From The Lab – Everyone Should Play Mountains: Great British Nationals 2007 Report *Winner*

Read Craig Jones every Tuesday... at StarCityGames.com!
Last weekend, Craig “The Professor” Jones pulled himself out of his Magical doldrums to win the Great British National Championship. While this is clearly the wrong choice of Craigs to win this event (bitter much?), it’s nice to see Prof back on course and returning to the top where he belongs. Today’s From The Lab sees Craig take us through the tournament from his perspective, and gives us an insight into the future of Red Deck Wins.

Mart_Rocker, Jul 3 2007: Thanks for the article, Prof. Not to knock on your contributions but unfortunately it seems lately your tournament reports or reflections have one recurring theme – you didn’t make it past the halfway stage/dropped early/fell at the bubble round. Noticed this since your 2nd place at the PT.

Whilst I appreciate and can definitely learn a bit from some of what you say from week to week, I just feel sometimes that it’s not worth reading your articles, knowing what’s in store. You’re definitely a likable character and writer, but the content of your articles don’t have that much depth a lot of the time.

This applies to the live coverage of your matches on the mtg website as well (although this may not be the right place to feedback). It just seems they should choose someone else to do it with a more consistent record of reaching Day 2 instead of reading about you bombing on Day 1, and having that live article being dormant for the remaining 2 days of the PT.


FrankGuevara, Jul 10 2007: I like reading the Prof’s work. It is entertaining and easy on the eyes… but I don’t particularly read SCG for entertainment. Is it time to move this column to non-premium?”


emeng, Jul 17 2007: I love your intelligent, thoughtful, honest readable, useful, and entertaining articles,


Please starting doing well at tournaments again!

Okay. That’s it!

It’s time to break out the special Mountains. Unlock the sacred chest, it’s time to release the Fanatics!

(While it would be so much of a better story if the Mogg Fanatics in my Nationals deck were the same that beat Kai Budde in Birmingham nine years ago, the truth is they were leant out in an Extended Red Deck Wins deck that has since been lost. When I went to my Tempest folder there was a sad space they used to inhabit and I had to buy some replacements on the Wednesday beforehand).

Before the Tenth Edition overhaul, my favorite deck in Standard was Tarmogoyf Zoo. This received a real battering with the loss of Savannah Lions, Kird Ape, and Stone Rain from the sideboard. However, what Tenth taketh it also giveth, and Gruul style decks are big winners in the new Standard with the addition of Mogg Fanatic, Incinerate, Treetop Village, and the truly filthy Troll Ascetic.

After consultations with chief Goblin Master Dan Paskins, my first pass on a Gruul update came to an awkward 64 cards that looked something like:

4 Greater Gargadon
4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Scab-Clan Mauler
4 Mogg War Marshal
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Char
4 Incinerate
4 Seal of Fire
4 Rift Bolt
4 Treetop Village
20 other assorted lands of relevant usefulness

After shaving off the odd card here and there I ran it against a few decks, including the updated Gruul listing Mike Flores had been kind enough to email to Dan Paskins.

I thought the Troll might give me an edge in these kind of mirrors as it’s sort of unkillable, and after boarding you can do really unfair things like give it Loxodon Warhammer to hit people in the face.

In reality the decks all have so much burn the mirror seemed a little random. What scared me the most was that the matchups seemed to be over so fast in a hail of burn that the former trump, Greater Gargadon, wasn’t even getting a chance to get in on the action.

Was Greater Gargadon no longer the ace for mirror matches?

The initial testing showed me the deck had some holes in the early drop department. I added (Dan has to look away in disgust now) Llanowar Elves to try and shore up that weakness and took this to my local FNM the Wednesday before the big tournament:

4 Llanowar Elves
4 Mogg Fanatic
2 Greater Gargadon
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Mogg War Marshal
4 Troll Ascetic
4 Char
4 Rift Bolt
4 Seal of Fire
4 Incinerate
4 Treetop Village
4 Stomping Ground
4 Karplusan Forest
2 Gemstone Mine
2 Horizon Canopy
4 Mountain
1 Pendelhaven
1 Forest

3 Loxodon Warhammer
3 Martyr of Ashes
3 Cryoclasm
3 Tin Street Hooligan
3 Pithing Needle

The Australian and Italian Nationals Top 8 deck lists were already in, and I was a little worried at running into too much lifegain backed up with Momentary Blink.

