A few weeks ago, I sleeved up Gerry Thompson’s Astral Slide deck for an Extended PTQ. Here is my story.
It seems like I always play someone I know in round one. Understanding that I tend to know a lot of people locally, this is still one of those groan-worthy matchups. The only thing that cheers me up is that we talked earlier and he told me he was running the Zoo. However, I did hear that one rascally Matt Nass (who lost in the finals of the Sacramento and LA PTQs the past two weekends) was pimping sideboard Stabilizers to anyone who would listen. I ask Josh if Matt convinced him to run Stabilizers. “He did, but I couldn’t get any.”
Game one is a sprawling affair. My life total goes down and up and down and up with lots of Kitchen Finks persisting. At one point, he surprises me with a Gaddock Teeg. I suppose if I were paying attention to things like metagames and Top 8 decklists, I would know that this guy is getting some action lately. As is, I am saddened at the Wrath of God in my hand being useless until I manage to Path the GT while chumpblocking Doctor Thoctar for profit and life.
After stabilizing from the early Silvestri fury with my Wrath, I am at a very precarious 5 life. I finally note that based on his land distribution, he is probably not playing Tribal Flames. I know that most of you would come to realization much sooner, but at this point “Naya Zoo” still sounds like a Swedish punk band to me. But when Josh plays Ranger of Eos and fetches two Mogg Fanatics, my head perks up. I may be a donk, but I know when I am being set up to get burned out. So I play a Kitchen Finks to get my life total above dead and politely block his Ranger next turn. There are a few more turns of back and forth, but Josh finally packs it in when I play Loxodon Hierarch and go back up to 12.
Game two I punt away. The problem is that I’m not self-aware or cognizant enough of the game state to know how exactly I could have pulled this one out. Perhaps by this time, Josh has retold the tale from his perspective and can tell you exactly how I fumbled this game away. What I do know is that his Pyrostatic Pillar is a surprise to me. I’ve boarded in a few disenchant effects for Sulfuric Vortex, and at one point I get to Molder his Vortex away at a zero net life change.
One of the problems I have in this game in particular is that I am coming into the event completely cold. I don’t have time to playtest beforehand, so I am literally learning these decks from turn to turn. My learning curve for Slide is a little milder because I have some experience with the deck from Onslaught block. Still, it is things like Pyrostatic Pillar that throw me for a complete loop and make me act dumb.
The third game is much like the first. At one point, I am down to 4 life, revive my way to 10, then things slowly slip out of my grasp. Gaddock Teeg again ruins my plans of Wrath of God and this time the turn it takes me get rid of him costs me the game.
David is a quietly pleasant kid, or maybe he is pleasantly quiet. His deck, however, is murder: Faeries. It isn’t so much that Faeries is the worst matchup (TEPS is), but more that it is a matchup described as one that hinges on playskill, and clearly I am still trying to find mine for the day. In the first game, I get David down to 5 with a board of Kitchen Finks and Eternal Witness when he Engineers my doom for 3. I don’t manage to stick any enchantments and I don’t see Worm Harvest. Gerry says I need to do these things to win, not attack with lame 2/1s.
Game two he has double Bitterblossom and it is possible that I miss a chance at victory when I use Lightning Rift to kill some dudes early rather than dome him. It’s easy to point to the fact that he kills me when he is at 3 life, but not Rifting the dudes would have changed all of the other decisions. The blowout comes when he plays Future Sight and reveals a Cryptic Command. I play a spell into it because I have to, and after drawing a card, he reveals a second Cryptic. Ouchies.
I do get to have a little fun, or what passes for fun for me, when I call a Judge. David tries to suspend Ancestral Visions off the top of his library with Future Sight. I give him the “no, sirs” and call Louis Fernandes over to clarify. Future Sight allows you to play cards as if they were in your hand, and that’s all you can do with them. You can’t cycle them, you can’t discard them to Psychatog. You can’t suspend them.
