Black Magic – Faeries and MTGO

Monday, January 3rd – Whether it’s Standard, Extended, or Master’s Edition Draft, Sam Black is an expert of the workings of MTGO. Hear what he has to say about the decks he’s working on.

I’ve been taking a bit of a break for the holidays to visit family, but I’ve also been grinding QPs on MTGO. I’ve only ever played in one MOCS tournament, but the schedule this month, both in terms of the time of the actual tournament and the rest of my schedule, worked out favorably for this month’s championship. I was worried about getting enough QPs, so I started looking to play Daily Events whenever possible, since they award far more QPs than drafts, and they give me a chance to play Constructed for QPs (I usually just play Constructed 2-mans, one of a number of reasons I don’t normally have enough points to play in the MOCS).

I started out playing Vampires in the Daily Events, but most people were playing U/B, and they were prepared for Vampires. Eventually, I switched back to R/U/G, and I’ve been pretty happy with its position in the metagame. My current R/U/G list looks pretty typical:

The list is greedy in that it skimps on cards for the aggro matchups, but Gaea’s Revenge has been stellar against U/B Control, of course, and lately the nature of the metagame allows me to skew this far. Thinking about it now, the second Gaea’s Revenge in the sideboard might let me cut the Terastodon, which the deck uses as a threat that can’t get Doom Bladed against U/B Control. I like having five finishers, so it would probably just become another Titan or Avenger, but Acidic Slime and Oracle of Mul Daya aren’t out of the question. I could even see experimenting with promoting the Seer’s Sundial to the main.

Seer’s Sundial was my last-minute sideboard tech for the SCG Invitational, and it performed exactly as expected when I brought it in, which is to say it drew a ton of cards against control.

I’m not sure that this is exactly where I want to be in Standard, but it’s performing best for me at the moment, although with substantially less research than I put in before Worlds.

Despite my disappointing performance with Faeries at Worlds, I’ve read enough claims that it’s still the best deck in Extended to convince me to keep working on it, and it’s been continuing to perform better than I expect it to online. I change cards around a lot, but right now I’m at:

I’m playing three Preordains because I have no faith in myself. It feels like it should be awesome, and it does good things, but other people are putting up good results without it, so I wonder if that’s the better way to go. Playing Disfigures or discard in those slots does increase the chances of having the best possible starts, but the slightly higher chance of turn 2 Bitterblossom, and the fact that Preordain is pretty awesome in the late game makes them seem worth it to me. I can imagine that it might not be right though, which is saying a lot.

Playing Disfigure over Peppersmoke makes me extremely unhappy, but Goblin Guide, Fauna Shaman, and several other creatures force me to go that way. The split on the other removal spells is a function of none of them being perfect in this format. Preordain helps make the most of that split, and it’s nice to be able to cut whichever’s worst when sideboarding. Playing Agony Warp again almost makes up for the loss of Peppersmoke by giving me another removal spell I can get value out of.

As for the discard split, I like Inquisition of Kozilek in Faeries because Faeries is naturally strong against expensive spells, thanks to Cryptic Command and Mistbind Clique. Also, paying life is terrible because of Bitterblossom. In the maindeck, Inquisition of Kozilek is the stronger card because there are fewer matchups where it’s really terrible—almost everyone has enough spells that cost less than four, but Thoughtseize can turn off pretty quickly against red or other very aggressive decks. However, after sideboarding in some matchups, like Four-Color Control, I want access to all four Thoughtseizes, which forces me to play some in the main because I only want six total discard spells in the 75.

I know some people are cutting Spellstutter Sprites, but I just can’t do it. There are so many Preordains and Ponders and similar cards that even when you don’t have a Bitterblossom, you can usually get value, and it’s pretty important to have enough Faeries to champion with Mistbind Clique. Instead, I cut a Mana Leak. Before rotation, I felt like I’d finally cracked the code when I realized I could play Faeries with only two Mana Leaks, and late in Faeries’ time in Standard, I was playing less than four Broken Ambitions. Games often go long, and Mana Leak turns off, and before that, you’re generally doing well if you can deal with threats on the board. I’ve had a few hands with a couple Mana Leaks and some late-game cards, and I feel like I have to mulligan on the draw because I can’t beat turn 2 Prismatic Omen, Fauna Shaman, Pyromancer Ascension, Bitterblossom, or maybe even Putrid Leech. Mana Leak’s pretty good on the play, but it’s often just not what you want on the draw.

