It’s 11 am on Friday when Kevan calls me with some news.
“Zach said he’s not coming anymore.”
“I don’t know”, But if you’re thinking about backing out too, I’d understand,” Kevan said.
My friends Wilson and Kevan, who go to school at UCLA, were going to drive down early from San Jose so they could attend the Costa Mesa PTQ. Zach and I were planning on hitching a ride down with them, then finding a ride back with other Nor-Cal MTGers or just taking the Greyhound back. But when Kevan told me that Zach had bailed, I second guessed whether or not I should go.
Zach bailing provided me a chance to get out. Part of me wanted to. It was the correct financial decision. Not only would I save money by not having to break off for gas and pay for food and tournament fees and whatnot, but I could cover my cousin’s shift at the local shop and earn a few extra bucks on the side. But at the same time, part of me just said, “Screw it.” I’ve been testing since before the season even started. I’ve been testing since before Worlds”, heck, before Berlin. I put my financial situation aside to chase the dream and fly to Chicago. What more is a trip down to LA at this point? Screw it.
“I’m going. And I’m going to win,” I told my cousin. Those two sentences echoed in my head the entire weekend. I repeated those four words, “I’m going to win,” over and over in my head to the point where anything less would be considered failure. After all the testing and tuning and research, I had to go. I owed it to myself to go. To win.
Power Ranger Zoo
v. Red Aggro (Derek)
I start out strong with a Wild Nacatl on turn one, then another Nacatl and a Kird Ape on turn two. I deduce that Derek is playing Red Aggro because all he ever drops is Mountains, Blinkmoth Nexus and stuff like Mogg Fanatic, but I don’t see much else as Game One is over pretty quickly. There’s not much that can beat Zoo’s nut draw outside of mass removal.
Game Two is much different. My draw is much slower and Derek gets a pretty fast start with Slith Firewalker and a pair of Hearth Kamis. I quickly realize that this isn’t a typical Red Burn deck. I am on the back foot the whole game and never even get a point of damage in on him.
It is much easier to be on the play with Zoo because you can control the tempo of the game, whether it be pushing damage and speeding it up or slowing it down by burning stuff before you drop your fatty. In Game Three, one critical interaction happens very early along. I have a Tarmogoyf in play with a land in my graveyard and a sorcery in Derek’s. He asks me how big Tarmogoyf is and I tell him, “It’s a 2/3.” He plays Incinerate targeting Tarmogoyf and I say, “Ok.” Puzzled, he gives me the look wondering why I haven’t buried my Goyf. I explain that Incinerate adds instant to the grave and makes Goyf a 3/4.
Derek nods in understanding, untaps his lands and puts the Incinerate back in his hand. “This is my first Extended tournament,” he explains.
I apologize to Derek, explaining that I wasn’t trying to be a jerk. He says it is fine and that he understands. I wanted to win, but I didn’t want to spread bad, rules lawyer karma so early in the tournament. Phew.
Games: 2-1. Matches: 1-0.
v. Naya Zoo (Daniel)
I recognize Daniel Aisaka from TheStarkingtonPost.com. When talking about developing his most recent build of “Ranger Zoo,” Bill Stark mentioned Daniel and some of his helpful forum suggestions. Both Daniel and Bill praised the merits of Ranger of Eos and this new build, so I pretty much know what he is playing. Apparently, Daniel recognizes my name from articles I have written and he has a good idea of what I am running as well. Small world.
It is time to see if maindeck Ranger is worth cutting the burn for the mirror match edge. Daniel is on the play in Game One and we both mulligan. We both play out some small guys, but I get an active Jitte pretty early on, so the game becomes very unfair very quickly and Daniel scoops them up.
