Going into this Modern PTQ season I did some soul searching to find a deck to dedicate my time and effort to, in order to maximize my expertise rather than going in cold week after week. I was under the impression that the Modern format is one where players are rewarded for being masters of a specific strategy much more than being flexible and reading a metagame. I chose to focus my energy on UR Twin, in part because I found Owen Turtenwald’s article on Twisted Image compelling, and in part because the idea of playing a control role until you eventually exhaust the resources of the opponent and combo them out in one fell swoop falls directly into my wheelhouse as a player. I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to be successful grinding out games with small creatures as a plan A, and despite thinking Pod is a cool deck, I don’t think it’s the deck for me.
Once I decided to commit myself to testing with Twin, I built the deck online and got to work. I believed that if I could manage to get to the point with the deck where I was as familiar with it during week one as I typically am by week 12, I would be greatly advantaged over the field. In most seasons, Modern especially, there’s a learning curve for the format, and many players simply don’t have the repetitions with their deck to make all the right plays over the course of the event. A well-prepared player can gain a big edge simply by knowing their deck better than the opponent does. In the past three weeks, I’ve played well over 200 matches online with Twin, and I feel more comfortable with the deck than I ever have with a deck this early in a season—or maybe ever.
Here’s the list I ran this weekend:
In testing online, Keranos has been a complete beating against a wide range of decks. It dominates the Jund and Pod matchups, and presents an incredibly difficult permanent source of card advantage in grindy matchups like URW Control and the mirror. I ran three in this event primarily because I wanted to determine if it was as good in a real-world environment as it had seemed in testing, and wanted to ensure I would draw it (which is a requirement if I want to get data points). In reality, the card was excellent, and I would absolutely continue to run it, but it should be a 2-of, split with an additional Batterskull. While I managed to dodge him in the event, there was a Burn player at the top tables I was sweating, and I know if there was another Skull in the board the matchup would not have been as daunting.
In the week prior to this PTQ, I decided to switch the Dispels I had in the board with Swan Song after discussing different board plans with Zaiem Beg. Specifically, I was concerned with the sudden resurgence of Scapeshift, and didn’t have any specific action in that matchup. I also decided to add a Combust over the singleton Relic of Progenitus I had been running, because I felt good with my Pod matchup (especially with most lists removing the Melira combo), and wanted extra gas for the mirror.
On Saturday, I awoke early with anticipation, and once I milled around my house for an hour or so I headed out for a hearty breakfast at a local diner to start the day off right. Belly and heart filled with grease, I made my way to the venue early since I knew parking would be an issue. I arrived before the staff did, and tried to calm my nerves before the doors opened.
154 players participated, which meant 8 rounds.
Round 1: Andrew Confer – Mono-G Nykthos Combo
Andrew and I had met in another life at a Jupiter Games Legacy event. He mentioned he likes to play Elves and Enchantress in Legacy, so this was right in the pocket for him. He didn’t have much Modern experience, and his deck didn’t deliver this round as he started with a mulligan to five. He cast some land enchantments and died to the combo when he tapped out for a fatty. In our second game, he had an early Primeval Titan I couldn’t answer. I struggled for a second Bolt or a Keranos, but found neither before I died. Game 3 another mull to 5 cost him and he got stuck without ways to cast his large creatures.
On the plus side, Andrew had the moment of the event for our head judge in a later round. With a Nykthos capable of tapping for 19 mana, Andrew cast Karn Liberated and Cloudstone Curio. He then activated Nykthos, and cast a Garruk Wildspeaker, returning Karn. He then went infinite with casting planeswalkers and exiling his opponent’s hand and board.
Round 2: Bert Phillips – Pod
Bert and some friends made the trek up from Brooklyn for the event. We chatted about some mutual acquaintances before we got to business. Game 1 was a long drawn out affair when he is stuck on two lands for a long time but eventually played through it, while I struggled to find the blue half of the combo. I flood out and fail to find one of my six untappers, and die with three Twins in hand. In game 2 I played a fair game where I nickel and dimed him with fliers, and eventually Bolt him out. Game three he does a fair amount of damage to himself, including taking 5 on turn one to Thoughtseize me, hoping to keep me from resolving a Keranos, but I do eventually draw a second and resolve it.
Round 3: Julian Perry – RUG Twin
Julian couldn’t have been more than 14 years old, but it’s hard to underestimate a player who is already 2-0. I open game 1 with a Gitaxian Probe and see he’s on RUG Twin, and settle in for a slog. We leverage back and forth but I’m behind on mana and can’t ever push through the combo despite having it in hand. He kills me with a Scavenging Ooze that I can’t answer. In game 2 I Clique him to clear the coast for a Blood Moon, and he responds with an Exarch. I take his Twin and fade him drawing a second that turn before I can get counter backup, and he doesn’t play another spell that game. Eventually I resolve Keranos. In the final game he plays turn 2 Tarmogoyf, I Flame Slash it. He plays another ‘Goyf on turn 3, and misses his third land drop. I play Blood Moon. He misses a land again and gets in with ‘Goyf for 3. On my turn four I Snapcaster Flame Slash, and he never plays another spell.
Round 4: Thad Malley – Merfolk
Thad was new to Modern and actually didn’t know what the Twin combo consisted of. Sometimes it’s just your day. Game 1 I combo him out with no interference. Game 2 I get overrun by 5 Merrow Reejerey. Game 3 he taps out on his turn 3 and I kill him.
Round 5: Lenny Larratta – Time Warp
After sitting next to Lenny in round 4, I had a premonition that I would face him in round five. This held true, and though I was concerned about the matchup I felt like I had a better shot at it than many of the other players at the top tables, as my deck is a few turns faster and has similar disruption, and never needs to tap out until it wins. In game 1 he tried to go off at 6 life but needed to be extremely careful to play around my four open mana and potential two Bolts. He doesn’t screw up and kills me when I have one Bolt in hand and the second is the top card of my library. Game 2 I manage to Remand a miracled Temporal Mastery and he’s stuck with only the most expensive Time Walks in hand. Meanwhile I’m chipping away with Pestermite and Clique. He goes for a Gigadrowse tapping all my blue sources to go for the win, but I float mana and untap a Steam Vents with Exarch to leave up Remand. I end up killing him after Snapcastering a Remand to prevent an extra turn when he’s forced to try and combo without backup. Game 3, the 20 Island deck actually mulls to five, and I once again Remand a turn 3 miracle. I Probe him on my turn 3 to see a pair of lands, a Cryptic, along with some other expensive stuff, and use Exarch in his upkeep to keep him off Cryptic mana and win on my turn 4.
Round 6: Dave “Viper” Napolitano – Pod
Game 1 there’s a fair amount of back and forth action though Dave is short of green mana. This lets me work my game and I put him in a position where he has to choose between advancing against my pair of Snapcasters or let me combo. He takes some damage from the Mages and eventually his mana trouble does him in. Game 2 looks pretty good for Dave, as despite my Spellskite in play he shows me a Slaughter Pact and Abrupt Decay when I Probe. I have lots of time and am flush with creatures so I make him use both spells for the 3-for-2. On his turn he plays a creature and the judge watching the match points to the Pact in Dave’s graveyard that he didn’t pay for.
Dave’s immediate reaction was to scoop his cards up, smile, and say, “that’s what I get! Should have played better. It’s my fault for not putting a marker on my library!” I’ve never lost to a missed Pact trigger, but if I had, I can’t imagine having such a cheery attitude about the whole ordeal, especially when you’re losing the match of a win-and-in at a PTQ. I assured him I had every expectation that he’d win the next round and make Top 8 anyway, and wished him the best of luck.
After round 6, I stood atop the standings as one of two undefeated players. The other? My teammate from Grand Prix Providence, Brad Forrest. Two handshakes and a trip to the bar next door later, and we’re on to the Top 8.
The stage was set. The bracket was broken into:
1 UR Twin
1 Ad Nauseum Combo
2 URW Twin (one Kiki Control, one dedicated Twin with Geist of Saint Traft)
2 Pod (both on LSV style Melira-less)
Brad and I were on opposite sides of the bracket, so we knew the only way we’d face each other was in the finals. Of course, that was the dream, but it was also something of a nightmare to be so closely responsible for the fate of a friend. Plenty of Magic between then and now, though. On to the Top 8.
Top 8: Dan Stella – Ad Nauseum Combo
I was nervous about this matchup. I should be, because this deck is scary. I got a briefing from Bryan Gottlieb (who developed the deck for the PT) on what my plan should be, and buckled up for a ride.
In game 1, Dan mulls to five, and floods out. When I go for an end-step Clique, he tries to go off with no protection in response and I Remand the Ad Nauseum. I have another Remand and a Cryptic, so I let him keep his cards with Clique and begin to beat down. He tries to go off again on his turn and I Cryptic Command the Ad Nauseum, leaving him with nothing but lands in hand. I win shortly after. In game 2 Dan’s forced to use an Angel’s Grace to pay for a Pact of Negation when he uses it to stop a Blood Moon that will lock him out. He plays a third land and a Pentad Prism on his turn. I play a Pestermite on his end step but don’t have the Twin. He casts a Phyrexian Unlife on his turn and I read it. I ask the table judge if this means I have to attack him twice to win (a.k.a., the first million damage brings him to 0, the second is for poison), and I think this leads Dan to place more value on it than he probably should have—because when I try to bounce it on his end step with Echoing Truth he uses another Pact of Negation to protect the Unlife. On my turn I play a fourth land and Snapcaster the Echoing Truth on his Prism. He doesn’t have 5 mana or another Angel’s Grace on his upkeep and dies to Pact.
For those of you counting at home, that’s two rounds in a row where I win via Pact triggers.
Top 4: John Wasson – URW Twin with Geist of Saint Traft
John is a PTQ regular who I often see at top tables but have never faced before. I know he’s a solid player so I won’t have much margin here.
Game 1 was a speedy one where I managed to combo him out when he couldn’t answer me through protection. Our second game revolved around Geist, which he landed while I was low on resources. Despite my efforts to block and kill it, John protected it to off me in three quick hits.
Game 3 was insane. If there was a single game in which I earned this win, it was this one. We both traded hits back and forth, leveraging for position. I managed to land a Blood Moon, but he had a Plains and Island in play to keep from being locked out completely. It limited his options, but he wasn’t dead to rights. We got to a point where I was at 6 life, and he couldn’t profitably attack through my Snapcaster Mage to kill me. From there, we looked to find tricks that would allow us to sneak through damage to win the board stall. Lacking in any Pestermites or Exarchs, I decided to put a Splinter Twin on my Snapcaster to allow me to use my large graveyard as a resource, and need not trade my engine for his Geist if the time came.
In one fateful turn, John attacked with his team. I activated Snapcaster Mage to make a copy (Flashing back Twisted Image for value), and he used one of his two Islands to play an Exarch to tap down the Mage copy. My plan had been to use a Twisted Image to draw an extra card, and then block the Angel token with a Pestermite I had drawn and played on defense over the past few turns. Once I targeted the Image with the Mage trigger, John used his last Island to play a Pestermite of his own, and tapped my blocker. I now had no blockers and he had lethal damage in the red zone. I drew from the Twist, and it was a Pestermite.
I looked at my two untapped lands, and into my hand at the land I had neglected to play the last turn (to bluff more action). My shoulders dropped. I was done. I was sure this was the end of my road. I went so far as to reveal the Pestermite and land to my opponent, looking for commiseration at my mistake. I told him that I hadn’t planned my out being using a combo piece to untap a blocker, and was seconds from conceding. My tournament was over, because I failed to play an extra land. I sighed deeply, and almost extended the hand.
Then something made me hesitate. I looked at the third card in my hand, and realized I wasn’t actually dead. I confirmed that the Angel was a white token, and used the last card in my hand—Combust—to kill it. I was still alive, at 4 life. Despite giving my opponent free information and almost literally conceding from a sense of shame, I was still alive. From that point on, I snapped into survival mode, realizing I had come very close to just handing John the game on a silver platter, and resolved to not make any more mistakes. I played perhaps the tightest Magic I’ve ever played for the next 25 minutes, as we slowly grinded toward a resolution. John was once again forced to blink first, as he drew a Counterflux he felt was his ticket to victory. He went for it again, tapping my flying blocker with an Exarch. I cast my own Exarch to attempt to untap it (this time with plenty of mana up), but he slammed the Counterflux for my spell. I tapped the Snapcaster Mage to make a copy, targeting Remand, and Remanded my Exarch. Then, with my last three mana, I re-cast the Exarch and untapped the blocker. A turn later I drew a Kiki-Jiki, and finally closed out the game and match.
