Float Like a Sphinx, Sting Like Ali

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Leading up to U.S. Nationals, one question was on everyone's mind: what will the changes to Standard do to the grievous specter of CawBlade. Well, after a weekends worth of battling, I think we have an answer now. Four of the top eleven Standard decks from U.S. Nationals were the mighty UW beast, a number that is considerably lower than almost certainly would have been seen before the changes. Six of them made Top 8, but their pilots included some of the most high profile players in the game today, like David Ochoa, Owen Turtenwald, and Luis Scott-Vargas. There was a significant resurgence in the other decks that had been forced to hide in CawBlade's shadow, resulting in a wonderfully balanced and varied field.

After seventeen rounds of fighting through Standard and M12 Draft, eight players were left alone to vie for the three spots on the U.S. National team. The first round saw some big names fall. Owen Turtenwald and Luis Scott-Vargas both fell to their respective opponents. This marked the third U.S. Nationals Top 8 for LSV, and would have been his third team had he made it. Joining them on the sidelines to watch how things played out were Noah Koessel and James McLeod. The semifinals whittled it down once more, sending Haibing Hu and Brandon Nelson to battle things out for the third spot on the U.S. National Team roster.

That just left David Ochoa, last year's alternate, and Ali Aintrazi to fight for the right to be called champion. Both men were guaranteed spots on this year's team, but only one got to lift the champion's trophy. The opportunity to represent the United States at Worlds as quite a far cry from Ali Aintrazi's humble beginnings on the circuit. He's carved out quite a name for himself in the past years, and has proven that he deserves to be here and will represent the U.S. well, no matter the outcome. This marks the second National team that David Ochoa has made in a row, the odds of which are astounding. He was just the alternate last year, but this year he was not only guaranteed a spot, but fighting for the whole championship.

After a tense battle, Aintrazi's UB Control deck won out, taking four games to claim victory, becoming the 2011 U.S. National Champion! The third-place playoff was the last thing needed to decide the full roster for the American team. It took all five games, but Haibing Hu was able to edge out Brandon Nelson and claim the final spot on the roster. After all the excitement, with everything in the books, congratulations to Ali Aintrazi, David Ochoa, and Haibing Hu: your U.S. National team!

Quarterfinals   Semifinals   Finals   Champion
1 David Ochoa   David Ochoa, 3-1        
8 Noah Koessel   David Ochoa, 3-1
4 Brandon Nelson   Brandon Nelson, 3-2   Ali Aintrazi, 3-1
5 Luis Scott-Vargas    
2 Haibing Hu   Haibing Hu, 3-0
7 Owen Turtenwald   Ali Aintrazi, 3-1
3 Ali Aintrazi   Ali Aintrazi, 3-2
6 James McLeod    

3rd Place Playoff  
Brandon Nelson  Haibing Hu, 3-2
Haibing Hu

Day 2 Coverage
(Including Legacy Championship)

Day 1 Coverage
(Including Vintage Championship)

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  1.   Ali Aintrazi $5,000
  2.   David Ochoa $3,000
  3.   Haibing Hu $2,000
  4.   Brandon Nelson $2,000
  5.   Luis Scott-Vargas $1,000
  6.   James McLeod $1,000
  7.   Owen Turtenwald $1,000
  8.   Noah Koessel $1,000
Pairings Results Standings
Final Standings




  • U.S. Nationals Booster Draft – Undefeated Decks

    by Event Coverage Staff
  • Christian Valenti - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft One)

    Christian Valenti - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft Two)

    Haibing Hu - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft One)

    Haibing Hu - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft Two)

    Sam Black - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft One)

    Sam Black - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft Two)

    Travis Cullum - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft One)

    Travis Cullum - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft Two)

    David Ochoa - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft One)

    David Ochoa - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft Two)

    Jason Moses - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft One)

    Jason Moses - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft Two)

    Shawn Herr - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft One)

    Shawn Ryan - Undefeated Deck
    U.S Nationals 2011 (Draft Two)


  • U.S. National Championship Top 8 – Standard Decklists

    by Event Coverage Staff
  • Haibing Hu - Top 8
    U.S Nationals Championship 2011 (Standard Constructed)

    Brandon Nelson - Top 8
    U.S Nationals Championship 2011 (Standard Constructed)

    James McLeod - Top 8
    U.S Nationals Championship 2011 (Standard Constructed)

    Noah Koessel - Top 8
    U.S Nationals Championship 2011 (Standard Constructed)

    Luis Scott-Vargas (CawBlade) - Top 8
    U.S Nationals Championship 2011 (Standard Constructed)

    Owen Turtenwald (CawBlade) - Top 8
    U.S Nationals Championship 2011 (Standard Constructed)

    David Ochoa (CawBlade) - Top 8
    U.S Nationals Championship 2011 (Standard Constructed)

    Ali Aintrazi (Blue-Black Control) - Top 8
    U.S Nationals Championship 2011 (Standard Constructed)


  • U.S. National Championship Top 8 – Player Profiles

    by Event Coverage Staff

  • Name: Ali Aintrazi

    Age: 24

    Hometown: Matthews, NC

    Number of GP/PT Top 8s?? Zero, but hopefully not for long!

    Record by format: Standard: 6-0-2, Draft: 5-1

    What Standard deck did you play, and why? UB. It felt like it was well positioned in the metagame, and it has no real bad matchups.

    What colors did you draft? The first was UW Fliers and I went 2-1. The second was GW Overrun and I 3-0’d.

    How important is it to be on the National team with Worlds in the United States this year? It would be awesome to represent the U.S. It’s not as big for me as winning a PT, but grand nonetheless.

    What do you think the biggest impact of the recent changes to Standard was? It allows other decks to have a chance instead of CawBlade mirrors all the time. I’m glad it happened, and I hope we don’t have another powerhouse like Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or Stoneforge Mystic in Standard.

    What do you think the most powerful archetype is in M12 draft? White/X. White just has so many good commons. It’s the best color for this draft.

    Name: James McLeod

    Age: 19

    Hometown: Fuquay-Varina, NC

    Number of GP/PT Top 8s?? 0

    Record by format: Standard: 6-2, Draft: 5-1

    What Standard deck did you play, and why? Pyromancer Ascension. I felt it had good matchups on most of the field.

    What colors did you draft? UB aggro with two Mind Controls then RB Bloodthirst.

    How important is it to be on the National team with Worlds in the United States this year? Pretty important. The U.S. has to win that team trophy this year!

    What do you think the biggest impact of the recent changes to Standard was? Forcing people to add the "picking a deck for the metagame" skill to their toolbox instead of just grinding CawBlade mirror matches.

    What do you think the most powerful archetype is in M12 draft? Probably any deck with Mind Control. Other decks are competitive, but not on the same level.

    Name: Haibing Hu

    Age: 30

    Hometown: Houston, TX

    Number of GP/PT Top 8s?? 0

    Record by format: Standard:6-2, Draft: 6-0

    What Standard deck did you play, and why? CawBlade. I was given the deck by my friend David Thomas, who got an updated list from Gerry Thompson in the last minute. Gerry is a really good player.

    What colors did you draft? BR and UB. I draft a lot on Magic Online and sometimes post my draftcaps on under phuqdao.

    How important is it to be on the National team with Worlds in the United States this year? Kind of important. Maybe a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10.

    What do you think the biggest impact of the recent changes to Standard was? I don’t really play much Standard, so I can’t give an in-depth answer. If you look at the results, the changes made very little difference.

    What do you think the most powerful archetype is in M12 draft? I have no idea. Personally, I just like to draft whatever is open. Getting ate picks is a lot more important than being in an archetype. Although Wizards is getting better at designing synergistic Limited formats overall, core sets are still core sets.

    Name: Owen Turtenwald

    Age: 22

    Hometown: West Allis

    Number of GP/PT Top 8s?? 8 GP +8

    Record by format: Standard: 6-2, Draft: 5-1

    What Standard deck did you play, and why? CawBlade, duh.

    What colors did you draft? UR and GB.

    How important is it to be on the National team with Worlds in the United States this year? It would be a pretty huge honor to represent the U.S. at Worlds. I want to be on the team really bad, more than I can describe. It’s really cool.

    What do you think the biggest impact of the recent changes to Standard was? There is less CawBlade in the field now and more free wins.

    What do you think the most powerful archetype is in M12 draft? GB with 5 Greater Basilisks

    Name: David Ochoa

    Age: 30

    Hometown: Hayward, CA

    Number of GP/PT Top 8s?? 2 GP / 0 PT

    Record by format: Standard: 6-1-1 Draft: 6-0

    What Standard deck did you play, and why? CawBlade. It rewards good play and is quite resilient.

    What colors did you draft? UB and RB.

    How important is it to be on the National team with Worlds in the United States this year? More important than normal because defending the home turf is a big game.

    What do you think the biggest impact of the recent changes to Standard was? Creature decks became more viable.

    What do you think the most powerful archetype is in M12 draft? White-based fliers. White is the deepest and has a lot of fliers. With cards like Stormfront Pegasus, Griffin Riders, and Griffins, white-based flier decks can open with brutally fast draws.

    Name: Noah T Koessel

    Age: 18

    Hometown: Eureka, CA

    Number of GP/PT Top 8s?? 0

    Record by format: Standard: 7-1, Draft: 2-1, 2-1

    What Standard deck did you play, and why? CawBlade, because Alex Bertoncini convinced me to play it and the Holla-twins were playing it.

    What colors did you draft? RB ad UR.

    How important is it to be on the National team with Worlds in the United States this year? I think it’s pretty important because you get to represent your entire country against the rest of the world.

    What do you think the biggest impact of the recent changes to Standard was? The fact that many decks were no longer obsolete and so much worse than CawBlade.

    What do you think the most powerful archetype is in M12 draft? Probably RB Bloodthirst if you get the nuts or a deck with a lot of Griffins and Griffin Riders.

    Name: Brandon Nelson

    Age: 26

    Hometown: St. Paul, MN

    Number of GP/PT Top 8s?? 0

    Record by format: Standard: 6-1-1 Draft: 5-1

    What Standard deck did you play, and why? UW CawBlade. It’s the nuts!

    What colors did you draft? GR and GU

    How important is it to be on the National team with Worlds in the United States this year? It’s very important to me. I’ve always wanted to rep the U.S. with the best in the world! USA! USA! USA!

    What do you think the biggest impact of the recent changes to Standard was? Banning Stoneforge Mystic was right, but not Jace, the Mind Sculptor!

    What do you think the most powerful archetype is in M12 draft? BR Bloodthirst. It’s very aggressive and it’s hard to stop.

    Name: Luis Scott-Vargas

    Age: 28

    Hometown: Oakland, CA

    Number of GP/PT Top 8s?? 7 GP, 4 PT

    Record by format: Standard: 7-0-1 Draft: 4-2

    What Standard deck did you play, and why? CawBlade, because it’s still really good, though much worse than before.

    What colors did you draft? WR and BUG (I had to keep it fair to each color)

    How important is it to be on the National team with Worlds in the United States this year? It’s awesome regardless, and with Worlds ten minutes from my house, I’d especially like to be on the team!

    What do you think the biggest impact of the recent changes to Standard was? CawBlade is now a beatable deck, and people can actually pick from a variety of good decks.

    What do you think the most powerful archetype is in M12 draft? Bloodthirst Aggro.


  • U.S Nationals Quarterfinals – David Ochoa (CawBlade) vs. Noah Koessel (CawBlade)

    by Marc Calderaro
  • Game One

    Noah Koessel had to mulligan to five. Boo. This allowed Ochoa to get a clear advantage with Squadron Hawks. Early on, Hawks abounded, as per usual in this type of mirror match-up, as Koessel, though down in cards, used his own Hawks to refill his grip. And, again as usual without equipment on either side, Squadron Hawks soon abounded their way to the graveyard. Ochoa had the upper hand in the early game, netting some nice damage in with flyers, but Koessel soon even back up the board at zero. Though at a severely reduced life total; it was 15-8. He seemed poised fairly well, considering his card disadvantage.

    Koessel was able to resolve a Spellskite, though that just powered up Ochoa's Timely Reinforcements to some sort of usefulness and Ochoa cast a de-flyered Spectral Procession. He ticked his opponent down to 7, and upon seeing a freshly cast Consecrated Sphinx on the other side of the board, killed everything with a Day of Judgment.

