Friday, August 11: 10:21 a.m. - Looking Ahead to What Awaits
Giving out competitor's shirts at registration. These shirts are also the ticket to the player's party, so expect a sea of white on Saturday night.
German Nationals is the one tournament in the year where the entire German Magic scene meets. All the players and all the judges will be here in Aschaffenburg this weekend, meeting old friends and enemies. Old connections as well as long-harbored grudges will surface this weekend, and everybody wants to be a part of it!
What, then, lies ahead of us to frame the epic battles and eclectic decks of Germany's best? Thursday features the return of the meatgrinders - fancy name: Last Chance Qualifier - which were sorely missed last year. Grinders are held as single-elimination constructed tournaments, with flights of 64 players. As long as 64 players agree on a format, a new flight is started - but only the winner gets an invite for Friday morning. Even Vintage or Legacy grinders are possible!
On Friday, the exhausted grinder winners will join the others in the main tournament. Three rounds of Standard kick the day off. Will a new deck show up among the many established decks, or will the players stick to the proven guns? The field will sort itself in the first three rounds and then the chaff will be weeded out from the grains in four rounds of Ravnica block draft. That concludes day one.
Saturday morning mirrors the recent change in the summer weather: It's going to get cold. Three rounds of "Kälteeinbruch", also known as Coldsnap draft, will provide opportunity for players to kick themselves out of the race to Paris. After Coldsnap's goosebumps are shaken off, the players return to their Standard decks and fight for Top 8 in the last four rounds of Swiss. The JSS finals will also be on Saturday, and we'll bring you a look at what the kids did to the Standard environment.
Another highlight that was missing from last year's tournament returns on Saturday night: The player's party! All competitors and the staff will enjoy themselves in a nearby bowling hall and presumably consume much, er… ice cream. Thank you, Tommi Walamies, for making me think of beer every time I see ice cream! That's right, kids, it's an ice cream party! Only the JSS kids won't be invited, because this particular ice cream comes with froth.
The best eight players after Swiss have the chance to win themselves a free trip to Paris on Sunday morning, and there'll be mulligan jokes a'plenty. Top 8 will be Standard, while everybody else can get their cards signed by Wayne England and have fun at the German Legacy Championship. We won't have the manpower to cover both, but you can certainly expect a closer look at the Legacy decklists and Top 8 lists.
Friday, August 11: 10:36 a.m. - The German Train
Level 3 Maximilian Bracht, ready to compete for a slot on the National team.
This year's crop of German Pros certainly showed up on the map. Maximilian Bracht's breakout performance at PT Honolulu put the first German this season into a PT Top 8. Bracht had also designed the Standard deck of last year's national champion Hannes Scholz. This year the question is: Will the Bavarian let his heart beat the combo tune? Or has Bracht found a better deck than the one he says only he can play perfectly? Bracht currently has 20 Pro Points.
Honolulu also marked the ascent of Michael Diezel from Leipzig. When he won the PTQ that earned him flight and invite, it was well deserved. Diezel was one of those players who constantly do well in the PTQs, but never manage to grab the envelope themselves. The Top 16 finish in Hawaii with his innovative Ghost Husk deck was a nice vindication of his efforts. We are waiting to see what his creative mind comes up with this time. Diezel is currently placed 5th in the Rookie of the Year race, and has 13 Pro Points.
Speaking of the Rookie race, the third player who made his mark this year is Wesimo Al-Bacha, currently heading the Rookie ranks with 18 Pro Points. In the wake of this year's Top 8, Al-Bacha's success went a little under the radar. The Dortmund-based player did well in Honolulu and has solidified his position in the race with a streak of good finishes on the European Grand Prix circuit. Directly behind Al-Bacha in the race is Sebastian Aljiaij, also from Germany. Both have a GP Top 8 to their name from this season. Al-Bacha has 18 Points and Aljiaij has 15.
