The winged terror. The blue menace. Pure frustration. Whichever pejorative you choose for the archetype, one thing is clear: Faeries is the Extended
deck to beat.
In an era reminiscent of Lorwyn Standard and Block, Faeries is striking down PTQs with incredible precision. It even dismantled the recent PTQ at Magic
Weekend Paris and the PTQ at GP Atlanta, putting two more feathers in its incredibly gaudy cap of victories. The deck is showing no signs of
slowing down, quickly adapting to the onset of decks designed to beat it.
What’s a PTQ grinder to do?
Well, one option is to pick up Oona’s squadron for yourself. Learning how to play such a robust deck certainly pays dividends, and a number of players
who did just that have found themselves with a free ticket to Nagoya. But if, like many out there, you’re not interested in moving to Glen Elendra,
then you’re going to have to know how to beat it. It’s time to set down those Volcanic Fallout and Great Sable Stag crutches and move onto a better
avenue of attack.
Did he just say set down Fallout and Sable Stag?
Yeah, that’s right.
Now, there’s no intrinsic problem with either “hate” card. They’re perfectly legitimate cards against Faeries. Then again, that’s also all they are…
Fight Faeries with decks, not cards
You look up at the timer looming above the neon scoreboard. Twenty seconds. That’s all you guys have left. It’s second and twelve, and you just have to
drive far enough up field that your ace kicker can come out and send the ball through those uprights. You get into the huddle, and the quarterback
looks straight up.
“Alright. Let’s throw the ball.” He takes a moment to pause. You wait for him to tell you what play you’re going to run, what position to get in. He
just turns and heads back to the line of scrimmage.
“By the way,” the quarterback yells to you at the line, “the ball might also just deflate mid-throw.”
Players have tried to play individual cards against Faeries since the deck first blew up at GP Birmingham. Yet the number of Cloudthreshers,
Wispmares, Eyes of the Wisents, Volcanic Fallouts, and Great Sable Stags haven’t done the trick. The lone exception might be US Nationals 2009 with its
infamous 36 Stag, 35 Fallout Top 8, and even then, many of the decks themselves were geared for Faeries, making the individual hate cards just
An average Extended Faeries deck has six discard spells between maindeck and sideboard on top of 2-4 Vendilion Cliques, and that’s not even counting
potential 0/6 artifact walls out of the sideboard. If your hate cards are your main strategy against Faeries, how often do you really think they’re
going to make the difference you need?Â
It’s not that Fallout and Sable Stag are bad cards, but they have to amount to something greater. How are you using those cards in the first place? Is
an instant Pyroclasm effective in your deck? How about a 3/3 beater? What are you doing to make those cards matter in the first place?
This may sound like some kind of plot to talk about Mono-Red, but even the red deck won’t be able to consistently beat Faeries if it isn’t built with
the matchup in mind. If there were a Wikipedia list of Magic common misconceptions, Mono-Red smashing Faeries would
be up there at the top of the list, right next to sideboarding Dark Confidant out against Zoo.
My favorite example from this season is actually the varied Prismatic Omen decks. A lot of highly skilled players looked at the Omen versus Faeries
matchup on paper and felt like Faeries should be significantly ahead. I was certainly convinced. Discard, plus countermagic, plus Bitterblossom
couldn’t be good for a combo deck.
It turns out that everyone felt the same way… except the people who had actually tested the matchup.
The Faeries pilots I talked to all felt as if it was an unfavorable matchup, and the Omen players felt like it was a good one. And indeed, after
playing it myself, despite what it looks like, the Omen decks are favored. In fact, Omen doesn’t need to run cards specifically for Faeries; neither GP
Atlanta champion Jason Ford or U/G/r Scapeshift innovator Matthias Hunt chose to run Great Sable Stag anywhere in their 75.
Omen’s overall strategy circumvents Faeries’ usual disruptive elements. Faeries can strip some pieces, sure, but the combo deck has enough digging to
find more eventually. Unlike other combo decks, though, its kill condition is lands — something which Faeries doesn’t have a great answer to aside from
a couple Tectonic Edges and maybe a few sideboarded Spreading Seas. And, unlike many other decks in the format, Omen doesn’t waste time or resources on
specific hate cards that dilute their overall plan.
Omen can out-resource Faeries quickly, and when it reaches that point, it can string together a chain of threats that can break through the Faerie
wall. That applies either on turn 2, when the Faeries player foolishly taps out for a Bitterblossom, or on turn 8, when the Omen player has wheeled
them into a position where they’re guaranteed to stick their enchantment.
