Armchair Quarterback – A #FABDad’s Review of US Nationals 2023

US Nationals 2023

Hello hello, my fabulous FAB friends! Welcome back to another Armchair Quarterback Tournament Review! Today we’re looking at the stats and standings from the US National Championship that took place this past weekend, and very briefly touching on the stats from Calling: Las Vegas. The information I’ll be using for this article comes from the official live blog and the coverage provided by Star City Games on their Twitch channel.

The Stats We Really Want to Know

Day One

According to the live blog, US Nationals 2023 in Las Vegas, NV now holds the record for the largest Flesh and Blood National Championship so far, based on total attendance with 522 players looking to claim the Champion’s trophy and $10,000 grand prize. All of the currently legal Classic Constructed heroes were represented at the event during the day one constructed portion of Swiss.

To the surprise of nobody who’s followed the recent metagame trends, Lexi, Livewire was the most represented hero registered at the event with 117 total players, or 22.4% of the field. Iyslander, Stormbind (64), Dromai, Ash Artist (63), Bravo, Showstopper (57), and Briar, Warden of Thorns (48) were the next most heavily represented heroes and combined with Lexi made up 66.9% of all heroes registered.

Day Two

A total of 248 players kept the championship dream alive and made it to day two. The top five converting heroes were the same most popular heroes from day one – Lexi, Livewire with 68 out of 117 players making the cutoff, 35 out of 63 total for Dromai, Ash Artist, 29 of 48 Briar, Warden of Thorns pilots made it, 26 of 57 Bravo, Showstopper, and only 23 out of 64 Iyslander, Stormbind made it to Sunday.

To any content creators out there, I’d love to hear about the singleton Arakni, Huntsman that made it to day two or from any of the four (total) players that made it with Vynnset, Iron Maiden and/or Prism, Awakener of Sol. The only hero that did not manage to push a representative into day two was Riptide, Lurker of the Deep.

Day Three/Top Eight

Finally, the heroes left standing for the top eight cut at the end of the 14 rounds of Swiss (eight rounds of Classic Constructed, six Monarch draft) were as follows:

1st Place- Briar, Warden of Thorns (Charles Dunn)
2nd Place- Lexi, Livewire (Evan Herndon)
3rd Place- Iyslander, Stormbind (Lucas Oswald)
4th Place- Dromai, Ash Artist (Pheano Black)
5th Place- Lexi, Livewire (Craig Krempels)
6th Place- Briar, Warden of Thorns (Matt Kohls)
7th Place- Lexi, Livewire (Michael Hamilton)
8th Place- Iyslander, Stormbind (Daniel Rutkowski)

Stats From Calling: Las Vegas

There’s a lot to cover for US Nationals, so unfortunately this is going to be very bare bones. I really wish there had been a separate stream done for the Calling so I could give it its own review article, but alas, we had no such stream.

A total of 599 players registered for the event, playing eight rounds of Classic Constructed on Saturday and another five rounds on Sunday before the cut to top eight. The top five heroes represented were Lexi, Livewire (111), Dromai, Ash Artist (73), Bravo, Showstopper(63), Iyslander, Stormbind (50), and my main man Katsu, the Wanderer (35).

All of the legal heroes were once again ready to go at the start of the Calling, but four of them did not make the cut to day two. Vynnset, Iron Maiden, Ser Boltyn, Breaker of Dawn, Riptide, Lurker of the Deep, and Arakni, Huntsman all failed to secure the six wins needed to keep playing in the second half of the tournament on Sunday. According to the live blog, a staggering 40% of the day two field consisted of Lexi pilots.

The top eight of Calling: Las Vegas 2023 featured four Lexi, Livewire, two Dromai, Ash Artist, one Bravo, Showstopper, and one Uzuri, Switchblade. Yuki Lee Bender once again proved herself a talented Lexi main, eventually claiming the trophy, gold foil Crown of Providence, and the lion’s share of the $20,000 prize pool with the Elemental Ranger.

Now, on to the main event!

US Nats Round by Round Breakdown – Day One

Considering that the Monarch Limited format is no longer relevant as of the conclusion of Nationals season, I’ll be focusing exclusively on the Classic Constructed feature matches for the round by round break down. To anyone who’s more interested in the Limited portion of the event than the constructed portion, my apologies.

Round One

I honestly feel a little sorry for Michael Hamilton at this point. He always seems to be the first person the coverage team picks to put on camera in the first round of whatever event he happens to attend. As much as I enjoy watching the defending U.S. and World Champion play, it has to be a little frustrating for him to have the first feature match of the event highlight you and your deck. Michael played Lexi, Livewire and he had a hiccup during the game, showing that even a world champion can make mistakes and is not immune to the first-round jitters. He missed the timing on his Snapdragon Scalers, or forgot to declare that he activated them, and continued the combat chain past where he needed an action point near the end of the game. The game state was rewound by the judges, and the game continued with no further problems, but it didn’t help his opponent much. That opponent, Sebastian Burnham on Iyslander, Stormbind stayed behind throughout the whole game and, despite the misplay, Michael Hamilton remained firmly in control of the matchup all the way to the win, finishing the game with a healthy life difference.

Round Two

In round two we saw the man behind the camera for Savage Feats, Ethan Van Sant, piloting the hero he’s most famous for, Levia, Shadowborn Abomination, against Jesus Montijo on Fai, Rising Rebellion. Brutes traditionally tend to struggle into Fai due to his consistent (nearly constant) output of damage and their lack of relevant disruption, and this match was no exception. The fiery Ninja came out swinging and this game went very quickly in Fai’s favor. Snatch at the end of the combat chain put Levia low enough to die to her own blood debt and Jesus walked away with the victory.

Round Three

The winter storm continued in round three as Majin Bae, piloting Iyslander, Stormbind, faced off against another Levia, Shadowborn Abomination in the hands of Josef Mendez. Iyslander was able to work her primary game plan and walk Levia’s life total down with her own. As the casters pointed out, if you’re even on life totals against the wizards of FAB, you’re actually falling behind. The game was more or less over when Josef flipped over a Beast Within from the top of the deck due to Pulping‘s draw then discard effect while he was at 14 life though. Going to 13 life from the Beast Within trigger kept Levia from transforming into either of her demi-hero forms due to the small amount of blood debt cards in banish and Iyslander put her out of her misery a few turns later with the normal Wizard/Storm Striders shenanigans.

Round Four

The last round of Classic Constructed for day one featured Levi Rauch piloting Azalea, Ace in the Hole against Andrew Rudin piloting one of Azalea’s worst matchups in the form of Dromai, Ash Artist. Levi is known as one of the most prominent Azalea players in the American scene and managed to play this game flawlessly, showing that even an unfavored matchup doesn’t mean unwinnable. Life totals remained close until the final turns, when Dromai took damage down to one after a Bloodrot Pox trigger and Codex of Frailty showed us why it commands such a hefty price tag. The final arrow was sent across to Dromai, getting over blocks for the last point of damage that Azalea needed for lethal and Levi got the fist bump from Andrew.

Round by Round – Day Two

Round Eleven

After six rounds of Monarch draft to break up the Classic Constructed action, the first feature match with adult heroes in day two continued the onslaught of Ice cards with two players sitting at a 9-1 record. Pro Tour: Baltimore Champion Michael Feng on Lexi, Livewire took on the master of fatigue strategies, Charles Dunn on Briar, Warden of Thorns. It looks like despite Oldhim, Grandfather of Eternity leaving the format, Charles decided that activating Crown of Seeds was still his favorite thing to be doing in Classic Constructed. Lexi threw everything up to and including the kitchen sink at her opponent trying to get over the defensive mastery of Charles. Once Briar was down to three life though, Charles seemed to find all the answers for everything Michael had until there was nothing left in his deck or on the round timer. Based on the board state, Michael conceded the round to Charles and offered the handshake along with the win.

Round Twelve

We got another unexpected break from our icy overlords in this round as Pheano Black with Dromai, Ash Artist took on Nicholas Porter with Dorinthea, Ironsong in the 9-2 bracket. Both players were still live for the top eight cut (for the moment), so the stakes were high as the finish line was looming. Pheano stayed in command throughout the game and the Dawnblade of Dorinthea was forced to clean up dragon after dragon to keep from getting overwhelmed. Unfortunately for Nicholas, the Dawnblade counters didn’t help at all as the dragons just kept spawning until they eventually ate Dori whole and Dromai/Pheano took another step towards the national title.

Round Thirteen

Pheano Black and Dromai, Ash Artist returned in this round to face Daniel Rutkowski on Iyslander, Stormbind. This match was the usual grindy affair we’ve come to expect of a Dromai vs Iyslander game. Daniel couldn’t quite put Pheano within Iyslander’s maximum kill range despite using every tool in her arsenal and wasn’t able to find enough breathing room to get any kind of foothold in the final turns. Dromai finished off the ice queen (for now), and Pheano walked away with back-to-back feature match wins.

Round Fourteen

In the final round of Swiss for the US National Championship, Michael Hamilton returned with Lexi, Livewire, this time facing off against Oren Yishai and Bravo, Showstopper. The defending champ was determined to make it to the final cut and have a chance at back-to-back Nationals wins, but Oren’s Bravo did not make it easy. Finding opportunities where he could to throw huge dominated attacks and force Michael to play around them, Oren looked good to stop the world champ’s show at several points in the game.

