Deconstructing Constructed – Live Free or Fae Hard

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Tuesday, November 11th – As you know, States was this weekend. I did pretty badly, posting a 2-2 record. What can I say? I won the bad match-ups and lost the good ones on one of those ‘why did I get out of bed this morning’ kind of days. To be fair, part of it was entirely me making bad decisions where I had the statistical right to make the play, but it was overly risky in the grand scheme of things.

As you know, States was this weekend. I did pretty badly, posting a 2-2 record. What can I say? I won the bad match-ups and lost the good ones on one of those ‘why did I get out of bed this morning’ kind of days. To be fair, part of it was entirely me making bad decisions where I had the statistical right to make the play, but it was overly risky in the grand scheme of things. Plus I got food poisoning or a stomach virus from a Sausage McMuffin, so that was beats. I know not to eat anything non-breakfast, but usually the breakfasts don’t kill me quite as bad as this one did. As I write this, my stomach still doesn’t feel all that great, but it was much better than at the tournament. Thank god for the local burrito place having an open bathroom instead of trying to wait in line behind 6-7 people at the shop.

Before we get around to results, I’ll start with the tournament itself. Last year, States itself was pretty good; it started on time, there were no major disasters, and it was in a spacious hall with room to move and AC. This year it was in a store, one of which I’ve actually praised before, but it was simply overloaded and had absolutely no way to deal with the 273 players plus others that invaded. There was barely any room to move around, and we were elbow to elbow when the rounds started. Although we didn’t have to turn anyone away at the door, posting a player cap might’ve been the right call. The store says it maxes out at 250, and I definitely believe it. At any given time you had about 100-150 people on the sidewalk.

As for hilarity, the fire marshal showed up. For a brief moment we actually thought the tournament might get shut down, as it was definitely a disaster in waiting if anything did go wrong inside. Fortunately for those who weren’t X-2 at the time and wanting a refund, disaster was averted, and other than constantly shooing us out of the store into the rain, the tournament continued.

Here’s the thing… I don’t really blame anyone for the fire marshal showing up, the delays caused by Five-Color Control players going to time, and the heat. I can even understand the assumption that we could have less people than last year; though I think it was unwise to not worry about maxing out, despite the fact that this is the biggest ‘casual’ tournament left. And now some of the more competitive players have a better reason to show up, with the first place prize being the equivalent of 300-500 dollars depending on how many tournaments they enter each year. I can lay some blame with the 60-70 minute delay before the tournament actually got started, which meant the judges got out of there around 1:30am.

TL:DR version — There were problems, but I would still attend any other tournament at the store. I do suggest a player cap if the number is headed toward 225-230, or repeat horrors might happen and that would be bad for everyone involved. You’d be surprised how cranky Magic players can get after a few stressful rounds in non-optimal conditions.

Wait… Magic players? Whining? Of course you aren’t surprised by that..

And now for the moment you’ve been waiting for! The tournament results themselves! And the winner is…


Shocking, I know. Our Top 8 consisted of the following:

3 Faeries
2 Merfolk (one piloted by LSV, which means ham sandwich.dec could’ve been in one slot)
1 Elves!
1 Kithkin
1 Canali / Reveillark (Congrats Matt)

LSV lost in the semi-finals to Roger Fondren, and Roger beat Matt Nass in the finals. Unfortunately I don’t know the exact Top 8 pairings, because they started way too late for me to feign anymore interest. I do, however, have lists! I’ll be throwing up a few here and the rest will be in the forums. Do note that no Cruel Control / Toast / Cheese Sandwich / Five-Color Control made Top 8. More on that later though.

Roger Fondren — 1st at California States

4 Bitterblossom
4 Cryptic Command
3 Scion of Oona
4 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Vendilion Clique
4 Thoughtseize
3 Remove Soul
4 Agony Warp
4 Mistbind Clique
3 Sower of Temptation
1 Swamp
3 Faerie Conclave
4 Secluded Glen
4 Sunken Ruins
6 Island
2 Mutavault
4 Underground River

1 Oona, Queen of the Fae
3 Flashfreeze
3 Pithing Needle
2 Snakeform
3 Negate
3 Dragon’s Claw

As you can see, the winner is a pretty standard Fae deck, with the exception of only two Mutavault in the maindeck. With only 24 lands, I would imagine hitting Blue became far more important, hence the higher Island and Conclave counter than most Fae builds. The board is pretty standard with the exception of Pithing Needle, which I don’t actually see much point of. I even asked Jesus Roxas* his opinion was of it, and his responses were the same.

Does nothing against Red deck? Check
Nothing against Five-Color Control or Mirror? Check
Shuts off manlands that already aren’t problems? Check
Shuts off Warhammer, which is far too expensive to be used effectively against Fae? Check

The only things we could come up with is shutting off Stillmoon Cavalier or Chameleon Colossus, but that seems so narrow… The rest of the deck seems perfectly reasonable though. In fact I absolutely adore the quad Thoughtseize for the field at States. I’ll go ahead and give a shout-out to svjchtr, who kept harping on how ridiculous a set of these are in almost every match. They are quite sick.

*Best name ever.

Not too much else to say about Faeries at this point, I kind of wish they’d be replaced by a different deck after all this time. Now we move onto a more interesting deck and one that hasn’t gotten really any press: RW Aggro Lark.

