52 FNMs – First It Giveth

52 Decks in 52 Weeks

It’s been a weird atmosphere over here at 52 FNMs headquarters. Mostly because the end of this column is oh, so close. Oh, I can smell it. This article marks week 47, which is a lot of damn FNMs in a row. At this point, I can see going to Friday Night Magic and playing a different deck every week for a year for what it actually is: a sick experiment designed to systematically build up one’s hope, strip it away completely, and try to rebuild it from the remains of the wreck.

FNM giveth, and FNM taketh away.

I know I say it a lot—mostly in a vain attempt to try and restore the dignity that FNM drowned in my bathtub approximately six months ago—but playing a different deck every week is hard. When you remove yourself from it and look at, say, a span of ten weeks, the effect is one of seeing yourself being pulled in ten different directions. Standard might be a smaller card pool than most, but that doesn’t mean that the decks all play the same.

For all its current faults (starts with “m” and rhymes with “unfairacle”), Standard is really, really diverse right now, and the good decks all play at their own unique tempo (even the two Birthing Pod decks—Naya and R/U/G—are totally different in how they go about winning games); when you play a different deck every week, you create the simulation of being pulled in ten different directions in terms of play styles. You’re constantly unlearning and relearning how to play Magic, and it’s not conducive to much. You get a good, albeit small sample of how the major players in Standard work, but since you’re looking for a different deck to play every week, you invariably are stuck with every deck’s first, and thus flawed, iteration. By the time other people are playing the good version of the deck, you’re already past it and onto some other deck with a thousand Llanowar Elves in it, silently hating Magic and everyone around you.

What this means for me is that I’ve been less steadfast than I have been in the past with my deck choices and chasing down singles especially; despite what everyone at Cloud City must think (they see me running around for cards every Friday). Chasing down multiple copies of Cavern of Souls or Liliana of the Veil or WHATEVER is the worst, and I hate it. So, you can imagine my delight when Level 2 judge Rich Bourque dropped this deck off for me, completely finished.

Rich is one of those dudes who always plays sixty-one cards. I didn’t change his deck, but I wanted to—playing sixty-one is the worst. Unless all your cards are just as good as all the others, there’s no reason to be dicking around with anything more than sixty—the extra cards are keeping you that much further away form the best cards in your deck. The response I usually get to that is, “That never comes up,” but IT DOES SOMETIMES, GODDAMMIT. And then after I freak out, the person will usually come up with some nonsense about mana ratios or whatever and that having a better mana ratio supposedly outweighs whatever miniscule disadvantage you get from playing more than sixty, at which point I usually black out.

Here’s the kicker: Who plays sixty-one these days who’s any good? And I’m not talking good-players-at-your-LGS good, I’m talking current-crop-of-Pro-Players good. I watch a lot of player videos and streams, and none of them ever plays sixty-one.

Moving right along.

Quirion Dryad-plus-free-spells hasn’t been a thing in Standard for quite some time. Even when Standard had those two qualities, clear back in 2002, the deck wasn’t there because the mana fixing wasn’t that great; Fires of Yavimaya into Flametongue Kavu into Saproling Burst was simply a bigger game than playing a billion colors to try and get value from a 1/1 for 2.

But Extended on the other hand . . . 

"Alan Comer’s Miracle Gro – GP: Las Vegas ’01"

Alan Comer is a first-ballot (ever) Hall of Famer for a lot of reasons, one of them being that his decks were unique for their time in that he is all-in on his plan. Look at that deck. LOOK AT IT. There are ten lands in that deck. THAT SHIT CRAZY.

The only non-Standard-legal (at the time) cards in the entire seventy-five are:

Tropical Island
Curiosity
Force of Will
Winter Orb
Chill
Emerald Charm

So yeah, we’re pretty close to a Standard deck with this deck, but the Standard version would sorely miss Tropical Island and Force of Will. Force of Will is the best at protecting your Quirion Dryad, while Tropical Island plus Land Grant lets you get away with a criminally low land count.

Speaking of Tropical Island, wasn’t old Extended weird? The format went back to Fourth Edition/Ice Age block, but it also included the original dual lands from Alpha/Beta/Unlimited for some arbitrary reason. I’m glad we don’t have formats like that anymore, but I’m positive that people will come out the woodwork asserting that there was nothing arbitrary about ten lands from Revised being in Extended, that it was correct, and may God have mercy on my soul for suggesting otherwise.

