Both players entered day 2 of the nationals on a blazing 5-0-1 record, with high hopes of making the top 8. Ollie (or as he insisted I call him from now on in this report, Oliver) has one of the best records of any player in this Nationals. A runner-up in 96, he bounced back the following year and won the title in ’97. More recently, he won again two years ago – despite his mono-blue deck having 4 Rishadan Ports listed in the sideboard as well as main-deck (instead of sideboard Rishadan Airships) which had to be replaced with Islands. Mike is also one of the major players on the UK scene. While his record is not as impressive, he still boasts two Pro-Tour invites, and a day two finish in PT Nice.
Oliver is the first to sit down and, as he typically does, has a good-natured moan about the probable outcome of the match. Ollie’s BW deck, with soldiers as its main tribe, has some highlights including an Oversold Cemetery and some good ways to abuse it, but he describes it as a “pile of poop” in comparison to his opponent’s deck.
Mike has a strong UR build, with a splash of black for Endemic Plague, along with multiple Skills and a plethora of targets for them. He also had an abundance of other removal spells and a strong array of the usual UR creatures. When he comes to the table, he shares Oliver’s opinion on the likely outcome of the match.
With the pleasantries out of the way, both players draw their opening hands and they kick off.
Oliver is playing first, and keeps 3 basic land, Barren Moor, Piety Charm, Lowland Tracker and Dirge of Dread. Mike has a Shock, Crested Craghorn, Crown of Fury, but only 4 Mountains to fuel his spells.
Oliver cycles his Moor (or Barrymore as he refers to it) during Mike’s end step, and draws into a White Knight – but the turn one Swamp means the creature doesn’t hit the table until turn 3. Mike removes it from the table before it starts causing trouble with an end step Shock and mirrors Oliver’s 2-drop on turn 3 when he plays out a Spitfire Handler. A Deftblade Elite and the trump card – Oversold Cemetery – hit Ollie’s side of the table and the turn goes back. Mike draws for his fourth turn and is still lacking an Island. That, and the opposing enchantment, are making this match look like a much harder one that was anticipated. The Handler runs toward Oliver, where the Elite throws himself in the way. The two monsters trade, and the Cemetery starts to fill. A Mistform Seaswift (hooray for morph) comes down and the turn is passed back.
Mike is not the only one experiencing mana difficulties during the game, and instead of being able to drop the Tracker, Oliver cycles the Dirge to dig towards the 5th land. With no more plays, Mike untaps, makes the all-important blue mana source, and swings with a Seaswift that unmorphs to deal three. Oliver now has the fifth land and drops a Noxious Ghoul (which is responded to by Mistforming to a Zombie). Crested Craghorn hits the ground running on the opposite side, provoking the uncommon Zombie into a trade. Ollie now sits with three creatures in the graveyard and the critical fourth monster makes it into play in the form of a Lowland Tracker. Mike is forced to Crown of Fury up his monster to stop it falling at the feet of the Tracker, and swings with it again to put Oliver at ten life. The Tracker then makes his way into the red zone, trading with the Seaswift. Things begin to look very grim for Mike at this point as the Cemetery is active. A morph on Ollie’s side is taken down by a Chain of Plasma, but Mike has pretty much run out of steam. His last effort is a Wall of Deceit, but a Swat from Ollie pretty much ends the match as Cemetery is set to overrun Mike who has no answer, and no threats of his own.
Oliver leads 1-0
Mike decides to remove his black splash for the remainder of the match, bringing in the dregs of his UR picks in the form of a Glintwing Invoker. Oliver adds a Demystify to deal with the Skills but neglects to remove any cards from the deck. Mike’s fiddling with the sideboard provokes Ollie into joking about being time running out for sideboarding.
“Stalling you out for the one nil loss mate!” Mike cheekily replies.
Mike’s opener looks capable of tearing down every creature Ollie might produce in the early game with two Skills and a Shock. Ollie’s grip contains a solid bunch of creatures with White Knight and Aven Redeemer being the highlights.
Mike kicks off with an unmorphed Wall of Deceit and a Shepherd of Rot makes it down on the opposite side. The first Skill is applied to the Wall and despatches the Shepherd immediately. Swat answers the skillful wall, but Mike has another tasty treat in the shape of Callous Oppressor.
“Oppress me eh?” taunts Oliver as he names “Soldiers”.
A familiar pattern is followed when he cycles a Dirge to try and get to the land to make his Tracker, losing him valuable tempo (this time a white source is lacking). Mike applies pressure with a morph and the Spitfire Handler. A Smokespew Invoker shows up during Ollie’s draw, but it doesn’t produce white mana and would only seek to hasten Mike’s beats when targeted with the Oppressor. When the Plains does show along with the Tracker, Shock sends it to the graveyard and the beats continue. Oliver reaches six mana and so he makes the Smokespew Invoker, leaving mana open. When Mike tries to Oppress it, Akroma’s Blessing is cast. Mike then plays a face-up Echo Tracer and Skills it up, before attempting to ping the Invoker with it. Unfortunately summoning sickness and protection from blue prove to be too much of a hurdle for the Tracer to overcome and the Invoker remains in play.
Despite Mike’s efforts to throw away this game, his draw proves too strong, and a couple of turns later Oliver decides to die.
Each player starts off a lot more rapidly than the first game. Imagecrafter, Glory Seeker, and Spitfire Handler enter play on alternating sides of the board. The Seeker swings in and is reinforced by a Smokespew Invoker. On Mike’s turn, he has to make a decision about whether to drop Mistform Dreamer or a Skirk Commando. The goblin is put face down on the table and he passes. Ollie attacks and drops a Morph. Mike reveals a Shock to remove the morph (Thrashing Mudspawn) and swings with the Commando, which unmorphs to wipe out the Glory Seeker.
Oliver is struggling to keep parity at this point with the lack of mana to cast his Lowland Tracker for the third game in a row. The usual play of cycling Dirge is made and Deftblade Elite enters the fray before Mike gets his turn. In goes the Commando along with his wizardly friend, the Imagecrafter, for a cheeky point of damage after the Invoker trades with the dastardly goblin. Mike drops down the unblockable Covert Operative and Ollie matches this with the busty Prowling Pangolin. Operative and Imagecrafter decide they are more useful in play so the beast sticks. In goes the Operative, pushing Ollie down to 14 against Mike’s 16 points. Mike’s Mistform Dreamer continues the evasion theme and sets up an interesting race. Mike thinks he may be able to sneak out enough chump blockers to steal the game now, but of course his plans take a downward turn when the mandatory Lowland Tracker makes his timely appearance, his blade set on ripping up the whole of Mike’s army. The Piety Charm in the ex-champion’s hand looks good to negate any answers Mike may be able to pull off the top.
Sadly for Mike, his last few draws have been nothing but land. He attacks for another five, but two turns later, he is facing down the wrong end of Ollie’s dominating 5cc creatures, and the match is over.