Flow of Ideas – Faeries Evolved: UBr Faeries in Standard

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Thursday, August 13th – One deck which shouldn’t need any introduction is Faeries. The deck has controlled Standard with its winged legion since Bitterblossom was manifested into existence, and throughout its reign cards have slowly been released to counteract its dominance. With the recent addition of Great Sable Stag to the ranks of anti-Faeries cards, the empire of Faeries looked to finally be crumbling.

One deck which shouldn’t need any introduction is Faeries. The deck has controlled Standard with its winged legion since Bitterblossom was manifested into existence, and throughout its reign cards have slowly been released to counteract its dominance. With the recent addition of Great Sable Stag to the ranks of anti-Faeries cards, the empire of Faeries looked to finally be crumbling. Although a few stood by their flying comrades that had served them so well and still found a level of success, many of the game’s best bade their respectful goodbyes to the deck which they had so fervently played for the past year and a half. Toss in a black and white photo montage of Luis Scott-Vargas, Sam Black, and Paulo Vitor running through cornfields barefoot with Spellstutter Sprites flying around and Bitterblossoms blooming, and you’d have a nice little ode to the early days of Faeries. But that’s not quite where Faeries’ story ends.

I find it fascinating that, despite all of the talk of Faeries demise, it is still putting up a ton of solid PTQ finishes, including at least one win in Portland and a finals appearance in San Antonio (which may have also been a win), as well as numerous Nationals Top 8 appearances. Yet, nobody is talking about the evolution of Faeries people are using to do so. Although a few players have still been successful with a straight U/B version (the aforementioned Paulo Vitor is one such U/B stalwart), by and large the deck has transitioned to look a little something like this:

Although Faeries resisted a splash for a long time, Red finally turned out to be the way to go to combat the creature-based format of Standard, as well as the prevalence of Great Sable Stags. If you have to try and win your fights with four Great Sable Stags every round by using cards like Warren Weirding or Trip Noose, you’re going to lose to them eventually. With the Red version, not so much. You pick up a pseudo-Wrath effect that conveniently doesn’t tag your guys in the form of Firespout, and you can also knock off guys individually with Lightning Bolt.

Additionally, the deck now has some reach, which is pretty important. I can’t count the number of games I’ve used Faeries to drag my opponent down to six or less life, only for them to stabilize. Where before it was going to be difficult for me to punch through and win the game, with Lightning Bolt you pick up some inevitability on the opponent simply by having access to them in your deck. Finally, you gain access to Anathemancer out of the sideboard, which turns the already good Five-Color Control matchup absurdly in your favor. It’s fairly difficult for them to beat the reach of Anathemancer going long out of a deck like Faeries, because Faeries has so many angles it can attack from.

Despite the popularity Faeries has held, there have always been several routes you could take the deck with individual card choices, and the Red version leaves even more room to explore. Let’s take a look at some of the card choices throughout.

The manabase of a three-color Faeries deck is tricky, and is compounded by the fact that you unconditionally want access to Mutavault. In fact, for that reason, I was pretty close to playing a 27th land. However, I feel like the deck can operate on twenty-six. A few people have went down to twenty-five, including Portland PTQ winner James Nguyen, but with four Mutavaults in a three-color deck that often uses all of its mana, I think being able to hit your first several land drops is pretty important. There are no non-Island basics because, even though it makes their Paths unable to fix your mana, you really don’t want to draw them without the right filter land in play. There are seven enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands because I like casting my spells, and I feel as though I can still hit the crucial two untapped mana on turn 2 for Bitterblossom and four untapped mana on turn 4 for Clique often enough if I just play my lands in the right order.

Clique, Command, and Bitterblossom: don’t leave home without these. Everything else you can debate the numbers on. A card a lot of people have been going down to three of is Spellstutter Sprite. With less Faeries in general, Sprite becomes less effective. However, I think four is still important because it gives you a guy to champion and because it makes sure your draws with Bitterblossom are good. Yes, on his own he’s not that exciting, but he never has been and I don’t feel like playing less than four is right.

On the other hand, a card I have always hated in Faeries is Scion of Oona. Its main jobs were to get championed to Mistbind Cliques, keep your Sowers around, keep up with Anthem effects in token decks, and be good in the mirror. With less of the mirror around, no Sowers, and less prevalence of decks that have both Anthems and tokens, I don’t know why people still want to play with Scion. Plus the card is just embarrassing against a Volcanic Fallout, and, to quote Paul Nicolo, this is the “all-Fallout-all-the-time format.” Instead, I have Vendilion Clique. He gets championed just as well, but also tucks away cards like Sable Stag and Volcanic Fallout, blocks much better than Scion, is miles better against Five-Color, and allows you to go aggressive from an empty board — a rather common event with the amount of Fallouts being played these days. In a deck with Firespouts, Vendilion Clique also lets you cycle them away in matchups where they are dead. While Vendilion Clique can’t just put them to dead if you have a bunch of tokens on the battlefield like Scion of Oona can, often the Scion wouldn’t be necessary to win that game anyway.

I feel like four Bolts is the right number to play, as they give you a nice amount of great targeted removal and reach, doing a job Peppersmoke could only dream to do. Bolt is good in your bad matchups, and you want to have access to as many as possible in the matchups where you need them. While maindeck Bolt is pretty standard, the numbers only really varying from three to four throughout lists, Firespout, on the other hand, is something a lot of players have eschewed to the sideboard. I really feel like it belongs maindeck, though. With the steady creep of maindeck Sable Stags, and the popularity of decks like Kithkin and Elves in PTQs, Firespout is just a great tool to have access to in the first game. Granted, it’s bad against decks like Five-Color, but you’re advantaged enough against them that you should be okay as long as your hand isn’t clogged on Firespouts.

Doom Blade is chosen over Agony Warp, because I think Bolt can take care of anything I would want Warp too, but I need something else to clean up the rest of the cards in the world that Bolt doesn’t directly kill, like Plumeveil, Baneslayer Angel, and so on. Something interesting I saw the past weekend is a player with maindeck Deathmark instead of Doom Blade, and I must admit, it caught my eye. It kills almost everything just as well for one mana less, plus it takes care of cards Doom Blade can’t touch like Putrid Leech or Doran. Right now I’m sticking with my Doom Blades because of its instant speed nature, but maindeck Deathmark is definitely something to try out.

I’ve never been a huge Jace fan in Faeries because of taking up three mana on your turn, but I’ve come to accept that the games where you untap with Jace put you so far ahead that playing him is worth it. You need a way to go up on cards in this format, and Jace is the best way to do it. Not playing Jace maindeck leads to too many games where you run out of cards and are left to the mercy of your deck in hostile situations, and that’s not where I want to be with Faeries.

Broken Ambitions serves an important role in this deck, more so than the two-color Faeries decks. On top of countering spells and doing what you want it to do in that sense, it both fixes your mana and allows you to better sift through cards that are bad in the matchup, like Firespout against Five-Color Control, or put you closer to finding a card like Firespout against Elves.

As far as the sideboard goes, I think the Anathemancers are fairly self-explanatory. You want all four, and they are superb against decks like Five-Color. The rest of the cards can foster a little more debate.

Thoughtseize is a card I have always liked maindeck, but in the newest version I have painfully moved them to the sideboard. The problem is that with so many of your Black sources entering the battlefield tapped you would have to mess with your manabase to play Thoughtseize on turn 1. Against decks where it is equally as good later in the game, like Five-Color, you can bring them in. However, without being able to consistently cast it on turn 1, no longer is Thoughtseize good against almost anything.

Deathmark is just an awesome card right now. It helps keep Kithkin and Elves under control, and is also good against some of Jund’s worst creatures for you, like Putrid Leech. Granted, it’s just a one for one, but that’s often all you need against the beatdown decks to help wrest an advantage since having all four Firespouts will allow you to mop up with a source of card advantage if you can survive the initial barrage over the first few turns. For one mana, it’s one of the best effects you can buy against the beatdown decks.

You want more Jaces in all of the matchups where you need a stream of cards; namely Five-Color and the mirror. It’s good for all the same reasons there are two maindeck: it’s just the best way to draw cards. I had a Cruel Ultimatum in the sideboard for a while, but the problem was that the decks you wanted it to resolve most against so you could get the cards were the decks that had the highest chance of countering it, so the fourth Jace ended up working back into the sideboard. Jace tends to die a lot, so having all four is never really a problem.

Lastly, Plumeveil is fantastic against beatdown decks and can halt an entire offense if they don’t have Sable Stags in play. He plays real nice with Firespout by causing them to overextend right into your clutches. Plumeveil is a lot better on the play than on the
draw, but he is still solid against a lot of decks and, worst case, will eat a removal spell or Putrid Leech.

This is how I have been sideboarding:

Five-Color Control
+4 Anathemancer, +3 Thoughtseize, +2 Jace Beleren
-4 Lightning Bolt, -3 Firespout, -2 Spellstutter Sprite

U/B Faeries
+3 Thoughtseize, +2 Jace Beleren, +2 Plumeveil
-3 Firespout, -2 Vendilion Clique, -2 Mistbind Clique

U/B/r Faeries
+4 Anathemancer, +3 Thoughtseize, +2 Jace Beleren,
-3 Firespout, -2 Mistbind Clique, -3 Vendilion Clique -1 Doom Blade

+3 Deathmark, +2 Plumeveil, +1 Firespout
-2 Broken Ambitions, -2 Spellstutter Sprite, -2 Jace Beleren

+3 Deathmark, +2 Plumeveil +1 Firespout
-4 Broken Ambitions -2 Spellstutter Sprite

R/B Aggro
+2 Plumeveil, +1 Jace Beleren
-3 Firespout

Combo Elves
+3 Deathmark, +2 Thoughtseize, +1 Firespout
-3 Mistbind Clique, -2 Jace Beleren, -1 Cryptic Command

Despite what many people have said about Faeries, I feel like the deck is still extraordinarily powerful, and the red splash gives it the resilience it needed. People are still stuck in Sable Stag mode, while you can deal with it for a single mana. Without Sable Stag complicating matters, a lot of the matchups are just as winnable as they were pre-Stag — which is to say, very winnable. If people continue to just use the same strategies against Faeries that they have been, then the red version of Faeries is ready for them.

I’d like to say thank you for all of the e-mails I received last week, and congratulations to Aslan who made top four of the San Antonio PTQ — his first ever PTQ, no less — with a very slightly tweaked version of the Reveillark deck I put up last week. I love hearing from you guys, so please let me know if any of you play with UBr Faeries or Reveillark this weekend, and how you guys do. As always, you can e-mail me at gavintriesagain at gmail dot com or post in the StarCityGames.com forums. I’ll be at the Seattle PTQ this weekend, so if you’re there feel free to come by and say hi. I look forward to hearing from you, in one way or another, soon.

Gavin Verhey
Team Unknown Stars
Rabon on Magic Online, Lesurgo everywhere else