Last of its kind: disappointment at the PTQ
By Neil T Stacey
Getting home from the PTQ on Saturday, I hadn’t walked four steps past my gate before I stepped in dog poop. ‘Things are finally looking up!’ I thought to myself. My brother asked what was up and I told him that I’d stepped in my deck.
That was something of an exaggeration; I ended with a 4-3 record which isn’t terrible, and RW is a solid deck. It was a tough day mostly because I was out of contention early and spent my day fighting for pride at the bottom tables.
A lot of players would have dropped at 0-2. When I slumped all the way to 0-3 I was certainly tempted to go home to lick my wounds but I make it a policy to play out every tournament I enter. Part of that is simply that I enjoy playing Magic regardless of the stakes.
The other side to it is that when something has gone wrong I like to try figure out what it was and get to work on correcting it. There’s no better opportunity to get started on that than the remaining rounds of the tournament. So what was it that went wrong? Firstly, my metagame predictions didn’t match up with what I played against.
RW is a deck that has decent matchups across the board but can be subtly tuned to be very good in certain matchups. I opted to play a few extra fliers in the form of Ashcloud Phoenix and Flamewake Phoenix. This setup is solid against Abzan Midrange because it makes their removal awkward while letting you sneak past their ground defense.
The flying is also useful against green-based devotion decks that tend to lack interaction in the early turns, aside from blocking on the ground. The recursive threats also strengthen the control matchup by making point removal a bit worse as well as offering a way to recover quickly against some sweepers.
The major downside is that the phoenixes are weak on defense, which weakens the build somewhat in the mirror match, and makes Jeskai a poor matchup, particularly considering how poorly Flamewake Phoenix matches up against Mantis Rider. RW is so intrinsically strong against mono-red that the presence of a few lousy blockers doesn’t make the matchup bad, but it certainly increases the chance of being punished for an awkward draw.
My matchups on the day included no Abzan and no Green Devotion, so my metagame call was far from good.
As to the three matches I lost, they were to another RW deck, a Temur Aggro deck and a UB control deck. The RW mirror-match was one where I felt I played well overall, but there was one decision that was questionable.
I was at 5 life with nothing on board and a Stoke the Flames in hand while my opponent was also on 5 life with an Outpost Siege naming Khans on the board and two cards in hand. He passed me the turn and I decided to hit him with the Stoke instead of keeping it in hand. My reasoning was that putting him on 1 life with open mana for my turn would give me a lot of live cards I could draw; any hasty creature or any burn spell would be good enough. Ashcloud phoenix would also work, because I had 5 lands out and a Flamewake Phoenix in the graveyard.
What I drew was a Valorous Stance, and was killed on the next turn by a Stormbreath Dragon and a Stoke the Flames. My line of play seems fine in hindsight, but when that Stormbreath Dragon hit the board I kicked myself for playing the Stoke possibly earlier than I needed to. I also kept a slightly iffy opening hand that game, a two-lander with only one red source in the form of Evolving Wilds, which actively decreases my odds of hitting the second source I needed for most of the threats in my hand.
Neither of those decisions were terrible and if I had ended up using that Stoke as removal, I’d have needed to survive two turns against an Outpost Siege, and draw two live cards in a row so I think I actually got that one right. It was in the next match, however, that I made an absolute howler. In the deciding game my opponent had a Hornet Nest and two open mana and I attacked with a pair of Stormbreath Dragons. Lightning Strike on the Nest made three insects and my Dragons died an undignified death.
Holding one dragon back in that attack would have prevented a blowout like that while still applying adequate pressure. There’s no doubt that I screwed up there.
My third loss came against UB control, a difficult matchup even without mulliganing to five in game one. The hand I kept in game two was a bit loose so that’s something else to think about.
My one other take away point from the PTQ has little to do with my matches but rather with the observation that in almost every round I was among the first three or four matches to finish. I’ve often felt that I play faster than I need to, and to more than once be the first to hand in a match slip in a field of one hundred players is quite something. It suggests that if I make a conscious effort to slow down and take my time with the important decisions, I could cut down on costly mistakes.
Beyond that, RW was a poor choice for a metagame that turned out to be quite heavy with various flavours of Jeskai and UB control.
The tournament overall was won by Sinan Effendi, with whom I played at the World Magic Cup last year. As I discussed in my article last week, Sinan is now a virtual lock for the position of team captain for this year’s World Magic Cup.
Sinan’s a solid guy who plays an incredible amount of Magic, so here’s hoping he can get a good result for himself in Brussels and lead the team to a high placing in Barcelona. Sinan has a big year of Magic ahead for him, but for the rest of us in SA the next few months will be a quiet period as we wait for the WMCQs in August and September.
Quiet, that is, except for the release of Dragons of Tarkir, followed by Modern Masters 2015, followed by the last core set ever, Magic Origins. With two new sets entering the format, Standard is certain to be a different beast by August, but it’s not just Standard players looking forward to the WMCQs. This year, one of the three qualifiers will be Modern, good news for the many format specialists in SA.
Modern has been flipped on its head with each of the last two set releases (and their accompanying banned/restricted list updates) so who even knows what kind of format we will be looking at by August?