2011 Great Britain National Championship - Day 1 Blog

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Day 2 Coverage
  • Friday, 12:00 p.m. - What Squadron Hawks Talk About

    by Rich Hagon
  • You may not know this, but Squadron Hawks have their own association, a trade body if you will, organized for the sole purpose of the proliferation of Squadron Hawks around the world. We've managed to infiltrate some key emails from the highest echelons of the organization, and present them to you here.

    20th June 2011 Everybody, pay attention. We're hearing something's coming right around the corner from Wizards HQ, and it's coming right around the corner at us. Stay tuned.
    20th June 2011
    Our worst fears are confirmed. They've taken down Jacey and Stoner. Beatings.
    22nd June 2011
    OK, enough with the grief. Time to get our thinking caps on. We're still the engine room behind the best deck in Standard, and now it's time for us to prove it. National Championships are coming up, and we need to show that you can't take the squawk out of the hawk.

    29th June 2011 Alright, think we've cracked it. Had a word with a few influential players. Should start seeing big results, beginning next week in China.
    4th July 2011
    Guys, what happened? Chinese Nationals, and not a single one of us in the Top 8. Something must be done.
    4th July 2011
    Sorry boss, we couldn't get Visas.

    9th July 2011 Japanese Nationals. Top 8 is...Valakut, Valakut, UB Control, Tezzeret, GW Acceleration, Tempered Steel, Valakut, Tempered Steel. Let me check that again. OK, people, this is unacceptable. One of the biggest Nationals in the world, and we're nowhere to be seen. We've got to spread the message, or we're going to be forgotten. Five years from now, people will look at us and think we're a marginal Sealed deck card. Unless we fix this. Fix this. Starting with France and Australia this weekend.

    21st July 2011 Boss, I don't want to belittle the issues we've been having in Standard lately at these National Championships, but we should look at the wider picture. You know that we're going to absolutely destroy the Extended Pro Tour in Philadelphia. Seriously, all testing results show we can't be beaten.
    21st July 2011
    That is indeed a comfort.

    25th July 2011 Finally we're getting somewhere. France - a couple of red decks, some idiotic Elf thing, that Olivier Ruel guy played Birthing Pod, Vampires? Seriously, who plays Vampires? Still, Armel Primot played us, and so did Glaunes Dorian. Thanks gentlemen, cheque's in the post.
    Not such good news in Australia though. Only one of the Top 8 played us, with Tempered Steel, Red decks, and Birthing Pod the popular crowd. Bastards.

    1st August 2011 Champions! Champions! Now you're talking. Marcello Calvetto, we could kiss you. Actually, he probably gets that a lot, especially from the ladies. Great result for us, a big name European Pro, taking down their Nationals with us (and some support cards, obviously.) Now onto the big one - US Nats. They've got some good players, surely ChannelFireball are going to work out that we're the nuts.

    8th August 2011 You know what's better than Kiefer Sutherland's '24'? Squadron Hawk 24! 24 copies in the Top 8 of US Nationals. Yes, finally, the world has caught up to our awesomeness. Everybody knew that Caw-Blade was the best deck, and even though some misguided people tried to stop it, our overwhelming card advantage awesomeness delivered the goods, round after round. We murderized them. Good job.
    8th August 2011
    But boss, didn't Ali Aintrazi win the event because he knew how to beat Caw-Blade?
    8th August 2011
    Shut up. No really. Shut. Up.

    11th August 2011 Now, I wonder whether any of the Europeans can read. Spain and Germany this weekend.
    12th August 2011
    Disaster. They've changed the Pro Tour format. Goodbye Extended, hello Modern. Aaron Forsythe, we want a word with you.
    15th August 2011
    Apparently they can't read. Spain, one player in the Top 8. They were all about Splinter Twin. Idiots. Germany? Nobody. None. Zero.
    15th August 2011
    Boss, the coverage was in English. Perhaps nobody in Spain or Germany speaks English.
    15th August 2011
    It could be that, I suppose. No excuse for the British, though, is there? They can read English, presumably. Over to GB Nationals then.

    So what's going on? Is Caw-Blade the best deck in Standard? And will the best Nationals in the world definitively answer the question? Keep it right here to find out.

  • Round 1: Feature Match - Baljeet Samra vs. Manveer Samra

    by David Sutcliffe
  • "What were the chances of being drawn against each other?" asked Manveer Samra of the world at large, as he and his brother took their places in the feature match area. The Samra brothers are popular players on the UK circuit, and have been increasingly mentioned as possible dark horse contenders for the title. To have the two play each other in the first round was in irresistible draw for coverage. Baljeet was bringing the G/R Valakut ramp deck, while Manveer was piloting a B/U Tezzeret Infect deck that looked to cheat Blightsteel Colossus into play with Kuldotha Forgemaster

    "We've played this matchup quite a few times", Baljeet confided to me, as the round began, "and it's not in my favour".

    Game 1

    Needing all the luck, Baljeet won the dice roll and chose to play first, but his luck ended there. Manveer joined him for the first mulligan, but Baljeet hissed as he drew his second hand of six and immediately threw it back on top of his deck and began shuffling. On the play, from five cards, in a bad matchup - things did not look good for Baljeet. Worse yet, an Inquisition of Kozilek brought an anguished cry and his five cards were instantly reduced to four, and Baljeet lost a Rampant Growth from hand. All Baljeet could manage through the early turns was to build lands, while Manveer replied with a pair of Spellskites and a Kuldotha Forgemaster.

    Turn six saw Baljeet finally make a play, and he dropped his Primeval Titan. The arrival of the Titan was a huge boost for Baljeet, and he searched up a second copy of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to join the one he already hand, and a fourth mountain. Despite the way the early turns had gone in his favour, it now seemed as though momentum was shifting and all Manveer could manage to do was play a Creeping Tar Pit and pass the turn, shuffling the two cards in his hand backwards and forwards nervously.

    Baljeet Samra

    Baljeet untapped, played a Forest and summoned forth an Avenger of Zendikar – that brought 8 0/1 Plants into play. Attacking with Primeval Titan allowed Baljeet to dig up another two mountains, and that signalled problems for Manveer – the arrival of the lands grew all of Baljeet's plants by +2/+2, and his twin volcanoes rained down fire on his brother. It was potentially devastating but Manveer was prepared and redirected all the damage from Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle onto one of his flimsy Spellskites.

    Having survived the turn, Manveer had the chance to strike back – his Kuldotha Forgemaster churned away, reforging his second Spellskite and a pair of Inkmoth Nexus into a Blightsteel Colossus!

    The Colossus would normally threaten to end the game on it's own, but Baljeet was tucked up safely behind his army of plants, thanks to that Avenger of Zendikar, and the Colossus only managed to chew threw a chunk of Baljeet's vegetable garden.

    Untapped, Baljeet swung back, and Manveer admitted defeat – it would simply take too long to plough a path through his brother's Plants.

    "That never happened in playtesting!", Baljeet admitted, smiling with relief at his win.

    Game 2

    From a mulligan to 5, on the play, Baljeet had found Manveer helpless to prevent his march to six lands, and from there unable to defend himself from the sheer power of the behemoths Baljeet had at his disposal. When an Indestructible 11/11 creature isn't good enough, you know things haven't gone to plan.

