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FNM Hero: How to Train A Dragon

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

It was time to regroup. I was out of cash and my trade binder had taken a big hit to build Blue/White (UW) Humans. To make matters worse, I’d used so many resources that my tournament entry fees were coming out my trade binder. The first week, I traded in a Terminus and the second week I traded in a Loxodon Smiter and a Vorinclex. At this rate, FNM Hero would end in failure before the release of the next set. I had one free entry from “top eighting,” which basically means that enough people dropped to put me in eighth. To top it off, I don’t want to be playing humans.

The Human Condition

Okay, I was wrong. I’m willing to admit that now. Human’s is not a good deck in this format. Let me explain why.

1) Thragtusk
2) Terminus
3) Miracled Terminus
4) Thragtusk + Centaur Healer
5) Thragtusk + Huntmaster of the Fells
6) Thragtusk + Terminus
7) Thragtusk

Yes, Humans gets destroyed in every way imaginable by Thragtusk. Sure, sometimes you get lucky and you can kill them through a Thragtusk or sometimes you draw perfectly and you kill them before a Thragtusk, but most of the time you just lose to Thragtusk. Sometimes you get the joy of beating your opponent down to one life only for them to Miracle a Terminus at the last possible moment and then play Jace, Architect of Thought on the same turn. You know what happens after that? You lose. The life totals are 20 (you) to 1 (them) and you just lost the game. Why? Because after they play their Jace, they activate the -2 ability (affectionately known as “Fact or Fiction”) and they reveal, Jace, Architect of Thought, Doesn’t Matter, and Doesn’t Matter. After smugly snatching the Jace off the table, they pass the turn. Then we go into the “choose your own adventure” mode of the game:

Your board has just been wiped and your opponent has played Jace and passed the turn after activating the Fact or Fiction ability. What do you do?

  • Play a creature. (Go to Page 5)
  • Stare at the two Plains in your hand as if you’re considering your options. (Go to Page 11)

Page 5

You decided to play a creature and try to hit your opponent for that one last damage. Unfortunately for you, your opponent played a Tamiyo, the Moon Sage and tapped your creature down. They then activate Jace’s Fact or Fiction ability again and reveal: Terminus, Detention Sphere, and Pillar of Flame. How do you split the piles?

Page 7

You lose the game.

Page 9

You win the game.

Page 11

Your opponent laughs that you had no action last turn and activates Jace’s Fact or Fiction ability. He reveals: Terminus, Detention Sphere, and Pillar of Flame. How do you split the piles?

Your opponent snaps the three cards off the table, then plays another Jace, Architect of Thought.



Fact or Fiction.”

The next turn: “Fact or Fiction

“Jace?” (This is #3)

Fact or Fiction.”


“Okay, go…. wait. I have to discard.”

Will your opponent beat you after drawing ten cards against your two Plains? We’ll find out in the next book.

For anyone who enjoys getting blown-out by Terminus or Groundhog Daying your life away one Azorius Charm at a time, here was my final humans list:

A Boy and his Dragon

It was time to switch decks, but the question is what would I build? Zombies? No way. We don’t want another Delver situation where I switch to “the best deck” and everyone hates me / stops reading. UW Miracles? Miracles are sweet, and that’s what I would need to be able to afford four $50 Jace, Architect of Thought. GW Aggro? LOL. Jund? I don’t want to own Thragtusks. That card is way too expensive to be real!

There were no “real” decks that I wanted to build, but I knew that I wanted to play a control deck. Why? Besides the fact that I was sick of getting blown-out by Terminus, there are also these reasons: Pillar of Flame is awesome right now, Guildgates and Evolving Wilds are cheap alternatives to an expensive manabase, and this guy:

From the moment that Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius was spoiled, I was in love. At first I lamented the fact that I couldn’t afford the new Mythic rare with my meager FNM Hero budget. However, as time passed Niv-Mizzet got cheaper! Those of you who’ve followed my Magic “career” know that I’ve had a love affair with the Izzet color combination for a few years now. Even after Destructive Forceing my board away during a feature match on camera (true story), my love for the color combination did not die.

