The Nationals. Every year I manage to get myself there somehow, and every year I don’t do as well as I hoped. Perhaps this year, with the biggest Nationals ever, I’ll manage to pull my socks up and make the grade?
This year the English Nationals was held at the National Motorcycle Museum, just outside Birmingham in the centre of England. The same venue was used the previous year, and the only complaints were about the food.
The members of Team PhatBeats who’d qualified (Chris, Antoine and myself) headed up to Birmingham on the Friday, driven by our ever-helpful level 3 judge, Chris Bagnall. After an uneventful drive we dropped Chris and Ant off at the hotel and I joined Chris B at The Manor Hotel in Meriden, ten minutes from the venue. The Manor was the base for all the judges, and was a very nice hotel indeed.
As we entered, we immediately saw some shady, backpack-carrying characters – and knew we were in the right place. Five minutes later I found a bar, a drink and a few friends and settled in for the evening. After five hours of chatting, playing Magic and drinking we all called it a night.
The first day of the Nationals this year would be two pods of Booster draft. For those who don’t already know, a pod is an eight-player draft. You draft the cards and play off against the other players in your first pod and then you’re re-seated and draft and play against a second pod.
The second pod is chosen in a Swiss style, meaning that if you go 3-0 in your first pod, you’ll be put in a pod with lots of other 3-0 players too.
After the first pods were posted I noticed that Tom Harle, a former English Champion, was the only name I recognised: a good thing. We were seated and picked up the first pack of Odyssey.
45 picks later here’s the deck I drafted and built.
1x Springing Tiger
1x Centaur Chieftain
1x Metamorphic Wurm
1x Muscle Burst
1x Krosan Constrictor
1x Nantuko Disciple
1x Skywing Aven
2x Aven Windreader
2x Hydromorph Guardian
1x Cephalid Scout
1x Stupefying Touch
1x Cephalid Broker
2x Deep Analysis
1x Aven Cloudchaser
1x Mystic Zealot
1x Seafloor Debris
1x Timberland Ruins
Three colours. I started picking Blue with an early Aven Windreader, but quickly saw that a few good Green cards were coming my way too and decided that G/U is quite good, as it lets me get threshold easier to make all my Green monsters better. By the start of the second pack, I was still missing some good combat tricks with no bounce, only one Muscle Burst, and no counters. I also had no real bombs; just solid creatures. I saw a late-pick Mystic Zealot and picked it, hoping that a splash of White would fix a few problems the deck would have. I figured that I could cope with rush decks, but only had a few fliers and wasn’t convinced that I could cope with big Green monsters. Two Emboldens later, I was much happier – not as happy as if I’d seen a few Aether Bursts, but happier. In the third pack I saw a few good Blue cards, but none of the few good White or Green cards.
I figured that I should be able to go 2-1 with the deck and sat down to play.
Round 1: Colin Febrache
I didn’t recognise Colin at all – but this is the Nationals, so you have to be careful. I took a good hand and started off. Colin quickly dropped a few 1cc White guys and played out a few Forests. I suspected that he might have a rush deck, perhaps with Overrun, but it became clear that he was playing something odd as he kept attacking and losing creatures until he had only one card left in his hand and my hand was full.
The he tapped out to drop a Krosan Beast. I checked his graveyard and he had Threshold. I played out a creature of my own and looked at a happy Embolden in my hand. Colin attacked and I blocked with everything, dealing enough damage to kill the Beast. Colin assigned damage to kill as many creatures as he could – so my Embolden prevented one point on each of four creatures and I lost none. The game was mine a few turns later.
Game two followed a similar pattern, but since I drew enough creatures and an early Embolden, I didn’t fear the Beast. It did show its head, but I dealt with it the same way. It seems that Colin had built his whole deck around it – not a good strategy.
Matches: 1-0, Games: 2-0, 3 points.
Round 2: Thomas Butler
Game one started well, as I played out creatures and Thomas seemed to be a little screwed for mana. He soon caught up, but I had too many creatures and his attempts to kill them gave my Emboldens some work to do. I tied up the ground and attacked with my Windreaders until he died.
