Hi there, what we have here is somewhat of a collaboration between myself (Rob) and the Heathmeister (Ben). We’re going to write this as a bit of a dialogue as it goes along, so bare with us if this seems slightly unconventional, hopefully you’ll find it enjoyable in any case. My journey began slightly earlier as I came down to Worcester on Thursday as Joe Fletcher and Stokes had very kindly agreed to put me up for a few days in order that I could get to the Reading PTQ, which is the focus of our story. I arrived on Thursday afternoon at the Manaleak shop itself (whoop, whoop) to find Joe and Ben working in the back room.
Ben: After some small talk ( ‘how’s ya father?’ etc.) it went straight to playtesting after the shift had ended. I sat out to begin with as Rob and Tu battled it out with CawBlade versus U/B Control. Afterwards I brought out the G/W Birthing Pod deck against Tom Rickarby (also CawBlade) and found it to be sh…not very good. Wagz had told me to stop playing terrible decks and Tom had suggested I try out B/R Vampires. However my inexperience with the deck showed greatly and by the end of the day I felt I was very much stuck in a hole, and only digging deeper.
Rob: I was happy with CawBlade although the UB matchup wasn’t as one-sided as I’d hoped. I hope that all matchups are one-sided for me though, so this minor annoyance is something I have to face quite a lot. I wasn’t sure about B/R Vampires myself as I found that a lot of decks were able to play Timely Reinforcements in the sideboard and it was such a kick in the nuts it was untrue. After demonstrating this with Ben in the evening back at the boys’ house we discussed Heathy’s options for some sick aggro action, which is what he always wants to play deep down. Matteo’s recent vids on Tempered Steel gave us some ideas but we decided to try out the Pod deck in the Manaleak FNM just to be sure.
Ben: By ‘we decided to try out the Pod deck’, we mean ‘I was so stubborn that it could work that I decided to play it to prove everyone wrong ‘cos I’m awesome like that’. So naturally I went 1-3, which included defeats to Elves and MonoBlack Control. It was time for a change. I liked Tempered Steel, but I didn’t like the Blue, and suddenly it wasn’t a hole I was in, it was the Grand Canyon. Then Stokes pointed out to me that a Tempered Steel deck had just won Japanese Nationals, so I gave it a quick glance before deciding to go with that. So basically, I was building a deck at the last minute which I wouldn’t have had the chance to playtest with, although I knew the archetype very well. This had 0-2 drop written all over it.
Rob: I’d gone 3-1 in the FNM, losing to not drawing enough lands against Goblins and then getting Ruinblastered for the big rub-ins (booooo). Me, Joe and Stokes talked sideboards and stuff while Heathy built his deck on the rest of the table before getting a few minutes sleep. Adam Murkin picked us up in the morning and we were on our way!
Only, we weren’t exactly, because Adam fell into the natural route away from Joe’s house and we started going the wrong way up the Motorway. Luckily you could get to Reading both ways (it goes both ways, yays) but the route we took involved a lot more country roads than desired. We parked up, jogged to the venue and got there with a bounteous 3 minutes to go before registration closed. A big thank you to the event organisers for waiting up for us!
Ben: My route to Reading was much simpler due to the joys of SatNav in Mark Biddle’s car. We had talked about many things Magic related, including the art of not tilting. It was this moment when Mark Biddle uttered the immortal words, ‘Calm down, it’s just a game. There are worse things happening in the world.‘ It was at this moment when I promised myself that I would not tilt at all today, not matter how bad it got. I got there with plenty of time to spare, and was relieved when Murkin and the crew made it in time, as I did not want their 2 hour journey to be all in vain.
The first round drew me up against a U/B Architect deck. The games were fairly quick, despite having to play around Contagion Engine in both games which I had seen from his Treasure Mage tutors, but I couldn’t get out of range as I had not drawn Tempered Steel in either game. Nonetheless, the beats were too quick and I won 2-0. Good start.
