What an exciting title, the best deck(s). I know what you’re thinking at home, “I already know the best deck, so what’s the point of this?’ Well dear friend, after chatting with some people and seeing as how a number of writers have said it’s the best, I’m sad to say there’s a bit of a misconception hanging around the format. Faeries is not the best deck in Extended right now.
Yes, that means I’m disagreeing with a bunch of pros and semi-pros that happen to love Blue, but I think they’re simply a little too confident in the little blue men. Saito didn’t win a Grand Prix without dropping a single match and defeating a number of Faeries players along the way by playing some inferior deck. Faeries, despite all the hype and impressive PTQ results, haven’t won a Pro Tour or Grand Prix level tournament since this Extended season started. Even if you chalk this up to variance, the fact remains that if Fae was truly the best deck it wouldn’t have such close competition from Zoo in the overall standings of PTQ top eights and wins.
Faeries is a very good deck you can choose to play for your remaining qualifiers, but it is not the de-facto best decision, rather it simply falls into the range of four decks that give you the best chances of winning. These four decks are:
All of these decks have won qualifiers and have put up impressive numbers in not only my own testing, but in that of other high-level players who I’ve been sharing information and testing results with.
The key problem with Faeries is that in many games, opponents can dictate the flow of the game and how Faeries is forced to react, rather the Fae controlling the opponent’s actions. Part of this is the now universal knowledge of how to play around the various counters Fae packs and the safe knowledge that all the ways they have to reload their hand are either bad and/or horrifically slow. I once said Zoo would almost never lose to Fae if they could keep Jitte in check and not have a Tarmogoyf get stolen. Although I mostly stand by that statement, the higher number of UG Faeries decks creates a bit more of a strategy question of how to get by the opposing monsters.
Think about how the other three decks strategies typically play out against Faeries. If Zoo has a Wild Nacatl on turn one, it can choose to do nearly nothing other than attacking every turn until Faeries is forced to spend precious main-phase mana to deal with the threat. Sure they have Vendilion Clique, but what are the odds that you’ll actually be able to keep that in play long enough to trade if you play it early? Alternatively what many Zoo players do either due to lack of experience in the match or simply thinking this is the best approach, is try and overload Faeries defenses. This forces Faeries to curve out nearly perfectly to stay alive. Some Faeries players have claimed that this is still readily beatable through use of Engineered Explosives, but often even after dealing with a Nacatl or Kird Ape, they’ve already dropped to 10 life and face a full Zoo hand. Faeries, especially versions equipped for the mirror, are not very well designed to play more than one spell a turn if the Zoo player doesn’t walk into Spell Snare.
In addition to having problems with the other top deck in Zoo, it doesn’t necessarily dominate Elves either. Rather it does a very good job of stopping them from winning the game early and then it’s forced to deal with a synergistic beatdown machine that can keep the threat of comboing throughout the game. None of Faeries’ creatures are particularly combat worthy, meaning that unless you play a version with Tarmogoyf, all of the combat sequences are going to be unfavorable at best and a curbstomping at worst. In addition it has to constantly worry about Chord of Calling which can sometimes slip through (basically requiring a Mana Leak to stop it) fetching Mirror Entity which can end the game immediately.
Meanwhile against tier two decks like Aggro Loam and TEPS, Fae can also struggle in the face of the decks difficult to counter engines, leaving it at a disadvantage depending on deck composition and skill of the pilot. Simply put, Faeries has plenty of shortcomings to go along with its strengths and is not so far above the rest of the field to warrant best deck status. In fact, one could make a case that Elves is actually the best deck in the format still. Despite my entire page of bashings though, Fae is still the best blue deck in the format, which makes it a force to be reckoned with. At the end of the day, this will likely still be the deck with the most overall Top Eights and blue envelopes of the season so if the deck has served you well so far, keep running with it. For those that haven’t or are thinking about switching simply due to the blue-ness of the deck, you may want to at least look at other valid options.
Elves may have gotten better as the format has continued onward simply because people don’t pay it nearly as much attention as they should anymore. In fact, it seems like the same phenomenon that happened with Dredge toward the end of last season is happening again. People are removing certain board hate aspects against the deck to get better game against strategies like TEPS and Bant while also testing against Elves less due to how boring the matches are and how few are seeing serious play at the PTQ level.
A lot has already been said about the strengths and weaknesses of Elves, so I won’t dwell for too long. Biggest thing to keep in mind when playing this sort of deck is knowing when to go for it and when to just go straight into beatdown mode, since the lines of play you need to make the optimally go one way or the other are often completely different in terms of risk involved. The other key is how much more resilient Elves is than it was at the start of the season, where typically one sweeper and a little bit of spot removal would end Elves. Now many versions run Ranger of Eos, Proclamation of Rebirth or Burrenton Forge-Tender in addition to Thoughtseize. These solutions either rebuild their army or keep it safe from cards like Volcanic Fallout in the first place. Don’t underestimate the deck and don’t assume you have a natural advantage against it just because you run Fallout or Spellstutter Sprite in your 75.
Although it’s likely too late for many players, if you have combo experience and are looking to take a shot at one of the last qualifiers, you should take a long look at Elves. Many people I know that were playing / played TEPS previously switched over to Elves and were relatively happy with the results they’ve been getting by comparison.
Saito’s win with Zoo was really the perfect way to showcase what a powerhouse the new versions of Zoo are. It’s adaptable to many matches with only slight boarding changes and has 50/50 or favorable game ones against the majority of the format. Out of the four “best decks’ it has a slightly favorable Elves and Faeries match while only being a true dog to Slide. It also tends to smash many of the tier two decks or at least have the opportunity to race them. Also, the newest versions of the deck have sown up some issues it had with decks like Bant that it previously had few answers to.
If you really look at the deck, you can see an actual plan attacking the weaknesses of nearly every deck in the format. Literally the only thing I’d really want to fit in is 1-2 Thrill of the Hunt for the mirror match, simply because it places many combat situations squarely in your favor and isn’t card disadvantage even if met by a removal spell the first time around.
Besides the collection of creatures and burn, Thoctar is an additional big threat that can’t be Snared or easily stolen. In addition even if the opponent is running the UG version with their own Goyf, Saito has the full set of Path to Exile to deal with them immediately. Post-board Volcanic Fallout makes Sower of Temptation completely unreliable as well as being a cheap way to clear the board of blockers and force through more damage.
Oblivion Ring and Ranger of Eos give it additional answers to the Goyf / Thoctar fight and an additional way to refuel. Fetching multiple 3/3’s can lead the an overwhelming board advantage in a short period of time.
Not only does it have the standard removal suite, but Gaddock Teeg shuts off Chord of Calling so it can’t fetch things like Mycloth or Elvish Champion easily. Post-board Saito has Fallout and can choose to bring in some of his anti-TEPS cards to pull double duty against Elves as well. There isn’t much they can do against an Pyrostatic Pillar without an active Jitte.
Again, four Path and additional Oblivion Ring makes this match a lot more reasonable by giving answers to Rhox War Monk and opposing Goyf. Ranger of Eos also isn’t unreasonable in the match, since their plan largely is to 1 for 1 you until they get in a situation where their remaining creatures simply outclass yours.
You can normally race most Loam decks and Ranger means Damnation isn’t necessarily a game-breaker. Pillar can also negate the card advantage they look to get from Loam if they just try to drag you into an attrition situation.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Zoo was great before and Saito’s list is just a great example of a more refined and metagamed list taking down everything else. If you feel more comfortable with playing an aggressive deck and know your way around maximizing mana and damage then I whole-heartedly endorse it. Literally the only issue I take with the deck is how poorly it tends to mulligan and fare against 7-card hands from good opponents. Unfortunately every card you lose to a mulligan reduces the overall damage potential of the deck a great deal and I have yet to win a game where I’ve mulliganed to five, regardless of the opponent. Wild Nacatl may be a reusable Lava Spike, but for every mulligan you take, the more you’re all-in on whatever first and second turn creature plays you happen to have.
This has been a overlooked archetype that recently put up some respectable results, most notably Osyp who won a PTQ with the deck earlier this season. Much like Zoo, the main strategy it employs just destroys a lot of the format with how the deck does its business. Slide has a lot of removal or ways to remove creatures from the equation while winning attrition wars via Loam recursion, Astral Slide and Lightning Rift activations and even just getting two for ones from the deck’s own creatures and removal. What can Faeries really do against a deck with a Loam engine, multiple ways of killing its threats at minimal mana and card loss, and multiple enchantments that just win the game if they resolve?
Answer: Not a whole lot.
The best Fae can really do against the Slide deck is hope to Clique away Loam early, while trying to not let Lightning Rift or Slide resolve (although of the two, the former is far more painful) while using chump blockers and Vedalken Shackles to avoid losing to Kitchen Finks and Cloudthresher beatdown. This is asking a lot from the Fae player and certain versions have it even worse because they run no Relics at all.
Decks like Zoo and Affinity just don’t stand a chance against multiple life-gain creatures which can be reused, Wrath of God, and the Slide/Rift tag-team combo. Zoo can get there via early damage and Sulfuric Vortex, but Vortex is seeing some decreased popularity after Saito’s win and the Zoo deck doesn’t have much outside of a very good early beatdown hand to finish the Slide player off before finding life-gain or Wrath. Affinity post-board has no chance of winning, because the Slide player gains 3-4 Duegar Hedge Mage which are essentially Vindicate + chump blocker for three mana and a game-breaker if played while Slide is active.
The final top deck, Elves, can race Slide and combo them out before anything truly nasty comes online, but it requires Elves to either turn two kill or the Slide player to not have Spark Spray or turn 1 Engineered Explosives. After the game reaches around turn 5, the momentum completely switches as Slide can control the board pretty effectively and eventually just run the Elves player out of threats before mopping up with a random beater.
So why doesn’t Slide see more play if it has a favorable match against at least two of the top decks and likely the third as well? A lot of it simply comes down to perception and play-skill. The general perception is that Slide is a second-rate control deck, because it can only control the board state and can do nearly nothing against non-interactive decks like TEPS. This is actually completely true, a deck like TEPS completely wipes Slide out and there’s really nothing it can do about it. Even something stupid like the Burn deck can put Slide in a very tough spot if it doesn’t see Finks or Hierarch early and even if Slide does, there’s no guarantee Burn won’t play Sulfuric Vortex or Flames of the Blood Hand on the table.
Though this is actually the case, Slide is still a great choice. The flaw is not that the perception of the deck is wrong, but rather people are misinterpreting what the format really is. Nearly every popular or deck I consider very strong is vying to control the board and lessen the options the opponent has down the road. Faeries and Elves are doing this too, using an extensive amount of creatures you can brawl or deal with in some fashion. Slide is actually a better control deck than Faeries in the current metagame because it’s focused purely on dealing with the board state.
Otherwise the biggest issue I mentioned was play-skill, so let me unpack that nugget. Slide is actually not too hard of a deck to play, but it requires very good resource management skills and a very good sense of macro options. What I mean is, you really need to be thinking about what the deck wants to be doing 3-4 turns from now and use your resources accordingly. Getting the right colors and knowing when to play a cycling land instead of holding it and vice-versa are some of the hardest things to get right with the deck due to the wildly varying mana costs involved. More games are lost due to fetching the wrong land on turn two or three than any other error in our testing, often times leading to a sub-optimal play down the line, because you’ve unintentionally cut off lines of plays from the beginning of the game. This deck requires a good chunk of practice and a high amount of planning ahead that a lot of people aren’t used too doing anymore.
So there you go, the four decks I’ve listed I think are the best decks you could take to your PTQ depending on your skill and metagame. This, of course, doesn’t mean no other deck could win; just this past weekend Doran beat Faeries in the finals of the Sacramento, California PTQ. It simply means that for the majority, your best chance to win is with one of the four options above.
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