The Last English Champion – A Nationals Report, Part 1 *Winner*

After two consecutive English Nationals failures, Craig went to the 2006 tournament with a self-confessed “good feeling.” That good feeling was enough to send him to the top of the standings and see him crowned the last English National Champion! Indeed, his win was so mighty he began referring to himself in third person. (Seriously, how am I meant to introduce this with any dignity?) Part one of his entertaining – and long – report is within!

My name is Craig Stevenson, and here is my 2006 English Nationals report.

Last year, I fared badly at England’s Finest Show. The year before, much of the same.

This year, however, I’ve a genuine tale to tell.

It’s a long report, to be sure. This first part alone is almost 5000 words. I don’t win much. Indulge me.

There’s fun in here. And match details. And highs, and lows, and fireworks. Stick with it — I promise it’ll not disappoint.

Anyway, enough of my yackin’.

To the skies!

I had a good feeling this year.

This sounds a little kooky, perhaps… but it’s the truth. Something nestled in my stomach, something I couldn’t quite grasp. I felt like I could make a decent fist of the tournament, and the Top 8 seemed a possibility. I don’t know why I felt this way… maybe preparation bolstered my sense of flagging confidence; maybe the fact I chose my deck early helped my mental focus; or maybe the fact that I spend all day, every day, reading about and playing Magic, chatting to top pros and game theorists via email and AIM, was the true catalyst.

Yeah… on reflection, it’s probably the last one. Eating, sleeping, and dreaming Magic had a positive effect on my play… who knew?

Here’s the decklist that took me all the way:

This was the deck I played to qualify. It served me well. I’d qualified on ranking for the last few years, but Triple Ravnica and Rav-Rav-Gui Limited had me decimated. Dissension came and offered scant solace, but it was too late for me to lounge on my laurels.

The deck itself, as all decks do, came from the frenzied brainpan of Michael J Flores. For my base, I took Jeroen Remie build, as offered in this article. It qualified me, and I played it to good effect in the one Team Standard Pro Tour Qualifier I attended — we lost in the semifinals that day, but my personal record was 6-1.

In both tournaments I played, I had the 4 Watchwolf in the sideboard. My actual configuration, up until a few days before the tournament, saw the Paladins maindeck (with the remaining copy of Umezawa’s Fork). However, the Dirty Dogs came in for each and every match, so I forced them into the starting 60.

There are questions to be asked about the list, I’m sure. Indrik Stomphowler? Overgrown Tomb? Four Glare of Subdual, split across the 75? I’ll get to these points in time… I learnt a lot playing the deck over fifteen rounds of Nationals play, and I’ll share my deductions piecemeal as we progress.

For now, we’re in Birmingham. It’s early, and I’m excited. Two days of play…

Let’s roll.

Round 1: Steve Easton, playing Ghost Husk

I first played Steve back in 2002, on Day 2 of Grand Prix: London (y’know, the other tournament in which I did quite well…). He piloted U/G Madness that day, a 75-select that sent my mono-Black “Pirates” deck running for cover.

U/G was a fickle mistress, back in the day. Steve drew no Blue mana in game 1, and walked the plank soon after. In game 2, however, his land was more nubile, frolicking from the top of his deck in the manner of the woodland nymph. Of course, when his first creature is a turn 7 Basking Rootwalla, you know something is amiss…

I beat him soundly that day, as his Madness Mongrels sat sniffing themselves; and, as is my wont, I appended the match with an oft-used disclaimer:

“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll beat me next time!”

I’d not played Steve since.

For Nationals, Steve again chose the aggro/control route — B/W Husk was a match I’d tested, and I knew I’d need to see key components to survive.

Game 1 was the best of the match. Turn 2 Dark Confidant is the first step to Godhood versus my removal-free G/W, but the turn 3 Promise of Bunrei was a little slower. Bob said spells, but I said turn 3 Nikko-Onna. Slamming down a third turn one-of that’s pretty key to the match is a guilty pleasure, but I had the grace to admit how dirty I felt.

My build-up was slow, but relentless. I managed a Hierarch, a Kodama, a Yosei. Bob said land, and land, and land, while I batted through the air in the face of Husk, Council, Confidant. Steve took the beats, letting through more than I’d care to do myself… he sank to two life. Bob said Jitte, and we shuffled for the next.

The second game was more one-sided. I brought in the Wraths, the Paladins, and the Crime / Punishments. As for the cards I took out… The Glares came out, as did the Shoals. One Yosei, one Wood Elf, one Guildmage… I was good to go.

Steve was slower in this game… Bob did not come a’knocking. Double-Husk was the play, but Steve made no Promises. As for me, Llanowar into Wood Elf — which still gives me the shivers – followed by an early Kodama… beautiful. Stuck on four mana, Steve laid down a naked Ghost Council of Orzhova, trading with Northside in combat. When Steve made a second Council, I went on a Crime spree and stole the dead Dad from Steve’s bin. Guildmage, Paladin, Yosei, game.

Record: 1-0 (2-0)

Off to a good start. Steve’s a great laugh, and we chewed the fat while signing the slip. I think it’s safe to say that our match was the oldest of the first round. I mean, I’m ancient, and Steve’s got a fair few years on me.

Tip #1: Crime / Punishment from the board is stellar. It can wax tokens at low cost, and can net advantage by nuking key numbers. I was tempted to off the double-Husk with a Punishment for three, but held back to kill the inevitable, and troublesome, Ghost Council of Orzhova. As for the Nikko-Onna… I’ll get to her in time.

Round 2: Louis J Kneeshaw, playing U/W Aggro/Control

I’ve played Louis quite a lot. He’s a Northern lad, just like me, and his game is improving incrementally each time we battle. I last saw him at the Team PTQ, where his crew were nuked in the second semifinal. That day, he sported a rather disturbing John Prescott mask. Today, no such adornment.

Louis was running a version of French White Weenie, but one slewed more to the control side of things. Azorius Guildmages, Grand Arbiter Augustin IVs, countermagic… tough beats.

Game 1 passed quickly. Louis had mana issues. I made monsters, and turned the sideways.

For game 2, things were a little different. Louis dropped an early Azorius Guildmage, and then another. He countered a few of my two-drop dudes, and began swinging. Luckily, I stuck a Hierarch, and this slowed things down. A Watchwolf made play, and a Guildmage, and soon Louis was spending all his mana in preventing my attacks. Down came a Glare of Subdual. In desperation, Louis made a naked Meloku, who was offed with a Punishment for five. A few swings later, good game.

Record: 2-0 (4-0)

Tip #2: Again, Crime / Punishment showed its worth. The main tip here, though, is the relative weakness of Azorius Guildmage in the matchup. Three mana each turn to tap a single guy? Hell, I’ll take that. Soon I’ll overpower you with more monsters than you can manage — of course, beware the sandbagged Wrath. Tapping low to de-combatify my monsters means I can stick key cards like Yosei and Kodama. Perhaps the Guildmage is better utilized against City Tree and Glare itself?

Round 3: Paul Gower, playing U/R/g Tron

For round 3, I played someone unknown to me. Paul Gower, playing U/R/g Tron, packed with Keiga and SSS and Wildfire, oh my!

Going into this matchup, I was unsure on my chances. I’d tested sporadically against this deck, and knew it was close. My choice to remove the Bathe in Lights from a sideboard, a key component to surviving the six-mana wrecking ball, may yet prove to be a beating. And would I regret moving the Paladins to the bench?

Game 1 was a textbook example of mana trumping men. Early Remands and Mana Leaks kept Paul more than stable… then Keiga, then Wildfire, then game. I was largely absent the entire time.

In come the Crime / Punishments, to hopefully wreck the Signet-heavy draw. In come Arashi and Silklash, and the third Shoal. Out come Yoseis and the two Glares. Sometime I leave the enchantment in, as it can randomly be good against targetable Dragons… but not today. I crossed my fingers and prayed I’d not see Simic Sky Swallower.