Game two was another story altogether. It started well… But on turn 6 Thomas cast Caustic Tar. He had enough blockers to tie up the ground, and had Butchered my first Windreader. I hoped and hoped for my Cloudchaser, but it stayed in my deck and five turns later (I’d already taken some damage) we were one game apiece.
The third game started very badly for me, as Thomas played out early creatures as I saw only Plains and Islands with a hand full of Green spells. Just before time was called I drew into a forest and started to play out a few chump blockers. Time was called and Thomas was in a strong position – but with two Emboldens in my hand and the mana to cast both in the same turn, I played for the draw and got it.
Matches: 1-0-1, Games: 3-1-1, 4 points.
Well, at least I’m still undefeated, but I felt disappointed after my domination in the first game. If I can win the last one I’ll be in a very good position.
Round 3: Dave Gazey
If I can win the next one… Heh.
Both games David dropped Gorilla Titan and Gurzigost. I had exactly the problem I’d feared: I couldn’t deal with big Green monsters well at all. I manager to kill the Gurzigost both games, but he’d done enough damage to make winning a formality.
Matches: 1-1-1, Games: 3-3-1, 4 points.
Hey ho – four points. Not as bad as it could be, but not as good as I’d hoped. The deck really needed a counter spell or two, maybe a couple of bounce spells or a Puppeteer to make it work really well. Failing that Kirtar’s Desire or a Nomad Decoy would have done the job. I felt that missing out on some staple cards like that, and having no bomb probably hurt. Oh, for a Squirrel Nest!
The second pod had a lot more players I recognised: Tom Harle again, but also Chris Stowers, who’s very well known on the PTQ circuit. I really need to 3-0 this to have a real chance at day 2. I’m guessing that we’ll need at least nine wins to get near the top eight. Here’s the deck I managed to pick:
1x Escape Artist
1x Chamber of Manipulation
2x Aven Windreader
1x Cephalid Looter
1x Aether Burst
1x Soul Scourge
1x Dusk Imp
1x Faceless Butcher
1x Childhood Horror
1x Zombie Assassin
1x Waste Away
1x Organ Grinder
1x Nomad Decoy
1x Teroh’s Faithful
1x Mystic Zealot
1x Bog Wreckage
1x Abandoned Outpost
Three colours again, but all in all a much better deck. I started picking Blue with a Windreader and was passed a Looter. I also saw the Imp and Horror in the first pack – fliers aren’t a bad thing…
I picked up two Syncopates in the first pack too and saw more in the second pack, I passed two more than I took! Again I saw that I was going to have a little trouble controlling the ground, as I hadn’t seen any Wererats – and so when a late Nomad Decoy came my way, I thought that a splash of White would help no end. The Faithful and Zealot certainly helped me control the ground a little more.
My only disappointment with the deck was the third pack. I saw very little good black removal – no Crippling Fatigues or Edicts – and so the quality of removal wasn’t as good as I’d have hoped. Even so, I felt that if I was going to go 3-0, this was my best chance so far.
Round 4: Chris Stowers.
Chris is a very good player, with much more practice at this format than I. Looking at the match slip, I saw that he’d had a game loss during construction! If I could just win one game, I’d get the win I wanted. We sat down to play.
Chris had built a R/G aggro deck with Longhorn Firebeasts, Ember Beasts, Wild Mongrel and a host of small creatures. Unluckily, for him we both started off slowly, giving me a chance to draw enough land to play out my Chamber and Nomad – which, very surprisingly, stayed alive! The Chamber and Nomad allowed me to control the ground while I waited for a few more good cards to turn up. Just as it looked like Chris would get the better hand, I started to draw into some good spells and managed to draw and cast a Childhood Horror. Chris quickly dropped a Krosan Constrictor, but I could tap it at the end of each of my turns and attack for two, using the cards I was drawing each turn to fuel my Chamber to defend me. Eventually I drew into more good fliers and I flew over for the win.
