How to Win (Another) PTQ

Written by John Cuvelier on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Limited

How to Win (Another) PTQ

John Cuvelier

John is a respected deck designer who's been credited with the Modern Aggroloam deck that took down GP Lincoln in 2012. He's a fixture at the Top 8 tables of Florida and MTGO PTQs. He's played on six Pro Tours and his personal goal is to ride the PT train to glory and riches, well at least glory.

The journey begins in early September.

Knowing I had a PTQ in Orlando on Sept. 15, I decided to prepare myself for the relevant format: M13 Sealed. For the next two weeks, I did the majority of my testing online in daily sealed events. I entered about 10 events, mostly going 3-1 with a couple of 4-0 and 2-2 results. I was feeling pretty good about the sealed format. I figured my knowledge of the format and my instinct on drafting would allow me to seal a victory if I could get to the drafting portion.

The day of reckoning was at hand.

Before I knew it, I was making the two-hour trek to Orlando with my girlfriend, Allie, and our friend Ashley. Fueling up on the way there we decided on McDonald’s. No fast-food order is complete without an error in preparing the food, of course. I was the lucky recipient of a Sausage, Egg, and Cheese biscuit without the cheese. Otherwise the ride was uneventful, as it was early in the morning and we were all still pretty groggy. Because of previous interstate traffic nightmares, we left early to avoid such things.

Arriving at the event site with about an hour to spare let us chat with friends. I even tested a few Modern games in preparation for the upcoming Pro Tour. After a short delay while the event organizer had to compensate for the unexpected quantity of players, I sat down and found myself with the following pool:

After dissecting the card pool, I thought my best bet was to splash the obvious black cards and work with the only color combination that had a solid curve. I played the following:

I was actually pretty excited about my chances. I could have made the deck more aggressive by not splashing black and adding the two Titanic Growths. But overall, I was happy with my maindeck decisions and had plenty of options for sideboarded games.

Unfortunately, I played against an opposing Xathrid Gorgon/Staff of Nin deck in the second round that barely got the best of me. Another loss in the sixth round brought me to 4-2. My hopes of making Top 8 were over, and I could go home as soon as the girls had finished. (They finished 5-3 and 5-2-1.)

While waiting, I spent time with friends from The Game Academy and some other locals doing a pauper cube draft. I ended up with a really sweet UG tempo deck, with a subtheme of the old UG madness days. Our team lost 5-4, with me going 2-1. So close.

Decisions

During the drive home I had a considerable decision to make. Not just whether I wanted a Moe’s Burrito or a Sonic Coney and Cream Slush. The next day, a shop about an hour from my house was hosting a Standard tournament for a Mox Pearl. Also going on that same day was the MTGO PTQ for Gatecrash.

If this was another Florida PTQ, the decision would be quite easy. But since MTGO PTQs contain more players than some Grand Prixs, the better value comes into question.

After deliberating, I knew I wanted to stay on the Pro Tour. I knew I needed to do very well at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica to qualify for Gatecrash. I didn’t want to hang my chances solely on that. When I got home, I set my alarm and prepared myself for another chance at a PTQ win.

Oops! … I Did It Again

I woke up with enthusiasm, hoping I would get another competitive pool that would give me a chance at Top 8. After being frustrated with myself for making Top Eight the day before, I couldn’t let another chance slip away. I was blessed with an above-average pool, but not an auto Top 8 by any means. Here’s what I was given:

What I played:

This is a very solid pool with lots of removal and some decent creatures. The deck has a respectable curve, but really lacks in the finisher department. Knowing I would be playing against green decks that pack cards like Sentinel Spider, I played Zombie Goliath over Mindclaw Shaman. I also decided on Reckless Brute to serve as a decent threat with my abundance of exalted creatures. I hoped to push through enough damage so my burn could provide the reach to win some games. In retrospect, I would have rather played an 18th land. I had a “spell land” in Hellion Crucible and two Volcanic Geysers meant I wouldn’t mind getting flooded as much.

The event had a whopping 680 players (more than Grand Prix Costa Rica), which meant I needed a 9-1 record or better to guarantee a Top 8 slot. I had a rough start with a Round 2 loss. My chances of making a Top 8 appearance were looking bleak. However, in what is becoming a trend with me and tournament Magic, I rallied to win eight consecutive rounds to lock up a Top 8 slot and a chance at Pro Tour Gatecrash.

All the Top 8 draft decks can be found here. Mine is below:

I was torn between red and blue, and it was hard to make a commitment. I opened the Ajani, Caller of the Pride and an Arms Dealer in Pack 1. Opting for the Ajani, I get passed a few more white cards with a ton of reasonable red cards. A late pick Faerie Invaders made it seem blue might be more open than red next pack, assuming the guy next to me made the obvious choice of taking the Arms Dealer. This would mean red would dry right up and I would need a new color. Sure enough that happened, so by the end of Pack 2, I was equally split between the two colors. Pack 3 served up an Odric, Master Tactician. An Arctic Aven over Sleep with the second pick solidified my choice on blue.

My first opponent was a UB deck short on creatures but heavy on removal. An early Ajani and quick draw on my part was too much, and he was quickly dispatched 2-0.

The semifinals were a lot harder to manage. This guy was RGb, and he had all of the all-stars. Arms Dealer. Silklash Spider. Xathrid Gorgon. But not just one Gorgon. TWO Gorgons. And not just TWO Gorgons, but a Mwonvoli-Beast Tracker to serve as a THIRD Gorgon or SECOND Silklash Spider.

This match was probably the hardest limited match I’ve ever had to endure. There were some really big swings in game states, including a few where I thought I was about to win before an Arms Dealer hits the table and I think I’ve lost the PTQ. A miscount by my opponent, and suddenly I gained advantage in life with my two Healer of the Prides to barely engineer a comeback.

The final had my opponent with some bombs of his own in the form of Krenko, Mob Boss, Sphinx of Uthuun, Stormtide Leviathan and Magmaquake. His deck was very slow, as you might expect. The speed of my deck took a toll, and he was forced to Magmaquake away his own Krenko in an attempt to stop the bleeding. He stabilized a few turns later and I needed a way to push through six points of damage. A well-timed Downpour off the top won me Game 1 a few turns after Sphinx resolved.

Game 2 was another grind as he clogged up the ground. I took to the skies with Battleflight Eagle and eventually he had to Unsummon it to slow me down. To me that meant he was too far behind and desperate for an answer. Replaying my Eagle next turn, I expected him to have the Essence Scatter. To my relief it hit the table and I jumped another one of my creatures. He was dead on board the following turn to the eagle.

He drew for his turn, tapped all his mana. . . and dropped down a Leviathan! I’ve never been so happy to see a Leviathan in my life. I found myself winning back-to-back MTGO PTQs for the first time in my life, and quite possibly the first time ever by anyone.

Homeward Bound

Being born in Canada, I can’t wait to return and get another shot at the Pro Tour.

That will have to wait, though, because the team Grand Prix is right around the corner, and immediately after is Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. My teammates for the Grand Prix will be Julian de Los Santos (who you probably aren’t familiar with) and Glenn Jones (who you most likely are). I’ll be flying straight from the Grand Prix to Seattle and staying with David Sharfman for the week to completely immerse ourselves in the format. With the unbanning of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle shaking up the format, it will be interesting to see if we come up with something new.

Either way, I can’t wait.

John Cuvelier
Gosu. on MTGO
@JCuvelier on Twitter

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