A Lesson in Preparation: The Game Room Standard PPTQ Story

It was a chilly Sunday morning in Sacramento. I wanted to get a workout in before the PPTQ, but that meant getting up early…and getting my kids up early. I’m no longer sure which is the more difficult task. (Although, let’s be honest, my wife did 95% of the work getting the kids up and ready). After a couple cups of coffee (gotta hydrate pre-workout, right?) my wife and I got the kids loaded up and off to the gym.  We put in a good hour-long workout, I got the blood flowing, and was feeling good.  A quick stop at the gas station for a Gatorade and some cash for entry, and we were off!

Let’s take this moment to talk about your LGS.  The most important thing you can do is to go to them for your gaming supply needs.  You should buy from them even though you can find what you’re looking for cheaper online.  You need to support them with your dollars, because they support you with their time, effort, energy, and passion.  What other business owner would stay up and open from midnight until 5 or 6am every 3 months just to support a bunch of impatient nerds that can’t wait until 10am on a Saturday to buy cardboard.  But as with everything Magic, there’s a meta to buying from an LGS.  The next level in paying an LGS is to leave the plastic in your wallet and use the good ol’ greenback.  In the immortal words of the great Randy Moss, “Straight cash, homie”.  Your LGS has to pay a fee for every credit card transaction they process, so pay them with cash and let them keep the extra 2.5% in their pockets.

Back to the PPTQ.  I’m there 15 minutes early, I’m re-hydrated thanks to that gas station Gatorade, and I’m ready to battle it out with 44 of my closest…eh, well to be honest I don’t know or recognize 90% of these people.  Which is great because that means my LGS is getting business and exposure from a new crowd.  Through talking with my opponents, and listening in on the chatter throughout the day, there were several carpools that made the trip from the North Bay, the South Bay, the Central Valley, and as far north as Chico.  My little LGS brought people together from over 200 miles apart, just to play Standard.

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Round 1

Round 1 fired off and I was seated at table #18.  Across from me is one of the locals that I see at the LGS all the time for FNM drafts and pre-releases.  We chat a bit about recent tournaments and whether or not we will see each other at the upcoming “local” GP’s.  With a win of the die roll, I was on my way to battling a 6-round Standard PPTQ with a Ramunap Red deck I had built for my wife to play at GP Santa Clara on the team of myself, her and our 8-year old daughter (without the name-sake card, of course!).  

Quick side note, I haven’t played paper standard since a PPTQ in Singapore in late April/early May of 2015. Dragons of Tarkir had just been released and I ran my UW Heroic deck into a field of Dragonlords!  I also haven’t paid much attention to the meta since the GP, the bans, and Rivals came out.  But from my experiences piloting Pauper, Modern, and Legacy Burn decks, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good idea what Red wants to do. I figured I’d at least have a puncher’s chance.  

I was on the play and my opponent was on Grixis Control.  After navigating to a relatively easy game 1 victory, sideboarding ensued (decklist and sideboarding decisions are at the end of the article) and we got on our way to game 2.  

Game 2 was a good back-and-forth battle of threats, counters, and removal.  I had my opponent down to 3 life. Somehow he strung together an insane series of plays: end-of-turn Torrential Gearhulk flashing back an Unlicensed Disintegration to deal with my Kari Zev, Skyship Raider. Untap, cast Saheeli Rai to make another Gearhulk, flashback a Glimmer of Genius to find a Cut // Ribbons to get rid of my last creature. He attacked me down to 1 with the Gearhulk token and had the win with the Ribbons out of the yard the next turn.  All I need to do is top deck a Lightning Strike for the win.  Draw: Mountain.  Good Game, on to game 3.  

Game 3, my opening hand looked OK, but not great.  3 mana, two 2-drop creatures (no Bomat Courier), a burn spell, and a Hazoret the Fervent.  I ended up drawing a couple more lands and another Hazoret.  My opponent was able to deal with the cheap creatures early, so with a couple lands in hand and 2 Hazorets, I decide to spend my mana efficiently and jam a Hazoret on turn 4 even though I couldn’t attack.  End of turn he casts his personal tech Hour of Glory on Hazoret, getting both the one on board AND the one from my hand.  Ouch.  From there, my opponent never really missed a beat and had control of the game. A few turns later when I drew my own personal tech that I brought in for control, I tried to force a Vance’s Blasting Cannons through untapped mana. A quick Disallow from the opponent, and I knew I was dust.  I got him down to 11, but ran out of gas.

