Was Nationals a Success?

This last weekend saw the return of the Magic the Gathering English Nationals, and there was definitely a buzz in the air. Not only was it a return of a much beloved tournament, but gave all of us in merry old England one final chance to have a crack at Standard and Hour of Devastation draft before Ixalan drops and rotation hits us all. Having enough planeswalker points from last session and a hankering for some multi format play, I decided to throw my hat into the ring along with Chris Vincent and see if I had what it takes to make Team MTG England. But how did the weekend unfold? How was the new national experience? And was it a success? For all these answers and more, read on.

Guessing the Meta

Taking place a week before rotation was about to strike the Standard format was pretty clear for all to see. Temur Energy was still the big bad with a target on its back, with decks like Ramunap Red, Mardu Vehicles and White/Green Ramp not too far behind. With this in mind I had to make a call on what I should run out for the main event. I could play Temur, as I have had some success with it in the past, but over the last few weeks my local meta has evolved to combat this menace, and from what I could see from results around the world this was not an isolated incident. I didn’t have as much experience playing Mardu or Ramp and my control game leaves much to be desired. So, I decided to fall back on what I know and play good old Mono-Red aggro. This wasn’t just me picking a meta deck at random. There was method to my madness.

As I had stated earlier, Temur had a target on its bad and there was a good chance players would be ready to combat it with a variety of strategies tailored to its destruction. Those same strategies have a hard time keeping up with decks like Ramunap Red, so if I was fortunate I could take advantage of the meta game and give myself a fighting chance. After some testing and tweaking (winning FNM in the process) I came to my favourite build of the Mono-Red goodness.

Creatures (24)
4 Bomat Courier
4 Ahn-Crop Crasher
4 Earthshaker Khenra
4 Falkenrath Gorger
3 Soul-Scar Mage
3 Hazoret the Fervent
2 Kari Zev, Skyship Raider

Lands (24)
14 Mountain
4 Ramunap Ruins
2 Scavenger Grounds
4 Sunscorched Desert

Spells (12)
4 Abrade
4 Shock
4 Incendiary Flow

Sideboard (15)
2 Glorybringer
2 Sand Strangler
2 Chandra, Torch of Defiance
2 Chandra’s Defeat
2 Warping Wail
1 Pia Nalaar
2 Collective Defiance
2 Sweltering Suns

So that was Standard sorted out but what about Draft? Well, I’m going to level with you, I haven’t been the biggest fan of Amonkhet/Hour of Devistation Limited. Not that it’s not a good set, far from it. The truth is I have struggled to get to grips with the format and have had very little success up to now. I have watched all the tutorials on draft picks, gone on MTGO to try and improve my game and spent hours testing. But no matter what I did I couldn’t seem to get that all important 3-0. But I had improved somewhat over the last couple of weeks leading up to the Nationals, and I was very confident in my Standard deck. So, with a head full of dreams and nothing to lose, I set off to do battle with my fellow country-men. But how did I do?

Day 1

Into the Fray

The English Nationals was taking place at Roundhouse in Derby. A Grade 2 listed building, the Guinness World Records recognised this 19th century railway building as the oldest locomotive roundhouse in the world. When I walk into the main event hall I was blown away by the venue and its layout. Most large-scale events are setup with rows and columns of tables and chairs to help get the most players into the space. But the unique layout of the Roundhouse meant that we were playing in a circle, giving everyone plenty of room to move.

 

Not only that, but the natural light coming in from the roof was a breath of fresh air for the hard lighting of main modern event centres, and really made you appreciate the beauty of the venue. The food and amenities where also top notch, and the venue itself was easy to get to and had lots of free parking. But enough of me sounding like a trip advisers review, let’s get down to the business at hand. We started the day with three rounds of Standard, and I was eager to see if I was right about my choice in deck. After a bit of a mix up with the first-round byes, I came face to face with Wade, my first-round opponent.

How did things go? Well, not good. Turns out I might have misjudged the meta, as I played three different versions of Temur Energy. I lost my first match to Wade with a R/G Energy deck that appeared to have dropped the Blue for more consistent mana. Match two was a close run affair, with it coming down to game three. My opponent had stabilised and we found ourselves in a race. Could I win by pitching cards to Hazoret before he could swing in for lethal? When he top decked an Elder Deep-Fiend to tap down my board and swing in my heart was in my throat. Until he realised he was one damage short. I then cracked back for the win. The final match was a close run too, but I soon found myself drawing nothing but lands. By the time I started to hit some gas, it was far too late and I got stomped by Bristling Hydras.

So, going into the first Draft I found myself 1-2 down and fearing I may have been wrong about how the meta game was going to play out. But there was still a chance I could get high enough to hit prizes, or even squeeze into the top 8 if I didn’t lose any more games. My fingers crossed, I headed into my first Draft.

Don’t call it a comeback

The room fell silent, and we all began to crack our first pack of Hour of Devastation. To be honest my first pack was not good, and the best card I could find was a Khenra Scrapper. In pack two I picked up a Dauntless Aven and it looked like I was going to be playing Red/White Aggro, which isn’t a bad strategy. Then I got passed an Ominous Sphinx. Thinking Blue was open, I decided to pick it and see if I was right. Turns out no-one else was in Blue, and I ended up been able to build a fairly solid Blue/Red Cycling Flyers deck. The icing on the cake was my pack three, pick five Drake Haven!

But how did it play? Well, my first two matches were against big green builds, and played out in much the same way. My opponents would play out early ramp and hard-hitting creatures in an attempt to beat me down, only for me to out tempo them with bounce spells and an army of flyers. Game three saw me facing down a pretty sweet Mono-Black brew, topped off with Razaketh, the Foulblooded. However, these games went in much the same way with my army of flyers and removal spells being able to outpace my opponent’s aggression.

So to recap; I was 1-2 down going into the draft portion of the event, a draft that I wasn’t overly confident in. By the end of the first pod, I now had a record of 4-2,and would be lying if I said I wasn’t pleased. After a quick break, we sat down to the second drafting pod with my hopes at doing well rekindled.

Still in Prizes?

As the second draft got underway, I quickly found myself settling in to a Green/White deck. Early picks like Quarry Beetle and Sidewinder Naga had me pretty excited, but halfway around the first pack I suddenly found myself been cut from any more creatures. I was getting lots of removal like Sandblast, but I would have loved some more creatures given that my pack two pick one was a God-Pharaoh’s Gift. In pack three I got even more removal, as well as a Gate to the Afterlife. With the deck complete I sat down to face Mark, my last opponent of the day.

I lost game one to Mark’s super-fast Red/Black Zombie deck, thanks to Cartouche of Zeal. In game two I managed to trade creatures one for one, much to the confusion of my opponent. Then with a seventh land drop I played out my God-Pharaoh’s Gift and all became clear to Mark, who quickly scooped. In game three I found myself on fourteen life, facing down seven power worth of creatures with no blockers in site. No cards in hand I looked to my top deck for an answer, and was elated when I top decked a Gate to the Afterlife. Without a second thought I played it out and cracked it to find my God-Pharaoh’s Gift. Then Mark asked if I had six creatures in my graveyard!

After I looked and released I only had four, we called over a judge and I owned up to the mistake. I received a game rule violation, as is only fair, and we turned back the clock. With only one draw left to find an answer, I revealed a Forest, and conceded the match. I was now out of the running for top 8, but still had a chance to make prizes if I could 7-4-1 the event. I headed home to get some sleep and get ready for another day of Magic.

Day 2

The Last Hurrah

I was joined for day two by Abbie, who came to play some Modern and pick up some John Avon prints. After grabbing some breakfast and saying hello to Jordan and Chris from Orcs Head Magic, who I had the pleasure of meeting on the first day, I got ready to face my round eight opponent. Who was this person who was standing in my way to ultimate victory? An empty chair. Yes, I got a bye for the round and ended up playing some Commander with Abbie while I waited for round nine to start. Still this put me on 5-3, so I wasn’t going to complain.

