FNM Hero: Defeat and Despair

Written by Jonathan Medina on . Posted in Competitive Magic, FNM

FNM Hero: Defeat and Despair

Jonathan Medina

Jonathan has written for gatheringmagic.com and starcitygames.com (as a premium columnist). He captivated the Magic community as he chronicled his journey to trade a single pack up to a piece of power nine. Now you can find him here every week as he tells his FNM Hero adventure.

I watched the clock at work like a kid waiting for summer vacation to begin. I couldn’t wait to start my new project, FNM Hero (for a reminder of the rules, check out my first article). My first stop was Illuminaudi Cards in West Chester, Ohio. I talked to Jamie beforehand (the guy who runs FNM) and he said he’d cut me a deal on one of the event decks. My plan was to get the deck and some of the other cards that I needed, then head up to Epic Loot in Centerville Ohio for their 7pm FNM.

I wanted to play FNM at Epic Loot because their prize payouts are insane! For example, a few weeks ago, first got $120, second got $100, and they even paid below top eight. I don’t know how far down they paid since I split first that week but I get the feeling that the “below-top-8” payout is going to become very relevant to me.

The clock at work hit 5pm and I couldn’t pack my laptop fast enough.

“See you guys Monday” I shouted back to my co-workers. They wished me well and I shot down the hall to the elevator. I always take the service elevator because it’s closer to the hallway but it typically takes 2 minutes longer to arrive at my floor (how’s that for logic). As I waited, I pulled off my tie and slid it into my laptop bag.

It always feels funny making the transition from the corporate world of neckties and leather briefcases to a world of binders and trading cards. It’s like I step through a portal where it’s ok to do things like play a “children’s card game” for 10 straight hours, trash talk my friends and stuff my face with Frisco Melts from Steak and Shake. I’m not sure why, but I love stepping through this portal. Maybe it’s me re-claiming the childhood that I felt ended too quickly or maybe I’m in a state of Arrested Development (good show). Whatever the reason, FNM is where I blow off steam.

Starting Amount: $100

The drive to Illuminaudi to purchase my event deck was about 15 minutes from work. Parking is always a nightmare, so I parked behind the shop to make for an easy exit. When I walked in, I surveyed the area for Jamie.

“Dammit, no Jamie,” I thought to myself.

I knew that getting a deal on the event deck would be much harder with the store owner, John. Don’t get me wrong. John’s a laid back kind of guy but he doesn’t like to wheel and deal like Jamie does. I walked up to the counter to try my luck.

“Hey John, what kind of deal can you give me on these event decks?”

I did a double-take at the prices on the boxes. The decks had been re-priced since the last time I was in the store. Previously, they were both $14. Now, Spiraling Doom was $16 and Gleeful Flames was $18. These mini blow-outs are unfortunately going to be a theme for the day.

“How many do you want?” John answered back.

“Just one.”

“I can do $15.”

“Wow, what a deal!” I thought to myself sarcastically.

“Ok, I’ll take the green/black one. I’m going to pilfer your commons and uncommons too.”

I figured that I’d pick up the small cards that I needed here so that I wouldn’t have to rely on Epic Loot having them in-stock when I got to FNM. I searched through the boxes of commons and uncommons for Tragic SlipGo for the Throat, Gnaw to the Bone and other miscellaneous cards for my deck. Things were going well until I pulled the box labeled “Dark Ascension” out of the shelf. As I thumbed through the box I found a bunch of 8th edition (and other Core Set) cards but no Dark Ascension.

“Hey John, where are the Dark Ascension commons?” I asked.

“They should be in the boxes,” John replied.

This is one of those moments where you want to sarcastically proclaim the obvious fact just to show the person that their answer was completely unhelpful. It would go something like this:

“Really John… in these boxes, the ones that you’ve watched me go through for the last half an hour?! Perhaps they’re in this box that I’m holding labeled Dark Ascension! OH WAIT, they’re not there! Maybe that’s why I asked you where they were!”

End Sarcastic Rant. Maybe I should have communicated better; I could have lead with what I said next, instead:

“The box that says Dark Ascension is really just a bunch of Core Set cards,” I explained.

