FNM Hero: Budget Metagaming & Making Updates

Does our FNM Hero have glorious tales of victory to tell or crushing stories of defeat? Has his budget grown smaller or larger? Read on to find out!

When we last left off, I had taken my FNM Hero deck for a spin, but the losses were piling up. I had learned a little bit about how I wanted my deck to function and planned to put that to good use.


Due to a lack of planning, I played in one more tournament before making changes to my deck. Game Swap was hosting a pretty enticing Game Day for the FNM Hero. Basically, instead of their regular store credit in prizes, they were giving away a ton of planeswalkers! Four copies each of Ral Zarek; Domri Rade; Jace, Architect of Thought; and Vraska the Unseen would be given away in addition to the Trostani’s Summoner extended art promo just for playing and the Melek, Izzet Paragon extended art promo for Top 8 competitors. Those cards could be quite valuable for some trading!

Current Budget: $17.02 – $5 tournament entry fee = $12.02

Here is the deck I played, the same as last week:

This tournament was five rounds with a cut to a Top 4. Here are my round-by-round results.

Round 1: Turbo Fog – W
Round 2: New player with Izzet Sealed deck+ – W
Round 3: Hexproof – L
Round 4: RUG Flash – W (Sorry Jeff Hoogland!)
Round 5: Junk Reanimator – L

In round 1, Skullcrack actually had a ton of value. I don’t think my Turbo Fog opponent could beat a Skullcrack in a million years. Guttersnipe was no picnic for him either.

In round 2, zero sleeves were used.

If the tournament had cut to Top 8, my opponent and I would have been able to draw into the elimination bracket. As it stood, only my opponent could potentially draw in. I desperately wanted to come out of the tournament ahead somewhat, and I briefly considered trying to draw anyway to secure a Top 8 spot. The 5-8th payout was $5 in store credit and the Melek, Izzet Paragon promo. I wasn’t sure how much to value it at (it is currently $9.99 here on SCG), but I knew it would be worth at least something in trade.

Instead, I offered my opponent a prize split. The winner would go on to Top 4 to play for the planeswalkers. We decided that the winner would give the loser of the tournament one of the four planeswalkers that they won in the Top 4 playoff.

Our match was relatively uninteresting, with Thragtusks coming down to ruin my day and Skullcrack being fairly embarrassing trying to keep up. After succumbing to defeat, I cheered for Brandon Watson to win the tournament to improve which planeswalker I would get. Alas, Brandon was unable to win the tournament, and we were left with some Vraska the Unseens.

Cards added to inventory: 1x Vraska the Unseen, 1x Trostani’s Summoner extended art promo

All in all not a bad tournament, but I’m down to two tournaments left. I’m in need of a reasonably sized prize in order to stay afloat. I really don’t want to have to sell cards in order to play in tournaments.

After the tournament, I did some light trading with one of my favorite Magicians, Brandon Hoogland. He wanted the Trostani’s Summoner promo, and I offered up the Vraska the Unseen as well. As luck would have it, Brandon was in the market for a Vraska (or at least in the market to value trade)

My cards:

Vraska the Unseen – $9.99

Trostani’s Summoner extended art promo – $1.49

Total – $11.48

His cards:

Aetherling – $6.99

2x Izzet Guildgate – $0.49 x 2 = $0.98

2x Izzet Staticaster – $0.99 x 2 = $1.98

Total = $9.95

This more than covers the 5% loss I have to take on every trade, but it worked out very well for me. I needed these cards to improve my deck even though I took a value hit. The value hit is actually larger now, as Aetherling is down to $4.99 on StarCityGames.com but was $6.99 at the time of the trade.

Change #1: Get the Four Pillar of Flames in the Maindeck

Basically, Standard is full of all flavors of aggressive decks. Some have more game going long than others, but all are capable of killing you quickly. Naya Humans, R/G, Junk Aristocrats, and Bant Hexproof are all generally much better when their opponent does not play a Pillar of Flame. There are also Avacyn’s Pilgrims from decks like Junk Reanimator where Pillar of Flame is effective. I feel like these high-density threat decks can be among my best matchups if I want them to be. Play a high amount of removal spells to bust their draws up while my threats go generally unopposed. Most of the aggressive decks have a huge amount of threats and little to nothing in the way of removal. My vulnerable creatures can capitalize on this. I’ll cut some of the more marginal cards from my deck to accommodate this.

-2 Mizzium Mortars, -1 Searing Spear, -1 Think Twice, +4 Pillar of Flame

Change #2: Add More Turn // Burn

Basically, Turn // Burn is the real deal, and I’m happy to have many copies of the card. It’s a little unfortunate that I have so many cards that deal two damage, but truth be told there aren’t a ton of three-toughness creatures roaming around. There are far more situations where I want the Turn half of the card (by itself or fused) than I want the third point of damage from Searing Spear.

Purchase: 2 Turn // Burn – $1.98

Remaining Balance: $10.04

-2 Searing Spear, +2 Turn // Burn

Change #3: Add a Get Out of Jail Free Card

Whenever I play against a deck with a ton of removal, I am hard pressed to actually accomplish anything even if I can get ahead on traditional card advantage metrics while keeping things clear. When I traded away the Vraska the Unseen, you may have noticed that one of the cards I traded for was an Aetherling. This is my get out of jail free. When my opponent’s deck has a plethora of removal to thwart mine, I want a card to go to that is basically unbeatable. Aetherling is unbeatable by these traditional control tactics. Desperate Ravings makes having only one of these fairly risky, so I think I’ll maindeck it in order to be able to play it in two out of the three games. Once again, I’m not positive that this is a good change, so I’ll keep the Talrand around in case I want to switch back.

-1 Talrand, Sky Summoner +1 Aetherling

Change #4: Fix the Mana

I’ve gotten red screwed a few times, and the Guildgates aren’t as awful as I first imagined. I picked up a couple in the Vraska trade, and I’m more than happy to add them to the deck.

-2 Island, +2 Izzet Guildgate

Change #5: Revamp Part of the Sideboard

The Skullcracks need to go, and Pillar of Flame left for the greener pastures of the maindeck, leaving the sideboard in shambles.

This will be my new sideboard

3 Negate
2 Dissipate
1 Think Twice
1 Talrand, Sky Summoner
2 Searing Spear
2 Electrickery
2 Izzet Staticaster
2 Mizzium Mortars

This sideboard definitely looks weird, and it’s absolutely due to budget constraints. Basically, I wouldn’t mind a Think Twice against slower decks, and my sideboard strategy will want me to remove four Pillar of Flames and two Mizzium Mortars. With the five counterspells, the Think Twice is something in my inventory that can be the sixth card.

The Talrand is there in case the Aetherling isn’t good in a particular matchup. I often take out Delver of Secrets against aggressive decks, and Aetherling is far too slow, so I need to maintain a few cards capable of actually winning the game.

Mizzium Mortars and Searing Spear help me tune my removal. This is the shakiest situation for sure, but a budget is a budget. Basically, sideboard slots are generally too valuable to use on something like this. While it will be nice to have the exact red removal I want, this is too many slots to use.

I feel much better about how my deck is configured at the moment. I only have two tournaments left before my deck starts getting significantly worse, however.

Wednesday Night @ Game Swap

Each Wednesday, Game Swap hosts what basically amounts to a Daily Event. It’s always four rounds (it’s on a weekday evening, after all), and a 4-0 record gets $30 in store credit while a 3-1 record gets $15 in store credit. The FNM Hero has the desperation to succeed and an upgraded weapon to help the cause.

Current Budget: $10.04 – $5 tournament entry fee = $5.04

Here are my round results.

Round 1: Jund – W
Round 2: Bant Hexproof – L
Round 3: Junk Tokens – W
Round 4: Mono-Red Aggro – W

The first round was a nice confirmation that I can compete against top decks like Jund. Granted, I got a free game due to his mulligan to four, but I won the other game when both of us had reasonable draws. A Goblin Electromancer can generate a huge amount of tempo. In general, I can’t let anything sit on the board too long (especially an Olivia Voldaren or Garruk, Primal Hunter), but that’s more a statement about their cards than an indictment of mine. No creature deck can beat an active Olivia realistically. I’m also really happy about how my deck can handle a planeswalker. Both Guttersnipe and Talrand, Sky Summoner are excellent at harassing planeswalkers while the rest of the creatures are cheap, and I have counterspells as an additional layer of protection.

