Welcome back to “Game Day Grinder”, the article series that follows a veteran Magic: the Gathering player and his journey to discover what it feels like to try playing competitively whilst constrained by a budget.

If you’re new to the series, click here for links to all the previous articles.

The last couple of weeks had been hectic. I barely had enough time to work on my deck and research alternative main deck and sideboard cards, let alone reflect on my mediocre performance from the last event.

All in all, I had been putting up decent results, but hadn’t managed to break the barrier and attain an undefeated record. If I couldn’t manage a 4-0 record at Friday Night Magic, would I still do well at Khans of Tarkir Game Day?

Ultimately, my dream was to hoist the Game Day playmat and be crowned Game Day Champion, but things were looking bleak. I would need a lot of luck in the coming weeks.

I. Spending Our Weekly Budget

Week 9 – $5 Purchases (PLUS: $2.10 saved from previous week)

No purchases.

Total Saved: $7.10 for following week

With only two more FNM events left before the Game Day weekend, I considered saving all of my weekly funds and pairing the amount with any store credit I could get from trading in some of the more valuable cards from my collection. With a large chunk of store credit and my weekly pocket change, I’d be able to grab one or two of the more valuable key pieces for my deck. I wished nothing more than to obtain at least one copy of Brimaz, King of Oreskos and maybe a few copies of Flooded Strand. My purchasing power would increase greatly depending on how well I did in the next two events and what kind of cards I cracked in my packs.

II. The Booster Pack

Booster Pack Contents (Notable):

Sidisi, Brood Tyrant
Opulent Palace

Sidisi is a fun card that sees some minor play in Standard and in Commander. If I don’t end up trading her away for some of the more valuable cards in my deck, I might just make a Commander deck with her manning the helm!

III. The Changes

No Changes.

Here’s the list I finalized before the Standard tournament:


IV. Tournament Report

ROUND 1 – vs Jeskai Wins

I sat down across from my first round opponent and grinned. It was the same player who had bested me in the 3-0 bracket two weeks ago, having crushed my dreams of an undefeated FNM record.

“It’s fitting that we were paired in the last round two weeks ago only to be paired up in the first round this week,” I offered.

“Yeah, but this time I don’t have any of the good cards that were leant to me last time!” my opponent decried. “It’ll be a lot easier to beat me this time around.”

Well, that was a relief! I now knew that my opponent was playing the same Jeskai Wins deck as last time but was lacking copies of Stormbreath Dragon, Chandra, and Sarkhan. Winning the first match should be easy!

“I guess it’s time to exact my revenge,” I said, half-jokingly.

We flung some dice across the table and determined that my opponent would play first. We shuffled up and prepared for some exciting games.

Having taken a mulligan, my opponent sighed dejectedly and kept what seemed to be a less-than-stellar six card hand. I had kept a full grip and was feeling good about the matchup. As my opponent slowly set up his mana base, I led with a Favored Hoplite followed by an Ordeal of Heliod on the third turn. I feared nothing, having both a copy of Gods Willing and Ajani’s Presence in hand to protect my soldier. My opponent had yet to play a card by the fourth turn, and I was bewildered. What kind of hand had he kept? My hoplite had already become a sizable 4/5, so I assumed that the cards in my opponent’s hand were not powerful enough to kill it.

My opponent played a Keranos on the fifth turn, untapping on the next to deal three damage to my Favored Hoplite and casting a copy of Anger of the Gods. I cast Ajani’s Presence, preventing the damage dealt to my hoplite and growing him slightly larger in the process. In desperation, my opponent played his freshly drawn Banishing Light, only to be caught off guard by a Gods Willing. With a 6/7 soldier on the battlefield and my opponent tapped out, I swung for the final points of damage to clinch the first game.

The second game was a train wreck for me. I faced an early Satyr Firedancer, one of the most powerful cards post-board for a Jeskai deck playing against a Heroic deck. My creatures fell like dominoes as my opponent aimed burn spell after burn spell at my face, killing my creatures in the process.

It seemed as though my opponent’s arsenal had emptied, as a Favored Hoplite stuck around long enough for me to attach one of each Ordeal and attack, hoping to gain ten life and draw two cards in the process.

“Ha!” he cried. “I cast Deflecting Palm to deal the final points of damage!”

My hatred towards Deflecting Palm grows more and more each week. I always seem to forget about it and get blown out by the pesky spell. I was about the scoop when I realized that my Ordeal triggers would resolve before damage was dealt, meaning that I would draw my cards and gain life before the damage was redirected. I was still alive!

My opponent seemed skeptical, so we confirmed with a judge that I was, indeed, still alive. I was now safely out of range of my opponent’s burn spells and two cards richer.

“Well, at least I can deal the same amount of damage to your hoplite thanks to my Satyr Firedancer,” my opponent stammered hopefully. He must have had a smaller burn spell in hand to finish it off.

I pointed to the last line of text on my Favored Hoplite. My opponent had forgotten that, after triggering Heroic at the beginning of the turn with the Ordeals, all damage dealt to my hoplite would be prevented until end of turn. He sighed and drew his card.

I untapped and swung again, but was met with a second copy of Deflecting Palm, which took me out quickly and painlessly. Well, maybe not painlessly, but definitely quickly.

The third game played out similarly to the second. Another early Satyr Firedancer took care of my creatures and my life total was whittled down by burn spells flying every which way. I eventually stuck a Hero of Iroas and Favored Hoplite and piled on the enchantments. It would have been ridiculous to enchant only one creature and put myself in danger of a lethal Deflecting Palm like last time. The smart move would be to diversify my threats and play intelligently.

Instead, I made an enormous Hero of Iroas and swung in. I was met with a Deflecting Palm and lost the match.

I hadn’t learned a thing.

SCORE: 0-1

ROUND 2 – vs Jeskai Wins

We always seem to be an uneven number of players and it feels like I’m always the one ping-ponging back and forth between getting paired up and paired down. I was paired up in the second round against another Jeskai deck, and all I could think was:

Deflecting PalmDeflecting Palm… Play around Deflecting Palm…”

I vowed to play around the card that had been giving me the most heartache since Khans of Tarkir was released.

As I focused all my energy on searing the reminder into my brain, my opponent was chatting about how he was playing a slower version of Jeskai Wins than normal. I was thankful, as a slower version of the deck (with cards like End Hostilities and the like) would be a lot easier to race.

Having won the die roll, my opponent led with a couple of scry lands followed by a third turn Mantis Rider. Tapping out to play a second Mantis Rider on the fourth turn, my opponent had given me the opportunity to set up a Hero of Iroas with two Ordeals of Thassa and an Aqueous Form. Although I was being attacked mercilessly by both copies of Mantis Rider, I had drawn a copy of Gods Willing to protect my hero and favorably race. My opponent was attacking me for six points of damage but couldn’t stop the seven points of unblockable damage being dealt each turn by my Hero of Iroas. I had handily won the first game.

I saw no copies of Mantis Rider in the second game. My opponent was stuck on three lands and must have been sitting on an array of different reactive spells, but I had played an early Favored Hoplite with a copy of Gods Willing as back-up. I quickly enchanted the soldier with two Ordeals of Thassa, saving it from a Jeskai Charm with my Gods Willing. I then drew four cards, one of which was a second copy of Gods Willing, played an untapped Plains, and passed the turn.

My opponent missed his land drop yet again and went into the tank. After having thought about his play for a couple of minutes, he cast a Banishing Light, targeting my Favored Hoplite. Luckily, I was able to save my creature with the freshly drawn Gods Willing.

My opponent groaned. “You had a second Gods Willing? Argh!”

SCORE: 1-1

We joked about my astounding luck, and he showed me two copies of Deflecting Palm that were in hand. He had briefly thought about casting them back to back until he drew into more lands, but hadn’t been expecting the second copy of Gods Willing.

Gods Willing continues to outshine every other spell in my deck and has cemented itself as MVP.

It turns out that I needn’t play around Deflecting Palm as my opponent had never had the chance to use it, but I acknowledged how difficult it might have been to win the game should he have had the mana to cast multiple spells.

ROUND 3 – vs Esper Control

It wouldn’t be a normal tournament should I be paired up in the second round and not paired down the next. Although I’m usually happy being paired down against an opponent with no match wins, I was a little more nervous this time. I recognized my opponent as a player who loved playing control decks, and I caught a glimpse of his mana base. He was playing Esper Control. I was confident that I could win against a slower control deck, but knew that it’d be difficult to play around cards such as Banishing Light, Utter End, and Silence the Believers.

I had kept a relatively slow hand in the first game, hoping to set up a big turn with a creature backed by multiple copies of Gods Willing and Ajani’s Presence. What I hadn’t been expecting was an Ashiok from my opponent on the third turn when I had no pressure on the board. Although I played a creature and saved it from being bounced by the Jace that had come down the following turn, I met some resistance when my opponent resolved a copy of End Hostilities and started playing creatures exiled with Ashiok. I had little action left in hand and scooped shortly thereafter.

I got lucky in the second game when my opponent got stuck on three lands. I was playing conservatively, refusing to enchant my creatures until the ideal moment, and I was slowly chipping away at my opponent’s life total. Although he eventually drew the lands he needed, he was forced to tap out multiple turns in a row in an attempt to destroy my creatures. I had a Gods Willing ready for the Hero’s Downfall and an Ajani’s Presence ready for the End Hostilities that was eventually played. With my opponent tapped out, I piled on the enchantments and went to town. He fell like a ton of bricks.

The third game was much quicker. I had found an opportunity to enchant my first turn Favored Hoplite with an Ordeal and, with a Gods Willing in hand, met little resistance against the Ashiok and Sorin that would later be played against me. A second Ordeal, paired with an Aqueous Form, allowed me to swing for ten damage and clinch the win.

SCORE: 2-1

ROUND 4 – vs Jeskai Ascendancy Combo

Finally! A breath of fresh air! I had had enough of playing against Jeskai decks, control decks, and green-based midrange decks. I was greeted by one of the better players in our community. I had watched one of his previous games and knew he was playing the Jeskai Ascendancy combo deck. I had never played against the deck before and was unsure whether I could win before my opponent was able to combo off, but at least it would be an exciting few games!

I was on the play for the first game and had a lightning fast start. With little fear of any removal spells, I enchanted my second turn Hero of Iroas with two Ordeals of Thassa and an Aqueous Form. Bringing my opponent down to five life with a Gods Willing in hand by the fourth turn, I was confident that I had won the game.

“I guess I have no other choice but to go for it,” my opponent declared.

He played his Jeskai Ascendancy and targeted his Sylvan Caryatid with a Retraction Helix in an attempt to combo off.

“Hold on!” I cried. “Before the Jeskai Ascendancy trigger and the Retraction Helix resolves, I cast a Gods Willing on my Hero of Iroas, naming blue!”

I had done it again. In an impressive display of stupidity, I had shot myself in the foot. Instead of choosing to give my creature protection from green, effectively shutting down any attempt at bouncing my creature with his Sylvan Caryatid and resetting the board, I had chosen the wrong color and even made it so that the Aqueous Form fell off my creature.

Luckily, I was so confident in my decision and remained stone-faced even after having realized my mistake that I think my opponent believed I had made the right choice. Unluckily, he needn’t have bounced my creature, as he eventually chained multiple spells and created copies of Sylvan Caryatid. He then created an infinite loop to draw his deck and cast a timely Twinflame on a Rattelclaw Mystic, attacking me for a ridiculous amount. I scooped up my cards and sighed.

I glanced at my sideboard and my eyes fell upon the two copies of Deicide that were available. A few days before the tournament, I had thought about replacing them with something different. I had never used them before and thought that the sideboard slot would be better suited for different options. I was relieved that my laziness had prevailed. It seemed like too much work to replace the cards, and I was now benefiting from my sloth.

The second game was incredibly easy. I played another early Hero of Iroas and forced my opponent to cast his Ascendancy and try to combo off yet again. This time however, I destroyed the enchantment with my Deicide and halted his plans. Having expended so many resources trying to set up the combo had left my opponent with few cards left in hand. I enchanted my Hero of Iroas and locked up the game.

I had a reasonable opening hand in the final game but saw none of my sideboard cards. I decided to mulligan to five, keeping the following:

– Island
Temple of Enlightenment
Swan Song
Swan Song
Deicide

I was lucky enough to draw a creature early on, and prevented my opponent from comboing off twice with the copies of Swan Song and Deicide I held in hand. The combo is fairly fragile to instant-speed enchantment removal and well-timed counterspells.

I had won the match!

SCORE: 3-1

V. Week 9 Wrap-Up (and trades)

Overall Record To-Date: 21-17

Although an undefeated record had eluded my grasp yet again, I was pleased to have put up another solid showing. It’s safe to say that the deck’s power is real and that, with a little more practice and a little bit of luck, I can at least Top 8 the Khans of Tarkir Game Day tournament. With one last tournament to hone my skills and make some last minute changes, I had to focus.

I would have only one last chance to go undefeated before Game Day. It was aggravating that I hadn’t improved enough since the first day to attain a 4-0 record, and it made me wonder whether it was because I wasn’t playing a strong enough deck or whether it was because of other factors, such as a lack of skill, determination, or lack of effort.

I set my thoughts aside for later and grabbed my three winning booster packs along with the foil promo Fanatic of Xenagos I had won. Would lady luck be on my side this week?

Winning Pack 1 (Notable Cards):

Howl of the Horde
Chief of the Scale

Winning Pack 2 (Notable Cards):

Crackling Doom
Chief of the Edge

Winning Pack 3 (Notable Cards):

Hardened Scales

Lady Luck had run off and left me with full custody of mediocre cards. I was a little disappointed with my pulls, but knew that, even with better rares being opened, it would be difficult to acquire the other cards I needed.

Week 9 Trades
No trades.

As mentioned in a previous article, I had stopped seeking trade partners. I was frustrated at most players’ stinginess. Everyone seemed to be looking for very specific cards (as was I), and a lot of work was involved in even attempting to find a reasonable trade.

I hoped to accumulate enough spending money from my weekly budget allotment and trade in a pile of cards from my collection to obtain a copy of Brimaz before Game Day and maybe a fetchland or two.

Should I have given up on trading so quickly? Is it reasonable to trade my cards in to the store instead of to players?