Deconstructing Constructed – Spotlight on States: Faeries and You

Are YOU ready for States?
This article will be broken into two parts. One will be about a U/W/R midrange deck I’ve been kicking around since Brion Stoutarm came out, and the second concerns a U/B Faeries aggro control deck that is on the short list for decks I might play at States. The first half of the article will be dedicated to the Faerie build, and the second half will be with the lesser-tested midrange Brion deck.

This article will be broken into two parts. One will be about a U/W/R midrange deck I’ve been kicking around since Brion Stoutarm came out, and the second concerns a U/B Faeries aggro control deck that is on the short list for decks I might play at States. The first half of the article will be dedicated to the Faerie build, and the second half will be with the lesser-tested midrange Brion deck.

Section A – Faeries
[A1] – Introduction and brief metagame thoughts
[A2] – The Deck
[A3] – Card selection breakdown
[A4] – Matches
[A5] – Sideboarding

Section B – Midrange Aggro
[B1] – Intro and supplemental information
[B2] – Deck
[B3] – Card selection

[C0] – Conclusion

Introduction [A1]
With States just around the corner, and an unknown metagame looming, this leaves a number of niches in the format for creative players to gain some edges percentage-wise. Although you can’t narrow down cards in your deck as much as you may want to, there are still a number of archetypical considerations that you can plan around. Right, now the format seems to be largely dominated by one of three types of decks.

The first is various types of swarm aggro, pretty much all of which live off their early drops and then some sort of trump card when the original swarm drops in numbers. Whether this be Militia’s Pride, Greater Gargadon, or even just good old burn aimed at the dome, these decks have some sort of backup that will make itself felt after the initial wave. For this class, the main weakness stems from the inability to control the opponent’s board and life after a certain point. Eventually you hit a certain tipping point in nearly every match where your cards go down in value every turn while the opponents go up. In a format that features two Wrath of God copies, Void, Molten Disaster, and some very solid late-game creatures, this hardly seems optimal.

Second are the various Teachings / Blink / other control builds floating around. It’s obvious that the Teachings engine is pretty much the best and only true tutor engine in the format, and control realistically gives you the few good card-drawing options available. You could say you get the best creature removal and finishers in the format as well when playing certain types of control deck. What you actually lack is consistency in your openings. Take a deck like Chapin Teachings, for example. He runs 34 total mana sources in the deck. This can quickly turn hands that don’t feature a Careful Consideration into complete busts from drawing more mana than you can translate into other resources.

Finally we come to the third type of deck, which can best be classified as “trick” decks. These builds range from Elementals aiming for turn 4/5 kills off Nova Chaser and Fury of the Horde, Turbo Fog, and any of the many Rings Of Brighthearth – Hoofprints of the Stag decks running around. The idea is you’re doing something no other deck in the format is doing, and hopefully well enough that you can make it through 10-12 rounds doing the exact same trick over and over. I wouldn’t classify any of them outright combo decks, but they share the narrow focus and surprise factor of that archetype.

For Faeries you get a deck that falls outside of the normal Standard archetypes and is legitimate aggro-control, which has most recently been loosely classified in Standard by Blink decks. With the introduction of Lorwyn, we’ve now gained enough good Blue creatures to justify an aggro-control build in Blue. Faeries has a few strengths going for it that are unique to the deck. One is the ability to keep counter mana open, due to many of the Faeries being mana-efficient and having Flash. Another is the built-in evasion on every single creature you run, making it easier to force damage through even with low P/T ratios. The final plus is that you can run more counters than any deck in the format except Snow Blue or Pickles.

The Deck [A2]
I’d like to thank Rich Shay for helping come up with the initial list, and Roxas for helping me tweak and test the build to where it is now.

Card Choices [A3]
One-drops – Cloud Sprite and Nightshade Stinger are both here for two reasons. One is to bulk up the Faerie engine to abuse Scion and Clique with a drop that won’t affect the rest of your curve. The second reason is to allow for Spellstutter Sprite and Familiar’s Ruse to work optimally starting on turn 2, and allow for a minimal disruption to attacks down the road when you need to Champion or bounce a faerie. I run six to maximize my chance of seeing one, but not the full eight so it won’t bugger up my topdecks down the road.

The 4/2 split favoring Black is because of Shriekmaw, Slaughter Pact, and the fact that you run a set of River of Tears. It means you have a more likely shot to play a turn 1 Stinger and not have it affect your future drops.

Spellstutter Sprite – This creature is amazing, and part of the reason Faeries are viable in the first place. Remember this is a Spell Burst, not a Power Sink. So whatever two- or three-mana spell you feel like countering, as long as you have the resources, you’re all set. Against aggro you really just want to hit the first spell they play so you can gain an edge.

Oona’s Prowler and Scion of Oona – As much as I’d like to simply beat up my opponents with a deck consisting of 1/1s, Prowler and Scion are necessary to give the deck enough punch to race other aggro builds. Remember that you can hold back Scion for a turn or two to fizzle a removal spell, especially if your opponent only has one or two threats on the board and you aren’t in immediate danger of dying.

Pestermite – This is an obnoxious card for the opponent to see play. It has a multitude of uses, but the main two are giving yourself a Time Walk by playing it on opponent’s upkeeps and making them miss a drop or getting blockers out of the way. There are other uses of course, my favorite being playing Pestermite and then untapping a land to keep countermagic up on your opponent’s turn. The main reason there isn’t a full set is because six or seven three-drop creatures tends to be the maximum the deck can handle, considering the lack of Force of Will.

Mistbind Clique – It’s a 4/4 flyer and a Mana Short. You can’t do any better, and you only run three because Champion limits the usefulness of multiples, and four mana is still on the high end of the curve.

Cryptic Command – Ridiculously good in this type of deck. Not only can you make maximum use of all four options, but the ability to Fog an opponent and draw a card is one of the main ways you win races against W/G and R/G decks. Counter plus Bounce is probably the second most used combination, as it usually wraps up all the mana from the opponent for the turn and makes them recast another spell. Try it on a Teachings player who tries to resolve Damnation with Coalition Relic out, and watch them curl up into a ball. Although the cost is prohibitive in the deck, the card is so powerful that it’s worth the full set, despite the uncastability risk.

Rune Snag – The reason I like Snag over Familiar’s Ruse is the simplicity of the card. With Ruse you have to jump through hoops before you get it to counter anything, and often this hamstrings you into positions you don’t want to be in. Sometimes it’s just a matter of a few points of damage, but other times it’s getting UU together in a tight spot when you need to cast multiple spells or hit a turn 2 drop when you have no creatures in play. Rune Snag is always going to give you the early counter option and isn’t going to mock you post-Wrath when forcing a new threat down. That said, Ruse can be completely abusive and seal games when involved with Spellstutter, Pestermite, and Clique so it comes down to a matter of consistency versus power.

The Sideboard – Effectively a heavy-duty anti-aggro board to help the wee ones last long enough to win the game. The majority of decks won’t be able to stop your attackers for very long, so you have to focus on killing the opponent’s men until you can win. Deathmark and Flashfreeze can buy you the time you need in the traditional sense against midrange and other aggro. Damnation is there to help out against R/G and certain W/G builds, where you simply can’t race the opponent or you’ll have major issues getting ahead in the first place.

Other options for the board include Pithing Needle if you expect Desert, and additional Faerie Trickeries against Pickles and U/W Mesa if you feel the field will be saturated with various control builds. Extirpate and Tormod’s Crypt are other options to consider in the face of Haakon, but I doubt enough of those decks will show up to be a major factor. Again, tweak the board to your proposed local metagame.

The key to the deck is simply getting ahead of your opponent. Faeries are amazing at building a slight advantage and holding it; not so much at catching up to decks that get ahead in tempo and resources. Remember when playing these cards that the maximum damage per turn is usually worse than maximizing your options every single turn. This is especially true post-boarding, when you gain even more reactive cards to shred certain aspects of problem matches.

Before anyone asks, there’s no Thoughtseize because the deck can’t afford to take the damage from Psionic Blast and Thoughtseize against aggro. As a board option I’d say go right ahead, but I’ve had too many games come down to a few life points to risk running a card that’ll cost you game wins from excessive life loss, or a topdeck that doesn’t even stop the opponent’s next draw.

As always, this is configured for what I expect to see at my States. Feel free to tweak the spell spots / creatures if you expect different amounts of the various archetypes. I’ve seen lists with up to eighteen spells in the main, lists running Damnation, and others using Loxodon Hammer and Ponder. The maindeck is surprisingly customizable past the core set of sixteen creatures or so, and you can play with the numbers to your heart’s content.

The Matches [A4]
As I find it unrealistic to get expansive testing done against fluctuating deck lists, I’ve simply chosen to go with four decks that cover the most ground at the corners of the metagame.

This match can either be a complete cakewalk or simply a bad match for the Teachings player, depending on the exact decklist and skill of the player. The main advantage you have here is the cost of all your cards compared to theirs. If they can’t resolve Damnation, they have no good way to fight you. At most they can kill one Faerie a turn, and many times that’s because you’ll let them. A start of Nightshade Stinger and Oona’s Prowler backed by a counter or two can demolish many Teachings decks simply because they can’t leverage Shriekmaw against you while they take four a turn. Instead they have to go for a spell that costs them far more mana and time than you.

For example Cryptic Command shines here, simply bouncing a Coalition Relic and countering a spell sets them back mana and tempo while keeping your army safe. Mistbind Clique can completely dismantle an entire turn of resources while you get a 4/4 for your trouble. If they run Nameless Inversion then you have to be a bit more careful with throwing around Scion and Prowler, since you don’t want to get stuck pinging for two a turn unless you believe you can sustain it until they die.

Summary: Your entire deck curves before them. The best cards in your deck, Clique and Cryptic Command, come online at the same time they just get the gears starting to move in their deck to enable the strategy they use in the first place. Post-board, depending on what you’ve got, you can run additional counters or Thoughtseize to hit the few card drawing spells in the deck (or Damnation). I haven’t had any issues with the match, so I dedicate practically no space to it, save the Biting Gale’s and singleton Jace Beleren.

R/G Aggro (Gruul)
Unfortunately, Faeries doesn’t stand up well to most R/G decks, at least the ones packing up to twelve burn spells. The problem is they have a significant enough clock that you can’t ignore what’s happening on the ground, and they have enough removal to pick off the key creatures you need to win the race. Many games will come down to Cryptic Command, which can effectively Fog for a turn and also deal with the Greater Gargadon threat. Using Scion to nullify a burn spell is one of the best things you can do in the match, since they have no way to refill after using 2-3 burn spells. Psionic Blast should rarely be aimed at anything except Tarmogoyf and Treetop Village, otherwise just hold it back and conserve. Often you can at least salvage a draw game 1 if they get a little too eager with painland damage and ignore your one-power creatures.

After boarding you have a much better shot at winning the games. Now you have a way to counter anything in their deck via Flashfreeze, which is a great contributor to the rest of your counters. Damnation can also come in over some of the small fry Faeries so you can clean the board should the need arise. Between these options, you stand a much better chance of nullifying the swarm factor and Gargadon-trump Gruul brings to the table. Overall the match is winnable, but unfavorable for you game 1.

W/G Kithkin
Take what I said about the Gruul match and apply nothing but the part about the danger of them swarming you. The removal they have is practically irrelevant, as Oblivion Ring is three mana and can be disabled via Cryptic Command. In fact, they can’t even kill you all that fast if you can stop Militia’s Pride and Wizened Cenn from hitting the table, or if you can deal with them in a comfortable timeframe. Basically, all your creatures are unblockable, and you run quad Fog, and you have an actual finisher in Psionic Blast. You outclass them every step of the way, since even their Goyfs won’t be getting bigger than 2/3 (most likely). It seems silly that you’d be able to easily race a swarm deck, but unless you get a really poor creature draw, the damage output of their creatures will be roughly the same as yours.

Post-board you don’t get Flashfreeze, but instead you get the complete blowout that is Deathmark, along with Damnation to take care of anything relevant that they throw at you. If they have fliers that can fight yours, like Serra Avenger or Suntail Hawk, go ahead and bring in Wydwen, the Biting Gale for support. The key to this match is making sure the important support creatures / spells don’t stick around for long (preferably letting them never see play). These include: Militia’s Pride, Wizened Cenn, and Mirror Entity. Take care of those and you’ll rarely be raced.

P.S. Glorious Anthem isn’t an issue compared to Wizened, because it’s not a creature and it takes up their entire turn to use. Far less damage is coming from letting Anthem resolve than Wizened or Pride.

Pickles / Snow Blue
Although I haven’t played as many matches against these two as I would have liked, they both play out roughly the same. You lay early creatures, counter the card draw or force a Clique through, and keep swinging until they lay dead at your feet. Snow Blue is practically a joke matchup game 1, since they have no way to stop you from simply casting end of turn spells when they finally tap to put some pressure on you. If they don’t, you simply sit back, ping with your one-drop and whatever else you snuck out, and just throw out the occasional test spell. If they decide it’s a great idea to tap out at anytime, you throw down Scion and start racing, or you hit six mana and force through a Clique. Realistically, you only lose if they counter your second and third drops and begin racing early with Phyrexian Ironfoot and Teferi. Of course, if they run Razormane Masticore, that’s a “must-counter or die.”

Pickles is a bit more difficult, due to the combo that can end the game as early as turn 5. Thankfully, all the early tapping for draw spells and morphs means you’ll have few problems sneaking an army down. Unfortunately, these guys are likely to have a set of Desert, which means you’ll be forced to hang around until Scion or Clique shows up. The match is only slightly harder than Snow Blue unless Desert shows up. If it does and you don’t have Pendelhaven, your offense gets completely derailed, and it may be time to pack it up if the few large threats you have don’t make it into play.

Sideboarding is pretty much the same for both: if you pack Thoughtseize or additional counters, bring them in. For Pickles, there’s one difference: if you don’t have Pithing Needle, your odds of winning are drastically reduced. Otherwise, if you’re using my anti-aggro board, just bring in the Wydwen and Jace and hope for the best.

Sideboarding [A5]
-4 Nightshade Stinger
-2 Cloud Sprite
-4 Psionic Blast

+4 Damnation
+4 Flashfreeze
+2 Wydwen, the Biting Gale

One-drops are garbage in this match (typically), and SS will always have something to Spell Burst anyway. Psionic Blast is a good card, but not so much when you’ll be constantly fighting for every scrap of life, and the only creature from which you’ll take less damage by Blasting it to death is Tarmogoyf. Flashfreeze makes more economical sense in that trade. Cryptic Command stays in here, because often it can nullify an entire attack and replace itself at worst, or deal with two threats via counter/bounce.

-4 Nightshade Stinger
-2 Cloud Sprite
-4 Psionic Blast

+4 Damnation
+4 Deathmark
+2 Wydwen, the Biting Gale

See above. These cards just aren’t as efficient in these matches, and you’ll get more reach from Wydwen typically than Blast. Alternatively, you could remove the slow Cryptic Command and roll with a very aggressive strategy: beat them to death before they can recover from Damnation.

-3 Pestermite

+2 Wydwen, the Biting Gale
+1 Jace Beleren

Mono Blue / Pickles:
Either the Teachings boarding package or nothing at all; sometimes it simply makes more sense to stay an aggressively curved aggro-control deck than muck it up with more four-drops.

Midrange Aggro for States [B1]
One of the key niches in the States format is going to be the ability to gain life to race and dictate combat terms to aggro decks, while having the capability of taking out an opponent from over three life when the ground is no longer an option. Previously aggro could do this easily with cards like Lightning Helix and Char. Now we have to look elsewhere, and burn has dropped down dramatically as a factor. Before, control players were scared of getting taken down from 7-8 life from double Char or a combination of burn. Nowadays, most control players don’t care as much because the deck currently running the most burn, R/G, only runs three direct damage spells, one of which is Shock. Not exactly imposing…

As for life-gain, it’s been relegated to the background yet again, with the most common cards being Knight of Meadowgrain and Loxodon Warhammer. Both are respectable, but hardly the kind of life swings and tactical reassignments you saw when Helix or Hierarch were around. That doesn’t mean the cards don’t exist, though… Brion Stoutarm is easily one of the most underrated cards in Lorwyn. A 4/4 Lifelink creature is incredibly useful in the current environment, where three of the most common aggro decks consist largely of 1/1 and 2/2 creatures. The four toughness also comes in handy for dealing with all the burn many of these same decks have. Even if Brion only blocks a creature, gains you four life, and eats a burn spell, you’ve essentially created a two-for-one and an eight point life swing* in the process. That’s backbreaking to many aggro decks with no Dark Confidant around to refill hands any more.

* 4 life gained, 1-2 damage from the creature blocked, 2-3 from a burn spell used = 8 life.

However, to take advantage of Brion Stoutarm, you need to go into a color combination that hasn’t exactly seen great results for those trying to make a list for States. The big issue with creating a Boros build, with or without Brion, is that you cut a significant portion of reach or brute strength out of the deck compared to other aggro in the format.

Ultimately, the largest issue I found with R/W style aggro was the lack of an identity. If you’re drawn to Greater Gargadon and burn as a trump, then you have to style your deck with smaller, easily-played dorks and split the colors more evenly between White and Red, leading to a more damaging and less consistent manabase. If you choose to add the power men like Brion you get from Green, you need to up the land count and start to lose extra burn slots in the process.

If you go with Militia’s Pride, you end up needing to run a base consisting almost entirely of one- and two-drops to gain a real advantage. So you fall to running small frail dorks like G/W, but lose some of the cards you’d have to win an attrition war like Garruk Wildspeaker and Goyf (he comes up a lot, doesn’t he…). This is one of the cases where you may want to focus heavily on keeping your men alive, and Thrill of the Hunt and Temporal Isolation do a much better job of clearing the way than Incinerate against many decks.

