US Nationals Tournament Highlights

Posted in Event Coverage on July 2, 2018

By Corbin Hosler and Meghan Wolff

It was a weekend that comes only once a year – US Nationals, when players compete for the title of National Champion and a spot on the US World Magic Cup Team. On Saturday, 739 players arrived at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, ready and eager to play for their chance at the title of US National Champion.

This weekend marked the start of the race to the World Magic Cup for countries around the world. The US wasn't the only country holding their national championship this weekend, as players also gathered in Canada, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Singapore, and Costa Rica to compete for their national titles.

On Saturday the tournament began with five rounds of Standard, followed by a Dominaria draft. At the start of Day 2, three players lead the pack with perfect records: Riley Curren, from Columbus, Piper Powell, from Lexington, Chris Anderson, from Indianapolis. But with a handful of pros still topping the standings too, it was still anyone's tournament. Sunday began with a final Dominaria draft. Three more rounds of Limited and two of Standard set the tournament's Top 8, also Standard.

Congratulations to US National Champion Dylan Brown

After thirteen rounds of Swiss, including two drafts and seven rounds of Standard, eight players moved on to the Top 8 of US Nationals. They were Matthew Nickolai, Chris Andersen, Kevin Jones, Joe Bernal, Dylan Brown, Owen Turtenwald, Justin Andrus, and Brent Clawson.

In the quarterfinals, Kevin Jones, on Jeskai Control, narrowly defeated Owen Turtewald, on Black-Red Aggro, in three games, Glimmer of Genius digging Jones out of hole and turning around game three. Matthew Nickolai, on Blue-Black Midrange, also took down his aggro opponent, in this case Brent Clawson on Mono-Red. In a Blue-Black Midrange mirror, Dylan Brown defeated Joe Bernal.

Also in the quarterfinals, Justin Andrus, on Esper Control, defeated Chris Andersen, on White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift. Andersen, a perennial player who has recently stepped away from competitive Magic to go to school, picked up the deck on a recommendation from Jack Kiefer, who made the semifinals of GP Pittsburgh last weekend. With tips from Quinn Kiefer on how to draft Dominaria, Andersen made it all the way to the Top 8 despite his fairly last-minute prep.

In the semifinals, Justin Andrus defeated Kevin Jones, his Esper Control deck prevailing over Jones's Jeskai. In the other semifinal match, the advantage in game three sung back and forth between the two players as they cast Torrential Gearhulks and eternalized Champions of Wits. Finally, a Scarab God for Dylan Brown locked up the game, bringing Brown back from one life.

The finals came down to Justin Andrus, a 29-year-old financial analyst from Saint Louis, and Dylan Brown, a 25-year-old server from Port Huron, Michigan. Both locked up spots on the World Magic Cup team this December, but the US National Champion title was still on the line. Both had called upon The Scarab God many times throughout the course of the weekend, and would again in the finals. Brown was piloting Blue-Black Midrange, while Andrus brought his own take on Esper Control that included deviations like three copies of Yahenni's Expertise and a full four copies of Doomfall.

Brown took game one, taxing Andrus's answers with card draw and threats. Andrus took game two with the help of two copies of The Eldest Reborn.

It was another grueling game three, as players landed threat after threat, only to see those threats answered. It was Dylan Brown who finally found enough creatures to push through Andrus's removal and take the game. Catch the final turns below.

Congratulations to Dylan Brown, the US National Champion!

Top Standard Decks

Day 1 of US Nationals included five rounds of Standard. After those five rounds, 24 of the starting 739 players were undefeated. Their decks spanned from some of the most powerful and popular decks in the format to the downright unexpected.

Day 1 5-0 Standard Decks  
Black-Red Aggro 6
White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift 5
Mono-Red Aggro 4
Blue-Black Midrange 4
White-Blue Control 2
Esper Control 1
Jeskai Dynavolt 1
White-Black Approach 1

The Swiss portion of the tournament concluded with another two rounds of Standard. Of these starting 5-0 decks, 10 ended up undefeated in all seven Standard rounds. Their pilots were Sam Black, Chad Sarquiz, Dylan Brown, Wyatt Darby, Joshua Hull, Chris Andersen, Matthew Nickolai, Jeromy Myers, Billy Smith, and Brent Clawson. The deck archetypes included three Blue-Black Midrange, three White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift, two Black-Red Aggro, and two Mono-Red Aggro.

Still Room for Surprise

While we're in the final weekends of this Standard season, with Magic 2019 weeks away from making its Standard debut, there's still room for Standard decks that surprise with their takes on format.

Below are two such decks, which also happened to start out Day 1 5-0. First, there's Riley Curran's Jeskai Dynavolt, a return to a style of control periodically popular since the release of Kaladesh and the deck's namesake card, Dynavolt Tower.

Dynavolt Tower takes the instants and sorceries that control decks want to cast anyway, and harnesses them for free Lightning Bolts later. Currants deck also gets a boost from cards printed after the original Dynavolt Tower decks were popular, like the powerful sweeper Hour of Devastation and the planes walker of the moment, Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.

Riley Curran's Jeskai Dynavolt – US Nationals

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Next, there's Adam Bialkowski's White-Black Lifegain, a deck whose entire theme is, well, lifegain. With the exception of a handful of removal spells, every card in his deck either gains life, or capitalizes on that lifegain.

There's Gifted Aetherborn, Sunscourge Champion, Lyra Dawnbringer, the backside of Arguel's Blood Fast, and Approach of the Second Sun to gain life (and sometimes win the game as well). Then, Crested Sunmare is there to make indestructible horses every turn and, of all things, Lich's Mastery to draw cards and provide another way to win, or technically just not lose, the game.

Adam Bialkowski's White-Black Lifegain – US Nationals

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Not performing quite as well, but still making a run into Day 2, was Ryan Good's Indomitable Creativity deck. Unlike some attempts at building a shell for Indomitable Creativity that came before it, Good's deck tried for a combo-like finish with Ghalta, Primal Hunger, Carnage Tyrant, and Register Alpha to give those enormous dinosaurs haste.

The dinos are the only permanents in the deck that Indomitable Creativity can put into play, meaning that if Good can cast the spell, he has a reasonable chance of winning or nearly winning on the spot.

Ryan Good's Indomitable Dinosaurs – US Nationals

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Meanwhile, in Canada

It wasn't just the United States that was hosting its national championship this weekend – Canada was as well. More than 400 turned up to the event, and it's safe to say the Canadians were enjoying the event.

In the end, it was a Goblin Chainwhirler-filled Top 8 – and all four players in the final four were playing the ubiquitous card. It was Micah Hewer and Adam Ragsdale who met in the finals and will represent Team Canada in the World Magic Cup alongside the team captain later this year, and it was Hewer who defeated Ragsdale in a tightly contested finals to be crowned the Canadian National Champion!

And that's a wrap for the first weekend of Nationals! Congratulations to Dylan Brown and to the winners in Canada, Bulgaria, Ecuador, Singapore, and Costa Rica, and good luck to those competing in the coming weeks!

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