Power Issues--How to Win at an FNM

Power Issues--How to Win at an FNM

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Our author has recently left for Boot Camp in the Navy, but he was kind enough to leave us with this article before his departure.]

The most commonly attended competitive tournaments are the local Friday Night Magics. These are places where you can see all sorts of decks, from the most casual of casual to the finely tuned net-decked lists. This format is the one most likely to see your getting blindsided by cards you didn’t know about or didn’t think to even prepare for. This brings up a huge dilemma: what cards to Sideboard and what cards to even play. There is one answer that I’ve found is correct most of the time--play the most powerful cards you possibly can, because they will propel you through all the surprises and into the top tables.

A basic example of an FNM metagame is as follows (taken from Friday Night Magic in Mansfield, TX last week):

  • 3 U/B Decks
  • 1 Faeries
  • 1 U/B Teachings style
  • 1 Mannequin style
  • 1 U/W Merfolk
  • 1 Doran Treefolk
  • 1 Elementals
  • 1 Doran
  • 1 Reveillark
  • 1 R/G Big Mana
  • 1 U/W/G Control
  • 1 R/G Aggro
  • 1 Elves
  • 1 Goblins
  • 4 Other, less definable decks
This metagame shows how diverse FNM can be and how little one can truly prepare for it. Personally, I ran the following deck:

I hadn’t played Standard in quite a while, as it's Extended Season, and I’ve been traveling to the PTQ’s, looking for that Q. I knew I wanted to play Profane Command and Cryptic Command because they are two of the strongest cards in the format right now, in my opinion. I had also wanted to play Tarmogoyf, but instead, I loaned out that deck to my friend. He played the following list:

We both went 3-0 before drawing into the Top 8 and then in the Finals. Some quick card selection choices:

In my deck, I wanted to play the Pickles lock because it's essentially game over against most decks right now. I also wanted to play the Mannequin engine because it's so powerful that it can just swing games in your favor, causing some game-changing trades at instant speed. In the other deck, I wanted to run Goyf but also wanted to stick with my Command package. There isn’t any reason why you can’t play the package right now with Goyfs because of the amount of mana-fixing available. Goyf is the best creature in Magic right now, and so there is little reason to not be playing him. I don’t remember his Sideboard, but I know it had some number of Deathmark and Cloudthreshers. Oh, and I know he also had Shapeshifters, so he could Jedi Pickles lock the Pickles players.

The thinking I had when I designed these decks is that no matter what decks I come across, I can pull out the win because I am going to be playing the most powerful cards in the format. I can play against any player and any match-up and know that I can still get a win because my card quality is going to be strictly better, or at least EQUAL to theirs. If you are playing Faeries, then while you are playing a 2/1 for 3 who taps one of my lands, I’m going to be drawing cards and playing 3/2’s for 4 at instant speed, killing your guys. You can play any number of 7/7’s for 6; but in the end, I can still kill them. I also have the ability to counter your spells, meaning all of those Body Doubles you have are going a whole lot of nowhere, leaving you with an overcosted flyer. Sure, I can still lose to a whole lot of decks, but my overall chances of winning are increased because every single card that I draw is incredibly powerful. I am not playing a theme necessarily, which means I am not a slave to it. In the Green deck especially, you aren’t limited to two colors (though that's more consistent), but you branch out to play the most powerful cards you possibly can. Because in the end, that's the best way to assure yourself of winning.

Lets look at some recent results from large Standard tournaments:

SCG 5K T8:
1st - R/G/b Big Mana
2nd - Faeries
3rd - Reveillark
4th - Reveillark
5th - R/G Big Mana
6th - Red Deck Wins
7th - Reveillark
8th - R/G Big Mana

GP Shizuoka T8:
1st - Faeries
2nd - Faeries
3rd - Reveillark
4th - B/G Elves
5th - Reveillark
6th - Doran Rock
7th - B/G Elves
8th - Reveillark

In the StarCityGames 5k tournament, you can see the first of my theories coming into effect. Why did the R/G/b Big Mana deck win, where the other two Big Man decks failed to make it out of the quarter finals? Well, looking at the match-ups, you can see that first of all, one of them played the other; but secondly, the R/G/b deck had access to more cards, more power, and more versatility than the other versions. It ran an incredibly powerful card for the Top 8 in Void and also had access to Extirpates against Reveillark.

If you look at the GP Top 8, you will see the two Faerie decks tore through the Top 8 to meet in the finals. If you look at the decks they played against, you can see that Olivier Ruel, piloting the 2nd place deck, beat up on a Reveillark deck on its way to the Semis. One of the main reasons why this is a good match-up for this deck is the presence of Bitterblossum. This card increases the clock and makes Wrath of God a lot less effective. Not to mention it creates a steady stream of chump blockers in case the Reveillark deck wants to go aggro.
In the other bracket, you see that Yuuta beat Kenji Tsumura in the Semifinals (again, Faeries versus Reveillark). You’ll note that Reveillark requires a bunch of creatures and spells together to be truly effective; and when faced against such a powerful card in Bitterblossum, it's apparent that the power level difference in the match-up is in favor of Faeries.

Here is the current deck I am playing in Standard:

The deck has been performing masterfully. It beats the Elf decks (both varients) quite handedly, as does it the Kithkin and Goblin decks. Aggro aside, how does the deck handle the other three decks to beat--Faeries, Big Mana, and Reveillark?

Faeries - This match-up is quite winnable. They have a lot of tempo advantages, but you have Shriekmaws, Pacts, and Damnations to reset the board; and ultimately, if their own Bitterblossom doesn’t do them in, your Dread or Goyfs will. Post-board you have Cloudthresher and Teferis, both of which cause lots of problems for the Faerie decks.

Big Mana - This match-up is highly dependant on your draw. They could just go ahead and explode and kill you before you do much of anything revelant; however, that shouldn’t happen. Cryptic Command is a powerful tool in this match-up, and Primal Command can get you out of tight spots life-wise. Your Mannequins are all right here; and remember, Vensering your own creatures in response to Skreds is a very good thing. Post-board you have Shapeshifters, Sowers, and Deathmarks, depending on what build they’re running.

Reveillark - This match-up is tough, but you have Goyf. Goyf on turn 2 is very crucial, and your bounce is also very important. Games 2/3 you need to side in Shapeshifters and Sowers so you can disrupt their combo. You have enough removal to keep them from beating you down, and their only true out against you is to in fact combo off. Most decks these days are running fewer combo pieces, so stealing one or two and killing the rest are key. Also, keeping Body Double off the field is highly relevant, so save your Commands for them.

While I’ve given you a lot of decklists to mull over, you should keep the following in mind. None of these decklists are net-decked, and that's with reason--not because I argue one way or another about net-decks, but because I believe that Standard hasn’t been fully tapped for the power level it can have. I’ll leave you with my list of the top 5 most powerful cards in standard, along with the most powerful two of each color/artifact/land that weren’t on the list.

Top 5:
1. Cryptic Command
2. Profane Command
3. Bitterblossom
4. Garruk Wildspeaker
5. Tarmogoyf

1. Reveillark - This card fuels a combo deck or three and has provided White with some oomph.
2. Wrath of God - A natural fit for any U/W Control player, this card makes White not keel over and die to aggro.

1. Venser, Shaper Savant - I heard bounce was good. I also heard that bounce on a 2/2 was good. This guy fits into almost every Blue control deck these days...he’s just that good. He beats for a few too.
2. Vesuvan Shapeshifter - Got Goyf? Check. Got Hellkite? Check. Got Pickles lock? Check. ‘Nuff said.

1. Damnation - See Wrath of God, only in Black...backed up by other removal spells.
2. Shriekmaw - One of those removal spells.

1. Skred - Lets see...turn 5, seven lands in play...you have a 7/7...tap a Snow-Covered Mountain...seven it? Seems good.
2. Bogardan Hellkite - Instant-speed 5 damage, divided as you choose. The 5/5 flier body backing it up makes this guy phenomenal.

1. Primal Command - Seven Life and a Goyf? Sure. Seven Life and a Time Walk? Awesome! Seven Life and a new library? Sweet action Jackson.
2. Cloudthresher - Mistbind Clique ya? Cloudthresher ya? This card reads pay 2GGGG, target Faerie opponent enters scoop phase.

1. Obsidian Battle-Axe - Fights Wrath and Shriekmaws with ease.
2. Loxodon Warhammer - Troll Hammer is good in Standard...why nobody plays it is beyond me.

1. Treetop Village - Better than the Vault because it tramps for one more.
2. Mutavault - Better than the other lands because it's every creature.

An explanation might be in order...I’ll briefly go over each card in my Top 5:

Cryptic Command - This card does it all. It Time Walks opponents, it draws a card, it keeps bad things from happening. At triple Blue, it's still too-easily castable for its power level. I think it’d see just as much play at quad Blue anyhow. That's how powerful its effect is.
Profane Command - This card does nuts things. It can easily two-for-one, getting back a Shriekmaw and killing a dude. It can end creature stalemates; it can Fireball the opponent. It's wickedly powerful in any and all decks that run it...and one of the few reasons I would rather run Black over White these days.
Bitterblossom - This is the card that makes Faeries the best tempo deck in the format. Not only does this card come down on turn 2 to start the creature generating, but it's a Faerie, so it powers up Spellstutter Sprites and can be championed by the Clique. It also makes Rogues, making Oona’s Blackguard a beating and Notorious Throng viable.
Garruk Wildspeaker - This guy may or may not be the best planeswalker, but what he does certainly puts him up for heavy consideration. There hasn’t been a more played, more talked about, more abused planeswalker yet, and the fact that he only costs 4 and can UNTAP lands means that he’s a perfect fit for many decks. Oh, did I mention he can make 3/3’s? And then Overrun your creatures??
Tarmogoyf - Every deck runs him or has answers for him. Either that or they lose to him. There is a reason this guy is 50 bucks right now, and its not because the artwork is nice.

Remember, if you’re going to play in Standard, use powerful cards. Especially in Standard. The reason you want to play such powerful cards is that if you and your opponent end up in a stalemate, whoever is playing the less conditional, more optimal, and overall stronger cards is going to win 9 times out of 10. I’ve found this to be true in my long experiences with the game. Just look at Worlds this past year:

Worlds 2007 Top 8:
1st - Doran
2nd - Dragonstorm
3rd - Dragonstorm
4th - U/B Mannequin
5th - B/G Midrange
6th - B/G Elves
7th - B/G Elves
8th - B/G Midrange

If you look at the Top 8, the most “powerful” deck in the elimination rounds was the Dragonstorm deck. If you look at the rest of the decks, you’ll see that a combined total of 84 cards that I considered in my Top 5 and Top 2’s, just in the Main deck (and in the SB's we see an additional 18 cards)! That's not including Morningtide, which would probably a few Mutavaults and Obsidian Battle-Axes joining the decks that were already in the Top 8.

Good luck to all of you in your future gaming! I hope you were able to draw at least a good laugh out of this article, if not something useful. I fully expect to see each and everyone of you slinging spells for many more games, and I wish nothing but the best for you all.


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