Tale of Two Top 8s

Posted in Limited Information on November 26, 2014

By Marshall Sutcliffe

Marshall came back to Magic after discovering Limited and never looked back. He hosts the Limited Resources podcast and does Grand Prix and Pro Tour video commentary.

Welcome to Top 8 Week here on Limited Information!

Top 8s are kind of weird. When you think about it, it's a little arbitrary. Why not Top 10? Top 4? My guess (and it's just a guess—I don't know the real reason) is that the early pioneers of Magic tournaments needed to find a way to end tournaments and wanted to cut to a number where you could play a relatively short number of rounds in a single-elimination style.

My heart wants to believe that it was done so that an eight-person Booster Draft was left over, but I don't think Limited was such a contender at that time in the game's development.

So I'm going to do a couple of things in this article, both relating to Top 8s but not relating to each other.

Top 8 Marshall Cards for Limited

First, I'm going to list the Top 8 Marshall cards for Limited since I came back to the game and started drafting.

I wouldn't dare attempt to list the Top 8 Best Limited cards, even in that time period.

Not only has the pool of cards from which to choose grown quite large since then, I'd also forget some key cards (probably Pack Rat) and never forgive myself for it.

I'm also afraid that the primal part of my brain has chosen to shut out some of the more egregious bombs of the last six years (looking directly at Drana, Kalastria Bloodchief). Sometimes it's just too much to relive past experiences like that.

I imagine leaving off a key bomb rare from the list and just kicking myself forever, unable to change the article after the fact. (I mean, honestly, what if I made a list like this, but didn't put Mizzium Mortars on it?)

The absolute worst would be if I left off someone's favorite Limited card ever. Like, for example, a good friend of mine had a knack for opening a certain colorless bomb in Scars of Mirrodin. (Hint: It's Wurmcoil Engine) And once you forget one colorless bomb, it's easy to forget another one (like Sword of Body and Mind, for example).

I dread disappointing the Equipment fans of the world out there, as they are easily forgotten, especially while we are busy forgetting about colorless cards in the first place. No, it's just too much stress to even consider making a list like that. (Batterskull. Just Batterskull.)

I mean, what if I forgot to search some sets, like the core sets? What a travesty it would be to skip over the creature that brought creatures out of the stone age and into the forefront of power (Baneslayer Angel). It just wouldn't be in the interest of justice.

Not a risk I'm willing to take in any case.

So yeah, I won't be treading into those murky waters today, but I thought it would be fun to look back at some of my favorite Limited cards from the last six years or so.

Without further ado; my favorite Limited cards that I could think of right now from the last six years or so:

Mist Raven
Vent Sentinel
Spider Spawning
Æther Adept
Cloudfin Raptor
Thassa's Emissary
Icefeather Aven

I hope I'm not forgetting anything!


PTQ Top 8 Mini Report

Speaking of Top 8s, I managed to Top 8 a Pro Tour Qualifier in Seattle a couple of weeks ago, and I thought it might be fun to do a little tournament report on it here. Well, more like a highlight reel rather than a full report.

The format was, of course, Khans of Tarkir Limited. So this meant I'd be playing Sealed Deck during the Swiss portion of the tournament, and if I made it to the Top 8, I'd be drafting.

As you may well know, I take my responsibilities here (and on my various other projects like the podcast; videos; and, of course, coverage) seriously. I draft a lot. Not only because I love to do it, but also so that I can stay up on the latest trends. Then I bring them to you and, voilà, we have value. My point being, of course, that I wanted very badly to make the Top 8 so I could draft!

But that's getting a little ahead of ourselves. First, this PTQ was run before the new organized play changes to PTQs, so there was one invitation at stake for however many players showed up.

Which ended up being 309.

Yikes. These Pacific Northwest PTQs have always been big—309 players is a lot, and I knew I had my work cut out for me. The Swiss portion would be nine rounds total, then a cut to the Top 8.

Here is the deck I submitted for my Sealed build:

Click to enlarge

As you'll notice if you read last week's article, this is a very good Mardu Sealed Deck with powerful cards, a good plan, and a reasonable mana base. I was happy with this as I knew it had the tools to win a bunch of matches, and I have played a good amount of Mardu in this format so I knew I would be fine piloting it.

Absolutely key were the three Ponyback Brigades, the Trumpet Blast, and the Rush of Battle. Combined with a lot of removal and a solid creature curve, these were my finishers.

