2011 U.S. National Championship - Day 1 Blog

Posted in Event Coverage on August 5, 2011

By Wizards of the Coast

Mark Hornung, 2011 Vintage Champion

Vintage Championship Results Bracket

Quarter-finals

Mark Hornung

Nick Coss

Ryan Glackin

Joseph Brown

Paul Mastriano

Rich Shay

Stephen Menendian

Joseph Bogaard

Semi-finals

Mark Hornung, 2-1

Ryan Glackin, 2-0

Paul Mastriano, 2-1

Stephen Menendian, 2-0

Finals

Mark Hornung, 2-1

Stephen Menendian, 2-1

Champion

Mark Hornung, 2-1

EVENT COVERAGE

Round 1: Feature Match – Ari Lax vs. David Sharfman

by Nate Price

Here in the hallowed halls of the Indianapolis Convention Center, which I say in all seriousness, a great event is taking place. Gen Con, the best four days in gaming have drawn thousands of people together to share their love of gaming. One of the marquee events this year, at least as far as readers of this piece are concerned, is U.S. Nationals. The best players in the United States have come to vie for the chance to represent 'Murrica at Worlds on their home turf, in San Francisco, later this year.

Game One

The first round started with a bang, giving us a great matchup between Ari Lax, who has been around the block a fair number of times, with some recent Top 8s at GP Nashville in 2010 and Atlanta earlier this year. His opponent is David Sharfman, who has just cruised this year, winning GP Paris and PT Nagoya earlier this year.

Ari Lax

Sharfman started things off with a mulligan, his deck showing him a weak opening hand. Lax started off with an Island, something which was probably going to be a popular first-turn play over the course of the day. Sharfman gave me pause for a moment when he played a Verdant Catacombs, fetching a forest to play a Birds of Paradise. The next few turns were spent building mana, both players avoiding any more commintments to the board. When Sharfman broke the stalemate at the end of Lax's turn for a Deceiver Exarch, the pieces all came together in my head. Lax had a Mana Leak, but it put opened the window. The Birthing Pod that followed from Sharfman immediately upgraded the Birds to a Spellskite, to protect him from a Twin combo from Lax. Considering Lax hadn't played a non-land permanent, and the Mountain he had in play, it seemed a good bet that he was playing the UR version of the Splinter Twin combo deck.

Sharfman started to use his Pod to great effect over the next turns, playing a Sylvan Ranger which turned into a Sea Gate Oracle.

"Value," he exclaimed!

Lax made a Deceiver Exarch on the end of Sharfman's turn, but didn't really have anything to do with it over the next couple of turns. He Ponder ed and Preordain ed to dig for a way to get himself ahead, but other than that did nothing. Sharfman, meanwhile, kept Podding. Oracle turned into Phyrexian Metamorph, and he played a Sylvok Replica as well. Between the Replica and his Spellskite, he looked to be in complete control. An Acidic Slime on the next turn ate Lax's Shrine of Piercing Vision before getting upgraded into a Frost Titan. This massive, and rapidly upgrading army, was facing down a lone Deceiver Exarch. Even it went away as Lax was forced to chump block the rampaging Titan on the following turn. When Sharfman used his Pod to make his Replica into an Entomber Exarch, which prompted Lax to concede rather than reveal his hand.

Ari Lax 0 – David Sharfman 1

David Sharfman

Game Two

Lax started the second game digging through his deck with a couple of Preordains, which is quickly becoming a hallmark of his games. Intermixed with those, he resolved a free Gitaxian Probe, revealing a Solemn Simulacrum, Frost Titan, Memoricide, and Nature's Claim. When Sharfman tried for the Memoricide, a Mana Leak stopped it cold. Lax made a Shrine of Piercing Vision, leaving one mana up and giving Sharfman a temporary reprieve. He made a Solemn Simulacrum and used a Nature's Claim to end the Shrine, which Lax simply replaced. Sharfman punished Lax's weak draw on the following turn with a Frost Titan, which sealed the match after a couple of attacks.

Ari Lax 0 – David Sharfman 2

Round 2: Feature Match – Paul Rietzl vs. Alex West

by Brian David-Marshall

"Morning, gentlemen," I said cheerfully as the two competitors sat down for the second round of the tournament but I was still looking down and getting the camera ready and opening up a blank document and did not see the glum look on either of their faces.

"You realize that we both lost, right?" sighed Rietzl.

