In the process of falling off the gravy train, I decided to go to a PTQ. This was a bad idea for several reasons:
– It meant getting up early
– I always work Saturday nights in a bar until 5am
– PTQ-ing would mean I’d have to cough up my last 25 Euro’s I originally had reserved for buying, you know, food
– It involved actually going to a PTQ
In the decision making progress I was blinded by the following factors which got the best of me in the end:
– Winning the PTQ would slow the “falling off the train” process down by exactly one Pro Tour
– There was a 200 Euro travel award
– PTQs in Holland tend to be relatively easy since the best players are qualified
– I would be seeing a lot of friends and test some Block Constructed
– I could get a ride and get there in under half an hour
So I went, spent my last money on entering the PTQ and got this deck:
Call to Glory
Hokori, Dust Drinker
Kami of Tattered Shoji
Reverse the Sands
Lifted by Clouds
Reach Through Mists
Stream of Consciousness
Kami of the Waning Moon
Ire of Kaminari
Zo-Zu the Punisher
Child of Thorns
Feast of Worms
Honden of LifeÂ´s Web
Strength of Cedars
Genju of the Realm
Shinka, the Bloodsoaked Keep
I found this a pretty hard pool to build. It could be deprivation of sleep, lack of experience with the format or the fact that wouldn’t want to overlook anything but I tried a lot of builds with this. The problem was that all of them turned out pretty bad since most of these cards are just plain bad. It might be interesting to show you what I did with this pool and lay out the line of thought I followed.
I started by removing the totally unplayables and sort everything by color and curve. This showed me two things immediately:
– This card pool is very bad
– The deck is probably going to be Green-based
I’m not sure which of those two realizations made me feel worse. Moving right along I looked at all the colors to decide whether they’re good enough to maindeck or if they can provide a nice splash. I quickly dismissed the Red for being both not deep enough and underpowered. Since there was no removal and all the cards were pretty cheap I wouldn’t be splashing it either. The other colors could all go maindeck with only the Black really unsplashable. I started out with trying B/G, since it usually has the best synergy of all the G/X decks. I think I got to 20 cards and then realized none of the Black cards with the exception of Befoul are any good. There is no soulshift synergy with Green either. I tried combining Green with Blue and Black but it still seemed very bad. G/U with a splash of Waxmane and Blademaster seemed one of the better builds, but was still rather unexciting, lacking a clear plan of action. The focus of a deck is very important since it makes you create better synergies. The G/U/w deck for example, tried to do many things. It looked something like this:
1CC: Child of Thorns, Orochi Leafcaller
2CC: Sakura-Tribe Elder, Floating-Dream Zubera
3CC: Gnarled Mass, Matsu-Tribe Decoy, Waxmane Baku, Kitsune Blademaster
4CC: Feral Deceiver, Shimmering Glasskite, Soratami Mindsweeper, Soratami Mirror-Guard, Soratami Mirror-Mage
6CC: Moss Kami, Orbweaver Kumo
Spells: Strength of Cedars, Unchecked Growth, Serpent Skin, Consuming Vortex, Reach through Mists, Phantom Wings, Phantom Wings
Blech. On the one hand this deck tries to win really fast with all the pump spells, Waxmane Baku and the bounce spells, but it also plays late game cards like Mindweeper, Orbweaver Kumo and the Decoy. This means you could easily get a weird curve, playing a Zubera on turn 2, then a 3/3 on turn 3 followed by a lousy 1/4 Flyer followed by missing your five-drop, meaning that you aren’t beating down at all even though you’re holding Strength of Cedars.
So I tried something else and went through all the cards again to see if some cards could create good synergies, for example, a Call to Glory deck, Splice deck or even a Genju of the Realm monstrosity! None of this turned out be possible so I tried a really fast R/G beatdown deck. I got to 15 playables and then stopped trying. These decks aren’t very good anyway if you have no removal.
The last option was focusing more on the White. I honestly had no clue how good Hokori and Reverse the Sands are but I figured that I could use some game-swingers in such a crappy deck. I also figured that I could use these cards to outplay my opponents in some way. I also seem to like Hundred-Talon Strike more than most because it’s very cheap. The downside of pumps like this is that you can get two-for-oned easily but the low casting cost allows you to play it on the early turns when both players tend to tap out to play guys gaining you a nice tempo swing in the process.
In order to create the most synergy I built the deck to have a great late game with Reverse the Sands and Mindweeper. The both need a lot of mana so the Mirror-Mage was an easy cut. This deck’s plan is just to stall, try to make some good trades and then win with either these cards or Strength of Cedars.
