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April 4, 2018

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First Time RPTQ; A Learning Experience

This past weekend was the first opportunity I’ve had to compete in a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier for Pro Tour Dominaria (Richmond, Virginia).

I made my way to Face to Face Games in Toronto on March 31 for six rounds of Rivals of Ixalan Sealed, followed by a Top 8 cut with Draft. My expectations weren’t super high as I am a very weak limited player and rarely play Sealed or Draft. This article was meant to be a tournament report, but while I was getting my face smashed in all day, I decided on the fly to go a different route. I’ll still add a brief run-through of how my match-ups went, but the end result was not great.

There are lots of things to be taken from my finish, though… Okay, okay, I’ll come out and say it. I went 2-4. The two wins were assisted; more on that later. Although I did put in some light preparation, this first experience was able to help me accurately gauge the competition, whom clearly had a higher average power level than myself.

One of the biggest mistakes I think I made in the whole process of preparing was practising Sealed pools without a timer. I usually have a hard time making decisions and I generally knew what I wanted to be doing in the format, but the 30 minutes for building was over REALLY quickly and I found myself stuck. In a frantic dash to finish on-time without penalty, I ended up with a pretty sub-optimal build from my given sealed pool.

Let’s have a look at what I came up with:

bant

Cody McCowell’s Bant Stuff RoI Sealed

Artifact (3)
Traveler’s Amulet
Thaumatic Compass

Spell (6)
Sea Legs
Pounce
New Horizons
Savage Stomp
Divine Verdict
Hunt the Weak

Creature (14)
Gleaming Barrier
Kitesail Corsair
Shipwreck Looter
Ixalli’s Keeper
Cherished Hatchling
Raptor Companion
Exultant Skymarcher
Resplendent Griffin
Knight of the Stampede
Deadeye Rig-Hauler
Spire Winder
Crested Herdcaller
Nezahal, Primal Tide
Zetalpa, Primal Dawn

Land (17)
Evolving Wilds
Plains
Island
Forest

ALL OVER THE PLACE.

nezahal

I went into this tournament knowing that it was going to be a lot of board parity stuff and that the key was to have some sort of repeatable engines or evasive threats that could trump the stall. Things like Slippery Scoundrel and Soul of the Rapids were on my radar. Unfortunately like stated earlier, I ran into some time issues which forced quite a few errors in deck-building.

First things first. What is that jumbled mess of two-drop creatures in this deck?Gleaming Barrier, Kitesail Corsair, Shipwreck Looter, Ixalli’s Keeper, Cherished Hatchling, and Raptor Companion. This looks like the start to an incredibly spasmodic Bant no-synergy-aggro deck. Oh yeah, there’s also a pretty random Gleaming Barrier.

This is a problem. I knew that a small, low to the ground aggro deck was going to be very hard to come by, and not particularly effective in this format. However, due to my inexperience in Sealed, with limited time, I filled out my deck with what I know now is certainly more two-drops than I should have. It’s difficult to win games when you keep top-decking Gleaming Barriers and Cherished Hatchlings.

The next problem with this deck is the fact that it pretty much does nothing until it gets to Nezahal, Primal Tide or Zetalpa, Primal Dawn. During the event and after our match, I consulted a very talented Magic player about my building choices who helped me identify that I probably should have had less of these do-nothing two-drop creatures and more of the big stuff from the side I missed in my frantic finish.

Warning: It’s bad. I somehow decided Colossal Dreadmaw wasn’t good enough.

I don’t know man, we all make mistakes.

There are two things about this pool that I can be a little happy about, I think. For starters, my mana fixing was fantastic. I have a really hard time figuring out mana bases myself, and with double G, double B and double W spells, I wasn’t sure I was going to get close to optimal. Two Traveler’s Amulets, two Evolving Wilds, a Thaumatic Compass, and a New Horizons went a LONG LONG way towards assuring I never had mana problems all day (except for complete floods or starves).

traveler's amulet

Secondly, with the confirmation of Daniel Fournier (that talented player mentioned above) I was able to feel at least content in the fact that I had identified the optimal colour combination to build a deck with from my pool. Looking back at the cards now that I had in my sideboard and taking some of Daniel’s suggestions into consideration, some of the cards that could/should have been included in my deck were:

Merfolk Could have been good…

(13)
Mist-Cloaked Herald
Jade Bearer
Merfolk Mistbinder
Shaper Apprentice
Jungleborn Pioneer
Headwater Sentries
Curious Obsession
Run Aground
Aggressive Urge
Naturalize
Slice in Twain

Probably should have been in my build…

(4)
Steadfast Armasaur
Colossal Dreadmaw
Belligerent Brontodon
Ancient Brontodon

Stinks to stink, but sometimes you just miss three or four really easy choices…

A Breakdown of the Day

Round #1 vs. Bant Merfolk

This was probably the best match of the day for me. Really interactive games, tough board stalls and exciting draws.

G1: My opponent was forced to Luminous Bonds my Knight of the Stampede to keep pressure on. Unfortunately, this came back to bite him as my Zetalpa, Primal Dawn came down for two mana cheaper and cleaned up the leftovers.
G2: Opponent landed Kumena’s Awakening with city’s blessing and ran away with what was a great game up until then.
G3: Stuck on three lands, opponent curved out and smashed face rather quickly. Games one and two were so much better.

(0-1)

Round #2 vs. Tendershoot-Dinos

This one was basically a non-match.

G1: Opponent lands a Tendershoot Dryad on turn five and I had no way to kill it. It got out of hand like it does, and that was that. To be fair, I dragged this out a lot longer than I thought… It probably took the opponent about ten turns to kill me.
G2: I played a Raptor Companion and my opponent got stuck on two lands. Raptor Companion got to eat.
G3: It must be Christmas because my opponent has mulled to five. Oddly enough, this became a real game at some point and I was able to just barely edge it out. That’s embarrassing.

