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By: Shepherd, Saul Simon Tan
Oct 14 2014 12:00am
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I'll be honest: I did not think I would actually be able to play in the MTGO prerelease of Khans of Tarkir. Between sudden meetings, changes in schedules, and a Sunday mostly out, I was starting to regret buying the $5 prerelease item too early. There was one window of opportunity at around 3:40 when there was a queue about to fill, but I had one small problem. I had a wedding reception to attend that evening, and I did not want to be too late. I could probably squeeze time the next day or wake up really early in the day after, but.

On a whim and a prayer, I clicked "Join Event."

A little about myself: I'm a practicing architect and a pseudo-competitive player of Magic. I enjoy following and keeping up with what it the latest in competitive Magic, but obligations and a lack of time keep me from ever playing in FNMs. I can safely say that I play paper Magic at least four times a year at the prerelease, and it is from there that I built up my enjoyment of all things Limited. I recently started playing in MTGO, and even then I get to play a draft a week (if I'm not saving tickets) and maybe a few games of Pauper spread throughout the week.

I would like to believe that I am a good player, but the truth of the matter is that the lack of competitive experience is the threshold that I need to break. Out of more than fifteen prerelease events I attended live, I've only 4-0'd one: the recent M15. As far as individual games go, I tend to make many small mistakes; sometimes, I get lucky, and sometimes it is enough to end the game for me. I also tend to get very excited and somewhat over imaginative; it's great for my line of work, but something I need to temper during a game.

Even so, I play Magic because it is a game I enjoy. Online, I enjoy it as a mental and strategic exercise. Offline, I enjoy it for the social aspect and the interaction with others. What is important is that I enjoy it.

LINING UP
DECKBUILDING

I joined in a Friendly Sealed queue for three reasons: I am not confident in my game just yet, I assumed that I would only have time for two rounds before having to drop, and it was the one queue that was filling up fast. This way, I would at least get something in all but the worst of cases.

From there, I was greeted by a very nice pool:

KTK Prerelease Sealed Pool
Abzan Prerelease Pack
White
1 Abzan Battle Priest
2 Abzan Falconer
1 Ainok Bond-Kin
2 Alabaster Kirin
2 Erase
1 Firehoof Cavalry
1 Kill Shot
1 Master of Pearls
1 Salt Road Patrol
3 Siegecraft
1 Smite the Monstrous
1 War Behemoth
17 cards
Blue
1 Mystic of the Hidden Way
1 Pearl Lake Ancient
1 Singing Bell Strike
1 Taigam's Scheming
1 Weave Fate
1 Wetland Sambar
1 Whirlwind Adept
7 cards
Black
1 Bitter Revelation
1 Bloodsoaked Champion
2 Debilitating Injury
2 Disowned Ancestor
1 Grumag Swiftwing
1 Krumar Bond-Kin
1 Rotting Mastodon
1 Shambling Attendants
2 Unyielding Krumar
12 cards
Red
1 Ainok Tracker
1 Arrow Storm
1 Bloodfire Expert
1 Bloodfire Mentor
1 Bring Low
1 Goblinslide
1 Horde Ambusher
1 Leaping Master
1 Mardu Heart-Piercer
1 Monastery Swiftspear
1 Tormenting Voice
1 Trumpet Blast
12 cards
Green
1 Alpine Grizzly
3 Archer's Parapet
2 Become Immense
2 Dragonscale Boon
1 Hooting Mandrills
1 Kin-Tree Warden
1 Scout the Borders
1 Smoke Teller
1 Sultai Flayer
1 Tusked Colossodon
1 Windstorm
15 cards
Multicolored
1 Abzan Guide
1 Chief of the Edge
1 Chief of the Scale
1 Duneblast
1 Highspire Mantis
1 Kin-Tree Invocation
1 Ponyback Brigade
1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
8 cards
Artifact
1 Abzan Banner
1 Briber's Purse
1 Heart-Piercer Bow
1 Sultai Banner
1 Witness of the Ages
5 cards
Lands
1 Dismal Backwater
2 Jungle Hollow
1 Sandsteppe Citadel
1 Scoured Barrens
1 Swiftwater Cliffs
2 Tranquil_Cove
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Wind-Scarred Crag
1 Plains
1 Island
1 Swamp
1 Mountain
1 Forest
15 cards
 
Sorin, Solemn Visitor

 

At this point, I was already happy and did not mind the worst case scenario of going 0-2 then dropping due to time. Sorin alone was enough to repay the ticket entry fee, while the others more than made up for the prerelease pack cost. That said, Sorin was also the first thing to push me into the direction of going pure Abzan. Other considerations were:

  • Outlast:  Having early outlast creatures in Abzan Falconer and Ainok Bond-Kin were important in getting early aggression until the opponent stabilizes and makes outlast necessary. Having the really good ones in white shaped the direction of the main base. I've seen how good it is in the paper prerelease, and am very happy that I have enough of the good ones with some instant-speed +1/+1 counters in the form of Dragonscale Boon.
  • The lack of other non-morph mechanics: Without much in the way or raid or ferocious, decisions were actually much easier to make in what to cut.
  • The Chiefs:  Chief of the Edge and Chief of the Scale were good two drops that cemented the white-black part of the deck. It also pushed me to add the pair of Unyielding Krumar.
  • The removal:  Double Debilitating Injury in a world of morphs sold me even more on black, which pushed me to make green the splash color. White takes care of the larger game with Kill Shot and Smite the Monstrous.
  • The rares: Having four out of six be on color is a a deck-builder's dream; there is little temptation to risk consistency in the search for power, and decisions could be made based on how you wanted to craft the deck.
  • The curve: If certain cards were not in the pool, other cards like Disowned Ancestor and some of the other morphs would definitely be in. I also figured that my curve was low enough to go with a straight 17-23 land-spell ratio rather than the recommended 18.

This pretty much meant that green was going to come in mid-to-late game and, as much as possible be at one green mana. The wealth of riches in those colors meant that I could safely ignore blue, red, anything outside of Abzan; if anything, I was going to be consistent. This also meant that, barring strange opening hands and draws, I was going to actually curve out.

I took six minutes to build the deck, then spent the rest of the time wrapping the present I was going to bring to the reception. The deck was not perfect; in hindsight there were enough small mistakes that became evident during play, but those choices would have unforeseen consequences.

 

By the time the first round began, I was only halfway done in wrapping the present and three hours from when I am supposed to leave.

THE FIRST ROUND IS THE HARDEST
Match One, Game 1

I won the die-roll. After sharing niceties with a silent opponent, I kept my hand while my opponent mulled to six.

 photo a001-01_zps261f1c7d.jpg

With a three-drop that can trump morphs and a nice follow-up four drop, I was happy to keep mine. Barring a really fast opponent or really busted early drops, I was set.

I opened on Scoured Barrens and a Swamp (drawing Debilitating Injury as a good follow-up) while my opponent opened on Blossoming Sands and an Island.

Unless I am actually in Alara, my opponent is going for power, I thought. Best to end this quickly. (This was a moot point; I was playing to end it quickly, anyway.)

My opponent had the same idea with a turn-two Icefeather Aven. I kept calm, drew a Bloodsoaked Champion, and played my Abzan Falconer. My opponent drew first blood with the Aven, and played a turn-three morph. I wasn't in a rush (game-wise) just yet, so I gave the morph (another Icefeather Aven!) a Debilitating Injury. I then used the outlast ability of my Falconer, then played the Bloodsoaked Champion. With my opponents' mana as is, I was pretty much expecting a morph for at least this turn. Playing the Abzan Battle Priest later will give my Falconer the power to swing in the air and stabilize my life total.

True enough, my opponent played a Thornwood Falls and yet another morph. The Aven swooped in to bring the game to 22-17 in his favor but I will have my revenge. On my turn, I played a Jungle Hollow and my Battle Priest before sending the rest of the team in, turning the tables to 21-17 in MY favor. My opponent swung back with his duo to tie the game at 17-apiece, and he played a Longshot Squad and what is that shiny land over there?

 photo a001-02_zps2cb06058.jpg

It appears that my opponent is finally showing true colors. Bant plus Temur. Bemur or Tant?

At this point, I only had a Forest and a pair of Plains in hand, but I swung in with the Falconer and Champion anyway. The opponent wasn't risk averse and blocked the Champion with his dog pack. I then played a Plains, outlasted the Battle Priest, brought back the Champion, and passed the turn. For me, there was no point in holding the Champion back; I would be telegraphing the certainty that I had nothing now and, if I did attack later, that I just drew something then.

My opponent then put the red mana to good use with an Arc Lightning on the Battle Priest and the whole team swinging in for seven damage (15-13 in his favor) before playing an Embodiment of Spring. I drew a Master of Pearls, but with only seven mana on the board after my land play, I had to make do with just playing it face-down and swinging in with the team again. I was expecting some really powerful stuff from my opponent now, so I had two choices: race for the win, or hold the fort. With no removal in hand and just above-average power, I opted to race. Bloodsoaked Champion is not fooling anybody just yet, but I at least passed the turn 13-12 in my favor.

A crack back from everyone except the 0/3 Elemental cut my life total in half. While my opponent was stuck on five mana, it wouldn't matter if I didn't draw anything good. Even if I swung with everyone and unmorphed the Master of Pearls, the blocker ensured that I won't be stealing a game just yet. I needed someone to help:

Sorin, Solemn Visitor

If this was real life, I would have slammed this guy on the table right after looking at it. Online, I get to just calmly play it like it was there all along. I was still one mana shy of lethal with the Master of Pearls, but I am now able to buy life and time with it.

+1 Sorin, Attack with all creatures.

The Embodiment of Spring got in front of the morphed Master before giving itself up to find a basic land. The seven damage that did get through is enough to swing the game to 13-5 in my favor. In my elation, I did not notice that my opponent got a Swamp until on his turn he played:

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant

She got one Zombie out of the package, but if you look at what got binned to get there:

 photo a001-03_zpsc787ea20.jpg

And the rare Thousand Winds is there as the last card, taunting me. "I'm coming to get you," it seems to whisper like the wind, as if Sidisi is not worrisome enough. All those cards would then go on a Treasure Cruise, while the Longshot Squad and the morphed creature would assassinate Sorin.

 photo a001-04_zps0a6c7fc4.jpg

I draw a Swamp on my turn. With Master of Pearls hiding out, it's now or never, I swing with everyone. At the very least, I get to clear out enough of the board that the freshly-drawn cards in his hand might not matter. He blocks the morph with the Zombie token, the Bloodsoaked Champion with Sidisi, and the Abzan Falconer with:

 photo a001-05_zps0e68bbc0.jpg

Nothing, nada, you may pass "GO," you may collect your game win.  Thank you, Master of Pearls. With this much mana, it could have easily been a Dragonscale Boon or Become Immense. Hmm, that second card sounds familiar.

In exchange for the win, the client crashed on game end. I scrambled to join again, and on return, there was just enough time to "Submit Deck."

FALLING FROM SUCH A HEIGHT
MATCH ONE, GAME 2

I see a nice opening hand, and the first deckbuilding question mark.

 photo a001-06_zpsdfbe08ea.jpg

It's there at the very right, with the replay bar insufficient to hide its vanilla nature. I actually thought it was the better Woolly Loxodon I put in. Turns out I imagined putting a card that was not even in my pool. (It was in the paper prerelease pool I played, but that was weeks ago.) That said, lands of all my colors and a turn-two Chief of the Edge were enough for me. My opponent chose to draw, so I led the way with Sandsteepe Citadel.

While I got my Chief of the Edge out, my opponent played three Refuges and an Embodiment of Spring over the course of his three turns. This would blank out two attacks from the Chief and give my opponent the advantage in land. I would add Unyielding Krumar to my side, while my opponent gets the Longshot Squad.

I then attacked with just the Krumar, which in hindsight was a mistake. With the creatures I had in hand, I should be trading to simplify the board where possible, not letting the board clump up. My opponent now having all five colors of mana should have alerted me also. However, hubris would get the better of me, and while I rejoiced in bringing the game to 22-16 in my favor and a face-down Abzan Guide on my board, there were more in store.

My opponent calmly boosted his Longshot Squad with the outlast ability before having it give my Krumar a Savage Punch. I would counter with a swing and unmorph of the Abzan Guide, bringing the game to 27-8 in my favor. The bigger the gap, the bigger the hubris. I could have (and probably should have) played the Tusked Colossodon to keep the pressure up. I made the mistake of looking at the life totals instead of the board.

A Bear's Companion, complete with 4/4 Bear, joined the opponent. I then played the Colossodon, then traded the Abzan Guide for the bear token. I now compounded my earlier mistake with another one: where I should have been trading earlier when the time was right, I was now trading when the time is now wrong.

I then played the Colossodon and shipped the turn. My opponent built up his board position with a face-up Glacial Stalker, while Sorin, Solemn Visitor paid a visit to my side, gave my team lifelink, and sent the Colossodon crashing in.

 photo a001-07_zps91340044.jpg

This is where my decision-making-on-the-fly skills needed honing. I chose to keep the block as is, thinking that my fliers would then be able to get through. This would have been valid, if I actually had any fliers in hand or on the battlefield. I could have easily used the Chief buffed by Sorin to go after the Longshot Squad instead.

I delved out Hooting Mandrills after the 2-for-1. With life at 39-8, I felt so good.

That's when my two creatures got the Dead Drop. The Stalker crashed in to take Sorin to one loyalty. Nonplussed, I played out my Alabaster Kirin, thinking that this might seal the deal. My opponent countered with a face-down morph and another Longshot Squad, then sent the Glacial Stalker to end Sorin's visit. On my turn, I swung in with the Kirin and emptied my hand with Abzan Battle Priest and Ainok Bond-Kin.

The opponent played another face-down morph and outlasted his Longshot Squad. He thought about bashing in with the Glacial Stalker, but chose not to. On my turn, I drew a Debilitating Injury which I used to knock out what turns out to be an Icefeather Aven. I swung in with the Kirin, taking my opponent to 5, and outlasted my two other creatures. This was how confident I was on my life total. It will turn out to be false bravado.

Expecting the remaining morph to be something huge, I opted to outlast my guys again. Turns out I was right, but the creature unmorphed into Thousand Winds on my end step. (It did bounce his Glacial Stalker, which he attacked with earlier.) I did have the Kill Shot ready for the elemental, but from then on the gas kept flowing on my opponents' side aboard the Treasure Cruise. I would rally an effort, but at this point the writing was on the wall. When Surrak Dragonclaw joined the party at the end of my turn, I packed it in.

 photo a001-08_zpsf69b6e1f.jpg One side effect of this is that my opponent was down to four minutes while I still had fifteen. I felt like I would be able to squeak out a win, but that would change in the next few turns.

CLIMBING FROM SUCH A FALL
MATCH ONE, GAME 3

Now that I finally got a chance to properly sideboard.

