Four letter word, clue is “Event I went to this weekend”

I haven’t written anything in a while, and in my sleep deprived state I was able to convince myself that firing up the ol’ blog was a good idea.

The Plan

I started eyeballing GP NJ a few months back. I don’t fly to events all that often, but this one looked to be pretty convenient. My parents live on Long Island, so I could easily tie a GP trip into a meetup with them, and in addition, I knew I would have an RPTQ two weeks ahead of time, so I wouldn’t have to put much effort into extra testing. A solid plan overall.

The aforementioned RPTQ went about as well as possible for a total failure. It was my second “finals” loss in a row, but the deck was great and I was capable of piloting it at a not-embarrassing level. With a ton of homework stopping me from actual testing, all my further preparation for the GP was just looking at event results and figuring out what kind of metagame I wanted to adjust for.

In the end, I knew that I basically wanted to play a ballista vehicles build that was specifically tuned for the mirror and 4C Saheeli, which was probably a pretty obvious choice to anyone who had actually been putting in games. Severa was on the same page about the deck’s overall positioning in the format, so I was happy to just take his advice regarding specific card choices.

Getting There

On Friday, Sam, Severa and I left for the airport shortly after sunrise, with the intention of arriving in New York early enough that I could have dinner with my parents, but snow in that area delayed our flight long enough that the option disappeared. They wished me good luck over the phone, and I switched over completely to tournament prep thinking.

When we finally got onto the plane, I was seated further back from the other two, and so I jumped right into a printed-out version of this crossword:

http://www.nytimes.com/crosswords/game/daily/1999/08/02

When I saw that this one had a theme of “Bad Puns” I knew it would be golden. Our plane sat at the gate for nearly an hour before taking off, and I had made my way through most of the puzzle, but I got stuck working on 27-Across and the clues around it, so I started soliciting help from my seat-mate Jamie, who was very friendly.

Jamie was on his way home to New York, and we got to talking about the difference between Manhattan and Madison rent (large), the best public transit options(subway, by a lot), etc. We even found out that we both went to high school in the Philadelphia suburbs and graduated a year apart. Normal airplane small-talk.

He eventually asked what I was doing in NY, and I explained that I was travelling for a Magic: The Gathering tournament, which he said he’d heard of, but never played, and he began to pepper me with questions about it. This is basically the ideal scenario – I love talking about my hobbies, but I feel bad when I monopolize the conversation with my own experiences, so when someone is asking questions, the floodgates open.

I could tell he actually had some reason to be interested – he mentioned that his brother in-law was good friends with some Magic pro and wanted to know if I’d ever heard of Seth Manfield. I told him I was familiar with most world champions. Eventually he asked me to teach him how to play. I had my deck close by, so we went through the basics. He was unimpressed by my beta basics, but was a big fan of Avacyn.

We got to LaGuardia and started comparing transit options. We could either pay $109 for a 45-minute Uber, or pay about $10 each for a 90-minute public option. We went with the latter, and waited in the cold for our bus. New York was FREEZING. It’s rare that I get off a plane coming from Wisconsin only to complain about how cold it is when we land, but this was bad.

When our bus arrived, we found out that we didn’t have the means to pay for it. They didn’t take cash. Our only options were to already have a metro card, or to pay with coins – that is, 11 quarters each. Since we didn’t have 33 quarters, we had to take a 15-minute shuttle to a different gate, one that sold the cards, purchase cards from a kiosk, and then get on the bus from there. It seemed poorly thought out to have a big bus terminal right outside one of the gates that you simply couldn’t use if you were an out of town person just arriving, but the rest of our trip went well.

There

We had a few drinks and got to work on our final decklists and sideboard plans. Sam wanted to try out a last minute brew, so we rearranged the hotel room furniture to accommodate battling. I ended up going 6-1 against him, he decided to go with an already tuned build of 4C Saheeli, and I registered my deck feeling good about all my choices.

2 Archangel Avacyn
4 Scrapheap Scrounger
2 Thalia, Heretic Cathar
4 Thraben Inspector
4 Toolcraft Exemplar
4 Walking Ballista
4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
4 Fatal Push
4 Heart of Kiran
4 Unlicensed Disintegration
4 Aether Hub
4 Concealed Courtyard
1 Foreboding Ruins
4 Inspiring Vantage
2 Mountain
1 Needle Spires
2 Plains
4 Spire of Industry
2 Swamp

Sideboard:
2 Anguished Unmaking
1 Archangel Avacyn
3 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Oath of Chandra
1 Oath of Liliana
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
1 Painful Truths
1 Release the Gremlins
3 Transgress the Mind

Many of the choices are pretty conventional.

Anguished unmaking ended up being an MVP that I was happy to draw 100% of the time. 1x Release may look odd, but we were cutting our Hearts in the mirror, and we expected the best players to be doing the same, meaning that release would have either no targets, or only bad targets. We talked a lot about playing one or no Chandras to have better mana, playing more Ob Nix instead, but decided that Chandra on turn four was just too good. Transgress was a consolation to the people trying to play decks based around Marvel or Tower, and they were useful the times I faced those matchups.

The Tournament

I started off playing pretty poorly in my first round, but tightened up as the day went on. Most of my matches were straightforward, other than my feature in round 6, against Chris Lansdell on pure Marvel. I made a decision in game 3 that may or may not have cost me:

My board was four lands, an Exemplar, a Thalia, and a Scrounger. Another Scrounger, a Disintegration, and a Transgress in hand. His board was lands, green Puzzleknot, and a Servant of the Conduit, with lots of energy. I transgressed him and saw another green Puzzleknot, an Unnatural Obsolescence, a Whir of Invention (which essentially finds a Marvel), and a Fumigate, any of which he’d be able to cast the next turn.

