PTQing With Delver And Identifying Shortfalls

Michael Martin learned an important lesson while playing RUG Delver at a Modern PTQ in Richmond. Check out his tournament report to find out how you can use the lesson he learned to improve your own tournament play.

G’day folks!

Today I’ll be talking even more about what has become the most published and written about PTQ of the season. That’s right: we’re once again talking about the 57-person PTQ that occurred two weekends ago in Richmond, VA. Jarvis Yu defeated one Kenny Mayer (of Avabruck) in the finals, and the top 8/16 was populated by a ton of ringers.

Brian Braun-Duin wrote about it.

Josh Cho wrote about it.

Kenny Mayer, through Bennie Smith, talked about it.

Todd Anderson wrote about judging it.

And now, you’re here, and I’m going to write about it!

Sure, I’m going to go over the tournament a bit, the deck choice, changes I’d make to the list (and did make this past weekend for the PTQ in Rockville, MD, as I was unable to devote the entire weekend to enjoying Roanoke and the StarCityGames HQ building for the double PTQ), and a small tournament report. However, I’m also going to cover something that I think may benefit everyone, not just Modern PTQ attendees. I’ll get to that at the end, though.

As for the tournament itself, with my relatively little experience in the format, I decided to sleeve up a tried and true deck. I wasn’t out to re-create the wheel, just take down a blue envelope!

For my astute readers, this list is almost exactly the list that won the Albuquerque PTQ almost a month ago. That list ran twenty lands and two Cryptic Command, which I found to be a bit too ambitious; I cut one for a spell/land in Halimar Depths, which I was extremely happy with all day. (I also found the one Cryptic Command to be a bit ambitious and have adjusted accordingly. More to follow.) Not to mention I got to play the uber-combo of Deprive and Halimar Depths, which again, I was actually quite pleased with. You’re trying to operate on as few lands as possible, so even though Deprive normally gets dinged as setting you back on your land development, you usually stop at three or four lands anyway so Deprive allows you to reset one. If that one is Halimar Depths, you’ve just made it down to Value Town.

As for the tournament itself:

Round 1: Jund

I honestly felt that Jund would be a rough matchup for this deck; game 1 did nothing to dispel that thought. He Bolted my turn one Delver and Inquisitioned my Vendilion Clique, basically locking me out as I mulliganed to a hand with Delver, Clique, and lands.

Games 2 and 3, though, showed the power of RUG Delver (and Threads of Disloyalty). By keeping my opponent off of Liliana and Dark Confidant (stealing it in game 3 with Threads) and holding on for the ride around the Bloodbraid Roulette Wheel, I was able to outpace him with my flyers and take the match.


Round 2: Mono Blue Faeries (Ian Shore)

This round was when I first started realizing the lesson that I ended up taking away from this tournament, the one we’re going to cover later. To say these games were intricate would be an understatement, and my relative inexperience with the format combined with Ian’s decent experience with the format led me to mis-value certain cards and interactions. Game 1 I would end up losing after keeping Grim Lavamancer alive for almost the entirety of the game. He ended up stealing Lavamancer with Vedalken Shackles after it became clear my plan was simply to burn him out at a certain point, which led him to be able to win with Mistbind Clique beats (after a rather lengthy counter war during my upkeep, which I lost due to being far behind in land count).

Game 2 I had the option of bringing in Ancient Grudges, but I opted to not bring them in since, at most, he had two or three Vedalken Shackles as targets and there was a chance he would board them out to "next level" me (spoiler: he does in fact board them out). I opted not to bring them in, bringing in Combusts and two Negates instead.

While I made the correct choice and Ian mulliganed to five, I ended up losing again when he Threadsed my Lavamancer and I died to multiple Mutavaults with five counterspells in hand. Super awkward.


Round 3: R/G Beats

My opponent opened up with a turn 3 Boggart Ram-Gang off of three R/G duals, leading me to initially suspect a more aggressive version of Jund, but three more Ram-Gangs and a Groundbreaker later (which I either countered or burned all of the above), and we were off to game 2 with me up a game and having absolutely no cards to board in for the matchup.

Turns out, my opponent was on a Bloodbraid Elf/Vengevine deck that simply played hasted beaters turn after turn with Eternal Witnesses to get back Groundbreakers. He took game 2 when I just succumbed to a third Vengevine recursion, but I took game 3 by flipping multiple Delvers and countering all of his action.


Round 4: Affinity

I heard this matchup was really good for the Delving crew. Turns out whoever said that was right. With seven cheap burn spells pre-board, four Ancient Grudges post-board, and ways to interact early and often, Affinity just plays its hand out with a bunch of underwhelming guys. You then just kill off whatever matters, and essentially they’ve given up their entire resource of "cards in hand" for a minimal board presence, one that a Tarmogoyf simply mops up after the fact.

I lost game 1 even though I’d grinded my opponent down to literally no action or cards in hand when he ripped a couple of varying types of Blinkmoths while I played a Halimar Depths, saw two lands and a spell, reset Depths with Deprive on an Etched Champion, and saw three straight Islands. I literally watched as I get poisoned out over the course of four turns.

The next two games were elementary, and we were off to the win-and-in round of this tiny PTQ.

Round 5: Jund (Jonas Sinacola)

Jonas is that guy who fended off the attacker in the bathrooms at SCG: Baltimore last year, chased him down, and identified him to police. He was also my ride that day; he’s a good friend whom I cube with at Kenny Mayer’s house on a weekly basis, so even though we were in a win-and-in, it would suck that one of us would get knocked out of Top 8 contention.

Game 1 I punted and immediately caught it (though by immediately I mean immediately after it became too late to take it back) and bemoaned my fate as Jonas killed me. You see, Jonas had just attacked me down to seven from eleven with Raging Ravine and played his eighth land to be able to activate both Ravine and Treetop Village the next turn. I had an unflipped Delver and a Snapcaster Mage while he was at seven life as well. I checked for Delver, saw Scalding Tarn, and drew it as my only card in hand.

I attacked with both guys and immediately realized I had just given the game away when I had a chance of drawing out of it. He activated both lands and swung without fear of my one card, and I thought about how I should’ve attacked with just Snapcaster and played to my out of having Lightning Bolt on top of my deck by blocking with Delver on Ravine.

Lightning Bolt was sitting on top of my deck, of course.

Game 2 I took down through Threads of Disloyalty and a quick clock backed by disruption. Game 3, I feel like he was just ahead the whole game and I fought valiantly to no avail. Congrats to Jonas on his Top 8!

After the match, our accompanying judge, one Todd Anderson, asked if he could give me some constructive criticism. I of course said yes, as I’m very open to improving. He pointed out the game state three turns prior to me dying, stating that I could have burned Jonas out using Lightning Bolt, attacking with my guys, Snapcaster-Lightning Bolt for exactly lethal. While the play seems obvious now, I was in the mindset that I wanted to not die, as his attack that turn was going to put me to one and he was still at eleven so I used the Bolt to kill one of his guys instead.

This is when I realized the lesson o’ the day. We’ll get to that in a bit.

I had to finish my last round!

I read the pairings and found another friend in Drew Levin waiting for me.

Round 6: U/R Splinter Twin (Drew Levin)

We’d already seen each other’s’ lists before the tournament, with Drew bemoaning the fates that I had four Combusts in my sideboard. Honestly, after this match, I don’t even feel they’re completely necessary.

Delver puts this deck on such a clock that they’re not able to assemble a ton of protection for their combo, and you have ample countermagic (and burn for Kiki-Jiki and Pestermite) that you can just kill them before they can really assemble Combo + Dispel + Dispel + Dispel. Sure, the Combusts would probably help a bit, but I had one in game 2 that I literally never played even with Drew trying to combo multiple times.

4-2, good for fourteenth place.

After I collected my packs for Top 16, I went to watch a little of the Top 8 before leaving. Jonas and Kenny were locked in a three game set in one match, and Ian was battling it out as was Josh Cho. The Top 8 was packed with good players, so even though it was a small event, winning was no small feat. Jarvis really earned his win, especially considering he took the round 1 loss.

As for the deck, here’s what I played this past weekend and would play moving forward:

The Magma Jets are great for giving you the ability to both interact with your opponent’s board development while setting up your Delver flips. Other than Halimar Depths, you really don’t have any way to ensure you’re hitting that spell on top, so Magma Jet definitely helps. I’d probably run the third over the second Deprive at this point, honestly.

***Quick Update***

As I had to leave the tournament site early due to a family emergency, I’m able to give a quick update on the PTQ. I went undefeated! Seriously, didn’t lose a round!

Well, all of the one round I played anyway.

I tried to give my opponent the win as I discovered after I turned in the slip that I’d have to leave ASAP, but the head judge at the Rockville PTQ didn’t feel it was doable even though the slip was in the hands of the judge who was inputting results. I’m sorry to my opponent, as it was a hard fought match and could’ve gone either way.

However, I was super happy with the Magma Jets both leading up to the event in casual and testing games as well as the round in question. I’d definitely go up to three and play one Deprive moving forward.

Improving my Game

Lastly, I wanted to get to another topic before I head out for the week. I’ve been trying to improve over the past couple of months, noticing small errors in play (normally too late to be able to rectify them), and I’ve been trying to be more and more cognizant of those play errors.

However, in game three against Jonas, when Todd Anderson let me know of another line of play that would have actually won me the game, I realized that the problem isn’t so much in the small errors (though I do need to try to eliminate as many of those as I can), but rather not seeing alternate lines of play from the one I’m focused on and stovepiping myself into a line of play that ends up losing the game.

In this case, I was so focused on not losing that I didn’t notice the fairly obvious line that would win me the game. I’ve noticed that I tend to play the game 1 turn at a time, possibly thinking one turn ahead, but trying to maximize each of my turns as an individual entity. I’ve noticed that I’m not planning out gameplans turns in advance, similar to how I learned to play Chess all those years ago while a member of the Chess Team in high school. I’ve seemingly forgotten those lessons and while that thought alone is a bit depressing, the realization of what it is that’s actually causing me to lose more is rather exciting.

Why, might you ask? Because I know what I need to fix now! The saying goes, "You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken," and it’s so very true. I was always laser-focused on correcting my play each turn over the course of the game that I wouldn’t even so much as look forward to my opponent’s next turn occasionally, making crucial errors and taking sub-par lines of play.

Now I’ve made an effort to start evaluating at least two full turns ahead, seeing how my individual plays are going to play out. Hopefully this will serve me well this weekend, and I’d suggest taking a moment before each play you make (even land drops) to see how this will affect the game state one and two full turns from that moment. This may be an aspect of your game that’s missing, as I know it’s something I’ve failed to do enough of. Sure, there are times when I can plan ahead a decent amount, but I know this is definitely an area I’ve been lacking in and I’m excited to try to correct it.

Thanks again for reading guys! Just like last week, hopefully I can regale you next week with stories of my success in the PTQ this past weekend and also some thoughts on the upcoming StarCityGames.com Invitational in Baltimore!

See you all in a week!

Michael Martin

Shoctologist on Magic Online

@mikemartinlfs on Twitter