Tournament record: 0-1

Round 2

Round 2 pairings are up and I’m down to table #21.  I sit down across from one of the folks that I did not recognize. After the brief introductions and another win of the die roll for me, we start our match.  He’s on Sultai Energy.  

Game 1 I had a pretty good start early and got my opponent down to 8 life, while I was sitting pretty at 18.  I was able to get him down to 4 life, but then I ran out of gas and he landed an Aethersphere Harvester.  We both had pretty good board states built up but I can feel the game slipping away, so out of desperation (and probably a bit of inexperience in the matchup) I swung for the win hoping my opponent would make a mistake.  He doesn’t, crews his harvester, pays the energy to give it lifelink, casts a Blossoming Defense on it to make it a 5/7 and makes his blocks.  I ended up getting 5 damage through unblocked, but as it turns out lifelink is not a triggered/delayed life gain effect (and yes I did call a judge over to confirm, hoping to eek out the win on a corner case rules technicality).  After his Harvester and Bristling Hydra eat my 2 best creatures, my opponent starts gaining life every turn back up to 17 as he cruises on to a pretty easy victory off the back of his Harvester.  I never saw an Abrade that game…  

Game 2, I get off to a signature Red start and it’s over in 5 turns.  Nothing much more to say.  

We shuffle up and go to game 3, this time I’m on the draw.  I’m doing a middling job of landing small non-threats and getting little bits of incremental damage through, killing off a few of his creatures.  But after dealing with a Jadelight Ranger and a Deathgorge Scavenger, he was able to stick two Glint-Sleeve Siphoners and out-draw me.  I managed to deal with both of them eventually, but the sheer card advantage was just too much; another Deathgorge Scavenger came down and cleaned up the game.  

Tournament Record: 0-2

Round 3

Time for Round 3!!!  Some pizza shows up as we’re about to get seated and the amazing smell of melty cheese and spicy pepperoni made me realize I didn’t eat before the gym.  Hmm, maybe THAT’S why I’m 0-2 and making some mental mistakes.  Sure, let’s go with that.  Still sitting at table #21 AGAIN, so at this point I know I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel, but I figure I might have a shot at top-8 if I win-out.  My round 3 opponent was another out-of-towner up from the Central Valley.  We chatted a bit about his trip up when he also mentioned that he had made the trip to play in the Sealed PPTQ across town the day prior, which he managed to get 2nd place!  In the 0-2 bracket now, it seems his Standard deck choice was not working out as well as his sealed pool.  We shuffle up and begin play.

This time I lost the die roll and my opponent starts: Mountain, Bomat Courier attack for 1, go.  Yay, the mirror!  I decide turn 1, I should deal with it while I can.  Shock the Bomat!  It doesn’t have quite the same ring as Bolt the Bird, but such is the format we play… My opponent spends the next couple turns building up a board state and even lands a Path of Mettle (so he’s on Red/White, not quite the true mirror). However, I was building my own board state and in a bit of top deck luck, I string together a couple removal spells and am able to grab the victory.  

Game 2 on the draw again, but my opponent mulligans down to 5.  He chips away at my life total with a couple small bits of damage here and there, but I was in a commanding lead and stole the victory!

Tournament Record: 1-2

Round 4

Feeling a bit refreshed after eating 2 slices of pizza, and a renewed enthusiasm after winning a round, I was ready to start round 4.  Pairings go up and I’m up to table #16; things are looking up!  I lose the die roll again, so my opponent chooses to play first.  I keep an OK but interaction light hand: 4 lands, a Bomat, a Firebrand Archer, and a Hazoret.  My opponent starts with Mountain, Bomat Courier.  Great, another mirror.  But I did just take down the last one, so I might have a chance.  I lead turn 1 with my own Bomat.  Opponent’s turn 2: Mountain, Bomat, Bomat, swing for 3.  Now I know I’m on the back foot because I can’t keep up with that amount of card advantage.  My opponent plays the rest of the game with at least one red mana up, so spending removal on the Bomats turns into a huge negative for me.  I lose handily, sideboard, and shuffle up for game 2.  This one was at least a little back and forth, with nobody really at a great advantage.  After trading a few chip shots here and there, I had the opponent down to 6 life and I was at 9.  He lands a Glorybringer and attacks with only the dragon, leaving a couple guys back to defend.  He also chooses not to exert, getting me down to 5 leaving him with the dragon and 2 creatures that can attack the next turn.  I draw a Firebrand Archer and play it giving me 3 blockers, then pass the turn.  He draws, flips a shock, kills one guy, swings with the team, exerts the Glorybringer to kill a second one of my blockers, and has lethal coming through.

Tournament Record: 1-3

Round 5

As I waited for round 5 to start, feeling pretty bummed about taking such a thorough beating, I noticed that the prize sheet had been posted.  I went over to study that and saw that $45 store credit was being given down to 16th place.  I thought maybe there was an outside shot that at 3-3 I might be able to sneak in there and take that 16th spot.  Pairings go up and I’m down to table #19.  Across from me is the head judge’s 9-year-old son.  I make some small talk with him and tell him about taking my 8-year-old daughter to GP Santa Clara.  

Game 1 starts, he wins the die roll, and we begin. He starts Forest, pass.  I have a pretty slow hand of three 2-drop creatures and a couple burn spells.  He goes turn 2 Forest, pass.  Hmm, might be an easy win.  I play a creature and pass turn.  Turn 3 he drops Rootbound Crag and Ranging Raptors.  Stone wall, as I don’t have an Abrade or Lightning Strike to deal with it. My little creatures simply cannot get through.  I drop another creature, hoping to build up a board state that can eventually get through/around his big dino and maybe win through some of his (supposed) inexperience.  He goes on to drop Ripjaw Raptors on both turns 4 and 5, and casts a Savage Stomp to make one of his Ripjaws eat one of my guys.  Then after a turn 6 Regisaur Alpha, it took him 2 attacks to kill me dead.  

On to sideboarding and game 2.  He got stuck on 2 lands until turn 5 and by that time I had curved out pretty well with threats and removal on his two early Otepec Huntmasters.  Game 3 was a little more back and forth with each of us casting some threats and removal on the early plays.  I was able to keep him on the back foot and even through the card-disadvantaged play of Shock+Lightning Strike to kill his Ripjaw Raptor, I was able to come out of the match victorious thanks to a well timed Eternal Earthshaker Khenra sneaking an attacker through for lethal damage.

Tournament Record: 2-3

Round 6

Going in to round 6 they posted standings. Looking at 34th place and being at the bottom of the 6-point players, I knew there was no shot of making prizes.  But I was there to play Magic (something which I don’t get to do all that often, considering I am married and have three kids 8 years old and under), so I stuck around to play the final round.  

Round 6 I faced off against another local that I see at FNM’s, prereleases, and sometimes those random Wednesdays and Thursdays when I stop in at 4PM to pick up a couple singles to round out the latest EDH deck I’m building.   We shuffle up and present, knowing there’s nothing on the line so the mood is fun.  I start deploying threats and he is playing Plains, pass, Island, Pass.  Hmm, UW something and he’s got no early interaction?  OK, I should be able to turn up the pressure and get this out of reach before he gets whatever he’s doing online.  I’ve got him down to 11 life from Bomat attacks and a couple Lightning Strikewhen on turn 4  he starts deploying his Cast Outs and Ixalan’s Bindings.  After 3 turns of those, I’ve got him down to 6 life but he’s managed to clear my board.  I top deck a Hazoret and swing to victory.  

Game 2 followed a very similar pattern, I had him down to 10 life on turn 6 but this time he was able to land an Azor, the Lawbringer.  Luckily for me I had two Abrades in hand and enough mana up to cast them.  I got the Azor out of the way and continued my flurry of incremental damage to close out the game over the next couple of turns.

Final Tournament Record: 3-3

I finished the tournament 27th out of 44 competitors and took away a few good lessons for future events.  First is be prepared for the expected metagame.  Just because you know a deck or strategy, or you knew the meta a month ago, doesn’t mean you will know the proper lines for today.  And knowing your game plan means having a sideboarding strategy.  I hadn’t updated the sideboard guide for Standard Red since the GP, so I had to wing it based on what I thought my opponent was doing, rather than on tried and tested methods.  

Second is to make sure you take care of your body.  I have heard podcasts with several pros talking about working out, both in general but also before tournaments, so that you have a “fit-body, fit-mind” and can be as sharp as possible throughout the tournament.  This includes proper nutrition.  While it may not have had an impact to my play, not eating until 3PM certainly couldn’t have helped.  

The third thing I took away from the tournament, and probably most helpful in terms of actual gameplay, is that I should mulligan more.  I mulled to 6 a grand total of 5 times in 15 games.  One of those being a hand that I should have known was too slow vs the Red mirror in game 2 of round 4.  Had I mulliganed more aggressively to get a hand with fewer cards, but a higher chance at winning, my day might have panned out differently.  

I didn’t stick around for the top-8 or to see who won, but I was able to track down the top-8 decks. In no particular order the top-8 of PPTQ Game Room: 3x Hazoret Red, Esper Gift, G/R Monsters, U/G Merfolk, Grixis Midrange, Sultai Constrictor

Decklist and Sideboarding decisions

Main Deck:
Creature (22):
4 Bomat Courier
4 Earthshaker Khenra
4 Firebrand Archer
1 Glorybringer
3 Hazoret the Fervent
2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
4 Soul-Scar Mage

Instant (14):
2 Abrade
4 Chandra’s Pyrohelix
4 Lightning Strike
4 Shock

Planeswalker (2):
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance

Land (22):
2 Desert of the Fervent
2 Field of Ruin
14 Mountain
4 Sunscorched Desert

Sideboard:
Creature (6):
2 Glorybringer
2 Harsh Mentor
1 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
1 Pia Nalaar

Instant (5):
1 Abrade
2 Chandra’s Defeat
2 Magma Spray

Sorcery (1):
1 Blazing Volley

Artifact (2):
2 Aethersphere Harvester

Enchantment (1):
1 Vance’s Blasting Cannons

Round 1  Sideboarding (vs Grixis Control)

+2 Glorybringer
+2 Harsh Mentor
+1 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
+1 Pia Nalaar
+1 Abrade
+1 Vance’s Blasting Cannons
-4 Chandra’s Pyrohelix
-4 Firebrand Archer

Round 2 Sideboarding (vs Sultai Energy)

+2 Glorybringer
+2 Harsh Mentor
+2 Aethersphere Harvester
-4 Chandra’s Pyrohelix
-2 Earthshaker Khenra

Round 3 Sideboarding (vs R/W Hazoret)

+2 Glorybringer
+1 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
+1 Abrade
+2 Chandra’s Defeat
+2 Aethersphere Harvester
-4 Chandra’s Pyrohelix
-4 Firebrand Archer

Round 4 Sideboarding (vs Hazoret Red)

+2 Glorybringer
+1 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
+1 Abrade
+2 Chandra’s Defeat
+2 Aethersphere Harvester
-4 Chandra’s Pyrohelix
-2 Shock
-2 Soul-Scar Mage

Round 5 Sideboarding (vs G/R Dinos)

+2 Glorybringer
+2 Chandra’s Defeat
+2 Aethersphere Harvester
-4 Chandra’s Pyrohelix
-2 Abrade

Round 6 Sideboarding (vs Azor Control)

+2 Glorybringer
+2 Harsh Mentor
+1 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider
+1 Pia Nalaar
+2 Aethersphere Harvester
+1 Vance’s Blasting Cannons
-4 Chandra’s Pyrohelix
-4 Firebrand Archer

Eric has been an avid Magic fan and player since re-discovering the game in 2012. He is a Red mage at heart, but likes to confuse himself with the varying decision trees presented by mid-range and control decks from time to time. He plays mostly casually with his 8-year-old daughter, but manages to get out for every prerelease and a few FNM’s and GP’s every year. 

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