Great Britain Nationals Begins!
The annual gathering of the Great and the Good, or at least the Great and the British, is under way here in the heart of London. With plenty of National titles already awarded, how will the M11-Standard metagame mutate? Will Blue-White Control dominate proceedings? Will turn one Goblin Guide rule the day? Or is everyone ignoring Jund at their peril? The pride of Scotland and the Welsh Dragons are here to take on England's finest across four rounds of Standard and three rounds of Draft here on day one. Let battle commence!
Feature Match Round One – Nick Lovett (Wales) vs Quentin Martin (England)
by Rich Hagon
Both these players sit proudly in the pantheon of Britain's finest. While Quentin Martin will be known to many as the former Limited Information columnist on this very website, Nick Lovett came to global attention during a spectacular run at the World Championship of 2006 in Paris, where he fell at the penultimate hurdle, finishing third. Both players were in the same testing group, but Q, as he's known, came into the match suspecting that Lovett had audibled at the last minute, a tradition as old as GB Nationals itself.
Shuffle up boys its time to start Nationals
After a Martin mulligan, Lovett opened on Steppe Lynx, with Glacial Fortress for Martin suggesting a classic Aggro v Control matchup. Arid Mesa quickly turned the Steppe Lynx into a 4/5, and Honor of the Pure made that 5/6.
Fifteen life, and only one Glacial Fortress. Martin added a second, but Lovett stumbled when he had no third land, making the Steppe Lynx attack for a measly one damage on turn three. He still found fuel for the fire, with Squadron Hawk finding three friends.
Martin's first play was Wall of Omens, but that wouldn't stop the coming flying onslaught. Knight of the White Orchid allowed Lovett to find Plains number three, and the Squadron Hawk dropped Martin to twelve. Honor of the Pure was threatening Martin, so Oblivion Ring dealt with it. In Constructed, you're allowed four copies of any card, and Honor of the Pure number two came down, meaning Martin fell to nine, and now he was struggling to find mana too. Not that Lovett seemed to be too inconvenienced, since he had significant threats on the battlefield. The fourth land for Martin, meanwhile, could easily mean Day of Judgment.
Martin aimed Path to Exile at his own Wall of Omens to make sure land number four would be forthcoming, but found himself at four life, and with Lovett still with a full handful of potential threats. Squadron Hawk met with Mana Leak, suggesting Martin didn't have the Day of Judgment. He did have Baneslayer Angel, but it was a last throw of the dice. Brave the Elements bypassed the lifegain machine, and Lovett was one to the good.
Lovett 1 – Martin 0.
Q has some thinking to do
The lesson of game one seemed to be that Aggro can survive a few missing land rather better than Control. Now Martin would be on the play, hoping that his Celestial Colonnades, Glacial Fortresses, and sundry other mana producers would give him the ammunition to make a fight of it.
A pair of Plains opened game two, and Martin wasted no time in eliminating the first threat from Lovett, a turn one Elite Vanguard. Turn two Kor Aeronaut resolved, with Martin making a show of contemplating a Mana Leak. Bluff? Real? Relevant? In any case, the Aeronaut was dealt with via a second Path to Exile, Martin determined to keep his life total as high as possible.
Lovett offered Squadron Hawk, and again Martin contemplated a Mana Leak. Confident that Lovett would only find two more, Martin again allowed it to resolve, and Lovett duly obliged, with the fourth Hawk already in hand. Turn four, and Martin was still at twenty. He was even ahead, since Lovett was busy cracking Arid Mesa and Marsh Flats.
Honor of the Pure seemed like a prime counterspell target, but once again it arrived on the battlefield unhindered. The Hawk squadron (of two Squadron Hawks) hit for four. For five mana, Martin had Baneslayer, four mana more than Lovett spent on Path to Exile. Martin was tapped out, and now the Hawk squadron (of three Squadron Hawks) could attack for many. Many, many, many, since Lovett had added Elspeth, Knight-Errant to the battlefield.
Martin needed Day of Judgment desperately, and used a freshly-cast Jace Beleren to dig for an answer. Wall of Omens dug further, but there was no joy on top of the deck. Thirteen rounds to go, and the Welsh Worlds wizard was off the mark.
Nick Lovett 2 – 0 Quentin Martin.
Friday, 12.25pm – The Nationals That Isn't
by Rich Hagon
Four days of gaming awesomeness began Thursday here in London. While many players were taking their Last Chance to Qualify for the Main Event, the standout Public Event was the first of four Pro Tour Qualifiers for the first Pro Tour of the 2011. Rumors abound of possible locations for this as-yet unannounced venue, and the only certainties are that Pro Tour Scunthorpe and Pro Tour Moon remain unlikely.
The Qualifier attracted a high-quality field, taking their chances with M11 Sealed, and the Top 8 featured multiple players with Sunday experience, including Quentin Martin, Scotland's Brad Barclay, and Richard Moore, a former National Champion. It was Moore who emerged with the fabled Blue Envelope, and he was hoping that his travel award would take him somewhere exotic next year.
