Feature Article – Looking at the New Faeries

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Returns to Richmond!
Friday, October 17th – It seems that, despite the loss of some key components, those flighty and fickle Fae are at the forefront of the Standard format once more. With the world going mad over Esper Charm, Luis Scott-Vargas is championing a different, albeit eerily similar, direction. Exactly where can the perfect Faeries list be found? LSV is on the case…

While normally I’m not the biggest fan of Standard, preferring formats where Force of Will is legal, the time after a new set comes out is always pretty interesting. New cards and new decks abound, although often the best decks of the previous season with some minor alterations start out on top. One such deck is Faeries, which has terrorized Standard and Block ever since the printing of Bitterblossom. I spent a good chunk of last year avoiding playing Faeries as much as possible, until I finally caved at Nationals. I have to admit, it was nice to finally be the one casting turn 2 Bitterblossom and letting my opponent deal, instead of the other way around. Still, with Time Spiral and Coldsnap rotating out, Faeries loses more critical parts than many of the other viable decks in the format, so it seems like a good time to evaluate how good Faeries really is.

The loss of Ancestral Visions is the big one, as a suspended turn 1 Visions was almost as much pressure as a turn 2 Bitterblossom. Without Visions, Faeries no longer has an essentially free card draw engine/threat, which takes away much of its inevitability. The problem is solvable, but Lorwyn Block Faeries just didn’t have quite the same punch as Standard, and that can almost wholly be attributed to Visions.

Rune Snag will also be missed, as its departure signifies the end of unconditional two mana counters in Standard. Sure, Rune Snag wasn’t fully a hard counter, but on turns 2 through 4 it basically was, and the second and third Rune Snags rarely missed either. Now we have Remove Soul, Broken Ambitions, or Negate, all of which have their own set of disadvantages.

Luckily, a new card from Shards is pretty exciting for Faeries, and I have trouble seeing any sort of Faerie list not running four. That card is Lightning Helix, which perfectly shores up the aggressive matchups Faeries traditionally has trouble with. Well, calling it Lightning Helix may be a slight exaggeration, but whenever I cast Agony Warp against aggro it sure feels like Helix to me. Killing a Ram-Gang and fogging a Stigma Lasher is always nice, but now imagine if that Stigma Lasher had a Mutavault standing in its path. Agony Warp basically does everything, and at its worst is a two-mana removal spell. Especially now that Tarmogoyf is gone, there aren’t many early guys that can survive an Agony Warp. A 4/4 Figure of Destiny is the exception, but even there you can Warp it turn 2 or chump with a Bitterblossom token and then Warp it. Seriously, Agony Warp is the card that made me interested in building Faeries in the first place, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Losses and gains aside, let’s get to the deck itself. Faeries is a much easier deck to build and analyze than something like say, Five-Color Control (5cc from now on), since there is a core that really shouldn’t be touched. In my opinion, that core is:

4 Bitterblossom
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Mistbind Clique
4 Agony Warp
4 Cryptic Command

I even go further than most and don’t include Scion of Oona on my list of uncuttable cards, Paul and I having slain that particular cow at Nationals when we put in Shadowmages instead. While I do think that Scion should make its way into the deck, it isn’t quite an auto-include, and certainly not as a guaranteed four-of.

My favorite part of every deck is the card draw, and this list currently has none. Since Visions is gone, we need something to let us pull ahead of the opposition, and it looks like Jace is our man. I first saw Jace in Faeries during Block Constructed, where it did a pretty good job at bashing 5cc. In that particular matchup, Jace is awesome on your side and somewhat mediocre on theirs. Faeries generally has more men that can contain planeswalkers, and aside from Kitchen Finks, 5cc really doesn’t attack much. Even a stray Mutavault spells the end of Jace if he is on the enemy’s side, whereas your Jaces are just personal Howling Mines. Now, don’t get the impression that I expect 5cc to be playing an abundance of Jaces; this example was just to illustrate how Jace fights much better for Faeries than against them. Another neat thing about Jace is that multiples aren’t nearly as bad as, say, drawing multiple Garruks. If you have too many Jaces, just kill him drawing cards then play a new one. You can even use both in the same turn, which seems like it somehow violates the spirit of the rules regarding Planeswalkers. That pretty much accounts for the Visions slot, but there are still many spaces to be filled.

Sower of Temptation is quickly becoming one of my favorite cards, even if it is not necessarily based on its Standard prowess. It is awesome in Vintage and Legacy, formats where people often run little to no actual creature removal. Anyway, it still finds a good home in Standard, as an unopposed Sower is tough to beat, and you have ways to stop them from, well, opposing it. Scion of Oona demands attention before the Sower can be killed, and counterspells are always a reliable way of protecting your investments. Even if your opponent does untap and kill the Sower, whichever pawn it stole can’t hit you for at least another turn.

