How to Win the Last PTQ of the Season

Feature Article from Conrad Kolos
Conrad Kolos
3/24/2011 9:20:00 AM
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You don't have very many chances left to qualify for Japan. But fortunately, the last PTQ of a season is easier to win than the first. The metagame is fairly well defined and its unlikely that you will play against a deck you haven't prepared for. And while I feel for you because I think Extended is pretty lame right now, you don't need me making any excuses for you. Its now or never (where “never” means wait for next season).

Depending on how you have done this season and who you are, I have different advice for you. Its important in Magic to know what kind of player you are. There are many ways to win, none better or more noble than any other. Its better to be honest with yourself and give yourself a chance to win than to continue to run your head into a wall. There is no reason to fight fair if you don't have to.

Advise for the player who has made multiple top 8s but keeps falling short-

I don't have fond memories of my PTQ days. Playing in a one-prize tournament can be extremely frustrating. But at the same time, clearly you are doing something right if you are continually finding yourself in a position to actually bring home a first place. Keep doing whatever you have been having success with. If you need to make minor tweaks to address some problematic matchup, then so be it. But don't overreact. And don't get cute and try to play Pestermite/Splinter Twin when Scapeshift has put you into 3 top 8s. Magic can be pretty random. Games in the top 8 are pretty much the same as games in the swiss. Get lots of sleep and take care of your body so that you can make good decisions all day long. But don't let your friend talk you into playing his sweet Shaman deck. Keep grinding and you will eventually break through.

Advise for the player who just hasn't been able to figure this format out-

Give up. There is no shame in having a format that you just can't seem to figure out. I never learned how to beat Jund, for instance. The best way to try to cheat wins in situations like this is to play linear strategies and hope that no one decides to bring the right hate. If I could recommend Dredge, I would. In its stead, consider trying something like this:

Red Deck Wins by Conrad Kolos
Main Deck
4 Figure of Destiny
4 Goblin Guide
4 Hellspark Elemental
4 Tattermunge Maniac
Creatures [16]
3 Arc Trail
3 Burst Lightning
3 Flame Javelin
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Mortarpod
4 Searing Blaze
4 Staggershock
Spells [22]
3 Arid Mesa
12 Mountain (152)
4 Mutavault
3 Scalding Tarn
Lands [22]
Deck Total [60]

1 Combust
2 Mortarpod
4 Perilous Myr
2 Smash to Smithereens
2 Tunnel Ignus
4 Volcanic Fallout
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

Red seems very well positioned right now, considering the format is all about equiping Sword of Feast and Famine onto a small creature, which is nearly impossible to do against a red deck with cheap instant speed burn. Cards like Mirran Crusader are very popular right now, which is a joke against a red deck. There is also a lack of Burrington Forge Tenders and Kor Firewalkers running around at the moment.

This is in some ways a typical red deck in the format, but I really like my changes, especially the addition of Mutavault. It drives me crazy that other red mages haven't adopted this very efficient manland yet. The only downside is that it doesnt interact well with Figure of Destiny, and makes it difficult to ever Threaten his “ultimate”. But you are almost never tapping it for mana anyway, because it is such an efficient attacker. Its basically a free burn spell, every turn, and for free. The other odd addition in this list is Tattermage Maniac over Boggart Ram Gang. I am already trying to address the metagame by including Searing Blaze, Arc Trail, and Staggershock in anticipation of lots of small creatures so I figure that the Maniac's drawback is at an all time low in a deck like this. And as far as Ram Gang, I hate playing real creatures in red decks. The whole point of playing a red deck is to make it hard for your opponent to interact with you because of how you can impact their life total directly. A card like Boggart Ram Gang is easy to interact with, either by countering, killing, or blocking, all of which would likely be accomplished by a card that costs less. If you kill or trade with my one mana creature, then at least I know you aren't doing it at a net gain.

Perlious Myr and Mortarpod are for colorless damage to deal with any Protection from Red creatures. The Mortarpod in the main might look strange, but it provides a kind of inevitability. The best way to lose with any red deck is to draw too many lands and creatures in the midgame when you need to be drawing burn. Mortarpod helps to make those otherwise dead creatures at least slightly useful.

Advise for players who have yet to play a PTQ this season-

If life has gotten in the way, and you haven't had a chance to play in any qualifiers yet but you would like to give it a try then I think you should keep it simple. Pick a deck that has a straightforward plan and little interaction. Chances are that your opponents will be much more comfortable navigating the small battles and card interactions of Extended by this point in the season, so avoid matchups with lots of dancing around. I would recommend this:

RG Scapeshift PTQ by Conrad Kolos
Main Deck
4 Primeval Titan
Creatures [4]
3 Cultivate
4 Explore
1 Harrow
4 Khalni Heart Expedition
3 Lightning Bolt
3 Prismatic Omen
4 Rampant Growth
4 Scapeshift
2 Volcanic Fallout
Spells [28]
3 Evolving Wilds
5 Forest (154)
11 Mountain (152)
2 Raging Ravine
3 Terramorphic Expanse
4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
Lands [28]
Deck Total [60]

1 Combust
4 Great Sable Stag
1 Lightning Bolt
2 Naturalize
1 Spellbreaker Behemoth
2 Thrun, the Last Troll
2 Vexing Shusher
2 Volcanic Fallout
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

Pure R/G is a great choice for someone with little experience in the format. Its a clean, straightforward deck that tries to do basically the same thing every game. This list has more maindeck burn then I typically like, but the threat of a Sword of Feast and Famine hit is so big that you really have to commit to stopping that from happening. Similar to the maindeck, the sideboard plan also has no intention of interacting with your opponent. You just play uncounterable monsters and then sweep the board with an uncounterable Pyroclasm. Simple. No preparation necessary.