Still, he's no stranger to exotic climes, since he currently works in the Netherlands Antilles, along with a rather illustrious group of Magic players. Curacao may not have a National Championship – it's a bit small for that – but if it did, what a lineup:
Richard Moore – 2005 English National Champion
Craig Jones – Mr. Lightning Helix himself, runner-up from Pro Tour Honolulu 2006.
Mark Herberholz – the winner of an epic Pro Tour Honolulu Final against Mr.Jones.
Eugene Harvey – 'Eugenius', with four PT top 8s, and a win at Grand Prix Atlanta 2001
Marco Blume – Part of the Phoenix Foundation. Won two Pro Tours alongside Kai Budde and Dirk Baberowski (who also spends plenty of time on the island.)
Rich Hoaen – Canada's finest, Richie made give GP top 8s, winning in Richmond 2006
Mike Hron – The taciturn Hron took down Pro Tour Geneva in 2007 with a relentless draft strategy.
Jelger Wiegersma – The Dutch Hall of Famer, who won Pro Tour Seattle in 2004.
Ruud Warmenhoven – Another Dutchie, Ruud was the model of Pro consistency, making the top 8 of Pro Tour Honolulu 2006.
Paul Cheon – In a little over eighteen months, Cheon had five GP top 8s, including two wins.
Chris McDaniel – 'Star Wars Kid' has two Pro Tour top 8s to his name.
Andre Mueller – Finished second behind Remi Fortier at the flood-shortened Pro Tour Valencia.
Ben Rubin – Yet another Hall of Famer, Rubin had seven GP, and four PT top 8s.
Mike Krumb – Grand Prix Charlotte winner 2005.
Sam Gomersall – All-time British Pro Points leader, winner of GP Hasselt 2006
Alex Witt – Represented the Netherlands at Worlds.
Ken Ho – Pro Tour Osaka champion 2002.
Tillman Bragg - 3rd at Grand Prix Daytona Beach in 2007.
William Cavaglieri – 2008 Italian National Champion, deck designer of Black-Red tokens.
Hmm. The Curacao Nationals. If it existed, and if you could find it, this might just be the toughest Nationals on Earth.
Friday, 12:50 p.m. – Let's Meet the English
by Tim Willoughby
Great British Nationals – it’s bloody great isn’t it? With players from England, Scotland and Wales competing, there is a little bit of friendly national rivalry even within our National Championships, and how many countries can say that? As a Londoner (I moved house to near one of our great cricket grounds yesterday), I was tasked with giving you the lowdown on some of the players that you may know from England, and perhaps a few that are new to you. All will be people to watch out for here at Nationals. We’ll start with some past winners. Dan Gardner won in 2009 with a blue white tap-out control deck that worked on one fairly simple notion – cast Baneslayer Angel and protect it, and you should win the game. It sounds self evident now, but at the time, right before Grand Prix Brighton, not everyone had got the memo on quite how good the mythic angel is. Gardner parlayed his ticket to Worlds into a Pro Tour invite, and has performed well on the big stage, helped by having a solid team of Brits to work with including the Orsini-Jones brothers, and Richard Bland. Other past winners that are here this weekend include Jonathan Randle, Starcitygames.com editor Craig Stevenson, and one Richard Moore, who took a £1,000 plane trip from Curacao back to his country of birth to play in his favourite Magic event of the year. Tom Harle, who won English Nationals back when it was a qualifier for Great British Nationals has only finished second at the main event. We won’t hold it against him though – Tom’s innovative deck designs and tight play make him a solid one to watch.
The OJs actually do start their day with OJ - check the bottom right
Once we get past the winners, there is still plenty of talent around. Marco and Matteo Orsini-Jones have each had their fair share of success. While Matteo has had a Pro Tour top 8, it is Marco that has represented his country before, having made the top 3 to take a trip to New York. Their teammate Richard Bland put up a nice top 8 finish with Zoo at GP Madrid – the largest constructed tournament of all time.
Neil Rigby is something of an institution in British Magic. This quick witted northerner has carved out a niche for himself as both one of Britain’s funnest players, and one of its best. With various trips to the Pro Tour under his belt, he’s used to the lights of big events and always ready to put on a show, as was evidenced at GP Brighton, where he showed up dressed as the Pink Panther. Quentin Martin is only really a surprise at GB Nationals because last year he was part of the Canadian national team. Q is back from Canada now, and battling with the Brits, loving the fact that he can roll out of bed and practically hit the tournament venue in London.
Both Stuart Wright and his dad Mick are playing in Nationals this year. While Stuart is the one with the Pro Tour success, Mick is no slouch either. Stuart is known for his innovative deck design, but on the UK scene he is more often judging than playing – one of the side effects of so regularly playing on the Pro Tour. Mick judges too, but does not have such lofty excuses for why – he just likes to judge.
