For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Brad Nelson, and I’m currently Co-Player of the Year alongside Guillaume Matignon for 2010 (and will be
until we face off at Pro Tour Paris for the title). Last year was my first full year on the Pro Tour, so — needless to say — it’s an honor
for me to be able to play in the first Player of the Year playoff ever.
My Magic career began back in 2004 when I created the username FffreaK on MTGO. Since I began playing Magic, I haven’t been able to stop, and I
don’t see this trend ending any time soon. I’m very happy to be writing at StarCityGames.com where I’ll have the chance to help get you guys to the
Let’s get started!
The Extended PTQ season is only a few weeks old, and it’s already being swarmed by the Menace. Faeries won both Magic Online PTQs and many other live
events in the few short weeks of the season. It feels like it is 2008 all over again — but I don’t really know why it should. The lists
we’ve seen so far in these events have been all over the place.
Take a look at how different these two lists are, even though they both won Magic Online Pro Tour Qualifiers within the same week.
Pretty different, right? But the thing is — the same core cards (Bitterblossom, Cryptic Command, Mistbind Clique, Spellstutter Sprite, etc.) are
there in both of those lists. And those core cards alone are responsible for quite a few victories.
In fact, one of the reasons why Faeries can be so dominant is because it has one of the best draws in the format.
Turn 1. Thoughtseize
Turn 2. Bitterblossom
Turn 3. Spellstutter Sprite
Turn 4. Mistbind Clique
It doesn’t really matter what else the Faeries player has going on for them that game, as this line of play will usually end up crushing any deck
no matter how prepared that opponent may be. This is one of Faeries’ biggest appeals. It has the strongest “God draw” of any deck in
At the same time, Faeries has some of the worst draws in the format, since many of their cards are dependent on other cards in their deck (Spellstutter
Sprite, Scion of Oona, Mistbind Clique). These are the games where Faeries players rely on outplaying their opponent and hope that their opponents make
The reason why Faeries is so dominant right now is not because the deck is far superior to anything else in the format, but simply because it’s so damn
hard to play against. In fact, it might be the hardest deck to face in the history of the game.
Should you play around Spellstutter Sprite or Mana Leak? What about Mistbind Clique or Cryptic Command? These are questions that need to be asked
almost every turn against Faeries, and sometimes the simplest mistake can cost a player the match.
Faeries is the deck you should practice the most against, since it will be piloted by the best players and be the hardest matches to get past. If
you’re serious about winning a Pro Tour Qualifier, you need to be prepared for this matchup. It doesn’t matter how good you think your deck is
against Faeries. They can always find ways to win.
Learning to play around the cards in their deck is very important. Only a few of their cards are played during their turn, so any small misstep can
cost you huge tempo loss and change the game state in a very big way.
Teaching Yourself to Play Against the Fae
I created an exercise to learn how to play against Faeries back when it was menacing Standard, and now seems like a great time to bring it back.
While you’re playtesting, have a separate notepad beside you to take notes on what you think your opponent has in their hand. You don’t have to start
this on turn 1, but you should do it as soon as you have relevant information.
There’s a great deal of information to be learned as long as you’re looking for it. Most players playing this deck know that it can mulligan very well,
and there’s no reason to keep a hand with random spells and lands.
Â So what does your opponent have in their hand? Mana Leak.
This example is pretty easy, but there’s even more information you can pull from this.
You know that your opponent won’t just keep six lands and a Mana Leak unless you’re playing a deck that folds to one counterspell. This means that they
have other cards in their hand that made this draw worth keeping.
The best way to figure out what else could be in your opponent’s hand is to first think about the three things that (should) normally go through
your own head.
-What’s in my hand?
-How am I going to win this game?
-What do I have to do to get to that point?
These are the things we think about all the time during a game, and we do it so much that it almost comes naturally. The only problem is that there are
three more questions that you need to consistently ask.
-What’s in my opponent’s hand?
-How is my opponent going to win this game?
-What does he think he has to do to get to that point?
The more you ask yourself these questions, the easier it will be to find out what your opponent might have in their hand and how they’re going to play
out the rest of the game. You’ll also just make better decisions. The more questions you ask the more answers will pop up, and then suddenly the
correct decision will reveal itself.
Here’s an example of this.
