FNM Hero: Where do we go from here?

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

FNM Hero: Where do we go from here?

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.

We Got There

I haven’t officially “gone infinite” according to my definition from article one, but I’d have to run pretty bad to fail at this point (knock on wood). I’m facing an unexpected dilemma which I talked about a few episodes ago. The gist of things is that no one wants to read about Delver of Secrets decks. Delver is capable of starting the game in such an obnoxious way (turn one Delver with a blind flip) that it infuriates people. With the conversion to Delver and the grinding nature of this challenge, the series has grown stagnant. Articles about me battling “the empire” with my off-the-wall Birthing Pod deck were much more interesting to read than the ones about my grinding money with one of the best decks in the format. This is a problem, but how do we solve it?

We need to rekindle the magic (pun intended). I want FNM Hero to be a helpful place for new players to check out budget options for FNM and learn something about playing and managing their collection. To do that, we need to shift the focus a bit. Don’t worry, the original rules will remain intact. Instead of focusing on going infinite, we’re going to allow that to exist as a byproduct of accomplishing smaller goals. What goals? I’m glad you asked:

1. Survive Rotation

This is something that every new and old player has to manage. It’s been in my sights for months now and I’ve been trying to hedge my collection against losing value when it hits. This was one of the key reasons to trade out of the Birthing Pod dependence when I did. I still have some rotating cards that I need to get rid of but I hope my guidance so far has helped you position yourself. As part of my plan to survive rotation, I’m going to save up enough store credit for a box of Return to Ravnica. This is something that a lot of new players do. Opening a box would be a lot of fun and would give me some staples for the new season.

2. Top 8 a Big Event

The comments have spoken! It seems that a lot of you want the FNM Hero to Top 8 a big event. I’m up for the new challenge so I’m going to add this to my goals. There are two Star City Games events coming to my area. The first is Cincinnati on October 6th and the second is Indianapolis on October 20th. Top eighting the Cincinnati tournament is going to be tough because Return to Ravnica comes out on the Friday before the Open. This means that it may be tough to get the new cards that I need for my deck in time. If I fail, I’m going to run it back for Indianapolis. This means that I need $80 in the next month.

3. Play Different Decks

As you’ll see in this Episode, I’m going to be looking at different decks and playing them in FNM. These decks will be budget decks because I’ll be building them out of the FNM Hero budget. I’m hoping that my exploration of other deck options will help new players find competitive and affordable options to rock at FNM.

Now that we have a plan, let’s get back to the story.

A Kind Gesture

I was walking out the door after my last disappointing performance when one of the local players got my attention.

“Medina…”

He was holding a Snapcaster Mage.

“Here, I had an extra one.”

“What do you want for it?” I asked.

“Nothing. You can use it to further your FNM Hero journey.”

“I can’t accept that,” I said.

A look of rejection swept over his face. This was an awkward moment. I knew that he was trying to help but my rules won’t allow me to accept free cards. My rejection might have come off as arrogance, but I was so taken back that I didn’t know how to respond. Then it hit me.

“Do you want to trade it?” I asked.

“Sure!” he said.

I handed him the FNM Hero binder and said, “If you can find enough here then that would be awesome!”

He flipped through the pages and pulled out a Talrand and some other stuff. He motioned to the pile and asked, “How’s that?”

“I have to give you a little more, keep shopping.”

He continued to pull until the trade looked like this:

His ($19.99)

Snapcaster Mage $19.99

My($23.38)

Talrand Sky Summoner $6.99
Stormkirk Noble $2.49
Runechanter’s Pike (Foil) $1.99
Avacyn’s Pilgrim $4.99
Mwonvuli Beast Tracker .49
4 Vanishment .49
Burn at the Stake .49
Phylactery Lich .99
2 Alchemist’s Refuge .75
Vampire Nighthawk $1.49

*Snapcaster Mage is up to $24.99 at most sites now. This was done when they were $19.99

Windfall

I posted a sale on Twitter and Facebook for the Snapcaster Mage and my Game Day winnings. Here’s what I was asking for each (based on Ebay values at the time):

Magmaquake (Full Art Foil) $5
3 Mwonvuli Beast Tracker (Full Art) $5
Snapcaster Mage $20
Game Day Champion Playmat $20

It only took 10 minutes for me to get a tidal wave of offers. I ended up selling the whole lot to Nick Lange (thanks bro!) for $60. Now we can do some damage!

Current Status

Illuminaudi Credit: $10
Epic Loot Credit: $5
Cash: $60.65

With my new cash flow I decided to build a fun deck to go with my “make-that-money” Delver deck. My first thought was to go with a mono black deck.

The Real Dark Side

Mono Black Control is a deck with a lot of fans. With each new set release you can hear murmurs of “Could this be the day? The day that Mono Black Control returns?”  Magic 2013 brought us closer to that reality than any other set has in the last few years. With tools like Mutilate  and Trading Post, the deck has the inevitability that it needs to compete. The great thing about Mono Black is that all the staples are relatively cheap.  To give you an idea, I’ve included a list of what these card sell for on the store side of Legit MTG (you can click on the card name to buy any of these).

Trading Post  – $1.99
Mutilate  – $3.49
Sorin Markov  – $5.99
Sorin’s Vengeance  -.49
Liliana of the Veil  – $17.99
Liliana of the Dark Realms  -$16.99
Wurmcoil Engine – $8.99

When you compare these prices to staples of other popular archetypes there’s a huge discrepancy. Here are some examples:

Geist of Saint Traft  – $18.99
Cavern of Souls  – $22.99
Bonfire of the Damned  – $46.99
Thragtusk  – $10.99
Restoration Angel  – $11.99

The other thing that you should note about Mono Black is that the “expensive” spells like Liliana are only a one or two-of in most deck lists. This is because Mono Black depends on inexpensive cards like Geth’s Verdict, Mutilate and Duress to slow the game down enough for you to draw into your threats. Most of the “good” decks in the format build a frame for consistency out of more expensive cards which makes the overall cost of the deck more expensive. This is not the case with Mono Black.

Based on my research, there are two kinds of Mono Black control decks. The first and most popular is the durdle-centric Trading Post build. These seek to make the game last forever while they grind the opponent out of their resources and drop a Wurmcoil Engine. The other version is a version that Brian Kibler was fiddling with. It’s a more aggressive version with no Trading Post and 100% more Griselbrand.

I was leaning toward trying to make the Kibler version since I hate playing do-nothing cards like Ichor Wellspring. But then I stumbled upon this beauty!

What the hell is going on here?! I’ve affectionately titled this WTF Black. Card choices like Stuffy Doll plus Mutilate really perplexed me. But since this list was so unique I wanted to try it out. The good thing about trying this deck is that most of these cards are used in the mainstream Mono Black lists, so I don’t lose much by buying into this whack factory of a deck. I traded for some of the staples through out the week. I also upgraded my Ponders and traded for a couple of Delver cards.

After grinding the trade tables I made this small purchase:

3          Celestial Purge
2          Elixir of Immortality
1          Exsanguinate
1          Faith’s Shield
4          Geth’s Verdict
4          Knight of Glory
1          Mentor of the Meek
4          Nihil Spellbomb
4          Pristine Talisman
4          Ravenous Rats
1          Sign in Blood
2          Timely Reinforcements
4          Tragic Slip

Total Cost $7.70

You might notice that I bought some sideboard cards for my Delver deck along with some Mono Black staples. I almost bought the Liliana but I decided to proxy the deck before I went real deep. I proxied the cards that I didn’t have and grinded some games against my buddy Jake playing my Delver deck. He beat me every game that we played, though they were really close. I was surprised that this unorthodox version of Mono Black could hold its own against Delver. Our testing session piqued my interest and I’d like to test with another version of the deck, minus the Stuffy Doll and other crappy cards. However, I decided to continue testing with proxies before taking it to FNM. This means that I still needed a fun deck to take to FNM.

Last Minute Audible

I was trolling Twitter when I found a Mono Red deck that looked affordable and fun. It was posted by surfer dude sound-alike and 60cards.com CEO Jesse Smith.

