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Initial Technology: From Sygg to Scion, an Evolution of Fae

 

I only recently began playing Standard again, since Extended season was in full swing. I started with Swans, the saga of which I chronicled in one of my past articles here. I assumed that Faeries was mostly dead due to the fallout from the release of Conflux, Fallout of the Volcanic variety even. Ok, that one was pretty bad. In any case, I rarely played against Fae online, and I was under the impression that the deck maybe wasn’t as good as other options.

Still, Faeries did quite well for Josh Utter-Leyton and myself at the Superstars 5k, so I set out to see how it played online. Luckily for me, the MTGO Championship series just started, which is a great incentive to play.

You get one Qualifier Point (QP) for each 8-man you win, draft or constructed, and three points for every Daily Event or Premier Event you Top 8. Everyone who gets 15 points in the month is qualified to play in the end of the month championship, the winner of which is qualified for the MTGO World Championship (plus normal Magic Worlds). Since the minimum prize of the MTGO Champs is 4,000 dollars, this series is pretty insane. It’s like a Grand Prix at the end of each month, albeit with the prize only going to first and with no Pro Points. Still, a free Grand Prix that you can play from your home is quite the nice bonus, and I anticipate playing in all the monthly champs that I can. This series also makes articles about MTGO formats much more relevant, since even though Alara Reborn comes out shortly, those of you interested in qualifying online will be playing without it for at least an additional month.

Instead of focusing just on the decklist and general strategy, I will actually take a look through the events I played in online and how the deck has evolved since. The deck has changed quite a bit, and its interesting to see how it evolves over time.

The list I decided to start with probably looks familiar, as it is just about the same as the list Josh and I played at the 5k:

Faeries

The first thing I did was to change around the sideboard some, as Persuasion and Puppeteer Clique as one-ofs weren’t great. I cut those two for two Negates, and started to battle.

I kicked off the festivities with a Daily Event, although I still refer to them as Premier Events (PE’s).

03/31/2009 (Event #261259)

+0 QP points (the season didn’t start until April 1st)

Using the nifty “Decks of the Week” feature, you can actually take a look at the rest of the Top 8 as well. I lost to BW Tokens (Profane Command), after beating one of the 5-Color Control decks.

Sygg was still decent, but the surprising hits from this version of the deck were Jace Beleren and Plumeveil, and more specifically, Jace + Plumeveil. Having Jace online is an engine all by itself, although maybe I should say “himself” to respect the mighty Planeswalker. Now you don’t just rely on an early Jace to start gaining advantage, as Jace works just as well, if he is unmolested. Many games I would kill or counter their first creature, then drop a Jace. They would play another threat, but I would use all the extra cards off Jace to keep trading for their cards. This plan is a little reliant on being on the play, but it is pretty effective.

After a few 8-man queus, I dropped Sygg in favor of a 4th Jace and 3 Plumeveils main. This build was a little extreme, and even though Jace performed pretty well, I changed a few things. Like I mentioned a little earlier, Jace is really awesome on the play but often too vulnerable on the draw. On the draw, I couldn’t counter their turn two play, so if they had turn two and turn three threats, I was dealing with one of them at most by the time my third turn rolled around. Jace didn’t do much without protection, which is why the Plumeveils were there. The plan was good when it worked, but Plumeveil was often a dead draw against control decks, as well as not helping pressure the opponent when I was on the offensive. As awesome as it would be to play quad Jace and triple Plumeveil in Seattle, it just doesn’t seem right. I also changed my manabase back to the previous configuration, since with three Plumeveils in the deck I added an extra Island in place of one of the Swamps.

I re-read some of Paulo Vitor’s articles about Faeries, and he made quite a persuasive case for Scion of Oona. Initially I rejected Scion due to its vulnerability to Volcanic Fallout, but I was beating the only good deck that played Fallout (5-CC) mostly on the strength of my sideboard anyway. Plus, Plumeveil is almost strictly worse than Scion maindeck anyway, so that argument seemed less relevant. On the other hand, almost all of my losses were to Black-White Tokens or Red-White Boat Brew, both decks where Scion could have a big impact. Against BW in particular, Scion is one of the best cards you could play against them, since it lets your Blossom tokens fight theirs even when they have a Glorious Anthem up. BW also plays much less removal than RW, since they just have four Terrors. Scion can even run interference for Mistbind Clique or Sower, since they need multiple Terrors just to get by.

