Chatter of the Squirrel – So Ya Wanna Beat Faeries?

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Wednesday, July 9th – As long as Faeries is reacting to you, you’re winning. If they don’t get an opportunity to use their Blossom as more than Forcefield, or deploy a Scion, or stick a Mistbind, they are going to be backpedaling. Cryptic Command is insane, but it’s only going to stabilize them if they’ve already got a relevant board presence.

So I broke every known Constructed format with pretty much the nut list of Ponza:

4 Canadian Bacon
4 Sausage
4 Tomato
4 Mushroom
4 Pepperoni
4 Mozzarella
4 Snow-covered Mozzarella*
2 Chocolate Milkshake**
30 Delicious, fried, Calzone-like crust

Yes, boys, it’s true: at long last, courtesy of Kowal, SummerFest, and a Milwaukee Brewers baseball game, I got to taste the wondrous Epicurean delight that is the Ponza Rotta at Jimmy’s Grotto, Waukesha, WI.

There are no words. I’m at the library writing this, and I actually timed out the 15-minute “no activity” limit trying to find a way to describe how utterly insane this dish tastes. Suffice to say that all the Shocks, Incinerates, Stone Rains, Avalanche Riders, and Lightning Dragons in the world can’t hold a candle to the sheer facesmashery that is one of these items. And don’t you even think of eating it with a fork. Burrito that sucker, grab a wad of napkins, and you’re off to the races.

The original plan was to do a “tournament report” of this weekend, since I had three days off to do essentially nothing but play Magic, hang out with Luce Scholars, and avoid speaking the Indonesian language. Unfortunately, the “playing Magic” bit got totally blown out by:

1) The “Frida Gigantic” at Frida’s, or more properly, the half-price Margarita special that applied to all sizes of drinks Thursday night. Man oh man. Sixty-seven is a lot of ounces, even to split with world-renowned crepe-flipper and noted kangaroo jockey Sean Colenso-Semple. Add to that an entire pitcher of Strawberry-Raspberry, since somebody, whose name is certainly neither Noah nor Jenna, couldn’t finish what they started***, and a Caipirinha, because it sounded like “Pirhana,” and because Anne was showing it who was boss, and I was Ccertainly not doing any drafting later on that night.
2) Independence Day. I figure I spend most of my life being unpatriotic – hating George Bush, and ergo hating freedom, cute bunnies, and low prices – so I had to make up for it with a bevy of classically American activities. Between hot dogs, baseball, apple pie, and a stalwart refusal to speak another language, there was just no time to sling a spell.
3) Summerfest. I mean. Largest music festival in America, and Carly Taylor. Despite the fact that I endured two hours of a U2 cover band snapping MySpace-style arm-extended self-portrait photos in the middle of an overwrought “Sunday Bloody Sunday” – an anguish made up for by insanely good chats with Madison upstart and Grand Prix standout Ben Rasmussen – the onslaught of sheer sonic diversity meant that any Saturday gaming would be out of the picture as well.

I could write a pretty epic play-by-play of one of the closer games of Stone Age in recent memory, or of an ultra-competitive Bocce showdown that nearly resulted in over $20,000 of property damage, but that’s better on-camera and for right now I’m strictly print. Instead, I get to talk – yay! – about Block Constructed.

Adrian hates this format, but I think there’s a lot of room for innovation within a certain set of parameters. The problem with most of the fun things, though, is that Faeries can simply say “no!” to most of it. If you’re going to get a leg up on the opposition, then, the first place to start is to figure out how to get that edge on Faeries.

Given that Green is a largely underexplored color in this format, many of the decks-in-development feature the card Firespout as an anti-Kithkin and anti-Faeries measure in some way, shape, or form. Yet many decks wind up siding out the Spout against Faeries, while others (such as Richard Feldman Triple Tribe) claim it as one of their most potent cards. Clearly, the potential to reset the board and gain card advantage for the low price of 2G is worth looking at, and coupled with Cloudthresher would represent a very good number of ways to kill each and every member of Faeries’ air force. So what’s the difference?

The key, when you’re using Firespout against Faeries, is that you absolutely cannot rely upon it as a defensive measure.

The reason? It’s just too easy to refill their side of the table. They can drop a Scion or occasionally a Clique at your end-step, their Bitterblossom keeps pumping out guys, and the good ol’ Mistbind Clique survives your pseudo-Wrath intact. No, any attempt to use it exclusively to stabilize is doomed to failure.

Offensively, though, it’s a different story. Here, you’re not trying to clear a board, you’re just trying to win a race. You’re casting a 2G Plague Wind and then swinging through with a sizable team – a team that, previously, could have been blocked or even killed by a horde of tokens backed by Scion. Or, you’re reclaiming your biggest man from Temptation while using the opportunity they’ve presented by tapping out to force through damage. In short – and I’m sure it’s no surprise to be hearing me say this – Firespout is effective against Faeries when it is being used to gain initiative, to wrest their deck from the driver’s seat and to start dictating your own pace. One of the strongest plays Sam’s and my Five-Color Doran deck had against any archetype was Firespout into Doran. All of the sudden, the opponent was facing death in four short turns with absolutely zero permanents on the table.

By constructing your deck such that Firespout is turned into an offensive weapon, you enable your deck to run a card that is backbreaking against 60% of the field as opposed to one that is simply a necessity versus Kithkin.

The second thing you have to do is that you have to present a threat every turn. This is somewhat different from what I hear a lot of people saying, which is, “you have to present multiple threats in a turn.” Presenting multiple threats in a turn is in fact a beating against Faeries – but sometimes it isn’t feasible. You’re fine presenting one threat a turn – so long as the cards are actually threats. The problem with getting your Colossus countered, then your Thresher countered, and then sticking a Doran is that Doran isn’t a threat at this point in time. You have to continually present threats. Doran is going to get chumped by Faerie tokens or tapped by Pestermites (if they’re running that card) or stolen by a Sower or even blocked by a Clique of some variety while you die in the air to a burgeoning swarm of pesky pseudo-insects.

As long as Faeries is reacting to you, you’re winning. If they don’t get an opportunity to use their Blossom as more than Forcefield, or deploy a Scion, or stick a Mistbind, they are going to be backpedaling. Cryptic Command is insane, but it’s only going to stabilize them if they’ve already got a relevant board presence. You’re accepting that most of the time they’re casting it, they’re gaining some kind of advantage, so when they Dismiss one of your spells that’s just the way it’s got to be.

How do you present more relevant “threats,” then? Well, one way is to start earlier. Doran on turn 6 gets blocked or stolen, but Doran on turn 3 is an entirely different story. Ditto a Stalwart on turn 1, a Vanquisher on turn 2, or a Colossus on turn 3 (I hope you’ve got that Broken Ambitions – and if I’ve got Devoted Druid, that won’t even necessarily help you).

Aside on Chameleon Colossus: Pump that guy. I don’t care that they’re showing 1UUU. Let’s set up some scenarios:

1) You pump him, they Cryptic, they draw a card. Man, that bites. They get to untap, and that guy is in your hand.
2) You don’t pump him, they take 4, you say go. They Cryptic him and draw a card. Man, that bites. They get to untap, and that guy is in your hand.
3) You don’t pump him, they take four, you play a guy. They Cryptic him and bounce your Colossus. Man, that bites. They get to untap, and that guy is in your hand.

Clearly, them having Command is terrible for you any way you look at it. But saving the mana to cast a spell in your second main is far and away the worst situation for you. All of the sudden you’re down a threat, and your Colossus is in your hand. Your being down a threat is worse for you by several orders of magnitude than them having a random card, because a) your threat is definitely relevant, whereas their card could be an excess land, an excess Sprite, whatever, and b) they still have to expend the resources to make use of that card, whereas you’ve already spent the resources to cast your threat, and they’ve dealt with it already.

If you don’t pump and just pass, they take 4, but 16 is effectively the same as 20 from this position, and you’ve lost a tremendous upside. To wit: they take eight, then they take eight, and then they’re either dead or might as well be. Even if they rip the Sower or Cryptic or whatever when they’re on four, all of the sudden their Bitterblossoms are terrible, every one of your threats is relevant, and you can kill them with two Threshers. So yeah. Pump your Changelings.

Okay. So. The other way to present more threats is to make sure a higher density of your cards are actually threats in the first place. Faeries will be able to neutralize a random ground-pounder at some point in the game, and will render it nearly useless. But a Chameleon Colossus, an Oversoul of Dusk, a Reveillark, a Scarblade Assassin, a Knollspine Invocation, all of these cards are going to be extremely potent no matter when you cast them. Ditto a Blowfly Infestation… do you understand how problematic that card is for a Faerie deck? Nice Bitterblossom.

Finally, a great way to beat Faeries is to lower your curve. I mentioned earlier that playing multiple threats in a turn is insane against Faeries, but it’s also quite the vicious beating when they’re able to do it to you. Broken Ambitions for one into Scion, or Spellstutter into either Clique, is often a whole lot of damage out of nowhere. A lower curve means they’re going to have to Ambitions for more, sure, but it’s also going to mean that whatever they plan on playing to deal with your first threat, they’ve got to take into account the possibility that you’ve got more threats at the ready for them to deal with once they commit to the first. Even if their plan for your first threat is a Combat-step Mistbind Clique to Plumeveil it, having mana open means that all of the sudden you’re able potentially to kill the Clique in response. The bottom line is that they have to think about more possibilities for the game to slip out of their control, or out of their reach, and that presents them from developing their game plan at their pace.

Alright, we’re off to volley some balls in the name of Gajah Gemuk, the gloriously-deemed and aptly-descriptive Indonesian intramural sports team. Go fat elephants! Ayo! Ayo! Ayo!


Look forward to seeing some of y’all at next week’s prerelease,


* How else to get “extra mozzarella” but not break the four-of limit?
** The other 2 went to Kowal
*** Jen – please don’t slit my throat, I will never ever ever ever stay up talking on the phone ‘til 2am ever again ever, now please let me out of this cage and put down the knife pretty pretty please?