Here at Magic Weekend, finding a line of sight that doesn't end at a professional player is a near impossibility. With US Nationals happening just across the room from the Public Events area, the room is a veritable melting pot of the professional, aspiring professional, and casual. Seeing all of these levels of players intertwined around the room and thinking about the progression through the ranks brings to mind the image of a stepladder. After all, even professional players had to start somewhere.
Magic has done a wonderful job of introducing programs aimed at creating an open environment for players of all levels of skill and commitment. By far the most enduring and beloved of all of these programs is Friday Night Magic. I would estimate that no less than 90% of the hundreds of Magic players of all levels roaming the event hall have played in an FNM at least once in their lives, and for many, it's a regular occurrence.
The fact that FNM has endured and become one of Magic‘s most successful programs should come as no surprise. It presents players of all ages and skill levels an opportunity to play together. Especially in areas where the professional players still routinely go to their FNM either to play or hang out, it provides an exciting environment for the aspiring professional players. I know from personal experience that it's always a little exciting as a player that dreamed of playing on the Pro Tour when I get a chance to sit down and play against one of the best players in the world. In addition, if I manage to win, it just reinforces in me that I have that chance to succeed on the next level. It's wonderful for inspiring confidence and the desire to compete at that level all the time.
Even with the absence of professional players, though, it provides players with exactly what they're looking for. The casual players have a place to go and play with their friends, and even make new ones. The aspiring professionals have an opportunity to regularly play and attempt to hone their skills to prepare them for PTQs and the like. Collectors have an opportunity to come to a congregation of players and trade to their hearts' content. FNM creates community within the game.
And let's not forget that it's fun. One of Magic‘s most enduring qualities is that it's such a fun game. If it wasn't, it wouldn't matter that it's an incredibly well designed and supported game. Eventually, it would get frustrating and old. But even if you suffer a frustrating loss to the random element inherent in the game, you know you come right back. It's like your significant other, you may get frustrated at them from time to time, but you can't really stay mad at them for long. The upside is too great.
At every Pro Tour and Magic Weekend, Friday Night Magic takes on epic proportions. Super FNM is a sight to behold. This isn't your thirty or forty player local FNM. Super FNMs have upwards of a hundred players of all ages and levels. The prize support is ridiculous. You play four rounds, and get prizes based on your record after that. 4-0 gets you eight promo cards, four boosters, and a free entry to any Public Event going on that weekend. That's a nice little prize for a few bucks and a few hours of your time.
This Super FNM was Shadowmoor Sealed deck, which worried me a little. It's common knowledge (or should be) that I'm unbelievably unlucky. I'm responsible for the rain that hit PT Valencia and BDM's pneumonia before PT Kuala Lumpur. I'm responsible for the recent quakes in Los Angeles. I'm also pretty sure that I'm responsible for the track conditions at the Brickyard 400. If I could channel this power, I could be one hell of a supervillain.
Best to get it over with. Here's my card pool:
Super Friday Night Magic, U.S. Nationals 2008 Card Pool
Not the world's best card pool. I knew that my white was pretty much the only really solid color I had, and calling it solid was kind of stretching it. Cards like Recumbent Bliss, Ballynock Trapper, and Fire at Will are really solid removal. I also really wanted to be as white as possible to go well with my Mass Calcify. Luckily, my white beaters were pretty solid, too. Kitchen Finks, Ballynock Cohort, and Safehold Sentry aren't slouches.
Coming up with a second color got a little harder. Black was out. I had less than nothing to work with. I didn't have enough solid green to warrant making it my second color. It really came down to red and blue. The thing I liked about blue was that it really filled my curve out nicely, especially with the evasive creatures. The downside is that it cut my removal pretty short. In addition, the Balefire Liege really made me lean toward red as a second color. It eased my reliance on plains for the Liege and Fire at Will, both of which I was playing regardless of my second color.
Ultimately, I decided that the removal my red gave me could help me fill in the missing slots in my curve. Also, red cards and my Liege could just outright win a game. Puncture Blast you for six. Puncture Bolt your guy and bolt you. It only usually takes two triggers or so to kill someone. The last selling point was that I got to play the Knollspine Dragon. A 7/5 flier will end the game soon after he hits the table. Hopefully.