The fourth member on the German train, but certainly not the last, is Aaron Brackmann. Pro Tour Prague catapulted the young man into the elusive ranks of Pro Tour finalists, which made his decision to live the lifestyle of a Magic Pro so much easier. Brackmann has finished school and decided to hold off studying a little longer to play Magic. As a Level 3 player with 23 Pro Points, he is qualified for all Pro Tours until the end of next year, and hopes to level up at Kobe and the upcoming Worlds.
While most of the fuss at PT Charleston was about the two Japanese teams in the Top 4, two German teams also were on the brink of glory at that Pro Tour. Among the players who had their dreams crushed in the last round of Charleston was David Brucker, German Pro Tour mainstay and GP winner this season. Brucker is on the shortlist for the National team this year. He certainly has the potential to make it to Paris, and currently the most Pro Points of all German players: 24.
Those five are the upcoming players with the highest profile, but not the only German riders of the Pro Tour gravy train. A handful of others are either striving for Level 3 or already have it. Among them, watch out for Christian Hüttenberger (19 Pro Points), Harald Stein (13), Klaus Jöns (12) and Rosario Maji (10) to try and make a splash.
Friday, August 11: 11:14 a.m. - Grinder Tales
Yesterday, players had the chance to qualify in single elimination last chance qualifiers, also known as meatgrinders. Five standard grinders and one Coldsnap draft grinder were played, with 64 players each. In the five standard grinders, about 30 different decks were played. Players were already commenting that the format is too diverse, too unfocused.
One example of the "you can play anything" was the Boros Combo deck. The deck tries to deal 22 damage on the second turn by casting Psychotic Fury on a Boros Recruit and then enhancing it with a Myojin of Infinite Rage pitched to Blazing Shoal. The deck failed to win anything, but there were enough of them to get noticed - ten copies across three grinders.
Here's the deck breakdown from the first three Standard grinders:
||Hand to Hand
||Firemane Angel Control
… and 19 other decks that came in threes, twos and singletons. Among them were such highlights as the one Owl deck (which made it to the finals of one grinder, see below), one Biorhythm deck, and two Ghazi-Glares. I guess that Craig Stevenson's win in England (with the Glare deck) didn't really make an impact, but we'll have to wait for the breakdown of the Standard portion of the main tournament to judge.
'EvilBernd' being thoughtful and watched by no less than three judges, who enjoyed the entertainment.
One of the six players who managed to qualify via the grinders was Klaus-Michael Bredt, better known as "EvilBernd", administrator of one of Germany's biggest community sites. He is a very entertaining player to watch, talking as witty as he writes. In his semifinal match, he had a Hand of Honor and a dark Confidant in play, and an equipped Jitte with two counters. His opponent playing Vore had a Magnivore in play and nothing of relevance in hand, because Bredt had castigated him earlier. Bredt, fearing instant bounce, did not attack for three turns while making another Hand and two Paladins en-Vec, all the while entertaining the audience with his antics, getting a slow play warning and slow-rolling the kill to finally advance to the grinder finals.
And here are the six winning decks plus the finalists of the Standard grinders, sorted by grinder. Only the winner received the right to play today in the main tournament, but check out the runner-ups… one Owl deck almost made it all the way, as well as a control deck based around Firemane Angel, but also running Windreaver and Niv-Mizzet.
Winner Standard Grinder 1 – Solar Flare
Finalist Standard Grinder 1 – Hand to Hand
Winner Standard Grinder 2 – Boros Beatdown
Finalist Standard Grinder 2 – Owling Mine
Winner Standard Grinder 3 – Hand to Hand
Finalist Standard Grinder 3 – Angel Control
Winner Standard Grinder 4 – French-Weenie
Finalist Standard Grinder 4 – Vore
Winner Standard Grinder 5 – Hand to Hand
Finalist Standard Grinder 5 – Gruul Beats
Winner Coldsnap Draft Grinder
Friday, August 11: 12:31 p.m. - The Cards Point to Snow
Torsten Dallmann peeking out from a heap of Coldsnap sales.
