Pondering—Twenty Sided PTQ

them's fightin' wordsMy tenure in the fighting game community has taught me, ironically, humility. In a scene so fueled by adrenaline and shit-talking, failure to deliver is almost always a one-way ticket to ridicule. So I did a bit of growing up, and over time, I regressed from thinking everyone was a scrub and started focusing on more vital things—forging friendships, strengthening the community, and, well, improving at the game. I hear that last part is fairly important.

So how does this all tie in to Magic: The Gathering?

I actually didn’t have very high hopes for the PTQ initially. I expected to do well, and I knew it was going to be one of the most fun events of the year with many of my friends from the store in attendance, but I wasn’t aiming to win it all. Something happened when I got out of bed Saturday morning, though. I don’t know what it was. I just remember going through the usual morning routine, and at some point, I furled my eyebrows and tilted my head a little as if something wasn’t completely right.

This is what I had been working for all season. No more nonsense, no more excuses. That humble pie tastes stale as shit. Fuck that, I was going to win this thing.

Deck: UW Modern

Counts : 60 main / 15 sideboard

Creatures:18
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Geist of Saint Traft
2 Kitchen Finks
3 Vendilion Clique
4 Restoration Angel
2 Baneslayer Angel

Spells:17
4 Path to Exile
4 Spell Snare
3 Mana Leak
2 Remand
2 Dismember
2 Cryptic Command

Lands:25
4 Celestial Colonnade
1 Eiganjo Castle
2 Hallowed Fountain
4 Island
1 Marsh Flats
1 Moorland Haunt
1 Plains
3 Scalding Tarn
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Tectonic Edge

Sideboard:15
2 Celestial Purge
1 Disenchant
1 Negate
1 Rest in Peace
2 Spellskite
3 Stony Silence
2 Aven Mindcensor
1 Sword of War and Peace
2 Supreme Verdict

To absolutely no one’s surprise, I was piloting UW, the deck that brought me to the dance. I hemmed and hawed about the last couple of slots, but ultimately went with the Mana Leak/Remand split to make my opponents play around two things instead of one.

There were 163 players registered to play, which made for a packed house at Bird River Studios across the street from 20SS. There were complaints about the tight space, but for veterans of the store, this was more room than we could have ever hoped for.

***

Round 1: Eric—Gifts
Turn one Misty Rainforest into Breeding Pool into Noble Hierarch could be a lot of things in Modern, but the land-go for the next two turns immediately ruled out Infect. I ran a Geist out there just to see what I was up against, and was surprised that it resolved. When I passed, my opponent played a Thirst for Knowledge, which ruled out Pod. He untapped and played a Phantasmal Image to legend-rule my Geist. From there, it was more guessing, until Eric finally went for a Gifts Ungiven a few turns later.

I had no board presence, but Eric didn’t immediately go for the kill, choosing to Gifts for the full four cards. It dragged the game longer for a few turns unnecessarily, and I never really gave much resistance. I scooped them up when he finally Rites-ed up Elesh Norn and headed for game two.

-2 Dismember, -2 Spell Snare, -1 Mana Leak
+2 Aven Mindcensor, +1 Rest in Peace, +1 Negate, +1 Sword of War and Peace

I won game two thanks to some timely Cliques and bashing in with Colonnade repeatedly, but the game was a long, grindy affair. My opponent was playing noticeably slower, DJ-ing his lands back and forth and doing his best to stall the game out. I thought it was scummy of him, but didn’t want to be the asshole that made the questionable judge call just because I was losing.

In hindsight, I totally should have. We went to time in game three, and with me having lethal on board if it went to turn five, my opponent topdecked the Supreme Verdict on turn four to force the draw. I could only Cryptic to bounce my Mindcensor and squeeze in an extra draw to try and get my Sword (I had the mana to replay the bird at the end of turn). No Swords were forthcoming.

1-1-1 games, 0-0-1 matches.

Round 2: Matt—Doran
State Champ Matt Guido drew with Evil Tim in the first round, so it was no surprise that the two of us were paired against each other. Matt won the roll and crushed me in the first game with a turn one Deathrite and turn two Bob. Both went unanswered, and the Doran beats proved too much.

-2 Remand, -1 Mana Leak, -1 Spell Snare
+2 Spellskite, +2 Celestial Purge

Geist did what Geist does in game two, forcing a game three that saw my development stunted by Matt’s two Tec Edges. I had an Island, a Seachrome, and an Eiganjo Castle on the board, and with only taplands and fetches in my hand land-wise, playing anything would be a one-way trip to the Stone Age.

I decided to sandbag lands and tried to buy time with two Kitchen Finks, but they ate Paths that effectively turned into metalcrafted Dispatches when I was forced to fail to find, again trying not to get all of my lands blown up. Luckily, Matt drew all of his Hierarchs and nothing else, and I eventually found a basic land that would allow me to flash out my Angel in response to a Tec Edge activation.

