The first PPTQ I attended was at Jetpack Comics in Rochester, NH on December 06, 2014. This was the debut weekend for the PPTQ system and Jetpack had the highest attendance in the region with 74 players coming to play the Modern format. I finished the swiss rounds as the #1 seed playing Burn with Treasure Cruise. I lost in the semifinals to Merfolk (who then won the finals) but I walked away pleased with my finish.
I left that tournament confident and hungry to play more PPTQs. I tried to attend a PPTQ each weekend and sometimes attended two. In fact, I’d venture to say that I’ve played in more PPTQs than any other player in New England – I’ve attended 25 of them as of this writing. After playing in 22 constructed PPTQs (a mix of standard and modern) the closest I had come to a victory was that Top 4 in my first tournament and a single finals appearance in standard a few months back. I had lost confidence and even worse the grind was becoming a lot less fun.
At the start of PPTQ Season 3 in June I was excited to try something different – Sealed. There were a lot of Sealed PPTQs on the upcoming schedule. I got my start playing limited and I feel like my limited game is pretty strong so I decided to focus on those events to try and finally punch my ticket to an RPTQ.
In just my third Sealed PPTQ I got a win and am qualified for the RPTQ in October. The following is a recap of that tournament win.
The PPTQ was held on July 18, the Saturday of the release weekend for Magic Origins. I had not attended any pre-releases for the set on the weekend before. I usually go to at least one if not multiple pre-releases for each set, but with my poor PPTQ results recently I’ve been taking a break from the game. In fact, I hadn’t even read through the full spoiler for the set.
Since I just recently started this blog, I did go through the full Commons/Uncommons spoiler and wrote up a full set review evaluating each card for limited. Knowing that I was planning to attend two Sealed PPTQs over the weekend I made sure to have my Set Reviews completed and published by Friday. Be advised that I think my grades could use some tweaks, but these set reviews can be found here:
Multicolor, Artifacts, Lands
I still had not played a game of Magic Origins limited nor had I even looked at the rares in the set. I wasn’t worried about that since it’s the commons and uncommons that really define the limited format and I figured that I’d know a good rare when I saw it. I think one of my strengths as a player is my ability to start pretty high up the curve in terms of understanding basic card evaluation and understanding new formats. When formats and cards are new, I have an edge over the field so I need to capitalize on early events before the field catches up.
Sealed Deck Build
For reference, here is the sealed pool that I was given to work with:
Given that I wasn’t going to be too familiar with the cards I knew I was going to have to spend more time reading the cards and less time tuning my build than I normally would like. The first thing I did was sort everything by color. I put the multi-colored cards aside. None of them were a particularly strong incentive for me to go into those colors and the pool didn’t have enough fixing to support a splash color. I decided to just evaluate the colors individually and go back to considering the multi-colored cards later if they fit into a color-pair that already seemed playable. Similarly, I looked at the colorless cards right away and pulled the good ones aside because I could play them in any deck: Mage-Ring Responder was a lock for basically any deck I was going to build.
I dismissed Green and Blue as unplayable from the start since they were the shallowest colors and didn’t have any big bombs as incentives to play those colors.
My white contained some very strong cards. Kytheon’s Irregulars looked like a bomb and there were some other high quality cards available: Suppression Bonds, War Oracle, Ampryn Tactician, Charging Griffin, Knight of the Pilgrim’s Road are all cards I’d be happy to play. However, while the White cards I had seemed good, the color didn’t seem very deep so it would need to be paired with a deep second color.
My Black and Red piles both seemed pretty good. There was a good amount of removal that stood out in both colors and there were some big creatures that looked like they could end the game quickly if my removal could keep the path clear (Erebos’s Titan, Cobblebrute and Prickleboar). Aside from having my best removal and playable creatures both colors seemed to have enough filler that I would be able to come up with a decent deck. Because of the time constraints and lack of familiarity with the cards I decided within the first couple of minutes that I would disregard the other three colors and focus my time on tuning a Black/Red build.
The first 19 cards of the build were pretty easy and looked something like this:
I will admit, I wasn’t 100% on playing Erebos’s Titan. The card seemed very powerful, but I was worried about whether I could cast it. At one point I was waffling between it or Firefiend Elemental as the last 4-drop. I came to the conclusion that I wasn’t trying to be aggressive so the Firefiend didn’t fit into my deck’s strategy. I wasn’t really high on that card in general and I didn’t think this deck made great use of a haste attacker. The Titan on the other hand is still very good even if I couldn’t cast it until turn 6 or 7. In sealed, I figured I’d have time to get my mana to work out, plus I had some card draw to find the swamps I needed. The clincher was having Dark Petition as both a way to search for and cast the Titan. It would have been a very big mistake not to play it.
I considered including the Blightcaster package with the x2 Weight of the Underworld. I decided that Weight of the Underworld wasn’t a card I was interested in playing, especially with the amount of good removal I already had. Blightcaster made the Weights better, but I just didn’t need to go this deep to get a good removal package for my deck. I decided to leave these three in the board but planned to bring them in against aggressive decks with a bunch of low-toughness guys.
By leaving the Blightcaster out, it freed up some slots to fill some of the holes in the deck. I added Runed Servitor just to have another 2-drop in the curve. Yes, sealed is not as fast as draft, but I didn’t want to get run over by a Renown creature either.
Looking at my deck, none of my threats were particularly resilient or evasive except for the Erebos’s Titan. I had decent removal, but I wouldn’t be able to win games if my creatures couldn’t stay on the table and hit for damage. Two of my biggest hitters, Cobblebrutes, were very fragile and would be easy for my opponent to trade with. I decided that in most of my games I was going to have to win an attrition war. My game plan was going to be to use my situational removal to kill their smaller creatures, forcing my opponents to trade some of their bigger threats for my Cobblebrutes. Then I could get my Cobblebrutes and other fatties back with Macabre Waltz, eventually grinding my opponent out of resources. To beef up my graveyard recursion sub-theme I added the second Macabre Waltz and the Returned Centaur.
With the main deck decided, the last piece was registering the manabase. This wasn’t a trivial decision thanks to the Erebos’s Titan. The mana requirements of the Titan were the reason I had debated playing it in the deck at all and not just because it would be hard to cast but also because it meant that I wouldn’t be able to use either of my utility lands: Rogue’s Passage or Foundry of the Consuls. The Foundry is just a good card – any land that doubles as a spell is great value and producing x2 flyers definitely counts as a spell once you don’t need the mana anymore. The Rogue’s Passage would also be quite good in my deck was a way to make my fragile Cobblebrutes unblockable. In my mind I had to weigh not just Erebos’s Titan vs. Firefiend Elemental but Erebos’s Titan vs. Firefiend Elemental plus a utility land.
Once I decided I needed to play Erebos’s Titan I wanted to skew the manabase towards black as much as possible while still being able to cast my red cards. The tension was between casting the Titan while still having red available early for Fiery Impulse. The deck had more black cards than red and all of my red cards only needed a single red mana. My only double-colored spells were also black in Dark Petition and Unholy Hunger. My more powerful cards were all black so I felt like I’d be able to survive games without red mana more than I could without enough black mana. I felt comfortable skewing heavily toward black and registered a 10 Swamp, 6 Mountain manabase with an Evolving Wilds playing a very important color fixing role.
