In a way, I was almost embarrassed to write down the sealed deck I built in Concord, as it was that crazy. It was the sort of bomb-heavy pool that practically builds itself. Featuring utter end, anafenza, and siege rhino, the pool was calling out to be abzan, splashing a sagu mauler with some dual lands that I had. Not only that, but armament master and abzan charm rounded out the abzan powerhouse cards, with feat of resistance and ainok bond-kin providing some much needed early game.
The last time I had played against Boaz, we were sitting in the X-3 bracket in a Boston-area ptq, at that point playing for only pride and practice. Dispiriting indeed, we smashed two less-than-impressive decks against eachother, with absolutely nothing on the line. I was much happier to meet him again in the top 8. I was also happy that the only other deck that I lost to in the Swiss had also gone X-1.
My first ptq top 8, though! Truly, I was excited. Foremost on my mind, going into the draft, was the thought that I should make picks assuming that I'd be on the draw the majority of matches. I'm not sure how exactly that should affect one's picks, but it was all I could think about. I thought about five-color control, obviously, as that saucy minx of a deck tempts me always, always. But I calmed myself with a deep breath and resolved to keep myself open to what people wanted to pass, reminding myself that I wasn't likely to see lands as late in this, a tighter pod.
And indeed, shying away from five-color proved to be a good decision, as the person immediately to my right was going that exact strategy. Picking up on a late sultai charm in the first pack, I decided to try committing myself to a Sultai build, and I ended up with a solid, if not super exciting deck, which was more U/G tempo splashing black than "Sultai." With winners like sultai banner and essence of spring, I wasn't over the moon with my deck, but I felt that I had ended up with something playable. With a villainous wealth in the deck, I felt a mixture of emotions: pride, embarrassment, baller-ness, the whole gamut.
Round 1, I played against Boaz, who had settled into a straight g/b aggro deck, his deck built to support the most powerful card he had picked up: rakshasa deathdealer. After I won game 1, he really put the screws to me game two with a first-turn ruthless ripper into a turn two molting snakeskin. Unable to draw either of my force aways, I found myself facing down an abyss, and we moved onto game 3. Game 3 played out in my favor, as my more mid-rangey deck was able to put up favorable blockers, and being able to hold up force away during each of his attack steps meant that I was able to interact with any trick that he could use to break through. Onto round 2!
I could practically taste the PTQ win as I sat down to battle. A torrent of emotions, I liked my deck, and my friends who were with me thought it was good too. I was battling the person to the right of me, and I had picked up on the lands going very quickly in the draft, so I suspected he was on either five-color or a multicolor heavy deck.
That was the truth, as his multiple taplands attested to. In game 1, I was able to put a clock on him, and I had force away in the nick of time to put through the last points of damage I needed to before he could start stabilizing against me.
However, emotionally, the pressure was starting to get to me. A crowd had gathered around, and, new to the experience, I found it difficult to focus. I made a good mulligan choice in game 2, but it was not enough, as being behind on tempo put me under even more pressure. I made some critical misplays and in the end he powered through, with the mighty Abzan guide leading the way.
In the end, making the semifinals of my first top 8 was a bittersweet experience. Although I could be happy that I played well in the sealed, with all of my online practice paying off, the pool I was given felt as though I didn't have to rely on playing tight, as the raw power of the cards compensated for any possible loose plays. And although I played and drafted well up through the first round, another thing which I could feel good about, knowing that I could have potentially made my way to the finals was an even more bitter pill.
There's a lot of talk in the magic world about pick-orders, archetypes, staying open, and all of that limited jazz, but I have to wonder if it's just as important to talk about the psychological side of things. The pressure of being in a top 8, when you're a relatively new player, is both real and powerful. My first timed draft was a pressure cooker in itself, with the time on each pick I had evaporating more quickly than I could have imagined, and then feeling anxiety about doling out the cards to my left and right in the proper way.
So please, take that as a lesson: don't learn the hard way and lose to learn the importance of emotional self-control. Most humans are very emotional creatures, but our emotions are simply a product of our thoughts, and we can control our own thoughts, albeit with some difficulty. Stop. Step back. Take a breath. Don't miss your delve.