Mark Glenister - centre midfield
Finally we have a footballer from the 1970s. No, wait, it’s Mark Glenister. Mark just missed the top eight of Pro Tour Honolulu, losing in the last round to rising star Brad Nelson, who was on his breakout performance. Mark has converted his Pro Tour Qualifier regular status into a number of reasonable finishes at the Pro Tour, and though his play is sometimes glacially slow, he gets to the right answer, and that makes him a formidable opponent. As with any Nationals, there will almost certainly be one or two names that make themselves over the course of the tournament, but right now, these are my players to watch. Feature Match Round 2 – Dan Gardner vs Mark Glenister
by Tim Willoughby
For round 2 we have Dan Gardner, the current champion of Great Britain, who is looking to extend his reign for a second year. While various players have made it to the nationals team on multiple occasions, Britain has never had a repeat champion. His opponent, Mark Glenister, who has been nicknamed 'Keegan' for the event by his teammates, for his 1970's footballer perm, is one of Britain's other Pro Tour hopefuls. A strong finish in Honolulu is just the latest of his successes, and he would not prove an easy opponent.
Gardner won the roll, and looked on as Glenister took a mulligan. With blue/white control for the second year, he led with a Wall of Omens, and seemed to have the upper hand in the early game, as Glenister's Naya mana was stunted somewhat, and while Nest Invader resolved, a Kozilek's Predator did not, as it faced a Mana Leak.
The first step in Gardner's control plan was to stick Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which soon allowed him to both bounce Birds of Paradise, and fateseal to compound Mark's mana issues. With plenty of mana to work with himself, and fairly complete control of things, Gardner used Path to Exile on his own wall to build up mana, allowing him to cast Baneslayer Angel, and keep counter mana up.
Gardner gave a little laugh as Glenister finally drew another mana source, an Arid Mesa that was soon cracked. This did let Knight of the Reliquary come down, though not for long. Jace bounced the knight, and when Baneslayer Angel #2 came to town, Glenister reached for his sideboard. It was on to game 2.
Dan Gardner 1 – 0 Mark Glenister
Mark Glenister - out of lands and out of luck
Game two saw another mulligan from Glenister, but now on the play, he had a great chance to ramp out fast, having a Lotus Cobra on turn two. After a little thought, Gardner cast a Wall of Omens on his second turn, staving off attacks, but giving Mark free reign to do something powerful with his Cobra.
An Arid Mesa from Mark let him power out a turn three Nest Invader and Emeria Angel. None too shabby. Gardner played a refuge and passed. He had a Mana Leak ready to stop Eldrazi Monument, and then a Day of Judgment the following turn, to neuter Glenister's quick start. Mark used a Tectonic Edge to try to stunt Gardner's mana, and a Beastmaster's Ascension, which would take a while to get online.
A Birds of Paradise was the only creature that got to do any attacking for Glenister for a while, as Flashfreeze stopped a Nest Invader. Dan tapped out for Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and saw a Bloodbraid Elf come along, bringing with it a Lotus Cobra. That elf took down the planeswalker, and Dan could only pass the turn for his turn, discarding a Jace's Ingenuity at the end of turn.
Another Bloodbraid Elf came from Glenister, and while the Beastmaster's Ascension it brought resolved, the elf itself did not. By the time it came time for Mark to attack, he'd lost the other one too to a Path to Exile. Ascension #1 finally got up to 8 counters, and with a dangerous Birds of Paradise to fight on low mana, Dan scooped it up.
Dan Gardner 1 – 1 Mark Glenister
Game three, on the play, Gardner again had Wall of Omens, but this time chained one into a second, which left Nest Invader from Glenister looking a little impotent. A Beastmaster's Ascension from Glenister did stick, which meant that sooner or later though, the potency of Mark's team would be just fine.
Gardner had no intention of giving Mark that sort of time. He cast an Elspeth, Knight-Errant, and started powering out tokens. That would hold off some of Mark's smaller creatures, and prompted an Oblivion Ring from Glenister. While Glenister had a Lotus Cobra for his turn, Dan trumped with Baneslayer Angel. This tapped him out, but didn't really leave Mark with any good attacks.
After a little thought, Mark cast an Emeria Angel, before playing an Arid Mesa, and using it to score himself a couple of nice birds, and the mana to cast a Knight of the Reliquary, that hit play as a 5/5. Dan got one hit in with his angel before casting Day of Judgment. All Glenister had to follow up with was a Lotus Cobra, and when it was again met with a Baneslayer Angel, he gave a little wince. Baneslayer Angel had served Dan so well in 2009 that for this year's nationals he had picked up some foil ones, and Mark felt the full force of them in the red zone before Dan followed up with Oblivion Ring to remove the threat of Beastmaster's Ascension. A new one came down, but without all the counters on it that the other one had, it looked a little weak.
While Glenister was able to kill off a Jace Beleren, he could do little about Baneslayer Angel, while those Angels could handily deal with him.
Dan Gardner wins 2 – 1! Feature Match Round Three – Jonathan Randle v Richard Moore
by Rich Hagon
Two former National Champions collide here at 2-0. Jonathan Randle took the title in 2008, representing Team GB as the flagbearer in Worlds in Memphis. Across the table, he faces 2005 Champion Richard Moore, who led the Team at Worlds in Yokohama, Japan.