Anyway, this is what I built:
Super Friday Night Magic, U.S. Nationals 2008
Needless to say, I was a little unimpressed. I had a decent amount of removal and a couple of fine finishers, but I had a few cards in my deck that I was unhappy to see there, like the Pili-Pala (who came out every game 2) and the Patrol Signaler (I just didn't have any good ways to abuse these guys). I decided that I needed help.
Enter Paul Cheon. While he was waiting for the Magic trivia show featuring Rich "yes, that's an English accent" Hagon, he decided to lend me a hand and try to explain to me why I'm terrible. He pilfered through the deck and said the exact same thing I thought upon looking at this deck. "How is it possible that you only have one and a half good colors?" The short answer is because I'm me.
He came to the obvious conclusion that my white was the base of the deck. As he laid out the blue cards and red cards to figure out the second color, Luis Scott-Vargas walked up to see what we were doing. When he saw the deck we were working on, his eyes got wide and he slowly backed away from the table. Looking at the card pool I was working with apparently scared even the mighty LSV. After some deliberation, here's what Cheon came up with.
Nate Price, built by Paul Cheon
Super Friday Night Magic, U.S. Nationals 2008 Card Pool
He came to the same conclusion as I did that my blue filled the problem holes in my curve very nicely. The Liege is stellar in a white-red deck, but isn't too bad on its own without the red. He also figured that the removal I had was good enough to warrant leaving the extra red removal in the side. The deck ended up more aggressive with his rebuild, but lost a bit of the random punch. I figured I'd give it a try after the first game in my first round. The call went out for pairings, and I headed out to find my seat.
Dennis Burdick shuffles up.
My first-round opponent was Dennis Burdick. Dennis was a really nice guy from Lansing, Michigan who was really friendly as we waited for the ok to start. He had to mulligan his opening hand on the play and my hand had most of my removal, so I liked my chances. Despite his mulligan, Dennis came out of the gates strong with a second-turn Mudbrawler Cohort
and an Ashenmoor Gouger
to follow that up. I Puncture Bolt
ed the Cohort in response and untapped to drop a Recumbent Bliss
on the Gouger.
Dennis followed up with a couple small but annoying black creatures. His Smolder Initiate and Spiteflame Witch planned on trying to carve up my life total one point at a time. However, he didn't have much to follow them up, and my consecutively played Ballynock Trapper and Old Ghastbark became the big men on campus. He tried to neuter good Old Ghastbark with a Cultbrand Cinder, but I had a Curse of Chains to keep it out of the way. A couple of turns later, I was able to send for lethal thanks to Barkshell Blessing and turning Old GhastbarkInside Out.
I decided to switch to the blue deck that Cheon had wanted to build for the following game, and wasn't disappointed with the result. We had a marathon game that resulted in him dealing a million damage to my creatures and I with Flame Jab. He did a bunch of damage to me with a Sootwalkers that I had a really hard time finding a blocker for as well, and I played pretty poorly toward the end. I had a couple of turns where, had I switched the order of the plays, I could have ended the game a little sooner, but I wasn't paying a lot of attention. Eventually, I got to play my Liege before attacking with an Old Ghastbark to drop Dennis to exactly zero with myself at one and a Flame Jab in Dennis's graveyard.
The blue definitely gave me better aggressive creatures in the spots I needed them, but I didn't really get to maximize their effectiveness since they all seem to have only one or two toughness, and the Flame Jab just absolutely wrecked me. I decided that I wanted another opinion before the next round. Tim Aten, the black pit of despair and suffering that he is, decided that he wasn't doing anything better at the time and took a look through my pool and build.
It was kind of nice to hear that the only changes he would have really made were to take the Pili-Pala and Patrol Signaler out in favor of the Elvish Hexhunter and Boggart Arsonists. I definitely should have had the Arsonists in all along, I agreed. I wasn't sure about the Signaler simply because I had never played with it or really seen it played. I knew I didn't have the tools to really break it, like a Power of Fire or Banishing Knack, but it still seemed like it could be alright. It turns out that, with the exception of one game, I was wrong. If you have the tools to abuse it, it's great. But if not, it's just a 1/1 you can't ever seem to find a safe way to tap.
