The Black Perspective: US Nationals Report *11th*

With Nationals behind us, Skullclamp now joins the ranks of attractive women and people of average body weight as things you won’t be playing against at a Magic tournament. A few weeks ago Wizards decided to ban everyone’s favorite piece of equipment and issued this formal apology . . .

“Listen, you don’t want to mess with me, because I’ll kill you, then I’ll go to work on you.” – Judge Sheldon Menery

With Nationals behind us, Skullclamp now joins the ranks of attractive women and people of average body weight as things you won’t be playing against at a Magic tournament. A few weeks ago Wizards decided to ban everyone’s favorite piece of equipment and issued this formal apology . . .

Spilt Skullclamp

Dear Magic Players of the World,

We here at Wizards of the Coast greatly apologize for what we did. We promise to not make any more mistakes like Skullclamp in the future and hope you grow to enjoy Magic once again.

Wait a second, did we end up printing Krark-Clan Ironworks or not? Oh crap!

Expect another one of these letters in the fall.

Yours Truly,

Randy Horatio Buehler

Wizards Research & Development

Sadly though, the ban was not in effect for Nationals, so we had to endure one more tournament of Donkey’s drawing two cards and beating us because of it. On the plus side, this did make testing slightly easier for us. A rule of thumb tends to be, if they’re banning a card right after a tournament is over, you probably should make every attempt to play it before it goes away. So with that in mind, there were only three decks I really considered playing at Nationals: Goblins, Affinity, and Elf and Nail. I was fully aware of U/W, G/W, and even Big Red decks existing, but none of them seemed too powerful in my opinion.

The Preparation

So my teammates on Togit started working primarily on those three decks. I focused most of my work on Elf and Nail, as it was the one of the three I had least experience with. I found the deck to be a lot of fun to play and started to figure out the intricacies of the matchups it had with the other decks. It seemed to me that it had a good matchup with everything in the format with the exception of regular Tooth and Nail and Goblins, both of which were close to 50%. The Goblin matchup was scary, but not because of Goblin Sharpshooter or Sparksmith, but because of Clickslither and Goblin Warchief. Those two cards proved to be the worst problem for the deck. Naturalize was also a bit of a problem after board, but I felt confident that the matchup was no worse than fifty/fifty both before and after board, with the advantage going to Elf and Nail depending on the build of Goblins.

This was one of the few times during deck selection for a tournament where the fun factor actually played a role in my decision. Normally I don’t have much fun playing a deck in a tournament, because generally the best deck isn’t the most fun. However, Elf and Nail is a lot of fun to play and I was excited at the prospect of actually enjoying Magic for seven of the fourteen rounds I would have to be playing it. Another reason I wanted to play the deck was, although I did feel it didn’t have any bad matchups, I also felt that unlike Goblins and Affinity, the mirror match for Elf and Nail was more skill intensive. Granted there are times where a Wood Elf and a Wirewood Symbiote on one side of the board will end the game without an answer, but I think if you build your deck properly, cheap losses to that combo shouldn’t come up too often. However, those things constant, the matchup itself is very difficult to play and you can easily outplay your opponent if you play properly.

So after a lot of testing, we finally settle on this build. . .

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Wirewood Symbiote

4 Wood Elf

4 Vine Trellis

4 Viridian Shaman

4 Skullclamp

4 Vernal Bloom

3 Tooth and Nail

3 Triskelion

2 Duplicant

2 Wirewood Herald

1 Darksteel Colossus

1 Kamahl, Fist of Krosa

4 Wooded Foothills

15 Forests

1 Mountain


4 Oxidize

4 Pyroclasm

2 Sundering Titan

2 Explosive Vegetation

2 Mindslaver

1 Triskelion

As you can see, the main deck is always going to be familiar because there aren’t many special ways you can build this deck, the only thing we really tried to find was a way to fit in as many Triskelions and Duplicants as possible, because they helped make the Goblin matchup better, as well as helping in the mirror. Fierce Empath is really the only notable exclusion from the list, and although it can be cute at times, it proves to be too weak more often than not to merit inclusion. As you can see, the only difference between my list and US National champion Craig Krempels‘ list is the sideboard. Craig wanted to have an edge in the mirror because he expected more Elf and Nail than I did, so he included two Forgotten Ancient, which were testing very well in the mirror. Although I agree that the Ancients are better in the mirror, I felt the Mindslaver’s were a more versatile sideboard option, as they would be more devastating against other control decks.

So I was ready for the Standard portion of the tournament, but what to do about the draft portion? My teammates tend to draft much more than I do, as I enjoy Constructed more than Limited. I didn’t really do many drafts going into the tournament and my plan was to just open some bombs and ride them to victory.

The Tournament

My flight left out of Newark at around 2 o’clock, but Mother Nature had other plans. A huge storm over the D.C. area had delayed my flight by almost three hours. As it turned out though, I got off lucky. My good friends and teammates Adam Horvath and Eugene Harvey (who were on a later flight), didn’t even make it off the ground.

Kansas City was the site of this year’s Nationals, and I would just like to make a plea to Mark Rosewater to fire the person responsible for that decision. There’s something seriously wrong about a place where you can’t get anything to eat past ten o’clock at night. Is Maui or Long Beach to much to ask for tournament sites? I don’t think so. See you all at PT: Cancun.

Day 1

The first two rounds of the tournament went pretty smoothly for me. I beat an Affinity deck and Seth Burn playing Goblins. Seth did have some tech against me though in the form of Insurrection. Insurrection is only worth playing in Goblins if you really like the picture, because you’ll be staring at it sitting in your hand the entire game. So if the art of Mark Zug is your cup of tea, by all means, load up on this spell.

In round three, I hit a tie die wearing snag in the form of Michael Aitchison and his beats deck. I was actually pretty excited about playing this deck when I was 2-0, because it’s such an easy matchup. Sadly, I was demolished in game 3 when I failed to draw a second land before he was able to get Arc-Slogger and Contested Cliffs active.

After the first three rounds of Constructed I manage to draft one of the worst decks I have ever drafted. Luckily, my table had only one player I was really concerned with: Alex Melinkow. I didn’t think Zvi had drafted this format at all, and considering he was playing Goblin Striker and multiple Fists of the Anvil in San Diego, I was confident his deck would stink up the joint yet again.

In round 1 of the draft I was able to win one game against Mike Long, which was all it took because he showed up late to the match. I get paired against Zvi next round, who has a much better deck than I expected. It’s a Blue-based Sunburst deck with multiple Trinket Mages and Leonin Bolas. I can’t possibly beat him. I manage to defeat Donkey Kong in round 3 of the draft and lose to Alex Melinkow in the final round.

So I end the day with a 4-3 record and do what most people do when they’re depressed, I watched a movie starring hilarious stand up comedian Sinbad. The movie in question was called Houseguest and it was a laugh riot. I wonder what ever happened to Sinbad, he was huge in the eighties and early nineties, and just faded into obscurity. Perhaps he discovered he could make more money playing poker like so many others.

Day 2

I was under the impression at the beginning of the day that four losses could still possibly make T8, so I was still confident. My second draft went much better than my first, as I end up with Glissa and three Tangle Golems. I manage to 3-0 my pod, which was great considering the last four rounds were Constructed.

It was around this time I realized that four losses wouldn’t make it into T8 in all likelihood, so I would need to win the last four rounds. Sadly the dream was cut short as I lose to Neil Reeves and his R/G Goblin deck. I manage to beat two more Goblin decks and an Affinity deck in the last round to finish 11th, but no top 8. The good news though was that Craig did make T8, and looked to be in good shape to win it all.

We end up going out for a nice steak dinner and then spend the rest of the night drinking. I met Paul Reitzl’s girlfriend (who was pretty hot), and got to hang out with the BEEK, Paul Sottosanti, and Nick”Beverly” Lynn. Typically when we get drunk and there’s no nightlife in the area, we’ll just end up heading down to the tournament site and see if we can get into any trouble. I end up in a money draft against two older JSS players by the name of Ben Jackson and John Nelson. They’re from Oklahoma, so already they have a strike against them, but what really impressed me apart from their playing skills was the fact that they had a surprisingly good game with the ladies. These two younger girls walked by and John yelled out,”Yo ladies, holler at your boys.” This got a look from the girls, but they just kept on walking. He then actually stood up and said,”Hey, I’m in the JSS ladies, so I’m not sweatin’ it.” Believe it or not, this actually got the girls attention enough for them to come over and strike up a conversation with the young lads. So just remember kids, the JSS is a great way to win scholarship money and pick up chicks.

