United Nationals Roundtable

Posted in The Week That Was on August 8, 2008

By Brian David-Marshall

Brian David-Marshall is a New York–based game designer who has been involved with Magic since 1994, when he started organizing tournaments and ran a Manhattan game store. Since then, he has been a judge, a player, and one of the longest-tenured columnists on DailyMTG.com, as he enters his second decade writing for the site. He is also the Pro Tour Historian and one of the commentators for the Pro Tour.

This past weekend was a busy one for Magic with four different National Championships taking place along with the Grand Prix in Kobe. I caught up with the winners of the four Championships and got them to participate in a Nationals roundtable. Seated for the virtual interview were U.S. National Champion Michael Jacob, Canadian National Champion Dan Lanthier, Italian Champion William Cavaglieri, and French National Champion Christophe Peyronnel.

BDM: First a little background: Age/Hometown/Occupation.

William: 26, Italian, but I live in Frankfurt, Germany. I internal contract as a videogame tester for Nintendo, which is more of a real job than it sounds, as I usually lead the Italian team during a project (plus other stuff).

Christophe: I am 30 years old, and I live on Clermont-Ferrand in the center of France. I am the owner of a game store which is called Overgrown.

Dan: My name is Dan Lanthier, I'm 20 years old and I live in Ottawa, Canada.

BDM: Michael and I did all the background stuff last year so let me ask you something else. How does it feel to win Nationals after making the team last year?

Michael: I feel like it is a long time coming. I punted last year; otherwise I would have won. I punted Game 4 against [Thomas] Drake. I feel like this is exactly what should have happened last year.

BDM: Magic accomplishments...

Christophe: I made Top 8 in French Nationals 2005, Top 8 in French National Team Cup 2005, 2006 and I played on some Pro Tours without fabulous results.

Dan: Top 16 at Grand Prix- Philadelphia 2008.

William: Mmm... Top 4 Grand Prix- Milan 1999, Top 48 Pro Tour- Yokohama 2003... Loads of long breaks from Magic, but I have never missed Nats because it's such a cool tournament I played in 11 consecutive Nationals. Four times I've made Top 32 or better in the last six Grand Prixs, and every time lost at least once playing for Top 8. Twelve Pro Tours total.

BDM: How did you prepare and who did you work with for the Standard portion of this year's National Championship?

Michael: My preparation was about the same. I have an advantage in that I work in a hobby shop and we draft on Mondays and Wednesdays. I judge Standard tournaments on Fridays which is the perfect set-up to playtest for Nationals when it is both those formats. I was able to test the Mono-red deck a lot with Josh Wludyka. That was very helpful as well as Patrick Chapin and the rest of the RIW crew all playtested a lot on Mondays and Wednesdays in between drafts.

Michael Jacob

Download Arena Decklist

William: I tested online without anybody else – eight-person queues only but I was giving my decklists to friends to get feedback. After I found a good deck, black-red Tokens with Torrent of Souls, I got some good feedback from Antonino De Rosa, Marco Cammilluzzi and a bit too from Nicola Albarelli, Giovanni Intini, and Davide Zedda.

William Cavaglieri

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Dan: Two days before Nationals I drove down to Montreal and stayed at Yi Cheng's house. I prepared with Yi Cheng, Guillaume Cardin, Daniel Kramer, and Guillaume Daoust. We had originally constructed a 5-Color Reveillark deck but Cardin had a new version of the red deck with Figure of Destiny that we just couldn't beat. So he gave us his Reveillark list, with no combo, with Riftwing Cloudskates and Aven Riftwatchers main deck. He recommended it because it had good matchups against most of the format, except it lost against other 'Lark decks. So Daniel Kramer then built a combo 'Lark deck with main deck Riftwatchers based off of the list that Cardin had given us and shared the list with me. It looked good, had good matchups against the non-Faeries decks in the format, so I decided to give it a go for Nationals.

Dan Lanthier

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Christophe: I playtested with Camille Fenet Top 4 in Pro Tour- Atlanta 2005 and some local players. We tested every deck in the metagame and tried to create a new one with Eventide without any results. Finally we played the best deck.

Christophe Peyronnel

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BDM: What decks were you expecting to face and how did you account for that anticipated field?

Dan: I expected red decks to fill up the majority of the field, roughly about 20-30%, with Elves and Faeries picking up a close second probably around 10-20%. Therefore our sideboard was filled with cards like Condemn and Remove Soul.

Michael: I was expecting it to be a lot of Quick 'N Toast and a lot of Faeries. That was pretty much it. I thought those two decks had really good match-ups against everything people should be playing. I didn't think Reveillark would do very well. I playtested Merfolk a ton but it just wasn't good enough. Half the games you win because you Dismiss their first three or four spells then there are games where you just sit there with 2/1s and 1/1s and you lose.