    The second game began more positively for Manveer, and an Everlasting Chalice accelerated him to a third turn Memoricide, stripping his brother of all the Primeval Titans in his deck! That play was followed by Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas, and it seemed like Manveer was making big strides toward levelling the match.

    Having Explore, Birds of Paradise and Rampant Growth on hand saw Baljeet ramp up his mana very quickly, though, and although there would be no Primeval Titan at the end of that road, it didn't stop Baljeet from bringing the big boys to the table – Inferno Titan was his weapon of choice in the second game.

    Manveer Samra

    The arrival of the Inferno Titan saw Manveer pause for thought before playing a Kuldotha Forgemaster, but the danger was now that Baljeet's deck would snowball very rapidly into lethal damage before Manveer could craft up his Darksteel Colossus and finish things in a single strike.

    Baljeet summoned an Oracle of Mul Daya, revealing the top card of his deck to be a Terramorphic Expanse. The Expanse allowed Baljeet to find a Mountain, then he followed up with a second Mountain from hand, and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle threw more fire across the table. The Inferno Titan attacked, accounting for Manveer's Forgemaster, and the older brother fell down to just 8 life.

    Manveer struck back with a 5/5 Inkmoth Nexus, using Tezzeret's power to boost the little Infect creature and hanve Baljeet five poison counters, but it was Manveer's last play.

    You could see the hesitation in Baljeet's face, and in every play that he made, as the game drew to a close – he was so certain that the match was unwinnable that the approach of victory was surely impossible. Surely he wasn't going to win, and with every step of his final turn he seemed to be waiting for his brother to reveal how he would steal back the game.

    It never came. Valakut spouted fire onto Manveer helpess Spellskite, and the Inferno Titan attacked to destroy both the Spellskite and Tezzeret. Desperately clinging to life, Manveer hurled in Inkmoth Nexus under the Inferno Titan, but it was a temporary reprieve. The Oracle of Mul Daya had Baljeet playing with the top card of his deck revealed, and both players knew that he had drawn Avenger of Zendikar. As the big green man hit the table Manveer ended his misery and conceded the match.

    That wasn't how the games had gone in playtesting, but Manveer didn't seem to upset,

    "The first game he was really lucky to play a land every turn after mulliganing to five", he told me, "and then to get the Avenger of Zendikar because there's only one of them in the deck. We played this matchup a lot last night and I win pretty much every time... apart from the time when it matters, obviously!"

    Baljeet Samra 2 - 0 Manveer Samra

  • Friday, 1:15 p.m. - An Interview with Gary Campbell

  • There are 184 players taking part in Great Britain Nationals this weekend. We're going to talk about someone who isn't playing. Seems perverse, I agree, but the man we're talking with is one of the most important and respected people in the GB Magic community.

    Gary Campbell hails from Scotland, and is the glue that holds the community together north of the border. He has so many incredible Magic stories that we could have spent hours in his affable company, but in even a few minutes we heard some tales that were new even to us, who have been around the game for fifteen years and more.

    First things first, why isn't Gary playing at Nationals?

    'Because I'm a tournament organizer north of the border, I never get to play in any National Qualifiers. Every year I come along to Nationals, and have to take my chance in the Last Chance Qualifier.

    This year, I didn't make it.'

    Gary started playing back when Legends was the latest set. And yes, that's a long time ago.

    'A friend had a deck, and wanted someone to play against. I'm a builder by trade, and let me tell you that a Scottish builder doesn't go out in the evening to play cards with Elves and Goblins. It used to be a secret, and I'd never tell any of my building friends about my hobby. '

    Gary qualified at his first Pro Tour Qualifier for Pro Tour Columbus all the way back in 1996. That's the third Pro Tour ever, and it was very different then compared to the modern (and Modern) era.

    'Everyone I played against was a big name player. In five of the six rounds I faced George Baxter, Henry Stern, Darwin Kastle, Matt Place, and Bertrand Lestree'

    We could spend an age discussing the merits of those five, but suffice to say they were a really big deal then, and some still are.

    'It was a very relaxed atmosphere. I became really good friends with Jeff Donais, who was a Level 2 judge at the time, because of an incident with Bertrand Lestree. We were both at 1-4 when we sat down to play, and Bertrand started singing the French National anthem at the top of his voice. Jeff came over to watch what was clearly the most interesting match that round, and we got chatting, and we've been friends ever since.'

    Over the years, Gary has played in some momentous Pro Tours. He was in New York when Jon Finkel won his first Pro Tour title. He was at Barcelona when Kai Budde lifted the trophy. He saw Carlos Romão win Worlds in Sydney in 2002, and Kai winning again in New Orleans. That Worlds trip in 2002 holds some special memories.

    'In those days you could build a homebrew deck and have a chance of not being destroyed, and I built a deck around Razorfin Hunter, and went 5-1 on the opening day. Because Eddie Ross also went 5-1, Scotland led the world at the end of the first day. Although I couldn't keep that kind of pace up, I still got to the last round needing a win to make the top 64. I got there, on the last turn of extra turns.'

    In 2000, Gary left the building profession behind and began a new career building a Magic community. He opened the Highlander Games store in Dundee, and has been instrumental in nurturing every scrap of Scottish talent over the last eleven years. For four straight years, Highlander had the highest number of Drafts held in-store anywhere in the British Isles. Now another phenomenon is sweeping through the club: Commander.

    Commander has really taken off in the store. It's specifically because of the new Commander decks. I've always had access to all the cards I want to play with, but newer players struggle with that. Now, they can buy one of the five Commander decks, and they're on an even footing with even the best players. That's another thing that's great about the community - all the top players play Commander too, and they leave their super-powerful decks at home, and play with the new Commander decks instead, to help make sure that everybody has a good time.'

    Making sure that everybody has a good time is high on Campbell's list.

    It's almost impossible to quantify the debt that dozens of high level Scottish Magic players owe to Campbell, who is a tireless organizer behind the scenes, providing just the right amount of motivation to get players out of bed and on the road in time to get to their nearest PTQ.

    'For me, the days of driving hundreds of miles to PTQs, then driving back to Scotland all through Sunday night in time to start work on Monday morning are gone. I'm lucky if I can play in one PTQ each year.'

    That's exactly what he did a few weeks ago, and he made the most of it, qualifying for the Modern Pro Tour Philadelphia at the ripe old age of 46. We're not sure if that will make him the oldest Pro Tour competitor yet, but we'll do our best to find out. And what would his advice be to anyone just starting out on their journey towards the Pro Tour?

    'I've always treated each and every one of my Pro Tours as my last. You never know if you're going to get the chance again, so make the most of it. I've never dropped from a single round, ever, no matter what my record. Why would you? Take the opportunity, treat it as your last chance, and have fun. It all comes down to having fun.'

    Campbell holds a very special place in the hearts of hundreds of Scottish players who he has helped to have fun over many years. Now, he gets another slice of fun himself in Philadelphia next month, and nobody will have more well-wishers behind them.

    Gary Campbell, pride of Scotland.

