Last weekend I decided, after much hemming and hawing, to take three solo hours in the car (six round-trip) to the dome, so I could play in PTQ Worcester (not Boston), at the DCU Center—aka, the same pretty blighted place that GP Boston (actually Worcester) went down this past August.

I chose to make the drive—and skip the first day of a buddy’s concurrent weekend Magic retreat at his house in New Haven—for a couple reasons.

One was, as always, that I wanted to try to win the tournament.  But I guess my skills aren’t quite at the level yet where I think that’s necessarily a super-likely possibility—so the overarching reason, No. 2, was that I really wanted to secure the last 92 Planeswalker Points I needed in order to get two byes at next-season GPs.  Also I love playing Magic, obvs., Limited is my jam, and this was the last weekend of Sealed PTQ season.

So after waking up at 5:30am and leaving my apartment in South Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at 6:30am, I arrive (using the new Google Maps app as my GPS—nice!) at the DCU Center at like 9:45am.  I go upstairs to where the tournament was going down—passing, on the ground floor, where GP Boston happened, some kind of pre-teen cheerleading competition, where the main entry requirement seemed to be wearing super-trampy and age-inappropriate eye-make-up—register with my four-digit DCI number (yeah, that’s right), and wait for deck reg to begin.

I also ran into a guy I met at GP Boston, Adrian St. John, a good dude who’s a (Magic) judge, and who went to college with a card-playing friend of mine.  I was worried about being All Alone all day at the PTQ, so I was happy to run into Adrian, who was also there by his lonesome.  Other Quotable Notables seen at the event included: Jackie Lee and Melissa DeTora, the latter of whom went on to top 8.  (Jackie finished 5-3, I think.)

Seatings are posted, and deck reg gets going.  Deck reg is the boring-est thing ever.  The TO announces that we have 173 players, and thus will be playing eight rounds of Swiss before a cut to top eight draft.

I crack my pool after it gets passed to me, and check out what I’m working with.  The pool had a really high power level, but the rares were spread across all of the colors, and the removal was very light.  I had Rakdos’ Return; Righteous Authority; Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice; Desecration Demon; Cyclonic Rift; and Palisade Giant.  Strong, right?  But totally schizophrenic.

The good news was: I had three Axebane Guardians, a Rakdos Guildgate, a Selesnya Guildgate, and a Golgari Keyrune—so I was ready to get my four-color special on.

Here’s the deck I ended up registering:

Centaur’s Herald
Korozda Guildmage
Drudge Beetle
Daggerdrome Imp
2X Centaur Healer
Golgari Keyrune
Sluiceway Scorpion
Zanikev Locust
Sewer Shambler
Desecration Demon
Golgari Longlegs
Towering Indrik
Trostani, Selesnya’s Megaphone
Spawn of Rix Maadi
Call of the Conclave
3X Axebane Guardian

Rakdos’s Return
Common Bond
2X Rites of Reaping

Selesnya Guildgate
Rakdos Guildgate
3X Plains
5X Swamp
7X Forest

I had a great sideboard for this BGw, splash-R monstrosity, as well:

Sewer Shambler (another one)
Daggerdrome Imp (ditto)
Sundering Growth
2X Aerial Predation
2X Stonefare Crocodile
Golgari Decoy
Korozda Monitor
Chorus of Might

Like I said, the build was tough.  So, a bit of rationale: The usually clunky Rites of Reaping were necessary, I thought, because they were my only pieces of removal—and I figured, with 3X Axebane Guardians and a Keyrune, I’d be able to cast them more often than not.  I like Daggerdrome Imp + Sewer Shambler, and initially had the pair of both in there—but decided to cut one of each for curve-shaping considerations.  That’s also why I cut the Stonefares, the Decoy, and the Monitor, none of which I boarded into all day, and didn’t really miss.  I might should have had the Monitor and/or the Decoy in there, but the Stonefares I don’t like.  Unless you scavenge onto them, they trade with almost everything.

I knew that I was raw-dogging it a bit on the white splash/third color, but I thought I needed to do so in order to have a strong enough deck.  Play your bombs, they always say.  And when I took out all the GW cards, and just kept the Golgari stuff + Rakdos’s Return, I didn’t like what I saw.  I really wanted those Centaur Healers, Common Bond, Trostani, and Call of the Conclave.  (I even considered just jamming Righteous Authority in there with, like, zero Islands, but thought better of that.)

Round 1
This does not get off to the best start.  I’m playing a guy named Torren Doherty, and in both games he goes T2 Korozda Guildmage, T3 Dreg Mangler.  He slaps an Ethereal Armor on the Dreg Mangler at some point during both games, and there’s nothing my slow-ish, grindy build can do to stop him.  I put up a better fight in G2 than I did in G1, but he had all the answers and got there.  0-1.

