Innovations – Beating Faeries: It’s Getting Worse Before It Gets Better

Wednesday, January 5th – Patrick examines the latest Extended PTQ results, and it looks like Faeries may yet again be public enemy number one. Check out Patrick’s brews for beating the flying fiends.

It is officially the future.

Well, at the very least it is 2011, and the Extended PTQ season is finally underway. Three weeks ago, we
examined the intriguing results

from the recent World Championships, providing us our first glimpse of the post-rotation format. The world has studied those results, and we’re finally seeing the stage unfold before us, starting with this past week’s online Extended PTQ. To many players’ delight,
the Top 8

was comprised of seven different decks with the only repeat being two copies of the winning archetype…

The prophecy is coming true! When the new Extended format was announced, rumors that Faeries would dominate were everywhere. Fortunately, enough people remembered that Grove of the Burnwillows was legal to squash any real chance of that in Paul Rietzl Amsterdam. Now that Grove (and Tarmogoyf, Mystical Teachings, Damnation, storage lands, etc.) is gone, the training wheels are off.

Faeries’ results at Worlds were in many ways comparable to those of 4-Color Control (4CC), Wargate, Elves, and Tempered Steel, but Faeries managed to produce an absolutely fantastic match-win percentage (over 61%), despite a large number of pilots. Additionally, its only mainstream bad matchup seems to be Wargate. It also happens to have been a strong performer against 4CC (four is the new five…).

The future is 2008?

Many 4CC decks went 4-1-1 or better at Worlds, but overall 4CC had a lower match-win percentage (only 52%). There’s certainly debate about whether its good performance was determined as a result of the world’s strongest players playing it and whether its poor match-win percentage was a result of suboptimal builds played by many. Either way, the top-notch pedigree of the archetype and its most recent advocates have pushed 4CC to the forefront of the format. This is perfectly reasonable, except that 4CC is the type of deck for which you don’t play the same 75 week in and week out. You have to evolve that ship, man! Everyone and their mother has last month’s list and will be adapting their builds to prey on it. Do people really think no one is going to notice what Guillaume Matignon, Guillaume Wafo-Tapa, Paulo Vitor, and LSV crushed with?

Now we’re seeing a surge of carbon copies and bad versions of control popping up, making it all the better to play Faeries. Better still, many are afraid to pick up Wargate right now, as it’s a deck that struggles a little with 4CC. Add to this the fact that Faeries is a perfect example of a deck for which you can play the same 75 week after week. Don’t get me wrong; you ought to update, tweak, and tune it, especially the sideboard. Still, the maindeck doesn’t have to change nearly as dramatically as 4CC’s, in general. Finally, Faeries is the hallmark punisher of anything short of world-class play, being one of the hardest decks in the game to play against.

Let’s take a look at the winner’s list:

To start with, we seeing a continuation of the heavy disruption trend we saw at Worlds. Five one-mana discard spells complement the twelve maindeck counters, as well as both Vendilion and Mistbind Clique and even a Tectonic Edge. This sort of configuration makes Bitterblossom especially potent, but without it, the deck is quite fragile, featuring very little card draw.

A mix of three Disfigures and two Smothers seems perfectly reasonable, though it does reveal a bit of a weakness to four-casting cost creatures with a toughness greater than two, such as other Mistbind Cliques or worse, Vengevine.

Many PTQ players will cut down on Disfigures without a second thought, but this is a mistake, I think. Having access to one-mana removal spells is

good right now. Using your first turn productively or getting to play two spells on turn 3 is excellent. Disfigure gets the nod over Vendetta on account of hitting Putrid Leech and Creeping Tar Pit, while Wretched Banquet being a sorcery is a deal breaker.

I love the mana base here, as three Swamps along with four Darkslick Shores and four Secluded Glens help make turn 1 Thoughtseize the norm. This is especially important in the Faeries mirror match, but it can also be excellent against aggro. Seeing their hand can help you sculpt your plays, and often, taking their only creature at a particular spot on the curve can give you a nice boost. The Tectonic Edge in the sideboard isn’t only a great tool against Wargate and 4CC; it’s a much-needed 26th land for games that you side in Wurmcoil Engines.

Faeries’ sideboard has long been one of its greatest weapons, allowing it to tune itself quite effectively. Bad removal spells, unwanted counters, the wrong three-drop, bad discard — there are all kinds of cards that Faeries loves against some but are below average against others. Faeries’ boards generally contain a lot of similar cards as in the maindeck, letting you increase the quantity of cards that work. Additionally, you can work in new angles, such as sweepers, Glen Elendra Archmages, and Wurmcoil Engines, giving you potent tools against weenies, combo/control, and burn/Great Sable Stag that are too unreliable for the maindeck. One oversight I see in this list is the lack of Wall of Tanglecord. Vengevine and Great Sable Stag seem like big problems for this list.

This list is a vital component of any current Extended gauntlet, and I gotta keep it real; I could really imagine playing Faeries. Obviously, you know me. I’m going to work on slaying the monster, but it sure is good. The biggest change I’d want to see if I played such a deck? Maybe a Jace Beleren main. I used to like Preordain in Faeries, but one-mana discard spells are so important at the moment that I no longer play them.