Here was the deck I registered:
RB Macabre Waltz
1 Runed Servitor
1 Shambling Ghoul
2 Akroan Sergeant
1 Deadbridge Shaman
1 Fleshbag Marauder
1 Erebos’s Titan
1 Returned Centaur
1 Mage-Ring Responder
2 Fiery Impulse
1 Lightning Javelin
1 Reave Soul
1 Cruel Revival
1 Unholy Hunger
1 Magmatic Insight
2 Macabre Waltz
1 Read the Bones
1 Dark Petition
1 Evolving Wilds
2 Weight of the Underworld
1 Catacomb Slug
1 Firefiend Elemental
2 Volcanic Rambler
1 Foundry of the Consuls
1 Rogue’s Passage
R1 – UW Flyers (L, 0-2), 0-1 Overall
In the first round I was paired against Ben Chapman, one of the better local players, so I knew it wouldn’t be an easy first win. In Game 1 he played a turn 4 Archangel of Tithes that demanded removal and I used one of my 5-mana answers. He followed with more flyers. My removal couldn’t keep up, I couldn’t interact in combat and his bounce spells prevented a race. In Game 2 my attacks were thwarted by a Guardians of Meletis which is great against Cobblebrutes and Erebos’s Titan. I had x2 Cobblebrute out but the Guardians meant I couldn’t go on the trade creatures and Macabre Waltz attrition plan. Later he played Sentinel of the Eternal Watch and I couldn’t beat another x/6. The ground was mucked up but I died to a Charging Griffin. I had a lot of answers to it but didn’t see any after wasting a Weight of the Underworld holding down the Sentinels.
R2 – UR Tempo (W, 2-0), 1-1 Overall
My opponent led with a first turn Faerie Miscreant. He played a second one on turn two, but I had the Fiery Impulse to kill his first one in response. He was playing a tempo deck but cards like Send to Sleep were ineffective when I was using my removal to just keep his board clear instead of relying on blocking.
R3 – RW Aggro (W, 2-1), 2-1 Overall
My third round opponent had a lower curve backed up with combat tricks. In the first game he mulliganed to 6 and just didn’t get a good draw which let me stabilize easily. In game 2 I got run over. For game 3 I was on the play, which was important. We played a close game where we both had a lot of interaction. I was able to remove his threats and he had multiple Celestial Flares for mine. In the long game my attrition plan did win out.
R4 – UB Control (W, 2-0), 3-1 Overall
I had seen my round 4 opponent playing during round 1, almost going to time with a Sphinx’s Tutelage UB control deck. He received a draw in round 1 when on the last of extra turns he milled the last 2 cards of his opponent’s deck but after passing the turn his opponent responded with an end of turn Reclaim to force the draw. It was a pretty fun game to watch play out.
This was exactly the type of matchup I wanted to face when I built my deck. He wasn’t putting me on a fast clock. My threats were bigger than his so he needed to answer them and I was able to keep up in card advantage between Magmatic Insight and Macabre Waltz. I won 2-0 to make it into the Top 8.
Top 8 Draft
I had not drafted the format yet, but going into the draft I was hoping to get into an aggressive archetype. Early in a draft format I usually try to lean towards aggressive strategies while people are figuring out what cards and archetypes are good. Even in the notoriously slow M14 format I was winning a lot of early drafts with RG Aggro. Because of Renown it seemed like being aggressive would be particularly important in this format.
Pack 1. My P1P1 was Topan Freeblade out of a weak pack, passing a Goblin Glory Chaser. This was a card that I felt would be easy for the table to undervalue early in the format. I wasn’t excited to first pick it as a common, but it’s a good card and fit the type of aggressive strategy I was hoping for. A P1P2 Fiery Impulse backed up my first pick nicely and was just another great card. My next two picks were Ghirapur Gearcrafter and another Fiery Impulse which raised my eyebrows going this late and I took as a strong signal. I was on the way to a strong RW aggro start which is exactly where I want to be early in any format but especially in this format. In the next few packs I saw no white and took mostly red cards, including a second Ghirapur Gearcrafter. I was sure red was open but I was slightly concerned about putting drafters to my left into red after passing two Goblin Glory Chasers if players to my left valued that card higher than I do. There was no clear signal for any color other than red but it was clear that white was not open. Green looked the most open but none of the cards were good enough to pick (passing Yeva’s Forcemage and LLanowar Empath didn’t bother me). Thinking over the spoiler I did not think that I wanted to be in Red-Green. The Green creatures were more about utility than aggression and I didn’t think that RG was going to pair well so I actively avoided it. I saw some decent mid level blue cards coming late and almost speculated on blue around pick 7 with Watercourser knowing that UR thopters/tempo could be a decent archetype. I took a white card over it still hoping to play the Freeblade but I think this pick was probably wrong as it was clear white was not coming. I finally dipped into blue with my next pick of Ringwarden Owl. I went into pack 2 heavily in Red and still looking for a second color.
