Hello everyone! My name is Maitland and, as the title of this article implies, I recently finished third at Australian Nationals. As I am still fairly new to the game, I think it would be useful for me to use this report to highlight things I learned during the tournament as opposed to going through the play by play of every game (plus I can’t remember it all, and it would be pretty boring). Some of these points may seem minor or obvious but in a game like Magic, every edge you can gain on your opponent should be taken advantage of (within the rules that is).
In testing for this event I was hindered by the years of continental drift that have caused Tasmania to be so very far away from the rest of Australia (Tasmania is the little island off the bottom of Australia). Due to this and various other factors my testing group was limited to myself and Nicolas Rolf (always play with players who are better than you, especially if they take the time to explain to you why you suck).
We started off on U/B Control but were not too pleased. Nick then noticed that Chihoi had been completely obliterating daily events on Magic Online with a U/W Control list. We started to test it and Nick (the_co on MTGO) also began to crush daily events. Happy with the results we started fine tuning the deck in 8-mans as well as in real life, when able, to try and keep it low profile (thanks Gerry Thompson for your article posting every deck that has ever been in a daily event…). The other major player in our testing group (via e-mail, yes we have internet in Tasmania, although it is awful) was Alex McCormick (MJ) who was helping by, to put it in a positive way, giving us constructive criticism on the deck. Anyway, here is the list:
A lot of credit goes to Chihoi as this really is a sick list and we didn’t change it a whole lot. The night before we did some tweaking, putting Karn Liberated in the board (hardest thing I’ve ever done, that guy is just so badass…) adding more Flashfreezes and Spreading Seas to help against Valakut and swapping our Consecrated Sphinx to a Sun Titan. I’m still not sure on the Titan but I was very worried about Valakut and recurring Tectonic Edge seemed good.
The deck had very good matchups versus the aggressive decks which we thought would be very popular (Tempered Steel, Vampires, Mono Red). The Valakut match up was tough but very winnable. It is worth noting here that, while we were testing, no one played Splinter Twin online, and I mean literally no one. As such it was sort of excluded from our testing and this deck has a VERY tough time winning against either R/U/G or especially the U/R versions. If you wanted to take this deck to a PTQ I would suggest running it against Twin a lot and bringing back some Dismembers and maybe more hard counters.
The delayed release of sets on MTGO really burnt us for Nationals (as I’m sure it does a lot of other people for a lot of tournaments) as it was difficult to get enough people together for a draft. Thus my preparation for the draft format consisted of one in-store draft (1-2, what a master…), two drafts at the venue the day before the event (we won’t discuss my record for them) and a whole lot of theory talk with Nick and Mj on the long drive from Melbourne to Canberra. Oh, I also did a heap of faux drafts on the internet to familiarise myself with the cards.
Then, suddenly, we were there! I was nowhere near as prepared as I would have liked but it was my first Nationals so I was viewing it as a learning experience in preparation for next year. Without further ado, let’s get into the rounds!
Round 1 vs. Daniel Fogl-Kulich with Tempered Steel
While we shuffled up I asked my opponent how he felt about his deck and he responded exuberantly with something along the lines of â€˜it’s amazing, feels really powerful and really good’. This may seem like I’m just trying to make small talk and be a friendly dude (which I am) but can we go further? Of the mainstream decks I expected, the only one I would consider to be â€˜exciting’ would be Tempered Steel (R/U/G Twin Pod was another option but I felt this would only be brought by a few experienced pilots) as it has very thrilling nut draws and a lot of appealing synergy with its pseudo tribal feel. This turned out to be a sweet read and we had two classic control versus aggro games where he played a lot of creatures and I played a lot of removal, managing to win game two on one life (sigh of relief).
