1, my next six matches go much better than my first, and it’s time to draft.

I expected the Hex to steal me innumerous games. Instead, in the nineteen or so games that I did play, I was able to cast it once… in a losing effort. The best use that I got out of it was, when on the draw, I was able to discard it as a result of having eight cards from a turn 2 double land.

Moldervine Cloak, however, is absolutely ridiculous; after Skeletal Vampire and maybe Flame Fusillade and Glare of Subdual, I can’t think of a single card in the format that I want to open more than Cloak.

My Top 8 draft deck…

Top 8: Mason Adams
Mason’s draft didn’t turn out too well.

In game 1, his first three lands were Forest, Mountain, and Swamp. His first play was a Starfletcher naming Blue. Needless to say I got destroyed that game. He had a quick Enemy of the Guildpact, and my only creatures that survived his onslaught of removal were my Izzet Chronarch (which was suited up with a Hypervolt Grasp) and a Gelectrode. I finally drew a mono colored creature the turn before he was going to kill me, but by that point he was able to tap it down with a Cyclopean Snare.

The next 2 games he mulliganed a bunch and got killed by Pit-Skulks and Cerulean Sphinxes.

Top 4: Aaron Moshiashwilli
Aaron’s draws weren’t too good.

In the first game I curved out perfectly, getting two early Bloodthirsted Pit-Skulks against his numerous one-power creatures. He eventually stabilized somewhat, but I managed to get a Hypervolt Grasp on a Simic Ragworm. Despite him killing the Ragworm almost immediately, his board was decimated and we were on to game 2.

Game 2 was even less exciting, as I just played a bunch of monsters and he, well… didn’t.

Game 1 I mulliganed and got blown out by fliers.

Game 2 I drew a 6/4, a Siege Wurm, and a Sphinx, which was more than enough as he had next to nothing.

Game 3 was quite exciting. He came out fast, with some early fliers and Belfry Spirit. My board is shaping up pretty well, as I have a Siege Wurm and a Pit-Skulk enchanted with a Hypervolt Grasp. On the critical turn of the game, I’m at seventeen. My board consists of five lands, of which an Island and a Forest are untapped. A Siege Wurm (tapped from attacking), a Hypervolt Grasped Pit-Skulk, and a Silkwing Scout. His board consists of a Belfry Spirit, two Bat Tokens, a Mourning Thrull, and a Steamcore Weird. He attacks with all five creatures; pre-blocks, I shoot his Thrull with my enchanted Pit-Skulk. In response, he casts Carom targeting his Thrull and my Silkwing Scout. In response to that, I sacrificed my Scout finding the 6th land that I needed for my Sphinx… but more importantly, there was no longer a target for the Carom damage to be redirected to, which meant that his Thrull would still hit the bin. After he drew his Carom card but before his guy would die, he cast Rally the Righteous targeting the Thrull, causing me to take ten damage, knocking me to seven. On the following turn he was able to force through two more damage, putting me within range of his Cackling Flames, but fortunately I was able to kill him before he had a chance to draw it.

I’ve honestly never been this excited to win a game of Magic, I won a free ticket to Japan, and a Pro Tour invite. While this isn’t the most money that I’ve won as a result of a single game, it’s the first time that a single game has made a tangible difference on my life.

I’ve been dying to go to Japan for years, and because of Magic I’ll be able to do so without breaking myself financially. It’s an all around great feeling.

While I was busy high-fiving my friends, someone mized my box which I had received to supplement my invite and plane ticket to Japan (the fact that Wizards is handing out plane tickets instead of a few hundy is so fantastic). I mentioned the fact that somebody had mized my box, but the group that I was with were too busy herding me towards Dunkin’ Donuts so I would make good on my traditional free ice cream cake when I win a PTQ.

After we had finished eating our cake, I decided I should try to figure out where my box was.

Me: “So, who mized my box?”
Kevin An: “That would be me.”
Me: “So, am I going to get it back?”
Kevin An: “Bye!”

Yay, Japan, etc.

Steve Sadin