Before I get to the article proper, I’d like to address my article from last week — without a doubt that was probably my best-received article on this site to date, and I’m truly glad that my readers took something away from it. I had a good number of people tell me that the felt inspired by it, and as a writer there is literally nothing that could be more amazing to hear about my work. I once asked Patrick Chapin to read a similarly-themed article that I had written, and he had told me that he wasn’t that thrilled with it — he told me that he didn’t learn anything from it, and that he wasn’t inspired. Hearing that I hadn’t failed in that regard this time around was very satisfying, and I hope to write more articles like that one in the future.
However, this week’s article is back to the grind. As you’re all aware, my first Extended PTQ this season went rather poorly. I played Zoo instead of the Faeries list I had brought with me, and as a result I ran into a field saturated with Fae, Martyr, and Scapeshift. Rough beats.
But, as with all mistakes, I learned. Last weekend was the first PTQ in Garden City (here in Michigan), and I decided to play Fae. Here is the list I registered:
My maindeck was fairly standard, with the biggest difference being that I chose to play a fourth Mistbind Clique over the fourth Vendilion Clique. Some may disagree with that decision, but in testing I was much happier to see Mistbind than I was Vendilion Clique a good deal of the time. My sideboard isn’t all that distinct, either, save the Teferi — that really could have just been Thoughtseize number four, and in the future it certainly will be.
I was basically punting Dredge (save for the “hope you put something relevant in the graveyard and then Extirpate it” plan), and I didn’t have a terribly solid plan for the mirror. I’ve played a lot of mirror matches, though, and I knew that I could win those matches as long as I just played tight.
Off we go!
Round 1 — Matt Soucy with Rubin Zoo
Matt is a fellow RIW player, but I was at a loss when I sat down across from him as to what he was playing. When he led off with Wild Nacatl, I was somewhat relieved. My sideboard was designed to make this match-up positive, and when he followed up with Qasali Pridemage I was even happier (sometimes Tribal Zoo can be a little too fast, whereas Rubin is typically much easier). I did have to mull to five in game 1, but I still was very close to winning the match. He landed a Baneslayer late in the game and I just could not find an answer to it.
In this match-up, the idea is to board out most of your countermagic and rely on removal spells instead to do their job. Flashfreeze is still fine, though, because it counters any and all of their noncreature spells as well as being better than Mana Leak against anything but Path and Baneslayer anyway.
Despite my plethora of removal, I still fell behind pretty fast in game 2. He resolved a Knight on turn 3, and after baiting out my countermagic he landed two Tarmogoyfs in a single turn. I had kept a hand with Sprite, lands, Agony Warp, and Vision, but Vision whiffed (lots of lands) and Agony Warp didn’t do much against his Knight he had played off of two fetchlands. Looking back, I could have shipped that seven and tried with six — my hand wasn’t bad, but it didn’t do the kinds of things I should have wanted it to do.
Losing the first round always sucks, but round 2 was pretty uplifting.
Round 2 — Jeff with Faeries
If I haven’t made it clear by now, I live for the Faeries mirror. Back in Standard, it was a skill-driven match-up that sometimes stopped being so if one player stuck Bitterblossom and the other didn’t. In Extended, the deck with Bitterblossom doesn’t just win. No, it is normally the one with an active Jitte that wins the mirror (but more on that later).
Jeff won the die roll and led off with a Secluded Glen. My hand suddenly looked better, as not only did I have a Bitterblossom, but I also had a Spell Snare which I luckily got to use on his second-turn Bitterblossom. I played mine, passed, and eventually was able to find and resolve a Jitte.
Once again, I kept a Bitterblossom hand. He started things off with an Ancestral Vision, and I topdecked a Thoughtseize for my first play of the game. He revealed a pretty weak hand, where my only reasonable target was a Spellstutter Sprite. I attempted a Bitterblossom on my next turn, and game 2 quickly started to look a lot like game 1.
Round 3 — Caleb Estrada with UG Scapeshift
Caleb is a good friend of mine and one of my playtest partners from Grand Rapids, so we were both pretty bummed about getting paired up. I especially felt bad, because I knew how the match would play out — if I had things my way, I’d play against UG Scapeshift every round. I personally feel like it’s nearly a bye for my deck.
Caleb won the die roll and started things off with a Ponder. I was feeling really bad about my mulligan to five, but it turned out pretty well for me as he had kept a hand with no green mana — only Steam Vents. He never really found his green mana before I had him in an unwinnable situation (aka I had Bitterblossom, a full hand, and plenty of open mana). After the game I asked him what had happened, and he explained that his hand was totally legitimate to keep — his Ponders just whiffed and so did his next six or so draws.
On my first turn in game 2, I Thoughtseized Caleb revealing some ramp and a Spell Pierce. I took the Spell Pierce, and my Bitterblossom the next turn resolved without a hitch. Caleb played some ramp and Sakura Tribe-Elders, but with my Faerie tokens amassing he didn’t have a whole lot of breathing room. Bitterblossom brought me to 9, and even when he had the window to rip a Scapeshift to beat me… he just didn’t.
Round 4 — Matt with Thopter Depths
My notes for this match are literally a huge mess — lots of Thoughtseize and Vendilion Clique notes, and not very many that pertain to board states or anything helpful. I do know that Matt landed Dark Confidant on turn 1 in every game, but that’s more or less comical than it is useful to my readers. My notes do reflect that I was hitting him for a consistent three damage a turn for a stretch of time, so I’d assume that Vendilion Clique was doing the beating in the first game. My life total suggests that I did not have a Bitterblossom, but I did indeed pull out the game.
This sideboarding was abysmal, but I’ll be honest — I hadn’t put many games in against this deck before our match, and so I was unsure of what was supposed to come out or stay in. It mattered little in the next game, though, as Matt resolved a Thopter Foundry and I never got to an Extirpate.
On my first turn in game 3, I made my largest mistake of the tournament. I Thoughtseized Matt, and he revealed the following: Swamp, Thirst for Knowledge, Dark Confidant, Thopter Foundry, Sword of the Meek, Chrome Mox, and Doom Blade. What would you have taken here? I decided to take Thopter Foundry, and I knew as soon as I had done it that it was wrong. I was afraid to take the Mox because if he drew a blue source he would probably win the game (my hand was fine, but it couldn’t beat a turn 1 combo piece) or at least be no worse off (as he could play the Confidant on turn 1 again). Some told me I should have taken the Dark Confidant, and still others agree with my decision to take Foundry. I think Mox was right — after all, Foundry combo is bad without enough lands, and a first-turn Confidant is simply brutal on my deck (it almost single-handedly beat me in game 2). A long story short, I punted, and the beating I received as a result will be with me for a while.
After that round, my friend Kevin Haesler suggested that I stay in the tournament — apparently the PTQ was small enough that an x-2 might make it, and both my opponents had decent records. It was a long shot, but I was willing to give it a try.
Round 5 — David with Merfolk
Yeah, Merfolk. I kept an opener with Bitterblossom, and on my second turn I was almost afraid to play it given that he had a Scalding Tarn and had just made a joke to the guy next to him about being a proud member of “Team T2BB” or something. Still, I ran it, and it stuck. He played some blue dudes, but also a lot of lands. I didn’t hit my third land until turn 8 or so, but it didn’t matter much since he has little business and I was dumping Mana Leaks out of my hand like it was my job.
-2 Mistbind Clique
+2 Agony Warp
Game 2 was even worse for this poor guy, as he was stuck on a single blue and holding a grip of Cryptic Commands, Merfolk Sovereigns, and Lords of Atlantis. As for me, I had a Jitte, Bitterblossom, and a stream of removal for whatever he did get to do. This match-up probably should have been a real challenge, but I feel like my opponent just didn’t get anything he needed.
Round 6 — Dan Hall with All-In Red
Dan went first in our match and spent his first turn vomiting out a Blood Moon, and then a Magus the following turn — thus leaving his hand pretty empty. My hand, however, had two Vendilion Cliques, a Jitte, and two of my six Islands. Needless to say, this game didn’t end up being very close. I’ll admit, though, that raw-dogging two Islands in my opener against an unknown opponent who just so happens to be totally relying on Blood Moon effects is pretty lucky, but I digress. He did end up landing a Demigod on turn 4, but my Clique equipped with a Jitte was a heck of a lot better.
Game 3 was much like game 2 — I had Islands, Cliques, and a Jitte to combat his Blood Moon effects. At one point he had attempted a Magus, and I cast a Cryptic Command to counter it and bounce his Blood Moon. I played the Mutavault in my hand the following turn (it was my fifth land), then Mistbind Cliqued him on the following upkeep. From there, it was smooth sailing.
Round 7 — Mike with Faeries
If my Thoughtseize mistake in Round 4 wasn’t my worst mistake all day, my mulligan decision in game 1 of this match was fairly close. I kept a one-lander, which is such an absolute no-no that I’m surprised I didn’t clock myself in the face after keeping it. I had Visions, Spell Snare, Mana Leak, Bitterblossom, the works — but not a second land. And yeah, it’s true — I had a feeling that I’d hit the land. I always do. And in the cases where I have the land and need the Blossom, I usually get that, too. But this time I didn’t, and I didn’t again and again until turn 5. I resolved a Bitterblossom, though, and actually stayed in the game for an impressive amount of time. Still, I was turns and turns behind the mirror, and eventually I folded.
Game 2 was simply incredible. I don’t have many notes for it (I was 100% focused on the game, and hardly even making Thoughtseize notes), but the simple story is this: we both had Bitterblossoms, and I eventually stuck a Jitte. I was at one life for most of the remainder of the game, and I finished the game at one. I would swing, pump, kill his token for the turn, and then gain two life every other turn to stay alive from my own Bitterblossom. Fellow teammate Steve Rothstein told me after the game that it was among the best games of Magic he had ever seen, which I suppose made me feel really good. Unstoppable, even. I had noticed myself a distinct difference in my playing in that match (and the AIR match-up) than I had had earlier that day — it was the same distinction that I had last seen when I made it to the finals of the Standard PTQ last July. There really are two difference styles of play that I can display, and the key to me “making it” would be finding out how to eliminate the Chris that doesn’t Thoughtseize Chrome Mox or simply doesn’t go into the tank enough on his plays and trying to always play like the Chris that made all the right decisions and pulled out a very tough mirror match.
In game 3, I had an answer to everything he did. He Thoughtseized me on his turn 2, and I revealed a Jitte and a Bitterblossom. I felt totally fine with that, as this means that at least one or the other would certainly resolve (he had played his other land tapped or something of that nature, because this tapped him out). He ended up choosing Bitterblossom, which I think was wrong. Bitterblossom is huge, but a live Jitte is so much better. Granted, a Jitte can be blow up by another Jitte, but I liked my chances. I proceeded to play my Jitte, and then bait out counterspells with Teferi and company. He attempted two consecutive Jittes, but I had enough counterspells in my hand to not only counter them both but also fight off whatever counterspells he had. Once again, as one would guess, Jitte won me a match literally single-handedly.
Round 8 — Vik with RG Scapeshift
(Note: Vik, I’m assuming that this how to write your name — if I’m mistaken, my apologies)
UG Scapeshift is a bye match-up, but RG is not. RG is a very aggressive beatdown deck that has an “oops I win” card in the deck, and that makes it hard to play against. However, in our first game I managed to — you guessed it — get a Jitte live and just dominate the game. My Bitterblossom was working overtime to keep his Tarmogoyf at bay, but he never drew the Scapeshift (that I had the counterspell for anyway) and conceded.
I honestly don’t recall how I sideboarded for this match, as I can’t figure out if I actually brought in Thoughtseize or not. I know I brought in two Extirpates (both for Scapeshift and for Punishing Fire) and Flashfreeze, but beyond that I can’t remember. I took out some number of Mistbind Cliques and a Bitterblossom/Vision or two, but I digress. On to game 2!
Vik got an early Tarmogoyf and Treetop Village, but on turn 4 I ripped, played, and equipped a Jitte (sensing a pattern). When he was on a single card going into a turn where he could literally beat me with a Scapeshift, I main-phased a Mistbind Clique on my turn when he was tapped out to ensure that I would win the next turn unless he drew it. He flipped his top card, and then extended his hand.
Top 16 isn’t Top 8, but at least by primary testing partner and best friend Joe Karel made it to his first Top 8. He did unfortunately lose in the first round of Top 8 to Death Cloud (Joe was playing Hypergenesis), but he played great all day and I’m very proud of him.
In addition, I’m really proud of myself. I’m glad I decided to keep playing, and even happier that I played so incredibly tight in the last four rounds. I’m going to try very hard to figure out how to play that way all the time, because now that I have a vivid picture of that state of mind I think I can pinpoint a way to stick with it.
Faeries is the beast that it always was, and I feel like it’s probably the best deck to play in this format. It can do almost anything, and has insane match-ups with really good and popular decks (Dark Depths, UG Shift, Elves, control decks, Hypergenesis, etc). Umezawa’s Jitte is the one card that won me easily at least 70% of my games, and I’m almost tempted to play a fourth in the sideboard. It really was that good. Still, I don’t want to have multiples in my hand or anything, but I can’t stress enough how crucible that card is to almost all of your match-ups.
Changes I’d make to the deck overall are few and far between. The Teferi can go for another Thoughtseize, but otherwise I loved the seventy-five and I don’t think I’d change really anything if I were to play it again (and I will). Worldwake will of course mix things up, as I could easily see myself playing two or three copies of the new Jace in my sideboard for the mirror, but otherwise I think it’s safe to say that this deck will help define the format for the rest of the season.
Until next time…
Shinjutsei on MTGO