The Perfect PTQ System

Mark Nestico can’t stay off the Pro Tour these days! See the new Standard deck he’s addicted to, as well as his pointers on BFZ Limited and Grand Prix Atlanta!

Well I’m just going to shut the hell up about PPTQs from now on.

They’re great.

System is great.

I’m an idiot.


I was all prepared to write a bit about Battle for Zendikar Sealed. With Grand Prix Atlanta only a few short days away, the bulk of my attention
has been squarely on preparing for it. Plenty of live drafts and Magic Online Sealed events filled my time with trying to understand this rather
complicated format.

But then I did a thing.

So I want to talk about that thing now instead.

Near the end we can talk about BFZ Limited. I promise.

Anyhow, my favorite shop in the whole wide world, 2 Drop, was hosting a PPTQ for the RPTQ feeding into Madrid. Last week I battled in my second ever Modern
tournament and was able to convert that into an invite to Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, but that doesn’t qualify you for the next RPTQ, so this gave me a
chance to do just that.

My preparation was limited to a handful of games online, but I couldn’t find a deck that I clicked with. I knew G/W or Bant Megamorph were powerful
choices, and you can’t go wrong with Jeskai Black. Raymond Perez opened everyone’s eyes to how incredible Esper Tokens could be, and of course Eldrazi Ramp
decks were going to be popular. Abzan claiming the last GP title was sure to make it surge in popularity again. I love and hate wide open metagames because
planning is difficult, but prediction is rewarded.

I decided to look through the results of a few different Super IQs when I came upon a delightful little number by Charles Gindy, a friend of mine from
Florida better known as Pro Tour Hollywood’s champion.

Sometimes you stumble upon a deck that plays all the cards you like, and this Mardu Planeswalker deck certainly achieves that for me. I called my friend
about thirty minutes before the tournament began and asked him to build it for me using my cards (I had to run home for an emergency). Thankfully, he put
it together and filled out my registration sheet, and I arrived right as things were about to start. I was going in cold, but sometimes playing a deck for
the first time in a tournament has a strange effect on you. For me, it makes me focus about ten times harder and think of every play, possibility, and
amalgamation of things that could happen as a direct result of whatever I do.

I did make a few changes, but nothing groundbreaking. I thought Read the Bones would be significantly worse than Painful Truths even if the manabase was
somewhat shaky, so I added one to the maindeck and regulated a second to the sideboard, cutting a Mardu Charm in the process and putting that in the
sideboard. I didn’t want to alter too much given my inexperience, so I left almost everything else alone. Thankfully, the tournament was only around 30
people, so it would only be five rounds.

My first match was against one of our better local players named Nick, piloting Abzan. I was able to see the power of what I was wielding in game 1 when I
was able to overcome three Wingmate Rocs with little fuss. The match went to game 3, but I was able to win off the back of Ob Nixilis Reignited drawing me
a few cards and killing a couple creatures, putting me way ahead.

Afterwards I faced what I thought would be a horrific matchup in Atarka Red, and despite losing game 1, I was able to thoroughly dismantle it in games 2
and 3 with some great sideboarding options. The next round was a clean sweep of a Hardened Scales aggro deck followed by a double draw.

In the Top 8 I was able to beat my friend Jake piloting Esper Tokens. We both kept somewhat loose hands in game 3 contingent on drawing lands. We both
Duressed each other to see what we were in for, but I drew lands first, while Jake didn’t. It was one of those not-pretty wins. The next match was against
Eldrazi Ramp, another matchup I figured was pretty tough. Sure enough I was crushed game 1, but sideboarding allowed me to come into multiple disruption
spells. In particular, Kolaghan’s Command was a beating against him, allowing me to destroy a Hedron Archive and force him to discard a card.

The finals was against my buddy Joe, piloting G/W Eldrazi Ramp. I fought through two Ulamogs and an Ugin in game 1 and rode two Crackling Dooms and a bunch
of Thopter tokens to victory. In game 2, he mulliganed to five on the play and was able to soldier through a Transgress the Mind to cast an Ulamog that
triggered his Sanctum of Ugin. From there he began chaining the colossal Eldrazi, and I packed it up for game 3, completely convinced I was destined to
lose after his incredible five-card hand decimated me. I had an extremely potent seven-card hand with lands, disruption, and the Nalaar parents to apply a
ton of pressure early. I was able to shred Joe’s hand and force him into topdeck mode. He was unable to produce a threat, and I was victorious.

That means I’m two-for-two in closing the only PPTQs I have played in. The irony continues, is sharp, and never-ending.

For those interested, this is what Joe played, which was a pretty neat take on the archtype.

I would probably play Windswept Heath in this deck because it’s basically free, but I understand the logistics of basically being a Mono-Green Ramp deck
and the logic behind it. Look at that sideboard! Void Winnower! Shazam!

