While I was sitting at the Stockholm Arlanda airport, ready to go back home, I started thinking and it’s been an interesting couple of days. I got to travel to Sweden for the first time to participate in a RPTQ I qualified for late 2015. I never would have thought that I’d fly 1,500 kilometers (about a 1,000 miles) to play Magic. Now, I’m even thinking about doing the five hour drive to Grand Prix Paris in a couple of weeks. It’s amazing how things can change!

Qualifying

Anyways, I’ll jump to the RPTQ. As you may know, the most common way to qualify for a Regional Pro Tour Qualifier (RPTQ) is to win a Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifier (PPTQ). So let’s start my journey’s story at the beginning: PPTQ Eindhoven, October 11, 2015.

I’m a real fan of limited, so I’m always in for competitive sealed events. At Eindhoven, I opened a Battle for Zendikar pool which looked to be heavily supporting a Grixis(UBR) devoid archetype with bombs like Drowner of Hope, Turn Against, two Vile Aggregates, and two Nettle Drone. This was even topped off with an expedition Blood Crypt. I managed to go 4-0-2.

I was feeling on top of my game. This was also after losing the finals of another sealed PPTQ the day before. After a two-hour break we start the top 8 draft where I drafted an unusual green-white go wide deck. It combined the power of Brood Monitor, From Beyond, Retreat to Emeria and the usually-not-so-impressive Inspired Charge. It crushed everyone who expected me to play a normal BFZ draft deck, allowing me finish first and qualifying me for the RPTQ. This is the decklist I ran.

Preparation for the RPTQ

Let’s fast-forward to three months later. Oath of the Gatewatch has been released, standard is in flux, and Reflector Mages are running rampant At my last big competitive standard tournament, Grand Prix Brussels, I played Esper Tokens. At this point, that deck wasn’t putting up any results, and the closest thing to it is the Jeskai Black deck running Monastery Mentors.

Investing in Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy would hurt a bit, but the card is insane and doesn’t rotate out when Shadows over Innistrad hits, so I was fine with it and bought a playset.

The deck plays like a modern deck. It sports the best cards over multiple colors and combines a tapout control style with card advantage to create a deadly package. After playtesting with friends for two weeks I was sold on the archetype and would buy whatever I didn’t have on Magic Online (four more Jaces. My poor wallet). After another week of testing online and offline it was time for two PPTQ weekends before flying to Stockholm! Since I had already qualified for the Stockholm RPTQ, these 2 weekends were more for some serious practice.

Preliminary Pro Tour Qualifiers (PPTQs) are the first step to the Magic Pro Tour. By winning a PPTQ, you qualify for that season’s Regional Pro Tour Qualifier (RPTQ). Top finishers at a RPTQ will receive an invitation (and airfare) to the Pro Tour that it qualifies for! Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers take place about 4 to 6 weeks after the end of a PPTQ season. The format of the PPTQs and RPTQs change per season. For example, currently (January 23 - April 17) the format is Standard/Sealed for the PPTQ. Winning qualifies you for a RPTQ taking place May 28 and June 4, 2016, where the format is Sealed. These RPTQs can qualify you for the third Pro Tour of 2016 (Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, Sydney, August 5 - 7)

Both of the PPTQs actually went surprisingly well. In the first one, I finished 4-1-1 getting me to top 8 but I lost in the quarterfinals to the eventual winner. In the second one, I just missed out top 8 by going 3-2-1, which meant I lost the crucial, “win and in” round six.

As I reflected on the deck’s performance I felt like it was versatile, but the mentors aren’t quite “it”. Other Jeskai Black players seem to be switching over to Mantis Rider to race the Rally and Ramp decks, and also add Jeskai Charm along with Goblin Dark-Dwellers to become more of a midrange-aggro deck. I still preferred to stay on the control side of the spectrum though and play around with Grixis Control the last week before the RPTQ, but it never really convinces me.

It was getting close to the tournament weekend and I still didn’t have a deck I was confident in. The day before I fly to Stockholm, Gerry Thompson posts a Jeskai Black control shell that ditches the maindeck Mentors, adds a couple of Radiant Flames and a second Chandra, Flamecaller, and smoothed out the manabase a bit. I picked it up and played a league online (going 4-1) and decided to have faith in GerryT’s design. With that, I threw on some fresh sleeves, printed the decklist, and dug up my passport. Time to fly!

