After a few years of not doing well at Nationals, I decided to upgrade the preparation I did. Like I’ve said for a few months now, a big hole in my game last year was how haphazardly I prepared for Grands Prix, and Nationals kind of fit into that category. I mean, last year I played [card]Pyromancer Ascension[/card], a deck that has never in the history won a match (disregard the one copy that made Top 8 this year; it got to play Matt Nass for Top 8). This year, things would be different. This year I would test. This year, I would go to Las Vegas first.

Uh, yeah. Five days of durdling, triple Invasion drafts, teaching Gabe Walls how to cook, tilting Efro by our refusal to play Constructed, and practicing for the Ascension Godslayer tournament later, we had a Caw-blade deck. We actually did put in a fair amount of practice, and the entire Caw-blade shell already has enough testing anyway, so it was more a question of figuring out what we wanted to do with the last 10ish slots, once we figured out the fundamental plan.

In this case, I knew that I didn’t want to play the creature-heavy version, since it was horrible, and I did want a ton of versatile answers, as well as hopefully the best lategame. After much fiddling with the numbers and trying different cards, we concluded a few things:

1) [card]Into the Roil[/card] is awesome. It is one of the best answers to just about anything, and fits perfectly into what the deck is trying to do. When you are doing something good, Roil is just [card]Vindicate[/card] plus draw a card, and even when you aren’t doing anything, it still just buys you a turn (and digs you just a little bit deeper). We decided on three after wanting more against everything but Valakut.

2) [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] (the Confather, not to be confused with Conley) was the best six-drop, at least for that tournament. Things have changed a little now, but at least then, it was the biggest game in town. It stopped any Sword assault cold, won you the game in a matter of turns, and did more than [card]Sun Titan[/card] against the decks we expected to face.

3) [card]Emeria Angel[/card] seemed like the best midrange threat, since it traded favorably with Dismember and Into the Roil, and could produce blockers/sword carriers at will. Whatever card we had in this slot, it couldn’t just die to Dismember, since we had no other good targets for it. That’s the main reason I don’t like Hero, and one of the strengths of this deck.

4) This deck sideboarded extremely well, and could be constructed to basically beat anything. If you look at the board we ended with, we can sideboard up to 4 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] against red, 4 [card]Flashfreeze[/card] vs Valakut, etc. Blue and white just have access to all the best possible sideboard cards, a huge point in this deck’s favor.

We tried out a bunch of different stuff, some of which we might use in the future, but settled on this as a final list:

[deck]4 Squadron Hawk
2 Emeria Angel
2 Consecrated Sphinx
2 Timely Reinforcements
4 Preordain
3 Mana Leak
3 Gideon Jura
3 Dismember
3 Into the Roil
2 Spell Pierce
2 Day of Judgment
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Jace Beleren
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Seachrome Coast
4 Tectonic Edge
3 Glacial Fortress
2 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Scalding Tarn
1 Arid Mesa
4 Island
3 Plains
Sideboard
4 Flashfreeze
3 Mental Misstep
2 Ratchet Bomb
2 Azure Mage
2 Timely Reinforcements
1 Day of Judgment
1 Jace Beleren[/deck]

I liked everything about the list, though as the metagame changes, you can (and should) mess around with the numbers. For example, Timely Reinforcements maindeck might not be right anymore, though I’d want access to at least three.

[card]Azure Mage[/card] is one of the more remarked-on cards, and it was pretty sweet. Josh Silvestri came up with it, as far as I know, and after Zaiem alerted me to his idea, we immediately loved it. It was perfect for the Twin matchup, and in the mirror it completely trumped Jace in a heads up fight. It was just a cheap threat that let you keep all your lands untapped, and I would definitely recommend it.

A few cards I would probably look to add:

[draft]oblivion ring[/draft]

I never liked O-Ring in testing, which is why we didn’t play them, but after seeing it in action, I suppose I wouldn’t mind having access to one. I like having varied answers, and O-Ring seems like a reasonable card to have against Pod decks, while not being horrible in the mirror. If you Ring their Gideon they play a second, they run the risk of Into the Roil being a huge blowout, which definitely comes up. My main complaint with Ring was its weakness to Into the Roil, but if most people play just two (and UB gets bigger), I’d like to have an O-Ring.

[draft]sun titan[/draft]

Now that Doom Blade is again a Magic card, Sphinx might not be the undisputed champ. I think I’d like one Sphinx and one Titan, just in case. Titan is also a little more resilient to Into the Roil, and combines well with Jace Beleren against UB.