So if I take his Fumigate, I can play my other scrounger and attack for 6 (he’ll Obsolete my first scrounger). He can’t block or he won’t be able to Whirl, and he’ll go to 9. That leaves him DOB to my creatures, plus I’ll have a disintegration in hand. On his next turn, he’ll have to Marvel and basically find either another Fumigate or an Ulamog. Any other creature and he dies.

If I take his Whir, he Fumigates, I can bring back scrounger, he buys a few turns with Puzzleknots, and I’ve got very little action going forward while he tries to find his own.

I take his Fumigate and things go according to plan. At first. When I attack the next turn, he blocks with Servant, Whirs for Marvel, and spins. If he hits Fumigate or Ulamog I’m probably toast, but anything else should be good. His creatures all come into play tapped, and I’ve got my disintegration for the last few damage. Instead he hits Confiscation Coup, steals my Thalia, goes to 6, and then untaps, plays and cracks some Puzzleknots to pad his life total, and just Marvels out monsters for the rest of the game.

I finish day one at 8-1, beating Josh Ravitz in the final round, and fill myself with some drinks and Outback Steakhouse to prepare for . . .

Day Two

Round 10, my opponent Radiant Flames away two creatures, but can’t answer the Gideon I play after, and we’re off to game two. We get deck checked mid-round, and when the judge comes back with only my deck and a slip, I’m pretty sure one of us is about to get blown out. He tells me I’m all good (I was NOT very confident, given that it was my first time using the online registration form) and takes my opponent away. He comes back furious. Apparently he submitted 59 cards, and when he opened his box, he points to a Wandering Fumarole in his board, claims that he would “NEVER BOARD OUT A LAND, I DID NOT PUT THAT THERE.” The judge walks back to the deck check station, deliberates, and then comes back and confirms that the land was in his sideboard when he passed it off.

In round 12 I’m up against Corey Baumeister. We’ve interacted very little in the past, but I know he’s related to Brad Nelson so I assume he’s on the same deck(4C), and I know he’s good, as he lost to Cecchetti in the finals of a GP, and won his last two RPTQs (GEEZ, WHAT’S THAT LIKE?!). He’s super personable and very nice throughout our match.

In game one, he’s tanking a lot, so I push him to speed up a bit, which he acknowledges and responds to well. On his last turn, with just about 25 mins on the clock, he taps out (and starts tanking again), which leaves him dead to a line that I’m showing on board. I inform him that I do see the line, to save some time, and we sideboard in a hurry. All that time pressure ended up being for nothing, since I have a busted curveout in G2 while he struggles with his mana, and the game lasts all of two minutes.

In round 13 I’m battling Paul Rietzel in the mirror at table one. He’s the last undefeated player and playing against HOFers is one of the best parts of doing well at tournaments. I also watched him sideboard during one of his other matches, so I knew what his available options were.

The first two games are one-sided, but the third is a slugfest. Multiple Avacyns flipping, planeswalkers getting killed, etc. Finally we reach a board state where we’re both super low on life. We both have flipped Avacyns, so I attack mine into his, and when he blocks, I cast another. Now my board is a flipped Avacyn, an unflipped Avacyn, and I’ve got 5 life to his empty board. End step he returns a scrounger, untaps, peels an Unlicensed Disintegration, which lets him kill my Avacyn, and then me.

Now I’m sitting at 11-2, needing to win both my final rounds to top8.

I lose them both instead.

Round 14 I get smashed by Frank Skarren on GB. I saw him chatting with some mutual acquaintances, so I assumed he knew what deck I was on, while I didn’t know the matchup. My hand was terrible vs GB and I got destroyed, and then in game two he was able to grind me out with Kalitas and Skysovereign while I couldn’t find an answer to either.

Dead for the invite, I was now playing for top 32 in the last round.

He was also on GB, but we traded our first two games.

In G3 I start with a Concealed Courtyard and Thraben Inspector on the play, then on turn two, I play a Spire. My hand is Mountain, Mountain, Chandra, Oath of Chandra, Fatal Push. He passes back on turn two and I crack my clue. I draw a Gideon I now can’t cast. I use Chandra to kill his turn 3 play, and then cast a bunch of removal while ticking up Chandra. I keep drawing white spells and non-white lands, we keep passing back and forth for a while, me pinging him with Chandra repeatedly, until he eventually gets out a Skysovereign and a Kalitas. I die with two Gideon and an Avacyn in hand and no second white source, when I would have dominated the game simply by not cracking my clue on the second turn.

I finish in 53rd to cover most of the trip’s expenses.

Back Again

Our trip back is easier than the way out, although we got blown out by the subway. Apparently, if you swipe your ticket and go to the wrong side of the tracks, you’ve got to swipe (and thus, pay) again to get the correct side. We make it to our gate and battlebox for a while to kill some time until we get on our plane. After sitting on the runway for an hour (all seated together this time, at least) we get told that the brakes aren’t working (is that bad?) and we’re asked to deplane, wait in the terminal for another 30 mins or so, and then board all over again. Luckily I’ve got more crosswords, and Severa (reluctantly) and Sam (happily) help me out.

We land in Chicago after 1am thanks to the delay, which felt significantly warmer despite the heavy snowfall. Our drive back to Madison is a bit rough since the roads aren’t really plowed yet, but I manage to climb into bed just before 4am.

