In last week’s article, we dragged ourselves into the last possible PTQ for PT Dragons of Tarkir: the Magic Online sealed qualifier on Sunday, March the first, and slapped together this darn-good deck:


We also, if you’ll recall, had drank some strong Portland coffee to overcome the inhuman hour of 7:10.


For added energy, and to maintain focus as the day wore on, I plugged in my headphones and turned on an old favorite: Grandaddy. An album is usually long enough for a round: My plan was to change albums only when I lost.

This report is from memory, because Magic Online saved exactly zero of my matches for review. Shocking.

Round One (Album: The Sophtware Slump)
I remember one thing about this round: it was extremely tight. It went three games, I was down to under five minutes to play, and the music had stopped. I clawed my way from behind and got that adrenal bump that comes with a close match. It went with the coffee well, shaking off the last of the sleep.

Round Two
I restarted the album but only listed to about three songs, as I lead with Battle Brawler game one into a morph. My opponent thought it was safe to rumble with the Brawler since I was tapped out, but I showed him a white card to flip Watcher of the Roost for the blowout. I had a follow up, he had average cards, and we were on to game two.

I lead with Battle Brawler into a morph, and attack into his morph. My opponent thinks for a moment, blocks, and I show him another white card for the same blowout.

I was starting to really like my deck.

Round Three
I lost a promising game one when I wasn’t able to push through enough damage against a bevy of card-advantage effects: Flamewake Phoenix, Cunning Strike, and Warden of the Inward Eye all pulled the card count in the wrong direction. In game two I passed on turn five with enough land to unmorph my Pine Walker, a tapped Mardu Skullhunter, and a good hand against his Summit Prowler. I chose not to block, fearing bounce, and he played a fifth land and passed the turn.

I decided to run out Throttle on end step, allowing my opponent to Cunning Strike my morph and get into exactly the type of game I couldn’t win. Another Cunning Strike resolved the next turn, I had no big creatures with my Pine Walker looking me askance from the bin, and he buried me in card advantage again.

Huh. A long wait for round four, so I had a snack and another cup of coffee. Then I switched my album to something a little more thematically appropriate: Sumday.

Round Four began, and the song Now It’s On clicked in. For the next few rounds, my deck also clicked in. I played Daghatar the Adamant on turn four a couple of times. I fought more powerful decks into defensive positions and stuck Palace Siege before they could turn the corner. I sideboarded in Abzan Advantage against a Sultai deck leaning heavily on a blue siege, and it showed up on time. I found an opportune moment to turn a game with non-lethal Rush of Battle.

Then, it was round eight. I was 6-1, and I could start to taste it. Grandaddy sang to me: Bust the lock of the front door! Once you’re outside you won’t want to hide anymore!

Not yet, though. I have an awkward draw and my opponent has a good start, but a series of careful plays let me stop his offense and knock out his last card with a Skullhunter, and the board is suddenly my Skullhunter, manifest, 1/1 soldier token and a Mardu Hordechief against his Disowned Ancestor with no counters and a Raider’s Spoils, with six mixed lands. I have a Sultai Scavenger in hand and fourteen life to his twenty or so.

He draws and attacks with his 1/4. I block with Hordechief and manifest. He bins his creature, taps five mana, and casts Wingmate Roc. I draw a land, sigh, and cast my Scavenger. He draws, taps all his mana, and casts Mob Rule.

Like the light on the front porch. Once it’s on you never want to turn it off anymore…

Hey, sometimes they rip twice. I win game two, and in game three I am on the defensive but holding solid. I hit the last two cards in his hand with a Rakshasha’s Secret and he has to discard Mob Rule. I stall the ground, then stop his Alabaster Kirin with Noxious Dragon. He draws another Kirin and has a defensive creature holding the ground.

I draw Palace Siege, and I have Mardu Strike Leader in hand. For once, I choose Khans, figuring that I can recur Strike Leader to build up a force, and it will protect me from losing to removal on my dragon. This is working reasonably well, as I build up a collection of warriors, but I’m drawing mostly land and my opponent is not: I have nothing but Feat of Resistance in hand. He throws away a useless creature and plays Wingmate Roc, then draws and plays a Sultai Scavenger the next turn. Suddenly, I’m at risk of losing to double-alpha-strike.

I draw another land, and my opponent goes all in. I eat the Wingmate and my opponent gains five life, dropping me to six. I alpha back with a pile of 2/1 tokens, plus the Strike Leader and some others ground creatures. I leave the dragon back. He has a Kill Shot and enough blockers to survive the turn cleanly, but he gets greedy and blocks tokens with both of his Kirins unnecessarily. I use Feat of Resistance to knock out a Kirin. He goes all in again, I block the Scavenger, go to one, and he has nothing.

Supervisor guy turns off the factory light, so the robots have to work in the dark.

Ok. One more round to make top eight. Confidence is high, deck is clicking, and I don’t remember anything about the round except that I win.

And now iiiit’s oooon!

