The Main Phase – Almost: A Regionals Story

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Tuesday, June 10th – Like so many of you, I participated in a Regional Championship this past weekend. My personal story takes place in Columbus, Ohio this past Saturday morning…

Like so many of you, I participated in a Regional Championship this past weekend. My personal story takes place in Columbus, Ohio this past Saturday morning.

Here’s what I entered battle with:

Named ‘9th Place Elves’ because the list is essentially Adam Yurchick’s list from Hollywood (where he placed on the bubble in 9th). I only changed the list slightly, adding a Chameleon Colossus and a Mutavault for a Boreal Druid and a Swamp. The sideboard isn’t changed much either, other than the play set of Bitterblossoms I placed in there for control match-ups.

I arrived early, around 8:30 in the a.m., because I like to sit quietly and meditate when I get to a tournament. And by sit quietly, what I really mean is to hang out with friends for an hour or so before I get down to the business of winning. I leant some cards to some folks, joked with fellow players, and talked Magic until the judge announced that the seatings for the player meeting were going up. Pretty soon, first round pairings were posted and I put my game face on.

In the Wizards Play Network System, the players are represented by two separate yet equal groups: me, and the opponents who challenge… me. These are their stories.

Boom boom!

Round 1: John with Red Deck Wins (Table 60)

John was a nice guy who had a neat little spin on the old Red stand-by, using many cards that I felt were drastically underplayed in the current metagame. Specifically, I think that Blood Knight sees much less play than it should, able to block Doran, Sygg, or Troll Ascetic all day and live to tell the tale, all while being Oblivion Ring, Sunlance, and Condemn-proof. We started off with some pleasantries about the sudden diversity of the Standard metagame, considering that a scant three weeks earlier it looked like Faeries were the new Affinity, and then got to work.

We moved on to a die roll, which I lost. Good times. John’s first two turns were rather slow with a pair of Keldon Megaliths. On his third and fourth turns he played Boggart Ram-Gangs, making up for earlier lost time. It was futile, however, as I had Nameless Inversions ready for both of them. A 4/5 Tarmogoyf equipped with a Loxodon Warhammer got the job done for me.

Sideboard: + 3 Kitchen Finks, +2 Primal Command, -4 Thoughtseize, -1 Civic Wayfinder

I had a good match-up against Red Deck Wins. They have a lot of trouble with Colossus and Goyf because they are just bigger than anything in the Red deck. Furthermore, I was running Warhammer for main deck life gain, and Troll Ascetic, which they can’t touch with their burn suite. After board, more life gain makes this match even better (though he was playing Everlasting Torment, so maybe not).

Game 2 I drew only four spells in about six turns, whereas John was blessed with Tattermunge Maniac into Keldon Marauders into another Marauders into Manabarbs (another underused all-star), and that was all she wrote.

Game 3 saw John with another really quick draw that once more included a first turn Maniac and a second turn Marauders. However, a second turn Inversion on Nom Nom and third turn 3/4 Goyf stopped those shenanigans pretty quickly, forcing John to 2-for-1 himself. M C Hammer combo (a.k.a. Troll Ascetic plus Warhammer) eventually put the game out of reach.

1-0 matches, 2-1 games

Round 2: James with GW Elves (Table 26)

Just as I sat down across from James, he gets whisked away from the table by a judge due to (what I overheard) as a “deck list issue.” Ten minutes later, he and the judge returned and informed me that he had been given a game loss due to “inconsistencies” with his deck. Turns out, he had registered a 59 card deck… forgetting a single Mutavault.

This brings me to something that I’m sure you have all heard before, but it bears repeating every time it can be: make sure you correctly register your deck! Personally, I write out my deck list and check it several times the night before every tournament I enter. Then, once at the site, I check it several times again. There is no need for this to happen to anyone. As much as I like free wins, I always feel bad when this happens. James was a really nice guy and a good player who made a mistake that cost him the game. Don’t let this happen to you.

Since there was no die roll due to the game loss, James took the play. I thought I was in trouble when I saw Brushland, since both G/W Elves and Doran are bad match-ups for the B/G Elves. Their creatures are typically bigger (Doran, Wilt Leaf Liege, etc.) and they have access to Oblivion Ring. Fortunately for me, I had The Fix this game: Llanowar Elf turn 1 into Troll Ascetic turn 2 into Warhammer and Thoughtseize on turn 3. On the fourth turn, I equipped the Hammer with regeneration backup and went to town. A 6-to-12-point life swing every turn for the rest of the game is tough to overcome, and I won fairly easily.

