Last week, reader slimdune had this question:
I’ve been out of the Standard loop for a long time. Since Invasion block pretty much. I started playing casual again around Scars. Went to my first FNM in 10 years or so last week (southern California) and there were plenty of top tier decks that could come straight out of the tournament reports I read on this site. So I’m not sure where the idea that FNMs are basically organized casual and one should be ashamed to play a Top 8 deck came from, but it is silly. But it seems that you have already come to that conclusion.
I have an etiquette question though. After finishing one of many matches in which I was completely pummeled by said top tier decks, I went over to watch another game in progress which had an audience. People were gathered around because it was the current leader, playing some RDW. I look down at the table and the dude has a Goblin Guide out. Which as we all know just rotated out. I kind of look around and nobody seems to be saying anything about it.
Should I have said something? The guy ended up finishing in first. I was new there, so I didn’t want to pipe up. But the tournament info online for that shop clearly said Standard and even had deck construction guidelines posted. It was an official FNM event.
I thought that was an awesome question, and a great launching pad for a discussion about being new to an area.
When you’re young and just getting into Magic, assimilating into a new tournament scene isn’t that big a deal, because you have no conceptualization of what a tournament scene is. As you get older, and school/work/prison moves you around to new places, you have to play at new stores and meet new people.
Last September, I moved to Syracuse, New York with my girlfriend. I’d played at the local shop in Syracuse a handful of times when I was a kid (I grew up thirty miles south) but where I did most of my spellslinging at that point was at Cornell University’s games club. The drive sucked, but the players were awesome, still easily the best I’ve ever played against (Mateo Pastore, if you’re reading this, hi there!), and very mature and open-minded. It also helped that, while being awesome at Magic, it seemed like they always had other things going on in their lives that weren’t shitty.
I was on SCG randomly one day and saw that then-editor Ted Knutson started a talent search for writers. A while ago, I’d posted a lot of tournament reports on the games-club forums, to decent reception, so despite having been on-again, off-again with regards to Magic for the past four years (still have no idea what the cards in Lorwyn, Shards, and Zendikar blocks do), I figured I’d throw my hat in the ring and write something. I eventually submitted an article, which had very little to do with Magic, and much to do with lots of jokes about bullshit.
Everyone hated it.
Shockingly enough, I made it through to the elimination rounds of the contest. This meant I had to play Magic (something I wasn’t planning on getting back into at all) and get in with the local scene. I’m a pretty personable dude, but I usually care too much about the game to socialize much during a match, which didn’t endear me to anyone at first. Since then, I’ve grown comfortable enough playing Magic to let my guard down and talk to people, but I’ll admit that coming into a new store is difficult when you don’t know anyone. Everyone plays Magic a little bit differently than you. I’m talking about the way they tap their lands, where they have their libraries and their graveyards, whether they use playmats . . . all these differences are barriers, no matter how small, for the outsider to mentally overcome. There’s also the thing of, “Goddammit, I have to prove I’m not a complete donk to another group of people? JESUS CHRIST, WHAT’S THE POINT.” This especially annoyed me, because I am very entitled.
There’s no clear way to assimilate yourself into a new Magic scene other than to be kind to people, and try to talk about Magic as a potential gateway into other things. Magic is your common ground here. If after a match, you say something like, “Oh, I really wasn’t expecting to have to play around [insert thing you weren’t expecting to have to play around here],” or something like that, that’s a good starter to get in someone’s head a little bit and make a connection with him. You’re not necessarily aiming to impress (unless you’re insecure), you’re just talking shop with the locals and getting familiar with people.
Which brings us to slimdune’s question. My answer, from last week:
God, that’s a great question. I’d probably ask something like, "is this an FNM match?" and when they say yes, say something to the effect of "Isn’t Goblin Guide banned?" or something like that. You probably don’t want to sound like you’re accusing someone of cheating. I mean, either way, you’re probably not going to endear yourself to the locals by pointing out that one of their (I assume) top guys was cheating, but if you’re looking for my advice, I’d tell you rules are rules, and in this particular case, that’s a pretty egregious example of rule-breaking. Hopefully he won’t play Goblin Guide again next week, but if he does, at least you know what I’d have done. Whatever that’s worth.
I stand by that answer, and I thought this was a great question because it’s a realistic example of the fine line a new player has to walk. At one of my first tournaments in Syracuse, I was watching a play-test game where some guy punted a million times. After the game, I politely asked him why he didn’t play like this, that, or the other, and he immediately became defensive, which, unfortunately, is simply how most Magic players will react when presented with alternate lines of play, especially when they’re being offered by someone they don’t know.
However, I found it really hard to believe that not only did someone play Goblin Guide while Innistrad was legal in Standard, but played it for five rounds without anyone saying something like, “Hey, that card is illegal, you maniac!” That’s something I probably would’ve addressed as soon as I saw it, and if the regulars didn’t like that, I’d just kick their asses in Magic and take all their money because if they’re letting Goblin Guides slide, they probably don’t know shit and they suck. Elitism!
By the way, if you guys have any more etiquette questions about Magic or anything, fire ’em off either in the forums or at my Twitter account, and I’ll make the mailbag a recurring feature. The questions don’t even have to be about Magic, really. You can ask me about beer, football, trigonometry, even strippers. Should be a blast.
This week, I decided to give that second-place tokens deck from Grand Prix: Brisbane a spin.
2 Geist-Honored Monk
2 Viridian Emissary
3 Avacyn's Pilgrim
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Blade Splicer
4 Hero of Bladehold
1 Wurmcoil Engine
2 Mikaeus, the Lunarch
3 Elspeth Tirel
3 Garruk Relentless
4 Oblivion Ring
4 Gavony Township
4 Razorverge Thicket
4 Sunpetal Grove
1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
3 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Garruk, Primal Hunter
2 Surgical Extraction
1 Sword of Feast and Famine
2 Sword of War and Peace
1 Inkmoth Nexus
Quick notes about the deck:
Garruk Relentless is pretty fun to play with, even without flipping him. However, it would’ve been nice to see some utility one-ofs in the deck to search up with Garruk, the Veil-Cursed; there were times when a Silvercoat Lion, Fiend Hunter, Viridian Corrupter . . . these things would’ve made sense. As it stood, there was no creature I ever wanted to search for; all the guys in the deck just made more guys and were dorks. Sure, Wurmcoil Engine is awesome against RDW, and Geist-Honored Monk was pretty good against the non-Kessig Wolf Run decks packing Inkmoth Nexuses, but Garruk, the Veil-Cursed was pretty underwhelming when there were no decent dudes to search up. I realize the point of Garruk, the Veil-Cursed is probably just to Overrun, but sometimes you need to kill a Spellskite, or an Oblivion Ring, or something. Even running Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite or Thrun, the Last Troll main, even at one each, would’ve been worth it.
Gavony Township is the truth. That card can just take over games.
Playing cards like Birds of Paradise and Avacyn’s Pilgrim, while costing you a card in your hand and potentially being worthless if the game goes long, was fun for me because I was sick of getting out-mana’d by decks with 1CC mana-dorks in them. It was nice to be on the other side of the coin for once.
I’m pretty sure I boarded in Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite every game. I’m also pretty sure I brought out Overrun every game. This is not to say that I disagree with Overrun being main-deck; as long as you’re bringing in something different in its place every game, Overrun is fine. However, going to one Overrun, one Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite main-deck would probably be a decision I’d be happy to pull the trigger on.
Mortarpod was a pretty handy answer against more creatures than I could’ve imagined. Champion of the Parish, Stromkirk Noble, Inkmoth Nexus, Plague Stinger . . . Mortarpod was really good to have. I think three’s the right number.
I drew Oblivion Ring once in twelve games. Small sample sizes!
Round 1 – Brett Bramhall
Brett is a younger dude, probably around seventeen or so. He hasn’t been playing Magic very long, and I can tell this because he doesn’t flip the table or complain under his breath when he mulls to five, but rather takes it in stride. “No lands again,” he says, as he shuffles his six-card hand into his library with a sheepish grin on his face. Not exactly something you’d see from a grizzled vet.
