This weekend brought with it two Magic-related things that I’m very excited about. Morningtide’s release on Magic Online means that I can finally get down to running queues with my favorite Standard deck in a long time (Reveillark). However, the more important thing, at the moment, is the Grand Prix in Japan that will influence metagames around the world.
I think that if you asked someone what the best Standard deck was, before the Grand Prix, you were more than likely to hear the answer “Red-Green Big Mana.” I wouldn’t really have faulted anyone for giving this answer, since the same person won both the Star City 1k Open and the Star City 5k Open with Big Mana. I personally would have answered Reveillark, but it looks like the statistics say that Blue-Black Faeries is the best deck at the moment.
The metagame breakdown of the 128 decks to make the cut to Day 2 showed that four decks were represented above the rest. Reveillark decks topped the heap, making up 16% of the field, while Faeries, Elves, and Big Mana represented 15%, 14%, and 12%, respectively. This roughly follows what I would have expected. However, when the cut to the Top 8 was made, Big Mana fell by the wayside.
After making up about 15% of the field, Faeries placed two players into the Top 8, while Reveillark and Elves took down five of the remaining six slots. Big Mana didn’t put up a single Top 8, though you shouldn’t really be surprised, since Reveillark and Faeries are both tough matchups for that deck. After making it to the Top 8, these two Faerie decks beat Doran, Elves, and two copies of Reveillark before meeting in the finals.
I don’t know what that says to you, but to me it says that someone looking to buy a Standard deck would do well to look at Faeries. Elves and Reveillark have their advantages, but in a format filled with Reveillark and Big Mana, Faeries is going to prove extremely powerful. Because I’m sure other people are looking to play some Standard on Magic Online, and because I’m sure others are trying to decide what deck to play in their City Champs Store Finals, today I’d like to take a look at the Faerie deck, and how it matches up against the other top decks.
Since the Faerie deck has been around for a while, I’m sure that most people know about the cards that are included. Morningtide’s additions to this deck are Bitterblossom (which has been universally accepted as an extremely powerful card even in a non-Faerie deck) and Mutavault, both strong threats that happen to be very resilient. The only technological advancement that this deck seems to have made is Ancestral Vision in the maindeck. This spell will give you the same boost in gas that any draw-three would, but it also gives you a first-turn play and makes sure that your mana is free for threats or counterspells come mid-game.
I’m not going to talk about the deck card-by-card because it has been around for so long. Instead, I’d like to just jump in to the matchups against the other top decks.
Playing against Elves
It’s worth noting, first, that the new breed of Elf deck looks just like the old one; the Obsidian Battle-Axes that were flying around the Star City tournaments are no longer in style. Instead, these play just the best elves they can find, and then supplement them with Black removal, Shriekmaw, and Tarmogoyf.
The Faerie deck might be good at slipping underneath a slower deck’s defenses and then keeping itself ahead, but it’s not very good at winning an outright race. Most of your men have only one toughness, so it’s difficult to set up profitable blocks. Therefore, your games against Elves are going to be about whether or not you can get your offense together while containing theirs; you won’t be able to simply drop a threat into play that can also hold their attacks off. The only card that you have that can even pretend to do this is Bitterblossom, and it will take a little bit of time to set up.
Because you can’t hope to race, you’re looking to be the control deck here. Spellstutter Sprite is very good to see, as it stops a threat and then buys you time to answer those that have already slipped into play. Similarly, Pestermite is great if it can either slow down your opponent’s development or hold off an attacker, and then trade with any Elf. Finally, while Bitterblossom’s life-loss isn’t exactly something that you want against such an aggressive deck, if you can give the Enchantment some time to work, it will start to provide you with enough tokens that you can begin to pick your opponent’s men off one by one. Besides, while you’d rather not lose one life every turn, losing a life and chump-blocking is much better than taking two, three, or more damage from the Elf that you’re holding off. However, combat becomes much better for you if you can get a Scion of Oona to stick; anthem-ing your Bitterblossom tokens will make them quite formidable in the red zone.
Counterspells are usually your best friend if your opponent doesn’t already have seven power on the board. By this I mean that they’re very good at keeping things at a manageable level, especially if you’ve got a Bitterblossom providing you with some men while you hold off your opponent’s assault. Cryptic Command, when you get enough mana to cast it, is especially potent both as Counterspell–Ensnare and Counterspell–Unsummon. In terms of their uses, I count Nameless Inversion as a counterspell of sorts, since it will answer most threats that the Elf deck plays out, and can do so at any time. It’s worth making sure that you remember that Inversion also causes the creature to lose all types, which might be relevant if Imperious Perfect is pumping a Wren’s Run Vanquisher and you have a reason to want to kill the 4/4 instead of the Anthem-on-legs.
If you can make it to the four-mana mark with a healthy life total, you’re usually in pretty decent shape. Four mana gives you access to your best cards in this matchup, whether we’re talking about Mistbind Cliques to block with, Sower of Temptations to steal their best threat, or Cryptic Command to build whichever of its twelve modes is most damaging. Of course, Mistbind Clique and Sower are not fully impervious, as both can be killed by Shriekmaw, and Sower can be killed by Nameless Inversion. So, while these cards are your best ones, they are not going to necessarily win you the game all by themselves.
While getting to four mana at twelve or more life is easier against these decks than it is against the Axe-Warrior versions, it is not necessarily a sure deal. The Elves deck can get draws that put you under extreme pressure very quickly, and if you don’t have the right cards at the right times, you might find yourself simply too far behind to catch up. If you’re low on life, you’re going to be in a tough spot, since these Green-Black Elves decks can finish you off with Profane Command. Make sure that you keep this card in mind, even if you might not be able to do anything about it, because the Grand Prix featured eleven copies of this card in the Top 8. If you can afford to, it’s worth slowrolling a counterspell to stop this bomb.
Yuuta’s sideboard presents five cards that I know I wouldn’t like to play against as the Elf player, as well as four Bottle Gnomes that I might or might not worry about, depending on how my draw was coming together. Deathmark is the peak of efficiency, allowing the Faeries player to answer a first-turn Llanowar Elf or a late-game Wren’s Run Packmaster with equal ease. Meanwhile, Razormane Masticore is a huge threat that the Elves deck likely can’t match; if you drop it into play with the time to let it do its thing, the Elf player is going to have to find seven mana and a Profane Command, double Nameless Inversion, or a Wren’s Run Packmaster to keep up. There’s a chance that this guy could run into something like Seal of Primordium (brought in to stop Bitterblossom), but I don’t think that that will happen too often.
Playing the Mirror
Assuming you’re playing the exact same deck as your opponent, the mirror match comes down to the variance between your draw and your opponent’s, and the strategy that each of you tries to use. I believe that the correct option in the mirror is to try to press any advantage that you have, even if it costs you a card or two. If you can get ahead, then chances are good that you can stay ahead, and hit your opponent for a few damage every turn until they die.
Because of this, Bitterblossom is one of the best cards you can draw. Also very good are your counterspells, Scion of Oona, Sower of Temptation. The blossom is so good because it will provide you with a constant stream of creatures to throw at your opponent, meaning that you can afford to lose a guy or two every turn, because you won’t have to invest any more mana in your additional faerie per turn.
Counterspells are good because they let you keep the edge that you have. If you’re behind on the board, though, they lose their full power. This is, I assume, why Yuuta cut Rune Snags from his version of the deck; Cryptic Command answers a new threat and bounces an old one, while Spellstutter Sprite answers a new threat and trades with an old one. This extra utility means that you can use them to good effect even if your opponent happens to have more guys out than you do.
Like I mentioned above, your best creatures are Scion of Oona and Sower of Temptation. In a battle of 1/1s, the Anthem effect is completely backbreaking. The protection effect isn’t completely relevant, since the best target for Nameless Inversion is the Scion itself, but it’s nice to know that your opponent is going to have to go through another one of your creatures before they can get to your Sower of Temptation. Speaking of which, the Sower is so good because it gives you two threats and answers one of your opponent’s, which means you can keep on swinging and doing so profitably.
If your goal is to get ahead and then stay there, then the other big thing to pay attention to is how to get ahead when you’ve fallen behind. In this case, the extra cards provided by an Ancestral Visions can be huge, though you might find that you don’t have as much time as you’d like if you draw Visions off the top on the sixth turn. Beyond the Visions, the only cards you have that will really turn games around are Bitterblossom and Sower of Temptation. Given that I just spent a lot of time talking about why they were so good when you were even or ahead, it’s not surprising that they’re your best cards when you’re behind.
Yuuta’s sideboard isn’t really built with the mirror match in mind, I feel. Many of the cards in it are obviously meant for other matchups (like Deathmark), or simply just don’t do what you want in this one. The only card I think that I would want to draw is Razormane Masticore, but that wouldn’t be too amazing. First, it’s relatively large, which makes it difficult to resolve. Second, it might simply be stolen by Sower of Temptation, even if you have a Scion protecting the rest of your side. However, if it sticks, it’s going to go a long way towards winning you the game. Still, I believe that this is too risky to run. If you’re looking for good cards to board in the mirror, then I suggest looking at Olivier Ruel sideboard. There you will find Peppersmoke, which is an extremely cheap, instant-speed, answer to most of the Faerie deck. The beauty is that it’s a two-for-one, which is relatively rare in this matchup.
Playing against Reveillark
While you have the capability to drop a Bitterblossom on turn 2, the Reveillark deck’s earliest play that affects the board is a third-turn Aven Riftwatcher. Sure, you’d rather not play against a boatload of Riftwatchers, but the fact of the matter is that you will often find yourself with two threats in play before the Reveillark deck has any at all. This difference in speed is exactly the advantage that you have in this matchup.
When you move into the middle of the game, the Reveillark deck will start to fire out its big guns, which are more impressive in terms of utility than in terms of size. Their 2/2 flyers will do a lot, but most of that will happen outside of the attack step, so you shouldn’t be too concerned about racing them. If you have your Cryptic Commands online, then you’ll want to save them for the real bombs (Wrath of God, Reveillark, and some Body Double). Otherwise, you’re going to want to kill them as fast as you can. Of course, you need to be wary of the fact that you’re playing against a deck that has at least three maindeck Wraths, so you might not want to go too wild with your men.
Still, the opponent is going to be on the back foot from the start in all but the strangest of games, so the spells you need to worry about are those that let them gain a foothold. While it’s obvious that you should counter Wraths, it’s slightly less obvious that you shouldn’t counter things like Mulldrifter when they only have six or seven mana sources in play. Without a lot of mana, something on the order of nine or ten sources, it’s going to be very difficult for the Reveillark deck to efficiently use the massive numbers of cards that they can draw. To this end, it might be a good idea to counter an early Prismatic Lens or Mind Stone with Spellstutter Sprite if you have the Faerie count to do so.
The newer Reveillark decks have countermagic of their own, so you can no longer just run your Mistbind Cliques into play with the full knowledge that they’ll resolve. However, your counterspells will stop game-turning bombs, while theirs will usually only stop a threat from resolving.
Your man-lands are a huge threat in this matchup, as is Bitterblossom. It should be relatively obvious, but the strengths of these cards are their resilience to Wrath of God. After all, you won’t be able to stop the Wrath in every single game, and in those that you can’t, it’s nice to have four power ready and waiting to swing on the next turn. Like I said, though, Reveillark decks often have problems casting two big spells in one turn, so even if a Wrath does sneak through, you can usually rebuild on an empty board.
The games that you’ll lose usually start off with little pressure for you. If you don’t have the threats to force a quick game, you’re going to have to stop quite a few big spells, and you only have Cryptic Commands when your Faeries aren’t working overtime. Cloudskates and Vensers will likely attack your lands in this situation, keeping you off-balance, while the opponent tries to either assemble the combo or simply overwhelm you with 2/2s before you can do anything about it. Because of this, it’s usually not wise to keep a hand without sufficient early-game pressure.
Yuuta’s sideboard again has five cards that I would not want to see, as a Reveillark player: three Thoughtseizes and two Familiar’s Ruses. Thoughtseize on turn 1 can pick apart a shaky keep, getting rid of a key Mind Stone or Mulldrifter that they were relying on to fix their hand. A Thoughtseize cast on turn three or four is usually looking to hit Wrath of God or Crovax, to keep the opponent from stabilizing. Later in the game, the card allows you to keep tabs on how close your opponent is to assembling the combo, and possibly break it up if they’re not playing it out. Familiar’s Ruse is simply another counterspell; while it will force you to pick up one of your threats, you’ll be happy to have it when it stops a Wrath. In fact, you might even get to re-use a Spellstutter Sprite if you’re lucky.
While I might be personally sticking with Reveillark, there’s no deck I’d like to face less than Blue-Black Faeries. With its extremely favorable matchup against Reveillark and a decent one against Elves, all that’s left is for you to find out your favorite way to approach the mirror match. With a solid strategy under your belt, this deck might just be the right one to give you your next victory.
As always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact me in the forums, via email, or on AIM.
ben at mundy dot net
SlickPeebles on AIM