Weak Among the Strong: Rob’s Strategy for Qualifying for the Pro Tour, Part 2

Those of you who read Brian David-Marshall’s MTG.com article last week probably already know the outcome of this report, but what you don’t know is exactly how Chad got there or what he has to say about Rochester drafting Champions of Kamigawa. As a bonus, Chad has also provided all the decklists for the top 8 draft of his PTQ, so you can see exactly how things play out in this new Limited format.

When last we spoke, I’d taken an excellent sealed deck to 5-0 and drawn into the top 8. Now would come the Rochester draft… and now the main problem would naturally come back to haunt me.

I don’t know the set very well.

Fortunately, no one else knew it that well either. But they’d all been to the prerelease at least – it was safe to say that I was among the least experienced with Champions, even if I was possibly the most experienced player overall (from a Pro Tour perspective).

My first thought was to do something I almost never do: decide my draft strategy before the draft even started. This is something I hate to do because one of my Rochester strengths is reading a table and putting myself into advantageous colors, but forcing one of the few good archetypes I could identify had its advantages. Forcing Black was recommended, since Black was so deep and so good. The problem was that everyone else seemed to know it, meaning we could easily end up with four Black drafters. Another thing that scared me is that Black had so many one-toughness creatures, and Champions has a Tremor. You really don’t want to draft a Rochester archetype your opponent can pre-sideboard for with 13th picks. Forcing White was another option, and I was definitely interested in going White if someone else went in two or three seats away. For quite possibly the first time in the history of Magic I didn’t like Blue very much, as it seemed both slow and vulnerable. And Green seemed strategically unsound, with its normal weaknesses (evasion and removal) and no compensating strengths. But then again…

It occurred to me that Green had more legitimate control cards than it ever had before, including a 1/3 with a built-in Lure and sleep spell. It also had three common mana accelerators, two of which gave access to other colors, while the other colors had none. So I was open to Green in theory, although I preferred to find myself in a good position to take one of the deeper colors, especially White

When the draft started, I was in the third seat. The first pick was Black, the second White and that left me with a choice to make. There was nothing good in Red in the pack. There was a solid Green card. And there was a Black 2/1 for two. Did I want to force Black and hope that it was something like odd-even, or take the Green card knowing it would probably be open two seats in front of me?

I went Green. From that point I was looking for the following things, in order: mana-acceleration (especially Kodama’s Reach), good splash cards, and fat. Just as important to my strategy would be early cards like Matsu-Tribe Decoy, but as I suspected these came fairly late. My hunch is that most people figured that a 1/3 for three is about as bad as it gets in a world filled with 2/2 Bushido Knights, but if you combine a decoy with Kodama’s Might or, better yet, Serpent Skin, you have a real threat.

With the drafter in front of me going U/W, it was easy for me to pick Red as my second color with a fairly late Earthshaker. I wasn’t thrilled to be drafting R/G, but I was happy with my placement on the table – Green was free for two seats to either side of me and Red was slightly underdrafted.

Once you’ve placed yourself in a good spot, it doesn’t hurt to get lucky. I was a bit sad when I opened my first pack and could only take an Order of the Sacred Bell. 4/3 for four isn’t bad by any means, but it trades with Bushido Knights and would probably be better as a 3/4. Or a Glacial Ray.

Things quickly got better. When the first set of packs were coming back, Sosuke, Son of Seshiro was opened two seats away from me and I had my first broken legend. I was also able to “work” the table and read that Time of Need would bounce back to me in a key pack; now if I got another bomb legend I would effectively have three. (I wouldn’t have run the Time of Need for just Sosuke.) Since I’d also picked up one Reach it was fair to say that I could and would run any bomb legend I opened. Thankfully, the person feeding me opened bomb rares in all three of his packs and the third one, Kumano, Master Yamabushi, got shipped to me. I also skillfully opened a Glacial Ray and even more skillfully got another third in a strong pack, and picked up a second Kodama’s Reach and two White Arcane spells to splash.

