It’s 1 am on my birthday. I can’t sleep. I hate birthdays. I hate getting older. I wonder if I really should stick to my Pyromancer Ascension deck. All my friends keep trashing the deck, it has a 42% win rate at the last SCG, and because of Tempered Steel and Splinter Twin, the number of Nature’s Claims is at an all time high. Did I really want to spend my birthday driving in a car to a PTQ that, in all likelihood, I am not going to win. Einstein said that repeating the same thing over and over and expecting different results is the definition of insanity.
They don’t call me Insayne Hayne for nothing. I do manage to finally get to sleep around 7:30 AM, about 40 minutes before I have to wake up. At 8:50, I am out of my house, and begin the 8 hour drive with Joey Smith, Davies Clarke, and Robert “BABADABOOCHI” Pambianchi, our driver. Joey, who is 17, apparently has a bad back and bad knees, so he ‘needs’ to sit in front. No problem, I don’t really want to have to be the navigator, so we head out and Davies and I pass out in the back.
Well, apparently Babadaboochi has never actually driven to Toronto before, and Joey is the worst navigator in the world. So while we did head, roughly, in the right direction “Just head west, right?”, we were significantly north of where we should have been, after taking the 417 instead of the 401. So, being awakened by the sound of “WHERE THE F*CK ARE WE? I haven’t seen any signs for Toronto for the past hour!”, I decide its time to take matters into my own hands. I quickly figure out that we are just north of Ottawa, so after using the GPS, I calculate that we only cost ourselves about 2 hours. So back in the right direction, we finally get into Toronto right at rush hour. Finally, we are able to get to Dmac’s house, where he is kindly letting us stay for the night.
A couple of his friends are also staying there, Tom and Adam, and we decide to do a 7 man draft. I draft a UR mill deck and go 3-0. I always seem to win with UR in this format (foreshadowing?). We go out and I totally pig out at dinner, but hey, it’s my birthday. Somehow, on the way out, Babadaboochi acquires a new nickname from Dmac, “BABADA-SCOOP-Y”. That is what I call a Next Level nickname, since it’s a nickname formed from a previous nickname. You have to go to the second level to get it. We head back, and the others finish up building their decks while I decide on the last 2 slots in my deck. I had figured out that 18 lands was too few, because it made you have to mulligan much more, and that it was just better to almost NEVER dig for lands past the 3rd one with your cantrips. Since I was only playing 4 spells that cost 3, 12 that cost 2 and 24 that cost 1, I could easily operate on a few lands for quite some time. I decide to not play any Foresee, and to stick with 2 Jace and 20 land, with no Halimar Depths. Coming into play tapped, and being destroyed by Tectonic Edge were outweighing its other benefits in my experience. So while everyone else was still testing their decks and talking, I fell asleep on the couch.
I woke up to the sounds of Dmac yelling. Only it wasn’t Dmac, it was his mom. They do sound remarkably similar. I tried to go back to sleep, but it was to no avail. After waiting for my turn in the shower, I felt relaxed and calm. There was no pressure to perform, I was just going to go and play magic, as Brad Nelson said “until someone told me to stop”.
Feeling refreshed, I put on my Face to Face/ManaDeprived Tshirt, grabbed my bag, and was ready to go, when I noticed a deckbox on the table. I was about to shout “Whose deck is this?”, when I realized it was mine. Close call.
After a drive through visit to Tim Hortons, we headed to the event site just on time. In fact, they wouldn’t let us sign up unless we had also filled out our decklist and handed it in along with our money, which in my experience is unusual. Usually we have until the first round or the player’s meeting to finish up decklists. Thankfully, my decklist is basically all 4 ofs, so I was done quickly, and greeting many Ontario players who I only see at major events. One of the best parts of being a Magic player is the community, and there are just so many great guys who play this game, it is unreal. Where else would so many smart, quirky people congregate? In chess, the game is not as social, and so the friendships you cultivate are not as visceral and deep, and there isn’t the same feeling of being a team. When the first of my friends won a PTQ, I was so happy. In some ways, it was better than when I won myself. But lets not skip ahead.
