Well, ladies and gentleman, if nothing else, we have a Faeries list for standard that is vetted. In the $7,000 of tournaments this weekend, held by StarCityGames.com, out of two Top 8s, we have seven Faerie lists. Even more notably, we have the same champion of both tournaments, beating out several hundred people to take home a fair chunk of change.
My I present to you his doubly-winning decklist.
The $2,000 list shares 73 of the 75 cards, exchanging two Peppersmoke for 2 Flashfreeze. I’m sure the vast majority of you have already seen this list, but what is it about this list that is different than the other prominent lists. If we were to perform an amalgamation of the remaining lists with maybe one or two other prominent lists, what would we get? How is Alex’s list different than these others.
Here are those others:
|Â||Brett Blackman||Ben Weinburg||Brett Piazza||Jim Davis||Gerry Thompson||Yuuta Takahashi|
|Scion of Oona|
|Sower of Temptation||Â||Â||Â||Â|
|River of Tears|
Performing a quick amalgamation gives us some clear spaces of agreement. Clearly, 25 lands, and four of Ancestral Visions, Bitterblossom, Spellstutter Sprite, Scion of Oona, Mistbind Clique, Rune Snag, and Cryptic Command are largely the consensus, giving us 28 more cards, for a total of 53. Alex only disagrees with this consensus on one count — he prefers only three Cryptic Command.
The contested slots are Pestermite, Sower of Temptation, Terror, and Nameless Inversion. All of these perform a kind of removal function, or pseudo-removal function. The Ben Weinburg/Gerry Thompson lists go crazy with seven targeted pure removal. A quick count of the various lists places the “removal” package at, on average, 7.5 removal spells of some kind, at least if we’re counting Pestermite on that list.
What is Alex doing, then? His “removal” package, slightly higher than the average, sits at an eight-count. With only three Terror, he adds three Sower of Temptation, and sits two Pestermite in between them on the mana curve to fill out his eight slots. To make room for this “extra” eighth card, he cuts a Cryptic Command.
I don’t know about you, but I was pretty shocked when I saw this choice. In all of my playtesting, the Cryptic Command was one of those cards that you feared. I’ve talked to a number of people, and none of them have anything good to say about this change. But, then again, none of them won around $3,000 this weekend by taking two tournaments with essentially the same deck. Also, it is worth noting that one of the other competitors, Brett Piazza, also placed in the Top 8, with essentially the same list as Alex Bertoncini, substituting a Pestermite for a Mistbind Clique. Perhaps there is something to this change… Even as my gut suggests no, I think that there is still a possibility that I’m wrong.
Looking back, then, to the amalgamation, Terror seems to be the card of choice for removal, and since Yuuta’s finish, it looks like there is an average of 3.5 of them included, with some other choice, of varying types, for the other 3.5 cards. Pestermite does appear to be the common choice. All told, then, this gives us this deck, representing the non-Alex Bertoncini view:
4 Mistbind Clique
4 Scion Of Oona
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Cryptic Command
4 Rune Snag
4 Ancestral Vision
2 Faerie Conclave
4 River Of Tears
4 Secluded Glen
4 Underground River
How different, then, is this from Alex? Alex removes one Pestermite, one Cryptic Command, and one Terror, making room for three Sower of Temptation. He removes an Island and a Pendelhaven for two more Faerie Conclaves, making up the full set of four. Essentially, he seems to be giving up a little bit of instant speed for the ability to have more man-lands and creature stealing potential.
Is this really enough to make up the difference, though, in a mirror match? The more significant difference might be found in the sideboards. Again, his board:
4 Bottle Gnomes
2 Slaughter Pact
Of these, the cards that seem like they might be a starting point for him in the Faerie Mirror are those 4 Thoughtseize. Aside from that, a slight touch of targeted removal in the form of Peppersmoke and Slaughter Pact seems to be Alex’s plan.
Compare that, then, to the others at those events:
|Â||Brett Blackman||Ben Weinburg||Brett Piazza||Jim Davis||Gerry Thompson|
|Sower of Temptation||Â||Â||Â|
Everyone, though, was running those Thoughtseize. For most of them, Fledgling Mawcor seemed to be a huge part of the plan. On the play, a Fledgling Mawcor seems like a great response to an opponent’s turn 2 Bitterblossom. In a late game, Fledgling Mawcor, if joined by another, can totally dominate a table. It does have that nagging problem of being a slow-to-cast spell, and easily killed by removal.
In the end, it seems to me that one of the things that Alex’s deck can do is best handle a Scion of Oona. Its answers are cheap (0 and 1 mana) on the play, and can easily through a counterspell war. While a Mawcor does seem ultimately more powerful, it is also cumbersome, and easily answerable by a single card.
Cryptic Command, from Alex’s perception, perhaps, suffers the same problem as the Mawcor — it is expensive. He can expect that the game will involve Thoughtseize, Rune Snag, and Spellstutter Sprite, and a four mana control spell, even if it does answer an opposing Bitterblossom already on board, could be problematic. Playing the full delegate of man-lands mean that in a clear board, he will have an uncounterable attacker. Answerable, certainly, but these answers will all start a counter war.
Ultimately, one of the limitations of this analysis is that we can’t see how he sideboarded for the mirror match. Clearly, we can watch him play just a little, but his dominance of Scott Jeltima’s RG/w beatdown deck doesn’t give us any real insight into his win in the finals over Brett Blackman, whose deck was only three Sower different than Alex’s, and whose sideboard ran the popular Mawcor option. It is even possible that the finals, a prize split, resulted in Alex being declared the victor rather than actually simply defeating Blackman. Anyone who actually was at the event, your comments in the forums, answering these questions, would very deeply be appreciated, I’m sure.
What is perhaps most interesting, is that in the seven lists from Richmond, out of all of the 525 cards, there are only two cards from Shadowmoor. Can that be right? Isn’t there anything in Shadowmoor that helps someone out? Brett Piazza dipped into Sunken Ruins. What else might there be to think about?
A big problem for a lot of the cards that might seem to be really effective is that they are simply too expensive. Take a spell like Dire Undercurrents. If every time that your Bitterblossom plopped out a man, you got to make your opponent discard, that would be fantastic. And it would, except that it is a five casting-cost spell that you’ll have to put into play on your main phase. Almost certainly, you’re going to be opening yourself up to being totally destroyed, if it isn’t simply taken away by a Thoughtseize because you don’t have anything better to take away. A card like Ghostlord of the Fugue seems similarly problematic, able to chip away huge amounts of life and disrupting the opponent, but seeming unlikely to actually make it to the table.
Here are some ideas that might be useful, though I must say that they are pure brainstorming:
Inkfathom Infiltrator: Unblockable, though still certainly killable by a Nameless Inversion, or worse, Peppersmoke, the Infiltrator can at least put a small clock on that might be relevant as Bitterblossoms race.
Ghastly Discovery: While only offering a smidge of card advantage, getting to the point where you can conspire it seems very doable. This does eat up three of your mana during your main phase, but in a mid-game situation, perhaps three of these could turn a game around.
Memory Plunder: At four mana, this card is pretty expensive. It does mean, though, that you can have extra copies of cards that you think are relevant in the mirror match. Potentially, this means Ancestral Visions and Cryptic Command copies 5 through 8. It does run the risk of being stranded in your hand, but that isn’t likely to last long. And since it is an instant, this also means that those sideboarded Thoughtseize that you’re liable to see can be played at very inconvenient times.
Oona, Queen of the Fae: Resolving this card could be incredibly hard. If you do, though, it is an absolute monster of a card for Faeries to deal with. Unterrorable, uninvertable (at least not without duplicates), Sower is the only real answer to it. In short time, it can outrun a Bitterblossom, but unfortunately, that pesky casting cost is there to hold it down… Maybe with Thoughtseize protection, though, it might make the cut.
Leechridden Swamp: While dependent upon Bitterblossom, this idea comes from inspiration by Alex Bertoncini. If his uncounterable man-lands did indeed provide him a distinct advantage in the mirror, Leechridden Swamps is a way to take advantage of the same space, but not being so tied down to needing to use the attack phase.
Overall, I think that the sixteen decklists that showed up this weekend are going to give us all a lot of data to mine. I know I’ll be looking at and relooking at them, hoping to find some edge for the big event. This has been an incredibly frustrating time for me as I look to the Tour. As the luck of timing would have it, school and the Pro Tour are just in direct conflict. My last final will be Friday night, and I leave for Hollywood on Wednesday. While I’m going to try to fit in as much good testing as I possibly can, I do know that I’m feeling the squeeze, big time. And, furthermore, as luck would have it, my summer session for school starts the day after I get back into town. Yikes. What I wouldn’t give to be a little bit of a Hiro.
Wish me luck. Time’s a tickin’ down, and between my finals and prep for the Pro Tour, there just isn’t much time…