My seven-card hand is pretty crazy, featuring a turn-two Blade Splicer, turn-three Garruk Relentless, who defeated my Blade Splicer in a duel to flip. Brett, who is playing some controlly Esper homebrew with no counterspells in sight, follows that up with a Spellskite that he probably wishes had come down a turn earlier, so as to prevent my Garruk Relentless from flipping, but I can’t really take advantage of my board position through a Spellskite, and when he follows his Spellskite up with a Royal Assassin, I find myself in quite the pickle, and can’t really attack profitably. He plays a Sun Titan, returning nothing, while I sit back and do cute things with Garruk, the Veil-Cursed, Geist-Honored Monk, and Gavony Township. Once I have enough deathtouchers to be able to get through the threat of Royal Assassin profitably, I attack with all of them. No, I didn’t ever think I’d be referring to Royal Assassin as an actual threat, thank you very much. My attack is pretty well stymied when Brett has the unanticipated Village Bell-Ringer, getting a rebuy from his Royal Assassin. It’s not like he can attack back, though; all my other guys are still massive thanks to Gavony Township.
I start building my collection of deathtouching Wolves back up, and draw a Mortarpod.
This is really frustrating/embarrassing to talk about. I’ve definitely equipped a Cunning Sparkmage to a Basilisk Collar in Constructed play before. I know how this interaction works. On this particular Friday, however, my brain takes a momentary dive, probably owing to the fact that I’m bad at Magic. All I can think after I draw that Mortarpod is, “GODDAMMIT HE HAS DOUBLE SPELLSKITE HOW WILL I EVER GET THROUGH THAT THIS GAME IS BULLSHIT,” all the while not realizing that I have a stable full of deathtouching wolves. We sit there staring at one another while I make more deathtouching wolves, and the turn I realize it, I throw a bunch of wolves at his team, cast Overrun, and then Overrun with Garruk, the Veil-Cursed.
Game 2 is a little less interesting (qualifier for “interesting” games: I punt but win anyway), as he mulls to six. He doesn’t draw much land, and the only two spells he casts are two Feeling of Dread, while I have the perfect curve of Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Blade Splicer, Hero of Bladehold, and Geist-Honored Monk, with my fourth land-drop being a Gavony Township. I don’t need to put another card into play for the rest of the game.
Round 2 – Ryan Kilpatrick
Ryan is playing mono-Red. I don’t know exactly how this match is going to go, other than I am playing a deck that consistently plays into Arc Trail by necessity. Perfect!
Ryan wins the die roll and starts on turn-one Stromkirk Noble, which makes my follow-up, an Avacyn’s Pilgrim, look pretty sweet. Ryan follows up with a Stormblood Berserker, an Arc Trail, and, finally, a Koth of the Hammer. Ryan even forgets to activate Koth of the Hammer on one turn, and it doesn’t matter.
I notice during the game that he is playing a Red deck with some bigger spells, namely, Volt Charges to proliferate his creatures, Shrines, and planeswalkers. I make some passing comment about this, and he tells me, between games, that he likes Volt Charge better than Brimstone Volley for just this reason. There are some things wrong with this to me, the most important of which is that giving your opponent free information during a match is just bad for business. Also, is the long game where you want to be with a Red deck? Isn’t the appeal to playing Red right now that you can get your opponent low enough with dudes that you can just burn him out with Brimstone Volleys and Shrines?
Right now, the end-games that Standard decks have to offer are huge. You’re either getting run over by three Sun Titans, a Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, or, the best end-game Standard has to offer right now, multiple Dungrove Elders, a Primeval Titan, and a potentially lethal (with the aid of Kessig Wolf Run) Inkmoth Nexus. I don’t think Volt Charge is bad; if that’s your third-turn play after a turn-one Stromkirk Noble, turn-two Stormblood Berserker, that actually seems pretty spicy. Going long with a Red deck, though, seems counterintuitive to what you want a Red deck to be doing in this format. You basically have to win the die roll and hit Koth of the Hammer on turn four while your opponent has no way to interact with it whatsoever; otherwise, your game plan to “go long” seems pretty dumb when you stack it up against the other decks trying to go long with you. It’s worth noting that there are a lot of qualifiers that need to be met in order for your plan to work if you’re the Big Red Deck.
I go first for Game 2, and Ryan’s first-turn Stromkirk Noble looks pretty silly when I follow it up with a Mortarpod. I have no idea what Ryan kept, but after he goes for the attack, whereupon I kill his creature, Ryan and I play land-go for a while until I hit enough lands for Elspeth Tirel. He shows me a hand of three Mountains to go with the shitload of Mountains he already controlled when I followed up Elspeth Tirel with land, Wurmcoil Engine.
Game 3 doesn’t exactly play out like the matchup should have; I keep a lot of mana-dorks and an Oblivion Ring, and he leads with a turn-two Shrine of Burning Rage, after which he never taps out for anything, in order to keep my Oblivion Ring from being live. While this line of play hampered his own plays considerably, he is still able to do cute things like Volt Charge my creatures to proliferate, which he does twice on my end step in order to stay fairly even on board. Once his Shrine of Burning Rage is up to 8 counters, I have to blow my Oblivion Ring even though he has mana untapped. I tap two lands and a Birds of Paradise and cast Oblivion Ring.
“Oblivion Ring. Any response?”
“Uhh . . . what?”
“Do you have any response to Oblivion Ring?”
I sheepishly target my own tapped Birds of Paradise and cast another Birds of Paradise and an Avacyn’s Pilgrim, both of which are immediately Arc Trailed. Ryan follows his Arc Trail up with a Koth of the Hammer and put me to 8 with an attacking Mountain.
I casually rip Wurmcoil Engine and play it.
Ryan can’t do much here, and just draws and passes without using Koth of the Hammer at all. From here, I attack his Koth of the Hammer to death, he plays another Koth of the Hammer and puts me to 10 with it, and I confidently play my second Oblivion Ring of the game on his second Koth of the Hammer because he is finally out of cards in hand.
This will be the last match I’ll win all night.
After my match finishes up, I wander over to where my friend Nate is, and he is piloting his U/B control deck against a particularly horrifying-looking mono-Black Infect deck sporting Plague Stinger, Virulent Wound, Inkmoth Nexus, and the singularly backbreaking Whispering Specter. Nate’s opponent is Al French, who I met the weekend before on the way to a PTQ. I really hope I won’t have to play against that deck.
Round 3 – Al French
I really think I have an outside shot at Game 1; Al tanks before deciding to keep a hand with three Inkmoth Nexuses, and gets in for a couple poison hits before drawing the Swamp for his Plague Stingers. When I am at 4 poison, I cast a Geist-Honored Monk, and Al immediately attacks with one Inkmoth Nexus. When I go to block with a Spirit, he says, “Whoa, they fly?” and immediately hits the blocking token with a Virulent Wound.
It’s probably worth noting that I didn’t misrepresent my tokens in any way throughout the whole tournament. I keep a bunch of specific tokens handy, because I’m anal about stuff, and on this particular Friday night, my deck box is stuffed with Wolves, Deathtouch Wolves, Spirits, Soldiers, Germs, Golems, Beasts . . . you name it. I like playing with the correct tokens. It’s the scrub in me, I think. You never see anyone good playing with the real tokens; they’re too worried about other things to be bothered with trivial stuff like dice and tokens. I usually never bring dice, but for some reason, I like to have all my tokens. Goddammit, I suck.
If you need further proof that I’m bad at Magic other than the fact that I never win any fucking FNMs, consult this deck I drafted in the Top 8 of a PTQ. I should be ground up and fed to dogs for that.
Al has pretty much no action Game 2, and after my turn-three Sword of Feast and Famine, we play draw-go quite a bit. I stick some guys, but I always have some in the grip in case of Black Sun’s Zenith, which he casts twice. Late in the game, Al plays a Despise, seeing an Oblivion Ring and sending a Hero of Bladehold to the bin. Al’s other card is Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon, and while he is able to block whatever creature I have Sworded up with Inkmoth Nexuses, he can’t deal with all my other creatures. He also can’t play the Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon in his hand because I am at 5 poison. Since he knows I have Oblivion Ring in hand, he also knows that his Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon would have to kill me in one hit.