I felt calm and confident as we started out the tournament. I won the first few rounds and everything was going according to plan. Then I won a few more rounds, and found myself at 5–0 in the tournament. This is where you start considering the possibility of Top 8ing, but also where you don't want to think about it too much.

With 309 players, you don't have much wiggle room as far as losses go. In fact, you have very little—one loss and you are up against it, two losses and you are effectively dead for Top 8.

Speaking of losses, Round 6 is where I picked up my first loss. I was excited to play a local player I respect and who has had a ton of success at Sealed Deck. His name is Daniel Hanson. Unfortunately, I didn't put up much resistance, missing some land drops and then some colors in two consecutive games. He made short work of me.

But I still felt fine. One loss is going to happen here or there, and my deck was still great in my eyes. I got a burrito and came back to find that I was paired against my good friend, former podcast co-host, and all around Limited all-star Brian Wong. Brian is the best Limited player in our region, and not the person you want to face effectively playing for Top 8.

I, however, relished the challenge.

And why not? I love to compete, and I have confidence in my game, and you certainly don't get better at Magic playing against worse players than you. So let's do this.

Well that's what I was thinking, but as I turned around, Brian was standing there yelling that same sentence at me.

Brian's deck was not as streamlined as mine. He was playing a Trail of Mystery deck featuring one of my favorite cards in the set: Villainous Wealth. And of course a ton of morphs. His deck was slower than mine, but had a bigger top end. I'd need to get the job done quickly if it was going to get done.

In the first game, I did just that. I had a really solid curve while he had a slower start. After I turned a Ponyback Brigade face up on his end step, I followed that with a Rush of Battle, and we were on to Game 2.

My one really tough choice from the Sealed build was Mardu Ascendancy. I didn't have much experience with it prior to this event (I had drafted it once, but never drew it) and I was hesitant about how good it really was. I decided that discretion was in order, and left it in the sideboard. My plan was to bring it in against slow decks, or decks relying on a lot of 0-power creatures to block with.

I was bringing it in somewhat regularly, and definitely brought it in against Brian. One game to go, and I was likely in the Top 8 with a draw in the next round if I won this one.

Game 2 ended up being both good and close. Brian eagerly traded off quality (face down) morphs for my creatures a few times, which gave me the indication that he had his Villainous Wealth in hand and was sculpting the game to go long. This way, he could trade resources early in the game, and then make them all back up in one big hit with the Villainous Wealth.

I searched for ways to apply pressure, but ultimately didn't have many options except for a Highspire Mantis. Brian cast his Villainous Wealth for five and built up a formidable board state off of it. I had to take a high-risk line, but one that gave me a shot of winning the game.

It involved playing Rush of Battle to just get in for 2 extra damage with the Highspire Mantis, and then leaving back just enough chump blockers to not die to his attack. The plan after that was to hit one more time with the Mantis, and deliver the finishing blow with Crater's Claws.

It was a tightrope walk for sure. If Brian had found a way to block the Mantis, or kill my chump blocker, or gain some life, it wouldn't have worked.

But it did! The Mantis rode in, and Crater's Claws sealed the deal. I was able to draw the next round and secure my seat in the Top 8.

I was excited to draft in the Top 8, but was kind of sad after the draft as my seat was weird and the deck didn't really come together how I would have preferred.

Here is the deck I was playing to try to get on the Pro Tour:

Click to enlarge

Not great. Sure, it had a creature curve and some decent stuff on the top end, but the overall power level felt low, and I was playing some cards I'd much prefer not to have.

My quarterfinal opponent was none other than Jackson Cunningham, Pro Tour Magic 2015 finalist. Jackson is a super nice guy, but also a very good player, as you might imagine. He was playing a very aggressive red-white deck, and he found a way to run me over in the first game.

In the second game, I curved out right into an Incremental Growth and won the race easily from there.

I needed to win in the third game to advance to the semifinals, but Jackson kept just enough pressure on me through the air, my flying blocker came a turn too late to be good enough, and I was out of the tournament.

I felt okay. It never feels good to lose, but I could look back at the day and feel like I did my best. I suppose the fact that I get to go to the Pro Tour for work on coverage softens that blow as well.

Thanks for letting me indulge with a little story time, and we'll talk next week!


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