  • LCQ Standard Qualifying Decklists

    by Event Coverage Staff
  • Grateful thanks to Dan Barrett, who slaved away over a hot stove (well, laptop) to bring you every qualifying list from yesterday's Standard LCQ. There were an amazing 148 players taking part, with only 18 of them making it into the main event. Between them, there should be a decklist to keep everyone happy, until we bring you the Top 8 on Sunday.

    Matthew Trindall
    Great Britain Nationals 2011 - LCQ Standard Qualifier

    Matthew Gwynne
    Great Britain Nationals 2011 - LCQ Standard Qualifier

    Ben Heath
    Great Britain Nationals 2011 - LCQ Standard Qualifier

    David Fairweather
    Great Britain Nationals 2011 - LCQ Standard Qualifier

    Andrew Quinn
    Great Britain Nationals 2011 - LCQ Standard Qualifier

    Alex Marsden
    Great Britain Nationals 2011 - LCQ Standard Qualifier

    Alex Roebuck
    Great Britain Nationals 2011 - LCQ Standard Qualifier

    Rich Parker
    Great Britain Nationals 2011 - LCQ Standard Qualifier

    Main Deck

    60 cards

    Arid Mesa
    12  Mountain
    Scalding Tarn
    Teetering Peaks

    24 lands

    Ember Hauler
    Goblin Guide
    Grim Lavamancer

    12 creatures

    Burst Lightning
    Lightning Bolt
    Searing Blaze
    Shrine of Burning Rage

    24 other spells

    Act of Aggression
    Arc Trail
    Manic Vandal

    15 sideboard cards

    Mark Quarmby
    Great Britain Nationals 2011 - LCQ Standard Qualifier

    Ian Pirouet
    Great Britain Nationals 2011 - LCQ Standard Qualifier

    Paul Gower
    Great Britain Nationals 2011 - LCQ Standard Qualifier

  • Friday, 12:13pm – Trading Standards

    by David Sutcliffe
  • The Great Britain national championships has been blessed by a veritable bevy of trade stands, with no less than four traders in attendance attending to your cardboard needs, whatever they may be. As is always the case, the dealers are the first people who learn about the metagame of a tournament, because it's their stocks of cards that are suddenly run down when a deck becomes hot. I went on a quick tour of the trade stands to find out what there was to know...

    Lee Wood of Xtreme Traders was my first stop:

    "We've been selling all the big cards from Valakut and the RUG Pod deck – Primeval Titans, Inferno Titans, Avenger of Zendikar. That's been most of the rares, really, although we've gone through a whole load of commons and uncommons from the red decks. The two heroes have both been selling – Hero of Oxid Ridge and Hero of Bladehold. It's been quite predictable really – all the good spot removal in the colors. An odd one was Angelic Destiny – we seem to have sold a load of those, although I don't know if that was to more casual players or not. Oh, and a couple of the Planeswalkers – the new Jace and Liliana Vess."

    Mike Duke of Magic Madhouse was up next:

    "I don't think we've really seen any one card spiking – we haven't had a run on anything that I can remember. Actually most of our sales have been the hard-to-get commons and uncommons, so we've sold a bunch of Timely Reinforcements, Revoke Existence, and Act of Aggression – we've probably sold 20 or so of those".

    The trend was definitely being set that there were no real surprises here at GB Nationals, and that was echoed in my final chat with a veteran of European events, Nigel Rowledge of Twiddle's Keep (formerly Troll and Toad Europe.)

    "Well, we've sold a ton of Chandra's Phoenix. That card has been flying out, big time. But then it's Karn Liberated, all the Swords for the CawBlade decks... Dismember, and lots of Mental Missteps, although I'm not sure if they were for Standard decks. All the usual suspects, Iguess, there really wasn't anything unexpected. We haven't been selling any of the new Jace yet, but I think he hasn't really found his level in the market – nobody is quite sure how good he is or what the right price is. But it's early days yet – there's Legacy and Vintage events later today, so we'll see what sells for that".

    And that's an excellent point – there is far more going on here at GB Nationals than just the main event, with side events in pretty much every format you can think of, from Legacy to 15 Card Highlander, there's going to be something for everyone!

  • Friday, 2:15 p.m. - Not Eric, But Chris

    by Rich Hagon
  • In the world of rock music, Eric Clapton has been around forever, and in the UK Magic scene the same can be said of namesake Chris. Aston Villa's number one fan, Clapton began playing back in 1997, when Mirage was the new set in town.

    "I was in a Virgin Megastore, looking for a computer game, and one of my friends saw some Magic. He'd played a couple of games, and had heard from others that it was pretty interesting. So we bought a starter deck each. We just shuffled them all together, so of course we got horribly mana-screwed. So, I gave him all the blue and red cards, I got all the black and green cards, and we got playing. Simple beginnings, but it was a lot of fun. We looked at cards like Regeneration - amazing!"

    He began playing regularly at what would now be called Friday Night Magic, but when your homebrew gets crushed every week by ProsBloom - one of the great Combo decks of all time - it can be a little off-putting.

    Chris Clapton

    "I got back into the game at university. I've always loved the mathematical aspects of the game, and I built a Yawgmoth's Bargain deck. I'd just sit in my room playing it over and over, goldfishing the deck to see how all the combos worked. I started going to events, and took a Suicide Black deck to the final of a PTQ."

    Chris is quick to point to the moment when his game really took off.

    "The biggest thing you can do is to find players who are better than you, and who are willing to let you play with them" he says. "You're going to learn so much, and as you get better you'll get access to more and more good players. That's certainly what happened to me."

    It certainly was, with Clapton becoming part of the world-famous 'Palace' group of players that included the likes of Tony Dobson, John Ormerod, Pete Norris, and Ben Ronaldson. Why was it called the 'Palace' group? Because Ronaldson, at one time arguably the leading deckbuilder in the world, lived and worked at Hampton Court Palace, once the home of King Henry VIII. As part of the 'Palace' squad, Clapton racked up eight Pro Tour appearances.

    Like many, Clapton left the game for a while - most of the team stopped at around the same time, he played World of Warcraft a lot, and still had time to get married - but now he's back. The thing is, though, Magic moves on, and many of the Old School only turn up to Nationals for the social scene, seeing old friends and reliving past glories. Clapton has other plans.

    Clapton means business this year

    "In January I decided that I wanted to have a proper crack at Nationals. I've never won Nats, and I feel like I probably should have done. Caw-Blade looked like a lot of fun to me, but I was behind the curve, and I kept getting beaten by people who were more experienced with the deck. Then I discovered UB Control, and started going to lots of Standard tournaments."

    "I'm pretty prepared for Nationals. My goal is to make the Top 8. I don't know if that's a realistic goal, but I've certainly come for more than just meeting up with people to talk about how good we used to be. I know there are some good players in the event, and I'm not completely up to speed, but we'll see what happens."

    Unfortunately, Chris has been laid low by a mysterious illness over the last few days, and he's certainly not in the best fighting shape, at least physically. Still, with a ton of Pro Tours behind him, and thousands of games against high quality opponents, even those players who don't know his history will find him tough to beat here on day one of Great Britain Nationals.

    He's not here just to make up the numbers.

  • Round 3: Feature Match - Jonathan Randle vs. Jack Kettle

    by David Sutcliffe
  • Jonathan 'Too Hot To Handle' Randle is well-named. Not just because often he IS too hot to handle (former GB National Champion, the alternate last year, and running PVDDR to the wire in the Top 8 at the World Championships in Nagoya) but also because nothing else really rhymes with Randle. Jonathan 'Bright Like A Candle' Randle would hardly strike fear into the hearts of opponents, would it? Jonathan 'Just Lost A Sandal' Randle? Not really.

    Either way, Randle is one of the leading favourites in this years' nationals, and with good reason. After a winning start he found himself paired against the quiet-but-dangerous Jack Kettle. Kettle's Red Deck would provide a classic matchup against Randle's Blue-White control deck.

    Game 1

    A Dismember and Oblivion Ring from Randle answered the first two threats from Kettle's Red deck – a Goblin Guide and Ember Hauler – but a pair of Preordains did not offer the former champ an answer to Kettle's Kargan Dragonlord, and next turn Chandra's Phoenix joined the Dragonlord on the board, sweeping through the red zone to drop Jonathan Randle to 10 life.

    Reaching for the reset switch, a Day of Judgment cleared the board, but it was a brief reprieve – an Arc Trail burnt Randle for 2 and returned the Chandra's Phoenix to Jack Kettle's hand, although a Mana Leak kept the fiery bird from hitting the battlefield. Randle found a fifth land, summoning an Emeria Angel but she was just fodder for Kettle's burn spells, and the Phoenix soared out of the graveyard once again, putting Randle down to a precarious 4 life remaining.

    Gideon Jura was Randle's best play, but all Gideon could do was soak up a turn of damage as Kettle summoned his own Planeswalker ally to the game in the shape of Koth of the Hammer, smashing Jura down in a single attack.

    Randle was on the ropes, reeling from the red assault. He turned to Phantasmal Image, removing Koth with a second Oblivion Ring, but the Image was immediately burnt down and Kettle's red men took the lead in the match, with Chandra's Phoenix providing an undying threat that the former champ had never been able to fully answer.

    Jonathan Randle 0 – 1 Jack Kettle

    Game 2

    A Goblin Guide was the opening play in the second game, managing to get one attack through before Jonathan Randle decided he had seen enough – taking a Plains into hand that the Guide had shown him, Randle Dismembered the little guy, although his place was immediately taken by a Grim Lavamancer.

    Kettle followed that with a Kargan Dragonlord, but it was clear that red deck has real problems – just a Mountain and a Teetering Peaks in play while Randle's control deck was happily putting down it's fourth and fifth lands. Paying the kicker for Into the Roil bought the former champ even more time and cards, before an Oblivion Ring finally ended the Dragonlord's threat.

    Time was on Randle's side, and Gideon Jura arrived to extend that lead – and while Kettle's lone Grim Lavamancer was able to shoot Randle's Phantasmal Image, it would never be able to bring Jura down alone!

    A Kargan Dragonlord hit the Battlefield to help, but Jack Kettle had again failed to uncover a third land, and Randle's next play ensured that he never would – a Sun Titan. The big 6/6 arrived and immediately returned the Phantasmal Image to play as a copy. Kettle struggled on for a turn, but was soon crushed underfoot, having never lived to play a third land.

    Jonathan Randle 1 – 1 Jack Kettle

    Game 3

    An Arid Mesa meant that Kettle played no threats on his first turn, but the second turn revealed the inevitable Kargan Dragonlord, then on the next turns some Teetering Peaks gave the Dragonlord +2/+0, and Kettle seemed to go all-in on his Dragonlord plan and sank two mana into levelling his creature up.

    Against a deck of point removal like Dismember, Oblivion Ring and Into the Roil that was a brave plan, but it seemed to be well-timed – all Jonathan Randle could muster in defense was a Squadron Hawk but that was immediately burnt out of the way by an Arc Trail, clearing the way for a 4/4 Flying Kargan Dragonlord to attack and putting Randle down to 10.

    Enough was enough, and with a heavy sigh Jonathan Randle accepted that he had to use a Day of Judgment to destroy the lone Dragonlord. The immediate threat was answered, but that left Randle tapped out and at the mercy of Kettle's many hasty red men and burn spells. What did the red deck have in hand?

    Nothing, it seemed. Untap, play a mountain, pass the turn.

    Surely that wasn't how it was supposed to go?

    Randle dropped a Squadron Hawk, then shifted play back to Kettle....

    Play a mountain, pass the turn.

    Two more Squadron Hawks from Randle...

    Play a mountain, make a Shrine of Burning Rage, pass the turn.

    From a position of strength, the game had seemingly swung away from Kettle in those three turns. The former national champion's Squadron Hawks screeched overhead, dropping Kettle to 17 life... 14...11...8...5... All the while, Kettle found his few attempts at getting cards into play halted by Randle's countermagic – a Mental Misstep for Goblin Guide, Flashfreeze for Koth of the Hammer.

    It would come down to the Shrine of Burning Rage, which now had four counters. That was enough for Randle, who aimed an Into the Roil at it to reset the clock. Kettle responded with a Lightning Bolt, but that was met with Mental Misstep, then sacrificed his Shrine to deal 5 to Randle, dropping the former champ to 5, but an attempt to follow that with an Arc Trail was countered by a second Flashfreeze.

    That would have been lethal damage had it all resolved, but the turns spent playing land had given Jonathan Randle all the time he needed to stock up on countermagic. Gideon Jura locked Kettle out, and the game was over as the Squadron hawks completed their messy work.

    Jonathan Randle 2 – 1 Jack Kettle

    As Jonathan shuffled up at the end of the match I asked him about his deck – CawBlade without the Blade, or just U/W Control?

    "It's my deck, but of course it's become pretty standard now. I was throwing ideas around with Gerry T and then he played it at the SCG event and people started playing the list", and he shrugs.

    "I was excited because I thought I had something special that nobody knew about, but then it got out last week. I was kind of hoping that everybody would be playing the ChannelFireball list and I'd have a big advantage, but it's known now. I considered changing deck, but there wasn't really anything else I wanted to play, and I know this deck well, so I've stuck with it".

    On 3-0 it doesn't seem to have been a decision that's hurt the former champ!

  • Friday, 3:14pm – Last Chance Standing

    by David Sutcliffe
  • While the great and the good were asleep in their beds, getting much-needed sleep ahead of the first day of the GB National Championships, there was still action going on back at the Ponds Forge in Sheffield, our venue this year – the Last Chance Qualifier was underway. As the clock chimed midnight we confirmed our final entrants into the main event and the Top 18 players in the LCQ could look forward to a few short hours of sleep before returning to the fray.

    As the first four standard rounds drew to a close I went to catch up with one of the Last Chance Qualifiers to see how he was getting on – the broad-shouldered veteran of many years of Magic, Mark Voisey, who had missed out on 2010 Nationals by losing the final round of the LCQ but gone one better this year. Firstly, how did he wind up in the LCQ?

    "I only went to one qualifier, unfortunately because of work commitments. I'm a referee for a few sports – Football, Rugby, Cricket – so I don't get many weekends to go to qualifiers. That left me Last Chance Qualifying again."

    How did the LCQ go?

    "Last year I was playing Jund, I think, and yeah – I lost on the last round. This time I've brought CawBlade and made it in, scraping through in 18th place! I was on 5-1-2, only losing once but playing out two draws. The round that I lost I felt really unlucky about, actually – it was against Valakut and I was sat there with presence on the board, and Flashfreeze in hand, thinking that I could counter anything he did anyway... and he played Karn, the one card in his deck I couldn't counter. Then he followed that with a Slagstorm, and yeah... that was that."

    How have you gone on today, in the main event?

    "I'm on 3-1, so overall I've gone 8-2-2 and yeah, I'm chuffed to bits. My only loss was to Red Deck Wins, which is a pretty awful match – I had Mental Misstep for Goblin Guide, but he had the other 1-drops, Grim Lavamancer and Spikeshot Elder, and they just destroyed me. But aside from that it's gone well – I beat a Grand Arbiter artifact deck, won a mirror match, and my first round was against a sort of Aggro Pod deck. I really like CawBlade – I picked it up just before Jace and Stoneforge Mystic got banned, and people were just outplaying me all the time. But since then I've learnt the deck and I think I play it well. It's a good all-rounder, like it can be aggressive when it needs to be, or it can be controlling. It's a really good deck, but everyone already knows that. My version is pretty standard, but I think most people are playing 26-27 lands and I'm just running 25 after I saw Gerry T's deck, so I have a couple more big guys at the top end than other CawBlade decks. So far I haven't regretted that."

    So you're happy with Standard, how is your draft?

    "I drafted a bunch of M12 online so I'm pretty confident. I really like the format, actually. I'm going to try and go bloodthirst red, get two Goblin slingers... but I that doesn't work then I'm happy with U/W flyers. Basically white and anything is good. I've actually drafted mono-black a few times online and been successful with that too, because everybody leaves black alone and you can make cards like Consume Spirit and Drifting Shade really powerful. I'm really looking forward to the draft, but I'm just taking each game as it comes."

  • Friday, 5 p.m. – Standard Metagame Breakdown

    by Dan Barrett
  • Archetype Count %
    Caw-Blade 41 22.28%
    Valakut 28 15.22%
    Mono Red 21 11.41%
    Birthing Pod 21 11.41%
    UB Control 20 10.87%
    Tempered Steel 8 4.35%
    Tezzeret 8 4.35%
    UR Twin combo 6 3.26%
    RB Vampires 6 3.26%
    Mill 5 2.72%
    UR Pyromancer Ascension 3 1.63%
    Eldrazi Green 3 1.63%
    Mono Black 3 1.63%
    Other/Rogue 11 5.98%
    Total 184  

    Coming into this event, Caw-Blade seemed the obvious "deck to beat" in Standard, and this is certainly reflected in it being the most played archetype here today, with 22% of players equipping various Swords to Squadron Hawks, and calling upon their Timely Reinforcements. The second most played deck is Valakut, the powerful Zendikar land attracting 15% of players, and then three different decks are seeing play by around 11% of players: Birthing Pod decks of various colour combinations (RUG No-Twin, RUG Twin, WUG, and others), the format's most popular aggressive deck, Mono Red, and UB control decks similar to that of US Nationals winner, Ali Aintrazi.

    Previously popular decks seeing perhaps less play than expected include Tempered Steel, Splinter-Twin, and Vampires, each of which comprises under 5% of the metagame. The "Other/Rogue" includes a variety of fringe archetypes, including singleton appearances from Grand Architect, RB Vengeance, RB Destructive Force, GR Blade-breaker, UG Snakeblade, Mono-U Illusions, and Runeflare Trap. Popular deck designers named on decklists include Patrick Chapin, Michael Jacob, Ali Aintrazi, Conley Woods, and @smi77y, as well as at least ten Harry Potter references!

    Looking at the first Standard portion, we see 11 players undefeated – but do the decks sitting 4-0 fall into line with the percentages mentioned above? Two Caw-Blade players feels about right, as does one each for Birthing Pod and UB Control decks. However, Valakut is perhaps under-represented with a single showing, and Mono-Red has the same number of undefeated as Caw-Blade, despite having half the number of players overall.

    The real story is in the other four decks: Vampires, UG Mill, UG Snakeblade, and Eldrazi Green – despite having only a handful of players between them – have emerged unscathed from the first four rounds of Standard. Is a rogue revolution underway here at GB Nationals? Stay tuned the rest of this weekend to find out...

  • Friday, 6:30 p.m. – Drafting with Jonathan Randle

    by Rich Hagon
  • Former GB National Champion Jonathan Randle had a mixed 2010. At Nationals last year he made it to the final four, only to be left on the outside looking in, first losing his semifinal, and then the 3rd/4th-placed playoff. That's the not-so-good. Nonetheless, it still won him a trip to Worlds in Chiba, and he really made it count there, going all the way to the Top 8 before losing out in a nail-biter against Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa of Brazil.

    Now he's back in the Nationals fray, and sitting happily on table one heading into the draft. Giant Spider got the ball rolling, with only a Frost Breath disturbing a run of green cards early in the draft that included Jade Mage and two Llanowar Elves. Hunter's Insight and a second Giant Spider came seventh and eighth, with that second pick Frost Breath the only real move away from mono-Green.

    The bigwigs at draft table 1.

    He could have continued that theme in pack two by taking Arachnus Web, but couldn't resist the appeal of Merfolk Looter. That made his next pick tougher, however, as another Giant Spider was the alternative to Grim Lavamancer. Had he still been completely open, that Grim Lavamancer might have been the cue to head into red. As it was, the Looter was a strong-ish commitment into definitely going Blue-Green.
    After serious deliberation, he took the Grim Lavamancer anyway. Cudgel Troll was next, with more Green flowing from his left. He also took a couple of Alluring Siren. Not exciting, but adding to the list of blue cards he might play.

    Pack three opened with another big choice, or perhaps more accurately a big gamble. His blue commitment stood at one Frost Breath, one Merfolk Looter, and two Alluring Siren. Not disastrous, but not fabulous either. There was a second Looter available in the opening pack, opposite Sorin Markov. Now Sorin is a huge commitment, but with a potentially huge payoff, and it wasn't as if Randle had many bombs to that point. Nonetheless, he decided on the second Looter, and presumably made a Black mage further round the table very, very happy.

    There was a possible third Merfolk Looter in the next pack, but the lure of a 5/5 dragon for four mana, even with an illusionary drawback, was too much, and Phantasmal Dragon joined the pile. Then it was largely back to Green, with two Garruk's Companions among the better cards.

    After the draft, we talked through some of the key moments with Randle:

    There's a belief that green is underdrafted/unpopular. How do you see it?

    Yes, it is largely underdrafted. To be honest, I don't like it very much, but I spent a couple of days with Marco and Matteo Orsini Jones and former National Champion Dan Gardner. Dan was playing Magic Online for something like fourteen hours straight, and he was winning a ton of 8-4 queues with green.

