Last weekend I won the Patriot Games PTQ in Sheffield, and I was happy to oblige when Manaleak approached me to write a tournament report. My Magic career has been short, starting just after M14 was released. Prior to that I had played casually around Kamigawa and Ravnica blocks, but a seven-year pause meant that any past familiarity with the game was negligible.
At my first event I called a judge when the opponent did not understand what I meant when I attempted to put combat damage on the stack, and when he protested to taking damage from the unspent mana in his pool. Things have certainly changed, but the large number of competitive events in the UK have helped me improve my game over the last nine months.
I divide my playing time between Inner Sanctum in Cambridge and The Missing Geek in Staines, both of which have competitive, welcoming communities and I have been very happy with the open and friendly nature of the UK Magic scene as a whole.
My sealed pool consisted of a number of very strong blue cards, along with several decent white and green cards. Black and red were shallow and lacked power, so I did not consider them over the other colours.
My rares were Kiora, Prognostic Sphinx, Hero of Leina Tower, Daxos, Silent Sentinel and Titan of Eternal Fire. Initially, the deck was UW heroic which splashed for Kiora through an Opaline Unicorn, and I was happy to submit it.
But with about ten minutes left of deck construction, and some annoyance with the high density of three-drops, I tried swapping white for green, splashing for Daxos and possibly Ghostblade Eidolon, with Excoriate and Divine Verdict as sideboard options.
After some careful consideration, I felt that the curve and consistency would be better if the deck were just UG, so I scrapped white and submitted the following list:
1 Hero of Leina Tower
1 Vortex Elemental
1 Aqueous Form
1 Deepwater Hypnotist
1 Voyaging Satyr
1 Voyage’s End
1 Ordeal of Thassa
1 Savage Surge
1 Triton Fortune Hunter
1 Wavecrash Triton
1 Nyxborn Triton
1 Breaching Hippocamp
2 Pheres-Band Tromper
1 Oracle’s Insight
1 Kiora, the Crashing Wave
1 Prescient Chimera
1 Siren of the Fanged Coast
1 Nessian Asp
1 Prognostic Sphinx
1 Sea God’s Revenge
Since this format is slow, I was comfortable with a top-heavy curve. The number of five-drops was slightly worrying, and haunted me a couple of times during the event when I failed to find a fifth land.
Another fear was the lack of early interactive elements such as Time to Feed and Griptide. The lone Voyage’s End along with Vortex Elemental and Hero of Leina Tower did a lot of work over the course of the day in helping the deck make it to four and five mana.
The game plan was to survive and make one-for-one trades in the first four and five turns before burying the opponent in card advantage through Divination, Oracle’s Insight, Ordeal of Thassa and Prognostic Sphinx.
Most of the day’s games played out in similar fashion, and the first spell cast was often Divination. Turns 4-7 were the most important, as they involved stabilising against aggressive decks or out-drawing control decks.
Rather than go into the details of every match, which would be tedious, I prefer to talk about the important interactions in the deck and the ways in which some of the cards matched up against other decks. My overall record for the swiss portion was 6-0-2, with a draw in round 5 and an ID in round 8.
As mentioned above, the deck had different game plans against aggressive and control decks.
Round 2: Krakens and Giants
This was against an aggressive RW deck, exemplifies the former. In game 1, my opponent led with a turn 2 Deathbellow Raider and proceeded to bestow it with Observant Alseid, Everflame Eidolon and a Nyxborn Rollicker. His play was punished by Kiora, which neutralized four cards by herself and eventually made an emblem.
In game 2 of the same round, my opponent appeared to have a slower start and I was able to build up a dominant board presence. When I went in for a lethal swing, he played a six-for-one (including Kiora) Fated Retribution and went on to win the game. I had been wondering why he wasn’t making any plays or the previous turns, and probably should have seen it coming. I assumed he was badly flooded.
In the third game, I was more careful about over committing to the board with creatures. He played a more aggressive game, again suiting up a Deathbellow Raider and getting me to about 10 life. Kiora comes down and neutralizes the Raider once again, and manages to go ultimate.
My opponent then plays a Stoneshock Giant which threatens monstrosity. With no fliers on my side, he needs only another creature in play to swing for deadly damage, but instead he takes me down to 2 life with my Kraken unable to block.
I am forced to keep some of my creatures back to block on the subsequent turns, fearing double haste creatures (he was holding 2-3 cards). Eventually he gets low enough that my Voyage’s End could bounce his Giant and swing for lethal. Rather than let it resolve, my opponent responded with his Fated Retribution. This destroyed all my creatures, but also his Giant. Had he waited for the Voyage’s End to resolve, he would have left himself with the opportunity to replay the Giant for another shot at monstrous, but instead my Krakens took the game and the match.
Round 5: Precisely 7
This which ended in a draw, was a very different type of match against another 4-0 player. He was on UW heroic, but a slower build without too many ways to trigger his creatures. He also had Brimaz, which won him the second game.
In both games, our creatures were so similarly matched that neither player could afford to attack into a combat trick, leading to massive board state of over a dozen creatures. I was down to seven life, so I could not afford to be aggressive with anything but an unblockable Triton Fortune Hunter. This placed him on an extremely slow clock, and the game ended when he outplayed me with his Wavecrash Triton to create an attack for precisely seven damage in the air.
Sadly we did not have enough time for a third game, and so after this round my record was 4-0-1.
Round 7: Kiora, MVP (obviously)
Winning round 7 would allow me to draw, or possibly lose, in the final round to make top 8. Apart from round 5, this was the round where mine and my opponents decks were most closely matched.
He was on BW control, and game one was over swiftly with the card advantage generated from an Oracle’s Insight on a Triton Fortune Hunter (which, at the end of his turn, was untapped by a Breaching Hippocamp for another draw).
