So last weekend this happened:

Holy shit we did it big this time, kids! Here’s the theme song for this post:

So yeah, last weekend after going down to Ambler, PA, for Passover dinner with my fiance Kim’s extended family, I woke up Saturday morning and drove 40 minutes by myself to Coopersburg, PA, and the PTQ put on by Encounter Comics & Games at the space of another game store, Tales of Adventure. Earlier in the week I was almost not wanting to go, as things have been so busy lately with wedding-planning (Kim and I are getting married a week from tomorrow), but then I realized that I did not in fact have 881 Planeswalker Points—I had misremembered my teammate Brendan “BMac” McNamara’s point total; I was at 672 or so—and so resolved to schlep out to Coopersburg and try to get four or more wins, thus locking up 750 points and two GP byes for this and next season.

But boy, I was in for a lot more. After deck reg, I got passed a pool that initially seemed totally great, while maybe not being the 100% bombiest I’d *ever* seen. The red, white, and green all were strong, with white’s standout cards being Fabled Hero, two copies of Hopeful Eidolon, Phalanx Leader, plus all the support cards, while green had Arbor Colossus, Fated Intervention, Raised by Wolves, and a few super-solid roleplayers. Eventually I settled on RW, thinking that it was faster than the GW, and I really liked having access to removal in the form of Searing Blood. My last change was cutting the second Pharagax Giant for the Priest of Iroas, which was absolutely the correct (and smart) play, if I do say so myself. I also figured that I could work up a GW deck for a strong transformative sideboard option. Here is the RW deck:

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Here is the GW deck:

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And here is my on-color sideboard for both decks:

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Did I make the right call? I’m not sure. I think it’s possible that I made the right *combo* call, which was to maindeck the faster, more shocking RW deck, and then when my opponent goes to sideboard in response prior to game two—perhaps lowering their curve and boarding in stuff like Scouring Sands—I board into GW, going right over the top with raw power.

And that’s pretty much how it worked out. I’m not going to get too deep into my sealed matches, except to say that I absolutely didn’t have an easy time of it. Many of my matches were very close. (Here’s a good time to say thanks to the Champ himself, Andy Longo, for telling me prior to the tournament that he wanted to see me tighten up my play and not let a game slip out of my grasp like he saw me do at the PTQ prior, against Young Abe Lusk.)

I took Longo’s advice. R1 I beat a nice young kid named Aramis—his mother had been reading The Three Musketeers when she was pregnant with him, he explained—and in R2 I was paired against a guy who unfortunately got a game loss for a deck-reg error. Then in G2 he proceeded to smash the everloving shit out of me with one of the fastest RW decks I’ve ever seen. In G3 I boarded into GW, and we had a haymaker-filled match. At one point I had out a monstroused Arbor Colossus, with Hopeful Eidolon and Observant Alseid in hand. My opponent had beat me down to seven life, so I really wanted the lifelink, but he had a ton of open mana and I put him on Excoriate. So I bestowed Observant onto Arbor (making him an 11/11) and vigilantly swung in, before slapping Hopeful on him the following turn and gaining my life. I went up to the high 20s or so before my opp. Divine Verdicted me, and started beating me down with his recently monstroused Hundred-Handed One, for which I had not many great answers. But my life total kept me afloat and I managed to get seven power of creatures out on the board, plus a Mortal’s Resolve in hand. When he swung in next turn I quad-blocked, cast the combat trick on one of my guys, and took down the 6/8 giant. A few turns later I got the W.

You never want to get ahead of yourself at these tournaments. 2-0 and 3-0 and so on feel great, of course, but you’ve still got a long row to hoe. So I really try to tamp down expectations, stay hydrated and non-hungry, and take each match as it comes.

I win rounds three and four as well. Then in R5 I face Brendan McKay, a Pro Tour veteran, and I get a bit nervous. But Brandon is a real nice guy, we chat during our match, and I manage to get there against his RB build.