The tide of my day changes when Robert mulligans to four cards. It turns out that he is playing Elves, but there’s no way that he can keep up with my assault as Elves is a combo deck that really needs a critical mass of cards to get going initially.
As it turns out, the tide of my day hasn’t changed completely. Issac is playing GB Loam splashing white, and we slug it out in ridiculous Loam on Loam action. Game one, I make a rare misstep by cycling a land early, then getting stuck on two lands forever. You may question whether I have the right to claim any sort of expertise with this deck, but I actually played quite a bit of Astral Slide back in Onslaught Block, so I have a good feel for when to cycle that land and when to play it tapped. In this case, I just get a little too greedy, thinking I would draw into green mana for Loam. By the time I get any kind of action going, Issac’s huge Knight of the Reliquary is beating the snot out of me.
In game two, I get Lightning Rift going and Issac Shocks himself several times to dig for an answer. He finds an answer for the first one, but when I find a second Rift, I can just finish him off with my own cyclers. During game two, I call a Judge over to watch for Slow Play because two players dredging, Loaming, and cycling every turn can take a lot of operational time. Neither of us gets a Warning, and we move into game three with about twelve minutes left.
Issac unleashes his sideboard technology on me in the third game. First he Extirpates my elephants, then he takes Life from the Loam. However, the slow nature of the matchup leaves us facing a draw. I ask for the concession, not really expecting it, then scoop to him since it is pretty obvious that he will win the long game with me being Homeless–I mean Loamless. A bit more selfishly, I scoop because I want to stay out of the draw bracket. I would certainly much rather play against animal decks over matchups like this.
With my back against the wall, I get a fairly easy creature matchup just as planned. He plays a couple of early mana creatures that I happily point Spark Spray at. I mean, I don’t even give it a second thought. 0/1 mana critter, meet 1 damage for R. On second thought, I think this might be a mistake. I have sweepers and free damage from Lightning Rift. This isn’t Elves where I need to keep him off a critical combo of duders.
Robert sticks a Troll Ascetic and I get Opposition flashbacks from 2005 when me and the Mr. Ascetic ran amok. Luckily I have one of my two maindeck Wrath of Gods. I think Robert should have waited for five mana to protect his Troll with Mana Leak. The game goes on a bit longer, but Robert draws into a lot of lands. So do I, but I can cycle them, and that makes the difference here.
Game two is similar in that I get to Wrath an early Troll Ascetic. From there, things diverge as I stick an Ajani Vengeant. I keep things tapped down while I do some cycling and eventually get his ultimate to fire. Robert misplays when he drops a Pithing Needle naming Lightning Rift. After the match, I tell him about his mistake. Lightning Rift has a triggered ability, not activated, so it cannot be stopped by Needle. The best you can do is to stop one of the cycling cards, but with so many, it isn’t worth trying to guess which one to stop.
Unfortunately, Wilbur doesn’t mulligan to four cards. How am I supposed to win now? When he plops down his Nettle Sentinel on turn one, I look at my hand and immediately start formulating a plan. I have a Slice and Dice and a Wrath of God. Those are my keys to victory. I need to disrupt his combo with the Slice and Wrath the leftover Nettle(s).
I play my cycle lands tapped early so that I make my third land drop. There’s no need to be greedy. I have a plan. It is a good plan. On his third turn, he plays Glimpse of Nature and starts to go off. I scratch my head. I don’t know when the best time is to disrupt him. I don’t have a plan.
Somehow I manage to intuit the right time to Slice him. He Chord of Callings in response, but I either manage to do it at the correct time when he doesn’t have the capability to Chord for Orzhov Pontiff, or I get lucky and he just doesn’t have it in his deck. He gets a Wirewood Symbiote and picks up an Elvish Visionary for card draw.
I decide to let the Nettle keep hitting me, and wait for him to commit one or two more guys to the board before Wrathing. From there on it is just a matter of survival. I do so and breath a sigh of relief, having escaped from a difficult game.
