One Step Ahead – Faeries in Extended

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Wednesday, November 12th – With Extended apparently overrun with Elves Combo, Gerry T brings us a guiding light. At Pro Tour: Berlin, Gerry played Faeries… and he believes that the sky is not falling just yet. Today, he brings us his definitive guide to Faeries in Extended, with sideboarding plans for a variety of important matchups.

Initially, I had planned this to be a States report, but I didn’t attend. I had a decent Five-Color Control list with Rhox War Monks instead of Kitchen Finks, which is a huge upgrade. I played roughly fifteen eight mans on Magic Online and went 6-0 in “mirror” matches, but only 1-3 against Faeries. In fact, Faeries was roughly the only deck I was losing to. They always seemed to have the nuts, which Five-Color Control can rarely beat.

With plenty of States results coming it, it seems foolish to present you with a list that is already irrelevant. Instead, I’d like to talk to about Extended, and specifically Faeries’ place in the format. Elves was definitely the top performer, placing thirteen players in the top 32. Faeries was second, with six slots. For only being 5% of the field to being with, that is a huge showing.

Basically, most of these Blue decks were prepared to deal with the Zoo menace, and most of those cards functioned as Elf splash damage. In addition to Spellstutter Sprite, which is basically Counterspell against Elves, Blue decks usually had Engineered Explosives, Firespouts, or both. I built my deck to beat Zoo and had no idea that Elves was going to be that popular, yet I was accidentally solid against them. I imagine it was this way with others as well, seeing as how very few people had dedicated hate like Chalice or Slice and Dice.

Most people are calling for a ban, but that just doesn’t seem necessary to me. I for one welcome our new pointy-eared overlords. At the very least, there is going to be Worlds to determine whether or not Elves is truly the second coming of a combo winter. If people can’t seem to adapt, feel free to ban something at that point.

If you draw a Spellstutter Sprite to stop their Glimpse and a sweeper to take care of their random beaters (Jitte usually does this just fine), then you are in great shape. Sometimes they can rebuild and start going off, but you shouldn’t be completely defenseless.

Here is what I would recommend:

Quite a few things have changed since my last article. Namely, I added more fetch lands and a couple colors, mostly to solve the Vedalken Shackles problem. You now have several ways to deal with Shackles, be it with Ancient Grudge or Engineered Explosives.

In order to make that happen, I had to cut one of the colorless lands. I would run three Riptide Laboratories and four Mutavaults if it were at all reasonable, but I would rather be able to cast my spells more consistently, as the lands are only useful midgame anyways. You can’t get to that point if you can’t cast your spells.

I chose to run some Bloodstained Mires instead of the full amount of Flooded Strands because in some matchups, you want to be able to fetch Blood Crypt. For example, against Affinity, where you need Black for Smother and Red for Grudge very early, you can’t afford to fetch out two duals. You can’t afford to run the full amount of Mires, as at some point you want to start fetching basic Islands, in addition to the Breeding Pool to flashback Grudge.

I see multiple lists play a ton of dual lands, and I don’t understand why. Things like Ghost Quarter and Blastminer aren’t very popular right now, nor should they want to side those in against Faeries. If you run the minimum of duals, you will take less damage overall.

Initially, I shied away from playing eight fetch lands for a few reasons. First of all, Zoo was the deck I was trying to beat. One of the reasons I chose Faeries was that it didn’t take much damage from its lands, if any, despite being two color. Stifle was also a big problem, as most of the Blue “mirrors” were main decking it. With Elves as the premier combo deck, I fully expect Stifle’s usefulness to plummet.

You might think that Stifle still has other applications, even if it’s “just” a mini Molten Rain, but I wouldn’t want to play the card if that is all it did. When I was testing for the PT, I tried boarding up to four Stifles on the play against Zoo, and boarding them out on the draw. I won far more games on the draw than on the play. I was confused at first, but it made sense.

Even if you gain a little tempo by Stone Raining them, unless you get a huge head start with Bitterblossom, eventually they will draw lands and be able to cast their spells. The matchup is mostly a war of attrition, and using one of your cards to kill one of their lands gives you one less spell to deal with their real threats. Occasionally, you will get a free win when they keep a one or two lander and you Stifle them into oblivion, but those games are few and far between.

For the sideboard, I basically just swapped the Annuls for Ancient Grudges, and added some anti Elf cards that would be solid against other matchups. Firespout is great against most of the creature decks in the format, and Flashfreeze is great against Zoo, Elves, and Goblins, if that manages to become a popular deck. It did well at the PT, and can play a number of cards main deck that are tough for Elves to deal with. Darkblast is basically only for Elves.

