Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of The Cardboard Witch. For those of you just joining us this article is the 2nd part of my 2011 Canadian Nationals report; to read part 1 click here. When we last left off I had just completed the 1st Standard portion of the event with a 2-1 record. Though I certainly would have preferred to be 3-0 at that point I was finally starting to settle down and find my legs as a competitor by the end of the third round.
Mana Deprived team from Montreal and Ottawa whom I'd never met in person. As it turns out Alexander Hayne is just as smart in person as he seems online, Phil Samms is just as funny and KYT is of course a straight up baller; the man was using $50 bills to clean the dirt off his sleeves between rounds I swear! Probably the coolest person I met all weekend however was Nic Leblanc (@plaindude on Twitter). In a room full of people taking themselves too seriously Nic was calm as a cucumber and I couldn't help but be a little jealous of his ability to crack jokes and stay "normal" even when the pressure was on. Perhaps most importantly Nic seemed to be having a lot of fun and even though I was nervous about the tournament itself it was pretty hard not to have fun with him; his attitude was infectious. Unfortunately I didn't get to talk to Justin Richardson much over the course of the tournament because whenever we were seated near each other the judges had specifically instructed players not to talk; hopefully I'll get more of a chance to chat with Justin next year if I qualify. In addition to the Mana Deprived crew I also had a chance to hang out with Canadian MtG podcast icons Scott MacCallum (@mrscottymac) and Chris Lansdell (@lansdellicious) in the lobby outside of the tournament hall; unfortunately they along with Ben Clinton (@benc86) had to listen to my bad beat story from round 3 (Minbreak Trap? Really?) but they were kind enough to keep chatting with me anyways. Finally just before the draft portion of the event was about to start I managed to properly say hello to both Charlotte and Duncan who were judging in the event; though I consider them both personal friends I also knew they had major responsibilities in the tournament and I went out of my way to find a moment when they weren't busy to say "hi".
My first pick out of pack 1 was a Mind Control which I snapped up very quickly; though my memory is usually pretty good when it comes to draft picks I was understandably quite nervous/excited so I didn't memorize every other card in the pack like I normally would. What I do remember is that by taking the Mind Control I was probably closing off both Red and White as potential pairings; I know I passed a couple of very good red cards (Minotaurs, Shock?) and a pack full of good but not amazing white cards you'd never take over a Mind Control. My opponent to the right passed me a pack with a bunch of random green creatures and an Aether Adept and then a pack with numerous playable but unexciting cards in all 5 colors. I decided to keep signaling that blue was not open by taking a Divination even though it wasn't necessarily the best card in the pack. I'm pretty sure my next pick was a Skywinder Drake and it was a 5th pick Giant Spider that ultimately put me on green to begin with. My next 4 picks were Sacred Wolf, Turn to Frog, Llanowar Elf and Stampeding Rhino (though not necessarily in that order) before I closed off the pack with 2 Harbor Servants for my sideboard, a Merfolk Mesmerist in case I was screwed for playables and a Diabolic Tutor/Flight that I had no intention of playing.
Going into pack 2 I actually felt pretty good about my deck; opening a Mind Control early had made it pretty easy to cement myself into blue and based on how late I'd drafted my 4 green creatures I was pretty sure the color would be wide open for the rest of the draft. Unfortunately the pack I opened had a bunch of good cards for other colors, no splashable removal and a bunch of fairly marginal creatures. The rare turned out to be Jace's Archivist however so I decided to take it on the off chance I needed a backdoor "mill" victory condition and to continue signaling that blue was most definitely not open. My opponent then proceeded to ship me an Azure Mage which I took ruefully over an Aether Adept primarily because I wanted to draw into Mind Control. At this point most of the blue dried up in the next few packs and I started building on my green creature base by adding a Sacred Wolf, Lurking Crocodile and a Garruk's Companion to my pile. The 6th pick in pack 2 saw me reach for a Cancel because I was worried about my blue playables while pick 7 handed me a Titanic Growth I was genuinely surprised to see in the pack. Unfortunately the rest of the pack was pretty barren; I grabbed a late Greater Basilisk and a Naturalize for my deck in between taking a bunch of cards I had no intention of playing with (Thran Golem, 2x Merfolk Mesmerist, Lifelink, Levitation).
During the review period after pack 2 I started to become a little worried about my deck; while I certainly had the beginnings of a solid build the overall thinness of pack 2 had mostly undone all the value I'd generated in pack 1. At this point I was basically hoping I'd signaled blue/green hard enough to pick up about 6-7 good cards and maybe another 2 solid playables. Otherwise I'd be forced to main-deck cards like Harbor Servant and Cancel; a prospect I was not overtly excited about to be fair. Naturally of course I open a pack with Overrun and after noting the Vengeful Pharaoh I was passing added the game-breaking green sorcery to my pile. Flipping through the 2nd pack I was pretty excited to find that Nic had shipped me a bunch of quality blue and green cards until I hit the end of the pack and saw a Fireball waiting there. I probably tanked on this decision for about 5 seconds total before I snatched up the Fireball; the fact is any time you have a chance to play with the 3 best uncommons in M12 Limited (Fireball, Mind Control, Overrun) you pretty much *have* to go for it. This decision seemed even better when the next pack showed me a 2nd Azure Mage to go with my Divination. Unfortunately at this point the picks become a little blurry in my memory; all I can remember is that both green and blue were apparently wide open and astoundingly deep in pack 3. I grabbed an Aether Adept, a Belltower Sphinx, another Giant Spider, a Frost Breath, 2 Stampeding Rhinos, a 2nd Greater Basilisk, a Runeclaw Bear, an Unsummon, a Negate for the sideboard and a 14th pick Reclaim that was almost but not quite playble in a deck with Overrun, Mind Control and Fireball.
