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FNM Hero: Running it Back

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

I slid my iPhone out of my pocket to check the time. It’s funny that our whole generation has abandoned watches and we now depend on our cell phones for the time. The iPhone reported 9:20pm. I had just finished battling at the free Friday Night Magic (FNM) and had a decision to make. I could drive home or drive to Epic Loot and catch up with JR and the gang.

If it was earlier, then going home would have been a snap-keep (easy decision). Hanging out with my wife before she goes to bed is always better than hanging out at the card shop. I called my wife to see what she was up to. She was still wide awake and a little bit hungry. Then I called JR to see how things were going on his end.

“We’re in round two. Come down!”

Since JR had four rounds (aka, four hours) left to go and my wife was hungry, the decision was pretty easy. What kind of hero would I be if I didn’t stop at home to make my wife something to eat?

I found my wife reading on the couch. I presented her the menu options. She picked eggs, which weren’t on the menu. Who am I to stand in the way of someone’s late night egg cravings? I cooked up some eggs and then watched an episode of Bones with my wife while she ate. It was a nice end to her evening. But as every gamer knows, 11pm is not a respectable time to end a Friday evening.

I jumped back into my car and head toward Epic Loot. I wanted two things out of the evening:

  1. To Steak and Shake with the crew.
  2. To finish my playset of Birds of Paradise and Woodland Cemetery.

I arrived to find JR and Company in the fourth round. This gave me some time to work my mojo on the trade floor while I waited for our Steak and Shake festivities. I made my way around the room asking if anyone had trades.

Trades were pretty sparse since most people were still in a round.  I sat with a couple of guys who were working on a deck. They had it laid out on the table. My assumption is that one of them had dropped and they were talking about what went wrong.

“Do either of you have a Woodland Cemetery?” I asked.

“I do,” one of them answered.

I passed him my binder while I looked through his. He pulled out the foil Gather the Townsfolk that I won at the free FNM just a few hours earlier.

“What do you want for this?” he asked.

“They’re $5 on SCG.”

He took the card out of the binder and placed the card on the table. “I want the token too. How much for that?”

“They go for about $5 or $6 on ebay.” I answered.

He placed the token with the promo on the table. I thumbed through his binder for the Woodland Cemetery.

“The Woodland is $7.99 right? “ I asked.

“We just looked it up…” he motioned behind him “…and it was $4.99.”


I pulled out my iphone and looked it up. I impatiently tapped the table while I waited for the internet to cough-up the price.

Woodland Cemetery was $4.99, dammit!

The rest of the trade was pretty straightforward. I had to throw a token in to avoid any value trading shenanigans.

His ($9.98)
Birds of Paradise $4.99
Woodland Cemetery $4.99

My ($10.13)
Human /Wolf Token $4.99
Gather the Townsfolk $4.99
Demon Token .15

After the trade, I checked in with JR and company. Everyone was dead and contemplating dropping. I supported the motion to drop and we made an early escape to Steak and Shake. Bad-beat stories were shared over Frisco Melts and Mint Cookies and Cream Shakes.


There’s a local Standard tournament on Tuesdays at Illuminaudi but the EV is pretty low so I typically don’t FNM Hero there. It is, however, a great place to hang out and and do some trading.

The tournament was already underway so I set up shop at far end of the store at an empty table. A couple of my friends settled in around me and I asked them if any of them had a Daybreak Ranger. Since Daybreak Ranger requires red, we should probably have the splash talk.

Red Splash

Now that I’d completed my playset of Birds of Paradise and Woodland Cemetery, I could afford to start looking at adding a color to my deck. The key was to find a color (splash) that gave me the most bang for my buck. For example, white is a great splash but to get any real power out of it you have to invest in an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Red doesn’t have any cards that are as good as Elesh Norn, but it has a handful of cheap options that could improve my deck:

Inferno Titan $3.99
Daybreak Ranger $1.99
Hellrider $3.49
Hero of Oxid Ridge $1.99

One of my buddies pulled his binder out of his backpack.

“I have a Daybreak.”

