A Qualifier Journey: Experiences to Build On

Warleader's Helix

A Qualifier Journey:  Experiences to Build On

Every qualifier run is a difficult one, but like every one, it has its merits.  This journey that I’ve been on for the last four weekends in a row has had a great amount of highs and lows, and has been a very enjoyable quest to try to prove to myself that I can be a better Magic player.

Today marked the last day of the journey, a Pro Tour Qualifier in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  After three disappointing finishes for me the last three weekends, I finally turned things around and finished with a 6-2 record at 17th out of 158.  The goal was still to make the Pro Tour, but I was happy to at least get within striking distance again.  I practiced a lot, several hours a day and worked with my teammates to try and understand the format better and know the ins and outs of every deck and every play that could be made.  And while I didn’t make it today, I was happy to see a fellow Madison native and friend, Jasper Johnson-Epstein qualify.  Hopefully he can continue the beatings in Atlanta. . .

In Eau Claire and Green Bay I played the R/W Devotion list of my own creation (mostly similar to the stock version), and unfortunately just didn’t draw very well along with running into fringe matchups that weren’t good ones.  There were some great times involved though, from packing six people in my friend’s SUV including one “trunk dweller”, to getting lost for an hour in the middle of nowhere while running out of gas, to cracking up until we were in tears over beers and wings post-tournament.  We had to ban certain members from “sharing stories” that got too out of control, we watched some 0-2-drunk-infuriation occur, found awesome Pandora channels that continued to crank out hits over multiple car trips, and just had an absolute blast.  Even when the money is tight and the winning doesn’t always come, its experiences like these that make me love this game and ones that you can’t put a value on.  Magic is the great social equalizer, it brings people together from all walks of life and all different areas, and it does one simple thing that is the most important of all; it just makes you happy.

Last weekend I was back home for the PTQ in my city (Madison, WI), and watched as friends got very close but couldn’t take the crown.  I started out 3-1 playing a Mono Red Aggro list (splashing white for Chained to the Rocks and sideboard cards), but dropped the next two to be out of it.  The PTQ was HUGE.  We had 240 people, the largest ever for the shop, and the first few rounds even involved having a few players without chairs that had to play Magic on their knees at the tables.  It was pretty crazy.  My teammate Mike Torrisi who I mentioned in the last article started off 5-0 with his brand of R/W Devotion, but then lost three in a row (he was at table 1) to bust out of the tournament.  One of our other teammates Blaine who’s only 17 years old played UW Control to a win-and-in round for top 8 but got stuck on three lands in game 3 against Mono Blue and also had his run ended.  Our last hope, Madison native and starcitygames.com writer Adrian Sullivan made it to the finals, but then fell yet again to the Mono Blue menace.  It was a hell of a day, but it was good for all of us to iron out the kinks.  I knew at that point that Aggro was not where I wanted to be, as most of the creatures were just outclassed too easily in important matchups, but it still didn’t make me want to switch off of Red just yet.  I like playing decks that are my style, and obviously I created this website, so while I did have the traitorous deck (Mono Blue) in my deckbox ready to go, it wasn’t time for that to see the light.

Finally today came and I decided I was going to make it to the last PTQ (technically there’s one within striking distance tomorrow, but as I write this it’s 12:45am and I don’t have a car ride), so I grabbed some car mates and took my ride over yonder to Cedar Rapids, Iowa.  I decided to play Michael Kenney’s R/W Midrange (Big Boros) list that he top 8’d SCG Indy with and won SCG Columbus with.  The deck has a lot of variety within it, giving a good player the opportunity to leverage their playskill to make plays.  The sideboard is also very flexible, giving you outs to a lot of the unknown should you come across it.  I had played it to a 2nd place finish at this previous week’s win-a-box tournament at my local store as well as feeling comfortable with it at FNM.  While I could have brewed up some changes, I felt that Kenney was mostly in the right place and that for a PTQ berth my best chance would be with something that was fresh and well tested.  For those that have forgotten or not seen it, here is the list-

Michael Kenney – 1st Place SCG Columbus (Big Boros)


Creature [16]
2 Stormbreath Dragon
4 Young Pyromancer
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge

Instant [10]
4 Magma Jet
2 Warleader’s Helix
4 Lightning Strike

Sorcery [2]
2 Mizzium Mortars
Enchantment [4]
2 Assemble the Legion
2 Chained to the Rocks

Land [25]
11 Mountain
3 Plains
4 Temple of Triumph
2 Mutavault
4 Sacred Foundry
1 Boros Guildgate

Planeswalker [3]
2 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

60 cards


2 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Last Breath
2 Wear // Tear
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Glare of Heresy
1 Pithing Needle
2 Chained to the Rocks
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion

15 cards

There’s a lot going on here, and that’s how every game feels too.  I had a lot of close games at the PTQ, but the deck finds ways to pull itself out of trouble.  Elspeth, for instance, was simply amazing.  I had at least three games where I ripped her right when I needed her to either wipe a board full of huge creatures or make tokens to save me until I could get Warleader’s Helix and Chandra’s Phoenix online.  This deck also captures the classic feel of a great red deck.  You have great burn spells, aggressive creatures, but best of all it has something red decks normally don’t have:  DRAW POWER.  Between the four Magma Jets, four Temple of Triumphs, and two Chandras, you can truly filter through and get the outs you need.  You can play Aggro, you can play Control.  You can board into fantastic cards against popular opposition.  And if that all doesn’t work, well, there’s Stormbreath Dragon.

