Deconstructing Constructed – Faeries Versus Aggro and Standard Thoughts

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Welcome back to the series on Faeries. This should be the last or next to last article I need to write on the subject, since I’ll basically have covered the majority of matches in Standard after this. I blame this recreation of My Fires (My Faeries! Roofles) on my obsession with aggro decks once I tweak them enough. If anyone playing Vintage remembers my 20 page Food Chain Goblins primer you can understand the detail I’ll go into if I think the deck is worthwhile.

Welcome back to the series on Faeries. This should be the last or next to last article I need to write on the subject, since I’ll basically have covered the majority of matches in Standard after this. I blame this recreation of My Fires (My Faeries! Roofles) on my obsession with aggro decks once I tweak them enough. If anyone playing Vintage remembers my 20 page Food Chain Goblins primer you can understand the detail I’ll go into if I think the deck is worthwhile.

On that note, I didn’t just do all that testing for nothing: I won a local City Champs tournament this weekend with UB Faeries, so at least I can make the deck work as well as others have the design. It also gave me some anecdotal evidence that the deck can beat aggro decks outside of testing against unknown builds and opponents. Today, we’ll be looking at five of the most popular / harder aggro decks to defeat with the deck; some results, observations and tactical strategies in the various aggro matches.

For reference, this is my list:

Index of Matches:

Elves (Mono G and G/B) — [E1]
Faeries (U/B and U/G) — [F1]
G/B Aggro — [G1]
Kithkin (W/G and Mono White) — [K1]
Red Decks (G/R, Mono Red and Skred Red) — [R1]

Although there’s quite a bit of variation amongst these lists, I typically picked a high finisher (either from GP: Krakow or States) and only made slight modifications that were generally agreed by “the majority.” Against archetypes that I didn’t have significant experience with or against and with single builds like Elves and such, I played 10 pre-board and 10 post-board*, alternating who goes first. Since that’s a ton of games and a good many of them were repeats or not very interesting, I’ll pick a few key games from each set and then go over the general observations and tactics used.

* See how helpful having more than a week to write an article is?

Elves [E1]
For Elves I picked the G/B version since it’s not only seemingly performed better at the various States tournaments, but in testing was just superior to the Mono-Green version.

Faeries begins the set on the play.
Results pre-board: 6-4 Faeries
Post-board 5-5 Split

Pre-Board Games:
Game 1: Despite getting an early Nightshade Stinger + Oona’s Prowler x2 start, Elves matches it card for card with Llanowar Elves, Wren’s Run Vanquisher, and Elvish Champion. Unfortunately for me, while my Prowlers get shrunk from ditched cards, the Elves on the board get bigger, meaning I’m losing the race despite the very aggressive start. A Cryptic Command on turn 5 balances things out by fogging a lethal attack and bouncing Elvish Champion back to hand.

At this point the board is this:

Turn 6
Faeries: 5 land (one Conclave), 2x Prowler, 1 Stinger; 9 life and 3 land in hand.
Elves: 5 land (One Treetop Village and Urborg), Llanowar Elves, Vanquisher, Elvish Champion; 7 life and a Nameless Inversion and an irrelevant card in hand.

Faeries draws a Pestermite, lays an Island, activates Conclave and attempts to swing for lethal. Inversion kills a Prowler and leaves Elves alive at one life. Elves draws a Forest for the turn, replays Elvish Champion, activates Treetop Village and attempts to swing back for lethal. Pestermite taps Vanquisher and Faeries lives through the turn at 4 life, swinging for the win the following turn.

Game 6: Elves gets off to a very strong start with a Vanquisher and subsequently three lords in a row being played. Rune Snag catches the first, but I quickly realize I can’t stop them all without Cryptic Command mana and lay Scion of Oona to try and play catch up. A Psionic Blast on an Imperious Perfect and subsequent Mistbind Clique and Cryptic Command buy me time, but ultimately the Elves player uses Terror and a fourth lord and completely overwhelms me. Ultimately without relevant early plays and the huge number of lords (Although Garruk would’ve been just as painful) this was not a game I could win on the draw.

