I’ve just finished drinking a beer from a trophy. That’s what I did today. And let me just say that beer has never tasted so sweet. The smooth taste topped with the metallic finish….actually, I’m not going to do this. About 20 people or so tried to get me to just say “Scoreboard” as my entire article. I think that would have been a bit foolish, as well as immature, so I think I’ll write a little more.
My trip to Nationals started a few months ago, with me sitting on my rating until the cutoff. I missed a few PTQs, but it was totally worth it. I had never been qualified for Nationals before, just short on rating and missing Top 8 of Regionals while playing for it in the last few rounds for about the third time in four years. I hate Regionals. I usually start off well, but the tournament is such a grind that it is very difficult not to get a second loss in the 9 (or 10) rounds of play. Perfect play is something you need to bring with you to the table, as well as an appropriate deck for the metagame and format. I usually try to bring one of those two things to the table, but I rarely manage both, which is something I’ve struggled with when it comes to PTQ Top 8s. I can usually get there but rarely win, because of some mistake in play or deckbuilding. Luckily, I was qualified on rating, as was my friend Blair, so we had two for the drive and looked for a few more. Two of our friends at the local shop had qualified for U.S. Nationals via the YuGiOh circuit, as well as our friend Chris Greene on Pro Level. They were planning on coming with us to the event, splitting gas and hotel costs along the way, and just proving for an overall cheaper experience. And that is when everything went to hell.
I get the call on Wednesday morning from Blair saying, “Chi Hoi and Shawn just bailed on us.” I literally threw something against the wall. I could not afford to spend $100+ on gas alone, not to mention nearly doubling the cost of the hotel, which was already $100. To say I was angry was an understatement. Luckily, we had other friends who could potentially want to go to Nationals in an attempt to grind in. I called my good buddy Will Cruse to see if he wanted to try his luck in the hell-scape that tend to be U.S. Nationals Grinders. He had mentioned wanting to go, but Blair and I didn’t originally want to get there a day early so that people could grind in, and we could have more time to rest and spend with family, etc. However, with the change in circumstances, I would literally take anyone who wanted to come with us, leave whenever, and let them grind as much as they wanted. I texted MG, a friend of mine who lived near Will, to see if he wanted to come along for the ride. He couldn’t think of anything better to do than leave town for 5-6 days and spend a bunch of money, so we had a full car again. Crisis averted.
We left Wednesday afternoon around 4pm from Blair’s place, after Chris had met us at his apartment. We drove north to pick up Will and MG from Huntsville, and began the 1,000 mile drive. We were planning on stopping in Kentucky to sleep, since we would reach there around 11pm or midnight. If you have never met Will Cruse, he is a classy character, and an automatic one-of in any car ride. Chris Greene did not disappoint either. Let me quote my favorite line:
“If your mother were to build a skyscraper in my pants, what would her address be?”
Those were the kind of things I got to hear on the 12-hour trip.
Fortunately for me, I’ve got plenty of experience being the butt of jokes (see forums). Another hit of the trip, which we quoted to infinity and beyond the entire weekend, was the Leprechaun video. If you have a few minutes, you should watch the video in its entirety. It’s probably one of the funniest videos I’ve ever seen, if not simply for the amateur sketch of the Leprechaun. Thanks, Mobile. You make me laugh.
Anyway, moving along. We arrived at the event site on Thursday afternoon around 2pm, and the friends we had in the car not qualified went off in search of cards for their decks in order to bash some grinders. Will Cruse tried to lay odds that he would win the first grinder he played, but he was good enough that I didn’t really want to gamble on it. I mean, have you seen him lately? Probably not, but just take my word that he’s pretty good. While his attitude may at times be off the chart, I don’t know if I would want anyone else on my side of a team draft. I’m pretty sure we’ve won every team draft we’ve ever played, and he’s won many more when I wasn’t around. He opened his sealed and it was a fairly abysmal pile of M10 cards that happened to include Chandra Nalaar.
Of course, he 5-0’d.
I searched around the site during this time period in an attempt to find cards for my Five-Color deck that I planned on battling with in the Standard portion of Nationals. Luckily, Will told me that in all likelihood he’d be playing Kithkin if he ground in, and I could borrow most of the Five-Color deck from him. On top of that, I had most of the cards for Kithkin for him to use already, so we were set. Chris Greene decided to play a Jund Aggro deck, since it had brought him victory at the StarCityGames.com Atlanta $5000 Standard Open, with some obvious changes since he didn’t have access to painlands anymore. Blair was going to play some Five-Color Cascade pile that didn’t include Kitchen Finks, and MG sadly didn’t qualify. He did have a good time playing side events all weekend, and rooted us on as we entered various battlefields, and I’m really glad he came along for the ride. (KABOOM!)
Possibly the worst idea of the trip: letting Blair plan things. The hotel was located a good 20 minutes from the event site, which led to some pretty horrific parking costs, as well as awkward moments when people wanted to stay and draft at the site. On top of that, Blair had invited one of his Twitter friends named Kelly to stay with us in the hotel room on the floor, paying approximately $10 a night. The guy was pretty cool and loaned me a few cards, so I can’t say much about him other than WE HAD TO BE AT THE EVENT SITE EVERY MORNING AT 7AM SO HE COULD WORK at one of the booths I don’t want to mention for fear of my job, but it was mostly Blair’s fault for not asking the important questions. That one was planned out perfectly. However, to make up for it, Blair did wake up early to drive Kelly to the site one morning, and drove back to pick us up. He is a true friend.
The next morning we arrived absurdly early to the event site to make sure we could register our decks and get all the remaining cards we needed for them. (And, you know, because we had to be there at 7am so Kelly could work the booth. Thanks, Blair). I started the morning off with a double Red Bull and a Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Panini from Panera Bread. It was tasty, but fairly overpriced and located outside of the event site hotel. Sadly, I would never return.
While building decks the night before, I decided that the hindering cost of Hallowed Burial was not worth its effect. Firespout had been on my mind for a while, and the lack of Dauntless Escorts, Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tenders, and Kitchen Finks from Nationals decks around the world make me believe that Firespout would actually be better, if simply for costing 2 less mana. Here is what I ended up registering:
- 3 Broken Ambitions
- 4 Cryptic Command
- 3 Firespout
- 2 Agony Warp
- 2 Cruel Ultimatum
- 4 Esper Charm
- 4 Volcanic Fallout
- 1 Doom Blade
- 1 Essence Scatter
As you can see, I was really afraid of Kithkin and Elf Combo. The two decks were very good, and I assumed would be relatively popular. However, I also knew that a lot of pros from the U.S. would figure out that Five-Color was just the best deck in the format, and rarely lost to Faeries because of Great Sable Stag and Volcanic Fallout. The sideboard was stocked with Infest (which probably should have been Deathmark) and I actually almost took a bet to replace the Liliana with a singleton Balefire Liege in the sideboard, just in case I made Top 8. I didn’t cast her a single time in the swiss, and I lost the only game where it was cast in the Top 8, so I missed out on $20 and a story. Luckily, I’m still in the middle of this other story.
After finishing the decklist and a relatively short player meeting, Round 1 began around 10am.
Round 1 versus Faeries
I don’t have extensive notes, but I do remember the cards that mattered. Game 1 he failed to play a turn 2 Bitterblossom, which made me a very happy camper. I did have Volcanic Fallout in hand, but was worried about Thoughtseize as well as Vendilion Clique. He played a Scion of Oona on turn 3, and followed that with a Bitterblossom on Turn 4. I was unphased, and decided to bait him by playing a Plumeveil at the end of his turn, but he didn’t bite. He sat back making tokens for a while and not attacking into my wall. I tried to run a few Dragons (intentional) into play, but they were countered by Cryptic Commands. He tried for a Mistbind Clique, but I had Essence Scatter, and a Broken Ambitions for his Spellstutter Sprite that tried to save it. I also had a Doom Blade for his second Mistbind Clique a turn later. Virtually every other spell I played this game was countered except for Volcanic Fallout on turn 8. Then, I let his Bitterblossom eat him away while he played nothing else out of hand. I ran another Plumeveil out on defense after he Agony Warped my other wall post-blocks on a Faerie token. I then tried a few Cryptic Commands of my own for his threats, which resolved. After a long battle, I played an Ajani Vengeant, shot him down to 5 life and put myself up to 10. I checked his graveyard and saw 3 Cryptic Command and 3 Broken Ambitions. I went for the Cruel Ultimatum, and he scooped.
+4 Great Sable Stag, +3 Negate, -3 Firespout, -2 Agony Warp, -1 Plumeveil, -1 Ajani Vengeant
Game 2 was a much more one-sided affair. I landed a turn 3 Great Sable Stag and went to work. I drew a lot of Volcanic Fallouts for his Mutavaults that tried to block, and the Stag quickly took the game.
The round had only taken about 30 minutes, so I decided to walk around and see how everyone did. Unfortunately, a lot of my friends had lost.