What I didn’t like about the deck is that despite all of the above, it sometimes does just run out of gas.  But in a format ripe with Thoughtseize and great decks, that’s going to happen to the best of them.  I was happy to even finish 6-2, considering I mulligan’d to five cards in four different games and lost every die roll except one.  You need a little luck in these tournaments, and while I didn’t get it today, I’m hopeful for tomorrow.  I think after seeing Mono Blue win three consecutive tournaments that it’s probably just the deck you want to play, but if you are like me and have a hard time tapping Islands, Kenney’s list is a very good option.  I still think Ketter’s list from SCG Columbus is also fine, but you definitely get into situations with that deck where you are just dead.  With Kenney’s, a win is almost always a possibility despite how bleak the situations can look at times.

As for what I played against, I believe this was what I saw today-

Round 1 vs Esper Humans with Cartel Aristocrat and Soul’s Ransom

1-2 (Loss) (we both ran out of cards game 3, then he drew better off the top)


Round 2 vs Mono Green Devotion

2-1 (Win)


Round 3 vs UW Control

2-0 (Win)


Round 4 vs Mono Black Devotion

1-2 (Loss) (Same as my other loss, both of us ran out of cards and then he drew into chaining Gray Merchants)


Round 5 vs Junk Midrange

2-0 (Win)


Round 6 vs UW Control

2-0 (Win)


Round 7 vs Mono Black Devotion

2-1 (Win)


Round 8 vs B/G Midrange

2-1 (Win) (very close nailbiter but Chandra drew about four or five cards in game three to seal it for me)

6-2, 17th Place of 158

I used Kenney’s sideboard plan which I found at the last minute via his Twitter feed.  I’m not sure if I like taking out all the Reckoners versus Mono Black, but otherwise it was helpful and I think he made some good choices.  You can find it here-



Just an FYI for my readers, I have been working on some videos that should soon be on the site.  I’ve recorded a few via Cockatrice, and I’m working on setting up a table top session in real life to film.  This has been long in the works and the business of life has slowed it from materializing, but I’m pushing to try and get it done faster.  I’d expect that probably by the end of February I should have something up and running, so stay tuned.

As Always, thanks for reading and keep the fire alive!

– Red Deck Winning

5 thoughts on “A Qualifier Journey: Experiences to Build On

  1. Great job John! Always enjoying reading up on what you’ve been up to! Looking forward to your thoughts on Born of the Gods 🙂

  2. So cool to hear how you’ve been doing, and your thoughts along the way.

    I’m equally excited to hear what you think Born of the Gods will offer the Red Mages. I’m particularly interested on mono Red Agro and Rakdos Agro, with cards like Satyr Firedancer, Searing Blood, and Mogis, God of Slaughter.

    Has this been on your radar?

    • Thanks guys! Glad to share and I am going to try and start making more time to write.

      I’m looking forward to Born of the Gods. There’s been a lot of people around my area who are disappointed in the set, and while it does have something lacking I think there are great cards there. I’ve started testing on Cockatrice now that the full set is out, and I’m specifically interested in seeing how a number of different BR lists do. I’ll probably do a card evaluation article soon, so stay tuned.

  3. I was also in Cedar Rapids – if you saw the guy that got 2 warnings, a game loss, and nearly a match loss to a very poor sport from Ames – that was me, but a story for another time. I have to say – as a red player – red is going to need some help in the next set to be competitive. It just struggles so hard to compete against decks like mono-black or Orzhov – even UW control can easily get wins against you by drawing just 1 or 2 of their power cards to stall you. I opted to play Orzhov control- and the entire time I’m playing I’m thinking “is this what its not like to play red?”. Even with very little practice, and having not played in a tournament in 5+ years the games were so relaxing and I ended up goign 6-2-1. I was rarely in danger of just losing the game because my opponents got another untap step. Yes I lost games, obviously, but with red it always seems to be a struggle to get those last 6,5,4,3,2, or even 1(!) points of damage in for the win. I am most excited for the RR burn spell that does 3 damage. This will help immensely against the UU match-up, and the phoenix will be good against the UW control match-up as verdict bait.

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