"The finals, the crotch of your jeans… you blew it all."

-Alex Stratton, L2


THE PRELIMINARY ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

Pro Tour Qualifiers – PTQs, as we knew them – are finally completely gone. So we should talk about Preliminary PTQs – PPTQs – for a minute.

There are three available formats for a Tournament Organizer to choose from for their PPTQs: Standard, Modern, and Sealed. All three formats make sense for TOs. Modern sells singles, Standard sees the most play, and Sealed attracts everyone else: the players that don't have decks. A Sealed tournament has built-in sales, but it's widely known that Standard is the biggest draw on a local level. You'll see TOs put on Modern sometimes and Sealed rarely (turns out no one likes Sealed) just to give local players that already have a wealth of options a little variety, but Standard's the choice for TOs looking to get butts in the seats.

Lots has been said about Standard in the past few weeks regarding how skill-testing it is or isn't. All I can report from the Standard PPTQ I attended last weekend is that outside of my one mirror match (the classic "who drew more Siege Rhinos game"), my opponents got punished for their misplays and I got punished for mine. Anecdotal evidence is the best. It's whatever you want it to be!

As for the event itself, I ran Abzan Aggro thanks to my absolute lack of originality. It's crippling.

DECKID=1226624

I had no idea how to play this deck going into the event. I played five pre-sideboarded games against Sped last Friday on lunch and he crushed me 4-1 with his monored deck. Confidence was at an all-time high going in.

The PPTQ in Elmira was to be six rounds with 44 players.


ONE FUN WAY TO FIGURE OUT WHO'S GOING FIRST IN A GAME OF MAGIC CARDS

"You think of a number, and then I'll think of a number, and then whoever's thinking of the highest number gets to go first."

-My roommate Dan


ROUND 1, OR, HEDGING: THE LAST REFUGE OF SCOUNDRELS AND/OR PEOPLE WHO DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY'RE DOING

This is one of those tournaments where you sat across from your round one opponent during the players' meeting, and I wind up seeing three copies of End Hostilities in his sideboard as he hands his sheet in, so I put him on the Jeskai Tokens deck that I've never played a match against.

In an incredible turn of luck, I see a hand of double Bile Blight and snap keep. Imagine my surprise when my opponent, Julian, rolls out a Mantis Rider on turn three. I've got a pair of Siege Rhinos, so I stick one in an effort to race. Julian slams a second one the next turn and announces, "attack for six, FLYING." You know how you can tell when your opponent thinks they've really got you? It's an affectation in their voice, maybe some sort of shifting in their chair, an inflection in their voice - something tips you off to where they think they've got you.

So yeah, you could say that the two-for-one Bile Blight I resolved next turn felt pretty great.

I sideboarded thusly:

+3 Thoughtseize
+1 Bile Blight
+3 Glare of Subdual
+3 Drown in Sorrow

-3 Hero's Downfall
-3 Abzan Charm
-2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
-1 Rakshasa Deathdealer
-1 Murderous Cut

Shaving stuff is always a great sign you're sideboarding incorrectly. At this point, the previous game represents 1/6th of the total games I've played with the deck. So I did what I did instead of sideboarding correctly. In hindsight, I have no idea why I'd ever 'board out Elspeth, Sun's Champion.

We both mulligan to six cards, but he's stuck on two lands while I'm able to hit all of my land drops. Once Julian starts discarding to hand size, I just keep making my land drops and passing the turn. Early on, I keep a Fleecemane Lion on top of my library, but hold onto it until I have seven lands, in order to be able to monstrous it whenever I want. It actually ends up being pretty funny; I opt not to monstrous on Julian's end step, and when I untap, draw my card, and immediately shove in with my Fleecemane Lion, Julian goes into the tank, and I can't help but smile. I don't make the right play very often, so when I do, it tends to stick out in my mind. That is definitely one of those times. I take down the match 2-0, which makes up for me throwing out my shoulder patting myself on the back.


