I have never played so much Magic in a single week in my entire life.
After the comedy of errors that was my Grand Prix Pittsburgh tournament (missing my second bye by 3 Total Rating points with a 3-0 16k draft that missed the rating cutoff by a day on the stack and punting away three games that directly cost me three match wins, including playing a wrong land that cost me round nine and day two), I hit the road with Chapin, Sperling, Gerry T, and Michael Jacob for Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to test the new Modern format.
In case anybody is interested, here is the awesome RUG Pod deck that I should have 9-0’d the first day of the Grand Prix with, if only I had been up to the challenge of playing it better.
- 1 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Acidic Slime
- 4 Lotus Cobra
- 1 Cunning Sparkmage
- 3 Sea Gate Oracle
- 2 Vengevine
- 2 Inferno Titan
- 1 Obstinate Baloth
- 1 Sylvan Ranger
- 1 Hero of Oxid Ridge
- 1 Urabrask the Hidden
- 1 Phantasmal Image
Pod is an absolutely awesome card, and I believe it is only going to get better in Standard when the Zendikar cards (and Squadron Hawk) rotate out of Standard. It is also the kind of card that will only get better in Modern, Extended, and Legacy as more cards continue to be printed and added to the card pool. If you don’t own it already, it seems like a good card to pick up a set of just in case.
Coming into the Harrisburg testing sessions, I had already played about 200 games of Modern with and against a wide array of different decks and felt I had a pretty reasonable understanding of what was going on in the format. Two weeks earlier, while jamming games with Chapin and MJ, I had taken a fancy to a deck idea that Mike had been jamming back in Michigan: Kavu Predator, Grove of the Burnwillows, and Punishing Fire all wrapped up in an aggressive Naya shell.
While back in Pittsburgh, I had been tuning a Naya deck with my hotel-mates for the Grand Prix: Ari Lax, Matt McCullough, and Kyle Dembinski. From those sessions, the Naya deck transformed from being a Naya beatdown deck to what I would describe as an “Erhnam-geddon” deck. There were two major innovations that came from this brew session; firstly, we correctly identified that Thoughts of Ruin (aka attacking people’s mana) was a really strong tactic, and secondly we figured out that Oust was one ofâ€”if not the premierâ€”creature removal spells in Modern, especially when combined with Kavu Predator and Punishing Fire.
As it turns out, Matt Sperling had also reached a similar conclusion that Kavu Predator + Green Sun’s Zenith + Knight of the Reliquary + Land Destruction was a solid strategy in Modern. However, he had brewed up Boom / Bust as the premier land destruction spell. My Oust technology + Matt’s Boom / Bust technology + the diabolical (yet honest) madman Mike Jacob’s fine tuning of tutor targets ended up begetting a formidable Naya Control deck.
Here is the list that I ended up playing at the Pro Tour, with which I had an 8-2 record.
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Kavu Predator
- 3 Tarmogoyf
- 1 Gaddock Teeg
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 1 Qasali Pridemage
First things first: I think it is completely incorrect to identify this deck as a “Zoo” deck. Not only is it strategically not a Zoo deck, but with regard to its theme it is not a Zoo deck either. There are no Lhurgoyfs at the Zoo; there are no Knights at the Zoo; and there are no Kavu at the Zoo.
Between the maindeck and the sideboard, the only actual animal in the deck is Qasali Pridemage, who is creature type “Cat Wizard.” Pridemage is no feral kitten; he’s a wizard. He has a job, a house in the Hamptons, a sports car, and the only time he goes to the zoo is for the yearly fundraiser.
Strategically, I don’t consider this deck to be an aggro deck either. For the most part I was forced to adopt the control role against every single deck I was matched up against. The deck never wants to race; it wants to grind its opponent’s resources away, and then once the opponent is out of options quickly flip the script and bash their face with guys.
Kavu Predator is a card that I have liked for a long, long time. I have owned a playset of the card since Future Sight and always felt that “someday Kavu Predator’s day will come.” The stars were right… It was Kavu time.
With Grove of the Burnwillows, Fiery Justice, and the uber technology of Oust, the Kavu-man can become a formidable creature very quickly. Did you know this guy has trample? The fact that he has trample ensures that Kavu Predator can basically never be chump blocked for any sort of tempo value. Simply put, this feisty beast quickly eats the opponent alive.
