Zendikar looms on the horizon, and it seems hard to avoid writing any sort of article without taking into account the impact it will have on the various formats. I initially considered writing about what each deck loses in Standard, but it soon became apparent that it would be easier to just list the decks that no longer will exist in their current form: Everything but maybe Jund, Black-Red, or Time Sieve. Faeries, Elves, Kithkin, and 5-Color are all either completely dead (in the case of the Tribal decks) or due for a complete overhaul. Since Standard is so much smaller than the other formats, it is impossible to make too many useful speculations without knowledge of what is replacing Lorwyn-Shadowmoor Block.
On the other hand, Extended is a large enough format that speculation on the effect of the rotation is actually useful, since even if Zendikar does add some cards to current decks, most decks will not be all that different from what we might predict. That being said, I would like to start with some talk about Faeries, the sweetest deck that I never actually got to play last season (in a Grand Prix or Pro Tour, since I actually played it online and locally quite a bit).
Faeries was one of the decks to beat, if not the deck, during the entirety of the post-Worlds 2008 Extended season. It was originally played by the current leader in the Player of the Year race (so lucky), Gabriel Nassif, in Berlin. I mention this because Nassif’s original list didn’t actually include fetchlands, which is a huge advantage. The rotation of the fetches is by far the most important change that Zendikar will bring to Extended, as it will force a complete overhaul of the majority of manabases. Addition by subtraction, as my Magic TV sidekick Mashi says literally every time I bring up the subject.
By the end of the season, virtually all the Faeries decks did play fetchlands, but the fact that the deck originally played none is a pretty clear indication that it will be fine going back to its (nearly) Mono-Blue roots. It does hurt that Faeries doesn’t get a bunch of free splashes, although I am of the opinion that it shouldn’t have been able to splash stuff so easily to begin with.
The combination of Ravnica shocklands and Onslaught fetchlands made it way too easy to play just about anything you wanted. Ancient Grudge in a Mono-Blue deck? Sure! Dark Confidant, Gaddock Teeg, Wild Nacatl, Sulfuric Vortex, and fully powered Tribal Flames in an aggro deck? Why not! Much like Vivid Lands plus Reflecting Pool, fetches plus shocklands just made it too easy. I find it much more interesting when people actually have to make choices while deckbuilding, instead of just playing the combination of all the best cards regardless of colors. This rotation should shake things up in a very positive way.
Back to the subject at hand, here are some of the important pieces of the Faeries deck that are made weaker by the rotation.
While I could just post a list and explanations for it, examining the cards that are worse and the implications of such is useful in helping the overall understanding of what Faeries may look like post-rotation. This way, even if the list I happen to start with is terrible or inaccurate, you will be left with information that can help build a good deck. At this point, the process is more important than the list, particularly since we won’t have all the information until Zendikar comes out.
Without easy access to Red and Green mana, Grudge is no longer an option. This will have huge consequences on the format as a whole, as artifacts get way better. Vedalken Shackles is no longer a liability in the mirror, as there is no longer a way to blank all their Shackles with just two cards. Shackles was never bad, since it tended to dominate any games where it survived, but now that Grudge is gone it will be even better. Affinity becomes a much tougher matchup, since both Grudge and Kataki are going to be quite difficult to cast.
Tarmogoyf gets hit in multiple ways. It is more difficult to cast, although not as impossible as Grudge. Faeries can definitely get by with Flooded Groves, Breeding Pools, and possibly some Yavimaya Coasts (or that package for any of the other colors, if different splash is desired) if Tarmogoyf is worth playing. That is where the second part kicks in: without fetchlands, Goyf is now always going to be one smaller than it was previously. Goyf used to be almost an auto-include in just about any deck that could cast it and was playing creatures (Elves is a combo deck, before someone brings that up), but that might not be the case anymore. Without playing enough to get a feel for it, it is hard to say how much worse Goyf got, but coming in as a 2/3 instead of a 3/4 and so on is pretty big. Zoo decks might have to work a little harder to make Goyf insane, which is another change I like. I basically don’t like when people get things for free, and prefer actually having to think about the cards that go into each deck.
Faeries will almost always see instants and creatures in the bin during the first few turns, and Engineered Explosives will dump an artifact. Ancestral Visions is likely to be the only sorcery, unless Ponder makes an appearance, which could happen in builds featuring Tarmogoyf. That makes Tarmogoyf potentially good enough, but perhaps not to the point where it is worth the damage to your manabase.
Venser was pretty awesome, but losing Riptide Laboratory substantially weakens everyone’s favorite Man-o’-War. Venser was a great catch-all, and I expect Cryptic Command to be the primary replacement. It is possible he shows up as a one-of or something, but he has lost quite a bit of utility without the Lab.
