The North American Challenge – A Tournament Report *1st*

For the North American Challenge, Ben turned his back on the Tron deck that sent him to Worlds… turning instead to the powerful Erayo Ninja deck that ravaged German Nationals. Mr Lundquist, heralded as “the future of American Magic,” took home all the marbles, swinging for two and drawing a card all the while. This interesting report chronicles the highs and lows from each match.

This past weekend was the NAC (North American Challenge) Championship, which I am aware a lot of you are not familiar with. I am also not too familiar with this tournament, but what I do know is that it has been around for some time and that you have to qualify to play. This was my first NAC tournament, and I have to admit it was a pretty fun time.

Let’s back up to early July, when I first heard about the NAC qualifiers. I learned that they were Standard, and held every week at a store about an hour from my house. I was asked plenty of times by local players if I was going to play in any of them and try to win the $2,000 prize that the NAC was offering. At that time, however, my plans were to sit on my rating and qualify for Worlds, and hope to make it to the Pro Player Club level 3. As this plan also had me missing Nationals, quite a few Grand Prix tournaments, and Pro Tour: Kobe, I decided that perhaps I should try as many tournaments as I could and just see what happens from there.

In GP: Toronto I start off 8-0, and I finish 19th while playing for Top 8 every round of the tournament. I also got paired down the last round to a guy that wouldn’t concede me into Top 8 because he was playing for Top 16 (a Pro Tour invite). I lose, and finish 19th.

The first tournament of my adventure was GP: St. Louis. Before you go checking how I did (if you care at all) I will save you the time and tell you I didn’t make Day 2. My deck couldn’t handle a creature with three toughness without doubling up, and running into Rich Hoaen in round 7 was the end of me.

Next was the PTQ during Day 2 of GP: St Louis. I didn’t really want to go to this tournament because I was down about not making Day 2 of the GP, but after my friends convinced me that I should play, I decided it wouldn’t be that bad. My deck was pretty good, as I had a Dimir Guildmage and a Train of Thought. These are the cards that I love to get in Sealed, and I will say publicly that Dimir Guildmage is my favorite Guildmage, and I would take it over any other. After being 4-0 I lose pretty quickly by being outclassed by a Glare of Subdual, Seize the Soul, and a combination of other amazing cards. The next round I mulligan to four cards in either game 1 or game 2, and I still manage to win (thank you, Dimir Guildmage!). So I win out and get to draw in the last round. Until… I am paired down. I have to play it out, so I am pretty bummed. I win game 1 against the slowest Magic player in the universe, after repeatedly asking the judge to watch for slow play. There is ten minutes left on the clock, so I am in really good shape against this guy. I mulligan to five and I don’t think he thought about a single play for the game. He attacked and I took damage while missing land drops and not playing spells.

We get an unintentional draw, and at 6-1-1 I am still pretty happy, but I did get a draw against someone I should have easily beaten. I ask him to concede to guarantee me a slot into Top 8, as there’s a chance one 6-1-1 won’t make Top 8. He claims I should concede to him so he has a shot, and that’s that. Standings go up and I get 9th place because my tiebreakers went to garbage after getting paired down. I am in the worst mood ever, and I decide to tell Tim Aten what just happened to me. He looks at my last opponent, laughs at me, and informs me that I had just been “Turbo Bobbed the **** out“. Obviously this guy has a history. Thanks, Turbo Bob!

In Nationals I start out 1-2, but I am ready for a good finish as I have been rather unlucky up to this point. I tell my friends I am going to win out, and the rest is history. A great finish and an invite to Worlds, I couldn’t ask for more. Oh yeah, and I made the Nationals team.

I’m very confident in Tron, as everyone by now should know. I took my Tron deck to the NAC qualifier and won pretty easily. Adam Chambers also qualified for the NAC Championship the following week playing Tron. That deck is so good.

The week leading up to the NAC Championship I tested a lot on Magic Online, because I really wanted to do well. Tron was the obvious deck on my mind the whole time, but I already knew all the matchups, how to sideboard, and what has to be done to win each game. So I decided to give some more decks a chance while I still had time. I started with the B/W Hand deck that John Pelcak recommended, but I never liked playing with that deck even though I think it’s really good. I then moved onto Heartbeat because it seemed like a good metagame choice, but once again it’s just not that fun a deck. I also tried out Mike Flores White Wafo-Tapa deck (which should just be called U/W Control), and I don’t think I won a game with it.

