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Then And Now: The Death Of The FNM Hero

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THEN

"Hey, who's the new guy?" I said, walking back into the store with a stack of three medium Domino's Pizzas. The five for five deal was always a favorite here, with Golden Memories Comics & Games being just three doors down from the nearest Domino's chain. It was lunch time after all.

Charles set down the stack of basic lands he was shuffling and happily accepted his pizza box. "I'm not sure, he just showed up last night for FNM and 3-0ed the draft, somehow beating Jay in the finals."

I shot him a puzzled look.

"...he just walked in off the street and won the draft, beating Jay?"

Winning the draft as a first timer is surprising, but beating Jay is something else entirely. Jay has been in the best player in the store for years now, and the only one to ever play in multiple Pro Tours and even a World Championship. He even cashed at one of them, beating Javier Dominguez in the last round to win $1,000!

"Yeah, apparently he plays online a lot or something? Ally said that she remembered seeing him at the Sealed PTQ last weekend in the city, he made top 8 there too, out of about 200 players, pretty crazy. Hey how'd your round two go?"

Wow, he made top 8 at the PTQ too? I've been playing in PTQs for three years now and the closest I've ever come to top 8 was a heartbreaker 9th place on breakers during Block Constructed season last fall, so it was hard not to be a little envious. Thoughts about 'paying your dues' swirl in my head a bit, but jealousy isn't healthy.

"Eh Nicole beat me so I'm 1-1, I just can't figure out how to win the control matchup. Regionals is in three weeks and I'm starting to get a bit worried; if the metagame shifts toward control I'm not sure if I can afford to change decks. Like, I guess I could maybe cobble together Mono Red or..."

Charles interrupted.

"Why don't we just see how it's shaping up? Hey Rich! Can you fire up twitch for the SCG coverage? It's in Dallas right? They should have started by now, and maybe we'll see Dan or Andrew."

Rich, the store owner, muttered something about how the winner has arrived and fired up the store's TV, and there were Cedric and Patrick to greet us, giving the metagame breakdown and hyping up the round one feature match between Ross Merriam and some unknown player playing a sweet looking homebrew.

Dan and Andrew are our hometown grinders, who are off every other weekend flying to a SCG Tour stop or Grand Prix to battle. Good guys, but between work and my daughter that's just not something that's in the cards for me; frankly I'm not even sure exactly how they afford it. I'm just happy my wife lets me slip away on Fridays and the occasional Saturday like today to get my game on. The good news is that our events are definitely easier when they're not around, and it's obviously fun to have a hometown rooting interest when watching an event.

"TIME IN THE ROUND! THAT'S TIME IN THE ROUND! ACTIVE PLAYER FINISH YOUR TURN, AND THEN PROCEED TO FIVE ADDITIONAL TURNS!"

I glance around the room.

"Ugh, Bobby is still playing? How does he go to time almost every round."

I finish up my last slice of pizza and realize I've been so caught up in worrying about Regionals and my control matchup that I didn't ask Charles what his record was.

"Hey you 2-0 now?"

He tries to hide it behind an air of nonchalance, but I can see his subtle grin.

"Yeah, the new sideboard strategy vs Mono-Blue is gas. Brad Nelson's article this week talked about boarding out my early creatures and just playing removal spells while making land drops to wait out their soft counterspells; it worked perfectly."

Charles has always been a very good player. He's been playing for a long time, always keeps up on all the articles and information that's out there, and is always well prepared. However, he's always struggled with big matches when the pressure sets in. A few months ago, he got camera match for the last round of day one of SCG Providence against Andrew Boswell. A win would put him into day two, a loss would knock him out of the tournament, and uh... I'll be generous in saying he didn't play his best.

He's an easy person to root for though and has been one of my closest friends for years now.

"That's awesome, are you locked into the deck for Regionals?"

"Yeah, unless something drastic happens I'm feeling really good"

He shifted in his seat a bit.

"I just want to break through, ya know? I know I can top 8 one of these things, I've put in the work and I..."

"PAIRINGS FOR ROUND TWO ARE NOW POSTED, PLEASE FIND YOUR OPPONENT AND TAKE YOUR SEATS"

I summoned the best comforting smile I could.

"You will bud, you will. After the round let's figure out the car and hotel situation, and hey, good luck!"

NOW

"Seriously, I'll be fine. You work so much and your teenage daughter is plenty happy to do her own thing at this point. Get out of here and go have fun and I'll take care of things, I'm sure you'll pick it right back up."

My wife is the best.

Magic was once by biggest pastime, but once the pandemic shut everything down for a year I mostly moved on to other things. I'd peek in here or there at an MTGGoldfish brew or maybe a little Pro Tour coverage, but MTG Arena just didn't scratch the itch for me.

But that all changes today!

Unfortunately, Golden Memories closed during the pandemic, but Monkey Head Games is the other game store in town and while it's a little bit further away they've got Magic and that's what matters.

It honestly feels a little odd to be heading to Monkey Head Games, as there was definitely a friendly rivalry between the two stores back in the day. We had our regulars and they had theirs, and we'd often clash when bigger events came to the area. While their store was always bigger and nicer, we always had the more accomplished players.

But that was then and this is now, and I just want to play some Magic again.

As I pull in to the parking lot, I'm surprised to see a good number of empty spaces. "Still early" I suppose, as it's barely 5pm this Friday and folks are probably still getting off of work. I walk in the door and up to the counter and am greeting by a middle-aged man with a majestic beard and glasses.

"Hi, uh... y'all have Magic here right?"

A stupid question, but hey, nobody has ever accused me of being socially competent.

"Yep, we're doing preorders for the latest secret lair drop now if you're interested. And we also just got collector boosters back in stock for the most recent three sets. Oh yeah and Assassin's Creed Universes Beyond will be releasing soon too!"

Wait what, isn't that a video game?

"Oh yeah, uh, I haven't played in a while and am looking to get back into it, figured I'd come down to FNM to do some drafts and start building my collection again. What time does the draft start?"

"Well today is Commander Night, you can see a few of the folks are already here and in a pod in the back. We don't really do drafts except during prerelease weekend."

Commander... I think that's the official name for Elder Dragon Highlander? I was never much of a multiplayer fan back in the day; too much table politics and unclear incentives. I just want to sit across from someone and try to beat them, while getting some practice in if a Grand Prix comes to town.

"Oh okay, well do you do Standard or any other non-multiplayer events?"

"We try to run Modern on Wednesdays but we usually only get about five players. Otherwise, we do one Regional Championship Qualifier a season. We've got one coming up in two weeks, it's Standard if you'd like to sign up."

Now we're getting somewhere!

"That's great! But without an FNM or set night to play, how will I practice or work out my deck?"

At this point he seemed to be growing a bit tired of my questions.

"I don't know, I guess you could practice on MTG Arena? The path to Pro Tour greatness ain't cheap, am I right? Anyway, I've gotta finish with these preorders and get things set up for Commander Night, if you've got any more questions feel free to give me a holler."

Definitely not quite how I expected this to go.

I wander over to the Commander table to see what was going on, but quickly lost interest as they were having something called a "Rule Zero" conversation about some Unglued card being a Commander or something.

Dismayed, I get back in my car.

I guess I haven't tried that new Zelda game yet...


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