FNM Hero: The Aftermath

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

FNM Hero: The Aftermath

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.

After the severe beating that I took at Friday Night Magic leaving me at $67.37, I was a bit lost in the woods. Normally, if I stumbled upon a weak spot in my deck I’d search my massive collection for a way to “meta-game” against that vulnerability and shore up the weakness in my deck. However, my FNM Hero rules (see FNM Hero: Introduction for a rules recap) don’t allow me to use my existing collection so I decided to do some digging at the local card shop. I wanted to avoid impulse purchases, so before I left for the store I did some research and made a plan.

I started by browsing all the major Magic content websites to see if any of the pros were talking about Birthing Pod. Keep in mind at this point that Birthing Pod was still an undeveloped archetype. Naya and Bant Pod had not started to place in paper tournaments yet. My search came up empty. There was no talk of  Birthing Pod. In a moment of desperation, I searched the deep recesses of my mind for people who could help me with my Birthing Pod deck and my brain only returned one name:

Chris Lansdell.

I know what you’re thinking: “Lansdell is a Donkey!” Ok, maybe that’s just what I’m thinking (editor’s note: no, you are not alone).  I like to go by what the pros say as much as the next guy, but the fact is that we’re going into uncharted territory and Chris Lansdell is the closest thing we have to a guide. If I wasn’t doing this challenge then I’d never give Chris’ deck a second look. I’d play the first place deck from the last big event. Since I don’t have the option to play the “best” deck, I have to re-evaluate my perspective.

As Patrick Chapin would say, I need to focus on what’s important. Getting first place at FNM would be nice, but what’s important is that I merely finish “in the money”.  I don’t need a first place deck; I need a twelfth place deck deck. Twelfth place pays $10 in store credit, that would gain me $5 per tournament and that’s enough to go infinite (albeit slowly). Here’s Chris’ take on the Birthing Pod Archetype:

Chris’ deck is “Junk” colors (White, Black, Green), which means that I can’t copy it card for card. I need to stay away from adding a color at the moment because the dual lands are expensive. I also don’t have enough practice with the deck to know which color is best. Since Chris’ two core colors are Green and Black, I can still use Chris’s list for inspiration while I build mine. Let’s talk about the deck:

Strangleroot Geist - When I bought the deck, I thought Strangleroot Geist was the best card in the deck. It was one of the reasons that I picked the deck in the first place. I’ve since learned that the mana is too unreliable to support a turn two Geist. It’s true that Geist is still good on turn three or four, but I can’t see running four if I don’t plan to cast it on turn two. I noticed that Chris only had one Geist in his list and this might be closer to what I want to do for now. Once I get the mana dialed in I’ll probably go back up to four.

What are you doing Chris?!

Ghost Quarter - Three copies of this in the main deck is wrong! I’m careful about what I call “wrong” since some cards may look wrong but are actually good. This isn’t the case with Ghost Quarter.  The mana for my GB deck already sucks and Chris is adding a color and adding cards that cost BBB (Geralf’s Messenger) and BBBB (Phyrexian Obliterator) with three colorless mana sources.  If there is a “must kill” land we have options like Acidic Slime or Brutalizer Exarch already.

Ulvenwald Bear - I’m tempted to just type, “lol” and leave it at that, but I realize that some of you might be thinking of running this. This card doesn’t do anything. It has the same problem that all Morbid cards have; they’re only good with Birthing Pod. Imagine drawing this card naturally. You never want to pay three mana for a 2/2 with no abilities.

Phyrexian Obliterator - I can’t cast this card, ever. It’s true that I could search it up with Birthing Pod, but I don’t want an auto-mulligan if I draw it in my opening hand.  Obliterator won’t make the cut and this works out for me because they’re running between$20 and$25!

Geralf’s Messenger – (See Above)

Carnifex Demon – I don’t mind this card. For people looking for a budget answer to tokens, this could be the ticket. There’s a cool trick that you can do if you copy a Carnifex Demon with Phyrexian Metamorph. You can trade -1/-1 counters between the two demons endlessly and wipe the board, as long as you have sufficient black mana.

Beast Within – We don’t need this.  The deck already has Go for the Throat, Acidic Slime and Sylvok Replica to deal with problem permanents.

I Smell What You’re Stepping In!

Birds of Paradise – My first run of the deck revealed that Young Wolf doesn’t do enough for the deck. The Wolf pup might be more fitting in an aggro deck, but this deck wants to grind your opponent out with “value” creatures. At FNM, I felt like the deck was too sluggish to compete at a high level. Birds of Paradise adds speed to the deck by allowing you to play a turn two Birthing Pod or play your bigger creatures faster.

