This weekend, I went to the first Bay Area PTQ of the current season. This was the first of our local PTQs to be held at the expansive new Superstars Game Center in San Jose, just two blocks from the San Jose State campus. Thanks again to the Superstars owners for hosting the event, and to the excellent judge staff for keeping the thing moving at a good clip. I don’t have the exact count, but they said it was about 188 people or so, per Bay Area PTQ tradition.
I didn’t win, but I was happy overall with my performance. See the extended for my card pool, the deck I built, and my round-by-round.
There’s a tradition during the opening and checklisting of sealed card pools of declaring just how good the card pool that you’re opening — and, lamentably, unlikely to be playing — is. As I sorted the pool I was opening, I didn’t think that at all, and hoped I wouldn’t get it handed back to me. Later on, I ran into the guy who received the card pool, and he hadn’t done well at all. Oops.
Random note: Don’t shuffle the cards after you’ve sorted them and noted them on the checklist. The person who’ll be using the pool will have to check it against the list, too. It’s not draft, people.
Here’s the pool I actually received:
My card pool
At first glance, I had no idea what to do with all this. I started trying to sort out playables and nonplayables, but then gave up on that tack and instead figured out what I probably wasn’t playing — blue and white. I laid out the remaining cards (all of them) on a mana curve, and then things started to coming together in line with some ideas I had going in.
That stands for Bombs, Fixing, Fliers, and Removal. This is a hybrid of Olivier Ruel and Paul Cheon’s approaches to sealed in Alara — play all the bombs, pack all the removal, grab all the fliers, and support it all with all the fixing you can pack in.
2. Don’t let the game go long
So, if approach #1 involves playing all the colors and resolving your bombs to win the game, an alternate approach involves overrunning the opponent before they can reach bomb mana.
Looking at my list, I decided to combine the two approaches, trying to pack a hybridized mix of aggressive critters, removal, and a couple of gigantic bombs, including my lucky opening of double Resounding Thunder. Here’s what I built…
My five-color-ish deck
Round 1, versus Nick
In game one, things developed slowly with some initial beats from my small critters (that were subsequently removed) until Nick stuck a Rakeclaw Gargantuan and it began to roundly beat me about the face. My Hell’s Thunder flew overhead, but sadly was unable to stick around to block. Nick played out another creature and I cycled Resounding Silence on the next attack, finally getting rid of the Gargantuan with me at a pesky 5 life. I played Prince of Thralls onto the now quiet board, as Nick started to rebuild his side of things. I drew into another Resounding Thunder, and then sat and thought. Nick had two creatures on the board. If I attacked with the Prince, and he let it through, that would be it. If he blocked, he’d be down a creature, and the Prince would give me a chance at getting that creature, and I could cycle the Thunder to take out his remaining dude. After thinking maybe a little too long, I attacked with the Prince. Suspicious, but hoping for the win on the following turn, Nick let it through. I cycled the Thunder at him, and that was it.
For the second game, I had no sideboarding changes. I led with Cylian Elf and Thrinax, and Nick responded with the Rakeclaw, again. Once again, I wasn’t drawing into my possible solutions for it, but I managed some early beats, and then Hell’s Thunder flew over twice, putting Nick at 6. The Rakeclaw came in, and seeing a win next turn, I let it through (sounds familiar, right?). That brought me to 8, and double Soul’s Fire put me out of the game.
Game three wasn’t all that protracted, but games one and two had both taken some time, so we were a little short at this point. I managed early Zombie beats along with some Hell’s Thunder action before Nick did some stabilizing of his own with a Bloodpyre Elemental and some other creatures. Unfortunately, we hit extra turns and on the fifth and final turn, I just couldn’t do 4 more points of damage (don’t worry, I’d already Unearthed the Hell’s Thunder). Final life totals? 8 for me, 4 for Nick.
0-0-1 (1-1-1 in games)
Round 2, versus Robert
Game one was a streamrollering, as Robert was stuck on two lands for a while. He led with a Deft Duellist that hit me all of once, but then I dropped Kresh, then Broodmate Dragon and date, then Firestoker to ping for two a turn, and it was all over very quickly.
In game two, I took an early hit from an Elvish Visionary, then played a Sprouting Thrinax and started the Thrinax beats. Robert hit me with Blightning, then hit me with a second Blightning. I discovered one thing at this point — it’s nice to have an Unearth guy to ditch to discard. Happily, I managed to keep the Prince as my last card in hand, and when the mana came up, I dropped it into play, along with Kresh for company. The Prince swung along with the Thrinax into a 5/5 blocker of some kind, then ate a Magma Spray. At this point, I wasn’t sure how the Prince’s ability worked if it was dying simultaneously, so I politely told Robert I had a rules question and called for a judge. The judge confirmed that even with the Prince and the blocker dying at the same time, the Prince’s triggered ability went on the stack, and Robert was stuck with the decision of paying 3 life or giving me a 5/5. He paid the 3 life, but with Kresh getting giant the entire time, he was out of options on the next turn, and that was that.
Fun fact — with the Prince in play, they have to pay 3 life or you get all their used fetchlands. I honestly hadn’t thought of that before this match.
1-0-1 (3-1-1 in games)
Round 3, versus Dis
Her full name is rather longer, but I didn’t write it down, and if I recall correctly, it changes from event to event. I’ve played against her at least once before, in a GP Trial ahead of GP SF. Always a pleasant opponent.
Dis was playing a Bant-oriented build, and game one saw a Jhessian Infiltrator hitting me pretty much with impunity, regardless of what was otherwise going on in the game. It had me down to 10 life in short order. On the other side, I plinked twice with Zombie beats, then dropped Broodmate and pal, and it was all over in incredibly short order as she had no solution to either.
In game two, my hybrid aggro approach came to the fore, as I dropped Nacatl and Rip-Clan Crasher and in short order had my opponent down to 8 life before she was really able to mount an effective defense. With no action forthcoming in time to save her, Dis conceded and that was that.
2-0-1 (5-1-1 in games)
Round 4, versus Placido
As we sat down, Placido announced while pile shuffling that his deck has been leading to long games, and so he was hoping to avoid that by preventing clumping. I’ll note in advance that Placido didn’t actually play slow at all — his deck was simply very resilient — rather like mine.
In game one, we traded Elf and other beats, until I killed his guy, then took a Blightning to the face. I then ran a Hell’s Fire into him, followed by the Broodmate and friend. His removal kept clearing them out, however, and things looked like they were tilting back in his direction…until I drew and cycled Resounding Thunder. Dead, and one game to me.
The second game went more Placido’s way, as an opening Blightning removed some of my options, and the follow-up Viscera dragger just kept coming as my potential blockers were repeatedly Excommunicated and Oblivion Ringed. When he had me to 9 life, Placido broke out his bombiest of bombs — the Cruel Ultimatum. I discarded the Resounding Silence I’d been meaning to use the next turn on the Viscera Dragger and another attacker, went to 4 life, and watched sadly as he got back another creature. I was done soon after.
At this point, I felt we had a decent amount of time left for game three — about 15 minutes. Although I lead with minor Elf beats, Placido’s Sanctum Gargoyle gave even better, taking me down to a pesky 8 lif ebefore I took it out. I managed to bring in some Thrinax beats afterward, but he killed the Thrinax…and then we went to time. In extra turns, he Resounding Silenced away two of my Saprolings. As we came around to the fifth and final turn of extra turns, the situation was this:
My hand (after my draw): Rip-Clan Crasher, Soul’s Fire, Resounding Thunder
My board: Saproling, 11 mana in various colors
His board: Lands
Life totals: 8 for me, 10 for him
With the judge very politely watching, I took a moment to think about this one. Did I have a legitimate out? Could I cycle Resounding Thunder into his face and draw and play a win condition?
Yes. I had another Thunder in the deck. I could conceivable cycle Thunder for 6, attack for 1, and draw into and play another Thunder to take him to 0.
I cycled Thunder, but didn’t draw the second Thunder, so instead I played the Crasher, attacked for 3, and left him at a mildly frustrating 1 point. Draw.
As it happens, I actually made a mistake here. I had not one, but two outs, the second being Hell’s Thunder. However, since I didn’t remember the Hell’s Thunder, the three mana I left up didn’t include two red. Had I drawn the wrong Thunder, I would have felt awfully stupid. Although it didn’t matter, this was my one big mistake on the day.
2-0-2 (6-2-2 in games)
At this point, had I won out, I could have potentially top eighted.
Round 5, versus John
After a bit of initial chat with John, I found out that he’s friends with someone I know. Always nice.
Game one was a brief beating, led by an early Woolly Thoctar (turn three!) about which I could do nothing at all. The Cavern Thoctar that joined it didn’t help, either. My life total went 20, 15, 5, dead. Bam. He had Branching Bolt, Bant Charm, and Resounding Thunder to clear my lame attempts at blockers, and that was that.
In game two, I lead with Kitty and Zombie beats, drawing out the Thunder and Bolt to clear my dudes. I was able to follow up with Broodmate, however, and John couldn’t stop the dragons in time, tapping them out for a turn with Bant Charm, but otherwise unable to do anything.