Now it’s R6 and I know that I effectively have a win-and-in, or close to it (I’m not great with tournament math, and the logistics of drawing or double-drawing into the top 8). Plus, my opponent is active pro Seth Manfield, so I know I have my work cut out for me. I can’t remember much of this match except that at one point I screwed up the triggers on casting Dragon Mantle on my Arena Athlete, drawing the card before I said, “Oh, and your Blood-Toll Harpy can’t block.” We called a judge and despite a discrepancy as to the amount of time that we both felt had elapsed between my drawing the card and calling out the heroic trigger (Seth said it was 15 seconds; I’m 100% confident it was nothing like that—15 seconds is a real long time), the judge ruled that, given that Arena Athlete‘s trigger is not a “may” ability—i.e., it just happens—and that Seth only had out one other creature (meaning there were no other possible targets), that the trigger had “happened” whether I announced it or not, thus making it somewhat of a moot point as to the time elapsed. Nevertheless: Play tight, kids. Announce your triggers.

I win in three games. And *now* I’m pretty ecstatic. That said, I’ve never been in this situation before, so I was uncertain as to whether drawing in was possible and safe. However, all the reports from friends and other good dudes (eyeball hat–wearing Michael Derczo chief among them; thanks for the support and advice, man!) indicated that I should be totally fine to double-draw in, so that’s what I did, first in R7 (of eight) against the only other 6-0 player, Bryan Veil, and then against my old nemesis Andrew Lazaro (6-1) in R8. (Totally kidding RE: Andrew being my nemesis; we actually faced each other in the last round of GP Toronto a few years ago, which I later learned was both of our first big competitive events, and played to an unintentional draw in that match; since then I regularly see Andrew at Northeast PTQs and GPs, and we always say hello.)

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I ended up in 3rd place after double-drawing into the top 8.

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Top 8, baby!

This game is funny. As soon as you accomplish something, like a top 8, another goal presents itself. You can never rest on your laurels for long. For me, I had a couple hours of time to kill between R6 and the top 8, which I kind of didn’t love; it felt somewhat like “freezing the kicker” in football. I managed to stay cool, though, by hanging out with my friends, walking around outside (it was a really lovely day), and staying hydrated and Advil-ed (my back can get pretty sore during a long day of MTG). So when it came time for the top 8 draft, I felt relaxed and ready. I really do feel like one of my strengths is being able to stay calm in high-pressure situations—but more on that in a second.

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I didn’t go into the draft with any particular plan except just to go with the flow and *maybe* keep my eyes peeled for green or black being wide open, as they sometimes as in Born of the Gods. P1P1 I was faced with—what else—Chromanticore. Fuck. It was a relatively weak pack, and I took Swordwise Centaur out of it. I followed that up with a Nyxborn Wolf over another Swordwise Centaur, then a Raised by Wolves (thus cementing in my mind the open-ness of green), and a fourth-pick Sudden Storm, pushing me into UG. I spent the rest of pack one picking up mostly blue and green cards, including a Divination (but zero Aspect of Hydras, of which I remember seeing a couple in the early picks, but unfortunately neither came back).

Then in pack two I open up Stormbreath Dragon. It’s a relatively weak back for UG, so I take it, thinking that the mythic is just too powerful to pass up. I get passed a Lightning Strike and I’m off to the RG races, snagging a mid-pack Ember Swallower. At the end of pack two, during the review period, I noted I was somewhat low on creatures—you can’t totally free-roll ditching one color for another—and resolved to prioritize dudes in pack three.

And that’s just what I did, snagging two Minotaur Skullcleavers (I just love this card), along with a super-late Polis Crusher. At that point I knew I had positioned myself in the correct colors, a fact that was underlined by the roughly 12th- or even 13th-pick second copy of Destructive Revelry. Here is my sweet, sweet deck:

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And here is my sideboard:

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You’ll see that I have a Horizon Chimera and an Unknown Shores in my sideboard; I definitely was considering splashing for the Chimera as well as the Sudden Storm, but relatively late in the building process I decided that I didn’t want to fuck up my mana any further by playing these two cards. I think this was one of the smartest decisions I made.

In R1 I was paired against John Healy, a fellow Twenty Sided Store regular and the guy who had been passing to me in packs one and three. I was the higher seed in this matchup, so I had the choice to play or draw. I chose to play … and John stomped me in G1. He went T2 Hero of Iroas, and then on T3 literally put THREE cantrip auras on the Hero, replacing each card and swinging in as a 5/5. The following turn he put Stratus Walk on Hero and swung in for six. I had a plan—I played Sedge Scorpion and had a Destructive Revelry in hand, which would have allowed me to blow up John’s Stratus Walk mid-combat, block Hero and hope for the best … but John’s pre-combat Archetype of Courage halted all that. He was just too far ahead. I thought, “Well, I’ve had a good run. I might be dying here.”

But that didn’t happen. I forget entirely what went down in games two and three, but I managed to stay cool and pull it out. (Sorry for the lack of detail.)

In R2 of the top 8 I faced Andrew Lazaro, who I had been passing *to* in the draft, and who I knew from overhearing in R1 (his match was next to mine and John’s) that he wasn’t thrilled about his deck. Andrew was on UW, too, and had a few more underpowered cards than he would have liked, such as Setessan Battle Priests and Lagonna Band Elders. I was able to choose the play in this match as well, and again I got beat in G1. I took G2 after monstrousing Ember Swallower, nuking all but one of Andrew’s lands, and in G3 Sudden Storm was my MVP, allowing me to tap down two of his most threatening fliers and letting me sneak in for the win, thanks to the damage help from my two Destructive Revelries. (I was super happy all top 8 that I had maindecked both copies of the enchantment-killer.) After the match, Andrew asked, “Did you have an answer for the fliers?” and I admitted that I did not; I’m not sure what card he had been holding at the end, but maybe he played too conservatively.

Seth Manfield—yet again—would be my final opponent. I knew he was on some super-grindy nearly mono-black deck, and I didn’t know whether to be worried or happy. (In retrospect I think happy.) The staff and/or judge moved us to what had been the feature match table—by this time, all the other tables and chairs had been cleared out of the room, and Seth and I were sitting in a virtually empty space, just me and him and the judge.

Again I was the higher seed, and chose to play. I kept a very speculative hand, including Firedrinker Satyr and Coordinated Assault … and I’m not sure why. I think I had a small case of nerves at this point, and was intimidated by the prospect of playing Seth (who I knew had been in these situations many times before, unlike me) for a second time. And as I was playing out my cards and making unfavorable trades (in terms of card advantage, like for instance playing my Assault early to save my Satyr in combat, when I already had an Ill-Tempered Cyclops in hand), I knew that I was not playing in such a way as would allow me to win the game again Seth’s deck. Sure enough, he got out a pair of Insatiable Harpies followed by a Marshmist Titan, and I had just gotten too far behind on cards to catch up, and lost.

“Maybe this is where it ends,” I thought as I scooped up my cards.

Yet I didn’t despair, still thinking critically and siding in an Anvilwrought Raptor, for I think the Pheres-Band Centaurs. I proceeded to fully smash G2 with the help of a sick curve that included Stormbreath Dragon on T6 or so; even though it died to Sip of Hemlock the following turn, I had put myself far enough ahead and won.

So onto G3, with Seth on the play. I had a sick opening hand of perfect mana thanks to Traveler’s Amulet, with Stormbreath, Ill-Tempered Cyclops, some kind of two-drop, and Peregrination. I forget whether I had Sudden Storm in my opener or if I drew it, but I got it soon enough. Seth played out a Blood-Toll Harpy on T3 and started swinging in. On his T5, my freshly played Anvilwrought Raptor out of the board blocked Blood-Toll Harpy and promptly ate a Divine Verdict, which might otherwise have been targeted at a later and more powerful spell of mine. You did your job, little metal bird!

