by Sebastian Parker
It has been obvious for a while now that Grand Prix Brussels was going to be Jund Jund Jund, so I decided that instead of spending the money to travel to Europe and play a standard jund tournament for 1 day followed by an extended PTQ on Sunday when I inevitably lose 3 mirror matches, I was going to play an extended PTQ in Birmingham followed by a standard Nationals qualifier in Reading. Between the two tournaments my hope was to increase my rating by the 80 or so points needed to qualify for nationals, or straight up qualify on the Sunday. It was a nice idea, but the weekend didn't turn out as I had planned... Here's part 1:
As has become the norm before PTQ's Ben Scoones came round to mine the evening before for some last minute practice and online drafting. We spent a long time playing standard and building up decks for the two tournaments and before we knew it, it was 9.30pm and we hadn't had anything to eat. Ben suggested Domino's but I didn't want pizza so we compromised with a trip to a restaurant just down the road from where I live – Bella Italia. He ordered coke, I ordered diet coke and we sat there chatting about how Gavin Verhey is the only good starcitygames writer (editor's note: disagree) but the Ultemecia deck is pretty questionable. We ate our starters and ordered more cokes, but when our drinks came mine had a straw in it. Ben made a joke about the waitress thinking I was gay but we figured she probably just did it to indicate which one was diet and we carried on with the meal. When it came to ordering dessert, I didn't want one but Ben ordered a sundae and the waitress asked if we wanted two spoons! I guess two guys going to a candle-lit restaurant late on a Friday night does look a bit like a date so really the joke is on both of us...
Anyway, we got back to mine around 11pm and realized that drinking so much coke late at night is not a great idea so we stayed up chatting and playing various forms of magic till about 3am. As a result, I when we got up at 7am to get a lift to Birmingham I was totally exhausted and in no fit state to play. I did manage about an hour's sleep in the car but I still wasn't awake enough to play magic when I arrived at the tournament!
Just for reference, here's my decklist (which I credit the design of to Marco Orsini-Jones, except for the temporal isolations – which is some technology I found online, which I liked because they don't help your opponents when you have blood moon):
4 Arid Mesa
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Marsh Flats
1 Scalding Tarn
2 Stomping Grounds
1 Temple Garden
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Treetop Village
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Qasali Pridgemage
4 Knight of the Reliquary
3 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Blood Moon
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Temporal Isolation
3 Umezawa's Jitte
3 Baneslayer Angel
2 Path to Exile
4 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Tormod's Crypt
1 Ravenous Trap
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Oblivion Ring
Round 1: Lian Pizzey
I have seen Lian at tournaments for a long time and I know that he likes to play blue in extended, so I doubt that he's playing hypergenesis or dredge. I get a hand of noble hierarch, temple garden, arid mesa, double blood moon, double wild nacatl, which is great because I can get down a blood moon on turn 2 and hopefully get an easy win for game 1.
Lian wins the roll and opens with temple garden tapped. I draw a misty rain forest and say “snap” and play my own temple garden into noble hierarch. Turn 2, Lian plays a breeding pool untapped and removes a negate to chrome mox. My suspicions are revealed to be correct – he is playing blue! He passes the turn and casts vendilion clique in my upkeep, which I find odd since most people wait for the draw step but whatever... He takes a nacatl, I draw a knight of the reliquary and my draw for the turn yields a land. I play arid mesa and say “fetch basic plains”, dutifully put my plains into play and then look at the blood moon in my hand. I look at my board. Noble hierarch, temple garden, plains... no red mana... facepalm! I kick myself and then smile at how lucky I am that I have drawn a knight, which is still a strong turn 2 play.
Lian follows up with another dual land, path to exile on the knight and rhox war monk – making my board, hand and non-blood moon play look really mediocre. He beefs me with the clique and passes the turn. I have nothing better to do than play a blood moon and bolt his vendilion clique. Rhox war monk attacks me a couple of times while my nacatl hits back to keep his life in check. Eventually I draw a temporal isolation and a tarmogoyf and the game is looking like it has swung in my favor. Lian does manage a second war monk (see how effective my blood moons are?) but I draw into more large guys and he is forced to play defense, eventually a bloodbraid elf into another guy is too much for him and I win game 1.
I side out of blood moon, since Lian is playing both noble hierarch and chrome mox. I also side out one temporal isolation since he might have qasali pridemage. I side in 3 baneslayers and 2 path to exile.
In game 2 I have a nice curve of nacatl, qasali pridemage, knight, bloodbraid elf so I keep. Lian goes first and spends his turns not doing much. Lian Bant Charms my knight on his turn 4. My turn 4 I draw another knight and play a misty rainforest. I crack the fetchland and Lian marks the lifetotal change on his pad while I pick up my deck to search. Lian then looks up and alarmed that I am searching though my deck. He says, sorry I meant to respond to the sacrifice with aven mindcensor! I did play the whole thing rather fast, so it's not like he'd had loads of time to respond, and technically the lifetotal changes before he gets priority but we both agree it might have been prudent to say wait before marking the lifechange. I didn't find a land in the new top 4 cards of my deck so the mindcensor was pretty sick. I settle for casting the knight and I pass the turn. Lian improves his board with a rhox war monk. On my next turn I draw a second bloodbraid elf and I feel like I really need to cast an elf to get back in the game so I risk it, tapping a land for mana and sacrificing it to the knight. I pick up my deck to search, but then Lian reminds me that I can only search the top 4 cards and I get a warning from the judge (editor: that was me :D ).
The knight finds a fetchland so things are looking ok, but the fetchland finds nothing so I'm stuck with just 1 land and a noble hierarch. Next turn Lian plays another bant charm on my knight and I have no chance to get back in the game.
Game 3 I have a strong start with a noble heirarch followed by a quasali pridemage and a bolt on his heirarch. Bloodbraid elf into knight and Lian is looking really far behind. He casts aven mindcensor and then paths the knight. I find no basic land in the top 4 cards and he doesn't block with the mindcensor. He attacks with his mincensor and I attack him again with the bloodbraid and qasali and he casts another mindcensor which I bolt so my creatures can get through unhindered. Post combat I'm thinking “phew, got rid of that mindcensor – now I can search my whole deck” so I play a fetchland, crack it and pick up my deck. Immediately about 3 different people say wait! And I realise that even though I did kill a mindcensor, there is another one in play. It even attacked me last turn... I feel like such a dumbass while I receive my second warning (editor: me again) when the first round hasn't even finished. Anyway, I topdeck a baneslayer and the lands to cast it and even though Lian manages to engineered explosives for 2 to get rid of my tarmogoyf and a temporal isolation on his war monk, he doesn't have an answer to baneslayer so I end up winning the round. A lucky escape from a terribly played round, but another warning for anything means a game loss so I have to wake up. I buy a can of coke and go and find my round 2 opponent.
Round 2: Stuart with Naya Burn
Last season I saw Stuart playing a version of naya zoo with giant growth and brute force. He won all the zoo mirrors because his creatures were constantly winning fights, but he lost to the control decks because pump spells are really bad when your opponent has removal and mana open...
I win the die roll, mulligan a no-land 7 into a double noble heirarch, tarmogoyf , blood moon, 2 land hand, which is pretty sweet against zoo I think. I start with fetching a basic forest and casting a heirarch. When he opens on a stomping ground into kird ape I am pretty stoked about mooning him out of the game, but take the time to ask him if he's playing the pump spell version he played last year. His response indicates that he's not, even if he tried to hide it and keep me guessing.
I get the turn 2 moon and I say “I hope your hand is dead”. It's decidedly not – he plays double kird ape and attacks for 1. The next turn he bolts my goyf and plays keldon marauders – it's like my moon has done nothing to his mana since every spell in his hand is mono-red. I draw only lands for the rest of the game and lose in very short order.
I side in baneslayers and a path for the moons, but game 2 is similarly fast as my life total does not last very long against my fetchlands, his keldon marauders and burn spells.
