Weak Among the Strong: Two Down!

Chad tells the tale of how he hopped off the Magic gold course and right back on the Pro Tour for the second time in a row, though in this tale he gets by with a little help from his friends.

A successful comeback sure beats the alternatives. When I decided to follow Rob’s strategy for getting back on the Pro Tour (namely, show up for a &^#% PTQ), I assumed I might miss a few before qualifying. It isn’t easy winning a PTQ, after all. Then I won the Champions of Kamigawa prerelease tournament only to be told that the real prerelease had already happened and I had won a PTQ. Cool beans, even if I soon decided there was no way I could go to Japan for a Pro Tour under current circumstances.

Next up was Team Limited. I was on a team with Chris Manning and Bruce Cowley, two very strong players, and felt pretty optimistic. Luck was also with us in terms of life schedules as we were able to go to most nearby PTQs as well as GP: Chicago.

Sadly, luck wasn’t with us in terms of card pools. We kept opening up gold and getting back brass, often with tarnish. Still, we remained optimistic because we felt like we were building our decks well and getting the most out of our cardpools. Eventually we would get some awesome decks to play and we’d be drafting for the slot.

And finally, that’s what happened. After a near-disaster relying on Yahoo! for directions and thus nearly missing the PTQ altogether, Chris and I arrive to find Bruce sorting out the cards we are to register. We opened by far the best cardpool in Team Limited history; as an indication, there were two Meloku in it and Blue wasn’t even our best color. I mentioned to the judges that we’d like to get our cards back and they obliged. I combined some mana-ramping in Green (including Sachi) with Meloku and not one but three Soratami Savant to create an absolute monster deck. In most rounds my opponents cast their last spell at or around turn 6 and spent the rest of the game taking flying damage until such time as I could just swarm them with spirits. Six easy rounds later we were top seed in the Swiss at 4-0-2 (I managed a game loss somewhere along the way, but none of our matches were close). The T4 round was still played with the sealed decks, so we easily won that. All that was left was the finals.

(sound of alarm clock going off)

Whu? Wha? Where am I? Oh, right, that was me dreaming. As it happens, the judges didn’t quite give us our decks back. Instead they gave them to the guys next to us. Well done, gentlemen, well done. We were still going to have to work for a living.

We did have some gas to work with. Our removal base was solid, with some Red and Black burn spells and some terrors. Black was quite aggressive, including three Wicked Akuba. In White we had some good tricks and two Moths. Green had an Elder and a Reach. Our soulshift abilities were rather marginal, and it was rather sad that our two Teller of Tales wouldn’t have much in the way of good Arcane tricks to work with. Then again, we had two Tellers. We also had a shiny Keiga.

As I discussed in my recent Team Sealed article, we approached the cardpool from many angles. I wanted to try R/G, U/W and B/u (splashing some “target Wicked Akuba cannot be blocked”). The U/W just felt “right” to me, letting the White arcane tricks complement the Tellers, and while the R/G didn’t look exciting it did have a very aggressive curve and Falter. The problem was that the U/W curve was too top-heavy, while the R/G deck just didn’t convince any of us it could win. We decided to go with B/R, U/G and W/B, giving me (the U/G player) two Yamabushi’s Storm for my sideboard. I wasn’t thrilled with my curve (I had to run River Kaijin and Kami of Twisted Reflection just to have some three-drops and soulshift targets for Rootrunner and Burr Grafter), but I had Kodama’s Might and Strength of Cedars, so hopefully I could out-trick my opponents or just hit them with a tree while they were tapped out.

Basically, if you swap out the two guys mentioned above for Kami of the Hunt, my deck would be quite solid. If you did that and gave me a Consuming Vortex, it would be good. As it was, it was on the iffy side, but at least it had game and it was a style of deck I have a lot of experience playing.

Unfortunately I didn’t take good notes and my memory of the swiss rounds is a bit sketchy. There were a few rounds where I got pushed off the table and a few rounds where I pushed other people off the table. A few stand out in memory.

In round five I played Mouth, one of New England’s more colorful Magic players. I led on turn 2 with Humble Bumble. Mouth played Nezumi Graverobber. I’ll quote Gadiel Szleifer,which of course a U/G deck cannot beat.” I swung for two and, lacking three-drops, played Kodama’s Reach. Mouth ate the Reach and swung back for four. On his next turn, Mouth played another card U/G hates to see, Kiku. Mouth also made his fifth land drop, meaning that each turn he would kill my best guy until such time as it made more sense to bring my best guy out of the graveyard to work for him.

