I’ve put off writing for a while now, mainly due to a chronic shortage of time and a lack of any worthwhile successes to talk about. I managed to win a PPTQ this weekend, solving both of those problems.
It was my fifth win across 44 events. All of my wins so far have been Standard, and three of them took place at this same venue, Bob’s Baseball
Dungeon Dugout. Bob’s is something of a gem and something of a shithole, and I keep winning his events.
The Dugout, courtesy of Wyatt Darby
The store is in a basement, with carpeting of an age that rivals the collection of core-set fatpacks lining every shelf. When the play space fills up, it overflows into an unfinished storage room that adds extra motivation to continue placing in the top half of the field.
Bob himself adds some flair to the store. Posters about 9/11 conspiracies and news clippings about the days when politicians were noble can be found taped to the refrigerator, and it’s not uncommon to hear an outburst of armchair commentary about whatever baseball game is on the TV in the middle of your match. There are a few other oddities as well – each player in his PPTQs gets to throw some darts at a board, and the best score gets to take home a free fat-pack at the end of the night. Bob doesn’t really understand Magic, and his lack of preparation (that is, lack of a printer) can be a little off-putting, but at the end of the day, he’s willing to make the decisions required to make sure the people in the room are happy, or at least entertained.
“So I bet you’re wondering how I ended up in this basement game-store. . . ”
I hated the last standard format, almost entirely because of Collected Company. Not because it was overpowered, or because it put too much restriction on deckbuilding. I mainly hated sitting across from an opponent with 5 open mana up, trying to go through all the billion (someone check my math) possibilities of what they could have.
Avacyn? Spell Queller? Collected company into any combination of Spell Queller / Reflector Mage / Thalia / Selfless Spirit / Displacer / Tireless Tracker / Sylvan Advocate? There were too many possibilities, and I simply don’t have the processing power to find those situations enjoyable in any way. Especially when I was also playing Company, and we would both just be sitting back out of fear, while digging for some stupid trump card so our collective misery could end.
Modern season was also a bust. I played some Death’s Shadow, some Elves, and some Dredge once they printed Cathartic Reunion, but I never really enjoyed myself. The good decks just aren’t that fun, getting crushed by oppressive sideboard cards feels miserable, and losing because you never saw your own sideboard cards feels just as bad.
After all of that nonsense, the new standard format feels great. The aggro decks are interesting, the tempo decks get to leverage their pilot’s timing abilities, the control decks have cool finishers, the midrange decks are clean and consistent, and the combo decks . . . exist.
I finished 16th in the SCG Classic last weekend playing a list very close to Shota’s PT winner, swapping out a few outdated SB cards for some Dragonmaster Outcasts, which I expected to give me an edge over the UW flash decks that looked to be a threat. I never actually drew the outcasts in that matchup, and in the end I finished a win outside of Top8.
It might seem reasonable to continue working on the deck after a reasonably solid finish, but it looked like the tide was about to turn, and I couldn’t really justify trying to force through a deck that was decently behind against the most popular choice in the field.
On Saturday, with zero testing, I took this to my PPTQ:
1 Noxious Gearhulk
4 Sylvan Advocate
3 Tireless Tracker
1 Emrakul, the Promised End
2 Ishkanah, Grafwidow
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
3 Liliana, the Last Hope
2 Vessel of Nascency
4 Grapple with the Past
4 Grasp of Darkness
1 Ruinous Path
1 Dead Weight
2 Transgress the Mind
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
2 Evolving Wilds
1 Blighted Fen
4 Blooming Marsh
4 Hissing Quagmire
1 Appetite for the Unnatural
2 Natural State
1 Essence Extraction
1 To the Slaughter
1 Emrakul, the Promised End
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
2 Flaying Tendrils
1 Lost Legacy
2 Pick the Brain
1 Transgress the Mind
1 Gonti, Lord of Luxury (last minute, couldn’t find a Nissa)
1 Dead Weight
This is very close to the deck that won the American GP last weekend, with some small tweaks.
I’ve been asked several times about Sylvan Advocate over Grim Flayer:
- Advocate lives through Flaying Tendrils
- Advocate can attack into Spell Queller / Reflector Mage
- Advocate matches up well against Grim Flayer
- Advocate is more reliable against aggro
Beyond that, I’m philosophically inclined to play Advocate. Given the choice of two cards, I’m more likely to play the one that consistently shores up a problem rather than the one that has the potential to do something busted. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why I under-perform in Modern . . .
