I have done well in many PPTQs, but have never been able to win one to qualify for a regional. Denver regularly hosts a quarterly RPTQ, so it’s been tough having to sit out the big game in my backyard. Recently they started offering last chance qualifiers for the RPTQ. As luck would have it, there was one here on Saturday, and the format was Shadows over Innistrad sealed.

I took my last shot at playing in the RPTQ for Pro Tour Sydney. The pool gods rewarded me with this masterpiece:

Double Trouble

Creatures (14)
Thraben Gargoyle
Lambholt Pacifist
Quilled Wolf
Reckless Scholar
Wicker Witch
Stitched Mangler
Inexorable Blob
Drownyard Explorers
Solitary Hunter
Watcher in the Web
Thornhide Wolves
Stormrider Spirit

Spells (9)
Startled Awake
Lightning Axe
Geistblast
Just the Wind
Gone Missing
Ongoing Investigation
Ulvenwald Mysteries
Weirding Wood
Fork in the Road
Lands (17)
Island
Forest
Mountain

Sideboard (23)
Daring Sleuth
Loam Dryad
Manic Scribe
Groundskeeper
Intrepid Provisioner
Lamplighter of Selhoff
Deny Existence
Ghostly Wings
Clip Wings
Press for Answers
Aim High
Avacyn’s Judgment
Fiery Temper
Ever After
Asylum Visitor
Choked Estuary
Forsaken Sanctuary
Stone Quarry
Gryff’s Boon
Angelic Purge
Invocation of Saint Traft

People say Shadows sealed is dominated by its rares and mythics, but I disagree. This deck is a great example. Sure, I have Startled Awake as a random finisher (plus Geistblast for the full combo) but the real stars of the deck are my uncommons. Ulvenwald Mysteries and Ongoing Investigation? Sign me up! Lightning Axe and Geistblast make a nice splash. Reports of the demise of Reckless Scholar have been overblown. Nobody respects Weirding Wood, but I do. And then there’s this:

Anyone can dream of opening Pack Rat or Archangel Avacyn. I like to keep my dreams simpler and more attainable. I was trying to decide what card in Shadows hits the exact sweet spot for very powerful in sealed, likely to show up in a good number of pools, and not the most obvious choice at its rarity. The pack gods are like, “all he wants is a two mana 4/4? Sure, let him have it!”

I crushed my first three rounds, including two separate Avacyn decks, then double drew into the top eight. The other undefeated players talked about playing round five for seeding. Maybe in some formats, but I don’t think it’s worth the mental effort in Shadows draft. I really don’t care if I’m on the play or draw, especially when it’s an open paper draft and I know who has werewolves. Playing extra games of Magic during a long tournament wastes energy and focus.

After relaxing for two rounds and ending up with fourth seed, I was rewarded with this proof of concept:

Always Passing

Creatures (16)
Thraben Inspector
Loam Dryad
Moorland Drifter
Hanweir Militia Captain
Hinterland Logger
Veteran Cathar
Dauntless Cathar
Spectral Shepherd
Byway Courier
Militant Inquisitor
Intrepid Provisioner
Inspiring Captain
Reaper of Flight Moonsilver

Spells (7)
Always Watching
True-Faith Censer
Angelic Purge
Explosive Apparatus
Tenacity
Might Beyond Reason
Lands (17)
Port Town
Plains
Forest

Sideboard (18)
Unruly Mob
Harvest Hand
Stern Constable
Kessig Dire Swine
Eerie Interlude
Root Out
Ethereal Guidance
Gisa’s Bidding
Behind the Scenes
Drunau Corpse Trawler
Essence Flux
Vessel of Paramnesia
Choked Estuary
Pyre Hound
Sanguinary Mage

It really didn’t matter what seed I had in the top eight after showing my Hanweir Militia Captain to start pack one and then getting passed Always Watching in pack two. I grabbed white cards and True-Faith Censers in pack one, then first-picked Veteran Cathar pack two before being passed Always Watching, Byway Courier, and Hinterland Logger as a reward.

Three rounds later, I was qualified for the next day’s RPTQ! To celebrate, I went home and watched game six of the Warriors-Thunder NBA Western Conference Finals while enjoying the fine Colette saison from Great Divide brewery.

The tough part about winning a last chance qualifier is having to come back and do it again the next day. I can handle the mental fatigue (this is why you don’t play extra matches for illusory seeding benefits) but variance still has to swing your way twice in a row.

My sealed pool had another awesome mythic, and a better assortment of rares, but totally sucked on the uncommon front. This is what I built:

Winston Wolf

Creatures (14)
Hinterland Logger
Quilled Wolf
Scourge Wolf
Kessig Forgemaster
Wicker Witch
Convicted Killer
Byway Courier
Inexorable Blob
Stoic Builder
Intrepid Provisioner
Pyre Hound
Incorrigible Youths
Gatstaf Arsonists

Spells (9)
Arlinn Kord
Dance with Devils
Neglected Heirloom
Uncaged Fury
Rabid Bite
Reduce to Ashes
Vessel of Nascency
Traverse the Ulvenwald
Lands (17)
Mountain
Forest

Sideboard (29)
Loam Dryad
Stoic Builder
Moldgraf Scavenger
Cult of the Waxing Moon
Watcher in the Web
Ember-Eye Wolf
Bloodmad Vampire
Tormenting Voice
Dual Shot
Magmatic Chasm
Root Out
Might Beyond Reason
Equestrian Skill
Structural Distortion
Stensia Masquerade
Explosive Apparatus
Woodland Stream
Highland Lake
Foul Orchard
Fevered Visions
Invocation of Saint Traft
From Under the Floorboards
Sinister Concoction
Thraben Inspector
Puncturing Light
Erdwal Illuminator
Reckless Scholar
Just the Wind

This is the sort of deck where I think, “I could make top eight if things go well.” Which is to say, it’s not a great deck, but it’s reasonable. If you think sealed is a luck format that shouldn’t be played at high levels, listen to this. Good sealed players win with mediocre decks. When your sealed league pool looks like crap, don’t drop. Build decks and try to win anyway. You might learn something.

All that said, I went 2-4 and finished totally out of the prizes. No Pro Tour invite, no RPTQ invite, no ignominious “Top 16” playmat. I played well. I scraped out a victory round one, but then the mulligans took over. I went to six or fewer cards in over half of my games, and had some bad draws after keeping seven too. That was frustrating, but Magic is like that. It’s hard to have variance on your side for two straight days.

Now I head back to the PPTQ grind. At least this means I get to play the Etrnal Masters sealed PPTQs coming up soon! I do love PPTQs, you know. Also, Warriors in six.

Brendan McNamara (MTGO: eestlinc, Twitter: @brendanistan) used to play Magic in the old days. His favorite combo was Armageddon plus Zuran Orb. After running out of money to buy cards and friends who were willing to put up with that combo, he left the game. But like disco, he was bound to come back eventually. Now he’s a lawyer by day and a Dimir agent by night.

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