PTQ Report 11/14 Rochester – *1st*

Posted on Monday, December 6th, 2010 by Falco
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Posted in mtg, strategy, Tournament Report

No one has ever asked me how to win a PTQ, but if anyone ever did, I wouldn’t have a good answer anyway. While playing well is a big help, there are enough other obstacles that I’ve never found the blueprint. What is personally more important to me than the prospect of winning is the competition against similarly skilled players. I’m overmatched at Grand Prixs and Pro Tours, but at a PTQ I am most likely to meet someone who is about where I am in terms of skill. More so than any other match, these victories are the ones I enjoy most.

The venue for this PTQ was Rochester, which provided me the privilege of being only an hour away from Buffalo. I was able to get up at a reasonable time and drive myself to the event. I chatted with a few acquaintances to kill time, and then started listening to a podcast. After nervously waiting while we got seated and registered decks, we finally got passed our pools. Without looking inside the bag that contained my pool, I offered to trade it with anyone else’s. After a bit of hand-wringing from others, I did eventually find a taker in Bob, the person seated diagonally from me.

Coming into the tournament I thought I had enough experience with this sealed format that I’d be ready for anything, but then this pool caused me to feel foolish. After the requisite handling of the infect cards (into a trash can), I was left with a significant problem: the cheap artifact cards in this pool are pretty shallow. I have 0 Myr, while the Spellbombs and Replicas I have pull me away from my most powerful colors.

I started with a U/W deck because it seemed the most synergistic color combination, but was pretty unhappy with both the overall power level and the near total lack of removal. I next attempted a B/R deck designed to house my most powerful cards, but without relevant cheap artifacts I couldn’t take advantage of the red. A U/B/r seemed like the best place to be, and so I spent considerable deck-building time attempting to make it work, but with no success.

Again, the lack of Myr really hurt, as I would have to play 18 lands to realistically support three colors (I also intended to play Tower of Calamities) Also, despite being in three colors, I was struggling to find playables because of the strangeness of my pool. After a solid core of about 16 cards, I could not figure out how the rest of the deck should look. The build didn’t have enough artifacts to support the metalcraft cards – Certarch, Drake, and Steed – only a dozen or so. The only other available artifacts would either have been off-color or kind of weak.

But replacing the metalcraft cards would have resulted in maindecking so many slow cards that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to stabilize the board before I died. My few remaining artifacts would be under the gun when I did play them, as it is the rare sealed deck that doesn’t have access to artifact removal. With all that, the payoff isn’t even that high, as I’d just be gaining mediocre cards like Stoic Rebuttal or Bleak Coven Vampires. And I would still need to play my pair of Riddlesmiths as creatures #2 and #3 that cost two mana or less.

With about 2:30 left in deck-building, I went back to the U/W deck, as it was the one I was most comfortable with playing. It would never blow anyone away with its draws, but I didn’t see any other build I had having enough power to overcome the weaknesses it would have had.

I wasn’t terribly impressed with how I had built my pool and considered my chances of top 8 to be pretty low. The only nice thing I could say about my deck is that my card selection would allow me to see more of my good cards than my opponent would, even if they weren’t as strong. But with almost no removal or bombs I had to count on my opponent not having their own plan work out, which is far from a reliable plan for winning six rounds.

138 players, 8 rounds before top 8. Rather than a blow by blow, I’m going to offer a couple notes on each match where I feel it most appropriate. If there was a particularly interesting game state, I’ll attempt to communicate it.

Round 1 – Brittney Pone

1-0 (2-0)

She was playing G/B Infect. In game one I was worried about a Hand of the Praetors, but on the last turn before I would attack her for lethal damage, I bounced the Hand. That meant she did not have enough mana to cast the Hand and the four drop infect creature she drew that turn that would have killed me. In both games, she played a Putrefax, and it was tapped each time before attackers were declared.

While the updates to the card store (Millenium Games and Hobbies) had made it look a lot nicer, the room we are playing in has little ventilation or climate control, so I made my first of many trips out to my car to sit and listen to music while waiting for the next round.