The second round revealed something that I don’t think I can afford to fix.

I can’t beat Bant Hexproof. There is actually very little I can do to defeat a souped up Geist of Saint Traft. Electrickery can occasionally be used to catch an Invisible Stalker, but there is no way I can beat a reasonable draw from a Bant Hexproof deck. There are a few options, but they are all really bad. Rolling Temblor kills most of my own team. Clone would be really appealing except for the fact that it won’t work in a few short weeks. I can’t afford to spend money I don’t have on something that loses a ton of effectiveness very soon. I don’t have access to enchantment removal in my colors.

The only legitimate cards I could run are Aetherize and Sleep. Sleep probably doesn’t buy me enough time, but Aetherize might actually be appealing. There is the problem of the card being really bad, however. For now, I’m going to simply punt the matchup. If Bant Hexproof picks up in popularity, I’ll reconsider.

I handily defeated a Junk Tokens deck in round 3 to set up a big round 4 match. A win would give me a much-needed $15, and a loss would put me down to my last tournament.

The match was pretty awesome as well. My opponent was playing a very burn heavy Mono-Red Aggro deck. I was a little on the slow side in game 1, and all of his cards hit me once or twice before I could kill them. A Boros Reckoner can be difficult to deal with profitably. By the time I had stabilized, my life total was precariously low. A timely Syncopate for Devil’s Play helped me close with Guttersnipes before he could seal the deal. I ended the game at two life.

Game 2 was another nailbiter. Vexing Devils lowered my life total quickly, but his other creatures didn’t do much. I didn’t have much in the way of action, especially after an early game Desperate Ravings randomly discarded my only source of pressure: Talrand. It’s entirely possible that I shouldn’t have cast the Ravings at all, but the rest of my hand wasn’t very good: two lands that I didn’t particularly want, Talrand, and a removal spell. I definitely err on the side of casting Desperate Ravings, as deck velocity is very important to me. It hurt me in game 2; I able to get him playing off the top, but without much pressure of my own, I failed to stop the top of his deck forever.

Not to get shown up by the first two games, game 3 was easily the closest of the three. He had some difficult decisions based on the contents of the top of his deck once again. A Searing Spear to the face would put me in topdeck range but would allow my Guttersnipe to kill him in short order. He went to the face, and I fell to a precarious three life. I frantically dug for a counterspell, Guttersniping the whole way. I missed, but I found removal and more pressure in the form of a pair of Goblin Electromancers. I still had quite a way to go and would have to fade multiple draw steps from him. His first draw:

Cool. I could leave it in play, kill it with a removal spell, and put him precariously close to dead—but not all the way dead. There was still one draw step to fade. Millions of spells would kill me, but his draw was a Pillar of Flame. He Pillared me down to one, and I just assumed he had another one. He flipped over a land.


My friends watching knew exactly what my win meant. The FNM Hero was now afloat!

I can honestly say that doing FNM Hero has rekindled my joy for playing actual games of Magic. I don’t know why, but going 3-1 in this local tournament was one of the greatest feelings I’ve had in Magic in quite some time. I was more excited to 3-1 this local tournament than I was to make Top 8 of the StarCityGames.com Legacy Open in St. Louis a few weeks earlier. Maybe it’s the novelty of actually being up money in FNM Hero. Maybe it’s the fear of failure. Maybe it’s just a fresh perspective on a game I’ve played for so long. I get excited about playing Magic again.

Don’t get me wrong, I love playing competitive Magic in a variety of forms. However, my years of experience have taught me not to get caught up in individual results. For me, one tournament rarely matters in the grand scheme of things. It’s more about being consistent and emotionally stable. Losing at one PTQ or Open doesn’t mean I’ve failed as a Magic player.

The FNM Hero has no such luxuries. The FNM Hero needs money NOW.

Current Balance: $5.02 + $15 tournament winnings = $20.02

Book it.

Adam Prosak, FNM Hero

[Editor’s Note: The combination of Adam’s great storytelling and your feedback has forced my hand. The FNM Hero will now be seen on a weekly basis instead of a biweekly basis. See ya next week!]