For comparison, here are three of the best finishing Faerie lists:

Denis Sinner, 7th place

3 Mistbind Clique
4 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Vendilion Clique

3 Cryptic Command
4 Mana Leak
1 Remand
3 Smother
4 Spell Snare
3 Ancestral Vision
4 Bitterblossom
2 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Umezawa’s Jitte

2 Flooded Strand
6 Island
4 Mutavault
4 Polluted Delta
2 Riptide Laboratory
4 Secluded Glen
1 Swamp
1 Watery Grave

2 Sower of Temptation
2 Annul
1 Smother
1 Stifle
4 Thoughtseize
2 Threads of Disloyalty
3 Chalice of the Void

Tomohiro Aridome, 9th place

1 Azami, Lady of Scrolls
3 Glen Elendra Archmage
4 Sower of Temptation
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Vendilion Clique

4 Mana Leak
4 Spell Snare
3 Stifle
4 Ancestral Vision
3 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Vedalken Shackles

18 Island
4 Mutavault
2 Riptide Laboratory

4 Hurkyl’s Recall
3 Negate
1 Stifle
1 Threads of Disloyalty
2 Chalice of the Void
2 Engineered Explosives
2 Umezawa’s Jitte

Gabriel Nassif, 20th place

4 Spellstutter Sprite
3 Vendilion Clique
2 Venser, Shaper Savant

3 Mana Leak
3 Repeal
4 Spell Snare
4 Stifle
4 Thirst for Knowledge
3 Threads of Disloyalty
3 Chrome Mox
3 Umezawa’s Jitte
3 Vedalken Shackles

12 Island
3 Mutavault
3 Riptide Laboratory
3 Seat of the Synod

2 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Sower of Temptation
2 Annul
3 Flashfreeze
1 Hurkyl’s Recall
3 Negate
2 Engineered Explosives

My list doesn’t have much in common with any of those. The above decks mostly play out like mono blue control decks whereas mine seeks to steal the initiative with Chrome Mox fueled two drops. Gab’s deck also has Chrome Moxes, but those are more of a concession to the speed of the format.

He and I both thought that Ancestral Visions was way too slow. You usually need a burst of cards and would die waiting for Ancestral to come off suspend, which is why we prefer Thirst. Moxes are great with Thirst, for several obvious reasons. I simply chose to make better use of my Moxes by playing some two casting cost threats, that if not dealt with immediately, will probably win you the game.

Playing a long game seems like a losing proposition in this format. Most of the decks can just end the game out of nowhere, so you need to be able to end the games yourself.

In my testing, Threads was close to useless. It cost one more than any other removal spell that you could play, and in exchange, you could chump block with it. Agony Warp definitely seemed like a better option, especially since Threads was vulnerable to things like Oblivion Ring.

The problem was, Warp was very hard to cast. River of Tears definitely has poor synergy with it. I tried playing some number of Secluded Glens and Sunken Ruins in addition to it, but they were pretty bad. In the end I cut the Agony Warps and went back to the old manabase, and sideboarded some Ribbons of Night for the Zoo matchup. Only Penick and I were able to get Ribbons, so my other friends had a couple open slots in their sideboards. Most of them agreed with me about Threads being mediocre, but Owen Turtenwald ran them anyway, for lack of a better option. Gadiel simply played the Agony Warps.

Before the event, Vedalken Shackles didn’t seem like a card I wanted to be playing. I had assumed that with Affinity supposedly gaining a boost, that most players would have Ancient Grudges lurking in their sideboards. It would only be good game one, and was a little too slow against Zoo to begin with. I assumed that most players would come to the same conclusions, as fighting through Ancient Grudge is extremely difficult, but apparently that wasn’t the case. I lost straight up to Shackles in the few two rounds of the Pro Tour, in addition to some of my own mistakes.

Obviously these mono Blue decks need things like Shackles and Threads, since there are no other options, but I would rather dip into some other colors for better cards.

Overall, I feel as if UB Faeries is slightly favored against Elves, Zoo, Doran, Death Cloud, and other non Black Faerie decks. There is a slight weakness to storm combo when you have no Stifles, but I assume that any combo player will (rightfully) lean towards playing Elves.

Against Elves, your main plan is stop them from comboing off. Once that happens, you should be able to deal with their remaining beater via Jitte or Explosives. Winning will be academic from there. Obviously, there are some problems with this plan. Elves is so fast that they can combo you out before you play your second land drop, which is another reason to run Chrome Mox.

Game 1 against a Japanese player playing Elves, I had a hand that contained Island, Riptide Laboratory, Spellstutter Sprite, Spell Snare, and Engineered Explosives, among other cards. We were both playing very cautiously, as I knew exactly what he was capable of, whereas he didn’t want to run into any tricks. On turn 2, I didn’t have a third land, and didn’t want to risk him comboing me out if I effectively tapped out for an EE for one, so I just passed the turn, kept Sprite mana open, and hoped that I would draw a land. I drew a River of Tears, promptly played the EE, and blew up his three one drops.

He untapped and killed me.

Thinking back, I obviously should have just played the Explosives for one and passed. If he played a two-drop, I could Snare it. If he went for Glimpse, I could Stutter it. I would take some extra damage, but that would be completely irrelevant. I was going to win the long game, and gave him a window which he seized.

Don’t let this happen to you.

+ 3 Flashfreeze, 2 Darkblast, 2 Firespout
– 1 Spell Snare, 2 Mistbind Clique, 2 Thirst for Knowledge, 2 Bitterblossom

This side boarding strategy might seem weird to you, but I’m simply shaving slow cards that I don’t need early. You might think that with only eight two-drops, Spell Snare would be worth cutting. However, Visionary plus Symbiote or Hivemaster are two of their best backup plans against you. If they are running LSV’s list (personally, I favor the Chord version), you know they don’t have any Hivemasters, and can therefore cut some Snares, if not all of them. If you think they are on the Mycoloth plan, feel free to bring in some Sowers.

Against Zoo, you are the control deck, although some draws dictate going all in on turn 1 Confidant or Bitterblossom, and riding that to victory. Don’t rely on Dark Confidant though, as you can expect their number of Mogg Fanatics and Seals of Fire to go up in order to fight Elves.

Just try to deal with their creatures, and their burn, Jittes, and Oblivion Rings will become mostly useless.

Bitterblossom may seem like a bad card in this matchup, but it is actually your best card. Not only can it act like Forcefield, but it creates a constant stream of dudes that carry Jittes, and fuels Mistbind Clique.

Mistbind may seem sketchy as well, but this is actually the matchup where you want them the most. Usually, you should wait until they attack with a Nacatl or something before playing it. They will rarely play around it by playing a spell pre-combat, and most likely won’t be able to kill it before you block.

+ 3 Flashfreeze, 2 Firespout
– 4 Dark Confidant, 1 Thirst for Knowledge

Confidant is usually terrible in this matchup, as it rarely trades with anything and can deal you a ton of damage very quickly. Confidant can be good if it’s turn 1, but that isn’t reliable, so you should board them out. Thirst is a little slow but you still need something to put you ahead once you’ve stabilized. You can’t just expect to trade cards for one the entire match.

If they seem low on burn, feel free to gamble on Sower of Temptation. However, you might still want to stick with Thirst for Knowledge, as it will dig you into your game-winners like Jitte.

Against Mono Blue Faeries, I believe that you are slightly favored on average, but you can randomly blow them out with a turn 1 Confidant or Blossom. Usually they don’t have any answers to a Bitterblossom.

+ 4 Ancient Grudge, x Sower of Temptation
– 3-4 Smother, x Engineered Explosives, x Spell Snare

How you sideboard depends on what you saw in the first game. You should try to familiarize yourself with all of the above lists so that you can tell which one your opponent is likely to be playing. Sometimes they have a lot of Spell Snare targets, sometimes they don’t.

If they have Shackles, you have to bring in all of the Ancient Grudges. They will rarely be dead. Killing Shackles is just so vital to your success that you would gladly have more removal spells for it than they have actual copies of Shackles.

Treat the Tezzeret deck as a similar matchup.

Sinner’s Faerie deck might be a favorite in this mirror. He has an extra Mistbind Clique which is hard to counter and hard to deal with once it’s in play, in addition to several Cryptic Commands. All you can really do is board in the Sowers and go aggressive, since the long game clearly doesn’t favor you.

Doran is a deck that is trying to accomplish similar things versus the field, albeit in a worse way. This matchup is about attrition, but you still must be cautious about their potential to beat down quickly with Goyfs and Treetops. Try to stay in control and keep their ways of gaining card advantage (Confidant, Jitte, maybe Bitterblossom) off the table, and you will win easily.

+ 4 Sower of Tempation
– 3 Engineered Explosives, 1 Vendilion Clique

Some of the Doran builds may be sideboarding Bitterblossoms of their own, which would require you to keep in some Explosives. At that point, just cut the remaining Vendilions. In the dark, I would simply side as noted above, although if you are down a game you might need to keep in some Explosives just so they don’t mise a free win off Bitterblossom.

