Any Given Saturday

I haven’t gotten to keep up on writing as much recently as I would like to. My schedule week to week is pretty insane, mostly because of my own doing. Outside of work I don’t really have anything that I have to give time to, but somehow I feel like I have no free time on a day to day basis. Between trying to get ready for the next tournament, which recently means a change in format as well, spending time with my girlfriend, trying to have a social life outside of Magic, and sleeping, time has not been my friend in the last few weeks. Not to mention the actual writing. I don’t want to just have a weekly article posted on a subject I wrote about just to make a deadline. I’ll write a couple different articles up before I even consider submitting them if I feel like they are lacking. I put a lot of time into these and I hope you guys appreciate them!

While I’m mostly going to talk about the Star City Games Invitational that I played in, I’m also going to touch on Grand Prix Richmond and Grand Prix Cincinnati, at least as much as I can say about the 12 rounds I actually got to play between the two tournaments. I was pretty unfamiliar with Modern going into the GP, so I decided to play Jund based on it being a deck full of good cards with sources of card advantage and solid answers to everything in the expected format. I didn’t like the UWR Control deck because I felt it didn’t pressure opponents enough for someone with as little experience with the format as I had.

Storming GP Richmond

Going into Richmond I originally wanted to play either Storm or Jared Boettcher’s [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] deck from Pro Tour Born of the Gods. I played both decks on MTGO leading up to the tournament, but I was not excited about either of them. Storm felt great in every game one I played but was lackluster in the post sideboard games. I felt like I was losing to hate cards on every front and didn’t really like the amount of interaction that decks had with me in games two and three. As far as the [card]Ad Nauseam[/card] deck goes, I probably should have played it at Richmond. It was the deck I played the most matches with going into the tournament and easily had the best win percentage of the decks I tested. The problem I had with it was that every game I won, I felt like I was a lucky draw away from losing the game or just doing nothing at all. I felt like it was a case of run goods and was worried that it wouldn’t hold up going into Richmond, so I passed for something that I felt was more consistent, which ended up not being the case.

I had three byes and still only managed to go 5-4. It was a pretty rough day, beating UWR Geist round four, and then losing to GR Tron the next two rounds, which for anyone familiar with Jund knows that it is an unwinnable matchup. I won the next round against Melira Pod, but then quickly lost the last two rounds to UWR Twin and Affinity. In the 19 individual games I played in the Grand Prix, I mulliganed 18 total times, and most of the hands weren’t six-card hands. I don’t think I lost a game on seven cards in the tournament, but I also know I didn’t keep many of those, usually ending matches on a mull to five before seeing a mix of lands and spells.

Sunday Super Series and GP Cincinnati

While 2-4’ing the GP was obviously not my plan, this meant that I had the opportunity to play in the Sunder Super Series on day two. I played RW Devotion in the Standard portion of the event, updating a few cards with Born of the Gods for the new Standard metagame. Not only does this tournament offer an insane prize to first place, along with sweet prizes to the top four of the Standard portion, it gave me a good tournament to tune my Standard list to get ready for Cincinnati the following week. For those of you unfamiliar with the Super Series events run on day two of Grands Prix, I will give you a quick breakdown. There are two events: a Standard and a Sealed, which run Swiss plus one rounds to an eventual cut to the top four, with the four people from Standard and the four from Sealed sitting down to draft and decide the overall tournament winner.

I started 6-0 in the event before picking up my first loss, and in the nature of this tournament that is all I can really afford. At 6-1 I knew I didn’t have the luxury of losing again, and the top tables looked pretty ripe for the Red Devotion. I won the next round, but then lost the following round against BW Midrange before beating Justin Uppal in the final round for a clean box of Born of the Gods. Barf. When final standings were posted, we saw there was a single X-2 who made the cut to top four, but he had started 8-0 and then lost the last two rounds. I ended up in 7th and was more bummed about this finish than about the Grand Prix itself. I felt like I had a great deck for the event, and the misfortunate loss I picked up early may have cost me a seat in the draft. Regardless, I felt like the overall takeaway from the tournament should be positive, ensuring me that my list was pretty set for the following GP in Cincinnati.

