Kyle Goodman (Rats) vs. Ben Stark (Red Deck Wins)
Kyle Goodman was in second place across the hall last year. A JSS finalist, Goodman brings his Rats deck to U.S. Nationals contention via Level 2 Players Club benefits. Across the table was Ben Stark. Last year Ben put together a season that seemed to indicate a Nassif-like run, posting Top 8s at Pro Tour-Kobe and San Diego… but the multiple Top 8 player has been distracted from top-level Magic this year.
The matchup was a brutal one. In Game 1, Ben had basically no offense and Kyle had a ton of mana. The mana won out, though, as Kyle's side of the board also boasted an Umezawa's Jitte and uncontested Aether Vial.
The Rats trademark office didn't really come out, and there seemed to be a glimmer of hope for Ben. He came in with a Slith Firewalker a couple of times and used Sowing Salt to eliminate three of Kyle's Blinkmoth Nexuses. A Rend Flesh vanquished Slith Firewalker, but Ben was able to get Kyle down to 16 or so with his own Nexus… and a hand of two Shrapnel Blasts and a Volcanic Hammer.
Unfortunately for Ben, Kyle deployed Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni late game, and all that mana he drew made killing the Rat Ninja an impossibility. Kyle dropped Pithing Needle naming "Hearth Kami," equipped the big Ninja and the game was over for Mr. Stark.
Game 2 was a complete rout. Ben was stuck on two lands whereas Kyle drew into triple Ravenous Rats and double Chittering Rats. Stark cast essentially no relevant spells. The JSS Champion hoped "You don't have Pyroclasm, do you?" but all Ben had was a handshake and a wish of luck for next turn.
Neil Reeves (Jushi Blue Control) vs. Jon Sonne (Monoblue UrzaTron)
In Game 1, Sonne chose to draw and mulliganed. Neil missed an early land drop, but got right back in it when he was able to bait Sonne into a Thirst for Knowledge that allowed him to Condescend and set up his next couple of drops.
Jon had all the resources, though, as a subsequent Thirst for Knowledge, Solemn Simulacrum, and Concentrate all resolved. For his part, Reeves set up his board with Oblivion Stone and Vedalken Shackles. With a Fate Counter on Vedalken Shackles, it looked like J.T. Money was going to cruise to a win with Jon's own Simulacrum… except for Jon's mana base.
Sonne had no fewer than two copies of each UrzaTron piece in the late game and merely tapped two Towers to drop Mindslaver. Because Jon had so much more mana, the 'Slaver was able to get through a hand of Annul, three Hinders, and a Rewind… even though Neil was completely untapped!
Because Neil's hand was so reactive, it was possible that Jon would not be able to completely ruin him with his Mindslaver turn, but after blowing up the Oblivion Stone, Jon just tapped Neil out. His permission-heavy hand could therefore not stop Jon's Memnarch.
Games 2 and 3 were essentially the same. Jon played deftly to work threats though, but Neil had second turn Jushi Apprentices in both games. He calmly drew extra cards almost every turn, never missing a land drop and gripping a hand that was always overflowing with cards. At one point, Neil was discarding stray lands and Mana Leaks!
All in all, the matchup seemed like a high-stress one for the Control Blue deck. It is a pseudo-mirror where if the Control deck ever falters, misses a land drop, anything, the UrzaTron deck can resolve a single spell that will take over completely. The key seemed to be Neil's staying at pace or ahead of Jon despite his Sensei's Divining Top and other card drawing engines to take advantage of Annul and Twincast.
The most dramatic "counter war" of the match was turn four of Game 3. Neil led with a Jushi Apprentice and Jon showed him a Rewind. Neil used Twincast with his remaining mana, resolved the Apprentice, and had Jon covered for any turn-five shenanigans with his four untapped lands!
With his win over Sonne, Reeves charged into a breakaway lead - 10-1 on the tournament - a virtual lock for Top 8.
Mike Patnik (White Weenie) vs. Taylor Webb (Red Deck Wins)
Taylor opened up with a mulligan on the play. Mike kept his opener… but missed his second land drop with only a Plains and a 1/1 flyer to show for it. Taylor followed up with Zo-Zu the Punisher before his opponent even had a second land, and it looked bad for White Weenie.
Luckily for Mike, he took his two points of Zo-Zu like a man and got out a pesky girl - an Auriok Champion - on the following turn; at this point the offense on both sides slowed to a glacial pace.