Travel

After a short flight to Stockholm, (not even two hours in the air) I’m greeted by blue skies, snowy patches of grass and the cleanest city I’ve ever been. If you know Dutch, German and English, than Swedish is almost readable. Not everyone can speak 3 languages but luckily, pretty much everyone I met there could speak English. Very practical! After I dropped off my luggage at the hotel, I took a long walk through the city and ended up at the game store, Dragon’s Lair, in Stockholm. This medium-sized shop was the one hosting the RPTQ, and it seemed like a good idea to make sure that I knew where the tournament was, and that the times on the website were accurate. It was 100% right, so I was set for battle the next morning.

The Tournament

It began at 9am (on a Sunday, no less!) and I was greeted by the sight of twenty-odd Magic players, waiting for the store to open. There was a tension in the morning air and it was exciting. To build the suspense further, the doors opened a couple of minutes late. So, at that point, we filed in and registered our incomprehensible names by showing our IDs to the Canadian head judge. We found out during the announcements that clearly the turnout was pretty low. It was only 29 participants, so we’d be playing five rounds swiss and a cut to top 8. I liked those odds! We traded in our decklist for a Snapcaster Mage promo and the pairings for round one were being posted.

Round One – Esper Control

The first round I was paired against Esper Control. I’d hardly played against the dragonless version of this deck, but after he mulled to six and kept a removal-heavy hand, he quickly disposed of me by landing an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon on turn eight. I had a Chandra in my hand, but was stuck on five lands. When he Duressed me the following turn, I just scooped instead to hide some of the contents of my deck.

Game two I boarded in my control package which sports two Dispel, a fourth Painful Truths, Negate, Disdainful Stroke, Duress, two Transgress the Mind and a Dragonlord Silumgar. The round started with a ten minute deck check, but after that I took down his hand with discard and then beat him up with Chandra.

Game three we each had two Duresses which resulted in both of us going empty-handed. He draws and passes with one card in hand, I topdeck a Treasure Cruise which got Clash of Wills‘d and he finished me off with two Shambling Vent. So close, but no cigar. 0-1

Round Two – Abzan Aggro

After that loss, which ended well past the time limit due to the deck check, I didn’t get time to reset before round two because the pairings were posted immediately. I started on the play and had a hand that was capable of flipping Jace turn three. My opponent started out slowly with a Sandsteppe Citadel and eventually traded it with my removal, but it left him without a solution for Jace. He filled the board with midrange threats, and I responded by playing Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and shrunk him with Jace’s plus ability. This caused my opponent re-read Jace, but I used it to avoid a possible Abzan Charm.

Next, he played a second Siege Rhino and on my turn, I untapped to play Radiant Flames into Jace’s flashback to cast another Radiant Flames killing two Rhino’s, a pumped Sylvan Advocate and my own Kalitas to get three zombies. My opponent never recovered.

I sided in Roast, Disdainful Stroke, Dragonlord Silumgar and the third Kalitas. Game two, we kept trading resources until I found a Soulfire Grand Master with with both Negate and Disdainful Stroke to “buyback” keeping my opponent in check until I topdecked Chandra to win it 2-0. 1-1, still alive!

Round Three – Abzan Blue

I was paired against Abzan again which was fine by me, but this round was a total dud. I mulled to six both games and then flooded the first, and got stuck on a two land hand in the second. It effectively crushed my hopes of going to the Pro Tour.

I never had a chance that round, even though my opponent had a very mediocre hand the second game. It had two Anafenza, the Foremost and no other creatures, but I couldn’t beat his two Stubborn Denials which countered both of my Roasts and gave him the match. 1-2 and out of top 8 contention

Round Four – UR Prowess

My opponent and I were both no longer playing for top 8, but the prize support had been posted and it’s always pretty good for RPTQs. It’s also always the same, regardless of size which was great for our little tournament. Top four would go to the Pro Tour and those losing the top 8 match would get 54 boosters and a direct qualification for the next RPTQ. The rest of the top 16 get 36 boosters, and those placed 17 to 24 are awarded 18 boosters. Also, everyone in the top 16 also would get the special “RPTQ top 16” playmat, featuring Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. In short, everyone, bar the bottom five players, would get something.

So, while we were out of top 8, we were still playing for very reasonable prizes. My opponent was on UR prowess, which is a match I’ve often practiced against and didn’t like much.

