Black Magic – GP Atlanta and Looking Forward

Wednesday, January 26 – Sam Black is a Faeries master and piloted it to 20th place at GP Atlanta. The best deck in the format is the best for a reason, and Sam Black has all the updates to keep this deck fresh and potent.

Faeries is the only deck I’ve played since Worlds. That might not be literally true; I might’ve tried a match or two with something else, but it’s
definitely the only deck I’ve worked on. I found my results at Worlds disheartening, but Faeries had performed well enough for others that I wanted to
stick with it. I was particularly excited when Faeries got popular enough that decks with several maindeck Peppersmokes did well, and Akira Asahara
(Archer.) finished in the Top 16 in a Magic Online PTQ with a list that caught my attention. The week before the Grand Prix, Faeries performed a little
worse in PTQs, and the few decks that did make the Top 8 didn’t look as good. This change seemed odd, but I didn’t worry about it too much.

I left Madison on Wednesday to drive to Atlanta for Calosso Fuentes’ birthday party Thursday night. The Misha van traveled light this time around, with
Lissa Jensen and me as his only passengers. Lissa intended to play a control deck with a bunch of expensive finishers copy-pasted from Worlds because
casting Nicol Bolas looked like fun, but Patrick Chapin convinced her to try to play something good Thursday night, so I offered to help find her a
Faeries deck and teach her to play it. The teaching session consisted of five MTGO matches where we embarrassingly went 2-3, losing to two red decks
and a Five-Color Control deck and beating Tempered Steel and Soul Sisters. I’d told Gaudenis to bring a Faeries deck with him so that he would have the
option to play it if I convinced him that it was better than the red deck he intended to use, but the session that afternoon was discouraging enough
that I didn’t even try to sell him on it.

Friday night, I played some games of the mirror match with Tom Raney. Matt Costa walked by at some point and told us he’d just won a grinder after
losing in the finals of another grinder with Faeries. His tech, which spread pretty quickly, was Spreading Seas in the sideboard, which he brought in
for the mirror to help manland fights. This was particularly good because they’re also excellent against Valakut and Jund. In my games with Tom, I had
Peppersmoke, and he didn’t, and while the Peppersmokes were very good, they just weren’t quite high impact enough to swing the matchup that much, which
was a little disappointing. Also, Disfigure looked like another key card in the mirror because the manlands are so important.

If you haven’t played a lot of Faeries mirrors in Extended, and you’re thinking of the games from Standard where you had to mulligan any hand that
couldn’t interact with a turn 2 Bitterblossom, Creeping Tar Pit has really changed the dynamic of the mirror. Bitterblossom is still the most important
card by far, but it’s perfectly realistic to win the game when your opponent has one and you don’t if you can get some hits in with a Creeping Tar Pit.

I played the following in the GP:

This is slightly different from what I’d played most recently on Magic Online, so I want to go through what led to each of the last changes I made.

I had a second Consume the Meek in the sideboard that I cut for a Disfigure after losing the two matches to red online because my plan was off by one
card in that matchup, and Disfigure seemed like the best card I could have there; also it was probably better against Fauna Shaman decks.

My games with Tom Raney convinced me to cut one Peppersmoke in the maindeck for one Disfigure, and talking to LSV and Martin Juza right before the GP
convinced me to cut a two-mana removal spell for a second Disfigure in the main.

I had one Grasp of Darkness, one Smother, and one Doom Blade in the main and really had no idea which I liked least. I cut the Doom Blade because it
couldn’t kill Creeping Tar Pit, but I missed having a way to kill Baneslayer Angel, Primeval Titan, and Sovereigns of Lost Alara, so I think I wish I
had cut the Smother instead.

The theory behind Spreading Seas seemed sound, but I already had a lot of cards I wanted for the mirror, so I didn’t know how I’d fit them in. I ended
up cutting a Spell Pierce and a Thoughtseize from the sideboard to make room for them, as Thoughtseize in the mirror can sometimes put you too far
behind on the Tar Pit race if you draw multiples.

I think I only want to draw one discard spell most of the time. I cut a Mana Leak for a Vendilion Clique on a whim because I don’t like Mana Leak, and
I wanted to be a little more aggressive.  

The last change was the addition of two Vampire Nighthawks to the sideboard, which LSV convinced me to do immediately before the player meeting. The
theory with Vampire Nighthawk was that Naya doesn’t really have removal, and it’s the best answer against Great Sable Stag because you can just race
it, and it’s proactive if they don’t have one. I argued that Wall of Tanglecord is much better against Red, but when they told me red decks would be
siding in three Smash to Smithereens anyway, I didn’t really want to have a singleton Wall of Tanglecord in my deck, so I accepted the change. One
Vampire Nighthawk seemed too weird for me, so I made room for a second one. I think for other people who had been playing Nighthawk, this was part of a
cohesive plan with Sower of Temptation to stretch what few removal spells the opponent might have. I definitely wished I had more Sowers during the
tournament, so moving forward, I’d at least cut the Consume the Meek, which makes much less sense with Vampire Nighthawk, for another Sower of

Aside from those changes, I was very happy with the deck. I still think most players are far too quick to cut Spellstutter Sprite or side one out.
Playing a Spellstutter Sprite at the end of an opponent’s second turn just to get a Faerie onto the battlefield is a fairly important play that makes
your other Spellstutter Sprites better and can make it much easier to resolve a Mistbind Clique. I don’t think I ever sided out a Spellstutter in this

Three Creeping Tar Pits has been the most common number for a while, and that’s just a mistake. The card is so important in the mirror that you simply
can’t play fewer. Also, players most commonly replace Creeping Tar Pit with another Sunken Ruins, which increases the number of hands with no colored
mana source to problematic levels. It took me a long time to come around to playing a 26th land, but the extra Tectonic Edge has been gold, and it’s
almost impossible to get flooded when ten of your lands are spells. I’d rather play 27 lands than 25, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I go that
direction at some point.

I like the low Mana Leak count, but the combination of that and not having Doom Blade is a little risky against large creatures, which is why I lost my
first round against U/W Control. Going forward, I’d cut the Smother for a Doom Blade, as mentioned, but I think the time has probably come to cut
Wurmcoil Engine entirely to make room for the second Doom Blade. Wurmcoil Engine is less necessary with the addition of Spreading Seas, and people are
playing a lot of Deglamers these days. Of course, in a few weeks, both of these Doom Blades and the Grasp of Darkness will be replaced by Go for the
Throat anyway.

In my first round, I played against U/W Control piloted by a Japanese guy I’d never met who came with Yuuya and Shuuhei. I heard he came to the GP
because he’d been playing a lot with this deck and loved it enough that he wanted to get to play in a Grand Prix with it. Game one, he led with some
Kitchen Finks, and I gave him a chance to safely resolve Baneslayer Angel when I probably shouldn’t have, and he beat me with it. I won game two, but
in game three, he managed to get a Sun Titan into play, and it was too much for me. I feel like I probably could’ve won this match, but I’m not
entirely sure how.


I played against the Pestermite/Splinter Twin deck in my second round, and at some point, I tapped out in a counter war on my turn when my opponent was
also tapped out. On his turn, he played a Pestermite, untapped one of his lands, played a Splinter Twin, and announced that he was making a thousand
Pestermites. I told him Pestermite didn’t have haste, and he awkwardly passed the turn. I animated my Mutavault and Peppersmoked his Pestermite. He
didn’t have a backup plan for game two, and it was very easy for me to just kill all of his Pestermites.


My third round was against a player I knew a year ago in Chicago who’d been out of the game for three or four years and now lives in California. He
played Naya, and in the first game, I led with Inquisition of Kozilek and saw that he’d kept three lands, two Vengevines, a Bloodbraid Elf, and a Sun
Titan. My hand had three Scions of Oona and two Mutavaults, so while my Inquisition missed, his hand was far too slow. The second game he mulled to
five and didn’t find a green source, and I played Vampire Nighthawk and Sower of Temptation.


My fourth round was against Mythic. I don’t remember game one, but I won it. I assume I drew a few removal spells for his early creatures. In the
second game, he killed me with a pair of Great Sable Stags while I couldn’t find the fifth mana for a Consume the Meek. In game three, I played
Bitterblossom, then Vampire Nighthawk, while he played Lotus Cobra, then another Cobra, and a Knight of the Reliquary. On my turn, I played
Thoughtseize and saw two Sovereigns of Lost Alara, but I had Vendilion Clique for the second one, and he didn’t find another business spell to win the


In the eighth round of the tournament, I had a feature match against Ali Aintrazi playing U/G Scapeshift. We split the first two games, and in game
three, I was at nine when he was at eight, and I could kill him by attacking with all my Faerie tokens and both Mutavaults. I drew Mistbind Clique,
which let me play my Secluded Glen untapped, so that I could do that and have mana for Countersquall in case he had a Cryptic Command. He had
Cloudthresher, and all my tokens died, and he attacked me for lethal. If I’d thought about it, I could’ve just attacked with the tokens and then played
Mistbind Clique on his turn with Countersquall backup, and then I’d be guaranteed to kill him on my turn. In this case, if he played Cloudthresher, my
tokens would die, but I could block with a Mutavault and then play my Mistbind Clique and race him. I just wasn’t thinking about other plays because I
had a plan that I was sure would kill him before I drew the Mistbind Clique — I forgot Cloudthresher could be in his deck.


In the last round of Day One, I played against a friendly local player in his first tournament larger than an FNM with no byes playing Mythic. My draws
were absolutely perfect. Both games, I killed his guy on turn 1 and animated a Mutavault, killed his guy, and drew a card on turn 2. From there, I was
far enough ahead that he was never in it.


I wasn’t feeling too optimistic about Day Two, as I was still disheartened about my first round loss and my sloppy play in round eight, but I tried to
just focus on my games. Saturday night, Gaudenis and I stayed in, ordered some pizza, and played Dungeon Lords, a board game I highly recommend for
serious board gamers.

Day Two opened with a match against Wargate that I won but don’t remember a lot about.


The next round, I played a Faerie mirror where my opponent mulliganed to four in game two. While he was shuffling, he commented that he should’ve kept
his seven, which had Creeping Tar Pit, Secluded Glen, Tectonic Edge, Thoughtseize, Mana Leak, and two Cryptic Commands. There was absolutely no reason
to mulligan this hand. He was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to play his Thoughtseize on turn 1, but he still has Mana Leak up on turn 2 if I have
a Bitterblossom, and he has a Creeping Tar Pit and a Tectonic Edge to fight the manland war. He ended up keeping an excellent four-card hand of
Creeping Tar Pit, Mutavault, Mutavault, Sunken Ruins. I actually think this is about the best possible four-card hand that doesn’t have Bitterblossom
in the mirror because at least it has a plan to win, but he led with Creeping Tar Pit and never went aggressive with his manlands, so he never had a


In round twelve, I played against Jund, and my opponent led with Putrid Leech every game. The first game, he played a Leech, Pulsed my Bitterblossom,
and followed up with some Bloodbraid Elves, and I was never in it. In the second game, I led with Bitterblossom and Sprited his second play and then
stuck a Vampire Nighthawk that hit him once before he Terminated it, and I managed to get pretty far ahead.

In the third game, he had a Putrid Leech, and I played a Spellstutter Sprite at the end of his turn. The Sprite let me play a Mistbind Clique on turn 5
with Mutavault as backup, and I followed it up with another Mistbind Clique and then Tectonic Edged him down to two lands while he was sitting on
double Demigod of Revenge (Hint for Jund players: if Spreading Seas gets popular, you might have to start siding out your Demigods).


Around this time, I started to get optimistic about this tournament again.

Round thirteen was another mirror. This time, he had an absolutely perfect hand in game one: Inquisition of Kozilek into Blossom into double Scion of
Oona when I tried to get aggressive with my lands, into options on Spellstutter Sprite, Mistbind Clique, and Cryptic Command. He left Mistbind Cliques
in for the next games, and I didn’t really like some of the plays he made. I kept a hand a Sunken Ruins, Mutavault, Mutavault, Thoughtseize,
Bitterblossom, Spellstutter Sprite, and another card that didn’t make colored mana (I don’t remember if it was a spell or a Tectonic Edge); he
Thoughtseized me and took my Bitterblossom, but I drew a Secluded Glen to Thoughtseize his Bitterblossom and managed to stick a Jace fairly quickly. At
one point, I Thoughtseized him and saw Mistbind Clique and Cryptic Command and let him keep Mistbind Clique even though I had no good answer to it, and
he could play it championing his Mutavault — I was reasonably certain he’d wait until my upkeep and play it, and then I could just counter it. He
did, and that was game. I’m not really sure why I trusted my read that strongly. I should’ve just taken the Mistbind Clique, but it worked out very


Round fourteen, I kept a Swamp, two Inquisitions of Kozilek, and Bitterblossom with no other lands because I didn’t know my opponent was playing R/G
Scapeshift. I didn’t draw another land in time, and he drew too many copies of Scapeshift for me to deal with all of them.

Game 2 I led with Creeping Tar Pit, and on the second turn, I was about to play a Darkslick Shores, but decided I should Thoughtseize him first. I
Thoughtseized him, wrote down his hand, and reflexively passed after I finished writing it without playing my second land. The way the game played out,
I Thoughtseized him down to two basic lands in hand and cast a Glen Elendra Archmage with a mana up, but he drew Primeval Titan that turn and won. I
had two Cryptic Commands the next two turns, but I wasn’t really drawing live because I didn’t have a Doom Blade to find. If I’d played the land on
turn 2, the game might have played out such that he would’ve been tapped out with Mistbind Clique that turn, but it might have happened the previous
turn, and then I’d still have died to the Titan. I’m not entirely sure.


The last round was against Scapeshift again, and Vampire Nighthawk unexpectedly won game two by putting me back to twenty after I Thoughtseized my
opponent, so that he couldn’t Scapeshift me to death on seven lands. I had a Tectonic Edge, so he couldn’t just put me to two (or five, killing the
Nighthawk) and hope to draw another land because I’d kill the Valakut. He had to pass and never got another window to resolve the Scapeshift.


Looking at the three different Faeries decks in the Top 8, I’m not sure that there’s all that much to say about them. There are a lot of reasonable
cards Faeries can play, and the exact choices are mostly about tuning the deck to play out the way you want to play your games. Scion of Oona is good
for me because I want to play my Spellstutter Sprites aggressively; if Owen is less likely to do that, Scion of Oona won’t be as good for him. The deck
is all about having a plan and making sure your cards work together. The biggest mistake in my deck was having Vampire Nighthawks and Consume the Meek
in my sideboard and planning to bring them both in for the same matchups.

Faeries and Valakut-based decks were the most successful of the weekend; while Naya, I believe, particularly underperformed. Looking forward, If you
live somewhere where you can be confident most players will play decks that did well rather than play decks that beat those decks, Faeries with
additional discard, Spreading Seas, and maybe a third Tectonic Edge as a 27th land for the mirror and Valakut would be excellently positioned.

Thanks for reading,