Round 3: Scapeshift
In the pregame chatter my opponent reveals that this is his first extended PTQ. I congratulate him on winning a round and welcome him to the world of tournament magic. It becomes quickly obvious that he's playing UGr scapeshift with his turn 2 sakura tribe elder serving as a speed bump for my quick beats. My deck doesn't have much burn and is slower than normal zoo decks so I'm a bit worried that this is a terrible matchup. For turns and turns my opponent is on 7+ mana and digging for a scapeshift but despite seeing about 30 cards of his deck, he doesn't manage to find a scapeshift so eventually my dudes get through for lethal.
I commiserate him on not finding a scapeshift in time, just to make sure he is actually playing it and he confirms a number of cards in his deck which I hadn't seen up to that point. I ask if he's playing punishing fire and he says no.
Game 2 he suspends a turn 1 search for tomorrow and I get a nacatl. Turn 2 I get a second nacatl while he plays peer through depths (finding another peer). Turn 3 he casts compulsive research and I get in for 6. Turn 4 he casts another peer through depths and suspends a search for tomorrow that he finds. I get in for another 6, putting him to 5. With lightning bolt in hand this game is looking pretty good for me. Turn 5 he casts Kitchen Finks and goes to 7. I bolt the finks and attack with both nacatls. He blocks one of the nacatls and goes to 6. I have lethal on the board, but I don't want him to have another kitchen finks to get back in the game so I cast a knight. He remands, drawing a peer through depths, which he casts, finding peer through depths, which he casts finding scapeshift. He reveals after casting the lethal scapeshift that his hand was remand and lands so if I just hadn't cast anything he was dead. I'm gutted that the knight ended winning him the game but I think I have to cast it there just because he could firespout or finks and have several turns to draw into scapeshift.
Game 3 I get a good start but he quickly stubbs it with a firespout. I bolt him in response to make goyf a 2/3 and then have to explain how when firespout resolves goyf is a 3/4 with 3 damage on it. He says that must be why goyf is so expensive but he follows up with consecutive kitchen finks so he's not too bothered about one goyf. I follow up with double knight of the reliquary and now I can really start eating up his creatures. On the critical turn I have a knight untapped and ready to fetch ghost quarter and he taps low for a search for tomorrow into a scapeshift. With scapeshift on the stack I leave the table basically to ask a judge which land I should ghost quarter to stop valakut. Judges aren't allowed to give strategic advice so I know I need to phrase my question as a question about the rules of the game (which essentially it is). The floor judge doesn't seem to know anything about magic cards at all, and has to look up knight, ghost quarter and valakut, stomping ground, mountain... After wasting 5 minutes I suggest we call over the head judge, who is slightly better but it still takes forever to answer what happens if I kill valakut with the triggers on the stack. (The answer is pretty much nothing) He refuses to answer my question about targetting a mountain with ghost quarter because the judge call has taken so long and he tells me to just sit down and play out the game. I think he does this because scapeshift is usually the win and if my opponent doesn't make a mistake then I have lost and I am just wasting time looking for a way to win a lost game. If I had been playing against someone who I knew, or someone I knew was a good player I would just scoop to the scapeshift but since it's his first extended PTQ and he has already made mistakes there is a significant chance my opponent will slip up. I feel slightly bad since he is sitting there twiddling his thumbs, just waiting with his (in all likelihood game winning) scapeshift on the stack. So with the head judge watching we play out the game. My life total is 16. My opponent fetches 3 steam vents, 2 stomping grounds, mountain, 2x valakut. With the valakut triggers on the stack I use knight to sacrifice a plains to fetch ghost quarter from my deck. I sacrifice the ghost quarter targetting a stomping grounds and my opponent fetches a basic island out of his deck. Now with only 5 mountains in play, the valakut triggers fizzle and my opponent scoops the game. Stephen has been watching the whole time and has a small rant about how there is only one good judge at the event (editor: me?) and tells me that I was a bit mean to not scoop to the scapeshift. I admit it was unusual not to scoop, but when your opponent is inexperienced you might as well take the chance at the win. My opponent was light hearted about the loss – we had been friendly the whole game and he realised it was his mistake for not knowing what ghost quarter does. We discussed the ways he could have won and he was eager to learn. We wished each other good luck for the rest of the tournament.
Round 4: Bradley Barclay with singleton zoo
Bradley is a very solid Scottish player, who I have played once before at Nationals a couple of years ago. We met in the limited portion though, so I don't have a read yet on what he might be playing. It turns out he is playing a very strange version of zoo – game 1 I see a path, a bant charm, a negate, noble hierarch, wild nacatl, umezawa's jitte, tarmogoyf. He wins game 1 by having jitte and negate for my jitte and tarmogoyf advantage due to his removal. During sideboarding he flips over a card from his deck – wooly thoctar! I realise that both his fetchlands were different and that he fetched a steam vents and a temple garden so all of his lands were different. I come to the conclusion that due to the diversity of cards I saw (I saw no duplicates) he must be playing a singleton deck. I question him about it and he just laughs.
I start with misty rainforest into stomping ground for my noble hierarch and Bradley starts with stirring wildwood – another singleton! We trade dudes and removal until he gets ranger of eos for double wild nacatl. The singleton dream is shattered! I have a bloodbraid elf to match his ranger, but he casts another ranger. He has run out of wild nacatls though (he only had 3 in his deck) so he is forced to fetch his second noble heirarch of the game. My second bloodbraid elf also finds a hierarch, but this allows me to cast the two baneslayers in my hand. The baneslayers make short work of Bradley's life total and we're on to game 3.
In game 3 we both get fast starts and bash each other's life totals because exalted makes trading impossible. I get knights and goyfs but bradley has all the paths and bant charms so I end up with just a couple of 3 power guys and a knight in play against lots of his 3 power guys. He bashes in with his guys, losing 1 a turn in the process of diminishing my life total and he is holding back noble heirarchs for chump blocking – keeping his life total on 6. When he runs out of hierarchs, he leaves back just stirring wildwood and attacks with all his guys, removing my knight with a bant charm. I chump with my hierarch and I am at 2 life with an empty hand and 6 power of guys on the table to his board of all tapped creatures and a stirring wildwood with activation mana. Bradley could have played less aggressively at this point but I think he wanted me dead before I cast another baneslayer angel. I topdeck a path to exile so when I attack with my guys and he activates the wildwood I path it and he is dead. I feel good for winning, but it was just because I topdecked a path - another very lucky win.
Round 5: Tom playing All In Red
Now it is my turn to get unlucky. I lose the die roll and keep a hand with a turn 2 moon and some guys. Tom plays mountain, chrome mox removing simian spirit guide, desperate ritual, blood moon. My hand is blank – I have misty rainforest and noble heirarch but I need to draw one of my 2 forests to get into the game. Tom takes until about turn 10 to cast a deus, by which point I have a plains and temporal isolation so the game goes pretty long. Eventually he gets me with a demigod. I don't think it's very good to keep an all in red hand with just a blood moon and no threat but it paid off for Tom this time so whatever... I am a little peeved that since I had a turn 2 moon of my own I would have gone misty-> forest, noble heirarch on turn 1 and had no mana problems for the entire game and a very easy win.
I side out 4 blood moon and a jitte for path to exiles and baneslayers – if I cast a baneslayer his entire threat base is essentially blanked.
I'm on the play game 2 and I start with a wild nacatl into a qasali pridemage so I'm not getting blood mooned out this game. His turn 2 is spent on a Deus of Calamity, but I have temporal isolation so he's down to 11. Post combat I cast a knight. He casts a seething song to get a demigod of revenge and attacks me, but I am well ahead in this race and we're quickly on to game 3.
Tom makes a show of hesitating to keep, which makes me think either he has a really nutty hand and he's bad at poker or he's keeping a pretty marginal hand. I have plains, forest, noble heriarch, 2 qasali pridemage, wild nacatl, knight of the reliquary so I'm totally immune to blood moon. I think it's an ok keep, it's not lightning fast but it's not at all vulnerable to Tom's disruption.
Tom reveals his indecision with a turn 1 demigod of revenge, which he makes obvious is the only gas in his draw. I instantly regret not mulliganing to find a removal spell, but I'm stuck with racing so and hoping to get lucky with removal in the next 3 draw steps. I make sure my lands don't deal me 5 so that I can have the maximum number of draw steps to get to a temporal isolation but it doesn't happen and my turn 3 bloodbraid doesn't cascade into it either. A disappointing loss, but if I guess I deserve some bad luck after how lucky I've been to win 3 rounds.