I again had three byes in the Grand Prix and AGAIN could not make the cut to day two. The Standard format changed a lot between Richmond and Cincinnati, shifting from Monsters and Mono Black variants to Esper and the same Mono Black decks. I was prepared for the former, but Esper handed me two of my three losses to hold me back from the second day, with my third loss being to RW Burn. While I didn’t show it to those around me, this one hurt a lot. I felt very prepared for the Grand Prix and had thought I was going to make a pretty good run in the tournament. Not making the cut to day two was tough to stomach, and it made the 10-hour drive home on Sunday feel even longer. After missing the cut I decided to cancel my trip to GP Phoenix, wanting to give myself a little bit of a break before GP Philly and then the release of the new set which means PT testing.

Developing RB Devotion

I got back into my work routine on Monday and then did a sealed at my LGS on Tuesday night when a friend of mine going to the SCG Invitational messaged me asking for help with Standard. He told me that he was planning on playing UW Control but asked if I had a deck for him since I play the format much more than he does. I told him I’ve been running Red Devotion throughout the format and he said he would play the deck if it had my blessing. At this point I knew I couldn’t just ship him off with the stock list that I played in the SSS or GP Cincinnati; I had to put time and thought into this one if someone else would be battling with it.

I decided that the white was no longer necessary in the deck and could easily be replaced by black for more impactful cards in the matchups that were expected at the Invitational: Esper and Mono-Black. While the white used to feel like the best splash in the deck, the cards that it offered worsened in the matchups where they used to shine once Born of the Gods hit Standard. For example, [card]Assemble the Legion[/card] used to be a card that spelled lights out for the Mono-Black decks, but as they too started splashing white, they had access to not only [card]Revoke Existence[/card] and [card]Glare of Heresy[/card], but also to [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card], which really just invalidated Assemble as a clock. In the same breath, where [card]Glare of Heresy[/card] used to shine in the UW and Esper matches to fight over the [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s, they now had access to Glare and Revoke themselves, making [card]Assemble the Legion[/card], [card]Hammer of Purphoros[/card], and the Purphoros himself do much less than they used to.

It was very frustrating until I realized the deck could easily adapt. Once I cut the white from the deck, the first color I tried as a replacement was green, not only for Domri, but also Xenagos and Xenagod. I liked those cards against the Mono Black decks, but they had the same problem against UW and Esper, losing the [card]Detention Sphere[/card] battle and now also losing to [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card].

The next idea was to play black in the deck. That gave me access to [card]Dreadbore[/card] to replace [card]Chained to the Rocks[/card] as my removal spell of choice, as well as to [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] and [card]Slaughter Games[/card] to change my approach in the matchups from more permanent based to a spell-based approach. While this does weaken me to [card]Thoughtseize[/card], it felt like overloading the [card]Thoughtseize[/card] targets was a better idea than trying to beat [card]Detention Sphere[/card]s. I sketched up a list of the deck and really liked the initial looks of it.

[deck title=Red Black Devotion – Rob Vaughan]
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
4 Blood Crypt
4 Temple of Malice
2 Rakdos Guildgate
11 Mountain
4 Ash Zealot
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Fanatic of Mogis
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
4 Stormbreath Dragon
3 Dreadbore
2 Fated Conflagration
1 Rakdos’s Return
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
2 Hammer of Purphoros
3 Duress
2 Burning Earth
2 Slaughter Games
1 Rakdos’s Return
2 Dark Betrayal
1 Ultimate Price
2 Doom Blade
2 Whip of Erebos

This ended up being the deck that I settled on. I liked every change that was made from white to black, but ultimately I underestimated Rakdos’ Return in this deck. That card is NOT FAIR and I should have played a second if not a third main.

I sent the idea out but my friend was missing a lot of cards for the deck, most of which I also did not have. He tried to track them down but then ultimately just stuck with UW Control for the event. I said that’s fine and obviously wished him luck and then put my thoughts away and tried to move back to real life.

But then I couldn’t. I had thoughts of Nykthos’ing [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card]s for six on turn four, casting [card]Slaughter Games[/card] for [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] and watching my Esper opponents cycling [card]Azorius Charm[/card]s to find an answer to anything, Dark Betrayal’ing Obzedats?!? I was sold, I had to get to this tournament.

Honing the Deathblade

At this point, it was Thursday around 9 a.m., and Charlotte is about a 9-hour drive from me, so I needed to find a way to get that day. I put up a bat signal on Facebook and got a text from buddy (and absolute master sicko) Jared Boettcher about an hour later asking if I still needed a ride. After saying yes, then telling him I couldn’t go because of work, and then having such a crappy day at work that I caved and said yes again, I was set for the weekend.

