GB Nationals 2011 Preview

With a biting wit and incredible use of diction, Dan Barrett gives you a little taste of what will take place at UK Nationals this year…

The Chinese, Japanese, Australians, Frogs, Jersey Shore, Yanks, and now even ze Germans have all had their fun already, crowning champions, and fielding teams for Worlds in San Francisco this November.

Now, finally, it’s our turn!

Just hours away, in the sunny seaside city of Sheffield, our own National Championship will begin (event details here), with players from across the realm seven kingdoms land coming together for rioting and looting battles and banter.

You may remember that I myself am not qualified this year due to getting unlucky not being good enough preferring not to play in the main event, meaning I am ideally poised to railbird observe goings on and offer an entirely biased objective view of the tournament as well as scrub out in crush M12 Swiss drafts important side events.

For those of you at home, what are you missing out on, or looking to see in the coverage? Who and what will do well? Your four-day itinerary follows…

Thursday — LCQ

The four days of Magic action kick off with your last pair of chances to qualify for the main event, with a double-draft starting first thing and a Standard tournament after lunch. This means if the first few rounds of the draft go terribly, you can drop and get into the other event—an invitation to draft something high-variance and hope for a 3-0 in the first pod then play Standard if not, if you ask me.

With the possible exception of good players who just missed a ratings cut-off and couldn’t attend many Nationals Qualifiers earlier this year (e.g. Charlie Grover or Rob Stanjer), I’m going to be harsh and say that no one who LCQs into Nats is going to make Top 8. The top finishing decks in the Standard event will be 90% netdecks, but as usual there will be some truly dire 60s in attendance. I don’t want to be mean, boys and girls, but if you were playing Giants tribal in Standard two years ago and Jace’s Erasure now, you might be a little too casual for the main event. Do enjoy all of the side events though!

Thursday – Football

After some (probably ill-chosen) strong words about The North’s sporting prowess from Lewis McCleod to Neil Rigby at GP London, there is now a regional teams football event scheduled for early Thursday evening. This is proper, English football mind: no rest breaks or padding here—you may know it as soccer though, I guess.

Anyway, yes you read that correctly, Magic players will voluntarily be involved in physical activity. Being known for their athletic prowess and high level of fitness, I suspect the level of competition to be world-class, and McCleod/Rigby are currently negotiating the live broadcast rights with the BBC, Sky, and ESPN.

Realistically, this is going to be a train wreck, albeit a very amusing and sweaty one. Everyone playing (myself included) will be knackered after ten minutes, and the games will quickly devolve into a competition of who can jog the half the length of the pitch without throwing up or tripping over their own feet.

The posh boys (South) will be soundly beaten by the combined cast of Coronation Street and Byker Grove (North). Scotland will not manage to field a team and thus proceed to hurl abuse and cans of (homeless choice) Tennent’s Super from the sidelines. Scoring will be dominated by the few overpowered (read: not totally unfit) players, and at least one person will end up with a nasty ankle injury.

Friday — Nationals:

The big show begins bright and early Friday morning, with four rounds of Standard, followed by a three-round draft (and then the reverse on Saturday before a cut to Sunday’s Top 8).

Standard—predicting the Nats metagame is as easy for me as throwing 150 darts at a dartboard and tallying up the segments they land in (or if they don’t reach the board at all). This is because the two are one and the same.

I won’t bother trying accurate percentage predictions: obviously Caw-Blade will be one of the top decks, but equally it wouldn’t surprise me to see Valakut or Birthing Pod-based decks to be the most-played archetype. I’m also hopeful we’ll see a few decently performing off-the-radar decks featuring Garruk, Primal Hunter, Jace, Memory Adept ( a la Kyle Sanchez and @smi77y), or other underused cards. We British players do love a random pet deck, yes we do.

Draft—I expect to hear a lot of “I first picked [7 mana rare], got passed an Overrun by some idiot who’d taken a common over it, then lost to some donk playing 1/1 for 1s” stories from people assuming all core sets are about bombs and card advantage, who’ve done no testing, assuming what went for M11 holds true now. If you don’t want to be that guy, respect how aggressive bloodthirst has made things and consider first-picking Goblin Fireslinger. And if you’ve no time to test, you could do a lot worse than reading a draft primer such as this one to adjust your thinking from that of M11.

There will also be a lot of “I lost to Jace/Garruk/etc., what a sack” stories to ignore, because we Magic players only win through skill and only lose to bad luck.

A small selection of players to keep an eye out for in the coverage:

Dan Gardner

You’d think I would start with last year’s winner, but there’s someone else people are far more vocal about. Love him or hate him, Gardner is probably the UK’s best Magic player, and is nigh-on unstoppable when a UW deck is viable… And it certainly is right now. Dan is 50/50 to make Top 8 again this year in my eyes, much better odds than the 1 in 100-odd most players are looking at. It would be a major upset if he wasn’t battling with Caw-Blade, which I imagine he’ll be running with no Hero/Crusader, but possibly Spellskite/Timely Reinforcements main.

Tournament catchphrase: “Barns gonna barn.”

Joe Jackson

I’d love to say last year’s champ is a shoe-in to make the team again this year because he’s such a nice guy, but Joe’s fallen off my radar a bit since Worlds last year. As such, a bit of a wildcard, but I’m sure he will have done some good testing with Rich Bland, so maybe things aren’t so unknown after all? Based on last year’s deck… he’ll play a Birthing Pod list with answers for everything.

Likes: Flatpeak farmer/golf hats, philosophy.

Jonno Randle

As a former champion, alternate last year, and in a comfortable regular position on the PT, it’s easy to predict Jon will make top 8 again. Probably playing UB control, his color combination of choice.

Last seen: Bawling his eyes out when it was announced Bitterblossom and Ancestral Vision would be banned in Modern.

Richard Bland

Quieter and with less banter than some of the other UK pros, but in a similar position to Randle: it’s hard to say he won’t do well. Unlike many others at his level, Richard doesn’t seem afraid to play the “boring but good” (or dare I say… bland) deck, so he is the one person I’d predict will play Valakut. Or like Joe Jackson, based on last year’s choice he may well play a Birthing Pod deck.

Best feature: Patience of a saint in the face of childish name-calling.

The OJs

Neither Matteo nor Marco has seen Nats team play since 2007, but they have been doing pretty well on the PTQ circuit the last year or so and have spent the last few days testing with Jon Randle and DanG. As such, it seems likely for one, if not both of them to put in a deep run at this tournament, and having read Matteo’s recent format analysis, I’m fairly sure it will be with Caw-Blade, and certain it won’t be with UB Control or Tempered Steel.

Secret shame: Matteo stealing breakfast one time.

Carrie Oliver

The first of two UK players on something of a hot streak this year, who aren’t yet permanent fixtures on the PT. The event being held in the “Steel City,” and Carrie having qualified for her first PT with the Extended Tempered Steel deck, you’ve got to hope she’ll be bringing that deck and the expertise playing it. However, has the metagame adapted to be less vulnerable to the quick artifact onslaught? Maindeck artifact kill in recent lists from Chapin et al would seem to indicate so—but have the UK players adopted these changes? If not Caw-Blade, I think Carrie will be bringing a W/u Tempered Steel deck, with Preordain to find the namesake card and counterspells and more resilient threats in the board to fight the hate.

Modern deck of choice for PT Philadelphia? TEMPERED STEEL, BABY!

Cyrus Bales

Our second player on a strong run, Cyrus qualified for this tournament, and then the PT, with the same UB Tezzeret Infect deck:

Cyrus’s tournament reports for Nationals qualification and winning PTQ Reading. Offering good matchups against Caw-Blade and Valakut and boasting a 14-1-2 record in the last two major tournaments, I think Cyrus is a real contender if playing this deck.

Other innovations: Sanity Grinding, Martyr of Sands control with Akroma, Angel of Fury.

The London guys

This is a little awkward to admit, but I can’t really say anyone from my group is an easy choice for top 8. Usual hard-workers Charlie Grover and Dan Royde have been out of the country, and testing has been minimal. Discussions on our Facebook group have mainly consisted of me posting random good rogue decks or things I’ve read about, and people’s (mostly unanswered) questions about their pet decks. Other discussion highlights include:

As for draft, we never managed to organize a proper testing pod, so it has been limited to a few FNM and Tuesday drafts, the quality of play at which is… erratic. As such, everyone is playing something they know and enjoy playing, which is far from the worst thing they could be doing. However, overall chances of getting someone on the team would probably be better if they all just played Caw-Blade…

Highest finish: 18th.

A selection of other might-do-goods

Tom Reeve (with a UR combo deck), Stuart Wright (has been quite busy with WoW and “other business” lately, though), fun-size Scotsman Stephen Murray (will wear a kilt for top 8 if he makes it, Caw-Blade), Nick Lovett (how the mighty have fallen), Simon O’Keefe (consistently makes top 16-odd and no one notices), James Allingham (aka Hagrid from Harry Potter), and many others I don’t have an amusing comment for.

Saturday — 15-card highlander

Rob Wagner and Seb Parker (mother hens of the team Leeds lovenest) will break it once again, possibly abusing old Magic Show favorite, Time Reversal. Stuart Wright will also have another solid deck (Grixis Titans last year) if he plays this instead of making it to the second day of Nats.

Saturday — Vintage

In an event full of mainly older guys who play once a year, a few younger names stand out: Rob Elkin is a pinnacle of the UK Vintage scene and is the only person I know who can lend out a “spare” deck in this format. Nicolo Graziano made Top 8 with Dredge last year and probably will again this year, and Nathan Gotlib is an Eternal master overdue the title of UK champion. He’s also good looking, a very talented artist, and speaks four languages fluently. Female readers are invited to apply for dates. Phil Dickinson, if he bothers to turn up, may play a “Sperling-esque” GW Hatebears.

Saturday — Pub quiz

Our host Richard Hagon will be literally throwing the TO’s boosters away in exchange for correct answers to awkward “how do I not know this?” card rules and flavor questions. Afterwards, he’ll delight the audience with a selection of show tunes from his next creative project, a Magic-themed musical based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, starring Lauren Lee and PVDDR.

Then we’ll all go out to Corporation for £1.20 doubles and things get a little hazy…


Hangovers prevail for all but the most dedicated Legacy players and the Nationals top 8 competitors.

In the Legacy, we will probably see a lot of UW Stoneforge and Team America/Italia decks, and once again Nathan should do very well, probably with a deck that has Jace, the Mind Sculptor as its only win condition.

Will Matt Light repeat his “call judge over to watch my opponent while I go and throw up” shenanigans*? Who will come out on top after three days of competition? Will Sheffield have been alright after all?

It’s time to find out!

(* = Sickest (heh) thing about that incident? He won the match after he came back.)

Finally, a few of your predictions:


Dan Barrett