2009 US National Championship

Day 1: 2009 US National Championship

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Day One of U.S. Nationals is in the books and Colorado-based Brett Piazza and Texan-transplant Mark Hendrickson are the last two undefeated players standing. Brett is an up-and-coming Pro who seems poised to take his game to next stage -- perhaps a Sunday stage? He will have to square off with Pro Tour veteran Mark Hendrickson tomorrow to get one round closer to that goal. All Mark has been doing since Thursday is win though. Finding himself unqualified for Nats for the first time in the last several years, Mark qualified in a Grinder Thursday with a rogue creatureless red-white control deck that did not fail him through four rounds on Friday.

Notable names near the top tables who will be looking to unseat the pair from their perch atop the standings inlcude PT San Diego champions Jacob Van Lunen and Chris Lachman, PT Hollywood winner Charles Gindy, Limited Information author Steven Sadin, 2008 US National team member Sam Black, PT Honolulu Top 8 finishers Paul Rietzl and Conley Woods, PT Hollywood 9th place finisher Adam Yurchick, and MTGO terrors Josh Utter-Leyton and Brad Nelson.

Players will have another three rounds of Alara Block draft in the morning tomorrow and a four round afternoon of Standard to determine the Top 8 that will fight on Sunday for three spots on the US National team.



  • Round 1 Feature Match: Tim Landale (faeries) VS Sam Stein (faeries)
    by Bill Stark
  • “Sam’s a ridiculous drafter, so at least we’re playing the right format.” Tim Landale said before his opponent, Sam Stein sat down to the match. With the first four rounds of play on Friday being Standard, Tim had dodged a bullet; he’d be playing against Sam in a Constructed format, allegedly his weakest area of play. Considering he had a Pro Tour Top 8 at Valencia playing Constructed, it was some “weak spot.” Landale, of course, was no slouch himself, having won a Grand Prix in 2008 and generally being considered one of the top Americans on the East Coast Magic scene.

    Second-turn Bitterblossom for Sam Stein was the first play of the game, but it was quickly mirrored as young Tim Landale cast one of the tribal enchantments on his own turn. The two went back and forth trading Faerie tokens, until Landale cast a Peppersmoke targeting a Faerie Rogue on his opponent’s side of the board. That merited Cryptic Command from Stein, not to counter, but to bounce his opponent’s Bitterblossom, stranding him with no Faeries. Tim was forced to re-cast the enchantment.

    Pro Tour Top 8er Sam Stein returns to the feature match arena at U.S. Nationals.
    Sam was next up with a play, trying for a Mistbind Clique during his opponent’s upkeep, but Landale was ready with a second Peppersmoke. That knocked out Sam’s only Faerie token, forcing him to champion his Bitterblossom to land his 4/4. The Clique got its beat on, dropping Tim to 14. Both players were a touch mana light at four each headed to the midgame, but Landale was in worse shape as he had two Mutavaults, a Swamp, and an Island to his opponent’s bevy of blue and black producing duals. The lack of access to colored mana could prove to be Tim’s undoing.

    Essence Scatter countered a Vendilion Clique from Sam Stein, but the quiet Nevada resident kept sending with his Mistbind Clique, eating a Faerie Rogue from his opponent’s Bitterblossom each turn. When he cast Scion of Oona, Tim Landale was forced to counter with Broken Ambitions, even winning the clash.

    A second Mistbind Clique hit the table, this time for Tim Landale, but Stein was ready for it with a Broken Ambitions. Sam had a more threatening creature on the table, but he was still unable to get in for damage each turn as his opponent banked a Faerie Rogue from Bitterblossom to chump block the 4/4 Mistbind Clique. That meant Sam would need to find a removal spell or another attacker in order to get through each turn, or risk losing the game to his opponent’s clock. When Stein attacked with his Mistbind Clique again, his opponent repeated his play from the following turn, blocking with a Faerie token then attempting to champion the 1/1 with a Mistbind Clique. Stein was ready again with a second Broken Ambitions.

    Stein finally made his move, activating a Mutavault and attacking with both the 2/2 and his Mistbind Clique. The attack made it through, with Landale falling to 7, then 6 on his upkeep. If Sam could keep the tempo of the game exactly as it was going, he would win with a new life lead of 4. Landale tried to gain some ground by casting Vendilion Clique, but the 3/1 met its demise at the hands of a Spellstutter Sprite from Stein. Tim fell to 5 on his upkeep, and his opponent leaned in to verify the life total. He was clearly preparing to move in for lethal.

    Peppersmoke from Sam Stein was countered by Scion of Oona from Tim Landale, but the 1/1 Lord forced Tim to tap very low. When Stein revealed a Cryptic Command on his own turn to tap Tim’s team and then attack for lethal, the two players moved to the second game.

    Sam Stein 1, Tim Landale 0

    Grand Prix champion Tim Landale tries to return to the champion’s throne.
    Sam Stein opened with a shocker in the second game: Mutavault, go, then no lands! His opponent quickly took advantage, activating a Mutavault of his own and bashing for 2. Stein slowly pulled a card from the top of his library, hoping for a second land, but whiffed and was forced to discard. The following turn Landale had a surprise for his opponent during the draw step, casting Vendilion Clique. The hand he saw: double Peppersmoke, double Broken Ambitions, Cryptic Command, Bitterblossom, and Scion of Oona. “I’d really like to take your land,” Landale opined dryly.

    Landale opted to take nothing, for fear of helping his opponent draw even more lands, but had to watch as Sam landed Bitterblossom. Vendilion Clique and Mutavault attacked Stein to 13, and he fell to 12 on his upkeep from the Bitterblossom. Sam missed yet another land drop, and when he tried to Peppersmoke his opponent’s Vendilion Clique, Landale countered with Broken Ambitions. That was enough for Stein, who scooped his cards up to save time for the third game in their match.

    Sam Stein 1, Tim Landale 1

    Both players kept their opening hands, and Sam Stein kicked things off with a Bitterblossom on his second turn. Just as in the first game, Landale echoed the play himself. Stein changed up the tempo, however, doubling down on the enchantment and promising to make the game a race one way or another. Either he’d get through with his ever increasing horde of Faeries, or die to his own Bitterblossoms.

    Tim cast a Thoughtseize in an attempt to disrupt his opponent’s game plan, seeing a hand that contained twin Islands, Thoughtseize, and Mistbind Clique from Stein. Thoughtseize hit the bin, as Landale was clearly trying to protect something important in his hand, but he fell to 16 on his opponent’s attack. Stein also cast Mistbind Clique during his mainphase to hide his second Bitterblossom, shifting the race significantly into his favor.

    An all-in attack from Sam Stein saw Mistbind Clique, Mutavault, and triple Faerie Rogue head to the red zone. Landale considered his options carefully before chumping the 4/4 and attempting an Agony Warp. The Warp was countered, Landale fell to 10, then 9 on his upkeep, and the game looked firmly in the hand of Sam Stein.

    Landale untapped and cast Peppersmoke targeting a Spellstutter Sprite from his opponent. When the cantrip failed to yield Landale his fourth land, he shook his head in frustration. “Good game,” he said, extending his hand in defeat rather than stumble along in an attempt to play on while handicapped.

    Sam Stein 2, Tim Landale 1


  • Friday, July 23, 10:31 a.m. – All Quiet ...?
    by Kelly Digges

  • While 230 players shuffled and snapped in Round 2 of the main event, I headed over to the dealers’ area for some clues about what spells the competitors might be slinging. I talked to dealers from Lotus Vault, Troll & Toad, and Strike Zone and asked them what they’d been seeing. Were there any surprise hot sellers or last-minute secret tech?

    The answer, unusually, was “not really,” but a few tantalizing details emerged The Time Sieve / Open the Vaults deck from Finland Nationals had been briefly popular on Thursday before the Grinders (and won at least one of them), but this morning it had died down. With everyone talking about the Big Four—Kithkin, Faeries, Elves, and Five-Color Control—it’ll be interesting to see if the artifact-based combo deck makes a mark.

    One tidbit I heard from multiple dealers—Warren Weirding was a hot item this morning. At first I thought this might mean there was some kind of Goblin deck on the loose, but the reality was subtler: the Morningtide uncommon is picking up speed as a sideboard option to help Faeries beat the dreaded Great Sable Stag out of Five-Color Control, as seen at last weekend’s Japan Nationals.

    Meanwhile, players are prepping for the Vintage tournament later in the weekend. Mystic Remora remains a solid player in the metagame, and there was one piece of cryptic last-minute tech in Toils of Night and Day. Based on my limited knowledge of the format, I have visions of untapping Time Vault and Tolarian Academy, which seems ... pretty good, I guess.

    The other interesting story for Standard was Wake Thrasher, which had started selling briskly online over the weekend and continued doing so here at the event. The Merfolk—another Morningtide special—was one of the big winners in the recent Magic 2010 rules changes. With mana burn gone the way of the damage prevention window, it’s easy and painless to tap out and power up Wake Thrasher. And rumor has it there’s a Merfolk deck to house the Thrasher, complete with Merrow Reejerey and Merfolk Sovereign to pump it up further and make it unblockable.


  • Friday, July 23, 10:38 a.m. – Grinders
    by Bill Stark
  • It is a rite of passage every year; hundreds of Magic players descend on National Championships unqualified for the main event but with a single goal in mind: get there by way of a Grinder. What are the Grinders? A series of single elimination events that fire around the clock the day prior to a National Championships. At U.S. Nationals this weekend, that meant 401 players competed in 29 events for a last chance at playing this weekend. Here are the winners of the Standard events:

    Jon Byer

    Main Deck

    60 cards

    Auntie's Hovel
    Dragonskull Summit
    Graven Cairns
    10  Mountain

    24 lands

    Demigod of Revenge
    Hellspark Elemental

    12 creatures

    Flame Javelin
    Lightning Bolt
    Volcanic Fallout

    24 other spells

    Chaotic Backlash
    Doom Blade

    15 sideboard cards


  • Friday, July 23, 11:10 a.m. – Champions in the House!
    by Bill Stark
  • We’re chugging through the first day of competition at the 2009 U.S. National Championships towards crowning a new National Champion on Sunday. Hidden amongst the 200+ competitors here, however, are a handful of champions already; Pro Tour champions. For many years, the U.S. National Championships was considered by many to be an extra Pro Tour with the added caveat of being much harder than your average Pro Tour. The reasoning was that instead of playing against players from all over the world, who often hadn’t developed the skills Americans had (thanks to the game debuting on their shores), you had to play round after round against most of the worlds’ best.

    Of course, things have changed since then with Europe, Asia, and South America catching up to the competitive prowess of the Americans. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of sharks under the roof today. Here are just a few Pro Tour champions battling to defend the U.S. at Worlds in Rome later this year.

    Pro Tour-Venice champion Osyp Lebedowicz; Osyp won the tournament with Astral Slide.

    Jacob Van Lunen, one half of the only Two-Headed Giant Pro Tour champ in the game’s history.

    Chris Lachmann, the other half of said team.

    Floridian Charlie Gindy, who came out of retirement to Elf his way to victory at Pro Tour-Hollywood.

    The original Pro Tour-Honolulu Champ: Mark “Heezy” Herberholz

    America’s most recent champion Luis Scott-Vargas, who won in Berlin last year.


  • Round 2 Feature Match: “I know what he is playing...” -- Steven Birklid (Elves) vs. Conley Woods (Jund Mannequin)
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • As the two players headed over to the Feature Match Steven Birklid was shaking his head. Conley was playing a home-brewed Jund Mannequin deck that a handful of other players had audibled into before the tournament. Birklid had seen the list and had considered a last minute switch to the Pro Tour Honolulu semifinalist’s list as well.

    “I can’t possibly win this match-up,” sighed Birklid, and up and coming Pro. “I know what he is playing -- a deck I can’t possibly beat.”

    Game 1

    While Birklid had the advantage of knowing what Conley was running the information had not flowed both ways. From the self-immolation across the table, Conley assumed his opponent was playing Faeries and kept a hand with two Putrid Leech and a couple of Makeshift Mannequins. He slumped when his opponent played Forest and Noble Hierarch on the first turn.

    “Maybe he is playing Doran,” said Conley hopefully.

    Llanowar Elf and Forge-Tender on the next turn revealed that Steven was playing Combo Elves and Conley could feel the game quickly slipping away behind his pair of Vivid Marsh while Birklid played Mosswort Bridge and fetched a pair of Nettle Sentinels with Ranger of Eos.

    Conley’s third turn saw him play the first Leech. Birklid dropped the pair of Nettle Sentinels and Conley asked, “Where’s your Druid?”

    “I’ll get one eventually,” said Birklid who was down to one card in hand. He attacked with Ranger of Eos and it traded for Putrid Leech.

    Conley tapped out for Bloodbraid Elf and clapped his hands together. “We’re going to roll some dice,” he looked down at the Forge-Tender and asked, “Do you want to sac it now?”

    Conley hit the Volcanic Fallout but all it could take down was the Forge-Tender. Conley attacked with Bloodbraid and hoped for the best.

    Birklid played Heritage Druid and Conley asked, “One card in hand? What are the odds that is a Regal Force?”

    Birklid flashed him the Force and proceeded to draw seven cards. “Let’s hope Regal Force for seven is a blank.”

    Another Heritage Druid let him run 5 mana through his Nettle Sentinels and Primal Command to bounce one of Conley’s lands and fetch another Nettle Sentinel.

    “You can probably just start typing, ‘And then Conley lost.’“

    As if on cue, Birklid drew eleven cards off of a second Regal Force.

    “I beat opponents who draw eleven cards all the time,” laughed Conley who was trying to find out as much as he could about his opponent’s deck before conceding. There was still plenty of time on the clock -- it was only turn five. “So you are playing Brad’s deck, which means you have the Druid dude.”

    “I am not playing Brad’s deck -- I might be playing Druid dude, just not playing Brad’s list.

    Another Regal Force for fifteen cards and a pair of Primal Commands were followed up by a pair of Elvish Archdruids was enough intel for Conley.

    “We can just move onto the next game. I just wanted to see which version you were playing; Archdruids or Gift of the Gargantuans.”

    Game 2

    Conley quickly reached for his board and swapped out Mulldrifters and Cloudtreshers for Deathmarks and Thought Hemorrhages.

    “See this guy knows what he is doing,” said Birklid, who was not as swift with his mulligan choices. “Me, I am just winging it. Should I swap out Nettle Sentinels?”

    In the end he took out the Archdruids and some random odds and ends for Oversouls and Forge-Tenders.

    Birklid led off with Llaonwar Elf which was promptly Deathmarked -- setting the tone of Game 2.

    Biklid played Mosswort Bridge and Nettle Sentinel only to have Maelstrom Pulse take out the Sentinel. The following turn his Devoted Druid fell to an evoked Shriekmaw.

    “I can keep this up all day,” promised Woods.

    “I can see that,” sighed Steven nodding at Bridge. “This will get activated eventually.”

    He played Heritage Druid but Woods used Mannequin to bring back Shriekmaw.

    Heritage Druid and Noble Hierarch came down for Steven but Woods had taken control of the game. He attacked with Shriekmaw, played Thought Hemorrhage naming Regal Force, and played another
    Shriekmaw to deal with the Heritage Druid. That was enough for Steven who had a plan for the third game that had worked in the first one.

    “Maybe he will think I am playing Faeries for Game 3.”

    Game 3

    Steven shipped back his hand but Conley was wavering about keeping his -- players have to decide at the same time under the new rules. He finally decided to ship his one-lander back as well.

    “This is the first time I have ever simultaneously mulliganed,” said Woods with an air of innuendo that drew a laugh from the spectators. He flashed me a hand that had plenty of action on turn two but only one Swamp. “I am shipping this back, I am not too greedy.”

    He peeked at his top card and saw Reflecting Pool. “I should have kept!”

    “If you are playing against me you automatically run good,” advised Birklid for future reference.

    Great Stable Stag and Mirror Entity were in play for Birklid by turn four matched up against a pair of Leeches for Woods. Both times Conley had to run an extra mana through his filter land and enjoyed the freedom of the new rules, “No mana burn.”

    Conley played Bloodbraid into Kitchen Finks on the next turn but would have liked any of his other three drops. “That is the best possible thing I could have hit for you.”

    “But it is green,” frowned Birklid, looking at his Stag. Conley sent in the team and Birklid blocked Bloodbraid with Mirror Entity and a Putrid Leech with Stag. Conley pumped both his Leeches to make sure his blocked one lived and his unblocked one was huge.

    “I take four you take four?” confirmed Birklid who untapped to Ranger of Eos for Llanowar Elf and Noble Hierarch. Conley had a better Bloodbraid the next turn as he flipped up Deathmark for the Ranger and attack with everyone. Conley went to nine from the double pump and Steven fell to two. Steven dumped out a hand of little guys but Conley had Volcanic Fallout to finsih off his opponent.

    “My official record in Feature Matches now falls to 0-2”

    Final result: Conley Woods - 2 Steven Birklid - 1


  • Feature Match Round 3: Tim Aten (Jund Control) VS Josh Utter-Leyton (Faeries)
    by Bill Stark
  • “I’ll play,” said Tim Aten as he won the die roll against his opponent, Josh Utter-Leyton. Josh, who’s known as “Wrapter” to his friends after his Magic Online moniker, is a member of the powerful California testing conglomerate that includes Luis Scott-Vargas. He wasn’t, however, able to avoid a mulligan for his first game in the Feature Match area. Fortunately for him, Aten also had to go to six before the game got underway.

    The first play of the game came from Aten’s Jund deck as he cast a third-turn Putrid Leech. Looking to race the powerful two-drop, Utter-Leyton cast a Spellstutter Sprite to also get on the board. Anathemancer was put on the stack by Tim, but Josh had Broken Ambitions to counter, then a second Spellstutter Sprite for Boggart Ram-Gang from Aten.

    Curmudgeonly writer Tim Aten.
    Josh’s twin Spellstutter Sprites continued putting the beatdown on Aten, who was happy to attack back with Putrid Leech. Pumping the 2/2 was keeping the race even, with both players essentially taking 4 damage each turn. That action stopped, however, as Josh found three copies of Mutavault for the battlefield, forcing Tim to get in for only 2 with his Leech for fear of risking a lethal counterattack. When he cast a Kitchen Finks, it resolved successfully and the race got a little bit better for him.

