FNM Hero: Rock Bottom

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

FNM Hero: Rock Bottom

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.

Life is defined by the decisions that we make when we’re faced with a fork in the road. Sometimes we take the “correct” way and sometimes the road that we take leads us into the forest to be devoured by wild animals. This is one of those moments. I’m standing at one of those forks in the road. Should I stay with Birthing Pod or build a new deck? I wanted to give my deck one more chance to prove itself before making my final decision.

Since splitting first at Illuminuadi, it has been my go-to store. There are fewer Delver of Secrets decks there and the players’ skill levels seem to match up well with mine. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not afraid to battle players like Adam Prosak when I’m packing a tier-one deck. But the FNM Hero needs a less hostile environment. Also, Illuminaudi gives insane door prizes.

The night before the tournament I did a trade with Brandon Young-Wolf at my place:

His ($2.98)
Hellrider $2.49
Wolfir Avenger .49

My ($3.45)
2 Lightning Mauler .49
Intangible Virtue $1.49
Gruul Turf .49
Boros Garrison .49

Friday Night Magic

I showed up to the store prepared for the first time in a while. I moved some cards around in my list to prepare for the decks that I expected. I wanted more game against Restoration Angel so I added the third Go For the Throat. You’ll also notice that I added a Hellrider and a Wolfir Avenger. These were added to help with the Delver and Control match-ups. Against Delver the Avenger can be used to kill Geist of Saint Traft in combat. You can also surprise them with Avenger at end of turn and then Pod it away on your turn. The Hellrider can help you push that last bit of damage through–which can be tough to do. I look at it like a burn spell that you can find with Birthing Pod.

-$5, New Illuminaudi Credit: $17.75

I battled for five rounds and ended the night at a disappointing 3-1-1. Thanks to Illuminaudi’s new “guaranteed prize” policy, I got my money back for placing in the Top 8. I appreciate this kind of thing much more now that I’m battling for every dollar. My credit balance was restored to $22.75.

I didn’t write a tournament report because it would read like all the other ones before it. My draw was against Esper control with Gideon Jura and six board-wipe effects. This style of deck is a terrible match-up for me. I felt like I’d already lost the match before I drew my first hand. The match ended in a draw, but he could have killed me if he had played differently. He was worried about a Zealous Conscripts stealing his Gideon, so he kept activating the “all creatures attack Gideon” ability. I don’t think he realized that if did have the Conscripts that I would just steal the Gideon and kill him. I hate having such a lopsided match-up against these kinds of decks and I’m not sure how I can gain an edge beyond getting Cavern of Souls.

My only loss was to UW Delver. The person piloting the deck was playing it for the first time. He missed a handful of opportunities to totally blow me out, but none of that mattered because he played a Geist of Saint Traft and equipped it with a Sword of Feast and Famine. Wee! This is a match-up that I can’t seem to get a positive win percentage against. To be fair, every deck in the format might be in the same spot. But I really feel like it’s time to move on.

What it boils down to is that every Standard deck has evolved with the release of Avacyn Restored. UW Delver got Restoration Angel and control variants got Tamiyo, the Moon Sage  and Terminus. Birthing Pod decks also received some tools to help them evolve as well: Cavern of Souls, Restoration Angel, and Bonfire of the Damned. The problem is that I can’t afford these cards and my average finish is not high enough to buy them with credit. If I continue playing Birthing Pod then I’ll eventually grind myself into the ground.

I feel like I’ve taken my deck to its limit. I need to switch decks or become better at playing my deck. Well, becoming better is out! I’m not a naturally skilled magician. I’m a muscle-memory player, which means that I have to play a lot to be good. With rotation looming, I won’t have time to become good enough to learn a new deck before rotation. The plan is to jump ship now while I still have the resources. Speaking of resources, let’s talk about this sweet door prize.

*Super Segue Sound*

I won the “big” door prize of the night: three packs of Avacyn Restored and a pack of perfect fit sleeves. Perfect fit sleeves are sleeves that fit snug aground your cards so that you can double sleeve. I used to use them for my all-foil decks but the FNM Hero has no use for such luxuries. The KMC Rose sleeves that I was using had been dead since I traded them from Ryan. I couldn’t make it through a tournament without splitting a few of them. Hopefully I could get some new real sleeves.

I approached the counter with the pack of perfect fits in hand.

“Hey, Jamie. Can I trade these and some store credit to get some real sleeves?”

“Sure. Which ones did you want?”

I pointed to the KMC sleeves.

He pulled them down. “Okay, give me the perfect fits and three bucks.”

“How about the perfect fits and two seventy-five?” I wanted to keep the credit divisible by $5 to ensure that I wouldn’t be twenty-five cents short of a future tournament entry.

He looked at me sideways and said, “Sure…”

Jamie pulled the sleeves down and we made the exchange.

-$2.75, New Illuminaudi Credit $20

Farewell Birthing Pod

I sat down at a nearby table to unsleeve my Birthing Pod deck. The cards were slightly warped from being played in penny sleeves for so long. As I looked down at the pile of cards, the Wurmcoil Engine was on the top. A quick sadness swept over me. I’m not a sentimental guy, but these cards faithfully carried me through battle every week. The sadness was wiped away by panic. What if I’m making a mistake?

Until now, switching decks was only a thought. But now that the cards were out of their sleeves it was becoming a reality. It took me back to my childhood. I was standing on the edge of our roof. My cousin was at my back yelling, “Jump!” My palms were sweating and my knees were locked in place. I felt my fear of heights slowly paralyzing me.

“Jump or I’m going to push you!” My cousin’s voice was clear and determined.

I bent my knees and then I felt his hand on my back. I remember thinking, “I’m getting off this roof my way, not his.” I swatted his hand away and gave him an irritated look.

I looked away and then jumped. The air rushed into my nostrils and I prepared my legs for impact. I landed like a cat on the ground below. The bottom of my feet stung but I was still in one piece. I turned around to face the roof.

“Now you jump.” I called up.

My cousin walked away from the edge. “No way, you’re crazy man!”

Just like that day on the roof, I tucked all my cards into my binder and jumped in. My daydream was dispersed by my friend Emily’s voice.

“Hey, Medina. Can I open your packs?”

I’d almost forgotten about the packs that I won.

“Sure.”

“You won’t be sorry. I’m one of the best pack-openers. I opened a foil Snapcaster Mage one time.”

If this was her resume, how can we lose?! I handed her the packs and turned on my phone camera.

Okay, it wasn’t as awesome as a foil Bruna, Light of Alabaster. Still, I can’t complain about free cards.

I was in a weird place. I wanted to trade while I had a captive audience, but I wasn’t sure what deck to build. I decided to trade toward RG Aggro and then research decks when I got home. It seemed backwards, but I can always trade the RG Aggro stuff toward another deck if I needed. If I decide on RG Aggro then I’d be ahead of the game. There’s also pressure because prices are volatile and I’d feel better about getting rid of some of my rotating cards as soon as possible.

I did some trading but most people were already wise to the dump-the-rotating cards trick. The biggest liability was my Wurmcoil Engine. Since this wasn’t popular enough to trade, I had to consider the option of selling it to my local store. Typically, this is not a pleasant experience because you lose a good chunk of value. However, I spotted a $16 Huntmaster of the Fells in the case and they were selling for $25 on some sites.  This means my trade-in could be close to a real trade.

I called Jamie over. “Hey, can you give me a price on a few cards?”

“Sure, like how much a card is worth?” Jamie looked a little bit puzzled.

“No, how much the shop would give me on a card.” The words left my mouth like bad batch of spinach.

Taken back, he said, “Yeah, what are you selling?”

“Wurmcoil and Metamorph.” I paused and added, “also all my Woodland Cemetery if you offer a good price on them.”

After a little haggling these are the prices that we ended up with:

Wurmcoil Engine $8
Phyrexian Metamorph $5
2 Woodland Cemetery $4

Total = $21

I thanked Jamie and then asked him to pull some cards.

Huntmaster of the Fells $16
Kessig Wolf Run $1.50
Rootbound Crag $3.50

After trading with the store, I packed it up for the night and decided to raid the common/uncommon boxes in the morning.

Saturday Morning

My usual routine is to run into town and get my wife a bagel and coffee from Dunkin Donuts. Today was no different. During my mission, I started to brew my new deck. I knew that I wanted the full set of Daybreak Ranger in the main deck. They are good in so many match-ups. I brought the food home and ate breakfast while I studied the budget underbelly of this great game on my iPad.

Consulting the Necrosages

It felt like I was starting over again with a smaller budget–but at least a little wiser. Since I’ve been playing with such a limited budget, I’ve been keeping a close eye on places where the budget-friendly decks can be found.

Tangent

My first stop was Tangent’s MTGO Hero series on Gathering Magic. I read the latest article to see how he was doing. Here’s the deck list that he’d been running:

Tangent’s deck looked solid, although he was also struggling against Delver. I didn’t want to jump from a frying pan into pot of boiling water.  Here’s what Tangent had to say about his UW Delver match-up:

The MTGO Hero deck’s days may be numbered with its ineffectiveness against the popular matchups that I’ve been playing lately. Sure, I was lucky and beat Delver in the first round, but how often would I be able to repeat that? I need consistency, and against the current meta, my deck is far from it.

One of the reasons that I wanted to switch decks was because I didn’t want to lose to UW Delver every week. Tangent was facing the same problem. After striking out with Tangent’s list, I decided to consult the great AJ Kerrigan for advice on a decklist featured in his Thank God it’s FNM column.

AJ Kerrigan

(Click the comic to read the rest.)

I love “Storm” decks. Not only did AJ’s list look cheap, but it also looked fun. I’d already been getting cards for Tokens so it didn’t seem like it would take too much work to build this. I contacted AJ on Facebook for some wise counsel from the grand wizard.

=== Me ===

Hey buddy!

How good is this standard storm deck? It seems like fun!! I might build it for FNM Hero!Do you have any changes since you wrote your article?

=== AJ===

Yeah from the list I played on SCG, the changes are as follows:

-1 Mountain
-1 Timely
-1 Increasing Devotion

+1 Burn at the Stake
+2 Origin Spellbomb

The deck isnt really great, but I think its the most fun I’ve had in standard in a while. Burn at the Stake for 21 will cause some good laughs, though in its current from its weak to Solar Flare and Wolf Run . If you cut Spellbomb for assorted things and add Stony Silence in the board, the Esper MU becomes a bit better, and with Timely and Virtue in the board, the Delver MU has been really good for me on Magic Online. With a little bit of gold fishing and testing, this deck is fine, but sometimes it will have a day where it literally does nothing. One day one Magic Online, I lost 8 straight 2 mans, and the next day I won 7 straight. Sometimes the deck just doesnt feel like working. If your meta is all Wolf Run, and a health helping of Solar Flare, this deck will probably not work well for you, but if you have enough Delver, and RG Aggro, this deck is very very good.

===

After consulting AJ, I decided that I didn’t want to take a chance with a crazy deck. Especially after this bit, “One day one Magic Online, I lost 8 straight 2 mans…” It’s cheap enough for me to build on the side after I smash FNMs with the deck that I actually decide to go with. I left AJ’s presence a little disappointed.

Magic Online

My final stop was to look at some real decks that were performing well in Magic Online daily events. I scoured the results to find a suitable GR shell to work with and I stumbled upon this:

I didn’t have Bonfires or Swords, but the rest of the deck was in reach. I decided to make this list with some slight modifications. I added Revenge of the Hunted as a substitute for Bonfire of the Damned, Swords became Daybreak Rangers and Green Sun’s Zenith became Birthing Pods and Pillar of Flames. Here’s the less expensive / more Hero GR Aggro list:

I was ready to spend the day trading for my new deck list, but I had to finish my bagel first. By now it was cold but the cheese made it worth finishing. I left a few crumbs on the plate and I started packing my bag while my wife cleared the table. After a kiss from my wife, I was out the door.

When I got to Illuminaudi the store was empty. I dug through the common/uncommon boxes for over an hour looking for Pillar of Flame, Wolfir Avenger, Crushing Vines and other stuff that I could use for post-rotation building or even trading. The bad thing about digging through these boxes is that you can spend fruitless hours looking for cards that aren’t in the boxes. The good thing is that you save a lot of money because you get a stack of cards cheaper than you would from a store that has them organized.

For example, if I go to Epic Loot and ask for 4 Pillar of Flame, 4 Wolfir Avenger and 4 Crushing Vines, the guy at the front desk will promptly pull them out of their boxes and then politely charge me $7. If you want the luxury of shopping a fully stocked and organized store, you have to pay for it. As a poor Hero looking for a break, I’d rather dig and save the money.

I found a mixture of things in the box: playable uncommons like Intangible Virtue and cool Korean cards like Borderland Ranger and Korean basic Lands. I didn’t expect to trade the Koren stuff higher than English cards, but at the very least it would make some of the commons or uncommons in my binder desirable when they typically wouldn’t be. This means that I can actually get the full .49 cents out of an Appetite for Brains rather than it just sitting in my binder.

I walked up with a handful of cards and placed them on the counter. “How much for this?”

I was secretly hoping for him to say “five dollars.” He separated the commons from the uncommons and started adding silently to himself. I was happy to see him group the Korean cards with the English cards. At least I wasn’t getting hit with language tax.

“How about $13?” he asked.

“Humm, I can’t do that.” I hesitated and then reassured him. “It’s probably a fair price but I can’t afford to spend that much.”

I started picking through the pile looking for stuff to take out. He stopped me, saying “How about ten?” I didn’t want to spend ten but I don’t think I can pass it up for everything that I was getting.

“I can’t say no to that. Thanks, John. Now say cheese.” John flipped his hair to the side and picked up some of the cards.

*SNAP*

-$10, New Illuminaudi Credit Balance $10

While I was digging through boxes a couple of casual players wandered into the store. Casual players are great to trade with because they trade for commons and uncommons more than anyone else. My trades with these guys started a week long trading binge. I’m going to spare you the “I traded him XYZ for his ABC.” You can only read so many two dollar trades before you want to swallow a bucket of spindown life counters. Instead I made you this awesome image gallery of all my trades. Enjoy.

*time machine noises*

Friday Night Magic – Take Two

I showed up on Friday still scrambling for the last few cards to finish my deck. You can see the trades that I made above in the photo gallery. Like a pro, I found the cards that I needed before round one.

-$5, New Illuminaudi Credit $5

With only $10 in Credit between both stores and no cash left, I was slummin’ it with the lowest of the low, sorry Oscar but you stink man!

Round One – UW Delver

I sat down to a familiar face. It was one half of the local badass duo, Billy Comminos. I was hoping that he was still on Naya Pod, but you already know from the header above that he’s not. I discretely poked around trying to find information about his deck choice.

“You still on Naya Pod?” (Okay, it wasn’t as discrete as I remembered)

“You’ll see,” he said smiling.

This typically means no.

Game One

He started off with a Seachrome Coast. I was excited because I wanted to see how my deck would do against him. I played a Forest and passed the turn. He played another land and passed. I was happy that he didn’t play a Delver but sad that he might have Mana Leak. I played my Strangleroot Geist into his Mana Leak and then passed. Sometimes after a Mana Leak like that the Delver player can use their following turn to jump in the driver seat.

I kept that driver seat. He didn’t have any pressure while I started to amass an army. He played a Blade Splicer to slow the bleeding. I tried to work around the Splicer but a well-timed Restoration Angel put me on the back heel. We were both at eight life but he had a three-power angel and an pair of really annoying first strike blockers. I died to the 3/4 flying menace three turns later.

Game Two

This was a simple game. His only white source was Cavern of Souls (naming Human) which he used to cast four Blade Splicer. Thankfully, the heavens were shining on me and I played three of my four Daybreak Rangers. His hand got clogged with Restoration Angels allowing my Rangers to flip. I ate his board and then bludgeoned him with Werewolves.

Game Three

This was a pretty swingy game. We initially stalled at the typical Blade Splicer/Strangleroot Geist stand-off. I had the advantage in the form of a Daybreak Ranger. He played a Snapcaster and played Ponder from the graveyard. He swung with a token and I blocked with a Geist. He played a Delver after combat and passed the turn. I hardcasted Revenge of the Hunted on my powered up Strangleroot Geist and then swung and ate his team. He was left with a lone Blade Splicer token. He untapped and played Gideon Jura to taunt my team. I played a Wolfir Silverheart and smashed his Gideon to death.

I was sitting uncomfortably at three life but I was threatening lethal.  His hand was empty and he need a Vapor Snag to close the match. He windmill-slammed the Snag and bounced my only blocker to kill me.

0-1

What did I learn?

Green/Red has very little interactivity with your opponent and I’m not sure if I like that. One thing I do like is smashing my opponents with Revenge of the Hunted, though. That card is the real deal.

Round 2 – RUG

I was paired up against my buddy Kenny. I enjoy playing against Kenny because whenever he starts taking the game too seriously he catches himself and corrects it. It’s kind of hard to describe exactly what I mean, but basically even when he’s taking true bad beats, he takes a moment to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Unfortunately for me, it was my turn to laugh.

Game One…

wasn’t a game. He played a turn one Delver of Secrets and blind-flipped it. His turn two play was Delver of Secrets followed by Ponder. He flipped the second Delver with a Mana Leak. Sometimes life’s not fair and other times it gives you a swift kick in the balls.

After the game Jamie dropped two cards in front of Kenny and I. “Pick one!”

I snatched the one on the right, Birds of Paradise. He flipped the one on the left, Sigarda, Host of Herons.

It didn’t look like my luck was going to change, he won a mythic, I won a Birds. He blind flips a Delver, I die.

Game Two

I shook it off and re-gathered my focus. If I tilt, then I’ll definitely lose this round. My opening hand had a Pillar of Flame so I felt like I was on top of the world. He opened with a turn one Delver. I roasted it and played my second land. He played a turn-two Delver. If it flipped, I might have thrown his deck. Luckily, the Delver didn’t flip for three turns. He played a Huntmaster of the Fells and so I used Birthing Pod to find my Huntmaster. Finally, I felt like I was playing Magic. I passed the turn and he checked to see if his Delver was going to flip. He threw his head back and winced. “Oh, oh man!”

“Still not flipping?” I sounded apologetic, but I was fist-pumping on the inside.

“You’re not going to like this.” He sounded apologetic, but was probably fist-pumping on the inside.

He flipped the top card. I saw it in slow motion like Rocky getting demolished by Ivan Drago. Bonfire of the Damned.

“I’ll miracle it.”

I scooped my cards up and signed the slip. I slid it across the table but then retracted it. I marked the drop box.

0-2 Drop

This is an FNM Hero first. I threw my deck in my bag and walked out the door.

Iluminaudi Credit $5
Epic Loot Credit $5
Cash .65

Jonathan Medina
@mtgmedina on Twitter

Art By: Polish Tamales

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