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FNM Hero: Running on Empty

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

This One Time at FNM…

I was sitting at 3-2 and it was do or die. The night had been tough on me. I started on a high note at 3-0 and somewhere along the way the wheels had fallen off.  Could I ratchet them back on for the final round? Here’s what I was rocking:

Round 6 – UB Zombies

I sat down across from the only Zombie opponent who beat me the previous week. I expected the same Zombie build out of him since he was quite proficient with the deck.

Game 1

My opponent kept a slow, more controlling hand. His first spell of the game was Mortarpod. After several well-timed Go for the Throat, he mopped the floor with a pair of Phyrexian Obliterator. Unfortunately, I was on the floor at the time.

Game 2

I refused to go down without a fight. My opponent played his trusty turn-two Mortarpod but this time with a Gravecrawler for fuel. He committed another Zombie to the board and started pinging me with Mortarpod. This was the only way that he could get damage in since I amassed an impressive army of creatures versus his few, dinky zombies.

He untapped and studied the board. I had him right where I wanted him. I wanted to high-five myself. But then he tapped out for six mana. What the hell costs six mana in the Zombie deck? Was he trolling me with the ultimate troll: a one-of Grave Titan in a twenty land Zombie deck?

Black Sun’s Zenith for 4?” he asked, looking at me for confirmation.

[Rant]I hate it when people cast a spell in an “asking” manner when I’m tapped out in a format like Standard. What am I going to do with zero mana in my green/black Birthing Pod deck? Mutagenic Growth?![/Rant]

Black. Sun’s. Zenith.

“It resolves.” I said with a hint of are-you-f#*@ing-kidding-me in my voice.

The rest of the game went poorly for me. I played my whole hand into the Black Sun’s Zenith and he had an army of Zombies waiting to infest the board after the sweep. I had figured that the way to win this zombie match-up was to overwhelm him with board presence and grind him out. The sweeper was an interesting next-level play to thwart my plan.

I shouldn’t be mad at this guy for playing well, but I was pissed. I walked outside for some air. I was 3-3 on the night. Another failed week. Another $5 down the drain.

-$5, New Total: $20.37

I felt awkward walking outside. This is one time that I envied the smokers. They have an excuse to go outside. I just looked like a sore loser. I decided to cover it up by going to my car to drop off my backpack. On the way to the car, I relived the highlight of my evening: destroying Reuben Bresler, host of “The Newsening”, in the Birthing Pod mirror match. Let’s flash back to that match:

Feature Match (Round 2) – 4Color Birthing Pod

I smiled as I sat down. Reuben is no slouch so I already counted this match a loss.

“I think you’ve got this,” I said to Reuben.

“Yeah, it would suck if you beat me with your $20 event deck.”

Reuben was rocking an Adam Prosak special: four color Birthing Pod. I heard rumors that it had a Trinket Mage for Grafdigger’s Cage. This seemed bad for me, but also for Reuben. Whenever I’m playing against a good player or a good deck, I tend to cultivate unreasonable fears about what their deck might contain and what sick plays that they can make to destroy me. When I start worrying like this, I take some time to replay a few moments of cinematic excellence to calm myself down.

Then I play the game one play at time.

Game 1

The Lord must have been smiling on me because my opening hand was out of a dream:

Birds of Paradise
Woodland Cemetery
Birthing Pod
Strangleroot Geist
Go for the Throat

My turn two Birthing Pod outclassed his tapped land. Nice four color deck, dude. On turn three, I played my Strangleroot Geist and upgraded it for a Wakedancer. It felt good to smash in for three and still have seven power on the board for next turn. He played a lack-luster Daybreak Ranger and passed the turn.

I shipped my Wakedancer with Birthing Pod to Skinrender his Daybreak Ranger. Then I smashed him for five. He answered with a Phantasmal Image to kill my Skinrender and then upgraded it for a Geist-Honored Monk.

I crushed his hopes and dreams by hard-casting a Massacre Wurm.

“Of course you drew the Massacre Wurm!” he spewed with distain. Game.

I felt a slight tremor in my hands while I was sideboarding.

“This is a favorable match-up!” he said in protest while fishing through his sideboard. He was tilting and I was a little annoyed that he was making the match uncomfortable, so I poured some gas on the fire.

“You’ve tested the Event Deck match-up?” I gave him a little smirk.

“I’m talking about the green/black Pod match-up!” His tone was somewhere between, “Come on!” and “You’re a luck-sack.” Artist’s rendering of game one:

Game 2

He mulliganed to six and I went with him. My hand was pretty loose but he was going to five so I was hoping to free-roll him with this:

2x Go For the Throat
2x Evolving Wilds
Birthing Pod
Strangleroot Geist

He led with a tapped Sunpetal Grove. I drew a Forest and played an Evolving Wilds. He played a Birds of Paradise and a second Sunpetal Grove. I fetched for a Swamp at his end step. Can you see where this is going?