So you lost, right? Holy Pikula!

My turn 4 and 5 plays were both Teller of Tales. That meant that when Mouth untapped with active Rat and Kiku, he was at eleven life (having taken two on turn 3 and 4 and five on turn 5), with me having six lands in play. If he Kiku’s a Teller and doesn’t block Humble Bumble, he just dies if I have Strength of Cedars. Even if he trades with Humble Bumble, he could die if I have Strength and Might. So he decides to play it controlling. He trades with Humble Bumble and takes six from the Tellers, going down to five. I drop a Hill Giant and Decoy and he Kiku’s a Teller. Next turn I swing again, use Kodama’s Might so that lethal damage will be on the stack and then Strength of Cedars for the kill when he taps out to Kiku.

Of course, it’s tremendously important in all this that I’ve drawn both Tellers, since if Mouth uses the Graverobber to bring back the dead one I can tap it before blockers by casting any random arcane instant…like Strength of Cedars.

Game two Mouth came out fast with quick sprits and Kami of the Waning Moon. I ramp up to some Tellers and a Cloudskater to face off his air force, but am at three life. He plays Skuttling Death and gives his Gibbering Kami fear. I can tap it with Kodama’s Might, but then I’m out of arcane spells and next turn he’ll probably fear up his 4/2 and just kill me. I figure I have to hope that I can swing with the Tellers next turn, untap them by playing a Spirit, tap whoever gets fear on his turn and, well, pray a lot.

So you lost, right? Holy Pikula!

Mouth is a good player, but here his brain just explodes. He knows I have Kodama’s Might in my deck, but suddenly all he can see is that he’s got four attackers (one with fear) and I’ve only got three blockers, one that has toughness of one. So when I decline to tap any of his creatures, he swings with the whole team and tries to kill my Cloudskater by sacrificing his newly-cast Scuttling Death. Naturally I Might it in response and suddenly Mouth has a 1/1 and two 2/2s getting blocked by a 2/2 and two 3/3s on my side, and although I’m going to one life, he no longer has a way to give his guys fear. On my turn I swing back for seven and play a spirit, untapping two blockers. He plays Kiku. I swing again, untap two blockers again, and there’s nothing he can do.

Insanity… if you told me I was going to win against Mouth, I would assume that I drew and used my Storms to good effect. But I guess if you draw both Tellers and your opponent makes one major blunder, that can work too.

In the last round, our tiebreakers are good enough that we can draw in, but we get paired down and have to play. I lose game one to a B/W deck that wrecks me with Waking Nightmares. Game two goes back and forth, with me starting to get the upper hand when he goes for Painwracker Oni with no Ogres in play. I have Hisoka’s Defiance (actually, I have two) and am at eleven life. He has two guys out, so if he doesn’t have any non-spirit spells he’ll only do ten to me before he’s forced to sacrifice the Demon and lose. If he has an Ogre, I lose utterly, and if he has another non-spirit guy I almost definitely lose. He’s been playing around my permission, however, and it just seems too easy for him to be holding random.guy and wreck me, so I decide to counter it.

As it turns out, I probably win if I don’t counter it, since his plan was to try to kill me with Dance of Shadows, which I would of course have countered. Thus, he’d have given up one of his creatures, had Dance countered, been able to hit me for only five and then take some counter-attack damage as well since he wouldn’t be able to block (and trade) with his remaining creature (presumably Cursed Ronin). The Ronin could then have tried to hold the fort, but the game would definitely have taken a big turn in my favor.

Instead, he didn’t have lethal Shadows damage out so he waited, drew out my second counter with Waking Nightmare, and then when a third creature hit play he was able to kill me.

My match was decisive, so we were now just 4-2.

So you didn’t make Top 4, right? Holy Pikula!

What happened is that the other teams on 4-1 decided they had to play, so there were no draws at the top tables. The 4-1 team that got paired up could have drawn once they realized that no one else was drawing, but they either didn’t realize this or their opponents (who could lose in) wanted to play. So in the end it came down to us or Mouth’s team making it in on tiebreaks and we were the lucky ones.

The bad news, of course, is that the Top 4 wasn’t draft yet. We had another round with our sealed decks against Ken Krouner team. I was playing Ken, who had apparently just lost his first game of the day (but not the match) in the previous round. His deck was described to me as insane U/W with Kiku. Fortunately I had some advantages of my own. First, according to Ken, he has never beaten me in a sanctioned match of Magic. Second, my Kiku is shiny. That has to count for something.

