FNM Hero: Like a Phoenix from the Ashes

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

FNM Hero: Like a Phoenix from the Ashes

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 paced the store looking for some trades. Now that I’ve gotten out of my Red/Green deck, I have some cards left over that I want to trade in towards cards with a better shelf life. You may notice that I’ve been posting groupings of trades without any description. I stopped the detailed descriptions because you can only read about so many $1 trades before you want to jump out a window. And let’s be serious, I can only write about so many $1 trades before I jump out a window.

I plan to keep this trend going, but when there’s an opportunity to learn from a trade that I’m doing then I’ll take the time to explain it. Today I’m going to explain some of the techniques that I’ve been using at the trade tables to position my FNM Hero collection for success. There’s a lot of scumbag tricks that you can pull to get ahead in trades, but you don’t have to scumbag people to win in a trade. I’ve found that when you’re not trading for value, people are more than happy to help you with your deck. I’ve had a lot of offers for free cards and uneven trades from people who just wanted to help. I declined these offers because of the handicap that I put on myself at the beginning of the challenge, but that doesn’t mean that I didn’t make smart trades.

Most of the time, I’m simply trading for cards that I need and I’ll give my trade partner whatever they ask for to get it. Now that I have my deck, you’ll notice that I employ the techniques below more often.

Surf the Sites

You do yourself a disservice if you only go by one pricing axis. I’m not allowed to value cards from different sites in trade, but I can choose the site that benefits me most when trading. For example, when trading away commons and uncommons, I use Star City Games for pricing because their commons are more expensive than most sites. When trading for rares I use Channel Fireball because they are closer to TCG Player pricing, which is the lowest retail price. The key is to know what your cards are worth on each website. This will allow you to pick the right site for the trade.

Speculate

Picking up cards that you know are going to go up in price is another way to make even trades and still gain value. If I had the resources in my FNM Hero binder, I would have been picking up cards like Blade Splicer whose price went up with the printing of Restoration Angel. Even cards like Wild Defiance, which was a junk rare, has gone up to a solid $2 card because of the popularity of Mono Green Infect. You’ll notice later on that I picked up one of these in a trade.

Trade Up

This term refers to trading a number of smaller cards for a bigger card. This is a key concept in collection building and it’s helpful in two situations:

1) Getting bigger cards: Say that you need a dual land for your Legacy deck. How do you get there? You trade two $1 cards for a $2 card. Then two $2 cards for a $4. Then three $4 for a $12 card. Do you see where this is going?

2) Distilling Value. Say you have a lot of $1-$3 cards that you don’t use. Instead of keeping them and letting them depreciate in value, you can trade them into a stable $12 card.

I’m explaining this in simple terms, but there are a lot of nuances that allow masters of this concept to profit. This isn’t a finance article but it’s useful information for all the heroes out there trying to survive.

Let’s put some flesh on the concept of trading up? Now that I’ve secured most of my Mono Blue deck, I want to distill some value in a bigger card. This will help me rebuy if I fail and it will secure some of the value in my trade binder.

It started with a trade for Tooth and Nail. I traded three of my Birthing Pod and some other stuff to a guy who wanted to build a Birthing Pod deck.

I also made a large trade for some blue commons and uncommons that I expected to use with the Mono Blue deck. I also traded my Kessig Wolf Runs towards a Consecrated Sphinx in this trade.

You can already see the concept at work here. If I were to trade my smaller cards like Birthing Pod in to the store, then I’d get something like $1 each for them. Trading something like a Tooth and Nail will get me about $6 in Store Credit.

In the next trade you see that I put the Tooth and Nail together with the Consecrated Sphinx and traded for an extra Snapcaster Mage. It would be more difficult to find someone who would trade a Snapcaster Mage for three Birthing Pod, a Birds of Paradise and four Kessig Wolf Run, but a Tooth and Nail and a Consecrated Sphinx makes much more sense.

I eventually traded the Snapcaster Mage for a Cavern of Souls since they were both $19.99 on Channel Fireball (see: Surf the Sites).

A Failed Attempt

I was supposed to sit it out until the prerelease so that I could get access to Clone but I was at the shop before a tournament one day and I couldn’t help myself. I paid my $5 and battled, but sadly my tournament performance was not great. I went 3-2 and got my money back. I also won a sweet door prize, which made the tournament worthwhile:

This tournament was a wash and I was still sitting on $5 in credit at Illuminaudi and $5 at Epic loot.

Magic 2013

Finally the M13 prerelease was here. I packed up my bag and jammed down to the shop so that I could pick up the new cards that I needed for my deck. I’d been following the progress of the Mono Blue deck and it looked like my intuitions were aligned with Brad Nelson’s. He built a mono blue wizards deck that incorporated Talrand, Sky Summoner and Augur of Bolas. There were three cards that I wanted to pick up at the pre-release: Talrand, Augur of Bolas and Jace’s Phantasm.

Wait, what? Jace’s Phantasm? Well, I wanted to pick them up incase I decided to build an Illusions deck. It’s one of those silly ideas that I’m afraid won’t leave my head until I try it. Here’s what I had in mind:

If I get Phantasmal Images for the Mono Blue Delver deck then I wouldn’t need much more to build this deck. Maybe I’ll battle an FNM with it. Craig Wescoe also had an interesting take on UB Illusions. I don’t think milling your opponent with Thought Scour or Mind Sculpt is something that you want to do since people can utilize the graveyard. But killing your opponent with one-mana 5/5′s seems like a lot of fun!

Ok, enough about Jace’s Phantasm. The cards that I wanted were not hard to get. Talrands were trading at $4, Augur of Bolas at $1 and Phantasms at $1.5. I actually found a Phantasm in some leavings on the table. Here’s the trades from the prerelease:

You’ll notice that I traded for a Japanese Consecrated Sphinx at the prerelease. I usually steer clear of foreign or foil cards because they’re typically more expensive. I made an exception this week because Star City Games was having their “Christmas in July” sale and a lot of their foreign cards were either the same price or less than their English versions. I was able to trade for the Japanese Consecrated Sphinx at the price of an English one. I didn’t know if I’d gain any value on the card, but I knew that the Japanese version would be more desirable than the English version. Here’s another trade where I took advantage of the Christmas in July sale:

His ($7.95)
3 Spellskite (Chinese) $1.99
Lord of the Unreal (Japanese) .49
Wild Defiance (Chinese) $1.49

My ($8.11)
3 Spellskite  $2.49
Lord of the Unreal .49
Rotcrown Ghoul .15

In this trade the Spellskites were selling for .50 less so I took the opportunity to downgrade my English copies and gain a Wild Defiance.

I finished up the trading at the prerelease and went back to the lab (aka home) to await the latest Mono Blue technology. That technology came by way of Adam Prosak who got fourth place at the SCG St. Louis Open.

This list looked appealing, but I couldn’t afford Swords and Angels and I still didn’t have Phantasmal Images. I decided to build this deck with what I had and trade for the cards to switch from the Inkmoth Nexus plan to the Moorland Haunt plan. I always hated splitting between poison and real damage. I want all my cards to work toward a common goal. I also hated tapping-out into my opponent’s open mana, which is something I had to do with the Inkmoth plan. With Moorland Haunt I can activate it at the end of my opponent’s turn.

After surveying my collection, it looked like the only way that I was going to get the cards for the white splash was by trading my Cavern of Souls. This means that I won’t have the security blanket that I traded up for. If I fail then I’d have to re-buy with cards out of my deck. I was also reluctant because Cavern is really good in the Delver mirror match. But, Adam only ran one in the sideboard and that was only to increase the land count for Restoration Angel.

I’m a gambler at heart and I couldn’t afford Restoration Angel anyway, so I traded the Cavern of Souls which had gone up in price on Star City Games since I picked it up about two weeks earlier:

His ($29.20)
4 Seachrome Coast $5.99
Terminus $4.99
Clone .25

My ($29.99)
Cavern of Souls $29.99

Many of the Talrand decks were only running three, so I didn’t need a fourth one. I traded my foil Talrand and Japanese Consecrated Sphinx for more of the lands and the rest of the Clones that I needed. I also picked up a Rootbound Crag to help fill the gap in value, though I still lost a couple of bucks.

His ($12.46)
3 Glacial Fortress $2.99
3 Clone .25
Moorland Haunt .75
Rootbound Crag $1.99

My ($14.98)
Talrand, Sky Summoner (Foil) $6.99
Consecrated Sphinx (Japanese) $7.99

This next and final trade helped me complete my mana base. I didn’t want to trade the Devastation Tides but it was probably a good time to trade them away since they were still $1.49:

His ($4.49)
2 Moorland Haunt .75
Glacial Fortress $2.99

My ($5.70)
3 Devastation Tide $1.49
2 Sever the Bloodline .49
Viridian Corrupter .25

I made the necessary edits to my deck and prepared for battle. Here’s what my poor man’s Mono Blue Wizards build looks like:

Round 1 – 4c Reanimator

I was playing against an unfamiliar face. I always try to make new players feel welcome so we exchanged small talk while we shuffled.

“I’m just getting back into the game after 10 years,” he said with excitement.

“Awesome, welcome back” I said with a smile as we rolled for first.

Game 1

He started with a Faithless Looting and I cringed. I had a slow Ponder plus Augur of Bolas hand. I decided to get aggressive and followed the Augur up with a Runechanter’s Pike. He continued to dig with Faithless Looting but after casting Faithless Looting five times, he still couldn’t find anything. My Augur stabbed him repeatedly with the Pike until he died.

Game 2

I made an apologetic comment about his bad draws as we sideboarded. “Good luck, sir,” I said as we started. This game was going better for him. His Faithless Looting gave him a Gisela, Blade of Goldnight in the grave yard. I played a Merfolk Looter and passed the turn. I followed it up with a Runechanter’s Pike while he looked for lands. I had to decide whether to activate the Merfolk Looter and dig for counter spells or to put the Pike on it and start hitting. I didn’t want to die to Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite but he didn’t seem to have another discard outlet. I decided to race. I equipped the Pike and swung. He played an Unburial Rites on his turn and brought Gisela back from the dead.

I played a Vapor Snag and hit him with the Pike again. He couldn’t find another Faithless Looting before I killed him with Pike.

1-0

What Did I Learn?

After the game I was talking with him and he was showing me his deck. He said he was having a hard time finding Clifftop Retreats. “Do you have trade stuff?” I asked.

“No. Like I said, I just started playing again and between a wife and kids, it’s hard to find the extra cash.”

I thought for a second and then took two Clifftop Retreats out of the Legit MTG trade binder. I passed them across the table.

“Here you go, man.”

“I don’t have anything to give you for these.”

“That’s fine, just take ‘em.” I nudged the cards toward him.

“Are you sure man?”

“Yeah, and good luck tonight.”

“Thanks a lot!” He scooped the cards up and put them in his deck box.

I learned that even though I’m playing a villain’s deck, I can still be a Hero to those who are just starting out.

Round 2 – Naya Pod (DJ Webb)

“We meet again,” I said, jokingly.

“Have you written the article from our other match yet?” DJ asked.

“No, still working on it.”

“I’m probably going to look like a newb!”

“Yep,” I laughed.

Game 1

He played an Avacyn’s Pilgrim and passed the Turn. I Vapor Snagged it to keep him off of a Turn 2 Birthing Pod. He replayed it and passed the turn. I played a Gitaxian Probe to see that he had a Blade Splicer but no third land. I bounced the Pilgrim again and played a Delver of Secrets. DJ was aggravated. He snapped the top card off his deck. He let out a sigh of relief and said “finally!” He slammed the third land into play and played his Blade Splicer.

I flipped my Delver of Secrets and tapped out to play and equip a Runechanter’s Pike. I smacked him and passed the turn. Still stuck on three lands, he played the Avacyn’s Pilgrim and smashed with his Blade Splicer and Golem token. I found a Gut Shot and smoked the Pilgrim. I hit him again with the Piked Delver. He drew a fourth land and played it, then swung again with the Blade Splicer and friend. I was happy to take four. I played a Thought Scour and then swung with a lethal Delver. He tried to Restoration Angel but it ate a Mana Leak.

Game 2

This game also came down to resource management. He led with a Copperline Gorge and a Birds of Paradise. I led with Delver and Gitaxian Probe. Here’s what I saw:

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Rootbound Crag
Phyrexian Metamorph
Sigarda, Host of Herons
Sunpetal Grove

All his lands come into play tapped which means that he’s going to be pretty slow. He played a Thalia on his turn and passed it to me. I flipped my Delver with a Gut Shot–yeah, it’s kind of obnoxious. I played the Gut Shot on the Thalia, then bounced the Birds with Vapor Snag leaving him with two lonely lands. DJ was exasperated. He played his second tapped land and forcefully placed two Birds of Paradise on the table. This play set him up for a Sigarda the following turn. I swung with the Delver then bounced a Bird. He drew a land and slammed Sigarda. I chuckled because I had a Runechanter’s Pike in my hand. I played the Pike and equipped it to the Delver. I swung for nine. He took it then cracked back with the Angel, played his second Birds and passed the turn.

I swung with the Delver again and ate a Birds then played a Dungeon Geists tapping the other Birds and passing the turn. He drew and played a third Birds and passed the turn. I Dismembered the Birds and swung for lethal with the Delver and the Dungeon Geist. He chump-blocked the Delver with Sigarda. He drew on his turn and then slumped in his chair.