Pack 2. I opened a Sword of the Animist that I had no interest in. I took P2P1 Whirler Rogue which went well with my 2 Gearcrafters. Without a second color yet and after seeing blue was slightly open in Pack 1, this was the push I needed to jump into UR. The drafter to my left opened a foil Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy and slammed it. This worked out just fine for me as he passed me Pia and Kiran Nalaar which was an incredibly lucky addition to a deck that already had x2 Ghirapur Gearcrafter and a Whirler Rogue. I picked up a Separatist Voidmage and some other decent filler. Toward the middle of the pack I was passed a Reclusive Artificer. I wasn’t high on it in my set review but since I was already in the thopter archetype it seemed like I had enough enablers here to make it work. I didn’t see much thopter synergy in the rest of the draft. I passed on a couple Aspiring Aeronauts because I didn’t think it was a good enough rate.
Pack 3. I was faced with a tough choice here after opening Mage-Ring Responder. I know the card is extremely powerful but it didn’t go with my deck’s strategy at all as I really didn’t want 7-drops. It was maybe the worst card for me to see since not only was I unsure of the pick, I worried that it was the kind of card that was powerful enough to distract me away from my core strategy and could end up making my deck worse by being clunky. To make things harder, there was also a Separatist Voidmage and a Lightning Javelin in the pack which would both be very good in my deck. I ended up deciding that the 7-drop was too powerful to pass and added it to my pile but I’m still not sure if that was correct. At the end of the draft I really wanted another Separatist Voidmage or a Disperse (which I never saw during the entire draft) and I never did cast the 7/7 so maybe that pick was wrong.
The rest of pack 3 was pretty unexciting given how open I expected red and blue to be. I passed a Goblin Piledriver knowing I didn’t have many goblins in my deck. Later in the pack I saw another Piledriver and this time I took it, speculating on getting more goblins and just drafting it for value since there wasn’t much else in the pack.
After seeing everyone’s decks, here’s a graphic of the archetypes in the draft pod. I was correct to identify that red was the most open to my right and also that white was the least open (two drafters in white to my right). The two drafters to my right being in UW and GB respectively, representing all 4 non-red colors, explains why I was having trouble identifying a second color that I should be in. Overall I think the pod drafted in a very friendly way and I didn’t have much trouble settling into a color combination that I was happy with.
I ended the draft happy but not excited, cutting it close on playables after waffling on my second color for awhile. I felt like I was short a Disperse or two or another Separatist Voidmage as a way to interact with larger creatures and generate some tempo. After picking up a lot of early Fiery Impulse I could kill small creatures but I lacked interaction with bigger creatures. My last minute deckbuilding change was to add Act of Treason in place of Chandra’s Fury. My thinking was that Act of Treason would most likely be equivalent to a 4 damage burn spell in a lot of situations and it would be an out to some larger bombs that I had no answers to otherwise. It ended up being an all-star and this one decision may have won me the tournament.
I did end up playing the Piledriver, supported by a Boggart Brute and x2 Subterranean Scouts. It made me regret passing x2 Goblin Glory Chasers in pack 1 but I think those are narrow enough that I’d still pass them early in the draft. I also had picked up a Willbreaker, another rare I was having a hard time evaluating. I counted the number of ways I had to target without spending a card : Stratus Walk, Whirler Rogue, x2 Subterranean Scout, Enthralling Victor, Reclusive Artificer, and to a lesser extent Act of Treason. It could also turn my Fiery Impulses and Pia and Kiran Nalaar ability into Control Magic effects on larger creatures. Willbreaker looked fragile and scared me, but given the amount of synergy I had with the card and my desperation for answers to large threats I decided to run it. I never ended up drawing it so I didn’t get to see if it was good or not.
