Sullivan Library – The Last Days: Experimental Anti-Faerie Red

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Friday, July 18th – Eventide is coming to a Constructed format near you… but before the release, there’s the little problem of a weekend of Block Constructed PTQs. With Faeries being the undisputed kings of the castle, perceived wisdom suggests that preboarding your deck to thrash the Fae is the only sensible choice. Today, Adrian throws caution to the wind and brings us a Red deck with the Fae set firmly in its sights.

This weekend marks the end of an era. It’s the end of an era of preboarding against Faeries or simply playing Faeries (these days, likely preboarded as well). A lot of people seem to be pretty unimpressed by Eventide, but in my initial playtesting I’m finding something interesting happening.

Pre-Eventide, the Powers That Be (Faeries) were simply so powerful (comparably) that they made it nearly impossible to actually compete with them toe-to-toe. While Jelger Wiegersma and Lee Shin Tian showed us that Kithkin could win, in the many weeks since that, more and more we’ve been seeing that Faeries actually can smash all of us, no matter how hard we try to fight them. The essential problem is that their card quality, fairly solid to incredibly good individually, has an incredible amount of synergy. As every turn passes, the odds are that the Faerie player will get more and more potent. Keeping up with this can be a real problem.

One of the big things that people often say to critique potential answers to Faeries has always struck me as silly. “Oh, they’ll just counter that,” they say, to any randomly semi-expensive card. However, in all of the testing I’ve done, and in all of the games I’ve seen, this becomes less and less the case the more you are able to put up pressure or have a density of threats. Block Faeries, as horrible as it is to deal with, is not Standard Faeries. What I mean to say by that, is that without Ancestral Visions, the Faerie player is not an unending chain of spells that can answer nearly anything. Kithkin versus Faerie playtesting bears this out. Anyone who has tested this matchup knows that cards like Cloudgoat Ranger resolve all of the time. Kithkin also has the other advantage that can be useful against Faeries: pressure. Simply by putting the threats on the table before the reasonable answers are online can make it so that the subsequent threats hit the table, even if they are more expensive. How? Generally, it’s that Faeries can’t afford to take the time to wait until the end of turn every time to kill things, so that it can keep up counters. They really have to respond, often at inopportune times, or they’ll be overrun.

So, that said, why aren’t these Kithkin decks the ones that are taking home the blue envelopes? Why, why, why?

The answer, of course, is the sideboard. While Kithkin often has the edge in the first game, as Faeries has decided to respect the Kithkin deck, you see the common board plan wreak its devastating effects. Faeries usually fills up on a full complement of Sower of Temptations and Shriekmaws (and Nameless Inversions if they aren’t already full up), with two to three Incremental Blight and a few Peppersmoke (again, if not already playing several). Most testing that I’ve seen has shown that this board plan usually lets you overwhelm the aggressive attempts of a Kithkin deck. It isn’t an unstoppable plan, but it is pretty hard to overcome for the little White menace.

Let’s look at the two Faerie decks from Detroit… incidentally, the only place for Faeries to not win a PTQ during the last weekend of PTQs (at least, from those that we have results). Let’s see how many of the key cards that they chose to run:

Matt Nickolai
– 3 Sower of Temptation
– 4 Nameless Inversion
– 2 Incremental Blight
– 3 Shriekmaw
– 2 Peppersmoke

Josh Wludyka

– 3 Sower of Temptation
– 4 Nameless Inversion
– 1 Incremental Blight
– 2 (!) Shriekmaw
– 3 Peppersmoke

Josh seems to be willing to reduce his full answers to Kithkin by a huge degree in favor of being better against Faeries. Perhaps he expects to also use Murderous Redcap and Consign to Dream (both singletons) as further answers against Kithkin, but even so, it seems likely that he’s gone too far in his desire to beat Faeries.

Overall, I largely love this deck in its ability to go game 1 and be an utter beating against most other Faeries decks. While I’m not convinced exactly on his land counts (I’m thinking —2 Vivid, -1 Island, +2 Reflecting Pool, +1 Swamp), it could be that his Vivid idea is correct… More importantly, it seems to me that he has put together all of the tools that would be necessary to have the best time winning the Faeries mirror. Ponder means a greater consistency in getting Bitterblossom advantage. Twenty-five land gives you the mana edge. One Oona, especially with the Ponders, gives you the chance to trump a losing Bitterblossom war. Thoughtseize is a very powerful spell. Wow! One begins to wonder how he fit all of this in here!

The casualty is Broken Ambitions. There is a lot to be said for this plan, but unfortunately, again, it leads into a still weaker game versus Kithkin and other aggressive decks. Ultimately, I don’t have a huge problem with this, but I do think that the space has to be made up for in the sideboard. Still, it has become clear that this plan is the kind you’ll want to take if expecting to face a Faerie mirror, if you plan on playing Faeries and qualifying. Preboarding has come to be the way to succeed, at least so long as you don’t abandon ship on respecting the speed of aggressive decks as much as Matt and Josh seemed to have — the pendulum can have its revenge.

So, what does this mean for my beloved Red decks?

In a sense, one of the things that this can mean is that you can actually take a Red deck of a certain build, and expect that the Faerie decks that want to win are going to be slightly less ready for their Kithkin enemies. But is this advice that you should also take?

If you look at the results from the various PTQs, it very well may be. With nearly all of the recent PTQs having at least half of the Top 8 populated by Faeries, it seems clear that it is now the time to preboard yourself. My Red deck was always solid before, but I couldn’t get it to beat both Kithkin and Faeries. It really just couldn’t be done. I had an initial build that was quite good against Remi Fortier’s Faerie list, but it was walloped by Kithkin.

The time has come to say, “Who Cares?”

Let’s just swat us some Faeries.

Overall, this is a deck that is largely ignoring opponents that aren’t heavily control-based. Yes, it’s possible to get completely owned by a Mirrorweave. “Oh, well.” I suppose, that that is what sideboards are for. In the case of Kithkin, your plan will probably be at minimum four Firespout, with maybe a little bit of help in the form of Moonglove Extract and/or Jaws of Stone to really overwork those little Forge-Tenders. Whatever the case may be in terms of your game 2 solutions, you really are far more interested in the game 1 threats versus Faeries.

As such, reasonable cards like Tarfire just aren’t here at all. A Shock, without help from more consistent burn, is almost always quite problematic against Faeries. It just isn’t very much damage. Contrast that with a Release the Ants, which can actually become a Machine Gun fairly often.

Ashling the Pilgrim is one of those cards that can actually present itself as quite a threat to Faeries all on its own. As a faster drop, playing properly around removal and the like, you can find it dealing a shockingly large amount of damage. In a mid-game, it’s ability to become a semi-Inferno (more or less, depending) ends up being a huge threat. While it can be taken out, it provides itself as a lightning rod, then, for other reasonable guys, like the Ram-Gang or Shusher, each of which can take a sizable chunk out of the other player. The key is to just keep being relevant. Shusher is only mediocre versus non-Faeries decks of most varieties, but we really just don’t care about that these days.

Demigod of Revenge is a place that that becomes abundantly obvious. With all of the clash, it becomes all that easy to find a second Demigod, which is often just incredibly overwhelming. Along with the Boartusk Liege, they represent cards which can be a threat to Faeries individually, but really become scary in multiples. And like the Liege, Demigod seems really awful when you’re actually bothering to consider cards like Mirrorweave, but maybe the best way to win these days is just pretend that those decks simply don’t exist.

This is a deck in which I’d love to include Mutavault, but it just is very, very hard to justify. Mutavault cuts into the ability to cast Demigod of Revenge and our boar-riding friends, and slightly slows down our Javelins. This, in and of itself, wouldn’t be too bad, except that we don’t really want to be stumbling on these cards. We want to keep pressing. In order to do that, we really need about 25 Red sources. 1 Mutavault? Well, maybe I could see doing that, but I think I’d rather run the extra Spinerock Knoll, a card that might not activate too often in a deck like this, but still has the possibility of making great things happen at a fairly small cost.

The sideboard could go in so many directions, but I know that one way I might like to try is to take a nod at the version of the deck that I had that tried to be a balanced approached to the metagame at large, and use it to guide my sideboard choices. Doing that, I have the following:

4 Moonglove Extract
4 Fulminator Mage
4 Murderous Redcap
3 Jaws of Stone

I keep waffling on Jaws of Stone. I’ve cast it so many times that I feel like the card is just one of the most ridiculous things ever, only to cast it later and feel as though I wish I’d had almost anything else. Obviously, this is problematic. That said, it is a complete beating against Kithkin, and is an amazing card to pull out of the hole when you trigger Spinerock Knoll. Further, in counter-light decks of all sorts, you really just can shoot them in the face and expect them to be devastated by it.

In many builds of this deck, I’ve had the Moonglove Extract main. It’s not just that they are a bad Seal of Fire, it’s that they are a bad Seal of Fire that can kill Forge-Tender. Even if you’re not worrying about Kithkin, having a card on the table that can kill a Sower or a Scion at will can be a huge advantage against Faeries, letting you tap out at times you might otherwise feel to be incredibly foolish.

Fulminator Mage is a way to really suppress any of the decks that try to establish some kind of crazy manabase. Combined with Incendiary Command, it can be quite devastating, and sometimes you’ll find that your opponent never even manage to get in the game.

Murderous Redcap serves two purposes. First, dealing with Green-based decks, who often have access to mean cards like Big Green Monsters that a Redcap might be able to have gotten in an attack before anything gets out, or afterwards, chumping and shooting three points of burn to the dome. Second, providing a reasonable answer to matchups that are going to involve a lot of trading. Persist is really relevant, particularly when attached to a pumpable (via Liege) semi-FTK.

Once Eventide is legal, we’ll be seeing a whole slew of cards slide into the format that should really shake things up.

Whatever deck you take to this last, horrendous PTQ, make sure you’re preboarded!

Until next week…

Adrian Sullivan