Bolt for the Win – My Road to the Nationals by John Jemmett

Fact not Fiction –  A Standard Primer by Michael Maxwell


Hi, first off I better introduce myself. My name is John, I’m a semi-competitive player and have only been playing tournament Magic for just over a year (since Worldwake release), and last year I managed to qualify for my first Nationals.

For Nationals 2010 itself I started playing Valakut which I’ve been playing on and off ever since, as well as various Red-based aggro decks which I love, giving me any excuse to cry “Matt Damon!” (of Team America fame) whether it’s a little brainless Goblin or a big stompy Titan.

At the start of the year I decided my Magic goals for 2011 were to:

1. Qualify for nationals again, and…

2. Finish higher than last year (74th, around mid-place).

So prior to PT Paris I was excited about playing Valakut in the upcoming qualifier season, then Cawblade happened and suddenly the Magic community all said that ‘Valakut is dead now’, and through testing the matchup I found that it is as bad as the pro’s say. Cawblade immediately became a hit, so much so that I decided to abondon Valakut and start playing Boros instead (if you can’t beat Hawks with Swords, then join them!).

This brings us to the week before the first qualifier of the season, Southampton, and I realised through watching the brilliant coverage of the SCG Opens that people were hating out Cawblade and unfortunately as a bonus side-effect it hurts Boros even more, so the night before the qualifier I flipped back to the Valakut camp, and with a bit of help from Manaleak Worcester’s resident Valakut expert, Stuart Taylor, we built a less-ramp/more-disruption version of the deck.


NQ Southampton (69 players, 7 rounds, 8 slots).


Rd 1 (Boros).

Lost the dice roll so lost game 1 to the his faster pace, Game 2 the roles were reversed as I was on the play. Game 3 however my opponent had a deck malfunction and after mulling to 6 he didn’t see any red mana the whole game and I won easily. 1-0


Rd 2 (Quest WW).

Won the dice roll, but game 1 he had a good hand of T1: Signal Pest and 2 Ornithopters, T2: Contested War Zone, and I didnt see any removal. Games 2 and 3 however I did get my removal and kept him down long enough to go off with my Titans. 2-0


Rd 3 (RDW).

Quite a tough matchup for Valakut, even with the disruption I had. Lost the roll and so lost game 1 on the draw, game 2 won on the play as I could stay ahead, game 3 though back on the draw and I couldn’t prevent him levelling Kargan Dragonlord up to maximum for the win. 2-1


Rd 4 (UW Cawblade).

Game 1 was not a nice time for my own deck to suffer it’s daily deck malfunction, had to mulligan down to 4 before I saw a green mana source, and he turbo’d out jace to fateseal me out of the game. Game 2 I manage to win blowing up 2 Baneslayers at once with my titan-powered Valakut bolts. Game 3 I suffered my ‘Misplay of the day’ which cost me the match. I just needed to cast a Primeval Titan for the win but only had a green sun’s zenith in hand, I had enough mana to cast it and pay for manaleak or spell pierce on top, and I had Koth on the table. Unfortunately for me he had Manaleak AND spell pierce, if I had used Koths -2 to give me mana towards casting the Zenith then I could’ve paid for both counters with my lands. My opponent then won the following turn. 2-2

Rd 5 (RDW).

A relatively inexperienced RDW player, as he confessed he only just got given the deck before the tournament while we were deck checked. As such I win game 1 on the draw due to some misplays by my opponent. Game 2 however I don’t see my removal and he manages to ride Kargan Dragonlord to the win similar to the earlier match. Game 3 though I’m on the play and combo off with my Titans/Valakuts. 3-2


Rd 6 (UB Forgemaster Control).

