From The Cheap Seats – A PTQ 2nd Place Story

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Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ted McCluskie. I’m 23 years old and a student at the University of Ottawa in Ontario. Besides school and Magic, my interests include various rhythm games (Guitar Hero, Dance Dance Revolution), Anime, music, pizza and…pizza. For a little while, I’ve had an idea for a Magic-related article based around the thoughts that go through the thousands of “not-pro-but-want-to-be” players that participate in PTQs almost every weekend. My recent experience has given me quite a few insights and hopefully passing them on here will be useful, or at least interesting to you guys.

So let’s start things off with the basics!

Here’s what I sleeved up:

Rather than detailing each round in its entirety (I’d likely be unable to remember it all anyways), I’m going to report my results and talk about some of the more interesting interactions and plays that came up.

Round 1 Vs. Joey Sacino playing BUG – Result 2-0

Not a lot happened. He flooded in game one and stalled on one land in game two.

Round 2 Vs. Morgan Chrisholm playing UWR Geist – Result 2-1

This match nearly went to time. I won game one quite decisively by dealing with Geist of Saint Traft early. Game two I felt like I was in control, but got ahead of myself and didn’t monitor my life total carefully. I allowed a hit from a Restoration Angel and Snapcaster Mage, when I could have dealt with them a turn earlier. I was attempting to build up to a larger Sphinx’s Revelation, but by doing so, I allowed him a way to push through the extra damage he needed. Game three I was firmly in control the entire match and ended it with Celestial Colonnades just in time.

Round 3 Vs. The Lone Wolfe (Johnathan Bentley) playing UWB Control – Result 2-1

The Lone Wolfe is a friend of mine and we even playtested the night before, so we were quite aware of how long our match would probably take. With haste, we shuffled up and began. Game one is quite miserable for him, as a lot of the cards in his deck are dead. I won without much interaction. Game two I flooded very badly. At one point he Vendilion Clique’d me with 7 cards in my hand and I revealed they were all lands. He resolved an Elspeth, Knight-Errant and I scooped up my cards to save time. Game three went much better. I managed to get him stuck on lands with a few timely-drawn Tectonic Edges and eventually took over the game.

Round 4 Vs. Robert Anderson playing Blue-Tron – Result 2-1

Game one I missed a land drop and was never really in it. Game two I countered his mana artifacts and kept him off blue and he never recovered. Game three I drew all three of my Tectonic Edges and resolved an early Stony Silence. Overall the matchup is not something I’d consider good. I won because his draws were poor and I managed to get ahead on cards.

Round 5 Vs. David Aeschbacher playing UWR Geist – Result 2-1

I wasn’t sure what he was playing and kept a reasonable hand that could deal with most things… besides a turn 3 Geist of Saint Traft. I proceeded to die without putting up much of a fight. Game two was a grind. I’d say it lasted about 30 minutes. It was back and forth for a while until I stabilized with a Sphinx’s Revelation for roughly a billion. Unfortunately he was convinced he could still win, so a concession never came, leading us to having only 9 minutes to finish game three. I boarded back in a sided-out Lightning Bolt, to give me another way of ending the game quickly. This may not be technically correct, but I have a particular distaste for unintentional draws…which is somewhat ironic considering the deck I chose for the event. Somehow, I managed to remove his threats while my Snapcaster Mages got sideways for the win.

The PTQ had 100-ish players, which meant only 7 rounds. Sweet! Time to enter the “draw” phase!

Round’s 6 & 7 – Draw then concede to help my friend’s record. I ended up in 4th after the Swiss due to good tie-breakers.

Quarter-finals Vs. Super-Pro Andrew Noworaj playing Scapeshift

Andrew and I were also playtesting buddies for this event, and he is a much better magician than I. That being said, I’m still X-0 against him in sanctioned constructed matches (he’s X-0 vs. me in limited, though) so I went in to the round in positive spirits. Before the match began, our table judge had mentioned he’d hum the Mortal Kombat theme for our match. I jokingly told Andrew that if he were about to lose he could likely scream, “Mortal Kombat,” at me, and I’d run off in fear. The match itself is one of the best I’ve ever played. Game one I missed a few land drops and he managed to strain me on counterspell mana by Cryptic Command-ing one of my lands back to my hand. This tempo move, plus the fact that he had several more lands in play than me allowed him to resolve Scapeshift through my two Mana Leaks.

Game two was a bit unusual. Playing versus Scapeshift is a terrifying experience…you’re never quite sure if you’re just dead. This time around I managed to apply some early pressure with a Snapcaster Mage recurring a Lightning Bolt, and ultimately just drew another convenient Lightning Bolt to kill him without even needing to risk activating a Celestial Colonnade.