Of the conditional counterspells available, I like Remove Soul the best. I even played it before Rune Snag was gone, although as a complement instead of a replacement. With the density of creatures played in this format, there is no deck that Remove Soul is bad against, and it’s quite good against most decks. I still don’t want an abundance of them, and two has always been a good number. I would rather not play any Broken Ambitions or Negates, at least not main, as they are a bit too situational for my taste. A nice pseudo counterspell is the always-reliable Thoughtseize, which nabs opposing Bitterblossoms quite easily. Finishing out with 2 Remove Soul, 3 Thoughtseize, and 2 Vendilion Clique gives us this tight little package:

I really do want the second Faerie Conclave, but coming into play tapped can be such a beating sometimes, and with only 24 land it seems hard to justify. Losing Visions necessitates a slightly lower land count, even with Jace as a backup hitter.

This is the list I started with, although I had 3 Vendilion Clique and 2 Thoughtseize initially. I kept wanting to draw early Thoughtseizes, so I figured a Clique could easily make room. They do perform similar roles, after all. I realize that this Faeries list looks quite a bit like many other lists, which has much to do with the inflexibility of building a Faeries deck. Still, even if most lists look alike, there is value in examining each number and trying to build the best deck even with the fairly heavy constraints demanded by such a tribal theme. Faeries might not look as cool as, say, a 5cc deck with seven one-ofs and a whole host of two- and three-ofs, but its sure a sleek killing machine when it all comes down to it. It just has no reason to run many cards in numbers less than four, which greatly limits the differences between lists. Speaking of other lists, I find it very difficult to imagine running a Faerie deck without Mutavaults and with only 12 Black sources, like the three-color lists. Esper Charm might be good at killing opposing Blossoms, but even that fails on the draw, and the damage done to your manabase just doesn’t seem worth it. I haven’t quite logged the time in the format necessary to completely back up that assessment, but from what I have seen I think two-color Faeries is a more reliable and overall better deck. Plus, I think I would rather have Jace than Esper Charm anyway, which really eliminates the need for White.

Enough about the deck, let’s see some games! Seeing as MTGO is not quite graced with the presence of Shards, I actually went down to the local shop. It might not be the ideal situation for testing, but we have plenty of fine local players in California’s capital city, and I managed to do a fair bit of gaming. Plus, my other options were Magic Workstation (which I pretty much have never used, and am probably too spoiled by MTGO to ever use) or two-fisted testing. Testing against oneself isn’t as bad as it sounds, but I was also looking forward to playing with Shards in a real setting, since I don’t get too many chances to play live locally. I did manage to open both Titanic and Violent Ultimatums in a PTQ here…

I used the main deck above, complemented by this sideboard:

2 Mind Shatter
2 Puppeteer Clique
2 Faerie Macabre
2 Thoughtseize (at this point I had 3 V. Clique and 2 Thoughtseize main)
2 Negate
2 Flashfreeze
3 Infest

This sideboard may look a little scattered, and while I would make some changes, the numbers aren’t quite as loose as they look. (That feels like a comment I say to GerryT at least once a day, often while trying to justify things like 1 Threads of Disloyalty, 1 Sower of Temptation, 1 Vedalken Shackles or the like…)

My results were promising, especially how this list can actually win without Bitterblossom. In my games against 5cc Cruel Ultimatum, it was either blown up by Esper Charm or countered by Negate with reasonable frequency, yet Jace still picked up the slack. Once Jace hits the board, you just have to contain the opponent, not necessarily take great strides towards winning. Jace will do that by himself, so just stopping them from playing threats is really all you need. I never went for the Ultimate, as cool as milling them twenty would be. It was just draw, draw, both draw, repeat. Just as in Block Constructed, Mutavault is another key player here. Mutavault enables your Mistbind Cliques and actually puts a respectable clock on the opponent. Some important things to take away from this match:

Scion of Oona is good at fizzling their removal spells, and so much so that I would avoid playing it until I had to. For example, after a turn 2 Bitterblossom on the play, I didn’t play Scion turn 3 or 4, since that would give my opponent an opportunity to nuke it with Esper Charm. Instead, just hold it until they go for a Mulldrifter or what have you.
– Figuring out what your plan is each game is important. Like I said before, when you have an active Jace out, you can play for the long game. If you don’t have Jace or Blossom out, you are under far more pressure than your opponent to wrap things up, since their spells are much more powerful than yours. This leads to more aggressive attacking with Mutavault, and more Mistbind Clique deployment than if you have Jace or Blossom doing the job. I’m not saying you have to walk into Wrath, since it’s generally not that good a card against you, just that you can be more patient if you have one of your good permanents out than if you don’t.
Mistbind Clique doesn’t have to just come out during upkeep. This is a carryover from Block, where most Faeries players would just toss out Mistbind Clique upkeep reflexively. For the most part, against a deck with an unknown number of counters (but at least 4 and often much more), Clique is best cast during end of turn. It obviously depends on the situation, but I found that EOT Clique was much more effective than anything else.

Another thing I like about his matchup is the sideboarding. Often you will face a bunch of enchantment removal post board, and while that does make Blossom a lot worse, it is the classic case of threats versus answers. Wispmare is pretty unexciting if you don’t have a Bitterblossom turn 2, and even less exciting when a Scion hits the board. Meanwhile, you get Mind Shatter and Negate, with the option of Puppeteer Clique, which are all quite ridiculous.

I sideboarded as such: +2 Negate +2 Mind Shatter +2 Thoughtseize (+1 with 3 main) +1 Puppeteer Clique
-4 Agony Warp —2 Scion of Oona —1 Sower of Temptation

5cc wasn’t the only deck I battled against, but I certainly spent more time on that matchup than any other. In an undefined metagame, which this still is, I felt that my time was best spend focused on a matchup that is almost guaranteed to be relevant to anyone playing Standard at this point. I still did get some games in against Mono Red and Reveillark, with good results to speak of.

Mono Red: +2 Flashfreeze +3 Infest (this version had Stigma Lasher, Vexing Shusher and Mogg Fanatic, in addition to Figure of Destiny)
-3 Thoughtseize —1 Sower —1 Jace

Mono Red is typically among Faeries’ worst matchups, but the addition of Lightning Helix helps quite a bit. You now have a way to prevent much of their beatdown draw, which gives you time to start chaining Mistbinds during their upkeep. Demigod is still annoying, but siding in stuff like Faerie Macabre is just asking to draw blank after blank. I wouldn’t mind some Bottle Gnomes or something here, and if Faerie Macabre isn’t needed in the sideboard at all, then there is some room. Not having to worry about Magus of the Moon takes most of the pressure off, since they no longer have 4 copies of a free win card floating around in their deck.

Reveillark: +2 Puppeteer Clique +2 Mind Shatter +2 Faerie Macabre +1 Thoughtseize
-4 Agony Warp —3 Scion of Oona (getting these Sowered was bad times)

Before anyone points it out, I definitely oversideboarded for this particular matchup, since it is already so favorable and I bring in an assortment of really good cards. I don’t think I need Faerie Macabre in the sideboard at all, especially since I was bashing Lark even without it. The build of Reviellark is still probably in the rough stage also, which certainly doesn’t help. Still, Faeries always had a field day with Reveillark, and with Crovax and Pact of Negation exiting stage left, it didn’t get easier for them.

The sideboard I would go with is:

1 Thoughtseize
2 Mind Shatter
1 Puppeteer Clique
3 Infest
2 Negate
2 Flashfreeze
2 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Bottle Gnomes

Glen Elendra Archmage looks like a spicy one against 5cc, and the rest are fairly straightforward. Infest gives you a legitimate Wrath against Kithkin and Tokens; I just wish it hit more of the Elves’ men. Negate, Thoughtseize, and Mind Shatter are also beatings against 5cc, or any midrange decks. With people moving away from Cloudthresher or even Mulldrifter, Puppeteer Clique loses some luster, but I like one since it can be quite the blowout.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well Faeries played, and looks like it once again deserves to occupy one of the top spots in Standard. Nobody has really said too much about it, but that might be because most people just don’t want to play with Faeries. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s just not a sexy deck like 5cc apparently is. I didn’t get as many games in as I would like, but the circumstances being what they were (Shards not on MTGO, fairly pressing Berlin testing to get to), I was satisfied with the results. Maybe it’s just the control player in me, but I absolutely loved Jace main, and even was happy with him against Aggro. Playing him and going up to five loyalty often makes them waste an attack step at worst, and do nothing against a well-timed Agony Warp (clearly the one Jace drew you into) at best. If I had an event to play in the near future, Faeries would be near the top of my list. (Although if 5cc does add Tidings, that’s also a lot of card draw to tempt me…)


Lsv (on MTGO again, as I have been quite enthused with Classic lately)