With all of that in mind, I joined my second PE with the deck:

04/03/2009 (Event #274453)

+3 QP Points (total: 3)

I unfortunately took a quick exit in the Top 8, losing to moonkist1985’s Black-Red Burn deck in something like seven minutes flat. It was a bad matchup to begin with, and my mulligan to five left me with not much room to maneuver. It was a little annoying to get knocked out so quickly, but it’s a risk I am willing to take when playing Faeries. My matchup against red aggro decks like Blightning is pretty bad, but those decks themselves are also pretty bad. Finding one in the winner’s bracket after a few rounds is a rarity, much less the Top 8 of an event. Their matchup against Spectral Procession decks is just so bad, that I am fine with just writing the matchup off. It isn’t even unwinnable, as Bitterblossom plus enough Mistbind Cliques will beat just about anything.

Afterwards, I upped the Scion count to four and cut one of the Spellstutter Sprites. Both Sprite and Scion are pretty reliant on Bitterblossom, but maximizing the chances of the dreaded double Scion super-untargetable killing machine prompted me to go up to four of them. Turn three Scion into turn four Sower of Temptation is quite a beating, and makes life very hard for any creature-based deck without Volcanic Fallout (which is basically all of them, although RW does board Fallout sometimes).

In the intervening time before the next couple of PE’s, I do a few drafts and play some 8-man Constructed events, raising my total number of QP’s to 7.

Premier Events (and Daily Events) are the best way to gain QP’s, as it is much easier proportionally to Top 8 one of the six or seven round (or five if you play a less popular format like Classic or Extended) events than to win nine matches in 8-mans. An 8-man is a smaller time investment, so playing in them certainly is easier, but if you have the time for a PE I suggest you take it. Standard PE’s go pretty fast, and I played one from start to finish in six hours (and that is with winning, and therefore playing all the possible rounds).

Before I talk about the next few events (which unfortunately haven’t gone up on the Decks of the Week section yet), I figure I should address why I like Faeries. There are plenty of good decks in Standard, so why go with what appears to be a fragile aggro-control deck?

1) Faeries is filled with ridiculous cards. Card strength alone isn’t a reason in and of itself to play a deck, but there is something to be said to playing a ton of insane cards. Mistbind Clique, Bitterblossom, and Cryptic Command are the main offenders, as they just have such an unfair effect on the game. Drawing multiple Mistbinds or Cryptics usually leads to one of the blowouts Faeries is (in)famous for, and any hand with a Bitterblossom and means to cast it is keepable (at least in the dark, I can see mulliganing something as ridiculous as three lands and four Bitterblossoms against 5-CC”maybe).

2) Faeries is very tricky. Those pesky fae! By that I mean it has a lot of room for play, which includes your good play and your opponents bad play. This is an advantage not to be overlooked, since especially online or at local events, you can run into people who just don’t know how to play around your cards. I rarely ever play Mistbind Clique upkeep now, since I can count on most opponents attacking into it anyway. To be fair, the sick synergy between Cryptic Command and Mistbind Clique makes it pretty impossible to play correctly against a Faeries deck with four lands untapped. If they attack first, Clique gets them, and if they cast spells first, Cryptic gets them. Wouldn’t you rather be the guy holding these broken four mana spells then the guy trying to play around them?

3) The additions of Jace and Scepter of Fugue gives Faeries enough early card advantage engines to reliably see one almost every game. Sticking Bitterblossom, Jace Beleren, or Scepter of Fugue will win the game in short order, and gives you a good focused plan. You just sit back on your wall of counters and removal and let whatever engine you have going grind them out. It used to be that Fae just had Blossom to fill that role, and that made it a little too reliant on drawing that particular Tribal Enchantment. Now, Jace or Scepter do essentially the same thing, letting you counter a few spells and come out way ahead. Countering spells without one of these permanents in play doesn’t afford you any sort of natural advantage, but if you are generating free Faerie Rogues, drawing free cards, or hitting their hand for free then your counterspells gain a ton of value. After all, its all about value. I know Scepter isn’t universally good, and that is exactly why it is in the sideboard, but it functions like Blossom or Jace in the matchups you want it to.

