Sunday was the first online Pro Tour Qualifier of the Extended season. Extended is an exciting new format because it brings together all of the successful Standard decks from the past four years as well as some new ones made possible by the larger card pool. Starting fresh with the format, it’s hard to predict how Vivid Land Control will match up with Jund or how Elf Combo will do against Scapeshift Ramp. However, after getting to know the format, it was no surprise to me that an old favorite, Faeries, took down the first tournament of the season.
I also played Faeries and finished 7-2, but short of the Top 8. I was thrilled with the deck, and I’ll be playing it again next time. I’d like to share my take on Faeries and what its place in the metagame is going to be down the road. Here’s the decklist I’d use tomorrow:
For anyone with a Premium membership, I recommend Sam Black
most recent article.
I agree with everything he says about the deck, but I’d like to take a firm stance on some of the questions he brings up:
In my mind, there’s no decision to be made between Scion of Oona and Jace (either one). Jace is optional; four Scions of Oona is a must. The beauty of Faeries is that it’s a control deck that’s never caught without an answer. If I find myself without a Doom Blade for your creature, I can go to plan B and kill you directly. Scion is invaluable because of the way it helps the Faeries player finish quickly. It’s also another Faerie to champion, can counter a removal spell, protects Bitterblossom from Esper Charm and War Priest of Thune, and is the most important card in the mirror match, next to Bitterblossom.
I sideboard out Scions when I expect Volcanic Fallout, but it’s rare to see more than two copies of that card in someone’s maindeck. I’ve always been happy to forgo planeswalkers in favor of more instant-speed cards, but I’ve also seen Jace be very powerful. I recommend Jace Beleren over Jace, the Mind Sculptor because it fits the mana curve better, and its plus-loyalty ability is more relevant. Faeries, because its game plan is based on synergy and because of its ability to bottleneck the opponent’s mana, takes advantage of a Howling Mine effect better than the other decks in the format. This leads me to the other questionable card choice in my decklist.
Preordain is a no-brainer in every blue deck in Standard. The argument against playing it in Extended Faeries is that mana is too valuable. In Extended, more happens in the early turns, so I want to be able to interact with my opponent right away rather than taking time to set myself up. Also, Faeries in particular is more dangerous the more lands it can have untapped when passing the turn. These arguments are valid, but Preordain still belongs in Faeries.
It’s painful to spend a mana at any point in the game, and turn 1 is no exception. I’m happy to suck it up, however, because Faeries is very nearly unbeatable when it curves out smoothly (with a turn 2 Bitterblossom in particular). I don’t care about an inconvenience when the result is a win either way. A winning hand with Preordain is the same as a winning hand without Preordain. However, when my opening hand doesn’t have a Bitterblossom or an ideal mana curve, Preordain can go a long way towards smoothing things out. The only time I feel like the inconvenience outweighs the value of the card is when I draw two early in the game, which is why I suggest three rather than four.
Most directly, Preordain competes for a slot with discard spells. Discard spells are generally not very good in Faeries and should be kept to low numbers in the maindeck. For the exact reasons that Jace Beleren’s Howling Mine is good for Faeries, trading cards out of both players’ hands is bad. Consider building a Faeries list from scratch: the first things to include are Bitterblossom, Spellstutter Sprite, Scion of Oona, Mistbind Clique, and Cryptic Command, all in four copies unless there’s a very specific reason. These are the cards that make the deck run and the ones you want to draw every game. Beyond this, add lands and whatever it takes to not die to opposing creatures, and there are only a few slots left. I prefer to play a card like Preordain or Jace Beleren, which I can exchange for my bread-and-butter cards, rather than play something like Duress to take away a card from my opponent, who may not rely on synergy the same way I do.
When things go well, Faeries disrupts the opponent by bottlenecking mana, not cards in hand. On a typical turn, it doesn’t matter what spell or spells my opponent has because he’s probably only going to be able to play one (or none if I have a Mistbind Clique), and I’m going to counter it. The only time discard spells are good is when it luckily works out that I can take away a whole section of the opponent’s mana curve (if they have only one two-drop, for example) or if I can take away a card I wouldn’t easily be able to stop like a Bloodbraid Elf or a Volcanic Fallout. Since I want the flexibility to make these things possible, I have to play with Thoughtseize over Duress or Inquisition of Kozilek and am therefore hurting myself doubly against aggro because of the life loss.
Discard spells have a place in matchups where the opponent relies on specific, irreplaceable tools to win such as Pyromancer Ascension or Volcanic Fallout from a control deck. Therefore, they have a home in the sideboard, but it’s still important not to overdo it. Anything more than six is too many.
The Mana Base
This is what really pushes Faeries over the top. Smooth mana, a modest number of lands that enter the battlefield tapped, and a small army that comes out of nowhere once I’m done using my lands for mana. Creeping Tar Pit is a huge addition to the deck. Faerie Conclave was great, and Tar Pit is a dual land also. Three copies is good, four is great, five would be better. This card is too good to skimp on.
Tectonic Edge is a card I love, also. Having one protects me from manlands, and having multiples can cause a serious problem for Vivid Land Control and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle decks. Unfortunately, between Cryptic Command and four Mutavaults, Tectonic Edge has to be counted more as a spell than a mana source. I’ve been happy playing 26 lands since it lets me play two Edges. Preordain is also extra insurance against mana flood and is particularly good when I have a variety of lands to choose from.
Faeries’ Role in the Metagame
In my opinion, Faeries is the best deck. Even though not everyone will agree with me, it’s no secret that its one of the top decks, and it will be popular for the whole season. Either beat ’em or join ’em—plain and simple. No one will win a PTQ this season with a deck that can’t beat Faeries. Right now, I recommend “join ’em” before people start giving the deck the respect it deserves. However, this isn’t Lorwyn Block, and there are plenty of other powerful decks that have the potential to beat Faeries. I encourage people who don’t want to play Faeries at least to take it seriously and have a game plan against it.
How to Beat Faeries
Keep Its Back Against the Wall.
Apply pressure starting on turn 1 or 2. Make sure you have reach or disruption. Something like White Weenie or Aggro Elves won’t work because it’s too easy for Faeries to set up a race with Cryptic Command. Mono-Red, a Jund deck built with Faeries in mind, or something like Merfolk can pull this off.
Force It to Make the First Move.
Resolving a powerful, noncreature permanent and sitting on it is a good way to beat Faeries. Examples include Pyromancer Ascension and Prismatic Omen. Vivid Land Control built with Faeries in mind can take advantage of a higher land count, more powerful, late-game spells, and instant-speed card draw as long as it has Volcanic Fallout to protect itself. Here’s where discard spells really shine, so keep in mind that post-sideboard games don’t always go as planned.
How Not to Beat Faeries
Put a Lot of Effort into Killing Bitterblossom.
Faeries is still a brutal deck even when Bitterblossom isn’t on the board. Also, it’s easy for Faeries to be patient and resolve Bitterblossom later in the game with counter backup or a Scion of Oona. Sideboarding Wispmare or War Priest of Thune in U/W Control might catch some people off guard, but it won’t get the job done in the long run.
Destroy Its Lands.
Faeries operates at full capacity on four lands and just fine on two. Don’t spend one of your turns to set them back one turn on lands when they may be getting an advantage from Bitterblossom or Jace. Also, they’re either going to have extra lands in their hand or permission spells; which are you hoping for? Fulminator Mage is exactly the card I want to play against with Faeries because I can counter it when it’s going to be good and ignore it when it’s going to be bad.
I’ll be playing Faeries until something changes in the metagame or I learn something new. If I switch, it’ll be to a deck that I know can beat Faeries. If you’ve already chosen a deck, work hard at your Faeries matchup, and if you haven’t, don’t be shy to get on board early on. I wish everybody who’ll be playing good luck in the upcoming season.
P.S. I’m sure a lot of people will be writing about Faeries in the coming weeks, so I took this opportunity to talk about some of my more controversial opinions on the deck. If there’s interest, I’ll be happy to write a more general matchup and sideboarding guide once the metagame takes shape.