One of the best Constructed minds in Texas, Justin Corbett, talked me into playing Aggro Valakut with Lotus Cobra, Viridian Emissary, Hero of Oxid Ridge, Bestial Menace, plus the usual suspects at GP Dallas earlier this year. Personally I’m much more a fan of the 40-card draft deck than the 60-card Constructed lists. When it comes to Constructed, I usually listen to the smartest person in the room.
I finished 3-3 at the GP excluding a single bye. A week later I played the Aggro Valakut deck to a 5-2 finish at Texas Regionals. Justin tested the deck a lot more than I did. I doubt I played the deck optimally. In my experience some decks are much more forgiving of play mistakes. Aggro Valakut was clearly not one of them.
I played in the local US Nationals qualifier in Houston two weeks later with Caw-Blade. I picked up the deck the night before from a friend and tried it out at FNM at 3rd Coast Games and didn’t drop a match. I was definitely making mistakes, and it was FNM, but the deck was clearly pretty good.
The next day at the qualifier I squeaked out the finals against a GW Vengevine deck designed to beat Caw-Blade. I ended the game with two Day of Judgments still in hand. I still had all deez! This is when I realized Caw-Blade is at worst a 45-55 matchup against decks designed to beat it.
I was qualified for US Nationals.
It’s been almost a decade since I played in this tournament. Upheaval Psychatog was the deck of the format, and the event was held in Disney World the last time I made the trip. I believe I 1-5ed the Constructed portion of that Nationals (people finally figured out how ridiculously good Psychatog was in the format). Unfortunately I didn’t solve the Tog mirror like Carlos Romao. I 2-0 dropped from the draft portion. Dropping qualified me for the next Limited Pro Tour. We didn’t have total rating back in the days, and non-Worlds PTs only played the one format. Oh the good old days.
I played Caw-Blade at the next two PTQs after realizing how good the deck is. I lost in the semis at PTQ Dallas, TX and then in the finals at PTQ Lafayette, LA. Both times I lost to the mirror. I drew slightly worse, and I’m sure my opponents were more prepared. This is coming from a guy who doesn’t test. Those PTQs felt like playing Tog before people figured out how good it was. Sometimes a deck is just too dominant.
A while later Jace and Stoneforge were banned. Odds were Caw-Blade was no longer as good as it was. I strongly considered playing Tempered Steel at Nats. Earlier when I said I don’t test, it was a small lie. I played twelve games with Tempered Steel against a GW aggro deck four days before US Nationals. After going 11-1, losing only on a mulligan to five, I thought Tempered Steel was the deck of choice. Aggro decks are slightly easier to play than control decks. I doubt I was going to test anymore before the big tournament. I did however purchase a one-year StarCityGames.com premium account a week before the trip to read Gabriel Nassif French Nationals article. I had the premium account a few years before, but I stopped playing enough to warrant renewing the subscription. I went to the M12 prerelease and drafted with it a few times. That pretty much summed up my preparation for this year’s US Nationals. Work and life gets in the way sometimes.
On the car ride to Indianapolis I hit up David Thomas for Constructed advice. He is friends with a bunch of professional Magic players like Gerry Thompson. He gave me the basic advice about sideboarding with Tempered Steel, and casually mentioned that he had another Caw-Blade deck minus about sixteen cards. I asked him to name what he was missing, and it turned out that I had pretty much everything. Switching became a serious option. We talked a bit more, and I decided that Caw-Blade was still a really good deck even post banning. When Gerry T tells you play Caw-Blade, you don’t have a lot of other options. He’s kind of a big deal.
We left Houston for Indy around 8 pm Wednesday night. The drive itself was largely uneventful. One of the best parts of Magic road trips is getting to know the people you’re making the trip with. A lot of the bad beats stories and personal conquests are quite entertaining and ridiculous. Sure you’ve hung out with these guys before, but there’s nothing quite like a seventeen-hour drive to actually get to know a person. My friend Todd told me about how he got a DWI during college and how it nearly ruined his life. After going to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings for a while he came to the realization that he’s not really an alcoholic. Sure he made bad decisions in his life, but then again who hasn’t. The stories he heard and retold kept me awake for most of the drive. Some of the people in those meetings went on Nicolas Cage-like binges. Unfortunately most of Todd’s stories were not of the PG variety.
Our group registered and hung out for a bit. We decided to head back to the hotel around 10 pm. Tomorrow was a big day. On our way back Todd, who fell off the AA wagon a while ago, suggested we hit up a convenience store to pick up beer. The CVS next to our hotel was closed. We asked the front desk if there was anything open right now, and they directed us to a store five blocks away. I was pretty tired after a long drive, but Todd was adamant about picking up something stronger than Coke. We made the trek and picked up some power bars and drinks. A few beers later I passed out.Â
The next morning David Thomas told me that Gerry T updated his list. Instead of running Consecrated Sphinx and Oblivion Ring, I should play with two Jace Beleren. I’m not 100% sure this was the correct call. Sphinx and Oblivion Ring were two of the best cards in the deck. Resolve a Sphinx and it becomes really hard to lose. Oblivion Ring answered most of the difficult questions in the format. Then again I hear Gerry T is pretty good.
I got to the site Friday morning and realized I left the Jaces back at the hotel. I didn’t have time to go back, so I asked everyone I knew if I could borrow Jace Beleren. Nobody had it. The dealer room adjacent to the tournament was closed at the time. The very last minute I ran into DeQuan Watson, a card shop owner from Waco, Texas. He only had one. Oh well, one was better than none. I thought about it for a while and finally decided to cut the third Oblivion Ring instead of the second Sphinx. I’m pretty greedy.
Matthew Malenczak playing Vampires
Turn 3 I fetched and played Timely Reinforcement. Turn 4 I tapped out to drop two Squadron Hawks. I wanted to keep up that pressure as well as fetch three Squadron Hawks. The Mana Leak in my hand looked a little silly when he dropped Phyrexian Obliterator on his turn. I guess this is the reason people playtest.
I didn’t have a land so I dropped Sword of Feast and Famine onto the board turn 5. I took a hit from Bloodghast and Phyrexian Obliterator on his turn. He dropped another Bloodghast without adding a land to his side. My attempt to equip a soldier token was met with a Dismember. I Spell Pierced it. He attempted to Dismember once again with his last mana. This tapped him out, so I Mana Leaked it.
Looking back perhaps I should have allowed the second Dismember to resolve and simply equipped another creature. Saving the Mana Leak might have been good again a man stuck on five lands when I’m about to untap my lands. He only had one card in hand which I ate with Sword of Feast and Famine. In the end the Mana Leak play allowed me to drop two more Squadron Hawks this turn, and it also saved a token for the race.
Another attack from Phyrexian Obliterator and the two Bloodghasts took me to seven life. I peeled the other Timely Reinforcements on my turn. I played Consecrated Sphinx pre combat and only attacked him with enough creatures to put him at eight life. The other Timely Reinforcement gave me a more comfortable life lead. I drew a Spell Pierce with the Sphinx on his turn. He ripped Kalastria Highborn and played it before combat. His attack took me at four. He was dead on board with no cards in hand, but didn’t scoop until I animated my Celestial Colonnade. He commented it on how Timely those Reinforcements were. Luckily this is the only time during the weekend I heard that pun.
Game two he led off with Kalastria Highborn turn 2. I had a Dismember in hand, but couldn’t cast it thanks to the Celestial Colonnade I dropped turn 1. I had Mana Leak so allowed him to take his turn. He played Bloodghast before attacking. That Mana Leak in my hand looked silly again. I allowed it to resolve before regretting the decision immediately. He was tapped out, so I should have just Dismembered his Highborn before allowing the Bloodghast to resolve. I no longer had priority, and his land drop cost me a four-point life swing.
I Dismembered anyway and mentally noted how sloppily I had played so far. The misplay would put me at ten life in a couple of turns. If he ripped another Bloodghast he could have snuck in for another two damage thanks to haste. To be fair he should have attacked first. I probably would have taken the damage at twenty life. His misplay doesn’t lessen the importance of mine.
The Mana Leak caught a Vampire Nighthawk a turn later. My turn 4 Emeria Angel didn’t block his Bloodghast because I wanted to make at least one token with it. That attack took me to ten life. He dropped land #4 and played Phyrexian Obliterator. Maybe I should have blocked. He would have gotten the Bloodghast back with the land drop and played the Obliterator anyways. The token I would have gotten the next turn would most likely be used to block the Bloodghast a turn or two later.
On my turn I made a token and dropped Gideon. He attacked with everyone next turn. Obliterator took Gideon down to three loyalty counters while I put my Emeria Angel in front of Bloodghast this time. I hoped he had something like Burst Lightning or Staggershock and wanted to kill the Angel more. He proceeded to Arc Trail my Emeria Angel and bird token. Wow. I had no idea that token was so important to him. Leaving Gideon at three loyalty allowed me to not only kill the Obliterator, but keep Gideon around for show and tell. While my deck does have a handful of answers for the Obliterator, I had none in hand at the time. It’s not like I have a lot time to draw into these answers against a 5/5 difficult to block trampler.
On my turn I killed the tapped Obliterator, played another Emeria Angel, and dropped a land. He tried to take out the Angel with Dismember, but I Mana Leaked it. Awkward. He could have killed my first Angel before attacking last turn. He played a land getting the Bloodghast back and dropped both Vampire Nighthawk and Kalastria Highborn. He was out of cards finally. I missed my land drop for the turn and forced his team to attack Gideon. He drew Viscera Seer and played it precombat. Everything attacked Gideon. My bird token blocked the Bloodghast, Celestial Colonnade traded with the Nighthawk, and Emeria Angel bullied Highborn.
He considered his options and called a judge over to make sure all three Vampires dying at the same time would trigger Highborn three times. The judges told him that was how it would happen. The triggers take me to four life. Like I said earlier, the two life I unnecessarily took could have made a huge difference if he had drawn another Bloodghast this game. Two extra life from haste and two more from Highborn trigger would have killed me.
I attacked him with my Angel, the bird token, and Gideon finally getting into this race. He chump blocked the Gideon, scryed, and left the card on top. Vampire Hexmage answers Gideon. The Angel, birds, and a second Colonnade took the game in two turns.
Holy crap this was one of the worst matches of Magic I played in a long time. Luckily I squeaked out the win which I definitely did not deserve. For the first time I understood why Saito slaps himself every now and then.
Brian Kowal playing Boros
I took some early damage from his double Plated Geopede draw. Four Squadron Hawks and a couple of Gideon Juras bought me a lot of life and eventually traded for the Geopedes. He did walk a Sword of War and Peace into a Spell Pierce which I don’t think he needed to do. I would have tapped out sooner or later, and I’m not sure I can beat the Sword easily. Then again I should be the last one commenting on other people’s misplays given the number of mistakes I made in the first game. The Gideons and Consecrated Sphinx put me ahead in the card advantage war. He did kill the Sphinx with a Dismember when I blocked. I had drawn Timely Reinforcement and Emeria Angel from the Sphinx so it didn’t really matter. At eight life, not blocking in that situation left me open to possible, though unlikely outs.
I pulled out sideboarding notes for game two, and Brian asked me if I actually had notes for his deck. I had notes for Goblins and Red Deck Wins. Those were close enough right?
Game three was a lot more interesting. He did little the first few turns other than dropping a Plated Geopede and Sword of War and Peace. Dismember took care of the pesky 1/1 first striker and Squadron Hawks put me on the offenses. He was forced to Oblivion Ring one of my fliers. Hawkward.
Finally he dropped Goblin Guide and equipped. I allowed the Guide to resolve with a Mental Misstep in hand and instead kicked an Into the Roil after the goblin revealed a Dismember on top of my library. The counter took care of Goblin Guide the following turn. He Lightning Bolted a Hawk after going down to seven life. I was at fourteen life with two Hawks. He finally drew land number four and dropped Hero of Oxid Ridge. He had a Steppe Lynx in play, and the land he drew was a fetch. This took him to six life. I allowed him to attack and Dismembered the Hero after battle cry went on the stack. The Dismember and attack took me to five life. Finally I played the Timely Reinforcement I had been holding the entire game.
I Oblivion Ringed his Sword of War and Peace and attacked him down to four life. He Oblivion Ringed my Oblivion Ring and tried to Lightning Bolt a Hawk. I paid two life with Mental Misstep to stop it. I peeled Emeria Angel and attacked with the Hawks putting him at two life. He surveyed the board and told me that I got lucky drawing that Angel. He could have equipped Steppe Lynx and attacked for two and gained two life negating the Hawks, but he couldn’t deal with another flier. He had another Sword in hand plus a Gideon. If I didn’t kill him immediately he had a good chance of getting back and winning the game with his cards in hand.
