Tourney Report – National Qualifiers

So yeah… I do have a somewhat nerdy part of me. That being I play Magic: the Gathering. Here’s a report of a tournament I did, which was submitted to the Starkington Post (and maybe Star City Games, but probably won’t do it). It was a qualifier to play in U.S. Nationals. But a big part of it is, what would you do if you were in a situation where you’re against your friend in the final round to go to Nationals. Knowing who I was… Would you play it out or would you concede? That was my dilemma.

It’s the last round of the Swiss and I’m in 10th place. Sitting in front of me is my playtesting buddy and friend, Brad. For either of us, it’s win and we’re in the top 8. Draw and it’s the end of that. I’m sitting there thinking of what I need to do, as we’re just sitting there. Before we even cut each other’s decks, I closed my eyes for a moment, then extended my hand in concession.

In the weeks leading up to playing in this year’s national qualifiers in Seattle, I was reminded of last year’s event. I played Geopede Jund and finished 5-3 and in 24th place. I started out 4-0 before going 1-3 in the last four rounds. And awkwardly enough, three of my opponent’s finished in the top eight (beat Gavin Verhey’s Naya, lost to Martin Goldman-Kirst and Teddy Vitro’s UW control). What was bothersome was the 1-3 collapse at the end.

So coming into this year’s event, I wanted to do better. Originally, UW Caw-Blade caught my eye to the various forms card advantage it had. Hawks, Preordain, Mystics, Jace. It’s like a dream for a player that loves card advantage and having a full grip. However, I wanted to try out different decks to see if there a better one out there. RUG was probably the closest since it rewarded on tight, solid play. Yet at the same time, it punished you for poor play. Given the length of the tournament, I knew I would be bound to make a mistake here or there, so I didn’t want to get punished for that.

Coming closer to regionals, I figured I wanted to try a deck that could beat Caw-Blade since it was obviously the deck to beat. Unfortunately, finding the Holy Grail for Standard never happened even after all the discussions with Brad, Thomas, and other guys from a card shop I had been playtesting with. So I stuck with playing some version of Caw-Blade After some deliberation, I told myself I wouldn’t audible (with reminders from Warren), so I kept with UW, even though I had been toying with UWr for mirrors and RUG match-ups.

In terms of game plan, I knew what I had to do:
– Be aggressive with my hands. Avoid keeping hands without a two drop if at all possible, especially game one.
– Kill off the value my opponent’s counters by winning the mana advantage war.
– Win the attrition war in the mirror by sticking a Sun Titan.
– Get Gideon and Tumble Magnets on the board to negate my opponent’s Swords.
– Don’t get tunnel visioned into winning solely by Swords.
– Know when to be aggressive, when to play as control.

The night before the event, I had the deck I wanted. But I changed my mindset. Rather than focusing on doing well, I just told myself to accept whatever outcome happened, whether I 0-2 drop or actually qualify for nationals. To just enjoy the opportunity to play, have good sportsmanship, and have fun.

So this was the list I came up with five minutes before the players’ meeting:

4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
3 Gideon Jura
4 Preordain
3 Mana Leak
3 Spell Pierce
4 Squadron Hawk
4 Stoneforge Mystic
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
1 Mortarpod
2 Condemn
2 Tumble Magnet
2 Day of Judgment
1 Sun Titan
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Celestial Colonnade
4 Seachrome Coast
5 Island
4 Plains
4 Tectonic Edge
1 Arid Mesa

1 Sun Titan
1 Volition Reins
2 Divine Offering
1 Into the Roil
1 Jace Beleren
3 Flashfreeze
2 Kor Firewalker
2 Oust
1 Condemn
1 Day of Judgment

It’s a pretty straightforward list… Except for the fact that I’m running 26 lands in a 61 card list. A few minutes before the meeting was about to start, I wanted to replace the fifth Island for a miser’s Inkmoth Nexus. Thankfully, my friend Jesus I. managed to let me borrow one. I changed my decklist really quick and we were eventually on our way.

