Yesterday, I told you the story of Day 1 of the English Nationals 2006. If you’ve not read it, I suggest you do so now. After all, the punchline flouders without the proper buildup.
Today, I move to Day 2.
Day 1 of the tournament went well for me… I posted a 5-2 record overall (2-1 in Standard, 3-1 in Limited), and was poised to continue with another two rounds of triple Coldsnap.
The matches in Day 1 were good. Tense affairs that, largely, had no fixed outcome until late in the game. The matches in Day 2, however, were special.
Not all of them, of course, but I’m sure you’ll spot the ones I’m talking about.
The pairings are up…
After a post-tournament trip to a local restaurant, we staggered back to our hotel. The curry lingered, while the lager taunted. I’m not a drinker… not any more. My student days are long gone. I’d sat up until the larger of the small hours, phoning insipid TV Quiz lines in the vain hope of saying a rude word live on air.
“We’re looking for ‘Water…’ Blank. ‘Water…’ Something. Hello caller!”
“Hello! Is it ‘Water Bollocks?’”
Not the preparation for day 2 that I had in mind. But a grand old time with friends? Definitely.
Round 8: Tim Hows, playing U/B/W Snow Matters
For those who need reminding, here’s my broken Coldsnap deck:
2 Boreal Druid
4 Sound the Call
2 Goblin Rimerunner
2 Simian Brawler
2 Ronom Hulk
2 Aurochs Herd
6 Surging Flames
Tim had a game face. He’d come ready to fight. We were at the thick end now… it was sink or swim. Luckily, my deck was scuba gear.
In the first game, Tim did little. He made some relatively small men, and tried blocking. A Taskmage was burnt, along with a Squall Drifter, and the Surging Sentinels refused to surge. I made a Ronom Hulk, and the snowmen fell.
Game 2 set the pattern for the day. Entertainment.
It was early doors. My opponent, on the play, makes a Squall Drifter. I burn it on my own turn 2. Turn 3? Surging Sentinels. Ripple.
Four guys. Eight power of first strike goodness, facing down an empty board. Tim, understandably, was pleased. I untapped and drew.
Surging Flame, targeting a Sentinel. Ripple.
The board was clear again. Magic is fun!
With that silliness over, Tim developed the board with a Blizzard Specter, and began working on my hand. Thankfully, I had acceleration into Ronom Hulk, which threatened to beat down past the snowmen. Each turn, Tim slapped with the Specter, forcing discard or bouncing permanents. And each turn, my Hulk traded with a snow-free dude. Eventually, with me on a comfortable eight, Tim ran out of non-snow guys, and the Hulk made short work thereafter.
Record: 6-2 (13-6)
Tip #8: Watch out for the little things. I made a mistake in the second game, but it wasn’t crucial. I was one card in hand — Balduvian Rage. Tim slapped in with a Blizzard Specter, and made me discard. I should’ve cycled that card in response, netting me an extra card in the next turn’s upkeep. It’s little things like that which can derail your speeding gametrain. Watch out for the little things, and let the large things take care of themselves.
So far, so good. One round down in day 2. Four more to go, and I could afford but one loss. Easy. Concentrate on 3-0’ing the Coldsnap draft, then get back to the super Selesnyans.
Round 9: Rich Moore, playing Base-White power
In order to 3-0 the pod, I’d need to go through Rich. Oh, for a match against a random! Craig Stevenson versus Tits McGee! Was that too much to ask?
Again, Rich wasn’t confident with his deck. Again, it was packed with power… but it needed a lot of luck to survive until the powerful cards took hold of the game.
“I hear you’ve got four Surging Flames…” he opened with a smile.
“I do indeed,” I replied. And the rest, I thought.
Game 1 started well. I made my single two-drop, and burnt a Squall Drifter. Thankfully, Rich appeared to be playing ToughnessOfTwo.dec, and I knew I was in good shape.
Tap four, Woolly Razorback.
This put a serious crimp in my style. Before him, I was burning and swinging with two guys. Now, the attack was blunted. But not for long. Off the top, a fresh (and hasteable) Goblin Rimerunner, allowing the swinging to continue. I dropped Rich to seven life.
Tap one, Gelid Shackles my Rimerunner.
My attack was finally halted. Richard began marshalling troops, taking to the air. Down came Adarkar Valkyrie, and I knew the combat step was a faraway land. Time to go to the dome.