Rob: I began similarly and had luckily drawn a Tempered Steel opponent round 1 – what a poor deck choice! This isn’t a great matchup for CawBlade but you can mitigate it by being aware that’s what your opponent is running and keeping the appropriate hand. My opponent is a friend I know likes his beatdowns so I kept a hand with a Hawk, a Sword and a Hero hoping that he hadn’t kept a blisteringly fast one. When he passed on the draw with a Plains and a Mox Opal I felt a bit better off and it was a Sworded affair from that point. Game 2 I got a Ratchet Bomb and a Timely Reinforcements so was able to survive for the big guns to take over. By the way, for a decklist you’ll have to read the article that Joe will have to get round to writing now that I’ve said this :)
My round 2 brought a Plains, a Forest and then a Overgrown Battlement from my opponent which brought me much confusion so I snap Mana Leaked. I was soon facing down a wall-protected Gideon Jura and my 3 lands weren’t giving me enough leeway to get a board presence down. Just as I was about to swing in to get it with the help of an Inkmoth Nexus he laid a Tectonic Edge and I was in shitsville once more. I got to wrath away two Stirring Wildwoods the next turn but I couldn’t stop the Gideon from killing me. Game 2 went a bit more regularly as our back and forth led to my victory but game 3 my curve began with a turn 6 Gideon and a timely-drawn Beast Within stopped me from stabilising with a double-sworded Mirran Crusader *sigh*.
Ben: Round 2 was against fellow mtgUK feature writer and eventual PTQ Reading winner Cyrus Bales playing InfectBlade (U/B Infect guys with Swords). Not much to write about here to be honest. He mulliganned to five both games and I punished him with quick beats so he couldn’t get into the game. Even Ratchet Bomb couldn’t save him.
Round 3 was against CawBlade, a matchup I view as one of my weakest post-sideboard. Game 1 was typical Tempered Steel, blowing away my opponent with a mixture of beats, delaying the play of Tempered Steel to get round Oblivion Ring and Dispatching Hero of Bladehold. Game 2 the sideboards came in and the advantage swung the other way. After getting blown out Game 2 with a blistering start from him, it was all on Game 3. After he got stuck on 3 lands, I swung through his Squadron Hawks to put him under real pressure and had a Shrine of Loyal Legions on 3. After getting to his fourth land and playing Blade Splicer, I cracked the Shrine to have three 3/3 Myrs on the table thanks to an earlier Tempered Steel. Any nonland card would have swung the match heavily in my favour. Unfortunately I drew Plains four turns in a row, by which time Gideon Jura, the bane of my life, had hit the table. I couldn’t deal with him, and that was that.
Round 4 was against U/B Tezzeret. After another aggressive start from me, I was 1-0 up inside 5 minutes. Game 2 saw him play multiple Tumble Magnets and multiple Ratchet Bombs, which did enough to finally clear a path for him swing in with some 5/5 artifact creatures thanks to Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas. Game 3 saw him remove my early threats with spot removal such as Disfgure, before I finally stuck Steel Overseer onto the battlefield. I pumped up my multiple copies of Inkmoth Nexus and Ornithopter before swinging through with enough damage to kill through life AND poison. Double Whammy!
Rob: Determined to get back on track after round 2 I was paired with one of the Milton Keynes massive so we chatted about mutual friends there (hi guys!) before getting down to the serious stuff. It was his second PTQ and I think his relative inexperience unfortunately came through as he kept a one-lander game 2, needing to draw another to cast his Overgrown Battlemints but by which time it was too late anyway. Happily for me I drew a Sword of Feast and Famine both games against his mono-green Eldrazi deck and I was back on track.
I was then matched with good friend Jim Corwood who said I was the second of his two nemeses he’d been paired against today, and it was a CawBlade mirror with a few differences here and there. I won the die roll which means I want to be the aggressor but both games my opening hands were land heavy without creatures and I mulliganned into lands and a bit of removal but no way of really getting into the game if he had the good stuff, which he did both times. I dropped at this point and went off to find people to chat to as that’s the second best thing about PTQs.
