Editor's Note: For those of you who have no idea what Nina is talking about the previous two parts of her Nationals report can be found here: Part I and Part II.
Unwrapping pack 1 I was naturally hoping to open some sort of disgusting game winning bomb I could plan my entire draft around; as were all 7 of my opponents no doubt. Unfortunately my first pack turned out to be fairly mediocre; the rare was Reverberate, there was a Shock, an Assault Griffin, a Belltower Sphinx and a whole pile of average to poor cards. After eliminating the Griffin because it would be ineffective against both of the other "good" cards in the pack I eventually settled on the Belltower Sphinx. My logic was actually pretty simple; in the first draft and during numerous practice drafts (both real and MtGO) I consistently found that red was heavily over-drafted. This meant that I was really only prepared to draft two types of red cards pick 1 pack 1; high impact cards that could potentially win me a game by themselves or above average removal spells I would be happy to splash as my only red card. Shock doesn't actually qualify on either front and what's more would be completely incapable of killing the Belltower Sphinx I would be passing instead. Alex then proceeded to pass me an average pack with a lot of solid creatures, no good removal and a Stingflinger Spider. Without a moment's hesitation I snapped up the Spider and resigned myself to playing U/G again in the second draft. Naturally when pick 3 produced a Merfolk Looter I was pretty pleased with my previous two choices and felt that things were working out "just fine" once again. Unfortunately it would be the last relevant blue card I'd choose that pack as Alex and at least one other drafter to my right began heavily cutting the color throughout pack 1. My next 6 selections were actually green cards; Giant Spider, Trollhide, Garruk's Companion, Titanic Growth, Hunter's Insight and Trollhide #2. Finally I rounded out the pack with a Fiery Hellound (in case there was no blue in pack 2 either), a Brindle Boar I had no intention of playing, a Plummet for my sideboard, Dragon's Claw and a 14th pick Lifelink.
Things were certainly starting to look grim headed into pack 3; not only was I still trying to figure out what my second color was but my entire deck was populated by crummy Bears and Spiders. On the plus side I had come out of pack 2 with an Arachnus Web and 2 Oblivion Rings I knew I'd play even if I ended up going U/G so it wasn't all a loss. Naturally of course I opened a pack 3 Vengeful Pharaoh, a bunch of quality but not first pickable green creatures (Rhino, Sacred Wolf) and another Arachnus Web I simply couldn't pass. Somehow pack 2 was actually worse; I can't remember most of the cards in this pack but I do remember that absolutely none of the G/U/W cards were main-deck material and I ultimately decided just to "spike" a Chandra's Outrage even though I had zero chance of playing it. Picks 3 and 4 would finally decide that I was a G/U deck splashing white for Oblivion Rings when I snatched up a Skywinder Drake and followed it up immediately with a 2nd Belltower Sphinx. To be perfectly honest it wasn't exactly a difficult choice; there were no good white cards in any of the first 4 packs and the Drake/Sphinx were actually better than most of the green creatures I'd already drafted. Unfortunately pack 5 would ultimately typify the kind of draft I was having when I spread out the cards only to find a Sacred Wolf, a Stampeding Rhino, a Greater Basilisk and an Acidic Slime. What's more most of the non-green cards in the pack were pretty bad so even if I *was* the only green drafter at the table I knew none of these cards would make it back to me. Eventually I took the Acidic Slime simply because it was the most powerful card in the pile and I figured I might be able to table the Wolf/Rhino from pack 1 anyways. My next pick was a 2nd Llanowar Elf out of a pack with basically nothing followed up by a Carnage Wurm I took mostly because all of my creatures were 2-3 power weenies at that point. Unfortunately the remaining packs pretty much dried up after that and I closed out the draft with a Spirit Mantle, a Vastwood Gorger I should have main-decked but didn't, a Distress, a Gladecover Scout, a Pride Guardian, a Bountiful Harvest and a Taste of Blood; ick.
Once again the players in my pod were separated for the "deck build" portion of the draft but this time I needed almost every single alloted minute to complete my deck. This is the list I submitted just as time was expiring:
Creatures - 17:
2x Llanowar Elf
1x Garruk's Companion
1x Merfolk Looter
4x Runeclaw Bear
1x Skywinder Drake
2x Giant Spider
1x Acidic Slime
2x Belltower Sphinx
1x Chasm Drake
1x Stingerfling Spider
1x Carnage Wurm
Spells - 6:
2x Arachnus Web
2x Oblivion Ring
Analysis: The simple truth is that this is a pretty average deck in M12 Limited. Generally when you play a U/G aggro deck it's because you've got some ridiculously powerful cards in those colors; Mind Control/Overrun come to mind as a pretty good example. Unfortunately this deck doesn't really have any cards on that power-level and even the two best cards in the deck (2x Oblivion Ring) are actually splash removal spells. What's more because the deck has no mana fixing and no card-draw outside of the Looter the mana base itself is pretty bad; you want 10 forests to support your Elves/Companion but you need a significant number of Islands/Plains to play your Looter/Oblivion Rings. My biggest problem with this deck however is it's complete dependence on drawing Trollhide, Chasm Drake or Carnage Wurm to actually win games. For a deck with 17 creatures this build was surprisingly bad at applying the "beatdowns" because the vast majority of it's monsters topped out at 2 power unless you could stick a Trollhide somehow. In retrospect I don't think I correctly estimated just how big of a problem with would be during my matches and as a result I probably built the deck wrong. I typically found myself siding out a Rune Claw Bear and 1-2 Trollhides for some combination of Vastwood Gorger, Titanic Growth and/or Ice Cage in game 2. Despite these shortcomings the deck wasn't a total loss; the removal package was actually quite good (2x Arachnus Web, 2x Oblivion Ring, Stingflinger Spider, Acidic Slime and sideboard copies of Plummet, Ice Cage and Titanic Growth) and the sheer number of early (1-2) drops made it pretty easy to adopt the aggro role in most match-ups.