Jonathan Randle - while he might not be too hot to handle look at Rich Hagon with his extra button undone
Having won the die roll, Randle spent a while before sending back his opening seven. Six started the game with Island, while Moore quickly indicated his strategy with a turn one Steppe Lynx. Moore suspected a classic Beatdown v Control match, but Randle was going to change his view pretty swiftly. Misty Rainforest found Randle a Forest, and he used it to cast Noble Hierarch.
In came the Steppe Lynx for the first damage, with Marsh Flats causing double Landfall, dropping Randle to fifteen. Squadron Hawk began the recruiting process, with Moore checking that he had five cards left in hand before adding two more Hawks to his now-full grip. Meanwhile, Noble Hierarch helped Randle out of early mana issues, providing the third mana for Knight of the Reliquary.
In came Moore's team, with Elite Vanguard and the second Squadron Hawk joining the battlefield, staring at Randle on ten. Could he pull out in time? Lotus Cobra led to Fauna Shaman, while Moore continued to press through the air. Kor Skyfisher attempted to add to his airforce, which Randle was happy to Mana Leak. Student of Warfare completed the turn, but that too found Mana Leak waiting, Moore still holding four cards.
'Hmm, ok, counter my turn' said a less-than-pleased Moore.
For the first time, Randle sent into the red zone, Fauna Shaman taking advantage of the Exalted trigger from Noble Hierarch to hit Moore for three damage. That was all from Randle, who was still struggling to find an answer for the flying Squadron, which had now left the 2008 Champion at five. Kor Skyfisher resolved, as did a third member of the Squadron. Now Moore had lethal damage on the battlefield, and Randle was looking for answers.
Two land in hand was no help, but he did at least have Stirring Wildwood available. It didn't matter, as Brave the Elements granted Protection from Green, and we were off to game two.
Randle 0 Moore 1.
This time Randle felt able to keep his opening hand, and cast Fauna Shaman turn two, by which time Moore was already under way with Steppe Lynx, attacking for four via Arid Mesa. 'Straight from the Draft deck' said Moore, spending turn two laying Kor Aeronaut.
Randle started demonstrating the Fauna Shaman entertainment, as he discarded Vengevine to search up Birds of Paradise. Kn ight of the White Orchid allowed Moore to play catchup on land, adding Elite Vanguard to a team that already had Randle at eleven.
Fauna Shaman activated again, Randle discarding War Priest of Thune, allowing him to find a second Birds of Paradise. Down came the Birds, and a Knight of the Reliquary, triggering the Vengevine Randle had discarded the previous turn. One down, things were looking a lot better for the 2008 Champion. Better, that is, until, two mana later, both his Knight of the Reliquary and Vengevine had been Exiled by Moore thanks to a pair of Path to Exile.
In came the white weenie hordes – Knight of the White Orchid, Elite Vanguard, Kor Aeronaut – with just a lonely Birds of Paradise available to block. With a possible Brave the Elements waiting in the wings, it was a tough call for Randle to take the damage, but he did, dropping to four, and seeing Moore complete an excellent turn with Student of Warfare. Once again, Randle had his back against the wall. Fauna Shaman saw him discard Linvala, Keeper of Silence, and fetching up Baneslayer Angel. The Angel duly appeared, and now we would see whether Moore had done enough.
Squadron Hawk fetched two friends, but there was no sign of Brave the Elements. What there was, though, was Path to Exile. If Randle had no Mana Leak, we were done. The crowd leaned in eagerly, but Randle was all calmness personified as he tapped his last two mana to deny the third Path of the game.
In came Baneslayer, taking Randle back to nine, and Moore to fourteen. For the fourth time, Fauna Shaman did good deeds, with Knight of the Reliquary heading for the graveyard, and Admonition Angel heading for Randle's hand, and then the battlefield. Landfall allowed Randle to dispose of Steppe Lynx, and fetchland meant another Exile moment. Moore drew, but the moment had passed.
'I needed one more mana the turn you made Baneslayer' said Moore. 'Then I could have paid for the Mana Leak.'
Randle 1 Moore 1
Quiz time. Guess whether Moore decided to go first or second in the decider? That's right, Nick Lovett, watching as I type, he chose to go first.
Elite Vanguard turn one versus Birds of Paradise.
Attack for two. No second land for Moore.
'Wow, this is awkward.'
Lotus Cobra for Randle, Birds of Paradise.
Attack for two. Second land for Moore, and Squadron Hawk fetched three, forcing Moore to discard Ranger of Eos, a spell he wasn't likely casting any time soon.
When it comes to Nationals few things are as dangerous as Richard Moore with some mediocre white flying creatures
Moore may have found a second land, but things looked awfully good early for Randle. When he added Wall of Reverence, Moore looked considerably crestfallen. Path to Exile dealt with the Wall, but Randle was happy to trade his Lotus Cobra for Elite Vanguard. Moore again had Path to Exile when Randle cast Primeval Titan, but Celestial Colonnade and Stirring Wildwood simply added to the impression that Moore was running out of time.
Randle led in mana by a crazy ten to two, but more importantly he still had fifteen life. Moore continued to struggle valiantly, Path to Exile sending the Celestial Colonnade away, and attempting to find land number three via Knight of the White Orchid. Would Randle deny him? Mana Leak did precisely that.
Honor of the Pure made Moore's team that little bit bigger, while Randle now seemed to have somewhat stalled. Land number three prompted a 'hooray' from Moore, adding Squadron Hawk number two, and putting a first counter on Student of Warfare. It seemed that Randle's deck was delivering him nothing good, and in an improbably long game, white weenie was coming back into it.
'Oh-oh' said Moore, as Fauna Shaman hit the battlefield. Now Moore had the full set of four Squadron Hawks lined up, plus double Student of Warfare and Kor Aeronaut. Randle had an active Fauna Shaman, and that meant Admonition Angel coming right up. Verdant Catacombs meant Admonition Angel could, well, admonish a Student of Warfare (and what else are students good for, other than a good admonishing?).
Still more from Moore, but things were getting out of hand. Moore's latest trick was Brave the Elements, saving a Kor Skyfisher from the Admonition Angel. He still fell to four life, and, with Randle finding and casting Wall of Reverence, Moore had a next-to-impossible task.
Four mana. Ajani Goldmane. +1 +1 and Vigilance. In came the team to the sound of trumpets, supplied by Moore. When the dust cleared, Randle was still at eight, with Fauna Shaman this time searching up Vengevine. The 4/3 duly arrived, and wasted no time powering into the red zone. At three life, Moore had to block, leaving Randle to gain six life from the Admonition Angel, sending him back to fourteen.
Moore had no attack, and contented himself with another counter on all his men with Ajani Goldmane. Fauna Shaman meant Knight of the Reliquary for Randle, who now stood at twenty life. Elite Vanguard seemed irrelevant, and was. Moore had shown all the fighting qualities that had won him Nationals in 2005, but it was the more recent title-holder Randle who advanced to 3-0.
Randle 2 Moore 1. Friday 2.17pm – Pride of Scotland
by Rich Hagon
There's no doubt that Great Britain Nationals is a great event, but for atmosphere, the Scotland National Championship was always tough to beat. Few nations enjoy the battle more, especially when they're perceived as the underdog.
With three rounds gone, it's time to check in on the pride of Scotland, and see how they're progressing against the overwhelming might (at least in raw numbers) of the host English.
Three Scots sit undefeated. While Grant Hislop is relatively new to the top tables, the other two are grizzled veterans. Graeme McIntyre has played in several Pro Tours, while Joe Jackson most recently graced the top 8 of Grand Prix Brighton last year.
Seven more sit at 2-1. Jeremy Mansfield has a huge reputation, though not necessarily for his playskill. Always the easiest man in the room to spot, Jeremy is renowned for his collection of outrageous hats, which might feature horns, bells, axes...the weirder, the better. Dylan Black and Martin McGowan join him on 2-1, as do four big names.
Ben Sanders is a former Scottish team member at Worlds, while table thirty one offered up a real clash of the Scottish titans. Andrew Morrison cares passionately about the game, and brings that passion to every turn of every match. He's a truly relentless opponent who lives and dies with every turn of the cards. Opposite him is the man most Englishmen probably regard as Scotland's finest, Brad Barclay. Still only a young man, he's been attending Pro Tours for many years, and may be Scotland's best hope.
That said, maybe that lofty title should be bestowed on Stephen Murray. Part of the Great Britain team at Memphis Worlds in 2008, Murray has consistently improved at the Pro Tour level, rising up the standings on every attempt. In 2009, all slots on the GB team were taken by Englishmen. It's still very early to be making predictions, but the Scots have made a good start. Friday, 3:20 p.m. – GB Nationals Metagame Breakdown
by Tim Willoughby
It turns out that here in great Britain, everyone loves a Fauna Shaman. Between appearances in the Naya deck and Mythic Conscription decks, Fauna Shaman is just about the most represented of the cards to enter Standard in M11. Temple Bell is doing some fun things in Open the Vaults and Runeflare Trap, while Primeval Titan is making big things happen – be they Eldrazi, or scary amounts of Valakut triggers. One way or another, green decks are well represented, and we have a lovely diverse field here. Let's see how it shakes out by top 8 time.
Feature Match Round 5 – Stuart Wright v Marco Orsini-Jones
|Naya Fauna Shaman ||27||15.6%|
|UW Control ||26||15.0%|
|Mythic Conscription ||19||11.0%|
|Red Deck Wins ||17||9.8%|
|Titan Ramp (with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle) ||10||5.8%|
|Pyromancer’s Ascension ||10||5.8%|
|Open the Vaults ||5||2.9%|
|Runeflare Trap ||5||2.9%|
|Eldrazi Ramp ||4||2.3%|
|Esper Control ||3||1.7%|
|White Weenie (aka ‘Can’t Beat the Squadron!’) ||3||1.7%|
|Jund with blue ||1||0.6%|
|Beastmaster/Eldrazi Green ||2||1.2%|
|Super Friends ||1||0.6%|
by Rich Hagon
Eleven players began the M11 Draft with perfect 4-0 records from Standard, and inevitably, eight of those comprised the first draft pod. That, also inevitably, leads to some potent matchups, like this one, featuring the OJ brother without a Pro Tour top 8 (at least so far), and one of Britain's premier deckbuilders over the years, Stuart Wright.
Elite Vanguard on turn one for Marco made it look like Standard all over again. Stuart was happy to trade his early Llanowar Elves for the Vanguard, not least because he'd had to start with just five cards, but Marco was all aggression, running out Fiery Hellhound and them Vulshok Berserker. With no defences, Stuart was already at thirteen, and the Hellhound pumped viciously, dropping Stuart all the way to five.
Would Water Servant be enough to spare his blushes? It would not, as Marco flashed Stuart a glimpse of Pacifism waiting for the large blue blocker-to-be.
Wright 0 Orsini-Jones 1.
If Stuart thought his first game was bad, his second was worse, with a five card hand all he had to work with. At least the beatdown was less forthcoming from Marco, who proceeded to not draw a third land. Water Servant for Stuart faced down a Goblin Tunneler, as Marco continued to be land-shy. When Stuart added a Yavimaya Wurm to the battlefield, Marco realized that he probably should have mulliganed, as the trampling Wurm forced him to sweep up his permanents.
Wright 1 Orsini-Jones 1.
Yet again, Stuart was forced to mulligan, and for the first time in the match was able to start with six! Goblin Tunneler was the first play for Marco, but by then Stuart already had the perfect turn one with Llanowar Elves. Lightning Bolt soon sent the Elves packing, and Vulshok Berserker joined the Tunneler in beating Stuart about the head, leaving him at fifteen.
Water Servant looked to stabilize the battlefield, which it did, but Berserkers of Blood Ridge re-applied pressure. Cudgel Troll looked good for Stuart, until Excommunicate left him once again staring down the barrel. Blinding Mage coming down for Marco wasn't going to help Stuart either. Five mana brought Stuart Spined Wurm, which was promptly tapped by the Blinding Mage. The Berserkers of Blood Ridge crashed in, as they must, and Stuart was at seven. With Fiery Hellhound added, things were looking grim.
Ice Cage and Scroll Thief were Stuart's next offerings. The Blinding Mage tapped down once again, Pacifism removed the Spined Wurm from the reckoning, and a thoroughly mundane match marred by multiple mulligans came to a close. Still, it's not how you win them, it's THAT you win them, and Marco now stood at 5-0.
Stuart Wright 1 – 2 Marco Orsini-Jones.
After the match, I had a chance to sit with Stuart, and ask him about M11 Draft.
RH: It was pretty clear early that you were going Blue, with Water Servant at one and three. In between, you took Cloud Crusader. How long before you gave up on White?
SW: I basically saw no good White cards after the Crusader, which isn't that exciting in the first place. I'm perfectly happy with Green-Blue as a pairing, so I was fine when the White didn't come.
RH: You ended up with three Spined Wurm, and seemed to be contemplating more. How many is too many?
SW: Probably once you get above four you're struggling to make it work. The thing is, Blue-Green is all about tempo. If we started every game on 100 life, you'd probably win every time, because your guys are just bigger than their guys. The key is to reach the point where you can cast your big men, and survive even some cheap removal from the other side.
RH: Is that why you were prioritising cards like Mana Leak so highly?
SW: Obviously there's very little real removal in the colors, so you have to be able to deal with threats somehow. Ice Cage is alright, but Mana Leak is probably the best 'removal' you can have.
RH: There's only one specific pick I want to talk to you about. Let's set the scene. Late in pack one, you get a Cultivate. Late in pack two, you get Drowned Catacombs. Now we get to pack three, pick three. Still in the pack there's a Doom Blade. On the face of it, this is exactly what Cultivate and Drowned Catacombs help you to do, cast quality removal. Yet you took Llanowar Elves. Why?
SW: Doom Blade is clearly a much more powerful card looked at on its own. However, Llanowar Elves are incredibly important in Blue-Green. You're never going to make Spined Wurm into a totally 'unfair' card in the way that some things..
RH: ..Baneslayer Angel, Titans...
SW: ...inevitably are, but each turn that you can get those big creatures down 'early', you're increasing their value. A turn four Spined Wurm is generally a lot better than a turn five Spined Wurm. I'm not typically going to be doing much with my deck before turn four, so Llanowar Elves is really important. In game three of my match with Marco, I would probably have been fine if he didn't have Lightning Bolt for my Llanowar Elves. They're really, really important.
RH: One final question. Most of the time, the cards that go right at the end of each pack are pretty unplayable, but when you play Islands, you often get the option of playing multiple Tome Scour. Have you ever been tempted?
SW: Honestly, no. You need there to be more than the average number in the draft to start with, get them all, and if you're in a position where this might actually kill them, you could probably have just killed them with a 2/2 flyer. I guess there's a Tome Scour deck out there, but I've never seen it. Feature Match Round 6 – David Purkiss vs Dan Gardner
by Tim Willoughby
Going into round 6, each of these two players had only picked up a single loss on the tournament – a nice place to be as day one gets closer to its conclusion. Gardner, the current National Champion, started with a mulligan, but soon drew out of it with a Sign in Blood. Gardner's deck had somehow found itself being mono-black, as being fed by Stuart Wright in the draft, he took a Nantuko Shade after having first picked a Doom Blade, and never looked back.
Gardner's Nantuko Shade soon came out, only to trade with a Sacred Wolf. Purkiss' red/green deck had plenty of monsters, and replaced the wolf with a Brindle Boar, and then a Cudgel Troll, with regeneration mana up. Dan had a Nether Horror, and Quag Sickness to get past the regeneration of the Troll.
An Arc Runner from Purkiss promised to make game one a fast one, but it was unclear who was really ahead in the race. Dan cast a Nightwing Shade, while Purkiss had a Duskdale Wurm that looked threatening for the champion unless he could find a removal spell fast. On just 7 life, that Wurm would finish Dan off in one bite, and he thought carefully about his turn before playing a Barony Vampire and passing with four mana up.
The Wurm was double blocked by Shade and Vampire, getting Purkiss a nice two for one. He followed up with Platinum Angel, which led Gardner to shake his head wearily. On just 6 life now, he could not afford to take many hits, and the number of answers in Gardner's deck to the Angel were pretty limited.
When Platinum Angel attacked, Dan showed a Doom Blade to protect his 6 remaining life. Attacks back from Dan took Purkiss to just 8. In theory there was not much work left for Gardner to do, but with Brindle Boar around, racing was not as exciting as all that. Gardner cast a Child of Night, hoping to gain a little life buffer of his own.
Obstinate Baloth from Purkiss both drew a card thanks to a Garruk's Packwalker from the turn before, and gained him 4 life, creating a real uphill struggle for Gardner. A Chandra's Spitfire came next, which would serve as a speed-bump at least for a potentially huge Nightwing Shade.
Gardner drew into a nice little threat though to keep things interesting. Gravedigger got back Nantuko Shade, and with 8 swamps, it promised hefty amounts of damage. Dan traded Child of Night and Gravedigger for Obstinate Baloth, before swinging in with Nantuko Shade. He got the Boar to do sacrifice itself and now had a fairly clear path through – Purkiss only had Chandra's Spitfire left to block with.
A Crystal Ball from Dan looked a good bet to keep him in action with his draws. He continued to bash in with his various Shades, and had a Gravedigger to get back Child of Night. While Purkiss was drawing lands, in the late game Gardner was all action, and soon Purkiss was scooping it up.
Daniel Gardner 1 – 0 David Purkiss
Gardner was on the offensive in game two, leading out with a Black Knight, while Purkiss had the powerful, if a little slow, Whispersilk Cloak. The only creature Purkiss had to cloak up initially was Brindle Boar, which did not exactly scare Gardner. As soon as the GB Champion hit five mana, he cast a Nigthwing Shade, happy to keep beating.
More of a concern for Dan was the Duskdale Wurm sat in Purkiss' hand. He saw it from a Duress, and would not be able to stop it from getting cloaked up unless he had a Doom Blade. The race was on. After a little thought, Gardner played Doom Blade on Duskdale Wurm before using Rise From the Grave to fetch it back. This was enough to get Purkiss to scoop.
Dan Gardner wins 2-0!
"I was terrified that you were going to cloak up an Angel. I have no outs to that!" It turned out that speed was the only out that Dan needed. Feature Match Round 7 – Stuart Horden vs Joao Choca
by Tim Willoughby
As he sat down, Joao Choca (whose name sounds distinctly foreign, but which is more or less pronounced John Chaucer – about as English as you get), asked to do a shout out to his team; Team Revolution. It all sounded like some sort of gang thing to me, and rather than risking some sort of uprising, I thought it best to go with Choca's wishes. Choca, and his opponent Stuart Horden, came in to the last round of day one undefeated. One would not leave that way.
Choca won the roll, and his Blue/White deck slowly but surely started putting out walls, first in Wall of Frost, and then Roc Egg. Siege Mastodon also came for Choca, making quite the pile of toughness. Horden's start of Runeclaw Bear, Sacred Wolf and Azure Drake was not quite up to getting a whole lot of damage in. When Choca played Armored Ascension on his Mastodon, it allowed him to get into the air for some fairly whopping damage.
A second attack from the big elephant put Horden on just 6 life, but he had an answer. Mind Control got him the big flyer, which was still pumped by Armored Ascension, as Choca still controlled the white enchantment.
"I can't believe I'm doing this" lamented Choca as he cast Excommunicate on his own Siege Mastodon. It was his best way of staying alive though, as he watched Horden fill his board further with ground pounders that could not really get through the walls on Choca's side of the board.
Acidic Slime took out an Ice Cage on Horden's Azure Drake, and let him start chipping in for damage. Horden was on 6, and slowly Azure Drake got Choca down to a similar number over the course of a number of attacks. Horden was forming quite the army, but when Choca played a Palace Guard, it really looked like sending in for a large swing would not achieve much.