I bring in Lightning Helixes, which are clearly awesome here. In addition to the Spark Sprays, they give another way to actually stop the turn three combo. I also bring in the extra Wraths. They seem slow, but with all of the burn, I can disrupt his combo, and it is important to polish off the rest of the team and not die to random 1/1 beaters.
I keep him off of comboing off with my burn spells, but he keeps beating me down with random dudes. Wirewood Hivemaster is particularly annoying in this regard as it gives him free creatures and it can basically force a Wrath or Slice and Dice out of me. Wilbur gets a Pendelhaven out, which becomes a bit of a problem when I misplay and allow him to untap with it instead of just Rifting a guy when I can. I draw enough Lightning Helixes to keep me out of death range and mop up with a Wrath of God.
Longtime readers may recognize Joshua Bacon as the unfortunate subject of my “Top 9″ gaffe at my first PTQ Head Judgeship. We’ve become good tournament friends since then, but Josh still jokes that he’s out for vengeance in this match.
I’m not sure if this matchup is supposed to be this much of a blow out, but it is. Path to Exile on a large Master of Etherium is particularly brutal because he doesn’t have any basic lands to get. When he tries to get in with a Cranial Plated Blinkmoth Nexus, I zap it with Spark Spray. That’s the way things go and I eventually end things with Loxodon Hierarch and Lightning Rift.
Game two is even more of a blowout due to my numerous sideboard hate cards. He Thoughtseizes my Molder, which is a good thing for him because I was going to blow up his artifact land, as it turns out, his only land. He doesn’t have any action after that and I roll through his assortment of creatures with my removal spells.
This is basically an alternate take on the Slide deck, but instead of the enchantments, he uses creatures like Knight of the Reliquary and Countryside Crusher. Unfortunately for him, my enchantments, specifically Astral Slide, trump his creatures. I play defense with the Slide until he over-commits into my Wrath of God. The game drags on forever because I can’t find a Lightning Rift. When I do finally finish things off, it looks like I’m headed towards a 1-0 victory unless he finishes me off very quickly in game two. I board into more Wraths and Paths to avoid this outcome. Game two plays out about the same, except that I seem to have “the Aura” as described by Gavin Verhey, because I rip a Wrath three times when facing down some scary monsters. One of Albert’s friends is sitting next to me, and I swear he grunts in frustration/amusement when I do it the third time. We go to turns in the game and Albert cannot finish me off.
I end the day at 5-3. 27th place. 7 spots out of pack prizes. (Although I do go up and try to collect a prize, claiming I am Leo Garver in 20th place. [Leo is L2 Eric Levine’s roommate.])
Pros and wannabe Pros will tell you that anything short of the invite is a loss. Epic fail. Try again next PTQ. I disagree. I didn’t get the invite. I didn’t make Top 8. I didn’t even pick up a back prize. But I felt great. Why? Why do I even bother to play in these things if my goal isn’t to win it all?
Mostly for the fun of it. I love playing this game, and there is definitely something about playing in a sanctioned environment. Even without the expectation of winning it all, I still like battling with other people who do have such hopes and expectations. Going 5-3 at a PTQ shows that I don’t quite have the goods to compete with the cream of the crop, but it puts me squarely above average and that’s something I can hang my hat on. I don’t need to be the best player in the world or any given tournament. I do aim to be the best Judge who can still be an above average player though.
Plus, it’s good to keep the skills sharp as a player in order to keep my skills as a Judge equally sharp. That’s probably my primary motivation, to see things from the other side. But I’ll never go into a PTQ expecting to win, or even wanting to for that matter. Judging is just more fun for me, but once a season it’s fun to sleeve up a deck and duel.
Until next time this is Riki Hayashi telling you to call a Judge. (Just like I did!)
Rikipedia at Gmail dot ptq
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