Hi everyone, it’s Landstar again with this weeks Breaking In article. Today, I’m going to bring you a full 3-day tournament report from Great Britain Nationals. I hadn’t qualified for Nationals in the spring qualifiers, nor had I qualified on rating. However, considering how cheap a hotel would be, the fact that I could qualify the day before the main event and how many side events were available, I decided to punt it and go to my first MTG Nationals. Due to work and University commitments, I was unable to go or even attend a qualifier last year, so I was very pleased to finally go to one. Having played Yugioh up until 2009 and only ever once qualifying for Nationals (in 2009, where I horribly scrubbed with a deck I’d built last minute due to the metagame being vastly different than I’d expected).
For any of you reading this article thinking that it’s just not possible to get good enough to go to Nats from where you are, then I’m telling you you’re wrong. I played a high-tier deck but with some very unexpected tech cards, making my deck very easily a homebrew. I went on to do very well over the 3 days, so read on and see how I went from being a random local player to playing in my first ever Nationals. I will try to be brief in some of my matches, but a handful were just massive games and really epic, so I just had to write them out fully :)
Day 1: Last Chance Qualifiers
So, 10am in the morning I sat down for the first draft in the double draft qualifier. I take first pick Goblin Fireslinger, second and third pick Shocks and I continue to take a Red/Black bloodthirst deck, with a total of 3 Shocks, 1 Wring Flesh, 1 Chandra’s Outrage and 1 Consume Spirit. So then, sleeve up, add basic lands and head to my round 1 match.
Round 1: U/R Aggro
Game 1, he leads with a Phantasmal Bear on the play and I don’t have a turn 1 or 2 play. The bear deals me around 6 damage before I peel a Wring Flesh to kill it, by which time I have a couple of mediocre guys out and he has better ones. Game 2 goes the same way unfortunately…
Round 2: B/W Aggro
I don’t remember much about this match except that in both games, I blocked all of his guys and ended up burning him to death.
Round 3: Bye
Due to the number of drops and the fact that you must always play someone in your same draft pod, I ended up with a bye.
So, I could be 2-1 going into the second draft. Based on the turnout, there were 12 qualifying spots available. In order to get in the qualifying bracket I would have to go 2-0-1 in the second pod and that would be the only way I could get in. So, I decided to drop and play Standard. The Standard event was 148 players, so there were going to be 18 qualifying spots available, meaning that 18 points (6-2 or 5-0-3) would probably be enough to qualify. I registered my latest amazing Valakut list as follows:
Round 1: Mono-Green splashing black
To be perfectly honest, this was a pretty easy match. I got the feeling he was a local player trying his hand at the LCQs but that he didn’t have much experience. He made a series of misplays such as not attacking with his creatures into my open field and in game 1, having the win with 4 big elf creatures and a Garruk Wildspeaker‘s ultimate when I couldn’t stop him, but he didn’t see it. Aside from that, I won both games very easily with Titans and a lot of Valakut triggers…
Round 2: Blue/Black Control
We sat down and to be fair, the guy I was playing against was really sound and after the match we discussed the matchup quite extensively, involving a lot of me discussing why I run Chandra in my deck. In Game 1, I keep a pretty decent hand and when he taps out for a Solemn Simulacrum on turn 4, I respond with a Primeval Titan. He kills the Titan and we both enter top-decking mode with his Solemn bouncing off an Overgrown Battlement all day. He taps out for a Consecrated Sphinx for which I have no answer, although when he casts his second (tapping out again) I manage to draw a Titan and despite him drawing 4 cards from his Sphinxes, I have enough Valakut triggers to win the game.
For Game 2, I follow my usual sideboard plan and bring in Memoricides and Ricochet Traps. He keeps a risky hand and draws no 4th land until around turn 6. I curve out beautifully with a turn 1 or 2 Birds of Paradise, turn 3 Solemn, turn 4 Solemn and turn 5 Memoricide. I misplayed here, naming his Flashfreezes (figuring he’s guaranteed to use them and not necessarily guaranteed to have boarded in his own Memoricides). He shows me his hand with 3 Memoricides in it, which sucks quite a bit. Next turn he hits his land drop and Memoricides my Primeval Titans, but by this time he’s down to 7 life and my 2 Solemn Simulacrums finish the job with relative ease.
