I wanted to get back to the Pro Tour so badly.
I shouldn’t feel this empty. I just came home from two of the best weeks I can remember in my MTG career.
PT Montreal, GP Quebec City.
Positive win record at my second PT in a year.
Cashed the GP.
Teammates crushed both events, one top 16 at the PT, one second place at the GP.
Memories were created.
Laughs were plenty.
Food, Hockey, and shenanigans were all awesome
I struggled during the week back from the PT wondering what it was inside me that had me so fired up.
It’s wasn’t a dream anymore.
It wasn’t some far off ambition to make it to the big show.
It was a reality. Someone wins every event. Often it goes to the person who wants it the most…that prepares the most. The person most on top of their mental game. The person who feels it.
I used to think there was so much luck. I used to cry about variance. I used to complain that I couldn’t catch a break.
Certainly an individual needs to run hot. Every winner has to get lucky at some point, it has to be their time, and they have to draw the right cards.
One simple realization came to me during my PT/GP weekend in the beautiful province of Quebec, after spending so much time with people so much better than me at the game.
How many times has it been “My Time” and I simply did not play well enough, thought through my lines long enough, or treated my body well enough to grasp it? How many times did I not only fail to capture it, but just let it slip away?
Pascal Maynard was discussing the “state of the game” with me at the PT. This was a hot topic among pros; how flawed is the pro system and how tough is it to stay on the train?
Pascal said something that I thought about a lot. “Ever since my (Pascal’s) first Pro Tour, I have never trained. I have qualified for every PT since, but it is always the hard way.”
I left that subway ride thinking. I have never gone to back to back PT’s. My first was in 2005, and then I went to one in 2006. Fast forward to Barcelona in 2012 when I made it back, and now MTL in 2013.
I have never been able to be consistent at doing it the “hard way”. Why am I even having discussions about how hard it is to gravy train?
I knew what I had to do; win a modern PTQ. I asked the team what I should play. Everyone said “Lanthier Jund”. I decided that since I was very experienced with Jund, I wouldn’t even question this and locked myself in. All that was left, was the list.
[deck title=Lanthier Jund]
4 Verdant Catacomb
4 Marsh Flats
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Blood Crypt
1 Stomping Ground
3 Treetop Village
2 Raging Ravine
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Dark Confidant
3 Kitchen Finks
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
4 Liliana of the Veil
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Profane Command
1 Go for the Throat
2 Slaughter Games
1 Consume the Meek
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Olivia Voldaren
1 Gradigger’s Cage
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Fulminator Mage
1 Jund Charm
1 Torpor Orb
I loved it. It felt near perfect. After going over sideboard plans I felt like I had a couple minor changes for my meta, but played 73/75 what Dan sent me. I cut one [card]Slaughter Games[/card] and one [card]Consume the Meek[/card] from the sideboard. I knew I wanted a third Fulminator, since he was good against GR Tron (which I was expecting, and is one of my few bad matchups). He also came in vs URW which was a wanted addition. My last slot was undecided up until 5 minutes prior to leaving for the site.
Me: “Why do I only play 1 [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]? Isn’t that card the nuts?”
Josh: “Yeah, it’s awesome, play it”.
Dean & Matt: “Yeah, just throw it in”.
This choice seemed random at the time. I was not expecting a ton of Affinity but didn’t want to be dead to it. I didn’t think much about it past that and I hoped for the best.
I got little sleep the night before the event. I wasn’t nervous, or anxious about my choice. I loved my deck, and was content. I was feeling the pressure, and knew how badly I wanted it. I knew that I was capable, and just hoped I could keep it tight.
The hour at the site was awesome. So many people welcoming me back from the PT, and the GP. I love PTQs because of the community, and seeing everyone all wide eyed and ready to win a slot.
To win my slot.
Everyone was now my competition.
Everyone stood between me and destiny.
I wanted to crush them.
Round 1 – 8 Blood moon Red (2-0)
Round 2 – Kiki Pod (2-0)
Round 3 – Jund Mirror (2-1)
Round 4 – Dredgevine (0-2)
Round 5 – Mono Red (2-0)
Round 6 – GR Tron (2-1)
Round 7 – URW (2-1)
Round 8 – ID
The tournament started off in an interesting manner. My opponent (Tyler) was playing an awesome deck that had snow lands and [card]Scrying Sheets[/card]. He also had [card]Blood Moon[/card]s + [card]Magus of the Moon[/card], [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], and [card]Skred[/card]. I was a bit wide eyed at the interaction, and thought it looked tight, but was able to prevail with the two maindeck [card]Abrupt Decay[/card].
I mention this match not only to highlight a cool deck, but also to briefly discuss my opponent, Tyler Schamehorn. See, Tyler has had an interesting streak. His last three PTQs (counting this one) he has started 0-1. Now normally this would be disheartening, and I imagine it was. As we left our match Tyler was not only super polite, wished me luck, he also said, “I hope this helps my tiebreakers.” What I found out later is at the last two PTQ’s he started 0-1, then went 6-0, and was in a position to draw in if breakers were good enough. Both times they weren’t, so Tyler played a win and in for 7-1. Both times he came up short.
