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FNM Hero: Home Stretch

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

“Medina, are you in on this or what?”

After losing my last $5 in credit, I was in a self-destructive mood.

“What the hell? I’m in.”

I passed a Terminus over to Bernie and he handed me three packs.

“Let’s do it for a Terminus and a Mizzium Mortars.”

The group agreed and everyone threw $20 worth of cards in the pot. Here’s how this game works: each person opens a sealed pack and the person who has the most expensive card wins the pot and all the packs that were opened.

I opened my pack and quickly thumbed to the rare. It was a Steam Vents. I slammed it on the table.


Brandon Young Wolf threw his pack on the table.

“Dammit, I thought I had that one.”

His rare was a Lotleth Troll. Bernie and the other guy threw their packs on top of Brandon’s. I slid the packs over to my side of the table and started pulling the rares and playable uncommons out.

“Nice doing business with you guys.”

“Wait a second… you’ve gotta run it back, Medina,” Bernie protested.

Running it back was a minimal cost since I was already up about $80 in value. I began to daydream. I can win FNM Hero right here, right now! No more battles, no more grinding, no more budgets. Easy, breezy, beautiful.

2 Hours Later

“I should have walked away. DAMMIT!”

“Sorry, Medina,” Bernie replied.

He scooped the last of bit of value that I had off the table. I stared blankly at the table then it started to sink in. I just went from being $80 positive to being $60 (a set of Terminus) in the negative.

“I feel bad that I just crushed the FNM Hero,” Bernie apologized.

“It’s cool man. I should have known better.”

The Easy Way

My dad warned me about moments like this. “The easy way is a lie,” he would say. His words echoes in my mind as the guys left the table. With ten kids, my dad couldn’t afford not to take risks. The ones he took involved him battling through things that he was unfamiliar with, or unprepared for.  They were never the kind of risks where he put his hope in the “free roll.” Instead, he worked hard and hoped that the movements of the universe would be merciful.

I gambled away my set of Terminus because I was hoping to get a payoff that I didn’t work for. As the laws of the universe would have it, I was punished for it. The irony of this whole thing is that I was much closer to finishing FNM Hero than I thought I was. Had I not tried to take the easy way out, I could have probably have finished the quest by now.

Taking Stock

At the end of the last episode I was sitting pretty on $10 in store credit and three of the four Snapcaster Mage that I needed. Since then I traded for my fourth Snapcaster Mage.

I top eighted the ten person Game Day tournament at my local shop. Since there were only ten people, I didn’t earn any store credit, but I did get the two promo cards. I sold the Dryad Militant and some other cards that my buddy Jake needed for his cube for $10.

This put me at the status below:

Illuminaudi Credit: $0
Epic Loot Credit: $0
Cash: $10.51

After losing $48 in value for no reason, I decided to take stock of my position. I ran the numbers on my deck and I’ve definitely come a long way from my humble Event Deck beginnings! Here’s the deck that I was running when I calculated the price:

I used Star City Games pricing to keep the integrity of the article series intact. You should all know by now that you can order the same cards cheaper here at store.legitmtg.com. I did a card by card break-down below and the total value of my deck was $655.17.

4              Restoration Angel               14.99
4              Snapcaster Mage  24.99
2              Thundermaw Hellkite        24.99
4              Geist of Saint Traft              34.99
3              Detention Sphere 7.99
4              Azorius Charm     1.49
4              Dissipate               0.99
2              Essence Scatter    0.25
4              Searing Spear        0.75
2              Unsummon           0.25
4              Pillar of Flame     0.99
4              Clifftop Retreat    9.99
4              Glacial Fortress   3.99
4              Hallowed Fountain             15.99
1              Moorland Haunt  0.99
1              Desolate Lighthouse           0.49
4              Steam Vents          14.99
4              Sulfur Falls           11.99
4              Dungeon Geist     1.49
2              Negate    0.15
2              Purify the Grave  0.49
2              Zealous Conscripts             1.99
1              Mizzium Mortars                4.99
3              Supreme Verdict  5.99

After playing Friday Night Magic since March (8 months) on a meager $100 budget my deck is now worth six times what I put in. The number was sobering. I’d been grinding so hard that I didn’t realize how close I was to my goal.  The goal from my introduction article was this:

To make enough money to build the most expensive Tier 1 Standard deck and have $200 left over to keep grinding with.

With my deck nearing the $700 dollar mark, I’m pretty sure that I’ve completed the first requirement. Now all I need is to do is to get $200, which can be done in three or  four FNMs if I play well. It would have been less if I still had a set of Terminus to sell. With a new perspective on my goal, I needed to tune my weapon (deck) for performance.

UWR Midrange and Me

I’ve been playing UWR Midrange for a few weeks but I wasn’t happy with the deck. My results were mediocre and I felt like the deck could be made better. Before I talk about the deck’s shortcomings I will admit that my performance is far from perfect, so It could be that the mediocre results are due to my mediocre play skill. I accept this. That’s why I’m always looking for the newest technology: to give me an edge.

The UWR deck runs like a combo deck. This is a strange way to describe the deck, but it feels like all the pieces have to fall into place for you to win. Those pieces include (but are not limited to) an early Geist of Saint Traft, a way to counter or kill their blockers, and enough protection for your Geist to go all the way. When you have these things, the deck is insane. When you don’t, it’s clunky and quirky. Three quirks are particularly glaring:

  1. Snapcaster Mage rarely has a target in the early game. This problem is amplified when you draw a creature-heavy hand. The tournament that I “won” was one where I couldn’t afford Snapcaster Mage and ran Augur of Bolas instead. Augur hit more than Snapcaster did in the early game, and he blocked better.
  2. Your lands sometimes come into play tapped for the first few turns of the game. This is due to all the M10/Innistrad duals in the deck. Tapped lands in the early game make cards like Azorius Charm and Essence Scatter worse. There were awkward moments where my opponent played a Centaur Healer or (even worse) Geist of Saint Traft into my one open mana with Essence Scatter in my hand.
  3. Pillar of Flame went from awesome to garbage overnight. With Zombies falling out of favor, you don’t need to exile two-power guys anymore. I found that Pillar would often sit in my hand waiting to be sided out while I faced down cards like Restoration Angel and Thragtusk.

I decided to find the optimal UWR build, so I started where I always do: Magic Online (MTGO).

Back in a Flash

As I studied the MTGO Daily Event lists (what’s left of them), I stumbled upon a man who hates pants (MTGO user, ihatepants), but who loves playing on his opponent’s turn. That man was Adam Prosak. Take a look at this beauty:

My first thought was that he cut the Pillar of Flame for Unsummon and added a Sphinx’s Revelation. As I started to assemble the mana base, I realized that this deck did not have red mana. WHOA! No Thundermaw Hellkite? No Izzet Charm? I stopped to review the list more closely. This list was much different than the UWR Midrange deck that I was used to. I was skeptical, so I decided to sleeve it up and give it a shot at the local shop.

The deck swiftly destroyed a couple of Zombies decks piloted by some of the local grinders. I was surprised at how well the deck functioned without Pillar of Flame. These games put my mind at ease and I decided to give the deck a try at the next FNM. It was nice to have an unknown quantity for FNM until Adam Prosak top eighted with it in St Louis. This was a good thing and a bad thing. It was a good thing because Adam is a local player and he could help me to understand the deck, but it was a bad thing because now the secret was out and people would be familiar with what I was playing.


As always, I had to do some trades to get into the new deck. Luckily there weren’t many since I was still in the same colors. Most of my trades were academic, but there are two trades that I will talk about directly. You’ll also notice that I started to trade for foils for the deck. I do this whenever I like a deck. Also, typically people are more willing to trade foils than non-foils as you’ll see with the Sphinx’s Revelation below. Let’s look at the boring trades first:

In the trade below, I traded two Thundermaw Hellkite for two Cavern of Souls. They were even at the time at $19.99, but since then Thundermaw has gone up to $24.99. I didn’t really want to trade the Dragons, but with all the blue players at my shop I thought it was better to have Caverns rather than a card that I’m not using.

I may have lost $10 on the trade above, but I killed it it on this trade. I traded for this Foil Sphinx’s Revelation when they were $9.99. The person who traded it to me didn’t like foils and he just wanted some cards for Junk Tokens. After the set of Call of the Conclave, Blood Artist, Intangible Virtue, and Underworld Connections he was ready to call it a trade, but I had to shore the value up (per FNM Hero rules) so I threw in some other stuff .

A couple of weeks later, Sphinx’s Revelation started to get hot. I traded the foil one for two non-foil and part of a Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius. I wasn’t sure at the time if I was going to run two Sphinx’s Revelation in my deck, but with all the talk about it I wanted to have at least two.

Keep in mind that a lot of these trades are done over a two to three week period, so you’ll notice me trying to get Niv-Mizzet only to trade them away later. As someone who is trying to stay on top of the trends, my priorities constantly shift. I’d love to speculate on cards like Niv-Mizzet but the priority goes to card that will actually help me win an FNM.

Adam Prosak the Mad Scientist

I took all the toys from the trade tables and assembled my new deck. Unfortunately, FNM was a beating.  Three turn-one Deathrite Shaman later and I was 2-2 and out of contention to win my money back. I texted Adam immediately after the tournament.

“How do we beat a turn one Deathrite Shaman?”

“Realistically, we don’t.”

Well, that was encouraging. I decided to study this deck inside and out. I wanted to put FNM Hero to bed and it seemed like this was the deck to do it with. It didn’t take long after Adam’s top eight for the pros started to chime in about the deck:

I read every article that I could and I watched 15 hours of Adam streaming the deck. Not only did I learn how to play the deck, but I also learned that Adam Prosak has the best stream soundtrack out there! Over the next couple of weeks, the deck went through some subtle changes, mostly in the sideboard. I’ve kept a close eye on the evolution of the deck and the different ideas that were being tossed around. After I had a decent understanding of the deck, I started to discuss my idea with Adam. He’s been gracious in answering my questions and theorizing with me.

One of the matchups that we talked about was the troublesome Reanimator matchup.  My first instinct  was to add red to the deck for Izzet Charm (to kill Deathrite Shaman) and Izzet Staticaster (for Lingering Souls). However, I wanted to try to beat the matchup without making my mana worse. During my brainstorming session I went as deep as turning my Plains into Temple Gardens and running Memory’s Journey, but in the end I went with something more reasonable. I stayed with Purify the Grave and added Talrand, Sky Summoner to the sideboard. The theory (it was only theory at this point) was that Talrand would allow me to battle Lingering Souls efficiently with my 2/2 drakes as well as race Deathrite Shaman and Thragtusk.  Talrand also gave me an extra edge in the mirror and filled the “road bump” slot that Fettergeist previously filled. I will admit that Fettergeist is a better road block, but I have a stronger game against aggressive decks than I do Reanimator / Thragtusk decks, so I’m okay with losing some value there.

With my new tech and a couple of weeks of schooling at Adam Prosak University, I sleeved this up for my next FNM:

I’ve already spent my last $5 and played in the FNM that I was preparing for. How did I do? You’re going to have to wait until next time to see if all of my studying paid off. If it didn’t, I’ll be back to piecing out my collection for entry fees and waiting for my big break. As always, thanks for reading.

Jonathan Medina
@mtgmedina on Twitter

Art By: Polish Tamales

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