Hi all! It’s back to a new season of PPTQs for me and I’m kicking the season off with a Standard event which was held at the Games Pit last weekend! For those new to my articles, they are designed to capture insights and lessons learned from PPTQs across the UK from my perspective. Win or lose, I try to share my experiences at these events to provide the community a view of local competitive events, while also telling a bit of a story and offering some strategic insight that surrounds my participation in these events.
With Shadows over Innistraad and Battle for Zendikar block leaving, the format has shrunk from eight sets down to five. Powerhouses such as Chandra, Flamecaller, Archangel Avacyn, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Tireless Tracker and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger are no longer part of the metagame. The same is true for cards like Thraben Inspector, Grasp of Darkness, Insolent Neonate, Traverse the Ulvenwald and Dispel, arguably the ‘glue’ that held certain archetypes together.
Ixalan has only been out a few weeks at this point so at the time of the PPTQ, only a few premier events have taken place demonstrating the new Standard format. The SCG Dallas Open saw old favourites such as Four Colour Energy, Ramunap Red and UW Approach in the Top 8, but it was a Sultai Energy deck which claimed the title. At the World Championships, there were three main contenders, Temur Energy, Ramunap Red and UB Control, with some Four Colour Energy and a Grixis Control build rounding out the metagame. This isn’t a huge sample size, but I thought it would be better to go into the event playing something tried and tested and go from there.
Deck choice and preparation
I don’t like playing control at the moment. I think some of the threats in Kaladesh and Amonkhet block are, on balance, too numerous and reslient for the card you can play to stop them. I’m not saying control is ‘bad’, it’s just a personal preference of mine to be proactive. I think in general, in a relatively unexplored format, being proactive gets the nod over being reactive. This means I would likely be playing Temur Energy, Four Colour Energy or Ramunap Red.
In the end, I decided that Ramunap Red was what I had the most practice with, and already had most of the cards. I took a few steps to prepare with the limited time I had left:
- I watched UK Bronze Pro Pete Ward stream some Standard leagues on Twitch. He is having a lot of success online with the Ramunap Red deck and has won a lot of Trophies. He’s a great player, recently finished third at English Nationals and is part of the Hareyura Hopes Pro team. If you want to see competitive Magic (and some friendly background banter with his housemates, who are also strong competitive Magic Players in the UK) I’d encourage you to check out the Stream via https://go.twitch.tv/killablastlol
- I have also been talking with David Calf about card choices for Ramunap Red. David is a member of Team Axion and has been very generous with his time and sharing of lists to help me understand the deck and its matchups better given he is a strong player who has been playing the deck much longer than I have. He unfortunately lost in the finals of a PPTQ in Coventry the night before I was due to play at the Games Pit, but I’m sure he will no doubt win a PPTQ soon.
- The day before the tournament, I tested about 10 pre-board games and over 20 postboard games against my friend Laurence Arnelll pioting William Jensen‘s Temur Energy deck. Overall, a lot of the games were quite close, but it felt that Temur usually got the nod more often than not through cards like Whirler Virtuoso and Confiscation Coup (Stealing Hazoret). My record was about 3-7 preboard and 7-13 postboard. The numbers are similar to how the matchup was represented at Worlds, but that’s not what’s hugely important. Better observed is that about 90% of my wins came from being on the play, postboard, being on the draw against Temur Energy was quite hard.
I decided, nevertheless, to stick with Red. I actually don’t have the full Temur deck or any experience of playing it myself (despite playing against it a lot). I’m very confident with Ramunap Red against the control decks, so at least I had to take into the event with me. Here is the list I ran:
The event included twenty-something players which meant five rounds and a cut to top eight.
Round 1 – vs Four colour energy
- Game 1: I’m on the play. I run my opponent over in five turns
- Game 2: My opponent is on the play, they stabilise, steal my Hazoret and turn the tables by attacking me with it and a Glorybringer. Shortly after going into chump-block-mode, I die.
- Game 3: I keep arguably a greedy hand of – Bomat Courier, Soul Scar Mage, Shock, Shock, Abrade, Earthshaker Khenra, Mountain. I don’t draw any lands, so despite being able to attack and clear away his first couple of creatures, I end up having to sacrifice my Bomat, discarding 2 Hazorets, the Abrade, the Khenra and a Rampaging Ferocidon and receive five lands. I topdeck another Ferocidon, then a Khenra to try and get back into the game. My opponent appears to be a bit colour screwed (multiple Aether Hubs no energy) so we have a bit of a game in this one. Unfortunately an Attune with Aether lets him play powerful 5-drops and take over the game.
Round 2 – vs Monored Imminent Doom combo
- Game 1: I play out some creatures, but my opponent Shocks and Lightning Strikes them down, so I play out some more creatures simply to empty my hand for Hazoret and continue to apply pressure. My opponent then plays Imminent Doom and starts going off, gunning down everything in site, getting two-for ones off his burn spells. Luckily for me, Hazoret is indestructible and finishes him off.
- Game 2: I have to mulligan to five and have kept Soul Scar Mage, Earthshaker Khenra, Aethersphere Harvester and two mountains. I scry non-land to the bottom and we’re off. I again draw no lands, but luckily I keep drawing Earthshaker Khenras which manage to chip away before getting massacred by not one, but two active Imminent Doom’s. I keep missing my third land drop turn after turn and am desperately running out of steam. My opponent also deploys Chandra, Torch of Defiance which will likely accelerate my doom very quickly. In ‘Do or Die’ fashion I put my opponent to four with a Shock, knock the top of my deck for a third land so I can play an Ahn-Crop Crasher and sneak in some victory. I finally do get that third land and win!