I wanted to brew a control deck but I didn’t want to go “all in.” As crappy a deck as UW Humans was, it still was a functioning deck and I needed a deck to compete. I drafted a decklist and with the help of a Sharpie and some old sleeves, I built this monstrosity:

Over the next couple of weeks I played some practice games with my new brew. I effortlessly smashed UWr Miracles and Grixis Control. Niv-Mizzet was a powerhouse! I won every game where I got to untap with him. One of the highlights of my playtesting was when I got to Cyclonic Rift a Detention Sphere that was on my Niv-Mizzet at the end of my opponent’s turn. I shot him for six and then untapped and killed him. Niv-Mizzet was quickly becoming my favorite creature in Standard!  The deck was proving to be viable so I hit the trade tables.


You’ll notice a few post-SCG Cincinnati trades in this batch. I was trading for the cards that I needed to improve my Humans deck. But as you know now, I dumped the UW deck for a sweet Niv-Mizzet deck. One of the questionable moves in this series of trades is trading away my Snapcaster Mages. I won on the Geist trade (those were $20 at the time) but I think I ended up losing on the Sublime Archangel trade (those were $18 at the time).

It was getting harder to make trades because all the value had been siphoned out of my binder. I decided to try something that a lot of new players do but I don’t recommend: I traded one of my cards for packs. This is almost always a loss, but since Return to Ravnica is jam-packed with value, it was a little safer than it usually is. Here’s what I opened.

That was almost a blow-out. If it wasn’t for that Rakdos’s Return at the end then I would have lost big time. After opening the packs I traded with one of the local players. He had been trying to get rid of a Lotleth Troll all night and I was happy to take it off his hands. The Troll trade helped me to get more Blue/Red cards, and slowly but surely the deck started to come together. I even picked up some Sulfur Falls.

The next trade was to a guy at States who was looking for a set of Silverblade Paladin. He checked the prices for me (since my phone was dead, also why there’s no picture) and I ended up taking his Foil Terminus (which was $15 at the time on TCG Player).

His ($15)
Terminus Foil $15

My ($16)
4x Silverblade Paladin $4

The proper thing to do would have been to hold on to the Terminus, because I knew it would go up. Unfortunately, I seem to be developing a small gambling problem because when someone offered me 3 Packs of RTR, a Mizzium Mortars and a Magmaquake for the Terminus, I snap took it. As you can see below I got blown-out:

The UR deck was almost complete (with the exception of Steam Vents). I wanted to play UR at the next local standard tournament but my testing had taken a turn for the worst. I found out that UR was really good against control but it couldn’t beat a Green/White (GW) deck . It was clear that I needed to add white before I played a tournament with it. I knew that Terminus and Detention Sphere would go a long way in these type of match ups. I decided to keep the core of the Humans deck, my sideboard cards and then trade everything else:

After a week of trading, I only needed three Terminus to finish the deck. The problem was that my trade binder was completely tapped out. I had my Humans cards, my sideboard cards and a handful of cards that I couldn’t seem to pay people to take. My options were to continue to grind trades and hope that I’d eventually get the cards that I needed or I could take my binder to a dealer/binder grinder for a quick turn around. I suspected that Terminus would go up sooner than I could find someone to trade them to me so I opted to get buy-listed.  Here’s what I sold:

4 Goblin Wardriver .06 (.24)
4 Ponder .25 (1)
4 Spikeshot Elder .25 (1)
2 Mental Mistep .25 (.50)
4 Vapor Snag .10 (.40)
1 Mountain Foil .27
4 Gut Shot .24 (.96)
4 Goblin Wardriver .06 (.24)
2 Shrine of Bunning Rage .16 (.32)
2 Goblin Chieftain .70 (1.4)
5 Dryad Militant .25 (1.25)
3 Grim Lavamancer .25 (.75)
29 Bulk Rares .11 (3.19)
1 Bulk Promo .25
5 Bulk Foil .08 (.40)
3000 Bulk Common / Uncommons $9

Total $21.17

If there’s one lesson that we can learn here, its that picking up draft dropping off tables is big money! I bought the three Terminus that I needed and was ready to rock my new deck at the tournament. Thankfully, I broke even at the last tournament that I played so I still had $5 in credit for my entry fee. Here’s what I played:

Welcome to Durdlesville

My night can be summed-up by the retelling of game three in round two. I’ll sum the first eleven turns up and then we can start at turn twelve.

