Mind-Boggling Technology – Winning a PTQ from Start to Finish

Although I haven’t been able to play in a PTQ for over a year, my process allowed me to win several of them. This week, I want to walk you through a typical week that ends with a PTQ victory. There are countless articles about PTQs, but they fail to address how much preparation is involved throughout the week and what happens afterward.


You have just returned home from your last PTQ adventure and it’s time for some well deserved rest. The deck didn’t do as well as you had hoped, but after eight rounds of play, some good ideas have sprouted for next weekend. It’s completely normal to sleep for about 15 hours to recover from staying up for two days. It may be looked down upon in modern society, but do it anyway.


The Top 8 lists from last weekend haven’t been updated yet, so just worry about your deck for now. It may be tempting to switch decks because you didn’t win last weekend, but hold tight until the results are in. The best way to learn about what people will play is by what was the most successful during the previous week. At this point, all that can be done is to browse the Magic Online results on the Wizards webpage or at MTGstats.com

This will help you get a feel for what is played on Magic Online, but remember it’s not the same metagame. The MTGO format will change at a much faster pace so take the results with a grain of salt.


As the week progresses, there will be more articles about the current metagame. If the writer holds a lot of weight in the community, be sure to take note what they suggest. When Gerry T, Pat Chapin, or LSV talk about a deck (or even make a pun) people will listen.

The next step is to take some of the popular archtypes and make proxy decks. You can take the time to build them if the cards are available, but don’t waste too much time on this since there are only so many hours in a day. Make sure to get a feel for how each deck works because it’s not always obvious by looking at a list of cards.

If some of your buddies are available to test tonight, by all means invite them over to brew. I realize that most of you reading this have jobs so the playtest days are at a premium. If you fall into this category, save the playtest days for later in the week when there is more information available.

Magic Online can also be a useful tool to test with if all of the sets have been released. Mirrodin Besieged has been released so Extended testing can be done on MTGO. I’m sure that not all of you have the time or money to build two separate collections, but that’s alright. It’s useful for me to draft even when the format is Constructed because playing Magic in general helps keep me from getting rusty. There are also replays from recent daily events so everyone can watch how the games played out. It doesn’t cost very much money to make a MTGO account and it can give you an extra edge. I think it’s a worthwhile investment even if you don’t plan on spending money on it right away.


Refine the decks you feel comfortable playing and are seriously considering. It’s best to keep the other decks streamlined since they are in your gauntlet to get a feel for what your opponents will play. There are some more articles and deck lists released so be sure to take a look at them. If you work within a group, be sure to tell them your findings and they are expected to do the same.

Play some matches on Magic Online to get a feel for what others are playing. Play any deck you can get your hands on since the cards are more difficult to acquire. I typically play the best deck I can find within the limits of my collection just so I can practice more.

It’s also around this time that I start to seriously look for rides if I haven’t already done so. The people who are the most promising for rides are those that typically attend PTQs. The range of difficulty to find a ride depends on the distance so act accordingly. I hate to take my own car because it’s pretty old and beat. There’s usually someone who will be willing to drive to a PTQ that’s within a five hour radius.


Thursday is when the PTQ results from last week start to come in so be sure to look at them. I know it’s tempting to laugh out loud at [card khalni hydra]Calosso Fuentes[/card] for losing in Top 8 again, but he has heard it enough. These are the decks that will hold the most weight for this weekend because they paint a picture of the real life metagame.

The reason we held off on seriously tuning our deck up until this point is because the results from last weekend will most certainly impact our card choices. Take a look at what decks are rising in popularity and which are declining. I don’t typically like to play the most popular deck from last week because most people tend to stay up to date on the decks they need to beat. There are definitely exceptions to this rule when the deck continues to dominate due to its sheer power. An example is Faeries in the current Extended format. It’s obviously a very popular deck, but continues to dominate each week because the power level is higher.

The winners of the PTQs this weekend won’t be the ones who copied old results, but rather learned from them. Our new Pro Tour competitors will be those that take the new raw data and convert it into information that can be used to attack the metagame from unique angles. The deck that’s the best for this weekend won’t be on the radars of the masses. It’s the deck that you get called a scrub for playing because of the randomness. This was the case for Grand Prix Atlanta when the informed few decided to play Valakut because of its good matchup against Faeries and Naya.

It’s also important to note which decks do well in specific areas since you will be traveling to uncharted territories this weekend. Be sure to keep track of the names that are in the Top 8 because you may face them with the same deck this weekend. If you travel to a PTQ in your region, the same faces will appear and a Top 8 is a pretty good reason to play the deck again.


