This past Saturday, 15 folks from the Twenty Sided/TDL community descended upon Kenilworth, NJ, for a 58-player Limited Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier. I can’t comment as to how competitive the event was before, but I wouldn’t have high hopes for a tournament that’s 25% TDL (though I’d definitely expect to have a good time).

I registered a very strong pool, one with Whisperwood Elemental, Deathmist Raptor, WildcallBoltwing Marauder, Harbinger of the Hunt, and Damnable Pact as the rares, with two copies of Reach of Shadows and plenty of solid black and green cards. I was fairly certain that the recipient of my pool would make top 8.

….I also quickly learned that person’s name, since we swapped pools. When we were both locked for top 8, we both joked about the power disparity between our pools. He’d shipped me a pair of great bombs in Citadel Siege and Secure the Wastes, but few other good-to-great cards in any colors. I waffled between registering RW aggro and WBu midrange (splashing for Necromaster Dragon) and eventually settled on RW aggro. I sleeved up my alternate deck, but—spoilers—I never used it. Here’s what I played:

Swiss Sealed deck

Swiss Sealed

Lands (17)
Wind-Scarred Crag

Creatures (16)
Lightning Berserker
Mardu Woe-Reaper
Arashin Cleric
Smoldering Efreet
Kolaghan Aspirant
Dragon Fodder
Hewed Stone Retainers
Sandsteppe Outcast
Sandcrafter Mage
Kolaghan Forerunners
Kolaghan Stormsinger
Abzan Skycaptain
Strongarm Monk
Atarka Pummeler
Secure the Wastes

Spells (7)
Tormenting Voice
Twin Bolt
Bathe in Dragonfire
Lose Calm
Citadel Siege
Volcanic Rush
Enduring Victory
Selected Sideboard Cards (3)
Enduring Victory
Channel Harm
Echoes of the Kin Tree

I generally got lucky with the deck, often drawing both Secure the Wastes and Citadel Siege within my first seven or so turns. When you have bombs like those backing up a giant pile of creatures, you tend to win. The first three rounds with Boros Bombs aggrowent by rather quickly. Then, come round 4, the top table looked like this:

Round 4

That’s Hunter, Zach (mostly hidden behind Hunter and his own sunglasses), me (also Zach, but not hidden behind Hunter), Rob, Bert, and half of Abe’s head. The top six players were all TDL. We all had to win more round to be able to double draw into the top 8, and so friend played friend. Abe, Bert, and I were triumphant, and so got to double draw into top 8. Hunter managed to win his way in, while Richard Tanimal clinched another spot. That made FIVE folks from our community in the top 8. That’s awesome!

Round 7 - Top 8 Draft

The draft was fascinating (and a little silly). I opened a pack with Vulturous Aven, Youthful Scholar, and little else at common and uncommon. Vulturous Aven is an excellent card while I generally feel that Youthful Scholar is only okay (it’s expensive for Exploit fodder and has only okay stats). Vulturous Aven was the safe and likely correct first pick.

However, I had my eyes set on the rare. I wanted to do something crazy. I like drafting multicolor control, and Dragons of Tarkir is no exception. My P1P1 was Sarkhan Unbroken.

…then I took a P1P2 Foul-Tongue Invocation, ’cause it was the best card in the pack. I saw that blue was the most open color while red-green was not at all open, and snagged a few good black cards. Blue remained open (only me and Hunter, who was directly to my left, were in blue) and I was thoroughly rewarded for being heavily blue in pack three (P3P3 Monastery Siege, along with all the other blue cards you’ll see below). By draft’s end, I’d picked up a bunch of fixing and red cards, but not enough to play Sarkhan in the main. I splashed red for the very powerful Swift Warkite (which also had great synergy with Foul-Tongue Invocation), but nothing else. In the end, I was UBr control with zero Exploit creatures.

Here’s the deck! (Pardon the inadvertent middle finger; wanted to limit the glare on the card and chose the wrong digit.)

Top 8 Draft deck

Top 8 Draft

Lands (17)
Evolving Wilds
Bloodfell Caves

Creatures (18)
Shambling Goblin
Palace Familiar
Jeskai Sage
Hand of Silumgar
Marang River Skeleton
Frost Walker
Ojutai Interceptor
Zephyr Scribe
Monastery Loremaster
Belltoll Dragon
Merciless Executioner
Lotus Path Djinn
Sage-Eye Avengers

Spells (5)
Whisk Away
Foul-Tongue Invocation
Monastery Siege
Deadly Wanderings
Void Squall
Selected Sideboard Cards (11)
Wandering Tombshell
Sight Beyond Sight
Sarkhan Unbroken
Thornwood Falls
Ire Shaman
Summit Prowler
Cunning Strike
Sprinting Warbrute

I was in the TDL half of the top 8, so my round 1 opponent was Abe, and were I victorious, I’d play the winner of Hunter vs. Rich. So, it was a murder’s row of Pro Tour competitors/friends.