Looking at the immediate future, I don’t have much Magic to play. There are a few local modern tournaments, which is nice because the format looks excellent right now and the stakes are low, so I don’t feel priced into testing any more than I want to. Other than that, it’s all clear until Amonkhet is released. I intend to play a TON of that format since the RPTQ is sealed, and I’d like to win because Japan sounds awesome. Fun fact: I’m 1-5 in matches that qualify me for the pro tour. I should probably improve that record one of these days.

My final semester is almost over, and I’ve got new jobs on the horizon, with much better pay and a lot more free time expected. I’m hoping that means I’ll get to focus on Magic more. For the last two years, I’ve felt myself improving, but haven’t quite had the time or energy to make a push I’ve been satisfied with. It is taxing to consistently watch your efforts wiped out by single games of magic, and despite my efforts to stay relentlessly positive, they payoff I’ve been waiting for can’t come soon enough.

Fit to Print

I am not a scientist; this is anecdotal.
I’m not going to try and buck the trend of claiming that 2016 was a shit year, but in terms of my own personal growth, it was among the best. I improved most of my personal relationships, cut a huge swath through my remaining school courses, and I’m generally very happy with my own life.

Maybe most significantly, I lost more than 20% of my bodyweight with basically zero effort. I started off 2016 hovering around 245 pounds and feeling miserable. Just before thanksgiving this year, my doctor marked me down at 192 pounds, with perfect blood pressure and cholesterol, which surprised me given that I had eaten four eggs cooked in butter with a side of bacon and coffee that morning. And the morning before that. And basically every morning this year.

If you’ve ever commented on my weight loss or brought up anything about dieting to me over the course of 2016, I’m sorry. I tend to go on and on about it all in person, but I’ve been quiet about it all online. I figured this would be a good time to write about it though, since people frequently try and lose weight around this time of year.

My diet was based on the Ketogenic plan – basically an extremely low-carb diet where you eat almost no sugar, forcing your body to burn fat for energy instead. Your body needs a little sugar to function, but when you stay below 15g-35g per day (depending on your goals, and your specific body chemistry) for a week or two at a time, your body is basically burning fat nonstop, whether you’re exercising or just sitting on your ass. Instead of using a constant stream of sugar for fuel, it taps into your reserves, and I had a LOT of reserves.

Now, sugar is in a LOT of foods. About half of all food options suddenly disappear. In exchange, you get to eat whatever you want from the other half of the spectrum. Fatty meats, cheeses, eggs, oily dressings, all the good stuff. You feel bad about not eating pizza until you remember that you can just eat a plate-full of cheese and pepperoni and you’re losing weight doing it.

Now, counting carbs is boring, but you need to do it for the first week or two until you get into a good rhythm. Past that point, I suggest just breaking your food into 3 categories:

Always – meats, cheeses, green leafy plants and vegetables, eggs,
Sometimes – some fruits, peanut butter, most sauces / salsas, alcohol
Never – Bread, beer, sugar, soda, cakes, crackers, ice cream, some fruits

Now I just know what I can pig out on, what I can occasionally eat, and what I just need to totally avoid.

The first two weeks are bad. For a while, your body will be constantly asking you for sugar in the form of being hungry, maybe even when your stomach is full. Some people get kind of sick during this time, and feel very drained.

After that initial “keto-flu” stage, it’s smooth sailing. At two weeks, I was considering giving up because I was eating all the time and couldn’t possibly be losing weight. After a month I started noticing the positive changes in my appearance. At two months, other people were taking notice. About four months in, I weighed myself for the first time and saw that I dropped nearly 35 pounds.

Now, full disclaimer – you will have a little less energy overall, but your energy levels are VERY constant. Rather than having spikes related to sugar all day, you just have one smooth stream of energy. I still find that I need to eat elevated sugar levels on days when I need strong focus – competitions, etc.

This is a good time to bring up cheat days. It is way better for you to have one day every two weeks where you totally break down and eat fettuccini alfredo with cake for dessert instead of eating a LITTLE too much sugar every day. The whole purpose of this diet is to break the pattern of eating sugar every day, and if you can get to the point where you’re past those daily cravings, you’ve won.

Now, one important note in regards to fiber: eat it. Eat a lot of it. You don’t need me to tell you what happens to your digestive system if you eat nothing but meat and cheese for weeks on end. The best source of fiber here is vegetables. When we measure carbs, we actually count NET carbs, which is the total grams of carbs minus the total grams of fiber – basically the stuff your body doesn’t process that just shoots out the other end. Vegetables are great for this. Salads with no-sugar dressings are great. I endorse this one: http://www.briannas.com/products/real-french-vinaigrette/

I don’t recommend sugar substitutes. Artificial sweeteners and the like tend to give me stomach problems. Don’t try and replace sugar – just avoid it.

What does my typical daily diet look like?

Breakfast – 3-4 eggs, cooked in butter with a diced meat or vegetable thrown in, sometimes bacon or sausage, black coffee
Lunch – Two fatty chicken hindquarters covered in spices and/or a salad with chicken or cheese added depending on how hungry I am
Dinner – some meat, either chicken or two cheeseburgers with a veggie side
Snacks – pickles, almonds, peanut butter, cheeses, veggies, berries, 2-3 times per day

Eating on the run is pretty easy too. I did the Chiptopia campaign pretty effortlessly this summer, eating this 36 times in 3 months:
Salad bowl, no rice or beans, chicken, fajita veggies, spicy salsa, guac, sour cream, extra lettuce, cheese

Other meal options:
Jimmy johns – Gargantuan unwich
Mexican restaurants – Fajitas, no rice beans or tortillas, extra veggies
Steak house – lol
Culvers / any fast food – Burgers with no bun (careful with sauces)
Even subway has salads that are actually pretty decent, better than their sandwiches, anyway

Once you get into it, you’ll be hungry less often. You’ll start craving fats instead of sugars, but your body will constantly be burning more fat than you put in. Combine this with a tiny amount of exercise for great results.