I had two Surging Flames in hand, and three remaining in my deck, with three turns to win before the fliers took me down.
First turn, Flames to the noggin. Ripple.
Rich, on five life, untapped, drew, attacked.
Second turn, Flames to the noggin. Ripple.
4 — Yes! A second Flames, my fourth in total. Ripple again, crossed fingers.
Swing and a miss.
Rich, on a glorious one life, untapped, drew, attacked. I was dead the following turn. One draw step from defeat.
“It’s down to this,” I said, smiling at my fine opponent.
“Seems so,” he replied.
In the corner of my eye, I spied a friendly face. Craig Jones. Craig “Professor” Jones. Craig “$16,000 Lightning Helix” Jones. He was ambling to our table, checking out the game. He saw the game state, and smiled.
“Don’t look, just slam it!” he offered. Rich and I laughed.
Two raps for luck, knock knock. Eyes closed, card raised high.
Slam! Onto the table.
His work complete, the inestimable Prof wandered into the sunset, looking for another match on which to bestow his glory.
Craig Jones, I thank you.
We shuffled for game 2.
“Burnt out on one life with the win on the table… twice in one tournament!” Rich was shaking his head. “You know what happened the last time you won game 1, right?” (I’d lost games 2 and 3 the previous day.)
“It’s not happening today,” I replied, and I meant it.
And it wasn’t. Rich struggled on mana, and I curved like a boomerang.
Record: 7-2 (15-6)
Rich and I split our two matches, which was probably a fair result. I feel the luck was on his side in the first match, with my screws in games 2 and 3… but I definitely courted The Lady in Coldsnap. At 6-3, Rich still had a chance to win out and make Top 8. I wished him well.
Tip #9: Be nice. Rich was the friendliest player I faced all weekend. No contest. Win or lose, both our matches were an absolute blast. Sure, it helps that each had a single superb duel, and it helps that I won both said duels… but while he was being beaten in these games, Rich’s smile didn’t even flicker. He’s a great ambassador for Magic. Hell, if I’d’ve been lucked out by a topdecked Flames, I think I might have stabbed someone.
With the horror of Coldsnap now behind us, we turned our eyes back to Standard. To make the Top 8, I needed a 2-1 record from my final three games. Not beyond me, by any means… but definitely tricky. There were some fine players in my bracket, and some hideous matchups.
Round 10: Tom Harle, playing R/W Aggro-Burn
For reference, here’s my Standard decklist once more:
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Wood Elves
- 3 Yosei, the Morning Star
- 3 Kodama of the North Tree
- 1 Viridian Shaman
- 1 Nikko-Onna
- 4 Loxodon Hierarch
- 4 Selesnya Guildmage
- 4 Watchwolf
Due to a vagary of the pairing system, my match with Tom was delayed by ten minutes. It gave us time to chat about the matchup. Tom was boned, and he knew it.
For about three weeks before Nationals, Tom was a lodger at my house. We’d spend many an evening thrashing out ideas, looking for a deck that’d crack the field open. I was happy with my G/W choice, but Tom was looking for something with a kick.
His deck, an innovative R/W burn build, housed eight one-drops, four Solifuges, and a hideous amount of burn. Two maindeck Bottled Cloisters helped refill his hand, and the matches were usually short and sweet. After boarding, in came the control elements: Wrath of God, Faith’s Fetters… Tom was confident of getting at least a 4-2 record, thus letting his superior Limited skills take him all the way.
However, in our copious testing, it was abundantly clear that his deck could not, in any way, beat mine.
Usually, I’d be ecstatic at such a fortuitous pairing. And of course, I was. However, it was tinged with a little sadness… as Tom is a friend.
Game 1 went according to our testing. I happily traded Guildmages and Watchwolves with both burn and guys, then made a Hierarch and a Yosei and won. Game 2, in which Tom assumed the control role, was a little trickier.
Tom led with land, and I made guys. Eventually, when an unopposed Hierarch hit the table (no Flames of the Blood Hand, hurrah!), Tom Wrathed everything away. He then untapped, and made Bottled Cloister, hiding five cards.
On my turn, I cast Chord of Calling for Viridian Shaman, taking the match there and then.
It was sad that one of us had to lose… but I can’t lie. I was happy it wasn’t me.
Record: 8-2 (17-6)
Tip #10: If you plan on running this configuration of G/W, don’t change the Viridian Shaman and Nikko-Onna for an Indrik Stomphowler! Sure, you may have room for another card if you do — maybe the fourth Jitte — but it’s certainly wrong to do so. The single Chord of Calling was wonderful for me all day, and the Stomphowler is just too expensive to fetch at instant speed. If you’re running without the Chord, then the Stomphowler is fine… but running without the single Chord feels wrong too. If I were to play this deck again, I’d try and squeeze another Congregation at Dawn in there… but the single Chord, and the Shaman/Nikko-Onna package, would definitely stay.
Two matches to go, and one win needed. I was there bar the shouting.
Round 11: Matteo Orsini-Jones, playing Zoo
Zoo was a deck I should beat. My friend Paul Wray, an unsuccessful grinder the day before the tournament proper, phoned to tell me that the place was rampant with aggro. I packed my sideboard accordingly.
Then again, he also told me that Stuart Wright was playing Heartbeat, even though Stu himself told the world he was allied to the ‘Vore.
From the board, I’d be bringing Wrath, Crime/Punishment, Paladin En-Vec, two more Glare of Subdual, a third Shining Shoal. Hell, even Arashi wasn’t terrible, and the Naturalizes could see play if my opponent had Cloaks, or Glares of his own.
Ten cards in… what the hell do I take out?
No matter — I still had game 1 to play.
Matteo led with a turn 1 guy, on the play. I had no Elf to trade, so a turn 2 Scab-Clan Mauler donned the requisite two counters. I made a guy, who was burnt, and another fella joined Matteo’s team after combat. Another guy was burnt, and the swing took me near lethal. Once I’d tapped down for a third guy, a swing and a flash of Char was enough to see me scooping.
For game 2, I took out the heavy stuff — Yosei, Kodama… I also removed the Nikko-Onna and the Viridian Shaman, and two Wood Elves. In came the Glorious Ten.
The second game was much sweeter. Turn 1 Llanowar, turn 2 Wood Elves (shiver), turn 3 Paladin and Jitte, turn 4 equip, swing, Hierarch. Matteo tried to stabilize, but Glare came down and I won with Wrath in hand.
For game 3, my hand seemed fine. No one-drop, but a Paladin and a Jitte. And an emergency speed-bump, Selesnya Guildmage.
Unfortunately, Matteo — not content with God-handing me in game 1 — decided to flop his nuts on the table in game 3. Guy, burn and guy, guy and guy, Jitte and burn and burn… it was over very quickly. I was 8-3, and needing a win from my last match to make the Top 8.
Matteo, at 9-2, was a seeming lock for the Top 8. I wished him luck.
Record: 8-3 (18-8)
Tip #11: Just because you’re the heavy favorite after boarding, it doesn’t mean you’ll win. My anti-aggro strategy was strong — if a little slow without a mana elf — but aggressive decks can win from nowhere. Also, make sure you’re positive on your sideboarding plan against the major decks and archetypes. With ten cards coming in, I struggled to find decent targets to remove. Kodama is passable against fast, heavy-burn aggro… maybe he should’ve stayed? (In hindsight, I’d still take him out against Matteo’s build — he was more creature-based than burn-based, meaning he’s more consistent with the early drops.)
Round 12: Werner Cloete, playing French White Weenie
So this was it. The last round of the Swiss. Win, and I make the Top 8. Lose… I didn’t want to think about what happened if I lost.
I recognized Werner’s name, but I was unsure where from. Turns out the guy has Nationals pedigree — he was on the South African team lat year before moving to London. His 75 of choice? French White Weenie, with a controlling slant. Like the deck I faced, and defeated, in round 2
I was happy to be facing a semi-decent matchup. Even so, we both knew the importance of this one. It was time to keep our play tight.
Game 1, played in a fog of seriousness that befitted the situation, was going well for me. I was beating down, before Wrath of God sent my men to the showers. I began the rebuilding process, sticking a Watchwolf and a Hierarch against Werner’s team of Paladin and Grand Arbiter. I had one card in hand — land. It was time to get busy, or Werner — with his grip of four cards – would surely recoup and smash.
In with the Hierarch. Double-blocked by Paladin and Augustin. I dealt my elephantine four to the Grand Arbiter…
… to see two damage prevented by Eiganjo Castle.
I threw my card(s) onto the table in disgust, and slung my head in my hands. Not like this, I thought. Apoc, the chord primed for pulling.