    Koessel still had the man-land in Celestial Colonnade, so after thinking long and hard about the activation, he sent in the flyer against an open Island and Tectonic Edge.

    "Cards?" Ochoa asked.

    "Four." Ochoa rifled through the graveyard, then Dismembered the attacker. 11-7.

    On Ochoa's next turn, he tried for a Gideon Jura that was immediately Mana Leaked to join the litany of dead Hawks, cast Preordains, and cracked Fetchlands all sitting together in the graveyard. Jura's demise was ok; Ochoa resolved the Jace, the Mind Sculptor the next turn. He left open the Tectonic Edge mana necessary to bin another Celestial Colonnade when it fool-heartedly tried to attack.

    Another Gideon came down and it was two Planeswalkers to zero. Not the fairest of numbers, one must admit. And when Ochoa's own U/W flying land came in, Koessel had to bring out his bag of tricks: Into the Roil the Jura, block the big flyer with Inkmoth Nexus, then Dismember. He was down to 3 life, with a Mana Leak and a friendless Sword left in his hand to Ochoa's grip of six.

    Yet another Colonnade from Koessel allowed him to take out Jace and we were back to square one. Well, until Ochoa cast a Consecrated Sphinx. Then we were back to a different kind of square one. It just took another Dismember on the Colonnade blocker to cause Koessel to scoop them up and shuffle for the next game.

    David Ochoa 1 – 0 Noah Koessel

    David Ochoa

    Game Two

    Koessel got to keep all seven cards, and this time it was Ochoa who reshuffled his deck to try his hand again; he stayed at six. Both players spent the early game Pondering to make their hands a little more prepared for the battles to come.

    Emeria Angel, Squadron Hawk and Sword of Feast and Famine were Ochoa's gas in-hand. On Turn 4, into four untapped mana, Ochoa resolved a Squadron Hawk to negate his early mulligan. Koessel responded by simply showing the Tectonic Edge and Ochoa moved his Colonnade to the yard, though Koessel's next play of Jace Beleren was Mana Leaked away.

    The two players traded blows with Day of Judgment for Hawks and Oblivion Ring for Swords. Koessel showed some sort of advantage with another Jace Beleren and a couple Hawks, but the life totals were still 19-18, hardly a large margin either way. Ochoa had an Inkmoth Nexus to keep the Jace from doing too much, and a Mana Leak for the Consecrated Sphinx to keep it from doing, well, anything. So they both sat, each at seven cards, jostling for position.

    Finally, when Ochoa tapped out, Koessel was able to resolve and equip a Sword of Feast and Famine onto one of his two Squadron Hawks. Ochoa chumped with his own lonely Hawk, and replied with Emeria Angel and a land drop. He passed with just enough mana to activate Inkmoth Nexus or cast Mana Leak. Koessel called his counterspell bluff and cast a Gideon Jura, having it jump to eight counters upon entering the field.

    Koessel was now up 11-18, and had two more cards in his hand. Ochoa made two free blockers with an Arid Mesa, then laid a Gideon of his own into two untapped mana, with three on his side to pay for soft counters. Koessel allowed the Planswalkers to trade, then allowed his other blue Planeswalker to depart when his Into the Roil on the attacking Angel was Spell Pierced.

    More Angels and Sphinxes were inefficient, as another Wrath sent them all packing without much ado. Koessel saw Ochoa was short on cards, so a fresh Hawk did wonders when equipped with something that causes discard. Tectonic Edge cleared the way of any manlands, and Koessel took his opponent to 7, then 4. and soon, nothing.

    David Ochoa 1 – 1 Noah Koessel

    Noah Koessler

    Game Three

    Koessel went to Paris once, and stayed at six. So far each game was won by the player who hadn't mulliganned. Would this be the same?

    The early turns saw Ochoa get a leg up with a Squadron Hawk and a Swords to just Koessel's Hawk, and a Spell Pierced Oblivion Ring solidified his position further.

    Ochoa got in one hit, and Koessel's hand was just Hawks and a Deprive. He had three of the 1/1 flyers in play and a tapped Celestial Colonnade when he passed back to Ochoa, who added insult to injury with another sword equipped to another Hawk. Koessel had no choice up to chump it up. The next turn, Ochoa made it 18-10.

    His next draw was blank. "I'm at ten?" Koessel double-checked.


    Koessel scooped up the cards. He had a decent hand, but multiple Spell Pierces played spoiler rather well.

    David Ochoa 2 – 1 Noah Koessell

    Game Four

    The mulligan-win-predictor was not active this game as both players kept seven cards for the first time in the match-up.

    Dueling Hawks (surprising, I know) started for both combatants, as an early Jace from Koessel met a Spell Pierce. Ochoa took the early life lead of 20-13 with the help of Koessel's Dismember on an Emeria Angel, but a Feast and Famine equipment threatened to even the field. Ochoa cast a second Angel, dropped a fetchland, then passed the turn back to Koessel. He gladly wiped the board; the totals after a land-crack was 18-11.

    The two refilled quickly with Hawks (surprising, I know), but where Koessel had an equipment, Ochoa had a Consecrated Sphinx. Koessel equipped and swung in and Ochoa sent one of his Hawks packing. They were momentarily even on cards, but the Sphinx threatened to change that in a heartbeat. As Gideon Jura came down through a Mana Leak, Ochoa changed more than just handsizes, taking down the equipped Hawk.

    Koessel was sitting on Dismember, Revoke Existence, Squadron Hawk and another Sword of Feast and Famine in his hand. He went into the tank, full of thought, and ripped a Gideon off the top. This prompted more tank time. Ochoa was tapped out, so there were no shenanigans to be had. Koessel deemed it best to tap out and trade Planeswalkers.

    A Ratchet Bomb from Ochoa, who then Spell Pierced Koessel's four-life Dismember (17-3). Koessel was in block-Sphinx mode, and Ochoa was in draw-infinity-cards mode.

    It only took another turn for Koessel to extend his hand and send David Ochoa to the semifinals.

    David Ochoa 3 – 1 Noah Koessel

    Congrats to David Ochoa!


  • U.S Nationals Quarterfinals – Brandon Nelson vs. Luis Scott-Vargas

    by Tim Willoughby
  • Here at the quarterfinals of the U.S. National Championships Brandon Nelson sat down ready to square off against Luis Scott-Vargas. In some respects this best of five match would be the most important of all the matches for the players in the top 8. The winner would at least become the alternate National Team member, while the loser would have to content themselves with the prize and Pro Points, but no Worlds invite. That Luis Scott-Vargas already has an invite did not dampen his desire to win in the slightest. For Brandon Nelson, a win would qualify the Midwest grinder for Worlds, and put him in a nice spot Pro Points-wise to be able to make a run on the latter portions of the season.

    Game One

    It would be Brandon Nelson going first in this match, thanks to his position within the Swiss part of the event.

    Neither player had a mulligan, and while Brandon started on a series of dual-lands, Luis was content with a Beta Island and a Beta Plains. Each player was cagey about running much out there too soon – resolving that first Squadron Hawk can be quite important if you are ever to form a flock. A Tectonic Edge from Brandon took out Celestial Colonnade from Luis, and soon after there was more Tectonic Edge action, as each player went after more man-lands.

    The first real spell of the game, barring a Preordain or two, was a Sword of Feast and Famine from Luis, who thanks to Tectonic Edge activations was down to just three basic lands. It was hit by a Spell Pierce, and this gave Brandon the opportunity to get a Squadron Hawk on the board. A second Sword of Feast and Famine did stick for Luis, but he could only look on as Brandon cast a Gideon Jura, and immediately used its +2 ability.

    Luis, slightly on the back foot due to his mana issues, cast a Timely Reinforcements, for 6 life and three tokens (represented by the rather spiffy 'Ancestral LSV' tokens that ChannelFireball debuted at Gencon Indianapolis 2011. Brandon fired right back with one of his own, and thanks to another Gideon Jura +2, he was able to force many of the tokens to trade off.

    Both players had more than the 20 life they had started with, and it was Brandon who had threats on the board to go about changing that. Luis used a Mana Leak to stop extra Squadron Hawk woes, but had no answer to Nelson's own Mana Leak when it stopped Emeria Angel. Brandon looked to press his advantage, casting a Jace Beleren to draw a card (with the -1 abililty) and then attacking with his team, including Gideon, to put Luis to 13. Still more Tectonic Edges from Brandon set Luis back down to three lands, and left the ChannelFireball pro in rough shape to get back in the game.

    In a desperation move, Luis used two copies of Dismember in an attempt to off Gideon. They were successful, but attacks left LSV on just two life. He'd need a Day of Judgment to stay in the game, and when it didn't come, he packed in his cards.

    Brandon Nelson 1 – 0 Luis Scott-Vargas

    Game Two

    Sat where I was, I was able to see all of Luis' sideboarding for this match. Here's what he did:
    OUT 3 Dismember, 2 Timely Reinforcements
    IN 2 Mental Misstep, 2 Azure Mage, 1 Jace Beleren

    Game Two began much as game 1 had, without early plays from either competitor, barring Tectonic Edge activations to take down multi-lands. Luis got a few swings in with Inkmoth Nexus, but was content to hold back from casting actual spells. He played out a second Nexus, and in spite of the potential for Celestial Colonnade's ability to animate and block, he was happy to attack with one. Brandon didn't bite, going to three poison.

    For Nelson's turn, he played an Inkmoth Nexus of his own. Would this end LSV's poisonous onslaught? Luis did have a different plan, casting Gideon Jura as his first spell of the game, with three lands up to cast spells to protect it. The planeswalker resolved, and immediately gained a couple of loyalty.

    The answer from Nelson was not a counterspell, but an Oblivion Ring on his turn, which resolved without incident. Each player now had so many lands that the bulk of the countermagic that either might present would be hard pressed to achieve much. Nelson resolved a Sword of Feast and Famine. Luis' response was to fire back with Into the Roil on that Oblivion Ring, and to follow up with an Emeria Angel. It took two copies of Mana Leak to stop the angel. Two more that Luis would not need to worry about.

    Oblivion Ring came back to deal with Gideon, the one non-land permanent that LSV controlled. Inkmoth Nexus then got animated and equipped to deal 3 poison to LSV, and force him to discard a Day of Judgment. Brandon passed confidently with all his lands untapped. The only play from Luis was a tapped Celestial Colonnade, and when Nelson cast Squadron Hawk, it was able to fetch three more copies without incident.

    Luis went for the haymaker; Consecrated Sphinx. With three mana up and five more cards left in hand, he seemed confident in his play, which Brandon only had one Mana Leak for. What Brandon also had though was an Into the Roil with kicker. No cards for Luis just yet.

    Sensing a good spot to get stuck in, Brandon animated his Celestial Colonnade, and attacked with it and an equipped Squadron Hawk. The first real damage of the game, it put LSV to 12, from the 19 he'd been at thanks to an Arid Mesa early in the game.

    As quickly as Brandon filled the board with copies of Squadron Hawk, Luis cleared it with a Day of Judgement. The fourth hawk came along, and got equipped. There was enough mana left over, that Nelson could even cast Deprive on Consecrated Sphinx when LSV tried again to get the big flyer into play.

    Brandon swung with an equipped Squadron Hawk, and Inkmoth Nexus, putting LSV to 9 life and 4 poison. A second Consecrated Sphinx got hit by another Into the Roil, keeping Luis very much on the back foot. More attacks put LSV at 6 life and 5 poison. A post-combat Gideon Jura from Nelson looked as though it could lock the whole game up. Luis finally got to resolve his Sphinx, and draw some more cards, but on low life it was unclear if he'd have the luxury of time to get back in the game even if he had the cards to do it.

    A Dismember took out the Inkmoth Nexus blocker that LSV had, leaving him at 3 life and 7 poison after attacks. Scott-Vargas drew his card for the turn, and conceded.

    Brandon Nelson 2 – 0 Luis Scott-Vargas

    Luis Scott-Vargas

    Game Three

    If this were a match anywhere outside the top 8 of this competition, it would all be over. However, in this top 8, with best of five matches, there was still the potential for Luis to get right back in the match, by rattling off three straight wins. He would be on the play again for game 3, ready to start his fight back.