One trick I would like to point out is slow rolling the Vexing Shusher. In most games against a deck like Faeries, it is wrong to run out the Vexing Shusher, because they can just kill it before you get to use its ability. The best way to use Vexing Shuser is to wait until you have seven lands in play. Then you can cast it and immediately cast a lethal Scapeshift with a mana left over to protect your kill.

Advise for players who think that they will be the best player in the room-

For the most part, in any situation when you are the best player in the room, play the best deck. And more than that, play a version of the best deck that is designed to beat the mirror. Faeries has been the best deck all season. If you haven't been playing it, you have been doing yourself a big disfavor.

I personally prefer my greedy deck that plays both Stoneforge Mystic and Bitterblossom, but old fashioned Faeries is still a very good choice for a player who wants lots of options and choices in game after game in order to outplay their opponents.

Faeries PTQ by Conrad Kolos
Main Deck
4 Mistbind Clique
3 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Vendilion Clique
Creatures [10]
2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
Planeswalkers [2]
4 Bitterblossom
4 Cryptic Command
2 Disfigure
2 Go for the Throat
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Mana Leak
1 Spell Pierce
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Thoughtseize
Spells [22]
4 Creeping Tar Pit
4 Darkslick Shores
4 Island (148)
4 Mutavault
4 Secluded Glen
2 Sunken Ruins
1 Swamp (150)
3 Tectonic Edge
Lands [26]
Deck Total [60]

2 Consume the Meek
2 Disfigure
2 Flashfreeze
1 Go for the Throat
1 Jace Beleren
1 Sower of Temptation
1 Spell Pierce
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Thoughtseize
3 Vampire Nighthawk
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

There is nothing special here, but really there shouldn't be. Since Faeries has been the best deck all season, players have had a long time to refine the stock list into a near perfect form. At this point, its all about execution. But your the best player in the room, right?

Advise for players who are trying to have a blast playing Magic cards:

There is no reason you have to take a PTQ super seriously. Treat it like a FNM if you so desire. The following deck is powerful enough to win a tournament, but it is certain to be really fun to play.

Tezz Affintiy by Conrad Kolos
Main Deck
4 Court Homunculus
4 Master of Etherium
4 Memnite
2 Ornithopter
1 Ranger of Eos
4 Signal Pest
4 Steel Overseer
4 Tidehollow Sculler
Creatures [27]
4 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
Planeswalkers [4]
3 Mox Opal
4 Springleaf Drum
4 Tempered Steel
2 Thoughtseize
Spells [13]
4 Darkslick Shores
1 Island (148)
4 Marsh Flats
3 Plains (146)
4 Seachrome Coast
1 Swamp (150)
Lands [17]
Deck Total [61]

1 Disfigure
2 Flashfreeze
1 Go for the Throat
3 Path to Exile
2 Phyrexian Revoker
2 Thoughtseize
3 War Priest of Thune
1 Zealous Persecution
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

This deck is super powerful, and Tezzeret is the real deal. The reason I wouldn't recommend it to someone who is very interested in winning a last chance PTQ is that the draws are more likely to be clunky than normal. Sometimes you draw the mana accelrators and no 3 or 4 drops to make use of them. And other times you draw too many slow cards and you lose your explosiveness. When everything comes together this deck is very impressive but there is just too much variance, especially when everyone else is playing the one card combo known as Stoneforge Mystic.

Advice for Everyone-

Its better to play a slightly weaker deck that you are very comfortable with than to play a slightly better deck that is brand new. If it was early in the season, then you would be wise to switch in order to start learning the deck that gives you the best chance to win in the long run. But at this point, there is no long run. If you have been an Elves player all Extended season, you give yourself the best chance by continuing to be an Elves player for your last PTQ.

Have a plan to beat Sword of Feast and Famine; it will be everywhere. There are plenty of different ways you can go about trying to disrupt a piece of equipment, whether it be killing the creature in response to equipping or artifact removal or more general disruption like hand disruption or countermagic. Any way you decide to do it, you must have a real plan in mind before the tournament to deal with what is generally agreed upon as the best thing to be doing in the format. I can't stress this advice enough. Its not as if you are obligated yourself to play Sword of Feast and Famine. You are just obligated to beat it.

Take care of your body. PTQs are long tournaments, and nothing is worse than playing well all day only to punt a game away in the top eight because you are tired. Get lots of sleep and remember to eat during the day. This matters more than most people think. Magic is an exhausting mental activity, and you should do everything you can to ensure you are in good shape to finish strong.

There is no secret to winning Magic tournaments. Lots of little things have to come together. You need a well positioned deck, a little bit of luck, good preperation, but most of all you need tight technical play. I can't help you much with making better plays. It comes from practice and good conceptual understanding. The best you can do is to play alot of Magic, and to spend time thinking about the game.

I hope this helped. I find the quest to win a PTQ to be a noble one and a Rite of Passage for any Magic player. Best of luck to you.

Conrad Kolos

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