So… who am I?
It’s doubtful that many readers would recognize my real name before Nationals. Of course, people on MTGO have known about me for quite some time, going by the name of “Fob” and various other entities. I did make Top 16 in London, but I was mostly referred to as “Tomi Walamies opponent,” which, to be fair, was about what I merited at the time. In any case, I have played in five Pro Tours, but failed to make Day 2 in any Constructed events thus far. Due to the aforementioned Top 16 I had enough Pro Points to be qualified for Nationals, and I even purchased an airline ticket. About a month before Nationals I decided not to attend, and tried to cancel my ticket. That wasn’t possible. I was stuck with it.
Despite not planning on attending Nationals, I found myself with a plane ticket I couldn’t refund leaving in two days. I hadn’t played any Standard for a month. Instead, I was playing Extended on Magic Online, and drafting. I saw that Tim He had won Australian Nationals the week prior, so I talked to him about the deck he played… “Solar Flare.” He said it was good, except it lost to Magnivore and Heartbeat, and the Tron matchup wasn’t spectacular. I put together U/R/g Tron and Solar Flare, and headed to Atlanta with my roommate Matt Benjamin. We met up with some friends from Southern California – Sam Stein, Paul Cheon, and Matt Abrams. Paul and Sam were planning on playing B/W Hand in Hand, and Abrams had Solar Flare built. After doing some testing, Paul decided to audible to Solar Flare, as did I. By “testing,” I mean “playing some games with my Stax deck against Paul with Solar Flare.” It turns out Solar Flare can’t beat Goblin Welder plus Memory Jar, but since we didn’t expect to see many Welders at Nats, Solar Flare it was!
Sam also wanted to switch to Flare, but we didn’t have a fourth copy of the deck built so he stuck with B/W. One thing to note is that Paul Cheon only had one Kokusho due to card availability, not because of misguided “strategy.” Adding three Castigates to the sideboard seemed to improve the deck, so I finalized a fifteen of:
With the decks settled, we slept and prepared mentally for two – hopefully three – days of Nationals play.
For the record, here is my decklist:
- 1 Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
- 1 Meloku the Clouded Mirror
- 2 Kokusho, the Evening Star
- 2 Yosei, the Morning Star
- 3 Angel of Despair
- 3 Court Hussar
Round 1 versus Jason E. Schumacher (French Nationals WW/u list)
Jason plays a Weathered Wayfarer turn 1 on the draw, and I have no choice but to keep laying lands. He then plays an Azorius Chancery and a Court Hussar, which misleads me into thinking that he is a Blue/White control deck. When I then Persecute naming Blue, he discards a Mana Leak and reveals Hokori, Dust Drinker; Paladin En-Vec; and two Shining Shoals. He plays Hokori and then Paladin, and by the time I attempt to Wrath he has another Mana Leak for the game.
Unfortunately, this was my actual first match with the deck, and therefore I was somewhat unsure about how to sideboard. The Persecutes and Remands seemed clunky against him, and the Ink-Eyes and Angel were both too costly. My logic in siding out Wrath was that I had so much removal after board that Wrath was likely to be a one-for-one, and as such was the worst removal spell. The fact that it also hits my own Descendants also contributed.
My turn 2 Signet is matched by a turn 2 Jitte, and I then play a Descendant. Jason plays an Isamaru, but doesn’t have a third land. I attack. When he equips Jitte, I have the Last Gasp. Another Descendant for me, coupled with the lack of lands for him, allows my removal to keep the Jitte mostly inactive, and I’m able to Zombify a lost Descendant to apply sufficient pressure.
His mulligan to six results in a turn 1 Isamaru, turn 2 attack, go. By the time he finds a second land, I have Kokusho in play, with Angel of Despair coming the next turn.
Round 2 versus Jason F. Grinblat (Gruul)
I keep a decent opener of Wrath, Yosei, Mortify, Court Hussar, and three land on the play. His turn 1 is Kird Ape off a Mountain. I then draw a Signet and play that, allowing me to Wrath on turn 3 after he plays Stomping Grounds, Kird Ape number two, and Scorched Rusalka. His turn 3 play is land, go… I’m able to fly over relatively quickly afterwards.