    Not for long, however, as Josh cast Scion of Oona, then cracked with his team threatening 5 damage. Sighing, Tim cast Jund Charm to Pyroclasm the board, and Utter-Leyton considered the best way to deal with the spell. Surprisingly he opted to simply let it resolve, and Putrid Leech and the Faeries exited the battlefield while the Kitchen Finks persisted itself back on. Untapping, Aten plopped Bloodbraid Elf onto the field, revealing Sygg, River Cutthroat from cascade. “Both resolve.” Josh said after considering his options.

    The life totals were 12-6 as Josh Utter-Leyton cast a second Scion of Oona to continue attacking. He followed up with Bitterblossom, but the tribal enchantment was simply a ploy to have a champion target for Mistbind Clique on his opponent’s upkeep. When Tim’s attack couldn’t force its way past the 5/5 (thanks to Scion), he begrudgingly scooped up his cards and the players headed to the second game.

    Josh Utter-Leyton 1, Tim Aten 0

    Both players started the second off with mulligans, the second time they had done so, but unlike their first game, Tim Aten had to throw his hand back for just five cards. Content with that set, the two got underway with Tim casting Sygg, River Cutthroat on his second turn. The 1/3 was countered by Josh with a Bitterblossom on his own second turn. It was going to be a standoff; could Aten’s card advantage generating two-drop outlast his opponent’s token generator?

    Putrid Leech entered the battlefield for Tim the following turn, alongside a Mutavault. Josh simply played a land and shipped the turn back, but when Aten attacked with Mutavault, Putrid Leech, and Sygg, the Californian sprang into action. He blocked the Leech with a Faerie Rogue, then cast Agony Warp to kill the Leech and reduce the power of Mutavault. At the end of the combat step, Aten was down to just a Mutavault and Sygg for attackers.

    The following turn, he lost the ‘Vault as Utter-Leyton blocked, then cast Scion of Oona to pump his Faerie Rogue in order to kill the creature-land. On a positive note for Aten, Josh missed his fourth land drop, but when he found it a turn after, he was able to cast Mistbind Clique on Tim’s upkeep. Aten responded with Jund Charm, forcing the 4/4 to champion Josh’s Bitterblossom, but it wasn’t looking good for the former U.S. Nationals team member. Aten would need some solid draws and a few blanks for his opponent to sneak out of the game with a win.

    As if on cue, Bloodbraid Elf hopped to the battlefield for Aten, revealing Anathemancer. The 2/2 resolved, but Josh had Broken Ambitions for his opponent’s Bloodbraid. Still, Aten had netted himself an extra draw thanks to his Sygg, a fact that would slowly help him crawl back into the game. A second Anathemancer was countered with Broken Ambitions from Josh, but Aten managed to trade his first copy and a Lightning Bolt for Utter-Leyton’s Mistbind Clique. When the clash revealed a Great Sable Stag on the top of Tim’s library, it looked like the game was shifting in the exact fashion Tim had needed it to in order to have a chance.

    Josh Utter-Leyton was no slouch, however. He dug through his draw step looking for a solution to Tim’s improving board state. Bitterblossom provided him a stream of Faerie Rogues, and he began attacking in order to try to keep up in the race. That didn’t seem likely, however, as Tim found himself a seventh land, the exact amount he needed to enable the unearth ability of his twin Anathemancers in his graveyard. Looking to prevent that from happening, Utter-Leyton used a Cryptic Command during his opponent’s upkeep to bounce Tim’s seventh land, Vivid Marsh, and tap all of his creatures. Josh was going to make a game of it, but when Aten re-played the land and a Boggart Ram-Gang, Josh had one turn to pull it off. He drew his card, didn’t find what he was looking for, and the players were on to the rubber game.

    Aten had managed to battle back!

    Josh Utter-Leyton 1, Tim Aten 1

    Aten tried for a Putrid Leech early on in the third game of the match, but it met its demise thanks to Broken Ambitions. The very next turn Josh used Thoughtseize to nab a Great Sable Stag from Tim’s hand, passing with only a blue mana up. Tim could cast something underneath his opponent’s counter wall, but he didn’t have the action and played a third land of his own before passing.

    Josh Utter-Leyton, a rising American star.
    Bloodbraid Elf found a Boggart Ram-Gang for Tim, but the 3/3 Goblin was countered with Cryptic Command. Utter-Leyton used a second Thoughtseize on his opponent, seeing a hand of Volcanic Fallout, Lightning Bolt, Bituminous Blast, and Anathemancer. He binned the 2/2 creature, but had taken a total of 7 points of damage on the back of an attack from the Bloodbraid Elf and both of his own Thoughtseizes. Deathmark ended the 3/2 Elf’s turn on the battlefield, and the board stalemated with both players drawing and passing.

    Finally drawing his way to seven mana, Tim Aten was able to unearth his Anathemancer, dealing 4 damage to Josh before attacking for 2 more. That left Utter-Leyton at just 7 life, and he had not cast a spell since his Thoughtseize turns back. A Kitchen Finks from Tim finally forced Josh’s hand, who used Broken Ambitions to counter. Unfortunately for him, the clash revealed an Anathemancer on top of Tim’s deck, and the Finks was a test spell anyway. Aten cast an Anathemancer from his hand, then revealed his Lightning Bolt. At 7 life and with no mana, Utter-Leyton’s round came to an end.

    Tim Aten 2, Josh Utter-Leyton 1


  • Friday, July 23, 1:08 p.m. – Keeping Busy
    by Kelly Digges
  • This Menger sponge thing is getting out of hand. It started as a crazy thing on a Wizards employee’s desk. Now, according to Legion Events staffer Matt, it’s a Nationals tradition.

    When you’re in charge of registering players for public events, sometimes it’s hectic ... and sometimes it’s very, very quiet. At last year’s U.S. Nationals, Matt spent his downtime folding unloved commons into a Level 2 Menger sponge—that’s 2400 cards—over the course of the weekend. This year, he hopes to at least equal that feat. Good luck, Matt! We’ll check on your progress later.


  • Friday, July 23, 1:35 p.m. – Former Nationals Team Members
    by Bill Stark
  • Earlier this weekend we brought you a blog entry on the number of former Pro Tour champions who are in the house this weekend battling to add another title to their trophy mantle. Oddly enough, only one of those players, Luis Scott-Vargas, has also had the honor or representing his nation at the World Championship’s team event. In fact, Luis is one of the rare players to have done it not once but twice. Other national team members back in the saddle here this weekend? We took the time to track them down...

    Marsh Usary joined the team as the alternate in 2008.

    In 2006, the stealthily silent Ben Lundquist made his appearance.

    Michael Jacob has been on the team twice, in 2007 and in 2008 as it’s champion.

    He won the tournament in 2007, and had the honor of being on the team in 2006: Luis Scott-Vargas.

    The final 2008 returning team member, Sam Black, back for a second chance at playing on the team.


  • Round 4 Feature Match Coverage: That Nassif was Sick -- Brian Kibler (5Color Angel) Vs. Daniel Suydam (Jund Blood)
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • As the two players headed to the feature match area it was the latest steps in very different paths. Kibler’s route has taken him through countless feature match area, most recently on the Sunday stage in Hawaii and has traveled the world playing competitive card games at the highest levels. Suydam was able to sit down against the Honolulu quarterfinalist by virtue of having been the top finisher at his Regionals with green-black Elves. Suydam, who had a throng of friends along the rail waiting to see how he would fare against Kibler was excited to use the play mat waiting for them on the table.

    “I get to push my guys into the red zone,” grinned Suydam, who was playing an aggressive Jund Blood deck that specialized in red zone activities. “I have never done that before.”

    Kibler, who got to christen the then newly coined red zone at Pro Tour Chicago with Rith could not hear what his opponent was saying. He was listening to his event track For an Angel by Paul Van Dyk which harkened to his 5Color deck choice for this event featuring four copies of the fresh off the presses Baneslayer Angel.

    Game 1

    Once the round started, Kibler removed his headphones and began to interact with his opponent, “How did you qualify for this?”

    “I won Gulf Coast Regionals,” said Suydam explaining that his Regionals was for the Lower Louisiana and Texas area and had about 150 players. “You grinded in through YGO Regionals, am I right?”

    While the two players exchanged cordial banter, Suydam’s deck was being less friendly to its owner and he had to Mulligan to five, “That’s a rough way to start.”

    Kibler shrugged, “It happens to my opponents a lot. I live a charmed life.”

    Suydam led off with Swamp but had no second land for turn two.

    “Pass the turn sir,” said Suydam while turning back to assure his friends. “I am fine, I have a Swamp.”

    Kibler laid a Vivid Marsh to go with his Creek from turn one. “I have Swamp plus.”