Matches: 2-1-1, Games: 4-3-1, 7 points.
Round 5: Tom Harle
Sharing two pods made it even more likely that I’d bump into Tom sooner or later – and I did just that this round – or rather Tom ran over me.
Tom had been at the other end of the table from me, and had drafted the same deck. Where I’d missed out on some good cards, Tom had seen them first and hadn’t had to splash white. Quality removal, good ground creatures, and lots of fliers – Tom’s deck had them all. Two games in a row Tom’s Looter stayed alive whilst mine bit the dust, guaranteeing him better draws and, eventually, the match. Tom also managed to play Shadowmage Infiltrator against me in both games! Finkel is some good, I hear…
I made a couple of horrendous playing mistakes during the game, and so Tom deserved to win – mistakes cost you games, especially at this level.
Matches: 2-1-2, Games: 4-5-1, 7 points.
So, one more match to play today and it’s got to be a win really. Fingers crossed.
Round 6: Stephen Coleman
I’d not seen Stephen before, but his first few spells were good ones – so I assumed he knew how to play and settled in for a long match. He was playing Blue and Green, splashing White for a few bombs. In each game he managed to drop Wayward Angel, but each time I had kept my Butcher in hand and played it out. Without the Angel, he had to rely on Hypochondria to control the amount of damage my fliers were dealing him, which forced him to empty his hand as my two Windreaders kept flying over for six a turn, leaving a Zealot, Scrivener and Decoy back to look after the fort.
Both games were very similar, I think he was unlucky not to have picked up a Krosan Archer or many Blue fliers – but if you can’t deal with fliers in Odyssey drafts, you’re going to die.
Matches: 3-1-2, Games: 6-5-1, 10 points.
So, a better record than many and a worse record than I’d hoped. My second deck did the business, but I was let down by my first. In retrospect, I could have tried to pick Black instead of White in the first draft, but there really wasn’t much of either floating around – lots of Red – but not much that would work well with Blue and Green.
After a long tiring day, we headed back to the Manor Hotel and I ended up playing Magic with Chris Llewellyn, a member of the Scottish Team Puppet, who qualified two of their members for the Scottish Worlds team this year. We went over a few decks, played a few games and ended up working on my Standard deck for the next day. Their advice was very helpful and probably won me a few matches. I ended up going to bed about 3.30 a.m., not a good idea if you need to get up again before 8 a.m. the same day.
My alarm woke me around 7.40 and I headed to get freshened up, shaved and changed for the next day. Historically I’ve done much better at Constructed that I have at Limited and so I should be able to pull off a 4-2, maybe even a 5-1 to give me my best finish at Nationals to date. Last year I came 39th on 21 points (seven wins), and so four wins today would give me what I really wanted.
What deck did I play? Well, I knew that Trenches would be around, as well as Tog and Red/Green Beats. I also considered that all of these decks would be heavily boarded against. In the end I chose to take the deck I knew best: Tog. In retrospect, I think it was a bad choice – but given the other options I had, it was probably my best chance.
Psychatog (with a big thanks to Team Puppet of Scotland).
4x Nightscape Familiar
4x Fact or Fiction
3x Circular Logic
3x Memory Lapse
1x Darkwater Catacombs
4x Underground River
4x Salt Marsh
2x Cephalid Coliseum
2x Engineered Plague
2x Mana Short
1x Possessed Aven
1x Deep Analysis
1x Rushing River
4x Ghastly Demise
As you can see, I took out the Standstills and bought in extra counters and Probes. I played with Probe back in February, and it was awesome back then. I didn’t go as far as adding the Force Spikes back into the deck as Kai had done, as I felt that with Trenches and some rogue decks out there I needed main deck ways to deal with it – in came the two Recoils.
Twelve main deck counter spells gave me hope for the mirror match. Four Counterspell is obvious, but I decided not to play four Circular Logics, as you often find them a little too expensive without a Tog or Familiar in play. Memory Lapse fills another 2cc slot nicely, but I never want four in a deck. Syncopate brings me up to twelve, and they’re very useful against Ichorid and Flashback spells; plus, they’re easy targets to”upgrade” to Gainsay in a Control matchup.
The sideboard is rigged against Control and Red/Green. I didn’t expect to run into many, if any, Braids or aggro Black decks and so used my sideboard to help me more against the decks I was expecting.
We arrived at the venue in plenty of time and I went to get some coffee.
“We don’t start serving until 9.”
“But… that’s when we have to start playing! Please?”
I was very tired, cranky and now I could even have a coffee to wake myself up a little. Hopefully – on 3-1-2 – I’ll play someone who’s not that good and get away with it.
Round 7: J Gary Wise (playing UGw Madness).
It turns out that the master of Limited had had a bad day yesterday and was on ten points, just like me. Well, I have a chance to do my reputation some good here and whup him….
Or so I thought.
Gary was playing well, and playing a deck”designed to beat Psychatog and Red/Green,” in his own words. Gary had been working with John Ormerod and Ben and Ivan Ronaldson on the decks – and so I expected a hard time of things.
In game one, Gary drew lots of cards with Deep Analysis and managed to get a Mongrel and Looter into play. He seemed to draw a lot more permission than me, and so he really controlled the game from the start, eventually killing me at twelve life.
Game two I managed to get him all the way down to five life… With his own pain lands and by Flashing back his Deep Analyses. I think I only dealt him a few points as, again, he was in control from the off after a little stall on lands from me.
The worst play I made by far was after he cast a Mystic Enforcer. It was in French, which I can read, but I couldn’t remember if the Enforcer has flying before Threshold or not (it doesn’t). Gary helpfully read it out for me:
“It’s a 3/3 guy with Protection from Black. When it has threshold, it’s 6/6 and can fly too.”
“Yup. In with Tog.”
“Erm, block with Enforcer… It has Protection from Black.”
I looked down in disgust, picked up the Tog and threw it in the graveyard.
I made numerous playing mistakes against Gary, and he played well. I wasn’t mana screwed, wasn’t really colour screwed and saw some good cards – I just played badly. Hopefully I’ll get to play him again sometime and show him that I can actually play Magic, because I’m sure he doesn’t think so after that match.
Matches: 3-1-3, Games: 6-7-1, 10 points.
I dashed off and got a few cups of coffee and a few glasses of water down me. I still felt tired but I started to perk up a little. Five more matches to go – lets play some Magic!
Round 8: Nick Aubrey
I’d not seen Nick before, but I recognised his name from somewhere and decided to be a little careful. He started off dropping a few Islands and Forests and I considered the unhappy thought that he was playing a deck similar to Gary’s. A few turns later, I was mortified to see a Squirrel Nest make it onto the table.
Luckily I had enough counters and Nightscape Familiars out to stem the tide and eventually Upheaval for the win.
Game two didn’t go my way at all. I never dealt Nick a point of damage. Whenever I tried to cast a good spell, he had the answer in hand.
Game three went my way, then Nick’s, until we were both low on cards but Nick had control of the board. With no options left, I tried to Upheaval.
“Does it happen?”
“Erm – yes, actually.”
I was as surprised as Nick, and dropped a land and cast a Familiar with the extra mana I had floating. Nick quickly started to drop creatures again and I drew into a few counters. Unluckily for me, so did Nick, and he kept drawing them too – so when he finally cast Opposition, I had no answer in hand and the game was quickly his.
Matches: 3-1-4, Games: 7-9-1, 10 points.
I knew that Opposition was a hard matchup, but I felt that I’d been more than a little unlucky. That’s part of the game, though, so you can’t really complain. To reach my goal, I now needed to win all of the remaining games – a daunting task after losing two in a row, but I haven’t lost three matches in a row in a Constructed tournament for a long time. The next match must be mine.
Round 9: Sebastian Lamiolage
I played out a Salt Marsh and Sebastian followed with an Island. Now, he could be playing Tog, Trenches, U/G control – pretty much anything. With two Familiars in hand, I decided to risk it and played one out. He dropped a Mountain and Fire/Iced it to death.
