My Last PPTQ – A Retrospective From A Pro MTG Player!

In fear of missing the last RPTQ, I decided to take part in what was the final week of PPTQs with them soon to be no more. The Standard format is still well-defined and, given the confidence I had in my deck choice going into each event, I was reasonably disappointed that I had not snatched victory thus far. In this article, I’ll provide some coverage of each event, take a look back on my experiences playing PPTQs over the last 3 or 4 years, and give my final thoughts as we bid farewell to an era of competitive Magic.

My deck

I stuck with Golgari midrange, a deck I’ve been having a lot of fun with on Magic Arena and one I’ve been playing in paper for while now. The list is below. If you haven’t already downloaded and played Arena, I would strongly encourage you to do so. As an online interface sceptic (who still routinely misclicks), I can say I have been pleasantly surprised and am really enjoying both the Limited and Constructed formats on the platform.

Lands (23)
Memorial to Folly
Overgrown Tomb
Woodland Cemetery
Forest
Swamp

Creatures (26)
Llanowar Elves
Merfolk Branchwalker
Seeker's Squire
Wildgrowth Walker
Jadelight Ranger
Midnight Reaper
Golgari Findbroker
Ravenous Chupacabra
Carnage Tyrant

Spells (11)
Cast Down
Karn, Scion of Urza
Vraska's Contempt
Vivien Reid
Find//Finality
Sideboard (15)
Duress
Assassin's Trophy
Cast Down
Golden Demise
Midnight Reaper
Plaguecrafter
The Eldest Reborn
Vraska, Relic Seeker

The event

I travelled to Travelling Man, Manchester with Alfie Bennett. The event was attended by 23 players which meant five rounds of swiss before a cut to the Top 8. Interestingly, the non-invite prizes (i.e. boosters and goodies) were based on the swiss standings only. It was explained to me that this was a way to ensure that competitors who were not interested in the invite didn’t feel like they had to stay for the Top 8. The prize structure also implicitly discouraged intentional draws as the prizes were based on points, not on position. Getting 15 or 12-13 points was much more lucrative than 10 or 11.

Although I have two copies on Arena, I couldn’t find a second copy of Golden Demise in time for the event, so I played a single copy of Plague Mare in the sideboard instead.

Swiss rounds

  • Round 1 vs Izzet Drakes 2-0 WIN
  • Round 2 vs Bant Nexus 2-1 WIN
  • Round 3 vs Grixis Control 2-0 WIN
  • Round 4 vs Golgari Midrange 2-0 WIN
  • Round 5 vs Izzet Drakes 2-0 WIN

In round 4 I was actually paired down against a player on 7 points and could not intentionally draw the match. After winning the match, I was again paired down against a player on 10 points and I realised I was in a poisition to win +16 boosters, but with the risk of losing my seeding into the Top 8, potentially being demoted from first to second place (without any change in booster prizes). Greed got the better of me, and I played the round out, winning.

Top 8

  • QF vs Grixis Control 0-2 LOSS

This was the same opponent from the swiss rounds and, as you can tell from the result, the match played out very differently. In game one, I managed to obtain a significant card advantage in the early to mid-game through explore creatures and the Find half of Find // Finality. However, I couldn’t seem to stick any pressure and my card advantage ended up not mattering, with my opponent eventually drawing and transforming a Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. In game two I had trouble hitting my land drops and, on a crucial turn, my opponent topdecked back to back copies of Disinformation Campaign, allowing him to take over the game by stripping my hand of my only answer to the enchantment AND the land I held in my hand as discard protection. A Thief of Sanity quickly sealed my demise shortly after. 

Sadly, Alfie lost his semi-final match, and despite leaving the event having been defeated, I got 22 boosters for going 5-0 in the swiss!

Bonus event

After becoming arguably desperate to qualify for the RPTQ, Alfie and I made the last possible trip to Beanie Games in Stockton for a final attempt. The event was attended by 19 players which meant another 5 rounds before a cut to Top 8. This event had no prizes other than the invite for the winner and a participation booster for each player.

Still being unable to find a second copy of Golden Demise, I ran a Reclamation Sage in that slot for this event. I decided that between Venerated Loxodon and Benalish Marshal, the Plague Mare might end up not actually being as good against the decks I’d be siding it in against anyway. The Sage provided me with answers to cards like Conclave Tribunal, History of Benalia, Treasure Map, and The Immortal Sun in other matchups.