Round 2 – Andre Segarra

2-0 (2-0)

I made things a little chippy when I got myopic about the rules during Game 1. We then debated the merits of playing Magic competitively between games, and it seemed to annoy him that I took the game a lot more seriously than he did. In game two he played a Geth, but I bounced it with Lumengrid Drake, which meant it was one turn too slow. I set up a turn where I could attack for lethal, but botched it when I used all of my tap and bounce effects , not saving one to negate a flying blocker he had from his onboard Flight Spellbomb (stolen from my graveyard with Geth). Luckily, I had enough spells in reserve that I could refill the board and make another, successful lethal attack.

Afterward, he fliped over his Hoard-Smelter Dragon and two Turn to Slag, which were uncastable off of his single Mountain.

Round 3 Joseph Irvin

2-1 (1-2)

For the first time in the tournament I was just overpowered. Honestly, I was surprised it had taken this long. Between a Myrsmith, two Darksteel Axes, and a Molten-Tail Masticore, I was not able to offer any meaningful defense. I won game two when he missed his third land drop on the play. That involved me taking a risk that backfired when I playing a Ghalma’s Warden before I had metalcraft, and was then punished when he drew a Swamp for his Grasp of Darkness. Luckily, I was not punished for that outcome, and ended up overwhelming him before he could stabilize the board. I then lost game three after I ended up enough early damage that I was forced into chump block before I could start looping my Razor Hippogriff and Neurok Replica.

Round 4 – Nicholas Patnode

3-1 (2-1)

Something funny happened at the start of game one. Nick played Spikeshot Elder, then Darksteel Axe, and I did not have Arrest in hand. He lacked a second red early though, and was eventually forced to keep playing spells to keep up on the board. At 2 life, I played a Trigon of Rage to get him from 10 life exactly the turn before I would have died in a game I couldn’t figure out how I was going to win after turn two. Game two I didn’t have such good fortune though. An early Arc Trail set me very far back, and additional removal prevented me from defending at all. I took 5+ damage several turns in a row, to give you an idea.

Nick had a fast start in the decider after I put him on the play, with two early Snapsail Gliders. I put out a Hippogriff, then traded a Neurok Replica for one of the Gilders when he double blocked. That allowed me to gain air superiority, and despite him playing his Arc Trail, I whittled down his life total quickly. On his last turn, he resignedly said, “one time” before he drew a blank, conceded, and flipped over his deck that featured a 2nd Arc Trail, Contagion Engine, and a Sunblast Angel.

Round 5 – Josh Lombino

4-1 (2-1)

We split the first two games while he averaged 1.5 Skinrenders cast. Game three was dominated by my Riddlesmith. We traded numerous creatures, but the Riddlesmith allowed me to keep applying pressure, even though I lost two creatures to a metalcraft’d Dispense Justice. I held a Strata Scythe that would represent lethal damage, but wanted to wait for the coast to be clear. On a late turn, he thought for a while, read Livewire Lash, then attacked with his only creature. I took it. After combat, he Instill Infection’d my Riddlesmith, and I simply dealt the two to him. He then was dead on board, regardless of the Scythe.

Round 6 – Evan Halstead

5-1 (2-0)

Evan is actually a celebrity at the University of Buffalo as one half of a pair of twins featured in a poster in the basement of Capen Hall. He had a powerful deck, but I kept two low land draws with a Riddlesmith, neither Smith died, and I slowly ground him out in spite of a heap of removal. Both times, he got me into single digits, but I “locked” him with Razor Hippogriff and Neurok Replica. As I crawled back above double-digit life, I was able to start attacking with the Hippogriff, and soon after equipping it for extra damage. He never found a way to deal with the Hippogriff in either game and eventually died to it.

Round 7 – Royce Walter

6-1 (2-0)

Royce and I had been introduced by a mutual acquaintance before the tournament began, so we were disappointed we had to play each other. Royce was probably more disappointed as he ended up flooding in game one while I was able to trigger Riddlesmith multiple times. I pulled very far ahead while he did nothing: he drew two thirds lands in spite of removing four with a Clone Shell.

