My return to Magic started off quite well. After letting “real life” keep me away from the Mirrodin Block PTQs I followed Rob Dougherty strategy for getting back on the Tour – “Play in a farthing PTQ!” I showed up for a prerelease tournament, won it, and then found out that it was actually a PTQ. Although I couldn’t go to Japan, it was still great to have qualified again – especially on my first try.
PT: Atlanta was a bit harder, with Chris Manning, Bruce Cowley and I playing in a GP and a handful of PTQs before finally winning one towards the end of the season, but that was still two for two. Then came Extended, and my “streak” ended. I put up a number of solid but unspectacular finishes with Goblins and never really had the time to invest in learning another deck as the metagame inevitably shifted against the Red deck that was actually winning.
The thing is, London is special. I lived there for a few years and when I was working in Germany my two lead marketing agencies were in London, so I was there a lot on business. London is probably my favorite city in the world and the chance to go there and play Magic is just incredibly important to me. If I was going to have to read the coverage on the Sideboard or something I wasn’t going to be happy.
At least we were back to Limited, my specialty. A road trip to Connecticut saw me open an insane cardpool but get back one that was quite mediocre. I lost round one when my alpha-strike in game two (during the last of extra turns) was “fogged” by Hideous Laughter. I lost round two when my opponent curved me out in game three and then Soulblasted my face when it looked like I had a hope of stabilizing. I consoled myself by winning two side-drafts and having the wonderful Ninja turn discussed in the linked article, but it wasn’t the best way to start off a PTQ season.
Still, I didn’t let it bother me. My philosophy about Limited PTQs is that you just have to keep giving yourself the chances to win and eventually you will. One week you’ll have an awful cardpool and 0-2, another week it’ll be good and you may Top 8, and every now and then you’ll be the one with the amazing pool and you’ll cruise through four or five rounds and double-draw in.
The Jadester has been teething lately, which means that Trish and I haven’t been sleeping so well. I was a bit tired as I drove over to the site, but fortunately the Charlie’s Angel soundtrack was one of the CDs in our car. I don’t even know the name of the song, but there’s one with a great beat and just two lines of lyrics:
Push the tempo. (This line is repeated for pretty much the entire song.)
Shake what your mama gave yaaaaaaaa.
I’m hard-pressed to think of a better song to listen to before a tournament. It’s also pretty good for shooting an arrow with a wire on it at a helicopter so you and your friends can climb up and dish out some punishment, Angel style.
Here’s what I opened in Boston last weekend:
Ben-Ben, Akki Hermit
Genju of the Spires
Honden of Infinite Rage
Ire of Kaminari
Kami of Fire’s Roar
Patron of the Akki
Counsel of the Soratami
Eye of Nowhere
Ninja of the Deep Hours
Peer Through Depths
Toils of Night and Day
Veil of Secrecy
Cage of Hands
Kami of False Hope
2 Scaled Hulk
Commune with Nature
Glimpse of Nature
Harbinger of Spring
Kami of the Hunt
Order of the Sacred Bell
Time of Need
2 Horobi’s Whisper
Call for Blood
Kami of Waning Moon
Orb of Dreams
Tatsumasa, the Dragon’s Fang
Take a moment if you like to see what you would have built.
Done Building Yet?
I think most sealed pools are difficult to build correctly and I often have to explore lots of different color combinations before settling on my base build. This time the base build seemed rather obvious. Black is non-negotiable – two Banishings, a Rend, Pull Under and Scuttles is more removal than the rest of my colors put together and with Shuriken it should put me ahead of most sealed decks. So all that was really left was what color(s) went best with Black?
White has some good cards, but simply not enough. There are only nine Black cards that I really want to run; with the two artifacts that leaves at least eleven slots available. White has at most nine or ten playable cards. Moreover, White doesn’t give me much strategic punch – no flying power, not enough soulshift, and nothing I really want to give fear to. Red is basically a potential splash and not enough else – again, there are good cards, but not nearly enough of them. Blue is worse. Thankfully, there’s Green. Green has everything I want – mana acceleration, big men that want to be Fearful, lots of spirits and soulshift for ongoing card advantage, Hana Kami that can bring back my removal (hopefully multiple times!) and enough depth for a two-color deck.
That last may be a bit of a surprise, as I often endorse three-color sealed decks, but in this case I decided not to. I have plenty of raw power in B/G; I can compete with the broken cardpools. Honden of Infinite Rage is broken against some decks but just okay against others and isn’t that great a splash because you really want to drop it early to take out their 2/1s. Finally, I had no mana fixing and spells with BB and GG. Even with Lantern-Lit Graveyard (wow, do I hate those lands) I decided not to push my mana. Here’s my final list:
Commune with Nature
Kami of the Hunt
Kami of the Waning Moon
2 Horobi’s Whisper
Order of the Sacred Bell
2 Scaled Hulk
Tatsumasa, the Dragon’s Fang
Yummy goodness. I really like Commune in a deck like this, since it will almost never miss and really helps you hit your curve early on or dig for real threats (or Soulshifters) later. The top-heaviness of the deck is usually okay in sealed deck because the format is slower, and the combination of removal and acceleration should keep me safe from a quick rush, even if I miss my two-drop. (That top-heaviness is why I maindecked Traproot Kami, a card I usually leave safely in my sideboard.)
Late game this deck is a major threat. Tatsumasa will pretty much win any stalemate on her own, I’ve got plenty of guys that are big enough for Shuriken tricks, I can recycle an arcane removal spell multiple times via Hana Kami, Rootrunner and Scuttling Death, and against any non-Black deck I have lots of ways to give fatties Fear. My weakness is fast decks with evasion, particularly Black decks where my Whispers may not be able to do the job.
Round one: Paul Lyons
Paul is a nice guy running a U/W deck splashing Red or Black (not sure which). Game one I just came out too fast for him, with multiple fatties and Shuriken hurting his team of low-toughness creatures. In game two I mulligan and it’s his turn to come out fast. I almost pull the game back under control, but he finishes me off with quick evasive beats. The army of X/1s I saw has me looking towards my sideboard but in the end I decide to keep my deck as-is and just repeat game one. Sure enough, game three quickly turns in my favor, with spot removal taking out the guys that are key to his defense and Shuriken making it a nightmare for him.
Paul wasn’t familiar with the timing trick that let me keep the Shuriken so we had to have a judge explain how it worked. In one case I equipped and (in response, naturally) shot one of his guys and he protected it with Soratami Rainshaper, which meant that I still had control; other times, I would shoot one of my many big butts. All the while I was attacking as well. Finally he was down to two creatures, so I just killed them both and let him keep the Shuriken. He managed to get out two creatures and did the Shuriken trick himself, but only sort of because he couldn’t wait until the second one got rid of summoning sickness, so I just equipped it back to one of my guys on my turn.
I should have asked for extra time because suddenly the round was ending and Paul was dying but not yet dead. We played the last few turns carefully, with Paul hoping his Divining Top would yield something other than lands, and while I couldn’t kill him on turn 2 I had more than enough for turn 4 so he scooped.
1-0 in matches, 2-1 in games
Round two: Jarvis Yu
Jarvis had, unfortunately, forgotten to register his land and got a game loss. We split the two games we played with each of us getting poor draws in one of them.
2-0 in matches, 3-2 in games
Round three: Manuel Pacheco
Manuel was B/G like me, and normally this should be a favorable matchup – my men are bigger than most Green men and my removal is better than most Black removal pools. Game one bore this out, with me putting him under constant pressure until he stabilized with Tatsumasa. Yes, he had one too. I don’t remember quite how the game ended, but I think I eventually just overran him with card advantage.
Game two bogged down with both of us at 11 life and me taking one a turn from a splashed Honden of Infinite Rage. Manuel also had Sosuke and Neko-te out, so even Scaled Hulk couldn’t really fight his guys and win.
Eventually the situation starts to look desperate, as my life has dwindled to 2. I was holding a Rend Spirit that had no juicy targets, Nezumi Cutthroat (drawn the turn after he played his Honden), and Kami of Waning Moon. My board was Forked-Branch Garami (tapped and not ever going to untap), Order, Tatsumasa, Scaled Hulk and another random creature, when Manuel passed the turn.