Here’s the final draft deck that I registered:
UR Thopter Tempo
Quarterfinals. My first Top 8 opponent was disqualified after draft deck registration was completed. I’m not sure what happened and the judge would not divulge the reason for the DQ, but I got the first round bye in the Top 8. Things were going my way. I took the opportunity to walk around and watch the other 3 matches. I felt kind of awkward having the advantage of scouting the other decks. It seemed unfair to be able to see all of my potential opponents decks, but at the same time if I wanted the best chance to win it was in my best interest to scout them. Besides, if I didn’t watch the games what was I supposed to do for the next hour? I ended up striking the balance by just getting a feel for the colors and archetypes that each player was playing rather than trying to memorize specific cards in each deck (though I did note a Celestial Flare or Calculated Dismissal when I saw them). I saw Ben Chapman playing a RW aggro deck, which was the deck I was hoping to draft at the start of the Top 8. His version looked pretty good in the game I was watching and he was the opponent I was most afraid of facing given that it seemed like he also had a good deck.
I didn’t realize that I should have been looking at the Top 8 bracket to know which of the matches my next round opponent would come from. Once I looked at the bracket I realized my opponent would be from the one match that I hadn’t been watching much of. I got over to the table just in time to see the end of game 3. On one side was a UR drafter that was sitting two seats to my left. His version had picked up the Goblin Glory Chasers and was playing Bonded Construct so it was quite a different build. His opponent was on GB Elves and it looked really strong. I saw a Dwynen, Gilt-Leaf Daen with another elf on board. He played LLanowar Empath which revealed and drew another Llanowar Empath. A Gilt-Leaf Winnower came down followed by a Shaman of the Pack and the game was over. He also had a Shadows of the Past in play. I didn’t get to see much of the deck, but what I saw scared me.
Semi-Finals vs. BG Elves. In Game 1 I got off to a fast start taking him down to 5 life with 4-5 creatures in play to his 1 but then he had Eyeblight Massacre to wipe my board. He was attacking with a Timber Pack Wolf equipped with Sword of the Animist to build up his mana. I rebuilt with Ghirapur Gearcrafter and Ringwarden Owl. At the final turns of Game 1 I believe I misplayed to throw the game away. I was at 10 life versus my opponent at 2 life and he had 8 mana open with a Shadows of the Past in play. I had 1 thopter, the 2/1 Gearcrafter on the ground and the Ringwarden Owl. My opponent could activate the Shadows of the Past once to drain me for 2 and go up to 4 life giving me exactly lethal damage in the air. He attacked for 6 with a 3/2 and a 3/3 on the ground. After thinking I took the damage and died to Titanic Growth which I forgot was in the format. I should have blocked the 3/2 with my 2/1 but I was thinking I wanted another attacker in case he had a removal spell.
In Game 2 I was only able to get my opponent down to 14 before he played a pair of early Hitchclaw Recluse which felt basically unbeatable with my team of small creatures and only Fiery Impulses for removal. They held my whole team back as I developed my board out wide. He tapped out on turn 6 for a Skysnare Spider and I decided the opportunity was never going to get any better for me to put my Act of Treason to use that I had been holding for awhile. After taking control of the Skysnare Spider he had only the two Hitchlaw Recluse available to block and I swung in for a massive alpha attack. He was forced to chump the 6/6 with one Recluse and the other Recluse ate one of my Ghirapur Gearcrafters. I was able to bring him down to 5 while only losing one of my guys. I still wasn’t going to be able to swing through for lethal based on my current board but I was setting up for a Reclusive Artificer that I had drawn at the start of the turn. He played a Shaman of the Pack and passed. On the next turn my Reclusive Artificer killed the Shaman of the Pack and I was able to alpha strike again for almost exactly lethal damage bringing him to -1. I had given away game 1 and felt lucky to steal game 2.