I’m not sure if he runs Oblivion Ring in his sideboard or not, but I definitely don’t want to be on the losing end of a Jitte battle, so Hedge-Mage is a safe play. I bring in the onesie Forge-Tender as a Ranger target to help protect my face from game-ending burn. Unfortunately, Game Two is pretty uneventful. We both get off to ok starts, trading Lightning Helixes for three-toughness creatures as Zoo mirrors often go, but Daniel gets mana-flooded and I finish the game off with a Woolly Thoctar. He is very polite and doesn’t complain about my topdecks or his unlucky draws. In fact, we discuss the deck for a while after the match and chat here and there throughout the day about each other’s progress. Overall it is a fine round and a good start.
Games: 4-1. Matches: 2-0.
v. Elves (Adam)
I know Adam isn’t playing a conventional version of Elves when I see him casting his elves with Overgrown Tomb and Temple Garden. I set up a ground force and try to get guys through the red zone for several turns, but Adam blocks, even with Elves that I would gladly burn. What I don’t know is that Adam also runs Proclamation of Rebirth in his maindeck, which basically resets the board of all my army’s battling. Lucky for me, he fizzles on the last turn he has to combo off and we go on to Game Two.
I board out the slow guys for the anti-combo package and some board sweep. In Game Two, Adam tries to go off very early, playing Summoner’s Pact for Nettle Sentinel twice in the same turn. I respond to the second Nettle Sentinel by playing Path to Exile on his Heritage Druid. He promptly concedes the game. Though Adam is upset about losing, he is friendly throughout the rest of the day, cheering me on as he checks on my progress.
Games: 6-1. Matches: 3-0.
v. Bant (Ben)
I’ve had it fairly easy up until this point. A few opportune plays and game states have lead me to be undefeated around halfway through (considering 6-0 gets to double draw into Top 8). Once Ben cracks his Flooded Strand to get a Breeding Pool, I know that the easy matches are over. I have always struggled against Bant Aggro in the past. Lucky for me, I get a decent start even after a mulligan. Ben can’t stick a Rhox War Monk, but God knows he tries. It’s a good thing that Char and Path to Exile usually win that fight.
I know getting a fast start is important against the midrange matchups, but Kird Ape is really the weakest creature out of the bunch. Plus, if I can stick a Sulfuric Vortex, I’m generally in pretty good shape. Hedge-Mage comes in for Teeg because I’m not sure if he runs Worship or not, and Hedge-Mage can take care of that in addition to any equipments he may run. To kick off the second game, I see a one-land hand, a no-land hand, another no-land hand, and finally a one-land, four-card hand. I’m forced to keep it. He uses Hierarchs to set up an early Troll Ascetic, then adds more Hierarchs to the team, further exalting the annoying Troll. Though it takes several turns for him to take me down as I send chump after chump, my resource-low team eventually falls to the green beats.
In Game Three, we both take mulligans, but keep our six-card hands. I start off with a Mogg Fanatic and add a Tarmogoyf. Ben gets mana-screwed early and I really don’t care because I just want to win and not be playing against Bant anymore. Though he eventually gets an active Jitte, it’s too late as he’s too far behind in life total and board position.
Games: 8-2. Matches: 4-0.
v. Tezzerator (Navin)
Navim Ram. I remember Navin as the guy who knocked me out of last year’s Extended PTQ in San Diego. It was the “win and in” round for the X-1’s and I had a lethal Tarmogoyf and Tarmogoyf on the board with a Destructive Flow in play. Navin had one card in hand, three lands and a Sensei’s Divining Top. Instead of playing the second Destructive Flow in my hand, I overconfidently passed the turn to him, expecting him to concede. During his upkeep he activated the Top”
“Oh my God, did that just get there???” he exclaimed, as he scanned his top three.
My heart dropped. “Did WHAT “just get there’?!?” I thought to myself. Navin’s cheering section standing behind him was jumping around like a bunch of school girls who’d just seen Mario Lopez. I hate Mario Lopez
My jaw was on the floor. I had three turns to draw one of my two Krosan Grips and pull this one out. Needless to say, I didn’t, and that is why I remember Navin as the guy who knocked me out of last year’s Extended PTQ in San Diego.