It certainly doesn’t count for much in game one. Ken starts out with two Devoted Retainers. On turn 3 he gives one of them Indomitable Will. Some flyers follow while I stall on three and then four lands and am unable to catch up.

In game two I get off a decent curve and Ken misses his fifth land drop, putting out his second Soratami Mirror-Guard. On my turn I play a Mountain and Ken groans out loud. He had seen me play Yamabushi’s Storm in a previous match and explained that his plan was not to show me too many one-toughness creatures in game one and for me not to draw Yamabushi’s Flame in game two. Neither plan worked out. Wrath of God, targeting you, play another creature, swing hard.

Ken was a bit mana-tight in game three as well – not enough to claim screw, but enough to fall behind on tempo. In the end, some odd land-tapping on my part caused him to miss his last chance to hold on. I’d already spliced Kodama’s Might onto Kodama’s Reach, so he knew I had it, and I had an active Rootrunner in play. When I used Feral Deceiver’s ability to peek at my top card, I used Green mana, keeping open GGU instead of GGG. Then when I used Kodama’s Might again in combat, I was down to UG. That signaled to Ken that I had Hisoka’s Defiance, so instead of bouncing one of my men on his turn, he waited until mine. Sure enough, I countered his bounce… with the Defiance I had drawn that turn!

It may be that I should have kept GG open, but I couldn’t picture a scenario in which I would sacrifice my Rootrunner on Ken’s turn, so I figured I’d make him guess. But as Ken pointed out, he should have bounced the Rootrunner on my turn, since if I have the Defiance he just loses anyway. He thus had what I call virtual information that I didn’t have the Defiance – in which case he shouldn’t take the chance of me drawing it.

Chris had just won an incredible game one – during most of the game he had to cope with an active Hana Kami and Blind with Anger in the graveyard while at low life. Bruce, however, had won his match, so Chris’s opponent conceded the rest to him rather than go to game two. (It’s possible that they were actually going to game three…I’m not sure.)

And then there was drafting.

Chris, Bruce and I have done a grand total of zero team Rochester drafts together, as well as a total of zero team Rochester drafts using Champions. But we had a plan. Our default was Chris drafting base-Black in the B seat, Bruce R/W in the A seat and me drafting 5cG in the C seat. That way I could avoid us passing them any bombs. All of our strategies were flexible, however, as we wanted to draft favorable matchups.

Our opponents had even less team Rochester experience (one of them had never done one at all), but they drafted solidly and marginally out-opened us. My draft went according to plan, with double-Reach and Elder helping to support my mana base (along with a Leafcaller), and a bunch of goodies in other colors, facing a R/U opponent with plenty of evasion but no Glacial Ray.

Ah, Glacial Ray. I opened it in a pack going through my team and indicated Ray for me, Hideous Laughter for Chris and some solid White card for Bruce. Bruce and Chris both strongly indicated that I should take random.card (actually it was something good, I just don’t remember what) and give Chris the Ray and Bruce the Laughter. I knew that Bruce had dipped into Black in order to have answers to Kumano, but this was the first I realized that he was taking Black as a main color. I fanned my deck-so-far to them, showing that I already had Eerie Procession, Consuming Vortex, Kodama’s Reach and a few other arcane spells and they still both indicated that I should ship the Glacial Ray. I made faces. I indicated that they might both be on drugs. And finally, in what may be my only arbitrary pick in my history of team play, I took the Glacial Ray.

Somewhere during deck construction I convinced them that maybe, just maybe, the 5cG arcane deck with a U/R opponent might be the best place for the Glacial Ray.

Both Chris and Bruce couldn’t help but chuckle at my deck during construction. Bruce said it best. “I’ve seen you play this type of deck before and you keep winning with it, so I’ll take your word that it’s good.” Here’s what I ended up with:


Reach through Mists

Oriochi Leafcaller

Hana Kami

Kodama’s Might


Sakura-Tribe Elder

Soulless Revival

Glacial Ray

2 Consuming Vortex


2 Kodama’s Reach

Kami of the Hunt

Kitsune Blademaster

2 Cage of Hands

Eerie Procession


Joyous Respite

Feral Deceiver

Honden of Night’s Reach

Kitsune Healer

Burr Grafter


Venerable Kumo

Teller of Tales


Moss Kami

And a robust mana base of 8 Forests, a Swamp, a Plains, a Mountain, 4 Islands and a Tranquil Garden.

