US Nationals: A Winner’s Memento

Monday, 3am

The obligatory 0-3 draft after winning an event. Now, I say obligatory here not (just) to expel guilt from myself for how poorly the draft went, and by poorly I mean I would have been infinitely better off picking a card out of each pack completely at random (also known as the Matt Nass school of drafting, in honor of the only way he’s won a PTQ: missing pack one of the draft), but because of the storied history of the 0-3 immediately following a win.

Obviously, my teammates carried me and I collect my twenty – wait, *Wescoe check* – pride points for winning the draft. We game the rares, which include a Baneslayer Angel and Primeval Titan, and I obviously win every last one.

Monday, 2am

It’s game two (down a game, in case there was any doubt), but I’m in decent shape as I have assembled the mighty [card]Wall of Frost[/card] plus Vulshok Berserker combo. My opponent asks me not to laugh, and casts a Leyline of Sanctity. I laugh, but not at him, and not at the Leyline, but at myself and the two Lava Axes I’m holding. The next turn my opponent asks me not to judge him, and casts a Merfolk Spy. I mock him endlessly. Well, not endlessly – the mocking ends the next turn when the Spy hits me and reveals the Merfolk Spy that I had just drawn, and refused to cast out of shame.

Monday, 1am
I can’t even begin to explain how a draft could be butchered so badly. I have fewer playables than Conrad Kolos has scruples, across more colors than the number of “Wescoe checks” on the weekend. As we lay out our decks, LSV and Kibler can only shake their heads in disgust, as if I were… awww rats, just used the two best ones.

Sunday, 8pm
Fogo de Chão, credit card gaming the bill. Obviously, my card is the first one out.

Sunday, 2pm
PV, as always, has it completely right. Win the last round of day one in a GP to squeak into day two at X-2, and you feel like PV in a candy shop where everything is free. Lose your last round, but still finish X-2, and you feel worse than PV a few hours later. Well, I won the tournament, but I lost my last round.

Sunday, 12pm
The finals was well covered; my focus here is more on the why than the what.

In game one, I had two real decisions, both concerning Knight of the Reliquary. The first was fetching a second Forest instead of an Island with Misty Rainforest the turn I cast Knight. Got that one right – needing a second Forest for use with Knight was far more likely than needing the second Island for a Jace. The second decision, what to get with my Knight the following turn, I got wrong. I fetched up a Stirring Wildwood, which did nothing in the game, and should have instead just gotten another Forest. The next turn I had to go get Sejiri Steppe, which left me without a Forest for Knight. Thanks to drawing a Lotus Cobra, that meant casting Sovereigns of Lost Alara a turn later and giving Anthony an extra draw step.

In game two Anthony had a turn one Goblin Guide, and I made the mistake of leading with Birds of Paradise instead of just playing Celestial Colonnade turn one. The odds of Birds living were slim to none, and by playing it turn one (and it dying) I had no plays on turn two, unable to cast my Celestial Purge until turn three, by which point the game was already basically over. If I had played correctly, my curve would have been turn two Purge, turn three Birds plus Purge, and I would have been in pretty decent shape.

Game three was pretty uneventful, but it does help showcase why I think my sideboard plan of boarding out all the Sovereigns, Conscriptions, and Jaces was optimal. Sovereigns has two strikes against it: it’s pretty hard for it to be castable in a relevant time frame when your mana creatures will rarely survive a turn, and it’s unnecessary. The clock you put on the Red player is highly relevant, that’s for sure, but Knight, Baloth, and Elspeth are all going to kill faster than Sovereigns as they can be cast so much sooner. Even in the absence of those cards, manlands can get the job done just fine. They make for a much slower clock than Sovereigns, but they don’t require you clunking up your draws with uncastable spells. Jace is in the same boat as Sovereigns, in that it is just as hard to cast without mana creatures, and doesn’t provide a necessary effect.

In the game, I Mana Leaked a Ball Lightning, Purged a Hellspark Elemental, and my mana critters soaked up some burn spells. From a very healthy 17 life, leisurely killing with just a Colonnade was more than good enough.

Interestingly, if the Red player knows that the Mythic player is boarding like this, it becomes correct for them to ignore mana creatures outside the first few turns, and just save Bolts and whatnot for going to the dome, since Mythic can’t actually do anything with the mana. And then in turn Mythic wants some Sovereigns back in the deck. But that’s not how Anthony was playing, nor was it reasonable for him to know how he “should” have been playing.