Why is resolving Omen such bad news for Faeries? Well, that brings us to the next point…
Force Faeries To Play On Your Terms
Faeries is the greedy kid on the playground, the abusive significant other, the brash dictator. It’s a deck all about playing on its terms. As long as
it’s doing what it wants, when it wants, Faeries is comfortable. But talk back to Faeries, and its resolve begins to tremble.
To be clear, Faeries’ terms of engagement is that it will cast almost all of its spells on your turn, control your options, and have the luxury of
deciding when it wants to be the beatdown or the control deck. If you try and fight Faeries on this plane of battle, you will almost certainly lose.
However, hoping that the Faeries player stumbles enough to give you the upper hand isn’t reliable. A loophole isn’t enough. Instead, you have to find a
way to take over and dictate their course of play instead of the other way around. Â
Going back to the Omen discussion above, a resolved Prismatic Omen is so powerful because of how it forces the Faeries player into a rough position.
Faeries can no longer play control because Omen has inevitability. Given enough time, Valakut, The Molten Pinnacle will take over the game.
All right — now that you’re not expecting it, it’s the perfect time to whip out a Mono-Red example.
While the favorite in the matchup isn’t always the Red deck, what Mono-Red does consistently do is dictate the field of battle. “I’m going to
attack you, and you’re going to be the control deck. Stop me, or you die.” If the Faeries player misassigns their role, they are almost certainly going
to lose, and even when they correctly identify their role (as most do), it forces them to play one way. They don’t have a lot of maneuverability.
The reason why Faeries is traditionally so favored against other control decks is because control has no good way to force it to play one way or
another, so Faeries can bide its time and sculpt the game state with whatever pieces it draws while removing the opponent’s with discard. This is
perhaps why some people resort to Sable Stags, but even then, a 3/3 isn’t usually a potent clock in the first place.
If you want to beat Faeries, find a strategy that crafts the game to where you want it to be — not where they want it to be.
Present Threat After Threat
Faeries’ resources are limited. Often, it takes advantage of the gaps in your plays to reload on action. For example, a Faeries player may opt to go
for a Jace the turn after you elect not to cast anything because it has a moment to breathe. However, if you don’t give them this moment to breathe,
sometimes your cavalcade of threats will just take them down.
This line of attack is most obvious in a beatdown deck. If you look over a Jund decklist, for example, you’ll see how the deck can present a threat
each turn that the Faeries player cares about. However, the extremely popular R/G Valakut deck takes a similar approach.
Many traditional ramp or midrange decks might fall prey to Faeries because there are only a handful of cards Faeries actually cares about. Deal with
those, and you can ignore the rest. As a result, the ramp/midrange deck can’t afford to tap out for something major every turn because, first of all,
they only have so many backbreaking spells and, second of all, Faeries has the tools to answers the spells that matter.
That’s not the case with R/G Valakut.
Prismatic Omen. Oracle of Mul Daya. Primeval Titan. Primal Command. Scapeshift. Spellbreaker Behemoth. Koth of the Hammer. There are so many hits the
Valakut deck can cast on every turn — and that list of cards doesn’t even include ramp spells! Oh, and don’t forget about a regular ol’ Valakut
Every turn is a threat Faeries has to counter or otherwise deal with. Even if Faeries is netting a card in Cryptic Command exchanges, its supply of
answers is limited. Discard is one for one; Mana Leak is one for one; removal is one for one — and even if both decks trade endlessly and run out of
cards, Valakut can seal the deal.Â Â
Present Multiple Threats Simultaneously
My first ever-strong anti-Faerie strategy was the Time Spiral-block suspend cards.
For an entire Standard season, I leaned on my buddies Riftwing Cloudskate and Ancestral Vision to fight the good fight against Faeries. Not only does
Faeries have only so many answers, but it also has a limit on mana. Cryptic Command is their primary hard counter, and that costs 1UUU. If they
countered my suspend spell, then I was free to counter back or deploy another threat, and if they didn’t, then I attained some kind of advantage.
There’s no suspending in modern-day Extended, but a similar principle remains.
You can try to sequence several cards on your turn, but it’s hard to do that because of the mana-cost commitment. Unless you’re casting two Llanowar
Elves, it’s unlikely you’re going to be able to cast two real threats on the same turn while they’re still bottlenecked in some regard. The trick is to
use instants to your advantage.
These days, I think my favorite sideboard card for Faeries is ironically a Faerie itself — Vendilion Clique. It flashes down, and it’s pretty much a
must-counter because the peek at their hand can really be devastating for them. If it resolves, you can set up to resolve the spell you want the next
turn. If they countered it, then sweet! — they’re down a counter. If it was a Cryptic Command, it might have been their last piece of countermagic.
