How to Start Playing Magic at the FNM Level

I figured that the title “How to (Intelligently) Netdeck” would be a little too provocative, but that’s basically what we’ll be doing.  With another Banned & Restricted Announcement coming on January 15, 2018, the release of Rivals of Ixalan on January 19, 2018, and the debut of preconstructed Standard “Challenger Decks” on April 6, 2018, there is no better time to start playing competitively than right now!  We often get asked “How do I start playing at FNM?,” so I figured that we could use how I intend to soon enter the Modern scene as a lesson to our readers as to how I would start playing at the FNM level from scratch.

Step 1:  Pick a deck (or in this case, the deck picks you!)

Honestly, this can either be the easiest or the hardest step.  There are dozens of reasons why you should choose a deck.  Maybe you want to win and you saw somebody win FNM with it last week.  Or maybe it looks fun.  Or maybe you identify as a “control” player and want to stick to that archtype.  Or maybe you don’t really care and just want to bring your own crew or whatever is cheapest, like my $6.50 Standard Rakdos Aggro deck.  All of these are fine reasons.

Lately, I’ve been playing Ramunap Red in Standard, primarily because of the low cost to entry.  I’ve previously written about The Concept of Cost-Benefit Analysis in regards to Star Wars: Destiny and the same still holds true here.  It’s not the cheapest deck to build, but it’s also not the most expensive.  And at the time I built it, I had just watched it take runner-up at Worlds.

Choosing my Modern deck was a little different.  Months ago, I was trying to trade away the remainder of my Star Wars: Destiny collection for anything of value.  I found an interested party that had the equivalent value in leftovers from his Magic collection and we swapped.  One person’s trash is another person’s Treasure token!  ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

I hemmed-and-hawed about whether I should play Eldrazi Tron, Death’s Shadow, or an entirely different deck altogether.  But then somebody traded me the full set of the Urza’s Tron Lands.  And then came a Wurmcoil Engine, an All is Dust, a Basilisk Collar, a Batterskull, and you get the point.  After several trades, most of the deck basically fell into my lap.

It would also be helpful to head to to see what decks represent what portion of which format, how they are doing, and to watch videos of the decks being played on MTGO to get a feel for them.


Step 2: Build the deck

As I have written about before, the next thing that I do is compare every single recent decklist.

The results of the comparison indicated the following deviations in maindeck card choices:

Lands (23-24):

Creatures (18-20):

Spells (3-6):

Planeswalkers (0-2):

Non-creature Artifacts (9-12):

Now that we have the raw data, we have to analyze that data:

  • Instead of two Cavern of Souls, six lists ran one and a Sanctum of Ugin.  Several other lists traded a Cavern for a Ghost Quarter or traded a Ghost Quarter for an extra Wastes.  I don’t think this is because of the value of Cavern of Souls.  After all, if you can build the rest of the deck you can afford a second Cavern of Souls.  Instead, I’d guess that the twenty-third land slot is a flex slot that you can use to adapt to your local meta depending on the amount of counterspells (Cavern of Souls), nonbasic lands (Ghost Quarter), or nonbasic land hate (Wastes) you expect to face.
  • Instead of three Endbringers, eighteen lists ran two and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.  Two others traded an Endbringer for a noncreature artifact, although one list actually added a fourth Endbringer.  I’d say it’s safe to say that 19 creatures is the sweet spot, but you may be able to get away with one less if you run maindeck Batterskull.
  • Only two of the lists didn’t play Karn, and one of those replaced the Karns with an Ugin, so I’d say it’s safe to play 2 Karn.
  • Only one list played three Chalice of the Void.
  • Only one list played three Walking Ballista.
  • Several decks ran neither Spatial Distortion nor Warping Wail in the main deck.
  • Relic of Progenitus is maindeck graveyard hate with a cantrip, so I’d imagine that the Mind Stones are a solid replacement until we know what our local meta looks like.
  • Every single deck had 4 Expedition Maps, 4 Matter Reshapers, 4 Thought Knot Seers, and 4 Reality Smashers.

That leaves us with a “core” of:

Lands (24):

  • 1 Cavern of Souls
  • 4 Eldrazi Temple
  • 3 Ghost Quarter
  • 1 Sea Gate Wreckage
  • 4 Urza’s Tower
  • 4 Urza’s Power Plant
  • 4 Urza’s Mine
  • 2 Wastes
  • 1 Sanctum of Ugin

Creatures (19):

  • 2 Endbringer
  • 4 Matter Reshaper
  • 4 Reality Smasher
  • 4 Thought Knot Seer
  • 4 Walking Ballista
  • 1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

Spells (4):

  • 2 All is Dust
  • 2 Dismember

Planeswalkers (2):

  • 2 Karn Liberated

Non-creature Artifacts (11):

  • 4 Chalice of the Void
  • 4 Expedition Map
  • 3 Mind Stone

I intend on giving this list a try and toying with the Mind Stone slot.


Step 3: Practice!

Back in the day, we used to jam games on Apprentice.  I’ve heard a lot about XMage but I’ve never tried it myself.  Magic: the Gathering Online (“MTGO”) and these other virtual mediums are fine to get “reps” (repititions), but if you are going to play in a paper tournament you should try to practice with paper cards.  Certain decks require aggressive mulligans, so you need to get used to shuffling a lot during the fifty minute rounds.  Other decks require a lot of “durdling” (tapping, untapping, fetching, drawing, etc.), so you should make sure that you can correctly remember and sequence your triggers in real life and without MTGO prompting you.

At the very least, I would suggest you find out what days your FLGS has free play and go make some friends.  I strongly recommend that you just jump right in and register for an FNM, see how it goes, and take it from there.  The sooner you get started, the more practice you’ll have with your deck, the more friends you’ll make, the more you’ll know about your local meta, and the faster you’ll be able to begin intelligently tuning your deck!



Wherever you end up on the other side of this journey, remember that it’s a game, to have fun, and that you probably won’t qualify for the Pro Tour at your first FNM.  And don’t submit your decklist on a cake like this guy.


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One Comment on “How to Start Playing Magic at the FNM Level

  1. Pingback: Justifying (or Condeming) the Latest Banned Standard Cards: Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, Ramunap Ruins, and Rampaging Ferocidon – Ready To Role

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