FNM Hero: Zombie Apocalypse

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

FNM Hero: Zombie Apocalypse

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.

Friday, 4:30pm

I finished all my support tickets and was wrapping up some projects before the weekend. I stared at my computer screen. For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t feeling Friday Night Magic. Getting beaten over and over again was eroding my self-confidence. I can’t seem to win and I hate losing. When faced with the choice to a) drive twenty five minutes so that I can watch other people destroy me for six hours or b) hang out with my wife and catch a movie, the choice seemed easy.

But that’s the problem, isn’t it. Dad never let me take the easy way. As a result, I auto-ship the “easy way” and always chose to battle. Today would be no different. I got in my car and cranked up disk number one, track six:  AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”

Starting Total: $30.37

I walked into the store on a mission. After my beating on Tuesday night, I had an idea for the sideboard. I wanted something against RG Aggro and Zombies to help keep me in the game long enough to grind them out. I’d been thinking about this card all week and I really hoped the shop had one.

“Do you have Hollowsage… um. It’s a green card with Morbid.”

“What set is it in?” He asked.

“Innistrad,” I said with confidence.

He turned around and lifted the heavy box of commons onto the counter. “All of our Innistrad stuff is in here.”

I thumbed through until I found the green section. “DING!” I exclaimed as I pulled a copy out.

“I need this and the entry fee,” I said as I placed the card on the counter.

“Ok, $5.”

“What about the Hollowhenge?” I asked.

He waved his hand dismissively. This was the most excited that I’ve ever been for a free uncommon. I was ready to take on the world!

-$5, New Total: $25.37

It was time to trade. I only had one thing on my radar for tonight: Glissa, the Traitor. I’d been slowly building an artifact theme into my deck in preparation for when I acquired a Glissa.

I’ve noticed that most FNM decks are creature based. There are not a lot of traditional control decks floating around, so I expect Glissa’s impact to be huge. There are very few creatures that can actually throw down with Glissa in combat. And by “very few,” I mean Mirran Crusader. Glissa also turns my removal spells into draw spells. Even getting back Perilous Myr can go a long way.

There are some downsides to Glissa, though. The first one is that she dies to a Phantasmal Image or a Phyrexian Metamorph. These creatures are huge in the Standard meta right now. Keep in mind that if your Glissa gets cloned, both you and your opponent get a Glissa trigger. The other downside is that after you get Glissa, you don’t want to sacrifice her to Birthing Pod. This stops your Pod chain until you find another creature.

I started to ask around about Glissa. I’ve got to be honest. Asking for cards that I need before a tournament is getting really old. It tips people off who otherwise don’t know what I’m playing. It’s also really stressful since most of the time people don’t have the card or they don’t care enough to check. I spent the next five to ten minutes scouring the store. Even though I couldn’t find a Glissa, I did have a fun conversation. It went something like this:

Me: Do you have any Glissa’s?
Duder: No, I only have the three in my deck and the one in my box.
Me: So you don’t have any for trade?
Duder: No, I have a playset and I’m playing three of them.
Me: Ok, so you’re not using the fourth one?
Duder: No. It’s in my box.
Me: So it’s extra?
Duder: Yes.
Me: But it’s not for trade?
Duder: No.
Me: Ok, that makes sense. Thank you.

I found myself exasperated again. I sat down and opened my “real” trade binder. I had three Glissa’s nicely tucked away in the Multi-Color section.

“Anyone need a Glissa? Apparently these things are like freaking gold around here. Since NO ONE has them!” I wasn’t really talking to anyone; just spewing this into the air as a way to relieve some pressure.

In the middle of my rant, my friend Nick interrupted me.

“You said you needed a Glissa? ”

“Yeah, do you have one?”

Nick opened his binder. “Yeah, it’s signed.”

I handed him my FNM Hero binder, saying “See if you can find anything.”

He pulled out an Elvish Promenade and asked ”How about this?”

“Sure!” It was a snap-keep for me since and I need the Glissa and both cards were the same price.

… Or were they?

His ($1.99)
Glissa, The Traitor (Promo) $1.99

My ($2.99)
Elvish Promenade $2.99

This was a big oops. Part of the rules are to make trades that are equal or in my trade partner’s favor. But there’s no reason to leave money on the table. Every dollar counts! I was too lazy to check the prices and I lost a dollar because of it. This happens alot to new players. They’re either too lazy or too embarrassed to check the price and this will devalue their collection over time. If it happens once, it’s not a big deal. But, if someone does five trades a night and trades four nights a month, then they’re giving away $20 a month!

