This is a tournament report. I played in the Theros sealed PTQ in Poughkeepsie, New York last Saturday. It was an eight-round affair. I went 5-3. 39th out of 197. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

kvahPhiladelphia, Eternal Weekend, one week ago. Round two of the Sunday Theros sealed PTQ. I sit down across from my opponent at table number very high. My pool is horrible. My deck contains the overwhelming majority of the good cards. It still sucks. I lose the die roll. On the draw. Then I did this: Island, Triton Shorethief, MountainOrdeal of Purphoros, kill kill kill. Game two, again on the draw: Island, Triton Shorethief, Mountain, Ordeal of Thassa, Island, Triton Fortune Hunter, Ordeal of Purphoros, Aqueous Form. Game set match. I sign the slip, 2-0 win, take it to the reporting box, check “drop”, walk out of the hall into Reading Terminal Market, and eat a turkey sandwich.

Here’s my deck.

An-Havva Spaghetti

Creatures (14)
Triton Shorethief
Arena Athlete
Nimbus Naiad
Triton Fortune Hunter
Crackling Triton
Flamespeaker Adept
Ill-Tempered Cyclops
Thassa’s Emissary
Stoneshock Giant
Sealock Monster

Spells (9)
Voyage’s End
Lightning Strike
Ordeal of Purphoros
Ordeal of Thassa
Coordinated Assault
Fate Foretold
Portent of Betrayal
Aqueous Form
Lands (17)
Island
Mountain

Sideboard (61)
Anax and Cymede
Battlewise Hoplite
Wingsteed Rider
Two-Headed Cerberus
Borderland Minotaur
Minotaur Skullcleaver
Spark Jolt
Sylvan Caryatid
52 An-Havva Inn

The problem with this deck is that while it has a bunch of good cards, they all do the same midrangy things. The plan isn’t strong enough to win consistently against the powerful end game decks that fill PTQ tables in Theros sealed. If I want to win a fast game, I need a turn two ordeal. Enter Triton Shorethief. You know, the blue Favored Hoplite. You always want a nut draw, but this is asking a bit much. Have you ever met anyone who played a turn eight Triton Shorethief? No, you haven’t. Do you know why? Because everyone who has ever done it committed seppuku shortly after.

I pulled it off round two, and I bowed out gracefully to preserve my honor. Did I have any hope of winning the next seven rounds? What if I actually went on a run, and ended someone’s top 8 hopes with ordealed shorethieves? I feel like I owe it to the magic community not to even try. There are treaties against this sort of thing.

Also figuring in my analysis: Eternal Weekend is offering Modern Masters side drafts. Value. After sandwich, I join an 8-person draft for $40 with 75% friends of Hipsters. Dave McCoy, Hugh Kramer, Dylan Hiester, Sean Morse, Alex Owen, and I sat down in a circle with two other fine gentlemen. This is what I ended up with:

Behold Blessed Perfection

Creatures (16)
Arcbound Worker
Court Homunculus
Etherium Sculptor
Myr Retriever
Arcbound Stinger
Arcbound Ravager
Esperzoa
Faerie Mechanist
Sanctum Gargoyle
Mulldrifter
Errant Ephemeron

Spells (9)
Aether Spellbomb
Pyrite Spellbomb
Thirst for Knowledge
Shrapnel Blast
Traumatic Visions
Gleam of Resistance
Grapeshot
Lands (15)
Island
Plains
Mountain

Behold Blessed Perfection Sideboard

Sideboard (20)
Court Homunculus
Dispeller’s Capsule
Tidehollow Sculler
Echoing Truth
Perilous Research
Stingscourger
Fury Charm
Skyreach Manta
Paradise Mantle
Runed Stalactite
Take Possession
Amrou Scout
Saltfield Recluse
Plumeveil
Dampen Thought
Tarmogoyf
Dakmor Salvage
Facevaulter
Phthisis
Festering Goblin

Like I said. Value. I go 3-0 with possibly the best Affinity draft deck ever. Etherium Sculptor is basically Sol Ring. I feel like I’m playing a constructed deck for the first time, constantly discovering another layer of ridiculousity. Arcbound Ravager? I’d never cast one before today and holy shit! I never draw the Grapeshot, but the fact that it works in this deck demonstrates the insanity of multiple Etherium Sculptors. Anyway, I split the finals prizes with Sean, and get six packs of Theros and $37 in vendor credit, which I turn into Helm of Obedience, Misdirection, and a pack of KMC sleeves. Karmic payback for sure.

kvahBack to Poughkeepsie. I suspect everyone who wakes up at 6:00 a.m. to attend a PTQ confronts the same question: Why I am doing this?

I love sealed tournaments. I’ll play with anything, so I like that nobody can choose their cards beforehand. I revel in concentrating for hours, searching for answers to every random challenge I face round after round. Doing this with friends and kindred spirits is a joy. And the competition is exciting. But the real question, the only question, hangs over everything. Do I want to play on the Pro Tour?

I think in possibilities. An ex-girlfriend once asked me why I frequently used the word “supposedly” when telling her about events and facts and other things that people take for granted as true. My response? It is always possible that I am wrong, that you are wrong, that anything and everything is not what it seems. I want to remind myself.

But it’s not just about maintaining a healthy (neurotic?) skepticism. I want to be aware of as many possibilities as I can. Keep my decision trees open. Have as much information as possible when I consider my actions, without everything laid out in the open. Acting with imperfect information is exciting! It is the most engrossing aspect of Magic: the Gathering. Each game is a slowly unfurling environment, with uncertain choices at every turn. Beautiful beautiful decision trees!

redwoods

So. The Pro Tour? Of course I want to play on the Pro Tour! Magic is such an engrossing and mentally stimulating game, and the opportunity to play against the best in the world sounds fantastic. So here’s a better question. Do I think I will play on the Pro Tour? I don’t know. Probably not. The odds are long, and I’ve got a lot of room to improve my game. But the possibility is exciting. The tournaments are fun, so why not try? If I’m happy spending the day playing magic alongside my friends and challenging myself against strong players, then the chance to actually win the tournament and qualify is a free bonus. I know I am capable. I know it is possible. I just need to play and play and play. What do I have to lose?

That said, Poughkeepsie is my fourth PTQ, and in the previous three I’ve won a total of five matches, with two 2-3 drops prior to my 1-1 mercy killing in Philly. Today I am here to win some matches and finish a long tournament without dropping.

During pool registration, I open some nice value cards that I’d be passing along to someone else. Master of Waves and Thoughtseize pay off the price of the tournament, and the pool also has Agent of the Fates and two Gray Merchants to help win games. Even though I had to pass this pool, it would stay in the family. Mr. Matt Jones adds another blue card to his collection.

I open the pool I have to build and the top card is Prophet of Kruphix. “That’s a good start,” I say aloud.

Returned to Sender

Creatures (15)
Returned Phalanx
Shipwreck Singer
Omenspeaker
Vaporkin
Nimbus Naiad
Blood-Toll Harpy
Mogis’s Marauder
Insatiable Harpy
Thassa’s Emissary
Nylea’s Emissary
Prophet of Kruphix
Prescient Chimera
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Keepsake Gorgon

Spells (8)
Voyage’s End
Griptide
Sea God’s Revenge
Sip of Hemlock
Lash of the Whip
Ordeal of Thassa
Stymied Hopes
Lands (17)
Swamp
Island
Forest

Returned to Sender Sideboard

Sideboard (28)
Omenspeaker
Wavecrash Triton
Coastline Chimera
Breaching Hippocamp
Gainsay
Swan Song
Lost in a Labyrinth
Pharika’s Cure
Scourgemark
Nylea’s Disciple
Artisan’s Sorrow
Shredding Winds
Guardians of Meletis
Prowler’s Helm
Ordeal of Nylea
Savage Surge
Purphoros, God of the Forge
Ordeal of Purphoros
Heliod, God of the Sun
Wingsteed Rider
Divine Verdict
Steam Augury
Colossus of Akros

This pool lacks some punch. Blue Black provides a solid shell, and it’s my favorite color combination. My fixing consists of an Omenspeaker, but Prophet of Kruphix is too good. If I want to have a chance against the top decks and players, I need the raw power it provides. If I am running green at all, I should play a Nylea’s Emissary as well. I probably should have cut the Stymied Hopes for a third Forest, but I didn’t feel like running an eighteenth land. I need to work on that.

I don’t expect to play tons of aggro decks if my tournament goes well, so I left the extra anti-aggro cards in the sideboard. My plan for aggro is to side out the green splash for the two Pharika’s Cures, the second Omenspeaker, and possibly Wavecrash Triton or Coastline Chimera if necessary. Triton is a strong card, but I’m not triggering Heroic very often.

r123

Round one I faced Esper (Blue White Black). Game one, as I noted above, went like this: turn five Prophet, win. My opponent did show me a Whip of Erebos before dying, so I’m not too excited about that. Game two I discarded to hand size on turns three and four. My opponent played Heliod’s Emissary. I did not win. Game three was going well until my opponent exiled my Prophet with Last Breath, untapped, played Agent of the Fates and slapped Fate Foretold on it. I sacrificed a Returned Phalanx. Here I made a fateful mistake. I had Griptide and Lash of the Whip in hand. I chose to Griptide the Agent to avoid letting my opponent draw off Fate Foretold. I should have just Lashed it, since I was going to have to kill it anyway and Agent can provide my opponent much more card advantage than the one draw off the aura. I was immediately punished when my opponent (who went up to nine mana thanks to a Burnished Hart earlier) recast the Agent and immediately bestowed it with Erebos’s Emissary, eating my Shipwreck Singer. Oof. I lose. 0-1 to start. Not what I was hoping for.

Round two I played a Bant (UWG) Heroic deck. My opponent stumbled over his three color manabase and I won in two comfortable games. 1-1, still alive.

Next I was paired against Josh Ravitz running Red-Green splash White. Time to embrace the challenge! Unfortunately I had to embrace a 10/10 Centaur Battlemaster (CBGB, I call him) with lifelink the turn after I Sipped away his Arbor Colossus. My kingdom for a bounce spell! Oh wait, I have no kingdom. Game two we had a race. I dropped Prophet on turn five, and was then able to Lash his Ill-Tempered Cyclops in response to Fanatic of Mogis. Unfortunately I had a Forest but only one Island. The Prescient Chimera stranded in my hand probably would have won the race. That’s the price of splashing. Josh was a great opponent. We had a pleasant chat after my 0-2 loss.

At this point I am 1-2 and out of top 8 contention. Again. But I came to play so I soldier on.

r456

Round four my opponent is running what seems to be a mediocre Red-White aggro deck. In the first game I put Ordeal of Thassa on Insatiable Harpy and my opponent had no answer. With my opponent at 13 life I bounced his board with Sea God’s Revenge and swung for eight. He scooped in response and told me there was no point in wasting Sea God’s in that situation. I couldn’t tell if my opponent was just tilting, admitting he has no outs to a 5/5 lifelink flier, or trying to lull me into complacency. But all he needs is Divine Verdict to stabilize if I don’t go for the throat in that situation. Before game two he shows me he is sideboarding in Fleetfeather Sandals, which I am happy to see. Unfortunately, he plays it and equips on Deathbellow Raider. I get stuck on lands and also never draw a flier all game. Eventually he draws Fabled Hero and I die. I should have boarded into my anti-aggro plan, but didn’t. Maybe my opponent successfully played the “woe is me” lowered expectations card that I know all too well from going to law school. (“There’s no way I will do well on this exam,” says the person studying alone for six hours every night.) Anyway, as we shuffled for game three he kept talking about how this was another 1-3 drop and how much it sucked. My opening hand was Island, Island, Swamp, Swamp, Forest, Prescient Chimera, Ordeal of Thassa. I thought, “well I have my colors and a flier he can’t handle, and his deck sucks.” But that is an obvious mulligan even though my deck is full of two drops I can draw into. Naturally, he curved Favored Hoplite into whatever else and killed me exactly with Portent of Betrayal on my Chimera when I finally played a creature to the board. 1-3 for me. But no drop! I feel like an idiot and that makes me want to focus and play more.

In round five I played against a UR deck. I won game one easily. The best card I saw from his deck was Griptide. At this point I told myself to be serious about sideboarding, and I boarded out my green splash for Gainsay, two Pharika’s Cures, and a Scourgemark. Then in game two I never drew a third land. As I shuffled my deck for game three it occurred to me that maybe I forgot to replace the two Forests I had boarded out. I flip through my deck and count the lands.

Fifteen.

I hope that is the absolute nadir of my magic-playing life.

So I swapped in an Island and a Swamp, and went on to game three. My opponent mulled to six and was giving off the Diablo II Sorceress “I need mana” vibe. So when he played Omenspeaker on turn two, I snapped off the Gainsay. He never got beyond three lands and I won in short order. 2-3. Winning!

Round six I faced RB beats. Game one was a close race until her Mogis’s Marauder put me way behind. Fortunately, I had regained my senses at this point and properly sideboarded in my anti-aggro package. As we were shuffling for game two, we got a random deck check. We laughed about the silliness of checking our sideboarded decks and pools in round six at a 2-3 table that was completely out of the running for anything but planeswalker points. Ten minutes later, everything was good and we started again. I mulled down to five. It was a good five, however, and I proceeded to draw mono two drops forever, stabilized, and eventually won with my own Mogis’s Marauder making my Omenspeakers unblockable to combo with a few fliers for lethal. Game three she was stuck without red mana, and I beat down for the win with Returned Phalanx and friends.

3-3! I know it doesn’t mean much to win matches in the bottom of the PTQ bracket, but I really needed this.

r78

Round seven I faced the Brendan mirror match. We had great fun. I also managed to win, as other Brendan was on RW and my anti-aggro sideboard did a ton of work. 4-3? Don’t call it a comeback!

In the last round of the event I was paired against fellow Hipster and brave carpool driver Monique. I love playing Monique because she plays the same way I do—interested in everything going on, absorbing, excited by the unfolding drama. She was playing a UG deck featuring her own Prophet of Kruphix. Unfortunately for her, we both had slow starts in our two games, but my opening hands were full of lands and removal spells. Without facing any early pressure, I was able to sit back and sculpt my hand for maximum value.

So there I am. 5-3 after running off four straight wins. Ecstatic. The best 39th-place-no-prize-earning finish I ever expect to have. It’s easy to drop from a PTQ after picking up a second loss, but sometimes you need to play it out. Everything is an experience and an opportunity to grow. Spend some idle time among the decision trees. It will pay off.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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