Matthew Nass — 2nd place at CA states

4 Mogg Fanatic
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Reveillark
4 Ranger of Eos
3 Knight-Captain of Eos
4 Figure of Destiny
3 Ajani Vengeant
4 Mind Stone
4 Murderous Redcap
4 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
4 Rugged Prairie
4 Ghitu Encampment
5 Mountain
9 Plains

4 Fulminator Mage
3 Knight of the White Orchid
3 Forge[/author]-Tender”]Burrenton [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]-Tender
3 Recumbent Bliss
2 Order of Whiteclay

As you can see, this version of the Canali deck is a bit more tuned than the previous iteration seen at the LCQ. Although the removal of Voice of All makes me a sad panda, since Voice is solid, even though it looks clunky on paper. Against aggressive decks you can go into stall mode with Fanatic, Finks, and Redcap, and eventually Ranger of Eos, Knight-Captain of Eos and Reveillark are going to pull you ahead in the game.

Ranger of Eos is spectacular here, despite only having access to 5-6 one-drop creatures worth playing in Standard. Kithkin and Faeries both have issues with multiple Fanatic or Figure depending on the board state, Red gets shut down post-board by Forge-Tender and Merfolk usually will lose a ton of guys in combat if they try to attack a board with Ranger of Eos and two Mogg Fanatic on your side. I’m amazed this guy is only going for three bucks or less and suggest picking them up cheap now. Even if they don’t become a mainstay of Standard, I expect the price to jump in Extended season where he has even more targets like the Martyr cycle and Kami of False Hope.

This deck has a solid plan against any deck in the format and a lot of ways to recoup card advantage with Ranger and Lark. I can see why it made the finals, as it simply looks far sleeker and more efficient than the original build did. There are only a few drawbacks I can see. One is the tap-out nature of the deck, running Ranger, Redcap, or Lark into a Remove Soul or Sage’s Dousing seems incredibly painful, and unlike Fae you can’t force a tap-out or punish mistimed spells. All of the initial creatures on turns 1-3 are decent at playing defense, but everybody is ready to deal with Finks and company now, which could be an issue against Red game 1. Lack of Bitterblossom removal also seems a little odd when you can fetch Elvish Hexhunter, and having only seven ways to deal with Sower of Temptation seems a little awkward at times.

Matt himself had this to say about the deck – The key to playing the deck is to realize what role you are in. To play the deck, you really have to understand the “who’s the control?” theory. Against decks like Five-Color Control and Faeries it is pretty clear you are the aggressor, and against RDW and White Weenie it is pretty clear you are the control, but against things like Merfolk you have to really think about it. It depends a lot on their draw a lot, but in my experience you are usually the control. You have to make decisions about how you use your spells and how you sideboard based on what role you are in. For instance, you are more the aggressor against Fae on the play, so Fulminator Mage comes in there, but on the draw, I doubt I’d bring it in. Knight of the White Orchid is another interesting card whose use varies on the play or draw. It comes in on the draw in almost every matchup, and in the play only against Faeries.

You should definitely keep an eye on this deck though, especially if you have Cruise Qualifiers coming up, or you’re simply want to play something different. The deck is very good, and after only playing a few games, its strength will become quite clear. If I could redo the tournament I would actually consider taking this instead of defaulting to Faeries.

Now we move onto a different take on an old favorite.

Luis Scott-Vargas — Top 8 at CA States

4 Stonybrook Banneret
4 Silvergill Adept
4 Merrow Reejerey
3 Sygg, River Guide
4 Merfolk Looter
3 Reveillark
3 Sower of Temptation
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
4 Cryptic Command
3 Sage’s Dousing
3 Ponder
1 Faerie Conclave
4 Mutavault
4 Mystic Gate
4 Adarkar Wastes
4 Wanderwine Hub
2 Windbrisk Heights
5 Island

2 Condemn
3 Wrath of God
3 Remove Soul
1 Glen-Elendra Archmage
2 Arbiter of Knollridge
1 Story Circle
2 Jace Beleren
1 Negate

After a quick glance-through, you’ll quickly notice that this Merfolk build is most definitely more controlling than the counter-parts which have been written about lately. A combination of Glen-Elendra, Reveillark, and Sower; along with Ponder and Looter to filter through the deck definitely pushes it toward the aggro-control role. Instead of Knight of Meadowgrain and Wake Thrasher pushing aggression, you see some maindeck resilience to removal gluts and more ways to filter into your best cards. Post-board Arbiter of Knollridge, Wrath of God and Story Circle all make this plan clearer against aggressive strategies. Since many of your men replace themselves or buy you more time to find key cards in the match, it’s likely you can get ahead in cards and then simply recoup / protect your current life total until you take complete control of the board.

This strategy isn’t exactly ground-breaking, but Looter is a card that I haven’t seen anyone use before and trading extra land, Sygg, Banneret, etc. for fresh cards could quickly get out of hand against slower strategies. Merfolk decks are strong in the current format and this one is no exception, having an overload of cards against aggressive decks post-board and decent game against control.

As for why Five-Color Control failed at our States, I would attribute it to a couple of different issues. First is a player issue: our States was nine rounds, and many other ones were eight. A high number of Five-Color Control players simply cannot play at a high level for that many rounds, let alone through the Top 8 as well. Even games you can take easily take an extra 10 minutes to actually finish and the mirror will undoubtedly take 40 minutes at minimum. Second reason is that Fae was everywhere here and the deck doesn’t consistently beat Faeries. The final reason is that you have to figure at least three-fourths of the people in the room have seen or heard some inkling about the deck, due to all the hype. Which means everyone is prepared or at least believe themselves to be prepared for the deck, so most likely many plays in the room had at least 5-10 cards in the board prepped for that match in the first place.

That’s all for now. Next week we take a look at the upcoming Extended season, and perhaps a follow-up on States once we learn the results from all over the country.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom