Saturday, July 29: 9:30 a.m. - Wish Granted
Without a pulse
Dave Grant shuffled up his pink sleeved deck with glee in preparation for the first round of English nationals. A former National team member, Dave is one of England's better players, though he did confess to feeling a little out of his depth with the deck he was running in the event.
This likely bluff was tested to its very limits in the very first game of the tournament though, as he got hit by a Cranial Extraction for Heartbeat of Spring on turn four. If winning with Heartbeat wasn't tricky enough, try doing it without the deck's eponymous four of. The extraction was quickly followed up by a Wildfire from a clearly pretty cheery opponent.
Dave wasn't having his parade rained on just yet though, and with a small smile, he started to rebuild. Finally, he activated his Sensei's Divining Top to find the fourth Early Harvest in his deck. Some land tapdancing later, and a 23 point Demonfire ended things in Granty's favour.
Dave's deck is now officially called '_____________________'. Heartbeat? Very much optional.
Saturday, July 29: 11:31 a.m. - Was Stuart Right?
For the last month or so, English constructed specialist has been touting the raw power of the Magnivore deck to any and all who would listen, whether in person, in articles, in internet chatrooms, anywhere that Magic players congregate.
Stuart Wright and friend
Given that there has been a growing trend in recent years for the best players in the country to track down Stuart for the best constructed decklists in important formats, normally having a Stuart Wright crying the power of a single deck from assorted rooftops might have been welcomed by the world's Magic players. It seems that the English are a wary bunch though.
The thinking going into nationals was that Stuart had broken the format, and in particular the matchup against Magnivore. Surely he was going a little bit over the top with his rhapsodising about hasty 10/10 monsters and land destruction? It reached the point that a great many English players were taking Decree of Wright to be Decree of Wrong.
It turns out though, that it's all about red and blue sorceries for Stu though. On 2-0 after round 2, he's feeling pretty happy about his chances. Apparently it wasn't even a double bluff - he just likes playing spells in the main phase.
Saturday, July 29: 1:40 p.m. - The English Standard Metagame
It seems that for the final English nationals for the foreseeable future, there is something of a lack of consensus on what the best deck in standard is. With Ravnica allowing players to play with more or less whatever colours they desire, at the relatively cheap cost of a little life taken by the guild dual lands, options are open, as is the field.
There are 120 players here today, and the most well represented deck is some variation on Red/Green beatdown, sporting aggressive two drops. There are four dedicated Gruul Decks (a la Heezy Street), plus 10 builds running White (Zoo) and 8 with Blue (Sea Stompy, for a total of 22 decks looking to make a turn one Kird Ape.
The other major aggro decks in the field is B/W aggro, (be it Hand in Hand or Ghost Husk) with 15 copies total, and variations on the U/W French beatdown deck sporting Grand Arbiter Augustin IV.
For those less concerned with playing a lot of creatures to beat in with, there is also a red/white super aggro burn deck being played by Tom Harle, who went into the draft portion of nationals 3-0, again demonstrating his innovative deckbuilding capacity.
Meanwhile, on the control side, 11 players are controlling the board with land destruction in the form of the Magnivore deck, led by Stuart Wright, who convincingly 3-0'd the first standard portion of the event. From there, Green and White seem to be the big control colours, thanks largely to the power of Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree to give a little inevitability to a game. We have GW Glare, UGW control GWB control all performing well, as well as singletons of multi-colour Gifts Ungiven builds, and Tron variants focusing on red and blue, but often splashing green for Simic Sky Swallower - the deck's finisher of choice.
From a combo standpoint, things are a little thin on the ground. There are 3 people running Heartbeat of Spring, and two different Protean Hulk decks, that use the powerful seven drop to get faster than average beats, with a little help from such spells as Footsteps of Goryo.
Finally, the English National Champion, Richard Moore, is playing 'the most fun deck in the format' in the form of Snakes on a Plane, the U/G aggro deck that makes more 1/1s than is entirely healthy.