I pulled out my sorry excuse for a binder and passed it over to my buddy. He flipped through it, and slowed down when he got to the back. The back of the binder is where I keep all the cards that I might use for the deck. I keep them upside down to show that they are not for trade. He pointed at my Gut Shot.

“Is this for trade.”

I winced. I didn’t want to trade the Gut Shot.  I wanted to get a couple for the Delver match-up but they don’t even seem good against Delver.

“Can you find anything else?”

My friend flipped a page or two. “No, not really.”

I still didn’t want to trade it. I was doing what a lot of Magic players do. I was overvaluing a card (Gut Shot) based on it’s past accomplishments. Luckily I caught myself in time.

“Let me check the prices,” I said.

I was surprised to find that Gut Shot was the same price as Daybreak Ranger. This trade was a slam-dunk; an uncommon that’s falling out of favor for a rare that has a lot of potential (even post rotation).

“Ok, I’ll do it. If you’re still ok with it.”

He shook his head yes and I was the new proud owner of a Daybreak Ranger.

His ($1.99)
Daybreak Ranger $1.99

My ($1.99)
Gut Shot $1.99

I pulled the Viridian Emissary out of the deck and added the Daybreak Ranger.


I looked down at the penny sleeve. A Nightfall Predator stared back at me. I actually can’t run this unless I get some real sleeves or a checklist card.

One of the locals, Ryan Tackett started laughing. “Nice sleeves, bro!”

This was obviously a problem.

“Ryan, do you have any used sleeves that I can trade you for?”

Ryan dug a box out of his backpack. “I have some draft sleeves. They’re pretty shitty but they’re better than those.”

I handed him my binder. “Can you find something for the sleeves?”

He was amused by the whole situation. “You can have em’. I was about to throw them away anyway.”

“Can’t you find something?” I asked.

I wasn’t sure what to do here. How much is a stack of used, dirty sleeves worth?

Ryan pulled out a Morkrut Banshee. “I actually need one of these.”

“Ok, anything else?” I waited for him to pull a couple more cards.

“That’s all I need,” he said.

“So, you’d do that for the sleeves?” I asked.

To me, these sleeves were worth their weight in gold. To him they were trash.

“Yeah, its fine,” he said.

“Thanks bro.”

Like a kid on Christmas, I scraped the dirt from the face of each sleeve. Some of the sleeves were close to splitting, but I couldn’t be happier. I sleeved up the deck and shuffled it to see how it felt. It felt good. I put the deck away and got ready to leave for the night.

Before leaving any card shop late at night, I always survey the tables at the end of the night. People leave cards after drafting or opening packs. It’s not uncommon that someone will open 3-4 packs, take the rares and the playables and leave the rest for the trash can.

I wasn’t so lucky tonight. I found some cards that someone had proxied on. I assume that they upgraded their deck and left the “proxies” on the table. These are playable cards, but they have writing on the back.

I asked around to see if anyone would stake a claim of the cards. Nobody did. I slid my new acquisitions into the binder and made my way home for the night.

Wednesday – Training Day

After getting punk-slapped by Delver a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been wanting to playtest the matchup. My buddy Jake Meiser offered to help so we met up at Illuminaudi. Jake is one of those guys who’s good at Magic but doesn’t play much. He was a local PTQ grinder until he discovered poker–a more lucrative path to pursue. The previous week, Jake had crushed the Standard tournament at Illuminaudi with Tom Martell’s Esper list.

He brought the same version to battle. And battle we did. Every game was a slaughter. Jake’s timing was perfect and he knew what cogs to destroy to shut down my machine.  The game count was 3-16 in favor of Jake. Ten of those games were pre-sideboard. It only took six more games before I decided that in the current configuration the matchup was nigh unwinnable.

I found that the few games that I won involved ramping into a Stingerfling Spider or Curse of Death’s Hold. I feel like Ratchet Bomb would go a long way against the Spirits versions of this deck. Massacre Wurm did some work but Jake was careful not to play into a blow out. He only needed a small amount of pressure and his instants (and Snapcaster Mage) would carry him the rest of the way.