The point of the deck is to make a huge Quirion Dryad out of nowhere and protect it. Apostle's Blessing is good for random blowouts. Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage virtually guarantee 2 counters on your Quirion Dryad.

The card I was most excited to cast, you ask?

Rancor

Round 1 – Bret Weed

Bret’s playing that weird B/w control deck that wins via Sorin Markov with Sorin's Vengeance. I don’t have much to do about that other than kill him fast and hope to have a Mana Leak when he goes to sweep my board.

I win the die roll and cast Gitaxian Probe. He shows me:

Sorin's Vengeance
Nihil Spellbomb
Lingering Souls
Sphere of the Suns
Curse of Death's Hold
Mirrodin's Core
Swamp

A lot of things occur to me all at once:

Bret stabilizes at a comfortable 17 life, and he never needs to cast his Curse of Death's Hold; two copies of Lingering Souls kill me to death while I never see a red mana, not that it would’ve made a difference—there are no Pyroclasm effects in here anyhow.

Bret’s opener for Game 2 is somewhat less scary:

Swamp
Mirrodin's Core
Buried Ruin
Solemn Simulacrum
Solemn Simulacrum
Terminus
Black Sun's Zenith

Unfortunately, Mycosynth Wellspring shows up to the party to ruin everything. Bret holds off on a Black Sun's Zenith, playing around a Mana Leak I am heavily representing but don’t actually have, but he can afford to since he has Solemn Simulacrums to hold off the ground against my big ol’ Quirion Dryad as well as a Pristine Talisman to mitigate any life loss. I live the dream with two Pillar of Flames for his pair of Solemn Simulacrums, but a big Black Sun's Zenith followed by two Curse of Death's Hold seals the match in short order.

0–1

Round 2 – BYE

Our tournament started late, so my hetero life-mate Al French couldn’t participate because he starts work at 11:00 P.M. So we went to Moe’s for dinner.

Valakut Fireboar
In 2173, when the world’s remaining nations (Greenland and Panem) go to war over which Mexican chain is better—Chipotle or Moe’s—they’ll have to take a lot of things into account. As far as Mexican food goes, they’re both shit. So long as you don’t live out in some horrible flyover state, you can probably do better on Mexican food than Chipotle or Moe’s.

As far as fast food goes, they’re both excellent, even if they are a little pricier than their peers. It’s worth noting that as long as it’s not a Monday, I’m leaning pretty hard on Chipotle because they’re on that locally-grown-food kick, so if I eat there, that makes me an activist, albeit a fat one. Also, their food is just better. Ever seen the pork at Moe’s? Jesus Christ. It looks like they fished that from the inside of a waterbed.

Also, the advertising for Moe’s looks like it was crafted in 1996 and stored in a box that says, “BREAK IN CASE OF LAZINESS.” For example, there’s a thing at the Moe’s counter that says (they sell beer) “We ID. And your library card doesn’t count.” Whoa, Moe’s! THAT’S CRAZY. All the little Moe’s-centric set-up/punchline gags all over the place in any random Moe’s just make me feel as though I’ve been transported back in time exactly eight years to when Moe’s was called XTREME SOUTHWEST and Moe’s Mondays were instead called FLY FRIDAYS and there were skateboarders and half pipes everywhere in the restaurant.

My point is that basically all Moe’s has going for it is Moe’s Mondays and Sodabot 9000, who will make you a diet orange Dr. Pepper spiked with Gatorade without even batting a robotic eye.

I got a taco with two free sides of guacamole because the three eighteen-year old girls behind the counter got confused and gave me free guacamole.

1–1

Al chose this time to bring up to me that he was offended that I implied that he was bad at Magic last week. I was unaware I did this, so, just to clear the air right now: I DO NOT THINK YOU ARE BAD AT MAGIC, AL. YOU DO, HOWEVER, NEED A HAIRCUT.

Round 3 – James Kinney

James is playing a weird Werewolves deck that I don’t really remember. In the games I win, James is unable to answer a huge Quirion Dryad doing an impersonation of The Abyss. In the game I lose, I’m blown out by Moonmist, which is a great joy to me.

