Sunday, February 24, 2013

Asheville Modern PTQ

The PTQ in Asheville was a comedy of errors for me. I am completely unused to the format, but played a powerful deck with a decent backup plan and still managed to make top four despite a veritable ton of misplays on my part. I don't normally play combo, but playing a green based combo deck with beatdown as the backup plan seemed like a perfect choice for me in modern. I knew ahead of time that since I was so unfamiliar with the format, I would need to play a deck that fit my play style but that could potentially ignore the opponent and just win.


Click here and scroll down to 4th place to see the list I played. I'm also listing it here for reference:

2  Forest
3  Gavony Township
1  Godless Shrine
1  Horizon Canopy
4  Misty Rainforest
2  Overgrown Tomb
1  Razorverge Thicket
1  Sunpetal Grove
1  Swamp
2  Temple Garden
4  Verdant Catacombs
1  Woodland Cemetery
3  Birds of Paradise
2  Deathrite Shaman
1  Eternal Witness
4  Kitchen Finks
3  Melira, Sylvok Outcast
1  Murderous Redcap
1  Noble Hierarch
1  Phyrexian Metamorph
1  Ranger of Eos
1  Reveillark
1  Spellskite
1  Sun Titan
3  Viscera Seer
4  Wall of Roots
2  Abrupt Decay
4  Birthing Pod
4  Chord of Calling

Sideboard
2  Dismember
1  Gaddock Teeg
1  Harmonic Sliver
2  Kataki, War's Wage
2  Qasali Pridemage
1  Shriekmaw
3  Surgical Extraction
3  Thalia, Guardian of Thraben

Although I've been tinkering with Melira Pod for a while, I've never played in a serious Modern tournament, so I figured I should at go back to the drawing board and start with someone else's shell. I used Sam Pardee's list from GP Toronto as my starting point, and made some changes after testing against Jund w/ Lingering Souls (pre-banning).

My first mistake was waiting too long to make sure I had all the cards for the deck. I didn't have Orzhov Pontiff, but I waited until too close to the tournament to check everything, and didn't have time to order one. "No worries," I thought. "I'll just pick one up when I get there." That might not have been a big deal if the location hadn't changed from the game shop to a nearby hotel. Apparently, vendors don't bring their dollar rares on the road too often! Other than the lack of an Orzhov Pontiff, I was satisfied with the main deck. I had been running a copy of Restoration Angel to reset creatures that picked up -1/-1 counters before I played Melira, but I think cutting it was correct in the end.

My second mistake was fiddling with the sideboard. I didn't see the point in having Lingering Souls in the board, so I looked for something I thought might have more of an impact. I settled on Thalia, Guardian of Thraben... and it might have been the worst sideboard decision I've ever made since I started playing competitively. If it wasn't the worst, it was at least the worst that I can recall at the moment.



In round one, I got smashed by mono green infect. In both games, he had multiple Noble Hierarchs. In game one, I had the opportunity to pod a Wall of Roots into an Orzhov Pontiff to kill three Noble Hierarchs... but I had exactly zero pontiffs in the deck, so that game plan didn't turn out so well. In game two, I made my first major play error. I had boarded in all three Thalias to lower my curve and hopefully prevent a string of pump spells killing me in one turn. I had taken a few points of poison damage and had both Melira and Thalia in play. He had an untapped Glistener Elf, a Noble Hierarch with summoning sickness, at least one tapped hierarch, and one land untapped. I attacked with Melira, thinking that with only one mana, he couldn't play any tricks and I figured he wouldn't block at all. Unfortunately, he did block, and then paid two life and one mana to cast Mutagenic Growth... a card that I should have been expecting. Two turns later I was dead.


In round two, I got a free win because my opponent registered his deck incorrectly. Then I managed to pull off the combo the turn before he would have killed me. I had three mana on the board (a Birds of Paradise and two lands) when he cast Cryptic Command to counter a Viscera Seer and bounce Melira rather than Kitchen Finks. To his credit, he didn't realize that I had a Godless Shrine and a second Viscera Seer in hand. I just replayed Melira, played the second seer, and hit the combo. If he had bounced Kitchen Finks, I would have been short one mana to play both the finks and the seer.

In round three, my opponent was playing a Doran list. I hit the combo game one, but saw an early Gaddock Teeg and Grafdigger's Cage in game two, and I hadn't boarded out my tutors. I proceeded to draw three worthless Birthing Pods, and lost to the beatdown. Frustrated by the hate, I just boarded out all eight tutors and went for an all-midrange game plan... but tutors wouldn't have mattered anyway. In game three I drew the combo pieces naturally. I played the Kitchen Finks early and then just waited for him to tap out. When he did, I played the rest of the combo and put the game away.