I untapped, played my Forest and slayed his Birds. This prompted more protest from Reuben:

“Obviously, you have the one removal spell in your deck!”

I laughed to myself. If only he knew that I had a second Go for the Throat in my hand. He soon found out when he missed his land-drop and I killed his second Bird. Reuben was done with words of protest. He sulked as he shuffled his cards in silence, casting a futile Green Sun’s Zenith for another Birds. I proceeded to “sweep the leg” Cobra Kai-style by casting Skinrender on his third Birds of Paradise.

It didn’t take long after that for Reuben to scoop. After the match, he nursed his wounds with sweet cold delight while Adam and Taylor enjoyed the taste of victory!

A Change in Direction

I smiled and thought to myself: “Well, the night wasn’t a total loss. At least I get to troll Reuben for losing to an Event Deck.” I dropped my backpack into my trunk and went back into the shop. I needed to formulate a new plan. I haven’t cashed yet and I need to make the best of my remaining $20. I started with what I knew best: Magic Finance.

My strategy was to find cards that Epic Loot buys for the same price at which Star City sells. This would give me the ability to “trade for cash” and then turn the cards in for store credit. The prior week, the shop was buying Oblivion Rings for $1–only .25 less than trade value. That meant that I could have translated every $1.25 into $1 store credit. I looked over Epic Loot’s buylist:

The only card that stuck out was Praetor’s Grasp at .50 on the buylist and .49 on Star City. I set out for the trade tables but I was quickly disappointed. I only found one Praetor’s Grasp.

His (.49)
Praetor’s Grasp .49

Kithkin Soldier Token .15
Merfolk Rogue Token .15
Faerie Trickery .25

When I got home, I posted on Facebook that I was looking for free Standard tournaments in the area. Until this point I had avoided trying to play free or “soft” tournaments. But, it seemed like I wasn’t cutting the mustard at my FNM so I needed to start looking for places that I could win. It was time to swallow my pride and find something more my speed.

The next day, I was restless. I wanted to make some progress on my quest so I decided to go to Illuminaudi. If I could make some trades or grind some games, then I’d have more of a chance of winning at my next event.

A Breakthrough

The card shop was empty with the exception of a couple of guys playing some games in the back. I’d never seen them before so I walked over to see if they were interested in trading.

“Hey, do you guys have any trades?”

“No, I don’t really trade,” responded the first guy. His friend responded as well, saying “I don’t trade either.”

Well, it looked like I wasn’t going to get any trading in today. I decided to take a load off and try to get some practice games in.

“You guys don’t mind if I watch, do you?” I asked while pulling out a chair.

“No. We’re just play-testing Standard.”

I sat down and watched a couple of games. The match was Unburial Rites Control against UW Humans. I noticed that the control player was making some suspect plays and I wondered if I was missing something. I assumed that I wasn’t.

“Why didn’t you Snapcaster Mage the Forbidden Alchemy in response to the Grand Abolisher?” I asked.

“I didn’t think about it” said the control player.

I explained that he wanted to use as much mana as possible since he was going to be locked out for the turn. This line of play would have allowed him to see the most cards and fill his graveyard for Sun Titan. He appreciated the tips and went on to win the game despite the earlier sub-optimal play. Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite makes some decks quite forgiving.

“Do you mind if I jump in? I’ve been tuning a deck and I’d like to get some practice.”

“I’ll play you,” said the Humans player while shuffling his deck.

The Unburial Rites player switched seats with me. I talked about my deck and told them the story of FNM Hero as we played. I won a handful of games and my new-found friends were impressed with the deck.

I didn’t get these guy’s names, so I’m going to assign them both awesome nicknames. From this point forward the Unburial Rites player will be known as Snapcaster Willie and the Humans player will be called Han Solo.

Han told me that he’d been considering buying an Event Deck but wasn’t sure which one to get.

“Are you still looking to get one?” I asked.


I tried to contain my excitement while I pulled the deck out of my bag.

“I have this one. It’s still sealed.”

“Oh, I don’t have any money right now.”

“I would trade it for cards” I responded.

He seemed reluctant, but he gave me his binder. “Do you have a binder that I can look at?” he asked.

I passed him my binder and looked through his. I found a couple of pages in the middle that looked like part of the Frites deck. My eyes fixed on a Wurmcoil Engine.

“I’m interested in this Wurmcoil Engine” I said.

“Humm… what’s the Event Deck worth?” he asked.

Snapcaster Willie interrupted. “They’re like $50…” he said. He looked over at me and continued: “…right?”

“Well, I ran the numbers and there’s about $50 in trade value in the deck. But the sealed deck sells for $20.”

I pulled out my iPhone as Han mulled it over.

“Yep, it looks like Wurmcoil is $17.99 and the event deck is $19.99,” I confirmed.

Han looked at Willie and asked, “What do you think?”

Willie said, “Wurmcoil is cycling out soon. So if you’re not going to play it, you should go for it.”

