Thursday, 27 October 2011

2011 UK National Championships [15/10/2011]

This is really late! I've been really busy. And lazy. Probably more of the latter. Anyhow!

6am is no time to be getting up on a Saturday, but when you have to collect a bunch of players on your way to a city located eighty miles away you're left with no choice. Accompanying me were Morgan Bartlett, Julian Harse and Alex Marsden. Most of the journey was spent discussing how we were going to Top 8 and how we were going to travel back the following day. Testing had been favourable and I was feeling especially confident having taken down two Worldbreaker block drafts in the past couple of weeks, won three Brewfest events in a row (including the first sanctioned tournament at Comics and Collectibles Unlimited, Chesterfield - where we had an excellent 14 participants) and seemed to be able to pull Twilight Citadels out of packs of Twilight of the Dragons at will.

Baxxel Geartooth

4 Boomer
4 Tesla
4 Cairne, Earthmother's Chosen
4 Gispax the Mixologist
4 Sava'gin the Reckless
4 Yazli Earthspark
3 Ka'tali Stonetusk
3 Guardian Steelhoof
2 Al'akir the Windlord
1 Krazal the Eggregator
1 Malfurion Stormrage
1 Nag the Twisted
1 Exxi the Windshaper

4 Aspect of the Wild
4 Avatar of the Wild
4 Arcane Shot
3 Blast Trap

3 Skywall
2 The Essence of Enmity
4 Corrosion Prevention

This list had taken me to a 6-1 finish at the last Zapped Giants Open. Rather than taking a balls-out aggro approach to a deck running Aspect of the Wild, I chose to use its power to create unkillable and awkward board situations for my opponents, with the added benefit of having people giving me funny looks when I drop a Guardian Steelhoof, wondering what I'm up to.

The deck wins by either pushing out tons of damage thanks to the Aspect, or hardcasting Cairne, then Al'akir, then Malfurion. Very few games go all the way to Malfurion - by the time Al'akir drops the game is usually a foregone conclusion - but sometimes your opponent can end up sacrificing their entire board to kill your Al'akir only to find him rejoining the army a couple of turns later thanks to Malfurion.

On the morning of Nationals I cut the singleton Krazal and replaced it with a fourth Ka'tali Stonetusk. Whilst having the Eggman in the deck I'd searched for him a grand total of twice, and one of those times was someone asking me what he was in there for. Originally when constructing the list I played four Krazal; then one; now none.

After an issue with two packs of sleeves I purchased long ago being different sizes, and so having to purchase two more packs and hastily resleeve two minutes before the start of the tournament, we got down to it. A mammoth fifty-nine players made the journey to Nationals, and there were notable absences in the form of the Glasgow and Dover groups too. A very happy sight. This meant a gargantuan nine rounds of Block, followed up with a three-round draft.

Round 1: vs Andrew Brown, Paladin

If I recall correctly Andrew was one of the Edinburgh players. He won the roll and seemed to get bent over by his deck - a lack of Girdle saw him draw very few cards through the course of the game, though come turn seven he dropped an Al'akir, ruining the surprise of my seventh turn Al'akir who I'd been clutching ever since the start of the game. Luckily I was able to suicide enough guys into his Al'akir before dropping my own that the game was over shortly after. [1-0]

Round 2: vs Sean Hammond, Warlock

Sean is also known as "That Ipswich guy that does the Tokens". I haven't met him or his beard before so it was nice to finally get to talk to someone who does a lot for the community. If you have a few minutes go and check out Ipswich WoW and their Youtube channel - they're probably putting out more content than anyone else in the UK at the moment, which is awesome.

So a Warlock eh? Warlocks are crap right, so this shouldn't be too difficult. Um. So, Sean went first and I kept an OK hand containing an Al'akir and a Malfurion. His Rolan Phoenix gave me some trouble - a relatively boring turn three for me gave him the opportunity to drop Rolan turn four, and from there he never really left the table. I didn't have an Aspect so couldn't kill him for 'free' with the Nature Resistance, and he just kept getting in for three points of damage, over and over again.

