2011 U.S. National Championship - Day 2 Blog

Posted in Event Coverage on August 6, 2011

By Wizards of the Coast

Jared Kohler (right), your 2011 Legacy Champion

Legacy Championship Results Bracket

Quarter-finals

Bernie Wen

Mark Larson

Jared Kohler

Mark Sun

Reed Hartman

Eric Markowicz

David Gleicher

Ian Rogerson

Semi-finals

Bernie Wen, 2–0

Jared Kohler, 2-1

Reed Hartman, 2-0

David Gleicher, 2-1

Finals

Jared Kohler, 2–1

Reed Hartman, 2–0

Champion

Jared Kohler, 2–1

EVENT COVERAGE

Saturday, 11:25 a.m.: Deck Tech – Drafting with Haibing Hu

by Brian David-Marshall
Sengir Vampire

Texan Magic veteran Haibing Hu went 7-0 on day one here at Nats and closed out the last three rounds in convincing fashion with a Goblin deck in the Magic 2012 draft format. As he sat down at a table with the other two 7-0 players -- Joshua Howe and Wesley Wise -- as well as a couple of former National teammates -- Adam Yurchick and Todd Anderson -- I was curious what his plan would be for this draft. Would he force the archetype that served him so well yesterday?

"I don't like forcing. I try to take what I am passed," said Haibing after the draft. He opened a pack and did not see anything he liked better than a card that has been around even longer than he has -- Sengir Vampire. He took an Incinerate with his second pick and then was faced with a dilemma for pick three.

Sphinx of Uthuun

Having passed an Æther Adept to take the Vampire, Hu wanted to avoid blue if at all possible but when he was passed a third pick Sphinx of Uthuun he could not pass it.

"I had to jump into blue for the Sphinx of Uthuun and I am pretty sure I had already put players to my left into blue," explained Hu who was willing to be cut off in one direction on the color. "I would rather take a signal from the player passing me two packs. Plus Sphinx of Uthuun is really good."

Hu added a Gravedigger, Bloodrage Vampire, and Manalith to his growing pile of cards and when his opening pack made its way back to him he found Drifting Shade waiting.

"I was pretty sure I was getting cut from blue," said Hu of the way pack two played out when he opened on Æther Adept and then was passed Gideon Jura.

Gideon Jura

He agonized between the Gideon Jura and either Mind Rot or Divination before ultimately dipping his toe into white to test the waters.

"I was pretty sure I was still going to be blue but if I got passed Pacifism and Griffins..." Hu explained of his Planeswalker pick. "Besides I can never beat this card. All the blue and black cards in the pack were pretty much the same and I was pretty sure one of them would come back.

He was right, as both the Mind Rot in his opening pack, and the one he took Gideon Jura over came back to him. He also picked up a late Divination as well.

Pack three started off with Doom Blade and then he took the first of three Vampire Outcasts. "Black was definitely open by the third pack," said Hu, who rounded out the draft with Merfolk Looter and a couple of fliers.

Haibing Hu - Draft Deck Two

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Saturday, 2:25 p.m. – Legacy Championship at a Glance

by Marc Calderaro

I am so happy right now. When I was told I got to watch Legacy today, it's a coverage writer's dream. It's like the wild west out here. Sure you got your Stoneblades, your RUGs (with or without Natural Order), your Merfolk, and those decks are all still good, but just walking around the top tables at Round 3 reveals the true diversity of the format. There're Reanimators, Dredgers, Aluren, Argothian Enchantresses, Ill-Gotten Gainsers, Affininites, White Weeners and more. Not to mention, there are more than a couple Goblin decks doing well. Yes, those Goblins. Even in the face of Mental Misstep around every corner, the red ragers are still furiously getting in there for the necessary damage.

Natural Order
Argothian Enchantress

The field is ripe for the picking. And again and again we keep hearing that's why people love Legacy. I sat down with Ryan Messick defending Legacy champion who talked about how varied the format can be. Even in the constant glare of big papa Jace, the Mind Sculptor, Messick says you can play anything you want to.

"I think Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a little overblown," he said. Messick insists Stoneforge Mystic is more of the issue, and that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is closer to a win-more card. Almost. Talking to Zack Shaffer, sitting at 3-0 with Painter's Servant Grindstone, and Duane Lindstrom, who had just taken Shaffer to a close three games, echoed the ideas about the Squire-like equipment fetcher. Though Shaffer seemed to think Stoneforge Mystic was less format defining than Mental Misstep.

Painter's Servant
Grindstone

There's certainly something to that. Though Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are numerous at the top tables, Misstep seems almost ubiquitous. The answer it seems is you only play Stoneforge Mystic if you're playing creatures. No such restriction comes along with the free counterspell (typing that phrase, "free counterspell", always seems dirty).

New Phyrexia shook up every format it seems, and Legacy is no exception. Though those three Standard-legal cards are being slung across many tables, there are plenty, plenty, of decks playing neither. So, at first blush, Stoneforge Mystic/Jace, the Mind Sculptor/Misstep is good, Goblins may or may not be dead, and I'm really happy.

Stoneforge Mystic
Jace, the Mind Sculptor

Round 10: Feature Match – Shaheen Soorani vs. Ben Hayes

by Brian David-Marshall

This final round of Booster Draft was showdown between two popular writers. Shaheen Soorani aka Expensive Sorcery Master was hoping to get back to Standard with only two losses. His weapon of choice for the remaining rounds was ... wait for it... make sure you are sitting down? Blue-white Control.

Game One

Ben Hayes -- who made a name for himself with a Top 16 finish at Pro Tour San Juan last season -- is a Star City Open Series grinder so it is no surprise that he had Caw Blade waiting for him on the other side of this round. What was a surprise for Ben Hayes was when his opponent won the coin flip and opted to play.

"Really?"

"I will just play and then see what your deck is like and then maybe do something different," said Soorani who had a super aggressive blue-white beat down deck.

Ben Hayes

Ben Hayes mulliganed an opening hand that could not cast any of the cards in his hand and then did it again, hoping he could muster better than 5 lands and a Chandra's Outrage in his next five.

"Good thing I am on the draw," he grinned. But he ended up keeping a one-land hand and that was all Shaheen saw while beating down with a couple of early white creatures and Honor of the Pure.

Shaheen Soorani 1 - Ben Hayes 0

Game Two

"Hmmm. he cast Swamp in his deck....lemme see what I have for that," joked Soorani as he sifted though his sideboard. Ben, however had gathered significantly more intel and brought in Combust and Deathmark for two Zombie Goliaths

"I would like to draw again but I don't know if I want to..." mused Hayes.

"My deck is a little fast," Shaheen reminded him.

"I am going to play this time. We will see how it goes. I have my mulligans out of the way."

Shaheen Soorani

Hayes kept his hand but Soorani was not happy with seven. Hayes waited for him to send it back. Soorani shook his head. "I don't mulligan -- mulligans are for suckers."

Hayes opened on Child of Night and Soorani wasted no time Pacifying it. He played Cancel on Hayes' turn four Drifting Shade and untapped to play Phantasmal Dragon.

"Don't have anything in your red-block deck that can target it," pleaded Soorani but he knew his pleas fell on deaf ears. Hayes sent Chandra's Outrage to kill the flier and Soorani laughed as he played Honor of the Pure with none of his white creatures anywhere to be seen a turn later.

Hayes played Diabolic Tutor and drew Mana Leak from Soorani who did not know if Hayes would get something he could not counter with the conditional spell. He found Griffin Sentinel a turn later and it drew another Chandra's Outrage.

