Wednesday, November 12, 2014

PTQ Concord, NH: A Fairly Hazy Tournament Report - 11/2/2014

The deck has been disassembled, the cards sorted into my collection, but the memory lingers on: a bomb-heavy deck that I managed to not misplay or mis-build into a solid record.  No deck list is forthcoming, as I neglected to screencap it, but what can you do?

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.

A small tournament (the benefit of playing in New England on a patriots gameday) there were only seven rounds of swiss with approximately 140 players.  After quickly going 2-0, I lost a painful round against Mike, a friend of a friend who just clobbered me with mantis rider.  I hunkered down, I shook it off, I went 4-0 the next four rounds to pull it out and get into the top 8 in sixth place.  I was pleased to see a couple of players in the top 8 that I had played before: Mike, and Boaz.

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.

Game 3 was similar, as being a mere one win away, I felt desperate, cornered.  Desperation, and the emotions that go along with that, influenced my decisions, and I put myself into a disadvantageous position, losing the third game as well.  So wrapped up was I in my head that I missed a delve play I could have made that might have won me this game as well.  I had hoped that I could beat a trail of mystery, but the card performed for him, far more than I could have expected, having never played with or against it be

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.

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