Game four was one of the more absurd games of Magic I have played. After a couple mulligans for me and more than a couple burn spells for Anthony, the board state was my Birds of Paradise and Forest, with Celestial Purge, Elspeth, and Lotus Cobra in hand, at 3 life, to Anthony’s five lands, 14 life, and two cards in hand. I just passed, not playing the Cobra, and on his turn Anthony cast Hellspark Elemental, [card]Goblin Guide[/card], and [card]Smoldering Spires[/card] on my Birds. I Purged the Hellspark and fell to 1, and the next turn traded Cobra for Guide. If Anthony hadn’t burned the Spires to no effect the previous turn, it would have snuck the Guide through for lethal. Still, I was in a pretty rough spot, as even with the running lands I drew that let me cast Elspeth, I needed Anthony to draw lands and Ricochet Traps for four turns straight. When I did cast the Elspeth, I was aware that I was attacking for half of Anthony’s life total and aware that that meant I would be attacking for lethal the next turn, but I don’t think I had yet processed that not only was winning the game a possibility, that from that spot it was likely. When Anthony drew that fourth and final blank and offered the handshake, I was simply stunned.

Sunday, 11am

In game two of the semis, I had Elspeth, Jace, Cobra, and Hierarch in play, with Mana Leak, Eldrazi Conscription, and some other spells in hand. Conrad cast Primeval Titan and I had Mana Leak mana up, and I opted to let it resolve, which I believe was correct. I was in such a dominant position that the most likely way I could see losing the game was to Conrad multiple Summoning Trapping into multiple Eldrazi off of me Mana Leaking the Titan. If I let the Titan resolve, I could simply bounce it with Jace, and attack with Cobra, a manland, and an Elspeth pump to put Conrad to dead to a manland the following turn through even an All is Dust or Ulamog. As it turned out, the most likely way I could lose the game was me punting, which I did on my turn when I realized that with a fetchland I could kill that turn with Conscription, and Brainstormed with Jace to try to hit one. I whiffed, and then instead of having the game locked up, I now had a dead Jace while Conrad had a Titan in play and a Mystifying Maze and an endless supply of Tectonic Edges and Khalni Gardens to just about lock out my attacks. A hardcast Conscription a couple turns later ended up taking the game, but I may well have lost had Conrad been aggressively using Tectonic Edges to keep me off of 8 mana.

In the third game, I started with a Hierarch while Conrad had no plays his first two turns. On my second turn, my hand was Cobra, Jace, Elspeth, two fetchlands, and a Colonnade. That turn I made a “cute” play: I just played the Colonnade and passed. Here’s what’s going on with that play:

Conrad can’t keep a 7 card hand without a ramp spell, and he didn’t have one turn two, so he had to have Cultivate in hand. That was my thinking at any rate, and while apparently Conrad didn’t have a Cultivate in his opener, I don’t think that I’m the one who was “wrong” here.

If I play Cobra turn two, I play Elspeth turn three and Jace turn four. If I play nothing turn two, I play Cobra and Jace turn three, and presumably Elspeth turn four. The result is exchanging six damage for a Brainstorm (note that a Cobra attack without Elspeth was basically worth nothing thanks to Conrad’s plant token), and though six damage is preferable in the matchup, it’s fairly close, so the cost to not playing Cobra turn two was very small. The potential upside of a Time Walk due to Conrad not playing his Cultivate into my represented Mana Leak, meanwhile, was quite large.

I could have played the turn differently and still left Mana Leak mana up. I could have played Cobra and a fetchland. I could have played a Misty Rainforest instead of Colonnade, which would let me attack with Hierarch and have an extra mana the next turn. But neither of those plays scream Mana Leak as loudly as playing Colonnade and not attacking with Hierarch, and probably would have led to Conrad casting the Cultivate on his third turn.

