I shot my arms out to stretch and rub my eyes, trying to focus on a blurry world. I slid my iPhone off the lamp stand next to the bed to check the time: 11:49am. I didn’t sleep the whole day away.
I made my way downstairs and poured a bowl of cereal. My wife was outside gardening. I set the bowl of Cocoa Pebbles on the coffee table as I fired up my laptop. My morning routine consists of refreshing the one hundred tabs that I have open in Chrome. When I made it to Facebook, I noticed that my buddy Belfy posted in the “Cincy Area Magic” group:
“Game Swap over in Amilia is having standard tomorrow at 1. It’s pretty soft if anyone wants to go. “
I was feeling like a boss after cashing at Epic Loot and I wanted to keep the momentum going. I prepared my deck and made plans to battle on…
After a 45 minute drive, I arrived at the store. I had about an hour to kill so I walked next door to order a chicken quesadilla. After a short wait and some amusing antics from the cashier who was better at texting than operating the cash register, I got my quesadilla. This restaurant prided themselves on quantity over quality. The quesadilla was huge yet tasteless. Their motto should be: “Our food doesn’t taste great, but at least you get a lot!”
I walked back to shop with my eight pound quesadilla in tow and ate a slice while I tried to trade. Sadly, no one wanted my cards! They did want my Quesadilla, though. It was gone 60 seconds after I offered it to the guys sitting at the table.
“Time to pay!” a voice rang out from the cash register. I paid my $5 and waited for pairings.
-$5, New Total $20.37
The pairing: “Belfatto and Medina.” You’ve gotta be kidding me. Belfy was the one guy in the room who I knew could beat me. He’s no slouch. He has a few PTQ Top 8s (including a win) and a GP Top 8 under his belt. Nice “soft tournament.” I smiled at him as we sat down.
Round 1 – Mono Green
“So, you invite me down here to beat me?” I asked, laughing.
“You can definitely get there!” Belfy replied.
I was destined to die based on my keep. I mulliganed to six cards and kept a hand of four lands, Massacre Wurm, and Curse of Death’s Hold. I don’t know what I was trying to do here. I should have mulliganed to five, but I think my respect for Belfy as a player led to a notion that I needed “more cards” to beat him. The problem with this line of thinking is that I didn’t have “more cards.” I actually had no cards until turn five.
Like I deserved, my deck trolled me with lands off the top and another five-drop in Acidic Slime. I tried to catch up with his Llanowar Elves into Strangleroot Geist, into Garruk, Primal Hunter start but a Primeval Titan did me in.
We both had fast starts. He had and Elf into turn-two Sword of Feast and Famine. I had a Rampant Growth into Skinrender to kill his Elf before he could equip. The next turn, I naturally drew my Sylvok Replica to kill his Sword. Belfy followed up with a Strangleroot Geist but I slid into the driver’s seat with a Birthing Pod.
“I’ll copy your Birthing Pod,” he said.
He sacrificed his Geist for a Viridian Corrupter and killed my Birthing Pod. I had the option to kill the Corrupter, but I figured that the worst he could do was Pod into a Huntmaster of the Fells that I could also kill. I held my Go for the Throat and passed the turn. He sacrificed the Corrupter for another Phyrexian Metamorph and copied my Slime to blow up a land.
Now I was in big trouble. I couldn’t Go for the Throat the Metamorph to break the chain and now he could get his Primeval Titan next turn. He played a Dungrove Elder and passed. I drew land, play, go. He got his Titan and played another Dungrove Elder. I drew another land and was overrun by Treefolk.
What did I learn?
The rogue factor really worked in Belfy’s favor. I assumed that he was running RG Aggro but it was Mono Green splashing for Wolf Run. My bad read caused me to hold back removal for a Huntmaster that never came. I was also not expecting an army of Dungrove Elders. In short, I should learn to evaluate a game basted on the current board board state and all possibilities rather than lock my opponent into a certain archetype.
“I’m gonna drop,” I said.
“You can still prize, why would you drop?”
I was a little salty. I just drove 45 minutes to lose in round one to the guy who invited me. I was hesitant but Belfy was right, I needed to stop being a big whiner-baby and play it out.
I went on to win my next three matches: Frites, Bant Humans, and UB Zombies. I’ll spare you the details since there isn’t much to tell. The most exciting moment was when I free-rolled a turn-one Nihil Spellbomb against Frites in game one. I followed it up with a Strangleroot Geist and a Phyrexian Metamorph copying Spellbomb. Yeah, I won that game.
After the tournament, I took some time to peruse the case for ways to spend my credit. Belfy walked up to ask how I did.
“3-1. Do you think I cashed?”
“Yeah, you definitely cashed.”
“I hope so,” I said.
As we were talking, one of the employees was distributing the store credit. He walked back to the register and started doing what looked like something else. I skipped a beat before walking up the register and asking, “Did I make the cut?”
“No, sorry Jonathan. You were fifth. We only pay top four.”
I processed this for a moment and then just walked out the door.
Let’s take inventory:
- I was down five dollars,
- I had wasted many hours,
- and I probably gained five pounds from that damn quesadilla.
It’s safe to say that this day was a blowout. But in the end, it was my fault. When you’re trying to level up, you can’t just play any tournament. You have to find the highest EV tournaments for your expected finish. Maybe this tournament was insane if I got first place, but I know my deck can’t consistently get first place. Judging from my 11th place on Friday, I could reasonably expect to finish in the top 8 of this 16 person tournament. But, I didn’t check whether they paid to top 8. Instead, I just showed up and got burned by a low EV tournament.
I rolled down my window and turned up my Killswitch Engage. It was disheartening to go 3-1 and not prize. Not because I didn’t prize, but because it came with the realization that I could do well at a tournament and still “lose.” Until this point, my focus had been on playing well and crafting my deck to win. This tournament showed me that sometimes that’s not enough.
Friday at Epic Loot
My “never say die” attitude had me back in the saddle for more FNM Hero carnage. Fate, however, had different plans. After digging through my backpack, I came to the horrifying realization that I’d forgotten my deck. I had to think fast because the tournament was starting in ten minutes. I’d always wanted to try the Gleeful Flames event deck, but I couldn’t afford to do it under the FNM Hero banner. I decided to run it on my own dollar for fun. I walked up to the counter and asked for a Gleeful Flames.
“The event deck?”
“We’re sold out. Sorry.”
I contemplated buying an entire Standard deck for a split second. I declined and resigned myself to sitting this one out. I walked back to the table to break the news to my friends. As I was speaking, Adam Prosak rode in on his white horse. “Fear not,” he proclaimed. “I have the deck of Spirits for thee!” [note: I am embellishing slightly].
l ended up going X-0 with Esper Spirits. I felt a strange tension between the joy of destroying people with “the best deck” and the disappointment that people expressed when they saw the FNM Hero wielding such an unholy weapon. I’d never felt the drive to go back to playing “real decks” like I did after this tournament. I swallowed this drive and decided to focus that energy into getting the FNM Hero budget to a place where I can play a better or even new deck.
The Following Week
It felt like forever since I’d played my FNM Hero deck. Avacyn Restored was on the shelves and I didn’t have any of the new cards. I also hadn’t practiced against any of the new cards. I decided to try to bridge the gap by going to Illuminaudi to do some trading and playing. They were giving away a promo Restoration Angel with your entry fee. It was really hard to lose on the deal. I paid for the tournament and made my way to the trade tables.
-$5, New Total $15.37
With the release of Avacyn Restored, I only noticed two cards that I absolutely had to have:
Borderland Ranger – this plus Rampant Growth will make adding a color much easier. It also beats for two, which my deck loves to do. Borderland Ranger is a great replacement for Phyrexian Rager because it helps me mana fix without the life loss. Picture having the Rager under a Fiend Hunter and being at one life. Faithful readers will recognize this true story.
Zealous Conscripts – I’ve had crush on this card since day one. The fact that you can use it to give one of your guys haste or to untap your Birthing Pod is insane. It also doesn’t hurt that the meta is shifting over to Ramp and permanent-based control. This card is what tipped me from adding White to adding Red.
I was also interested in a handful of other cards from Avacyn Restored, but I still was on the fence. You’ll notice that I pick up some cards to try them out in the deck: Dark Impostor, Somberwald Sage, and the infamous Wolfir Silverheart.
This first trade makes me look like a financial genius, but I really didn’t know what I was doing. I just wanted to try to pick-up cheap, high-impact cards for my deck.
Before I could finish checking the room for trades, my wife called me.
“Honey, I was thinking we should see a movie tonight. What say you?” She had a little extra spunk in her voice tonight.
“Alright, I’ll meet you at the theater. What do you wanna see?”
“I was thinking The Avengers!”
“Alright, I’ll see you soon!”
I couldn’t leave her hanging, so I packed my bag up and head out the door. On the way out I told Jamie the skinny:
“Jamie, I’ve gotta run. I’ll be back, but if I’m not back in time for round one just give me a match loss.”
2.5 Hours Later
I made it back to the shop in time for the end of round one. The last match was in turns and I scrambled to make edits to my deck before the next round. Here’s what I ended up with:
GB Hero Pod
“Round two’s up!” Jamie shouted from the front of the store.
As I was going to check the parings Jamie stopped me. “Bad news Medina, you got the bye.”
This happens a lot at Illuminaudi because people will play a round and drop even when there isn’t an uneven number of players. I went to the back of the store and sat down with the Comminos brothers. I love having a set of Magic playing brothers in the local scene. It might be because they always play a brother-team of badass hit men in my daydreams: “The Comminos Brothers.”
Whenever I hear that, it reminds me of when “The Man With the Plan” (Christopher Walken), calls three Mexican assassin brothers to kill Jimmy the Saint in the movie “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead.”
I asked Billy if he wanted to grind some games of Standard while I waited for the round to end. He was agreeable. He was playing Naya Pod. That’s typically an easy match up for me. I effortlessly dispatched him in the first game. Dark Impostor was a champ.
The second game was closer but we never finished because the round was starting. I showed Billy my hand in mocking fashion. “Still had all these bro!” He laughed. “Whatever, Medina!” I thanked him for playing some games and went to find my opponent for my first actual match.
What did I learn?
Sometimes you sign up for a tournament and don’t actually play until round three.
Round 3 – Naya Ramp
I was paired against Street Cred. That’s not a nickname that I made up. That’s his actual nickname.
I drew first blood with a Strangleroot Geist. He had a slow start, getting stuck on five land. Despite his dorky blockers and an unexpected Restoration Angel, I reduced him to six life. He hit his sixth land and my fun was over. Primeval Titan hit the table.
The Titan stopped me dead in my tracks since I couldn’t punch through it with my Strangleroot Geist. This would be a nice time to have access to a Zealous Conscripts. Despite my best efforts, a second Primeval Titan sealed the game up for him.
I curved out nicely with an early Strangleroot Geist and a Dark Impostor. He had more mana troubles while I played a Rampant Growth to make the Impostor a creature-killing cannon. Between my actual removal spell and the Dark Impostor, he couldn’t stick anything and I killed him with the ever-growing assassin.
We both mulliganed to six and neither of us had a particularly fast hand. He had no ramp and I only had a Rampant Growth. I ate his only white source with an Acidic Slime. He flashed in a Restoration Angel in response. The game went into a grind as I mounted ground forces and he held them off with his Angel. I Slimed another white source and he played another Angel.
He started swinging with one of the Angels and I cracked back with Acidic Slimes. At the end of the following turn, another Angel joined the party and I couldn’t race him. My top deck offered no help and his army of Angels overcame me [ed: shush, Heather].
What did I learn?
This match wasn’t representative of “real” ramp matchups because he was running four Restoration Angel. That being said, I see how good Restoration Angel is against my deck. Game one also showed how good Zealous Conscripts could be.
Round – 4
I can’t find my notes on this match. I vaugly remember playing a newer player with a new deck. It was some kind of Aggro build. Maybe Vampires. I remember beating him pretty easily.
What did I learn?
Don’t forget to take notes.
Will work for Packs
The night was about to turn over. Despite needing to write the next morning, I decided to go with a bunch of card-slinging hooligans to Steak and Shake. We were packing up when Jamie said, “Can you guys help clean up?”
He didn’t get much interest in his proposal. I usually jump at the chance to help but it was close to 1am.
Jamie tried again. “If someone helps me, I’ll give them a pack or two.”
“I’m in for two packs!” I snap-replied. I jumped at the opportunity to get more cards for FNM Hero.
“Ok, deal,” Jamie said.
I ran through the shop picking up trash from under and on the tables. Jamie followed with a trashcan as my wingman. I found a stash of Avacyn Restored on one of the back tables.
“Who’s is this?” I asked.
“It’s trash let’s go Medina,” replied my guys waiting anxiously by the door.
I thumbed through the stacks. It was a bunch of commons and uncommons. It looks like someone had taken the rares and “good” uncommons.
“I’m keeping it then!” I decreed.
The guys laughed. They still love the image of me scrounging for commons and uncommons.
I bagged up the trash and moved it to the front of the store for Jamie to take it out. I stuck my hand out to Jamie, expecting my payout. He placed a pack in my hand. I motioned my fingers for more. He squirmed and then handed me a second pack. I slid them into my pocket and said, “let’s go, fellas.”
They all stared at me.
“You’re not gonna open them!?”
“I never open packs. You guys know that!” I replied as I moved to the door.
What the hell. Tonight was a total bust anyway. I extended my arm and put the packs face down in my hand. With my other hand, I broke the wrapper seal.
Man, I love that sound.
“Are you guys ready?” I asked. The anticipation was palpable.
Someone from the crowd said, “don’t look at the cards, just flip.”
I re-extend my arm and flipped the card.
Choose My Own Adventure
I’ve had some good luck. I’ve found cards in the trash and even won door prizes. I’ve also had some bad luck with pair-downs and bad beats. But, despite that I’ve heard some grumbling about the rules. I can see how working for packs could be a little too much for some to accept as “kosher.” I think it’s fine because new players have opportunities to get lucky too. You can trade cards you find lying on tables. If someone offers you packs to help them clean, you can say yes, right? My goal was to re-live the new player experience, taking away my trading weapon, and see what it’s like to break through at FNM. Still, I get it.
So, I’m going to put the power in your hands. Rather than make an executive decision about these pack, I’ve decided to let you guys choose whether they count. Cast your vote below and I will give the outcome and finish the story next week.
Should the FNM Hero keep these packs? Total Voters: 859
Should the FNM Hero keep these packs?
Total Voters: 859
As always, thanks for reading! See you next week. Don’t lose sleep over the contents of those boosters in the meantime.
@mtgmedina on Twitter
Art By: Polish Tamales
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