Game 2 was much closer, but still fell to the Dark Side. My opponent started on Tron pieces, and had the natural seven on turn 3. Then came Vents, a Keiga, and burn for two. I’d made guys all the while, and the beats were coming, albeit slowly. Keiga stopped me in my tracks. A Confiscate on my Paladin En-Vec slowed my further, but that chumped a Hierarch… I managed to kill the Keiga with little loss, equipping a Jitte and swinging with the fat Elephant, pinging the Dragon after combat. The board was clear.

Second Keiga?

Our lives were low now, and my follow-up Paladin offered to make a race of it. Keiga hit me for chunks. I attempted to Crime up my opponent’s dead Confiscate, bringing Keiga over to the side of Honor and Justice. Surprisingly, it stuck. Before I could untap and win, however, Paul Repealed the Dragon (a mistake, surely? Confiscate is the better target here), and remade her, untapped and taunting. Two turns later, and I’m down.

Record: 2-1 (4-2)

Tip #3: Paul was a nice guy, but made a couple of Magical mistakes that I failed to capitalize upon. He made the critical number of Keigas with which to kill me (that critical number being “one,” I feel). Keiga is definitely a problem for my deck. I could leave in my Glares, I suppose, but that seems weak. If I were to play the deck again, I’d consider Condemn from the sideboard. That surely is a good call.

Paul placed fourth overall. See you at Worlds, fella!

My draft pod for RGD contained a number of recognizable English faces. Alan Mai was feeding me, and I fed the 2005 National Champion Rich Moore.

My strategy going in was a simple one — take the Blue cards and the Green cards. I feel the way forward in RGD involves opening yourself up to the greatest opportunity in Guildpact. While taking Blue/Green early means you have both Izzet and Gruul to fight for, it also means your fixers are such that you can audible into Orzhov quickly should the need arise. My first pick common each end every time? Civic Wayfinder, above all else.

I was covered by Magic Dave of the Mox Radio crew for this pod. Their excellent official coverage of the English Nationals can be found here. Having them cover an event is a real pleasure.

My first pack didn’t contain a Civic Wayfinder, so I took the best card: Snapping Drake. A second followed in pack 2. My third pick was a Drift of Phantasms, and my fourth saw the choice of Selesnya Guildmage versus Vedalken Dismisser. I plumped for the six-mana Oingy Boingy, trying to cement myself in Blue.

Fifth? Peel from Reality over Vedalken Entrancer.
Sixth? Mark of Eviction over Vedalken Entrancer.
Seventh? Tidewater Minion over Vedalken Entrancer and Glimpse the Unthinkable.

Double-You Tee Eff?

I then picked a Psychic Drain over a Twisted Justice. Hell, if Blue was so undervalued, maybe the Entrancers and the Glimpse would table…

I picked a Convolute and two Drake Familiars before the Entrancers were due to return.

First Entrancer? Yup. Yoink!
Second Entrancer? Yup Yup. Yoink!
Third Entrancer or Glimpse? Boo, the Glimpse was nowhere. But the Entrancer, I’ll happily take. Yoink!

I rounded out the pack with Blue chaff. Fifteen cards, fifteen Blue spells. I think I successfully cut that color…

Guildpact wasn’t a juicy one. My first pick held the choice between Burning-Tree Shaman and Streetbreaker Wurm. There were literally no Izzet cards, and no Boilerworks. I ummed and ahhed, and finally took the Burning-Tree Shaman. On reflection, this was incorrect. The Streetbreaker beats down well, and if I were to play triple Entrancer, the Burning-Tree would crucify me. The rest of the packs yielded little. I took a second pick Ogre Savant, two Train of Thought, double Pyromatics, an Izzet Chronarch, and two Infiltrator’s Magemark. Gigadrowse, Flectomancer, Petrahydrox… nothing shiny and bright.

Going into Dissension, it was clear my deck had a few holes. Early drops in particular were thin on the ground. I had a Dryad Sophisticate but little else. Also, I had zero manafixers or Karoos. My curve seemed to start at four mana… it was time to high-pick the Signets.

First pick? Assault Zeppelid. I loves me some 3/3 flyer trample.
Second pick? Helium Squirter. Okay, so not the “grab them Signets” plan that I’d hoped.