Game 10: This I only include to make myself feel better. I mulligan to five, but I manage to go turn 2 Oona’s Prowler, turn 3 Scion of Oona, turn 4 Scion of Oona and race Elves because suddenly the saved up spot removal is worthless and without Vanquisher on turn 2, the deck takes some time to really ramp up the damage. 5/3 Prowler beats get me there. Again the inability from Elves to block or otherwise deal with my flyers outside a few targeted removal cards spells doom for the little Green men.

Post Board Games
Sideboard was the following:
-1 Psionic Blast, -3 Rune Snag, -3 Pestermite
+3 Flashfreeze, +4 Terror

Terror can take down the lord Elves which are the major problem when trying to race and Flashfreeze is just a better Rune Snag in this match. The number of times I’ve wanted to hit Black removal versus the usefulness of them not being able to pay two mana later in the game is far in favor of the latter. Pestermite leaves, because even though it’s a good combat trick, the ‘Mite is at an odd position on the mana curve where you really want to be casting Scion or holding mana open for Spellstutter Sprite. A single Psionic Blast leaves because it loses some amount of value in the match due to the wild life swings and the fact that you really can’t afford to take more creatures out.

You could take it a step further and remove all the Psionic Blast for the extra Sowers and a Wydwen, but in a fair amount of games you still want to race. Sower only helps with that under the assumption they don’t have removal of sorts or you can rob a Vanquisher. In large part stealing a lord sounds way cooler in theory than execution, I find with many Elves decks running 7-8, they can typically have a second one in play once you tap out; invalidating any real blocking potential the stolen lord has. Two is a nice number in that it doesn’t commit you to a hyper controlling role.

Game 2: Cloudthresher wrecks me

Game 5: Cloudthresher wrecks me

Game 8: Cloudthresher wrecks me

Basically I got raced in two games (one due to mana screw) and the other wins all came from Cloudthresher hitting when it would resolve and blow up at least half the guys in the deck. Awk.

Luckily for most Faeries players, this creature doesn’t see all that much play outside of R/G Mana Ramp, but if Faeries gets popular expect it to see more play. The upside is you can play around the card to some degree with the counters and if you have multiple Scion of Oona, not to mention it’s a hefty cost from the Elves deck making it a serious investment for them.

The rest of the games were surprisingly lopsided. I generally won any game Scion of Oona stuck on the board uncontested, and otherwise enjoyed a few sub-par draws from the Elves player where they simply came too slow out of the game.

Observations and Thoughts
The match is certainly not favorable by any stretch, but it also isn’t bad as I’ve heard a number of Elves players say. Simply put, Elves has two big advantages. One is that it can run eight lords which effectively cut the clock by a turn for every one they have in play. The second is that they have the capability to make your life miserable via sideboard options like Cloudthresher or Hail Storm. Even if they only nail two creatures or so, that’s a huge setback in a deck that only runs about 1/3rd creatures post-board.

Meanwhile, the elephant in the room Elves players tend to ignore is that you can effectively fog them until you win. A good Faeries draw means that the Blue flyers dictate combat terms for the rest of the game and can turn any lethal strikes into no-go’s via tap spells or a few flash blockers. Similarly, a good curve-out from Faeries is effectively the equivalent of a curve out draw from Elves.

Turn 1: 1/1 drop
Turn 2: 3 power drop
Turn 3: Lord

In a damage race this is the exact same opening from both decks, simply using different cards. However, Cryptic Command completely blows out a Green deck in a close race and they have absolutely no answer to it. Psionic Blast is another way to slide the damage race in Faeries favor.

Remember that damage capabilities are always the most relevant point in this match. Sometimes it’s worth giving up counter capability or a seemingly “better” play with more options early in the game to deal damage early via a main phase Scion or turn 3 Conclave activation and attack. This is because the more damage you do early on, the better the chance that giving up your smaller damage sources chump blocking buys you the time for either the larger threats like Mistbind Clique to come online or allow you to draw Cryptic Command or Psionic Blast to end the game.

Finally I’d like to say you should mulligan nearly any hand without a threat before turn 3. Such slow damage applying hands simply don’t work in this match no matter how much good stuff there is. Even a really pretty hand of, say, three land, Rune Snag, Scion, Cryptic, and Pestermite is almost always worse than three land, Stinger, Scion and any other non-land card. This is doubly true on the draw, where you have the ability to lose the game by falling behind in the damage race before you get to lay a card.