Gavin Verhey playing Caw-Blade
Game one he led off with Hawk while I Reinforced my side of the board. He ran the Hero of Bladehold version of the deck and played one plus another Hawk. I chump blocked one turn before I wiped the board with Day of Judgment. He made a minor misplay a couple of turns later. He was stuck on four lands with Tectonic Edge while I had seven in play. On my turn I animated my Colonnade and attacked. Before blockers I Tectonic Edged a non-Tectonic Edge on his side of the board using the attacking Colonnade for mana. He thought about his options for a while and was forced to Edge my Colonnade.
This set him back to two lands against my five. He would have had a better chance to come back this game with three lands if he simply killed my Colonnade when I animated it. While I did have another Colonnade, I couldn’t Tectonic Edge his non-basic land if he went down to three lands.
Game two I Oblivion Ringed his Gideon and his Sword of Feast and Famine. I dropped my own Gideon Jura. He Preordained twice and he still couldn’t deal with Gideon. Of course I cold drew Consecrated Sphinx and he didn’t have the Mana Leak. On his turn he played Day of Judgment to take care of my Sphinx. Hero of Bladehold came down on his side. However, the Sphinx drew me into Dismember (which I used to kill the Hero) and a Hawk. I was on a pretty good run.
Everyone else from Texas was 2-1 or 1-2 at this time. A judge from West Texas told me between rounds that he thought the worst I would do is 6-1. While I loved the confidence he had in my abilities I was also fairly realistic in terms of my expectations. I was very confident in my Limited game, but the fact is out of a draft pod of eight only one person will 3-0. I am good, but 3-0ing is not a given by any means.
His double Tempered Steel draw made my play of Spell Piercing his Mox Opal on turn 1 look terrible. I manage to stabilize at six life after a Day of Judgment. Unfortunately he ripped Glint Hawk Idol. I dropped Consecrated Sphinx to draw two and chump, but I didn’t even get that option as he tapped my blocker with Dispatch to swing for lethal. With only one Tempered Steel I should be able to stabilize at a slightly higher life total. He did get to empty his hand quicker with Mox Opal in play. Dispatch also kills my Sphinx instead of just tapping it, but I doubt the Idol attack the very last turn would have been lethal.Â
That game was over in five minutes. I hoped that West Texas judge didn’t just jinx me. Game 2 went a little better. His Hero of Bladehold traded with my Emeria Angel (a bird token blocked it as well). I stabilized at twelve life with Sphinx in play. Things were looking pretty good, but he did have Shrine of Loyal Legions in play with three counters on it. I dropped Sword of Feast and Famine on my Sphinx and attacked. He tried to tap my Sphinx with a Dispatch and I was forced to pay two life and Mental Misstep it. I needed the lands untapped.
Things looked a lot worse the next turn when he tapped three lands to add Tempered Steel to the board. He then proceeded to attack with his Inkmoth Nexus. That attack was terrible because I was at twelve life and one poison. Taking a few more points of poison was not a big deal given what he had on the board. If he left the lands untapped he had the option of making five 3/3 soldier tokens with the Shrine of Loyal Legions. While I was at a decently high life total with a Sworded up Consecrated Sphinx in play, his attack with the Inkmoth Nexus decreased his outs. I simply attacked again with the Sphinx and passed the turn. With Colonnade in play and him living off the top of his deck he had almost no outs. That extra soldier token he waited for wasn’t going to help if he never got to attack with it. Sure enough I swung for lethal next turn.
I was never in much danger game three. He started off slowly with only lands, Ornithopter, and Shrine of Loyal Legions while I played Squadron Hawks turns 2 and 3. I actually put a Timely Reinforcement on the bottom of my deck with Preordain because we were tied in life total and I had more creatures than he did at the time. He dropped turn 4 Hero of Bladehold, and I played Emeria Angel. He attacked with the Hero, 2 tokens, and the Ornithopter. I decided to block his Ornithopter with my Angel and trade my Hawks for his soldier tokens. The block took him further away from metalcraft making Dispatch, Tempered Steel, and Steel Overseer a bit worse. Besides I had Gideon to deal with the Hero on my turn.
On his turn he tanked for a while before finally passing the turn. At the end of my turn he activated Legion to put a bunch of soldiers into play. He dropped Tempered Steel on turn 5. Inkmoth and the tokens took care of Gideon. On my turn I Revoked his Tempered Steel, played a land to get a bird token, and dropped two Squadron Hawks into play. I left the Emeria back this turn because I was at seventeen life with six lands play and Consecrated Sphinx in hand. If he played another Tempered Steel the soldier tokens would have made my life difficult. He didn’t have it and the Sphinx plus another Emeria Angel took the game in a few turns.
He congratulated me for 4-0ing and I wished him luck as well.
I couldn’t wait to draft. I was much more confident in shuffling up 40 cards than 60. While I haven’t drafted M12 more than a couple of times, this is a core set we’re talking about. I drafted quite a bit on Magic Online over the years. I’ve actually drafted all of the core sets, including M11 quite a bit. M12 doesn’t look that much different. B/R bloodthirst and U/G hexproof were the only new archetypes. U/W Skies didn’t look too different than before. Most of the colored featured few changes. All of my previous money finishes came at Limited Pro Tours.
I only recognized Kyle Sanchez from my draft table. Table 1 featured Luis Scott-Vargas, Todd Anderson, and Brad Nelson. To be fair I haven’t kept up with the who’s who of the Magic community in the last four or five years. There might have been plenty of solid players with success at the top draft tables I simply didn’t recognize. It was kind of cool to see Hall of Famers like Darwin Kastle and The Great One Bob Maher walking around. I’ve played this game for way too long.
Before the draft started Kyle told the whole table that he’d see me in the finals. He wished that this was a Ravnica block draft instead. I told him that I would have preferred Onslaught block. As soon as the draft started the guy passing to me screamed for a judge. The cards in his pack were facing the wrong directions. Two picks later the guy to my left called for a judge as well. One pack had mis-cut cards in it. Rookies.