A tough deck to face, as I have to kill the Forgemaster the turn he comes in or I’m screwed. I win game 1 as he goes off with Mindslaver too early and using my turn he doesn’t do much disruption, shortly afterwards I combo off with Primeval Titan. Game 2 became a Tumble Magnet war and his 2 beat my 1 to let him get through a Blightsteel Colossus for the win. Game 3 I manage to kill the Forgemaster before he can combo off, and I’m only 2 turns from winning and my opponent gets an extremely lucky series of plays to steal the win, with 8 mana available he casts Jace TMS–> Brainstorms–> find a Tezzeret–> which he then casts and finds another Forgemaster in his top 5 cards–> which he plays next turn and combo’s off with before I can win. 3-3 drop.


Not a bad effort considering the lack of testing with the new version, what I did gain though was a good idea of the metagame, and also what did and didn’t work in the deck so I could tinker it for next time. From my perception there was a lot of fast aggro, and a lot of Blue control decks so I could setup my deck accordingly, mainly going more anti-aggro pre-board then I can go more anti-control if I need to post-board.


NQ Yeovil (28 players, 5 rounds, 3 slots).

The following weekend, I take my anti-aggro Valakut deck to Yeovil, and it goes completely wrong, as I don’t face a single aggro deck all day.

Rd 1 (RUG).

Not much to say about this match except we both ramped in stage 1, and in stage 2 my threats got countered and his didn’t, a very strong deck as it has the power level of Valakut but the consistency and resilience is much better due to Jace and the counter backup. 0-1


Rd 2 (Valakut).

For some reason, I like playing the Valakut mirror as I normally seem to win. It’s always a case of ‘Titan racing’, my opponent was playing the ‘Pro’ version of Valakut with Lotus Cobra and little disruption (no Bolts etc), so I won both games as I could Bolt his Cobras but he couldn’t kill my Overgrown Battlements. 1-1


Rd 3 (UB Infect).

Time for my daily deck malfunction, as my opening 7 had no land, mulled to 6 and had no green mana and was about to ship it then I realised I had Koth, Tumble Magnet, Bolt and 3 mountains and felt I had enough action til I draw a green mana source. Turns out I didn’t need it as I managed to ultimate Koth and win purely off him!

My opponent was therefore extremely confused what my deck was and game 2 he went ‘Ohhhh you’re playing Valakut!’. Game 2 I pushed my luck a bit too far keeping a 1 lander (Forest) and not seeing the 2nd land I needed to start ramping for a few turns, putting me behind to Phyrexian Crusader and Vatmother. A couple of stupid misplays on my part as well forgetting twice that Phyrexian Crusader is pro-red, first trying to Bolt it, then trying block it with a Raging Ravine!

Game 3 was very close, but with some nifty blocks to stay alive long enough to combo off with Valakut I ended the game on 1 life and 8 poison staring down Grave Titan and some zombies as well as a Crusader and a Vatmother but I won. 2-1


Rd 4 (UW Cawblade splashing Red).

Lost the dice roll, but my opponent had to mulligan. I had plenty of ramp/disruption to keep up with him at first but unfortunately I didn’t draw into any threats, my opponent had a similar problem as we both sat going land-go for several turns but eventually he got a Hawk and fetched his friends to grind me out.

Game 2 was a normal trading of resources until he manages to stick a Baneslayer and hits me holding both swords at once (ouch!) and then plays another Baneslayer, but I then manage to Valakut them both away at once. Misplay of the day goes to my opponent when I play Inferno Titan with 6 mana left open and a card in hand and he tanks for a bit (apparantly choosing whether to counter it), then suddenly untaps his lands and draws a card thinking it was his turn! A prompt call of ‘Judge!’ reversed the game state and he simply got a warning, my opponent mini-tilted a bit and I soon won the game.

Onto game 3 and it was a similar story to game 1, both trading resources for a while even to the point we were both topdecking (rare for a UW Control deck!) and unfortunately for me he got a creature first to win it. 2-2 drop.


I realise that I must be prepared for both aggro and control, and to beat my 50% win rate I need to make some more drastic alterations to the deck. I test extensively the ‘Pro’ version of Valakut with Lotus Cobras and come to the conclusion that although they do die to everything, theres not nearly as much spot removal around as there should be and if he sticks around he accelerates the Valakut combo greatly so I find room for him in the deck, I also go up to 3 Inferno Titans taking out Avenger of Zendikar which I found was pretty bad against Cawblade when their guys either fly or have pro-green.


NQ Oxford (42 players, 6 rounds, 5 slots).

This time it was nice to see some familiar faces, as Simon, Ryan and Andy from Manaleak turned up to play. Sadly I would be facing my worst matchup most of the day.

Rd 1 (UW Cawblade).

Lost the roll, and kept a 1 lander (Forest) which I shouldn’t have done, didn’t see a 2nd land for a few turns and by then it was too late to prevent Jace from locking me out. Games 2 and 3 were fairly similar, with us both trading resources and me winning game 2 and my opponent winning game 3. 0-1

Rd 2 (UW Cawblade).

Not again! Luckily for me I think my opponent was an inexperienced Cawblade pilot or just having a bad day and I managed to win both games quite comfortably keeping her creatures tapped with 2 Tumble Magnets in game 1, then in game 2 I had turbo-boosts from an unmolested Lotus Cobra and Oracle of Mul Daya to power out my Titans quickly for the win. 1-1


Rd 3 (UB Infect, Andy Quinn).

It was nice to be playing someone I knew for a change, I win game 1 on the back of Tumble Magnet keeping his Phyrexian Crusader out of action long enough.

Game 2 however on the draw and I fall behind to a rush of creatures topped off with Phyrexian Vatmother.

Game 3 was a close one and to stay alive long enough to combo off I have to pull off some intricate blocking decisions but I manage to win while on 1 life and 8 poison counters staring down a Grave Titan and some zombies, plus a Crusader and a Vatmother, and I won by topdecking a Terramorphic Expanse to trigger Khalni Heart Expedidition for the win. Sorry Andy! 2-1


Rd 4 (Boros).

It was a nice relief to play a deck that doesn’t counter all my good stuff for a change, and I promptly won game 1 on the play not even taking a single point of damage.

Game 2 was much tighter though and my opponent gets me down to 1 life before I get enough stall and he can’t get anymore creature damage through, he plays the Red-Deck-Russian-Roulette of hoping to topdeck a burn spell for the win and he even gets 3 attempts to get one before I combo off and take the second game. 3-1


Rd 5 (UW Cawblade).

I’m really starting to hate this deck by now! Sadly at this stage of the day I was facing a good Cawblade player and my dreams were well and truly crushed 2-0 as game 1 he sticks a Baneslayer with a Sword of FAF to cut me out of the game, and game 2 he gets the sick pairing of Kor Firewalker equipped with not 1 but 2 (yes 2!) swords of FAF! 3-2 drop.


The Lotus Cobras definately added another dimension to the deck, but I was getting sick of losing to Cawblade all the time. So much so that I seriously considered dropping Valakut and playing RDW the following day at Exeter instead. As it turns out I didn’t have the fetchlands needed to play it so built a poor Mono-Red Goblins deck as a backup in case I turned up at Exeter and everyone had Cawblade.


NQ Exeter (32 players, 5 rounds, 4 slots).

When I scouted the metagame, it looked like there was a lot of aggro players, especially White Weenie and Mono-Red, so I decided to stick with Valakut and play the same list as the previous day in Oxford.

Rd 1 (Boros).

Lost the roll but had plenty of bolts to kill his landfall creatures and combo off with Valakut while on 2 life.

Game 2 however I suffered my daily deck malfunction and had no lands in my opening 7 or 6, so on 5 cards on the draw I couldn’t keep up with Boros.

Game 3 was back to normal though as on the play I took the game with ease. 1-0


Rd 2 (Mono-Blue Grand Architect Control).

I’ve heard about this deck from the SCG Opens, but have never played or tested against it so decided to treat it like UB Tezzeret decks as it combos off using artifacts and blue guys. Lost the roll and had to mulligan to 6 but I win game 1 as I Bolt his Grand Architect (those guys seemed important to the deck!) before I combo off.

Game 2 though I get to see his deck in action firstly bringing out a Wurmcoil Engine which is Nature’s Claimed when it attacks, and the baby wurms are bolted, then he gets out a Platinum Emperion which also gets claimed by nature, but sadly I don’t draw any threats of my own so he slowly grinds me out with Treasure Mage and Grand Architect.

Game 3 was my misplay of the day, and could’ve been catastrophic. I had out a P.Titan and 3 Valakuts (2 of which were Spreading Seas’ed, the last one in the bin) and he has out a Precursor Golem and his cronies and a few other creatures to block, he’s on 10 life and I have a Nature’s Claim. The misplay was that I destroyed the Precursor Golem so that it would copy and kill the other golems, however I forgot that it would also copy the lifegain so he gained 12 life!! I should have claimed the Spreading Seas then I would have enough Valakut damage to kill him. Luckily he was in no position to kill me and I won the following turn, but the gasps of horror by the spectators was quite amusing! 2-0


Rd 3 (Valakut).

My opponent was quite a amiable chap, with his SCG ‘mmm…bacon’ sleeves and wearing a jesters hat! Lost the roll again, and sure enough it was ‘race to the threats’ time. Game 1, my opponent got the first threat out, and it was an Avenger of Zendikar, and he took the game. Games 2 and 3 however, I’m able to stick Lotus Cobra and power out my Titans first for the win. 3-0


Rd 4 (RDW).

Win this round and I can ID the final round so qualification was in sight. Won my first dice roll of the day, and it came back to bite me. My opponent was an experience Red mage and carved me up both games in record speed before I could get close to ramping out a Titan. 3-1


Rd 5 (UW Cawblade).

This is where my ‘fight or flight’ instinct kicked in, I was facing my nemesis deck in a match I had to win and I lose the dice roll. Some people would go on tilt at this point and give up but for me the red mist descended and I decided I was going to give my opponent everything I had. I almost felt sorry for him afterwards as he was a nice guy, but I absolutely mullered him 2-0 killing pretty much anything he played including Jace and Gideon straight away, and in game 2 I won with triple (yes triple) Primeval Titan on the table. Ouch! 4-1


After an agonising wait for the final standings, I found I actually had the highest tiebreakers and finished in 3rd place meaning my quest was over and I can now relax! It took 4 qualifers, a 1000 or so miles and many hours of testing, tinkering, travelling and card-slinging but I got there in the end.


– Big props goto Rob/Rich and the ‘Dice and Decks’ crew in Ross for the testing sessions, card loans and generally sounding the misplay horn when required!

-The Manaleak locals, Simon, Andy, Tu, Stuart et al for the invaluable advice and Joe for the extra Inferno Titan loan.

Thanks for your time and interest in reading my rantings of the qualifer season so far, there’s still a couple of weekends left to get in so go for it, and may your opening hand always contain a mountain and a Bolt :)

Bonus Decklist.

After all that, I expect some people would be interested what my final decklist was, so here it is:

Lands (27)
4 Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle
5 Forest
4 Terramorphic Expanse
2 Raging Ravine
12 Mountain

Creatures (14)
3 Lotus Cobra
2 Overgrown Battlement
2 Oracle of Mul Daya
4 Primeval Titan
3 Inferno Titan

Spells (19)
4 Explore
2 Harrow
2 Cultivate
2 Khalni Heart Expedition
2 Green Sun’s Zenith
2 Summoning Trap
2 Tumble Magnet
3 Lightning Bolt

Sideboard (15)
2 Koth of the Hammer
3 Nature’s Claim
2 Summoning Trap
2 Obstinate Baloth
2 Wall of Tanglecord
2 Pyroclasm
1 Tumble Magnet
1 Lightning Bolt

Thanks for reading and see you at the Nats,



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