    Randle ponders his options.

    You took a couple of Llanowar Elves. How important is acceleration in the format?

    I'll take Llanowar Elves over most things. I was hoping to get more four and five-drops to make them better. The format as a whole is faster than M11, but I don't think it's quite as fast as some people are implying. Either way, though, acceleration is necessary in your green deck.

    You considered Hunter's Insight whenever you saw it. How highly do you rate it?

    I like it a lot, but I only took one. The other two occasions, I really needed more three drops for turn two after a Llanowar Elves start, so I took other cards. I still like the Insight, though, very much.

    Tell us about that Merfolk Looter pick at the start of pack two.

    Dan had a lot of Magic Online success with green-blue decks that were big guys and as many Frost Breaths as you could get. I only ended up with one, but I love Looter. Decks like this don't have many tricks or removal, so it's important to grind through your lands with Looters if you can.

    Then you saw the Grim Lavamancer...

    Yeah. The Lavamancer is pretty bad in a green deck, but two things made me take it. First, I thought it was possible that red was going to open up, and also it's the kind of card that can be so good in an opposing deck. Either way, I felt I couldn't just ignore it.

    Those Alluring Sirens, are they good for you?

    They work really well with Giant Spiders. It's good against the Bloodthirst black-red decks, but it works pretty well against the cheap blue-white flyers deck too.

    You had the chance to switch into black with Sorin Markov. Why didn't you?

    It seemed as if black was quite open, so I did consider it. But Merfolk Looter is very, very good, and I already had one. To pass up the certainty of two Merfolk Looter for a gamble on triple black for Sorin didn't seem a gamble worth taking.

    Finally, it looked as if you picked up plenty of useful sideboard cards. Is that something you concentrate on?

    I think it's part of the format in general. There are cards out there that are going to be useful, and it's important that you take them. I always like to have one Naturalize in my sideboard for something like Mind Control, or maybe a Fog if they have Overrun. You don't maindeck cards like that, but it's good to have at least the chance of an answer if they have one of those power cards.

  • Feature Match Round 5 - Mark Aylett vs. Matthew Johnson

    by David Sutcliffe
  • While my coverage co-conspirator was watching Jonathan Randle's picks during the draft, he couldn't help but keep a weather eye on the other players in the top draft pod, and he gave me a hot tip for my feature match choice in the next round.

    "Matthew Johnson", he told me, "has almost certainly got the best deck in the top pod. He's got a crazy red deck with the bloodthirst black, with all the good red cards. He should easily 3-0 the pod."

    Sold. A draft that's good enough for Rich is good enough for me.

    Unfortunately for Matthew the luck of the draw was not with him in the same way the luck of the draft had been, and in the first game he had to mulligan twice before finding a hand he could keep. For his opponent, the excitable Mark Aylett, that was a good sign:

    Mark Aylett

    "I'm winning", Aylett cried, before doing his best to mount an offensive with a Reassembling Skeleton and Devouring Swarm, following that with an Island and Aven Fleetwing, before playing a Divination to pull even further ahead on cards in hand.

    While Aylett was enjoying the fruits of his massive card advantage it was left to Matthew Johnson to mount the best defense he could from his limited resources. A Child of Night, was his first offered before a pair of Chandra's Outrage incinerated Aylett's Devouring Swarm, and the Warped Ghoul that replaced it. But with has back to the ropes already, Johnson's draw had given him little option but to reveal his trump card as soon as possible – a Flameblast Dragon.

    The Dragon was easily the biggest thing on the table, but it wasn't on the table for long. An Unsummon sent the scaly threat back to Johnson's hand, and when it returned Aylett was waiting with a Consume Spirit.

    Johnson was reduced to trading with Aylett's allies tit-for-tat, but the sheer weight of numbers was dragging down his lifetotal. A second Child of Night gained a Dark Favor, and the Lifelink did much to repair Johnson's damaged health but he remained on the back foot, vainly holding off Aylett's Coral Merfolk and Aether Adept with Vampire Outcasts and a Tormented Soul.

    It was a struggle for survival but Johnson remained outgunned and it seemed inevitable that something would finally arrive that couldn't be solved. That threat finally arrived in the form of a Phantasmal Dragon, and Johnson was put out of his misery.

    Mark Aylett 1 - 0 Matthew Johnson

    Starting with a full grip of seven cards seemed to give Matthew Johnson a better chance in the second game, and the Chandra's Phoenix he revealed on the third turn clearly outclassed Aylett's Reassembling Skeleton. Aylett aimed a Distress at his opponent, stripping away a Shock to leave Johnson with a Goblin Chieftain and Goblin Grenade in hand.

    Matthew Johnson

    "Why did I attack before I played Distress!" cried Aylett, looking at his tapped Reassembling Skeleton when Johnson played the hasty Goblin Chieftain, but the reason for having left the Chieftain there soon became evidence – Aylett played his 5/5 Phantasmal Dragon, which would have been fodder to the Shock. The Dragon stood firm in the way of Johnson's red men and the assault was stopped, at least for a turn.

    Indeed, it was only a single turn, as it turned out – an Act of Treason sent the Phantasmal Dragon to the graveyard and let Johnson's pair of 2/2 creatures in for another attack, dropping Aylett to 10. But that turn had been enough, and Aylett revealed his own trump rare – Sorin Markhov, the vampiric Planeswalker. Markov immediately made his mark on the battlefield, draining the Goblin Chieftain dry, before following up by devouring the Chandra's Phoenix on the next turn.

    The game had turned on that play. From a beatdown position, Matthew Johnson watched his army get eaten up by Aylett's Planeswalker ally. His one 'out' to dying a slow and painful death at the hands of Sorin Markhov was to risk a quick and brutal one, and Johnson played his Flameblast Dragon. The question was: would Mark Aylett notice that he could take control of Johnson's next turn with Sorin Markhov's ultimate ability, and win the game?

    Yes, he would.

    Taking control of Johnson's next turn Aylett made the unusual play of directing the Flameblast Dragon to attack himself, but that was purely to allow him to play the Flameblast's ability to deal lethal damage back to its rightful owner. Crispy.

    With his trump card trumped, it was game over for Matthew Johnson.

    Mark Aylett 2 - 0 Matthew Johnson

    And that's the last time I let Richard 'jinx' Hagon tell me who has the best deck.

  • Feature Match Round 6 - Lee Purslow vs. Daniel Royde

    by Rich Hagon
  • Lee Purslow hails from Portsmouth. He's been playing since 4th Edition, with a break in the middle, before returning for M10. Royde, meanwhile, is a Grand Prix Champion from earlier this year. Both players begin the round undefeated, with Purslow having a draw to spoil his perfect record.

    Forests on either side opened the match, with Goblin Piker the first action from Royde. Armored Warhorse arrived on turn three from Purslow, with Royde offering an apparent trade. 'Apparent', because Titanic Growth ensured the Piker would live, and the Warhorse would die. The following turn, Goblin Piker actually did trade, this time for Sacred Wolf.

    This is not the D.Royde you're looking for.

