This is the first article in a series that I hope will last a long time. Today I embark on a journey that will have twists and turns and push the limits of my Magic ability.
I am going to be an FNM Hero.
FNM Hero Rules
1) Imagine you are a new player on a limited budget. In this case, my budget will be $100. No more money will be added to this.
2) I have to buy cards, product, supplies, and tournament entry fees out of this budget. Any tournament winnings go directly back into the budget, which I can spend on more cards and such to improve my deck. However, I must be careful to not run out of money. I do need to keep some money to be able to enter future tournaments.
3) I will use all prices found here on StarcityGames.com for both product and singles. I will use all prize structures and entry fees from the individual card stores. There is a little bit of a disconnect here, as I won't be directly using the money/store credit I earn on cards. However, I don't want this to turn into a series where I simply take advantage of price differences between different stores/websites. One thing I will take advantage of, however, is condition pricing. If I can get a worse condition of a card for cheaper, you better believe I will save money!
4) I do not intend for trading to become an important part of this column and this experiment. This is primarily because I personally hate trading in real life. I am quite the hoarder when it comes to my personal collection. I frequently own the same four copies of a card from the time a set is released until...uh now.
As for FNM Hero, the rules are designed to discourage building my collection through trading. First, I cannot trade for value. If I want to trade a card with another player, I must do so at a 5% loss using StarCityGames.com prices. Second, if I trade for a card (or buy it!), I must play it in at least two tournaments before I can trade it away. This prevents me from speculating on cards. Any cards I win as door prizes or for tournaments (such as an FNM promo) are not going to be subject to this rule. The last thing I want to do is play a Judge's Familiar regardless of how awesome it looks.
5) I cannot borrow cards or accept donations. Imagine a new player who doesn't really know other players yet having to go it alone. This is probably the least realistic of my restrictions, but it would ruin the premise. In reality, the Magic community is full of fantastic people that are willing to help out. Even after all the years I've played Magic, I still borrow things from others nearly as often as I loan them out.
6) If I need/want to sell a card for cash, I will use the buylist prices from StarCityGames.com
That should set most of the basic rules. The goal is to finance this entire project on tournament winnings exclusively. This means I'll have to focus on tournament value much more than I am used to. I plan on keeping a spreadsheet of all my transactions for everyone to see each week. I'm not buying anything just yet, so nothing for this week!
So how am I going to spend my $100?
What are the good budget cards in Standard?
Are Event Decks worth it?
How much money should I leave in my account? Remember, I need money to play in tournaments. I also might want to make changes to my deck.
Can I afford to spend money on relatively frivolous things like sleeves, deck boxes, tokens, and dice?
Let's tackle these questions one at a time, shall we?
First is the actual budget for my deck. How much do I actually get to spend on my deck, and how much do I need to spend on other Magic-related expenses? Basically, I plan on leaving $20 in my account to play in tournaments. I also plan on getting a deck box but no dice, tokens, or sleeves. Shelling out $4.99 or more on a set of sleeves seems like a luxury I can't afford—yet. I am completely unwilling to play in penny sleeves because shuffling them is not something I'm comfortable doing. Dice and tokens are not needed. Heck, many players at SCG Opens and other large tournaments don't bring dice/tokens. I see no reason why pocket change and ripped up paper can't suffice for a while.
However, I actually need a deck box. If I opt for the 1993 technology of a rubber band, the cards will get damaged to the point where I can't play them, especially unsleeved. StarCityGames.com offers Ultra Pro deck boxes for $1.99, but I find them undesirable. I have tons of broken Ultra Pro deck boxes. By shelling out an extra dollar, I can get an Open Series deck box that I use in normal tournament Magic. While Adam Prosak has a dozen deck boxes from Opens, the FNM Hero does not. $2.99 it is.
Between the deck box and my tournament budget, I have $77 from which to build an actual deck.
