PPTQ Coverage 28/01/17

Hello and welcome back to my series of PPTQ diaries for the 8th PPTQ season in the UK. Last weekend was the second wave of these events to hit the UK stores and I’m returning to bring you insights from the ones I play in and the Top 8 decklists where possible.

The weekend prior to last I attended a Standard PPTQ at The Games Pit, Wakefield where I wrote about my deck choice some key decision points during the tournament and my reasoning behind as many of those decisions as I could remember. There’s an element of continuity from this episode which won’t be re-explained so I’ve provided a link back to this event HERE

Todays article is about another Standard PPTQ at IQ Gaming, Huddersfield

Deck Choice

At the conclusion of my previous article I discussed tweaks to my deck and the possibility of switching over to the GB Winding Constrictor deck. Regrettably I didn’t acquire all the cards I needed to play the GB deck so I ended up sticking to with the GW deck with those tweaks in mind. Here’s the list I settled on:

Lands (25)
Forest
Plains
Canopy Vista
Fortified Village
Westvale Abbey

Creatures (20)
Walking Ballista
Thraben Inspector
Lambholt Pacifist
Rishkar, Peema Renegade
Thalia, Heretic Cathar
Archangel Avacyn
Verdurous Gearhulk

Other spells (15)
Heart of Kiran
Nissa, Vastwood Seer
Stasis Snare
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Ajani Unyielding
Sideboard (15)
Declaration in Stone
Quarantine Field
Appetite for the Unnatural
Key to the City
Tireless Tracker
Gisela, the Broken Blade
Fumigate
Skysovereign, Consul Flagship

Just a couple of additional notes:

Gisela, The Broken Blade: In some of the faster matchups, Gideon and Avacyn come out but I didn’t really have a replacement threat (just removal) so I upped the number of Gisela to help empower my ‘top-end’ creatures in these matchups. In addition, I thought they might actually be good in the mirror match, staving off an attacking Archangel Avacyn, Heart of Kiran and well positioned to attack opposing planeswalkers. Finally, while I didn’t get much practice in against the GB Winding Constrictor decks, I felt that beating them on the ground was likely to be impossible. This meant turning to evasive threats to counterattack.

Skysovereign, Consul Flagship: This is again another measure against both the mirror match and the GB deck. This card is good at killing planeswalkers and can dodge Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness. It creates a lot of airborne pressure against both matchups.

Verdurous Gearhulk: I found drawing multiple Avacyns to sometimes be a liability but wanted a card that is impactful. It synergises well with Walking Ballista and can provide ‘reach’ in some matchups.

The event

For this event, I travelled with some players I know quite well based in Leeds. Many of them made an effort to attend the PPTQ as we had all made plans in the evening to go out for a curry and drinks so we make a day of it. We are all playing different decks which certainly made things interesting.

The event consisted of 42 players, which meant 6 rounds, cut to Top 8. My overall memory of this event is in good shape. So I’ve decided to provide a more traditional summary of each match and the key things I learnt from each one:

R1 – GB counters

G1: I thought I had a good hand with turn 2 Lambholt Pacifist, turn 3 Nissa, Turn 4 Gideon, but this was easily overwhelmed by my opponent’s curve of turn 2 Winding Constrictor, turn 3 Rishkar, turn 4 Walking Ballista. They were on the play.

G2: Under the gun again, I manage to resolve a Fumigate and some Planeswalkers to stabilize and eventually win with some support from fliers.

G3: My opponent curves out similarly to Game 1 and I draw multiple copies of Gideon and Nissa, which I’m unable to defend effectively. They end up translating into lifegain spells. He even has a Heroic Intervention for my Fumigate and I’m annihilated in short order.

Learning points: The curve of my opponent’s deck feels like it beats mine, particularly when they are on the play. This match left me feeling that I wanted a third Fumigate in my sideboard, enabling me to transform into a pretty much a control deck in post-board games. If I can stop the initial onslaught, it’s much easier to keep Planeswalkers alive and use them to take over the game. Descend Upon the Sinful would get round Heroic Intervention, but I think it is too slow.

R2 – GB delirium

G1: After dealing with a couple of Grim Flayers before my opponent enables delirium, I’m able to resolve a Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Archangel Avacyn which take over the game by themselves

G2: My opponent presents an impressive offensive with two Sylvan Advocates a Grim Flayer and a Hissing Quagmire but my opponent can’t enable delirium and his force is halted by multiple tokens amassed by Nissa and Gideon and Lambholt Pacifists staying back to defend them. Meanwhile, Key to the City allows a 5/5 Rishkar, Peema Renegade make short work of my opponent’s health total.

R3: GB Counters

G1: My opponent starts with a Constrictor which I Stasis Snare and doesn’t seem to have a follow-up threat. I proceed to deploy Planeswalkers and it soon becomes clear that my opponent has only creature removal spells. By the time he presents more threats I have multiple Planeswalkers going including Ajani Unyielding, which, under no pressure, completely takes over the game by ‘drawing’ more cards than blue Planeswalkers can and threatening to Swords to Plowshares any threats that come into view.