Stonehorn Dignitary came down and was followed by an Auramancer. The game stalled out for a little while with the players trading minor damage back and forth -- two a turn from the Stonehorn Dignitary and one a turn from Hayes' Goblin Arsonist. The game kept up that pace until Soorani found Sphinx of Uthuun to put the game out of reach.

Final result: Shaheen Soorani - 2 Ben Hayes - 0

Saturday, 2:30 p.m.: Deck Tech – How Many Cards Would a Conley Woods...Mill?

by Brian David-Marshall
Conley Woods

Have you ever wondered how to draft the mill deck in Magic 2012? Conley Woods sat down for his draft on Day Two and opened a pack with Jace's Archivist -- a card that is very good even if you are not the mill deck -- and Merfolk Mesmerist. His second pack saw him take Cemetery Reaper over a Jace's Erasure. He proceeded to take blue and black cards throughout the remainder of the pack but when both the Merfolk Mesmerist and enchantment came back around he was squarely on the mill plan.

In the second pack he was passed a second pick Jace, Memory Adept and he never looked back. In the end he had three Jace's Erasure, one Archivist, and the Jace, Memory Adept to go along with SIX Merfolk Mesmerists (Before anyone at home panics, in Limited you are not bound by the same deck building restrictions that govern Constructed).

Merfolk Mesmerist

He also had a pair of Visions of Beyond but left them in the sideboard in what he describes as a deck building error and brought them in for every sideboard game over his black splash.

I got to watch him lose his second of three rounds to one of the most extreme sideboards I have ever seen. In the third game his opponent went up to 53 cards and brought in Elixir of Immortality. Conley still came close to decking him twice but eventually succumbed to creatures and Overrun. He was fine with that game loss but was a little salty about his own misplay in game one when he simply was not fluent with how deathtouch and trample interacted. He went 2-1 with the deck but it is certainly worth taking a look at:

Saturday, 4:00 p.m. – Day 2 Standard Metagame Breakdown

by Tim Willoughby

Here at US Nationals, Day 2 concludes with more rounds of Standard. This is the place where solid shots at top eight will either be solidified or will miss in the final moments.

The metagame is dominated by Caw Blade, the blue/white control deck that has had to adapt to the bannings of both Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic. It would seem that it has succeeded in doing so, as the most represented deck in the field, at a little over a third of all players still in running it. Varieties of Splinter Twin, Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and Birthing Pod decks follow, after which there is a fair variety of individual decks, including such intriguing singleton contenders as a Death's Shadow Green/Black deck, and a revival of Mono Black Control.

Archetype %
Caw Blade 34%
Splinter Twin 11%
Valakut 9%
Tempered Steel 5%
Goblins 4%
Twin Pod 4%
Mono Red 3%
UB Control 3%
RB Vampires 2%
RUG Pod 2%
Elves 2%
Jund 2%
RUG Twin 2%
UGW Birthing Pod 2%
BUG 1%
BUG Pod 1%
Mono Green Eldrazi 1%
Naya 1%
UB Tezzeret Control 1%
Singleton other decks 10%
 

Legacy Deck Tech – U/G Poison with Steve Walsh

by Marc Calderaro

Remember that time a second ago when I was talking about how open the Legacy format is? So I just watched Steve Walsh crush his last round opponent to go to 4-0, and it will surely surprise some that said crushing was done with an 10/10 Blighted Agent. This deck has been floating around in one form or another for the last few months, but Walsh's deck – built with the help of a few other South Bend, Indiana locals, Mike Tabler and John McGuane – looks like it's got something going on. I sat down with Walsh, had him open the hood of the Infect machine, and I took a look inside.

Steve Walsh

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The build breaks down simply enough into three parts – creatures, things to pump them, and things to protect them. Cast a creature with Infect, pump it full of cheap (often free) green steriods, deal at least ten poison counters. It's a simple plan, but effective as all get-out. "I've been winning, in general around turn two or three," Walsh said. It was about this time that recent Vintage Champs Runner-Up, Paul Mastriano wandered up and began staring at Walsh's deck.

"Wait, wait, what does that card do?" Paul pointed at a Blighted Agent.

"It's an unblockable Infect creature for two mana."

A huge grin grew on Paul's face. "Oh. I can see how that would work." He then turned to the person next to him, "This deck is crazy."

Walsh continued, "One of my favorite cards in the deck is the Breeding Pool." A seemingly odd choice for favorite, a sub-Tropical Island dual land. But he explained that depending on the opponent, sometimes it's right to search out the Pool with your turn-one Misty Rainforest. "Because when you go, 'Breeding Pool, Glistener Elf, Go,' your opponent looks at you like you're an idiot. Then you untap and kill them turn two."

But that wasn't his favorite play of the day so far. A couple rounds ago, he was facing down an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite with only an Inkmoth Nexus and a few other lands in play. "I couldn't cast a creature or activate the Nexus, or they would just die." So he did the only reasonable thing he could: When his opponent attacked, Walsh cast Berserk on the Norn, watched it die, then untapped, activated the Inkmoth Nexus and double-pumped it for the win. Folks, this 60-card pile is fun.

Steve Walsh

As far as a couple specific card choices, the deck didn't have Bounty of the Hunt until last week. But he wouldn't play without them today. He said this tournament started at the same time the dealers opened, and if they didn't have the Hunts he needed, he wouldn't have even bothered sleeving up the deck. "We had a couple Ichorclaw Myrs, but we never liked casting them, and they never did anything." He was quite happy to replace them with the overshadowed Alliances free spell.

He admits his sideboard is a little shaky but it's been effective for him. The Vines of Vastwood are additional support and pump, and it can also protect his manlands from the dreaded Wasteland. Divert and Misdirection are for the Junk discard spells, graveyard removal for the graveyard decks, and Nix and Spell Pierce for additional counter wars. The Nix looks a little odd, but Walsh says it's great against Force of Wills and it also can be used to counter the deadly Pact spell in the Hive Mind match-up. It works because the Hive-Minded copy of Nix can't be used against the original, since one mana had been used to pay for it.

Steve Walsh was really nice to sit down with me, but that's generally the kind of people you get out of the state of Indiana. He and his teammates on Team Mythic (mythicmtg.com) play out of their local Fantasy Games in South Bend. Stop in if you're around; I have a feeling he has a great, cost-effective deck for Legacy that he'd love to beat you to death with.

Round 11: Feature Match – Ali Aintrazi vs. Wesley Wise

by Brian David-Marshall

Wesley Wise was one of three players with a perfect Day One record. His friend, and Star City Open series regular, Ali Aintrazi was 6-1 yesterday. The two players met this round with a loss apiece and were not happy to be playing each other. Wesley had explored the possibility of an intentional draw but with three more rounds after this one it was too soon to be taking layups.

Game One

Wesley, who was playing the indomitable CawBlade opened up the "action" with a turn two Ponder. He played Preordain a turn later while the blue-black Aintrazi tapped all his mana on his third turn for Jace Beleren. He got to draw one card before Wes tucked the pesky Planeswalker away under Oblivion Ring.

Aintrazi ramped his mana with Solemn Simulacrum while Wes replenished his hand with a Squadron Hawk for a pair of wingmen.Ali drew first blood with the Solemn. His Inquisition of Kozilek saw the Hawks, Timely Reinforcements, Into the Roil, Oblivion Ring, Emeria Angel, and Consecrated Sphinx -- he took the Oblivion Ring. Wise cracked back for one and fetched the last Hawk from his deck but the next turn he was looking down the barrel of a Grave Titan from Ali -- which is why he took the Ring.

Wesley Wise

Wise attacked for two in the air and cast Timely Reinforcements to get full value out of it. The score was 22 to 17 when it resolved. Ali sent his team zoneward and netted two more tokens in the process. Wise played into the Roil on the Titan and it was Mana Leaked. He put a pair of soldiers in the way.

