*** Saturday 17th March ***
FML, 0-3 Drop at my home town PTQ. I’m pretty much ready to give up on this season. I like Modern and all but I just haven’t been succeeding at it. Catton‘s been trying to get me to go to Cardiff as Lewis McCleod said he can put us up but I’m just not feeling it.
I wait around for a while to watch my friends play but soon enough there’s a group of us ready to go downstairs to the bar. A couple of pints in and I get a text from Catton saying “Did you know I’m in the top 8?“. I reply with “obv“, tell the guys and we finish off before heading upstairs again.
Three rounds later and my testing buddy has taken home the Blue Envelope. I literally couldn’t be happier for him, but I still can’t shake the feeling that maybe I’m just not good enough. Top 8ing and losing was becoming all too stagnant an experience and my main enjoyment of PTQs was starting to be seeing all my friends again. However, with both Cat and Mick Edwards qualifying for Barcelona I decide on the spot that I have to go to Cardiff, I have to test the living crap out of Caw Blade, and I have to win.
Andy Edwards, who was one of the guys staying with me this weekend and is originally from Wales, said that he might be able to get us a place to stay. That falls through, but we ask Lewis and he kindly offers up some floor space for the night. Andy explores his transport options and finds he can’t really get there and back reasonably from the Isle of Wight. I check out the trains and the only way I can really get there is an early morning train on the day, followed by a 7 hour journey home the following afternoon. It would cost me over £50 for the privilege, even with a Rail Card. Sometimes you just have to commit to something entirely.
I spoke to Riggers and he was able to sort me out with a deck on Magic Online. I used Catton’s and Marco OJ‘s decklists for inspiration, mixing my preferred elements of the two styles. One was built more for control, the other for tempo. I prefer a control route myself but acknowledged the rise of the Red-Green Tron deck and set about finding a happy medium. 2-3 hours of nightly grinding in the tournament practice room, along with taking a morning off work (planned holiday) and I had the following sleeved up and ready:
- 3 Hallowed Fountain
- 1 Steam Vents
- 4 Seachrome Coast
- 3 Misty Rainforest
- 1 Arid Mesa
- 4 Island
- 2 Plains
- 4 Tectonic Edge
- 1 Moorland Haunt
- 4 Squadron Hawk
- 4 Snapcaster Mage
- 4 Vendilion Clique
- 2 Geist of Saint Traft
- 4 Path to Exile
- 3 Spell Snare
- 2 Spell Pierce
- 4 Mana Leak
- 2 Vedalken Shackles
- 1 Jace Beleren
- 4 Cryptic Command
- 2 Disenchant
- 1 Engineered Explosives
- 2 Gut Shot
- 3 Kitchen Finks
- 1 Relic of Progenitus
- 1 Spell Pierce
- 2 Stony Silence
- 1 Sun Titan
- 1 Surgical Extraction
- 1 Sword of Feast and Famine
*** Saturday 31st March ***
I got the deck together including the final touches last night and got down for an early night. I really felt extremely prepared for this PTQ, probably more than I have for any other. I’d ground out so many games against meta decks and random decks that I just “knew” what my deck was going to do for me and what was going to be important. It’s hard to describe that feeling exactly, but it gives you a significant advantage going into an event. I managed to get up alright for my 6am train and after a brief change I got to Cardiff in time. Using a little map I’d drawn on a post-it I easily found the venue with plenty of time to spare.
Many of the familiar faces were there, but thankfully a large amount of unfamiliar ones were present too. I go to so many PTQs that if I don’t recognise someone they’re probably a local player and I’m likely to beat them (or at least that’s the plan). One thing I made a special point of doing though was going around the room to get an idea for how many Red-Green Tron decks were being brought out. I couldn’t see any and figured there’d only be a couple so I took out the Stony Silences for a 2nd Engineered Explosives and a 2nd Relic of Progenitus. I’d brought precisely 77 cards with me, anticipating the switch.
The Swiss rounds went fairly to plan, I strung up 5 match wins before two IDs and a nice break to get some dinner.
My first round opponent was shuffling up and I noticed 6-7 face-down cards in the same sleeves as his deck to one side. I ask if that’s his sideboard and he tells me it isn’t and it’s just some tokens, picking them up to show me some nice soldier tokens. That threw me a little as my opening 7 contained 2 lands, Squadron Hawk, and Spell Snare, so I had to decide if I was going to Hawk up or counter the Gather the Townsfolk. He made a Doomed Traveller on turn 1 so I figured I’d prefer to start getting on the board, managing to make a Geist of Saint Traft on blocking duty. He put Bonds of Faith on some guys and I had the Path to Exile which he had to read, so I felt pretty happy activating Celestial Colonnade as necessary.
Next round I played UR Twin and he managed to combo off past a bit of disruption at the last possible second but I took games 2 and 3. I had to use two Tectonic Edges to strip him down to 3 mana so he couldn’t combo and have counter back up, and he proceeded to draw 2 Splinter Twins before his 4th mana so I was able to beat down with random dorks.
Round 3 I played mtgUK specialist Tom Rickarby, who is never an easy opponent. He was on UW(B?) Caw, and threatened to dominate me game 1 before 2 Tectonic Edge kept him off his white mana after he’d cast his first Hawk (and indeed kept him off his 3rd mana), while I was able to land a Vedalken Shackles and start Pathing my way up the Island chain.
For game 2 we drew our opening hands and as I was considering whether to keep mine Tom notices a stray card off to one side. We realise he’s mis-presented and call a judge. The usual penalty for this is a game loss, but thankfully there’s some recent policy in place that means the head judge can downgrade it to a forced mulligan. I was very happy with this as I needed to mulligan myself and would hate to see a game decided like that if it was avoidable. The game instead ended as the last couple had, with my using 2 Tectonic Edges simultaneously to keep him off mana while I developed.
My next victim was Laura Dawes, who I knew from Facebook posts to be playing a variant of The Frimley Ripper‘s PTQ-winning Gifts Rock deck. I don’t think this is a great matchup for me as she has main-deck answers to Shackles and after boarding has 4 Lingering Souls. Luckily for me they never really surfaced and she was given no Gifts so the Four-a Caws made good work of Laura Dawes.
Finally I had to get through a Red-Green Tron deck to reach the ID stage of the PTQ. Kinda wishing I hadn’t taken out the Stony Silences (he asked if I had thought of it after the match, great minds or something) I found myself without a great hand for the matchup. I politely asked him not to make a Karn Liberated on turn 3 but he didn’t listen so I Spell Pierced his dreams away. A lot of disruptive back-and-forth via Vendilion Clique and Tectonic Edge helped me to slap-fight my way through a game I probably didn’t deserve to win.
Game 2 went fairly predictably against me but game 3 I was able to make good use of Tectonic Edges once more to keep his lands honest and his spells countered. It’s probably a recurring theme by now how much happier I was with Tectonic Edge than Mutavault, they were extremely relevant in nearly every match I played today.
I had a nice relax during my spare two hours, including getting some dinner and having a good catch-up with Ex-Team Leeds, Ex-Team Manaleak, Current-Team Ross Silcock Stand-Out Ben Heath. He really put my head in the game, telling me what I’d been thinking myself anyway which was to just play UW decks for the rest of time. Looking around at the top 8, I only recognised Adam Barnett, who was playing the same deck as me but without Vedalken Shackles and Tectonic Edge, so I really felt like this PTQ was mine for the taking. I’ve felt like this once before, the Standard PTQ in Glasgow last year where I lost to Gary Campbell‘s Vampires in the finals. I made a massive mistake to lose one game and it cost me the entire event. Not again!!
The Top 8
The one downside of going off and relaxing was that I didn’t really know what the other people in the top 8 were playing. As I sat down for my quarters a good friend in the crowd remembered my opponent’s deck and mouthed “Affinity, with Thalia“. That’s pretty sweet information to have, and I made good use of it by Spell Piercing a turn 1 Springleaf Drum. It turned out that stranded two copies of the white Legend in his hand which couldn’t come down until they were not that relevant (and I had all the Spell Snares).
Some Squadron Hawks held back his 2 Ornithopter, 2 Signal Pest draw and a Geist of St Traft meant I was able to beat in to close down the game. I had to use a Path to Exile on an Arcbound Ravager and then flashed it back to off the guy he put the counters on. I couldn’t convince him to fetch up a 4th land to join his Mountain and 2 Inkmoth Nexus but he then made a Glimmervoid anyway so I Tectonic Edged the crap out of his manlands before swinging with my own.
I messed up game 2 something rotten, leading with Arid Mesa on the draw from a hand with an Island and an Edge. I fetched up a Hallowed Fountain to cast my Blue spells and was soon down to few colours behind a Blood Moon. I go some distance with a Vedalken Shackles but eventually he gets an Etched Champion with two hats on it and I lost the game.
Game 3 goes a bit better with me not throwing it away. I manage to actually Path an Arcbound Ravager as he sets it aside and picks up his library before remembering he can move the counters. I had to get the judge involved but there’s no take-backs at this level. I have a Shackles again but it gets Ancient Grudged, but thankfully the 4 Caws-men of the Apocalypse do the dirty on my behalf yet again.
The Semi Finals saw me face off against Blue Red Hive Mind. I’d seen Matt Light play this guy in the swiss so knew his sideboarding plan of bringing in Blood Moon.
Game 1 I won the die roll (I think I lost one die roll all day btw) and turn 2 Hawked, getting the rest and binning one since I was unlikely to ever cast a 2nd but really didn’t want to draw any more. I swung for 1 and let him Gitaxian Probe me before placing a Vendilion Clique at the end of his turn 3. He showed me 3 Pact of Negation, 2 Remand, 1 Tolaria West and 1 Seething Song and he immediately goes on life tilt for not Remanding my Clique. I push the Seething Song and since he used a fetchland earlier I’m 4 swings away from victory while he has to find 2 more mana, a Hive Mind, and a non-Blue Pact off the card he got off Clique and his next 3 draw steps. I plan on not casting another spell all game until the end of my turn 5 when he casts Pact of the Titan and tries to Remand it. He only has four lands in play so I Mana Leak his counter. He tries his other Remand but I have a Spell Snare for that one. I managed to force his spell to resolve and so he lost in his upkeep.
Game 2 my hand is a little speculative – 3 lands including a Misty Rainforest, Squadron Hawk, Sword of Feast and Famine, Disenchant, Spell Snare. He mulls and I decide to keep, and he decides to mulligan again which makes my hand look a lot better. I have to decide on turn 2 if I want to make Hawk to make turn 3 Sword and get him that way, or if I hold up Disenchant for the Blood Moon. I go for the Sword plan because there’s a chance he just doesn’t go for the Moon if I wait and I don’t want to lose because I sat around doing nothing. Sure enough the Hawk goes the distance, even if I’m unable to keep him company with his buddies due to the deep shade of Red across all my non-basic lands.
So, Finals time again. I got to watch Adam lose his semi finals to this guy so knew that a) he was on mono-Blue Faeries, and b) which cards didn’t look too effective in play. The matchup looked largely to be about Vedalken Shackles and both decks would be able to stick some random dorks to beat down as and when they chose. I was once again glad I had Tectonic Edges to fight his man lands and potential Academy Ruins.
I won the die roll one more time, and at the end of his turn 2 threw out a Snapcaster Mage. I beat down with this little guy a couple of times, racing with a Spellstutter Sprite that had a similar plan, before he made a blocker in Spellskite. I took the opportunity to land my Vedalken Shackles which I had been very happy to see in my opening hand. I had the Mana Leak to back it up but he didn’t even try to counter it so I used the opportunity to take the Skite and slam in. He made his own Shackles to make things interesting, but I drew my other copy straight away. After a bit more back and forth I managed to deal 14 with Snapcaster and then placed the remaining 6 with the aid of a Celestial Colonnade.
For game 2 I land a Hawk very quickly but am only able to fetch up one of his buddies. When I go for the second one he taps 2 of his 4 mana to activate Faerie Conclave and the other 2 for Spellsutter Sprite so when I Spell Snare I have room in my hand to call up the remaining 2. He sticks a Vedalken Shackles while my defences are down so all I can do is fill out the Hawk ranks and wait for an opening. He takes a Hawk but attacks me for some reason so I’m able to get in a bit of damage.
In an attempt to start up his own clock he taps 4 of his 6 mana for a Mistbind Clique. Seemingly not noticing my Tectonic Edge, he attempts to animate Faerie Conclave for the champion ability, but that doesn’t work out the way he wanted it to. I immediately draw one of my Disenchants and start the relentless beatdown. 13 is soon 9, which in turn becomes 5. He makes a Scion of Oona as a potential blocker but doesn’t use it as it would free up my Celestial Colonnade for some real damage. Gearing up to attack him from 5 I draw the card I know will win me the game. I stifle a smile, and declare my attacks. The Hawks peck him to 1 and I gleefully pass the turn. I immediately get it passed back to me, and declare attacks.
“Cryptic Command, tap your guys and bounce your Colonnade.”
“What’re you on?”I Mana Leak. He pays 3. I make Snapcaster Mage and flash back the Mana Leak. He pays another 3, having open only a single mana.
Paying 2 life, my Gut Shot ended my opponent’s ability to stay in the game and I was victorious. I was unbelievably happy, managing to put away what I had attempted too many times. This isn’t my first PTQ win, but I’m sure it will be the sweetest.
- Train Companies for costing infinite and not having good journey times available.
- Stephen Murray for beating me at cube when we’d got to the house – wtf man I thought we were friends?!?
- Catton for giving me the fire I needed to even attend the PTQ.
- Lewis McCleod for putting me up and being an all-round good guy.
- Ben Heath for putting me in the right mindset and telling me my articles needed to be longer – is this one long enough for you?
- Matt Light for being nearly as happy to see me win as I was.
- The Spectators and Judges for being there to watch a dramatic top 8. Modern is a sweet format with some sweet matches if the players are up for putting on a show.
- Tu for putting up with my articles about my failures. [Tu Edit: Failures = Lessons]
- Gut Shot, for being the most hilarious way to win a game of Magic.