    LSV had a lot of copies of Celestial Colonnade to begin game three, and an early Sword of Feast and Famine, which resolved. Next up was an Emeria Angel, which met a a Mana Leak. Luis had perhaps been a little greedy in casting the angel before playing his Beta Island, as it left him without the mana required to Leak back. That said, it seemed likely that the game would go on for long enough that he would get other targets for it, and had the Angel resolved, immediately getting value from it could have been a deciding factor in the game.

    Luis was aggressive in throwing out questions to Nelson, having a Jace Beleren next, whose -1 ability drew LSV a card. The following turn it drew both players a card, before another Emeria Angel came down, this time resolving without incident. It died to a Dismember, but not before giving Luis a bird token.

    A Timely Reinforcements from Nelson brought his life total back up again, and allowed Nelson to get a bit of board presence. None of those soldiers could block an equipped bird token though, forcing Nelson to discard a Preordain, and allowing LSV to untap his lands. He slammed down a second Sword of Feast and Famine, which got hit by Deprive, not that Scott-Vargas really seemed to mind.

    Nelson kept Jace in check a little with attacks, while Luis went for it with an Azure Mage. In combination with a Sword of Feast and Famine attacker, this had the potential to allow LSV to draw well ahead in the race to draw a lot of cards, and forced Brandon to chump block a 3/3 bird with an Inkmoth Nexus. He tried for Into the Roil on the sword, to finish off that bird token, but was thwarted by a Spell Pierce.

    Nelson finally killed Jace off, but was faced with different ways in which Luis could draw cards. An Oblivion Ring took out Sword of Feast and Famine, and at end of turn, LSV drew his first extra card with Azure Mage. A Gideon Jura with +2 looked set to lock up the red zone for Brandon for a while, and Nelson did everything he could to swiftly deal with the planeswalker, animating an Inkmoth Nexus and casting a Squadron Hawk to add to his team. Luis simply kept using the +2 ability, and passed with lands up to draw more cards.

    Nelson's attacks only got Gideon to 1 loyalty, as LSV was willing to throw out an Inkmoth Nexus to block. At end of turn he used Into the Roil with kicker on Oblivion Ring, to get back his sword, and drew a card with Azure Mage. Now was the time to get aggressive. Luis equipped his Azure Mage, cast a few copies of Squadron Hawk, and got stuck in. He had just enough mana up to Mana Leak an attempted Into the Roil on Azure Mage, meaning that his attacks connected, and he could cast Jace Beleren, draw a card with him, +2 Gideon, and pass with five mana up. Brandon was at 15 still, but did not seem excited about the position he was in.

    Luis traded off Squadron Hawks with most of Nelson's board, and simply nodded as Oblivion Ring again took out Sword of Feast and Famine. He had Jace Beleren, Azure Mage, and soon made it a trifecta of card drawing options with a Consecrated Sphinx. Two out of three of these died to a Day of Judgment, after which Nelson tapped out for Sword of Feast and Famine.

    Luis' deck was looking quite thin at this point, but this did not stop him from casting Preordain. He resolved another Conundrum Sphinx to dig further, before sending Gideon to attack, taking Nelson to 9 life. While Brandon did have a Consecrated Sphinx of his own, he'd tapped down low enough to cast it that he couldn't stop an Into the Roil clearing the way for a lethal attack.

    Brandon Nelson 2 – 1 Luis Scott-Vargas

    Game Three

    Both players kept for game four, and again neither player launched into casting spells until they had quite a bit of land in play. Tectonic Edge from Luis took out a Celestial Colonnade, but in terms of honest to goodness spells, there was just a turn 3 Preordain from Luis before a turn 7 Squadron Hawk from Scott Vargas, with three lands up. Once one hawk landed, it seemed to Nelson a good time to deploy one of his own.

    A Jace Beleren from LSV met a Spell Pierce, which LSV could pay for while still having mana up to cast Preordain. Tapped out, Luis traded hawks with Nelson when Nelson went for Jace, and looked on as another Hawk entered the battlefield for his opponent. He had two of his own, ready to protect Jace.

    Hawks gradually traded off, and the additional card drawing from LSV started to kick in, as he was able to hit all his land drops in a way that his opponent was not. Given the way that counterspells function in this matchup, with most being conditional counters, that extra mana would prove very valuable. A Sword of Feast and Famine from Luis let him be a little more aggressive, though Nelson did have the Into the Roil to keep things honest for a while.

    Jace finally succumbed, but by this point LSV had Azure Mage to keep his grip full. With 7 lands to his opponent's four, he had the luxury of options. Azure Mage fell to a Dismember, but Luis still had plenty of action. He equipped his hawk and got stuck in. An Into the Roil on the sword meant that Nelson only took 1, going to 15.

    Nelson played a land and passed, looking on as Gideon Jura with a +2 joined LSV's side of the team. LSV had the Mana Leak ready when an end of turn Into the Roil with kicker tried to bounce the planeswalker, and a Spell Pierce for the Mana Leak that Nelson held.

    Now that LSV was tapped out, Nelson took the time to land a Consecrated Sphinx. However, in upkeep LSV had an Into the Roil to stop Nelson drawing any cards. The Sphinx that LSV landed both drew him cards, and was enough to put the game away attacking alongside Gideon.

    Brandon Nelson 2 – 2 Luis Scott Vargas

    Brandon Nelson

    Game Five

    In more normal circumstances, each of these 2-0 runs would have been a match. Here at U.S. nationals, with a best of five top eight, there would be one more game, to decide it all.

    "Maybe we'll see a turn 2 Hawk for the first time this match" joked LSV, of the fact that most games the 'Caw' noises didn't break out until turn 5 or later. He seemed buoyed by having clawed back from an 0-2 start. Just one game to go.

    For that deciding game, Luis was on a mulligan, and looked on at a turn one (!) Preordain from Nelson. There was the turn two hawk as well, which LSV could match. The beats would be a little faster this game.

    The first hawks traded, but there were plenty more to come. What there weren't more of for LSV though were lands, as he missed his third land drop.


    With Brandon getting up to five lands in play before LSV had found his third, it was a despondent face that Luis presented as watched Hawks and a Jace Beleren come down for Nelson. He eventually got an Inkmoth Nexus as a third land, but by this time there was a Gideon Jura staring him down.

    An Into the Roil bounced Gideon, after a small counterspell scuffle where a Spell Pierce from Nelson was stopped by Mental Misstep. As Nelson continued to lay lands, and recast Gideon, Scott-Vargas' leg began to jiggle. He was in deep, and he knew it. An Azure Mage from Luis was killed off by Dismember, and Nelson started applying the beats with both Gideon and two Inkmoth Nexus. Luis used this opportunity to send two Nexus of his own at Jace, but took a huge hit as Nelson played a sword, equipped to Gideon and swung.

    Nelson had a Mana Leak in hand, and that was enough to stop any last defence that LSV might have. Luis, gracious in defeat, extended his hand.

    Brandon Nelson defeats Luis Scott-Vargas 3-2, advancing to the semi-finals.


  • U.S. Nationals Quarterfinals –
    James McLeod vs. Ali Aintrazi

    by Nate Price
  • "I'm really sad you guys got paired up together in the first round," I told the players as they shuffled up for the first game.

    "Us, too," Aintrazi admitted.

    The judge asked if they were friends, and Aintrazi responded, "Yeah. That and we're the only non-CawBlade decks in the Top 8."

    Game One

    Aintrazi mulliganned to six on the play. McLeod broke the ice with a See Beyond on the second turn, but Aintrazi stopped him with a Mana Leak. He then untapped and added "Baby" Jace Beleren to his side, immediately drawing himself a card. McLeod used a Preordain on his turn to sift some, searching for a Pyromancer Ascension, as well as getting a copy of a useful spell into his graveyard.

    Aintrazi cast Inquisition of Kozilek on McLeod, seeing a hand of two Into the Roils, Burst Lightning, Island, and Misty Rainforest. He took the Burst Lightning, not wanting to put a copy of a card that McLeod had in his hand in the graveyard, and passed the turn. During the end of turn, McLeod used one of his two Into the Roils to bounce Jace with kicker. That put one of his two copies in his graveyard, enabling the other to put a counter on his Ascension should he cast it. He then drew his card and passed the turn.

    Aintrazi replayed Jace Beleren, attacked with a Creeping Tar Pit, and passed the turn right back. Continuing the trend of paying more spells on Aintrazi's turn than his own, McLeod aimed a Burst Lightning at Jace during the end of turn. Thanks to the copy that had been Inquisitioned earlier, he got the first counter on his Ascension. He drew his card and played a second copy of Pyromancer Ascension, adding a safety net. Aintrazi kept animating and attacking, dropping McLeod to two over the next two turns.

    At the end of Aintrazi's turn, and interesting exchange took place. McLeod went to cast Into the Roil with kicker on his counterless Pyromancer Ascension. Aintrazi responded with an Into the Roil of his own on the Ascension with a counter. McLeod sacrificed his Misty Rainforest to fetch an Island enabling him to Mana Leak. Unfortnately, as the spells resolved in order, he went so far as to resolve his original Into the Roil without putting a counter on his Ascension, and Aintrazi stopped him when he tried to afterwards. The Ascension triggers upon casting of the spell, not resolution, so with the spell resolved, the time to add the counter had passed. Undeterred by his mental hiccup, McLeod untapped, added the second Ascension to his side, and then cast a Preordain to turn one of his Ascensions on. He followed that with a second copy, which he got to copy thanks to his Ascensions, and then a third, turning them both on. After that, he got to double up on a Gitaxian Probe, drawing a trio of cards.

    From that point winning was elementary. Aintrazi got to attack him down to three with Creeping Tar Pits, but couldn't actually finish him. With his hand now full of cards, McLeod aimed a Burst Lightning and a pair (really sextet) of Lightning Bolts at Aintrazi to finish him off.

    James McLeod 1 – Ali Aintrazi 0

    Game Two

    McLeod started the second game rummaging through his deck and building a graveyard. He managed to get a single Ponder off before Aintrazi Duressed him, taking Lightning Bolt from a hand with Gitaxian Probe, a pair of See Beyonds, Preordain, Halimar Depths, and an Island. McLeod returned the favor, spying on Aintrazi with a Gitaxian Probe, revealing Jace Beleren, Grave Titan, Mystifying Maze, Darkslick Shores, and some Islands.

    "Nice Maze."

    "I know. I'm going to get your Sphinx! Woo!"

    McLeod used his Preordain and a See Beyond to give him one of more or less all the cards that matter in his graveyard. Now, all he had to do was draw a Pyromancer Ascension. Aintrazi got his Jace Beleren down and started drawing cards with him. McLeod decided to use his second See Beyond to dig a little deeper into his deck, finally finding his first Mountain. That enabled him to play a Pyromancer Ascension, setting him up to start building up. Aintrazi used the final loyalty of his Jace Beleren to draw a card before replacing it and drawing a second off his fresh Planeswalker. He passed the turn with Mana Leak (or Into the Roil) mana available. A Gitaxian Probe ensured McLeod he was safe, revealing that a Consecrated Sphinx and a bunch of lands had joined the Grave Titan in Aintrazi's hand. He had nothing.

    McLeod started small, using another Probe to draw some cards. He passed the turn with four mana available, choosing to use it to cast a pair of Into the Roils with kicker to kill the Zombie Tokens made by Aintrazi's Grave Titan immediately after they came down. He then untapped and started drawing an obscene number of cards. See Beyond copied and filled up his hand. Lightning Bolt doubled up to kill the Titan. Ponder twinned and filled up his hand. Now in complete control thanks to Aintrazi's poor draw, McLeod passed the turn with a full hand and mana for a Mana Leak available. He got to use it when Aintrazi tried to cast the Consecrated Sphinx he had drawn earlier, getting to untap with a ton of lands in play.

    Not feeling comfortable enough to simply go for things with his Ascension, he decided to play a Consecrated Sphinx instead, passing the turn with one red open. Aintrazi merely animated his Creeping Tar Pit and attacked. McLeod used a Burst Lightning to hit the Tar Pit and Aintrazi, but Aintrazi used Mana Leak to save his attacker. McLeod dropped to 9. He untapped and sent his Sphinx at Aintrazi, after which he set up a second Pyromancer Ascension before turning his burn loose on Aintrazi to finish him off, just in case he had a Mana Leak. Aintrazi had nothing but lands, and died a fiery death.