On turn seven, Sean dropped Al'akir. He didn't even have to Summoning Portal for it, so it came as quite a surprise. I sighed, played my own Al'akir and passed. I've got Malfurion in hand, so it should be OK.

He drops Nefarian and I think my reaction was something along the lines of 'wuaagh'. Our Al'akirs traded and suddenly Malfurion looked a little anaemic. [1-1]

Round 3: vs David Thorpe, Warrior

"Yeah, my deck's on a bit of a budget unfortunately" David told me - running only a singleton Twilight Citadel and missing a few other bits he wanted to get hold of. That didn't prove too problematic though - I failed to find an Aspect of the Wild, he dropped a Perdition's Blade early in the game and followed it up with a Girdle, Enraged Regeneration, To Arms!, and then two more Enraged Regeneration. I must have dealt sixty damage to him over the course of the game, and his final damage total was something like eight.

Al'akir was useless, but once again I had Malfurion, David's Perdition's Blade being one damage short of killing it. Despite being on the back foot for several turns I was still in the game... until he dropped a Shalug'doom, sacrificed three of his plethora of cards on the table, and popped Malfurion for exactly fatal.

I don't think this is a good matchup for the Hunter, but I tested a deck like this and I know how horrific it can be when you don't draw Enraged Regeneration. This was not going to plan. [1-2]

At this point, Alex comes over and asks how I'm doing. "1-2," I tell him - "but it's OK, I'm just going to win all my games from here, it's fine." He was 3-0 at this point, and would remain unbeaten until round six, losing to Paul Graham after a long stint on Table 1.

Round 4: vs Haoyu Zhang, Shaman

Haoyu didn't seem best pleased to see me sit down opposite him. We've bumped into each other a few times at Patriot Games in Sheffield, and a few more times on MWS. He's playing the fire Shaman deck, which is supposed to be an auto-win for me. I'd had success testing an old Alliance version but it hadn't been quite so clearcut when testing in Ripley.

Not helping how I was feeling was Ozzy Ward, sat next to me on table 22, getting beaten by a nine-year-old playing a similar deck. Big ups to Kylian Graham, who finished 20th overall and clearly knows his onions.

Haoyu came steaming out of the gate as you'd expect, and while Boomer took down several of his guys I was rarely able to get completely in control of the board. As Haoyu started to run out of cards he started to insert allies directly into my hero more and more, though made a point of dispatching the Gispax I had on the table as soon as possible.

I untapped with a Tesla in play, seven resources, and a second Gispax in hand, on 21 damage. Haoyu was winning the race quite handily and had one card left in hand. At this point I knew I couldn't take any chances and had to do the maths. With an Aspect on the board at long last, Haoyu was 14 away from death. Down comes the second Gispax, into the bin goes the card I drew and into my hand comes Exxi the Windshaper - who I play, use to untap Tesla and hit for the remaining seven damage. Haoyu flips his Twisted Fire Nova onto the table and I am hugely relieved at getting away with that one. [2-2]

Round 5: vs Steven Swan, Warlock

This match was decided by a play error from Steven - I dropped a Gispax on T4, then in response to its activation Steven cast Void Rip on it, thinking that would stop me searching something out with it. I explained how Gispax's power worked (tapping and discarding is the cost, at which point the effect is already on the chain, even if Gispax leaves play), we call a judge to be sure and then Steven looks quite sad for the rest of the game as I proceed to make Large Guys and beat his face in with them.

It was around this point Tyma popped over to tell me that Steven was going to give me infections. I did leave the venue with a headache and a sore throat, which eventually turned into a cold which I'm just about rid of now. Whether it was Steven's fault or not is another matter entirely... [3-2]

Round 6: vs Ida Ronbeck, Hunter

Oh, my first Hunter mirror! Ida and her boyfriend Dean are pretty new to the game, but you wouldn't know it with Ida hovering around the top tables for a lot of the day.

We both dropped Aspect of the Wild quite early but I was able to make more use of the Nature Resistance, eventually dropping Al'akir on turn seven against a board that couldn't quite kill him. Even then, this wasn't the end - Ida was still able to drop a ton of guys on the board and by the end of the game I had a good seven or eight Air Elementals on the table, due to having to keep two back thanks to the fact Ida was always holding a couple of cards and my damage total wasn't pretty.