Third pick? Simic Signet.
Fourth pick? Simic Signet.
Fifth pick? Simic Signet.

Sixth pick? Assault Zeppelid.

Seventh pick? Research / Development.

The rest of the pack yielded little. I hoovered up a late Vigean Hydropon, and Ocular Halo, but largely hate-grabbed stuff like Plumes, Skeins, and First Wings.

Here’s my deck:

On reflection, I think the maindeck Entrancers were pretty weak. I sided them out each time, for Convolute and Research / Development. If I were to find myself in a stalled game 1, the three Entrancers would come in to take game 2 for sure.

My deck needed to see a second turn Simic Signet. If it did, I had four ways to make a 3/x flyer on turn 3. Good beats.

Overall, I thought my deck was pretty strong. A 2-1 deck, at least. With a little luck, maybe even 3-0…

Round 4: John Henry, playing B/R/W fast beats

John came out firing. Turn 1 Sacred Foundry untapped, make Kill-Suit Cultist. I didn’t have a second turn Signet, and my opponent made guys for four turns straight before I made a blocker. Sadly, by then, it was too late.

Game 2 was much better for me. I dropped a second turn Signet, and a turn 3 3/x flyer. Another joined soon after. As we all know, flyers win games. I swung through the air and traded on the ground… standard stuff. Eventually, cards were scooped.

Game 3 saw John struggle a little early. When I made turns 4 and 5 flyers, I knew it was over. However, John had other ideas… down came a Thundersong Trumpeter, and backup beaters, threatening to turn the race toward evil. On seven mana, I began the slow process of wresting the game back with Izzet Chronarch and Peel From Reality. Without removal in spades, this combination rules the board… eventually, I had the window to bounce the Trumpeter at end of turn and swing for the win.

Record: 3-1 (6-3)

Tip #4: Curve is important. Going into pack three, I knew I needed to boost my early plays. My game began at four mana, therefore the Signets I grabbed were invaluable. I was lucky that they were all on-color, but I’d’ve ran a Rakdos or Azorius version if needed. And, as usual, once the requisite mana is reached, the high-end spells always trump the one- and two-drops.

Round 5: Rich Moore, playing Four-Color good stuff

My first game against Rich was the best of the day. In fact, until the quarterfinals, it offered to be the best of the tournament. Rich, the 2005 National Champion, is an absolute blast to play. He’s always smiling, always fun, and a total credit to the game. Sure, his hair makes him look like Rolf Harris, but you can’t have everything. (Only kidding, fella. Our games were sweeeeet.)

Rich didn’t fancy his chances in this match. By his own admission, his deck was four colors of powerful cards with little or no manafixing.

Game 1 saw Rich’s mana flow perfectly, but he was slow to get guys out in time to match my flyers. Eventually, he made a Belfry Spirit, effectively shutting down the air for an important turn. Untapping, he slammed a Flickerform on the token-generating monster… things began looking bleak. Still, I had a plan. I made Burning-Tree Shaman and Dryad Sophisticate, with the second being unblockable thanks to Rich’s manabase. I swung down for a few beats, taking Rich to single figures, and he made a Minister of Impediments.

My flyers were stranded by the Belfry Spirit and tokens, and I couldn’t swing without opening myself to a lethal counterstrike. My Sophisticate was tapped each turn, with Burning-Tree Shaman pinging away merrily. With Pyromatics in hand, and one Red source in play, I made a move.

I transmuted for Infiltrator’s Magemark, and suited up a flyer. Mark of Eviction dropped on another guy, granting him unblockability for a turn… and I swung into Rich’s grip of two cards.

He Bathe in Lighted my team. My enchantments hit the bin, meaning they were blockable. With the tap ability holding back my Sophisticate, Rich dropped to two life, prime for an almost lethal attack the next turn. In order to kill me next turn, Rich opted to flicker out the Spirit and create two flyers. This took him to one life… Pyromatics, targeting you?

Not quite Demonfire you, but it’ll do in a pinch.