The draft started off very well as I took a Mind Control from a mediocre pack. Pack two offered an interesting choice between Doom Blade, Chandra’s Phoenix, and Shock with a common missing. Interesting. Doom Blade’s the best common in the format. There were no foils in these drafts. Maybe the guy took Pacifism. Then again after that random judge call it could be anything. I grabbed the Doom Blade and made a mental note to stay away from white and red. The third pack offered Shock as the only option. I haven’t seen a blue card worth taking yet. It’s possible that blue has been cut and I must move into Black/Red. While I’m not thrilled about moving into red because of the Phoenix and the Shock I passed the pack before, it’s better to bite the bullet now and try to cut off red. Of course the final option was to grab some Divinations and splash for either the Shock or the Doom Blade.
Next pack I get passed another Chandra’s Phoenix, and red looked like the color to be in. I took a Goblin Fireslinger over an Assault Griffin with the following pick. I grabbed a couple of Duskhunter Bat and a Warpath Ghoul to round out the first pack. Goodbye Mind Control, and hello Bloodthirst aggro.
Pack 2 started off well with an Incinerate over an Overrun I cannot play. A couple of picks later I grabbed Shock over Adaptive Automaton. The very next pick I saw Sorin’s Thirst and another Adaptive Automaton. This time I grabbed the Automaton. I’m still not sure that was the correct move. With multiple Shocks, Incinerate, and a Doom Blade already I wanted something to beef up my creatures. Another two damage, somewhat hard to cast removal spell didn’t fit the plan at the moment. Of course the other Automaton came back around. I had to pass another Overrun pick 6 for Devouring Swarm. Generally I’m not a fan of hating when I donâ€˜t have to. My deck should be able to kill the small creatures and swarm before most green decks can end me with Overrun.
Pack three I opened Fireball and slammed it down. I had to take a Blood Ogre over a Goblin Chieftain, and a couple of picks later I took a much needed Gorehorn Minotaurs over a Goblin Piker. Unfortunately I round out the pack with two Goblin Grenades. I saw another one early in pack 2 that I was unable to take. There are times when I wish I could go back in time and redraft based on what I know will come around. I don’t want to tell my grandpa, who passed away recently, that I loved him. I don’t want to prevent any murders or accidents. All I want to do is draft a nutty goblin deck.
The list from the Mothership had me playing with a Chandra, the Firebrand instead of the Phoenix.
2Â Adaptive Automaton
1Â Blood Ogre
1Â Blood Seeker
1Â Crimson Mage
1 Â Chandra’s Phoenix
1Â Devouring Swarm
2Â Duskhunter Bat
3Â Goblin Fireslinger
1Â Gorehorn Minotaurs
1Â Tormented Soul
1Â Warpath Ghoul
I decided to go with sixteen lands because I have a super low curve. I did not want to flood with this deck. That’s how aggressive decks lose in most formats. The Distress was the last card cut. The double black casting cost played a huge role in the decision.; it’s not something I can cast consistently early on. Manic Vandal kills my Greatsword. There were two Crown of Empires going around the draft, but that card is not very good against me. Goblin War Paint is not very good with three Goblin Fireslingers. While I like Lightning Elemental I like Act of Treason just a little better. Act of Treason takes away a blocker while giving you an attacker. With my deck a single overwhelming and unexpected attack should take the game. Fireslingers should be able to finish the job.
Brendan Hurst playing U/W
I mulligan a five land, Greatsword, and Fireslinger hand into a three land Greatsword, Fireslinger, and Automaton hand. I led off with the Fireslinger and Automaton naming warriors (I have five other Warriors) while he played Stormfront Pegasus and Benalish Veteran. I drew into Goblin Grenade early on so I’m not blocking. He was also content with racing. Turn 4 I dropped Chandra’s Phoenix into play and swung with the team. A Crown of Empires and Ice Cage slowed me down some, but ultimately Goblin Grenades took the game. Manic Vandal (against Crown) and War Paint (against Ice Cage) came in for the Warpath Ghoul and Sword. He ran a tempo deck which Greatsword is too slow for.
Game two he started off with a Phantasmal Bear and that pesky Pegasus. My Fireslinger looked a little lonely. The good news is I still remembered how to play this game. I doubled checked with a judge that if I targeted both of my opponent’s creatures with Fireball and paid one mana for X, it will kill both of creatures. The judged told me that while he can’t help me with a play, my line of reasoning is correct. I’m still not sure what that meant. The Fireball turned a slaughter into something of a close race. He continued playing threats in the form of the Skywinder Drake, Benalish Veteran, and Aether Adept. I kept up with Blood Seeker, Automaton, and Blood Ogre. I had Doom Blade and a ton of creatures in play. I’m at seven and he attacked me with the Skywinder Drake and Benalish Veteran. I was fairly certain Blue/White doesn’t have burn so I took the damage going to 1 life. I wanted to save the Doom Blade for a possible blocker.
Of course he played the worst blocker possible for me. Stonehorn Dignitary removed my attack phase. This just became a close game. At the end of turn I Doom Bladed his flier wishing I were at 4 life instead of 1. My deck forgave my misplay and put a Goblin Grenade on top. What a fun card. I apologized for peeling, because I’ve been on the other side before. To be fair I still had a decent shot of winning the game. He no longer had a flier and my pinger put inevitability on my side. I also had more creatures than he did.
David Daniel playing U/W/r
I kept an opening hand of Duskhunter Bat, Blood Ogre, and Devouring Swarm. Turn 2 I peeled Fireslinger and no longer needed to run the Bat out there as a Bloodthirst enabler. Armored Warhorse took me down to sixteen before a thirsty Blood Orge halted his attacks. He played Jace’s Archivist and I was holding two Shocks at the time. I really wanted him to activate the Archivist so I can kill it and something else in response and profit from him having more cards. Unfortunately that never happened. Slinger and friends grinded him down to five life and I peeled that singleton Goblin Grenade once again.
Game two is much more interesting. We were racing the whole game. He’s at seven. He attacked me down to six life on his turn before dropping Grand Abolisher. I responded by shooting him with my Fireslinger. He then tapped out and pointed a two point Fireball at my Duskhunter Bat, paused for a second and tried to change his target to the Devouring Swarm. I told him he picked his target already, and he didn’t put up a fight. I untapped, pinged him down to 5 life, sacrificed my pinger to the Swarm and attacked for the final five damage in the air with the Swarm and Chandra’s Phoenix. He pretty much died to the board. He doesn’t have enough to kill me the next turn, but that line of play was super awkward. I was still up a game in this match, but this incident was pretty lucky. Sometimes you just run good.
I sat down at my table and waited for my opponent to show up. I shuffled and wait and waited some more. Could I get this lucky? Meanwhile in the match next to me Brad Nelson tried to make small talk with his opponent. Nelson was in the second worst color in M12, B/G. He asked if his opponent was in the worst color, B/W. His opponent didn’t answer. Then Nelson asked if his opponent would concede? His opponent didnâ€˜t. “It doesn’t hurt right?” Nelson stated. Around this time I heard my name called over the loud speakers, “Haibing Hu please report to the feature match area.” No free wins for me I guess. I grabbed my stuff and left. Luckily this match was covered by Wizards. You can find the match here.Â
Game one he killed everything I played. I stayed at a comfortable 16 life for most of the game. One turn towards the end I Shocked him down to 3 life because I can peel a Mountain and win with the Chandra’s Phoenix I’ve been holding all game. There’s no point to hide Skyknight Legionnaire. Of course on my turn instead of the Mountain I drew Fireball. I thought about it and decided to not show him the card. Two attacks later I won.
The interesting thing about game two is I kept a one lander when he decided to mulligan. His second mulligan made my decision even safer. The hand was a Mountain, Shock, Incinerate, Doom Blade, two Automatons, and Lightning Elemental. Like a champ I ripped three swamps in a row. Sometimes you run hot.
Going undefeated day one was pretty sweet. I’m still confident in my ability to draft. For the first time I thought I had a real chance to top 8. We went out to eat with the Texas crew. I tried to guess the waitress’ age, but failed miserably. Magic-wise the rest of the Texas players didn’t do as well. Most were in the Rusted Sentinel bracket. We headed back to the convention center and team drafted. Then I headed back to the hotel and called it a night. We sat down and drank a few beers with Sports Center playing in the background. Sometimes that’s all you need after a long day of slinging cards or tarring roof. We felt like free men.
I took pretty good notes on the first day of US Nationals. The endless magic and the seventeen hour drive from Houston took a toll day two. I got a feature match, played under the GGSLive cameras, and Brian David Marshall covered my draft. I got lazy and didn’t take notes nearly as well. By not nearly as well I meant not at all. Let’s hope my recollection of day two is more accurate than not.Â
Brian David-Marshall covered the draft, so I’m just going to go over a couple of the interesting picks. Pick 1 Sengir Vampire was a no-brainer. There was an Aether Adept in the pack. While the difference in value between the two cards were not close, I wanted to remember the signals I sent early on. Pick 2 the rare was missing. I was faced with an easy choice and took Incinerate. There was a Skywinder Drake in the pack so odds are the person I’m passing to is in blue. Pick 3 I saw Sphinx of Uthuun staring back at me. The card was a signal and a bomb. I couldn’t imagine too many cards being taken ahead of it(a common and uncommon were missing). The problem once again was how deep blue was this draft. There was another Skywinder Drake in this pack. The guy to my left will almost certainly be in blue. While I don’t like to jump into a color I passed, I also don’t want to ignore a very clear signal from the person passing to me. I would rather fight for blue in pack 2 and hopefully reap the benefits in packs 1 and 3.
Pack two I grabbed an Aether Adept first pick while passing an Overrun, because this might be the last solid blue card I see for a while. Second pick I was faced with a choice between Gideon, Divination, Mind Rot, Warpath Ghoul, and another mediocre black card. I didn’t have a ton of blue cards at the time and switching was still an option. Manalith from pack 1 gave me the option of possibly splashing for the Sphinx, a very late game card. If I see a couple of Pacifisms and Assault Griffins this pack I can abandon one of my other colors. Worst case scenario I should see one of the mediocre blue or black cards from this pack back. I tabled the Mind Rot back from this pack. Basically I got a playable card from the pack, I was up a Gideon for the draft, and I won’t have to face the Planeswalker. It wasn’t a terrible decision. I guess in theory I could have taken Divination and tabled the Mind Rot.
In the last pack I opened Doom Blade and picked up two Vampire Outcast early on. Around pick 6 I was faced with the option of taking Outcast #3 or a Tormented Soul. Normally in U/B you don’t need Tormenting Soul badly because you have fliers to power out your bloodthirst guys. I had very few fliers at the time. In the end I sided with power. I tend to do that sometimes.
1Â Aether Adept
1Â Alluring Siren
2Â Bloodrage Vampire
1Â Chasm Drake
2Â Coral Merfolk
1Â Drifting Shade
1Â Duskhunter Bat
1Â Merfolk Looter
1Â Phantasmal Bear
1Â Sengir Vampire
1Â Sphinx of Uthuun
3Â Vampire Outcasts
Todd Anderson playing B/R
We played in the feature match area, and BDM covered the match for Wizards. Unfortunately I can’t find it anywhere. I didn’t take any notes from this round. Game one Todd rolled me. He started off with Tormenting Soul. Then he used the Devouring Swarm and Act of Treason combo to answer my Vampire Outcast. Mind Rot showed a Fling.
Game two I have no idea what happened. Judging from my life pad it looked like I played a bunch of 2 powered guys and he played a bunch of one powered guys. The game ended with me at eleven.
Game three he led off with Tormented Soul and then double Tormented Soul. Not to be outdone I played Phantasmal Bear, Duskhunter Bat, and Bloodrage Vampire. He added a fourth Soul and a Devouring Swarm to the mix but didnâ€˜t draw much else. Devouring Swarm ate two Tormented Souls to take out the Bear. Next turn it traded with the bloodthirst Bloodrage Vampire. That’s the problem with cards like Tormented Soul; sometimes you draw way too many enablers and no bloodthirst creatures.
After the round my friends and I went to Steak and Shake to lunch. There was 35 minutes left in the round when we left. We got to the restaurant with about 30 minutes to spare. There was a short wait for a table and a short wait for takeout. We thought we had plenty of time to make it back so we asked for a table. It took them a good three minutes to clear off the table and seat us. At the very last moment I changed my mind and got my order togo. There’s no point risking showing up late when I’m 8-0. I made it back to the convention center with roughly 6 minutes left on the clock from the current round. I devoured my burger and fries. I looked up and sure enough the pairing went up. I texted my buddies telling them to hurry as I went to find my table. They all ran in two minutes after the round started and got game losses. Well, one guy didn’t because his opponent was equally late.
Wesley Wise G/R/b
Turn 4 in game 1 I considered Doom Blading his Stampeding Rhino and attacking with my 3/1 Vampire. The problem was I have Vampire Outcast in hand and I really want to resolve it as a 4/4 next turn. By passing the turn and taking four damage from the Rhino I can Doom Blade Vastwood Gorger or Greater Basilisk if he dropped it during his turn. He played a thirsty Lurking Crocodile. There’s no way he was going to block 3/1 with his Crocodile, I can race his Crocodile with my 4/4 lifelinker, and I didn’t want him to keep a creature he can trade with the Outcast. Now my play of not Doom Blading the Rhino looked noobish. I took a seven point life swing to get full value out of Vampire Outcast, and he ruined that plan with an Incinerate.
From here on out the game becomes simple. Outcast kept me at a safe life total while Sphinx of Uthuun put me over the edge.
Wes played pretty well right? Putting a Web on my turn 2 Duskhunter Bat and Incinerating the 3/1 vampire kept me from getting out a turn 4 Outcast. Game two showed his other side. He started off quickly with a Trollhide on a Crimson Mage. He ramped up to a Stampeding Rhino. I was on the draw and kept a slow hand so I didn’t have a lot of options. Mind Rot forced him to discard a Swamp that would strand a Doom Blade in his hand later on in the game. At 8 life he swung in with the 4/3 Crimson Mage and the 4/4 trampler. I put my 4/2 Bloodrage Vampire in front of his trampler and marked my life down to 2 (four from the Mage and 2 from the trampling rhino). I looked over and Wes moved me to 4 life. I guess he was assigning all four damage to the 4/2. After combat he casted Garruk’s Champion. If he played that before combat and gave it haste I would have had to make terrible blocks to stay alive. Regenerating the Crimson Mage was not that big of a deal if he could end the game in a turn.
On my turn I played Merfolk Looter. He attacked with both creatures and I blocked the Mage with the Looter going to 1 life. Looking back this block was terrible because I will never activate my Siren. He passed the turn without playing a creature which gave me a little breathing room. Sphinx of Uthuun revealed 2 lands, Frost Breath, Coral Merfolk, and Vampire Outcast. He put Frost Breath into a pile by itself. The best card from that pile was Vampire Outcast. He was still at 14 life while I have a 5/6 flier and a 1/1 with an useless ability. I’m not sure why he was afraid of Frost Breath. The coverage team said maybe that he was trying to next level me. The only way he could have screwed up the split more is if he put Outcast and Frost Breath into the same pile. He added a Vastwood Gorger the following turn. I attacked with my Sphinx to put him at 9 life and dropped the 4/4 life linker and Coral Merfolk. I was at one life and had three creatures to his three creatures. He played a Llanowar elf, gave it haste and swung with the team. Thanks to the way lifelink works now I blocked, double chumped, and gained 3 life.
I had exactly nine power to his nine life on the board. He had 4 untapped lands and one card in hand. You don’t get to 8-0 by being a wussy. I attacked and he scooped. Wow. I walked away and a friend asked me if I had won. I nodded and shook my head simultaneously. I had no idea how that just happened. I was pretty sure he threw away that game three different times. Granted I was up a game and still had a shot to remain undefeated, but I didn’t expect that level of play in the 8-0 bracket at US Nationals. I’ll be the first to admit whenever I make a play mistake, but that last game was horrible. It reminded me of the time when Marge developed a gambling problem.
Homer: You know, Marge, for the first time in our marriage I can finally look down my nose at you. _You_ have a gambling problem!
Marge: That’s true. Will you forgive me?
Homer: Oh, sure. Remember when I got caught stealing all those watches from Sears?
Homer: Well, that’s nothing, because you have a gambling problem! And remember when I let that escaped lunatic in the house ’cause he was dressed like Santa Claus?
Homer: Well you have a gambling problem!
Marge: Homer, when you forgive someone, you can’t throw it back at them like that.
Homer: Aw, what a gyp.
Â Â Â [They kiss]
Homer: Remember when I —
Homer: Oh, yeah; I forgot already.
Adam Yurchick playing U/R
All that good blue I passed pack one ended up in Adam’s deck. The guy between us apparently drafted a B/R with a few mediocre black cards. He started off strong with a turn 2 Merfolk Looter and turn 3 Skywinder Drake. My hand had no answer to the flier so I Doom Blade the flier instead of the looter. A normal Bloodrage Vampire led to a bloodthirsty Outcast. He dropped Throne of Empires the following turn with mana to make a token. I sent both creatures into the combat zone and the Bloodrage Vampire died along with his token. He played an Amphin Cutthroat next turn and decided to take four more damage from the Outcast. With the token me made at the end of this turn and the one he can make the next turn, he can triple block and kill my Vampire Outcast. The Outcast stopped attacking.
Luckily I drew Sengir Vampire to continue the pressure. One attack later and the Vampire died to a Chandra’s Outrage. I Gravediggered back the Sengir, but this time he has Frost Titan to keep the Vampire in check. He started attacking with the Frost Titan. Thanks to the 12 points of life I gained from Vampire Outcast, I’m at a comfortable 30 when he began his offenses. Luckily I peeled Sphinx of Uthuun revealing another Outcast. He tapped 5/6 flier down for a turn and bounced my Outcast with an Aether Adept. I had enough creatures to take out the Titan if he doesn’t make this play. On my turn the unlocked Sengir attacked putting him at one life. I played a land and summoned double Outcasts. Unable to deal with both fliers he packed it in.
Game two was less exciting. I kept a five land hand and drew a total of eleven lands and five spells. It happens. There was a window for me to play a 2/2 Vampire Outcast. If it got through next turn, I could have played a 4/4 Outcasts. I finally played the Vampire as a blocker, because I kept on drawing more lands. Eventually the combo of Throne of Empires and Warstorm Surge overwhelmed me.
