How to Attack the “Best Deck” Conundrum – A Case Study with Faeries

Tuesday, February 1 – Grand Prix: Toronto Champion Jon Smithers invented the Tempered Steel deck in Extended and provides you with an in-depth strategy guide for beating Faeries, systematically.

For as long as I’ve been playing tournament Magic, there’s always been a “Best Deck.” As formats change and evolve through
rotation and restriction, once a format has been given time to settle in and players get to understand the new format, a clear best deck soon emerges.

The next logical step for tournament players is to assess if they would rather beat ‘em or join ‘em. I’ve been known to
systematically choose the latter, and with respect to the current relevant formats, I’d like to walk through a strategy I’ve employed over the
years to attack the best-deck conundrum.

Since the onset of the new extended PTQ season has clearly indicated Faeries is the early frontrunner (by a wide margin), I’m going to focus on
strategies that can be used to trump the winged menace. To demonstrate how I do so, I’ll use the Harvard Case Study Methodology that I begrudgingly
memorized during my many years as a business major. If only I had learned this method by way of Magic, I’m sure it would’ve made for a pretty
sweet college semester…

Step 1 — Situation Analysis

The first step in conquering the best deck is to know what you’re dealing with. What is Faeries trying to do, exactly? Given free reign,
what would the perfect Faeries hand look like, and what would their play sequence be? Let’s imagine the following example:

faeries hand

How would your opponent play this hand? Playing against a goldfish, he would undoubtedly open on Thoughtseize, removing any of his opponent’s
disruptive effects (Duress, etc.). On turn 2, I’d find it hard to imagine Bitterblossom not getting cast. From that point forward, if the enchantment
survives the untap phase, the opposing player will need to somehow resolve a threat through the Spellstutter Sprite and also need to survive the
inevitable Mana Short… taken all together, this is commonly known as “The Nut.”

The Faeries game plan can be broken down into four main bullets:

·        Disrupting opponent’s primary strategies with light hand disruption and cheap creature removal.

·        Counterspells that establish tempo or card advantage.

·        Flash creatures that provide a clock along with additional disruption.

·        Long-game reach, thanks to manlands and Bitterblossom.

Perhaps Cryptic Command deserves its own bullet, since it complements every single strategy that Faeries employs, but it fits into just about
everything I just listed, so I won’t bother. No other deck can make better use of the four modes as effectively, and the savvy Faerie player will
make use of each of them with the same relative frequency.

Step #2 — Core Problem

Faeries has a moderately strong early, mid, and late game. The core problem in this case is in finding a means to dominate one of these three game
phases and to avoid a grinding game — where Faeries has proven to dominate if they’re allowed to dictate the pace of the game.

Step #3 — Evaluative Criteria

Now that we know what Faeries does, we need to figure out what it doesn’t do and thus where we can attempt to disrupt or attack their
game plan. You’ll need to research the most common decklists of present (for which I am eternally grateful of StarCityGames.com deck
database and specifically the Statistically Average Decks). 
This step is perhaps the most important for two reasons; it reveals areas of Faeries’ game plan that you can either trump or exploit. More on
this later.

Here are a couple areas I feel Faeries shows a weakness, but your findings should expand on mine or could be different altogether:

  • No Card Draw
    — Only certain outlier lists play Preordain or Jace Beleren, the only sources of card draw or


    within sight. Is it possible to bury Faeries under a mountain of card advantage and dominate the mid/late game? Cards that come to mind: Dark
    Tutelage, Regal Force.

  • Mana Base Issues
    — While Faeries has a relatively stable mana base thanks to the multitude of U/B dual lands they have access to, Faeries tends to play light
    on land count, usually 25 and featuring only five basic lands. Could land death be a means of preventing Faeries from entering the mid and late
    game, or can we punish Faeries for their reliance on this greedy mana base? Cards that come to mind: Fulminator Mage, Anathemancer.

  • Artifacts and Enchantments
    — Faeries has no out to a resolved artifact or enchantment, besides bouncing it with Cryptic Command. Can we find a card that “just
    wins” once resolved, since Fae has little recourse? Cards that come to mind: Pyromancer Ascension, Prismatic Omen.

  • Fatties
    — Once again, Faeries has to rely on Cryptic Command to bounce any creatures that enter the battlefield with toughness > 3 and cost >
    3. While they could chump block for many turns with Faerie Rogue tokens, most big creatures have trample, evasion, or bring friends to the party.
    I’m of course thinking of Primeval Titan and Avenger of Zendikar, but other potent examples exist that aren’t seeing play. Alternate
    methods include sneaking fatties into play via hideaway lands. What comes to mind: Oversoul of Dusk, Chameleon Colossus.

  • No Life Gain
    — Faeries of the past were strong enough to wield massive elephant hammers, but no longer is
    that true. Perhaps osteoporosis is taking its toll? Either way, Bitterblossom and Thoughtseize put a drain on their life total, so by aggressively
    attacking their life total while keeping them away from fighting back quickly with Mistbind Clique, Faeries can be stopped before they can really
    start. Cards that come to mind: Volcanic Fallout, hasty red creatures.

