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Posted August 27, 2014 by Scott Gerhardt in Card Games

The Dangers of Overconfidence – PTQ Top 4

Hubris is a volatile and dangerous thing.  Sometimes it lets you do things you could never do otherwise, and sometimes it becomes this soul crushing force that for a moment makes your world stand still and question everything you know.

This is the story of both of them.

We start back at GP-Richmond.  Needing a number of Planeswalker points to finish the season with 1500 points, I chose to go play in Richmond.  I was on a Zoo variant for Valencia, and continued to play a modified version for Richmond.  After a 6-3 record and missing day 2, I decided that I needed to start playing a deck that had a more proven track record of success.  After what was really very little research and a bunch of Top 8 finishes, I determined that Pod was the answer.  After researching several builds, I went with a Meliria Pod version that I really liked.

At this point I have two major issues.  The first is that Pod is probably the most complicated deck in the format to run.  If you know Modern, you know how hard this deck is to make work correctly, even for people who have played it for many months.  My second major issue is I don’t particularly like Modern.  I wasn’t really playing Magic when most of the cards came out initially, so sometimes Modern tournaments feel like pre-releases for me, having to stop my opponent and read cards. Lastly, I don’t have very much time to playtest it.  Unfortunately at this stage of my life, I enjoy the hell out of Magic, but I have to do things like, oh, actually make a living   This combination isn’t great for a deck that needs a lot of practice to be able to win.

“But I’m a good player – I can just pick it up and I’ll be fine.  I’ve done it before”

Yes, I won a 111 man Extended (yes, that long ago) PTQ with a R/G/W deck that I had never played a game with before round one.  That deck very much fit my personal play style and was not nearly as complicated to play as Pod, though. So I play a couple of small GPTs to practice.  I went 3-2 in the first, missing the top cut (top 4, I was 5th).  In the second I went 4-2 and barely slipped into Top 8 as the eight seed.  In the quarters I was very convincingly crushed by Kiki Pod.  One constant throughout both tournaments – I was playing quite slow due to not knowing the deck.  Not necessarily going to turns, but usually using most of the round clock.  It has so many hard choices and things to remember that it is very difficult to play the deck quickly without intimate knowledge of it.  This is true really of any Pod deck.

So after my crushing loss at the GPT I decide shortly before the PTQ that I am going to switch to Kiki Pod.  I took a list I found online and was going to run that.  I don’t own very many modern cards, so most of them I borrow from dealers I know and have agreements with.  I already had the cards borrowed for Melira Pod, so I just had to figure out what I needed to add and change.

This is where the story starts to get interesting….

I made the decision to change decks during the VMA Championships on MTGO the day before.  Fortunately/unfortunately for me, I actually did well enough in that event to play all 10 rounds, keeping me rather busy for most of the day, so it took me a while to figure out what I wanted to play exactly.  After a little research, I went with Connor Rice’s version from his PTQ win.  I really liked some of the tech cards like [mtg_card]Stonehorn Dignitary[/mtg_card] and just generally felt the deck was well positioned.  So, I figured out what was there that I needed (which was quite a bit) and sent a message to the main dealer I have a borrowing agreement with.  Unfortunately, that dealer was also the guy putting on the PTQ, so he was REAL busy and I was hitting him up very close to the tournament.  When I got to the PTQ and went to get the cards, I found out they weren’t there.  Now, this is my fault for switching so late.  I could borrow whatever they had, and there were 2 other dealers in the room that I knew and could help.

So while waiting for the first dealer to set up, I grabbed a deck reg list and started writing stuff down.  In addition to the deck, I found an article on StarCityGames by Sean McKeown. I don’t know if it was a good or bad thing that I read this article, but after reading it I wanted to make some minor changes.  Most notably, I wanted Courser of Kruphix in my deck.  I had to find some room.  Well, Conner had three Wall of Roots, so that seemed like the perfect place.  The Walls came out, the Coursers came in.  Also, I really wanted a second 4 drop persist guy in the deck, so I fit in a Murderous Recap in there.  I’m not exactly sure now how I decided that a Noble Hierarch was the right pull for it, though.  I guess I was running three in the Melira Pod deck with four Birds, so it would be fine here, plus I wouldn’t have to borrow/obtain a 4th.  I shouldn’t have to mess with anything else, right?