1CC: Child of Thorns, Orochi Leafcaller, Kitsune Diviner
2CC: Sakura-Tribe Elder
3CC: Gnarled Mass, Matsu-Tribe Decoy, Waxmane Baku, Kitsune Blademaster
4CC: Feral Deceiver, Shimmering Glasskite, Soratami Mindsweeper, Soratami Mirror-Guard, Hokori, Dust Drinker
6CC: Moss Kami, Orbweaver Kumo
Spells: Hundred-Talon Strike, Strength of Cedars, Unchecked Growth, Serpent Skin, Consuming Vortex, Reverse the Sands
The Hokori was probably a mistake since the deck’s late game plan requires a lot of mana. For this PTQ it seemed fine though, as I could use him to stall the game and then just chump with it or bounce it. I didn’t include the Phantom Wings to create more card advantage but felt afterwards that the decks could have used one. The Green Honden also fits the deck’s plan but seems a bit slow and I don’t want to run too many high-end spells.
After deckbuilding I talk to some people and all the better players seem to have bad decks. Since Betrayers Sealed pools seem to have gone down a lot in quality, which I think is a good thing. It enables people to play with more cards since expensive spells become now more viable (Pus Kami is a great example of this) and games last longer, meaning more decisions and less randomness.
Round 1- Remco
I mulligan into a heavy lander and don’t proceed to draw a lot of spells. RemcoÂ´s draw isnÂ´t very fast though, and my Mindweeper lets me stabilize. When I start milling him his B/W deck turns out to Green as well. When he draws into a Forest he starts unloading creatures and my Kitsune Diviner and Mindweeper are quickly heavily outnumbered. Things get worse when my Serpent Skin meets a Rend Flesh in response but a Strength of Cedars gets rid of his biggest attacker and I still only take 3 a turn. IÂ´m also holding Reverse the Sands and can swing the life totals to put him at 1 and me at 20. He attacks me down to 14 and I do the math when I draw a guy next turn. I turns out that with the 13 cards in his library I can play my guy and deck him on the turn after his next one. Guy makes sure I don’t die and he scoops it up next turn.
I board out the Hokori for the Silverstorm Samurai since I don’t expect a fast start from him and might be able to trick him with it. I doesn’t matter however as he stalls on land and my deck decides to go in beatdown mode with Gnarled Mass, Feral Deceiver and Soratami Mirror-Guard. When my Deceiver reveals a Strength of Cedars we both know it’s over.
Round 2 – Rogier Kleij
This game I draw a slow hand with 5 lands, Hokori and Kitsune Diviner. I have to think about it for a while since the Hokori is pretty bad in my deck, but decide to keep it anyway since I have all my colors and Hokori could very well buy me some time to get to the late game.
Rogier is U/W and plays a lot of small guys, hinting at a ninja theme. He also has a Tallowisp but stalls a bit on lands, missing his fifth land for a couple of turns. I draw into some guys but can’t attack for a whole lot since Rogier has a Split-Tail Miko. After dropping Orbweaver Kumo with Rogier still stuck on four lands I decide to run Hokori in there and ride my board advantage to the win. Rogier is still on 14 holding Mystic Restraints and Phantom Wings and gets a Mistblade Shinobi with the guy that can make him unblockable in play. This is a losing battle, as it ties up all his mana every turn while I get to untap a land every turn and eventually replay them. A timely Consuming Vortex to remove a blocker seals the deal.
The second game is all Rogier however. He draws a nice curve while I stumble on lands and can’t keep more in play than a Leafcaller. Because of the Mystic Restraints I block and then pump him in combat to deal with an attacker but he has a Vortex so I’m completely screwed and draw nothing of relevance for the rest of the game.
Time is running out for the decider while I mulligan and miss my third land drop. Rogier plays all kinds of crappy guys like Floodbringer and Lantern Kami and gets some damage in. When I draw into land I stabilize quickly with flyers and when time is called we try to race. I have an outside shot at topdecking Strength of Cedars, but when I don’t and Rogier doesn’t screw up we end up drawing.
Round 3 – Jasper de Jong
I know Jasper as a tedious player so I’m not surprised to see him in the draw bracket. Somehow I always see him with W/G decks and today is no different. I’m thinking about some comment on what a stupid color-combination that is but realize in time that I’m running that as well and decide not to make a fool out of my self for a change.