Both players came into this event with their eyes no doubt on picking up some of the precious Pro Points available at Nationals. With his Finals finish in Paris — and double tabling of Grand Prix Paris at the same time -- Rietzl is within the Top 10 of the Player of the Year race. Additionally with 10 days left for members of the two Pro Tour Hall of Fame committees to submit — or even resubmit — their ballots a National team berth might be the Magic equivalent of shaking hands and kissing babies.

For Alex the Pro Points are even more important. The Star City Games columnist has not even gotten on the board for the Player of the Year race — the only players listed on the page have 10 or more points so far this season — getting the minimum point payout at each of the first two Pro Tours so far this season.

When you lose round one of an event like Nationals the hope is that you will get paired with a relatively inexperienced player in the 0-1 bracket and will be able to get back on track. As they walked to the pairings board the last name they wanted to see across from their was one they recognized.

Paul Rietzl

"Should I have said 'Mourning gentlemen.'"

"I haven't won a Constructed match at Nationals since 1999," Rietzl said wryly.

"Some would say the odds are in your favor," offered Alex who rolled very low on his dice. "You are a favorite to win this die roll..."

"Tied it," slumped Rietzl who would eventually win the reroll.

Game One

Rietzl led off with Porcelain Legionnaire off of a Plains and Inkmoth Nexus — he was playing Tempered Steel. Alex played Spreading Seas on his Plains rather than his Inkmoth Nexus out of respect for the eponymous enchantment. Rietzl added Vault Skirge to his team as well as Glint Hawk Idol. West played Colonnade and passed the turn.

Rietzl offered up another Idol but it was Mana Leak ed. Rietzl paid to animate the one from the previous turn and attacked for 6. Day of Judgement from West cleared away most of the threats but Rietzl was able to animate both Idol and Nexus and swing in for 2 and 1 before playing another Nexus.

West's deck was starting to rumble to life as he played an Everflowing Chalice for 1 and Oblivion Ring ed the Idol. Rietzl sighed and went to his back up plan, animating both of the Inkmoths and scratching away. West paid full price for Tezzeret's Gambit and nudged up his Chalice to two counters. Rietzl had Spellskite. He was tight on mana and could only get in for 1 poison counter that turn.

Rietzl played a second Chalice for 1 and then summoned Consecrated Sphinx. Rietzl frowned at the board but he had a plan. He animated both his Nexi during his upkeep and Dispatch ed the Sphinx before drawing a card. He snuck in for another point of poison. West slowed the infection with Spreading Seas on one of the two Nexi. He played another Gambit for full price and forged another Chalice.

Rietzl attempted to land Tempered Steel bit it was met with Mana Leak. His Nexus got in for the 6th poison counter. West tapped an Island and a Chalice with three counters on it to Gambit again. He left Colonnade mana up and ORinged the Spellskite but he had to Mana Leak another Tempered Steel on Rietzl's turn. Rietzl was able to get 7th or a 7th poison but — with just a little sweat starting to show on his brow — West finally found a Tectonic Edge. He attacked with two Colonnades and passed.

Rietzl finally landed a Tempered Steel and followed it with Vault Skirge and Signal Pest. West killed the Inkmoth EOT and untapped to kill everything else with Day of Judgement. He played yet another Tezzeret's Gambit and had his Chalices at 5,4, and 3. Baneslayer Angel was enough for Rietzl to slide the pair of Seas across the table and wrinkled up his face in disgust as he reached for the sideboard.

Alex West

Game Two

Glint Hawk Idol led off for Rietzl and West's Mana Leak on Steel Overseer saved two points of damage with no third land for the Pro Tour Amsterdam champion. West played a pair of Chalices over the next two turns and then went to 16 to pay the Phyrexian mana cost for Gambit and boost them both up with Proliferate in between Rietzl playing Memnite and Signal Pest.

Rietzl was able to attack for 5 but was still scuffling for mana. Meanwhile, West had all the mana in the world and played Preordain into Baneslayer Angel. He O-Ringed the Idol and then played Angel. Rietzl who had sided out all but one of his Dispatch es shrugged and said okay as he played Signal Pest.

West attacked for nine and then Spread a Plains and Oust ed a Signal Pest. Rietzl nodded and started to fill out the result slip.

Final result: Alex West - 2 Paul Rietzl - 0

"I don't really like the new versions of CawBlade," said West after the match wen asked about his decision to play a blue-white control deck. "Once you are paying full price for Swords I would rather be paying that price on better guys. Everyone keeps teasing me that it is the control deck of a small child. Last round I cast a turn 5 Karn with Cancel backup."

Round 3: How Can You Beat That Which Does Not Kill? – Kyle Sanchez vs. Orrin Beasley

by Marc Calderaro

"Yo, you a net-decker?" Kyle Sanchez snarked at his opponent. He may have been away from Magic for a while, but he still knew how to toy with an opponent.

"Maybe," a meeker Orrin Beasley replied.

"I tell ya, man, there's no pride in Magic anymore." Kyle shook his head disdainfully and shuffled his cards. His unique mill deck had been taking down some unlikely contenders so far, and we'll see how it fairs against Beasley's CawBlade. Sanchez said in his testing with Pro Tour—Hollywood winner Charles Gindy, this match was 80% in his favor. 80% seems pretty darn good. Those are close to Owling Mine numbers, I think.

But it's time for Kyle Sanchez to put his money where his mouth is.

Game One

Preordain

Sanchez started off with an Island into a Ponder, yielding a nice turn-two Lotus Cobra and a turn-three pre-fetchland Hedron Crab. However, the Crab was promptly Mana Leak ed by Beasley, who spent his own first turns Preordain ing and keeping mana up for said counterspell things. Oblivion Ring, Squadron Hawk, Day of Judgment, Spellskite and a Sword of Feast and Famine lay waiting in Beasley's hand.

Turn four Sanchez had up 2 Islands, a Forest and a Mountain, and thanks to Lotus Cobra, cast Archive Trap on his opponent.

"A couple Swords and a Hawk. Not bad." Kyle mused.

Beasley's Squadron Hawk in-hand came down and searched two buddies, then Beasley laid the Horror artifact creature.

Sanchez cycled a Visions from Beyond (rather than Ancestral Recalling with it), revealing his desperation, then laid a Jace, Memory Adept, drew a card while casting a free Glimpse the Unthinkable, then shipped his turn. Sword of Feast and Famine came down, equipped, then aided Beasley's attack to make the totals 17-16 in Sanchez's favor. Post-combat, Beasley O-Ring'ed away the opposing Planeswalker. Sanchez had some tricks to foil the Sworded-up bird, but totals still became 9-14. And single digits was not good for Sanchez and his milling compatriots.

Facing lethal next turn, as more birds and more Swords cluttered Beasley's side, Sanchez drew, sighed, and scooped up his cards.

Orrin Beasley 1 – 0 Kyle Sanchez

Orrin Beasley

Game Two

Dueling Preordains, and Sanchez followed with a Hedron Crab and a Terramorphic Expanse. Beasley simply held up Mana Leak mana, and caught a second Crab, then swept the O-G Original Crab with an O-B Oblivion Ring.

Jace, Memory Adept

A turn or two passed before Kyle cast Into the Roil at the end of Beasley's turn to get his Hedron Crab back in time to have two uncracked fetchlands (an Scalding Tarn and a Misty Rainforest ) in play. After some cracking and some fetching, Beasley got his turn back with 21 cards in his graveyard. He calmly tapped out for a Gideon Jura, and was caught in an Archive Trap at the end of his turn. He had 5 cards in his hand, and only 15 cards left in his library.

Two Visions from Beyond restocked Sanchez's hand (this time they Recalled), allowing Sanchez to cast Explore, play a Forest and a Misty Rainforest (milling for nine in the process), then two Lotus Cobras and a Preordain. He bottomed two lands, drew an Island, and passed the turn with a Jace, Memory Adept and a third Lotus Cobra alongside the unwanted blue land.

Gideon was lonely. Sanchez was still at 17 life, and Beasley's library was low. Very low. Jura did what he could. He grabbed a Sword of Feast and Famine and took Sanchez to single digits, but Sanchez's Jace was more than willing to take Beasley's remaining cards and throw them in the trash.

Orrin Beasley 1 – 1 Kyle Sanchez

Kyle Sanchez

Game Three

These early cyclers are getting a bit predictable, but thankfully, Sanchez fought Beasley's Preordain with a turn-one Hedron Crab, and Beasley decided a Squadron Hawk, searching up for two friends, was a better second-turn play than holding up Mana Leak mana. The library searching allowed Sanchez to Archive Trap for free. This was important because after a Ponder, Sanchez's hand was merely four lands and another Archive Trap. If his Hedron Crab bit the dust, he might have some trouble on his hands.

It was about to do just that to a Dismember the following turn, but Sanchez had drawn an Into the Roil, like a curly-haired boss, to save it. Beasley's board was three Hawks, and he was able to Mana Leak Kyle's re-cast Hedron Crab. Sanchez was ok with that though; he had another one sitting in his hand, again, like the aforementioned boss.

Sanchez knew how to play this deck. Every time I got up to count the cards in Beasley's graveyard, he would say the number immediately when I put the deck down.