I was in an awkward position because I needed to advance my board position. But after turn five, I needed to keep mana open for Go for the Throat to keep him off of Drogskol Captain plus Phantasmal Image. This is a combo that I can’t beat.

We laid the deck out on the table. “What do you think?” I asked.

“Maybe if Delver is such a bad matchup you might want to maindeck the Curses.”

The strategy behind Jake’s recommendation was to give myself the most chances of beating Delver–including game one where my deck was previously soft. I was hesitant because drawing a Curse of Death’s Hold against a control deck seemed miserable.

After some thought, I decided to work the Curses into the main deck. I don’t play against a lot of decks where they would be bad and they would give me an edge against Delver. I also decided to add the other two Rampant Growth. Here’s what the deck looked like:

Friday, -$5, New Total $15.37

After crushing Heartless Summoning, GW Aggro and GR Aggro, I was off to a strong start at 3-0. Some people’s FNM would end here or after the next round, but mine was only half over.

I was worried that the wheels would fall off again like they did last time. As much as I wanted to play one game at time and focus, my psyche wouldn’t let me. Doubts started to pour in.

“3-0 is where you start losing.”

“Your deck isn’t even good enough to be 3-0.”

“This is a fluke and the luck is going to wear off.”

I tried to shake it off with some iced tea before I sat down for my next round.

Round 4 – Solar Flare

I mulliganed to six and kept a pretty loose hand of Rampant Growth, Skinrender, Curse of Death’s Hold and three lands. I wasn’t sure what I was playing against but this seemed better than five cards to me. Was it better? We’ll never know.

Game 1

He opened with a Seachrome Coast into nothing. I jumped for joy thinking that he was on Delver with no turn one play. I played my land and passed the turn. We repeated this process until turn three when he played a Pristine Talisman.


This meant that he wasn’t playing Delver. I looked at the Skinrender and the Curse of Death’s Hold in my hand and lamented. I almost scooped on the spot. It was one of those games of Magic where you’re so far behind that you just want to leave the table until your opponent is done killing you. The game only got worse when he played a Drogskol Reaver. Thanks to my two Curse of Death’s Hold (yep, I drew my second one) the Reaver was only a 1/4. This meant that I’d have to wait longer to die. Between Pristine Talismans and Drogskol Reaver’s double strike, he was drawing four extra cards a turn.

I’d love to say that I came back and won the game in true hero fashion, but I died instead. As I was sideboarding my opponent smiled and said, “I wish it happened like that for me more often!”

I chuckled. “That’s an interesting build.”

Game 2

I brought my Nihil Spellbomb and Sever the Bloodline copies in from the sideboard. Then I shuffled up for game two. My first hand didn’t have any lands, so I mulliganed. Same with my six card hand. I went down to these five cards:

Glissa, the Traitor
Rampant Growth
Sylvok Replica
Woodland Cemetery

I couldn’t expect a better four card hand, so I kept it. I was hoping for some action off the top. I played land, go for a couple of turns until I was able to play a Glissa. He followed my Glissa up with a Forbidden Alchemy.

“Wow, this really doesn’t happen often!” he said it in a slightly apologetic tone as he dumped an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Sun Titan and Nihil Spellbomb into his graveyard.

If he dumped those bombs then he must have an Unburial Rites in his hand. I died nine turns later after drawing a billion lands. The only other spell that I drew that game was a second Rampant Growth. It took every ounce of control for me to not flip the table.


What did I learn?

Sometimes you draw nine lands in a row and you usually die when that happens. Despite the bad luck, the matchup also seems pretty bad for me. I feel like I’d like more copies of Strangleroot Geist for matchups like this.

Round 5 – BR Zombies

I think my opponent was new to the game. I hadn’t seen him at FNM before and he was shuffling like he was new to the process. It didn’t take long for me to see that despite being new, he was proficient.

Game 1

He started the game with a Gravecrawler into Highborn Ghoul. I tried to stop the bleeding by blocking his Ghoul with a Phyrexian Rager which I cast on my turn. I always try to trade creatures with the non-Gravecrawler zombie if possible. This lets me set up situations where I can kill his Gravecrawlers for a couple turns. After I traded my Rager for his Ghoul, he Brimstone Volleyed me.