Round 3: Valakut
I really enjoy playing Mirrors. I’ve been playing some form of Valakut for about 18 months now and the experience that I’ve gained with it often means that I’m highly favoured against the mirror match. This was no different. I keep a pretty good hand of 1 Dismember and lots of Ramp. I draw a Titan on turn 2, showing me that my hand was definitely playable. The key turn here was that I cast Dismember on his turn 2 Overgrown Battlement, the turn before I would drop Titan and sure enough, he missed his 6th land drop and was forced to play a Terramoprhic Expanse instead. On my turn, I hit my 6th Land and drop a Titan, then next turn finish it with Titan number 2. In game 2, he drops a Koth of the Hammer on turn 3 and starts beating me down. Having gotten Koth’s emblem by turn 5 and not having draw any guys, I scoop up. In game 3, I’m on the play again and having Memoricided him last game, I know he has no disruption spells of any sort, so I roll out my ramp spells and drop turn 4 and turn 5 Primeval Titans to finish the match.
Round 4: U/W Venser Control
This was another pretty good matchup for me, due to the lack of creatures that his deck runs, so he can’t put pressure on me whilst I combo out. In game 1, I run out a Titan which dies to a Day of Judgment the following turn and I subsequently draw about 7-8 lands or useless spells, which leads me to get beaten down with Celestial Colonnade. In Game 2, I’m much better prepared and I prove my opponent’s statements right that in fact, the matchup is in my favour. I manage to roll out Primeval Titan, Primeval Titan and Inferno Titan on 3 successive turns to finish it. In game 3, I did pretty much the same, except he was also colour screwed for a while to make it even easier.
Round 5: Blue/Black Control
Once again, I was playing against a really awesome player who was a pleasure to chat to during and after the game. In game 1, I do what Valakut players do best, and throw my Titan into a tapped out field and attack next turn for game. Game 2 went mostly his way. He was able to Tectonic Edge one of my Valakuts early on and then hit them with Surgical Extraction. The following turn he Memoricides my Primeval Titans. Clearly, I’m now on the beatdown plan and I start beating him with the Obstinate Baloths and Gaea’s Revenge that I brought in off the board for this very situation, but unfortunately it was only a matter of time before they went the same way as my Titans and I lost the game. By this point, we were 1-1 with 5 minutes left on the round, so we agree to draw the match and once again enter into a lengthy discussion as to why Chandra, the Firebrand is so good, despite only drawing her once all match!!!
Round 6: RUG Birthing Pod
Now, having played this matchup a little bit online, I’ve never found to be a particularly good matchup, yet I was told by my opponent after seeing my Valakut plan that I should win it easily. In fact, he was right on the money. In game 1, I combo off and having not drawn a Birthing Pod, there’s little he can do to stop me. In game 2, I keep a dodgy 6-card hand with no Green Source (1 Pyroclasm, 1 Explore + 4 red lands), but having killed a Lotus Cobra and two Birds of Paradise with that turn 2 Pyroclasm, I was very glad I kept it. We both just top decked for a while before I found my second green source and dropped a pair of Titans for the win.
Round 7: U/R Splinter Twin
Not much to say on this matchup. I keep a pretty poor opening hand game 1, not knowing what I’m against and he kills me turn 4 having seen that he would be unopposed in doing so thanks to a Gitaxian Probe. In game 2, I keep a hand with 1 Ricochet Trap and 1 Nature’s Claim, but after about turn 3, he keeps 3 mana open at the end of every turn, forcing me to just pass the turn without ramping at all for fear of him combo’ing off. Two or three turns later, he does exactly that with enough answers to counter my answers.
Now, at this point, I’m really on edge. When the standings went up after round 6, it wasn’t clear whether or not taking 2 I.D.s would guarantee a top-18 finish. So I played out round 7, lost it and now I’m stuck on 16 points where anything below 18 is not likely to qualify. I have to play it out and this ended up being possibly the most exciting and nerve-racking matchup of the whole weekend. I was shaking so much that I had to run to the toilets and splash a load of water on my face to try and snap myself out of it and wake myself up:
Round 8: Caw-Blade
My opponent was on 17 points and could ID into the cut off, so I felt pretty horrible forcing him to play the game out. I’d not faced Caw-Blade so far and having professed a highly favourable matchup against it before the tournament, I was keen to prove myself against it. In game 1, I ran out a Primeval Titan fairly early on after he tapped out for a Dismembered Emeria Angel. In game 2, I kept a fairly risky 1-land hand of Forest, Slagstorm, 2x Rampant Growth, Explore, Solemn Simulacrum and Primeval Titan. I finally got my second land on turn 3, but he led with a turn 2 Squadron Hawk and by turn 6, had all 4 of his Hawks in play and my 2 Solemn Simulacrums on the ground couldn’t do a thing except fight a losing race. I desperately tried to find answers, including buying myself a turn by casting Nature’s Claim on my Solemn to draw a card and gain 4 life, but having had both of my Slagstorms countered by a Flashfreeze and Deprive respectively, I had no way to kill the Hawks and they finished the game.
Going into game 3, I had a pretty good draw, leading to a turn 4 Titan, which was promptly killed by a Day of Judgment. Usually, I wouldn’t mind this, because the second Titan in my hand now becomes a lot better. However, I only had 5 mana sources, since his Day of Judgment killed my turn 1 Birds of Paradise. So, he got to untap and leave up counter magic by the time I hit my lands. I enter top decking mode, as does he (except he does now have 2 Hawks in play). He drops an Emeria Angel which I manage to pull a Dismember for. He’s now up to 3 Hawks and only has one card in hand. I have nothing left and I draw the most godly topdeck in my whole deck! KARN! I drop Karn on the table faster than I ever have done before and he is forced to let it resolve, with the last card in his hand being a Flashfreeze. I use Karn’s +4 to exile the Flashfreeze. Next turn, he draws a land, plays it and bashed Karn with 3 Hawks and a Celestial Colonnade, dropping him to 3. I draw a Slagstorm off the top (I KNOW, RIGHT?!?!) and immediately clear his Hawks from the battlefield and use Karn’s +4, taking nothing, to make sure he won’t die. All my opponent can do now is draw cards and pray. He attacks with Colonnade again and then I topdeck my third insane card in a row! Inferno Titan! He’s on 14 life, so I +4 Karn, taking a Deprive from his now empty hand, drop the Titan putting him to 11. Next turn he pulls a Dismember, which I pitch to Karn, swing with Titan and pump him to make it Lethal. What a game!
I ended up 6th place in the standings and secured my slot in Day 2, as well as a nice bonus of 11 boosters which I decided to hold onto and open another time. Better yet, having basically knocked out my round 8 opponent because I couldn’t ID, I was really pleased to find that he ended up in 18th (the only 17-pointer to qualify), so I didn’t knock him out after all. In fact, Rich Hagon interviewed him the following day for having qualified for the main event on 18th place in an LCQ, so I probably did him some good :P
Day 2: Nationals Part 1
So, Day 1 of Nationals. Here we are. This would be my first time ever at Nationals and I was just keen to make it a good one. Starting out, although dreams of top 8 and free trips to Worlds have crossed my mind, all I really want to do is to finish the tournament on a positive record. Anything better than 7-7 and I would walk away a happy man. Day 1’s format was 4 rounds of Standard followed by a 3-round draft pod. I made one small change to the deck before starting, removing the 1 Gaea’s Revenge in the sideboard and adding a Thrun, the Last Troll. The reasoning being that they both serve the same purpose against Blue-based control decks that just don’t have an out to him. Thrun is mostly unbeatable if I’m able to leave up 2 mana to regenerate him, whereas Gaea’s Revenge is bigger and clunkier and also dies to Day of Judgment, Life’s Finale and to blocks. I had debated a single Eldrazi creature in this slot too, such as Kozilek, Butcher of Truth due to any sort of mill deck being almost an auto-loss, but having discussed my sideboard and maindeck at length, we literally had 74 slots that couldn’t move for fear of weakening a lot of matchups, with the 75th card being Thrun. I decided against the Eldrazi beast and figured I should just hope not to draw the random mill deck that stalked members of the top tables during the tournament. So, we all sat down and I went to my first ever match in a competitive REL tournament.
