Last year, he took the title. He was prepared, he was focused, he was ready to rock and roll. This year, not so much. Yesterday was his first ever M12 draft. He came without expectations, and he frankly came without hope.
Nine rounds later, Joe Jackson stands at 7-2, and could yet get himself into the reckoning for back to back titles. Standing in the way in this final draft round of the tournament is Aaron Copping, himself well poised at 7-2. Both players won their first two matches of the morning, making this a clean-cut duel to the death for the winner of the pod.
Playing blue-white, Jackson kept his opening seven,with Copping taking a moment before keeping. Both players opened on an Island, with Copping using his to cast Phantasmal Bear. Jackson had Merfolk Looter turn two, which unsurprisingly didn't trade with the Phantasmal Bear.
Copping added a Mountain and Crimson Mage. With no third land, Jackson dug with his Merfolk Looter but came up short. He was forced to discard Peregrine Griffin, indicating his missing color, before landing a second Merfolk Looter, which traded with Crimson Mage.
Copping added Skywinder Drake and passed.
The next time Jackson tried to loot he was in luck, finding a Plains waiting for him, at the expense of discarding Amphin Cutthroat. Three mana meant Æther Adept, bouncing the Skywinder Drake, and after early stumbles it looked like Jackson had stabilized. Copping laid a second Mountain, taking him to four mana and Rusted Sentinel. Both Æther Adept and Merfolk Looter attacked for Jackson, before he dropped his own Phantasmal Bear. Copping went to attack, but Frost Breath was ready, tapping the Rusted Sentinel and killing the Phantasmal Bear.
Bonebreaker Giant arrived as a vanilla 4/4 for Copping.
Joe Jackson, National Champion
The Merfolk Looter continued to do excellent work for Jackson, who continued to progress his board with Elite Vanguard and Azure Mage.
Five mana from Copping saw him cast Djinn of Wishes, and he completed an excellent turn with Goblin Fireslinger. This was shaping up to be an excellent affair, with Jackson using Looter and Azure Mage to generate card advantage, while Copping was relying on raw power, adding Volcanic Dragon to his board. Jackson was now down to six, and needed answers soon.
When Jackson Looted yet again, he found Mighty Leap waiting for him, which might yet allow him to trick his way past the flying opposition.
He looked at his options, and decided that surviving one more turn wasn't worth revealing the Mighty Leap. He swept up his cards, and Copping was one game closer to winning the pod.
Aaron Copping 1 - 0 Joe Jackson
Copping had been on a real tear, having started out in Standard at 1-2. This was a streak of six straight matches, and now he was within a game of making that seven in a row. He would still have to trust to his Standard deck (RUG Pod, without Twin) to do rather better than the
2-2 of yesterday.
Merfolk Looter, Æther Adept, Aven Fleetwing, two Islands, two Plains.
Yes, Joe Jackson, that is indeed a keeper. Copping kept his seven too, and off we went again with turn two Looter right on cue. Copping had Azure Mage, which is the kind of card you might offer a trade with, even if it was at the expense of your Merfolk Looter. Jackson elected to Loot instead, and unlike game one, he had no problem being able to discard a land. Phantasmal Bear rounded out the turn.
Copping added a second Azure Mage, but Jackson was continuing to look strong, especially as he had found his way to Mind Control. Phantasmal Bear traded with one of the Azure Mages before Jackson went airborne with Aven Fleetwing. Rusted Sentinel arrived tapped for Copping, and when Jackson didn't use his Merfolk Looter at end of turn, Copping must have known there were three very good cards in Jackson's hand.
Æther Adept bounced the Rusted Sentinel and the Aven Fleetwing attacked. Copping didn't replay his Sentinel, instead using all five mana for the 2/5 Belltower Sphinx. That was the kind of card Jackson might decide to steal, and he duly used Mind Control to do just that.
In came the Jackson squad - Aven Fleetwing, Æther Adept, Merfolk Looter - which conveniently made a total of five damage, making them
(obviously) the Jackson five.
Aaron Copping, aspiring National Champion
Bonebreaker Giant was fat but didn't fly for Copping, and flying was what he needed at this stage.Belltower Sphinx and Aven Fleetwing could both take to the air, and did, taking Copping to nine. With Mana Leak and Mighty Leap both in hand with mana open, Jackson was in really good shape. Copping cast Wall of Torches. "He can't fly, can he?" asked Jackson, and having confirmed that it didn't, he let the Wall resolve.
Merfolk Looter was machine-gunning through Jackson's deck. He attacked with his two flyers, with Copping drawing from his Azure Mage in response. He still took four damage, and was now at five. Still Jackson sat behind his Mana Leak and Mighty Leap, and it seemed as if the only question was whether Copping would be able to get a little more information about Jackson's deck before game three.
Copping cast Druidic Satchel, and then went for Crimson Mage. That was another card Jackson didn't care about. He cast Mighty Leap on his Æther Adept, which Copping contemplated for a moment before conceding.