THOSE WHO CAN'T DO, TEACH

TCGplayer HQ's second season of Pauper League is underway (I'm playing Bing Luke's Affinity list because he's good at Magic cards), and SOMEHOW our HR rep, Maribeth, got roped into the shenanigans. The problem is, she doesn't really know how to play, but to her credit, instead of dropping out of the league, she's resolved to learn the game and duke it out in the trenches.

Teaching Maribeth how to play has been an interesting endeavor. I haven't tried to teach anyone to play Magic since I was 20, and that turned out disastrously. Five years later, though, I think I'm ready to do it. Maribeth was graciously loaned this Soldiers deck:

DECKID=1226626

My approach is lifted straight from my coworker Derek – I cut all the noncreatures from the deck and had Maribeth just go through some test draws to show her how a turn looks and what the deck's supposed to do. Because of all the random creatures that give Soldiers additional power/toughness, I'm able to ask Maribeth, "okay, what's this guy's power and toughness? What about his?" every turn. Turns out that Magic is just a weird math game about being able to keep track of lots of weird dumb numbers simultaneously. Who knew!

Luckily for me (that's going to be a trend this week), Maribeth is a very eager student, and she's very enthusiastic about certain facets of the game, including but not limited to attacking for upwards of 16 damage. That kind of zest for learning really helps, and makes my job way easier. This week, we've started splitting the deck in half and playing it against each other, me against her. If this week's sessions are any indicator, she'll be ready in no time.


ROUND 2: BETTER LUCKY THAN ANYTHING ELSE EVER

My opponent mulligans and dies with an Island and a Battlefield Forge in play and no spells cast. I put him on Jeskai tokens, and sideboard like this:

-2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
-2 Elspeth, Sun's Champion
-1 Wingmate Roc
-3 Abzan Charm
-3 Hero's Downfall
-1 Murderous Cut

+3 Glare of Heresy
4 Drown in Sorrow
+4 Thoughtseize
+1 Bile Blight

My opponent, Rob, leads on Commune with the Gods, showing Retraction Helix and nabbing a Sylvan Caryatid. I rip Thoughtseize and immediately cast it, seeing

Burning Anger
Briber's Purse
Dig Through Time
Retraction Helix
Swan Song
Rattleclaw Mystic
Sylvan Caryatid

He's got Forest and Yavimaya Coast in play, so I take Sylvan Caryatid to keep him off white, in case of any potential Jeskai Ascendancys off the top of his library. I pass the turn, and Rob draws his card, smiles, and plops down a Sylvan Caryatid. His next two draws are Evolving Wilds and then Jeskai Ascendancy, and proceeds to cycle through the majority of his deck, discarding three Jeskai Ascendancys along the way and eventually passing the turn back to me with six cards left in his library. I check his library and exile piles to make sure there are three Jeskai Ascendancys accounted for, and then cast Glare of Heresy on the Jeskai Ascendancy he's got in play. Rob checks his graveyard and exile piles shortly after to verify he's dead before he scoops.


ANOTHER GEM FROM MY ROOMMATE DAN, WHO BOUGHT 16 Scuttling Doom Engines FOR PRESALE

"Not that this deck is viable but if I were to play Scuttling Doom Engine, should I play it in a tokens deck?"

-My roommate Dan


ROUND 3: HA HA YOU'RE DEAD

My opponent, Jeremy, is playing the RG Aggro deck that I can only assume is popular-ish even though I haven't really seen it around. He's running Heir of the Wilds, Lightning Strike, Elvish Mystic, Goblin Rabblemaster, Fanatic of Xenagos Ashcloud Phoenix, Stormbreath Dragon, and Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker. Deck seems legit. We split the first two games.

Game three comes down to me completely forgetting to Hero's Downfall in response to him activating Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker to make it a creature. I awkwardly have to kill a Boon Satyr instead, and wind up dying to Sarkhan + Crater's Claws from 10 life even though I have an Elspeth, Sun's Champion in play.