Round 1: Bant (WUG) Birthing Pod
This player was a member of Team Leeds and was a pretty good match. I had a relatively slow hand which would lead to a roughly turn 5 Primeval Titan. He leads with a pair of forests, followed by a turn 3 Sunpetal Grove into a Leatherback Baloth. I wasn’t sure what he was playing, but due to the absence of any other colours, I had to assume he was on a G/W aggro plan. I know this to be a highly favourable matchup, so do my best to hide my excitement. I have a very odd hand where actually, I end up stuck on getting red mana. I drop a turn 4 Oracle of Mul Daya with 2 forests and 2 mountains out and I see 2 forests in a row on the top of my deck (along with the Overgrown Battlement that I had in play). He casts an Acidic Slime to blow up a Mountain and considering that I had an Inferno Titan in hand, that seemed really good. A little later however, I drop a Primeval Titan, getting 2 more red sources and allowing the Inferno Titan to come down later, but having drawn a second Primeval Titan, I decide to just win with him instead. For sideboarding, I’d now seen, amongst others, Acidic Slime, Fauna Shaman, Leatherback Baloth and fortunately, he cast a Birthing Pod on his last turn. He’s clearly playing some sort of Pod variant, so I bring in my Pyroclasms and Nature’s Claims to deal with it and move to game 2.
Game 2 was over pretty quickly. I keep a decent hand with 2 lands, Pyroclasm and some 3-4 drop cards. He leads with a Birds of Paradise and Fauna Shaman with 1 mana open. I then cast my turn 2 Pyroclasm to wipe the board clear, but he has a Refraction Trap to counter it and shoot me for 3… I then don’t end up drawing another land and he beats me down over a couple of turns to win the game.
In game 3, I’m more prepared for the traps that he had. I ramped up into a turn 4 Inferno Titan and turn 5 Primeval Titan. Fortunately for him, he was able to cast Sun Titan and get back a Phantasmal Image, copying my Inferno Titan, so it’s not quite over. I also don’t have enough Valakuts or Mountains in play to shoot him or the creatures for any damage. I peel a Slagstorm and have Chandra, the Firebrand in hand. He’s on 10 life and I have about 8 mana available. I cast Chandra, and used her +1 to destroy Phantasmal Image. I then cast the Slagstorm, dealing 3 to his Sun Titan. I then attack with my two Titans, killing his Sun Titan with my Inferno Titan‘s damage and the two Titans come in for 12 and win me my first Nationals match!
Round 2: Mono-Black Control
Now, there’s one deck I hadn’t been able to test against much, and that’s Mono-Black. I sat next to this guy in round 1, so I knew roughly what he was playing, having seen him thrash a Caw-Blade player with a total of FOUR Solemn Simulacrums. For game 1, we both just play out a bunch of Lands. I was casting ramp spells which of course, he can’t counter. I cast a Solemn on turn 4, which puts me up to 5 mana with an Inferno Titan in hand. He then casts a turn 4 Memoricide netting him all of my Primeval Titans. However, he sees the Inferno Titan in my hand and loks a little worried. I drop the Titan next turn, shoot him for 3 and bash with the Solemn, taking him to 15. He unfortunately doesn’t have an answer for the Titan and I’m able to swing for game next turn by pumping the Titan 4 times with his Firebreathing ability.
Game 2 was very weird. I boarded in Thrun, the Last Troll and Memoricides. I also brought in the Ricochet Traps, figuring that they could act as 4-mana counters to his Memoricides and other such hate cards. I open fairly well, but after playing a turn 4 Oracle of Mul Daya, I saw absolutely no lands. With 6 cards in hand, my opponent then hits me with a Mind Sludge for 6… That basically ended the game. My next 5 draws were 3 lands and 2 Overgrown Battlements, whilst all he needed to do was cast Sorin Markov, drop me to 10 and cast Sorin’s Vengeance for game, which funnily enough, is what he ended up doing.
Game 3 was absolutely amazing. He was the first to make any significant play with a turn 3 Memoricide after a turn 2 Everflowing Chalice. Well, that was my Primeval Titans gone… we play out some more turns and having emptied my hand of my own accord, his hand of discard spells (Mind Sludge and Distress) was pretty useless. We both drew lands for a bit until I hit a Memoricide. There was very little I could do to win at this point, so I Memoricided the Liliana Vess that I saw in his deck the previous game. I figured that I’d take that over Sorin’s Vengeance since topping a Liliana would allow him to topdeck everything he wanted, including Sorin Markovs, Karn Liberated, Life’s Finale and so on. Next turn, he casts a topdecked Sorin’s Vengeance, dropping me to 9 and putting him to 30. It seems pretty impossible at this point. Even less so when he topdecks Karn Liberated and using his +4 to take the last card in my hand (a Mountain).
I topdeck a Green Sun’s Zenith and think for a moment. He’d taken all of my Titans, but I had boarded in my singleton Thrun, the Last Troll. I instantly tapped 5 lands and cast the Zenith, finding Thrun. It then very quickly became apparant that I hadn’t lost quite yet. He draws, +4’s Karn and passes. I draw a Solemn Simulacrum, play him and drop Karn to 10 with an attack. At this point, Karn will inevitably die from getting +4 every turn and being hit for 6, so my opponent decides to use his -3 to remove the Solemn from play. Next turn I draw nothing of mention and bash Karn to 3. For the next 5 or so turns, all we end up doing is play out lands and I constantly keep Karn on 3 with my attacks. Thrun is insane right now. His deck specifically plays no creatures and can only win with Sorin’s Venegance and Planeswalkers, of which he was drawing none. I topped a Memoricide, which allowed me to promptly take away his Sorin’s Vengeances, leaving me the likely eventual winner if I could only draw something to speed it up and kill Karn. He then responds with a Life’s Finale (which doesn’t kill thrun due to regenerate) which takes away a Solemn and both of my Inferno Titans from my deck, leaving me with only 2 creatures left (1 Solemn and a Birds of Paradise). I then topdeck the last Solemn and again drop Karn to 3. Once again, with no good out to Solemn, he decides to use Karn to kill it, which also killed Karn. Now we’re talking! He was on 28 life at this point. All that was left to do was bash him 7 times with Thrun. With Thrun being the absolute BADASS that he is with not a single out in my opponent’s deck, this did eventually happen, netting me a second match.
At this point, I was the only mtgUK player on 2-0. Nearly everyone else I asked was either on 1-1 or 0-2. Even tournament favourites such as Dan Gardner, Richard Bland and Matteo Orsini-Jones fell in this category. This was, needless to say, a massive confidence boost. I figured I’ll just play out my matches one at a time and see how I do. If the matchups go my way, I could be sitting on a very comfortable 4-0 heading into draft.
Round 3: Aggro Caw-Blade
Once again, I’d like to say that my opponent this round was a pleasure to play against and really nice to talk to during the game. Game 1 I had an absolutely INSANE opening hand. By turn 3 I’d resolved my third Overgrown Battlement due to him tapping out for a Squadron Hawk and on turn 4, I was casting Primeval Titan WITH 3 mana open for Mana Leak… I then cast Titan number 2 AND Titan number 3 on turn 5 and he scooped immediately. In game 2, he’s brought in Mirran Crusaders and a turn 3 Crusader followed by counter magic open on each successive turn is enough to kill me. Having seen the Crusader, I bring in Pyroclasms off the board, since it’s now clear he’s playing the aggro version of Caw-Blade rather than the more controlling version.
In game 3, we open with a few lands each. He lets my weaker ramp spells resolve, putting me at a fair bit of mana. He plays out a Mirran Crusader after 2 Squadron Hawks and I Slagstorm his board clean. Whilst I slow-roll up to my 7th land for a Titan, he plays a 2nd Crusader and third Hawk which then get Pyroclasmed. I then cast my Primeval Titan, which he attempts to Mana Leak but I have the Ricochet Trap to stop him. The Titan hits play and shoots him for some damage by this time. He doesn’t then have an answer so my attack next turn ends it and I go to 3-0!!!
Round 4: Mirror Match
I sat down and my heart immediately dropped. I could have sworn that the guy I sat opposite to was the guy playing U/G Mill on the top tables and prepared myself for a loss. However, he played out a turn 1 Valakut and immediately, my chances of winning the match went up by about 400-500%!!! Game 1 was pretty slow and I ultimately won with my turn 5 Primeval Titan against his hand of nothingness. Games 2 and 3 were quite upsetting. He won both of them due to his deck being pure combo and mine being more midrange to improve control matchups. As such, he played a turn 4 Titan both games, being a lot faster than me.
So, there we have it. I entered my first Draft Pod on a 3-1 record and being 24th place in the standings. Check back for part 2 to read about the 2 draft pods and final 2 rounds of Standard!