John shrugged and went back to whatever he was doing on the computer–probably fake poker or something. I pulled all the non-Dark Ascension cards that I needed and interrupted John again.

“How much are your Go for the Throats?”

He punched some keys on the keyboard. I assumed that he was checking Star City.

“$2”, He said.

“Alright, give me two of those, the event deck and this crap.” I pushed the stack of commons toward him. He shuffled over to the display case that had the black cards. I heard the clank of plastic cases for a couple of minutes before he looked up at me with embarrassment.

“I’m out of Go for the Throats.”

Not looking good for our Hero. This phrase would play in my head, over and over again all night.

“Ok”, I motioned back to the pile on the counter. “Can you ring this up?”

-$18, New Total $82

I was running short on time so I’d have to hold my breath and hope to get the Go for the Throats and Tragic Slips at Epic Loot. I took my new stack of cards and jumped in the car. I was unreasonably excited. I wanted to rip the box open and thumb through the deck even though I already know every single card. It was nice to know that the sense of wonder and the love of opening product hadn’t totally left me. For the drive to Epic Loot, I blasted “When We Ride on Our Enemies” by Tupac while I dreamed about destroying my opponents with Strangleroot Geist.

The 25 minute drive felt like 5 minutes and before I knew it, I was looking at the welcoming purple sign of “Epic Loot”. I had about 20 minutes until FNM, but I still had to buy cards and sleeve my deck. I wandered over to the wall of sleeves by the cash register. First I looked at my preferred KMC Rose Sleeves.

“$7 a pack. WTF?” I mumbled to myself.

At that rate, sleeves would cost me $14 for two packs to cover my deck and sideboard. I contemplated the KMC sleeves for a moment, but I couldn’t pull the trigger with my meager FNM Hero budget. I moved to the “cheaper” sleeves:  plain black Ultra Pro sleeves.

“$3 a pack! Wow, I never realized that sleeves were expensive,” I thought to myself.

It was starting to look like I was going to play bareback. I didn’t want to do that because it would damage the cards and I might need to trade these later on to “stay alive.” I didn’t have much of a choice since I can’t pay $6 for sleeves; that’s a whole FNM entry fee!

I moved on from the sleeve wall and went to buy the cards that I needed. I was really cutting it close for time, so I decided to ask about the singles instead of looking for them.

“Do you have Tragic Slips?”

The cashier behind the counter answered cheerfully, “Yes we do!”

“Alright, I’ll take four and 2 Go For the Throat.”

I paused for a second then asked, “How much are the Tragic Slips?” as an afterthought.

“$1”

“For the set?” I asked.

“No, apiece.”

My mind was blown. Are you effing kidding me?! These are less than a quarter on Legit MTG.

“Can you do anything about the price?”

The cashier looked at me apologetically. “We can’t keep these in stock. Sorry.”

I have to admit, I was getting a bit overwhelmed. How am I supposed to win this challenge when I have to pay $4 for a playset of commons. My facial expression must have been frozen in time while I thought about the long road ahead, because the cashier had to bring me back to reality.

“All I have are French Go for the Throats, is that ok?”

“That’s fine.” Maybe I could trade them for English ones and net a few cents in value as well.

“Is that all?” the cashier asked.

“Do you have penny sleeves?” I figured why not take a shot.

“Yes, we do.” The cashier reached under the counter.

This was the best news that I received all night! I didn’t have to play bareback! I felt like doing a fist-pump but instead I contained my excitement. The cashier totaled up my order and then put the damage on the stack.

“That will be $14.63.”

-$14.63, New Total $67.37

I sat down at a nearby table with just enough time to make some adjustments and sleeve my deck. I looked over the deck for a couple of minutes and made these changes.