I usually hate super detailed tournament reports, because there is an awful lot to slog through, so I gave basic details and elaborated on things that I found interesting.
Round 1: Tempered Steel
Game 2: He played turn 1 Inkmoth Nexus, go. I knew that I had won.
Matches 1-0, Games 2-0
I went to watch various friends of mine play, and got to see SammyT losing to mono green infect. We looked each other in the eye, and I gave the half smile that simply says “I know”.
Round 2: RUG Pod-Twin
Game 1: I get an early Pyromancer active, and kill him turn 7 while he has no non-land permanents.
Game 2: He has Birthing Pod in play for awhile, and we just play a staring contest for awhile. I don’t lose staring contests. I bounced the Pod when he tapped out for some random dork, then eventually got an Ascension active with 6 counterspells in hand, got up to 20 cards in my grave and drew 6 cards.
Matches 2-0, Games 4-0
Round 3: UR Twin
Game 1: He leaks my Jace, so my Pyromancer sticks when he plays his own Jace, which I burn. However, I draw 2 more Ascensions instead of spells, while he just draws Into the Roil instead of Splinter Twin. I draw a cantrip spell before he draws Twin, and when I get 4 copies of each spell I play, things get silly. Draw 12 for U at instant speed? Yes please.
Game 2: I’m in the driver’s seat the whole time this game. He has the combo and Dispel backup, but Dispel isn’t great when all my spells are copied. Spellskite sits there, ready to get bounced instead of my Ascension, then a couple of burn spells end it.
Matches 3-0, Games 6-0
Round 4: Caw Blade
Game 1: He mulls to 5, and puts up token resistance
Game 3: This game was interesting. Most players will only think one level deep. They will just play their game. As PV said (yes, I listen to lots of players, and so should you), to become great you have to play your opponent’s game too. You need to realize that your opponent is a person too, and is thinking about what you could have if they are any good at all. If you are reading this, you have at least gotten to the point where you will play around possible cards from your opponent. However, if you go a level deeper, to the Next Level, you will start making plays thinking about what your opponent could think that YOU have. Unfortunately, sometimes that plan backfires, as it did this game.
I kept Island x 2, Preordain, Cancel, Mountain, Scalding Tarn, Burst Lightning. Since I was on the play, I wanted to represent Mana Leak turn 2. My opponent, though having made a few ‘inaccuracies’ seemed like a solid enough player, so I didn’t play the Preordain turn 1. I went Island, go, Island, go. If I was him, I would think “What hand did he keep, no Mountain, no Pyromancer Ascension, no cantrips? It must have a Mana Leak” and so not run out the Hawk turn 2, giving me more time (like to hit Cancel mana), and just play Land, go until I decided to cast my Preordain. Instead, he played Squadron Hawk turn 2 into my open mana. Next turn I Gitaxian Probed him, and saw his hand was Hawk, 5 lands, Spell pierce. Why would you play the Hawk turn 2 when you could play it turn 3 with Pierce up? However, I made a mistake here. Since he had only fetched one Hawk (I would have found 2 in his place and discarded a land), I should have kept Cancel open, since it was likely that next turn he would play his tapped land and Hawk. Even if he played an untapped land, I am fine trading my Cancel for his Spell Pierce in that scenario, since I am on the back-foot and need to clear out as many counters as possible. Instead, I played Preordain. Eventually the game got to a point where I was at 1 life, with an active Ascension, 9 lands in play, Lightning Bolt, Visions of Beyond(but not 20 cards in grave), Ponder, and 2 lands in hand. He had a Colonnade and 2 Hawks. I Pondered, didn’t hit anything and shuffled, drew a land, as did the copy, then I played Visions and drew another land and a Mana Leak, and died.