Again, I removed expensive spells for removal, and cut Meloku because of its susceptibility to Char.
After a double mulligan, Jason plays two mountains and then misses a land drop, finally playing a Dryad Sophisticate on turn 4 or so. This is not nearly an aggressive enough start, so large dragons end the game fairly quickly.
Round 3 versus Cameron R. Gonzales (Zoo)
My opening hand is three land, a Signet, two Dragons and an Angel, so I mulligan… into a hand of Azorius Chancery, Swamp, Azorius Signet, and three copies of Wrath of God. When he plays turn 1 Stomping Grounds, the hand looks much better. I’m forced to Wrath away a lone Kami of Ancient Law that is being pumped with Skarrg, the Rage Pits. Cameron was playing around the Wrath, so the second Wrath caught the three men he was holding back. A Kokusho and a Yosei finish the job, although there were two turns in which I were dead… had he drawn seven points of burn.
Same sideboarding as before versus Gruul.
After a mulligan to six, Cameron keeps what apparently was a one-land hand, and doesn’t play a second land until about turn 5.
Coming into the event, I was not very confident in my choice of Standard deck. I had literally not played a single game with it prior to the tournament. I brought U/W/B and U/R Tron to Nats, and ultimately decided on U/W/B the night before the start. I expected the first three rounds of Nationals to be relatively heavy with aggro, so I wanted a better game versus aggro than Tron would give. I knew going in that if I was to make Top 8, my limited record would likely have to be 6-1 or 7-0 since I did not want to count on winning many Standard matches. As it turns out, almost any deck would have beat the caliber of draws my opponents suffered, with all three of them being land-screwed at least one game in the match.
Going into RGD draft I was planning on employing the same strategy I had used ever since the release of Dissension. Play some combination of Blue, preferably with Green. I take Vedalken Dismisser over just about everything, and Civic Wayfinder isn’t far behind. Other than that, I’m fairly flexible, as long as I have Islands somewhere in my deck. Seating was posted for the pods, and I was in Pod number 1, along with another person from my hotel room (Sam Stein).
1 – Scott-Vargas, Luis — 9
2 – Stein, Sam — 9
3 – Jarman, Jimmy — 9
4 – Wilczek, Robert — 9
5 – Pardo, Alex — 9
6 – Carlson, Solomon — 9
7 – Sharfman, David S — 9
8 – Brestel, Troy – 9
Besides Sam, the only other player I knew was David Sharfman. Despite being insane at Constructed, he does not play much Limited.
My opening pack fits perfectly into my plan, as I’m able to take Dismisser and pass Snapping Drake, Dimir House Guard, and Boros Guildmage. I was fairly certain Sam would take the Guildmage, as he often plays R/B/W and also was aware of my leanings toward Blue. After the Dismisser, I took Civic Wayfinder out of a fairly weak pack, leaving Sam a Skyknight Legionnaire. Pack 3 was a disaster, with the only real contenders being Boros Garrison and Lightning Helix. Despite considering that Sam had most likely taken two Boros cards thus far, I stand by my pick on the Helix. I took it with the intention of splashing it in a R/G/U deck, as taking a vastly weaker card third was a poor choice. Even if I don’t end up playing the Helix, I did not lose much due to the weak pack. Next pick was Sunforger, an obvious complement to the Helix. Pack 1 ended up being fairly weak, with a Transluminant, a Dowsing Shaman, and a Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi rounding out the picks.
I expected to get a solid pack 2, as I had not passed any Blue or Red cards. Izzet should have been open. I first picked Ghor-Clan Savage, then had a dismal set of choices in the second pack. With an uncommon missing, the choices were Blind Hunter, Repeal, and Izzet Signet. Planning on playing U/G/r, I ruled out the Blind Hunter, and Repeal was a much stronger choice than a Signet. This pack worried me, as the Blind Hunter was possibly a signal that Sam was actually in R/U, which would be personally disastrous. The next pack also had no Izzet cards, but the Wildsize I took was quite adequate. Overall, Guildpact – much like Ravnica – was not very strong. I needed a lot of help in Dissension in order to salvage a good deck. I opened a deep pack with Helium Squirter, Assault Zeppelid, Simic Growth Chamber, and Plaxcaster Frogling. I took the Frogling, hoping one of the other Simic cards would wheel. Next pick was a Seal of Fire that would go well with the Dowsing Shaman I picked up earlier. Both Simic and Azorius were plentiful in Dissension, as I grabbed a Plaxmanta, Supply/Demand, two Plumes of Peace, and a sixth-pick Pride of the Clouds. I was satisfied with the deck, although the mana was somewhat shaky.
- 1 Civic Wayfinder
- 1 Dowsing Shaman
- 1 Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi
- 1 Sandsower
- 1 Transluminant
- 1 Vedalken Dismisser
- 1 Battering Wurm
- 1 Ghor-Clan Savage
- 1 Ghost Warden
- 1 Aurora Eidolon
- 1 Plaxcaster Frogling
- 1 Plaxmanta
- 1 Pride of the Clouds
- 1 Transguild Courier
- 1 Seal of Fire
- 1 Lightning Helix
- 1 Sunforger
- 1 Gruul Signet
- 1 Izzet Signet
- 1 Repeal
- 1 Wildsize
- 2 Plumes of Peace
- 1 Dromad Purebred
- 1 Frenzied Goblin
- 1 Grayscaled Gharial
- 1 Induce Paranoia
- 1 Rally the Righteous
- 1 Root-Kin Ally
- 1 Voyager Staff
- 1 Beastmaster's Magemark
- 1 Burning-Tree Bloodscale
- 1 Cry of Contrition
- 1 Gruul Nodorog
- 1 Infiltrator's Magemark
- 1 Leyline of the Void
- 1 Freewind Equenaut
- 1 Proper Burial
- 1 Psychotic Fury
- 1 Rix Maadi, Dungeon Palace
- 1 Sandstorm Eidolon
I talked to Sam after deckbuilding, and it turned out that he took Mortify over the Blind Hunter I saw second, and even wheeled that Blind Hunter! He had three Blind Hunters total in his B/R/W aggro deck, and I worried that I likely would have to play him at some point in the draft.
Round 4 versus Jimmy E. Jarman
Jimmy was three seats to my left, and his colors (R/W/U) explained why I received no Izzet cards in pack 2.
This game was not very exciting, as I got extremely land-flooded, going so far as to Wildsize his creature to draw a card. I had Sunforger, but didn’t get a creature to stick and died quickly.
It was his turn to be flooded, as he drew roughly five spells the whole game. My Plaxmanta countered his Plumes of Peace, resulting a large swing in my favor. Battering Wurm (one of the more underrated cards in Guildpact) was able to finish him off.
Both our draws start out slow, and when Jimmy Gigadrowses my Azorius Chancery on my turn 3, it severely hinders me. I was unable to play Civic Wayfinder that turn, and even missed a land drop because of that. I played a Plaxcaster Frogling and he played a Viashino Fangtail. He declined to trade, and I played a Civic Wayfinder post-combat, choosing to move a counter in the event of him playing Ogre Savant. He does play a Savant, which bounced the Wayfinder, and then he hit me for three with Fangtail. I attacked with the 2/2 Frog. I then played a Transluminant and a Ghost Warden, grafting both times. After using my Dismisser on his fresh Tidewater Minion, I forced through a fair amount of damage. The board ended up with him sitting on Ogre Savant, Viashino Fangtail, and Tidewater Minion versus my three assorted 2/2s and a 1/1 flying Transluminant token. He was at five life, and I had Supply/Demand in hand that could potentially grab my Lightning Helix. I didn’t think I could force through the last two points in that case, so I cast Supply for eight and then Guardian of Vitu-Ghazi. Despite having double Fangtail activation, my army of guys finished him.
Round 5 versus Solomon Carlson
Having talked with David Sharfman – Solomon’s previous opponent – I knew Solomon was U/B/G.
We both have slow hands, and eventually my Pride of the Clouds token with Sunforger runs into Stinkweed Imp. With damage on the stack, I use Sunforger to Helix his Sewerdreg. We both play guys, and then a judge comes over. Apparently Solomon mis-registered his deck, so I was actually up a game. Sunforger on Battering Wurm ended it two turns later, and that was match.