In retrospect this was a stupid, impatient play. I should have waited until I could at least regenerate the creature – or knew what colours Sebastian would play. I guess I wanted a win and thought a lucky play would help. It would have, but it was a rash choice to make.
The rest of the game went badly, with Sebastian drawing counters when he needed them and an early Trenches pretty much sealing my fate. He surprised me a lot by making eight tokens very early on – if I had had any way of dealing with a few of them I’d have been okay – his gamble worked out, mine didn’t.
Game two I took a good opening hand with two land, two counter spells, I could cast (Syncopate and Memory Lapse), a Familiar a Mana Short and a Circular Logic.
The next land I saw was on turn six.
Even with this little screw, I felt that I should be able to make it back, as I drew into Upheaval and a second Short. It was not to be; Sebastian Memory Lapsed the Short three times in a row and Countered the Upheaval before dropping Meddling Mages naming Upheaval and Psychatog. I died with two of each in my hand.
Matches: 3-1-5, Games: 7-11-1, 10 points.
Three losses in a row.
I can’t do as well as last year.
I’ll be lucky to win any matches now.
Why do I play Magic?
… were just some of the thoughts that went through my head. I quickly realised I was in danger of falling into that deep pit of depression that you can never really play your way out of. Luckily I’ve been working on that and I find it easier to cheer myself up these days. Basically I think happy thoughts.
A match you won you never thought you would; a birthday gift you’ve always remembered; the look on a friend’s face when you helped them out; a night with someone you love very much that went really well.
Anything that helps you, anything at all that makes you break out into a beaming smile when you think about it.
It worked, I cheered up. Three more matches to go and, hell, I’ll be playing really bad players just like me… I should be able to win one of them…
Round 10: Sean McNally
It quickly became apparent that Sean was playing Tog, too. I had to start with two mulligans and he countered or bounced anything I tried to cast and my hand quickly began to empty as I tried to fight against his card drawing. Eventually he got a Psychatog in play and started to beat me up with it. I couldn’t deal with it and we moved on to the next game.
This game went all my way. Sean started off with a bit of a land screw and he couldn’t do very much as I countered a few of his Fact or Fictions, cast Probe at him a few times, and eventually got him down to a few cards in hand as I started to fill mine up with counter spells. I saw a Possessed Aven go in his bin and drew mine shortly afterwards. With a Familiar in play and some counterspells in hand, I dropped it, knowing I could deal with his Tog next turn and start to attack through the air for four a turn. Five turns later, we move on to game three.
Game three saw a repeat of game two. We both dropped plenty of land, but I got a pair of Familiars in play and started a little beat down. With my spells costing so little, I decided to sit back and wait for his move. A few countered Fact or Fictions later I probed the remains of his hand away and dropped the Aven again. The game was mine.
Matches: 4-1-5, Games: 9-12-1, 13 points.
Phew. A win… Finally. Sitting on the same number of points for three rounds in a row doesn’t do anyone’s confidence any good. Winning a mirror match does. Two more matches to go, here’s hoping for two more wins.
Round 11: Victor Fuller
Victor started well with a Nightscape Familiar of his own, making his Flametongues, Skizziks, and the rest of his Red/Black deck very cheap indeed. I started to counter a few of his spells, bounce back annoying creatures, and cast some Fact or Fictions to keep my hand topped up. Very soon I was down to twelve life, but had a hand full of cards whilst Victor was topdecking.
I dropped a Familiar to slow the beats and waited a few more turns before dropping a Tog that was Terminated. I bounced it back, drawing myself a card in the process. Next turn I dropped it, and another land, before waiting one more turn and casting an Upheaval, followed by the Familiar. One more turn and the Tog dropped into play again – baiting another Terminate, as I had another Tog in hand. Victor didn’t have one and I won next turn.
I had very little to bring in against Victor, but decided to try some Rushing Rivers and Ghastly Demises, as most of his creatures were Red. The game started well, as I dropped enough land to keep going and then Victor tried to drop a little surprise for me: Blazing Spectre.
