Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
Oh what a heady thing it is to win.
Continuing the dominance of Neutral Ground competitors at PTQs, I followed in Bryn Kenney’s footsteps and won the local PTQ in New Jersey this past weekend. I did it not with Aluren, or a deck with the little Red men I brought with me to the season’s Grand Prix, but rather with a deck I spoke about last week, Psychatog. You know, that deck I told everyone they should be playing? Well, you all should be with one minor adjustment to the conventional wisdom: put those Engineered Plagues in your main deck.
Here’s the list for reference, built with the power of my metagame knowledge and Scott McCord’s mastery of all that is the color pie’s most spoiled slice, Blue.
I can’t say that we broke the format knowingly, but if you’re in a Northeast PTQ and think the dominant deck will be Goblins (and it has been since the GP) then this is the deck you want to be playing.
The interaction between three copies of a card and Intuition should be patently obvious to most of us playing Extended lately. If you have three copies of a card in your library and an Intuition in hand, you have that card in your hand at Instant speed. What kept happening at the PTQ though is something that the three of us (Scott McCord, Tim McKenna and I) didn’t quite plan on. I would draw the first Engineered Plague relatively early in the game (after all, with four of them in the deck, this wasn’t exactly unexpected) and then I would find myself casting an Intuition for the second Plague on the following turn, untapping, and effectively winning the game against Goblins. This happened so often that by the Top 4 game where I did exactly this on turns 3-5 against Goblins the table judge remarked that he had been seeing me “Combo” out Goblins like this all day.
Round by round the day went something like this (my apologies to my opponent’s whose names I’ve forgotten, I wasn’t taking notes as I find them bad luck):
Round 1 – Goblins
Game 1 I had a fairly solid hand and drew into a Plague in short order. He lost the die roll and got his Aether Vial Spiked – this wasn’t much of a game.
Game 2 was worse as I had a bunch of Ghastly Demises and 1 Plague until I finally found a Tog.
Round 2 – Goblins
Game 1 I drew the absolute nuts (against Goblins anyway) of 3 land, AK, Counter, 2 Plague. Luckily he went sac land, Prospector, go. He scooped on turn 4.
Game 2 he was on the play. He went Mountain, Chrome Mox, Goblin Piledriver go. I went Island go. He went land, Piledriver, Prospector, swing for 1. I went land go. He went land, Warchief (Counter), swing for 11. I untapped, played a third land, a Plague to kill his Prospector, and died on the next turn holding a second Plague. This would be the first and only game I would lose to Goblins that day.
Game 3 was really tight. I was on the play and was able to play a Turn 3 Plague but he was able to sneak in a Pyrostatic Pillar. Over the next few turns we would trade Plagues (I drew all four in this game), Naturalizes and Counters. Finally I was able to draw a Fact or Fiction and found a Tog while I was on 5.
Round 3 – Sneaky Go
You’d think this would be a good matchup for Tog, but instead of drawing really well like I had been, I just refused to draw a Counterspell.
Game 1 he won the die roll 19-18 (I rolled first), a portent of the type of luck that would pervade this match. On the play he was able to easily kill me on turn 3.
Game 2 I was able to destroy him with Force Spike.
Game 3 I had double Force Spike and Intuition but as I was on the draw, he just played Crystal Vein, Mox, Desperate Ritual, Sneak Attack. Next turn he Gambled and with three cards in hand I picked a Sundering Titan, figuring I was dead as obviously he should have just tutored up Serra Avatar. Luckily he said go. He untapped and played another Gamble, and this time I picked the opposite card I had picked previously (he laid them out in a row) and was shocked and relieved to see a graveyard of Desperate Ritual, Sundering Titan and Serra Avatar staring back at me. I was able to win a few turns later with a Tog and some card drawing. My opponent was understandably angry but was a great sport about it, and I appreciated his understanding that sometimes Magic is about finding that perfect card.
(Aside on picking the right card)
Flores, Sadin, Zev Gurwitz (who has an intuition for playing Magic that I would die for), myself and Zev’s very unfortunate girlfriend were driving home from Grand Prix: Boston and we got into a conversation about picking the right card with Cursed Scroll. Basically Flores’ argument was that if you picked the same card slot every time in a random row of three, then you were more likely to pick the card you named if each card was different. In other words, holding a hand of Wasteland, Shock, and Blistering Firecat laid out in a row (A, B, C) after being randomly shuffled, you should always name C.
Sadin and I tried for about 30 minutes to show Mike that mathematically this doesn’t actually make sense. You see, each time you choose a random card of 3, you have a 33.3% chance of choosing the card you want. It’s not affected by anything else, if it’s randomly shuffled, you will have a 1 in 3 chance of choosing the right card. Mike was making the argument that if you chose the same position each time (position C for instance) then you were in effect “removing” a variable from the equation as the choice of which card (A, B, or C) you were picking (vs. the card you were naming ((Wasteland, Firecat and Shock))) was no longer “random”. Of course, this makes no sense. Each decision is totally independent of the other. So for instance if you choose C every time, there is still a 33.3% chance that C is the Wasteland.
Anyway I heard the voice of MichaelJ speak to me as I was picking the second Gamble. There was a row of 3 cards, laid out across from me as A, B, and C. Last time I had picked C and been right. Obviously I should pick C again according to MJMoaHS, but instead I picked A with a defiant “That doesn’t even make sense Mike!” echoing in my head. When the Serra Avatar hit the bin I could almost hear MichaelJ grumble in my head. (MichaelJ and I, if you can’t tell from our articles, love to argue, but it’s all in good fun. Mike knows I actually wish I had even a tenth of his ability to weave the written word into a great article).
Round 4 – Trinity Green
Trinity Green is probably a good matchup for me. The round before I had discussed my chances with Scott “Champ” Werle, fellow NY State Champ who had piloted Trinity Green to a Top 8 at the recent Neutral Ground PTQ, and he told me to just draw Plagues and name Elf and Squirrel.
Game 1 went according to plan as he had a turn 3 Poacher and I calmly killed his whole board, took 4, and killed his tokens. Lesson learned from this game – when he has a Poacher and an untapped Cradle, don’t counter the Poacher. He tried to play a Chalice for three immediately after the Poacher, and if I hadn’t saved my Counterspell, that would’ve probably been game.
Game 2 was a bit of a mess, at least from my perspective. He had another good start and I only drew Force Spike instead of Counterspell. Suddenly his board was Masticore and Chalice on two and I was looking at a hand of unplayable cards, an Intuition and a Cunning Wish. I didn’t draw a land on the next turn and was left with five land in play and forced to say go. On the next turn he attacked me to 16, and said go. End of turn I Intuitioned for AKs, playing the game for a Tog and Rebuild off the Wish. I drew a Tog and played it into his Masticore and said go. He attacked again and spent his turn shocking my Tog for 3. I was left with a hand of AK (for 3 if I could ever cast it), Wish, and a few other cards. I wished EOT for Rebuild.
After attacking again with Tog, I cast Rebuild leaving up two Blue with a Counter and AK in hand. He ripped a Rishadan Port and I just assumed I was dead. After all, with his Cradle in play he had six mana, just enough to Port me pre-combat, pass priority (enter combat) and then in his second main phase, cast the Chalice on 2, and then next turn cast an uncounterable ‘Core. Instead he was unaware of this trick, and I was able to counter his Masticore, and with the help of AK and Fact or Fiction, win in a turn or two.
Even if my opponent for this round was a little loose in his technical play, I applaud him for doing so well with a deck that he’d never played with and had just picked up for the PTQ.
Round 5 – Goblins
I don’t remember much of this match. I know I kept a one-land hand in Game 2 after winning Game 1 because it contained 2 Plagues, 3 AKs, a Swamp and something else good. I figured if I drew one of my 21 Blue sources in three turns I would win pretty handily. I won pretty handily.
Round 6 – Cephalife
Cephalid Life is one of the matchups I didn’t want to face that day. It’s blisteringly fast, has disruption, and has the tools to win a short game as well as a long game, plus a combo that I can’t beat very easily (Infinite Life). Luckily I won the die roll, which is huge for this matchup (as it is for so many when you’re playing with 4 Force Spike).
Game 1 Scott McCord once again came to my rescue. He had assured me that Engineered Plague would be really good in this matchup, but I was a little skeptical. It seemed too slow in a deck that is killing you with a 23/23 trampler on turn 3. So much for my metagame knowledge – Game 1 he Living Wishes for Nomad En-Kor on turn 2 and I untap and lay a Plague on Soldier. He dies many turns later after I counter a few Shukos.
Game 2 I was forced to mulligan and he was able to setup a situation where if he had the Exhume I would lose. He had it and was able to combo me out. At this point there were only about three minutes left before the end of the round, and he asked me to shuffle quickly while remarking he couldn’t shuffle fast as his deck was a combo deck and “needed” to be pile-shuffled. After pile shuffling I called a judge to confirm that there were 30 seconds left, and used my full three minutes to shuffle before presenting my deck as time was called. Of course you can’t start a match with no time left on the regular clock (my opponent wasn’t aware of this) and we ended up with an unintentional draw.
(Aside on Shuffling and the Tick Tick Tock of the Clock)
First and foremost, you get three minutes to shuffle, and one minute to shuffle after a mulligan. Yes, the rules tell you just how much time you have for this stuff, just for the above situations.
That said, if my opponent had presented me a deck with two and a half minutes left in regulation, I think I would’ve presented as well. Why? Because I’d feel like an utter bag staring at him while shuffling for two minutes, and second because at the time I had forgotten that it was three minutes to shuffle, and thought it was only two.
Make sure you remember little things like this. You might think that the difference between a loss and a draw is very minor, but it’s actually huge. The way my PTQ played out if I had lost, I would’ve been removed from contention a round later due to getting my second loss.