You’re on the draw with a White Weenie deck that’s quite similar to the one Paul Rietzl won Pro Tour Amsterdam with:
- 4 Figure of Destiny
- 4 Knight of the White Orchid
- 2 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Steppe Lynx
- 4 Student of Warfare
- 3 War Priest of Thune
The game has progressed in such a way that your opponent hasn’t cast a single nonland permanent other than a Sower of Temptation, which you Path to
Exiled. He spent his first couple turns dealing with your early game with removal spells. On turn 3, he didn’t hold up mana and instead killed off your
first-turn Student of Warfare with a Disfigure.
It’s your first main phase, and you’re at eighteen life with two lands in hand. You have four Plains, three Spectral Procession tokens, and two Figures
of Destiny, both of which are 2/2s. Your opponent has five lands, with one of them being a Mutavault, three cards in hand, and twelve life.
There are a ton of possibilities to consider with this board, and none of them should be overlooked. The first thing to think about is what cards are
unlikely to be in his hand and go from there.
-He didn’t play his land for the turn, so he has three spells in his hand.
-He didn’t play a Bitterblossom — but that does not mean he doesn’t have one. He could’ve easily drawn it in the last two turns but had a clump
of four-drops that he wanted to play instead.
Now that we’ve eliminated some of the possible cards/combinations of cards in his hand, it’s easy to figure out that he’s sitting on Mistbind Clique,
Cryptic Command, or both. He could have other cards in his hand, but most aren’t really that scary nor need as much consideration to play around.
Let’s think about what will happen if he has just Cryptic Command. He’ll probably play it before our attack step to save himself some much-needed life
and try to draw himself out of this situation. I’d put him on this play because he’s only at twelve life and bouncing a Figure of Destiny isn’t a very
If this is the case:
-He’ll play Cryptic Command during our beginning of combat step.
Now if he only has Mistbind Clique as his four-drop, why didn’t he play it during our upkeep? We only had one card in our hand at the time, and this
play would make attacking into the Mistbind a bit awkward. So if he has Mistbind Clique in his hand, we need to figure out why he wants to play it
after we attack.
This play allows us to draw a card that helps us in combat: Brave the Elements, Path to Exile, and Honor of the Pure. If he played it during our
upkeep, we wouldn’t even be able to make any of these plays unless the card in our hand was a land — and we wouldn’t have been able to cast
Honor of the Pure even if we were holding a land.
This makes me feel that he has to be playing as if we’re going to make a mistake by either not playing a creature spell before combat or attacking with
the entire team. So this means he wants us to attack with every creature we have, so he can block the Figure of Destiny that we wouldn’t be able to
make a 4/4 (we’d have to pump our Figure of Destiny before the declare blockers step if he uses Mistbind Clique to tap all of our lands). This would
put him at five life, but he would have Mistbind in play and a good chance of getting out of a bad board state. Now, this line of play would make me
believe that he has some way of dealing with an 8/8 Figure of Destiny or plans on having one because if we have two more lands, we’ll be able to
threaten him with this.
-He’ll play Mistbind Clique after we attack and probably has a way to deal with a creature next turn.
Let’s say he has both Cryptic Command and Mistbind Clique. His game plan is probably going to be casting the Command if we play a spell during our
first main phase or casting the Mistbind after we declare attackers if we simply move to combat. This will also give him the spell he needs to deal
with the 8/8 Figure of Destiny if we threaten him with it.
With this information, we need to figure out how to play this turn. There’s only one decision we can make during our first main phase, and that’s
whether or not to play a land. Do we gain any advantage by playing a land right now? It will let him know that we’re that much closer to setting up a
big Figure of Destiny and that we don’t have two spells in our hand. It can also set up a line of play we don’t want to happen.
So before we make this decision, let’s figure out what we want to do once we’re in combat. If he doesn’t play Cryptic Command and allows us to declare
attackers, this eliminates his possibility of just having Cryptic Command in hand. This means the most important card for us to play around is Mistbind
We’ve already gone over why attacking with the entire team isn’t the correct decision while figuring out why he wouldn’t Mistbind during upkeep. This
is where the hardest part of the turn comes into play. We still don’t know exactly what he’s holding in his hand, so we have to find the play that puts
the most pressure on the opponent without jeopardizing our board position.
The play that makes most sense to me is to attack with the three Spectral tokens and one Figure of Destiny. This allows us to save one of our most
important creatures and still threaten a substantial amount of damage. This is also the best line of play against a Mistbind Clique when thinking about
all of the scenarios.
This is also the reason we don’t want to play the land during our first main phase. If we played the land, and he did have Mistbind Clique, he’d have
the option of blocking one of the tokens and going to six life. If he did have Sower of Temptation, he’d be able steal the 4/4 Figure of Destiny, and
we wouldn’t be able to turn it back into a less threatening 2/2. Playing the fifth land during our second main phase becomes a simply better play.