Aaron Copping 1 - 1 Joe Jackson
This had been a truly sporting encounter between two of the real gentlemen of the game. A firm handshake, a sincere 'good luck' and we were away in the decider.
Jackson, on the draw, had the opening play with a turn two Merfolk Looter for the third straight game. Copping, with three Islands in play - did he have red mana? - cast Skywinder Drake. Jackson Looted, finding an Island, but not the Plains he wanted. He discarded a second Looter, laid the Island, and passed.
Three points of flying damage arrived with the Skywinder Drake.
Copping laid a Mountain, taking care of his color issues, but he had no play at four mana.
Merfolk Looter found the fourth Island, leading to Azure Mage for Jackson. In came the Skywinder, and already Jackson was at fourteen.
Chasm Drake threatened to dominate the skies, but Mana Leak from Jackson kept the clock at vaguely manageable proportions. A Plains duly arrived, making a fair fight down the stretch. Both Merfolk Looter and Azure Drake attacked, leaving Jackson to run out the 2/4 Amphin Cutthroat.
Down he went to eleven as the Skywinder Draker attacked successfully for a third time. Divination drew Copping two cards deeper into his library, netting him Azure Mage, which resolved, and Goblin Fireslinger, which also arrived unmolested. Jackson had Mind Control in hand, but with the early beatings through the air, he might not have too long before being forced to Mind Control the GoblinFireslinger.
Copping activated his Azure Mage, with Jackson using Frost Breath to deal with the Skywinder Drake and Azure Mage. Coral Merfolk completed the turn for Copping, whose board looked a lot less exciting now.
Jackson Looted at end of turn, discarding Auramancer. His hand was looking mighty strong, with Mind Control, Mighty Leap, and Mana Leak all capable of causing problems for Copping.
Peregrine Griffin was Jackson's draw for the turn, adding the excellent 2/4 First Strike flyer to the board. It was hard to see how Copping could find a way out of this. If he cast something huge, Jackson could steal it with Mind Control. If he waited, there'd be Mana Leak waiting. If he attempted to clog up the ground, Mighty Leap could send Jackson's weapon of choice to the air. A tough spot, all in all, not overly improved by Phantasmal Bear.
Jackson untapped, and improved his hand still further with Æther Adept, bouncing the Phantasmal Bear, killing it in the process.
Jackson sent in his Amphin Cutthroat and Peregrine Griffin, Copping falling to nine, one point behind Jackson's ten. At least the Skywinder Drake and Azure Mage returned to the fray for Copping. In came the Drake, with Jackson using Mighty Leap to send his Æther Adept skywards. Combust from Copping ensured that it wouldn't be getting in the way, though, and Jackson was down to six. Plus, Copping still had the Goblin Fireslinger.
This was the last game of limited at this year's Nationals, and they were making it a belter. Amphin Cutthroat attacked, with Copping thinking long and hard before taking the two and dropping to seven.
Jackson finally pulled the trigger on Mind Control, stealing Copping's Skywinder Drake. Unperturbed, Copping dealt Jackson one more point with the Goblin Fireslinger, before drawing an extra card thanks to Azure Mage.
Copping had no flying defense, Jackson had five flying damage. Copping was ahead on life seven to five, and was outdrawing Jackson at a rate of knots. Jackson had Mana Leak, but Copping was up to nine mana, meaning it would probably be irrelevant. And the clock kept on ticking down.
Copping spent the first part of his turn drawing again with Azure Mage. He pinged Jackson for one, enabling Bloodthirst for Gorehorn Minotaurs. Crimson Magecompleted the turn, with Jackson ending the turn by using his Merfolk Looter. He discarded Elite Vanguard, preferring to keep Mana Leak in hand, and untapped for what would surely be a pivotal turn in the match. In came the stolen Skywinder Drake, making the life scores four each. Gideon's Lawkeeper came down, and now the pressure was back on Copping to keep his cool and try to find the win.
Gorehorn Minotaurs attacked alone, with Jackson now forced to block somehow. He chose Azure Mageto get in the way, and let it die without spending four mana on a speculative extra card. Azure Magedrew Copping an extra card, and now - perhaps - Jackson's dearly-kept Mana Leak might be live once more, if Copping tried for something big. Two minutes to go, and Copping was staring at his own flyer and Jackson's Peregrine Griffin, which looked like it might kill him.
Jackson Looted for what seemed like the hundredth time in the match.
In theory, the win was on the table. In came the two flyers. Copping picked up his cards. He drew again from Azure Mage, and didn't find his only out - Unsummon - on top of the deck.
In his first two M12 drafts ever, the reigning Great Britain Champion Joe Jackson had gone 6-0, and was now at 8-2 heading back to Standard.
The chance of back to back titles was very much alive.
Aaron Copping 1 - 2 Joe Jackson