Either way, I’m usually okay with the results.Â Â
Sometimes Cryptic Command can work in a similar way. I’ve cast end-step Cryptic Command to bounce one of their untapped lands and draw a card plenty of
times, just to get them off the right amount of mana — or even to see if I can get them to pull the trigger on their own countermagic.
Present Threats Faeries Isn’t Prepared To Answer
Faeries evolves with the metagame. It happens so fast that whatever new anti-Faeries technology busts out one weekend is already shored up the next.
With the exception of enchantment hate, the deck has access to tools for fighting just about anything. The key, then, is attacking them with what they
aren’t ready for.Â
At GP Atlanta, I was watching Ari Lax play against Christian Valenti with R/G Valakut in the quarterfinals. Ari is an excellent Faeries player, and he
managed to carefully snag game one. In game two, Ari had a good hand, and it looked like he might actually be ahead.
And then it happened: Spellbreaker Behemoth.
Ari slumped in his chair. He had one good answer to the card in his entire 75 — a lone Deathmark — and it was nowhere to be seen. Â Â Â
The card ran over Ari in game two, playing a large part in Christian’s eventual match victory.
Faeries players already know how to beat the Sable Stags of the world. What they don’t know how to deal with is what they aren’t expecting. Fortunately
for them, Go for the Throat proves a pretty reliable answer to the Behemoth. But still, there are plenty of unplayed cards out there that the deck
isn’t equipped to answer.
For example, throw down with a set of Vengevines, and things might get a little hairy for the mage packing Bitterblossoms. Now, once again, you can’t
just toss four Vengevines into any deck and accurately proclaim your Faeries matchup is awesome — it has to work into an overall strategy — but it’s
certainly a good place to start.
Don’t Be Reactive
If there’s one unifying thread throughout all of the above suggestions, it’s the word “threat.” There’s a good reason why: being reactive against
Faeries is very dangerous.
As I mentioned earlier, Faeries traditionally is favored against control decks because control can’t constrain its flexibility. It essentially gets to
play its ideal game. If I’m trying to beat Faeries, I always find a proactive way to do it.
Local Five-Color Control player Martin Goldman-Kirst made it all the way to the semifinals of a recent PTQ with Abyssal Persecutor in his sideboard,
simply because he wanted a way to try and race Faeries. He just had to trick them into giving him a one-turn window — and bam! Deal with a 6/6
Granted, this strategy is no longer as strong thanks to Go for the Throat, but the same principles remain. For example, Thoughtseize is a sideboard
card I like against Faeries out of control decks because it gives you information and denies them the ability to craft their ultimate game plan.Â
It’s for these reasons that I ask players to reconsider their usage of Volcanic Fallout against Faeries. It’s a completely fine card when warranted.
For example, in R/G Valakut it helps buy time against a Bitterblossom, and in Five-Color Control, it serves as a way to control the pace of the game.
However, in more aggressive decks, what is the card accomplishing against Faeries? It has to have a purpose. If a Faeries player thinks you have
Volcanic Fallout, they can just craft a master plan around either Mistbind Clique or drawing a discard spell and make your reactive card wasted. Â
Figure Out Which Part Of The Deck You’re Losing To
A Faeries deck can essentially be broken into different quadrants. You have the Bitterblossom-fueled cards, cards like Mistbind Clique that let you
steal games and present a huge threat, and the controlling cards like countermagic and removal. Whenever a deck of mine is trying to beat Faeries, I
start by playing games and seeing how I’m losing — and then fight that angle.
For example, if Mistbind Clique is the problem because it Time Walks you and steals the game from your board position, there are a ton of great
answers. Path to Exile, Thoughtseize, Combust, Essence Scatter, Soul Manipulation — whatever works. Bonus points if you listened to my advice of not
being reactive and decided to change your deck to implement a proactive strategy that helps you ignore it. Every deck has a reasonable option.
Only fight the wars against Faeries that you need to fight in the first place. Focus on what’s actually beating you, and it will help out a lot in
figuring out your answer.
And with that, this article is ready to be wrapped up. If you have any questions or good strategies you’ve found to use against Faeries, either post in
the forums, tweet me @GavinVerhey, or send me an e-mail at Gavintriesagain at gmail dot com. As someone who has played with and against Faeries plenty,
I’d love to hear your thoughts! In the meantime, may these tactics prepare you for your upcoming PTQs. Talk to you next week!