Dealers in singles are a veritable information mine for what the players like. This morning, though, sales were all over the board, as Torsten Dallmann reports. He is the dealer on site and told me that he sold over 30 Scrying Sheets this morning. Unfortunately, no conclusions for the standard metagame can be drawn from that, because Coldsnap is not legal yet.
As for the Type-2-cards, Ghost Councils, Angels of Despair, Godless Shrines and Condemns point to Solar Flare and Orzhov control decks of many flavors. But Steam Vents, Spell Snares and Giant Solifuge sold almost as well, and with the many options available in Standard, who can deduce what people play? I'll be walking the floor next round to get a better overview.
Friday, August 11: 1:03 p.m. - "What are you, strooplid?"
There are many ways to get a game loss. One player, who shall remain unnamed, has tried a particular creative way to get the loss. Starting the second game, he took his deck, reached for his sideboard, shuffled and presented his deck to his opponent. The kink in the procedure: He had unknowingly shuffled his entire 15-card sideboard into his deck and presented the whole 75 cards to his opponent. That gave him a game loss for "illegal decklist" and a pretty embarrassing story to tell!
Friday, August 11: 4:20 p.m. - Round 4: Maximilian Bracht vs. Andreas Kruschel
Maximilian Bracht showing off his pen tricks, as always, while trusting in his Pit-Skulks.
Maximilian started of the pre-match banter with saying how strong the packs were, and how many Guildmages went around the table. Andreas did not quite agree, saying "Then you probably saw different boosters than I did." Maximilian had drafted a "Pit-Skulk deck", heavy on the early plays and with three Thrives to further pump up his fast and furious bloodthirst creatures. Andreas is with a multi-color concoction, relying on bigger creatures to make his mark.
Though on the draw, Maximilian kicked off the match wit Boros Guildmage and Mourning Thrull and came in for two before Andreas could lay down his first creature: a Snapping Drake. Maximilian put up more pressure with Hunted Lammasu, and Andreas read it while Maximilian complained: "I hate that Lammasu. It's such a gamble, 30 percent win, 70 percent lose." He waited for a removal spell from Andreas, who had only Infiltrator's Magemark on his 4/4 token.
Maximilian loved the red zone, sending everything for eight damage to Andreas' 15 life. Snapping Drake blocked Mourning Thrull - "risky!" says Maximilian -, and the Pro pops out Seeds of Strength, taking out the Snapping Drake and taking Andreas to six.
Helium Squirter from Andreas was just a last effort as Maximilian throws a Beastmaster's Magemark on his Mourning Thrull, taking Andreas to 2 and the game.
Maximilian Bracht 1 - 0 Andreas Kruschel
After this game, Maximilian showed me the Simic Initiates he didn't even play this game. He further intimidated Andreas by mentioning how he'd like to draw his Selesnya Guildmage, and how he'll tell his grandsons about how strong the packs were.
Andreas decides to play first, and both were not taking trips to Paris - yet. Maximilian had a one-drop, Votary of the Conclave, but Andreas answered with Coiling Oracle, revealing a Forest. Maximilian confused a Skarrgan Pit-Skulk with Simic Initiate and dropped an un-pumped Pit-Skulk and Silhana Ledgewalker.
Andreas had the upper hand on the board, with Simic Ragworm and Trygon Predator. Maximilian had Hunted Lammasu, giving more fat to Andreas. His creatures are smaller and he is under pressure, because his deck has no removal to get rid of the big beaters. Maximilian's Lammasu runs into Gaze of the Gorgon, and that's pretty much game. Infiltrator's Magemark from Andreas finishes the Bavarian with some unbockable damage.
Maximilian Bracht 1 - 1 Andreas Kruschel
"Finally, I can go first with the aggro deck", stated Maximilian. No mulligans, and Simic Initiate from Maximilian kicked off the third game. Andreas mulled long over his first land drop, normally a simple thing but apparently not when you have Forest, Utopia Sprawl (blue).
Maximilian cracked for one with the Initiate, enabling bloodthirst on his new Skarrgan Pit-Skulk which picked up the Initiate's graft counter. Drift of Phantasms came down for Andreas, a good defensive measure but not against Pit-Skulk, which hit in for three.