In round four, I played against an excellent Splinter Twin player, and I proved myself a mediocre (though lucky) Melira Pod player. I hit my combo, going to a billion life and scrying until I put Murderous Redcap on top. Then he hit his combo on the following turn. Realizing that he could do a billion damage, I scooped. In game two, I hit the combo with Redcap and didn't even bother gaining life. In game three, I kept a removal heavy hand... an Abrupt Decay, a Dismember, a Noble Hierarch, a Qasali Pridemage, and some lands. For what seemed like turn after turn after turn, he played a guy right before my combat step to tap down the pridemage, and I played removal so I could still swing for two with the hierarch. I didn't draw much more action the rest of the game, but I kept hitting removal... eventually using the second Abrupt Decay and a Shriekmaw to kill all of his combo pieces as he drew them. It wasn't until our conversation after the match that I realized I should never have scooped in game one... he pointed out that all I had to do was wait for him to pick a number of attackers and the combo again for a bigger number during the attack step. Duh...


In round five, I kept getting legacy flashbacks. I saw Aether Vials, merfolk, and semi-disruptive beatdown. In the first game, I drew multiple copies of Chord of Calling and had to play around his multiple Cursecatchers, but finally managed to hit the combo. In the second game, he was able to be aggressive, but on a critical turn, I was able to Abrupt Decay one of his lords (Merrow Reejerey, if I remember correctly) after he declared attacks and make some good trades. He was stuck without white mana for his Rest in Peace, but finally drew it the turn before I could have combo'd off. We spent a turn or two at a standstill, neither of us able to do much, but I finally topdecked a Qasali Pridemage and killed his Rest in Peace for the win.

In round six, I had to play against fish again. We traded games one and two, and then game three went long. Finally, in extra time, I had managed to combo off for life but he killed Melira before I could combo for infinite damage, so he was playing for the draw. I had podded a Shriekmaw into a Sun Titan in play and had just returned Melira to the battlefield. With Murderous Recap and another Melira in hand, I fully expected to win on turn three. He ripped a Phantasmal Image, made a joke about playing standard again, and made lots of titans with additional copies he had previously used to kill Melira earlier in the game. Expecting him to kill the Melira I just put into play, I immediately started counting mana and realized that I couldn't play both Melira and Redcap the following turn, so I would have to wait until turn five and hope he had no disruption. But then he said it: "The last titan finds.... no target." So I untapped and won.


In round seven, I debated accepting the draw that my opponent offered me, but I was in 8th place with tiebreakers that I doubted would be good enough and the judges were pressuring us to go ahead and start, so I decided I wanted to play it out. He had to mulligan to five in game one, and my misplay gave him much more time to get back in the game than I should have allowed. I attacked with a Kitchen Finks before playing the Melira in my hand, having forgotten that one of his lands was a Treetop Village. To my dismay, he animated and blocked, making my post-combat Melira pretty laughable... especially with the topdecked Chord of Calling on the following turn that would have put the game out of reach. I managed to luck out and win anyway, but he had four or five additional turns to climb back into the game when it should have just been over. In the second game, I didn't even need the combo... I just drew lots of value creatures and won the midrange game.


Top Eight
My first top eight opponent admitted that the match was heavily in my favor, and it did seem that way. In the first game, I flooded the board with mana creatures and just kept growing them with Gavony Township. The play of the match (in my opinion) happened when I passed the turn with plenty of mana and Chord of Calling in hand. He had a Dark Confidant, Deathrite Shaman, and Liliana of the Veil in play. He used Liliana to make me sacrifice a creature... so with that on the stack, I cast Chord of Calling for four and got Murderous Redcap. The first comes into play ability killed the shaman, and after I sacrificed it to Liliana's ability, the second killed the confidant. In the second game, I kept another hand with Gavony Township and a bunch of mana dorks, but his Pithing Needle on Gavony Township stopped that game plan cold. Luckily, while I couldn't apply a ton of pressure, I was getting a few points of damage in each turn. I got a little worried that he would make a comeback when I killed his Deathrite Shaman with Dismember and he followed with Vampire Nighthawk, but I forced him to trade the nighthawk with a Reveillark and used the card advantage that generated to keep pushing through for the win.


