Black Magic – The Future of Faeries

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Wednesday, June 23rd – New Extended is here, and everyone seems keen on resurrecting the scourge of Standard Past: the dreaded Faeries. Sam Black, a proponent of the Fae throughout their Standard tenure, examines his Faerie philosophy in order to create his optimal Blue/Black build.

You’d think that an announcement that almost every deck in Extended other than the one I wanted to play is no longer legal would be the best possible news for me, but I’m not sure yet. I like playing Faeries a lot more when I get to target the top decks, rather than having everyone else target me, and as a result I’m actually less confident that I’ll be playing Faeries in Amsterdam than I was when I thought it was going to be Old Extended. On the other hand, I’m fairly sure it will be played by more people now than it would have been, and that gives me the perfect excuse to write about one of my favorite subjects: the details of building a Faerie deck!

At least two before me have given lists for Faeries in the New Extended on this site, both as starting point stock lists to battle against. I want to really focus on the card choices available, and besides, I don’t really like the other lists.

Faeries at this point has a lot of cards to work with and a lot of play in exactly which kinds of answers it wants, so it’s hard to pin down an exact list without knowing the opponents. I’m going to discuss my thought process, what cards I want, and what I want the deck to be doing. Then I’ll give a possible sample list, but I think it’s better if you know how essential I consider each of the cards first.

I should start with my typical disclaimer about Faeries: I consider Faeries to be a deck with a huge amount of play. Cryptic Command is several different cards, and some people are more likely to use some modes more often than others. In general, you have to script a game plan and that requires a lot of familiarity with the feel of your deck. You have to know what kinds of things you can draw and what pace you’re trying to play. The more aggressively you like to play, for example, the less you need to be able to survive Bitterblossom being in play for several turns, which means you can afford to spend life on Thoughtseize. If you like to sit back and play a little more cautiously, those extra points might be a lot more valuable. Are you going to sit on Cryptic Command forever to try to get maximum value and play around everything, or are you going to fire it off at the end of their fourth turn if they pass to bounce a land and get further in your deck? Both are legitimate plans, and it’s very difficult to know which will be best in any given game, so it’s best to know how you’re generally going to lean and build a deck that plays well for that style. Understanding all of that, you have to realize that I’m building MY Faerie deck for the way I’m used to playing it. I know that I want different cards than Paulo, for example, and that there are some matchups where we’ll sideboard very differently. I don’t think either of us is wrong to build the deck the way we do. There’s a chance that one of is wrong to err the way we do when we play the deck, but the most important thing, if you don’t have time to teach yourself to play the deck in a different way than you naturally would, is to play at deck that naturally fits your play style. In short, your mileage may vary on these card choices.

Bitterblossom, Spellstutter Sprite, Mistbind Clique: These three cards represent the tribal synergy I’m trying to build around. Bitterblossom is an automatic four-of in any metagame where this deck is remotely playable, as the only time I wouldn’t want all four is against some particularly burn-heavy builds of Red. If I expected enough of that to influence my main deck choices, my main deck choice would be to play some White cards. In the past, I’ve seen people play 3 Spellstutter Sprites. I believe LSV did it at Nationals in 2008. I’ve never been one of those people, nor do I intend to start being one of those people. This is even truer in a format where our options for countering spells are as limited as they are now that we’ve lost Mana Leak, Rune Snag, and Condescend. Mistbind Clique is an essential part of the engine, and absolutely necessary to turn off a Bitterblossom at some point in a format with this little access to life gain (which is to say, a format without Umezawa’s Jitte). I could imagine playing as few as two Mistbind Cliques for curve concerns, but I can’t imagine forgoing this option entirely.

Ancestral Vision: Sometimes people don’t play this card in aggressive Blue decks. Sometimes Ponder is chosen over it in Merfolk. Sometimes people cut one because they don’t really want to draw two. Again, those people are never me. I’d like the Ancestrals, please.

Cryptic Command: Last season, Zoo was a big enough threat that I had to cut a Cryptic Command because it was just too slow in that matchup. I was amazed when I found myself doing that, as I didn’t think it was ever a card I’d want fewer than four copies. I can’t imagine this new format being fast enough to force me to give up a Cryptic Command again, and I’ll definitely play four.

Spot removal: I want 3-5 one- and two-mana instants that kill creatures in my maindeck. Essence Scatter counts, but I wouldn’t want to rely entirely on that. We have a lot of very similar options available:

Disfigure – When the primary creature you need to kill ISN’T a one mana three-toughness creature, this card gets a lot more realistic. Kird Ape and Loam Lion won’t be everywhere, and spending only one mana to trade with a card in play is pretty exciting. This will kill Putrid Leech, as they’re never going to play around it, and it will kill Bloodbraid Elf. It will also kill any Faerie other than Mistbind Clique, and it will kill all the important Red creatures. It’s also a good answer to any accelerator and Qasali Pridemage. This is a card that people haven’t been talking about nearly as much as they should.

Peppersmoke – I LOVE a Peppersmoke. Seriously. It hurts me every time I have to register a Faeries deck without four in the 75. The more Faeries you expect, the more you want this card. The more Noble Hierarchs, or better yet, Lotus Cobras you expect, the more you want this card. Hellspark Elemental? Ball Lightning? Figure of Destiny? Magus of the Scroll? Cunning Sparkmage? I’m even thrilled to have this against a Spectral Procession. I don’t even mind if I have to do some work with a Mutavault or Faerie token to get value out of this card, it almost always pays off for me. It’s not as important in a world where you have Ancestral Vision to get ahead, but it’s still so insane so often, and after Ancestral Vision rotates, you’ll have to be a bit better at grinding, and this is an excellent card to turn to. Note that because Peppersmoke cycles, I don’t really consider it one of the 3-5 removal slots, but this is the best place to talk about it.

Smother – When I saw people listing Doom Blade or Agony Warp as the default kill spell, I was shocked. Doran and Putrid Leech are serious problems, especially for Doom Blade. Agony Warp is insane when you get value out of it, but don’t you think you need to be able to kill Tarmogoyf, Knight of the Reliquary, or Woolly Thoctar every time? In the last Extended season, I had 4 Smother as my only main deck removal spell and never gave it a second thought. If it costs more than three mana, you can probably deal with it with a Cryptic Command. This is a new format though, so I think it’s worth considering when Doom Blade would be better and when Smother would be better, and if it’s close, I’m in favor of splitting them up in some way:

Doom Blade kills: Bloodbraid Elf, Baneslayer Angel, Gideon Jura, Mistbind Clique, Sower of Temptation, Reveillark, Cloudthresher, Siege-Gang Commander, Cloudgoat Ranger

Smother kills: Putrid Leech, Doran, Faerie Token, Creeping Tar Pit, Gatekeeper of Malakir, Sprouting Thrinax, Ashenmoor Gouger, Tidehollow Sculler

Doom Blade obviously kills more impressive creatures, but really, killing a Bloodbraid doesn’t get me that far, and most of the others are cards that either aren’t good against me or, in the case of the last several, killing them isn’t good enough. I feel like I can rely on Cryptic Command for these problems. Smother kills the cards I’m more afraid of losing to. If I was going to mix it up, I’m pretty sure I’d prefer a Smother/Disfigure mix to a Smother/Doom Blade mix.

Remove Soul – That list had several creatures that are much better to kill before they enter play. I hate how narrow this card is as counters go, but our options are very limited unless M11 turns up to offer something awesome, which I’d offer heavy odds against given the other directions they seem to be pushing Blue in the set so far. Still, I have at least 8 counters with Spellstutter Sprite and Cryptic Command, and I’m reasonably likely to have access to discard, so I’d rather these slots be for dealing with the threats that sneak through. I’ll have other ways to deal with the cards I can’t let hit play.

These are the most essential components, but they’re not a full deck. The other cards I want are just cards I want; none of them are filling necessary roles in the way of the cards above.

More Faeries in some form are almost certainly required. Vendilion Clique was the default extra Faerie in Extended while Scion of Oona filled that role in Standard. It’s important to understand why each was used in each format to understand what to do here. In Standard, Vendilion Clique had the problem of matching up extremely poorly against opposing Bitterblossom tokens, and given how common the mirror was, that was unacceptable, particularly given how backbreaking a timely Scion of Oona could be. Also, without access to any way to gain life, one runs a serious risk of losing to their own Bitterblossom. Fortunately, if Bitterblossom has been in play for several turns, there’s a good chance Scion of Oona will just kill your opponent. Meanwhile, in Extended, Umezawa’s Jitte solved the problem of needing to kill the opponent quickly and played poorly with giving your creatures Shroud. Moreover, there have always been several combo decks that Vendilion Clique is huge against, which has been less of a factor in Standard.

I believe the conditions of this new Extended format will more closely reflect Standard, and I would intend to play 4 Scion of Oona and only 0-2 Vendilion Clique.

At some point, which happens to be exactly round 3 of Worlds 2008, I realized how good Jace Beleren is in Faeries, and never really looked back. When I first saw Jace appear in some lists from some Japanese Block Constructed GPs, I didn’t really get it. It was only when I played against it in the mirror, and saw how powerful the +2 ability was that I finally understood. In Standard, a Howling Mine that functionally cantripped for one extra mana would almost be good enough by itself because Faeries scale up in power level with additional Faeries better than other decks, and this meant that you were much better equipped to take advantage of extra cards than an opponent. The fact that Jace almost always ends up granting some actual card advantage eventually just makes it amazing. People will naturally try to put Jace, the Mind Sculptor, one of the best cards ever, into Faeries, where the ability to return your own creature to your hand is potentially exciting, but I believe this is doing it wrong on every level.

Faeries doesn’t want more four-drops of any kind, especially sorcery speed ones. Yes, you can make the argument that it’s just taking Sower of Temptation’s spot in the old decks, but that’s just not where I want to be. Jace Beleren is not merely “good enough,” but it’s ALMOST better to have in play, ignoring the casting cost difference. Returning your own Mistbind Clique or Spellstutter Sprite to your hand is cute, but are you ever really going to want to -1 your Jace and set yourself back on the board rather than just trying to draw another one when you don’t already more or less have the game locked up? Obviously 0: Brainstorm is much better than -1: Draw a card, but in most matchups those abilities are most often happening when either A: You’re just trying to cycle your planeswalker, or B: You have the game functionally under control and you just need a way to pull ahead, where either will be more than enough. The important part is that Jace Beleren has a better +2 ability in this deck than Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and I would like to use my +2 ability at least half the time I’m activating my planeswalker. Really, the only reason I’d rather have The Mind Sculptor in play is the ability to bounce my opponent’s creatures, but that’s mostly just making up for the extra mana I paid and cutting into my card advantage.

Give me the old Jace in Faeries every time, and that’s before even considering how disgustingly far ahead you are in the mirror if they have the wrong one.

Thoughtseize is a tricky one. Generally best against your best matchups and worst against your worst matchups, it’s not a card that’s well positioned in that way. On the other hand, it is a very powerful effect at a very low cost. I really hate to give away my precious life points with this deck, and drawing two is almost always disappointing. I prefer to keep some of these in the sideboard, but I definitely want access to the full amount.

If I’m so attached to my precious life points, you probably want me to consider Duress or Inquisition of Kozilek. First of all, I really hate missing. Thoughtseize already often goes dead eventually, and that’s bad enough for me. The fact that either of those other cards can realistically miss against an opening hand from a deck I’d want it against, like the mirror (Inquisition literally taking nothing in the mirror on turn 1 would indicate that they kept a pretty terrible hand, but there are times when the card you want most, and by a long way, is their Cryptic Command) is really disheartening. With both of these cards, it’s far too easy for me to imagine needing to take the second best card when I really needed an answer to the best card. Actually, there’s a better way to explain this.

The reason I wanted Jace Beleren is so that I could force both of us to draw. I’m often not trying to empty my opponent’s hand; I’m trying to play a tempo game. As such, taking a random card does almost nothing, I need to stop one exact play. Duress and Inquisition aren’t just a random card, clearly, but it’s unacceptable for them to ever take the second best card. If I was playing more of an attrition deck, I can imagine being happy to trade one mana for any arbitrary spell, but that’s not the case often enough here.

Counters: I’d like some more of them. I don’t need them. I was down to 2 Mana Leaks at the end of the last Extended Season, and since I only had 3 Cryptics, this meant I only had 9 counters in my deck. If the counters available just aren’t good enough, 8 is probably an acceptable number, but 10-12 would make me happier. Considering our options, the outlook is bleak. We have Negate, Essence Scatter/Remove Soul, Countersquall, Broken Ambitions, Deprive, and a bunch of 3 mana counters (Dream Fracture and Faerie Trickery are better than CancelSage’s Dousing is also probably better than Cancel). Of those, Broken Ambitions is the card I’m most comfortable playing main, although it pains me that countermagic has come to this in Extended. Faerie Trickery is an exciting option to keep in mind for Punishing Fire and Vengevine. Shame about the mirror. I’d love to be able to play one of the card draw counters, but again, my primary fear with this deck is what my opponent does in the early turns. If I could play more removal,, I could see playing more counters that actually get me ahead (Sage’s Dousing), but it just doesn’t work, because then you don’t have room for the creatures you need for Sage’s Dousing to work. Maybe after we lose Ancestral Visions we’ll have more space and more need. Deprive is a reasonable one of, but it’s so bad to use on turns 2 and 3, which are the turns I most want an additional counterspell, as those are the turns I’m least likely to be able to use my other counters.


There’s a lot going on with the lands here.

First, let’s get the oft-forgotten Pendelhaven out of the way. This card is completely insane in this deck. Seriously, play one. Everyone forgets about it in their lists, and it’s just unacceptable. If you really don’t think you can afford to give up a single colored land, play it over a spell. This is particularly true if you’re playing Scion of Oona over Vendilion Clique, but it really doesn’t matter that much either way. The only question is whether you can afford a second one, and sadly, I think the answer is just barely “no.”

Next, the most important land: 4 Mutavault. I shouldn’t have to say anything about this, but I will. When people compare Faeries to other Blue/Black or other control decks, I feel like they often look at the spells, and forget how completely insane this land is. I’ve won an absurd number of games off Mutavault alone. I’m thinking specifically of comparing Faeries to Thopter/Depths last season. None of the spells were strong enough to convince me that giving up Mutavault was acceptable. The real reason Faeries was the best Standard deck was that it was the best Mutavault deck, and Mutavault was the best card in Standard. (It helped that all the other best cards were also in this deck.)

4 Secluded Glen is obvious, and another huge edge for Faeries. This is the card that lets the mana work well enough to support Ancestral Vision and Mutavault.

Next up, the dual lands that work to stop us from playing Ancestral Vision and Mutavault: River of Tears, Sunken Ruins, Creeping Tar Pit, and Drowned Catacombs all don’t play turn 1 Ancestral Visions. This means we have to be careful about how many of these we play.

Creeping Tar Pit is insanely powerful, but I hate lands entering the battlefield tapped in this deck. Every untapped land has value. Even if you don’t spend it, it’s an extra card they have to play around. Creeping Tar Pit would be a lot more valuable if we didn’t have Mutavault. It would be extremely valuable if we needed a good answer to planeswalkers. As is, we’re naturally the best deck in the format at dealing with planeswalkers, as we have evasive creatures and counterspells (incidentally, this is may be the biggest draw to play this deck, and also the biggest limiting factor that stops planeswalkers from dominating Extended the way they dominate Standard). Each additional manland after four has a lot less value than the previous one. I would stick with no more than 2 Creeping Tar Pits.

River of Tears is a very powerful dual land that does absolutely everything you want except cast Ancestral Vision on turn 1. It’s great at casting Blue spells any other turn, and all the Black except the removal are cheap sorceries, which is exactly what this card wants. I’d hope to be able to play four of these, but I could imagine a world in which fear of Magus of the Moon pushes us to try to minimize nonbasics that don’t help with Visions.

If we’re living in fear of Magus of the Moon, that means we’ll need multiple Swamps. The more Swamps we have, the more we’d like Sunken Ruins to cast Cryptic Command with those Swamps. Unfortunately, both of these cut into our non-Visions slots, which is what can chase out River of Tears. Sunken Ruins also gains a huge amount of value if we’re sideboarding multiple cards that cost xBB, like Infest, Damnation, Puppeteer Clique, or possibly even Gatekeeper of Malakir. (You have to kill Great Sable Stag somehow, though I prefer Consuming Vapors.)

Drowned Catacombs basically seems like a bad River of Tears unless we’re really worried about instant Black mana for some reason.

Underground River is a card that I’m extremely reluctant to play, but it can make some numbers work if you don’t use more than 1-2.

Tectonic Edge is a card that I would love as an answer to Grove of the Burnwillows, which also happens to be awesome against a variety of other decks. Unfortunately, I don’t think the mana can handle it. If you really wanted to push it, you could probably abandon Ancestral Vision and play a ton of duals to allow you to play Tectonic Edge, but I would need a really warped metagame to consider that seriously.

At around this point I’m starting to realize that I could probably happily write about Faeries every week from now until the PT, so I’m going to have to stop. Given the length I’m at already, and given how little is known about the opposition yet, I’m not going to go into much detail on the sideboard options. I still believe that a deck is 75 cards rather than 60, so I will include a sample starting sideboard:

And a bonus! If you’re trying to beat Faeries, play a Jund deck that can sideboard into something resembling this for games 2 and 3:

The stuff of nightmares…

Thanks for reading.