Swiss Rounds

  • Round 1 vs Esper Nexus 1-1-1 DRAW
  • Round 2 vs Boros Angels 2-1 WIN
  • Round 3 vs Jeskai Control 2-0 WIN
  • Round 4 vs Golgari Midrange 0-2 LOSS
  • Round 5 vs Golgari Midrange 2-0 WIN

Some talking points from the swiss rounds:

  • My Esper Nexus opponent was running Primal Amulet which, once having been transformed, allowed him to take multiple extra turns after casting a single copy of Nexus of Fate. While its inclusion was somewhat unconventional, it was also distinctly terrifying. 
  • In the Golgari Mirror in Round 4 I was outdone in game one by my opponent’s inclusion of Detection Tower in combination with multiple removal spells, which neutered my attempts to reccur and stick my Carnage Tyrants. In game two my opponent’s hand played out aggresively, and I was beaten down by Wildgrowth Walker(s). I needed to curve out well to come back from my slow start, but in order to do so I had to pay life multiple times to bring Overgrown Tombs into play untapped, eventually spelling my demise. Sadly, the order in which I drew my lands gave me little other option, which was a shame as I didn’t feel my draw was particularly bad, it just lined up poorly with what my opponent was doing.

Top 8

Sadly Alfie lost his quarterfinal. Here’s how the Top 8 went for me.

  • QF vs Izzet Drakes 2-1 WIN
  • SF vs Boros Aggro 2-0 WIN
  • F vs Boros Aggro 2-0 WIN

Some talking points from the Top 8:

  • In the quarterfinals, my opponent was playing a variant of Izzet Drakes running Crash Through, Warlord’s Fury, and Maximise Velocity. This version has a little less utility, but the threat of being killed in one attack step out of nowhere by some number of flying drakes is real and terrifying. My strategy here was based on applying early pressure while removing my opponent’s threats, as trying to play a slower, value-based game against this deck typically ends rather poorly. Pressure and board control are the most important things in this matchup, moreso against this variant of the archetype.
  • Both the semi-final and final matches were against pretty much the same deck, and my core strategy against this matchup is to try and survive for long enough to cast a game-ending Finality. It’s very rare that the opponent will be able to play around this in the build-up and they have no way to stop it resolving other than killing you before you can cast it. During both matches I found myself without any threats in hand after casting my Finality, and I just had to hope that my opponent didn’t rebuild their board or draw their haymakers like Heroic Reinforcements or Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants until I could build my board presence. In all the games the aforementioned strategy brought me the win.

Victory at last! I’ll be going to the last RPTQ afterall!

A Dig Through Time through PPTQ Seasons Past

As a farewell, I’ve decided to provide an overview of my experience playing in these events over the years and thought I’d share the decklists that brought me to victory. I decided to set out my memoirs as if it were an old sitcom, so sit back and enjoy a blast from the past in… SuperF.R.I.E.N.D.S!

Season 1 (PT Vancouver): The one where PPTQ pew pew was all new

  • Events: 4
  • Top 8s: 2
  • Victory: No

Season 2 (PT Milwaukee): The one where I went rogue

  • Events: 6
  • Top 8s: 2
  • Victory: Yes

Scornful Sprites

The list was inspired by Jeff Hoogland!

Land (24)
x Celestial Colonnade
x Flooded Strand
x Hallowed Fountain
x Island
x Mutavault
x Mystic Gate
x Plains
x Polluted Delta
x Seachrome Coast

Creatures (14)
x Dragonlord Ojutai
x Restoration Angel
x Snapcaster Mage
x Spellstutter Sprite
x Vendilion Clique

Spells (22)
x Anticipate
x Cryptic Command
x Path to Exile
x Remand
x Silumgar’s Scorn
x Spell Snare
x Sphinx’s Revelation
x Valorous Stance
x Sword of Light and Shadow
Sideboard (15)
x Aven Mindcensor
x Celestial Purge
x Disenchant
x Dispel
x Kitchen Finks
x Spellskite
x Stony Silence
x Supreme Verdict
x Sword of Light and Shadow

Season 3 (PT Atlanta) The one with bad hands and fetching the wrong lands

  • Events: 4
  • Top 8s: 1
  • Victory: No

Season 4 (PT Madrid): The one where I kept losing to people I drove to the event

  • Events: 7
  • Top 8s: 3
  • Victory: No

Season 5 (PT Sydney): The one where I kept good company

  • Events: 2
  • Top 8s: 2
  • Victory: Yes

Bant Company

I just loved playing this deck, even though Rally the Ancestors was probably the ‘better Collected Company deck’ at the time!

Lands (25)
Canopy Vista
Flooded Strand
Forest
Island
Lumbering Falls
Plains
Prairie Stream
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Yavimaya Coast

Creatures (25)
Warden of the First Tree
Den Protector
Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
Stratus Dancer
Sylvan Advocate
Bounding Krasis
Deathmist Raptor
Reflector Mage

Spells (10)
Dromoka’s Command
Collected Company
Ojutai’s Command
Sideboard (15)
Dispel
Arashin Cleric
Disdainful Stroke
Silkwrap
Valorous Stance
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Lantern Scout

Season 6 (PT Honolulu): The one with all the Superfriends

  • Events: 3
  • Top 8s: 2
  • Victory: Yes

White Black Control

I’ll admit I was lazy in deck selection and just ended up picking the deck because Seth Manfield had used it to win Grand Prix New York the weekend before and it ‘wasn’t Green White Tokens’!

Lands (25)
Blighted Fen
Caves of Koilos
Forsaken Sanctuary
Plains
Shambling Vent
Swamp
Westvale Abbey

Planeswalkers (9)
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Ob Nixilis Reignited
Sorin, Grim Nemesis

Spells (26)
Anguished Unmaking
Grasp of Darkness
Hallowed Moonlight
Languish
Planar Outburst
Read the Bones
Ruinous Path
Secure the Wastes
Transgress the Mind
Ultimate Price
Sideboard (15)
Bearer of Silence
Dead Weight
Duress
Eldrazi Displacer
Hallowed Moonlight
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
Thought-Knot Seer
Transgress the Mind
Ultimate Price

Season 7 (PT Dublin): The one where I brought the wrong deck to the event

  • Events: 5
  • Top 8s: 4
  • Victory: Yes

Affinity

I had intended to bring Jeskai Control to the tournament, but when I arrived (with very little time to spare) it turns out this was in the deckbox I had brought with me. Thankfully I was lucky enough to win!

Lands (17)
x Inkmoth Nexus
x Mountain
x Darksteel Citadel
x Blinkmoth Nexus
x Glimmervoid

Creatures (27)
x Ornithopter
x Memnite
x Signal Pest
x Vault Skirge
x Arcbound Ravager
x Steel Overseer
x Master of Etherium
Etched Champion

Spells (16)
x Cranial Plating
x Mox Opal
x Springleaf Drum
x Galvanic Blast
Sideboard (15)
x Etched Champion
x Ancient Grudge
x Ghirapur Aether Grid
x Stubborn Denial
x Thoughtseize
x Chalice of the Void
x Grafdigger's Cage
x Spellskite
x Dismember
x Sea Gate Wreckage
x Whipflare

Season 8 (PT Nashville): The one with the helicopter, the angel, and Ainsley Harriott

  • Events: 6
  • Top 8s: 5
  • Victory: Yes

White Blue Flash

Probably of all the decks I played in constructed PPTQs, this might be my favourite one. It interacted with or pressured opponents effectively and consistently. I really enjoyed tweaking the build between events to try and improve it and was eventually rewarded with a win.

Lands (25)
Port Town
Prairie Stream
Island
Westvale Abbey
Plains

Creatures (20)
Thraben Inspector
Selfless Spirit
Reflector Mage
Spell Queller
Archangel Avacyn

Spells (15)
Declaration in Stone
Revolutionary Rebuff
Smuggler's Copter
Stasis Snare
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Sideboard (15)
Quarantine Field
Declaration in Stone
Fragmentize
Key to the City
Linvala, the Preserver
Gisela, the Broken Blade
Bruna, the Fading LIght
Negate
Summary Dismissal
x Jace, Unraveler of Secrets
x Fumigate

Season 9 (Kyoto): The one where I Top 8’d the RPTQ

  • Events: 6
  • Top 8s: 3
  • Victory: Yes, but I don’t have a deck to share because this was secured by making Top 8 of the RPTQ halfway through the season.

Season 10 (Albuquerque): The one that was very short

  • Events: 1
  • Top 8s: 1
  • Victory: Yes

Mardu Vehicles

I pretty much just ran the list with which I made Top 8 of a previous RPTQ. It was still good enough to win the event. By this point I was writing for Masterofmagics! Click here to read the article I wrote about the RPTQ, and here if you are interested in reading about the PPTQ win.