    Royde had Garruk's Companion which met with Pacifism, before Royde had a Sacred Wolf of his own. Griffin Sentinel arrived for Purslow, and still the life totals were 20 apiece. Llanowar Elves threatened acceleration for Royde, while Purslow ramped up his Griffin Sentinel with Honor of the Pure. Plummet took down the Sentinel, and following his attack Royde was able to cast Blood Ogre with Bloodthirst.

    Purslow began anew with Peregrine Griffin, which looked like a substantial roadblock. Until, that is, Arachnus Web rendered it irrelevant. Royde piled in, dropping Purslow to ten, who replied with an even bigger roadblock in the form of Vastwood Gorger. Royde, though, had a plan, and it was a plan that had been good for players for many years. It cost five mana, and had the name Overrun...

    Still, he waited to pull the trigger, casting Arachnus Web on the Gorger before dropping a second Sacred Wolf. Now Purslow was down to just four, which put him well within range. Overrun did the dirty deed, and Royde was one up.

    Lee Purslow 0 - Daniel Royde 1

    With Purslow playing green-white, Royde knew that he was in good shape to make his Overrun count. Purslow needed to avoid a stall, and had to hope he could take to the air against the green-red of Royde.

    Royde had Goblin Fireslinger at the first attempt, while Purslow replicated Game 1 with an early Armored Warhorse. Turn three saw Royde shoot Purslow with Goblin Fireslinger, enabling Bloodthirst for Blood Ogre. Purslow had Arachnus Web for the Bloodthirst 3/3, and attacked once more with his Armored Warhorse. Royde repeated the Bloodthirst trick, laying another Blood Ogre, and the board was starting to clog up.

    This is the D.Royde you're looking for.

    Purslow next offered Auramancer, and when Royde attacked he double blocked, forgetting the First Strike on the Blood Ogre. Royde added Sacred Wolf, now strongly ahead. Purslow dropped Jade Mage, thankful that Goblin Fireslinger could only hit players rather than creatures.
    Royde dropped Arachnus Web onto the Jade Mage, but Purslow had Stave Off to send the Web packing. Jade Mage created two tokens, and now blocking became potentially profitable. Sacred Wolf and token traded, token sucked up the damage from Blood Ogre, and Purslow was back in the game. Royde completed the turn with Giant Spider.

    Titanic Growth on Blood Ogre freed the Ogre from Arachnus Web, allowing Royde to pile in for 6, dropping Purslow to 8. With Goblin Fireslinger continuing to ping away at end of turn, Purslow was under the gun, despite his token generator.

    What did he have? Overrun!!!

    In came the team, with Royde at fourteen and looking to soak up some serious damage. Barely, just barely, he survived, at 1 life. But both his Giant Spider and Goblin Fireslinger were gone. Griffin Sentinel completed an excellent turn for Purslow, and Royde couldn't find a winning answer.

    Lee Purslow 1 - Daniel Royde 1

    Now the dynamic of the match had chnaged once more. Both players knew about the Overrun the other had available. The edge was probably now with Purslow, who could use flyers in a way that Royde essentially couldn't. If it came to a stall, then it might well be all about the first Overrun.

    Royde had Overrun in his opening hand. Not enough land, though, and he took six. He had Overrun in his opening hand again. Again, he only had one land. Now he looked at five. He kept, but without an Overrun.
    Runeclaw Bear was his turn two, while Pride Guardian was turn one from Purslow. Now that was a beating against a depleted Royde. Armored Warhorse arrived for Purslow, followed by Honor of the Pure, then Alabaster Mage. Although Royde had plenty of land, he was sitting with just a Runeclaw Bear in play, which met Arachnus Web. Alabaster Mage and the Warhorse piled in, with Jade Mage surely just rubbing salt into the wounds.

    Royde swept up his permanents, and congratulated his opponent.

    Lee Purslow 2 - 1 Daniel Royde

  • Friday, 6:54 p.m. – Playtest Partners

    by David Sutcliffe
  • Matthew Johnson may have just lost his Feature Match against Mark Aylett, but Matthew is winning in a lot of other ways, not least by being one half of a Magic couple, as he's dating the fledgling UK pro player Carrie Oliver, who surprised the world when she turned a random trip to her first ever Extended tournament into a Pro Tour slot in Nagoya, and then her first ever Pro Tour appearance into a Top 32 finish and a bunch of Pro Points!

    (You can read more about Carrie's exploits in Nagoya here.)

    I pulled the two together to ask them about life as a Magic couple (the best sort of couple).

    Which came first, Magic or relationship?

    "Well I met Carrie through university," Matthew told me, "then I taught her to play Bridge. I'm a big Bridge player, and I also judge a lot of events for Bridge, so that's my background. One of Carrie's housemates played Magic and got her started on Duels of the Planeswalkers on the Xbox, and then from there Carrie jumped into cardboard Magic, before finally she taught me how to play."

    "Matthew had to learn," Carrie laughed, "or he wouldn't get to see me! I used to disappear for draft nights and didn't tell him where I was going."

    "I started going along to the shop with Carrie, watched a few drafts, figured out what was going on and how to play, and yeah I've been playing ever since. I'm still really involved in Bridge while Carrie is pretty much all Magic now, but my regular Bridge partner has become a consultant and is travelling a lot so I rarely get to play."

    Carrie Oliver and Matthew Johnson.

    So how have you been preparing? Obviously Carrie is preparing for Pro Tour Philadelphia as well as Nationals. Did you ignore Nationals?

    "Carrie has been working really hard on both," said Matthew, "in order to qualify for Worlds at the end of the year she really needs to either make Top 50 in Philly, or the Top 4 here. There's not really a realistic route to the Pro Points that doesn't involve one of those, so we couldn't ignore Nationals. The change to the format of the Pro Tour was really hard, though, she'd just spent months playtesting Extended and suddenly had to throw it all out and learn Modern in just three weeks. Two weeks, really, because we're leaving early to play in GP Pittsburgh."

    "This was also my first Nationals," Carrie added, "and I want to do well in it. I wasn't really playing this time last year, and I'd really like to do well. So we've been practising Standard for Nationals and Pittsburgh, but then as soon as the Grand Prix ends, that's it – it's all Modern. We've been probably been playing four or five times a week for a while now, to prepare."

    "We've had great support from people, as well," Matthew was keen to add, "we're lucky that the Cambridge group we play with is pretty strong, and they've been great in coming together to get cards for Carrie at short notice."

    Magic must have changed really quickly for you – from Duels of the Planeswalkers, to the Pro Tour, to writing a regular column for

    "Yeah it has," Matthew agreed. "We went out to Japan together as basically a holiday that had been half paid for, because Carrie's flights were free. I went as a tourist – I tried to LCQ, and played a bunch of side events at the Pro Tour, but basically it was just a holiday. But now we're both going out to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and trying to qualify Carrie for Worlds. It's become more serious, definitely."

    "I keep having people asking me for advice now, which is weird. I'm still perfectly capable of sucking!" Carrie smiles, and she doesn't seem to take her sudden celebrity too seriously, "when I got back from the Pro Tour I did notice a change in myself though. I'd sit down against somebody new and within a few turns I would just know that I wasn't going to lose. That was just down to having the confidence in myself from doing well. Once I had that feeling of knowing I wouldn't lose it meant that I could take a step back from trying to win and spend time helping my opponent learn to play at the same time."