I stopped by my local LGS after work to pick up the cards I was missing from the RB deck and fill out my Deathblade deck in Legacy. I haven’t really gotten to play much Legacy recently, so I figured I would go with the deck that gave me an Open top eight and ultimately qualified me for this event. Knowing from Drew Levin’s articles that the deck was still in a good position, I knew my experience with the deck would allow me to make some changes and not play the conventional 75 that Levin was advocating.

[deck title=Deathblade – Rob Vaughan]
1 Swamp
1 Bayou
1 Creeping Tar Pit
2 Flooded Strand
2 Marsh Flats
4 Polluted Delta
1 Scrubland
1 Tropical Island
3 Tundra
3 Underground Sea
2 Wasteland
1 Karakas
4 Deathrite Shaman
2 Snapcaster Mage
4 Stoneforge Mystic
4 True-Name Nemesis
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Batterskull
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
4 Brainstorm
1 Diabolic Edict
3 Force of Will
1 Spell Pierce
4 Swords to Plowshares
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Ponder
3 Thoughtseize
2 Meddling Mage
1 Notion Thief
1 Seal of Cleansing
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Disfigure
1 Flusterstorm
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Swan Song
1 Zealous Persecution
1 Vendilion Clique
1 Cabal Therapy

I don’t like the [card]Dark Confidant[/card]s in the other lists; that’s really the biggest difference overall. The worst cards in the deck were the [card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card]s, which is something I’ve always played in the deck prior to this tournament, and the [card]Diabolic Edict[/card], which I just wanted to be a [card]Zealous Persecution[/card] the entire weekend.

SCG Invitational Charlotte – Day 1

The tournament was structured as four rounds of Legacy followed by four rounds of Standard on days one and two, then a Legacy top eight. I started 4-0 in Legacy, which felt great because I was very confident for Standard. After losing a tough match to the eventual Invitational winner, which involved needing to draw a single creature in three draw steps to kill him with a Purphoros, and then losing to the generic Mono-Blue Devotion player who was playing the deck “because it was good at the Pro Tour,” I was rather sour sitting at 4-2.

I knew I needed to win the next round to make day two, because I was not mentally going to be able to start 4-0 then 0-3 and win a meaningful eighth round. I was paired against Naya Devotion, similar to the list I ran way back at the Connecticut PTQ, and stole the match on the back of [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] wiping his hand and killing his Domri on turn four games one and three. I breathed a sigh of relief after narrowly making the cut to day two, but I knew there was a lot of work to be done to make the weekend a success.

I was paired against Kent Ketter in the eighth and final round of day one, and this match was brutal. Before I get into the details of the match, I want to give a shoutout to Kent. This was my first time meeting him and he was a pleasure to play and be around all weekend. I was really bummed to see that he missed top eight on tiebreakers, but I’m sure he is going to be a mainstay in the series for as long as he wants to be, since he is a solid player and a seemingly awesome dude.

As you could see from coverage, he was on a hyper aggressive RB aggro deck, and I had my work cut out for me. Game one was stolen on the back of Exava and [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card], while I got game two with [card]Whip of Erebos[/card] and [card]Fanatic of Mogis[/card]. Note: you do gain life from his come into play trigger; note: that is as awesome as it sounds. Game three left me with a very awkward mulligan decision:

[card]Ash Zealot[/card]
[card]Ash Zealot[/card]
[card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card]
[card]Boros Reckoner[/card]
[card]Dark Betrayal[/card]

I didn’t think I had a shot in the game on five cards, especially since he seemed to snap off his seven, so I kept and hoped to get there. When my first draw was a [card]Mountain[/card] I thought it might happen, but when the T2 [card]Spike Jester[/card] was backed by [card]Magma Jet[/card] and [card]Lightning Strike[/card] on my first two blockers I was in serious trouble. [card]Chandra’s Phoenix[/card] teamed with [card]Herald of Torment[/card] was enough to end the game and put me to a sulky 5-3.

Friday night I got to go out to a delicious sushi dinner with Jared and his girlfriend. It was nice to get out of the Magic world and enjoy a night out with friends. Getting to make tournaments into vacations-that’s really the trick to the whole thing. Plus, sushi is delicious.

