Luck Skill Victory – Two-Headed Matchup Article 1: Faeries versus Zoo

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Tuesday, January 6th – Last week, Luis Scott-Vargas and Gerry Thompson went head-to-head in the battle of Black/White Tokens versus Faeries. Today, after prompting from the forums, LSV delivers his side of a recent Extended Faeries versus Zoo session. These two decks seem to be the top contenders as Grand Prix: Los Angeles approaches… Gerry’s article will run later in the week!

The responses for the articles by Gerry and I last week were positive, although there were requests for us to cover an Extended matchup, specifically Zoo versus Mono Blue Faeries. This is one of the more common pairings in Extended right now, with Zoo and Faeries likely to be the first and second most played decks at Grand Prix: Los Angeles (in no particular order, although I suspect Zoo to be the winner). So, accommodating fellows that we are, we decided to honor the requests, and throw some cats and monkeys into battle against a bunch of wizards (that sounds pretty bad… I’ll stick to Zoo versus Faeries from now on).

Lists, Lists, Lists!

Sebastian Thaler, 6-0
2008 Worlds, Extended

1 Blood Crypt
3 Bloodstained Mire
2 Flooded Strand
1 Godless Shrine
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Plains
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Dark Confidant
4 Kird Ape
4 Mogg Fanatic
3 Shadow Guildmage
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Lightning Helix
3 Oblivion Ring
1 Seal of Fire
1 Tarfire
4 Tribal Flames
3 Umezawa’s Jitte

1 Ancient Grudge
1 Deathmark
1 Ethersworn Canonist
2 Gaddock Teeg
4 Kitchen Finks
2 Sundering Vitae
4 Thoughtseize

Faeries (as per my suggestions from this article):

3 Chrome Mox
3 Engineered Explosives
2 Vedalken Shackles
4 Spellstutter Sprite
2 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Threads Of Disloyalty
4 Mana Leak
2 Repeal
4 Spell Snare
4 Thirst For Knowledge
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
3 Vendilion Clique
2 Venser, Shaper Savant
10 Island
1 Breeding Pool
1 Hallowed Fountain
4 Mutavault
3 Riptide Laboratory
1 River Of Tears
1 Steam Vents
1 Academy Ruins

1 Academy Ruins
2 Annul
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Flashfreeze
1 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Jace Beleren
2 Negate
2 Echoing Truth
2 Threads of Disloyalty

As soon as we decided to run this matchup, I quickly shotgunned Faeries. This left Gerry the animals, which of course made more sense anyway. He ran Sebastian Thaler’s list from Worlds, card for card. One of the reasons we would use more “stock” lists for experiments such as these is that even though discerning StarCityGames.com subscribers have access to GerryT’s latest Zoo list, the average tournament player won’t necessarily have such tech. It is more likely that Thaler’s 6-0 list from the Wizards webpage just gets copied, so therefore that is what we will use for testing. I, on the other hand, used Cheon’s list with a two-card switch maindeck, since Glen Elendra Archmage had become quite standard by this time.

Just like last time, we played three matches, each covering one then both of us covering the last one. This was only a small sample of games, but it should show some basic themes of how the matchups played out, and the conclusions we drew at the end reflect our overall experiences (which is of course more than just 3 matches).

Match 1

Game 1

On the play, I keep:

Spell Snare
Spell Snare
Spell Snare
Engineered Explosives
Riptide Laboratory

(A quick note: I am not a fan of pretending you don’t know what you are playing against, and forcing mulligans based on that lack of info. Often you will know what your opponent is playing due to scouting, and just testing straight up with full information prevents having to play oddly or whatever. I would keep this in the dark anyway, but I thought it looks “anti-Zoo” enough to warrant this little note)

Gerry starts off by mulls to 6, and we begin.

I play Island, and pass. Playing EE for 1 on the play isn’t something I normally do, since giving them that free info when you have time to pop it on turn 3 isn’t worth it. He leads with Bloodstained Mire into Stomping Ground into Wild Nacatl. I draw a Jitte and just play another Island. I could play EE for 1, but I would rather he overcommits, and a few hits from Nacatl won’t kill me.

Gerry then cracks a Flooded Strand into a Godless Shrine for a Tarmogoyf, which I of course Snare. On my next turn I draw Archmage, which goes well with the Jitte, and gives me a win condition for the near future. I play Explosives for one, and pass the turn back. When he attacks, I just take the three down to 14, preferring to leave Snare up in case of any beasties.

Turns out he has a Jitte, which I gladly Snare. I draw a Mox on my fourth turn, and pass again. He simply attacks, which I take, since I am still at a comfortable life total, and would rather Time Walk Gerry by forcing him to hold his one-drops. He declines to play anything but a land, so I blow the Explosives at the end of turn. I draw a Hallowed Fountain, which is a little annoying, but play it untapped to play the Archmage anyway.

Turns out Gerry did have a few one drops, as he drops double Shadow Guildmage and another Wild Nacatl. This leaves him with just a Blood Crypt up, so as long as he doesn’t have the singleton Tarfire I should be good. I draw another useless Mox, but the Jitte connects and I kill both Guildmages. His Nacatl hits me to 6, but isn’t joined by anything else. When I use my last Snare on his Lightning Helix (he upkeeps it to prevent an Archmage attack, as well as give me less chances to draw a counter), he concedes to the Jitte.

Sideboarding: I stuck with the same sideboarding plan throughout the matches, as this is a matchup I have played enough times to have a standard plan.

-2 Vedalken Shackles —2 Mana Leak —1 Vendilion Clique —1 Thirst for Knowledge
+2 Flashfreeze +2 Threads of Disloyalty +1 Engineered Explosives +1 Glen Elendra Archmage

Take out slow cards for fast ones, upgrade some counterspells, and we are good to go.

Game 2:

I keep:

Engineered Explosives
Thirst for Knowledge
Thirst for Knowledge
Glen Elendra Archmage
River of Tears
Breeding Pool

The Explosives makes this hand keepable, although it is a bit slow. I like drawing cards though, so it seemed fine.

He leads with fetchland into Blood Crypt plus a Kird Ape. I draw another Thirst, which probably is excessive, and play my River of Tears and Explosives on 1. I want to Thirst on turn 3, so Exploding sounds good on turn 2. I didn’t expect his next play, which was to Grudge my Explosives. That sucks, but at least he didn’t play a guy. I draw a Snare, which is pretty nice, and just play a tapped Breeding Pool. I normally would like to represent Leak/Spellstutter, but since I don’t have another land in hand, then if I play Mutavault I would probably have to pay 2 life on turn 3, and the bluff isn’t worth the two life.

As it turns out, it wouldn’t matter since he plays a Gaddock Teeg, which I Snare. I draw an Island and play my Mutavault. He hits me to 14 with Ape (sure is nice to not take any damage off my lands), and plays a second Teeg and a Fanatic. My end of turn Thirst yields two Explosives and an Island, so I pitch an EE. I then draw another Archmage, which seems like a reasonably play for the turn. At this point he is on one card in hand, so things are looking good. Of course, after he draws he is able to Thoughtseize plus Oblivion Ring, dealing with my two Archmages just like that.

I get hit to 9, then take my turn. I draw an Island, so I just play a land and pass. I can’t play EE due to Teeg, and Thirsting mainphase seems unnecessary, as I won’t have the mana to play anything relevant. He draws a Jitte, so then I Thirst looking for a counter. I draw Venser, Threads, Mox, discarding Mox, so Jitte sticks. He equips Ape, and attacks with just that, declining to trade Fanatic or Teeg for my Mutavault. The Threads pull their weight as I take Teeg, stopping his attacks. He knows I have Explosives, so Teeg dying is nothing but bad for him. At this point, the game slows down quite a bit.

For literally eight turns we both just draw go, with me laying some lands and him not really playing anything. My hand is Flashfreeze, Repeal, Venser, Spellstutter, Threads, Mox, Spell Snare by the time some action occurs. He plays a Fanatic, which resolves. He then plays Thoughtseize, which I attempt to Sprite. He Fanatics the Sprite, I Venser the Jitte in response, he Jittes Venser to death. Then I activate Mutavault, which he Helixes. I activate second Mutavault, and the stack clears, allowing my Spellstutter to stop the Thoughtseize.

Gerry then plays Dark Confidant, which resolves, and a Jitte, which gets Snared.

I draw Riptide Lab (nice timing, all my Wizards just died), Threads his Confidant, and attack with Teeg. If I don’t hit with Teeg, he can just try and kill me with my stolen Confidant, so I get a little aggressive. He takes the hit, then returns fire with two Kird Apes and a Fanatic. I use my last Mutavault plus the Confidant to double block an Ape. He pings the Confidant with Fanatic, and I bounce the Mutavault with Riptide Lab. On my turn I rip Jitte, Flashfreeze his flashbacked Ancient Grudge, and he scoops.

Match 1 for Faeries (Jitte 2, Zoo 0)

Match 2 will be covered with Gerry’s article, arriving later in the week.

Match 3

Game 1

On the draw, I keep:

Vedalken Shackles
Engineered Explosives
Engineered Explosives
Chrome Mox
Hallowed Fountain

I really want a Blue card, since turn 2 Shackles is the only way it really is fast enough in this matchup.
His mulligan to five does make it more likely that Shackles will be fast enough, turn 2 or not. He has no one-drop, just a Windswept Heath. I draw Repeal, and play a tapped Hallowed Fountain. Since I know Gerry has no one drops in hand, representing Spell Snare is useless. He has to play into it without any one-drops, so I am just taking damage from my lands for nothing. Turn 2 he drops a Confidant, which will soon be coming to the dark side. I drop turn 2 Shackles, imprinting the Repeal. He reveals a land, hits me for two with Bob, and then five with a Tribal Flames.

I draw Venser and steal Confidant mainphase, denying him any more cards from it. He doesn’t have more guys, just a Tribal Flames, putting me to eight. I luckily reveal a land, and attack for two. I then play EE for two, because I really don’t want to be controlling a Dark Confidant while at eight life. Of course, that eight life soon becomes zero as he Helixes me twice, Fanatics me, then finishes it with Seal of Fire. My Venser stands idly by, wishing he was a real counterspell. This game looked solid, but Shackles doesn’t help against the 18-points-of-burn hand.

Sideboarding: same as before.

Game 2

I keep (on 6):

Thirst for Knowledge
Umezawa’s Jitte
Mana Leak
Engineered Explosives
Riptide Laboratory

I lay an Island, and he plays a Kird Ape. I draw another Island, play it, and then Mana Leak his Confidant. Turn 3 I draw another Island, and just lay a land and pass. After attacking, he plays a Shadow Guildmage and a Mogg Fanatic, which is perfect. I Thirst into Snare, Mana Leak, Mutavault, and discard Jitte. I draw a Steam Vents, then blow up his team. He only has a Fanatic for follow up, and we spend a few turns trading hits, his Fanatic against my Mutavault. Since I have a Riptide Lab, he can’t really do anything to the Vault, so we just hit each other. I draw an Explosives, but keep it in hand for the moment. His Teeg gets Spell Snared, and I explode his one-drops once he has two Fanatics and an Ape.

Mutavault keeps hitting, leaving the life totals at 14 for me and 7 for him. He plays yet another Fanatic, and I draw Academy Ruins. Next turn, he Thoughtseizes, which I respond to with Repeal on his Fanatic. He allows it, and I draw a Spellstutter, which counters Thoughtseize. He takes this opportunity to Helix my Sprite, as I am tapped out of Lab mana.

On my upkeep, I Academy Ruins my Jitte, play it, and equip to a Mutavault, hitting him to six. Gerry obviously has the Oblivion Ring, but I have such a big life lead that it seems like Mutavault beats ought to finish the job. I also have the play of Ruins on Explosives and Explosives for three off Steam Vents and River of Tears, but the Teeg he immediately draws shuts off that plan. Still, his Teeg and subsequent Nacatl just give me targets for my two Threads, and even though he has a Sundering Vitae (nice card, honestly), my Mutavaults do cross the finish line.

Game 3

I keep:

Spellstutter Sprite
Engineered Explosives
Riptide Laboratory
Threads of Disloyalty
Threads of Disloyalty
Threads of Disloyalty

That’s a lot of Threads, but a land in three draw steps shouldn’t be too much to ask for. He has turn 1 Nacatl, as usual. I even draw a Snare, so things are looking pretty good. Of course, Gerry is too tricky to be Snared, and Thoughtseizes my Explosives on turn 2, as well as dropping another Nacatl. I draw an Archmage, so I just play my second land and say go. He bashes, and drops a Shadow Guildmage, which I Stutter. Then I get a pretty funny draw: River of Tears. While it is a land, it has pretty bad synergy with Threads here, since I can’t actually cast Threads with Island, River, Riptide Lab on the turn I play River. This forces me to just chump with Sprite and return it, and hope the turn four Threads is fast enough. As it turns out, he has Vitae and Oblivion Ring the next two turns, while still clocking me with Nacatls. I don’t know if the turn 3 Threads would even have been enough, but the turn 4 certainly wasn’t.

There are many interesting angles to explore in the Zoo versus Faeries matchup, depending on specific builds and whatnot. Some of the main avenues of play are likely to remain the same, as I don’t foresee a Faeries build that doesn’t run Explosives, for example. When to turn 1 the Explosives and when to sit on it to play and activate in the same turn is a decision that comes up quite often. There is no set answer, much of it depends on your hand. When you have a Thirst or Vendilion Clique, you often want to turn 1 the Explosives so that you can break it turn 2 and play your three-drop on three. If your hand is a little light on action or has some early counters, slow-rolling until turn 3 will usually yield maximum advantage. I would expect all your opponents to be aware of EE, but sometimes Zoo just draws all one-drops, and has to play into it.

One of the more interesting lines of play comes about because of the conditional counterspells in Faeries, Snare and Sprite in particular. You are able to control their flow of threats in an interesting fashion, based on the counters available. This also plays well with Explosives, yet another card that cares about converted mana cost. An example: By leaving only one mana up on turn 2, you are strongly representing Spell Snare. If you are on the play, and play a tapped land turn 2, you give your opponent incentive to NOT play a two-drop, and play around Snare. This leads directly into your Explosives for 1 on turn 3. In the same vein, if you have two mana available, most opponents will not want to walk into Spellstutter Sprite, and would tend to play a two-drop. This all depends on the skill level of the opponent you are facing, of course, as people who don’t really think about what you are representing are unlikely to play in a predictable fashion. Faeries is a deck that has a lot of counterspells, but none of them flat out counter a spell. Because of all the conditions, think carefully about which to deploy.

As for the particular configuration I was running, I was happy with it. Threads was better than I expected, even though Gerry was sideboarding out Tarmogoyfs in anticipation. Even when destroyed, Threads bought some time and was pretty swingy if it ever stuck. I am becoming less enamored with Repeal, and wouldn’t mind turning it into something with a little more meat on its bones. Repeal always feels like fluff, a card that doesn’t DO anything, yet is just good enough to deserve a spot. There are enough decks that Repeal is poor against that it no longer should take slots. Instead, I would play another land, since it’s hard to flood with so many cool and mana-intensive lands, and a third Glen Elendra Archmage. Every time I play with Archmage, I just want more. I might cut the fourth in the sideboard for a third Negate, as Negate is a solid catch-all that comes in against all sorts of decks you wouldn’t really prepare for.

The matchup seems close, although I’m sure PV is going to chime in about how we played 4 games and Faeries lost (kidding, kidding). The game where Zoo burned me out from 18 felt a little unlucky, as running burn spells were needed to seal the deal, as it were. Archmage is surprisingly good here, preventing Zoo from burning you out once you have established control. Explosives is key of course, and really just knowing how to use your counters to best effect in the first few turns is critical. The classic Mountain versus Island battle has always been close, but with tight play it seems like Islands (as usual) should emerge slightly ahead (or maybe that’s just my own bias talking). Gerry and I will no doubt be watching the forums as usual, so further exciting discussion can be found therein.

See ya!