“Washington D.C., the home of democracy, the White House, the Capitol Building, Abe Lincoln’s statue sitting, contemplating the future at one end of the National Mall, the Washington Monument piercing the sky at the other end; what better place for the U.S. National Championship?”
“What? I’m trying to do an intro for U.S. Nationals and tell everyone about the meat grinders the day before, why are you interrupting me.”
“What does a meat grinder have to do with Nationals?”
“Meat grinders are what they call the Last Chance Qualifiers the day before Nationals starts. They are the last chance to get into the big show if you aren’t already qualified. Now, why are you bothering me?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry, but dude, Nationals is in Baltimore this year.”
“Oh! Well, Washington D.C. is really close to Baltimore.”
An American Tradition: Meat Grinders
This August 12th through 14th, the Magic: the Gathering® U.S. National Championship will be held in Baltimore, Maryland. However, if you haven’t already qualified to play in your National Championship, the real action starts Thursday, August 11th! Starting at midnight on the 11th, the Last Chance Qualifier Tournaments for Nationals begin.
There will be six Last Chance Qualifiers, starting with the first one at midnight on the 11th. The next one will begin in the morning of the 11th at 10 a.m., the third will begin at noon, and they will continue starting at 2-hour intervals, at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., and 6 p.m. Each tournament will have a maximum number of participants capped at 256, and the top four players from each of these Last Chance Qualifiers will have the chance to play for the U.S. National Championship the next day. Fifth- through eighth-place winners also get a box of boosters, but they still have to get in another grinder if they want to play in Nationals.
These Last Chance Qualifiers will all be run using single elimination; if you lose one round, you are out of the tournament, so if you want to play in Nationals, WIN! The format for these meat grinder tournaments will be Standard, and a deck list is required in order to play. Please take note, Standard will still include cards from Eighth Edition, as Ninth Edition will not be legal yet. Each event costs $15 to enter, and registration starts an hour before the tournament. If you are registered for one of these events, make sure that you are at the tournament area at least 15 minutes before the tournament starts and that you have your deck list filled out; your tournament will not wait for you.
For a complete breakdown of all of the events going on during Nationals, check the Wizards of the Coast website. There are lots of great events throughout the weekend, so even if you don’t qualify for Nationals you will have plenty to do. This page also has a schedule for U.S. Nationals. If you do place in the top four of one of the grinders, you will need to be familiar with the schedule for the main event. There is also some information to help you find the site for Nationals and a link to area lodging.
What To Play
Well, if you are looking for some good deck ideas for Nationals this year, you probably need to be looking somewhere else, because if I knew, I would likely be playing in tournaments instead of judging them. However, I can tell you about some of the decks I have seen players testing and some of the more frequent questions I hear.
White Weenie decks are really big this year, again. I have been around for a long time, and I have seen many a White Weenie deck dominate the national scene. It seems like this deck is always a strong contender when Nationals comes around. In the past, this has been because of a powerhouse card like Abeyance (which was essentially a Time Walk as a cantrip to slow your opponent down) or Waylay (which had an unexpected interaction with the new Classic (sixth edition) rules changes creating the White Lightning deck until Waylay received errata). These cards pushed the White Weenie deck over the top. I don’t see anything like this for White Weenie this year, but if there is undiscovered tech to be found, history has shown that the meat grinders are likely where it will turn up.
Another deck that is still really big is Tooth and Nail. This deck generates an insane amount of mana and then entwines a Tooth and Nail to drop two big threats on the table. This deck started as a way to beat Affinity, but it has found a life of its own. The best or worst thing about this deck is that you have so many options as to what threats to put in it. This provides you with a way to make your deck a little more unpredictable.
There are also several good red deck variants, as well as some decks that rely heavily on the big legends in Kamigawa™ block that you might see doing well. Blue is also going to have a strong presence. With Vedalken Shackles to help take control of the play zone, blue control cards really have a chance to shine.
However, if I were playing, I would play one of the really interesting five-color variant decks out there. There are many ways to build this deck, but the build I like the most tries to lock your opponent down with Plow Under and Eternal Witness. This deck needs a lot of work, mine more that most, but I think a strong player with some good deck tuning skills could make a good showing with it. The great thing about this deck is that thanks to Gifts Ungiven, you can play a lot of different cards that can work in a variety of different situations.
Whatever you play, one thing is almost certain—there will be decks there that no one has seen yet. Historically, this is a very innovative event, so be prepared for anything!
Let’s Do It for Our Country! (That is the name of a song from Grease 2)
If you aren’t already qualified to play in the U.S. National Championship, August 11th is your last chance. Get plenty of sleep, tune your deck, and be in Baltimore at the stroke of midnight. Just like GI Joe, you get to be a real American hero!
Brian started playing Magic in spring 1994 (when you could still buy Antiquities boosters!) After becoming a DCI Judge in 1999, he has judged numerous Grand Prix, PTQs, local events, and even a couple of Pro Tours. He joined the Wizards of the Coast Delegate program in June 2004 and in what free time he has left after judging, delegating, and playing will be a contributing writer for the MPR newsletter.