SCG Invitational Charlotte – Day 2

So now we are off to day two. I know that I hold my fate. Each loss I pick up during the day is another notch I’m going to fall. If I can string together an 8-0, I’ll be onto top eight and all the glory associated with that. A single loss would get me a top 16, and picking up two more was almost guaranteed for a top 32.

I started 3-0 in Legacy, putting me to 7-0 overall in that format going into the final round. I felt very comfortable there, beating an array of decks: BUG Delver, Deathblade, Elves, Dredge, Jund, and Shardless BUG. Going into the last round of Legacy, I actually felt more pressure to finish 8-0 in the format than to stay at X-3. I’m not sure if that was a good thing or not, but it kept my mind off of a top eight run, which I guess can be good.

I checked pairings and saw I was paired against another friend of mine, Deathblade aficionado Alex Bertoncini. I knew this was going to be a tough match for me, but I also knew Alex was on a list playing Bob, which made me feel good about my configuration in the matchup. I lost a very close game one when his True-Name picked up a [card]Batterskull[/card] and Jitte a turn before I did the same. Game 2 I made my biggest mistake of the tournament: I was on the play and led with [card]Underground Sea[/card] into [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]. He played a Tundra and [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] on my Deathrite. I untapped, drew for turn, and cast [card]Thoughtseize[/card]. His hand was pretty stacked and I had to tank for a while as to what to actually take. After making my decision, I said “Go.” Alex said “Go?” back to me, appearing to have some question in his voice. I said, “Well, land go.”

Now at this point I know my fate is in his hands as to whether I get the land or not. If he wasn’t a friend of mine, I know there is a 0% chance that I get to play the land, but knowing we have become pretty good buddies, I think at the time there is a chance that I would be able to play the land. The truth of the matter is that I should have never put him in that situation. I made the mistake of saying go without realizing I hadn’t played the land, and I should not have put someone I consider a friend in the situation to decide between his tournament fate and a potential friendship.

He ultimately did not let me play the land, which I was rather upset about at the time, but I do have a problem of being too easily tilted in certain situations and allowing it to get to me. We played the rest of the match in silence. There were no harsh words said, and when he beat me I sincerely wished him luck in the rest of the tournament. After that round I went for a little walk to clear my head, but there wasn’t much time until we were onto Standard.

We sat down for the fifth round of Standard and I was still pretty sideways about picking up my fourth loss. Fast forward to game three, and my opponent who is on BW Midrange decides to put me to two with an Obzedat in exile, leaving himself with no blockers and tapped out. This gave me an opportunity to draw any non-land, non-removal spell in the deck to win the game with or to die in my upkeep. I had a [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card], paired with a Purphoros on my side of the field, so I had not only my draw step but also the zero ability on Chandra to find a way to win. I blanked with land, land and quickly picked up my fifth loss.

Now I was tilted. I was The Leaning Tower of Tilt. I had just been X-3 after all. I couldn’t possibly be X-5 already! This time I had significantly more time to clear my mind, so I walked around again. Something dawned on me then that I think saved my tournament: I wasn’t going to win that game against Bertoncini anyway. I knew that at the end of our match, but I couldn’t accept that at the time. I needed to blame him for not letting me play the land on me losing the match, but in reality that had absolutely nothing to do with it. I messed up and misplayed and I wasn’t going to win the game anyway. I put it behind me and focused on winning the next 3 rounds for $500.

I won the next two rounds and sat down the final round against BW Midrange for the top 32. I asked if my opponent wanted to split the prize of top 32, he declined, and I won game one. He then offered the split, and I declined and lost game two. I decided that $250 was better than $0, and playing for the extra $250 wasn’t truly worth it to me. We agreed to a prize split, and then my opponent conceded to me based on my having higher tiebreakers going into the round, just to ensure a top 32 for one of us.

It was a good thing we did it that way, since I ended up in 31st, when two people missed cash at X-5.

Wrapping Up

When I saw the final standings, I was pretty bummed. I saw that Bertoncini missed the top 16 by a single spot on breakers, and I went over to him to offer my condolences (it is the difference between $500 and $1000 after all). When I found him, I realized we hadn’t said anything to each other since our match. I told him I was bummed that he missed top 16 and he immediately said he was sorry about what happened. I told him I still made the top 32 and it seemed like that made him happier than anything else that weekend. He was genuinely excited that I still cashed and that our match didn’t kill my weekend. I’ll get off this subject now because it’s obviously more important to me than my readers, but I wanted to say that Alex did the right thing at the tournament. When you make misplays you shouldn’t expect your friends to bail you out. So don’t misplay.

