Sullivan Library – A Top 8 Tournament Report

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Tuesday, February 26th – The popularity of Tournament Reports tends to ebb and flow with the tides. Today, Adrian Sullivan brings us a report on his latest Extended PTQ, in the style of the classic reports from the days of USENET. He also brings us his latest version of Miser’s Rock, a deck he backs for success in future tournaments…

There was a time when getting into the Top 8 of a PTQ would have been the pinnacle for me. I still remember my first Top 8, in a Sealed event over ten years ago. At a certain point, getting into Top 8 wasn’t nearly enough anymore. But there was a time, long, long ago, when it was.

I think that for most people, that is what getting into Magic tournaments is about. The idea of actually winning (actually winning!) is somewhat foreign, but, for a moment, to be there fighting for it. That’s the exciting part. For people like that, an actual win is often a make or break moment for them with tournament Magic. They go to the Pro Tour and their experience will make them want to go again, or it might make them never again interested — their spark for tournament Magic largely eradicated. While this is an aside, I do think it is why it is in Wizards of the Coasts best interest to have things like the Pro Player lounge. But that is the subject of another article, perhaps…

What I remember, back in those halcyon days of yore, was the thrill of that hunt. What I remember was hopping onto USENET to write a report, and tell people about it. I remember that quest for glory. I remember reading Jamie Wakefield tourney reports and just being inspired to fight for it again.

I’ve written some great tournament reports, but I’m no Jamie Wakefield, let me tell you.

Despite that, this week, I’m going to give you a tournament report. Hopefully it will be in the same style that got me noticed a dozen years ago by readers, and inspired Rob Hahn to offer me a job working at the Dojo. While it might not hit that high note, I don’t mind aspiring to trying…

PTQ Hollywood — Chicago, Top 8
By Adrian Sullivan

Like any good story, this one begins with a deck. But not just any deck. It begins with my Pro Tour: Valencia deck.

Preparing for Valencia was a labor of love. Madison at large had people working on decks, with some people (like Justin Cohen) pointedly advocating for a deck (in his case, Dredge), and others (like Mike Hron) just scattershot playing decks, looking for an answer.

I was doing much the same as Mike Hron, mixing my playtesting between the real world and MTGO. I couldn’t really settle on a deck, but I was narrowing it down here and there. I tried recreating The Baron, but it just didn’t seem to be coming together.

First rule of preparing a deck for a tournament: Start With What You Know! (SWWYK! Pronounced “swick!”)

It was fine. But it simply wasn’t good enough. It had problems with the very best Dredge decks, it had problems with the very best Zoo decks, and it had problems from occasional random decks. I wanted it to be the case that it was a good call for Valencia, but I knew in my heart that it wasn’t.

In the meantime, I was still rocking my old White/Green Stompy deck. Here was a deck that had some oomph! It could really rock the house! But it had this issue that seemed somewhat insurmountable — it didn’t really have any way to handle decks that would play to combo out. This meant that it was a simple footrace versus any deck trying to solitaire, and worse, any deck that could effectively solitaire (say, via a Moment’s Peace). It was fun to play, but it didn’t quite make it.

And I rocked out with a Zoo variant. It ran Bobs and Goyfs and Keldon Marauders (oh my), and had lightning fast starts with Reckless Charge and Chrome Mox, sometimes wrapping things up with Shrapnel Blast. The deck could accomplish some sick things, and it was fast enough to beat many decks in a footrace, but it struggled against other pure aggressive decks, and the kill that Dredge had was just difficult to face, even with Tormod’s Crypts and Fanatics.

All the while, I was working on a new idea. Every single one of the decks that I had built had eventually incorporated Tarmogoyf.

Tarmogoyf! Here was a creature so exciting that he could put the crowd of Obama supporters to shame. This guy was so good, I had put him into nearly every deck, from those decks where he was obvious, to those decks where he wasn’t, to those decks that I had to warp the deck around a wee bit just to fit him in.

Tarmogoyf! Somehow I knew that he should have a place in the Rock.

These days, Cabal Rogue, my old think tank/pseudo-team, is largely dormant. But there are still a lot of great resources in it that are always worth tapping. I decided to call up one of the old Cabalist, the inimitable Sol Malka, to get his thoughts on Tarmogoyf in his classic Rock deck.

I had moved towards thinking about the Rock from a “classic” build, largely because of playtesting Extended over the last two years. Gifts Rock is a deck I would never advocate that someone play in Extended these days. To my mind, if you’re playing Gifts Rock, you should instead be playing Tron, or The Baron, or The Rock (straight up). I just don’t see any edges that Gifts Rock gives you that can’t be better received by some other deck.

Having already worked on The Baron and not really even liking the thought of Tron, working on the Rock seemed like the next most logical choice. And so, Sol.

Sol and I go way back. I still remember convincing him to put in the Pernicious Deeds and Spiritmongers into The Rock for Worlds so many years ago. It really pleases me that they have become almost synonymous with the deck. Sol’s deck was a Spiritmonger deck, and for Valencia, I was largely convinced that he wouldn’t be appropriate. Funny how the pendulum can swing back, as I look at the Beast Rock decks running around now.

We talked things through for quite a while. Duress, he convinced me, was the better card for most builds of the Rock, largely because both Cabal Therapy and Thoughseize could be liabilities against aggressive decks. I tried out something radical (Extirpate) in my main, and in describing to him my playtest results over many phone calls, he told me that he could be on board with the card. Putrefy, he convinced me, was the best removal spell, though I did have concerns about the issues of mana curve (a concern I would later address). He was intrigued by my idea to include Tarmogoyf. I was intrigued by what looked like an incredibly resilient manabase, and a new idea had already formed in my head.

“What if I make my deck into a Destructive Flow deck?” I said. “Not one of these Macey.dec style Destructive Flow decks [like the one that Cedric Phillips would eventually qualify with (way to go, Ced!)], but a true Classic Rock deck. Tarmogoyf is so perfect in Rock. Obviously, it’s a great creature for everyone, but Tarmogoyf is just so big so fast, it can provide both a clock against non-creature decks, and be an incredible defender versus the creature decks!”

Sol was convinced that Tarmogoyf was worth checking out, and a little more dubious of his precious Spiritmongers being taken out of the running. In the many phone calls back and forth, we brainstormed, and he listened to my changes, and helped nudge me in the right direction so often I can’t count. He eventually had the incredibly clever idea to take one of my Goyfs out of my main and toss it in the sideboard where the already present Living Wishes could find it, and thus make every Living Wish into a virtual Erhnam, Juzam, or Grinning Demon.

Throughout all of it, I playtested with tons of people, probably most notably Owen Turtenwald. He was a great resource, constantly being competitive, and never really believing in anything. This skepticism made it very easy to hone and hone and hone both my deck and my opinions on the necessities of cards throughout the process. It was Owen’s laughingly named “Chocolate Rain” deck that provided some inspiration to me in dropping the curve down by fitting in some Terminates. They were great — pretty much doing everything they needed to, short of killing an Akroma.

Owen was almost on board with my deck, but decided, to his credit, to play his own Goblins deck. Still, though, he stood by my deck choice. “I wouldn’t want to play against that deck,” I remember him saying.

I went a disappointing 50/50 at Valencia, but I still loved the deck.

Enter Lorwyn and Morningtide.

There wasn’t that much there for me, but the Doran deck that popped up in Kentucky provided some inspiration. I knew I had to try out Profane Command, and see how it fit into my deck. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that while the Profane Command made some sense in the Junk-style deck of Doran, I never ever wanted to draw it. Still, I loved topdecking it.

I began testing one copy of the card, and I found that, across the board, it improved my EVs. I began to think of the card as a kind of Upheavala one-of that can change the possibilities of what a deck is capable of. I knew it would make the cut, and after much agonizing, I cut one of my two Terminates. I knew I was impacting my curve slightly in the positive direction, but there was literally no other card that I felt that I could cut. Finally, the pressures of my Wish board, and the existence of a new deck (Next Level Blue), made me work to include another card in my 75. Unable to decide on what to cut, I sucked it up, and moved one of the 16 sideboard cards into my main, and ended up with a slightly fat 76 cards.

Here are 61 of those cards I ended up playing. I imagine that it might be possible to cut it down, but for the life of me I can’t figure out where it is. It is the old dilemma — when the possibility of cutting the wrong card outweighs playing it. Ugh. Maybe I’ll find it.

Miser Rock — by Adrian Sullivan, Top 8, PTQ Chicago

I would give you the sideboard, but I want to have a few secrets when I play with it again in future weeks, and some of them can be deduced by clever people out there.

I call the deck “Miser Rock” because it simply has so many mises. You can drop Flow on someone and just tear them to bits. Maindeck Extirpate can rip away games you had no business winning. The Profane Command can do the same thing. Living Wish gives you access to so many trump possibilities that it really can be quite nuts. And, more than most decks, this deck has the ability to lay multiple Tarmogoyfs, which can be pretty damning in its own right.

Needless to say, I would play this deck again in a heartbeat.

My tournament day didn’t start out auspiciously. I’d been given directions to the site via a friend with a printer the night before. The location wasn’t at the usual Chicago-area location in Niles. The folks at Pastimes were holding it in a hotel, somewhere else in the area. The Wizards of the Coast website described it as being in “Chicago,” but in reality, it was in a suburb of Chicago. When I arrived at a pizza place downtown, I sensed some major trouble.

I had planned to get there around nine, and thankfully my Chicago friend Azrael Spear was able to talk me into the proper location before registration closed, but it was close. I felt really lucky that I completely knew my decklist so well that I was able to give it to him over the phone without referencing anything.

That’s how it should always be. If you don’t know your decklist like that, you should really play it a lot more.

With that, the tournament began. 196 people, 8 rounds of swiss.

Round 1 — Zack from Bloomington, with Scepter Chant

I won the coin flip, and started out with Birds of Paradise. I had the Destructive Flow, but his opening land (a Flooded Strand) left open the possibility in my mind for Force Spike. I went over it again and again, and decided to play around Force Spike, and delay a turn. When I drop it on the next turn, he has a Mana Leak for it.

I push into him hard, and get him to 11 when he drops Scepter-Chant. I play it out for a few turns. He’s low on mana, and can’t really protect his Scepter if I draw a Putrefy, but it is not to be.

In the next game, I manage to put down early pressure and drop a fairly early Flow. He gets rid of it, but never really mounts any kind of defense against Goyfs, and I have copious amounts of back-up cards that can really make life hell for him — Deed, Putrefy, Wish, and back-up Goyfs. He scoops it up to have time for the third game.

In the final game, it is much the same. He puts up a small wave of defenders with Decree of Justice, but they only serve as speed bumps to Tarmogoyfs. He crumples pretty quickly under the pressure of them, backed up with elimination for his Exalted Angels

1-0 / 2-1

Left of me: Next Level Blue faces Death Cloud
Right of me: Elf-Opposition faces PT Junk

Round 2 — Russell from Chicago, with Ideal

Ideal is one of the really good matchups for this deck. Extirpate can be a complete beating against the deck, when you pop off a Form, and then Extirpate it, they often have no actual way to win any longer. This is Bad For Them┢.

In the first game, I win the coin flip, and we both mulligan. I have a pretty awful start, but his is no picnic either. My hand includes a lot of great spells, but no second land, and I’m reticent to go down to 5, when a single land will take me to Goyf land. My first discard is the hardest. I fear that I might lose the game before I do anything, and I don’t want him to necessarily know what I’m playing. I decide that the Profane Command isn’t likely to have any impact on the game, and discard it.

From there on in, I’m drawing land. I drop a couple of creatures, but he’s already dropped the Form (via Ideal), before I get any farther. I have a Deed on the table, and I can see my clock slowly ticking down. I have a Baloth, and so if I play it right and get lucky with land, I will have exactly enough time to blow up the Form, and if I get lucky, follow up with a way to kill him. My top of my library doesn’t have much land (so says my Top), so I Extirpate myself to shuffle up my library, hoping to draw into it.

I draw the land. End of turn, I blow up the world for seven, destroying everything, and dropping one of the many creatures in my hand that will kill him. He uses Ideal to get a second copy — one I thought he might have, but hoped he didn’t.

I realize, however, that if I hadn’t discarded the Profane Command on turn 4, I would have had the mana to cast it for 5 and kill him. Oops. Oops. (It just hadn’t occurred to me that it could matter.)

We go to game 2, and he double mulligans. He drops out a pair of Lotuses, and the turn before they are going to pop, I drop a Deed. I blow it during his upkeep to kill his mana, and I follow up on the next turn with a Flow and a Duress for his Song. He plays on, but I cast a second Flow, and he scoops it up.

In the final game, we get to the classic endgame for this matchup. I search for Zealot, and have Grips and Flows and Extirpate and just kind of tear him up.

3-0 / 4-2

Left of me: Zoo faces PT Junk
Right of me: Macey.dec (Troll Ascetic/Jitte) faces Macey.dec

Round 3 — Adam from Fond Du Lac, with Goblins

Adam is apparently friends with quite a few people I know, but he seems phased to be playing me. He’s also shuffling his deck at me, and I’m pleased to see he is playing Goblins.

In the first game, I destroy him so utterly with an early Flow, Deed to clear out creatures, with spot removal and Baloth to keep the game under control. I so utterly dominate him, that the reverberations of this last throughout the rest of the match.

In the next game, he literally explodes all over me, but remains afraid to attack. He cast a turn 1 Therapy (seeing three Extirpate), and I immediately Extirpate his Therapy, but every new card that I draw after that point, he seems to think is The Best Card Ever, and he treats it as such. With a handful of land (one spectator claimed I drew 6 lands in a row in the midgame), I’m at his mercy, and he could simply attack into my defenders and kill me on the table, but if I have a trick, he’d be in bad shape. Eventually, he just has so much advantage he kills me.

The next game, though, is more as expected. Goyf holds things off. A Deed blows up the world, and Extirpate takes out Warchiefs, keeping me much safer. In the meantime, a Flow tears up his mana, and keeps him off of the Bidding in his hand.

3-0 / 6-3

Left of me: Macey.dec faces PT Junk
Right of me: Next Level Blue faces Rock

Round 4 — Colin from Milwaukee, with Dark Zoo

His deck is a kind of crossbreed of Levy style Domain and more typical RDW and Zoo. He has the Vindicate and Molten Rain to really keep me off my mana, and he has Tribal Flames, and his beatdown seems to be limited to Bob, Goyf, Ape, and Fanatic. I also noted a lot of discard spells.

In the first game, I largely dominate the board. Early Goyf followed by Baloth hold the table, and then Deed wipes the board clean. I Extirpate one of his Tribal Flames, and happen to hit jackpot, knocking out two other Tribal Flames blind. With me at thirteen, and holding the table easily, he scoops it up.

I’m well in control of the second game, though at a low life total, he does the unexpected. End of turn, he cast Insidious Dreams, getting the Draco Explosion combo. I spin my own Top a little bit, but I already know that I’ve sided out my Extirpate, so I have no answers. Sixteen life is a bit too much.

Onto the last. Knowing, now, that I have to worry about the Explosion, I return some of the Exitrpates and the Flows, to keep both the Dreams off of me, and the Explosion itself off of me. I never descend below 19 life, starting out by holding the table with Goyf, and then tearing his board up, keeping creatures off of the table, and having Flow keep his mana low.

4-0 / 8-4

Left of me: PT Junk faces Haterator
Right of me: PT Junk faces Dredge

Round 5 — Gaudenis Vidugiris from Madison, with Dredge

We discuss it for quite a while before deciding to draw, confident that we’ll both make the cut off, even though a draw here might not be the most rational in most cases. I think we both are a little uncertain about wanting to play each other. He knows my deck’s many weapons against him, and I know just how well he can play Dredge.

Off course, we are re-paired.

Round 5 — Andrew from Chicago (by way of New York), with Dredge

He wins the coin flip, and aggressively mulligans, and gets a turn 2 kill in the face of my massively disruptive draw for him. I cast a Bird, and hold double Sakura, Extirpate, and other means to disrupt him, but I never get a chance to cast it. I also didn’t have the Black mana in my opening hand to even conservatively hold back to cast the ‘pate. Alas.

The second game, I have him massively wrecked. My hand holds double Sakura again, Extirpate, Deed, and other useful tools against him. However, we notice early on that he failed to put his cards removed from the game last game back into his deck, and so he is awarded a game loss.

We go onto game 3, and for once he doesn’t mulligan. He casts a Careful Study, discarding two Golgari Grave Trolls, and I make a play I almost never make: Extirpating his Trolls. He is without outlets, and thinks for a while before playing a turn 2 Narcomoeba. My hand is pretty crazy. I hold three Sakura-Tribe Elder and a Pernicious Deed. He tries shooting off a Breakthrough for one, and finds a Golgari Thug, but doesn’t get anything else. I drop my first Sakura-Tribe Elder, and he drops a Pithing Needle. Not sure how I want to respond, I decide to let it hit without responding, thinking that I might use the Deed to blow it up.

The few Dredge cards he manages to get into his yard don’t yield any more, and on the other hand, he is getting an overwhelming number of creatures on the table. In the end, I blow up the world end of turn, killing everything on the table (his four Narcomoeba and a Stinkweed Imp in play have dropped me to an uncomfortable 7 life, just one above an Akroma hit). I drop a Goyf, and pick up the whittling off that I’ve been doing beforehand.

He plays the Thug, setting up a blocker. I kill it with a Darkblast (he places another Narcomoeba on top) and swing him down to 4. On his turn, he Dredges back the Thug, getting two blockers, but without anything else really going on, though an Akroma is in the yard. I decide (foolishly) to not Dredge anything back, but instead to just draw a card, and see if I find something useful. I could have brought back the Darkblast and killed the Narcomoeba, and then on the subsequent turn, do the same thing to the Thug, and try to swing for the kill. It doesn’t guarantee victory, but it does keep him off of three creatures if a Returns shows up. I draw nothing, and he does Dredge into the Returns, but also a Bridge. Just the Returns would have put me at 1, but force him to block my Tarmogoyf with his Akroma or die. Now I have to not Dredge, hoping for a Deed, to kill the tokens, and force him to chump with Akroma. As it stands, I don’t draw into the only out I’ve left myself.

4-1 / 9-6

Left of me: PT Junk faces Dredge
Right of me: The Rock faces The Zoo

Round 6 — Chris from Peoria, with Ideal

Chris was someone who I had seen playing before, so I knew he was with Ideal. As soon as I can tell that that is what he’s playing, I get a Zealot, and between it and an Extirpate on Form, we move onto the next game.

In the second game, I preemptively go for a Viridian Zealot with Living Wish, and I have two copies of Extirpate, a Krosan Grip, and an Eternal Witness. Even if he gets out some way to “lock” me, I should still be able to break free.

Then I Duress him. He has a Decree of Silence in his hand, and is rapidly approaching the mana to cast it. He also has the Ideal. I hem and haw for a long while before taking out the Ideal. He never does drop the Decree (it would cost him most of his lands), but he does use it to cycle it and counter a Baloth that I drop to put him on a very slow clock.

He tries to lock me out with Dovescape, but I Zealot it and then Extirpate Dovescapes. While he pushes out more things to keep me under control, I just dismantle them, and then swing for the kill.

5-1 / 11-6

Left of me: Dryad-Charge faces Beast Rock
Right of me: Ideal faces Dredge

Round 7 — Brad from Dubuque, with Dryad-Charge

I win the coin flip, and draw the Bird/Flow combo. He starts with Kird Ape, but is just utterly destroyed by the Flow. I drop a Goyf and hold the table, and he never manages to get me below even 18 life.

In the next game, it is much the same. I do get dropped down to 7, with help from Grim Lavamancers, but Baloth pulls me back up to eleven, while I slowly get his life down. A Deed clears the way for me to win.

6-1 / 13-6

Left of me: Affinity faces Dredge
Right of me: Affinity faces Red Burn

Round 7 — Ben from Chicago, with Beasts Rock

Ben (and his brother) and I always sit next to each other at events, because our last names are both in the S section. We agree to draw into Top 8.

I knew there was a slight risk in drawing, but it ends up in the worst possible spot. We miscounted the people that were in contention, and he ends up in 8th, while I am in 9th. Ben, however, can’t go to Hollywood, so he drops, catapulting me into the Top 8!

The Top 8:

Next Level Blue
Death Cloud
Beasts Rock
Miser Rock
Zoo (??)

Quarterfinals — Jeff from St. Louis, with Beasts Rock

Jeff is playing pretty archetypical Beasts Rock, with Mongers and Cliffs and the like. In the first game, I pretty much keep him under control for most of the game, Flowing a couple of lands, while I keep board advantage, and Top into more business spells than him. I have a Profane Command on top of my library for most of the game, to hide it from Therapy or Duress, but I never cast it, so that I can keep it a secret.

The next two games, however, things fall apart for me. I never see a Flow or a Top, and he simply draws more business, getting out Baloth/Cliffs in the first game, to tear me apart, and in the second game, using Cabal Therapy to strip away my hand. I never draw back into the game, though I come close, bringing up an Eternal Witness and a Goyf while at two life, to hold him off. He had the Putrefy to end my chances.

Final Record:
6-2 / 14-8

I’d play the same deck, card-for-card, again in a heartbeat. My only loss in the swiss was due to a play mistake, and I just felt like I had the ability to win any matchup. I view myself as someone who is likely, despite the gaffes I am fully capable of, to be better than my typical opponent. A deck that can let me take advantage of that seems like a good choice to me.

The finals ended with Next Level Blue beating Gaudenis Vidugiris piloting his Dredge deck. Talking on the phone with him the next day, we were both a bit down about neither of us taking the slot, but I know that we’ll both be battling it out in the coming weeks.

Until then, wish me luck!

Adrian Sullivan