It's been hard to love the new RCQ system. On the one hand, I'm grateful to have competitive paper Magic back. However, the whole thing feels confused and rushed to me. It should be easier to know what tournaments are happening and when but for some reason DreamHack doesn't have a complete list anywhere. They don't even require stores to have judges for the events, which seems a huge oversight. It's been sufficiently off-putting compared to the old PTQ and PPTQ systems that I haven't been to an RCQ since mid-July.
...which isn't that scathing of an indictment, if I'm honest. The RCQs for the rest of July were farther away than I was willing to travel. Last weekend there was a Modern RCQ within my willing travel radius, but I was tipped off that a lot of former Platinum-level Pros were heading there, including Matt Nass, whom I have played several times before and never beaten. So, I skipped it. This makes me look clairvoyant as Matt won that RCQ. Kudos to him. As for me, skipping that event left this weekend's Modern RCQ as the last chance for me if I was going to qualify via my preferred format. Even though it was further than I'd normally go anymore, off I went.
I vaguely remembered hearing the name of the store before, but I couldn't remember why. Back when PPTQs first started I traveled to pretty much every store in the whole state. Pandemic aside, I have dramatically scaled that back over the years. I didn't see a player cap, but I preregistered early just to be safe.
Registration locked in, the problem still remained of what deck to play. Burn didn't perform well last time out. It has in fact never performed well when I've taken it to anything bigger than an FNM. Constant poor variance had completely gutted my confidence in the deck. However, I didn't have anything better. After tooling around with various other decks while still playing Burn on MTGO and paper, nothing outperformed Burn overall. There's a reason it's a Tier 1 deck. There were, however, certain specific sideboard configurations I liked in other decks more than Burn.
Specifically, Living End had proved to be a nightmare. Burn can punish cascade but can't stop it (normally), and when my opponents were going off on turn three with Grief protection, it was not really possible to race. Especially since they'd bring in removal for all the punishing enchantments. I kept easily losing game one, then trying to sneak in two wins after sideboarding. This left me frustrated and undecided on my deck the night before the RCQ. I finally decided to bring both Burn and a heavily anti-cascade tilted Merfolk deck and just pick one based on what I saw on-site. UW Control would have been a better choice in such a metagame, but I don't have the deck experience with Control necessary to have a chance against 4-Color of any flavor.
I drove right past the store because the turn-in is not obvious and had to circle the block to get back. As I passed by, I remembered why the name sounded familiar. One of (possibly, the) last PPTQ of 2015 had been there. I was playing UW Merfolk, and I lost my Top 8 win-and-in to Kiln Fiend. That PPTQ was also notable as the last time I saw anyone play Amulet Bloom. Summer Bloom was banned for the next season. Memories are why paper play matters. Also, I hadn't played there in seven years! Begone from me, irresistible march of time!
I walked in with two possible decks and a small mountain of extra sideboard cards. I didn't know exactly what to be ready for nor which deck exactly I was going to play. I deliberately arrived quite early so I could watch as many decks being laid out and practice games as possible. This proved invaluable, as there was a lot of Yawgmoth and Glimpse of Tomorrow decks present. At least seven of each. A fair number of UR Murktide players too. Given that the nemesis deck wasn't present, I opted to play Burn and built my sideboard.
I really need to switch those snowy Mountains out. The troll has long run its course and just makes more work for me now.
The maindeck hasn't changed because Burn is Burn. A-Buy Your Silence remains a strong anti-cascade card as well as great against other combos and Summoner's Pact. Given the amount of Murktide and no visable Living End, I went with Sanctifier en-Vec instead of Kor Firewalker.
Reading the Room
Grafdigger's Cage looks quite weird, but I think it's genius. Cage doesn't see much play because Indomitable Creativity dodges it for some weird reason and most graveyard decks these days just want bulk in the 'yard. There's not much being flashbacked or any Dredge, and Reanimator plays Prismatic Ending. In the meta I faced, however, Cage looked quite powerful. Yawgmoth doesn't work under Cage. The persist creatures don't, and the tutoring also doesn't work. Without those mechanics, it's a very mediocre beatdown deck. Similarly, Glimpse can't combo against Cage, making it very potent given the room.
I am not playing Deflecting Palm anymore. I don't dislike the card nor is it bad in the metagame. The problem is that it's best at answering a single alpha striking threat post-sideboard. These days most players will know to play around Palm. Hammer Time used to be a reasonable matchup thanks to Palm but these days they're sitting on Burrenton Forge-Tender to answer Palm and/or attacking with multiple constructs rather than get Palmed for 10+ damage. With that in mind, I took Palm out for an additional Roiling Vortex and Path to Exile.
70 players showed up to battle, which meant there were seven rounds. I felt sorry for all the 4-Color players. There was also a lengthy lunch break after round two, so it was definitely going to be a long day. The posse of pros from the week before didn't show up, but I did spot Cedric Philips in the crowd. I'm always amazed at how many Magic personalities have migrated to Denver, we used to be a relative backwater.
Round 1: Yawgmoth
I was immediately rewarded for my scouting and sideboarding decisions. Not that it mattered in game one, but did I ever feel smart! Of course, there is a reason that Yawgmoth is a poor matchup and I was four damage short of winning the race.
