When I moved back to the States for college, one of the many things I was excited to try was competitive Magic: the Gathering. I hoped to start grinding PPTQs and to go to GPs when I got the chance. Two and a half years later, I’ve just finished playing my first PPTQ. Not great! But I finally took the plunge and, all in all, it went pretty well.
The format was Modern, and I chose to play UR Gifts Storm. I’ve played Storm in Modern since I got into the format, though only casually until recently. My playgroup got into the format in a big way, and while we’re competitive, we mostly just play for fun.
As a result, I didn’t think my ability with the deck was quite up to snuff. I spent a bunch of time playing this week to maximize my chances, and by the end, I felt pretty good about my deck choice. This is the list I played.
Before I get into the matches, I want to touch on some quirks of my list. I hate to be the dude who claims to know better than the collective, but Thought Scour is nuts. Sure, it’s not as good as it used to be when Pyromancer Ascension was commonly played. But stocking the yard for Past in Flames is excellent, and having something to cast at Instant speed when you hold up Remand is useful. The maindeck sideboard cards have always seemed too cute to me, so I wound up on three Remands and a Noxious Revival in the flex slots.
I hesitate to be results-oriented, but I boarded out the Remands in nearly every match. I’m a little burned out on Magic after last week, but when I get back to tweaking my list, I would like to try removing the Remands from the main in favor of cards like Merchant Scroll, Lightning Bolt, or even more cantrips (I’m aching to test Opt, and wasn’t able to get my hands on a set).
Anyways, on to the matches!
Round One: Esper Control
As soon as I realized my opponent was playing Esper Control, I felt pretty confident. The archetype just doesn’t have the cards to come together in Modern, and none of the lists I’ve seen online have impressed me.
Turns out, I was right about the quality of the deck.
Game one saw my opponent mulligan to five, which was unfortunate. I curved Serum Visions into Baral into Gifts Ungiven (good cards) while my opponent cast Think Twice (a bad card). I was a little concerned when he started tapping mana in response to my Gifts, but it was only the discard mode on Esper Charm. I binned a land and a Past in Flames with two rituals already in hand, and won the next turn.
I boarded in Swan Songs, Echoing Truths, and an extra Empty the Warrens for game two. My opponent kept seven this time, which didn’t end up mattering. Again, they spent the first few turns casting mediocre draw spells. I got off an Empty for 12 Goblins on turn three, and I felt like I was in the clear since my opponent didn’t have double White for Supreme Verdict.
Surprisingly, the game went on a few more turns. Cryptic Commands kept my Goblins in check for a few turns, until my opponent tapped low for a third Cryptic to tap my Goblins. I cast a Gifts Ungiven and killed them with Grapeshot in my second main.
At this point, I’d won the first PPTQ match I ever played and felt pretty good.
Round Two: Merfolk
Ok, this is an embarrassing one. I got cocky after my round one victory and kept a sketchy hand game one. A couple early Cursecatchers kept me in check, especially as I struggled to find a second land.
Game two was a mess. Had I been more careful in deploying cards like Gifts Ungiven and Past in Flames, I could have taken the win. My opponent’s only threat was a turn one Cursecatcher, and I legitimately thought I would go the distance with my Goblin Electromancer (more on that later). I got greedy, and had multiple spells in a row hit by Disdainful Strokes. Suddenly, I was staring down three lords and was very, very dead.
I was disappointed, to say the least. I felt like I punted this match away and was frustrated with myself. Fortunately, it went by quickly and I shook it off by watching a bit of the World Championship
Round Three: Lantern Control
I love playing against Lantern Control. In fact, if the deck were a little cheaper or had more crossover cards, I would probably play it myself. But the Storm matchup is not great, especially pre-board. My opponent failed to find a Lantern game one, and Ensnaring Bridge doesn’t really do anything against me. It didn’t help that they blind milled me and put a Past in Flames in my yard.
As soon as my opponent was empty-handed, I went for the kill and came up a little short. It wasn’t a huge deal – I had a Baral and an Electromancer in play with Gifts in hand and my second Past in Flames in the yard with plenty of mana. My opponent bricked, and I went off the next turn and took the win.
Game two looked Ok initially. I took a few turns to set up, but my opponent got to the lock on turn two. Now, I do believe the lock to be ineffective against Storm because of Past in Flames. Still, bricking my draw every turn was problematic, and after getting Ghost Quarter’ed down to a single Island, I figured it was time to pack it up.
Game three was a weird one. I learned after the match that my opponent had boarded out his Ensnaring Bridges, and, well, two Goblin Electromancers and a Baral went all the way. My combo kept getting disrupted by hand disruption, but my opponent consistently elected to cast Inquisition, Thoughtseize, and Collective Brutality on turns where I didn’t have the cost reducers in my hand.