Ashenmoor Gouger
That is why I played Ashenmoor Gouger. Neither Faeries nor Reveillark have ways to kill Ashenmoor Gouger or Demigod of Revenge. The burn spells are very good against random decks the burn will float you through there. The deal was that when Figure of Destiny came out it changed what you want to be doing with the red deck. Now your plan is to have a bunch of 4/4s or 5/4s and your creatures are already immune to Firespout. You always rip the fifth land for Demigod or the sixth land to flip over Figure of Destiny and you need that land to come into play untapped. You can't play all the Ghitu Encampments and Keldon Megaliths that everyone else is playing. If you're going to go down that route you might as well play Skred. One of the big problems for the deck was killing Tarmogoyf, Chameleon Colossus, Mistbind Clique, or even killing a Wall of Roots. Skred is the most efficient card in the format at doing that kind of thing. We liked Skred so much that we were considering playing Phyrexian Ironfoot instead of the Gouger. They have a lot of the same immunities but Ironfoot can be hit with Slaughter Pact which is a big reason we chose not to do it. Even the 'can't block' aspect of Gouger is really good because when it gets Sowered they can't block with it.

Christophe: We expected to find in first Faeries, second green-black Elves, third and fourth Reveillark and Mono-red but lately we saw more Mono-red because it wins versus Faeries and green-black.

William: I expected the usual suspects Faeries, Elves, Reveillark 40% of tier 2 decks like Mana Ramp, and a small increase in red decks.

BDM: How accurately would you say you predicted the field and how did you do in Standard?

Christophe: Honestly I did not expect so much Mono-red; I had foreseen some Puncture Blast in sideboards because it is to me one of the best cards in the mirror but if I had known I would have played four.

William: The day before Figure of Destiny was everywhere so we added Shriekmaw to the main at the last minute. Also black-red Tokens was popular as well 15% of the field? In the end I think Mono-red was the most popular deck.

Michael: In the first round I played Reveillark and I looked to my left and there were Merfolk mirror matches and to my right there were Merfolk mirror matches. And I thought that was really good for me. In the next round I played the mirror and I lost a heartbreaker despite him making a lot of play errors. Then I played Doran. I played a bunch of Quick 'N Toast in the second half of the Standard portion. It is such a good match-up. If you play the Magus of the Moon and it sticks you just can't lose. They have a couple of Slaughter Pacts and Firespouts but that's it. They can't stop you from beating down with Gouger or Demigod for one or two turns and they are just dead. Magus of the Moon is the reason to play the deck. With all the non-basic lands in the format people don't see a reason to play basic lands. Even the two-color decks have like five or six basic lands in it. I was very surprised that the Elf deck had seven basic lands.

Magus of the Moon
Dan: My predictions were actually quite accurate. The grinders were packed with Mono-red and Elves and that translated over into the main event though there were fewer Faeries than I had predicted. I went 3-1-2 in the Swiss, losing my first round of the tournament to a Merfolk deck with main deck Unsummon. I basically had no outs whatsoever to that deck and I finished that round in about six minutes... Not exactly the start I was looking for... I then faced Mono-red, and Faeries before moving into the draft portion. After two drafts I started off the Constructed portion again and faced Guillaume Cardin, an easy win for my deck as his deck is cold to the combo 'Lark. And I finished off the last two rounds by drawing into the Top 8.

BDM: What was your plan for SSE drafts? How much preparation did you have and what types of decks did you draft? What was you record in Limited?

Dan: My plan for the draft was to stay mono-colored as long as possible as those are generally the strongest decks. Red decks being the strongest, black being the weakest, and the other three colors somewhere in between. I had only done about ten drafts with the new set before I entered the event. My first pack showed nothing but a Corrupt for playables; I wasn't happy with it but when a Midnight Banshee followed and two Incremental Blights in the second pack came around I soon realized I would be 3-0'ing that draft. My second draft was a very weak Mono-red deck; I had 2 Ashenmoor Gouger, and a Dominus of Fealty in it though, and I managed a 2-1 record for an overall strong 5-1 finish in Limited.

William: For SSE my plan was to stay extremely flexible and be ready to switch even late in the draft. It paid off big time for me in SSS with a 1900 Limited rating online and Top 16 at Grand Prix-Brussels. My favorite strategies are mono-color with two small splashes, two "guilds" from Shadowmoor and a third, friendly "guild" in Eventide (blue-white-black or white-blue-red, for example). Note that with the second strategy you can still end up with two-color builds; you kind of find out based on what you get during Eventide. I did seven SSE drafts in the Eventide beta, and my record was 6-1.

Christophe: I did tons of SSS Draft and just four SSE. My ideal plan was to stay mono-colored in the first pack and continue if it was possible or have some splashable cards which can be played in the late game. For the record I went 2-1 in LLM draft with a mono-white Kithkin deck and 2-1 in SSE draft with an insane mono-black. [some Nationals tournaments use both LLM and SSE as their draft formats, with one pod of each.]

Michael: I knew I did not want to play Mono-red and I did not want to play green at all. I thought green got much worse because every color got removal spells and could just kill any green monster you have. You play a turn two Devoted Druid and make a turn three Cohort and they can just Unmake it or make it a 2/2 with Puncture Blast, Curse of Chains every color has an answer and what's the point? My first draft was actually a complete disaster. I first picked a Burn Trail and Horde of Boggarts was like the 13th best card in the pack it was a really, really good pack. When Horde of Boggarts didn't come back I knew I couldn't go mono but I had already wasted my first five picks on mono-red cards.

