Friday, 10:10 a.m. - vs. Daniel Godfrey
After the horror story of last year I managed to get a break in the first round. Unfortunately it was at the expense of Yokohama team mate Daniel Godfrey.
He presented his deck and I counted out 59 cards. I counted it out again. 59 cards.
Godfrey had been asked to resleeve his deck before the tournament and in between resleeving and here had managed to lose a card.
Fortunately he was able to get a replacement from the dealer stand and we were able to get underway. I was worried about running into Hierarchs and life gain for this tournament, but there was one deck that had crept under the radar I didn't factor into my calculations.
Most people assumed storm was dead with the loss of Seething Song, however there was a fairly good Empty the Warrens/Pyromancer's Swathe/Grapeshot deck that did quite well in the Standard portion of the Aussie nationals. Godfrey was running a similar version and showed that aggro decks still don't want to get paired against storm decks when he made 8 Goblin tokens on turn three.
Now where are those Martyr of Ashes… oops, okay so maybe there are more reasons to run them other than aggro and dredge.
My first seven cards had exactly enough burn to do 20 damage, but 0 creatures and one land. I contemplated keeping it and then sanity reigned and I shipped it back.
The third game was a squeaker as games against combo often are. My best strategy is to be as fast as possible so I made Mogg War Marshall and skipped echo to get in a hit with Treetop Village. I got in another hit and was able to suspend Rift Bolt.
Thankfully Godfrey passed turn four without making an army of goblins and I was able to reduce him to exactly 0 with Incinerate and Char in my fifth turn.
The game loss was fairly fortunate as I don't think I beat this deck two games in three. It seems like a good choice for today.
Friday, 12:00 p.m. - vs. Tom Harle
I know Tom's playing dredge and he knows I'm playing Gruul. In theory I set his guys on fire in Game 1 and in games two and three it gets a bit tricky as he goes for the Stinkweed Imp into Troll plan.
So Game 1 I failed to set his guys on fire and he ran me over with a billion zombies.
Fortunately I decided to run Magus of the Moon over Cryoclasm to really punish the greedy blink decks.
Tom's speed dredge deck with 0 basic lands took the splash damage as he appeared to have no red spells in his decks he could cast with all the basic mountains I generously gave him.
Friday, 1:30 p.m. - vs. Paul Graham
There was me thinking I'd have plenty of time in between rounds with my burn deck. This time my stomach won out.
Paul Graham doesn't play constructed much, but had managed to rack up 2-0 with a modified Dralnu build.
I felt quite confidant in the matchup. A Tarmogoyf fell to Spell Snare (quite good again now as it happens) but a Troll Ascetic came through. I was a bit cautious in playing round Damnation and should have probably committed more creatures.
I got him down to two life but then my famed topdecking skills deserted me. Paul got the belated Damnation off a Mind Stone and was able to pull back into the game with Skeletal Vampire while I drew land.
Magus of the Moon I love you.
Paul started out with basic island and swamp this time. So my four Magus obligingly stayed hidden in my library and allowed me to rough him up a bit with Treetop Village.
Unfortunately for Paul he never got past those two land other than Mind Stones. When the control deck goes that slow even a Mogg Fanatic will pick them off
3-0 for the first section and a distinct improvement over last year. Now I have to run and see how rusty my draft skills have got.
Friday, 2:43 p.m. - vs. Ian Davey
Ian Davey had drafted a chunky blue-white sliver deck with a splash for red. In Game 1 he mulliganned into a very slow hand that didn't see him make a creature until a Synchronous Sliver hit the table on turn 5.
My deck is as slow as molasses with extra thickening gel, so I couldn't exactly punish him in the conventional sense. However I did get a lot of cards ahead thanks to Careful Consideration and Foresee. Ixidron is always a good answer to Pulmonic Sliver and eventually Phthisis nailed him.
Game 2 and my turn to mulligan. I was able to take out his Dreamscape Artist with Feebleness, keeping him from red mana for most of the game, and then zip in with Deepcavern Imp.