Fast forward to LA. We sit down and Navin asks, “Do you remember me?”
Ya! He actually said that! “Yep” I reply with a revenge seeking smirk on my face.
I start off strong with a Wild Nacatl. He plays a Polluted Delta and passes the turn. I throw a Gaddock Teeg out there and he obliges. (He’s so dead) I add Gaddock Teeg and a Mogg Fanatic to the board and bring the beats. He casts a Trinket Mage, getting Engineered Explosives. “(Idiot How the hell is he gonna land that?)” On my turn six he casts Cryptic Command, tapping down my team and bouncing the Gaddock Teeg. It resolves. (Yes, you are reading that correctly. Navin is really good at Magic. I’m obviously much better, though.) I try to replay the Teeg, but he runs into Spell Snare. My team gets blown up the next turn. I draw and resolve the second Teeg and a Kird Ape, swinging in and bringing Navin down in life. With lethal on the board, I declare my attack step. Navin taps four mana and attempts a second Cryptic Command. It’s a good thing I remembered the rules this time.
“You can’t play Cryptic Command with Teeg out, In fact, you”
“Oh yaaa…” Navin scoops before I finish my sentence. “No wonder my friends walked away!”
D’oh! So you mean people saw and no one said anything!?! It was the story of the day, as I heard it being retold several times in different groups. Sure, he got to cast Cryptic Command under a Teeg, but I still won! [Be sure to call a Judge next time to get that Game Rule Violation on record. –Riki]
Goyf comes out against blue decks in general because Control Magic effects wreck me. Thoctar doesn’t get hit by Threads, but 1) I don’t know if he has Threads or Sower and 2) if he has Sower, I don’t have enough small burn to be comfortable facing a Thoctar on the other side. The anti-artifact package comes in, along with Vortex to seal the deal, and Fallout for uncounterable burn. I start off Game Two hoping to mise a Teeg in my opener again, but alas, the stars are not with me. I keep a decent starter and try to get the beats bumping, but a recurring Engineered Explosives and an eventual Chalice for two shut the party down. Navin gets his Tezzeret, the Seeker to five counters and I’m forced to use a Char on it. I draw nothing relevant and he ramps his Tezz back up and I scoop before he can activate the ultimate.
My Game Three opening hand gives me the Gaddock Teeg I yearned for in Game Two. Mogg Fanatic starts the party off, but Teeg leaves early because of an unwelcome Spell Snare. Navin casts a Threads of Disloyalty on my Wild Nacatl and then later a Chalice of the Void set at two. Less than a few turns later I draw a Duergar Hedge-Mage and bust the thang open. Eventually, I draw another Teeg and he decides he’ll stay. I avoid attacking with the Gaddock Teeg for fear of running into a Vendilion Clique unprotected, so the game goes a little long, the beats bumping slow. Navin is getting ready to play something, but I have no idea what. He plays a shockland untapped and in apparent desperation, trying to set up for another miraculous comeback, sacrifices a Polluted Delta putting him at two. I respond by showing him the Volcanic Fallout that he already saw with the Vendilion Clique earlier in the game. He has the same “aww wth” face that I had last year in San Diego. My face on the other hand? Smiling ear to ear.
Games: 10-3. Matches: 5-0.
v. Naya Zoo (Kurt)
This is the first round that I actually realize how close I am. After every round previous, I wouldn’t go over my record in my head. I would just tell myself, “Keep winning.” But in this round, I see the “Magic Number.” One. One more round and you’re in. That is not a good sign.