  • Reliance on Bitterblossom
    — Simply stated, Faeries become “Fairies” once Bitterblossom is removed from the equation. Hands down the most
    unfair card in the deck, it really is the glue that holds the archetype together. If you can find a foolproof way of nullifying the lynchpin of
    their deck via card choices or general strategy, you’ll gain a serious edge over the Faerie player. Cards that come to mind: War Priest of Thune,
    Cunning Sparkmage.

Now that we know some angles we can attack Faeries from, we need to establish how we’re going to do that.

Step #4 — Alternatives Analysis

With the battle plans drawn for an assault on the Faerie stronghold, it’s now time to prepare the troops. Will we attack by day or night? By sea,
by air, or on the open plain of the battlefield? Preparing the attack strategy requires deep pensive thought and weighing the hypothetical strengths
and weaknesses of each plan. Let’s examine just a few:

            Alternative 1 — Go Over The Top

This is the strategy used by most Valakut-based decks, including Wargate and R/G Titan Scapeshift, to drop bomb after bomb until one finally sticks,
putting the Faerie player in a losing situation. In each case, these decks tend to reach a critical mass where the Faerie player has to leave his
comfort zone to overextend or be overly aggressive to fight back the superior endgame presented by them. In each case, the Faerie player can be
punished if they leave an open window for a lethal Scapeshift or Prismatic Omen to get forced through and thus end the game in short order.

            Alternative 2 — Blitz Attack

Storming the gates of the Faeries castle requires a surprise attack! Recently, we’ve seen a major resurgence of the classic Red Deck because of
its vastly superior early game. It uses some of Faeries’ best cards (Bitterblossom, Thoughtseize) against them by forcing them to outweigh the
loss of life associated with them. Faeries’ plan to combat the Goblin invasion usually hitches on transforming into a U/B Control deck with lots
of spot removal backed by Wurmcoil Engine after sideboard, but this opens a window for them to be burned out via Lightning Bolt, Flame Javelin, etc.

            Alternative 3 — Fight Fire with Fire

To build a strategy with such resilience that it can stand face to face with Faeries and fight on their home turf is a very difficult task but one that
can be rewarding. Jund has long been able to do whatever you do just a little bit better. They can cripple Faeries with card advantage via Blightning
and Bloodbraid Elf or serve delicious fatties a la carte thanks to chef Fauna Shaman and the main dish of Demigod of Revenge. Naya also attempts the
same mode of attack but perhaps tries to edge towards the blitz strategy in combination.

What other alternative strategies can you think of that can capitalize on a Faeries weakness? Ship it to the forums!

Step #5 — Decision and Justification

Now that you’ve taken the time to really think about how you plan to beat the format’s conclusive best deck, you need to put that knowledge
into action and devise your own strategies and come up with the newest technology for the matchup. While everyone’s decision may vary, the justification part requires you to be completely honest with yourself and might require you to think twice about your rationale towards your
strategy. In the end, you should be thinking:

·        I believe that adding Volcanic Fallout to the maindeck of my R/G Scapeshift deck will buy me the
necessary time to get to the late game, where I can force my haymakers through their countermagic.

·        I believe that playing Knight of the Reliquary over Boggart Ram-Gang in my Naya list will give me an
edge against Faeries since I’ll have fewer total bricks against Agony Warp; then after board, I’ll bring in a singleton Oversoul of Dusk
that they won’t be prepared for.

·        I believe that my sideboard Anathemancers will provide just the amount of reach I need to burn the
Faerie player out, since I can reliably dome them for four to six damage each time.

You don’t want to justify your strategy with:

·        My deck is too fast for Faeries to handle.

·        I can just wait them out, then cast two relevant spells a turn.

·        Affinity just crushes Faeries anyway, so I’ll just sideboard for my bad matchups.

Step #6 — Action Plan

Go and show those meddling, tricksy Faeries that y’all ain’t scared! You’ve prepared for this matchup; you know it inside out; now
you need to implement your strategy and fight back when Faeries tries to take the ball into its own court. And while this case study analyzed the
Extended format through the lens of Faeries, you can apply this same line of thinking for every other format and its prime strategies (Example: How to
defeat Jace, the Mind Sculptor in Standard).

As a short aside, this past weekend, I played in a PTQ, and a good friend of mine had a very particular strategy — to play 4-Color Control and to
dodge Faeries altogether. This, my friends, is not a particularly strong plan, as evidenced by his 1-2 drop record thanks to… Yep you guessed it
— two Faeries losses. And while he lamented his poor luck in getting these pairings, I couldn’t really offer much condolence aside from
“Well, I mean, you kinda have to expect…”

For those interested, I played Aggro-Wargate at this PTQ, finishing 5-2 and losing to a RUG Splinter Twin deck and R/G Scapeshift (played by Pascal
Maynard, my Tempered Steel partner-in-crime, who went on to win the PTQ). The list I played was designed by 2008 Canadian National Champ Dan Lanthier,
and he really sold me on the deck in the week leading up to the PTQ, and the deck proved itself very powerful and consistent during the course of the

The RUG matchup is a bit obscure, but it’s close to unwinnable, but the Scapeshift matchup came down to the dice roll, where each game was
decided by one untap phase (and yeah I was 0-for-7 on dice rolls that day). I think the deck is well positioned right now.

See you next time!

– Jon