    Suydam found land and played Putrid Leech which ran into a Plumeveil on the next turn. Daniel drew two cards with Sign in Blood and passed the turn back to Kibler who stalled on three lands. Daniel offered up Kitchen Finks, clearly expecting to have his ambitions broken but Kibler kept his mana back to Esper Charm himself. The fourth land came but he had no play and announced his discard step a turn later and pitched Volcanic Fallout. Daniel was also stuck on three lands and Kibler used Cryptic Command EOT to bounce the persist creature and draw a card. He had another Cryptic Command for when Daniel tried to replay it. He had a third a turn later for Daniel’s Blightning. Kibler had two mana open when he played Baneslayer Angel and used it to Negate Daniel’s Maestom Pulse. Kibler then paid full price for a Mulldrifter and had mana to Doomblade a Boggart Ram-Gang off of a Bloodbraid Elf. Daniel had another Bloodbraid Elf but when Kibler Essence Scattered the resulting Kitchen Finks he conceded.

    “I was feeling okay there for a minute when you didn’t play a fourth land. Then Baneslayer Angel happened.”

    “I am just letting Baneslayer Angel carry me this tournament.”

    Game 2

    “I will play first,” announced Suydam.

    Kibler: “An interesting strategic decision.”

    Suydam: “I know you like the extra card.”

    Kibler: “I like the extra three cards from last game if you want to be helpful. You could also Sign in Blood me.”

    Daniel pitched back his hand. “I don’t know how you do this to me Mr. Kibler.”

    “Look at this way Danny,” said one of Suydam’s railbird pals. “You can just say you lost ‘cause you mulled to five both games.”

    Kibler: “If that’s the way you want to go you can just mulligan in the dark here.”

    “I am going to make you work for it,” said Suydam as he considered a loose hand of six. “Do I go to five?”

    Kibler: “It does make for a good excuse...”

    Suydam decided to keep with some kind and assuring words for his deck. They must have worked because he played turn two Sygg, River Cutthroat. On turn three Boggart Ram-Gang and Sygg went into the red zone and drew a card. Kibler looked to slow things down with Runed Halo naming Boggart Ram-Gang but Suydam had Maelstrom Pulse and swung for another four and a card. Kibler let Suydam attack him on the next turn but bounced the Ram-Gang in combat. Suydam played Sign in Blood and a mainphase Lightning Bolt to draw another card.

    Kibler dropped Ajani Vengeant and promptly killed Sygg. Suydam Bolt took care of Ajani with Lightning Bolt at end of turn. He untapped and a pair of Ram-Gangs dropped Kibler to 5. On the following turn the Ram-Gangs were dispatched with a Plumeveil and a Doomblade. Suydam played Putrid Leech and Kibler used Esper Charm to draw two cards.

    Suydam ran his Leech into the 1/1 Plumeveil. His next Leech was Essence Scattered. Kibler reached for his deck to draw a card and announced, “I am just going to Nassif it right here.”

    “Oh wow!” he said, flashing the freshly drawn Cruel Ultimatum. “I really am.” He glanced at his graveyard and just did not see the Plumeveil but was facing an opponent with no cards or creatures.

    Suydam ripped an Anathemancer to make things interesting but Kibler untapped into Baneslayer Angel.

    “I’m Baneslayer,” said Kibler in a high pitched ventriloquial voice. “I win games I have no right to win.”

    Cruel Ultimatum helped,” pointed out a spectator.

    “That Nassif was sick,” agreed Kibler with a smile.

    Final result: Brian Kibler - 2 Daniel Suydam - 0


  • Friday, July 23, 3:25 p.m. – You Qualified for Which Nationals?
    by Kelly Digges
  • Ask U.S. Nationals competitors how they qualified for the event, and you’ll hear plenty of the expected responses: rating, pro points, Regionals. But for some players this weekend, the answer is a very unconventional one: they actually qualified for Yu-Gi-Oh! Nationals.

    When Upper Deck announced earlier this year that the U.S. National Championships for Yu-Gi-Oh! would be canceled, Wizards of the Coast Organized Play extended Magic U.S. Nationals invitations to all qualified competitors. According to the press release: “We respect the accomplishments of all high-level tournament players. [...] We’d like to do what we can to honor their achievements and keep them gaming.”

    Allen Pennington
    In the end, 14 players accepted the offer and played in U.S. Nationals. All 14 had at least some prior Magic experience, and some of them traveled a long way to be here.

    I caught up with one of them, Allen Pennington, after Round 2. His Jund Ramp deck was 0-2, but he seemed in reasonably high spirits. He’d started the day up against Five-Color Control, his worst match-up, and lost successive games to Cruel Ultimatum and Identity Crisis. For round 2, he’d just lost to a “pretty standard” Doran list, largely due to the enormous, Maelstrom Pulse–immune Chameleon Colossus. He said he didn’t really know the metagame, but built his deck to beat Mono-White and Red Deck Wins. Before the release of Magic 2010, he played Faeries.

    Allen picked up Magic during Ravnica block, and played mostly casual until he stepped up his game a year or two ago. Since then, he’s been running the PTQ circuit, admittedly “without much success.” He flew here to Kansas City from Tampa, Florida to compete. When I asked him why, he replied, “I figured this was one of the only times I was going to get to do this.”

    The Yu-Gi-Oh! National Championships did happen after all, Allen told me, and he competed there several weeks ago. That tournament had more competitors, he said, and suffered some delays. This event impressed him as “well run so far.”

    With his 0-2 record, Allen didn’t plan on staying in the main event. I asked him about his plans for the rest of the weekend. “Well, there are PTQs,” he replied with a smile.

    Jermol Jupiter
    At the tail end of Round 4, I had a brief chat with Jermol Jupiter, another of the Yu-Gi-Oh! Nationals qualifiers. He’d just won what looked like a grueling Five-Color Control mirror match, putting him at a healthy 3-1 record at the end of Friday’s Standard rounds.

    He choose Five-Color, he said, because it’s well positioned in the metagame and “I don’t lose the mirror.” With the Standard rounds over, though, I asked him how his draft game was. He said that’s he’s been practicing his drafting on Magic Online, and he feels good about his chances in the six Limited rounds today and tomorrow.

    Jermol told me that qualified for Yu-Gi-Oh! Nationals via a Shonen Jump tournament, and he’s been playing Magic since January. Despite that relatively brief resume, he seemed every inch a competitive Magic player, and he traveled here from Baltimore to prove it.

    I asked him whether, like Allen, he’d been at Yu-Gi-Oh! Nationals. “No,” he replied. “I actually quit Yu-Gi-Oh!.”

    Was it a tough call to come this far to play Magic?

    “No way,” said Jermol. “I’m a competitive person, and this was just something I had to do.”


  • Friday, July 23, 4:11 p.m. – Challenging the Champions
    by Kelly Digges
  • In addition to the main event, PTQs, other public events, and artist signings, Magic Weekend gives players a chance to go up against some of Magic‘s luminaries in the Champion Challenge.

    I strolled over to the Champion Challenge area and into an inadvertent magicthegathering.com reunion. Up at bat were Latest Developments author and Magic developer Tom LaPille and magicthegathering.com Editor in Chief (and, oh yeah, Pro Tour Champion) Scott Johns.

    Jason was well dressed but ill mannered—my kind of guy.
    When I walked up, Tom was sitting across from a sharply dressed fellow named Jason. Jason and Tom were playing Duel Decks: Divine vs. Demonic. Jason had chosen Divine, and the two were engaged in an epic battle for supremacy—not with their decks, which were still sitting in front of them undrawn, but in a ridiculous run of ties in the best-of-one Rock-Paper-Scissors contest they were using to determine who would go first. On the eighth throw, Jason finally gained the advantage with a well-timed play of scissors.

    After they drew their opening hands and started playing, they realized that during their pitched battle, they’d accidentally switched decks. They shrugged and kept playing, with Jason’s original choice to fight on the side of good looking better and better as Tom’s Angels piled up.

    Scott, meanwhile, was not exactly showing off the skills that took him to the top of the Pro Tour, attacking with 2/2s into a tapped Elvish Warrior and an untapped Wirewood Lodge—twice. “I can’t believe I just did that,” he said, shaking his head.

    Before I left, Tom told me about a Type 4 game he’d played earlier in the day. In Type 4, you have infinite mana, you can cast one spell a turn, and you play off of one big stack of cards. One of the players at the Champion Challenge brought his Type 4 stack, and Tom agreed to take him on.

    Tom LaPille, left, and Scott Johns defend R&D’s honor in the Champion Challenge.
    Everyone constructs their Type 4 stack a little differently, and the format is notorious for its craziness and unpredictability. But this particular Type 4 stack had an even greater source of wackiness: its owner had opted to include silver-bordered Un- cards in the mix.

    Thus Tom found himself facing down Richard Garfield, Ph.D., with its controller at a precarious 2 life. When the good doctor attacked (along with a Goblin token courtesy of Blast from the Past), his controller flashed a spell that cost Blue ManaRed Mana, using Dr. Garfield’s ability to cast it as a Leap of Flame and Type 4’s infinite supply of mana to replicate infinite times. (Judges will tell you there’s no such thing as infinity in Magic, but as soon as a silver-bordered card hits the table, you gain protection from judges.)

    Facing down infinite damage, Tom cast Parallectric Feedback on one of the Leap of Flame copies for 2 damage—and the win.


