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Randomly Manipulating Cardboard – New Year’s Revelations

“{Picking the right deck} doesn’t matter much, at least in standard. tuning, playing well, and sideboarding correctly are way more important.”
-Paul Rietzl

The PTQ grind has finally begun, and the first stop was Syracuse, New York, the city I live in.

Look, I wanted this PTQ to be awesome. I really did. I had a lot of close friends judging the event, and it even had the added bonus of being a five-minute drive from my house. On top of that, I had two friends from New Jersey staying at my place the night before, and since I split my time in New Jersey fairly evenly between wanting to go home and making fun of their LGSes for being awful, I really wanted my two friends to have a nice experience in Upstate New York.

Those last seven words—“a nice experience in Upstate New York”—ring oxymoronic on the second pass.

Truthfully, stores that have little experience with PTQs are up against a lot when they’re suddenly asked to host one. Sure, the average turnout for last season’s Theros Limited PTQs in the Northeast U.S. might’ve hovered around 200. And yeah, maybe every PTQ I played in last season was played outside of its host store’s storefront except for one. But it only takes a store one time to host a big event with top-heavy prizes and subsequently get burned to reevaluate how much money it puts into its future marquee tournaments.

Last Saturday’s PTQ in Syracuse was well-staffed, in a store that could probably seat ~120 players comfortably. However, 213 people came to game, which led to some creative solutions, including standing matches on glass displays and Warhammer tables. My round one opponent didn’t have a chair, so he simply played on his knees for our first two games. The only parking was on-street, which starts to become an actual issue when you have three feet of snow on the ground. More than one person could be seen running around before the tournament, looking for [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd]s that the store simply did not have in stock.

Part of the problem with Facebook as opposed to good old-fashioned forums is that there’s really no great way to search the archives effectively. I say this because Max Brown had a lot of good ideas to try and homogenize the PTQ experience, which all effectively boil down to:

• Locked-in start time + entry fee.

• Venue that can seat ~250 people comfortably.

• Multiple vendors at Constructed tournaments to ensure people can get singles they need at non-extortion prices.

• Rules + polices stay consistent “within reason.”

“Within reason” is definitely a handy catchall that includes things like, “allow outside food if you don’t sell anything healthy,” or, “show the standings before the last two rounds.” I don’t think this is a lot to ask. On the other hand, I’ve never run a tournament in my life. What I do know is that since PTQs started being run purely on a store level, the experience has been wildly inconsistent from place to place, and I’d rather have the process streamlined, as opposed to looking forward to certain venues while dreading others.

Here’s the list I played last Saturday, courtesy of Counting to Ten enthusiast Bryant Cook:

U/W Control

[deck]Main Deck
4 Azorius Guildgate
7 Plains
8 Island
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
3 Dissolve
3 Syncopate
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Supreme Verdict
3 Last Breath
3 Mutavault
3 Jace, Architect of Thought
4 Detention Sphere
2 Divination
4 Azorius Charm
4 Hallowed Fountain
1 Celestial Flare
1 Aetherling
Sideboard
3 Pithing Needle
2 Dispel
2 Celestial Flare
2 Gainsay
2 Negate
1 Glare of Heresy
1 Aetherling
1 Last Breath
1 Jace, Memory Adept[/deck]

This list is an interesting look at just how customizable U/W Control is, not only in terms of what matchups you want to prepare for, but also in which stance you want to take in each matchup. For example, in the control mirror, you’re looking to take the stance of the aggressor with the following sequence:

• Make them fight you over a [ccProd]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccProd] for some innocuous amount (3-5) on their end step.

• Stick a threat with [ccProd]Dispel[/ccProd]/[ccProd]Negate[/ccProd] backup.

• Protect it with more countermagic.

This “aggressive” plan aims to render their [ccProd]Elixir of Immortality[/ccProd] ineffective by allowing you to stick a threat before their [ccProd]Elixir of Immortality[/ccProd] even becomes relevant. Usually in a control mirror, both players will try and assume the control side of the matchup. As a result, the match ends up hinging a lot on just how the cards break. Whether this randomness is actually perceived or not, exactly where you stand going into the mirror is a huge boon to winning the matchup, and the extra [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd] at virtually no cost serves as a huge help to those of us with experience winning via [ccProd]Mishra’s Factory[/ccProd] or [ccProd]Faerie Conclave[/ccProd].

