It’s nice to play in a Grand Prix in Japan without being Jetlagged. Malaysia and Japan were pretty fun. I spent a lot of time sightseeing and traveling, so I didn’t manage to get a lot of testing in. The group I was with – Brian Kowal, Brian Kibler, Mat Marr, and Alex West – all wanted to play Zoo. Mat Marr seemed to be the only one of them who was considering other decks, and the others just wanted to figure out which Zoo deck was best. They were so convinced that Zoo was the right choice that this mostly consisted of playing different builds of Zoo against each other. They almost had me convinced, but I really don’t want to play Zoo when I can help it.
Luckily for me, we had heard from the Japanese players we talked to that Faeries were very popular in Japan, which meant they also had some interest in making sure their Faerie matchup was as good as they thought. This meant I also got to work on figuring out how to fix my Zoo matchup.
Before we had really started testing, in Malaysia, I talked to Yuuta Takahashi about where his list was going. He was playing only 2 Cryptic Commands and 4 Smothers. He told me to cut Leyline of the Void from the sideboard, and generally gave me the list that I started with, although it included a number of cards I didn’t really understand the use of, like two Sower of Temptations in the sideboard.
That list was:
In my first set of games against Zoo, I kept drawing both of my Cryptic Commands, and they were terrible, so I began to understand why Yuuta had gone down to only two copies of a card I was usually so happy with. Even with his changes, I was still almost never beating Zoo. If I wanted to win this matchup, I had to go even further.
Vendilion Clique wasn’t doing enough against Zoo. It used to often kill a Nacatl and hit their hand, but people are playing more removal these days, and it always just gets killed. I’ve also never liked it in the mirror, since it stacks up so badly against every other creature. On the other hand, it’s extremely important against combo decks, but given that those are the decks you’re trying to prey on anyway, I think it’s okay to give up a little edge against them.
I played a lot of post sideboard games against Zoo. I didn’t win any in my first 10 game set. I was experimenting with taking out Bitterblossom on the draw, because I’d found that sometimes I was already too far behind when I played it on turn 2, but I found that without it, I just didn’t have a deck. I would trade for awhile and then lose to something. It didn’t help that some of my testing was against builds with Punishing Fire, which meant that I really had to be able to close a game. So the plan had to involve Bitterblossom.
I played against a slightly slower deck and I left my Bitterblossoms in, and I managed to win some games, and I found that the games that I won were the ones where I managed to trade one for one until they were out of threats and I had cards left. This would often mean not playing Deathmark on their first creature so that I could Mana Leak their second creature and then play Deathmark when I had a spare mana.
The problem is that as the deck was set up, I wasn’t all that likely to have more cards left than them, and if I flooded at all, I couldn’t win. Fortunately, the plan I was on is very familiar to me. It’s exactly what I wanted to do in Standard with Jace Beleren. Game 1, I’d try to win based on the aggressive, synergistic power of my deck, and game 2 I’d turn my deck into as many efficient ways to one for one my opponent as possible, and use Jace Beleren to get ahead. The Mind Sculptor is too slow to play too many copies. I needed Beleren.
At one point while I was looking for my box for cards that I was adding to the deck, I flipped past a Pendelhaven, and I remembered talking about trying that card for Extended at one point, but that I’d forgotten about it. I cut an Island to try it out, and it was amazing every time I drew it. It made Punishing Fire much less effective, it let me block Loam Lion and Kird Ape with a Spellstutter Sprite, and it made it much easier to trade Bitterblossom tokens for real creatures. After cutting and Island for it I still had 19 Blue sources, so it seemed safe enough, especially since I was only playing 2 Cryptic Commands.
Umezawa’s Jitte is interesting. Like Bitterblossom, it is important to have it to actually win games, and it plays very well with Bitterblossom in general, but it’s a very slow card that’s basically a late game finisher most of the time. Given that I had Jace as my late game plan now, Jitte became less important, so I was able to cut one. I was trying to go a little longer and draw more cards, so I’d probably see it in about as many games anyway, and I’d be less likely to have a second dead Jitte in my hand.
After changing the deck to a build I liked and understood, I played a bunch of sideboarded games against Kibler playing Zoo, and I was actually able to win about 44-45% of them. That’s clearly pretty bad, but at least it meant I had a chance in my worst prevalent matchup, and all the changes I made were changes that I felt would help me in the mirror as well.
When I got to the site, I heard that there was a reasonable amount of Dredge and Dark Depths in the trials, and decided I had to take graveyard hate seriously, so I made some room. Actually, I made a lot of room, and dedicated a full third of my sideboard to a set of Leylines and an Extirpate. I also met up with LSV, Ben Stark, and Martin Juza, who were all playing Dark Depths/Thopter. I felt a bit like I was playing Faeries just because I felt like I didn’t know anything else, and Zoo was my only other option because it’s the only other deck people wanted to work on. I liked the idea of being able to discuss another Blue/Black deck with people, and I asked LSV if he thought Depths just had better matchups across the board than Faeries, and he said yes, and that I should switch, so I asked him for his list. I went with them to dinner, and to their room after dinner to discuss the exact details and finalize the sideboard, but I still wasn’t sure if I really wanted to give up on Faeries.
Dark Depths just didn’t feel better to me. It has so many legendary cards (counting Chrome Mox) and can have such awkward draws, and they kept talking about dealing with all these different sideboard cards that just sounded nightmarish for their deck that couldn’t counter things like Blood Moon and Damping Matrix. At one point, Louis said something about situational cards, and made an offhand comment about “Mana Leak, which is bad in all situations.” I hadn’t really thought about it, but I realized he was right. Mana Leak was never that great for me. I wanted a flexible answer, but I really didn’t need four.
This is the list I ended up playing:
The last card I considered was Creeping Tar Pit. It was another card I’d thought about awhile ago, but forgot about until the morning of the event, so I didn’t get a chance to test it. I think the manabase can handle one, but I wasn’t confident enough, and I feel that man lands have diminishing returns, so I decided to leave it out.
As for the actual tournament:
In the fourth round I played against Zoo, and I kept 5 lands, Bitterblossom, Spellstutter Sprite. It was a pretty loose keep that I probably should have sent back. I tend to keep more hands than most people with Faeries, and one of the lands was Mutavault, so it wasn’t terrible. I probably shouldn’t have kept there, and if I’d known I was against Zoo it would have been a pretty easy mulligan. Anyway, most of my draw steps were lands and I didn’t have any removal, so he killed me pretty easily.
Game 2 on the play I had turn 2 Bitterblossom into Deathmark and Spellstutter Sprite, followed by Smother and Umezawa’s Jitte. From there he had to start using removal spells on my tokens and won at a very healthy life total.
Game 3 he lead with Loam Lion and played Jitte rather than another creature on turn 2, and on turn 3 he played Tarmogoyf and Loam Lion. This means he had definitely misplayed his second turn, but after trading with all his early cards I drew lands while his last threat, Knight of the Reliquary, finished me off.
3-1, but at least I won a game against Zoo, and the third one was pretty close.
Round 5 I played against DDT. In the first game the hand I kept had Ancestral Visions, Smother, and a bunch of good two-mana spells, but only one land. I don’t remember if I was on 6 cards or not, but I was on the draw. He played Dark Confidant and I couldn’t draw a second land to Smother it, so he won.
Game 2 gets very hard for him to win, and his draw had a lot of copies of the same legendary cards, so Thoughtseize left him with little enough to work with that I was able to just beat him with a Spellstutter Sprite and a Mutavault.
Game 3 was looking a little rough, since he Thoughtseized me and saw my Vendiliion Clique and then landed a Dark Confidant, but for some reason he attacked into the Vendilion Clique, and after it traded with his Dark Confidant, again he just didn’t have much action.
Round 6 I played against Dredge. Game 1functionally ended on turn 1 or 2, but I think I waited until turn 3 or 4 to actually concede.
For game 2 I kept 2 lands; Thoughtseize; Smother; Bitterblossom; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; and Repeal. After the match, I asked Louis if he would keep any 7 card hands against Dredge that didn’t have Leyline, and he said no, but when I told him, he said it was reasonable. I think it might actually be correct to keep most Thoughtseize + Smother hands on the play against them, since after bringing in answers to your Leylines their deck is a little less powerful, and that can often stop them from getting off the ground.
In this game I took his Drowned Rusalka and left him with 2 Stinkweed Imps, Glimpse the Unthinkable, Bloodghast, fetch land, and Dryad Arbor. It’s possible that I should have taken the Glimpse, since I could Smother the Rusalka, but he needed to draw a land to be able to play the Glimpse and I felt like the Smother had a lot of value. He drew the land and Glimpse hit 3 Bridge from Belows. I Smothered my token and Extirpated his Bloodghasts and had Jace going.
Game 3 I had Leyline, which he didn’t side in any answers to, so I guess there was added value to beating him without Leyline in game 2.
Round 7 was a feature match against Shuhei Nakamura playing Bant/Naya big Zoo. He beat me in 3 games. In the third game I kept a terrible hand, but it was irrelevant because he played a turn 2 Blood Moon.
Round 8 I played against a not particularly aggressive Bant deck that had a lot of trouble with Bitterblossom.
Game 1 I Vendilion Cliqued him and saw Path to Exile, Bant Charm, Spell Snare, Ancestral Vision, Vendilion Clique, and I left them all since he only had 3 lands. I had Bitterblossom going, and he had already played Tarmogoyf (which I Smothered) and Kitchen Finks. Pendelhaven made his Kitchen Finks much less of a problem than it can be, and he wasn’t about to play enough spells to beat my tokens.
In round 9 I played against DDT for Day 2. I went first and suspended an Ancestral Vision, and he played Mox, Dark Confidant. I had a Smother, but no Black mana, so he got a card off Dark Confidant. I drew a Black source the next turn and killed his Confidant, and he hadn’t found enough action to beat the Jace, the Mind Sculptor I followed up with.
Game 3 I suspended Ancestral Vision, but he managed to get a Thopter Foundry in play and he had Sword of the Meek. He didn’t have any other artifacts, so I countered his Sword to keep him off the combo, but he had Academy Ruins. I was able to counter it again and then my Visions went off and I drew an Extirpate, and then he didn’t have anything going on.
Round 10 I played against fast Zoo and kept Thoughtseize, Vendilion Clique, and lands. Like I said, I probably keep a few too many hands. His hand was three one-mana 2/3s, and that was basically good enough.
In game 2 I kept a 6 card one-land hand, and it looked like I was off to a pretty bad start, but his turn 1 play was to Thoughtseize my Repeal, and I drew a land, and things were suddenly looking up. I Mana Leaked his next threat, and the turn after that all he had was a Loam Lion, which I Spellstuttered. Because he had Black for the Thoughtseize, he was off Green mana for awhile, and things timed out perfectly such that he could only play one threat per turn, which is exactly what I could deal with. If he had just lead with a creature, I probably would have lost.
In game 3 he played Steppe Lynx and didn’t have a fetch land, and played a turn 2 Jitte. It hit me once with the Jitte before I was able to kill it, but after that, he was threat light and I was able to pull ahead.
Game 2 was a pretty typical game against Scapeshift. I had enough disruption and he lost.
Game 3 went to time, and I needed one or two more attacks than I was going to have to be able to kill him before extra turns, but I was dead if he ever drew Scapeshift because he had Boseiju.
In round 12 I played against DDT again. I Thoughtseized him and left him with just mana and a Thirst for Knowledge, but he managed to turn that into Dark Depths, Hexmage, Rite of Consumption to win even though I had Repeal. I wasn’t expecting Rite of Consumption, so I had been using the mana I had (I was stuck on 2) to get Jitte going on a Bitterblossom token, but I had only hit with it once and I was down to 15, so I wasn’t able to save myself. I had a Spellstutter Sprite, so I might have won if I’d played it more conservatively, but I guess that’s the surprise value gained from playing an unexpected card.
Game 2 I Cliqued him and saw 3 Urborg, Echoing Truth, Jitte, Mox, Explosives. I let him keep them. On his next turn he played the Jitte, and I Mana Leaked it, which let him resolve a Vampire Hexmage. After that he drew 3 Bitterblossoms in a row, and I countered the first two of them while racing his Hexmage with my Vendilion Clique and Mutavault. After seeing Rite of Consumption, Jitte, and Bitterblossoms, I thought maybe he wasn’t playing Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek, since I didn’t know where else he could have gotten all the space.
In game 3 I didn’t have any counters, so I was just playing really aggressively with a Mutavault and a Jitte, which let him make a 20/20 with Muddle backup, but I had 2 Repeals. By the time he made a second 20/20 I had Cryptic Command. Then he played Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek, but I had Spellstutter Sprite and he was dead to my next attack.
In round 13 I had a feature match against Dredge and lost game 1 very quickly.
Game 3 I kept a 7 card hand with Leyline of the Void, Spell Snare, Spellstutter Sprite, Jitte, and only one land. I didn’t hit my second land for a few turns, and the next lands also came slowly, and he was able to beat me with 1/1s.
In round 14 I played against Zoo, and he lead with Loam Lion. I Thoughtseized him and his spells were Lightning Bolt, Tarmogoyf, and Knight of the Reliquary. I took Tarmogoyf and passed with two mana up the next turn, and Mana Leaked his Knight, then I Smothered his Loam Lion and Thoughtseized him. He hadn’t drawn another creature, so I just took his Lightning Bolt. After that I played Mutavault, Jitte, and Bitterblossom and he ran out of removal for my tokens with Jitte eventually.
In game 2 I had Deathmark into Smother into Bitterblossom and Mutavault, then I was able to double-block one Loam Lion and Repeal his other, and then I had a pair of Spellstutter Sprites and overran him with Faeries.
Game 2 I had to keep another bad Leyline hand, and I didn’t draw Black mana, so he eventually dealt with the Leyline and beat me.
Game 3 I kept a Thoughtseize, Bitterblossom hand and he kept a hand that had an answer to Leyline, but didn’t really do anything. I didn’t have Leyline anyway, and my tokens were able to kill him even though Stinkweed Imp that I couldn’t kill without letting him dredge made it slow.
I was very happy with the list, and I don’t know that I’d change anything if I played it again (which seems likely). If you don’t desperately want to play Faeries, I don’t particularly recommend it. I think it’s good enough and I can play it well, and I don’t feel like I know any other Extended deck well enough, but I don’t really think it’s the best deck in Extended.
If you do just like to play Faeries though, I think this list has made a lot of really good changes from where I was before, and I highly recommend taking the changes very seriously. I really liked only having 2 Mana Leaks and 2 Cryptic Commands, and 4 Smothers are a must, and I was happy with Jace Beleren.
I’ve just gotten back into the United States and I’m about to leave for Brussels. Still two more weeks of Grand Prix tournaments to go. Wish me luck.
Thanks for reading…