Today is the day to meet up with your ride and head to the tournament center. Some people prefer to drive there on Saturday morning, but don’t do this. I have won a PTQ after staying up all night traveling and it was the most miserable experience of my life. If I didn’t win the whole thing, I would have had a bitter taste in my mouth that no amount of water could satisfy. The best thing to do is leave at a time where you will arrive around 10 P.M. Take into account the driver and their music preferences because you don’t want to be listening to country music for five hours; make sure to bring your Ipod!

Take this time in the car to pick the brains of your traveling companions. You may be smarter than them, but at least see what they have to say. If Michael Jacob is in your car, just let him play his Nintendo DS in peace. He doesn’t want to talk about Magic right now. If Gerard Fabiano is in your car, you could play Everyone’s a Winner! to pass the time. Brewing with Gerard is also legitimate if you want to play something wild.

I would say to replace your sleeves from last week, but it honestly doesn’t matter. The sleeves I used in the Top 8 of a Pro Tour were the same ones from a PTQ the previous week. People have this misconception that new sleeves are necessary for every tournament that is Rules Enforcement Level 3 or higher, but just save your money unless they are clearly marked.

Once you arrive at the roach covered motel, get out your deck registration sheet you printed out at home and fill it out early. The deck will be similar to what you played last week, but has a different sideboard in anticipation of the new metagame.

Here’s what I registered.
Deck name: the Pun is Mightier Than the Sword

3 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Mistbind Clique
3 Vendilion Clique
3 Go for the Throat
1 Preordain
1 Disfigure
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Thoughtseize
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
4 Cryptic Command
4 Bitterblossom
3 Mana Leak
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
4 Creeping Tar Pit
4 Darkslick Shores
2 Sunken Ruins
4 Mutavault
2 Swamp
4 Island
4 Secluded Glen
2 Tectonic Edge
2 Peppersmoke
2 Vampire Nighthawk
2 Wall of Tanglecord
1 Thoughtseize
2 Sower of Temptation
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Spreading Seas
2 Black Sun’s Zenith
2 Jace Beleren

Quadruple check your decklist to make sure no stupid penalties will be assigned then hit the hay.


Wake up and TAKE A SHOWER FOR THE LOVE OF OSYP! Magic players are stereotypically smelly, but we need to rise above. Go to McDonald’s for breakfast even though you will regret it in about two hours and buy some extra food for later. Remember to bring extra snacks and eat something before each round. Too much food at once makes the blood rush to your stomach so eating a little at a time more frequently will help.

You’re confident that the deck will be the best in the room, but talk to your friends about the format just to be safe. There is a guy who keeps saying he has no bad matchups and you should switch to his deck, but politely say “no thanks, I’m good” and walk away.

Jam some games against your buddy even though it’s an ungodly hour to be playing Magic. If you don’t do this, round one will contain more play mistakes. The player meeting is posted and you take a 5-Hour Energy to keep a clear mind and remember to take another one later in the day.

Your round one opponent is one of the better players in the area, but that’s ok. In order to be the best, you must beat the best. It will also make your tournament victory more impressive when you tell your mom that you beat a stone-cold ringer in round 1. If you win, don’t get too cocky there are ten more rounds. If you lose, it’s ok since everybody gets one loss. Treat each round like it’s the finals since they are now all equally as important.

As the day continues, make sure to refill your water bottle frequently and eat plenty of snacks. This is a test of endurance just as much as a Magic tournament so be ready for the later rounds. I have lost the finals of five PTQs because I was always tired and hungry. Don’t let this happen to you, too.

The tournament is getting closer to the Top 8 and there is one round left. You are 6-1, but have the worst tiebreaks and must play it out. That can get anyone down in the dumps since it feels like the day isn’t going according to plan. Your opponent is probably feeling the same way so use that to your advantage. The opponent is also a human being with thoughts and feelings so they can also be rattled. Just calmly and professionally dispose of him and advance to the Top 8 as the first seed.

At this point, you are given a box of product and a shiny new Top 8 pin. This is not an acceptable prize!!! Don’t be satisfied with this!!! We have so much more winning to do it’s not even funny. The box and pin is nice, but they will go great with a nice blue envelope.

Once you learn to truly believe this, your Top 8 win percentage will go through the roof. This just happens to be your lucky day because it finally sunk in and it’s just you and the end boss now. It’s ok, I’ll wait while you go call everybody to say you’re in the finals. This is not the time to celebrate, but I understand if you do.

The first thing you do when you sit down is to ask if they would like to drop from the tournament in exchange for your booster box. Once they decline, it’s ok to also offer your Top 8 pin. Since they came to play it’s understandable that a match will have to be the deciding factor of the tournament. You came to win so you have one last trick up your sleeve. Ask them if they would like to agree to a prize structure of the winner getting the plane ticket and invite while the loser gets both booster boxes. This can create a feeling of winning even if they lose so it will give you a big edge.