Glissa, the Traitor – After getting beat down by little white humans all night, It would be nice to have a first-striking deathtouch to hold the ground. Glissa’s artifact recursion ability also adds a Grave Digger‘s ability to each of my artifact removal spells.

Phyrexian Metamorph – This is a staple in most Birthing Pod lists. It allows for lines of play that no other card (except the more expensive Phantasmal Image) can. The key interactions are:

  1. If you copy a Strangleroot Geist (or other Undying creature) then you can copy another creature when it dies since Undying brings the Metamorph back with a +1/+1 counter.
  2. Since Metamorph assumes the converted mana cost of whatever you copy, you can pod up your chain quicker or find answer that you need by copying something with a lower mana cost.
  3. You can return Metamorph with Glissa’s ability.
  4. You can copy a Birthing Pod or even an opponent’s Sword if the need arises.

Phyrexian Metamorph is an important part of the deck. If nothing else, it helps deal with a Mirran Crusader.

Wurmcoil Engine – This card is very good for the deck, but it’s way out of our price range at the moment.  It will be one of the first things that I get if I manage to win an FNM.

Massacre Wurm – This is a low cost replacement  stand-in for Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. I needed a way to wipe a board full of tokens or X-1 guys. At the current price ($3.49) , there’s no reason that I shouldn’t make this guy a high priority.

Sheoldred, Whispering One – I’m not sure about this card but it seems better than a Myr Battlesphere.

Ratchet Bomb – This card is awesome with Glissa and in a Token/Delver heavy meta this seems like a must have.

Shopping Time

After evaluating Chris’  deck and my budget, I came up with a list of cards that I wanted to pick up. I listed the Star City Games (SCG) prices with each card to avoid overpaying for the cards. Sometimes local store can get away with charging more than SCG so I’m protecting myself against this by knowing the prices ahead of time. It’s also helpful to know how much I can trade the cards for if they don’t work out. Here’s the list that I constructed:

Birds of Paradise 3.99
Birthing Pod 3.99
Bitterheart Witch .25
Carnifex Demon .49
Curse of Death’s Hold 2.49
Glissa, the Traitor 3.49 (Promo 1.99)
Llanowar Elves .25
Massecre Wurm 4.99
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed  5.99
Phyrexian Metamorph 8.99
Precursor Golem .49
Ratchet Bomb 9.99
Sheoldred, Whispering One 5.99 (Promo 2.99)
Skirsdag High Priest 2.99
Vorapede 6.99
Woodland Cemetery 7.99

Armed with my list of cards and my undying will to win, I drove to Illuminaudi for some shopping. On the way, I mentally set a $20 limit for my shopping budget. I can’t afford to overspend or my journey could end prematurely.

Starting Total $67.37

Illuminaudi was mostly empty. I walked in to see Jamie behind the counter. He started the conversation as he always does: “How’s it going Medina? Did you go up to Loot on Friday?” I answered him while I walked over to the display case, “Yeah, I went up there to battle. How did your Snapcaster tournament go?” Jamie has been doing a good job of stirring up hype for the FNM at the Illuminaudi by offering top-dollar Standard cards like Snapcaster Mage and Huntmaster of the Fells for the winners. I avoid these tournaments because they attract all the local ringers and I want to maximize my chances of winning.

I surveyed the case for deals. A couple of cards stood out to me; $5 Woodland Cemetery, $2 white bordered, signed Birds of Paradise, and a $6 Ratchet Bomb (with a nick in it). The money was adding up but I couldn’t pass some of these deals up. I can’t trade for value so making smart buys is the only way to stretch my money. Jamie pulled the cards out as I pointed to them and handed me the stack. I shuffled through the stack and handed it back to him.

“Will this be all?” Jamie asked.

“Yeah that should do it. Add it up!”

1 Woodland Cemetary $5
1 Birds of Paradise $3
1 Birds of Paradise $2 WB
1 Birthing Pod $3
1 Ratchet Bomb $6
1 Phyrexian Metamorph $6
2 Curse of Death’s Hold $1
1 Precursor Golem .25
1 Carnifax Demon .25
1 Sheoldred, Whispering One (Promo) $2
1 Beat up Binder
4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
4 Llanowar Elves
1 Fiend Hunter
2 Bitterheart Witch
2 Dawntreader Elk
1 Tragic Slip
4 Zombie Tokens

“That’s $32…” Jamie looked at me expecting payment.

