Jason Schousboe managed to take down the Iowa PTQ last weekend and score some free airfare to a quaint little burgh in the Pacific called Honolulu. Read on to hear his report.
Recently I’ve been traveling to a lot of PTQs, hitting one up almost every weekend. In Madison and Minneapolis I scrubbed out pretty early but was looking to jump back on the steed. The next destination on our itinerary was Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Ken Bearl and I had been texting back and forth throughout the week trying to cobble together a full car for the trek down. On Friday I headed to the Monster Den to sell some cards to cover expenses and took a moment to cajole others into joining us.
I was unvictorious in convincing anyone that a 4:00am romp through the corn fields of the Midwest was worth the shot at a PT invite. Fortunately, Ken snagged a couple guys we know from Mankato, Sean Weihe and Stephen Hink, whom we planned to meet an hour out in a Walmart parking lot.
Camaraderie and Cheaper Gas targets: Achieved.
No Sleep Til Cedar Rapids
I’ve gotten in the habit of skipping FNM and other social activities the night before an out-of-town PTQ for the purpose of getting ample sleep. On Friday I diligently go to bed at 10:30pm, only to toss and turn until my most sadistic and violence-prone alarm accosts me at the hideous hour of 4:30am.
Ken picks me up at five and I learn that he has encountered the same somnambulist fate as me. We begin the drive towards Owatana, harboring silly ideas of squeezing off a nap along the way and filling the space with banter about limited strategies.
Yes, yes, I know. The typical PTQ morning.
There are a decent number of people we recognize milling around the store before the event, mostly ringers from Madison with a few Iowans and Minnesotans sprinkled in for good measure. I clutch my home-brought coffee mug possessively in between comforting sips of its contents, the most delicious drug known to man. My goal for the day is modest: make it to Top 8 so I can draft.
Searching for Bloodline Keeper
The pool I register seems strong, with a Bloodline Keeper, Murder of Crows and double Manor Gargoyle. I peruse the cards half-heartedly, musing on how I might build it before shipping it down the line.
I open up my own pool and immediately notice the distinct lack of any [card Bloodline Keeper]Bloodline Keepers[/card]. So unlucky. Here are the tools I’m presented with:
The first thing that stands out to me about this pool is the strength of Blue. In addition to being very deep, the high end features two bombs, Ludevic’s Test Subject and the aforementioned [card Murder of Crows]Murder[/card]. The Skaabs in this pool are also better than usual in Sealed, because double Forbidden Alchemy should find me chaff to exile without much effort.
The next thing I decide is to include at least one Swamp in my deck in order to flashback [card Forbidden Alchemy]Alchemy[/card]. With Traveler’s Amulet the splash is basically a freeroll, and I’ve found [card Forbidden Alchemy]Alchemy[/card] to be utterly insane. Casting it even once digs very effectively for specific cards, and binning a Silent Departure or two is just gravy.
I rule out Black as a secondary color pretty quickly as it is outclassed by both Red and White. The main decision in building the pool proves to be which of those two to pair with Blue. I spend the rest of the allotted time surveying the different builds.
After the Blue cards and artifacts, there are five remaining slots in the deck. Here are the five best cards in Red and White:
Brimstone Volley is the best of the removal available here, and Harvest Pyre should do a fine impression of it when I’m stocking up my graveyard via constant alchemical experimentation. Red also has a pseudo [card Falkenrath Marauders]Air Elemental[/card], provided I can bounce or kill its would-be blockers.
Overall, however, the White is stronger and will yield a deck absent of mediocre cards like [card Ashmouth Hound]Hound[/card] and [card Rakish Heir]Heir[/card]. The only problem is that the White removal is conditional and will sometimes prove awful against the wrong threats. [card Bonds of Faith]Bonds[/card] and [card Avacynian Priest]Priest[/card] are laughed off by Daybreak Ranger and Olivia Voldaren, and Slayer of the Wicked apparently slept through the part of his training where they cover how to slay [card Charmbreaker Devils]devils[/card], [card Dearly Departed]ghosts[/card], and, uh… [card Elder of Laurels]town elders[/card].
