Michael Hamilton first made a name for himself at the Calling: Cincinnati, making the Top 4 before losing to Tariq Patel in the quarter-finals. His first competitive Flesh and Blood event, Cincinnati was the precursor to Michael's victory at the Calling in Orlando two weeks later. While Briar's popularity was at its height, Michael took Oldhim to the finals and won, his control-style deck freezing out the Runeblade
Recently, the Calling: Indianapolis saw Michael enter the field once more, this time with Bravo, who was truly the Star of the Show with his stellar performance. When he took Bravo to victory, Michael became the second two-time Calling Champion in Flesh and Blood's history, a feat not achieved since the Calling: Auckland in 2020.
Michael Hamilton has played card games for most of his life, playing casually for many years before he joined a competitive tournament hosted by Star City Games.
"I got beat up really bad, and that's when I learned that people could get really good at card games, and that was really encouraging. I doubled down and spent more time learning the game, getting good at the game. Eventually, it all paid off when I won a big tournament. I kept playing all the way until about the start of the pandemic. When tournaments stopped happening, it kind of lowered my interest — I'd still play some, but not nearly as much as I did before then."
That changed when a friend, Roger Bodee, messaged him about a game called Flesh and Blood. Roger also attended the Callings in Cincinnati, Orlando, and Indianapolis, making the day two cut in Cincinnati and Orlando.
"He messages me and says 'I've been hearing about this game called Flesh and Blood. Would you be interested in learning it with me?' And I'm thinking, man, learning a new card game, that sounds like a lot of work. But he says- 'I'll bring over some Blitz decks, and I'll teach you so we can learn together.' And we played- this was before Tales of Aria came out, probably a month or two before the Tales of Aria prerelease, he comes over and he brings the four Monarch Blitz decks. He got all four of them, and we played Levia versus Prism.
I thought 'wow, none of Prism's attacks work because Levia just pops them all with six power attacks... she's not very good.' That was my initial reaction. We tried the other ones, Boltyn and Chane, and that was when I really started to see the potential in the game, and see how deep it could be.
Boltyn had to sacrifice cards to charge his soul, and there are a lot of decisions you can make around that, and when you wanted to spend that soul, to give your attacks go again... basically the decision trees were really interesting with Boltyn. Chane as well, like you would make the shackles and you'd banish cards, and then you'd want to use these cards as soon as possible because if they sat in your banished zone, you'd be taking blood debt damage. But at the same time, maybe it wasn't always the most opportune time to use them for maximizing your turn efficiency. Then you also have to choose which cards you wanted to block with, before you saw which cards got banished with Chane. And that made it... The skill ceiling already seemed really high with just these Blitz decks, and as a very competitive person, that was really intriguing to me, and it really drew me into the game so we played a few more times. He bought a couple of Welcome to Rathe boxes, so we played Welcome to Rathe sealed, and I kept seeing more of the potential in the game.
I knew that there was a Limited [format] Calling coming up for Tales of Aria in a couple months, so we played a bunch of Welcome to Rathe sealed and then I guess I fell more and more in love in the game as I played it more in matchups... that weren't Prism vs. Levia [laughs]."
Michael Hamilton on-stream after his win at the Calling: Indianapolis
"So we played a lot of Welcome to Rathe sealed, a little bit of Arcane Rising sealed, and a little bit of Monarch sealed, and then when [Tales of] Aria came out, we played a whole bunch of Aria sealed, and we both really enjoyed that format. That kind of led... we were already planning on going to Cincinnati before we knew how much we liked [Tales of Aria], but we really liked playing Aria drafts or sealed. And then we went to the Calling in Cincinnati, and I Top 8'd, and [Bodie] got... I think he Top 16'd, but I'm not positive, maybe I should check that. He at least made Top 32, he made Day Two, and had a good run into Day Two, and after that I was very hooked. Yeah, I guess I was probably hooked before that, but that cemented it.
I had been doing really well in the local drafts and... I don't even know if I played any constructed armories. But I'd played a couple of local draft events, and I'd done well at those, so I hoped... My goal was Day Two, and then when I made it to Day Two, my goal was just to do as well as I could. I never expected to do as well as I did."
Three months after beginning to play the game, and two weeks after his Top 4 finish in Cincinnati, Michael found himself accepting a trophy for Calling Champion in Orlando. I asked how this had affected his goals, and where he wanted to go to next in Flesh and Blood competitive play.
Michael Hamilton, Calling: Orlando Champion
"Going into Orlando, I felt confident that I had at least a good deck choice, and if I did poorly at the event, it was probably because I didn't have the best version of the deck I could. I thought my idea was good, and maybe my implementation wouldn't be the best because I was still inexperienced, but then after winning that tournament, it was very encouraging. It made me feel like I made the right call, and it gave me a lot of confidence that, going forward in the game, that just because a lot of people think a certain way, they might not be looking at it from the same angle I am, and if I approach problems the way I like to and it's working for me, then I should just go with it and see how it goes."
At the time of the Calling: Orlando, Briar, Warden of Thorns held a strong position in the metagame. While it was a factor in his deck choice for the event, Michael says that gameplay and deck style were the main factors behind his decision to bring Oldhim to Orlando.
"Even before Matt Foulkes showed off Briar when he won UK Nationals with her, I always gravitated towards control-style decks, and I had been practicing with Oldhim with my friend Roger when we started playing Classic Constructed after Cincinnati ended. I wasn't honestly even planning on going to Orlando until we booked our tickets a few days before the event. After doing so well in Cincinnati, basically it was very encouraging for both of us. We thought 'yeah, we have what it takes to compete in this game.' I made Top 8, and he made Day 2. And then I looked up flights, and they were cheap, and I knew that the Oldhim deck I had already started working on would line up well into Briar. So Briar's dominance wasn't why I played Oldhim, but it was part of what factored into me deciding to make the trip to Orlando. Because I'm thinking, the deck I want to play is really well-positioned, I should go to this tournament, basically.
Coming from other card games, I didn't like playing the aggressive decks very much because it felt as though the games were really short and there weren't a lot of decision points. In Flesh and Blood, I don't think that's the case, not nearly as much. The aggressive decks in Flesh and Blood, you still make a lot of decisions. I'm not really sure why I haven't branched out more from the control decks in Flesh and Blood, other than feeling like they were good choices into the tournaments I'm going to."
"Actually, I kind of still wanted to play Oldhim at Indianapolis, but another one of my friends showed me this more controlling version of Bravo, Star of the Show, and it felt closer to an Oldhim deck than the Bravo list that I had been seeing, where they were playing very aggressive builds and maxing out on these Elemental cards that don't block very well. So then having found a more controlling... I mean, I live in Indianapolis, I was gonna go no matter what, but I guess the things that factor in me playing the Bravo list was finding a more controlling list.
I do enjoy playing longer games where you have you get more decision points. With the aggressive decks in Flesh and Blood, I think you have condensed decision points because the games are shorter but every turn matters a lot. And then when you're playing the slower more controlling decks your decisions still matter throughout the game, but also the way you build your deck. When you're playing a control deck, every card choice is more likely to come up over the course of a longer game, because you see more of your deck- or in the case of Flesh and Blood, you see your whole deck multiple times in some games, and that's always really appealed to me. I like taking my own spin on decks, and changing cards to address certain issues the deck has, or in my opinion, make them better. And when you're playing a more controlling slower deck, you're more likely to see those changes made."
With this in mind, I asked Michael what some of his favorite cards were for each of his winning decks. While Oldhim and Bravo are both Guardian control decks, the playstyle of each is slightly different — but Michael's initial answer was the same for both decks.
"So I want to say Crown of Seeds, but it's kind of a cop-out answer, because you're gonna see your equipment all the time, no matter what deck you play. I do really like that Crown of Seeds lets you cycle cards back into your deck without having to pitch them, so it's a way to easily put your red cards into your second cycle without having to pitch them, because it's inefficient to pitch red cards for resources.
Going back to the Oldhim deck, I really liked the inclusion of the yellow Autumn's Touch, because it's not a very powerful card on its own. It's just the card that blocks for three, it doesn't attack particularly well, you don't really want to pitch yellows when you have so many blues you can pitch instead. But what it did do was when you played Oldhim's defense reaction, you could pitch the yellow Autumn's Touch and then pitch a blue Ice card, get both effects, and still have two extra resources left over to use Crown [of Seeds] and Rampart [of the Ram's Head], and I think that brought a lot of power to the deck, where you could turn that yellow Autumn's Touch into basically two life and two resources."
Looking forward to the Pro Tour, Michael hasn't played many games, 'resting a little bit' after playing so frequently in preparation for the Calling: Indianapolis.
"But I have been talking about the game, thinking about the game, even writing about the game. I wrote an article for the Rathe Times."
Michael Hamilton and Pheano Black in the final match of the Calling: Indianapolis
What is he looking forward to the most?
"Seeing people that are really passionate about the game, doing everything they can to prepare themselves for a big tournament that they want to do well in, play their best, bring their best strategies, I think. The level of competition also rising too, as people get better and better at the game. And looking for another opportunity to play against great players.
There are a few people I'm looking forward to playing with, more than I could really list, but I think the biggest one is Tariq Patel. He beat me three times in Cincinnati, and I haven't gotten a chance to play him since then. So that's my number one target. I'd also really like a chance to play against Matt Rogers, because we've been in three different Callings together and still I've never played against him."
There are a number of parallels when it comes to the Pro Tour: New Jersey and the US National Championship. Both are invite-only events that also feature two main open tournaments — the National Championship had a Calling and a Pro Quest, which was the equivalent of the Battle Hardened that will be held alongside the Calling in New Jersey. At Cincinnati, Michael lost to Tariq Patel in the semi-finals; two weeks later, in Orlando, Tariq won the National Championship, and Michael won the Calling, earning a PTI that he used to register for the Pro Tour.
There will be many players who will be entering the Calling and Battle Hardened events, much like Michael did in Orlando, hoping to earn a PTI for future invite-only events. There will also be players for whom the Calling: New Jersey is their first major competitive Flesh and Blood event, as the Calling: Cincinnati was for Michael. What advice does he have for players attending the Calling and Battle Hardened?
"Put the time in to prepare yourself and give yourself your best shot at doing well. But it's also important to make sure you're having fun. In the end, it's a game, and competing in the game is very fun, but it is a game so just make sure you're enjoying it."
Finally, looking back on his journey in Flesh and Blood, I asked Michael what his favorite moment has been so far.
"Probably winning the Calling: Orlando, because I really enjoy doing my own thing and not really falling into public opinion. When everyone said Briar was the best deck, I'm like, 'well, I can bring a deck that, in my opinion, counters Briar,' and I got to prove it, I guess, and that was just a really satisfying experience. Winning my first big Flesh and Blood event was also very rewarding."
"Big shout-out to my best friend Roger Bodee, who taught me the game and talked me into flying to Orlando, and helped me realize the power of both Turn Timber and Stalagmite that ended up being in my Starvo deck at Indianapolis. And also- gosh, there's so many people I want to shout out- Ben Hannon. He was the one that first showed me the control Starvo list. I played Oldhim against him, and he beat me up pretty bad, and I was like, okay, that's the deck. That's the deck. I gotta work on that one. He also very, very nicely gave me grief about registering Oldhim in Indianapolis. 'Yeah, everyone thinks Michael is gonna do well, but he's gonna register Oldhim'. He talked me into playing Starvo instead.
I want to also thank the whole Indianapolis Flesh and Blood community. There's a lot of great players here and everyone's really supportive and trying to get better, and I appreciate having a nice community to play with and talk with."