Finally, round nine came around and I was placed up against Matthew and his sweet Blue/Red spells deck. Game one didn’t go so well as I found myself unable to get a footing in the match as Matthew quickly raced me to the finish. Game two started much better as I was able to get a whole heap of big guys down and remove his flyers. I was about a turn or two from victory when my opponent top decks a masterpiece. It was Opposition. I sighed. And did nothing more all game as each combat I had my board locked down. Still I can’t be too mad at Matthew. If I had of pulled an on colour Masterpiece you can bet your bottom dollar I would have played it.

So, I find myself 5-4 going into the last few games of Standard. However, all is not lost. If I can win my next two games and then ID in the last round, I might be able to walk away with something.

In round ten my Ramunap Red deck came face to face with a Blue/Red control deck, one of my favourite match ups. I was able to lock up game one thanks to Hazoret and her ability to pitch cards for damage. In game two I found myself in a similar position, but this time it was Ramunap Ruins that put in the work before a Collective Defiance finished off the match. Round eleven and I found myself facing yet another Temur Energy deck, this one splashing for The Scarab God. I managed to win game one quickly, before losing game two to Glorybringers. In the final game, I managed to get a large board state up and going and victory is in my sights. Then I got hit by Radiant Flames. With no way to rebuild, my opponent took the match and with it any hopes of prizes.

I decided to drop from the event at this point and play some Modern with Abbie and Chris from Orcs Head Magic, before heading home to try and recover from one heck of a weekend of Magic.

So, what did I learn?

1. I’m an average to slightly above average player, and I’m ok with that.

I might not be the best in England, but I had a blast in the Main Event. I got to match my skills against the best Magic Players in the Country and managed to hold my own. In each game I lost except for one, I went to three game matches that could have gone either way. While I will continue to try and improve and evolve as a player, I am proud of how I performed (except for that one misplay). If I am able to attend next year I hope to do better, but for my first Nationals I think I did about as good as I could. And that’s enough for me.

2. Sometimes you play the meta game, and sometimes it plays you.

I tried to play around the big bad of the format in the form of Temur Energy, and misjudged somewhat. Out of the five games of Standard I played over the weekend, four of them where against some variant of the deck. Could things have gone different if I was right and Temur wasn’t so represented? Maybe, but we will never know. In the past I have successfully predicted the meta of a tournament, but on this occasion I was right out.

3. You can always make new friends.

As I stated in my rundown of GP Birmingham, our shared hobby brings us together and allows us to make friends and acquaintances, bonding over our favourite decks and fondly remembered sets. This was again true this last weekend. Not only did I get to catch up with people I had met before, but also got to make new friends like Jordan and Chris from Orcs Head Magic. Being able to hang out with fellow players and content creators for a whole weekend of Magic-fuelled fun was a real blast, and I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.

So, was it a Success?

Me and Abbie hanging out with @OrcsHeadJordan @OrcsHeadChris

In a word, YES. Not only was the event super fun, but it was run exceptionally well by Axion and the Judges. The venue was top notch and although it would have been nice to have a couple more vendors, I can’t really complain. This weekend has given me a ton of stories and experiences that I will cherish, even if some of them are my own bad beats. I’m very happy WoTC decided to bring back this event, and from what I have been able to see from other people in the community, so is everyone else. If this is what we have to look forward to, then I can’t wait for next year’s event.

Finally, but by no means least, a huge congratulations to the Winner Autumn Burchett and Runner Up Ross Broxup. Come December, I and the rest of the English Magic community will be cheering you on to your (hopeful) victory with Captain Niels Molle. Go team England!

Well that about wraps it up from me today. If you have enjoyed what you have read here then please like and share on social media, as it will help us to grow the site. If you went to Nationals yourself and have something to say please leave a comment below about your experience. But until next time everyone remember, Good Luck and Have Fun!

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