Round 2
This round went to three games, against Ben Coursey, who was on GW populate.  I don’t remember all the parts of the games, but here’s how it ended: He’s got out three Centaurs, one of which is untapped, plus a tapped something-or-other or two.  I’m dead on his next turn.  I have out Golgari Keyrune, Towering Indrik, and an Axebane Guardian.  He’s at 10 life.  I have (and have had, for a few turns) Rakdos’s Return in hand.  After drawing and playing a land for the turn, I have 10 mana available, including the Keyrune.  My only option is to swing in w/ the Indrik and hope he doesn’t block.  I swing in—he considers blocking w/ his Centaur, but doesn’t, falling to 8 life.  So I Rakdos’s Return him for exactsies.  This turn of events did not make Ben a happy camper.  It just really came out of nowhere, too, as I think the only red card I’d shown him in three games was the Spawn of Rix Maadi.  1-1.

Round 3
To be honest, rounds 3–5 run together a bit in my head.  But in R3, G3—after back-and-forth blazingly fast wins from each of us—I Rakdos’s Returned a guy who was playing RB for four, when he was tapped out and had four cards in hand.  He never quite recovered, both in the game and emotionally.  2-1.

Round 4
I have no memory of this round.  I blame what Christian has dubbed “banana tilt.”  Nevertheless, I won.  3-1.

At this point I sit down and do the math RE: Planeswalker Points (PWPs) I need to make two byes.  The two-bye cut-off for next season is 750, and I was at 658 points when the day began.  For a 173-person event, you get five participation points, times the event’s multiplier (also five, for a PTQ).  So that’s 25 points just for showing up, putting me at 658 + 25 = 683.  Add to that the three wins I’d already secured (3 x 5, or 15 per win) and I was sitting at 728 points, with four rounds left to play.  All I needed to do to make 750 was X-2 the next four rounds.

Round 5
In G3 of this match, I got into a very tense standoff with a guy who was on RB. I managed to stabilize at four life, and I had a swampwalking Sewer Shambler in play—but I was so terrified of Traitorous Instinct or burn, or some hasty guy, that I played very conservatively, and in fact probably gave him (who also was at four life) way more turns than I should have to draw an answer and win.  I think I should have just gotten in there 2X w/ the Shambler, and called it a day.  But I did have out Desecration Demon this whole time, which was representing lethal in one crack—so the guys he was continually top-decking kept having to be sac’d to the Demon, in order for him to stay alive.  Eventually, he ran out of Demon fodder, and I cracked in with what was by then a 9/9, I think, FTW, which he had been tapping down for several turns in a row.  4-1!

Round 6
Just one more win to secure two byes for the next season, and three matches to go.  This is where the wheels start to come off—and where what I’d been dreading all day, because I knew I had stone zero answers to it, showed up: Pack Rat.  I was playing a high-school sophomore, Miles Merton.  Nice kid.  Sure enough, in G1 he turn-twos a Pack Rat, which my deck literally cannot deal with, seeing as how my only removal is two copies of a six-mana sort-of removal spell.  I hang in there for a few turns, b/c I’m not one who ever likes to scoop when time isn’t an issue—but eventually I just concede.

In G2, I sideboard into another full deck I built earlier between rounds, hanging out with NYC-area journeyman Hemant Patel.  Deck No. 2 was a pretty streamlined Azorius build w/ Vassal Souls, Righteous Authority, Palisade Giant, Cyclonic Rift, Cancel, and the like.  I figured that this was my only good chance to beat a Pack Rat—and it worked, but not quite how I’d envisioned.  I keep my opening hand, which is something like Cyclonic Rift, Tower Drake, Concordia Pegasus, and lands.  I figure, OK, here’s my shot.  If I can survive to overload Rift, or somehow get into a combat situation where I can kill the OG Pack Rat and then bounce the last remaining token, I can get there.

So he plays the Rat on T3.  I lay down Pegasus and Drake on Ts 2 & 3.  He declines to attack w/ his Rat until he has two copies out, with the option of making a third up.  He swings in w/ his two 2/2 rats, and I block w/ Tower Drake and Pegasus.  I figure, I’m dead.  He’s got open mana; he’s going to make a third Rat and then they are all 3/3s, and even if I try to Rift one, he’ll just respond by making another … but I guess I just wasn’t doing the math right.  He wasn’t, either, though—so he lets combat damage happen; Drake trades w/ one Rat, and Pegasus deals one damage to another.  Then, a few beats later, he and I both realize at the same time … his now 1/1 Rat has one damage marked on it, and is dead.  I don’t quite know what happened, to be honest.  But I beat the Rat!

