One Step Ahead – The Correct Way to Build Faeries

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard open Comes to Philadelphia!
Wednesday, November 26th – Last week, Gerry Thompson told us exactly where we’d been going wrong in our thinking about the modern Faeries archetype in Standard. After many calls for his decklists and sideboard strategies in the forums, Gerry steps to the plate and delivers. If you’re looking for a Fae list for the upcoming StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open, look no further!

After last week’s controversial piece, I got a few requests for the “correct” Faeries build. I figured I should oblige.

After a few weeks of trying out various builds of the Fae, I finally settled on this list:

4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Scion of Oona
4 Mistbind Clique
3 Sower of Temptation

3 Thoughtseize
4 Bitterblossom
4 Agony Warp
3 Remove Soul
4 Cryptic Command
1 Fathom Trawl

4 Mutavault
4 Secluded Glen
4 Sunken Ruins
4 Underground River
3 Swamp
7 Island

2 Fathom Trawl
3 Razormane Masticore
1 Sower of Temptation
1 Thoughtseize
2 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Flashfreeze
4 Infest

Instead of hovering around 1800 like I was doing in the weeks prior, I used this list to get as high as 1877. That is no small feat considering most of my Magic Online opponents were low 1700s.

My records against most decks were stellar. They had to be, as I wasn’t losing to much. I never lost to WW, lost once each to Reveillark and Five-Color Control, lost a couple times to GB Elves, and lost occasionally to RDW and the mirror.

Overall, I felt like I was favored against everything except GB Elves, RDW, and the mirror. Elves simply had too many hard to deal with permanents, and Cloudthreshers in the sideboard. With Thoughtseize to disrupt you, they were the nightmare matchup. I played against the same person in two Premier Events, and he dispatched me with ease both times.

RDW felt about 50/50, even if I was winning more like 70% of my matches against them. The problem was that most of the players had suboptimal lists with things like Tattermunge Maniac, Fulminator Mage, Lash Out, and Pyroclasm main. While some turbo Maniac fueled draws were quite powerful, and sometimes Fulminator put me off of four mana, they would have been better running a more consistent deck. Those cards don’t fight a turn 2 Bitterblossom very well.

RDW is a matchup where, much like the mirror, you need a Bitterblossom on turn 2. I would frequently mulligan to as far as five cards, and maybe four if my five card hand was terrible. They just have no good answer for it, and Bitterblossom has more value than three random cards anyway, especially if played early.

The mirror should have been 50/50, by definition, but I was doing quite well against them. Basically, I was really good at entering into a midgame top deck war; I just had to make sure I came out on top. Tidings was my initial idea, but after I cast it twice against Reveillark and failed to find any gas, I decided I would try Fathom Trawl. While the Trawl is a full card less, you are guaranteed to hit gas, which is always what you need in that situation.

The 3UU cards should always be the last card in your hand, as you can only cast it once you have stabilized. At that point, the board should be even, and you only need gas. Faeries isn’t all that interested in hitting its eighth land drop. It’s nice to be able to, but not very relevant.

Against other Fae decks, we would Thoughtseize each other, trade our removal for early Scions and manlands, and if Bitterblossom never hit play, we would enter into a top deck war. With three Fathom Trawls, I would almost always draw more spells than them. As long as they didn’t get any insane Thoughtseize plus Bitterblossom openers, I would be winning most of the games.

Originally, I was championing Oona’s Grace, but if you were truly flooded, it would usually cost too much mana to be really effective. Trawl for five mana would get you back in the game, whereas you would usually need to Grace two or three times to get the same type of effect, usually off five or six lands. It was just too slow.

LSV suggested Jace very early, and while strong in theory (and absolutely amazing when you have a Bitterblossom), I found that it was too hard to protect. Unless you already had Bitterblossom (and therefore winning already), Jace would die when they got to untap.

Obviously, you can still lose when you have Bitterblossom, and a Jace follow up would probably put you very far ahead, but we can’t think about what awesome draws we could have. We have to be realistic in Magic, and design our decks with the most probable outcome in mind.

There is a void left by the rotation of Ancestral Vision, and I needed something to fill it. I didn’t want it to be situation, I absolutely needed it to be good on its own. In the mirror, when they have a couple of manlands, and you draw a Jace, that isn’t going to win you the game. A Fathom Trawl most likely will. It’s what happens in those close games that matter, not, “Well, if I have this, this, and this, then Jace is better.”

Those types of situations are irrelevant, and shouldn’t sway your decisions to cut or add a card. In this case, we need the more consistent card, so I would rather have Fathom Trawl.

Regardless of how well I was doing, improvements can always be made. This is what I would play today:

From the main deck, I cut a land for a Thoughtseize. I thought I wanted a bunch of lands so that I could always ramp up to Fathom Trawl, cast it, and then have plenty of mana to cast all of my spells. While I think that is still kind of true, 25 is still enough. If I ran this deck again, I would probably play 26 lands, but I almost always run an extra land. Adam Prosak says that he would just play 26 with two Conclaves.

I am fine with that, despite what I said last week. If I wanted to play 25 lands, and Adam wanted to play 26 and one Conclave, it wouldn’t be any different that my deck land wise. If he ever drew the Conclave and it messed up his curve, in my deck it wouldn’t have been a land at all.

Thoughtseize is simply insane against every deck in the format right now. It is basically the glue that holds your deck together game 1. By taking their best card on turn 1, you get perfect information, know exactly what you have to play around, keep mana open to counter, and know exactly when your Bitterblossom is safe.

While they can sometimes backfire against RDW, Thoughtseize is a cheap answer to many problematic cards, and even when you Thoughtseize an Incinerate, you are up a life. You side them out because you bring in better cards, but Thoughtseize should still be a four of in your main deck.

Razormane Masticore was surprisingly bad. It usually came down too slow against aggro decks to matter. Without Damnation, Razormane is just too slow. I would much rather have spot removal in that slot. I chose a split between Eyeblight’s and Terror because I wanted a few Endings against Gougers and Demigods, but I also wanted to be able to kill early Figures on the cheap. I would also swap an Agony Warp with the Terror in the mirror, as Terror is slightly better.

Four Infest is the correct number. WW can be a difficult matchup otherwise, just watch out for Glorious Anthem.

The Archmages are the catchalls. You bring them in against a variety of matchups, and if you can ever play them on turn 5 with a mana open, you are a favorite to win.

Flashfreeze is another swiss army knife type of card. While its main purpose is fighting RDW, you can also profitably bring them in against Five-Color Control and Elf decks, among others.

The other Fathom Trawls are for attrition based matchups, like the mirror, Five-Color Control, or Reveillark.

Cards I’m Not Playing

Vendilion Clique: This card is great in Extended, where the disruption is relevant. In Standard, many of the decks have redundant cards (eight counter spells, eight removal spells, twenty creatures, etc), so the “disruption” doesn’t actually work most of the time. They’ll just draw another dude, or another removal, and Vendilion will just kind of sit there, looking stupid.

If the body were more relevant, then the card might be fine, but it usually isn’t. Faeries doesn’t need a random 3/1 flier. All of its creatures have an insane impact on the board when they come into play, whereas Vendilion is by far the weakest of the bunch.

At best, it’s a 3cc removal spell that might let you cycle a card from your hand, or trade one of theirs with something slightly worse. At worst, you look at their hand for no profit, and trades with a Procession or Bitterblossom token. Either way, not very impressive. If the format were all combo or control, I would consider it.

Puppeteer Clique: The Clique was a holdover from Block Constructed, but shouldn’t be seeing play anymore. Barely anyone has Mulldrifter or Cloudthresher, so what exactly are you Puppeteering? It’s a waste of a slot.

Loxodon Warhammer: I had the miser’s copy of this initially, but it rarely did anything. It was just too mana intensive, and I would get blown out by a single removal spell. I can see where the allure of a card that lets you gain a ton of life against a Red deck would be appealing, but it doesn’t work out very often.

Bottle Gnomes: I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, this isn’t good against modern Red decks. They don’t have Jackal Pups, they have Boggart Ram-Gangs. You are effectively siding in three mana Awe Strike Why would you do this? Just bring in more removal. If you kill all of their guys early, you won’t have to worry about them burning you out later.

Stillmoon Cavalier: Against WW, your plan is to Infest when the game gets out of control. In the mirror, everyone has realized that Sower is just fine. They also tend to keep in Mistbind Cliques, which I disagree with, but is good if the opponent has Stillmoons. Yes, Stillmoon can beat the Clique in a fight, given enough mana, but it is such a huge tempo setback that it isn’t worth it. There are just better cards.

Mind Shatter: I’m not sure why everyone likes this card so much. Faeries doesn’t play enough lands to be able to cast it for more than three consistently. Archmage provides a more powerful effect, is a Faerie, and costs less.

Ponder: I talked about this at length last week. The library manipulation provided by this card is not worth the times where it can severely hamper your draws. You need to keep your mana open for the most part, and at that point, Ponder is going to be the least card you want to see.

For example, I am frequently in the situation where I have a Spellstutter Sprite in hand, five mana, and two Mutavaults in play. If I draw a Ponder at this point (or had one that I couldn’t cast earlier), I don’t know whether I need to keep my mana open to counter a three- or four-drop.

Faerie Conclave: Again, see last week’s article. Conclave can potentially cost you games when you really need that land off the top to come into play untapped. A mediocre manland is not worth that. Play with these at your own risk.

Curse of Chains/Persuasion: I don’t see nearly enough Chameleons to warrant these. Obviously, if your metagame dictates it, be willing to change cards.

Broken Ambitions: With the rising popularity of Planeswalkers, Ambitions stock has risen some. However, I don’t believe we are the point where cutting Remove Soul is right. Remove Soul is just so cheap and efficient, whereas Ambitions can just end up being terrible sometimes.

If you think there are more than just creatures in your area worth countering, feel free to make the swap. However, realize that in some matchups where I would keep in Remove Soul, I would board out Ambitions.

Peppersmoke: I had a few of these in my sideboard at the very end, and liked them a lot. They are kind of narrow, as they are usually only good against token strategies, but several of my opponents had Tattermunge Maniacs and Ghitu Encampments in their Red decks, so it helped against those as well.

Overall, I would rather have Eyeblight’s Endings, but if you think your metagame is going to be Fae heavy, Peppersmoke is probably the next best card. It is very unassuming, but always having an answer to their Scions, especially one so cheap, is something you definitely want to have in the mirror. The fact that it cantrips makes it pretty close to the perfect removal spell for the mirror.


The majority of the time, Faeries ends up being too tricky for WW. They are forced to walk into combat tricks turn after turn, with nothing they can do about it. Sometimes they get insane draws that you can’t contain, but after boarding, Infest keeps those draws in check. Overall, a very positive matchup.

Glorious Anthem is your bane in this matchup. Having some global pump that Fae can’t easily deal with is very powerful. It can turn Infests into blanks and make it so Fae can never trade profitably. If you want to beat Faeries, this is the card to play.

(on the play)
+ 4 Infest, 1 Terror, 2 Eyeblight’s Ending, 1 Sower of Temptation, 1 Fathom Trawl
– 4 Scion of Oona, 2 Thoughtseize

(on the draw)
+ 4 Infest, 1 Terror, 2 Eyeblight’s Ending, 1 Sower of Temptation
– 3 Spellstutter Sprite, 4 Scion of Oona, 1 Fathom Trawl

On the play, you can easily play as a UB control deck. They might have a one-drop that slips through, but after that, you should be able to counter or remove all of their threats. Once you’ve stabilized, hopefully you have Bitterblossom or Fathom Trawl to pull ahead.

On the draw, the game plays out completely different, as your decks are both full of two-drops. You really need to stop them from developing their board, so you need to keep in the full amount of Thoughtseizes, in the hopes that you can take their only two- or three-drop.

If you win the roll, you will often stop everything they do from turn 2 on, whereas if they win it, they will often have a threat in play attacking while you deal with the threats they cast. Baring any Infests, whoever wins the die roll has a great shot at winning.

Thankfully, Infest does exist, and that should put Faeries over the top.


This mirror match has been described as by far, one of the worst mirrors of all time. However, I don’t find that to be the case. As PV described in his PT: Hollywood report, there are four types of games in the mirror: where they have Bitterblossom and you don’t, where you have Bitterblossom and they don’t, where you both have Bitterblossom, and where neither of you have Bitterblossom.

Once you understand how to play each of those games, the mirror becomes a lot easier. My list even has Fathom Trawl to break most of those games, if it resolves.

+ 2 Glen Elendra Archmage, 1 Terror, 2 Fathom Trawl, 1 Sower of Temptation
– 2 Agony Warp, 4 Mistbind Clique

Archmage comes in to stop midgame Cryptics, Bitterblossoms, and Thoughtseizes. Try not to get it Sowered. Sower is great in the games where they have Bitterblossom and you don’t, as it gives you a way to make an army and punch through damage. It also puts them in a deep hole if you manage to take their Scion.

I cut some Agony Warps since Terror is much better, and there aren’t many things you want to kill in the mirror anyway. Remove Soul is better most of the time, as you can win counterwars against Spellstutters.

Mistbinds come out, as they are frequently the worst possible card you can draw. They are not good on their own, and if you have Bitterblossom, you are probably winning anyway. When you don’t have Bitterblossom, you two for one yourself and give your opponent a juicy Sower target. Most of the time you can’t even cast it, for fear that they will kill or bounce your lone Faerie. Just board them out and bring in cards that are better on their own.


One of the supposedly hard matchups, I find it closer to 50/50. One of the keys is mulliganing properly. You absolutely need a hand that can deal with their early aggression. Bitterblossom is the best card in the matchup, despite it slowly killing you. When you have it in play, you will create this tempo advantage over the course of three to four turns that they cannot come back from. It also turns on your Mistbind Cliques, which would be dangerous to cast otherwise.

+ 2 Eyeblight’s Ending, 2 Glen Elendra Archmage, 1 Terror, 3 Flashfreeze
– 4 Thoughtseize, 3 Sower of Temptation, 1 Fathom Trawl

Scion of Oona would be the next card I cut, should you feel the need to add a little something extra against Red decks. Sometimes it can cut their clock or make your chump blockers able to trade, but most of the time it just eats a cheap burn spell.

One of the cards that ended up being shockingly good against me was Guttural Response. While I only have eight good main deck targets, it can still force something past a Remove Soul. The main blowout was when I was trying to tap their guys or get a favorable trade from an Agony Warp.

Agony Warp is going to see play in Faeries until they rotate, so the Response finally has enough targets to see competitive play. If you play a Green or Red aggressive deck, Agony Warp and Cryptic Command are probably the two best cards against you, so you should considering the Response for your sideboard.

Five-Color Control

A particularly easy matchup. They don’t really do much, and eventually you will just start throwing Mistbind Cliques at them.

+ 3 Flashfreeze, 2 Glen Elendra Archmage, 1 Fathom Trawl, 1 Terror
– 4 Agony Warp, 3 Sower of Temptation

Scion used to be a liability, as it just died to Cloudthresher, while providing you with little value. However, Esper Charm plays a large role in keeping you off of Bitterblossom. Don’t go on autopilot, as it’s one of the few ways you can lose. Sometimes, it’s better to just sit on turn 2, play Scion on turn 3, and then Bitterblossom on turn 4 with Spellstutter open, if that means you take away their Esper Charm out of the picture.

Think ahead, plan out your turns, use your mana wisely, and you should beat them.


Kind of like Five-Color Control, but ultimately much less threatening. They use creatures instead of spells, so your removal is usually quite good.

+ 2 Fathom Trawl, 1 Sower of Temptation
– 3 Scion of Oona

If they have a lot of spells, you can side in the Archmages for a Scion and probably an Agony Warp, depending on what the rest of their deck consists of.

GB Elves

Thankfully, this matchup isn’t very popular, despite it losing few cards from the rotation.

+ 3 Flashfreeze, 1 Sower of Temptation
– 3 Remove Soul, 1 Fathom Trawl

Scion gets Cloudthreshered, but they also have Bitterblossoms, which you need Scions to fight.

Know your role. I would say that Faeries, by default, is the control deck, but once Elves has something like Bitterblossom or Chameleon Colossus in play, you need to become the aggro deck. You have no good, permanent answers to those cards, so you need to kill them before they kill you.


How you treat this matchup depends heavily on what their build looks like. They could be UW aggro, UW with Reveillarks, or the full five colors.

In the dark, I would say you want the extra removal in the sideboard, and that Mistbind Clique is almost never good against them. Past that, it depends on what is in their deck. You will need to decide on who is the beatdown and plan your sideboarding strategies on the fly.

Am I going to be playing Faeries at Worlds? Almost certainly not. While my record against MTGOers was extremely good, I expect a much higher level of competition at Worlds, both in terms of playskill and deck building. That isn’t to say that Faeries isn’t a great choice for say, the upcoming StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in Philly, because it is. I just expect Pro Tour players to be more prepared for the supposed best deck than your average gamer.

One major thing I dislike about Faeries is how, without Bitterblossom, most of your cards are bad in a topdeck war. I’m sure we’ve all lost a few games to having a pair of Mistbind Cliques with nothing to champion.

For Worlds, I think I am going to play a deck that is more consistent, where all of its topdecks are good by themselves. I would also like to play a deck that doesn’t have a target on its head, and can beat the one that does.

Thanks for reading.