There were 250+ people, so we played nine rounds. However, I managed to draw in the second round, playing the mirror. Because of it, I played against UW Caw-Blade or the like for the next six rounds, so I’d rather not bore you. Rather than going round by round, I’ll just list any key points or moments:

Round 1 – Victor Blaiotta (Valakut)
I had Sun Titan double equipped with Sword of Feast and Famine against a board of green creatures both games.
2-0 (1-0)

Round 2 – Shawn Martin (UW Caw-Blade)
Game one was me having Mystic first. Game two was him having Mystic first and having all the answers to my answers.
1-1 (1-0-1)

Round 3 – Michael Cowen (UW Venser)
– Game three was the interesting one. We had ten minutes left in the round. I really didn’t want to draw again. I draw the miser’s Nexus after I kept my opening hand. So what do I do? Start beating him down with it from turn two (or three, I can’t remember exactly). He played a Tumble Magnet, I Divine Offering it. I keep beating him down with it each turn He attempts to play Gideon, I Pierce it. I keep up the beats with Nexus and a few Hawks. I hit him for seven consecutive turns with Nexus. Eventually I managed to drop a Mystic for a Sword and got it into play. I attempt to attack with Nexus equipping a sword and killed him just as time was called.
2-1 (2-0-1)

Round 4 – Matthew Forner (UW Caw-Blade)
Mystic for me game one, Mystic for him game two, Hawks kill him game three. I surprised him by keeping counter-magic in to protect my board.
2-1 (3-0-1)

Round 5 – Jared Illum (UW Caw-Blade)
Jared was a buddy I playtested with. When I found he drew his last round, I jokingly said we’d play each other. Turns out we did. I was pretty upset that I had to play him (I blame DCI Reporter for pairing us). I managed to keep a Mystic onboard and win. Sun Titan followed by another Sun Titan got there game two.
2-0 (4-0-1)

Round 6 – Jordan Brott (UW Caw-Blade)
I mulled to five game one on the play. He got the threats out before I could, so I couldn’t do much about it.
0-2 (4-1-1)

Round 7 – Casey Pordes (UW Caw-Blade)
He gets stuck on one blue source, so I Tech Edge it and start dropping threats to kill him. Game two, Sun Titans got there for me, eventually despite him beating me down with Celestial Colonnade.
2-0 (5-1-1)

Round 8 – Charlie Nguyen (UW Caw-Blade)
Another guy I been talking to and working with in terms of what to play for Regionals. Again, wasn’t too happy to have to play against another friend. Game one, I get Mystic out turn two and win. Game two, he gets Mystic out before I could. Game three, I get Jace out and start finding my answers to win the game. Sun Titan eventually turns the tide.
2-1 (6-1-1)

So after the eighth round, I’m in 10th place. I can’t draw in because there were six of 21 and 22 pointers, with myself, Brad, Gavin Verhey, and one other guy in at 19 points, as well as all the 18 pointers below us. Martin calls me over and tells myself, Brad and Gavin that we win and we’re in. The issue here is that Gavin already drew with Brad last round so they can’t play each other, which means I’m playing either Brad or Gavin most likely. Then pairings are put up. Guess who I get paired up against.

Round 9 – Brad Rutherford (RUG)
So we’re matched up again for the third time in as many weeks. I asked him as we were walking over to the table, “You for sure gonna go?” He said, “Yeah, you?” I told him, “75% sure.” As we sit down at the table, I told him, “Lemme make a quick call to my dad about something.” So I left the table and start walking away. I come back, sit down, and as we’re about to cut each others’ decks, closed my eyes for a bit before I extended my hand and said, “I’ll concede. Congrats man.”

So why the concession? Why the heck would you give up the possibility of a once in a lifetime opportunity to play in Nationals?