Horden was getting antsy, only attacking for 2 each turn. He didn't go in with his Azure Drake, but did hit with a Water Servant, Yavimaya Wurm and Acidic Slime. Palace Guard blocked all three, and Roc Egg blocked Yavimaya Wurm.
This led to a pretty interesting situation with regard to ordering of blockers. Stuart ordered Palace Guard first, then Roc Egg. Joao ordered the attackers with Yavimaya Wurm out back, hoping to force Yavimaya Wurm to kill his Roc Egg. Because trample is optional though, Horden could assign all his damage to Palace Guard, and let Roc Egg stay alive. Without the flyer that Roc Egg dying would provide, Choca had little left, and succumbed on the following attack.
Stuart Horden 1 – 0 Joao Choca
Stuart Horden - on the one hand I have an awesome deck
For game two, both Stuart and Joao had to mulligan, though Stuart had a Preordain to get himself out of any issues there may have been with his draw. The first actual creature of the game was Ajani's Pridemate from Joao. It didn't grow, but it did get a hit in before Stuart could play a creature in Azure Drake.
"Mine's bigger!" declared Choca, casting a Serra Angel.
"Your arrogance will be your downfall" retorted Stuart as he pointed a Plummet at it. When Choca tried a Mighty Leap on his Pridemate, it met Azure Drake plus Giant Growth.
A Yavimaya Wurm from Stuart first got hit by Excommunicate, and then by Pacifism. All the while Choca kept plinking in with Palace Guard, in what was very much *not* a race. Stuart had a Water Servant, while Choca found a good creature that would stick in Assault Griffin.
Stuart's Armored Cancrix was not exciting, but it did add to the size of his force, which soon beat Choca down to just 7. Palace Guard was forced to throw itself in the way of one attack step, and while Assault Griffin took Stuart to 10, it looked bleak for him.
A Mind Control was stopped by Negate, which bought Choca one more turn, but he was drawing very slim, and it was only one more turn before he was shaking his opponent's hand congratulating him on being undefeated on the day.
Stuart Horden wins 2-0, advancing to a perfect 7-0 on the day. Friday, 7:30 p.m. - The Best Finish Ever
by Rich Hagon
As we headed into the draft, one of the players at 3-1 was no stranger to the largest stage of all. In 2006, Welshman Nick Lovett recorded the highest placed finish at the World Championship in Magic history from these blessed isles, finally falling at the penultimate hurdle, and claiming third place. Four years on, I asked him about his memories of that astonishing week.
RH: You played in Paris as part of the Welsh national team. How do you feel now that it's 'GB' rather than 'Wales' that you're competing to play for?
NL: I have a very strong sense of national pride to be Welsh, and so I liked playing in Welsh Nationals. That said, I made top 8 of the GB nationals the following year, and only missed out on a repeat trip to Worlds when I got beaten in the quarter final by another Welshman, Dan Godfrey.
RH: The Welsh team were pretty decent that year.
NL: Roy Williams went 6-0 in Extended, and Jimmy Chung had a decent three days.
RH: You started out 6-0 in Standard, but when did you think you were legitimately going to contend?
NL: It was very early really. I got to 3-0, and felt good, but it was when I played the last round of the day that things started to fall into place. I played the US Pro John Sittner, and he had a mono-white control deck that should have absolutely slaughtered me. Somehow, I ended the day with a perfect record.
RH: Day two was draft, and you went 3-3. Had the pressure increased, or was it easier to handle, since you were 'ahead of the curve'?
NL: I didn't feel much pressure. What I really remember was having lots of fun, sitting down and drafting at pod one, which saw me playing with Itaru Ishida, Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Tsuyoshi Fujita, Willy Edel, Gabriel Nassif, Oyvind Andersen...it was an amazing line-up.
RH: Then came Extended.
NL: Right. I played 2004 World Champion Julien Nuijten in the first round, and beating him started the day off really well. To be honest, I just kept playing one at a time, and suddenly someone was telling me I could ID into the top 8. It came as a real shock.
RH: Once you hit the top 8, you knew you'd be playing the reigning World Champion, Katsuhiro Mori.
NL: I did some testing the night before, and some friends had done some testing for me while I went to get something to eat, so I got to bed pretty early, and felt well prepared. Once I beat Mori, I knew I was going to get a similar matchup against Ryou Ogura in the semi final.
RH: You'd come so far – further than anyone British has ever gone before. How did it feel when the semi final was slipping away?
NL: The games were over very quickly. Of course there were a few 'what if's', and for a few minutes afterwards I was very disappointed, but then I realized what a great run it had been, and got on and enjoyed it.
RH: Looking back, how do you regard that week in Paris?
NL: At the time, I feel like my play then meant I belonged in that company. I'd worked incredibly hard in the months leading up to Worlds, and I felt ready. You know and I know that the way to get there is having connections and putting in lots of hard work testing. For Worlds 2006, I did that. That meant that when I got lucky sometimes, I was in a position to make that luck work for me.
RH: So when you sit at GB nationals on 3-1, do you feel you value what you're all playing for more than some of the other players, because you've experienced it?
NL: I think so. Worlds is definitely the event I most want to get back to.