Some Sick Zendikar Card
It seems unlikely for a better counterspell or piece of card draw to make it back into Standard, but hey, we can hope, right? I don’t know if any Faeries populate the plane of Zendikar, although any sick Blue creature, preferably with Flash, could find its way in. Landfall, the new keyword that rewards you for playing lands could be decent here, since Faeries does like to play more lands than the typical Extended deck.
If Tarmogoyf becomes smaller, Bolt might actually be the go-to removal of choice. Near the end of last season, Faeries was often splashing Path to Exile, but if Lightning Bolt can kill most of the animals you will face, it certainly is a preferably option. Splashing a color is of course more difficult, but Faeries with Red for Bolt and maybe even Shattering Spree (powered by Cascade Bluffs) could be worth looking into.
So maybe Faeries hasn’t gained much, but it didn’t really need a whole lot of help to begin with. The place I would start with the deck is a Mono-Blue version, but without the Moxes or Thirsts that Nassif played initially.
Non-negiotiables: I often build decks by starting with the cards I know are making it in, since it makes it easier to see how many slots I really have.
4 Mana Leak
4 Spell Snare
4 Ancestral Vision
4 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Cryptic Command
3 Vendilion Clique (the correct number may be 4, but 3 is the minimum I would play)
3 Vedalken Shackles
3 Engineered Explosives
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
That gives me 31 cards, which leaves me 4 slots, since I plan on starting at 25 land. It may certainly be possible that 25 land is too many, since without Riptide Laboratory I have a lot less to do late game, so 24 might be the right number.
Last 4 slots:
A four-pack of four mana Faeries seems like it justifies 25 land, and gives the deck some solid late game.
Six colorless lands is less than Faeries used to play, and the removal of Lab frees up slots for a Miren, which is pretty awesome with Shackles and Sower. The only reason that Miren didn’t make it before was that Lab took its slot.
The off-color lands are to power Engineered Explosives, and I am interested in seeing how well the M10 duals fit. They can’t suspend Ancestral Visions on turn one, but they should come into play untapped most of the time. I suspect the shocklands are better, particularly since they count for Shackles, but there should be enough Islands to support the Fortress and Catacomb.
That leaves the list as:
I like the look of this list, and it seems quite consistent, which is the advantage of playing Mono-Blue without the Chrome Mox engine (which I will get to next). If Hypergenesis is a real deck, Faeries seems like a natural foil, and playing a bunch of powerful cards like Cryptic Command and Vedalken Shackles will serve you well against an unknown field. Naya Zoo or other fast aggressive decks might be tough for a list that doesn’t splash removal, but Shackles, Engineered Explosives, Jittes, and Sowers do present a solid defense, although Zoo was beating Faeries (even with Goyfs) near the end of last season, so splashing removal might be inevitable.
Another approach follows Nassif’s list a little more closely, going back to the Chrome Mox plus Thirst for Knowledge engine. The core of the deck remains the same, but it plays Moxes instead of lands to enable both faster starts and a supplementary draw engine. I don’t think replacing Ancestral Visions with Thirsts is good, since Ancestral is just too awesome, but I don’t mind playing both.
If you are going to accelerate out a four drop, I would much rather turbo out a Sower. The Thirst package also helps more against control decks, so cutting the Archmages seems better than cutting the anti-aggro Sowers. I used to dislike playing Moxes and Thirsts, but now that Riptide Labs are gone I think there is the danger of playing too many lands and being flooded in the lategame. The Thirsts presumably help enough in finding land that I feel comfortable going down to 21 lands plus 3 Moxes.
The last sort of Faeries list that I want to talk about today is a version derivative of the Blue-Black Faeries lists the Japanese played at Worlds last year. Secluded Glen more than makes up for the loss of Polluted Delta, and these decks relied much less on Riptide Lab, which is pretty attractive.
This list is definitely rougher than the other one, mostly because I have less experience with this version. I don’t think there is a way to get away from Shackles, since it seems so important in the mirror. The mana might be a little awkward as a result, since I have to balance Islands for Shackles and Black mana sources. Ten might not be enough Black sources, but I like all six colorless lands a lot, so the only cut might be –1 Island +1 Drowned Catacomb.
The Black splash is mainly for sideboard Bitterblossom and/or Thoughtseize, plus sweet removal spells like more Doom Blades. The maindeck Blades should help in aggro matchups, since it is a good out to guys like Wooly Thoctar that give Mono-Blue Faeries fits. I almost want a third, but that would definitely require more Black sources. Agony Warp is nice, but killing the aforementioned Thoctar plus Tarmogoyf is more important. Being able to kill artifact guys like Ravager is way better than disallowing regeneration, so Doom Blade gets the nod over Terror.
I obviously don’t know what Faeries will end up looking like come Zendikar, but I am certain that it will be among the best decks, just like last year, so starting to think about what it might look like now seems like a worthwhile endeavor.