Unfortunately, Games 2 and 3 didn’t live up to the hype of the first. I kept a dodgy six, heavy with land, and suffered for it. Game 3 was similar… my seven saw three land, three Signets and a Drift of Phantasms. When I died, I’d transmuted for my Burning-Tree Shaman and had drawn nothing but land.

That took me to 3-2, while Rich progressed to 4-1. I wished him well for the rest of the tournament.

Record: 3-2 (7-5)

Tip #5: A strong manabase is important, but screws still happen. If you fail to grab the requisite fixers, pack your deck with power. You could do a lot worse that pimp your deck like Rich. If you need to win or 3-0 a pod, such as in a PTQ Top 8, sometimes the more risky strategy will win.

Unfortunately for Rich, while his mana held up in all three of our games (I’d’ve struggled in games 2 and 3 even if I’d had a good hand), he crapped out in the next round, losing to Graham Ribchester to end the pod 2-1.

Round 6: Crispin F Batemen, playing Ridiculously Fast Guys

At this point, my goal became to win out the day. That meant beating Crispin, then drafting Coldsnap like a pro, and then beating my first round draft opponent in that pod. Doable. Then again, 3-2 looks slightly crap. It’s not a record that champs are made of.

I’d not met Crispin before. He was a friendly chap, but his deck was anything but.

First turn Simic Initiate. Second turn swing, make Silhana Ledgewalker, graft. Third turn, Beastmaster’s Magemark, swing. Fourth turn kill a blocker, Taste For Mayhem, Gee Gee. My flyers didn’t appear, and the game was over in five or six turns.

Wow. Brutal.

I felt more confident in game 2. The only real problem was Silhana Ledgewalker plus enchantments… the rest of his guys seemed to be X/1s, and thus negated with a timely Pyromatics. Thankfully, a turn 3 3/x flyer came down, followed by another, and another. Sure, I was taking early beats, and I needed to trade my superior cards for Crispin’s hard-hitting chaff at times, but I felt in control the whole time.

For game 3, Crispin was on the play. Obv. I feared for my life, my deck, and my sanity. He mulliganed to six, and kept.

Turn 1 Land, Simic Initiate. I made a land and passed.
Turn 2… Second Initiate. Miss a land drop. Swing. I make a land, and a Signet.
Turn 3… miss a land drop, swing. I make a land and an Assault Zeppelid.

By the time Crispin made land number two, I had nine power of fliers. Yeah, I won that one.

Crispin showed me his hand afterward… packed with two-drops and creature boosters. Would I have kept his starter? Probably. A land off the top and it was pretty much game.

Record: 4-2 (9-6)

Tip #6: Mulliganing is hard. Especially in Limited. It’s a measure of Risk versus Reward. The risk was there in Crispin’s six-card grip, but the reward was great. Similarly, when I kept my mana-heavy hands in my match against Rich, I suffered. My tip? If you need to think about your hand for over two minutes, ship it back. Hell, you can win from three cards with a little luck…

Foreshadowing, perhaps…?

With RGD firmly put to bed, it was time to draft the People’s Format… triple Coldsnap!

My plan, going into the draft, was simple: take the wobbly monsters. Green, as we all know, is the power color of Coldsnap. I was looking for Ronom Hulks, Aurochs Herds, and Boreal Druids. If I could pair them with Red removal, so much the better.

My back-up plan? Blue/Black Snow Matters. Rimewind Taskmasters, Frost Raptors, Chill to the Bones, etc.

My pod held, again, a few familiar faces. Mark Glenister was one, as was Rich Moore. Mark was feeding me, and, as usual, greeted me with a friendly word.

“Hi Craig,” he said. “Drafted much Coldsnap?”
“A little,” I replied. “I was lucky enough to get onto the Beta.”
“Huh,” he said, fuming a little. You could literally see the fume. “Beta Beta Beta…

Maybe I should’ve kept quiet.

I first-picked a Ronom Hulk. Seems fair. Second pick yielded another 5/6 pro-snow behemoth. So far so good.

Third pick Surging Flames? Oh, if I must.

Fourth pick Surging Flames? If you insist.

Fifth pick Auroch Herd? Fine.