What ensues next is a tale of misery and woe that proves procrastination is killer.

I went to my main guy to borrow the cards they had, which was a lot of what I needed, but I was lacking the following cards:

  • 1x Phantasmal Image
  • 1x Glen Elendra, Archmage
  • 1x Fauna Shaman
  • 1x Zealous Conscripts
  • 1x Stornhorn Dignitary
  • 2x Copperline Gorge
  • 1x Avalanche Riders
  • 3x Fiery Justice
  • 1x Burrenton Forge-Tender

I know the second dealer well, but all he had with him I could borrow was the Fauna Shaman.  The last dealer I figured I was going to have to shell out a few dollars, luckily which would be credit I had with the store.  From them, I was able to get an Image, a Glen Elendra, two Copperline Gorge, one Avalanche Rider, and one Fiery Justice.   So after exhausting my realistic options to get cards, let’s see what we’re left needing:

  • 1x Zealous Conscripts
  • 1x Stonehorn Dignitary
  • 2x Fiery Justice
  • 1x Burrenton Forge-Tender

I don’t exactly have a lot of time to figure this out, as they are about to post seating for the player meeting.  I go through some of the other cards I had from my Melira Pod deck and see if I felt any of it might be applicable as sideboarding options here.   Well, I have a Kataki, War’s Wage, and that would be pretty good against Affinity, a deck I otherwise have very little against.  I had another Kitchen Finks which I could bring in against creature-heavy beatdown decks, burn, or other Pod decks.  Needing one more sideboarding slot, I figured a fourth Path to Exile couldn’t hurt, so I was easily able to borrow that from the first dealer.   Now, we’re down to 2 cards, and they’re both main deck:  The Stornhorn Dignitary and the Zealous Conscript.  One of these is a pretty pivotal piece of the combo, and the other is the card that drove me towards this version of Pod in the first place.

For the Stonehorn Dignitary, I thought for a bit, and then decided to make it a 2nd Voice of Resurgence.  I mean, the card is good, right?  Played well in Melira Pod with three copies, so nothing wrong with having a second copy here.  There really wasn’t a good substitute on effect, so just playing something solid seemed correct.

Finally, the [mtg_card]Zealous Conscripts[/mtg_card]: the guy immune to [mtg_card]Combust[/mtg_card] and can allow you to win when your opponent has their own Linvala or some other thing on the board you need to take.  This card is important, so I start going to anyone I might possibly know asking if anyone has one; absolutely nobody.  I double check the dealers just in case maybe they bought one or they found one somewhere else.  Nope.  At this point, I am the only person in the room not in their seat for the player meeting.  I have to make a decision and make it right now.  Understanding Zealous Conscript is a combo component, I felt I needed the replacement to be one as well.  My 3 best options were a fourth Restoration Angel, a second Deceiver Exarch, or a Pestermite.  [mtg_card]Village Bell-Ringer[/mtg_card] may have also been an option, but I wasn’t sure if any of the dealers would have one, and I didn’t like that it lacked the versatility of the other three.  In hindsight, given the options I had, I think it may have been the best option if I could have gotten one considering some of the things that happened during the tournament (his untap ability can’t be redirected).  Forced to decide, I went with the second Deceiver Exarch.  I felt four Restoration Angels were just too much, and I was not a fan of the fragility of [mtg_card]Pestermite [/mtg_card]that dies to virtually any removal.

So, after all that, here is my seventy-five:

[d title=”Kiki Pod”]

3 Noble Hierarch
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Courser of Kruphix
2 Voice of Resurgence
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Spellskite
2 Kitchen Finks
1 Murderous Redcap
2 Deceiver Exarch
1 Fiend Hunter
3 Restoration Angel
1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
1 Eternal Witness
1 Fauna Shaman
1 Harmonic Sliver

3 Chord of Calling
4 Birthing Pod

4 Misty Rainforest
4 Arid Mesa
1 Temple Garden
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Stomping Ground
1 Steam Vents
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Breeding Pool
1 Gavony Township
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
2 Copperline Gorge
1 Forest
1 Plains

1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Obstinate Baloth
4 Path to Exile
1 Kataki, War’s Wage
1 Kitchen Finks
1 Aven Mindcensor
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Fiery Justice
1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
1 Avalanche Riders
1 Ethersworn Canonist
1 Scavenging Ooze

My Deck List was an absolute mess when done

My Deck List was an absolute mess when done

Let’s recap.  I am playing what most people to consider the most complicated deck in the format, a format a don’t know very well to begin with, exactly zero games played with the deck and only a handful with the Pod concept in general, entering a 239 man PTQ and not even getting to play the deck I want to play because I couldn’t get the cards.