This PTQ was no exception, as Tyler was quickly 6-1 with his awesome concoction. When the round 8 went up, Tyler sadly learned he couldn’t draw in, and was forced to face Shane in a win and in. A few tough games later, and another 6-2. Through all of this though, Tyler still had a great attitude, and my talks with him were extremely positive.
I admire this attitude. I tilt off so easily, and I know if I am going to keep it tight and win this PTQ I need to have this kind of demeanor.
Round 4 started off so well for me, but then everything went wrong.
I sit down, open up an amazing 7 card hand with 3 land, 2 discard effects, bolt, and goyf. My opponent mulligans, and then the judge announces a re-pair. We shake hands and move on.
I sat down for take two against Dredgevine. I failed to hit an untapped land turn three with my Confidant, and was unable to cast [card]Maelstrom Pulse[/card] on his two [card]Hedron Crab[/card]s. He untapped and milled 12, hitting everything he needed.
Game two I couldn’t draw any of my sideboard cards or one of my own creatures to kill and shut off his one bridge. So I lost.
Thankfully for me, I managed to pull a Tyler. I didn’t tilt, I didn’t worry, and I just reminded myself why I was there.
I could afford one loss per match, and could afford one loss in the Swiss.
I was done losing.
Round 5 I was at two life for three turns vs Mono Red in the first game. He somehow bricked on a way to kill me, and I was able to 2-0 him.
Round 6 I clawed back from down a game to my worst match up with some timely topdecks.
Round 7 I lost game 1, and was able to keep it tight in post sideboard and crushed my win and in.
If there is any lesson from this event, and any lesson from the past year of grinding, I would say it is learning to not quit until you are dead.
How often in the past have I felt bitter or upset when people runner-runner-runner me out of a game in a match? How often have I tilted off when I punt game one of a match?
Don’t quit, don’t surrender. Don’t allow someone else to seize YOUR day.
I managed to somehow drop from 3rd seed going in to the ID’s to 5th seed on breakers. Matt was in 5th going in to the ID’s and jumped to 4th. This meant he got the play.
I didn’t care.
Game 1 I got stomped. I was able to rip apart Matt’s hand early, but he drew well enough at key moments to pull it out. As we sideboarded he remarked, “Wow I can’t believe how lucky I got to beat you that game, I drew everything exactly when I needed too.”
My only thought was, “Guess I am going to 2-1 you not 2-0 you.”
I don’t think I was conceited at the time.
I don’t think I was trying to stave off tilt.
I felt like I was in the zone.
I wanted it.
Game 2 Matt revealed he had boarded in [card]Molten Rain[/card] against me. After beating down with two [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] we headed to our sideboards.
I stared at my 15 cards and felt like I couldn’t afford to keep [card]Profane Command[/card] in. I didn’t have anything cheap left in my board other than [card]Fulminator Mage[/card]s. I came to the conclusion that two of them would be better on the draw than Profane. His mana base was fragile, and I could possibly beat out [card]Molten Rain[/card] if Deathrite stuck. They also were a good way to block a 4/5 [card]Steppe Lynx[/card], providing some value.
This was another lesson I realized lately. Don’t pigeon hole yourself into a plan, and refuse to be flexible.
Not everyone subscribes to the same plan.
Game 3 Matt had a Confidant and Goyf on the table for three turns against me. I had a [card]Jund Charm[/card], but felt I could only win by continuing to strip the graveyard of all spells and dudes with my 2x Deathrite. Thankfully the three extra flips of Confidant were either land or Snapcasters, and I was able to eventually Pulse the Confidant. I managed to keep the Goyf small, and finally triumph with a Thrun.
For all of the good fortune Matt had Game 1, he drew a lot of land in a row Game 3, as he showed me many bricks upon scooping.
I didn’t feel happy yet.
I had business to do.
I got the bad news that Marcel and I were on the same side of the bracket. He was 7-0 when we drew in to T8, he was playing super well that day and running well. He was my toughest competition remaining.
He was my end boss.
Semifinals – URW (2-1)
Game 1 was unexciting, as Marcel had a mulligan and I had an Inquisition. That is one of the prime reasons I love Jund. It punishes people. It punishes them very hard.
Game 2 I ripped apart Marcel’s hand with two discard spells. He only had a Path left with two land, so I had to play either Confidant or Goyf. I didn’t have much land, and decided that since any Snapcaster would get back his Electrolyze or Bolt, depending on mana, I would lead with Confidant and follow it up post-Path with Goyf.
The card he had drawn that turn was [card]Electrolyze[/card] and Confidant ate it. He untapped and played Geist, and Path-ed my Goyf.
I was far behind after that sequence.
I didn’t give up.