I sat, shaking my head at my own ineptitude. I’d worked hard to get here, and I’d never forgive myself if I threw it away now. The tilt was possible… big match, poised game state, all or nothing, and stupid, on-board mistake. But I wasn’t about to cave quite yet.
Deeeeeeeeeep breath. Bin the Hierarch. Look Werner in the eye with a smile.
Another Hierarch came down, and took out the Grand Arbiter — no such mistakes this time. A turn or two later, I pulled my Congregation at Dawn, and tutored for three Kodamas in my upkeep. The first stuck, and romped to victory.
In came my Wrath of Gods, and in came my Crime/Punishments. Out went the Shoals, and the Nikko-Onna and Viridian Shaman.
Werner started on an Azorius Guildmage, and had little action to follow. I made a Watchwolf, which he tapped down. I made a Hierarch, which he also tapped down. Another man hit my side, and Werner was up against the ropes. He made Meloku, naked and trembling, ready to untap and win the game.
Punishment for five.
On his next turn, Werner tapped low for a Grand Arbiter, happy to take a few more beats from my wobbly team.
Crime for Meloku?
My opponent slumped slightly. I was in very good shape here.
I untapped, slapped in with a few monsters, and waited. Again, Werner tapped low, making some creatures and forcing me out of combat. I took my chance. End of turn, return infinite lands to my hand. Make infinite spods.
Untap, draw, attack.
Werner looked at the board. He looked at his cards. He gave a quick nod to his graveyard… and extended the hand.
I was there.
Record: 9-3 (20-8)
Tip #12: Don’t let a mistake get you down. I made a mistake in game 1, a mistake that could’ve sent me tilting to the Top 16 and no higher. If anything was gonna derail my crazy train, it was play error on my part. If you do screw up, take a deep breath. Marshall your thoughts, gather your strength… and play.
I’d made Top 8… or had I?
Going into the round, it was clear there’d be a carve-up at the top tables. At the start of the weekend, a record of 9-3 was thought to be a lock for the final tables. Hell, even three losses and a draw could sneak in.
As it stood, with a few results to come, it seemed that one player on 9-3 would finish ninth.
I felt confident. My tiebreaks were strong. My losses were to Paul Gower (a lock for the Top 8), Matteo Orsini-Jones (on 27 points), and Rich Moore (on 24). In the end, poor Matteo finished in the loneliest spot. Bad luck, fella.
When the dust had settled, the Top 8 looked like this:
Andrew Clayton (U/G/W Counterpost)
Paul Gower (U/G/r Tron)
Stuart Wright (Vore)
Ian Piroet (Greater Good)
Craig Stevenson (G/W Glare)
Calum Stephenson (Zoo)
Pete Norris (B/W Discard)
David Yendall (Four Color Homebrew Control)
Fifth place… and my matchup for the quarters?
Quarterfinals: Ian T Piroet, playing Greater Good
Greater f***ing Good? Over five games?
How the hell do I beat that?
In my testing, I’d thrown G/W against a lot of the major players. Of course, I’m lying, as everyone does when they claim they’ve tested thoroughly. Well, maybe with the exception of Frank Karsten. What I had done was throw it against a number of decks built by my friends, lists taken from the net and from their imaginations. I’d thrown a few builds into the eight-man queues on MTGO, and I’d slapped Mike Flores a few times with Paladin En-Vec and Umezawa’s Jitte.
There are so many viable decks at the moment. It’s impossible to prepare against them all.
I’d tested against Vore, R/W, Tron, G/W, B/W, U/W/G Counterpost, Zoo, Solar Flare, French Weenie… I’d not tested against Dovescape, Reanimator, Sea Stompy, Firemane Angel, Critical Mass Update, Snakes…
… and I’d not given a thought to Greater Good.
I mean, the deck’s confusing. It does weird things, and then wins. Definitely not for me.
The closest I’d got to seeing Greater Good do it’s thing first-hand was playing White Weenie against Gifts in Kamigawa Block.
I was gonna get battered.
And the thing was… this match counted.
Win here, and I’m going to Worlds no matter what. Lose, and I might as well have packed it in to Werner. Yeah, $500 is very nice… but it’s not why I was there.
Four tables, a judge on each, Magic Dave covering the proceedings for Mox Radio… Life was good.
Game 1, however, had me reeling.