Abe had a powerful red-green deck with Surrak, the Hunt Caller and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon (I managed to win game 2—after he resolved Ugin, stabilized at 2 life, and wiped my board—thanks to a Wandering Tombshell and a Void Squall).

In game three, Abe mulliganed down to five but came out with a blazingly fast start. In the pivotal turn, I was at 8 life, staring down 11 power (with trample, thanks to Stampeding Elk Herd), and deciding what to discard to my Monastery Siege while stuck on lands. I passed with a 1/1, Deadly Wanderings, and no untapped lands. I’d done my math wrong and thought I was dead (I’d forgotten that my creature’s single point of toughness would let me survive Abe’s attack at 1 life).

Abe thought for a moment and I think he either told me or I inferred that I wasn’t dead (so I didn’t just scoop when he attacked). He attacked and I traded with his 5/5, then went to 1. Suddenly, his creatures didn’t have trample and I could play higher power (lifelinking) creatures. With Deadly Wanderings gaining me life, me having an endless stream of spells with Monastery Siege, and Abe flooding out, the enchantment took over the game and I won.

In the semis, I faced frequent TDL teammate Richard Tan and his black-red aggro deck. I had a pretty good matchup, since I could outgrind most of his creatures and Deadly Wanderings was a game-ending that he couldn’t interact with. Rich, however, is a phenomenal Magic player and managed to get me to 4 life in game 3 (and do some very fancy tricks with Hardened Berserker) before I stabilized. I slowly, but steadily brought him down from 27 life before he drew Blood-Chin Fanatic. With that, I was off to the finals, to face the TDL Endboss: Bert and his black-red aggro deck.

Round 9 - Finals

Like all matches in the top 8, this was decided by Deadly Wanderings. With my deck’s ability to loot, I was able to consistently find my enchantment and keep my life total well out of reach. Bert’s Berserkers’ Onslaught made even 20 life a low number, but Void Squall and a 6-power lifelinking Sage-Eye Avengers kept his board under control. Bert extended the hand and… I won! The store, full of no one, but the judge, the owner, my friends from the top 8 converged. Rich pet me (’cause I’m totally a dog) and then we ran home (’cause it was 11pm). Now, I’m barred from playing in PPTQs for a couple of months. It’s awesome.

Pet Pet

I learned a decent amount from this tournament. This article’s getting long, so I’ll try to be brief.

Back to Basics

1. Build a good sealed deck. Even if you don’t have as strong a pool as the one you registered, have zero playable bombs, or can’t afford to play your best cards, you probably still have a good deck in there someone. Find it. And don’t forget good deckbuilding basics: have a curve, play enough creatures, know how your deck wants to win, and splash only when the decrease in consistency is outweighed by the increase in power level.

Atarka Efreet

2. Red is the best color. Almost all of the top sealed decks were red (and from what I saw, mostly red-black or red-white). Not only does red have strong cards (though black has the best common and uncommon in Flatten and Ultimate Price), but it is flush with good commons and strong creatures, so it’s very good at filling out a deck.

Dead Ringers

3. Read the cards! In the top 8, I got an inadvertent Time Walk when my opponent treated my Void Squall as Griptide and I failed to notice (had I seen it, I would’ve stopped the illegal play—to do otherwise is cheating). Another opponent cast Volcanic Rush before attacking and learned that it’s like Trumpet Blast and not Rally the Peasants.

Deadly Wanderings

4. Deadly Wanderings is a bomb. It turns all of your (one) creatures into removal spells and makes it nearly impossible for your opponent to race you. It takes some careful maneuvering to work (a Humble Defector can be a godsend or wreck everything), but if you can keep your opponent from having tons of creatures, it’ll keep you alive and help you grind out almost any game.

Wandering Tombshell

5. Wandering Tombshell is a surprisingly solid card. It’s much, much better than the nigh-unkillable, unsung hero of Khans of Tarkir, Rotting Mastodon. It blocks almost all common (non-flying) creatures, including the big bads that control has problems with, Stampeding Elk Herd and Sprinting Warbrute. I didn’t maindeck it in the top 8, but I boarded it in every match. No, it’s not a particularly strong card, but it’s particularly strong at stopping almost all creatures.

Void Squall

6. Void Squall is a strong, all-purpose answer. It can easily be a double Time Walk as your opponent recasts their most expensive creature twice. It’s one of blue’s only answers to powerful enchantments like the Siege cycle or Berserkers’ Onslaught. It can bounce a creature that’s under Pacifism or reuse a Cloudform. The card has a ton of uses, both for buying lots of time or lots of tempo. You’re probably not drafting it highly enough.

Arcane Teachings

That’s all for this week. It was an absolute and unexpected blast to win this PPTQ. I can’t thank my friends, Hipsters of the Coast, Twenty Sided Store, and Team Draft League enough for making me into the player that I am today. Here’s hoping I can do you all proud of the Regional PTQ in June.

And as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash

Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner and improviser, creating entire musicals from scratch every week. Zach has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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