ello, this is roving Grand Prix reporter Craig Jones here and I'm about to fill you in on the most important match of the day.
No, it is not Japan vs. the United States. This is far more important than that. It's England versus Scotland. This is a grudge match folks and be warned, it might not be pretty.
This seemed like a good idea at the time.
To be brutally honest, old Britannia has not been much of a Magic stronghold in recent times (or ever for that matter). So if you want to read about which nation will be storming up the rankings to lose to USA in the finals, I'd probably go elsewhere. Ever since 2000, when the UK nationals were broken up into separate nationals for each of Scotland, Wales and England, there has been a friendly rivalry between the countries to see which can finish higher at the World Championships. On paper it always seems like it should be England, but it is rarely the case (apart from the one year we actually did quite well, although that year our national champion was actually a Finn so it probably shouldn't count).
This year England and Scotland came out of a rather disappointing individual event tied for points. They managed to avoid each other for the first round, both picking up wins in the progress, but now the inevitable has occurred and it's time for the grudge match.
On paper the advantage would seem to clearly belong to England. Their team contains Sam Gomersall, probably the best English player of the moment with a consistent record on the Pro Tour. Richard Moore is the current National Champion and managed to finish 10th at Grand Prix Birmingham last year. The runner-up is Mark Knight. To be perfectly honest I don't have the faintest idea who he is and was actually convinced he might actually be a myth until someone introduced me on the first day. This is partly because I'm a dinosaur and have barely played in any events at home this year, but I have been reliably told he's pretty good.
In the other corner we have Scotland and while their team lacks what would be defined as recognized names (Hey, we can't all be France or the Netherlands) Ben Sanders, Joules Jardine (formerly Haigh) and Nick Taylor all have previous experience on the Pro Tour.
The dirty tricks war had already been going on for some time. Last night Joules attempted to sabotage the Welsh performance by going off on a bender with Madog Williams that saw both players arrive straight from a bar about seven minutes before the first draft. This does give the English a slight advantage if Joules should happen to breakdown at some point during his match.
Pregame shenanigans did little to rattle either side.
During the first round, the English mounted regular excursions into the Scottish match to knock over their flags. Joules responded by trying to run off with the English flag. At the beginning of the draft Sam Gomersall let rip with a putrid fart that missed its intended target and took out half of the Malaysian team behind instead.
Now the phony war is over and the real fireworks can begin. When I volunteered to cover this, I was expecting it to be a bit of light humor to go alongside whichever serious feature match they covered this round (by a serious feature match I mean one between teams that are higher than table 13). So I was a little surprised when they announced this would be the feature match for the round. Apparently myself and Jason Howlett (the scorekeeper - also English) had managed to convince the good folk here how important these bragging rights are back in the UK. Either that or it was a slow round. Anyway, Sam wasn't best pleased.
"We got totally out-opened in the draft and now we're going to be humiliated in the feature match area," he explained.
It was pointed out that it would be quite hard for Scotland to gain any bragging rights as their team consists of two Englishmen and a Welshman. It's a bit picky as both Joules and Ben have been living in Scotland for over 10 years each. I did warn you these UK-only matches can get a little bitchy.
Gomersall's matchup was a Dimir mirror against Nick Taylor that's being covered in more detail in a separate article by Paul Sottosanti. I suggest you go there for the details.
Joules Jardine had a black-green-deck splashing blue while his opponent, Mark Knight, ran a Selesnya deck. Apparently there were nine Greater Mossdogs opened in the draft and most of these are in this match. It might last some time.
That's not a bad beard, Mr. Moore.
I opted to cover the Battle of the Beards between champions Ben Sanders and Richard Moore. Richard Moore was referred to as a mini-Gandalf in an article from a National newspaper around the time of Pro Tour-London. In this matchup he was under a distinct disadvantage as Sanders clearly had him out-bearded by around a foot.
Okay, enough beard jokes. The matchup is actually a Boros mirror, or rather Sanders' Boros deck of fast men against Moore's slow red-white control deck with a lot of rares. As Moore pointed out: "I thought we had a chance when I opened Master Warcraft but then he opened one as well."
I was going to cover this match, but then it was announced they were going to be deck checked and so I went over to the match between Jardine and Knight. I needn't have bothered. Neither player had realized the round had started and were still shuffling even though 10 minutes had gone by. I suppose Joules, with his seven hours sleep total since he'd been here, had a legitimate excuse.
So there were two matches that hadn't started while Gomersall was already down 1-0 after drawing 13 land and one creature.
Now that's a beard to be proud of!
