How To Be Awful at Your RPTQ

11 min read
So, you’re tired of winning, eh? You ran the table at your Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier, and now it’s time to drive 5 hours to get your face smashed in. I get it. I get you. And I’m here to share the story of my suckage for Magic community to read. So If you’re the kind of person who really isn’t into the “winning” life, well, grab a beverage and relax. I’m about to introduce you to a whole new world of failure and embarrassment.

Note: Everything contained in this article actually happened, except for my real intent, which was to qualify for the Pro Tour.

Step 1: Getting There

We’re already going against the plan. You see, if you want to lose, you have to win. To be bad, be good. You have to win your PPTQ. Here are your options: you can do it the hard way, through great skill, solid piloting, and superior deck choice, or you can do it my way – barely making top 8 on tiebreakers and then dropping the skill intensive turn-4-Marvel-Ulamog every single game of the top 8. Done and done. Easy game, easy game.

ulamog the ceaseless hunger mtg card
Always a winning move on turn four.
Now take a step back and breathe. You did it – the hard work is done. But seriously stop pretending we’re good at Magic and let’s start the Sucktackular 2017 tour.

Step 2: Getting There, But Literally This Time

Your mileage may vary on this step, as different people have different considerations to, well, consider when choosing their RPTQ location. As a New Yorker (not the NYC cool kind), my options were New Jersey, Boston, or Pittsburgh. My considerations were the following:

  1. Traveling with my wife and three children.
  2. That was really it.
Any other considerations were drowned out by the sound of diapers being changed and crying from my daughter, who just learned the alphabet and can’t deal with the fact that her name starts with a C and not a K.

Additionally, my only other serious travel for competition was for Grand Prix Pittsburgh in 2015, where I achieved a lofty and enviable record of 2-3-1 drop after audibling from Merfolk (over 500 lifetime matches played with the archetype) to Infect (0 matches played) the night before the tournament.

In the end, I opted to return to Pittsburgh, swayed by thoughts of revenge and the sweet cookie cake prizes I had seen on the Facebook page of Mr. Nice Guy Games.

Hidden Step

If you’re really and truly dedicated to the idea of maximum value on your suckage, there are generally a couple things you can do to increase that.

1. Spend weeks pouring over Magic Online, Pro Tour, and Grand Prix data, and messaging your testing team at all hours of the night with deck ideas and tweaks. Get your team to switch from Zombies to GR Ramp (“It’s the Level 3 deck guys! It’s a thing!”), then bring UW Approach as a hedge, switching off GR Ramp on the car ride down (notice a pattern?). Time investment: heavy.

2. Get the store staff on your side. Stop by the night before the event, pick up some cards, and casually inquire about the local competition. Pepper in phrases like, “Yeah I like to get to events like this a little early,” and “Can I take a deck registration sheet back with me to the hotel? I have some final tweaking to do with my team tonight.” Don’t forget to refer to your deck as “well positioned for this weekend” as well. If you’ve truly mastered this skill, the store staff might even assume you’re a grizzled veteran, wishing you luck and telling you they’ll be looking out for you tomorrow. Time Investment: light.

Unless you hit multiple traffic jams on the way and it triples the amount of time it takes you, but I digress.

Step 3: Getting There, But With Results This Time

Although this is a tale of a truly sucky tournament, I’ll switch to a serious tone here, as I was legitimately trying to qualify for my first Pro Tour. Here is the deck that I played after several talks back and forth with Dan Ward (huge thanks!), who finished 10th with this list at the previous weekend’s GP Minneapolis.

[d title=”U/W Approach”]
2 Unsummon
4 Blessed Alliance
4 Censor
1 Immolating Glare
1 Negate
1 Pull From Tomorrow
3 Supreme Will
3 Glimmer of Genius
4 Hieroglyphic Illumination

4 Fumigate
3 Approach of the Second Sun

2 Stasis Snare
3 Cast Out

4 Irrigated Farmland
4 Prairie Stream
7 Plains
8 Islands
2 Scavenger Grounds

3 Regal Caracal
4 Authority of the Consuls
2 Descend Upon the Sinful
1 Hour of Revelation
1 Torrential Gearhulk
1 Linvala, the Preserver
2 Negate
1 Dispel


I meet two of my teammates at the store (they drove separately due to my family making the trip too) and we nervously wait around, talking and joking about how we would leave 1 PT invite for someone else, as our 4th team member was going to Boston the following week.