Gruul Scrapper traded with Aquastrand Spider, and Andreas took out Maximilian's Boros Guildmage with Keening Banshee. Unrelenting, the Bavarian kept churning out one- and two-drops, while Andreas had nothing. The unblockable Pit-Skulk came in for another three, taking Andreas to ten, and Maximilian still had 20 life to work with.
Andreas Kruschel, on the other hand, suffers from Pit-Skulk damage.
"This is like Christmas, when you're waiting for the presents", said Maximilian as he waited for Andreas to transmute a Drift. It got Civic Wayfinder, which got a Mountain. The unblockable Pit-Skulk took Andreas to seven. Did he have removal? No, but a Streetbreaker Wurm and Trygon Predator made things look a little better.
The Wurm traded with one Pit-Skulk with a green Magemark, while the rest of the attack took Andreas to four life. Trygon Predator killed Maximilian's other Magemark, and the one remaining Skulk was no longer unblockable. Maximilian, at 14 life, knocked the top of his deck. If he found something to boost the Pit-Skulk, he could have forced the last damage through. Instead, he had a land and a Trophy Hunter, his first pick, to take down Andreas' flying offense.
Maximilian served with everything, seven creatures against Andreas' four. That took Andreas down to one life, killed most of his creatures and enhanced Maximilian's Trophy Hunter, so Andreas picked up his cards.
Maximilian Bracht 2 - 1 Andreas Kruschel
Friday, August 11: 4:20 p.m. - Drafting with Simon Görtzen
It's Ravnica draft time! The decks the players pick out of the boosters have to carry them through the next four rounds. Simon Görtzen was part of the team "Schere, Stein, Papier" that came fifth in Pro Tour Charleston, and came off a 3-0 record in Standard with his Heartbeat deck.
It could have gone better: Simon Görtzen contemplating how useful his three Magemarks will really be.
His draft did not go as smooth as his Standard performance, though. He opened up with a first pick that he afterwards did in fact doubt: He took a Hex, over Galvanic Arc, Civic Wayfinder, Fists of the Ironwood, Snapping Drake and Dimir House-Guard. After the draft, Simon commented: "I maybe should have taken the Arc, but I don't want the Hex against me if I want to go 4-0."
His draft continued mediocre with a Divebomber Griffin over Sparkmage Apprentice and Tattered Drake, and a 3rd pick Dimir Aqueduct out of a week pack. Benevolent Ancestor set him up deeper in white, and his plan was to set up a Dimir-Orzhov-Azorius sequence. Drift of Phantasms and Dimir Signet as the next pick helped, as well as a Nightguard Patrol. Twisted Justice and Golgari Thug completed Simon's Ravnica playables.
He had set up white pretty well, as Guildpact proved. But first, a Repeal made his first pick over Steamcore Weird, Ogre Savant, Gelectrode and Orzhov Euthanist. A second-pick Pillory of the Sleepless found a happy place in Simon's pile. Two Souls of the Faultless and a Train of Thought came from the next three picks, and a sixth pick Belfry Spirit took Simon less than five seconds to take.
Guardian's Magemark over a blue Rusalka, a Mourning Thrull (passing Leap of Flame and Wee Dragonauts), another Guardian's Magemark, an Absolver Thrull and a third Guardian's Magemark happened in picks seven to eleven. Crystal Seer, Carrion Howler and a last-pick Ghostway marked the end of Guildpact.
Simon hoped to get Azorius goodies and especially some Freewind Equenauts in Dissension, but that didn't exactly pan out. He started the third pack with Carom over Mistral Charger, not wanting to move into green for Simic Guildmage. The second booster presented him with four good choices and an obvious pick: Out of Seal of Doom, Guardian of the Guildpact, Azorius Signet and Azorius Chancery, he took (what else) the Seal.
The third pick gave him black again, with Demon's Jester winning the pick over Riot Spikes and Rakdos Carnarium. Back to white gave him his first and only Freewind Equenaut, before the packs died on Simon. Picks five to eleven gave him Carom, Ragamuffyn, Riot Spikes (over Macabre Waltz and Vesper Ghoul), a Simic Growth Chamber, a Simic Signet, Overrule tenth and Thrive 11th. Enigma Eidolon and double Azorius Ploy ended the draft for him.
"The deck can't really win, and four of my creatures are walls", Simon analyzed while building his deck. He expects a 2-2 performance from the deck, and hopes that his walls and the Hex will help with that.
German Nationals Ravnica draft deck
Friday, August 11: 6:00 p.m. - Poker skills ain't always Good
You can't really see it in this picture, but these sunglasses hid Felix Schneider's emotions while mirroring his cards in hand.
First, apologies for not talking about Standard yet. I have only snapped up little tidbits, but no conclusive picture yet. I'll try to find some qualified opinions and I'll bring you those as soon as possible. But to keep you entertained, here's another story from the floor:
Felix Schneiders, German internet columnist and poker aficionado, has brought his poker style to the Magic table. He's wearing (or rather, has been wearing) sunglasses. Unfortunately, his sunglasses are full of style and bling: They reflect. And until the end of his round four match, nobody really noticed - except his opponent, who happily took flashing insights into Flixx's hole cards… I mean, his hand. Only at the end of his match did Flixx realize that he had sacrificed secrecy for style. He'll sure take his shades off from now on!
Friday, August 11: 6:41 p.m. - Round 6: Alexander Schröder vs. Aaron Brackmann
Ravnica limited is certainly Aaron's area of expertise, what with the Top 2 finish at PT Prague and all that. He expressed content with his deck. Both players have picked up just one loss over the day so far, both in Standard, where Alexander is with Orzhov cards and Aaron brought Vore.
Aaron won the die roll, chose to play, and Alexander started off with the first trip to Paris I've actually witnessed this weekend. A third turn Court Hussar of a Dimir Aquaeduct from Aaron prompted Alexander to comment: "This isn't constructed, you know?"
The Hussar, Guardian of the Guildpact and Belltower Sphinx for Aaron won the game faster than I could type, because Alexander was unable to draw another land besides his first Plains and lost what was probably the fastest game all day. The game took less time than it actually took to write the two previous paragraphs.
Alexander Schröder 0 - 1 Aaron Brackmann
Given the choice, Alexander let Aaron go first, who led with a Boros Signet off Island and Plains, establishing all his colors. Alexander had a first-turn Voyager staff, but Aaron chose to Repeal his Gruul Signet instead, deploying Izzet Boilerworks afterwards. Guardian of the Guildpact from Aaron was met with Viashino Fangtail from Alexander to equal the board. Lifegain abounded when Aaron immobilized the Fangtail with Faith's Fetters and Alexander played Paladin of Prahv, making Aaron think.
Somebody is looking forward to the Coldsnap draft, and happy he won this match to go to 5-1 on the day.
Hypervolt Grasp on Beacon Hawk marked the next play from Aaron, giving him a potent pinger, but Alexander was able to deal with the Fetters on his Fangtail via Absolver Thrull, pinged the Hawk (which tried to save itself) and dealt a killing blow with Orzhov Euthanist, taking Aaron's board down to just a Guardian of the Guildpact. Aaron decided to shoot the Fangtail with the Hawk in response and not return the Grasp. He needed the blue mana to Electrolyze the Viashino Fangtail.
Oathsworn Giant gave Aaron considerable defensive power, and Belltower Sphinx got ready to deal some flying damage. Alexander had a second Viashino Fangtail to replace his dead one. He used that to ping the Oathsworn Giant and phased out his Orzhov Euthanist with Voyager Staff. After making a Sunforger, Alexander returned his Euthanist to play at the end of his turn and that killed Aaron's Oathsworn Giant - quite a nifty interaction there.
Aaron replaced his Giant with the not quite as good Transguild Courier and took Alexander to eight life with the Belltower Sphinx. The air was Aaron's and his two affiliates of the Guildpact did well to hold the ground - until Alexander had Celestial Ancient. The Ancient blocked the Sphinx and the subsequent mill put Pillory of the Sleepless into Alexander's graveyard. That made Aaron pump the fist!
Steamcore Weird from Aaron prompted a series of responses from Alexander: With the effect on the stack, Fiery Conclusion in response removed the Euthanist and killed the Transguild Courier, haunting the creature about to die, and Fangtail had already ensured that the Euthanist could take the Sphinx with him. To his double Sewerdreg, Alexander added Restless Bones, but Aaron had another flier (Skyrider Trainee) and the Magemark to go with it, dealing the last damage in the air to win the match 2-0.
Alexander Schröder 0 - 2 Aaron Brackmann
Afterwards, both Aaron and spectator (and current National champion) Hannes Scholz agreed that if Alexander had attacked earlier, giving his Paladin of Prahv some action, Aaron would surely have lost. While Alexander's deck was very good, he didn't use his superior board position to put Aaron under pressure, instead holding back. When the Pillory was milled into his graveyard, he clearly became a little dejected, and that distracted him from seeing and pressing his advantage.
Friday, August 11: 7:57 p.m. - Notable absentees
Some well-known German names can be found in the players list: PT players like David Brucker, Aaron Brackmann, Maximilian Bracht, Michael Diezel, Harald Stein and Simon Görtzen have shown up. Internet personalities like Felix Schneiders, Volker Olbrich, Klaus-Michael Bredt and Tobias Henke are here. Old-timers like Wolfgang Eder, Roland Bode, Holger Althues and the Zink brothers Daniel and Sebastian decided to attend and take a shot at Worlds.
But who is not here? For one, the Phoenix Foundation hasn't risen out of the ashes. The rumor that the three imposing figures of Kai Budde, Marco Blume and Dirk Baberowski might attend proved false: They haven't been seen in or around the tournament hall all day. Second, Andre "TrashT" Müller is not here. He had already announced he wouldn't come when he wrote his extensive Coldsnap draft review. We'll see tomorrow if the players who heed his advice will do well!
Also notably absent is Wesimo Al-Bacha. for the simple reason that he didn't want to risk his rating and keep it high to get a ratings invite for Worlds. Fair enough, but former National champ Torben Twiefel didn't even need that excuse. This morning, he told the the players staying in his house that he "didn't feel like going", and so they left without him.
Two more folks who we'd have liked to see here are Hans-Joachim Höh and Hall-of-Fame-candidate Peer Kröger, both of which are not here for reasons unknown. Well, maybe Nationals isn't everybody's favorite tournament, but the 158 players who are here seem to think differently. Just wait until tomorrow's players party, and those who aren't here will be sorry then.
Friday, August 11: 9:09 p.m. - Last man standing
Only one man has made it through the day unscathed: Holger Althues is the only player on 21 points. He cleaved his way through the Standard field with an Enduring Ideal deck which earned him a 3-0 record. He doesn't want to spill the exact contents of his deck yet, but it is his own creation: "When I started playing the deck in MTGO 8-man-tournaments, I've won 20 matches in a row. That basically convinced me to play the deck at Nationals", Holger commented with a big smile on his face. His girlfriend will be happy - she is following the coverage at home, checking how he's doing, so here's a big wave and smile from Holger!
The amiable long-time player had drafted a U/R/W deck in Ravnica, "with lots of little fliers and burn", which carried him to another clean record. When you take a look at his deck, it's no wonder he won all of his matches:
German Nationals 4-0 Ravnica draft deck
We'll be back tomorrow morning with three rounds of Coldsnap draft. Holger said he hasn't drafted Coldsnap yet at all, and he wasn't sure if a draft tonight or rather a good night's rest would be the better preparation. We'll see tomorrow if his streak will continue, but he is confident in his Standard deck. If Holger manages a 2-1 or even a 1-2 tomorrow during the three Coldsnap rounds, his chances for Top 8 look pretty good. Join us tomorrow, when play commences at nine o'clock in the Stadthalle Aschaffenburg!