Build a cat-apult for the little furballs that get in your way! Cue music – cat yelping slowly getting softer as the cat goes farther away. Ooops, this is not a Ren Fest tournament that I’m supposed to be talking about is it?

OK, so I was in the Peg (Winterpeg, er, I mean Winnipeg) last week. A Muse N Games co-owner Scotia was kind enough to invite me to play in a Modern Masters tournament on my one free night away from my day job colleagues. Who was I to say no? Modern Masters features some of the most memorable cards from some of the only sets in recent years that I was playing exclusively on MTGO.

In other words, some of these cards I have never had an opportunity to just pull from a pack! And Modern Masters is one of those sets where I balked a bit at dropping so much money on the packs. Frankly, since they are all re-prints, I typically look at the singles that I would like and go from there.

Now I have to admit, I don’t play in tournaments much. I play casually with a group of five to upwards of 10 friends who play “Kill Bill” all the time – if I get something vaguely bomb-like, they kill it and then go for my throat. They know if I get built up, I will likely be the biggest threat or ultimately the victor. So I am very good at casual.

Tournaments on the other hand, not so much! Case in point – my performance at this tourney was not stellar. So let’s talk about my performance before we talk about some of the hard truths I learned from this tourney and some other more recent ones.

The best thing I drew out of my three packs was literally the foil Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.

I won one out of my six games just because I was able to play her! She was the first rare that I saw and I knew I had to play white just because of her. Shortly after that I thought about going red because I was getting some decent red boosts and DD. However when I got the Midnight Banshee and then the Creakwood Liege, followed by the Ghost Council of Orzhova, I knew it was going to be a Black, White main.

Unfortunately, bombs in hand does not necessarily mean wins on board, especially in my case. I went 2-4 out of three matches.

In my defense in my first match, I lost to a very impressive young lady who wiped the board with my three-coloured behemoth. Her black-white aggro spirits sucked the life out of any hope I had. Not to belabour a point – those losses sucked! But she had a very good deck build and I believe won second place, so good on her!

In the second match, I won 2-0 mainly because I revamped quickly. I realized that I could not play three main colours and needed to only splash in red. Those rounds went much better since he was playing tokens and I was able to get out two of my bombs to wipe the tokens off the boards.

And in my final match up, I played against a young man whom was able to play Battlegrace Angel, not just in one game but two. Paired with the Hellkite Charger in the first game and paired with my mana-flood, I was not a lively opponent. I don’t know what he was playing outside of the Angel – once that hit the board, I was smote with a quickness!

Frankly, my performance was about on par for how I normally fare in tournaments.

So here are the things I’ve learned from tournaments –

1. I can’t wrap my brain around the mana curve and strict rules of deck-building for such a small number of cards. Mana curve, what’s that? Mana ramp – I know that. Every deck I build has it, because there are an inordinate amount of big beefies that I need help getting out! And a deck of only 40?! That’s like cutting one of my normal decks in half.

2. I need to remember – only two colours! No splashing three – the splashing is for the second colour. My first match mistake was trying to run three and it ran too thin. I’m used to the three or five colour decks where I have the card depth and ramp to pull it off. I don’t have that in a tournament setting and I need to remember that.

3. Combo is not my friend in sealed tournaments. I have to admit, I’ve never played in a constructed tourney simply due to my frugality with buying packs (I buy typically one box and then trade for what else I want). So me playing combo requires a much larger depth of cards than I typically get. Therefore, I must remember go with a style such as aggro/burn/counter or synergy/tribal. That works much better in the sealed format.

Side note: I hate counters! They are banned in my normal playgroup – but that’s a-whole-nother article.

4. Having those cash cards or bombs do not necessarily mean you will win. I had about four bombs in my deck and plenty of removal (just not the right kind). But I had nowhere near enough actual critters or for that matter ways to deal with critters. I played with the idea that I could get tokens out, but didn’t put in enough token gen to play with that idea – major oversight on my part. I was thinking too much about removal, that I neglected to actually stock my deck with small offense. You can’t win with Elesh if she never hits the field because you’re dead.

Side note: I immediately traded the Elesh for a Narset Transcendant since I have two or three other Norns but no Narsets! Narset – I have plans for you my precious! (Cue maniacal laughter)

5. Having cards unsleeved freaks people out! I have over 100 decks and I don’t have the resources (no pun intended) to sleeve all of them. But that didn’t help the winning young lady’s piece of mind when I pulled out an unsleeved deck that is easily worth $100. I’m working on it – I swear! I’ve got a bit of a rebellious streak in me … which leads into the next thing I learned.

6. When I say Strictly Casual, I mean it. I was asked a number of times “What format do you play?” – to which I replied “Casual.” “But what format?” “I have upwards of 20,000 cards and I like to play them all.” The closest that I have ever come to any type is Commander. Beyond that, I really don’t like to limit myself. I have some 60 card decks, but most are upwards of 80-100 cards and not Commander. I don’t compete on a regular basis in a tournament setting to worry about format. And that freaks people out – I’m a rebel, what can I say!?

I will never say never when it comes to tournaments. I couldn’t wait to play the Dragons of Tarkir tourney simply for Sarkhan and playing with most of my normal playgroup at the local shop. However, as I said, I’m not the best at tournaments. But there’s always room to improve …

Until next time, may your tournament decks win more than mine and may you only play at most two colours – if you want to win!

— Nicol Billas

Originally Published June 4, 2015 @