Back on the PPTQ Grind: Week Two

Another week, another PPTQ, another time I didn’t get there. Which is good news for this article series, bad news for my desire to get back on the Pro Tour. Especially considering the announcement about the PT this season is feeding. Modern is back on the Pro Tour, and I’m elated. Not only will I get to play a superior format if I get there, but I’ll actually want to watch PT coverage again.

Having Standard every PT just left me cold. Ever since I first became aware of the Magic Pro Tour, the older formats made for better watching. In the old days, you cared about the Block Constructed PT to tell you what was good from the new block, but you really ate up the Extended PT coverage. That was were the cool decks lived and was the kind of Magic you aspired to play. Everyone could play Block or Standard, but Extended was where the masters shined. In my opinion, that inspiration and allure has been missing since the PT became Standard-only. I’m all for Modern’s return!

The Decks

As I said last week, I intended to play a new deck for this PPTQ. But exactly which deck, I didn’t know. After some tinkering, I ended up on Esper Control. The archetype dropped out of sight sometime after Trevor covered it extensively. I was never sure why; dedicated card advantage is excellent against attrition decks like Grixis Shadow. I assume that it was too slow for the meta, as the version I played last week is absolutely glacial. That wasn’t a problem for me because it fulfilled my main concern of beating Chord of Calling decks: deplete their resources enough, and it doesn’t matter how you win. I maxed out on removal for small creatures, relegated discard to the sideboard, and added planeswalkers to close out games. It worked; I demolished every green creature deck I faced during testing. The deck is an enormous dog to Tron, but as I saw last week, Tron players don’t show up to PPTQs, so I considered it an acceptable risk.

Esper Control, by David Ernenwein (PPTQ Deck)

Creatures (6)
Snapcaster Mage
Tasigur, the Golden Fang

Instants (17)
Fatal Push
Path to Exile
Negate
Blessed Alliance
Esper Charm
Cryptic Command

Planeswalkers (4)
Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
Gideon Jura
Gideon of the Trials

Sorceries (10)
Serum Visions
Collective Brutality
Supreme Verdict

Lands (23)
Flooded Strand
Polluted Delta
Marsh Flats
Creeping Tar Pit
Hallowed Fountain
Island
Watery Grave
Godless Shrine
Plains
Swamp
Darkslick Shores
Seachrome Coast
Celestial Colonnade
Sideboard (15)
Thoughtseize
Ceremonious Rejection
Dispel
Lost Legacy
Surgical Extraction
Blessed Alliance
Disenchant
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If the sideboard looks unrefined, that’s because it is. I spent most of my available time this week working on the maindeck and using the sideboard to fill holes that came up. Not that it mattered, as I audibled off Esper. You probably knew that since this section title is plural, but for reasons that are in the next section, I couldn’t justify playing any control deck. While I think that call was correct, the matchups that I actually hit would have favored this deck.

I again played Death and Taxes, to which made some adjustments since last week. I cut angels for Selfless Spirit maindeck and cut Gideon for Burrenton Forge-Tender. Spirit is not a great two drop, but it has utility and evasion, making it ideal for both curve purposes and the hole I identified last time. Forge-Tender is also good against sweepers with special utility against Burn, and frankly I couldn’t think of anything else I wanted in that slot. After scouting the field at the venue, I also took out the Devout Lightcaster for a Disenchant.

Death and Taxes, by David Ernenwein (PPTQ Deck)

Creatures (29)
Thraben Inspector
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Leonin Arbiter
Selfless Spirit
Phyrexian Revoker
Serra Avenger
Flickerwisp
Blade Splicer
Mirran Crusader
Restoration Angel

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial

Instants (4)
Path to Exile

Lands (23)
10 Plains
Ghost Quarter
Tectonic Edge
Horizion Canopy
Kabira Crossroads
Cavern of Souls
Sideboard (15)
Burrenton Forge-Tender
Wrath of God
Rest in Peace
Stony Silence
Phyrexian Revoker
Sunlance
Disenchant
Grafdigger’s Cage
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The deck felt and played much better than last time, and it’s going to take a huge metagame shift for me to change it again. The sideboard is another story, and I will certainly adjust it before I play again. Revoker has been better than I expected, and I keep hitting matchups where Wrath is good; better than Dusk // Dawn. More tuning is required.