    James McLeod 2 – Ali Aintrazi 0

    James McLeod

    Game Three

    McLeod mulliganed to six, prompting Aintrazi to remark, "First mulligan of the match."

    "You mulliganed game 1," McLeod reminded him.

    "Oh yeah. Man, that game was so close," Aintrazi sighed.

    Aintrazi played a first-turn Creeping Tar Pit, which caused McLeod to ask, "Where are your first-turn Inquisitions?"

    He found out in short order when Aintrazi aimed a copy of the spell at him on the second turn. McLeod paid mana for a Mental Misstep to stop it, but Aintrazi had a Darkslick Shores and a second Inquisition to strip a Mana Leak from a hand with a Scalding Tarn, See Beyond, Burst Lightning, and Gitaxian Probe. McLeod drew his card and played a See Beyond. When Aintrazi used Duress to strip him of Gitaxian Probe on the following turn (no free cantrips into lands for you!), he revealed two new cards: a Consecrated Sphinx and an Into the Roil.

    For his turn, McLeod drew into a Ponder, using it to snag himself a third land, leaving him with Into the Roil, Sphinx, and Burst Lightning in hand. Aintrazi started to assume control, adding to his resources with a Solemn Simulacrum, who immediately started to attack on the following turn. A Jace Beleren followed, and when Aintrazi went to use him to draw a card, McLeod used Burst Lightning to kill the Planeswalker, limiting Aintrazi to that one card. McLeod drew a land for his turn, played it, and passed the turn.

    Since that flurry of discard, Aintrazi had been firmly in the driver's seat. He animated his Tar Pit and sent it alongside the Simulacrum, dropping McLeod to 12. During the next attack, he used Into the Roil with kicker to try and return the Simulacrum, dropping to 11 from a Scalding Tarn. Aintrazi had the Mana Leak to stop the mana-light McLeod, and the attack dropped him to 6. McLeod made a Pyromancer Ascension on his turn, passing things back to Aintrazi. Aintrazi activated a pair of his Creeping Tar Pits and sent all his creatures over, prompting the concession from McLeod.

    James McLeod 2 – Ali Aintrazi 1

    Game Four

    McLeod mulliganned again in the fourth game of the match. When Aintrazi tried to hit him with Inquisition of Kozilek on his first turn, McLeod was ready with a Mental Misstep. This time, the torrent of discard spells stopped right there, with Aintrazi making a Jace Beleren instead, using his +2 ability to keep him safe from McLeod's burn. McLeod had failed to play a third land as well, so the decision could either be incredibly good if the trend continued, or terrible if it allowed McLeod to find one and get back into the game. McLeod did indeed find one, a Halimar Depths, and he used it to set up his next draws. It took him a couple of turns to find a fourth, but he was able to stay productive, using a Lightning Bolt to drop Jace when he worked his way down to three loyalty.

    Aintrazi wasn't doing anything at all. When McLeod aimed a Gitaxian Probe his way, it revealed that all he had was a Consecrated Sphinx, Into the Roil, and a fist of lands.

    "Your Jaces are terrible,"McLeod commented upon seeing Aintrazi's hand.

    "I know, they're atrocious," Aintrazi agreed. "They give me nothing but lands!"

    Aintrazi tried to make his Sphinx on the following turn, but a Mana Leak kept it from the table. McLeod finally sifted his way through enough of his deck, and had a clear enough opening, to play his Pyromancer Ascension. All Aintrzi could do was play a freshly-drawn Solemn Simularum and start attacking. At this point, virtually every card in McLeod's deck turned on his Ascension. Turns went by, with Aintrazi attacking for two and McLeod doing nothing. 17. 15. 13… Eventually, McLeod broke it with a See Beyond, getting his first counter before ending his turn. Aintrazi cracked with his Simulacrum. A Lightning Bolt to kill it threatened to give his Ascension a second counter. An Into the Roil with kicker sent the Ascension back before it could receive it. Aintrazi drew his two cards and put the Simulacrum in the graveyard. When McLeod tried to replay the Ascension on the following turn, a Flashfreeze sent it to the graveyard.

    Ali Aintrazi

    All of those lands Aintrazi had drawn were an impressive sight now that he had them all in play. With that much mana available to him, he had to think about how to best use it. He had no copies of Creeping Tar Pit in play yet, much to his dismay. He was forced to fight with traditional creatures, making a replacement Solemn Simulacrum before passing the turn. An attempt at a second Pyromancer Ascension was met by another Flashfreeze from Aintrazi.

    Aintrazi now had a pretty slight advantage, being behind in cards, but with an attacking creature in play. He got McLeod down to 9 with his Solemn before he sealed the deal with a Karn Liberated. McLeod tried to get something going with a Consecrated Sphinx, but Aintrazi had a Mana Leak to end the game right there.

    James McLeod 2 – Ali Aintrazi 2

    Game Five

    With the exception of the second game, which was pretty firmly in McLeod's hands the entire time, this had been an incredibly close match. Fitting that it would go to a fifth game. McLeod nearly immediately kept his hand, and Ali kept his hand after a bit of thought (and belatedly drawing his seventh card!).

    The previous two games had been defined by early discard from Aintrazi, though this game went a little different. Both players played a Preordain on their first turn. After resolving his, Aintrazi did a little fist pump and exclaimed, "Ha! Tar Pit," as he put the Creeping Tar Pit onto the table. Unfortunately…it was still the first turn and he'd already played his land to cast the Preordain. Both players laughed as it was pointed out, and he picked it back up, admitting that he was "just happy to draw one after last game." It came into play on the next turn.

    McLeod got a bead on things on his turn with a Gitaxian Probe revealing a hand of juice from Aintrazi. Karn Liberated, Grave Titan, Memoricide, Praetor's Grasp, Mana Leak, Into the Roil, and another Creeping Tar Pit (lucky!). What a grip! The first of those spells to see the light of play was the Praetor's Grasp, fetching a Gitaxian Probe from McLeod's deck and taking a quick note on what wasn't in it.

    Now down one card in his deck, McLeod went back to digging. Ponder kept the status quo of his deck, though McLeod did nothing else, choosing instead to sit on Mana Leak. Aintrazi had managed to draw lands for his last two turns, enabling him to play a land every turn, keeping pace with McLeod. Other than drawing and playing lands, neither played anything until McLeod broke the standoff with a Consecrated Sphinx. Aintrazi countered with Mana Leak, leaving McLeod tapped out and vulnerable to Memoricide. Just to be safe, Aintrazi used his stolen Gitaxian Probe to check the status of McLeod's hand, revealing Burst Lightning, Consecrated Sphinx, a couple of Mana Leaks, and a Mental Misstep. With the coast clear, Aintrazi stripped McLeod of his Pyromancer Ascensions with a Memoricide.

    Now all that was left was for Aintrazi to get a threat down, or start attacking with his Creeping Tar Pits. McLeod revealed what was coming with a Gitaxian Probe that revealed a Grave Titan in the near future. Aintrazi tried to strip a Mana Leak from McLeod's hand with an Inquisition of Kozilek, but McLeod had a Mental Misstep. When Aintrazi went for the Titan, it met the first of McLeod's Mana Leaks. When he chose to animate his Creeping Tar Pit and attack, McLeod tried to fry it with a Lightning Bolt, giving Aintrazi the chance to use the Flashfreeze he'd been holding. McLeod ran out a desperate Consecrated Sphinx, which slipped into play, but Aintrazi sent it home with an Into the Roil with kicker.

    McLeod went for the Sphinx again, and again it hit, guaranteed to draw him two more cards on Aintrazi's turn. An Inquisition of Kozilek stripped one of them, a Lightning Bolt, from McLeod's hand. Knowing that the path was clear, Aintrazi made Karn Liberated, and he immediately ate the Sphinx, dropping to three loyalty. Despite being able to kill Karn, McLeod had other things in mind, aiming a kicked Burst Lightning at Aintrazi instead of Karn. When he revealed a Lightning Bolt that he had found with Ponder, it made sense. He simply wanted to make the most efficient use of the burn spells he had remaining.

    And burn he did. After getting Duressed down to a lone Island, McLeod drew a Burst Lightning and aimed it right at Aintrazi, dropping him to ten. Unfortunately, the burn stopped coming after that, leaving Aintrazi free to swing him to death with his Creeping Tar Pit, winning an incredibly tight match and securing a spot in the semifinals.

    James McLeod 2 – Ali Aintrazi 3

    Ali, Victorious


  • U.S. Nationals Quarterfinals – Haibing Hu (CawBlade) vs. Owen Turtenwald (CawBlade)

    by Brian David-Marshall
  • Haibing Hu has likely been playing longer than anyone else in this Top 8 with his first Pro Tour experience going all the way back to Pro Tour Nice. He had played the CawBlade deck previous to the recent bannings and used it to qualify for Pro Tour Philadelphia but was not planning on playing the deck this weekend. The version he ended up playing was designed by Gerry Thompson and was essentially handed to him in his drive to the event. After playing what he described as a sloppy round one of the event, he realized that his opportunities to play Magic competitively were precious and told himself to tighten up. And that is exactly what he has done.

    His opponent, Owen Turtenwald, has been playing tight all year with a Top 16 at PT Paris and a slew of Grand Prix Top 8s propelling him to near the top of the Player of the Year standings. Owen was playing the same list as fellow Top 8 competitors LSV and Ochoa with just minor differences. With 10 Pro Points awaiting the winner of this event, and the possibility of the extra points available to the National team, winning this match could go a long way toward his Player of the Year aspirations.

    Game One

    Fittingly for this mirror match both players kicked things off with Preordain -- a card that saw every single deck in the Top 8 play the full four copies. Haibing -- who had gotten to play first by virtue of higher standing in the Swiss rounds -- followed up with Hawk on turn two.

    Owen dug with a second Preordain and passed the turn. Hu untapped to play Sword of Feast and Famine and attacked for one. Owen played a Squadron Hawk a turn later and searched out a second one. It chump blocked Hu's equipped Hawk and Haibing reinforced with a second copy. Owen played out another Hawk and searched the balance out of his deck

    Hu played out third Hawk to round out his quartet as well. Then he played Preordain and swung with his two Hawks -- Owen threw a Hawk in the path of the oncoming Sword bearer. Owen played a tapped land and passed the turn with a lone Hawk. Hu attacked and Owen chumped. He played Into the Roil on the Sword at the end of the turn. Hu used that opportunity to Tectonic Edge Owen's Colonnade.

    The Hawks kept coming for Owen as did a fresh copy of Celestial Colonnade. Hu untapped -- and just sent his two Hawks in. Owen blocked the Sworded one and used Into the Roil to kill Hu's Hawk by bouncing the Sword at the end of the turn. Hu replayed the Sword on his next turn and paid three more mana when Owen Mana Leaked it. Hu did not have mana left over to requip but attacked for one.

    Gideon Jura showed up to help Owen and promptly killed the tapped Hawk. Owen still had one mana up -- representing Dismember if Hu wanted to animate his land and attack it. Hu played Emeria Angel and made a token with Tectonic Edge, which he promptly used on Owen's Collonade. The score was 14 to 20 in Hu's favor.

    Timely Reinforcements arrived for Owen. He broke an Arid Mesa and and went down to 19 -- he had gone up to 20 from the spell. He tapped out to play Sword and then went +2 for the Gideon. Hu moved the sword to a bird token and Gideon died -- but no discard or untap for Hu since he attacked the Planeswalker. Hu played another Hawk.

    Owen did not equip and just sent in the team of tokens. Hu had no blocks. Owen tapped all his mana and flipped a Consecrated Sphinx on the board. Hu looked at his hand but had to let Owen draw two cards. Ironically the culprit he drew was Mana Leak. Hu animated his land and sent everything toward the red zone. Owen put the Sphinx in he way of the sworded bird token and Hu played Dismember. Tectonic Edge after combat gave him a fresh token.