There was one interesting sequence, where my opponent sacrificed a Lantern of Insight on my upkeep. I instinctively revealed the top card of my library, which was the second Goblin Electromancer. This shortened the clock by a whole turn, and I immediately called a judge on myself. They gave me a dexterity warning, but let me draw the card because I was just revealing it. My opponent… well, they did not like the ruling.
They seemed to be in a foul mood for the next two turns as I beat them to death with cards that really are not designed to attack. I felt pretty good about the whole thing, as I’ve never gotten the chance to win a game that way before.
Round Four: Burn
I kind of resigned myself to picking up a second loss when my opponent cast a turn one Goblin Guide. Burn has proven to be a rougher matchup for me than I expected. They kill my cost reducers effectively, and Eidolon is unbeatable in game one. But I was on the play, my opponent tapped out on turn two, and I untapped, cast a Baral and Ritual’ed into a Gifts Ungiven to get the kill.
I didn’t really play Magic in game two. Ultimately, there was nothing I could have done differently. I kept a solid opener, but my opponent resolved a turn two Eidolon. From there, I dug for one of my sideboard Lightning Bolts, but was unable to find one. I died shortly thereafter.
Game three was also a non-event. My opponent put me to nine, and passed with three mana up. I cast a cost reducer, they killed it, and I made a bunch of mana in response. After chaining Rituals and Manamorphoses, I let the cost reducer die, immediately replaced it, and killed my opponent with Grapeshot.
Round Five: Four Color Death’s Shadow
So yeah, I got to play a win and in. The tournament was six rounds, and a 4-1-1 record would be good enough to make Top 8. I was ecstatic – top 8’ing my first PPTQ? How cool would that be? But at this point, the caffeine had worn off and I was starting to get hungry. Rather than eating and re-caffeinating to ensure I would be sharp for my win and in, I elected to, uh… watch Worlds coverage.
I was off it the whole match, and it showed. I kept an abysmal hand game one, and got decimated by my opponent’s Wild Nacatls. I do think the hand would have been fine against a lot of decks, but hindsight is 20/20 and I beat myself up over the keep. I also failed to read them as being on Death’s Shadow – for whatever reason, I put them on Tribal Zoo. The result was that I boarded incorrectly, bringing in Bolts when I shouldn’t have.
Game two wasn’t great either. My opening hand had the turn three kill except… my opponent played a Nihil Spellbomb, preventing me from going off with Past in Flames. Which wouldn’t have been a problem, except I convinced myself that they would give me Empty the Warrens if I tutored for it with Gifts Ungiven. Halfway through resolving Gifts, I realized they had no incentive to do so.
In retrospect, I still should have won that game. Had I gotten a pile of Grapeshot, Past in Flames, either Ritual, and a second Gifts Ungiven, they would have been forced to give me a winning combination. At that point, I would have forced their Nihil Spellbomb with the first Past in Flames. Afterwards, I would have had enough mana to Gifts for the more conventional pile and kill them. Instead, I fizzled and died to the Battle Rage combo on the next turn.
It sucked, and I felt awful. At this level, especially playing a complicated deck like Storm, I just can’t afford to make mistakes like that. Sure, I wasn’t playing perfectly all day, but they were subtle and, retrospectively, defensible. In round three, I just did the math wrong, and in round two I was legitimately unsure how many counterspells Merfolk had access to.
But punting away my win and in with three substantial mistakes? That’s just not Ok, and something I need to reduce the likelihood of in the future.
Round 6: Eldrazi & Taxes
Fortunately, I was able to shake off the loss for round six. I considered dropping, but wasn’t mathematically dead at 3-2. I could still go 4-2 and sneak into the Top 8 if my tiebreakers held up (spoilers: they didn’t).
Fortunately, I was far more alert for this match. I still lost game one, but I don’t think it’s fair to evaluate Storm’s performance against a turn two Thalia and a turn three Thought-Knot Seer. Very few decks in the format can beat that draw easily, and Storm is not one of them.
In game two, I was the one doing the nut drawing. My opponent’s start was fine, but Leonin Arbiter didn’t do much against three Spirebluff Canals and a turn three that consisted of Ritual’ing out a Gifts Ungiven and going off with Past in Flames.
Game three was pretty close initially. I went down to six and kept a one-lander with two Serum Visions. My opponent played some creatures and two copies of Rest in Peace. I spent my turn four on a decent sized Empty the Warrens, which bought me enough time to set up an even larger one a couple turns down the line, at which point my opponent scooped.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite able to make top eight. But, misplays aside, it’s hard to be all that upset. The field I played against was an experienced one, and this was my first large competitive event. All I wanted was a winning record. I got that, and made a legitimate run at top eight. And sure, I definitely wish I was writing this up to tell you about my plans for the RPTQ. But it’s called a grind for a reason, and I’m in it now.
Let’s just say this won’t be my last tournament report.