-2 first Gravecrawler attack
-1 Phyrexian Rager
-2 second Gravecrawler attack
-5 Brimstone Volley

That put me at 10 life with no guys on the board. I played a Perilous Myr and a Nihil Spellbomb. I traded the Myr for his Gravecrawlers and I sacrificed Spellbomb. He Volleyed me again. That’s freaking OBNOXIOUS! I was at three life. I naturally drew a Wurmcoil Engine and played it. He ripped a third Brimstone Volley to finish me off.

Pop Quiz

I felt a tap on my shoulder while I was sideboarding. It was the door prize faerie from Epic Loot. Remember, we talked about this last episode. Here’s your chance to exercise the skills that you learned.

You’re approached by an awesome Epic Loot employee and they say that you’ve won a door prize. Which one do you pick?

It was a toss up between the Strangleroot Geist and the Gather the Townsfolk. I remember hearing someone say that the promo Geist were up to $7, so I decided to go with that one in case they were right. It turns out that the Geist is only worth the same as the Gather the Townsfolk.

I tucked the promo away in my deck box and went back to the match.

Game 2

This game was more of a grind. I had a Go for the Throat for his first Diregraf Ghoul but he added another and a Gravecrawler on his next turn. I played a Strangleroot Geist to play defense and he swung into it. I blocked his Ghoul and took two before he dropped a Geralf’s Messenger. His next swing left me creatureless since I blocked his Geralf’s Messenger. After more creature exchanges and some Daybreak Ranger action I was able to grind my way back into position.

At 6 life, I dropped my Wurmcoil Engine to his empty board. As fate would have it, he drew a Liliana of the Veil and made me sacrifice a creature (AKA, my Wurmcoil Engine). I binned my Wurmcoil and made two tokens. He used a Brimstone Volley to toast my life-linking token. My deathtouch token ate his Liliana. I worked on his life total while he drew lands.

I had a Hollowhenge Scavenger in my hand, but I wanted to see if he would kill one of my creatures or block so that I could gain the five life. I knew that if I could gain the five life then I’d lock the game up. His deck stopped cursing him with lands and he drew a Mortarpod and played it.

I was a dead man walking. A Brimstone Volley or a Geralf’s Messenger off the top would kill me.

I dropped the Scavenger to shorten his clock, but it was futile.

He drew his card for the turn. His eyes darted over to the sheet where he’d been keeping my life total. I knew I was dead before he did. He slowly sacrificed his germ token to the Mortarpod.

“One to you.”

It’s like he was expecting me to counter it or something. My inner monologue screamed, “Kill me already.” (Did I mention that my inner-monologue is a poor sport?)

He tipped the card in his hand toward me. It was a Brimstone Volley.

I scooped my cards up. “You’ve got it, man.”


What did I learn?

It’s really important to play around Brimstone Volley in the RB Zombies matchup. Plan “A” should be to find a Wurmcoil Engine fast.

Round 6 – Esper Tokens

I had one more shot to lock up some cash. I was on the bubble again and things were not looking so great. My opponent quietly shuffled his deck while smiling. You could tell that he was happy to be playing Magic.  His smile was contagious. I shot him a quick grin and started to lighten up.

“Having a good time?” I asked.

He shook his head as he pressed his cards together. We handed each other our decks and started the match.

Game 1

I mulliganed to six and kept a slow but reasonable hand. I had a Rampant Growth, a Massacre Wurm and a Nihil Spellbomb which I could use for incidental interruption or to cycle for a new card if needed. None of this planning mattered because he played an Intangible Virtue into Lingering Souls and he had the second Virtue to shut my Massacre Wurm off.

This is part of the problem with the Birthing Pod deck. Sometimes you draw the wrong half of the deck. When you have a Birthing Pod then you can transform the wrong cards into the right cards. But, without a Pod I was left with a handful of stuff that did nothing against my opponent.

