Standard PPTQ coverage (13/10/18, Newcastle) and bonus interview with Matt Brown on PTQ changes

Hi all, another new set and another new PPTQ season, the last one in fact! For those of you unaware, Wizards announced changes to the way players will qualify for the Pro Tour which will take effect as of next season. Last weekend I attended a Standard PPTQ in an attempt to ensure qualification for the final RPTQ. In this article, I’ll take you through my deck choice and how it played at the event, this should include a very brief indication on some of the new decks/cards I’ve seen people bringing for battle in Guilds of Ravnica (GRN) Standard. I’ll then come back to these organised play changes announced by Wizards.

Quick scan of some of the new GRN cards for Standard

The departure of Kaladesh (KLD) and Amonkhet (AKH) blocks and the arrival of GRN has completely changed the landscape of the Standard metagame, or has it? There have been very few events to date but there is some information out there on what people are trying out. I’ve previously touched on all stars from KLD and AKH blocks so I’ll share some brief thoughts on some cards that appear to already have made some waves. There are a lot of cool new cards, so I’ve narrowed this list down to only ten cards and attempted to showcase the full colour palette.

  • Runaway Steam Kin: A two-drop that snowballs quickly into a 4/4. It also can increase your mana capabilities at the cost of it’s size, but this presumably lets you play more spells to grow it again!
  • Justice Strike: This does it’s best impression of Murder, but in colours that are lacking this effect. Aggro, midrange and control decks of these colours will all want it.
  • Conclave Tribunal: Oblivion Ring has always been important in every Standard format whether it’s removing blockers, threatening attackers, a planeswalker or pesky artefact/enchantment.
  • March of the Multitudes: I’ve played Secure the Wastes before, but rather than being a card to create a board from scratch, this card excels at making an existing board insurmountable!
  • Nullhide Ferox: Comparable to Steel Leaf Champion in some ways but instead of any evasion it has that hated keyword ‘Hexproof’. Not being able to be as efficient with your own non-creature spells will no doubt constrain deck design though.
  • Assassin’s Trophy: Ubiquitous answer to, well, anything. Firing this off as a Doom Blade to kill your opponent’s two-drop could come with consequences. The land comes into play untapped so bear this in mind!
  • Doom Whisperer: Games do need to be closed out, and an efficiently costed big threat with ‘flample’ is a good start – the activated ability is also a nice bonus but I can already hear the ‘dies to everything’ argument.
  • Thought Erasure: Imagine Thoughtseize but you get to Surveil 1! In Standard there are not too many turn one plays so the increased cost isn’t going to mean you miss out as much.
  • Sinister Sabotage: The Surveil 1 makes this card a lot more like Dissolve than Disallow. I think it’s a must-run for most control decks that just makes it even easier for Search to Azcanta to transform.
  • Expansion/Explosion: Niv-Mizzet, Parun is very good, but I’m more keen on a Sphinx’s Revelation that might actually just kill the opponent! Expansion is also likely to be versatile, particularly in counter wars!

So what am I going to sleeve up? For those of you who have followed my previous journeys into ‘new Standard’, you’ll have some prior knowledge of my preferences, which is to be proactive. This meant that I’m very unlikely to play a control deck. My main reason for doing so is that, in an unknown format it’s going to be quite hard to figure out the best way to answer all the threats, as we don’t know what they all are yet. I may be wrong in the respect that the answers are generic enough to cover all basis – and I do know that Teferi, Hero of Dominaria is a very strong card. However I also find creature decks much more fun to try out – and having fun in a Magic tournament is definitely allowed, right?

Event Preparation

The first point of inspiration was to check out some of the few GRN Standard events that had happened leading up to the PPTQ.

Standard PTQ  07/10/18 – Decklists and results

The event saw Golgari midrange take down Jeskai control in the finals. Of note there were multiple different archetypes in the Top 8 with Golgari being the only repeat – and even then, the lists were quite different. Looking further down the decklists it became quite apparent that there were many ways to approach this archetype, and part of the puzzle would be to work out which one was the best one.