Round 2 against Tanner, playing Countryside Dreamcrusher
Some of you may remember this man from destroying Atlanta Regionals with his unusual GRW deck that features Countryside Crusher and Knight of the Reliquary. He had made some M10 changes to this deck, and had decided that his trusty GRW deck was still good. I hoped to prove him wrong.
Game 1 he mulliganed, and played a turn 1 Noble Hierarch and turn 2 Behemoth Sledge. Meanwhile, my hand sat there being absurd. I eventually bounced his Sledge, and used Volcanic Fallout to sweep away Knight of Reliquary, 2 Bloodbraid Elves, Noble Hierarch, and Birds of Paradise. After that, he used Path to Exile on a few of my threats, but a Broodmate Dragon sealed the deal on turn 7.
Game 2 was much different. Apparently he sided into a land destruction package featuring Fulminator Mage. My hand was land-heavy, and I kept drawing them with Mulldrifter and Esper Charm, and he wasn’t actually killing me with creatures. After 3 Fulminators and an Ajani Vengeant, I used my own Ajani Vengeant to blow up his, then played Firespout to wipe his team away. Later I resolved a Broodmate Dragon that he still couldn’t deal with. After two attacks and double Volcanic Fallout, the match was over.
No mulligans and two quick wins, as well as matching Red Bulls. Lucky me!
Round 3 against Conley Woods playing Five-Color Mannequin
Conley is a good player and I remember seeing him in the Top 8 of PT: Honolulu. This would be the first real test of many, as he is a respected deckbuilder and tight player. I have no idea what he is playing, and hope it doesn’t involve Anathemancer.
Game 1 he mulligans to 5 and I feel very confident that this game is mine. However, he still has a strong plan with Putrid Leech on turn 2, and Bloodbraid Elf into Kitchen Finks. However, I have Plumeveil and Agony Warp to stifle his progression against my life total. After a while he tries for… Mulldrifter? I haven’t seen this before. Something is up, and I don’t know what is really about to happen. I use a Cruel Ultimatum and Broodmate Dragon to mop up after a few Fallouts and Firespouts.
Game 2 is much the opposite of game 1. I mulligan to 6, and keep a hand of Sunken Ruins, Reflecting Pool, and Cascade Bluffs. I don’t draw a 4th land and get run over by two Putrid Leech and an Anathemancer. This one is not even close.
Game 3 is better than the last, but still horrible for me. He leads with Stag and Kitchen Finks. I draw a few removal spells and counters, but he trumps me with Shriekmaw for my Plumeveil, and a Makeshift Mannequin on Anathemancer when I tap out for Broodmate Dragon. This blowout is completely unexpected, and I lose in short order from his attacks and Bituminous Blasts. The only damage he took after game 1 was from his own Putrid Leeches. Such a beating.
I’m not down, since I have a long way to go and lost to someone who is probably better than me with a surprise deck for the format (two of which made Top 8).
Round 4 against Faeries
I can’t remember the guy’s name, and I have no idea what he is playing. I quickly find out that he is playing Faeries and we are off. He opens with an early Scion of Oona, which I Broken Ambitions. His top card is Vendilion Clique, and mine is Volcanic Fallout. We both keep them there, and I move to my draw step. He Vendilion Cliques me, taking one of my two Fallouts, and I pass the turn with 4 mana up. I decide that using Fallout now forces him to find a way to apply more pressure, and I wait until after he declares attacks so he doesn’t get two free damage with a Mutavault. He plays Thoughtseize on my Cryptic Command. I attempt a Broodmate Dragon, to which he Essence Scatters. I cast a Mulldrifter and some other spells, and I read him for not having a Broken Ambitions. As he is stuck on three lands forever, I cast Cruel Ultimatum when he has only three mana up, prompting a concession shortly after.
Game 2 is really weird. I mulligan into 3 lands, Stag, and 2 Volcanic Fallout. How can I lose, right? He plays Bitterblossom into turn 4 Mistbind Clique, to which I have no answer. We are racing Clique against Stag, and I’m using Fallout to stifle his token generation. Around turn 6, I have to use 2 Fallout to draw the game, otherwise I was dead to a counterspell of any sort.
Game 3 is much like game 2, from his side of the board at least. He has the “nut” draw of Thoughtseize into Bitterblossom that we all dread. He quickly dismantles my plays and takes me down in short order.
Game 4 I am on the play and it is his turn to mulligan. I played a Great Sable Stag around turn 6, to which he never drew an answer. Since he didn’t have Bitterblossom or anything relevant to race, he just keeps drawing, playing lands, and getting bashed for 3. When I played a second Stag, he showed me his Puppeteer Clique and Essence Scatter in hand that would have countered and reanimated my uncast Broodmate Dragon. It just so happens that I was sitting on my Dragon in fear of Sower of Temptation. Whew!
