Initial Technology – Addition by Subtraction

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.


Ancient Grudge

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, Shaper Savant 

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.

Lightning Bolt

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.

Mono-Blue Faeries

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:

2 Glen Elendra Archmage
2 Sower of Temptation

A four-pack of four mana Faeries seems like it justifies 25 land, and gives the deck some solid late game.


4 Mutavault
1 Academy Ruins
1 Miren, the Moaning Well

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.

1 Breeding Pool
1 Steam Vents
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Watery Grave
1 Drowned Catacomb
1 Glacial Fortress
13 Island

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.

+3 Thirst for Knowledge
+3 Chrome Mox

-1 Drowned Catacomb
-3 Island
-2 Glen Elendra Archmage

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.

33 thoughts on “Initial Technology – Addition by Subtraction”

  1. Here is to hoping that people want to “give” away there cryptics, mutavaults and what not closer towards ZEN release! 🙂

  2. I don’t play extended so I am sure there is a good reason I am not seeing for this but why don’t Fae lists run Mistbind Clique and Bitterblossom? Are they too slow?

  3. Fae seems like it is going to be a big deck for this year’s extended season- An update on it is very helpful. With the “trap” ability featuring in Zen, I think it is somewhat inevitable that there will be either a free/cheap draw or free/cheap counterspell which this deck will be able to use. Although given Wizards’ track record with free draw and counter spells, they may know better than to do something silly like that 😛

  4. i was surprised you didnt mention how much the loss of fetchlands makes explosives weaker. With the singleton offcolour lands you going to have issues setting it to 3 or high with any regularity (and sometimes will struggle to hit 2), which may make them too unreliable for their role of generic answer.

  5. with youo fey list being mono blue i would include one sanity grinding a jace and a shell back for an alt win condtion

  6. For PT Berlin i had some sort of parallel evolution, since i built a faerie deck for it myself. It was completely MonoU (18 Islands) and me and a friend finished 13th and 17th with identical maindecks:

    In retrospect my list was pretty crappy. But what i learned from it and the following qualifier season – during which it got refined and adapted – is:

    1. Even though you lose some games to lightning fast starts, Chrome Mox is such a hard card to play correctly (do you imprint the early spells or the late spells? Most of the time I did it wrong…) and the 1 turn speedup most of the time is not worth it because you cant seal the deal quickly. I just did not like it.

    2. You can easily play Explosives for 2-3 with 4 Shocklands and one or two random other two color lands. More than 2 is not needed most of the time.

    3. Cryptic Command is awfully slow. I started out with three but later on cut down to 2. I guess you predict the new extended to be a bit slower so the Cryptics can get effective but in the old extended i almost always hoped to draw something else.

    4. 4 two mana counters is likely not enough. I would at least try to press a Remand or something similar in there because you needed it that much last season.

    5. I still hate 4 mana sorcery creatures. I don´t know why but i do not like tapping out with this deck if i get under pressure. Almost every Sorcery speed spell in faeries has to be seen with critical eyes because the deck is basically draw-go.

    6. This may be greedy but I liked to have 3 Jitte. Against most Decks a Jitte on a critter is a win.

    7. Maybe i am wrong about this but my approach to the affinity matchup always was to ignore it. The Matchup was not that good, but still winnable. There was nothing you could do that was worth the slots to improve the matchup. As everything else crushed Affinity and even Fearies at least had 30-40% without any board option i expected to see no Affinity after Round 2 of a PTQ (yes with faeries i expected to win… It just was that much better than any other deck in the format. It felt like cheating to bring it to a tournament).

    I am curious about the new format because almost all decks lose their insane manabases and some decks like storm or elfball lose either their combo or important pieces. As you say, with a card pool this big it is unlikely that a new deck will pop out of nowhere when zendikar comes around. Faeries loses almost nothing and losing the Laboratory is not that backbreaking, since it already got worse by the loss of “damage on the stack”

  7. @lsv: I’m just wondering why Mana Leak over Rune Snag? Rune Snag seems a lot more powerful, especially since you’re bound to hit at least two throughout the course of the game.

  8. Yeah, I’ve been testing builds with Bitterblossom as well and doing reasonably well with it.

    But I’m terrible, so… what do you think?