My friends were scouting the other undefeateds and informed me that there was one guy who was playing Faeries, another playing Burn and another playing TEPS. They pointed out the Fae and the Burn players to me, so when my round starts, I know I am playing against TEPS. I keep an ok hand that could put some decent pressure on if I draw some burn. I lead off with a turn one Figure of Destiny and plan to follow that with a pump and a Mogg Fanatic. Unfortunately, instead of cracking a Flooded Strand for a Steam Vents, Kurt cracks a Wooded Foothills for a Mountain and Mogg Fanatics my Figure. I look up at Kevan and he has a big “I’m sorry” look on his face. I give him the “it’s ok, it’s not your fault” look back, even though it totally is.
This game is epic and I am ripping cards off the top like a mad man. He rips a dude and I have a Lightning Helix. He plays another dude and I have another Lightning Helix. He plays a Thoctar and I have Path to Exile. But for every card I rip, Kurt counters just as well. Tarmogoyf? Path to Exile. Woolly Thoctar? Flame Javelin! Umezawa’s Jitte? Tin-Street Hooligan!!! Yikes. Eventually I run out of gas and Kurt sticks a Woolly Thoctar and takes the first game.
I am on the play for the second game in a row. The mirror match is supposed to favor the guy on the play! C’mon! I start off with some early action, but Kurt has the answers to all my threats. Turn after turn I draw land after land. Eventually I get a small team and try to make a good defensive play constituting of blocks and Lightning Helix. However, Kurt has the trump… Wait for it… Wild Ricochet! He redirects and copies the Lightning Helix to wreck my team. Of course, Kurt pulls out all the stops on his way to Top 8, finishing me off with a Threshold powered Mystic Enforcer. All I can do is laugh and shake my head. The Magic Number is still One.
Games: 10-5. Matches: 5-1.
v. GWR Prison (Matt)
Game One starts off very interestingly. Matt wins the die roll. He ponders his hand for a second and decides to keep it. I mulligan and he starts off. “Pass,” he says.
“I’m done,” Matt replies.
That can only mean he’s playing maybe some sort of combo deck? All-In-Red maybe? I have no idea. But I don’t plan on finding out, as I bring the beatdown as fast as my hand will let me. Eventually, Matt casts a land, a pair of Chrome Moxen, and an Enchantress’s Presence. I finish the game quickly after. Matt explains all he needed was some early land and he would’ve had an awesome hand. This scares me as I have no idea what he’s talking about.
I don’t really know how to board against a deck that I don’t know, but I figure some enchantment hate is a good way to start here. Matt has a land this time. I, on the other hand, have a Wild Nacatl followed by a Kird Ape, then a Mogg Fanatic. Matt’s first action? Runed Halo naming Wild Nacatl. That’s ok, because I’m adding Woolly Thoctar to change up the pace. Matt’s second play? Circle of Protection: Red. Of course. I’m hoping for a Hedge-Mage like there’s no tomorrow, while Matt pours on the enchantments including Ghostly Prison to stall my already idle team and Utopia Sprawl for acceleration. I start to diversify my threats, but I’m really just puzzled at what to do at this point. He pretty much has me locked. “I guess I’m going for it,” Matt says as he casts Idyllic Tutor for Form of the Dragon. With double CoP: Red out, I can’t even win with multiple burn spells (including the Char already in my hand).
I take a deep breath. C’mon baby We’re winning this one. I start off with a Wild Nacatl and later add a Kird Ape. Matt has an early Prison, so my beats come at a price. I eventually draw more mana and can attack with two creatures a turn. I have the Char in hand if I can just get him down. I attack him down to four life with all my mana tapped for the Prison tax. Matt realizes he has to win this turn and starts to dig with his Enchantress’s Presence. I’m holding my breath. Matt keeps digging and taps some mana. “Get ready, this play is going to be epic,” Matt says. He shows me a Stomping Ground and extends his hand. “Good luck,” he says. I commend him on doing so well with a rogue deck at a PTQ, and even more on having the guts to play one.
Games: 12-6. Matches: 6-1.