"25?" he asked. I nodded.

Sanchez's various Preordains and Ponders found him more Crabs. One was Oblivion Ring -ed while a Spellskite joined the 1/1 Hawks. Sanchez sunk to 9, milled his opponent with his remaining Crab, then cracked fetchlands to mill some more.

Archive Trap

"You should have 10 cards in your library?"

"11."

"Ok. Hm. How many Spell Pierces are in your 'yard?" He silently counted them up. It was clear Sanchez had a plan.

"On your upkeep, Archive Trap ?" Ah yes, that plan.

Beasley thought for a moment, then scooped up his cards. It looks like that 80% win rate might not be too skewed after all.

Kyle Sanchez 2 – 1 Orrin Beasley

Kyle Sanchez's deck has some really neat tricks up its sleeve, and some that he requested I not reveal this early in the tournament. Stay turned for more on this surprising little deck.

Friday, 1:30 p.m. – A Quick Look at Vintage

by Nate Price

Ah Vintage, the least understood of Magic's many formats (Chaos Planechase Archenemy Emperor Commander notwithstanding). Vintage has been around for actual ever, but very few people outside of the dedicated community seem to show any interest in it. As the years have passed, players have started to become more and more interested in the older formats. All you have to do is look at the booming popularity of Legacy to see that that is true. Many players have looked down on Vintage as a stagnant, never-changing format filled with broken cards, non-interactive matches, and generally not worth their time to get into.

Honestly, it's a shame. After years of covering the Vintage Championhips, I've learned how wrong those opinions are. The format is constantly shifting as new cards are added to the mix. Sure, not all of them will be even playable, but every so often, a new superstar comes in and makes waves in the pool, often one you never see coming. The cards are definitely incredibly powerful, but they lend themselves to layers of strategy that don't exist in the other formats. You may think that the Storm mirror match is just going to be a vomit-fest, where someone just dies on the first or second turn with no chance for their opponent to even play Magic, but the matchup is actually highly interactive, with a great deal of ebb and flow, and packed with strategic thinking. It really is a rich format, as its very tight community can tell you, and it's only a matter of time before players start to come around. After all, the negative opinions that players have held about the format are eerie echoes of their problems with Legacy, and we can all see how that turned out.

So for those of you that have read this far, and would like to learn more about this very interesting format, let's begin by taking a look at what comes together to make Vintage. One of the biggest hallmarks of Vintage is the presence of the powerful older cards. Cards of legend, like the Moxen, Black Lotus, Ancestral Recall, Time Walk, Mishra's Workshop …these are definitely the first things that jump to peoples' minds when you think of Vintage, and with good reason. They are some of the most powerful cards ever printed, and that definitely contributes to the power level of the format as a whole. Up next is an interesting phenomenon that occurs in Vintage and Legacy to a lesser extent. Because of the sheer size of the card pool, there are often cards that will have a very big impact in Vintage that are virtually unplayable in other formats. One of the best examples of this is the card Slash Panther.

All right, believe me when I say that the first time I heard about this, I just started to laugh, assuming that someone was playing a joke on me. But as they explained it, it really started to make sense. While a player might get mocked mercilessly out of the room were they to play Slash Panther in Standard right now, it fills many important roles in Vintage.

Phyrexian Metamorph

The deck it has found a home in is the Mishra's Workshop -based artifact decks that are major players in the Vintage scene. The deck used to run Juggernaut as a kill condition, since a first-turn 5-powered creature tends to end things in short order. Back that up with some disruption in the form of Sphere of Resistance, Thorn of Amethyst, and Tangle Wire and an opponent frequently finds themselves in a world of hurt. When Lodestone Golem was released, the deck got a significant upgrade. After all, what is better than disruption and a fat creature? Disruption on a fat creature.

Slash Panther is the newest addition to the deck. While a little smaller than its predecessors, it makes up for that in speed. Combined with Phyrexian Metamorph, which is also proving to be a standout across multiple formats, the hasty Panthers are able to do many things that their cousins could not. For example, they kill Jace, the Mind Sculptor immediately (yes, he's even ridiculously good in Vintage). Second, he can actually kill faster than the other two since most players tend to take a little self-inflicted damage in the early turns of the game. All in all, he's just a great versatile addition to the deck. Not exactly the power-level you'd expect from a standout in Vintage, I bet.