2-0, 4-1

That’s right, after round 2 I was 4-1 with three wins coming thanks to Warhammer and the fourth thanks to an illegal deck. And to think I almost cut them. Nice.

I haven’t thought much about what I would do for this sideboard, but I suppose I would do something like bring in Kitchen Finks to stay even in the Finks battle, but I didn’t really plan for it so I don’t know. Good thing I didn’t lose.

Round 3: Jacob with UW Control (Table 10)

I could have sworn I had played Jacob before, but it turns out he has a brother that looks exactly like him. We had some good-natured chat before we got underway with the die roll, which I won. The first game was a quick affair since he was mana flooded. I proceeded to bash face with Green animals for the win (no Hammer this time).

Sideboard: +4 Bitterblossom, +3 Mind Shatter, -4 Nameless Inversion, -2 Warhammer, -1 Civic Wayfinder

I brought in Bitterblossom because they wreck control. This was my main deviation from Adam’s list, because I liked the proactive advantage they gave me over Lark and other controllish decks rather than the reactive answers like Extirpate.

Game 2 I got somewhat mana screwed, having to search out a Swamp with Civic Wayfinder to get to four mana… which was the extent of the mana that I saw for the duration of the game. I died with a single Black mana in play and a hand consisting of a pair of Profane Commands and a Mind Shatter. Frown town.

Sideboard: +4 Bitterblossom, -2 Loxodon Warhammer, -2 Profane Command

I put the Mind Shatters back in the board because they were worse than I thought against his deck. He had more of a ‘Tap Out Blue’ style deck, with things like Oona, Pact and Wrath of God.

Game 3 was rather epic. I got off to a good start with Bitterblossom on turn 2, allowing me to slowly flood the board with Tempest Shocks (which were my Faerie tokens). Unfortunately, a few turns later he played Cryptic Command to counter a Goyf and bounce the Blossom. After I stumbled around for a few turns to keep him off balance with Bitterblossom and Thoughtseize, he laid down the hammer: Crovax. This was a disaster for me, as the big White legend not only shuts down my Faerie production engine but also shrinks my entire army. I had to do something about that guy quick.

I knew my only chance to kill it was to somehow get it into his graveyard. The turn after Crovax entered play I decided to try and bluff my way into killing it. At this point, the round was getting late and a crowd began forming around us and decided that it was a good time to take my chance. With Jacob at a mere 5 life, I activated a Treetop Village (now a 2/2 thanks to Crovax) and attacked. He declared blocks with Crovax. After declaring blockers but before damage I targeted Crovax with Nameless Inversion, making it a 7/1. In his mind, he thought that he had only two options: Trade creatures and go to 4 or bounce the Crovax and go to a precarious 2 life. He decided to trade.

This got quite a response from my friends behind me. I turned to them and saw the disbelief on their faces. I grinned a bit, and then gave them the old finger-to-the-lips to make them stop making so much noise.

I wasn’t out of the woods yet, though. A few turns later Oona, Queen of the Fae came down, threatening to cancel out my Faerie factory once again. I got a little lucky here, when he activated Oona the first time and X=4 naming Green I revealed four Black cards. Mise! The next turn I attacked with a pair of Civic Wayfinders, to which he activated Oona with X=6 and I revealed four lands and only two green cards. Luckily for me, he chose to double block one of the Wayfinders and stand in front of the other one with Oona. He didn’t have a counterspell in hand and I Nameless Inverted it. Two turns later, tokens from Bitterblossom beat down his last four life and the round was (finally) over.

3-0, 6-2

I got pretty lucky a few times here, but even then I had to do some work to get the win. My friends watching told me that they thought once the Crovax hit the board that I had no chance to win. Then they said it again when Oona hit the board. Luckily, they were wrong.

Round 4: Stephen with Merfolk (Table 2)

Ah, now we’re at the big boy tables.

Steve was a nice guy (as were all of my opponents) and we participated in some chitchat before we got down to business.

Of course, I lost the die roll. Of course, it didn’t matter as I resolved both Troll and Warhammer and went to town. I can’t think of a great answer to M C Hammer in Merfolk other than bouncing the troublesome equipment with Command and then hoping to counter it again on the way back down. I ended the game at 37 life and we shuffled up for game 2.