Round 2 vs. Patrick Pepper with G/W Mid-Range
In game one of this match Patrick was on the play and led with a Stirring Wildwood. I played a Celestial Colonnade and passed back. Patrick then played a Birds of Paradise and a land before shipping it back to me. At this point my hand was along the lines of Plains, Day of Judgement, Glacial Fortress, Dismember, Spell Pierce, Gideon Jura, and Island. So on my turn I could play an untapped land and pass back thus representing Mana Leak while having Spell Pierce and Dismember up, but what is the advantage there? I actually WANTED Patrick to be playing spells so I can get maximum value out of my removal, mainly Day, so I didn’t want him to be worried about his Hero of Bladehold getting Mana Leaked. The one thing I am concerned about is if he sticks a non-creature threat, Birthing Pod, a Sword, etc., as that is something my hand could have trouble with. This in mind I played the Glacial Fortress (tapped) and passed the turn. Patrick played Lotus Cobra, fetch land and Garruk Wildspeaker which hit my Spell Pierce (fist pump!). From there it was fairly easy to leverage a winning game. In Game two Thrun, The Last Troll came knocking to try and ruin me but Elspeth Tirel proved to be bigger.
Round 3 vs. Adam Amy with Valakut
This is typically a tough match up for U/W Control as they can exhaust your counters and then draw more threats before you manage to close out a game against them so I was thankful that Adam made a misplay in game one to let me get the advantage. He played a main phase Harrow to get two Mountains, leaving him with a Forest, four Mountains and an Overgrown Battlement, all ready to drop Primeval Titan next turn. Unless of course I Journey to Nowhere his Defender creature and leave him on one green mana, stranding the Primeval Titan in hand. This shows the importance of â€˜safe’ plays, especially when playing a deck with a vulnerable mana base like Valakut. Getting two Forests off his Harrow does not significantly affect his clock and it makes him so much safer from removal and Spreading Seas. Game two I drew an obscene amount of counters, this is referred to as â€˜living the dream’ vs.. Valakut, and I took the game down fairly easily.
After the first constructed portion I was feeling pretty good. The deck had performed well and I had made some plays that had proved effective and thus boosted my confidence to a good level for competent game play. This however did not ease my nerves as I sat down at table one to draft a format for which my only experience was losing a lot in the three drafts I had done. This isn’t necessarily awful though as I find the best way I learn is from either losing or watching someone else win, so I hoped that I had gotten pummelled enough to be at least semi knowledgeable about the format.
I took a first pick Oblivion Ring and then in the next few picks took some solid green and blue cards. I’d heard talk about Trollhide being the nuts in a Hexproof deck and I had passed one in the first couple of picks. Hoping to wheel it I moved in on the archetype, taking an Aven Fleetwing, and was rewarded when the hide came back to me. Pack two I opened Sun Titan and I honestly can’t even remember what else was in the pack. I’m greedy and I knew that if I splashed the titan I could also run Oblivion Ring which would help my â€˜no removal’ deck. So as I raised Rampant Growth and Manalith in my mental pick order I slammed the Titan and got back into the fray.
The draft went really well for me as blue seemed insanely open (I wheeled Phantasmal Dragon and Merfolk Looter, in the same pack) and I was being passed solid cards from both directions in all three of my colors (I ended up with two Oblivion Ring). I was however wary of the many aggressive white cards that I had been passing (damn you Stormfront Pegasus!!) and crossed my fingers that my slow clunky deck could avoid the aggro or draw enough defense to get to the late game.
Round 4 vs. Chester Swords with G/X
Only round four and already my memory is failing me! I’m pretty sure Chester wasn’t on Mono Green but I can’t remember him casting anything other than dudes and Overrun. In game two I came upon a fundamental problem with the way I play magic, I am too conservative. We had reached a board stall where we each had a load of green duders and I was making a few Jade Mage tokens every turn (well not every turn as I am a fish and missed some) while I bashed in with my Fleetwing, Trollhide equipped. Now I was happy with this, BUT THAT’S BECAUSE I’M BAD! I had a stupid amount of creatures at this point and was at a high life total. I should have been throwing saprolings at him, thus shaving turns off my clock whilst still having enough blockers to make his attacks less than exciting. Instead I gave him turns and he cast Overrun a turn before I could kill him. In the other two games Trollhide did some solid work on both Sun Titan and Aven Fleetwing.
Round 5 vs. Wilfy Horig with R/W super-duper-in-your-face-aggressive-beats
Oh boy….. So Wilfy took me to town. My deck was in no way ready for his assault and I learned a lot about aggro versus control in this format, in the same way that I would learn a lot about hunting if I had a bare knuckles fight with a grizzly bear. This round was honestly a joke, in one game I played Manalith, and then lost. I’m just going to go onto the next one.
Round 6 vs. Jasen Pan with U/W
This was a very tough match up as Jasen had a crazy amount of tricks to try and keep in mind (Negate, Mana Leak, Stave Off, Mighty Leap, Demystify, Turn To Frog). I found this to be a very good exercise in thinking about how each trick affects my plays and I used that to lead me to the correct one, something that is difficult in a format with such a variety of spells. The games I won were from drawing enough flying threats whilst being able to manage his and avoid getting blown out.
So the first draft was over and I was sitting at X-1. I was pretty happy, albeit extremely tired. In the second draft I took a first pick Solemn Simulacrum before moving in on U/B Control when I got passed a fifth or sixth pick Sorin’s Vengeance (reads â€˜you win the game’). Solemn was fantastic for all the reasons it is in constructed (it also allowed me to splash Pacifism, greed is good!) and Vengeance was just obscene (honestly, just play with it). My deck ended up fine and I learned from Wilfy to cram the two and three drops in so that I wouldn’t be overrun by Elite Vanguard as easily (wow is the Vanguard ever a beating).
Round 7 vs. Russel J. Phillips with U/W and then G/W
Russel’s deck seemed like his draft hadn’t gone exactly as he planned and both our games went exactly the same, we traded some creatures and entered a situation where I was bashing for three a turn in the air while the ground was stalled until he cast Day of Judgement. I then played some big creatures and won.
At the end of day one I felt pretty good with only one loss as I headed up to our room to jam my draft deck against MJ while he laughed at my impressionable nature. You see on the Friday when we did some practice drafts I had a very similar U/B Control deck and MJ managed to deck me through use of Elixir of Immortality (my ridiculous amounts of card draw helped in this task). After this, Elixir went up a lot in my pick orders to the point that my second draft deck had two. Now I’m almost 100% sure that running two is wrong but this shows how one draft can change our opinions of cards and it is an effect that we have to keep in mind in order to view cards objectively. As it turned out Elixir was quite good for me but again just because it worked well does not mean that it was correct to have two. After a set of games we decided my deck was quite good. Sorin’s Vengeance was the nuts, and I should probably have run another Coral Merfolk over something in the main deck (cough, Elixir, cough).
Round 8 vs. Desmond Ng
Desmond and I had some very close games and I’m struggling to remember exact board state situations (I played Desmond three times over the course of the weekend and he proved to be a great guy and a master, good combo) I do remember that I was playing too fast though, both games I lost when I was a turn from winning and I can’t think of specifics but I’m sure if I took my time I could have found a better line of play to take me to the finish. At the end of the day though, Desmond won this one and I learnt a lesson.
Round 9 vs. Daniel Ball with R/B Bloodthirst
Daniel’s deck was very good and I remembered shipping him pretty much the nuts including a 6th pick Volcanic Dragon in pack three (must be nice etc.) so I was fairly worried going in. My Elixirs really worked overtime in this match and I gained 25 life to eventually take game one (Sorin’s Vengeance helped as well) but an interesting point I noticed was how Daniel used his removal. I had a 2/1, a 3/2 and a 2/2 (I know, exciting right?) and Daniel had a 5/5, a 4/2 and I think a 1/1 flyer. I was tapped out and in my end of turn Daniel Shocks my 3/2 and Sorin’s Thirst’s my 2/2, why? On his turn he was probably going to send the team and my blocks were not amazing. I was also on a fairly low life total. My options were, double block the 5/5 and put one creature on the 4/2, this would be good for me but I would get blown out if he had removal which, as I hadn’t seen any yet, I was sure he had in hand. My other option was to put one creature on the 4/2 and chump/let through the 5/5. Daniel using his removal does not help either of these situations; in fact it takes away the one that has the highest potential reward for him! It is very important, especially in limited situations, to always try and get the maximum value out of your removal and in a close game like ours, this decision could have affected the outcome of the match.
Round 10 vs. Daniel Unwin with R/U/G-Twin-Pod
Oh R/U/G-Twin, yeah awkward…this round showed me how much our deck would need to adapt if decks like Daniel’s (I played three Daniels at this tournament, that can’t be normal) make up a significant portion of the metagame. You literally can’t do anything against this deck because if you ever do then you risk just losing to the combo. They can just wait and sculpt the perfect hand before winning at their leisure, or just play good creatures + Birthing Pod and force you to deal with them. This match up really is rough and until I have done more testing I won’t be sure where a classic control deck like ours stands.