G2: My opponent unfortunately mulligans to five cards and while they have an impressive start curving our creatures, I have the Fumigate, Ajani sequence leaving him helpless.

R4: Jeskai Saheeli combo

G1: My draw doesn’t give me many answers to the combo, but I use Gideon, Ally of Zendikar to apply too much pressure before the combo can steal it from me. I’m not sure whether my opponent is playing the combo at this point, so I leave in some cards to ensure I at least have some resilience to it for game 2. Normally these cards (Walking Ballista, Thalia, Heretic Cathar, Stasis Snare) are quite poor in the pure control matchup, but somewhat needed against the combo.

G2: I don’t draw particularly well from my opener, but I manage to stick a Nissa and go Ultimate. Unfortunately after this happens, my opponent creates about 50,000,000 cat beasts with Saheeli Rai. While I have a Thalia out to prevent instant death, my opponent casts Fumigate gaining that much life. I decide to scoop on the basis that I’ve actually drawn more cards than my opponent due to Nissa. This will allow more time for game three. (My opponent couldn’t cast the Fumigate before comboing as the Felidar Guardian was already on the battlefield).

G3: I manage to resolve Gideon, Ally of Zendikar on turn four and pressure my opponent to a turn seven kill, I actually don’t have any answers to the combo available so if they manage to assemble it on their turn 6 (Felidar, untap a land, play sixth land, Saheeli) then they win, but luckily they do not have it.

R5: Jeskai Saheeli combo

G1: I mulligan to five cards. I start to recoup lost cards with Thraben Inspectors, but my opponent is nevertheless able to make sure I don’t ever get a significant footing in the game by countering or removing every other threat I try to stick to the battlefield.

G2: My opponent manages to deal with my initial threats but I have multiple Stasis Snares to answer to the combo. As the dust settles I’m left with a Nissa and a Heart of Kiran. I make a terrible mistake and play a second Heart of Kiran (completely forgetting that it is in fact a legendary artifact!) and from this point I realise the game is quite difficult without the ‘backup Heart’. This is because I’m fairly convinced that my opponent has removal in hand to deal with it as he is drawing cards, not playing lands and passing the turn. Eventually I grind out his removal spells by making my plants into threats that can actually do damage and once the way is clear, my opponent bites offing the tokens with multiple burn spells, then Heart of Kiran crashes in for victory.

G3: This is quite an anticlimactic affair. My opponent counters my first Gideon but I have a second copy which goes on to win the game unimpeded while my opponent is unable to find their sixth land for the multiple Torrential Gearhulks they have drawn.

Learning points: Just because you ‘can’ attack with vehicles, doesn’t mean you should. If your opponent can’t deal with them while un-crewed, in some situations, it’s better to wait it out and use them to mop up after they’ve been forced to use their removal on something else. Of course this isn’t a hard and fast rule and is only going to apply in some games. In what I estimate to be a higher percentage of the time, the better option is to apply as much pressure as possible before the opponent draws into better cards – I’m simply outlining an example of when it might not be.

I am seventh, the final player on 12 points. Unfortunately my tie-breakers are (unsurprisingly) appalling and I am (in all likelihood) going to be paired down against current eighth place on 9 points. This means that I cannot intentionally draw the last round and if I lose I will not be making top 8 as my tie breakers will not be good enough to keep the Top 8 dream alive.

R6: GW Tokens

G1: My opponent curves out as this deck is intended to deploying Nissa and Gideon on cue. Meanwhile I draw multiple Walking Ballistas and Stasis Snares which, on their own, can’t pull down the wall of tokens and the Planeswalkers behind them. My opponent then easily dominates the game from there.

G2: Both of us grind the game to a halt with Tireless Tracker, Avacyns, Stasis Snares and multiple Lambholt Pacifists. My opponent again draws their Nissa and Gideon and answers my Avacyn threatening to take them down. I draw my own copy of the Gatewatch duo a few turns later but my opponent is quite a bit further ahead on board. He decides to make an Ormendahl, Profane Prince to end the game. I’m able to clear the board with a Fumigate and deal with Ormendahl with Ajani. I make what I think is a mistake at this point and instead of trying to take out his Gideon with mine I reassemble a board of tokens. I clearly am fearing the Stasis Snare too much. We both crack our remaining clues left behind by Tireless Tracker. Unfortunately my opponent has more clues than I and mine only appear to draw me into lands while my opponent appears to be drawing more relevant spells enabling them to recover instantly from the Fumigate. We run out of time so my opponent wins. He would probably have won without the time constraints. I wish him luck in the Top 8.

This means it’s no top 8 for me and I’m eliminated from the event. While 12 points is enough to make it into the Top 8, there are eight player on this number of points and my tie-breakers leave me somewhere nearer the lower end of this group.

Losing at Magic

I’d like to provide a short side-note around reflecting on losses prompted by my experience of ‘missing out on breakers’. It’s something that will happen to someone in almost every competitive event and I’ve seen it being dealt with graciously or with Tears of Rage. It is my observation that the players who can come to terms with it better develop into stronger competitive Magic players more quickly. Therefore I’d like to share a couple of thoughts that may help enable others to walk away from a situation like this feeling a bit clearer in mind:

Can’t win-em all: Let me start by outlining that in competitive Magic, there’s a lot of losing to be done by everyone. Even a player who has a match win percentage of 70% (pretty good) implicitly still loses 30% of the time (ignoring draws). The point is to not let the results of a single event hit you too hard! ‘Grinding’ or developing yourself in a competitive Magic scene shouldn’t be viewed through the results of a single event (sprint). Taking a view from the horizon over multiple events (marathon) is a more effective and accurate perspective which will help you come to terms with the fact that there’s inevitably a lot of punches, you ‘just gotta roll with them’.

Top 8 ‘groupie’: In situations like mine, I had the same number of match points as other people who did make the Top 8. It’s possible to argue, on this basis, that I had a ‘virtual Top 8’ or ‘earned a Top 8 but didn’t get one’ – I was even in contention going into the final round. This is a very slippery slope and I would encourage players to avoid this Train of Thought. While I’m not saying you deserve no sympathy for coming ‘ninth on breakers’. A better way to deal with the pain is understanding that only eight players can make the Top 8 and the ‘top tables’ going into the final round of swiss are often overcrowded with players battling for a spot and tie breakers have to help determine the 8. The point I’m making here is to take a more numeric view, rather than a view based on what you think your own efforts were worth. No matter how hard earned your finish just short of Top 8 may feel in your heart, it’s won’t be worth a Top 8 for this event, but maybe similar hard effort in the next tournament will yield victory.

Coming to terms with losing at Magic has helped me put more energy into learning from my mistakes and improving because less energy goes into mourning my near misses. I’m not advocating aspiring to be robotic or emotionless about your losses, moreover that there’s value to putting things into perspective, which I’ve hopefully shared in a way that is of use to you. Three, two, one…

Back in the room

TOP 8 DECKLISTS

A few of the friends with whom I am meeting with do make Top 8. Those of us who don’t take refuge in a pub close to the venue. The event was eventually won by Nick Lote (my round six opponent) so congratulations to him and commiserations to Tomas Sukaitis for missing out.

Changing my deck

If I am to continue playing GW tokens, I’d make the following changes:

  • Third Fumigate over the third Declaration in Stone. It seems stronger in some key matchups
  • I feel I am sideboarding too heavily for the mirror match, control and the GB counters deck. I routinely take out most or all of my Walking Ballistas and Rishkar and Thalia as I don’t find these cards particularly impactful in those matchups (unless the control deck has the Saheeli Rai combo). This leads me to believe that I can maybe afford to move some copies of these cards to the sideboard and make my maindeck stronger against these matchups as, at the moment, I’m more likely to face one them than the Saheeli combo deck. Most other GW players are playing Oath of Nissa in addition to Thraben Inspector, and I do recount times where I’ve been unable to play Nissa or Gideon on time due to not having GG or WW so maybe this card is worth trying again.

Quick note on the shifting Standard metagame

Part of the game of playing Standard is to respond to a metagame that can make twists and turns as frequently as every week. Some players don’t like this about the format as adapting to change can mean trying new decks, which can require buying new cards or stepping outside your comfort zone. I personally think it keeps things interesting. The previous week we saw the Starcity Games Colombus Open won by GB Counters, and to no surprise this deck hit the gaming tables all over the world including those at the next Star City Games Open in Richmond last weekend. It’s worth noting that there were zero copies of my beloved GW tokens in the Top 32, demonstrating that either the deck has reduced in popularity or that the GB decks and Jeskai combo/control decks which dominated the event (SCG Richmond T8) have the upper hand. While these are just my speculations, I’d add from the way that the games I’ve played against the GB deck felt for me, I definitely felt disadvantaged in the matchup game 1, but this is only with a sample size of two matches. On the other hand, I’ve played against both Jeskai control and combo decks a lot more and these games feel a bit more even. A Gideon, Ally of Zendikar hitting the battlefield early, definitely gives GW an advantage. Having said this, if the deck is playing the Copycat combo, it has that as a route to victory. Next week the Pro Tour will no doubt showcase a number of decks either creating a shift or ‘validating’ some of the combinations and synergies that have been tried to date in Aether Revolt Standard.

I have the choice of playing either Sealed in Bradford or Standard again in Middlesborough. I am not sure which one I will attend, but it will definitely be one of them and I will definitely bring back some more thoughts.

The grind continues…

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