Starting the Year off Right

Or How To Win A PTQ With 14 Sideboard Cards

It was a little after midnight and I was browsing my phone before going to bed, trying to see if Super Games, Inc. might have a Modern Magic: the Gathering tournament somewhere in the next two days. I’d been to Raven’s Nest Games in Atlanta, Georgia, the last two weeks while I was in the area to visit Christina’s family but found the competition somewhat lacking (lots of cool players though!). I remembered Super Games being a store where the stronger players went when I studied in Atlanta some five years ago, and while it was a little further away, I wouldn’t mind making the trip for the last weekend I’d be here.

I looked at Super Games’ agenda, and saw they had a PPTQ on Saturday, Standard. No, wait, not a PPTQ, an actual PTQ! I thought those were done with starting this year? No info on the Google calendar though. Maybe it was a mistake? I looked around the site and found the PTQ page. Yep, really there: a PTQ, starting less than ten hours from now, and I didn’t care to bring more than the Mardu deck I had played in FNM a few weeks ago. In my defense, I like Modern more, and I hadn’t expected to play a lot of Magic during this trip. I mentioned the PTQ in our Magic Facebook chat, including that I didn’t really have the best deck on me. A simple “DO IT” later, and I was tip-toeing into the bedroom.

“You still awake?”
“I just found out about this tournament tomorrow morning. I’ll be leaving early, if that’s okay?”
“Great, cutie…”
“I’ll be taking the car.”

Well then. I tip-toed back to the desk where I left my decks. I laid out the Mardu deck, but I was missing a sideboard card-hmmm… Oh, damn, I traded that Elspeth last week to get a Jitte because I had more at home anyway. What else did I need? Some uncommons, some [card]Sign in Blood[/card]s-they’ll have those. Do I want to get another Elspeth when I only really need it for this PTQ? It’s not like I’m likely to win considering my preparation and the deck I brought. Man, I wish I had put Abzan Whip together before this trip.

“I love you. See you later today.”
“The tournament, remember?”

An omelet and a short car ride later and I found myself in front of the store booth with a list of cards I needed. No Elspeth on the list, but I got myself a [card]Soul of Theros[/card] for later. I’m too cheap to spend $20 on an Elspeth that’ll be useless tomorrow, especially with the wedding coming up. (Clearly, I should’ve just bought the Elspeth and sold it back later, which would’ve cost me maybe $8, but as they say in Holland: “If it already passed, you’re looking a horse up its ass.)

And so, I registered this:

Mardu Unchained by Jay Lansdaal

2 Battlefield Forge
3 Bloodstained Mire
4 Caves of Koilos
1 Mana Confluence
1 Mountain
4 Nomad Monastery
2 Swamp
4 Temple of Silence
3 Temple of Triumph
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Erase
4 Thoughtseize
2 Bile Blight
2 Lightning Strike
2 Sign in Blood
3 Crackling Doom
3 Hero’s Downfall
2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Murderous Cut
2 Seeker of the Way
3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Butcher of the Horde
2 Wingmate Roc
1 Erase
2 Magma Spray
2 Glare of Heresy
1 Sign in Blood
2 Drown in Sorrow
2 Hushwing Gryff
1 Silence the Believers
2 End Hostilities
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Soul of Theros

Yes, I registered the [card]Soul of Theros[/card] as my 15th sideboard card, and at the time, it might as well have been an empty slot. It was a big threat that I could cast and that could technically win me a game, so it was basically an Elspeth [/sarcasm].

The rest of the deck, though, I was fairly content with. No, I wasn’t sure whether it would be well-positioned, and no, I hadn’t actually played with this exact configuration before. I knew the general strategy, though, and I knew what I wanted out of the deck. Most changes I made compared to my last article were minor (but definitely check out that last section on this deck if you haven’t read it yet).

I ended up not playing the second Urborg, but played the fourth [card]Caves of Koilos[/card] instead because I really wanted to be able to cast Brimaz on turn three. I wanted an extra [card]Erase[/card] as a cheap interaction spell over [card]Magma Spray[/card] in the sideboard because I expected more UW Heroic than Mono Red. I even ended up moving one [card]Erase[/card] main because there was bound to be a ton of Abzan, and sniping a [card]Courser of Kruphix[/card] so my Rabblemasters could get through more often sounded great. That would give me an extra dead card against control, so I played an extra [card]Seeker of the Way[/card] over a [card]Bile Blight[/card] because I wanted to make sure I had enough threats in the deck to put pressure on people. [Spoiler: I will only draw the maindeck [card]Erase[/card] once, can you guess in which matchup? Read more to find out!]

Round 1 – Abzan Planeswalkers

My plan against most (non-aggro) Abzan variants was to kill them quickly game one, and then board out the Seekers and Rabblemasters when the [card]Drown in Sorrow[/card]s and [card]Bile Blight[/card]s came in, killing them with bigger creatures while I messed with their hand and board with [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and the many removal spells. I boarded in Hushwings to “get” people, but they could be pretty bad because they die to the aforementioned removal spells. My opponent had those, and then a ton more removal spells. I don’t think many of my creatures lived for more than a turn or two.