Sam and I were both 2-0 in the pod, so unfortunately we now had to play.
Round 6 versus Sam Stein
Having seen Sam’s entire deck, I knew I was quite outmatched. That led me to take a risk I normally wouldn’t consider: keeping a one-land hand on the play. The hand was Gruul Signet, Island, Civic Wayfinder, Sunforger, Vedalken Dismisser, Battering Wurm, Transguild Courier. I immediately drew a Forest, then an Orzhov Basilica. This incredibly lucky sequence of draws leads me to win a close game where we both curve out, and the old Sunforger plus Battering Wurm combination does it.
This game looked bad for me, as my Dowsing Shaman, Sandsower, Plaxcaster Frogling, and Transluminant were outmatched by Sam’s Guardian of the Guildpact, Blind Hunter, and Freewind Equenaut. I had two turns where I needed to draw either Seal of Fire or Lightning Helix to have a chance… and I draw Seal of Fire. Dowsing Shaman plus Seal allows me to start demolishing his 2/2 fliers, and I am able to pull out a win. This match was the luckiest match of the tournament for me, as both games I won I drew exactly what I needed the exact turn I had to draw it.
Round 7 versus Troy E. Brestel
After I kept a two land plus Signet hand, Troy uses Tin-Street Hooligan to destroy both my Signet and chances of winning the game.
I mulligan, and get a pretty weak draw. Fencer’s Magemark allows Troy to force a good amount of damage through, although I eventually stabilize the board at two life. Then Troy makes a colossal blunder, and puts the game-ending Galvanic Arc on a creature with a +1/+1 counter on it. I use Plaxcaster Frogling, and Arc gets countered. Somewhat flustered from the mistake, Troy concedes a turn or two later as I continue to play creatures.
Troy appears to be on major tilt, and even though I mulligan to five some poor combat decisions on Troy’s part allow me to squeak out a win.
After day 1, I was the only 7-0, although Ben Zoz was 6-0-1 and undefeated. I wasn’t really looking forward to Coldsnap draft, despite having done a fair amount on the Beta. Compared to RGD, Coldsnap was simple and dull, feeling more like a Core Set draft than anything else. I went in hoping to draft U/B/r, as Green was likely to be overdrafted. This draft was featured in the draft viewer. The draft was fairly straightforward for me, as not many packs led to hard decisions. I took the R/G snow land over basic snow lands in case I picked up a Ronom Hulk to splash, but it turns out that the basic lands would have been better. Overall I was satisfied with the deck, but thought 2-1 was most likely, possibly worse.
Round 8 versus Ben Zoz (U/B with 5 Krovikan Mist)
This was a “fake” feature match as it wasn’t covered, but we had to play in the JSS Feature Match area anyway.
Ben played a turn 4 Blizzard Specter, and since I missed my third land drop that was game.
The opposite occurs, and after my first two creatures receive Frozen Solids I draw only lands. Ben was to my left in the draft, and despite being the same colors ended up with a much stronger deck.
Round 9 versus Gabe Walls (G/U/w)
The board gets cluttered soon, but I stabilize at around 5 life against his Boreal Centaur assault. It ends up with him having Diamond Faerie, Rimewind Taskmage, Squall Drifter, double Centaur, and a Simian Brawler against my two Taskmages, Ronom Serpent, Gutless Ghoul, Blizzard Specter, and Rimewind Dead. When he blocks my Serpent with both Centaurs and the Brawler, I have the Chill to the Bone. This pretty much seals the game.
Round 10 versus Owen Turtenwald
This round was quite lucky for me, and unlucky for Owen. He showed up about two minutes late, receiving a game loss. We were deck-checked, and he had failed to de-sideboard… which entails another game loss.
The Limited concluded, and it was time for another bout of Constructed. Ben Zoz was 9-0-1 at this point, so we were guaranteed to play. I knew he was playing the same deck I was, Solar Flare/Japanimator.
Round 11 versus Ben Zoz
This time our feature match was in the real area, but again it wasn’t covered.