Playing with Loxodon Warhammer at this tournament is like cheating. I didn’t see any global effects other than Wrath of God in round 3 against Jacob. Without any troublesome Firespout, Sulfurous Blast, Pyroclasm or whatever to have to worry about, this was a great tournament for this deck. I don’t think I’m going to play a deck without Warhammer in a Standard tournament ever again.

+3 Kitchen Finks, -2 Profane Command, -1 Civic Wayfinder

Game 2, I mulliganed my opener on the draw. He kept a pretty decent aggro opener and had plenty of counterspell backup. Over the course of the game I saw double Cryptic Command, triple Sage’s Dousing, and double Cursecatcher. Not much I could do there.

Game 3 we both kept 2-landers and neither of us drew any more. Fortunately for me, my 2-lander included a Thoughtseize that snagged a Banneret, leaving him no plays for the rest of the game. I dropped a Vanquisher and a Goyf and he scooped ‘em up.

4-0, 8-3

Stephen made the Top 8 and I believe he won his match, meaning he’s Q’d for Nationals. He also recently Facebook friended me. Congrats Steve!

Round 5: Robert with 420.5n (Table 4)

Before our match, Rob told me that he hadn’t played in a big tournament in years and that he was surprised he was doing so well. I thought that this might have been a sign that I was going to win easily, but I was sorely mistaken.

Game 1, I keep a decent 2-land hand with a mana Elf but I failed to draw any more mana and got beaten to death with a Tarmogoyf, a Kitchen Finks, and a Murderous Redcap.

Sideboard: None

I did not have anything good for this deck. I pondered sideboarding in the Shatters, but he could just as easily beat me with the combo before they would be relevant so I decided to keep what I had going for me.

Game 2 was like so many before it: Troll plus Warhammer and beats. I made a strange choice in one of the final turns of the game. With a Gargadon that had five counters on it, I decided to all out attack with my six creatures. He had to assign blocks to five of the six in order to survive, meaning he had to sacrifice all of his lands to survive. After the dust cleared, I had dealt only one damage from a Llanowar Elf to put him to 2. He had only one remaining permanent in play, a Greater Gargadon, whereas I had an Elf and a Warhammer along with a full complement of lands, including a Mutavault. After playing a Treetop Village after combat, he drew for the turn and, seeing the inevitable, scooped up his cards.

Game 3 was interesting. We battled back and forth, trading creatures and beats. I Thoughtseized the turn 5 win out of his hand, grappling a Juniper Order Ranger the turn before it would have gone infinite. In the penultimate turn, I am at 16 and I have a Chameleon Colossus equipped with a pair (yes, a pair) of Warhammers. Rob attacks with a Gargadon, a 4/5 Tarmogoyf and a Murderous Redcap. I counted the damage that was attacking me: 15. I am at 16. I recounted. 15 damage, 16 life. I thought for a moment and said, “no blocks.” Unfortunately for me, I forgot about the Momentary Blink in his graveyard and with me at only 1 life I couldn’t Namelessly Invert the Assassin in response and live to tell the tale. Not only that, but I failed to recognize that Colossus had pro-black, meaning I could have safely blocked it anyway.

Too bad. Misclick for the loss.

4-1, 9-5

At this point, I can still win my next two rounds and the draw into the top 8.

Round 6: Mitchell Presar with RDW (Table 14)

I won the die roll and, after seeing that he was playing the Red deck, knew I could get things done quickly if I do it right. I played Nameless Inversion on his Nom Nom turn 2 and a 3/4 Goyf on turns 3 and 4. They grew to 4/5s and in addition to my Vanquisher and Wayfinder that were added to the board on the following turns it was all too much for him to deal with.

Sideboard: +3 Kitchen Finks, +2 Primal Command, -4 Thoughtseize, -1 Civic Wayfinder

I mentioned during the next game that I took out all the cards that, quote, “lost me life.” Of course he knew exactly what I was talking about and mentioned that Thoughtseize isn’t that bad against him. I agreed, but added that, “just the same, I prefer not to take life loss against the Red deck.”

Game 2 was equally not close. The turn 2 Nameless, turn 3 Goyf plan was in effect again here, and then more green beats get the job done. We were over with 25 minutes left in the round.

5-1, 11-5

With so much time, I decided to go see how some of the people who were not in the tournament were doing. Some had dropped already thanks to bad records and some hadn’t even entered. Tom LaPille was in attendance with his Cube and was battling with a few other familiar faces.

