A month after the end of the Road to Nationals season, and just ten days out from the end of the 90-day XP qualification period, Christian Hauck decided to qualify for Nationals, planning out a schedule with his friend Jacob Bausch to make the most of the ten days he had to qualify. When I joined him in a call for the interview, the first thing I saw was what Christian himself calls "the Briar shrine"; a large framed print of Briar with the German National Championship trophy resting just in front.
It turned out, not only did Christian qualify for Nationals in under ten days - he had no intention of playing Flesh and Blood to begin with.
'I'm still on a contract playing professionally for another TCG, but a friend of mine who got into Flesh and Blood, he wanted me to play a little bit of Flesh and Blood because he liked the game, and he wanted to someone to talk to about the cards and play with. I heard about the game, and it looked pretty cool, but I told him that I didn’t have the time. I’m a very competitive player at heart, and if you want to be successful at the highest level of the game, you really have to dedicate all your time into the one game, and not split it across many different games, because it makes it very difficult to stay at the top.
So I told him, I’m not the casual kind of player, so if I do play Flesh and Blood, I’ll dedicate a lot of time to it; I told him I’d stick to the one game, that’s already more than enough for me. But I saw the cards and they looked pretty cool, and I was interested from a collectors standpoint to buy some Flesh and Blood cards because I really love the way the cards look, the art is really flashy. I was always looking for some other TCG to collect, because I don’t like the comic art style so much, and Flesh and Blood looked pretty cool, the cards didn’t look cheap, you know? The art was stunning. Also, the rarity of the cards - with one Legendary every four boxes, and one Fabled.
I was looking to collect, but then I saw the announcement for the National Championship, and that looked really cool, because National Championships were always my favourite tournaments. The whole German community came together, and there were the mixed formats- you play constructed, you play draft, and the Flesh and Blood Nationals reminded me of that.
So I was like alright, there’s this National Championship and it looks really cool, I want to get into that, I want to play it - maybe I’ll play a little bit of Flesh and Blood, can you teach me how to play?'
'That’s when he told me that you had to qualify for the National Championship, and at that time, I looked into how to qualify, and there were these Road to Nationals tournaments, but all of them had already passed; I couldn’t play in any more.
My friend said that there was another way to qualify with the XP leaderboard, and I went “alright, let’s play Flesh and Blood, collect some points, get into the 90 day leaderboard. I’m confident, teach me how to play.”
And he says to me, “there’s another problem, we have only like 10 days left before the cut.” At that point, I had zero points, I didn’t know any cards, I didn’t know how to play - I didn’t know anything, you know? But I really want to play in this tournament! So I asked him, “Do you think I can pull this off in 10 days? Is it theoretically possible?”
He said “yes, I think you can pull this off.” So he started teaching me how to play, taught me the basics; pitching cards, these are attack actions, when to defend, stuff like that, and then he sent me his deck. It was a Chane deck at the time, he’s also a competitive player, it was a Tier 1 deck. He taught me how the deck worked, how the cards worked, and after about two hours, he said “alright, we have to get started.”'
'We looked up all the online tournaments I could play in, because there’s no way I could drive to all these tournaments in 10 days. There aren’t enough tournaments. So I basically had a schedule to play in two online tournaments each day, and that first day after just two hours, I jumped into my first event.
It didn’t go so well in the beginning; I picked up some wins, which I didn’t think was possible, because I didn’t know any of the cards that my opponents were playing, I had to ask what it did every single time, but I got some wins, and after two days, on my third or fourth tournament, I actually won my first tournament. I went 4-0, and I was really excited. To be honest, I was still not playing that well, but I started to get better and better.
I continued my schedule of playing in these tournaments every day, because it was kind of fun, to be honest. I really enjoyed it. And in the end, I came close to getting to the top of the 90-day leaderboard, but there were still some points missing. Then there was this ban announcement, and Seeds of Agony was banned, which was- my Chane deck was the only one I had! But I had wanted to collect a little bit, so I had bought two boxes of Arcane Rising beforehand, and so I built a Dash Blitz deck out of the cards that I had from Arcane Rising, and I continued the last three days of my journey playing Blitz Dash. On the ninth day, one day before the cut, I actually reached the top 50 on the leaderboard to qualify for Nationals. I was so happy, I got there! It was a hard week, but it was a fun week, and I was really excited I got there in the end. It was a challenge. I really wanted to do this, I really wanted to pull this off, it was fun.
At that point I knew I’d qualified for the National Championship, which was amazing, but it I knew it would be hard; there will be better players and so on. I’m a competitive guy in TCG’s, so I wanted to do well, I wanted to see how far I could get. I knew I had one month before the Nationals now, and that was kind of a relief, because I actually had some time to really get into the game, get good, and find a good deck for Nationals. I couldn’t really prepare like I usually do for tournaments.
Joshua Bausch, the friend who taught me how to play - we built a group together with some friends, we brewed up some decks, and we came up with a really good deck that we liked. We would meet in the evening on Tabletop Simulator to playtest our decks, and I also invited some people over to draft. It took a little bit of time, because I hadn’t played a single game of Limited at that point, but in the end we felt that we were pretty well prepared, we were feeling pretty good about the tournament, and we were all excited to play.'
That testing period was the only opportunity Christian had to practice drafting in Flesh and Blood, and while he describes in-person drafting as one of his favourite things about playing TCG's, he admits to being less prepared for the draft portion of the Championship than he'd first thought.
'I was really confident about the draft, I drafted some, and I thought “oh, you figured this one out, alright, you’re good with limited.” Thinking back now, I can tell you- I wasn’t! I drafted really badly, in my opinion. I haven’t played a lot of Oldhim and Lexi in draft, to know how to draft and how to play them. I knew they were okay, but actually they’re really good, especially Oldhim, he’s probably the best draft archetype you can go for, in my opinion. It doesn’t take a lot of cards to do well with Oldhim. But I didn’t go for it, I played Briar in the draft as well. A lot of people drafted Briar, and I knew that would happen, but I was just scared of playing other heroes because I wasn’t as experienced with them. So I felt good about the draft before the tournament, but I really wasn’t that well prepared. I went 3-3 in limited, which is not the end of the world, but it’s really not good, either. Thankfully I went 9-0 in constructed, so it all went well!'
'Part of the preparation is to think about the metagame you expect to see, and build a deck that fits the metagame, so we thought Briar would be the most-played deck at this tournament, which was pretty obvious by that point, because it did well at the UK Nationals. After that, we expected Bravo to be the second most played deck, and then a lot of different decks - Lexi, Katsu, Dorinthea, lots of these decks at around 5% meta game share. We thought it would be about 10-15% Prism and Bravo, then 25-30% Briar. It kind of turned out the way we thought, to be honest.'
Christian said that while he'd been concerned about the Ice Lexi in the room, it was actually a Bravo player that gave him the most pause during the tournament, having not been prepared for Christian Weißling's version of the Guardian.
'In the Top 8, I was playing against a Bravo, and he was way more experienced than I was, he knew exactly what he was doing. He sideboarded differently, he boarded multiple Arcane Barrier equipments, and the one-handed shield, and normally, these decks can’t fatigue me, but he played a different game and I was not expecting that. In the middle of the game, I was concerned that he might eventually get there, because he had this different plan so I had to adapt in the middle of the game because I hadn’t faced this situation before in testing. I prepared, but I wasn’t prepared for everything, and there, my lack of experience showed. So I changed my sequencing a little bit mid-game, and I counted all the attacks I had left in the deck, and in the end it came down to the last attack I had left in the arsenal, an Exude Confidence. At that point, I knew my whole deck, because it was all pitch cards, so I knew that I would draw four blue pitch cards, and pinned it all on my last attack, the Exude Confidence. It worked out, but it was really really close, and I’m glad I adapted but I should really have adapted sooner.'
It was almost fitting, then, that an Ice Lexi was his final opponent at the Championship.
'In the finals, I faced Lexi, the matchup I was the most concerned about, so I thought ‘alright, I’ll probably be the runner-up, which is sad, but I’ll try my best.’ It was a really, really close game, a really good game- a very entertaining game, actually, for me as well as for the viewers. I was able to time my Command and Conquers extremely well, to hurt him the most, which gave me the time I needed to pull off the win. He piloted his Lexi his deck really, really well. I have to give credit to all of my opponents in the Top 8, they were all really amazing.'
'My favourite part was in the final, when my friends came and cheered, we were hugging and celebrating the victory because we were there as a team, you know. It was a really special moment to me. Other people came to me afterwards, and congratulated me on the victory, I was really new to the community and everyone was so nice. I never thought I’d actually win the whole thing. I’m really grateful for the help of my friends. I was really happy that I won, it was just a great experience.
I'm honestly just really looking forward to playing Flesh and Blood, to be honest with you. I'm qualified for at least one Pro Tour now, so maybe I can get some more PTI's; I'm certainly looking forward to playing in more professional events.'
'I'd love to give a shout out to the people who helped me to prepare and get good at the game; to my friend Joshua Bausch, and my team that I prepared with, David Reitbauer, Immanuel Gerschenson, and Matthias Hittel. Also a shout out to my good friend Joseph Chang from Taiwan, he had kind of the same story that I had, because after he saw that I won my Nationals, he wanted to play as well, he's a good friend and a really talented player. He actually made Top 8, which is absolutely amazing, after like four hours coaching! I'm really happy for him.'