I had the advantage throughout game 1, accelerating with Signets and casting Researches. On turn 6 I Remand his Yosei, then Research again. The turn 7 Yosei was again the target of Remand. I then Persecuted, naming White, and ninjaed Ink-Eyes off my Court Hussar for the game.
We both had duplicate legendary lands this game, and my three-land hand quickly turned into one land. He drew more lands before I did, and I was quickly crushed.
After I didn’t play a fourth land, this game looked pretty bad for me. His Cranial Extraction hit my Persecutes, although I did not have one in hand at the time. I drew an Azorius Signet, which allowed me to Remand for a few turns and get back in the game. Eventually my three Compulsive Researches allowed me to pull ahead, and I established a dominant board. His last shot was for me not to notice his Shizo and let his Ink-Eyes hit me, but my Angel of Despair destroyed Shizo and let my three Court Hussars chump the rat ninja.
After this match I felt very relieved, since I was basically a lock for Top 8 at this point. I needed to pick up one draw in the next three rounds.
Round 12 versus Ben Lundquist
Since I was already a lock, I conceded to Ben. His record was 9-2, so now he too was in good shape to make Top 8.
Round 13 versus Alex Kudlick
The top two tables were all people with 30 or more points, so two intentional draws were made.
Going in to round 14, a few people with x-4 records asked me to play, so I prepared to break the bad news to my next opponent.
Round 14 versus John Sittner (B/W rats/discard)
He offered the draw when we sat down, but I refused for the reasons stated above. He was unhappy, but had no choice but to play.
His discard empties my hand soon enough, but with seven lands play I’m able to draw various large threats and kill him.
I’m unable to destroy his turn 2 Dark Confidant, and it gets him far enough ahead that by the time I kill it he has plenty of gas. His discard hits me before I can get enough lands on the board, and Okiba-Gang eliminates my chances of winning. Against matchups like these, the most important thing is to get six or more sources of mana into play. Once you have enough mana to cast topdecked threats, their discard becomes mostly irrelevant. Most of your threats are very hard for them to remove, and should end the game fairly quickly.
After the initial salvo of discard, I have Kokusho and Yosei in play against his Okiba-Gang and Hand of Cruelty. Unfortunately, the two cards left in his hand were both Condemn, which I had not seen from him until then. Both dragons exit stage left, and I am quickly bashed to death.
Had I won, The Top 8 would have been very different. Instead of Sittner and Aten, Sharfman and Stein would likely have made it. Since Tim Aten played Sittner three times in the Swiss, me losing to Sittner increased Aten’s tiebreaks enough to place him 8th.
After the Top 8 was announced, Paul and I were quite happy, although we didn’t like that we were slated to play if we both won our quarterfinal matches. After going out to dinner, we went back to the room to test. Since I played against Sittner, we felt that we didn’t need to actually play out Cheon’s matchup, as the games were fairly straightforward. Again, if Paul can get enough lands in play his topdecks are much better than Sittners. My matchup was a different story, as the games promised to be very complex. We made Antonino’s deck, as my roommate had played a very similar deck and had the cards for it. After playing ten games without sideboarding against Paul, we concluded that game 1 was probably in my favor, but not by much. He has three big threats: Glare, Jitte, and Yosei. Because of Wrath he shouldn’t commit too much to the board, but Jitte allows him to force a Wrath with just one creature. If I can keep Jitte and Glare off the board with Angel and Mortify, my guys are basically bigger and kill faster.
Sideboarding was a little trickier, as we had to figure out what he was likely to board. After looking at the list, we decided he was definitely boarding in two Yosei and three Hokori, and probably putting in the two Viridian Shamans. I boarded out two Dimir Signets, two Persecutes, a Meloku, and a Court Hussar. The Signets came out to lessen the impact of the Shaman. If I don’t play a Signet on turn 2, then his Viridian Shaman becomes a lot less attractive. Once he hits five or more mana, he has many better plays. The Meloku came out because of Arashi, and the Persecutes because I didn’t find many opportunities to play them in our test games. The Hussar was just the last cut I made, and am not entirely sure about it. Overall I considered the matchup to be slightly favorable, but very close. The games were likely to go long and depend mostly on the amount of Yoseis on each side.