You can get a full look at my top eight draft here, which is awesome because the only other draft viewer I’ve ever been a part of was a draft that I screwed up hideously at Nationals in 2010. If you want to draft along with me, go visit that link! I’ll give you my breakdown here:

Pack one was between Flamerush Rider, the most high-impact card, and Sandsteppe Outcast, one of the best commons in the set. I was tempted by the power of the rider, but white is a deeper color, Sandsteppe is a more versatile card, and I didn’t want to get caught in the home run mentality that is so tempting when you need the 3-0. I took the common.

The next pack was missing a rare but contained the best non-rare in the set: Elite Scaleguard. The immediate reward for taking a white card and avoiding a five drop was satisfying, as was sending another good red card (Goblin Heelcutter) left, hopefully pushing my neighbor that way. The next pack contained a Wild Slash and nothing near it in power, though, so I snapped it up.

Not yet sold on red, I took an Abzan Skycaptain in a pack with two more Heelcutters (one foil). Then pack five had yet another Heelcutter. And a Pyrotechnics. I have no idea how this happened, but I now had the two best uncommons in the set in my pile.

I didn’t look back, as red remained open from the right and white was deep enough to fill the gaps. I did find some bare packs in Khans, especially in pack two, but was able to pick up speculative dual lands towards a black or blue splash. I ended up with a light blue splash for a Jeskai Charm and a Mystic of the Hidden Way. The deck was a little heavy at four and five mana, and I played a Valley Dasher to balance it out, but the card quality was high and the deck contained a luxurious amount of burn to go with plenty of evasion:

Top 8 Draft

Creatures (14)
Ainok Bond-Kin
Jeskai Student
Valley Dasher
Gore Swine
Mystic of the Hidden Way
Sandsteppe Outcast
Watcher of the Roost
Hewed Stone Retainers
Mardu Warshrieker
Abzan Skycaptain
Alabaster Kirin
Ashcloud Phoenix
Dragon-Style Twins
Elite Scaleguard

Spells (9)
Wild Slash
Collateral Damage
Defiant Strike
Pressure Point
Jeskai Charm
Act of Treason
Arrow Storm
Lands (17)
Swiftwater Cliffs
Tranquil Cove

I was running well. I’d been passed those rare red creatures third in packs two and three. If this deck drew well, this could be easy.

It seems that I’m ceasing to be, in the season of the old me!

I double-mulligan, but I have a good hand. I get some hits in against his slower Sultai deck, but he has Whirlwind Adept to foil my Act of Treasons plans, and then on turn six he casts Silumgar, the Drifting Death, and my army is put to shame. He follows up with Icy Blast and I die.

I sideboard out Jeskai Charm, bringing in Mindswipe.

I mulligan again in game two, but my deck comes out kicking, and I get him low enough to burn out before he can even think about turning the corner. He shows me both Death Frenzy (off a manifest) and Sultai Soothsayer. I stare at my sideboard for a while, and decide that Frenzy and Silumgar are the cards that scare me. I sideboard in Neutralizing Blast.

My opening seven are good, finally, and I get off to a good start, topping out at Dragon-Style Twins. He has some flyers, though, and is actually winning the race before Twins arrive, forcing me to use removal. He casts Silumgar, but is forced to immediately block the Twins with it, along with a Soothsayer. This allows me to trade the Twins for their style-inspiring dragon with some help from Defiant Strike. We trade cards, he casts some Throttles, and the board devolves to his Soothsayer staring down my Alabaster Kirin, with me on thirteen life and him on fifteen thanks to Douse in Gloom.

As I hit for two a turn and draw lands, he draws Heir of the Wilds and Whirlwind Adept, turning the race math very bad for me. I draw Arrow Storm, attack, and play my eighth land with another in hand. He is at nine now, and I am at eight.

I tank for three minutes on my second main phase. I can’t target his Adept, meaning I can’t turn the race around by using Arrow Storm as removal. I decide to throw it at his face: he’ll attack for nine next turn, I’ll block two of it, and I give myself a whole bevy of outs: Collateral Damage, Arrow Storm, Act of Treason, Wild Slash, Pyrotechnics, even Valley Dasher if things break right. I just need him to draw a land. Or a ground creature. And I need to rip…

He draws, attacks. I block the Soothsayer, take seven, go to one. He taps six mana and casts Sultai Scavenger.

There goes a whole bunch of outs.

Draw phase is…. a white card.


I have never clicked through my triggers and targets more carefully as I attack for what the kids call “exactsies”. The full adrenaline kicks in.

For the semifinals my deck apparently got the same adrenaline shot I got. I have two-drops. I have removal. I have a top end, and I have the burn to finish. Neither game is close, and I punctuate it by answering his Archfiend of Depravity with an Act of Treason into Collateral Damage.

The finals is against what appears to be an excellent four-color control deck, but it’s a little slow and vulnerable to flyers, and I draw well enough to  make short work of two games with little drama. At on point, I use Act of Treason to steal a Mer-Ek Nightblade with a counter on it while I have Elite Scaleguard in play. Etc.

Now all I have to do is get a couple weeks off work with one month’s notice… because it’s off to Brussels for me!

Props and slops don’t feel quite right for a modo PTQ, somehow. Seamus Campbell gets props for birding my top eight draft and helping me celebrate my victory. Draft-PDX gets props for keeping the limited practice going all year round. I get slops for choosing Khans on Palace Siege that one time and almost losing because of it.

Biggest props to Grandaddy, of course.

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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