Ben: Round 5 was against Pyromancer Ascension.dec, a deck I was very familiar with, having played with it myself back when Time Warp was in the format. Game 1 he made two Pyromacer Ascensions by turn 3, and had them active a turn later. Despite this, he couldn’t find the burn to deal with my threats on the table and I swung through just in time to take it. Game 2 I kept Dispatch in, just in case he had the ExarchTwin combo in his deck. He didn’t, and I had two dead cards in my hand as he won through pure burn and another quickly activated Ascension. For Game 3, I was confident he didn’t have the combo in, so I brought in some extra aggro I had earlier sideboarded out. He made another turn 2 Ascension, but I had the Celestial Purge to deal with it. It simply became a matter of time as I slow-rolled around his burn before laying down a Tempered Steel and got my creatures out of Pyroclasm range. So our hero was 4-1 and suddenly things were looking up.
Round 6 I was paired up against an unbeaten Valakut player, who had earlier beaten Matteo Orsini-Jones. I got revenge for Team mtgUK as I beat him down game 1, before playing through an expected Slagstorm and Dispatching an Inferno Titan to take the match 2-0 in 10 ruthless minutes.
Round 7 saw me ID with Adam Barnett. 3 years of painful near-misses and multiple drop-outs had finally come to an end. I had just Top 8’ed my first PTQ, and ‘did 4 victory laps around the room, high-fiving everyone’ (Matteo Orsini-Jones). This wasn’t an exaggeration (1).
Rob: I’d settled down for a quick bit of Commander with the travelling Devon players before starting to feel pretty tired and a bit sick. The lack of sleep and also food (been trying to decrease in mass recently) were taking their toll slightly and I tried a power nap before taking an hour to eat a ham sandwich, a banana, and about 8 crisps before feebly dropping the packet on the floor. Just as Heathy was high-fiving my potential corpse for the third time, I picked myself up and managed to drag myself over to the local store where the top 8 would be played as I slept in a corner.
Ben: I got to the store, sat down and didn’t talk to anyone. I was fully aware of the situation and wanted to concentrate fully. My quarter-final opponent was the same Valakut player I had earlier beaten in the Swiss, and he was pretty public about how he was fearing this match-up, so I had the mental edge…
…which was taken away from me when I was forced to mulligan to five in Game 1, on the draw, with a hand with two Ornithopters, a Memnite, a Mox Opaland some unplayable card. So 1-0 down, on the play in Game 2. This followed the pattern set earlier in the Swiss round, I pumped Inkmoth Nexus with Steel Overseer[/card] and swung through. Even Creeping Corrosion couldn’t save him, but that was my game plan after viewing my opening hand, so I was happy. Game 3 and my hand was 50/50, and entirely depended on my draws, so I decided to mulligan it. The 6 that followed were slow, but steady and my draws would have been kinder to me, so I kept it. As it turned out, I could have picked what 7 cards to put in my hand, as double Primeval Titan was on the board by turn 5. A sarcastic ‘good luck‘ from someone in the room was met by giggles, even by me, and after a dead draw, he Creeping Corrosion me for the overkill. I smiled, shook his hand, and wished him good luck.
Rob: We stuck around to watch Joe battle in his Semi-final (would have been rude to leave him in Reading) and after getting some Top-8 Beers (they don’t do pins any more, so you have to make your own prizes) we travelled back to Worcester, tired but (myself excepting) mildly triumphant.
Ben: So that was that, one more chance to qualify (in Cardiff) before the Standard part of the PTQ season is wrapped up. I’ll be playing the same deck, with some minor changes next week, so I’m reluctant to put a decklist up, or talk about what I would change (don’t want to give anything away, sorry!)
So, to Cardiff we go. If you’re travelling there, I’ll see you then (Rob: but I won’t)!
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