What’s cracking saltines? I hope y’all are doing well, I know I am! This past weekend I traveled up to North of Exile Games, to participate in their standard PPTQ. I decided to invest in one of Wizard’s of the Coast’s new Challenge Decks, and it really wasn’t a tough call. I picked up a copy of the ‘Counter Surge’ deck and made a few solid upgrades to make it a decent functioning G/B Constrictor list. For those who don’t want to compare the two lists here is what I added; 3x Fatal Push, 4x Jadelight Ranger, 4x Merfolk Branchwalker, 2x Walking Ballista, 2x Vraska, Relic Seeker, and 2x Vraska’s Contempt. Let’s see how we did shall we?
Round 1; Loss in 2 vs Sultai Constrictor
Man starting out strong eh? Game one we had to take a mulligan to five, and had to keep a mediocre hand because going to four is suicide. Game one was surprisingly close both of us following similar early game set ups. Unfortunately the three extra cards, my opponent was on the draw, aided in out-tempoing me. Game two was a brutal stomp as my opponent managed to drop three copies of Winding Constrictor, followed by a very large Walking Ballista, and I was unable to find an answer. Altough, looking back at my notes it was a lot closer than I remember as both of us were at one hit point before my one becomes a zero.
Round 2; Win in 2 vs R/B Spells
I’m going to start out by saying how much I appreciated this list. This was a red and black mono-spells list utilizing the power of Primal Amulet, and it’s reverse side, Primal Wellspring, to power out X cmc spells to control the game and finish your opponent. Game one my opponent got stuck on three mountains, while their hand was a myriad of black removal spells. I think my opponent had cast one copy of Abrade, but other than that, did do anything our first game. Now it is at this point I provide a disclaimer; my opponent had told me before our game that they were running on very little sleep and had asked me to bear with them. Game two my opponent had their mana issues and managed to flip an amulet early into a wellspring. They had controlled my board state to the point where I had two copies of Walking Ballista, each with two +1/+1 counters on them. It was my opponent’s turn and he used wellspring to cast two copies of Sword-Point Diplomacy, the first one revealed some pretty solid cards which I did not want them to have so I took nine points of life loss as I dropped to 10. The second copy revealed three lands and I happily allowed my opponent to take those. My opponent was at 15 when he passed back to me and I untapped. It was at this point that they put their hand into their graveyard, and their graveyard into their deck and extended their hand of concession. Now I was visibly shook by this whole thing, and said ‘uhm, what?’. My opponent said ‘you can pump one Ballista to three counters, swing for five damage, and then throw them at me for five and that’s lethal.’ I looked to make sure our life total notes matched and they did, it was at this point that I said ‘dude you were looking at the wrong column, you were at 15, and I was at 10.’ This is when the light bulb went on and they realized their mistake, not only were they not dead, but at the very bottom of their graveyard was a copy of Cut//Ribbons. The Ribbons side in combination with Primal Wellspring was a total of 12 points of damage. My opponent and I had a good laugh about it afterwards.
Round 3; Win in 2 vs U/W God Pharaoh’s Gift
I was a little bit worried about this match-up to be honest. We hadn’t really taken the sideboard into account much and really only had Dispossess to deal with the seven mana artifact. I later found out that my opponent was playing the Refurbish version of the deck. Game one we both took a mulligan to six, and I made a really cool play early on. On my turn three I had played a Glint-Sleeve, following up on my turn two Winding Constrictor. My opponent’s turn three was a Fairground’s Warden, and they chose to exile my Glint-Sleeve as they stated they didn’t want me to draw extra cards, which was the correct play. Unfortunately for my opponent, they had just triggered Revolt on the copy of Fatal Push that we had in our hand and did indeed have the mana for, so we killed the Warden and got a second ETB for Glint-Sleeve. The extra energy allowed us to draw a multitude of cards and out tempo our opponent. Game two was a lot closer as both of us established a board state quite early on. My board got a wee bit out of hand, so my opponent used Refurbish to revive a copy of Cataclysmic Gearhulk, choosing to keep his hulk for their artifact, and a embalmed Angel of Sanctions as their creature. We kept a copy of Constrictor as our creature, and Ballista as our artifact, and during our opponent’s end step we used a sideboarded Naturalize to destroy the Gearhulk. With the way clear we were able to pump the Ballista and swing for lethal.
