Hey everyone, Mat Stein here to go over my recent Top 8 at Canadian Nationals 2018. After making a semi-deep run at the previous Canadian Nationals, I absolutely loved this tournament. I never got to compete in the old Nationals, and it was the most fun tournament last year for me. I found the split format to be very exciting and I wasn’t going to miss this year’s.
As far as testing for this tournament goes, I played in the Montreal Team Unified Standard RPTQ 3 weeks ago. We decided to play Stock Mono Red, UW Approach and UB Midrange. I was playing UB Midrange and unfortunately due to being unable to share the powerful blue cards, I wasn’t allowed to play Torrential Gearhulk, Glimmer of Genius or Search for Azcanta because my UW teammate needed them more in his deck. I went 3-2 and was up a game in match 6 before we were eliminated. I still really enjoyed the deck even though it was definitely less tuned, and a bit restricted on the powerful late game that it wasn’t able to play.
After reading multiple articles, watching different Twitch streams and looking at Grand Prix results, UB Midrange was still performing very well. I personally did not like RB Aggro when I played it at the Team Constructed Grand Prix in Toronto, and I did not want to play UW control with no practice even though it may be a slightly better choice with a lot of the midrange decks trying to beat the red decks. My trust was in THE one and ONLY Scarab God. I tested a bit with the new lists that were doing well, but in the end I trusted my previous practice for the RPTQ and focused on preparing for draft.
I did about 20 MTGO drafts in the past 2 weeks and really loved Dominaria Draft. Every draft could go many different ways with build around rares, splashing, as well as more linear synergy.
I think it is pretty clear that UR Wizards is the best deck in the format if you can pick up the right pieces. I actually barely got to draft UR online because it was never open. GB Saprolings is likely the 2nd best deck followed by BR Grind you into oblivion with Dark Bargain and Soul Salvage. While I won’t go into too many details describing exactly what you want for each of the archetypes, I do want to mention that even though some of these decks may be stronger on raw power level, do not force an archetype that isn’t open in your seat. It is way better to have a 7/10 UW deck than a 4/10 UR Wizards deck.
Even though there are a lot of very easily splash-able uncommons and rares, it’s important to stay open pack one. I’ve had some drafts only have a single color by pick 4, while others had all 5 colors by pick 4. I highly recommend staying open in a single color, read the table to figure out that open color by what you are being passed and then worry about a 2nd color in packs 2 and 3. I had a 65% win rate online with 4 3-0s, and I was feeling good about the draft format.
After a great deal of discussion with my car-mate Elliot Fortier, even after going 0-2 in Friday trials, this was the list of UB Midrange that I settled on.
I wanted to have a bit more against the red decks in game 1 which is why I added 1 Essence Extraction in the maindeck. All of the counterspells and removal spells are very important and I don’t think I would change a single card from the list. As far as the sideboard goes, I wanted to make sure my configuration was still favourable against the green decks after board which is why I had 1 Hostage Taker and 2 Confiscation Coup with the main goal of taking their Lifecrafter’s Bestiary. Even though I only got to play it once, Search for Azcanta was also a great addition and having another threat in the Midrange/Control pseudo mirrors is very powerful alongside Arguel’s Blood Fast.
Losing round 1 of any tournament never feels good, and this was no different. I gave my GB Snake opponent one turn to draw Verdurous Gearhulk with no cards in hand in game 1 before The Scarab God took over and he unfortunately did. Game 2 I drew 12 lands before any of my powerful spells, and Lifecrafter’s Bestiary took over.
I go on to beat Esper Control splashing green for Gift of Paradise, Vraska, Relic Seeker and Ajani Unyielding as well as UW God Pharaoh’s Gift which both felt like great matchups. Being able to Duress, draw cards with Glint-Sleeve Siphoners in the early game and being able to Negate their planeswalkers or Refurbish played out very well. My last round against RB was very intense in all 3 games and basically came down to the wire but I was able to clutch it out and end up 3-1 after the Standard rounds. On to Draft!
