I hate watching Pro Tours from home. That is why I grind.

Since December, though, the grind had failed me at an inopportune time: I had won neither a PTQ for PT Dragons of Tarkir, nor a PPTQ for the RPTQs for Magic Origins. Grand Prix are hard for me to attend, so… as the clock ticked on February, I was frustrated. With the system changing and my failure in the first season of PPTQs, I wondered if I had played my last Pro Tour.

Every qualification season is a cake. There are only so many slices of cake available, but when you look at an entire cake, it’s easy to imagine you can eventually get your hands on a slice. However, as the season wears on, that cake shrinks. You get hungrier as you watch others eat. The optimism is slowly replaced by desperation, and you work harder for every chance at a slice.

I was unable to attend the final two paper PTQs in my region due to family obligations, leaving me only one option: Magic Online.

Last Wednesday, I rushed home from work to play a Sealed Magic Online Pre-qualifier, and made it to the required 4-1 record to qualify for the Sunday PTQ.

The next day, I rushed home from work to gather online cards and play in a Standard Magic Online Pre-qualifier: my last chance to give myself a second-to-last chance. I played Ben Stark’s Red/White list from Grand Prix Memphis:

Ben Stark Red/White

Creature (12)
Seeker of the Way
Soulfire Grand Master
Goblin Rabblemaster

Sorcery (4)
Hordeling Outburst

Instant (12)
Wild Slash
Stoke the Flames
Lightning Strike
Valorous Stance

Enchantment (8)
Outpost Siege
Chained to the Rocks

Land (24)
Battlefield Forge
Temple of Triumph
Evolving Wilds
Sideboard (15)
Valorous Stance
Stormbreath Dragon
Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
Arc Lightning
Mastery of the Unseen

I had not practiced with this deck. Round One I played poorly, flooded a bit, and lost. I battled back, though, to 3-1, then went to game three against another Red/White deck, where my perfect hand lost to his mulligan hand as he hit more [casthaven]Hordeling Outburst[/casthaven]s off his [casthaven]Outpost Siege[/casthaven] than I did. Of course, I had sideboarded out [casthaven]Hordeling Outburst[/casthaven]s because I had never played this matchup and misidentified what was important…

That was my last PPTQ. The cake was sliced and served, and there was one thin piece left on the platter. 3/1/2015, Sealed Magic Online PTQ, 7:10 am PST. I set my alarm for 6:00 am.

Mornings are not my thing. Also, I’ve never won a Magic Online PTQ. So I make a strong batch of coffee, warm up some leftovers for breakfast, and sit down in front of my computer to build this:


This sealed deck is not a ten, but it’s good. It has synergy, removal, a good curve, some near-bombs, and only needs two colors — which is great, because there’s very little fixing. Also, the commons and uncommons are really good with very little filler: my favorite kind of sealed deck. But was it good enough for a nine round PTQ at Magic Online competition levels?

As long as there’s cake on the table, the grinder will grind.

To be continued: next week in this space, complete with more mixed metaphors, misplays, top-decks, and beats both good and bad.

Gabe Carleton-Barnes has been playing Magic for over 20 years, mostly as a PTQ grinder and intermittently as a Pro Tour competitor. Currently based in Portland, Oregon, where he is an Open Source web developer by day, Gabe lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, for three years. While there, he failed to make a documentary about competitive Magic but succeeded in deepening his obsession with the game. Gabe is now a ringleader and community-builder for the competitive Magic scene in Portland, wielding old-timey slang and tired cliches to motivate kids half his age to drive with him to tournaments.

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