Why is FNM so important to this game we all love so much?

So this week I decided to switch it up a little bit rather than write just about strategic content. There aren't too many articles written about casual tournaments like Friday Night Magic, but in fact Friday Night Magic events are integral to the success of Magic. These are the tournaments that are the most convenient as far as location for most players, while also in many cases providing a strong community feel, where it is easy to form relationships with fellow players. Friday Night Magic provides the groundwork which allows other tournaments to be so popular.

One hassle which players generally have to go through in addition to finding the location of a given tournament and traveling to it, is making the time to play. For many carving out some time on a Friday night each week provides some consistency, while playing in a tournament on a Saturday or Sunday means generally making yourself available for the entire day, which can be difficult. Even for players that do want to play in tournaments on a Saturday or Sunday this usually doesn't conflict with FNM so it is easy to play FNM in addition to something else on the weekend.

While these are some reasons to play Friday Night Magic, there are additional factors that go into players electing to play FNM. While FNM is a competitive tournament it is also much more casual than many other competitive events, and for people looking to have a good time, win some sweet foils, and perhaps even bust some packs this is the way to go. There is also more room to use your imagination at FNM in terms of creating a deck for the tournament, as it is certainly possible to choose a deck that is not a mainstream archetype and still do well. In fact this may be the best venue to try some wacky brew, and then if the deck is successful, it might be worth trying to tweak a bit for other tournaments.

For players that have aspirations to succeed at the highest levels of competitive play like Grand Prix and Pro Tours, being able to do well at those tournaments doesn't happen overnight. For me becoming a professional magic player was a process, and that starts with doing well at FNMs and other more casual events. It can even help players who are on the Pro Tour or Grand Prix scene to play FNM to practice a deck before a big event.


How does Fate Reforged Affect the FNM Scene?

FNM can be different formats, but most of the time it is Standard, and that's what I'm going to be talking about. The time when local FNMs have the biggest turnout is generally right after the latest set is released, which in this case is Fate Reforged. I can certainly understand the itch to start using the new cards, and Friday Night Magic this weekend will be the first chance to play with them in a tournament.

In order to play with the new cards it is of course necessary to own those cards, which is why trading is so important. This leads me to the idea of predicting the metagame at your local FNM tournament. Once a set has been around for a while oftentimes there will be a group of players that show up with the same deck every week, and this makes the metagame more predictable. This may have to do with liking or feeling comfortable with a certain deck, in addition to not wanting to try to pick up cards for something else.

The largest shift in the metagame does of course occur after new cards are released, so what should you be expecting to see this weekend? Many players will be looking to update certain archetypes by adding a few cards from Fate Reforged, but I wouldn't expect too many brand new decks right now. I expect a card like Flamewake Phoenix to be very popular this weekend. Why will Flamewake Phoenix be popular?

There are a few reasons why I would expect to see a number of Flamewake Phoenix's running around. First off the card is one of the most powerful cards in the set, and fits into an aggressive red deck. In my experience the aggressive decks are what many players like to turn to after a set has just been launched, and a deck like Monored Aggro can be pretty easy to pick up without a ton of practice with it. Flamewake Phoenix is also a rare and not a Mythic which means it is a five dollar card, compared to a 25 dollar card like Monastery Mentor. Monastery Mentor might be the most powerful card to come out of Fate Reforged but many FNM players aren't looking to spend the money to pick them up.

The idea is expect to see decks that definitely got better with Fate Reforged, and those decks that didn't get many or any cards I would expect to see less of. What are these archetypes? Well a deck like Abzan Aggro didn't get much better which is good because that deck may have been the strongest deck in the format before Fate Reforged. Warden of the First Tree is a card that might fit in this sort of deck but the deck may have to change the manabase or even cut a color entirely in order to be able to support the activated abilities properly. How about a deck like UW Heroic, what did that archetype gain? Personally I'm not sure that Valorous Stance is good enough in the deck. There are some decks that sometimes get worse because other decks are getting better, and I expect this to contribute to UW Heroic losing some popularity.


Deck Recommendation

As far as selecting a deck for FNM the first thing I recommend is of course something that you will enjoy playing, and feel comfortable with. Beyond that there certainly are ways of choosing what to play, that will yield to consistently good results at FNM week in and week out. Do you agree that the field will be more aggressive decks when compared to past weeks? Have you already picked up Soulfire Grand Masters and Monastery Mentors and are looking to use them?

For those players that are lucky enough to already own Monastery Mentors and Soulfire Grand Masters I recommend an updated version of Jeskai Tokens for players that have experience with that deck, or another option is to simply go straight Red/White. Here is a Red/White Midrange build I would recommend:

DECKID=1227171

This is the deck that can most easily take advantage of all the new creatures red and white have to offer. There are a few different directions you can take red/white, but whether you are going towards burn, tokens, or midrange there are a variety of good three-drops to choose from. This list currently has zero copies of Goblin Rabblemaster in it, which admittedly may be a mistake. Goblin Rabblemaster is a great way to get ahead in a game, but of course sometimes it can just trade with cheap removal spell.

This deck went from having four two-drops previously to having eight now, which is a big improvement. In this sort of deck I would rather be casting Soulfire Grandmaster than Raise the Alarm I think. There are eight burn spells right now which isn't a ton but it is a reasonable number for Soulfire Grandmaster. Monastery Mentor is great here and oftentimes you will play Monastery Mentor on turn four rather than turn three. The reason being is that a lot of the time Monastery Mentor dies to a removal spell immediately after being played, so if you can set up playing a Monastery Mentor and then immediately casting a card like Chained to the Rocks there is immediate value to be gained. This deck used to run Monastery Swiftspear and Monastery Mentor basically makes a bunch of its own Monastery Swiftspears which just seems better.

The question becomes is Alesha, Who Smiles at Death a playable card in this format? If the answer is yes, wouldn't this be the deck you would want her in? With all of the aforementioned creatures with two power, if you can return one with Alesha, Who Smiles at Death it is a huge game. This is the time to test a card like Alesha, Who Smiles at Death and see how good she is. There are definitely different ways to build this sort of deck, but personally I like running the Wingmate Rocs. There are arguments for Stormbreath Dragon but this is a time where Stoke the Flames will be seeing a ton of play, and turning on raid isn't too difficult. This is a deck that certainly has some new cards in it, but only time will tell how much better the deck is from its previous form.

I would show up with this deck in anticipation of an aggressive field. There are a number of cheap removal spells, and Chained to the Rocks may be the best answer in format to Flamewake Phoenix. Of course Hordeling Outburst is still great against one toughness creatures, which there may be a lot of running around.

Okay so for those that don't already own sets of Monastery Mentors and Soulfire Grandmasters (I don't blame you) let's talk about a different archetype. There is one archetype that pretty clearly got better by adding a single spell to the deck: yes, I'm talking about UB Control. Crux of Fate is the wrath effect that UB Control was looking for, as previously the only real sweeper in the maindeck was Perilous Vault, which is both very slow and vulnerable to artifact removal. This is a very strong deck now, but be aware when showing up to FNM with it that you may pick up a draw. The deck certainly doesn't win quickly and at a casual tournament like FNM I personally don't like asking my opponents to play faster. However for a player with some knowledge and experience with UB Control, it could be a great choice.

Here is my current list:

DECKID=1227172

This deck may have just added one Silumgar, the Drifting Death and three Crux of Fate from Fate Reforged but since the deck doesn't play that many "real spells" these cards make a big difference. By "real spells" I mean that the deck plays a ton of lands, countermagic, and card draw, and there aren't that many cards that actually impact the board. Crux of Fate is able to deal with decks that are trying to swarm the board with creatures, and oftentimes the four Bile Blights weren't enough to hold the token decks in check. Previous versions of this deck didn't run Divination but here there are two copies. The reason being is that the deck is so top heavy especially after adding an additional five mana card, that Divination allows you to play 27 lands rather than 28, and still consistently hit all your land drops.

While Crux of Fate is great it's not strictly better than Perilous Vault because it doesn't deal with troublesome permanents such as Whip of Erebos and Jeskai Ascendancy, which is why a mix is necessary. For someone looking to play control this is the deck I would recommend. There is a second Radiant Fountain in anticipation of burn with Soulfire Master, and the Silumgar, the Drifting Death is amazing versus token decks, while also being a solid finisher. However I wouldn't go down to only one Pearl Lake Ancient because versus a deck like Mardu or the mirror you run the risk of having the Pearl Lake Ancient Thoughtseized and then having the Silumgar, the Drifting Death dealt with by a removal spell that doesn't target it.

Blue/Black Control and Red/White Midrange are just a couple of strategies that improved with Fate Reforged, but this will be a great week for Friday Night Magic and other Standard tournaments as well, as we finally get to see Fate Reforged in action!

Thanks for reading,

Seth Manfield