My tiebreakers are the best out of my bracket, so I feel it is safe to draw into Top 8. Luckily, I get paired against the guy whose breaks are second best, and he agrees to the intentional draw. Not everyone is as lucky, as three 6-1’s have to play it out. The winners of both matches get into Top 8, but unfortunately this pushs Josh Utter-Leyton out while Navin (who drew with Josh) squeaks in.
Waiting for the playoffs to start takes for-e-ver. People are congratulating me on Top 8, but I tell them that I’m done. I came here to win. Kevan understands, and helps me try to stay focused on the playoffs.
v. BGw Loam (Joe)
I recognize Joe Losset’s face from various other events. My friends inform me prior to the match that he is playing Loam. “I don’t care what he’s playing,” I reply, even though I know in the back of my mind that Loam is one of my roughest matchups. I get a keepable hand and start the game off with a Mogg Fanatic followed by a Tarmogoyf. I eventually play most of my team out and am low on cards in hand. I keep his Kitchen Finks off the board with burn and Mogg, and push through for whatever damage I can. Joe rips another Finks, but I peel a Path to Exile off the top and swing in again. Joe is starting to stabilize, drawing lots of cards and playing dudes who can block. Joe’s at seven so I can Char him at the end of his turn and maybe draw a Char on my turn to finish him, but I save it just in case I need it to clear the way of creatures next turn. Lucky me, I just mise a Lightning Helix and burn him out. [Should have Charred the Hand of Cruelty. –Flores]
Jitte’s are good in creature battles, but I’d rather he just not gain life at all. Joe is on the play now and I mulligan into a decent, but slow hand. My first team goes down to Punishment for one. Joe proceeds to play Darkblast on my Mogg Fanatic and Path to Exile on my pumped up Figure of Destiny. I draw lots of lands and not much else and Joe finishes this game a lot quicker than we finished the first.
Now on the play, I keep the hand that is haunting my dreams. Two fetchlands, two Tarmogoyfs, Umezawa’s Jitte, Woolly Thoctar and Sulfuric Vortex. One more land and I’m golden. Setting up the early beats with a Goyf, then probably the Thoctar before I drop the Vortex and send Joe home packing! One more land and all of that would have been mine. One more land!
The one land didn’t come until it was too late and Joe had gone triple Kitchen Finks beatdown on my dreams. Kevan and I discussed the hand on the ride home. He mentioned that the two land + Goyf hand is really deceiving. In the Zoo deck, a fast start is important, especially against midrange strategies, and Sulfuric Vortex is only good when you’re already ahead on life. I don’t know whether it was the fear of mulling into a strictly worse hand while on the play. I don’t know why I couldn’t muster up the guts to ship the hand back. It was probably what I should have done.
Your friendly neighborhood Matt Nass made it to the finals of the PTQ (again) but got mana-screwed in Game Three and came home with just packs. Though I didn’t come home with the win, the trip to LA was fun. From counting the number of times that dumb Poker Face song came on, to trying to find where the real “Tommy’s Burgers” was, my SoCal adventure was definitely worth the trip.
If anyone is still looking to PTQ, I would definitely recommend this build of Naya Zoo, especially if you expect to see a good amount of the mirror match. Ranger of Eos is an all-star in the mirror, and I would probably throw a fourth in the board somewhere. You might want to consider cutting one Volcanic Fallout for another Duergar Hedge-Mage too, as those are a lot more versatile. I am still trying to figure out how to deal with the problem of mana flood, as I seemed to draw a ton of lands, both in the tournament and in testing, but Ranger of Eos and Figure of Destiny is the best plan I could come up with.
To wrap it up, I want to say thanks to Kevan for convincing me to come to LA “for the company,” thanks to Wilson for driving us to LA and around all weekend, thanks to all my opponents for being nice guys, thanks to everyone who helped me playtest up in San Jose and thanks to Bill Stark for posting your tech online before any other sites had it. There’s one more PTQ I can attend this season and it’s Saturday in San Jose. I’m going. And I’m going to win.