I went 5-0 again (amongst the many nicknames I appear to have accrued, the local guys are campaigning to add “Hawaii”), but didn’t run into the Blink decks. As a result I was still a little scared of running Gruul in case the burn decks got hated out by life gain.

In the small gap between the release of Tenth and the British Nationals, I’d made up my mind I was either going to play Green/Red or some form of Seismic Assault deck. I wasn’t too impressed with the Assault decks I tried, and as Stuart Wright had been trying to break Assault Loam since we knew the Red enchantment was coming back only to come to the conclusion he couldn’t make it work, that pretty much ruled out Assault Loam for me.

By this point, team-mates Stuart Wright and Tom Harle were looking to run Dredge. Given my last experiences with the deck, that wasn’t an option for me. I really didn’t want to spend the Constructed portion of Nats mulliganing to oblivion.

A few days before the tournament I spoke with Steve Sadin, and he suggested Gabe Wall’s Blink list from the Kentucky Open. Now that’s a deck any Red mage really doesn’t want to see. Hierarchs, Blinks, and Riftwatchers are a solid brick wall to any dedicated assault on someone’s life total. If Nationals was going to be wall-to-wall burn, then this might be a savvy choice.

Surprise surprise, I’m back to talking about positioning on a metagame curve. On paper and in an open field, I think the correct version of Gruul might be the strongest deck. Unfortunately, the field wasn’t likely to be open. As everyone knew about the strength of Red spells, I expected some of the better players to come with Angelfire or Wall’s style Blink decks to prey on the horde of aggro players.

Tom and Stuart’s plan was to position themselves further along the curve and feed off the aggro haters with dredge.

A good plan, except I didn’t know wasn’t sure exactly where our Nationals would lie on the metagame curve. Even if I got it right, that still wouldn’t be any guarantee I’d get favorable pairings. The only way you can make a perfectly correct deck choice is by knowing exactly which matchups you are going to face the next day. As I haven’t got round to building that time machine just yet, this isn’t a possibility.

Faced with this uncertainty, I think the best decision is to step aside from the guessing game and just go with the deck I’m most comfortable playing. This meant Gruul – or rather Red Deck Wins, as we all know Green doesn’t technically exist and any Green cards are in reality the color of whatever else happens to be in the same deck.

Ah, but which version…?

Dan was going to run the Sadin version, but with Frenzied Goblin over Scorched Rusalka. I think this might be the most optimal version, but twenty lands scared me, especially as I hadn’t really practised with it.

Personally I wanted my extra four Treetop Village (they can also attack for three later on as well as tapping for mana) and Troll Ascetic. These are slower and therefore less optimal, but they do give you more leeway. By leeway I mean that if things go pear-shaped and a draw doesn’t quite pan out, then you’ve still got a real awkward cuss in the form of Troll Ascetic for your opponent to handle.

After agonising for a while and keeping our editor up until one in the morning as I swapped Frenzied Goblins, Trolls, and Treetop Villages in and out, I eventually arrived at this:

I’ll admit now the sideboard is a little ropey, that’s sort of what happens when the format changes and you have a limited time to test things.

Some questions and answers.

Why two and two Gargadon?

While Gargadon is the boss of aggro wars and chief Tendrils pooper, he’s a bit shabby in matchups where the opponent does naughty things like return cards to your hand. I usually start two and either cut them or go up to four depending on the matchup. I did the same with Tarmogoyf Zoo.

Why only two Keldon Marauders?

Once I dropped two Gargadon, there was a space. At one point there were four elves and two less land, but generally the elves get set on fire against other Red decks and then you don’t have enough land to do stuff. I knew I wanted a legitimate two-drop in that slot, as I found I was having to run out Tarmogoyfs as easily flammable 1/2’s or something equally puny. The Marauders are sort of place-holders. The original plan was to treat them as a neutral card that gets boarded out in every matchup, but that didn’t happen as much as I thought.

I suppose they could be Scab-Clan Mauler or maindeck Tin Street Hooligan, or even a one-mana spell like Scorched Rusalka. I quite like the Marauders though. They’re easy to cast, and are either a cheap Lava Axe or a removal spell for an opponent’s creature with built in Shock.

Gemstone Mine?

Tarmogoyf food. The extra mana fixing is also quite relevant as the deck is basically Red Deck Wins splashing for the double-Green Troll Ascetic.

Magus of the Moon and Troll Ascetic

Yeah, you might have noticed a little bit of negative synergy here. There really isn’t much chance of casting Troll when Magus turns virtually all of my land into basic Mountains. Despite Magus of the Moon actually turning out to be key in winning the overall tournament, I think it might have been the incorrect choice. Ideally I’d have run the 8 Stone Rain package of Stone Rain and Cryoclasm, but Stone Rain is gone and I’m not sure Cryoclasm is enough on its own. Maybe Boom/Bust or Avalanche Riders could fill in, but both have their own drawbacks.

I was really worried about decks like the Gabe Walls Blink deck. I didn’t think Cryoclasm would be enough and wanted Magus of the Moon to really punish them for greedy manabases. It has potentially greater reward (utterly preventing an opponent from casting anything) but is also riskier in that it’s just a rubbish Grey Ogre if your opponent draws basics or Signets.

However, that’s enough introduction. It’s time to break out the matches as we’re about to get to the Nationals report itself. It’s time to set people on fire.


Last years Nationals was a horror story for me. In case you’ve forgotten (I wish I could) the whole godawful details were recorded for posterity right here. I was really keen to put that behind me and make up for it with this year. I’m also quite an old git as it happens, and as my PhD is nearing completion I’ll soon be in the position where career and other normal boring stuff will mean I won’t be able to devote as much time to the game. In short, I have to start thinking in scary terms like “last chances.”

Last year I was the hot bet that collapsed to a ghastly demise. I won’t deny my performances this year have been less than stellar. Even the mox boys were reluctant to tip me for Top 8 this time round. I didn’t realise quite how far my stock had fallen until someone posted the results of their Fantasy Nationals on the UK newsgroup. Not a single person had picked me at all.

Not a single person!

I made the final of a goddamned Pro Tour last year!

Actually, they’re probably right. Based on my current record I wouldn’t pick me to win an 8 man draft against seven chimps.

Ironically, this year’s nationals could have all too easily been even more catastrophic (and shorter!) than last year. While walking around Paul “Tron” Murphy, a regular at the Gaming Crypt where I play my FNM’s (or rather WNM’s), asked me what I was playing.

“Gruul,” I replied.

“Something like this,” he said holding up a deck box that looked like mine.

Actually, it was mine. I must have taken it out to check against my deck list and absent-mindedly left it on the table. I still don’t remember taking the thing out, but all I know is it would have been very awkward to turn up for round 1 and find a deckbox shaped space in my bag.

As ever I’ve already blogged the tournament here, but as winning a Nationals is a fairly special thing I’ll still write a report here and hopefully not end up repeating myself too much.

After dodging the bullet of nearly losing my deck (thanks Tron!) I dodged another in that I got to play against Daniel Godfrey’s storm deck 1-0 up after he lost a card. This matchup is definitely one where you need Martyr of Ashes in the board to deal with their armies of Empty the Warrens tokens. I didn’t board anything because I didn’t have anything. I just had to try and be faster. Fortunately, in the third game I was. I wouldn’t like to face this deck in a proper best of three though.

I said at the time, I thought Daniel Godfrey had made an excellent choice for the field, and he proved that by going all the way to make the national team. Against this deck, my Gruul listing probably needs Cryoclasm and Martyr of Ashes in the board. They can still kill you with Grapeshot / Pyromancer’s Swathe though, so I’d skimp on the Martyrs if sideboard space is limited and just concentrate on killing them as fast as possible.