Tron was looking very good for me once again, but I wanted to have as much fun as possible playing Magic. The Ninja deck looked like fun while reading about German Nationals, and when it won I knew I had to try it out. Until Erayo was practically impossible to find on Magic Online, so I just gave up on it and decided Tron was better anyway…

Until Big Oots challenged me to a game on Magic Online. I guessed he was playing Ninjas, because whenever someone knows that you are playing, they like to challenge you with the worst possible matchup you could imagine. I luckily won game 1 with a bunch of Spell Snares and Mana Leaks, and then lost games 2 and 3 with only a couple of lands in play and unable to cast my spells. He tried to rub it in, but I didn‘t let it get to me because I convinced myself he was lucky. I talked with him for a little while about Ninjas and he couldn’t give me an opinion on the deck. He was doing well with them, but he wasn’t sure if he liked them. I built it up and played it in a few 8-mans.

I liked the deck a lot, but I couldn’t beat B/W decks… ever. Game 1 was a complete nightmare that I had no hope with, and I like to board the Erayos out against every aggro deck (making Jitte from the sideboard weak). Most of my games I would acquire Jitte advantage, just to lose one of my few creatures with power to a removal spell. I would embarrassingly have to move my Jitte onto a Carven Caryatid or a Bird of Paradise or Ornithopter and pretty much do nothing while they started to take over the game. Every other match looked great for me, so I was pretty happy with how I would do at the NAC, whether I played Tron or Ninjas.

Before I tell you how I did, I would like to give you some background on Ninjas. Check here or here, depending on the type of Ninja you are looking for. Everyone likes Ninjas, whether they are those real Ninjas or the Ninjas from Betrayers of Kamigawa. Adam Chambers told me he liked Ninjas as well, and that he pretty much just wanted to have fun. This was a good point, because I was bored with always playing Tron, whether or not I was winning all the time.

Chambers and I met up at the store we qualified at the night before the NAC, and talked about the deck and gathered the cards we needed. I told him that the B/W match was miserable. I jokingly shot out the idea that Shuriken would be amazing against them. We joked for a little while, and then I went home to finish up the deck.

That night I got two hours of sleep because I just couldn’t figure out if playing Ninjas was going to be a good idea at a tournament like this. If I ran into a lot of B/W I was going to be in rough shape. I picked up Chambers that morning and he told me to just play Ninjas and Shuriken in the sideboard. I took it as a joke, but then he showed me his sideboard, and yes, it featured 2 Shuriken. I thought about it, and considered changes to fit two of my own in the sideboard.

This is what I ended up with…

Against all the Aggro decks I sideboarded out 4 Mana Leak, 4 Remand, 4 Erayo, and a Disrupting Shoal. Against all the other decks, I switched the Boomerangs with the Voidslimes.

This is how I did…

Round 1 versus Solar Flare
Ben Goodman was sitting a couple of seats down from me, so we joked a little and wished each other good luck. He went off about how I am the “future of American Magic,” and I responded by telling him I bet I don’t get a Feature Match because a lot of people still don’t know who I am. People all around me whisper asking who I was, but no one knew besides Ben.

Max Bracht said that Solar Flare is the deck’s worst matchup, but I have to totally disagree. I lose the die roll and find out the hard way that he has maindeck Condemns. That has to be the scariest card for a deck like Ninjas, but he had no problem drawing them, and I had no problem playing around them. In game 2 his first plays were 3 Condemn and a Court Hussar, yet I still managed to win.

Right before the next round I talked to Flores about my deck choice, when he asked me where my Urza’s Towers were. I told him I tried to fit them, but there was simply no room. He backed my opinion on Solar Flare being a good matchup and told me he had lots of problems with aggro. I told him that the only deck I was afraid of was B/W, and we wished each other good luck.

Round 2 versus Boros
I once again lose the die roll, but this time it’s more problematic as I face a turn 1 Sacred Foundry (tapped). I know I told Flores that aggro wasn’t a bad matchup for me, but I must admit I wasn’t happy to see one on the other side of the table. I simply played a land and passed the turn back. His next turn was once again uneventful, with him playing a Boros Garrison and passing the turn back. I untapped, Boomeranged his land, and won the game because of the amazing amount of tempo I had gained.

Game 2 he played a turn 1 Isamaru and a turn 2 Savannah Lions, missing his land drop. I got a Ninja of the Deep Hours Condemned, and despite the mana advantage I had at this point the game wasn’t looking great. My only ninja was now gone. I luckily drew another shortly after, and played around Condemn the best I could while bouncing his creatures with Repeal and Boomerang. I believe I got a Jitte active here, and it was soon over.

Round 3 versus B/W/R Control
I win the die roll, and Game 1 I flip an early Erayo. I get a Ninja attacking without much happening on the other side of the table. I win the game, and don’t know exactly what to sideboard so I keep the deck how it is.

Game 2 I once again flip an Erayo, but he burns a Castigate and then tried to Hide/Seek it to the bottom of my deck. I had the counter, but no other action that game. He plays Firemane Angels, welcoming them into his graveyard, and trying to push through other spells. He gains enough life to buy him time, while I attack with Ninja of the Deep Hours and draw into Birds and Ornithopters. He manages to get mana to reanimate Firemane Angel, which I Repeal, and then I Voidslime the reanimation of the other one a turn later. Things are still looking bad for me, as he is gaining life and I am not putting on sufficient pressure.

He resolves an angel of Despair and a Yosei, along with reanimating a Firemane Angel successfully. There is a window of opportunity for me to draw into an Erayo or the last Birds in my deck to block long enough to kill him next turn, but the two extra cards off the Ninja of the Deep Hours were neither.

Game 3 I once again flip Erayo, and he didn’t have much of a chance from there as I had a Higure and other gas.

Round 4 versus Solar Flare
This match didn’t take very long, because my opponent was unfamiliar with my deck. I know I lost the die roll and couldn’t exactly tell what he was playing for the first few turns. This should put me at a disadvantage, but he also didn’t know exactly what I was playing. He tried to figure out what my plans were, but by the time he did it was all too late. There isn’t much you can do against the Ninja deck when you don’t know exactly what’s going on at first, and once the Ninja deck gets going it is very hard to stop. I almost lost game 2 – drawing a bunch of extra lands – but a timely Voidslime was just what I needed to win.

Round 5 versus B/W Hand
His decklist looked very similar to the one John Pelcak recently wrote about, and after a few minutes of doing nothing relevant during my turns, he simply played creatures with Jitte and easily won. Game 2 he mulliganed to five, and I won pretty easy even though he had a turn 2 Dark Confidant hand.

Game 3 started off very bad for me, and I was almost sure the game was lost. My Ninja (that got in for two damage and a card) was being held off very well by his Paladin En-Vec. His board was a Dark Confidant, Paladin En-Vec, Isamaru, and Eight-and-a-Half-Tails, while mine was a Carven Caryatid and a Ninja. He tapped low to play some spells and Castigate me, giving me the opportunity to repeal his Paladin. My hand here was two Jitte and a freshly drawn Carven Caryatid. He took the defender with an upset face, and the following turn got wrecked by Jitte. My draw for the turn was also a Shuriken, so after much deliberation I left him with just an Isamaru and a Shuriken on his side of the board. He ended up coming back with Ghost Council and other bears, but by the time he got an attack for lethal with a Shizo-enhanced Ghost Council, my Ornithopter happily took one for the team. A few turns later, the game was mine.

This is where you talk to all of your friends and tell them you Top 8ed, because you are going to draw in for the next two rounds and then win a lot of money.

Of course, I got paired down against Zoo.

Round 6 versus Zoo
I lose the die roll, and he leads with Savannah Lions, Watchwolf, then Isamaru and Watchwolf as his first three turns. I lose that game. Game 2 I’m about to draw my hand after shuffling my opponent’s deck. He stops me, asking if he cut my deck. I said he did, but if he wanted he could do it again, he could. He does some weird thing with my deck, cutting it a bunch of times.