“Good games, Medina.”

“Good Games, DJ.”

We shook like gentlemen.

2-0

What did I learn?

Keeping these kind of decks off their mana is important, but you need to make sure you have pressure while doing it. If I didn’t have a creature with a Pike, then durdling around by bouncing Birds isn’t going to do anything.

Round 3 – Mono Green Kessig (Rematch with Mike Belfatto)

I played Belfy earlier in my adventure and he crushed me pretty effortlessly. I was a little worried about what might happen in this match. “I think you’ve got this one, Belfy,” I said. He responded with, “Not necessarily.” Adam Prosak looked over and said, “Don’t be scared Medina. He draws one card a turn just like you.” I laughed and then presented my deck for the cut.

Game 1

This game was over quickly. I played the typical control game (Vapor Snag, Mana Leak) until Turn 4 when I played a Talrand, Sky Summoner. I untapped with Tarand in play and I made four Drakes. Belfy could not overcome my army of flying Drakes.

Game 2

My hand was good: I had two Delvers, a Thought Scour and some other decent cards. I played my turn one Delver. He played an Elf into my Gut Shot. My Delver did not flip so I played a second Delver and swung for one. He played a land and passed the turn. I checked for the first Delver’s trigger: Snapcaster Mage. I could Thought Scour here and hope to flip the second Delver, but decided to keep the Snapcaster Mage instead. I played my third Delver of Secrets and hit him for two.

Six Turns Later…

I finally got to experience the sheer rage that is rightfully bestowed upon Delver players everywhere. It’s the karmic balance for all the times that you get to play a turn-one Delver and blind-flip it with a Mana Leak on turn two. For six turns my three Delvers did not flip even after a Thought Scour and a Ponder. Belfy played a Huntmaster of the Fells and I was in trouble. He swung with the Huntmaster on the following turn and I blocked with two of my unflipped Delvers. He played a Combust on one and I was left with one Delver to his Huntmaster and friends. After a couple of turns of playing “lets not flip the Huntmaster,” I ran out of resources and patience. Once my third Delver was dead, I finally drew an Instant. But it was way to late. I started to tilt.

“NOW I DRAW THE INSTANT! SON OF A….”

Adam Prosak interrupted me: “Children’s card game, Medina. Children’s card game.”

Alright, I need to keep things in focus. I smiled and took my beating like a man.

Game 3

I mulligan to this six:

Delver of Secrets
2 Augur of Bolas
3 Lands

I played the Delver on turn one and then blind-flipped it on turn two with a Dismember on top of my library. I played an Augur of Bolas which found a Mana Leak. With the Augurs feeding me gas and the top-decked Snapcaster Mages, there was nothing Belfy could do to overcome my draw and I emerged the victor.

3-0

What did I learn?

This was the first time that I got to witness the power of Talrand against green decks. He’s pretty unbeatable against green decks without Bonfire of the Damned.

Round 4 – UW Angel Delver

Yuck! The mirror match. I knew that I was playing the mirror because I’ve watched my opponent play the deck before.

Game 1

I started the game with a Gitaxian Probe. Here’s what I saw:

Glacial Fortress
Sword of Feast and Famine
Restoration Angel
Gitaxian Probe
Island
Geist of Saint Traft
Thought Scour

Well, I’m pretty much dead. I don’t have a way to deal with Geist in my deck and he has a decent hand. He played an Island and a Gitaxian Probe, looked at my mediocre hand and smirked. My Vapor Snags looked pretty lame at the moment. I drew for the turn: Mana Leak. My turn to smirk. I played the Snapcaster as a Silvergill Adept by playing the Gitaxian Probe from the graveyard and saw the new card in his hand: Vapor Snag. I passed the turn, he played his second land, passed, took a hit from my Snapcaster Mage and went to turn three. He played the Geist of Saint Traft right into my Mana Leak.

It’s hard to believe, but three Mana Leak and two Vapor Snag later and my opponent was dead. Every hand is beatable. You just have to play tight and make your opponent fight for the win.

Game 2

Remember all that stuff I said about every hand being beatable? Forget it. Here’s my game two hand:

3 Delver of Secrets
Gut Shot
Dismember
2 Lands

This is pretty unbeatable in the mirror. He played a turn one Delver into my Gut Shot. I played my own Delver and passed the turn. He untapped, Pondered and passed the turn. I didn’t flip my Delver but served for one damage anyway. I played my other two Delvers and passed. I don’t remember what he played, but it was irrelevant because I flipped all three of my Delvers on the following turn. I swung for nine.  He died on the following turn.

