I had high hopes for US Nationals. I’d been playing in a great deal of Standard tournaments at the local stores in Denver, CO. It took me a few tries to find a deck that I liked, but once I found it, I kept playing and tuning it. And I kept winning. Things were looking good in that department. Mike Turian had suggested Stampede Driver in the green beatdown deck. Jon Finkel had suggested Tangle Wire. Both were amazing in the deck and after trying them, I quickly fell in love with them.
It was a bit difficult to prepare for the draft portion, as we only had a few weeks to work with Prophecy. I had played in two days of pre-releases in order to get used to the cards and I got myself involved in as many Masques/Nemesis/Prophecy booster drafts as possible. Early on, I was a fan of green. Silt Crawler was a beat stick, helping out Green’s already solid mana curve. Thresher Beast, Rib Cage Spider, and Wild Might didn’t hurt matters, either. My favorite color combination going into US Nationals was Green/Black, but I was perfectly willing to draft green/anything as long as that anything provided me with some removal or bounce.
Despite my eagerness to draft green, I certainly didn’t ignore the cards. If they told me to draft other colors, that’s what I did. It just so happens, that’s what they told me.
In my first draft, I started out drafting white, taking a Heavy Ballista, Muzzle, and few other decent white cards early on. Then I received a 7th or 8th pick Maggot Therapy and I decided that someone was giving me a sign. Now I had two colors, neither of which were green. Nemesis didn’t bring me quite as many Intimidators as I was hoping for, but it didn’t suck for me either. Prophecy, though, made my deck (or so it seemed). After taking first pick Agent of Shauku, I received 2nd pick Plague Wind, 3rd pick Avatar of Woe, 4th pick Avatar of Woe, 5th pick Troubled Healer. Wow.
It looked pretty good to me, but I probably should’ve looked at the casting cost on the Avatars and put them in the sideboard in favor of cards that I could cast. Still, they were at least pretty to look at in my hand as I beat my opponents down with Mercenaries.
Draft Deck #1:
Agent of Shauku
2 Cateran Persuaders
2 Belbe’s Perchers
2 Avatar of Woe
Seal of Cleansing
The deck worked amazingly well, despite the fact that I had three crazy expensive cards in the deck. I beat both Trevor Blackwell and Joe Whitman 2 games to 0, only losing to Derek del Rosario’s ultra-aggressive green/blue deck that featured more Silt Crawlers, Snorting Gahrs, and 3/3 lands than I could deal with (thanks to the Empress of Beasts). In three matches, I never cast an Avatar of Woe or a Plague Wind, and not because I didn’t draw them. In one game that I recall, I had enough land to cast either if I happened to draw them. The lesson that I learned? Avatars look pretty mean, but I’d much rather have a card that I can cast.
The second draft went strangely. I started out drafting blue and only blue, picking up Drake Hatchling, Rishadan Airship, Counterspell, Saprazzan Legate, Brainstorm, and Cloud Sprite in the first set of packs. I kept an eye on what I was passing (and it wasn’t removal spells) and I’d past a great deal of green, white, and red to the guy on my left. I hadn’t passed him a drop of black, which meant that someone to my right was snatching it all up, but I figured that I was likely to get the Nemesis black, which is pretty good stuff. I opened my first Nemesis pack and there was a Rathi Intimidator. So I took it. I ended up picking up a few black beasties that helped fill out my mana curve like Spineless Thugs and Battlefield Percher, but once again, I didn’t see a drop of removal. And I passed two or three Blastoderms to the guy on my right. Hmmm… by the time the Prophecy had ended, I had a super aggressive deck with a Dominate and a Withdraw and a million evasion creatures. I could win with this deck.
Draft Deck #2:
3 Ribbon Snakes
2 Spineless Thugs
Agent of Shauku
The deck treated me well, letting me beat my first two opponents, Mike Pustilnik and David Jafari, 2-0. The match against Mike was especially exciting and not wanting to stall him out after winning the first game, I attempted to win the second game and almost lost to a Soothing Balm, if not for the Daze in my hand. Scary stuff. The third match with this deck was against Jason Moungey, who had a monster of a Red/Green deck, sitting directly to my right in the draft. Despite the fact that his deck was better, it went to three games and I was so close to pulling it out, if only my friend, Agent of Shauku, had made an appearance. Unfortunately, he didn’t show up and Jason won the match, 2-1.
So after the draft, I was 4-2. All four of the matches that I won, I won convincingly (2-0). My losses were an 0-2 beating and a 1-2 squeaker. I had a great deck for the Standard the next day, so I went back to the Pittsburg Trio’s room (Turian, Forsythe, and Fung) and got some sleep.
This deck was good. I knew I had an advantage against almost every deck at the tournament, save one: Rebels. Even against Rebels, I had a chance of winning thanks to the Blastoderm/Stampede Driver combo and the Masticores in my sideboard, but it wasn’t too likely to happen. I needed to go 5-1 in order to come in 8th place. By now, you probably know what happened. I went 4-2.
My wins were against Lee Steht playing Red Burn, John Lind playing Bargain, David Jafari playing Control Green with Armageddons, and Chris Manning playing Control Black. Each of these four matches I won 2-0. The two that I lost were against Phillip Keffer playing Red Burn and Jacob Stirler playing Rebels. Both of which, I lost 1-2. I had no problem losing to Jacob. It was a bad matchup for me and I almost pulled it out. But I didn’t. Against Phillip, however, it was a very close game, going to three games, and I lost. And that entire time, I never saw a Blastoderm. One Blastoderm and I win the match. But it wasn’t to be…
So ended the tournament with an 8-4 match record. All eight of my wins were 2-0. Three of my four losses were 1-2. If I had gotten a small break anywhere, I would’ve been 8th place and playing in the top 8 to be a member of the US Nationals team. As it was, I ended up in 17th place. Not bad at all, considering the competition.
So I had high hopes for US Nationals… were my hopes fulfilled? Not precisely. If my hopes weren’t fulfilled, then the impossible dream certainly was. Mike Long was finally punished for cheating. It takes a while for the lumbering bureaucracy that is the DCI to get working, but once it does, it appears to work pretty well. In the Masters event, Mike Long and his opponent were deck checked and a pattern was found in Mike Long’s draft deck. Since Mike had already received a warning for "poor shuffling technique" at PT-LA, this duplicate warning meant that he was ejected from the Masters tournament with no prizes. He is currently under investigation by the DCI.
As the Masters event was separate from US Nationals, this didn’t effect his bid to be on the US National team. What did effect it, however, was the fact that he was playing a mono-blue deck from the 1970s. Palinchrons, Scrying Glasses, oh my…
Mike ended up losing to both Aaron Forsythe and Frank Hernandez. To those who don’t believe in karma, I point to the fact that both ended up on the US Nationals team. As Long was getting beaten down by Rushwood Legates and Ancient Hydras, Jon Finkel, the best Magic player in the world and one of the few surviving members of team Deadguy, became our National Champion.
Like I said, I love it when the good guys win.
Congrats to the US Nationals team and to the three top 8’ers Mike Turian, Aaron Forsythe, and Elliot Fung for showing the world what Pittsburgh can do without Randy Buehler and Erik Lauer. Props to the DCI for doing the right thing.
Stay tuned next week, where I’ll be sure to let you know how Grand Prix – Pittsburgh went for the unlikely trio of myself, Gary Krakower, and Matt Vienneau.
King of the Qualifiers