In the third game, I was able to drop Kresh relatively early, then just let him grow as other creatures traded. Kresh enabled the Firestoker, who pinged John for 2 points a turn — except one turn I forgot. That was my second major error on the day, but fortunately it also had no bearing on the game’s outcome. At the end of the day, I put all my eggs in the giant Kresh basket, and John didn’t draw the removal he needed before a monstrous Kresh took him out with one final strike.
3-0-2 (8-3-2 in games)
Round 6, versus Robert
A different Robert from Round 2, of course.
As this game opened up, I managed some early Zombie beats while Robert set up an Esper-oriented manabase. He locked the board up with creatures of his own, then dropped and Onyx Goblet and started pinging away at me. I took the pings and kept drawing and building up my own base, hoping to be able to clear out his time by cycling Resounding somethings (either would do fine), eventually sticking one of my bigger critters (Kresh boosted, I think) and the Firestoker, and pinging back with the Stoker. Unfortunately, as the game ran long, Robert drew into his copy of Sharuum and Oblivion Ringed my Kresh. I hit him with a Soul’s Fire in response to take him down to 4, but with my blockers gone, I couldn’t do much, and that was that.
I went into the second game really, really not wanting it to go long. With Sanctum Gargoyles and Sharuum the Hegemon, along with Oblivion Rings and other controlling cards, I thought Robert would be seriously advantaged over me as the game continued. As it happens, I didn’t know the half of it.
Game two once again started with some Zombie beats from me, trading with some Strix hits from Robert. Then he played Salvage Titan, and I killed it. Then he played Sharuum, and the Titan came back. Then he played Vein Drinker. Yeah. That one went fast.
3-1-2 (8-5-2 in games)
Round 7, versus Anthony
Anthony was over from Salinas, participating in his first PTQ. During game one, he announced that he was making a risky keep, and it became clear that he was right when he stalled out on two lands for a while. I took him down to 12 life with just Rip-Clan Crasher hits, and then completed things with a final creature strike followed by a cycled Resounding Thunder.
In game two, Anthony took the mulligan, then played out a fast start with Nacatl followed by Elvish Visionary. I didn’t draw much that could do anything about those guys, as Anthony had the removal to clear one blocker and all I really drew otherwise was a Hell’s Thunder, which attacked once but didn’t have much to do on the ground. Anthony cycled a Resounding Thunder at me, and I was done.
The third game initially looked problematic for me, as Anthony dropped Akrasan Squire and some other critters and started beating me down. I stuck the hapless Cylian Elf in the way to stave off the harm. I eventually drew into Broodmate Dragon and dropped it, getting Dragon and date into play. I took a swing, then played Infest and cleared out Anthony’s board of three creatures, which earned a quote of “That’s dirty” from Anthony’s friend who was watching the game. Worried about losing a Dragon (to a Resounding Silence, I think), I attacked with a single dragon, then zorched Anthony out with Resounding Thunder.
4-1-2 (10-6-2 in games)
At this point, a win would put me into prizes, which is always nice.
Round 8, versus Mark
Game one began with an Akrasan Squire, followed by a Sigiled Paladin, then something else with Exalted, and so on. My life total went 20, 17, 12, 2, done.
In game two, pretty much the exact same thing happened. He had an ample supply of Exalted guys — and two tappers. That was the real problem. At one point, he had me down to 6 life and was still at 20, but I had an 11/11 Kresh (since I’d been throwing sacrificial blockers in front of his one Exalted guy per turn). He’d tapped everything for a big swing to take me to 6…except one Naya Battlemage, sadly. Had he not had the Battlemage, I could have swung with Kresh, then Soul’s Fire for the win. Mark, of course, had this kind of thing in mind, and didn’t give me an opening. Too bad.
4-2-2 (10-8-2 in games)
I was happy with my performance overall. I got run over by two really untenable matchups, which happens. I don’t think either of the draws came down to my slow play, although the match with Placido was interrupted by a side conversation for a minute or two, and that might have made the difference, since with another turn, I could have had the final game. That’s not a big deal, though.
I identified a few major errors, althoug none of them cost me any games. They were:
1) Not realizing I had two outs when I cycled Resounding Thunder in the third game of Round 4. I left up something like Black-Red-Green, and should have left up Red-Red-other, realizing that I had two outs, and the union of mana requirements there involved double Red.
2) Missing one ping with the Firestoker. We must remember onboard effects. Although it didn’t lose him the game either, Robert (Round 6 Robert) missed two pings with the Onyx Goblet against me, as well.
3) Agony Warp. For some reason, I was especially susceptible to Agony Warp hits in this tournament. Again, no game losses resulted, but I actually forgot about the Warp once even after it had been used in an earlier game in the match. Duh.
So, 4-2-2. The next PTQ I hit in the season will be much later on with a larger card pool. Given that I don’t draft or play sealed, I’m quite happy with this outing.