You might be thinking about bring in Flashfreeze, but I assure you that it’s wrong to do so. Very few of their actual threats are green, so you will be praying for a chance to burn them first chance you get. That is not the type of card I want, especially one that I would want to board in.

Storm is now a poor matchup. Thankfully, the spotlight is on Elves, and storm is pretty bad against Elves. With Stifles, you were a heavy favorite, but now, you can only hope to get lucky with a few cheap counter spells. Post board, they should have either Gigadrowse or Pact of Negation to get through your flimsy counter wall. If their draw is reasonable post board, they will probably beat you.

+ 4 Ancient Grudge, 3 Flashfreeze, x Firespout, x Sower of Temptation
– 4 Smother, 3 Umezawa’s Jitte

Clever storm players can board in either Empty the Warrens or even morph into a pseudo All in Red deck, with Deus of Calamity. If you feel like you can get a read on your opponent, board accordingly. Otherwise, you should probably just wait until you know for sure, especially if you’re up a game. You’ll have some breathing room, and can afford to wait until you can make an informed decision. I would keep in Explosives because it can deal with ETW while also being a solid Lotus killer, or a preemptive way to deal with Pyromancer’s Swath.

Death Cloud is a great matchup. They are kind of like Doran, except much less threatening. You are the aggro deck in this matchup, as you won’t win a long game against them, especially if they are packing Loams.

+ 4 Sower of Temptation, x Flashfreeze
– 0-4 Smother, 0-4 Spell Snare, 3 Engineered Explosives

Sower is awesome in this matchup, so definitely bring in the full amount of those. Smothers and Snares’ usefulness mainly depends on the amount of Goyfs they have in their deck. Even without Tarmogoyf, Smother still kills Treetop Village, but Spell Snare’s only targets are Smother, Loam, and Tribe Elder at that point.

This kind of falls under the Stifle versus Zoo thing I was talking about earlier, where you don’t want to use a spell to trade with a land. The games are going to go long, Death Cloud is going to hit their land drops eventually, and you are going to wish you had that spell that you used to counter their Tribe Elder or Loam getting back one land. If you think that Stifle is going to only counter mediocre spells, you should happily side it out for Flashfreeze, which will at least counter Garruk and Kitchen Finks.

Again, these tricky GB mages might try the switcharoo on you and bring in Bitterblossoms. If that’s the case, keep in the otherwise dead EEs.

All in Red is supposedly a bad matchup if you look at the numbers from the Pro Tour, but I believe that this version of Faeries is better suited to dealing with large red animals. You need to mulligan appropriately, as their deck is obviously designed for speed.

+ 4 Sower of Temptation, 3 Flashfreeze, 2 Firespout
– 4 Smother, 4 Spell Snare, 1 Thirst for Knowledge

Sower should deal with any fattie that they manage to resolve, while Firespout and Explosives clean up tokens and Magi. Smother and Snare are obvious cuts and Thirst gets the final cut on account of being too slow.

Dredge may very well not be dead. It performed well against Elves at the Pro Tour and is certainly the best deck to pack four Darkblasts. While you don’t have any graveyard hate, I think you are favored if you win the die roll. Spell Snare is such a giant beating against modern Dredge decks, and you have plenty of removal to kill Magus of the Bazaar.

+ 2 Darkblast, 3 Sower of Temptation
– 3 Thirst for Knowledge, 2 Mistbind Clique

You have to keep in Explosives to deal with any zombie outbreak, and you bring in Sower in case they get a chance to Dread Return a random fattie.

You chances of playing against Affinity is pretty low at this point, but you should be prepared regardless.

+ 4 Sower of Temptation, 4 Ancient Grudge
– 3 Engineered Explosives, 3 Vendilion Clique, 1 Umezawa’s Jitte, 1 Mistbind Clique

Explosives don’t really have any good targets, Vendilion Clique is kind of slow, although it still does trade with a lot of their stuff. Jitte and Mistind are both expensive, and you don’t want to draw either in multiples. Jitte is your best way to lock up the game once you have established control, but you never want to draw them early. I keep in all the card drawing because most of your cards don’t matter.

You really need to dig for multiple sideboard cards, otherwise their more powerful deck will just run you over. Definitely lead with turn 1 Confidant if that is possible.

I’m definitely looking forward to Worlds, as I will most likely be able to play a Blue deck in both Constructed formats. Elves are not unbeatable, and if you try this deck, you will see for yourself.