MTG Reporter - Pro Tour Aether Revolt PPTQ: 2nd Place [Jaime Garcia - Sorcerer, Level 40]
So as I begin to write this article I am preparing for yet another PPTQ (today is 08/25/2016). This is the first season I have tried to grind since Origins and I have had some mediocre performances. All three PPTQs to this point have resulted in 10th place finishes where I started (2-0) and finished (4-2) in all three; two were Modern and one was sealed. What I wanted to write about though was how I approached the Modern PPTQs and maybe give you an insight of what you are doing to prepare for yours. Modern is a polarizing and frustrating format. On any given day there are any number of decks that can win a tournament and that makes for a difficult PPTQ format.
So how do we prepare for such a wide open format? I will briefly introduce a couple factors for now, but will definitely expand on these at another time.
1. Familiarize Yourself with the Format
This means know as many decks as possible. Luckily I play on Magic Online (MTGO) and have a friend by the name of Max Rosenfeld who over the years has introduced me to a vast majority of fringe decks, so even if I can't identify what exactly the brew I encounter is I have a good guess of what the core of the deck is. I don't get taken by surprise often in Modern tournaments. Modern, like Legacy, can give you tons of information in the first few land drops and sequence of plays you just have to look for the information. I wish I had some screenshots to share with you guys as examples but here are just a few examples that have come up more so than expected on MTGO:
Your opponent goes fetch, shock in land, thoughtseize. Most likely he is on a Death's Shadow variant but he could also be a GBx deck depending on the shockland. What if your opponent leads on Steam Vents + Serum Visions, but then turn 2 they go fetchland, shock in Sacred Foundry and cast 2nd Serum Visions + Faithless Looting pitching Lighting Bolt and Lightning Helix? What if they go Turn 1 basic Forest into Arbor Elf? Turn 1 Godless Shrine into Relic of Progenitus? There are many decks out there and some have slight variations of each other that not knowing a core of a fringe deck can cost you a game or even a match because there could be something random in their main deck that had you knowledge of their deck you could play around or understand what is important and what resources to attack.
Post sideboard. What kind of hate could they have in their sideboard? If the opponent has white, does Leyline of Sanctity mean anything to me or how many copies of Kataki, War's Wage or Stony Silence do they have? If they are playing red can they be playing Blood Moon or a sweeper like Anger of the Gods? Did you know that Jester's Cap or Choke was a legal card in Modern, how about Darkness?
2. Know Your Deck
This is much more difficult than it sounds. People sometimes just pick up a deck because it is labeled the "best deck" but have little to no idea of how to play it. Modern punishes you for small mistakes due to the velocity of the format and the nature of the painful manabase we are forced to play with. Yes, I know the format is an "arms race" and it isn't always interactive, but if you can't even figure out how your deck is suppose to ignore the other guy then you won't have much success. I also understand decks just have draws that win no matter what and the draws seem mindless, but you have to know what to do and how to react when opponents start interacting with you or even worse know your gameplan just as well as you do. You have to then figure out what their gameplan is and adjust yours accordingly.
So how do these factors apply to my recent PPTQ experiences?
Well in the last two Modern PPTQs I played, I played two decks that I don't regularly play; Jund and Abzan Company. Both these decks are considered "real" decks, ones that can win a "major" tournament. Now most people know me as a Scapeshift aficionado, so to see me sleeve up these two decks came as a surprise to many. In short, I believe Scapeshift, as sweet of a deck that I think it is, is not very competitive. I don't want to write an entire report of either of these tournaments, but I will if asked. So now let's get to a couple of the reasons why I chose to play these decks.
This was held at one at Mage's Sanctum. My decision to play Jund was because Jund is a 45-55 matchup-type deck that has some of the best sideboard tools and can reconfigure itself to beat anything. So it being a local PPTQ, I figured Jund would give me the best option to beat what I knew would be a field full of aggressive decks, specifically Death's Shadow Aggro. There's a small group within Austin now that only the most competitive of people may have noticed. They include Jon Martin and Jeremy Frye. I knew ahead of time they were going to be bringing friends to play and there would be multiple Death's Shadow opponents and if I wanted to win the tournament I would have to beat one of these guys so Jund seemed like a logical choice to prey on their deck choice. Jon Martin ended up winning this tournament on Death's Shadow after I defeated him in round 1, so I believe my choice to play Jund was correct. Although I had never played Jund, I think I was capable because in my opinion it plays like a Limited deck the most. Advice for Jund pilots, know Limited strategy before you choose to pilot Jund.
