An Irishman abroad – Winning the London PTQ for Honolulu by Mark Mc Govern

An Irishman abroad – Winning the London PTQ for Honolulu by Mark Mc Govern


Good evening United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland!…


Hmmm… awkward. I guess I’ll plough on regardless.

My name is Mark Mc Govern and I’m a PTQ regular in my native Ireland, although given that we only get one PTQ per season I’ve taken to travelling to any of the UK ones assuming cheap flights are on offer. Fortunately, being the nation which produced Ryanair we have an abundance of sub €100 return flights available. As a player I’ve a couple of GP Day 2s under my belt, one of which I even ‘moneyed’ (amateur money, back when they used to do that) as well as a Worlds appearance in 2006 (Dark Confidant flipping multiple Ghost Council of Orzhova’s put a spanner in my efforts at Nationals, leaving me “only” in 3rd place), and a Day 2 adventure at PT San Juan about 18 months ago or so where I followed up my 6-1-1 Day One performance with a solid 1-6-1 performance on Day Two.

I’m also a level 2 judge (who said judges can’t play magic? Oh wait, I may have a few times…). One of the reasons I came over for the London PTQ (and was intending to go to one or two more UK ones) is that I’m head judging the Dublin PTQ. The other reason is that I have lots of friends living in London, most of whom I met through playing World of Warcraft for many years. My initial plan was to come over on Friday, hang out and stay at a mates on Friday; not get up at 6am to watch Ireland beat Wales in the rugby (good call); and Innistrad it up for a couple of hours. Unless everything went my way, I’d be done by 7 or 8 and could head off for a fun night out in London consisting of food and drink (in my case, 7UP (short version: epilepsy + alcohol = bad thing)).

So I arrived in London nice and early Friday afternoon, and wandered from Gatwick airport to the city centre to grab lunch at the Japanese Canteen (I’ve grown partial to chicken katsu curry after my time living in London) and then wandered further out to Sutton to meet my mate, where we went to a pub, got bored watching England play footy, and went back to his apartment for pizza. Mmm…pizza…

As is usual on a Saturday morning, the tube was a mess so when I got off the train at Victoria station I found a policeman and asked him to point me in the direction of Waterloo. I’d checked out the venue during my wanderings so figured once I was close enough I’d be fine. And I was. Although my feet were bloody killing me at this stage. I did accidentally sightsee on the way. There was a building with lots of people taking photos so I took one as well to fit in:

Oooh look – it’s Westminster Abbey!

I said hi to my brothers in black who were judging the event (got team!), and met up with a couple of the English players I know and have met a bunch of times (notably Rob Wagner, Andy Edwards, and Ryan Brierly). Dark Sphere Games (the TO), were giving out the six boosters when you registered, so I busied myself bullying the others into trading their Liliana of the Veil boosters for my crappy non-Liliana ones.

Warning – may contain epicness

Well pleased, I sat down and waited for the call for seatings.

Unfortunately the first thing the judges had us do when we sat down was pass the packs to the left twice. Goodbye sextuplet Liliana (hurr durr… sex-something Liliana). The pool I opened and registered was decent, although I don’t remember much about it. I don’t pay attention when I’ll be passing it anyway.

A deck swap was performed and I was presented with this:

White Blue Black Red
Bonds of Faith Armored Skaab Abattoir Ghoul Ancient Grudge
Chapel Geist x2 Claustrophobia Brain Weevil Burning Vengeance
Cloistered Youth Curiosity Corpse Lunge x2 Crossway Vampire
Elite Inquisitor Delver of Secrets Curse of Oblivion x2 Curse of the Nightly Hunt
Gallows Warden Deranged Assistant Disciple of Griselbrand Curse of the Pieced Heart
Selfless Cathar x2 Forbidden Alchemy Falkenrath Noble Harvest Pyre x2
Silverchase Fox Hysterical Blindness Ghoulcaller’s Chant Kessig Wolf
Spectral Rider Invisible Stalker x2 Ghoulraiser x2 Night Revelers
Urgent Exorcism x2 Ludevic’s Test Subject Manor Skeleton x2 Pitchburn Devils
Village Bell-Ringer Moon Heron x3 Markov Patrician Reckless Waif
Voiceless Spirit Rooftop Storm Unburial Rites Scourge of Geier Reach