What I Learned About Mardu Planeswalkers

After spending more time battling the deck online and feeling it out a little more, there were a lot of things about this deck that I determined I would
change, and there are things I wouldn’t touch.

Embarrassingly enough, this PPTQ was my first time casting the Origins duo, and to say that it was impressive would be a ridiculous
understatement. Not only do they generate three bodies for four mana but the threat of flinging your creatures to quicken the clock can close out games.
Obviously they combine very well with Hangarback Walker and incentivize you to fire off your Gideon’s emblem for even more synergy.

Of all the threats in my deck, aside from Pia and Kiran, Sorin, like Greg Jennings, put the team on his back. Combined with Gideon and the Nalaars, the +1
was incredible and invaluable to wrapping up games. It single-handedly won me my match against Atarka Red and was the final nail in the coffin for my
finals win. Moving forward, this card should be a two-of rather than a silver bullet.

Sarkahn is one of my favorite planeswalkers of all time, so any chance to play a deck with him is one I’ll jump at. He’s excellent at killing Gideon, but
was slightly less powerful than I thought he would be. As a one-of I think he’s fine, and going forward would opt for the second Sorin instead, or….

I’m no stranger to playing Ob Nixilis recently, but he truly excels in this deck. With plenty of removal and ways to protect it, the returned planeswalker
is going to be a huge source of card advantage in this deck along with icing their best creatures. Ob Nixilis is a serious consideration going forward as a
card that I may want to up the count of if I did cut a Sarkhan.

The last card I’ll talk about is Mardu Charm, which out of all the charms has seen the second-least amount of play. Sorry, Temur Charm. You just suck.

Mardu Charm is the definition of a finesse card, and I used every mode multiple times throughout the night. I’m particularly fond of the “make two 1/1
Soldiers” portion of this charm, and probably utilized that the most. Combined with Soulfire Grand Master, it’s a huge life swing off of a removal spell,
and nabbing a powerful non-creature spell after they draw their card for turn is butter.

A quick word on the idea of Mardu Charm. A few players spectating asked me why I made 1/1s instead of using the charm for removal down the road or
to tangle with their hand. I think players overcomplicate a lot of cards and are essentially obsessed with value. If you’re not using a card to whatever
you perceive its maximum potential to be, you’re somehow losing out and not playing it correctly. When my opponent has no creatures on the battlefield and
I know the matchup, I am afforded a luxury. Creating two 1/1s seems innocuous, but often it provided pressure. Following it up with a Pia and Kiran or
Gideon on turn 4 gives even more board presence. My Mardu Charm tokens in most scenarios would do anywhere from four to eight damage in a single game.

What I’m trying to say is, don’t place value over efficiency.

In terms of cards to cut, I’m still on the fence regarding that. Soulfire Grand Master is probably necessary for the red decks out there, but it feels like
the weakest link. My idea may be to cut them for a maindeck Transgress the Mind and possibly the second Sorin. It is possible two Silkwraps may be better
as well.

My Thoughts on BFZ Sealed/Drafts

I won’t chew up too much more of your time, but like I said, GP Atlanta is only a couple of days away! Be excited! I’ve found Sealed to be a tricky format.
There are a ton of inherent synergies, so be sure to play to them more than you would just jam powerful cards. Three colors usually feels correct,
especially if you have facilitators like Pilgrim’s Eye or Evolving Wilds. I place higher-than-average emphasis on Devoid/Ingest/Processor strategies and
believe they’re the most powerful based on the numerous Sealed events I’ve done. I usually like to settle into Grixis if possible. Green is awful and feels
like the worst color by a mile; even though it’s Sealed, I would hardly feel comfortable playing it.

Games are less decided by bombs and more decided on strong deckbuilding, as none of the cards out there feel unbeatable. A strong curve should be one of
your biggest concerns. I’ve noticed most decks have huge gluts at the three and four spot, so try to avoid the pitfall of making your deck too clunky.

In terms of Limited, this is another situation where I value synergy over raw power. I think it’s well-established that U/R Devoid is the most powerful
deck if drafted correctly, but I’ve been shifting to B/R Devoid a bit more off the back of cards like Dominator Drone, Culling Drone, and the criminally
under-drafted Forerunner of Slaughter (which I’ve tabled probably a dozen times). B/W Allies seems too heavily drafted, and a table can usually only
support one person trying to harness it, so I tend to stay away.

Other than that, I suggest being as familiar as you can with BFZ Limited. There are plenty of combat tricks and nuances to play around, so knowing what to
expect can be a huge asset. A few drafts just won’t cut it for this format.

Going forward, I like this Mardu deck, so I think I’ll be putting a lot more work into it for Standard.

In regards to Atlanta, be sure to come say hello if you’re attending! I always love meeting new people!

It’s gonna be a doozy, kiddies. Don’t miss the best GP of 2015.