Nationals is less than a month away and Ixalan pre-release is this weekend—if you haven’t started preparing yet, it’s time to get your brew-on. Canada hasn’t had a National Championship since 2011 and although it’s been a while, we do still have a National Champion. Marc Anderson took it down six years ago so I spoke with him about what his experience was like, what players can expect and how to become the new National Champion. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Q: How do you feel about Nationals returning?
Incredible! There was a lot of backlash worldwide when the Nationals program was removed and it’s great to see it reinstated. When you’re in a country as large as Canada there can be some geographical issues, however everyone who’s participated only have great things to say and I can’t wait to see what this year brings.
Q: What do you think it means for Canadian Magic to have a national
title once again?
I believe that a lot of Canada’s status in the magic community was built on bonds forged at Nationals. Nationals is where I first met Pascal Maynard, Alexander Hayne, Dan Lanthier, Shaun McLaren and other players that I wouldn’t have necessarily been exposed to otherwise. As we worked towards putting Canada back on the map, it really helped to have made connections with other elite players with the same goal in mind.
Q: What’s unique about playing this kind of event? How does it differ from other Magic experiences?
For me it was the first time I was exposed to a multi-format event, which is really cool (and something I’m glad they kept). It’s also a chance for someone who’s not necessarily a household name to put their face on the map, and of course team-up with some of the country’s best. Knowing in advance that Eduardo will be on the team to help is a huge bonus, as you’ve got someone with lots of Pro Tour experience doing their best to help you succeed. In the past, the exclusivity of the tournament was also a reason to have pride just for qualifying, and I do hope they come up with a bit of a stricter merit-based system to replace ELO for future years that is more than just the “X Planeswalker Points” they have this year.
Q: How would you prepare for this big two-day double format event? How is that different from a GP?
Some of the basics of a two day, 10+ round event always apply: Get lots of rest, eat properly and be sure to hydrate throughout the day. Playing high level magic is actually VERY tiring, and I can remember the first few days after Worlds (a 3 day event), I felt physical pain and exhaustion as my body tried to catch up. From the playing side, I was fortunate enough to be invited to test with a lot of Toronto’s top players every year where we’d jam a few drafts and some mock standard tournaments in preparation. No matter how much you prepare though, it’s hard to shake off that feeling of doubt that comes up right before you switch formats halfway through the day…
Q: Talk to me about your nats title. What’s your most visceral memory? Tell me a story.
I had the honour of playing in Nationals twice. The first time in 2010 I had 2 win-and-ins that I lost to miss out on top 8. You can also add me to blame for the Planeswalker Points changes, since after that, I only played in a couple tournaments all year to make sure my rating was still high enough for a chance at redemption.
So August 2011 rolls around, and THANK GOD for the bannings! Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor both got the axe a few weeks before the tournament, and everyone including me was scrambling to find a deck. I was not at all ready to play Caw-Go so this was actually great news. After a lot of testing, I eventually stumbled on the winner of Australian nationals (held a few weeks before ours) playing a Splinter Twin deck, with a Birthing Pod package replacing the usual card draw for a more robust plan B. At first I thought the deck was too cute to be good, but the more I played it, the more I loved it and before long I was locked in, goldfishing different pod-lines endlessly while I ate breakfast, while in the car, while on the way to work and even before bed.
Sure enough I lost round 1 … redemption indeed. Fortunately I rattled off 8 straight after that before taking a second loss in round 10, making round 11 what I thought would be a win-and-in against Ian Sauvé playing U/W Sun Titan Control. We split the first two games, and deep in to game 3, Ian is beginning to turn the screw and resolves a Sun Titan with 2 lands open, returning an Arid Mesa to play. He still has about 5 or 6 cards in hand, and he’s been pretty much in control the whole game. I had the Exarch and Splinter Twin in hand, but had been hoping to draw some permission to back it up, and spent a good 5 minutes thinking about whether or not to go all-in on the combo before the Titan buried me. Eventually I decide that this is it, I have to do it and play the Exarch tapping one of his lands. I untap, draw nothing, take a deep breath, and point the twin at my Exarch in to his Island and Arid Mesa, hoping he doesn’t have any of the Dismembers, Celestial Purges or Negates from the previous games…
Ian, who had been very stoic up to this point, starts muttering angrily with a frown on his face (good sign), sacks his Mesa (bad sign), rifles through his deck (bad sign) and then slams his hand down on the table, which includes both a Negate and a Purge. Crap. But why is he so angry? It takes me far too long to realize that all of Ian’s plains are either already on the table, or, luckily for me, in Ian’s graveyard! All day I had played really well but this game was just lucky and one I will never forget.
Q: How has Magic changed since your title and how is that going to affect this event?
The game itself is still the best ever (though I do wish they would power down creatures a little bit!). What seems to have changed most is the grind! The push towards planeswalker points means that everyone participating in Nationals has played a decent amount of Magic this year. Previously, there was always a chance you were paired against someone with a good rating who had semi-retired from the game, but I think now you can expect that everyone will be really well prepared with strong decks and cohesive sideboards. The sheer number of active players is also way up, as is the expected size of Nationals itself. The 2011 edition had 141 players, and I hear this one could cap at 700!
Q: If you could tell a young player who just barely qualified one thing, what would it be?
Don’t get fancy. If you are comfortable with a deck or strategy, stick to it. I think a lot of times newer players get a fear that the pros will be ready for them and that they have to do something unique or unexpected to get an edge to have a chance. I think the opposite is true. If you leave your comfort zone it should be for a very good reason.
Q: Share with us anything else you feel is important for readers to hear.
I can honestly say that Nationals changed my life. Winning Nationals and qualifying for Worlds gave me the opportunity to team with, and play against some of the best players on the planet. After Worlds, Alexander Hayne, David Caplan and I started as the core to what is now team Face to Face Games. As the team kept winning and getting results, the scope and level of players involved kept growing and growing. While the team now is down to just one and a half Canadians (sorry Jacob), I think all it takes to increase that number is one or two breakout performances, and Nationals is one of the best ways to kick it all off.
Reading Marc’s memories about Nationals catch your interest? Pre-register for Canadian Nationals hosted by Face to Face Games at mtgnationals.ca. Face to Face Games will also be hosting a Modern 5k Open+ and a Legacy Showdown over the weekend so mark you calenders for a huge weekend in Canadian Magic starting Oct. 14.