  • Friday, July 23, 4:51 p.m. – Drafting with Sam Black
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • Sam Black propelled himself into a new Pro Point stratosphere with his National team membership and subsequent Team Championship trophy. The points he earned through those accomplishments have allowed him to travel around the globe this season attending GPs. With two GP Top 8 finishes and a deep-into-Day Two showing in Kyoto, Sam has put himself in the Top 10 of this year’s Player of the Year race. A strong performance this weekend could result in as many as 10 precious points that could help him leapfrog some of the players standing between him and a second half run at the Player of the Year title. He was off to a solid start with a 4-0 run through the opening rounds of Standard with his trusty Spellstutter Sprites. If he was going to continue his winning ways it would be at the helm of 40-card decks for the next six rounds. Sam sat down to draft Shards/Conflux/Reborn passing to Brian Kibler and getting fed by Russell Slack.

    Shards of Alara kicked off with Tower Gargoyle for Sam, with no other similarly colored cards to speak of, while he was shipping Skullmulcher. Jungle Shrine, and Bloodpyre Elemental. Sam took a second pick Metallurgeon over his other considerations Soul’s Fire and Corpse Connoisseur. Russell, to Sam’s right, had opened Esper Battlemage and it looked like Esper might not be flowing for the former National team member. His third pick featured Puppet Conjurer, Vithian Stinger, and Sedraxis Specter and Sam did not hesitate to put the three drop flier on his drafted pile. His next couple of picks included Grixis Panorama, Resounding Silence, Krederekt Creeper, and a smattering of Obelisks with a super late Puppet Conjurer. Despite the first pick Tower Gargoyle it was not clear that Sam was aiming to be Esper - and with Russell picking off most of the options he may not have had a choice.

    Conflux opened with Esper Cormorants, Rupture Spire, and Absorb Vis and there was no hesitation -- or question about what type of deck Sam wanted to draft -- as he slammed the Rupture Spire into his pile of cards. His next pick offered a choice between Drag Down. Parasitic Strix, Path to Exile, and Dark Temper and Sam took the one-mana removal spell. His next pick was Fleshformer but there was nothing in the subsequent stack of cards but a Goblin Outlander. Blue-black cards started to flow through Kibler -- to Sam’s obvious surprise and Kibler’s more obvious frustration -- with Sedraxis Alchemist, a pair of Parasitic Strix, and Faerie Mechanist all steering Sam back toward Esper.

    Alara Reborn promised great things for Brian Kibler if he could support green and red cards with Sam passing Dragon Broodmother, Vengeful Rebirth, Colossal Might, and Spellbreaker Behemoth for a couple of Terminates, Lich Lord of Unx, and a Grixis Grimblade. He rounded out the pack with a couple of Sanctum Plowbeasts and two Architects of Will -- that he took over Arsenal Thresher each time.

    “Ordinarilly, I don’t take 2-drops or Borderposts and just try to cascade into powerful three drops. The cards just didn’t line up right for me to do that,” Sam explained after the draft that he was hoping to draft a deck that has become a pet of his in the Shards format, which was why he did not take the Cormorants with his first Conflux pick. “When I take (Sedraxis Specter) after picking (Metallurgeon and Tower Gargoyle) I am going to take the Rupture Spire.

    Sam went on to explain that he got the message in the second pack that Esper was the way to go. “I assume Kibler is some kind of Naya deck based on the Esper he passed -- which I was not expecting. He could have a pretty sick deck if he took the Spellbreaker and Broodmother.”

    In the end Sam felt he ended up with a solid but not spectacular deck. He would have like a deck that was more dedicated Esper and preferred a 5Color list deck built around cascade spells but still felt his Esper/Grixis fushion with two Terminates had enough in the tank to put him in a good position heading for day Two.


  • Friday, July 23, 4:52 p.m. – Drafting with Brian Kibler
    by Bill Stark
  • Brian “The Dragonmaster” Kibler headed into U.S. Nationals fresh off a Top 8 performance at Pro Tour-Honolulu. Some good fortune early in the tournament saw him sitting down to the draft portion of the event with a spotless 4-0 record. Kibler had already demonstrated skill in the Shards of Alara-Conflux-Alara Reborn Draft format, which made up a significant portion of play in Hawaii, but could his skills see him through a set of three more boosters here in Kansas City?

    The first pack saw Kibler shuffle Vithian Stinger, Fatestitcher, and Kederekt Creeper to the front. He agonized over the three, but the Creeper proved to be too heavy a commitment so early, and ultimately the ‘Stitcher was the first pick of the draft. That was followed by a choice between Esper Charm, Jungle Shrine, Sigil Blessing, Bloodpyre Elemental, and Obelisk of Esper; the tri-land made the cut. From there, Brian abandoned his Fatestitcher for Naya cards, taking Knight of the Skyward Eye, a Vithian Stinger, Algae Gharial, and Topan Ascetic before rounding out the pack with the likes of Welkin Guide, Scourge Devil, and Resounding Roar. As he shuffled through his Shards cards, it looked like the Dragonmaster was headed into a green-red heavy version of a Naya aggro deck.

    Brian ‘the Dragonmaster’ Kibler sits down to the first 2009 U.S. Nationals Draft.
    Conflux set that plan on its ear, and quickly. Wall of Reverence, Path to Exile, and Dark Temper were the hot cards staring back at Brian, and he quickly narrowed it down to the Wall or the removal spell. Ultimately the powerful creature was too hot to pass up, and Kibler added it to his deck. Might of Alara and Beacon Behemoth were second, with the 5/3 earning the nod, then a deck-defining decision. Confronted with Nacatl Outlander and Unstable Frontier, Brian opted not for the aggressive 2/2, but the mana-fixer. He went with Rhox Bodyguard over a second Beacon Behomoth and Gluttonous Slime, then back-to-back Aven Trailblazers. The pro was clearly frustrated with some of the late picks in the pack for whoever the table’s Esper player was, including late Parasitic Strixes, Scepter of Insight, and Faerie Mechanist. As he shuffled his deck and it began to take shape, Brian had clearly switched from green-red with a splash of white to green-white with a possible splash of red. It was all down to the final pack.

    Enlisted Wurm was the only option in an otherwise weak Alara Reborn pack, but the powerful 5/5 was no slouch as a first-pick. The pick’s goodies more than made up for the weak opener, with Dragon Broodmother, Crystallization, Wildfield Borderpost, and Vithian Renegades all staring back as Kibler shuffled through the pack. He opted for the enchantment, though he wasn’t happy to pass the mythic rare. Still, the world’s best drafters know when to recognize a weak area in their deck (like not enough removal) and when it’s more important to shore up that weakness than simply draft powerful creatures. Vengeful Rebirth was the next pick over Trace of Abundance, then Pale Recluse over Colossal Might and Naya Sojourners. When offered a second Recluse over either Trace of Abundance or Intimidation Bolt, Kibler again took the removal spell. A triple set of Leonin Armorguards and a Sigil of the Nayan Gods rounded out the draft, and Brian was off to deckbuild.

    Overall his deck looked solid but not spectacular. Someone at the table was well positioned to receive a sick blue deck, which, based on Brian’s opening pick of Fatestitcher, he had hoped to reserve for himself. However his deck turns out, he can take some solace in the fact that many of the names at his table were relatively unknown; while certainly a great number of rookies have made their mark via U.S. Nationals, being the big fish in a small pond is always a good place to be with an undefeated record.


  • Friday, July 23, 5:37 p.m. – Back in Time
    by Kelly Digges
  • Today I had the pleasure of kicking it old-school—the oldest school, in fact—in two games with Alpha League member Dave Williamson.

    Dave and the other members of Alpha League meet sporadically at big events to play each other with decks made exclusively of cards from Magic‘s very first set. They even play with original Alpha rules, courtesy of a well-preserved Alpha rulebook (signed by Richard Garfield, no less).

    Dave has eleven Alpha decks, and he was nice enough to sit down and play a few games with me. He has five monocolored decks, and he’s working on building all ten two-color decks as well. He started playing in 1997 and got involved with Alpha League a couple of years later. It looked like fun, so he tracked down the old cards he needed to build decks.

    Absolutely no cards other than Alpha are allowed, no exceptions, and they play the cards as printed—meaning that Orcish Artillery costs 1 ManaRed Mana, Elvish Archers is a 1/2, and Volcanic Island and Circle of Protection: Black are nowhere to be found. Games are played with all the original rules, so that means no 4-of limit, and a minimum deck size of 20 cards per player in the game.

    The one anachronism allowed is that the decks are all in sleeves (and Pokemon deck boxes for some reason; I didn’t ask). Dave said that they played without sleeves for a while, but it was just too heart-breaking to send minty-fresh Moxes and aging Lotuses through all those riffle shuffles unprotected.

    I grabbed a deck at random, shuffled it (carefully), and started playing. Dave owned all the decks, so we didn’t play for ante. There are no mulligans, and you draw on your first turn, so winning the roll and getting to go first was all upside for me. It turned out that I had grabbed the mono-blue deck, and I was happy to see an opening hand of Air Elemental, Control Magic, Psionic Blast, and four Islands. We can work with that.

    Maybe it’s just my own nostalgia for the time, not too long after Alpha, when I began playing, but there’s something about holding these cards that is, well, magical. The ink is richly colored, the cards are flavorful, and the wordings are downright quaint.