I had no good answers to the 1/4s in my deck or sideboard. His deck had demonstrated good board control but so far I didn’t see a lot of spot removal so I figured my best shot was going to be to win with Whirler Rogue. I would be forced to commit everything I had to the board in order to overwhelm his defenses so I knew that if he drew Eyeblight Massacre I would probably lose on the spot. In Game 3 I tempo’d him early for a couple turns with Separatist Voidmage followed by combining Fiery Impulse and playing another 3-drop. He mounted his spider defenses but I was able to land a Whirler Rogue followed by Pia and Kiran Nalaar off the top which went unopposed. It was particular satisfying when his Gilt-Leaf Winnower came down and saw zero targets on my board of 5 thopters, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, Separatist Voidmage and Whirler Rogue. I hit for 4 unblockable a few turns in a row until I could alpha strike and threaten to close the game with Pia and Kiran’s ability. I was dead to Eyeblight Massacre in any of the games if he ever had it but fortunately he didn’t see it in games 2 or 3. I was finally able to hold up Calculated Dismissal on the last turn when he got to 6 mana but if he had it earlier I couldn’t stop him.
Finals vs. UW Control. In Game 1 my opponent mulliganed to 6. I had a mediocre start and the game went late. He played Sentinel of the Eternal Watch to stabilize at 10. This would have been a hard card to beat but I had my Act of Treason in hand to crunch for 9 leaving my opponent at 1. He stabilized at 1 playing Aspiring Aeronaut on back to back turns. I was still drawing and playing creatures but he kept up and I wasn’t able to go wide enough to get a point of damage through with the Sentinels in play. I still had a lot of time sitting at 20 life and my opponent wasn’t even able to start attacking me yet. After a few turns of staring at each other I drew Enthralling Victor to steal one of his flyers and alpha strike for the win.
In Game 2 I mulliganed to 4. My first hand was just 2 Island and lots of late game cards (Act of Treason, Chandra’s Fury out of the sideboard). My second hand had 5 land, Ghirapur Gearcrafter and I thought about keeping it ‘hoping’ to draw spells but wisely threw it back. My 5 card hand had no land. Even though I was going to four, I wasn’t upset. I felt advantaged in the matchup and still had a game 3 to go. In watching the previous matches I saw this finals opponent play an Akroan Jailer and as cocky as it sounds that gave me a huge boost in confidence about my chances to win because I don’t think that card is very good. I kept Goblin Piledriver, Boggart Brute, Island, Mountain. If a 4-card hand was going to get there, this is a pretty good one to bet on.
Now, I will admit that from this point on I didn’t exactly play my best magic to put it mildly. I curved Piledriver into the Brute but totally neglected to realize that Piledriver could attack through his only blocker, a blue creature. This was my first time even seeing a Goblin Piledriver and I didn’t bother to read the card to remind myself that it had protection from blue. I missed three attacks with it, missing out on 7 damage. It wasn’t until I tried to Stratus Walk my Piledriver and was called for a game rule violation that I realized I should have been attacking with it the whole time. On the next turn he found a white creature to block with so my ‘free win’ window with the Piledriver had passed. Neither of us did a lot. We were both flooding out but I was finding just enough creatures to be able to keep pressuring him. If he had found even a single 2/3 then my offense would’ve been halted but he was only playing small bodies like Tower Geist and Aspiring Aeronaut so I was able to make attacks that were at least trades. We traded off the board until it was just my 1/1 thopter vs. his Scrapskin Drake. I misplayed again a few turns earlier forgetting that the drake can’t block ground creatures so I neglected to attack my 2/2 into it. Playing with new cards for the first time it’s so important to just read all the cards to make sure you aren’t missing anything. I top decked Ringwarden Owl to keep viable attacks going and he couldn’t answer it. We both flooded a lot but my struggling offense had just enough gas to close the game out despite my poor play.
I’ve been trying really hard to win a PPTQ for awhile now. All of the losses were definitely hard on my ego and my motivation. I took a bit of a break at times to clear my head and refocus. Switching to limited PPTQs turned out to be just the thing I needed to break the ice and get my first PPTQ win under my belt. I’m very excited to be qualified for my first RPTQ in October and will be looking forward to testing Modern as the tournament approaches. More than anything it’s really gratifying to finally get a win and validate all of the effort that I’ve put into attending PPTQs around the region. The win means I can take a break from grinding PPTQs for now, but as soon as the next PPTQ season starts up in a few weeks you’ll be sure to find me back at it again.
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