Back to the Battle of the Beards. Sanders' early offense of two Courier Hawks and a Veteran Armorer quickly stalled in the face of a lot of excess land and first a Junktroller and then a back-breaking Ghosts of the Innocent. It is so hard for an aggressive red-white deck to win when all damage is halved, rounding down. That was the Courier Hawks out of action in any case. The Ghosts were still pretty large and so Sanders kept them at bay with Faith's Fetters. He probably regretted it when Moore brought out Razia on the following turn.
At this point Sanders was basically stone-walled. None of his guys did any damage and Moore slowly pecked away his life total with Razia and then a Goblin Spelunkers.
"Mark me up. I want my moment before he beats me," Moore said.
Moore 1-0 Sanders
In the third matchup Knight had come out on top of an unexciting game that featured Mossdog wars, far too much land and an eventually dominant Bramble Elemental. With Gomersall leveling his match, the English were in good shape
Back to the battle of the champions, and it looked like Sanders maybe should have mulliganned as his faster deck didn't do anything exciting until a Fangtail appeared on turn 4. If it went to the long game there didn't seem to be any way his deck could overcome Moore's ridiculous rares.
Of course, one way to fight ridiculous rares is to play broken rares of your own. The board position had pretty much stalled out. Sanders played Master Warcraft to bust through. He thought about whether to force Moore into a series of unfavorable blocks and instead decided to use it as a falter and took Moore down to a perilous 2 life. He would be dead next turn if he didn't draw something.
In other matches, a combination of lack of sleep and drawing far too much land did in Joules to give Mark Knight a 2-0 win and England a 1-0 lead.
This lead was immediately wiped out as Nick Taylor overcame Sam Gomersall 2-1.
So the overall match was England 1 - 1 Scotland. The overall result would be decided by the battle between the two national champions.
Okay, enough suspense. Moore drew a Ghosts of the Innocent and eagerly slammed it on the table. All of a sudden it was Sanders who looked in trouble as that 2 life looked like it might be very hard to deal. Fortunately his deck threw up Rally the Righteous and that was enough.
Moore 1-1 Sanders
Well, well. So the whole match and considerable bragging rights would fall down to this single game between the two champions.
Moore flashed me an opening hand that contained those irritating Ghosts, a Divebomber Griffin and another busty rare, Hammerfist Giant. He also had two guild lands, a plains and a Boros Signet so they would come out at some point. It helped considerably that he ripped first Razia and then a Vinelasher Kudzu he dropped into play on turn three.
"I can't believe you splashed for the rare-drafted Vinelasher Kudzu," Joules said from the weird bridge thing they have running through the feature match area.
Sanders raced out of the blocks with three Veteran Armorers and then a Courier Hawk. A Rally the Righteous took down the Vinelasher Kudzu before it got out of control and allowed Sanders to push through eight damage and exactly halve Moore's life total.
The Kudzu had bought Moore enough time to get his power-rares into play. Sanders again got to see Ghosts of the Innocent enter play.
"Red-white can't win once that guy is out," Antonino De Rosa commented as he looked on the match.
"Yeah, but I'm red-white too. So I can't win either," Moore said.
He was sort of lying as he put the eighth mana source onto the table and busted out Razia. Well, actually he wasn't lying at all. The two Veteran Armorer meant Sanders could block all day long with his Courier Hawk.
Sanders brought out an interesting card: a Stoneshaker Shaman. Obviously he would have liked to have seen this before the seven- and eight-mana cards had hit the table. He summoned a Conclave Phalanx to take his life up to 25. This game was going to go very loooong.
Moore needed to ask the judge a question. While he was away from the table Sanders filched Razia and waited to see if Moore would notice when he came back.
At the end of the turn there was a key moment. Moore used Hammerfist Giant to earthquake for two damage. The question he'd asked was whether this damage would be halved again if redirected. It isn't, and so Razia redirected the damage from the Giant onto a Veteran Armorer. This killed it and when it left play it set off a cascade that saw the other Armorer also die. Now Sanders had problems.
The way was clear for Razia to start swinging for three a turn. A Spelunker added a further point to the bleeding.
Moore made a City Tree of Vitu-Ghazi to completely gum up the ground as it started pumping out Saprolings. He didn't want to sit back and let Sanders draw his Warcraft or Flash Conscription though. With the life totals 8-5 in Sanders' favor, Moore attacked with all his non-Saproling creatures and cast Bathe in Light to force them through. He'd miscalculated however as one of Sander's creatures was red and could only do seven damage.
Moore then had the look of someone suddenly realizing they might have thrown it as Sanders dropped Flame-Kin Zealot and used his own Bathe in Light to bypass the Saproling army. However Razia was on hand to redirect any lethal damage to the Sell Sword Brute Moore had cast after his error and Sanders could only attack Moore down to 2.
Richard Moore beats Ben Sanders 2-1.
England beat Scotland 2-1. Well, what else did you expect?