Ultimately I opt for White in order to keep the quality of my individual cards high. With Silent Departure and Claustrophobia rounding out my removal package, I should have enough game to fight through most nonsense. My plan is to side into Red if I face a deck with multiple ridiculous rares that I’m struggling to answer.
A few notes on the omissions:
Back from the Brink: With three Skaab creatures I figured I already had enough stuff that depended on creatures in my graveyard. I was not particularly worried about winning the late game, so this clunker was relegated to durdling in the sideboard.
Traveler’s Amulet: I knew I wanted 17 lands in addition to an [card Travelers Amulet]Amulet[/card], but the second seemed like it would hamper my board development or lead to flood. A couple games I ended up milling my Swamp before I could fetch it up, but I was never really punished because [card Forbidden Alchemy]Alchemy[/card] was still live as an Impulse with value.
Swiss Battles and Other Oxymorons
I thought that this deck was strong but not bonkers. It certainly had the power to fight through average pools, but would likely lose to the bomb-heavy nuts deck. In the end, I dropped just one game in five rounds and was able to double draw into Top 8.
To be honest I think I had to get a little lucky to get there with this pool. I didn’t face too much ridiculous stuff and generally tended to dodge the strongest decks in the room. That being said, I would build this pool the same way if I were to open it again.
I never ended up siding into Red, which was largely due to winning the games that I saw my opponent play bombs, usually in game two. In retrospect, it seems that the White deck is better in almost every case because Silent Departure buys you time to go on the offensive.
The [card Forbidden Alchemy]Alchemies[/card] were the clear standout in most of my matches. All day long they found food for my Skaabs and dug me into the precise answers I needed at the time. Even without the ability to flash it back, it probably belongs in most Blue sealed decks.
One memorable game I found myself staring down a Bloodline Keeper with no answers, save a Silent Departure in my yard. Envisioning the light at the end of the tunnel, I Alchemied and rejoiced upon seeing a second [card Silent Departure]Departure[/card]. Over the next three turns I bounced the Vampire repeatedly while smashing in with flyers for the win.
The [card Ludevics Abomination]Abomination[/card] and [card Manor Gargoyle]Gargoyle[/card] were obviously good, but I won a lot of games off the back of Murder of Crows and Skaab Goliath. A typical game involved killing and bouncing early threats until I could begin crashing in with an evasive creature or a giant trampler.
For some reason I kept playing against Curse of Death’s Hold. In a full three matches my opponent slammed it down and I thought I was done for. Each time I was able to beat down with my shrunken forces and squeeze out a win.
Consequently I’ve really lost a lot of esteem for the [card Curse of Deaths Hold]Curse[/card]. Its strength seems highly dependent on the type of threats presented by your opponent, a factor over which you obviously have no control. Those games it essentially acted like a glorified Victim of Night.
Draft, ???, Profit
As Top 8 begins, my boys tell me they’re hitting up the pizza joint around the corner, but will be back to bird the matches. I am excited to have already made my goal for the season and sit down sporting a somewhat zen attitude of resignation. Let’s hit up this 8-4 and see how we fare…
My first pick is Dearly Departed over Claustrophobia and little else. Pick two presents the first fork in the road. It boils down to Silent Departure or Victim of Night vs. Chapel Geist. Thinking that I want to do whatever possible to play my dragon, I elect to stay open and take the weaker card. (OK, really I just want to force tribal ghosts.)
Pick three I ecstatically slam Elder of Laurels. Green becomes squarely cemented with an eighth or ninth pick Darkthicket Wolf. Although I’ve seen the guy to my right take an early Cloistered Youth, I figure that between us we’ve cut enough White to make pack two serviceable.
By pack three I’ve picked up a Midnight Haunting and Creeping Renaissance, but feel that my deck is lacking. Unfortunately, I don’t find a single [card Avacynian Priest]tapper human[/card], [card Bonds of Faith]Bonds[/card], or Prey Upon. By the end of the draft I’ve added tons of [card Chapel Geist]Chapel Geists[/card] and [card Voiceless Spirit]Voiceless Spirits[/card] for a grand total of 7 [card Wind Drake]wind drakes[/card].