In game 2, after a slow start, he gained the advantage with a bestowed Cavern Lampad, which was probably the most problematic card for me to deal with all weekend. Almost managing to stabilize after a Sea God’s Revenge, his Scholar of Athreos finished me off.
In game 3, I risked a turn 4 Kiora with Annul in hand but no open mana, hoping he would not have Cavern Lampad. Fortunately he did not, and I was able to meet each of his creatures with a blocker to defend Kiora to reach ultimate.
The MVP of the deck was obviously Kiora, and I think she went ultimate five or six times during the tournament. Having a lot of card draw and scry allowed me to consistently find her.
This also meant that the deck allowed for a number of different lines of play on each turn. Different lines pull you toward protecting your life total, creating a clock, maintaining card advantage or making the best use of your mana. Managing these different resources was both the most enjoyable and most challenging part of playing the deck.
Another key card was Hero of Leina Tower, which was usually just a 1/1 but, with open mana, provided enough of a threat that most opponents would not dare attack into her (in round 6, my opponent allowed me to take his Hero with a Siren. I then put an Aqueous Form on it and made it 6/6 which ended the game quickly).
Hero performed so well for me that I would now consider first-picking her over most of the powerful uncommons in the set.
The Top 8: Windmill Slammed
I went into the draft without any strategy or desire to draft a particular kind of deck. I expected that drafting in an event like this would not be comparable to Magic Online or FNM, as the standard would be higher, with no rare-picking and people going for decks rather than bombs and being more flexible in their draft strategies. That said, I do have a tendency to favour white, and try to pair it with blue or red when the colours are open.
The first pack was not a choice I had to make, as I opened an Eidolon of Countless Battles. I barely looked at the other cards and slammed it quickly. A second pick Archetype of Courage was also an easy decision, but after that things became more difficult.
I was able to pick up two Loyal Pegasus, but the lack of white cards coming my way had me worried that my first two picks would not be playable. My third pick was a Nyxborn Triton, and most of the other cards picked in pack 1 were blue, with Chorus of the Tides, Crypsis and Eternity Snare.
With the uncertainty of the direction this draft would go, I was resigned abandoning either white or blue after the first pack. With the Pegasi, I wanted to be aggressive, but cards like Eternity Snare perform poorly in fast decks, so it was important to keep my options open and not force decks that were not available.
Pack 2 was kind to me. I opened a Celestial Archon and was rewarded for cutting white by picking up a Soldier of the Pantheon, God’s Willing, Hopeful Eidolon and Observant Alseid. I also picked up a late Akroan Hoplite and Traveling Philosopher, so I was feeling good about white as my primary colour.
Blue was not forthcoming, so going into the third pack I continued to keep my options open for a second colour. Red and green had felt relatively open in pack 1, and I had picked up a green Ordeal, which I knew would fit perfectly into a deck like this.
Pack three contained a couple of good blue cards and a Purphoros’s Emissary as the best cards. This was probably the hardest decision, as taking the emissary would mean going red when I had only Akroan Hoplite and Rage of Purphoros.
Pick 2 was devastating, with no good red or white cards forcing me to take a Chosen by Heliod. Thankfully, my intuition was correct, with white being dry but red fairly open. I picked up two Spearpoint Oreads, a Dragon Mantle and a Two-Headed Cerberus, to make the following deck:
This deck’s plan is much simpler than then U/G deck from the swiss rounds. Curve out in the first few turns and deal 8-12 points of damage, hoping they don’t play creatures with 3 toughness, and then win by bestowing something or using one of the artifacts for evasion.
I was unhappy with the lack of combat tricks, and there are 3-4 cards which I was forced to put in there due to lack of playables. The artifacts are not ideal, nor are the Rage of Purphoros and the Ray of Dissolution. In addition, with only two Priest of Iroas and a Setessan Griffin as the on-colour cards not in the main deck, there was no room for sideboarding.
The Top 8: Top Decks and Lucky Scoops
The games played out in very similar fashion, with me having the choice of playing in the quarters and the finals. The benefit that this deck gets from being on the play needs no explanation, and every game on the play was a win.
The quarters and the finals were won 2-0, but the semis 2-1. My opponent in the semi-finals scooped prematurely in the third game, with my attackers presenting seven damage, which was his life total prior to playing a Time to Feed on his previous turn. He was in fact on ten, and my attack would have taken him down to three. I was also on seven life, and he was presenting four or five on board with no interaction from me.
Whether he would have killed me on the subsequent turn, I do not know. What I do know is that I got lucky.
The final was between myself and my friend and fellow-playtester James Rayner. This seemed like an unlikely occurrence, but a pleasant one nonetheless as I had no anxiety or nervousness whilst playing.
We had shown our decks to each other after the draft, and with him playing a slower UR deck without much early removal, we both knew I was favoured. The games were uneventful, with me on the play, curving out and taking him down too low before he could stabilise.
Playing against a friend in the final is obviously not ideal, though much more so than playing a win-and-in, quarter- or semi-finals. The atmosphere was not at all competitive, which was very different from the other matches played. In fact, no match of the day resembled a game of kitchen-table Magic more closely than the final and we both knew there would be no hard feelings about the result.
I know James probably feels disappointed, but I also have no doubt that before long, his strides forward in play ability as of late will yield another chance to go all the way.
This was my third PTQ top 8 in as many months, so I am familiar with the frustration of getting knocked out when you can taste the prize. Grinding events, watching streams, reading articles and play-testing push you so far. A few lucky top-decks, opponent mulligans and premature concessions tipped it over the edge for me in this instance. That and Kiora.
Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing, and hope to see you at a PTQ in the future!