I ran into Judge Sheldon as he walked into the site after hours with the whole Judge crew. Seeing judges outside their uniform is a lot like watching a dog walk on its hind legs – it’s unnatural and really funny. They’re like a gang roaming their territory after hours, and although he may not be the head judge of the event, Sheldon definitely runs things when the tournament is over. The rest of the judges follow him around like he’s Danny Zuko. (I’m sure that reference is lost on most of the younger readers, and frankly, I feel old just saying it.)

As the drinking progressed, things got weirder. I don’t remember much about that night, but I did find these photo’s on my phone the next day.


A Motley Crew

Pat Sullivan, Gabe Walls, Mike Clair, Ted Kanutson, Kate Stavola, Paul Sottosanti (in rear)


Not Even Drunk

I wish I knew what Ted was doing with a Bird mask.

There’s also one photo I can’t really show, but suffice it to say, I wish I had a better recollection of the night’s events.

Day 3

Randy Buehler came up to me and offered me the job of doing commentary for the T8 since Kibler had to actually play on Sunday. I accepted and managed to get Gabe to come along for the ride. I may be biased, but let me just say that I think the commentary done that day was the best commentary in the history of the game. Sadly it wasn’t broadcast over the internet, but man alive was it good. I implore everyone to vote for myself and Gabe to do the commentary for the next PT instead of Kibler so that you can actually watch it online. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

[While I was generally doing coverage (and therefore unable to listen in on the commentary), hat I got to hear of the coverage was quite amusing, though I also understand I took some shots while I was covering the finals. I don’t think anyone in the Convention Center was safe from beatings, and I’m almost shocked that Randy still has his job after employing those two righteously funny buffoons to do commentary. – Knut]


So Craig ends up winning it all, which is good because now he can pay me back the money he owes me. I had a pretty good time considering the locale, and I met some cool people.

Next time on The Black Perspective:

The Return of Ask Joe Black, for real!

Can an Italian really stick to an Atkin’s diet?

How many judges does it take to screw in a lightbulb?

A full and detailed report on the MD5 Constructed format. For those of you who can’t wait that long because you have PTQ’s this weekend to play in, I would try the U/G deck that recently made T8 at GP Zurich this past weekend. Most of the decks at the GP were awful and you can tell that no one had really tested much, however the U/G deck actually does show a lot of potential. It plays the best card in the format, Eternal Witness, and Crystal Shard can actually abuse it. Here’s the list:

4 Viridian Shaman

4 Solemn Simulacrum

4 Eternal Witness

2 Triskelion

4 Oxidize

4 Condescend

4 Thirst for Knowledge

3 Crystal Shard

3 Annul

2 Echoing Truth

2 Rude Awakening

12 Forests

12 Islands

The only difference I made was taking out two of the Echoing Truth and replacing them with two Rude Awakenings. I know a lot of people really like Echoing Truth now, but it’s only really good against Beacon of Creation and Myr Incubator. I think you have a good game plan against Ironworks already, so the Truth won’t really come into play that much and I think having four main deck is too many.

I like Rude Awakening because it’s a very powerful spell that will win you the game when you cast it, which is something you need against Red decks. You don’t have any pressure, so you’re very vulnerable to burn (particularly Pulse of the Forge), so having a game ending spell is very important. Eight mana isn’t that much considering you have Solemn Simulacrum and ways to reuse it, as well as card drawing. Against control decks like Tooth and Nail and Red decks, the Rude Awakening is a game ender that they can’t deal with. Perhaps it would be better as a sideboard option, but I think Rude Awakening is a card you should keep in mind when testing this deck.

That’s it for now, ’til next time.

Osyp”Joe Black” Lebedowicz