…I didn’t qualify for the Pro Tour.

Well that’s it! Thanks for reading! Thus ends Roman’s long-winded Magic journey. See you next time ladies and gentleman.

…Just kidding.

Although I sneaked into 16th place at the end of 6 rounds, a free playmat and deck box could not lift my spirits from the crushing defeat of missing the golden ticket. I drowned my sorrows into a panzarotti, which is some sort of fried pizza pastry that was being served at the restaurant next door. Across from me sat Gaudenis Vidiguris, biting into one filled with buffalo chicken. While I finished at a measly 4-2, Gau was patiently waiting for his top 8 to start. He was only a few games away from the Pro Tour, while I had missed the target entirely. But, before we talk about my overwhelming feelings of sadness and regret, let’s go back to where it all started.

Flashback to the Summer Modern PPTQ season:

It was a hot, sticky morning. I had trekked all the way to Forest Hills, Queens to battle in the first Modern PPTQ I’d be playing in for the season. Packed in my bag was Temur Scapeshift, a 75 given to me by fellow NYU-er and Modern aficionado James Cebulla. “Deck can’t lose” he told me, being a Scapeshift devotee. I never liked played Modern. I avoided it like the plague. There weren’t enough competitive tournaments in the area to keep me invested, so all my Magic time went to team drafts and Standard. All I needed was James giving me four copies of Scapeshift along with 71 other cards in a deck box to get me sold. What could go wrong?

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I met up with deck master and Magic personality, Mike Flores at the venue. I’ve known Mike for the past few years, and frustratingly have never beaten him in a match of Magic. When I was a Freshman at NYU, I went to a Grand Prix Trial at a local store to try to win byes for the upcoming Legacy Grand Prix New Jersey. I was playing my pet deck at the time, R/G Monsters, a deck packed with mana dorks such as Elvish Mystic, that ramped up into Polukranos, World Eater and Stormbreath Dragon. I sat down across from Mike Flores in the finals. I didn’t know much about him, only that I had watched him get beat on SCG Open streams (that’s how I spent my Saturday mornings in highschool), and that he was probably the best player in the room. I lost, crushed that I had stayed up until 2am on a Tuesday night (yes, a Tuesday night GPT), only to walk away with a handful of packs and no byes for the GP.

A few weeks later, Grand Prix New Jersey came around. Waiting for third round pairings, I bumped into Mike.

“Did you win your round 2?” he asked.

“Nope.”

“I stole that win from you,” he jeered. And thus our friendship began.

Mike Flores Kreygasm

I guess he did “rob” me of that win, but at least I’ll always have this blurry photo.

Two rounds into the Modern PPTQ I was 0-2, having been crushed by fellow Spellsnare-er Jonah Gaynor on Ad Nauseam and someone who I don’t remember on Suicide Zoo. Not even once did I get to cast a Scapeshift. I was down for the count. Meanwhile, Mike Flores went on to win the event playing Naya Burn without Wild Nacatl. Great, another victory I’d have to hear Flores go on and on about. Just what I needed.

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Not two weeks later, Miles Rodriguez would go on to top 8 the SCG Invitational with Flores’ exact list. As the Modern PPTQ season was coming to a close, I shrugged my shoulders and to decided to sleeve it up. I owned the cards and frankly didn’t want to do anymore Scapeshift-ing. So, I showed up to my next PPTQ ready to burn some opponents out.

What could go wrong?

Well, nothing did really. At a mediocre 2-2, I was able to beat my last round opponent in the swiss (one game going to my opponent walking into the round over three minutes late) and secured my top 8 spot. Three elimination rounds later, I walked out triumphantly, finally qualifying for the RPTQ. But where did I go from there?

Flores and I met for FNM regularly. We’d draft for a bit, then go out for Hill Country BBQ in Midtown after we had both 0-2’d. I was committed to playing Burn for the RPTQ and Flores seemed to be on the same plan. He pitched the idea of R/W Burn, rather than the Naya Burn list that had gotten both of us to this stage. I was skeptical at first, since the majority of Burn decks with top finishes were predominantly Naya, some with Wild Nacatl, others without. What was the merit of R/W? As it turns out, there were many.

Here’s the deck I sleeved up for the RPTQ:

R/W Burn

Creatures (12)
4 Goblin Guide
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Monastery Swiftspear

Instants and Sorceries (28)
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lava Spike
4 Rift Bolt
4 Skullcrack
4 Lightning Helix
4 Searing Blaze
4 Boros Charm

Lands (20)
4 Inspiring Vantage
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Mountain
2 Sacred Foundry

Sideboard (15)
3 Sudden Shock
3 Kor Firewalker
4 Relic of Progenitus
3 Deflecting Palm
2 Path to Exile

With the release of Kaladesh, Modern now had access to the five enemy-colored fastlands. “This card is just Plateau!” Mike exclaimed. With a Red-White fastland added to the mix, here’s the main manabase Mike proposed:

12 Red Fetchlands
2 Mountain
2 Sacred Foundry
4 Inspiring Vantage

Only four fetchable lands with 12 fetches? Would that really work?

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In fact, it did. Inspiring Vantage meant you started games out at 17-19 life rather than the industry Standard 14 that comes from fetching for both Sacred Foundry and Stomping Ground. This gives more breathing room against aggressive decks wanting the game to be over by turn four.

Wild Nacatl sucks

I don’t like this Magic card. The first reason we skipped Wild Nacatl was the mana. Choosing Inspiring Vantage meant Nacatl got immediately worse in our deck. Also, in a format dominated by heavy-creature decks, I was on board with cutting Nacatl and even Grim Lavamancer for more spells. Lavamancer being cut however was a meta choice, opting to play the full four Lightning Helix.

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Since we weren’t playing Wild Nacatl or Grim Lavamancer, Atarka’s Command was easily replaced by Skullcrack. The loss of green meant no access to Destructive Revelry out of the sideboard. However, the overall consistency and strength of a two-color deck with a Red-White fastland made all the difference to change our mind from playing Stomping Ground.

The sideboard:

3 Sudden Shock – for Infect/Affinity
3 Kor Firewalker – for the mirror
4 Relic of Progenitus – for Dredge/Jund
3 Deflecting Palm – Infect/Suicide Zoo
2 Path to Exile – for Infect/Jund/Suicide Zoo

Without green mana, we were at a loss without Destructive Revelry, since the card is a shock and an artifact/enchantment removal spell all in one. This led us to pass on cards like Wear//Tear since we valued using our mana to burn our opponent for three or four more than a removal spell. However, at the RPTQ, I promptly lost a close match to Affinity in round three. Going forward, I’d imagine cutting down on Kor Firewalker would be best, since the card really only shines in the mirror, where R/W burn is advantaged anyway due to four copies of Lightning Helix and being able to start at a healthy 17-19 life compared to 14-15.

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As for the tournament itself, well things didn’t go exactly as planned. The first two rounds started off as victories against U/R Thing in the Ice and Infect. Being lucky enough to sequence Goblin Guide into Eidolon of the Great Revel multiple games against those two decks is definitely a great feeling, and the three copies of Sudden Shock didn’t hurt in the sideboarded Infect games. Rounds three and four did not go as intended, as my Affinity opponent and I both mulliganed multiple times every game. Game three on the draw, I decided to mulligan a hand of Goblin Guide, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Lightning Bolt and four lands. I knew my opponent was already mulliganing, but keeping a four land hand didn’t seem to be a wise decision. I shipped it back, drawing into a one-land six card hand, kept, and hoped for the best. While my opponent crushed me with the combo of Signal Pest and multiple Vault Skirge, I was unable to keep up with my burn spells and choked mana, and extended the hand.

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After losing to Grixis Delver, and winning my last two matches, I picked up my Top 16 playmat and headed home soon after. “Top 16 isn’t so bad.” I tried to rationalize the performance in my mind, holding up the rectangle piece of rubber that is best described as an oversized mousepad. But, it was that bad. I had come so far, tried so hard, and for what? The cycle begins all over again: schlepping to cramped NYC stores only to battle for endless hours to claim the prize of being invited to the next tournament where, if you don’t place 1st through 4th, you walk away with no plane ticket to the next Pro Tour.

Finding the Mike Flores Mindset

The next Friday, Mike and I met for dinner, only this time Hill Country BBQ had an hour and a half wait, so we settled for Outback Steakhouse. While contemplating whether or not to add endless shrimp to our meal, we talked about the RPTQ, what could have been, and where to go from here. Did I play poorly? Was my deck choice wrong? While both of those things may have been true, but what I ended up lacking was mindset. “Go back and read ‘How to Win a PTQ,’ Flores quipped. “My best article.” (Read it here if you want, I recommend it.) I rolled my eyes as always, and after walking back home, I pulled up the nine-year old article and began to have a look.

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My eyes were glued to the screen from the opening sentence to the last paragraph. In “How to Win a PTQ”, Flores recounts his experiences at multiple PTQs, winning some, losing in others, and using “Jedi Mind-tricks” to shape things in his favor. However, the takeaway is a few major points.

  • Although you won’t always win, you have to put yourself in a mental mindset never to be satisfied with coming short of the prize.
  • Put it into your heart that it is the universe’s destiny for you to win this event – put everything into believing you’re here for a reason: to win the event.
  • Although luck and skill are always two major components of winning an event, you have to anchor yourself in the mindset that you’re going to win the event – it’s the reason you showed up to the tournament in the first place.

I’ve always been somewhat shy and timid. When it comes to Magic, I never get things on the first try and it took me awhile for me to even win my first casual tournament. I spent so many weekends of my Freshman year of college making top 8 of PPTQs, and I was usually happy with this result. “I’ll get it next time,” I’d say to myself. While it was good of me to always come back wanting that first place prize, too often did I make myself comfortable walking away from the event only having made it to the top 8. I wish I the mindset described in the article going into the RPTQ. Even though I felt confident in my deck choice and level of play, I was still missing out on how to approach the tournament as a whole. If you want to win the damn thing you have to eschew it into your brain that you’re going to, from the second you step into the venue.

Finals will be over in just a few days, and with that I’ll have time to reroot myself in Magic. The next time you see me at a PPTQ, be warned. You won’t ever see me flinch.

Cheers,
Roman

Infect is arguably the best deck in Modern. This breakdown of the deck’s matchup across the format is of great use to anyone who aspires to become a master of the deck.

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