I did not, unfortunately, beat the kid.  I forget what his follow-up plays were, but they were strong, and I couldn’t survive.  4-2.

Round 7
This one was another tough match.  In G1 my opp., who was on Izzet, dropped pretty much nothing but 2X Lobber Crew, and I rolled over him by ramping quickly into four- and five-drops.  But games 2 and 3 were different.  He managed to assemble his Izzetron, with a Guttersnipe, the aforementioned Crews, Cobblebrute, and more, and just combo-ed me out in that way Izzet can when it’s firing on all cylinders.  4-3!  No!

Round 8
So between rounds 7 and 8, I’m thinking about how—if I don’t win my last match—I can manage to hit 750 points by the end of the day on Sunday, which is the end of the season.  Without this last win at the PTQ, I would be at 743 points.  So I look at 20 Sided Store’s website, to see if a draft is happening on Sunday—no dice (get it?).  I check Montasy—the event calendar won’t load on my phone.  Nothing at Kings Games or Get There Games, either.  I was racking my brain to try and figure out how I was going to secure those last 7 points.  Meanwhile, me and Adrian were hanging out, building an alternate build of his deck, which had a strong transformative sideboard option into Rakdos, with 3X Deviant Glee, 2X Pursuit of Flight, Rakdos Cackler, 2X Annihilating Fire, 2X Frostburn Weird—that sort of thing.  Adrian’s also sitting at 4-3.

They post the pairings for round 8, and Adrian comes up to me and says, “It’s me and you.  You’ve got the win; I’m going to scoop to you.”  That was really awesome of him, and now I could just chill and enjoy the last round, which we did play out.  He took game one with his original deck, a Junk build with a Loxodon Smiter and some other Selesnya nastiness.  We then both boarded into our backup decks.  I’m not sure this was the right choice for me, given what I knew he was boarding into—but I knew he would have trouble w/ the fliers and the Righteous Authority, and I was packing 2X Keening Apparitions and a Voidwielder for his pants-wearing dudes, so maybe it was the right choice.

The next two games were really, really close, but I managed to stabilize and get there in both, winning G3 on the back of a Righteous Authority-ed, Knight of Valor-ed Tower Drake, when I was at one life.  5-3, and I got there honestly!

I was really psyched.  It was a good day for Magic.  I finished 32nd (out of 173), and won three packs.  (Adrian finished 47th, and snuck in right under the wire to win three packs himself.)  But, most importantly, I achieved the goal I set for myself, which was to win two byes for the next season.  I got those points on the back of two GPs, Boston and Philly, and three PTQs.  I went 2-3 at Boston, 5-2-1 in Philly, and 5-3 at two PTQs and 4-4 at one other.

What did I learn?  Namely, that you should always play out all of your rounds at big-time events.  First off, it’s good serious tournament practice.  And second, the points multipliers at at those big events are too good to pass up.  For example, at GP Boston I started off 2-0, and then lost three in a row and dropped.  If I’d maintained a good attitude and stayed in the main event, not only might I have learned something, but I could potentially have been 96 points ahead of where I finished the season—thus making my six-hour round-trip to PTQ Worcester unnecessary.

That is what I did throughout the reason of the season.  At GP Philly I was win and in at the end of day one, so obviously I kept on playing; but at the other PTQs I attended I kept my head in the game even when I was out of the running for top 8.  And, while the points are nice, even better is that I think I’ve become a better player because of this practice.  It’s a game, right?  And we like playing it!  So why not play it out?

Also, I secured two byes at GP Charlotte, which I’m planning on attending.  (At first I had thought that the byes would extend to GP Pittsburgh, as well—but unfortunately not.  The first season of 2013 doesn’t exactly coincide with the first season of 2012, which is all I had to compare it to when I was trying to figure out when these byes would be applicable, and so my byes will expire one week shy of Pittsburgh.  Bummer.)

Back in Worcester, though, it was time to split from the DCU Center.  I said goodbye to Adrian, thanking him again for being willing to scoop to me, and just generally for making the day more fun by hanging out, and I got back on the road to NYC.  I had been planning on stopping in New Haven, and joining day two of my buddy’s Magic retreat, but I was just too beat, and wanted to get back home.  So I did the three-hour drive with one stop—to gas up and to eat an ill-advised McRib (they always sound so good—at least to me—but man, McDonald’s is like a freaking salt lick)—and got back home in time to watch a few draft videos (my GF was up in Vermont, snowboarding).

Good times!

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