Faeries — [F1]
Okay, so U/B Faeries isn’t a match I test much, let alone wanting to play 20 games. However, I’ve played against the deck on MTGO and locally, against very similar copies of my version so I do have some experiences to share. Mirrors are generally all about ridiculous games, so even pointing out the notable ones are kind of a waste of time.

In large part U/B Faeries mirror matches come down to one of two modes:

1 — Someone curves out from turn 1 and another Faeries player is forced to match it or fall into a defensive position. In this case it’s usually best to trade early if possible before damage on the stack tricks become commonplace. So many players forget about backbreaking Clique or Cryptic Command play that it’s sad. Everyone knows how to play around Scion of Oona, but they forget about other combat tricks.

2. — Both Fairy decks enter a control match where you just want to test the other play with “end of turn” spells. In large part you want to try and sneak Nightshade Stinger or Spellstutter Sprite down to start pecking away at life. Most people are impatient and will eventually try to force something through they shouldn’t. Usually the person who waits here will be rewarded the most, because it allows you to set up a ridiculous chain of plays like EOT Mistbind Clique into either Sower of Temptation or Cryptic Command (this card is amazing even if it’s only bouncing + drawing in this match) backed by Sprite or Rune Snag.

In most cases either the key is just to stay patient unless you happen to have an excellent curve draw, in which case take the aggressor role and force the issue. In large part the best cards in the match are Pestermite, Scion of Oona, and Conclave. This is in no small part due to the fact that it won’t take up all your plays for a turn, unlike Clique and Cryptic Command. Doing the high-end spells EOT will take the sting off them, but it’s still easy to lose your big threats in this match-up or get countered by an opponent’s copy.

Against U/G Faeries however, there’s a significant difference. In fact out of a 10 game set against a modded version of the Krakow build (goodbye Wall of Roots!) the results were:

3-7 UG Faeries favor

And most of the games weren’t even close. Why you may ask? One card – Scryb Ranger

If you play U/B Faeries, this card is your bane and you’ll want to smash the nearest object when up against one with Pendlehaven or Scion of Oona out. Almost none of your creatures can pass though, the majority will straight up die to Scryb and even the Black creatures can’t beat the Scryb in combat! Also adding to the problem is that Treetop Village is better than Faerie Conclave since one is going to keep smashing face unless you’re willing to two for one it or can resolve Psionic Blast on it. Loxodon Warhammer is a bit clunky in the Faeries deck, but that doesn’t really matter if it somehow resolves, because it only takes a swing or two to gain a huge edge in life.

Really the one advantage you actually have in the match is that Cryptic Command is still completely ridiculous and that some of the U/G builds don’t run them. Really that’s the one bonus you get in this match. Otherwise my only advice is to draw well and sideboard in Terror; Pithing Needle as well due to Garruk Wildspeaker, Warhammer and Treetop Village. Usually Spellstutter Sprite leaves and the same goes for Psionic Blast. Terror kills most of what you’d kill Psionic Blast with and you need Rune Snag to stay in the deck to try and hit the aforementioned annoyances.

Boarding vs. U/G
-4 Psionic Blast -4 Spellstutter Sprite (These aren’t countering much sadly)
+4 Pithing Needle +4 Terror

Sower of Temptation is of questionable value as well, but typically if you steal a Scion or Clique you win the game on the spot so I keep it around for the threat.

G/B Aggro — [G1]
Look at the color combination; you know somebody will play this deck in one of its many variations. However the more popular type seem to be G/B aggro with or without The Rack versus the midrange builds some of the Japanese players like. For the 20 game set I played, I used Tiago Chan G/B build from his article covering GP: Krakow.

Pre-Board Games:
G/B starts first for the set.
Pre-board: 6-4 Faeries
Post-board: 4-6 G/B

Game 3: This is how I lose most of my games versus G/B, I get to lay my one drop for the turn and get blown out by Smallpox on turn two. I follow-up with Faerie Conclave, but Augur of Skulls gets dropped in the meantime. Basically after that I’m ridiculously far behind in mana development (2 lands ftl) and the Chan deck find Goyf in a hurry to crush my dreams.