I start with the beatdown in mind. Watchwolf, Wood Elves, Loxodon Hierarch. I gain the life, but they’re Wrathed away. No matter, down comes my second wave… Hierarch and Guildmage. Another Wrath? I’m out.
I untapped, drew, passed. Ian’s turn. The board was empty, and down came Yosei. Next turn, Greater Good, swing, and sac and tap and draw. Next turn, spliced Goryo’s Vengeance tricks. And the turn after. Then Kokusho, and I packed it in.
I had no chance in this matchup at all, did I?
The second game… what was my plan? Well, I boarded in my Naturalizes, much good they’ll do me. And in came Hokori, a silver bullet I’d almost binned the night before the tournament. If I were to stand any chance, I’d be basing my hopes on that bad boy. But after the bully-ramming I faced in game 1, I’d need a beatdown draw and a bucket o’ luck.
My seven for game 2 held three land, but my first play was a Hierarch. After a long look, I shipped ‘em.
My six? One land.
My five? No land.
My four? … … …
Three cards. One down.
I kept my Temple Garden, Selesnya Guildmage, Loxodon Hierarch hand. What else could I do?
“Three cards…” I smiled at Ian. He had the good grace to look upset for me.
“Not even a game,” he said, shaking his head.
Maybe… but maybe not.
Turn 2, I ripped the land and made the Guildmage. Turn 4, with lands coming, I made the Hierarch. When Ian tapped out in order to super-ramp with double-Farseek, I slid in my raw-dogged Hokori.
From three cards, my deck was fighting back.
Swing. Take. Drop.
I was doing well here.
Swing. Take. Drop.
Still nothing from Ian!
One more swing wins me the game! From three cards!
Ian sat on three available mana, praying to pull a land for the obvious Wrath. Untap, draw, grimace, “go.”
I untapped, and breathed deep. This was it! From three cards, one more unmolested attack and I’d levelled the match!
Ian stabilized on two life. He untapped, went off, and won.
Two down. To come so close, from three f***ing cards, and to lose the game?
Still, it was best-of-five. What the hell could I do to win here?
As I shuffled up for the third game, I smiled inside. I’m going to win, I thought. I don’t know why I thought this, and I don’t know if I actually believed it… but I felt warm inside. Confident. Ready to play.
Just as game 1 was an absolute nightmare for me, game 3 was the mirror for my opponent.
Turn 3 Hierarch.
Turn 4 Hokori, when my opponent was tapped out.
After such an epic second game, it almost felt anticlimactic. But I took it.
Shuffling for the fourth, I thought over the previous two games. To fight back so hard from three cards, and to lose, was soul-destroying… but from Ian’s perspective, it must’ve been worrying. I mean, if your opponent mulls to three, you’re convinced you’ve bagged and tagged that game, no? And then the next, a game in which Ian had no chance, a game in which he knew I’d ripped my single Hokori like a pro… the wheels must’ve been spinning. Maybe I could use that to my advantage…
I started strongly, with a Watchwolf and a Hierarch. I added a Guildmage, and the beats were coming. Ian was fending them off a little, speed-bumping with Sakura-Tribe Elders and the like, but his life was falling. Soon, I was one strike away from victory.
Then he went off.
Yosei, Greater Good. Sac, tap you down, draw five, discard three.
The combo was in effect, and I was history.
Ah well, I thought. It’s been a good ride. So close!
I let out a rueful smile, and played on for the crowd.
I skipped my untap step, laid a land, made an Elf. Go.
Ian untapped, drew… and sighed deeply. He had nothing.
“Your go,” he said, dejected. It wasn’t over yet!
Untap, draw, swing, win.
We shuffled for the fifth, the decider… and I laid on the pressure.
”Wow, one game to make Worlds. Insane!”
“And how much is this worth? A thousand dollars? Incredible.”
“Good luck, fella.”
The fifth game started slowly for me. Wood Elves, followed by Hierarch. As usual, round about turn 4, Ian tapped low for Farseeks and Elders. That was my window…
I untapped, and cast Chord of Calling for four. Hello, Hokori! I added a land and an Elf, and commenced the beats.
Ian untapped one land, made another, and passed. I beat down again.
Ian untapped a third land, but couldn’t find a fourth. He passed. I beat down again.
Ian untapped a fourth land, but had no Wrath of God. I beat down again.
Ian untapped, drew — searching, praying for the Wrath, something — but it was land. He extended the hand.
I’d made it. I’d won. I was going to Worlds!
Record: 10-3 (23-10)
Tip #13: Never quit. Never. I don’t think I need say anything more than that.
In the other quarterfinals, Pete Norris and Stuart Wright had fallen to their personal nightmare matchups. Andrew Clayton, a.k.a. “Boomer,” had taken down 14-year-old Nationals debutant David Yendall in the control mirror. While Paul Gower and Calum Stephenson battled for a spot in the final, I faced off against Mox Mage Boomer and his innovative U/W/G Counterpost build.
Semifinals: Andrew “Boomer” Clayton, playing U/W/G Counterpost
After the epic quarterfinal, I knew I could go all the way.
Boomer is a lovely fella, and his game has improved greatly of late. I’d tested with him a few times before the event, and I believe I had the edge over him when going into our match. While we’d not played Constructed together with our decks, I’d flung G/W against the build a number of times… Craig Smith, a Team Leeds teammate, attempted to qualify for Nationals with a card-for-card decklist. He failed on that day, but qualified soon after with a G/W/b list very similar to my deck.
Another important factor for this match… Boomer, in the past, has been prone to nervy play. He’s not one for the spotlight, the big occasion. And he’s very critical of his own mistakes — while this sets him in good stead for the match aftermath, it can lead to tilting at windmills and all the sloppiness that can ensue.
In testing, I found that this match came largely down to the Vitu-Ghazi superiority. I had three, Boomer had two. That said, he packed Faith’s Fetters, and more removal for my real creatures… I think he’d have the advantage over five.
Game 1 saw my first three plays Spell Snared, Remanded, or Mana Leaked. I stuck a Hierarch, but it was Condemned. My second stayed, but Boomer had land advantage and double Vitu-Ghazi. As predicted, my single city Tree couldn’t keep up, and I eventually fell to token beatdown.
For game 2, I brought in Arashi, Silklash, Hokori… and the two Crime/Punishments. Out went the Jittes and the Shining Shoals.
Game 2 began strongly. I stuck a number of my early plays, and began beating down. Wrath came, but I followed with Kodama of the North Tree, who traded with a Simic Sky Swallower in my attack. Then came Arashi, threatening to rule the board… but he too was Wrathed away.
No matter, I still had the Silklash. I raw-dogged him into play, and sat back on him, praying to find something to beat with without risking the spider to the dreaded Condemn.
The third Wrath came shortly after. I was out of true flier defence. Boomer made Meloku, and I frowned.
My Vitu-Ghazi was producing tokens, but Meloku is better at this by far. I had no outs in my deck, save a mistake from my opponent.
Boomer made illusions, and hit me with the team. I took the beats. Next turn he, did the same, wavering before sending Meloku into the red zone with his land-fuelled offspring.
I crossed my fingers.
“Chord of Calling for six?”
I was dead to a Remand, or a hard counterspell. I’d played around a single Mana Leak, but two also doomed me.
“Resolves,” he said.
Yosei screamed into play, batting Meloku from the sky. I took the game soon after.
The third game saw Boomer stranded for Green mana, sitting with multiple Elephants in hand as I chomped his life away with Elephants of my own.
We shuffled up for the fourth. Boomer piled his deck, each card slapping into place with a little more aggression than usual. It was obvious he was feeling it.
“You had me beat in game 2, until the Chord of Calling…”
“Very close. A lot of money on the line here.”
“Yeah.” The card snapping intensified. I looked at my friend, and relented a little.
“Good luck, Boomer,” I said. “We’ve done the hard part. Let’s just have fun.”
He smiled, and we played.
This game, bizarrely, saw Boomer as the beatdown. An early Azorius Guildmage comes down, threatening to slow my offence… but as always, I’m quite happy to see it. My start is slow, and Andy swings me down to ten over a number of turns, tapping down both my Watchwolf and my Hierarch.
Eventually, as Andy sinks his counterspell mana into his Guildmage, I drop the Yosei. Andy replies with Meloku.
I swing with the team — or I try to. Some are tapped down, again bringing Boomer low on mana. This allows me to slip in a second Hierarch, and Punishment away Meloku for five.
Andy untaps, draws, pauses, and passes the turn.