I finished 3-2, beating RW Vehicles, Grixis Prized Amalgam, and UWR Control, losing to both UW Flash players I faced.
This was a problem. I felt like I got a little unlucky to lose my UW matches, getting flooded in g3 of one (namedrop Eddie Song), and getting stuck on three lands in g3 of the other, but if this was a matchup I wanted to stomp, I needed to make some changes.
For Sunday, I did this:
-1 Tireless Tracker, -1 Transgress the Mind, -1 Murder
+1 Ishkanah, +1 Pilgrim’s Eye, +1 Ruinous Path
-1 Gonti / Nissa, -1 Dead Weight
+1 Tireless Tracker, +1 Transgress the Mind
I wanted to be better against UW, so I addressed two problems:
- Adding an Ishkanah to bridge through the midgame.
- Adding another spell to kill Gideon.
On top of adding an Ishkanah, I wanted to make them better when I drew them, and Pilgrim’s Eye seemed like the best way to do it. It helped ensure that I’d hit my fifth land on time, and was an easy way to get over the Delirium threshold.
Tireless tracker was only good in the UW games where I was already stable, and those games tended to be favorable anyway, since my deck is just loaded with tutors at that point. I almost cut Dead Weight from the maindeck instead of Transgress, but looking around the room, there were a few more aggro decks than I was comfortable with, so I put my discard spell in the board instead.
Round 1 I got paired against Box on WB midrange, and our games were uneventful. His draws were below average, and mine were great.
Round 2 I beat RG energy, and again my draws were much further above the curve than his.
Round 3 I lost to Tyler Schroeder, who had rolled into the event as part of a car containing Jason Kenjar, Nathan Lothamer (fresh off his first PT), and Wyatt Darby, who had just won a PPTQ the day before, and was along for the ride.
Game 3 was the most interesting. I ultimated a Liliana, but because he had a wall of Spell Quellers and Reflector Mages, I couldn’t profitably attack without stacking up zombies for a few turns. When I first got to 10+ zombies, he cast Declaration in Stone, forcing me to start over, and allowing him to take out a big chunk of my life total.
During this whole time, I was sitting on a hand of Traverse, Traverse, To the Slaughter, but with only Sorcery, Instant, and Planeswalker in my graveyard, I couldn’t put any of them to use. On the turn when I was going to get back up to 14 zombies, I drew a land, but declined to play it for no real reason.
On his next turn, he cast Declaration again. I responded with my Slaughter, targeting myself, in order to keep most of my zombies around, but he countered with Spell Shrivel, which I couldn’t pay for because I hadn’t played my land for the turn. I lost.
Round 4 I played against Nathan Lothamer, and in both Games 2 and 3, we got into a situation where we both had Emrakul mana, and both had Emrakul in hand (in game 2, we actually both had two Emrakul in hand). It had been several months since I had to wrap my head around how these turns would play out. It ended up being pretty complicated, especially because there was a Liliana on his side of the board in Game 2, which meant that his monster beat mine in a fight.
We ended up going to turns, and although I couldn’t quite kill him on turn 4, it was clear that I was definitely going to win the game given another attack, and he conceded.
Round 5 I defeated Grixis Prized Amalgam, and then beat him again in the top four. Our games were more close than interesting, especially our final battle, where I topdecked a flaying tendrils the turn before he topdecked what would have been a lethal Fiery Temper.
In the finals I was against Tyler again. He commented that a mutual friend had told him stories of me being an endboss, and here he was, trying to beat me in the finals on the day we met.
In game 3, we got into a position where I was slightly ahead on board, and was threatening to cast an Emrakul should he ever tap low on my turn. When he went for a Gideon, I punched back with Emrakul, countered his Gideon emblem with the Summary Dismissal he had been saving for my Emrakul, ate his team, did a big chunk of damage, and then sat back after he Reflector Mage’d my Emrakul.
I knew he was sitting on another counter, but I had a plan. I let him exile my 13/13, and on his turn, forced him to attack, and before blockers, used a Natural State to free Kalitas from a Stasis Snare, ate his board, and built a zombie army that would take me to victory.
I’m hoping to write a bit more about what I’ve been doing magic-wise, so I’ll probably have some more posts soon. If you want to see some really bad drafting (where I manage to win anyway), check out the few posts before this one.