Round 11 vs. Desmond Ng with U/B Control
Desmond, we meet again, for the last time! (I wish it was the last, as Nick, MJ and I team drafted against Desmond, Jacky Zhang and Garry Wong where we got hopelessly rolled). This was a great match and I wish it was recorded so I could watch it again to go over all my plays (game one was over half an hour). I remember Desmond led with two discard spells leaving me with lands and a Day of Judgement before we played “draw go”. We reached a situation where Desmond had landed a Consecrated Sphinx (this is awful for U/W as there are no instant speed ways to remove it) and I had a choice to either cast Day of Judgement or Journey to Nowhere (not killing it is a pretty bad play…). If we look at U/B’s threats (Sphinx, Grave Titan, Wurmcoil Engine) we see that Day is good versus all but the engine and Journey is great against them all. Therefore Day is the correct play. Desmond untapped and played Wurmcoil to which I cast Journey and from there my planeswalkers cleaned up (it hurt me to write such a gross over simplification of this game, as it was truly epic). Game two was much quicker. I stuck an early Elspeth and that proceeded to dominate the board.
Round 12 vs. Ricky Aherne with Mono Red
So there I was, round 12 needing a win to maybe make top 8 on breakers. I felt bad having to bash my opponent as Ricky is a good friend but it was great to know one of us was going to (hopefully) make top 8 and two in the top 16 was huge for Tasmanian Magic! I was really quite lucky to get through these games. Ricky had no one drop for games two and three and I don’t want to imagine how close they would have been if Goblin Guide got to bash a few times. In the end Elspeth Tirel gained enough life to put me through to X-3 (I hope this report highlights how passionately in love with Elspeth I am).
So there we have it, after 12 rounds of swiss it came down to hoping that my tie breakers were better than everyone else’s. I was really on edge when they were announcing the Top 8 (I swear it took an hour) and I really sympathise to Dan Unwin, as well as anyone else that has ever missed Top 8 on breakers. This is a tough game and it sucks that this is what it comes down to sometimes. The breakers broke my way though and I was off to the Top 8!
The coverage for all my top eight games can be found here (as well as photos of me looking like a badass).
Quarterfinals vs. Wilfy Horig with Vampires
I felt pretty good going into this game. I knew the match up was in my favor and I was eager for a chance to redeem my pitiful last performance against Wilfy. The matches were not really incredible as especially post board U/W’s answers for Vampire’s threats are just so good that it is really hard for them to craft a winning game state.
Semifinals vs. Jiann Hua Chin with Tempered Steel
I was pretty nervous while looking over Chin’s list; it was very different to what we had been seeing on MTGO as it had dropped the slower cards for a lot of really aggressive creatures and a heap of nut draws, and nut draws he did get! In one game he literally dumped his hand on turn one. This matchup is certainly not bad and I definitely punted one game away but he did really just out draw me and I would have to test more against this particular deck before I recommended any changes to our list.
3rd/ 4th Playoff vs. Andrew Bennett with Tempered Steel
Now this was more like it, Andrew’s list was exactly what we had been seeing online and I was therefore a lot more prepared to face it. The games were pretty normal for the match up. I did get wrath flooded in the last game (sucks to be me, heh) but even in the face of such adversity (and 5 5/5’s) I was able to sneak out enough wins to put myself into the national team.
So that was my tournament, it was an amazing experience and I look forward to going to a lot more big events in the future, including one in San Francisco. There are a few people I would like to thank for my finish.
-Nick, for being a sick testing partner and getting to know the deck so well (and letting me watch)
-Mj, for the deck tweaks you helped us with as well as the drafting and sideboarding advice
-Chihoi, for coming up with the original list
-All my opponents, for being great people, I had a blast every round and look forward to seeing you all again
-My girlfriend, for putting up with me obsessing about this game
-All the Tasmanian guys who came and cheered me on, thanks for the support you guys are great
Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed this article be sure to let me know in the forums and I’ll see you on the other side of a table!
Maton on MTGO