PPTQ#2 Abzan Company
This was held at Dragon's Lair in San Antonio. Abzan Company, in my opinion, is a difficult deck to pilot because it offers many lines of play. The reason I chose this deck was for the chance to outplay opponents but also the deck was fun. My prep for the tournament were a few leagues on MTGO where I was able to consistently go (3-2) while feeling I was making small mistakes. My work paid off when I finally went (5-0) where I felt I was able to outmanuever a couple of my opponents. I once again fell short of top 8. Losing to Bushwacker Zoo where I felt I kept a couple hands that could've been sent back and Jund where Liliana, the Last Hope + Night of Soul's Betrayal just ruined my day.
After these two tournaments I was quite disappointed and kicking myself for not playing the deck I had been playing on MTGO for a while now. It's a deck I believe to be grossly underplayed and the deck I will be sleeving up for the PPTQ this weekend of August 27th.
NOTE: (I would have tried to finish this article up explaining why you should play this deck and my MTGO list, but I was still unsure if I was going to play and I also didn't want to give out information of what deck I was running.)
So now that I've gone to the PPTQ (today is now 08/30/2016) I can talk about some of the things I'm most happy about. I lost in the finals of what was the largest PPTQ I've played in to date (72 people). It was 7 rounds and I snuck into the top 8 as the only person with a 5-2 record. It took some wiggling which I'll explain later and even write a specific report about the event that occurred, but we'll get to that eventually. So for this event I switched back to the RG Valakut deck that I believe is grossly underplayed. It does a few things that Modern decks need to do to be successful. It has a combo kill as soon as turn 3 so it can race the other unfair decks. It has a solid Plan B and even Plan C in dealing lethal damage with Valakut and having a decent creature beatdown plan. Over the course of two months playing it on MTGO, I have somewhere around a 62% win-rate after keeping a log of all my league matches.
Here's the list that I registered for the PPTQ.
RG Breach - Jaime Garcia
Non-Creature Spells (22)
4 Wooded Foothills
There were a couple last minute changes that I made to the list including a couple "spicier" additions that may be obvious. I never had the turn 3 or turn 4 Through the Breach Titan turns and I only cast Primeval Titan on turn 4 a couple times, so for the most part I was forced to play "fair" Magic. This is one of the strenghts of the deck as it is able to play fair Magic and still interact with the format. My matches went as followed:
Round 1 (Jund by Unknown, W: 2-1)
NOTE: The Planeswalker Points website didn't have his name which is unfortunate because he was a very pleasant opponent that put me in a good mood for the tournament which I believe attributed to my play and success.
G1: I mull to 6 but game ends up being standard G1 against Jund as it seems like he keeps a removal-heavy hand with not much discard. I miss land drops for a couple turns but he taps out the turn right before I draw my 5th land for Through the Breach into Primeval Titan.
G2: I mull to 6 again, he rips my hand apart with double discard into Lilliana of the Veil and there wasn't much I could do.
G3: Opponent mulls to 6, I ramp twice and on his turn 3 he plays Liliana of the Veil using her +1. I then Summoner's Pact for Obstinate Baloth in response getting a free 4/4 and killing Liliana the next turn. A couple turns later I slam Primeval Titan and follow it with another Titan.
Round 2 (Jund by Trey Mattison, W: 2-1)
G1: I mull to 6 again and have a couple discard spells cast against me, but I'm able to slow pressure down by bolting a Dark Confidant and Scavenging Ooze. The game goes on and the 2nd Scavenging Ooze wins my opponent the game as I top deck a Scapeshift but it can only do 18 damage and my opponent had gained life up to 21 while also carefully playing his lands as pain-free as possible.
G2: We both mull to 6. I keep a kind of slow hand from what I remember but it has land drops a Courser and a Baloth to slow down Liliana. He never really pressures me other than one Goyf and one Primeval Titan plus land drop takes care of that. The game then becomes land drop.