What could possibly go wrong?

I don’t want to give a full blow-by-blow tournament report, so I going to keep the summaries super short, and I apologize if I get any of the decks or game scores mixed up.

  • Round 1 I beat Blue Moon 2-0
  • Round 2 I beat Splinter Twin 2-0
  • Round 3 I drew a LONG match Scapeshift 1-1 when he beat me Game 2 during turns.
  • Round 4 I beat Melira Pod 2-0
  • Round 5 I beat Scapeshift 2-1
  • Round 6 I lost to Affinity 1-2 when I horribly punted the match and forgot completely about Kataki being in my deck during a Pod for 2.
  • Round 7 I beat a Twin deck 2-0 that got a little mana hosed game 2.
  • Round 8 I beat an Affinity deck 2-0 that got a lot mana hosed game 2.
  • Round 9 my opponent scooped to me despite having excellent board position game 3.  It would have ended a draw, but he scooped instead.  He was X-2 going into the round and out of contention for Top 8.   I elaborate in detail on this in the report addendum.

I make Top 8 by the slimmest of margins as the 8 seed.

  • I feel really bad for Mark.  I've been in his shoes before, and it sucks to have that happen to you.

    I feel really bad for Mark. I’ve been in his shoes before, and it sucks to be in that position and have that happen to you.

    Quarterfinals I beat Melira Pod 2-0

  • Semi-Finals I punted possibly the worst punt of my life, taking a situation where I had him dead on board and changing it to a 1-2 loss.  On that evening, in that match, the guy who deserved to win did.

In hindsight, I am both elated and crushed.  For me to just pick up a deck I have no experience with and Top 4 was an incredible accomplishment for me.  Many people know me as a good player, but that is primarily in limited.  This exceeded my wildest expectations.  I didn’t even come to win.  I came because I had other business in the area (which I didn’t get to do because it ran so late) and because I really wanted to support the tournament organizer.  For those who don’t know, I started Shuffle & Cut Games back in 2000 and left the company in 2008, leaving it in Matt Murphy’s very capable hands.  While I have little connection to the store other than pride, friends, and a borrowing agreement, it will still always be my favorite store and I will always want to see them do well.

Continuing to look back, I feel very disgusted with myself over this tournament.  I’ve been playing highly competitive tournaments since 1996.  I know the expectations at competitive and professional tournaments.  While I never actually received an accumulation of warnings that led to a game or match loss, I probably should have.  I wasn’t prepared and that lack of preparation left my brain working in overdrive the entire time just trying to pilot the deck.  The technical mistakes I made with the deck, though, were way more frequent than I am comfortable with, mostly forgotten in trying to maintain concentration.  Courser flips, lands not working the way they were supposed to.  Some of the errors made very late were just unacceptable from a pro-caliber player, exhausted or not.  Playing a Phantasmal Image to make a Thrun was a 13+ hours of Magic basic mistake, as was the error that cost me the match and (mercifully) ended my tournament.  My play from this tournament left a staff of judges who previously knew I wasn’t a cheater wondering moving forward if I am.  In short, the ramifications of the tournament in the end I feel outweighed the positive outcome.  Knowing everything I know now, even knowing I would have gotten Top 4, I would not have played that tournament.

So please let this be a lesson to everyone out there.  Being able to play a winning deck is certainly a required component in winning Magic tournaments, but being able to play a winning deck competently is just as important.  If you’re going to play the hard deck, playtest with it.  If you can’t, don’t play the hard deck. To address specific allegations and issues that arose from the tournament, I have created a separate article.  You can access it here.

Until next time, keep playing!

Scott Gerhardt

Scott has....thoughts. They can be about this, that, or just about anything. Seldom at a loss for words, you can find his thoughts chronicled here