Why did I do this again?

“We just finished round one-six more to go. I lost the first round, so if I lose another one I’m done.”
“‘Kay. Mom and I are seeing a movie at 2:30”

Round 2 – RW aggro

Turn one Swiftspear, hit you.
Turn two attack, [card]Lightning Strike[/card] you, take five total.

This is going well.

I crawled back into it, killing his Swiftspear and getting a Butcher into play. I played a Sorin, plused him, and attacked. My opponent didn’t have a board, so I moved towards the lifepad. “Deflecting Palm, you take six instead.”

Deflecting Palm. I guess this is the 0-1 bracket… Down to seven I go.

My opponent took his turn and passed without a play. Does he have another one? Can I do anything about it if he does? I really needed to get out of burn range, so I plused Sorin again and attacked.

“Deflecting Palm.”
“Yup, I’m down to one.”
“Lightning Strike you next turn?”

I should’ve stayed home. Guess I can make it to that movie.

The next game, I mulled to six, but my opponent apparently kept a one-lander on seven, and didn’t get there in time. The third game I was never really in danger and closed it out: 1-1.

Round 3 – Abzan Midrange

Man, I love me a [card]Thoughtseize[/card]. In both games, I cast a turn-one [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and got to sculpt my entire game around what my opponent had (and just lost a vital piece of). Magic is so much easier when you have (near-)perfect info: 2-1.

At this point, KYT and I were keeping each other updated via Twitter. He was playing Abzan Aggro in a PPTQ and was currently undefeated. I was behind him at the moment, but I was trying to catch up for sure. For Team ManaDeprived!

Round 4 – UW Heroic

Guess which matchup a UW Heroic player does not want to see? That’s right, the aggro deck with [card]Crackling Doom[/card]s: 3-1.

Round 5 – Abzan Whip

Some of these Abzan matches kind of blend together, I’m afraid. From what I can tell from my scorepad, a Rabblemaster went to work game one, and I played a close game two until the second [card]Hornet Queen[/card] combined with [card]Soul of Theros[/card] made the lifetotals about a 40 point difference in my opponent’s favor. In game three, even multiple [card]Siege Rhino[/card]s couldn’t save my opponent from a Vampire token backed up by Sorin (and a boatload of removal spells): 4-1.

“How are you doing, cutie?”
“I haven’t lost since the first round. I probably have to win two more rounds to get something good.”
“Okies. Let me know if you’ll be home in time for dinner.”

Round 6 – More Abzan

KYT was by now locked for top eight, and we were getting a little gang on Twitter in the tweet mentions. People were excited for him, as was I. Now it was my turn to get to that top eight though!

In game one, my opponent got down a Seige Rhino before I even got damage in. It took sizeable chunks out of my life total, and I eventually just died, never getting my opponent below 18. Game two was a similarly lopsided event: I kept six and my opponent mulled to four and just played lands while I added insult to injury with a [card]Thoughtseize[/card] to take away his only potentially relevant spell.

Game three saw me go down to a precariously low life total, trying to build a favorable board before casting my removal spells, and then climbing from five life all the way back up to 21 with the help of some life-gaining flyers. (Abzan is pretty weak to those unless they get a [card]Hornet Queen[/card] out, it turns out.) A good game, with a favorable result for me: 5-1.

Round 7 – Abzan Aggro

KYT was in the top 4, and as it turned out, my opponent and I could actually draw into the top eight. Unless the one player with 13 points magically made up a tiebreaker difference of 10%, we should be seventh and eighth seeds.

“I won’t be back in time for dinner. I made it to the elimination rounds. Trying to get Chipotle and not get lost :/ It’s difficult.”
“Get something to drink too! And a snack for later!”
“Yup, got some water and chips. Back at the store. Found out I forgot a fork. #rekt”

Thankfully, Super Games had forks as well as Forks in their store, so I got to eat my dinner in a more civilized manner than I would have otherwise been forced to, to my opponent’s sleeves’ relief. When I was done with dinner, we quickly started the top eight. My first opponent was the one person the other people in the top were most afraid of: Chi Hoi Yim. Probably best known from the recent SCG Open circuit, this guy has plenty of experience playing at the highest levels, including the Pro Tour. He went undefeated in the Swiss with UB Control, which thankfully is a matchup that I don’t hate.

Quarterfinals – UB Control

I wasn’t afraid to lose. It’s one of the first things I realized when we started shuffling up. I didn’t expect much from this tournament, this deck probably isn’t the best, and I’m playing a really good player. It was weird, because in every other PTQ I made the top eight in, I’d always been scared to lose. However, I would do my utmost to fight for each and every game while I was here. I wonder if KYT won yet. Wouldn’t it be cool to win tournaments on the same day? A great day for ManaDeprived!

Game one, I played one threat at a time, getting in for some damage here and there. I played carefully and meticulously, and while I forgot to write down a life total change once or twice, I was focused on getting this game to where I wanted it, despite having a bunch of dead cards in hand. (Great, now I see the maindeck [card]Erase[/card].) He tapped for a [card]Pearl Lake Ancient[/card], and I Hero’s Downfalled it, expecting it to get countered. I saved the [card]Crackling Doom[/card]s for later, because I would need the damage to get through. He was at nine, and it was unlikely I’d get a creature to stick anymore.

The first [card]Crackling Doom[/card] resolved, and [card]Pearl Lake Ancient[/card] went back to the hand only to come back later. Seven life. The second [card]Crackling Doom[/card] resolved, and [card]Pearl Lake Ancient[/card] went back to the hand only to come back later. Five life. I got a [card]Thoughtseize[/card] countered to sneak in a [card]Lightning Strike[/card]. From five to two. He got a hit in with the Ancient while I drew another [card]Thoughtseize[/card], and he went up to three by replaying a [card]Dismal Backwater[/card]. I was now at 14. Two turns to draw something…

I peeled my first draw, looked at it, and put it down. “Thoughtseize”-he showed me a hand with [card]Disdainful Stroke[/card] as the only counterspell. I showed him the [card]Lightning Strike[/card] I just ripped…

Better lucky than good, I suppose.

The second game was less interesting as I resolved too many threats for the control deck to handle in a timely fashion. I won and got a compliment from one of the spectators for my strong play, which I really appreciated. I was even done in time to watch the ending of the third game of my next opponent. UW Heroic versus Abzan Whip, and it looked like it was still close. Good-I want Heroic to win, as that would definitely make my life easier. Some sick rips on both sides later, and I found out that I’d have to fight hard for the spot in the finals.

Semifinals – Abzan Whip

KYT did not win. He lost the finals, and I still had to get there. Well, here goes…

Game one I Thoughtseized a [card]Siege Rhino[/card] away, but the second one got to deal me quite a bit of damage before I had time to destroy it, trying to build a board first. I end up wining with Sorin tokens, I believe, but don’t worry, this wasn’t the interesting game.

For game two, I had boarded in my [card]Soul of Theros[/card]. I knew my opponent had [card]Hornet Queen[/card]s, and giving all my creatures first strike seemed like a fine way to punch through those.

We traded resources and lifepoints. Seige Rhinos and [card]Butcher of the Horde[/card]s died left and right. My opponent went from 20 to 16, back up to 22, and then down to 19 while I fell all the way to 12. And then I drew it-Soul of Theros-on an empty board, with both players empty handed (or near-empty). My opponent played a Nissa and animated a land. I drew land and attacked Nissa. The land got in front, and I pumped my Soul, having nothing better to do. Up to 20 again. My opponent animated another land. I drew land, played it, and attacked. The land chumped, I pumped: up to 28. A [card]Siege Rhino[/card] joined the forces, and another land got animated. I drew a Downfall, right on time to make sure Nissa didn’t get to go ultimate. I attacked and killed Nissa after blocks. I went up to 33. Then to 41. I took two to cast a [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and went up to 47. Then 64. Still no removal on the other side, and I could pump twice now. I ended up at 76 when my opponent extended the hand.

I got a text from a friend I had texted after round 1 to tell him how I was probably gonna scrub out of this PTQ with this last minute deck:

“How’d u do?”
“In the finals now”
“U made the finals 0_o?”
“Win bro!!! OMG!”

Finals – Abzan Planeswalkers REMATCH

This guy had beaten me round one. This was the only guy that had beaten me all day. He was not going to beat me again.

I had to figure out how, though. Because he played so much removal, it was hard to actually get there with my creatures. If he just chained removal all day and then landed a planeswalker, I would have very little chance of winning. So, I had to get him to develop his board while I built mine and then race him while he could only play one removal spell per turn, most likely. My creatures could get lifelink, his only gained life when they came into play or when he played lands.

Both games played out similarly. I didn’t play a creature in the first few turns, instead electing to kill his Courser, and when he played a second one, I played a Butcher. The first game, he swung into my Butcher with his Courser, and I looked at him, his untapped lands, and back at him when I blocked. “You don’t have double black.” My opponent looked at his lands, promptly put his Courser in the bin, and replaced it with a [card]Siege Rhino[/card]. That was the opening I needed. I got a second Butcher down and attacked with the first. He hit me with the Rhino down to twelve, but I had a removal spell for it, and he couldn’t play enough removal spells fast enough to deal with my threats.

The second game, the exact same thing happened, except this time he didn’t attack into my Butcher. He did play a Rhino, and I once again played a second Butcher while attacking with the first. This time he got rid of the second Butcher immediately, but that still left me one to attack with and to trigger raid for a [card]Wingmate Roc[/card]. When I attacked next turn after my opponent puts me to five, an [card]Abzan Charm[/card] exiled my last Butcher, but the Rocs dealt my opponent six, taking him down to three. We wrote down the life total changes. I went up two, yes. My heart was beating in my throat by now. I know I have it, look up at me, please!

“Second main, [card]Crackling Doom[/card].”
“I’ll sac the Rhino and go to one?”
“Sign in Blood targeting you.”

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win a PTQ.

“I won I won I won!! :D:D:D”
“That’s great, cutie, what’d you win?”
“I’m going to Brussels!”
“You what?”
“Let me call you…”

Jay Lansdaal
iLansdaal on Twitter