Prior to the Detroit PTQ, I spent the week testing Wizards—convinced I had the best list for the weekend.
The only problem? It fell on the same day as the free Silver Pro Level PTQ on Modo. About 90 of us were invited, and even fewer would show up. Still, a small tournament of battle-hardened semi-pros sounded harder than a larger field of less experienced hopefuls. Add on how well the Wizards deck was performing, and the six-hour drive seemed worth it.
On Friday, I was still unsatisfied with a few slots in the board. I’d tried Hero of Bladehold, Sword of War and Peace, Negate, Mental Misstep, Consecrated Sphinx, Day of Judgment, Batterskull, and more. At the last minute, I settled on Sleep, since it can help a [card runechanter's pike]Piked[/card] up critter get in; and Jace, Memory Adept, as it gave me an easy swap for Gideon Jura in the control matchups. The Sleep, while decent, probably should’ve been Day of Judgment, as that card can help you pull back in the game against Bant Pod.
Here’s what I ran:
We hit heavy traffic on the way out of Chicago, but part of the benefit of going down the night before is that, even with the delay, we still got enough rest.
On the way we stopped by Quaker Steak and Lube to fuel up on chicken wings. Usually, I’d have taken advantage of their Friday three-dollar Long Islands, but I have a policy of not drinking the night before a tournament. At least, not if I care about winning it.
We got into Detroit late. Rather than stay up chatting, I curled into bed, put on my headphones, and passed out in front of an episode of Archer.
On Saturday morning, I woke up early and joined the free Modo PTQ for a few reasons. For one thing, it was free, and not collecting my Sealed pool would be like not collecting my two byes (another Silver-level benefit). For another, I wanted to see what I would’ve had to work with. After scanning the list of players for names I recognized, I put away my laptop and, with some help from a 16 ounce can of Red Bull, started mentally preparing myself to play Standard.
The trip to the site was uneventful, though I could already tell the day was going to be a scorcher. It was my first time in Pandemonium, a larger shop with two rooms set up as a play area. The entry fee for the PTQ was only 20 bucks, which surprised me.
R1 – Mono Red
R2 – Herbert Williams with Heartless Summoning
In game one, my opponent failed to stick a Wurmcoil Engine until I’d already gotten some Delver hits in. I Phantasmal Imaged the Wurm before Vapor Snagging it. He replayed it, and I sent in my team. He attempted to trade Wurms, but I had Gut Shot for mine which, thanks to the Image clause, kept him from gaining life and forced through lethal.
“Nice play,” he said.
I shrugged and started sideboarding. After we drew our openers, a judge told us to pack up our decks for a mid-round deck check. I noted that my opponent had already seen his hand, and asked if we should keep our hands separate somehow.
“No, just stack them with the rest of it and you’ll draw new ones when we bring your decks back,” he said.
“Uh, that’s new. Mind if I check that with the head judge?” I asked.
The judge sighed, rolled his eyes, and confirmed that I could indeed appeal. A few minutes later, he came back and told us to start playing our match.
I asked for a time extension and we started playing. An early [card gitaxian probe]Probe[/card] showed me that he had all the goods, but was short the necessary mana to get things rolling. I applied pressure, and that was that.
Afterwards, he asked me for a game for fun, and I complied. He landed a turn two Heartless Summoning, but I still felt confident because my hand was good. He then ramped out a Solemn Simulacrum into Massacre Wurm, with the Havengul Lich and Perilous Myr combo to mop up the rest of my board.
“This is closer to how our match should’ve gone,” he said.
“Yeah, it’s more interactive for sure,” I said, frowning down at my hand.
Several turns later, he was dead to an enormous Runechanter’s Pike.
R3 – Zombies
Fortunately, I was on the play. My first turn Delver flipped off a Mana Leak, which countered the second Gravecrawler. I Phantasmal Imaged his Geralf’s Messenger, and on my fifth turn attacked him down to three before Vapor Snagging my Messenger, triggering the Image clause and fizzling the Snag. My Image came back as Messenger again before I played Gut Shot (dropping to one) for the win.
R4 – Yusef Bridges with Angel Delver
Yusef played well, but I don’t think the [card geist of saint traft]Geist[/card] version of Delver has a very good matchup against my list. Wizards in general has fewer lands and more action, and a single [card talrand, sky summoner]Talrand[/card] can power through multiple Restoration Angels.
This round marked when the heat started getting to most players. The main room had become a hotbox of sweat and testosterone and gamer stink. My shirt clung to my back like an oily layer of extra skin, wrinkling with the contours of my body when I shifted in my chair.
In a sweet effort towards customer service, the store announced we’d all get a free cold beverage, which surprised me. I was expecting nothing. I mentioned my disbelief to Ben Swartz, a Chicago native who was crazy enough to travel six hours to battle Mono-Green Infect.
“This is the difference between a store-run PTQ and a generic tournament organizer,” Ben said, “If a regional TO who’s renting hotel space sees this kind of heat, he won’t care, he already has the money. A store, on the other hand, needs people to come back. It’s a shift that Wizards has been pushing lately.”
I thought back to the tournament’s low entry fee, and realized the benefits of the shop not having to rent space. Good call, Wizards.
R5 – Matt McCullough with Naya Pod
I recognized Matt from a variety of tournaments, and knew he was on Pod. I prioritized Gut Shot accordingly, and the match went about average. At one point he [card bonfire of the damned]Bonfire[/card]d me for five, nuking my board of flipped Delvers. I made a Moorland Haunt token at end of turn, put a Pike on it, and it was still enough to one-shot his double-digit life total.
Later, he told me that he must’ve set some kind of record for number of times losing after miracling Bonfire of the Damned. I love the card, and I realize its power, but it’s easily the most overhyped card in Standard. People remember the insane miracles, but they forget losing because they had a clunky draw with multiple Bonfires stuck in hand. The card makes your deck less consistent, and I don’t recommend lists that rely on four of them for power.
It was around this point that I cracked into my second 16 ounce can of Red Bull, and felt myself snapping into the zone. Ever see the episode of Futurama where Fry drinks a hundred cups of coffee, and time slows down for him? I felt like that.
R6 – Bant Pod
The shop had set up fans around the room, and one was right next to table one. Ah, the privilege that comes from doing well!
We knew that whoever won this match would be able to double draw into Top 8. Unfortunately, he got an active Birthing Pod in game one, which he used to ramp to [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] mana (which he cast from hand).
I mulled on the play in game two, but Delver’d him out all the same.
I misplayed game three horrifically, punting the timing on Mana Leak, Ponder, and Sleep, which forced me to chump with a pair of unflipped Delvers when he dropped a Gavony Township into play. I had five lands and a Pike-equipped Augur in play, a Gut Shot on top of my library, and Sleep, Vapor Snag, and Gut Shot in hand at 3 life.
My opponent was at 18 with a hoard of dudes. Eventually, I cast the Sleep, used the Gut Shot on him and cast the Vapor Snag, dropping him to 11 and setting up exactly lethal with the second Pike, assuming he didn’t cast a creature.
My opponent drew, tanked on whether I had [card snapcaster mage]Snapcaster[/card] for the Sleep (in which case he might want to hold his guy), but in the end made the correct play of casting his Birds of Paradise and passing. I tried to mise a win by playing and equipping the second Pike, explaining how it represented lethal damage, and showing him the Gut Shot for his Birds (which I couldn’t cast at 1 life), but he pointed to his untapped Gavony Township and the bluff failed.
R7 – Bant Pod
Game one went on 10 more minutes later than it should’ve, since he didn’t have Elesh Norn in his deck, but he eventually won through a Gideon and multiple Phantasmal Imaged Geist-Honored Monks. This was the only time I stuck the planeswalker and lost all day, and it took an epic board state to do it.
Game two I played Delver on one, flipped it turn two, and Imaged it twice.
Game three was an anti-climactic affair. I cast Gut Shot on his first mana dude, Snapped it back on his second, and Dissipated his Deceiver Exarch to get in enough damage with my Augurs and Snapcasters.
R8 – ID with Ray (Raymond Perez Jr.)
I’ve drafted and tested with Ray, and he’s a good guy. I was happy to see him make Top 8.
Right before the cut, I mention to my friends that I wished I had another Red Bull, and Ryan Carpenter was kind enough to hand me an eight ouncer from his backpack.
Quarterfinals – GB Infect
My opponent was playing an older style of poison with [card Phyrexian Vatmother]Vatmother[/card] and [card Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon]Skithriyx[/card]. I’m guessing he didn’t face much Delver in the swiss, because his deck seemed weak to Vapor Snag.
I did lose game two after butchering my deck in sideboarding. I cut Images for Celestial Purges while he cut his Vatmothers, leaving me with dead Purges in hand while he beat down with Phyrexian Crusaders.
Semifinals – Ray with Angel Delver
Ray was the other experienced player in the Top 8, and we agreed that whoever won the match had to take it down.
I Imaged a few Geists, stuck a few Talrands, and ran away with the match. We did go to three, as I kept the following in game two:
Don’t keep this. I tried similar hands a few different times over the course of the weekend, and it always ended in a lost game. The deck can sometimes get away with durdling with its mana or its cantrips—but never both.
Finals – Steven Martin with Wizards
I knew Steven from a random Open, and we’d chatted about our lists before the Top 8. Steven’s list was five cards off from my main deck. He was running the third [card talrand, sky summoner]Talrand[/card] instead of Gideon Jura, no Blade Splicers, and his Images were still in the board.
The judge announced the rules for prize splitting, and we nodded. We both knew better than to ask for the concession, but I did offer a winner-take-all split, which he no-sir’d.
I don’t remember much of this match. Delvers died, Talrands got countered, and I somehow managed to grind out game three with an Augur of Bolas and a lone Spirit token.
Steve slumped in his chair, and I knew how he felt. I’ve lost in two PTQ finals, and it’s just about the worst thing ever. At least Pandemonium had some real prize support, and he got to leave with two boxes.
I left feeling as though I’d won the perfect PTQ. My deck performed well, my friends were supportive, my opponents were all great sports, and the shop handled the tournament exceptionally. Seattle will be my fourth Pro Tour, and I hope to fill a hole on my Magic resume with a strong finish.
Bonus: The PTQ that Never Was
When I got home, I checked my modo account to see what I would’ve had to work with. This was my pool:
As you can see, not much. I would’ve registered something like this:
Hold on, I need a second to fight back some gorge.
The pool isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen, but it’s not good enough to have gotten there. If you see a better build, feel free to post it in the forums.
Picking the right tournament is an undervalued skill in the Magic community. If you have a good deck, it might be worth traveling a few extra hours to play the format you want to play in. I went to what appeared to be the lower EV tournament in Detroit, but it paid off.
Thanks for reading.