With 6 rounds of draft following the first standard portion of Nationals, it is a little too early to work out quite what has risen to the top of the standard metagame, but fear not, we will be keeping our eyes out at this end for any and all hot tech from the English National Championships!
Saturday, July 29: 2:18 p.m. - Draft Report: Stu Wright
Coming out of the first three rounds of Type 2, Stu Wright is sitting happy at 3-0 with the Magnivore deck he's become known for. Sitting at draft table 1, RGD draft is familiar territory.
Opening the first pack, I was looking for a signal as to Stu's plan for the draft, and I certainly got one. The first pack had a number of strong cards, the most obvious being the Sunforger, along with a good number of other playables - Remand, Skyknight Legionnaire, Boros Garrison. However, it was the Siege Wurm that caught Stu's eye. The second pack offered up another Skyknight Legionnaire, this time accompanied by a Conclave Equenaut, Fiery Conclusion, Dowsing Shaman, and Stu's pick, Civic Wayfinder. The third pack saw yet more mana-fixing shenanigans, with Farseek picked over Dimir Aqueduct and Compulsive Research. Fourth pick? More mana. This time Golgari Rotfarm, over less exciting cards (Transluminant, Congregation at Dawn, Golgari Signet.) Fifth pick the Signet was good enough, over Gaze of the Gorgon and Netherborn Phalanx. When the sixth pack came around, Stu was offered his pick of two Signets, this time from the Boros and Selesnya guilds, the extra green source finding its way into his pile. Seventh finally saw a third creature, in the form of a Selesnya Evangel taken with a shrug. Eighth saw Thundersong Trumpeter taken over Boros Signet, Ordruun Commando and Dromar Purebred. Tabling from his original pack came Boros Swiftblade, followed by the Fiery Conclusion. Goblin Spelunkers, Grozoth, Coalhauler Swine, Leave No Trace and Zephyr Spirit rounded out Ravnica.
Guildpact saw a strong opening booster, featuring some much-needed beef in the form of Ghor-Clan Savage and Streetbreaker Wurm. Douse In Gloom trumped them all however. Another Streetbreaker Wurm was quickly snapped up in the second pack, over Pyromatics, Skarrgan Skybreaker and a Gruul Signet. In the third pack, Stu seemed to be happy with his mana so far, passing up on a Gruul Turf for a second Douse in Gloom. However, soon he was back lavishing attention on his mana-base, with a fourth pick Orzhov Basilica and fifth pick Orzhov Signet from mediocre packs keeping his splash options open. Even after picking up the extra white sources, Gruul Scrapper was picked up 6th over Harrier Griffin and Ghor-Clan Bloodscale, perhaps due to concerns over the deck's curve rather than power-level. A 7th pick Bioplasm was met with a smile and a shake of the head, followed by an 8th pick Skarrg to make up for the one he'd passed in his first booster. Which promptly reappeared 9th. 10th pick saw the Skybreaker make the lap as well, with Wee Dragonauts, Gruul Nodorog, Quicken, Infiltrator's Magemark and Cry of Contrition bringing up the rear.
Moving into Dissension, Stu was obviously set up perfectly for Rakdos, and three strong packs saw a Wrecking Ball, Twinstrike and Seal of Doom a near-perfect start. Fourth and fifth saw Utopia Sprawls picked from boosters heavy in Azorius cards (Minister of Impediments, Plumes of Peace, numerous cheap fliers.) Sixth saw a Ragamuffyn bulk up the creature count, seventh a Might of the Nephilim over a very late Cytoshape, then another Utopia Sprawl over Simic Signet. Slaughterhouse Bouncer came around from the first pack, Entropic Eidolon from the Twinstrike pack, then Riot Spikes, Bond of Agony, Novijen, Heart of Progress, Nihilistic Glee and Trial/Error to finish off the draft.