I followed up on my T5 with Stormbreath Dragon, hit for a hasty four damage, and passed back to Seth. He considered for a moment, verifying life totals before bestowing Nyxborn Eidolon onto his Harpy, signaling that A) he didn’t have the Sip of Hemlock and B) he was going all-in on his plan.

The following turn I thought long and hard before choosing to play Ill-Tempered Cyclops rather than Raised by Wolves on Stormbreath Dragon. I still was somewhat hedging against Sip of Hemlock, and plus I felt like it was more advantageous for me to diversify my threats in this manner. So I cracked in for another four dragon-y damage, putting Seth down to 11 life (the extra one had come from the Blood-Toll trigger).

On his next turn he went even more all in, putting Herald of Torment on his Blood-Toll Monster and flying over for seven damage, putting me down to like eight life. He had one card in hand and two mana—black and white—up when he passed the turn back to me. I had Stormbreath and Cyclops on the board, and drew … Minotaur Skullcleaver.

I sat and stared at the board, especially at Seth’s two untapped mana. “What could he have for one white and one black?” I thought. I wracked my brain, mentally combing through Monique Garraud’s handy-dandy lists of instants and flash creatures. I was debating whether to play it safe or go for the win, via Minotaur Skullcleaver or Sudden Storm, respectively. Ultimately I decided that the only thing that Seth could possibly have to meaningfully interact with my board on this turn was Gods Willing, which he could use to knock Herald of Torment and Nyxborn Eidolon off of his Blood-Toll Harpy, creating two surprise (albeit not great vs. my team) blockers. And if he did in fact have Gods Willing, the Sudden Storm play was totally dead, anyway, as he would be able to leave it up to blank my card the following turn.

I decided to go for it. I cast Minotaur Skullcleaver, moved to combat, and turned my team sideways—for exactsies. Seth shatter-paused and looked like he was going to be ill. He turned to the judge and asked, “Does he have to announce his trigger for the minotaur?” It was my turn to feel sick for a split second before the judge snap-replied, “No.” Seth flipped his lone card around a bit, seeming to consider whether or not to show it to me, before reluctantly extending his hand.

I had won! I fucking won! I won the PTQ! I felt so amazing and thrilled … but I didn’t want to show it in front of Seth, who clearly was very bummed, and there was really no one there to celebrate with, as my friends had (quite understandably) all gone home after giving me a cheer as the top 8 was announced. So I went into the bathroom, splashed some water on my face, and sort of just shook all over with happiness and adrenaline, laughing unbelievably into the mirror.

Later, after saying goodbye and thank you to the staff, wishing Seth luck, and picking up my TWO boxes of cards (one Theros and one Born of the Gods), as well as my folded sheaf of travel-award paperwork (the blue envelope is a lie!), I went out into the super-dark comic-shop parking lot, tried not to kill myself while walking to my truck, and didn’t really fully exult until I got into my vehicle, banging on the steering wheel and shouting, “I won! I did it! I won the freaking PTQ!” Man that felt good.

As I was driving home, the texts and tweets started to roll in, from all over the country. I dunno what felt better: winning, or all the accolades and congrats that I received over that night and this past week. Somewhere on I-78 back into New York, my fiance Kim called and I put her on speakerphone and exulted yet again. She couldn’t believe it. We made a plan to meet up at like 12:30am at Burnside, a good bar in Williamsburg, and I bought myself a much needed beer and a pickleback to celebrate.

It was a good, very long day. And it just goes to show that with enough practice and luck, any given Saturday (or Sunday) it can happen to you. Sometimes this game is the worst—but man, when it’s the best it is pretty fucking incredible. Now I can’t wait to A) learn how to play with 60 cards (despite this being an abomination unto the Lord, as well as my Hipsters column) and B) learn how to draft M15 for Pro Tour Portland, and do all of my Hipsters, 20-Sided, and #TeamNYC teammates proud. Now that I’ve won a PTQ, I’ve got my next goal in sight. (Daddy needs an apartment down payment!) Thanks to everyone for helping me make it this far—and hopefully further.

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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