It’s no secret to anyone that I’ve played Faeries a lot over the past two years. In each tournament I played with the deck I learned more about it to the point where I could play it very well in any of its forms. Now the deck is going to disappear… it’s going to rotate out soon and I’ll have no more chances to play it. If you’re tired of my writing about Faeries don’t get desperate; this is probably my last article on the subject.
Though Faeries as a Standard deck will no longer exist the concepts that made it the most powerful deck in the format don’t have to die with it and the concepts that you needed to play Faeries properly can be applied to a lot more situations in Magic. This article is about those concepts. Sometimes I’m going to have non-Faeries examples that illustrate things better while sometimes it’s just going to be Faeries but what’s important in what I’m writing is not the specific situation but the general idea.
Management of Resources
Magic is like most other games a game of resources. Everyone has some amount of resources and the outcome of the game is decided by the player that used his resources better or by the player that gave their resources the correct importance. Sometimes it’s pretty easy to identify what resources should be used what resources should be attacked and what resources should be protected… and sometimes it’s not.
I would place the resources in a game of Magic into three groups: Life Total Cards and Tempo. Life Total and Cards are the ones with which you need to be most careful. To play correctly you must manage your life total in a way that lets you get the maximum use out of your cards. To put it simply it doesn’t matter that you have 10 cards in hand if you are dead. In Faeries courtesy of the card Bitterblossom resource management becomes very important. Chump blocking is an option that is always present because of a constant stream of tokens and you must know when to preserve your life total and when to preserve your board advantage.
Of the resources life total is by far the most expendable. Like a King in a game of Chess it doesn’t do much but you cannot afford to have it disappear or you will lose everything. You need to keep in mind though that in most occasions (and definitely in all your occasions with Faeries unless you happened to play Loxodon Warhammer) your choices on your life total will be absolute. There is no going back. If you lose cards you will draw more; if you lose tempo you can regain it; but if you lose life most of the time it will stay lost forever. That means all your decisions regarding your life total must be made very carefully and with the whole game in mind because they’ll last until the game ends.
Most of the time you will choose to preserve other resources instead of life total. You do that when your opponent attacks with his 2/2 on turn 2 and you decline to block with your 1/1. You also do that when you decide to play an untapped Ravnica dual land taking two to do so. Most of the time you’ll be correct in doing so but sometimes you won’t. I remember when I was playing some practice matches - RG versus Boros - and I’d play a tapped dual land on turn 1 instead of taking two to play Scorched Rusalka because I thought the life advantage was more important than the tempo advantage in that match.
One very difficult aspect of Magic is when to start preserving your life total and to correctly evaluate that you must understand the matchup - like Who is the Beatdown. Some matchups are all about life total – all you need to do is keep your life total high up to a certain point in the game and then you will likely win. This happens mostly against decks with Burn.
One good example of this can be seen in my finals match against Tomoharo Saito in Charleston. Saito was playing a BRw aggro deck and I was playing a BW aggro-control deck. The cards in the match clearly favored me; most of my creatures were multiple-for-ones and he couldn’t really compete on that front so they decided to fight for the resource they could attack: my life total. When I realized that I could defend myself the same way.
In one situation I had Orzhov Pontiff and Plagued Rusalka in play and Saito played and attacked with Giant Solifuge. I could block with Pontiff and take three going to a then-healthy life total (though I don’t know how much but I was not close to dying). Instead I decided to sacrifice the Pontiff for the Rusalka’s ability targeting Rusalka herself. Then Rusalka got Haunted and when it died to its own ability all his creatures got -1/-1 killing the Solifuge. Basically I traded my Haunted Rusalka for three life. Now normally this would be pretty bad – we don’t play Healing Salve in our decks after all – but in this situation I had enough card advantage that I was willing to lose one card for three life.
Another situation where you might want to be more conservative with your life total is when life total actually translates into more cards indirectly. If you have Necropotence out blocking a 3/3 with a 2/2 actually nets you two cards. The same happens with Bitterblossom though a lot of people have difficulty in seeing it. If you save two damage by blocking with a token that means two turns of Bitterblossom activations that you get which translates into two tokens.
Knowing when to block with your Blossom tokens is a very important aspect of playing Faeries. Many games are won or lost by that. Imagine the scenario where your opponent has an attacking 4/4 and you have a Bitterblossom and a token. You are at 19. Do you block?
The answer is that it depends. It depends on what your hand is what they have and especially what you are playing against. To know which resource is the most important you need the entire situation. You need more information than I’ve given you. Generally not blocking in this situation is more appealing. If you block ten turns later you’ll have taken ten damage from Blossom and have dealt none. If you don’t 1ten turns later you’ll have taken fourteen but will have dealt 1ten with the token you had left behind.
Now let’s say you are playing against BR. In this situation I’ll pretty much always block their 4/4 Figure – even their 3/3 Boggart Ram-Gang – with my Blossom token because the three (or four) damage I take does not translate into ten damage I’m dealing them but into three more turns I have. Basically one of the big rules for knowing whether you chump block or not is this: are you going to have the chance to do that same thing later?
If the answer is yes you generally don’t block. If the answer is no then you maybe want to block. In the Faeries versus RB situation if you don’t block the three damage then you are never blocking it again – you can’t throw the Faerie token in front of the Lightning Bolt they aim at you for example. You also can’t block if they Fallout your token. Just like if you are playing Limited and your opponent has a 3/3 and a 3/3 flier and you are at 9 life you might want to chump the 3/3 with your 1/1 then – because if you don’t you’ll not be able to use it to chump the flier next turn.
One card that means you might not be blocking anytime soon is Cryptic Command. In the BW versus Faeries match pre-M10 it was often the good play for the BW player to block Mistbind with his Blossom tokens because the Faeries deck had Cryptic which meant that if you weren’t blocking that turn then maybe you wouldn’t have the opportunity to do that the next turn.
Now imagine the situation where you have a Spellstutter Sprite in play. Your opponent playing Five-Color Control attacks with his Broodmate Dragon. If you block then two turns later you’ll have taken eight. If you don’t then you can attack back take another four and then block – two turns later you’ll have dealt one and lost the same eight. Unless you are scared of your opponent removing your Spellstutter (i.e. you are at eight and cannot afford to have him remove it and hit you) you probably should take the damage.
I remember one match against Robert Van Medevoort in Hollywood. We were both playing Faeries. He went turn 2 Bitterblossom and turn 3 Bitterblossom and when I attacked with my Mutavault he chumped with his token – at 19. That was because he realized he had enough board advantage as it was and my only front of attack would be his life total – he didn’t want to make himself vulnerable to a Command chain. Those two points he spared meant a whole new turn for him at the end of the game and in that turn he could attack me for far more than that lonely token would have been attacking for. Pretty obvious once you think of it yet I don’t know many people who would have blocked there – most people would have thought “well 17 is pretty healthy.”
Who is the Beatdown NOW? (Or alternatively: Why Faeries is Good but Midrange is Bad When They both Apparently Do the Same Thing)
In his immortal article “Who is the Beatdown” Mike Flores wrote about how you could recognize the aggro and the control player in the match. I remember he wrote about how the person with the most card drawing and permission would usually be the Control for example. However if you play Faeries “Who is the Beatdown” is a question you generally cannot answer because it’s always you and at the same time it’s never you.
One very interesting thing about Faeries is the speed in which it changes its roles during a match. If you don’t identify when you must go aggressive or controlling you will likely lose. I remember in Grand Prix: Sao Paulo (and I might have written about it already) that after one of my matches someone who was watching me mentioned to his friend (though I was listening) that he was amazed that I played Faeries differently than everyone else he had seen – that all of a sudden I’d start attacking. I also remember a friend of mine who played against Gaudenis in the same tournament commenting that he had made some aggressive plays when he was behind that he didn’t think other people would have made and then he (the opponent) was suddenly dead though he had been ahead the entire game.
The thing with Faeries is that you have the reason for suddenly changing roles - that is you cannot hope to control the game forever and you are dying to Bitterblossom – and you also have the tools to do that because Cryptic Command Mistbind Clique Mutavault and Scion of Oona are awesome on both offense and defense. In some decks it is not very relevant. Five-Color Control for example usually doesn’t care if they kill you with Ajani or Mulldrifter. In Faeries it’s both possible and necessary.
Sometimes people will be too focused on what they are doing at the moment. If they are attacking they will assume their role in the game is to be the aggressor. In the BW versus Faeries example I’ve talked about it’s very common for the player not to block the Mistbind Clique with his Blossom token because he thought from the beginning he was supposed to be the aggro deck with his opponent having permission and card advantage and all. Though that is generally correct when you sit down to play the game such players fail to recognize the moment where the situation has changed.
Those of you who follow the Magic scene might have heard of a discussion on “why midrange is terrible” spawned by LSV some months ago. LSV described midrange as a deck that adapted to have the exact opposite role of the deck it was playing against – that is control against aggro and aggro against control. I agree with his view and I agree that midrange decks are bad. “But then PV” you might ask “why isn’t Faeries considered Midrange for you if its greatest characteristic is its role changeability?”
The reason for that is because Midrange is a deck that is always forced from the beginning to assume a role it’s not ready to assume because it is worse at doing something than the deck it’s facing – not because it’s convenient but because it’s needed otherwise you just cannot win. A midrange deck will never be a good control and it will never be a good aggro. Faeries on the other hand (and other decks like BW and Merfolk though not as much as Faeries because they are a little bit more on the aggressive half) will adapt to whatever role is needed at the moment – and it will do that exceedingly well because the whole deck is constructed in a way that all the cards are good in offensive and defensive situations.
Faeries though not a better aggro than dedicated aggro decks and not a better control than dedicated control decks is just as good in the moments it decides to take those roles. So the basic difference to me is that Midrange is neither a control deck nor an aggro deck while Faeries (and BW and Merfolk and…) is both at the same time.
Your Cards Don’t Have Provoke
Though I’m sure I’ve written about this even using those words I think it’s an important enough point to go into more depth here. The main idea here that you can only fully appreciate when you play a deck where all the cards can be played at any time is that well any time means any time.
A lot of people seem to apply restrictions to their cards that aren’t there and I’m not sure why. Mistbind Clique does not have to be played on their upkeep; Vendilion Clique does not have to be played after their Draw phase. Sometimes it’s correct to do it then and sometimes it’s best at the end of their turn and sometimes it’s best in your main phase… you must have an open mind for all the possibilities.
On the same level you don’t have to counter everything they play just because you can. For you to decide whether you counter or kill something you must analyze the situation – is this counterspell not going to be more important later on? Can’t you beat that card just by playing slightly differently? I remember watching a match at Nationals where one guy had two Honor of the Pure in play and no creatures and then played Ajani Goldmane and his opponent playing Five-Color Control played Cryptic Command on it. Why would you ever do that? What is that Ajani doing to you? Isn’t it much better to save your Command for the Procession? It’s likely that the 5cc saw the opportunity to counter his opponent’s OH MY GOD PLANESWALKER while also drawing a card in the process and he saw that this play would be advantageous for him and just went for it but he didn’t consider the advantages of keeping the Command in his hand – it’s not like it’s going away if you don’t use it now!
Sometimes it’s also correct to hold your cards to get more information and even to take damage in the meantime because you know life is your most expendable resource. For example when you decline to kill a creature during your opponent’s attack step and take the damage only to kill it at the end of the turn. If you do that you get more information on which target to choose and you deny your opponent the information of what is going to happen.
Take a M10 Sealed match where your opponent attacks with Air Elemental and you have Doom Blade but you don’t play it taking four instead and then he passes and you kill it at the end of the turn – it might be that he had a second Air Elemental in hand but decided against playing it to play around Windstorm. When you Doom Blade it at the end of the turn you’ll not only gain back the 4 life you’ve lost but you’ll also have robbed him of an entire turn – let’s say he draws a THIRD Air Elemental then he will probably not have the mana to play both. It might also be that he plays Djinn of the Wishes post combat and then you’ll want to Doom Blade that one instead.
Other situations in which you would do well to remind yourself that your cards don’t have Provoke is when you are sideboarding. I remember discussing sideboarding strategies for Nationals with a friend and then arguing that I had this card that I could add but nothing worse than it to take out and I was really annoyed at the situation. Then my friend said something like “well isn’t it you who says your cards don’t have provoke… just don’t add it in!” That is definitely true and it’s a trap I’ve been victim of more than once; sometimes the cards are there for other matchups and they might be good in a different match but that doesn’t mean you HAVE to add them. If you have nothing to take out then just leave them there for that match.
There are many more things that playing Faeries for this long has taught me but I believe those are the most important points. If I had to group them all in one big thing though I’d say the most important concept is that you always know WHY you are doing the things you are doing. Faeries is a deck full of possibilities since all the cards have multiple roles and can be played at any time and there is no clear right or wrong decision but whatever decision you take you must know WHY you are taking it. You must know that you are playing the Island turn 1 and not the Mutavault because if you draw Bitterblossom you can play it off Sunken Ruins; You must know that you are playing Mutavault turn 1 and not Secluded Glen because if they Thoughtseize your Bitterblossom you are going to attack on turn 2. You must know that you are going to be the aggressor now because if you don’t do it now you’ll die to Bitterblossom when they are at two life not because you suddenly feel like prioritizing attacking over blocking.
I’ve been told a lot of times that I have a really good memory because I remember my games very vividly and then write about them. The truth is my memory is pretty good indeed but it’s good for situations and thoughts that I have. I’ll remember that a person gave another their telephone number in the car while we were driving by McDonalds and the subject was “U.S. elections” and I’ll remember what went through my head as this was happening but then I’ll not be able to remember said number.
The reason I’m able to remember my Magic matches is that everything I do I do for a reason – I go through a thought process in my head that concludes that playing Mistbind Clique on their upkeep is the best or that blocking this turn is the best… not because it’s the default but because I’ve decided it’s the best in this situation after thinking about it. This process is what I remember and then I’m able to write about. It might be that I’m wrong and it was not the best thing to do at the time but by knowing my reasoning for doing something I can then find the flaw in my train of thought and correct not only this specific situation in the future but all the situations where the same logic applies. So always make sure that whatever you do you know the reason!
One more thing before I leave…
If I played in a PTQ today I’d play Faeries. You have to read Adrian Sullivan’s article from Tuesday – in half his decks he says something like “of course this deck has major problems with Faeries but no one plays Faeries nowadays.”
Just go and play it. It’s the best deck and it doesn’t lose to anything. If they go turn 3 great Sable Stag turn 5 Volcanic Fallout turn 8 Volcanic Fallout. and you can’t do anything about it… well just think of the times you went turn 2 Bitterblossom turn 3 Spellstutter Sprite turn 4 Mistbind Clique turn 5 Cryptic Command and they couldn’t do anything about it. No matter what you play you will lose some games that you won’t be able to do anything about and though I’m the first person to try my hardest to minimize this situation you can never completely avoid it.
Of course if you don’t know how to play Faeries and you’ve never played it before don’t pick it up and expect to win and then come blame me in the forums like some folk did last time I suggested it. The amount of messages I get that go “I played your deck and went 3-3; what do you have to say about that?” is pretty big already. If you are a good player and have experience with the deck though I definitely recommend it… but I hold no responsibility if you get paired against 4 Red/Black decks in a row!
If you want to play Faeries I can see playing either Red or not. I have not tested them extensively and I can’t give you much advice other than that when I had the choice between playing Red or not I chose not to. I lean towards no Red because I think if I was willing to lose that many games to mana and my lands entering the battlefield tapped I’d play Five-Color Control. I would not play Time Warp. I agree with Sam Black that it’s a “Win More” card and it doesn’t solve the problems the deck has.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. Good luck in your PTQs and the StarCityGames.com $5000 Dallas Standard Open and see you next week!