In game one, I had a Radiant Flames which turned into a 3-for-1 with my Kalitas taking over the game. My opponent never recovered after that. For game two, I sided in some solutions to his Treasure Cruise, an extra Radiant Flames, and took out some hand disruption. But, he took game by curving out into Temur Battle Rage + Titan’s Strength on a Stormchaser Mage. In, game three we went to topdeck mode, where I eventually drew and resolved a Chandra. Still in top 16 contention and feeling good! 2-2

Round Five – GR Landfall (with combo)

This was the last round of swiss, and since I was at 2-2, it would be the last round of the tournament. My opponent was sitting next to me earlier, so I knew he was playing Abbot of Keral Keep and Snapping Gnarlid. I decided to guess he was on GR landfall, although it didn’t matter much for my mulligan decisions.

My first hand is a six-lander so I couldn’t keep, and the second hand showed me four lands, a Soulfire Grand Master and a Fiery Impulse so I kept the 6. I scry’d a Jace to the top and curved out pretty well. I found a Radiant Flames to answer his board, and then Duress to take his Become Immense. It left his topdecked Monastery Swiftspear to do very little. I ended up winning with some Kalitas beatdowns after I sacrificed a zombie to make him 5/6.

In the second game, I added a third Kalitas, another Radiant Flames, Dispel and Roast. My opponent ended up mulling to five, and I keep an unexciting 7 cards with four lands, Murderous Cut, Roast, and Chandra. I nearly flooded while my opponent went turn one Scythe Leopard, turn two Abbot, turn three Abbot and then revealing Zurgo Bellstriker. It was a great curve, but I respond by flipping Jace and flung some removal at it all which gave enough time to resolve a Kalitas for the eventual win. 3-2

Overall

I finished 11th, which net me a box of Oath boosters and a top 16 playmat. This was on top of the Snapcaster Mage promo and the deckbox everyone got. It wasn’t the result I wanted, but I’m pretty happy with it nonetheless.

Afterthoughts

Well, it was an odd journey. I practiced offline and online quite a bit, but it was mainly against a bunch of decks that I didn’t play against in the tournament. I was prepared for any Rally, Bant Company, BR Dragons or Eldrazi Ramp decks, which weren’t there but that’s just part of the game.

I came to this RPTQ expecting more people since the size of the previous Stockholm RPTQs were a reason for me to go to here instead of Berlin or Paris (which are five hour trips as well). However, the small turnout ended up being a pleasant surprise.

The playtesting of the deck was a small sample size, with only five rounds against four archetypes, but I liked how the deck played. The removal was good, and I felt like I was able to match aggro decks play for play without feeling vulnerable to Abzan’s midrange. The maindeck Radiant Flames was a big deal, and both Chandra and Kalitas take the game over by themselves. I did miss having another draw spell as I used to play six maindeck, but that may just be greed.

I’m tempted to add a third Treasure Cruise to the deck since there’s probably space for another delve spell, but I’ll need to test that. On a different angle the manabase did feel clunky at times, but that’s just what I got for going with four colors. I did like moving away from Dig Through Time and not including Gideon, Ally of Zendikar with the benefit of having only two double-costed cards in the deck. Still, I had to mulligan quite a bit and that’s when the fragile balance of the manabase really showed.

Future considerations

At the moment of writing this, I’m somewhere halfway between Stockholm and Amsterdam, contemplating the upcoming weekend. There’s a sealed PPTQ on Saturday, and a standard PPTQ on Sunday. I’m going to try to adding the tweak I mentioned above, but other than that, I’m keeping what I’ve played.

Looking back, switching my deck often and late before the RPTQ may have hurt my insight on mulligans and fetching. I think I should’ve settled on at least 72 cards earlier in the process. What I might need to secure an invite for the next round of RPTQs could be just getting more familiar with the deck before the next tournament. I’ll be working on it for sure!

A photo of Thijs van der Meer Thijs van der Meer

Thijs van der Meer rolled into magic in the summer of 1994, when Italian dance group Playahitty had a hit with the song “The Summer Is Magic”. Playing the game through high school, he eventually stopped playing - picking the game back up when Theros block came around. Slowly working his way up from kitchen table draft to FNM to Grand Prix, Thijs has been a fanatic since unexpectedly making day two at local GP Utrecht in 2015. He spends most of his days programming, playing Magic or with a bass guitar in his hands.