  9. LSV,

    Just throwing this out there from a casual perspective, but is Crystal Shard worth playing at all? It is pretty much Riptide Labratory, albeit taking up a spell slot, but it can interact with opponent’s stuff, and is super good with things like sower/miren and spellstutter as well as throwing the opponent’s manacurve off balance. Just something to think about.

    Good article.


  10. Luis,

    I’m going to be working out what the financial impact of the rotation will be when Zendikar comes out. Do you think Next Level Blue/Fae is going to be the fail-safe go-to deck for people who don’t know what to play? If so, it actually seems like about a month or two into Sealed season is the time to snag Cryptics, Mutavaults, et cetera. That could be big news and a big departure from my previous “dump and run” strategy 🙂 I daresay you know more about the format than I, so I’d love to hear what your take on the matter is.

    –Kelly Reid, Editor

  11. Is it possible to play an Urza’s Factory in the list without Thirst? Please tell me it is. ^_^

  12. dowjonzechemical

    EE is important. I have been tasting a bunch, and LSV should know my name at this point, as I always advocate Fae even in hostile environments. I will just make a few points, then I’ll shut up.

    1. Venser is important to stop Volcanic Fallout, which still wrecks us.
    2. We only need to EE for 1 or 2 most of the time, as 3 and 4 cmc spells generally are time walks for us. No need to muck up the manabase.
    3. I prefer the Japanese version of the deck, with MD BB and Sower. Shackles can blowout the mirror, but also can be slow and a time walk for your opponent. Sower is over all less mana intensive.
    4. Run Ancestral Vision. Even with 8 artifacts, Thirst will make you discard 2 cards more often then you like.

    Okay that’s enough

  13. Since we’re running 25 lands, and we’re worried about mana flood… why not just run Compulsive Research? That spell was brutal back when Rav was legal in Standard, why wouldn’t it be good enough for extended? We’ll have plenty of excess lands…

  14. dowjonzechemical

    One more thing….

    Hurkyl’s Recall was a 4-of for me last season during the reign of Affinity. It is a complete blowout as it can be a double or triple time walk. Of course it comes out of SB, but that is why this deck is so awesome, the SB options.

    Also I realize that Fallout gets put back into their hand by Venser, but it makes for the option of snatching it with V. Clique MD or Thoughtseize after SB.

  15. Whoa, a lot of good discussion. Let me go through this:

    @Sean – Mistbind + Blossom is a distinct possibility, but that is a deck I have never tested, so I didn’t want to write about it without some experience. I would not be surprised if it is at least a somewhat viable deck.

    @Kha – EE is more than fine with 6 off-color lands, since you normally just put it at 1 or 2. The original list Nassif played just had 4.

    @Kenshin – I don’t like Chrome Mox that much, and stopped playing it pretty rapidly last year, but it plus Thirst is a definite option.

    Agree with you on EE obviously.

    Cryptic is a card I have grown to like. We even played 4 in the deck Cheon won GP Vancouver with, and that format was probably faster. I think now that Lab plus Venser are gone, you want something powerful and flexible, and Cryptic fits the bill, even if its a little expensive.

    I would play Rune Snag over Remand, but I don’t think either is necessary really. Faeries is fine with just Leaks and Stutters at 2, especially since Snare does a good job also.

    Again, losing Lab makes you lose a ton of inevitability, so to some extent you need the slow 4-mana guys to provide powerful options. I don’t like tapping out either, but both guys provide quite a bit of tempo to make up for it. Glen Elendra with one or two mana up is usually good, and Sower at the very least takes their attack away if they kill it on their turn.

    3 Jitte might be ok, but I liked 2 as well. Not definite on either number.

    Lastly, affinity. It used to be fine to just ignore it, but Affinity has to have gotten better this season, making ignoring it a bit dangerous. Having 4 Sowers is pretty sick vs affinity though, so that might be close to enough.

  16. @zealot – Extended is fast enough that you won’t necessarily see enough Snags to make the additional value worth it, while Leak will reliably counter spells more often. Spells are cheap in Extended, so being able to counter a 2 drop on t4 is pretty important.

    @dowjonze – Fallout is pretty annoying, but like you say, Venser by itself isn’t enough to stop it. Jitte gets around it, as does just having one guy in play most of the time. Not perfect solutions, but reasonable ones. Venser might make an appearance, but I would start without him.

    I played the Japanese version last season for a while, and Shackles is pretty annoying. You have alot of ways to stop it, and Sower plus Archmage is awesome in the mirror, but straight up losing to one of their cards is never pleasant.

    Agree on EE and Visions.

    I don’t like Hurklys, since it never did enough for me. It did buy you time, but you needed Hurklys + good cards to win there, whereas Grudge or Kataki could carry the day by themselves. I realize that we can’t play those anymore, but I really never was impressed by Hurkyls.

    @Dartarus – I definitely considered Compulsive Research, but being a Sorcery is such a dagger in a deck full of counters and flash guys. You really can’t afford to tap out early, which is often when you need some kind of draw. Maybe one or something for the late game could be decent, but it seems rough to play a three-mana sorcery since it leaves you so open.

  17. dowjonzechemical

    LSV- One question, then I promise to leave you alone.

    Did Ravager get worse w/out dmg on the stack though?

    Seems that way to me, but it is speculative at this point.

  18. Playing the black splash towards the end of the season last year, I found that siding in Damnation versus Affinity to be far better than Hurkyl’s. Slower, of course, but it was capable of just punishing greedy starts. Similarly, extirpate could neuter the deck, but was generally a little too win-more.

  19. Ravager was never the reason I lost to Affinity – Cranial Plating was. I don’t think the loss of damage on has done much to the ability of Affinity to just vomit up a rapid win, so any reasonable Extended game plan certainly still must explicitly account for Affinity.

  20. research is really bad actaully. i think A-visions is a must. you don’t have any very many prison tactics anymore, so you just kinda wanna delay them until it comes of at which point you attempt to start racing them with lots of counter back up

  21. dowjonzechemical

    I actually played U/B all year last season, and Hurkyl’s was invaluable for me. I won a couple of Moxes and boxes because of it. here is a prototypical example from my notes from a typical Affinity MU.

    EOT3- Hurkyl’s Recall. Reset
    t4- Spell Snare ravager, eot V. Clique taking C. plating
    t5- Resolve AV. Let Ornithopter,Frog, and Enforcer resolve.
    t6- Steal Enforcer with Sower. Spell Snare another Ravager
    t7- attack with V. Clique and Sower > pass. Let MoE resolve
    t8- Steal MoE with 2nd Sower. Swing for lethal. gg

    LSV was right, you need cards to back up your Hurkyl plan, but if you t1 Vision -t2 sandbag – t3 Recall- it sets up a reset where you are far ahead and it forces them to play around your countermagic with spells that matter (ie Cranial, Ravager, most of their Spell Snare targets) Frogs and Enforcers could then be stolen by Sower, etc.

    Again, I think it is a matter of how you want the game to play out, but Hurkyl’s Recall does have some application and is quicker than Damnation, has a 2 cmc cheaper casting cost, and is an instant. Both are viable however, especially since Damnation probably has more application and actually removes threats instead of putting them back in your oppwnents hand.

  22. White splash seems to be the best splash to me for fae. It does everything you possibly want. You get the best removal (path, wrath), hosers like COP Red, Meddling Mage,kataki,,life gain if needed (Finks, possilbly Baneslayer(?) and even more permission! (mana tithe),

    Saw Chapin go like 12-0 at my local PTQ brooklyn with white splash fae, and am prepared to play nothing else this upcoming extended season.

  23. LSV –

    Do you think Great Sable Stag will be a viable threat against Fae? GSS seems to be off the radar for extended discussion and I’m not sure why. Maybe a white splash is better than a black splash.

    Good article.

  24. Great Sable Stag may be a viable sideoar option but Fae in Extended have 3 artifacts that can easily deal with the Stag: EE, Jitte and Shackles.

    Each of them easily handles the Stag before it gets too dangerous.

  25. what would the sideboard of monoblue faeries be though, it seems like there losing a lot of powerful answer cards by losing the fetchlands

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