I'm now sitting at 2-1 after my first substantial blunder costs me a match.

Most of the time I'm happy when a colossal mistake costs someone a match, even when it's me committing the error. I think it's good for Magic when the worse player loses.


NONE OF THAT PUNKY STUFF

I don't know why I like to listen to songs on a loop so much, but for some reason, I really dig it. Here's what I listened to on repeat during the players' meeting last weekend:

My mom's 45 years old, which means that she was 19 when The Cure released Disintegration. I always ask her if she liked any of the 80s bands I like now – The Cure, The Police, The Clash, The Replacements – and she tells me she wasn't into any of that "punky" stuff, that she was more into Journey and Led Zeppelin and hair metal. COME ON, MOM.


ROUND 4: YUP

I played the mirror. It was very uninteresting. All three games ended because of a Siege Rhino's comes-into-play trigger. I was on the lucky end of the match result.

3-1, win-and-in incoming.


MORE MALAISE CUBE IDEAS, REAL QUICK

Lots of these are just taken straight out of the comments section of my article for last week, in case you think I'm not reading those. I've got my eye on you, you rapscallions!

· Stoneforge Mystic, but the only equipment is Manriki-Gusari.
· Arcbound Ravager, but with no other cheap, efficient artifacts, save for Darksteel Myr and Darksteel Relic.
· One with Nothing. End of sentence.
· All the Beebles. Bubbling Beebles, Bursting Beebles, Bouncing Beebles – the gang's all here.
· City in a Bottle, but it can only kill Ali Baba. Along the same line of thought – Apocalypse Chime, but it can't kill anything (I made a conscious effort to limit the amount of cards from The Dark, Fallen Empires, Ice Age, and Homelands. Honestly, you could craft a pretty effective Malaise Cube using cards from just those four sets).
· One of the only removal spells in the entire cube is Dead Ringers. Good luck figuring out what THAT card does.


ROUND 5: CLASSIC WIN-AND-IN

In game one, my opponent Nick's got a big ol' Favored Hoplite that's unblockable thanks to an Aqueous Form, but my curve of Anafenza, the Foremost into Siege Rhino means he's got to turtle up behind his Hoplite and Lagonna-Band Trailblazer. I attack into his team, and when he taps out to cast Defiant Strike, I've got Bile Blight + Hero's Downfall to wipe his board, and that's the game.

I'm finally feeling confident enough with the deck to deviate a bit from BBD's sideboarding guide:

+3 Glare of Heresy
+4 Thoughtseize

-4 Anafenza, the Foremost
-1 Bile Blight
-2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor

Scrylands are great, if only because when your opponent, on the play, keeps hesitantly and then plays a scryland and immediately pushes the card to the bottom, it's likely that your opponent is really digging for a land. This ends up being the case in our deciding game; Nick keeps a hand with a Temple of Enlightenment, a Favored Hoplite, a Lagonna-Band Trailblazer, and four spells. As luck would have it, Nick can't find a second land in time, and puts the few creatures he's actually able to play in front of my Rakshasa Deathdealers until he dies.

I ID in round 6, and make the Top 8 as the fifth seed.

My Top 8 matches are a blur. After quick matches against 4-Color Whip and Jeskai Tokens, respectively, I find my round three opponent, Jeremy, waiting for me in the finals with his RG deck.

Sitting down, the card binders resting against the corner of my backpack hit the inseam of my jeans just right as I put my bag between my legs – you know, to secure it – and RRRRRRRRIP, the crotch of my jeans is completely blown out.

And then Jeremy wins the match in three games.

I'm not sure how to feel about coming juuuust short. It's just a PPTQ; the phrase "lost in the finals" doesn't quite have the same sting when the swiss has two less rounds and there's not an actual invitation to the Pro Tour at stake. I'm also not sure what to make of my performance; I'm certain I sideboarded poorly all day, but even that was almost good enough.

Guess I'll keep plugging away.

Jon Corpora
Pronounced Ca-pora
@feb31st