In hindsight, moving into Blue might have been better as I would have ended up with double Ludevics Test Subject and a slew of [card Claustrophobia]Claustrophobias[/card] and [card Silent Departure]Silent Departures[/card]. With what I knew at the time, however, maximizing the chance of playing the Green and White bombs I already had seemed the best call.
Here’s the deck I ended up with:
This deck seems capable of getting there, but I would prefer to have more removal. Between Creeping Renaissance, Dearly Departed and Elder of Laurels, I can play a decent late game, but the strength of the deck obviously lies in its ability to apply early pressure.
There are only two difficult decisions to make in deck building. The first is the inclusion of [card Silverchase Fox]Fox[/card] over [card Festerhide Boar]Boar[/card] in order to lower the curve. The second is running the [card Demonmail Hauberk]Hauberk[/card] maindeck as another way to push through damage when suited up to one of my infinite evasive beaters.
Round 1 – Blue Mill + Bombs
G1: For a while things look bleak this game. He stabilizes at 13 life with Sturmgeist, Ludevic’s Test Subject and Manor Gargoyle. My Dearly Departed is holding off his squad for the time being, but it’s only a matter of time before he overruns me.
Sure enough, I find it and regrow everybody in time to get Elder of Laurels online before his [card Ludevics Abomination]Abomination[/card]. I alpha strike with seven creatures to his six blockers and pump +14/+14 for lethal. I can’t help but think that if [card Curse of the Bloody Tome]Curse[/card] had been any other random dude he would have won this game handily.
G2: I come out of the gates fast and eventually force him to trade his Dearly Departed for mine with a Lumberknot out. [card Lumberknot]Knots’a’Lot[/card] grows to monstrous proportions and abysses him every turn until he dies.
Round 2 – RB Aggro
G1: I play lots of [card Wind Drake]wind drakes[/card]. Then I attack with them. I think he mulled to five, but I can’t remember.
G2: I screwed up this game. My Voiceless Spirit equipped with Blazing Torch is holding off his entire squad of x/2s. He casts a second Falkenrath Noble and I respond by shooting the torch at the first, which lets him crunch in for 5 extra damage. If I just leave the spirit back to block instead of making the “pro play,” I probably win the race.
G3: I can’t remember exactly how this one played out, but Voiceless Spirit gets him pretty good by blanking most of his creatures. At one point he tries to Traitorous Blood my spirit token equipped with torch and shoot the torch at itself. I tell him that he can’t sacrifice a permanent he doesn’t control, and the judge steps in to confirm. After the match we discuss it and determine that it didn’t actually change the outcome of the game.
Round 3 – GW Aggro
G1: My opponent mulliganed a bunch this match, starting with this game. It’s a relatively one-sided affair as he’s stuck on lands and I suit up a random idiot with [card Demonmail Hauberk]Hauberk[/card] to swing the race in my favor.
G2: Yet again I try my best to punt by running out a turn one Doomed Traveler when I know there were several [card Mayor of Avabruck]Mayor of Avabrucks[/card] in the draft. Sure enough, he lands one turn two and I have to pass back letting it flip. I’m still drawing live for a while, but he narrowly edges me out. One less wolf token probably would have been the difference.
G3: More mulligans for my opponent. After the match, Ken and I talk about it and share our impression that he was skimping on the land count. In any case, I curve out with Doomed Traveler into two-drop, into wind drake. Kajillions of [card Wind Drake]wind drakes[/card] later and I’m off to Hawaii!
I must say it feels really good to win a PTQ after all the work I’ve put into testing Innistrad sealed and draft. I think underestimating the importance of practice is really a great disservice to one’s development as a tournament player. The reality is that I’m not smarter or better at Magic than everyone else in attendance last weekend, but I believe I came better prepared.
If you’re interested in learning more about my group’s testing process, check out my article from a couple weeks ago, “Building a Sealed Cube for PTQ Practice”.
Please post any comments or questions below.
Thanks for reading!