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52 FNMs – It's All About the Cushion

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So, Magic. Another week, another FNM. For the last week of non-Avacyn-Restored goodness, I decided to run a Heartless Summoning deck, courtesy of Zee Shan Babar and his fourth-place finish at the SCG Open in Birmingham:

Every winning tournament report ever focuses on mindsets because they have to. Play with Tomfidence. Accept that you might lose a couple. Stay in the moment. Keep playing until they tell you to stop. I guess all these things work in theory, but my guess is that they only apply to certain personality types.

For me, I went into this tournament loose and looking to have a good time. As with the other decks I’ve been playing with lately, this one didn’t look great, but it sure looked like a fun time. Sure, there’s removal, but there are also a lot of hands you can draw with this deck that are just auto-mulligans. There are an awful lot of fatties here for just four Heartless Summonings. Also—only one Perilous Myr? Come on, man. If I’m gonna be running Havengul Liches, I want access to The Little Machine Gun That Could.

For those of you who don’t know the combo or don’t see it: If you have a Havengul Lich and a Heartless Summoning in play and a Perilous Myr in your graveyard, you can pay 1 mana with the Havengul Lich, targeting Perilous Myr, and then cast it for free since Heartless Summoning reduces Perilous Myr’s casting cost to 0. Since Heartless Summoning also gives all your creatures −1/−1, Perilous Myr dies instantly, and you get to deal 2 damage to something. 7 open mana becomes 14 damage to your opponent’s dome piece. It’s pretty sweet. You could even live the dream as I did in my last game of the night and have a Havengul Lich, two Heartless Summoning, and a Solemn Simulacrum in the ’yard—1 mana becomes a basic land out of the library and a card in hand. Shockingly enough, I did not lose that game.

I showed up to FNM pretty late with the intent of not taking things too seriously. I had to pace myself; afterward was the midnight Sealed, and I’d have to be at the top of my game in order to remember to reveal my miracles on time to have an outside shot at playing mediocre Magic.

Round 1 – BYE

Hymn to Tourach
This never happens! I use this time to play some casual games against my friend Eli. He is playing a U/B discard deck with Hymn to Tourach, Duress, Recoil, Liliana's Caress (formerly Megrim), and Fabricate, to find his singleton copies of The Rack and Memory Jar. To balance these good cards out and keep it casual, he limits his removal suite to a few copies of Diabolic Edict, and he inexplicably plays four copies of Sapphire Charm. I decide to pilot Brian Seldon’s gold-bordered World Champion deck.

Since an analysis of my friend’s casual deck versus a gold-bordered deck is clearly what you came here for, I don’t mind “going deep” on the topic. You will thank me later. Going forward, we’ll assume that you’re in the position of the Rec-Sur player and your opponent is the discard player. Who doesn’t want to play Rec-Sur anyway?

First: mulligans. You can’t really afford to mulligan too aggressively since what’s going to end up killing you is The Rack. Giving your opponent a head start is a losing proposition. Mulligan only in extreme cases.

You opponent will be mulliganing aggressively for Duress because your success in phase one of the game hinges heavily on you resolving a Survival of the Fittest. If you resolve Survival of the Fittest, you can pitch whatever crap you have in your hand—Nekrataal, Orcish Settlers, Spike Weaver, Man-O'-War, Spirit of the Night, Verdant Force (why, yes, that is a lot of blanks!)—and fetch your Cloudchaser Eagle, Uktabi Orangutan, or Spike Feeder, depending on where you’re at in the game.

If you’re under little to no pressure, just grab Tradewind Rider; odds are, you have some number of Walls and/or Birds of Paradise in play, rendering his Diabolic Edicts effectively useless. If you already have Tradewind Rider, go grab Cloudchaser Eagle before you grab Uktabi Orangutan—he has four copies of Liliana's Caress and only one copy of The Rack.

Make your first couple of land drops and play your Walls and Birds of Paradise; in this phase of the game, you really don’t need too many lands. Undiscovered Paradise is the nuts against the discard deck; you can usually use Undiscovered Paradise to minimize the damage you take from The Rack. This pissed Eli off very much. I loved it.