Matches: 3-1, Games: 7-2
After this match, I went to watch Babadaboochi’s match, which had gone into turns and gathered a sizeable crowd. He was 2-1 at this point against my previous RUG pod opponent, and had 6 lands in play on turn 5 of turns, as well as 2 Deceiver Exarchs and a Shrine of Piercing Vision at 4 counters. His hand was Preordain, Deceiver Exarch, Dispel, Mana Leak, Island. His opponent’s hand was 2 Deceiver Exarchs, which was known information from a Gitaxian Probe, and had 7 lands in play. Babadaboochi cast his Preordain, and I wondered how he could possibly win the game. I knew his list, and there was no way he could stop his opponent from playing an Exarch in response to his Twin to tap his Exarch. He drew a Splinter Twin, played it, and thats exactly what happened, and the game ended in a draw. Noah Long then came up, and pointed out that the only way for Babadaboochi to win was if he popped the Shrine to try and hit Splinter Twin, played the twin, let his Exarch get tapped down, then play his own Exarch to untap it, and go off. I too had not seen that play, though I’d like to think that I would have had I been playing the game, rather than wondering why Babadaboochi was making the plays that he did.
Round 5: UR Twin
Game 1: My opponent has a Spellskite in play, I don’t have an Ascension, but I have 4 open mana. I know he has the combo in his hand, and if he goes for it I would just die, but he continues the Draw, go. I eventually draw an Ascension (after stocking up on Leaks), and resolve it, and he can’t really do anything after that.
Game 2: He resolves a Calcite Snapper, so I know I am on a clock. I chump block a couple of times with Spellskites while I have an active Ascension, but am digging for Call to Mind to kill him. While I’m at 6 life with 2 Scalding Tarns in play, he plays a Deceiver Exarch end of turn tapping down my Spellskite, then attacks for 5 bringing me to 1. He plays a Spellskite leaving himself with 1 card in hand. He then plays Splinter Twin on his tapped Exarch into my 5 open mana. Here is where we have this exchange:
Him: “Both on Spellskite?”
Me: “Yes. Ok?”
Him-returns Spellskite to his hand.
Him: “WAIT! You said ‘OK!’ Splinter Twin is on Exarch”
Me: “What? I never said Ok!”
Him–Thinks for 30 seconds- “No! You SAID OK!!!”
Me- “Lets call a judge”
The judge comes over, and isn’t really sure how to rule this. There were 2 spectators, who say I didn’t say ok, but they are both my friends.
Him: “Oh. Yeah. Never Mind(to the Judge)”
So now I can take my time, since I have 4-5 counters in hand, and can make Spellskites every turn to block his Snapper (I have removal for his Exarch). Turns out my Call to Mind is actually the last card in my library, so I win with 0 cards in my deck and at 1 life. If only I was also at 9 poison…
Matches: 4-1, Games: 9-2
Round 6: UR Twin
This round my opponent is Ben Moir, Ottawa ringer, who seems to share my affinity for missing out of top 8/16 on tiebreaks. He is a friend of mine, and a great player, so we are obviously bummed that we have to play this round rather than play other people and draw in. I say to him: “Lets agree, whoever wins this match wins the PTQ. Deal?”
He says: “As long as everyone else also agrees”
Game 1: He goes for the combo early on, but has no Dispel backup, though I was very scared of that one untapped Island, so my lone Mana Leak counters his Twin. I untap and Burst Lightning with Kicker his Exarch on my turn, since I know he doesn’t have Dispel. That buys me enough time to get Ascension active.
Game 2: Despite an appearance of Jace, Memory Adept on his side of the field (which worried me, since if he went 0 with it on me and hit both my Call to Minds, I couldn’t win–Apparently that card had been amazing for him all day). Luckily, he went +1, milling himself, and after bouncing it with an unkicked Into the Roil and having 4 counters in hand, he was never really in it.
