I expected to do well at Nationals this year because I put a lot of time into writing about Standard. I also played FNM every week, as well as a few Daily Events on Magic Online. I also had the drive to succeed, since this was the last tournament I would be attending before Amsterdam, and I hoped I could reach Level 6.
But sometimes, it’s just not your weekend…
My journey began on Thursday. I was flying stand-by to Minneapolis. I was going to fly from Detroit to Chicago at 2:20, then to Minneapolis at 4:30. It seems like a simple plan, but when is that ever the case? I started by getting kicked off of my flight to Minneapolis… twice. It was now down to one last flight for the night. I could fly to Minneapolis at 7:55, but that flight was also over-booked, and I would most likely not get on. I had a chance to fly to St. Louis and then to Minneapolis so I could still make the tournament, but THAT was over-booked by six people. I put my name on the stand-by list for the hell of it, but I was not expecting anything miraculous.
I was ready to suck it up and buy a regular ticket from another airline so I could actually play in Nationals. I’d tested a lot, and I did not want to give up because of a little variance.
I began to walk from the Southwest terminal to Delta to buy a new ticket. I stopped by the bathroom and heard my name being called on the speaker system. I ran ten gates in my sandals, at a speed I never thought possible. I actually made it on the flight that was over-booked by six people, and was going to be able to go to Minneapolis without having to buy a new ticket.
I arrived in St. Louis, and saw that my flight was delayed for two hours. I thought it was strange that any flights were delayed, since it was a nice day. I later discovered that the reason it was late was because a guy stole a truck in Texas and got caught on the runway. This caused the airport to shut down for a couple of hours so they could move it.
When I finally got to Minneapolis, I was about five hours late. I called Gavin Verhey for directions on how to get to our hotel room. I had to take a light rail from the airport to downtown. I arrived at the station at 11:45, and the next train got there at 12:25. More waiting had to be done, and I was still by myself so it was very lonely. I got on the late train and rode it for about ten stops, after which I had to walk another eight blocks to the hotel.
I was approached by a random guy asking for money. He came out and said that he was not homeless and he was gay, so I did not have to worry. I am not even sure what that was supposed to mean. It seemed totally irrelevant to me, since I was not giving him anything regardless. It would not be a Magic trip if something out of the ordinary did not happen.
When I finally got to my hotel room, it was already 2am, and everyone else was sleeping. There were also no blankets and a couple pillows, both of which came with a nice hard floor. The room got really cold during the night, and I literally did not sleep at all. This pretty much killed my chances of doing well, and threw their corpse out of the window.
I took a shower at around 6am, because my feet were freezing and a good shower could help wake me. We got a wheelchair accessible shower for some reason, so the water leaked all over the bathroom. There was a drain in the corner of the bathroom, but the water leaked outside anyway.
I got ready to battle, even though I was already dead tired. I am sure you already guessed that I chose to rock Blue/White Control for the Standard portion of the event
Here is what I played.
There have been a few changes made since last week. I got a chance to brew with DJ Kastner on the phone while I was stuck in one of the airports. I was worried about Titan Ramp decks that kill with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. I changed the random Mystifying Maze to a fourth Tectonic Edge.
Essence Scatter seemed like a good one-of because it counters Primeval Titan and does not get redirected by Ricochet Trap. It is also another creature removal spell that is good with Jace’s Ingenuity, since you leave up your mana for both.
I replaced the Kor Firewalkers in the sideboard for Celestial Purges, because it is important to kill Putrid Leech on the second turn. You have eight counterspells after sideboard, and Leech is the only threat that can get under them. It is also an additional way to destroy Pyromancer Ascension. I also expected that deck to be popular because of how well it has been doing on Magic Online. You immediately remove Pyromancer Ascension, or you will lose the game very quickly.
The Spell Pierces in the sideboard are mainly for their surprise factor. They will counter a Jace after you tap down to one mana. People do not play around this card in Standard, so I expected it to be very good for me. The card gets better when you add more counters to your deck, since it is good at fighting over spells. A common scenario I was expecting was that I would counter a Primeval Titan and they would play a Summoning Trap that gets Spell Pierced.
I knew there were a lot of new decks that did not interact with the opponent, so I wanted to make sure I had a plan against them. I had been playing against the creature and control decks over the last few weeks, so I felt confident in that area.
In the first round, I played against a Blue/Green/Black Aggro Control deck. It seemed pretty unfocused to me, but he had many Vengevines each game to make it look real. I am sure I made some mistakes somewhere to lose this match. One that I noticed was that I waited to play two Path to Exiles on his turn and he had two Mana Leaks for them. I died a turn later, and knew that was the root of the problem. I did not want him to get two additional mana on the following turn because he missed a land drop, so he had nothing but spells.
The next round I got a GGSlive feature match against Mike Flores. He was playing Pyromancer Ascension. I managed to win the first game after he played some draw spells and missed on getting an Island to counter my Oblivion Ring on his Ascension. He also did not Mana Leak my Gideon Jura, so it went the distance. I lost the next two games because I had to leave up too much mana, and he went off when I tried to cast a threat.
Round 3 saw me playing against a Mythic Conscription deck piloted by someone I beat at Pro Tour: San Juan. The games were pretty normal, because I died to fast creatures in two of them, and I managed to control the game in the other. A Dauntless Escort saved all of his guys from a Martial Coup in the third game, and I died on the next attack.
I was feeling pretty bad about my start, since I have never done badly with Blue/White since the current rotation. I decided to play out the last round so I could get a draft in too. I beat a Mono White Control deck because I had Jace and he did not. The lack of sleep was really getting to me, so it was pretty difficult to focus. I have not done many M11 drafts at that point, so I decided to tough it out regardless.
I was unfamiliar with the people in my draft pod, so I figured it would be easy. There were only seven people in the pod, so I might have also got a bye. My first pick was between Foresee, Lightning Bolt, and Pacifism. I like the Blue White flyer archetype, so I took the Pacifism. I don’t really remember all of the picks, but I ended up with mostly Green cards after the first pack. I had something in every color to possibly splash, but I did not see a single Cultivate.
My deck ended up being a Green White fatty deck. It seemed weak, but I had a Sword of Vengeance that I opened in pack 3. I picked a second Pacifism over a second Serra Angel, which was the only close pick. I had a lot of five drops already, and was short on removal, so it seemed optimal.
2 Runeclaw Bears
1 Serra Angel
1 Sylvan Ranger
1 Birds of Paradise
1 Sword of Vengeance
1 Giant Growth
2 Giant Spider
1 Infantry Veteran
1 Safe Passage
1 Acidic Slime
1 Garruk’s Companion
2 Greater Basilisk
1 Garruk’s Packleader
1 Yavimaya Wurm
This deck is no catch, but it can do the job. I have two copies of Runeclaw Bears and I was not proud of that. Safe Passage was situational, but it could easily lead to a blowout. Plummet is definitely a maindeck card in this format. There are so many good flyers in White, Blue, and some in Black. Plummet is also a good answer to Shiv’s Embrace; I never want to leave that card unanswered.
Greater Basilisk was easily the MVP of the deck. There were many games that came to a stalemate, and the Basilisk pushes through the last damage. It never gets killed in combat because you have to throw away three creatures to normally do so. It is also the most disgusting creature that can be equipped with a Sword of Vengeance.
Round 6 was against a Blue/White Flyers deck. I had a Plummet and two Giant Spiders maindeck, so I had a good matchup. I was playing terribly, but still managed to get there. Both of the games ended with me getting one guy through and playing Giant Growth for the win.
Round 7 was against Mono Red. It turned out he was only 1-1 because of the seven-person pod. His win was also from a bye, so I was feeling pretty confident. I lost to a Shiv’s Embrace in the first game after he came out of the gates pretty fast. I won the second game with my Sword of Vengeance on a Giant Spider. That equipment is easily the best card in the format, and I would never pass it. The third game I played out my Sword and then he said, “Now I get to have some fun.” I was unaware of what it meant, but I did not like it one bit. He played his own Sword of Vengeance, and Demolished mine a turn later. I lost a few turns after that.
I was 3-4 on the day, so it was a pretty big disappointment. I felt confident in Standard, but ended up doing better in draft. My only experience with the draft format was watching walkthroughs. My mistake in deck choice was playing Control in a sea of combo decks. I had to worry about how to stop Primeval Titan, Pyromancer Ascension, Dredgevine, and Temple Bell. This is the same as the time I was trying to stop the mirror and every beatdown deck. I was trying to do too many things. It was necessary to be more proactive.
It seems like the number of existing archetypes in the Standard metagame is constantly fluctuating. The control decks are better when there is a smaller amount of decks. We will soon see which Nationals decks are here to stay. There is always a “best combo deck,” and people will find it. Blue/White will be better once that happens. You need specific cards to beat each deck, and there are not enough spaces available if there are ten different playable decks. If I could take anything away from this event, it would be that.
The correct deck choice would have been Jund, or something else that simply beats up your opponent really quickly. Mythic won the tournament, and congratulations to Josh Utter-Leyton. I knew that deck was a good choice, since it was favorable against Primeval Titan decks. I like the direction he went with the deck, because Explore seems very good to me. There are only 4 Knights of the Reliquary that can come out on the second turn from Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch. The real focus is getting from two mana to four mana. Explore does this without being vulnerable to creature kill. It also cycles, and is never a dead draw. I would definitely consider this deck for any Standard tournament in the coming weeks. I’ve always liked the Mythic archetype in theory, but this is the first list I actually think is good.
I also heard a funny story that involved Rusty Kubis and E. Hunt McKenzie. Rusty was playing Jund and E. was playing Runeflare Trap. They were playing a Standard round in Day 1 of Nationals. The fourth turn saw Rusty playing a Mind Rot on himself. His hand was two Obstinate Baloth, Putrid Leech, Lightning Bolt, and two Bloodbraid Elf. His plan was to discard the two Baloths and put them into play for free.
As Rusty cast the Mind Rot, and announced he was targeting himself, he quickly realized that his plan would not work. E. thought why he would do this, and came to the conclusion that he was going to discard two Vengevines. He decided to play a Twincast on the Mind Rot, and also targeted Rusty with it. Now there is a Mind Rot that is controlled by his opponent, and so Rusty discarded two Obstinate Baloths and put them both onto the battlefield. He won a few turns later.
I still had a lot of fun at Nationals even though the tournament itself was a bust. I got to see many old friends, and I made some new ones. If you are wondering if you should take your Magic career to the next step, you definitely should. The new experiences alone are enough to justify the decision.
My friends from Puerto Rico also wanted me to congratulate Gerard Fabiano on his Nationals Top 8.
I need to step up my game and start testing like a madman for Pro Tour: Amsterdam. I hope to see some of you there. Good luck in your tournaments, and see you in the forums!
Thanks for reading.