Round 4; Win in 3 vs Mono-Red
Oh man, these games made me sweat. Game one took all of five turns as my opponent’s curve was on point. Bomat, into Earthshaker Khenra, into Ahn-Crop Crasher, then finishing with a Rekindling Phoenix left me drooling into my play mat. Game two was a lot better as we kept a hand with relevant removal like Fatal Push and Vraska’s Contempt. It also helped that my opponent got land flooded and we managed to establish a board state before they got out of hand. Game three was absolutely insane. It was a back and forth struggle of top decks. I was getting quite worried as I was down to five, I knew my opponent had Glorybringer, and they were at a confident 16. I had a Verdurous Gearhulk, sporting two snazzy +1/+1 counters, and a Rishkar, Peema Renegade also rocking two +1/+1 counters. I drew for my turn and took a peek at it, and placed it facedown on the table. I attacked with my Gearhulk, and my opponent neglected to block with their eternalized Earthshaker Khenra, reducing their life total to 10. I passed and my opponent drew, they grew a smile and slammed a copy of Ahn-Crop. They proceeded to combat, attacked and declared the exertion to deny Rishkar as a blocker. I had already played three copies of Blossoming Defense this game, what were the chances of me having a fourth? I am not good at math but guess who had the fourth Blossoming Defense?!? I gave Rishkar hexproof and used him to block the Khenra as Ahn-Crop was not untapping next turn due to it being exerted. I untapped, drew my card, and swung for the final 10 points of damage. Now if I was building a deck I would have never thought to run a playset of Blossoming Defense, but apparently WotC builds better decks than I thought, thanks guys!
Round 5; Win in 2 vs G/B Constrictor
So this was final round of swiss. I had carpooled with Matt, the guy who top decked the Ceremonious Rejection from the last post. We were both 3-1 and it seemed like an easy intentional draw in order to make top 4, but alas there was a bump in the road. Previously in the event there had been a draw, so there was one person with 12 points, three people with nine points, and draw with seven points. Now let me spell this out for you. If the gentleman with seven points won his match, there would be four people with 10 points and I had the worst tie breakers, meaning I would not make top four. The only way in for me was to take down the person that drove me to the event. Matt is a fantastic dude looked me dead in the face with a smile and said ‘Do what you have to do’ and so I unpacked my stuff and shuffled up. Game one I took a mulligan to six, but it didn’t hinder my draws as I was always one step ahead of Matt, and it didn’t help he was getting poor top decks. Game two was a wee bit closer until I stuck a very large copy of Walking Ballista and was just able to nuke down most of his board. Should have played Ceremonious Rejection…sorry… I’m still salty about that. I love you man!
(B/W Vampies, Bant Approach, Sultai Constrictor, G/B Constrictor(^Me^))
Semi-Finals; Win 2 vs Sultai Constrictor
I was super nervous sitting down for the semi-final match, as my opponent was the same individual whom served me my only loss of the day in the first round. As I was a higher seed I chose to take the play and we got down to business. Business which ended quick as my opponent’s lack of removal allowed me to drop two copies of Constrictor, followed my a large Walking Ballista, followed by a very intimidating Verdurous Gearhulk. Game two was quite the opposite issue for my opponent. They had every single Fatal Push a person could ask for, but no threats to follow up. I was just able to put out enough threats to keep ahead of my opponent’s barrage of kill spells, and take down the ‘not-so-mirror’ mirror.
Finals; Loss in 3 vs W/B Vampires
Oh boy here it was, the finals of the PPTQ. In the words of Canadian lyrical artist Drake; ‘started 0-1 and now we here’. As I was once again the higher seed, I selected to take the play. I got off to a fantastic start, drawing a total of six extra cards with the menacing Glint-Sleeve. A lone Winding Constrictor followed up, allowing for the following play of Walking Ballista to keep my opponent’s vampire tokens pinned down. It was at this point that I was feeling pretty good. I brought in three copies of Naturalize in order to deal with my opponent’s Radiant Destiny, but as you’re about to see those enchantments were not the issue. As game two began had to take a mulligan to six and I got out to a decent start, hitting some snakes as well as a copy of Jadelight Ranger. The game came to a grinding halt when my opponent played Solemnity. This mono-white enchantment single handedly dismantles the synergies in my deck. After a couple of turns of hanging on to a Gearhulk I finally managed to draw a Naturalize. I waited until my opponent end step and blew it up. I drew for my turn and saw a second copy of Gearhulk. I played the first and grew my board, one more turn and I can close out the game with the additional green giant. My opponent drew their card for turn and got all giddy, one could assume what he picked up as he tapped three mana and played a second copy of Solemnity. Talk about putting me on tilt, I drew a third copy of Verduruous Gearhulk and just had to play them out as 4/4 bodies. I eventually just scooped as my opponent got slightly out of control. Game three I again had to take a mulligan to six but I managed to stick two early Jadelight Rangers and began going to town with the 4/2’s. At least until my opponent played a copy of Profane Procession and began to exile my stuff. I managed to take care of the enchantment before it flipped into a land, however it was too little too late. My opponent quickly established a token army and I extended the hand.
What can I say, I am not going to scoff at a second place finish. It was a fantastic final round and kudos to Kyle for pulling out the W. Best of luck to him and hope he crushs it at the RPTQ.
Now to see if I can find a legacy player for Team Trios this weekend….STAY SALTY MY FRIENDS!