I was pretty bunk on pack one. I opened Godhead of Awe in pack two and thought 'I'll try this.' In pack three I opened up the blue-green Liege and then got passed the blue-red Liege. I got passed two Noggle Bridgebreakers, and then I got passed Nucklavee. Then Riverfall Mimics followed by three Clout of the Dominus. When I registered my deck I had eleven Shadowmoor cards and twelve Eventide cards. I was mono-blue and I just crushed everybody with Riverfall Mimic and Clout of the Dominus. I also had Spell Syphon in my deck and it was always for one and it always countered a five-drop. I was stretching the playables for sure. I made 4-0 Day One and on Day Two I had to outplay a lot of my opponents. Edge of the Divinity on white creatures Holy Strength was my way to win. I banter with my opponents a lot to make them make play errors. I had Puresight Merrow with Edge of Divinity so it was a 3/4 tapped. I also had Scarecrone and put a Plains near it saying, "This is in case you have Last Breath so I can still draw a card." I said go and he attacked with the white cohort and I untapped my Merrow and blocked. He lost after that because he didn't have a 3/3 first striker anymore. I also had Stillmoon Cavalier and played against a white-black deck the round after.

BDM: What were your match-ups in the Top 8 like? Was there any key play that you can attribute your title to?

William: In the quarterfinals we mulliganed to zero. Three of us made Top 8 with "my" deck, and we didn't want to play a 73 card mirror. I was luckier and that was it. The semifinals was a very easy matchup Elves. He didn't keep a second blocker during Game 2, and I "went off" by playing Torrent of Souls on Shriekmaw and dealing exactly 17 damage. Considering that at the end of his turn I only had three tokens against his Tarmogoyf, he was quite shocked. I had Bitterblossom too for the 5th attacker. The Finals were against Faeries, which is an ok-to-good matchup based on builds, and my draws were very good.

Christophe: In the Top 8 were four Red Deck Wins, two FuryHusk, one Merfolk, and one Quick 'N Toast. In the quarterfinals I met another Mono-red. The deck and the sideboard of my opponent were not good for the mirror and I won easily. In the semis I played a real mirror. I think I won because I won the toss. In the finale I played versus Quick 'N Toast which is a good match-up and I won without difficulty. Post-sideboard the key play was to mana burn myself a bunch of times to not lose to Arbiter of Knollridge. I had to have a low life total.

Dan: My quaterfinals matchup was a 74 card Reveillark mirror with my teammate Daniel Kramer. It took the full five games to finish the match despite my 2-0 start. The semifinals was another Reveillark mirror played by Francis Toussaint. He played the 5-Color version which is slightly stronger in the mirror than mine is but I managed to pull it out in five games.

Venser, Shaper Savant
In the finals I was up against Steven Wolfman who was piloting the Mono-red deck. This was a pretty easy matchup for me as my deck was built to beat his, and this one was over in four games. My best play of the Top 8 was my fifth game of the quarterfinals. My opponent had a Mulldrifter and Reveillark in his graveyard, with a Gargadon suspended, and he cast Body Double leaving two mana open. My board position was Bonded Fetch, Reveillark and a suspended Gargadon. I had no mana open, but a Pact of Negation in hand. So I cast Pact of Negation targeting the Body Double. He responded with Rune Snag, but I activated my Bonded Fetch, discarded a Venser, sacrificed the Fetch and the 'Lark returned both the Fetch and the Venser, and used the Venser to target the Pact. I then recast it to counter the Body Double. Next turn I was able to assemble all the pieces and combo off to the semifinals.

BDM: What do you think about the rest of your team from Nationals and do you care to make any predictions about the results at Worlds?

Dan: My teammates for Worlds are Steven Wolfman and Eduardo Sajgalik. I have no experience in knowing Eduardo but he put up an undefeated record in the Swiss portion of Nationals so I trust that he knows enough about what he is doing. As for the Wolf, he has a couple of Pro Tour Top 8's to his name so I have faith that our team will put up a good finish at Worlds.

Christophe: I am with two great players. Pierre Malherbaud is a two-time French National Champion and finalist of the European Championship. I don't need to present Olivier Ruel. I will be the most inexperienced on this team but I hope to do my best.

Michael: I am very enthusiastic about the team this year. I've known Paul Cheon for a while now and Sam Black I have heard of before but this is the first time I have met him. He seems like a competent player and I am looking forward to Worlds this year very enthusiastic. We all got to where we needed to be in the top tier with different decks which is also nice.

William: To be honest I don't know the semifinalists very well. Living in Germany I don't know the local scene very well. Filippo Kratter is a very talented player, I just hope he has time to get ready for Worlds this fall as he is a professional snowboarder. Italians are pretty bad at playtesting, so I don't want to risk any predictions.

Firestarter: Standard Offerings

Of the four National Championship winning decks this weekend, which is your favorite and why? Head to the forums and share your opinions on these decks and what effect they might have on the remaining National Championships.

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