The Tournament

I was surprised to find out upon arriving at the site that this would be another huge PPTQ. Once again, there were 46 players for 6 rounds of Swiss. The north doesn’t get many PPTQs compared to Denver, so I guess this shouldn’t have surprised me. What was surprising were the decks I saw in the games room. I don’t know what I was expecting to see, but five Prison decks and five Affinity decks laid out for registration definitely wasn’t it. As I was moving to an empty seat, I saw two more Affinity deck sheets laying around. This forced me to completely reconsider my deck choice.

I had with me the Esper Control deck, UW Merfolk, and DnT, as well as the ability to switch Esper into pure UW if the need arose. As I sat down, I knew Esper was out of the question. Three of the Prison decks were Sun and Moon variants, with Lantern and the UR As Foretold deck I mentioned a few months ago.

That made four dedicated Blood Moon decks. Affinity also plays Blood Moon in the sideboard. Esper control can’t beat Blood Moon. You’d think that a deck with maindeck enchantment removal could fight Moon, and as long as it happens after turn three, you’d be right. However, all of these decks accelerate out the Moon early (because Simian Spirit Guide is good for Magic), and getting my lands turned to mud before I can fetch my basics kills the deck dead. I’ll never play a deck that loses to a card that ~25% of the field has, so I had to change. There was also a number of Bant Eldrazi decks, which also aren’t great for Esper. Not bad, exactly, but not something I wanted to face.

Merfolk was also out because of all the Affinity, so my choice was between rebuilding Esper into UW, which I had *just* enough time for, or playing DnT again. I looked around the room again and saw two GR Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks, so that ruled out UW. Not saying it can’t be done, but I’ve never beaten GR Valakut with UW Control. I do that regularly with DnT. With good matchups against Prison, Affinity, and Valakut decks, I was feeling confidant. I saw only one Shadow deck and no other black decks during that room scan, so I cut Lightcaster for an answer to Ensnaring Bridge.

All that scouting went to waste, as I was not paired against any of those decks. Instead, I hit UW Delver, Bant Humans, Boros Burn, Counters Company, and Living End, finally dropping at 2-3.

What Happened?

Partially Wrath of Pairings, partially variance, and partially one huge misplay game three against Living End. For some reason, I hit the room’s outliers instead of the decks with actual representation. You should always own your losses and learn from them, but hitting two rogue decks in a row is really anomalous. That makes for a difficult analysis—did I misevaluate something, or just get unlucky in pairings?

Round 1 against Delver I get crushed with Delver into Delver, both of which flipped immediately, and he countered my first Flickerwisp so I couldn’t stabilize. The next two games I just slaughter him with Thalias and Blade Splicer.

Bant Humans is very nearly unwinnable and I never stood a chance. It’s not only a faster clock, it goes wide and big. I didn’t really have a chance and my poor draws didn’t help.

My Round 3 Burn opponent only had two lands game one and one game two, and I got to Strip Mine him in both. Once that happens, they aren’t really games, are they? Kabira Crossroads continued to be great here.

Against counters, I lock him off four mana with Arbiter and Revoker on Devoted Druid and just amp up the pressure until he dies in Game 1. The next two games involve me flooding out while he goes nuts with Renegade Rallier. I lament failing to draw Grafdigger’s Cage and he agrees that he would have just lost to that card.

The last round against Living End was very hard. Game 1, I effectively hard-lock him with Thalia and land destruction. Keeping Living End from five mana with Thalia around shuts the deck out. Game 2, we both mulligan, and he has a phenominal curve which dances around and through Rest in Peace and my taxes. In Game 3, a critical misplay cost me the tournament. When playing a creature deck against Living End, you need to apply enough pressure to force them to go off, but hold enough threats in hand so that once they go off, you can flood the board again. The ultimate goal is to force another End, which will be more favorable to you.

I had a steady clock, but decided to Vial in a Flickerwisp to speed things up and get some value. Unfortunately, he had Violent Outburst to really get me. I fight on thanks to Mirran Crusader blocking Horror of the Broken Lands, but I’m forced to play around Archfiend of Ifnir, and by the time I get to Path, the damage is done. I have to use Restoration Angel to save Crusader; it gets shrunk and then killed by Deadshot Minotaur. He’s at 2 life but has Desert Cerodon to prevent my lethal attack. When I die, the Path I need is on top of my deck.

