Return to Ravnica Sealed PTQ – Madison, WI *2nd*

Well, I finally did it – I made the top eight of a PTQ.

I was planning to attend four PTQs in Illinois and Wisconsin this season, but my schedule only permit me to make the one in Madison on November 17. I hadn’t played any live Magic since August, and my only experience with RTR was a half-dozen MODO drafts, but Sealed is easy, etc. It turns out that Misty Mountain was running an Old Timers event in which they wanted as many old-school Magic players to come out of the woodwork and enter the PTQ. I have no idea whether that increased or decreased the average skill level of the event, but I’m sure it didn’t make it that much softer, if at all. I sat one table away from Adrian Sullivan, and I recognized a few other names from the last decade; it was cool to watch those guys enjoying a game they probably hadn’t picked up in a while.

Just as a side-note, I really wish every Sealed event ever run had a sleep-in special like Grand Prix. I really can’t stand registering and building pools among my fellow Magic players. All you hear is “whoever gets this pool better enjoy the top eight” and chimes of “I’m never winning a match.” It’s probably too much to ask that everyone operate in silence before Round One, but man, would I love it.

Anyway, here’s what I was passed:

2 Armory Guard
3 Concordia Pegasus
Eyes in the Skies
Fencing Ace
Phantom General
Rootbound Defenses
Swift Justice

Aquus Steed
Chronic Flooding
Crosstown Courier
2 Downsize
Hover Barrier
Isperia’s Skywatch
Paralyzing Grasp
Skyline Predator
2 Soulsworn Spirit
Sphinx of the Chimes
Stealer of Secrets

2 Daggerdrome Imp
Dark Revenant
2 Destroy the Evidence
Deviant Glee
Launch Party
Perilous Shadow

Bellows Lizard
Lobber Crew
3 Splatter Thug
Traitorous Instinct

2 Axebane Guardian
Centaur’s Herald
Chorus of Might
Deadbridge Goliath
Druid’s Deliverance
Giant Growth
Horncaller’s Chant
Savage Surge
2 Urban Burgeoning
Wild Beastmaster

3 Centaur Healer
3 Courser’s Accord
Dramatic Rescue
Dreg Mangler
Fall of the Gavel
Goblin Electromancer
Izzet Staticaster
New Prahv Guildmage
Skull Rend
Slaughter Games
Spawn of Rix Maadi
Treasured Find
2 Trestle Troll
Vraska the Unseen

Dryad Militant
Frostburn Weird
Rakdos Shred-Freak
Sundering Growth

Street Sweeper

Rakdos Guildgate
Selesnya Guildgate
Steam Vents

Black and red are pretty easily cut, although three Splatter Thugs are enticing. Blue is lackluster except for its best cards, and the GW stuff is pretty overwhelmingly strong. I deliberated for a long time on how much blue to include. Here’s what I played:

Armory Guard
Concordia Pegasus
Fencing Ace
2 Axebane Guardian
Centaur’s Herald
Deadbridge Goliath
Wild Beastmaster
Sphinx of the Chimes
3 Centaur Healer
3 Courser’s Accord
New Prahv Guildmage
Dryad Militant
Eyes in the Skies
Swift Justice
Rootborn Defenses
Giant Growth
Savage Surge
Vraska the Unseen
7 Forest
7 Plains
1 Island
Selesnya Guildgate
Transguild Promenade

The mana was really smooth all day. I drew exceedingly well during the Swiss, casting Vraska and Sphinx on time in pretty much every match. I waffled over whether to include the Skyline Predator and Soulsworn Spirits, but eventually I realized that I was probably going to be winning most games with a combination of centaurs and/or a large Beastmaster (she’s obviously female, so shouldn’t it be “Beastmistress?”) and that evasion needn’t be a concentration.

I don’t remember each match from the Swiss in great detail, but I’ll recount what I can.

Round 1
I beat one of the old-timers playing a four-color special: base Selesyna splashing for an Archon of the Triumvirate and 3 (!) Stab Wounds. The Beastmistress got me there in the first game. One of the aforementioned Stab Wounds did me the full 20 in game two, which was pretty obnoxious, and I made too many centaurs in game three. He showed me the Archon after the match, having never drawn it.
1-0, 2-1

Round 2
I beat another Selesnya deck, although where I was making centaurs, he spent his time making birds. In game two, he went all-in on a Concordia Pegasus with two Knightly Valors and an Ethereal Armor, but on 2 life I drew a way to cast Vraska and nuke the flying horse.
2-0, 4-1

Round 3
I beat yet another Selesnya deck. We’re tough to play against because of how many combat tricks exist in-color. He was pretty aggressive in representing them, attacking his Pegasus into mine; I usually just snap-block, since they have to use the trick at some point and I’d rather it not be a Rootborn Defenses during my alpha strike. I liked to sandbag mine for the Fencing Ace or the Beastmistress, and the latter is how I won both games.
3-0, 6-1

Round 4
I beat a Rakdos deck that mulled to 5 on the play and got stuck on three land in the first game; in the second game, he eventually tapped out to play a few unleashed guys, and that gave me a window to cast both Giant Growth and Swift Justice on Fencing Ace, which bought me enough time to win the race.
4-0, 8-1

Round 5
I beat a sweet four-color special with triple Axebane Guardian (my favorite draft archetype). Most of his deck was filler, but he managed to play all six of his rares, which included a Vraska, Niv-Mizzet, and double Mizzium Mortars. He won the game in which he overloaded the Mortars and lost the two when he had to use it as Flame Slash.
5-0, 10-2

I was feeling pretty good at this point. I hadn’t faced much of a challenge, and I really felt my deck was good enough to win two more matches. Mike Tomitz saw my Twitter update and called me to wish me well. Good guy, that Mike Tomitz.

Round 6
If there’s one thing my deck could never do, it’s beat a Pack Rat. My opponent this round had built his deck a few seats away from me, and I knew he had a Rat as well as a Mizzium Mortars and a Jace. Well, he played a turn two Pack Rat on the draw in both games, and I couldn’t curve out aggressively enough to beat it. The card is really too good, and it serves as just another piece of evidence revealing how little Limited testing R&D does.
5-1, 10-4

Round 7
I won. I don’t remember how, but I won two games in which my life total never changed.
6-1, 12-4

I stood around awkwardly and anxiously for a half hour after turning in my results slip, waiting for the final round standings to go up so I could figure out whether I could draw in.

Eventually they went up.

I could draw in.

Round 8
As in, “I did.”
As in, “I just drew into my first PTQ top 8. Only twelve years coming!”
That was Facebook status, posted twelve seconds after signing the slip and Best Wishes-ing my opponent.
Cool. Coolcoolcool.

The top eight draft went without incident. I prefer a good, aggressive Rakdos deck over anything not involving Axebane Guardians and too many colors, but my primary RTR draft philosophy is to take the best card in the pack and then force that guild pretty hard. Luckily, I opened an Armada Wurm, got passed a Vitu-Ghazi Guildmage, and we were off to the races with a Selesnya deck that turned out better than my deck for the Swiss. I opened a Loxodon Smiter in pack three, and I somehow accumulated three Coursers’ Accords and a *playset* of Centaur Healers, so I felt pretty great about my chances.

As soon as my quarterfinals opponent sat down, he started grumbling about his awful deck and wishing me luck in the semis. Can’t say I wasn’t encouraged by it. His Izzet deck turned out to be pretty bad, and he probably could never beat an Armada Wurm, which I happened to cast on turn 4 of game one and turn 5 of game two. He was pretty dejected, and I can definitely relate, but I couldn’t believe I was a third of the way to Montreal after just ten minutes.

My semifinals match was considerably more difficult, and had I not ripped like a bandit, I would have lost races I ended up winning. My Rakdos opponent curved out well in all three games, but I twice ruined alpha strikes with a freshly-drawn Druid’s Deliverance, and in the third game I hit runner-runner-runner “make two centaurs, if you please,” and holy crepes, I’M IN THE FINALS, GUYS!

After tweeting a status report, I took another call from Mr. Tomitz, who was slightly tipsy by this point and proportionally enthusiastic. Voltaire and MJ also texted me encouragement, but for the first time all tournament, I was incredibly nervous. This was it.

Since my semis match took so long, I didn’t get the chance to scout my finals opponent’s deck at all, so I had no clue what he was on. I found out pretty quickly when, to my dismay, he dropped Ye Olde Packe Rat on his second turn on the play. Once again, I had no realistic chance of beating the card.

I won an easy game two after chaining Centaur Healers for a few turns, and it all came down to a final contest.

A fairly anticlimactic contest.

Mulligan, mulligan, turn two Pack Rat, game.

And that was that. I packed up my cards, someone handed me a booster box, and I trudged out to my car. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I got pretty emotional on my drive home… This was my first PTQ top eight, my deepest run yet, and with a single victory standing between me and the Pro Tour, I just couldn’t close the deal. It sucked.

I outperformed my own expectations, and I know that I’m good enough to win one of these someday. I just hope that day comes sooner rather than later. I can’t thank my friends enough for all the support throughout the event; the texts and Facebook comments kept me positive, and the post-tourney congratulations and words of encouragement helped assuage the disappointment.

I probably won’t get to play in another PTQ this season, but with Modern right around the corner, I’m excited to give it another shot.

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