Sitting down to build, he rapidly stripped out the unplayable and off-colour cards, laying out his curve of creatures and fixers and stripping cards out, with Boros Swiftblade, Goblin Spelunkers and Fiery Conclusion hitting the bench early. Gruul Nodorog went out, then came in again to beef up the top end of the curve (with three copies of Utopia Sprawl, a Farseek and a pair of Signets, six mana was hardly a deterrent.)
The core of the deck decided, he re-sorted his cards by colour, quickly checking how many sources his various fixers would give him of his three secondary colours, and thumbing the two copies of Skarrg, making sure that running both copies of the colourless-producing land wouldn't compromise the rest of his deck. Both stayed in, and the choice of basics ended up pretty simple - 10 Forest, 1 Mountain, 1 Swamp, 1 Plains.
The final decklist;
England Nationals 06 Draft Deck
Saturday, July 29: 8:14 p.m. - Six of One, Half a Dozen of the Other - Drafting Coldsnap with Graham Ribchester
While RGD draft is something that is, by now, pretty familiar for most players at nationals, Coldsnap draft is a whole different story. If anything, unfamiliar formats are the best area to look for the old timers, those with the experience of a lot of different draft formats under their belts, as adaptability and old fashioned draft values become key rather than whatever wackiness is the current flavour of the week.
Graham Ribchester is one the team from the north of England sponsored by MoxRadio, the side of English nationals coverage which is easier on the ear, with Richard Hagen's voice painting a picture of the event that frequently tells a thousand words or more.
By trade Ribchester is part art dealer (specialising in Magic card art), and part poker player. It is something of a cliché, but 'Ribbo' really has been playing poker since before it became fashionable, and these days he is plenty good enough to play cards for a living.
His poker face showed a few cracks during the Coldsnap draft though. Having benefited from a fair bit of practice of the format, Graham went into the draft looking to be fairly aggressive with red and green monsters, though he was more than open to other options if he saw something nifty.
The 'something nifty' came in pack one, with the very first pick. Heidar, Rimewind Master can get pretty out of hand in a snowy enough environment, and coming in the first pack, there was plenty of time to ensure just that. For pack two, there was a slightly trickier pick. In Coldsnap draft fortune tends to favour the bold - committing to colours or strategies early, and grabbing as many copies of key cards early as possible. Graham had to make a decision between Disciple of Tevesh Szat and a Rune Snag. It was one that took the full time, but Ribs decided that for this draft he was all about the blues, and he never looked back. Some powerful red cards came along, but they were fighting for space with good flyers. Frost Raptors came in abundance, and though some green cards did hit the pile, Ribchester was far from committed to anything much beyond the blues.
In pack two, the poker face more or less went out of the window. Thrumming Stone will do that to a guy. Graham is probably one of those best equipped to working out his outs on hitting with ripple at any given time, and he already had a good start with multiple Frost Raptors and Krovikan Mists or two to power out. Two Frost Raptors followed, along with more Rune Snag action. Sound the Call was next to both of these Raptors, and it seemed clear that Ribchester was happy to abandon the green plan in favour of fliers, in what was a pretty close pick. A couple of Surging AEther became much more welcome additions with Big Thrums already in the pile, and going into pack three, Ribchester was fairly happy.
Pack three did cause a few frowns though. It became clear in the review period that snow hadn't fallen in Ribchester-land quite as much as he might have liked. More concerningly, Graham had to pass back to back Garzha's Assassins, who he simply couldn't support. Pack three was all about a few cards for Graham; Rune Snag and Krovikan Mists are both at their best in high numbers, and Ribchester got multiples of each in the final pack, having cut blue hard in the pack before. A Frozen Solid or two made the pile, along with another Frost Raptor, but ultimately the real standout part of Graham's deck were a total of five Rune Snags. These would ensure that any opposing bombs could be taken out of the equation with reasonable regularity. In a 'fair' game, Graham's flyers could be relied upon to get through for enough damage to take the win. The biggest threat to his deck would be aggressive decks making too many early 2/2s, and getting ahead in the damage race.
Graham seemed pretty happy with his wacky deck, in spite of not having seen as much snow as might have made it optimal.