As for building the deck itself, I am willing to play something that is higher variance than normal. If I have to assemble specific sequences of cards for my deck to be good, that is fine. I'm going to need some luck to be able to compete with fully powered Standard decks. If I just try to do what other people are doing, I am going to lose to their superior options. If I do something that is uniquely different, then I stand a chance both in terms of deck construction and playing games out. I have a feeling I'm going to need to play cards that people aren't used to playing against.
Event Deck Options
The most direct option is to modify an Event Deck. They offer fantastic value and give you a deck theoretically built to play in FNM. In general, to build a viable deck out of an Event Deck, it requires two copies. This is because many of them have only one or two copies of key cards. I'm going to dismiss any of the Event Decks from previous rotations (such as the M13 Event Decks, which have Scars of Mirrodin block cards in them). Trading right off the bat seems difficult.
Strengths: I would only have to buy one of these because many of the cards actually have four copies already. Strangleroot Geist and Vampire Nighthawk are solid uncommons and four-ofs in this deck. The mana is good enough.
Verdict: Not a chance. Way too expensive
Strengths: This deck has some cards I would want in any budget collection. The Rakdos Cackler + Searing Spear combination and its ancestors have served budget players for years. Knight of Infamy is the type of high-variance card that could lead to some free wins. I could stash the Vexing Devil in the sideboard for two tournaments, never bring it in, and then having something of value to trade! Vexing Devil sucks but is still somehow $11.99! That's huge, and I could recoup half the value of the deck.
Weaknesses: My opponents will have Thragtusks. Additionally, I really don't want to play a burn deck for FNM Hero. While it's undeniably effective, I want to fight some stereotypes with budget decks. If your friend starts playing Magic, what deck do they likely end up with? Yep, your Mono-Red Aggro deck. Let's be a little more creative, shall we?
Initial Pickups: Bump in the Night and Spike Jester for sure and the remainder of Dragonskull Summits. I would also want some Skullcracks. Both Spike Jester and Skullcrack would be in this deck had they been in print when this deck was made. I'm not sure why Bump in the Night wasn't in here.
Verdict: This is actually a possibility. We will come back to this.
Strengths: A R/W Human deck. This is the closest to an established archetype there is in the Event Decks in RTR block.
Weakness: $39.99! I need to buy two to make this work, but I can't afford two! Also, I would just be a nearly strictly inferior version of Naya Blitz, a deck people actually prepare for! Everything that is good against that deck would apply here.
Initial Pickups: A bigger budget. Most of the upgrades this deck offers are pricy. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Champion of the Parish top the list, but Silverblade Paladin and/or Frontline Medic interest me as well. All of the commons and uncommons I would want are present save for perhaps Rally the Peasants if I were willing to take it a more token-oriented direction.
Verdict: Not happening. I can't afford two copies, and I would not be presenting opponents with an unexpected angle of attack.
Strengths: I love this style of deck. A pile of creatures that help you control a board and interact with your opponent that's difficult to attack. Deadeye Navigator and Gruul Ragebeast are fantastic budget finishers, and to make things better they have fantastic synergy with each other. Three Rancors gives the deck some trade value as well. I don't believe that Rancor should be in this style of deck.
Weaknesses: Not much. The biggest one is that there is only one copy of a ton of cards I would want more of. Thragtusk, Dungeon Geists, Gruul Ragebeast, and especially Deadeye Navigator are all cards I would want more than one copy of.
Initial Pickups: I would certainly buy two copies of this deck and then at least one Steam Vents to get with Farseek. Deadeye Navigator is $.99, so completing the set of those would be great as well. My inner small child also wants to get Gilded Lotus and Zealous Conscripts in the deck for infinite combos!
Verdict: Sure, this is absolutely a potential place to begin.
Strengths: Wow! There is a ton of value here. Between an $11.99 Godless Shrine, two $2.99 Rancors, and three $1.99 Lingering Souls, the paltry $19.99 cost has already been taken care of! Lingering Souls + Intangible Virtue showed itself to be worthy of the ban hammer in Innistrad Block Constructed, and Call of the Conclave + Selesnya Charm are the foundations of any good token deck.
Weaknesses: My opponents are going to have Angel of Serenity sometimes. This is why token decks aren't a thing in Standard currently.
Initial pickups: I would probably rework the mana quite a bit. I would get Avacyn's Pilgrim, Farseek, and Borderland Ranger (we already get a Godless Shrine, lucky!) to make our mana pretty solid. Then to take advantage of all this extra mana, I would get some amount of copies of Vault of the Archangel and Gavony Township. I would also get the fourth Lingering Souls and some Scion of Vitu-Ghazi. Fortunately, four copies of all the key cards already come in the deck, meaning only one copy needs to be purchased.
Verdict: If Angel of Serenity were somehow banned, I would play this deck in a heartbeat. This has everything I want—except for the part where I can't see a way around Angel of Serenity. It's sad that a deck like this can't be competitive because of an overpowered card that is everywhere. The value of this is really tempting, but I can see myself watching my tournaments go down the drain three tokens at a time.
For some reason, there is only one Event Deck for Dragon's Maze. Boo! Maybe the other one had Angel of Serenity and was therefore scrapped? Maybe it had four Illusion in the Ranks.
Time to rank these decks! If I were to go the Event Deck path, here are my rankings:
Maybe I just love Deadeye Navigator too much.
"It's pretty hard not tor right?"
Non-Event Deck Options
Basically, these are tougher, but you get a ton of options. You have to buy literally every card instead of just a few. $.75 Farseeks and $.99 Searing Spears add up fairly quickly. A cursory glance through StarCityGames.com pricing shows that there aren't very many Constructed playables for less than $.49. That means the cheapest I could possibly get a deck is somewhere around $27 (75 cards minus 20 or so basic land). A rough value calculation of the Selesnya Event Deck comes to around $59. If I were to piece together the Selesnya Event Deck, I would lose out on $39 worth of value! While not every deck I want to build has an appropriate Event Deck, I have to understand that I'm needlessly handicapping myself by not choosing one.
The other thing to keep in mind is a mana base. Farseek is one of the most powerful cards in Standard, and I can approximate much its value. I don't need four copies of a dual land to Farseek for one of them. For example, this mana base would actually be quite reasonable for heavy green deck with white and red splashes.
Outside of Farseek and Borderland Ranger, I am likely looking at a two-color deck. Monocolored decks simply can't take advantage of the powerful multicolored cards that from the backbone of RTR block. Traditional three-color decks like you see in Standard currently are out of the question based on the price of the mana base alone.
Once I settle on a two-color deck, I probably want to lean towards allied color pairs. Why is that? The allied "buddy" lands have been printed millions of times. The enemy lands are only found in Innistrad. If I want to build a two-color deck, these are some long-term goals to look at. The cheaper I can get the mana for a two-color deck, the better. I'll be throwing away some matches early because of shaky mana, but I want to end those as soon as possible.
Here are the color pairings of dual lands. Keep in mind these are the worst condition available.
Basically, from this list I want to avoid Simic, Orzhov, and Selesyna if I am going to play a traditional two-color deck. Rakdos, Dimir, Azorius, and Izzet are all fairly appealing. Izzet surprises me, as it does not benefit from a cheap core set dual land. However, Steam Vents is super cheap comparatively for some reason. I was planning on starting with the "buddy" land for mana fixing and working my way up to a dual land. If I went Izzet, there is no price difference between the two!
Whew! That's quite a bit of information to digest. Join me next time when I present a bunch of budgetized decklists, choose between them, and finally get my adventure underway!
Until then, I want feedback from you! I plan on evolving this column as I go, and your input will guide my decisions. Do you like the rules I've established? What deck ideas do you have? Building decks on a strict budget is far more difficult than I thought but absolutely doable. I'd love to see what you come up with.