G3: Opponent mulls to 6. He casts 3 discard spells taking two ramp spells and a Courser but I hit natural land drops then the turn he is able to activate Raging Ravine it dies to a topdecked Lightning Bolt the turn before that he didn't see with discard. Opponent floods out and I land back to back Primeval Titans to end the game.
Round 3 (UR Delver by Jeremy Frye, W: 2-0)
G1: A local from Austin. He's playing a bit of a brew, but I know him from the local shops and I've run into the deck quite a few times online. He begins the match by saying, "I am going to die to that stupid 8/5 aren't I?" Before the tournament, I asked to borrow a Melira I had forgotten and I caught a glimpse of Gaea's Revenge in his binder so I went back to ask to borrow it in case I played a blue deck; well here we are! We both keep 7. My opening hand has a ramp spell and to Anger of the Gods. Anger kills basically everything in his deck so I keep. He saves his Young Pyromancer from my first Anger, but the 2nd one is able to sweep the board. He never finds countermagic and a hardcasted Primeval Titan on turn 5 is able to just close out the game.
G2: I believe he mulled to 6 (I should keep better notes for this). My hand has ramp, a mixture of removal, and of course Gaea's Revenge!!! There are a couple critical turns where Jeremy decides not to counter a Search for Tomorrow coming off suspend and also tapping out for a turn to land a threat needing me to miss a land drop. On the first decision, I think you may just always counter ramp because it lets me pull ahead or catch up. It also allowed me to get one of my 2 basic forests to play around Blood Moon. I hit natural land drops regardless that turn, so it may have been irrelevant. The turn he tapped out to play a threat, he needed me to miss a land drop so I couldn't land Thragtusk. I drew the land and landed Thragtusk. Now Jeremy was on the back foot and soon after I landed none other than Gaea's Revenge to help finish the game with Thragtusk.
Round 4 (Naya Aggro/Company? by Chris Basser, W: 2-0)
G1: We both keep 7. I have triple ramp on the draw and land for turn 4 Primeval Titan...or so I thought. He played a Thalia, Heretical Cathar making my Wooded Foothills come in tapped. We only noticed halfway through me trying to cast a Summoner's Pact. The judge was try resolving it in a curious way. My opponent has no pressure as next turn I land the Titan fetching two Valakuts, making land drops to kill his two creatures.
G2: I'm wary of Blood Moon/Magus of the Moon so I fetch basics accordingly, but I'm also able to land a turn 4 Primeval Titan. My opponent later told me he had Path to Exile but with Titan and active Valakuts he opted to play Blood Moon locking him out of white mana for Path to Exile. I'm able to ignore Blood Moon and attack Primeval Titan into a lone Loxodon Smiter. Opponent gets beaten down by Primeval Titan.
Round 5 (Jund by Alex Shaub, L: 1-2)
G1: I mull to 6. The game is close and we both know what each other is on as my roommate, James Conboy, lends his friend Alex the deck. The game is close and a small mistake is made by my opponent. He's at 13 and fetches to go down to 12. Meaning a Primeval Titan/Summoner's Pact is now able to kill him. His Dark Confidant hits a land so he stays at 12, I top deck Primeval Titan.
G2: We both keep 7. My hand is great. Double ramp, a Baloth for a Liliana and a Primeval Titan. I end up getting blown out by double Fulminator Mage. Had I fetched a basic with the first fetchland, I could have easily won the game. The reason for not fetching a basic was having too much information. My roommate as of a few days prior didn't have Fulminator Mages in his board so I was quite surprised to see the 1st, much less the 2nd one. A Scavenging Ooze ends up getting up to a 7/7 as I draw an unusually high amount of creatures and it ends up killing me.
G3. We both keep 7: My hand is just ok. Some ramp, a payoff spell in Primeval Titan and a Bolt. I believe I made a major misplay on turn 3 where I play a ramp spell plus have Bolt. I Bolted Scavenging Ooze while still dealing with the sting of him beating my face in with an Ooze in G2, when obviously I should've Bolted Dark Confidant. He ends up running away with the game drawing into Fulminator and removal for my creatures that are supposed to serve as road blocks. I die to creature beats of Dark Confidant, a Tarmogoyf that joined the party, and Raging Ravine.
Round 6 (Grixis Death's Shadow by Joel Rodriguez, L: 0-2)
G1: We both keep 7. I actually hadn't been keeping an eye on this player because he wasn't at the top tables all day. I keep a hand of removal, Courser, and Baloth. Turn one on the play he plays Polluted Delta, then at my end step he fetches Watery Grave, shocks and does nothing. I instantly know I am in trouble and wondering if this is the Esper Death's Shadow or Grixis Death's Shadow deck that one of my driving buddies beat in the earlier rounds. Turn two he plays Kiln Fiend and I know what is going on. I end step Bolt, but he has the Mutagenic Growth. At this point, I try to mask what I am because I draw the Scalding Tarn. I pass representing countermagic. He swings for 1 and has no pump; the 2nd main phase he plays a Death's Shadow. I draw my other Scalding Tarn play it and pass. He then casts Gitaxian Probe to try and reveal information. During sideboarding I can tell my opponent is perplexed by what he's playing against, but I believe the matchup is so bad for me the small percentages I gained by doing this was irrelevant.
G2: I mull to 6 looking for an Engineered Explosives, Sudden Shock, or a fast combo hand. I have none of the 3 but I keep a 6 having double Bolt, Anger, and 3 Lands. I died pretty quickly; turn 4 I believe.
Round 7 (BW Eldrazi by Hunter Suelzer, W: 2-0)
I get the pair up and have a shot at top 8 as the lone x-2 as my tie-breakers are insane. Two of my earlier opponents are able to draw into top 8 and a third is still playing for top 8 due to the pair-up.
G1 and G2: Both games are uneventful compared to what was happening outside of our match. He mulls to 5 one of the games and I have a fast Primeval Titan both games to easily win the match. There were some other details and factors that attributed to me making top 8 that included this match and if anyone who was there who reads this report, I ask that you don't comment on these events on this public forum please.
Quarterfinals (RG Tron by Unknown, W: 2-1)
G1: I mull to 6 (man, I did that a ton). I don't believe he knows what I'm on even after the match starts as he reads every single card I cast except for Lightning Bolt. I miss a land drop on 3 crucial turns where he's dead to the Through the Breach + Primeval Titan in my hand. He drops 3 straight Karn, Liberateds and I am only able to deal with the first 2 via two Lightning Bolts.
G2: I have a turn 3 Acidic Slime to blow up a Tron piece on the play to buy myself some time. I force him to blow an O-stone on just a board of Courser and Acidic Slime; post-combat I land my first Primeval Titan but he has Ulamog to kill both Valakuts. I still can kill him next turn with Pact into a 2nd Primeval Titan and swing with the first one unles... I draw the last Valakut and already have one in my hand so I can't kill him that turn; doh! I have to suicide the first Primeval Titan to do some damage then hope that Ulamog doesn't exile all my mountains. Ulamog attacks and exiles the last 3 remaining mountains meaning that with my opponent at 5 I have to topdeck a 2nd bolt or the Pia and Kirans I couldn't board out because there was enough cards to bring in. I topdeck the 2nd bolt! I feel like I'm able to predict the future at this point.
G3: My opponent presents a 54 card deck and I win game 3.
Semi-Finals (Jund by Alex Schaub, W: 2-0)
Ahh my lone Jund loss of the day and redemption is what I'm after.
G1: My opponent is surprised by the mainboard Obstinate Baloth when he pluses a Liliana of the Veil. I then attack into a Grim Flayer at the Liliana and Liliana goes down. Not much pressure is presented to me and I'm able to just Primeval Titan him out.
G2: We do what Jund wants and that's get into a topdeck war. I'm able to handle his first couple threats with a Bolt and an Engineered Explosives. Then when the game turns into a topdeck war where Courser of Kruphix helps me hit a land drop and dig deeper. He kills Courser and lands Tarmogoyf while I'm empty-handed. I shuffle away a now useless Baloth then topdeck a 2nd Engineereed Explosives to deal with Tarmogoyf. He draws a card and I notice he doesn't have a 2nd green source to activate Raging Ravine or play what sounds felt like a Kitchen Finks. I then draw Relic of Progenitus making future Tarmogoyfs and Scavenging Oozes rather harmless. I activate it drawing into Summoner's Pact, getting Primeval Titan and winning the game rather easily from there.