Matches: 5-1, Games 11-2
So after loitering around for a bit, the standings are posted:
I grab the one and only SammyT, and proceed to do tiebreak math. He says “Basically, you can draw, but your opponent shouldn’t”
Having calculated the same thing myself, I had double checked the tiebreakers, and noticed that in fact, I had the EXACT same first tiebreaks as the next 2 gentlemen below me. My second tiebreakers were excellent, but it was dicey. SammyT agreed with me that I should probably play, but that he would see who my opponent was before I sat down. So the pairings are posted, and Sammy comes back and says “He’s playing Vampires, good luck buddy.” Gulp
Round 7: Vampires
As I approach, my opponent says “Hey, want to draw?” I think about this for about 5 seconds before agreeing. While Pyromancer is an excellent and powerful deck, my build basically can never beat a Bloodghast. After board, Calcite Snapper helps, but Gatekeeper of Malakir is the trump. I feel that taking the 50ish% chance of making it via tiebreaks is better than the 30% chance of winning the matchup. Thankfully, those players in 7th and 8th also decided to draw, thereby putting themselves into 10th and 11th place (or the like), so I was guaranteed in. I was in 6th place after the swiss, and my opponent in 7th, so I wouldn’t have to play him right away in top 8, Hooray!
TOP 8: Bant Lifegain Pod
Chatting with my opponent, he doesn’t want to play on the Pro Tour. He just wants the 2 boxes for 2nd place. I ask him politely if he would concede to me, but he politely declines, even though his friend is anxious for them to get out of there and so tells him to scoop. We are presented with each other’s decklist for the top 8, and I study carefully his toolbox of 1 ofs, while he asks for the Oracle text on Call to Mind.
He plays a couple of early lifegain guys, who I ignore. When he goes for Baneslayer Angel, I let it resolve, and Into the Roil kick it, untag and play Ascension. He plays Baneslayer, which I now Leak. I play some cantrips to get Ascension active, seeing his hand of irrelevant spells, and pass. He draws and plays his 1 of Acidic Slime. Ouch. I keep going, but his irrelevant spells are now relevant, and Sun Titan and co finally get me. Something I noted: He missed 6 lifegain triggers and declined to return his Vengevine a total of 3 times this game.
I stick turn 4 ascension, again knowing his hand has a Sylvok Replica, but am falling behind on the board so I’m forced to Into the Roil a Baneslayer, and he kills my Ascension. I play another one, and start killing off his playset of hawks. At one point, with 1 card in his hand, 6 lands in play and 2 Hawks to my 2 untapped mana, he draws, and plays Nature’s Claim on my Ascension. I play Mana Leak, and copy it on his Nature’s Claim. He then plays a land, leaving him with no cards, and says go. Call to Mind returning Call to Mind and burn and counters gives him no chance to recover and I take the game.
Game 3: He was never in it.
Top 4: Mono Red
Game 2, he never draws a 3rd land with multiple 3 drops, and I kill him with Calcite Snappers.
I had an interesting decision with sideboarding here. Considering he had seen my list, and I his, I decided that he would probably bring in Manic Vandals, so I didn’t bring in Spellskite. Other than Manabarbs, he didn’t really have anything good to bring in for his dead cards, so i grabbed 7 cards from my sideboard, shuffled them in, and took out 7 cards, 4 of which were from my sideboard.
Finals: UR Pyromancer
Him: “Hey, I liked your article”
Me: “Thanks, I like your deck choice”
His list had some major differences from mine. The main thing that I figured was going to be annoying were his 3 maindeck Spell Pierce, and his sideboard Mental Missteps. However, he had maindeck Pyroclasm, and no Calcite Snappers, and he didn’t have Visions of Beyond. I realized that I basically had to be the aggro deck in the matchup, since he has more counters, Foresee for more card draw, and 6 drop finishers instead of my leaner build with snappers.
I win the die roll, and get Ascension active before him.
Game 3: I Ponder turn 1, shuffle since there is no Ascension (the key to the matchup, since neither player can do anything but delay it with Into the roil), and draw a land. He probes me, and sees my hand of a bunch of cantrips, a couple land, Into the Roil, and Mana Leak. He plays Mountain, and says go.
Here I think “Oh man, a Mountain! He doesn’t have Spell Pierce up! Please draw Ascension right now, ONE TIME!” And I did. MBN. Is. Then he played another Mountain, and played his Ascension. Then I probed him, and saw 6 blue cards, no Island.
Him: “I made a speculative keep”
Me: “No whammy, No whammy, No whammy!”
He draws, says “I didn’t deserve this” and plays an Island. So the game isn’t over just yet. But I get my Ascension going and eventually lock him out of the game, and Snapper beats for a couple of turns until he extends the hand.