    Dave’s white-black deck made an early start of things with a classic White Knight (recently reincarnated in M10). OK, time to read the Alpha protection rules. “A creature with protection from one or more colors of magic cannot be affected by any magic of those colors.” Can’t be affected? So, like .... “For example, a creature with protection from blue cannot be blocked by blue creatures, dealt damage by blue creatures, or enchanted, damaged, or otherwise affected by blue cards.” Whaaaaat?

    This actually boded well for me. I wasn’t playing black, and Dave was—and don’t forget, I had Control Magic in hand. It wasn’t long before that Knight came to fight on my side of the table, and Dave’s Pestilence—nice combo!—was powerless to stop it. An Icy Manipulator ensured that his second White Knight couldn’t block mine ... and then I stole that one, too.

    “My” White Knights were banging away at Dave’s life total, and when he played a third one, I looked at my hand, realized I could kill him that turn with Psionic Blast—and decided to steal his third White Knight instead, for a win the next turn.

    Dave showed me his hand: 2 Drain Lifes, a Dark Ritual, and his fourth White Knight. The mono-blue deck, he acknowledged, is extremely good. Apparently there are five Control Magics.

    The first game had gone quickly, so we played another one with different decks. This time, I had what turned out to be mono-white, and I was vividly reminded that in Alpha, white was one of the prime removal colors. Swords to Plowshares and no fewer than three Wrath of God (all three in the deck) made short work of Dave’s many copies of Wall of Air and Wall of Water. (Wait, those were in the same set? At the same cost? Weird.) He also had Wall of Brambles, and Regeneration for his other Walls—but none of my removal allowed them to regenerate!

    We had to call the game early—the table we were sitting at was due to host a Grand Prix Trial—but Dave acknowledged that victory was all but mine. I was short on time, so we called it a match, and I thanked him for the chance to get up close and personal with the game’s beginnings.


  • Feature Match Round 5: Luis Scott-Vargas VS Matt Sperling
    by Bill Stark
  • Matt Sperling is a California player who works with some of the game’s biggest names, waiting for his weekend to come to allow him to cement his own reputation amongst their ranks. Unfortunately one of those cohorts, Luis Scott-Vargas, was his opponent for his first venture into the Feature Match arena on the weekend. Luis is the type of pro that rarely needs an introduction with a Pro Tour title, Pro Tour runner-up appearance, former National Champion title, Grand Prix titles...his list of accomplishments stretches as far as the eye can see (errr...read).

    Luis Scott-Vargas’ record needs no introduction.
    Frontline Sage was the first creature to enter the battlefield on the side of Luis Scott-Vargas. His opponent quickly matched it with a Paragon of the Amesha, but did not look happy as Luis cast Nemesis of Reason. The 3/7 could quickly leave an opponent decked in the land of 40-card decks; Sperling cycled Naya Sojourners in an attempt to find an answer. He cast Marisi’s Twinclaws, missing his fifth land drop.

    Scott-Vargas didn’t hesitate to send his Nemesis into the red zone, milling Sperling for ten cards from the top of his deck. A Qasali Ambusher was a surprise combat trick from Sperling, and he triple blocked the 4/8 Nemesis, pumped by exalted from Luis’ Frontline Sage. The Nemesis killed Matt’s Paragon before dying itself, and Luis followed it up with not one but two copies of Vedalken Outlander.

    The battlefield soon exploded. Luis’ side featured Pale Recluse, the double Outlanders, Frontline Sage, and Skyward Eye Prophets. Matt Sperling found double Knight of the Skyward Eye and Aerie Mystics to go with his Marisi’s Twinclaws and Qasali Ambusher. He also managed to finally find a red source of mana, opening up his splash and making all of the cards in his deck castable. An almost all-in attack from Sperling combined with Sigil Blessing left Luis at 4 life and short one of his Vedalken Outlanders and his Pale Recluse. He had a lead on cards holding three to his opponent’s one, but he needed more help than that to get through the game. His Skyward Eye Prophets put an Island onto the battlefield, and Luis cast Guardians of Akrasa and Waveskimmer Aven.

    The next attack step left Luis with just a Vedalken Outlander while Matt continued not losing any of his attackers and when Luis’ draw step didn’t yield some type of Wrath effect, the players moved to the second game with Sperling in the lead.

    Matt Sperling 1, Luis Scott-Vargas 0

    Cycling was the name of the game for the second duel between the two pros, with Luis building up his manabase on the back of Pale Recluse and Jhessian Zombies, while Matt tried to find some action cycling a naked Naya Sojourners. When Sperling finally tried to cast a creature spell, Luis had a Soul Manipulation ready, getting back his Pale Recluse in the process. An Offering to Asha countered a second attempt at a creature from Matt Sperling, but he eventually managed to stick Paragon of the Amesha and Cavern Thoctar.

    Luis was able to land some beefy threats of his own, casting Pale Recluse and Esper Cormorants. When Sperling used Deadshot Minotaur to ace the 3/3 flyer, Luis just got the Cormorants back with Sanctum Gargoyle. Filigree Fracture from Sperling finally got the Cormorants the second time, then a Sangrite Backlash dealt with Luis’ Gargoyle. Looking to get his beat on, Matt sent his team to the red zone, but Scott-Vargas still had a trick: Agony Warp killing an Aerie Mystics and fogging Deadshot Minotaur.

    Slowly rebuilding, Luis Scott-Vargas cast Cumber Stone, Nemesis of Reason, and Ethercaste Knight. The 3/7 Nemesis soon milled its first ten cards, but was a 5/9 in combat thanks to an Aven Squire and Ethercaste Knight pumping it with exalted. Sperling managed to rip a combination of Fiery Fall and Branching Bolt to kill the Nemesis, attacking with a virtually indestructible Vagrant Plowbeasts. With most of his threats killed by his opponent’s removal, Luis Scott-Vargas was down to a Cloudheath Drake and Ethercaste Knight, though Cumber Stone made the pain a bit more bearable.

    A second Agony Warp from Luis allowed him to kill a Cliffrunner Behemoth freshly cast from his opponent, alongside Paragon of the Amesha. The blocks were solid, but Luis needed a rip in order to win. Peeling the top card from his library he said “I guess that’ll do it...” before casting Finest Hour and attacking for the exact 8 points of his opponent’s life total with Cloudheath Drake, just in time to avoid the same fate from Matt the following turn.

    Matt Sperling 1, Luis Scott-Vargas 1

    The pace of the third game was a bit faster than the first two as Matt Sperling led off with Knight of the Skyward Eye into Marisi’s Twinclaws while Luis accelerated his manabase with Wildfield Borderpost before playing Vedalken Outlander to block the Twinclaws. Paragon of the Amesha from Sperling was answered by Skyward Eye Prophets from Luis, and the match quickly hung on a battle that threatened to become a long drawn out affair. Almost as if he was reading what was being typed about him, Matt Sperling broke the pace with a monstrous sized Cavern Thoctar that could potentially prove to be too large for Luis to block favorably.

    Matt Sperling had to face off against a friend.
    Kiss of the Amesha bought Luis some time, as well as drawing him a card. With an active Skyward Eye Prophets, he’d be able to take the long game down on the back of his card advantage, but he had to pass to his opponent with only a Vedalken Outlander untapped. “I think I lose the game this turn,” Luis Scott-Vargas said, falling to 8 on his opponent’s attack. While he didn’t literally mean he’d lose that turn, he meant looking back on the game were he to lose it would largely be because of the combat step that took so much of his life.

    Cumber Stone and Aven Squire came down to slow the bleeding. Sperling didn’t give an ounce of hesitation all-in attacking his opponent the following turn. Aven Squire blocked Cavern Thoctar, the Prophets blocked Paragon, and Outlander blocked Twinclaws; Knight of the Skyward Eye made it through. When Sperling tried to pump his Knight, Luis was ready with Agony Warp, but Sperling fired right back with Sigil Blessing. The combat step cost Luis his Squire while Matt was able to cast a second Knight of the Skyward Eye with a lead in life at 20-4.

    Trying to stabilize, Luis cast Sharuum the Hegemon returning no artifacts from his graveyard. “Filigree Fracture, give it to me!” Cried Matt Sperling, reaching for the top of his deck and hoping to find the powerful instant. His attack step saw Luis use Agony Warp to reduce Matt’s board to Marisi’s Twinclaws and a single Knight of the Skyward Eye while leaving Luis with Sharuum and Skyward Eye Prophets. Out of nowhere the board state had gone from favorable for Matt to favorable for Luis.

    Scott-Vargas untapped, cast Finest Hour, then attacked with his Prophets. He tried to figure out the best time to tap the 3/3 in order to get two free cards out of it thanks to the Finest Hour’s untap effect, but Matt pointed out he had done it incorrectly, meaning he wouldn’t get to attack with it twice in the turn and get a second free card from it. Sperling cast Bloodbraid Elf on his turn, getting a free Sangrite Backlash he used to kill Luis’ Prophets, but he didn’t have a removal spell for Sharuum. At 13 life, Sperling passed the turn, only to find his opponent attacking for lethal with Sharuum getting +1/+1, then a second pump along with a second attack from Finest Hour. Luis had turned the game around and taken the match, despite a bad turn in the middle of the game.

    Luis Scott-Vargas 2, Matt Sperling 1


  • Feature Match Round 6: “Not Since San Diego...” - Jacob Van Lunen vs. Max Tietze
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • Jacob Van Lunen was off to a fast start to his 2009 US Nationals experience. The Building on a Budget author has not experienced the same kind of tournament success that he found right out of the gate at his first Pro Tour when he and teammate Chris Lachman won PT San Diego as The Sliver Kids. A 5-0 start to his Day One here had him feeling focused and confident. He was squaring off with Pro Tour Columbus Top 8 competitor Max Tietze. Jacob and Max are both longtime veterans of the Northeast PTQ scene and know each other well.

    Game 1

    Jacob Van Lunen
    Max looked like he was coming out of the gates fast with Thopter Foundry followed up by Parasitic Strix. An underwhelming Knight of New Alara was Jacob’s first play. Max flew in for two and added a second Foundry to the table. Jacob attacked for two and drew a card off of Rhox Meditant. Max sacrificed both foundries to make a pair of fliers EOT. He flew over for four in the air and added Esper Stormblade to his team -- although he had no multicolored permanents any longer.

    Jacob attempted to draw a card with Rhox Meditant but Max foiled that by playing Resounding Wave on the Knight. He flew over for four and followed up with Brainbite seeing Naya Hushblade, Excommunicate, Lapse of Certainty, two Rhox Bodyguards, Knight, and Nacatl Hunt-Pride. Max took the Excommunicate.

    Jacob attacked back for four and gained some life with Rhox Bodyguard.

    Max’s deck was stalling on action and all he could do was attack for four in the air.

    Jacob played the other previously revealed Rhox Bodyguard and attacked for six. The life totals were tied at 10 each with the Knight of New Alara looming in Jake’s grip. Max attacked Jake down to seven -- leaving one token and his grounded Esper Stormblade back to guard the gates. Jacob declined to play the Knight after attacking for eight and dropping Max to 2. Instead he played Sigiled Paladin and sat back on his Lapse. Max had no play -- and no attacks -- on his next turn after cycling Architects of Will. Jacob had five attackers to Max’s four blockers and they were onto Game 2.

    Game 2

    Max Tietze
    Max mulliganed and came out of the gates slow against Jacob’s turn two Qasali Pridemage. He missed a land drop on turn three but found a Swamp to play a turn four Glaze Fiend. Jacob got in for five the next turn after playing Knight of New Alara. Max pumped his Fiend with Executioner’s Capulse and proceeded, with Jacob tapped out, to use it on the Pridemage. Jacob jabbed in for two with the Knight and drew a card courtesy of a second main phase Rhox Meditant. Max’s Brainbite saw Sigil Captain, Paleoloth, Might of Alara, Rhox Bodyguard, and Sigiled Behemoth -- he took the Bodyguard.

    Jacob kept the pressure on and attacked for four past the hapless Glaze Fiend. Paleoloth came down and joined the Van Lunen Squad. Max tried to muster some defense with Tidehollow Strix but Jacob regrew his Pridemage with the Sigilled Behemoth and Max conceded when he fell to two after trading his Strix for the Paleoloth.

    Final result: Jacob Van Lunen - 2 Max Tietze - 0

    “I haven’t been 6-0 in a tournament since San Diego,” declared an obviously happy Van Lunen.


  • Friday, July 23, 6:03 p.m. – Magic Offline
    by Kelly Digges
  • You might be familiar with Momir Basic, a Magic Online format in which every player uses the Momir Vig Vanguard avatar and a deck made only of basic lands. But I’m guessing most of you have never gotten the chance to do what I did today: to play Momir Basic offline, unplugged, in the real world.

    In addition to granting +4 life, the Momir Vig avatar lets you pay X Mana and discard a card, as a sorcery, to get a token copy of a random creature with converted mana cost X. So if you pay 1 Mana and discard a card, you get a random one-drop creature that’s on Magic Online. Since everyone’s playing Momir and running only basic lands, there are a lot of random tokens running around.

    Enter Justin, who strolled up to the Champion Challenge area with the complete Magic Offline Momir Basic toolkit. Justin started the project around the release of Time Spiral, and has kept it updated since then. Rather than select from among every creature in Magic, at each converted mana cost, he has a selection of 40 creatures selected—rather in the same way a Cube is selected—for a fun, Momir-friendly environment. He has very few vanilla creatures (except, of course, in the seldom-used 0-cost slot, where he has all nine options, two of which immediately die when selected). When you use Momir’s ability, you roll a d4 and a d10 and consult the big binder.

    Justin insisted on four-player Free for All with Tom LaPille, Scott Johns, and Jason, the sharp dresser from my earlier trip to the Champion Challenge area. Once everybody got up to speed on the physical mechanics, they were off into the wild frontier.

    Momir Basic is a format that, believe it or not, actually has a fair bit of strategy. There are theories and debates about the basic land mix in your deck—which may determine whether you’re able to use an awesome activated ability—and there’s always the question of whether to take a pull among the one-drops. Online, the answer is usually “no,” but Justin mentioned that his selection is a little more forgiving on 1, and Jason, with the first turn of the game, decided to take a pull and rolled up Skyshroud Ranger, which was absolutely bonkers in a format that’s all about making your land drops.

    Going around the table saw Justin, Tom, and Scott, respectively, summon Grim Lavamancer and a pair of Planar Guides. Then it was Jason’s second turn, and, thanks to Skyshroud Ranger, he tried for 3 and spun up a fearsome Goblin Sharpshooter.

    As the number of lands each player controlled went up, the plays got crazier. Scott’s Shapesharer had the potential to be the best creature on the board, literally, and Jason’s turn-four roll for a 7-drop—the dreaded “Phage Number”—yielded Island Fish Jasconius, of all things.

    I left while the four of them were still locked in combat, but Tom later reported that he won the game by rolling up Rafiq of the Many followed by Meglonoth and attacking for a whole hell of a lot. I can’t say I’m surprised—it’s a format where anything can happen, and frequently does.


  • Friday, July 23, 6:56 p.m. – Bizarre
    by Kelly Digges
  • As at any big event, the tournament hall this weekend is host to numerous events. In between the many Standard tournaments, Sealed Deck flights, and eight-person drafts, you can find a smattering of more unusual events. One such event is the Vintage Challenge Prelim, whose winner gets a first-round bye for Sunday’s Vintage Challenge.

    One of the tables in the Vintage Challenge Prelim had drawn quite an assembly of viewers, including a table judge, so I stopped in to investigate. Now, I’m not really up on Vintage, but I was pretty sure that what I was seeing was not normal. One of the players had zero permanents and an increasingly stocked graveyard, and the other had a handful of lands that included Bazaar of Baghdad but otherwise seemed to be doing very little.

    The cause of this strange circumstance was quickly explained to me: the gentleman with the Bazaar, a Dredge player, had mulliganed to two cards (looking for Bazaar, presumably). His opponent, whose deck archetype was difficult to discern, had kept a no-land hand with Leyline of the Void—not ideal, but possibly worth it against an opponent known to be playing Dredge. He then proceeded to miss an astonishing nine land drops and counting, while his opponent returned the unfortunate Leyline to its owner’s hand and finally started to get his Dredge engine going.

    It took four or five more turns, with both players doing nothing besides drawing and discarding (albeit at rather different rates), for the Dredge deck to finally finish things, getting three Bridge from Below into his graveyard, sacrificing two Ichorids and a Narcomoeba to flashback Dread Return on a Flame-Kin Zealot and attack with nine hasty Zombies for the win against an opponent who still had no cards to scoop.


  • Feature Match Round 7: Brett Piazza VS Jacob Van Lunen
    by Bill Stark
  • “Are you the guy who has Martial Coup and Behemoth Sledge I’ve been hearing all about?” Brett Piazza asked his opponent as they sat down to battle for the opportunity to end the day undefeated.

    “...Maybe.” Van Lunen answered without giving up any information, but with a smile. Brett Piazza is from the Denver area, where he Top 8ed Grand Prix-Los Angeles during the Extended season. His opponent is a famous member of the Two-Headed Giant team that triumphed at Pro Tour-San Diego. Jacob Van Lunen is also the writer behind “Building on a Budget” for magicthegathering.com.

    Soft spoken Brett Piazza is a powerful opponent.
    After losing the die roll, Van Lunen took not one but two mulligans before keeping his hand of five. He was quick out of the gates despite starting down two cards as he cast a Valeron Outlander on his second turn. “Isn’t that sick?” Van Lunen joked with his opponent and the talkative crowd watching their match. “I mulliganed to five and I still get to do that.”

    Brett finally cast a creature of his own in the form of Esper Sojourners, but had the benefit of enjoying a significantly smoother mana draw than his opponent. While Jacob was stuck on two Forests and a Plains, Brett had managed four basic lands, a Rupture Spire, and an Obelisk of Esper. With all that mana, Brett still passed the turn to his opponent. Van Lunen sent his Outlander to the red zone, but it was all a ruse. Piazza flopped Ethersworn Shieldmage onto the battlefield and took out the Outlander. When Brett untapped and cast Fusion Elemental, Van Lunen had seen enough. “I think that’s good...” He opined, scooping up his cards for the second game.