    Owen played another Sword and Hu let it resolve. Owen equipped two soldiers -- and maybe Hu rethought not using the Mana Leak. He discarded it to an unblocked token and chumped the other. Hu fanned through Owen graveyard and then attacked with everything. Owen Into the Roiled the equipped bird with kicker. Owen fell to 7. Hu had to think... He opted to play another Emeria Angel over Day of Judgment. and played a fetch land.

    Owen Tectonic Edged Hu's Colonnade and Hu did it back to a Seachrome Coast. Hu had two tokens back to block with the potential for another.

    Owen played Jace Beleren and attacked with two sworded tokens. Hu chumped them both and fetched land at end of turn. Owen had three mana untapped and three cards in hand. Hu had just one card -- the aforementioned Day of Judgement. Hu put the Sword on a Hawk and attacked with everything.

    "You got it," said Owen.

    Game Two

    Celestial Colonnade led off on both sides with turn two Squadron Hawk for Owen. No Hawk for Hu who passed turn with two mana open. Owen played a second Hawk while Hu played a pair of Preordains on his second turn. Owen's turn four Emeria Angel was more than enough for Hu to pull the trigger on Day of Judgment on his turn four.

    Owen started to rebuild with Gideon which he promptly sent to 8 loyalty while Hu had Emeria Angel. Owen also had Emeria Angel as well as Dismember for Hu's. Hu had his own copy of Dismember and then played another Angel -- it is the last one that always gets you -- and passed the turn with it and a bird token.

    Owen dug for cards with Preordain and took advantage of Hu's tapped mana to use Tectonic Edge on Hu's copy of the same card. Owen played a Hawk and passed the turn with Gideon sitting on 11 loyalty.

    Owen Turtenwald

    Preordain from Hu found Scalding Tarn. He attacked as he was contractually obligated to do and Owen traded a bird token and Hawk for two bird tokens. Gideon fell to 8. Hu made two tokens, played Jace Beleren, and drew a card. Gideon went to 6 to kill the Angel and Owen played a Hawk -- he had four mana open including Inkmoth Nexus.

    Hu drew a card with Jace. He sent one token at Gideon and Owen traded his Hawk for it. Owen kicked Into the Roil at the end of the turn and Hu played Spell Pierce after confirming that Owen was on one card in hand. Owen played Preordain, played Tarn and broke it -- "Three in hand?" he asked of Hu -- before animating his Colonnade and his Gideon. He sent the Planeswalker at Hu and the land at Jace. Hu traded Colonnades and chumped the Gideon.

    Hu untapped to play Tectonic Edge and Oblivion Ring the Planeswalker. Owen had one card and played it -- Sword of Feast and Famine. He animated his Inkmoth and equipped. Owen wanted to get Hu to use the Edge to clear the way for his Colonnade. Hu took three poison and discarded an Island. Owen untapped but had no cards.

    Squadron Hawk showed up for Hu and he promptly played a second one -- they are like buses in that regard. Owen attempted another Gideon Jura but it was foiled by Mana Leak. Hu attacked for two with his Hawks and the rest of the fleet came down post combat. Owen equipped his Nexus again and this time Hu used his Tectonic Edge on it -- he had drawn a Dismember. Hu attacked for 8 with his full suite of Hawks and a Colonnade. When Owen saw the Dismember after tapping all his mana to animate equip his Colonnade they were onto game three with the bricks of the wall pressed into Owen's back.

    Game Three

    Owen kept a six carder and a turn two Hawk undid any damage from his mulligan as he searched out all three of his remaining birds. He did not play Hawk on turn two, rather an Azure Mage that can do a little of everything from beat down to control. Hu promptly cracked a fetch and Mana Leaked it. Owen played a second Hawk on turn three but frowned when Hu played Emeria Angel -- he had the Dismember though. The third Hawk came down but Hu had yet another Emeria Angel -- Owen's draw seemed land heavy.

    Hu looked at the six lands across from him and shrugged. He played Gideon and had it Spell Pierced. He did have a sixth land to play for his Consecrated Sphinx -- something made more frustrating when Owen used Tectonic Edge on Hu's Tectonic Edge and said go. Hu had a Sword of Feast and FamineMana Leaked but resolved his next copy a turn later -- making bird tokens all the while. Owen used Into the Roil with kicker on the Emeria Angel and sent in his Hawks -- Hu traded a bird for it.

    Haibing Hu

    Hu equipped a bird token and attacked. Owen threw a Hawk in the way. Meanwhile Hu was now fetching Hawks of his own. Emeria Angel and land gave Owen some breathing room as well as a clear window for Hu to replay his own Angel after Owen chumped the sworded token. Hu took four from Owen's Colonnade but was able to resolve Consecrated Sphinx.

    Hu was drawing cards while Owen was playing off the top of his deck. He played a Hawk and chose not attack. Two more cards came his way during Owen's turn. Hu played Into the Roil with kicker on his opponent's Emeria Angel when Owen said go. Owen broke the fetch he had just played for a fourth token to go with his Hawk.

    Hu played a land and sent all his his non-angels and non-sphinx creatures into battle. When dust settled Owen had only a Hawk. Hu played Preordain and then went to his discard step. Owen played Into the Roil with kicker on the Sphinx. He still had five mana open. Hu played Mana Leak and two Spell pierce to fight through it -- he would get two cards back on Owen's draw step.

    "Discard?" asked Owen.

    "Not any more," said Hu.

    Owen replayed the Angel and played a land his hand was empty. Hu Dismembered the Angel and attacked with everyone. Owen chumped as best he could but it would require a miracle to come back with and empty grip and board against Hu's full hand and air force. Just to be safe...Hu played Gideon as well.

    Final result: Haibing Hu advances to the semifinals in a three game sweep of Owen Turtenwald.


  • U.S. Nationals Semifinals – Ali Aintrazi vs. Haibing Hu

    by Nate Price
  • This semifinals match showcased a couple of things that I was excited to see. First, there was the obvious inclusion of Ali Aintrazi's UB deck, the only non-CawBlade deck left in the Top 8 field. Despite the resurgence and success of non-CawBlade decks in the Standard portion of the tournament (it only made up four of the eleven top decks), six copies piloted by some of the more prominent names in American Magic made the Top 8 due to the mixed-format nature of Nationals. Getting something that didn't put a Sword on a Bird was refreshing. Also, Haibing Hu, though he was playing a CawBlade deck hiself, was running a version with a few interesting card choices in both the maindeck and sideboard.

    "Sweet, a deck I don't have dead cards against for game 1," Aintrazi joked as he sat down to the table.

    "Yeah, most people do against him," Hu said, nodding his head.

    Game One

    Hu started things off with a second-turn Squadron Hawk. The little birdie fetched up a few more copies, filling Hu's hand. Aintrazi answered with an Inquisition of Kozilek, taking Jace Beleren from a hand with Dismember, Mana Leak, Preordain, and three Squadron Hawks. On his turn, his Hawks started to take over the skies. The first started attacking while the second swooped into play. Aintrazi played a Jace Beleren of his own, using his second ability to take him out of danger, but giving Hu a card in the process. Hu added a third Hawk to his team and attacked with the other two, knocking Jace to three. Aintrazi realized he was done with his Jace, using it the second time to draw only himself a card. He also made a Solemn Simulacrum that resolved after a bit of thought from Hu.

    On his turn, Hu went into thought. After a Preordain, he sent two of his three Hawks at Jace to finish him off and the last at Aintrazi. After combat, the final Hawk joined the skies. Aintrazi popped back with his Simulacrum, dropping Hu to 17. He made a second robot after combat, giving him a slightly better board, and a significant mana advantage. With so many lands in play, he felt content to Tectonic Edge Hu's Celestial Colonnade, dropping him to four lands. At the end of Aintrazi's turn, Hu paid the full amount of life to Dismember the newest robot.

    'On his turn, Hu went into thought...'

    Hu's Preordain to start his turn put him into the tank. He eventually decided to swap both of the cards for a better one off of his deck. At this point, his Squadron of Hawks started taking four-point chunks out of Aintrazi's life total. Aintrazi was giving back, swinging with his Simulacrum. He tried to get in with his Creeping Tar Pit on one turn, but Hu used Tectonic Edge to kill it. When Aintrazi played a second Tar Pit, Hu matched it with a second Edge. With one attack, Hu dropped Aintrazi to 2 life, while sitting at 7 himself. Aintrazi attacked with his Simulacrum and passed the turn. When Hu sent his Squad on the following turn, Aintrazi conceded.

    Ali Aintrazi 0 – Haibing Hu 1

    Game Two

    Hu started the second game with a pair of mulligans on the draw, which had to have Aintrazi feeling good about his chances this game. Hu made an effort to get back the cards he'd lost with a third-turn Jace Beleren, but Aintrazi had an Into the Roil to cap it at one card, as well as a Jace of his own to take the place of Hu's. Hu thought for a moment about his play before deciding to trap Aintrazi's Jace in an Oblivion Ring, trying to pave the way for his own. Aintrazi tried to prevent this with an Inquisition of Kozilek, but Hu had a Mental Misstep. After untapping, Hu made a Jace Beleren, drawing two cards and passing the turn. Hu only had access to one mana, so Aintrazi took the opportunity to cast a Consecrated Sphinx. Hu had nothing to say about it, and nothing to do either, letting Aintrazi draw a pair of cards not only during his draw step, but also off of a Jace activation. Hu used the rest of his turn to make two Squadron Hawks.

    Haibing Hu

    With a hand full of cards and a severe advantage, Aintrazi began his turn. His Inquisition of Kozilek met a Mental Misstep from Hu, but his Tectonic Edge locked Hu back down at three lands. Aintrazi attacked and then passed the turn with four lands up, content to coast on the wings (and cards) of his Sphinx. Hu decided that since Aintrazi was already drawing a bunch of cards, he might as well just use Jace's +2 ability, keeping him from going away. An Inquisition of Kozilek revealed a pair of Gideon Juras, a Consecrated Sphinx of his own, a pair of Spell Pierces, and a Sword of Feast and Famine. Aintrazi took the Sword, unafraid of the Spell Pierces thanks to his severe mana advantage.

    He had an interesting decision to make on his turn. If he attacked with his Sphinx, and Hu drew a fifth land, Gideon would come down and kill it. But if he didn't attack, Hu would get two draws, one for his turn and one for Jace, to try to find it. Ultimately, he chose to cast Black Sun's Zenith for one to kill the Hawks, attack Jace, and Despise a copy of Gideon from Hu's hand.

    While sitting at 7 life, Hu managed to find a Day of Judgment to kill the Sphinx. Aintrazi replaced it, but Hu found a fifth land, playing Gideon Jura and forcing Aintrazi to attack him. Aintrazi did so, animating his Creeping Tar Pit, as well, to knock Gideon to one loyalty. On the following attack, Hu was dead. Aintrazi had drawn well over a dozen cards off his Sphinx, and that crushing advantage combined with a severe shortage of lands thanks to his mulligans was enough to do Hu in.

    Ali Aintrazi 1 – Haibing Hu 1

    Game Three

    Aintrazi's attempt at a first-turn Inquisition was stopped by a Spell Pierce, and the one that followed two turns later was countered with Mana Leak. When Hu tried to make a Sword of Feast and Famine afterwards, Aintrazi stopped that with a Mana Leak of his own. To this point in the game, the story was more what hadn't happened than what had.

    The first thing to happen was a Gideon Jura from Hu on turn five. Aintrazi kicked an Into the Roil at it and filled the space with a Consecrated Sphinx. Hu returned the favor of the previous turn, kicking an Into the Roil on the Sphinx during his upkeep. Aintrazi replayed it on his turn, and Hu once again cast Into the Roil. Before Aintrazi cast it for the third time, he cast Inquisition of Kozilek, stealing an Oblivion Ring from a hand with Sword of Feast and Famine, Gideon Jura, Day of Judgment, and Tectonic Edge. The Sphinx hit the table for the third time, and this time it actually got to draw Aintrazi a pair of cards. Hu used his Day of Judgment to clear it away, but Aintrazi was holding a second copy to replace it. Hu made a Gideon Jura, using it to force Aintrazi to attack. He had a Tectonic Edge in reserve, just in case Aintrazi tried the same maneuver as the last game and animated his Tar Pit.

    Aintrazi got a glimpse of the lone Tectonic Edge in Hu's hand with Despise before dropping the bomb and stealing Gideon with a Volition Reins. At this point, Aintrazi had a severe advantage, especially considering the four cards in his hand. Hu had gotten a Sword of Feast and Famine into play alongside his Gideon, but he now had no creatures to hand it to. He drew his card and passed the turn. Aintrazi locked things up with a Liliana Vess, hitting the last card in Hu's hand, before swinging his team at Hu. One more turn and it was over.

    Ali Aintrazi 2 – Haibing Hu 1

    Ali Aintrazi

    Game Four

    Aintrazi managed to resolve a first-turn Despise, revealing two copies of Day of Judgment, Preordain, Glacial Fortress, Oblivion Ring, and Jace Beleren, which he was forced to take. As though he wouldn't anyway. That made things clear for him to play a Jace of his own on the third turn, though he only got a single card out of it before Hu trapped him under Oblivion Ring. Hu then took the Planeswalker advantage with Gideon Jura, which caused Aintrazi to kick it back to Hu's hand with an Into the Roil. Rather than try for it once more, while Aintrazi had four mana open, Hu opted to pass the turn. Aintrazi took advantage of this window to cast his threat: the Consecrated Sphinx that had won him his last two games. Hu had an Into the Roil to kick at it during the end of turn, putting himself on the right side of the tempo this time around. He even used a Tectonic Edge to put Aintrazi back down to five lands, but Aintrazi had the sixth and was able to recast the Sphinx. He drew two cards off it before Day wiped it clear.

    Aintrazi went after Hu's hand with an Inquisition of Kozilek, but just ended up looking at Emeria Angel, Gideon Jura, Day of Judgment, and a Seachrome Coast. Hu hadn't played the Coast on his last turn, and was dropped to three lands when Aintrazi used two Tectonic Edges to kill his lands. He also added a Grave Titan to the board, but Hu got to untap his new Coast and cast Day of Judgment to wipe it all away. An Emeria Angel and a land came down for Hu, giving him a little birdie, but Aintrazi had the Doom Blade for the Angel. He had another copy when Hu tried to make a Consecrated Sphinx. At this point, the attacking began. Hu sent for one with his bird, while Aintrazi sent a pair of Creeping Tar Pits after Hu. At two life, and facing lethal damage on the following turn, Hu made a Gideon Jura. Aintrazi sent his two lands, dropping him to two loyalty. Hu finally found a Squadron Hawk, playing all four of his Hawks in one turn before Aintrazi killed Gideon. Hu had a single turn left. He drew his card, surveyed the board, and shook Aintrazi's hand, sending him off to the finals and ensuring him a spot on the U.S. National team!

    Ali Aintrazi 3 – Haibing Hu 1


  • U.S. Nationals Semifinals – David Ochoa vs. Brandon Nelson

    by Steve Sadin
  • This time last year, David Ochoa was playing in the Top 4 of U.S. Nationals. Unfortunately for Ochoa, he lost his Semifinals match, and his 3/4 playoff match to end the tournament in fourth place. While this was still an excellent finish, Ochoa was understandably disappointed that he wasn't able to represent the United States as a part of the National Team at Worlds.

    Today, David Ochoa again finds himself in the Top 4 of U.S. Nationals, and again needs to win (at least) one of his next two matches to earn a slot on the U.S. National Team. Will Ochoa find redemption this year, or will he again be forced to watch the team competition at Worlds from the sideline as the U.S. Team's "alternate".

    Brandon Nelson is a veteran of the Midwest grinder scene, who has the ability to qualify for events seemingly at will, but has (up until this point), been unable to get the finishes necessary to keep himself from going back the PTQ circuit to earn his invitations.

    Nelson qualified for the first two Pro Tours of the season via PTQs and came into this weekend with 8 Pro Points on the year. Consequently, Nelson has a lot more at stake here than "just" a spot on the U.S. National Team, as a win here would put Nelson on (at least) 16 Pro Points for the season – bumping himself up to Level 3 in the Pro Player's Club, earning himself an invitation to Pro Tour Philadelphia, and will need to pick up only the bare minimum two points from attending Philadelphia and Worlds to insure himself Level 4 status, and the automatic qualification for every Pro Tour that comes with it, for the remainder of this year, and next year.

    Game One

    Ochoa mulliganed to six on the play, but was able to refill his hand when he resolved a turn two Squadron Hawk fetching up three more copies of the format defining two drop. Ochoa then stuck a second Squadron Hawk on turn two, but he had no third land to go with it.

    Nelson cast a Jace Beleren on his third turn which he ticked up to 5 counters – this both insured that his planeswalker would live through Ochoa's attack, and let the mana-light Ochoa draw into a third land.

    Rather than cast a third Squadron Hawk, Ochoa (no doubt respecting the possibility of Day of Judgment) activated his Inkmoth Nexus and attacked Jace Beleren down to two counters.

    Nelson's Squadron Hawk got bounced by a kicked Into the Roil, allowing Ochoa to kill his opponent's Jace Beleren with his attack.

    The players then went back and forth playing lands, and hawks, for a number of turns – but the formerly mana-starved Ochoa drew several more lands than his opponent giving himself a huge advantage going into the late game.

    Ochoa waited until he had seven lands in play before casting his first non-Squadron Hawk, non-Into the Roil Spell of the game, a Emeria Angel. Nelson used two Mana Leaks to counter the flier, untapped, and passed the turn back to Ochoa.

    Ochoa, safe in the knowledge that Nelson had already used two of his three maindeck Mana Leaks (the players were given a chance to review each other's decklists before the match) cast a Consecrated Sphinx which got bounced by an Into the Roil.

    Ochoa recast his Consecrated Sphinx, but this time Nelson was ready with a Day of Judgment.

    Emeria Angel followed by Arid Mesa gave Ochoa five power worth of fliers, and left him with a bunch of untapped mana to discourage Nelson from trying anything too impressive. Nelson simply resolved a Timely Reinforcements and passed the turn.

    A Scalding Tarn gave Ochoa two more fliers, and when he tried for a Gideon Jura, Nelson attempted to counter it with a Spell Pierce. Ochoa, who had five additional mana available, thought for a while before ultimately allowing his planeswalker to get countered – feeling content to continue riding his fliers to victory.

    An Into the Roil bounced Ochoa's Emeria Angel, and after combat Ochoa again attempted to resolve a Gideon Jura. Nelson once again attempted to counter it with a Spell Pierce, but this time Ochoa had no problem paying the two mana to make sure his planeswalker would resolve as it set up a lethal attack a turn later.

    David Ochoa 1 – Brandon Nelson 0

    Game Two

    Ochoa started game two with a mulligan, but made the first play of the game when he cast a Squadron Hawk on his third turn. Nelson tried to up the ante with a Timely Reinforcements, but it got countered by Ochoa's Spell Pierce.

    Ochoa missed his fourth land drop, but kept the pressure on by adding a Sword of Feast and Famine to his side of the board. Nelson laid a fifth land and calmly passed the turn. When Ochoa equipped Sword of Feast and Famine to his Squadron Hawk, Nelson was ready with an Into the Roil bouncing the artifact.

    A fourth land allowed Ochoa to cast a second Squadron Hawk post-combat, and Nelson again passed his turn with no play despite having enough lands to cast every spell in his deck.

    When Ochoa added his third Squadron Hawk to the board, Nelson decided that he had had enough, and wiped the board with a Day of Judgment.

    Ochoa's Emeria Angel got countered by Mana Leak, and with only a single white mana available, Ochoa could do nothing to stop Nelson's Gideon Jura from hitting play.

    Ochoa spent his turn re-deploying his Sword of Feast and Famine, and summoning his final Squadron Hawk. Nelson used a Dismember to take out the hawk before casting a Sword of Feast and Famine of his own which he equipped to his animated Gideon Jura.

    While Ochoa was able to briefly get his opponent's Gideon Jura off the board, he was never able to come up with a permanent answer for the planeswalker, and wound up dying to a combination of Gideon Jura, and Celestial Colonnade a few turns later.

    David Ochoa 1 – Brandon Nelson 1

    David Ochoa

    Game Three

    Ochoa got things started with a Squadron Hawk followed by a Sword of Feast and Famine, while Nelson cast a couple of Hawks of his own.

    On his fourth turn Ochoa moved to equip his sword, and Mana Leaked Nelson's Dismember – forcing Nelson to chump block with one of his Squadron Hawks.

    Nelson's Oblivion Ring took out the sword, but it also left him tapped out – giving Ochoa an opportunity to resolve something big. Ochoa missed his fifth land drop, so instead of slapping a Gideon Jura onto the board, he had to spend his turn casting a Preordain (which he found a land off of) and two more Squadron Hawks.

    Ochoa cast a Jace Beleren, and used a Mana Leak to counter Nelson's Mana Leak.

    With Ochoa tapped out, Nelson cast and equipped a Sword of Feast and Famine to force a block. Ochoa's Consecrated Sphinx got countered by Deprive, but the Emeria Angel that Ochoa cast on his next turn resolved – giving himself a steady stream of blockers for his opponent's sword wielding Squadron Hawk.

    Nelson drew a Jace Beleren to stop Ochoa from drawing any more additional cards, but Ochoa's replacement planeswalker, a Gideon Jura, was able to hit the board.

    Nelson's first attempt at Into the Roil got countered, but his second attempt to bounce Gideon Jura resolved. After bouncing the planeswalker, Nelson attacked in with his equipped bird. Ochoa activated a Celestial Colonnade, which got killed by a Dismember, forcing Ochoa to continue chump blocking with his Emeria Angel tokens.

    Nelson's Sun Titan brought back a Squadron Hawk, but Ochoa wiped the board clean of creatures with a Day of Judgment, and attacked in with his Gideon Jura. On a mere 2 life, Nelson had to chump block the 6/6 Gideon with an Inkmoth Nexus.

    A post-combat Tectonic Edge gave Ochoa a lot of protection, as it prevented Nelson from being able to kill Gideon Jura with an attack from Celestial Colonnade.

    While Nelson was able to stay alive for a few turns, by chump blocking with his Inkmoth Nexuses, and Celestial Colonnades, he didn't draw anything that could deal with his opponent's GIdeon Jura, and consequently found himself with his back against the wall going into game four.

    David Ochoa 2 – Brandon Nelson 1

    Game Four

    Nelson and Ochoa spent the first six turns of the game casting and trading Squadron Hawks, until there were none left in either player's deck.

    Nelson's was a bit light on colored mana, as his first five lands were an Island, a Seachrome Coast, a couple of Inkmoth Nexuses, and a Tectonic Edge (which he used to destroy Ochoa's Celestial Colonnade). Nelson's Jace Beleren got Spell Pierced, and with only a Inkmoth Nexus untapped, Ochoa was able to resolve a Gideon Jura without any fear of counterspells.

    Nelson (who was holding a Gideon Jura, that he was clearly itching to cast as it would legend rule away Ochoa's Gideon Jura and get the two players back to more even footing) didn't find a fifth land on his turn, and instead had to use two Dismembers to attempt to kill Ochoa's Gideon. Ochoa was ready with a Mana Leak, and – even though Ochoa had the mana to pay for it – Nelson immediately used a Spell Pierce to get his opponent to tap low (giving himself a better chance of resolving his Gideon Jura if he drew another white source on his next turn).

    Ochoa's played a post-combat Tectonic Edge, and immediately used it to take out Nelson's Seachrome Coast, leaving Nelson with only an Island and two Inkmoth Nexuses for mana.

    A few attacks, and an Emeria Angel later, and Ochoa was on to the Finals!

    Final Result: David Ochoa 3 – Brandon Nelson 1


  • U.S. Nationals: Third Place Playoff – Haibing Hu (CawBlade) vs. Brandon Nelson (CawBlade)

    by Marc Calderaro
  • So this match-up is a big deal. I mean, sure there's a difference between the winner of Nationals and the Runner-Up – every time there's a card disagreement when planning for Worlds, the winner can just say, "I forgot, which one of us is the National Champion again? Oh, it's not you? I thought not." But between the third member on the team and the alternate is a different story. And that's not even mentioning that Worlds is on America's turf this year, so there's even more riding on the line.

