Hi all, I have just had an excellent weekend and wish to shout about it. This Saturday was a PTQ in Nottingham to qualify for Pro Tour: San Juan, which is in Puerto Rico to save you googling it. I had resolved to make much more of an effort with PTQs and suchlike this year because last year I kept having things planned and managed to attend a grand total of 2 I think. This is obviously not giving myself the best chance at getting there so I decided to a) attend more and b) play good decks. By good decks I am most likely netdecking (unless I can think of a tremendous reason to not do so) with minor tweaks, but also trying to pick a deck which would be good or at least give me chances against a large proportion of the field (the expected opposition).
This qualifying season is Extended format and it looks like the big three decks are Zoo, Thopter Foundry and Scapeshift. I felt like Zoo and Scapeshift would be picked up by a lot of the better players and I should also be prepared for random matchups because there is nothing worse than losing to something terrible round 1 and then never getting anywhere. I picked Thopter Foundry because it is good against Zoo and random jank, has decent chances against Scapeshift (but likes the opponent to make mistakes) and if I picked it up early enough then I can get a good feel for the mirror. Control decks usually have godawful mirrors but I play pretty quickly and love casting blue cards - every spell should draw cards in my opinion.
I spent December on ebay slowly getting good deals for the cards in the deck LSV and Ochoa played at Worlds, figuring that while the deck might not end up like that it was a good place to start. After testing with others and a couple of practice tournaments I got comfortable with the flow of the deck and started to sleeve up when two things happened on Thursday: 1) LSV had a more up-to-date version in mtg.com's decks to beat section with (most importantly) an up-to-date sideboard, featuring many of the cards I was considering; and 2) I found out that I had broken a bone in my right (my good) hand. The first point meant I could have a great deck and had only to figure out sideboarding, which was easy because I had practiced the matchups already. The second point meant I couldn't shuffle well at all and had trouble keeping readable life totals. I decided that I had prepared so much that I wouldn't just duck out and everyone I know would be fine to shuffle their opponent's deck for them if they had a broken hand. I also decided to play in a GPT in Manchester on Sunday, because why not (more on this later)?
The 75 I sleeved up is the following:
1 Academy Ruins
1 Ancient Den
1 Ghost Quarter
2 Hallowed Fountain
3 Marsh Flats
2 Misty Rainforest
2 Mystic Gate
1 Scalding Tarn
1 Seat of the Synod
2 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Plains
1 Watery Grave
2 Trinket Mage
1 Tezzeret the Seeker
3 Chrome Mox
2 Engineered Explosives
1 Pithing Needle
2 Sword of the Meek
3 Thopter Foundry
1 Tormod's Crypt
1 Vedalken Shackles
2 Cryptic Command
1 Day of Judgment
2 Gifts Ungiven
3 Mana Leak
1 Muddle the Mixture
3 Path to Exile
4 Spell Snare
4 Thirst for Knowledge
1 Wrath of God
1 Chalice of the Void
3 Cranial Extraction
1 Engineered Explosives
3 Kitchen Finks
2 Pulse of the Fields
1 Tormod's Crypt
2 Vendilion Clique
A pretty wonderful 75 with a bit more mana, counters and combo than the original with a bit of a dudes sideboard switch (definitely important to get the pressure on in some matchups).
Team Leeds managed to get 3 carfulls of players down, comprising 14 of the 78 competitors. There were also lots of people from other places I've got to know through playing Magic at various events - it's a good game for meeting people across the country if you want to. After registering and making sure my arm was alright for the judges (I'd messaged the head judge, David Lyford-Smith, in advance) the pairings were given out for round 1.
Round 1 vs Seb Parker (Zoo)
An annoying pairing, to be sure, because Seb is a friend who plays in Cambridge and we're going to Grand Prix: Madrid together at the end of February (with another couple of friends). I know he's playing Zoo, which is a good matchup, but he is also a good player. Game 1 he makes a Wild Nacatl straight away and with another quick guy and some burn back-up I was dead before I could get going. I sideboard:
-1 Tormod's Crypt, -2 Cryptic Command, -1 Pithing Needle, -2 Gifts Ungiven
+2 Vendilion Clique, +1 Engineered Explosives, +3 Kitchen Finks
He doesn't draw as well game 2 and after I deal with some guys he tries to burn me out. I land a Kitchen Finks to go to 12 against his basically empty hand and he concedes to go to game 3. We each keep dodgy hands - he has a lot of land and I have 1 with 4 1 mana spells on the draw. I get to spell snare a few key cards (Teeg, Goyf) and when I finally get to 3 mana to start casting Kitchen Finks he has drawn a lot of land. After drawing all those lands he drew his Steppe Lynxes but I had a recurring Engineered Explosives lock with 3 different colours so it was simply a matter of time before I got there.
1-0 matches, 2-1 games
Round 2 vs Dom ? (Thopter Foundry)
I didn't know at the time but this guy had just beaten Fu in a mirror match. Fu was running the old version of the deck so I couldn't take the results to heart if I did know what was going on. I played a Misty Rainforest on turn 1 and he played a tapped Hallowed Fountain. This told me two things: we were mirror matching and he didn't have a Spell Snare in hand. The mirror is often about comboing quicker, or lockinh the combo with Pithing Needle and winning with a slow Trinket Mage or Tezzeret Ultimate. Thusly I made turn 2 Thopter Foundry and was not surprised when he did the same. I hadn't drawn a Sword by now so I played Trinket Mage and fetched up the Needle. I landed it after a brief counter war and was getting in happily for 2 a turn. He conceded on 8 because I had outmana'd him so dealing with the needle wouldn't matter. He was playing a version of the deck with Life from the Loam, which seems pretty good as it is tutorable with Muddle, helps get Swords in the bin and keeps getting your Academy Ruins back, an important card to be sure. With this in mind I didn't take out the usual Tormod's Crypt and elected for
-1 Wrath of God, -1 Day of Judgment, -3 Path to Exile, -1 Engineered Explosives
+2 Negate, + 2 Vendilion Clique, +2 Cranial Extraction
Game 2 is another non-starter really as I have a hand with half the combo, Tezzeret, some card draw and some counters and land, whereas he had no land to speak of. He managed to EOT discard a Sword but I got in a counter war over a Chrome Mox, leaving me free to resolve Tezz and just win with my huge mana advantage. I felt a bit lucky this round because he seems better prepared for the mirror but didn't draw lands. Still, there's a good prize on the line so it's not a good idea to feel guilty - if they stumble then you kick them while they're down.
Round 3 vs Bruno Panara (Scapeshift)
Looks like my read on the format was a good one then. Bruno is a very good player from Edinburgh but I believe he originates in Italy. Scapeshift combo is not a great matchup for me as game 1 I have 10 dead cards and I have to pick my moment for counter wars over relevant spells. Game 1 is quite a long one. He doesn't draw too many lands if I remember correctly, while I manage to assemble my combo. He plays a Valakut which I am able to Ghost Quarter and I hope he is only playing 2 when he combos off because I am able to get out of range with the Foundry.
-3 Path to Exile, -1 Pithing Needle, -1 Tormod's Crypt, -1 Day of Judgment, -1 Wrath of God, -1 Vedalken Shackles, -2 Engineered Explosives
+3 Cranial Extraction, +2 Vendilion Clique, +2 Negate, +3 Kitchen Finks
Game 2 I get my combo going pretty quickly and get out of range while he never draws a Scapeshift. The thing about Scapeshift is that if you can reach a certain life total then they can't harm you. They need 7 lands to deal you 18, 8 lands to deal you 36, and each subsequent land adds 6 to that total. This means you can just stay ahead of them as the game progresses if you have some life gain in the deck, such as Foundry or Martyr. I contemplated playing Martyr myself but it doesn't seem to have the raw power of Thopter Control and can have difficulties closing games.
Round 4 vs Craig Stevenson (Zoo)
Another friend, teh sux. I hate playing friends because it's always a bit awkward when someone wins and you go back to your other friends for them to ask you how it went. It's still fun to whine about how lucky they got: I feel like I am deservedly on the bad end of a bad beat story. I win the very large dice roll and fan out Misty Rainforest, Mystic Gate, Scalding Tarn, Chrome Mox, Cryptic Command, Thopter Foundry, Sword of the Meek. Time to be the aggro player then :D. I fetch an Island and Mox-Cryptic for a turn 1 Sword of the Meek. Craig takes 3 making a Wild Nacatl. I play Mystic Gate and Thopter Foundry and wish him luck as I have drawn Day of Judgment. He plays a Qasali Pridemage and bashes in for 3 so I make a thopter end of turn (it feels better to race than stop some damage when I can gain so much life). I drew and fetched another Island, briefly considered my options and decided that if he had another Pridemage then I wasn't going to win the race with 4 guys so I got in for 2 and cleared the board. 1 card in hand, combo on board, end my turn 3. He doesn't draw a good answer and scooped them up - sorry Craig.
I board the same as round 1 and Craig has to mull to 5. I don't remember much of this game but the +2's on my life total pad indicate that I got a couple of Kitchen Finks down and I remember ending up with a couple of thopters from a Foundry with no Sword.
Round 5 vs Tom Harle (Dredge)
Round 5 is the awkward one where you can win then ID in or lose and have to win the next one. I'm not sure I'm well-equipped to fight Dredge as I have little graveyard removal and no kind of quick clock. Sure enough he starts going off quite fast and although I have an explosives to deal with some tokens I can't stop the Narcomoeba beatdown without giving him lots of 2/2 Zombies. I did manage to Path him into his third land when it became apparent he was about to Dread Return Iona but a Mana Leak saw that off.
-3 Mana Leak, -1 Vedalken Shackles, -1 Spell Snare, -2 Cryptic Command
+2 Negate, +1 Tormod's Crypt, +3 Cranial Extraction, +1 Engineered Explosives
I substitute some dead cards for some less dead cards but am unable to stop the Zombie horde. I am probably sideboarding this wrongly but it doesn't look like I have a tremendous angle of attack to the game regardless. Tom's always a good player to play against because win or lose he's happy and friendly.
Round 6 vs Matt Light (Rubin Zoo)
This was now the crucial round as it was likely the top 8 after this round would be able to ID in. Matt's a local player but I've seen him around at a bunch of events; he's the guy from the trade a One with Nothing for an entire deck at Nats story. I knew he was playing Rubin Zoo from scouting around (it's easy at events like this to figure out what a lot of people are playing after a few rounds) which is my best match-up, so I'd better not blow it. I counter a few threats because his are more expensive than normal Zoo and I get a Tezzeret down. I think about getting my combo but figure he's bound to have a Bolt sandbagged and my best action is to fetch out Vedalken Shackles. Sure enough he has a Lightning Helix to finish off my Planeswalker but is basically kold to Shackles as I can steal all his guys and make them fight each other for my pleasure. I use an otherwise-useless Tormod's Crypt to make a 7/7 Knight of the Reliquary stealable, counter his Bolt on it but can't stop him Pathing his own guy. When I reach enough Islands to steal Baneslayers he scoops them up.
-1 Tormod's Crypt, -1 Pithing Needle, -1 Spell Snare
+2 Vendilion Clique, +1 Engineered Explosives
He comes out fast with some Noble Hierarchs and a Kataki but I get another quick Vedalken Shackles and slowly control the game. I spend a lot of time sitting behind a stolen Goyf and have counters when attempts to Bant Charm the Shackles with his own Counter back-up. He lands a Gaddock Teeg when I tap out to fetch an Engineered Explosives but when I Path Teeglesworth he concedes to the inevitable.
Round 7 vs Stephen McIntosh (Dark Depths)
Another Cambridge player and one I knew from when I used to play there (when I was even more terrible).
-1 Hunger, -1 Hour
+1 Chilli Beef with Rice, +1 Nachos
The whole top 8 could safely ID in so we used this opportunity to get some dinner and relax before the top 8 started.
Quarter Finals vs Jim (Thopter Foundry)
Not my Jim, although my Jim did know him, do they have a club? Maybe it has a gym. Anyway, the top 8 was 2 Zoo, 2 Scapeshift, 2 Thopter Foundry, Dredge and Dark Depths. I finished 4th in the swiss and faced the 5th placed Mirror match, yay. Game 1 took a very long time with some Trinket Mage beats and a small amount of comboing on both sides before the board was wiped, I stuck a Pithing Needle on his Academy Ruins and we were both in topdeck mode. I made the mistake of playing out all my lands (mana advantage is usually good in control mirrors) before I drew Thirst for Knowledge and worked out why I might want extra cards in hand. I was able to filter through my deck first and found the combo again. He got a Gifts and received a Tezzeret in the deal but I had a counter for the sword of the Meek and he had no Artifact to keep comboing with when I went off.
-1 Tormod's Crypt, -1 Wrath of God, -1 Day of Judgment, -3 Path to Exile
+2 Negate, +2 Vendilion Clique, +2 Cranial Extraction
With not long left my best chances were locking up the game for us both. I had an early combo but only got 1 guy out of my Sword before it was Extirpated, drat. He lands a Trinket Mage and I a Vendilion Clique followed by a second Thopter. I kill his Tezzeret, losing my Clique to his Thopter and trade my two tokens for his Trinket Mage, leaving the board clear. I resolve a Tezzeret and fetch up Pithing Needle naming Thopter Foundry to stop any more comboing and he scoops rather than wait out the few minutes we had remaining.
Semi Finals vs Bruno Panara (Again)
He assures me he won't be so unlucky this time and he's figured out how to sideboard. By this point we had been moved into the bar area and there was a more jovial atmosphere to proceedings. I mull g1 and keep an okay but probably too slow hand. I get my combo going but am only able to reach 25 when he 36's me - told you one had to get out of range!
Same sideboarding as before, 10 dead cards out for 10 live ones. I get my combo (important, since I am actually the aggressor in this matchup) and am able to gain enough life to be out of range before he finds a Scapeshift he can adequately defend. Game 3 for the marbles then. This is a very interesting game as I manage to defend a cranial Extraction to strip away his Scapeshifts. An early Vendilion Clique stripped him of a Cloudthresher but the Cranial revealed a Rude Awakening in his hand. At the end of my turn he tapped out to Cryptic Bounce a land and draw a card and I seized the opportunity to Clique away the Awakening, legend ruling that creature to just leave me with a Kitchen Finks. He goes for a Peer through Depths which I Negate and I Negate his Negate, leaving me handless with my Finks and Thopter Combo to his 1 life and land in hand. I wish him luck and he slams Vendilion Clique down, believing it to be not enough to save him. He forgot to try Cliquing away his land but I think the top of his library was blanks when he looked afterwards. As I write this I realise I might be confusing the games with one another, but Rich Hagon was on hand to take a good match report so hopefully he'll write it up himself at some point and I can see all my mistakes again.
Finals vs Richard Bland (Scapeshift)
Scapeshift again?!? At least my read on the format was accurate enough, having played 3 Zoo, 3 Scapeshift, 2 Thopter Foundry and 1 Dredge deck. My memories of this match are a bit hazy, but in game 1 he made an early Kitchen Finks, an unusual maindeck choice for Scapeshift. I got my combo and was soon able to block and kill the Finks and attack for some. He had a Firespout but I just made more guys and gained more life and I was able to attack him for lethals. This was it, 1 game win away from the Pro Tour!
Same old trusty sideboarding, didn't even need the reminder sheet for this one ;). Game 2 I kept a slow one with too many expensive spells. He Vendilion Cliques me and lets me keep, bashes in for 3 a few times but combos the win before I can recover, Sad Face.
We shuffle up for game 3. I say we; due to my broken hand I had had Andy Edwards, Jim Marlow and Neil Rigby offering to shuffle for me throughout the top 8 - stirling work guys, very appreciated. My 7 has a guy, some land and some counters so I keep it. Richard doesn't like his 7 so goes to 6. He looks long and hard about this and when I ask if it's Valakut and 5 mountains, he says that it's close but only 4. His next 5 are no good either but he keeps the 4. I know the game is mine for the taking now but my guy is a Trinket Mage and I don't want to get beat by a Vendilion Clique when my back is turned so I take it slowly and play my Mage when I have counter mana up. He only gets me an Artifact Land but I'm able to land a Kitchen Finks. A Vendilion Clique in his draw step gets countered but I have too much pressure on now and he can't get there in time.
There it was, I'd done it! My first PTQ win, and I was very happy. I think everyone around could see that it was special to me because they were all congratulating me. The judges had made a special Blue envelope with a note of congratulations and a foil lucky charm to take with me, which was lovely. Guess I'm off to Puerto Rico then :D