Adventures in Cardboard: Magic: The Gathering: Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier @ Stratagem- 12/3
Two weeks of preparation, acquiring cards, frantically borrowing the last pieces on the day. Then watching livestreams of Grand Prix Barcelona and New Jersey, inspecting for any innovation at the very last minute. Turns out there were none, and there were only two decks on screen largely duelling for the honour of being the best deck in the tournament format.
I pictured myself winning the event, then flying to Sydney and Singapore, then top 8 that one, and then compete at the actual thing the tournament was meant to qualify for- the privilege to play against the world’s best Magic players in Kyoto.
This is what high-level Magic is like- fun, exhilarating, deep, yet incredibly frustrating.
I chose a very typical internet deck- sacrificing every ounce of creativity and originality in favour of proven efficiency- enter Red/White/Black vehicles. I’m still very much in the love with the colour archetype (on a purely aesthetic level), but now strictly about going for the dome, except the deck is also very capable of playing the long game and grinding them out with incremental advantage- the deck does everything. The deck is built around a solid core of low drops, backed up with four copies of what is arguably the best card the game has seen- Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. It makes creatures, it can do damage as a creature himself (which cannot be destroyed by conventional strategies). And when you really need to, give a shout out to the entire team, by making them all more hyped.
Coming in to this tournament, I had acquired a small reputation, on the back of winning a small tourney, a Grand Prix Trial (for Grand Prix Brisbane), a few weeks prior (Laneway was on that given Sunday- had I got media tickets, I would have been down there instead- though from what I’ve heard from friends who were there, the line-up was pretty low key). The prize for winning that was two byes for an event I couldn’t even attend- on account of not having the deck for it, neither being able to afford the airfare. No matter.
The store the tourney was also in some high stakes of its own. It needed more than 50 people to show up to be allowed to host tournaments like these. 60 showed up, and it got to keep its status. Also the Red Bull Wings team also happened to be there, handing out free Red Bull.
To begin the day, I had the privilege of facing the mirror match, against Adam (last names retracted for privacy’s sake). The first game was decided on me mis-sequencing a line of play, resulting in the loss of my own Gideon, and with that him winning the game. The second game was a bit unfair- I got to do my thing, all land drops turning up on time, whilst he got stuck at a critical part of the game (the first two turns), and there was nothing he could do. The third game was a tit for tat battle, but eventually I dropped a threat on the end of his turn, to which he did not have an answer to. 1-0
The second round was against a red/green/blue Dynavolt Tower deck, piloted by Brandon B, although at the time it didn’t look like it because Brandon never saw the namesake card. The first round was a run of the mill affair where I got to pressure his life total down to 0 without much resistance. The second round I sideboarded as if he was playing a control type deck, but dropping a creature that could go big and was resistant to any removal I played- my only response was to look at my card, look at my paltry board state, and just scooped and moved. The third game was a repeat of game 1. He saw red mana very late in the game, and he did not see countermagic at all, to counter one of my planeswalker cards from winning the game. 2-0
The third was against Luke, who is both a very good competitive player as well as a small business owner (that unsurprisingly involves selling cards), piloting the other top tier deck- Four-Color Saheeli. The deck simply plays things that generate value upon entry, and couldn’t give two shits if half the stuff died over several rounds of mortal combat, and would win by assembling a two card combo that would go infinite if the opponent could not cut it off or somehow disrupt it (in theory there’s like 10-20 cards that could, but most of them are also bad). I won the first, applying just enough damage before he could assemble the pieces together. Game 2, he didn’t need the combo, as he just beat me down with a swarm (the plan B made the deck from merely average to tournament winning). Game 3, Luke simply grinded me out of resources and eventually assembled the two-card combo. Also it was a bit unnerving to have about five to six bystanders crowding on my side of the table. 2-1
For the fourth round, it was the mirror once again- and against Connor, an opponent I’ve faced many times before (the record stands somewhere like 3 wins to me, 1 to him). Connor stole back the first game from me, with a Walking Ballista paired with Archangel Avacyn combo wiping out my board (Ballista has an ability where it can remove itself and deal damage to anyone, and Avacyn would flip if one of his creatures he died), then me being unable to answer it. I took down the second game by curving out perfectly- early rush of creatures, then playing a Gideon and having him finish the charge. The third game was both of us exchanging resources, until it came down to my live Gideon and his lone Thalia, Heretical Cathar- all she had to do was survive that turn. Unfortunately my hand was the most savage one I ever saw on that day. I dropped a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, which is like one of those Starcraft battlecruisers, and splatted Connor’s Thalia out of existence (he lost to me recently in a eeriely similar manner).
The fifth round I had to win in order to remain in contention for the Top 8 cut- and it was against Tom, on red/green/blue Dynavolt Tower. Unfortunately I choked, with the dramatic moments of the last game still on my mind, at which point I had finally cracked under the pressure. For game 1 I kept a very loose, risky hand, which unfortunately did not payoff at all, as he assembled the namesake Tower and countered all my stuff. Game 2 I made another misplay that costed me the game as my opponent had the opportunity to stabilize. 3-2
The final round was a fight for the consolation prize, and I didn’t even get the privilege of the consolation prize. It was against Ben, who was on Green-Black Energy- a deck built around a card called Winding Constrictor, and the rest of the deck was small creatures and anything that could add +1/+1 counters which. In game 1 my opponent got to do his thing, and I couldn’t put any lasting board presence. In game 2, I won eventually when I dropped an Archangel Avacyn when he was on 4 life (which was the exact amount the angel would do). Game 3 was where I made the punt of the century, misplaying one of my key removal spells and chose the wrong target. The rest was cardboard history. 3-3.
At the end of the day, I felt really bad about the punt, and finishing 22nd out of 60. The only positive take-aways was my ability to win against my own deck in the mirror matches. I made the wrong call on the local metagame in regards to my choice of cards, and was rightly punished for it. Some cards in the sideboard, are now promoted to the main. Secondly my choice of beverages to bring for the day should have been tea rather than coffee. Red Bull also turns out to just clip wings when playing cerebral games. 60 people in a small space also made for a very noisy environment, surprisingly more so than an actual gig at The Bird.
As for what Perth’s card wizards brought, 16 were on the Red/White/Black Vehicles deck, spilt evenly between versions running Walking Ballista and versions that don’t. 7 players were on the 4c Saheeli deck, because infinite cats is a legitimate winning strategy, and a surprising 5 were taking Red/Blue/Green Tower, which was something I half expected to show up, but not in the numbers that turned up. 6 were on the Black/Green Snake decks, because it turns out a balance of power and affordability will always have its fans. And about 20 players brought decks other than the major archetypes, because we’re in Perth, and like our music scene, there’s always going to be players who go against the grain regardless of what the world tells them to play (the similarities between the Magic scene and the Arts' scene overlap, and sometimes in the same person).
And thus, for now, the dream is over. Alas. At the very least I was lucky (enough) to win a door prize.