So what happens is that R/W is similar to both the R/G or G/W models, while gaining little back in terms of power over either. Sure, you gain a little efficiency over R/G, but you lack the large power creatures in Gargadon and Tarmogoyf. You gain burn over G/W’s Oblivion Ring, and you run many of the same creatures, but they get Gaddock Teeg, Garruk, and Goyf in the exchange.

However, one option examined by few is slowing the deck down to take advantage of the larger White drops such as Calciderm, backed by Brion and burn. Instead of copying creature suites and trying to compete with one- and two-drops that are suited towards doming the opponent in the early game, the deck could focus more around drops that gum up the board and allow the tempo of the game to be controlled.

Although this new direction for the deck gave it a better shot in many matches, the improvement wasn’t substantial enough to be relevant. I simply needed more of a late-game from my creatures and burn compliment.

Enter the Island. Stealing some of the ideas used in U/W/R Blink, Psionic Blast became a fine version of Char and Lightning Angel gave my deck another way to get in damage while still holding the line. Suddenly I didn’t have to choose between letting a guy like Calciderm die or defending myself, or worrying about Serra Avenger getting burned out the minute the opponent untapped. Lightning Angel was essentially the same two-drop as Serra Avenger, but it lived longer and just about always got in for at least three.

The Deck [B2]
4 Knight of the Holy Nimbus
3 Knight of Meadowgrain
4 Paladin en-Vec
3 Brion Stoutarm
4 Calciderm
4 Lightning Angel
4 Incinerate
4 Psionic Blast
2 Loxodon Warhammer
4 Mind Stone
2 Adarkar Wastes
4 Shivan Reef
4 Forge[/author]“]Battlefield [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]
3 Vivid Meadow
4 Island
7 Plains

Many of the card choices are geared towards efficiency and various abilities the creatures have versus a traditional aggro deck. I’ll do a quick breakdown of the sections to give some idea of why things are as they are.

Card Choices [B3]
The Knights – The reason for this specific Knight suite versus more aggressive Kithkin configurations is the resiliency of the creatures. Yes, you lose the new Isamaru, but you gain creatures that are better in combat and are still able to beat for two early on in the game. In fact, I’ve found the biggest issue with the Kithkin creatures is how aggressive they force your deck to be. Instead of going for the most efficient in each class, you’re limiting yourselves to the best aggro drop for turn 1 and the second best on turn 2, but then a bunch of scrubs fill out the curve. Both Knights in this deck can brawl, and Holy Nimbus has resilience to a number of common removal spells in control and aggro.

Paladin en-Vec stands out a little, but he’s here as a concession to faster aggro decks. He’s nearly impossible to kill for R/G and GoyfRack; while stalling W/G Kithkin until it hits Temporal Isolation or Oblivion Ring. Think of him as a mini-wall that also happens to become insane if Warhammer comes down.

The Four-Drops – The reason for the four-drops is how effective they are in the current metagame. Against a swarm aggro deck, Brion and Lightning Angel can hold down the fort for a good long time. There’s also no other four-drop I want in my aggro deck against control than Calciderm. You run all these late drops which have impressive P/T numbers for the mana cost and at least one good ability, if not more. Brion and Lightning Angel may not be the greatest against Shriekmaw, but against other decks they get the job done in impressive fashion.

The burn suite is a mix of the most efficient stuff currently legal, and Mind Stone accelerates. Not a whole lot of exciting stuff in the spell base, just solid spells. As far as the manabase is concerned, it’s the worst part of the deck at the moment. It’s incredibly difficult to make a three-color base that wants WW on turn 2 and doesn’t want to take too much pain for the rest of the game. Gemstone Mine is too unreliable in the early game to see use, so we have to go with some of the Vivid lands or Terramorphic Expanse to fill the void. I prefer the Vivid lands as they can tap for WW on turn 2 and not screw with my ability to creature Blue down the road.

Like I said, I haven’t been able to give this deck as much attention as I would’ve liked, so I won’t regale you with stories about how awesome it is. Instead I present it as an idea of what you can do with midrange that isn’t Doran. For anyone still interested, tweak it as you see fit.

The End [C0]
And with that final idea, so ends this week’s article on States. For what it’s worth, my choices at this point are down to R/G, Faeries, or U/W/B Blink; although the latter is looking less appetizing as reports of heavier control contingents are rolling in. Best of luck to those attending, and for those who want help / ideas, feel free to drop me a line in the forums or via e-mail.

Josh Silvestri
Team Reflection
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom