As announced last week this week’s article is to be the last in my Magical Hack series. While I might hope that I should return to Star City Games as a writer sometime for the upcoming future I will be focusing my writing efforts on a story I have been researching since the start of June and feel I am now ready to begin actually writing. With one last PTQ ahead of us for Austin my hope is to leave this season as I started it: with some cutting-edge technology. At the start of the season I and a carful of like-minded individuals worked to innovate and design B/W Kithkin. All three of those carmates would go on to Top 8 the Star City Games double PTQ weekend in Richmond while it would take me weeks of playing still to get a hang of how to beat down with the deck... but wound up playing for 9-0 in Seattle with the deck the same weekend that Axel Jensen won his PTQ with the deck.
The numbers would go on to show that the design I’d helped realize and pushed forward was among the best performers for qualifying players even if it wasn’t swamping the metagame. It started for me with a hunch that I had found a hole in the metagame that needed filling an angle of attack not yet approached that when fully realized would turn out to be quite impressive. I played B/W Kithkin until the rotation took the deck away from me and even though mono-White Kithkin gained some impressive tools to work with it’s just not the same no matter how impressive Honor of the Pure is. With the rotation I had four Baneslayer Angels before anyone else I knew of and was putting them hard to work from the very beginning of their run in Standard... again I saw a hole and I filled it this time being ahead of the curve in picking Five-Color Control as the deck to play and way ahead of the curve on Baneslayer Angel.
I was getting pretty down on the PTQ season. I played in the PTQ in Boston despite not having the deck of choice I wanted for the event still playing my Five-Color Control when I felt the best approach for attacking the metagame was instead Jund Mannequin. I played two PTQs in Philadelphia and Rockville with Merfolk finding out on Day 1 that I needed another land before the deck was where I really wanted it and on Day 2 that I needed to tighten up if I expected to succeed as my PTQ story came to an end when I was doing stupid things like attacking Sygg River Guide into Gargoyle Castle opening myself up to the Volcanic Fallout that then blew me out then picking stupid fights with Cryptic Command only to open myself up to death by Cruel Ultimatum. I’d lost the feeling that I had found a niche a strategic mixing that blended the way I wanted to for attacking the metagame with a new deck. I’d skipped the last weekend of PTQs for a much-anticipated vacation visiting with friends in Colorado and figured I’d be skipping the last week of PTQs as well since the fire had gone out and I didn’t feel as if I had the right approach to actually find success.
The vacation was wonderful. Relaxation good times with good people and all for free thanks to the nice people at United Airlines giving me a free ticket when I pushed back a few hours the last time I flew... flexible schedules and not being due at work until past noon have even more benefits than I’d realized at first! And while I was visiting not thinking about Magic and just assuming that I’d be skipping the last PTQ... inspiration struck. We all know at this point just how much I love Baneslayer Angel so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I’ve been watching very carefully the recent trend towards maximizing Baneslayer’s ability to survive once in play with Glen Elendra Archmage and Baneslayer Angel being this year’s “The Fix.” Meddling Mage Glen Elendra Archmage and Vendilion Clique were all battling together to disrupt the opponent’s ability to answer Baneslayer Angel and Baneslayer Angel was disrupting the opponent’s life-totals to the tune of “take 20.” I was suitably impressed and wondering if there was another tack we could be taking to get that same sort of effect. I was also wondering if there was a new angle of approach Faeries could take to beat the Great Green Hype as its somewhat weak matchup to Red decks and the ever-present Great Sable Stag seemed to be the things that were keeping Faeries down right now. With these two disconnected thoughts brewing I realized that Thoughtseize makes an excellent disruptive tool for dropping Baneslayers that actually survive until you untap and began pondering a new brew of Faeries: Baneslayer Faeries.
My first list was rough and looked like this:
The sideboard was admittedly crap and the main-deck basically asked some questions on just how far the tolerances here could be bent: could you play Faeries with a Vivid-land base? Would Vivid Lands next to Mutavault instead of Reflecting Pool run out of Vivid counters too quickly? Was this even worth it when I could be playing Arcane Sanctum instead just to splash in Firespout and some sideboard Thought Hemorrhages that I might not even need? Further exploration was chalked up to tell me more about the design as it currently stood as I felt I might be just as happy with Broken Ambitions instead of Firespout and no more than eight lands that always came into play tapped.
As soon as I got home from Colorado I scheduled up an evening of playtesting time with the help of Phil Johnston to battle over Magic Workstation. I was catching games against random opponents basically to just see how well the manabase worked and how I felt about the Firespouts being in the deck while I was playing against Phil with Merfolk to put me through my paces some to get me back to feeling like I actually knew what I was doing with Faeries. Testing with Phil started rough but then I was making bad plays and probably keeping bad hands and the first few games of just outright dying taught me more about how to play the deck... such as losing because I made the game a race I could lose by tapping out for Baneslayer Angel and thus opening myself up to Cryptic Command when I had two Vendilion Cliques and a Path to Exile left to work with and other ridiculous mistakes. Testing against all sorts of various opponents (of admittedly dubious quality) showed me that the deck did in fact have some tension problems with the Vivid lands the mana needed some more careful balancing and stretching for Firespout wasn’t doing quite as much as I’d hoped it would. Less stretching might actually do more as just incorporating White is still giving me a whole other color to battle Great Sable Stags with and playing a deck with eight discard spells four Path to Exile and four Baneslayer Angels gave me plenty of angles to work against the bane of Faeries.
I also knew my sideboard plan against the Faerie mirror had to be weak; while I was advantaged in that I was main-decking the full boat of Thoughtseizes and had another power-bomb threat that they were lacking that could just win games by itself I’d somehow decided I needed Scion of Oona to turn the game around when it’s only really good in the games you’re at parity in. Further reflection would remind me of the card that caught my attention at the start of the season: Zealous Persecution a card that can take you from far behind to winning for the cheap cheap price of just two mana. With no truly compelling reason to still want Firespout it was time to re-envision the deck with an Esper shell: Firespout was added in the first place for the Faeries versus Kithkin matchup which is perfectly fine for Faeries and Faeries versus Elves is not a matchup I’ll lose sleep over when I have eight discard spells and possibly packing Zealous Persecutions in my sideboard.
Stabilizing the mana would be key but this would inevitably be aided by the fact that I was splashing very lightly into Black... just Thoughtseize and Bitterblossom in the main-deck and really just Zealous Persecution and maybe some Doom Blades in the sideboard. Traditional U/B Faeries has made do just fine off about 14 Black sources and as long as I hewed close towards that number while adding enough White to realistically cast Baneslayer Angels and other double-White things I felt we’d have reached the solution. Those 14 Black sources are covered neatly with what I definitely knew I wanted to start off my package with: 4 Arcane Sanctum 4 Vivid Creek 4 Secluded Glen and 2 Fetid Heath.
While there are only four lands that cast Thoughtseize turn 1 the basic plan (if necessary) for the deck is to play lands that enter the battlefield tapped for the first two turns and a turn 2 Thoughtseize unless I’ve drawn Bitterblossom in which case that modified to needing an untapped land turn 2 and playing it out from there. Even with 11 enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands in the deck as designed before I didn’t feel as if there were any real problems with how many lands entered the battlefield tapped off-set by the fact that I have multiple one-mana spells to catch right back up in the game. With 4 Mutavaults and 2 Fetid Heaths I can’t afford any more lands that don’t contribute to Cryptic Command and 4 Mutavaults and up to 6 filter-lands was potentially going to tax my manabase... but I didn’t think that was really a concern as we’ve played 25 lands with 4 Mutavaults and 4 filter-lands forever now and with +1 land that 6th filter-land was free so really it was only as if I’d snuck in an extra filter-land to potentially ‘non-bo’ with my Mutavaults not two.
The biasing on double-White is clear here but that is because I want the ability to consider such double-White sideboard cards as Runed Halo and Kitchen Finks in addition to being able to cast Baneslayer Angel. In both designs (Vivid lands and just-Esper) I had fourteen White sources but in this latter design I have six lands that bias towards making double-White by themselves as opposed to the previous deck’s three. I’d overcompensated in the first design by wanting too many ways to answer the Great Sable Stag problem and in the meantime over-designed the deck with too many inherent mana-problems as I learned every time I realized just how hard it was to cast Cryptic Command in that deck or ran myself out of Vivid counters doing simple things and got stranded with a dead Firespout I probably shouldn’t have even added to the deck in the first place. With a stabler main-deck design I could then turn to looking at the sideboard made all the better by the fact that I’d put more thought into how I wanted to approach the Faerie mirror-match and realized that Zealous Persecution could be the amazing turn-around card I’d always wanted in that matchup.
My sideboard notes for the previous deck had been basically as follows:
Jund: -1 Mistbind Clique -1 Vendilion Clique -1 Firespout; +3 Runed Halo
Elves: -3 Mistbind Clique; +1 Broken Ambitions +1 Doom Blade +1 Firespout
Kithkin: -2 Thoughtseize -2 Vendilion Clique; +2 Broken Ambitions +1 Firespout +1 Doom Blade
Time Sieve / Sanity Grinding: -4 Path to Exile -3 Firespout; +3 Runed Halo (Grinding) / +3 Relic of Progenitus (Sieve) +2 Broken Ambitions +2 Thought Hemorrhage. Consideration on -3 Baneslayer Angel +3 Scion of Oona.
Merfolk: -1 Vendilion Clique; +1 Doom Blade
Essentially every matchup where I brought in Broken Ambitions or took out Firespout now changed as did those peculiar matchups where I was bringing in Thought Hemorrhage. With this new list I would now be looking to sideboard out the following:
Five-Color Control: -1 Mistbind Clique (maybe; not absolutely necessary)
Faeries: -1 Mistbind Clique -2 Vendilion Clique -1 Broken Ambitions (possibly more based on who is on the play)
Jund: -3 Broken Ambitions -1 Mistbind Clique if there is something I want over it.
B/R: -4 Thoughtseize possibly – 1-2 Vendilion Clique up to -3 Broken Ambitions depending on how much sideboard space I want to devote to the matchup.
Elves: - some number of Broken Ambitions and Mistbind Cliques depending on what cards I have to bring in.
Time Sieve / Sanity Grinding: -4 Path to Exile
Merfolk: -1 Vendilion Clique -1 Broken Ambitions; Firespout had proved worse than expected in the matchup and will not be greatly missed.
Cards I definitely wanted to have in my ‘test’ sideboard included Runed Halo (for those pesky Anathemancers) Kitchen Finks (for Red decks in general and as another awesome answer to Great Sable Stag decks) and Zealous Persecution. With three Persecutions three Halos and four Kitchen Finks I’d have to re-evaluate matchups from there to see what still wanted attention. B/R could easily find room to upgrade the deck in that matchup with just Finks and Halos making us the hell-on-Red-deck version of Faeries that has Kitchen Finks and Baneslayer Angel to buff up my life total and even Runed Halo to neuter any number of Anathemancers. Likewise with sideboarding against Jund meaning I’d need to cut into the cards I considered reasonably worth keeping in order to fit in everything I was now bringing to the matchup and could laugh off any number of Great Sable Stags while also ignoring Anathemancer thanks to how I designed the deck.
Five-Color Control: ~ -1-3 cards. Not really wanting the full boat of Baneslayers here and can shave down to 2 Mistbind Cliques without great concern as they can be a bit difficult to leverage against Volcanic Fallouts.
Faeries: +3 Zealous Persecution. Could realistically want as many as three more sideboard cards as I want fewer of both Cliques after sideboarding and as many as -3 Broken Ambitions. Could very realistically leave this as -1 Mistbind Clique -1 Vendilion Clique -1 Broken Ambitions however.
Jund: +4 Kitchen Finks +3 Runed Halo. -3 Broken Ambitions -1 Mistbind Clique -1 Vendilion Clique -2 Spellstutter Sprite or some combination therein. Have more cards to put in than ones I necessarily have to put in.
B/R: +4 Kitchen Finks +3 Runed Halo. -4 Thoughtseize –2 Vendilion Clique -1 Broken Ambitions. Red should hate this version of Faeries.
Elves: +3 Zealous Persecution -2 Vendilion Clique -1 Mistbind Clique.
Kithkin: ~ -4 cards. Not really addressed yet.
Merfolk: ~ -2 cards.
This covers all of the matchups of relevance that were known until about two weeks ago but unfortunately U/W “The Fix”-style control decks have begun to emerge and are one of the key decks of concern for my local metagame as Jacob van Lunen came in second this past weekend in Edison with the British Baneslayer ‘lock’ deck. To some degree this deck is an inheritor of that legacy: it’s an attempt to similarly engineer ‘the fix’ a Baneslayer that survives and dominates the game so I am starting from the viewpoint that this is a ‘mirror match’ where the rest of their cards of note are Blue/White dorky creatures and the rest of my cards of note are the Faeries deck. This is after all one of the key attractions of this advancement: it’s a hybridization of an existing awesome deck (Faeries) and a recently-emerging awesome deck (British Baneslayer) to cover one deck’s weaknesses (Faeries to uncounterable spells) with another deck’s strengths (the ‘ride a Baneslayer’ plan is the most abstractly powerful plan in the format with only Cruel Ultimatum as a potential rival... and they can and do work together sometimes!) in order to reach a synergistic new build.
I’ve designed the deck to excel against Five-Color Control and be full of tools for battling Red decks and Jund decks as I feel these are both plentiful in the metagame and things one needs to actually concern themselves with playing round after round. Great Sable Stags aren’t so great anymore when they run into Kitchen Finks and the Anathemancer end-game problem is both addressed by the general life-gain plan of the deck and quite specifically with Runed Halo which is also incidentally a solid answer to Great Sable Stag. Time Sieve and Sanity Grinding don’t really require attention both strategy-wise (we are at ‘strategic trump’) and metagame-presence-wise. So with those last five slots we might want to address the opposing Baneslayer control deck problem or the Reveillark issue now that we’ve taken Relic of Progenitus out of our deck. (Okay the Reveillark issue can probably just bank on the fact that Lark is a dog to Faeries. But if we pick cards that are incidentally good anyway then so much the better.)
For the remaining spots I find I want to consider Sower of Temptation Glen Elendra Archmage and possibly even Stillmoon Cavalier. Sower impresses me because it is a card I want to consider possibly even bringing in when sideboarding for the Faeries mirror the Baneslayer-Deck mirror and Kithkin. In the mirror stealing Scions or Mistbind Cliques has always been good and it even helps stabilize when they have Bitterblossom and you don’t. Between it and Zealous Persecution we have a fair share of ability to bounce back from behind in the mirror and can sideboard out some of the Baneslayers some Vendilion Cliques maybe Broken Ambitions maybe a Mistbind Clique whatever seems appropriate given their exact build and who is on the play. It’s interesting to see how that matchup develops when one of you is bringing Baneslayer Angel and the other is bringing Anathemancer as your non-Faerie creature of choice as each has their own advantages: Baneslayer trumps the Anathemancer plan but has to resolve while Anathemancer doesn’t have to resolve to still do massive damage. It’s high on my list of playtesting priorities even if the metagame is wide open enough that I shouldn’t really expect to see it much and only actually need to test against the U/B/r build not just straight two-color Faeries.
Facing off against U/W control decks is what really got me thinking of Sower though. I had a list of a few cards I’d be considering against Kithkin like Doom Blade or Sower or Stillmoon Cavalier and Sower happens to be the option that overlaps the way I want it to for that matchup while also being extremely potent against the Archmage / Baneslayer deck. I’d want access to those same tools for defeating my opponent as he’d have against me as otherwise the arms race levels quite neatly into U/W Dorks versus U/B Faeries once you get past the cards in common: Path to Exile Baneslayer Angel Vendilion Clique and Cryptic Command are all tied but comparing the rest of the deck is comparing a Reveillark shell against a Faeries shell and I tend to think I know which of these two options is favored so long as we otherwise keep the plans the same both sideboarding Sower of Temptation. It bears a lot of playtesting which I have scheduled to get between now and Saturday’s PTQ but from the sheer deck-design mash-up it stands to reason that the matchup should be at worst even and quite possibly have me as favored.
The last two slots are decided based on the fact that I might want it as my sideboard card of choice against 5c Control decks as Glen Elendra Archmage might be quite strong alongside the rest of the cards in my deck for reasserting a controlling role in a matchup that used to be distinctly in favor of the Faerie deck. Adding Archmage to my 75 gives me discard spells and Archmages to set up Baneslayers with and then “The Fix” may very well be in.