I froze for a moment as reality started to sink in. I got carried away; $32 is a third of my budget. What the hell was I thinking! I had a short panic attack before deciding to bite the bullet and hand Jamie my credit card. My reasoning is that I should be able to win with the edits that I’m going to make and at the very least I can trade these cards for more than I bought them for.  As the receipt printed out, I worked on swallowing the lump in my throat. I’m down to $35 bucks and getting really close to “Do or Die” time.

Upgrades

This whole FNM Hero process reminds me of my first car. It was a 1993 white Geo Metro. It was inherently crap.  I did my best to make my car awesome by getting some “upgrades”;  I added a CD player, floor mats and a steering wheel cover. It was like putting a band-aid on a shotgun wound. But after the upgrades I felt like I was driving a freakin’ Ferrari! I feel the same way about my event deck. Once I slapped those Birds of Paradise and that Phyrexian Metamorph into the penny sleeves, I suddenly forgot that I was playing a stack of crap. Much like when I tried to race a Mustang on the freeway, I couldn’t wait to match my little-deck-that-could against some real decks. Check out the new list. I didn’t include the change logs this time because it seems pretty useless. If you want to see the change logs then let me know in the comments.

-$32, New Total $35.37

There were a couple of guys playing cards at the table behind me so I walked over to see if they were playing Magic. I was hoping I could trade off some of the cards that I planned to upgrade and make up for all the money I just spent. They were playing Yu-Gi-Oh!. I stood and watched for a minute out of courtesy, then slowly drifted away from the table.  As I was stepping away, I glanced into the trashcan where a stack of magic cards sat. Some of them were sleeved but most of them were not.

Do my eyes deceive me? Is this some apparition I see before me?

I battled with my pride. Was I really going to take Magic cards out the trashcan? I yelled over to Jamie, as if I needed permission to take cards out of the trash, “Hey Jamie, what’s up with these cards in the trash?” He laughed, “I threw those away because they smelled musky.” I looked over at the cards and thought about it for a minute. My inner monologue kicked in again, “You can’t pass on free trade fodder! Swallow your pride!”

I reached into the trashcan and slowly pulled them out.

I raised them to my nose.

Sniff.

“These aren’t musky!” I exclaimed.

I set the cards on the table for further inspection.

“I’m taking these.”

Jamie laughed and nodded, “No problem, Medina!”

I thanked him for his help and set the cards in the backseat of my car with my new binder. I’d have to wait until I got home to see exactly what was in the stack of cards. I was on a mission to fetch my wife some Noodles and Company and I didn’t want to handle my wife’s food with trash hands. Despite washing my hands at Noodles and Co. I still couldn’t shake the idea that my hands were in the trash. I grabbed the bag of food and tried not to handle it too much on the way home. After some tasty noodles and Parmesan-crusted chicken with the wife, I went out to my car and brought the cards inside. Finally, I get to see what I scored!

After sifting through a stack of basic lands I started to see gold (well, kind of). Here’s what I got.

74 Bulk Commons
188 Basic Land
1 Avalanche Riders  Urza’s Legacy     0.99
2 Beast Token                0.25
1 Cancel                0.25
3 Drowner of Secrets                  0.49
3 Elf Warrior Token                0.49
2 Elvish Harbinger                  0.99
2 Elvish Promenade                  2.99
4 Faerie Trickery                  0.25
1 Flamewave Invoker  Elves vs. Goblins               0.25
1 Forest  Portal    0.99
1 Forgotten Cave   Elves vs. Goblins               0.49
1 Giant Harbinger                  0.25
1 Goblin Burrows  Elves vs. Goblins               0.49
2 Goblin Rogue Token               0.25
1 Goblin Sledder                  0.25
1 Goblin Warchief  Elves vs. Goblins               3.49
3 Harpoon Sniper                  0.25
3 Ingot Chewer                  0.49
2 Island  Portal    0.99
2 Jagged-Scar Archers                  1.99
2 Kithkin Token               0.15
1 Merfolk Token           0.15
2 Merrow Commerce                  0.99
1 Merrow Harbinger                  0.49
1 Mountain  Portal    0.99
1 Oblivion Ring  Lorwyn 1.49
2 Pollen Lullaby                  0.25
1 Pyroclasm                  0.99
2 Shimmering Grotto                  0.25
2 Skirk Drill Sergeant                  0.25
1 Skirk Prospector  Elves vs. Goblins               0.49
1 Smokebraider                  0.25
3 Sulfurous Blast                  0.49
2 Summon the School                  0.49
1 Sylvan Messenger  Elves vs. Goblins               1.49
1 Tormod’s Crypt   Time Spiral          2.99
1 Timberwatch Elf  Elves vs. Goblins               0.99
2 Tranquil Thicket                  0.25
1 Vivid Creek                  0.99
2 Wellwisher  Elves vs. Goblins               1.99
1 Wirewood Lodge  Elves vs. Goblins               3.49
2 Wren’s Run Vanquisher                   1.99

The stack of cards looks like stuff from a casual player who got out of the game. Fitting, since it’s the same kind of hand-me-downs that a new player would receive from a friend. This couldn’t have come at a better time. I was feeling pretty depressed about my terrible performance and my now meager budget.  I separated the cards into bulk and cards that I thought I could trade. Then I filled my trade binder. It felt good to have something to work with, even though it was literally just garbage.

Three Pods

On Sunday afternoon, I decided to call Illuminaudi to see if there were any mages there that I could battle.

John: Hello, Vermont! (This is how John the store owner, answers the phone because I still have a Vermont number)

Me: Are there any Magic Players there?

John: Yeah, a couple. Come on down.

Me: Alright, see you in a minute.

I jumped in the Batmobile (AKA, my supremely average car) and zipped over to the ‘Naudi (as locals like to call it). There weren’t many people to playtest against but I didn’t mind. I just wanted to try the deck out with the new changes. I sat down to battle with one of the locals named Aaron. He didn’t know that I was playing a modified event deck.

Aaron chuckled at my sleeves and asked, “What’s with the sleeves?” I typically play with KMC rose sleeves which are considerably more expensive than penny sleeves. I smiled and said, “I’m testing this deck before I sleeve it.”

We made small talk while we shuffled and he mentioned that he was playing “Jund” (Black, Green, Red) Pod. My opening hand was two Birthing Pod, a Llanowar Elves and an Acidic Slime. I don’t remember what the other cards were but I was happy to keep. My plan was to get an early Birthing Pod chain and keep him off his pod. After getting the first two Birthing Pods online, I crushed him pretty handily. I played a third Birthing Pod toward the end of the game and he had a mini-melt down.

“Three Birthing Pods, Medina?! THREE?”

I thought that this would be a good time to bring up the fact that he was playing against an event deck.

“Don’t cry man, you just lost to an event deck.”

He tilted hard and tried to dispute the validity of my event deck claim.

“An event deck with three Birthing Pods?”

I ignored the fact that the deck was modified and kept pushing Aaron’s buttons.

“If your deck can’t beat an event deck, you should probably re-evaluate your life choices.”

[Pause the Game (PTG)] It probably looks like I’m being a jerk here. I’ll admit that I am. But if you’re going to go on tilt against me, don’t expect me to hold your hand through your temper-tantrum. I expect to be treated the same way when I tilt. [/PTG]

Aaron was determined to beat me, so we played until he got a couple of games under his belt. I was feeling good. The changes to the deck felt  strong.

Trading

After the games, Aaron asked if I would help further his “Tokens to Power” quest. I typically try to help with these quests because I remember being on the other end. I also happened to need some tokens for FNM Hero! Here are the two trades that we made:

His (.75)
3 Demon Tokens .15
2 Golem Tokens .15

My($1.49)
Oblivion Ring $1.49

His ($4.99)
Skirsdag High Priest (Foil) $4.99

My ($5.47)
2 Wellwisher 1.99
Elvish Messenger 1.49

What did I learn?

This was my first Birthing Pod mirror match. I feel stupid saying this because it seems obvious, but Birthing Pod is a key card in the matchup.  If you can keep them off their Birthing Pod, then you essentially cut them off from their answers. The great thing about having Black in my deck is that I can kill most of my opponents creatures so even if they do have a pod, they have a hard time working up the chain before I can destroy the first link.

After giving Aaron the beat down I was feeling pretty good about the deck. My new plan is to keep the rest of my money for FNM entry fees. Based on the current amount left in the budget ($35.37) I can grind seven more FNMs. One of those seven needs to be a victory or I’ll have to start cannibalizing my deck for entry fees! Hopefully, I can title one of my next seven articles as, “Victory, Sweet Victory.”

Shout-outs

Join me next week as my itch to play drives me to battle at a Tuesday Night Magic! Will I flush an entry fee down the toilet? Stay tuned.

Special thanks to Polish Tamales for doing the art for this series. Check out his website www.polishtamales.com

I also want to shout-out Darwin Castle’s latest article on Gathering Magic, “I’ll take winning for 100.” It’s similar to my quest but he’s a much better player than me (ha ha). If you’re on a budget and you want to see what kind of deck you can get for $100, then check this article out as well.

Thanks for reading!

Jonathan Medina

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