[draft]torpor orb[/draft]

This isn’t a silver bullet against Birthing Pod or Valakut, but I imagine would help against both. It takes a lot of wind out of the sails of the Pod deck, which makes them fight a little more fairly, a fight you are almost always going to win. It’s also the best card against Splinter Twin, since it is an answer to their combo that costs no mana, letting you leave mana up for more answers or even tap out if needed. I normally hate this sort of half-answer card (imagine this against Primeval Titan, for example), but it does enough in enough matchups that I’d probably try it.

On to Gencon!

Gencon started Thursday, where I looked forward to playing in a Vintage Prelim just to game. I borrowed Dave Williams’ sweet Vintage deck, while he used Efro’s. Cut to three rounds later, and I was 1-2 and Dave had his (Efro’s) deck stolen by some scumbag. It was pretty horrible, and definitely took the wind out of all our sails. Combine that with Rich Shay’s backpack getting stolen and a dealer losing a set of Beta Power 9 out of their case, and I’m really discouraged from bringing my Vintage deck to events. I don’t know if it was the extra people from Gencon as a whole, the fact that Vintage Champs were there, or what, but that level of theft is pretty horrible. I love Vintage, and I like playing with sweet cards, but when bringing them constitutes a real risk, it takes the fun all out of it. Hopefully things work out for Dave and Rich, and I’m heartened by the Vintage community’s response: they are holding a charity tournament to help those guys rebuild what the lost, though Dave has requested that all money raised for him go to actual charities.

Nationals

Nationals is a sweet tournament, and I always have had a good time there. It was the first tournament I did well in, along with Cheon, and it’s one of the tournaments I want to do well in more than most. Being on the team is really awesome, and one of the most fun parts of playing on the Pro Tour. I was excited to start playing, especially now that I had tokens at the ready:

I should have an inexhaustible supply of these, so at any point feel free to bug me for one (and you get one every time you order from this very website even). Thanks to Inkwell Looter for the awesome art!

The first few rounds went quite well.

In round one I battled against Hero-Blade, where we both kinda just traded spells, at the end of which I had a Gideon. Yeah….

Game two was similarly close, which is to say I killed his guys with [card]Dismember[/card] while playing a bunch of my own.

1-0

In round two, I again fought the mirror. I actually love the Caw-blade mirror now. Before, I wasn’t a big fan. With cards like [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jace[/card] (real Jace) and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card] running around, anyone who landed one unopposed would just win. Now, there is no one card that just ends the game in either deck, so the match comes down more to incremental gains and grinding out card advantage. Knowing how to tap your mana against Tec Edge is huge, and actually somewhat complicated. You have to play around [card]Mana Leak[/card]/[card]Spell Pierce[/card], but only when you can afford to, and knowing when to tap out and go for it is hugely important. All of these small things add up, and they are a big part of why we did well with the deck as a team. Our build was good, sure, but that wasn’t the main reason, since most people had good decks. We were just all very experienced at playing the deck, and the matchups are complicated enough to make that matter a great deal, especially the mirror.

That was a pretty longwinded way of saying I beat the mirror, by the way.

2-0

After playing the mirror twice, I played mono-red twice, though the builds were a little different. First I battled Goblins piloted by Noah Schwartz, against whom I had a lot of Reinforcements, and in a Timely manner. I won game two at one life for multiple turns, up to and including the turn where I floated two mana and bounced [card]Manabarbs[/card] with [card]Into the Roil[/card].

3-0

Next, I played the more burn-heavy version of Mono-red, and despite being stuck on two lands for most of game two, again managed to pull it out. If Mono-red doesn’t adapt, the deck is going to remain unplayable, and a big part of that is beating Timely Reinforcements.

[draft]hero of oxid ridge[/draft]

Unless your idea of fun is to lose to Timely Reinforcements over and over again, your aggressive red deck needs to have a plan against it, and currently Hero seems like best. [card]Kuldotha Pheonix[/card] isn’t bad either, but the point remains; current red decks just roll over and die to Reinforcements, as did both the decks I beat in the first Standard portion at Nationals. If they tap out to Reinforce and you just plop down Hero and smash for seven, you not only negate their lifegain, but present a threat that the 1/1’s do nothing against. Hero is what red decks need to play, which should also make white decks consider combining Reinforcements with something like Celestial Purge.

4-0

Just like that, it was time to draft. Owen was 2-2, Web was 3-1, Josh was 2-2, and Matt Nass was 3-1 with Splinter Twin. We had done a ton of drafts, and I felt pretty ready. I wanted to draft either a focused aggressive deck or a powerful lategame deck…so naturally, I ended up with a midrange WR deck with bad mana and mediocre cards.