Sixth pick Surging Flames? Mother, may I…?

I’ll not delve deeper into this draft… it was bizarre. I got exactly what I needed, when I needed it. Mid-range men: Simian Brawler, four Sound the Call, double Hulk, double Herd. Acceleration: double Boreal Druid. Finishers: Lightning Serpent, Balduvian Rage.

And six Surging Flames.

Here’s my deck. I’m having trouble putting it into the funky deckbuilder, and Ferrett is on vacation, so…

2 Boreal Druid
Bull Aurochs
4 Sound the Call
2 Goblin Rimerunner
2 Simian Brawler
2 Ronom Hulk
2 Aurochs Herd
Lightning Serpent
Balduvian Rage
6 Surging Flames

Snow-Covered Mountain
Snow-Covered Forest
6 Mountain
9 Forest

Sideboard cards of note: 4 Icefall, Orcish Bloodpainter, Martyr of Ashes, 2 Thermopod, Skred.


Of course, I wasn’t totally happy. I never am.

I was weak in the two-slot. After all, the format is packed with Bears. I laughed this off, however, as my creature quality would surely eclipse that of my opponent. And even if they did manage a myriad of two-power beaters… ripple Surging Flames for the win, anyone?

Yeah, Skred was in the sideboard. I thought that six burn spells was enough. Maybe I was wrong. My snow count was pretty low, all told, so the Skred wouldn’t always be brilliant.

One more round of play, and a broken-ass deck with which to battle. Life was good.

Round 7: Mark Glenister, playing Coldsnap Draft

“Did you have a good draft, Mr. Beta?” asked Mark with a smile.
“Oh, yes,” I replied. “Not bad at all.”

Mark, as it turned out, was playing Green/Blue. The early game saw the board fill with Blue fliers, and I rippled and burned a number of them away. For my troops, Sound the Call times two held back a freshly-cast Ronom Hulk. Then, while the Hulk took chunks out of Mark’s mana development, I continued making guys. Brawler. Herd. Herd. Third Call. When Mark’s Hulk was about to bite the big one in his upkeep, I chanced a Hulk of my own.

A little judicious burn, and one hefty swing, and we were onto game 2.

“How many Flames do you have?! Four?!”
”Something like that.”

Game 2 was a little different. Make flew out of the blocks, literally, beating down with Frost Raptor and double Krovikan Mist. Meanwhile, with two Surging Flames in hand, I was struggling for Red. With hindsight, I think another Mountain should’ve been in my deck, over a Forest. In place of burn, I made slow ground-pounders, and crossed my fingers.

Two swings from death, I drew the Mountain.

“Nuke the Raptor, Ripple?”

Four off the top, no banana. Make a guy, go.

Mark swings back. One swing from death.

I untap, draw, make second Mountain. I still have two Flames in hand.

“Nuke a Mists, Ripple?”
”Hmm… Ripple first?”
“… … … yeah.”

Four cards became eight cards, and Mark’s army was defeated. With the troops scattered, the general fell shortly after.

Record: 5-2 (11-6)

Tip #7: Practice makes perfect. Obvious, but true. My draft pod was surely peopled with folk who’d not had the same experience with Coldsnap as I had. Aside from a (small) number of Beta drafts, I’m managed a fair few real life eight-mans with friends and test partners. I’m sure that, if any of them were in my pod, I’d never have finished with six Surging Flames.

Day 1 was over. The long slog was complete, and I was still in contention. A lot of the rounds on day 1 had a workaday feel, in that they were a passage to the loftier goal of the later rounds… After all, last year saw me post a triumphant 0-3 in the first Constructed pod. I was, in a very real sense, glad to be fighting.

I promised you stories before, tales of epic matches and wonderful play (by both my opponents and myself). Believe me, they’re coming. While day 1 was packed with long matches and Magic miscellany, the fireworks began at 9am on the Sunday…

Still, that’s for later. For now, the hard work was done. It was time to eat curry and drink lager.

Day 2 was another country… one that I planned to conquer on the morrow.

Until then…
Thanks for listening.

Craig Stevenson
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