Nationals have returned to England and 390 people descended on The Roundhouse in Derby to battle it out for the honor of making the World Magic Cup team and the bragging rights of being National Champion. And after fifteen rounds of hard-fought competition, the team was decided and a champion crowned. But before we get there, let's have a look at the more memorable moments from the weekend.
A Photo Essay of English Nationals
It feels a little shameless to copy this format from Chapman Sim, but he did such a brilliant job of covering the Japanese Nationals last weekend, I feel duty-bound to follow his lead. And pictures are better for telling a story than a pile of words.
(They're also faster and easier to create as well, but let's not go there.)
The Roundhouse is, as the name suggests, round. Or at least the central hall is. The tables were laid out like the spokes of a wheel and it worked rather well. Ixalan is already exerting its influence.
Unfortunately, we still have to wait a couple of weeks before we can play with the new set, but there were a few reminders to whet our appetite.
The dinosaurs are on the way! And also, can anyone think of a snappy name for our little friend here?
Of course, Ixalan won't just have dinosaurs. There are pirates too, and the judges sported various piratical accoutrements to set the mood.
Scorekeeper Ryan Brierley, the guy with the hat, had his hands full with the Modern event taking place at the same weekend. Behind him, Jack Doyle had the bigger responsibility of keeping track of the scores in the main event.
Don't judge them. It's a long weekend for the staff.
(And your faithful coverage writer.)
While the Nationals was the most important event taking place this weekend, there were other events to make the whole weekend a full festival of Magic. For those unfortunate enough not to qualify for the main event, there was 106-player Legacy event to occupy them. And then, for those abandoned by the Gods (or God-Pharaohs, curse you, Bolas!), there was a monster 190-player Modern tournament to sink their teeth, or Goblin Guides, into.
So monstrous it even spilled into the next room.
The artist John Avon was here, and was very popular judging by the length of the queues of people eager to have cards signed by him. This was not surprising. Avon has painted some gorgeous Magic artwork over the years.
Just look at this:
And what are those on the wall behind him?
Anyone else looking forward to that Unstable release coming out later this year? Those lands look so so good.
Of course, this is all a sideshow to the main event, the English National Championships.
A Title Held For Over A Decade
Here's a bit of pedantry for you. The last time a Nationals tournament was run in Britain was in 2011. The winner of that one was Daniel Royde. However, the current defending champion is actually Craig Stevenson. The English, Scottish, and Welsh Nationals were amalgamated into one Great British Nationals in 2007 (Can't remember who won that one off the top of my head). The last English Nationals were held in 2006, which was won by Stevenson. He was here this weekend and I caught up with him to ask what it was like to be back at a Nationals tournament.
"Fantastic. Having the tournament be a mix of Constructed and Booster draft brings back all the excitement of the old Nationals."
The only thing he said that was slightly disappointed was the lack of qualifiers.
"The old Nationals had the qualifiers to build up the hype before the main tournament. The new Nationals doesn't have that, but it's understandable with all the other PPTQs that have to run."
But, it was a minor quibble. As he put it:
"If the choice is no Nationals or these Nationals, I'll take these Nationals every time."
He said he'd found it really good fun and everyone seemed to be happy about it.
"I don't know anyone who hasn't liked it."
Unfortunately for Stevenson, he was unable to defend the title he'd held for over a decade. A series of losses put him out of contention late on Day 1.
As he jokingly put it:
"The only thing that's not been perfect is the result, because I should have won."
There is always next year.
An Experienced Top 8
After twelve rounds only 8 players were left standing, and jokes about England's chronic underachievement on the world Magic stage aside, it looked a useful one. Niels Molle had already locked up a place as team captain after achieving Gold level. Dan Gardner was a champion back in 2009 and made the national team again in 2010. Peter Ward was looking for back-to-back qualification after representing England at the World Magic Cup last year. Quentin Martin is a name from the past. He made the quarterfinals of PT Prague 206 and also has multiple Grand Prix Top 8s under his belt.
Ross Broxup, Michail Dimakos and Brendan Edwards might not have had the same reputations, but never underestimate players eager to create that first breakout opportunity.
And then there was Autumn Burchett. Burchett held the Constructed Master spot for a while after a breakout 11th place finish at PT Battle for Zendikar. So far, this weekend had been her weekend. The only points she'd dropped in the Swiss were due to an intentional draw in the twelfth round in order to lock up first seed and being on the play for every match of the Top 8. And... well, we'll get to that in a mo.
Some Spicy Semifinals
For every tournament you always hope that the most important rounds are the most memorable and the English Nationals didn't disappoint in that regard. The semifinal matches, the ones that determined the members of the national team, were both doozies.
In her match and in the deciding game against Peter Ward, Autumn Burchett was up against the ropes and facing down a horde of zombies. In the face of being overrun, she was able to find and play a Chandra, Flamecaller to scour the board clean. Even that wasn't enough. You can't keep a good Zombie down and Ward was able to bring back his Relentless Dead to keep threatening Burchett's perilously low life total.
Pfeh. There was never any doubt. Red spells always come to your aid when you need them.
Unless your name is Quentin Martin that is.
Over in the other semifinal the former pro faced the opposite problem. He had Ross Broxup down to 1 life and just needed to find something, anything, to put the game – and match – away. His deck stubbornly refused to help. He had an Abrade to stay alive after a topdecked Gideon from Broxup gave a would-have-been-lethal counterattack. That bought another turn and another chance to put Broxup away. Unfortunately Martin hit another blank and had to extend the hand.
In contrast, the final was rather anticlimactic. Broxup mulled to four in the deciding game and, despite putting up a fight, never had the resources to prevail. He at least had the consolation of:
The 2017 English National Team
...is Autumn Burchett, Niels Molle, and Ross Broxup
But this weekend belonged to Autumn Burchett. She took on the best England had to offer and beat them all. She is the 2017 English National Champion!