I’m feeling good about my performance thus far, and love my deck. However, I don’t feel confident about my ability to draft. I think I am good enough to possibly 2-1 both draft pods, but 3-0 is going to be very difficult at this stage. Luckily, my deck is ridiculous.
When the draft starts, I open Vein Drinker, get passed a lot of Black and Red removal, as well as a really late Fire-Field Ogre and Kederekt Creeper. I splash Blue off Grixis Panorama, and in Pack 2 I open Fiery Fall, and get passed Nicol Bolas. After a 3rd pick Armillary Sphere, I have solidified myself as BRx control, and pick up a few more spot removal spells as well and manafixing. In pack 3 I take an absurdly late Lord of Extinction and Putrid Leech, and decide that splashing Blue and Green is the way to go.
Round 5 against Naya Midrange
I don’t remember a lot about the drafting matches, but I do remember a few key things that happened in each, and this one was all about my bombs. Game 1 he gets down a Sacellum Archers with Quietus Spike on it, while I am unable to draw a removal spell. However, I finally draw my 8th land for Nicol Bolas, destroy his Spike, and take the game home with Lightning Reaver. His deck is full of 5 power monsters that are all easily killable. Executioner’s Capsule is MVP, and Nicol Bolas is no slouch either.
Game 2 is a bit different, as he goes very aggressive and gets me down to low life total with a few combat tricks. However, I take the game away from him with Vein Drinker, kill most of his threats, and attack a few times for the win. Neither game was particularly close, but I did need my bombs to win both games.
Round 6 against Paul Rietzl playing UW Aggro
His first few land drops are Plains, Borderposts, and Islands, and his first few creatures go unanswered, as my mulligan put me very far behind. I played a few dorks, but drew no removal, and his Welkin Guide + Nacatl Hunt Pride made racing very difficult. On the turn where I tried to Alpha Strike, I was blown out by Resounding Silence, and was dead on board next turn through Welkin Guide + Exalted.
Game 2 was similar, as his infinite combat tricks just blew me out. I never drew the mana to cast either Lord of Extinction or Nicol Bolas stuck in my hand, and we were off to signing the slip.
After 6 rounds of play, I’m at 66%, which is much better than it seems. However, I can only lose one more match and still make Top 8, so I put on the gameface for the last round of the day.
Round 7 against Bant Aggro
This round was rather difficult, as he had an aggressive start in all three games. However, I actually drew removal to deal with his creatures. He had a Wall of Denial to stifle my aggression, but Lightning Reaver did him a lot of damage. Sadly, he had Resounding Silence to exile my guy, as well as a lot of Vedalken Outlanders that I couldn’t block. This was the first game in which I’ve resolved Nicol Bolas and lost. Ever.
I won the second game entirely on the back of Vein Drinker. Bant has very few outs to a resolved bomb like Vein Drinker, and I eventually killed his entire team. Even a cycled Resounding Silence didn’t stop me, and game 2 was mine.
Game 3 he mulliganed and kept a sketchy hand. All I had to do was play a few creatures and attack, with a bit of removal backup to keep him from blocking. He stabilized, but I took control again with Nicol Bolas, and blew up all of his Blue mana sources before stealing his relevant threats and attacking him with them.
Keeping the dream of Top 8 alive, I found out that I had to go 6-1 the next day in order to make it in, with 5-2 netting dollars and pro points.
After the last round, we decided that dinner was in order. We were planning on eating at P.F. Chang’s, but the wait was about an hour, and my body was starting to consume itself. Blair and Chris Greene went off in search of another place to dine while MG, Will, and I played Frisbee in a nearby park and waited for our table. We got a phone call about 30 minutes later from Blair saying that this place called Hibachi looked interesting and there was no wait. I’ve had “cook at your table” Japanese food before, but this place was something different. It was locally owned, and overall a wonderful experience. I had a few beers, watched the chef throw shrimp at us for days, and I had some great salmon. Will and MG decided to run the Credit Card Game. Let me explain: people in a party decide to pool their credit cards together at the end of a meal, and pick one at random. This person pays for the entire meal. However, I was not in a gambling mood, especially when my meal alone was easily $30. Will and MG both had ordered King Crab and Steak, which led to an $80+ bill. Obviously Will Cruse lost, and was grumpy the rest of the evening (like always when he is losing). I sleep, hoping to wake up refreshed and ready for battle.
Check back Monday for the finale!