Game Two: -4 Monastery Swiftspear -1 Rift Bolt
Game Two: +3 Path to Exile +2 Grafdigger's Cage
Game Three: -4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
Game Three: +4 Monastery Swiftspear
In game three I drew both my Cages but was stuck on three mana with only two mana burn spells. Thus, my clock was very slow. My opponent and I traded creatures until he got out Outland Liberator // Frenzied Trapbreaker. He was able to flip it because I misplayed thinking that it works like the old werewolves, and he gets the first Cage with his attack. When I fired off end step burn, he taped out for Chord of Calling, forgetting about the second Cage. This buys me exactly enough time to burn him out.
I was rewarded for my cleverness, and for having bad mistakes cancel out. A nice way to start the day. Record: 1-0
Round 2: Burn
Oh, good. The Burn mirror. Where the fastest hand wins. Palm would have been good here, but I had deliberately weakened myself in the mirror. Oh well. In game one I was on the draw, which is often a death sentence, but my opponent only had one land. Playing more spells is good.
-4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
+2 Path to Exile +2 Sanctifier en-Vec
On the draw again, I end up too slow. I could have killed my opponent on the next turn, but he killed me first. That's just how the mirror goes.
For game three, I kept a hand with creatures and Blazes. He never played creatures. I couldn't do anything and just lost. The Burn mirror isn't fun, but it is very fast. I had plenty of time for a leisurely lunch. Record 1-1
Round 3 and 4: Coffers Control and Mono-Green Tron
I'm lumping these rounds together because they played out exactly the same. Neither deck could threaten anything I care about before turn four, and Tron has no interaction. I 2-0'd them both while being on the draw in both games. The only real threat was a turn four Thragtusk from Tron which I Skullcrack. I killed Coffers on turn three in game two and Tron mulliganed to four in game one.
-4 Searing Blaze
Against Coffers: +2 Roiling Vortex +2 Sanctifier en-Vec
Against Tron: +2 Path to Exile +2 Wear // Tear
Round 5: Cascade Crashers
And here were the Cascade decks at last. Yay. I was on the draw and he got turn three rhinos. I was a Boros Charm away from victory and didn't get there.
-4 Searing Blaze -1 Rift Bolt
+3 Roiling Vortex +2 Silence
Game two I keep a fast hand of Swiftspears and Silence a rhino attempt. It felt great to finally have that happen when it counts.
In game three my opponent played around open white mana, then tiptoed around Vortex and Eidolon. After destroying both he did get two rounds of rhino tokens, but I had enough time to burn him out exactly. Record 4-1
Round 6: 4-Color Blink
Based on standings, at that point, I should have been in a position to win and then draw into the Top 8. Standing in my way though was Cedric Philips himself. The most well-known player in the room and former StarCity Games tour player and commentator. I expected it to be hard. Instead, I won the die roll and on the play game one just ran him over with multiple Goblin Guides. He had a slow hand and was on the Yorion, the Sky Nomad version of 4-Color.
-4 Rift Bolt -2 Skewer the Critics
+3 Path to Exile +3 Roiling Vortex
In game two he had removal for all my creatures, but not Vortex which chipped away until I could kill him with Boros Charm. Cedric never saw Omnath which made the game really easy for me. Record 5-1
At the end of the round, standings went up. I could draw into the Top 8, so I did. Final Record 5-1-1
The Top 8 consisted of two Burn decks, two Glimpse decks, and one each of UR Murktide, Hammer Time, Tron, and Yawgmoth. How'd my room read look? Yes, I still felt smug about that.
Quarter Finals: Glimpse Combo
-4 Rift Bolt -3 Lightning Helix
+2 Silence +2 Grafdigger's Cage +3 Roiling Vortex
In game two I threatened a turn four kill with Vortex out, so my opponent evoked Akroma, Angel of Fury then Violent Outbursted for a six-card combo try, taking 10 damage from Vortex. He didn't hit Omnath, and I killed him on my turn.
I mulliganed in game three and kept Swiftspear, Cage, two Eidolons, and two lands. My opponent set up for a turn three nine-permanent combo, but Cage stopped it. Unfortunately, he had Fury for my creatures while I kept drawing sideboard cards. I lost to beatdown. I was consoled by the fact that my opponent was ultimately the RCQ winner.
After Action Report
Unlike previous tournaments, things went my way. My deck was running well, I got favorable matchups when I needed them, and (in the Swiss, anyway) I drew the right sideboard cards at the right times. It may take skill to play well, but luck is a huge factor in tournament success. This time, variance and pairings were on my side.
That said, I did have the right read on the room and prepared my sideboard well for what I actually faced. I had to be weak somewhere, and I chose the mirror. It bit me, but it wasn't fatal. My loss in game three came down to drawing too many sideboard cards after they were useful. One piece of hate is a nuisance for cascade decks and easily removed. Two are necessary to actually slow them down, so the keep made sense. The problem was I didn't draw enough of a clock. That could easily have gone my way instead.
While I didn't win the qualification, this is the best paper tournament result I've had in two and a half years. It was a long day, but it felt so good to be able to do this again. Hopefully, I'll be able to keep playing them for a long time to come.