Finals (Grixis Death's Shadow by Joel Rodriguez, L: 0-2)
G1 and G2: Both games were uneventful. I knew I had to have fast starts so I mulliganed both games looking for fast hands or heavy removal. Both games I got Thoughtseized on a mulligan to 6 and was dead pretty shortly.
RG Breach ended up being a solid choice for this tournament as the room was full of Jund, blue decks, and fair creature decks. A couple things of note about the RG Breach deck. I play a more midrange-oriented version of the deck that relies less on the combo but still has all the combo elements. There are other variants such as the Nahiri, Oath of Nissa, Simian Spirit Guide, Emrakul variants. It's hard to say if my build is the correct build to play, but it's the build I've played the most and am most comfortable with. A couple last-minute changes that I made to the deck were adding the two Scapeshifts to the main while also adding a couple more creatures to the sideboard package in Gaea's Revenge, Thragtusk, and Acidic Slime. So the Scapeshifts were primarily to have more live topdecks in what I had heard and anticipcated would be a Jund-heavy field and also hedge against the unusual amount of control decks. Thragtusk helped against aggressive decks but could also come in against Blood Moon decks, Jund as a value creature, or Control as another beater and resilient threat. Acidic Slime was a concession to having to deal with troublesome lands such as man lands, Tron, and Scapeshift. Gaea's Revenge, to be honest, could've been any one of 10-15 other cards but I wanted something unexpected and spicy.
Overall, the deck performed well. Not once did I have a turn 3 or 4 Primeval Titan with haste and only a couple of times did I hardcast Primeval Titan on turn 4. Cards that underperformed were Scapeshift, even though I only drew it once. Most the time it would've just been ok as a topdeck, so if I wanted to continue running it I would run one copy in the sideboard to have more topdecks against Jund and control. Melira and Sudden Shock were wasted sideboard slots all day as Infect has died down in popularity. I could see playing without Melira if you are playing Sudden Shocks or multiple Spellskites. I'm not a fan of Spellskite as you cannot tutor for it with Summoner's Pact so I'm going to keep Melira as I think having a silver bullet in the sideboard is vital in Modern. Pia and Kiran was great at always being a nice roadblock or another removal spell. Baloth in the main is much better than people give it credit for, especially if you expect an aggressive meta. I may move a 2nd copy to the main. Courser of Kruphix continues to overperform as a way to manipulate your draws with all the search effects you have while also filtering mana-flooded draws. Some people play Oracle of Mul Daya but I believe Course being Bolt-proof gives it the edge, plus I loved that card in Standard Abzan Control. Thragtusk could also be considered being swapped out for the 4th Baloth or even a Huntmaster, but those may just be worse as the 5 power on Thragtusk is relevant in combatting Goyfs and Reality Smashers. I'm still happy with the 4/2 split on Lighting Bolt and Anger of the Gods. I've seen some lists shave Lightning Bolt which I don't totally agree with unless you're going to go all in on the combo. And the Angers are a concession to Dredge and aggro.
So why should you play RG Breach?
Well the deck is powerful and attacks on another axis that most Modern decks aren't prepared for in being a land-based combo deck. The deck is very resilient and its threats are all pseudo 2-for-1s." It can also just play the midrange control deck once Valakuts are online or just end the game quickly by making every topdeck a Bolt. It has good MUs against popular midrange decks such as Jund and Bant Eldrazi. They really have to have a good combination of hand disruption and a quick clock to beat you as the deck can recover quite nicely. It can race the aggressive decks such as Infect and Affinity while also having just enough disruption in the main to slow down their aggression while also being able to get better post board. Against control we can just make land drops and use Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to win. It's bad MUs include decks that can attack our mana base or our hand or decks that are just trying to ignore everything such as Goryo's Vengeance or Death's Shadow Aggro. Sometimes Anger of the Gods on the draw on turn 3 is just too slow. This deck is by no means "broken" or unbeatable, but the deck surely shouldn't be 1 out of 72 at a PPTQ. This deck should be in any gauntlet that anyone tests for Modern. People may be slow to realize just how good this deck is so maybe I'll have a small window to spike one of these tournaments, but after this article I suggest it'll be much harder and people will be more prepared if they see me roaming their LGS. I'll probably follow up with a primer primarily on just RG Valakut if there's enough interest. But all questions are welcomed regarding sideboarding and specific numbers and card selection.