Now that I had the Glissa it was time to tune the deck a little bit. Here’s what the deck looked like after the tuning:

Meet Maddie

I had some time to kill after I was done changing the deck so I decided to organize my trade binder.

“What are you doing Medina?”

I lifted my head up, but I already knew who it was. It was one of the few girls who played at Epic Loot, Maddie.

I’ve been kind-of the “Big Brother” of her Magic career since she beat with her crappy draft deck when she was first getting into the game. She’s been a quick study and she was one of the first people that I saw build Zombies after the release of Dark Ascension.

“I’m sorting my trade stuff…”

Maddie interrupted me: “Oh, I need that! Can I borrow it?”

She was pointing to one of my Demon tokens. As silly as this sounds, I was pretty excited that someone actually wanted to borrow a card from the FNM Hero binder.

“Yeah, that’s fine.” I pulled the card out and slid it across the table to her. “Hold it up and say cheese.”

I snapped a picture with my iPhone. This is a great way to keep track of people who borrow my cards.

“Round one pairings are up!” The tournament organizer shouted from the back of the room.

“Alright, Maddie. Good luck and don’t lose my token…”

I clinched my fist and shook it in the air, “… Or else!”

She laughed. “Whatever, Medina!”

Round 1 – UB Zombies

Game 1

My opponent played a Swamp and tapped it for a Gravecrawler.  He then “curved” into a Geralf’s Messenger on turn three. I say “curved” since he spent turn two hitting me with Geth’s Verdict. We played the “let’s see if my creatures will stick around and block” game for a few turns until he cloned his Messenger with a Phantasmal Image and and put me on a two turn clock. I played a Kessig Cagebreakers and prayed that it didn’t get killed before my next turn. He smashed in against my seven life. If I blocked a Messenger then I’d go to four life, then to two from Undying. I could take it all and go to one life. Blocking exposed my Cagebreakers to a Tragic Slip and I didn’t want to do that since that’s my only route to a win.

With seven creatures in my graveyard, a single swing with Kessig Cagebreakers represented 17 damage. My opponent was still at 20 and I had a Birthing Pod. I didn’t have a six-drop so I was hoping for some love from the top of my deck. I gave the deck a little pat and drew my card.

Strangleroot Geist.

I surveyed the board and then played the Geist. My only option was to sacrifice the Geist with Birthing Pod and swing for 20. If he has the Tragic Slip then I get blown out. Waiting around just get’s me dead. So, I went for it. He was holding swamps. His choice to attack there was a real head-scratcher.

Game 2

He didn’t have early pressure but he had a Liliana of the Veil. He correctly hit the discard ability like a trip-hammer to suffocate me until it was time to ultimate. Thanks to Perilous Mry, getting there took forever. He finally removed all Liliana’s counters and said, “Lands or Birthing Pod.”

I clarified, “So, Birthing Pod in one pile and all my lands in the other?”

“Yes.”

“So, your $30 Planeswalker was a Naturalize. I’m ok with that.” I tossed my Birthing Pod in the bin.

Next up, I played a Kessig Cagebreakers. I had about 10 creatures in my graveyard so the Cagebreakers was lethal. He matched the Cagebreakers with a Diregraf Captain and a Nihil Spellbomb. Well, that sucks. He cracked the spellbomb and passed.

I Podded Birds of Paradise for a pre-combat Perilous Myr so that I could get a Wolf out of my attack. I swung into his deathtouching Lord. Was swinging there correct? I wanted to kill his Captain so that he couldn’t play another one and take it out of Perilous Myr range. That play was probably terrible. He chose not to block.

Why didn’t he block? It was a favorable trade for him. I dismissed my thoughts with, “I dunno, he’s a durdle!” I used a Tragic Slip to bin his Lord. He untapped and played Phantasmal Image copying my Cagebreakers, paused and played another Image. I guess that explains why he didn’t block. He had enough creatures in his yard to make a lethal Cagebreakers swing.

If I would have kept the Tragic Slip, I could have dealt with both Images. I played really loose because I underestimated my opponent.

Game 3

He had a slow hand and I had a fast hand. He played a Geralf’s Messenger and then Imaged it. I played a Massacre Wurm and then sacrificed it to Birthing Pod to get Sheoldred, Whispering One. He couldn’t overcome my Sheoldred triggers and I swampwalked him to death.

1-0

What did I learn?

Geralf’s Messenger is the best card in the Zombie deck. If I can beat Messenger then I can beat the deck. I also noticed that Phantasmal Image is a very “real” card against me since they can copy my best creature.

Round 2 – Self-Mill

My opponent was a little more talkative than I’m used to but it was a nice change of pace. He was telling me about how he got crushed last round.

“So, you’re 0-1?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

Great. The pair down.

Game 1

The first play of the game was a turn two Deranged Assistant from my opponent. The Mulch on turn three confirmed my self-mill suspicions. I played a Birthing Pod and passed. He answered with a Splinterfright which I ate with Skinrender. He played a Boneyard Wurm on the following turn and milled himself a little more. I upgraded the Skinrender to a Morkrut Banshee and killed his Wurm.

I felt bad because he couldn’t stick a creature, but I had to keep the pressure on. He flashed back a Spider Spawning and passed the turn. I upgraded my Banshee to a Massacre Wurm and wiped his board. He took twelve and after drawing his card for the turn, he scooped up.

Game 2

I led the action with a Nihil Spellbomb. My opponent chuckled and started the self-milling with a Mulch. I played out a pair of Llanowar Elves and passed back. He played a Splinter Fright and I sacrificed my Spellbomb to kill it. I beat down with Elves. My opponent missed his land drop and shipped with no action. I played an Acidic Slime and blew-up his only green source of mana. He drew another non-green land and played out an Armored Skaab. Skinrender on the Skaab let my Elves beat in. An eventual green mana bought him a few turns via Gnaw to the Bone, but he eventually died to team Llanowar and friends.

2-0

What did I learn?

My opponent reminded me that FNM is about fun. Even though he couldn’t get a break during our match, he was still having fun. If I was in his shoes, I would have tilted hardcore. Shout-out to that guy!

Round 3 – UB Control

My opponent had sweet sleeves. “Woah! Where did you get those?” I asked.

Him: “Oh, they sell them here.”

Me: “Do you mind if I take a picture?”

He laughed and spread them out for me. I officially had sleeve envy.

We must have gone to time because my notes are short and I won’t be able to re-construct a detailed account from them. Instead I’m going to  give you a quick summary.

I died.

Too short?

Game one, he Mana Leaked my Birthing Pod and then went on to cast 3 Tragic Slip. The Slips were well-timed and kept me from applying any pressure. I must have put up a fight because it took two Grave Titan and a Consecrated Sphinx to kill me. I’m not sure what happened in game two, but according to my notes it involved a Think Twice and a Grave Titan.

2-1

What did I learn?

Without a Birthing Pod, this match is almost unwinnable. The combination of Snapcaster Mage and infinite removal is too much to overcome by casting one creature at a time. The Grave Titan end-game is also strong in this matchup because it closes the window of time that I have to respond. This match-up would be easier if I still had four Strangleroot Geist in the main deck.

Round 4 – UB Zombies

Game 1

My opponent played a Swamp and tapped it for a Gravecrawler. I grew to hate this opening over the course of the evening. I matched his Gravecrawler with a Mortarpod. He swung and I popped his Gravecrawler. I could have saved the Germ for a Phantasmal Image but I wanted to keep the early damage to a minimum.

My opponent summoned another Gravecrawler to the battlefield and the dead one crawled out of the grave. I played a Birds of Paradise. Epic turn. I could have played a Glissa, the Traitor but I was trying to set up a turn four Precursor Golem. He smacked me with his Zombies and then played a Diregraf Ghoul, missing a land drop and staying one short of Messenger. I drew for the turn and slammed Precursor Golem. He picked up the card to read it as I put my tokens onto the battlefield. He untapped his lands and swung with his two Gravecrawler. I blocked one with the Precursor Golem and took two.

He played a third land and I winced. “Not a Messenger, not a Messenger, not a Messenger,” I chanted to myself. He tapped two for a Mortarpod and brought his Gravecrawler back, then blasted my Golem with his Germ.

I played a Glissa, the Traitor and passed the turn. He untapped, played another Ghoul and equipped his Mortarpod to a Gravecrawler. After looking at his hand, he shipped the turn back. I sent a Go for the Throat toward his untapped Ghoul and re-bought my Golem. He didn’t draw removal and my robots destroyed him.

