The Best Weekend of the Year Part 1

By Henry Moore                            18/8/11

Ok, I’m back. First of all, let me apologise for not writing an article in ages. I intended to, it just never happened. Just after Jace and Stoneforge were banned, M12 spoilers were starting up. I wanted to talk about both of those things, but new spoilers kept coming up and invalidating anything that I would have said. Now it’s a bit late. M12 has been out for ages and everyone is sick of hearing about the most broken cards in Standard since Skullclamp.

So where does that leave me? A tournament report, of course! Nationals weekend. I love Nationals weekend. I also hate Nationals weekend. I’ve never done well at a Nationals tournament - when I’ve been on the upswing on rating and qualified. Maybe I’m just a bit biased because I’ve only actually played in three of these tournaments, and I’ve only really felt prepared to do well in this one. Even now, when I look back, I really wasn’t prepared for Standard. Anyway, I digress. A tournament report should start from the beginning, and from the beginning it shall…

I had to work on Friday. That sucked. I’m still able to grief Alan for free tournaments. As much as I love Alan, I wanted to extract as much value as possible, so not being there from the opening to string drafts one after another was pretty gutting. As it was, I arrived at around 3:30pm. David Glyn-Jones was playing in some grinders, and Aaron Sewell was sitting in the dark tanking over one-ofs for his legacy deck.

                                                                                                                                 Not the Hero of this story but worth a mention, David Glyn-Jones...

Aside: I really hate playing in the dark on that side of the hall. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a great venue. I just wish something could be done about the lighting. It’s really distracting when there is a spotlight over your left shoulder spraying shadows all over your Deceiver combo. End aside.

After de-sleeving a Diabolic Edict and replacing it with a Giant Spider (so that Aaron could block Mishra’s Factory), I quickly queued up for some free drafts. I drafted a UR monstrosity that was clearly being cut from both sides but that had a Chandra, the Firebrand and a million instants and sorceries. This deck was terrible and I knew it. I wanted to try out Chandra, but I was too locked in and not open to switching. I watched helplessly as my hands passed countless Stingerfling Spiders, Cudgel Trolls and Overruns to the man on my left. Along with the Chandra, picked up a Visions of Beyond for my set (probably a good card to have a set of before Innistrad comes out, by the way), so it wasn’t a total waste of time.

After losing to Aaron’s Standard UW deck (pretty sure he has never been and will never be any other colour combination in core set draft), I dropped and picked up a draft with some grinders in better light conditions across the hall. I wanted to see whether these guys left green as open as the other drafters did. The short story is they didn’t. I ended up with another terrible deck, featuring such stars as Brink of Disaster and Brindle Boar. After losing to Simon’s hyper aggressive UR deck (Pro tip: Incinerate kills Cudgel Troll), I SMASHED Matt Griffin in the BG mirror. I’m not sure how, since my deck was terrible, but I guess if both your decks are terrible then the better player will win. I stuck around to lose to a spicy mono red concoction out of Jason Chung, picked up my 6th pick rares and signed up for the super FNM.

The super FNM was sweet. I drafted a sick BR deck which had a curve ending in Flameblast Dragon, as well as about 4.7 million removal spells. In multiple games I just sandbagged Incinerate, Incinerate, Shock and domed people out. I won round one against Gary. He had some mana troubles, and I drew all the best cards in my deck. It was pretty hard for him to really get into either of the games. Round 2 I played against Mani Haggard. We had a real grinder of a match. Game one I couldn’t draw more than 2 or 3 lands, and Mani was able to beat me around the head with a bunch of fliers. Game 2 (after sideboarding in two Deathmarks and a Combust against his UWG deck) I drew a lot of removal and got there with a couple of random dorks. Game 3 I really got to see what Mani’s deck could do. He had drafted a bunch of the hexproof guys, and complemented them with things like Trollhide, Great Sword and Spirit Mantle. The last game was very close, and if Mani had drawn one of his hexproof men a little earlier I definitely would have lost. Luckily on the last possible turn I drew an Incinerate to win the race. (Oh, and Mani, I told you I wasn’t lying.)

Round 3 I lost a frustrating match. My opponent’s deck was quite good. It had Gideon’s Avenger, Skinshifter and Archon of Justice. On top of this, he had two Arbalest Elite which crushed my draws of a million X/2 creatures and zero removal spells. I think my deck was better in general, but it certainly didn’t come to the party. Sometimes there is nothing you can really do, you just lose. I ended up 3rd in my pod I believe, which was good enough for a pack and two promo Squadron Hawks, which completed my set. While I may never play the card again, it was cool to get four.

At some point on the Friday I registered for Nats and got my sweeeeet playmat. Last year’s one was cool, but it’s always nice to have something new to sling cards on. The added bonus this year was that Aaron traded his in to Alan for an Ion Deckbox (actually Aaron gave it to me for free but I felt he deserved something cool in return – Editor), and Dave (unfortunately) didn’t make it into Nats, so I am the only one in my playgroup that owns one. The expected troll value of this mat is definitely high.

                                                                                                                                     This belongs to Henry, he has it because he is awesome...

After talking a bunch with some of the Auckland players about my deck for Nats, sideboarding plans etc, I headed home, intent on getting a good night’s sleep. Of course, this was obviously the weekend when my flat was full of loud drunk people asking me to go drink with them. I still don’t think they understood what “I have Nationals tomorrow, shut up” means, but whatever. I got SOME sleep at least.  

On to Day two. I woke up early so that I could grab some food at the local Hollywood Bakery. They’re expensive, but they also exist, unlike food in my pantry/fridge. After hitting them up, it was a quick drive to the venue (living in town is pretty sweet), and I had just enough time to write out my decklist and no-sir anyone who asked for Dismember.

I guess this is the best time to talk about my Standard deck. Aaron and I had been brewing and slinging a RUG Twinpod deck for a few weeks, and before Aussie Nats we were solidly on a Michael Jacob list (Fauna Shamans, Lotus Cobras etc). We were having some trouble with the mono-red matchup, but we were very confident with Cawblade and Tempered Steel and marginally happy with Valakut. Then Aussie Nats hit. We were pretty annoyed, because not only was our deck everywhere, but the list was completely different, and built to abuse Pyroclasm out of the board. We knew this deck would appeal to a lot of people, and that it would be everywhere. We couldn’t play our version anymore, because it was definitely weak to Pyroclasm and we didn’t want to play the ‘worse’ version of the deck. I say ‘worse’ because I think that version has merit. I think it has a better matchup against the control decks in the format due to the Fauna Shamans and Vengevines. We started playing the Aussie Nats version to get a feel for it and were immediately impressed. The Valakut matchup got better, the red matchup got better, and the Tempered Steel matchup was a joke. The Cawblade matchup got worse because we no longer had Vengevine, and didn’t have Lotus Cobra to abuse for the mana advantage anymore. But we thought that we could rely on Tempered Steel and red keeping the control decks down, and we’d hopefully be able to steal games from them.

I basically played the exact list that Aaron Nicoll used to win Aussie Nats, but I changed a couple of the 1-ofs in the maindeck because I wasn’t happy with where they were positioned for the metagame (for example, I didn’t think Tuktuk  the Explorer  was good enough in enough matchups to warrant the maindeck slot, and eventually cut him from the sideboard for cards that were better in the aggressive matchups). My sideboard was also fairly close to the Aussie Nats list. Mana Leak is awesome against the control decks and Valakut, the Pyroclasms are completely insane against Tempered Steel and some versions of red (and as I found out, Elves too) and I had some spicy one-ofs to bring in that I could ‘pod up for certain matchups. Anyway, onto the matches…

Round one I played a guy who was fairly new to Magic: I believe he said he started in Rise of the Eldrazi (just too late to crack Jaces). I assume he grinded into Nats, but I guess it has been a while since Rise was out, and his rating might have got him there. Anyway, he was playing Cawblade. This is definitely one of the worst matchups for pod. You really need your mana guys to get ahead, and if they have Day of Judgements in the maindeck, it’s very difficult to win. He started game 1 basically the best way Cawblade can against pod: Squadron Hawk. You really don’t have many ways of dealing with creatures on the table, and if they get a Hawk chain going and they play patiently, you’re often forced to play like they don’t have counterspells or just lose. Most of the time, they have counterspells. My opponent did that, and we were soon off to game 2. In this game, I made the classic and terrible “mana leak your Spell Pierce” instead of “paying for Spell Pierce” mistake. I don’t know why people do this; I don’t know why I did it. I think it’s a mindset that you can get with counterspells. When you have them in your hand, you can play with them in mind so much that you lock in on the play where you cast a spell, they counter it and you snap counter their counterspell. There really isn’t any excuse, I should have just paid. It was really bad, and I think I actually would have won that game if I hadn’t made the mistake. This play reminded me that I hadn’t played any Magic before Nationals started. I find that when I play a game of Commander or something in the morning, it gets my mind working and greases the wheels. When I don’t do that, often my first match of the day can be a ‘warm-up’, but that’s just not good enough. You have to be playing well for the whole tournament; you can’t count on winning round 1 just because it’s round 1.

Starting out 0-1 wasn’t going to stop me. I really wanted to be in the team this year, so I tried to focus and get past my loss. Round two I played John Seaton in the mirror. I had played a grand total of 0 games of the mirror, which admittedly was just bad preparation and probably a product of the fact that neither Aaron nor I were very sure of our decks and so never really had a copy each built up at the same time. By that, I mean I had the deck made up and Aaron didn’t like it. So this match was interesting for me. I think I played pretty well, as I was able to tell when John was playing toward the combo and therefore stop him from getting there. I was happy to get a match of the mirror out of the way, since it gave me some experience, and the much needed win.

Then I played James White. What can I say, James loves his brews. Full credit to him, every year he turns up to nationals with something completely off the radar, and he has had a lot of success doing so. I don’t know how he finished at Nationals this year, but if I had to guess I would say that at the very least his constructed record was positive. I lost this round, and I want to say it was because I didn’t know how to play against his deck, but honestly it was my fault. I played pretty loose and it cost me. I’m sure there was a point in the second game where I could have won. I even played myself into that spot so that I would have that chance, but I blew it at the last moment.

1-2 to start the day. Ouch. I think that’s enough for now. Too much talk about losing. Join me next time as we see what happens to our intrepid hero (me, not Intrepid Hero) as he enters draft 1. Will he 3-0 without trying and move on with his life, or will he spiral downwards into a losing streak, ending up on permanent Nationals-related tilt?

Stay tuned,