Game 2

He mulliganed to five but was still smiling. I felt bad for the guy when his first two plays of the game were Doomed Traveler. I took a couple hits and then sent a Sever the Bloodline toward the them. He was stuck on two land and I ramped into Acidic Slime to seal the game up.

Game 3

Alright, we’ve gotten this far. One game away from cashing. I agonized over some sideboard choices. Typically, Phyrexian Metamorph is pretty bad against tokens. But, I expected to see Mirran Crusader out of his board and I could always use more outs to that card.  I decided to keep the Metamorph in.

We both started with seven cards. His opener was Doomed Traveler into Honor of the Pure. My opener was Birds of Paradise into Daybreak Ranger.  He followed up with an Intangible Virtue and I used my turn to flip my Daybreak Ranger. Time to FIGHT! In his combat step, the Ranger mangled his Traveler. I kept Ranger on defense and slowly ate his team. My hand was shaping up to be a very defensive hand. I had two Corrosive Gale and Phyrexian Metamorph but I couldn’t apply any pressure.

He dropped an Oblivion Ring on my Ranger and it was my two Birds of Paradise against his two Anthem effects. I drew a Birthing Pod and played it. He haunted the board with a Geist of Saint Traft. I logged into Facebook and updated my status.

“That awkward moment when your opponent leaves Phyrexian Metamorph in against your token deck.”

I legend-ruled his Geist and passed the turn. He played a Sword of Body and Mind and a chill ran up my spine. All he needed to do was to equip the sword to a creature and that would shut off the two Corrosive Gale in my hand. I drew for the turn.

Acidic Slime.

What a mise! I dropped the Slime and destroyed his Sword. I upgraded the Slime to a Wurmcoil Engine. My Gales kept his Lingering Souls out of the way while Wurmcoil Engine devoured his life total.

My opponent was still smiling.


What did I Learn?

Smile. Magic is fun.


After the round, I had some time to trade. I debated for a moment wether I should trade my promo Strangleroot Geist or if I wanted to keep it. I decided that my budget was too low to start pimping my deck out, so I circled the store looking for an open trade binder.

“Do you guys want to trade?” I said as I sat down next to a couple of the regulars.

The Strangleroot Geist didn’t stay in the binder long. One of the guys at the table pulled it out. Here’s our trade:

His ($8.71)
Razorverge Thicket $6.99
2 Tribute to Hunger  .49
Leonin Relic-Warder .25
Carnifex Demon .49

Strangleroot Geist (Full Art Promo) $6.99
Mayor of Avabruck $2.49
Kessig Cagebreakers $1.49

I got pretty toasted in this trade, but I was exited about getting a dual land! I also like to trade promos right away because they don’t hold their value as well as regular cards.

As you can see, I was still on the fence about where I wanted to go with the color splash. Red was the cheapest as I talked about above, but white has Elesh Norn. I decided to hedge my bets by picking up cards for both splashes.


A voice rang out from behind me. “Standing are posted.” I ran over to the screen to see if I made it.

Jonathan Medina – 11th

A surge of adrenaline flushed over me. Finally, I’d cashed. An uncontrollable smile cracked my lips. I walked over to the tournament organizer to make sure that it was true.

“Eleventh gets $10 right?”

“Yes,” he confirmed.

+$10, New Total $25.37

I’ve made thousands of dollars through this game. I’ve made some of it from playing (SCG Nashville) and most of it from buying, selling, and trading. But this was the best $5 that I’ve ever made.

Cash at FNM Hero: Achievement Unclocked. Next step, take the whole tournament down!


It seems that this series is making quite the splash. I want to give a shout-out to a couple of guys on Gathering Magic who are paying homage to the series:

MTGO Hero” by Tangent – FNM Hero inspires Tangent to try his own adventure on Magic Online.

52 FNMs – Dear Diary” by Jon Corpora – I’m pretty sure this guy hates me, but this is a good read. He crushes his FNM with an unmodified event deck!

Thanks for reading! See you next week.

Jonathan Medina

@mtgmedina on Twitter

Art by: The one and only Polish Tamales

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