Turn five I wrecked him with a Smallpox / Dark Withering combo. After that he seemed a bit flooded as I pecked him down with the Imp.
Foresee looked to put him back in the game but I was beating down with Mass of Ghouls alongside the Imp.
Then, as I attacked for the final two points with my Imp, he flashed out Angel of Salvation.
Friday, 3:33 p.m. - Draft one
Time Spiral was pretty juicy for me. I opened an average booster and took Ixidron from it as it was the only blue card. My next two picks were Phthisis and Careful Consideration. Two Dark Withering and then a Trespasser il-Vec is a signal even someone as oblivious as me could pick up.
Planar Chaos was a little tricky. I regretted not jumping into white as I opened Crovax and got passed Sunlances and Stormfront Riders. There wasn't really blue or black and I went into red with Prodigal Pyromancer, Stingscourger and Reckless Wurm.
Going into the last booster I was definitely black, but with an option on either red or blue. I possibly mispicked by taking Foresee first over Death Rattle and Future Sight was fairly mediocre overall.
I'm not sure where to rate my deck. It has nice removal and some solid card advantage, but I'm not a big fan of this strategy in Time Spiral draft. Some of the cards are sort of well… chod, but there are quite a few madness tricks I can pull.
Four rounds might be a struggle though.
Draft 1 Deck
Friday, 6:00 p.m. - Rounds 5 and 6
Uh, oh. And it looks like the wheels are in danger of coming off.
Craig Jones vs. Nick Lovett
It sounds like the draft was fairly weak overall. I was worried someone on my right might have been given an insane white deck after what I saw going past in Planar Chaos. Fortunately Nick Lovett had filtered out most of the insanity into his sideboard.
He had an okay looking green-red deck with a splash of blue, but it was the familiar Time Spiral draft story of losing the dice roll and then being run over by random dorks in games one and three. I was able to stabilise and win in Game 2 going first but didn't have time to pull it back in the decider.
Bradley Barclay also had a weak deck. In his own words hideous.
Sadly I mulliganed to five Game 1 and never drew any of my two Foresee or Careful Consideration to recover despite Barclay's weak draw.
The card drawing stayed hidden in Game 2 and I flooded out with only the chod part of the deck to fight with.
My original aim was to pick at least 2-1's from each section with a 3-0 giving me top 8. Unfortunately I still have a round to play with what is looking like a weak deck.
I seem to remember there was a good reason why they phased out four round drafts.
Friday, 7:07 p.m. - Rnd 7 vs. Matthew Clark
And the wheels are coming off, the Craig Jones tournament bus is careering down the side of the hill to meet its fiery doom.
Wait, I won…?
It turned out our draft pool really was atrocious. Matthew Clark was less happy with his deck than I was.
Game 1 he got stuck on two land and didn't go anywhere fast.
Game 2 I put all my eggs into a Trespasser il-Vec shaped basket (with an Unblinking Bleb in support - go power deck!) after my unsuspending Phthisis was neutralised by Whitemane Lion (I hate suspending Phthisis - it always goes wrong). Fortunately I had Midnight Charm and two successive Dark Withering to knock blockers out of the way. When Clark found blockers I just threw away Careful Consideration and Ixidron to keep the Trespasser in the shadow zone. Well I wasn't going to cast them any time soon with only swamps in play. Although suicidal, it turned out to be correct as the Trespasser went all the way.
Explosion averted… for now…
Friday, 9:19 p.m. - Introduction / Day One Recap
Hello, this is Craig Jones giving you another weekend of Magic agony as my tournament goes off the rails to explode in a fiery explosion of fiery explosiveness.
Oh wait, it's the end of the day. Somewhere in all the chaos I kind of forgot the usual intro.
Last years Nationals was a catastrophe for me. Going in as favourite (Quentin was on the other side of the world. Gomersall was on the other other side of the world) I didn't even have a chance to build up steam before going off in a big explosion. And on this occasion it was very nearly literal. 0-3, a collapsed draft and yet more mana-screws when I had possibly one of the best Coldsnap draft decks saw frustration boil over into me practically punching the deck. That was my cue to drop.