(1-1)

Round #3 vs. Mardu Pro Players

I took this opportunity to focus on the match and interacting with my opponent this round, as Daniel Fournier is a friendly face I’ve known, luckily, since early in my M:tG adventure. Daniel has always been more than willing to help or offer to lend cards, etc. So rather than note-taking, I was after the experience and the advice that he could provide. Looking back at my notes doesn’t give me much to write about here, but there are a few things I can say.

The mannerisms of a professional player are very different. This wasn’t my first tango with a Pro Player, but I could feel the “aura” coming off of Dan. There’s a certain level of seriousness, and professionalism that they bring to the game. Even though we were both at 1-1, it was clearly obvious who the more experienced player was with every card he played. He had an intimidatingly (to me) well-crafted deck, that seemed to have just the right number of threats and removal; basic concepts I still struggle to find balance with.

This was a relatively quick 2-0 for Fournier, and afterwards he was gracious enough, as previously mentioned, to have gone through my deck and sideboard with me to help me recognise the potential of the pool. This also helped me sideboard into a more well-built deck for the rest of the day. Special thanks to Dan for help and encouragement.

(1-2)

Round #4 vs. Bx ?

I also don’t have many match-notes from this one. My opponent was approximately nine minutes late and received a game loss for game one.

G1: Bye
G2: 
Opponent played a few small aggressive creatures like Dire Fleet Poisoner and ended up topping it off with an Anointed Deacon. I was able to stabilise at 12 life with a Zetalpa, Primal Dawn and sweep up.

(2-2)

Round #5 vs. A purely better deck

This round was also against a very talented player who I see quite frequently in my local area, David R. What was odd about this match, is that in both games he got land starved early and I felt my deck picking up steam, getting ready to try to turn the corner. Strangely, in both of these games three lands was all David needed to completely dismantle me. His deck was insane. This is another case of a player who is just leagues above me in terms of limited play.

G1: My match sheet indicates David had some light, incremental life gain which was apparently a big deal here. His life total changes are as follows:

20 > 22 > 15 > 18 > 17 > 20 > 16 > 19

That’s what it’s like trying to kill someone who has a Slippery Scoundrel with Squire’s Devotion on it. The first two life he gained was from a Moment of Triumph.

G2: Purely outclassed again, with the same result. City’s blessing is good, and the Slippery Scoundrel crushes my spirits a little bit more.

(2-3)

Round #6 vs. A SICK UG Merfolk Deck

G1: STOMPED
G2: STOMPED

(2-4)

This guys deck was crazy. Honestly. I have no idea how I saw him at the bottom of the bucket at the end of the day. Maybe the rest of the tournament really was just leagues about my skill level in limited. In both games my opponent played multiple Forerunner of the Heralds.

His deck also contained World Shaper, Swift Warden, Deeproot Elite, Crashing Tide, at least one Jungleborn Pioneer, I think a Kumena’s Speaker and two copies of Deeproot Waters. In one of our games, my opponent had a Forerunner of the Heralds with 15 power. Sayonara.

Say wha?

On Preparedness…

careful study

My preparation for this tournament was pretty light, as is the norm for me these days. I used to have access to teams that would do regular testing and exercises to improve skills but since moving to Hamilton I’ve lost that luxury. The biggest bane in my preparation was that I wasn’t able to play many Sealed events to feel out the format. Paper events are pretty expensive if Sealed, and I didn’t really want to spend money practising online either. I don’t really MtGO, which I’ll get to.

I was able to use a Draft simulator (with sealed option) that I downloaded for iPad to run through some sealed pool building. I did this probably about 30 times altogether. It’s worth noting that about half of these were focused, half were unfocused and built while watching Dragon Ball Super, un-dubbed, constantly reading the captions.

Next time around, if I make it back to an RPTQ, I really just hope it isn’t sealed. But if it is, my preparation could be better.

  • Timing Draft exercises could help identify the need to speed up the process, which could be due to lack on understanding the key signs/cards that you’re looking for when opening
  • Opening and sorting faster could help, I have a system which is relatively fast, but physically speeding up may be worth it. A sense of urgency is necessary
  • Listening to current limited resources reviews, archetype breakdowns, card evaluations and researching other written materials is always a good idea (which is one thing I actually did this time around).
  • MTGO and paper Sealed practice if available/affordable

The last thing I want to touch on is MtGO. For quite some time now I’ve been a lower-level magic “grinder”. I play as many PPTQ’s as I can, travel to FacetoFaceGames.com Opens occasionally, as well as Top8Gaming Invitational Series, StarcityGames Invitational Qualifiers, a handful of Grand Prix a year, Nationals and whatever else I can get my hands on. One thing becomes clearer and clearer every day:

If you want to be successful in Magic: the Gathering, you MUST play online.
Sure, there’s going to be an exception or two like there always is.

mtgo1

However, almost every person I know who is talented enough to play professional M:tG advocates for daily online, or at least semi-daily online play. It’s the most convenient, relatively inexpensive way to practice the widest range of formats. The initial investment may be large, but the upkeep cost is less than paper.

Honing your play conveniently on your own time is essential in skill building and gives you more opportunity to access events and play styles than in-store paper play.

The idea this week was to write a tournament report but when the wheels failed to turn at the event, that idea crumbled to dust. It felt dishonest though, to dismiss the article in the works. I’m slightly embarrassed by the poor finish, but I am not closed from learning and discussing how to become better. In limited formats, I clearly still have a VERY long way to go.

Thanks for stopping in and checking out my RPTQ experience!

Comments? Questions?
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See you all at Dominaria Pre-release!