Jasper start is pretty bad but I compensate for that with playing like an eight-year-old. He only has three quick guys and they mostly end up trading or being outclassed. Had he had a trick somewhere, for example when we trade Blademasters, I would have been in trouble since my start was pretty slow and I’m missing land drops again. I do get Decoy with Serpent Skin online and settle for the card advantage game while holding Reverse the Sands. This should be a fine plan as Jasper didn’t have a decent 5 or 6-drop. On turn 7 he plays a Kami of the Honored Dead, putting me on a clock. I’m still missing my second Plains and play like a fool, fearing too many cards like a Wrath or silly combat tricks that wouldn’t matter that much anyway. Because of this I’m holding back too much, partly relying on Reverse the Sands, that when he plays a Genju of the Cedars I’m suddenly in trouble. I had tapped down his Feral Deceiver and Kami of the Hunt with the Decoy the previous turn so I could win with Moss Kami–Unchecked Growth now but the Genju provides him with just enough toughness that he’s able to kill me in the counter attack if he has another Forest. I end up killing the Genju and his Flyer when I attack with Moss Kami, with Jasper going up to 13 and soulshifting back a Fog Guy. This means I can’t kill him quickly and have to rely on Reverse the Sands, but before I draw a second Plains, Leafcaller or Sakura-Tribe Elder Jasper kills me with Terashi’s Cry. Frown.
For the second game Jasper sideboards another color while I just swap the Hokori for the Green Honden to get some better late game that fits the curve. His new deck turns out to be U/W and he gets a nice draw with some Flyers that proceed to beat down. My draw isn’t too shabby either and I get to beat down with Gnarled Mass and a Deceiver I think. The Mass never gets blocked and when I find a Flyer of my own to stabilize I can safely kill him with Strength of Cedars.
Again time is running out and again I mulligan into a two-lander that comes up empty on turn 3. Jasper shows no mercy and runs a perfect curve out there topped by Nagao on turn 4. I take some damage and have to go all in next turn when I block his Nagao with Blademaster, pumping it with Child of Thorns and Serpent Skin, without spare mana to regenerate. Jasper has the Blessed Breath, which he tells me is the only trick in his deck and that’s all she wrote.
Round 4 – Tim Bizot
Since this is a 7 round PTQ with 78 players I might be out of contention already. Jeroen Remie urges me to play though and tells me to tighten up and get my game together – you know – just like in one of those movie scenes we’ve all seen before. Even though we were missing out on dramatic music, our acting was probably better. We all know it couldn’t be done worse.
So after my deeply emotional moment of self-reflection, I start gaming again. Tim is the unlucky dude who has to battle me and my bulk of new-found confidence. I must applaud him on his demeanor, since he never showed he was intimidated. Odds are he never even noticed or anything, but then again, odds were never very good at drama. Anyway, Tim is playing Black, Red and a small amount of White spells. He runs a White Honden out there on turn 4 and I think about it for a while. Even though I have a pretty fast start with Diviner, Gnarled Mass and Blademaster, Tim’s playing guys and probably removal as well so there’s really no point in racing.
Additionally, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention, there are still the Reverse the Sands and Soratami Mindsweeper in the deck that really don’t care about this particular Honden. So I decide to stop attacking this game and just try to prevent as many damage as possible. I do draw a ridiculous amount of lands, but manage to hold him off for many turns. That is, until he draws Seizan. His life total is now in the thirties while I’m down to ten. On my next turn I lay an Orbweaver Kumo and pass it back to him. I’m down to 10 with a board of Diviner and Orbweaver Kumo versus his team of Seizan and about three other dudes. Seizan gets tapped and he sends three other dudes. I block one with the Kumo and bounce one of the guys to go down to seven. He thinks for a while and then points a Yamabushi’s Flame to my head, saying that I “can’t counter it while tapped out”. This puts me on 4, Seizan helps me down to 2, so I proceed to win on my turn with Reverse the Sands and an attack with the Kumo. Tim just sat there for a while, shaking his head in disbelief. I wish I had some punchline here about Tim quitting Magic and taking up checkers where you can at least see your losses coming, but I got nothing.
Game 2 Tim’s better deck serves him well as he curves out nicely and kills my men in process. I can’t remember exactly how he did it, which probably means he did it quickly. Thanks Tim.
For the decider my deck curves out insanely from turn 1 on while Tim stalls on 3 Plains after mulliganning. Even though I couldn’t come up with a better strike force than a team consisting of Kitsune Diviner, Orochi Leafcaller, Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kitsune Blademaster, I manage to win easily. It ain’t much, but as long as your opponent is stuck on Plains for the whole game, it gets the job done.
Round 5 – Rogier de Vrind
This Rogier turned out to be a nice guy, but kinda timid, you know, sorta shy. I don’t know if you can say that about a deck as well, but he had a nice deck with some creatures that didn’t come out easily and was shy on them as well. Yeah, I know, worst metaphor ever. Moving right along, I gambled on a slow hand game 1, which seems to pay off in this format since everyone was missing drops all day. I may have played a bit too much Marvel for PC: Amsterdam, it seemed like no one was hitting a proper curve (or was powering up, ever). My slow hand was met by Rogier’s even slower hand due to mana-flow, and although he had plenty removal and tricks for my smaller men, he couldn’t really deal with Moss Kami, which ended things in a hurry.