I wish I could better convey how easy this was, but I also have the privilege of working at home, so food prep is easy. That said, there’s really no reason you can’t make a bunch of food in advance and bring it with you.

I think one of the reasons that no diet before this one has ever really worked out for me is that they’re all based on little substitutions that are strict downgrades, or they just want you to eat less. Obviously eating less is ideal, but it’s also super hard if you’ve been training yourself to eat for fun for 30 years. This diet makes one huge change that you have to get used to for a while, but once you do, there is no restriction on your indulgences – add an extra scoop of sour cream here, order an extra side of bacon there, and it all still works out fine.

Finally, it helps out a lot if the people around you are supportive. My wife was very skeptical at first, worried that I was either going to hurt myself, or that our quality of life would take a hit with so many food restrictions. Turns out that it’s actually really easy to have one person eat spaghetti and meatballs while the other person just eats meatballs. Once she saw I was committed, she helped me out every step of the way, often making sacrifices so that I could stick to my plan. Find people in your life who are willing to help you out.

Finally, here’s a before and after. The first picture is from last August, where I was in that 240-250 range, and the second is me a few weeks ago, somewhere around 195. Change doesn’t have to be hard if you’re willing to look long-term. Make small sacrifices, get help from your friends, see big returns.

before-after

Modern- Making the Stars Align

I haven’t loved modern lately. Most recently, I’d been playing dredge, and although it was powerful, the post-board game of trying to fight through absurd hate cards was just a little too taxing.

With more than a month to go until I have to play modern next, I thought I might do some brewing. I started thinking about how linear all the decks were, and about how focused the most popular sideboard slots were, and how, if I could dodge all those cards, I might be able to build something powerful that no one was prepared for.

My mind drifted back to PT Origins, the only Pro Tour I’ve had the opportunity to play. During our testing, there was a very powerful constellation deck that crushed the aggro decks and had the grinding power to beat the control and midrange piles. Problem was, Back to Nature (1G, Instant, Destroy all Enchantments) was in the format, and if everyone came to the same conclusions that we did about the power of the deck, there was a good chance our opponents would have a bunch of two-mana, one-sided Obliterates in their sideboards.

I started flipping through the top decks on MTGGodfish, looking at how easy it was for people to kill any enchantments I would play against them:

Dredge: 2-4 Nature’s Claim / Abrupt Decay, 1-2 Ratchet Bomb/ EE

Infect: 2-4 Nature’s Claim

Affinity: 0

Bant Eldrazi: 2 EE, 1 Worldbreaker

Jund: 1-3 Abrupt Decay, 1-2 Pulse, 1-2 EE

Burn: 2-4 Destructive Revelry

This was looking great. Most decks only have a handful of spot removal options, and with enough powerful enchantments, we could really overload them. Here are my first build, and final build:

14923945_10103684071328490_1139942218_o

Capture.JPG

In the maindeck, the biggest retooling was the manabase. I originally played very few actual forests so that I could cast Runed Halo more easily, but Eddie Song convinced me that Utopia Sprawl was worth the change.

capture2

A solid argument.

Alright, down to card choices:

I decided to stick with Birds of Paradise over Arbor Elf. Arbor Elf is only better when we already have good mana, and Birds gives us the ability to chump block flyers for a while, including Inkmoth Nexus and most affinity creatures. It also lets us keep hands with lots of basic forests.

The land base has been fine so far, but I’m not sure about Wooded Foothills. In the first few turns, you almost always fetch Forest or Temple Garden, and after that, you almost always want to get a Plains. It’s possible I should be playing a GW check-land.

Birds and Utopia Sprawl are pretty obvious. You almost always name white with Sprawl.

The engine cards:

  • Herald of the Pantheon is your slowest accelerator, but he does the most work once you get rolling. It’s not uncommon to cast 4-5 enchantments in a late-game turn, and this guy makes that possible. The lifegain is not irrelevant.
  • Courser of Kruphix is hard to kill, a great blocker, and helps you churn through your deck. With fetches, you can often fix your draws in the late game, especially once you’re going off with Eidolon.
  • Eidolon of Blossoms is your endgame. If you untap with this in play, you’ll basically never run out of things to do again (at least until you’ve got the board locked up, and spend every turn digging for your win-con). Multiples are absurd, though it’s not a “may” trigger, so you occasionally risk decking yourself. I’ve definitely exiled my own Eidolons so that I could keep casting spells.

The prison cards:

  • Journey to Nowhere / Oblivion Ring. I had four Journey and three Rings in my earlier builds, but I found that the mana cost rarely mattered, and the versatility often did.
  • Ghostly Prison is insane right now. Dredge likes to end the game with like, 4 lands in play, and this card makes it basically impossible for them to get through. Infect wants to cast multiple spells in addition to attacking, and this makes that very difficult.
  • Runed Halo is the card that makes the deck possible. Its best use is as a spot removal spell that gives them a bunch of dead draws. Most of the big decks only play a handful of different creatures, and decks like dredge excel at making a lot of copies of them. Against dredge, your main plan is to get Halos on Narcomoeba, Prized Amalgam, and Conflagrate, while sitting behind a set of Ghostly Prisons.

The win con:

  • You need SOMETHING here, but I’m not sure if Sigil is the best option. It’s very good at giving you serious inevitability after tapping out one time in the midgame. That said, it’s expensive, doesn’t kill through Ensnaring Bridge, and often takes a few turns to kill if you’re in topdeck mode.
  • Other options include Helix Pinnacle and Luminarch Ascension. Both of these are cheaper, which means that you can do something else on the turn you play them very often. Pinnacle is much slower, but it beats basically everything, and Luminarch Ascension ends up being more mana in the long run, but you get to break down the mana investment rather than paying all at once.
  • I think Starfield of Nyx is bad. The board gets so locked up in the endgame that I don’t think you can count on a bunch of 3/3s and 4/4s without evasion to end the game, especially when you open them up to removal spells.

The sideboard:

  • 4 Nyx Fleece Ram – the card I’m most uncertain about. We already have a bunch of residual life gain. I don’t really want this anywhere except burn, and that deck is way down in popularity. It’s possible this is just supposed to be Leyline of Sanctity, and that we’re just supposed to bank on that, Runed Halo, and spot removal to shut burn down.
  • 3 Rest in Peace – for dredge, of course. Even though I think our matchup is good, they’re better prepared to fight through hate in the board games, and we need another way to keep them down. I also bring in some vs lantern, and the various graveyard combo decks.
  • 2 Stony Silence – lantern, affinity, tron. Pretty sure tron is unwinnable, but I think the games we do win start with Stony Silence.
  • 2 Path to Exile – For decks where we just can’t spend 3 mana on our spot removal, or where instant speed really matters.
  • 2 Seal of Primordium – Lantern, Affinity, kind of a catchall.
  • 2 Kruphix’s Insight – This has really impressed me. It was basically for matchups where I have a lot of cards to cut, or where I expect them to go very long, and it has helped a lot. Regularly draws you 3 cards.

Potential sideboard options:

  • Nevermore – Basically more runed halos, but also useful for decks like Ad Nauseum, where they don’t have to target you to win the game.
  • Dovescape – Seems too expensive, and I’m not doing anything broken with it.
  • Suppression Field – Turns off a lot of things like Ratchet Bomb, EE, and some creature-based combo decks.
  • Sphere of Safety – Likely impossible to get through.
  • COP: Red – Maybe better than ram?
  • Leyline of Sanctity
  • Elspeth (the big one)
  • Choke

When I put this together, I wasn’t expecting much.

I 2-0’d my first opponent, but they were playing martyr.

Then I 2-0’d dredge.

Then I beat dredge again.

Then I beat dredge again.

And then in game 3, playing for the 5-0, I fetched a temple garden on turn one, played two forests, and then died to a blood moon with a hand full of white cards. A kiln fiend ate me alive. What could have been had I only fetched a plains?!

I decided to run it back, and this time only managed a 2-3 finish.

I lost to a Blue Moon deck after using an oblivion ring to remove a creature instead of blanking it with Runed Halo, and then getting crushed by a Docent of Perfection that I couldn’t get off the board.

Then I lost a close one to affinity after deciding that I could afford to play Eidolon instead of Ghostly Prison. He topdecked a Cranial Plating to kill me.

I lost to Ad Nauseum because of another sequencing error, choosing to put more pressure on the board rather than play a Runed Halo, and his last card in hand was an Ad Nauseum.

The wins weren’t anything special, from what I remember.

It was still early, so I ran it back again, this time going 4-1 again.

My only loss in this league was to a Protean Hulk deck. In game one he put two Hulks in his yard early on. What do you name with Runed Halo there? I asked a few people, and we settled on Mogg Fanatic, so I named that. Then I played another Halo the next turn, naming Griselbrand, just in case he had that as a backup Through The Breach card. He untapped and killed me with Hulk combo, using Death Cultist as the kill.

In game two, I mulligained into a Rest in Peace hand, and he killed me with Mindcrank / Duskmantle Guildmage (after bouncing my rest in peace). I wasn’t even mad.

The rest of the league was mostly crushing UR decks, Dredge, and Affinity.

Overall, I played 5 matches against dredge and only dropped two games. Both of them pre-board, on the draw, with hands I would have mulligained had I known the matchup. If you just want to beat that deck, this is a great option.

Not sure if this deck is real, but it’s consistent, powerful, fun, and you get to beat up on modern’s current boogeyman.

A Draft

Pack 1 pick 1:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 2:

My Pick:
Was tempted to Rhino since Hydra is so strong, but the power level is a bit too off-balance.

Pack 1 pick 3:

My Pick:
Considered serpent. If the rest of the packs are as green-light as this, i might end up with a low-curve BW deck. Also don’t have much experience with this card, and have heard wildly different accounts. Want to give it a shot.

Pack 1 pick 4:

My Pick:
WB, i was saying?

Pack 1 pick 5:

My Pick:
Nothing great overall, but I want to keep my curve low.

Pack 1 pick 6:

My Pick:
Pack is pretty bad, but i think gearshift ace makes this card decently playable.

Pack 1 pick 7:

My Pick:
Pretty much nothing that draws me into any color.

Pack 1 pick 8:

My Pick:
I might end up going bigger and ditching the midnight oil. Wondering if i should be blue at this point.

Pack 1 pick 9:

My Pick:
Strong red signal after some weak red packs.

Pack 1 pick 10:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 11:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 12:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 13:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 14:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 15:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 1:

My Pick:
If I had seen more than 9 green cards total in pack one, I might have gone for the cub, but it’s clearly shut-off.

Pack 2 pick 2:

My Pick:
If I didn’t want to try and make midnight oil work, i think there’s an argument for Augmenter.

Pack 2 pick 3:

My Pick:
Training pretty hard these days.

Pack 2 pick 4:

My Pick:
Never had this card either. Let’s try it out.

Pack 2 pick 5:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 6:

My Pick:
Goes well with my trains and my dragster.

Pack 2 pick 7:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 8:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 9:

My Pick:
The rest of these packs are very weak, and I’m wondering if I’m going to end up with a mess.

Pack 2 pick 10:

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Pack 3 pick 1:

My Pick:
P1P1 I slam Snare Thopter. I think this is much closer with my archetype well-established. I need cheap creatures, and this guy is right on theme.

Pack 3 pick 2:

My Pick:
Hoping the gravedigger will wheel.

Pack 3 pick 3:

My Pick:
Hooked up.

Pack 3 pick 4:

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Pack 3 pick 7:

My Pick:
I keep being told that this guy is underrated, so lets put him to the test.

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My Pick:

Ended up here. Would you have built it differently?

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New Musings (Newsings?)

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.

14925712_10209963491835767_2939702179680568913_nThe 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.

*Record Scratch*

*Freeze Frame*

“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
2 Murder
1 Ruinous Path
1 Dead Weight
2 Transgress the Mind
4 Traverse the Ulvenwald
6 Forest
7 Swamp
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:

Maindeck:
-1 Tireless Tracker, -1 Transgress the Mind, -1 Murder
+1 Ishkanah, +1 Pilgrim’s Eye, +1 Ruinous Path

SB:
-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:

  1. Adding an Ishkanah to bridge through the midgame.
  2. 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.

Pack 1 pick 1:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 2:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 3:

My Pick:
Not sure what i’m supposed to do here. Nothing seems great. It’s possible this was supposed to be built to last.

Pack 1 pick 4:

My Pick:
I could attune with aether, but it doesn’t fit well with anything I have. Operative crews a bazaar barge, and fits well in either RB or GB.

Pack 1 pick 5:

My Pick:
Now leaning into Bx artifacts.

Pack 1 pick 6:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 7:

My Pick:
Nothing good, at least this is a colorless SB option

Pack 1 pick 8:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 9:

My Pick:
SB option.

Pack 1 pick 10:

My Pick:
If i’m RB, i’ll have a lot of menace options.

Pack 1 pick 11:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 12:

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Pack 1 pick 13:

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Pack 1 pick 14:

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Pack 1 pick 15:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 1:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 2:

My Pick:
I’m a very lucky person

Pack 2 pick 3:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 4:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 5:

My Pick:
I guess this should have been hellion. I was concerned about a low artifact count at this point.

Pack 2 pick 6:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 7:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 8:

My Pick:
If i’m RB control with a lot of spot removal, this is a great finisher, alongside bazaar barge.

Pack 2 pick 9:

My Pick:
Literally just because it’s a constructed card.

Pack 2 pick 10:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 11:

My Pick:
This is insane. This guy is too good.

Pack 2 pick 12:

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Pack 2 pick 15:

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Pack 3 pick 1:

My Pick:
Not sure if this should be the pick above brazen scourge. Wanted to try out the rare.

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Pack 1 pick 1:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 2:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 3:

My Pick:
First one that’s a little tough. Could take the 3/1, or the burn spell. This card is actually pretty great though – it pays you off for dumping your hand, always at least cycles, and is especially decent when you’ve got a copter to crew with it in the late game. I also don’t have to play red beyond a light splash.

Pack 1 pick 4:

My Pick:
Nothing to make me want to commit past green.

Pack 1 pick 5:

My Pick:
Between the harrier and the draw spell. Very unexciting pack. I just prefer blue to white in this set, and i like the energy decks.

Pack 1 pick 6:

My Pick:
I like 2/3s over 3/2s in this set, and this guy is decently aggressive despite his stats.

Pack 1 pick 7:

My Pick:
Maybe a signal? Probably not, but the hill giant is only medium, and i’ll want this if i’m black.

Pack 1 pick 8:

My Pick:
I could have taken the train to board against control, but BTS is the premier pump spell, especially with a bomat courier in my deck.

Pack 1 pick 9:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 10:

My Pick:
I might need reach if i’m RG.

Pack 1 pick 11:

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Pack 1 pick 13:

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Pack 1 pick 14:

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Pack 2 pick 1:

My Pick:
I really want that marionette, but black was so bad in pack 1. If i’m RG aggro, i either want the +1 counter guy, or this one drop. This card is growing on me, and two drops are easy to come by.

Pack 2 pick 2:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 3:

My Pick:
I think the pinger is not good unless you can make a lot of energy and make use of its second mode, and we definitely cannot do that right now.


Pack 2 pick 4:

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 5:

My Pick:
Pack is bad, maybe I should have ended up black after all?

Pack 2 pick 6:

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Pack 2 pick 7:

My Pick:
Gonna smash this draft.

Pack 2 pick 8:

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Pack 2 pick 14:

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Pack 3 pick 1:

My Pick:
BUILT TO SMASH

Pack 3 pick 2:

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Pack 3 pick 3:

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Pack 3 pick 4:

My Pick:
I should have taken the gremlin. I don’t remember even seeing it.

Pack 3 pick 5:

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capture

KLD Draft

DRAFT ONE  – This was kind of a trainwreck, but I managed to straighten myself out just in time, and stuck a 2-1 record.
Pack 1 pick 1:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 2:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 3:
I was dumb to commit to a much weaker white card at this point. Should have taken Ovalchase Daredevil and been open to either UB or WB splashing Cloudblazer.

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 4:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 5:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 6:
If I had made the black pick earlier, i might have chosen live fast here. Tezz ambition is fine, but they go SUPER late, and I never want more than one. Sometimes you have a problem getting finishers in these decks, and automaton would go in any slow build.

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 7:

I think the bat and hawk are both better in WB, but I’m leaning towards being defensive and needing cards that enable artifact synergies rather than benefit from them.