Your opponent is happy that he got two booster boxes for losing and you go home with a big smile and a blue envelope. Your buddies that you drove with are trying to get a free meal out of you for winning, but have none of it. When have they ever bought you a meal? Save your money for the Pro Tour, it’s not cheap. Remember to give back all of the cards you borrowed because good credit is key in the Magic community. Get dropped off at your car around two in the morning and head home for the well deserved rest.


You wake up after only twelve hours of sleep and it’s finally sinking in. The next stop is the Pro Tour! Remember that you won’t be feared for winning a PTQ so remove that smug sense of accomplishment and prepare to play against the best in the world. The next step is organizing your plane ticket with the WOTC travel agency. Be sure to get that out of the way early since the deadline occurs about a month before the Pro Tour. There is a Grand Prix in Singapore the week before and the ticket can get you there for free with the proper layover. Talk to the travel agency about this as they are more than accommodating with these requests.

Post a Facebook status that says something along the lines of “Going to Japan, B*tches!” Plan a victory lap next weekend to the PTQ that is only a few hours away to see your friends that you won’t see for a while. See you in Japan!

Thanks for reading



28 thoughts on “Mind-Boggling Technology – Winning a PTQ from Start to Finish”

  1. Luis Scott-Vargas

    The encores were by Kyle’s request, by the way, just in case I get blamed!

  2. I know you can restructure so that 2nd place gets both boxes, but you’re legitimately allowed to offer your box for concession?

  3. @ everyone- Thanks for the positive energy, I will try to make my articles similar in the future. It takes time to find the proper voice.
    @ K- you are allowed to negotiate the prizes as long as it’s the last round of the event so it does not tamper with the rest of the tournament. You are also only allowed to negotiate with what has been awarded as a prize. The boxes, pins, plane tickets, and invite are the only things in most cases for PTQs.

  4. Generally good article, though I can’t really tell which parts are sarcastic and which are serious. That said, it should be noted that more and more PTQs aren’t just “a box for everyone in top 8”. A lot of them are less top heavy now, with maybe only the finalists or even only the winner getting a full box. This doesn’t really change the negotiation thing, but it is worth mentioning.

  5. Good stuff, I like the concept of looking at it similar to a marathon or something where you have more prep then just the day of.

    Any way you could talk a bit about your actual play testing process or is that the secret sauce?

    To cover the gauntlet my group does at least 12 matches, 4 pre board, 8 post board. Split the play/draw 2 and 4. We take notes on what seemed to ‘work’ and discuss play decisions while we play out the games.

    any insight you can offer?

  6. “Go to McDonald’s for breakfast even though you will regret it in about two hours and buy some extra food for later. ”

    sorry, but no. I refuse to eat McDonalds!

    “Go to McDonald’s for breakfast even though you will regret it in about two hours and buy some extra food for later.”

    sorry, but no. I refuse to eat Mcdonalds!

  7. Go to McDonald’s for breakfast, even though it will result in a Gruesome Encore in about two hours.

  8. Seeing how big those american ptqs are make the mtgo ptqs even seem fair. Our ptqs range from 40 to 100 players and I didn’t ever travel longer than 1 hour to a PTQ.

    Are we sure about this concession for prize thing? Because “I give you my box if you concede” sounds an awful lot like bribery.

  9. Wow, what a great read! I just Top-8ed my first PTQ last weekend and this was uncanny. But you’re right, top 8 wasn’t enough, and I want to play the deck again with my new fixes now! The meta still isn’t ready for my “scrub” choice 😉

  10. As a side note I dont pass my cursor over card names on this very website from now on 😛

  11. Yeah, definitely write the Pro Tour version.

    I’m not entirely familiar with the legality issues re: blue envelope bargaining, but at what point does asking for a concession become a rules infraction? I wasn’t aware that you were actually allowed to tell your opponent you’d ship the box if he scooped.

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  13. Lasse Nørgaard

    I think there is a point where the “get enough sleep, eat enough”-point gets too big, for how much it actually helps.

    There is something to be said for being able to play magic under difficult circumstances. There will be times where life throws you a curve ball and you have to play your magic tired, hungry and hung over. If you’ve never really played through a rough tournament like this, you will never be able to win under these circumstances.

    This may also be more of a Danish thing, as we get three PTQ’s per season (or 4-5 if you wanna play in the neighboring countries), so you can’t really play each weekend, so there is no room to play under circumstances where you can’t win. It’s more of a long-term plan, but you can get to the point where you can go drinking the night before a PTQ, and still play as well as you would fully rested and sober.

  14. Pingback: » Mind-Boggling Technology – Pro Tour: From Start to Finish *1st*

  15. Pingback: » Mind-Boggling Technology – Pro Tour: From Start to Finish *1st*

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