Now we’re done with the Invitational, and sadly I couldn’t play in the Legacy Open the next day. I was discussing the deck with a friend of mine, Kevin Jones, who was interested in playing it in the Open. We talked about the list, and I told him I wouldn’t really change anything other than the [card]Creeping Tar Pit[/card] (which was pretty terrible for me on the day), the [card]Sword of Fire and Ice[/card], and the [card]Diabolic Edict[/card]. I shipped him what I had of the deck and gave him the updated list that I would play in the open. The only thing he didn’t change was the [card]Diabolic Edict[/card].

I’ll leave this here.

He made top eight of the event with the list we talked about and sadly got caught on the Miracles side of the bracket to fall in the quarters.

The deck felt incredibly solid for me in the Legacy portion, going 7-1 in the Invitational, and he went 7-1-1 in the Swiss of the Open. I strongly suggest this list if you have any Legacy tournament coming up, although I would still cut the Edict for a Zealous in the main. That frees up a sideboard spot to dedicate to combo matchups, where we are slightly weak right now. Quick note, he played a [card]Disenchant[/card] in the sideboard, I’m not sure if that is better than the [card]Seal of Cleansing[/card], but I think it may just be.

I’m content with my performance on the weekend but much more excited for my friends. Kevin Jones made top 32 of the Invitational and top-eighted the Open the next day. Then, you know, Jared Boettcher making top eight of yet another premier level event; the guy is absolutely insane.

I wish I had more to tell you about Standard, but I seriously cancelled GP Phoenix and made it to where I am unable to go for sure. I’m not as familiar with the format as I was prior to Born of the Gods, but that is not surprising seeing as it’s no longer the PTQ format. Either way, I’ll be at Grand Prix Philadelphia, otherwise known as my backyard. If you’re reading this and we haven’t met yet, try to track me down to say hi, if you have no idea what I look like, I’ll post my Twitter info on the bottom of the page. I’m excited for GP Philly, but after that we have another set, and after that… well, ladies and gentlemen, we have the Pro Tour.

Thanks for reading,

Rob Vaughan

Twitter: @Vaughan212

My Long Journey to the Pro Tour

Hey everyone! My name is Robert Vaughan, and I’m an aspiring MTG grinder from New Jersey. I have been playing Magic the Gathering since the Coldsnap prerelease but didn’t start playing at a more competitive level until when Caw Blade was in Standard. It was at this time that I really started seeing a correlation between the time I put into the game and the results I got out of it. It was a pretty satisfying feeling. The minor tournament successes I had during this time made me want more out of the game. It had always been a dream of mine to one day qualify for the Pro Tour, but it wasn’t until a six-month stretch in 2011 that I actually felt it was possible. It stopped being a dream at this point and became my goal to qualify for the Pro Tour.

Fast forward to July of 2013. After only having two PTQ top-eights and one close call at GP Orlando in 2012, I had a pretty dry stretch of possible qualifications. But now we were back in the Standard PTQ season, where I felt I had the best chance to qualify. I audibled to a WBg Aristocrats shell the night before a PTQ. It was an odd looking list from a daily, some random guy on MTGO named Batutinhua… All day at the PTQ I got strange looks from people as I cast [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card] followed by [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card]s and Varolz. People were intrigued by the deck, and the talk around the room grew more and more as the day continued, mostly because I was making a run for top eight. I defeated Bant Hexproof in my win-and-in, and like you always should, I felt like it was my day to make it. Sadly, I lost to eventual winner, Andy Boswell with Jund, in the top eight of the event. So, for the third time, the dream died.

This PTQ was very important to my growth as a player, though. I have always felt more comfortable piloting UWx control decks than anything else, and I am usually against any last minute audible away from those decks. This tournament showed me that I could move out of my comfort zone and still pilot competently throughout the day.

(This tournament I also met a guy named Erik Smith, whom I luckily defeated in the Swiss rounds of the event. This is going to be important later.)

One month later, I decided on a whim to travel to an M14 Sealed PTQ about three hours away with some friends of mine. I have never considered myself an especially strong limited player, always priding myself in being prepared for constructed formats much more than limited environments, but I was having very good success with the M14 draft format on MTGO at the time.

I opened an above-average sealed pool featuring [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card], along with some of the good blue tempo cards. Out of the eight rounds of the PTQ, six of them were easy wins and one was a blowout loss. This record lead me to a win-and-in against an Upstate N.Y. player, Jared Boettcher, whom I ended up becoming good friends with down the line.

We had a good match, friendly conversation, and I ultimately ended up winning it on the back of the Pyromaster herself. So that’s it, right? I made top eight of yet another PTQ and was now in the draft portion, where I felt much more comfortable than the sealed itself.

I wish that were the case, but that would make for a rather short article. I sat down for the draft and was incredibly over confident-which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for someone to be-but it ended up being my downfall in the tournament. I bombed the draft and lost to the [card]Master of Etherium[/card] himself, Alex Majilton in the top eight.

This tournament also had a large impact on my future Magic career: I learned humility in the top eight. It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are, it probably isn’t enough.

I couldn’t buy a win in the Theros Sealed PTQ season. Let’s move on.

Here we are, back in the Standard PTQ season once again. This time we begin in the great white north of America, Syracuse, N.Y. This PTQ was a five-hour drive for a friend and me, but we justified it as a long weekend with friend and fellow magician Jon Corpora, who lives only minutes from the site.

I was on UWr control for this tournament and was confidant in my deck choice, claiming a favorable matchup against Mono-Blue Devotion, UWx control decks, and most of the random creature decks. The Mono-Black Devotion matchup wasn’t bad per se, as I had access to [card]Assemble the Legion[/card] in the sideboard; however it was a match that could always go either way. I X-1’d the Swiss, defeating Mono-Black Devotion three times on my way to the elimination rounds.

As we learned our top-eight bracket, I was excited to hear that my match would be against yet another Mono-Black Devotion. Once again though, I could not break through the top eight and fell to eventual winner, Hank Mead.

While I was excited to top-eight the first PTQ of the season, it did leave another sour taste in my mouth. I didn’t want to give up trying to make it on the Pro Tour, but it was starting to feel like my efforts were never going to be enough. I was spending most of my free time preparing for or travelling to tournaments, not to mention the monetary investment. It was hard to justify not only to others, but also to myself, the total effort I was putting into the game for what I was getting out of it. This thinking was not going to stop me, though; I had two more PTQs the following weekend, one in Connecticut and another in Philadelphia.

I’m sure at this point everyone has heard about the happenings of the Connecticut PTQ, but I got to experience it first hand. When the tournament organizer announced that we would require a three-hour break to fix the tournament, I was 4-1, and the friend I was staying with was 5-0. We both knew we were going to stay for the tournament (it’s just the kind of people we are); the question in both of our minds was about the tournament the following day in Philadelphia.

We were both confidant in our abilities to top-eight that day, but obviously we can’t both win the tournament. I was planning on going to Philadelphia the following day regardless of my tournament finish to hang out with friends and eat delicious food-not to mention I live 30 minutes from the Convention Center. So now what? Doing some quick math showed that this tournament would not conclude until 2 or 3 a.m. Adding a 4 1/2-hour drive from Connecticut to my apartment had us looking at a long night, followed by a long PTQ.

I gave my friend, and magic/life advisor, a call to talk to him about the situation. He asked me if I secretly knew if I was going to play in Philly the next day, barring a win in Connecticut. The answer was so obviously a yes that at this point I realized I was not going to let up on trying to qualify. He told me to try to get some sleep during the break, which I took advantage of, and get ready to restart the PTQ.

I painstakingly lost to Mono-Blue in round eight, putting myself out of contention for elimination rounds. I had been battling with Naya Devotion, a list very similar to Jim Davis’s from the Invitational. While it sucked to lose a win-and-in, I felt very confident in the deck and got to watch my friend easily 7-0-2 into top eight. Sadly, though, his dream died to an interesting Br midrange deck, and just like that we were off to Philadelphia.

After stopping to get gas and coffee, it was 1:30 a.m. by the time we were actually on the road. At this point the GPS said we would get to my apartment around 5 a.m. Easy game, I guess.

We made it to the PTQ the next day. Though I was sleep deprived, there was no questioning now how hungry I was for the qualification. Today I was on Rw Devotion. I dropped the green, citing mana problems throughout the previous day and the lack of impact that the green cards had in bad matchups. I started off 4-1 again, this time losing to Mono-Blue Devotion in the early rounds of the tournament.