This year was much better.
To be honest I was very worried about Standard (yeah I know, used to be Constructed specialist). In an open field I think Gruul, or rather Red Deck Wins splashing Tarmogoyf, might be the best deck. But it isn't an open field, and no Tarmogoyfs available at any of the trade stands is a strong hint that Gruul might be a popular deck.
This left me with a dilemma. I felt quite confidant with the "set people on fire plan", but was worried all the savvy players would be waiting with Hierarchs, Blinks and Aven Riftwatchers.
In this kind of metagame it's impossible to predict the correct choice or what matchups you might get, so I went with the deck I was most likely to play the best.
The next dilemma was to run with the optimal 20 land Steve Sadin update or throw in a bit of extra oomph in the form of Treetop Village and Troll Ascetic. In abstract the Troll and Village are more powerful. But they're also slower. After much deliberation I decided to go with the more powerful cards as they would likely be a little more forgiving if things didn't quite go to plan.
I did think about delaying putting the decklist up as, shock horror!, I'm actually coming back tomorrow in some form of contention. But everyone knows it here anyway:
Despite my fears I started out 3-0 in the Standard portion beating Perilous Storm (sort of), Dredge and Dralnu.
In draft the wheels nearly came off when a weak set of boosters left everyone scrabbling for decks. I've always struggled with these kind of draft situations and thought I'd left myself for dead with a poor black-blue control deck. Fortunately I escaped with a 2-2 record that leaves in reasonably good shape for tomorrow at 5-2.
Saturday, 11:00 a.m. - Draft 2
Yesterday I hiccupped in the draft. I can't really afford to do that today as I really need a 2-1 and ideally 3-0 to set me up for the last four round of constructed.
My tiebreakers are really good. This is useful as it may give me an extra life if x-4 can make top 8. Unfortunately this paired me up into the 6-1 pod with three of my team mates: Stuart Wright, Tom Harle and last years English Champion Craig Stevenson. All of them have practised this format considerably more than me.
We all ended up in a row, which affected my first choice. With Stuart Wright passing to me I took Dark Withering over both Sporesower Thallid and Fledgling Mawcor because I knew nobody from the mox boys liked black.
It didn't quite work out. I knew I'd put Simon O'Keeffe to my left in green with the Thallid and a fourth pick Phantom Wurm, but then I got Gemhide Sliver as a signal from Stuart that green was open. Somehow I didn't shut black out as Simon first picked Sengir Nosferatu. This put us both in green-black and although that should have killed us two Deadwood Treefolk and a Harmonize trickled through from Planar Chaos. I was also fortunate enough to open Sprout Swarm.
Unfortunately I've got one of those clunky green-black decks that has plenty of good cards, but is probably too slow against the fast evasion decks. Fingers crossed I might come out with 2-1, but I'll need to be lucky.
Draft 2 Deck
Saturday, 12:00 p.m. - vs. Andrew Morrison
Yikes, a blue-red tempo deck. That's the last thing I want to see with my clunking black-green deck.
Morrison had a really good start with a Prodigal Pyromancer and then a Stingscourger and Snapback to send my board back to my hand. Unfortunately he wasn't able to follow it up as we both flooded and eventually a Gathan Raiders and Muck Drub battered him down.
I felt good about Game 2 as I had a Mindstab to suspend on turn one (I love that play, it's so filthy) and Morrison mulliganed. Unfortunately he found a very good hand - suspend Infiltrator, morph, Pyromancer. He came racing out of the blocks and I never caught up.
Game 3 and the positions were reversed. Presenting a Needlepeak Spider for me to kill with Big Game Hunter and then missing an Erratic Mutation were fairly harsh on Morrison, but my draw was so good I'm not sure he could have pulled back anyway.
Saturday, 1:00 p.m. - Round 9 vs. Simon O'Keeffe
I was happy with this pairing as it pits my slow black-green deck against another slow black-green deck. However I have Vhati and Sprout Swarm. Tim covered this somewhere else in the coverage so I don't have to write much.
Game 1: Army of me! Army of me!
(I'm so narcissistic)
Game 2: Big Game Hunter, fetch Big Game Hunter back with Dreadwood Treefolk. Kill many enormous Kavu Primarchs Vhati doesn't quite handle because of annoying +1/+1 counter.
Job done for this draft as I'm guaranteed a 2-1 at least. Tom Harle's deck is apparently very good, so ideally I'd like to avoid him and because I was actually paired up into this pod it is technically possible.
Saturday, 2:30 p.m. - Round 10 vs. Tom Harle
Ah, so I no pairings anomaly to avoid Tom Harle's fast red-white sliver deck.
Fortunately for me he stuck on two land in Game 1 while I laid big fat monsters and top decked Dark Withering to kill Pulmonic Sliver when Tom recovered enough to try and alpha strike for the win.
Game 2 and Tom mulliganed to five and got stuck on one land. I foolishly nearly let him back in by not using Big Game Hunter to kill his Sliversmith when he pumped it with Brute Force (casting Deadwood Treefolk instead, which probably isn't too bad).
Fortunately I drew enough tricks and big fat monsters to take the match.
Wow, 3-0 for the draft was way more than I expected.
Tom Harle vs Great Britain 8-0, Tom Harle vs Craig Jones 0-2.
Saturday, 5:00 p.m. - Guest intro from Dan Paskins
Hello, Dan Paskins here.
The Limited section of Nationals is over, and our hero overcame a shaky first draft to go 3-0 this morning and put himself right back in the hunt for a top eight slot. Now it's back to Standard, which means Craig gets to play his Gruul deck for the final four rounds of the day. Coming up we've got some good stuff, featuring lots and lots of fire Magic, goblins and, of course, dead Elves, so don't go away (much more fun than reading about draft decks...)
Regular readers will know that Craig hasn't been doing so well in big tournaments just recently, since last time he played a Red beatdown deck. His friends diagnosed that this was caused by him playing with Islands and other inferior sorts of lands. Yesterday, with Mountains (and a couple of Forests), he crushed his first three opponents. So he is on 7 wins and 2 losses, and needs to win two more rounds to be able to draw into the top eight.
In fact, Craig has taken to the Red/Green deck so well that he accidentally set his last opponent on fire, so he's had to pop out for a bit and asked me to cover for him. I'll let him tell you about how he got on in rounds 10 and 11, and I don't want to spoil the surprise, but remember to learn from the Pro - if you're having difficulty winning games, what you need to do is reach for the Mountains and all will end up being fine.
Saturday, 6:13 p.m. - Rounds 11, 12 and 13
Burn ha-ha! Burn!
Round 11. Graeme McIntyre (a.k.a. Fod) running a creature-heavy Gruul deck.
Elf. Burn it!
Elephants. Burn it!
Hmm. 4 Toughness quite tough.
I have Tarmogoyfs, Gargadons, Mogg War Marshal and Troll Ascetics in this matchup while Fodder has Sulfur Elementals, Call of the Herd and highly flammable elves. The second game was fairly close as Burning-Tree Shamen has high toughness and pings you when you try and regenerate Trolls or sac things to Gargadon. I was able to be very conservative with my life total and finally burn the Shaman out of the way to bring in Gargadon.
Round 12. Dave Grant running Rakdos.
Burn you back!
Yep, a lot of burn in this matchup. My creatures are higher quality though and Mogg War Marshall is a serious nuisance for Rakdos. As long as I keep my life total high and out of burn range my creatures will eventually kill them.
Which was pretty much what happened in both games.
I think this means I'm safe for top 8 as all I need now is an ID and my tiebreakers are probably high enough that I might even get through with two losses.
Round 13. Matteo Orsini-Jones running Angelfire.