Game 5: Despite being on the draw, I curve out with turn one Stinger and turn two Prowler. I just keep beating with these two, discard my extra land and useless Psionic Blast to Augur of Skulls and Stupor and simply counter his Tarmogoyf and Garruk with Rune Snag. The key difference between this and the games I lose on the draw? Smallpox didn’t blow me out of the building on turn two or three. Without that card I can get my beaters online and at least run out Rune Snag or Spite to counter if I need too.

Game 8: So there’s this card… called Damnation… and apparently if it resolves it blows up too many guys to beat Garruk Wildspeaker. Seeing any Counterspell in this game would’ve saved me, but unfortunately sometimes you just don’t get there. Essentially what happened was the Faeries aggro draw met the removal head-on and the follow-up Oona’s Prowler and Scion of Oona couldn’t beat the two elephants made by Garruk and Treetop Village in time.

Game 2: Faeries on the play. See this is how you hope to start in the face of discard. Turn one Stinger, turn two sit on Sprite and Snag, the opponent doesn’t play into Sprite so EOT flash it out for some damage added to the clock. After that spend consecutive Rune Snag on Smallpox and Stupor to keep the men alive and add another Nightshade Stinger to the crew.

Although dealing with the discard is good, the downside is you give up all instant speed fun tricks down the road except what you rip off the top of the deck. This means despite getting the G/B player to five life, a Damnation clears the board (leaving Conclave) and Goyf + Villlage to try and race me. Thankfully I draw Oona’s Prowler which chumps Goyf for a turn and I swing over with Concalve ftw.

Game 4: I get off to a strong Stinger, Prowler start and am sitting on Scion and Rune Snag. Unfortunately for me, on G/B third turn I get hit with Thoughtseize and Eyes of the Wisent. Normally not a big deal, but the follow-up Damnation pretty much stalls me at that point. The upside to this kind of draw is G/B will have very few threats to come back at you with; and sure enough the only thing left is Treetop Village leaving me on a seven turn clock. The problem? Eyes forces you to play a game you aren’t very good at. Pestermite and Cryptic Command suddenly become very awkward draws, because they lose a lot of value at sorcery speed. Meanwhile I’m left with the options of either trying to race (He is down to like 10 life) or stall and let him gain big elementals.

I choose the former and hope to draw more men. My hopes are sort of fulfilled when I draw Mistbind Clique, but against a deck that I know has Nameless Inversion it’s a bit of a hard sell to risk getting blown completely out. I just keep attacking with Pestermite hoping to win the race by one turn. Once he’s at four life and I’m at eight, he plays Garruk, which forces my hand with Cryptic Command. This opens up the Nameless Inversion he’s been holding and kills Pestermite. I fail to draw any creature to champion with Clique and die shortly after.

Game 5: I let Garruk Wildspeaker resolve and Pithing Needle him. I then Pithing Needle Treetop Village which reduces the discard’s deck offense to zero, which means even with only two 1/1’s beating down for eight turns, I win easily.

Game 6, 7, 9 and 10: Mulligans, Smallpox and um… double Smallpox.

Observations and Thoughts
The biggest problem I had against G/B was being unable to counter early cards that would suck up all my precious resources. An early game Smallpox was simply backbreaking because it would eat what amounted to half of my hand in many games. Stupor was only slightly less painful as often times I’d have to give up any sort of trump card like Cryptic Command or Scion to stay on curve or keep a counter open down the road.

In fact the sideboarded games weren’t because of any real SB tech the G/B deck has, unlike Elves where I specifically made sure to have Cloudthresher. This build only has a few Eyes of the Wisent. No, instead the main issue came from slightly more mulligans than the other sets and MOAR SMALLPOX. You know the Andy Probasco vs. Flores game MF always references and how Andy basically comes back and wrecks him with the one outer because somebody totally forgot to actually win the game? Yeah this match is nothing like that, I just wanted to name drop.

Seriously, if Smallpox resolves you’re likely dead unless they kept a mediocre hand to go along with it and your best cards are Oona’s Prowler and every counter in the deck. Clique is borderline worthless here I find, because it’s only good when they don’t resolve Smallpox or Damnation and in that case you’ll already likely be winning that race.

I was kicking around multiple sideboarding plans, but at the moment the only constant I can think of is that you want Pithing Needle and you can only bring in Flashfreeze over Cryptic Command. Rune Snag is too important to stop Smallpox and Damnation. Psionic Blast also likely gets cut down so you can board in more Sowers. Unlike Clique, Sower can actually reverse a game-state thanks to almost every threat in the G/B deck being large. Something like stealing a Goyf is obviously amazing, but even taking an elephant token with the number of bounce / steal / tap effects in the deck can be a good-sized life swing.

Kithkin — [K1]
I played against W/G Kithkin as they seem to be the more popular of the two.
Faeries on the play in the set
Pre-Board 6-4 Faeries
Post-board 6-4 Faeries

Observations and Thoughts
These games were boring. There’s very little strategy involved here, you counter Militia’s Pride and Wizened Cenn if you can help it and basically just abuse flying, Scion, Clique and Cryptic Command to reverse tempo in your favor. They may start off with a slightly more impressive curve out creature wise than you, but your high end spells are all bombs in this match and with Scion you can likely trade with any creature they run outside of Knight of Meadowgrain. I’ve also never lost any game against WW where I’ve seen more than one Scion of Oona, this includes multiple mulligans to 6 and even a 5, respectively.

Kithkin of both types really just loses if it doesn’t get a very good opening four turns and in large part Fairy players drop games to Kithkin because they keep slow hands. Again, just like Elves, you can’t afford to sit and do nothing until turn three unless it’s an amazing hand featuring multiple Scion or Clique or some ridiculous turn 3-6 plays. On the draw this isn’t acceptable at all because you can’t hit Pride, but on the play you can roll a Rune Snag out against them at least.

Sideboard is deck dependent, versus WW you usually want something like:
-4 Spellstutter Sprite, -2 Psionic Blast
+4 Terror, +2 Wydwen

It doesn’t take a lot to win the game, your deck is well set up for it.

And against W/G you want to pull Psionic Blast for Pithing Needle if you see Garruk and Treetop Village abound. Dealing with the problems for one mana is better than a little more utility for 2U and 2 life.

P.S. The match probably gets a little bit worse against a fully fledged WW deck compared to W/G, also note that Faerie Harbinger builds have an ever bigger edge than this version because they can fetch Clique or Scion at will.

Red Decks — [R1]
Doing a write-up for each red deck would take DI time, so I’m going to do what Brassy does and summarize musings on the match along with what may or may not fly as the right moves.

Observations and Thoughts
The worst match-up out of all the red decks is R/G because it can put the biggest clock on the Faeries deck, while still running twelve burn spells in the maindeck. In addition the deck doesn’t lose its late-game punch thanks to Greater Gargadon, Tarmogoyf and Treetop Village. This basically makes it the perfect storm of a difficult to race ground attack, plenty of cheap spot removal and late-game threats which each need to be dealt with. You can still win with a good draw and if the opponent doesn’t start with a turn one Mogg Fanatic you can race most of the time, but the odds of getting the ‘right’ kind of starting hand* is low. This means trying to play control typically since you can’t assume the aggro role in the match, but you can’t effectively trade with most of the creatures the deck runs, with even Cryptic Command being weak in the match.

You’re a dog in this match and I have yet to find a sideboard that fixes it. Just play tight and hopefully you’ll be able to take advantage of all your instant speed tricks to make up the disadvantage.

* Midrange aggression basically. You really want to see like three land, Sprite, Scion, Rune Snag and some follow-up threat. Double Scion is a god-send in this match, especially because you can usually play around burn thanks to the limited land base they run.

Mono Red Aggro is probably the next most difficult match; it’s easier to race because the deck runs less burn and more midrange threats than G/R. That said sometimes it’s just difficult to tell the difference between MRA and Skred Red until games 2 & 3 so you might play a lot more conservatively than you normally would for fear of Pyroclasm or multiple cheap burn spells. Once you realize that you’re playing against MRA, then a few things become apparent. First, Scion is the best creature in the deck and you almost always want to use it to fizzle a burn spell or get a free block on a token, Martyr or Sulfur Elemental. Secondly you can afford to take a lot of damage early on because they have no high-damage finisher, save Greater Gargadon. Yes, Chandra can deal a lot of damage, but the odds that she resolves, stays in play for more than turn or two and that you direct no damage to her at all is incredibly low.

Treat this like you would Elves, except being a little more critical with counter usage because of the possibility of a late-game bomb. This match can range from pretty bad to winnable if you can quickly identify what the deck is and figure out how close to midrange it is. The slower it is; the higher the chance you’ll win. Still a dog in the match, but you can take two out of three more often than G/R.

For both of these matches, board usually goes thusly:
-3 Rune Snag, -2 Psionic Blast or -4 Psionic Blast, -1 Rune Snag
+3 Flashfreeze, +2 Wydwen

I hate P. Blast in this match and will almost always board out all my copies, but others have reported success with keeping a small amount in for racing / killing Chandra / pooping on Magus of the Moon successfully. Flashfreeze is kind of obvious and Wydwen comes in because the creature is just bigger than your average sized dork. This means surviving burn is much more likely and flashing it in to kill a creature is also worthwhile eating up a two for one or living and being able to dodge burn / block and survive Sulfur Elemental and others.

Skred Red is the last significant Red list (Although G/R Mana Ramp is slowly growing) and is actually a bit easier than the last two. There’s no chance of getting raced, so you can sit back with slow hands that only feature 3-4 drops and counters without any problems. You still want to start out with a strong curve draw, if nothing else than to draw out Skred and other spot removal early, but you can wait around for a while if you wish. Cryptic Command is your best friend since it can deal with Chandra and Stuffy Doll via counter or bounce, while still being able to be a Dismiss at any other time in the game. Holding off on Scion until you can fizzle a burn spell is a fine idea, but be weary that this can backfire sometimes. Now that the deck is more known, they may let you keep attacking for less damage and just keep flinging burn in your head. There’s no real way to teach a person when it’s time to just throw Scion down and start beating, same goes for activating Conclave early on. You just will learn when from experience.

I’d actually go so far to say this match is pretty much even, even supposing they run a full set of either Pyroclasm or Serrated Arrows. The point is you’ve got plenty of counters and since only Clique and Prowler really stand out power-wise, you’ll usually be just getting 1-1 trades with the Skred Red player. Remember that they cannot Wrath you out of the game without Pyroclasm, so game one you can go crazy with early creatures and attacking without Sprite or Rune Snag back-up.

The three most important cards to counter pre-board are Chandra, Stalking Yeti and Stuffy Doll. Two of these are pretty much the best cards in the deck, but Yeti is special because it gives Skred Red a reusable damage source while killing one of your creatures at the same time. This is one of the few good deals the deck will get in the match, so if you can stop that you can keep the CA battle largely in your favor. Remember that anything more than a 1-1 trade is very important to them if they don’t have Scrying Sheets available. They need a lot of mana to get going with serious damage potential so be weary and always try to have a counter around unless you’re going to die.

Boarding fluctuates wildly depending on the exact build, but I usually go with:
-1 Pestermite, -2 Rune Snag, -4 Psionic Blast, -2 Sower of Temptation
+3 Flashfreeze, +4 Pithing Needle, +2 Wydwen

You only lose one creature in this configuration, gain a Counterspell and have Needle to shut off Arrows, Chandra and Scrying Sheets.

Hopefully this gives you a better idea of how Faeries handles aggro decks. I know I didn’t cover everything (Merfolk and G/R Mana Ramp), but this smattering embraces the control, disruption, burn, and swarm extremes of the format while everything else falls in between on the aggro scale.

In summary: Red matches range from awful to winnable depending on the speed of the deck, G/U Faeries is a horror show, G/B is very swingy but rounded out to even and I believe Faeries better against normal Goyf Rack or G/B aggro, Elves is winnable and the same with Kithkin. I find the rap Faeries is bad against aggro is undeserved to a point, as it can race with the best of them and this is constantly underestimated. However, the faults against burn-happy aggro decks are legitimate, and you should be worried if you expect any significant part of the metagame will be packing them.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom