The Path to Greatness: US National Champs

10th Nov 2021 Nicola Price

On Friday, November 5th, the forecast of rain didn't stop players from gathering at the Orange County Convention Centre in Orlando, Florida, ready for the United States National Championship to begin.


The country's second-largest convention centre, players gathered in the West Concourse Hall, both more seasoned and newer players prepared for battle after a busy season of organised play. The journey to US Nationals has been a long one, as we navigated the process of the world slowly opening back up over the course of 2021.

Skirmish tournaments were the focus of Organised Play for the first part of 2021. As Flesh and Blood started to grow in popularity, this series presented many players with their first opportunity to participate in higher level OP and to practice their skills in the competitive scene. We saw the rise of a new breed of content creators, with players such as Rob Cygul and Davis Kingsley getting deep into the coverage and analysis of the seasons as they progressed. We also saw the rise of international collaboration; Hayden Dale (Australia) of Arsenal Pass teamed up with international players Matt Rogers (New Zealand), Dante Delfico (Canada), and Eugene Phua (Singapore) to develop an Ira build that took first and second place wins across the board.

The Road to Nationals season saw a switch to Classic Constructed, with Chane, Prism and Boltyn putting up a considerable number of wins through the season, alongside established heroes such as Katsu, Bravo, Dash, and Dorinthea. Arsenal Pass host Brendan Patrick managed to take out no fewer than four Road to Nationals events over the course of the season, while Joe Colon, Dagan White, Alex Keeler, Kyle Waple and Sebastiano Cavallo also managed to rack up wins on their path to the Calling series.

Then in August, for the first time since 2019, the Calling returned to the United States, brought about with the help of ChannelFireball, who stepped up to host a high-level competitive play event series, culminating in the US National Championship.

The Calling: Las Vegas came hand-in-hand with the worldwide premiere of the newest set release, Tales of Aria, ushering in three new heroes to upset the meta. The world premiere opened with 877 players, the largest Flesh and Blood event to date. As Lexi, Briar and Oldhim took the spotlight at Friday's premiere event, it was it was triple threat commentary team Tannon Grace, RedZoneRogue, and DMArmada who ushered in the first Calling event of the season. The event saw long-standing community members, experienced players, newcomers, content creators, and cosplayers congregate in the convention centre's hall, prepared to pick up their weapons and join the battlefield.

On Saturday, the event dawned on 750 players, ready to fight at the Calling. The established heroes of the Road to Nationals season showed up to the fight, with Chane, Katsu, Bravo, Prism, Dorinthea, Dash and Boltyn storming the field. Some of the year's most established players, such as Joe Colon and Sebastiano Cavallo, fought their way to the Top 8, but it was relative newcomer Tyler Horspool who ended up taking the win.

Tyler harnessed the power of the Light with Prism, facing off against Sebastiano Cavallo in the final, displaying strong metagame nous and tight play to seize the first win of the Calling season! Meanwhile big names faced off in the ProQuest, where the likes of Brendan Patrick, Rob Cygul and Team Covenant's Zach Bunn and Steven Wooley lined up in the field, with Brishen James ultimately taking out the event.

Tyler Horspool - Champion of The Calling Las Vegas

Tyler Horspool, winner of the Calling: Las Vegas

The second Calling event saw 502 players turn out at the Calling: Dallas Fort-Worth. This event ran a Tales of Aria sealed deck format, with players having to construct decks around the three brand new heroes, fighting for their seat at the drafting table.

In the top 32, a number of names emerged, both familiar and brand new. Alex Keeler, Brendan Patrick, Nam Vo and Michael Feng battled their way to a second consecutive Day 2 alongside world number one ranked player Matt Rogers and a little known player by the name of Tariq Patel. Nam Vo of The Card Guyz, teammate of Sebastiano Cavallo, went against the grain and played Oldhim three times on his way into the Top 8, and then found himself being the only player to draft the Guardian in the Top 8 as well. He faced off against Nick Zimmerman in the final, with Oldhim outlasting the ranger Lexi to take the title.

Meanwhile, at the ProQuest event, player Jack McHalffey picked up the mantle of the Light, taking Prism through into the finals to face off against Jasiel Diez, who'd previously won a Skirmish event and placed in the top four of a Road to Nationals tournament. Jack's Prism won a hard-fought battle against Jasiel's experienced Bravo.

TC Dallas Winner Nam Vo

Nam Vo, winner of the Calling: Dallas Fort-Worth

Just a week later, the Calling: Cincinnati got underway. Tannon Grace was joined in the coverage booth by Rob Cygul and Andy Joseph, better known to players as @GarbageAndy.

549 players joined the fray for the main event, which was once again Tales of Aria limited. Over half the field picked up the mantle of runeblade as a young Briar, Warden of Thorns, and after eight rounds of sealed, only Tariq Patel and Andrew Yauger went undefeated. Once again, the day two cut featured Matt Rogers, Michael Feng, Tariq Patel, and another familiar face from the Skirmish seasons, Chris Ray.

Matt Rogers, the NZ National Champion of 2020, fell to Michael Feng's Oldhim in the semi-finals, while Tariq Patel's Briar deck cut Michael Hamilton down to make his way to the final round of the event. Michael Feng froze out Briar to come out on top, taking his well-deserved victory as the winner of the Calling: Cincinnati.

The ProQuest saw Brendan Patrick and Christopher Higashi narrowly miss out on the finals, with Stewart McGirt's Bravo and Alex Keeler's Chane going head-to-head in a battle between Aria and the Demonastery. This was Christopher Higashi's second consecutive place in the Top 8 of a ProQuest, having made waves as Katsu in the event at the Calling: Dallas Fort-Worth. Stewart McGirt took the spotlight with a stunning 9-0 finish, winning the Pro Quest event and a PTI for the Nationals.


Michael Feng, winner of the Calling: Cincinnati

And so finally, after months of playtesting, deckbuilding, competing, discussion and sleepless nights, players were welcomed to the National Championships on that rainy morning by the full coverage team; DMArmada, RedZoneRogue, Tannon Grace, Matt di Marco, and Matt Rogers.

In one weekend, the event featured not only the US National Championship, but also the Calling: Orlando, a ProQuest event and a full suite of Classic Constructed, Sealed Deck, Blitz and even Ultimate Pit Fight side events, with a combined $60,000 cash prize pool on the table.

At 10am sharp, a booster draft kicked off the National Championship event, with three rounds to be followed by Classic Constructed. Those who survived the Day 2 cut would see another three rounds of booster draft, followed by another five rounds of Classic Constructed.

Draft Begins US National Championship.jpg

414 players cracked some packs for the opening of the National Championship, competing for their spot on the Day 2 cut. Twitch coverage began with Tannon Grace and Matt Rogers before the camera, discussing the state of the meta, the weekend to come, and the first draft of the Championship.

Screenshot 2021-11-09 160752.png

The Classic Constructed metagame got interesting, with some of the year's standout heroes taking their place at the top of the breakdown. Briar, Bravo, Katsu and Prism have all been big players throughout the Classic Constructed meta this year, with Bravo's defence lining up against Briar's aggression as one of the key matchups in the meta game. This was similar to the field from the week before at the UK Nationals, where Briar decks had performed well, taking down Guardian in the final.

Against that backdrop, the meta game breakdown for the US Nationals was as follows;

US National Championship CC Hero Breakdown.png

Players needed four wins to make it through to day two of the Championship, and with Tales of Aria shaking up the meta, the varied field still had plenty of room to experience new deck builds and match ups. In all, 42% of players survived the cut, with 174 players preparing for another round of booster draft. Of the entire field, the only undefeated player on day one was Tariq Patel, who previously took 2nd place at The Calling: Cincinnati. Players who came out of the event with 7 wins included:

  • Brishen Jaimes
  • Joe Colon
  • Daniel Rutkowski
  • Jacob Baugh
  • Craig Krempels
  • Tyler Green
  • Heath Scheiman
  • John Siadak
  • Nick Gabler
  • Will Laystrom
  • Matt Pollitt
  • Michael Dalton
  • Spencer Freeman

As day two of the event dawned and Championship players took their seats for another draft, not all players could survive the day one battles to draft again. Brendan Patrick, Alex Laplume, Jimmy Le, Hayden Dale, Alex Keeler, Sebastiano Cavallo and Kyle Waple all joined the 526 players diving into the Calling event, competing for prize money and a PTI to use at future professional-level events... perhaps something in 2022?

Meanwhile, with the second day of the National Championship underway, players had until the end of the day to make it past the cut once again, and take their place in the Top 8. By the end of Round 12, the standings were clear cut, revealing which players had a good shot at fighting their way to day three. Craig Krempels was leading the charge on 11 wins, with Tariq Patel, Jacob Baugh, Tyler Horspool, Cody Williams, Michael Feng, Oliver Phi, Isaac Jessen, and Dagan White close behind on 10.


Top 8: Tariq Patel, Jacob Baugh, Michael Feng, Tyler Horspool, Cody Williams, John Siadak, Dagan White, and Isaac Jessen.

By the time Day 2 drew to a close, 16 rounds of FAB had been played in all. Standing clear at the end of an exhausting two days were a number of players whose names had emerged throughout the year. Former champions Tyler Horspool and Michael Feng featured in the top 8, as did fellow previous Calling finalist Tariq Patel. Both John Siadak and Cody Williams just barely missed out on top 8 cuts at previous Calling events; Dagan White broke into the top 8 after almost a year of Skirmish and Road to Nationals events; after missing out on the top 64 cut at the three previous Calling events, Jacob Baugh claimed his place in the top 8 with a perfect 6-0 draft record; finally, Isaac Jessen of the Attack Action podcast fought his way into the top 8 after a year of hard work, swapping from his usual Levia deck to Ice Lexi to counter the Briar heavy metagame.

The Calling Orlando.jpg

As Day Three began, and the Top 8 began their final battles for the title of National Champion, the Calling's top cut was ready to begin their final day of games, and the ProQuest event was underway.

64 players qualified for the second day of the Calling, including Matt Rogers, Hayden Dale, Brendan Patrick, Alex Keeler, Alex Laplume, and Sebastiano Cavallo. The fight had begun for their place in the Top 8, and with such a wide variety of players on the field, the final cut was anyone's guess.

The ProQuest event saw 232 players join the fray for their chance at a Pro Tour Invitation, including Nam Vo, winner of the Calling: Dallas Fort-Worth; Eric Dauernnheim, who broke into the Top 8 of the Calling: Dallas, and didn't survive the Top 8 cut at Cincinnati; Joshua Lau, who finished in the Top 8 of the Calling: Dallas ProQuest tournament; and finally Zach Bunn, a member of Team Covenant.

After attending all four US Calling events, and a long history in Flesh and Blood, Zach's hard work paid off, securing a well-deserved victory against Chris Brumett in the final match of the ProQuest event.

US Orlando ProQuest Top 8.jpg

ProQuest Top 8 (Sealed Deck / Booster Draft):

1. Zach Bunn - Briar
2. Chris Brummett - Briar
3-4. John Asbach - Oldhim
3-4. George Ferris - Oldhim
5-8. Ryan Goldfinger - Briar
5-8. Gambone Ciro - Lexi
5-8. Daylon Mack - Briar
5-8. Ryan Baker - Briar

US Orlando ProQuest Winner Zach Bunn.jpg

Meanwhile, at the Calling event, a strong field of players had made it through to the Top 8. Canadian Dante Delfico couldn't participate in the US Nationals, managed to take his Briar deck through to the Calling break. Michael Hamilton made it back-to-back Top 8's after having made the semi-finals of the Calling Cincinnati two weeks, and Matt Rogers - winner of the Calling: Auckland 2021, and 2020 NZ National Champion - also made the break.

US Orlando Calling Top 8

After going out in the semi-finals at Cincinnati, Michael Hamilton managed to push his Oldhim deck through to the final of the Calling Orlando, facing down Joel Repta's Briar. Michael successfully picked the shift in the meta game towards Briar decks, and packed an equipment set featuring double nullrune plus Rampart of the Ram's Head, plus a slew of ice cards to slow the Runeblade decks down. In a tight final match, Michael managed to lock Joel's deck down for long enough to grind out the damage, then once he reached striking distance managed to set up a dominated Glacial Footsteps to claim the title of champion at the final US Calling for 2021.

