When last we met, I in round 7 of the Regional PTQ. It was final round of the swiss before the cut to Top Eight. I was 4-2 and had the best breakers of the X-2s. Unfortunately, there were enough X-1s that Top Eight was almost certainly out of reach. Still, I was very live for Top Sixteen (with an outside chance for Top Eight), so I sleeved up my mediocre GW deck and got to work.

Mistakes are inevitable.

Tilt isn’t.

My round 7 opponent had an insanely fast BW aggro warriors deck. Foul-Tongue Shriek and Harsh Sustenance gave his blitzkrieg of cheap creatures a frightening amount of reach and inevitability. I’ve rarely seen such an efficient BW deck in Dragons of Tarkir draft and never in Sealed. Still, I had two good things going for me: my opponent didn’t seem to have any insane bombs (I wouldn’t automatically lose to a Whisperwood Elemental) and my deck played defense reasonably well (particularly when I resolved a turn two Glade Watcher).

In game 1, my opponent dashed out a Mardu Shadowspear and attacked with a bunch of creatures. I waited a moment for him to announce his trigger. He did not. I asked, “May I declare blockers?” and he allowed it. I blocked. Before going to combat damage, he noticed the missed trigger, we called a judge, and the trigger was confirmed to have been missed. I stabilized at one life and then won that game. My opponent was understandably unhappy.

You know what’s frustrating? Making a mistake in a win-and-in match (which, by the end of game 1, we knew our match had likely become). You know what’s heartbreaking? Making one mistake and then having it cascade into a series of mistakes.

Sarkhan's Rage

I lost horribly in game two. Come game three, I was being similarly buried under a mass of warriors, flying imps, and combat tricks. My opponent missed a few more triggers, but Mardu Shadowspear‘s ability was always going on the stack, I was at four life, and my opponent had five creatures to my four. On a decisive turn, I forgot to block a Reckless Imp with a spirit token (which would trade, thanks to Assault Formation and my three remaining mana). I fell to 2 life and slunk back in my chair, upset with my misplay.

Though the board was at parity, with each of us having five creatures*, I was dead to Harsh Sustenance and Foul-Tongue Shriek, if he ever drew either. Because of my misplay, I was also dead to any dash creature or removal spell. I couldn’t afford to attack my opponent (who was at 20 life), since I needed all of my creatures to block. However, I needed to apply pressure, since doing nothing would only allow my opponent more time to draw towards any of those game-winning cards. I couldn’t win the long game and I couldn’t win the short game.

…well, I couldn’t win the game as it was. There was only one way I could win, and it was completely out of my hands.

And so, I leaned into the tilt.

*If memory serves, my opponent had something like two Reckless Imps, Arashin Foremost, Dragon Hunter, and Kolaghan Skirmisher.

I had Herald of Dromoka, a spirit token, Arashin Sovereign, a Glade Watcher, and a 2/2 Ainok Guide. I’d just cast Arashin Foremost and had enough mana to use Assault Formation once (I’d flooded out).

Head Games

I slumped back into my chair and let the feeling of failure wash over me. I convinced myself that the game was over, that I’d punted my chance of Top Eight because I’d forgotten to block. I was dead… and I wanted my opponent to know that. He didn’t want to miss another opportunity, make another mistake, and fail to kill me on board a second time. There was some chance that I could mount a lethal comeback with Assault Formation once I untapped with all of my mana, but my opponent could kill me right now. If only he attacked.

My opponent untapped for the turn, didn’t draw any of the spells I’d automatically die to, and went to combat. He turned everything sideways. I blocked and pumped my team once. When the bloodbath ended, I had Glade Warden and Arashin Sovereign. My opponent had no creatures and had done no damage to me. I untapped, attacked for nine with my pumped dragon, leaving Glade Warden back (because I still had a two-turn clock and was still dead to any dash creature). My opponent drew and cast Mardu Shadowspear. I attacked with my team, soliciting a chump block, and played a third creature. My opponent extended the hand.

I can’t say that my, er, performance had any effect on anyone other than Chris Manning, who (rightfully) told me to work on my poker face. However, I can happily say that I managed to calm myself after making a mistake, avoid making further mistakes, and evaded losing to a topdecked dash creature.

Look at Me, I'm R&D

Avoid collusion!

Remember how I said our match had likely become a win and in? Someone at the top tables had been disqualified from the tournament for collusion. It was almost certainly an accident (either a slip of the tongue or the player not knowing that collusion was an offense at Competitive REL), but it was a major rules violation nevertheless.

While offering to split prizes may be fine at your local FNM, you can’t do that at Competitive REL. You are allowed to ask an opponent to concede to you, as well as ask if your opponent will go to the Pro Tour (or the Grand Prix you’re at the GPT of, or the RPTQ, etc.). You are not allowed to offer anything, including a prize split, in exchange for a concession. You are not allowed to discuss the particulars of what will happen after one player hypothetically concedes. If you do this, you will get disqualified from the tournament. If you’re afraid of doing this, ask a judge to clarify what you are and are not allowed to say.

I squeaked into the Top 8 as the only X-2 because of the disqualification (and I had the highest breakers). My heart goes out to the disqualified person, since I’m fairly certain they didn’t mean to break the rules (and they certainly didn’t want to get DQed when they were almost certainly about to draw into the top eight). As much as I appreciate making the Top Eight, I’d be happy if I never saw another well-intentioned person removed from a tournament for collusion or bribery every again. Please, please educate yourself on collusion so that this will never happen to you.

Whisperwood Elemental

Sometimes you Lose.

And that’s okay.

The disadvantage of squeaking into the Top Eight is that you have to play the highest seeded player (and be on the draw). This happened to be my round 4 opponent who’d crushed me with Whisperwood Elemental (a card my deck could not beat, barring an already-online 8/8 Warden of the First Tree) and his UGb powerhouse deck. I managed to win game 1 when my opponent stumbled on mana, but I knew that games 2 and 3 would be longshots.

My opponent played well, I did my best to play better, but the point became moot when my opponent resolved Whisperwood Elemental on a stalled board in game 2, and then on turn 4 in game 3. I died to a pile of unidentifiable manifests and extended the hand, happy that my almost-certain loss was much more exciting and close than I expected it to be.

Azorious Ploy

It felt great to make Top Eight! I had very low expectations of my mediocre pool and it certainly surpassed them (plus, I tend to play my best when I don’t love my deck). The Pro Tour was one game away, and that closeness just makes me hungry for more. I’m going to damn well be ready for the next RPTQ, which I’m now already qualified for.

I’m sad that I can’t play in PPTQs for another season. That fact, combined with my inability to make perhaps any Grands Prix in 2015 will make it very hard to grind Planeswalker Points for byes, but that’s a problem for next year.

I’m excited and apprehensive about returning to playing Modern. I’ve loved that format, but my deck of choice, Jeskai Geist has became increasingly underpowered. I need to pick up and master a new deck for October’s RPTQ. That’s just another goal for the summer. Here’s looking forward to sharing that process of learning and discovery with you all.

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 with an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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