    "And we've definitely noticed more people coming to draft in the shop since Carrie did well in Nagoya," said Matthew, "I don't think it's that people are coming along just because Carrie is there, but because she proved that it's possible to make that step up. I think it has inspired people and made them think they can do it too."

    And finally... do you fall out over Magic? Do you duel to see who will do the washing up?

    "No, Carrie has a dishwasher!" Matthew answered, "and we don't really fall out. Whenever we get drawn against each other in a tournament we've been able to just play, and see who wins."

    "We should definitely duel for things more often though," Carrie says, her eyes twinkling, "that way I would never have to do anything!"

  • Round 7 - Top Tables Round-up

    by David Sutcliffe
  • M12 Draft is a quick format.

    As understatements go, that's a pretty big one. It's not just quick, it's blisteringly quick.

    As the first day of Great Britain Nationals 2011 draws to a close we had some of the best players in the country battling it out at the top of the field, with two players going head-to-head for the sole 7-0 record that would survive going into Day Two. Heading the field with Tim Pinder and the one-man-show Mark Aylett, who would duel it out on 6-0 for the top spot. At the table next to them the former national Champion Jonathan Randle was hoping to prove too hot to handle for Matthew Johnson. Across the way, Sebastian Parker and Timothy Lim went head-to-head, while the seasoned multinational wanderer Eduardo Sajgalik had David Greenwood in his sights.

    These were the top four matches, and the players jockeying for prime position in Day Two.

    Public Health Warning: Following one game for a feature match can cause whiplash if you're not careful, so take my advice and strap yourself in for the flurry of cards and savage beatdown of following four matches at once.

    Kicking off the four matches, Jonathan Randle found himself locked in a game of chicken with Matthew Johnson as the two players stared each other down while trying to decide the classic question of 'who's the beatdown?'. A pair of Garruk's Companion seemed to hand that title to Randle, but when Johnson bestowed his Tormented Soul with a Dark Favor, in addition to his Stormblood Berzerker, things turned on their head. It was car crash Magic, and Matthew Johnson emerged from the wreckage with a 1-0 lead in just five turns.

    Matthew Johnson 1 – 0 Jonathan Randle

    While Randle and Johnson shuffled up their cards for the second game, Sebastian Parker was just about sealing his own first game victory. His aggressive R/U deck had raced out some early damage onto Timothy Lim's mono-white army before Lim was able to stall the board. It was too late for Lim though, and his lifetotal was too low. Playing a Fiery Hellhound and pumping it up to a 5/2, Parker signalled his intent to Lim... "is there a Fling in there?" his opponent asked. There was, and Parker was ahead.

    Timothy Lim 0 – 1 Sebastian Parker

    Those two games had taken virtually no time at all to decide, while Eduardo Sajgalik and David Greenwood seemed to be playing a different game – one with blocking and creature stalls. The board was flooded with creatures on both sides, but neither could attack fruitfully. Sajgalik has a Cemetery Reaper trapped inside an Ice Cage, while Greenwood was drawing desperately through his deck with a Merfolk Looter and Azure Mage, but couldn't quite get ahead. A Dark Favor freed the Cemetery Reaper from the ice, and Sajgalik began to grow his zombie horde, while a puny Goblin Arsonist attacked each turn with impunity – despite Greenwood's defences he didn't dare block the little Goblin and lose one of his card drawing creatures. Despite having all his best creatures denied him by Mana Leaks Sajgalik finally wore his opponent down, and a horde of shambling zombies handed him the first game.

    David Greenwood 0 – 1 Eduardo Sajgalik

    Back in the first game, Matthew Johnson was showing once again just how fast his deck was. Screaming out of the blocks he had very quickly dropped the former champ to just 5 life. Randle had tons of cards in hand but his back was against the wall – he blocked and traded valiantly, and even managed to stop the rot... for a while. Abandoning Plan A (Operation Little Red Men), Johnson turned to Plan B (Operation Fiery Dragon Death) and his Flameblast Dragon arrived to wrap up the match.

    Matthew Johnson 2 – 0 Jonathan Randle

    The 6-0 game was late to start, following a deck check, but it didn't take long for a pattern to emerge. The pattern was that Tim Pinder would play creatures, and then Mark Aylett would do something unpleasant to them: Consume Spirit, Sorin's Thirst, Unsummon, Aether Adept. Pinder was struggling to make any headway at all, and it was playing right into Aylett's hands. Getting up to six mana, Aylett played the Sorin Markov that that accounted for Matthew Johnson two rounds earlier, and the vampire gobbled up a second opponent.

    Tim Pinder 0 – 1 Mark Aylett

    The second game between Timothy Lim and Sebastian Parker had turned into a huge stall – Timothy Lim had, basically, every 2/2 or 2/3 white creature in the format, while Parker was hiding behind a couple of burly 4/4 and 5/5 creatures. Neither dared attack, though, and the two just continued to build their armies. It would take something special to decide this mammoth arms race, and that arrived in the form of 'the white Overrun', Guardian's Pledge. Swinging for the fences, Lim took out not just the fence but half of the baseball field and the car park with it, levelling the match.

    Timothy Lim 1 – 1 Sebastian Parker

    The third game in the Lim-Parker match was over in a blur. After the early turns had been spent trading creatures the way was clear for Parker to press home an advantage. Turning to his Phantasmal Dragon, Parker took to the skies while Lim could only draw land after land, watching helplessly as the Dragon tore through his lifetotal, and all his hard work in the second game was undone.

    Timothy Lim 1 – 2 Sebastian Parker

    Back in their second game, Eduardo Sajgalik was in a bit of trouble against David Greenwood. The French-Canadian player was stuck on four lands, then dropped to three when he was forced to Deathmark an Archon of Justice. It could easily have signalled the end for Sajgalik, who had been left with three Swamps as his only lands, but from there he immediately pulled up a replacement Mountains, and then a Swamp, and was back in business. For his part, Greenwood drew Divination, Ponder, and a second Divination, but ultimately nothing that could handle the seemingly-modest threat of a Blood Ogre. It took a while, but the Blood Ogre went all the way, finally sneaking across the finish line thanks to the help of a Goblin Tunneler.

    David Greenwood 0 – 2 Eduardo Sajgalik

    Only one thing remained to be decided, and that was the fate of the 7-0 title, which Mark Aylett already had one hand on following his first game win. And it turned out that the second game was very similar. A trio of Aether Adepts ensured that Tim Pinder couldn't get onto the front foot, and then Aylett played an Onyx Mage to discourage Pinder from blocking any of the Adepts and moved onto the offensive. Adding a Phantasmal Dragon for the lethal blow (and remember NOT to give it Deathtouch) the exuberant Aylett bullied his way to the win.

    Tim Pinder 0 – 2 Mark Aylett

    Aylett's U/B Control deck had simply dominated the whole of the top draft pod, and the player who had come primarily for the Vintage tournament on Saturday would find himself unable to play in it, due to his prior commitment as the #1 ranked player in Day Two of Great Britain Nationals 2011!

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