Had I not played out that Flickerwisp, I would probably have won that game. I made a bad call about my clock and was rightly punished. In fairness, had I not flooded on lands and Vials immediately afterwards, I may still have won. That’s no excuse, because if I’d cleared that Cerodon, I would have won anyway. Interestingly, Merfolk has a better matchup against Living End thanks to its counterspells. This match remade the case for including Warping Wail in the sideboard. My opponent showed how well End pilots can deal with RiP these days; having additional angles of attack would have been a good idea.

Lessons Learned

I have to be more careful about managing my clock. My final loss was entirely due to misevaluating the board state and undervaluing that Flickerwisp. I believe I’ve gotten complacent regarding that, since I played Merfolk for so long it became second-nature, but DnT is a different beast. When I play it in the future, I need to be more conscious of how my cards interact with the board and the clock. Muscle memory isn’t going to carry me anymore.

I’ve also noticed that I’m getting very good at reading the room, making the right call on my decklists, and then not following through. Some of this is definitely overconfidence, but I think I may be overvaluing this information. This happened at the RPTQ as well, so I think it must be me. I need to re-evaluate how I’m using scouted information and if I’m making the right calls.

On the Deck

I was generally very happy with my deck, but there was an interesting conversation about it after my Round 5 loss. I had both my Crossroads in play by then, and several observers commented that if they had been Horizon Canopys, I would have won. After checking my game notes, I believe this is wrong.

The first Crossroads was my first land of the game and I played at least three spells with it before I had a choice to not take damage. That’s five life gained, and represents no less than one draw step. I was at 22 when my opponent began attacking me, and he was very cautious about it, since he was at 4 and then 2 life. He only attacked with his mono-black creatures, and never the green or multicolored ones until I was very, very dead. Had I been lower, he may have been more aggressive, and I would have died before I actually did considering my poor draws. Thus, I argue that Crossroads did draw me cards in a sense, and I ended in the same or worse position as if I’d had the Canopies.

Moving Forward

This week’s PPTQ is south from the last one, but still in northern Colorado. I won’t be taking Esper along; Blood Moon appears to be popular up there (I saw a number of Zoo decks with Magus of the Moon, too). UW is not the best-positioned against Prison decks, but it demolishes the other decks that were present last weekend. I’m planning to build and test that deck primarily this week, but again, we’ll see where things stand once I get to the tournament.

…And On…

That’s it for this week. I hope some of you have succeeded where I failed. I’ll be back next week with the latest results. Keep grinding!

David began playing Magic during Odyssey block, quit playing Magic when Caw Blade ruled the world, and returned to Modern shortly before Deathrite was banned. He’s made an appearance at the Pro Tour, made money at GP Denver, and is constantly grinding and brewing in Modern.

5 thoughts on “Back on the PPTQ Grind: Week Two

  1. Dear Mr. Ernenwein,
    It is a shame that the deck choices did not work out. I think, however, that I have found (with some inspiration from Jordan Boisvert) the absolute best deck in modern now; Eldrazi stompy without serum powder. Over the past couple weeks, I’ve played about a hundred matches, and I am winning about 80% of the time with it. It has extremely positive match ups against Grixis and Jund shadow, Burn and Lantern, and any control deck, has a favorable matchup against Eldrazi and regular tron, is about even with living end, death and taxes, and the only bad match ups are counters company and free win red. I will communicate the exact list that I am on shortly (for I am typing this on an IPad) but, perhaps this is the deck to get you on to the pro tour!

  2. I find your note on rest in peace very interesting. I have been piloting living end for nearly four years, and I always have found that the only way around RIP is to beast within it and then cycle some dudes. Was this what happened in your game or is there another way to play around RIP?

    PD: Sorry if there are any mistakes, English isnt my first language. Also, commenting from my phone.

    1. Your English was fine, don’t worry.

      That is exactly what I mean, they’re used to not cycling early so that a turn 2 RiP doesn’t wreck them and then boarding in lots of answers to the RiP, which is what happened in the games I mentioned. It’s harder for them to do that and deal with counterspells, which is what I meant.

  3. I have always disliked losing the first or second match of a constructed event because it usually takes you off the metagame path and you end up dealing with fringe decks and brews. You strategy and game plan goes out the window and it becomes much harder to get back to expected opponents.

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