I started by taking [card]Pacifism[/card] over nothing, then [card]Benalish Veteran[/card] over [card]Sorin's Thirst[/card]. Eventually I had to take [card]Aven Fleetwing[/card] and [card]Divination[/card] out of blank packs, and ended up with a bunch of white cards plus those two after pack 1. I then opened [card]Flameblast Dragon[/card] and zero blue or white cards, so I took it. The uneven signals continued, and at the end of the draft I just had a pile. It wasn’t particularly fast or powerful, though I did have Volcanic and Flameblast Dragon.

[deck]1 Volcanic Dragon
1 Flameblast Dragon
1 Arbalest Elite
2 Armored Warhorse
1 Assault Griffin
1 Stormfront Pegasus
1 Auramancer
2 Thran Golem
1 Griffin Sentinel
1 Peregrine Griffin
2 Benalish Veteran
1 Crimson Mage
2 Divine Favor
1 Pacifism
1 Stave Off
1 Shock
1 Crown of Empires
1 Fling
1 Act of Treason
10 Plains
7 Mountain[/deck]

Yep, that’s the [card]Thran Golem[/card] package alright. This deck was just not good, and I would have been happy with a 2-1.

Sadly, it was not to be, as I was quickly dispatched by [card]Jace's Archivist[/card] round one. Archivist is a certifiable bomb, and it plus a pair of [card]Unsummon[/card]s and an [card]Aether Adept[/card] quickly reduced my board to nothing, all while Windfalling me into garbage. I guess it didn’t help that my deck was mainly composed of garbage, but still…

4-1

Unfortunately for Brad, his deck was not only worse than mine, but probably about as bad as you could get without goofgrabbing. He ended up black-green with ALL bad cards and no synergy (I’m talking double [card]Gravedigger[/card] double [card]Reassembling Skeleton[/card]s action), and I quickly put him out of his misery. He 0-3ed the draft, and it tilted him so much he went out drinking and missed day two. Sometimes you hit a rough draft, and it just derails you completely (though I wouldn’t advise dropping while in Top 8 contention, personally).

5-1

After that round, I was once again mauled. I thought I was going to win game one against GW, especially given that he was on 11 and my hand was:

[draft]flameblast dragon
Volcanic dragon
Fling[/draft]

with five lands in play. I drew my sixth land, slammed [card]Volcanic Dragon[/card], and bashed. It got Plummeted immediately, after which he played a [card]Stingerfling Spider[/card]. Whew, dodged that bullet. I played my Flameblast, and lo and behold, a second Stingerfling came out to eat my hopes and dreams. After that I was out of gas, and died to his army of dudes. Gruesome Encores aren’t always fun and games; that second Spider was tough.

I kind of stole game two; he cast what he thought was a lethal [card]Overrun[/card], and smashed with everyone. I told him that his [card]Roc Egg[/card] couldn’t attack, then took the rest to go to 1, killing him on my turn. I’m not entirely sure what would have happened if he wanted to attack with less guys after finding it wasn’t lethal, but he didn’t seem to consider it. To be fair, I did need a [card]Goblin War Paint[/card] plus a [card]Shock[/card] to kill him, so it isn’t like he put himself exactly dead on board, though he may have wanted to consider attacking with less, given that he knew I had Fling in my deck (which would have killed him outright).

In game three, my opponent had the following in play by turn two:

[draft]llanowar elves
Elite vanguard
Garruk's companion[/draft]

That, along with an [card]Overrun[/card] on turn five or so, led me to go to dinner at 5-2, and not very happy. Web at least at 3-0ed, as did Matt Nass.

5-2

After a pretty sweet dinner at Harry and Izzy’s, a local steakhouse/diner sorta deal, which I paid for (run so bad etc), we got some sleep and returned to battle. I knew I would have to 3-0 my draft to be guaranteed a spot, since even if the X-3’s mostly made it, I figured I used up most of my breaker luck at GP KC.

Draft two went way more awesomely, and I ended up with quite the brew. After first picking [card]Pentavus[/card] and second picking [card]Doom Blade[/card], I third picked [card]Acidic Slime[/card], and ended up with [card]Aether Adept[/card] in my deck. Wait, what?

In fact, when I showed Josh U-L my deck, he thought it was a pile of garbage, partially because these are the first four cards he saw:

[draft]ponder
Gravedigger
Carnage wurm
Llanowar elves[/draft]

Look, there was an explanation. All of pack one, I just took green cards, along with [card]Doom Blade[/card] and [card]Wring Flesh[/card]. Everything wheeled, and I ended up with [card]Birds of Paradise[/card], two [card]Rampant Growth[/card]s, [card]Llanowar Elves[/card], and [card]Acidic Slime[/card]. I was poised to take any bomb I saw, and in pack two that ended up being [card]Djinn of Wishes[/card] followed by [card]Jace's Archivist[/card]. It was on!

I picked up some value guys like Aether Adept, a second Slime, and a Gravedigger, then peeled a second Doom Blade in pack three, along with a late Azure Mage. My deck ended up being a real piece of work.

[deck]2 Acidic Slime
Birds of Paradise
Llanowar Elves
Phantasmal Image
Djinn of Wishes
Vastwood Gorger
Carnage Wurm
Gravedigger
Aven Fleetwing
Pentavus
Aether Adept
Jace's Archivist
Brindle Boar
Azure Mage
2 Doom Blade
2 Rampant Growth
Divination
Deathmark
Cancel
Ponder
2 Swamp
9 Forest
6 Island[/deck]

This deck was sweet, and I managed to do some pretty awesome things with it. Highlights included:

Turn three [card]Acidic Slime[/card], turn four [card]Phantasmal Image[/card], on the play.

Against a board of [card]Scepter of Empires[/card], [card]Tormented Soul[/card] with [card]Goblin War Paint[/card], and [card]Goblin Fireslinger[/card]: Slime your War Paint, Slime your Scepter, [card]Wring Flesh[/card] (from the board) your Tormented Soul, [card]Doom Blade[/card] your Fireslinger. He then put [card]Brink of Disaster[/card] on my Slime, so I Phantasmal Imaged it and killed the Brink. That game went from looking bad to looking awesome in just two turns.

Turn two Archivist, turn three Aether Adept, also known as “if you don’t have [card]Shock[/card], you are dead”. Nice mana on that one, too.

I did all sorts of shenanigans involving [card]Pentavus[/card], [card]Gravedigger[/card], [card]Acidic Slime[/card], and of course, [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]. This was the best Image deck I’ve ever seen, and it delivered.

Sadly, I never got to do anything too silly with [card]Djinn of Wishes[/card], or even activate [card]Azure Mage[/card], but I lived just about every other dream, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.

I 3-0ed, beating a horrifically mana screwed Matt Sperling on the way, as well as the super aggressive black-red deck that topped out with two [card]Rune-Scarred Demon[/card]s. The combination of removal, card draw, acceleration, and an awesome high end worked out well, even if I had a few awkward cards in the deck.

8-2

This was it: three more, and I was in Top 8. It was even Constructed, which seems to be good to me lately. Between Nationals and Nagoya, I took the max amount of draft losses possible to stay in contention, while winning all my Constructed rounds, and the last four rounds of Standard here didn’t change that.

I battled against Jund Titans, RUG Pod, and UW splash red Cawblade, and was able to beat all of them, though a few funny things happened.

The Jund matchup was pretty straightforward: I lost game one to not having Day for his [card]Grave Titan[/card], and won the next two because I did. Gideon plus Day stopped his whole offense, since he was basically playing a Valakut deck that didn’t win when it resolved Titan. Awkward.

9-2

Against RUG Pod I got demolished game one, then was able to side in four [card]Flashfreeze[/card]. Some odd stuff was going on, and I have to admit he had quite the brew. I hit him with a Sworded guy game two, and he discarded [card]Sunblast Angel[/card], which I was not expecting. I guess it’s a good Pod target, though I couldn’t help myself, and I asked him if he first-picked it.

Game three was equally strange, as he tapped his Swamp, Forest, Island, and Mountain to cast [card]Memoricide[/card]. Uh, ok. He named [card]Dismember[/card], which I didn’t have in hand, and I proceeded to land a Sword. He then performed a pretty accurate Conley Woods impression:

[card]Birthing Pod[/card], pay 2 life. [card]Flashfreeze[/card] it.

[card]Birthing Pod[/card], pay 2 life. Fetchland, crack, Pod, pay 2 life, Slime your Sword.

Activate Colonnade?

10-2

I thought this was win and in, but I guess it was not only that, but also probably lose, then win, and still in. Either way, I wanted to just win this round and lock it up. I battled Nick Edgerle, playing UWr, and it started in a kind of funny way. I didn’t know what he was playing, and kept a hand of [card]Mana Leak[/card], 2 [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card], four land, on the play. He played a turn one [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] off a sacland, and I became very happy. This was the nut hand against mono-red!

He then went [card]Seachrome Coast[/card], [card]Squadron Hawk[/card]. Oh. Is that so?

My free win went out the window, and instead I had to fight a grinding matchup where he had Lavamancers and I didn’t. I lost game one, mostly due to him shooting himself with Lavamancer in response to the second Timely, and went to board.

After boarding in Misstep and Wrath for the Timelys and Spell Pierces, I managed to win a tight game two and three, mostly thanks to Gideon. The Gidfather just took him to the woodshed, since he had none of his own, and just one or two O-Rings to try and stop him. Gideon plus Wrath plus Swords did what they do, and all of a sudden I was in Top 8!

11-2

After drawing with Ali, who at first was going to dreamcrush to help Shaheen, I was locked (thanks Shaheen!).

11-2-1

Web and Owen also Top 8ed, and not only that, we were all in different brackets. The team could be the three of us!

We had another awesome dinner, this time at St. Elmo’s Steakhouse, and I went back to discuss sideboarding.

There was only one small problem. The head judge hadn’t given us decklists, which was odd, but whatever. I could just check the coverage. Unfortunately, the only decklist not published was my opponent’s, Brandon Nelson, since Haibing Hu’s list got posted twice. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, since Brandon was Caw-blade, and I wasn’t actually going to play any games, but it could have been really terrible. Luckily, BDM heard me through the Twitterverse, and he emailed me the decklist as soon as he heard. Sideboarding against Brandon was pretty simple:

I took out 2 Timely Reinforcements and 3 Dismembers, since he had no threat in between Hawks and Sun Titan, and put in 3 Azure Mage/Jace and 2 Mental Misstep. I left 2 Wraths in, since they are ok if you don’t draw Hawk, and got ready to battle.

We went to five games, but I sadly didn’t win. Games one and five were decided solely on land counts; I never hit four and lost horribly as a result. Game two was a close game, and he had just enough Into the Roils and counters to stop me from Sphinxing him out, but stop me he did. I won the other two games, one of which was on the back of him missing land drops. It almost makes me want a 28th land in the sideboard for the mirror, since the first person to miss a land drop usually loses.

I was pretty crushingly disappointed to not make the team, and Owen and I commiserated with each other about it, sure that we were both the unluckiest person in the world. Congrats to the Ocho for making the team, and Ali and Hu for finishing 1st and 3rd respectively. Making Top 8 and missing the team really sucks, but I was happy with the deck I played and how I played, so I can’t really complain. Much (that’s also a lie).

That wraps up my report, but there is more to talk about today: Modern!

Modern

The change to the Pro Tour, along with the banned list, is awesome, and I couldn’t be happier about it. We went from Caw.format that nobody cared about to a new and interesting format, filled with mostly new and interesting decks. The banned list is extensive, but all that means is that there is no low-hanging fruit (besides Zoo; there always is Zoo). I’m very happy to be testing Modern, and figure I might as well mention a few things about the format:

[draft]aether vial[/draft]

Aether Vial is a card, but it isn’t absurd. Vial is definitely one of the best cards untouched by the purge, and I expect it to make its presence known. That being said, the hits to blue control (no Misstep, Jace, or Ancestral Visions) make Vial less of a beating than it has been in the past, and there is no Goblin Ringleader to really make it cheat on mana. It’s just a good card for something like Merfolk, and will probably feature in some midrange Green creature decks.

[draft]dark confidant[/draft]

Best card in the format? Yeah, probably. With many of the heavy hitters banned, don’t be surprised when many of the remaining decks turn to Bob for inspiration. He is still the best creature ever printed, after all.

[draft]punishing fire[/draft]

If you are playing a deck full of 2-toughness guys, you better have a plan for this. Some decks, like Zoo, are just too fast, especially since [card]Wild Nacatl[/card] and [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] don’t care at all. Other decks, like Merfolk, can’t just shrug it off; with the reduced options available, there will be [card]Punishing Fire[/card] decks at the Pro Tour. I know I have some gifts that have not been distributed, just for this occasion.

[draft]hive mind
Dragonstorm
Ad nauseam
Angel's grace
Seething song
Rite of flame[/draft]

Combo is alive and well. The most egregious offenders may be gone, but don’t be fooled into thinking that there is no combo. I don’t know which are best yet, though I suspect Hive Mind is among them, and you would do well to be prepared. In fact, looking at decks from last Pro Tour Amsterdam is a good place to start, since many of the same shells will be used.

Hopefully this gives you a good start to looking at Modern, since that’s about where I’m at. I haven’t done enough testing to even be hiding anything, though I don’t anticipate chronicling everything that I do before the Pro Tour (for obvious reasons). I’m still really happy that it’s Modern, and think that anyone who puts in the work will be heavily rewarded.

LSV

Can’t forget about sample hands, can we (this is from every deck Dave Williams has ever drafted in M12):

[draft]2 sorin's vengeance
Diabolic tutor
4 Swamp
[/draft]