A few thoughts on some of the odder cards in my deck:

Honden of Night’s Reach

This card is extremely powerful and is sorely undervalued by many players, who seem to think it’s too slow. It was, of course, even more powerfully in my deck and in this matchup, since my opponent has lots of tricks that will sit in his hand and I have two bounce spells. The Elder gives me a chance of casting it on turn 3 and with double-Reach I effectively have four Black sources (five if you count Procession) so it’s not too bad as a splash. Normally I wouldn’t stretch my 5cG mana to include it, but it is a powerful card. Chris had one in his deck and it gave him tremendous control over the game, seriously de-powering his opponent’s Kami of the Hunt.

Soulless Revival

Now this card I will push my mana base for, especially if I have a Hana Kami. Among the more obscene things I’ve done with this card are infinite fog, replaying Pain Kami every other turn, infinite Joyous Respite, or “just” getting back three or four creatures until my opponent is overwhelmed by card advantage.

Joyous Respite

I know, I know…until you’ve played it or been locked out of the game by it, you won’t believe me. Suffice to say that in other matches I’ve tutored for it with Eerie Procession, and have on more than one occasion had someone say that it broke their back. In game two I was actually down to single-digit life at one point, so I gained eleven or so life with an active Hana Kami out.

Kitsune Healer

Another solid card that I’d almost never splash, I liked it in here because it greatly reduced the prospect of my opponent racing. I don’t normally run it in 5cG.

My opponent’s deck wasn’t bad, but it was going to have a very hard time in this matchup. He was RU with evasion (flyers and Kami of Fire’s Roar) and some tapping tricks, and that has a hard time against acceleration and the prospect of various Hana Kami/Soulless Revival locks, e.g. Glacial Ray or Joyous Respite. One of his “best” cards was Soratami Savant, but that’s just awful against me unless he has mana acceleration of his own.

Our games played out according to plan. I always had out more mana, which in turn meant I had more action on the board. A combination of bounce and splice kept him from ever getting close to holding on. Game two was even worse, since game one confirmed that almost all of his creatures flew – so I replaced a five-mana blocking spirit with Gale Force. That game ended when he tapped out to play two blockers while at low life. I showed him double Cage of Hands (with Leafcaller in play so I could cast both) and he scooped. Bruce meanwhile had somehow managed to win despite his opponent having triple Kabuto Moth, a bunch of Samurai and Call to Glory. Oh wait, that’s what Bruce had. Chris was even at 1-1, but with the match over, his opponent conceded. (I may have mixed up Chris’s semi-final and final matches – in one of them he was up 1-0 when Bruce and I won, and in the other he was tied.) After struggling hard through the Swiss (including being beaten by our eventual opponents in the finals), the Top 4 matches had actually gone pretty easily in our favor and suddenly we were each $250 richer and could look forward to spending that money in Atlanta.

Random funny moments from the PTQ:

Mouth buying my soda off of me for $2. I really wanted that soda, but I’m on a budget now and besides, he said it would make him happy. I’m all about making people happy.

Me drafting Shell of the Kappa when it looked like my finals opponent might be trying to draft Dampen.

Chris and Bruce looking at my deck and shaking their heads, but somehow trusting that I’d win with it.

KK’s look when I played a Mountain against his board of two 3/1 flyers…when (as he told me after the match) he was holding two Indomitable Wills and just waiting to untap.

Our opponents in the finals reminding me of when I’d used Kumano to shoot my opponent for one and had it Reciprocated, a play I described as “the worst one to the dome ever.”

Okay, so these aren’t the funniest of moments. Did I mention that I have a ten-month-old baby? It’s easier to be funny when you have some sleep. So here is a requisite Jade picture, as well as one of Will, Bruce’s son.

This would be Jade
This kid is clearly trouble.

Now I just need to settle on an Extended deck!

Hugs ’til next time,


P.S. With the season almost over it may be late to offer advice, but I strongly encourage teams to focus on the Sealed aspect of the PTQ. You will play a lot more Sealed rounds than draft, and I still see people making huge build mistakes with their team cardpools. If you Q, then by all means do some draft preparation for day two, but even now I’m more interested in testing Team Sealed builds when Betrayers comes out to make sure we get to day two.