Going for the Gold: A Preview of Canadian Nationals
This weekend is the relaunch of an event that used to be the forefront of the Canadian Magic scene, Nationals.
Long before the prominence of the new age of Canadian Magic, this was a tournament that showcased the best Canadian talent. I played in Nationals long before I ever qualified for my first Pro Tour and I loved the format. Six rounds of Draft and six rounds of Standard over the course of two days and, if you did well enough, you got to play in a Top 8 where the top three qualified for Worlds. Not only that, but it was the only time during the year that you got to hang out with the Canadians from the East and West Coast, all at the same time.
After replacing Nationals with World Magic Cup Qualifiers, it lost a lot of its flare. I'm glad to see that the best event of the year is back! I had to miss England Nationals earlier this year due to a work conflict and I am hoping to be able to bird at least one of the days of competition. So if you are playing in Nationals this week, you better have a good game plan.
If you read my Ixalan primer you're already a step ahead of most of the competition. If you haven't, please click here. Since the bar is low on the qualification for Nationals, these drafts should be much easier than a regular 8-4 on Magic Online. After a few more weeks of drafting the set, I have a few more tips for you:
- Avoid green at all costs unless you're in Merfolk, which is the hands down best tribe to be in. Green is just full of too many clunky cards, and while your creatures can look great, they play out poorly against the rest of the format.
- The packs in Ixalan are full of unplayable cards which means that you're less likely to be bailed out if you don't stay open.
- I would strongly advise on focusing your drafts on picking the two and three drop creatures in your packs as the card quality of the set is very low. I am happy slamming any of these commons as an early pick in my draft:
4. These common tricks are also great since they're much cheaper than most of the removal in the set:
5. Since players are often in racing situations and hard removal is too expensive, the value of these cards go up a lot:
7. Stay open! I used to try to force colour combinations in previous Draft formats and would at worst end up with a medium version of the archetype if I failed. Now if you try to do it, you'll end up playing Gilded Sentinels and the cycle of Keepers. Don't let that happen to you in one of the most important drafts of the season!
Standard is currently a mix of the following decks:
- Temur Energy with or without a black splash
- Ramunap Red
- U/B Control
- Approach Control
- Anointed Procession Tokens
I think Temur Energy is by far the best deck in Standard. Not only did it have an incredible showing at Worlds, but it also uses the most inherently powerful cards that don't lose value over the course of a long game. I expect that this will be the most played deck at Canadian Nationals and I would recommend playing the Temur Black version that splashes for The Scarab God.
Edgar Magalhaes added a great innovation to the deck in Cartouche of Ambition, which really helps you against the red matchup after sideboard, and was rewarded with a Magic Online PTQ win. The beauty about the deck is that you can tune your sideboard to go after certain matchups. If you expect a lot of control, which is the worst matchup for Temur, then you should be playing upwards of seven to 10 counterspells post sideboard.
Ramunap Red is the only other deck that I would suggest playing at this tournament, since it is very low to the ground and can put a tremendous amount of pressure on your opponents. This was the breakout deck at Pro Tour Kyoto a few months ago, but since then the format has changed a lot with the Standard rotation. This deck has an incredible matchup against control decks and it seems to be slightly unfavoured against Temur.
The control decks in the format are trying to do something too cute. Search for Azcanta is a good card, but most of the games where it's able to flip the control deck has already won and is just showing off how many more cards it has. If you watched Seth Manfield playing against Gerry Thompson at Worlds you would have realized that Seth had a two turn window to play a haymaker and win despite his opponent having an Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. It feels a lot like suspending an Ancestral Vision without the fast payoff and this card is relegated to sideboards. Pass.
If you are considering the Approach version of control, think about this: how is gaining seven life going to help you win a game if you haven't already won? Pass.
Anointed Procession? It's all over Magic Online but seems to not do anything if you don't draw the enchantment and even when you do it never feels like you are far ahead. Pass.
Five Players to Watch Out for:
Without a doubt, Alexander Hayne is Canada's best player. He was able to convert his only Pro Tour Top 8 to a win at Pro Tour Avacyn Restored in 2012, and has won four Grand Prix from 11 top 8s. That is an incredible conversion rate for the man they call insaynehayne. He hasn't slowed down since and has been Platinum in the Player's Club for the last five seasons. He has also lead the nation by virtue of pro point finishes on the circuit for many of the last few years. Coming in second to Eduardo this year, he's hungry to play at the World Magic Cup. Alex constantly shows that he isn't happy resting on his laurels, and is a likely candidate to be holding the trophy at the end of the weekend.
Fresh off his second Pro Tour Top 8 appearance in Dublin, Eduardo was able to capture the title of Canadian captain. However, Eduardo is a sucker for pro points and will most likely be in attendance trying to snipe an extra few points for the current season. Eduardo has previously finished on the Canadian team and in recent years was on the English team as well. Currently residing in Montreal, the only reason I don't see him making the Top 8 is because he wasn't able to get a ride to Toronto.
Paul is a solid player who, I'll admit, I thought had a flukey 2015-2016 season when he Top 8ed Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar. Since then, Paul has teamed up with MassDrop and has become a force on the Grand Prix circuit. He has made consecutive Top 8s in GP Montreal and GP Omaha where he lost in the finals and semifinals. He has shown the dedication and commitment required to succeed at the highest levels, and Canadian Nationals will be a chance for him to prove himself as one of the country's top players.
Jamie Archdekin: (in the middle of the back row)
The best Canadian player to not have a Grand Prix Top 8, Jamie has constantly qualified for one Pro Tour each season. I've jokingly told him to just qualify for all four in one season and take the next few years off. He has some great middling Grand Prix results but has not broken out on the mainstage yet. I don't recall Jamie playing Nationals in the past, but he's a solid drafter and is great at solving metagames. He may not be the best technical player, but he puts in the work and I've seen him play hundreds of matches against himself on his computer. I wouldn't want to sit across from Jamie come this weekend.
Pascal amazed all of Canada when he came third at Nationals back in 2010 at the age of 17. Since then he has had incredible Grand Prix success with 13 Top 8s and two wins. He has one Pro Tour Top 8 from 20 starts, but he has crashed at the majority of his Pro Tours as you can see here. I can only assume that this is because Pascal does much better against the average player than a pro player. This should really favour him at Canadian Nationals though, where there will be about ~20 players who have played on the Pro Tour more than once.
Pascal is also famous on social media for picking a Foil Tarmogoyf over a Burst Lightning in a Top 8 of a Grand Prix, which most likely cost him the GP Master title. Pascal is very deliberate and when he goes into the tank, you better be wary!
I hope everyone has a great weekend and if you are playing in #Nationals this weekend, good luck... I'll be at a pumpkin patch picking out something to carve!