Bay Area PTQ for Pro Tour Hollywood 2008

Yesterday I attended the second Bay Area Pro Tour Qualifier feeding into Pro Tour Hollywood 2008. According to the tournament organizers, we had 180 attendees, which puts us on the high end for PTQs for this season (compare with the attendance numbers shown here.
I did not win, but I enjoyed most of my games, and thought I (and my Kokusho deck) did well. My tournament report is in the extended.

The deck
I spoke here about the Kokusho deck. Robert Price took his build of Kokusho to a top eight in Mobile, Alabama. I’m going to guess he had more of a chance to practice than I did, but I did some work on the “don’t get run over” matchups like Dredge, Affinity, and Goblins. As it happened, I only hit one of those three.
Anyway, here was the Kokusho build I took to the PTQ today:

17 Creatures:
Sakura-Tribe Elder
Wall of Roots
Eternal Witness
Maga, Traitor to Mortals
Kokusho, the Evening Star
21 Spells:
Kodama’s Reach
Death Cloud
Primal Command
22 Land:
11× Swamp
11× Forest
15 Sideboard:
Viridian Shaman
Indrik Stomphowler
Cranial Extraction
Night of Souls’ Betrayal

My version of Kokusho packed some changes. It looks like the original design was meant to rush a Kokusho out as fast as possible, with basically no disruption (against non-aggro plans). Here were my key additions:
Primal Command – I’m a huge fan of this card. It’s amazing against aggro, and the three Primal Commands in my Kokusho build let me tutor up, well, Kokusho.
Thoughtseize – I thought I needed some maindeck disruption, to keep from being completely rolled by combo decks. In practice, I don’t think Thoughtseizes were worth it.
Maga – I wanted one more big guy that could also just out-and-out kill an opponent who’s resolved Enduring Ideal, dropped Dovescape, and picked up a Form of the Dragon. I also like that it’s hard-to-counter life loss versus Counter-Top control decks.
Damnation – I have no Deeds, and didn’t feel like dropping $60 on a set. The Damnations worked out quite well.
Cranial Extraction – I think Extraction is an amazing disruption tool. The Extractions were very helpful.
Viridian Shaman – Against Affinity. They also ended up being “warm bodies” in matchups with aggro.
After today’s PTQ experience, I have definite changes in mind for the deck, starting with the removal of Thoughseize — possibly accompanied by the maindecking of the Extractions. I’m also currently looking for more ways to effectively disrupt control-oriented decks.
Unfortunately, I can’t comment much on the overall metagame at today’s PTQ. Almost all of my matches ran long – it seems to go with the Kokusho deck – so I didn’t get to look around all that much. I heard people commenting that blue decks were not at all abundant. There seemed to be a fair number of Doran decks, as well as some Death Cloud, but the only thing I saw a ton of were various aggro builds along the R/G to Zoo continuum.
Let’s take a look at the rounds.
Round 1: Versus Nicholas, running R/G aggro
I was on the play in game one, but Nicholas came out burning, knocking my Walls down by way of being on the “land destruction” plan. I cleared a Goyf and Lavamancer duo with a Damnation, only to see him drop the exact same pair of cards hte following turn. Eventually, I ran low on and then out of removal, and two large Tarmogoyfs bumped me low enough for Fanatic plus Barbarian Ring to end me.
I sideboarded out the Thoughtseizes, and stuck in the three Viridian Shaman (as chump blockers) and the Duress.
In game two, a pair of Kird Apes beat on me for a bit until I swept them with Damnation and kicked out a Primal Command to run me back up on life. He followed with Ape and Goyf, grinding me down to 13 life, at which point I played Kokusho, then attacked, then Death Clouded for 3, sweeping his lands, his creatures, and his hand, and putting him to 4 life. Eternal Witness brought back Primal Command again, and I went up to 19 life, then played out another Kokusho, and he was done.
In game three, little red and green men ran screaming at me, but I Primal Commanded into life and Kokusho, then the big dragon flew in and took him apart. He made the only logical play and dumped his entire hand on the board, hoping to outrun Kokusho, but I was able to attack, then Damnation away his board and my Kokusho (for the life swap, again). When I played out another Kokusho, he conceded.
First round to me. Yay, and all that.
Round 2: Versus Philip, running Domain Zoo
Game one saw Philip on the play, running out a Fanatic that sacrificed itself in the face of a Smallpox from me. He continued to play out threats, but I killed them off in turn. Fetchlands plus shocklands plus Confidant meant that he was at 8 life when I ran out Kokusho. He had to Vindicate it, putting him at a precarious 3 life, and well within range of Death Cloud for the win.
I used the same “warm bodies over Thoughtseizes” approach here that I”d used in round one.
In game two, he came out a bit faster, knocking down my Walls whenever possible and generally taking me apart with efficient little creatures.
In game three, my life total was relatively static, as early Ape on his part met early Wall on mine. He played very aggressively, hoping, I think, to race my Kokushos. He was down to 10 when I finally did play out a Kokusho — but I was down to 9. He killed that Kokusho, putting me back up to 14 and him to 5. I kept his threats off the board and several turns later played out yet another Kokusho. He thought for a while, but had no way to win, and conceded.
I ended that third game with a ridiculous hand that had two more Kokushos and a Damnation, among other things.
Round 3: Versus Tyler, running U/G Tron
You know, I didn’t practice against Tron at all. Perhaps that was foolish, as it worked out well for Ben Lundquist at GP Vancouver 2008 just last week. Ah, well. Hindsight.
Game one saw me have very little ability to affect his game as he Gifted into the Tron and the Mindslaver lock. When he popped the Slaver, I checked my hand, decided that there was no way I was getting out of the lock and conceded rather than give up information about my deck (which to that point must have looked like a particularly odd Rock variant).