Sensory Deprivation Vampire interloper Vampiric Fury

Think Twice
Village Ironsmith
Green Artifact Land Gold
Ambush Viper Blazing Torch Shimmering Grotto Geist of Saint Traft
Avacyn’s Pilgrim Cellar Door x2 Stensia Bloodhall
Boneyard Wurm Cobbled Wings Sulfur Falls
Caravan Vigil Creepy Doll

Darkthicket Wolf One-Eyed Scarecrow x2

Festerhide Boar Silver-Inlaid Dagger

Grave Bramble

Hollowhenge Scavenger


Spidery Grasp

Villagers of Estwald

Wreath of Geists


Everyone approaches sealed deck building in slightly different ways. If it works for you, then by all means crack on. But if you sometimes struggle to get your head around the information contained in 84 pieces of cardboard then perhaps you’ll find a bit of useful information in my approach.

  1. Bombs

Like most people, I quickly scan the rares/mythics. They’ll give you a starting point as it’s often worth playing a slightly weaker colour if the bombs are there.


  1. Cut the chaff

Next I’ll go through the cards and cut out all the really bad cards. The 1’s and 0’s in LSV’s set reviews kind of cards. They distract you from analysing your colours because you see a pile of 20 cards in a single colour before realising that 10 of them are pants.


  1. Go through each colour individually

You’re looking at three things here: bombs, removal, curve. Occasionally you’ll be looking for a fourth thing (synergy) but there isn’t a huge amount of that in Innistrad as Wizards have deliberately reigned in tribal. Looking for bombs and removal is relatively easy. For curve I recommend cost sorting the cards like MTGO does. If you have tons of 2s, 3s, and 4s with one or two 5+s then you could be onto a winner, regardless of bombs and removal.


  1. Mix and match

Now you’ve had a look at all your cards it’s likely that you have at least a primary colour in mind, thanks to bombs/removal/curve. Find the complementary colour. If your primary colour has expensive bombs, try for a colour which can stall the board until they arrive to power through for victory. If you’re on the removal plan, find a colour with guys. Lots and lots of guys. All the removal in the world is no good if you can’t close out a game. If your deck is curvy, then find the matching colour to supplement the curve.


  1. Splash!

Innistrad is a relatively slow format, particularly when compared to M12 and Zendikar Block. It’s also less bomb heavy and not full of haymakers than Scars block. It’s well worth your while splashing the one extra removal spell off two or three sources of the colour, or squeezing in that Grimgrin, Corpse Burn. Check that pile of cards for Traveller’s Amulet, Shimmering Grotto or one of the rare lands. You’d be surprised how easy some splashes can be.


  1. Check the chaff pile

Once you’ve pretty much settled on your 20-odd cards, have another look through the pile of stuff you’re not playing. Sometimes there’s a gem in there that all your mates will berate you for not starting. It could be a crappy zombie to go with the pair of Ghoulraisers, or a piece of equipment that’s suddenly looking at lot better when you see your final Human count. Sometimes there’s even a rare dual land hiding at the bottom of the pile which slots in at no cost.

As far as my deck goes, I ended up with something like this:

White Blue Red Artifact
Bonds of Faith Claustrophobia Harvest Pyre Blazing Torch
Chapel Geist x2 Forbidden Alchemy
Silver-Inlaid Dagger
Cloistered Youth Invisible Stalker x2

Elite Inquisitor Moon Heron x3

Gallows Warden

Selfless Cathar x2

Silverchase Fox

Spectral Rider

Village Bell-Ringer

Voiceless Spirit


Gold Land
Geist of Saint Traft Shimmering Grotto
Sulfur Falls
Island x6
Plains x8

My pool failed the test at bullet point 1, yielding a total of zero bombs (Geist of Saint Traft is a constructed bomb, in limited he gets in for 4 damage once before dying). I cut the chaff and was left with a significant number of white cards. Its curve looked good so I had a look at what might fit with it. Green was dismissed fairly quickly as just a couple of mediocre dorks, and red followed suit as the quantity of playables was low. I laid the black out before the blue, mainly because it had two removal spells (Corpse Lunge, which is merely ok), and some dudes for curve. The problem with the black was that Corpse Lunge is fairly weak, particularly in my deck where most of my dudes were 2/X. I think Corpse Lunge only fits in a deck where you have large guys like blue or green. If there’s potential for a 3-point Lunge it could be worth it. But if it’s only 1 or 2 then I recommend considering the bench. If you get paired against the human deck or removal deck then bring it back in as you’ll have fodder and targets.

When I laid out the blue I knew I was onto something. Not only did my deck curve but it was filled with fliers. I toyed around with benching Geist of Saint Traft but figured 4 damage would likely be enough, and there was a change I could live the dream and get a second swing. I had an easy splash for one of the Harvest Pyres as I had a Shimmering Grotto and a Sulfur Falls. A single mountain was more than enough. I left the second in the board, as I figured with most of my guys flying it would take a while to build up enough cards in the graveyard so as to kill something worthwhile. However I did side it fairly often when faced with Human decks or fast weenie type decks. Going through my chaff pile I found the Silver-Inlaid Dagger which fit nicely with the umpteen fliers and the Invisible Stalkers. I left Think Twice and Ludovic’s Test Subject in the board because my game plan was to curve out aggressively. If circumstances called for it then they might have an opportunity to sub in, but I probably wouldn’t need it.

Depending on your point of view, fortunately or unfortunately I have a rubbish memory, and I wasn’t taking notes, so I can’t give commentary on how the matches during the swiss went. I was 3-0 before suffering my first loss. In game one my deck did its thing. In game two I lost to the Unruly Mob/Grim-Grin, Corpse Born tag team. I thought I had game three relatively tied up thanks to the Creepy Doll I had sideboarded in clogging the ground and preventing Grimgrin, Corpse Burn from killing me. So I went in for the kill casting Invisible Stalker and giving him Bonds of Faith. Unfortunately I got blown out by the old “Fiend Hunter your Stuffy Doll, sac the Hunter to Grimgrin with the trigger on the stack” trick. Damn.

I won rounds five and six to get to 5-1. That included a rather humorous game one versus Nick Lovett in round six. He curved out with Avacynian Priests on turns 2, 3, and 4, while I played Chapel Geist followed by Herons on turns 4, 5, and 6. With his mana tied down and me dropping a guy each turn I was able to overwhelm him. I’ve had similar things happen to me before too. Whilst tappers are good, you need something to back them up with. If all you’re doing is tapping stuff each turn odds are things are going downhill for you.

Chuffed to be at 5-1 going into the final round, I checked the standings and saw I was 5th, and top of the 15-pointers. So I sat down and IDed with my opponent. However the guys on the tables near us thought that perhaps we may have IDed one or both of us out of the top 8, as there happened to be multiple people on 15-points plus a 14-pointer, all of whom were playing the final round because of their tiebreakers. So slightly worried, I went off to get some food into me and prepare for the top 8.

Happily in the end, my round 7 opponent and I were the two X-1-1’s to make the top 8, but let that be a lesson to everyone (including me) – X-1-1 doesn’t always make it. Be really sure before you ID in the last round, and don’t do what I did and stop looking down the standings once you see your name. You’d be surprised sometimes how many people can move up the standings in the final round.

Refreshed having consumed a lovely set of chicken nuggets and some chips from the high class establishment that is Mc Donald’s, I returned from my ID round for the draft. I didn’t have a plan going into the draft, as I had only drafted the set once before, but most people seemed to be in the same boat anyway.