Wise was chumping at this point and there was a moment where the two players hovered on the brink of Ali's declare attackers step. Wesley prodded his opponent and Ali was startled into action: "Oh I was waiting on you...attack."

Wesley nodded and scooped up his cards.

Game Two

Inquisition of Kozilek from Ali revealed Sword of Feast and Famine, Spell Pierce, 3 lands, and Emeria Angel -- Ali took Spell Pierce. He played a second copy a turn later and Wise just slammed his Sword into the bin he had drawn a land since the last turn.

The game was off to a slow start. A few non-turns later Jace Beleren drew a card for Ali. Wise, who had a land heavy draw, played his sixth land and took out three of Ali's five lands with a trio of Tectonic Edges. Emeria Angel came down two turns latter and, much like all the reviewers projected upon its release, it immediately died to Doom Blade. The next one did as well but not before leaving two tokens in her wake. Ali cleaned up the angel droppings with Black Sun's Zenith for one while Jacing the whole time. Eventually Wes killed Jace with a Colonade, which left a window for Grave Titan to crawl through. Day of Judgment nuked them both back to square one.

Another Jace Beleren came down for Ali and it resolved but Solemn Simulacrum was met with Mana Leak. With the threat of Celestial Colonnade looming Ali made both players draw a card to nudge it out of range of the manland. Wes attacked it down to one and then restocked his hand with Squadron Hawks. Ali finished off his own Jace by drawing a greedy card for him alone and then played Grave Titan.

Wes needed something other than Squadron Hawk to cope with that and played Preordain into Ponder. He shuffled and drew...Preordain. Finally he found the Day of Judgement and then played Hawk onto the empty board. Next turn he used Tectonic Edge to clear away Ali's Mystifying Maze. With the coast clear he animated his Colonnade but Ali was ready with Doom Blade. That was fine for Wes, he had more man lands where that came from. Wes' next effort at animation hit Ali for five but Ali drew Tectonic Edge on his next turn.

Ali Aintrazi

Wes was on the Hawk plan and played them all out but Ali played Consume the Meek. Wes played Jace Beleren of his own post combat and Ali used two Mana Leaks to tap his opponent out even though the Jace still resolved.

"Any Creeping Tar Pits?" asked Wes as he tried to figure out if Jace was going to 2 loyalty or to 5. There were none in play. "I will draw."

Ali had Volition Reins on the next turn and also drew a card. Mental Misstep countered Ali's Inquisition. Wes attempted to Oblivion Ring the Reins but Ali had Into the Roil and Wes was forced to target his own Jace -- the only non-land permanent on the board. Ali played his own Jace and drew a card but when he tried to play Lilliana Vess a couple of turns later it was Deprived.

Ali worked the Jace for all it was worth and eventually started attacking with Solemn Simulacrum and Creeping Tar Pit and Wes eventually succumbed to what he felt was a very bad matchup coming into the round.

Final result: Wesley Wise - 0 Ali Aintrazi - 2

Saturday, 4:25 p.m.: Burning Up the Draft Tables – Standard Draft Decklists

by Steve Sadin

Of the 41 Draft decks that players piloted to a 3-0 finish in their first draft pod at US Nationals, 9 of them featured at least one copy of Goblin Fireslinger -- and 7 of them decks featured two or more copies of the seemingly innocuous goblin. Intrigued by the results? I know I was.

Was it possible that you could just stick a couple of Goblin Fireslingers into any deck, and peck your opponents to victory? Maybe -- but I was pretty sure that if I looked closely enough I would find a common thread between these decks that might help us better understand how to win with the little goblin that could.

Christian Valenti, 3-0

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Christian Valenti an up and coming Star City Games Open grinder, who is a few months removed from a Top 8 at Grand Prix Atlanta, opened up his third booster pack, flipped to the back and saw a Flameblast Dragon which he quickly added to his deck. Mere moments later regret struck Valenti.

Why would he feel bad about taking a Flameblast Dragon, one of the most powerful rares in the format, in his Mono-Red deck? Because there was also a Goblin Fireslinger in the pack, that's why!

"I took Flameblast Dragon over Goblin Fireslinger, and it nearly cost me my draft," explained Valenti, and almost every pro who looked at his deck agreed with his assertion.

With 3 Goblin Grenades, a Chandra's Phoenix, 2 Stormblood Berserkers, a Goblin Chieftain, and a half dozen other goblins, Valenti's Mono-Red Goblin deck more closely resembled a constructed deck than a draft deck. If Valenti could have added another Goblin Fireslinger to his deck, he would have had a far easier time pumping out 3/3 Stormblood Berserkers on turn two, and finding sufficient fodder for his Goblin Grenades.

Even without the extra Goblin Fireslinger, Valenti was able to cruise to victory thanks to a steady stream of Goblin Grenades.

John Kublis, 3-0

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John Kublis 3-0ed his pod with an extremely aggressive Red-White deck that featured 8(!) one mana creatures, all of which are quite good, a Blood Ogre, a Stormfront Pegasus, 3 Gorehorn Minotaurs, a Shock, and 2 Chandra's Outrages. This deck has a ton of cards that can jump the curve -- allowing it to handily dispatch opponents who have everything but the strongest of draws.

While this isn't the perfect draft deck, it's pretty close.

Haibing Hu, 3-0

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Haibing Hu's deck is able to make good use of its Goblin Fireslingers -- as they can help power up the deck's two Duskhunter Bats, the Blood Ogre, and the Gorehorn Minotaur -- while acting as a reusable damage source for when games go long.

Not only did Hu have 4 bloodthirst creatures, he also had 7 removal spells, and a Act of Treason to clear his opponent's side of the board and keep his offense firing on all cylinders. Even if Hu's opponents were able to lock up the board and prevent Hu from making any profitable attacks, they would have to watch helplessly as their life totals fell one point at a time to Hu's Goblin Fireslingers.

William Postlethwait, 3-0

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With a Stormblood Berserker, a Duskhunter Bat, a Blood Ogre, and 2 Gorehorn Minotaurs -- Postlethwait had quite a few ways to get extra mileage out of his Goblin Fireslingers. And with two Gravediggers in his deck, Postlethwait would have more than ample opportunity to recast his bloodthirst creatures late in the game (at which point he might need to have an unblockable damage source such as Goblin Fireslinger to power them up).

Brad Rutherford, 3-0

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Brad Rutherford's deck had a heavy bloodthirst component to it, with a total of six bloodthirst creatures, and five good pieces of removal. Virtually anytime Rutherford drew a Goblin Fireslinger in his opening hand, he would be able to use it to enable something impressive (and then continue to milk an incremental edge out of it as the game progressed).

Reid Duke, 3-0

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While the bulk of the players who had success with multiple Goblin Fireslingers in their draft decks were using them to enable hyper aggressive starts, the Goblin Fireslingers in Reid Duke's deck act as a way to pump up his Gorehorn Minotaurs, and to protect himself from onslaughts from more aggressive decks.

While Reid Duke could win games by pecking his opponents to death, it was far more likely that he would collect his victories by crashing in for large chunks of damage with his Gorehorn Minotaurs, his Bonebreaker Giant, his Volcanic Dragon, and (of course) his Grave Titan.

In this deck, the Goblin Fireslingers acted as true bloodthirst enablers, and little else.

Sam Black, 3-0

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Unlike the other decks that we've looked at, Sam Black's deck doesn't have a ton of high quality bloodthirst creatures -- in fact the only bloodthirst creatures in the entire deck are a single Duskhunter Bat, and a lone Blood Ogre.

While Sam Black's deck isn't looking to supersize many creatures, it does have an abundance of cheap creatures, and removal spells. Consequently, this deck is capable of getting off to a quick start, and then clearing the path to keep the pressure on -- or to deal a good amount of early damage with its creatures before eventually closing out the game with a couple of Incinerates aimed directly at his opponent's face.

Sure you can always put one, or even two, Goblin Fireslingers in your deck if you're scrounging for playables or you need a little extra bit of reach. But if you're looking to rack up the wins with Goblin Fireslingers, your deck better have a fairly large bloodthirst component and/or a lot of removal spells to keep your offense going -- otherwise you're going to find that those pinging goblins are going to be fairly underwhelming for you.

Round 12: Feature Match – Luis Scott-Vargas vs. David Tidd

by Nate Price

You know, it's always nice to see people you've known for a long time doing well at Magic. I have been watching Kid Tidd play Magic here in Indiana since he was like twelve (you write the feature match, you get to refer to people by their very old nicknames). That's over a decade. Now I get to see him sitting around the top of the standings at US Nationals, within striking distance of making the team. His opponent, I've known for a considerably lesser time, but has definitely contributed some awesome moments to my Magic experience. Luis Scott-Vargas should need no introduction to those of you familiar with tournament Magic. For those of you who aren't, let's just say he's good. Really good.

Game One

LSV started things off with a mulligan, ending on six cards. Tidd's second-turn Lotus Cobra got to effectively hit LSV for four damage, as it was crushed with a Dismember before it even saw an untap step. The Sea Gate Oracle he followed with stuck around a bit longer and started to attack in for one. After getting his beat on, Tidd made a second Lotus Cobra, this one managing to stick around.

LSV went to the skies on his turn, using a Squadron Hawk to fill his hand up with Birds. Tidd once again attacked for one before using his Lotus Cobra and paying some life to make a Birthing Pod. LSV thought for a minute before accepting. The Pod went straight to work, turning the Oracle into a Solemn Simulacrum. For his part, LSV swung in for one himself before adding an Emeria Angel to his team, leaving a single land available. Not to be outdone, Tidd made a huge flier of his own, taking advantage of his overabundance of mana to kick a Sphinx of Lost Truths. He also kept heading up the Birthing Pod chain, turning his Simulacrum into an Acidic Slime, eating LSV's Celestial Colonnade.

LSV settled in, playing another land and passing the turn. When Tidd went for a Phyrexian Metamorph on the ensuing turn, LSV stopped it with a pair of Mana Leaks. Tidd simply passed the turn. LSV ate one of Tidd's lands with a Tectonic Edge before making an Inkmoth Nexus, adding yet another flier to his team. Tidd used the Pod to turn the Slime into a Frost Titan, which he used to lock down a land, before passing the turn.

It was time for LSV to try to swarm over. He sent all of his creatures but a single Bird at Tidd. The Sphinx took the Angel out, but Tidd took a seven-point blow in the attack. One more of those and he was a goner. At the end of LSV's turn, he flashed in a Deceiver Exarch, tapping down one of LSV's lands, leaving him on two. After untapping, he dropped a Splinter Twin onto it, running the alternate victory path to snatch victory out of defeat.

Luis Scott-Vargas 0 – David Tidd 1

Luis Scott-Vargas

Game Two

The first contribution to the board was a Lotus Cobra that Tidd stuck on the third turn. It met a similar fate to the first one he played in the previous game, going straight to the graveyard thanks to Dismember. Just as in last game, Tidd made a Sea Gate Oracle to follow his Cobra, and LSV made his first Squadron Hawk. This time, the Solemn Simulacrum that his play for Tidd came from his hand instead of a Birthing Pod, putting him up to six lands in play. LSV swung for one and searched out his last Squadron Hawk after adding a second to his team.

With his massive land advantage, Tidd tried to cast an Acidic Slime, but LSV had a Flashfreeze for it. With Tidd tapped out, LSV was able to land and equip a Sword of Feast and Famine, allowing him to untap his lands and cast an Emeria Angel as well. He used the last of his mana to drop Tidd to five lands with a Tectonic Edge. Stopped on five lands, Tidd had to cast his Sphinx of Lost Truths without kicker this game, trying to find a solution to stop the Sword.

LSV activated his Celestial Colonnade and sent his entire team. Before blockers were declared, he used his Colonnade to pay for a Dismember, clearing the Sphinx out of the way. Tidd dropped to two. After untapping and finding nothing to help him, Tidd conceded.

Luis Scott-Vargas 1 – David Tidd 1

David Tidd

Game Three

Both players reached for their sideboards to exchange a couple of cards now that the roles had reversed.

"Was Sunblast Angel your first pick," LSV asked, referring to Tidd's first discard to the Sword of Feast and Famine. When Tidd just looked at him confused, he just laughed and said, "In Draft." Tidd had to laugh.

This time around, LSV had the Squadron Hawk, but Tidd didn't have a Lotus Cobra. Instead, he resolved a Birthing Pod with no creatures in play before resolving a blind Memoricide off of a sneaky Swamp. He named Dismember and instead saw a hand with Sword of Feast and Famine, Squadron Hawk, Into the Roil, Flashfreeze and a trio of lands. Though he didn't get the discard, three Dismembers made their way out of LSV's deck, and Tidd got a good look at what else LSV had in store for him later in the game.

Solemn Simulacrum made its way onto the table for Tidd, and LSV responded by kicking an Into the Roil at his Birthing Pod. Metal Jens hit play, pushing Tidd to six lands, but now he couldn't Pod out an Acidic Slime. That was good for LSV, since he held a Sword of Feast and Famine, which made its way onto the Squadron Hawk for a second consecutive game. A second Squadron Hawk hit play after combat, and LSV passed the turn with mana up for the Flashfreeze he was holding. He made sure to immediately use it when Tidd tried to replay the Birthing Pod on his turn. With that out of the way, a second Pod came down, immediately turning the Simulacrum into an Acidic Slime to kill the Sword.

Fortunately, Tidd had dealt with the Sword. Unfortunately, he was at five life. All LSV had to do was activate his Celestial Colonnade and swing for the win.

Luis Scott-Vargas 2 – David Tidd 1

Saturday, 5:00 p.m. – Roundtable

by Nate Price

One of the coolest parts of most conventions, at least from a fan perspective, is the opportunity to sit in on panels comprised of some of the people who design and produce the games and shows you enjoy. Here at Gen Con, one of the panels available to the public was a roundtable of some of the creators, designers, and developers of Magic's newest multiplayer product: Commander. This Commander Roundtable answered questions from players about the product that was released, as well as the format itself. Sitting on the panel were the following four dapper gentlemen:

Left to right, Ken Nagle, Mark Gottlieb, Sheldon Menery, Scott Larabee

  • Scott Larabee(SL) – In addition to being the Organized Play manager, Larabee was on the Commander design team, as well as being a member of the rules committee that governs the format.
  • Sheldon Menery (SM) – As a level 5 judge, Menery went by the moniker "The Sherriff." As one of the creators of the Commander format and a member of the rules committee, he polices the format, keeping it safe for players the world over.
  • Mark Gottlieb (MG) – An advanced developer in R&D and former rules manager, Gottlieb was also a member of the Commander design team.
  • "Phyrexian" Ken Nagle (KN) – Nagle-tron 5000 is a man of many talents. Magic designer, casual commando, Phyrexian Infiltrator, and member of Commander R&D are just a few to chew on.

Now on to the questions!

"Why five decks?" KN – Originally there was a much bigger vision for the Commander product. After thinking about ways to do it, we had a lot of options, such as arcs or four-color generals. We ended up going with the three-color wedges, so we got five decks.