Jace has been my hero for a long time. With the loss of Ancestral Visions, he’s your only real way to draw cards. I prefer Jace Beleren to Jace, the Mind Sculptor because tapping out when you have four mana is the exact opposite of what you want to be doing. Playing against Faeries when they have four untapped mana and could have Mistbind Clique, Cryptic Command, or a combination of counters and removal is very difficult; by comparison, playing against Jace is often relatively easy. That said, later in the game, Jace can be extremely powerful.

I’m beginning to wonder if use of planeswalkers in the maindeck is a relic of an era when Faeries was almost always forced to play control against decks like Zoo before rotation. In a format with so few aggro decks, there’s a chance that Faeries wants to be re-imagined as more of an aggro-control deck, focusing on its aggressive aspects with planeswalkers only in the sideboard as a potential game 2 option. This version would essentially cut Jaces for Scion of Oona and possibly cut the third Mana Leak for the fourth Mistbind Clique. This would most likely help a lot in matches like Omen, where you don’t generally have the resources to win a long game, so it would help to be able to capitalize on early disruption by actually killing your opponent. It would hurt most in matchups where the opponent doesn’t care about your creatures, either because they can outrace you or because they have something like maindeck Volcanic Fallout. At the moment, there are enough decks where you want to be the aggressor that I’d interested in trying that route. An unfortunate side effect of this plan is that it eats sideboard slots if you still want access to Jace for game 2. A nice perk is that people aren’t really used to playing around Scion of Oona right now.

The sideboard probably looks confused with all those one-ofs, but that’s how I’ve always liked to build the sideboard for Faeries. There are so many cards that are very similar but a little better in some places than others that it’s nice to be able to start by bringing in one of the best version of a card for a matchup and then decide if you want to go further. For example, Spell Pierce is better against Faeries than Countersquall by a wide enough margin that I’ll often bring in Spell Pierce and not Countersquall. On the other hand, Countersquall is better against Four-Color Control, but counterspells are good enough that you want both.

There are other places where you want a variety of cards to fight different threats out of the same deck. Wall of Tanglecord is great against Elves if they sideboard into Vengevines, but horrible if they’re trying to combo you out, so bringing in a couple is fine, but bringing in four would be disastrous. Bringing in a combination of Walls (for Vengevines / Great Sable Stag), Sower of Temptation and Infest (awesome against the rest of their deck), and Flashfreeze (for Cloudthresher or Regal Force) is much better.

Consume the Meek is still awesome against Elves, but Infest is better. Infest is also better against decks with the Mythic mana base (Mythic doesn’t get enough respect right now as an Extended deck, incidentally). Consume the Meek is dramatically better against Tempered Steel.

The one Memoricide is primarily for Omen decks, but it has potential utility against 4-Color Control (I’d be using it more as a Cabal Therapy rather than doing something like naming Cruel Ultimatum in the dark and pretending they couldn’t win, but it’s good with other discard). It can also come in against Necrotic Ooze or other decks that are really all about one card. In a pinch, it can be an additional Vengevine answer, but I’d hate to have to do that—Wall should be better.

Wurmcoil Engine is more or less game over against Jund, and it also allows you to trim Bitterblossoms against Red if they’re particularly burn heavy. It can also come in against anyone who doesn’t have removal or does have Vengevines.

Sower of Temptation has been surprisingly awesome lately, and if I go the Scion of Oona route, I’d likely look to play more high-impact cards like Sower and Glen Elendra Archmage and fewer cheap one-for-ones if I can’t find room for Jace in the sideboard. The cheap one-for-ones are awesome when you’re drawing extra cards, but if you’re not, you need to remember that you have to get more value out of each of your cards, and the four-mana knockout Faeries gain a lot of appeal, particularly Sower, which is greatly helped by shroud.