Game 3 is a bit of a bummer. I am sort of stuck on lands, but I’m able to get an on-board presence established very early, including the oh-so-important Geist-Honored Monk. I also masterfully draw three Mortarpods, along with a Gavony Township. I’d thought I’d be able sit back on my team for a while, but then I draw three Mortarpods instead of other things, like land, which means that activating Gavony Township forces me to tap out. Al isn’t applying much pressure, either; he has two Inkmoth Nexuses to go with his slow double-Lashwrithe draw, but my Mortarpods are doing a fine job of keeping those Inkmoth Nexuses in check. With just a Birds of Paradise in my hand, Al casts Black Sun’s Zenith for 6 (my biggest creature at this point is a 5/5 Golem, and I have the mana for Gavony Township) and ships the turn over to me, and I fail to draw my one-outer, the second Geist-Honored Monk.
The reason Geist-Honored Monk is my one-outer is because at the time the Black Sun’s Zenith resolves, my hand is just a Birds of Paradise, and my board is five lands and some Mortarpods. If I can’t deal with both of Al’s Inkmoth Nexuses before they pick up Lashwrithes, I’m dead to them; since I’m at 2 poison, and Al controls seven Swamps and two Lashwrithes, either Inkmoth Nexus has the potential to swing for exactsies. Geist-Honored Monk at least gives me a chance to block both Inkmoth Nexuses for a turn, and then next turn, no matter what I draw, I can Mortarpod up my Geist-Honored Monk and Birds of Paradise. If I draw anything other than Geist-Honored Monk, I lose; I control five lands, and it costs 3 mana to cast Birds of Paradise and equip it. This only addresses one of the Inkmoth Nexuses, so I just die to the other one, which is exactly what happens.
I could’ve played it differently, to be sure. I could’ve held that third Mortarpod. This scenario, despite not being unrealistic at all, just isn’t something I imagined.
Having the chance to write this column is very rewarding—FNMs are how I cut my teeth on competitive Magic, and I feel that I owe the institution itself a debt, however odd that may sound to you—but there are some flaws inherent in playing a different deck every week. Playing control decks against the field is easy. You counter or otherwise destroy opponents’ spells that interact with you, and then you stick a Titan of some sort (Thanks for reprinting those guys! *fart noise*) and you win. Playing aggressive decks—at least for me, anyway—is much trickier, because you’re usually at the whim of your deck, and you have to maximize what you do draw. The ability to better do this with any given aggro deck usually comes with time and familiarity with the cards and how they interact together. I have no shame in letting you know that I was really excited to play this deck all week. However, it kind of fell apart on me, and even though it was all my fault, I wanted to lash out at something. So take that, 52 FNMs column!
Round 4 – Aaron Garritillo
Aaron is playing a build of Solar Flare that the more competitive players of Cloud City (come for the Magic, stay because of the chloroform!) brewed up, eschewing the shitty Solar Flare mana base for a more consistent U/W base with a tiny splash of Black. It also runs Dream Twist and Merfolk Looter, spells that aren’t very powerful in the abstract but are pretty devastating in this deck. The creature-control card of choice is Feeling of Dread, which I’ve really grown to appreciate as something more than a cute trick; I think the card is actually very well positioned against all the good creatures in Standard, and a very intuitive add to the deck. However, it also runs Deranged Assistant, which is fucking terrible. I’ve never seen it do anything but brick. Come on, boys, you’re better than that shit card.
Game 1 starts off pretty cute: He copies my Viridian Emissary (it really pisses me off that this deck only runs two, by the way) with his Phantasmal Image. I attack into it, he dutifully trades, and we both get to ramp. I have a Garruk Relentless and send my Avacyn’s Pilgrim on a suicide mission to flip it while he digs for stuff. Aaron eventually casts an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, and suddenly I have a 1/1 Golem and nothing relevant to search for with Garruk, the Veil-Cursed.
I honestly don’t remember much about Game 2 except for the fact that I get to use Elspeth Tirel’s ultimate, and then on a turn where I forget to +2 Elspeth Tirel, his Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite takes out my team and Elspeth Tirel dies. Can’t blame that mistake on not knowing the deck!
Round 5 – Holden Omans
Holden is playing Humans. He takes Game 1 pretty handily.
Between our games, my friend Nate from before came in, and people were crowded all around him. Apparently, he tripped as he was running up the escalator, and sliced his knee open pretty deep. I didn’t go over to verify; everyone saying “OH MY GOD HOLY SHIT YOU CAN SEE HIS BONE” was enough evidence for me.
I couldn’t help but feel bad for Nate; he’s a shy dude and doesn’t like attention all that much, and now here he was, all eyes on him. Everyone pressured him to call an ambulance, and he was persistent about not making a big deal about any of it.
When someone like me (Read: Someone with a highly inflated sense of self-worth that he has no reason to possess) says, “Oh, don’t make a big deal about it,” what he really means is, “KEEP FUCKING TALKING, THIS IS A HUGE DEAL.” When a quiet, happy-go-lucky guy like Nate says it, it’s more of a plea, and it’s a bummer to watch him be the magnet of all this unwanted attention. The dude just wanted to finish his match.
Nate was one of those new guys in Syracuse a few months back, and I played him the week that I played that shitty Illusions event deck. After I outplayed him a couple of times in the match (I think I wrote about those plays in the article), he asked me very seriously why I was playing that deck, and I told him about the column and everything. He told me he is originally from Illinois, and his parents moved out here, so he is going to the local junior college for a little while until he can transfer back to school in Illinois. He didn’t seem to know anyone else at the shop, so I was happy to hang out with him because he is far more easygoing and far less judgmental than the average Syracuse Magic player. Since then, he’s gotten to know everyone a little bit; I convinced him to change stores with me and play at Cloud City just so I’d have someone cool to hang out with, and he’s gotten to know the guys there, too.
Oh, yeah, don’t tell Nate I said he’s cool. He’ll never let me live that shit down.
Eventually, mall security and his dad were called, and he was taken out on a wheelchair. He later told me he needed two layers of stitches and now has a very healthy respect for escalators. So there’s that.
Game 2, I keep three lands, an Avacyn’s Pilgrim, a Sword of War and Peace, and something else that costs mana. I snap-keep, and don’t draw any more lands the rest of the game. Holden has enough Avacyn’s Pilgrims and Mayor of Avabruck to stop my Sworded-up Avacyn’s Pilgrim from gaining me life. Without fear of Day of Judgment, Holden loads his board up with little men, while I am stuck on 3 mana. Mortarpods and Oblivion Rings are huge commitments, and in the case of Mortarpod, I don’t have enough creatures to keep fueling it. Mayor of Avabruck dies to a Mortarpod Germ, while his Mirran Crusader draws an Oblivion Ring from me because it is pro-Green and my only creature is still the Sworded-up Avacyn’s Pilgrim. The turn after I cast the Oblivion Ring, Holden has a Garruk Relentless and throws his own Avacyn’s Pilgrim at it to flip it.
While I fail to draw lands or cards that cost less than 3 mana, Holden improves his board position with a deathtouching Wolf and a creature from the top of his deck every turn. For those of you not keeping track at home, I am still stuck on an Avacyn’s Pilgrim holding a Sword of War and Peace, an empty Mortarpod, three lands, and a grip full of expensive shit.
Garruk goes to 4 counters. At this point, I’d estimate Holden has about five more potential attackers than I have blockers. It goes on like this for four turns in a row: Holden plays a creature from his hand, makes a deathtouching Wolf, doesn’t attack with anything, and I brick on my draws.
Bricking on draws is not what drives me up the wall here—Holden has an on-the-board kill with Garruk, the Veil-Cursed’s ultimate and passes it up for four turns in a row. We’re the last match going in the fifth round (he tanks on every turn), and we’ve drawn a little bit of a crowd. Every turn, Holden tanks for a full minute, makes a deathtouching Wolf, plays some dork from his hand, and says “go”; every time, someone watching smiles, shakes his head, and walks away. I have to sit there and endure this, until Holden untaps with 8 counters on Garruk, the Veil-Cursed, tanks for a second, and says,
“Uhh, I think that’s game.”
Certainly not my proudest moment, but it is very hard to be forced to sit there, turn after turn, dead on board, continuously unable to make my position better in any way, and have this guy just not realize that he has me. Losing those matches is never fun. I felt bad about blowing up at the guy, but fuck. Another losing record at FNM in the books, I guess.
I mean, yeah, I feel bad about it in hindsight. I hope I’ll see him next week to apologize about it, but I suspect I’ll always be bitter about it. Ah, the joys of immaturity! Don’t forget to bring questions!