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 8:
This card is fine if you get 2+, but not great. Again, should have moved into black by now, as Operative is legit.

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 9:
Synergy with both my first pick and with the Switcheroo – Shrewd Negotiation.

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 10:
Again, could have been paid off for being in black.

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 11:

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Pack 1 pick 14:

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Pack 1 pick 15:

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Pack 2 pick 1:
Alright, NOW i get the memo.

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 2:
My mana is now officially a mess, so I’m trying to fix it.

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 3:
This card is an amazing finisher. It ends the game so quickly, and I’ve cast it for as little as UU.

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 4:

This should have been another pillar-bug. I was too focused on my servo enabler.

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 5:

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Pack 2 pick 6:

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Pack 2 pick 9:

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Pack 2 pick 10:
I’m now looking to be UB splashing white

My Pick:

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Pack 3 pick 1:

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Pack 3 pick 2:

Just so much better than everything else, this is a total hedge in case my mana fixing improves.

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 3:
Payoff.

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 4:
Had I been really heavily in UB earlier, i could have splashed this disintegration and the blazer.

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 5:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 6:

My Pick:
I have a bunch of mid-game energy generation. I didn’t realize I could also untap creatures with this, which let me untap a malfunctioned creature to attack for the win.

Pack 3 pick 7:

My Pick:

Pack 3 pick 8:
My random puzzleknots are looking much better.

My Pick:

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DRAFT TWO – Ended up 3-0 pretty handily

Pack 1 pick 1:
Three cards excite me. Pummeler, Veteran Motorist, and Animation Module, all of which are build-arounds, but module is the most flexible, and is totally busted if you have all the energy creatures.

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 2:
Could have grabbed sage and stayed on theme, but Warden is so much better. Sad, because white has basically no good energy generation.

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 3:
Warden was a good tempo play, and I wanted to try going beatdown, especially if that 3/1 from the first pack wheels, which it sometimes does.

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 4:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 5:
These guys go pretty late, and I don’t want too many 4-drops, but they enable artifact synergies and give me reach.

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 6:

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 7:
Just in case I end up RG or something

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 8:
Artifact synergy and reach

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 9:
I don’t love the 1/3, but i should have taken it as a SB option

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 10:

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Pack 1 pick 11:
This card is actually decent, especially with my 1-drop

My Pick:

Pack 1 pick 12:

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Pack 1 pick 15:

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Pack 2 pick 1:
Very aggressive. Probably my nonrare 4-drop of choice for this deck.

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 2:

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Pack 2 pick 3:

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Pack 2 pick 4:
Considered goggles. Either was probably fine here.

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 5:
Cheap tricks are great, and i don’t think I’m very good at going wide. This is insane with the menace lizard.

My Pick:

Pack 2 pick 6:
Built to smash would also have been fine, but my creature count is low.

My Pick:

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Pack 2 pick 11:
In case I need to go long.

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Pack 3 pick 1:

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Pack 3 pick 2:
This card is exceptional in these decks. It’s often a lava axe in the late game that pitches your leftover lands and draws you real cards. I ended up building my deck so i’d never have to play more than four lands, and could sandbag the rest to chuck at their face or best threat.

My Pick:

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Thoughts on PPTQs and improving the system

I feel like I have a good understanding of PPTQs at this point. According to my records (I actually keep a spreadsheet of this stuff) I’ve played 37 PPTQs, and I’ve experienced a huge range of scenarios. I’ve gone 0-2 at an 11-person event in rural Wisconsin. I’ve traveled two and half hours to the last PPTQ of a season and finished 9th. I’ve lost in four finals – and won exactly as many. I’ve played against people with nearly a dozen pro tours behind them, and knocked a 13-year-old out of his first sanctioned event Top8. I was among the first batch of players to qualify for the Pro Tour through an RPTQ, and I’ve gone 3-4 at an RPTQ that I spent nearly a month testing for.

For me, the PPTQ system is an improvement. The old path to qualification put tremendous stress on my work and home life. I would regularly leave work on Friday, drive late into the night, spend my whole Saturday playing a one-slot, 200 person tournament, get my heart-broken in some late round, drive home with the rest of the car asleep, wake up at noon on Sunday, and have a few hours to relax before starting my week over again. This is a difficult position to be in, and doing it every weekend for months at a time was simply too taxing.

Now, I’m in the fortunate position to have either one or two PPTQs within a 90 minute drive every weekend. I can often wake up saturday, have breakfast at home with my wife, travel to a tournament, and unless i go especially deep, I’m home in time for dinner. No more coffee at 2am to avoid passing out behind the wheel. No more paying for a shitty hotel 6 hours away from home. It allows me to be much more flexible, and it’s much more affordable.

I’ve heard complaints that the system has killed the companionship aspect of tournaments, and while it’s certainly true that I don’t see my friends who live in other states as often, I have made a lot of new friends. Perhaps it’s because I tend to be an outgoing person, but I’ve never found myself lonely at a PPTQ. I’ve made an effort to recognize the grinders in the crowds, and some of the connections I’ve made have been very rewarding.

That said, there are a lot of issues with the system. These are some problems that I’ve recognized, and some possible solutions to them, in order from least pressing to most:

5) PPTQ winners and variable attendance
The range in attendance for PPTQs is enormous. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve played in events as small as 11 people. I’ve also played in a 70-person event, and I’ve heard of some that are even larger. One of the worst parts about the old system was that it was absurd to have to finish in actual 1st place in order to qualify, and that still holds true for some of these larger events. Because of this, I believe that PPTQs should award two invitations if they have more than 64 players in attendance.