We noticed how close it was to the start time, and how few people were at the store. For some reason, this was an exceptionally low turnout of only 29, meaning five rounds and only two people receiving invites. Oh well, that just means I get home sooner for work the next day. We all laugh with the judge as he explains that the top 24 will receive booster packs, and we elbow our neighbors, chuckling at the idea that we could be 1 of only 5 people not to receive any kind of prize support. (cue raven cawing in the background). On to the games!

Round 1 – John on Zombies

I reach my table to find someone sitting in my seat. After calling a judge as my very first ever RPTQ action, it is revealed that the person is in fact another Ryan and he is sitting in my seat. Good start. We kick out the usurper, my opponent shakes my hand, begins shuffling, and accidentally drops a [mtg_card]Dread Wanderer[/mtg_card] onto the table. I was cheering on the inside. I wanted to face Zombies all day. My deck was built to crush the undead. I eat zombies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a win rate north of 75%.

My inward cheers turned to giddiness as I play Irrigated Farmland on turn 1 and my opponent picks it up and reads it, looking as though he’d never seen the card before. I’m patting myself on the back for being such a genius with my deck choice.

6 turns later, I concede and scoop up my cards for game two. Notably, my matchup had seemed so good against zombies that I wanted a few spots for the “next level” decks that I feared on the weekend. I had 1 [mtg_card]Negate[/mtg_card] and 1 [mtg_card]Pull From Tomorrow[/mtg_card] in the 60, with Negate for the Control/Ramp matchups, and the Pull with the logic that unless I was forced to cast it on turn 4, a 1x Pull could occasionally just draw a ton of cards, or get me from my first to the second Approach in 1 card.

Of course, in game one I’m forced to Pull for 2 on turn four as my only card draw spell. I drew land and the Negate against his hand and board full of creatures. GG. Easy game. Game two was fairly simple, as the Approach wins tend to be. I killed stuff, board wiped, Approached, and then drew an Approach the next turn.

Moving on to game three, I get hit with [mtg_card]Transgress the Mind[/mtg_card] turns 2 and 5, taking my Cast Out and Fumigate, the latter of which ended up costing me dearly. I made a mistake on my third turn, however, that ended up costing me the match. John had played a turn 3 [mtg_card]Diregraf Colossus[/mtg_card] with only 2 cards in hand. I had both Stasis Snare and Supreme Will in my hand on my turn. My instincts (correctly) told me to Snare the Colossus to prevent him from overwhelming me on board, which puts me in Fumigate-or-die mode.

I decided that with only two cards in hand, the chances of him casting two creatures were low, and I could always Snare the Colossus in response to him casting a 1 or 2 drop to prevent the second trigger. He had taken a Cast Out with his first Transgress as well, so I had put him on potentially at least 1 Liliana’s Mastery in hand. I wanted him to have an anemic turn so I could Supreme Will for a board wipe or Blessed Alliance. Anything.

Instead, John played a second Diregraf Colossus. Not great, but not awful. He gets an extra zombie, but I get to Supreme Will for a big answer at the end of his turn, and he had already Transgressed me once. I let it resolve, and he smiles, taps his 4th land, and plays a freshly drawn Cryptbreaker, making his second and third zombie tokens of the turn and putting me absurdly far behind. I find a Fumigate with Supreme Will, but he Transgresses it the next turn and wins in two swings. My own fault.

Record: 0-1

Round 2 – Brian Demars on Zombies

My first match against a Pro and writer! I really respect Brian’s work for Channel Fireball, and I was so thrilled to meet him that I forgot to be all nervous and intimidated. (Note for Brian: be a worse writer. You’ll get more match equity as opponents focus on your skill instead of your articles.) He was super nice, thanked me for my compliments, and soundly defeated my 10 with a 12 in the die roll. What a pro.

Game 1 was my second time in four games in which I cast Approach, found absolute 0 gas, and died in between first and second casts. Demars noticed me struggling to close the game, swapped from Cryptbreaker drawing to beatdown, and finished me off in short order.

Game 2 kicked off with a turn 2/3/4 triple Transgress the Mind train from Demars, leaving both of us in near-topdeck mode. A turn 6 Fumigate into a turn 7 Approach left me at 34 life and 0 cards in hand facing down a board consisting entirely of a single Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. There’s no possible way for me to lose that game right? Oh, sweet summer child, this takes the cake for most frustrating loss of my lifetime. For 6 straight turns, I needed ANY of the following to happen:

  • Demars to not draw or have in play a 3 power creature to crew the Skysovereign.
  • Me to draw a single cycler or card draw spell.
  • Me to draw a single Blessed Alliance, Stasis Snare, Cast Out, Linvala, or Immolating Glare.
  • Me to draw Approach of the Second Sun.
If you’re keeping track, that doesn’t leave a lot of misses. I felt a huge favorite, until three more turns had passed and I had drawn lands and taken 18 from the Boat. Down to 16, with Approach 4 from the top, I draw Fumigate and kill his crewer.

He proceeds to draw Diregraf and I’m at 10 life. I draw another Fumigate, he answers with a Relentless Dead which is a 3/3 from a Mastery, and I’m at 4. I draw land, extend the hand, and Demars looks completely shocked. Me too, sir, me too.

Record: 0-2

At this point I’m 1000% dead for top 8 in a 5 round tournament. I’m crushed, but as I’ve traveled all the way there and my family was currently enjoying a museum, I decide to play out the rest of my matches. Can’t get worse right? Well that’s where you’re wrong, my friend.

Round 3 – Ryan (Temur Energy)

I watched this opponent draw in the first round against a GR Ramp opponent who was ludicrously slow. He was already semi-tilted when he sat down, and my opening play of tapped Irrigated Farmland elicited a frustrated sigh from him. Apparently he doesn’t like playing against the Durdle Turtle. I’m not sure why, as I win a game 1 off turn 7 and 8 Approaches with him on three lands and three Harnessed Lightning in hand.

Games 2 and 3 are lightning fast, as he opens on [mtg_card]Attune with Aether[/mtg_card] + [mtg_card]Longtusk Cub[/mtg_card] both times, smartly plays around Blessed Alliance, and Negated any meaningful spell I tried to resolve. I’m talking like, this guy negated me five times in two games. Easy game, easy game.

I spend a lot of resources dealing with Cub in both games and die to a Glorybringer I have no answer for. Before game 3, he asks for a concession, as he’s technically live for top 8. I tell him “I’m here to play.” a little too aggressively, and he looks at me weird for the rest of the match (we’ll take any sort of advantage we can get right now). But at this point in the tournament I’m slumping so hard in my chair I look like the goop that the shapeshifters from Supernatural leave behind when they switch bodies.

Record: a hard 0-3

Round 4 – Mall Food Court

Game 1 of my bye involved a dejected call to my wife as I traversed the Ulven parking lot to find sustenance in the mall. I bounced back in the second game though, easily finding the food court, which was adequately stocked. I scry Indian food, a burger joint, and off-brand Subway to the bottom, leaving pizza and Arby’s on top.

I choose pizza and am rewarded with an opening hand of chicken, bacon, and ranch pizza that is fresh out of the oven. The third game was a blowout, as I devour fries, 2 pizza slices, and still have time to watch my friends finish their match, as they had been paired together after I left.

Round 5 – Drew (Mono Red)

My fellow 1-3 opponent sits down, looking as frustrated as I feel. We commiserate, he wins the die roll, and opens on a Sunscorched Desert + Bomat Courier combo, which is kind of like Goblin Guide, only if you get the card instead of your opponent. It’s pretty good, I guess. I however, have a anti-red nut draw, with multiple Blessed Alliance, Stasis Snare for Spazoret, and Fumigate. I stabilize at an absurdly high life total and manage to win game 1 as Drew regrets his deck choice.

I board in Caracals and Authority of the Consuls and I feel unbeatable. Hilarious. I keep a slower hand, expecting a grindier matchup, and Drew’s curve consists of the following sequence:

  • Turn 1: Gorger
  • Turn 2: Incendiary Flow and Gorger to 15
  • Turn 3: Incendiary Flow, Bomat, and Gorger to 9
  • Turn 4: 2x Incendiary Flow + attacks to 0.
The full playset of [mtg_card]Incendiary Flow[/mtg_card] got me. GG. On to the next one.

My family arrives during shuffling, and for the first time ever my wife and kids watch me play competitive Magic. (What a cool feeling, actually.) Drew curves Crasher into Hazoret into Glorybringer into Khenra + Chandra. (What an uncool feeling.)

Drew, if my daughter grows up to be a Naya Burn player I’m coming after you hard. Winning game one and losing the sideboard games feels bad man.

Final Record: 1-4

All in all, my first paper RPTQ went as horrifically as it possibly could have. I think my deck was fine, and in fact another UW Approach deck using the same tech (Stasis Snares and such) finished in the top 2 and got an invite. I took third in a PPTQ the following week, losing in the top 4 to a teammate. Them’s the beats though. I look forward to attending some more PPTQs and getting another chance to redeem myself. Thanks for reading!

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