Main Deck

Removed
-1 Skinrender
-2 Diabolic Tutor
-3 Doom Blade
-1 Stingerfling Spider
-1 Morkrut Banshee
-1 Phyrexian Rager
-2 Viridian Emissary

Added
+2 Go For the Throat
+4 Tragic Slip
+2 Nihil Spellbomb
+1 Entomber Exarch
+1 Wakedancer
+1 Perilous Myr

I didn’t have a specific strategy for the modifications since I wasn’t sure what to expect. I thought that I would depend on my “superior” play skill to steal some wins while I got a feel for the deck. Here’s what my deck looked like after the modifications:

Round 1 – UW Humans

Game One

We both started with a mulligan to six. My opponent goes to five and I agonize over my crappy hand. It’s a one-lander and I’d typically mulligan a hand like this but I wasn’t sure how much better my hand could get. I was on the play which means that I wouldn’t get to draw for my first turn. My inner monologue kicked in:

“Jonathan. You’re running an event deck. What kind of hand do you expect?!”

A calming clarity came over me as the monologue continued:

“Your hand sucks but let’s be honest, if you’re going to win this, then it’s going to be because you got lucky! So play to your outs. Get lucky!”

I kept my hand. I played my land and a Young Wolf. I wanted to howl but I didn’t even know if Young Wolf was Howl-worthy (spoiler, it’s not). My opponent played a Plains and passed the turn. I let out a sigh of relief and drew my card.

It was a land! Like a freakin’ boss!

I went on to crush my opponent with Young Wolf beats!! I dealt all 20 points of damage with Young Wolf!

Ok, that last paragraph was all fiction. Here’s what really happened.

I was facing down two Mirran Crusader. My opponent swung. I went “into the tank” but all I found in the proverbial tank was sadness. Sadness about about my deck choice and my life. I blocked one Crusader with the Perilous Myr and after first strike damage I blasted the other one with the Perilous Myr’s two damage ability. I was able to soak up six of the eight damage but now I was completely open to the next swing. I tried to will another Perilous Myr to the top of my deck but instead I drew a not-Perilous Myr. I was killed by a double-striking frown-maker.

I was happy to see that third Perilous Myr in my sideboard and I invited him to join the party in the maindeck. I also boarded in my Skinrender and my Sylvok Replica to kill his Oblivion Ring, Honor of the Pure and to have a blocker for Crusader. I don’t want to give a total account of my sideboarding during my first few articles because I’m pretty sure that I’m clueless.

Game Two

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben showed up and stalled the ground. This chick is pretty mean! I didn’t expect Thalia to affect me because most of my deck is creatures, but it turns out that first strike is pretty relevant against my small, value creatures. My opponent ended up overwhelming me with little white dudes.

0-1

What did I learn?

Hex Parasite is pretty good against Champion of the Parish. In one of the games, I got to remove some counters but I misplayed by waiting too long to do it.

Mirran Crusader is a real card. I would go on to play against a lot of these guys and I really needed a better plan than Perilous Myr.

Round 2 – BW Token Humans

I can tell by my notes that after my severe beating in round one I changed my attitude from, “I’m going to crush these noobs with my event deck, lol!” to, “I’m in trouble; I need to learn everything I can about this deck so that I can become better.”

I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t know what my opponent was playing until game two. I underestimated my opponent because he was in the 0-1 bracket. I figured he was playing BW Human Jank. It turns out that he was playing BW Tokens and I was an idiot.

Game One

He led with a Champion of the Parish into a Gather the Townsfolk. I surveyed the board and played a turn three Viridian Emissary, “How am I going to get out of this?” I thought to myself as I passed the turn. He dropped an Honor of the Pure and bashed. “Well that answer’s my question. I guess I just lose,” I murmured to myself before blocking. I ended up killing the Champion of the Parish a turn later because I didn’t want to take the four damage. My opponent punished me by dropping a Hero of Bladehold. I probably should have grinded more and saved the removal spell for the Hero. I wasn’t long for this world but I still wasn’t tilting yet.

Game Two

I start with a turn two Strangleroot Geist. I was pretty pumped that my mana cooperated this game. He blocked with his Champion of the Parish. I did a fist-pump and screamed, “Thanks, Donk!” Luckily, I only screamed this in the privacy of my own mind. I reached for my dice bag to put a counter on the Geist when my opponent stopped me.

Surgical Extraction on your Geist,” he said.

“You sideboarded Surgical Extraction against my one-of deck!? URRRRRG!” Again, in the privacy of my mind.

Dejected, I laid my hand of cards on the table; he had hit another Geist. My opponent’s face lit up as he sifted through my deck. Remember that part about me not tilting yet? That was no longer true. My opponent handily dispatched all my threats with Go for the Throats and Tragic Slips. He didn’t have any pressure but neither did I, since he was KILLING EVERYTHING! Finally he played an Elspeth Tirel and I made a series of mistakes (only a few of which are captured here):

First, I spent four turns trying to kill the Elspeth, when I could have just tutored up a Hex Parasite by sacrificing a token with Birthing Pod. I figured this out mid-turn and decided to do it when I had no mana to activate the Parasite. Naturally, my opponent killed it with removal spell number five.

Then, I started to claw my way back into the game. But Elspeth was still on the board. I podded away my Acidic Slime for a Brutalizer Exarch… except it wasn’t there. Instead it was in the sideboard. I sideboarded it out because I put my opponent on jank instead of Tokens. What’s even more embarrassing was that I didn’t have another six-drop in the deck.

As if these mistakes were not enough, I made a final and fatal mistake when I blocked a token with my Bloodgift Demon. This activated Morbid and my Bloodgift Demon slipped tragically into the graveyard. I drew lands for the rest of the game and died to a horde of tokens.

0-2

What did I learn?

Don’t underestimate your opponent. I was being an arrogant idiot and then I tilted when I got punished for my arrogance.

Round 3 – Bye

I was feeling pretty crappy by now. This little project awakened some realizations about myself. I play much worse than I thought I did. It’s much harder to see this when you hide behind “good” cards. It’s easy to take a tier-one deck to FNM and win, but now that the shoe is on the other foot I have more respect for the people that show up every week with a deck that isn’t tier-one. I also realized that I’m much cockier than I thought I was. The reason that I tilted in last match was because I thought I deserved to win because I was a “better” player. The truth is that I wasn’t a better player and I paid the price for my arrogance.

I drowned my sorrows in an Italian BMT and some Sun Chips from Subway. I mentally prepared for my next match.

1-2

Round 4 – UW Humans

Game 1

My opponent was new to the UW Humans deck and he was very sloppy with his Moorland Haunt activation. For example, he was activating them on his turn instead of the end of my turn. This didn’t matter since Mirran Crusader into Angelic Destiny ended up killing me.

Game 2

This game was more of a grind. He played a Mirran Crusader and I prayed that he didn’t have the Angelic Destiny. He didn’t. My Perilous Myr held the ground until I could find one of my two Birthing Pods. I killed the Mirran Crusader and we traded guys until he landed a Sword of War and Peace. He kept unintentionally trolling me with how he played swords. He would tap five lands and I would wonder for a split second “what is he casting for five?!” Then he’d play the sword and equip it. I ended up dying to spirit tokens carrying Swords.

My opponent was actually pretty cool. After the match, he offered to play more games with me. I wanted to get more practice with the match-up so I was happy to battle. He handily crushed me until the round ended.

Note to Self: tune the deck to have a better match up against Humans.

1-3

What did I learn?

I need to be more prepared for this matchup. The biggest issues were Mirran Crusader and flying tokens.

Round 5 – Infect

Game One

I lost my notes on this match so I’m working from memory. I remember that my opponent cast Black Sun’s Zenith about six times throughout the game. It got to the point where we were both laughing about it. I almost ran out of creatures to close the game but thankfully, I found an Acidic Slime to push the final four points of damage through.

In-between games, one of the people running the tournament brought a couple of promos over and said, “Pick one, you’ve won a door prize.” I picked the Foil Gather the Townsfolk and sincerely thanked my benefactor. I was never so excited to win a door prize but every little bit counts!

Game Two and or Three

I don’t remember if this went to three games. It may have. I remember a lot of back-and-forth and there was a Liliana involved. I ended the final game with a Myr Battlesphere. This is the first time that the Battleball was relevant. We ended our games close to the end of the round and I was happy to end the night on a high note.