Thankfully the win was on the board, given that I had a spirit in the yard. I Rent my Garami, returning Kami of the Hunt to my hand. On my turn, I played Kami of Waning Moon followed by Kami of the Hunt, giving Scaled Hulk Fear and making it an 8/8. Tatsumasa made that 13/13 and I asked Manuel not to have any removal. He didn’t.
3-0 in matches, 5-2 in games
Round four: Walter Eglie, a.k.a. Gooch
Gooch is a YMG regular and very strong. He was running a B/R deck with Genju of the Fens and mostly Black creatures. On balance I think my deck might have been better, but the matchup favored him.
We split the first two games, with me winning game one with Tatsumasa holding off his alpha strike and Rootrunner dealing with his Genju and leaving him set to draw land a turn before dying. Game two he had the Genju again and I didn’t have Rootrunner and he pushed me off the table. Game three ended without result – at the time I thought I was dominating, with Hana Kami and Sacred Bell in play and a removal spell in hand, but his hand was two removal spells and Blind with Anger, so things were still quite open. Gooch lost in round five but won in round six to make Top 8 where I shipped him a second-pick 8.5 Tails in the second set of packs. Nothing like drafting friendly!
3-0-1 in matches, 6-3 in games
Round five: Niko White
Niko was having his most successful PTQ ever and was very excited about the prospects of making Top 8. Unfortunately he’d been paired down against someone (me) for who a draw was the same as a loss, so he wasn’t able to draw in. Worse, his opponent in round five couldn’t afford to draw in either and Niko lost both matches – it’s pretty frustrating to go 4-0 in a 6-round PTQ and not make Top 8. Given his play skill and the way he built his deck I have no doubt we’ll be hearing from him again.
Niko’s deck was B/W/u with a good mix of flyers and blockers and Devouring Greed as a finisher. Unfortunately his deck is vulnerable to mine, since my creatures are a bit too big and I can remove his key defenders with spot removal. To make things worse, he isn’t able to draw White mana in game two until far too late.
4-0-1 in matches, 8-3 in games
There are four 4-0-1s so we all ID with each other and wait for the Top 8 draft.
4-0-2 in matches, 8-3 in games
Boston Top 8s always have at least a few people who have been on the Pro Tour and a bunch that make Top 8 fairly regularly. I’m definitely the most experienced PT drafter, but it’s not like last time when my first-round opponent was in his first-ever Top 8 and his first-ever Rochester Draft. This time I’d be facing a YMG regular who I’ve drafted with and against many times.
I went into the draft fairly open-minded but with perhaps a slight bias towards Green. One reason for the bias is that I’ve had quite good results with Green lately, for reasons I’ll be covering in part 2 of my article on Draft Archetypes. Another is that Green is the color people don’t respect – for some reason, it often seems underdrafted in PTQ Top 8s, at least in Boston. I think the reason is that people may be willing to draft “the bad color” in a normal draft, but suddenly when the stakes are high they think they should stick to only “good” colors. It’s bad enough to lose, but you don’t want to lose in the Top 8 with your stupid Green deck when someone more clever than you drafted U/R, showing that he deserves to be on the Pro Tour.
My opening pack was quite mediocre, with Order of the Sacred Bell and Gibbering Kami being the best cards. I took the Order and then second-picked another Order out of an almost-identical pack. None of my next few picks were exciting and I kept looking for signals until finally I got a Sakura-Tribe Elder and Kodama’s Might mid-to-late in the pack.
It turned out that Green wasn’t merely underdrafted, but savagely underdrafted. Many solid cards tabled for the two people drafting Green. With two Elders (I passed a third to take another Kodama’s Might) I was on the lookout for off-color bombs but ended up with a fairly straightforward – and powerful – G/r beatdown deck:
Final Draft Deck
3 Kodama’s Might Feel Like Cheating but it’s Legal
Commune With Nature
2 Sakura-Tribe Elder
2 Humble Budoka
2 Kami of the Hunt
Roar of the Jukai
2 Order of the Sacred Bell
Torrent of Stone
The most obvious question is whether I’m being greedy on land. I have a fairly low curve, two Elders and a Sustainer, so I think 16 lands is enough but it’s naturally a bit scary. I think a lot of people would cut Commune for a 7th Mountain (or 11th Forest) and I can’t say they’d be wrong – but this is the sort of deck that Commune really shines in, so I can’t say they’d be right, either.
The other choice that is probably just wrong is my final cut of Unearthly Blizzard. Blizzard has insane synergy with the rest of the deck, both as a splice vessel for Kodama’s Might and to push through the final bits of damage from a start of Humble Bumble, Gnarled Mass, Sacred Bell.
I suspect that the correct choice is to cut Scaled Hulk in favor of Blizzard and stay on 16 lands, but I really wanted a second legitimate fatty – especially since I assumed there must be another really good Green deck at the table. Blizzard is great vs. Green if you’ve got tempo and awful if you don’t, whereas fatties are usually just good in Green on Green. In hindsight, however, triple Kodama’s Might is insane in Green on Green. OK, it’s also pretty good in Green on Red, Green on Black, Green on White, Green on Green and Blonde on Blonde (I ordered Blonde on Blonde recently and found to my sadness that it was a form of pizza rather than a sex show). The point is that I should beat almost any Green deck with triple-Might and Blizzard, so I can probably live without the fattie.
My sideboard had its share of goodies, too, including secons of Sniper and Decoy, Traproot Kami, Wear Away, 2 Yamabushi’s Storm, Akki Coalflinger (left in the board for obvious mana reasons), Soul of Magma and Ashen Monstrosity.
Quarter-Finals: Jeffrey Dyer
Jeffrey isn’t just a friend, he’s part of the YMG Inc. playtest group – that is, he plays the games we’re making and helps us make them better. Sadly, he’s also quite good at Magic.
Game one sees me start off fast, while Jeffrey mulligans to 6. Sadly, his six-card hand contains Glacial Ray and a lot of vessels for it. On turn 3 he draws a card and kills one of my guys. Next turn he bounces one and kills the other. I’m forcing through damage with the help of some three-toughness creatures, but he’s generating a lot of card advantage and pulling lands out of his deck with the Journeyer’s Kite he played on turn 2 before casting free Glacial Rays for the next few. Finally, during my EOT he casts Gifts Ungiven and shows me Earthshaker, Jetting Glasskite, Sire of the Storm and Teller of Tales. I know his hand is Glacial Ray (still!) and Kabuto Moth, and he has eight lands in play. I have Order of Sacred Bell in play and Forked-Branch Garami and Torrent of Stone in my hand, along with a weenie (I think).
It took rather a while for Gifts to resolve.
The obvious fact is that he doesn’t get Earthshaker. The next obvious fact is that he does get Jetting Glasskite, because my guys can trade with it and he can only pump it with Kabuto Moth if he throws away his Glacial Ray. It’s an amazing card in general, but in this situation its flying is irrelevant and its ability is a drawback. So the real question is which 3/3 flying target of Torrent of Stone do I give him? If he draws a land I’d rather he had Teller, but if he doesn’t he can’t play Sire and Kabuto Moth. I figure if he topdecks a land and gets a free card then at least he drew a land – I give him Sire and Glasskite.
He draws a land, plays Sire of Storm, plays Kabuto Moth and draws a card. Thankfully I continued to draw gas and was able to push through as planned. Alright, I was able to push through as hoped – I have to admit I didn’t like my chances too much when he Gifted. I burned away his Sire and knocked him down to 8. He played Jetting Glasskite and I attacked again; he burned Glacial Ray to keep the Glasskite in play and take down Order of Sacred Bell, but now he has to deal with Forked-Branch Garami and another creature. Given time he may have been able to pull it off, but his life total was too low to race effectively and I pushed through before he could stabilize.
In game two Jeffrey came out with Shinka Gatekeeper and Kami of Fire’s Roar and then swung for five two turns in a row. Kabuto Moth also came out on his side and on my turn I think I made a game-losing error. I was hitting back with Sacred Bell and Kami of the Hunt (both unblocked) and before damage I played Torrent of Stone on his Moth, splicing Kodama’s Might on my Kami of the Hunt. I suspected that he had Consuming Vortex in hand, but didn’t really mind any of his options – save the Moth and he takes nine and the Moth is summoning sick again next turn. Bounce one of my guys and the Moth still dies.
The problem is that I was behind in the race and playing as though I wasn’t – I’m at ten life, and he’s still at 18 before this combat. The correct play was to forget everything we know about which cards are good and which are bad and to target his Shinka Gatekeeper with the Torrent. Now he has no good options. If he saves the Gatekeeper he takes nine and can only swing back for two (or three, if he doesn’t keep the Moth back on defense). He’ll have an active Moth, but I still have Kodama’s Might and can punch through his piddly +1/+2 nonsense, especially since I still have unplayed fatties in hand and Shinka Gatekeeper is a dubious blocker now that the race has turned against him. If he doesn’t save the Gatekeeper he probably can’t even hope to win, since he’ll take at least 8 (if he bounces Kami of the Hunt) and have no meaningful offense. (And, of course, if he doesn’t have Consuming Vortex he’s going to take 13 points of damage and his MTGO icon will turn that pasty shade of almost dead.)
Jeffrey bounced Kami of the Hunt and took four and then bashed me down to four with the help of First Volley. I kept playing out guys – now recognizing that I had to defend – and still forced through a bit of damage. Finally I got him to 11, a level at which I could alpha-strike next turn and force him to block with Kami of Fire’s Roar and I had to hope he wouldn’t topdeck another arcane bounce spell (which would take care of both my blockers). Instead he drew Glacial Ray, which only took care of one but since it went to my dome he only needed to take care of one.
Going into game three I was impressed with the power of Jeffrey’s deck but still felt confident. I had yet to see a Humble Budoka, which would be amazing against him, and on the play my deck had a big tempo advantage on his. Given normal starts for both our decks, he would have to tap out to play creatures and would thus be unable to trump my Kodama’s Mights in combat. Sadly, after those two amazing games, game three was a disappointment. Jeffrey’s hand filled with fatties and he died without the mana to cast them.
Semi-finals: Manuel Pacheco
After the commentary on the last match, this one is going to be short. My deck did just what it’s supposed to and Manuel’s simply didn’t. In game one I came out with Frostling, followed by a bear, Gnarled Mass and Order of Sacred Bell. He got to see my deck and “thin” out a creature when he Eradicated my Order, but it wasn’t enough.
In the second game he mulliganed and was stuck on enough Forests but one Swamp with multiple BB removal spells in hand.
Finals: Mike Ring
Mike and I chat a bit before the match. He’s never been to the Pro Tour and really wants to go, so we’re going to have to fight it out. We discuss splitting the cash and finally agree that the winner will go immediately to a bank machine and get $200 for the loser, who also gets to keep all the booster packs. I know Mike is G/B but haven’t actually seen any of his deck – just a glimpse during one of his matches in which I saw Dance of Shadows. Similarly, I assume he knows that I’m G/R but probably doesn’t know too much about my deck.
If you look at my scoresheet it looks like only game two was close, but in fact every single game came down to a life point or two.
During game one Mike flipped Hired Muscle with two counters and then swung for four points of Fearful damage twice. The play didn’t really make that much sense since I was at 20 life until I realized that he must be holding Dance of Shadows. That was bad times, because his life total was fairly healthy and so was his board position – in addition to Kashi-Tribe Reaver he had Genju of the Cedars, meaning any attacks I made would have to trade spells for Forests. That was actually okay for me, though, as one way for him to combo me out would be to reach eight mana and be able to attack with the Genju the turn he cast Dance of Shadows.
I spent the rest of the game making attacks that kept Mike from being able to Dance me out. In many cases these were all-out attacks or included suicide runs for my Matsu-Tribe Sniper and Orochi Ranger – just to keep his creatures tapped. Judicious use of Kodama’s Mights allowed me to force through some trample damage and keep enough of my creatures alive (and enough of his dead) that he couldn’t afford to attack back. As Darwin put it, I had to put myself into a position of playing off the top of my deck rather than play a more controlling game as I might if he wasn’t about to go lethal. For multiple turns he was one point of damage short of being able to kill me from twelve life, while I continued to draw well and finally killed him.
A lot of details from that game are gone from memory, which is really too bad as it was one of the tensest and best-played games of my life. From the initial read I had to calculate every single turn of combat, deciding when to save creatures and when to let them die (e.g. at one point I let one of my best creatures die because when blocked by the Reaver because the turn it would stay tapped was too important) in order to give myself a chance to win.
On the draw in game two I kept a hand with two Mountains. I drew a Forest on turn 3 which was okay, but not quite great. Mike meanwhile led with turn 1 Genju, turn 2 Cutthroat (having seen no X/1s in game one I had boarded out my Frostling!) and swing for six on turns 3 and 4. Unfortunately I can’t remember the exact sequence of events, but we reached a situation in which I was at four life and Mike was at 11. Mike had Burr Grafter and two lands untapped and his Cutthroat tapped. I had three Mountains and two Forests untapped and two Kami of the Hunt. I attack.
You’re Mike… you’re facing four damage which will put you to seven and you have a lethal counter-attack if you don’t block. Do you block? Mike did, to my great sadness, as I was holding all three Kodama’s Mights in hand. Sure, I could only cast two of them, but if he hadn’t blocked I would have made both of my Kami of the Hunt 6/6 and killed him. As it was, I Mighted the unblocked one (making the other 3/3), played another creature, and hoped to draw an out.
Mike rebuilt his life by Draining one of my Kamis, while my Pain Kami showed up as an out against the Rat. There were multiple points where I could kill him if I drew a Forest (allowing Might splice Might, Might) but Mike drew into Honden of Night’s Reach and gradually the Mights just got discarded. With the Genju providing ongoing creature superiority, Mike took control and killed me.
Game three looks (on the scoresheet) like Mike just got crushed. My life remains at 20 while his goes to 17 and then to 3. The actual game was incredibly tense, came down to one life point for both of us and should actually have been won by Mike.
The hit to 17 came fairly early, but the board soon got clogged with creatures. Mike even commented that this would be a long game and for some reason I knew he had the Dance again. Sigh. Thankfully I had a good selection of creatures and my sideboarded Unearthly Blizzard so I could Dance almost as well as he could. All I needed for the win was one of my three Kodama’s Mights, but it wasn’t meant to be.
When he played Wicked Akuba I counted out all the possible damage from Dance of Shadows and the Akuba draining me and he was four points short. I also knew that I was running out of time – he now had a counter on Hired Muscle and might go lethal at any point. I peeked at the top card of my deck and saw a land. Time to go for it – I revealed and asked his team not to block, putting him at three life. I kept Humble Bumble back to block so he couldn’t Alpha me without casting Dance of Shadows, and even if he drew a Swamp he could still only do 17 that way. Mike drew for the turn and then realized that he could have won the game if he’d played his last land – a Swamp – last turn.
He’d drawn another Swamp on his turn and did indeed have Dance of Shadows. The Alpha-strike and maximum Wicked Akuba would still only do 18, but his last card was Devouring Greed – so he could have done 16 with the attack and Akuba and drained me for the last four points of life. As it was, Greeding for four points (and losing a blocker) wouldn’t prevent a fatal counter-attack on my next turn and he could only do 19 to me if he went all-in so he conceded.
By far the tensest finals match I’ve ever been in, and I’m sure I’ve gotten some of the details wrong. Even though Mike lost the final game due to a play error I give him a lot of credit for his play throughout – to say nothing of making the finals in his first PTQ Top 8. Hopefully Mike will still Q for London, but in any case I’m sure this won’t be his last Top 8.
As for me, I was over the moon – and still am. I’ve now qualified for three out of four Pro Tours since my return, and am going to Pro Tour: London. I even managed to kick my Limited rating up to a respectable level again. The $300 that’s left over from the prize check will also help with expenses – designing games may be more fun than running a department for Siemens, but it doesn’t pay as well. (Not that Siemens pays incredibly well, but designing games doesn’t pay anything yet!)
And best of all, the lesbians were all waiting when I got home. We had a bunch of them over for dinner with me joining in if I scrubbed out of the PTQ and for whatever reason they were still hanging out when I got home even though I lost an hour or so driving Jeffrey home first!
What’s better than qualifying for the Pro Tour? Having a bunch of lesbians hug and congratulate you over it and feed you brownies.
Life is good.
Hugs ’til next time,