4-0

What did I learn?

This match up is about getting the most out of your cards. There’s a delicate balance of aggression and timing that you need to learn. The alternative is to play three Delvers in the first two turns and have removal spells.

Feature Match – Round Five – Brandon Young Wolf (Mono Green)

“Street Cred Bill” came over to watch me battle my fifth round. He jokingly said, “We should film this Star City style!” I handed him my iPhone and said, “Do it up, bro!”

Game 1

Game 2

Game 3

5-0

What did I learn?

I see the power of Talrand again. Also, Mental Misstep is such a key card to stop the Rancor from landing.

Round 6 – Mono Blue Wizards with Adam Prosak

I was the only undefeated player at the end of round five. I got paired down against Adam Prosak. If we drew, then I would be locked for first place but he would not be guaranteed second. We had to play it out.

Game 1

I played on the “Silvergill Adept” plan. I Gitaxian Probed him to see:

Sword of War and Peace
Mutagenic Growth
Ponder
Island
Mental Misstep
Thought Scour
Phantasmal Image

I drew from the Probe and passed. He played an Island then tapped it to Probe me. I untapped and played Snapcaster Mage targeting the Gitaxian Probe in my graveyard, yelling “Silllllllvergil beat down!” Adam smiled. He played Phantasmal Image copying my Snapcaster and targeting his Gitaxian Probe.

Man, these Delver mirrors are exciting aren’t they!

I played a Mutagenic Growth to “pump” (read: kill) his Phantasmal Image. I had a Gut Shot, but why waste it? Adam durdled while I beat him down with Snapcaster Mage. He finally found his fourth land for his Talrand. I Vapor Snagged it and continued to beat. I was down to one card in hand (that Gut Shot from earlier) and he was at two life. He played Talrand again and made a Drake with Thought Scour.

I drew for the turn: Gut Shot.

I cracked a smile and flashed Adam the cards. He scooped up.

Game 2

We both started with Delvers. Mine was assassinated with a Gut Shot and his blind-flipped. I tried to Vapor Snag but it was met with a Mental Misstep. After a couple of hits, he landed a Sword of War and Peace and went to town on my face. Note to self: add Steel Sabotage to the sideboard.

Game 3

This game was a nail-biter. I started the game with a Ponder then a Gut Shot for his Delver. He played another Delver. I played a Gitaxian Probe, then Snapcaster Mage to Probe again, leaving me at 14 life. I drew a Ponder from the Probe but I was hoping for a Gut Shot. Adam flipped the Delver and hit me down to 11. I Pondered to find a Runechanter’s Pike. I played it and swung with the Snapcaster Mage. We raced, but after some Snags and a Sword of War and Peace from Adam’s side, it was over. I died.

5-1

What did I learn?

On the last turn of game three, I watched as Adam flicked a healthy five-card hand before I conceded. This is something that I can learn from Adam. My hand was empty, which leads me to belive that I was mis-using my cards. How? I don’t know, but he “still had all these” and beat me pretty handily.

Standings

Jamie read off the final standings. “Third place goes to Jonathan Medina for $20 in store credit.” I turned my phone on to check the time: 1:36am.

What a blowout! 6 hours of Magic for $20 in credit.

+$20, Illuminaudi Credit $20

Jamie kept reading, “… Brandon Young in second for $35 in credit.”

I was happy with my performance but bummed by the prize support. I tried to shake it off.

“Can you add that credit to my FNM Hero account please, Jamie”

“Sure,” he answered back.

“Let’s go, Brandon.” I motioned to the door.

When we were getting in the car Brandon said, “sorry about the blowout bro.”

I shrugged. “There’s always Game Day. Not to mention, I got to kick your ass tonight.” We both laughed.

Where are we going with this?

I know that some of you may be worried about the direction of this series. To be honest, I am too! My initial goal with this series was to stand in the shoes of a new player and chronicle my journey. The early parts of the series were pure gold, but now it’s like I’m a mediocre player with a decent deck playing FNM and It doesn’t help that I’m playing one of the most obnoxious decks in the format. Who cares right?!

We have a challenge to overcome here. I want to make this series interesting and informative, but Delver is the only decent deck that I can afford at the moment. This is where I ask for your help. Sound off in the comment about what I can do to keep this series awesome and interesting, especially for new players. I have a couple of ideas of my own which I will start to implement after next week. Until then I’ll ask for two things.

1) Leave feedback.
2) Stick with me as we fight through the Delver ages.

Thanks everyone!

Jonathan Medina
@mtgmedina on Twitter

Art By: Polish Tamales

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