That’s enough for me, especially since Faeries has the general matchup percentages even disregarding the above reasons.

In the next PE, I ran almost the same maindeck, although with the aforementioned +1 Scion of Oona, -1 Spellstutter Sprite. The sideboard underwent some interesting changes, since I wasn’t happy with the previous sideboard.

2 Agony Warp
2 Infest
2 Negate
3 Plumeveil
3 Thoughtseize
3 Scepter of Fugue

My previous plan against the white decks was to board in Agony Warps, Infests, and Plumeveils. The idea is that Plumeveil plus Infest would combine to stop their hordes of Spirit tokens and whatnot, but in practice it wasn’t too effective. White decks accounted for the majority of my losses, so a new plan was in order. Especially now that I had Scions and Sowers, Infest definitely had to go. Plumeveil seemed worse than Sower, now that I had Scion to protect it, and the number of Agony Warps could go down.

Oddly enough, I found myself wanting an extra land in the mirror and vs 5-CC. I figured since Scepters came in for both those matchups (at the time), than a Swamp was the optimal land. One Wydwen, the Biting Gale also made an appearance, just to have a threat with Flash for those matchups.
Due to GerryT’s article on Esper Lark, I started seeing more of it, so I also wanted a card to improve that matchup a little. Enter Puppeteer Clique, who does double duty against 5-CC and even helps a bit against Mono-Red.

My final SB was:

1 Swamp
1 Wydwen, the Biting Gale
2 Negate
2 Sower of Temptation
2 Puppeteer Clique
3 Scepter of Fugue
4 Thoughtseize (I was also being ridiculously greedy by playing only three of these previously, as the mirror demands the full set)

I again made Top 8, eventually losing to a Doran deck in the Top 4. The matchup seems fine, especially with all the Sowers, but Game Three his hand was insane. He had a turn two Doran, the Siege Tower accompanied by three removal spells, so my Scion plus Sower plus Mistbind Clique all just died. The fast one big creature plus all removal draw can be tough, but if just one of those elements isn’t there my chances are pretty good that game (the one accel + the one threat + the three removal spells). I actually don’t mind playing against the Doran decks, since Scion into Sower is really tough for them to beat, and their attack with one huge guy strategy isn’t that hot against Bitterblossom.

+3 QP points (total: 10)

After some more 8-mans (losing in the finals of three, sadly), I determined that the Swamp and Wydwen were just cute, and not actually good. I decided to replace them for the next PE, which wasn’t until Sunday the 12th.

Cut to a few days and an unsuccessful PTQ later (although the oft-mentioned Potes did Top 8 the PTQ with Zoo before losing to the eventual winner with TEPS, and is undoubtedly going to blog about it in the forums!) and the Sunday PE had arrived.

It has been awhile since I have actually listed the deck out, so here is the current incarnation of the Faerie menace:

Final Faeries

The Vendilion Cliques replaced the Negates as additional ammunition in the 5-CC matchup. Initially I thought Clique was bad since it just dies to Fallout, but the value of looking at their hand is worth it. Playing an end of turn Clique not only gives you information but makes them tap mana if they want to counter it or kill it with Fallout. Plus, if you have a ton of tokens out, just don’t play the Vendilion Clique. They will have to Fallout the tokens anyways, so as long as you are smart about it the Clique should pull its weight. I included the Mind Shatter because it is a random blowout card in the 5-CC matchup, and if you can ever get them to tap out with Mistbind or Vendilion, landing a Mind Shatter is usually game.

This PE also went well, and since it happened during the writing of the article I can even give a more in-depth report.

Round 1 vs MonoR

Starting off the tournament against my worst matchup is a little annoying, but round one is where you are most likely to see Red.

Luckily, my hand Game One is really good in the matchup, with a turn two Bitterblossom into Remove Soul, Terror, and Mistbind Clique. Once I land a Clique I have two counters to stop it from dying, and I easily outrace him.

Game Two I get crushed by an Ashenmoor Gouger, as I am unable to counter or kill it in any fashion.

Game Three is all about Puppeteer Clique, as my pair of Cliques blank his Demigod of Revenge and keep sending in Gougers and Mogg Fanatics at him. He can’t really attack into my Bitterblossom tokens plus Puppeteers, and I overwhelm him shortly.