OUT
Kin-Tree InvocationTusked Colossodon

IN
Become ImmenseKrumar Bond-Kin

Lack of action and colors led me to ship this hand:

 photo a001-09_zpsee43c13d.jpg

But my unwillingness to go down to five let me keep this "slightly-better" hand.

 photo a001-10_zps1341b707.jpg

Within the first two turns, I would play out both lands and draw a Master of Pearls, while my opponent would play out two lands and get an Icefeather Aven on the board. It is when I drew an Abzan Falconer and had absolutely no play that I realized that four minutes may not be enough for me to win.

My opponent then swings with the aven and plays a face-down morph, while I draw an Unyielding Krumar when what I wanted my deck to yield is a Plains. After my opponent swings with his creatures, I'm now down to fourteen and am short two land drops. I also have an empty board to my opponents' three 2/2s.

I still didn't draw a land, but at least I got some reprieve. I slammed the freshly-drawn Debilitating Injury on the newer morph, which turned out to be a Woolly Loxodon. I was still open, and am now halfway to death. I didn't really notice that my opponent played nothing, but when the situation is this dire, it didn't matter.

I finally drew my third land a Forest. At least it entered the battlefield untapped, letting me play the Master of Pearls face-down. However, my opponent played Force Away on his turn to send the Master back. It was a small favor that this was drawn just now, otherwise he would have done it on my end step. Still, his force would drop me to 6 life while he sat at a healthy 21.

I would not draw a land, but the second Debilitating Injury was much better than any land at this point. I used it to crash the Aven; I figured that if the morph was substantial, it would have unmorphed by now and I would be dead. Still, if I did not draw anything, I would be dead anyway. The morph knocked me down to 4 life; my opponents' board may be otherwise empty, but I needed another land, and on my draw:

 photo a001-11_zps074a4728.jpg

I can hear Mick Jagger singing.

I now had so many possible decisions to do. However, a morph that could be anything would be the death of me. I simply played the land and passed the turn, then fired the Kill Shot at what turned out to be a really aggressive Monastery Flock. It is then that my opponent played his eighth land and passed the turn.

The tide has now turned, but I still had to be careful. I played a newly-drawn Alabaster Kirin to start going on offense and defense. My opponent then played his ninth land and passed, opening the way for me to draw blood. I would get my fifth land and Unyielding Krumar onto the battlefield, while my opponent, down to the last two minutes, played a face-up Thousand Winds. I would draw my sideboarded Become Immense, and try to bait my opponent with an all-in swing. There was no block, so I just finished it with Smite the Monstrous rather than give my opponent a chance to draw a possible Disdainful Stroke. In hindsight, it was possible that he had it, but that would have been clever given that there were no blocks. I could choose to worry about next-level play later when my back is not against the wall.

It was now clear that my opponent was definitely top-decking. His next creature was a Jeskai Elder. While he started sandbagging cards, I had no doubt that, if they mattered, they would already be on the battlefield.

I would then draw a Chief of the Edge, which I would play with the face-down Master of Pearls before swinging in with the team to bring the deciding game to 8-4. My opponent then attacked with the Jeskai Elder -- very uncharacteristic of a player top-decking, so I played it safe and blocked with everything. A Burn Away killed my Krumar and gave the Elder a prowess boost to defeat the Master of Pearls before succumbing to its wounds. This was followed by a Mardu Heart-Piercer, which would have ended it for me if I didn't block. I took two to the dome, bringing the game to 8-2 in my opponent's favor.

I didn't draw a sixth land, but the Master of Pearls in my yard was enough to make my Alabaster Kirin Become Immense. This was enough to end the game and start the next round. My opponent had twelve seconds left on his clock.

Meanwhile, in the real world, I had about two hours before I had to leave. The present is still halfway done to being wrapped.

BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS
MATCH TWO, GAME 1

My next opponent was polite and gracious. We exchanged niceties and I opened with this:

 photo a001-12_zps4e22f82e.jpg

Having all my early plays and most of my mid-game plays be white/black had this advantage. I could skimp on the green sources knowing that I won't need them immediately. I would open the game on Scoured Barrens while my opponent opened on Tranquil Cove. This would signal a Jeskai opponent, but after the first round, I decided that it could still be anybody.

I would then draw a Swamp and stare at my Bloodsoaked Champion and sigh at the ironic timing, then just get a Plains and the Champion out and get the ball rolling. My opponent followed with a Sandsteppe Citadel, indicative of Abzan, Sultai, or yet another 5-color monster. On my turn, I would draw an Alabaster Kirin, swing with the Bloodsoaked Champion, play a Swamp, and note another deckbuilding mistake: I didn't have enough three-drop creatures, morphs or otherwise. If I didn't have the Bloodsoaked Champion, I would have another empty board, and a possible repeat of the last game, again. My opponent had his turn-three face-down morph on schedule.

I drew Tusked Colossodon on my turn and looked at the double-green spell sticking out like a sore green thumb amidst the white and black. I did have enough lands to start playing my four-drops, though. I got in with the Champion and played out the Kirin. My opponent would reply with a turn-four Bitter Revelation, indicative of another player going for the long-haul. I drew and played my fifth land, and not a single green source among them. I swung in to bring the game 21-11 in my favor, then decided not to wait for my opponent to get his fifth mana and gave the morph a Debilitating Injury. It turned out to be just a Kin-Tree Warden.