My second top eight opponent was playing mono blue Tron. Perhaps it was being so unprepared for a deck that doesn't follow the same rules as the rest of the field, but it seemed like I completely forgot how to play magic during this match. I mean, I made some pretty dumb play mistakes earlier in the tournament, but this match was just embarrassing. In game one, I missed a land drop... not that I didn't draw it. I passed the turn with two lands in hand. A turn or two later, I found myself one mana short of hitting the combo even through his Repeal... so he played Mindslaver on his next turn and hit the combo for me, targeting me with all that redcap damage. I looked through my sideboard and decided that I really didn't have a way to beat him except by getting Gaddock Teeg into play, so I boarded out some random things (I don't even remember) for pridemages and my lone Gaddock Teeg. Fortunately, I hit a quick Chord of Calling and managed to resolve it... but what did I get? Kitchen Finks! As soon as I started shuffling, I knew I had screwed up... but I had an Eternal Witness in hand. Perhaps I could still pull this off. The next turn, I tried to play Eternal Witness to fix my mistake, but he had Trickbind for the Eternal Witness triggered ability. The next turn, his Sundering Titan destroyed all three of my lands, and it didn't take long for me to run out of mana walls to block with.

It was a good run, but I knew my mistakes would catch up with me eventually. Personally, I believe Melira Pod is a great deck: very powerful, with a backup plan that dodges all the hate cards people bring in to combat the combo. Although I didn't start the tournament using the strategy, I ended the tournament able to ignore virtually all the hate by boarding out multiple convokes and sometimes Birthing Pod as well in favor of more generic value cards like Qasali Pridemage and Shriekmaw.


Lesson #1: Don't Procrastinate with Your Decklist
While Orzhov Pontiff might not have won me the game against infect in round one, I certainly would have had more time to get something going. There were numerous times throughout the tournament that I wished I could have had access to him, but that match would have been the perfect time for him 
to shine. It would have been easy to order it a week ahead of time, but I waited until Thursday or Friday to look for one.

Lesson #2: Trust More Experienced Players
My fiddling with the sideboard of Sam's deck was definitely incorrect. Once I realized how important the beatdown plan was in games two and three, I spent the whole tournament wishing I had Lingering Souls to board in. Meanwhile, I was disappointed with Thalia every time I gave her a shot... by the end of the tournament, my sideboard might as well have just been 12 cards because I was ignoring her altogether.

Lesson #3: Know Your Enemy
Prior to the tournament, I hadn't read many winning lists at all. In the infect match, I threw away a key card when I thought it was safe to attack, and the card he played was standard fare for that strategy. The better you know your opponents' tricks, the better you'll be at playing around them.

Lesson #4: Double Check Your Deck List
While I didn't make this mistake personally, I definitely benefited from my opponent's error. There's a reason the judges ask you during the player meeting to double check your list!

Lesson #5: Don't Scoop to Combo Unless Time is an Issue
I should have made him play it out. Once he picked a number and moved to combat, I think I would have realized that I could gain that much life again. Instead, I forgot about the options that were sitting on the board right in front of me when presented with the idea of "infinite."

Lesson #6: Identify the Most Important Cards and Play to Them
In round six, my opponent was protecting his life total with lots of 6/6 creatures rather than getting rid of the card in play that could end the game on the spot. In the top four, I identified Gaddock Teeg as my one trump card but continued to play as if my opponent was playing fair and missed my opportunity to trump his strategy. In both cases, games might have gone very differently but were lost because we forgot which cards were most important.

Lesson #7: Never Forget the Basics
I passed the turn without playing a land! I know everyone makes stupid mistakes from time to time, but it wouldn't have taken much for me to pause and think through things before passing. I know I'm not the most detail oriented person, but I never want to lose another game to such a careless error.

Lesson #8: Everyone Should Play Combo
Now, don't get me wrong. I know combo isn't everyone's cup of tea. I'm certainly not saying that everyone should play combo all the time... that would make for the most unfun format ever (I'm looking at you, Urza). However, learning to play a combo well forces you to pay very close attention to details that I've been missing as an aggro player. In theory, I know that every last point of damage matters when playing aggro. In practice, though, sometimes I miss the opportunity for a point or two of damage and I don't make note of it. There have been plenty of games in which I got my opponent to a ridiculously low life total and lost... but I rarely take note of the point or two I missed the opportunity to slip in. How many of those games would have been wins if I was milking every game for every last point? How much better of a player would I be now if I would have been learning from those near misses every time instead of just moving on? I'm not sure, and I'm not even sure of the best way to track such a thing. But I do know one thing... when you're playing combo and you make that slight error that keeps you from going off on that critical turn, you take notice. I found myself facepalming far too many times over the course of this tournament, and I think the lessons I'm learning as I pilot Melira Pod have sharpened my skills more than any deck I've run thus far.

Now I'm just hoping that my performance at the Modern PTQ in March is even better than this one...

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