The night was young. The air was warm. The sound of children's laughter rang out across the street. "The calm before the storm," I thought to myself, smiling bitterly. "They know nothing of the battle that lies ahead." Armed only with my Mono-White Humans deck, I soldiered onward toward the game store. I steeled myself to the reality that I would soon face a seemingly endless onslaught of Plant tokens, Thopters, and planeswalkers. It was not going to be an easy mission...or an easy matchup. "Take down the most-feared deck in Standard" was my charge. I was not one to turn down a challenge. My Thraben Inspectors and I were ready.
I arrived at Mead Hall Games excited to play in my first FNM since making my first-ever Day Two at Grand Prix Minneapolis the weekend before. I ended up finishing 105th at the GP, which wasn't too shabby—and was a big milestone in my Magic career. I packed the same 75 that had served me so well at the GP.
"Running any Needle Spires?" my friend asked me as I walked through the door.
"No," I replied, smiling. "Why mess with perfection?"
What I didn't tell him was that I had tried to get some earlier that day and hadn't been able to. I was terrified of meeting White-Black Control—or, more specifically, Languish. Needle Spires can be a great card to have in your sideboard against sweepers. I had experienced enough of those at the GP, thank you very much.
As it turns out, I had no reason to fear a global -4/-4. I didn't see a single copy of Languish the entire night. Luck was on my side!
...Or was it?
The reason I didn't see any copies of Languish—or meet any White-Black Control players at all—was because I only played against one deck the entire night.
My only matchups were against Green-White Tokens, perhaps better known as "The Best Deck in Standard."
The call of "Pairings are up!" reverberated throughout the game store. A shiver ran down my spine. Competitors began to move slowly toward their seats—some to meet their demise, others their victory.
"Who will live to see Round 2?" I thought as my eyes scanned the room. "Technically everyone, I suppose. It is Swiss."
I could feel my blood running hot as I prepared my tools for victory. I carefully laid out my playmat and sorted my Clue tokens. "Today is a good day to die," I said as I looked my Round 1 opponent in the eye. "High roll?"
My first opponent, Josh, couldn't have been nicer. We traded stories about the Grand Prix the weekend before while shuffling up and resolving mulligans. While chatting, I learned that he used to be a professional paintball player. (I guess that's a thing?!) FNMs are a great way to meet people from all walks of life.
Despite my fear of control decks, I felt extremely confident after my good showing at the Grand Prix. That confidence quickly melted into fierce concentration as he played a Fortified Village on turn one. That did not bode well.
The battle began. In Game 1, I heroically managed to take down three separate copies of the scourge of the land, Archangel Avacyn. No small feat! I slapped myself on my armor-covered back before again focusing on the fight—we hadn't won yet. My team was bruised and bloody, forced to awkwardly play defense against the likes of Sylvan Advocate and Lambholt Pacifist. But we persevered! I quickly snared a profane Demon who feasted on the souls of his followers. The tides appeared to be turning!
If I thought fighting my way through three copies of Avacyn and an active Westvale Abbey was bad, it was only because I had yet to meet Linvala, the Preserver. Turns out that is a good card. Especially when you follow it up with Tragic Arrogance. GG, buddy. GG.
In Game 2, I was determined to fight through the likes of Avacyn, Linvala, and Westvale. I sideboarded incorrectly by subbing in too many reactive spells like Silkwrap to deal with things like Sylvan Advocate. I should have trusted my deck's strengths and kept a consistent aggro strategy. I guess hindsight is 20/20.
One of the reasons why Green-White Tokens is so good is that it can play a couple different ways: by beating down with giant creatures like Avacyn or by dropping planeswalkers and overwhelming you with tokens. Which is exactly what happened to me in this match. I chalked up a match loss. I was 0-1. On to Round 2!
I gathered what was left of my army and looked around the decimated battlefield.
"Why have you forsaken me?!" I screamed at the gathering clouds as angry tears streamed down my face. I had come to this place to trumpet my triumph, but instead found myself mired in failure. "I curse the gods that have brought me..."
"What are you running?" someone asked me as I sat contemplating my Round 1 loss.
"Mono-White Humans," I replied with a wry smile. "Not very good against Green-White Tokens, as I've come to realize."
"Sick beats," he said with a comforting shrug. "I think a lot of people are playing that deck here tonight."
My spirit buoyed by kind words from a fellow Planeswalker, I made the decision to fight on. If I couldn't win the first battle, so be it. I would win the next three. My mission remained the same: take down Green-White Tokens, and do it soundly. Disquiet began to rise within me. What was this feeling? Could it be vengeance? I would use it to my benefit. TAKE ME TO THE BATTLE!
"You have a bye this round."
"You have a bye this round," repeated the store manager Eric. I must have looked pretty distraught. "I'm sorry," he said. "Do you want a piece of pizza?"
No, I do not want a slice of your cheese and meat pastry, you heathen! I cannot be bought by your crafty culinary circles. How dare you keep me from my rightful place on the battlefield? How DARE you?
"No, thanks," I said. "I can just watch another match."
I wandered over to the table where my Round 1 opponent was playing. If I couldn't play, at least I could get some more insight into how Green-White Tokens ticks. It was a fantastic match to watch. Josh's opponent was thirteen-year-old Grayson, a store regular, who has a real knack for the game. He'd recently made his first Day Two in his first Grand Prix and brought the same deck that he played in that tournament: Nahiri Naya.
"How does it feel to play against a bunch of old fogies?" I asked him as he and Josh were shuffling up.
"People here usually know who I am," Grayson said, smiling. "But it's really funny when I go to a new store and play somebody and they're like, 'Oh, easy matchup! I'll crush this kid,' and they start to play casually. Then I completely blow them out."
The battle I witnessed that night from afar will long be burned into my memory. A field littered with planeswalkers, Thopters, and even Dragonlord Atarka. Despite deploying two planeswalkers in the first battle, Grayson could not secure victory against a series of devastating and well-timed Dromoka's Commands. But he fought back in the second fray by using Nahiri to locate Atarka and smashing for lethal in the air. The third battle seemed decided even before the first spell had been cast. "I'm gonna win this game no matter what," Grayson boasted after seeing an Arlinn Kord among his opening ranks. And he did.
Round three began. I found myself across from another very friendly opponent, Thomas, who was also running (curses!) Green-White Tokens.
"I like this deck because it gives me something to do at every point in the game," he told me before the round began. "Also, I traditionally play blue-red, and green and white were areas I wanted to experience better. I'd gathered a lot of the cards through trading, and when I saw I had all the components for a Top 8 deck, I just dove in!"
I love it! Trying out a new deck so that you can learn something by playing it is a great step toward becoming a better and more well-rounded player.
After an hour or so of rattling my epic defeat around in my brain, revenge was finally within reach. My enemy's army was the same as the first battle of the night. Was my ragtag crew good enough to best it? I began to doubt their training. Had I not done enough to prepare them? Was I fool to lead a group of small creatures into a clash with Angels? Had we not shouted "clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose" enough times?
I assembled my initial seven warriors. "Whoa," I thought. "This is a really good hand. Excuse me a moment while I document it for history."
I took Game 1 easily. The only thing my opener was missing was an Always Watching, which I promptly drew. Game 2 went similarly. I was able to stick two Thalia's Lieutenants, as well as a Gryff's Boon on a buffed-up Consul's Lieutenant, which, if not dealt with, closes out the game very quickly. I was simply too fast and too resilient for Thomas's tokens. That's the thing I love about Mono-White Humans—when the deck comes together, it can be back-breaking for your opponent. Clue, Clue, smash, counters, smash. It's a great feeling.
YES! The delicious taste of victory was finally mine! Did you see that, world?! My power cannot be stopped; it cannot be quieted! My thirst for glory cannot be quenched! I will face Green-White Tokens and I will say, "You may seem powerful and mighty, but you are fallible. You, too, are mortal! You, too, will soon see the smiling face of death and know HE HAS COME FOR YOU!!!"
...That got dark.
I was riding high when Round 4 rolled around. Perhaps I could turn my 0-1 start into a 3-1 finish. That would be a totally respectable record, even if it did include a bye (shhh). My opponent was Jacob, and he was also running...wait for it...Green-White Tokens.
"Combat math isn't too difficult with this deck," he said, explaining his decision to run it. "As long as you aren't too greedy with your planeswalkers and trying to ultimate. Just making an emblem with Gideon early on can be game-winning."
We'll just see about that, won't we, Jacob? We'll just see.
The final campaign of the night had arrived. Would I return home a victor, welcomed by a parade, adoring fans, and a full glass of mead? Or would I skulk back to my dwelling, licking my wounds? The first fight passed quickly. My team was assaulted by a seemingly ceaseless series of Nissas—one killed, another would reappear, like heads on a hydra. "I cannot handle these Plant tokens!" I cried, as they effortlessly kept my team at bay, buying my opponent enough time to call upon Avacyn. Eventually, I was overcome. Moving on to the second fight, my first wave of fighters seemed unbeatable.
I was so optimistic. "I can't lose!" I thought to myself as I looked at my opening seven. And I might not have lost if the next few turns didn't go as they went. Want to see my next few draws?
Let me tell you what a mono-white deck does not want to have in hand. If you guessed "all lands!" you would be correct. I lost Game 2 to lose the round, making my final record 2-2. I may sound a little salty, but I really wasn't. Yes, I did have to face a ton of Green-White Tokens decks, which isn't a great matchup for me—but, overall, the night was really fun. I met some great people and had a great time. I also learned a lot, which is a goal of mine every FNM.
I emerged out of the game store and onto the street, war-torn and wiser. "I did my best," I thought to myself. "And that's all I can ask." I looked down at my army, now nestled in their barracks. "You did good," I whispered. "You did real good." Despite finishing 2-2, I was proud. I had come face to face with the beast and it had not destroyed me entirely.
"We live to fight another day," I said, looking up at the full moon. "And maybe, just maybe, we'll soon find some new friends to join us."