Fortunately for me, round 7 marked the end of day 1 at Nationals. I was tired, frustrated and more than a little shaken from my last loss and at that point I was pretty sure I'd drafted a deck so poor that it would single-handedly eliminate me from contention before round 9 was over. Thankfully several of my friends and fellow competitors were around to talk me down from the ledge and eventually I went home to a warm shower before spending roughly an hour and a half goldfishing my deck and examining possible sideboard options for day 2. I don't actually remember falling asleep that night but I certainly remember waking up at 5:30 the next morning and wishing the organizers would hold big Magic events less than an hour away from "civilization".
Mana Deprived's coverage of the event I knew Alex was playing a *very* strong U/B control deck that would likely make short work of my "pile of cheap creatures + Trollhide" build. Naturally of course I would be paired against Alex but a funny thing happened on the way to my eventual defeat; Alex could not draw lands of his second color in either game. Game 1 he played 4 Swamps and actually made a reasonably go of holding me off with a Royal Assassin; until I dumped my hand and swarmed him to death. Game 2 was worse as after mulling to 6 my opponent kept a 2 Island hand with a Merfolk Looter and managed to miss his 3rd land drop before playing yet another Island on turn 4. Unfortunately my draw was actually very fast this game and Alex conceded with a 4 card hand that probably had as many good cards in it as my entire deck. I can not stress enough how disappointing this match was to me personally; Alex is one of my favorite players in all of Canada and his deck was easily much better than mine. I never go into a match hoping/expecting to lose but in this case I couldn't help but feel terrible for Alex; he didn't deserve to lose that round any more than I deserved to mulligan into oblivion for the rest of the day.
The measure of a (wo)man: After game 2 I quickly signed the match slip and managed to wish Andy good luck in his future rounds before escaping the room for a quick smoke break. Though I was doing my best to appear calm on the outside, inside I was upset, frustrated and most disturbingly of all; a little scared. At this point in the tournament it was hard to tell what the cutoff line for the top 8 would be but everyone was pretty sure X-4 was right out and that any X-3 players to make it would most certainly need strong tiebreakers to do so. Upset and on the verge of tears I was seriously tempted to just drop and go home immediately. Thankfully my friends Tommy and Kelly were still with me and after convincing me to calm down the 3 of us started to go through the math together. While at least 2 of my previous opponents had dropped almost everyone I'd played during the first draft was not only still in the tournament but doing exceptionally well; it might have taken a miracle finish but I was not mathematically out of the running quite yet. Additionally Kelly reminded me that my original plan had been to "play Magic until the organizers kicked me out of the tournament hall" and as of yet that had not happened. Hardening my resolve with a rare second cigarette I decided to make good on my promise and somehow "find a way" to run the table during the last 3 rounds of Standard. As we walked back in the doors I even remember saying to Tommy that "at least it'll be easier, Caw Blade is a much more reliable deck than that pile I just drafted."
No fetch-land no cry, no fetch-land no cry
Say, say, said I remember when I used to hit
All of my land drops, right on time
Shuffa, shuffa, shuffle than head to six
As I wonder how this thing could happen to me
Good games I’ve had, and good games I’ve lost
But not this wa-ay
No cards, no future
The Japanese had it wrong
So shuffle up and pray
No fetch-land no cry, no fetchland no cry
Oh my little Angel; don’t make no birds
No fetch-land no cry
Say, say, yes I remember hitting six on six
And casting Con Sphinx for the win
And then Jace; he would draw cards all night
As it is; there is not a land in sight
That’s when I took, third mulligan
On Twitter; share with you
Can’t win mirror on just three lands
I guess that’s why I’m so blue
Hope that I’m wrong…
Every game gonna mull to 5, every game gonna mull to 5
No fetch-land, no cry
No, no fetch-land, no cry
Hey now my little Angel; don’t make no birds
No fetch-land, no cry.
After signing the match slip for round 12 I suddenly felt both very sad and extremely tired at the same time. The fact that my journey was over and had ended so poorly after such a promising start was beginning to sink in fully; sapping whatever energy I had left after 2 days of Nationals that included 12 rounds of Magic and two separate drafts. I took a last few moments to wander around the room and say goodbye to as many of my friends as I could find. Finally, after excusing myself from several post-tournament dinner invitations I jumped into a cab with Tommy and started the long ride home. Overall I would have to rate my Nationals experience as a positive one. While I certainly wasn't happy with finishing 6-6 I learned quite a bit about myself as a player; including the fact that I actually *did* belong in that room as a Magic player after all. While I can't speak credibly about the future I can say that right now I have every intention of earning an invite back to this tournament in 2012; and I intend to win it next time.
Well gang that's about all my fingers can take for the moment; there's a lot of humidity in the air here in Toronto and I may be developing a mild case of arthritis because my joints are starting to ache. As always thanks for reading and I'm sorry this wasn't the most "fun" article I've ever written. It's actually pretty hard to write about losing at Magic without sounding like a whiner; I intend to avoid losing in the future as a method of avoiding this experience. :) Until next time guys and gals remember that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and keep it weird folks.