Innovations – Hollywood or Bust

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Monday, May 19th – Hollywood is fast approaching, and pro players everywhere are preparing to break the format. Of course, the biggest threat in the metagame flies on gossamer wings. What can be done to conquer the Fae? Do we act like Evan and bring the burn, or do we pack a dangerous 0/5 treefolk…?

Hollywood is next week…

The question on everyone’s mind is “How do you beat Faeries?” (Or alternatively, “why not play Faeries?”)

Let’s start with the first question. How do you beat Faeries? May I suggest:

This is the Owen Turtenwald/Nighbor creation that Evan Erwin piloted to a 3rd place finish at the StarCityGames.com $2,000 Open tournament held last weekend. It was designed by Owen and Nighbor to destroy the Faeries, and that it does in spades.

To begin with, aggressive creatures put a quick clock on Faeries and this deck has no shortage of burn to punish a player too reliant on Bitterblossom. On top of that, Flame Javelin answers Mistbind Clique very efficiently.

Cryptic Command can be left stranded in a Faeries player’s hand, uncastable as a result of one of the four maindeck copies of Magus of the Moon that can totally lock out – or at least heavily punish – a Faerie player, who will typically crutch heavily on non-basics with almost no maindeck answers.

On top of this, seven man-lands provide plenty of uncounterable threats, plus cards like Sower of Temptation, Rune Snag, and Scion of Oona have trouble yielding much for a pilot of the Fae.

The sideboard only improves things for Erwin. His Fulminator Mages can help continue the assault of the Faerie manabase. Sulfurous Blast is a threat that allows Erwin the ability to Wrath at instant speed with value. Vexing Shusher is a potent tool, especially if you remove easily Terrorable threats like Countryside Crusher and Tattermunge Maniac.

You can actually transform Evan’s Magic Show Red into a monstrosity that is nearly immune to removal, utilizing such creatures as Mogg Fanatic, Fulminator Mage, and so on to ensure that removal will get your opponent nowhere.

The interesting thing about this setup is that the Faeries player cannot be sure of what your post board configuration will be. In addition, as the Red Mage, you certainly have other options available to you, particularly with regards to how your sideboard is to end up.

The maindeck is pretty close to how I would recommend playing this style of Red deck, with the following keys to remember:

1. Your burn spells should all deal at least 3 damage. No Shocks and no Tarfires, as they just don’t deal enough damage to warrant the cost of a card. Personally, I think Shard Volley is still a little loose, so if you are looking to cut a burn spell, look here.
2. You only have so much room at the three-spot on your mana curve. That means as good as Boggart Ram-Gang is, you have to make some tough choices. Magus of the Moon is one of the keys to beating Faeries. Countryside Crusher gives you game against Tarmogoyf. Fulminator Mage can be highly disruptive, but might not be good enough to maindeck with the current metagame.
3. Man-lands are vital, Megaliths don’t belong. Personally, I think Erwin has the perfect mix.
4. Erwin’s sideboard needs work. Everlasting Torment is a shady card, but if you don’t resort to it, what is your solution to Primal Command and Kitchen Finks?

Is Magic Show Red the solution to the metagame? Maybe, maybe not. It depends on how much Fae you expect versus how much G/x Big Mana. G/x Big Mana can be very difficult for Red decks, featuring plenty of basics, life gain, blockers, and impossible-to-handle threats.

Still, there is no question, if your goal is to beat up on the Faeries, there are fewer better ways than with Red Decks, and Magic Show Red in particular. For more on Magic Show Red, straight from Erwin himself, look here.

But is it the only way…?

Another possible solution to the metagame is the quintessentially popular Doran. Doran strategies have been popular long before Doran himself was ever printed. They are actually, at their core, Junk decks, B/G/W Aggro decks featuring a small disruptive suite, but particularly hard-hitting beats.

With the printing of Doran, the Siege Tower, pilots such as Israel’s Uri Peleg have been championing the splash of White in the exceptionally popular B/G combination. Doran Tarmogoyf, and Chameleon Colossus provide hard hitting beats. Thoughtseize, Primal Command, and options for cards like Riftsweeper, Mind Shatter, and Fulminator Mage provide excellent disruption.

There is also no shortage of support cards, such as Bitterblossom and Nameless Inversion. Mana acceleration, good sideboard cards, and plenty of removal are all available. Plus no other deck in Standard makes such good use of the Tarmogoyf.

Here is a possible build:

Granted, this list is a certainly full of some random numbers, but it represents a variety of ideas I think have potential.

Chameleon Colossus is one of the most powerful cards that is not being played as much as it should. It is such a fast clock, it powers up tribal cards, it’s difficult for many players to handle, it can’t be blocked by Bitterblossom tokens, and so on. It is slightly annoying that it can’t be given Fear with Profane Command, but this is made up for by the fact that opponent’s Terrors, Nameless Inversions, and other Black removal spells are worthless.

Bitterblossom is a fantastic card that non-Faeries players would do well to remember is not just a potent threat, but is also one of the best anti-Faeries cards available. It is certainly fun to combine it with Garruk.

Kitchen Finks is a solid beater than helps gain some percentage against aggro, and is fine just as a random guy. He might prove to be greater than Loxodon Hierarch when all is said and done, and is currently my number two card in the set behind Fulminator Mage, though it may be number one.

Primal Command is just too powerful to not play and there should probably be more. It is the actual definition of a card that always performs better than it looks. It also helps turn on the sideboard.

The maindeck Oblivion Rings are useful tools for dealing with opposing creatures, but have obviously been chosen over something like Terror because of their ability to remove Bitterblossom. It is interesting that this build has many strong ways to win Bitterblossom battles, the current Standard version of Sensei’s Divining Top battles, though with much less decision making.

With Thoughtseize preemptively striking the Blossoms, Oblivion Rings to remove those that hit, and the maximum Bitterblossoms of your own, there is a great chance that you can have Bitterblossom advantage over even a Faerie player. You even have Nameless Inversion to help fight back if they have Scion.

Speaking of the Faeries matchup, it should be noted that Faeries can have a lot of trouble with Doran himself, in addition to the Colossus. Doran is immune to Terror and Nameless Inversion, and even if they Sower him, you have ways to remove Sower.

A turn 2 Doran is a very real plan, and Faeries is essentially drawing dead to that draw, save the hard turn 2 Bitterblossom serving as a Forcefield. Thus, it is important to plan on gaining Bitterblossom advantage.

Faeries has always been vulnerable to quick beats, and this Doran approach is more anti-Fae than many, especially once you sideboard in Riftsweeper to deal with Visions, Threshers and Squall Lines to deal with combat, and Slaughter Pact to deal with Mistbind Clique, Scion, and Sower.

Speaking of the sideboard, Slaughter Pact is a hot card that is having a renaissance of sorts. It helps answer Mistbind Clique, Scion, Magus of the Moon, Tarmogoyf, Man-Lands, and more. Be careful, it is an easy card to Spellstutter Sprite, that is no question.

Faerie Macabre is an interesting addition. It is questionable how much graveyard combo will show up in Hollywood, but Faerie Macabre is an ideal answer to Doran’s worst match-up. You can fetch it with Primal Command, it doesn’t require mana to be kept up to use it, and it is ideal for stopping Reveillark and 420.5n.

The key is that with Extirpate you are paying for the ability to deny the opponent the ability to do something when going long. With Faerie Macabre you gain tempo, and since your plan with Doran is to race, you need all the tempo you can get versus combo.

It is quite a bad beat when you Extirpate a Reveillark that died in combat only to be facing down a Riftwing Cloudskate and a Mulldrifter. Is that really the battle you want to be fighting? If you Extirpate Redcap, they could still have Kitchen Finks etc. Extirpate could be a better option if you are focusing very heavily on being controlling and going long enough to see the benefit of the library thinning, plus have a plan to deal with the value your opponent will have already gained.

Is there really enough graveyard combo to warrant the slots? It is unclear, but when you have a strategy like Doran which is so solid against the rest of the field, why not give yourself a strong plan against your worst match-up, even if it isn’t that popular?

As you can see, Faeries is far from unbeatable. We are just stuck a feedback loop caused by the highly inbred world of MTGO and MTGO-related Magic. MTGO has fallen victim to inbred metagames before, and it will again. The StarCityGames tournament, while full of fine Magicians, wasn’t populated by an army of Wafo-Tapas and Nassifs. The sky is not falling.

There are so many unexplored possibilities. What happened to Momentary Blink? What about Mystical Teachings? What about Vesuvan Shapeshifter? What about Dragonstorm? Don’t be fooled. Aside from all these forgotten strategies, strategies like anti-tribal Big Mana, Elves, and Merfolk are all viable ways to fight Faeries and still be armed with a strategy that can battle the random decks you will encounter in other rounds.

Evan Erwin predicted 40% Faeries in Hollywood. I will have to go ahead and respectfully take the under. Time will tell… Rebels? Affinity? Believe me, Faeries is not even in the same league. Still, this weekend we have an excellent opportunity for people to put their money where their mouth is…

As I write this, I am sitting in an old friend’s apartment in sunny Southern California. I flew in yesterday and hit up a strip of clubs on Hermosa Beach. Definitely a good time, no question. I am meeting up with one of my sisters today and we are gonna go chill in Burbank.

I gotta tell you, this whole professional Magic Player thing certainly has some perks. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to travel to beautiful locations and hang out with great people, both the Magic players I have met, and family and friends at each location.

It is 91 degrees outside!

I’m not 100% sure I will be able to rock a suit in this temperature, but who knows, maybe the AC will be kicking…

For the next few days, I am meeting up with Team RIW and continuing work on breaking the format. Team RIW is sending a solid squad to this event. Mark Herberholz, Gabriel Nassif, Michael Jacob, DJ Kastner, Kyle Boggemes, and myself are playing on behalf of the team this time. We are also working with Luis Scott-Vargas and Paul Cheon for this event, bringing in the West Coast specialists.

I would also like to take a moment to thank Paul Nicolo and Phil Cape, without whom I would not be nearly as prepared for this tournament as I am. They are a couple of great local players who have enjoyed some modest success in the past year and are very much on their way up.

So what about this weekend? What about Pro Tour: Hollywood?

Tune in and find out. It will definitely be a good time!

See you on the other side…

Patrick Chapin
“The Innovator”