More than any other National Championship, US Nationals brings out the stars. Each year, the Finkel's and Rubin's and Long's and Benafel's show up ready to smash heads, take names and chew bubble gum, but this year the world's been turned upside down. While the game's brightest stars struggle, a group of relative unknowns have emerged to take their place.
Sitting at the top of the swiss are three little-known players from across the country. The most notable of the three, Bill Stead, staked his claim to fame at Grand Prix New Orleans where he became the man who stopped Michele Bush in the finals. A home town favorite, Bill's day started with him not having a deck five minutes before the first round, accumulating two warnings for having a sloppy play area and not putting his name on his decklist, collecting cards at random from people he didn't know and putting together as close a list to Katsuhiro Mori's from Japanese Nationals to frantically play his way to 6-0. Joining him at the top of the standings are Andrew Ranks, the 24 year old brother of Pro Tour regular Matt Ranks, a New Hampshire resident who's Magic base is Hammer's Comics and Eric Franz, a sixteen year old veteran of the JSS wars from Portland Oregon.
Maybe more important than the top three names are the decks they played. While each deck was different, they could invariably be grouped under one heading: Tog. Thirty-two percent of the field brought Psychotogs, Swamps and Islands to the table today, and if the top of the standings are any indication, they were right to do so. Red-green also had a strong showing, with three of the twenty-one 5-1 or better decks featuring Meteor Storm in the main as a strong metagame call for the Tog-heavy field.
Some of the better-known American players were struggling in the mean time. Jon Finkel and Steve OMS, both needing to make top four to qualify for World Championships, met in the fifth round at 2-1-1, with OMS winning the match quickly. Unfortunately for the long time friends, Steve OMS lost his final round while Jon was winning, leaving them to draft against (or with?) one another at their first table tomorrow. Finkel will be trying to follow the example he set two years ago, when he went 6-0 in the first tournament to use Prophecy. Tomorrow will see the first legal use of Judgment in sanctioned play.
While the Standard environment looked somewhat static coming in, a number of rogue decks made appearances in unlikely hands. Nice semifinalist Brian Davis ran When Sorceries Attack!, a red-black control deck designed by Adrian Sullivan and brian Kowal featuring Recoup, but despite a first round win against Mike Pustilnik, he'd dropped out of the tournament by the end of the day . Meanwhile, Rob Dougherty and Darwin Kastle showed up with Umbrella Corp., a four-color Obliterate-based monstrosity. Kastle managed to go 4-2, but Dougherty, who has been putting up some of the best constructed results in the world of late, could only must one win and one draw in six rounds.
Last and least, at the bottom of the standings with no match points to his name was Steven 'Grinder' Jarvis, who last night qualified through the grinders for an amazing third time. Jarvis, who won a sealed deck grinder, groaned 'I hate constructed' between rounds, with his three-color Wall of Swords-Unnatural Selection deck (Walls CAN attack!) not up to the main tournament task.
Tomorrow is limited day, with America's finest becoming the first to booster draft the Odyssey-Torment-Judgment format that will see use at European Championships and Worlds. Whether the unknowns can maintain their foothold remains one of a thousand questions being asked heading into tomorrow.