1-0

Round 2 vs Faeries

Game 1 we both have the nuts, and there are soon two Bitterblossoms cranking out tokens on each side. Unfortunately for him, he casts a Thoughtseize somewhere in there, and he actually just dies to his own Blossoms a turn before I do. Nice game.

I have gone back and forth about sideboarding in this matchup, as sometimes it seems like Scepter of Fugue is good here. I think with all the Scions and Sowers in my current list, I don’t have room to put in the Scepters.

SB: +4 Thoughtseize +2 Sower of Temptation –4 Mistbind Clique –2 Broken Ambitions (on the draw) or –1 Agony Warp –1 Remove Soul (on the play)

Game 2 I think I misplay, as I tap out to Sower an irrelevant Spellstutter Sprite. Granted, he had no cards in hand, but I really didn’t need to do that. He punishes me for my mistake and peels a Sower to take my Mistbind, and I lose as a result.

Game 3 neither of us has Bitterblossom, but I stay ahead by getting advantageous trades via Spellstutter and Cryptic. Eventually my random Mutavault and Spellstutter damage adds up, and a Warhammer finishes the game.

2-0

Round 3 vs Kithkin

Game 1 I get crushed, as he curves out and I really don’t do much.

Game 2 I battle through two resolved Cloudgoats, but Scion plus Bitterblossom plus double Sower of Temptation does the trick.

Game 3 I have the textbook Faeries draw, and go turn two Blossom, turns 3-5 removal or counter, t6 Mistbind and crush him.

3-0

Round 4 vs Faeries

Game 1 I don’t know what he is playing, so I keep Mistbind, Mistbind, Sower, and lands on the play. He Thoughtseizes my Sower and I of course play two Bitterblossom over the next few turns, prompting the concession.

Game 2 I keep a good hand of Thoughtseize, Broken Ambitions, Scion of Oona and lands on the draw. He Thoughtseizes my Thoughtseize and plays two Bitterblossoms. I figure I am just dead, but play Scion at the end of his turn four anyway. He drops his own Scion in response, so I obviously punish his misplay by peeling a Sower. Now I have two Scions (voltron!) and a Sower, and he has two Bitterblossoms and a bunch of useless tokens. When he Thoughtseizes and sees my double Cryptic Command, he just scoops em up.

4-0

Round 5 vs EsperLark

These games go about how they “should”, at least from my perspective. He can never land one of his expensive threats, and I eventually defeat him with powerful instants. Makeshift Mannequin and Cryptic Command are really his only way to interact at instant speed, and both cost more than my counterspells do. As long as you don’t fall too far behind on the board, it is very difficult for Lark to really get anything going.

5-0

Round 6 vs BG Elves

Game 1 I have lethal on the board, but after a little tiebreaker math I determine I like my matchups in the Top 8 better if I concede here, so I do.

5-1

Top 8 vs BG Elves (not the same guy)

These games are short and brutal, as I have turn two Bitterblossom and turn four Mistbind Clique both times. Game One I even have the turn three Scion to prevent Eyeblight’s Ending from ending my turn four Mistbind, and Game two I have two Bitterblossoms so even his turn one Thoughtseize can’t stop me.

6-1

Top 4 vs EsperLark (again)

Game 1 is pretty funny, as I mulligan into these six on the draw: Mutavault, Bitterblossom, Bitterblossom, Sower of Temptation, Terror, Broken Ambitions. I draw an Island on my first turn, and he Scullers me. He takes the Sower, and I call for a Secluded Glen. I untap and drop Glen revealing Bitterblossom, followed by Sunken Ruins. The game goes pretty long, but my runner runner runner lands make my draw good enough to get there.

7-1

Finals vs BW

I win some fairly uneventful games, which I cut short in favor of getting this article up as soon as possible. I wanted to incorporate this PE report into the article, but that did provide a bit of a timing problem.

8-1

I like the “final” version of Fae, although I do anticipate changing it often. MTGO is great, because you can develop a deck on a tournament to tournament basis, incorporating your latest lessons into each version. It lets you condense what would normally be weeks of playtesting into mere days, depending on the time you wish to spend.

Let me know what you think in the forums, and if you have any questions I will do what I can to answer them!

LSV

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