Magic Guest Month: Ben Pearce

I first learned how to play Magic: the Gathering several years ago, after trying out the Duels of the Planeswalkers video games on my old Xbox 360, and ever since then it’s been a passing interest of mine – occasionally I’d buy cards and riffle through them, and I’d read about the ins and outs of the game online, and once my old biology teacher who happened to be super into it showed me his competitive Standard decks.Unfortunately, no-one I knew played the game in my area – I lived in a little village in the British countryside and went to school at a quaint seaside tourist town that didn’t have an LGS (Local Game Store) to speak of. I was resigned to periodic forays into the various digital offerings and the occasional cracked pack for the foreseeable future, it seemed.

And then I moved to the big city, and suddenly the magical world was my oyster. It’s a bit like when Harry Potter goes to Hogwarts, except it’s grown men playing with Wizard Paper.

It didn’t take long to get bitten with the bug, and I would become a regular competitor at local Friday Night Magic and Standard Showdown events. My initial mistakes and losing streaks evolved into consistent strong results, and random budget decks consolidated into competitive meta decks. What started as a passive interest quickly became an obsession.

Up until a few weeks ago, however, I’d never actually played in a competitive Magic event. Hell, until a couple of months ago, I’d never have even considered it. It seemed a little too intense for me, and I was fairly certain that I would just be disappointed.

Then I learned two things:

  1. There was a Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier (PPTQ) to be held at my LGS, and
  2. That Wizards of the Coast, the company that makes the game, was going to be phasing out PPTQs for the foreseeable future at the end of the season.

So I figured, what the heck. Might as well give it a go. How hard can it be?

This isn’t an article about the ins and outs of M:tG’s competitive circuit. This is just a retelling of how my first PPTQ went down, which will be hopefully be interesting for people with a passing affiliation with the game, and perhaps even encouraging for newer players who haven’t yet gone any deeper than Friday Night Magic or Standard Showdown events.

So, without further ado, let’s get stuck in.

Prologue: Professional Wizard Paperwork

I turned up to the shop on the day of the event at midday, about half an hour before the event starts, and the first thing that struck me was the number of people there that I didn’t recognise.

Which makes sense, really; I only tended to play in a handful of Magic events at the shop on a weekend, and so I’m only really familiar with the local regulars.

The PPTQ, however, is a preamble to the professional circuit. Lots of Magic players from out of town were here, eager for a shot at the big leagues.

Oh, I guess I should explain: the first place winner of the PPTQ wins an invite to a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier – and the winner of that gets an invite to the Pro Tour itself, which is the battlefield of many of the best players in the world. The rest of the top 8 players in the PPTQ would win anywhere between $50 to $90 dollars worth of booster packs for their trouble.

Honestly, though, I didn’t really turn up expecting to win. I was there for the opportunity to crack some packs and play several hours of Magic: the Gathering – while PPTQs are technically competitive, they’re low enough on the professional ladder that they’re still very relaxed.

Now, one of Magic’s main selling points is the fact that there are, approximately, eleventy-billion different ways to play it. My personal favourite format, or ‘genre’ of Magic, is Standard, where you’re only allowed to builds decks usings cards from expansions released within the last one or two years.

But there are also are formats where you can builds decks using any card from within the last decade, or formats where you can use any card from across the entirety of Magic’s history.

And there are formats where you don’t need a deck at all. Instead, part of the challenge is to take semi-randomised pools of cards and build a deck out of them on the spot. These formats are generally holistically referred to as being “Limited” formats, and they’re a little bit like, say, Iron Chef – you won’t know what you’ll be playing with until you turn up on the day.

This PPTQ was a Sealed PPTQ; Sealed means that we would be given six booster packs of cards and we’d have to build our decks using only the cards in those six packs.

Generally I was feeling pretty confident going in. I’d played a good amount of the new set (which is called Guilds of Ravnica; this will be important later) and had been putting up some strong results in Standard.

The head judge for the event assigned everyone seats and gave us each six packs of Guilds of Ravnica.

So, before we could all start building our decks of wizard paper and jamming them at each other, we had to do some professional wizard paperwork – each of us opened our packs, showed the cards to the players opposite to show that there wasn’t any funny business, and then we were handed a piece of paper with every single card in the set and a series of checkboxes. We swapped our cards with the player opposite, and we registered what cards the other person opened.

Then, finally, we sat down and built our decks.

Round 1: All Luck, No Skill

Magic: the Gathering expansions are typically themed around a fantasy world within the fiction of the game. Guilds of Ravnica – the most recent expansion as of the time of writing – is set on Ravnica, a city that spans the surface of an entire world.

This is actually the third time in the history of the game that we’ve come to visit the Ravnica setting; the original Ravnica: City of Guilds expansion was immensely popular, and immediately became one of the most iconic planes in the setting..

The eponymous guilds of the setting are represented in the game via pairings of colours: blue-red is the domain of the Izzet League, for example, while white-red is the Boros Legion. While there are ten guilds in total, one for each pairing amongst the five colours in Magic, the five involved in Guilds of Ravnica specifically are:

  • House Dimir (Blue and Black), a vast and secretive network of spies and assassins.
  • The Izzet League (Blue and Red), a chaotic crew of mad scientists and their weird experiments.
  • The Boros Legion (White and Red), a righteous army that are led into battle by angels.
  • The Selesnya Conclave (White and Green), a nature-loving collective of druids, elves, centaurs, and dryads.
  • And, last but not least, the Golgari Swarm (Black and Green), who are an enormous horde of necromancers, zombies, trolls, and insectoid warriors that prowl Ravnica’s sewers.

Well. I say ‘not least’ – in Guilds of Ravnica, the Golgari hold the dubious distinction of being Probably The Worst Guild To Play (in Limited, at least – they’re a force to be reckoned with in Standard). This is mostly due to their main mechanic: they’re based on something called “undergrowth”, which essentially means “cards that become more potent if you have a lot of creatures in your graveyard”. The problem here is that, well, the Golgari really don’t have enough cards to actually fuel this mechanic. You know. Their main one. Their general card quality is also lower on average, which doesn’t really help.

However.

This is only if you’re playing with their average cards. Things change if you manage to get ahold of some of their rare or mythic rare cards. However, as you might expect, this isn’t gonna happen very often.

Anyway, I digress. While I didn’t open any good Golgari cards, I did open a mythic rare – two of them, in fact:

Okay, so there’s a lot of text on these cards but, essentially:

  • Aurelia is a very rare and extremely powerful Boros creature that has tons of stats and lots of strong abilities that impact the game from the moment you cast her.
  • Similarly, Trostani powers up your entire board and creates two creatures that also get powered up by their ability, putting you incredibly far ahead without them ever needing to do anything more than just exist on the battlefield.

So, with these two in my card pool, I knew I was probably playing some version of Boros or Selesnya from the get-go. We had a limited amount of time to build and register our decks, so a strong signal like this was super helpful.

It didn’t take long to divine which colours I was going to be mainlining; my pool of red cards was underwhelming, while, over in Selesnya, I had two of these bad boys/girls/whatevers:

Conclave Cavalier is part of a cycle of uncommon creatures in Guilds of Ravnica – each guild was given a 4-mana creature that demanded precisely two mana of each colour that made up that guild, and as a result of their restrictive mana costs, Wizards of the Coast pumped them to the brim with value. Conclave Cavalier is a powerful body with a relevant combat keyword, which makes it an absolute brick shithouse against creature decks as well as hitting hard enough to pile on the pressure – and on top of that, if your opponent tries to destroy it, you get two 2/2 creatures that also have Vigilance for their trouble. In Limited, the card is one of the strongest creatures around.

There were still some difficult decisions to make, however – I had some pretty strong black cards and decent blue cards, as well as Conclave Cavalier’s Dimir counterpart:

While Conclave Cavalier is one of the strongest creatures in the set, Nightveil Predator probably actually is the strongest creature in the set – it’s certainly on a similar power level to Aurelia or Trostani, from personal experience. It’s the combination of a solid 3/3 body with Flying, making it difficult to block, and Deathtouch, making it even more difficult to block, and then Hexproof, which means your opponent’s spells and abilities will never be able to interact with it, that makes it so powerful. This card, once it hits the board, is nearly impossible to get rid of.

The Dimir deck was sort of tempting – but while I had several individually decent removal spells, there was hardly any synergy or pay-off (Dimir’s main mechanic in the set is Surveil, which is an effect that lets you look at the top of your deck and choose to put them into the graveyard if you don’t want them, and there are several strong cards that trigger and become more potent whenever you Surveil while they’re in play) and I didn’t want to be reliant on drawing Nightveil Predator to win games.

The other decision I had to make, after settling on Selesnya, was whether or not to “splash” red into my green-white deck in order to play Aurelia. “Splashing” essentially means forcing a tiny, well, splash of another colour in your deck in order to play a powerful card outside of your main colours.

This was actually a very significant decision: Aurelia was absolutely worth forcing into my deck due to her sheer power, but I discovered to my chagrin that the cards in my pool were terrible for allowing me to splash without ruining my consistency. A large part of the strategy in building a Magic deck is having the right balance of lands so that you can reliably cast all your spells each game. One way to achieve this when playing multiple colours is using “dual” lands that can tap for more than one colour of mana.

None of the dual lands that I had opened were in Boros, and I think I only had one for Selesnya. If I wanted to play Aurelia, I’d have to take the hit and just play two or three basic Mountains for her. After a bit of deliberation I decided to also play a cheap enchantment that would allow one of my lands to tap for any colour, just to make the splash a little more doable.

And, with that, I was all registered and ready to play my first round!

So, first round, I was playing at table… 0?

And my opponent’s name was… BYE?

Oh. I got a bye in my first round.

Essentially, a bye just means I don’t have an opponent and get given a free 2-0 win. I was a tiny bit disappointed because, aww, I don’t get to play, but also holy shit I’m 1-0.

With lack of anything better to do, I went and grabbed some lunch and then hung around with the dudes behind the counter, who I had gotten to know pretty well over the past year or so of regular attendance at the shop. They checked out my deck while I ate my sandwich and chatted with them.

Counter Guy 1: “Trostani? Two Cavaliers? Dude, your deck actually looks really good.”

Me: “You think so?”

Counter Guy 2: “Yeah, it’s – hey, wait, why are these Mountains in here?”

Me: “Keep looking.”

Counter Guy 2: “That can’t be good for your– Oh.”

Counter Guy 1: “Damn.”

Me: “Yeah, I figured splashing Aurelia was worth it.”

Counter Guy 2: “Yeah, fair enough. Can I see your sideboard?”

Me: “Yeah, sure.”

Counter Guy 1: “Shame you were so unlucky with your dual lands.”

Counter Guy 2: “To be honest, I think it’s worth playing Gateway Plaza instead of a Mountain in your deck.”

Me: “Yeah, I– Wait what?”

I actually just straight up hadn’t considered this card properly when I was building my deck. Essentially, it’s a land that can tap for any colour of mana, but has two significant drawbacks that set you back two mana on the turn you play it. The way the guy explained it to me, it was worth playing it even with the drawbacks just because landing Aurelia on turn four would be so powerful.

The thing about Sealed is that, even without being on a time limit for deckbuilding, it’s nearly impossible to find and build the best possible deck that your pool will allow. There are several times throughout the day where I questioned card choices and potential misplays and suchlike.

I’m actually going to slide in a confession here: it’s been a little while between playing in this event and the writing of this article, so the details of the actual matches themselves will probably be a little sparse. I figure most people won’t care about the minutiae of the more straightforward matchups, though.

Something else I learned during my little chit-chat with the dudes tracking the scores: getting the first round bye is fantastic for your overall record, because ties are broken by comparing each player’s opponent’s win percentages. So, basically, my first round bye meant that for all intents and purposes I had just 2-0’d an opponent who had a 100% winrate. Through sheer luck, I had acquired a good leg-up on the competition.

There was still plenty of room to fuck it up, though. Don’t you worry about that.

Round 2: Bringing the Beef

My first proper round was against an older guy who was a regular at my LGS, and who I’d played against in a few events before this – he’s a big fan of Sealed, and a very experienced player, so it was no surprise that I ran into him here.

Wasn’t quite expecting to face him in my first actual match. I tried not to think too hard about that one time this dude absolutely destroyed me at a Pauper event last year.

Anyway. My opponent opens up with several cheap white creatures, specifically several of these:

Essentially, they’re a cheap creature that, for some investment of mana each turn, can fly right over most blockers. They’re a good, decently reliable way to chip in for damage each turn.

From his opening moves, I had the suspicion this guy was on an aggressive Boros deck. And then he played Tajic, Blade of the Legion:

And suddenly I didn’t have to guess.

The idea behind the usual Boros strategy is to play cheap, evasive creatures and try to kill the opponent as fast as possible. The Mentor mechanic, wherein your stronger creatures can pump up your smaller ones, means that they can get in for damage while also developing their board from turn to turn.

However, the main downside of Mentor is that you need to be able to attack profitably without having to also throw away said creatures at the same time for it to work out for them. This is where my deck’s strengths came in:

BIG. BEEFY. BOYS.

The Convoke mechanic for Selesnya allows you to use your creatures to tap for mana so that you can play your more expensive creatures earlier than usual, and most of the creatures in my deck have very large bodies that make them perfect for stonewalling their attackers. Through a Convoked Centaur and a Conclave Cavalier or two, I manage to stall them out and then hammer them down with Vigilance attackers and win the first game.

In the second game, I elect to sideboard out some of my cheap, aggressive creatures and replace them with spells to block or kill my opponent’s fliers. Unfortunately, I also got run down by an aggressive start before I could set up a strong board of my own.

The third game took a little while: I didn’t stick any of my heavy hitters for a while and he drew a lot of lands and not enough action.

(Fun Magic trivia: drawing too many lands is known as ‘flooding’ while drawing too few is called ‘mana screw’)

I got knocked down to a relatively small amount of life before slamming down one or two big creatures, and then I quickly took my opponent out of the race.

Which means I won my second (well, first) round! And without playing either of my two mythics, either, which felt a bit encouraging; I was worried that without them I would have trouble closing out games.

After the games, we shake hands and chat for a bit and he showed me his card pool – apparently what he’d actually opened wasn’t very good, but Tajic together with good, cheap Boros creatures had still managed to put up a good fight from what I’d seen.

Before I knew it, the third round was about to begin.

Round 3: Oh, Fuck

My Round 3 opponent was someone I hadn’t seen around the shop before – I assumed they were from out of town I don’t know if I asked, however; the events of this game have massively distorted my memory of what happened around it.

Game one – my opponent passed his first couple of turns and then deployed a 3 mana creature that I have learned to loathe and fear:

Piston-Fist Cyclops is a perfect demonstration of what Izzet wants to be doing: throwing out instants and sorceries and using them to enable Rube Goldberg Machine type strategies. Sometimes this is creatures that become more powerful whenever you cast an instant or sorcery, and other times it’s with creatures that do a bit of damage to the opponent whenever you cast an instant or sorcery and will just slowly and inevitably burn them to death.

Piston-Fist Cyclops doesn’t care about that stuff too much, though. Piston-Fist Cyclops is already built like a brick shit-house, and only needs a minimal amount of investment before he starts wrecking faces.

Luckily for me, this brick shit-house aside, my opponent had a pretty weak draw. While he managed to crack in with his Cyclops and other creatures a few times, I slammed down several of my own powerful creatures and knocked his life total down to 0 pretty quickly. (Conclave Cavalier is so good)

My opponent eyed the board for a while at the end of the first game, thinking about something. Then he nodded, and went to sideboarding.

Then, the trouble begins.

Now, dear readers, there’s a concept in Magic: the Gathering (well, in most trading card games like this, really) known as “card advantage”. Essentially: the most valuable resource, as well as one of the main signifiers of who’s going to win a game, is the number of cards you have over your opponent.

The most common misconception among newer players is always the idea that the life totals show who’s “winning”. In truth, the only important life point total is 1 – as long as you’re not dead, the amount of life you have is almost entirely irrelevant.

Anyway. Card advantage is king; sometimes, you get this by casting spells that have the words “draw X card(s)” written on them. Other times, you get this by forcing your opponent to use up multiple cards to remove one of your creatures. This goes to show just how absurd Conclave Cavalier is – it’s not uncommon for the 4/4 body to eat up multiple enemy creatures, and then for the two 2/2s it leaves behind to trade with one or two other creatures, which is just an insaneamount of value for one card.

Where am I going with this, you ask?

Okay. So it’s game 2 of my third round, my opponent and I are in a bit of a stalemate in the midgame, with both of us having a good amount of creatures on our sides of the board. I have a Plains and three Forests out in front of me. Last turn, I drew and cast an enchantment on one of my Forests that allowed it to tap for any colour of mana.

In my hand I have: a spell that destroys any creature with flying, a spell that costs one white mana that gives a creature +2/+2 until end of turn, and Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice. For the first time that day, I cast Aurelia.

Aurelia, as I’ve said before, is an impossibly efficient flying threat that impacts the board from the turn it arrives and will immediately let you Mentor up your other, smaller creatures and get in for lots of damage, and its high toughness makes it really difficult to deal with through combat or through damage-based removal.

