If it's decks that win Top 8s, then Kevin Blake is in the box seat at Great British Nationals 2011. He has the UB Control deck – the very deck that saw Ali Aintrazi through the Top 8 of US Nationals a fortnight ago. If it's players that win Top 8s then the edge surely sits with Daniel Royde – the Londoner has already won one major event this year, when he defended British pride at Grand Prix London to take home the big prize. The momentum of the weekend also seems to be with Royde – of all the players in the Top 8 his draft record was the worst (3-3) but that just means that it was his Standard performance that secured him a place in the Top 8, with an undefeated 7-0-1 record. His Eldrazi Green deck has crushed all-comers
Winning the dice roll, Kevin Blake wasted no time at all in ripping into Daniel Royde's cards – an Inquisition of Kozilek tore a Fauna Shaman from Royde's grip. Blake followed that with Jace Beleren and began to draw cards, although a second Inquisition of Kozilek missed as Royde had only lands and big hitters in hand – Artisan of Kozilek and Primeval Titan among a bunch of lands.
From there things turned into a waiting game – Kevin Blake was happy to suck up extra cards from Jace Beleren, while Royde had little to do but play a few lands, an Overgrown Battlement, and spawn a couple of plants from Khalni's Garden. Turns passed by as the two players waited for the right time to switch things up a gear.
It was Blake who made the move – sucking up a final card from his Planeswalker, and consigning Jace to the graveyard, he tapped out to play a Consecrated Sphinx. That gave Royde the chance to drop his own hefty threat, and the GP London champ replied with a Primeval Titan, finding a pair of Eldrazi Temples in the undergrowth of his library to complete his set of four. That was a bit too much mana for Blake, and he sacrificed a Tectonic Edge to cut down one of Royde's Temples.
The Primeval Titan was immediately sliced in half by a Doom Blade, but that suited Royde all the more – playing his Artisan of Kozilek, Daniel Royde brought the Primeval Titan right back into play, searching out a pair of Tectonic Edges from his deck. The Artisan of Kozilek was countered by a Stoic Rebuttal, but most of the value had come in returning the Primeval Titan anyway. Not quite finished with his turn, Royde dropped a Spellskite to help him protect his Primeval Titan from future unpleasantness.
Daniel Royde tries to reach his Eldrazi
The game appeared to be spiralling out of Kevin Blake's control. He played Jace Beleren and immediately upped him to 5 loyalty drawing three cards to Royde's one, then attacked with his Consecrated Sphinx... but there was nothing he could do about Royde's Primeval Titan. The Titan smashed Jace down on Royde's next turn, filtering out another two lands from the green deck. Worse yet, Royde had his Tectonic Edges in play, and he sacrificed two of them to cut Blake back to just 4 lands. It seemed like Blake was taking two steps backwards for every step forward.
Another attack from the Primeval Titan – a Mystifying Maze and Eye of Ugin were added to Royde's collection as he built towards a finishing blow. Blake's Consecrated Sphinx was drawing extra cards, but he simply couldn't keep up with the flow of powerful cards coming from the Eldrazi deck – Garruk Wildspeaker arrived unopposed, and Royde was all set to bring search up Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on his next turn and play the manifestation of pure evil.
"I don't think there's anything you can play that means you don't die now" he offered.
"Nope, I don't think so either", Blake agreed, "about the only thing I can do is Praetor's Grasp your Emrakul"
Blake drew a card, looked around for a last glimmer of hope, and conceded the game.
Kevin Blake 0 – 1 Daniel Royde
"We were actually making international phone calls last night, trying to work out how to beat you" Daniel Royde said, smiling as the two players shuffled up.
"Well that's something, at least! It's actually a really interesting matchup. There's lots of things we can both do to change it" Blake agreed, turning to his sideboard notes.
"Yeah we found there's a lot of depth in it, more than we thought at first. We were just about to go to bed last night, and with the last thing my roommate said as we were going to sleep he had an epiphany. On went the lights and we were back to testing something new."
The second game began with battles outside of the Battlefield. Daniel Royde summoned forth an Overgrown Battlement with his Green Sun's Zenith, while Kevin Blake replied with a Memoricide, naming 'Primeval Titan' and stripping Royde of his mythic land-grabbing creature. The Memoricide also gave Blake an early view of Royde's hand, which included a second Green Sun's Zenith, Fauna Shaman, and a potentially-lethal Summoning Trap.