Eventually I closed it out after seeing Ida visibly annoyed at being able to do nothing, turn after turn, with a small crowd watching over. The cards she was holding were another Aspect of the Wild, and something else irrelevant, but better to be safe than sorry! [4-2]

I bumped into Alex again shortly afterwards. "I told you!" He seemed visibly surprised.

Round 7: vs Ben Davies, Hunter

Oh, another Hunter! I remember hearing that Ben was playing a similar list to the Darkmoon Faire Philadelphia-winning list, and while I wasn't overly scared of it (or any other deck really, other than Morgan's Heirloom Hunter deck, which tears mine apart) I knew that Rosalyne could be a bit of a twat.

Unfortunately my deck chose this occasion to shit itself, giving me a hand with no one or two-drops, and only an Aspect of the Wild for turn three. Ben had a T2 Boomer, T3 Aspect and I couldn't really get back into it after that kind of start.

We played again afterwards - I still lost, but it felt like more of a game. [4-3]

Round 8: vs Glenn Goldsworthy, Paladin

Glenn had my luck from the last round in this game. All he needed to do was kill a couple of my guys and he would be able to take complete control of the game. Despite drawing the majority of his deck, his kill spells didn't show up and I basically sat there and hit him with average Nature guys (no Aspect) for the entire game until he died. Seems good. [5-3]

Round 9: vs Mike Brawn, Death Knight

This game was largely uninteresting until turn 7. I'm sat on an Aspect but an otherwise empty board, and have tons in hand. Mike taps out, and drops an Amani Dragonhawk, naming Ability. Tits.

At this point he has one card in hand, and the rest is fuzzy. I know he's sat on a Girdle and Twilight Citadel, but can't remember if he has a Bronze Warden on the board too. In my hand is Gispax, Al'akir, Avatar of the Wild and Tesla. I sit for almost five minutes mulling over my decision - my hero is flipped. I can drop Al'akir and hope Mike can't kill it, or I can drop Tesla and go for his hero. I'm on a perilous amount of damage so can't let him hit me with the Dragonhawk. What confuses me is why I didn't think to drop Tesla and go for his Amani Dragonhawk.

I hope it's because he had a protector. I suspect it was actually nerves. I didn't want to leave a Tesla on the board if I didn't have to as the Dragonhawk would be able to eat it for free, as Aspect isn't giving it the attack bonus any more. After a lot of deliberation I drop Al'akir.

Mike attacks Al'akir with the Dragonhawk. I tap it down. Mike plays his one card in hand. It's Gargoyle, and it kills Al'akir. He follows it up with a pair of weenie protectors and the game is effectively over, along with my hopes of hitting the top 8. On reflection, I should have just played Tesla and gone for his Dragonhawk; failing that, I should have let him kill my Al'akir! Given my hand I would have been home free, but that's the benefit of hindsight for you. [5-4]

So once again I make Pod 3. This is slightly more of an accolade than the last two Realms (where I've made Pod 3 each time) - with an extra 50% worth of attendees it's a little more prestigious, and contains a fair few quality players - Tino Cazzato, Will Booker, Glenn Goldsworthy to name a few. This is no easy pod.

Julian and Morgan have made Pod 2 with their 6-3 finishes, and Alex makes Pod 1 after hitting the heady heights of 7-2.

So. I am desperate for a piss and I open Steal Steel in my Worldbreaker pack, noticing both a Chaotic Rush and a Thunderous Challenge. I take the 3/5 Emerald Dragon guy, and am passed a Grip of the Damned, which in the absence of anything else interesting, gets picked. From there I see nothing of note, take quests for a few picks, and notice the Alliance has dried up almost entirely.

Both Warrior cards come back, so I snaffle the Chaotic Rush and send the Thunderous Challenge off, only to find that comes back too! Warrior is wide open. Excellent.

Pack 2 and my rare is terrible in that, too! It's so bad I've forgotten. Depressingly my pack contains the two cards I really wanted both of - Timriv the Enforcer and Crown of Chelonian Freedom. After picking several dragons in the Worldbreaker pack I eventually take the crown, and hope to get passed a Timriv.

Predictably it doesn't happen. My first pass contains an Azure Skyrazor, which is nice, and I find a Death Strike a few picks down, and wheel Warrior cards all day.

Twilight of the Dragons offers me chod for a rare too, and I make probably the biggest mistake of the draft, passing an Obsidium Executioner. Another one comes round quite quickly and that gets slammed into my pile quickly, but by this point it's a little late. I'm able to complete my quest lineup handily and end up with about twelve Warrior cards.

After we go off to build, I decide that Grip of the Damned and Death Strike are probably better than all the Warrior cards I picked and rack my brains to remember if I passed a second Grip of the Damned.

Opposite me is Kylian Graham who has drafted Paladin, and Tyma who is filling in his decklist for him. He's drafted a Corrupted Egg Shell, some weapons and tons of quality allies and other Paladin cards. Tyma asks if Kylian will draft in his place in future.

Sideboard: Command of Undeath, Zulanji, Kloxx Dedrix, Bronze Emissary

Round 10: vs Kev Richardson, Warlock

Kev's drafted Warlock based off the two Twisted Infernals he has. After he wallops me with one in our first game, I spend the second game doing nothing but keeping his board clear, and he runs out of cards with a couple of resources to go. Following a reload off my quests I just keep dropping allies and eventually he hits seven resources, and realises that without something to sacrifice, that guy isn't so good after all.

Crown of Chelonian Freedom does the job for me admirably - pretty much as soon as it hits I start to pull away with on-board advantage. [6-4]

Round 11: vs Will Booker, Mage

I got bob-ombed! I passed Will the Timriv I opened in pack two and it turned out he opened one too. On top of that, he also ripped an Amani Dragonhawk in his pack of Twilight of the Dragons, which turned out to be something of a nasty surprise. In our first game I had to spend my removal on other allies to maintain board state, so finding myself on the wrong side of an 8/5 and Flame Keeper Rizzli's flip was a rude awakening. Game two I simply save a piece of removal for it, and when it does eventually hit the bottom of the deck, I start to pull ahead - only to see Will shrug as he topdecks his second Timriv and use it to annihilate my board.

"Rather be lucky than good" he tells me. We play the third game and my deck does the business, me hitting him for nine with the Emerald Wanderer the turn after I dropped a 5DEF Crown. [6-5]

Round 12: vs Neil Riley, Rogue

"The last time I drafted with you, you were drunk" I reminisce.

"It was at that thing in Milton Keynes?"

"Yeah. Are you drunk now?"


Our first game is largely uneventful - I play guys, Neil plays guys, my guys win. The second was a bit worse for me - I make guys, he drops Revealing Strike and I pitch the majority of my hand, and never quite recover.

In the third, Neil does nothing for two turns after a poor mulligan. "I think you've won this one," he tells me. I then proceed to do nothing for three turns after an equally poor mulligan. Neil's third turn consists of Revealing Strike and I pap myself - holding six allies and an ability, this can't end well for me.

The top card of my deck is a quest, Neil is deflated and I proceed to make guys and armour and swords and stuff. Phew. [7-5]

That left me in eighteenth place. Not the finish that I wanted really - after a successful testing regime and more draft practice than I've ever done before, I expected more. In the end, Will Booker made Top 8 from our pod - after a horrendous nightmare for Ross Silcock in pod 2, winning his first game, getting paired down in the second and then playing the same person from the first game meaning that Will squeaked in on tiebreakers. Still - I was the best drafter of the day from our car - Alex [4th after Top 8] and Julian [14th] finished 1-2 and Morgan [25th] sadly went 0-3 after his cracking start in Core.

Still, there's always next year, and all experience is good experience. Next stop is Worlds, and the fact that Throne of the Tides is STILL not available in the UK isn't a problem in the slightest. Not one jot. Honest.

[I'm fucking terrified and have almost no relevant cards from the new set oh shit]

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