Once I established a foothold, things looked much better, and I eventually won through air superiority.

Matt told me after the match that he was going to move away soon, making our match a bittersweet end. I met Matt only a few months ago at States, where he not only took down the tournament, but also picked up and returned the coat that I left behind in my fatigued stupor. It was a pleasure, sir, and I wish you the best of luck. Don’t forget to come back and visit!

3-2-1 games, 1-0-1 matches.

Round 3: Tim—UWR
Tim won his second round, making our early meeting an inevitability. Luckily for me, Tim’s deck is a pretty big dog against traditional UW. Spell Snare, Kitchen Finks, and Spellskite are awesome tools against UWR, and Restoration Angel is just impossible to attack through, short of using Colonnade (and thereby tapping out, something the deck hates to do). In game one, we did the usual “who’s gonna pull the trigger on Geist/Clique first” dance. I got my Clique to resolve, bottoming a Thundermaw and getting in a few hits before it ate a Lightning Bolt. A second Clique saw a hand full of Snapcasters but not much else, and though that one also died, a Finks finished things off.

-2 Dismember, -2 Remand
+2 Spellskite, +1 Disenchant, +1 Negate

More dancing in game two. I attempted an EoT Clique on Tim’s T4, forcing Tim to Remand and leave only one mana open, then untapped and dropped Geist. The next turn I Cliqued and took away Combust from Tim’s hand of Sowing Salt, Helix, Bolt, Path, and Tec Edge. Clique died to Helix, but Geist went unopposed for a few more turns, and that was that.

5-2-1 games, 2-0-1 matches.

Round 4: Chris Pikula—UW
The Meddling Mage himself. These games were among the most fun I played all day. The mirror is like a chess match. With so much potential to get punished by flash creatures and countermagic, tapping out is the last thing you want to do, even at your opponent’s end step. Chris did not play Geist in his 75, opting for more Kitchen Finks and Wall of Omens; and as much as I dislike the latter card, nowhere does it shine more than in a slow, methodical control mirror where card advantage is king, especially when combined with Restoration Angel.

We took one game apiece from each other, but I got Jedi mind-tricked by Pikula in game three. He Cliqued and saw that I only had a single Path in my hand, and I was all too eager to blow it on the Kitchen Finks he played next turn, fearing the extra value he’d be able to squeeze out of blinking it repeatedly. Pikula, on the other hand, had no qualms with punishing my misplay with a T5 Baneslayer. I held on for a few more turns, but that was effectively the end of the match.

Sideboarding:
-2 Remand, -1 Mana Leak
+1 Sword of War and Peace, +2 Spellskite

We talked for a long time after the match. Like me, Chris went with UW for this tournament because it was the deck he’d been grinding with for what seems like an eternity now. And even though UW doesn’t put up results online, he considers it to be a solid choice, especially in a metagame where there is no discernible best deck. The experience from all of the reps far outweighs any benefit one stands to gain from switching.

6-4-1 games, 2-1-1 matches.

Round 5: Tristan—Mono Blue Faeries
“During your upkeep, before your draw step…”

Good ol’ Tristan, always playing the griefer decks. Though I wasn’t around when Faeries was a thing in Standard, I have heard the nightmarish stories entailing those accursed words. Luckily, I got a good gander at Tristan’s 75 when I was helping him decide on a sideboard before the tournament, so I had a sense of what to play around. There’s no Bitterblossom to worry about, but a timely Spellstutter Sprite or Scion of Oona could very well lead to a Mistbind Clique the following turn. Vedalken Shackles can potentially get out of hand real quick, too.

Fortunately, I was able to Clique away Tristan’s Shackles in both of our games. Game two saw me Clique him no less than four times. I opened a hand with two Cliques, drew the third, and was able to blink one with Restoration Angel. That, combined with instant-speed threats, let me avoid long, drawn-out counter wars (Tristan would have the upper hand easily due to the sheer amount of permission he was packing). The games were tight, but with me having the Path for Tristan’s Mistbind target every time, it was hard for him to get off the ground.

Sideboarding:
-2 Dismember
+1 Negate, +1 Disenchant

8-4-1 games, 3-1-1 matches.

Round 6: Josh—Domri Zoo
This is the Naya list that’s been making a little bit of a splash on MODO. Loam Lion, Kird Ape, Experiment One, Ghor-Clan Rampager, Domri Rade, Lightning Bolt. The deck was fairly easy to beat. Vanilla 2/3s and 3/3s don’t do much in Modern, and bloodrushing in a format with actual instant-speed removal is just begging to eat a two-for-one. The deck also doesn’t interact with fliers, which made it that much easier.

I countered two Domris in game one, stabilized at 12 life with Finks and Angel, then handily won the uncontested race in the air. When Josh mulled to six in game two and hesitantly kept, I knew he didn’t have much gas beyond his Loam Lion and Kird Ape. After I removed both, it was all but over.

Sideboarding:
-4 Spell Snare
+2 Celestial Purge, +2 Spellskite

10-4-1 games, 4-1-1 matches.

Round 7: Dustin—Bant
Dustin was the fourth patron of the store that I had to play in the tournament. While I defeated the first three, Dustin proved to be the biggest challenge yet. He won the die roll and utterly annihilated me with T1 Hierarch into T2 Geist. It was not even close.

-2 Spell Snare
+1 Sword of War and Peace, +1 Disenchant

Game two was much more of one. There was no Geist from Dustin, but he was eventually able to stick a Sword of Feast and Famine on a Kitchen Finks. Luckily, I had Cliqued him the previous turn and saw he had no action (the Sword came off the top), so Dustin wasn’t able to get much value off of his lands untapping. When he came in with Finks again, I Disenchanted the Sword, untapped, and stuck my own Sword on the Clique and rode it to victory.

Unfortunately, I had to mull to five in game three, and Dustin’s snap keep was a clear enough signal that another T2 Geist was imminent. I had the Path for his Hierarch, but not the land to cast it in time. Every attempt at stabilizing was met with countermagic. It was again not a game, and I found myself hating Geist as a card for the first time in my life.

Even though he soundly crushed me, Dustin gave me the win as he was already X-2. This set me up for a possible win-and-in in the final round.

12-5-1 (11-6-1) games, 5-1-1 (4-2-1) matches.

Round 8: Mystery—Dark Zoo
Keeping the name of this opponent secret, because what went down was very shady indeed. When he sat down, I asked him what his record was. When I found out he was X-2, I asked if he was willing to concede as I was X-1-1 and had a legitimate shot at making the top 8. He gave me a very suggestive “maybe,” which sprang up red flags in my head. “How many packs out of your box for making top eight would you open?” He then asked.

Why don’t you ask me to hand over my wallet while I’m at it?

I told him I didn’t care about packs, but that I’d probably open them all. I went about shuffling my deck, I was not going to stand for blackmail. If this kid wasn’t going to concede, then I’ll just have to crush him the old-fashioned way.

His deck was a weird brew. It’s a little like the Tribal Zoo lists back when Bloodbraid was legal, but it replaced red with black, granting access to Orzhov Charm. It also leaned heavily on blue, playing Delver, Geist, and Cryptic Command. I didn’t get to see much of the deck, since I fairly effortlessly dealt with his threats and killed him. My opponent then snap conceded game two to me, which I found strange. He would later catch up to me and try to squeeze half of my winnings from me for “handing me the win.”

Get the fuck outta here. We didn’t agree to anything, and for my part, I played it thinking it was a real match with real stakes. Whatever he chose to do was on him, but I had absolutely no part in it.

A few months back, when I came back from a pretty awful PTQ in Selden, I wrote about how it’d be inevitable that assholes would travel far and wide to attend the 20SS PTQ. Looks like I called that one.

Regardless, after eight rounds of Swiss, I was 14-5-1 games, 6-1-1 matches.

I had done it. After a slow start to the day, I stuck it through and ended up with a record that could potentially qualify for top 8. The rest was out of my hands. If my breakers were good enough, I’d get there.

In the end, sadly, I wound up 11th on tiebreakers. The top two were sitting pretty at 21 and 20 points, followed by nine players with 19 points, of which I was one. My first-round draw, coupled with being paired down for my last two rounds, really hurt my breakers. It also did not help that Chris Pikula did not win his last round.

Honestly, though, I was in no position to complain. I was very fortunate to have even gotten that far, thanks to Dustin. No, I didn’t end up winning the whole thing like I boldly claimed I would just hours prior, but I had a blast. The event was awesome, and everyone that I knew kept cheering me on as I progressed through the day. I couldn’t have made it that far without everyone’s support, and none of it would have been possible in the first place without Luis, Lauren, and the entire Twenty Sided crew. Thank you all.

***

Modern season is winding down, but this event only made me realize just how hungry I am. There are still two more PTQs this weekend, one in Philly and another in Jersey. I plan to be at both, and I intend to come home with an envelope before all is said and done.

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Comments
15 Responses to “Pondering—Twenty Sided PTQ”
  1. Tim says:

    Sorry Li, your breakers may have gotten there if my Baneslayer had one extra turn to finish the job against Monique instead of getting the unintentional draw, lol.

    Good luck this weekend.. I probably have to sit Saturday out because girlfriend crap, but I’ll be back at it Sunday (deck choice still pending).

    • Li Xu says:

      Well, the most Tim deck is clearly Waffle Taco control, but I don’t have the balls to play a deck without win-cons.

      • Tim says:

        Yeah, I actually wanted to play that on Saturday. From my MODO testing, I like my matchups against most decks, but the problem was that I kept losing the mirror and that kind of killed my confidence at being able to pilot it. I like the Grix Delver list that Zac Hill was playing, but will need to practice it a bit to see if I can handle it (and find a playset of Bobs!)

      • Li Xu says:

        4 Delver of Secrets
        4 Dark Confidant
        4 Deathrite Shaman
        4 Snapcaster Mage
        1 Vendilion Clique

        4 Lightning Bolt
        4 Serum Visions
        3 Remand
        3 Cryptic Command
        3 Inquisition of Kozilek
        2 Thoughtseize
        1 Electrolyze
        1 Spell Snare
        1 Mana Leak
        1 Pillar of Flame

        3 Creeping Tar Pit
        2 Darkslick Shores
        4 Scalding Tarn
        3 Verdant Catacombs
        1 Misty Rainforest
        2 Island
        1 Swamp
        1 Blood Crypt
        1 Watery Grave
        1 Steam Vents
        1 Breeding Pool

        2 Threads of Disloyalty
        1 Spell Pierce
        1 Liliana of the Veil
        1 Countersquall
        2 Ancient Grudge
        1 Spellskite
        1 Thoughtseize
        1 Vendilion Clique
        1 Jace Beleren
        1 Surgical Extraction
        2 Geth’s Verdict
        1 Go for the Throat

        I honestly don’t see what the big deal is about this deck, and I certainly don’t see it as being as good as Zac Hill makes it out to be. Maybe he’s proud of his deck building skills, maybe he needs to fluff it up for his article. Whatever the case may be, it’s not “playing a different format than my opponents” good, it’s just playing an unknown quantity against known decks, while being a vastly superior player than most PTQ grinders at the event.

      • Li Xu says:

        I should clarify that I like a lot of the cards. Shaman, Bob, Bolt, hand disruption are obviously some of the best cards in the format, and also happen to work well in conjunction with each other. I don’t, however, agree with the method of execution. 20 lands to support three Cryptic Commands? Delver deck with no mainboard removal beyond the Bolts and the one-of Pillar (which I understand is for Kitchen Finks)? It feels like the deck wins by grinding people out with Tar Pit and Shaman more than tempoing them, so it’s a bit all over the place in that department.

        That said, what do I know. Zac is a much better player and much better deckbuilder than I am.

      • Tim says:

        He said in his article that the pillar was really the final flex slot and he chose it because of how crucial it is to be able to answer a turn 1 deathrite from the opposition. There are some things about it that look a bit strange (as you pointed out, low land count + cryptics). Not sure if you read the whole article, but there was an interesting tidbit regarding how you said it seems like the main wincon is tar pit grinds: tar pit actually was a later addition that he did not run on Saturday, and Drew Levin did not have it in his list for the PTQ he played on Sunday (not sure if he finished first or second).

      • Li Xu says:

        I didn’t read the whole article since I don’t have premium, but I could have sworn he was playing Tar Pits. In fact, in the last round when he scooped in Luis Neiman and played for funsies, Luis asked him how he would rank Tar Pit in the list of manlands when he played one.

      • Tim says:

        Hmm.. maybe he added the Tar Pits, then, and did not get a chance to relay the information to Drew Levin, because he did mention in the article that a.) Levin was playing in the finals of a Wisconsin PTQ at the time of writing and b.) Levin was using a day-old version of the deck that featured -3 Creeping Tar Pit, +1 Misty Rainforest, +1 Watery Grave, and +1 Gitaxian Probe

      • Matt Jones says:

        buy premium. it’s like $30/YEAR.

      • Li Xu says:

        I don’t find myself reading enough to justify it. Plus, Starcity is like the Empire.

      • Matt Jones says:

        But they have the easiest to read app!!

  2. Excellent report. Good luck this weekend.

  3. Junie says:

    I put together that Grixis Delver list and jammed about 20 games with it against Jund and Robots, and I lost a lot more than I won (no sideboarding). Admittedly, I am a pretty casual player and especially bad at playing blue, but my friend also couldn’t really get a handle on it. Have any of you guys tried it?

    • Li Xu says:

      Have not had a chance to try it, unfortunately. I still think that the deck is not optimal (my reasons above), though admittedly a deck with Deathrites and Cryptics can’t be all bad.

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  1. […] worst match up, Tron, three rounds in a row. On a happier note (depending on how you look at it), Li Xu battled his way to a X-1-1 record with U/W, but fell just short of the Top 8 on […]



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