Going into game two, I yanked my Damnations and my Wall of Roots, replacing them with the Cranial Extractions, Extirpates, and the lone Duress.
In game two, I watched as he built up yet again. When I tried a Smallpox, he was okay with it, and did what I’d hoped he might — he discarded a Powerplant (knowing that he could Loam it back, or Gifts up another one). I immediately Extirpated the Power Plants, de-Tronning the Tron deck. From there, it was a matter of playing out my deck normally, including a bit of Extraction (for Mindslaver) and giant dragons hitting him. One of my opponent’s friends came by during this game, pointed at the pile of RFGed Powerplants and said, “No one knows to Extirpate those!”
In game three, he kept me off any action for a while with Remands and Condescends, until he finally had the Tron in play and dropped a Sundering Titan. I managed to stall for quite a while with Tribe Elders — because I kept drawing the darn things. Eventually, I built back up my manabase and Smallpoxed away the Titan (more lands down), but he was able to keep me off any action after that.
I was glad the Extirpate plan worked out, and it did slow him down in the third game. As he said, “Now I have to play fair.”
Round 4: Versus Derek, running Goblins
I’d prepared and done some practicing against Goblins, but I think I lost this round for myself with the one true play error of the day. Still, the preparation worked out great in the second game.
I saw right away that I was facing down a B/R Goblin deck on his first turn. From then on, I was worried about either straight-up losing to aggro or being hit by a late-game Patriarch’s Bidding (click through if you don’t know what it does — it’s brutal with Goblin Warchief giving all the reanimated Goblins haste). I Smallpoxed a few times to kill things and keep him below five lands. I cleared his board several times as well, but I never drew into a Primal Command, nor was I able to kick out a Kokusho. Eventually, little Goblins overran me, and that was that.
In game two, I took some initial beats, then played a Primal Command, putting me to 24 life. This was, as before, when my opponent sighed. I followed this with a Kokusho, which he killed while still trying to swarm me with goblins (24 life, again, with him down to 15). I dropped a Night of Souls’ Betrayal, which wiped part of his board. I continued to play out Kokushos, which kept dying, dropping him to 5 life. After this, I Cranial Extracted him for Bidding, pulling one from his hand and the other from his deck. With that threat out of the way, I was free to treat him like a normal, if explosive, aggro deck. At five life, he couldn’t handle the final Kokusho, and conceded.
A bystander’s response to the Night of Souls’ Betrayal: “That’s awesome!” (while laughing the whole time)
Game three was my play mistake. I kept a hand I shouldn’t have. It was great — but I had to live to turn four to use it. If I lived to turn four, I swept the board with Damnation, then followed with Primal Command, probaly into Kokusho and a game win.
But I had to live, and I was only on 3 life when I hit turn four. The Damnation saw a Fanatic knock me down to 2 life, and then a Pendelhavened War Marshal token killed me on the following turn.
Lesson — against a fast deck, mulligan if you don’t have acceleration and blockers (Wall of Roots and Elder, in my case). I feel I definitely cost myself the chance to win this round, and in so doing, put myself in a bracket with more annoying control decks.
Round 5: Versus Levi, running U/G Tron
Ah, how unlucky. Two in one event. I knew what my plan was once I realized the matchup, and I knew just how dependent is was on my sideboard rather than my maindeck.
Game was was depressingly like game one in the other Tron match. I realize what’s happening, can offer little resistance, he quickly forms the Tron, and then its Mindslaver lock and I’m done.
In the second game, I sided in my anti-Tron package, and led with a Thoughtseize. Unfortunately, he was able to just play into the Tron before I found an Extirpate. That said, this was not an autoloss for me. I Extracted him for Mindslavers, as well as knocking out his Sundering Titan with my own Stomphowler. This left him with a Triskelion, an Indrik Stomphowler, and a Platinum Angel. Crazy card draw (as usual for Tron decks) got him the Angel, and he played that out, then proceeded to beat me down with the Angel while defending it with counterspells (and in one case Repealing it out of the way of a Smallpox. I couldn’t draw another Angel removal option in time, unfortunately, and that was that.
Round 6
I played one more round for fun, but I wasn’t really interested at that point. I did want to mention that my opponent did something annoying that I’ve seen a couple times before. He was on the play, and eventually just played out a land and his first turn spell, to which I said, “So I guess you’re keeping, then?” That got a smile from the person sitting next to me. It’s annoying when people are that sloppy (and he was quite sloppy — sloppy enough for me to have game lossed him at least once, if it mattered).
Lessons learned
Kokusho is a beast against aggro. I may lose a game in each match to random fast draws, but I am favored. I think I shouldn’t have lost that third game against Goblins.
I never hit TEPS or Ideal, so I don’t know if I’m good against combo or not. I do know that I had poor resistance against the counterspell-backed development model of Tron, and I’m trying to figure out what works best there. Ghost Quarter, maybe? That feels very Tron-specific, though, so I’m not sure if it’s a waste of space. I do know that I wasn’t excited about the impact of Thoughtseize on any of my games, and I’m thinking I may well maindeck the three Extractions, and then put another singleton creature of some kind in there.
Overall, it was a good experience, and I was glad my on-the-spot plan against Tron turned out to be a solid one, even though I didn’t practice against Tron at all leading up to this event.