Round two was against James Russell
My second round opponent, James Russell, hails from Omaha, Nebraska. He made the trip here with a few friends, a couple of which I had watched draft with some friends of mine the previous night. As big as the Magic
community is, it's really kind of a small world. Despite the friendly banter before the game, when he opened up for the first game, he beat me like I owed him money. Wilt-Leaf Cavalier on turn three and Spitemare
soon after just absolutely beat my face in. I figured I'd be alright, and almost stabilized, but he dropped a Shield of the Oversoul
onto his Cavaliers and ground me to a pulp. Even if I had stabilized, I had a long road to go. He gained like twenty some life thanks to an Oracle of Nectars
I found it hard to draw removal for.
I got my revenge, though, and won the next game after a marathon involving Ballynock Trapper tricks. The final game was a little anticlimactic. James got a little mana screwed, and I had removal for his only creatures. Add to that a fifth-turn Liege to go with my plainswalking Boggart Arsonists, and the game ended quite quickly.
For the second and third games in this match, I sideboarded what ended up being my standard package. Mass Calcify came out against his heavy white deck, as did the pretty bad Pili-Pala and disappointing Patrol Signaler. In their place, I brought in the Elvish Hexhunter and Boggart Arsonists, as Aten had suggested. I also brought in a Watchwing Scarecrow to deal with his many three-power creatures. It ended up working quite well for me, and I decided to go with it for the rest of the tournament.
Josh Schroeder smashed me something fierce.
My third round opponent gave me some fun games, even though, he ended up smashing my face. Josh Schroeder's mono-white deck (curse you Mass Calcify
!) gave me a few problems due to some bad timing on my part, and some excellent opportunism on Josh's. He got an Armored Ascension
on his Puresight Merrow
when I was tapped out with a Puncture Bolt
in hand. He got one swing in before I dropped a Recumbent Bliss
onto it. From that point, I managed to whittle his life down to ten before he found himself a Kithkin Spellduster
to kill the Bliss. I had enough chumpers that I could have been able to win the game, but a Scourge of the Nobilis
put him way out of reach.
The next game was much less even. He just went Safehold Sentry on turn two, Restless Apparition on the following turn, and Belligerent Hatchling on the turn after that. I had a Puncture Bolt for the Sentry and a Curse of Chains for the Apparition. Despite my best efforts to stay alive, though, Josh dropped a Duergar Hedge-Mage down to kill the Curse of Chains and remove two counters from his Hatchling. I did not stay alive much longer.
I was a little upset that I played against two predominantly white decks in consecutive rounds, nullifying my Mass Calcify. I figured that I couldn't play white three rounds in a row. People had to open other colors, right?
Ben Bowman was my third white opponent in a row.
When Ben Bowman played two Forest
s and a Groundling Pouncer
, I internally pumped the fist. When he followed that up with two Plains
and a Ballynock Trapper
, I externally slammed my head on the table. Sigh. Oh well, the game was incredibly close, as tends to happen when you win with an awful deck. I was forced to slowly build up an army with Ballynock Trapper
and Patrol Signaler
tricks. Eventually, I was able to shove enough creatures out of the way to break through. I was not so lucky the next game. He came out fast with an Elvish Hexhunter
and a Twinblade Slasher
. I thought I could get through it with the Fire at Will
in my hand until Ben played a Wilt-Leaf Liege
on his fourth turn. I managed to kill it by blocking with a Hexhunter of my own and then using the Fire at Will
to kill it a couple of turns later, but the damage was done. It was nothing at all to mop up the last six points of damage.
The last game went fairly similarly, but with a much broader landscape on my part. I kept a fairly terrible hand purely because there were only five minutes left in the round, and promptly paid the price. Josh was able to beat me before we even hit the end of the round.
All in all, I learned a lot from playing in this Super FNM. I learned that playing after staring at a computer for thirteen hours is a terrible idea. I later extrapolated this to "playing when you're as terrible and unlucky as me is a terrible idea."
All jokes aside, I had a really good time. I like the challenge of building a difficult card pool, and love getting to play in a Limited environment. It was also nice to play against a bunch of great guys, even when they were smashing my face. It's always a good sign when you can have fun in defeat. I hope everyone else playing in the tournament had as much fun as I did, and I can't wait until my next chance to play in FNM.