2-1, 1-0.

Next up we had a foreshadowing of the final, as I failed to set Tom Harle’s dredge enablers on fire in the first game and then used dirty Magus of the Moon to steal games two and three.

Initially I thought Dredge should be easy for Gruul to beat, but it can be quite difficult. Yes, Mogg Fanatic gets rid of Bridge from Below, but you have to remember they can slip into the alternate plan of massive Grave-Trolls. I screwed up the first game, but Magus of the Moon just destroyed Tom in the post board games.

2-1, 2-0.

As written in the blog, my famed topdecking skills deserted me against Paul Graham’s Dralnu deck. I over-stretched him to the point where any burn spell would have administered the coup de grace. Unfortunately, windmill-slamming a basic Mountain is considerably less exciting than a Lightning Helix.

Mana problems in the subsequent games (one enforced by Magus of the Moon) allowed me to take the match. I think I should be favorite in this matchup anyway, although Spell Snare is considerably better now that Tarmogoyf is quickly establishing itself as the new Wild Mongrel.

2-1, 3-0.

I won’t talk too much about the draft portion, as it’s already mentioned in some detail in the player blog.

I was apprehensive after the first draft. I’ve got a good idea of what works in Time Spiral in draft and it’s generally speed. My first deck was most definitely not speedy.

I was able to overcome Ian Davey, but I think this was a lot in part to some less than stellar draws on his part.

2-0, 4-0.

The next few rounds were where I was firmly convinced the wheels were about to come off. Nick Lovett’s deck was actually better than I gave it credit in the coverage, but my deck was so slow any collection of random Grey Ogres and Hill Giants would have killed me going first.

1-2, 4-1.

After losing to Nick Lovett I noticed I was feeling drained. I also remembered feeling like this just after losing to Morita in Yokohama. A question sometimes asked is why they don’t get better Pros to write the player blog, given my wretched inconsistency. The truth is it’s damn hard. I have several years experience of writing coverage at major events. I’m not even certain how many other people could – or would even want – to do it.

Teddy Cardgame has berated me before for doing it because it’s a distraction from the main event.

“It still consumes mental resources,” he said, or something similar.

After the game with Nick Lovett is the closest I’ve come to dropping the player blog altogether in order to concentrate on my individual performance. When I mentioned this to Rich Hagon, he suggested getting outside for a lungful of fresh air to try and reinvigorate myself

That sort of did the trick, and I also decided part of the problem was I’d started to write too much on each of the matches. When I first started, the match summaries were fairly brief, and I’d even made day 2 at those events.

Of late, I’ve probably been trying to write too much. Trying to write a feature match report every round is fairly gruelling as it is without actually playing the round as well.

Anyway, I took a break for the round and came straight back in…

… only to lose to some truly wretched draws against Bradley Barclay’s equally weak draft deck.

0-2, 4-2.

I could feel I was on danger of going on tilt. I had a weak deck, and I still had to play another round.

Four-round draft. Why do we have to play four-round drafts?

They got rid of them before for a reason. Why did they have to bring them back?

You can insert other assorted whining.

Of course, if I’d drafted an absolute monster I’d be overjoyed at a four-round draft.

Anyway, disaster was averted as B*tch Fate missed me and defecated all over luckless Matthew Clark instead.

2-0, 5-2.

I probably can’t overestimate how important that last win was to me. I’m very much a roller-coaster player. If I build up momentum I can be very hard to stop, but I’m equally good at chaining losses and when I fall, I fall hard. If you look at my PT / GP record you won’t find many tournament finishes in the middle ground of consistent money finish. I place high or not at all.

After round 6, I was picking up speed and hurtling to fiery doom, but it was my opponent who got the shaft from the mana gods and I got to advance to Day 2 in a healthy 16th place.

We went for a curry and I actually went to bed at a reasonably sensible time. The rest of my Mox Radio team-mates were by and large doing pretty well. Former champ and editor Craig Stevenson, Tom Harle, and Stuart Wright were amongst the fourteen people all tied at the top on 18 points.

The biggest shock was that for me the tournament favourite, Quentin Martin, was effectively eliminated at the end of the first day, and even more surprisingly it was the draft that had done him in. I would have probably put money on Quentin 7-0’ing the entire Limited section. For him to 1-3 the first draft was a real surprise.

But then I 0-3’ed the Constructed portion last year. Sometimes it just isn’t your day, and from what I heard Quentin had some fairly appalling draws.

My tiebreakers were so high I was bumped up into the second pod for the second draft. This left us with the weird situation of having Tom, Craig, Stuart, and me all in a line. This definitely affected my early picks, as I took Dark Withering over both Fledgling Mawcor and Sporesower Thallid because I knew none of the three liked Black. I think I was probably too clever for my own good here, although my read on the color was correct as none of my team-mates ended up in Black. However, it got messy as Stuart sent me a clear signal with a late Gemhide Sliver. At this point I’d already put Simon O’Keeffe into Green, and unbeknownst to me he’d actually opened Sengir Nosferatu.

It should have been a train wreck, but sometimes the boosters can be weird. Our editor made the correct choice to go Blue/Green with White/Red on both sides of him, but ended up being killed by the boosters anyway. [More on my performance later in the week… – The Other Craig.]

Overall, this draft was very lucky for me. My deck was powerful, but again too slow to be really good in usual Time Spiral draft. But Andrew Morrison’s deck didn’t quite have the oomph to make up for the tempo…

2-1, 6-2.

…and Simon O’Keeffe’s Green/Black deck was an absolute dream matchup.

And yes, I know using your own Pro Player card as tokens is sort of, well… wrong… but hey, why not?

2-0, 7-2.

Really, the run should have ended when Tom Harle’s Red/White Sliver deck tore me to pieces, as I’d no way drafted a 3-0 deck. However, Lady Fate was a little inaccurate with the screw gun again, and it was Tom Harle who got lumped with the horrible draws.

I made an atrocious error in not killing a Sliversmith with Big Game Hunter after Tom pumped it with Brute Force, but wasn’t punished for it as Tom was too far behind.

2-0, 8-2.

My final record was 5-2, but to be brutally obvious this is around 1-3 wins higher than the decks I drafted actually deserved. I made the mistake of getting a little complacent about draft. I’m not a natural, and I need regular practise. Unfortunately, I’ve effectively been without MTGO for about a month. I thought it wouldn’t be as important, as I’d drafted a lot of Time Spiral beforehand. However, I think a little rust might have crept in. I can tell when I’m good at a particular draft format as I tend to be very proactive with my picks. These two drafts I felt I’d allowed myself to be too passive. As a result I think I was making the basic mistake of drafting good cards rather than a good deck.

But I escaped relatively unscathed, and now I was in a really strong position. With Standard being so matchup dependant it’s vitally important to go into the final straight with at least a life intact just in case the pairings gods decide to throw an unwinnable matchup in your face.

As it was I got paired against Graeme McIntyre with an old fashioned version of Gruul…

2-0, 9-2.

… and Dave Grant with Rakdos.

2-0, 10-2.

I don’t lose aggro mirrors.

Don’t be deceived by anyone who tells you aggro mirrors are coin flips.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about the matchups as I think I might do an article on how to play Red decks properly next week.

Just to keep Dan happy, there was indeed lots of elves being set on fire and much burninating of opponents.

As an aside, Dan Paskins was positively overjoyed when he heard the rumors that Lorwyn was going to be the “elf” set. His eyes lit up at the prospect of a whole year of being able to set many elves on fire.

I was a little scared, to be honest…

Even my psychosis has limits.

Many elves are going to burn.

Someone should warn the children.

At 10-2 I was overjoyed. I was in. All I needed was a draw, and my tiebreakers were so good I was still potentially in even if I lost the last two rounds.

My celebrations were a little premature…

There were three players on 30 points: Me, Nick Lovett, and Simon O’Keefe. Unfortunately, one of us had to get paired down and this time Lady Fate was bang on target and fully collaborating with the Pairings Demon, as not only did I get paired down, I got paired down to one of my worst matchups.

Matteo Orsini-Jones basically ripped me apart with his Angelfire deck. Blue/Red/White decks traditionally tear Red-based aggro decks to pieces, and this was no exception. Even my last ditch de-permanent myself rush with a Gargadon fell to a third Wrath of God.

In this matchup I also realised how fundamentally useless Magus of the Moon could be, as Matteo drew enough basics and Signets for my “back breaker” to be a very unexciting Grey Ogre. It’s a high-risk card. Sometimes you will break people in two like dry twigs, and other times it will literally do nothing. I think that’s the gamble you take in choosing to run it over the more dependable Cryoclasm.

0-2, 10-3.

Losing to Matteo was also a bad omen. All of a sudden I was reminded of last year’s Nationals. After the penultimate round, Rich Hagon had interviewed Matteo to congratulate him on making Top 8. Except the last round pairings had set up a literal blood bath that saw Matteo get paired down and then lose to finish in 9th place.

All too clearly I could see Top 8 slipping from my grasp. All I needed was to be paired down again and lose for my Nationals to be over. There were precious few people in the same points bracket that I hadn’t already played for me to be paired against.

Even if I got paired up against Nick Lovett or Simon O’Keeffe, there was no guarantee they would ID with me. They were already safe. This would represent a very good opportunity to kick a potentially bad matchup out of the Top 8.

In the space of one round I’d gone from elation at almost certainly making the Top 8 to the grim realisation I’d probably be battling next round for my tournament survival.

It didn’t happen though. With a potential pairings minefield I managed to get Eduardo Sajgalik, the French student living in Bristol. Also on 30 points, he was happy to take the ID.

I’d done it. Top 8 again, for the first time in six years.

Unfortunately when the final standings were announced, I was placed 3rd and Eduardo 6th. This meant I’d have to return to play him on Sunday. His Blue/White/Black Blink-Touch deck did not seem like a good matchup. This was kind of unfortunate, as the only other bad matchup I could have got was Daniel Godfrey’s Aussie Storm deck.

Obviously Eduardo was overjoyed, but hey, so was I in Honolulu when I learned I’d been paired against Antoine Ruel.

Meh, Top 8 is still pretty good, and I’m going to Worlds anyway.

The story doesn’t quite end there though…

I did the sensible thing and got my chief apprentice Spraggle (who finished a very credible 25th including 6-1’ing the Constructed portion) to build up a copy of Sajgalik’s deck.

After a few games I realised it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Sure, on some games he was going to Touch an Angel of Despair into play and utterly wreck me, but it wasn’t always going to be like that.

I’ve said it many times before, but playing aggro decks like Red Deck Wins is all about percentages. Some players don’t like this style of deck because it feels like you’re giving control to your opponent. Rather than hoping your deck does something, you’re hoping their deck doesn’t do something. That can be uncomfortable for some players, but the important thing to remember is that all these fancy decks that twirl around on the high wires don’t always do what they’re supposed to do on paper. Sometimes they fall, and that’s where the Red Deck is waiting below…

… with very sharp teeth.

Game 1 I thought I was favorite, but it would get very tricky after boarding with all the potential life gain tricks he could pull with Aven Riftwatchers.

Normally I don’t pay too much attention to the psychology, but I suspected this might actually have an impact on this match. Eduardo has a lot of bravado and comes across as very confident. If I could rattle him early it might provide me with an opening, especially as the crowd was likely to be hostile to Frenchman gunning for a place on the British National Team.

It didn’t actually work out like that.

Sajgalik arrived in the morning, saw us playing a test game, and immediately mocked Spraggle’s sideboarding strategy (Spraggle had a Remand in hand — we’d forgotten those should go out). He seemed pretty sure he’d take me fairly easily. I thought it would be a lot closer, probably going to the fifth game.

The game is covered in a lot more detail by me here and Tim Willoughby here.

I got a rough start but immediately took advantage of his double mulligan in game 2. Game 2 was interesting as this was the one I thought I might break him on, because I beat him despite him having two Riftwatcher and two Momentary Blink.