Faeries isn’t the only boogieman to return, however. Yes, Jund is back, and while it didn’t perform well at Worlds, this might be heavily linked to its being built wrong. Remember, Faeries has had years of seeing play as an Extended deck to help develop it, but Jund was largely a Standard port. It isn’t surprising, then, to see that a number of Jund lists are hardly more than Standard decks with better mana bases.

This past weekend, we saw a bit of a fresh slant to Jund, courtesy of user CH0b1, finishing third:

There are a number of interesting components to this list, so let’s break ’em down one by one. To start with, Demigod of Revenge isn’t new, but it’s also not universally adopted. Bituminous Blast, Siege-Gang Commander, Sarkhan the Mad, and Broodmate Dragon all compete, but I’m 100% in favor of Demigods. They’re just so amazing against both Faeries and 4CC.

Playing up the Demigods, we see Fauna Shaman selected as the always hotly debated second two-drop. While Putrid Leech is super good, Jund is often left wanting for a second two-drop. Sygg, River Cutthroat is an excellent choice in the right builds, but with a move away from Boggart Ram-Gang and Sprouting Thrinax, it’s definitely reasonable to want to cut it. Lotus Cobra is an exciting option to consider, but it’s hard to play mana fetchlands in Jund. Fauna Shaman, on the other hand, makes fantastic use of your Demigods (which are much easier for Jund to trigger than Vengevine). Additionally, sometimes all you want to draw are Bloodbraid Elves, and upgrading Anathemancers against many aggro decks is much appreciated.

Speaking of Anathemancer, it’s interesting to see Kitchen Finks and Anathemancer replace Ram-Gang and Thrinax, though very much anticipated. Ram-Gang is a great card, but this format is very hostile for it. Lightning Bolts are everywhere, and lot of creatures can fight it profitably. Additionally, that Swamp comes up more than you might think, since it’s such an important part of your Verdant Catacombs plan.  

The Thrinax, on the other hand, just sucks. It’s not a “bad card”; it just doesn’t really do what you’re looking for at all right now. A lot of people played him at Worlds, but I wonder if those people remembered that few people won with Thrinax in the original Jund decks. Thrinax was legal, you know, but he didn’t start seeing major adoption until Ram-Gang and Finks rotated, and Anathemancer lost its victim.

Kitchen Finks gives you much of the durability of Thrinax but with an excellent life boost. Anathemancer

is back and in a big way. While he’s obviously a stone-cold killer against 4CC, he’s no slouch against Faeries either. Besides, how many decks have lots of nonbasics? A fair number, giving you added reach to complement the Demigods, Bloodbraids, Blightnings, and Bolts. Additionally, Fauna Shaman gives you a little added utility from random guys, and the ability to jump out of your graveyard and set up an endgame isn’t to be underestimated. It should be noted that it appears that the adoption of Finks and Anathemancer is fairly widespread at this point.

The miser’s Shriekmaw is obviously to support Fauna Shaman, particularly opening up the turn 2 Shaman, turn 3 Shriekmaw play. Additionally, Shriekmaw has always been a nice Jund card on account of not messing up your Cascade chain. Terminate is just not a reliable flip these days, and it’s not always so easy to cast. Shriekmaw’s body is also of use. Honestly, this build has long given up any pretense of having instant-speed interactions, beyond Bolts. Maelstrom Pulse still works, however, hitting Bitterblossom and Prismatic Omen, among other targets.

The mana base is nothing out of the ordinary; although it’s good to see an honest Jund list with 26 land (instead of the 25 that so many players try to get away with). I also love the number of Reflecting Pools in here (none at all), as it’s a card that I particularly dislike in Jund. It never gives you the color you need! It’s also interesting to see the Scars lands at only six instead of eight like some play, but I think it’s for the best. Drawing too many can be kind of miserable, as you often end up without the ability to curve to four and five.

One final card that I’d consider in Jund is Wurmcoil Engine. Wurmcoil is a bit expensive, but it’s pretty easy if you don’t have Demigods, and even if you do, a single Wurmcoil Engine makes an ideal five “bomb.” The life gain is obviously much appreciated against aggression, but it’s also a very durable creature against removal and can win a game by itself.

While there were seven decks in the Top 8, a look at the entire Top 32 paints a slightly different picture of the metagame:

Faeries: 25%

Tempered Steel: 13%

Jund: 9%

Wargate: 6%

Elves: 6%

U/W Control: 6%

Vengevine Naya: 6%

Other: 29%

Other includes: 4CC, RDW, Ooze, Conscription, B/W Tokens, G/W Trap, Lark, RUG Splinter Twin, and White Weenie.

A small sample size? To be sure. Still, eight Faeries decks in the Top 32 is definitely more than a small sign of which way the wind is blowing. Still, before we get into brewing anti-Faeries decks, let’s look at the other big deck of the weekend, Tempered Steel (Steel Artifact is just foolish as a name, and if writers or sites try to push that name on people, it

end up being called Affinity…).

While some pundits claimed the deck was a fluke, it once again put up impressive numbers. There’s a lot less artifact hate than there used to be, and 4CC is one of its weaker matchups, so if 4CC is on the way down, that’s a positive sign for Tempered Steel. The deck is easy to build and to play, giving players who wanted to play White Weenie, Doran, or Zoo a beatdown deck.

This build uses Duress and Inquisition of Kozilek over Thoughtseize, a change that’s certainly defensible but one I’m not sure I agree with. The rest of the build is fairly standard, though it’s interesting to note that this build is more and more looking like just a The Rock deck. Despite this, there’s no reason you can’t put a little permission in the sideboard if it suits your purposes.

We haven’t seen the last of Tempered Steel, and I fully expect it to be a major player for the time being.

Finally, one more interesting new list that cracked the Top 8 is Splinter Twin RUG:

Here we see the evolution of last’s season’s online darling, the RUG deck. Without Punishing Fire, a new “big game” is needed, and the Splinter Twin + Pestermite combo is attempted here. Bloodbraid Elf, Preordain, and Jace aren’t exactly a ton of selection, but this list hardly needs the combo, instead using it as a threat that puts the opponent into awkward positions. Often, this form of RUG will just play as a good-stuff deck. Overall, I think this deck is probably a little too much just a collection of cards without enough power or synergy, but I do think that Splinter Twin/Pestermite will find a good home, eventually. It’s kind of exciting that Noble Hierarch gives you chances at the turn 3 kill…

Okay, let’s shift our focus ahead and do some brainstorming. To start with, here’s how I might play 4CC this weekend, a build very similar to Wafo-Tapa’s list:

For those familiar with Wafo-Tapa’s build, this list needs little explanation. Wurmcoil over Sunblast Angel offers a dimension that I happen to particularly appreciate now that the field expects Sunblast Angels, plus I want a little extra life gain and resiliency to Jund. The miser’s Plumeveil is just more edge over Faeries; though it’s a solid card against a lot of decks. I’d love even more Creeping Tar Pit, but it’s hard to play more than one extra, as we really want to preserve the ability to Stag in this build.  

I love Preordain, but it does conflict a little with the mana base I want to build right now. Still, maybe it’s possible to use both. One other direction I want to explore, but do not yet have a list for, is toward a Five-Color Blood (5CB) deck, using Bloodbraid Elf and Cruel Ultimatum. Whether
we end up leaning towards a Jund-with-Cryptic-Command build, somewhat like
the 5CB deck
Michael Jacob Top 8ed GP Seattle 2009 with
, or a
Five-Color Control with Bloodbraid Elf, like
the list that
Zac Hill Top 8ed PT Honolulu 2009 with,
is unclear. Both have merit, but with both, the puzzle continues to be resolving the tension with Mana Leak.

I don’t have much information on the PTQ in Amsterdam that also took place this weekend, but I’d like to share the winning list, an updated G/W Trap deck”

The biggest change? Even more fatties! With both Emrakul and Iona, we’re talking about an awful lot of hits for both Summoning Trap and the various hideaway lands. Vengevine is also a little filth monger out of the sideboard!

I’d like to leave you with a few sketches before we leave today. First, a look at White Weenie:

White Weenie has been a two-drop short of playability since Amsterdam, but here we use War Priest of Thune, figuring it’s as good as an Ethersworn Canonist in general but can randomly win you some games against Faeries or Wargate (with Prismatic Omen). Remember, you don’t need to destroy your own Honor of the Pure if there are no other enchantments!

One other possibility that I think we’ll see more people exploring as the season progresses is Faeries with more colors. The logical starting point is red, as Lightning Bolt is premier removal (we were playing Disfigure already…), and it neatly deals with Great Sable Stag, especially when backed up with Firespout. Red also opens up the door to Anathemancer, making life very difficult for Cruel Control decks. This is kind of an exciting direction to explore, but I’m pretty greedy…

…I’m already fantasizing about adding Esper Charm and Stag to Faeries. Esper Charm is much needed card draw that helps make up for the lack of Ancestral Visions. Additionally, it’s disruptive when used as discard and breaks open mirrors when it destroys Bitterblossom (or Prismatic Omens in other matchups).  

Stag might be a little too ambitious, but if the mana magically worked, it does give you a major trump in the mirror. Still, that’s probably going too far; though you can’t be afraid to dream the impossible. How else will you discover you were wrong about what was possible?

What decks are looking most interesting this season? What’s more desirable to read about: Tactics involved in playing mainstream decks or brewing up new decks and trying to find a new angle of attack in the metagame? Either way, I’m psyched for Grand Prix Atlanta and looking forward to the challenge of anticipating how the format will unfold. To summarize today’s key points:

1) Playing last month’s deck is

going to give you an advantage.

2) Playing a deck that you’re comfortable with and enjoy

3) Faeries is public enemy number one again, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, so hate, Hate, HATE!

4) Faeries is extremely challenging to play against, so practice against it a lot and when you do,

take things back!

Good luck, this season! See you next week.

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”