"Any thought about doing four-color generals?"
MG – There's always the possibility. We mainly focused on the wedges because we knew that's what the community wanted. We thought long and hard about the best way to do things, and ultimately the wedges were what we went with. I definitely think we could do four- color generals in the future, though. One difficult thing about the four-color generals is identity. Five-color ones can clearly have an identity and do ridiculous things, and the wedges are focused enough as well, but a four-color general is tough to concept because they are defined by the color they lack. Figuring out how the lack of a color affects something is actually quite difficult. There is this sort of "no-man's land" between five colors and three colors where figuring out what a four-color general is able to do and what makes sense.
SL – We made some throughout this development, but they didn't end up feeling much like a four-color card. Ultimately, I think some of the abilities ended up on the three-color generals that made the set.

"Are you planning on keeping the format more of a casual format?"
All – YES!
SL – I was asked this in San Diego. Someone asked if we are ever going to sanction the format, and I was easily able to unequivocably answer, "NO."
SM – One of the big secrets to keeping things at the level you want them is finding people of the same mindsets as you. If four Spikes want to get together and see who can combo off first, they are more than happy to. It's what they all want to do. There's this precarious balance where you have to understand that players are going to play cards that wreck another strategy, but still allow them to play. There is going to be graveyard hate. There is going to be enchantment removal and the like. But there is always a chance to play in those games despite the hate. A good thing to check is body language. If the people you are playing with are clearly not having fun, why would they continue to play?

Mark Gottlieb

"Did you guys think that the cards in this set would have a splash in other formats as they have?"
MG – It was definitely a possibility. Some we kind of knew might, but there are others we've been quite pleased with and surprised about. This is the first time that we've added new cards to a multiplayer product, and we had to be very conscious about how they were going to interact in the other formats.

"I've noticed that there are a number of commanders that are strictly better in one-on-one than in multiplayer. Did you ever take this into consideration?"
SM – …Um…what? What is this one-on-one? Never heard of it.

"What is your preferred number of players for multiplayer?"
SL – Hah! This is a great question. I will not play in a game with more than five players, and if I'm playing in a five-player game, they had better be players I want to spend the next three hours with. We play every Friday at the office, and you just sit down and form tables of four. If that means you have to wait, you have to wait.

"I know that you've introduced a little point system to help moderate the games (positive points for doing cool things and losing points for doing "unfun" things). Have they worked?"
SM – There is still some tweaking to do with them, but I am really happy with how they've helped out. There are some interesting problems when people do something ridiculous, like a guy who comes in and turn-four kills everyone at the table each week and ends up losing in the league. They don't understand it. But the point system is a great way to craft the types of games you want to see played. If you play with a consistent group of people, or frequently at a store, I highly recommend you visit armadagames.com and check out our rules and implement something like that on your own. It all comes down to this for me: In competitive Magic, I want nothing more than to destroy you as badly as I can. But in Commander, while I still want to beat you, more than that I want to see what ridiculous crazy thing you are going to do! It's what Commander is about! Systems like this help greatly with making sure that an environment like that exists.

Phyrexian Ken Nagle

"What are your favorite commanders?"
KN – My favorite is The Mimeoplasm. We worked really hard with the rules team to make this work, but it was definitely worth it. I just love that every time you play him, it's a different combination of creatures, so it's always fresh.
MG – Right now, my favorite deck is a Ghost Council of Orzhova deck. I have Vish Kal, Blood Arbiter, in that deck, and, though he's not my general, I love what happens when I get him into play. He was the general I worked on, so he has a special place with me.
SM – I played The Mimeoplasm deck all release day, and really liked it. But I think I've had the most fun with Animar, Soul of Elements. I mean, you don't even need Doubling Season to make him good. It's all about fun. Casting a 32/32 Apocalypse Hydra for two mana is always great. Unfortunately, the deck doesn't really run at all without Animar.
SL – I haven't used any of the new commanders yet, but I designed the original card that became The Mimeoplasm. It went through a few changes before it ended up the way it did, but I still have a connection to it. I'd like to try it sometime. I'd also like to Kaalia of the Vast and Tariel, Reckoner of Souls, a try.

"What is your favorite theme for a deck?"
KN – Heh, we have this type of game called "My Favorite Creatures" at the office where you pick a type of creature and run with it. For example, mine is My Favorite Fatties, because I love fatties, which happen to be pretty good in Commander.
MG – I tend to play the controlling decks that find the thing that is affecting the board the most and get rid of it. I just want to draw the game out.
SM – I have Karthus and his Beasts, mostly because all of the good beasts are Jund colors. They don't really work together, but I'm trying to find a way to link them up more. There are like eight Jund generals so I'm looking at them to try to make things better. I love themes in everything. My newest theme is called Lighten Up, Francis, which is a hexproof, shroud version of Phelddagrif.
SL – I like to build lots of other decks, just like Sheldon. I like to keep things kind of simple sometimes, like a white weenie deck where I just have to play some plains and play things. I also have a UBR Vampire deck that I call "All Upside for Me, All Downside for You." I just wanted to put together a bunch of cards that I wanted to play before I realized that there were a lot of Vampires among them, and it took off from there.

"From an R&D standpoint, was there anything that got drastically changed?"
KN – We sent off tri-lands that tapped for a wedge of colors and put them into their respective decks, but development condensed them all into Command Tower, which was great because something like that allowed us to free up some slots in the deck to make cooler things for the deck. "Why can't you play hybrid cards if you're playing one of the colors?"
SM – I am going to start by saying this: The hybrid rules aren't changing. We all generally feel this way on the rules committee, though at different points on the spectrum. Deck construction in Commander is about restriction as opposed to inclusion, making clever choices with fewer choices as opposed to more. A card like Debtors' Knell, for example, is black and white, not black when you pay black and white when you play white. We feel that only players who are black and white both should get to play black and white cards.

Sheldon Menery, in action spellslinging with Commander decks.

"What about Phyrexian mana?"
SM – It's the same philosophy. Blue Phyrexian mana is still blue.

"What impact do you think the release of Commander has had on the community?"
SM – It's let everyone know how awesome I am.
SL – Honestly, I think it's really helped people have more fun. There are a lot of people around the office who never used to really play Magic for fun, but now they do. It's great to see. It's nice to see players of all levels of competitiveness picking it up, too. There are players that will be casual players their entire lives who love Commander. There are also a bunch of Pro players who like to play as a way to relax when they don't have to be super competitive.

"How does commander influence your actual card design?"
MG – Ken Nagle sits around and decides he wants a new commander, so he makes Wrexial, the Risen Deep. Then he's playing it around the office before the sets even come out to print, and we're all like, "You can't play that! It's not even a real card yet!"
KN – Yes, when you make the cards, you get to make the decisions. One good example is from New Phyrexia. Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur, definitely became a ten-drop because of Commander, because people get all sad when a card is too good.

"Has there been any thought about how you might change things to accommodate poison?"
SM – We talked a lot and decided that things don't really matter. First, we want to make as few changes to the rules as possible. On top of that, the numbers are just impossible to figure. Twenty is too many, fifteen is not enough. Honestly, you're going to get Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon guy, and if you don't like playing him, you can always stop, and maybe he'll find another deck. One other reason we think it's ok is that Acquire costs five, and Bribery costs five…and Blightsteel Colossus costs twelve. That's what I like to do. You kill them enough times with their own Blightsteel Colossus, and they'll see the light. I've started playing Backlash and Delirium since people have been playing him. There are always good answers to good cards.

The panel was a fun way for players who are fans of the Commander format to interact with people who have greatly contributed to making Commander, which is an awesome contribution to the community. Everyone really seemed to have fun, especially the panelists. With casual on their minds, everyone really got to let loose and be themselves, which definitely led to some people getting their first glimpse of surly Menery. He got a lot of great laughs, as everyone on the panel did. In addition to being really fun, everyone learned a lot, making this event a huge success.

Legacy Deck Tech: Ooze on a RUG - A Conversation with Reed Hartman

by Marc Calderaro

During Round 6, among the undefeated decks, you can find many archetypes. Most numerous are StoneBlade (or as BDM wishes it were called, "StandardStill" – you see, because it's all cards that are still in Standard and…you know what, nevermind), but right up there with the fightin' Squires are different RUG variants. One such player is Reed Hartman from Dekalb, Illinois. He's playing a tweaked version of NO RUG (that's Red, Blue and Green with Natural Order to search up Progenitus), and he's been running hot. I mean, I guess that's obvious since he's sitting at the undefeated tables after Round 6 of a nine-round tournament. But it's seems like it's all coming easily to him.

His changes to the Standard lists have been slight in number, but dramatic in effect. He cut Ponder for Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Seems like a reasonable change. He went to three Force of Will in the main (though kept the fourth in the side for match-ups like Hive Mind), and he added a card I don't know if I've seen yet. From the new Legacy-legal Commander set, he added one Scavenging Ooze. Hartman said, "It's like a Tarmogoyf. And against Tarmogoyf, it's simply a better Tarmogoyf…It's the real deal." And Hartman's deck was already prepared for the Future Sight green monster anyway. With cards like Fire//Ice and Lightning Bolt, his decks eats Mr. Undercosted for Full English Breakfast. He said the deck doesn't need more than one, because the card doesn't stack well in multiples, as there are only so many creatures in graveyards. But it consistently been a game-changer.

In the sideboard, he went up to three Ancient Grudge at the expense of Trygon Predator. "It was too slow and didn't do enough," he said. "And I love Surgical Extraction…I used it on a Polluted Delta not too long ago." He said the lack of card advantage in the Black Phyrexian spell is fine because, "RUG rarely wins through raw card advantage anyway."

Reed Hartman

He made all these tweaks because in the latest Legacy tournament in Pittsburgh, there were no RUG decks even in the Top 16. He knew that he would have to make some changes if it were to stay competitive. But luckily he had a good handle on what the deck would need because he plays the format constantly.

And why Legacy? Well, because it's the best of course.

"People say it's not as skill intensive as Standard – that there are decks that just win and just lose. But that's not true." Hartman continued that although those decks exist, there's plenty to be found within the win-lose spectrum, and since there are so many different decks you can play, the skill comes from knowing how to react and how to use cards differently that you might usually.

"The first few rounds of any Legacy tournament is a jungle. And getting out of that jungle is difficult. Literally any card can be thrown at you." And he's right. Unlike Standard, where sideboard cards are applied for a specific 75 cards you're competing against, sideboarding in Legacy has to be broader, so you can traverse the jungle. I think the best card for traversing jungles is Trusty Machete, but that's just me.

Hartman loves the health of the format, and even the presence of the Mental Misstep elephant. "It narrows down the field to the more honed decks," he said. Which is a funny thing considering I can rattle off about 25 decks that can win a tournament. But I agree, because that number "25" is lower than "just about infinite".

He continued, "Right now the format is less about diversity and more about innovation." I don't know if I'd go that far, Legacy is still a ways away in style from Standard, but it has certainly become more standardized recently, in more ways than one. Mental Misstep has narrowed the field for sure, but also the strong presence of good creatures and Planeswalkers show Legacy decks playing with more and more Standard-legal cards.

But don't worry, Hartman has shown us that with the release of Commander, there will still be new cards available that will never be played in a Standard decklist. Just wait, I'm sure there's a deck with The Mimeoplasm just waiting around the bend.

Ok, maybe not, but a man can dream, right?

Here's Reed Hartman's NO RUG list:

Reed Hartman

Download Arena Decklist

Alex Bertoncini: Life of a Grinder

by Marc Calderaro

By this point many of you have heard the name Alex Bertoncini. He's been putting up consistently good results and is strongly involved in the community. However, there are many still, I'm sure, who haven't heard of the Westchester, New York native. Despite his recent results, he doesn't have half the name recognition of a Luis Scott-Vargas or a Brad Nelson (or in certain circles, a Marc Calderaro – perhaps you've heard of him). This is because Alex Bertoncini is what we call a Grinder. Though he's put up great results in Grand Prix—Dallas and Kansas City – Top 8 and 17th respectively – most of his wins and community recognition have come from smaller cash tournaments and other open events, like StarCityGames.com Open Series and $5Ks.

So, even though Bertoncini has been able to support himself with the game, he isn't a high level mage on the Pro circuit. He doesn't get appearance fees or his airfare paid for. He doesn't even show up to invite-only events with an invite in his hands. He's got to qualify by playing the long, slogging tournaments the night before that go well into the night – affectionately called the Grinders (from meat-grinder, hence the term for the players). He did just that on Thursday. Bertoncini showed up unqualified for Nationals, but took a solid CawBlade deck and earned himself a last-minute slot.

Though these grinders are much less visible to the Magic layman who doesn't hound the coverage like many of us do, much of the tour is made up of them. So I took Bertoncini aside, after winning a convincing match against Conley Woods, to talk to him about the life of a grinder. And now, please note, I do not mean the weekend-warrior "grinder". There are plenty of people that drive six hours to for a PTQ and call it grinding. I mean the, "I-haven't-been-home-in-a-month" grinder.

Alex got into the game after playing other trading card games, but since his county didn't have a large scene, he soon found himself, at a young age, going into New York City, to the famed Neutral Ground (RIP), and battling in the cutthroat NY scene.

Alex Bertoncini

"I would take the train after school, usually four or five times a week…an hour-and-fifteen-minute commute each way." It seemed to me this need to travel, combined with the fierce competition, is what prompted Alex to get as good as he did. He needed to recoup the money he was spending just to be able to play the game. So with opponents like Chris Calcano, Nick Spagnolo, David Shiels, Steve OMS, Alex quickly excelled at the game – because it was sink or swim.

Not just competing, but competing right is what Alex attributes his skills to. "Instead of 'practice makes perfect', my father told me 'perfect practice makes perfect.'" Alex has always tried to practice in the right way, and that usually includes playing against people better than you. So with consistent practice, a strong community, and a good mantra, he started traveling to events. And crazily, he started winning. A lot.

The first $5k event he went to was in 2008 in Richmond. He was very green, and wasn't expecting anything much. "Then, I won both tournaments that weekend." Bertoncini says it like it's nonchalant. Like I shouldn't be surprised that with a career consisting of scrubbing out of a few PTQs, he was be able to sweep a large regional event. But that's what I like most about Alex. He's fun and vibrant, but also straight forward and matter-of-fact. However, the latter two characteristics are unsurprising when you take into account that he has to make his living off the game.

"That was when I starting getting better. I realized you have to be comfortable with the big-money games." Alex continued that you can't let the pressures of singing for your supper at every tournament get to you. And then only way to understand that, is through doing over and over and over again.

Alex Bertoncini

He continued putting up results, so much so that this year he's second in total points for the Starcitygames.com Open Series. Most recently he finished fourth at their Legacy event in Cincinnati. But he knows he still has a ways to go to reach the next plateau.

"The mental game is what separates good players from great players." Bertoncini knows that's where he's the weakest. "I still tilt and punt pretty badly." When he talks about great mental players, he references two important names, obviously the legendary Jon Finkel, but also Gerry Thompson. "Gerry will walk into an event, lose round one, then win out the rest of the tournament. Then, lose round two of the next tournament and win out again." It's aspects like Thompson's combined with the ability to win games you should have lost that Bertoncini aspires to have. He asks himself after each loss, could Jon Finkel have won that game? And if so, it's time to figure out how.

So constant competition, and practicing well are important to a grinder, but there is one last attribute that Alex talked about, and that's community. "I fly standby; I don't walk into an airport with my ticket purchased a week in advance. I don't stay in hotels; I stay on couches." And Alex concedes that such a life style is impossible without gaining friends wherever you go. When I referenced the Not-being-home-in-a-month-type grinder earlier, I was literally talking about Alex. Right now he's in the middle of a long stint from New York to Seattle to Atlanta to Pittsburgh to Chicago to here, then back to Chicago for another tournament hosted by TCGplayer.com. You can't do that kind of traveling without knowing people all over the globe (or having some sort of magical money machine). There tons of great people playing Magic and if you tilt against your opponents, your lifespan as a grinder will be short.

"I always meet new people wherever I play. I crushed this one guy out of round 4 in a tournament and was staying on his couch a month later. I'd never met him before that."

Alex Bertoncini is poised to break into the next level; he's tearing up Nationals something fierce this weekend. But even if it's not at this event, I wouldn't be surprised to see him hoisting another big trophy soon.

Round 13: Feature Match – Brandon Nelson vs. Christian Valenti

by Brian David-Marshall

Brandon Nelson is Minnesota PTQ player who is looking to string together all four Pro Tours this season -- and winning Nats would go a long way to taking care of two events in one fell swoop.

Christian -- last seen on camera at Pro Tour Nagoya talking about his Block Constructed deck -- locked up his Pro Tour Philadelphia invite with a Top 50 finish in Japan and just a couple of points this weekend would put him over the hump for an invite to Worlds regardless of whether or not he made the National team,

Game One

On the draw, Christian broke a fetch land and played Grim Lavamancer, prompting a disconcerted look from Brandon. His turn two Preordain was met with Spell Pierce by Nelson and Christian chose not to attack in case there was anything that needed killing EOT.

Ponder on turn three found Misty Rainforest and Valenti's yard was filling up fast. Meanwhile Nelson was playing land and biding his time -- another Ponder, another fetch land from Valenti. Nelson played Timely Reinforcements and Valenti killed a token at the end of the turn.

Valenti whittled down the reinforcements with his Grim Lavamancer and a kicked Into the Roil. Eventually he flashed out Deceiver Exarch and tapped one of Nelson's four lands.

"You still finished?" asked Valenti.

Nelson was finished with his turn but he was far from done. When Valenti played the Splinter Twin he cast Spell Pierce, using his last blue mana.

"You have four cards?" asked Valenti.

"Five..."

Christian Valenti

Valenti paid for the Spell Pierce. Nelson played Dismember and Valenti had Dispel. Nelson had another Dismember.

"Attack for one," frowned Valenti as he sent his Grim Lavamancer into the red zone.

Nelson played Day of Judgment as a necessary one for one on the Grim Lavamancer.

Shrine of Piercing Vision came down for Valenti in the hopes it would eventually dig him to another game winning tandem of cards. He did not have a ton of time as Nelson had a Celestial Colonnade online and was whittling down his life totals. He played a second Shrine and at the end of Nelson's next turn went to Into the Roil the new Shrine. Two Shrine triggers went on the stack but Nelson decided to Mana Leak the Roil.

Valenti eventually fell to 2 from the land but had 5 and 3 counters on his Shrines. Nelson tried to decide if he should invest the mana in trying to kill Valenti or play a more defensive game and protect his mana.

"You are only one hit away," goaded Valenti. "You have to go for it now, right?"

Nelson sighed and animated his land.

"Your Celestial Colonnade has turned into a creature," said Valenti.

"Attacks?"

"I will not allow that to happen," said Valenti but he needed a little help from the top of his deck. Nelson had two mana untapped. Valenti played Into the Roil and triggered both his Shrines. He looked four cards deep with the one he had targeted -- countering his own spell. He found Deceiver Exarch and played it, tapping the Colonnade. Nelson had one mana left.

Valenti showed him Splinter Twin. Nelson played Dismember but a Mana Leak sealed it for Valenti.

Brandon Nelson 0 - Valenti 1

Brandon Nelson

Game Two

"I did not think I was going to miss the first time," said Valenti of game one. "Double Dismember? What a freak!"

Valenti led off -- on the draw -- with Grim Lavamancer and his turn two Shrine of Piercing Vision was Mana Leaked

"Probably worth fighting over," sighed Valenti.

Jace Beleren came down on Nelson's turn three and drew him a card. Valenti dug with a pair of Preordains before using his third mana to kill Jace with his Grim Lavamancer. It was Nelson's turn to dig with Preordain and he ended up with a Spellskite. A turn later he recruited a full quad of Hawks.

Valenti played a second Grim Lavamancer and it eventually killed the Spellskite when Nelson forced the issue with Into the Roil. Nelson began to go to work with the Hawks and forced Valenti to shoot them down with his Grim Lavamancers. They played a long game with Valenti forestalling the inevitable Colonnade with a string of Exarchs but no Splinter Twin. He valiantly tried to whittle down Nelson's life total with a motley army of Exarchs and Grim Lavamancers but he ran out of time and the Colonnade did him in.

Brandon Nelson 1 - Valenti 1

Game Three

They had less than 10 minutes left and they shuffled up for what they each hoped would be the deciding game. Nelson frustrated Valenti's plans on multiple fronts with Ratchet Bomb set on three and a Spellskite while mustering an air force of Hawks. Valenti's hand was a fistful of cards that could potentially break through but he was choked by the number of blue mana sources -- and the length of time and amount of turns he had to find them.

Time was called during the end of one of Nelson's turns and his air force just managed to get in exactly the amount of damage he needed to get one step closer to his master plan of winning Nats, qualifying for Worlds, and locking up his invite for Philadelphia.

Final result: Brandon Nelson - 2 Christian Valenti - 1

Round 14: Feature Match – Jimmy Dela Cruz vs. Owen Turtenwald

by Tim Willoughby

Coming into the final round of the Swiss portion of US Nationals, Owen Turtenwald of ChannelFireball found himself up against Jimmy Dela Cruz, also sporting both ChannelFireball shirt and card sleeves, but without quite the same calibre. With just one more match before top 8, Turtenwald knew that he'd need to eke out one more win, building on the great year he's had thus far. Going into US Nationals, he was tied with Ben Stark in the Player of the Year race. He's already done well enough this weekend that he has taken the lead, but there are plenty more Pro points on offer for those in top 8, so he was keen to keep his good run going.

Game One

After a brief delay for a deck check, the match started in earnest. It would be a Caw Blade mirror, something we've seen quite a bit in the months following Pro Tour Paris, and Dela Cruz won the roll. A Preordain came off a Seachrome Coast from Dela Cruz on turn one, and Turtenwald fired back with the same, off a basic Island. Squadron Hawk was the follow up for Dela Cruz, while Owen, perhaps stuck on lands, used a second Preordain on his turn, before playing a Plains.

Owen was down on both life and creatures, which meant that his Timely Reinforcements was a welcome play on turn three. Jimmy went with Mirran Crusader for his turn, passing with one blue mana up. He used that mana to attempt a Spell Pierce on Sword of Feast and Famine from Turtenwald, but was thwarted by another copy of the same. Sword advantage to Owen, it seemed likely that card advantage would follow. Jimmy had to keep up the pressure, and after a Preordain, he swung in to put Owen to 17.