Figuring the needs of the deck out I find I end up comfortable with the following sideboard for further testing:
4 Kitchen Finks
3 Runed Halo
3 Zealous Persecution
3 Sower of Temptation
2 Glen Elendra Archmage
This gives us a good balance of tools to flesh out our anti-control strategies some excellent cards for the mirror to replace the somewhat-fragile Vendilion Cliques and occasionally crappy Broken Ambitions while still keeping our Faerie count pretty reasonable and the tools to face down Kithkin while also giving Anathemancer-and-Stag decks literal hell with this design. The sideboard wasn’t necessarily set in stone... but it feels right as if it addresses all of the major issues while ‘fixing’ the matchups for Faeries that were in danger of being ‘broken.’ My major point of concern had been the mana and a few dedicated hours of testing later confirmed to me that while potentially a bit risky this design has very smooth mana that works fluidly as opposed to the super-greedy-as-all-hell five-color version above. There is an inherent bit of danger playing that many filter lands alongside four Mutavaults but that danger is the reason I moved right up to 26 lands instead of Faeries’ 25 to help ease the harshness of mulligans based on the mana-base and make sure I have enough ‘real’ lands next to the potentially ten colorless lands.
It has been a good run here on Magical Hack. The 2009 tournament calendar year has been one I feel exceptionally confident in as far as my deck choices go even if that included playing Ponder in Faeries in Extended and attacking with little White men in Standard before it was ‘cool.’ I’ve been chasing a feeling more than anything else that I’m ahead of the metagame and attacking it with a good deck choice that is ahead of the curve where in other years I have found myself net-decking more often with only moderate changes and feeling as if I was dragging along behind the metagame even as I spend so much effort analyzing the cycle of the metagame and scrutinizing each new development in deck technology as it becomes available. But with the end of the year’s Constructed PTQ season it seems as good a time as any to say my good-byes: good-bye to writing this article series because I cannot afford the time that writing it and focusing on the ebb and flow of the tournament metagame requires if I am ever going to make headway in my book project that I have started and good-bye to tournament Magic for a while as I refocus my priorities on writing.
I will still be attending PTQs for the next PTQ season but I won’t be driving as far for them. Where before I’d happily range as far as Boston and Virginia on overnight Magic trips those are farther than I want to go at this juncture more time-consuming than I want to dedicate to the effort and more expensive than I can justify doing when instead if I hunker down and cut my ‘fun’ budget some I can kill off the credit-card debt still left over from my evil ex-fiance’s irresponsible shopping sprees with my credit cards that made her my ex-fiance. Multi-day weekend trips and several weekends a month chasing Magic are instead going to turn into relaxed weekends at home working on the book project on the new laptop I bought just for that purpose and that is the writing I want to chase right now. You may hear from me from time to time... heck even when I quit Magic entirely for a year I still quit quitting long enough to play in Regionals and write a report for it and I’d like to think that even if this is my last week of writing what would have been next week’s column might be well worth the read: a tale of triumph with this week’s deck.
But priorities shift over time and as much as I’ve enjoyed writing this column I’m shifting into a more serious project. One that doesn’t let me use semicolons and the ellipse like a serial abuser because it’s actual writing instead of what I’ve always interpreted as more of a ‘conversational writing’ tone that I write in a conversational flow-of-consciousness style. One that combines a few of my favorite things in interesting fashion: ethical philosophy and the triumph of rational morality as per the tradition of Ayn Rand cool science fiction with a lot of play to it social commentary thanks to my dystopian future America setting and office humor grounding all of these things back in reality. You have to love a project that convinces you to do more things you want to be doing anyway like reading Ayn Rand (okay okay that’s usually just me!) and watching The Office and calls it ‘research’ based on the fact that it does end up broadening your understanding of your characters and helping to block out the plot details more firmly.
I have a book inside me and I want to get it out. This will take time focus discipline and most of all a combination of blood sweat and tears as I push myself up the writerly learning-curve that I have only flirted with before. Unfortunately that means this column has to end both because the time it takes is time I can’t afford to spend away from the project and because the modes of writing are so very different from each other that to continue writing this column consistently would hamper my progress in learning how to actually write this ‘novel’ thing I seem to have set myself up to do. It won’t be good-bye... but it has to be good-bye for now. You have my thanks all of you who have faithfully read me week after week through the good columns and the not-nearly-so-good ones.
If there’s anything you especially liked or might want to see more of in the future I’d be happy to enjoy a bit of reminiscing in the forums... and may end up from time to time returning with a solicited article or two. I’ve gotten a lot out of writing this series both as a writer and as a player and am always happy to see when someone else has gotten something out of it as well. As to the book project... I’ve been putting some information about the story up on my Livejournal with the tag ‘Black Science’. It’s not exactly a state secret at this point that I am ‘smckeown’ on Livejournal as it was my email address of choice for columns for several years.
So long and thanks for all the fish.
s_mckeown @ hotmail.com