I took a good long time to fill out all the requisite paperwork and calm myself after that game. We had slogged through over 30 minutes in that game alone, and I could tell we were both drained. I cleared my head, and returned my focus to the final match of the night.
Finals: Brad Forrest – Pod
We got our dream final. Both Brad and I had played through eight rounds of Magic and managed to dodge each other, winning each match, until there could be only one. We both knew that only one of us could walk away the victor, and dammit I wanted it to be me.
Game 1 Brad announced to the crowd “I’m about to get blown out,” as he led with a turn 1 Birds. I fetched an Island and Twisted its Image. At this point, our third team member from GP Providence, Jon Corpora, exclaimed “NOPE! I can’t watch this!” and left the room in a whirlwind of nerves. On his second turn Brad took 5 to fetch out a black source and Thoughtseize me, and saw a Bolt, Snapcaster, Twin, and lands. He took the Mage, and passed. I drew a second Bolt, played a land and passed. Turn 3 Brad played Eternal Witness and returned Thoughtseize. I played a land and a Spellskite. Brad used turn 4 to play Harmonic Sliver on my Skite, and then fetched another black source untapped to Thoughtseize me again, bringing him to 10. I Bolted him on his end step. The next turn I drew a Remand, and passed with mana up. Brad went to attack and activate Township, and I used my last Bolt to kill the Witness. I drew a Snapcaster, and when Brad went to attack again, I played the Snapcaster Mage and Bolted the Sliver. Brad went for a post-combat Pod on an empty board, and I used my last spell to Remand it.
Once more I played Splinter Twin on Snapcaster Mage, and made a copy. I flashed Lightning Bolt back at Brad, bringing him to 4. I attacked with the token, bringing him to 2. And with my last card in hand, I Lightning Bolted Brad.
In our second game, Brad attempted to follow the same line he had in game 1, but this time my hand revealed a Blood Moon, Keranos, and a Twin. He was forced to take Blood Moon in order to play at all. His second turn was Wall of Roots, and I obliged with a Twisted Image. On turn three he played Eternal Witness to return the Thoughtseize again, and I knew there was only Slaughter Pact to play around. With a hand containing the combo, two Bolts and a Keranos, I felt safe going for the turn 4 kill. I knew that if he had the Pact at all, he’d have to take a turn off to pay for it, which would give me a window to land Keranos. I decided to go for it, and Brad was on air. He extended the hand, and I locked up the win.
This is my second PTQ Top 8, and my second win. I still haven’t felt the sting of defeat when on the verge of the dream, and so I felt particularly concerned about the way Brad would handle the result. I know were it me in the opposite role, I would not be gracious in my defeat, and would want to escape as soon as possible and go lick my wounds in a dark corner somewhere. Proving himself to be a better man than I, Brad not only congratulated me, but also encouraged me to celebrate freely in his presence, and joined us for a celebratory drink after the event. Classy to the bitter end, that Brad Forrest.
I want to congratulate Play The Game, Read The Story on hosting one of (if not singularly) the best-run events I’ve had the pleasure of attending. The average time per round was 62 minutes, including the player meeting. I heard no complaints about the staff or the operations of the tournament, and there was very little down time for players to complain about. While the venue is not particularly flexible (only one restroom in-house, zero off-street parking, awkward bottlenecks in the play area), the judges and TO did a great job of making sure these were merely quirks in an otherwise excellent day, rather than being debilitating issues like they have been in the past. They have stepped up to the plate, and if they continue to run large events as well-planned and run as this one, I think they’ll turn a corner and become a great store for players once again. Kudos.
This event validated a lot for me. It allowed me to prove to myself that the last qualification wasn’t just a fluke, and that maybe I am good enough to play at this level. It validated my strategies leading up to the event, and the thought process that led me to play Twin for hundreds of matches over the last few weeks. I’m beyond words when it comes to my excitement for my return to the Pro Tour and for my impending trip to Hawaii. I really wanted this one, guys.