I draw my hand of Birds, Ornithopter, Shuriken, Carven Caryatid, and lands. I lead with a Birds of Paradise, taking two from a Breeding Pool. He kills the Birds with a Seal of Fire. I play a second land and a Shuriken, and pass it back. He plays a Pithing Needle on Shuriken, after reading it, and I follow up with a Carven Caryatid while being a little thrown off by a Pithing Needle from Zoo. He plays a Watchwolf and attacks it into the Caryatid, finishing it off with a Helix it. I play another, and use Threads of Disloyalty on his Watchwolf. Once again has the Helix. I take four from a Flames of the Blood Hand, and Threads a Bloodthirsted Scab-Clan Mauler after he aims a Volcanic Hammer at me. Throughout the game I have not taken any damage from his creatures, and I am threatening to win while his creatures keeps attacking him. However, a Char, a Flames of the Blood Hand, and a Helix later… and I am dead.

That’s 26 points of burn, but who’s counting.

Round 7 versus Vore
My opponent was trying to convince me that we could draw in, but after a quick trip to the standings I found it was impossible to do so unless I wanted to finish ninth. I felt bad having to play it out, especially after I just got screwed over in the last round, but that’s Magic.

I lost the die roll again, but Vore is an easy matchup. It was easier than it should have been, because his mana didn’t cooperate with him. He led with just Islands in game 1, and then game 2 he had nothing but Mountains. He killed a few creatures with Volcanic Hammer, but I managed to flip an Erayo. Erayo is extra dangerous when your opponent doesn’t have a good manabase to push through spells with.

Now I am in the Top 8 of what seems like the worst set of matchups I could imagine. Decks like U/W/R Weenie, W/R Burn, and Simic Aggro. However, I didn’t come this far for the $150 prize… I wanted the $2,000. Back to my A-game.

Quarter-Finals versus U/W/R Weenie
We received each other’s decklist, and I wasn’t very happy to see all the different cards I would have to play around due to him having Sunforger. I tried to remember as best I could what he played, and did a decent job. Cards like Odds/Ends would otherwise destroy me if I hadn’t looked at his decklist before the round. He also had Shinning Shoals and Manriki-Gusari in the sideboard.

Game 1 he plays out a very fast curve, and that is something Ninjas can’t deal with. Game 2 I manage to draw two Threads of Disloyalty during the early stages, and it absolutely cripples him. On the turn before I am about to kill him I draw the third, so we laugh it up and shuffle for game 3.

Game 3 took a very long time due to the number of significant plays that would absolutely change the game around. His early plays were some creatures and a Pithing Needle on Ninja of the Deep Hours, while mine involved Repealing the Needle, and getting through for some cards. A Court Hussar from the other side of the table stunted my attacks, and the game slowed down to a halt. I managed to get a Shuriken after several turns of him drawing cards off Sky Hussar, and me saying go. Once the Shuriken hit the table, the game made a complete 360. His board had Sunforger, a couple of Weathered Wayfarers, two Court Hussar, Azorius Guildmage, a Paladin En-Vec, and Isamaru. I had two Ninja of the Deep Hours, an Ornithopter, two Birds of Paradise, and a Carven Caryatid. Threads was wandering around in my hand, waiting to take control of the Guildmage when the time was right, and the Shuriken killed off most of his team via my Ninjas. The threads took the Guildmage, countered his card draw from Sky Hussar a few times, stopped the Sunforger from getting absurd, and tapped down his creatures in the process. I ended up riding his own Guildmage to victory, while playing around Shining Shoal and giving him more turns.

As it turns out he had a hand of six or seven cards, but they were all lands and the Sky Hussar. It was possible for me to kill him a turn or two earlier if I didn’t play around Shoal, but I could flat out lose to an alpha attack. I played it safe, which almost cost me the game, but luckily it worked out for me as I won the match.

Semi Finals versus Simic Aggro
I don’t remember who won the die roll here, but I know I won two die rolls on the day, so this is probably one of them. An early Plaxcaster Frogling saw play from him, and an early Ninja of the Deep Hours saw play from me. He sits back, not letting me get extra cards off the ninja, while I counter his other threats. I manage to bounce his Frog a couple of times, and draw into some extra cards to flip Erayo. A few turns later, he scoops his cards.

