I can’t describe how good it feels to be going to another Pro Tour. That’s right, I won a PTQ! My last chance for the season, and I finally got there. After having a decent last year but failing to make another Pro Tour, I was itching to get back, so this feels incredible. It’s also the first Pro Tour of the season, and it would be awesome if I could find my way into each one this year.
I showed up at the Seattle Center early enough to get settled in – I hate being rushed. There was some Catchphrase going down, but I didn’t feel like getting involved. I calmly played some Peggle for a bit until it was time to register pools. The one I registered wasn’t very interesting, it just had three Burst Lightnings. The one I was passed, however, I liked more and more the longer I looked at it.
WHITE – 8
BLUE – 12
BLACK – 20
RED – 19
GREEN – 12
When I laid out my sealed pool one thing was immediately apparent: I was going to be black-red. Just look at the numbers! Red and black had nearly twenty cards each to choose from, while white had only eight. Black and red together had significantly more cards than even white, green, and blue combined. I didn’t immediately rule the smaller colors out when I realized that I could be near mono-black if I wanted to, but my red cards were better anyway. This is the deck I registered:
My sealed deck:
My deck wouldn’t have been nearly as good without the one dual land I opened, Akoum Refuge. With two Gatekeeper of Malakirs and two Crypt Rippers, my deck was really black hungry, not to mention Mind Sludge craving swamps. My red cards were cards that didn’t need to be cast right away, and each of the double-red cards came online later in the game. I kept myself at eight red sources (counting the pseudo 18th-land Expedition Map) which meant I got to run ten Swamps. Gatekeeper was rarely hard for me to kick all day, and Mind Sludge was always devastating. There were a few games where Hellkite Charger was sitting in my hand with them at 5 or less, but I always drew the red source in time.
I’m pretty sure I got most of the list right, though I’m still not certain about my last two inclusions. Seismic Shudder has been great for me in the past, and after sideboarding it in for literally every round in the last PTQ I decided to maindeck it this time. It usually stayed in the maindeck, but I’m not sure a creature wouldn’t have just been better for me when I have two Scorpions anyway. I’m not sure I ever even cast Seismic Shudder.
The other slot I agonized over ended up as Goblin Ruinblaster. It came down to him, Goblin Warpaint, Hagra Crocodile, Stonework Puma, and Adventuring Gear. Normally I love Adventuring Gear, and Hagara Crocodile and Goblin Warpaint can be pretty good too. Looking at my deck, though, I never wanted to be in the situation where I didn’t have the option to block. I then chose the 2/1 haste with a chance to randomly mess with my opponent over the anti-intimidate ally, seeing as how I was RB and shouldn’t have much trouble with intimidate anyway.
I never cast Geyser Glider, but only once did he sit in my hand stranded. Luckily I drew better cards like Gatekeeper of Malakir more often, but I wonder if Geyser Glider was one red card too many. His slot might have been where the deck wanted Hagra Crocodile.
I’m pretty sure Bloodchief Ascension and Goblin Guide were traps. I hate the Ascension, though Goblin Guide does have his uses. If your opponent is really aggressive he’s great at blocking early, but I never faced an opponent that needed that kind of response. I don’t like going on the offensive with him though, at least not in sealed. It takes a very specific deck to make him very good in my view, but it’s one of those things that once he’s right for the deck, he’s really good.
I usually sideboarded in Adventuring Gear and Hagra Crocodile when I was on the play, but that wasn’t very often. Stonework Puma also came in a lot, usually just as more ways to trade with their early drops or to keep some Guul Draz Vampires off my back. I also used Molten Ravager a couple times, and Zektar Shrine Expedition came in once in order to block some big green creatures.
The deck worked really well for me all day. I only mulliganed in one game during the Swiss – certainly a little lucky, but my cards were also very cheap and flexible, which gave the deck many more keepable hands than normal. Most games went the same for me. I would play two-for-one creatures and kept attacking with 2/2s. Sometimes they would play a three-toughness creature, and then a stall developed until I got to a Crypt Ripper or my Hellkite Charger.
Some games were cake walks when my opponent didn’t have a hand that could compete with Gatekeeper into Torch Slinger. Most of my matches were still a fight, but I got a few easy games because many of me cards were hyper-efficient. Surrakar Marauder’s intimidate only mattered in one match, and I had to sideboard out Hideous End twice. Luckily the rest of my deck was pretty good against BR, and I never had to face the Welkin Tern into Windrider Eel deck I was scared of. Sure I had answers, but I could envision them killing me over a Giant Scorpion before I got online.
I won the first six rounds, which made this the first Limited PTQ Top Eight I made without losing an early round. Even though a lot of my matches were close, I felt pretty in-control of myself all day. I wrote “focus” on my hand after my third round win (a page out of Zac Hill’s Honolulu book), knowing that if I concentrated and let myself play correctly I could make Top 8. I forced myself to slow down and take my time, knowing that Zendikar Limited has a lot of time to give. Each upkeep I surveyed the board in an attempt to emulate Noah Weil, the player whose physical play and mental game I greatly admire. As I was drawing my card I would check my play speed and slow down if I needed to. Before I made any actions I would make sure I knew my plan for the turn so that I would never accidentally miss a point of damage or use my mana inefficiently. I stopped myself from making automatic plays and actually checked to make sure there wasn’t a better one than the play I was about to make.