If the opponent doesn’t have a Mistbind Clique to play — it’s now important to not pump the Figure of Destiny. There are removal spells that kill
it no matter what but also removal (Disfigure and Agony Warp to name a few) that can only take down the 2/2. Pumping the creature might cost us the
opportunity to deal an extra two damage to the opponent. It’s very likely that he has a removal spell, since he hasn’t played anything yet.
Even though I’m not allowed to play in Pro Tour Qualifiers, I still frequent them quite often to cheer on friends and family. This means that I watch
matches from round one through (hopefully) the finals. I always see Faerie players winning games where complicated situations like the one featured in
the last example happen in the earlier rounds but then losing them when it comes time for the Top 8. This is because their opponents weren’t thinking
deep enough into the game to come up with the correct decisions.
Moving along a bit, let’s talk about what cards should be played against Faeries.
That’s easy, right? Just throw whatever good hate card there is in the colors you want to play, and it’s game! Faeries doesn’t really have a chance to
beat “hate” cards and especially ones that can’t be countered.
Red – Volcanic Fallout
Green – Great Sable Stag
White – War Priest of Thune
Black – Bitterblossom
Blue – …Bitterblossom?
I hope by now you know that this is a joke, and if not, we have some work to do.
Faeries has answers to the cards we think are designed to just demolish them. Wall of Tanglecord is one of the new cards that they have at their
disposal, and it’s very good at its job. No single card will be able to beat the deck — so putting in a couple of hate cards and calling it a day
is most certainly not the best way to attack the Fae. You need to go into the match with a game plan.
The next thing to look at is how they win their games. This isn’t the same question I asked earlier in the article. This is more about how their cards
actually win games. One of the most surprising things about Faeries, if you’ve ever played it, is that the deck can play roughly half the number of
spells its opponent will cast in a game and still win.
Faeries is able to win its games by taking advantage of tempo. This means that it doesn’t have to always worry about its life total or its resources
once the player thinks he can win fast enough. He’ll create tempo that’s unbeatable, leaving his opponent in the dust.
Well, we already know that it’s very easy to put this player on Mana Leak. But how should this turn be played?
This really depends on the deck that you’re playing, so let’s say you’re doing battle with this decklist:
- 1 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Boggart Ram-Gang
- 4 Figure of Destiny
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 4 Qasali Pridemage
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 4 Vengevine
- 2 Fauna Shaman
Let’s say that we’re on the draw, and we didn’t have a one-drop this game — however, we can play Qasali Pridemage on this turn. Is it
automatically the case that we have to play the creature that we can? Won’t we be losing tempo by not playing a spell this turn?
This is what most Magic players will think, and they’ll quickly put the Pridemage onto the stack. This is exactly the opposite of how you should think.
I think that it’s very reasonable to just pass the turn with no play. There’s no reason to allow the Faerie player to gain tempo by countering our
spell. That’s right! Faeries gains tempo by countering the spell there.
The reason is that by casting the Qasali Pridemage on the second turn, it becomes less likely that you’ll be able to play two spells in the same turn
— where your Faeries opponent won’t be able to deal with both spells in the same turn. You just sacrificed the possibility of gaining tempo
against them in a later turn. Sneaking spells through their disruption, be it on the first turn or the sixth, is exactly what has to be done to win
There’s rarely a black-and-white way to play any situation — so this isn’t always the right line of play. It’s just something to consider. This
entire article is just something to consider. I wish I could write an article that just solved everyone’s problems with Faeries in 3,500 words
— but that just isn’t possible. Faeries is the type of machine that creates so many interesting and new situations that have to be looked
at differently from every other one.
Playtesting against this deck is the only way to truly be good against the Fae. It matters less what deck you bring to the fight (well, except U/W
Control) than it does how you choose to fight. I just hope I helped you guys get into the right mindset to start the battle.
I hope everyone has enjoyed my first article here at StarCityGames.com because I’ll be back. I’ll actually have a piece going up everyday this week
just for you guys. No, they won’t all be articles. Yes, I’ll have videos…No, they won’t be ME4 drafts.
See you guys tomorrow!
Your opening hand on the play is Darkslick Shores, Sunken Ruins, Island, Mana Leak, Thoughtseize, Bitterblossom. You Thoughtseize your opponent, and he
reveals the exact same hand. What do you take, and what is your play on turn 2 after you draw Mutavault?