Deconstructing Constructed – Faeries: The Reckoning

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At California States, I’d say there was a hefty chunk of Blue decks complimented by a bunch of Tarmogoyf decks. At the upper tables you could see Cryptic Command being flung around in practically every other match, probably more during the later rounds. A huge number of Teachings and Pickles decks were hanging around the top twenty tables or so, many of which looked like the TSP Block Pickles decks but with Cryptic kicked in…

Things I did at California States this weekend:

Play Lorwyn Draft
Eat awesome Burritos
Loan out cards
Watch LSV play in States and smash
Watch my Faeries deck make Top 8 in the hands of someone else

Things I did not do:

Play in States

Why didn’t I play at States? There are two reasons, and I’ll clear them right now. The first is because I couldn’t get the cards I needed to play Faeries in time. One of my friends offered to ship me the deck earlier, but I had been too wishy-washy in my choices and by the time I settled on the deck, it was too late. Even though I could pick up about 90% of the deck, a full set of Cryptic Command and Secluded Glen eluded me. Too many of us wanted to play Blue, and we could only scrounge up so many sets of the Blue Command.

I then audibled over to R/G Aggro, but unfortunately once we got to States, one of my friends realized his deck wasn’t all that hot. I gave him the R/G deck, since he’s loaning me half the cards for that anyway and I would’ve felt like crap not giving it to him. The second reason I didn’t play at States was because of the lackluster prize structure. Why bother sinking 25 bucks into an eight round tourney (We had 200+ people) when Top 8 gets a box apiece? Woo. Although I’ve heard other States cut the prizes down even lower… it just reminds me of what a worthless tournament States is.

The tournament is fun and all, but when you’re dealing with no invites or byes being given out of any sort, one would figure the prize / monetary structure would be far more slanted towards the players. Would it really kill the TOs to kick in two boxes for the top couple of slots; does the soul really die if you could give out more than a crappy foil version of Dora the Explorer? At worst (or cheapest, depending on your POV), just kick in a couple of byes to Regionals for the Top 8 or 16 players at States.

Tournament Highlights and Lowlights
Even though I didn’t get to play in States, I got to exchange ideas and help a fair number of people before the tournament. When I was walking around the top tables around round 4 or 5, I got to see some of my article efforts at work. At table 2, Steve Edelson was playing a maindeck card for card copy of my Faeries deck and kicking plenty of… what’s the word you English blokes use, Craig? Fanny? [Definitely not. — Craig, amused.]

Anyway, Steve was doing very well with the deck and had come up with quite a good sideboard for the actual field. He ended up making the Top 8 at 6-1-1, only losing to a Snow Red deck and a few misplays. Although he didn’t win California States, I was happy to see someone do well with the deck.

For the record, this is what I jotted down from his sideboard:

4 Phyrexian Ironfoot
3 Venser, Shaper Savant
4 Terror (These are awesome and I’m sorry I missed mentioning them in my article)
2 Wydwen, the Biting Gale
2 Flashfreeze

As for the field itself here, I’d say there was a hefty chunk of Blue decks complimented by a bunch of Tarmogoyf decks. At the upper tables you could see Cryptic Command being flung around in practically every other match, probably more during the later rounds. A huge number of Teachings and Pickles decks were hanging around the top twenty tables or so, many of which looked like the TSP Block Pickles decks but with Cryptic kicked in; while the Teachings decks mainly resembled Chapin’s last two builds. Of special note, a set of players seemingly took the same U/W Mesa deck to States. Although a number of them looked to be knocked out by Round 7, I think one or two were still in contention.

The number of Goyf decks around was pretty staggering, with a hefty dosage or R/G, B/G, B/G/x and R/G/W running around. In addition to these, there were a large number of aggro control decks floating around, including U/B Faeries, Merfolk, U/G Garruk, B/U/G Bass (Bigger Fish), and a few other niche designs. As for Tribal aggro that just beat down, the main winners seemed to be Elves and B/R Goblins. Elves turned out to be a solid choice, especially those splashing Black for Slaughter Pact and Thoughtseize. It was one of the few decks that could out-muscle the other Green decks and not automatically roll over to control, thanks to Masked Admirers and the larger elves.

TurboFog was pretty much a disaster for many; I saw one in contention after round 5.

For those who want more specifics on what did well, from what I understand (and if anyone was there and I’m mistaken, please correct me), our Top 8 was the following:

Aggro R/G Tokens (Winner) — This was effectively an evolution of the R/G token deck that had been making the rounds on MTGO. Empty the Warrens was added to the deck, and even played at 2-3 Storm could create a very scary army in a short period of time. It also ran the usual token suspects like Siege-Gang Commander, Gaea’s Anthem, and Overrun, along with burn. I believe I actually got to meet the guy piloting it, as he smashed my friend Justin’s Pickles towards the end of the Swiss rounds.

B/G Rock — This ran Plague Sliver. 5/5s apparently smash for a lot in this format, and at a much easier casting cost than Doran.

3 Relic Teachings decks — The usual suspects

Snow Red — Looked like a card for card copy of Bill Stark’s deck, except with a different board. For those who haven’t seen it, the deck is effectively board control utilizing the snow-Scrying Sheets engine and featuring Skred, Molten Disaster, and other burn to go along with Stuffy Doll and Chandra Nalaar as finishers.

U/B Faeries — My maindeck and Steve’s modded sideboard.

U/W/R Blink — Now this was interesting compared to much of the field. It used Galepowder Mage and Momentary Blink along with the usual Blink cards for some abusive turns. Unfortunately, other than the basic Blink components and Galepowder Mage, I don’t know much about the deck, so hopefully some people will share, as it was quite a unique deck.

As for awesome plays, I saw one that made me smile. The friend to which I loaned the R/G deck is paired up against a Kavu Justice player; the Kavu player lays down turn 2 Mire Boa, followed up by a turn 3 Kavu Predator and turn 4 Fiery Justice to sweep the board. The now 9/9 Kavu Predator and Boa swing in for eleven, and it looks as if the game is over, since R/G only has a Goblin token left and the Kavu player has twelve life.

My friend untaps, plays his land for the turn, and casts Threaten on Kavu Predator. Bash for ten with Big Preds and the Goblin token, Tarfire, good game. That’s what you get for playing lifegain!

As for lowlights… well, some players thinking Greater Gargadon wouldn’t come into play against Gaddock Teeg springs to mind. Another would be the Teachings player who tried to Slaughter Pact Garruk; failing this, he proceeded to attempt a Disenchant on it, despite having just heard the explanation as to what a Planeswalker essentially was. My friend Justin also realized the tech of not passing the turn before Brine locking an opponent. Yeah… “End my Turnn…nnerrr… wait a second” is still going to be interpreted as a pass by most people.

Impression From The Tournament
There was a huge quantity of Planeswalkers at States, and I expect people to quickly make up for their interpretations of the Planeswalker subtypes as limited. Garruk Wildspeaker was heavily played in Green decks, and is one of the best ways to win an attrition war. Following Garruk, Chandra was seemingly the most played. This came as surprise to me, but a large amount of Red decks were running Chandra as a valid board option, since if she isn’t countered she threatens to blow up the opponent in three turns. Having some non-creature or a “big burn” spell option for the late-game seems critical for a number of Red (non-R/G) aggro decks to close the game out.

Then comes the Planeswalker that I figured would be one of the best by default, Jace Beleren. Unfortunately for Jace, many people still consider Aeon Chronicler in the maindeck far before Jace, largely for the unkillable aspect of having a Phyrexian Arena. He still wrecked a number of control matches, and I even saw the mill ability end a couple of Teachings mirror matches. Control players really need to run maindeck options to trump Jace, especially if they don’t fully embrace Cryptic Command, just because U/W and other control decks are going to grow in popularity.

As for Ajani Goldmane and Liliana Vess, they were seemingly the odd man out of the cycle, seeing limited play and not really being featured in many good decks. My guess is people just haven’t fully put together decks to abuse Vampiric Tutor, and hence why Liliana failed. The White guy… the main problem versus Garruk seems to be that Garruk has two or more abilities that help a certain type of archetype. Ajani only has one major ability when played in aggro, and a major / minor ability in control decks.

So basically three of the four baselines I laid out about a month ago were all legitimate issues. My fourth baseline should have been “a deck must be able to deal with a Cryptic Command control deck.” Since Pickles, Teachings with Cryptic Command, and other Cryptic Command decks made major impacts across the States Top 8s.

Otherwise from early reports I’ve seen, it looks like we’ll have a nice diverse season coming up. If I had to prepare for another Standard tournament immediately, my gauntlet would probably look something like this:

Aggro: R/G Aggro, B/G Goyf, and Elves!
Aggro-Control: Mannequin, Faeries, and at least one type of Blink deck
Control: Teachings, Pickles, and U/W Mesa (or Snow Red)

The Aggro side covers the efficient guys plus burn package with Gruul. Martyr of Ashes is still insane, and Threaten is ridiculous at the moment, so I’d suggest people run that maindeck. Elves still seems like the best swarm Aggro, with a trump and the maximum amount of huge guys (Wren’s Run Vanquisher, Packmaster, and Garruk) without a Lord being present. B/G Goyf, The Rack or no, is the one good deck to bring discard to the table, as well as up to twelve huge guys (along with Garruk if it wants).

Aggro-Control covers my favorite pet deck, which I think is one of the closest analogues to Fish or U/G Madness in this format. Play a lot of annoying guys and then counter the other guy out of the game. Mannequin is the U/B or U/W/B “evoke into Makeshift Mannequin” deck that seemed to pick up a lot of steam right before States. The ability to lay Shriekmaw and Mulldrifter and bring them back at such a cheap cost at instant speed is not to be underestimated. In addition it has a ton of room for other solid creatures like Shadowmage Infiltrator, Phyrexian Ironfoot, etc, depending on the aggression in the exact build. It’s also one of the few decks that can bring Profane Command to the table with devastating effect. Blink decks are all over the place, but all have the same general gameplan, so you want at least one to see if you can beat repeated uses of 187 creatures.

As for control… well, you know the drill with Teachings. Pickles with Cryptic Command has been positioned superbly, considering it can bash most slower aggro decks and then lock them while running enough counters to easily trump most opposing control decks. U/W Mesa is the new challenger and is typically built to be anti-creature control more so than Teachings, but can be established to run 8-12 counters like Pickles. You likely want one type of this deck just to get used to dealing with non-Green Planeswalkers and Sacred Mesa. That said, you could also replace it with Snow Red if you feel it’s more suited for the current metagame, because both decks slant heavily towards anti-aggro strategies.

That’s all for this week. I’m still tired from running around for five days straight, so this will be a little shorter than normal. Next week hopefully more information will be up, so we can look at some of the more interesting decks from States.

Again, props to Steve for making Top 8 with Faeries, and to anyone else got there with the deck.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom