Rolling Down the Old Main Drag, Part the First

Waited too long to write again, and now I’ve done and forgotten too much to write about. This semester is essentially nothing but writing for me anyway, which significantly lessens my desire to write for personal enrichment, but I can’t let too much time pass between entries.

I went home mid-December for break. I (very intentionally) didn’t get into anything too exciting; the fall semester was a rough one, and I wanted nothing more than to sit around, eat lots of terrible food, and burn as few calories as possible in the final weeks of the year. I even got to play a little Magic along the way, which was awesome on all counts.

The effervescent GoodGuy MikeWayne jumped at the chance to slap together a copy of Brian Kibler’s GB Aggro deck for the single FNM I could make on the month. I cruised through the first three rounds before mulliganing three times against Monored in Round 4 and getting stuck on land against Navid playing Esper Control in the final round. Hate to lose, but since it was only my second live tournament in four months, I wouldn’t lose much sleep.

I’m going to devote the rest of this post to the other tournament I played over break – a Modern PTQ in Philadelphia – and I’ll write another one later about the rest of Christmas break. So if you don’t enjoy reading about card games, road trips, or incredible foodstuffs, you can skip the rest of this.

MikeWayne, Mike Tomitz (who came out of “retirement” specifically for this trip), Parker Howard, James Rutherford, and I all met up at the shop on Wednesday the 19th to test the format for a few hours, and that was basically the extent of our testing before the tournament. Not much has changed on the Modern horizons since the Grand Prix and Pro Tour from September-November, and the archetypes we felt comfortable with were all still basically good, so we stuck with what we knew and just jammed bad matchups for a while. James wasn’t going on the trip, but he was happy to battle us with Tron. For the PTQ, MikeWayne settled on Scapeshift, while I decided to battle with MeliraPod, Tomitz with Splinter Twin, and Parker with Reid Duke’s Haunted Zoo deck.

For whatever reason, Mike&Mike were convinced that the plan should be to leave on Friday night, drive the two hours into Philly, get a hotel room and a good night’s sleep, then wake up refreshed for the tournament on Saturday. Actually, the reason turned out to be “we’re getting a half-inch of snow in the morning, and we couldn’t possibly make it up the highway in those conditions,” which seemed less than reasonable. Also, I knew that there was no way we’d be getting to sleep at a decent hour, so the time we saved by driving up that night would be negated in the end either way. Nevertheless, I consented to leaving Friday night, and after some delicious Thai (for which Nate H. paid, thanks, Nate!), we piled into Tomitz’s SUV and bumped our way up I-95.

Despite Mike’s best efforts, we arrived in Philthydelphia more or less in one piece and hustled into the Convention Center hotel. Mike had called ahead to confirm that they had at least one vacant room, but since we wanted to pay with cash, they couldn’t reserve the room for us, so we had to cross our fingers and hope for the best. Well, when we called from Glen Burnie, they had 24 vacancies; with twenty minutes to go, they were down to three, so we were pretty pumped to discover upon arrival that we had dodged all bullets… The very last room in the hotel was OURS. I’m a poor college boy, so I parlayed a Pact of Negation into my share of the rent. We drafted my C/Ube for the rights to the queen bed, and a few quick games later, MikeWayne and I were nestled between the sheetsmmmm, leaving Tomitz and Parker to enjoy the sofabed.

We arose in the bright and early, checked out, grabbed WaWa for breakfast since the Reading Terminal Market wasn’t open yet (but don’t worry, we’ll be running that back several times on the day), then walked across the street into the Convention Center. The TO had listed the entry fee on his website at $25, but upon arrival we found it to be $30, cash-only; I made sure to grumble about it within his earshot while I paid. You can charge what you want, I guess, but at least take the twelve seconds to get your story straight online. The guy next to me actually only brought $25 in cash, so it took a few begs from friends to get him inside.

I was expecting a lot of Jund, Tron, and UW Flash in the room, with a decent smattering of the mirror (both versions) and a bunch of randoms. The first few rounds confirmed my suspicions, although we saw considerably more Eggs players than we anticipated (probably 12-15 of the 160 players were on the deck). I’ve been playing Melira for a year, so I felt confident in pretty much any matchup.

Round 1 I sat across from Phil Napoli, a New-York based ringer who pals around with Gerard Fabiano and Osyp Lebedowicz. Not really the idea first-round opponent, but whatever. In game one, I kept a hand with multiple Birds of Paradise and Kitchen Finks, which is pretty good against most decks. He won the die roll and led off with a Steam Vents into a Stomping Ground, so I assumed he was on either KikiPod or a Tribal Flames deck. His first play was Izzet Staticaster on my third turn, zapping both of my Birds. Unfortunately, I then started flooding a bit, and he managed to assemble his combo over the next two or three turns.

The hardest part of playing this deck isn’t necessary knowing when to Pod or Chord into which creature; it’s definitely in sideboarding. I’ve lost or nearly lost more games to incorrect sideboarding than to poor play. I probably cost myself game two here by cutting the maindeck Orzhov Pontiff. My thinking was that their important guys are all two-drops or bigger, and I hadn’t seen any one-drops from him in the first game, so I didn’t know whether he was playing the standard 4x Birds, 1x Noble Hierarch or if he had more. Well, when he led with land, Bird into land, guy, guy, guy, then missed his third land drop, I kicked myself a bit. Eventually I played a Redcap into a Shriekmaw, leaving him without much but a Redcap of his own and one card in hand. Of course, he untapped and killed me: play Birthing Pod, Pod the Redcap into Zealous Conscripts, untap Pod, Pod the Redcap again into Kiki-Jiki, go nuts. That’s the power of this version of the deck.

Round 2 I faced an inexperienced Burn player. We split the first two games, after which I mulliganed to four on the draw. I felt pretty good about my chances when I looked down at three land and a Kitchen Finks, and things got way better when he played land and passed on his first two turns (?) and I spent mine drawing another Finks and an Obstinate Baloth. Got there! Turns out he kept a hand full of sideboard cards, none of which mattered much against my draw (something like 2x Smash to Smithereens and 2x Volcanic Fallout).

Round 3 gave me another Burn player, and this time he got me. His early Goblin Guides backed up with Bolts and Searing Blazes for all my guys was enough in the first game, and my mull to five was never winning the second. I was pretty bummed to be dead at this point, but I came to game, so I elected not to drop quite yet. After three rounds, Parker and I were dead, while the Mikes were both 2-1.

Round 4 was pretty insane. I sat across from my neighbor in Round 2, whom I knew was playing something pretty crazy, but I hadn’t paid too much attention at the time. I kept a hand that gained infinite life on turn three, and he didn’t do anything but play a Watery Grave tapped into Drowned Catacomb, Merfolk Looter before scooping to a million life.

At that point, I still wasn’t sure what he was on, but I suspected some sort of Gifts Reanimator deck using creatures as discard outlets. I brought in the Baloth and not much else. My opponent then played a second-turn Liliana’s Caress (!) and I started to figure things out.

O RLY?

O RLY?

He then followed that up with a Wistful Thinking, a card I was not familiar with:

Take eight.

Take eight?

His next turn presented a pair of Burning Inquiries:

You're dead, Dave.

You’re dead, Dave.

So that was fun. I boarded in the Harmonic Sliver and Baneslayer Angel, in case the next game went long, which it definitely didn’t. Basically, we both kept the nuts, and when I went for infinite lives on my third turn, he surprised me with a Surgical Extraction, then untapped and killed me with triple Burning Inquiry. Phil and Osyp watched that last game, and I gave them a weary look while packing up my cards, to which they responded with sympathetic chuckles.

I quickly dropped, then discovered that Mike&Mike had been paired up, so I watched them take their turns comboing despondently for a bit before hoofing it to the Market for some luncheon. The Reading Terminal Market is the main draw for me at these tournaments. It would be nice to do well in Philly, just once (I think my best finish in the city is 4-3-1), but as long as I get to hit the Market two or three times, I’m a satisfied customer. For the uninitiated, the Market is foodie heaven, all under one roof. It encompassed an enclosed city block, stuffed to the gills with food stalls and vendors peddling every sort of meat, vegetable, fruit, wine, and dessert item under the sun. From fan-favorites like DiNic’s Pork and Beef, Hershel’s East Side Deli, and Bassett’s Ice Cream to hidden treasures like Profit’s Creperie and By George! Pizza, the Market is everyone’s favorite end boss. “Everything you need, you can get it at the Market.” I started with the Amish Rib Stand, progressed to Hershel’s for pastrami, then concluded with three scoops of cookie dough at Bassett’s before heading back to the tournament.

By this point, I was near-comotose and everyone else had lost sufficient matches, so we packed up and rolled out. I had managed to flip a German foil Yosei, the Morning Star to a dealer for $50, so that helped recoup some of my losses. The drive home was fairly uneventful after the first few miles, which Tomitz drove with a large bottle of Powerade perched precariously on his roof before a guy in a Smartcar alerted him to the problem. Of course, Mike casually rolls down his window, blindly reaches across the roof and snags the bottle, sight unseen, then pops the cap and starts sipping Powerade. Well done, good lad.

Join us next time, when we write Part the Second!

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