(End Aside, and begin the forum flaming)
Round 7 – Red Deck Wins piloted by Patrick Sullivan
Pat and I know each other fairly well, I know he’s a master of RDW and even though I had won against RDW in testing, I assumed this matchup would be really tough. Unfortunately I lost the die roll, which was really bad for me against RDW. This game came down to the die roll – if I had won, I think I would’ve won, but as he did, I got rolled (no pun intended, well, not really anyway).
Game 2 I got to go first and died to 2 Tangle Wire. I had had the Tog in play, so assumed I would have a good shot, but instead I was destroyed once the second Wire resolved.
I was pretty bummed out when I lost this match, and I think Pat thought I was pretty frustrated with him when in fact I just found it so frustrating to lose to dubs Tangle Wire when my hand was full of gas and I had a Tog in play. Pat is a much better player than I am, and I was happy to lose to him to ensure his Top 8 berth.
Round 8 (Do or die time) – Goblins
I recognized this guy as a Goblins player once he sat down across from me that had gone 5-0 and then drew and lost to be sitting across me. One of us would be the lucky SOB who went 5-0 and then didn’t make Top 8 because in a 205 person PTQ, there need to be 8 rounds.
Game 2 was a mess. He was on the play and laid out two successive Aether Vials but had little pressure. I had Ghastly Demise for his first Piledriver but I assumed that once the Vials hit 3 and 4, that would be all she wrote. Instead he doesn’t draw much of anything and we sit playing draw go, except my Counterspells don’t really do much since he’s sitting on Vials.
This game ended up being very tight. First of all, I ended the game at one life. At one point I had out two Plagues, but eventually one was Naturalized away, which I couldn’t afford to Counter as it was my last counter. He had been holding one card for a while, and I assumed correctly that it was a finisher, as he tried to go for Blood Oath immediately after Naturalize resolved. I finally drew a Tog while at two on an empty board, but would die to a Warchief as he had out a Ringleader. I drew five consecutive land but after a point he was forced to block with his new found team of Flunkies and Ringleader when it seemed that there was no way I had flooded that badly and he was within Tog range. I was able to kill him a few turns later after I finally drew an Intuition. It was one of the closest matches of the day, that is, until the Top 8.
So I make 8th on breakers and find out the Top 8 is five Goblin decks, Patrick Sullivan playing RDW, a Sneaky-Go deck and me playing Tog. I assume if I’m paired with Goblins in the Top 8 and Top 4, that I have a great chance to win. Unfortunately I learn that Pat and I are in the same bracket for the Top 4, so if he wins then I’m a severe underdog for making the finals.
Top 8 – Goblins piloted by Charles Glass
Charles was an X-0 throughout the Swiss and played very tightly throughout the match, but he was very down on his chances knowing that I played 4 Plague. Game 1 was very interesting nonetheless. I was “forced” to keep a normal Tog draw of a few counters, card drawing and land. I’m fairly certain he forgot to draw his Aether Vials because my counters were able to buy me just enough time to get the second Plague down before I died. The problem was when I finally drew a Tog, he drew a Rishadan Port and was able to keep me off Black as I was at one and had one Swamp in play and a bunch of sac lands and Underground Rivers. I ended the game with four cards left in my library as my card drawing spells just flat out refused to find a Swamp until the bitter end.
Game 2 was a massacre as I had two Plagues early. Even though he lost, he was a great sport and it was my pleasure to play such an affable opponent in the Top 8.
Top 4 – Goblins piloted by Mark Ioli
Mark and I go way back as we used to play together at Monkey Head Games on Long Island. There was a time when Mark would consistently destroy me at Friday Night Magic with different types of Control decks as I struggled with Nether-Go in Type Two. This was years ago but I marveled a little bit as I sat across from him, remembering just how bad I was back then, and how throughout that PTQ I had made plays and decisions that I could only wish to understand back then. It was a good feeling to know that I had become the player I always hoped to be.
Game 1 was very close. There was a turn where if he had had a Goblin I would’ve lost, but he didn’t and his all-out swing only brought me to two. He underestimated how big my Tog could go and I untapped and killed him from 18 with exact damage after FoFing. Fact or Fiction remains just as redonkulous as ever.
Game 2 was a bit of a letdown, as I was able to “Combo” Mark out on turn 5 with a Plague, Intuition for Plague, Plague. His deck didn’t have any outs after my Tog ate his Goblin Goon and kept on grinning his way to victory.
The finals were almost played out as my opponent was enjoying not losing a match at his first PTQ, but eventually he relented and we were able to come to the amicable split of me getting the Slot and him getting everything else.
Two things regarding this split. First and foremost I agree wholeheartedly with YMG organizers that the first place person doesn’t deserve any product. The money and the slot are more than enough of a prize for the Winner and the product should be split amongst the rest of the Top 8 instead. As for the money, I just really wanted to go to the PT, and I think I would’ve had to jump off a cliff if I had to mulligan to five in Game 3 of the Finals and settle for a box or two of Betrayers instead of a PT slot.
So that’s it. I’m back on the PT and get to scrub out without my team around to carry me any longer.
See you in Philly!
-Michael L. Clair
The Magic Jerk