We did it! Kinda.
I didn’t become Dutch National champion for the second time, but I did put up a finish I didn’t really expect. It’s no secret that this season has been a very tough one for me, and good results have been few and far between… but Nationals is always a special place. I enjoy it a lot, and for some reason always do well. I have made two Top 16s, two Top 8s, and a win in previous years, and out of six tries that ain’t half bad. That is why this year I was looking forward to Nationals again, like every other year, and once again I made it to the Top 8.
Like all Nationals stories, this one starts the same: a quest for what deck to play in the Standard portion of the event. This year, all of us pros decided to stop being silly by forming different test groups, and just have a fairly open testing pool. I hate the secrecy and backstabbing that happens in testing for Pro Tours, and so do most others, so we all welcomed this tournament as a chance to stop being idiots and just share. This meant that at the weekend of Japanese Nationals we all got together at Frank Karsten’s new place (wow, is he spending those newfound Wizards of the Coast millions fast!) for a test-party/housewarming.
Early testing didn’t really show much of anything, except that Erayo Ninja crushes all those control decks, but loses if it just doesn’t draw a ninja… I didn’t want to play such an inconsistent deck, but I didn’t want to lose to it either. The search went on until a couple of days before the event, when I went to Wessel Oomens place for a test session. Upon arriving, Wessel makes me promise to play a deck he just thought up, and in doing so we would be focused to tune it as best as possible. I didn’t have anything else, so that’s what I did. I swore to play a deck I had not seen yet, trusting my good buddy Wessel.
He showed me an early list, and together we tuned it hard. Julien showed up later, and the three of us came to the final list.
- 4 Ninja of the Deep Hours
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
- 4 Plaxmanta
- 4 Trygon Predator
- 4 Ohran Viper
Basically, all the deck really does is wield a Jitte. Most of the cards are there to win the Jitte war and take it from there. Of course, sometimes that doesn’t work, and then the backup plan is Meloku the Clouded Mirror. Plaxmanta was our tech card versus Rakdos and Mori’s winning Nationals deck. The card advantage it provides, as well as a body for Jitte, makes it an excellent fit for the deck. Other than that, we felt removing the Red from Sea Stompy improves the deck in almost every matchup except for, well, the mirror. (A little foreshadowing, maybe?)
After playing in the tournament, we all came to the same conclusions individually, which were: there’s too much land, the bounceland is horrible, and we need some way of removing things from play in the maindeck. This means that if I were to play the deck again, I would cut the Simic Growth Chamber and both Remands for two Repeals and a Spell Snare, or three Repeals. Spell Snare is excellent in this deck, stopping Bob and Jitte, but also giving you great backup against heavily-played countermagic, Lightning Helix, Volcanic Hammer, and Last Gasp, keeping your three-drops safe with one mana up. Since the three-drops are key, that is what we want.
The sideboard, though, is what needs the most work. Higure, the Still Wind is very good against control decks, and more anti-Jitte cards help a lot in those matchups, but that’s about it. I don’t think four Threads of Disloyalty are needed, as that seem too much… and I didn’t dare board in the Iwamoris once during the entire tournament. The only deck they are good against is Rakdos Burn, and that matchup seems fine without them, or maybe with something else in their place. Hinder is fine, and needed against decks like Heartbeat and Snakes (counter your Sosuke’s Summons to the bottom), but feels like suboptimal. Right now I still don’t know what I would play, but these cards are the ones that can be replaced.
Okay, enough theory… on to my tournament!
I arrived early at the site, because I had a bet going on with my good buddy Jasper Blaas. We would both Rochester draft the entire Competitor list, and whomever got the most players from the Top 8 correct would get eternal glory and a couple of beers. Fun, harmless, but it definitely enhanced the excitement in the tournament for me! For those of you who are wondering, we both got ourselves as players, because it would be silly otherwise, and the picks went as follows:
After this followed a bunch of good PTQ players, before someone noticed that we forgot… Ruud Warmenhoven. I luckily got to snatch him up, and we had our squads!
We finished just in time for the players meeting, and with that, the start of the tournament.
Round 1: Jasper de Jong, playing Erayo Ninja’s
I know Jasper from back when I used to play PTQs, but hadn’t seen him around much. He told me he quit playing Magic, but played Nationals for fun.
Game 1 shows how my tournament is starting, as I mulligan a five land, Viper, Jitte hand on the draw, only to go to Paris again with just an Island as my one land. My one-land five-card hand isn’t good enough, as he flips Erayo turn 3.
Game 2 on the play, I keep a two Birds of Paradise, Breeding pool, Ohran Viper hand, basically having a great start if I draw a land, but being fine if I don’t. I proceed to never actually draw that second land, and he plays all four Repeals over the course of the first three Turns, making it so I never have three mana available.
I had panicked a little about the deck before the tournament, and now I was really freaking out. Did I choose the wrong deck? Did I play badly? Looking back I can see I was just very unlucky, but at the time all I felt was I got crushed.
Round 2: Stijn Cornelissen, playing Rakdos Burn
Before the tournament, we were joking about how the family Cornelissen must have had broken the format again, but they declared they were playing three completely different decks. Maybe the family only has one playset of all the cards.
This game went a lot better, as I get him with Plaxmanta game 1, and with Iwamori and friends the next. [I thought you never boarded him in? – Craig.] His draws weren’t great, while mine were fine; not much to say here.
I’m now feeling a little better, but still unsure about the deck.
Round 3: Michiel Hagen, playing Hand in Hand.
Wessel felt this matchup was very good, as we have more tools to control the Jitte war. Game 1 I easily win because Michiel draws at least eight land, most of which came in the midgame, while I drew flyers and eventually a Jitte to go with them. The next game he Castigates a Jitte, which means neither of us have the sword active. He draws Shizo, and that (combined with a Ghost Council) means I am on a very short clock. My deck doesn’t race very well if it doesn’t draw a Jitte…
The third game is pretty interesting, as he kills my first elf, I Mana Leak a Jitte, and then play an Elf on turn 3 with two mana up. He then plays a Pontiff, and as I don’t have any more lands in my hand I decide to Mana Leak that with my last counter.
This was the wrong decision, as the next turn he plays a Ghost Council, which I can’t deal with, and follows that up with a Jitte for the win. If I’d saved the counter for actual relevant spells I don’t think I can lose this game, as I had Meloku in the grip, but I was more worried about playing it as soon as possible instead of being patient. As you see, I am just learning to play the deck, but that also means I am off to a horrible start.
First up is Ravnica block draft, followed by Coldsnap draft. I feel I am a pretty good drafter in the first, and very good in the second, so despite me not having a lot of faith in my deck, and my play with the deck, I feel I could still be in contention when we get to play with them.
I find draft coverage pretty boring, and both formats seem to be dead pretty soon, so I will glance over the drafts and the games here:
- 1 Bramble Elemental
- 1 Golgari Brownscale
- 1 Transluminant
- 1 Viashino Fangtail
- 1 Vinelasher Kudzu
- 1 Burning-Tree Bloodscale
- 1 Ghor-Clan Savage
- 1 Izzet Guildmage
- 1 Ogre Savant
- 1 Rumbling Slum
- 1 Indrik Stomphowler
- 1 Ogre Gatecrasher
- 1 Silkwing Scout
- 1 Verdant Eidolon
The drafts started out pretty well for me as I picked up a first pick Fangtail out of a weak pack, and after that followed it up with some good Green men. The only real hard pick I had to make was a fifth pick Vinelasher Kudzu over Golgari Rotwum. At that point I had Bramble Elemental, Scatter the Seeds, and Fangtail already, which meant I was afraid of my curve pushing up too much. I also wanted to keep my options open and stick to two colors, because that’s when the Fangtail gets much better.
The next pack I open a Wildsize and get shipped a nice little gift in Rumbling Slum. I then continue to take R/G cards, with the exception of an Ogre Savant, that I take over the third Wildsize. At this point I am thinking that U/G will be coming in the next pack, and that the Savant will be better in that case.
Then in the last pack disaster strikes, and despite me being set up for two guilds, I get nothing. After an early Utopia Sprawl, which I needed since I had no Signets or Bouncelands (I never saw any), all I keep seeing are more Sprawls, and I end up with four… I guess I could have spent that early pick a little better.
So my deck ended up okay, but not great. I needed some stuff from that last pack. I lose the first round to some mana issues and getting too greedy with the Predatory Focus, going for it a turn too early and getting destroyed by the Withstand he was holding. The next round I manage to win, despite feeling like I am already out thanks to my 1-3 record, and as the next round is played a day later, lost of people decided to stay home and I get a bye into 3-3! Pretty lucky, but still, I need to win the next six rounds to make Top 8.
I think it is weird to not finish that draft that day, but there were problems with the venue, and I can’t complain because that is the only reason I got a bye that round.
Luckily, the next draft was Coldsnap. Despite being pretty bad as far as sets go, when drafting with mediocre people, and knowing what to do, you can easily 3-0.
My draft started like this: Pick 1, Aurochs Herd out of a weak pack. Pack 2 I get Skred over a common, which means the guy to my right went for Ronom Hulk, so I guess I move out of Green… and then third, I get passed a Stalking Yeti! I look to see if there is any color I can go into other than Green, but there isn’t. I get passed all the little guys I so love, as well as a set of Into the Norths, so my deck ends up being very good.
- 3 Aurochs Herd
- 2 Boreal Centaur
- 1 Bull Aurochs
- 1 Frostweb Spider
- 1 Goblin Rimerunner
- 2 Ohran Yeti
- 1 Orcish Bloodpainter
- 1 Panglacial Wurm
- 2 Rimehorn Aurochs
- 1 Ronom Hulk
- 1 Stalking Yeti
The hardest match I played was round 1, where I faced a U/W Ripple deck, and get rippled out of one game by Sentinels, Aethers, and three War Cries… but I win the other two games based on a poor draw by him in one and some Stalking Yeti/Orcish Bloodpainter action in the other. The other two matches I just roll, which leaves me with a 6-3 record… and I can just feel it, I am still in it to win it!
Of course, now I have to 3-0 with my 1-2 Standard deck, so there was still a lot of work to be done.
Round 10: Eelco van Ruth, playing Glare with Black
Eelco is a former Dutch TO (the best we ever had) that has picked up his game a lot since he quit that job. He even qualified for a couple of Pro Tours. He is also a great guy, and we know each other pretty well.
Game 1 I get a good draw of Predator with Jitte, which he can’t really stop, as my hand is filled with stuff to counter his Glare and his Angel of Despair. When he finally gets a second Angel to resolve, I show him the second Jitte in my hand, and we go on to game 2. Here I notice luck has turned for me, as he takes a mulligan, another one, and another one, to start at four cards.
Yeah, I won that game.
Round 11: Christiaan Kok, playing Hand in Hand
Chris is another one of those decent Dutch PTQ players that always finish high in local PTQs, but never do actually well once they get to the show. I already lost to his deck, so I ain’t happy with the matchup.
Game 1 he gets out an early Ghost Council, like my previous Hand in Hand opponent… and he has a Shizo too. I have no Jitte in sight, and am a little stuck on mana, only having some Birds of Paradise out… so I feel I can never kill him in time with no Jitte in sight. He then decides to attack with his Ghost Council without fearing it up, and I decide that my only shot of winning is give myself as many turns as possible to draw a Jitte. So, despite not having enough mana, I chump with a Birds of Paradise anyway. I draw more Birds, some lands, and turn after turn he doesn’t fear up and attack with the Council, so I chump. He finally notices what he should be doing and starts giving his 4/4 guy fear, which puts me on a four-turn clock. Like a pro, two turns before I die, I rip the Jitte and win soon after. I really feel I played very well to win that game, even if it involved chumping on turn 5 at sixteen life.
He feels pretty bad about his play, and shows that he is not very happy with himself.
For some reason, when you get down on yourself like that, things go wrong. In the second game he mulligans to 4, and his Bob gets taken with my Threads of Disloyalty. When he Mortifies the Threads of Disloyalty, Bob gets re-stolen by a fresh copy off the top.
Yeah, I won that one, too.
8-3… one more to go!
I am getting pretty nervous, as I thought earlier that I had no shot at making Top 8. Now I am right in it, being 5-0 on the day, only needing one more win to get in. One of the judges comes up to me though before the round and says he can’t tell me who I am playing, but I’ll have my work cut out for me. Uh oh.
Round 12: Sebastien dela Fosse, playing Glare with Blue (for something I never saw, which turned out to be Meloku).
Sebastien is somewhat of a cult figure on the Dutch tournament scene. He is one of those players that has been around forever and has never actually made a dent, yet draws attention to himself in other ways. His way is to feel very strongly about doing the “right” thing. So despite him being paired up, and having no shot at Top 8, we were still going to have to play. I could understand, but of course I wasn’t happy about the chance at being eliminated at the last moment by someone who himself could not make in to the Top 8 himself.
Game 1 he gets Jitte and I don’t, so he crushes me.
Game 2 is very interesting. Due to a war of attrition, both of us are basically playing empty-handed for some time, and he has a Watchwolf and a Guildmage on the board, and I had nothing after chumping last turn and being on 4 life. I windmill-slam the top card of my deck… and it’s the Meloku that was my only out!
I took over very quickly from that point as he swings his Guildmage into it. I make some tokens and mop up the game soon after.
If game 2 was interesting, game 3 was an insane state of affairs. With time winding down, he manages to mulligan to five (thanks to a mistake and drawing eight cards in his first opener), but my draw doesn’t really develop. I don’t cast the turn 2 Viper I have, because I am holding a Spell Snare and want to make sure he can’t get me with Jitte. I was right and he plays the Jitte, which I can Snare. Next turn I go for the Viper anyway, despite not having a reason to be in a real hurry, with him being down on cards, and me holding Hinder. He plays Glare of Subdual, and that puts me in a very bad position.
I manage to steal a Guildmage he played a few turns later with a topdecked Threads, but he still gets Vitu-Ghazi going and starts whittling my life down. At one point I am about to die to his board for sure, but I topdeck another Meloku and get another shot at winning.
Time is called, and a crowd has gathered… unusual for an event such as this.
Sebastien starts attacking me with a Hierarch, gets in some points, and on turn one or two of the extra five, he attacks with a Hierarch, tapping some men and basically setting me up for the kill the turn after. He makes a mistake in his math, and I manage to attack for the win exactly, despite him having a Condemn in the grip.
Wow. I made it! After a 2-3 start…
Of course, then I got crushed by Kamiel in the quarterfinals, as his deck is just a little bit better in the matchup. He also beats Julien (who was playing the same deck I was) in the semis, and goes on to become a well-deserved champ. Be sure to check the coverage about those matches. The people from the Dutch website KVDeckmasters.nl did the best job they could… thanks guys!
I am still very happy to have made this Top 8 after a pretty long drought, and I am now looking forward to playing more Magic again. This is a feeling I haven’t had in a while. Let’s hope it sticks.
Thanks for reading, and see you all soon again in my regular series of articles. Be sure to keep those questions coming on [email protected]. I get so many when I beg, but last week I got none again… a steady flow would be nice, guys…
Until next week,