Round 6: Nicholas Taylor with Living End
This round is pretty uninteresting as Nick's deck only manages to landcycle a couple of commons before my dudes just get there. During sideboarding I realise that I actually have an insane number of cards to board in this matchup – the 4 canonists and 3 graveyard hate, which is effectively 11 cards since each knight of the reliquary counts as a bojuka bog.
My opening hand contains a tormod's crypt, bojuka bog and ethersworn canonist so Nick is going to have to do a lot to win. I play the tormod's crypt and wild nacatl on turn 1, but Nick evokes a shriekmaw to kill it. He evokes a second shriekmaw to kill my tarmogoyf and he cycles a guy. Turn 3 I play canonist and bojuka bog away his shriekmaws. I am glad I saved the canonist till last, since he looks pretty unhappy and after 8 turns of occasional landcycling and not much else he reveals his hand of 5 cascade spells and concedes the game.
Round 7: Tomas Sukaitis playing ancestral visions/punishing fire/bloodbraid elf
I won the die roll and got a turn 1 noble heriarch but Tomas starts off with a Breeding pool untapped and suspends an ancestral vision and I get a noble heirarch into a turn 2 blood moon. I play out my creatures and he eventually uses a venser to bounce a knight and block a bloodbraid. I am slightly puzzled that he didn't bounce the blood moon because he ends up with no green mana for the rest of the game and plenty of cards in hand when his life total reaches zero. At the time I thought he must just have had useless blue cards, and I mistakenly assume that his deck doesn't care much about blood moon so I side it out for game 2 in favour of baneslayer angels.
It is now that I have a gruelling half hour of trying to stick a threat through his multiple grove of the burnwillows and punishing fires (which he – presumably deliberately - showed me none of game 1). Even my baneslayers are not immune and he eventually takes down every creature I play. Unfortunately he has no threats so I sit there waiting for lightning bolts to finish him off. I get a ghost quarter to off one of his groves, so now I can get a baneslayer. Eventually he gets a bloodbraid elf into ancestral visions but my life total is over 40 due to all his grove of the burnwillows activations. He casts a kitchen finks and starts beating down. I use up a temporal isolation on his finks, but he casts another one – his life total is escaping burn range. I topdeck my final baneslayer but he plays out a second grove to punishing fire it away and I am looking pretty dead. I spend two lightning bolts to his face to get him to 2, but my last bolt is not in the top few cards and I die.
I sideboard in some graveyard hate to get rid of the punishing fires, but there are only 5 minutes left on the round. Tomas mulligans and while he is shuffling tells me a story about a friend of his a while back who needed to draw into the top8 but his opponent needed to play. This friend mulliganed to zero so that the game wouldn't begin in time and was promptly disqualified from the PTQ for deliberate stalling. He is adamant that it is not good for either of us to draw the match – since we will end up with less prizes if we both 4-2-1. I don't think his deck can kill me very fast so I ask him if he just wants to concede, but he goes on a rant about staying above 1950 for the second bye at the next GP he's going to and he doesn't want to scoop.
On my turn 2 time is called and we have a bit more discussion about the concession. He says that I have no chance to win the game since his hand has so much control and the game is going to be a draw. I guess that he is probably telling the truth, but I decide to play it out just to make sure he's not bluffing. True enough he has plenty of removal and when he has bloodbraid and goyf it even looks like he might sneak in a win, but there are just not enough turns and I leave all my guys back to block and force the draw. He's a good sport, and decides that helping me to get ratings points for nationals is more important than his chance at losing his second bye (since he will still have a positive record at the end of the tournament) and he concedes me into the 5-2 bracket.
So I end up with another very lucky win – I didn't feel like I deserved the 5-2 since my only 'real' win was crushing living end with so many sideboard cards and the rest were lucky topdecked baneslayers or paths and my opponent not knowing what ghost quarter does. Also my game win % is insanely low for a 5-2. But I'll take the +50 ratings points since now I only need 30 more to qualify for nationals.
Part II will be about what I did on the Sunday and how a fire stopped me and Ben from tearing down the London PTQ last weekend.