“Erm, Counter that.”
No way. I countered a few more creatures and again managed to use Probe to slowly empty his hand, while improving mine in the process. I stabilised again at about twelve life and cast Upheaval, this time dropping a Tog for a quick kill. I had one in my hand, as well as plenty of land and counters and if Victor didn’t have an Innocent Blood I win.
Matches: 5-1-5, Games: 11-12-1, 16 points.
So, sixteen points is more respectable – but still not amazing. One more win will break me even for the weekend and, although not as good as last year, at least I’ll be able to hold my head up in public.
Round 12: Andre Monteith
Andre and I sat down and started to shuffle up. I didn’t know him but I recognised him from somewhere – I still don’t know where – so I knew to be a little careful.
Quickly, he dropped some Islands and Swamps before putting some Red mana producing land into play. I knew he’d have counters and guessed he’d be playing B/U/r Tog, but wasn’t sure until for a little while. Eventually I had a few Familiars in play and decided to see if I could empty his hand a little.
“Probe with Kicker, targeting you.”
I drew three cards and start looking at what to discard.
“Hang on, Probe doesn’t have a target.” Andre said. I looked up.
“Yes it does.” I turned the card his way and pointed to the Kicker part of the card and carried on looking at my hand working out which good cards to dump.
“Ah. You said ‘Probe targeting me’ now you have to discard four cards.”
This was patently ridiculous. He didn’t even know that it had a target, whilst I did, and now he claimed I’d targeted myself!
“Nope, I targeted you.”
“No, I heard you, you said ‘Probe targeting me'”.
“No I didn’t. I know what Probe does. The Kicker is targeted. Why would I target myself?”
This continued for a little while and I lost my temper a little
“Fine, call a judge. We’ll disagree. We’ll both get warnings and be told to back up to where we can agree – which will be before the Probe was announced. I’ll then announce the probe, choose you as a target and pay its cost, and you won’t counter it because you don’t have a counter spell.”
I realise, in hindsight, that this is unacceptable. I should have calmly asked him to call a judge over to resolve the situation, but his obvious attempt to screw me over got to me. If I had been a judge overhearing that conversation, I’d have probably given myself at least a Warning for unsportsmanlike behavior.
“Okay, you win, I’ll discard.”
There were two witnesses at the table too who clearly heard me target him too. I should have just let him call a judge.
Two”Probe with Kicker, targeting you” later he had no cards in hand and I beat him to death with our toothy friend.
I sideboarded as I did against Sean and we sat down to play again. Andre obviously became stuck on two land as I saw all the land and Familiars I could ask for. A few Probes and Fact or Fictions later I had a hand full of cards and a Tog on the table and the game was mine.
Matches: 6-1-5, Games: 13-12-1, 19 points.
19 points isn’t too bad, but it’s not great either, placing me 64th of 220 players that started day one. The top eight turned out to be on the 28-27 point border, with Gary Wise sneaking in by going 6-0 on the second day to end up on 28 points.
The top eight ended up as follows:
- Mark Waterhouse (R/G Beats)
- Tom Harle (B/G Aggro)
- Sam Gomersall (Psychatog)
- David Grant
- Ben Ronaldson (UG Madness)
- J. Gary Wise (UGw Madness)
- Oliver Schneider (UG Madness)
- Kevin Hewitson
I didn’t stay for the top eight this year, and only having had eight hours sleep in three days it was probably a good idea that I got home to my bed. My biggest mistake this year was getting too little sleep. It meant that on day two I wasn’t thinking properly for the first few games I played and was probably not taking Mulligans when I should have (and hell, attacking with Tog when a Protection from Black creature is in play).
It was good to finally meet the newest English Magic player (Gary Wise), and I thoroughly enjoyed the drafts on the first day, Odyssey has certainly been a fun set to draft.
So; that’s that for another year… Best start working on the next one.
Team Diaspora &
Level 2 DCI Judge.