I never got to resolve Lobotomy, but I imagine it’d be pretty damn sweet. Firestorm, on the other hand, is a stone cold blank against a deck running four Liliana's Caress and Ravenous Rats as its only creatures.

Cloudchaser Eagle
As the game progresses, you’ve either assumed control or you didn’t get to resolve a Survival of the Fittest and are staring down a lot of damage per turn from The Rack and a Liliana's Caress or two. Keep digging for Cloudchaser Eagle and Uktabi Orangutan with Scroll Rack. Spike Feeder can do a lot of work here and keep you alive just long enough to get his damage sources off the board with your 187s.

Eventually, you hit a Recurring Nightmare and start sacking your 187s to bring back 187s, building a big enough cushion to start whacking him with Spirit of the Night until he’s dead.

The matchup essentially boils down to:

That’s about it. You are welcome.

1–0

Round 2 – Josh Campbell

I don’t remember exactly what Josh was playing—W/B or just straight white—but he keeps a four-land, three-Oblivion Ring hand on the play and is forced to Oblivion Ring a Heartless Summoning that wasn’t doing anything and a Havengul Lich staring at an empty graveyard.

Fact or Fiction
I win this game and the next one. I don’t remember much about it other than resolving Sphinx of Uthuun and hitting land, land, Havengul Lich, Black Sun's Zenith, Solemn Simulacrum. He puts Havengul Lich and Black Sun's Zenith in one pile and the two lands and the Solemn Simulacrum in the other. Keep in mind that I’m resolving a Sphinx of Uthuun, which means I’m probably looking pretty good as far as lands are concerned.

I take the two-card pile.

I love Fact or Fiction and remember it fondly, but it’s probably for the best that that type of effect is attached to a bajillion-mana creature and not a 4-mana blue instant. If Brainstorm is the hardest card to play right, Fact or Fiction is definitely the hardest card for your opponent to play right, and it usually results in massive blowouts when any type of skill disparity is present. We’ll definitely never see a card like that again, but it’s definitely a cool effect, and it feels fair when you tack it on a 7-mana flyer.

2–0

Round 3 – R.J. Fischer

R.J. is playing W/B tokens. Here’s how to win the W/B tokens match if you’re the Heartless Summoning deck:

Black Sun's Zenith
Don’t be afraid to go for a token’s throat – The tokens player has eight anthems: four Intangible Virtue and four Honor of the Pure. When he’s making two tokens at a time with every card, the damage adds up fast. Obviously, you want to cast Go for the Throat when you have three lands in play in order to trigger morbid on your Tragic Slips, but if you have a Black Sun's Zenith in hand, it’s fine to Doom Blade a token to try to bait another token-generating spell.

Black Sun's Zenith is your best card – This is the card you should be digging for with your Ponders. Don’t worry about finding fatties or Heartless Summonings; they’ll come to you naturally over the course of a game. You need Wrath effects in order to stay in games.

His life total doesn’t matter – Don’t believe me? In the two games I won against R.J., he hit 39 and 40 life, respectively, with his Vault of the Archangel. Some idiot will invariably walk by when you’re reading out life totals aloud, and he’ll chuckle immoderately when you say, “3 to 39,” but don’t let that bother you. Your fatties have so much inevitability built into them; plus, you have the Havengul Lich–plus–Heartless Summoning–plus–Perilous Myr combo, so he could hit 100 life and it wouldn’t matter. The third stage of each game you win always looks the same: He has no guys, and you have three 5/5s.

Clones and Frost Titans don’t do much – I board out Frost Titan for every match except one (we’ll get to that one in a minute), and yeah, I just hate cloning my own creatures. I board out six cards to bring in three Ratchet Bomb, a Black Sun's Zenith, a Wurmcoil Engine, and a Massacre Wurm. Wurmcoil Engines are especially useful for giving you back a buffer to play with as you try to crawl out of phase two, although the tokens deck has no real reach anyway.

The tokens deck is not equipped to win a long game against you – His threats, nay, his deck, is tokens and anthems. That’s pretty much it. He has, at best, four Oblivion Rings he can draw, which, as a 3-mana sorcery speed spell, are pretty simple to play around. You have a bajillion huge fatties, three Wrath effects, removal out the ass, and The Little Machine Gun That Could. If the game goes long at all, you are a favorite to win, and that’s what happens with R.J. and me in the two games I win. Late in phase two, your deck still has gas, while his usually just starts coughing up useless lands and anthems.

3–0

Round 4 – Matt Brown

Birthing Pod
Matt Brown is playing Naya Pod, easily my toughest match of the night. Some basic pointers for beating Naya Pod:

You are a U/B deck – Because of this, you are God-awful at removing artifacts. Once they stick, they are there forever. This is important to keep in mind.

Your removal is your way out – Your ultimate plan is to find a Frost Titan (MVP of the matchup) to neutralize the Birthing Pod, but before you do that, you can interrupt his chain with all your post-board removal and buy very precious time in order to dig for your Frost Titans. It may seem like it’s not doing much, but keeping him off Huntmaster of the Fells is a big deal when you’re packing Phantasmal Images.

He will keep bad hands – One of the issues with Naya Pod is that the mana rarely comes out that great. A lot of the time, players will keep bad hands on the merit that it has a Birds of Paradise or something, which makes your Tragic Slips reeeeeal sweet.

That card in hand might not be just a bluff – Late in our second game, Matt had one card in his hand. I figured it was a land, but as I was getting a soft lock on him with a Sphinx of Uthuun, I started to calculate his outs and try to figure out what was in his hand. I looked down at his lands. He had a shit-ton of lands in play, but only one was red, so I put him on an Inferno Titan in hand and played accordingly. The colors the Naya Pod player is lacking are usually pretty indicative of what’s in his hand—if he’s missing double-red, it’s probably Inferno Titan. If he’s missing double-white , he could have Geist-Honored Monk, Archon of Justice, or even Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. If he’s missing a whole color, the possibilities of cards stranded in his hand becomes even broader.

Frost Titan
Don’t cast Black Sun's Zenith right away – If he’s lacking a Birthing Pod but has a lot of ground dudes, don’t be afraid to save your Black Sun's Zenith till he only has one card in hand. This isn’t a hyper-aggressive deck that can come out of nowhere; here, you’re all about getting absolute maximum value out of your Black Sun's Zenith, effectively closing the door, and the Birthing Pod player unintentionally gives you all the time in the world to stretch its worth. If you hold back on being happy with a two-for-one Black Sun's Zenith, odds are, he will read you for not having one and happily plop down two more little guys on his next turn. If he rips a Birthing Pod, he rips a Birthing Pod—odds are that you’re just going to kill whatever he Pods up with your Black Sun's Zenith anyway.

Basically, I was pissed at Frost Titans up until this matchup, in which they finally saved my skin. Kill guys, prioritize finding and protecting Frost Titans.

4–0

Round 5 – Al French

Because I was the only X–0, I asked Al for the draw in order to try to conserve some energy, and because I wanted to make it to IHOP with plenty of time to spare before the midnight prerelease. He graciously gave it to me, giving me my first FNM win in what seems like a billion years.

Phantasmal Image
I have no idea how this deck plays against W/U Delver, but I’d have to imagine that Tragic Slip and your Clones play a big part in neutralizing Delver of Secrets and Geist of Saint Traft, respectively. Winning the match probably just comes down to having a big enough life cushion after you set up; the Delver player is clearly going to be Vapor Snagging you out for, like, three turns in a row. Whether you can withstand that probably depends on whether he refueled his hand with gas while he Vapor Snagged your huge dorks.

This deck was really fun to play, and I’d recommend it to anyone. There’re limited answers to artifacts, but you have Black Sun's Zenith (I really like the feeling of playing with Wraths), and your guys will always outclass all of the opponents’. The deck’s a lot like any control deck—if you can stabilize, you’re gonna win. It’s all about the cushion.

See you next week.

Jon Corpora

Pronounced Ca-pora

@feb31st

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