Basically, I was finally doing all those things that I had read about; all the things I knew I was supposed to be doing. I even got a decent amount of sleep, drank a lot of water, and had food with me most of the day. I’ve tried to get advice from the better players around me, especially over the last year, and for whatever reason the advice had finally clicked. That’s why I wrote “focus” on my hand after the third round – I didn’t want to lose what I was doing.
This isn’t to say I played perfectly that day. It’s easy to look back after I won and think that I did everything right, but I don’t want to fall into that. I’ve already gone over the potential mistakes I made in deck building, and I can think of a few plays I could have done better. For example, once I used Expedition Map on turn four and grabbed a Mountain instead of Akoum Refuge. I wanted to leave Burst Lightning mana open incase he played something I wanted to kill or had a Mind Sludge, but there was nothing on the board I could kill except Bloodghast. Later in the game I couldn’t cast two Gatekeepers in the same turn, meaning I had to chump-block a Crypt Ripper that would have just been dead. I also lost the game to a Hideous End when I was at 2 life, so that was awkward. It’s hard to look that far ahead on turn four, so I’m not sure what the correct play was, but I might have won that game had I grabbed the Refuge.
There was also a turn where I used Gatekeeper to kill a creature instead of using Blazing Torch, and I’m pretty sure I made that play largely on auto-pilot. Gatekeeper was more mana efficient and let me keep attacking, but now I was just down to Blazing Torch for removal. Leaving the Gatekeeper in my hand for whatever he played next would have been much better. I immediately realized what I did, and though it didn’t end up mattering, I was upset because it was a momentary loss of concentration.
I intentionally drew round seven then conceded to friend Chris Kelly in round eight to secure him a spot in the Top 8. It was a clean cut to Top 8, and it was pretty loaded. I was familiar with six of the other people, and I wasn’t sure who I wanted to play against. I was entering the Top 8 off of a 15-match winning streak for the last three days, going 5-0 on Thursday, 4-0 on Friday in two Extended events. Even though they were Friday Night Magic level events, I was still feeling good.
Zendikar is also the Limited format I know the best and have had the most success with, and while that’s not saying much, I felt much better about my chances here than the other times I’ve made Top Eight of a Limited event. Unfortunately I hadn’t drafted for about two weeks. With school finals coming up and the super-fun Extended season looming ahead just begging to be tested, I stopped drafting. I still knew my basic strategy, but might have been a bit rusty. Two drops, two drops, two drops!
I opened Conqueror’s Pledge, Kazandu Blademaster, and Living Tsunami in pack one. I really liked the idea of drafting white because it’s the color I’ve had the most success and experience with, and the Pledge is just insane. Blademaster is also really good and I hated passing it, but whatever. I don’t like to read too much into signals and stop myself from making the best pick. Living Tsunami is a great card, but I have a hard time succeeding with those decks for whatever reason. At the end of pack one I had Conqueror’s Pledge, Kor Skyfisher, Welkin Tern, Whiplash Trap, Sejiri Refuge, Surrakar Marauders, and some random white cards like Kor Outfitters and Bold Defense. Pack two would hopefully solidify my second color, but I was pretty sure white was going to be the main focus.
Armament Master was my first pick in the second pack. I didn’t have any equipment, but I knew I would have enough kor creatures by the end and I could prioritize equipment from here on out. Dreams of six 3/3 kor tokens were swimming through my head. The rest of the pack was pretty straightforward. I picked up a second Kor Skyfisher, and right as I was wishing that I had some one-drops, two Steppe Lynxes came. I grabbed an Explorer’s Scope, my first equipment, and some more two-drops like Cliff Threader. The deck was coming together, though there was a significant lack of cards like Journey to Nowhere. Luckily early in pack two, when forced with a weak pack for my colors, I took a useful Magma Rift over three decent red creatures. I got a 14th pick Spell Pierce, which I was happy about. You never know when you’ll need one!
Pack three was more of the same. I took a Kor Hookmaster over Shepherd of the Lost because my deck really needed some hooks, and I had two Skyfishers at that point. The most important card I picked up was Adventuring Gear, but I had to take it way higher than I normally would have. Later in the pack I took a second Bold Defense over an Explorer’s Scope because I didn’t want to play two of the do-nothing equipment, and I love Bold Defense. This deck would have happily played three, if not four.
This is the Top 8 deck I registered:
That’s right, eight two-drops! Over half of my creatures cost two mana, and that’s the way I like it. My spells were very lacking – they were just worse versions of other cards I wanted like Journey to Nowhere and Windborne Charge. Still, with the two-drop archetype, you don’t really need the right spells, you just need something. I probably should have played the Goblin Shortcutter in my maindeck with two more mountains, but I was scared of ever missing WW on turn two. Otherwise I didn’t have a lot of options, so this is where I ended up.