Eventually, with both players within kill range of each other, the big attacks stopped and Oren seemed to switch to a fatigue strategy, hoping to close the game out defensively. Unfortunately for him, Lexi had enough gas left in the tank to close the game out in Michael’s favor in the final moments of the round time and Michael secured his slot in the top eight playoffs.

The Final Rounds/Top Eight Elimination

Each match of the top eight elimination rounds were individually streamed on SCG’s Twitch channel, but in the interest of saving your time and mine, I’m not going to break down each game one at a time like I’ve done for the constructed Swiss rounds. Instead, I’ll highlight one game from the quarterfinals and semifinals that I thought were particularly noteworthy, along with the event’s final game.

Quarterfinals – Game One

Craig Krempels (Lexi) vs Pheano Black (Dromai)

I picked this match of the quarterfinals because it perfectly showcases the incredible power Lexi possesses when she gets on a high roll. I feel pretty confident that everyone who watched this game live felt sorry for Pheano as power card after power card flew from Lexi’s bow and assaulted his Dromai. Craig’s Lexi went off around 21 minutes into the game with a Rain Razors/Three of a Kind turn and managed to sneak a Codex of Frailty into the arsenal with Bolt'n' Shot to circumvent Three of a Kind’s downside. Pheano was forced to block as much damage as he could, committing the majority of his armor and blocking cards early, and the Codex forced him to pitch Tomeltai away to the Flamescale Furnace as it was the last card in his hand and he wanted to avoid the forced discard of such a critical dragon.

Just a couple of turn cycles later, Craig drew another power hand leading with Premeditate, into Rain Razors, into another Three of a Kind, drawing an Art of War to hold or pitch for resources as he saw fit. With Pheano at 21 life and no armor left, the first arrow fired for the turn was a Sedation Shot for ten damage. Pheano went to 14 and then faced a Drill Shot for six next. Pheano opted to take the damage from Drill Shot since the on hit effect was irrelevant and went to eight life, but Craig ended the turn with a Command and Conquer threatening the Command and Conquer Pheano had loaded with the previous Codex of Frailty. He finally gave up two cards to the block and kept a blue to respond with the Command and Conquer on his side. Craig kept up the pressure after that, ignoring the dragons that Pheano tried to develop and just kept going for the kill. A very short time later, Craig and Lexi managed to come out of what’s seen as an unfavorable matchup with a very dominant win.

The other quarterfinals matches were between Charles Dunn (Briar) and Daniel Rutkowski (Iyslander), Evan Herndon (Lexi) and Michael Hamilton (Lexi), and finally Lucas Oswald (Iyslander) and Matt Kohls (Briar.) Charles advanced over Daniel to face Craig in the semifinals, Evan defeated the defending champ in the mirror, and Lucas eliminated Matt to advance and face Evan.

Semifinals – Game Two

Charles Dunn (Briar) vs Craig Krempels (Lexi)

Charles has become somewhat infamous for his love of defensive decks and fatigue strategies and was the king of Swiss going into the top eight as the first seed. This was one of the most intense matches of the entire event, with every turn cycle looking like it could be the last for Charles. With the skill of a true master of the craft though, Charles navigated every turn successfully, chipping away at Craig’s life total in a style very reminiscent of a certain frosty Guardian until Lexi gave up her one point of Arcane Barrier on the Trench of Sunken Treasure.

With Craig at two life, most people would have gotten greedy and tried to force through arcane damage immediately to close the game out, but Charles remained patient, defending himself until an opportunity lined up to send a Runechant with a weapon swing to take a card and put Lexi down to her last point of life. With yet another arrow coming his way, Charles finished the opposing Lexi off with Sigil of Suffering ending the game on the spot thanks to the unblockable arcane damage cheekily taking Craig’s last life point.

In the other semifinals match, Evan Herndon (Lexi) defeated Lucas Oswald (Iyslander) in another flurry of arrows to secure the seat across from Charles in the finals of the US National Championship.

Grand Finals

Charles Dunn (Briar) vs Evan Herndon (Lexi)

At the risk of sounding a little cliché, Charles Dunn arrived in Las Vegas this weekend with two things on his mind: chewing bubblegum and farming Lexis. Apparently, he ran out of bubblegum sometime around the start of the event. Despite Evan’s early onslaught trying to run away with the game and the title, Charles methodically stuck to his bread-and-butter strategy, weathering hit after hit and forcing Evan to play around the Embodiment of Earth auras he was setting up thanks to Briar’s awkward breakpoints. Whenever Evan tried to take a slower turn to set up burst damage, leaving Charles with extra cards in hand, he was punished with a bigger attack coming in, threatening the arsenal or just providing Briar with extra value.

