Positive EV – Faeries Versus Zoo: The Zoo Perspective

Grand Prix: Oakland!

Friday, January 29th – Earlier this week, Antoine Ruel announced his new matchup-exploring playtest column, and ran the first fifty-game matchup analysis: Faeries versus Zoo. Antoine dissected the games from the Fae perspective; his opponent, Manuel Bucher, brings us the Zoo perspective today…

Before reading today’s column, you should go back and read Antoine Ruel companion article from earlier this week. I will be talking about the Zoo side of the Faeries versus Zoo matchup. Antoine asked me to pick up the Zoo deck I expect to perform best against Fae. I have to admit that the deck I chose wasn’t exactly the best performing deck in the matchup by far. I could have picked up a deck with Bloodbraid Elves, or even Great Sable Stags, and I am sure I would have performed a lot better. Instead, I chose the deck that I expect to be the most popular choice for PTQ play.

Charming Zoo

4 Baneslayer Angel
4 Knight of the Reliquary
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl

4 Bant Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile

2 Umezawa’s Jitte

4 Arid Mesa
1 Hallowed Fountain
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Snow-Covered Plains
1 Snow-Covered Island
1 Steam Vents
2 Stomping Ground
2 Temple Garden
1 Treetop Village

4 Meddling Mage
4 Negate
4 Ravenous Trap
1 Ghost Quarter
2 Kataki, War’s Wage
2 Qasali Pridemage

I have to admit that when I saw the deck list Antoine was running, I didn’t feel very confident. Not only did I have a ton of cards that look pretty weak pre-board, all of his cards make a pretty strong impression. His sideboard was spoiled by goodies like Deathmark, Flashfreeze, and Threads of Disloyalty, while I didn’t have high hopes for the cards my sideboard was offering up. In the end, I decided to cut the Kataki, War’s Wage for a similar card, one which could be useful in the matchup I was going to play for a ton of games: Qasali Pridemage.

For reference, here is Antoine’s Faeries list:

For the first pre board games, I didn’t have a plan on how I would try to pull out victories. Charming Zoo is not the type kind of deck with which I have a ton of experience. I have to admit that I still don’t know if it’s more an aggro deck or a midrange deck… I think it simply depends on the draw you have.

I won the first few games won pretty easily. Antoine had more trouble then I expected against early threats that could not get countered by any of his counter spells. The first lesson I learned in the matchup, a lesson that might well be the most important one of all, is that whatever your opening hand, if it doesn’t have a one-drop in it, it is very likely that taking a mulligan is the right play. Depending on the hand, feel free to count Treetop Village as a one-drop, but the hand must be a lot better if you have a Wild Nacatl or Noble Hierarch. Let’s say you are looking at the following hand against a player you know is playing Faeries, on the draw.

2 Tarmogoyf
Lightning Helix
Lightning Bolt
Stomping Ground
Arid Mesa
Scalding Tarn

Don’t get me wrong, this hand is probably winning in almost any other matchup. But if you keep such a hand in this matchup, I would bet on the Fae player to end up winning the game. You won’t be able to build up pressure fast enough. Your burn spells don’t do a lot until the mid-game, and you are trying to build up pressure with Squire-like cards, cards which he is likely to be able to counter.

Sure, you would keep that hand against an unknown opponent without any doubt. But if he turns out to be running Fae, you hope your first draw step reveals one of your 8.5 remaining one-drops.

I ended up losing a fair amount of the pre-board games because I mulliganed down to four or five cards. But if I had a Wild Nacatl in those games, they were a lot closer than I expected the games would have been if I’d kept the mediocre seven- or six-card hands.

The second lesson I learned in the matchup is that the Fae deck has many different styles of attack. If the Fae player suspends an Ancestral Vision in the first turn, the game is going to be a lot different than if he doesn’t. Ancestral Vision is the only real source of card advantage in the deck. Spellstutter Sprite might provide some form of card advantage, but you are often able to play around that, and if you do it is close to a blowout. Umezawa’s Jitte is the second form of card advantage the Fae player has, but in this matchup he is very unlikely to stick the card in a game that he wasn’t already destined to win. If our opponent does not suspend an Ancestral Vision on his first turn (or sometimes the second), we can take the time to play around cards like Mana Leak or Spellstutter Sprite. It’s often better to wait a turn or two until you play your Wild Nacatl or Tarmogoyf if you can deal with a Spellstutter Sprite or can pay for the Mana Leak a few turns later. Or, in extreme examples, if you can counter his Cryptic Command with your Bant Charm.

If your opponent does suspend a turn Vision, the game is going to be a lot different. A resolved Vision often means that the Fae player is able to counter any form of threat we are going to present. Therefore our goals for the games in which an Ancestral Vision is suspended on the first turn are clear. Our major goal should not be to play around as many Blue cards as we can; instead, we should try to get as many threats on the battlefield as possible before the card drawing spell resolves. In the end, Faeries might be a very good deck at dealing with threats when they are on the stack, but as soon as they hit the battlefield, Fae is in a lot of trouble.

Next, I am going to talk about cards the Fae player is going to play with a great deal of success if you don’t play around them. Happily, playing around them becomes pretty easy if you’ve played the match up a fair amount before.

Vendilion Clique

There are several ways to play around this card. Let’s assume you have a Wild Nacatl and 4 lands on the board, and your hand is:


There is no reason to play around Vendilion Clique here. Just attack and hope he is going to play the Faerie Wizard, and you will strengthen up your board with double Tarmogoyf.
It’s also similar if your hand is Tarmogoyf, Tarmogoyf, Lightning Bolt. Either the Fae player will end up taking three damage and be facing a minor and a big threat, or he will be facing two big threats.

Let’s say you don’t have any threats in hand, but you have a Noble Hierarch in play. It is stupid to attack with a Wild Nacatl and another creature, simply because he won’t be able to deal with the threats you have on the board if he can’t use his Vendilion Clique as a removal. Just attack with the biggest guy. Sure, sometimes you will miss some damage, but I am sure that you will win more games. If you have a single threat in your hand and a Wild Nacatl on the table, you often want to play your threat in the pre-combat main phase, as you either end up losing the freshly-cast threat to a counterspell, or the cat to a Clique… but you won’t end up losing both cards to the Fae Wizard.

Spellstutter Sprite

There are not a lot of situations where Spellstutter Sprite can counter a spell of yours, but if the situation comes up, you should try to play around it. This is achieved either by simply holding back your threat until you draw a burn spell that could remove one of his Faeries to force him into an insufficient Faerie count, or, if you already have a removal spell, by waiting a turn until you are able to cast both the removal spell and the threat.

Cryptic Command

The Command has two very scary modes. It will likely either counter / bounce two of your threats, especially when you won’t be able to replay the bounced threat, or it will bounce a threat at end of turn and draw a card, especially when you didn’t play anything. If you expect your opponent to have the Command, you should try to play threats while keeping enough mana to replay the most expensive threat you have on the board. If you are able to do this, the Repulse effect will be far less damaging. Your best solution to the problem — also a solution to the other scary four-mana spell, Mistbind Clique – is Bant Charm. This is surprisingly good in the matchup.

Both Mana Leak and Spell Snare are worth playing around from time to time. But often you don’t get the chance, and those spells will end up countering your threat anyway. I ended up having 10 almost blank cards in the pre-board games, which made my sideboarding pretty easy. Baneslayer Angel and Path to Exile will rarely have an impact on the game. Umezawa’s Jitte might be good in theory, but it turned out that you are in good shape if you have attacking threats anyway, and that sticking a Jitte is simply a “win more” tactic.

-4 Baneslayer Angel, -4 Path to Exile, -2 Umezawa’s Jitte
+4 Meddling Mage, +4 Negate, +2 Qasali Pridemage

After a slightly positive record in the pre-board games, I expected the post-board games to get a lot tougher. I was proven wrong. Both Meddling Mage and Negate are fantastic cards to have in this matchup.

Ancestral Vision, which is the best of your enemy’s cards against you, gets a lot worse in post-board games, as instead of zero solutions to the card, you suddenly have eight. Instead of just trying to stick some threats before the Visions resolves, you are now able to try to stick a Meddling Mage, or Negate his Vision before it fires. Sticking a Meddling Mage is easier than it sounds, as he still has to counter a lot of your early drops, and he should run out of countermagic before Vision occurs. If your opponent does not suspend Ancestral Vision, Meddling Mage gets a lot worse. It is still able to name some scary cards, but the games might not go long enough for your opponent to actually have access to the card, therefore it often ends up being just a Grizzly Bear. Thankfully, in this matchup, a Grizzly Bear is still an upgrade to Baneslayer Angel.

The second big change in post-board games is that you have to mulligan much less aggressively. Your opponent has more cheap answers to your one-drops, while you are lowering your creature curve by a lot, and you are even adding two new threats. The opening hands you are going to have that include a one-drop are even harder for the Fae player to deal with, as your deck got a lot better, but because it got so much better you don’t have to rely on your one-drops to get there anymore.

If you are running a similar Zoo list, you shouldn’t be afraid of the matchup. Sure, there are many lists that would perform even better, but this list is doing comfortably, as long as you are holding eight slots in the sideboard for Negates and Meddling Mages, which are awesome in a lot of different matchups too. The Qasali Pridemages are not needed for a spectacular matchup post-board, and if you are running Kataki or another card instead in that slot, it shouldn’t hurt this matchup too much. If you have something to board in for the Jittes, you should do so. I would go as far as to board in Kataki instead of Jitte in the matchup, as I expect the Legendary Spirit to have more impact on the games than the equipment.

One more thing… I want to welcome Antoine Ruel to StarCityGames.com, and thank him for testing this matchup with me. Luckily for us it turned out to be one of the more interesting matchups I’ve played, and it was full of surprises.

If you have any questions about the matchup against Fae, feel free to ask away in the forums, and I will try to answer them as soon as possible.

Thanks for reading, and good luck at the PTQs.

Manu B