    Brandon Nelson knows about line-riding, coming so close to the train multiple times. This weekend marks the second time he had to make the Finals to get enough points for the next Pro level, and this is the second time he's finished Top 4. The saving grace is that he's completely psyched to represent Team USA. The Minnesota native has rocked this convention hall all weekend and he just needs to rock it a little more.

    Here to crush his pitiful optimistic Rocky-like dreams is Texas' Haibing Hu. A long-time circuit player, Hu made his big-stage debut all the way back in Pro Tour—Nice in 2002. He has a fantastic story from that trip about German customs officers and emergency passports shipped from America. Ask him sometime. Luckily, since Worlds in on the home front, there should be less customs troubles this time around. Hu, in his Top 8 profile declared on a scale of 1 to 10, representing America was "maybe a 7." A 7?! For that, Hu, I'm openly rooting for Nelson. Whatcha going to do about it, America-hater? Haibing Hu? More like Haibing Boo!

    The two shuffled up for the first game.

    Game One

    Hu won the die roll, and added to his card disadvantage by going down to six. He thought hard about his one-land hand before electing to keep. Brandon Nelson's less-suspect grip was Preordain, Mana Leak, Timely Reinforcements, Consecrated Sphinx, and three land. He kept in short order.

    Like a totally boss, Hu ripped an Island off the top to play a Squadron Hawk and act like it was never an issue. While, Nelson, for whom it actually never was an issue, passed the turn right back. Hu, failing to continue his boss-like land-drawing activities, spent the next few turns attacking for one, then discarding – first a Timely Reinforcements, then a Squadron Hawk. Speaking of the Reinforcements, Nelson made the totals 20-24 when he cast his own, backed by a Spell Pierce to answer Hu's.

    Nelson sat on a Sphinx and three Mana Leak, while Hu had three of his own, though with an Oblivion Ring, Day of Judgment and another Hawk instead of the Sphinx. Hu hit his fourth land and threw Hawks at Hawks. It was 16-23, and it looked like Hu had drawn out of his land troubles, though he still didn't have the excess to pay for Mana Leaks the way Nelson had.

    One Mana Leak down for Nelson on a Timely Reinforcements, but he declined on Hu's Day of Judgment to clear the board. Beware, Nelson! As Camus might say, "Don't wait for the Last Judgment; it happens every day." However, Nelson calmly followed up with a Gideon Jura and paid for Hu's insuing Mana Leak, so perhaps the Minnesota Magic player knows better than some old, dead French existentialist. Though the Planeswalker was promptly Ringed into Oblivion, Nelson paid nine mana for his Sphinx + Mana Leak the next turn and began drawing many, many cards.

    Haibing Hu used his last Leak, his last card, to make Brandon Nelson pay extra to cast and equip his Sword of Feast and Famine. But for this game, those three Mana Leaks needed to be more effective than "Pay 3 more for your spells." Hu drew for his turn, saw Brandon was holding back six cards, and scooped up his own.

    Brandon Nelson 1 – 0 Haibing Hu

    I bet if we made Brandon score his excitement about Nationals on a 1-to-10 scale, he would say something like, "807," and stuff. You hear that Hu?! 807!

    Game Two

    Nelson's keeper was Revoke Existence, Squadron Hawk, Spell Pierce, Day of Judgment, Timely Reinforcements and land. Whereas Hu's was Jace Beleren, Gideon Jura, Mana Leak and double Hawk. They jockeyed for position – Nelson casting Hawk after Hawk, Hu drawing off Jace the Smaller and using some 1/1 fliers of his own – until the scores were 15-20 in Nelson's favor.

    It was now Nelson who was land-light, and making him pay two more for his Timely Reinforcements with a Spell Pierce allowed Hu to comfortably cast his Gideon Jura, make the Hawk and three 1/1s attack his new Planeswalker, and still leave two mana open. Nelson resolved a Sword of Feast and Famine but declined to equip it, leaving two mana up for Hu's turn. Hu finally gave Nelson a Revoke target in a Sword of his own. The two Pierced each other, then Hu equipped the sword to his only creature – the last Squadron Hawk not sitting in a graveyard. He made the totals 13-11 with a nine-point attack (Gideon hopped into the fray), cycled an Into the Roil on the opposing Sword, used Tectonic Edge on Nelson's, and passed the turn.

    Nelson's soldiers took two loyalty counters off Gideon and the Revoke took down the Sword. The Minnesotan tried to Mana Leak Hu's Emeria Angel, but the last card in the Texan's hand was a Leak of his own. Nelson chuckled and the scores soon became 13-6.

    Nelson still had the Day of Judgment and finally used it with Hu in top-deck mode. Nelson's two-card grip had that Sword and an Into the Roil. His off-the-top Gideon Jura was answered by Hu's off-the-top Consecrated Sphinx. The big flyer drew two for Hu before going back to his hand with the Roil. Hu took 8 and it was 7-6.

    Nelson continued his board presence with Sun Titan returning Jace Beleren and drawing a card; Hu's Sphinx was appearing less and less awesome. Gideon, Titan and a Celestial Colonnade attacked, and Hu was forced to concede.

    Brandon Nelson 2 – 0 Haibing Hu

    Ok, Hu's still evil or whatever, but I think my allegiance is changing. I like rooting for the underdog. So I've ditched my whole "America-yeah" thing, because isn't rooting for the guy who's down 0-2 even more American, especially when that guy's from Texas? If you think about, I'm sure you'll see I'm right. Go, Haibing! Texans unite!

    Game Three

    They both kept and would you believe Preordains and Hawks dominated the early game? Hu's three ruled the skies, because though Nelson Preordained twice, he was stuck without Land #4. He cast a defensive Hawk and passed with seven awesome cards in his hand, discarding yet another awesome card – Consecrated Sphinx.

    The two continued like this until the graveyard was full with just about every Hawk. Hu, keeping up the land-pressure, Tectonic Edged his opponent as soon as he hit four mana and attacked until the scores were 13-20. After combat he cast an Emeria Angel, and when it was Mana Leaked with Nelson's last two mana, he thought for a bit about how to respond. He cracked his two fetches and used his own Almost-a-Counterspell with Mana Leak.

    Nelson wasn't concerned. He tapped out for Gideon, forcing the Angel and Hawk to attack it, then on the following turn, made his Planewalker go down to two counters and assassinated the 3/3 token-maker. Hu made the scores 13 up when he tried to Dismember a fresh Hawk, and though it was Deprived, he had the Deprive of his own to make -5/-5 a reality. His Hawk and bird token took the last two counters off Gideon. Nelson cast his Sword then sunk to 11.

    With a Mana Leak, Revoke and Oblivion still left in his grip, he animated the Celestial Colonnade, only to have it Dismembered. It was 9-9, and Hu attacked for two a turn with his flying 1/1s. Into the Roil and Timely Reinforcements were waiting in the wings. 7-9, 5-9, O-Ring removes Nelson's Jura and Mana Leak saves it from Into the Roil, 3-9, 1-9….

    Brandon Nelson drew off the top. It was the last turn he had to find an answer.

    He didn't find it.

    Brandon Nelson 2 – 1 Haibing Hu

    See? Rootin' for the underdog. Oh yeah.

    Game Four

    Tectonic Edge, Emeria Angel, Mana Leak and land was good enough for Hu, but Nelson had higher aspirations, so he went down to six. He was happy to Preordain into two lands immediately after keeping a hand with only one, and the first four turns passed without significance.

    Hu's first play was a Squadron Hawk, which was Mana Leaked, which was Mana Leaked, which was Spell Pierced. The white creature went to the bin. His next play of Emeria Angel at least made a token before having her limbs torn off by a Dismember.

    Hu eventually got his Hawk wish, and Spell Pierced the kicked Into the Roil that tried to make his token disappear. Nelson trailed 13-19, but had Timely Reinforcements after Hu's Jace that evened the battlefield and the score. Hu then traded two Hawks and a bird token for three soldier tokens. Soon it was a Hawk and a Jace versus Nelson's shiny new Gideon with eight counters.

    Brandon had five land so he would have to tap out to Swords up his Gideon Jura. The remainder of his hand was a Day of Judgment, a Dismember and an Oblivion Ring. He kept all five land open and attacked Jace with his 'walker. Hu Dismembered the attacker down to a 1/1 so it only brought the blue dude to two counters.

    Hu had nine land, including two Celestial Colonnades, one of which attacked into the 7-loyalty Gideon. Nelson returned the Dismembering favor, but he was able to actually kill his target. It was 14-11 and Gideon took up the Sword and attacked Hu's face. The last Hawk gladly jumped to the rescue, as Hu's last three cards in hand were just more land. Thankfully, he drew a Gideon off the top to clear the other one, and his Jace was looking stronger than a creature-less Sword.

    The extra cards drew him into a Consecrated Sphinx and then those extra cards drew him into the Mana Leak to protect it from Day of Judgment, as Nelson still had only six land and was unable to pay the extra cost. Two Swords came down and Haibing Hu makes his opponent go to a last game. This game had been all about land draws. Well, land draws and some timely non-land ones.

    Brandon Nelson 2 – 2 Haibing Hu

    Ok, so now Hu is no longer the underdog, so my allegiance has switched yet again. This time, it's for America. Who ever wins this game, it's a win for America! USA! USA! USA!

    Game Five

    They both kept their openers to make for an honest rubber game. Hu's opening Colonnade left a nook for Squadron Hawk to fill for Nelson's second turn. And hey, what do you know, the next turns consist of land-drops, trading Squadron Hawks, and making better draws with Preordain.

    Counter battles and Hawks attacks made the score 16-15, with Nelson ahead in life but behind on board. He tried to at least get a hold of the battlefield with a Timely Reinforcements, but a kicked Into the Roil by Hu on his own Hawk, backed up by a Mana Leak on a Mana Leak denied any creature change.

    Hu got no extra cards from his new Consecrated Sphinx with an upkeep-step Into the Roil. Nelson tried to Deprive the biggie on the way back down, but Hu had the Spell Pierce. Nelson had drawn into another Into the Roil, so he was able to delay the 4/5 while cycling through his deck, but he was getting frustrated. When his Mana Leak tried to take out the Sphinx on its third time down, Hu's defensive leak made Brandon all-out mad. Did Hu draw every single counterspell?!

    "Attack." Nelson sent in the 1/1 Flyer into the 4/5.

    Hu chuckled. "No blocks." It was 13-13 when Nelson's Day of Judgment cleared the board.

    Nelson had two cards to Hu's six, and he was watching his 2-0 lead, and a spot on the Nationals team slipping away. His Hawk looked sickly compared to Hu's hawk with a big ol' Sword attached. It had been a long weekend, a long match, and a long game. The graveyards were almost as tall as the libraries, and there were still both above 10 life and the largest creature on the board was a base 1/1.

    A Gideon Jura resolved for Nelson, but was exiled with the Ring. Nelson drew, hung his head, and tapped down to one mana, attempting to resolve a Consecrated Sphinx.

    He held his breath.

    It resolved. He picked himself up and drew two cards on his opponent's draw step. Hu activated one of his three Celestial Colonnades, tried to equip the Sword to it, and still had mana left over to Spell Pierce Nelson's Dismember. Nelson sunk to 2, discarded his last card, and drew off the top, hanging his head again.

    It was an Island. He laid it, representing enough to activate one of his two Colonnades, and passed back to Hu. Hu again activated the land, but equipped the Sword to the Hawk and swung with both. This is when a judge decision came that affected the entire match.

    It was ruled that Hu had waited too long after Nelson placed his animated his Colonnade and Nexus in front of his attackers, to have any responses before blocks. The judge asked Hu to make it clear in the future when he was or was not prepared to enter the next step in combat. This meant that both his creatures were blocked when he Dismembered the Colonnade to save his Hawk. Neither player was sure of it, but this play changed the outcome of the match. Nelson drew cards, still at two life, and on Hu's next attack, animated his second Colonnade.

    "Let me think about that," Hu clearly stated, and then he said, "Go ahead."

    After blocking the Hawk, he tapped the manland to use his last Tectonic Edge to take out the attacking 4/4. Hu went to 5, using a Dismember to return the Colonnade-killing favor.