Mystic Remora

One of the other cool things about Vintage is the fact that there are so many cards that no one can play in other formats because they are too old. These cards only see play in Vintage, and they are just really cool to see in action. Mystic Remora is a good example. This simple little enchantment, while it might be nothing more than average or good were it playable in other formats, is an absolute stud in Vintage. You know those Moxes that seem to be running about? They're spells. How about those other cheap spells that seem to be running about, like Brainstorm, Ponder, Duress, Preordain, Inquisition of Kozilek, Ancestral Recall, Force of Will... I could go on. This card will often draw you an incredible number of cards for an entirely negligible cost. Pretty sexy!

Right now, taking a look around the Vintage world, the format appears to be pretty open. You are going to see variations on decks running Mishra's Workshop. Some will run the aggressive plan described above, some with Slash Panther and some without. You will also see versions running a control strategy, using Smokestack to keep opponents locked out of the game. There will be a slew of blue-based control decks. Most will be UB, dipping in to find Dark Confidant, Tutors, and discard. Often you'll see them playing Tezzeret the Seeker to abuse with their plethora of artifacts and mana-producers. They will all have Jace, the Mind Sculptor. These decks can really go a number of ways, though setting up a lock with Time Vault and either Tezzeret or Voltaic Key seems to be the most popular. There will definitely be combo decks in the field as well, with the most popular being the storm decks, killing with either Tendrils of Agony or Empty the Warrens, and generating their storm count through either Rituals or Hurkyl's Recall.

Kataki, War's Wage

There are definitely aggressive decks in the format as well. One of the more popular versions is a BWG "Hate-Bears" deck. It uses the large number of cheap creatures with embedded abilities that happen to be good against these other strategies to hamper them as they smash their faces in. I'm talking Phyrexian Revoker, Leonin Relic-Warder, Ethersworn Canonist, Aven Mindcensor, and Kataki, War's Wage. These cards lock down a specific element of the opponent's strategy, all the while turning sideways and bringing the game closer to an end. There are the "Fish" variants that run about as well. These run a similar strategy, using cards like Gaddock Teeg, Trygon Predator, and Qasali Pridemage to keep people hemmed down, though they reinforce their little men with a suite of countermagic. On top of that, they often keep their hands stocked through Cold-Eyed Selkie, which is a virtually guaranteed card every turn in this heavy-blue field.

Other than that, there are the occasional other decks that have made an appearance. People will still play Dredge in every format that the cards are in. They will continue to find ways to cheat creatures into play, either via Oath of Druids, Show and Tell (sometimes both in the same deck), Tinker, or reanimator spells. They will play Painter's Servant and Grindstone to mill a deck out, or maybe even Helm of Obedience if they're feeling really old-school. These are all things that have been around Vintage at one time or another, though their power level in the current format is up for debate. Regardless of how strong they are, they are still decks that you have to be aware exist if you hope to play Vintage.

Over the rest of the day, I'll be stopping in with some of the players playing some of the more interesting decks in the field, as well as trying to get some insights into the more consistently performing decks. After all, this format is far deeper than most people give it credit for being, and I'd really like to illustrate how that is so.

Friday, 1:40 p.m. – Day Zero Standard Grinder Winners

by Marc Calderaro

So I know you guys all want this stuff. You know, the winning Standard decklists that got unqualified players qualified for Nationals? Well guess what, I got 'em right here. No big surprises, but Mono Red lists always make me smile. Watch out for a few interesting cards though. There's an Abyssal Persecutor hidden amongst these cards, and a few Gravitational Shift s to boot. Additionally, Pyromancer Ascension rears its head to remind us of the other Blue-Red combo deck running around.

These guys showed up ready to enjoy the GenCon weekend, and ended up playing in the big show. Pretty sweet, folks.

Alex Bertoncini

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Kyle Dembinski

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Matthew Wood

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Joshua Hakakian

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Dan Rodemann

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Planeswalker (2)
2 Gideon Jura
Sorcery (4)
4 Preordain
Artifact (3)
3 Sword of Feast and Famine
Enchantment (2)
2 Oblivion Ring
60 Cards

Dan Rodemann

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Dan Rodemann

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Tim Sussino

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Creature (6)
2 Spellskite 4 Deceiver Exarch
Sorcery (12)
4 Gitaxian Probe 4 Ponder 4 Preordain
Instant (11)
2 Dismember 3 Dispel 2 Into the Roil 4 Mana Leak
Artifact (4)
4 Shrine of Piercing Vision
Enchantment (4)
4 Splinter Twin
60 Cards

Shane Campbell

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Stephen Neal

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Dan Patterson

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Daniel Samson

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Tyler Winn

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Brandon Krohm

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Ronnie Ritner

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Planeswalker (4)
2