Anthem of Spring created Embodiments as well, thanks to the Unity mechanic from Dusk Till Dawn and Charles managed to prevent any more damage from leaking once he hit 14 life. With only one card left in Charles’ hand after another volley of arrows, Evan set up a Codex and Three of a Kind in arsenal. It seemed he intended to have a massive follow-up turn as a last chance to get over Briar’s defenses, only to have that turn bricked by a perfectly timed Warmonger’s Diplomacy, the final card in hand, that Charles casually dropped on the table.

With one card left in the deck, Evan knew he couldn’t conquer Briar’s defenses and extended the fist bump to Charles, conceding the game. With a roar from the crowd of onlookers that I imagine had the whole building shaking, Charles Dunn claimed the title of US National Champion with Briar, Warden of Thorns!

Viva Las Vegas Coverage!

In the opinion of this humble #FABDad, the stream that we viewers got from SCG was overall well done, with my primary gripe being that I really wish it had been on YouTube instead of Twitch. Because of the length of the stream, there were numerous points where I had to do real life things and missed some of the action. If the stream had been on Youtube, I would have at least been able to keep it playing in the background thanks to YouTube Premium and kept listening to the casters giving the play by play. (I’m not sure if Twitch has the same function with a premium subscription or not. Maybe so, but I’m not paying for another subscription when I’m using YouTube all the time.)

The casting team for the weekend consisted of Sam O’Byrne, Kellen Rosenberger, Brian Gottlieb, Pankaj Bhojwani, and Matt Di Marco. They were all very knowledgeable, stayed focused on the games during the matches, and did a great job of keeping the coverage entertaining over a long weekend of gaming. In particular, Sam O’Byrne continues to impress me with his energy, focus, and passion while casting, and I hope to see more of him at future events. There were a few stream quality “hiccups” on day one that seemed to be more or less resolved by day two (well mostly), and we were able to focus on the game play itself.

Keeping a Promise

I owe a shout out to Baz the Bard who I mistakenly left out of the previous coverage review article I wrote on Calling: Birmingham. Baz was seen on camera between rounds conducting player interviews with each round’s victors and because of the way I focused on the gameplay itself while writing the article, I ended up neglecting to include him in the credits for the event. Every interview we saw Baz do during the Calling was professional, engaging, and very well done. Baz is one of the content creators I watch regularly, especially for the meta results series he does after Skirmishes and other seasonal events, and I look forward to what he will bring to us in the future. I’m sorry for not crediting you last time Baz, but please keep up the great work!

Final Thoughts

What an event. What an incredible showing of amazing talent from every player we saw on camera during this tournament.

Like many players around the world, I’m sure, I leapt from my seat cheering at the end of the final match, the intensity of the moment perfectly expressed by the casters. You could hear the elation of the spectators coming through the screen as the room erupted when Charles and Briar took the final game, pushing the Warden of Thorns into the realm of living legends.

There were rumors, unconfirmed as of the time of writing, that somewhere else in the world, Briar had won a different national title and already claimed the living legend points needed to ascend before Charles won in Vegas. If those rumors are confirmed to be true, congratulations and well done to that player, whoever they may be, but this moment at the US Nationals is exactly the kind of farewell I personally wanted to see for her. A true blaze of glory, televised to the world.

Flesh and Blood is not just an incredible game, but also an incredible experience. I’d like to extend a heartfelt thank you to everyone behind the camera at Star City Games for bringing us the coverage, to everyone on the casting team for constantly being so on point and highlighting every amazing moment, and a very special thank you to James White for creating such a wonderful product.

Did you watch the coverage from home or were you there in the thick of the action? What was your favorite moment of the event, on camera or off? What on Rathe is Viserai going to do now that Rosetta Thorn is officially leaving with Briar? Feel free to drop a comment here or hit me up on Discord/Twitter (“X”) as Dracohominis87 to share your thoughts!

Donnie is an enthusiastic nerd and family man who grew up playing TCGs, starting when Pokemon cards were the hottest thing on the playground. After playing Yu-gi-oh and then Magic the Gathering for years, he found Flesh and Blood in December of '22, sold all of his other pretty cardboard rectangles, and dived into FAB head first where he discovered a deep love for go-wide strategies involving the use of Ninja cards. Be Like Water is his current favorite card, because he gets to do a terrible Bruce Lee impression every time it's played. (Much to the annoyance of his brother who hears it a lot.) Donnie has been married to his lovely wife since Halloween 2008 and has two beautiful daughters that he couldn't be more proud of.