Game 2 we are both a little manascrewed, as I am sitting there with two lands to his four. I draw a Minamo, but it’s just a wasteland at that point. He draws his lands faster than I do, but he still has no action. I am sitting there with two Sleight of Hands in my hand, but I don’t want to get greedy, as if I don’t hit a land with them, problems may (and probably will) occur. I have a hand full of Remands and Mana Leaks, so in the event of a Kodama of the North Tree or Meloku, I will be able to cycle a Remand and hopefully counter it soon after. He draws more lands, and is soon threatening playing a threat and counter my counter, so I have to make a move and try to draw lands. I Sleight, but there are no lands to be seen. I Sleight again, and find one. He resolves a Manriki-Gusari and a Kudzu, to go along with his Frog that is keeping my Ninja back from the red zone. He equips his Kudzu and attacks me, while I deliberate for a while. I have a few Repeals in my hand. I don’t want to just go around burning cards at this point… but he has a 2/3 Kudzu that is going to get in for quite a bit of damage if the game progresses in the current fashion. I Repeal the Manriki, and block the now 1/1 Kudzu with my Ninja, putting myself far ahead in the game.

I start drawing some lands, and getting in for damage due to a Higure. He gets a Kodama to stick, and follows it up with a Jitte. My Board is all four Ornithopter and some Ninjas, so it doesn’t look like the race will be that great for me on the board, but what everyone didn’t know was the plan I had to win this game. He pushes his guys into combat, and my Ornithopter steps up to his Jitted Frog… and Repeal simply returns it to my hand to stop him from getting any counters. The next couple of turns go the same way, and I am on my way to the finals.

Finals versus Counter Post
We decide on a prize split before the match starts: $1,600 for first and $1,400 for second, as we have both come really far and we both deserve the money. The matchup looks really good for me on paper, but it looks like he might be bringing in the majority of his sideboard against me just to make his deck cheaper, and able to play around Erayo. Cards like Azorius Guildmage, Descendant of Kiyomaro, and Condemns look to be a problem after boarding.

Game 1 goes as planned, with him taking lots of damage from Ninjas as I draw plenty of cards, and I keep removing a Hierarch from the table via Remands and Repeals. Game 2 is a lot scarier, as he leads with a turn 2 Guildmage and a turn 3 Descendant. I get some ninjas on the table. Not much attacking goes on, until I flip and Erayo and force him into action. I get very low on life, while he gets very high on life due to the Descendant. The Guildmage is very good from this point, as I can’t Ninjitsu Higure into play without it being countered, so I just play him and keep his team from doing extra damage to me. A few turns later I am facing lethal damage if he taps my two creatures and swings in for my last five life points, but if I have any trickery I can swing back for lethal. After much deliberation he has to play it safe and ship the turn back. I get some ninjas in for some damage, and I don’t draw my cards off the two ninjas that just got through after searching my library for a ninja from Higure. I played an Ornithopter and realized that I missed the ninjas ability, and I felt pretty stupid, but the six-card hand I was holding already possessed the win, so it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Minamo untaps my Higure and threatens as another blocker on his last turn. He extends the hand, and I walk away with the biggest trophy and the biggest check.

One of the things about this deck is that it would be a million times better with Spell Snare. I am a huge fan of the card, and it seems to me like it is a perfect fit in a deck like this. The only problem was I didn’t know what to change in order to fit them in, but if you feel you can squeeze some in the maindeck or sideboard without ruining your matchups, I would recommend it.

Another card that has been popping up in this deck on Magic Online is Mishra’s Bauble, for which people are cutting Sleight of Hand. If you don’t already know what your opponent is playing in the early stages of the game, a card like this will set up a game plan for you almost single-handed. It also looks very good with Erayo, as it will set up more god draws. I don’t actually know if this card is good in the deck or not, because my tournament was not Coldsnap legal, but for everyone else, this is an option that you should be open to.

During the tournament a lot of people came up to me and asked about my deck choice, and why I didn’t play Tron. I still think Tron is an amazing deck, but I wanted to have more fun and play a deck that seemed easier to play. I have to admit that this deck is a lot harder to play than Tron is (at least to me), but it is also very entertaining. I love decks that react to what the opponent does, with lots of different plays to make. If you are the same way, then I fully recommend one of these decks to you.

If you have any further comments or questions I will be checking back in the forums, and I’m more than happy to answer you.

Good luck with your own tournaments.

Ben Lundquist