Quarterfinals – Kasey Koerber RB
I began with two Steppe Lynxes along with two other random bears by turn five. Unfortunately Kasey tapped five mana and cast Marsh Casualties, and my entire army died. I floundered around in front of a Crypt Ripper for a bit, but was never in this game after turn five.
This was the second game of the day where I mulliganed, but luckily Kasey mulliganed to five. Early on I committed to losing to an unkicked Marsh Casualties after weighing the risks. Either he didn’t have it, or he might even forget about not having to cast it with kicker, but my creatures stuck. My Kor Duelist and two Steppe Lynx, followed by more creatures, made the game short.
This game I had more 2/2s than I did X/1s, so I didn’t have to worry as much about an unkicked Marsh Casualties. Unfortunately Giant Scorpion put a stop to my ground-based assault, so Kor Aeronaut and Cliff Threader were forced to do all the work. He missed his fifth land drop and played Crypt Ripper. I attacked him down to 8, then passed the turn. He missed his fifth land drop again, and I took a pumped-up Crypt Ripper to the face. I attacked him to 4, then played Kor Skyfisher returning Kor Aeronaut. I still had lethal on the table, except I would win in the face of Marsh Casualties because I could Kor Aeronaut my Kor Sanctifiers for lethal along with Kor Skyfisher. Kasey drew, played his fifth land, and attacked. I did some blocking, and then Kasey conceded. Whether or not he had the Marsh Casualties I never found out. I was just glad to be past that card.
Semifinals – Thomas Kiene BW
I had a typical start with three bears to his one Ondu Cleric. On my fourth turn I attacked into a fresh Emeria Angel, and he blocked my Kor Aeronauts. I traded a Bold Defense and my creature for his, and he took 6 damage. He untapped and cast Halo Hunter, which made me wonder if trading with the Emeria Angel was such a good idea. Halo Hunter took a chunk out of my life total, and his two creatures blocked on his turn. I used Shieldmate’s Blessing to save my 2/2 from his, but he had Brave the Elements to save both of his creatures. This was the pivotal turn that put him ahead in the race. I had Conqueror’s Pledge in my hand the whole game, but I drew my fifth land one turn too late and didn’t topdeck my last Bold Defense for the possible win.
I had a great start this game and grabbed some early tempo with a Shieldmate’s Blessing. Malakir Bloodwitch ruined my party, but it can still only block one creature at a time so I wasn’t too worried. Along with Guul Draz Vampire it gave him enough life to survive my next attack, if you call 1 life surviving. I thought I had him the next turn when I attacked my four creatures into his two blockers and WBB open, but he used Narrow Escape on a land to go to exactly 1 again while I used Narrow Escape to bring my blocked Kor Hookmaster back. I still had a lot of creatures in my hand so I thought the math still worked out for me – only one had to get through. While thinking about my options I just drew Conqueror’s Pledge, which killed him on my next attack.
My deck did exactly what it was supposed to do, but I ran into a turn three Vampire Nighthawk. Luckily I had Kor Hookmaster and could keep attacking, but the Vampire eventually came online. Thomas attacked with it instead of committing to risk the block, which meant I could attack again. Conqueror’s Pledge once again found itself in my hand, so I cast it. He again attacked with Vampire Nighthawk and was tapped out with two blockers. I was doing math again, wondering when to pop the Goblin Shortcutter in my hand, when I drew Bold Defense. A quick math check followed by a lethal attack closed the match.
Finals – Travis Woo UG
I won the roll and thought I was in pretty good shape. Armament Master traded with River Boa on turn two, and then I played Kor Duelist into Kor Skyfisher. Unfortunately Oran-Rief Recluse put a stop to that. This trend continued as Travis matched every threat I played with a bigger blocker. A Kor Outfitter was met with Mold Shambler. Another flyer was met with Sky Ruin Drake. Eventually Gigantiform on a Roil Elemental killed me before I could draw a Bold Defense to punch through with my seven creatures. I could have been more aggressive here, bluffing the Bold Defense, but that would put me in a much worse position if I actually did draw one.
His start was a little slower, so I got some early hits in. He had a Greenweaver Druid on turn three, but missed his fourth land drop, which I later found out made it so he couldn’t kick Mold Shambler. This meant that Conqueror’s Pledge could come down, but Travis had the perfect sideboard card when I attacked: Cobra Trap! Luckily I had the Bold Defense, which set me up to win the game in two more attacks. On to game three for all the marbles.
Unfortunately for Travis he got stuck on three forests with an Oran-Rief Recluse and a Grazing Gladehart, while I had the god draw of Kor Duelist, Armament Master, and Adventuring Gear. I missed my fourth land drop, but had the Shieldmate’s Blessing to save my double-blocked 3/3 Kor Duelist and kill his Grazing Gladehart. Travis missed some lands and I kept playing kor creatures that eventually ran him over. Anticlimactic, but that was the end of the tournament.
I’m going to San Diego and I’m back on the Pro Tour baby! I’m stranded in Montana for Christmas break, but that means I just have more time on my hands to test Extended. San Juan, you’re next.
Thanks for reading,
Loucksj at gmail
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