Amid a significant cheer and many hugs and high fives, the fact that I had won a PTQ after so many attempts simply had not sunk in yet. Even after the judge told me that I would be emailed all the relevant information, it still hadn’t sunk in. I had to pinch myself to see if this was real, if I wasn’t dreaming. I had made top 8 of about half the PTQs I have ever played, and I finally had sealed the deal after so many near misses. I don’t know if it has even sunk in yet, but my friends were all overjoyed and their mood was infectious, and i finally stopped thinking about choices I could have made differently in the last match (like a misplay I made when playing Call to Mind and then a copied Preordain, I had kept a Mountain untapped instead of an Island, so that I needed to his an Island rather than just any land to cast my Into the Roil), and began to think about my victory. I felt that I had played really well, and that my confidence, and proper play (for the most part), along with being on the good side of variance, had rewarded me. My Facebook and Twitter, which had already been causing my phone to practically stay in a constant vibration from my Birthday, continued to receive tons and tons of messages from various supporters congratulating me. Thank you all so much.
So we headed back to Dmac’s house, planning to go get food and then get inebriated. On the way, Dmac’s friend Tom, who had also made top 8, gave Babadaboochi a new nickname, again a Next Level Nickname: “Baba Ghanoush”. As always, not content simply with Next Level, I called him Hummus. Then I found out how lame bars are in Ontario, and decided that we should just go to Swiss Chalet instead, since Hummus was driving, Joey was underage, and Davies was feeling ill. We decided to just celebrate back home instead.
KYT, for being a baller. Your time will come, maybe not today, maybe not this weekend, but some day.
Nick Leblanc, for the support and focus. And for not coming and causing the Butterfly Effect.
Joey Smith, for boarding out 4 lands, and organizing the trip
Davies Clarke, for all the jokes. I’d go to the Middle of Fkn Nowhere again, if its that funny.
Robert “Hummus” Pambianchi, for the 18 hours in your car being worth every minute. Keep listening and learning, you have potential to be a great player.
Justin Richardson, for telling me Caw Blade sucks, and being my sounding board.
Tucker, for letting us stay at his house, even though some loud person was there
SammyT for helping me with the 7th round, and for not giving value
Jamie Naylor for being a gracious opponent. It is easy to be a good winner, but hard to be a good loser, and you took it in stride. I expect for you to win one of these things in the near future.
Everyone I talked to at the PTQ: You were all super friendly and chill, keep it up!
Everyone at home who was rooting for me: You guys are awesome, and I hope not to disappoint at the Pro Tour.
Oh, yes, and a decklist:
Alexander Hayne – Pyromancer Ascension
If you notice, this list is 69/75 the same as the one I posted in my article. I will not tell you to play something that I wouldn’t play myself. The only change I would make is to change Cancel to Stoic Rebuttal. Originally the deck had 0 artifacts, and I had Cancels nearby but no Stoics. At the PTQ, i once found myself with 3 Spellskites in play and a Cancel in hand, and said “Oh…”. If you expect Vampires in force, I would probably play a couple of Wurmcoils in the sideboard, but you have to cut something, which would weaken your other matchups. Plus, you would need to dig for lands more or play more lands, both of which I would advise against. I am 95% sure that this is the deck that I will play at Nationals, and if you are looking for a deck and have time to test, I would definitely recommend the deck. I think that having a deck that you know inside-out is actually more important than having the best deck(at least in this format), not just from the fact that you know what to do in any given situation, but also from the additional confidence that you get. I have never felt as confident as I did this tournament at a PTQ before, and was telling people seriously that I was going to win the whole thing, something that I never do. I will continue to practice for Nationals, the Pro Tour, and GP Montreal, and so I will be drafting a whole lot of M12, and sharing some of my insights with you. So far, I’ve gone 2-1 with UW skies, 11-1 with UR control, 1-2 with BR good-stuff, 2-1 with RW aggro, and 0-3 with BW control(kids, don’t try this at home).
P.S. : Let me know in the comments which nickname is the best one. Is it
c) Baba Ghanoush
Thanks for reading!