After the draft players were instructed to avoid talking with anyone about their selections and the judges were apparently pretty serious about this point; I got a stern reminder to keep quiet while I was talking to KYT about my deck at the land station up front. I told the judge that we weren't even in the same pod but he replied "it doesn't matter, don't talk about it". Thankfully I really hadn't said anything particularly relevant and the judge seemed to understand instinctively that this was my first nationals but I felt a little bad for screwing up so many little things at that point. Eventually I was assigned to a seat far away from the other members of my draft pod to register my card pool and build my deck. This is the list I eventually submitted:
"Uncommonly Stompy" - U/G Aggro:
Creatures - 16:
1x Llanowar Elf
2x Azure Mage
1x Garruk's Companion
1x Runeclaw Bear
2x Aether Adept
1x Skywinder Drake
2x Sacred Wolf
2x Giant Spider
1x Belltower Sphinx
1x Greater Basalisk
2x Stampeding Rhino
Spells - 7:
1x Titanic Growth
1x Frost Breath
1x Mind Control
Analysis: While I won't go so far as to say this is the best deck I've built here in M12 Booster Draft it's probably fair to say that it's just inside the top 10. Anytime you can combine cheap fast aggro with card draw and multiple game-winning "bombs" you know you've got a good deck on your hands. While obviously not every opening draw would dictate the same line of play, the basic idea was to flood the board with early aggressive creatures while generating momentum with key tempo cards like Aether Adept and Frost Breath. Once your opponent manages to stabilize (assuming he does) you start turning on the Azure Mages and go fishing for a game-winning bomb. To be fair the deck would have been stronger with a couple more flyers, an Arachnus Web or two and maybe a Jade Mage to combine with the Overrun but all in all I felt it was about as good as one could expect when playing a color combination like blue/green.
Unfortunately I really don't remember a whole lot about round 2; I was paired up against Noah Long and I must confess to being a little starstruck during our match. For those of you who don't know Noah is easily one of the top 10 players in Canada at any given time, a perennial member of the Canadian National team and has been winning at high level Magic for a long as I can remember; no easy feat considering that I'm 34. He was playing B/R Bloodthirst with what seemed to be not enough creatures overall; I kept a slow hand game 1 and eventually lost to a Fireslinger, Tormented Soul, Scepter of Empires combo. I think he may have done the last 5 points of damage with a Fireball but again things are a little hazy. Unfortunately I remember almost nothing about game 2 except Noah didn't cast very many creatures and I opened with something like Turn 1 Elf, Turn 2 Sacred Wolf, Turn 3 Garruk's Companion and Azure Mage. He played some removal along the way but I just never slowed down from there. Game 3 is likewise a blur; all I remember is that late in the game Noah and I traded off a bunch of creatures and he tapped out to cast a Volcanic Dragon; leaving it back on defense because I was threatening lethal. I Unsummoned the Dragon, dropped a Titanic Growth and my gracious opponent scooped. For whatever it's worth I was genuinely surprised at how polite, calm and otherwise friendly Noah was during our match; his play-style can best be described as "effortless" and it's pretty easy to forget you're playing a high level game of Magic while chatting with him. I don't think this was a tactic either; Noah just seemed to genuinely play his matches at Nationals the way you or I would play at the kitchen table. I was thoroughly impressed.
After the first draft there was another longer break to allow the judges to set the tables/packs up for the second draft of the tournament. During this "cool down" period I began to feel incredibly dehydrated and as a result spent most of the next 20 minutes gulping down water and picking at a Subway Sandwich that Kelly and Tommy were trying to get me to eat. Over the course of the weekend I probably had about 30 glasses of water and I *still* felt a little dry most of the time; next year if I qualify I intend to buy several 1.5L bottles of Gatoraide just to deal with this problem. Partially because I felt a little sick and partially because a bunch of my friends had dropped out and gone for lunch I spent most of the time before the second draft slumped over a table with a glass of water in my mouth. While I was certainly tired I felt prepared, confident and ready to windmill slam another draft; at this point I can honestly say I had absolutely no clue that this would be the high point of my tournament. As it turns out, dark clouds were already gathering and while I was busy dreaming of a top 8 finish the universe was unfolding an entirely different plan around me.
Well folks, according to the poor soul who edits my work this is as good a time to break as any. Apparently I'm a little "wordy" and if I add an entire draft report to this part it will be "too long". While I'm personally inclined to disagree I do have to admit that my articles can run on the long side and that it's something I've been trying to work on; although breaking up one long article into multiple parts feels like cheating to me. While it was certainly never my intention to write a 3 part tournament report for an event I finished .500 in I must admit that writing about the experience has been both fun and somewhat therapeutic; assuming you're willing to indulge me I'm fine with finishing up part 3 tomorrow. As always thanks for reading and remember folks; just because a card is green doesn't mean it automatically sucks in M12 Limited.