A few turns later I had a Finks as pressure and know his last card is Bolt, with five lands out. I drew a [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and thought about using it so I could activate my Treetop and attack. I realized if he drew a land he would animate Colonnade and attack, so I just hit with Finks and passed. He did rip a land, hit, and then had UW up. I [card]Thoughtseize[/card]d the Bolt, played Deathrite, and hit for six. Finks got Path-ed, and Marcel was now ahead in the race. I drew a Goyf at five life and decided that my best shot was to hit with the Ravine I played last turn to get +1 point, rather than gain with Deahtrite (I didn’t have enough mana to Goyf, Deathrite, AND Ravine). The gain would have been from 5 to 7, then 2 more the next turn to 9 (allowing an extra hit from Colonnade). Taking the damage line would have made it so if Marcel bricked, he was dead as I was at 5 and all he had was Colonnade. I figured if I gained to 7, he hits me to 3 and I would die to burn anyways, so go for the gusto.
He drew [card]Phantasmal Image[/card], and was able to hit me to one presenting a Goyf blocker to face down my then non-lethal board.
Any removal and I was on to the finals.
I bricked. We were on to Game 3
I contemplated bringing Bolt back in. I felt like if I had Bolt that game I might have won. I knew it would kill Image, but so did the Decays I kept in for the Swords I knew he had, and the GFFT I kept in for Colonnade.
Besides, Image needed to kill the Thrun I never drew, or he would lose anyways right?
Thrun came down turn 4, and Marcel let out a big sigh. I held a Jund Charm the entire game, keeping it for the perfect moment if it arose.
On the last possible turn Marcel sighed and said, “Well if you have bolt you win,” and killed all but my Thrun, at 6. I didn’t have any of the four Bolts sitting in my sideboard, but thankfully the two +1/+1 counters were enough.
I was relieved.
Yet, I was not yet content.
One more match to go.
Finals – Affinity (2-0)
Shane is an awesome guy who I hear has played magic for a long time. My understanding is he is a “casual” player. He has a sweet Affinity list, including [card]Boros Charm[/card], from what I scouted.
As we shuffled I pictured him using it to give an Inkmoth Double Strike before putting four Ravager counters on it.
I pictured him having [card]Cranial Plating[/card] and Double Striking it to pound my face in.
I pictured him casting it when people play [card]Shatterstorm[/card] and laughing maniacally
I pictured him topdecking it when I was at 4 presenting lethal.
I stopped picturing it, focused, breathed, and presented my deck.
Game 1 I felt completely in control. It certainly helped that Shane did the math wrong on my Goyf. Turn 1 I had Inquisitioned a [card]Steel Overseer[/card] off a fetch land and then dropped Goyf. He was 4/5, but Shane casted [card]Galvanic Blast[/card] on it for 4. He then attacked his [card]Memnite[/card] into the Goyf, and lost it as well.
“I didn’t want it as bad as Doug did, and lost focus,” is a quote I was told he said at a GPT the next day.
I didn’t lose focus. Not this time, like many before.
Game 2 I kept a suspect hand due to having [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] in it. The game dragged on, as Shane had only one land and a then-inactive Mox in play. I drew land, followed by land, followed by more land. Shane clawed back in the game. Before I knew it I had 13 land out, 5 fetches in the yard, and 1 in hand. I was gaining life off Deathrite to stay alive from the [card]Vault Skirge[/card] plus [card]Signal Pest[/card] hitting me. I kept running a 3/2 Finks and HUGE [card]Raging Ravine[/card] into his [card]Etched Champion[/card], netting only 2 points. A key turn came after Shane drew a Plains, activated two Inkmoths and bashed for 2 lifelink + 4 poison.
I only had 2 turns to live.
I knew I needed a spicy topdeck, and drilled the second [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]. I bashed in and passed. I just waited for him to animate attackers.
I killed the life linker and the Pest, taking two poison. I knew if he used all four mana next turn to hit me to 9 poison, he was dead on board to my Deathrite (and his lack of chump blockers for my Finks). I hit him down to 7, played a second Finks, and passed (planning on using Deathrite to knock him to 5, untap him to 3 and having 3 lethal guys facing his 1 Etched). Shane untapped, animated his two guys, and hit me to 9 poison. He played an [card]Ornithopter[/card] and said go.
I knew the second he said go that I had won the PTQ
I bashed in, shook his hand, and received a roar from my friends.
I had had done it.
Satisfied my desire
Quenched my thirst.
I had won back to back live PTQ’s to qualify for back to back Pro Tours.
It felt so different this time. While equally as amazing as the last couple, this time it felt like I had put much more work in to my mental game than ever before.
I got lucky enough for it to be rewarded.
I got the news that Caplan had won his PTQ the same day, March 2nd, and was affirmed in the fact that he wanted it even more than I did.
As I reflect, I know one thing is certainly true.
If you want it bad enough, put in the work, pick the right deck and are patient enough to wait until it is your turn.
You can win.
Thank you to everyone who made my trip in MTL so amazing, and everyone who was there rooting me on back home.
Special shout outs to Fox, for letting me crash for a week and rooming at GPCQ, to Matt, Eric and Marcel for also T8ing and showing strength in our teamdraft group, and to Tyler for continuing to keep positive, even at 0-1, and even after so many 6-2’s.