The main deck smacks of what Andrew Cuneo would call “training wheels,” in the form of a whopping three win conditions: an [ccProd]Aetherling[/ccProd] and a pair of [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd]. If you want to consider [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd] a win condition (and you should!), you can up that number to six. The main deck is really geared for the aggressive matchup, sporting three [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd] and a miser’s [ccProd]Celestial Flare[/ccProd] on top of the industry standard playsets of [ccProd]Supreme Verdict[/ccProd] and [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd]. With such a concrete plan against control and such a bad game one against it, it only makes sense to stack the deck against aggro. This is Bryant’s logic behind omitting Elixir of Immortality—it doesn’t match up with his plan against control and it’s just a [ccProd]Whitesun’s Passage[/ccProd] against the aggressive decks. I’ll end the deck list analysis by noting that the three [ccProd]Pithing Needle[/ccProd]s out of the board is essentially a concession to how far Mono-Black stretches your removal and how many cards of theirs you just need to answer.

My PTQ itself wasn’t very interesting. While it is true that my two friends and I weren’t on the player meeting sheet despite preregistering the night before, it was a pretty uneventful day. It was my first actual tournament with the deck, and I picked up my second loss in the sixth round after landing myself in the draw bracket early on by making one of the more egregious misplays I’ve made in years.

WARNING: The punt you are about to read about is real. Please do not try this punt at home or anywhere at all. Please do not read this punt in front of children or if you are a children.

It’s round two, and it’s my second consecutive match against that B/w Devotion deck that beat Huey Jensen in the finals of Grand Prix Dallas-Fort Worth. I get out of round one thinking that Huey must’ve been pretty unlucky to lose that finals because I felt very comfortable both games. Here’s how I sideboarded:

In

[draft]3 Pithing Needle
1 Aetherling
1 Last Breath
2 Celestial Flare
1 Glare of Heresy[/draft]

Out

[draft]1 Syncopate
4 Azorius Charm
3 Dissolve[/draft]

In game one of round three, I’ve got an [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd] on 8 loyalty with nine Soldiers to my opponent’s [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd] and three Soldier tokens. He’s at 8 life—easily within range of a simple -7 activation of [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd], swing for the fences.

I pluck a [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd] off the top of my library.

Do you know where this is going yet?

Instead of just winning outright, I happily cast my [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd], targeting his [ccProd]Elspeth, Sun’s Champion[/ccProd]. Mine goes under it too, and a game that might’ve taken 15 minutes wound up taking 50.

In conclusion, I’m able to add another New Year’s Resolution to my list: Figure out what [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd] does. I like my chances with this one. I mean, I’ve got a whole year!

I lose game two in five minutes and we end up going to time, where I see all Esper/UW Control mirrors for the rest of the day. Thus, my PTQ is a long, drawn-out, uninteresting affair. I do end up getting Elixir’d out of a game one, but I also manage to swing for exactsies with zero cards left in my deck. At the end of the day, it’s all a wash. A PTQ season is a marathon, not a sprint.

After the tournament and a semifinal exit for Bryant, we discussed what parts of the deck we didn’t like. We were both pretty sour on the miser’s [ccProd]Jace, Memory Adept[/ccProd] out of the sideboard—the mill plan was just too ineffective, while at the same time being too easily dealt with. We brainstormed other ideas. I pushed really hard for a fourth [ccProd]Mutavault[/ccProd] out of the sideboard in order to be able to bolster the land count to 27 against the other control decks. Even if you’re not the control, your plan still requires you to make a lot of land drops. The idea of a third [ccProd]Aetherling[/ccProd] was even breached. Bryant then came up with [ccProd]Blind Obedience[/ccProd] as a way to deal with [ccProd]Stormbreath Dragon[/ccProd]s and [ccProd]Mistcutter Hydra[/ccProd]s, and I was sold on that. It was a good enough addition to warrant cutting the single copy of [ccProd]Last Breath[/ccProd] out of the sideboard for a second copy of the extorting enchantment.

I’ll be battling with the given deck going forward, with the following changes to the sideboard:

Out

[draft]1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Last Breath[/draft]

In

[draft]2 Blind Obedience[/draft]

Hope to see lots of you in Philadelphia this weekend! I’ll be the one reading [ccProd]Detention Sphere[/ccProd] over and over again.

Jon Corpora
pronounced Ca-pora
@feb31st

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