Unconventional Wisdom: Getting into your 1st FNMs by Mark Pinder

Support Your Local Playgroup by Mark Pinder

So there you are, fresh from the Xbox playing Duel’s of the Planeswalker’s and you decide you would like to invest in some cardboard to play this Magic game for real. You go and purchases the Planeswalker deck from your local shop and then decide to start playing against other players, suddenly things become quite different, the deck isn’t the same as when you played on line and you are being beaten by your fellow players in the shop. After speaking to some of the local players they advise you to play something better and search the “Interweb” for something better.

So you go online and there is an array of decks that are being played, a lot of decks that are doing well and then you look at the cost of some of the individual cards which make you wince at £30 say for just one Primeval Titan and you need four ! Gulp !

At this point I am going to say something that may surprise you. Find something you are comfortable with and inexpensive, don’t worry about having all the tools in the deck as you may not be able to utilise them properly anyway. Your early events are to learn the game, how events run and begin to improve your skills.

So you decide to buy a few packs, grab yourself a theme deck and actually get something that is legal to play in the FNM. You check with the local players that your deck is legal and there is a puzzled expression on the Telepathy. Was that printed in M11, okay no it wasn’t but it was in M10 so you can play it in the casual Extended event. Now many players at this point would immediately be saying “Take that card out”, “You want to be doing this or you want to be doing that” etc but at times I believe that sometimes you have to let players make mistakes to grow. There is nothing like laying your hand down to a new opponent and all they can see are bigger threats, removal or counter spells so they remember that whilst knowledge is important, how futile their position was. There is nothing like learning experiences with ‘bad’ cards to help you develop as a player. Also, there is also the cameradie in later events when you can smile, remember when I tried to play that really awful Green/Blue Poison Proliferate deck or some such nastiness of a deck.

So what do you need to look out for in those early events. Well as a Tournament Organiser, as well as player who is invested into keeping players coming back I feel the following is important.

1..        Enjoy yourself, it doesn’t matter if you win or lose but play with a smile.

2..        Learn, as long as you come back with something where you improved, pat yourself on the back.

3..        Set and achieve goals.

Now you may be a bit wary on what goals can you have as a new player and what is reasonable. I advise my players they want to be looking at something along the lines of the following.

Learn to play better.

Get some better cards for your deck.

Come away with a game win each event.

Second Month.

Play even better, learn to play a bit quicker.

Win a Match.

Third Month.

Keep learning.

Keep winning matches.

Win two matches in an event.

Six Months.

Keep Learning.

Try to have winning records when you play.

Start to reverse the ranking you have lost and start the trek back to 1600

Twelve Months.

You can now play a bit.

You can now challenge to win an event.

You’ve gone back past 1600 rating and improving

They aren’t big goals but they are achievable. Developing as a player takes time and along the way you take some knocks, you may even take some savage beatings.

Okay, so you’ve now become quite good as a player and you are swimming with the piranha at your local store/club. Something that will come up now again is “What deck to play ?”

So do you know decide, I am going to invest lots of money in all the best cards so I can do well ? Well the first thing you have to consider is, do you think you can play the deck you are thinking of building well and will it survive in the local metagame ?

I’ll draw from my own experiences at this point, after a Pro Tour the standout deck was a Mono Blue control deck called “Sonic Boom”, oh for a control player the deck was beautiful, full of counters spells like Cryptic Command and Pact of Negation, an amazing finisher in Guile but very limited in the removal/creature front. I took this all conquering deck to FNM and had a torrid time, you see the local metagame was completely different in the middle of Lorwyn block with Elves and Kithkin coming straight for the jugular from the kids and you could be dead before you’ve got to the point you could play Guile.. Sometime’s you need to be wary of what other people are playing.

Now can a deck be great even when it is not ? Can it be great even when it is “hated” out of the format ? If you can play a deck well, then that deck has a good chance of performing at higher levels. Just look back to Jonathan Randle winning Nationals 2008 with Faeries, the clever money was supposed to be on Red Decks and Volcanic Fallout being the silver bullet for the Fae. It didn’t turn out that way and there is a lot to say for a good pilot knowing their deck inside out as well as their opponents.