Round 3 – vs Four Colour Energy
- Game 1: I’m fortunately on the play and start well with Soul Scar Mage and Earthshaker Khenra. However, my opponent contests the board with Whirler Virtuoso and Longtusk Cub. I dismantle my opponent’s board, but they also reply in kind with multiple removal spells and I unfortunately fail to rebuild, giving them the opportunity to play their stronger cards and take the game.
- Game 2: I apply quick pressure and my opponent neither has a Whirler Virtuoso nor an answer to Hazoret who mops things up in rapid fashion.
- Game 3: This one is a bit more interesting. My opponent does stem the bleeding with a Whirler Virtuoso, which I’m only able to ‘shrink’ with Soul Scar Mage because I’ve drawn too many Shocks and not enough ‘three damage’ burn spells. The Virtuoso is kept alive as a 0/1 for a long time and allows my opponent to control the board a bit with Thopter tokens. I think at one point, I should have just sucked things up and used another burn spell to kill the 0/1, but for some reason I thought the removal was better pointed at something else. I think this is a lesson to be learned. The game grinds out a bit as I manage to draw rampaging Ferocidon, but eventually it is removed. With me at a reasonable life total and my opponent below 10 in a topdeck war, I think I have a reasonable shot at still winning the game, but I do need to draw some good cards. My opponent draws a Bristling Hydra which is not ideal for me, and I draw a land. The game shifts massively into my opponent’s favour and one more land from me and I’m dead on board, even Glorybringer can’t save me now!
Round four: vs Temur Energy
- Game one: My opponent curves out, but I manage to Shock the turn two Cub and tip the scales back with Earthshaker Khenra followed by Ahn Crop Crasher and Hazoret.
- Game two: My opponent again curves out, but this time also has Whirler Virtuoso. I have a reasonable draw, but my creatures are met with various Harnessed Lightnings, Chandra’s defeat and my opponent steals my Hazoret with Confiscation Coup to turn the tables on me.
- Game three: I enact the classic game plan of deploying threats and using removal on their creatures so clear the way for attacks. My opponent has to use Aether hubs to generate colours so ends up sparse on energy. This is important because he can’t power out as many +1/+1 counters with his Longtusk Cub or get as much value with Whirler Virtuoso before it dies. I am quite far ahead, but my opponent concedes as he realises he has made a mistake in his last turn that means he cannot possibly turn the tide in his next turn (and might have been able to do so otherwise).
Round five vs Sultai Energy
Unfortunately I don’t remember very much about games one and two of this match. However, in game three I had the tables completely turned on me when my opponent took my Harsh Mentor with Hostage Taker. It later prevented me from making use of Ramunap Ruins. In the late-game, after a couple of turns of trying to work out effective attacks and blocks due to both of us being ‘dead on the swingback’ if either of us attacking with too many creatures, my opponent draws out of it by using Vraska’s Contempt on my Ferocidon and allowing his Aethersphere Harvester to seal the deal.
What went wrong?
This is my first negative record at an event for a long time, but I think it’s a fair result. Let’s look at why:
- I simply didn’t play my best this day. I went into the tournament more tired than normal due to a late night out – not an excuse, just a consequence of life choices resulting in me having less energy than normal and may have affected play.
- Deck choice ended up not being optimal considering the matchups I played. I can’t control the pairings board but was hoping to face some control decks.
- In round one, my keep in game three is arguably very greedy and likely the biggest reason I lost the match. Hands like these tempt me because if I draw a land for turn two I’m very likely to bring my opponent to a quick death? This doesn’t consider the need to draw further lands for any spells costing 3 or more, or indeed the ability to play two spells in one turn, which will require more lands. As tempting as it was, I think I would have given myself a better chance to win the game going to six.
- In round three, game one I am fairly sure I made a mistake, particularly with my removal spells. In the first game, I tried to squander my opponent’s energy by baiting my opponent to put counters on their Longtusk cub so that it doesn’t straight up die in combat against my 2/3 Soul-Scar Mage (prowess). The fact that they simply used Harnessed Lightning on my Mage response to prowess to a. get more energy and b. not have to add counters to the cub really did a number on that plan. I ended up having to use another burn spell to kill the cub. The end result was that I played two cards, killed my opponents cub and pointed a butn spell at their head. My opponent spent a card to kill my soul scar mage. If you cancel out the creatures and the spells used to kill them, all I really did by the end of it was throw a burn spell at my opponent which could have been better used at another point in the gamem more likely to kill one of their creatures. In addition, in game three, not biting on removing the 0/1 Virtuoso at card disadvantage allowed things to whirl out of control to their advantage.
As I have said in previous articles, I think there’s merit to trying to honestly evaluate your mistakes/losses to try and make sure that they aren’t repeated in the future so I’ve just shared some of mine from the tournament to help understand how much of the result is attributable to gameplay error as opposed to natural variance.
I didn’t stick around for the Top 8, but I found out the event was won by my opponent in round one, Adam Brandreth. Adam is a player from York who I have played Magic and board games with when I lived there previously. He was kind enough to supply me with a deck list. Congratulations to him, hopefully I will be able to win one and join him at the RPTQ!
Four Colour Energy – Adam Brandreth
I am not sure when my next PPTQ is, but I’ll try to bring home some more glory next time. I’ve obtained all the cards for Temur Energy and have most of UW Approach so will give those some practice before the next event. Wherever you are, good luck with your PPTQ grind.