So there I was – tens of hours spent playtesting, ones of hours discussing matchups, and more time than you would expect working out how to get all my luggage onto the plane – I walked into the cool Canberra air at 2 am in my kilt, suit bag full of electronics slung over my shoulders and 1.6 metres of precious stormwater pipe satisfyingly held in my arms. My travel partner and committee member, Kokey, had won the hearts of an adventurous couple on the plane by showing them pictures of his kids and so I hopped in a strangers car, as they kindly offered to take us to our hotel.
32 hours later I excitedly sat down in front of my first opponent, full of SO much caffeine, ready to start what was looking like a long day of slinging spells. I don’t think my opponent said anything about it, but I was pretty sure he liked my kilt. We were excited to hear Glenn optimistically tell us that we had 191 players, and worriedly tell us that we absolutely did not have enough judges. My solution to this was to just not make any mistakes.
I had chosen to play the deck I know best in this format – Goblins. As time goes on, it’s becoming more and more apparent that using Mana Crypt to play powerful 3 mana cards is extremely strong, and as it turns out, most of the good red ones just happen to be goblins. This deck has the ability to have those explosive starts, and combines it into a flexible and synergistic package of goblins that allow you to combo out, grind value, and go wide in a way that other mana crypt decks just can’t. I opted to play slightly less goblins than the rest of my team, the Gobby Gang – with a lot of arm twisting, they convinced me to cut You See a Pair of Goblins and I landed on my list – 29 goblins, 24 mana sources, 7 powerful cards. I was really interested to see how Reanimate, Orcish Bowmasters and Mental Misstep would perform through the day. Of the three of them, I literally only drew Reanimate once, so I guess they were great.
Ready to rumble!
Willow – RW Initiative (Moonshine)
This is a matchup I was very ready to fight. One of my testing partners, Dylan, originally created the deck and has been iterating it to get ready for this event. It’s not a great matchup as the small amount of removal I have means that if they can land one good threat and slow me down 2 or 3 turns, I usually can’t come back. So when my opponent played an early Archon of Emeria, I took one look at my hand full of non-basics and was almost ready to throw in the towel. Archon prevents me from accelerating, it prevents me from playing on curve, it prevents me efficiently using my mana once I get more than three, however, unfortunately for my opponent, he just drew no other threats. Looking at my life pad, this thing hit me seven times before a Mother of Runes joined the party, which was more than long enough to get the goblins I needed to overwhelm the flying menace.
- OUT: Mental Misstep, Orcish Bowmasters, Gut, True Soul Zealot
- IN: Goblin Cratermaker, Molten Collapse, Delayed Blast Fireball
My testing against Dylan had discovered that Bowmasters was pretty medium in the matchup, keeping in mind that Dylan had taken out all his x/1’s, including Mother of Runes. Seeing the Mom in game 1, I probably should have left it in.
Game 2 resulted in my swift defeat, in a way I have excluded from my memory, but game 3 I was very surprised to find my opponent playing an early Blood Moon. I run nine cards that need black or green mana to play but most of the time, Goblins is happy to play with only red mana. I opened with four lands in hand, so I played a Goblin Recruiter on turn 2 to guarantee I had gas the rest of the game and used ____ Goblin to power out my stack. My Fable of the Mirror Breaker token got me a treasure, unlocking black mana and allowing me to get a Sling-Gang Lieutenant to basically present lethal in a single turn.
2-1 (Match record 1-0)
Jose – BR fast mana (Eclipse)
I was on the play and kept a hand with two lands and an Ignoble Hierarch, whom I led with. My opponent thought about their first play a lot, and I understood why when they committed to it – Chrome Mox, Lotus Petal, land and Blood Moon. Had I been playing any other deck, this may have been enough to starve me of colours even through the Hierarch, but as I said before, goblins is just fine with mostly red mana. Were I on the draw, this would have been very different. I have a very explosive start, my opponent lands a Sheoldred not long afterwards but she only sticks around for a single turn cycle before I take my opponent from 22 to 0 in a single combat step.
- OUT: Mental Misstep, Orcish Bowmasters, Gut, True Soul Zealot
- IN: Goblin Cratermaker, Molten Collapse, Delayed Blast Fireball
Same plan as Moonshine – these decks are similar. They don’t run enough 1 drops for me to have a misstep hanging around, they don’t have many x/1’s, and Gut is just the worst of a good bunch.
Game 2 starts off pretty badly. I believe I got Inquisitioned, I remember trading a 2 drop for a Ragavan and we trade resources back and forth until my board gets Fury+Feign Death’d, which I have to use my own Fury to kill. Ringleader refills my hand and I find my opponent on 8 life. I do a quick bit of math, traditionally I leave this for blockers but I had decided I wanted to win, I realised that I had just enough creatures to push through 5 damage, and Bolted my opponent for the win.
2-0 (Match record 2-0)
Socrates – Thoracle
I knew Soc was always a big fan of combo, I was hoping he had brought the Cephalid Breakfast list that he had been fooling around with, but it wasn’t super surprising when he started wizardcycling. It was super terrifying though.
In game one I realised my time was quickly running out but I managed to play a Muxus and… whiffed. I hit Once Upon a Time, Fury and four lands. Muxus is still a big chunky idiot and I did manage to swing for 9 damage the turn after he landed, but it was just four points short of player removal, and instead, I was the player who was removed.
- OUT: Lightning Bolt, Fury, Fable of the Mirror Breaker, Reanimate, Goblin Chirurgeon
- IN: Pyroblast, Red Elemental Blast, Earwig Squad, Choke, Blood Moon
If there ever was a simple board plan, this is it. My opponent barely has anything to kill, protecting my creatures isn’t a priority and Fable is just a touch slow. An Earwig Squad, Choke or Blood Moon give me about thirty extra turns before I die, and I don’t plan on using them all.
My opponent had switched gameplans a bit this time, playing an early Tasigur and Laelia. But if there’s one thing goblins is good at doing, it’s putting stupid tokens in front of giant threats. I ripped my Muxus again, and after telling him I would sell him to one the vendors is he did that again, he single handedly won the game.
Game 3 was the least game I played all day. My opponent played an Underground Sea and held up a Fatal Push and a Stern Scolding, and I landed a turn 1 Blood Moon with a Mana Crypt and that was just game.
2-1 (Match record 3-0)
Mulch – The Mirror >:)
Big Daddy M and I lock eyes from across the room and we both know what we have in store for each other. We know each other’s lists almost perfectly. His list has one more land than me, and four more goblins. I have Bolt and Fury. He’s got his leg in a cast. I’m wearing a kilt. We both present stickers.
Turn 1 is a rollercoaster of emotions, I start with terror as he plays a Mana Crypt, then relief as he plays a Boggart Harbinger, then back to terror as he finds his Muxus. This is bad news for Tyrone. He loses two crypt flips in a row, but it doesn’t matter as with the help of a City of Traitors he slams down a turn 3 Muxus. I responded by drawing Reanimate the one and only time during the day, I use it on his Harbinger, look through my deck, pick a card, and die.
- OUT: Mental Misstep, Goblin King, Reanimate
- IN: Delayed Blast Fireball, Goblin Cratermaker, Molten Collapse
Mulch is running about five 1 mana cards, and they actually all suck, except maybe Hierarch, so misstep is out. Goblin King, importantly, affects my opponents goblins. Technically, this is +EV, unfortunately it’s also a Very Bad Idea™.
Game 2 went very differently at first, we battle out, trade off, and try to gain control of the board. He eventually plays an Agatha’s Soul Cauldron, which really worries me. Not because it’s good, but because it has so many words on it that I keep blacking out every time I try to read it. I note that there are four creatures in graveyards with activated abilities and decide I’ll leave it up to him to figure out what to do with it. He does not like this, because turns out he has about a billion decisions. In the end it doesn’t matter, because I hit my 6th mana and cast my own Muxus, which, as is tradition, swiftly ends the game.
Game 3 I joke about making a gentleman’s agreement to side out our Muxus’s because we’ve both had one, but instead we just don’t draw him in the third game. Mulch leads off on a 1 drop, then on his second turn, he misses a land and plays another one drop. This means he either has some acceleration in his hand but nothing to play with it yet, or like, four one drops and fury. Either way, he stumbled, and I am quite happy to continue getting ahead on tempo. He finds his land on turn 3 and plays the Mox Ruby he was sandbagging, but he’s a turn behind now. I rip a fetchland and Molten Collapse both his 3 drop and his Ruby, putting him so far behind he just can’t catch back up.
2-1 (Match record 4-0)
Mulch and I doing our best goblin impressions. I need to practise more.
Reconvening with my goblin brethren, I discovered that out of the four of us, our combined records were 14-2. Goblin strong! Goblin together!
Nathan – Artifact combo (Bomberman)
Definitely not a deck I expected to see at the top tables, but given that it was, I expected that it would be both explosive and well piloted. All I remember of game 1 was seeing a lotus hit the graveyard, an Auriok Salvagers hit the field, an Urza’s Bauble hitting my Munitions Expert, and disappointment hitting my opponent when they realised they couldn’t stop that. His life total went from 18 to 0 in a turn, and I do not remember how.
- OUT: I don’t remember it all, but definitely Reanimate and Goblin Chirurgeon. Probably Bolt, maybe Slimefoot and Squee or Fable of the Mirror Breaker
- IN: Collector Ouphe, Goblin Cratermaker, Goblin Trashmaster, Unlicensed Hearse, Earwig Squad
Looking back, I probably should have had more graveyard hate and Cratermaker probably wasn’t good enough.
Game 2 my opponent took a very interactive strategy, removing all my creatures, looping baubles with Emry and eventually playing a Kappa Cannoneer which very quickly became larger than (my) life. I did find an Ouphe, but it was too slow and I was forced to chump with it.
My memory of game 3 is foggy, but I seem to remember Broadside Bombardiers and Conspicuous Snoop doing some serious work, and my opponent’s life total quickly dropped to 0.
2-1 (Match record 5-0)
Jordo – 5c Walks
I had been getting ready all day to face the big, midrange boss of the format – Omnath. I was well aware that both variants (Time Walk and not) were in the room and it’s important to recognise which deck you’re up against, there’s about a 9 card package to make the walks work and, obviously, 5 points. I quickly decided this was a Walk deck, when he quickly sent me to the shadow realm by comboing off with it. Interestingly, he did reveal that he had spent one of his points on Mana Drain.
- OUT: Goblin Chirurgeon, Reanimate, Skirk Prospector, _____ Goblin, Lightning Bolt, Ardoz, Cobbler of War, Slimefoot and Squee
- IN: Pyroblast, Red Elemental Blast, Unlicensed Hearse, Soul-Guide Lantern, Faerie Macabre, Blood Moon, Choke
Two unusual things about this sideboard plan: Skirk Prospector and _____ Goblin are bad against counterspells, normally Omnath walks doesn’t run enough to warrant boarding them out, but seeing Mana Drain made me change my mind. Same with Choke, it’s really not the end of the world for them, but Mana Drain makes UU more important than normal for them.
I believe game 2 was where I made my favourite Goblin Recruiter pile of the day, and honestly, in record time too. Recruiter is a card you absolutely have to get good at using FAST. I quickly piled Muxus on top, putting into play Snoop, a haste enabler, Sling-Gang Lieutenant and Ringleader. Under that was four goblins to draw with the Ringleader, and as the 11th card down, Kiki-Jiki, leaving my opponent dead from Snoop combo, lethal combat damage and drowning in card advantage all at once.
Game 3 is where it got interesting. Early in the game he saw a Faerie Macabre in my hand from a Probe, but was forced to play his walk early to regain some tempo. We traded resources a lot, but due to all my token makers I had a board the whole time and sloowwwwly whittled his health away. I held onto the Faerie for a long time, but eventually he podded away a 2 drop and I was forced to exile the Walk, in case he had an Ephemerate in hand. It got to a point where he had to Submerge my Murderous Redcap while he was on 4 life, the Redcap took him back down to 2, but Omnath brought him back to 6. Three blasts were lost trying to kill/protect the Omnath. As it went down, time was called, I was on 17 life, he on 4. Swinging all out I could definitely sneak a couple points in, but not enough and on his very last turn he played a Forth Eorlingas! And brought me down to 9, but neither of us could get the last points in, and it was a draw. Very long, drawn out, great game, we both made mistakes and it really could have gone either way.
1-1-1 (Match record 5-0-1)
Josh – RB fast mana (Eclipse)
The day was getting long, I still felt pretty good but it had been many, many hours of magic at this point. My opponent started off with a pile of aggressive red creatures, Inti, Ragavan, Gut, and even though they played some BR lands, I assumed this was mono red burn splashing black. I was about two turns slower than my opponent, due to some red removal getting pointed to my opponent, but I went into sideboarding with some secret tech.
- OUT: Mental Misstep, Reanimate, Goblin Ringleader
- IN: Delayed Blast Fireball, Molten Collapse, Dragon’s Claw
This is it, I predicted that a huge amount of people would sleeve up mono red so I was packing Dragon’s Claw, baby. This was my moment. Obviously Reanimate makes me take way too much damage against mono red, and card advantage isn’t the way you win the matchup.
I quickly realised this egregious error when my opponent started playing black spells?! Fortunately for me, I had a strong start that didn’t care about getting Thoughtseized on turn 1, didn’t care about Plague Engineer and once again, I have my opponent going from 17 to 0 in a single turn.
Unfortunately for me, when I went back to boarding to remove my Dragon’s Claw, I forgot to also change around the cards I boarded out. Reanimate and Goblin Ringleader are both solid cards in this matchup, and they stayed in my board. This game was dominated by an early Graveyard Trespasser that put a lot of pressure on. I wasn’t able to keep up and took my first loss of the day.
1-2 (Match record 5-1-1)
So we have one round left, I look at the standings and find myself in 11th at the top of the 16 pointers, of which there are five of us. Only one player is undefeated, and I realise that if anyone between 2nd and 10th draws, they risk getting knocked out by one of us 16 pointers. After a looong day of magic, I do the maths and realise that if I win this final round, I’m into the top 8.
A spark of realisation.
Robert (5c Omnath)
My opponent seems less convinced that winning this match guarantees making top 8. Either way, losing this match guarantees not making it, so there’s not much point discussing it. We get straight into it. I watch my opponent’s colours slowly building, and by his third turn I realise he’s full 5c. I remember bolting a bird and then having a pretty quick start, a mainboard dress down slows me down but it isn’t enough to stop the goblins and I chip him down to 0.
- OUT: Goblin Chirurgeon, Reanimate, ____ Goblin, Boggart Harbinger
- IN: Pyroblast, Red Elemental Blast, Unlicenced Hearse, Blood Moon
Simply put, a surprising amount of the Omnath’s deck’s removal package exiles, bounces or otherwise stops my stuff without killing it, so I cut Chirurgeon and Reanimate. These lists run a lot of removal and often more counterspells than the Walks variant, so things weak to that are cut – Harbinger and Stickers. While normally Omnath players are ready for Blood Moon with dorks, land cyclers and heaps of basics, my opponent was very clearly not playing around it even a little, so I was very happy to bring in Blood Moon.
Game 2 my opponent had enough removal, and once again, Dress Down slowed me down enough to cause issues and I eventually succumbed to the most efficient creatures in magic.
Game 3 I landed a very fast Fable of the Mirror Breaker and not long after, Actual Factual Kiki-Jiki. I was staring down a 5/5 Mawloc and a 4/5 Tarmogoyf, and I found a Fury. Hard casting that left me dealing 12 damage to my opponent’s board and swinging for lethal. I shook my opponent’s hand, trying to hold back my excitement knowing that I was cemented into the top 8 with a chance of winning power. I reconvene with my teammates to find that Brayden, our resident 5c Goblin player (Mental Misstep counts!) was 7-1, also guaranteed top 8!
And then the final standings went up. I was 9th. 0.8% worse tiebreakers than the player on 8th. Turns out, the top 2 tables had been practising blocking all day, and were therefore better at maths than me, and correctly figured out that they could ID.
And with that, my National Championship journey was complete. I was stoked to go 6-1-1, 9th is an amazing result and I’m so proud to say that all my preparation paid off. Thanks to the amazing judges, thanks to Glenn, thanks to whatever dusty box those amazing prizes came from, thanks to Kokey for travelling with me, thanks for everyone I tested with, thanks for the committee for letting me put my article on your fancy website and please for the love of god, Wizards, never print acorn cards in black border again.
Super duper special thanks to Angus and Graham and everyone else who helped them collate all the lists from the event:
|Player’s Deck List Link
|3rd – 4th
|3rd – 4th
|Bots (Artifact Ramp)
|5th – 8th
|5th – 8th
|5c Omnath Walks
|5th – 8th
|5th – 8th