It became very apparent that my best options for a ‘proactive’ week 1 deck would be:

  • Mono-red aggro: This deck didn’t do well in terms of the PTQ, but I think people might still be a bit unprepared for fast beatdown and burn spells. The only gripe I had with this is that some of the cards like Fanatical Firebrand and Viashino Pyromancer are just so weak overall and there’s no way to play from behind or catchup other than literally topdecking enough burn to dome your opponent.
  • Green Stompy: This deck also didn’t do too well in terms of the PTQ and again, I think people know what a Steel Leaf Champion does from the previous Standard so it’s likely decks were well prepared to face it. I actually think it’s a reasonable week 1 option, especially if you want to try and beat red decks. The problem in an unknown format is that there’s not so many of those to prey on (as compared with the last couple of years of Standard) and control is very good against you.
  • Boros: Some of these put up decent results in the PTQ, but I was a little sceptical. Some of the aggressive version just looked like a slower version of the Mono-red burn deck, and the ‘Midrangels/Dragons’ version just looked like a pile of mythic rares that although very powerful, too easily dealt with by Sinister Sabotage and Disdainful Stroke and removal.
  • Golgari: This deck looks like the one that suits my preferences most. It has decent blockers and removal for red, threats and recursion for control and the option of slamming haymakers like Vraska, Relic Seeker or Izoni, Thousand-Eyed to break board stalls.

So the decision was pretty easy in the end. It may or may not end up being correct but it’s one that gave me a lot of confidence.

So do I go efficient creatures + removal spells? Molderhulk and self-mill? Gruesome Menagerie and self-mill or somewhere in the middle of the road? Luckily for me, fellow Leeds player Matt Duggan shared a list he had been trying out which provided me with a bit of focus amidst the myriad of different types of builds I could choose from. I tried it out with a few minor modifications in a Magic Online league and some 1v1 battles and ended up 10-3 with the deck. I was mostly happy with how the deck consistently played. I also discussed the deck with some players on Team Upheaval leading up to the event. This gave me some valuable insights into what others had been trying out, as well as some perspectives on some of the card choices.

The event

I travelled to the PPTQ with Rob Catton, Alex Roebuck and Callum Bousfield. It was about a two hour drive up to Travelling Man in Newcastle where the event was helped. All three of the others were on some form of control deck. At the event we met up with some more Leeds players, Matt Duggan, Krystian Mustafa, Dylan Smith and recently departed Alfie Bennett who was now representing the Newcastle players on home soil! The event was attended by 23 players which meant five rounds before a cut to Top 8.

My deck

This is the list I settled on for the event:

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

Creatures (27)
Dusk Legion Zealot
Merfolk Branchwalker
Seeker's Squire
Deathgorge Scavenger
District Guide
Jadelight Ranger
Plaguecrafter
Golgari Findbroker
Ravenous Chupacabra
Izoni, Thousand-Eyed

Spells (10)
Dead Weight
Find
Vraska, Golgari Queen
Vivien Reid
Vraska, Relic Seeker
Sideboard (15)
Duress
Arguel's Blood Fast
Assassin's Trophy
Deathgorge Scavenger
Plague Mare
Thrashing Brontodon
Ritual of Soot
Vraska's Contempt
Carnage Tyrant

Swiss rounds

Here is how the rounds played out

  • Round 1 vs Esper Control – 2-1 WIN
  • Round 2 vs Esper Control – 1-2 LOSS
  • Round 3 vs Jeskai Control – 2-0 WIN
  • Round 4 vs Jeskai Control – 2-1 WIN
  • Round 5 vs Golgari Midrange – 0-0-3 ID

3-1-1 with decent tie breakers was enough to secure a Top 8 appearance. By this point I was wishing I was playing Carnage Tyrant in the maindeck! Needless to say that there aren’t too many more talking points from the swiss. I’ll cover how cards performed in this event and my testing in the section Going forward in GRN Standard which you can find below.

In the Top 8 I knew I’d be facing at least two Esper Control decks as Alex and Rob had also made Top 8 in addition to the Golgari deck I had just drawn with. Alfie had also run the tables with Mono-red so would be a part of it too. Matt was also battling for a Top 8 spot so there could be up to three Golgari decks.

Top 8

Unfortunately I lost to Alex playing Esper control. In game one I mulliganed to five cards and unsurprisingly got outdone quite easily. In game two the key sequence that determined the course of the game involved me casting two Duress to ‘clear a path’ and remove Sinister Sabotage and Vraska’s Contempt from my opponent’s hand, then return Vivien Reid. The following turn I cast my planeswalker into a topdecked counterspell and the game snowballed away from me from there. Thinking about things I probably didn’t have to cast the second Duress when I did, I could have saved it for the following turn. While Vivien would have likely been hit by the Contempt, I would have at least gotten some value out of it – so in some ways I did misplay this one. Alex played very well the whole way through the match which also didn’t help my chances.

Rob Catton and Alfie Bennett faced off in the finals, with Rob taking it down. Congratulations Rob!

Going forward in GRN Standard

I’m generally happy with the way the deck played out. I did lose twice to control, but if you include the context of me mulliganing to four and five in one of the games in each match I’m hesitant to suggest that the matchup is unfavourable for Golgari. I’ve played against it a few times via Magic Online and it felt relatively even, maybe a slight nod to Esper in game one! Here are some thoughts about some of the cards:

Cards that impressed me

  • Carnage Tyrant: Playing against control 5 times means that the T-Rex had a chance to shine. Every time it showed up it basically killed the opponent! I can see them being a good way to assassinate planeswalkers in the mirror so I can see the case for these being maindeck inclusions in the future.
  • Vivien Reid: All the abilities served me well, there is a slight downside to the +1 ability when you sideboard out some creatures for things like Vraska’s Contempt and Assassin’s Trophy, but I think it’s still valuable in almost every matchup. I might play three of these next time

Cards that disappointed me

  • Plaguecrafter: This card felt medium to disappointing, even against all that control which I believe is the matchup where you really want it. I made the mistake of not sacrificing it to itself at one point just to get more damage on the board (and then wishing I could recur it from the graveyard). This is definitely worth bearing in mind. I think overall this card isn’t in a particularly good spot at the moment.
  • Deathgorge Scavenger: I thought this card would be great because it can constrict value in the mirror, gain life against red and also against control (Chemister’s Insight and Search for Azcanta) but I found these applications to be a bit limited. In the mirror and vs red (which I didn’t officially play in the tournament, but I did do some battles outside of the tournament matches and played against a bit via MTGO) it often removes one card, and then it often can’t make a good attack the next turn so you don’t often get the graveyard hate machine going. Against control they have a lot of removal and yes it might get some marginal value against the aforementioned cards, but it doesn’t really ‘stop’ those cards, only hurts them a little.
  • Vraska, Golgari Queen: This card was a little underwhelming. In some ways I often just wanted to play it to kill something and have my opponent spend a card or attack phase to remove it. The +2 ability only really accrues value in the super late game where you have ‘spare’ lands. I’m a little down on this card and would probably go down to 1 or 0.
  • Arguel’s Blood Fast: This card was disappointing. The deck has so much to do with its mana and I found myself just not activating it against control much to ensure I had a good board presence. In addition, paying lots of life doesn’t really work against the Jeskai decks as they will just kill you with a medium-sized Explosion.

This surely gives us a basis to tweak the deck for my next event which will probably come next week. Stay tuned as I’ll give you the scoop from that event.