The second game was more or less the same except for the fact that he was now more screwed than flowed. He never got past 4 lands and I simply curved out and attacked.
Round 6 – Sven de Jong
The first game I’m holding Reverse the Sands and play accordingly. Mindweeper holds off his fast flyer start easily and starts milling him some. When I realize he could Greed me out if he has one more spirit, I burn down to 1 and Reverse on him, then use the additional time to mill him. It was never really close.
The second game his B/W deck doesn’t do a whole lot either. His start is slower than last game and I can counter his attempt to kill my Mindweeper with a Vortex. It does get killed with another removal spell, but this time I have more than enough creatures to hold him off and manage to burn down to 2, Reverse and kill him two turns turns later with the ability of Soratami Mirror-Guard.
Round 7 – Roy Huts
Roy is a good friend of mine so it sorta sucks that we’re playing. Since Wessel is playing to eliminate another Top 8 contender, the winner of our match is almost certain to be in. I sat next to Roy during deckbuilding so I know he has some pretty good cards but an awful mana base, just like me. After exchanging the usual pleasantries (“I hope you’re screwed”), we proceed to game.
Roy has the odd initiative but is a little light on lands. He does have a Nezumi Graverobber and Thief of Hope, but my Blademaster holds them off. We both proceed to clog up board with guys but don’t attack much. Roy because he really can’t, while I’m holding Reverse the Sands and therefore choose to hold back. I hit my ninth land when Roy only has five and when he passes with three mana open I figure that I want to Reverse anyway and might as well do it now so I have the most turns to sneak the last points in. Because of the lack of sleep and my general inability to not mess up I mess up and burn down to one, figuring that I want Roy there and not at two so he can’t gain a point with Thief when I attack him with an unblockable 2-power guy. Off course I forget about the other part of Thief’s ability, the lose life part and rightfully so Roy kills me with Reach through Mists. I realize my error immediately, but Frank Karsten insists that it was just another cunning Thief of Hope bluff I fell victim to.
With my morale way up from the events described above I start the second game, where I face another turn 2 Graverobber from Roy. My Reverse the Sands is nowhere to be seen for a change, so I try to beat him down – a flawed strategy with my deck versus his deck with a soon-to-be-active Nighteyes in play. Roy messes up by returning a guy while spending mana to ninja a ninja into play and loses too much tempo. My deck decides to capitalize on it by presenting me with a perfect curve and even though I’m trying to screw it up (gotta love it when you see an untapped land at the end of your turn where you didn’t play a land and where you held your 2/2 back with a Mirror-Guard in play), I take this game.
The third game gives Roy the deserved victory when he plays turn 3 Kabuto Moth. The ninja with Shuriken just means it’s over faster as Roy can easily play around Reverse the Sands and kill me with superior creatures.
So I finish a well-deserved 4-2-1, Roy loses the quarterfinals and Wessel crushed a dream in order to not help a friend, all because of my screw-ups. And I wonder why I’m falling off the train… Maybe it’s because I can’t find the time, money or motivation to play as much as I used to, but it also seems to be the fact that I care less. I like going to big tournaments a lot, but more for the sake of seeing friends, the odd cash prize and the opportunity to visit places. Preparation is not really part of that picture, even though it seems like a bad strategy. While I might get away with that in Limited, since, if I hadn’t screwed up the first game versus Roy I would’ve been in the Top 8 for sure, in Constructed I’ve always done well because I’m preparing well. So for PT: Philly I remembered this just in time to fit as much testing in my school and work schedule as possible, even though I’m still looking forward to the good times first and foremost!
BONUS SECTION (since you’re paying to read this):
In preparation for Pro Tour: Atlanta, I stayed with the TOGIT guys for a week. The week was a blast, since we got to stay at many different places, including Gerard’s. Jelger and I thought it would be funny to join Gerard for a class and enjoy a nice American learning experience, you know, to make something of our lives. (Sam Gomersall also came along but bailed out for MODO at the last minute – he’s a lost cause).
The class we went to was an Accounting class, and we presented ourselves as exchange students to the professor. As all of you know what kind of an intelligent person Gerard Fabiano is, we hoped he could explain to us whatever we didn’t get, since you know, this was already the sixth week of class. We got to do three different group-assignments while there, all increasing in difficulty. The first one sounded pretty vague to me, but Jelger got it after while and pulled us through. The second one saw Jelger on top again, while I also got the hang of it and the professor was pretty proud of our group with Gerard as our captain. The last assignment was about a shipping company that wanted a policy matrix about shipping by truck, train, airplane or boat. Gerard told us that he had this one and started scribbling down some calculations. When he was done he showed us with a big smile on his face his matrix: he’d drawn a picture of a truck, a train, an airplane and a boat. (Jelger then solved this one as well.)