My first draft started off with an In Bolas’s Clutches into a passed Fight with Fire which I was very happy to see. There are definitely some rares you take over Fight with Fire, but getting passed one second pick always feels great. I wheel Karn’s Temporal Sundering from my original pack and also would not mind finding legendary creatures. Pack 2 I opened a Firefist Adept and decided to try to go into UR Wizards, and seeing another Fight with Fire and a Wizard’s Lightning I knew I was in the right spot.
Pack 3 Pick 1 was an interesting decision point: Tatyova, Benthic Druid or Skittering Surveyor. I took Tatyova, Benthic Druid because I valued the synergy with Karn’s Temporal Sundering, and later on in the draft when you may not see other impactful cards to splash, it is important to take them. Skittering Surveyor is great because UR Wizards usually wants to have a lot of mana in play for draw spells and especially with Fight with Fire.
Even though I did not see any Blink of an Eye, Academy Journeymage or Ghitu Journeymage, I was still very content with playing a bit of a slower UR Wizards deck. I figured I would eventually draw most of my deck every game, so I didn’t mind playing Karn’s Temporal Sundering with only 2 Legendary Creatures. The card overperformed and won many games even if I barely had any enablers.
Round 1 of draft was against DMac who I assumed went into green especially where I shipped a lot in pack 3. He turned out to be on Sultai base green with Grow from the Ashes and 4(!) Skittering Surveyor alongside many big green creatures, black removal and In Bolas’s Clutches. Game 1 he continues making big threats and forces me to use my In Bolas’s Clutches on one of his guys and did a neat trick. He used his own In Bolas’s Clutches on mine and not the creature. This is because the legend rule will take effect forcing you to sacrifice one (mine), letting his go to the graveyard due to not being attached to anything and actually getting his creature back. This is better because now I can’t draw enchantment removal to gain back possession of his creature. I win game 2 because he didn’t draw a single green source or Skittering Surveyor and was able to eventually have enough power to win with Karn’s Temporal Sundering. Game 3 becomes really close and I make a risky play of going down to 2 life and I cannot kill his Cold-Water Snapper. Thankfully I assemble Tetsuko, Umezawa’s Fugitive with Karn’s Temporal Sundering and finish the game in 2 turns.
Round 2 of draft was against a slightly weird Red and White deck with basically all 2/2s, 3 Gideon’s Reproach and many other removal spells but no real bombs. At least that was what I thought. Game 1 I actually lost because I had both Fight with Fire’s and Ghitu Chronicler in my last 6 cards and we basically went through our entire decks. I saw a few X/1s and because he was in white I figured boarding into my 2nd Radiating Lightning would be smart. He has a 1/1 Serra’s Discipline on turn 2 and I decide to hold my Radiating Lightning for more value. Then he slams Siege-Gang Commander on turn 5 and I was very happy I waited. Even though he had Siege-Gang Commander on turn 5 both games 2 and 3, a timely Radiating Lightning helped me stabilize and eventually win the games. On to the Finals of the draft!
Round 3 of draft was against UR Wizards for 6-1 on the day, and nothing really happened early in game 1. Then my opponent slams Traxos, Scourge of Kroog on turn 4, Karn, Scion of Urza on turn 5, and then Voltaic Servant to untap Traxox, attack for 7 then at the end of turn untap it again. Ouch. I decide I had to play the tempo game because his bombs were more powerful than mine, and all I needed was time, so I board into 4 counterspells. Game 2 he stumbled a bit, I casted 2 Syncopates, 1 Unwind and Ghitu Chronicler to get back Syncopate and force a game 3. My opponent drew every bomb in his deck but I had the answers this time, out grinded him, and kicked Fight with Fire to win the match.
Starting 6-1 felt amazing, especially after losing round 1 in very quick fashion. Last year I started 6-0-1 and did not make top 8, so I was definitely looking forward to having another shot at a deep run this year.
Day 2: Draft
I am in Pod 3 for Day 2 and started the draft with a fairly easy Tatyova, Benthic Druid, one of my favourite cards in the set. The following pack I took Blink of an Eye with no other blue card and was hoping to cement myself into blue from the right. I then get passed an Academy Journeymage, one of the best commons in UR Wizards. Then another one. Then another Blink of an Eye. Wow. I end pack 1 with all blue cards again. I first pick an Icy Manipulator in pack 2, get passed In Bolas’s Clutches and then a Cloudreader Sphinx because I didn’t feed any blue to my left, and in pack 3 got hooked up into red. By hooked up, I mean an Adeliz, the Cinder Wind with 7(!) cards left in the pack. Here’s what my deck ended up looking like:
Round 8 was a very grindy match against Red Green splash Black for removal with 2 Halar, the Firefletcher, Verdant Force, Garna, the Bloodflame, and good saproling beaters. We split the first 2 games, and I became very aware that the ground was going to be gummed up, and I needed to get chip damage in the air and Sorcerer’s Wand from the board could help push for damage in a stalled board. Without having much clock to begin with in game 3, I knew I had to burn my opponent out, so instead of stealing a guy with In Bolas’s Clutches, I actually took Fungal Plots to prevent any life gain. We end up going to time, and I was able to burn my opponent out on turn 5 of extra turns.
Round 9 was against Edgar Malgahaes (who unfortunately lost in the Semi-finals, but great run regardless) playing Black Red Grind. His deck was just solid removal, a lot of 4 drops and graveyard recursion with Soul Salvage and Ghitu Chronicler. It just played out very well for me both games because he only drew one source of either Red or Black mana in the early game, and being able to use Icy Manipulator allowed me to gain tempo and stall his board development. Eventually I was able to resolve either Cold-Water Snapper or Tatyova, Benthic Druid and continuously protect it with Blink of an Eye and continue to bounce his creatures while retaining a threat in play.
Round 10 was against a very friendly opponent who was playing Black Green Saprolings. Game 1 he mulliganed and got off to a relatively slow start and I was able to resolve Cold-Water Snapper and go to town. Game 2 he stumbled a bit on mana and played a Howling Golem which I could obviously tell was to help him draw lands and better things to play. So I decided to play Academy Journeymage and bounce it. He replayed it. I then played another Academy Journeymage. He replayed his golem. I then played my third Academy Journeymage and we started laughing. After a few removal spells and a Torgar, Famine Incarnate to gain him life and put him to 10, I was able to tempo him out by playing more wizards with another Blink of an Eye and 3-0 the draft!
After tiebreaker math help from my good friends John Wasson and Eduardo Sajgalik, the math was confirmed and I was able to draw with fellow Montrealer Rob Anderson who happened to be the only 10-0 in the room and then draw with Edgar into top 8 in 7th seed. The only issue was that I was now on the draw, and against Adam Ragsdale playing Black Red aggro which is a slight favourite in the matchup. Knowing I made top 8 and was only 2 matches away from representing Canada was definitely very exciting.
Unfortunately though, both of my 7 card hands were not playable and my 6s were very medium. It didn’t help that he drew a combined 6(!) Bomat Couriers in 2 games, while always having it on turn 1 which is a problem for Blue Black Midrange because it technically slows you down a turn. Instead of just using Fatal Push on their 2 drop, now you take 2 damage and have a Bomat Courier with 2 cards under it if you don’t kill it right away.
Game 2 was somewhat interesting because I tap out and go to one life with 2 blockers looking at 3 Bomat Couriers. He sacrifices the first Bomat and draws 7 cards with his draw step and actually could not kill me, which gave me another turn but I was unable to keep up.
Overall, Canadian Nationals was a blast and I did not realize how much fun doing competitive drafts are, especially in a split format tournament. I ended up going 3-2 in Standard and 6-0 in Draft and even though this Standard format is coming to an end, I don’t think I would have changed anything. It’s possible that moving forward either a UB midrange shell splashing blue for Nicol Bolas, The Ravager or a Grixis base with him could be very powerful. This Top 8 really means a lot to me, and I am happy I was finally able to convert a solid day 1 finish into a Top 8 which has eluded me so far in all of the years I have been playing. Next stop is hopefully Top 8ing a Grand Prix. Congrats to Micha Hewer and Adam Ragsdale for winning their spot and representing Canada at the World Magic Cup. Best of luck to our wonderful country!