US Orlando Calling Winner Michael Hamilton

The Calling Top 8 (Classic Constructed):

1. Michael Hamilton - Oldhim, Grandfather of Eternity
2. Joel Repta - Briar, Warden of Thorns
3-4. Matt Rogers - Viserai, Rune Blood
3-4. Joshua Kehe - Chane, Bound by Shadow
5-8. Dante Delfico - Briar, Warden of Thorns
5-8. Jordan Nelle - Briar, Warden of Thorns
5-8. Jonathan Magnuson - Oldhim, Grandfather of Eternity
5-8. Quinn Wongkew - Bravo, Showstopper

And amongst all the drama of the last day, the National Championship finals were also underway. The players who made the break had good form heading into the knockout rounds. John Siadak came into the Calling series after taking Chane to two Top 4 finishes during the Road to Nationals season. After switching to the Warden of Thorns for the National Championship, he found himself facing Calling: Cincinnati's champion Michael Feng, playing Chane. Likewise, Jacob Baugh found his Briar deck facing off against Cody Williams' Chane deck, and in both matches, the Shadow Runeblade cut through the battle to face each other in the semi-finals.

Isaac Jessen's sole Lexi deck faced Dagan White's Briar. Isaac's deck was the perfect foil for the Top 8, but in a moment of heartbreak, he went in for a Three of a Kind to win the match, but failed to hit an arrow, handing the game to his opponent. Meanwhile while Calling: Cincinnati runner-up Tariq Patel and Calling: Las Vegas champion Tyler Horspool took to the battlefield for a Briar mirror-match. After a year of organised play events, Dagan claimed his spot in the semi-finals, facing off against Tariq, who beat the Calling champion to take his shot at the Championship.

The double mirror-match semi-finals saw Shadow vs Shadow, Elemental vs Elemental, with only one Chane and one Briar able to make it through to the final match of the three-day event.

US Nationals Top 8 Breakdown

Michael Feng and Tariq Patel previously battled in the final match of the Calling: Cincinnati, where Michael's Oldhim felled Tariq's Briar deck. Facing off once more at the final of the US National Championship, the stakes were high, with Tariq's Briar going up against Michael's Chane in a Runeblade vs. Runeblade rematch, with the prize becoming the first US National Champion.

After months of hard work, the tension was palpable as Michael and Tariq fought for the title. Both of them played extremely tight games, managing their life carefully to try and deal with Scar for a Scar and Arcane Skullcap. In the penultimate round of the game, Michael dropped to on life from his Carrion Husk, and Tariq blocked heavily but also skilfully, going to one life himself and switching off Michael's Skullcap, his only source of Arcane Barrier. With one card left in hand, and one in arsenal, Tariq pitched to activate his Grasp of the Arknight, created a Runechant token, and then flipped up a Snatch from arsenal to trigger the arcane damage. With his Skullcap inactive, Michael had no answer, and with a fist bump to finish things, Tariq Patel became the inaugural US National Champion, while a visibly devastated Michael Feng leaned back in his chair, contemplating where he could have saved the one extra life point.

Screenshot 2021-11-10 095751.png

In all it was an incredible run from Tariq Patel. He had been unable to make the Road to Nationals qualifiers due to work commitments, and had only qualified for US Nationals by cashing in his PTI from his 2nd place at the Calling: Cincinnati. It was also well deserved; Tariq is one of the key architects of the Lightning Briar deck, the meta game deck of the season to date. In the space of a few short weeks, Tariq has shown himself to be a master of limited play, constructed play and deck design.

Tariq Patel US National Champion

US Nationals Top 8 (Classic Constructed / Booster Draft):

1. Tariq Patel - Briar, Warden of Thorns
2. Michael Feng - Chane, Bound by Shadow
3-4. Cody Williams - Chane, Bound by Shadow
3-4. Dagan White - Briar, Warden of Thorns
5-8. John Siadak - Briar, Warden of Thorns
5-8. Jacob Baugh - Briar, Warden of Thorns
5-8. Isaac Jessen - Lexi, Livewire
5-8. Tyler Horspool - Briar, Warden of Thorns

And so the US Nationals was a wrap. Briar and Chane took an unprepared meta game by storm, and a mix of patience and hard work ultimately led to success for the tournament finalists. However, the tectonic plates of the meta game have already started shifting, and the Ice heroes are starting to show that there are answers out there too. Thank you to all the players who have been part of the Flesh and Blood organised play scene across the United States over the course of this year. It's been amazing to see the game grow and evolve, and for the community to build to the stage that it is now at. We hope that you've enjoyed the year of OP in the US, and that you'll get a chance to close out the year with the upcoming season of Skirmish events starting this weekend!