Have you ever been in a Tournament and you get that arrogant know it all opponent who tries to tell you what your next play and what your next card draw needs to be. Well they may be annoying but sometimes they are a real threat, they may well just know your net deck better than you and try to play around perceived threats. Me, I am a contrary player at the best of times and was having a torrid time beating one player in our local playgroup. We were both similarly skilled players, with similar decks and played very similarly too playing the percentages on the whole. And it was the latter that was killing me as my friend was better at it, then I clicked onto something one match when he was really puzzled by what he considered a misplay or less than optimal move on my part. It through his chain of thought and expected outcome from my turn, so now and again I would do something with a bit more flair and flashy, like playing a Bituminous Blast for a cascade double whammy rather than the safe option of one removal spell. Sometimes shaking things up can unnerve your opponent.

I like to play a deck I am comfortable with and also build the sideboard myself, too many times with a net deck you can be confused why a card is in a deck and what you would take out. I find it much better if you at least tweak a deck yourself.

So are Net Decks all they are cracked up to be ? Yes, I think they pretty much tend to be and whilst I enjoy home brewing I also get satisfaction from going 4-0 with a solid deck. However, I try to shy away from just taking a list off line and playing it. If it is from an article online sometimes I will write to the author and ask about certain cards to get a feel for the deck.

Another thing to be wary of is why a deck was built the way it was. Take Worlds 2010 for example, lots of Blue Control decks all with SpreadingSeas for Valakut Ramp Decks. Try playing those decks at Grimsby and you could be in for a long night as the Spreading Seas wouldn’t be that effective and removal would be more beneficial in the creature decks that are coming at you from all angles. I have been their when opposing deck has gone forest Llanowar Elf go, next turn play another forest tap both and the elf to play a Leatherback Baloth,  all of a sudden the Spreading Seas doesn’t look so good. Sometimes you need to recognise that sometimes you need to know your local game and switch cards accordingly, after I had a recent run on success with Green Eldrazi Ramp the Tajuru Preserver’s were appearing all over the place. Likewise, I always liked how the Joraga Treespeaker and Overgrown Battlement options from the sideboard so started playing with them main deck, imagine my delight when I saw SCG 5k open Top 8 lists with them main deck too showing I had been right to make the change. Now sometimes we’ll make changes that work, some changes that won’t work.

I always liked the Martyr of Sands with Proclamation of Rebirth combo, it was great as you could blow out lots of creature decks and give yourself much needed time to set up your win. Would that deck be able to work in the same way with Infect and poison counters shortening your clock ?

After US Nationals 2010 a new deck came onto the scene and their was no doubt that I would play the Soul Sisters deck with its life gain beat down strategy. Thing is I lent that deck to a new player who proceeded to go 0-4 with a deck I had gone 4-0 with the previous week at FNM. The morale is that sometimes what comes as a natural deck for you to play, to others may be a stretch.

Now some decks are really flavourful and simple to play for the new comer Goblins, White Weenie, Green Stompy and Vampires are but four examples. I was paying Jund in a PTQ only to see my opponent in his first ever event running Goblins. Turn 1 Goblin Guide, Turn 2 Warren Instigator, Turn 3 and no removal allows the Warren Instigator to put two Siege Gang Commanders in play and I’m dead on the board. A deck may not be Tier 1 but sometimes it is enough to get by, especially if playing in a local event where the average quality is much lower.

So when you are starting out, you don’t need to follow the pack, things will work out and you’ll enjoy the game a lot more with something you like playing than feel you have to play.

Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing,


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Mark Pinder
I have competed twice at GB nationals in 2010/2008, was Runner Up at Senior Nationals 2010, Won a Grand Prix Trial which took me to Paris 2009. My love of the game was such that I did previously win a writing competition on MTG Twincast which led to me being a Feature Writer for around a year until the Sponsor sold up but still did the occasional article. There is also a verb "To Pinder"colloquially used in northern magic communities which means "to gain life", I was a solid fan of Martyr of Sands/Proclamation of Rebirth combo and many players have heard those fateful words, Sacrifice Martyr of Sands, gain 21 life against me to see the game go out of their reach with lethal damage available to them next turn.