My first pick was Instigator Gang. Personally, I feel I benefited hugely from this. This being one of the first Innistrad drafts for everyone, the judge had of course explained how to handle the double faced cards, and what we could and couldn’t do. As this was fresh in everyone’s mind, and two guys feeding me didn’t take a transform card, I would not be surprised if picking the werewolf and having it sit there in my pile put them off going into red. Nothing obvious came through (apart from a pick 2 Devil’s Play in pack 3) but it felt like there was decent red coming my way throughout. I ended up with this:


Bloodcrazed Neonate

Nightbird’s Clutches
Manor Skeleton

Curse of the Nightly Hunt
Vampire Interloper

Traitorous Blood
Disciple of Griselbrand

Feral Ridgewolf
Hanweir Watchkeep

Vampiric Fury
Ghoulraiser x2

Prey Upon
Markov Patrician

Village Cannibals x2

Wooden Stake
Screeching Bat

Night Terrors
Rakish Heir

Gruesome Deformity x2
Instigator Gang

Stitcher’s Apprentice
Pitchburn Devils

Spectral Flight
Night Revelers

Trepanation Blade
Dead Weight

Mask of Avacyn
Victim of Night

Bump in the Night
Harvest Pyre

Demonmail Hauberk
Nightbird’s Clutches

Corpse Lunge
Tribute to Hunger

Cellar Door
Brimstone Volley

Devil’s Play

Into the Maw of Hell

Swamp x10

Mountain x7


I would have liked a second Pitchburn Devils, but I can’t remember what I picked over the second one. I know the first one tabled. My first pick in pack two was Hanweir Watchkeep which probably helped the “signalling” as well. It helps that I like the card anyway (5/5 is huge) and with all my instant speed removal I could happily pass the turn and not lose out on tempo. Victim of Night came quite late in pack 3 for some reason. I think the three guys to my right weren’t in black which explains it, and I hear later that the guy one seat further on had two Bloodline Keepers which he would have picked over Victim happily. Suited me anyway.

As you can see, my deck had all the removal in the world, as well as the creatures to back it up. Corpse Lunge was left in the board again, as I didn’t expect to have much fuel for it, especially with the Harvest Pyre already there. The Wooden Stake and the Traitorous Blood got sided in against the green werewolf players (semis I think), and the Traitorous Blood swung game 3 of the quarters versus Mr Double Bloodline Keeper. He had Skirsdag High Priest too but wasn’t able to turn my Instigator Gang back to Human form so I stole a 5/5 Demon and attacked with my team for a million.

My decision to ID and get lunch earlier kept me ticking over nicely where some of the other guys were starting to lag, it being close to 11 hours after the start of the event after all. In one game I was under pressure from two Hamlet Captain and a Darkthicket Wolf and had a 3/3 Cannibal with a Wooden Stake. My opponent attacked in, and after I blocked one Captain I killed the other, making my Cannibals larger than the other dude, and leaving me with a 5/5 Cannibals. My opponent’s mates sadly berated him for walking into that after the match. But where the difference between food and no food really showed was when my semis opponent cast Bonds of Faith on my Instigator Gang… who is human… I reckon even had he cast it on my other guy he wasn’t in a great spot as he was backpedalling hard, but it just goes to show that you need food and a break in you if you’re to keep performing. People often rag on players in the top 8 of Starcity Opens for making stupid plays, but they don’t realised how mentally draining the day has been. Don’t let this happen to you. Eat something! (Steak would be preferable, but whatever floats your boat).

The last memorable moment from that top 8 (apart from winning it of course) was being on only a couple of life and facing down both a dude and a Kessig Wolf-Run. I slowly peeled the top card of my library and sighed in relief as it was land number six for my Into the Maw of Hell. About bloody time!

Once it was all over it was after midnight so I hopped into a taxi and headed over to mate #2’s place for sleepy time. He and his girlfriend were kind enough to wait up for me, but both of them were pretty knackered so didn’t stay up long. I was still buzzing so got their wifi password and started messaging all my friends and catching up on the emails I had missed during the 48 hours of internet silence, all the while listening to their cool pet rats running around the cage.

Man, I can’t wait for Honolulu!


Mark Mc Govern

 Thanks for reading, and thanks for sharing.


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