2-3

What did I learn?

Liliana is tough to deal with early. Strangleroot Geist is a good weapon against her but I might need to consider something else.

Standings

I finished 2-3 and got 26th on my first week as an FNM Hero. I learned a lot and I can’t wait to battle again.

Deck Changes

After battling all night with the deck at FNM, I knew that I needed some major changes. Below are the changes that I wanted to make:

Add 2 Birthing Pods – When I had Birthing Pod the deck was much better than when I didn’t have one. I know you’re probably saying “DUH!” but I just wasn’t sure how powerful it would be. It only took me one tournament to find out.

I need mana dorks – What’s better than a turn three Birthing Pod? A turn two Birthing Pod. The optimal card is Birds of Paradise but those are $4 each and with my showing tonight, it looks like I’ll be rocking Llanowar Elves for now.

I need a Massacre Wurm – There were too many tokens and little dudes to deal with. They clogged the ground attacks and then overcame me. FNM players are really greedy; there were a lot of board states where dropping a Massacre Wurm would have been a Massacre (see what I did there?).

I had too much removal – I need to cut some of the removal spells. I want to maximize my pods and to do so I need less non-creature spells.

I need better mana – I couldn’t reliably cast Strangleroot Geist and I was often stranded with no black mana. I need to go to four Evolving Wilds and some duals when I can afford them.

Trading

Finally, I was in my element. I knew what I needed and it was time to work my magic. I wandered around the store asking if people had commons and uncommons for trade. This would hopefully help people lower their guard and trade with me.

“Are you serious, Medina?”

Someone from the back shouted, “Stop trolling us Medina!”

Thankfully the kid sitting nearest to me said, “What do you need?”

“Evolving Wilds and Acidic Slime,” I said.

He dug them out of his bag and said, “Here, you can have ‘em.”

I corrected him, “Actually, I can’t have ‘em, but I can give you a Dismember for them.”

He agreed, but before we shook on it I looked through his binder for other stuff that I might need.

His ($1.98)
2 Evolving Wilds .49
1 Acidic Slime .25
1 Mortarpod .75

My ($1.99)
1 Dismember $1.99

I wandered around the shop looking for more action when someone pulled me aside.

“What do you need for your deck?” he asked.

“I need a lot, but the biggest thing I can afford is a Birthing Pod. Do you have one?”

“Yeah, what do you have for trade?”

“I’ve got this foil promo Gather the Townsfolk. That’s it.”

He looked at me for a second. “What does it look like?”

“It’s awesome, in the picture there’s blood on the wall!” I handed him the promo.

“Sweet, what else do you have?”

“That’s it, but just so you know that card is $4.99 on SCG and the Pod is $3.99. I’d be willing to give you the dollar if you’re ok with the trade.”

He agreed.

His ($3.99)
1 Birthing Pod $3.99 (This has since gone down)

My ($4.99)
1 Gather the Townsfolk Foil Promo $4.99

Something went wrong in the next trade. It looks like I have to find Scott and even up because I broke the rules. I thought the Wakedancers were .24 and not .25. If I can’t find Scott then I will subtract the profit from my total.

His (.50)
2 Wakedancer .25

My (.49)
Diabolic Tutor .49

Closing Thoughts

My first week was rough and I know that this challenge is going to be much more difficult than I initially thought. This is the first time that I’ve had a magic budget in 3 years. I became accustomed to buying whatever I wanted and I never thought twice about the people who can’t do that. I’ve always tried to be generous with my cards, loaning them out and giving new players stuff, but I have a much deeper appreciation now. I’m excited for the coming weeks but I’m also worried that I might not be able to make it. Time will tell I guess.

Swag

I’ll see you guys next week for a new chapter. In the meantime feel free to print out this “Movie Flyer” and put it on your binder or up in your shop.  We also have Desktop backgrounds.

1920 x 1080

1280 x 960

See you soon!

-Jonathan

Art Credit

Special thanks to Polish Tamales for all the sick artwork associated with FNM Hero. Check out  www.polishtamales.com 

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