Game three was a nail-biter the entire time. I was actually drawing fairly dead despite applying a small amount of early pressure with a Vendilion Clique. I held on to a Cryptic Command and Mana Leak for the longest time, but versus his build of Scapeshift, he could theoretically play around that amount of disruption. In the end, I had him around 8 life, with lots of mana open. That is within the “Bolt you, Snapcaster Bolt you, attack, win” range, and based on how the second game had finished, Andrew may have gone for the win a few turns early. He played a Scapeshift, which I countered then followed it up with another Scapeshift, which I had the Mana Leak for, and which he was 1 mana short of being able to pay the cost. In reality, I had no way to apply any pressure and he could have waited, as I did not have enough mana to tap out and attack with a Colonnade while still holding up Cryptic Command and Mana Leak.

With Andrew’s hand depleted and me with no reason left to not start my assault, I animated my tumbling rocks and started bashing in. One attack brought him to 4, and I passed. Of course, if he drew Scapeshift there I was dead. He drew, thought for a moment and then passed back. I drew a land… looked up to see if I could get any read on Andrew, and then animated my colonnade and swung. Andrew stopped. Tanked for a moment and all the while I’m thinking, “What did he draw? Cryptic Command? Snapcaster? Some sort of instant-speed Scapeshift… A few more seconds of silence…then bam, in the quiet atmosphere of the store, he screams out as loudly as possible, “MORTAL KOMBAT!!” Naturally, I nearly fell off my chair in fear and probably let out some sort of girlish scream. After several minutes of composing myself, we shook hands (mine likely still trembling) and I’m on to the semis!

Semi-finals Vs. The Lone Wolfe again!

As fate would have it, the Lone Wolfe struck again, and this time he’s back for vengeance! Except not really. Unfortunately, the cards were not in his favour. Neither game was particularly close. He fearlessly chose to not play around Shadow of Doubt, for which I punished him by drawing it off the top. I then proceeded to counter every threat until I put the game away with a Sphinx’s Revelation for X = stupid.

Finals Vs. Nick Meade playing RW Burn – 0-2

My deck choice for this event was based on a predicted metagame of mostly UWR Geist, Jund, various Zoo-builds, Junk-midrange decks and the usual combo decks (Eggs, Twin and Pod.) Versus these decks, there’s nothing like resolving an EoT Sphinx’s Revelation, having 4 Cryptic Commands in your deck, or casting an uncounterable Supreme Verdict.

Unfortunately, a deck that does essentially nothing besides say “no” for the first 4-10 turns of a game is not well suited versus a deck full of 1-mana direct damage spells. Counter one, and he simply casts two more, all the while having to awkwardly fetch lands and drain your own life even further, just to continue casting spells. Neither game was particularly close. I could argue that his draws were above average, having double Goblin Guide both games and never seeing any of my (granted minimal) sideboard cards, but barring him mulliganing to oblivion, or a very unlikely sequence of draws, I feel the matchup is quite bad.

And that was that! A long day of control-length matches ended by a few Lightning Bolts and some card-disadvantageous goblins. This brings me to what I find to be the most interesting aspect of not only Magic: The Gathering, but competition in general.

At the start of the day, I woke up with confidence in my deck. I love a good blue deck, and the last few PTQs I’ve played various creature-decks. It’s just not the same. Still, even with this confidence, my overall expectations for the day were no higher than “Do my best, and wouldn’t it be awesome if I made Top 8?” I’ve had a few decent finishes in PTQs and Grand Prix before, but I’ve never felt like I was seriously in contention to win the event. I’ve always had the mindset of watching from the cheap seats, and just enjoying the show. This was my first finals appearance in a premier event, and the closest I’ve come to qualifying for the Pro Tour.

It’s also the first time I’ve actually had the drive to play my best and make a run for gold. To come so close and then lose in an unexciting fashion has caused so many emotions to run through my head in the past 24 hours, I’m still not sure where I stand. I can’t help but see this event as both a huge accomplishment, and a bit of a failure. I believe disappointment is to be expected when you come that close to a personal goal, only to falter at the end. One thing I have concluded is that giving up is certainly not the correct play. For better or worse, my own drive to be noticed and recognized means that despite the bitterness of this defeat, I’ll be at the next reasonably distanced PTQ, likely with 4 Leyline of Sanctity in my board.

Hopefully you’ve enjoyed my first attempt at public speech. Constructive criticism and compliments are both welcome, so feel free to message me or comment with any suggestions.

You can find me on Twitter (although I’m a noob) @tedmccluskie and Facebook by searching my name!

Thanks for reading!

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