Game 2

I kept a slow hand and he had to mulligan. His first play of the game was Geralf’s Messenger. Mine was Birthing Pod. He followed up with another Messenger and smashed me for three damage. I untapped and played a Solemn Simulacrum. He cleared the way with a Geth’s Verdict and hit me for six. I tried to play out blockers but his Messengers ate me alive.

Game 3

This one was also one-sided, but I had more play in this game. He came out of the gates with double Gravecrawler into a turn three Geralf’s Messenger. I played a Perilous Myr and held up Tragic Slip. He played a Phantasmal Image copying his Messenger. I lost two life and he swung in. I blocked a Messenger and shot it with the Myr trigger before finishing it off with a Tragic Slip to make the Image’s Undying trigger less painful.

I untapped, played a second Perilous Myr and Podded it for a Wakedancer. The trigger shot the Phantasmal Image which came back as a 3/2 Gravecrawler. He cracked back with his army of Crawlers. I blocked the fake Gravecrawler with my Zombie token to keep Wakedancer for Pod fodder. He had different plans and dismissed my Wakedancer with a Tragic Slip. Another Messenger and I scooped them up.

Geralf’s Messenger is officially OBNOXIOUS!

2-2

What did I learn?

I want more creatures and less Birthing Pod in this match-up. Trying to utilize an early Pod costs life and tempo, which are precious in this matchup.

Round 5 – UB Zombies

I checked the pairings and found that I was playing Maddie. As I was walking to the table I saw Maddie talking to a handful of guys.

“Hey Maddie. It’s you and me… once you get done signing autographs over there.”

“Shut up, Medina!” she giggled.

As we got ready, I said “Oh no! Feature match!” She laughed and I continued.

“What happened last time we played? I don’t remember. Oh, yeah. I crushed you!”

She laughed and said, “I hate you Medina!”

Game 1

We both durdled around until Maddie hit three mana. Can you guess what she played at three mana? That’s right! Geralf’s Messenger. I think I’m starting to get Geralf’s message. She followed it up with another Messenger and that was enough to do me in.

Game 2

Maddie started with a fast two Gravecrawler start. I ramped to into a Curse of Death’s Hold with my trusty Llanowar Elves. She tried to build an army with Cemetery Reaper and Diregraf Ghoul. I played a second Curse of Death’s Hold and she scoffed. Maddie continued to play to her outs by playing a now-less-devastating Geralf’s Mesenger. I played a Massacre Wurm and she scooped them up.

Game 3

She looked at her phone before shuffling. It was about midnight.

“I’ve gotta go Medina. So I’ll give you the win.”

“Alright, good games Maddie. See you next week.”

She signed the match slip and scurried out the door.

I de-sideboarded and took a few minutes to check out Twitter.

3-2

What did I learn?

I can’t beat double Messenger in game one. This is a problem.

Round 6 – UB Zombies (AGAIN!)

I was ready for this FNM to be over, but I needed to keep my focus. If I finished at 4-2 then I had a chance to prize.

Game 1

My opponent stumbled on land while I ramped with Llanowar Elves. Skinrender ate his one drop. He passed the turn with no action and I Acidic Slime one of his two lands. He never recovered.

Game 2

This game was a grind. I gained 8 with a Gnaw to the Bone. He went for Surgical Extraction but I flashed it back in response. Even though I gained sixteen life, I didn’t draw any action to capitalize and fell to an army commanded by two Diregraf Captain. They ate my brains.

Game 3

Another long game. We grinded with Mortarpods. I slow-rolled a Gnaw to the Bone in the graveyard while he sat on a Nihil Spellbomb. He cracked the Spellbomb to dig for action, so I gained twenty eight in response. He played a Phyrexian Obliterator. I drew and played a land. Pro tip: Phyrexian Obliterator trumps land.

Phyrexian Metamorph copied Obliterator and began to lay the beats. Life totals: over 50 to only 6. I could take some hits but I needed to draw action. Land off the top. He obliterated and played Geralf’s Messenger. I bricked a few times and started to tilt.

“So, I gained more than thirty life against a Zombies player and I still lose!? WTF?”

Next draw: Acidic Slime. Not what I needed. Or was it?

I played the Slime and destroyed the Metamorph/Obliterator. I equipped my Mortarpod to the Slime and passed. He swung in and I blocked the Messenger and shot the Obliterator. Since the Slime has Deathtouch, the Obliterator died in exchange for a land. I drew a Metamorph, copied his Messenger for two, slapped on the Pod and double sacrificed the Messenger to kill him from four life.

4-2

What did I learn?

Gnaw to the Bone negates the most important part of Geralf’s Messenger by gaining the two life back. It allows you time to grind their creatures down and get to your end game.

Standings

I was sitting at 4-2 so I was excited to see where I stood. Even twelfth place gets $10.

What. A. Blowout.

I’m pretty sure that my pair-down hurt me big time. I’m really curious why I got the pair-down in round two. Are these things random or something?

Trading

I needed to redeem my night somehow, so I hit the trade floor.

I wanted to trade-off my Ratchet Bomb since it was starting to go down in price. I also traded for some foils which was a bad move on my part. It was like when you have a bad day and drown your sorrows in a cheeseburger or a bottle of Jack.

His ($11.69)
Mikaeus, the Unhallowed $5.99
Splinterfright $1.49
Geist-Honored Monk .99
Moldgraf Monstrosity .49
Brutalizer Exarch (Foil) .99
Dawntreader Elk (Foil) .99
Wakedancer (Foil) .75

My ($12.25)
Ratchet Bomb $8.99
2 Demon Token .15
2 Merrow Commerce .99
2 Summon the School .49

I didn’t expect the Foil Priest to hold value, so I traded it into cards that I thought had more potential. I’ve also toyed with the idea of sideboarding into a Heartless Summoning / Havengul Lich deck. Keep that on the down-low [editor: whoops, left this section in].

His ($5.97)
2 Heartless Summoning 1.99
Tree of Redemption 1.99

My ($6.98)
Skirsdag High Priest (Foil) $5.99
Forest (Portal) .99

You’ll notice that I’m picking up Sever the Bloodline. This card seems pretty decent against Geralf’s Messenger.

His ($1.50)
2 Sever the Bloodline .75

My ($1.74)
Myr Battlesphere 1.49
Wakedancer .25

I was looking for Praetor’s Grasp because I wanted to try them against UB Control. During negotiations, my trade partner asked me if I would sign the card. I guess this little series is starting to build a fan base. Thanks guys!

His ($1.47)
3 Praetor’s Grasp .49

My ($1.49)
Bloodgift Demon (Signed by the FNM Hero Himself) $1.49

His (.75)
Sever the Bloodline .75

My (.99)
Mountain (Portal) .99

Zombie Training

This tournament was on-the-job training for vanquishing an army of the undead. I played against four Zombie decks and after hours of facing down Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger I feel like I understand the matchup against my deck.

Preventing damage early is key. Their strategy is to get in early damage and then burn you out with Messenger and Mortarpod. This means blocking Gravecrawler early and setting up a Massacre Wurm to lock your opponent out is key. The Birthing Pod deck can grind better than Zombies because almost all of our creatures give better value. We also have inevitability. The longer the game goes, the better. Also, save your removal spells for Phyrexian Obliterator.

I typically cut two Birthing Pod after game one. Pod is not great early for two reason:

  1. You don’t want to shock yourself to play it or to activate it. This means that at best you’re getting a turn three Birthing Pod with Birds of Paradise and a turn four activation. Too slow against Zombies.
  2. The Zombie deck has enough removal to suppress your early creatures and keep you from chaining. You need threat density early to keep them from getting in the early damage.

I’d rather be playing value creatures or interacting differently in the early turns than trying to set up Pod chains. I don’t know if sideboarding out Pod is correct for Naya Pod decks, but it feels right for my deck.

This matchup hinges on multiple Messengers. They are really hard to beat game one. The life gain out of the sideboard helps in game two. Once I get a Wurmcoil Engine, I suspect this matchup will be easier.

Closing Thoughts

I’m starting to feel the rhythm of the deck. There are a lot of small decisions and I’m starting to make the right ones more often. However, my budget is dwindling down ($25.37) and I still haven’t cashed. Tonight was the first time that I realized that doing well at FNM still doesn’t mean that I will cash. This is frustrating because getting paired down was out of my control. The only thing that I can do to be sure is to X-1. Let’s see if I can do that next week. Until then, thanks for reading.

Jonathan Medina

Art By: Polish Tamales

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