The Zenith summoned a second Overgrown Battlement, the Fauna Shaman hit play, and it all meant that when Kevin Blake followed up with an Inquisition of Kozilek, the horse had bolted – there were no cards he could make Royde discard, but in their place was the dangerous Planeswalker: Karn Liberated.
"Gah!" cried Blake, when Karn was revealed, "I'm trying to think of a card I want you to draw less. I think that's about it.."
Blake had to hurry up against the threat of Karn shredding his hand, and he dropped a Grave Titan, while Royde responded with a Summoning Trap at the end of Blake's turn, and he started to reveal the top seven cards of his deck...
"That could have gone better for you" joked Blake, as the fearsome 1/1 joined the Battlefield.
But that wasn't all Royde had in mind – he followed up the Summoning Trap with an activation of his Fauna Shaman, discarded a second Joraga Treespeaker to find... Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. Blake started counting up the mana Royde had available, and didn't like the answer he got – the GP Champ was just one land short of playing the big Eldrazi. Would Royde draw the land he needed?
Eldrazi Temple, Ulamog
Yes he would. The Grave Titan was destroyed when Ulamog arrived in play, leaving Blake with just the pair of 2/2 tokens to his name. Taking his own turn, Blake flipped the top card of his deck... and picked up his cards, crushed by yet another Eldrazi titan.
Kevin Blake 0 – 2 Daniel Royde
Size is relative – Scars of Mirrodin proved to us that a 2/2 can be king in a land of 1/1 creatures – but usually a 6/6 is big enough. Not when Daniel Royde's Eldrazi are around, though, and here in the Top 8 all of Blake's best creatures are being swatted around like flies by the cards Royde can summon. Two games down, it looked as though Blake desperately needed to find a way to change things, because he had seemed helpless to prevent his losses in the first two games.
Disrupting Royde's deck from the outset was perhaps the key – an Inquisition of Kozilek removed a Beast Within, Doom Blade struck down an Overgrown Battlement, and finally Memoricide stripped Garruk Wildspeaker from Royde's hand and library. All that left the GP Champ with was Karn Liberated and a bunch of lands – no acceleration, no search – and the Eldrazi master would have to do things the hard way.
Blake didn't plan on giving Royde the chance to do that, though, and he dropped a Consecrated Sphinx before sucking up two cards at the start of Royde's turn. Royde hit back with Karn Liberated, but instead of removing the Sphinx from play he began draining Blake's hand of cards, forcing him to Exile an Island. On his next turn Blake hit back with his own Planeswalker – Jace Beleren – and Karn had seen enough, Exiling the Consecrated Sphinx at the second attempt.
Kevin Blake looks for a way out
That seemed to spell real trouble for Daniel Royde. He had lands, but that was all – two cards in hand didn't stack up well against the five cards that Blake had, and Blake still had Jace by his side whispering advice and offering up additional spells. Royde had nothing to lose and played his hand onto the table – an Artisan of Kozilek and a Fauna Shaman, although the Artisan of Kozilek could return nothing more exciting than an Overgrown Battlement from his graveyard.
Consecrated Sphinx was Blake's reply, but that seemed to leave the door open to Royde, and the GP Champ seized the opportunity. Drawing a creature on his turn, he tapped his Fauna Shaman to search up Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre. Ulamog was countered by a Mana Leak, but he destroyed the Consecrated Sphinx even so. That left the Artisan of Kozilek as the only thing in play and Kevin Blake was cut in half – a turn from death and clinging to his pair of Creeping Tar Pits to block the Artisan and buy time!
Royde wasn't done there. Drawing a second creature on his next turn, he just repeated his last turn – finding Ulamog and bringing the evil Eldrazi to the board again. It was too much for Blake, and he offered his hand in congratulations.
Kevin Blake 0 – 3 Daniel Royde
The Grand Prix London champ marched on into the Semi-Finals, extending his undefeated record in the Standard portion of Great British Nationals 2011. The rest of the Top 4 need to watch out, before Royde is bringing what seems to be unstoppable firepower – who would bet against him making it two titles in the year, and adding GB Champion to his GP title?