For the next several turns, both players generally failed to lay lands. It looked like Mike was sandbagging lands against Zo-Zu, because he kept playing a ton of two-drops and gaining life, but in fact, he just hadn't drawn any.
In the late game, Taylor got out three Arc-Sloggers and looked to be making a run of it, but had to use the Sloggers to take out pesky 1/1 and 2/2 flyers when Mike had a Glorious Anthem. Taylor needed something along the lines of a Blinkmoth Nexus or a (second) Sword of Fire and Ice. Though his triple Sloggers had badly damaged Mike, the White Weenie player's wily tactics allowed him tricks like gaining two life during combat via Raise the Alarm and setting up punishing blocks.
In Game 2, Taylor declared another mulligan to start. He had a Frostling to start, but his second-turn Slith Firewalker was sadly enabled by a Chrome Mox. Mike got a Glorious Anthem and sundry weenies (Raise the Alarm, Isamaru, and a Suntail Hawk), but there was very little action for most of the duel… a lot of attacking for one and thinking about attacking and not actually doing so. The mana development on both sides really was terrible this game and this match.
Late game, Taylor looked to break it open with Arc-Slogger, but Mike had been holding Damping Matrix all along. Earlier he had put his Blinkmoth Nexus in harm's way and lost it to a Shatter; the Matrix stuck and Mike advanced to 10-2 on the strength of a couple of 1/1 flyers.
Morgan Douglass (White Weenie) vs. John Pelcak (Tooth and Nail)
For a full report, check out Ted Knutson's Feature Match.
Joshua Ravitz (Flores Red) vs. Morgan Douglass (White Weenie)
Fresh off his Round 12 Feature Match, Morgan Douglass sat down in the exact same chair he occupied the previous round. His White Weenie deck faced off against Josh Ravitz playing Kuroda-style (Flores) Red. The two are close friends and considered - if just for a moment - drawing and battling someone else the next round.
In Game 1, Morgan quite importantly won the flip. He led off with Isamaru, Hound of Konda and followed up with Leonin Skyhunter. Josh's draw was superb for anti-beatdown, with a pair of Magma Jets. However because Morgan was able to take his third turn first, was able to keep a 3/3 Hound of Konda as his Leonin Skyhunter went down with Glorious Anthem on the stack.
Josh followed up with Solemn Simulacrum, which chump-blocked Hound of Konda. Morgan followed up with Raise the Alarm, but was mostly out of resources. He was ready with a big Arc-Slogger, set up with his Sensei's Divining Top… but Morgan one-upped him with Hokori, Dust Drinker off the top of his deck, no Sensei involved.
Due to Glorious Anthem, Josh was not able to untap enough lands to defend himself. Had he had a Mountain off the top of his deck, Josh would have been able to block Hokori, take Suntail Hawk to 2 life and burn the two remaining tokens to stay alive. Alas, the land set up was Blinkmoth Nexus.
For Game 2, Morgan had one of his best creatures, Auriok Champion. Sadly for the White Weenie aspirant, the soon 2/2 Champion, with the help of a Glorious Anthem was met with a Culling Scales. Ravitz actually could have played the Scales immediately but was baiting Douglass to play more cards for him to kill. Morgan valiantly put Suntail Hawk after Leonin Skyhunter into play, but Josh meted out his burn to clear the board. Eventually he played a Sensei's Divining Top he had been holding; Douglass scooped to Arc-Slogger.
Morgan declared a mulligan on the play in Game 3. Josh kept a fairly good anti-beatdown draw with Wayfarer's Bauble into Solemn Simulacrum for turn three. Morgan's beatdown was decent but unspectacular with no Glorious Anthem. Soon, Josh found Culling Scales with some Magma Jet manipulation and set it up with Sensei's Divining Top.
The Abyss combination went to work on Morgan, who attacked Josh with perfectly metered swings in order to try to set something up with a late-game Shining Shoal, but the Scales took out maybe three or four creatures before Douglass found a Terashi's Grasp. Unfortunately for Morgan, when he aimed the Grasp at the Culling Scales, his attempt was met with Shrapnel Blast.
Soon it was Arc-Slogger against an almost naked board. When Ravitz showed his friend his last card - a Pulse of the Forge - his friend extended the hand and wished him good luck. With this win, Ravitz advances to 30 points. He is looking for a draw to make Top 8.
Antonino DeRosa (UrzaTron Blue) vs. Alex Lieberman (UrzaTron Blue)
This matchup was a 75-card mirror match between friends and teammates. The unique element of this deck is the inclusion of black in the sideboard. Their decks seek to set up the UrzaTron using Thirst for Knowledge, Serum Visions, and Condescend, winning with late-game bombs headlined by Mindslaver and Memnarch.
In Game 1, Ant had the first Solemn Simulacrum and got some beats in. Neither player had UrzaTron for a long time and Antonino, especially, was using Echoing Truth to get shuffles with his Sensei's Divining Top.
Ultimately Lieberman was the first to the UrzaTron but had nothing left when he dropped a Triskelion. Antonino answered with a Memnarch, flipped his Sensei's Divining Top, and completed his 'Tron. Lieberman conceded.
The second game Lieberman stalled while Antonino kept advancing his resources. Ant just asked if he could show Lieberman his hand of multiple Mindslavers, Memnarch, and a couple of other bombs and Alex conceded, putting his friend into the Top 8.
This match did not eliminate Alex. If he were to win in Round 14, he could still make Top 8.
Chris Manning (Death Cloud) vs. Taylor Webb (Red Deck Wins)
This is the classic battle between board control and aggressive burn. In this format, Manning would seem to have the advantage due to Sakura-Tribe Elder defense (many of Webb's beaters have one toughness), but all the land searching in the world only helps Zo-Zu the Punisher kill you. Taylor has an offensive smorgasbord of damage, from Magma Jet to Shrapnel Blast to Sword of Fire and Ice all the way up to the mighty Arc-Slogger.
Unfortunately for Chris, Taylor had a Shatter back and took out his expensive Mox on turn two. All Manning could do was look at the top cards of his library.
It quickly became apparent that Manning was having mana troubles. Stuck on triple Forest he flipped his Top on his own turn to get a Viridian Shaman down - Grey Ogre style - to stop the bleeding. Taylor calmly laid down a Genju of the Spires and started swinging. It was over from there, with Manning never revealing a non-green mana source.
In Game 2, Manning played a very conservative game of trades with Taylor's creatures. First Webb opened with a Seething Song on turn three for Sword of Fire and Ice plus an equip on Frostling. Chris had the Echoing Decay. Then on turn four, he went for a Slith Firewalker and equip. Again came Echoing Decay. A second Firewalker tried to get in there, but Chris had Hideous Laughter.
It seemed pretty clear that Chris's mana problems in Game 1 really screwed with Taylor's sideboarding strategy. He had seen not a black card, so he wasn't prepared for Plains as Chris's sixth land, followed by Kokusho the Evening Star. A Death Cloud later and the pair shuffled up for Game 3.
"I really wasn't expecting that."
Because Chris showed Taylor a Plains in Game 2, Mr. Webb was ready with Pithing Needle in the third. However Manning did him one better and played a second turn Sakura-Tribe Elder, his first of the match. The Elder got a Plains and it was Circle of Protection: Red from there.
Taylor valiantly tried to get in with a 2/2 Slith Firewalker, Arc-Slogger, and succession of all four Blinkmoth Nexuses… but it was to no avail. Manning wasn't developing, but his Circle was holding Taylor off, and Pithing Needle was nowhere to be seen.
With about 10 minutes left on the clock, Chris played his first Kokusho. Answer: Shrapnel Blast.
The next turn, down came a second Legendary Dragon Spirit. Shrapnel Blast again.
Chris didn't have a third, but he sure did have an Eternal Witness. Taylor finally relented and used three Arc-Slogger activations to rid himself of the Dragon - inadvertently milling all of his Pithing Needles and any realistic hope of getting past the Circle of Protection: Red that Manning had been hiding behind all game.
On the last turn, Manning, who held a 26-5 life lead on Taylor after all the dragonslaying, just showed his opponent Death Cloud. Manning advanced with Neil Reeves, Antonino DeRosa, Michael Patnik, Alex Lieberman, Jonathan Sonne, Kyle Goodman, and Joshua Ravitz to the Top 8 of U.S. Nationals 2005!
Alex Lieberman (UrzaTron Blue) d. Michael Jacob (Aggro Green)
For a full report, check out Ted Knutson's Feature Match.
The tournament finish echoed the feature matches. Aggro Red, the second-most popular deck, is not in the Top 8 at all. Tooth and Nail, the number one deck, is even more conspicuous by its absence. With six-and-a-half different decks in the Top 8, though, this looks to be one of the most exciting Constructed finishes in a long time.
Check back Sunday for playoff action as we crown the 2005 U.S. National Champion!