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O Canada – Stories from Canadian Nationals

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This may come as a shock to most people who don’t know me personally, but I fail pretty miserably as a Canadian. Pretty much every stereotype people have about Canadians doesn’t apply to me. I think that Canadian beer is mediocre at best (don’t even get me started on Keith’s), I don’t like hockey, I say “zee” and not “zed,” and I prefer Starbucks to Tim Horton’s (Timmies coffee is actually the worst ever). Part of this might come from me working for an American company for so long, but it’s fair to say that I’m among the least patriotic Canadians you’ll ever meet. However, one of the few Canadian things I do actually care about is the now-defunct Canadian Nationals. It was my favorite tournament to go to, and I put in a great deal of effort to have the chance to play in it every year. With this past Monday being Canada Day, I wanted to reflect back on some of my old Nationals stories.




Seat of the Synod
The very first Nationals I went to was in the summer of 2004. I had just returned to Magic less than a year prior, and I was already good friends with the local group of PTQ grinders and money drafters. Most of us were unqualified, as it was actually pretty hard to qualify for Nationals back then, so we showed up early on Thursday to play in last-chance qualifiers, otherwise known as grinders. Back then, I played a lot of crazy homebrews that, while fun to play, weren’t all that competitive, but for Nationals, I decided I would start playing the best deck. That was Affinity, and I don’t mean the weak-ass version of Affinity people play in Modern these days. This was the full-blown, pre-mass-bannings Affinity. Aether Vial was banned, but otherwise, it had access to everything: Disciple of the Vault, Cranial Plating, Arcbound Ravager, Chrome Mox, and of course, all of the artifact lands. One of my friends lent me the entire deck, and I tried my luck.

It didn’t go so well for me, but my buddies Mike Viner and Charles Richey did make it through the grinders and joined another member of our group Adam Whitehead, who was already qualified on rating. Mike went on to make Top 8, and we were all constantly reminded of it for at least the next couple of years. I, of course, had other plans during that weekend. Even though I was playing competitively for less than a year, I was already a Vintage enthusiast. I sold my collection around the time Weatherlight came out, but I held on to my pet deck: a mono-black discard deck with cards such as The Rack, Dark Ritual, Hypnotic Specter, and Hymn to Tourach. I played a lot of Vintage tournaments when got back in because that was the only format my deck was legal in. I decided I wanted to play one of these broken combo decks I’d heard so much about, so I borrowed a fully powered Goblin Charbelcher deck from one of my friends and had a blast playing it in side events and winning myself some packs. Charles’s best friend Darryl was also a self-described Vintage enthusiast with a pet deck of his own: mono-red land destruction. In a format dominated by artifact mana and cheap spells, his deck was hardly competitive. While playing my Round 4 match to make Top 8, I heard screaming from across the room:

Goblin Charbelcher
“HEY, CHARLES!”

“CHARLES!”

“OH . . . FOUR!”

I looked around and saw Darryl angrily making a fist with his left hand and holding up four fingers with his right. I burst out laughing, and at that moment, an inside joke was born. I went on to use that same joke when I had a less-than-stellar start at my first Pro Tour, but that’s a story for another day.




I missed Nationals in 2005 and 2006, the former because I was unwilling to fly out to Calgary and the latter because I couldn’t get the time off from work. After failing to qualify for the next couple of years, I did finally win a grinder in 2009. I hatched an evil plan that year. I woke up super-early to drive down to Toronto by myself and play in the very first morning grinder. My buddy Dan MacDonald (the very same who won fourth place at Grand Prix Portland) shipped me a four-colored planeswalker list that looked like a blast to play. It was designed to beat the W/U Reveillark deck that was popular at the time. It was good against creature decks in general, and our sideboard was heavily geared toward beating Faeries. Mono-red was the only really bad matchup. Lo and behold, my first-round opponent led with Mountain, and I was thinking, “Great; I woke up at 6:00 A.M. for nothing.” Fortunately, my opponent played both slowly and badly. There are no draws allowed in single-elimination tournaments, so when time is called, the person with the highest life total wins after five turns. I used this to my advantage and started going to the dome with Ajani Vengeant. My opponent didn’t catch on to what I was doing, and I successfully won on life totals. I rattled off four straight wins against W/U Reveillark to win the tournament. The finals match was especially memorable. I played a turn-three Garruk Wildspeaker off a Fertile Ground and made three Beast tokens over the next three turns. This was because I had a second Garruk in my hand, to which knowledge my opponent said, “Oh crap.” I ticked it up to 4 and threatened lethal next turn with the Overrun ability. Desperate to find an answer, he played a Meddling Mage on his turn, naming Cryptic Command. I blew up my Garruk and went to attacks, at which point he attempted to tap my team with Cryptic Command. I calmly pointed to his Meddling Mage, and he scooped up his cards in embarrassment. Dan was watching behind me, and when I stood up, I exclaimed, “I’m qualified for Nationals!” He gave me a giant bear hug that lifted me off my feet, and I went around high-fiving my other friends who were there.

Meddling Mage
I didn’t do that well in Nationals that year, but as I’m fond of saying, “I’m just happy to be here.” I despised Shards-block Limited, so I was dreadfully out of practice for the Draft rounds. My good friend Jon Boutin made the Nationals team that year, famously top-decking a Hurricane to win his semifinals match against Quentin Martin.




2010 was the first year I qualified on rating. I was just a few points shy, and I calculated that I’d be able to make the cut if I did well at the Rise of the Eldrazi Game Day. I picked up a Naya deck that Gerry Thompson had been writing about. I played out every round of the tournament, refusing to draw into Top 8 and going 5–0 in the Swiss. One more win was enough to clinch it, so I dropped after winning the quarterfinals. Qualifying for Nationals was way more important to me than winning Game Day. The cutoff date passed, and I was on the invitation list. Shortly after, I won my first PTQ with the very same deck. In the space of two weeks, I went from not being qualified for anything to being qualified for both Nationals and the Pro Tour.

I took my trusty Naya deck to Nationals and decimated the field, not dropping a single match in Constructed. Draft, once again, proved to be my downfall. I had incorrectly assumed that Magic 2011 would be similar to Magic 2010, so didn’t spend very much time practicing it. I was passed a Jace Beleren in the first Draft and ended up with a very good deck. I lost to a Stormtide Leviathan in the first round, won my second round, and then lost a very close match to my good friend Jeff Baxter. Jeff actually lost his win and in in the last round to miss Top 8. My second Draft was a train wreck, and I only managed a disappointing 2–4 record in Draft. Because of my 6–0 run in Constructed, that was still good enough for a Top 16, but I couldn’t help but dwell on the fact that I could have made Top 8 with just one more win. The lone Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle deck was the only deck in the Top 8 that I felt that I couldn’t beat. I still think that had I made Top 8 that year, there was a good chance I would have made the team and a decent chance I would have won the whole thing.

Throne of Empires
I would be remiss to talk about 2010 Nationals without at least mentioning my friend Kyle Duncan’s breakout Top 4 performance. He’s, in my opinion, the best Canadian player to never have played a Pro Tour, and it’s only a matter of time before he qualifies. So, when he does finally make it and crush the tournament, you heard of him first right here.




I’ll conclude with 2011, the last Nationals. Since 2010, I had been working on improving my Limited game. I won a second PTQ, and I was determined to have a better showing than the previous time. I was drafting a heck of a lot more, and I started Drafting with Big Nass as a series of Facebook notes in which I invited good players I knew to comment and help me with my picks. This paid off in spades as I 6–0’d the Limited portion of Pro Tour Nagoya and eked out enough wins in Constructed to Top 32 and qualify for the next Pro Tour. It’s where I got my start with GatheringMagic, and you can read about it here. With actual Pro Tour success, I was starting to become noticed a bit more, and I was featured frequently in the official coverage. You can read a full tournament report here, but the first round of Draft against Grand Prix Montreal semifinalist Andrew Noworaj is what I’ll always remember. I managed to draft all three pieces of the Empire Tron: Crown of Empires, Scepter of Empires, and Throne of Empires. Game 3 was tight, and I was doing everything I could to stay in the game. I bought myself enough time to actually assemble the combo, and I loudly exclaimed, “TROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOON!!!!” Andrew is an awesome guy and was a good sport about it. He even took a picture of the board state. Despite starting out 5–1, I ran into some bad luck and lost my last round to miss Top 16.




I hope you guys enjoyed my self-indulgent trip down memory lane. Nationals was a great tournament, and I’m sad it’s gone. Even though I never quite made Top 8, I still had a lot of great times with good friends and awesome people. World Magic Cup Qualifiers just don’t capture the same magic (no pun intended) that Nationals did. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you guys again next week.

Take care,

Nassim Ketita

arcticninja on Magic Online

http://www.youtube.com/nketita


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