2–1

Round 4 – Kevin Poncelet

Spine of Ish Sah
I don’t enjoy writing about myself, mostly because everyone writes about themselves in tournament reports, and everything seems like either an exaggerated caricature of how awesome the writer is or the rantings of a complete sociopath who just so happened to play in a Magic tournament once.

I think that if I wrote about myself, it would read a lot like the latter. I think the other Cloud City regulars must feel this way, too, because they always ask, “Why do you never write about the stuff you do at FNM?” and by “stuff,” they mean “boisterous and downright childish ploys to get attention and/or make yourself and others laugh at someone’s expense.”

For example, upon greeting me at FNM, one Kevin Poncelet greeted me with a smile and offered me a fist bump. Instantly incensed, I looked down at the table he was standing at and saw his wallet on it and knocked onto the ground. When Kevin went to pick it up, I kicked it away from his hands. It went about five feet. Simply seeing him walk over to get it made me feel much, much better.

Come on, Kevin. Give up the nice guy act already.

Apostle's Blessing
Kevin’s playing that weird mono-black artifact deck.

He gets me in the first game by doing what his deck’s supposed to do: lock me out with artifacts, generate a ton of card advantage, and try to beat me with a Wurmcoil Engine. My deck dutifully does what it’s supposed to do when I fail to make my third land drop.

Games 2 and 3, he is just flooded and never draws any sweepers. The play that ends up icing him out of Game 3 is an Apostle's Blessing (that he has to read) in response to a Spine of Ish Sah.

3–1

Against Kevin Poncelet, the guy who both benched a Heretic's Punishment at a Sealed Pro Tour Qualifier and I’ve had to write about destroying me for what feels like infinity, this particular blowout feels pretty sweet.

Round 5 – Gino Vittore

One thing that’s hard to articulate, yet everyone experiences, is that guy at your LGS whom you just have good luck against. I don’t really know how or why, but there’s always just someone at your shop whom you have good mojo against, a guy who looks at the pairings sheet, sees your name across from his, and groans. A guy who, every time he sits across from you, gives you a look that plainly says, “Please, for the love of Christ, please make it quick.”

Vapor Snag
I like Gino a lot. He and I wind up talking about the game—mostly its social aspects (which I definitely find more interesting than, say, whether to run Sword of War and Peace over Runechanter's Pike in Delver)—quite a bit, but when we sit down to play the games . . . what can I say? I’m always confident. Which is not to say the games aren’t tight or that I play loose. I am just always confident, during our matches, that the cards’ll come.

I’ve been on Gino’s side of things. Hell, I still am; I imagine this is how Kevin Poncelet feels every time he’s paired against me.

Something I’d love to read about is how to fall out of or disrupt these patterns against people. I have a hunch that the solution is personality-specific, so I’ll say what works for me: confidence. I touched on it briefly here, but when I’ve had good tournaments, it’s because I felt untouchable, like no one could suck out on me, and even if they did, fuck ‘em ‘cause I’m winning anyway. It works both ways; if you go into a match resigned to having your opponent suck out on you, your frame is that much worse for when (and if) it actually happens.

Not a lot of people write about willing themselves to win a whole lot, but it definitely happens, and it’s difficult to win a tournament without that force of will. I firmly believe that the people who consistently do well have mostly frame to thank for it. The few players on earth who can combine great tech and flawless frame are deadly.

Gino and I play a match of Magic. Game 1, he mulligans to six and keeps:

Seachrome Coast
Seachrome Coast
Island
Island
Mana Leak
Vapor Snag

He draws a bunch more lands, and I do not lose that game. Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but I think you just have to ship that hand and try your luck with five, especially on the draw. That’s a real bad one on the draw. It just does nothing except sit on its thumb ’til it loses.

Game 2 is a bit closer, but I have a blazing-fast start with two Quirion Dryads that just go out of control fairly quickly. Gino is pretty flooded, and compounded with my fast start, his Restoration Angels just aren’t enough, as they are just Vapor Snagged every time.

4–1, second place

See you next week. We’re almost there, people.

Jon Corpora
Pronounced Ca-pora
@feb31st

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