As I went to my table for round six, I learned of another matchup that I was not prepared for: the mirror. I was paired against Star City Games Invitational winner Erik Smith with his version of Rw Devotion, and it was the furthest thing from a competitive match of Magic I’ve played in the recent past. He had a much firmer grasp on the matchup and what role to take on the play and draw than I did. I ended up losing the match.

At 4-2, I dropped from the tournament to get some sleep and try to recover from the weekend, since I did have a full week of work waiting for me Monday morning. Of course, I also had two more PTQs the following weekend.

That week I was fortunate enough to be lent Rw Devotion on MTGO to further prepare for my tournaments. I took advantage of this. Not only was I testing with friends and locals when able, but any other time I was free during the week was spent on MTGO getting as many repetitions as I could with the deck, learning matchups, and overall getting more comfortable playing it.

That Saturday I travelled to a PTQ in Lancaster, Penn., battling with a very similar 75 to that from Philadelphia the week before. It was an eight-round tournament, and I sat down for round seven at 5-1. I was paired against Harry Corvese piloting UW Control, a matchup that I felt pretty comfortable in. I lost a quick game one on a sketchy keep that was a non-Nykthos land away from being incredibly explosive.

Game two hurt. A lot. There was a complex board state involving double [card]Archangel of Thune[/card] paired with double [card]Soldier of the Pantheon[/card] facing down double monstrous [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card]s and a [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card]. Harry was at eight life after I resolved a [card]Fanatic of Mogis[/card], which was more than a single dragon could deal. I declared attackers and went to turn my dragons sideways, when I immediately thought of [card]Celestial Flare[/card] and how much of a beating that would be. I impulsively turned my [card]Burning-Tree Emissary[/card] sideways with the rest of my attackers.

As soon as I did this, I realized that I had just punted the game away by allowing his Archangels to block my Emissary, negating the damage dealt by the Dragons and making me incredibly dead on the swing back.

This was solely tunnel vision. I knew what the correct play was but did not think at all about the current board state and attacked into an on-board kill. After the match, I expressed my thoughts with Harry and he had very kind words to say about how long it took him to qualify. He told me that he made every mistake in the book before he made it, but he kept learning as he progressed. Those words meant a lot to me. I thanked him and wished him luck in the top eight while I was left to think about how I could play so poorly when there was so much on the line. I swallowed my pride, what little of it was left, and went to tell my friends of my recent try-out for the punter position on the New York Jets.

Later that night I had to clear my head. There was, after all, yet another PTQ the following day. I got back to my apartment only to see that none other than my friend Max Williams had won the Lancaster PTQ. I was awe-struck. To say that I was excited for him would be an understatement; I know how hard he has worked at this, not to mention losing in the finals of the Philadelphia PTQ just six days prior. He deserved it more than anyone else in the room and he thankfully took it down.

I went to sleep, but woke up around 1 a.m. to the news that another friend of mine, Jared Boettcher, won the Catskills, N.Y. PTQ! Man, this is so sweet! Everything I said about Max can be said about Jared, at the least. Not only did he also lose in the finals of a PTQ the week prior, but he was also playing our updated version of UWr control from way back at the Syracuse PTQ, which was a very cool feeling for sure.

So there I was, reading comment after comment on Facebook and Twitter wishing them luck and congratulations on their finish. They made it look so easy, making finals of two PTQs in a row is no easy task! Hell, up to this point, I haven’t even made it that far. My very first reaction was negative-I’ll be honest. I felt that this was a sign that my friends were moving onto the next level, while I stayed behind. I quickly discarded those thoughts and fell asleep watching Donnie Darko as I got mentally prepared for the next day.

We got to the tournament site, a small mom and pop bookstore in Havre de Grace, Maryland. We knew the tournament was going to be capped because of space issues, but we did not realize the play space was going to be so tight. I believe the number of players was in the 130s, but I might be mistaken.

As we got started, I battled through a good representation of the metagame, beating Mono-Blue, a handful of Mono-Black, the mirror, and a random assortment of creature decks on my way to a win and in against Zach Hill piloting Bu Midrange. I had a good idea of the card choices in his list, but it still presented a large challenge, having both Pact Rat and [card]Master of Waves[/card] in the same deck, especially when I had so little hard removal.

Game one was over quickly, which made him think I was much more aggressive then I actually was. This misconception gave me an advantage in game two, where he had a lot of cards that were not very good in the post board games. Where I brought in [card]Assemble the Legion[/card]s and additional hard removal to allow the game to be stretched out, he sideboarded for much quicker games. As the game went on, I played [card]Assemble the Legion[/card] and Purphoros himself. When the match concluded, it was a great feeling knowing that I won the game solely by being more familiar with the matchup.