Lands (24)
Mountain
Plains
Swamp
Aether Hub
Concealed Courtyard
Foreboding Ruins
Inspiring Vantage
Needle Spires
Spire of Industry

Creatures (18)
Walking Ballista
Toolcraft Exemplar
Thraben Inspector
Scrapheap Scrounger
Thalia, Heretic Cathar

Spells (18)
Fatal Push
Heart of Kiran
Unlicensed Disintegration
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Sideboard (15)
Authority of the Consuls
Release the Gremlins
Oath of Chandra
Oath of Liliana
Nahiri, the Harbinger
Archangel Avacyn
Ob Nixilis Reignited

Season 11 (PT Bilbao): The one with all the six drops!

  • Events: 2
  • Top 8s: 1
  • Victory: Yes

Red Green Scapeshift

I remember picking this deck because I thought Jund and Control would be heavily played and it had a good matchup against these decks. I was right and was rewarded with a win (playing a Valakut mirror in the finals). Click here to read the article including this deck.

Lands (27)
Cinder Glade
Stomping Ground
Sheltered Thicket
Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Forest
Mountain

Creatures (9)
Sakura-tribe Elder
Wood Elves
Primeval Titan

Spells (24)
Summoner’s Pact
Relic of Progenitus
Explore
Farseek
Prismatic Omen
Search for Tomorrow
Sweltering Suns
Scapeshift
Hour of Promise
Sideboard (15)
Engineered Explosives
Grafdigger’s Cage
Ancient Grudge
Anger of the Gods
Reclamation Sage
Tireless Tracker
Chameleon Colossus
Obstinate Baloth
Thragtusk

Season 12 (PT Richmond): The one where I couldn’t win an Energy mirror to save my life!

Season 13 (PT Minneapolis): The one with all the seven drops!

  • Events: 3
  • Top 8s: 2
  • Victory: Yes

White Blue God Pharaoh’s Gift

I remember convincing myself that I was branching out my skill repertoire by playing ‘a combo deck’ and then building the sideboard so that it could transform into a midrange/control deck by removing the combo and putting in some creatures! Click here for the article featuring this deck!

Lands (23)
Hostile Desert
Ipnu Rivulet
Irrigated Farmland
Glacial Fortress
Plains
Island

Creatures (37)
Minister of Inquiries
Sacred Cat
Champion of Wits
Angel of Invention
Chart a Course
Search for Azcanta
Strategic Planning
Cast Out
Refurbish
Fumigate
God-Pharaoh’s Gift
Sideboard (15)
Authority of the Consuls
Negate
Jace’s Defeat
Gideon of the Trials
Fairgrounds Warden
Cast Out
Settle the Wreckage
Angel of Sanctions

Season 14 (PT Atlanta): The one with a short History

  • Events: 1
  • Top 8s: 1
  • Victory: Yes

White Black Aggro

I remember this event being shortly after Dominaria’s official shelf release (quite possibly the next day), so I probably had an advantage in this event in the sense that I had been fortunate enough to be able to get my hands on enough of the new cards (History of Benalia) to build a strong deck. Click here to read the article featuring this deck.

Lands (23)
Concealed Courtyard
Isolated Chapel
Shefet Dunes
Spire of Industry
Plains

Creatures (37)
Walking Ballista
Toolcraft Exemplar
Knight of Grace
Scrapheap Scrounger
Benalish Marshal
Heart of Kiran
Aethersphere Harvester
Gideon of the Trials
History of Benalia
Cast Out
Karn, Scion of Urza
Sideboard (15)
Shefet Dunes
Authority of the Consuls
Duress
Cast Down
Treasure Map
Golden Demise
Karn, Scion of Urza
Lyra, Dawnbringer

Season 15 (PT Cleveland): The one where I had faith in humanity

  • Events: 6
  • Top 8s: 3
  • Victory: Yes

Five Colour Humans

This deck reignited my love of Modern as I was sick to death of not being excited by any particular deck, often settling for playing control decks because I couldn’t think of anything better. Ironically, Humans isn’t particularly well positioned against traditional control decks or midrange decks which are STILL overplayed at local events, but I learned a lot during the honing of my skills with an aggressive Modern deck. Click here to read the article featuring this deck.