So, I need you to understand the depth of the pain I experienced when my opponent casts Connive on my Aurelia.

Four mana. Sorcery. Gain control of target creature with power 2 or less.

The world goes dark around me.

“Oh my god.”

My opponent moves Aurelia to his side of the board and goes to combat, triggering Aurelia’s ability and giving his Cyclops two extra power and trample, and attacks through my significantly shittier creatures, and I can’t do anything about it because I’m pretty sure we’re actually playing Yu-Gi-Oh and my opponent just sent me to the fucking Shadow Realm.

On my turn, I untap and destroy my own Aurelia so that I don’t immediately die, and then lose the game anyway a few turns later.

I hardly remember Game 3 to be honest. All I remember is that at some point he had two Piston-Fist Cyclops on the board and used Maximise Altitude to fly them over my board and hit me for approximately ten billion damage:

And then I lost. I was now 2-1 in the tournament.

(Something else that bothered me was like… did I have a second Plains that I could have played instead of one of my Forests? Because then I would have had a white mana open to cast my spell to increase Aurelia’s power to 4 which would have made Aurelia an invalid target for the spell…)

(Seriously, that fucking blow-out is burned into my memory. It haunts my nightmares. My friends at the shop looked at me like I was a broken man.)

But, hey, there were still two more rounds to go and I was still confident in my deck. I shook hands with my opponent and soon the fourth round began.

Round 4: Variance

So far, we’ve discussed green-white Selesnya, the white-red Boros, and the blue-red Izzet. Now, for the fourth round, our opponent was playing the blue-black guild – Dimir.

Dimir Informant is probably the best example of how Dimir decks want to play out – stalling the game with blockers, removal, and countermagic, all the while using their Surveil mechanic to gain incremental value and improve the quality of their draws. They usually also have large flying bodies at the top end of their curve to finish off the game.

In game 1, I play out my usual game plan of early aggressive creatures that allow me to Convoke out some big threats several turns early, and while their countermagic was especially punishing for me – tapping out your entire board for a 7 mana trampling Siege Wurm and having it be immediately counterspelled is one of the worst feelings in Magic – I get them down pretty low, pretty quickly.

Towards the end of the game, when I go to attack, they tap out and cast a very terrifying card in the form of Dream Eater:

Dream Eater is a large flying threat that can flash in during your opponent’s turn to ambush their attacking creatures and dodge sorcery-speed removal spells, and the Surveil 4 allows you to significantly improve the top of your deck for future turns, and on top of all that it could bounce my expensive Convoke creatures back to my hand. It’s a very powerful mythic threat that almost brought him back into the game, but I barely manage to close it out.

I go into game 2 with a healthy fear of what Dream Eater could do to the game, and sideboarded in any cards that seemed like they might be able to combat it. I look at my first seven, and see a really painfully bad hand that wouldn’t be able to do much of anything.

Now, in Magic, a significant part of the game is the ability to mulligan away your opening hand if you don’t like it, but each time you mulligan you draw one less card – so, if you mulligan your first 7 card hand, you draw 6, then if you mulligan that, you draw 5, and so on.

I decide to mulligan my 7 cards and draw 6. There aren’t any lands in my 6 card hand, which is annoying, because while going down to 6 cards is perfectly fine, going down to just 5 cards is relatively uncommon and a significant detriment to your win rate. But the fact is that a hand with no lands would literally just mean I can’t play the game, so I’m obligated to mulligan.

And then my 5 card hand doesn’t have any lands either. I end up starting the game with only 4 cards in my hand.

In the last year or two of playing Magic semi-competitively, I couldn’t actually remember ever mulliganing to 4 before. Suffice to say, though, mulliganing to 4 is pretty much a death sentence.

I will say, though, I did manage to put up a decent fight even with my 4 card hand. But the fact is that I just didn’t have enough cards to compete once the game got past the first few turns, and slowly I got grinded out and lost.

My opponent was pretty sympathetic to it – there’s not much you can do when variance decides to fuck you over like that. We went to game three, and this time I got a reasonable hand.

The third game went on for quite a while – I think I flooded out in the mid-to-late game, but my opponent wasn’t drawing many good cards either, and so we eventually landed in a bit of a topdeck war where we were just drawing the top card of our deck and playing it, whether it was just a land or, god forbid, a relevant spell.

I was being slowly chiselled down by one or two weak creatures on my opponent’s side, and ended up taking a surprising amount of damage from them before I managed to stick a relevant creature.