I tried calling my dad but to no avail because of reception issues. As I’m walking away from the table, I tried to convince myself to play it out. But to be honest, I couldn’t. As much as a competitor that I am, there were two things going through my mind. One, Brad would benefit more from going than I would. There were a lot of things pointing that I knew that were pointing that direction than there were for me. And for me to go was simply for the sake of boosting my own pride and ego. The night before, I told myself to just have fun playing at regionals. Don’t focus on trying to qualify. Two, to possibly see a friend not make it at my own expense wouldn’t have been fun for me. It’s not part of my character. That was my reason for conceding despite being a match win away from making it to U.S. Nationals.

So why write about this?

Good question. I guess when it comes down to it, we all have this desire to show off our skills and try to win titles, prizes, and fame. But ultimately, it’s just a game. I mean, if Magic were gone tomorrow, no one’s gonna focus on those things I listed. But people will remember the relationships and friendships that were developed through playing the game. I think that’s what’s the most important. Again, I would have a lot of regrets if I had played it out and won.

There were a lot of things that I took out of Saturday. I had my best finish at 6-2-1 and in 19th place (despite the intentional loss). My objective of having fun was accomplished. I helped a friend make his first U.S. Nationals. I played, for the most, part well despite a few play mistakes here and there. I executed my game plan that I came into the tournament with, especially in the mirror (4-1-1 in the mirror). Got to have some good conversations with great opponents and friends and just enjoy the experience. And for me, that’s what counted the most. I grabbed my packs and headed off to happy hour to celebrate one of my good friends’ birthday.

All in all, it was a good day. If I were to go back to that same moment, I would do the same thing again. The only difference would be I wouldn’t have hesitated to do so.

Other random notes:
– Jed Dolbeer may have had the deck of the tournament. It was pretty fun to watch it work. It ate all the Caw-Blade decks alive.

– I saw one of the most awkward rulings of the day. There’s this player that recently started playing M:TG and is pretty good. The difference between him and everyone else in the room is that he’s blind. So a lot of the times, he’s able to remember the board state despite not being able to see it. It’s quite impressive to say the least. It’s game two and he’s sitting at the table next to me. He Preordains, puts two cards at the bottom, draws a card, and there’s a Stoneforge Mystic on top of his deck, revealed. But Jamie is unaware that there’s a revealed card on top of his deck. Opponent has to call a judge over to explain the situation and because of this issue, the blind player gets a warning… For looking at an extra card. It probably was the most awkward situation for all three people. No one wanted that call to be made, but they had to follow the procedures on that. Thank God it was only a warning.

– Brad and I played it out just to see what would have happened. Brad would have won 2-1 if we actually played it out.

– Jared and my game may or may not have had the most play mistakes and take backs of all time. It was fun.

– Brad Rutherford – For what will be his first Nationals appearance. You deserved it bro.
– Jesus Ibarra-Leal – For getting me that Nexus. It got me there in that third round!
– Warren Eng – For reminding me not to audible.
– Thomas – For all the work in trying to trying to devise a foil to the current metagame, as well as the deck designing and discussions for what we currently had.
– The crew from Renton – For all the playtesting and random hangouts leading up to Saturday’s Regionals event
– All my opponents – For the great conversations, the laughs, being good sportsmen, and classy guys.
– God – For constantly keeping my priorities in check.

– Deck checks – For getting deck checked in three consecutive events.
– DCI reporter – For pitting friends against each other. 😛

// Ed Pham
// me at edpham dot net

2 thoughts on “Tourney Report – National Qualifiers”

  1. Thanks for the mini-report, Ed! I understand your pain in the last round, and it’s too bad you didn’t make top 8. After this display of character and friendship, I sincerely hope you win one of the store qualifiers. I can’t speak on a play level, but on a level of emotional goodwill, you deserve it.

    If you need any cards to play in the store qualifiers, let me know and I’ll see what I can do for you. I’d love to see you there with me! 🙂


  2. Thanks man. I really appreciate that. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to compete at any of the store events, but that’s okay. Loaned my deck off to a friend so hopefully they can qualify for Nationals this upcoming Saturday. 🙂

    Congrats again on your Q!

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