Too Sajgalik’s credit he showed he was a tough cookie and immediately bounced back to take game 4. I was also impressed by how aggressive he played the matchup. He was always looking to attack with his Riftwatchers rather than sitting back to block, and I believe this is absolutely correct. When faced with an aggressive deck you really have to take the game to them, as eventually they will draw enough burn spells to put you away.

As mentioned in the coverage, the fifth game was a damp squib. We both stuck on two land, and although that prevented me from playing the Magus of Moon in hand, I still got to beat down with a Tarmogoyf while all he could was suspend Cloudskates.

Finally my 3rd land appeared, and I finished him off with a Char.

Charring a Frenchman to the face on a Sunday. Sounds familiar.

Ah, good memories.

I didn’t know much about the semi-final with Marco Orsini-Jones. Again it’s covered here.

Game 1 I switched strategies upon drawing a second Char. Normally you should kill Dark Confidant on sight, but you should also be flexible. Unless Marco revealed only land I had enough burn to kill him, and the Troll Ascetics in hand (which I couldn’t cast because I didn’t have a second Green) would protect the Chars from anything but random discard.

Bob did four damage, my burn did the rest.

I think I might have got a little complacent then and underestimated the threat of Marco’s deck. It’s easy to do, when you get past that high-pressure quarter-final and already know you’re on the team.

Although discard is normally an underdog against burn, it can sometimes win the attrition war, and The Rack is actually a really good card for racing. I discarded the wrong card (Tin Street Hooligan) in the face of a swarm of Ravenous Rats and Elephant tokens, and then made an incorrect block to allow Marco to level the match.

The third and fourth games were lessons in brutality. I made Trolls, Tarmogoyfs and Gargadons, and basically bludgeoned him to death. Marco had regenerating Augers and Withered Wretch, but I never paused to let him have time to use all his mana.

I was possibly a little too careful in the final game. I had two Trolls to his two enormous Tarmogoyf, and then got an overlap of an additional Tarmogoyf, Mogg Fanatic and Treetop Village. Once he dropped a Rack I had to be careful I didn’t alpha-strike into a top-decked Terror or Putrefy, as his two Tarmogoyf would have finished me on the return attack.

I sent in one Tarmogoyf so I could trade it and a Fanatic for one of his (should have attacked with a Troll and the Fanatic as well) and then made a Mogg War Marshal to ensure I had plenty of blockers.

The following alpha strike was enough to take me into the final.

The final was covered here and here.

I had the right plan in the first game: remove Stuart’s Bridges and then hold off the Trolls with goblin tokens while I burned him to the face, but drew so little land I couldn’t really clear the log jam in my hand. This allowed Stuart to dredge his deck for the last Bridge and attack for enough to kill me. I think I should have saved an Incinerate I sent at his face to kill one of my own creatures when he dredged the last Bridge.

Games 2, 3, and 4 were completely anti-climactic. I drew Magus of the Moon in every opening hand, and was able to cast it turn 3. This shuts down the Troll plan completely as he can’t cast them.

I was only being kind, you see. Mountains are obviously the most superior land in all of Magic, so it’s only natural to want to give them to everyone else.


The Top 8 was actually quite interesting for the Gruul deck, as each game showcased a different facet. In the quarters it was all about the burn. For the semis it was all about sheer brute force in the red zone. And then in the final I was able to win by locking out Stuart’s mana with Magus of the Moon. This is a lot of angles of attack, and the hallmark of a good deck.

Saying that, after seeing the Top 8 of the U.S. Nationals I’m not sure I would have fancied my deck in that field.

Anyway, it was good enough on the weekend, and that’s good enough for me.

After finishing third twice I finally get to call myself National Champion for the first time. And of course there are certain traditions to maintain, as it should always be a Craig who gets to lift the trophy.

Whew, that’s gone on for longer than I intended (as it does every week).

Next week I’ll go through the deck in more detail, and try and sort out that ugly sideboard (bye bye Pithing Needle!)

Until then,

Char you!!