His creatures, by the way, were two copies of Passwall Adept:

Eventually, I managed to play out a Siege Wurm and one or two other threatening creatures, and knocked my opponent down to a low life total. I was pretty sure I was going to win the game the next turn.

However…

“Tap all my mana, make my creatures unblockable with Passwall Adept, swing for lethal?”

Oh. Right. I was only on about seven life or so at that point.

Shit.

On reflection, I don’t think I was actually aware of how dead I was until he killed me, but in my defense there really wasn’t anything I could have done – my deck was thin on removal and heavy on threats, but I hadn’t actually drawn my threats in time for them to be able to race them down. My opponent’s deck was designed to take advantage of the grind of the late-game more than mine was, and played to delay me from setting up my board as much as possible in order to get to that point. Outside of the mulligan-to-four that lost me the second game from the start, they had been good and interesting games.

So, that meant I was now 2-2. I ran into my opponent from the second round and we talked about our scores, and, as if on queue, the current rankings for the PPTQ so far were put up for the players to see.

By way of explanation: after the first five rounds of Sealed play between all the competitors, prize packs are distributed to all the players based on their number of wins, with the exception of the top eight ranked players – those eight go on to do a Draft (a slightly different Limited format where, instead of cracking packs and building a deck out of those cards, cards are “drafted” one at a time from packs as they are passed around a table of eight players) and then play out the quarterfinals, semifinals, and final finals for the whole tournament.

My ranking after the fourth round? 9th.

Essentially, because of my bye in the first round and the fact that the two people I had lost to had both ended up in the top 8 of the entire PPTQ, my tiebreakers were very, very good, so I had come out on top of the middle of the pack – which meant I was 9th, which was both incredibly close to and extremely far away from being in the top 8.

Still. There was a fifth round to go, and even though I’d been playing for several hours straight already, the day had already been a lot of fun so far. Time for the final round.

Round 5: A Game of Throws

My last round opponent was a local player, who I’d played a few times in various Standard and Draft events, and who usually plays a lot of Modern. I’m pretty sure I had never actually beaten this guy in a game before – he is a significantly stronger player than me, and someone who’s played in several Grand Prixs and has quite convincingly destroyed me in every game I’ve played against him in the past.

And of course, he opened up with a fucking Piston-Fist Cyclops.

Goddammit.

There was also another card that I was very scared of in this match-up, and its name is Crackling Drake:

Crackling Drake is the Izzet member of the 4 mana uncommon creature cycle that I wrote about earlier, and it’s as much a powerhouse in Limited as it is in Standard. The four toughness for four mana on a flying threat means it’s difficult to kill in combat, but it’s the fact that it draws a card immediately after coming into play that makes it truly a powerhouse. Remember what I said earlier about card advantage? Yeah, well, the scary thing about Crackling Drake is that even if the first thing you do is destroy it, they’ve already drawn a card to replace it. And if you don’t kill it, they just cast a bunch of spells and have this thing hit you in the air for a ton of damage.

It’s okay, though, because I landed a Conclave Cavalier into another Conclave Cavalier and managed to push enough damage through their damage-based red removal that they weren’t able to combo off and kill me with their Izzet Goldberg Machine combos.

Even though I managed to put myself in a good enough position that I didn’t think he was going to set up a combo and kill me, I was still way too scared about what his creatures could do if I left them on the board for too long. I swung in with all of my creatures, thinking about how he was going to try and block, and then I used a spell in my hand to give +3/+3 to one of my blocked creatures in order to kill his blocker.

“You’re casting it on that creature?” my opponent asked, mildly.

“Yep. Any effects?”

“Nope.” He picked up his creatures that were killed in the exchange. “Using your spell to kill my creature instead of killing me? Cool.”

Wait. “What? Oh.”

He was on a single-digit life total and if I’d just cast the spell on a different creature, I’d have gotten through with enough damage to kill him.

“Oh, goddammit.”

He smiled. “Hey, it’s cool man, mistakes happen.”

No take-backs at Competitive REL. I sucked it up, prayed to God I didn’t die due to my missed lethal on the following turn, and a few turns later I managed to kill him. The missed lethal stung me, though – it wasn’t the first time I’d fallen into the trap of thinking too hard about the creatures on the board instead of thinking about how to close out the game before.

Speaking of missed lethals. It was game 2, and he had me dead as a doornail.

At least, I thought he did. Did he?