At this point, I knew I was a lock for another PTQ top-eight, but this time was different. Leading up to the tournament I claimed that if I could sit down in the top eight and not play against Mono-Blue, I would win the tournament. This top eight had a single Mono-Blue Devotion deck, which I would obviously end up playing against. But fortune was with me that day; my opponent got a game loss for a misregistered decklist. I got the match and was onto top four.

I got to play against the mirror, a match I am more comfortable with than most other pilots. I have to thank Erik Smith for that. After our match in Philadelphia, I messaged him on Facebook asking him about his thoughts for the mirror. He claimed you want to always be the aggressor and that trying to take a control route is not going to work. I tested his theory during the week and overwhelmingly agreed. It was a good feeling being prepared for a mirror that I was sure would be popular, especially when I felt like most others wouldn’t be as comfortable. My opponent and I split the first two games, but my sideboarding plan of being as aggressive as possible paid off in the deciding game.

I was now onto the finals. I was pretty nervous, I’ll be honest, but my friends kept me in line. I felt a lot better about the match when I learned that Mono-Black Devotion defeated Esper Control. I actually had it all. I got to play against my best matchup, one that I claimed if I could play 11 times on the day I would 11-0. I got to put my money where my mouth was now.

He won a quick game one on the back of mulligans into [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Pack Rat[/card]. Game two was one of the most complicated matches I have played in recent memory. I thought I was out of it for a couple turns, but after some fortunate draws and possible misplays from my opponent, we were on to game three.

My hand here was very strong, one that I would take every game if able. Knowing he was playing [card]Thoughtseize[/card] made the hand a little less exciting, but I still had a lot going on. We both kept, he played a Swamp, and passed the turn. I sighed, assuming he was just going to Seize my Thoughts the following turn, but he only played a scry land, put the card on the bottom, and passed. After a few turns of applying pressure in the form of [card]Hammer of Purphoros[/card] and [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card], he extended the hand in concession.

I won the PTQ and just qualified for my first Pro Tour!

I still don’t think I have realized it, even at the time of writing this article.

It’s such a surreal feeling knowing that all of my hard work and constant efforts have finally paid off. I’ll never forget that tournament, or the feeling I had after winning, which is going to be the fuel that keeps me going now. I’m beyond excited to be apart of the Pro Tour and the testing process that comes along with it. I know it’s going to be a very trying and humbling process, but I will hopefully take it in stride and learn from it, as I have from every other tournament I’ve played in.

I have so many people to thank for pushing me along to make it this far; I don’t know if I could have down it without them. While the current Standard format is going to be changing drastically in the coming weeks, I will include my UWr list that Boettcher won his PTQ with, along with my Rw Devotion list for reference.

[deck title=UWr Control by Rob Vaughan]
4 Hallowed Fountain
4 Steam Vents
2 Sacred Foundry
4 Temple of Triumph
2 Azorius Guildgate
2 Mutavault
5 Island
3 Plains
[Other Spells]
4 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
4 Supreme Verdict
1 Quicken
4 Detention Sphere
4 Counterflux
4 Azorius Charm
3 Last Breath
4 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Elixir of Immortality
3 Divination
[/Other Spells]
1 Blind Obedience
2 Assemble
1 Last Breath
1 Celestial Flare
1 Jace, Memory Adept
1 Negate
2 Pithing Needle
3 Gainsay
2 Wear // Tear
1 Turn // Burn

[deck title=Rw Devotion by Rob Vaughan]
4 Sacred Foundry
2 Boros Guildgate
4 Temple of Triumph
4 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
11 Mountain
4 Ash Zealot
4 Frostburn Weird
4 Burning-Tree Emissary
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Fanatic of Mogis
4 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
[Other Spells]
3 Chained to the Rocks
2 Mizzium Mortars
2 Hammer of Purphoros
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
[/Other Spells]
3 Assemble the Legion
1 Mizzium Mortars
1 Chained to the Rocks
1 Hammer of Purphoros
2 Wear // Tear
2 Boros Charm
1 Glare of Heresy
2 Last Breath
2 Firemane Avenger

Thank you for reading what is my first of hopefully many articles,

Rob Vaughan