    2-5. Nelson had drawn so many extra cards from the Sphinx it was ridiculous, and facing down two Colonnades and the suited Hawk, and way too close for comfort, drew a Jace into an Inkmoth Nexus. Hu passed without attacking; his two Colonnades were susceptible to the two Tectonic Edges of Nelson. Nelson now had so many cards he was back to discarding. Before doing so he played a Swords and Hu's two Colonnades bit the dust. It was a Hawk with a Sword against a Sphinx with a Sword (and a Jace).

    This game was getting ridiculous. Nelson had somehow, some way, clawed back into it and after drawing land after land with his extra Sphinx cards, he finally started drawing gobs of goodies. We'd entered the stage where both players constantly counted libraries and graveyards. Nelson had eleven cards left to draw. This would be the last turn of the match.

    On Nelson's attack step, Hu cast Divine Offering on the Swords, then took the damage. It was now 2-4. Nelson lost his possible blocker for the last Hawk when Hu sacrificed Tectonic Edge to kill Inkmoth Nexus. Nelson had an Into the Roil, Spell Pierce, and Mana Leak all sitting in his hand. He used the Nexus mana on an Into the Roil for the attacker. And when Hu Mana Leaked, Nelson counted his opponent's graveyard and considered his options for the last three mana – whether to tap out and save the other counters, or to use one and keep some land untapped.

    He thought, re-counted graveyards, saw there were no more Spell Pierces nor Mana Leaks left in Hu's deck. Every single one of them had been spent. He counted again to be sure. Yup, three Pierces, four Mana Leaks. Hu was all out of counters!

    Nelson confidently tapped out to pay for the Mana Leak.

    He immediately regretted it.

    Faster than a Sudden Shock, Hu tapped two mana and slammed the one card Nelson forgot. The only card that could make his play the wrong one. Hu lifted his hand from the table, revealing to all the onlookers just what he was so excited about. A huge gasp fell across the room. It was Deprive. The one-of Deprive.

    Nelson was in shock. After this whole weekend, how could it come down to forgetting about one measly sideboard card in a match-up he had started at 2-0? When he composed himself, he extended his hand and one of the most tense CawBlade mirrors ever played, finished in style.

    Haibing Hu 3 – 2 Brandon Nelson

    And we have a Texan on the U.S. Nationals team. Congratulations to both players! An outstanding match to cap off an outstanding weekend.


  • U.S. National Championship Finals – Ali Aintrazi vs. David Ochoa

    by Brian David-Marshall
  • "You can only lose to CawBlade if they have Squadron Hawk on turn two, on the play," said one of Ali Aintrazi's pals as he waited around for the grueling mirror match between Ochoa and Nelson to play out. Ali nodded in agreement. He could not remember how many times he had played CawBlade on the weekend but he knew that the one game he dropped in the semifinals to it was the only game less he had taken against the archetype throughout the event.

    For David Ochoa this had to fall under the category of just happy to be here -- not to say he would not like to win. He reached as far as the semifinals of last year's Nationals and then lost again in the playoff for the last slot on the team. This year he was the last member of the ChannelFireball squad in the Top 8 -- a lineup that included Luis Scott-Vargas and Owen Turtenwald.

    Game One

    An Inquisition of Kozilek from Aintrazi reveleaded a hand with Dismember, Mana Leak, Squadron Hawk, Timely Reinforcements, and two lands -- Ali took the Hawk.

    Ochoa found a Squadron Hawk waiting on top of his deck and Ali slumped a little bit in his chair as his opponent announced: "I'll get the other two."

    Aintrazi played Jace Beleren and drew a card. Ochoa attacked the Planeswalker down to one loyalty and played another Hawk. He had no fourth land to play the last one in his hand. Ali expended his Jace and played a fresh one. He made both players draw and pushed it to 5 loyalty with 2 Hawks out there.

    Ochoa attacked Jace down to 3, played another Hawk and laid a Colonnade. Aintrazi played another planes walker -- Liliana Vess -- and plus-oned her to make Ochoa discard a Timely Reinforcements. Then he had them both draw a card. Ochoa attacked Liliana and played a Jace to nuke the Jace. Ali knew there was still a Mana Leak in his opponent's hand and played his sixth land and upped Liliana. Ochoa discarded Dismember. Then he offered up Solemn Simulacrum...

    ..."You are on how many cards?" asked Ochoa.

    "I am on six."

    Ochoa sighed and played Mana Leak. Ali used his Tectonic Edge on the Colonnade to keep him off of killing the Planeswalker in one turn. Ochoa attacked Liliana down to 1, played Emeria Angel and made a bird.

    Liliana forced Ochoa to discard Mana Leak. He held onto one card. Ali played Sphinx and during Ochoa's upkeep the ChannelFireball player bounced the Sphinx and drew safely. He attacked Liliana to death and used Tectonic Edge on Aintrazi's sixth land. Ali had another and replayed the Sphinx.

    Ochoa attacked with five 1/1 fliers and the Sphinx ate one of them -- Ali went to 11. On Ochoa's next upkeep he killed the Emeria Angel with Dismember and took four in the air from the birds. Ali got perilously low from the birds swarming him each turn but he was racking up insane card advantage while the Sphinx lived turn after turn.

    Things looked grim when Ochoa stuck a Gideon Jura but a timely Karn Liberated nuked the opposing planeswalker. Ali was at three life but was pulling away quickly. Ochoa kept on fighting but there was little he could do at a three card to one disadvantage every turn.

    Ali Aintrazi - 1 David Ochoa - 0

    Game Two

    Ali went to five cards to start the game while Ochoa came out with a Hawk for two Hawks on turn two. Aintrazi's Kozilek's Inquisition saw the Hawks, Azure Mage, Gideon, Sword of Feast and Famine, and two lands -- one which was a Nexus. He took the Sword. Ochoa swung in with his Hawk and played the Azure Mage. Doom Blade took out the two-drop while Ochoa continued to peck away with his Hawk. He played two more and said "go" but asked judge if it was too late to search. The judge said it was too late.

    A Despise from Ali revealed that the fourth Hawk was already in Ochoa's hand and Ali chided him -- "Sneaky" -- as he took Gideon. Ochoa played the fourth Hawk and over the next couple of turns the full air force managed to finish Ali off.

    Ali Aintrazi - 1 David Ochoa - 1

    Game Three

    Ali played Inquisition and saw Spell Pierce, Preordain, Into the Roil, Squadron Hawk, Emeria Angel, and two land -- as usual he took the Hawk. Preordain was crossed off Ali's little cheat sheet when Ochoa played the spell. Ali played his own Preordain to dig for cards -- there were 32 in the Top 8 so you will hear that quite a bit. To underscore the point, Ali played a second Preordain, laid a Swamp, and said go.

    Ochoa played a fourth land and cast Sword of Feast and Famine -- with Spell Pierce in hand it was going to stick. The two players went draw-go for a couple of turns until Ali played Solemn Simulacrum. It resolved but it was returned to hand with a kicked Into the Roil.

    Ochoa played a sixth land and went to cast something and then thought better of it -- it seemed like he was considering Consecrated Sphinx but wanted to leave Spell Pierce Mana up and finally played Gideon Jura. Ali dug with Preordain and passed the turn. He was holding a pair of Doom Blade and deployed them to kill a freshly cast Emeria Angel when Ochoa went to equip it with his Sword. The other went to take out the animated Gideon.

    Ali untapped to play Consecrated Sphinx. Ochoa played a Sphinx of his own and defended it from Mana Leak with his long held Spell Pierce. Ochoa did not want to get into a card drawing battle with Aintrazi and chose not to use his Sphinx -- while Ali drew the extras whenever he could.

    Ochoa did get the Sword equipped to it and managed to get a hit in. He had a second Sword and equipped that as well. Ali played Inquisition of Kozilek and drew out Mental Misstep -- the last card in Ochoa's hand. He played Karn Liberated and exiled the Sphinx. It left Ochoa in a bad spot. He did not want to use his Jace, he could not animate and equip his Colonnade because he was a mana short, and he did not really went to leave cards laying around in his hand to get exiled by Karn.

    Again the game dragged on for several more turns but once Ali's deck had that kind of advantage it was hard for the Caw deck to finish it off.

    Ali Aintrazi - 2 David Ochoa - 1

    Game Four

    After each player mulliganed Ochoa kicked things off with Azure Mage. An Inquisition from Ali took Sword and Despise took Gideon but then Ochoa drew Hawk the next turn.

    Jace came down on turn three for Ali and each player drew a card. Ochoa attacked it and played land number four. Ali stuck with the booth players draw plan and played another Despise to take another Gideon. When Ochoa drew a card with the Mage, Ali Doom Bladed the 2/1.

    Ochoa played both Hawks and a Colonnade while Ali sent his Jace up to 5 loyalty. Ochoa dialed it back down to 2 and Ali bought some time by kicking an Into the Roil on a Hawk at the end of turn. He landed Grave Titan and they both drew a card with Jace. Ochoa played a kicked Roil on the Grave Titan at end of turn.

    Ochoa played Sword of Feast and Famine and equipped a Hawk, played another Hawk, and attacked Ali who discarded a superfluous Jace. Ochoa untapped his lands and moved the Sword to his fresh Hawk before playing his last copy. Inquisition from Ali revealed Dismember and thee lands. He played land 7 and passed the turn after Preordain.

    Ochoa animated Colonnade and attacked with everything. Ali used Doom Blade on the land and took 6, discarding Grave Titan. Another Inquisition said the coast was clear for Black Sun's Zenith for three.

    Ali played Consecrated Sphinx and made a sound like Charlie Brown having the football yanked away at the last minute when Ochoa played a freshly drawn Mana Leak. He played Karn the next turn and proceeded to take over the game with the planeswalker. Other cards Ali played over the remainder of the game included another Sphinx, Volition Reins for the Sword, and Liliana Vess. The game was not close once Karn hit the table.

    Congratulations to the new U.S. National Champion Ali Aintrazi and his two teammates David Ochoa and Haibing Hu!


  • U.S. Nationals – Top Five Cards of the Weekend

    by Brian David-Marshall
  • You could have played Magic from the moment you got to Gen Con until the last minutes as they were breaking down the greatest four days in gaming. There were Block Championships, Vintage Championships, Legacy Championships, Grand Melee booster drafts, 8-man booster drafts -- and of course, the U.S. National Championship. There were a handful of cards that stood out from the rest of the hundreds and hundreds of different cards that saw play.

    Slash Panther

    This is a card that is a decent in draft and has seen virtually zero play in Block, Standard, Legacy, and Extended tournaments and yet it is fast becoming a Vintage staple. You can power it out on turn one with a Mishra's Workshop and a Mox. Add in a Phyrexian Metamorph and you have a turn three kill against an unwary opponent. It is also shockingly good at killing Jace, the Mind Sculptor out of nowhere. In the Vintage Championships Ryan Glacklin took the deck as far as fourth place.

    Scavenging Ooze

    Reed Hartman took a single copy of this Commander card -- a never-legal-in-Standard addition to the four Tarmogoyfs he already played. According to the Legacy Championships finalist the card may have actually been better than the first four Tarmogoyfs when all was said and done.

    Goblin Fireslinger

    What would you take out of your Magic 2012 booster pack if you were drafting for the National championship; Flameblast Dragon or Goblin Fireslinger? According to Christian Valenti -- who like you at home thought "dragon" -- he should have taken the Fireslinger. The card broke out this weekend as one of the staples of the aggressive goblin draft archetype that carried multiple people through their draft pods without a loss. Valenti managed to pull that pod out despite being "stuck" with a dragon.

    Azure Mage

    Everyone likes card drawing -- you need only look at the Consecrated Sphinx on either side of the finals -- but it was the ChannelFirebal crew that put three players into the Top 8 of Nationals with the CawBlade mirror breaking Azure Mage in their sideboard. The perfect card to straddle control and beat down , you can expect to see CawBlade players everywhere following suit in in the coming weeks.

    Karn Liberated

    US National Champion Ali Aintrazi showed everyone who the new Planeswalker on the block is when he used the "vindicate" ability on Karn to take care of pesky lands, chump blocking Squadron Hawks, and a Consecrated Sphinx. He could have even started a new game in the last game but decided that he would rather just win instead with his army of Planeswalkers that included Karn, Liliana Vess, and Jace Beleren.

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