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Initial Technology – Fixing Faeries

Now it’s time for a subject everyone will love: Faeries in Extended!

I do find it kind of funny that the top two decks in this format (arguably, at least), are also probably the two most hated Standard decks of the last 4 years. They, of course, are Jund and Faeries. Luckily, there is some good news: these decks aren’t nearly as dominating as they were in their heyday. Faeries is more like post-Time Spiral Faeries, after it lost River of Tears and Ancestral Visions. Good, yes, but not “play this or you are making a mistake” good. Similarly, Jund is not pre-Worldwake Jund, where it was just the best deck, not close. I even won a tournament (the Starcity Open LA at the beginning of 2010) by maindecking 4 Spreading Seas 4 Wall of Denial 3 Flashfreeze, since I realized the best play was actually just to presideboard vs Jund – it was that good. Extended Jund isn’t; it is just another deck, albeit one a little better than most of the competition. I can’t even say for sure if it is decisively better than Naya (and they share most of the same cards at this point), but I see Jund more often online.

As everyone no doubt knows, I’m not the guy to talk to about Jund. Kyle Boggemes wrote a good article about Extended here, and his Jund list looks solid. What I know is Faeries, and today I’d like to go over how I approach constructing the deck for this current season. Even if you don’t like Faeries, you can use this process for other decks, so this is definitely something worth picking up. It might seem obvious, but it is how I tend to approach deck construction (and providing relevant examples is always a good thing).

Lay out the core of the deck:

For Faeries, this is a fair(ie) amount of cards, since the deck is a Tribal deck, after all. I came to this core via playing the deck for half the time it was legal in Standard (the bad half, since I’m dumb), and testing it at various points for Extended. In my article last week, I mentioned it, but was unsure how to finish the deck, since I hadn’t tested enough. Now I’m getting there, though I’m not completely satisfied yet.

Faeries Core:

4 Bitterblossom
4 Cryptic Command
4 Mistbind Clique (I said 3 last week, but I was just wrong. This card is too unfair)
3 Spellstutter Sprite (I wouldn’t go less than 3, but the 4th isn’t a lock)
4 Thoughtseize effects
3 Mana Leak (I’ve been really happy with 3, and wouldn’t go back to 4)
6 removal spells
4 Mutavault
4 Secluded Glen
4 Darkslick Shores
3 Creeping Tar Pit
2 Tectonic Edge
8 other lands (I’m playing 26, but 25 is the bare minimum)

That equals 53 cards. Like I said, Faeries doesn’t have a whole lot of room.

Add sweet cards

No, really. When I start testing a deck, I usually try out a bunch of 1-ofs, just to get a feel for how each card performs. Not that I need much incentive to play a bunch of 1-ofs…

For Faeries, here is where I started:

 

Vendilions are awesome, and the number has never changed. I considered a fourth, but they aren’t quite good enough vs aggro to warrant that, and three seems perfect. I wouldn’t play less, even if I do side them out vs some decks.

The pair of Jaces were to see which was best, and the answer was resoundingly in favor of Big Jace. He does conflict with the other eight 4-drops, but the range of effects he adds are just so powerful, as anyone who has played any format in the last year can tell you.

Wurmcoil maindeck was a little optimistic. As sweet as it is in some matchups, playing a six-drop that doesn’t do much against any sort of blue deck just wasn’t the best plan.

The Edge was the 26th land, which I figured I needed in order to cast my 10 four-drops and Wurmcoil Engine.

As for the six removal slots, I chose 1 Smother, 2 Doom Blade, 1 Agony Warp, 2 Disfigure. That gave me a good mix, and all of them had their upsides.

The first list was then:

Battle!

This next step is pretty self-explanatory. Go out and test some games! The Extended 8-mans on MTGO have actually been perfect for this. Not only are the filling pretty fast now, the standard of competition has been quite high. The combination of a relatively high barrier to entry and a complex format means that almost everyone who plays in the queus is playing a real deck and playing it competently. I also like playing in queus in this stage of testing because I get to play against a wide range of decks, builds, and players, instead of sitting down for a test session against Web or wrapter. That definitely comes later, but for the first stages playing against the field is more useful.

You should be identifying a number of things in this step:

1) How each card performs

Is Agony Warp better than Smother? Does six removal spells work, or should there be more/less? How was Wurmcoil Engine?

2) What matchups seem good/bad, and what you would need to make the bad matchups better

3) Whether the sideboard numbers work, and which cards were best

4) If the deck is viable

I found that yes, Faeries is in fact viable, Agony Warp was better than Smother, and Wurmcoil Engine was best suited to the sideboard. I also found that Doom Blade wasn’t that impressive. Here are the creatures that you come across (and want to kill) most frequently:

 

There are other as well, but those are the main offenders. Doom Blade misses on Putrid Leech (huge), Creeping Tar Pit, and Demigod of Revenge. Wrapter, being the genius that he is, suggested Grasp of Darkness. It kills everything on that list, and is the only removal spell that kills Mistbind Clique and Putrid Leech, as well as being the only removal spell at all that kills Demigod. I was immediately sold, and made the switch, as well as removing the Smother for an Agony Warp. The color requirements just got more intensive, so I also took out a Tectonic Edge for a Sunken Ruins.

Jace Beleren became a second Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but then was eventually added back in for the Wurmcoil.

I battled some more, and went through more versions, since this step needs to be repeated a number of times. After battling many times, here is the list I ended up with:

The sideboard is still not where I want it to be.

Once you have a list you like hashed out, time to move on to the next step:

Play the problem matchups

Unless you have found The Deck of Decks, you will have some matchups that need attention (and if you have, skip this step and go treat yourself to a movie or something). Ideally, that list isn’t very long, since if it is, you might not be playing the right deck.

Here is what I think the tough matchups are for Faeries:

Jund/Naya
Faeries

Note that when I say “tough”, I don’t necessarily mean “bad”. Sometimes that certainly will be the case, but here I more mean that these are the matchups that I want to explore more fully. This Faeries deck really does feel like the Lorwyn-Shards Standard version; it has no truly bad matchups, a few easy ones, and most matchups are really close. Close, but if you play Faeries very well, they are almost all winnable, which is exactly where I like a deck to be. If everything is winnable and easy, everyone plays the deck (Standard Jund comes to mind), so winnable and hard combines the two things I want in a deck. I don’t mean to scare people off of Faeries, but if you want to play it, I recommend a lot of practice. PV is actually writing about how to play Faeries, so look for that article this week (I’m just covering how to build it!).

Back to the matchups. Naya and Jund both have some important points in common:

1) Fauna Shama/Vengevine, with Demigod as well in Jund
2) Access to Great Sable Stag and Volcanic Fallout
3) An overall aggressive plan backed by Bloodbraid Elf

All of these things are annoying, but none of them are fatal. What I do still need to do is find the right sideboard plan. I like how the maindeck is configured, though I could be convinced to cut the Jace Beleren for something.

The key to this matchup is to realize that you usually can’t just control the game by killing all their threats. They will eventually draw Bloodbraids and Vengevines, and even Cryptic Command can’t hold those back forever. Instead, you want to play the typical aggro-control role, and beat down with Mistbind and Vendilion while delaying them with your counters and removal. If you get Jace going, sometimes you can just out-card them, but you still want to kill them relatively quickly. An unanswered Fauna Shaman is tough to beat unless you have a ton of pressure, since it will chain Vengevines into Bloodbraids all day long, with Jund even having access to Demigod.

Right now, my sideboard plan is the following:

+2 Wurmcoil Engine
+3 Wall of Tanglecord
+2 removal spells

-3 Mana Leak
-1 Jace Beleren
-1 Inquisition of Kozilek
-1 Spellstutter Sprite
-1 Vendilion Clique

That isn’t set in stone, and I make adjustments based on the matchup. For example, Mana Leak is better against Jund than Naya because of their higher curve and lack of 1-drop accelerators, and Spellstutter Sprite is good at stopping Path to Exile and other 1-drops out of Naya. I’m not fully satisfied that this is the best way to board, and this week I’ll be focusing on testing these matchups in-depth. I’ve mostly moved past the play the field step, and am looking to just jam games here.

Again, how you play is critical in this matchup, since there is a ton of play, and games tend to be pretty different every time. Sometimes you just are on the draw and get run over, but most games are interesting and full of decisions. I wish I could deliver a final verdict, but I really can’t until I get more games in (though I’ve played a bunch already).

Faeries is the other matchup I feel I should practice more, since I haven’t struck the right balance yet. Like PV has said before, games are really divided into three categories:

1) They have Blossom
2) You have Blossom
3) Both of you have Blossom

Games where Blossom parity doesn’t happen tend to be pretty lopsided, since one player having Blossom advantage is pretty devastating. It forces the other player to do things, which Faeries is kind of bad at without Blossom, and it makes the Blossom player able to react, which Faeries is quite well set up for. If you find yourself in the unenviable position of facing down a Bitterblossom, you really just have to get aggressive. You can’t leave up counters, and instead have to bash with manlands whenever possible. The printing of Creeping Tar Pit actually goes a long way towards making this matchup more interesting, since an unopposed Tar Pit can actually outrace a Bitterblossom. Cryptic is key too, since tapping their guys and bashing once can often swing the race in your favor.

All that being said, you probably aren’t winning if they have a turn two Blossom and you don’t. If you are the one with the Blossom, just flip what I said. Try to preserve your life total, and block aggressively. Try not to leave yourself open to a Cryptic-fueled alpha strike, and realize that they are the ones who have to make the first move.

With the way Faeries is built right now, most games fall into the third category. With four to five maindeck Duress effects becoming standard, and most players aware that mulliganing aggressively is important, most of the time neither player has Bitterblossom. I’m sure PV is going to go more in-depth on this, but this matchup becomes quite interesting in this case. You are both now playing a somewhat gimped version of UB control, since Spellstutter and Mistbind are kind of awkward, and most fights are over somewhat trivial things. Vendilion Clique becomes key, since it opens the door to resolving Mistbind or Jace, both of which end the game rather quickly. Manlands are also very important, and one of the most commons paths to victory.

Right now, my sideboard plan for the mirror is what I’m most dissatisfied with:

+1 Thoughtseize
+1 Spell Pierce
+1 Jace Beleren
+1 Glen Elendra Archmage

-2 Agony Warp
-1 Vendilion Clique
-1 Disfigure

The thing I’m having the problem with is what to take out. Disfigure can be really awesome, and so can Vendilion Clique, but both are pretty miserable when Bitterblossom is on the other side. The thing is, if you overload on answers to Blossom, like some builds I’ve seen, and side up to 7 or 8 Duress/Spell Pierce type effects, you set yourself up to lose most games where neither player has Blossom. Once nobody has it, drawing all those ineffectual 1-drops will lose to an opponent who has a ton of Vendilion Cliques, removal spells, and Jaces. Again, striking the right balance is tough, and I’m not sure yet how I want to sideboard.

Make the last few changes, keeping in mind metagame changes

I’m not quite at this step, since as I said before I’ve still got some work to do against Jund and Faeries, but this is how you finish off a deck. Bear in mind that your work is never done, and any time you have a multi-tournament format (like a PTQ or Grand Prix season, for example), you should be adjusting your deck after every tournament. Keep track of online and live results, and change your deck and sideboard accordingly. If a new deck arises, test against it, and don’t be too lazy to go back and re-test old matchups if the standard build changes significantly (Jund adding Fauna Shamans is one example of a change that has already happened).

I like Faeries quite a bit, and the deck is nearing completion, but I urge you not to just play the list I have outlined here. Feel free to change cards, particularly in the sideboard, and make adjustments you think are good. This process is useful for any deck, and even though it isn’t the most complicated, really does work. Testing is by far the most useful tool you have at your disposal, and once you have logged enough test games you can start making changes without testing them, since testing some changes is almost impossible. Finding the difference between 3 and 4 of a particular card is not really done by practice, but by theory. Still, you can’t formulate the correct theory until you practice, since knowing the deck is crucial when trying to make changes.

If I had to sum this all up in one sentence, applicable to any deck in this (or any) format, it would be to isolate what’s important in a deck, add cards that seem interesting, and test the hell out of it. Good luck!

LSV

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