Here is my final deck:


2 Humble Budoka

Kami of the Hunt

Kashi-Tribe Reaver

2 Kodama’s Reach

2 Matsu-Tribe Decoy

Order of the Sacred Bell

Orochi Leafcaller

Orochi Sustainer

2 Serpent Skin

Sosuke, Son of Seshiro

Time of Need

Vine Kami



2 Glacial Ray

Kami of the Fire’s Roar

Kumano, Master Yamabushi


Blessed Breath

Otherworldly Journey

10 Forest (one foil)

6 Mountain

One foil Plains

Noteworthy sideboard cards: Nine-Ringed Bo, Vine Kami, Thousand-legged Kami

I felt very good about the deck and my chances. Either one of my legends could dominate a game – Kumano on his own or Sosuke when combined with my snake warriors. I had good mana ramping, probably the second-best removal at the table, and enough early plays that I wasn’t too worried about getting pushed off the table quickly except possibly with a slow draw vs. either of my semi-final opponents.

I was also lucky with my first round match. Sam Strassman, my opponent, was apparently playing in his first PTQ ever as well as his first Rochester Draft. I remember my first PTQ top 8 Rochester Draft and Sam did better than I did – but still not as well as he might have liked. When I saw him picking up Sokenzan Bruisers (in the end he only ran one), I was quite happy since there was no way our matchup was going to come down to a ground stall where mountainwalk would make up for his Hill Giants costing five mana.

Our games weren’t terribly close, with me taking two points of damage in the entire match. Mostly my creatures were just bigger and my tricks were just better. In one game I got out the Earthshaker and then kept blowing up whatever he put out. In game two he tapped out to played his Dragon, so I killed him, using Glacial Ray to take out one blocker and the arcane trigger on my Kami to prevent the Dragon from blocking.

Semi-finals: Jim Dyke

Jim had drafted one of the best decks at the table, from what I could remember, with a good early White curve and nice tricks like Indomitable Will. He splashed two Blue cards (Counsel of Soratami and Soratami Rainshaper) to supplement his White army.

I won the roll and chose to play – and quickly mulliganed. My six card hand was four lands, Earthshaker and Kumano. Hmmm. I know he’s fast, and not doing anything until turn 5 is pretty risky. On the other hand, I may draw something before then and Kumano and Earthshaker are capable of killing an awful lot of stuff. Five cards aren’t likely to be better, so I keep.

He plays a bear on turn 2, Kitsune Blademaster on turn 3 (attacking me to 18) and Mothrider Samurai on turn 4 (I’m at 14). I play Kumano. He plays Terashi’s Cry and knocks me down to eight. I untap, lay a sixth land, and say go. He attacks with just his Mothrider and I shoot it once, let that resolve and shoot it again, so that he can’t use the stack to save it with Indomitable Will. He says go, having done no damage to me and with just two 2/2s in play. Being the accurate player I am, I don’t forget to shoot him for one during the end of his turn – and being the accurate player he is, he doesn’t forget to Reciprocate the game away from me. Boourns.

This is the sort of thing that shouldn’t happen in a Rochester draft. I should know whether Reciprocate was in his deck; and if I wasn’t confident that I knew one way or the other, I shouldn’t have done damage to him with Kumano. Alas, not only did I not keep track of all the key spells because I was too busy reading cards, I forgot that Reciprocate existed and thus wasn’t thinking of the possibility.

Fortunately, games two and three went my way. I don’t remember all the details, but I think in game two I just came out fast and pushed past his smaller guys with the help of some spliced Glacial Ray. In game three I played super-cautiously, getting out Kumono and holding off his team (often locking one or more guys down with a Skin-wearing Decoy) while picking off flyers. Finally I went for it, splicing Glacial Ray on Glacial Ray to take out two blockers and sending my team in to force him to chump-block and leave himself with just a 3/3 Mothrider and me at seven life. Not an ideal place for a U/W deck to be.

With a $500 check as prize and the Pro Tour in Japan, the semi-finals are often the finals. One of the players usually can’t afford to go to Japan and if the other player wants the slot, it’s not too hard to get it. If neither can afford to go, they often split the prize and go home. The funny thing is that usually I’m the guy grabbing the slot and happily giving the other guy the cash and even the product. Now, with a baby and having started a new company (i.e. in the “investment” stage rather than the “revenue” stage), money is actually pretty tight and time is even tighter. I don’t know whether I can spend a week flying to Japan, as much as I’d love to.

Lucas Glavin, the other finalist, feels the same only stronger. He also wants to go home. In the end, we agree to a $200/$300 split where he gets the extra money and I get the slot. It actually makes me a bit sad to qualify, because I had set aside the time to play in this season’s PTQs and now I won’t be able to. Still, it’s good to be back on the Pro Tour and to show that I can still play at the top of the game after my sabbatical.

The Top 8 decks:

Sam Strassman (T8)

Cranial Extraction

Cursed Ronin


Gibbering Kami

Pull Under

Swallowing Plague

Thief of Hope

2 Wicked Akuba

2 Brutal Deceiver

Crushing Pain

2 Ember-Fist Zubera

Glacial Ray

Initiate of Blood

Kami of Fire’s Roar

Ryusei, the Falling Star

Sokensan Bruiser

Uncontrollable Anger

2 Yamabushi’s Flame

8 Mountain

10 Swamp

Josh Smith (T8)

Ashen-Skin Zubera

Dance of Shadows


Gutwrencher Oni

Hideous Laughter

Kami of the Waning Moon

Painwracker Oni

Rend Flesh

Soulless Revival

Thief of Hope

2 Villainous Ogre

2 Burr Grafter

2 Feral Deceiver

Kodama’s Might

Moss Kami

Orochi Ranger


2 Sakura-Tribe Elder

Journeyer’s Kite

Long-Forgotten Gohei

8 Forest

8 Swamp

Go Anau (T8)

2 Befoul

Cruel Deceiver

2 Devouring Greed

2 Gibbering Kami

Kami of the Waning Moon

Nezumi Graverobber

Rend Spirit

Wicked Akuba

Akki Coalflinger

Blood Rites

Brothers Yamazaki

Brutal Deceiver

2 Hearth Kami

2 Kami of Fire’s Roar

Pain Kami

Ronin Houndmaster, a.k.a. Smithers

Uncontrollable Anger

Yamabushi’s Flame

Chris Thomas (T8)

Callous Deceiver

Hisoka’s Defiance

Kami of Twisted Reflection

Mystic Restraints

River Kaijin

2 Soratami Cloudskater

Soratami Rainshaper

Teller of Tales


Kami of Lunacy

Kiku, Night’s Flower

2 Midnight Covenant

2 Nezumi Ronin

Pull Under

2 Rend Flesh

Rend Spirit

Scuttling Death

Wicked Akuba

Orochi Hatchery

7 Island

10 Swamp

Jim Dyke (T4)

2 Cage of Hands

Call to Glory

Devoted Retainer

Hundred-Talon Kami

Indomitable Will

Innocence Kami

Kabuto Moth

2 Kami of Ancient Law

Kitsune Blademaster

4 Mothrider Samurai

Otherworldly Journey

Reciprocate (Booourns!)

Samurai Enforcers

Samurai of the Pale Curtain

Terashi’s Cry

Counsel of the Soratami

Soratami Rainshaper

Cloudcrest Lake

3 Island

13 Plains

Greg Schwartz (T4)

2 Consuming Vortex

Kami of Twisted Reflection

Petals of Insight

2 Reach through Mists

River Kaijin

Soratami Cloudskater

Soratami Mirror-Guard

Soratami Rainshaper

Soratami Savant


Dripping-Tongue Zubera

Feral Deceiver

2 Humble Budoka

2 Kami of the Hunt


Order of the Sacred Bell

2 Orochi Ranger

Serpent Skin

Strength of Cedars

8 Forest

8 Island

Lucas Glavin (T2)

Blessed Breath

Cage of Hands

Ghostly Prison

Isamaru, Hound of Konda

Kabuto Moth

Kami of Ancient Law

Kami of the Painted Road

Kitsune Blademaster

Kitsune Diviner

Kitsune Healer

Masako the Humorless

Motherider Samurai

Nagao, Bound by Honor

2 Consuming Vortex

Hisoka’s Defiance

Keiga, the Tide Star

Soratami Mirror-Guard

Soratami Mirror-Mage

Soratami Savant

Teller of Tales

Time Stop

Uyo, Silent Prophet

8 Island

9 Plains