Turns one through eleven went like this: land, go. Then:

  • Opponent: Thragtusk
  • Me: Terminus
  • Opponent: Jace, Draw
  • Opponent: Jace, Draw
  • Audience: *yawn*
On turn twelve he played an Angel of Serenity and targeted the Thragtusk and Restoration Angel in his graveyard and my Niv-Mizzet. I shot him four times with Niv-Mizzet and drew four cards. On my turn I played a Detention Sphere and exiled his Angel. He got his Restoration Angel and Thragtusk back and I got my Niv-Mizzet, which I replayed. On his turn he played a Thragtusk and I shot him twice, leaving  mana open for an Essence Scatter that I had in hand. He tried to cast his Restoration Angel at the end of his turn and I played Essence Scatter.

On my turn, I hit for five and passed the turn. On his turn he swung with the Thragtusk and I shot it down with Niv- Mizzet. He played Terminus and put my Niv-Mizzet on the bottom of my library. I shot him him down to 8 life with Niv-Mizzet and drew. I checked my graveyard to see how many Niv-Mizzets were left in my deck. That’s when I realized I was drawing dead. The only Niv-Mizzet left in my deck was now at the bottom of it. I died in the worst way possible, by drawing all the cards in my deck. It turns out that Niv-Mizzet is awesome when your deck can actually kill your opponent. Otherwise he’s just a neat way to lose the game by drawing your deck.

After this game I realized that my deck was really good at controlling the board but couldn’t put a reasonable clock on my opponents. I had two wins and two losses that night, which is not enough to get your money back. I questioned if I should trade back into Humans or if I should try to build this deck around Geist of Saint Traft which was the only reason that I won any matches. That’s when the Japanese came to save the day.

I <3 Japan

After the tournament, I took some time to check the iPad for new tech that might be surfacing. While looking through decklists from states, I found stumbled onto this tweet:

[tweet https://twitter.com/starcitygames/status/257863101154725888]

The first place list was exactly what I was looking for. I checked the price of Thundermaw Hellkite and they were really low ($10 at the time). I decided to go all in on this deck. Like I said, the trade binder was looking pretty bad so I started offering people value just to get the cards that I need. I traded the core of the Humans deck for four Clifftop Retreat:

Then I made some other small trades:

The funniest trade of the night was when I emptied my binder for the last Thundermaw Hellkite that I needed. I walked up to Jamie at the counter and tried to strike a deal for the Thundermaw Hellkite that they had in the case.

“Can I get to that Thundermaw Hellkite?” I handed him my binder.

Jamie flipped through the binder. “There is nothing in here, Medina!”

“I know, but it’s only $10. Can’t we buylist for it?”

Jamie flipped through again. “The problem is that there’s nothing in here that the store needs.”

“What does the store need?”

“I dunno…” Jamie thought for a moment. “You know what we need? A Garruk Relentless. If you get me a Garruk Relentless I’ll give you the Hellkite and a drink.”

I turned around and shouted, “does anyone have a Garruk Relentless for trade?!”

Street Cred raised his hand. I walked over to the table.

“Okay, here’s the deal. My binder is crap, but I will give you all the rares in my trade section and any commons/uncommons that you want.”

Street Cred flipped through my binder. “You’ll give me all this stuff?”


He took some commons and uncommons out and said, “okay, I want these and all the rares.”

I pulled them out and placed them on the table for a picture:

I built the deck without Snapcaster Mages because I was out of resources. But I also didn’t trade for the Planeswalkers in the sideboard. My collection was pretty slim, but I was happy with the end result. Here’s what my collection consisted of:

In the Binder:

4 Terminus
4 Niv-Mizzet Dracogenius
1 Snapcaster Mage
1 Sphinx’s Revelation
1 Supreme Verdict
1 Desolate Lighthouse
2 Firemind’s Foresight
1 Devil’s Play

And a handful of playable commons/uncommons.

Current Status

Illuminaud Credit: $0
Epic Loot Credit: $0
Cash: .51

My plan is to use the Supreme Verdict to buy into  next tournament and then the Sphinx’s Revelation and then the Snapcaster Mage as a last resort. I want to hold on to Terminus and Niv-Mizzet because I think those will go up in value as Standard develops. Join me next week as I try to hold on to my playables and battle back from an empty binder and empty pockets. See you then.

Jonathan Medina
@mtgmedina on Twitter

Art by: Polish Tamales

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