Again, I attempt to swing with the team. Again, everything is tapped down. This is my window. Six mana, second Yosei. This taps Andy out for two turns, facing Watchwolf and double Hierarch. Selesnya Guildmage makes it academic, and I’m in the final!
Record: 11-3 (26-11)
Apparently, according to the Mox Radio coverage, Andy was slow-rolling the Wrath in the fourth game. He was waiting for me to pump out a few more guys, so he got maximum value from his board-sweeper. Classic evil Control tactic… serves him right. (Only joking, Boomer. We’ll have a great laugh at Worlds, fella.)
Tip #14: When you’re facing a tricky matchup, be sure to identify the role you need to play. This goes the same for individual games within a match, and individual plays within a game. For example, in game 4, Boomer took the role of the beatdown early, but failed to truly morph into the suspected (and necessary) control frame of mind as the game progressed. The Wrath is there for a reason. If you need it, use it.
Finals: Calum Stephenson, playing Zoo
For the Glory.
By now, I was tired. Dead tired. Thankfully, the final would be short even if it did go to five. Zoo is lightning fast, as we all know… even five games shouldn’t take us too long.
Going into the match, I was reasonably confident. Zoo can just win, and it was one of my losses in the Swiss rounds… but that was best of three. Over five, the mana and bad draws can count.
Another positive for me? I can play Zoo. My Magic Legacy, if you will, is with the beatdown deck. I am happy when crafting a win with one-drops and burn. Thus, I know the dangers, and I know what’s coming.
So here we are. Two days of frantic play, capped by a Stevenson/Stephenson mirror match. I wish I had a tenner on that one on Friday night.
I lost the roll, and Calum elected to play. No surprises there.
On six cards, Calum’s first turn saw a Stomping Ground fuelling a Lava Spike to my face. Calum’s list was packed, packed, packed with burn. Thing is, I’m happy with early burn to the face — rather that than a monster. I respond with a Selesnya Guildmage, which soaks up a Seal of Fire.
No matter, Guildmage number two hits play, unopposed. When my Jitte hit next turn, and the equip passed without a flicker, I swung in and crossed my fingers.
“No response,” said Calum. Counters on the Jitte!
I made more monsters, and killed everything that hit play from Calum, but the game was won right there.
For game 2, I danced the sideboard jig. Ten cards out, ten to come in… What to do?
Out came the Llanowar Elves. Out came the Yoseis and the Kodamas. In came the Wraths, the Crime/Punishments, the Paladin En-Vecs, the Shining Shoal, and the double Glare of Subduals. Was this wrong? Yes. Did it matter? No.
Calum killed me on turn 4.
Turn 1 Kird Ape.
Turn 2 Attack, Kird Ape, Isamaru.
Turn 3 Attack, Burn.
Turn 4 Attack, Burn.
My resistance? Turn 3 Paladin En-Vec. Two Wrath of God in hand.
For the third game, I returned to the sideboard. Back came the Elves — I need speed-bumps, and ways to Wrath on turn 3. Out went two Wood Elf, and two Glare of Subdual — just too slow, all told.
We were onto game 3. It looked like the final would be the best-of-three after all…
I led off with an Elf, matched and bettered by Calum’s Kird Ape. I powered a turn 2 Wood Elves (shiver), and took beats while my opponent made a Watchwolf. Thankfully, a Glare of Subdual came down to slow the attackers. I made a Jitte, which was killed by a Tin-Street Hooligan, and then I took four from a Flames of the Blood Hand.
With the board clear, Calum slapped me with a Giant Solifuge. I’m down to five life. I made a Paladin En-Vec, and Shining Shoal three points of a Char back to Calum at end of turn.
Calum untapped, and foured me in the face. Game over.
2-1 down. I needed to win two in a row, against the most vicious deck in the format.
Game 4 starts slowly for both of us. The first play, Wood Elves on turn 3, was met with a Helix to the face. No pressure from Calum, no creatures… so far, so good. I made a mana elf, and a Paladin En-Vec, and passed. Another Helix hit me in the face for my cheek.
Savannah Lions, Seal of Fire… the clock was slowly turning. Still, 14 life is fine, for a turn or two at least. In with the Paladin.
The Lions hit back, and I made a Saproling to block. Maybe Calum didn’t see the City Tree… either way, dead Lion.
I made a Jitte the next turn, which gained me some life before the Hooligan sent it packing. A Glare of Subdual, a cheeky Shining Shoal, and we were on to a decider.
One game, for all the marbles.
It doesn’t get any better than this.
We shuffled and drew seven. Mine was playable. Calum’s?
He sat, and stared, and flicked his cards. He looked to the sky. He checked his hand again.
And it was on!
On the play, Calum laid a turn 1 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]… and passed the turn. This felt good.
Calum’s second turn saw a Tin-Street Hooligan hit play. Nothing too scary, as my turn 2 Watchwolf threatened to keep it home. For turn 3, a Helix dispatched the Wolf, and I was at 18. Savannah Lions, go.
I needed blockers. Down came a Guildmage, and Llanowar Elves. The Guildmage took a Helix, but the Elf took down the Lions. Sixteen now. Slowly dropping. The clock ticked, turns passed.
Down came a Wood Elves, hoping to trade with the pesky Hooligan. Sadly, he decided to jump in front of a marauding Giant Solifuge instead.
By now, I’d dropped to seven. Things were looking grim. Thankfully, the Solifuge meant I had a window to make a Hierarch without fearing a Flames of the Blood Hand. Up to eleven, 4/4 on the board. Next turn, another Guildmage and a Wood Elves.
Helix to the face, and a second Giant Solifuge.
Dropping to six, I traded my little guys for Calum’s army. Six life, Calum sitting on two cards… it was looking precarious.
Chord of Calling for Hierarch put me to ten, with two 4/4 guys on the pitch. I hit in for four. Calum burns me at end of turn, back down to seven.
Next turn, the third Solifuge hit. Luckily, my pressure meant the insect stays at home, and left Calum with two mana untapped.
Loxodon Hierarch. The third.
I swing, and an Elephant gets killed by an Insect. Four mana tapped, the third Hierarch hits play. I’m up to eleven, and I’m smiling like a loon. Calum, on three, needed a miracle.
He untapped, drew, and thought for a while. Then he tapped his Karplusan Forest for Red, and dropped a Temple Garden into play untapped. With a rueful smile, he extended the hand.
I did it!
Record: 12-3 (29-13)
My head slumps into my hands. I take off my glasses, and rub the bridge of my nose. The crowd, gathered to watch the final, applaud happily. I look up, into the smiling faces of friends and opponents alike. Rich Hagon is there, a grin on his face. Magic Dave, Lee Singleton, Rich Moore… everyone clapping and smiling. Even Calum, obviously disappointed, has the class to applaud the outcome.
2006 English National Champion.
My shoulders shake. I’m breathless.
Magic: The Gathering…
What a game.
It’s a week or so later now, and I’m still smiling. To be honest, I don’t think it’s sunk in yet. I don’t think it will, at least not in the “incredible flash” way. No, I’m coming to terms with my win in tiny increments. Every now and then, I laugh a little. Damn, it feels good.
And I’m playing at Worlds! I planned to attend regardless of my performance at English Nationals, but I’d be lying if I told you I’m not ecstatic. I’ve played on the Pro Tour, and made the Top 8 of a GP… Worlds was the big thing missing from my Magical CV.
Cheers to Calum, Boomer and Paul, all of whom will be making the trip to Paris. And cheers to everyone at Wizards UK, as Nationals was excellent this year. Okay, so I won the thing, but I’d say the same regardless of my score.
And thanks to you, for reading this far. It’s a long report, I know… but you struggled through. Well done!
So, I’m the reigning English National Champion… and I will be for many years to come. From next year, the English Nationals joins forces with the Welsh and Scottish equivalents, forming the UK Nationals. You can bet I’ll be there, making monkeys and swinging for two.
I started this report promising some fireworks. I hope, after reading the game descriptions, you feel suitably thrilled. If not, there’s always my Worlds report.
Because win or lose, I’ll still be writing.
Until next time,
Thanks for listening.
Mail us at https://sales.starcitygames.com/contactus/contactform.php?emailid=2
English National Champion 2006
PS: One more thing… here’s a photo from the official coverage of the final:
Why the hell didn’t anyone tell my I was going that bald?! My god, you could park a car in that bald spot! Thanks for nothing, guys! The hair has now all been shaved off. Bald by fate it a curse. Bald by choice is a statement.
PPS: Here is a picture of my lucky Saproling token. I printed nine of these, and they always raised a smile. And I think they contributed to my success on some primeval level. Use their power wisely.
Too much time on my hands? You decide!