Cardboard Crack: Preliminary Pro-Tour Qualifier @ Stratagem Games

It’s nice to attend a Magic: The Gathering Tournament with more than 8 people in it.

I came into the tourney bringing a deck that was very unfavoured against the field. The first few weeks of diverse decks eventually whittled down to the point where there were only three real decks in the global Magic metagame- The fastest fingers amongst the three is a Red and White (and possibly Black and/or Blue) aggressive deck built around vehicles combined with cheap creatures to drive them and swing for large chunks of damage in record time. For a more slower, more skill-intensive and high reward game, Black-Green Delirium has remained a tournament stalwart since the release of Eldritch Moon (which gave it the support it needed to finally be top tier), with either the more aggressive variant, or the more traditional route of stabilising the game and win later on with a big giant spaghetti monster. The last of the three, and the preferred choice of Western Australian spellslingers- Blue-White Flash, where the usual line of play was to drop a land, and pass the turn to the opponent, then drop Spell Queller (Eldritch Moon really turned on a bunch of archetypes in the current format) to stop an opponent’s early play and takeover from there. All other decks are just there to be eaten by the big three.

To start off proceedings, I got to borrow a few cards, so made some last minute changes to the deck, whilst hastily scrawling out a decklist by pen. Turns out this is a bad way of doing one, and in the process, forgot to account for about 5 cards in the list. Turns out that doing so meant I got a game loss in the second round, and that’s what you get when you forget the “Your First PPTQ” thread on subreddit dedicated to this very niche part of the game.

I kicked off round 1 against a strangely familiar Blue-Black Zombies, and in both games, my opponent never got his graveyard engine to fire, whilst I just curved out, and played an answer to his engine, in a card called Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Of course it got removed swiftly after, but my opponent seemed to have just flooded out, and I won both games without much effort.

Round 2 was pretty much an easy ride for my opponent, who was on a unique Black-White Humans (plus good stuff), who got a free win due to the aforementioned error. My opponent got a very good start, and steadily chipping away at my life total, until eventually I did find removal spells to stabilise briefly, and a Liliana, The Last Hope steadily ticking up, but I decided to tick down and try and get a creature back from the dead, but at the end of my turn then he flashed in Archangel Avacyn, a card that I had very recently dropped from my own deck, for not really doing enough to justify a spot. The angel would be able to deal damage on his turn (because it arrived on mine), and that would bring me down to 0.

The third round, I was then paired against an opponent I dreaded facing- Anthony Lee is possibly one of Australia’s best Magic players (and he's been at it far longer than I have), and I’ve had the misfortune of running against him thrice (including this one), each time ending in defeat, not helped by the fact I was playing rogue decks, whilst he was on proven machines. He took the same list that he used in the Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur a few weeks ago- a Blue/White Flash deck splashing black for one creature as a way to win the mirror match (when piloting the most popular deck, learning how to beat your own deck is a must). I found myself incredibly surprised to steal out the first game, swinging with lands, despite seeing 2 of those other lands being taken out by removal. Then in the two subsequent games, his sideboard was better than mine, and the rest of his deck just disabled my game plan.

Round 4 was probably the most fun, with my opponent playing an equally silly deck, that had the win condition based around getting to 51 life with the card named Aetherflux Reservoir, and the paying 50 (51 is important- if you trigger it at exactly 50, you lose first!) of his life to deal lethal damage immediately. My opponent, nearly got it in- one card short, but it took me about 17 zombies, and six other creatures and 2 planeswalkers just to take down my opponent. I was pretty much laughing my head off, and my opponent was smiling just as much. We drew a small crowd of onlookers figuring out what was going on. Game 2, I sided in some specific hate to remove my opponent’s win conditions, and I saw them, and then late in the game stripped his hand of the means to come back from it and won the game from there.

The fifth round had me paired against a Red-Blue-Black Emerge player, but it was largely a Dredge deck- which means it’s very unfair all the time- creatures constantly coming back into play, with a top end of some big hard to deal with monsters that coincidentally kills one of his creatures frequently (and then later cheated back into play). The first game, I won off via a boardwipe, in conjunction with my answer card in Kalitas, gain a bunch of life, and then forgot to produce the zombies myself, making the fight more closer than it should have been. The second and third game, which had to be finished faster than usual due to the first game taking a very long time, the Distended Mindbender my opponent had in his sideboard, stripped vital cards out of my hand, and prevented me from stealing back the game, whilst a chain of Emerge’d monsters kept slowing me down and eventually swinging for lethal.

The sixth and final round had me play against one of my better matchups- the very popular Red-Green ‘Infect’ deck, that relied on a single creature, and then pumping it multiple times to swing for 20 in one single attack, hence its namesake (which comes from a deck in the Modern format of the game). I got super lucky with the first game with my boardwipes turning up at exactly the time I needed it (to get past one of his creatures which could just ignore any removal I played), and then proceeded to resolve with planeswalker after planeswalker, whilst my opponent had no cards in hand. Then in the second game, I misplayed my opening hand by dropping my land first before drawing, and it turned out I played the wrong land which would allow me to kill things as early as turn 2, instead I had to wait an extra turn to play anything, and by that point it was too late, as my opponent curved out with multiple creatures and swung repeatedly to the face. I was beginning to get super sloppy and tired by the end, and it showed on game 3, when I had the perfect hand to shut down his game plan, but I forgot I had the Lost Legacy card, which allowed me to name something in his deck I hated and remove it from the game permanently, and instead played an ordinary removal spell. Then he dropped that creature and I was spending the rest of that game trying to dig out of a self-inflicted hole to no avail.

In the end, my final placing is something mediocre- 23rd out of 37th. The best I could hope, but could have been much better- for my first ever taste of actual tournament Magic. Going forward, I’m probably moving over to a different deck (some friends of mine are collecting pieces that I can borrow), and likely going to play some straight forward- going aggressive, playing creatures and turning them sideways, because remembering a bunch of things at all times can be quite taxing when one is playing with the real thing (and half awake after waking up early to watch the first portion of the League of Legends World Championship finals) rather than internet testing sessions, especially over six rounds- anywhere between 12-18 games of the world’s most popular cardboard addiction.

(I am on the centre of the image, in the background, with the blue shirt)

Clayton Lin