“Am I dead?” I asked him. A few turns ago, my opponent had set up a bunch of walls (essentially, creatures with low or zero attack power and incredibly high toughness that can just sit and roadblock my creatures) that I had been unable to get through until I’d drawn Trostani Discordant, which had pumped up my creatures and allowed me to finally start pressuring his life total.

“Maybe,” he said, idly, staring at the board and flicking through his cards. While I may have had a scary board, he had a lot of mana and creatures of his own. If he was able to disable my board with a couple of spells, he’d probably be able to sneak through enough damage over this and the following turn to kill me.

“Alright then.” I sat and twiddle my thumbs a little bit and tried not to sweat too much. “Let me know how I die.”

He did some more quiet maths. And then he casts Invent:

Editor’s note: Patreon won’t let me rotate this. I apologize to your neck.

By the way, since I should probably explain these weird cards at some point for those who don’t know what they’re looking at: these cards are functionally two spells for the price of one. You state which of the two spells on the card you want to use when you put it into play. Invent, in this instance, is the more expensive half of the card that basically lets my opponent search through his deck for any instant and any sorcery card and put them both into his hand.

So in other words, if what you’re scared of is being combo killed out of nowhere:

“Oh, God.” I put my hands over my face. I didn’t want to watch.

I waited for another few minutes while my opponent does more wizard maths. And then I heard: “Wait, you’re at 12 life? Shit.”

I looked up – my opponent was the one with his head in his hands now.

A passer-by – an acquaintance of my opponent – who had finished his game wandered over to see what was going on, and my opponent showed him the board state and the cards in his hand. And then the passer-by also apparently reached the same conclusion and shook his head and laughed.

“You don’t know,” my opponent said to me, clearly exasperated, “just how dead you were until just then.”

So, somehow, my opponent messed up his maths and picked the wrong cards with his Invent spell – and, since it’s Competitive REL, there aren’t any take-backs for him to undo his mistake – and so, somehow, I was still alive. I tried my best to kill him with my attack next turn, but he managed to survive again, and now I was  absolutely certain he’d be able to make up for his mistake and get me.

My opponent just looked more and more exasperated, though. He did some more maths, pointed at the Trostani on my board and said, “This card is insane, by the way.”

And then, eventually, he conceded. I breathed out a sigh of relief and we shook hands. He talked me through what should have happened – essentially he’d thought I was at a much lower life total than I actually was and that he could get in with just enough damage to kill me that turn, when actually what he should have done was take a spell to tap down my creatures and then kill me on the following turn.

Then I remembered something. “Is this the last round in the tournament?”

My opponent looked up from packing away his cards. “Yep. Think so. Why?”

“Well, I was 9th before this, and I just won, so does that mean that I’m…?”

He shakes his head. “Nah, everyone in the top eight ID’d.”

IDing means to Intentionally Draw – essentially, instead of risking their top 8 spot, the two players in a match can decide to just draw the match instead of playing out their games. Each member of the top eight players, then, decided with their opponent to intentionally draw, which means…

“So I go from 9th all the way up toooo… 9th.”

“Yeah, basically.”

Oh.

Epilogue: The Real Magic Was The Prizes We Opened Along The Way

In the end, while I didn’t manage to get a top 8 finish, I still:

1) Opened several really cool cards from my packs

2) Hung out with a bunch of cool nerds and

3) Played many hours of Magic: the Gathering, the best game ever made.

Honestly, I’m really sad that Wizards of the Coast have stopped doing PPTQs for the forseeable future. This was the first and only one I’d managed to attend, and I’d really love to give it another shot (maybe, perchance, in Standard instead of Sealed?). But I’m sure they’ll fill the void left behind with some new kind of event next season, and hopefully I’ll be able to enter more events like this in future.

The main thing I was surprised by was just how… relaxed the whole environment was? I was anxious that all of the more competitive players coming from outside the local area would compromise the usual atmosphere at my LGS, but it was just as fun and chill as it usually was.

Mostly, I’m eager to try and attend a Grand Prix in future – there are couple in the UK and several of them throughout Europe that should be relatively straightforward to attend, and from what I’ve seen they’re a bit of a mix of the relaxed atmosphere of a PPTQ as well as being a lot like a Magic: the Gathering fan convention.

If, or when, I do, I’d love to write about the experience like I have done here. I hope you enjoyed reading, and hopefully I’ll be back to write about Magic again in future.

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