Turtenwald equipped and swung with his team, forcing a chump block from a Squadron Hawk. It was an old fashioned race, and with a string of Squadron Hawk blockers, it was one that appeared to favour Dela Cruz. Owen, a little short on mana, was not able to connect with his sword, and was meanwhile taking a fair amount of damage from Mirran Crusader. Owen tapped out to try an Into the Roil with kicker on the one Squadron Hawk that Dela Cruz was holding back, but was thwarted by Spell Pierce. Perhaps he should have avoided the kicker?

It actually seemed that the answer was that Turtenwald was baiting a counter, as the following turn he landed a Gideon Jura, using a Spell Pierce on Dela Cruz' Mana Leak. Gideon offed Mirran Crusader, but soon fell to an animated Celestial Colonnade. Without the Crusader on the board though, Owen was suddenly able to leverage his Sword to a clear advantage. He swung in with his team, and saw his Inkmoth Nexus fall to a Dismember, but still forced a discard and untapped his lands with the sword.

Jimmy's tank still had gas, and that gas was Hero of Bladehold. This prompted a Day of Judgment from Owen, who was likely a little disappointed to see another one the very next turn. Turtenwald fought back with an Emeria Angel (immediately making a bird), but on just 10 life, he was in rough shape. Emeria Angel got given the sword to hold, which did mean it could kill off Hero of Bladehold that attacked, but ultimately Jimmy was still up a couple of tokens from the exchange, and Owen was down to just 6 life. Jimmy was relying on putting the game away fast, before Emeria Angel could get too out of control. He was not able to do so though, as the Angel, joined by Celestial Colonnade, took chunks out of his life total. A Tectonic Edge off the top took out the one Inkmoth Nexus that Jimmy had to block with, and all of a sudden Owen Turtenwald was just one win away from top eight.

Owen Turtenwald 1 – 0 Jimmy Dela Cruz

Jimmy Dela Cruz

Game Two

Dela Cruz was quick to keep his seven in game two, while Turtenwald was equally fast to send his back. On the draw, Owen was looking for more card quality than he had seen in his grip of seven.

With six cards, it was still Owen Turtenwald with the first play of the second game, a Ponder off Celestial Colonnade on turn two. This was met with a Mana Leak from Jimmy, perhaps hoping to keep his opponent off lands (a much bigger consideration after mulligans). In this case, Owen did still have the second land drop, leaving Jimmy on his third turn to simply cast Squadron Hawk, a play mirrored by his opponent on the very next turn.

Jimmy had a Hero of Bladehold after hawks had traded off, though it did not last long in the face of a Dismember. Hawks began to litter the board, and Owen's was joined by Jace Beleren, who fast went up to five counters. Owen was a little short on land as Jimmy used a pair of Tectonic Edges to cut back on Owen's options, but with Jace around, he seemed to have ample opportunity to draw out of that problem.

When Jimmy played a Mirran Crusader, Owen thought the best of trying to keep his planeswalker around, and simply drew one more card himself to off it. He was still on just three lands though, and now facing down more of a beatdown team.Owen tried for an end of turn Into the Roil on Mirran Crusader, but this was met with a Mana Leak. He had to play a Squadron Hawk as a chump blocker, and when he then saw a Mana Leak on his Gideon Jura, that was the game.

Owen Turtenwald 1 – 1 Jimmy Dela Cruz

Owen Turtenwald

Game Three

Turtenwald was on the play for the first time in the matchup for the rubber game that would leave one of these two players watching from the bleachers on Sunday. He kept his seven and looked on as Dela Cruz went down to six. There was a turn one Preordain from Dela Cruz, which took a little of the sting out of that mulligan. A Mana Leak came from Turtenwald to stop the Squadron Hawk that Jimmy tried, and while Dela Cruz was tapped out, Turtenwald capitalised by casting a Ponder and a Squadron Hawk of his own.

Dela Cruz ran out a Sword of Feast and Famine, without a creature to equip. Even if he did get the sword up and running, he would have to power through a flock of Squadron Hawks. Jimmy chose to use a pair of copies of Tectonic Edge to cut down Owen's mana base substantially, but had no immediate answer to four 1/1 fliers. He was soon on 12 from attacks, while Turtenwald was flying high with a full 20 life. Four of that 20 got paid to Dismember a Hero of Bladehold from Jimmy,

Jace Beleren kept Turtenwald in cards, and his air force kept pounding on Jimmy, a three turn clock that was relentless in getting into the red zone. Jimmy tried an Into the Roil on one hawk, but this was met by Spell Pierce. Mirran Crusader could not block either Turtenwald's hawks, or a Celestial Colonnade, that final finished things.

Owen Turtenwald wins 2-1, advancing to the top eight!

Saturday, 7:40 p.m. – Final Round Speculations

by Nate Price

Going into the final round before Top 8, there were four players who were locks for the Top 8: Haibing Hu, David Ochoa, Ali Aintrazi, and Luis Scott-Vargas. Beneath them in the standings, there were a whopping ten players fighting for the remaining four slots. Having that many slots up for grabs and that many players fighting for them is incredibly rare. Brandon Nelson, last year's National team member Conrad Kolos, Matt Nass, James McLeod, Jimmy de la Cruz, Owen Turtenwald, Noah Koessel, Shaheen Soorani, Phillip Napoli, and Patrick Chapin were all tied at 30 points, though they had quite a range of tiebreakers amongst them.

The pairings came down pitting Nelson and Kolos, Nass and McLeod, de la Cruz and Turtenwald, Koesse and Soorani, and Napoli and Chapin. As the rounds went by, the results slowly started to trickle in. Considering the tiebreakers, it looked like the players that were going to need the most help were Chapin and Napoli. Unfortunately, they got paired up against each other, which may have sounded their death knell. Chapin won, but he ended up most likely out of Top 8. That meant that McLeod, Turtenwald, Koessel, and Nelson were more than likely going to join the safe ones in the Top 8 after they won. That's quite the powerful Top 8, and virtually guarantees a strong, veteran representation for the Americans at Worlds later this year.

Saturday, 7:50 p.m. – Just a Little Magical GenCon Diversion

by Marc Calderaro

In the heat of all this Magic, surrounded by Legacy and Commander and Magic Online computers, it's easy to forget that we're in the middle of the largest gaming convention in the country! Easy that is, until you're, say, covering the Legacy tournament and you're following newly Vintage Championship Runner-Up Paul Mastriano. Then he sits down to meet his next round opponent and it's Jace, the Mind Sculptor. No, not the card. Literally, Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Look.

David McDarby, from Knoxville, TN was qualified for Nationals on rating, did average on the first day, then suited up for the rest of the weekend. He made this awesome costume himself, with some help on the tough stitching of the hood. He said this was his fourth GenCon and he plans to keep coming for a long time. And with a costume as awesome as that, I sure hope so.

Sadly, Mastriano did beat him in that round, disproving the myth that it's impossible in Legacy to beat a resolved Jace. Speaking of, you can see him smiling in the background of the photo. It's cute.

So I walk away from that match-up and run directly into this:

He turned around to see what my deal was, and here he is.

This is David O'Brien. He came all the way from Greenville, North Carolina. I had to run after I saw him but I asked how to catch up with him later. He said, "Don't worry, I'll be here all weekend." No doubt.

I'm sorry, but that chain-mailed dragon slays me every time.

So remember everyone at home, yes there's tons of Magic, but that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Standard Constructed Decklists - No More Than One Loss

by Tim Willoughby

Byron King 8-0

Download Arena Decklist

Luis Scott-Vargas (7-0-1)

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Ali Aintrazi (6-0-2)

Download Arena Decklist