The play ended up working out well for me, but not in the obvious way. Conrad drew the Cultivate for his turn, and elected not to cast it. Success! Well, sort of. I tapped out for Cobra plus Jace, and he simply cast the Cultivate on his fourth turn. Had he just cast the Cultivate turn three, he wouldn’t have had any plays on his fourth turn anyway, so while it didn’t cost me much to not play Cobra turn two, it actually cost Conrad nothing to not play Cultivate turn three. The reason the play worked out for me, though, was that it did convince Conrad I had a Mana Leak, and he attempted to play around it. This worked in my favor even though I drew into a pair of Leaks (and a Spell Pierce), as Conrad refused to cast any spell into a Leak. On his fifth turn, with six lands in play, he just made no plays rather than cast his Primeval Titan into Mana Leak. The next turn, he played an Everflowing Chalice for one and Fogged my attack, setting up his All Is Dust. He played it with three mana up for a Mana Leak, but he wasn’t getting through two counterspells, and that left him tapped out and dead on board. Notably, the Titan he didn’t want to trade for Leak was left stranded in his hand. Granted, I win that game no matter what Conrad does, but imagine if I didn’t have the Spell Pierce in addition to the two Leaks. Then by playing his Titan into Leak on turn five, Conrad ends up being able to resolve All is Dust through the single Leak, and is right back in the game.

Sunday, 10amSpell Pierce
In game one of the quarterfinals, Gerard kept six lands Condemn, and the judges just called the match on the spot.

Saturday, 6pm

Saturday, 11am
Chapin is attacking me with a Sylvan Ranger and a Greater Basilisk. I have an untapped Stone Golem, and a tapped Gravedigger and Barony Vampire, with a gassy hand that includes double Act of Treason and Lightning Bolt. I’m at 11, he’s at 13. The previous round I talked with Ben Lunquist about the draft, and he clued me in on Chapin having Pyroclasm and Sleep in his deck.

I block, putting him most likely on Pyroclasm, but also wanting to protect my life total if he has Giant Growth or Sleep, since I have so much action in hand. If he has  and I don’t block, for example, I fall to 7 and can’t let the Basilisk and Ranger through again, or I die to the the Giant Growth. He instead has Diminish. This clues me in to him also having Sleep: if he wanted to trade the Ranger and Diminish for the Stone Golem, he could have simply not attacked with it and not risked me not blocking. He wanted to get that damage through; he wanted me to not block. From Chapin’s perspective, the ideal scenario was me taking the attack, then killing the Golem by blocking with his post-combat Scroll Thief plus Diminish. Not blocking would have worked out much better for me due to my hand, but given the information I had at the time I think I made the correct decision in blocking. Chapin’s attack was not representing Diminish, and it was going to be hard for Chapin to win the game from that spot without Pyroclasm, so it was correct for me to play as if he had it, to some extent.

Saturday, 9am

“Draft. Shuffle the pack, and lay out six cards to your left.”

This is it. The moment of truth. Was I going to ride off into the sunset with the Princess, and not just any ordinary Princess, no, we’re talking Kristen Bell meets Zooey Deschanel with maybe just a little bit Chandra Nalaar, and a sunset too surreal to be natural and yet too perfect to be tainted, one that could only be described as magical? Or were my bones to be cast aside, joining the pile of so many others before me, and unlike the ones sitting so neatly in the pile in front of me, never to be reassembled?

“Pick up the cards.”

I’m not normally one to flip straight to the back of the pack to see what fortune has bestowed upon me, but in this case, the suspense got the best of me. My hands trembling, I slowly inched the back card upwards…

Goldenglow Moth

But it wasn’t a rare I was looking for. I continued flipping through the pack, taking a perhaps less dramatic peek at each card. And there it was, sitting inconspicuously in the middle of the pack, oblivious to the tension surrounding it.

Umezawa’s Jitte

Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket

Now, a casual observer may have seen me calmly make my pick, just like any other pick. Like it was a Jhessian Lookout. Like of course it was there, I knew it would be there.

But inside my head I grabbed that Act of Treason in both hands, held it high above my head, and ran the victory laps that would only become real a day later.

Friday, 5pm
Huh. This doesn’t feel like an 0-2 deck:



Friday, 2pm

Draft Viewer

Friday, 10am

The beginning mirrors the end. Round one, game three. Mulligan to five. Take a Sovereigns hit down to 3. Peel a Sovereigns and attack for an exactly lethal 17. A fine tone to set for a tournament.

Before the tournament

This is it? The true moment of truth? It’s not the what that’s most important, or even the why. It’s the how. That would be the best takeaway I could offer.

But I’ve never been good at writing conclusions.

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