Sullivan Library: A Tale Of A PTQ

My ride was due to arrive in less than an hour. I didn’t know exactly where the tournament was. I hadn’t slept, and I’d gone out partying the night before. Definitely not the wisest way to prepare for a PTQ. The night before had started well enough. A collection of people were heading to a…

My ride was due to arrive in less than an hour. I didn’t know exactly where the tournament was. I hadn’t slept, and I’d gone out partying the night before.

Definitely not the wisest way to prepare for a PTQ.

The night before had started well enough. A collection of people were heading to a local Madison store called The Realm to playtest for the PTQ the next day. There were a few standouts like Bob Allbright and Mike Hron, but for the most part, it was a group of Pro-Tour Hopefuls.

I played the same deck all night. Ben Kidwell (a local uncut gem of a deckbuilder) and I had designed a red control deck that was doing well against all comers. He and I had finally honed the deck to the point where the only question was the sideboard.

But it was a big question. So many choices. We’d been doing a lot of work against Rising Waters (of course), and a continuing problem with our Red Deck was threats. With cards like Stone Rain and Veteran Brawlers in the mix, it just had a real issue presenting threats to a Rising Waters deck. We decided to sideboard in more threats to replace the Veteran Brawlers, and were leaning towards Lesser Gargadon. It was slightly cheaper than other threats, and it was testing well.

Thankfully, I did a bit of playtesting that Friday night.

The beginning of the playtesting was simple enough. A bit against Rebels. A bit more against Rebels. A bit more against a Green/White Rubin-esque Rebel deck. A wee bit against Rebels with Black. A bit against Rising Waters.

The Gargadons seemed to be doing quite well against everything, if they were a bit out of place. They beat quickly, resolved more often against Waters more often than most threats. The Stone Rains were NOT making the cut. We’d been toying with making them Thunderclaps, with a bit of playtesting to try it out, but that barrage of Rebels and Waters pretty much clinched it. Stone Rain did help a bit in the Control matchups, but it seemed almost useless versus Blue (especially Waters), and only hurt the already mana-starved Rebel deck.

Then Bob Allbright pulled out his Mercenary deck for a few games.

He had already seen his deck in action and had thrown a bunch of games at me with Rebel decks, so he felt he understood the Red deck. We played two games, each winning a match. This seemed to satisfy him quite a bit, and I was secretly happy myself, because I had won the match a bunch of times in playtesting other nights with the Stone Rain version of the deck. I had been winning about 80-90% of those Game Ones, and I felt the matchup was even more one-sided now.

We played several more games, and in the end, he was a bit ahead. His sideboard of Death Pit Offering had blindsided me for the win in one game, and a lucky Dark Ritual draw had got me in another. Being down 3-4 didn’t seem so rough to me with his surprise DPO and the one lucky game. Even with his Death Pit Offering he couldn’t handle some of my cards, things like Scoria Cat, for example.

I left soon after that and spent the night on the town.

The entire night.

Armed the next morning with Allyson’s lucky shirt and absolutely no sleep, I resleeved my deck and debated with myself about the Lesser Gargadons. Then it hit me.

Scoria Cat dealt with Blastoderm better than Gargadon.

Scoria Cat dealt with Mercs (even with DPO) better than Gargadon.

Scoria cat was big and mighty.

She wouldn’t be all that exciting against Rising Waters, but that was only because of the cost.

At the last minute I changed the sideboard and deck around, just in time to catch my ride.

Two-Bits – by Adrian Sullivan and Ben Kidwell:

4x Lava Runner
4x Chimeric Idol
3x Veteran Brawler
2x Scoria Cat
3x Task Mage Assembly
4x Thunderclap
4x Seal of Fire
3x Cave-In
2x Flowstone Slide
3x Tectonic Break
4x Kyren Toy

2x Dustbowl
2x Rath’s Edge
20x Mountain

2x Heart of Ramos
2x Scoria Cat
4x Stone Rain
3x Mogg Salvage
2x Ancient Hydra
1x Flowstone Slide
1x Cave-In

We ended up naming the deck”Two-Bits” for a number of reasons; the cheap rares made it stick.

As we drive to Chicago, I’m in good spirits. Dreaded-Jim (the driver) is fun company on a roadtrip, and his car is the same as ever, complete with the earless stuffed bunny rabbit in the backseat. Malcolm is with Jim in front. Malcolm is planning on playing Lucky Djinn, a Red/Blue tempo deck that tries to kill you before the Indentured Djinns (“Lucky”) gifts get HIM killed. Jim is with W/B Rebels.

My night is still catching up with me and I fall asleep for a half-hour or so.

“I’m going to win this tournament,” I say when I wake.

“Sure, sure.”

“Yeah, me too,” says Malcolm.

We laugh and joke about how many other people are probably saying the exact same things in their cars as they drive in.

When we arrive, Brian Kowal’s face is the first one I see in the parking lot. He forces foil Lava Runners on me.”For luck,” he says.

127 people are there for the tournament, and a lot of faces worth noting. Besides all of the regulars on the PTQ circuit that have to be respected from places like the VGC in Milwaukee or C&C and The Realm from Madison, there are a number of other faces that are less expected. There were many faces from Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and even a few from Missouri. Several more recognizable names were here to play as well: Jason Moungey, Eric Taylor, Andrew Nishioka, Scott Seville, Brian Kowal, Eric Taylor, Aaron Souders, Theron Martin, Ped Bun, and the like. It’s a somewhat impressive PTQ.

Contrary to what Theron said in his mindripper.com article, there was not a lot of Red in the field. Fewer than 6 people played mono-red in the tournament; Theron just had the good fortune to play three of them. The field was mostly dominated by a combination of Rebel variants (Mono-white and Rubin-like varieties), Rising Waters and Blue Beatdown, with a smaller smattering of other decks lurking about like Mercs.

My first round pairing was a bit surprising. Malcolm from the car ride down looked glumly at me. Kowal sat nearby, and I jokingly mention how since I beat Malcolm a dozen times in a row the night before, this time I was due to lose. The matchup is fairly poor for Malcolm. Lucky Djinn is extremely good against Rebels and Mercs, but against a control deck with appropriate amounts of elimination, it is in trouble.

The match started pretty typically. He drops”Lucky” and I draw a few cards; Cave-In and Seal of Fire kill it. Extravagant Spirit hits the board, and my hand is sadly full of Tectonic Breaks. I take a hit, and then Armageddon all of his lands away. With no cards in his hand, I should take control of the game if he doesn’t draw a land next turn. He does, and I die to the Spirit.

The next game, Chimeric Idol slams down on turn three. Lucky hopes up to start a race, but the fire I draw off my deck clears the path, and the Idol slams into Malcolm. The last game is extremely anti-climactic, with Malcolm not drawing land.

My next opponent is Lona Cannon, playing Red Control. With Kyren Toy and Tectonic Break, the match is over very quickly, though. In one game, she only draws mana-control, and a Chimeric Idol and Scoria Cat finish her off – and in the next, she and I start to race, but a Tectonic Break suddenly makes my Veteran Brawlers very aggressive indeed.

In the third round, Lawrence Hur’s Rising Waters steps up to the plate. Game one goes fairly horribly. The matchup with Two-Bits versus Rising Waters is tenuous. You need to draw threats. I, unfortunately, draw the Veteran Brawlers. Stinging Barrier takes me all the way down.

Game two goes similarly horribly for me. It feels like I actually draw all of my sideboard cards, but he’s sideboarded out the Rising Waters – and Rootwater Thieves come in and remove tons of my burn. I’m a bit frustrated, but his sideboarding strategy worked, so I manage…

Ped Bun is next, with White Control. Generally speaking, White Control is a near-dream matchup. The games play out very, very slowly. The strengths of White Control are its global removal and access to powerful enchantments and enchantment kill; unfortunately, they tend to need mana. Between TechBreaking their land and killing any artifact mana they may have after sideboard, it is pretty rough. Ped’s deck is trying to overwhelm an opponent’s potential disenchant targets. He has Story Circles, Flowstone Armors, Aura Fracture, and plenty of other Artifacts and Enchantments.

Game One, Rappelling Scouts try to make a defense with Kor Haven and Story Circle Red. I Tectonic, and Scoria Cat finishes him off. Game two is more of the same. He disenchants my Chimeric Idols after a Tectonic Break, but two Stone Rains keep him from stopping my Lava Runner with his Story Circle, and he dies after many turns of discarding.

Next up is David Andrew with Control Rebels. His search goes all the way up the chain to the Jhovall Queen, and I know that it makes things harder. Control Rebels can easily get too out of control for this deck. Without a timely Flowstone Slide, the Rebels can easily overwhelm you and make it difficult for you even after a Slide, as they cast all their Rebels they have waiting in their hand.

He starts off with a Sergeant and Steadfast Guard. A Chimeric Idol holds him off for a bit before being Disenchanted. He starts to climb the chain, and brings out a Thermal Glider. I’m holding a Slide, but don’t need it. I Cave-In and kill everything but the Glider and another Idol… and start to race. He falls behind when I bring out a pair of Lava Runners. Tectonic Break seals the game.

In his second game, a Cho-Manno’s Blessing on a hard-cast Jhovall Queen leaves David feeling pretty confident. A pair of Thermal Gliders join the Queen in the grave when I Slide the table away and come in with Idols.

In round six, I face Matt Lackey with Rising Waters.

The games are slow. I win game one with a Chimeric Idol that nearly goes all the way. A combination of my burn spells keeps the board clear, and even though he gets out Waters he never stops the Idol.

In our second game, we race in beatdown mode. Things are looking pretty good until he drops a pair of Rejuvenation Chambers. The life gain more than offsets my beatdown. He drops to 20 by the end of the game.

Game three is more of the same. I keep the table mostly clear, and an early Rhystic Study slows me up. The extra turns run out with his deck only having 2 cards left, and me at three life. Both of us are now going to have to struggle to make the Top 8.

My last round in the Swiss is against the infamous Theron Martin. Theron is playing Waters and has been floating around the whole day, checking out the competition.

“I’m supposed to win today,” I tell him.

Game One, my deck does what it is supposed to. I bait a Counterspell, and drop a Toy. Another Toy soon follows, and then I begin with Lava Runners. Theron drops a Stinging Barrier in the way now and again, but Seal of Fire makes short work of a wounded Barrier.

Game Two is a bit better. I cast an early Toy and drop a Scoria Cat. He counters the Cat and I drop another. The Cat marches in relentlessly. I take a bit of damage from a Stinging Barrier until he is finally forced to block the Cat with it. The Cat finishes him.

My tie-breakers are good, but not solid, and I’m biting my nails a bit about making Top 8. I make it in, but not without controversy. A misrecorded match slip handed in by Jason Moungey is going to stand – so Jason doesn’t make Top 8, and I do.

The Top 8
1 – Lawrence Hur – Rising Waters (the person I lost 0-2 against)
2 – Andrew Nishioka – Blue Beatdown
3 – Scott Seville – Black Control
4 -Rob Kinyon – White Control
5 – Bob Allbright – Mercenaries
6 – Granger Peterson – White Control
7 – Russel Rosales – Rebels
8 – Adrian Sullivan – Red Control

The matchups in the Top 8 all look pretty promising. The first round is the real killer though. I know that I have a close matchup here (somewhere around 50/50), but I also have a few edges.

It is my day.

I am wearing Allyson’s shirt.

I have playtested this matchup.

I have been in a Top Eight before.

I decide to use this to my advantage. I generally am thought of as a fairly eccentric player, but I bring out all stops. He’s generally a bit shaken throughout the match, probably as a combination of feeling intimidated and nervous about the match.

I bring out Lava Runners and Chimeric Idol for the beatdown. He is able to bounce and counter a little bit of it, while Stinging me with his Barrier. He keeps blocking the Idol, but the Runner is coming through. Finally, a Seal of Fire finishes the Barrier and he collapses.

I guess that he is going to repeat his strategy of Rootwater Thief in, Rising Waters out. I bring in all of my threats to force him to out-counter them. He brings out the Thief early, and pulls out my creatures, but I’m holding a pair of Scoria Cats in my hand, and they finish him in no time.

Bob Allbright is next. While I know that his deck should be a good matchup for me, Bob is an excellent player, with numerous Pro-Tours under his belt. While I felt his deck was fine, it was the playskills he had that I was worried about. Bob wouldn’t fall for any of the things I do to make less experienced players get nervous.

Game one starts out pretty fast, and then the Veteran Brawlers stop the beatdown. Chimeric Idol joins the team and stops Rathi Intimidator, and Cave-In finishes off the table. Scoria Cat finally steps up and does the last 12 damage.

Game two is all about removal. He Vendettas and Snuffs Out all of my blockers. I Seal of Fire a Stronghold Thug while another keeps at me. A Task Mage Assembly clears the table when Rathi Fiend comes out. I have out a single Idol on the defense, and he makes an Intimidator before Vendetta kills my Chimeric Idol. My life is too low to hold out.

Game three is certainly the most interesting. I have a pair of Stone Rains that should do well against Allbright, and I’m worried about the possibility of a Death Pit Offering. I suck up some pain in order to Stone Rain him twice, and then I drop Task Mage Assembly. The next turn, I forego the use of the Assembly to lay down a Lava Runner. I start killing his men with the Assembly, and Allbright isn’t in a good position to do the same to my Runner.

He drops the Death Pit Offering, and I drop a Scoria Cat. His Rathi Fiend drops me to 5, but I kill it with the Assembly and come in for the kill.

The finals versus Andrew Nishioka were what I was mostly expecting all day. Of all the players here, he was one of the most experienced ones, and he had chosen a good deck. Things just didn’t turn out well for him.

He keeps an extremely aggressive draw, but doesn’t see enough mana to make it work in Game 1. I roll over him with Idol and Runners.

Game Two is only somewhat more interesting. He starts to race with a Ribbon Snake and then a Drake Hatchling, while I just plow in with a Lava Runner. I bait him with a Scoria Cat and drop the Task Mage Assembly, finishing off his creatures as he tries to drop more for the race. He eventually Task Mages my Runner, but I drop another, and now – deprived of mana – he can’t win the Task Mage race.

No one could say that I spent my time preparing for the tournament all that well.

Sleep is a good thing. I didn’t get much of any. Partying before a tourney is similarly a bad idea.

What I had on my side was simple. I had a lot of confidence in my deck because I knew it, and knew it well. I understood the decks I should expect to play against in the metagame, and I had an appropriate sideboard. Most of all, I wanted to win.

Having a good deck is fine and dandy, but in general it is really hard to win a tournament if you don’t really want it. You might do fine, but it is the hunger that is important.

That, and wearing a cool shirt all day.

Adrian Sullivan