Some states, such as neighboring Iowa, have significantly fewer events within driving distance of their major population centers. This means that their events are much larger than ours in Wisconsin, on average, despite their lower population. In Wisconsin, we’ll often have multiple events competing on the same day, so grinders rarely have to travel as far to get their fix.

RPTQs are not especially large as-is, and I think that adding an additional dozen players to each would not cause much of a stir.

4) Attracting players to PPTQs – rethinking prizes
While we should be happy about the large numbers at some PPTQs, we should be just as concerned about the small numbers at others. I think that part of the problem is that you often have tournaments with variable prizes, and the real meat of the reward is a qualification that players may not even be able to make use of. I think a simple way to “increase the prize” at these events at very little cost is to give the RPTQ promos to the winners of the PPTQs immediately, rather than handing them out at the RPTQ.

Currently, in the last single-elimination round of an event, players are allowed to basically offer all the prizes awarded through the tournament in exchange for a concession. This can often be hundreds in store credit or several boxes of product, but for some events, this can be something like a dozen packs. For players who aren’t especially concerned with intangible rewards like an event invitation, adding a promo worth upwards of $150 is a very big boost, and I believe that it would incentive players who had no intention of playing in the RPTQ to at least show up and make it to the finals. Putting that prize on display at a PPTQ is a good way to create a buzz, rather than just distributing them at an event where everyone gets one, and where they usually just tuck them away.

3) Judging Staff
I’ve heard about a lot of problems with judge availability. Some have even suggested allowing level 1 judges to run events. I think this is a terrible idea. A better fix seems to be taking steps to ensure that:

Events don’t overlap – this is a good way to cannibalize not only attendance, but available judging staff
Players show up – It seems much easier to pay your judges if the attendance for an event is 40ish players rather than 16.

Obviously, step 2 is a real goal, but I think that implementing my two prior suggestions would go a long way towards bringing in bigger crowds, and making the judge budget a smaller piece of the overall take. Too much money and opportunity is at stake to leave these events in the hands of a level one judge, who may not have the experience or constitution to handle major discrepancies when they arise.

2) RPTQ Top 8s
This is one I’ve really pushed for. Single-elimination rounds are a plague on tournaments with exceptionally top-heavy prizes. It is far too easy for a player to go 8-0 in played rounds to win a PPTQ, then go 5-0 at their RPTQ, then play one single-elimination round at an RPTQ, get mana screwed, and get a box for their efforts.

My fix is this – instead of 8 players completing a single round, have them play three swiss rounds. In an 8-player, 3-round swiss event, you always end up with exactly four players who went 2-1 or better. Those four should be the ones qualifying. In terms of impact, only one person who wins their first round won’t qualify, and only one person who loses their first round will, but playing out several rounds reduces variance, and really lets the exceptional players show their strength.

All of the RPTQs I’ve played have ended relatively early – one was completed by 4:30pm. I don’t believe that the extra time needed would be a major burden.

1) Store Communication
This one is partially on WOTC. Both they and the stores they sanction are, in general, incredibly bad about making information available. Finding information about an upcoming PPTQ is tedious, and it often means scouring multiple websites, Facebook pages, and having to call or email stores directly for more information.

For example, in order to find the PPTQ schedule, I started by Googling that term. Simple enough. I got this page as a result:

Capture

What if I was a new player and had no idea what Eldritch Moon or Kaladesh were? Pro Tour Eldritch Moon is in 6 weeks, and Kaladesh is in four months. It seems pretty clear to me that I’d be looking under Eldritch Moon. Of course, once I click that page, it tells me that those qualifiers stopped back on April 17th. Two months ago. WHY IS THERE STILL A LINK TO THAT PAGE? (And PS: Why is the language describing the events different?)

When we do get to the right page, we get an enormous list that actually has a very useful search function, but once we get to make use of that, we run into problems again:

Capture2.JPG

I’m actually okay with the fact that the nearest event to me might not actually be in Wisconsin, but Illinois. I’m okay with having to do two or three state searches to actually compile a good list. My main problem is the lack of information. Let’s take that first entry on the list.

  1. What time does that PPTQ start?
  2. What is the entry fee?
  3. What is the prize support?
  4. Is there a cap on the event?
  5. Can I register in advance?
  6. Are sealed events SOI or EMA?

Many of them have email addresses listed, but I’ve emailed stores before and gotten no response. The links on the page actually take you to event calendars, but they don’t answer a single one of those questions!

Capture3.JPG

Fortunately, clicking that final link on the side of the page takes to their Facebook page, where I can visit their events page, then visit this event, and then get access to all the information. And this store actually has their shit together! They actually did all they could be expected to do! A ton of stores either won’t post anything at all, or they’ll make some post to their news feed but not an event, which means I have to scroll through all their social media posts to get anything.

I’ve called stores for this information, emailed stores and gotten no response, etc. I’ve even messaged a store asking if they had a cap on their event, heard nothing back, driven 90 minutes to the PPTQ, and found out that they were sold out. When I called them out on social media, some of their patrons told me that I was being unreasonable, that some stores get more attendance than they expect sometimes, and that it was something I should deal with.

If this is some event series that is supposed to be taken seriously, commit to it. Don’t show links to seasons that ended two months ago. Give us more information on the main page! Hell, I don’t see any reason I can’t have a hover-over link that tells me start time, entry fee, cap, prize, and who I contact to preregister! Get all the information in one place so that we can plan trips and distribute information more freely.

BONUS THOUGHT:

Can we kill the names PPTQ and RPTQ? Can we just call them prelims and regionals? I’d event settle for Prelims and Regional PTQ if we’re worried about SCG/TCG regionals. The acronyms are unwieldy, and I feel like these new names accomplish all you really need to know.

 

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