So of course after writing last week’s article on Hipsters, “Rusty,” about how I was feeling much like the youngest Griswold in the National Lampoon’s Vacation series of movies … wait, what? No, about how I was feeling super-rusty at Magic, I promptly went down to the Theros sealed PTQ in Philadelphia this past Sunday and absolutely crushed it.

Well, not totally—I finished 17th out of 291 players—but it was a hell of a run, and really fun. As I told my carmates Kadar “History’s Greatest Monster” Brock and Dave “I’m Sorry Dave, I’m Afraid I Can’t Do That” McCoy on the way back to Brooklyn, I basically day-two’d an arguably more competitive-than-usual Grand Prix with no byes—so hey, I’ll take that any given Sunday.

I registered a pretty strong green pool with Paul U. Kranos, Attorney at Law (aka Polukranos, World Eater), and got passed what initially looked like a classically weak, two-dual-land-and-useless-artifact-rare (Pyxis of Pandemonium) pool—but then I started moving through the cards and things got a little spicier, with a Spear of Heliod in white, a Prognostic Sphinx in blue, a Nighthowler in black, and an Anger of the Gods (the Temple of Silence was foil, so that’s the seventh rare), and three-count-‘em-three Lightning Strikes in red.

Paul U. Kranos, attorney-at-law.

Paul U. Kranos, Attorney at Law

It wasn’t the easiest build, though maybe it seems that way in retrospect. The Anger and the Strikes were pulling me towards red, but otherwise the red was light on creatures; and the creatures it did have were a bit schizophrenic. The white also was fine, with two Observant Alseids, but it, too, was a bit schizo, with like a Favored Hoplite and a Setessan Griffin, both of which I would have had to play, had I played white. Green had some good stuff in Nessian Asp, Nemesis of Mortals, and Nylea’s Emissary—but I just didn’t feel it calling to me.

I really wanted to play blue—which was deep, with a Horizon Scholar and three Benthic Giants on top of the Sphinx—as well as black for Nighthowler (not a *super* card, but it does work) and a very clutch Keepsake Gorgon. And then we had the Lightning Strikes, which I really wanted to splash for—thankfully, I had a Burnished Hart and an Opaline Unicorn for fixing. Here’s what I settled on:

UBr Sphinx

Creatures (17)
Prognostic Sphinx
Keepsake Gorgon
Horizon Scholar
Blood-Toll Harpy
Baleful Eidolon
Erebos's Emissary
Cavern Lampad
Mogis's Marauder
Burnished Hart
Opaline Unicorn
Benthic Giant
Wavecrash Triton
Returned Phalanx
Returned Centaur

Spells (6)
Lightning Strike
Boon of Erebos
Lash of the Whip
Pharika's Cure
Lands (17)
Temple of Silence

On-color sideboard (15)
Viper's Kiss
Dark Betrayal
Boon of Erebos
Lost in a Labyrinth
Bronze Sable
Benthic Giant
Fleshmad Steed
March of the Returned
Coastline Chimera

My last changes were getting a Boon of Erebos in there, thinking that it would be good to get another way to A) kill something in the early game (and have my blocker definitely live) and B) target Wavecrash Triton—maybe killing something and locking down another thing, in the best-case scenario; and kicking a Coastline Chimera to the curb for Returned Centaur, which helps power up both Mogis’s Maurader and Nighthowler.

I debated another Benthic Giant, but decided that two fives and two sixes (not including my six-mana bestow costs on 2X Lampad and Emissary) was high enough. I was skeptical on Pharika’s Cure and, to a lesser extent, Lash of the Whip, but I figured both of those were better sight-unseen against most decks in G1 (instead of Viper’s Kiss, which I thought putting in there instead of Cure, which is tough on the mana and doesn’t always kill much) than any other card in my sideboard. Cure, though, can target Wavecrash Triton in a pinch and even a slight bit of unexpected lifegain is often good, whereas Kiss (even though it, too, powers up Maurader) can be too minor of an effect to matter.

As for the lands, initially I had Temple of Silence in the deck for the off-color Chimera activation, but after I cut Chimera I kept it in, figuring that the scry would be welcome (given that I had no card draw) and the entering-tapped wouldn’t hurt me too much. It was a bit of a stretch playing just eight Swamps (nine with Temple), six Islands, and two Mountains, but I thought that my Opaline Unicorn and Burnished Hart would help me get there—and they did.

In many ways Hart was my MVP, alongside more obvious candidates such as Sphinx, Horizon Scholar, Baleful Eidolon, Mogis’s Maurader, and the Lightning Strikes. Benthic Giant was also a secret star—when I dropped him onto the battlefield my opponents were usually unfazed, but then the following turn I’d drop a Lampad or Nighthowler on him and they were like, “Huh. That’s bad for me.” At the start of Theros I thought I’d be playing Benthic Giant a lot more. That hasn’t turned out to be the case, but he seemed very strong in this deck, which was basically designed to control/keep the board clear and then drop a hard-to-answer or unanswerable threat, namely Sphinx, Giant, or Horizon Scholar—or, hell, just anything with a Lampad on it.

I’m not going to get too deep into each match’s play-by-play, but here’s who I faced:

R1—Jaime Parke, GW Heroic


This match is notable for the fact that A) I lost it and B) I know Jaime vaguely, through his roommate, GP Providence champion, and all-around good guy Andy Longo—yet I only learned later that Jaime has a number of Pro Tour top 8s to his name. So that makes it feel even better, in retrospect, that Jaime (who also knows me vaguely) grimaced when I sat down across from him, and said something regretful about a tough R1 match-up. 0-1

R2—Nick, UG


I won this one in a tight three games, with Mogis’s Maurader breaking the stalemate for me in G3. 1-1

R3—Sergey, UW


This round was a quick two games, after which I was able to house some delicious jambalaya from the Cajun place in Reading Terminal Market, about which much praiseworthy ink has already been spilled. I ran over Sergey when he was mana-flooded (and color-screwed) in G2. 2-1

R4—Andy, BG

This nice dude (who declined to be photographed) had a Keepsake Gorgon, just like me—so I boarded in Dark Betrayal and Viper’s Kiss. He flooded in G2 and I won. 3-1

R5—Ryan, GW


Ryan works in customer service for StarCityGames. Cool job! I won in two games. In G1 I got down Sphinx with Erebos’s Emissary on him, and cracked in for a ton of damage a turn—but Ryan nicely reminded me after the match that in G1 I forgot about three scry triggers, which obviously is a huge boner. In G2 I was stuck on lands, and missed my third land drop for one turn—but MVP Hart in my opener allowed me to catch up and ramp into Horizon Scholar. Ryan got out and immediately monstroused Fleecemane Lion—but Scholar and Sphinx, who hit the table soon after, got the job done. 4-1

R6—Joe, GW heroic


This one I lost in three games. Joe’s Staunch-Hearted Warriors and Centaur Battlemaster just proved too difficult for my deck. If I wasn’t able to find my Baleful Eidolon or my removal *just in time*, I just couldn’t deal with his monsters. And I didn’t. This is where my deck’s real weakness—zero bounce—reared its ugly head. 4-2

R7—Zach, GRw


This guy was amazing, a total fucking madman. One of the more stressful matches I’ve played, just because I felt like Zach could just do any nuts thing at any time. He basically just played like an exuberant lunatic—and I promise I’m complimenting him here—with no sleeves, just crashing his cards into mine. In G2 he played Fleecemane Lion and put a Hopeful Eidolon on it, and just started crashing in for a ton of life per turn. G3 was a real nailbiter. He had Green God, and I had stabilized at four life, but I knew he had the haste minotaur in his deck. I had out an Erebos’s Emissary that I’d previously saved for dying by pitching TWO Cavern Lampads to it—it was that kind of game.

Anyway, I found Keepsake Gorgon and laid him out alongside Emissary. Next turn I went to monstrous Gorgon and kill his last guy, Akroan Crusader—and Zach casts Coordinated Assault on him, giving himself another 1/1, which he could on the next turn double-pump with Green God, so I had to keep back Gorgon rather than swing in with both Gorgon and Emissary … oh boy. I finally got there, though. 5-2

R8—Chase, GW


I won this one in two after fighting through a late-game Elspeth, by casting Mogis’s Maurauder and swinging in with an unblockable team, including Emissary, discarding Keepsake Gorgon for the win (with Lightning Strike backup). 6-2

R9—King Asshole, UB

Yep, that’s right—King Asshole. But before I get into that, I was having a good run, but knew that top 8 was a long way off; when I saw the standings before R9 I knew I wasn’t going to make it—I was 28th going into that round. Anyway, this guy was the worst. First, he declined to have his picture taken, which isn’t always a bad sign, but sometimes is. Then in G1 he Curse of the Swined 3X of my guys at the end of his turn—I go back to my turn, add a Baleful Eidolon to my hand of Lightning Strike, and calculate a bit: KA’s at seven life with two blockers. I now have three 2/2s and a Benthic Giant. KA’s tapped out. I know it seems super-self-evident as I’m writing about it, but at the time he’d just Cursed me, and so it takes a bit of recalculating. And, you know, I’m a very careful player. I do things according to the turn order, and I never just “show” my opponent that I have the win. Instead I go through the motions. So I swing in with my guys, he blocks, I do four damage, and I play Lightning Strike on him. KA huffed and puffed: “Why didn’t you just show it to me? Blah blah blah.”

G2 I nuked his Harpy with Cure, and got Sphinx online. Then KA swung in with Returned Phalanx to trade with my Emissary, which I was more than happy to do because I had Nighthowler in hand. Of course KA didn’t *know* I had Nighthowler in hand, but it still just seems like a ridiculous attack, since he knew from G1 that I did have Nighthowler in my deck. Anyway, next turn I dropped Nighthowler on Sphinx, making it a 7/9, and swung in, taking care to scry three. (KA was at 20 life at this point, so the game was far from over.) And then he starts rushing me, bitching and moaning about, “Just kill me already,” and I’m like, “Man, feel free to scoop at any time; otherwise, I’m going to play the game in the correct order and not miss my triggers or skip steps.” So he just goes nuts. I won and he tore up the Hipsters business card I’d offered him at the beginning of our match and threw it at me. Seriously. I should have called a judge and reported him for unsportsmanlike conduct, but I was just over it at that point. 7-2


Hey, good enough for 17th place and 18 packs! Soon Bones and Kadar and I were back on the road to NYC. Dave said he thought I played a seriously attrition-based game, and I thought that was interesting, because I would not have—as recently as last year—described me as that kind of player. Dave said he’s rarely seen me play an aggro deck, or play aggressively.

I thought about this, and what it says about my philosophy as a player. I told Dave that I think my philosophy in Magic has become, “Never do anything”—which is only halfway a joke. I said at the beginning of the Theros format that I felt like it was almost always the correct decision to, say, *not* monstrous your creature for extra damage (or really unless it’s 100% necessary) when you swing in; instead just make your opponent do something.

And I very much practiced that philosophy during this PTQ. Of course I was playing a UB deck, which naturally lends itself to such a play style, but it’s all about playing the deck in the right way: Who’s the beatdown? If you’re not, you sould be trying to gain incremental advantage—and you don’t do that by firing off cards and tricks willy-nilly. You do that by being patient and waiting for the perfect opening.

So anyway—I’m cheered by my performance. On the way back, Dave flattered me by saying I was “the store’s great hope.” I demurred, saying that I thought Hugh “Draftasaurus Rex” Kramer was the better player, as well as probably many other folks; but Dave pointed out, and not incorrectly, that I do seem to be able to consistently put up good finishes at big events—to justify my seed, as it were. Part of that’s luck, of course, but I’d like to think that another part of it is temperment, which I was talking about last week in “Rusty.” When I feel really calm and “underwater” at a GP or a PTQ, man I feel like I can do no wrong. I know that I don’t have the most raw talent or processing power as a player—other folks I know definitely “see” the math much more intuitively than I do; but maybe my temperment—slow and steady wins the race—is my real asset. So I’m going to try to cultivate that. See you guys in a couple weeks in Philly again, and maybe even the week before that in Boston! I’m in the hunt for 750 points and two byes.

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands. Follow Hunter at @hrslaton.

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