US Nationals Day 1 Highlights

Posted in Event Coverage on July 1, 2018

By Corbin Hosler and Meghan Wolff

The lead-up to the World Magic Cup starts here, in Columbus, Ohio, with U.S. Nationals. This weekend will determine which two players will join the U.S. team captain – the pro points leader at the end of the season – in representing the US this December in Barcelona. It's the first of five weekends for Nationals worldwide, and by this Sunday, the U.S., Canada, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Singapore, and Costa Rica will have their national champions and two of their World Magic Cup representatives.

The tournament begins with five rounds of Standard, a format often dominated by red-based Goblin Chainwhirler decks, but that saw some shake-ups last weekend in Pittsburgh, where White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift and Blue-Black Midrange resurfaced. It's the final weekend for this Standard format before Magic 2019 hits the scene and shakes things up.

Speaking of final weekends, this weekend also includes two Dominaria drafts - one on Saturday and one to kick off Sunday. The conflux of timeless lore, favorite characters from across the multiverse and a plethora of viable draft strategies and archetypes has made Dominaria a favorite draft environment for many.

Catching Up With the Defending Champion

The defending US National Champion is Oliver Tomajko, who defeated Gerry Thompson in last year's finals to claim the title. Tomajko, seventeen years old at the time, started out undefeated on Day 1, and in the finals he piloted Blue-Black Control to victory over Thompson's Temur Energy deck. That December, Tomajko joined Thompson and team captain Reid Duke for the World Magic Cup in Nice, France, where the team took thirteenth.

“It's been a really good year Magic-wise since Nationals last year," Tamajko explained. “I made the Top 4 of a team Grand Prix and also went 11-5 at the last Pro Tour to earn Gold."

Not bad for one of the up-and-coming faces of the professional scene. Tomajko returned to US Nationals this year, this time with White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift, a deck that mostly disappeared from the Standard metagame for a handful of weeks but that is enjoying a resurgence. A few weeks ago Tomajko made the Top 4 of GP Toronto with teammates Noah Walker and Oliver Tiu, his first Top 8 since last year's Nationals win.

Nationals this year didn't start off quite so well for the wunderkind – a 1-2 start left him feeling dead in the water early – but he rallied to advance to 4-2 and leave himself in position to make another deep run.

“It's Nationals, I had to come back," he said. “Any other tournament I would be unhappy with two losses, but after the way this started I can't complain."

His back may be against the wall, but you can't count the defending champion out.

Perennial Favorites

Since Aetherflux Reservoir hit Standard with the release of Kaladesh in September 2016, players have searched for a way to make this unique artifact work. It's not often that Standard sees a storm-style deck, where players attempt to cast a huge number of spells in a single turn in pursuit of a big effect.

In this case, that effect is gaining enough life to active Aetherflux Reservoir's ability and deal 50 damage to their opponent. Spells like Paradoxical Outcome and even Baral's Expertise can return enough permanents

This weekend, Matt Esch showed up with his own take on the deck. Most excitingly, his sideboard included a copy of Efficient Construction, which allowed him to make essentially countless Thopters in match-ups where Aetherflux Reservoir might not get the job done, like when an opponent has a Shalai in play.

Esch drove 16 hours from his home in Oklahoma City to compete at Nationals. Back in OKC he's known for keeping a community calendar and helping players coordinate rides to events (and, incidentally, for talking about this deck nonstop for the past two weeks).

Matthew Esch's Mono-Blue Reservoir – US Nationals

While Aetherflux Reservoir combos have never quite found their niche in Standard, God-Pharaoh's Gift is another combo-like deck that's enjoying a resurgence in popularity. While it hasn't often been a definite favorite among pro players, God-Pharaoh's Gift decks have always lurked on the fringes of the format, pouncing every now and again. At GP Seattle in April, Blue-Red God-Pharaoh's Gift, a new innovation for the archetype, put three copies into the Top 8. Then, the deck disappeared.

But with plenty creatures that don't die to Goblin Chainwhirler and a fair amount of lifelink, people have been pointing to the deck as a strong metagame choice in recent weeks, even if there are a lot of copies of Abrade running around the hall. Current versions of the deck include four copies of Refurbish, so a single Abrade often isn't enough to deal with the deck's namesake artifact.

Standard Innovation Continues

By this point, we all know quite a bit about the current Standard. Red is good, slow, grindy control decks are good, and there's plenty in between – plus a few wacky combo decks like Esch's Aetherflux Reservoir brew.

But even this deep into the season – Magic 2019 releases in a few short weeks and then we enter the stretch run before a return to Ravnica in the fall will bring it rotation – there is still new ground being paved in Standard.

Just ask Max Margolis, who went back to the drawing board after toying with various black-green midrange decks, and came out of it with a sweet brew that built on Brendan DeCandio's breakout with the archetype a few weeks ago.

“Returning The Eldest Reborn to hand with Nissa, Vital Force is as good as it gets," Margolis explained.

Max Margolis' Black-Green Midrange

Sifting for Answers

While some players turned to the familiar in their quest to take down Nationals, others turned to the completely unfamiliar, like Austin Proux from Lansing, MI. Eaton's four-color masterpiece mirrors the deck Todd Stevens played on last week's Team Standard Super League, where Stevens ran over Mono-Red by using Sifter Wurms (yes, Sifter Wurms) to gain huge chunks of life.

In fact, Proux was in the midst of testing a suite of Standard decks that just didn't sit right with him when he saw those Super League matches and knew immediately that he wanted to play the deck (despite a lot of advice to the contrary from friend Ray Perez, Jr). In the middle of Day 1, his experience was so far mirroring Stevens's.

“I played against Mono-Red, and I cast a Sifter Wurm and gained nine, and they were like, oh, I'm dead," he explained matter-of-factly.

Austin Proux's Four-Color Ramp – US Nationals

Top Moments on Camera

If you weren't able to tune into the live action at US Nationals, there's always the replay on Twitch. And for those more pressed for time, or who caught the main event but want to relive the highlights, we have just a few moments from Twitch and from around the hall.

Bomat Courier had better have won an award on Kaladesh for being the best mail delivery service in the business, because we've seen it deliver an absurd number of cards to players during its year and a half on the fleet.

That said, maybe it doesn't quite deserve the title, because sometimes those packages get lost in the mail.

In round four, Brian Braun-Duin made a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria emblem, which reads “whenever you draw a card, exile target permanent an opponent controls." He proceeded to, well, exile a lot of target permanents.

Three Lead the Way

After eight rounds of intense Magic – five Standard and three Dominaria draft – the field of over 700 players has been whittled down to just three players at the top of the standings. Everyone can return to play tomorrow, but it's Chris Anderson, Piper Powell and Riley Curren who lead the way, playing with Jeskai Dynavolt Tower Control and a pair of the newly resurgent White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift deck!

The three pace the field, but it's anyone's tournament as head into Day 2 on Sunday – and you can tune in tomorrow to catch the end of the action at twitch.tv/magic!

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