Changes to Pro Tour Qualification system

For this section, I decided there was a good opportunity to get the thoughts of newly recruited Master, Matt Brown. So I gave him a brief interview on the changes announced by Wizards. I’ve put a link to the announcement immediately below:

https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/competitive-gaming/2019-schedules-pro-tour-qualifying-and-magicfest-2018-10-04

Are you glad or sad to see the end of PPTQs? Why do you feel this way?

I am conflicted on the changes to remove PPTQs, I think that they are the best way/easiest way for newer players to the competitive scene to qualify for the pro tour, the same way I did for my first pro tour. The series allowed people to travel with friends ever weekend to be able to play reasonably competitive tournaments while having a good prize (the RPTQ invite) and being able to measure themselves against the rest of the people trying to qualify for an RPTQ. On the flip side, the PPTQs were hurting local game stores by limiting the type of events that they can run to try and keep their player base attending their tournaments rather than travelling to a PPTQ instead. Another problem was the lack of events for players that won a PPTQ early in the season as the only events around were other PPTQs as mentioned above. Overall I think that the removal of PPTQs is a good thing as it will allow store owners to schedule other types of events such as “Win a box” events.

Do the changes to Grand Prix’s qualifying you for a PT in that region make you want to attend more Grand Prix events or the same as before?

The changes to the pro tour qualifications from Grand Prix events is one that upsets me. The motto I remember from Magic was “Play the game, see the world” and this change hinders that. Both of the Pro Tours that I have qualified for have been American Pro Tours and although I haven’t yet been to Atlanta for Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica, Pro Tour Kaladesh in Hawaii was the best trip of my life (so far). It excited me to try a lot harder to qualify for another Pro Tour. The fact that all the European Grand Prix events can only qualify me for a European Pro Tour goes against the old motto. That said I will still be attending almost every European Grand Prix event for the foreseeable future.

How do you think the Open events will work?

I am hoping that the open events will be similar to ‘old school’ PTQs and the PTQs on the Sunday of Grand Prix weekends. Although the old PTQs got to the point that they were too large, the announcement that there will be a cap to the number of players that can play in a PTQ is good because the tournaments will be a lot more manageable. I am worried about the number of Open events that will be needed to satisfy the player base. This is because keeping the players happy and not awarding too many Pro Tour spaces is a tricky balance and could take a while to get it right, but it is a good step forward.

How do you feel about the Invite-only events? What are your predictions for thresholds for being invited?

The invite events is the thing I am paying the most attention to and am looking forward to getting more details on. After hitting Bronze Pro club status in Grand Prix Brussels earlier in the year, I was excited at the idea that I was automatically qualified for every RPTQ but that excitement has gone into question with the removal of the system so I am eagerly awaiting the reveal of new details.

Do you think this system makes it easier or harder for players to qualify for the Pro Tour?

I think that the change to the system as a whole makes it harder to qualify for a pro tour as the open events will be a lot larger than the RPTQs ever were and with the best players travelling to play in the open qualifiers, the competition will be just as tough if not even harder.

What’s next?

With Grand Prix Lille coming up and a PPTQ next weekend, the pipeline for the immediate future has pretty much written itself. Looking further ahead I’m competing in the Axion Now Mega Modern event in November and have the RPTQ and Grand Prix Liverpool in December (both of which are also Modern events) – let’s hope I can qualify for this RPTQ before I have to knuckle down on Modern again in just over a month!

Expect to see a lot of preparation articles and tournament reports from both Matt and myself as we travel around for all sorts of events. Matt is qualified for the next Pro Tour and between us we’ll bring you the scoop on the events we attend. If you see either of us at an event, feel free to approach us, we are always happy to talk Magic!

You can find me on Facebook, Twitter (@Chris54154), or at most PPTQs in the North of England, RPTQs and GPs in Eurpoe, and some other large competitive events like Mega Modern and Legacy Masters that arise during the year in the UK.

Matt is on Facebook, Twitter (@MattBrown_MTG) and is based in the South of England, he’ll also be at the last two RPTQs and GPs in Europe

As always, thanks for reading, good luck and have fun in your next event!

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