The Top 8 matches were covered well by Ted, but I have a few additional comments. The match versus Antonino went much like I expected, although game 3 was incredibly close. One important thing to do when playing against Glare, or more specifically Yosei, is to plan out your plays many turns in advance. Since Yosei provides both a huge 5/5 threat as well as a turn of no responses, you have to account for what they are going to do while you are tapped down. For example, in game 3 Ant congregated for three Yoseis, which usually spells doom. After I Condemned the first Yosei, he (of course) played another. The board was my Kokusho and Court Hussar squaring off against his Yosei, Indrik Stomphowler, and two Saprolings. My hand was Angel of Despair, Wrath of God, and a land, and the life totals were 19 (him) and 9 (me). This turn will basically decide the game, as I have a few different plays. If I Angel his Yosei, I die to the Stomphowler and Friends. If I don’t Wrath and just pass the turn, he plays the third Yosei I know he has and I die. My only course of action was to first attack with Kokusho, as I knew he wouldn’t block. Then I Wrathed the board away, the life from Kokusho buying me a hit from the Yosei he played next turn. He then played the Hokori that ended up damaging him more than me. A turn after that, I played Angel of Despair killing the Yosei, taking a hit from the Hokori he just played. After all was said and done, I was at one. Angel stared down Hokori until I was able to Zombify Kokusho and swing for the win. This example may be simple, but it basically illustrates one of the key parts of the matchup: surviving Yosei.
Playing against Paul was pretty lighthearted, as we were both happy to be meeting under the circumstances. With the draws we got, I don’t think the outcome could have gone much differently, as he established Angel advantage pretty early in game 1. The other games mostly involved me being on the back foot, although game 3 did feature me drawing the perfect card three cards running to win. I wished him luck in the finals, and he wished me luck in the 3/4 playoff. In a sense, my match was more important to Paul, as it would determine who would join him and Ben Lundquist on the National Team.
I was confident going into my match with Ben Zoz, as my sideboard was much more well-equipped for the mirror. The three Castigates gave me cheap disruption that he didn’t have, and that could make all the difference. Our match was quite close, going to five games. Once he named Blue in the Persecute game 5, I knew I had won.
As soon as my match ended, I went to do a Mirrodin-Darksteel-5th Dawn 3v3, where I played terribly. I threw my matches against Ravitz and Hoaen, so we lost despite Tim Aten going 3-0. During one of said matches I heard that Paul won against Ben Lundquist despite being down 2-0.
Nationals finished about as well as I could have hoped going in, and our team for Worlds is excellent.
My flight originally left on Sunday at 6am, but that didn’t work anymore. After rescheduling my flight to Tuesday, I was left looking for some sort of accommodation for Monday night. After hearing of my predicament, Ken Krouner and Joe Crosby generously offered me a place at their house in Atlanta. I headed out to their house Monday morning, with Paul’s huge novelty check in tow. After doing an 8-4 on MTGO and eating lunch, we headed out to a local store to find a draft. We did a 3v3, where I promptly drafted a terrible deck and 0-3ed. I’m talking “5 colors with Barbarian Riftcutter, Stone-Seeder Hierophant, and splashed Train of Thought” bad. That behind us, we returned to the house and randomly did an OLS 3v3. I, of course, 0-3ed again, bringing my post-Nationals draft record to a grand 1-8 in matches. I left the giant check behind for Ken to Fed-Ex, and returned home bearing my trophy.
A few notes about the deck Paul and I played…
Despite putting three players in the Top 4, Solar Flare is not necessarily a very good Standard choice. It has very bad matchups against Heartbeat and Magnivore, although post sideboard the Heartbeat matchup gets substantially better. If you like playing a bunch of 55-45ish matchups, this is a good deck to play because most matches come down to skill. I have started to play this deck on MTGO, which maybe would have been a good idea before Nationals. It is doing alright, but the metagame seems to be adapting, as Magnivore and Heartbeat seem to be increasing in numbers.
In case anyone wants to play it online, my current Sideboard is:
Until next time…
noehcmaharbaluap on MTGO