Whenever I see a decklist my first instinct is to change it. Even though this deck went 4-0 in a Magic Online daily, the arrogant brewer inside of me says, “eh, we can do better!” I started asking my Twitter followers what they thought of various changes to the deck. I asked about everything from adding Runechanter’s Pike and Faithless Looting to cutting a land for a Mutagenic Growth. Pro Tour Champion Alex Hayne started to sound off on the deck. He and his team ran a very similar deck on the Pro Tour level to moderate success. Here’s part of the conversation:

After the conversation on Twitter I made some tweaks to the deck. Here’s the “Hero Version”:

I decided to purchase the cards that I need for the deck. I had a few things like the Gut Shots, Pillar of Flames, Volt Charges and random one-ofs that I scored in draft-dropping recons, but I still needed most of the deck. Here’s what I bought:

4 Goblin Fireslinger
3 Grim Lavamancer
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Arc Trail
3 Incinerate
4 Shrine of Burning Rage
4 Volt Charge
1 Koth of the Hammer
2 Flames of the Firebrand
1 Incinerate
2 Smelt
2 Combust
3 Mark of Mutiny

Total Cost: $24.13

Now that’s a cheap deck!

It’s Going to be Epic!

I decided to go to Epic Loot instead of Illuminaudi this time because the cash prizes are better and there are a lot of Delver decks there. I spent my last $5 in credit and sat down for the first round.

Round 1– Mono Red Goblins

I was giddy about the possibility that I might get to crush a Delver deck in round one! My excitement faded when the first turn revealed a Mountain on the other side of the table. Lame! I was a little scared since I haven’t played a Red deck in ages. How do I beat the mirror match?

Game 1

Vexing Devil?”

He placed the card on the table with a grin. Without a second thought I took the 4. He passed the turn and I played a Goblin Fireslinger and said go. I decided to play by instinct and try not to over-think things.

Vexing Devil?”

He place a second Devil on the table. Before he finished, my instincts snapped in again and I took 4. He looked a little dejected. This could only mean good things for me. He passed the turn without playing a second land. He was short on lands.

I dropped my second land and passed the turn. He missed another land drop and passed the turn. I shot him for one with my Goblin and then untapped. My Goblin was joined by Chandra’s Phoenix and I smashed him with my flaming bird. Kaw-kaw!

At seven life, he finally drew his second land to play a Krenko’s Command. I Incinerated him at the end of turn and shot him with my Fireslinger. The Phoenix finished him off on my turn.

Game 2

I brought Flames of the Firebrand in from the sideboard and cut some Volt Charges. I did this because I saw Krenko’s Command.

My opponent mulliganed to five. He started with a Vexing Devil again and I took the four damage to dismiss it. I hit all the sweet spots on my mana-curve: turn one Stromkirk Noble, turn two Stormblood Berserker, turn three Incinerate his blocker and smash in, then Grim Lavamancer. His five card hand couldn’t keep up and my match was finished in 10 minutes.

1-0

What did I learn?

I’ve forgotten how fast a Red deck can kill someone! Having the creatures early is key to closing the game at the speed that you need to.

Round 2 – UG Delver

I watched my opponent play the end of his last match so I knew what I was up against. My Gut Shots were going to be really good.

Game 1

He started things off with a turn one Delver of Secrets. I burned it with a Pillar of Flame and passed the turn. He followed up with a Quirion Dryad and then a Gitaxian Probe. With the Dryad’s trigger on the stack, I hit it with a Gut Shot. I crossed my fingers and hoped that he didn’t have the Gut Shot to save his Dryad. “No Gut Shot, no Gut Shot” I repeated over and over in my mind as my opponent surveyed the board. Either he was a master of the slow-roll or he was just taking a few moments to let the blow-out sink in. He binned his Quirion Dryad and then we resolved his Gitaxian Probe. Two Gut Shots, a Stromkirk Noble and a Chandra’s Phoenix later and he was packing it in for game two.

Game 2

My notes are sparse for this game. They simply say: 4 Gut Shot, LOL. I can’t help but think, what if my Gut Shots were still Brimstone Volley? I probably would have died a lot more.

2-0

What Did I Learn?

You really have to be mindful of Quirion Dryad in this matchup. It can quickly grow too big for you to deal with. If you don’t have a way to kill the Dryad then you have to position yourself to win through it by racing.

Round 3 – WR Humans

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point this guy became my kryptonite. Every time I play him (his name escapes me at the moment) I lose. To make myself feel better, I blame it on some kind of superstitious curse. I mean, the guy can’t really be better than me at Magic, can he?

Game 1

I started the game with a Stromkirk Noble. He opened with a Champion of the Parish and I did a mental fist-pump. I gave his Champion a Gut Shot at the end of his turn and then proceeded to my turn. This was a subtle misplay that I’m only realizing now that I’m recapping the event. A better way to do this is to swing with my Noble that he can’t block and then Gut Shot his Champion. The reason that this is better is because I had a Stormblood Berserker in my hand and by holding my Gut Shot I could ensure Bloodthirst for the Beserker. Doing it the way that I did it opens me up to getting blown out by a Gut Shot from my opponent. Killing my Noble would leave me with no way to activate Bloodthirst.

Thankfully, I wasn’t punished for my terrible play. The game devolved into him trying to stick two blockers to keep my Stormblood Berserker at bay. I used my burn spells to control the board while I beat down and he used his creatures as lightning rods.

Game 2

I felt invincible for game two. He was never “in” game one and I had some sweet hate in the form of Combust and Flames of the Firebrand out of the sideboard. He started the game slow with no one drop. I played a Fireslinger. His turn two play was Lightning Mauler–also known a “ticking time bomb.” I had a Combust in hand, so all I had to do was keep two mana open to be safe. He was cautious not to attack with the Mauler into my untapped Goblin Fireslinger. I think that he didn’t want to lose his shot at crushing me with a hasty Hero of Bladehold. As I suspected, he had a Hero of Bladehold on turn four. He paired it with the Lightning Mauler and I Combusted the Hero in response.

I decided to Pillar of Flame the Mauler to protect myself from a second Hero of Bladehold. I attacked with my team and passed the turn. He played his second Hero of Bladehold. I tapped the top of my deck. Come on, Mark of Mutiny!

Combust.

That will do. I killed his Hero and attacked. He played another Lightning Mauler. Not this guy again! He paused, then tapped out for Hero of Bladehold number three.

“10 you.”

Ouch! I died on the next attack.

Game 3

I kept a two-land hand with Combust, Gut Shot, Goblin Fireslinger and three-drops . It seemed reasonable but it would prove to be frustrating. I started out with my Fireslinger and passed the turn. He played a Champion, which I killed with Gut Shot. I pinged him and passed the turn. He dropped a land and passed the turn. I drew a Chandra’s Phoenix to go with the other three drops that began to clog my hand. He played his third land and played Mirran Crusader. I declined to Combust it. I wanted to save the Combust for the Hero of Bladehold. I had a Volt Charge for the Crusader if I drew a land.

I drew a Stromkirk Noble and played it. If it was going to come down to a race, I wanted to start dealing damage. On his turn he played Thalia and swung with the Mirran Crusader. I took four. “My go?” I asked. He nodded. I drew a Gut Shot and used it to kill Thalia. This was a misplay. I should have waited for the end of his turn to kill it. He untapped and played another Thalia. The game ended after a few more Crusader swings.

2-1

What did I learn?

I should have played around Thalia by Combusting the Crusader when I could have. Instead, I put myself in a losing situation. Mono Red seems like a deck that relies on pacing more than any other deck. By playing the way I did, I allowed him to set the pace of the game.

Round 4 – Zombie Event Deck

When I sat down to play I didn’t know what the Zombie event deck looked like. Since this match, I’ve stumbled upon the deck list and I’m 97% sure that’s what this girl was playing.

Game 1

Here’s my opening hand:

Shrine of Burning Rage
Pillar of Flame
Gut Shot
Goblin Fireslinger
3 Mountain

I wasn’t sure what I was playing against but this hand seemed like a solid keep. I led with Fireslinger and she led with Diregraf Ghoul. I played my Shrine of Burning Rage and passed the turn. She swung, I took the damage and then she killed my Fireslinger. I shot her in response. On my turn, I killed her Ghoul with a Pillar of Flame and we both played draw-go for a while until she played a Vampire Nighthawk.

I had to make a decision. I could use my Shrine of Burning Rage at eight counters to kill the Nighthawk. Or I could try to race it. Every time the Nighthawk hits me, it puts me one life point deeper since the Shrine gets a counter per turn. My deck is full of burn spells to bridge the gap, so I decided to race. I drew a Mountain.

Out of the next seven draws, I drew six Mountains and a Stormkirk Noble. Needless to say, my racing plan didn’t go so well. I eventually had to use my Shrine with 18 counters to kill the Nighthawk. It wasn’t long until she amassed a zombie horde and ate my brains.

Game 2

This was the quickest game of the night. I hit every point on my mana curve without missing a beat.

Turn One: Stromkirk Noble
Turn Two: Stormblood Berserker (Bloodthirsted)
Turn Three: Chandra’s Phoenix
Turn Four: Arc Trail her blockers and swing for seven.

These are the kind of draws that I daydream about at work. Sadly, game three brought me back to reality.

Game 3

Swamp, Chronomaton.

I played a … wait, let’s back that up. CHRONOMATON!?

Typically this would not be a problem. For a red deck, though, it can grow out of range quickly. I struggled for lands and I had to use an Incinerate to deal with the Chronomaton. She played a Gravecrawler and started beating down. I finally drew a third land to cast one of the three Chandra’s Phoenix in my hand.

She played a Skinrender and pointed to my Chandra’s Phoenix. I threw it in the graveyard and spent my next turn casting a Volt Charge on the Skinrender. She hit me with the Gravecrawler and then played Ghoulraiser. I looked at her graveyard and saw a Chronomaton and a Skinrender. Sometimes, life is a huge troll. She picked the Skinrender up and put it in her hand. I played Chandra’s Phoenix number two.

She placed the Skinrender on the table and pointed again. Yeah, I know the drill. Gravecrawler came in for another two damage. Now she was threatening lethal. I untapped and played Chandra’s Phoenix number three.

“Go.”

She untapped four mana and said, “Skinrender?”

2-2

What did I learn?

I may have played poorly but I can’t help but come back to the issue that the deck had too many three-drops. I always felt like my three-drops were slowing me down and not allowing me to make multiple plays in one turn.

Round 5 – UW Delver

It was turning out to be a rough night. I was glad to be facing one of my better match-ups. My opponent is a regular who plays Delver. Last time I played him he was still new to the deck so he didn’t provide much resistance.

Game 1

This game was over quick. He played a turn one Delver which I killed with a Gut Shot. I played another Gut Shot to activate Bloodthirst for a Stormblood Berserker. I followed it up with a Chandra’s Phoenix and he couldn’t catch up.

Game 2

He opened with turn one Delver again. I tried to Gut Shot it but he snapped down a Mutagenic Growth. I dropped a mountain and played a Pillar of Flame on the Delver. He played Mental Misstep and I paused for a moment. He took the Misstep and placed it on top of my Pillar. I felt like saying, “I GET IT!” I put the Pillar in the graveyard and passed the turn.

He looked at the top card of his library. The way this night was going, I wouldn’t have been surprised if he blind-flipped the Delver. He revealed a Mana Leak. Obviously.

I’d love to say that I found an answer to his two toughness creature in my deck full of burn spells. As fate would have it, the turn that I ripped the land to Volt Charge the flying insect was the turn after he played two more Delvers. The other two Delvers flipped on the following turn and killed me.

Game 3

This just in! Geist of Saint Traft is still a card! That’s ok, I’ll just block. Oh wait, all I have is one power guys. And you know by now that I’ll never hit a third land for Chandra’s Phoenix. I won’t bore you with details that can be summed up with “I died.”

2-3

What did I learn?

Even a good matchup can go terribly wrong. I’d like to say that I kept my cool but by the end of the match I was tilting harder than I have in a long time. Brandon Young Wolf sat down next to me after the match.

“Man, Medina.You might need to chill out. Looks like you want to kill somebody.”

I forced a smile.

Current Status

Illuminaudi Credit: $10
Epic Loot Credit: $0
Cash: $28.82

Silver Lining

My performace was pretty bad, but two good things came out of the night:

1) I got an Avacyn’s Pilgrim foil promo!

2) Another Mono red deck went 6-0 that night. This is what it looks like:

This deck looks insane. Not only do I get to dome people for five damage with Goblin Grenade, but I also get to play with Krenko, Mob Boss! I decided to sell/trade my current Mono Red deck for this Goblins variant. I’ll talk about how I fare next time. As always, thanks for reading.

Jonathan Medina
@mtgmedina on Twitter

Art By: Polish Tamales 

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