The other factor that made the stars right for Predator was this card:
I correctly anticipated Cloudpost/ramp decks to be a major player in the Modern metagame. The Naya deck already has a lot of land destruction spells and tutorable lands: Boom / Bust, Beast Within, Tectonic Edge, and Ghost Quarter. The Post Plan A against most decks is usually to produce a Primeval Titan that tutors for Eye of Ugin + ramp its mana, into a scenario where the player can untap on the next turn with more mana than God, and speaking of gods, use its Eye of Ugin to tutor up Emrakul, the Aeons Torn and go buns wild.
The land destruction element ensures that the Naya Mage can almost always destroy the Eye of Ugin, which puts Post-er boys and girls onto the Plan B of tutoring up a bunch of Glimmerposts to buy extra turns. Where the Naya’s land destruction package throws a monkey wrench into Post’s Plan A of Eye of Ugin, Kavu Predator thoroughly invalidates Plan B of Glimmerpost.
Everybody understands what Kavu Predator does; he gets +1/+1 for each life an opponent gains, but they don’t actually understand what he does, which is essentially lock the opponent’s life total into place so that no matter what they do, your clock remains constant. The fact that Kavu Predator has trample seals this fact.
If they are at ten, and I have a Predator, as so long as I keep the Predator on the board, their life total and my clock will always stay the same because the swing back damage of the Predator will always offset any kind of life gain. In fact, the Predator doesn’t only immediately offset life gained, but it makes life gained a detriment because he will immediately offset the life on the first attack and continue to take the amount of life away every time he attacks for the rest of the game!
PRO TOUR REPORT
I was really nervous as the pairings for the first round of the Pro Tour went up and I headed to my seat to play the first round. Pro Tour Philadelphia would be my fourth time playing on the Tour, the first three tries having been remarkable near-miss failures.
My previous Pro Tours can only be described as frustrating: stories of missing day two to my opponent’s one-outing me, runner-runnering me, with Signal Blessing as the last card in hand to blank my GG. Firespout me, Blood Moon me, burn me to death for exactsies with their last card and last draw step (twice in San Juan). Haunting my memory as I sat down to play.
Round one I kept a hand that looked pretty reasonable, but was on the draw. My opponent led on Swamp into a Vector Asp. On my first turn I played a Grove of the Burnwillows into a Noble Hierarch, with which I was perfectly content to chump block the Asp with since I could Punishing Fire it on my second turn. My opponent untapped, used his Swamp to give the Asp infect, attacked with it, Slaughter Pacted my poor Hierarch, and played Blazing Shoal pitching Progenitus. DEAD.
In game two I arrived at a position where I had Gaddock Teeg, Qasali Pridemage, two mana open, and a Path to Exile in hand. On my end step, my opponent cast Plunge into Darkness all the way down to one life with a Nexus in play. (Obviously I didn’t have Punishing Fire this time…) He untapped: Slaughter Pact Teeg, Slaughter Pact Pridemage, animate Nexus, attack, Shoal pitching Progenitus. I played my Path on the Inkmoth Nexus and OBVIOUSLY OBVIOUSLY OBVIOUSLY his last card in hand was Pact of Negation. I was dead.
Welcome back to the Pro Tour: The unhappiest place on Earth where you can never catch a break and are always dead to your opponent’s draw step.
I politely wished my opponent good luck in the rest of the event, doing everything in my power to conceal the fact that deep down I was so badly tilted by his ridiculous good fortune of having the nut perfect that I kind of wanted to say other, less-than-sporting things. He was a nice guy, and seconds after I walked away from the match I felt pretty good about being professional and not acting like an idiot because I got beaten pretty badly. Being that my entire first match took all of about ten minutes, I ended up with a lot of time to think about what had happened and did my best to get my head back into the game.
“You played fine and lost to a really, really good draw. It happens. Win the next round.” Became the mantra that I repeated in my head over and over as I wandered around outside, while trying my best not to feel dejected, as I grappled with my looming sense of dread that Philadelphia would be yet another unsatisfying, wasted, go-nowhere trip to the Pro Tour.
My friend who was following my progress online sent me a text message as I was sitting down for round one of the tournament that said:
“It doesn’t matter how you start, only how you finish.”