As awesome as it is that Tom got a job with Wizards, I’m going to miss him. He has taught me a lot about the game just by being around him, and he’s a blast to hang out with. Good luck Tom. See you in Berlin!

Round 7: Bill with Kithkin (Table 5)

Bill was a nice guy who was from Dayton and knew my friend Wheeler. The niceties were short lived however, as he proceeded to get the god draw game 1 and bash my brains in.

Game 2 he… got the god draw and bashed my brains in. We finished with about 30 minutes on the clock. Awesome.

5-2, 11-7

It’s nice to get this far, work as hard as I had, only to get beaten by sheer luck. It’s not Bill’s fault and I’m not blaming him for it, but it’d be nice to have a game based at least a little on playskill this late in a tournament.

Bill made the Top 8, and I believe the Top 4 as well, meaning he Q’d for Nationals and all congratulations go to him. My buddy Wheeler also made Top 8, but lost in the quarter-finals and missed out on the invite.

I went back to hang out with Tom and company and see who was still in. I also took this opportunity to eat. I had packed myself a pretty decent lunch comprising of an Asian pear, two bagels, and some egg salad, with a Diet Coke to drink. This was all part of my master plan. It was my thought that, while I may not be as good as some of the players in attendance, I likely was going to be more prepared by the time the Top 8 rolled around for a few reasons. First, I had a delicious egg salad bagel sandwich that provided me with some much-needed energy. Second, I had a full night’s sleep the night before while many of my potential competitors hadn’t.

This is another much needed hint: take care of yourself while at (and before) tournaments! Things you can do include bringing food and drink (because you’ll be there for upwards of 12 hours and nobody wants to buy a $5 hot dog from the vendors) and getting a good night’s sleep the night before like I did, but the hints don’t necessarily have to end there. As an example of something else you can do, if there is a viable aggro deck I tend to choose it over a control deck for big tournaments like this one because it gives me the possibility of having time in between rounds. Shorter rounds mean less time doing work and more time to rest your brain.

Technically, there was still a way for me to make Top 8 even after this loss. If I had gotten paired up against a 5-1-1 and won, and then one of the top tables chose not to draw then I might have gotten in. But it didn’t happen. Such is life.

Round 8: Josh with Doran (Table 9)

Josh is a guy after my own heart. While the rest of the top table competitors quiet and serious, Josh and I were loud, obnoxious and joking. We had a great time throughout the match and, with all apologies to my other opponents, was my favorite opponent of the tournament by far.

I lost the die roll, but it didn’t matter as Josh got mana screwed. He did Mana Tithe my second turn Warhammer, which was a real bummer.

Sideboard: +2 Primal Command, -2 Loxodon Warhammer

Game 2 he played a turn 2 Doran and protected it long enough to get there in about five turns.

After game 3, I offered him a draw. We talked it over, noting that a draw would guarantee that we would both Top 32 but likely eliminate us both from Top 16. He decided to decline, which I completely understand. He thanked me for the option.

Game 3, Josh played three or four pain lands of varying types as well as a Thoughtseize, dealing himself a total of 7 damage. This was all I needed, as I managed to kill him from there with Green animals.

Final Record: 6-2, 13-8

12th place

I had 18 points. I needed 19 to get into the top 8. So very close.

In conclusion, while I didn’t Top 8 (and I was very disappointed that I didn’t) I now consider this a successful tournament. Right after my second loss I had chocked this up as a failure and I was very disappointed in myself. I felt like falling short here with my deck, my playskill, and my record was unacceptable. However, I looked back at my eight game losses. They were due to: god draw, mana screw, mana screw, a ton of counterspells, mana screw, a misplay, and a pair of god draws in round 7. Seven of these eight I couldn’t do anything about (other than possible mulligans), and had I not made the one bad mistake of the day I still would have made Top 8. I myself only had the god draw of Elf into Troll into Colossus or Warhammer twice all day. It only took one more decent mana draw or one more lucky turn of events to go my way and that one mistake against Robert would have washed itself away.

Looking at a near miss like this as a failure is not the right way to look at it. A result like this means I’m close. This, along with the Top 16s from the last few Extended PTQs, Block PTQs and Worlds side events means that I’m almost there. For those of you in the same boat, who are regularly getting good results at things like PTQs and Regionals, this kind of result isn’t a failure. This result is a good thing. This means I’m almost there.

Thanks for reading. See you when I get there.