Lands (19)
Plains
Island
Seachrome Coast
Ancient Ziggurat
Cavern of Souls
Horizon Canopy
Unclaimed Territory

Creatures (37)
Noble Hierarch
Champion of the Parish
Kitesail Freebooter
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Phantasmal Image
Thalia’s Lieutenant
Meddling Mage
Mantis Rider
Reflector Mage
Militia Bugler

Spells (4)
Aether Vial
Sideboard (15)
Kataki, War’s Wage
Riders of Gavony
Auriok Champion
Izzet Staticaster
Dismember
Sin Collector
Damping Sphere
Gut Shot
Reclamation Sage

Season 16 (PT London): The one at the very end

  • Events: 10
  • Top 8s: 9
  • Victory: Yes

The decklist I used to win this event (well, 74/75 cards of it) is at the top of this article!

Closing thoughts on PPTQs

I hope you enjoyed my Dig Through Time looking at some of the decks I’ve played over the years. My first PPTQ win was with something completely rogue and my successes (and undisclosed failings) since have been a mixture of being ‘sensible’ – playing ‘the best decks’ – and ‘following my heart and playing something I just really liked playing’. It certainly helped strike a good balance between ‘winning’ and ‘fun’. I decided that if I was going to ‘grind’ events, I wanted to try and have fun in the process – a detail which I think some of my fellow PPTQ grinders overlooked.

I didn’t include the stats on events attended and Top 8s as a yardstick of player caliber. In fact, you could argue that if I was a better player I’d already have Bronze Pro Status or be more consistent at getting RPTQ Top 8s and wouldn’t need to play in so many PPTQs in the first place. My main reason for including these numbers is to draw attention to a feature of the PPTQ system that I feel has, at times, been overlooked by many players. In order to obtain the successes I did, I needed to attend (and Top 8) a lot of events! For all but the best players (many of whom likely aren’t eligible to play in PPTQs anyway) the fairy-tale of winning the first event attended is simply unrealistic as an expectation. I believe some players who were quite skilled at the game got less from this system because of their inability to (or personal choice to not) attend a high enough volume of events – and with event wins lacking they quickly grew frustrated with the system. While I’m not blaming players for not being able to attend a certain number of events, I do think that having the expectation that ‘you shouldn’t need to attend many events because you’re a great Magic player’ is quite flawed. If I had limited myself to 5 events per season, I would have likely only gotten half (or less) of the PPTQ wins I did. A system in which you could be successful without having to play much Magic would be convenient for individual players, but I see a system that encourages you to play lots of Magic as a positive thing.

Many people are glad to see PPTQs go, but I’m less enthusiastic about their disappearance (though I am keen to get to know the new system once Wizards make all the necessary clarifications). In retrospect, I quite liked having the opportunity to regularly support various local gaming communities that I otherwise wouldn’t have. I also met a lot of new faces and made new friends by travelling to these events around the country. I do appreciate that the system made things quite stretching for the judges (particularly L2s) and made if very difficult for stores to calendar non-PPTQ events, for example ‘Win a box’ events, without clashing with a nearby PPTQ. In addition, I think the combination of: 1) not being able to play in more PPTQs after winning one, and 2) PPTQs dominating your local Magic scene (which often prevented a person who had qualified early from playing much Magic at all), is a negative consequence of the way the system was set up.

I found success on the PPTQ circuit over the last 4-5 years. However, I’ll admit that my RPTQ performance wasn’t very consistent. I managed just one Top 8 and two 17th place finishes in 12 events (there’s one left, so maybe I’ll undermine myself by doing well in it). My other finishes were either very middling, or I was knocked out after only three or four rounds. In review, it looks like I ended up slotting in as being one of the bigger fish in one pond and one of the smaller ones in another. I’m happy to have had the chance to play in most RPTQs even though I didn’t perform consistently at that level.

As a final note, I’d like to thank my fellow PPTQ-grinding Leeds players for sharing the journeys with me over the year. These are players who, over the years, I have travelled with to events, borrowed cards from, have helped me test for RPTQs, and have even battled against me at the top tables. You’ve helped make the era far more enjoyable. There are too many to name, but you know who you are. Thank you.

What’s next

I’m really excited for Ravnica Allegiance! Now that I’ve qualified for the last RPTQ, I’ll need to think about what to play at that event, which will be a new Standard just after set release. In addition, I’m hoping to start producing video recordings of Arena gameplay, so if that’s something you’d be interested in, watch this space!

You can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@Chris54154), at the last RPTQ, and GPs in Europe. I also frequently attend some other large competitive events like Mega Modern and Legacy Masters throughout the year in the UK. If you see me, please come and say Hi!

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