My opponent would play Rugged Highlands on his fifth turn, giving him access to all colors of mana. He would follow this up with a Kheru Bloodsucker and a Ruthless Ripper, either of which I would gladly trade with my Bloodsoaked Champion for a turn. I put it to the test, and sure enough my Champion and Kirin got in to bring my opponent down to 8 life. I would play the Master of Pearls face-down, in preparation for when I get my opponent at a low-enough life total.

It wasn't that one-sided. With six mana, he played out a Sultai Banner, then used that and his remaining lands to Bring Low my Kirin. On my turn I drew an Abzan Falconer and sent the Champion in to chip the opponent down to 6 life. I then played the Falconer (with the intention of outlasting it to give me an air force) and passed the turn. This was followed by a Dismal Backwater and a pass.

I would play my own Sandsteppe Citadel and send the Champion charging again, which forced my opponent to block with his Bloodsucker and sacrifice his Ripper to keep it alive. It didn't matter what creature I traded it for, though I was much happier with having the Ripper gone. I stuck with my plan: returning the Champion via its raid ability, and boosting my Falconer with its outlast ability. This was trumped by an end-of-turn Abzan Charm on the Falconer. This was followed by Hooting Mandrills to help on defense.

I still had Sorin, Solemn Visitor and an Unyielding Krumar in hand versus my opponent's one card in hand, so I opted to swing and force a trade. My opponent obliged, blocking the face-down Master with his Mandrills and my Champion with his Bloodsucker. After the Master turned face-up and combat was over, the board was all clear for me to return with the Champion.

My opponent cracked his Banner at the end of turn, then played out a morph. I would then play Sorin and make a Vampire before swinging in with the Champion, half-expecting a block and unmorph. It didn't happen what happened instead is that my Krumar got hit by Trap Essence, giving my opponent a much-larger face-down morph. He would swing this morph to send Sorin packing again, then play out his last card: Scaldkin. I can now feel my back against the wall.

Until I drew a Forest. This was the second green source I needed to play my stranded Tusked Colossodon and turn the tide. I first swung in with my team, prompting a trade of a Vampire token for the flying elemental, before dropping the big beast. With my opponent down to five life, the dumb vanilla beast was lethal enough.

Instead, the beast was sacrificed for the Rite of the Serpent. The gap was big enough that the morph wasn't going to attack any time soon, so we were both looking for gas from the top of our decks.

Kin-Tree Invocation

I drew Kin-Tree Invocation, which would turn out to be the second card I would regret in my deck. If I had Disowned Ancestor, it would be a better fit. With my deck as is, it wasn't doing great work. I just swung fruitlessly with my Bloodsoaked Champion, just to keep things consistently uncertain. My opponent played Swiftwater Cliffs, bringing him up to 6 life. I drew a Dragonscale Boon, but kept the charade up for one more turn. When my opponent didn't play anything on his turn and I drew a Kill Shot on mine, I pulled the trigger and used the Boon to trade my Champion for a souped-up, face-down, Ruthless Ripper #2. I would bring my Champion back, there's no keeping a good man down.

My opponent would play another morph face-down, while I would draw my second Alabaster Kirin. Attacking with the Champion got a block, and my opponent would then reveal that it is the Abomination of Gudul. I stuck with my plan of buying back the Champion, casting the Kirin and the Kin-Tree Invocation to get a 3/3 out of the deal.

This is when things started getting strange. My opponent attacked with his Abomination, suggesting that he had something big to defend with later. He did have something, a Rakshasa Deathdealer, but I guess this is where the strain of inactivity comes into play. Swinging with the Abomination let me get my Kirin in for two more damage, bringing him to 4. When he held his creatures back, I just happened to draw my other Dragonscale Boon, letting me eat his Abomination and get in for two more damage. My opponent tried to Scout the Borders, but he had no answer for the flying Kirin.

LIVING OFF THE TOP OF THE DECK
MATCH TWO, GAME 2

I stuck with the same sideboard plan as earlier. While I had another choice of morph with War Behemoth, but with my opponent morph-heavy with a pair of Ruthless Rippers, I might as well be able to trade with their bigger threats.

 photo a001-13_zpsdc3a20a1.jpg

This is a somewhat sketchy hand, but knowing that my opponent is not fast out of the gates made this good enough. Worst-case scenario, I can always play the Master of Pearls as a non-Tarkir bear. It was also to my advantage that my opponent chose to draw.

I led with Plains and Swamp, but chose not to play the master when the first land down from my opponent was an Opulent Palace. True enough, my opponent played Dismal Backwater and a face-up Ruthless Ripper. I calmly completed my colors and played a freshly-drawn face-down Abzan Guide. We would continue playing the morph game:

 photo a001-14_zps2e8cd79c.jpg

But I would get to resolve some of the suspense with a drawn Debilitating Injury to hospitalize the second morph of the opponent, an Abomination of Gudul. I still wasn't ready to attack, but the opponent was; the morph went swinging, and I chose not block hoping that it would unmorph and be wide open for a Kill Shot. Instead, it just struck for 2 and called in support from Hooting Mandrills. I would play my own on time as well, but it would get hit by a Suspension Field on my opponent's turn. This left me to meekly accept 4 damage from the monkeys, setting my opponent up 23-14.

With no choice, I dumped my seventh land and played Sorin, Solemn Visitor, using his first ability to threaten going for the ultimate. As planned, the opponent swung in with everyone, letting me snipe the Mandrills with a Kill Shot, and leaving Sorin with two loyalty left. Another refuge brings it up to 24-14 in my opponent's favor, but I somehow felt better about it especially when there was no other play despite two cards in hand and six mana open.

I swung in with the Abzan Guide, but unmorphing it made it vulnerable to Abzan Charm. I had an Abzan Falconer left in hand but one mana short of playing it, so I cashed Sorin in for a Vampire token. My opponent would send in the morph for two more damage and cast Scaldkin. On my turn I decided to attack then and there, hoping to have both the Ripper and Scaldkin block. I was only half successful: only the assassin blocked, so I didn't bother unmorphing the Master of Pearls. I instead emptied my hand with the Falconer and a recently-drawn Unyielding Krumar.

The Scaldkin would attack me to send the game to 23-10, but the lack of plays suggested a reactionary spell. I couldn't play around it forever, so I just dropped an Alabaster Kirin, boosted my Falconer with the outlast ability, and swing with just the Vampire token. When my opponent took his turn and shipped it back to me quickly, I knew I had a good chance. I sent in my air force; with the Scaldkin declining to block and/or use its ability, the game was now 14-10, still in the opponent's favor. I almost slammed the second Alabaster Kirin I just drew, but decided not to with 3 out of 4 mana already tapped. I didn't need to play it yet.

My opponent then played a second Hooting Mandrills, then cast Bring Low on the Kirin to open the way for Scaldkin to deal two damage. This also opened the way for me to calmly play my second Kirin while retaliating for five damage, bringing the game to a closer 9-8 in the opponent's favor. He would swing with the Mandrills, which I would block with the Krumar and Kirin. The Kirin bit the dust, and my opponent passed the turn without further incident.

The second Debilitating Injury would reveal that the morph I feared was just a Kin-Tree Warden. It also opened the way to the opponent; I attacked with just the Krumar and Vampire token, and true enough the Scaldkin blocked the Krumar before firing its cylinders to shoot the Vampire token. My opponent then took the turn, revealed a hand of three lands, and wished me the best of luck in the rest of the tournament.

I was feeling really good. With a few minutes left in the round, I finished wrapping the present. There was about 45 minutes before I had to leave, but I started having second thoughts about leaving on time. I told myself that if I lost the next round, I would drop then and there.

DIGGING A HOLE FOR MYSELF, AND GETTING OUT OF IT
MATCH THREE, GAME 1

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I had a three drop, a four drop, and two turns to draw a land. This was keepable, though having the two cards I liked the least did give me pause. Once again, I had the first turn, and I led with Sandsteppe Citadel. My opponent responded with a Swamp and a Disowned Ancestor.

I suddenly did not feel so good about the hand I kept.

I did draw and play Scoured Barrens on my turn to at least assure me of having a game to play. On cue, my opponent played a Plains and brought the Ancestor up to 1/5. I would draw another Plains and playing it and Abzan Falconer to start putting pressure on the board. A Tranquil_Cove from my opponent put him in Esper, suggesting another four-color deck. The opponent calmly brought the Ancestor up to 2/6, while on my turn I calmly swung with the Falconer to draw first blood, then play Alabaster Kirin for more beats. My opponent replied with the Ancestor tying the life totals at 19-apiece, then dropping Mardu Warshrieker and another morph.

A freshly-drawn Debilitating Injury took care of the face-down Ponyback Brigade, while outlast on the Falconer and Kin-Tree Invocation gave me a 4/4 to go toe-to-toe with the Warshrieker. The Kirin dealt more beats, but I started to wonder if I was hasty in judging the two "worst" cards in my deck.

My opponent had no land drop on his turn, but four mana was enough to bring out:

Butcher of the Horde

Thankfully, I still had the Kill Shot in hand. On my turn, I played my sixth land and outlasted the Falconer, trying to make it look like I was desperate for something to go toe-to-toe with the Butcher of the Horde. I swung with the 4/4 Spirit Warrior, hoping to trade with either the Butcher (wishful thinking) or the Warshrieker in a double-block with the Ancestor. The opponent didn't bite, calmly blocking with just the Ancestor. However, my opponent went swinging for the races by getting my Abzan Falconer to commit an Act of Treason.

This is where I overthought myself and made a technical error. While my opponent attacked with his whole team, I calmly chose to block just the Ancestor, then passed priority again thinking that my opponent would sacrifice something then and there. I had forgotten that, if it is not my turn, passing priority on an empty stack usually means moving on to the next step. Result: nine unnecessary damage on top of the three I would have taken anyway.

I was now at 7 life. Things got dire because of my own fault. I drew Bloodsoaked Champion and played it right then and there. To avoid another mistake, I just fired the Kill Shot after my opponent declared the Butcher as an attacker. It thankfully went down, but my opponent wasn't done yet: another Mardu Warshrieker and a Murderous Cut on my Kirin kept things edgy.

I did have my own trump card in the Tusked Colossodon that started in my hand. Again, I need to reevaluate how I think about my deck.

My opponent wasn't done. A Flooded Strand activation gave enough juice in the graveyard to power out some Shambling Attendants. On my turn, I would go all out and empty my hand with Chief of the Scale and my second Alabaster Kirin. It would not be enough to dissuade my opponent, who went for the kill by swinging with his entire force.

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With no green available to him, the only pump I could think of is Trumpet Blast. I decided to try and take out the Warshriekers and just bar the Ancestor. My opponent did have a trick, and was able to Throttle the Colossodon to keep it from being a blowout trade. I am reduced to four life, but I am happier with my situation.

On my turn, I draw a Swamp, but am able to swing with the Champion and Kirin to chip my opponent to 10 life. The response is to outlast the Ancestor and hunker down. While I am still likely to lose on paper, the lack of offense from the opponent boosts my confidence. I then draw a Master of Pearls, but being one mana shy of both playing it face-down and unmorphing it, I just play it face-down now and swing with the Kirin to bring the game to 8-4 in my opponent's favor. I fear the worst in my opponent's next play: any additional blocker makes winning harder, and it is only a matter of time before my opponent wises up and attacks.

My opponent plays a creature, but it is a tapped Mardu Skullhunter. Passing the turn, I now go for it with this board position:

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After blocks, I can turn the Master face up for exactly lethal, but any response from my opponent means I lose the game with Pickett's Charge.

...

...

The opponent has no response. I squeeze out a win despite my grave mistake.

WHEN LAND IS SCARCE
MATCH THREE, GAME 2

I repeated the same sideboarding as before. At this point, I can say that I was sideboarding into what I should have built the deck as in the first place.

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The opening hand I kept was fairly decent. Lands in all colors, check. Three-drop, check. Double Debilitating Injury, check. My opponent had to mulligan, but kept his next six and opened on a Flooded Strand into an Island. I drew a much-needed Bloodsoaked Champion, then opened with Sandsteppe Citadel. The opponent will follow this up with Swamp and Mardu Skullhunter.

I drew Master of Pearls, but thankfully had something to do thanks to the Champion. My opponent then got his Esper colors live with a Plains, then swing in with the Skullhunter to draw first blood. I expected a face-down morph from my opponent but it didn't materialize. I didn't draw a land on my turn, but instead played the freshly-drawn Chief of the Scale and swung back with the Champion. My opponent then took the turn and shipped it back. It appears we're both shy on lands.

I still haven't drawn a land on my turn, (instead I drew Alabaster Kirin) but I still had plenty to do. Attacking with the Chief and Champion brought the life totals to 19-13 in my favor. With nothing much better to do, I went all-in and played the Master of Pearls face up.

My opponent once again shipped the turn and did nothing. I finally drew a Forest and played it before swinging in with the whole team. The Skullhunter and Master both bit the dust, but life at 19-9 with me playing Abzan Falconer kept me in a comfortable lead. My opponent then took the turn, then bemoaned the inability to be able to play anything this game before conceding. I shared my sympathies and wished better luck in the future.

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While we both had three lands apiece, it took us six turns each to get here.

I figured that there was enough time to actually play the final round if the rest of the pod finished quickly. I got myself ready during the interim, but after ten minutes, there was one match left at 1-0. I recognized one of the players as my first-round opponent, and knew that it was unlikely that they will finish quickly. Sure enough, five minutes returned the result at 1-1. At this point, I was thirty minutes past the time to leave. I contemplated dropping now, and even started typing an apology to my fourth round opponent. It was then that I figured that I might never get this chance again.

If I lose one game in the final match, I told myself, then I will drop.

MISFORTUNE
MATCH FOUR, GAME 1

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My opponent mulled down to six when I chose to keep this hand. I figured that with 5/17 lands in my hand already, I would have a good shot at drawing either a three or four drop. My opponent mulled down to five and kept. It was weird that I felt bad for my opponent but felt elated that I was going to have a shot at topping a prerelease in MTGO.

My opponent led with a Plains into a Mardu Hateblade. Suddenly, elation gave way to paranoia; I might actually be facing a super-fast Mardu deck, which would explain why I am now facing him for the honor of 4-0. I followed with my Sandsteppe Citadel after drawing a Swamp, so much for the odds, but it was still early. My opponent followed this up with a Swamp and an attack with the Hateblade, but thankfully no two-drop. I would draw an Abzan Guide and just play my Jungle Hollow. The Hateblade was undoing the life gain, but what I feared was creatures with raid triggers.

So far, it wasn't the case. My opponent played another Plains and took another shot with the Hateblade before playing a Disowned Ancestor that was clearly a fresh draw. I would then draw Bloodsoaked Champion and play a Plains of my own to put the Guide in face-down. My opponent then attacked with the Hateblade, then boosted the Ancestor with its outlast ability. No land play meant that my opponent was living off the top of the deck. I drew the MVP planeswalker, Sorin, Solemn Visitor, and put the pedal to the metal with a Swamp, a face-down Master of Pearls, and the Champion. Attacking with the face-down Guide brought the game to 18 life apiece. My opponent then took his turn and passed it back, (rightfully) fearing a massive counterattack.

On my turn, I played a Scoured Barrens and Sorin, made a Vampire token, but held back a bit. Between the Master of Pearls and Sorin's +1 ability, I could crash through the Disowned Ancestor. With my opponent two lands short of a possible sweeper, I felt that it was a risk I could take. My opponent shipped the turn yet again. With five cards in his hand, it was clear that my opponent was not playing a fast deck. I proceeded as planned:

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There is no way this is fair.

My opponent blocked the face-down Master of Pearls with his Hateblade, then blocked the Champion with his Ancestor. Turning the Master face-up prompted nothing but the activation of the Hateblade's deathtouch ability. My opponent was then able to find a land: a Nomad Outpost. Another +1 from Sorin plus the unmorphing of the Abzan Guide ended the game at 50 to -3. Stumbling on lands is fatal in Magic, but it seems that this format is quite vulnerable if you don't pay attention to the curve.

TOP DECK TO END IT ALL
MATCH FOUR, GAME 2

I still planned to keep my word of dropping if I should lose a match, but it sure seemed like it was one heck of a climb. I sideboarded the same way as I always had.

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This time, there was no misfortune. While I probably would have been traumatized after Match One, Game 3, I figured that the Debilitating Injury in hand and the white sources I had would probably be enough to get something by turn three.

I didn't have to wait that long. While my opponent led on Plains, I drew a Plains of my own and led on Jungle Hollow. My opponent then played a Mountain and a Valley Dasher, getting first dibs on the action. I would follow this with drawing an Abzan Battle Priest, playing the Plains and, instead of playing Ainok Bond-Kin as planned, gave the Dasher a Debilitating Injury. While the fast Mardu deck I feared wasn't evident yet, the possibility was still there. My opponent the played Nomad Outpost and passed, letting me retake the tempo with a Swamp and my first Abzan Falconer.

My opponent countered with another Mountain and his own three-drop in Bloodfire Expert. My attack with the Falconer went unopposed, letting me drop a land and the Battle Priest. I thought about playing the Alabaster Kirin first, but I figured that if I was going to trade with the Bloodfire Expert, I would need more power.

I ended up trading the Battle Priest but not with the Bloodfire Expert. A Debilitating Injury of the opponent's incapacitated the Priest, letting my opponent swing in for four. My opponent then played a Sandsteppe Citadel and passed. I then played the Alabaster Kirin and attacked with my Falconer, sending the life totals to 16-15 in my opponent's favor. My opponent would swing with the Expert again, and I decided to put it to the test with my Kirin. The Expert passed the test with a Feat of Resistance, but at least it got the spell out of the way now while I still had creatures to play.

On my turn, I played my sixth land and the Ainok Bond-Kin. I swung with the Falconer to take the game to 15-14 in my favor, then played out Sorin and made a Vampire token. My opponent then played his sixth land and summoned the Ponyback Brigade. On my turn, I then played the +1 ability of Sorin, swung with the Vampire token, empty my hand by playing the other Falconer, then used the outlast ability of both the first Falconer and the Ainok Bond-Kin. If you notice carefully, I was careless in my sequence. I could have played the other Falconer first before using the +1 ability of Sorin. I was both anxious and hasty.

My opponent played another Nomad Outpost, then tapped to play the Dragon Throne of Tarkir. Fortunately, the Nomad Outpost entering tapped meant that my opponent was one mana shy of equipping it. However, there was Sorin staring from the other side, and I think my opponent felt that there was no choice but to take him out; the Ponyback Brigade and goblins crashed in, and while the Falconer was able to stop the 2/2 itself from getting across, the tokens managed to force Sorin off the battlefield.

The top of the deck was kind enough to not only speed things up, but put away the game for me. The second Debilitating Injury showed up to end the Expert's presence and let me swing with all but the Falconer with the +1/+1 counter (insurance policy) for 7 damage. In what would be the fastest match of the entire prerelease for me, my opponent would play a Swarm of Battleflies, but even that wasn't enough to stop the onslaught. Without that Debilitating Injury, I would be facing down some really large Goblins.

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As for the wedding reception, I was about forty-five minutes past the time I was supposed to leave. I left the home in a hurry, but somehow leaving late meant that I actually encountered lighter traffic than normal. I arrived at the reception with present on hand thirty minutes before it began. Apparently, some of the more important guests were later in arriving than I was.

***

I was pretty sure I made a bunch of mistakes the day I played the KTK Prerelease, but (what limited) experience, and a lot of good fortune meant that I was able to do pretty well. I doubt this will happen again in the near future, but I will be working towards that as a goal.

Until then, never give up, and never surrender.