I really wanted this trade to happen but I didn’t want to push it or manipulate Han into taking a trade that he wasn’t sure of. Han asked me, “Do you think this is good for me?”

This is such a hard question. He obviously trusts me enough to ask and I don’t want to betray that trust, but I also didn’t want to leave the shop with the Event Deck!

“My opinion is going to be biased because I want the Wurmcoil, but like with any trade it’s about what you want most. What are you going to get the most value out of?”

“Yeah,” he agreed. “I need to think about it.”

I wanted to keep the conversation open so I said, “Can you find something for the Flayer of the Hatebound?”

He shook his head positively. “Yeah.”

It didn’t take him long to pull out a Carnifex Demon. I told him that the Carnifex Demon was not enough so he took a couple more cards to even it up.

His (.49)
Flayer of the Hatebound .49

My (.88)
Carnifax Demon .33
Wakedancer .25
Skirsdag Flayer .25

I thanked him for the trade as I slid the Hatebound into my binder.

“So, what do you think about the Event Deck trade? Are you going to pass?”


My heart sunk.

“…I’ll do it.” He said. He must not have heard the “Are you going to pass?” part.

“Really?” You’re supposed to keep your cool at the trade table, but I couldn’t help but celebrate! “Thank you. This is going to help me so much in my quest!”

His ($17.99)
Wurmcoil Engine $17.99

My ($19.99)
Spiraling Doom Event Deck $19.99

After snapping a picture of Han and his new Event Deck, we made some small talk about FNM Hero and the shops in the area.

Han asked, “Are you allowed to play in free tournaments?”

“Yeah, I’ve been looking for some actually.”

“There’s one at Northgate Mall on Fridays. It’s free.”

“What’s the prize payout!?” My mind was blown.

Snapcaster Willie said, “There are no prizes. Just promos.”

Since the FNM promo is Dismember, I was pumped! I could trade a Dismember for the lands that I needed. I took down the information and thanked both of them for all their help.

After a lot of ups and downs this week, this Wurmcoil trade really put some wind in my sails. I’m down to $20 and I have a free tournament next week. Based on the way that Han and Willie described it, this one should be in the bag. They said, “With the way you play, you should be able to take it down easy!”

I’m looking forward to next week. But before we get there, let’s talk some Pod strategy.

What did I Learn?

After grinding this deck over the last few weeks I’ve gained some understanding of a few popular match-ups. Here are my thoughts:

UB Zombies (Evenly Matched)

I talked a lot about this last week. This matchup can go either way. It’s all about keeping them off the early damage and using the power of “The Force” to keep them from drawing Geralf’s Messenger (ed: shooting the Messenger is such bad value!).

Key Cards: Geralf’s Messenger, Phantasmal Image / Skinrender, Massacre Wurm, Precursor Golem

GR Aggro (Favorable)

Black goes a long way in this matchup. The key is keeping them off a Huntmaster of the Fells. It’s okay if they cast it. It’s pretty much a Wakedancer that gains them two life. Letting them flip it, however, is a big problem. I typically save my removal for Huntmaster. This sometimes means holding back Skinrender until they try to stabilize with Huntmaster. Their Strangleroot Geist is going to lay early beats, but that will stop once you get a Glissa, the Traitor online.

If they have an early Sword of Feast and Famine then your removal needs to focus on keeping them off creatures until you can find Acidic Slime or a Sylvok Replica. Also be sure to factor Phyrexian Metamorph into your lines of play. Not playing around Metamorph can be a blowout.

Key Cards: Huntmaster of the Fells, Sword of Feast and Famine, Phyrexian Metamorph / Skinrender, Go for the Throat, Glissa, the Traitor

UW Delver / Esper Spirits (Unfavorable/Unwinnable)

This match-up is typically a blood bath. Delver ignores your ground creatures and brings the battle to the air. Pod is too slow to pressure Delver early and cards like Mana Leak and Vapor Snag keep you from mounting an offensive.

Naya Pod has a better matchup against Delver because it runs four Strangleroot Geist for pressure and it has an Elesh Norn end-game. I don’t have these tools yet so I have to rely on a well-timed Massacre Wurm and Curse of Death’s Hold instead.

For this last FNM, I took Curse of Death’s Holds out of the sideboard and added Sever the Bloodline. I expected to battle more Zombie decks and I figured that Sever could still deal with Lingering Souls tokens and kill a flipped Delver. In retrospect, this was a terrible idea. I never wanted to board Sever in against Delver because it’s really expensive and doesn’t lock the game up if you resolve them.

Key Cards: Delver of Secrets, Mana Leak, Vapor Snag / Strangleroot Geist, Go For the Throat, Massacre Wurm, Curse of Death’s Hold

That’s all I’ve got this week. Next week, we’ll tackle the free FNM and I will talk about which Avacyn Restored cards I want for my Birthing Pod deck. As always, thanks for reading.

Jonathan Medina
@mtgmedina on Twitter

Art by: Polish Tamales 

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