    Brett Piazza 1, Jacob Van Lunen 0

    It was Brett Piazza’s turn to mulligan for the second game, and he went from seven to six to just five cards in hand in very short order. “It’s okay, I’m going to five cards and I’ll still have turn five Fusion Elemental!” He said, laughing. “Maybe even turn four!”

    It turned out his mulligans were better than Jacob Van Lunen’s hand as Brett opened on Island, Plains, Swamp to cast Esper Sojourners while his opponent was stuck on just two Plains, missing multiple land drops and being forced to discard. A Mountain entered the battlefield for Piazza, who then cast Esper Stormblade. Jacob Van Lunen needed to catch up, and he needed to catch up fast or he was going to end the day with a single blemish on his record.

    Instead, he drew yet another card, only to discard. Piazza landed Blood Cultist and attacked Jacob to 11, but Van Lunen topdecked a Forest. “Let’s see if I can get back into this one.” He said, dropping his third land and considering his options. Qasali Pridemage with a spare mana up was an excellent effort to that end, and he passed the turn not out of the woods but in considerably better shape than when he had started it.

    Jacob Van Lunen kicked off the weekend at 6-0.
    Piazza began his main phase and immediately activated his Blood Cultist pre-combat targeting his opponent’s Qasali Pridemage. It was a heads up play as it meant the Cultist would get a +1/+1 counter during combat if Jacob blocked and sacrificed his bear to affect Brett’s team. Instead, Van Lunen simply accepted the attack for 5, falling to just 6 life. Whatever his plan was, it involved Qasali Pridemage ending the turn alive. Jacob revealed the plan as he cast Oblivion Ring targeting his opponent’s Stormblade. After agonizing over his next move, he decided to attack with his Pridemage, unwilling to block with no mana up and unable to blow up his opponent’s artifact creature.

    The attack proved fatal as Brett had Gleam of Resistance to untap his team, killing the Pridemage with a block and pumping his Blood Cultist. The ensuing attack from Piazza took Jacob to 2, and while Jacob had Valeron Outlander the following turn, his Naya Hushblade met its end at the hands of a Spell Snip from Piazza meaning he would be a chump blocker short of surviving the following turn. “I brought this in for Martial Coup,” the Coloradan said, pointing at his instant. Jacob nodded, replying “Yeah, I don’t have it.”

    Brett Piazza 2, Jacob Van Lunen 0


  • Friday, July 23, 7:36 p.m. – Catching Up With the Defending Team
    by Bill Stark
  • At the close of the 2008 National Championships, the team representing the United States included champion Michael Jacob, team members Paul Cheon and Sam Black, and alternate Marsh Usary. While Paul Cheon was not in attendance to defend his spot for 2009 due to a job overseas, all three of the other team members were. The coverage team sat down to chat with them after the first day of competition to see how they were doing this year.

    Before joining the National Team last year, Sam Black was perhaps most well known for winning a car at the “Win a Car” Magic tournament at Worlds in 2007. He had opted to play Faeries in Standard, saying “I was between Faeries and Elves. I did some testing with Evan Erwin while playing Elves, and decided to switch. I know how to play Faeries, I’ve been testing it a lot. I felt I should play a deck where I’m never unsure of what my game plan is supposed to be.”

    As for the Draft portion of the event, which made up the latter three rounds of play, Sam started out trying to draft Five Color Control. “I’m playing blue-black touching white and red. I felt the deck was pretty good considering I was trying to draft a different strategy.” What would making the team for the second year in a row mean? “It means more Pro Points. I want to hit level 7 [on the Pro Player’s club], and making the team would go a long way towards that goal. Plus, playing on the team is fun.”

    Marsh was the alternate on the 2008 team, meaning he was the player tagged to sit in if any of the other three players became incapacitated. Fortunately it didn’t come to that, and Marsh had started off relatively strongly for his shot at the 2009 team. “I’m playing Blue-White Tokens [in Standard]. I played it because I audibled three times and it was a deck I had tested on Magic Online. It’s really good with Honor of the Pure. I get to play Cryptic Command in Kithkin!”

    He had drafted a Naya deck touching into Jund a tad for some hot black cards. “I like that color combination because you can be flexible in the whole draft. In Alara Reborn your first seven or eight picks are usually awesome.” And the meaning of a return to the team for Usary? “It’d be a huge accomplishment, something I’d feel really proud of.”

    The 2008 champion, who served on back-to-back teams, was looking to follow in Antonino De Rosa’s footsteps making it three Top 8s in a row. He was playing Jund in Standard, and felt very strongly about the deck. “I tried Elves but the mirror was rough. I tried Five Color Control but felt like my decisions weren’t affecting the outcome of my games. I feel Jund is a deck that lets me outplay people.” How did he feel about the draft? “I drafted Jund splashing white. I prefer Grixis but never seem to get the cards for it. I feel like green-white is best by far but I never get it.”

    When he was asked what it would mean to make the team for a third year in a row, he answered similarly to Sam Black. “My goal is to get to level 7 so it would allow me to accomplish that goal,” before continuing on the subject of deck choices. “People play decks that don’t allow their playskill to matter much. I always play decks that allow me to outplay my opponent.”

    Wise words from former team members, but will they re-earn that title this weekend? You’ll have to tune in here on magicthegathering.com to find out!


  • Round Seven Feature Match Coverage: Adam Yurchick vs. Mark Hendrickson
    by Brian David-Marshall
  • Adam Yurchick is an Ohio-based Magic player who has become a Pro Tour fixture. He finished 9th at Pro Tour Hollywood and second at Grand Prix Philadelphia last season but would no doubt love to add National team member to his growing resume. He was off to a good start with a 4-0 record in the Standard and a 2-0 start to a draft pod that included Brian Kibler and Sam Black...and Mark Hendrickson. Mark is a long-time Pro Tour player who’s experience on the Tour goes all the way back to the first PT Los Angeles, where he lived for the first 30 years of his life. He resides in Texas now and is a member of the Texas Guildmages. His best finish on the Tour was a couple of seasons back in Geneva when he finished in the Top 32. He has been qualified for the past two National Championships but for this one he had to get in the hard way, through a grinder. He played a red-white creatureless control deck that has yet to lose for him this weekend with nine straight Standard wins. He had not done too shabbily in Limited either as he was preparing to square off for the perfect record in Pod one.

    Mark’s deck was chock full of late-pick red and green goodness as he generally eschews Esper and lets everyone else at the table fight for it. He was paid off at his table with a fifth pick Dragon Broodmother and sixth pick Spellbreaker Behemoth. Adam’s deck was similarly colored and he also anticipated a tendency for others to overfish Esper with maindeck Filigree Fracture and Molten Frame.

    Game 1

    Yurchick mulliganed his openers and Hendrickson decided to keep a land-heavy hand on the draw. Adam managed to find a keepable six and brought a Nactacl Outlander to the battlefield. Mark summoned Jund Sojourners which stepped in the way of Adam’s Bloodbraid Elf, which flipped Vithian Renegades and traded with the elf.

    Mark killed the 3/2 with Sangrite Backlash but his six land hand could not hold up under the modest pressure from Adam’s deck and they quickly moved to the next game.

    Game 2

    Adam reached for a package of blue cards that included Drastic Revelation, Mistvein Borderpost, and Lorescale Coatl taking out his artifact destruction. Mark played two lands with no play but Adam had kept a one-land/Druid of Anima hand but did not find his second land even with a cycled Deadshot Minotaur. He discarded Macta Rioter one turn after Mark played a two-drop and then conceded when he was facing down a Rhox Brute a turn after that.

    Game 3

    Adam mulliganed to six again and opened with his sideboarded Borderpost and kicked off the Game 3 action with Lorescale Coatl. Mark played Hissing Iguanar but did not block the Coatl. They traded blows while Adam added Trace of Abundance and Mark played Vithian Stinger. Slave of Bolas took a four power Coatl and attacked for seven. Adam used Fiery Fall to take out the Iguanar and save himself four damage.

    Adam drew Drastic Revelation, which would have been INSANE if the Coatl was still around, and refreshed his hand. His freshly cast Nacatl Outlander fell to a cycled Jund Sojourners and ping from the Stinger. Adam dropped Druid of Anima and Wild Nacatl on the next turn. Mark shot the Druid and played Dragon Broodmother.

    “You got the Terminate?”

    Adam did have the removal spell and the Broodmother never saw an upkeep. Mark still had action though and played Cavern Thoctar and a Sangrite Backlash for the Nacatl. Adam cycled Resounding Thunder to kill the Thoctar. The red zone was silent but for the ticking of the Vithian Stinger as both players went into draw-go mode. Eventually Mark found Quietus Spike and equipped his Stinger. Adam killed it with Branching Bolt and untapped to play Deadshot Minotaur. Mark unearthed the Stinger to kill the Mintour, with a little help from the Spike. Manaplasm arrived to pick up the spike a turn later and it was enough to finish off Adam and propel Mark Hendrickson to a perfect 7-0 record at the end of Day One.

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