There is this sense of relief at making the Top 8. Passing that big seven-round hurdle successfully, guaranteeing yourself that shiny pin; it’s all very satisfying. Most people are so happy just to make the single-elimination rounds that they disregard strategies to actually win the whole thing. I’ve made a number of PTQ top 8s in my life, and these are the strategies that I’ve used – or that have been used against me.
The essence of utilizing the special aspects of the top 8 is using the crowd. All of the people who didn’t make the cut are very helpful in your continued winning. The two parts of the crowd are the bystanders and your friends.
Your friends and teammates are best used for reconnaissance. For example, during a Constructed PTQ, during the final rounds of Swiss play, your buddies can walk around the top tables and remember unusual maindeck or sideboard cards. During the actual final 8, there might be temptation for your pals to watch your match; instead, send them out to scout the next round’s opponent, again looking for relevant maindeck and sideboard cards.
Limited events have similar potential. While finding out cards contained in a Sealed deck is obviously pointless, there is still a draft to contend with. You will always know your first-round opponent, who will be four away from you at the drafting table. If the head judge allows people to watch the draft (and most do), then position someone to watch your opponent’s entire draft. This isn’t as brutal as it sounds, since immediately after the draft the players are sequestered to make their decks. It is quite illegal to have someone give advice on how to construct your draft deck, so don’t even try. However, if you finish your decklist in time, you’ll be given a break to get water, stretch, go to the bathroom… And touch base with the people who have information for you.
Let’s say all your teammates left for home, or you’re friendless. The general tournament-going populace still allows you plenty of unique top 8 strategies.
Unlike the Swiss rounds, each top 8 game is usually watched by a horde of people. Your opponent is probably aware of this. Some people love the audience; it gives them energy. Other people get very uncomfortable under the scrutiny. Your job is to get your opponent off his or her game.
Let’s say your opponent seems especially quiet and nervous, and you’re getting the vibe that your opponent is distinctly uncomfortable. Try to joke around with people, engage them and bring them into the game. You are trying to make your opponent aware of every eye on your important match. Needless to say, if your opponent’s head is not focused on the game at hand, mistakes are very likely.
On the flip side, your top 4 opponent might be interacting with the crowd, or at least his or her friends. Those people make your opponent comfortable, and that’s the last thing you want. It is within your rights to tell certain people to leave – or if you don’t want to seem too mean, tell them at least be silent. Again, all this is to get your opponent distracted from the match in front of him.
Your audience has other uses for you as well. There will most likely be people standing directly behind your opponent (and you as well). Your esteemed opponent might have an icy poker face, but there’s a good chance that the railbirds aren’t as stoic. Watching the watchers can give you big clues to the quality of your opponent’s draws.
If a spectator gasps, or crosses himself, or leans in and says,”You’re dead now, beeyatch!!!” well… That’s a strong clue you should hold onto that Cruel Revival or Counterspell. But there are some more common tells that are a touch more subtle.
If someone leans in close to look at or read a card, it’s a good bet it’s something unusual like a rare (in Limited), or a tricky sideboard card (in Limited or Constructed). At the very least, you’ll know it’s not a land. Looks of sympathy from the watchers could mean another land – as in a string of lands – have been drawn. If applicable, now might be the time to make your move.
With all of those faces, a perceptive and observant player can gain a lot of information. However, equally important is how to protect yourself from people around you leaking your hand’s quality.
First off, try to seat yourself in an area where it’s difficult for many people to stand behind you, such as in between tables. The people who do sit immediately beside you are hopefully people you trust (the ones that aren’t scouting on your behalf of course). Above all else, make sure that friends and teammates of your opponent cannot see your hand, unless you have a lot of trust. Your opponent may have created signals with the people watching. This is grand cheating, and unfortunately it’s very difficult to prove; the best way to stop it is to get people you suspect away from your match. If you truly think active two-way communication is taking place between your opponent and the teammate, discreetly notify the judge of your concerns. If the judge does find cheating, you might just win the round then and there.
A final point of top 8 play must be addressed: Many people in the”do or die” situation change their game, alter how they play based on the closeness to their goal. Don’t. The knowledge of your deck and your Limited skills got you this far; continue to play your game, continue to mulligan those one-land hands. It’s common to panic and lose focus in sight of the big prize. Don’t fall into that trap; instead, continue to make correct decisions. As many intelligent people have said, winning is a by-product of making good decisions.
Good luck! Any questions or comments I can be reached at [email protected]
Noastic on Magic Online