Uh, Angelfire. Wrath, wrath, beat you up with Lightning Angels and Aeon Chroniclers. Boo.
Grr. There were three of us on a 10-2 record and unfortunately I'm the guy who gets paired down to possibly one of my worse matchups. Game 1 I had to make a chancey decision to go all in with Gargadon. Unfortunately he had his third Wrath of God and finished me off with a cantrip Aeon Chronicler.
Game 2 my Magus of the Moon weren't very effective as he drew plenty of Signets and Basic lands. This is definitely a matchup where I'd prefer Cryoclasms.
That was annoying. I think I still should be able to make it, but as I've already played most of the other players on X-3 there is an annoyingly high probability of being paired against someone on different points and having to play again.
Saturday, 6:59 p.m. - Round 14 vs Eduardo Sajgalik
Tick… tick… tick…
I was dreading a repeat of last year where Matteo Orsini-Jones looked to be guaranteed in before the last round and then a pairings massacre saw him lose to Andrew Clayton and finish 9th.
Thankfully I managed to get paired against Eduardo Sajgalik, pretty much the only person on 30 points I hadn't already played. He took the ID and that was a relief as 10-4 would not have made it even with my high tiebreakers.
For once the Craig Jones bus has not gone careering over the cliff in a fireball.
Get ready for this. Are you sitting securely.
The player blog is going to day three…
Sunday, 11:00 a.m. - QF vs. Eduardo Sajgalik
Regular readers will know that the player blog has been… urm, less than successful of late.
However this weekend we're in uncharted territory. Not only have I survived into day two, but I've gone all the way to Sunday. Okay, so it's not quite uncharted territory. I made the National team back in 1999 and 2001, but this is the first time I get to write about it live (ur… sort of).
Anyway. It's Sunday morning and unlike Honolulu I actually have an unfavourable matchup in the quarter-final. Eduardo's blink touch deck after boarding has four Aven Riftwatcher. That's a lot of life gain to battle through.
At first I thought the matchup might be hideous, but some test games last night cheered me up a little. It's one of those classic red deck matches. On paper and in theory the red deck is out-gunned and out-manoeuvred. If Sajgalik's deck does what it's designed to do I'm going to get battered, but as ever if it hiccups the red deck is going to be waiting to tear it to shreds. My percentage chance depends on how frequently Sajgalik gets to do broken stuff. He's fairly confidant that it's going to be frequent enough to wreck me and I think he might be right. I think I might be a slight favourite before boarding, but after I'm going to have to plough through a lot of life gain.
My chances of getting through to the national team are probably not good.
As these matchups are already being covered in the main coverage so I'll probably just summarise and give my thoughts at the time.
Game 1 I won the all important dice roll, but unfortunately my plan didn't come together. After mulliganing I had a weak hand with Greater Gargadon. Eduardo gave a little cheer when I suspended it on turn one as Big Gargs is not really a player in this matchup. I followed with Mogg War Marshal. Against another aggro deck this would be a fantastic hand.
Not in this matchup though….
My boarding is a little strange. Normally I have to replace with Trolls with Magus as I can't cast them with the Magus out. This is a pretty bad matchup though and I have to risk some negative synergy. I was wishing I'd gone with Cryoclasms at this point (and Stone Rains, but they took them out… sad evil genius prof), but although Sajgalik has basics and signets I have to hope the Magus will steal a game or two.
Game 2 was brutal. Eduardo mulliganed to five and I fried his face off with a Tarmogoyf and Char.
Game 3 and I won through two Aven Riftwatcher and two Blinks. You can often surprise players with how resilient red decks are. Sometimes they think that they're safe once they've weathered the initial storm. Unless you strike back with a fast clock though, the red deck will control your creatures and eventually pick you off. In this case Tin Street Hooligan smashed a Needle on Treetop Village and the Ape town came in to party.
Sajgalik seemed a little shaken at this. He'd been expecting a good matchup and was now a game away from elimination.