This distinction about big spells vs. little spells as a function of card draw reminds me that it’s very important to understand that almost every change you can make in Faeries has several cascading effects on other card choices. More expensive sorceries? Add discard and removal, cut countermagic. Fewer Faeries? Cut some Mistbind Cliques, since they can get stranded. Pay attention to how your one-mana spells impact which exact lands you need. If you don’t have a lot of discard and Disfigures, you might not need a Swamp. If you do, you might want two.

My collection is a little behind in Extended right now on MTGO, so I haven’t really done a lot of testing with other decks, but I think Faeries needs a lot of work to fine tune for any format, so I’m happy with the work I’m putting in.

I recently got more than enough QPs to play in the monthly championship by winning a Master’s Edition 64-player draft one night and losing in the semifinals of another the next day thanks to some advice from AJ Sacher. I didn’t really know anything about the format, and he managed to tell me everything I needed to know to feel like I was ahead of the field in just a few sentences.

His advice was to draft some combination of blue, black, and red, play eighteen lands, choose draw. Traditional Ben Stark Magic. For those who don’t know Ben Stark, that means you should basically ignore small vanilla creatures and never really try to beat down. The format is largely defined by the fact that there are two common pingers, Cuombajj Witches, and Brothers of Fire, so one-toughness creatures are particularly horrible. Blue is all about Giant Tortoise and Phantom Monster, which play great defense while your pingers and removal take over the game.

That all made sense to me, and all I had to figure out on my own was how to value the bad cards that you have to play like Goblin Chirurgeon vs. Dwarven Soldier (leaning toward the Goblin) and whether you want to highly value cards like Erg Raiders even though they’re naturally aggressive cards (I think so).

The problem with green is that so many of its “good” cards only have one toughness, and it has no answer to Brothers of Fire and generally commits you to playing a lot of Forests. I’ve seen green decks do well, and I’ve lost to them when I didn’t feel like I should; it’s a scrappy deck that can definitely get wins, but if your opponent has reasonable defense into something to take control, there’s not much you can do about it. White’s unplayable—you could maybe splash for a pair of Exiles or something. Far too many of its creatures have one toughness, and Exile doesn’t do anything about the pingers, which are the creatures you would really need to be killing. I don’t think I’ve seen any successful white decks in the format.

There’s not a lot to be said about the format. It’s pretty straightforward once you know what to look for, which is why I figured this section would be worth including (high rate of return per word if you’re interested in the format).

When I lead by saying this article is about MTGO, I think people are likely to expect me to talk about MTGO itself, rather than just my playing on it, so I’ll close with a note on that so as not to disappoint.

Gold Queues

They’re awesome in theory, but I don’t think Magic Online’s economy can actually support them. I mean, it can, and it will continue to function, but the impact is horrible for players. Gold queues convert tix to packs at a very high rate. This means there are more packs and fewer tix in the system, which increases the relative value of tix to packs. What this means is that packs get devalued. At the time of writing this, bots are buying SOM for 3.4 or less and selling for just over 3.5. If we say a pack is worth exactly 3.5 (If you’re just trying to play as much Constructed as you can, it will be worth less than that to you), then a 2-player queue pays out 87.5% of what it takes in. This means you have to win 57% of your matches to break even. The lower the pack goes, the higher that percentage goes. At some point, enough people will realize that they lose money on Constructed on average, and Gold Queues eat their money even faster, so they’ll have to move down to regular queues to test. I suppose at this point, Gold Queues begin to fire less, and maybe that means their impact shrinks, and the price of a pack can bounce back up, but I’m worried about it.

This is bad for players because, given that packs are the prizes for everything, their value dropping relative to tix means the prize support for every event goes down; the only saving grace is that it costs less to draft. For now, this is unfortunate, but manageable.

My real fear is what happens when Mirrodin Besieged comes out. Packs won’t be paid out in proportion to how they’re used for drafts—they never are, but the effect will be multiplied by gold queues. It’ll be interesting to see exactly how low the value on the oversupplied pack can get.  

That’s all for now.

Thanks for reading,