Game three I kept a three land hand with Bat and Outcast. Turn 2 I drew Phantasmal Bear and summon that instead. Bat came down on turn 3. On turn four I had the option of running out Vampire Outcast. He passed with all of his lands untapped. Last game I saw a Cancel from him, but I don’t think he ran more than one. Keep in mind that I saw none after a long and drawn out first game. He could have boarded one or more in. I had a few options. I could pass the turn and do nothing. That might allow him to get back into the game. I can walk into the Cancel. This play isn’t terrible for me because I still have a couple of 2/2s on the board with him at fourteen life. Of course there was the chance he didn’t have the Cancel and playing a Outcast put him too far behind to come back.
I didn’t get to 9-0 by being a wussy. He had the Cancel. Oh well. Amphin Cutthroat came down for him next turn as Duskhunter Bat dealt two more damage to him. He Incinerated the Bat next turn and sat back. On my turn 6 I had the option of playing double Mind Rot or Harbor Serpent. He still had five cards in hand thanks to an earlier Divination. The card I’m most afraid of was Frost Titan. If he had Frost Titan in hand he would have to discard everything else. He can still peel a land and play Frost Titan on his turn. There’s also the unlikely scenario where he has Frost Titan in hand, but didn’t have land #6 to play it. He needed to play two cards with five mana for me to double Mind Rot the Titan out of his hand following turn. In the end I decided to get the 5/5 on the board. If he did have the Titan there’s not much I can do about it. If he didn’t have the Titan the 5/5 is a much better play.
Frost Titan came down the next turn to shut down my Serpent. Double Mind Rot the following turn revealed two lands, Phantasmal Dragon, and something else. I took a hit from the Titan to go to fourteen life. Chasm Drake came down on my side of the board the next turn as Phantasmal Bear chump blocked the Titan on his turn. He dropped Throne of Empires and passed the turn back. Like a champ I peeled Doom Blade. We both had six lands in play; he had two untapped. I waited from him to make a token at the end of my turn to Doom Blade his Titan. I had to pay an extra two mana because of the Frost Titan and Mana Leak was reprinted in M12. He asked me if I was playing Doom Blade during his upkeep. No sir.
He drew nothing the next few turns. Chasm Drake brought Harbor Serpent along for a ride. Gravedigger brought back Duskhunter Bat. Sometimes you just run hot. After the match some guy asked me to sign a card for his wife. Apparently she was watching the coverage. I asked if he wanted me to sign the card in English or Chinese. I could get use to this kind of fame.
Joshua Howe playing Goblins
This game was covered by GGsLive, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Game one an early Goblin Guide revealed Timely Reinforcement. I screwed up again this game by Preordaining and keeping both a land and Day of Judgment. I drew the land and left Day on top. My line of thinking at the time was flawed to say the least. I doubt my opponent would commit more creatures to the board. The Day of Judgment on top might mask the one I was holding in my hand at the time. Nobody played around the second Day of Judgments against a deck that ran two. I should have gotten the card advantage and been happy with it. I stabilized at a cool sixteen life before taking the game. I apologize for the lack of notes, but thank goodness I still have life totals from the event.
Game 2 went pretty long. I used an early Mana Leak to counter a spell. I was pretty happy because I boarded out all of the other main deck counters in favor of Flash Freezes and Mental Missteps. That singleton Mana Leak might make him play differently this game and possibly game three. A late Timely Reinforcement brought me back to 10 life. He peeled Spikeshot Elder, and I had the option of playing Consecrated Sphinx or Gideon Jura. I went with the latter because I had three 1/1s in play. By forcing him to attack I can save a few points of life if he shoots all of my blockers. Gideon also hits harder than the Sphinx. Instead he shot me at the end of turn, attacked into my blockers, and played another Spikeshot Elder. Gideon attacked with his friends taking my opponent down to five life. He shot me a few more times and Goblin Grenaded me out.
Game three goes pretty long too. Dismember took out a Hero of Oxid Ridge. Flashfreeze took out another one. Into the Roil on Burning Rage forced him to hit me or Emeria Angel for 5. He targeted me and had a small window to Goblin Grenade me out of the game. I played Sphinx next turn. Sphinx drew 6 cards and closed the deal. I believe I countered a Grenade with Mental Misstep the last turn of the game.
Ali Aintrazi playing U/B Control
Ali crushed me in two games. I cannot tell you how it happened, just that it happened.
James McLeod playing Pyromancer Ascension
I remembered this round a little better. I asked if he wanted to draw and he declined. Game one went to the wires. I saw that he was playing U/R, but wasn’t sure if it was Twins or Pyromancer. I did very little testing for the format, so I had no idea about the nuances of the decks. As a result I left mana open for far too many turns. As soon as I figured out that he was indeed running Pyromancer I ran two Emeria Angels out onto the battlefield. With Squadron Hawks and fetch lands I was able to put a ton of pressure on him. He had to use his Burst Lightnings and Lightning Bolts to stay alive. Sure he was drawing a bunch of cards, but he needed to live long enough to be able to use them. I was at a comfortable eighteen points of life. After going through three Burst Lightnings and two Lightning Bolts I was out of gas. I thought I was still sitting pretty until he played Pyromancer number 2, put two counters on it quickly, finished me with two Lightning Bolts. Maybe I should have played this deck.
He shuffled his sideboard into his deck. I cut most of the useless cards in this matchup and brought in Flashfreezes and Mental Missteps. Now I had no idea how this matchup is suppose to go. I remembered Carlos Ramao solving the Tog mirror by using counters to fight for Togs only. I figured I should only fight over Pyromancer and burn spells. I also kept in two Dismembers just in case he boarded into the Twin combo.
I was 99% sure he’s not running the Twin combo by the start of game three, so I boarded out the Dismembers. He saw this and shuffled his sideboard into this deck again. I didn’t fall for it this time around. He bounced my Sphinx two or three times before running out of Into the Roils. I’m kind of glad I didn’t located that second Jace Beleren. The second Consecrated Sphinx was money all weekend.
David Ochoa and the concession
After 13 rounds I was in first place with 36 points. David Ochoa and Ali Aintrazi drew the last round and stood at a comfortable 34 points. I thought LSV had 31 points. There were eight players at 30 points who battled it out for the last four spots. LSV talked Ali into drawing with him the final round. David and I were going to draw as well. The way the math worked out was I should remain in first place and Luis should be guaranteed eighth place. I didn’t want to face the Caw-Blade Mirror in the first round against arguably the best player in the world right now. David took a while thinking about something, and said the he might concede. I jumped at this opportunity and offered to concede myself. A concession would allow David to jump me in the standings and face is buddy LSV in the quarterfinals. He thought about it for a second and said sure and thanks.
The judge grabbed our slips. For a while there I thought I pulled a fast one on the Channelfireball crew. Did I just luck my way out of a quarterfinal mirror against LSV? Of course later on I found out that I simply read the standing incorrectly. He was at 33 points prior to his draw with Ali. The draw locked him into fourth place in the standings. I gave away a few rating points for what could have been a cool story. I seriously thought I was next leveling the Channelfireball for a moment there. Oh well.
I filled out the top 8 profile sheet before heading out. I also didn’t realize until reading the third/fourth place match coverage that the reporter had it out for me. Haibing Boo, really? Alright, it’s kind of witty. I’d give it a 6 on a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of cleverness. Sure I said representing the US at Worlds ranks about a 7 out of 10, but let’s take things into perspective here. How high would you rank the birth of your child or your wedding day? Those days are up there. What about the time you met your soul mate or the night you just knew she was the one? Where does winning a PT or Worlds rank? I thought giving the importance of representing the US a 7 out of 10 was fair and maybe even generous. Magic is still a game.
I would also like to take this chance to set the facts straight. While I do post draft caps on Texasmagiczone.com, I do not go by the username of phuqdao. That was an inside joke between us, because I get mistaken for him a whole lot. Every time I go to a PTQ or GP I get asked the same questions. Am I Phu Q Dao? Do I know Phu Q Dao? Can I have your autograph Mr. Phu Q Dao? Sure we’re both Asian and I guess we kind of look alike, but Phu is a much better magic player than I am. I am honored I get mistaken for him as much as I do.
After the questionnaire we went to Fogo de Chao. In between stuffing meat and more meat, David Thomas and I talked about the sideboard plan against the mirror. We decided to take out the Timely Reinforcements for a Dismember and Deprive. I thought about fitting another Day of Judgment in there, because Consecrated Sphinx and Emeria Angel needed immediate answers. Ty Thomson, probably the best magic player in Texas, and Will Lowry, one of 6 guys to beat Kai Budde in the top 8 of a GP or PT, tested the matchup out for me as I slept. They arrived at basically the same conclusions. Ty didn’t think I needed the Day of Judgment. Emeria Angel is a fine answer for Emeria Angel, besides, there was nothing to take out for the Day of Judgment.
The top 8 was covered pretty extensively by the Mothership and GGsLive. I won’t go into details about it.
Owen Turtenwald playing Caw-Blade
I conceded myself out of the first seed only to face most accomplished player in the lower half of the bracket. Well done. Luckily I drew better.
Ali Aintrazi playing U/B Control
I knew the matchup was bad.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was on a 5 game losing streak going into game 3. I tend to have very short term memory for these kinds of things. While it’s good in terms of concentrating on one game at a time, it’s not so good in team drafts when I’m trying to remember what I passed in either direction.
The judge call: I was at nine life and he was at two. I had a Celestial Colonnade and a Squadron Hawk with Sword of Feast and Famine. He had Consecrated Sphinx and man lands. I was holding Diving Offering and Dismember at the time. I attacked with both of my creatures. He animated his Colonnade. I agreed. He animated his Nexus. I agreed as well. There was a pause. He then put the Nexus in front of my Colonnade and his Colonnade in front of my 3/3 Hawk. There was about a three second pause before I said I wasn’t ready to go to the declare blockers step. I had two mana available and I wanted some more time to process this complicated combat phase. A judge was called and he ruled that blocks were declared already. The quote he got was apparently fifteen seconds. I thought the pause was for about three seconds, maybe five, but not anywhere near fifteen seconds.
The crazy thing about the ruling was that it actually worked out for me. With only two mana available playing either spell before combat would have allowed my opponent to block with his Sphinx without fear. That would have left me creatureless. The block he made was the best possible block for me. He lost 2 man lands and I was down a Dismember.
Of course none of this would have made a difference if I had just equip the Hawk the turn before. Then I would have had enough mana for both Dismember(Colonnade) and Divine Offering(Inkmoth Nexus). I could have won the game right there. I’m so bad at this game sometimes.
The final turn of game five got a lot of coverage, and it pretty much summed up the weekend for me. I had eight untapped lands to Brandon’s seven. I was at five life and he was at two life. He paid two mana to equip his Sphinx with Sword of Feast and Famine and swung in. At five life facing a six powered creature I had few options. Luckily I still had the Diving Offering I contemplated using early on in the game. He thought long and hard before letting Divine Offering resolve. I took the damage from the Sphinx going to four life. At the end of turn I tried to throw the game away by using Tectonic Edge on his Inkmoth Nexus, his only blocker for my lethal Hawk. He tapped two mana to Into the Roil my Hawk. He had three mana open and I Leaked it. He looked through my graveyard three times before finally paying for the Leak. I had played 4 Mana Leaks and 3 Spell Pierce this game. It has been a long day and he forgot about the Deprive from my sideboard which he saw last game.
Brandon was a good sport and shook my hand a while later. That had to be a devastating game to lose. I’m pretty sure he would have won if he sat back on the Sphinx for two more turns. I also tried to throw the game away by using Tectonic Edge at the end of turn. I didn’t want him to draw two more cards with the Sphinx during my draw step. He needed some combination of Into the Roil, Mana Leak, and Spell Pierce to stop me. With eleven cards left in his library, he still had 2 Spell Pierce, 1 Mana Leak, and 1 Into the Roil left. If I had waited to untap to make my move, he needed all 4 cards and an extra mana to stop me. The bottom line was I can’t lose if I wait until my upkeep to Tectonic Edge his Inkmoth. I’m sure Brandon went over that last turn in his head a ton of times too. That was the weekend for me. Sometimes you play bad and run hot.
As I was finishing this report my roommate asked what I was doing. I gave him a basic description of a tournament report, and he asked whether I should give out all of my secret strategies. This guy thinks I’m fantastic at Magic by the way. Part of it is another friend talking me up, and part of it is my fault for playing along. I doubt people are getting strategic value out of this article. If they learned anything from my weekend it’s sometimes you just run good. Not wanting to let my roommate down, I lied and told him that there’s a difference between watching a kung fu movie and going out and kicking ass. He thought about it, then nodded and walked away. Mission accomplished. This was probably the longest tournament report I have ever written. The fewer the distractions the better.