I had a few choices regarding my article topic this week. (By the way, despite the title of this column being completely something I would come up with, the credit for that actually has to go to Patrick Chapin himself. I had a whole list of awesome puns but his beat all of them out for the final decision.) I could write about Standard, but the only deck I have been playing is the BW Tokens deck that GerryT more than adequately covered in his last article. I could write about Vintage, but Extended just seems so much more relevant. I promise I will get to Vintage at some point, since I do play it often enough that I think I have some insights, but until then enjoy this report written by my Vintage partner in crime, David Ochoa.
Given that I narrowed my choice down to Extended, I debated whether or not to talk about the deck that I actually plan on playing at Grand Prix: LA. I figure that I would rather talk about what I am planning on playing rather than dancing around the subject and focusing on another deck. Hopefully this doesn’t come back to haunt me, but no way to know until it happens. On to the deck!
After Worlds, Paul and I compared notes on the decks that we piloted. Both of us were understandably pleased with our performances (5-0-1 and 6-0 respectively), but it was fairly clear that his deck was better. By “his” deck, I of course mean Nassif’s Mono Blue Faeries deck. Paul played the following list:
This is a pretty sweet list, and exactly the kind of deck Paul and I love to play. I started my post-Worlds preparation by asking someone who played the deck a bunch of questions. There is really no substitute for actual tournament experience, and Paul is someone that I can conveniently harass at almost any time. Since Trillian also quite conveniently saves all your chats, I was able to dig up this particular conversation from the archives [and left unedited for giggles, much against my better judgment — Craig, shuddering.]
LSV: hey neon
Paul “Neon” Cheon (now abbreviated as NEON): what? Im haumphing (eating)
LSV: what did you think of nassifs brew
LSV: change anything?
NEON: dunno about repeal
NEON: like its fine, but never seems too broken
NEON: you always pay more than them
NEON: also the misers cryptic could prob be something else
LSV: yea pretty sure I sacked out Yuuya (Watanabe) by mising cheon off the top twice
LSV: did I say cheon? I meant chain
NEON: does that have a point
LSV: uh, yea what I meant was faeries beats swans, right?
NEON: seems like
LSV: so any other cheon changes?
NEON: glen elendra archmage is the blade
… after a 10 minute pause
NEON: teferi was too expensive and im going to the gym
So to spare you from any more loose chat, the final list we settled on was:
-1 Cryptic Command
+2 Glen Elendra Archmage
That may seem like a lot of intro for just a two-card change, but it turns out Nassif made a really good deck. There is some impetus to change slots just to present an article with a new list, but I don’t really see a point in recommending changes that are just untested and unneeded. Anyway, this maindeck is quite solid, so allow me to share the revised sideboard we came up with.
I like two Echoing Truth, as you have no real answer to All-In Red’s Demigod or Deus without it. It also answers Empty the Warrens quite effectively, and has some utility against decks like Dredge and Affinity.
1 Academy Ruins
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Jace Beleren
2 Echoing Truth
2 Threads of Disloyalty
Ben Rubin played a pair of Dimir Aqueducts for the control mirrors, but the prevalence of Venser makes that plan a little risky. Jamie Parke beat Ben much on the basis of repeatedly Venser’ing him, and Aqueduct is pretty bad there. This sideboard is quite well rounded, although you could increase the game against Dredge if you see fit. Before I get to the matchups, I will go over some of the sweet things this deck can do. If these tricks seem obvious, then feel free to check out the sideboarding guide, but this deck has quite a few combinations built into it.
Riptide Laboratory: This is definitely one of the most powerful effects in the deck, allowing you to recycle the come into play effects of Vendilion Clique, Spellstutter Sprite, and Venser. Further, it lets you replay a Glen Elendra Archmage that has persisted, removing the —1/-1 counter. One thing that I have noticed that people online generally don’t realize is that you can also block with Mutavault then bounce it with the Lab. Basically, Lab just does everything, and should seal up any long games in your favor.
A play I have seen occur multiple times is the turn 1 or 2 Vendilion Clique followed up with a Jitte. While it may seem odd to pitch so many cards to Chrome Mox, you do get to peek at their hand and presumably take any solution to the Clique. Again, this may not be groundbreaking, but it certainly isn’t natural to just go all-in on a one toughness guy on turn 1, and this play often works in my experience. Nassif did just this against me at Berlin, and won that game despite mulling to 5.
The random off-color lands are just to power Explosives, and although they introduce a little bit of pain to the manabase, you can usually get away with playing them tapped. One of the strengths of this deck is that it takes almost no pain off its lands, making Zoo’s job just that much harder. It is also one of the reasons I prefer Mono U to UB Faeries, since the addition of Polluted Delta, Watery Grave, Bitterblossom, Dark Confidant all just make the Zoo matchup worse.
One thing I have found myself doing is using Academy Ruins to put back a random artifact before I Thirst (assuming I have no artifacts I want to pitch in hand, of course). There is almost nothing I hate more than having to discard two cards, since what’s the fun of drawing a bunch if you just have to immediately discard them?
Glen Elendra Archmage may seem a bit on the slow side, but even against Aggro decks it pulls its weight. It can chump a Tarmogoyf quite effectively, and still live to hold a Jitte on the next turn. It also puts a damper on any plans to burn you out, countering multiple burn spells. One trick to be aware of is that they can Helix you while persist is on the stack, so there is a window where you are a bit vulnerable to instants.
Alright, enough of the dog and pony show, let’s see what everyone wants: matchups!
Starting with the biggest deck seems appropriate. Cutting a Repeal hurts this matchup the most, but like I said, Archmage is quite good here too. You should rarely take pain off your lands, although drawing one of the shocklands at the wrong time sometimes leads to a little damage. This leaves you with a lot of life to play with, and sometimes lets you even take another hit off their guys to set up a better Explosives. The most important thing to worry about in this matchup is how you both represent and use your counters. Mana Leak you generally want to use ASAP, since it grows dead eventually. Spellstutter is also the best to use if it’s safe, just watch out for them killing one or more of your guys in response. Spell Snare is basically going to be gold the whole game, so you really want to save it if possible. You can also use it to set up sweet turns since it only costs one mana.
+2 Flashfreeze +1 Explosives +2 Threads
-2 Mana Leak —2 Thirst for Knowledge —1 Vendilion Clique
You rarely have time to chain multiple Thirsts, so those can be reduced, and upgrading Leak to Flashfreeze is nice. Be aware of Duergar Hedge-Mage, since all good Zoo lists will be playing a grip of them. Nothing really specific you can do, since the artifacts and enchantments you play are still too good not to, but if you can wait on Threads until you have a counter up that would be advisable.
Extended is most certainly not like Standard, despite the UB Faeries list being an almost direct port. What I mean is that Bitterblossom just isn’t a trump in the mirror anymore. Shackles, Jitte, Explosives and even something like Riptide Lab plus Venser actually just stop Bitterblossom, which really removes most of the incentive I can see for playing it. Blossom is okay against Zoo, but later in the game can be a liability, and is generally just slow overall against most control or combo decks. It does do quite well against something like Death Cloud, but that isn’t a deck I have been overly impressed with. The Mono U matchup against UB is basically the mirror but with them lacking the best card in the matchup (Shackles). Sometimes a quick Confidant can be trouble, but overall you should be favored.
+2 Annul +1 Glen Elendra Archmage +2 Jace Beleren +1 Academy Ruins
-2 Threads of Disloyalty —2 Chrome Mox —2 Mana Leak
Again with the siding out of Leak for better counters, as well as adding some good anti-control cards. Negate is something I always consider siding in, but the Faeries deck has so many creatures that Negate is not always going to be that useful. Still, -2 more Leak or Repeal +2 Negate is certainly worth trying.
Mono U Mirror
This is a very intricate matchup, as all sorts of strange battles occur. Multiple Shackles can be aggravating, as can Riptide Lab wars.
+2 Annul +1 Glen Elendra Archmage +1 Academy Ruins +2 Jace Beleren
-2 Threads of Disloyalty —2 Chrome Mox —2 Mana Leak
Sideboarding is the same as UB, but the matchup plays out a bit differently. I can’t really offer much besides test the matchup, as it is similar to most control matchups. Sometimes you fight over Thirst, sometimes you don’t, sometimes Jitte on a guy will go the distance, sometimes it won’t. Basically, try not to miss land drops (and I cut Mox because the matchup goes so long that imprinting a good spell is usually not worth it in the end) and draw more Academy Ruins and Mutavaults.
Tron (mostly UB, since the other versions seem less good)
This is the sort of matchup Tron usually crushes, but Cheon was quite adamant that this was not the case. As I have come to find, your sideboard is pretty well set up for this matchup, and even game 1 you still have a decent shot. They only have four hard counters usually, so you can actually take the role of the control deck, whereas usually in this sort of matchup the non-Tron deck is relegated to being the aggressor. It is actually realistic to just counter all their threats, since despite their mana advantage, all your counters are very cheap.
+2 Annul +2 Negate +1 Glen Elendra Archmage +2 Jace Beleren +1 Academy Ruins
-2 Vedalken Shackles —2 Threads of Disloyalty —1 Umezawa’s Jitte —3 Spell Snare
You still want Explosives in case of Chalice, and to make it so you have at least some artifacts to pitch to Thirst. This control package does a fair job of dominating Tron, as you have cheap answers to all their threats. Night of Souls’ Betrayal is annoying, and you may want to leave in all the Jittes over an Explosives and a Spellstutter if they are on the triple Souls’ Betrayal plan. Also, Spell Snare may be good enough if they start playing two mana counters like Mana Leak or Remove Soul.
Okay, to be a little more specific, just figure out what plan they are on and answer it. If you don’t have Explosives, be aware of Empty the Warrens and consider countering Rituals. Similarly, if you can Stutter a mana spell, you are better off doing so. This matchup is fairly simple, and you are pretty well equipped to answer most of their threats. The turn 1 Deus is almost unbeatable, but you still have some outs.
+2 Flashfreeze +2 Echoing Truth +1 Explosives +1 Glen Elendra Archmage
-2 Shackles —2 Threads of Disloyalty —2 Spell Snare
This is definitely among your harder matchups, but draw enough Spell Snares and you might be alright. Getting Jitte or Shackles online are the ways you have a chance, and both those plans hinge on keeping Ravager off the board.
+2 Echoing Truth +2 Annul +1 Glen Elendra Archmage
-2 Threads of Disloyalty —1 Thirst for Knowledge —2 Mana Leak
This is a matchup where the Ancient Grudge splash would be welcome, but I really don’t want to put in the painlands that would be necessary to implement said splash. Some Affinity decks side in Spell Snare, so don’t be caught off guard.
It surprised many when I put down Elves for Worlds, but I expected a significant backlash against the deck following Berlin. Faeries is solid against elves, since Spellstutter and Explosives are among the best cards you can think of to fight the green menace. Most games you will try and slow them down by countering their initial threats, then winning via Jitte on Clique or Spellstutter. Glimpse is definitely a must-counter, but after that it varies. You have to try and figure out which pieces are crucial to them, which isn’t always easy. In general, if you have to opportunity to counter a Nettle Sentinel, Birchlore, or Heritage, go for it. Also, Spell Snare has limited targets, so any chance you have to hit a Visionary or Hivemaster is worth doing.
+2 Flashfreeze +1 Explosives +1 Academy Ruins
-2 Repeal —2 Shackles
Shackles is just too slow, and Repeal is unlikely to slow them down much. Elves will have four Viridian Shamans post board, and possibly even some number of Krosan Grip. Some people have murmured about Leyline of Lifeforce, but I wouldn’t be overly concerned. Explosives plus Ruins should be enough to lock it up, counters or no counters.
I have always loved tricky blue decks, and since Sensei’s Divining Top got banned this is the closest we have to Next Level Blue. Nothing is more awesome than playing Island after Island, and this deck does that quite well. As I write this, I am definitely planning to play it at the Grand Prix, although I reserve the right to make changes to the deck without being accused of trickery.
Until next time!