He’s pretty good for good advice, and that seemed to make sense to me.
As I sat down for round two I was feeling really pumped up. I had decided that this round I was going to play perfect, draw well, and crush. I drew a reasonable opening hand on the play and got absolutely wrecked by a very strong Affinity draw. Memnite, Memnite, Blinkmoth Nexus, Signal Pest, Mox Opal, Signal Pest, Frogmite. To my credit, in this game I accomplished my goal of playing my hand perfectly… perfectly dead on turn three.
Game two things turned around. I set up a situation where I was able to Path his Arcbound Ravager, and he went all in on sacrificing most of his permanents to the Ravager, moving the modular tokens onto a lethal-in-combat Blinkmoth Nexus. I had the Punishing Fire to put down the Nexus in response to the modular on the stack and won the game.
My opponent took a mulligan to six, and now I could feel the elemental force of momentum shifting into my corner. Game three my draw was awesome, and I essentially won the game on the first turn by having the correct disruption to ruin his game plan. My Affinity opponent opened up with Nexus, Mox Opal, Ornithopter, Frogmite.
On my first turn I Ousted his Frogmite. He didn’t have a second land and was forced to pass the turn.
Knowing that he had no play on turn two I correctly opted to Oust his Ornithopter and play a Knight of the Reliquary. I knew that he was going to be drawing a brick Frogmite he couldn’t cast on the next turn… and now his problems were complicated further by being forced to redraw the Ornithopter.
He passed. I untapped and played Kavu Predator and pass. On his turn he cast the Ornithopter and went to activate his Inkmoth Nexus. In response I Punishing Fired the Thopter. He was again forced to pass the turn.
I drew Boom / Bust and Boomed down the Nexus, and the game was essentially over at this point.
Whew. Got there.
Round three I continued to run good. And, when I say good, I mean NUT-PERFECT good.
I kept a hand that I noted was pretty much only good against a creature deck, but was really good against a creature deck.
I was on the play and used Grove of the Burnwillows to cast Noble Hierarch. On his turn he used Green Sun’s Zenith to bring up a Dryad Arbor. My second turn was a little bit comical. I played a Stirring Wildwood tapped and cast a Kavu Predator. My opponent wasn’t impolite or anything, but I could tell from his facial expression and demeanor that he wasn’t particularly impressed or afraid of my mediocre cards. “Grove + Kavu, eh? That’s cute.” He might have been thinking.
On his turn he played a land, cast Llanowar Elves, Llanowar Elves, Nettle Sentinel, and passed the turn. I untapped, Fiery Justiced down all four of his guys, and attacked with my 8/8 Kavu Predator. My opponent had to read Fiery Justice, and after a judge confirmed that the card was indeed legal for play in Modern, the game was quickly over.
While we were sideboarding my opponent commented that he was completely cold and that this match was probably just going to be the same as a bye for me. He also commented that he thought my list looked really awesome and asked if after the round was over if I would mind sharing my decklist with him because he would definitely play the list at his local Modern tournaments back home!
It’s funny how casting one card can change somebody’s possible perception from “Nice unplayable cards, donk” to “Sick deck, I want to play it.”
I drew Fiery Justice after sideboard, and my opponent lost game two.
I was now rolling.
In between rounds I talked to Kyle Boggemes for a while, and at the end of our conversation he said in a serious way:
“DeMars, this is your tournament. This is your time.”
The comment really resonated with me, and I can specifically remember at a few low points in the tournament repeating it in my head.
In round four I played against a U/G Amulet of Vigor/Post deck. My opponent was a nice guy, but he seemed to be having trouble making good plays, and for that matter legal plays. He quickly acquired two warnings, one for playing an extra land (probably because he was going to Explore and play the land anyway), and a second for trying to cast Condescend with a Gaddock Teeg in play (which I briefly didn’t catch because it was so brilliantly timed; I had played Boom with three untapped lands in play, and while I was triggering my fetchland with Boom on the stack, he played Condescend for three). It would have been such a good play, were it legal, I was kind of awestruck for a second before I realized that it was actually just not a legal play. Instead he acquired a second warning and was told that further warnings would upgrade to game losses.
We were in the midst of a tightly contested game three when he played a Glimmerpost while I was not paying attention and made a change in life totals on my score pad from Grove of the Burnwillows. By the time I brought my attention back to the board, he was tapping mana to play Scapeshift. I interrupted him and said we needed the judge again because he had missed a trigger. The Judge showed up and made some bizarre ruling where he got a missed trigger warning, no game loss, and the Glimmerpost trigger would be applied to the stack on top of Scapeshift! WHOA, snap appeal!
I was under the impression, because of what the last judge had said, that my opponent would get a game loss for ANY warningâ€”but, technically it would have to be specifically a warning for a game rules violation, whereas this warning was for a missed trigger. It was pretty funny actually because the head judge was European, as was my opponent, which made me at first wonder if he wasn’t getting favorable treatment.
This lingering suspicion wasn’t particularly helped by the fact that the head judge, whose first language I am going to assume might not have been English, had a tendency to pause mid-sentence to articulate the words he wanted to say in English. At one point during the ruling, he said, turning to my opponent: “I want you to win…” awkward three second pause, “or lose, based on the outcome of the game, a game loss.”
It was the correct ruling, and the Glimmerpost trigger was put into the proper place as well. He ended up Scapeshifting for a bunch of mana, and I cast Beast Within on his Eye of Ugin with three Amulet of Vigor triggers on the stack for each of his Cloudposts. He didn’t have the Emrakul in hand and promptly died.
The next round I played against Willy Edel from Brazil with a big Zoo deck featuring Wild Nacatl, Knight of the Reliquary, and Lightning Helix (not good against Kavus), and my draws beat him pretty badly.
The highlight of the match was basically my perfect draw against him in game two, where we both had Noble Hierarch on turn one. He played a Knight of the Reliquary on turn two, which I answered with Kavu Predator and Oust. He played a Knight on three, which was promptly dispatched with a second Predator and Oust. Just for the rub ins I had double Grove of the Burnwillows, which meant that on turn three I was attacking with my lowly 11/11 trampler (with exalted trigger), and a 6/6 hanging back eager to red zone brawl on the next attack.
I finished the Constructed portion with a 4-1 record and was feeling really good about my ability to draft well in the next rounds.
My draft went fairly well, which made me feel good considering there were some quality players in my pod. Notably, Brian Kibler, Olle Rade, and Bane of DeMars Matt McCullough, who was staying in the same hotel room as I was.
My hope going in was to avoid these three players. I opened Mind Control, snapped it up, cut blue hard with my first three picks, and to my delight found blue to be open. Olle Rade was passing to me, and based on the cards I was seeing suspected he was playing red, white, or both.
My fifth pick was the most difficult of the draft. I knew that green was open from the right; there were no good blue cards left, and there was a Gravedigger and an Arachnid Web. I took the presence of Gravedigger to be a sign that black was open and drafted. Black wasn’t as open as I thought, and as it turned out, the cards picked before the Gravedigger were Doom Blade, Jade Mage, Incinerate, a black rare I can’t remember, and Pacifism. It wasn’t actually a sign black was open.
As the draft panned out, my deck seemed very good, but the only removal spell I could pick up other than the Mind Control was a lone Wring Flesh and an Aether Adept. However the rest of the deck was pure gasoline.
Standouts in my deck were triple Onyx with Reassembling Skeleton (COMBO!), Azure Mage, Mind Control, Aether Adept, Wring Flesh, Merfolk Looter, and the rest of the deck rounded out an aggressive curve with a fair number of fliers and a few permission spells.
The plan of “not playing good players” was not to be. Round one I faced off against the Sylvan Safekeeper himself, Olle Rade, who was playing a R/W midrange deck with a lot of removal. In game one he promptly crushed me with Armored Warhorse on two to brick all of my many 2/1 aggressive creatures; and Shock, Incinerate, and Chandra’s Outrage to light up my fliers.
In game two I got lucky, and he never drew a red source. I turned his Armored Warhorse wearing a Spirit Mantle into a Frog and traded it with a Coral Merfolk. Unable to defend himself with the red cards I will give him credit for having in his hand, I was able to push through and win.
In game three we battled back and forth. I put up a fast clock with Phantasmal Bear into multiple 2/1 dorks. Rade didn’t have a Mountain until turn four, which finally allowed him to cast his Shock and then play a Goblin Piker type blocker every turn to trade with my already attacking team.
We ended up in a situation where he was basically playing a bear every turn to trade with a guy, and two of my guys went unblocked to deal four. I was also able to get a lot of value out of a Frost Breath, which tapped down a Goblin Tunneler and another guy. On the last turn of the game, he played a Sun Titan, which would have gotten back an Auramancer, that I stopped with Cancel.
I untapped with Mind Control to take control of one of his blockers with him tapped completely out allowing me to attack for exactly lethal. After the game we talked for a little while about the match, and he showed me that he had Demystify, so if I hadn’t had Cancel he probably would have won the game.
Rade was a great guy, and I ended up talking to him quite a bit in between rounds, which isn’t surprising considering that almost all of the high-level pros I have met throughout my time playing at GPs and PTs have been awesome human beings.
The plan of “don’t play against good players” continued to derail. In round seven I had a feature match, which didn’t get covered, against Brian Kibler. Embarrassingly, despite my best efforts to check and double check my deck registration sheet, I forgot to register one of my sideboard cards, a lone copy of Hideous Visage. The judge took my card away and gave me a game loss.
I sat down against Kibler, who already had his Ascension-sleeved deck shuffled up and ready to go, down a game. Despite my best efforts to lose the match before it even started with a game loss, my deck provided me with the goods, and I won the match by winning games two and three. Merfolk Looter and Azure Mage allowed me to gain a rampant advantage in the U/B mirror when they went unanswered.
I regret not asking Kibler about Reclamax in Ascension. Why????
Stringing together six wins in a row felt pretty good, but in the last round of the day I had to play against Mattâ€”whose deck was actually just full of cards I couldn’t beat with my no-removal U/B, 2/1s, the deck, deck. He had dubs Jade Mage, Lawkeeper, and triple Timely Reinforcements. I stole game one in a heroic come-from-behind fashion, but he got me in the last two.
So day one came to an end, and I was very happy with a solid 2-1 start.
I was pretty sure our hotel was haunted. I would hear and see things that seemed eerie. A woman singing in Russian from somewhere in the distance; the lights would flicker; I saw (dreamed) there was a shadowy figure in the room. Coming back to the room at night, I got into the elevator, the door of which was being held by a fifty-year-old woman. I got in, and we both sort of leaned back against the opposite sidewalls of the box. Awkward silence.
“Do you think this hotel is haunted?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t have the faintest idea.” She said.
“Have a good night.”
I stepped out of the elevator on my floor, and the hall lights were literally flickering, and a child was wailing somewhere from behind a closed door. I only bring this up because when we were checking out, I asked the attendant. “I have a serious question, is this place actually haunted?” To which the woman behind the desk answered. “Nooo… why do you ask?” Was actually not sure if she was being serious, or was trolling meâ€”which is fair, because I’m pretty sure she didn’t know if I was being serious or trolling her.
Day two started on an even stranger note than the poltergeists of the night before. I was standing outside the convention center at 8:30 in the morning and this 60-year-old woman, with cropped white hair, a gigantic backpack that was half her size, and a bright blue T-shirt that said “I LOVE CATS” in all capital letters walked up to me on the street and asked in a tiny voice: “Excuse me, Mister, can you tell me where the cat show is?”
It was the most adorable and surreal thing that happened to me all week. It was almost too much; I considered the possibility that there was a candid camera crew filming the episode as it unfolded. I politely directed her to the convention door attendant, and after she was out of sight started laughing so hard I almost started crying. “I LOVE CATS,” giant backpack, tiny woman, “Excuse me, Mister, can you tell me where the cat show is?” It was too much.
The second draft went pretty well for me. The most difficult pick I had to make was the first one. Pentavus or Serra Angel. After much deliberation I picked Pentavus. Perhaps, I am biased because Pentavus is one of my favorite cards of all timeâ€”but I am fairly sure it was correct. I ended up in U/W high-end fliers, and Pentavus was still better than a Serra Angel would have been.
My deck seemed pretty awesome. I had a lot of really good cards, and most of my cards were of significantly high quality. The only problem with the deck was that the only removal spell I had was an Aether Adept.
It wasn’t that I have some sort of specific aversion to drafting removal, which is what you might be thinking to yourself as you read about my “No Removal” the deck, decks. There simply wasn’t any.
Anyway, some of the highlights from my second deck include: two Alabaster Mage, Aether Adept, Djinn of Wishes, Pentavus, Fact or Fiction Sphinx, two of the 2/4 first strike griffin, and a bunch of one- and two-drop dorks to clog the ground, and a bunch of four-drop fliers to rule the air.
In round one I punted a game three that I could have easily won, by mindlessly throwing my Pentavus away by attacking it into his five power worth of guys. I am so used to playing with the card in Vintage back in the day that I literally forgot (just because it’s a Pentavus) that damage doesn’t use the stack! As I was snap turning it sideways, I was actually thinking it would trade with his whole team and I’d have five 1/1 fliers… I quickly realized within about a second that I had made a miscalculation. Things got worse.
I tilted completelyâ€”not in an angry wayâ€”but in a “I just screwed up and made a bad play, so the only reasonable thing to do is continue to make more mindless bad plays,” kind of way.
He blocked with a Devouring Swarm and three 1/1 Druidic Satchel Saproling tokens. What I should have done was move four counters off Pentavus and move to damage. This would have forced him to sacrifice a token to save his Swarm. If he did, I could move another token back to the bus and force him to sacrifice another token. Then I could move the tokens off. I didn’t do this, and it cost me the game.
I continued making bad plays for the rest of the match and got promptly destroyed as a result of my terrible play.
I went outside for some fresh air and thought about how poorly I had played and felt bad about wasting an opportunity where I had the cards to win and didn’t. The experience of contemplating my poor plays, feeling disappointed about it, and resolving myself to not play bad again for the rest of the day reminded me of a great quote from Slapshot:
“You do that, you go to the box, you know. Two minutes, by yourself, you know and you feel shame, you know. And then you get free.”
Thinking about the quote made me smile, and I felt better.
The next round I mulliganed to five on the draw, didn’t hit my third land, and promptly died in the first game. My opponent’s deck didn’t seem very good; he was three colors, and the quality of his cards didn’t seem particularly high.
In game two he played Runeclaw Bear on turn two and walked his islandwalk Crocodile into my Mana Leakâ€”which was pretty lucky considering I was completely dead to it. I actually didn’t play Stormfront Pegasus on two because I had a hunch this was exactly what was going to happen. I ended up drawing and playing Coral Merfolk on two, which got killed by a removal spell, and Stormfront Pegasus on four. On five I attacked with the Pegasus, and he Plummeted it out of the sky, clearing the way for me to play Djinn of Wishes.
Game three he didn’t have removal for an Alabaster Mage, which took control of the game, rendering his ability to close me out impossible. Eventually the Fact or Fiction Sphinx hit the table and killed him.
Back on track.
In the last round of the draft I faced off against Craig Wescoe. In our first game he mulliganed and didn’t hit a second land. In our second game I mulliganed and don’t hit a second land. In our third game we ended up in a situation where he was too far ahead on board for me to not play my Fact or Fiction Sphinx into his two cards, two lands up, and I knew he had at least two Mana Leaks in deck. I played the Sphinx, and he nodded that it was going to resolve, obviously slightly annoyed that he didn’t have the Mana Leak to blow me out of the game.
“Fact or Fiction, the skill testing card of our generation.” As I flipped the cards face up onto the table.
Craig thought for a second and made the split Alabaster Mage or no. I said: “You pass the Fact or Fiction test.” He nodded.
I binned the four cards and took the Alabaster Mage. “I pass also.”
He couldn’t beat my Sphinx and couldn’t race because of the Mage and died.
I felt reasonably well about how my drafts had gone. 4-2 in draft seems like a solid finish at a PT.
There wasn’t much time to feel relieved about drafting wellâ€”as it was time to once again play Modern.
The first round I was once again paired up against a poison deck and got killed on turn two on the draw. He had Vector Asp; I had Hierarch. He Slaughter Pacted my Hierarch, and I died.
However, this time the post sideboard games where I got to bring in literally infinite removal spells paid off and went my way. In game three I Tectonic Edged away a City of Brass so as not to have to worry about a hard-cast Reaper King. A friend commented, “Don’t fear the Reaper,” to the tune of the Blue Oyster Cult song after the match, pointing out that Seal of Primordium was in play.
The next round I was up against Conley Woods, who was playing Pyromancer’s Swath. Game one felt like I was pretty far behind. At the end of the game he had four lands in play, after having played Peer through Depths finding Grapeshot and Remanding my turn three Knight. My turn four Knight had stuck, and knowing that if the game proceeded much further I was probably going to die, I went all in on casting Bust. It resolved, and the Knight quickly sealed the game.
In game two I resolved Seal of Primordium on two, and after getting my Rule of Law Remanded on turn three, stuck it on turn four. Conley Peered and revealed Echoing Truth. I stuck Knight of the Reliquary, and he apparently didn’t have the cards yet to bounce the Rule of Law on my end step. Which made me very happy. He played a fifth land and passed with Echoing Truth in hand. I played Thoughts of Ruin with exactly five cards in hand. Conley was forced to Echoing Truth the Knight of the Reliquary, and I played a land for turn. Conley had no more lands after that; I played out a Tarmogoyf and a Knight to seal out the game.
The next round I played against U/R Splinter Twin and got absolutely demolished. I think I played reasonably in this match, but he pretty much had exactly what he needed to stop me. I had Seal of Primordium in play, and he drew one of his two-of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breakers to win. The loss put me out of top eight contention, but playing for top 16 was still really important. The matchup was by far my worst one, and knowing that I was a pretty big underdog, I didn’t feel too bad about the loss. It happens.
In round 15 I played against David Williamson, who it turns out was a pretty cool guy. He knew my deck because he had played and beaten Ari Lax on day one. Fortunately, I was sitting next to this match when it happened, so I also knew he was on R/G Through the Breach Post. In game one I was able to lock him out with a Gaddock Teeg, which blanked his entire hand.
In game three we ended up in a scenario where I cast Thoughts of Ruin for three as a desperation attempt to keep him off mana to cast Primeval Titan or Through the Breach. I had Tarmogoyf in play and a Hierarch and was trying to kill him next turn. He made an admitted mistake and sacrificed three mana-producing lands instead of his Eye of Ugin in play. He binned the wrong lands and realized he has made a mistake and tried to take it back.
I felt really bad about it and was like, “I’m really sorry, but I have to call the judge on this one…” Knowing I had to do it, but not wanting to because my opponent seemed like a genuinely really cool person. He was like: “It’s alright; I totally understand.”
The judge ruled that he couldn’t undo the sacrifices, and he revealed that he would have been able to cast the Titan he would have drawn for the turn. Wow, that was lucky… After the match, he said: “Don’t feel bad about it; it’s my own fault for making the wrong play. I’d have done the same thing in your position, so no hard feelings.” I remember thinking to myself, “What an awesome display of sportsmanship; Magic needs more people like this guy.”
In the last round I got paired against Matt McCullough for the second time in the tournament. He was playing Twin and a heavy favorite to win. We sat down, and he was like: “Do the Pro Points matter for you?” And I was like, “Yeah, they would lock me into level three for the year.” And he offered to concede. I was completely shocked, as that wasn’t really what I expected to happen at all. So, I was extremely grateful to Matt McCullough for the extremely kind and thoughtful gesture of making a play to help me out.
So, basically I arrived in a situation where 12-4 at the Pro Tour would qualify me for Worlds on rating, showing up to Worlds would get me Level 3, Top 16 at the PT would get me to Honolulu, and Level 3 would get me another Pro Tour after Honolulu! So basically, I won three PTQs and four Black Lotuses! I was very fortunate, and it felt really good to have years of hard work, going back to the drawing board empty handed, and grinding at long last pay off.
One last thing I would like to touch on: In an era where a lot of people have the perception that high-level Magic is full of cheaters and scummy people, where it makes Magic news that people get their decks stolen from right out from under their noses at events, where people are poor losers and complain, where sometimes it feels like the grind goes on forever and yet goes nowhere, in this one tournament my faith in the game and the people who play it was completely restored. Every single person I played against in the tournament demonstrated great sportsmanship in victory and in defeat, everybody was friendly, nobody tried to cheat against me, I heard a case where the police actually caught somebody trying to steal a backpack, a person who was cheating got caught and disqualified, and I had a ton of fun.
“It doesn’t matter how you start, it’s how you finish.”
Thanks for reading.