In game two, after I passed turn two with no play, he traded a Fume Spitter for my Vedalken Certarch. I’d like to say I was holding a Riddlesmith, but I was just lucky enough to draw it. He played an Acid Web Spider that jammed me up to a degree, but I drew enough extra cards that I was able to make it a non-factor even without drawing Arrest. First, a Lumengrid Drake got it out of the way, then a Neurok Replica, then finally a Tumble Magnet let me fly over and into the top 8.

Round 8 – Andrew Noworaj

6-1-1 (ID)

As soon as I sat down, Andrew politely offered the draw. I gratefully (and also hopefully politely) accepted.

I chatted a bit with the other people entering the Top 8 while I watched a player I know named Ken Tober take on Alex Bertocini. Though they were both very likely to make top 8, Ken wanted to play, and dispatched Alex very quickly. While I admittedly have held it against people in the past, you can’t make someone draw if they want to play a game of Magic. But in this case, it just made very little sense to me. I suppose it did work out in my favor though, as at the very least, Alex appeared to be a better player than I am, while I wasn’t sure about Ken.

I felt pretty calm going into the Top 8 draft. To my left was Shaun Doran, an acquaintance who was likely the most accomplished player in the draft with a GP Finals finish, but aside from him I did not recognize any of the other players as having any big finishes. However, the draft ended up being a lot more challenging than I thought. I simply was way out of shape on drafts done under this level of rules enforcement, and was not prepared to keep track of the cards I selected in my head while managing the signals I was giving and receiving and also evaluating the pack itself. I had practiced a lot in the 8-4 queues, but by about halfway through pack two I felt pretty lost.

I began the draft with a Sylvok Replica, with the next best card in the pack being a Plague Stinger. I then took a Chrome Steed and a Silver Myr, then opted to take Tangle Angler, Bellowing Tanglewurm, and Sylvok Lifestaff. I had passed a pair of Carapace Forgers in the first couple of packs that I hoped to wheel. While they did not come back to me, I did get an Untamed Might and a Tel-Jilad Defiance, which left me thinking I’d have an opportunity at an infect deck for pack two.

Pack two started off well with a Skinrender, but veered off course when I second picked an Arc Trail, then further still when I was passed a Spikeshot Elder third. I simply could not ignore a card of that power level, and given that my infect plan had not shaped up at all, I figured I should try for a red/green metalcraft deck. Unfortunately, I just was not able to figure out what the people around me were drafting. Pick six featured an Arrest, a Glint Hawk, and a True Conviction. Pick 8 there was a Corpse Cur. I managed to only get a few mediocre cards for my deck: Panic Spellbomb, Ferrovore, and Strider Harness.

Pack three bailed me out a bit. I opened a Trigon of Corruption, then got passed a pack with Darksteel Axe and… Venser. Seeing that the person on my right ended up in G/W, that is unbelievable. But I was in for a bigger shock when the third pick still had a Carnifex Demon. I then got a Shatter, a Horizon Spellbomb, a Copper Myr, and an Instill Infection, but also got some filler cards that I was sadly in need of such as Flameborn Hellion and Blistergrub. Sadly, even getting those winners late left me a few cards short. I had to make due with this deck.

I did not play the Glimmerpost listed on the Wizards website. Corpse Cur and Golden Urn are concessions to the fact I wanted more artifacts, and one of them ideally had to be a creature. I could have played a Vector Asp instead, but preferred to skip it.

Round 9 – Dean Bilz

7-1-1 (2-0)

Hopefully I can speak on behalf of Dean when I say his deck was not good. I imagine the strange signals in the draft affected most people’s decks at the table. Still his creatures included Ezuri’s Archers, two Auriok Replicas with no obvious Metalcraft cards besides a Barrage Ogre, and two Bloodshot Trainees with only one observed method of pumping them (it turned that he had two). With such a mediocre group of attackers, he was unable to pressure me sufficiently before I drew my bombs to win each game. In game two, we had the unusual situation of him hitting me with 3-4 creatures at a time while he dealt 1-2 damage thanks to Trigon of Corruption, which I eventually negated with my Golden Urn.

Round 10 – Ken Tober

8-1-1 (2-1)

Ken is from Buffalo like me, so we had battled a few times in the past. Our semifinals match was at the same table, but I was not able to see much of his deck except for a Volitions Reins.

Game one I play Carnifex Demon into what I presume is a counterspell because I don’t want to wait until he has Reins available; he doesn’t have the counterspell either, as it turns out. We traded attacks between the Demon and his Sky-Eel School and Darkslick Drake, while I waited to remove the counters to prevent him from adding additional creatures to the board because I had nothing else in hand or on board anyway. However, I fail to draw anything else of use, and am forced to use one counter, than the other to slow his offense. A couple turns later he draws the Reins for the Demon, and I’m forced to concede.

Game two ended up revolving around two of what were objectively the worst cards in my deck. On turn 1 I played Golden Urn, and on turn 3 I played Blistergrub. The ‘grub didn’t die, so I started attacking with it, adding on a Sylvok Lifestaff a couple turns later. Humorously, the Urn was also working to keep my afloat by undoing some of the damage I was taking from a Darkslick Drake. The damage was reduced even more when I used Fume Spitter to shrink the Drake (gaining 3 from the Lifestaff), and I eventually was one turn away from killing Ken with the Grub with him at 5 life, as I held an Arc Trail. Unfortunately he drew his Volition Reins, and I thought my tournament was about to end.

Instead, clinging on at 6 life, I drew Carnifex Demon! That not only allowed me to neutralize his entire team, but let me kill my Ferrovore for extra life to barely allow me to survive, after additional attacks, at 2. The board was at this point down to my Demon versus his withered fliers. I again lucked out when I drew out of the stalemate first with Spikeshot Elder. He didn’t draw an answer, and I burned him out next turn thanks to my pile of equipment and the Arc Trail.

This game was an incredible grind, and winning when I’d been so close to the edge energized me, and I felt I had a psychological edge going into game three. We may never know if I did have that edge though, as Ken flooded considerably while I drew several hits, including Skinrender and Trigon of Corruption. He was so flooded he was forced to steal the Skinrender with Volition as it was beating him to death, but that just meant I was able to safely play my Carnifex Demon that I’d been holding back. Two attacks with the demon later and I was into the finals.

Round 11 – David Pargh

9-1-1 (2-0)

I have a brief moment of elation when he says he wants to split, but he’s just teasing me. I’m really just raring to go though: after winning the last match I feel unbeatable. I’m incapable of qualifying the idea of momentum, so I’m not sure how much I was helped or harmed by my good mood. But if you had to pin me down, I’d say winning such a close match and being pumped up benefited me more than my opponent sitting outside the room likely doing nothing late on a Sunday night, hours from home.

I win the roll and draw, and keep a modest six card hand plus one Golden Urn. I play the Urn and he comments that it’s actually good against him. That seems to be born out by the Vulshok Replica, Necrogen Censer, and multiple Panic Spellbombs he plays. He’s stalled on three lands though and is forced to cycle the Spellbombs away after I kill his Replica. We trade hits for a bit, but his deck really is focused on burning me out it seems, and the Urn may be legitimately harming him. He spends some Galvanic Blasts on my creatures and tries for a Bleak Coven Vampires (I Shatter an artifact in response), but use the Urn anyway to go from 7 to 16. Eventually I use Darksteel Axe to create favorable trades, take over the board, and win comfortably.

Game two, I simply played too many good cards. My Chrome Steed ate a Shatter, which meant the Trigon of Corruption that followed was safe. Carnifex Demon received two Galvanic Blasts, but that just meant my other creatures were safe. I never had to play the Spikeshot Elder I’d been holding since early in the game, even instead opting for the “stylish” Exsanguinate kill.

Sitting in an empty store at midnight on Monday morning was not what I had intended, but it was necessary for winning the PTQ. I did wonder a bit if I was benefited a bit in terms of endurance; the short traveling distance I’d had plus past experience with late round events seemed to benefit me, as by comparison my opponents were mentioning their own fatigue. Still, I felt strange as I got on the road back home. I had in effect won my Pro Tour, as I don’t really imagine I’ll succeed at the next level of play. But I can still find pride in what I’ve accomplished, and perhaps joy in proving myself wrong.