Unfortunately I couldn't capitalise. My hand for the fourth game seemed very strong with both Keldon Marauders but I ran into cantrip guys in the form of Court Hussars. After smashing a signet I think a Magus of the Moon off the top would have nailed him, but it wasn't there this time and Sajgalik eventually took control with big Angels and Skeletal Vampire.
After an epic clash the deciding game was a bit of a damp squib. We both stuck on two land. Seeing Eduardo was struggling I aggressively grew a Tarmogoyf by throwing Incinerate and Seal of Fire at Eduardo's head. I was praying for a third land to hammer the last nail in with Magus of the Moon, but it wasn't there.
Sajgalik found the third to make Aven Riftwatcher but it was too late at this point as I finally found the third land and Charred his face off.
Phew, that was tough.
Yay, I'm on the National team.
Sunday, 1:00 p.m. - SF vs. Marco Orsini-Jones
And we're marching on. I'm on the National team, but I'm conscious I've never actually won my National Championships. I've come third twice and really want to go all the way this time.
I didn't know anything about my semi-final matchup. Marco has quite an innovative green-black Tarmogoyf/Rack deck. All I know is he doesn't fancy the matchup.
Game 1 I won the die roll and comprehensibly set him on fire. What to do when an opponent makes Dark Confidant can be quite tricky. Normally I kill them on sight, but with really burn heavy hands I sometimes leave them around to help the damage along.
My turn two play was a Mogg War Marshall. After seeing Bob I decided I wasn't going to pay echo so I could Incinerate him. Then I drew a second Char and the plan changed.
Hmm, this isn't going to be as easy as I though. Card advantage is always fairly good and Call of the Herd followed by two Ravenous Rats wore me out of cards and then a Rack and Tarmogoyf mopped up.
Fortunately the following two games were a lesson in brutality as I made Trolls, Gargadons and Tarmogoyfs and sent them into the red zone repeatedly until Marco fell over.
Marco's regenerating Augers looked like they might be a pain and Withered Wretch is a cute answer to Tarmogoyf. But I just put him under so much pressure when the Gargadon unsuspended Marco didn't have time to regenerate or empty my graveyard.
Sunday, 2:22 p.m. - The final vs. Stuart Wright
And we're there. One more match to take the title.
On paper the matchup should be favourable as I'm against Stuart Wright's dredge deck. Basically I set his guys on fire and Mogg Fanatic can deal with Bridge from Below fairly easily.
However no one expected Stuart to get past Dave Grant's Rakdos deck in the quarters so I didn't want to underestimate him.
Game 1 showed me why I was wise to think that. I had Mogg Fanatics and burn, but I was a little short on land and eventually Stuart got the Dredge Engine started. My plan was to try and deal with each Bridge as it appeared and hide from his giant Trolls behind a screen of Mogg War Marshal goblin tokens while picking him off with burn. Unfortunately I was too short on land to get going and eventually Stuart dredged his entire deck and used the last Bridge to kill me.
Unfortunately the remaining three games were fairly anticlimactic as I made Magus of the Moon on turn three in all of them. Stuart has no non-basics and no way to kill the Magus so that was pretty much game right there.
The fourth was moderately interesting as Stuart was able to make Wall of Roots and Bonded Fetch first. His dredges weren't too interesting though and once I burnt the Walls and shut down the Fetch with a Pithing Needle Stuart scooped.
Wow, we got there. The player's blog actually followed the player who went all the way to take the whole thing.
I'm national champ 2007.
I'm overjoyed right now. The cheer that went up when they announced my name as the winner was very humbling. I'd like to thank all the people who wished me well. Hopefully I'll be up to the task of representing Great Britain at the World Championships in New York later this year.
It's been a fantastic tournament and as I'm writing this head judge Riccardo has asked me to thank all the players for making him feel so much at home at the tournament. On behalf of the players I'd like to thank Riccardo for such an excellently run tournament.
See you again in Valencia!
Until then…. Char you!!!